Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday, November 23, 2007

University of Alabama Football Report for 11/23/07

If you want to see the infamous analogy for yourself, there it is. It’s right out of the gate, so there’s no need to skip around hunting it.

From this reading, I would call it at best a false analogy, one leading to more questions than clarity, or at worst inappropriate. But the Great Leader is no poet, and for that I am grateful. You take your lumps.

Also, to the outside observer, Saban’s comparison only affirms the view that Alabama is home to college football’s lunatic fringe, the wild-eyed zealots catering their tailgate parties with locusts and honey.

The less done to dissuade this image the better.

The perception is sometimes useful, as reality can be so messy. Reality can be season ticket holders driving to Tuscaloosa and dropping off their opening game tickets to evacuees in the basketball area after Katrina so that parents and children could have something to do other than miss their homes for one night.

Reality can be strong young men becoming sick old men before their time.

Reality can be your life surrounded by family one minute and your life hanging by a thread the next.

So just for once, let’s drop the Old Testament rhetoric and the poor man’s Lou Reed ramblings. Let’s approach the real.

At roughly the nineteen minute mark of the above video, Nick Saban pulls back the curtain and answers a question that wasn’t asked. One assumes it’s an answer he was willing to give from the start.

It implies that a number of Shula’s senior class doesn’t care for Saban or the way he does things, specifically earning your starting spot each week in practice. Ergo, whenever a weaker opponent is scheduled for Saturday, they do not practice well during the week.

Such habits might lead to an embarrassing loss.

Or two.

That may also explain away some of the odder line-up changes throughout the season, like Jimmy Johns only playing special teams--and Keith Brown, last season’s second-leading receiver behind D.J. Hall, dropping in and out of the starting rotation--and Hall himself getting suspended for the first half last Saturday (which Saban states would have been a full game were it not for is also being Senior Day, which begs the question why Hall would risk any suspension before his last home game, or the Cotton Bowl, while we’re reading history).

After the Mississippi State loss, Saban said that there was no shame in losing to the Bulldogs--they played a good football game.

After last week’s loss he apologized. He apologized for the loss and the lack of effort. He apologized for the players and for himself, because he said the responsibility lies with him.

Damn right it does.

Don’t get me wrong, no one’s calling for Saban’s head, but damn--you hire Nick Saban to prevent players from giving in to their weaker selves. This is precisely the kind of late-season collapse the last coach was fired for. And even if you can’t fix four-years of Mike Shula in nine months, you don’t lose to a 5-6 Sun Belt team, even if you have to field a Girl Scout troupe!

But there’s enough blame to go around. Look back to the Tennessee game or the LSU game or the Arkansas game--even the Mississippi State game! Those players don’t need Saban on the sideline to beat ULM.

So the implication is that a clique of players, after the LSU loss took Bama out of the SEC race, have pretty much given up on the season. Perhaps they don’t care if they go to a bowl. Perhaps they’re either done with football for life or headed to the pros.

I was ready to call bullshit on that . . . until Saturday.

I guess I didn’t want to believe that Alabama was fielding a team that didn’t know, or worse didn’t care, what they mean to the people of this state. And there’s a reason why the loss to ULM stings so.

There’s kind of an unspoken agreement between the plebes and the plantation class in Alabama. The university will schedule one shitty home game a year so that the landed gentry will find something better to do and unload their tickets.

That standing room only stadium Saturday was probably half-filled with people who were seeing their first and maybe only Alabama football game. And that’s what they got to see?

That’s why you heard boos. And I don’t blame the dirt farmers one bit.

Each year, the Bama Report’s pre-Iron Bowl post has been a variation on a theme, a simple plea of sometimes no more than three little words:

Just beat Auburn.

This year, I’m calling an audible. There are things bigger than a football game. Ask Victor Ellis. Ask Siran Stacy.

For all the hell I gave Chris Capps, I can honestly say I respected the boy’s effort. He knows he’s a poor tackle--how can he not? And even after an entire off-season in Saban’s much ballyhooed conditioning program and working on the same field as the man, he’s still a poor lineman. The talent just isn’t there and you can’t win with that level of player in the SEC.

However, I would give a standing ovation if Alabama’s starting line-up were eleven Chris Cappses this Saturday against Auburn.

Oh, I know we’d lose--and badly--but what’s the difference between a five-game streak and six-game streak? Both are unacceptable.

Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself.

The Bama Report is large. The Bama Report contains multitudes.

To be clear: I am saying that, if need be, D.J. Hall, the most talented player on the entire football team and Alabama’s all-time leading receiver, the heir apparent to Ozzie Newsome, should be left off the bus. Don’t even suit him up. Him and any other player who’s too good to lay a block downfield.

If all Saban can find are eleven players and they have to go iron man for one game, I’m down. If he plays the damn scout team against Auburn, I’m all for it.

Do I want to beat Auburn? Hell yes, more than almost anything.

But football is a brutal sport and it takes men who need to win to play it well. I want to see players needing that win Saturday, even if we lose.

Much has been said this week about Alabama football and its priorities, that the people of Alabama take their football too seriously. Maybe so, but so what? No one accused Baryshnikov of taking toe-tapping too seriously.

Full disclosure: I write this message from a hotel suite somewhere in lower Alabama, where in the morning I will enjoy the free continental breakfast, and then drive a few miles to sit through as much of a wedding as time allows.

Tonight, when I saw the faces of the wedding party turn on me as I asked why someone would schedule a wedding--in Alabama--on the same day as the Iron Bowl, I realized I’m the lone sane man in a crazy world.

It’s only a game.

It’s only ballet. It’s only Rembrandt. It’s only Duke Ellington. It’s only the Mona Lisa. It’s only Breece D’J Pancake.

Is football taken too seriously in Alabama? Only you can answer that question, but I will tell you that it is taken seriously. And that the team Saban fields tomorrow against Auburn--win or lose--will take it seriously, will take who they represent and whose tradition they uphold seriously.

And come hell or high water I will watch it.

Roll Tide.

Friday, November 16, 2007

University of Alabama Football Report for 11/16/07

Yes, that was Chris Capps playing tackle on the infamous third-and-goal play last week against Mississippi State. However, he was shifted to left tackle on that specific play, Mister Smartypants, and our beloved Andre was on the right side.

