Friday, December 30, 2011

University of Alabama Football Report for 12/30/11

People have dreams all the time. It don't mean nothin.
--Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing

He forever dreamed of funerals.

Never death. There is a difference.

He dreamed he walked the aisle to see Hank Williams lie in repose. A Cadillacwide pearlwhite casket with a black lead sheet inlay along the length denoting the melody of "Ramblin' Man." Inside, the man himself. Pale. His dermis thin like phyllo dough. Somehow a smirk cobbled on his lips. The points of his white lapels sharp as rapiers. Fingertips crannied on the brim of the matching hat.

The son was there. Drunk in his leather. His eyes barely seen behind aviators as he stood at his father's feet with Ghostface Killah. The palm of his bloated hand slapping the casketlid with a muffled thump.

"Daddy's not wearin pants."


"No shit. Last request." With this he gripped the crook of his elbow, made a fist, and raised his flexed arm to eye level. "Nahmean, Tony?"

"Real talk."

As he backed away from the casket, he plotted his life as a line drawn from one funeral to the next. He imagined his first steps at a funeral. His first kiss. Learning to drive a hearse. Voting a corpse for president.

Every year he dreamed these funerals. Built them in his sleeping mind. Invited the dead and living to the same room for small variations of the same service. How could they be different? At death, whose life is so special that it cannot be summed into the same small number?

You will be missed. Or you will not. You will be remembered. Or you will not. Death is nothing. Life was terrifying.

Only once had he dreamed his own funeral into the parlor. There was a cross but no preacher. No songs. No flowers. No service to organize. No body present. A small crowd.

A tall horsewoman stood. She bounded to the front and read a letter--"I don't believe in God and nothing bad has ever happened to me. At least, not because of that." With that, the crowd dispersed and he was remembered, or not, by nothing more than his finite days that led there. Like anyone.

He would not stay with these dreams long. He sloughed them best he could like a heavy coat too hot for the temperature of the waking world. He decided that's what dreams were. Clothes that fit always out of season. To be exchanged before seen by others.

But they would return. Sure as winter.

Roll Tide.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

University of Alabama Football Report for 12/09/11

Trent Richardson is in New York City to watch a Baptist quarterback win the Heisman, not that that's the worst thing in the world. Ask Oklahoma State. Or better yet, don't. They will likely need some time to calm down.

Some may look at the current national championship match up and think the system is broken. However, and this may not make you feel any better, it's not that the system is broken; the truth is that there is barely a system at all.

Too many people compare college football to the NFL, but a more accurate analog can be found in another lucrative cartel: the Mexican drug trade. The SEC, like Juarez, may be the focal point of a lot of the action, but even beyond its dominant rep, the game is on all over.

I heard of a mountaintop village, far from the US border, that one cartel used as a vacation spot. Another town on the Gulf served as a narco retirement village. The point being that weirder normal gets, the more normal weird seems. And that is where we are with college football: we are in deep weird.

And when things get weird, it's best to keep your head up and act like it's normal. It worked for Dr. Thompson until it didn't, so it will most likely work for anyone.

So when they call RG3's name tomorrow, act cool.

When fans say they won't watch a national title rematch, nod and walk on.

If folks out west or back east think their teams aren't getting a fair shake, lend a kind ear.

But if any weirdo says Alabama doesn't deserve a shot at #14, tell them you have a game to watch.

Roll Tide.

Friday, November 25, 2011

University of Alabama Football Report for 11/25/11

LSU 41
Arkansas 17

Well, now that that's over...

A few weeks ago, Alabama lost its chance at the national title by losing a close game against LSU in overtime. After Arkansas built up a two-touchdown lead on the top team in the nation yet saw their championship hopes gobbled up by the Honey Badger, we at last understand why the Great Leader thought missing field goals was a better option than punting.

Stranger still, after last week's slew of upsets, Alabama's national championship hopes rested mostly on LSU winning today's game, or by losing today's game in a blowout. Really.

The Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, according to the tinfoil hat crowd, predicts untold chaos and upheaval in 2012. College football calls that piker's work. Its apocalypse arrives every Saturday.

Thus, we arrive at the Iron Bowl, where all that stands between Alabama and a chance to play for the national title is a three-touchdown home underdog.

Yet, because it is the Iron Bowl, Crimson Tide fans are as nervous as a moonshiner at the Baptist picnic.

Because it is the Iron Bowl, even though pictures of last year's second half collapse have been posted in the players' lockers all season, they were in want for no reminding.

Because it is the Iron Bowl, fans of both teams, families of the players, the coaches, even the press keep the topic close at hand.

Because it is the Iron Bowl, ESPN doesn't just cover the game, they make a documentary film about it.

Because it is the Iron Bowl, schoolchildren have been re-enacting or re-inventing Mark Ingram's infamous sideline fumble for a year.

Because it is the Iron Bowl, people in the state of Alabama will delay weddings or induce childbirth.

Because it is the Iron Bowl, even the Southside Birmingham hipsters who say don't watch football will watch football.

With so much of college football mired in scandal, corruption, graft, and compromise, it is comforting to find the bedrock upon which one can build a pure fandom, free from any computer rankings or poll-watch politicking or cable television broadcast markets. One can still find the line drawn between allegiance and opposition.

Between wining and losing.

Between love and hate.

Between hope and dispair.

Between us and them.

Because it is the Iron Bowl.

Roll Tide.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

University of Alabama Football Report for 11/11/11

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
--W. B. Yeats, "The Second Coming"

Leaving Bryant-Denny Stadium last week, after watching the worst overtime series ever presided over by a quarterback not named Clausen, after watching kick after kick after kick fall short or wide (or both) of the goalposts, after watching the man in charge of it all watch all that too yet still choose to play for overtime, after watching your team's clear path to the national championship whither to a statistical improbability on par with it raining peppermint candy, you would think, "well, this is about as low it it can get."

Then through the haze of cigarette smoke, on-the-make funk, and high-grade bourbon fumes mingling together at Egan's, you see the words "child rape" scroll across the ESPN ticker and you realize how spoiled--truly, wonderfully, luckily spoiled--you are.

There are few things in life that quickly steer a course correction toward proper perspective like hearing that one's team's one-time, long-time defensive coordinator--a man so revered by the locals that he has, or had, a spot in a mural and was once believed to be the chosen heir for the lifetime, living legend coach--was caught ass-raping a ten-year-old boy in your team's showers.

