Thursday, December 30, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 12/31/10: Live from Mouseville

In accordance with mankind's inclination to adapt the environment to one's needs rather than vice versa, the state of Florida is a Frankenstein monster, an animation made from the dying parts of Detroit, Havana, Long Island, and other places. One of the strangest things about Florida is that, past a certain age, hardly anyone in Florida seems to be from Florida. Each community brings their own weirdness with them, or maybe they only become weird once they get here, like a steam valve releasing a lifetime's worth of pressure.


The result is what Harry Crews (Georgia native, but Florida resident) once called "the frenzy," and I can only describe it as a kind of anti-paranoia, a mania that has the locals sticking their thumbs in as many pies as possible. Everyone is up for everything, and no one has thought anything through. This is doubly so during the Christmastime season, when the state's population bloats with out-of-town relatives imposing on snowbirds and college football fans around the country flying in for the season's final huzzahs.


Sparty's followers, would they need to center themselves, could feel at least a modicum of home were they to tour the state's various marinas. Docked side by side, they would see stoop-backed, gray-beard sailors standing afloat their Ford or GM pensions, now named with equal parts pride and mockery: Third Shift, Punched Out, College Education.


For our younger readers, the idea of a company pension must strike them akin to saying their grandfathers all rode unicorns to work and shook Bolivia's finest from dandelions, but, lo, 'twas true. Indeed, in this sepia-toned America of yore, workers were often lured to their labor by the carrot, not held apace with the lash. These being the days when labor unions were for people other than millionaires playing a game on Sundays.


Such labor negotiations matter for Alabama fans, as we wonder if this weekend's contest will be the last we see of juniors Marcel Dareus, Mark Ingram, and Julio Jones. It is Jones particularly we wonder about.


Surprised? You shouldn't be.


Although Ingram will be immortal as the school's first Heisman winner and Dareus will never be forgotten for his performance in last year's championship game, Julio Jones most embodies the current Renaissance of Crimson Tide football. For it was Jones's signing three years ago, more than that of any other current player, where we crossed the Rubicon.


At the time, Alabama football had made news with a high-priced coach and little else. Furthermore, said coach, although heralded with much pomp and excitement, carried anything but a stellar offensive reputation. Were you the top receiver prospect in the state—perhaps the nation—you'd have little reason to jump on this bandwagon. Yet, surprisingly, come signing day, jump he did, which signaled that Alabama was once again a place where elite talent would come to play football.


That is why you hear over 100,000 people howl his name whenever he touches the ball, why a wide receiver is called the toughest player on the team without a raised eyebrow, and why he'll be sorely missed if joins the labor fight a year early following this Saturday. And if he surprises us again by coming back for a fourth campaign?


Well, yesterday I played golf on a naval base with the ghost of Dr. Thompson, teeing a drive headlong into an overhead fleet of Ospreys and today I and my bookie's legbreaker heckled a robot version of Reagan, so let' s just say I've gone native: I'm up for anything and nothing is thought through.


Roll Tide.


Spanish moss, fear and loathing, Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow

Friday, December 10, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 12/10/10: Heisman Projection

May one be pardon'd and retain the offence?

In the corrupted currents of this world
Offence's gilded hand may shove by justice,
And oft 'tis seen the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law...

Friday, December 03, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 12/3/10: An Open Letter to Steve Spurrier

Dear Sir:

I write to you on the eve of your return to the SEC Championship Game, and, given our past engagements at said venue, the irony is not lost on me that I find myself cheering your team on in this contest. One is never so old to outgrow surprises. I am certain that, in your time at Columbia, you’ve accepted this maxim as well.

Given the stakes of tomorrow’s game, I’m sure your time is valuable to you but, if I may, I would ask for a few moments to recount the story of Karol Szymanowski’s opera King Roger. I know something of your enthusiasms, so you are perhaps unfamiliar with opera in general and the works of Szymanowski in particular, but I beg patience.

The titular king of the work is Roger II of Sicily, one of myriad Roman Catholic monarchs distributed about the city-states of twelth-century Mediterranean Europe, and his story is one of power and temptation.

Early in the performance, a holy mass is interrupted by a shepherd boy who is accused of heresy. Oddly enough, the accusations are correct, as the shepherd adheres to pagan ritual and custom, even in the court of a Christian king.

However, the shepherd’s presence spurs strange reactions among the Sicilian court. The queen breaks into song, soldiers leave their arms for merry dancing, and most of the king’s advisors follow the shepherd as he tries to leave. As the king attempts to imprison the shepherd and exert his royal authority, more and more chaos ensues.

In the end, the king discovers that the shepherd is actually Dionysus, Greek god of dance and wine, and through him learns to abandon the limits of his fearful vanity and celebrate the vivacity of life.

So I guess what I’m saying here is, if you find yourself with a lead in the fourth quarter this time, don’t bench Garcia in favor of a freshman. OK, Ball Coach?

Roll Tide (and Go Cocks!).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 11/23/10: Iron Bowl Preview

It’s not about anything that’s going on outside. It's not about what happened last year. None of that really matters. It’s about this week, this time, this game.
––Alabama head football coach Nick Saban, 11/22/2010

The team that it was believed would give Alabama a tough fight and play the Crimson and White to a standstill, was crushed and battered by a mass of muscle and educated chain lightning.
––The Birmingham News, after Alabama’s 30-0 win in the Iron Bowl, 105 years ago

First, to be clear, I hate Auburn.

Now, that being said, I once endured the company of a Michigan supporter who stated flatly how his school’s rivalry with Ohio State was the greatest rivalry in college football, perhaps in all of athletics. In his imaginings, he offered a rather piquant metaphor of two neighbors, whose guard dogs, anchored in their respective yards, pawed the dirt year-round for a chance to snap off the leash. This was the game. How could any rivalry surpass this?

I said nothing to counter him.

Once, entertaining a lady from Tallahassee, I was told that Florida State’s rivalry with Florida, or was it Miami, was the premier contest in the South. And this rivalry with the Hurricanes, or was it the Gators, determined the future of college football in the state of Florida. And, furthermore, whoever controlled Florida had an inside track to the national championship. And, yes, she would like another martini, or was it a Manhattan?

I covered her tab, but I did not correct her.

From time to time, I will encounter those aged dignitaries among my own tribe who are still unaccepting of any rival for Alabama save Tennessee. Their number grows fewer every year, yet they affirm their position and will not yield. Perhaps they find such temperament romantic, or perhaps they are just hateful bastards and too old to change.

Nonetheless, I salute their fortitude and—honestly—am tempted to agree with them.

Again, to be clear, I hate Auburn. It’s just that, if we’re being completely honest, I resent hating Auburn. Hating Auburn is like having a shitty job, or, again being completely honest, it’s the shitty part of an otherwise great job.

After all, who is Auburn? How many Rose Bowls have they won, or even been to? Where are their national championships? They have won the conference six times. That’s only once more than Georgia Tech and three more than Tulane, who left the SEC over four decades ago. Were they not in the same state as my school—let’s be honest, a football school—what would they aspire to?

But maybe that’s who they are. Maybe they are the “other school” in the state, fielding the “other team.” And maybe after a century of that—even after a decade they, if we’re being completely honest, pretty much owned Alabama football, from the grass growing out of the turf on up—they’re kind of pissed about it.

And maybe, when you’re that pissed, and you see the school that made you the “other school” drop a cool forty mill-plus on a coach who reverses your world order in three short years, well, maybe you get desperate too.

Desperate enough to shitcan your coach and bring in an empty headset who’ll look the other way while the good ol’ boys throw around enough C-notes to wallpaper a church in Newnan, Georgia, because “family takes care of family.”

Desperate enough to say “boys will be boys” when your linemen leg whip, chop block, or spear tackle the opposition.

Desperate enough to lawyer up and take your shot at a Heisman trophy and a national title even if it means they’ll never appear in the record books because your star player spent the better part of his recruiting visits escorting an agent around campus and will be ruled ineligible by the NCAA.

Desperate enough to say that even if that’s true, you’re “all in” because—if we’re being completely honest—the star player is headed to the NFL and the good ol’ boys won’t be around for much longer either.


What I know for certain is that sports make lousy parables. At best, they offer a testament to the individual’s will or the group’s endurance. At worst, they simplify every dilemma to might makes right.

So it is with some uneasiness that I even broach the following territory, but I offer a simple point of comparison. In doing so, I openly discourage any myth-making or object lesson. Let be be the end of seem, as it were.

In one corner stands our quarterback, Greg McElroy, who this Sunday lost his opportunity to become a Rhodes Scholar to a graduate of Harvard and the Naval Academy, respectively. In the other, Cam Newton, a player—if we’re being completely honest—who is superior to our ginger-haired fascist in every observable way.

But this is really about those things that aren’t observable, isn’t it? Otherwise, why would the FBI be involved?

Were I afforded the opportunity, I would answer my Michigan partisan’s question by saying, “put those dogs in the same yard and you have the Iron Bowl.”

I would inform a certain lady from the Panhandle that the road to the national championship goes through Tuscaloosa whether your trip began in Dade, Alachua, or Lee counties.

And I would politely offer to the old guard, who’ve forgotten more about Alabama football than I’ll ever know, that, yes, I hate Auburn and—if we’re being completely honest—it’s a pleasure.

Roll Tide.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 11/17/10: Humpday Edition

What in the holy hell is going on around here? Two losses in a season and now we're the Thursday night special on ESPN-Esperanto? College football is made for Saturdays, damn it. It's easier to sleep through a sermon hungover than a business meeting.