So don’t you feel silly now?


Well, I can’t really blame you. It’s around this time of year that the bad memories start flooding in. If you’re an Alabama fan, you can ignore the banker on this one: November has been the cruelest month is recent years.

The next two weeks will provide a balm to this. Louisiana-Monroe exists specifically to end these types of dry spells, and next week’s contest in the Land that Hygiene Forgot will hopefully end another.

But before we turn our eyes to that, there is this matter of Chris Capps to address.

I’m sorry.

If you have to ask what for, then I thank for following your search results for “German avant-noise pop,” “violence AND Rilke,” or “college ringtones” this far, but you may cease reading further. You’re obviously unconcerned with Alabama football and would not be interested in what follows.

Now where was I? Oh yes . . .

I’m sorry.

There. I said it (twice). If Charlotte Corday can admit she was wrong, then so can I. However, don’t expect me to take a knife to Bob Connelly while he’s soaking in the tub. This thing has limits.

Besides, I should leave that to a Bruins fan now.

Furthermore, don’t think that this amounts to a reverse course. When the Alabama press turned this week’s slew of game articles into a de facto Capps Künstlerroman, none of them nominated him for all-conference honors or said he was the second coming of John Hannah.

But they did say that Capps had been named a team captain by our Great Leader three times this year.

And they also mentioned that despite being benched in this his senior season, he continues to practice hard and prepare as if he were a starter. Furthermore, they also mentioned—

Hell, let the man himself say it:

What happens when that guy goes down and the whole team is counting on you? . . . You don't want to let anybody down.

No, I don’t suppose so. And when you do, that’s a needle in the heart, ain’t it? We’ve all been there, big fella.

And the last thing you need is some jackass with a pill problem and Internet access kicking you while you’re down.

So that stops today.

There is a certain breed of Alabama fan who does not understand economics. This fan is ignorant of supply-and-demand principles and belives dollar values are set, at best, arbitrarily or, at worst, conspiritorily.

To this fan, one Nicholas Lou Saban, the highest paid coach in the history of American collegiate athletics, is in dire need of advice. To this fan, a special teams player is an amalgam of Tim Tebow, Darren McFadden, and Jesus, who should be starting under center and at tailback simultaneously, and a career 54% completion thrower should be lighting up the scoreboard.

This type of fan believes that all that is needed for success on the football field is “want to” and “heart” and things that can’t be quantified like forty-yard-dash times or bench presses.

Talent doesn’t matter, this fan will tell you. All you need is a player who does his best and you’ll win.


I know we’re a little late in the game for this, Capps, but from henceforth, I’ve got your back.

Now, don’t be a hero or anything. I’m not expecting anything out of you that you don’t already have. Like you said, “. . . go to class . . . show up on time . . . it’s not very hard.”

Even if the suspended linemen don’t come back next week for the Auburn game and you square off against Quintin Groves again this year . . . well, if you do well, I’ll scream my fool head off.

And if history repeats itself?

We know you did your best. That’s all we have a right to ask.

Roll Tide.

Friday, November 09, 2007

University of Alabama Football Report for 11/09/07

Jimmy Johns will not play running back, quarter back, or line backer this year. He will become the NWA champion.

D.J. Hall will be double-covered tomorrow. John Parker Wilson will throw to him anyway.

Someone else will have been wide open.

Sly Croom will have his team motivated to play tomorrow.

He will not take them to a bowl game.

Georgia will wear black jerseys facing Auburn.

Mark Richt is Mike DuBose with better public speaking skills.

Solo Monk and Fistful of Metal are two albums you are free to hype as much as you like; both can withstand it and will not disappoint the uninitiated.

Gambling is a sin.

Louisiana Tech is getting 40 from LSU in some lines and has only lost to the spread once this season!

Thurston Moore thinks Guitar Hero is a waste of time.

Zoology is pronounced “zo” at the beginning.

When an eighteen-year-old reads over Ron Paul’s platform, he or she is not a moron for thinking it makes sense, as most eighteen-year-olds have little applicable knowledge of how the larger world works.

The same can be said of Ron Paul.

Except that he’s a moron.

Soccer is not unpopular in America because of low scoring. Soccer is flawed.

The best hamburger in Nashville is served at Rotier’s. Ignore that Jack White prefers Brown’s.

Hell is other people.

South Carolina is not very good.

Florida is not 100%.

Fran deserves everything he has coming to him.

And then some.

That sack of shit.

The mobile does not exist in nature.

Alexander Calder invented it.

Calder’s Three Wings was destroyed on September 11 along with the 7 World Trade Center building.

It is an awful world.

Saturdays in the fall make it less so.

Roll Tide.

Friday, November 02, 2007

University of Alabama Football Report for 11/02/07

He can take his'n and beat your'n. Then he can take your'n and beat his'n.
--Clemson head coach Frank Howard about, well . . . you know

The charm and the curse of hypotheticals is the haven they provide for bullshitters of the finest caliber. Stephen Lee Glashow took his charm quarks and bolted Harvard, perhaps outrunning the posse with noose, or string, in hand, for such thinking. After all, it’s one thing to go around propping up the Lagrangian for electroweak symmetry, but quite another to start spying fermions around every corner . . . one assumes.

Perhaps Glashow is right, but how can he prove it? Or not? If all your opponents are peddling is images no one can see and math no one can tally, your old-time religion doesn’t know which direction the SuperCollider is pointed, now does it?

Besides, Kaku has a voice for radio and hair for movies, and Hawking does cameos on Star Trek and The Simpsons. Even the geeks have abandoned ye.

The hypothetical is ironclad because it’s less than paper-thin. It’s impervious to attack because it’s not there. It’s beyond stealth, captain--it's nihilism with tap shoes. And the more outlandish it appears, the better for making your point. It’s fully predictable because it can’t happen.

Until now.

Of the 22 starting players for LSU, 17 were recruited by Alabama’s current head coach. This is as close to his’n and your’n as you’re likely to get.

But what advantage does that really create? And for whom? Ask any team in the nation if they’d allow the Great Leader to head up their off-season recruiting efforts, and you’ll see what they really think of our man even if they hate him. He has an eye for talent, but most of it will be wearing purple and gold Saturday.

