Saturday, March 04, 2006

University of Alabama Football Report: Spring Practice Baedeker

Day 1

I miss the start of practice.

In fact, I miss the whole day’s practice being talked into attending a funeral with a hippie. He’s an old man, a casualty of old ways of thinking, but he likes following his bliss to younger women. He drops piles of hippie smack laced with techno-jargon about his digital Nikon. Next thing you know, the girls are clothed in enough French philosophy to maneuver a cocktail party, and little else. I’ve seen the pictures; he’s a good salesman.

Which probably explains how I end up at funeral for a 23-year-old raver chick, but here’s the kicker: The hippie doesn’t have balls to show.

The raver went missing two weeks ago -- dropped her three-year-old daughter off at grandma’s, said she needed to pick up some groceries, and followed a one-way route through a pawn shop, her dealer’s house, her dealer’s house’s floor, and ultimately here.

Funerals for the young mourn more potential than history. That math is easy to work out, but what I’d not carried into the next column was that the mourners would be equally saved from experience: Should one wear one’s pink mohawk raised up or slicked back when attending a funeral? Should one paint one’s black tear under the right eye or left eye to signify one’s sorrow? Are two tears tacky if the deceased is not a blood relative? Is there a club mix of “A Closer Walk with Thee”?

They ask “why” without wanting an answer. The available answer: The raver’s heart was weak. The raver’s desire was strong. The raver’s dealer was so smacked out of his dome that, when the raver’s aorta burst, he switched the record to something up tempo while he watched her seizures.

Out of their element, the raver’s friends take turns looking uncomfortable and saying saccharin hyperboles to avoid the silence. Because they can’t feel invincible, they try to feel important. Some try to out-grieve one another. One hot number in fishnets implores the crowd through her tounge-stud’s lisp, “You don’t need drugs! It should be about the music!” No, darling, Willie Nelson’s funeral will be about the music.

But god damn it, I’m no cynic. Their grief is real. They’ve been given verbs and conjunctions for a language they’ve never spoken. In truth, it should be this way. You don’t want a world where kids know how to behave at funerals. They’re weakness is that their grief is illiterate. My many weaknesses include patience with aging hippies and being the only person in the room who cares that football started today.

Day 2

Ezekial Knight has been switched from wide receiver to defensive end, where his ability to knock balls thrown in his direction to the ground will be put to better use. Ken Darby is sitting out most practices this spring and doesn’t look happy about it. He’s a bit tweaky in the knees, plus these are spring drills: You don’t hitch a plow behind a thoroughbred.

A Jack’s hamburger restaurant sits across the road from the Crimson Tide’s practice field, and for a moment I’m thinking either they’ve sold me tainted sausage or the Ramada’s minibar bourbon is the most potent on the planet because Alabama’s scrimmage looks to me like a brutal Rubik’s cube colliding and exploding.

However, one of the old timers at the fence explains that Shula has color coordinated the depth chart, game colors for the first team and a rainbow assortment all the way down. It’s a common practice. If you ever donate enough money to your university to be respectable, you may hear Ken Stabler tell the story of when he returned from serving out Coach Bryant’s suspension to find a brown #12 jersey hanging in his locker. Welcome to the shit squad, Snake.

Just to be safe, though, I dump the sausage biscuit and unpocket another baby bourbon.

Day 3

After stopping in three different mini-marts the night before for the right brand of Worcestershire, I finally have the right throw-togethers for a proper Bloody Mary. Unfortunately, while stirring the recipe together I stumble across a more alluring intoxicant: the NFL Network’s coverage of the 2006 scouting combine.

The NFL Network should come with a warning label as it’s more addictive that crack and has the same hold-over buzz. My first twenty minutes are mesmerizing, but then I spend the better part of the morning trying to recapture the initial high. It provides the viewer with the voyeuristic glee of being a professional scout without having to deal with a jackass like Bill Parcells.

The current scuttlebutt, discussed over hypnotic footage of 225-pound benches and 40-yard dashes, is that he who shoots holes in the theory that football is a team sport, Vince Young, has scored a basement-dwelling six points on the Wonderlic Personnel Test used to measure an incoming rookie’s general intelligence.

With a possible total of 50 points up for grab, random probability matrices indicate that a water-filled novelty woodpecker like the one your college roommate turned into a bong would average 12 points on at least one out of four tries.

But there are no geniuses in football anyway. At least that’s what Joe Theismann says, himself no Norman Einstein. On my way to the practice field I ponder the different world Vince Young has entered. It has taken professional football and its bizarre corporate tribalism less that two months to reduce a good kid to a cruel joke.

Once, when asked by a New York reporter if he majored in basket weaving or some such puffery at Alabama, Joe Namath replied that he wasn’t smart enough for that.

So he majored in journalism.

Roll Tide.