Or at least, one would hope so.

Sadly, this didn't happen at Penn State. Not for a long time. Not, for the sake of at least eight young men, soon enough. Not, arguably, even today. Whatever else comes to light as Jerry Sandusky goes to trial, it's evident today that Penn State football suffered from an isolation of power, a "close the ranks" mentality that shut out the distractions and responsibilities of the outside world and focused solely on maintaining the prestige of the program.

Reading through the grand jury's findings, as an eye-witness's account of "anal rape," person by person, level by level, becomes diluted and euphemized until it is rendered "horseplay," one sees a clear concern for prioritizing the program's reputation over the welfare of the victims.

I have heard it said that this level of cover-up is almost inevitable considering the money college football brings in. Bullshit. Look at the students rioting on Penn State's campus last night. Look at the ticket prices as they rose and fell amid rumors that Penn State's game against Nebraska might be Joe Paterno's farewell. The money was never in danger.

This isn't about cash. It's about control.

Granted, had Joe Paterno looked at the university president and thought himself more capable to deal with Sandusky, that would be one thing. Having dealt with university presidents, I can tell you from experience that such a leap of imagination is easy to make. And, after all, surely a well-connected Italian can still make someone disappear, even in this enlightened age. However, he did no such thing. His code of silence remained in his football program.

Some defenders, even while toppling news vans last night, have argued that Joe "did the right thing" by informing the athletic director. Hardly. He did "a" right thing, which in its solitude and subsequent inaction became wrong.

Ask Joe, ask his weeping wife, practicing fish-eaters both, what a sin of omission is. Ask them how Sandusky was allowed to bring his torture victims, his prey, to the locker rooms for years. Ask them how he was allowed on the premises as recently as last week.

The acts themselves birth my horror, but my disappointment comes from seeing Joe Paterno, "Saint Joe," the emblem for "success with honor," take the path of convenience.

Last week, in advance of The Game of the Century (TM), Allen Barra wrote,
We all know it's silly and immature to seek self-esteem through identification with your college football team. We all know that football is far from the most important thing that any university should be judged by.

Or rather, we say that we know these things, but deep down we know that all of the above is a lie.
In the trade, this is known as "kidding on the square," as he is too clever by half and only half joking. In Alabama, we know this feeling all too well. Surely some of that is at the root of the ruckus-raising student body at Penn State, but that is merely a momentary explosion of a lingering downside to Barra's diagnosis: when the team does well, the fan receives undeserved joy by their proxy effort; when the team does poorly, the fan carries that defeat like a stone.

There exists a certain type of sports journalist who despises this relationship, sniveling, joyless hacks who make the world no better by their presence in it. They will find any excuse to harpoon that unearned high they feel fans divine from collegiate athletics, football in particular, in much the same way a temperance union decries whiskey. Last week, their target was the meaningless hype leading up to the LSU game, now they have the grotesque details of the Sandusky scandal, each feeling the need to out-outrage one another.

Their outrage, feigned or not, is deserved. Yet, in their self-righteous chorus, I find little comfort and no hint of understanding. Some have called Sandusky worse than a serial killer. I wonder, does this imply that his victims would be better off dead? That their undoubtedly shattered lives, were they be to pieced together somehow, would be unlivable? Does this competition of professional outrage only encourage the reprehensible silence that hung over those at Penn State?

But when it comes to the firing of Joe Paterno, these jackasses are not made one iota more tolerable by being 100 percent correct.

For the entire week, the rare voices I heard speak of this scandal without hyperbole were those coming from advocacy groups that work with victims of child predators. To them, the silence--from Mike McQueary to Joe Paterno onward--was an all-too-familiar sound. When given a choice between dealing with the sordid terror in front of them or wishing it didn't exist, too many people shy away.

Does that make their silence any more tolerable?

Let's settle the matter on that fucking stupid question: One of the holy relics held aloft in Penn State football is their practice of not displaying player names on the backs of their jerseys. No one player is more important than the team, goes this thinking, and, as such, no individual names are displayed. They are each a Platonic ideal of a football player: Player 26, Player 14, Player 55...

Forever more, Penn State football will be linked with another set of nameless young men: Victim 1, Victim 2, on up to Victim 8. Each one was deemed less important than the team. And, at this writing, rumors are that the number will grow.

Throughout the week, I have heard talk of the word "legacy" as is inevitable. And I have seen and heard former Nittany Lion players take to the airwaves, confused and dismayed. There is much one could say about Paterno's legacy, much that one could say about the positive influence he has had on half a century's span of players and beyond.

I have heard that type of talk come from the now-aged Bama players when they speak, never of "the Bear," but always "Coach Bryant."

I hear it now and then when Nick Saban speaks of Don James.

I saw with my own eyes when Rolando McClain stood in front of Saban's statue and talked more about "becoming a man" than the national championship ring on his finger.

There is a long list of men in college football who have no resume of success other than the lives they have entered and, therefore, made better. It pains me that today I can't add Joe Paterno's to that ledger.

There is no joy in Happy Valley.

Roll Tide.

Friday, November 04, 2011

University of Alabama Football Report for 11/04/11: Game of the Century of the Week Edition

The elephant whose sturgeon-like blood
insists it was or ought to be aquatic,
whose ears, like hairy crackle-glazed chopping boards,
are cheerfully agreeing to be fans,
fingers his marulas with a trunk
strong enough to paralyze a tiger...

--Selima Hill, "The Elephant Whose Sturgeon-like Blood,"
the Poetry Daily selection for 10/31/11

Just how big is tomorrow's game featuring LSU at Alabama?

Big enough for the Ivory Tower to get in on the act, apparently.

Big enough for the Atlantic to let Allen Barra troll the entire internet, too.

Big enough for CBS to pay a rival network for the option of showing the game in primetime.

Big enough for that rival network to set up camp all week on Alabama's campus, even though they're broadcasting a game hundreds of miles away.

Big enough for the NBA elite to cool their heels in a Tuscaloosa skybox (what else are they going to do?).

Big enough for Cecil Hurt to declare it, perhaps, the last of its breed.

Big enough for this blog to actually talk about football for a bit instead of banking deregulation.

So, yeah, pretty big.