But so LSU is talented. Many a mediocre team takes the field because the great victories in February don’t transfer to October. Tennessee proves that point clearly. However, LSU has not been accused of mediocrity for a long time now.

In fact, looking back on the teams’ last contests, Alabama’s drumming of the Volunteers impresses the casual viewer and committed fan alike. Before the game even ended the third quarter, a devotee said to me, “this team could beat LSU.” So persuaded was he by the spectacle.

Myself, I held silent. Certainly this was an improved Alabama team, and they would have looked so even in defeat to be honest. But beat LSU? Sure, Kentucky did it, but Alabama can do very little of what Kentucky does very well. So I enjoyed the win and was grateful I would have two weeks in which to see it fade into nothing, knowing that the undeniable awaited this team when LSU came to town.

And I would be lying if I said that seeing the fans say such foolishness wasn’t part of the fun, especially given how angered and despondent they were this time last year. So those words--this team could beat LSU--stuck around for a while, rattling about for the rest of the night as I watched LSU and Auburn play.

As Auburn, who lost to Mississippi State and South Florida, hung tough with LSU, I was still unconvinced. Perhaps LSU thinks this a trap game. Perhaps they are feeling the effects of the brutal conference schedule. Their bye week will remedy that, and thus, the inevitable slaughter.

But then I watched perhaps the most rock-headed and ill-advised coaching decision of the year turn up aces for LSU as the clock rolled to zero. And I waited for LSU’s coach to vomit up the praises to the football gods that are necessary when such fortune befalls his team: credit to the opposition, thankful for the win, happy for the players, got a good break.

Instead, he said, “oh no, we had plenty of time.”

And then I thought, this team could lose to Alabama.

Roll Tide.

Friday, October 26, 2007

University of Alabama Football Report for 10/26/07

It's the bye week, so we've little to do but watch the Pac-10 and cocktail parties by any other name, take back every bad thing we've ever said about Boston College, and overanalyze the AM radio dial.

If you want my two cents, the definitive country music song is George Jones singing "He Stopped Loving Her Today." In general, classic country music addresses adversity, loneliness, and an upfront, sentimental, unembarrassed hokeyness.

Undercutting these themes, country songs often carry a message to the listener--sometimes a moral (see later Johnny Cash) and at other times a threat (see early Johnny Cash). Also adding to the tension between the bad and the good, country music often relies on a dark, even sly, sense of humor and is well known for catchy melodies.

Therefore, "He Stopped Loving Her Today" can lay claim to being the definitive country song because it relies so much on these traditional expectations of the genre, but then leads into a new, surprising level of meaning that rewards said genre rather than revolutionizing it--the song explores country music's limitations instead of exploding them.

The listener, familiar with the common theme of heartbreak and adultery in country music, prepares to hate this "he" of the title, this scheming dog who has stopped loving his woman after claiming he would love her until he died---that is, until Jones slides in with the line "they placed a wreath upon his door."

Now, already identified with and ready to defend the scorned woman, the listener must reverse course, regretting having thought ill of this faithful "he" who's being carried away in his coffin and sharing the loneliness of the beloved "her" knowing that it's too late to say you're sorry.

Damn, that's a fine trick.

"He Stopped Loving Her Today" was released in 1980, but sounds like it was unearthed, like it was forever playing in the back of your mind before you first heard it.

It's amazing how old things can surprise you. We've got another week to see how many surprises we have left.

Roll Tide.

Friday, October 19, 2007

University of Alabama Football Report for 10/19/07

It would require extreme tunnel vision for one to look upon the mess Nebraska finds themselves in currently and not think back to this time last season, when Alabama was also testing how long it would suffer mediocrity. The children of the corn now hope that we prove an object lesson.

For despite Alabama posting an identical record as last year’s squad through the first seven games, only those watchers guilty of athletics Docetism would argue that the Crimson Tide is not an improved product from the previous vintage.

Or perhaps, improving would be the more apt form of the verb.

To review, by this point in the season, last year’s team struggled to find a consistent offense, lost a conference game in overtime, lost to a road game in the state of Florida, won ugly against a weaker non-conference foe, and barely beat a miserable Ole Miss team.

This year’s team, by comparison?

Check, check, check, check, and check.

How then can the Alabama faithful sanely lay claim to improvement?

First, let’s be frank. No discussion of Alabama football should broach a foothold in sanity. We may adopt “realist” perspectives. We may display “due diligence.” We may, certainly, discuss “the Process” “relative to” “our commitment and desire to do well.” But the sane man is merely a timeserver, one who stands with the popular idea of the moment. I will show you sanity in a plastic shaker.

Second, and more on point, this year’s team does things that haven’t been seen in Tuscaloosa for a while. They finish strong. They come back when they’re down. They fight for their spot on the field, and then fight like hell to keep it.

So how good is Alabama?

To borrow an automotive metaphor, Alabama is not a hot rod nor a luxury model. There are teams that better fit those analogies, teams that were and still are on Alabama’s schedule, teams that reach the top 10 and then take their Sisyphean tumble to the other side. Occasionally, a few of these high-class rides even choke at the starting line. Such is the burden of complexity.

No, Alabama is, at best, a bit of a jalopy, perhaps an old muscle car that someone’s dad left out in the yard too long, always swearing he was just a part or two away from getting the ol’ girl back on the road.

Well, tell the old man to take the for sale sign off the dash. This new guy isn’t wishing his way through the parts catalog. His plan is to push her until she breaks, tighten whatever rattled loose, and then push her some more. He’s got a wrench in each hand, grease under his nails from when he used to pump gas for a living, and enough know-how to get her cranked up for one more ride.

And, brother, he may not win the race coming up but give him some time under the hood, and he’ll come back to blow your doors off.

Roll Tide.

Friday, October 12, 2007

University of Alabama Football Report for 10/12/07: On the Road to Oxford

Most of the stories you hear about the place don’t involve the place at all but the man who lived there, the man who wrote about the place, and even then not really the place at all but a myth of the place--a story you read all the way through once and then read the first part again, a story that isn’t about the past or about the family or about the mansion or the town or the colonel and the girl, a story that isn’t finished because it’s still being written even though the man’s long dead, or past, or neither.