No matter. It could be worse, after all. We could have the federales sniffing around for a money trail connecting bingo-hall funds to our Heisman candidate.

Ah, what's that? You'd like to hear more on this matter? Such kerfuffle will have to wait until next week. For now, we've this matter of a football game to play, albeit, if things go accordingly, not much of one.

In truth, the Georgia State program is not yet through its first full season and should not pose serious competition over the course of four quarters. Despite that, the game has drawn more attention than most of its ilk, which can be owned up to the return of former Alabama coach Bill Curry.

You'd have little trouble finding people in Alabama with good things to say about Bill Curry. Unfortunately, they're most likely Auburn fans. In Curry's three-year tenure on the Alabama sideline, he was 0-3 against our in-state rival (a feat a more recent coach would call amateurish). However, if it can be believed, his record against Auburn didn't lead to his termination.

Curry was a bad fit for Alabama, or vice versa, depending on how you look at it. He presented himself as an honor-bound Quixote, determined to take on the "Alabama mafia" and their influence over the program.

But not so honorable that he wouldn't back out of a game with A&M until his quarterback was healed up.

Nor did his resoluteness prevent him from pleading for sympathy in the press to deflect attention from a loss here or there.

The less said about the you-know-what thrown through the you-know-where, the better.

What is seldom remembered now is that Curry wasn't fired; he quit. For Kentucky! And unless you're planning on shooting free throws with that football, you don't consider that gig a step up.

You don't leave Tuscaloosa for Lexington if your focus is on championships. And if championships aren't your thing, maybe you shouldn't have been in Tuscaloosa to begin with. In that, we can find a lesson: if one is determined to play the victim, life will oblige easily enough.

In time, as younger generations stovepipe themselves into self-reinforcing echo chambers that rely more and more on crowd-sourced ad populum rather than challenging outsider viewpoints, I suspect that Bill Curry will be absorbed along with Dennis Franchione and Mikes DuBose, Price and Shula into a composite character--an amalgam coach who hired strippers for secretaries, never beat Auburn, and eventually followed Bryant's coaching stops backwards to Maryland.

This Bill-Mike Franchibosla will be remembered with a mix of resentment and pity. He will be seen, for various reasons, as not man enough for the job at hand. He will be acknowledged but not loved, defined by his shortcomings more than his successes. He will be judged by a standard unfit to his abilities and it will be unfair.

Still, if only because he held onto something greater than himself before it slipped away, he will be remembered.

Welcome back, Coach.

Roll Tide.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Friday, November 05, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 11/5/10: Moanin' at Midnight Edition

On both principle and observation, I am resolutely godless.

Neither the ornate Catholic universalism of ceremony nor the enthusiastic snake-charming of my homeland convinces me of a grand design beyond the chaotic world we see.

That being said, however, life’s insistent entropy precludes me from dismissing voodoo out of hand.

On the contrary, the capricious whims of cause and effect, the foggy veil between action and analysis, only makes it more likely that the ironworks of civilized life are undergirded by some bloody superstition—like a frigate chugging past the waterfall’s current.

What gris-gris did Alabama wear those many years between losses in Death Valley?

What sympathetic potion lured the Great Leader away from the bayou and to our sideline?

What assurance do I have that when Les Miles speaks it is not the voice of Papa Legba himself?

What hex is he proffering, madness or salvation?

Such is one’s thinking when approaching the witching hour with Baton Rouge on the brain. Enough time there leads to checking cracks in the sidewalks for devil’s hooves or cupping each breeze for old Black Hawk’s whisper. That beating heart the voodoo queen drags through the dust belongs to no one but you.

A dangerous place for the heart, that town. A place where redheaded stargazers relieve you of your senses and preacher’s daughters keep wanton company. You are always too old or too young. You are always on the make and up for a con. You leave behind mistakes but no regrets. You will never be so beautiful as your horrible, horrible self.

Out of such a mess must come that cry heavenward, to make sense of sorrow, light of loathing. Unanswered, of course, but in that silence bears our hope still. In spite of ourselves.

Roll Tide.

Friday, October 22, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 10/22/10

As a society, we rightfully discourage hatred. We view hate, depending on the circumstances, as a devolution toward primitive animus or the psychology of a disturbed mind. Legally, actions already deemed unacceptable—for example, assault or murder—receive consideration for stronger sentencing if their motivation stems from hate.

The Southern Poverty Law Center maintains the “Hate Map,” an online record of active hate groups in the United States. As of last year, 932 groups appeared on the map, at least one in every state, including nine in the District of Columbia. Texas had the most with sixty-six. Rest assured, no matter who you are, there is a group out there somewhere wishing the worst upon you.

Spinoza, in the Ethics, explains that hatred is the evidence of pain caused by something outside ourselves. Therefore, since the object of a person’s life is to achieve happiness, and happiness can be defined as the removal of pain, one should seek not to hate. For although one cannot deny one’s hate, one should supplant that emotion with a stronger one, be it love or honor or something else that emphasizes one’s pleasure.

Before him, Aristotle surmised hatred as a lust for destruction, and idea the Fruedians would pick up on later, the ego expressing negative desire. Psychologically, hatred is believed to be rooted in personality—an inward drive not necessarily resulting from stimulus but a filter that distorts said stimulus.

Current neurological studies confirm this, revealing independent flare-ups in five areas of the brain when a person experiences hate. This activity hinders the brain’s ability to accurately view, store, and apply information. The idiom “blinded by rage” is truer than we realized.

In the famous “Stanford Prison Experiment,” Philip Zimbardo demonstrated that people are easily capable of legitimizing their hatred to please authority. People will adapt to their circumstances and allow another’s hate to become their own, regardless of their previous psychological makeup.

Crackpots weigh in on hate too. René-Maurice Gattefossé, a French holistic healer, believed that hatred should be seen as a disease, a corruption of a person’s “life force.” However, this disease could be cured through the body’s natural inclination toward strength and wholeness.

Hatred, you see, is weakness. Infusion with uncorrupted life energies—in his thinking, plant oils and the like—would overpower a person’s weakened life force and leave one hate free. Universally, whether through science or sorcery, this is the goal.

The Buddhists see their hate as a selfish desire to be sloughed off the others on the path to nirvana. The carpenter makes it a condition for the ol' quid pro quo, “if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you.”

Throw a dart at any random page of a religious text, a self-help book, a psychiatric manual, or even the Boy Scouts’ Handbook, and you’ll find the implication that letting go of hate will make you healthier, wiser, happier, and just an all-around better Joe. And, to be blunt, they’re all right.

Fuck it. I still hate Tennessee.

Roll Tide.

Friday, October 15, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 10/15/10: Homecoming Quiz

1. Who said “There’s nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you”?

a. Woody Hayes
b. Paul “Bear” Bryant
c. Nick Saban
d. Every Alabama fan, post-hangover, last Sunday morning

2. What cartoonish character recently replaced Ole Miss’s “Colonel Reb” as the school mascot?

a. Black Bear
b. Landshark
c. Hotty Toddy
d. Fox News’ Shepard Smith

3. How many first-time starters are playing in the Alabama secondary this season?

a. Three
b. Two
c. One
d. Whoa—what!?! Fuck!

4. Ole Miss tradition : The Grove :: Alabama tradition : ___________________.

a. National championships
b. Houndstooth
c. Rammer Jammer
d. An ineffective pass rush

5. Which current SEC quarterback is better known for his run-ins with law enforcement than for his athletic performance?

a. Jeremiah Masoli
b. Cam Newton
c. Stephen Garcia
d. Does Greg McElroy count as an athlete?

6. Julio Jones finished the last game with a broken hand. Who is tougher than Julio Jones?

a. No one
b. Really, no one
c. Seriously, stop asking
d. Dude, are you regular stupid or Les Miles stupid? No one is tougher than Julio Jones.

7. Who is the favorite to be named Alabama’s 2010 Homecoming Queen?

a. Bethany Travis
b. Shellie Street
c. Pandora Austin
d. Julio Jones’s other hand

8. Alabama has won five games and lost one. How many games remain on Alabama’s schedule?

a. Eight—I still believe!
b. Seven—Our division’s too tough
c. Six—Maybe next year
d. I’m from Tennessee. Me don’t math good.

9. When Mark Ingram takes snaps in the wildcat formation:

a. he averages five yards a carry.
b. he needs to throw the ball more.
c. Alabama should pull the quarterback.
d. Alabama fans pretend they know how to coach.

10. Nick Saban’s salary is

a. Four million dollars per annum
b. One of the highest in college football
c. Mostly paid by donations to the athletic department
d. Not high enough to put up with the shit we give him after a loss

For each “a” answer, award yourself one point; “b” answers equal two points, and so on. Tally your points to learn how many drinks you need to get through the weekend.

Total: _________

Roll Tide.

Friday, October 08, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 10/08/10

“Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”
--from Chinatown

“We’re part of the Alabama show this week.”
--Steve Spurrier

Ask an Alabama fan of a certain age and with a contrarian sensibility whether South Carolina is more worrisome than the recently defeated Florida Gators and the answer might surprise you. Never you mind that Florida has been perennially fielding teams comprised of the top high school talent in the country and has been a serious national title contender for half a decade. Such is the reserve in the bank for the Gamecocks’ coach, Steve Spurrier.