Most people believe LSU, the #1 team in the nation, will win tomorrow, which is not surprising until you put money on it. Then you will discover that Vegas favors Alabama, slightly, only four points, but still a favorite.

The explanation comes down to confidence and cash: Even though more people, as seen through polling and raw numbers, believe the Bayou Bengals should win, their confidence isn't high. The money is coming in, yet the betting line hasn't budged.

Most bets for LSU, according to our most trustworthy sketchy characters, are coming in under $100 whether that's online gambling or the rooms in Vegas. Big money? As the song says, home is in Alabama no matter where you lay your head.

Which brings us to the matter at hand. Whom do you trust? The vox populi that's built from a nod here or there, or the select few who stake everything they have on the choice?

If you have sought respite from the constant drumbeat leading up to this game by watching physicist and popular science author Brian Greene's new series The Fabric of the Cosmos, then you're familiar with the Einsteinian concept of space-time, a four-dimensional fabric of our universe that illustrates how massive objects warp and curve reality through their gravity.

Were we to estimate the gravitational force of "hype," this week's game would be our test case: it is a black hole into which the Vegas line cannot escape.

According to Greene, the fundamental split between an ordered universe under general relativity and a chaotic one presented by quantum mechanics necessitated the creation of a unified idea that could bridge both worlds. Currently, the leading candidate is, in a form, string theory, whose mathematical models claim to explain the underlying particles of all natural forces, no matter how chaotic, and all matter, including the most massive.

However, because string theory remains mostly on the chalkboard and away from the laboratories and telescopes, it may be decades--if ever--before scientists confirm a solution to the problem between the universe's large, ordered processes and its random, chaotic particles.

College football fans need only wait another night.

Roll Tide.

Friday, October 21, 2011

University of Alabama Football Report for 10/21/2011

“I have wasted my life.”

The last line of James Wright’s poem “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” has always frazzled me.

Is he talking about the moment itself? Unlikely. His life is elsewhere. Lying in hammock is a moment of leisure, a departure from life as it must be lived. Plus, there’s barely a speaker at all in the majority of the poem, just an eye: the poem decidedly plants “I see” in the first line. And it’s a loving eye, at that.

Is he talking about his work? Possibly. It is William Duffy’s farm, after all. Our speaker is a guest. And although Wright the critic would be loathe to conflate speaker with writer, Wright the poet is just as guilty of erecting this false curtain as anyone.

Is he talking about poetry? Somewhat. There’s a good deal of horseshit in the poem and not just the kind that “Blaze up into golden stones.” Some Mod, maybe Elliot, more likely Pound, hopefully Stein, said that literature is above context, that any two items place beside each other initiate a comparison. Presumably that includes observation followed by proclamation, which is all this poem is. Poor reader that I am, I am not allowed a non sequitur.

And neither are you, which brings me to tomorrow’s contest between Alabama and Tennessee. I’m using the strict denotation of “contest” here because, if our number-crunchers in Vegas are to be trusted, the game will be uncontested from the Tennessee sideline, which is understaffed and under siege.

Most of the offensive players the Vols were counting on to contribute this season can’t stay healthy long enough to get on the field at the same time, and the atmosphere in Knoxville is turning toxic. How bad is it? Well, it’s not quite “newly hired Athletic Director offers beleaguered coach a public endorsement” bad (See: Arizona; fired; Stoops, Mike), but it is “coach’s momma calling radio stations to say leave her baby alone” bad.

This may not be the worst Tennessee team in a generation (that was last year), but they may be playing the best Alabama team in a generation, at least on defense. Thus, the Crimson Tide enters their third consecutive conference game in which they are favored by more than three touchdowns. The Great Leader is so concerned with a slow start that he has drifted into paranoia, telling his players that while the press is lauding them and their performance to date, Tennessee is “going to come in here quietly and kick your ass.”

If he is found wandering the halls of the athletic department talking to the portrait of Frank Thomas, then we’ll confirm his full descent into Nixonia.

Some idiot, surely not Stein, possibly Pound, hopefully Elliot, once said that indifference, not hatred, is the opposite of love, that passion can push people together or pull them apart, but it’s the same fire heating different cauldrons. One becomes the other depending on which way the flames blow.

Where would Alabama be without its rivalry with Tennessee? If the SEC expands to fourteen teams, will we find out? Where is a rivalry without hatred? Are we finding out already?

How many years, how many games, will discard their role as tradition and become mere history? What will be left but the sallow numbers of the scoreboard and the treacherous voice of poetry?

I have wasted my life.

Roll Tide.

Friday, October 14, 2011

University of Alabama Football Report for 10/14/11

Ninety-nine years ago today, Theodore Roosevelt survived an assassination attempt by being both a protracted speaker and a total bad-ass. TR was to deliver a speech on the campaign trail explaining his split from the Republican Party when he was shot by a .38 slug that drilled through fifty pages of notes, dented his spectacle case, and lodged just shy of his right lung.

And deliver it he did!

For close to an hour and a half, Teddy addressed the assembled crowd, even holding up his speech notes to show off the bullet hole.

Theodore Roosevelt generally ruins history. Even when only mentioned in passing, he’s often the most interesting character in any narrative: the childhood asthmatic come cowboy come naturalist come soldier come politico come legend. However, though he’s more front and (off) center in John J. Miller’s The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football, when it comes to an unlikely life story, TR may have met his match in the college football played in the early twentieth century.

For even though the game had its origins in the hallowed Ivy League, football quickly become shorthand for a galling barbarism and cut-throat tactics. Referees and rules were but window dressing on free-for-all gang fights. Players took to the field with cleverly disguised weapons to jaw-jack an opponent off the snap, honed cleats to cut and whip players after the tackle, even suitcase handles sewn into the backs of their jerseys to better hold together a blocking scheme.

Disfigurement was almost a given and death a not uncommon occurrence. It was at this point that the Fan-in-Chief stepped in to save the game, implementing new regulations and sterner enforcement to ensure the game’s survival.

Fans in Oxford, Mississippi, may be wondering why Teddy bothered. From the time of TR’s intervention to the present day, college football has steadily increased in both acceptance and value. But in that same time, Ole Miss football has epitomized recession economics better than any horror story from the subprime mortgage debacle.