Let the crudeness of facts include the trip to Hollywood, the bottles left behind, and the pages left unwritten, omitting, of course, the book club, their failed visit to the house, and the porch where he rained down expletives--and worse--on them from above.

So, in a way, in both history and in myth, if such a distinction can still be drawn, the place stomachs ne’er-do-wells fairly well, and that fits their steel-headed coach to the letter, brash and big, who lumbers through their season and is all but an unlatched gate away from his own destruction.

Other coaches, like the French architect over in College Station, have already opened the gate.

See you on the Grove.

Roll Tide.

Friday, October 05, 2007

University of Alabama Football Report for 10/05/07

Homecoming Quiz

1. Alabama’s original mascot is:
a. The varsity color guard
b. The Crimson Tide
c. An elephant named Big Al
d. An ineffective passing game

2. Alabama’s oldest tradition is:
a. Saying “Roll Tide Roll” during kick-offs
b. Chanting “Rammer Jammer” following a victory
c. Shaking crimson and white pom-poms during the fight song
d. Praising the second-string quarterback

3. Alabama’s most knowledgeable football coach ever is:
a. Paul “Bear” Bryant
b. Gene Stallings
c. Nick Saban
d. Apparently the guy who called Major Applewhite in the middle of the night!

4. During halftime of the homecoming game, Alabama usually:
a. Interviews the head coach
b. Interviews the Homecoming Queen
c. Interviews the alumni who’s traveled the farthest for the game
d. Interviews candidates for punting duties

5. This year’s Homecoming Queen will thank:
a. Jesus
b. Her mom and dad
c. The students who voted for her
d. Her lucky stars Alabama is not playing USF

For each question answered “a” give yourself two points. For each question answered “b” or “c” give yourself one point. For each question answered “d” give yourself ten dollars, stroll down to your local booze peddler, and see how far that will get you because, brother, your eyes are too clear and there’s some tough games on the horizon.

Roll Tide.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

University of Alabama Football Report for (Thursday?) 9/27/07

We're a day early due to travel plans. A big bird awaits to take us back to Florida. If we are all judged in the afterlife, then Florida must be the court system's drunk pen. Still, its oddities do bubble up some precious moments from time to time.

This weekend's out-of-conference, neutral-site game with Florida State will be played in Jacksonville, home of the NFL's Jaguars, in whose stadium the game will be played, and of Alabama favorite, Lynyrd Skynyrd, authors of the most rawkin'-est song ever, of course, regardless of context, "Sweet Home Alabama."

Now before you dismiss this as rabid homerism, hear me out. Below are quantifiable standards by which to judge "Sweet Home Alabama"'s superior rawk.

1) Turn It Up: For a song to rock, it must be recognized immediately by its audience. We'll categorize this under the ethos guideline of Aristotelian rhetoric: the author of the message must be perceived as having the audience's best interest in mind for the message to be accepted.

Of course you're probably saying, "would not rawk prioritize pathos and marginalize ethos? Stop being such a Stanley Fish out of water!" And though your complaint has merit, I would argue that rawk marginalizes logos, not ethos.

What disqualifies so many rawkin' tunes to my ear is the initial chasm of the audience who fails to recognize the song: Is this "Radar Love" or "Sister Christian"? Who sang this song, Berlin or Journey? Is this Wolfmother covering Led Zep or ripping off Led Zep?

And while many songs lay claim to distinctive guitar riffs as an ice breaker, only "Sweet Home Alabama" breaks through the fourth wall, standing with the audience instead of singing to the audience, by calmly but assuredly stating "Turn it up."

2) In Birmingham they love the Guv'nah: Perhaps the most controversial aspect of naming "Sweet Home Alabama" rawkin'-est song ever is the claim that the song requires no context to rawk. Naturally, it is impossible to list every conceivable venue in which a song may be played, but perhaps my own observation may convince the undecided that it is possible to have a context-free rawk song.

I have observed "Sweet Home Alabama" rawk equally in the following places:

-- a bar in South Philadelphia
-- a wedding reception
-- a 92,000-seat football stadium

The diversity of venue speaks for itself, but a subtler point may be missed. The obvious hurdle for "Sweet Home Alabama" to overcome is its fixed place in geography: How can a song with a state name in its title be a universal rawk song? And while in most of 50 cases this would be true, Alabama is not just any state, it's a (pardon the pun) state of mind, a signifier of a polarizing point of view.

The Great Leader did not leave Miami for Auburn.

While rawkin' in a bar is no large feat (and certainly this song has played well past its cover-band shelf-life in the South), consider the degree of difficulty overcome by "Sweet Home Alabama" rawkin' in South Philly. A true rawk song must make its listener feel as if they are the ones rawkin', that they are better people than they were before the song began.

In a contest between stereotypes and regional pride, everyone's a winner, no matter which side you've chosen.

3) We all did what we could do: Ooh Ooh Ooh. Audience participation confirmed. QED.

See you in the club level. Tip your waitress.

Roll Tide.

Friday, September 21, 2007

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/21/07

We are breaking the 24-hour rule, not to gloat nor even reflect, but to apply a lesson forward.

If you remember when Gene Stallings stepped down as head coach of the Crimson Tide (I hate to imagine what rule we’re breaking here), many of the Alabama faithful cast a suspicious leer toward Frank Beamer, a coach at a polytechnic school who could not sport championship hardware. No, many Alabama fans had their man selected before Stallings even cleaned out his office.

That man was Mike DuBose.

If you remember, after Mike DuBose (ahem) left, many of the Alabama faithful were unworried by Dennis Francione’s unsigned contract. It was all legal mumbo-jumbo, after all. These kinds of things take time, you understand. Furthermore, any talk of Francione leaving Alabama for Texas A&M, to be charitable, a sideways move, would be absurd. Francione is a perfect fit for Alabama, so why would he leave?

Francione’s Aggies lost to Miami last night.

If you remember the NCAA sanctions that were handed down to Alabama, many of the faithful were surprised--nay, shocked!--at such harsh penalties. Were not other schools just as if not more guilty of malfeasance? Were not we a powerhouse in college football that the NCAA would not dare attempt to tear down?

The probation, after the sanctions, ended just this year.