For the uninitiated, such respect probably seems unwarranted. After all, they know Spurrier as a wash-out in the NFL and architect of a lower-tier bowl team that can’t break through its own division. They’ve seen the highlights of his tenure at Florida—but big whoop. To them, Florida should always be that good (the Zook era being a confirmation by negation in this line of reasoning).

For others, the sight of Spurrier on the South Carolina sideline is akin to seeing a mob boss behind bars. Sure, he’s not at his full powers, but he’s a phone call away from his last big hit.

Forget this at your peril.

John Wooden remarked upon his retirement that if UCLA would let him recruit players, run practices, and skip the games, he’d coach forever. Developing players, getting them to achieve better than the clues of their initial ability, was the true competition. The wins were but a result of that process. Our own Great Leader has echoed such ideals.

But Steve Spurrier is different: Steve Spurrier wants to win.

But much of the respect he has now has little to do with his overall coaching record (which, were he to win tomorrow, would be second only to Bryant in the SEC) or his championships (one national, six SEC, two ACC—at Duke!), but with how he impressed his own identity onto the most competitive conference in college football.

Last year against Alabama, the Gamecocks threw the corner fade to the end zone on three consecutive plays. Spurrier had seen Marquis Johnson exposed against Florida the previous year and wanted to test the waters. Johnson broke up the play each time. Most coaches would have called the play once and, if it didn’t work, move on to Plan B.

But this is Steve Spurrier; there is no Plan B.

In this, believe it or not, Steve Spurrier is a lot like Les Miles (hear me out on this): it’s just that Spurrier’s Plan A is usually much better. Steve Spurrier, like Yahweh, is the same today, yesterday, and forever. He was the same Steve Spurrier on the third pass attempt that he was on first down.

The same Steve Spurrier who, as a player, sent Florida’s placekicker back to the sideline and kicked a game-deciding forty-yard field goal his own damn self.

The same Steve Spurrier who credited his in-state rival’s recruiting success to their being “Free Shoes University.”

The same Steve Spurrier who mocked runner-up Tennessee with zingers like “you can’t spell citrus without UT” and “Peyton Manning came back for his senior season so he could be a three-time Citrus Bowl MVP.”

The same Steve Spurrier who, when asked if his team had a chance to beat the Georgia Bulldogs, responded, “Is Ray Goof still coaching them?”

The same Steve Spurrier who flew into a rage when Tom Osbourne told Nebraska to take a knee instead of running another option play that his Gators couldn't stop.

The same Steve Spurrier who, after watching the UT/LSU disaster last week, said that even dummies can win.

The same Steve Spurrier who insists that his “Ol’ Ball Coach” nickname be changed to “Head Ball Coach” because he’s, well, vain.

Yes, that Steve Spurrier. The same guy at Duke who, when fed up with his quarterback being unable to run the offense, took the field in shorts and sneakers and led the scrimmage himself just to prove he could.

Steve Spurrier competes. He only coaches because he can no longer play, and one has to think that the short leash he keeps on his quarterbacks is rooted in a belief he could do better than who he’s seeing on the field.

The scary thing is he might be right.

Roll Tide.

Friday, October 01, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 10/01/10

As for the rumor, we hope it proves true.

As for the game, what is there left to say?

Roll Tide.

Friday, September 24, 2010

University of Alabama Football for 9/24/10

“Everybody’s got plans… until they get hit.”
—Mike Tyson, pugilist

This week, the Wall Street Journal ran an article questioning the University of Alabama, and specifically Nick Saban, for the use of medical scholarships to remove student-athletes from an active roster.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, this practice, in spirit, serves to provide continuing academic support for players who, due to injury, are unable to perform in the sport for which they were recruited. Its creation was one of altruistic intent.

In practice, though, it makes room for incoming students possessing potentially better athletic caliber by removing those who do not. Twenty-five medical scholarships have been used in the Southeastern Conference in the past three seasons; twelve by Alabama—most during the current coach’s first season transition.

Most young men who play football are segregated by their merits before or during high school. A few are identified while on a college roster. And when those lucky few are unlucky enough to be injured, the razor thin margin on which they stood closed. One back injury or knee surgery, no matter how modest, may have been too much to overcome.

That being said, let us admit their true medical hardship was being human. And, like most people, they are born not with exceptional potential but are matter-of-factly normal. And, like most normal people, they believe in their exceptionalness. A pol reminded me that this is why the working class votes for Republicans: they would rather believe in their potential to be rich than admit to being poor.

In the three cases reported by the Journal, outright fraud is never identified and, in truth, each student did suffer from a serious injury. However, the students in question believed they could have continued to compete. To this, one can only add that some men discover their limits later in life than others. This sounds harsh, but only because severity is one attribute of the truth.

If not playing college football is your life’s tragedy, congratulations. And for every player who lands in this category, there stands an opposite. Cory Reamer and Rashad Johnson (who is now in the NFL) were both walk-ons who earned scholarships. Will Lowery, who will play on the two-deep roster tomorrow, is hoping to earn one now and on his margins, the game may well depend.

A year ago, Ryan Mallet and the Arkansas offense were seen as an impressive work in progress. Now, with a season of work behind them their success is considered a fait accompli, and it is Alabama’s defense experimenting with and interchanging its parts after three games of the season. To this, one can only add that some men discover their potential later in life than others.

For Arkansas, their season’s upside likely hinges on tomorrow’s game. For the plan to work, this game is their path to the division title, the conference championship game, and beyond that? What limits dare they place on themselves then? For Alabama, it is another occasion to measure the brutal distance between merit and potential.

Somebody’s going to get hit.

Roll Tide.

Friday, September 17, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/17/10

“It’s the first time since we’ve been here that I have felt the need to talk about things that you take for granted, like the dress code for a trip.”
—Alabama head football coach Nick Saban, on his team’s youth

Fashion week may have wrapped up yesterday in the Big Apple, but the runway show is just beginning for college football. In advance of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide’s first road trip of the season, the Great Leader has more to worry about than whose half Windsor in crooked and whose pocket square is wrinkled.

Although no one would think Duke can topple the near-consensus top team in the nation, no one thought the (James Madison) Dukes would simultaneously beat the Hokies and Boise State’s title-run hopes last week either. It was the exception that proved the rule, and there will be more to come.

Most of the marquee games last weekend ended up being routs, Alabama’s included. And such beauty contests, critics point out, reveal the fallacy of polling and the need for some new post-season mechanism to determine a national champion. However, the week-to-week unpredictability of the college football season remains the best argument against the simplistic play-off supporters—at least the fans’ best argument. For the folks in charge, it’s the dough.

Tomorrow’s contest also has a financial interest. When the series with Duke was first signed, an informal article of negotiation included Duke hosting their game in the locals’ NFL stadium, which is better suited to accommodate the invading horde. Not to mention it offers better drink specials.

Such a game was thought to expand Alabama’s recruiting footprint and provide a glitzier showcase for television, but that went out the window when Duke hired longtime Tide nemesis (and UA alum) David Cutcliffe, who, rightly, thinks his home games should be played at home. Sweet are the uses of a varsity.

And, truth be told, the Blue Devils are strong where Alabama is the weakest (if it can be called a weakness), so expect them to test the air, literally and figuratively, early. Thus, the schedule has provided at least one test for the Crimson Tide’s young secondary before their conference opener in Arkansas next week. They may not know how to dress, but after tomorrow, we’ll know if they can play.

Legend has it that Audrey Hepburn took a break from a film shoot to unexpectedly visit French couture designer Hubert de Givenchy. And, unable to take time away from a show, Givenchy offered her first choice of items from his current collection. Hepburn loved the clothes so much that, when she returned to filming, she wore them on camera, winning the Oscar for best costume design.

For Edith Head.

Unpredictable though it may be, the college football season is still beautiful. What else to call it when Boise State loses without even taking the field and Virginia Tech’s meaningless game takes on national consequence? It may not be fashionable, but, baby, it has style.

Roll Tide.

Friday, September 10, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/10/10

You ask what I know of youth, what I know of age.

I know youth is a curse one desires, age a gift one cannot request or refuse.

I know each autumn brings a winter and spring is never certain.

I know value in work and play, that doing away with either is foolish.

I know freshmen quarterbacks can play better than one thinks.

I know victory is life. I know examples teach. I know lessons fade.

I know the gospel of the Grand Experiment and the zone of proximal development.

I know when silence speaks and words fail.

I know art lies when it flatters.

I know I wake to sleep.

I know time is good for swollen knees and mellowed bourbon.

I know the tatters left of memory, the disappointments of family.

I know comfort is happiness poorly defined.

I know nothing more than my own limits.

I know a legend when I see one.

I know no difference between retirement and resignation.

I know Anytus and Meletus may indeed kill me, but they cannot harm me.

I know respect one owes rivals.

I know of floundering and steadying, the gasp of hell, the myth of heaven. I know no fear of death.

Roll Tide.

Friday, September 03, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/03/10

The Internet is a strange place. It is, at the same time, a conduit allowing diverse peoples with even more diverse ideas to challenge one another and a hyperbaric chamber for likeminded zealots to feed one another’s similar delusions. Although this rings true for any obsession, from politics to poodle grooming, it is perhaps most true for sports fandom. And most most true for college football fandom.

Since about the latter half of last season, when Mark Ingram’s Heisman campaign really, pardon the pun, grew legs, an obstinate corner of the Alabama fan base proposed that, even though Ingram was an exceptional player, his back-up, Trent Richardson, might be even better.

Of course, if we lived in a reasonable and ordered world, such people would be provided thorough psychiatric evaluations and prescribed some elixir that might prevent them from consistently kneecapping any joy they find in life. Instead, we live in our world and such people take to the Internet.