And as the Rebels are heading back into the almost annual doldrums of another season of disappointment--not quite Orgeron-esque, but certainly miserable enough to warrant the comparison--I worry over this game--in which Bama is a four-touchdown favorite--more than a rational man should. However, irrational exuberance, thy name is Houston Nutt, a man just wild enough to live up to his name by upsetting the #2 team in the country and still losing his job.

After all, he’s done it before.

Some of this is obviously result-bias. Of course one remembers when a Nutt-coached team pulls an upset--no one’s memory is good enough to recall all of their losses.

And some of it the residue of the Great Leader’s worrywart nature--not a season goes by without his extolling how “difficult” Nutt’s teams are to prepare for. Were he a man given to anything other than sledge-hammer strategy, we would say our coach doth protest too much, just to keep his whipping-boy off the unemployment line. But I’ve no doubt the Great Leader means what he says.

Hell, some of this may just be bleed-through knowledge that Oxford was home to both America’s best and worst writer--who can say what rules will apply in such a place? And a team coached by Houston Nutt can live up to either man’s reputation. Such teams always have a shot.

However, we can take refuge in Teddy’s example. As he began his speech that night just shy of a century ago, he reminded his admirers that it takes more than one shot to take a bull moose down.

Roll Tide.

Friday, October 07, 2011

University of Alabama Football Report for 10/07/11

News this week of Missouri's Board of Curators (curators? Like a museum? O... K...) considering leaving Texas's Big X(II) in favor of another athletic conference, presumably the SEC, garnered little excitement and a fair amount of smug derision. What does Missouri offer the Southeastern Conference other than yet another team with a tiger mascot? Does Mizzou football, which is what this is really about, water down what is considered the dominant conference in college football? Heady talk for a conference that counts Vanderbilt as a member.

In the infrequent times that I do think about Vanderbilt and, by extension, their athletics program, I admit bafflement at their inclusion. Of course, as the parking garage informants say, follow the money and everything comes clear. As a member of the SEC, Vandy receives their equal share of television revenues in excess of $20 million per annum, but God knows what they do with it. Perhaps only God.

Vanderbilt, as a private institution, need not deign to disclose what they do with their money. They need not disclose how much or how little of it is put back into athletics, institutionally or individually. Plus, it's their money. And if the lords and ladies of Peabody Street sleep well running a grift on the sweat of mostly poor, mostly minority students who never get a whiff of the opportunities that $20 large provides--hey, sail on, Commodore.

Not too long ago Vanderbilt, under the guidelines set out by then-president Gordon Gee, dissembled their athletic department proper and integrated their sports programs under the oversight of school chancellors, the same folks in charge of the student rec center and intramural co-ed water polo. At the time, some--Gee the loudest among them--heralded this as a watershed moment of pulling collegiate athletics away from the brink, of salvaging the spirit and intent of true amateurism.

Since then, conferences have imploded and expanded over television markets, the Heisman Trophy was awarded to an admitted auctionee, Gee took a job at Ohio State overseeing its players receiving cash payments, and Vanderbilt has pocketed totals approaching $100 million for its amateur athletics. Amazingly though, as Gordon Gee is an insufferable gasbag, hypocrisy is his most likable quality.

One is reminded of the original Vanderbilt con artist, the university's namesake and benefactor, the Commodore, who in order to monopolize industrial transportation from South America sent William Walker to Nicaragua with orders to overthrow the government. Walker's was the problem of too much success too easily, leaving him feeling no obligation to those stateside, including the Commodore. Up until the firing squad, things worked out pretty well for him too.

With that we, at last, have our metaphor for Vandy football. Too much money, too easily gained eventually comes at a price. And despite their 3-1 start on the season, the Commodores face the first shots of their firing squad tomorrow in Tuscaloosa.

At least, they better. Some of us in these parts actually give a damn about football.

Roll Tide.

Friday, September 30, 2011

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/30/11

“Many of the 223 Hispanic students at Foley Elementary came to school Thursday crying and afraid. . . . Nineteen of them withdrew, and another 39 were absent.”
--Rena Havner Philips, Mobile Press-Register

One of the needling concerns I have for this country--slotted somewhere between third-world-style oligarchic rule and zombie apocalypse--is the future health of college football. Now, I’m not speaking of conference realignment or bowl committee corruption or agent-player scandals or concussionphobic health consciousness.

Rather, my worry is that as America’s demographic makeup changes from a combo of white majority and black majority-minority to a genuinely pluralistic population, the game will be unable to sustain its current appeal. I fear that if today’s fans are unable (or unwilling) to reach into new communities then the version of college football we see today--bloated, roaring, boisterous, ever-present--is the high point before an inevitable collapse, the tyrannosaurus rex of the sports landscape that has hunted down the last of its prey and is unprepared for the starvation diet of a coming ice-age.

Therefore, it is with no small measure of relief that I see Alabama’s Latino community participating in one of the University of Alabama’s longest traditions: denying people education based on their ethnicity!

¡Ay Dios mio! As a native of Alabama, I was just adjusting to the idea that most people who voted for George fucking Wallace are good and dead, so I have to hand it to you cracker assholes--you are nothing if not creative.

¡Jesus Christo! You guys are totally the crackheads of racism. Any hit will do and you’ll find the most desperately innovative ways to get your fix. (Also, let me stop the flood of emails in their tracks and apologize upfront to crackheads for the comparison.)

Seriously, just when I think I can let this shit go and daydream about which denomination a black president would look best on (Answer? The ten-thousand-dollar note. Why? First, ‘cause it’s straight ballin’ and, second, suck it, Salmon P. Chase!) you get your swerve on by picking on little brown babies.

All right, I gather that an appeal to basic human dignity isn’t going to carry the day, so let me get all Sam “Bam” Cunningham on you for a moment: Alabama plays Florida tomorrow and is roughly a five-point favorite. Personally, I believe they will win and, perhaps, cover. That being said, let us agree that Florida has a larger population than Alabama, a deeper recruiting base, a better developed prep system, a stronger economy, a more pleasant climate, et cetera et cetera.

That Alabama, as a state, can even produce a team capable of staying on the field with them, much less beating them fairly regularly, is a testament to our collective will to power, our mawkish obsession with eleven men wearing the same uniform and tossing around an oddly shaped inflatable lump of leather. Others may deride this as insanity, but, please, respect the commitment.