If you remember the coaching search that resulted from Francione’s late night exit and the coaching search that resulted from Mike Price’s late night entry, many of the Alabama faithful were hopeful that Mike Shula, a favored son (in more ways that one), would be young enough, innovative enough, and hungry enough to lead the Tide through the roughest portion of those above-mentioned sanctions.

Alabama fans still get jittery in the red zone.

If you remember the last coaching search, there were many among the Alabama faithful who called for the head of one of their own. Having delayed and delayed, Mal Moore acted like he was the only man in the entire state who knows two shits about football. And when he opted to wait on Nick Saban to finish the NFL season and when he low-balled Rich Rodriguez and let him fly back to West Virginia to consult with his family and his alma mater, many of the Alabama faithful were at their breaking point.

Which brings us to the 24-hour rule.

If you remember where you were last weekend with just under four minutes left in the game and you saw Nick Saban on the sideline and saw him send in the field goal unit with his team down by a touchdown, you know why Mal Moore acts the way he does: he’s right.

At least, he was.

Now, there are at minimum two people in the state of Alabama who know something about football, who know how to take pressure off a young kicker yet give him a chance to redeem himself, who know that you have to score more than 13 points to beat an SEC team, who know that defense is a part of the game and you use it to get the ball back, who know that many of the Alabama faithful don’t know half of what they think they know and should be listened to only so that they may be conditioned, retaught, and corrected.

Brethren, have you learned your lesson?

Now, on to Georgia.

Roll Tide.

Friday, September 14, 2007

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/14/07

Things you will not read about here:

Local TV news anchors.

The Freedom of Information Act.

Darren McFadden’s car.

For all the slights and jabs directed at Alabama and their four-million-dollar man, one can at least offer the defense, such as it is, that the Crimson Tide faithful love football.

Think about something or someone you love. Imagine Elvis and Jesus playing the doubles tournament at the French Open. Imagine a pill for high blood pressure that turns your shit into gold ingot. Imagine your first pet having a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from MIT and doing your homework for you all your life. Imagine Michelangelo carving Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn having sex. Now imagine you could read about it in the paper every day and see it on television that weekend--that’s football to the Alabama fan.

That’s why 92,000 people showed up for a scrimmage. That’s why nearly 40,000 of those people sold out Vanderbilt’s stadium and shouted down the home team’s band when it tried to play its fight song. That’s why, despite the pain, they showed their former favorite son the door and cut the Great Leader the big check.

Now, Arkansas? I have no damn idea what they love.

Last season, the Arkansas Razorbacks won their division and played in the SEC Championship Game, losing to eventual national champion Florida. They posted a ten-win season and featured a Heisman candidate in their backfield, a player many are calling the best player in college football at the moment.

What reaped this team throughout the off-season? A coordinator and many players quit, the coach was nearly fired, and the courts were involved far more than you’d think necessary for men playing football. Insanity.

You may think it improper for Alabama to pay Nick Saban what it does. You may question the priorities of the kilt-wearing yayhoo with Bear Bryant’s image tattooed along his spine. You may question the wisdom of the couple who named their children “Bryant,” “Tyde,” and “Saban.” But if you loved football this much, what would you do?

Roll Tide

Friday, September 07, 2007

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/07/07

Inadvertently, I find myself reading about the end of the world.

Perhaps I should blame Appalachian State (or Michigan) for this development. But, with a three-point spread on the road, I hope it not Jung’s collective unconscious warning me about tomorrow’s game with Vanderbilt.

An exiting Commodore coach once stated Vanderbilt’s problem as, on Monday through Friday, they try to be Harvard but on Saturday they expect to be Alabama. However, since that quote was let loose, they may have closed the gap--if not on Harvard, then certainly on Alabama.

The days of using Alabama as shorthand for success on the football field have (temporarily, we expect) ended. Furthermore, Vanderbilt, despite their losing records, has become a solid opponent, producing a first-round draft selection at quarterback recently and likely one at receiver currently. Add to this their recent victories over Georgia and Tennessee, and you must admit that this is not the same ol’ Vandy.

This was the conversation among some Crimson Tide faithful the other day while discussing plans for attending the game. In retort, it was offered that “Vandy is still Vandy. They have good players here or there, but not enough depth to last four quarters. That’s the way it’s always been.”

To this, the best of our gamblers replied, “Oh yeah? Steely Dan use to write songs about us . . . things change.”

Hopefully, for the better. Last week’s drumming of Western Carolina was little more than a glorified scrimmage and an excuse to reveal the depth chart. Alabama, despite claims of limiting themselves to the vanilla playbook, showed more creativity on offense in three quarters than they had in three years--one lateral to a lineman excluded, of course.

So we enter tomorrow’s game curious. With so many new faces on defense, a new coaching staff, and a legitimate opponent, how will Alabama respond to one of the better quarterback-receiver duos in the conference? The Great Leader claims to have a plan for everything, but what it will be is anyone’s guess.

My plans are simple: mix the Bloody Marys the night before, take in an early morning stroll through Music City, find my seat, and keep an ear out for the classic rock station.

Roll Tide.

Friday, August 31, 2007

University of Alabama Football Report for 8/31/07

The story goes that a young, tenacious, by-the-book German priest was charged with shepherding through the Vatican a group of Protestant theologians, brought to Rome to consult on the ecumenical matters pertaining to the Second Vatican Council. In their company was the atheist’s favorite theologian, Karl Barth.

Barth had already proved his bona fides against Hitler, being the principal author of the Barmen Declaration calling for solidarity with the Jews and by trying to enlist for the fight though he was already approaching 50. What army needs a middle-aged pacifist, anyway?

But Barth had been waning in popularity among his own. His position that God--his grace, his presence, his will--is fundamentally unknowable (duh, replies the atheist) isn’t exactly a rallying cry for the faithful, but it did garner him enough interest to be consulted pro cathedra, if you will.

So after enduring many lectures and many conferences and many tours of many rooms, Barth quietly asks the German priest, excusing the poor impression that he, a humble Protestant, must impart, if all this ornate decoration and haughty rigmarole is not but a tacky substitute for a penitent spirit and the service of God?

History does not record the priest’s answer, but considering he was most recently elected to the papacy, we might hazard a guess.