Predictably, when news came out this week that Ingram would miss at least this week’s game against San Jose State with a knee injury, those same voices decried Alabama’s chances against its schedule with an unproven starter at tailback. The Internet is a strange place.

But this sad condition is not restricted to Alabama fans. I have encountered heretics from the Sunshine State who have convinced themselves that Tim Tebow, who just this time last year was discussed as potentially the greatest football player ever, was, in truth, holding the Gator offense back. Now, the lad may be our favorite Christian, but this seems taking charity a bit too far.

Further evidence comes in the erosion of our belief in caveat emptor. A fellow I know placed items for sale on Craigslist, expecting that his postings would be seen as the impetus of gentlemanly negotiation. Instead, he awoke to an inbox filled with missives questioning his ethics, sanity, and the chaste intentions of his elderly mother.

Bartering, as any Middle Easterner could tell you, requires confidence and mutual respect. That this fellow could not find either on a website where student meal plans are swapped for hand jobs is no mystery. His offer was not seen as real communication from a real person to another real person, but a trifle. A transient jumble of text and numbers. An instant to be read, assessed, and discarded.

It’s not all bad news. In the pre-Internet days, gullible and desperate know-nothings ended up in religious cults, which seemed to pop up anew every couple of weeks. Nowadays, they just show up in DC for the one weekend, dry each other’s tears with pages from Atlas Shrugged, and decry their imaginary bugaboos.

I’ve no time for such fantasy. Tomorrow, the virtual will be replaced by the literal. It’s football season.

Roll Tide.

Friday, August 27, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 8/27/10: A Recap of the Craziest Goddamn Off-season in College Football History

A Times article this week breathed new life into the specious Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of linguistics (the long-abandoned idea, simplified, that if one lacks a word for a thing then the thing cannot be known). In short, the new take on this canard is actually a reversal of it: rather than language imposing limits on our thinking, it forces extra layers of meaning onto an objective reality. Our words create our world, and vice versa.

Although discredited among the pros, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis lives on among the plebes for popularizing the “many Eskimo words for snow” myth. In truth, the Inuit peoples have roughly the same amount of words for snow as anyone else, and even then they serve the same purpose of classifying degrees: flurry vs. flake, blizzard vs. dusting.

If this revelation removes from you a cherished gem of folk wisdom and you remain convinced that, because of its cultural importance, a people surrounded by the white death simply must have more words for it than do retirees in Miami, then consider how many words you know for “vomit” and get back with me. OK, Ralph?

The Times article rightly points out a hole in the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: man’s puzzling nature demands we feel some things out prior to our ability to articulate them. For example, one need not speak German in order to feel Schadenfreude. In truth, one need only be a college football fan.

If time were measured experientially, this off-season would have begun in the Mesozoic Age. A thousand lifetimes ago, Lane Kiffin and Reggie Bush were both in the USC Trojans’ past. But today, one is their present and the other never was.

In but a few tomorrows, the Big XII will have ten teams and the Big Ten will have twelve, and we were but a hair’s breadth away from Oklahoma being a “Pacific” school. That we do not yet have words for what college football will become reinforces the fallacy of Sapir-Whorf’s limits.

Anyone who enjoys reading poetry in translation can attest to the slightly askance yet thrilling connections made by vowels and nouns grasping for missing modifiers. A Portuguese poet once described his native tongue to me as a rainfall of words flooding the banks of their sentences to overflowing.

“And English?” I asked.

“English,” he said, “is a madman hurling bricks off a rooftop, hoping he builds a house.”

The same could be said of pre-season polls and late-August expectations. Alabama finds itself held the highest by both those markers and coming off arguably the greatest season in the Crimson Tide’s century-plus history. Yet, as evidenced by our Great Leader’s dispensation to ESPN’s cameras, the players wish not to maintain those standards but exceed them.

Such glorious irrationality is afforded youth as it awaits tempering by life’s fires. However will we manage our cynicism if they continue proving even the most inflated hubris a failure of the imagination? Whatever becomes of college football this season, and in future seasons, assure yourself that, when needed, we will find the words.

Roll Tide.

Friday, July 23, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 7/23/10: SEC Media Days Edition

Day 1: Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy
One of the drawbacks of the SEC’s expansive broadcasting deal with ESPN and the throngs of journalists, broadcasters, bloggers, and sportsertainment professionals it brings is that there’s no place free of laptops where one can rest one’s cocktail. Furthermore, the newer envoys from Connecticut seem observably Puritanical in their attitudes about public consumption.

They have other things to worry about though. No sooner had reports of Marcell “Second L” Dareus’s possible involvement with agents at a South Beach party surfaced than a competing narrative entered the sports media hivemind: Nick Saban is mad.

In and of itself, this is nothing new, but this day’s wrath is of a formerly undiscovered flavor. No mere disappointment or error has led him to this rage. Innumerable headsets may be smashed on the turf and still his ire shall not be satiated. For upon this day, much like Christ’s cleansing of the Temple, the Great Leader has revealed to all his righteous anger.

And with this fury, he may hew the very supports of our nation’s de facto state religion, the National Football League, from the shifting sand upon which they have sat for so long. Nick Saban sees agent interference with collegiate players as such a threat that he wants to choke off the monetary incentive rogue agents (the “pimps,” as he calls them) have for engaging with collegiate athletes. Namely, he’s willing to ban pro scouts from Alabama. Permanently.

This crazy fucker is trying to cockblock the NFL.

What’s crazier still is that it just might work! When arguably college football’s best walking evaluator of talent says he’ll kick pro scouts from his campus, it’s a good bet he’s got enough of his brothers-in-arms to follow suit. And that makes all the difference.

To many people, college football is an important ingredient of their identity, akin to culture or religion. To some people (cough cough… Yankees… cough cough), it is mere entertainment. To a select few, the people most harmed by these rogue agents, it is a path to riches. And to the NFL, college football is a 100 percent free, wildly effective, zero oversight farm system.

Without access to college campuses, NFL teams then have two ways to evaluate players: a four-day long combine and DirecTV’s PPV package. On those two factors, they are now free to extend a hundred-million-dollar contract to a twenty-year-old.

Good luck with that.

Quote of the day: The obvious choice here is the Great Leader’s assessment of sports agents, but how about a curveball?
“I have a lot of more first-round quarterbacks drafted than he has in his career as a head coach.”
—Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen, on Saban’s opinion that spread offense players are more difficult to evaluate for professional football
A comment: Dude, did you show up late? Why would you want to piss that guy off?

Day 2: I Swear to God I Thought Turkeys Could Fly
The first rule of journalism is to stay objective. Just the facts, as they say. Thus, when the assembled press corps in the Wynfrey Hotel’s ballroom applauded Vanderbilt’s interim head coach, Robbie Caldwell, as he concluded his Q&A from the podium, you knew the man had won them over—big.

Granted, the press has always had a soft spot for Vandy’s coach—frankly, someone has to and it’s not the school (how else to explain their Sisyphean out-of-conference scheduling?). But Caldwell’s performance, equal parts Jack Pardee and Jerry Clower, genuinely stole the show, covering topics from breaking in a new quarterback to inseminating a turkey.

With even the Steve Spurrier, resigned to his lion in winter status, saying that he’s “just another ball coach trying to win,” Vandy’s new man provided a welcome aperitif to the staid diet of coachspeak offered by Petrino and Richt.

Caldwell only found out he would be a head coach within the last week after the abrupt retirement of Bobby Johnson and claimed that he was so unknown to the locals that he was mistaken for a doorman (and pocketed a tip). If he can produce an on-field performance half as entertaining as his press wooing, the hokey act may become a staple of Media Days for years.

He’s already got the support of the third estate. Now he just has to win over the people who’ve already hired him.

Quote of the day:
“My first hourly paying job was on the turkey farm. … I was on the inseminating crew. That's a fact. I worked my way to the top. That's a fact, man. … Best job I ever had.”
—Robbie Caldwell, knows his way around, and in, a turkey

Day 3: Do You Have the Time?
For the first time in a decade, LSU is picked to finish lower than second in their division. Specifically, the Bayou Bengals are slotted fourth, above the two Mississippi schools, and received only one reporter’s vote to finish atop the conference.

Worse still, even though two LSU defensemen appear on the pre-season first team, they are alone among their teammates, including the second team—this despite consistent top ten recruiting classes for the past four years. Thus, we have a near consensus among the South’s press that players get worse the longer they stay in Baton Rouge.

One could humorously proffer that too much boudin is to blame, but at this point it’s clearer than ever that an even bigger meathead is at fault here.

I used to play tennis with a hack politico, a devious Teuton who swore allegiance to anything connected to a paycheck. In his estimation, the only unforgivable sin was a public figure’s reinforcing people’s own worst opinion of him. According to the shorthand version of last year’s Ole Miss game, Les Miles cannot tell time.

He was late to his own press conference.

Quote of the day:
“I reached out to Coach Fulmer, who I know is in many ways still in a painful state, and I understand. I told him that, I understood, because it was a difficult time in Tennessee.”
—Derek Dooley, on his contact with former Volunteer head coaches
Painful? Ha ha ha! Ha! Ha! I mean, ahem, no hard feelings, fatso. You were a bastard but worthy of hating, unlike the shithead they replaced you with.

Roll Tide.