Furthermore, next year a school from Texas will become a regular conference opponent. In terms of football, Texas is essentially Florida with more hairspray. Extending farther west, the Lane Kiffin Comedy Cavalcade can’t last forever, so there will be a shift of power back to California in the not-so-distant future.

Florida, Texas, and California all have multiple high-profile college football programs as well as sizable Latino populations. And if you think Jimbo Fisher hasn’t figured out how to say “Go Noles” in Spanish after the month he’s had, then ay callate.

I realize that extending open arms to the Latino community because we need them to cross over to football from futbol isn’t the most noble of sentiments, but life is messy. Sometimes you have to make practical decisions to do what’s best, even if it’s not the ideal situation. People cross the southern border every day with that in mind, amigo.

Now, I hear what some of you might say already: “It’s not fair. Why should some people be rewarded for breaking the rules?” I’m sorry--I thought I was talking to college football fans. Aren’t you used to this by now? Plus, shouldn't you respect the dogged determinism of a people who somehow make contributions across the board in industry, governance, culture, and athletics in spite of a full-force gale of xenophobia? You may disagree, but, again, respect the commitment.

However, if you look over the scared, crying faces of the kids at Foley Elementary and think there’s something criminal going on there? Well, compadre, we finally found something we can agree on.

Marea del Rollo.

Friday, September 23, 2011

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/23/2011

Well, you know, I don't get any hot dog at halftime. I don't. I don't even drink a Coke. I coach the team at halftime. You get your little halftime break, and then you have your little ass back in your seat ready to go when the next half starts.
--Nick Saban from his radio show, 9/22/2011

Corporate beverage sponsors and hard-working concessions vendors aside, not many people will take issue with the Great Leader’s public chastising of the faithful this week. After all, it’s a conference game; there is no upper limit to the correction we will endure should it bring the team closer to victory.

With freshmen tackles, a new quarterback, and without their best defensive player, Arkansas is not quite the SEC opener that it has been in years past. Vegas has the Hawgs as double-digit dawgs, but the neon bookkeepers are always overly optimistic for our hometown team. Still, although this will be a truer measure of where Arkansas might stand in the conference than Alabama, it is still a game that could slip away if the Tide isn't careful. A Petrino with nothing to lose is one who might most likely win.

Good thing the fans will be skipping the halftime nachos this week.

And with the start of conference play, now is as good a time as any to speak of the realignment brouhaha occurring, both east and west. Specifically, Texas A&M looks to replace Arkansas as the most geographically far-flung member of the SEC (we don't call it Fayette-nam for nothing) and the presumed fourteenth member remains unknown. We are formerly Twelvers and now we await our new imam to be revealed.

This move west has been in the rumor mill for well over a year now, with damn near every chess piece floated over each square twice. However it turns out in the end, rest assured, it won't be the end.

It wasn't for the Southwest Conference. It wasn't for the Big 8. It wasn't for the Pac-10 to 12 or the Big Can't Count. It won't be for the SEC.

Whatever becomes of college football in the future, just remember one thing: get your little ass back in your seat and cheer.

Roll Tide.

Friday, September 16, 2011

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/16/11

A confession with North Texas on the docket: I have never read Friday Night Lights. Nor have I seen the movie, nor an episode of the television series. Each, I have been told, is better than its predecessor. Yet I have not made the time.

Some of this avoidance can be explained by my finding Buzz Bissinger a bit of a prisspot. Or worse, a tourist. Furthermore, Texas has enough misguided, self-aggrandizing nonsense in its history, politics, music, and barbeque without tossing amateur football onto the bonfire.

The larger complaint, though, is relative. I'm persuaded of Texas high school football's allure and drama, but not of its importance. Its devotion seems miles wide but only inches deep. Given the state's population and resources, a quality undergrowth of prep talent becomes inevitable, no more special than Florida or California or Ohio high school ball. But raw numbers do not service the myth of election, so don't waste them on a Texan.

I thought of this while observing the lastest kerfluffle regarding the Poets & Writers rankings of MFA programs, specifically Columbia's lowballing. In toto, the article is a good point made poorly.

Of course Columbia's ranking is joke. But what's equally laughable, though, is the chorus proclaiming an MFA's worthlessness--mostly from those with MFAs and some even from former program directors like Paisley Rekdal. The implication being that since MFA degrees all have null set value, Columbia's is just the prettiest zero. It doesn't matter where your MFA is from, this argument goes, your writing is what counts.

That this line of thinking, put forth by people who are half-Pollyanna and half-Narcissus, can take root so easily speaks poorly of those shepherding American letters into the future. Behind it lies a denial of reality.

The selling point of Columbia is its contacts--honestly, no different than any other program. And what is so dangerous or painful about admitting that Columbia has better contacts than McNeese State?

For Columbia, it means admitting that they have a good writing program for the same reason Texas has good football: resources moreso than talent. For everyone else, it means exploding the myth of their own election: they're lucky to have their contacts. Columbia isn't special; it's just louder.

Hell, I don't know. Maybe they're ranked low because their football team sucks.

Roll Tide.

Friday, September 09, 2011

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/09/11

Last week, I saw an Alabama fan wearing a t-shirt asking "How do you say 'Roll Tide?'" On the back, in a dozen languages, were the answers. That and the news that Texas A&M will soon be leaving the Longhorns' shadow for the SEC hammered home the point that our game's regional appeal is elastic, both nationally and internationally. The more things stay the same, the more they change. No one knows that better than Nittany Lions' coach and Medal of Freedom nominee Joe Paterno.

Last year, I was lucky enough to see the Alabama-Penn State game in person, likely the last time Joe Paterno will coach a game in Tuscaloosa. The contest was exciting but gradually uneventful. The pre-game pageantry, however, was something else.

Alabama's athletic director Mal Moore, as an old Bryant assistant, apparently wanted to pay homage to Joe Paterno as the game's winningest coach and to Alabama and Penn State's shared history (bowl games, the 10-year series, etc.). The hype videos normally shown on the enormous stadium screens were edited to include Penn State clips, and Bobby Bowden was brought out to midfield to welcome Paterno and Saban before kick-off in some kind of coaches' detente. The band followed with an old martial-vibe pomp, which felt like it was dusted off from the 1920s.