It is much the same feeling that approaches us now. All the media coverage--the SI cover stories, the media-day circus, the ESPN 24-hour pre-game marathon--and all the expectations are shallow furrows compared to the season awaiting us.

And we shall ease into it. Week 1 is the methadone to smooth the edges on the rough stuff coming down the pike. Oh, we shall watch the game, but Western Carolina is not, in the words of Captain America, the pura vida. No matter. As the Great Leader has said, and said, and said, this is about the Process.

Finally, the Process begins.

Roll Tide.

Friday, August 24, 2007

University of Alabama Football Report for 8/24/07

The Alabama Crimson Tide concluded fall camp this week and begins regular game preparation from here on. You are forgiven if this tidbit slipped your attention, as most observers have been dissecting Simeon Castille’s disorderly conduct arrest.

Cecil Hurt came down on the side of forgiveness and flattery. The Great Leader took pains to support his player while trying to forfend anyone from popularizing Tuscaloosa as not a good place to be if you’re young and black. After all, most recruits aren’t 59.

Besides, anyone who’s been to an SEC football game knows that disorderly conduct isn’t a crime but a characteristic. Too much prerogative is afforded those who elevate order as a virtue. In small doses (for example, to celebrate the completion of an arduous training camp), disorder can lead to wonderful places--and also, truth be told, to the back seat of a cruiser.

Not everything frowned upon should be criminal. I certainly don’t approve of the Zbigniew Herbert translations released earlier this year, but I wouldn’t throw Alissa Valles in the clink over it. Michael Hofmann might, but not me.

Yet, using the scope, one would think that Valles has done more harm than a boisterous cornerback in a college town. Weighing in at nearly two pounds, her volume will likely not be replaced in my lifetime. To a generation of English readers, this Herbert will be their only Herbert. The smaller, scattered, and selected volumes we’ve known will eventually fall out of print, if only because of college syllabi pragmatics.

What a shame it will be to lose this other Herbert, my Herbert. Valles’s decision, or (according to some) defalcation, to value the colloquial over the classical diminishes a good deal of what English readers have come to treasure in John and Bogdana Carpenter’s earlier translations. And she defends herself with the catchall of being “true” to the Polish. In the translator’s game, this is the same, sorry line as “just following orders.” In this regard, Valles pleads guilty to the charge some have leveled against her translations as being “unthinking.”

For to the English reader, I think it not important to be true to the arbitrary mechanisms of Polish grammar as it is to be true to Herbert, as best we can surmise his intent. So although Valles seems proud to exorcise articles from (the) verse--as Polish grammar does not apparently use any--a quiet voice asks, “but what if Herbert had written in English?”

That same voice is the one I remember in the earlier translations, where Herbert’s poems seem to be written for Western Union rather than the Western canon, telegram messages from some great celebration or tragedy. That Herbert’s collected volume registers such a hefty mass is impressive given that he rarely extends a line to ten syllables.

Hofmann’s critique of the new translations lost some traction when critics of the critic pointed out that he does not (or cannot, to use his words) read Polish. Irrelevant! Hofmann, as a translator himself, knows that the mother tongue never makes it to the finish line. Our problem here is thoroughly English.

Still, enough of the Herbert I remember makes it through to make the reading worthwhile (after all, he was a tough guy who withstood worse occupiers), so I bear no real enmity toward Valles. When it comes to print crimes these days, I’m more concerned with gimmick infringement!

Roll Tide.

Friday, August 17, 2007

University of Alabama Football Report for 8/17/07: Season Preview Edition

Word out of fall camp is that the Great Leader has forbidden use of the word hot and its synonyms. He seeks new definitions with these men, replacing an old culture with one of his making. This is an old trick, and worthwhile. The other day, I was asked, “What food do you suppose other peoples fry on sidewalks to illustrate their amazement with the heat?” I had no answer and confess that I’m not brazen enough to propose the egg is universal.

Most of my summer has been spent scanning the Gospel of Luke for plagiarism and repairing family heirlooms. The Old Man left behind a dual-triggered double barrel with rabbit-eared hammers. From stock to chambers, trim and stamp, copper highlights it. It is heavy but balanced. As shotguns go, it is rather elegant.

Were you interested, you could find one in working condition for $200, for display $100. Let us price mine at $150, as I’ve spent too many hours this summer arguing with a faulty firing pin on the right side. But the Old Man either thought too much of his own preferences or completely misunderstood the Invisible Hand, because I am certain it’s not worth what he paid for it.

Improper evaluation was long the Old Man’s problem, often confusing time’s passing with consumer demand, missing the exit ramp to antique and heading straight for junk--a blind spot not uncommon among the Alabama fan in general.

The upcoming season presents a good many riddles. The stalwart defense is to be porous; the anemic offense is to be the life’s blood. The predictions for the season mark this. As the mercury rises, so do the prophets’ totals: six wins to seven to ten--all claiming to be realists. Reasons are given, all contradictory.

The offense will benefit from better play calling, but the defense will suffer without depth.

Quarterback and receivers are experienced, but walk-ons are starting in the secondary.

Most of the tough games are at home, but many teams have an off week to prepare.

None of this makes sense, and you’re better served by clearing your head until there’s actual football to watch.

But if you have the bad habit of following your instincts toward the nearest neon sign, you’ll often leave your good intentions and your money on opposite sides of the door. Worse still, you will occasionally land where you don’t belong. And by the time you figure out that the oddly dressed woman across the table isn’t taking her clothes off, it’s too late. You’re in the shadow of those neon fingers in the window, forty dollars poorer, and might as well go along for the ride.

“Date and place of birth,” she asks.

Halloween. Fairmont, West Virginia.

“The name most people call you?”

Nick, or coach.

“What is your favorite color?”

Currently? Crimson. And green. Probably not in that order.

“Your rising sign is twelve degrees in Capricorn, which means you are very ambitious, an achiever, a hard worker--you respect success. Your sun is in seven degrees in Scorpio; you can be furious and unforgiving . . .”

She goes on for every planet, every sign. I make out a few lines about “rootless, unsettled lifestyle” and “you are outraged when others show contempt for authority” but am mostly comparison shopping in my mind about what two twenties would buy down the street. What is true about astrology is that it blends two of humanity's deepest characteristics, one of our best and one of our worst: our desire for understanding and our capacity for self-flattery.