Friday, July 09, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 7/09/10

“It’s interesting that all the folks that are buying it don’t know they are reading a children’s book.” — Miss O’Connor on To Kill a Mockingbird

“Tellin’ the truth’s not cynical, is it?” — Dill

This weekend marks the golden anniversary of Alabama native Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, known unofficially as “that book I had to read in high school” or “that one about Gregory Peck.” Alongside Hank Williams and Crimson Tide football, the book serves as the third element in the state’s holy triumvirate of cultural relevance.

However, though the state will lead the charge in the book’s celebration (I’ve already heard hyperbolic bullshitter extraordinaire Rick Bragg refer to it as “grown out of our own dirt” at least twice on radio), the commemoration will extend beyond the pine belt throughout the English-speaking world. Such is the book’s hold on its readers.

Of course, some of this is due to the story behind the story: Harper Lee, small town girl in the big city, writes a love letter to her father that wins the Pulitzer Prize and then nothing else. Surely some of the book’s appeal also grew ex post facto from the aforementioned Peck film, leading some to call Mockingbird the best book most people can pretend to have read.

But a bookish mystery and an ageing matinee idol will only get you so far. The book itself is a hell of a story revolving around classic archetypes of conscience, fear, hatred, and hope—an equal mix of childhood naiveté, adult terror, and defeatist cynicism.

This makes part of the book’s lasting appeal its pact with readers to take them only so far as they seem willing to go. Scout’s remembrance as a child invites an adult’s interpretation, although some readers may be reluctant to see what’s been left off the page. The children’s optimism is convenient, but not a panacea—not for Tom Robinson, not for Boo Radley, not for Alabama, not for us.

Another of the book’s legacies is its exemplar of the noble lawyer. Because they’re lawyers you can never know for sure, but countless members of the bar claim to have pursued a career before the court solely because of Scout’s dad. Never mind that Atticus Finch isn’t really that good of a lawyer (when you think about it, his defense of Tom hinges on whether the citizens of Maycomb are unfamiliar with the “pimp slap”).

The balance between Atticus Finch’s personal honor and cultural disgrace is a struggle, and some would argue a failure. How honorable can a man be when he partakes of a sham? Is he courageous or delusional? How deep are his convictions when he abandons them as his own family, and not a client, is at stake?

It’s an open question. Had Tom Robinson’s trial gone another way or had he accepted his fate, as Atticus apparently does, would Bob Ewell still “fall” on his own knife? The problem of doing right can’t be addressed only by the written code of the court or the unwritten one from our elders. Otherwise, Scout would be in her pink dress, Boo would be a farmhand, and the rabid dog would still be running free.

But Southerners are suckers for a lost cause. In the end, To Kill a Mockingbird may well be a children’s book, albeit one that illustrates the limits of the law and of one’s personal honor. It portrays the whole South, not geographically but morally, both its myth and its truth. And sometimes, in the way you tell it, the truth can sound like a cynic.

Roll Tide.

Friday, June 11, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 6/11/10

Elvis did not play football in high school because his parents could not afford the equipment fee.

The Big XII: abdication (self-administered, partially).

Direly underappreciated. Pretty much the high point of experimental fiction in this country.
Said David Foster Wallace about Wittgenstein’s Mistress.

Which is what a literary agent would call a “pull quote” and appeared in every clumsy write-up about its author, David Markson.

Including this one.

The original schools in the Pac 8 conference were (in no particular order) California, Stanford, Southern Cal, Washington, UCLA, Washington State, Oregon, and Oregon State.

Elvis’s last concert was at Indianapolis’s Market Square Arena, which was demolished July 8, 2001.

Always You.

Markson called his crime and western novels.

Elvis purchased the first production model of the Stutz Blackhawk. It was ordered for Frank Sinatra.

I’m very encouraged by the process we have set forth to ensure the solidification of this conference.
Said Dan Beebe before Colorado and Nebraska left for the Pac10 and Big Ten, respectively.

A better testament to Markson’s writing might be that he married his literary agent, Elaine. After they divorced, she remained his agent.

Harry Fannin played football for Michigan, a Big Ten school.

Better known writers whom David Markson had drinks with include (in no particular order) Malcolm Lowry, Conrad Aiken, Jack Kerouac, Pete Hamill, and Dylan Thomas.

The morning before Elvis left for the army, he bought a BMW.

Baylor was allowed to join the Big XII due to then-governor Ann Richards’s strong-arming. The current governor of Texas is an A&M alum.

Elvis signed one contract with Colonel Tom Parker. Elvis never changed it because he hated confrontation. The Colonel never changed it because it made him rich.

Kansas, a powerhouse basketball school, received no invitation join the Big Ten.

Or the Pac 10.

My Love, Forgive Me.

Tom Jones once found one of Elvis’s guns, a .45, on the floor next to his dressing room’s toilet. It had slipped out of Elvis’s hip holster while he made use of the facilities.

Markson activated a Twitter account on March 25, 2009. It displays 14 messages for 38 followers.

David Foster Wallace: hanging (self-administered, solely).

The original members of the Southwest Conference were (in no particular order) Texas A&M, Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Southwestern University, Rice, and Arkansas.

Ricky Nelson. Robert Conrad. Three of the Los Angeles Rams.

Hollywood Mon Amour.

Only one of Markson’s novels was adapted into a movie. The lead was played by Frank Sinatra.

The only thing worse than watching a bad movie is being in one.
Said Elvis.

Southern Methodist football: “repeat violator” status decreed by the NCAA Committee on Infractions (a.k.a. the death penalty).

The Overton Park Shell in Memphis is arguably the location of the first Elvis concert. It is still standing.

One Markson novel is entitled This Is Not a Novel.

During his movie career, Elvis played touch football with celebrity friends at De Neve Square, a public park in west Los Angeles. The crowds rivaled those at Rams games, if not exceeded them.

Summer Sounds.

My nephew has only partially justified his recommendations of this thing.
Said Markson on Twitter.

It is my fervent advice to avoid old-age.

Malcolm Lowry: misadventure (officially).

In 2007, a man stole Elvis’s 9mm Smith and Wesson from a display case during a tour of Graceland. The thief panicked and dropped it down a portable toilet behind Graceland’s movie theater.

Ann Richards: cancer.

Protagonists in Markson’s novels include (in no particular order) “Protagonist,” “Author,” “Lucien Springer,” “Reader,” “Harry Fannin,” “Writer,” and “Dirty Dingus Magee.”

Elvis first played the Louisiana Hayride because he could not get booked on the Grand Ole Opry.

In Person.

Market Square Arena: 962 charges of dynamite (wholly).

David Markson’s last novel is entitled The Last Novel.

Elvis shot out at least three television sets in his den and one in a hotel room because he could not find the remote.

Robert Goulet’s Wonderful World of Christmas.

According to the Washington Post, Markson requested, when the time came, no public memorial of his death.

David Markson: cancer (likely).

I’m ignoring his request.
Said Elaine Markson.

Roll Tide.

Friday, May 21, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 5/21/10: Notes from the Crimson Caravan

Each spring the Great Leader travels the earth, offering before the faithful his precepts for our beloved University of Alabama Crimson Tide football squad, on team chemistry, future scheduling, and sundry minutiae. We are grateful for his benign tolerance of our presence. Below are some of his remarks:

On the Alabama fanbase: “If it wasn’t for the positive energy and attitude that we have with our supporters since we’ve been at Alabama I don’t think we would have had the success that we’ve had.”

On the difficulty of repeating as conference and national champions: “I think what’s harder is to focus on the process of the things that you need to do to be successful. Where does the hunger come? Where does the motivation come from? And that has to come from within the players to be as good as you can be.”

On the NCAA’s new “Tiger Prowl” rule limiting the number of coaches on a recruiting visit: “Obviously, if you send five or six coaches to a place, you’re not trying to evaluate. You’re trying to emotionally impress somebody with what you’re doing. . . . The workload of the way we try to cover things, you get more people more places by not doing it.”

On the 40th anniversary of the Kent State (Saban’s alma mater) massacre: “It was a different time. . . . It would be hard for young people to understand that time, the changes that were going on, the demonstrations, the way people were speaking out against things. . . . I do think this incident made people very aware of the Vietnam War and maybe it was a step in the direction of getting out of the Vietnam War. But it’s a shame that we had a tragedy like that. . . . I had a great experience at Kent State. Obviously, what happened on May 4th of my freshman year was not one of those things. It was a real tragedy, probably one of the biggest tragedies I’ve experienced in my life.”

On filling in the holes created by defensive departures: “Jerrell Harris is starting at outside backer and we’re also working him some as a nickel backer. . . . Kendall Kelly went back and forth from receiver to defensive back and made a lot of progress this spring. . . . Dre Kirkpatrick had an outstanding spring and right now is a starting corner. We’re pleased with all three of those guys.

On this weekend’s Lost series finale: “Complete horseshit! Initially I thought, ‘OK, here’s something interesting. Something like No Exit but on network TV. I’ll give it a shot.’ But come on. Magic caves? Alternate universes? I wish they’d just told me it was going to end up as Star Trek in the tropics six years ago.”

On receiver Julio Jones’s “down” year: “I think Julio had a great year. He had a couple of games where he wasn’t healthy, but other than that, he was fine. I think he had a great year. . . . Julio Jones has done a lot to change the culture of what a wide receiver is at Alabama in terms of toughness.”

On the departure of QB Star Jackson: “Star has done a fantastic job in our program. . . .We hate to see anybody leave our program. But quarterback is sort of a unique position, and we have a lot of competition there.”