Earlier that week, the Great Leader said to the press that it would be a "damn crying-ass shame" if a person like Joe Paterno and his team were booed in Tuscaloosa. And sure enough, when the Penn State players took the field, they were cheered. When the jumbotron cameras caught Paterno leaving the field at the half, he received a standing ovation.

The Bowden comparisons are inevitable but misplaced. Age is a red herring. Bowden got canned for losing. Their in-state rival won two national championships in three years, while the Noles were lucky to get an invite to a bowl within driving distance. Penn State, however, was in the '09 Rose Bowl. FSU's agreeing to a $5 mill bribe for Jimbo Fisher if the guy wasn't named head coach by 2011 didn't help.

Penn State last played in Tuscaloosa over two decades ago, and JoPa was considered an old coach then (sidenote: Alabama's student section doesn't have assigned seating; therefore, it's first come, first serve. A group of students camped out to ensure they got the entire first row so they could spell, in body paint, "W E L C O M E B A C K J O E P A T E R N O R O L L T I D E," which is impressive for both the greeting's politeness and the students' organizational skills). If other Big Ten schools have been using his age against him in recruiting, frankly they need to do a better job. Penn State's still Linebacker U.

Now, here is where I digress into baseless speculation, even more so than usual. Were one to look at Penn State's record alone and not Paterno's age, it would be more difficult to suggest they need a new coach.

I believe that most sportswriters are hacks whose idea of "ambition" equates to a two-minute call-in spot on some afternoon ESPN chat show. Those covering Paterno reveal more about themselves than their subject, and I believe that watching a man age is uncomfortable for many people. I have even read a suggestion that JoPa should retire to spare the audience the chance sight of a man dying during a football game.

Nuts to that.

Those people have it all backwards: Paterno is teaching not a lesson on how to die, but on how to live. Personally, I'm pretty impressed by the guy. I know he won't live forever, but neither will anyone. Big deal.

Just due to the length of the schedule, I know there's a 50/50 chance he will die during a football season, less likely during a game itself. But he's doing what he loves and doing it fairly damn well--hopefully, tomorrow's results excluded. We should all be so lucky.

Roll Tide.

Friday, September 02, 2011

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/02/11: Season Kick-off Edition

Like a freight train.

That's the cliche and it's true. Ask anyone who's heard the roar that precedes a tornado and they will tell you. Depending on whom you ask, some will volunteer more. A hiss in the air, vibrating against your skin. The sky sinking so close to the ground it looks like a second earth. The explosions.

It's the wind that makes that roar. The same wind that pulls apart houses from the inside out. Depending on whom you ask, some will say nothing at all.

The day of the tornado, paramedics asked a woman in a Birmingham emergency room where she was from; she replied, "Yesterday, I would've said Pratt City. Now I don't know." Areas of Tuscaloosa and the rest of Alabama affected by the tornadoes last spring have been mostly cleared but not repaired. The same could be said for many of the people.

When you come from Alabama, you are accustomed to certain things carrying their weight merely because they were there before you were. A town's most popular restaurant might serve awful food. The worst singer in the choir might murder the solo. Our shortcut might take twenty more minutes than the new highway. We are loathe to clean the slate, much less have it cleaned for us.

During the season, you can always spot the alums back for their first game after a long absence. They become lost looking for landmarks that aren't there and wander toward solid walls expecting them to part. Whatever Tuscaloosa has become in their absence is not the one they know. Their city of memory is gone and you can feel their mourning. This season, everyone's a stranger here.

It is too much to ask a football team to lighten such people's burdens. It is irrational to ask young men who, at this point in their lives, know as much about a game as they do anything else to live up to these people's best expectations. It is foolish to ask such a violent game to bring so many people an afternoon of bliss.

Yet, greedy, irrational fools we have always been, so we ask anyway. It is too late to change us.

Tomorrow, though the work must continue, the rebuilding resume, and the donations accrue, for but a few hours we close the door on the other world. Our troubles will be waiting for us upon our return; they always are. But for now, we must embrace our serious silly business of football.

Welcome to Oz.

Roll Tide.

Friday, August 19, 2011

University of Alabama Football Report for 8/19/11

"Walter and I had been working on that song at a house in Malibu. I played him that line, and he said, 'You mean it's like, they call these cracker assholes this grandiose name like the Crimson Tide, and I'm this loser, so they call me this other grandiose name, Deacon Blues?' And I said, 'Yeah!' He said, 'Cool! Let's finish it!'"
--Donald Fagen, liner notes to Aja

Cracker assholes are a peculiar lot. It's too easy to say that, raised in the shadow of a steeple on every street corner, they are prone to an unearned sanctimony. For all their Bible-thumping bluster, their ordered world is very much of the material plane. Stepping outside the tribe carries real consequence, on earth if not in heaven. Such is the motivation behind the arcane legal machinations that will soon lead to the releases of Jason Baldwin, Jessie Misskelley Jr., and Damien Echols, better known in the popular media and t-shirt logos as the West Memphis 3.

Convicted of murdering children in a Satanic ritual, the three were, at the time of their first trial, actually guilty of being weirdos in a small Southern town--a crime found nowhere on the books but as binding as any written statute. Echols mostly bears the burden of that mark. With his long hair, black trench coat, and gothic pretensions, he was painted by prosecutors as a cult leader, when, in fact, he was just a cocky metal fan foolish enough to think being innocent meant something to the rubes in the jury box.

For this miscalculation in human psychology, he and Baldwin and Misskelley have spent the better part of two decades behind bars and became a cause célèbre for generally interesting actors and mostly shitty musicians--you know, the success stories from the small Southern town weirdo pantheon. If this sounds like a less-than-triumphant note to sound on what is undoubtedly a great day for the WM3, that's only because setting the innocent free is nothing to celebrate. It is akin to writing your neighbors a thank-you note because they didn't burn your house down while you were on vacation.

Twenty years ago, before Spanish-speaking voters, lesbian school teachers, and black Presidents, cracker assholes had to find something to be afraid of and decided upon something truly terrifying: their own children. Evangelical Christians, the same ones currently being pandered to in the cornfields by the likes of Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, distributed tacky leaflets and overheated VHS tapes to churches around the South decrying the rise of witchcraft, devil worship, and occultism among America's youth--led by those harbingers of darkness, Metallica et al. Thus the "Satanic panic" came slouching toward Bethlehem or, in this case, West Memphis, Arkansas.