Which brings me back to Alabama’s upcoming season. Practices are closed, so no one has seen this offense that has supposedly exorcised its red zone bugbears. The 92,000 lunatics like me who attended A-Day saw nothing more than the store-brand vanilla. How can such sentimentality be trusted to accurately evaluate this team’s worth? How can any of us posit an honest appraisal when our hearts are so in the way?

Which brings me back to the shotgun. I resemble the Old Man too much, for I’m sure I’ll never sell it. Besides, given the bulk and swagger of its design, the left side alone is enough to do the job.

Roll Tide.

Friday, May 25, 2007

University of Alabama Football Report for 5/25/07

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!

Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke (or Toby McGuire, in Spiderman 3)

The off-season for college football, as connoisseurs know, doesn’t really begin the second week in January. No, as the last seconds tick down in the national championship game, the last thing on the college football purist’s mind is victory or defeat, but on the next game: recruiting. An oft-told joke in that vein has Bear Bryant hated in country clubs throughout Texas and Oklahoma because his arrival at Texas A&M essentially snuffed out any chance of bumping into your school’s coach out on the summer links.

Perhaps that’s the bright spot in Nick Saban’s miserable performance in last week’s charity golf outing.

But the Great Leader has more to worry about than his handicap. Breaking “news” from Miami has Alabama guilty of recruiting violations right out of the starting gate. The minutiae are thus:

-- The current rules state coaches may observe high school prospects during this time period.
-- Said high school prospects and coaches may not converse beyond what the NCAA bylaws only describe as a “greeting.”
-- Two high school players in Miami have talked with the Great Leader, as some reports have it, up to ten minutes. Gasp and horror!

A popular bit of pabulum holds that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. I doubt I’ll ever know who said that first. It’s been attributed to everyone from Eli Wiesel to (get this) Gunter Grass to a horde of crackpot pop therapists. But success has many baby-daddies, so I’ll not quibble.

Alabama has had its bright moments in recent years (remember the SI cover?), but that’s all. Moments. A passing foretaste that graces the appetite with promise and nothing more. On the other hand, Alabama has had its fill of indifference.

The violations listed above are laughable not because the accusations are false, but because they are most likely true! They are also most likely never adhered to. By anyone. As attested to by the University of Miami’s head coach being at the same high school, at the same time, talking to the same players.

Am I to believe that an American teenaged football player is allowed to be “observed” by prospective future coaches (who offer prospective future scholarships, which offer prospective future million-dollar paychecks) and will not talk his fool head off? If you have a teenager in your life, first, my prayers, secondly, try to engage in a simple “greeting” as the NCAA demands. You will receive, depending on the teen’s view of what you offer, either the tortuous drips of grunts and mumbles or the deluge of every embarrassment the youth’s half-hollow head can tip out.

This is abstinence education for the mind.

The Great Leader is not omniscient, and he has learned something from this. He has learned he will not be ignored. He has learned where he is not loved. He has learned he is hated. This we can work with. This feels right.

He who preceded the Great Leader’s arrival was, for better or (more often) worse, loved and loving. So, initially, when the Great Leader did not say our battle cry and did not wear our colors, some could not be faulted for their worrying. We have abandoned love for the highest priced whore in town.

But remember, love will get you six wins a season.

Roll Tide.

Friday, April 27, 2007

University of Alabama Football Report for 4/27/07

Everything being a constant carnival, there is no carnival left.
-- Victor Hugo

Those who claim that hubris and cynicism cannot coexist have never lived through a coaching search. More than allegiance or curiosity brought 93,000-plus to A-Day, the Crimson Tide's annual spring scrimmage game. This crowd was ecstatically vengeful. This crowd wanted blood.

On the field, Crimson played White, ones versus ones, hunting dogs on the scent, as our new coach would have it. But in the eyes of the fans, here were other colors and other schools. Here were the plans to make right what has been so horribly wrong for so long. Worse than being just bad--mediocre.

It feels good to be hated again, good to be despised. It's no one's dream to be ignored, dismissed.

You want to be guy who wakes up in a beautiful stranger's bed, walks to his car, and sees "LIAR" scratched onto the hood by a woman who slept alone last night across town. That guy was loved. That guy did his damn job right.

Priorities come into question. Mysteries are repeated. Curses are uttered. Somewhere amid the din, you feel the honest burn of truth hitting your ears. All is language, so learn what was said.

Hope, that feathered thing that our local scribe pointed to? Sickness, per our worldwide leaders in Connecticut? In portion, yes, but more to the point, more to the tastes of the assembled, get this right: Memory.

Roll Tide.

Friday, April 06, 2007

University of Alabama Football Report for Good Friday 2007

[M]an was presented with the choice of two disciplines to guide him: either he could live by faith . . . or he could plan his life in accordance with objective evidence and verifiable experience. . . . [Against] a supernatural token of life's meaning, he must weigh the empirical, naturalistic code of the astronomers, geologists and biologists, abandoning entirely all transcendental speculation.
-- Dr. Homer W. Smith, Man and His Gods, 1952

Anticipation is the enemy of pass offense. . . . You must never take an opponent lightly. You must never relax when you are ahead. You must stay a little scared. Opponents play hard. . . . You must live with the final score. . . . You are never completely defeated.
-- Coach Homer Smith

Coach Eddie Robinson died this week. And despite his saintly nature and the prevailing theme of the season, I am not optimistic for Sunday. As a rule, I am suspicious of religious fervor applied anywhere outside college football’s universe of discourse, of which I was reminded often this past month when members of the broadcastnoscenti would label the NCAA basketball tournament, in a subtle but pointed contrast with college football, a “perfect” sporting event.

Agreed. If Robinson’s life reminds us of anything it is that college football is not perfect--it’s better. Legend has Robinson building the Grambling program from the ground up, literally--head coach, faculty advisor, equipment manager, groundskeeper--and better still: The legend’s true. We have not yet invented a word good enough for what college football is.

However, already without Robinson, college football threatens to grow more imperfect as Homer Smith announced via the web recently his being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, for which he will undergo chemotherapy and stem cell treatments.