On Michael Jackson: “Aight. I know where this is going. Did he touch those kids? I don’t know. I sure hope not, and you know, I don’t think so. I know part of that is me just not wanting to believe he could, and honestly, who here can really imagine Michael doing anything sexual? Remember that video for “The Way You Make Me Feel”? Jesus. Obviously, his identity, sexually, I mean, and maybe just in general, was a puzzle to him. Mainly, I just listen to his early stuff and wonder how it all went so wrong.”

On possible upcoming neutral site games: “We’ve talked about maybe playing in Dallas, maybe playing in Atlanta. We’ve talked about the possibility about playing ten or twelve different teams.”

On Arizona’s anti-immigration law: “Superman was an illegal immigrant, you know that? Born on Krypton, and don’t give me any of that ‘birthing matrix’ crap. He was born. On. Krypton. And, sure, these immigrants don’t have special powers, but they’re coming here to do good just the same. The American way, aight? If you have so many people trying to get into our country that the system can’t handle it, fix the system. Don’t criminalize the people. That’s like setting a 15mph speed limit on the interstate and then acting shocked that everyone’s speeding.”

On the inordinate number of SEC opponents with bye weeks prior to playing Alabama: “I don’t see any changes right now that are going to affect it . . . it is what it is. Nobody knows for sure if a bye week helps your team or not. Sometimes when you’re playing well, you’d rather not have a bye week. Sometimes when your team’s a little tired and beat up, a bye week’s advantageous.

On conference expansion rumors: “The Big Ten is sort of the instigator in this. I think a lot of people or chasing what we have in the SEC with two divisions and a championship game. People that don’t have that don’t have quite the TV deal that we have. . . . But I don’t know that any of this will affect us.”

On nurture vs. nature: “The more we learn about the physiology of the brain, the less and less probable the old tabula rasa theories sound, at least in their extremes. Obviously, that’s not to say we’re products of genetic determinism. Rather than seeing our shared heredity as oppressive, I see in it boundless optimism. We are born communed with a gift of seeing our selves in others, which can be found in the teachings of nearly all the world’s religions, arts, or literature. At least, that’s what I try to impart to our players.”

On why Alabama doesn’t run the wishbone: “Who’s going to block? We have two tailbacks who saw a good number of snaps last year, and we ran the ball pretty good. No. No [motions to questioner]. Stand back up. I’m not done with you yet. One of those guys won the Heisman, if I recall. Set the school record too. Is that the guy you want drive-blocking into a rush end? No? Aight. Now you can sit down.”

Roll Tide.

Friday, May 07, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for Decoration Day: After the Flood

There are loved ones in the glory
    Whose dear forms you often miss.
When you close your earthly story,
    Will you join them in their bliss?
Will the circle be unbroken
    By and by, by and by?

One can imagine a family history better as a wavelength than a line. Over time, the day-to-day connections abandon one’s memory, leaving the gaps between peaks and valleys to broadcast the story. Celebrations all morph into the same clamorous din. The years elide. But, like the early AM radio transmissions, under the right conditions, the signal can carry far from its point of origin, surprising the listener. Perhaps you don’t recall the argument, but you remember the blows.

Years ago, an engineer tried to explain to me how, after a rainstorm, the moisture in the atmosphere could siphon distant radio signals as sure as a vacuum pulls water through a hose. “An expansive crystalline wall bouncing the signals,” he said. We worked a third shift together and used a pocket radio to listen to extra-inning Cardinals games out of Saint Louis, borderline raunchy gospel tunes from Chicago, and, toward the crack of dawn, that high lonesome sound from Nashville.

He was a minimalist, believed that any man-made structure--absolutely anything--was but pause and not permanence. Wise engineering, his thinking went, made use of the natural elements of a location, a sort of structural jujitsu. He did, however, offer one caution: “Nature, you see, she’s a bitch.”

Surely, over time, the flooding in Nashville, currently priced at roughly one billion dollars worth of damage, will become one of those valleys of the memory for many people. The best one can hope for is to remember how one got through it.

However, there is a growing concern among the locals that people outside the city may not remember it at all, specifically due to the lack of national media coverage. That may sound harsh, but I can’t hold it against them. Nashville’s a proudly tacky, sometimes insecure, always show-biz kind of town; it remains such even when wet. It was inevitable that the local attention would come to include “why aren’t they paying attention to us?” because half of the damn people who live there have spent much of their lives on a stage.

As of yesterday, the Nashville flood can record 26 cases of looting and nine dead. That sounds paltry, especially compared to the numbers from the Gulf Coast during Katrina’s aftermath, but I’m saying this only to add a sense of scale, not to diminish the suffering of those who were affected greatly--to the point of having to start their lives completely over--by the flood.

Nor does it point to any inherent moral superiority. The rains fell on saint and sinner alike. Some of town’s quiet calm and the resulting lack of coverage may be due to, believe it or not, geographic luck. Much of the flooding, of course, occurred in areas close to rivers: tourist spots that were mostly empty and reclaimed corporate land technically considered an extended floodplain. The Opryland complex, its shopping mall, hotel, and theater (home of the Grand Ole Opry), was one such area and is a near total loss.

Thus, the goods to loot were largely inaccessible--miles and miles away from where people live and isolated by the waters. As with any criminal, the looter needs means, motive, and opportunity. The flood, and the respective geography of its victims, wiped out two of the three.

When the Grand Ole Opry radio show was moved out of the Ryman Auditorium to be part of the long-ago defunct Opryland USA amusement park, the center of the stage was sawed out and carried with it. And, depending on your odds of standing on that circle of wood, you either saw that gesture as a sentimental nod toward tradition or crass corporate muscling. Either way, it was under two feet of water this week.

Outlying neighborhoods were also severely damaged. The closest comparison anyone can find to this flooding hit Nashville in 1903, when most of the surrounding area was farmland and most of the city’s suburban neighborhoods didn’t even exist as dots on a map. It’s the folks in those areas, the folks with more questions than answers, the folks for whom Nashville is their home not their ticket to fame, the folks without flood insurance, you feel worst for. Asking them to be prepared for a flood is like asking the Aztecs to be ready for Cortes.

Thankfully, it takes no special talent to survive. The waters will recede. The city will dry out. The Opry, for the time being, will move back to the Ryman. We will place flowers on our parents' graves and we will sing.

Roll Tide.

Friday, April 23, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 4/23/10: First Round NFL Draft Analysis

On the frontiers of knowledge there is little certainty.

More than the emperor not having any clothes, we lack even an emperor. And for the big questions, the line separating discovery from delusion is still being mapped. For example, in quantum mechanics and its discussion regarding avant space-time, one necessarily relies on the occasional ipse-dixitism, which can be a stepping-stone or a trapdoor.

Such was the controversy earlier this decade when the Bogdanov twins, a pair of French TV personalities who acquired dubious degrees in mathematics and physics, published a paper on the big bang in a peer-reviewed journal. The paper is very likely nonsense, a mish-mash of technical jargon and mathematic formulae cut and pasted together in a pretty shape.

Think of it as Foucault’s piñata.

The problem, however, is not that the paper was garbage; even the people who published it admitted that! The problem is that we lack a way of verifying this garbage might not be correct.

Such is the dilemma facing professional football organizations selecting players in last night’s (and this weekend’s) draft, and nowhere so much as in the quarterback position. Pop-chic thinker Malcolm Gladwell opined about this problem a couple of year’s ago in a New Yorker piece, comparing the uncertain metrics of future successful quarterbacks with those of would-be public school teachers.

The quarterback Gladwell heralded for the future? Chase Daniel.

God help the schoolchildren.

As opposed to the nonsensical fervor on display by attendees at last week’s A-Day scrimmage, a certain type of sports fan desires a more ordered sublimation as they relate to their sports. They appreciate clearly defined start and end points in their fandom’s observance and pre-approved cosmetic flourishes by which to express it. They welcome concise, easily identified measures by which the sport may offer them passive enjoyment. They are little more than a chorus of macaws, and the NFL is brimming of them.

They are the ones shocked that drunken meathead Ben Roethlisberger acts like a drunken meathead. Furthermore, they apparently give a rat’s ass that he is, in truth, a drunken meathead and desire him not to be. So this is not to say these are bad people, and, clearly, the world may be full of them. But such people have their limits and seek their solace where they can.

It is for these people that factory farms are kept out of sight while beef prices get cheaper. Were these people to read Jonanthan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals would they turn vegan by the busload? I don’t know, but I know college football fans wouldn’t. Review the recent documentary about the Miami Hurricanes’ championship run to see how little positive media coverage means to them. The college football fan has long accepted uncertainty and suffering in the world and acknowledges his place in it.

Also, swine is tasty.

Roll Tide.

Friday, April 16, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 4/16/10: A-Day Preview

The computus of the Alabama Crimson Tide’s liturgical year has brought us to the end of practice and upon the eve of A-Day, our last moveable feast of the spring. Although it is the final scrimmage of the spring, and the only one open to the public, it may well be the most worthless one for the players on the field and the coaches still evaluating them.

Were there another practice or scrimmage any sooner than autumn, a player’s performance tomorrow might recommend him for more repetitions up the depth chart or an increased role in the game plan. But, as a finale, the A-Day scrimmage is, as Cecil Hurt noted, little more than a beauty contest.

That is not to say it is worthless. Far from it.

Four years ago, in Nick Saban’s first A-Day, a new phenomenon was born. Alabama had always had a, for the times, high fan turnout for the scrimmage, meaning about thirty thousand people or so. Just enough to open one side of the lower seating section of Bryant-Denny Stadium.