A recent survey of self-identified Tea Partiers uncovered some information surprising for anyone without a fucking brain. Intending to measure the influence of religion on people's political views, the researchers found the exact opposite. Namely, that religion doesn't influence people's politics; people's politics influences their religion. Folks who are skeeved out by queers on the TV, don't cotton to Mexicans in the grocery store, and surely don't care for a colored guy in the White House will find a church that coddles their prejudices. Of course, the problem for these folks is that they live in world with fewer and fewer opportunities to brag about how bigoted they are, which is why the Tea Party pitches a shitfit over "big government" and "individual liberty"--damn near meaningless terms that were translated as "whites-only lunch counters" fifty years ago.

Now listen, I am well aware that it's a stretch to tie the case of the West Memphis 3 to the long and bloody history of America's struggle toward an equal citizenry, but what does freedom in this country mean if not the freedom to be as weird as you fucking please despite the circumstances of your birth? And certainly that includes the right not to be tried for capital crimes based on having poor taste in music. This is basic cowboy-on-the-plains shit here, my friend!

And don't mistake today's hearing for justice, either. Whoever murdered those young boys and tossed their bodies away like so much yard clipping either died a long time ago or is still walking loose. Who knows? Certainly not the police in Arkansas charged with finding their killer. Surely not the district attorneys who reinforced their citizenry's worst fears while allowing a real threat to stay on the streets. And most definitely not the honorable David Burnett, retired circuit court judge and cracker asshole of the first order.

Depending on which news account is accurate (and we must depend on these accounts as the court itself is enforcing a gag order on all participants), the defendants must either change their plea to guilty or will plead a no contest to the charges in order to be released. In other words, the state of Arkansas doesn't want it on record that they did what they actually did: lock away three innocent men for no damn reason at all. You have to hand it to cracker assholes; even when they lose, they win.

But ultimately, even this slight will become meaningless. After today, the West Memphis 3 can go about what's left of their lives as they see fit and that's as good an outcome for them as they could have hoped.

To come clean, I grew up in a small Southern town not unlike West Memphis. I wasn't ever weird enough to warrant the kind of stink-eye Damien Echols likely got from his neighbors, and since you're reading a college football blog, likely neither were you. Or, since you're reading this college football blog, maybe you were. Regardless, I knew my town's version of these kids and know exactly why their plight became a rallying point for so many people.

The tale of the West Memphis 3 is the weirdo's worst case scenario. It's the collective rising with one voice and condemning the individual for being just that and nothing more. And if you can hold down your lunch while watching those self-same assholes drape their narrow-mindedness under the banner of "freedom" during the election cycle, then, compadre, you're made of sterner stuff than me.

Roll Tide.

Friday, April 29, 2011

University of Alabama Football Report for 4/29/11: Sturm und Drang Edition

To cry to the sea that roar'd to us, to sigh
To the winds whose pity, sighing back again,
Did us but loving wrong.
--The Tempest (I.ii)

For those looking for a comprehensive list of ongoing and much needed relief efforts, please click here.

For those looking for a quick way to throw cash at this problem (no cynicism--cash works!), please click here.

For those trying to find their way home, please click here before hitting the road.

For those with time and good intentions (again, no cynicism--good intentions are very much needed now), please go here for volunteer opportunities.

For those with nothing else but the blood in their arms, please go here:

West Oxmoor Rd. Donor Center
Regional Headquarters
396 West Oxmoor Road
Birmingham, AL 35209

For everyone else, Roll Tide.

Friday, April 15, 2011

University of Alabama Football Report for 4/15/11: A-Day Preview

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath…”
--Exodus 20:4

“Sing a few songs, have a few drinks, break a couple of commandments.”
--Dean Martin’s purported plans for his first Vegas show

Fandom is the safest form of love; that is, it is a love from a distance, love from the stadia seats, a love comfortable with separation and clear limits. Fandom is love without demands or consequence of its absence, a love of uniforms, color palettes, and easily measured expectations.

Fandom is uncomplicated. Fandom is binary: One either is a fan or is not. A fan cannot possess split allegiances. A fan cannot be made, only recognized. There are but rare moments when the fan is allowed mimicry of a participant: fourth down plays, quarterback audibles, price hikes. The fan cannot exist in a vacuum.

Of course, even fandom sometimes bleeds beyond its accepted borders. Dead trees and hired quarterbacks attest to this. But aren’t these still the aberrations in the range, not the mode?

Coach Homer Smith—offensive genius, novelist, theologian, and gentleman—passed on this week. He warned his players about taking a lead for granted: “You must always play a little scared.” Good advice.

Advice that was likely ignored by Alabama’s players in the second half of the Iron Bowl last year, ignored by many of Alabama’s fans after the national championship two years ago, ignored by would-be lovers every day.

And it is every goddamned day. There’s the mystery: Not that one turns one’s attention away from disaster only for it to happen, but that one continually does so. One is compelled to do so.

If Coach Smith could help us today, he’d offer that coaching football is not about defeating the other team, but about defeating risk—ever present, creative, alluring risk. Yes, the lady is there, but so is the tiger.

You must always play a little scared. You are always thirty minutes from blowing the lead. You’re always one play away. You’re never as a terrific as the person who loves you says you are.

Fandom is the safest form of love; that is, it is barely love at all.

Roll Tide.

Friday, April 08, 2011

University of Alabama Football Report for 4/08/11: Spring Practice Baedeker

There were still remaining some few prisoners not wounded; these were asked by Lolonois, if any more Spaniards did lie farther on in ambuscade? They answered, there were. Then being brought before him, one by one, he asked if there was no other way to town but that. This he did to avoid if possible those ambuscades. But they all constantly answered him they knew none. Having asked them all, and finding they could show him no other way, Lolonois grew outrageously passionate; so that he drew his cutlass, and with it cut open the breast of one of those poor Spaniards, and pulling out his heart began to bite and gnaw it with his teeth, like a ravenous wolf, saying to the rest, “I will serve you all alike, if you show me not another way.”

--from “The Miserable End of Lolonois” in The Buccaneers of America: A True Account of the Most Remarkable Assaults Committed of Late Years Upon the Coasts of the West Indies by the Buccaneers of Jamaica and Tortuga by John Esquemeling

The University of Alabama Crimson Tide football team’s first game is not for another four months and twenty-six days. That’s 148 days. Yet, in as recent as the past seven days, our coach has cited players for a lack of intensity. Some might say his reactions, and related player demotions, are overdoing it for the first week in April.