Proof of college football’s blessed irrationality, Coach Smith and his brown bag of tricks were unceremoniously run out of Tuscaloosa (twice!), yet he remains one of the most revered members of the Alabama coaching fraternity.

His first tour of duty consisted mainly of applying gild trim to Bill Curry’s runaway frigate before it steered toward Lexington, but he’s perhaps most fondly remembered for his work during Gene Stallings’s tenure.

Smith, a divinity student and novelist, was the antithesis of Stallings, who as a strategist makes a fine bulldozer. Nearly 25% of the offensive playbook Smith penned for UCLA was dedicated to the quarterback’s eyes!

Smith, however, was no propeller-head like Mike Leach, no slave to gimmickry for its own sake. For all the thunderstrokes available in the pass attack, his wing-T was unafraid--perhaps even eager--to run the option.

The tightrope between creativity and conservatism draws especially taut at the University of Alabama and may be ultimately what cost our last coach his job. Our current coach dances easily along the thread, swearing by violent conditioning and sampling players across various roles--creating young dilettantes of collision.

Not everyone fears the new, as the money race for our would-be Presidents proves. Now, it’s an open secret where this site will be placing its considerable political muscle--a candidate with Bama in his name doesn’t come along every four years, you understand.

However, given the competition, an endorsement might be possible even if his name were Barak O-Auburn. Surely Hillary Clinton is despised by many fearful people for many frivolous reasons, just as she is duly loathed for things she’s actually done: disparaging Tammy Wynette, for one.

When her husband ran for the office the first time, Hillary proudly, smugly, stated that she would be more than a “Stand by Your Man” first lady. No doubt this was to inspire young women around the country that they could achieve success on their own terms, without coattailing their husbands.

Well, Mrs. Clinton, Ms. Wynette, who did achieve success on her own terms, was more than a one-hit wonder. Perhaps you’ve heard her number one tune from 1968, “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”? I thought not.

If this strikes you as frolic, then perhaps we may turn to a different object lesson, with a different President. On July 19, 2006, George W. Bush vetoed a bill that would have increased the federal funding for stem cell research, a costly enterprise that surely could use the dough.

Now critics will rightly cite that the President has squandered the goodwill of nations and the lives of volunteer soldiers, has belittled national concerns and amplified paranoia, has padded the purses of his friends and slandered the names of his critics, has ignored the cries of the drowning and disgraced the sacrifice of patriots.

But, so help me, if this bastard ends up killing Homer Smith, that’s what I’ll hate him for the most.

Roll Tide.

Friday, March 23, 2007

University of Alabama Football Report for 3/23/07: Spring Practice Preview

Lost to many observers amid the sturm und drang of Alabama's hiring of Nick Saban, the feverish pace of his recruiting semi-season, the militarizing of the football team’s strength & conditioning program, the start of spring practice, and the President seeking more men to pleasure him, lovers of Crimson Tide arcanum find this acorn to store way: Major Applewhite finally arrives at the Capstone.

Applewhite, whose Christian nomenclature springs not from his family's martial devotion but rather from his father's admiration of former Tide halfback Major Ogilvie, is perhaps best known to college football fans for his gutsy quarterback tenure at Texas, where his determination won favor from Longhorn fans as he supplanted the disappointing son of an NFL great to run the offense. The more things change . . .

Determination is no substitute for talent though, and the former Texas QB soon became a Texas coach. He then joined the staff at Syracuse, then became offensive coordinator at Rice, and, soon after that, at Alabama. Some say too soon, as Applewhite has only been of drinking age seven years. Most insiders affirm that it takes minimum an even decade of strong drinking to face SEC defenses.

Open your civics manuals and you’ll discover than Applewhite is still two years precluded from seeking office in the Senate, another five on top of that for the office at the other end of the street. However, moods are elevated in Tuscaloosa this spring and much is expected. After all, much has been paid.

Though they have (gasp) grown old, any talk of youth must include those blasted Boomers. The alternative to aging, however, finds province among them also, attested by their frequent assassinations and suicides. But a brief stroll down Bryant Drive (perhaps to Bryant Hall or the Bryant Museum or Bryant-Denny Stadium) proves we're not averse to necromancy here either.

So to throw the dogs their bone, I’ll confess JFK always comes up when discussing youthful triumph--he’s a fit sign for the signified, as things certainly looked worse once he was gone and once he was gone there was no bringing him back. That’s key: how can I miss Tupac if he won’t go away?

But Kennedy, like Tupac, probably receives more credit than he deserves, and for the same reason. Yet he knew how to move the masses. While whatever line he used on Monroe is lost to history, his quip about Rice playing Texas was iconically fit enough to sway oilmen into launching moon rockets.

Rice, whose reputation for football was so anemic that it seemed proper at the time to link their success on the playing field with man's setting foot on another planet, did not know that they were on the doorstep of a four decade long bowl drought, one that ended last season, with Rice's best offensive production ever, with Major Applewhite calling the plays.

Roll Tide.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

University of Alabama Football Report for 1/09/07: Season Recap Edition

A new cosmogony has been written in Tuscaloosa. The old stories still stand cast in bronze outside Bryant-Denny Stadium, but a new story begins here too. Mike Shula was one of us yet has been cast from the temple. Is Nick Saban one of us? No. Will he be? Possibly. Does he care? Unlikely.

No matter. Our new story allows for syncretism.

Our new story, like any good one, begins with a lie. Coach Saban’s lie had him staying in Miami, clubbing the South Beach, making defensive ends cry. The lie verified the collective weltanschauung of the radio voices at drivetime and the chattering nellies of Connecticut. The lie affirmed that no one would come to Alabama, that Alabama is an afterthought, that not even a West Virginian (two at that!) would sink so low. And then the lie disappeared.

Think of it as a reversal of lex talionis. An eye for an eye. A coach for a coach. Forgive us of our $32 million trespasses as we forgive those who have left for Texas, those who have forgotten their station, those who have not beaten Auburn. All is past now. Only the new story matters.

The new story will need some time to develop, time to find the laser-eyed behemoths it is known for and beat the stench of loss out of the husks it finds today. The new story will have plot holes from time to time, it will suffer from eisegesis, but it will soon grow familiar.

The new story will have a happy ending.

Roll Tide.