But on that day, as the team continued their pre-game stretch and their coach walked among them, the staff opened the gates to the other side of the stadium.

Then the end zone seats.

Then one of the upper decks.

Then the other one.

Then the fire marshal showed up and turned people away.

Even now--after two undefeated regular seasons, a conference title, a Heisman trophy-winning tailback, and a goddammed nation title--the coach still says that first A-Day was the “most positive” experience he’s had at Alabama. Hell, maybe the most positive experience he’s had in football. And a key selling point in his recruiting pitch that Alabama is place where people care, deeply, about football.

There would be a lot of people who, if they were in his shoes and saw those thousands and thousands of people showing up for a scrimmage, would think “what the holy hell have I gotten myself into?” And who could blame them? God knows Fran was one those people. Probably Price too. But Saban’s a different cat.

Back on that spring afternoon, he barely acknowledged the crowd. He just kept pacing in and out of the rows of players. When the PA system crackled that the stadium had reached capacity and people were being turned away at the gates, the crowd roared. Saban looked up, just briefly, as if to say, “what took you so long?”

Now, of course there are those loons like yours truly who can be counted on to attend these things. We’re addicted. This is worse than a disease for us. A-Day is our last drop of succor before the dry, pallid football-less months of summer bore in on us. But surely there’s not a hundred thousand of us.

So one would naturally suspect, as the novelty wore off and curiosity sated, the numbers would return to pre-Saban levels. But the following year, the crowd returned. Last year was a bit of a disappointment: roughly 75,000 in the rain. And as each year goes by, and the devoted keep showing up, one must realize--it’s not curiosity; the disease is spreading.

Let us repeat the articles of faith:
We believe in one Coach, the Bear, maker of championships and Joe Namath, and of all things victorious and houndstooth.

And in one Lord, Gene Stallings, the only-begotten Son of Bear, very drawl of very drawl, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Coach in Junction, Texas; who, for our salvation, came down with Eric Curry and John Copeland, and was incarnate by the clock management of Homer Smith, and was made victorious.

He was crucified for us under Bob Bockrath, and suffered; and, according to the Scriptures, ascended into Texas, and sitteth on the right hand of his deluxe, late-American leather sofa, occasionally calling Paul Finebaum’s radio show, sponsored by Craneworks and Metro Truck Rental.

From thence a coach shall come again, with glory, to recruit the quick and the deadly; whose Process shall have no end.

And in the Great Saban, the Coach and giver of Heisman winners, who proceedeth from the Rose Bowl with crystal football trophies, who with the Bear and Stallings together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets, a’ight?

And in one holy catholic and apostolic Crimson Tide; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of NCAA violations; we look for the resurrection of the program, and the life of the championships to come. Amen.
The service is ended. Go in peace to love and serve the team. See you at Egan’s.

Roll Tide.

Friday, March 26, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 3/26/10

Not just for me, but for all of us as well. We just won a national championship, an SEC championship. Every player’s getting it. We’re just learning to deal with it on the go. But it’s all fun. It’s something that you dream of.
-- Mark Ingram, answering if people have treated him differently after he became Alabama’s first Heisman winner
Mon Dieu, is spring practice boring.

Boring not just for the observers, but for the players and coaches as well. Granted, the initial thrill of a Football-Like Substance being paraded before our eyes registers, but the inner addict knows it’s not the good stuff. And in short time, the high of Mark Barron elevating on a tip drill or Marcel Dareus hitting the sled will mute into the same nodded approval, as passionate as a conglomerated Easter season pastel.

This is a very good thing. For a top-flight football team--and make no mistake, despite losses on defense, Alabama is still that--spring and summer should be boring. Excitement stems from drama and suspense. Who will start at quarterback? Who will carry the ball? Can anyone out there play defense?

The undefeated returning senior.

The current Heisman Trophy winner.

Yes. Many of them.

Still, spring practice is necessary to establish the bedrock for the coming season. What can be built on it is undetermined, but the potential can at least be gathered by the strength below. If Ingram’s words are any indication, this year’s team is looking to mine deep that vein of potential and will not shy away from high expectations.

This is also a very good thing.

Whether football or periodontics, a young man at that age should test the strength of what limits had been assumed for him and prime himself to seize an opportunity when it appears. This is one of the classical roles played by the university, is it not?

For example, I recall a story of a quiet young man’s first year away for university in which he became enamored with a hot redhead number a few years his senior. She cursed like an injured steel worker, could outdrink Hemingway, and had legs longer than the Talladega Speedway. In other words, he was totally unprepared for her.

Somehow though, the gods smiled on this schmuck and the two became friendly, even social. And one day while on his way to class, he saw her. She was going out of town--right now!--to work on some art project, and she invited our man along for the show.

Art project? Photography? Stargazing? For all I know, the crazy dame was planning on lying naked atop the Superdome smoking reefer and needed someone to ask for a light. But before our man could inquire, he heard himself say, “I’m on my way to class.” And she was gone.

While she was off doing God knows what God knows where, he sat in a dark room watching slides of the French Revolution click atop one another, surrounded by people who had no idea he was even there. He was in his assigned seat for his assigned class on the assigned day, but nowhere close to where he could’ve learned something.

Of course, later he tried to get another chance, but no dice. It wasn’t her job to make him less stupid, nor wait around for him to wise up. That is, if I ever did.

Roll Tide.

Friday, March 19, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 3/19/10

I am a big fan of this white dude from Vernon, Alabama, named Dan Penn, who is without a doubt one of the best Southern soul singers ever. Even if you've not heard him sing, you've heard his songs because he's spent most of his career writing them for other people, which I guess makes him one of the best Southern soul songwriters ever too.

He's probably best known, if at all, for being in the right place at the right time twice in 1967. First, he was in the studio when Aretha Franklin was looking for a new single, so he helped write "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" on the spot. Second, he produced The Box Tops hit single "The Letter." He was the guy who told a slick-looking kid from Memphis to pronounce it "air-o-plane" and thus started Alex Chilton on an improbable career path from teen idol to indie legend to day laborer to cult hero.

Chilton died this week, so just about every corner of the web is glutted with reminiscences and appreciations for the guy. I don't suppose one more will break the internet, so if you'll indulge me:

Alex Chilton played the Chukker in Tuscaloosa sometime toward the end of the last century. Don't go looking for it; the Chukker died long before Chilton did. The stage upon which he stood is now the parking space for a loan officer at the neighboring bank. A few cars over is where my Chilton story takes place, and it's really my friend's story at that. But what are friends for if not source material?

My friend ran the soundboard at the Chukker, a small multi-channel rack that stood perpendicular to the corner of the bar and at the end of a ratty loveseat facing the stage. Even though the "booth" surrounding it was only waist high, he spent more nights than not assuring drunks that it was not, in fact, a restroom. A bit of a perfectionist and a caffeine addict, he was good at the job albeit prickly to suggestions. Chilton, however, was generous with suggestions.

After a few go-rounds of "trust me" between Chilton and my friend, the soundcheck was finally over. There was talk that Chilton had what we called in those days a "nervous breakdown" a few years prior--now we just refer to those as "Tuesdays"--and was taking whatever antidepressant was popular back then or maybe even antipsychotics. The drugs would keep him level, so it was said, but he'd go off his dosage when he had to perform so he wouldn't be flat.

I don't know if there's any truth to that rumor, but I don't consider it speaking ill of the dead to say a man got help if he needed it. For whatever it's worth, the rumor might have only had legs because so many of his fans were bewildered that the person they heard on #1 Record and Radio City and Third could ever do anything else but make music. Much less make ends meet doing lawn work in the bayou.

But whatever sparked his mood that night in Tuscaloosa, internal or external, during the show Chilton couldn't hear his monitors, said he sounded like he was smothered under a pillow, and he called my friend out, point blank, from the stage--"Hey, Mister Sound Man! Hey, Mister Sound Man! Why don't you do your job?!"--in what my friend describes as "the most excruciatingly whiney voice" he has ever heard.

Therefore, for as long as I've known the guy, I've heard how Alex Chilton was a royal prick, which, by the way, didn't stop me from playing the records. They are wonderful. And even before this week's news, I was prone to going on jags of playing nothing but those records over and over again for days.

Imagine how many times I've played them since Wednesday.

So perhaps I'm in an emotionally vulnerable state after listening to so much emotionally vulnerable pop candy, or perhaps it's only the reflective mood one naturally inhabits upon seeing unsaid possibilities expire with a death. But for whatever reason, after hearing of Chilton's passing, I rang my friend up:

"Man, you should've done your job."

Roll Tide.

Friday, March 05, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 3/05/10: Spring Practice Preview

When the going gets tough, are you one of the tough that gets going? … Do you have any ballet training, and if not, would you like some? Have you ever seen Newton’s Optiks?
-- Padgett Powell, The Interrogative Mood: A Novel? p. 101
The sport of football, like the item itself, is a wobbly, ugly thing that, at times, can be hard to get a grip on and is, ultimately, hollow at its core. However, despite its aesthetic ungainliness, both are capable of precise, even elegant, albeit fleeting, awe. Such moments await the University of Alabama football team this week as they begin spring practice.

The Crimson Tide looks to replace experience with talent on defense and not all that much on offense. A Heisman-winning tailback, a senior quarterback-receiver combo, and an experienced line should salve any growing pains of the new starters on defense. In truth, the minds in Vegas have plotted Alabama as their favorite to win next year’s championship, just as they had done for Florida (and most national championship teams) prior. The oddsmaker’s job, though, is not to prophesy, but to take your money.