To them, I say, “how long have you been a Red Sox fan?”

The catalyst for this disruption was the phantom of “entitlement,” as the Great Leader calls it, appearing on the spring practice fields in Tuscaloosa. Unfortunately, it may be a value, like gravity, identifiable only by its absence or its effects.

I see it in aging leading men, propped up in movies to mug and pantomime some caricature of their youthful selves.

In novelists cranking out their half-imagined rough drafts as realized masterpieces.

In Jorie Graham as Mark Strand in drag, and vice versa.

In our “ruling class,” who can’t seem to live up to either part of their name.

Not everything’s so gloomy though; it is spring. I almost never see entitlement where other say I should.

I’ve not met many poor people who act as if the world is set up to offer them handouts, quite the opposite, in fact. And I see more young people hardened by the costs of life than those who believe they have a free pass. In my circles, I don’t see much “entitlement” at all.

Its absence is easily spotted in Trent Richardson, who said his job was to earn his starting role by fighting off “the beasts” behind him on the roster. He also said that he could see this team playing for a national championship. Not as a boast, but in the same manner you or I might say, “yeah, I know how to make a BLT.”

All the ingredients are there, but it helps to be hungry.

With that, we have our mantra for the spring and perhaps the season. Football requires a baseline of intensity, and the game is designed to beat it out of you. Therefore, the beatings will continue until morale improves.

Roll Tide.

Friday, March 04, 2011

University of Alabama Football Report for 3/04/11

Dude Hennessy
(December 23, 1929--March 2, 2011)

Roll Tide.

Friday, February 04, 2011

University of Alabama Football Report for 2/04/11

That's my dog.

Chances are, if you're reading this, then you know her. Oh, let's just clear the air: chances are you've been bitten by her. But wounds heal, chicks dig scars, and a dog is man's best friend. Here are a few things about my best friend:

I did not raise my dog from a pup. She and I met at the Tuscaloosa Humane Society while I was a student at the University of Alabama. I was living in a tiny joint and I decided to get a tiny dog for it. However, those plans changed when I was distracted by a black-and-white mutt in the holding pen, the only dog in the place not barking its fool head off. Our first exchange was as follows: Me, "What's your problem?" Her, [jumps on my chest]. For this reason, with all due respect to our Great Leader and his signing day "hunting dog" metaphors, I remain ever skeptical of both purebreds and their owners.

My dog will eat anything but mushrooms and her favorite beer is Warsteiner. The mushrooms I could never figure out. The Warsteiner's probably because Germans are pretty snooty about what gets thrown into their brown bottles. I'm not saying the dog would turn her nose up at an Old Milwaukee, but she'd go wild for the kraut stuff.

My dog is really fucking old. At least 19, perhaps 23. This information is only here to counter the inevitable "You gave your dog beer!?!" reaction that follows the information preceding. To answer your question, yes--you're goddamn right I did. As well as pizza, venison, oysters, french fries, liver, pancakes, ribs from Archibald's, steak, corn dogs, ice cream, chicken, peanut butter, turkey, ribs from Dreamland, chicken bones, and countless other things "dog people" say you should not give dogs to eat. When confronted by said "dog people," lo these past two decades, who have said "You really shouldn't feed your dog ________" I have always responded, kindly but firmly, "You mean my dog that's approaching twenty years old? That dog? The dog in front of you? Who lives on, proudly, comfortably--nay--enthusiastically for this so-called contraband? Thanks for your advice."

My dog met surf-rock legend Dick Dale. He played a show at the Chukker, and the doorman initially said she couldn't come inside. I told him, "It's cool. She's three years old; that's twenty-one in dog years." That seemed to be all the assurance he required.

My dog is curious. Here is a partial list of things my dog has unlocked/opened over the years, sometimes to her own detriment, more often to the items themselves: bag of pipe tobacco, passenger side door of an S-10 truck, a baby crib, family-size container of Tide with bleach, a second-floor window, a cd copy of Proud Mary and Other Hits by Ike & Tina Turner, a sliding patio door, an above-ground pool cover, a bag of charcoal briquettes (unlit), a Hibachi grill (lit), my left ear.

My dog is reference-able in a university library system. She's mentioned by name in the acknowledgments of my master's thesis. That's the section where my classmates put their thesis chairs' names. My thesis chair went on sabbatical for half the damn year; my dog was there every day.

My dog gets along with cats. She lived side-by-side with a cat for over half her life. Sure, they had their disagreements over sleeping spaces, food dishes, and the role of government, but nothing like the stereotype would have you believe.

My dog would not get along with you (most likely). This is nothing personal. Shortly after I adopted my dog, a vet told me that she'd been fixed earlier than most dogs. Generally, the reason for this is that the dog is high strung or aggressive and the owner is scared of what an animal like that would be like in heat. In retrospect, her high strung disposition is likely why she ended up in the pound in the first place. It's a minor miracle the dog got along with me, and a lucky break for her that she didn't end up fighting roosters in some day laborer's basement for side bets.

My dog has degenerative myelopathy. This is a progressive disease of the spinal cord, which about a year ago hindered her ability to walk. I initially believed she had hip dysplasia because, well, she's really fucking old. Then, around August, she needed a wheelchair to get around, and a few days ago, she hasn't even been able to use that.

On the upside, because this is a neurological condition, she isn't in any pain. However, she became immobile and the disease would soon move to her brain stem, meaning she would be given over to full-blown dementia (at best) or a series of aneurysms or strokes (at worst). Therefore, her life ended earlier this week so that she would not have to face that inevitable suffering.

That's a pretty downbeat ending, but although I'm sad that I won't have my dog around any longer, this shouldn't be a sad occasion. She outlasted and outlived many other dogs and quite a few people. For that reason, you are invited to raise a glass tonight for her virtual Irish wake (virtual because 1. who knows when you're reading this--these things are impossible to schedule--and 2. she wasn't Irish).

I don't believe in a heaven, at least not the kind with angels and harps and clouds and such nonsense, but I do believe we (and dogs) live on in the memories we create for others. Our legacy becomes our afterlife, whether that is friendship or art or football or chasing damnable squirrels.

Roll Tide.