Although I admit the evidence is mounting, I try not to be nihilist. Perhaps my caveat is that, if I do believe in nothing, I actively believe it. I’m no cynic, at least. The process, to borrow a term, is more important than the result. Two recent endeavors brought this to bear.

The first is Padgett Powell’s novel The Interrogative Mood, which is a slender volume containing not a sentence outside the copyright page that doesn’t end with a question mark. I am that sort of prickly reader who, upon reading a new book, begins shuffling through the library of past books read to decide upon what shelf the new one properly belongs. This tic one attributes to the hardwiring of one’s mind under one’s education of the Modernist focus.

The immediate, and lesser helpful, colleague of this book that sprang to mind was Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City, merely due to functional necessity. A novel of questions, of course, would have to include the second person address. However, coincidence is all this is, as Powell’s novel is insistently a first-person narrative with two principal characters: questioner and interviewee. Who classifies as protagonist or antagonist may be, pardon the pun, an open question.

And that led me to another comparison: David Markson’s recent string of novels, all written in a staccato attack of fragments, dialogue, quotations, and trivia. Some of the books contain more white space than text. Some even include a protagonist named “Author” or “Protagonist.” The Markson novels in this style share a cold refinement, a sense of something grand having been shattered and now we watch the pieces drift apart like ice floes.

Powell’s novel, however, clusters his questions into standard paragraphs. A small difference, perhaps even one determined by the price of paper, but not one without consequence. Huddled together, each group of questions strives for warmth, maybe intimacy, and often earns it. Page by page, question by question, readers will be brought into the work. Some will question what they are reading or why, while others, like the book itself, will question how we read, recognizing that there are no answers other than the lack of answers. It is an engrossing little trap with a devious wit as bait.

How we perceive our world is central to the art of Ryan and Trevor Oakes, identical twins who introduce viewers to a new way of seeing how they see. Using a tripod-mounted easel and swiveled skull harness, the twins recreate in two dimensions the brain’s mediating of our optic nerves. Lawrence Weschler sees in their work the “most original breakthroughs in the rendering of visual space” since Renaissance artists relied on the camera obscura.

Their vision machine provides a stable point of reference as they work tag-team style on a concave canvas. The curviture of the final image syncs with that of how light enters the eye, leading the viewer to see depth in a flat space.

This is nothing new, and less a philosophical point than a biological one. The world we, literally, see is a construction, every nanosecond a compromise between two eyes’ differing receiving points, projected onto two curved canvases in our heads. But the Oakes brothers have made viewing observable. What is being viewed is really beside the point.

The lack of a meaningful subject likely bothers many people. It’s why some see Christ’s face in wood grains or the Virgin Mary in burnt toast. It’s also why we look for meaning in the damnedest places, be it a novel, a painting, or a football team. And no matter what we find, it’s that we keep looking that matters most. It’ll be a long off season, friends.

Roll Tide.

Friday, February 19, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 2/19/10

Holy mother of God! Soul Train has a YouTube channel.

Where has this been hiding!?!

Let the off-season time killers begin.

Roll Tide.

Friday, February 05, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 2/05/10

Let’s get something clear right out of the gate: the Tim Tebow Super Bowl ad won’t convince anyone, not a single person, to change his or her views on abortion.

How could it? If the leaked reports are true, then the ad itself is a mealy-mouthed, soft-lit personal testimony about abstractions like “faith” and “love” and such. Furthermore, the story behind the ad—Pam Tebow ignoring a doctor’s advice to end her pregnancy and carry Jesu… uh, Tim, to term, thus making this commercial something he was, literally, born to do—is a weak argument.

Plus, given how many beer ads dominate the event annually, we can assume half the audience will expect Pam to start taking her top off for GoDaddy within ten seconds.

Despite its suspected ineffectiveness, however, the ad will still be widely discussed, praised, and lamented, which has more to do with advertising than religion or politics. To that point, who is the intended audience for this ad? Will it convince anyone pro-choice to cancel that donation to Planned Parenthood and pick up a sandwich board with the loons?

Of course not. The Tebows’ ad is both a show of force—James Dobson gets to hitch his wagon to Tim’s star power and preach about his moral authority (that and three million dollars will get you a Super Bowl ad)—and a pat on the back (this ad, like all proselytizing, preaches to the converted).

Whenever I see a public row over abortion, I remember a certain Bill Hicks joke: “If they’re so pro-life, why don’t they picket a cemetery instead of a medical clinic? Show some conviction!” The joke, in its terminology and its comparison, reveals how, for so many people in the public eye, this issue is really a public relations football (pardon the pun).

Which is not to say the Tebows are not genuine in their beliefs, mind you. Of that point, there’s no doubt. No, too many loathsome ideas are excused because they’re coated in sincerity, even more so when they’re launched from behind a pulpit.

Not here though. Choosing not to have abortion may be the only thing the two name-brand sides on this issue can agree on, but don’t pretend that’s what is behind the Tebow ad.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16). Dobson and his ilk’s fruits are well known. To them, Pam and Tim Tebow’s story is not a personal conviction, but an illustrative example, living proof of the bounty an active god showers upon the faithful and steadfast.

Therefore, it is fair to picture what world Dobson and the Tebows would have us live in would we but follow their example, a world where we regularly eschew the advice of doctors—be it pregnancy or head trauma—for the preference of pastors. This would not, by the way, be a world without abortion, but it would be a world where “life” is defined even less by what we see in the world and more by what we wish the world were, or what someone tells us the world should be.

Ultimately, being against the legality of abortion seems akin to being opposed to open-heart surgery. People don’t set out to have one, nor do they see it as some cure-all for whatever led them to the doctor’s door. If there’s one medical procedure that promotes sin in this country, it’s likely the face-lift, not abortion.

And what I find so distasteful about this ad and its sponsors is their lack of empathy, their lack of concern for real people making real choices just like Pam Tebow had to. It’s a weak argument to use Tim Tebow as a poster child for the pro-life agenda, as if every womb is hiding a future Heisman winner and, therefore, that child's life is more precious than it would be otherwise. A false argument too. Let’s face it—most people are jerks, but so are you. Don't get cocky.

It’s also cynical. There’s a reason Dobson ponied up his dough for an ad in this year’s Super Bowl, before Tebow has even taken one snap in the NFL. Really, Tim should thank God that Mel Kiper wasn’t in the delivery room back in the day.

Roll Tide.

Friday, January 15, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 1/15/10

Celebrate these days with feasting and gladness and by giving gifts of food to each other and presents to the poor... their sorrow was turned into gladness and their mourning into joy. (Esther 9:22)
Get to it:

Besides, we have to beat Tennessee. Haven't the Haitians suffered enough without having to wear Lane Kiffin's face on their shirts?

Roll Tide.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

University of Alabama Football Report for 1/06/10: National Championship Edition

College football’s national championship is easily the most contested, controversial, debated, decried, and denounced title in all of athletics. In fact, it is difficult find any snarky corner of the internet (save those with sponsorship ties) where one will not find it described as “mythical,” akin to a flying horse or a reasonable Texan. Yet, far from devaluing its stature, this only makes the title more coveted.

It is difficult to explain what Alabama football means to those who are not born into it. For the uninitiated, the first obstacle to understanding is the spectacle of the so-called sidewalk alums, the fans of the school who hold no connection to the university other than sharing the same state. They are not alumni of the school, and in some cases may have no relative who can claim to be an alumnus of any school, yet their support is unwavering.

They are the ones you see queued around the field on fan day, extending programs, hats, shirts--even their own spawn--to be autographed by the team. They are the majority of those who pack in the stadium for the spring scrimmage and the ones who keep the sell-out streak going even against Division II schools. They are the target of much derision and scorn, the source of much foolishness, but they are ours.

They are also the cipher for understanding Alabama football and, within a limited sphere, its relevance.

One could easily forgive the outside observer who mistakes Alabama’s football history as beginning with Bear Bryant. However, the cognitive dissonance present when broadcasters list six national titles to Alabama’s credit while the team’s quarterback speaks of winning a thirteenth says more about the press’s myopia than it does our signal-caller’s math skills.

In truth, Alabama’s football history extends prior to the Associated Press’s interest in football. Outside the stadium named for him, Bryant stands third in the statue garden, the second--or, by some counts, third or fourth--wave of Alabama football’s story, a story tied to the dignity of the state, even when its people did not deserve it.

It cannot be dismissed that the first generation of Alabama football players, playing a game created for the Ivy League, did so to prove themselves beyond the shadow of their defeated fathers and grandfathers. Nor can it be denied that, for far too long, segregationists looked to Bryant’s lily-white players as a proof of their ideals, even while the coach was trying to integrate the team in spite of them.

But those struggles and those claims are, mostly, in the past. What can explain football’s hold on Alabama today? Why does this myth mean so much?

Perhaps through all the changes in Alabama, from fallen soldiers in a confederacy to college students in a Union, from segregated lunch counters to integrated dance halls, from one generation to another, no matter how distant the past was from the future, no matter how different the ideals of fathers from those of their sons, football--winning football--became that one thing to remain constant.

That’s certainly a lot of bullshit to ask you to swallow on the eve of the biggest game of the season, maybe the biggest game of the decade. But there it is. And Alabama, its sidewalk alums, its tradition, better and worse, are right in the middle of it.

Is the national title, the target of much derision and scorn, the source of much foolishness, a myth? Yes, but it is ours.

Roll Tide.