Friday, November 09, 2012

University of Alabama Football Report for 11/09/12

… locating beauty and art and magic and improvement and keys to excellence and victory in the prolix flux of match play is not a fractal matter of reducing chaos to pattern … not a reduction at all, but—perversely—of expansion.
 --David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

One of the unique things about football as a spectator sport is that its non-fluid pace of play offers constant strategic revelations. Indeed, for the pattern-minded set, the pre-snap read is perhaps more exciting than the play itself. The utilitarian roots of the game are hewn into language to this day: offense and defense begin each down in formation and each play is its own collapse toward entropy.

For most football people, formation—the order—is their defining aspect. You see it in how players are slotted toward one position or another in their youth (“too short to play quarterback,” for example), and in how coaches come to build their calling card (“Nick Saban is a 3/4 guy” or “Darrell Royal was a wishbone guru”). Yet perhaps nowhere in football is there less reliance on sustained order and more of a philosophical acceptance of randomness than in the cult of the “air raid.”

On the surface, the air raid offense is a pretty simple and fairly orthodox system: put the quarterback in shotgun and have him toss the ball quick to cross routes, screens, and verticals. However, all ordered systems much collapse, but as the air raid collapses it becomes more dangerous. In the same way a big box store makes a profit by underselling its merchandise, the air raid scores points by increasing the number of plays.

It’s a volume business, son, and air raid teams make profit at the margins.

And perhaps no one in the country has a better feel for the set, snap, and go tempo of the air raid than the visiting quarterback for Texas A&M, Johnny Manziel—better known by his nom de awesome: Johnny Football.

It is when chaos comes that Manziel makes most of his magic happen. Still clinging to its industrial lexicon, football deems these moments “busted” plays, and not every player has the wherewithal to ride out the storm. However, some quarterbacks can. They may scramble for a first down or scat about behind the line to extend the play or improvise with a receiver to double back on a route. Rare is the player who can do one of these things routinely. Manziel does all three.

What is so striking about el corrido del Juan Futol is that the air raid has traditionally been employed by the “Davids” of college football. A rundown of the air raid coaches finds them in far-flung outposts of major conferences like Lexington, Lubbock, and Pullman or small conference schools in Greenville, Rustin, and Houston, which was the Aggie coach’s last depot.

Now, though, the ordinate of top-tier Texas prep talent and the abscissa of high-octane play calls are intersecting in College Station, a foothold of the premiere conference in college football. Goliath is wearing track shoes, and the Aggies are hitting their stride right when they draw the country’s #1 team—a bruised up lot who needed a literal last-minute miracle to escape metaphorical death the week prior. In the showdown between order and chaos, you know who the universe has sided with since the big bang.

Vegas, however, has order a two-touchdown favorite at home.

Roll Tide.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

University of Alabama Football Report for 11/03/12: Live from Death Valley

To assess a collegiate football game on the first weekend of November has become an effort in spirit writing. For, much like Yeats's bride, who took a fever and penciled an outline of the afterlife, one's interest can no longer be satisfied within the visible world alone, but must take to the empty talk of myth and magic. Such delicate notions to be cast out of a brutish game, like a blacksmith's rose hammered from a piece of iron.

This year, much of that smithy's work is done by LSU's Les Miles, who eschews convention easier than an Italian shoe designer. Football coaches, generally a conservative lot, philosophically if not, but perhaps also, politically, tend to walk back public displays of verbal intensity, saving them for special circumstances and limiting them to the audience of the team.

Understandable, really, when one considers how such language is needed to captivate the attention of those murderous butterflies flitting about the practice field in school colors. How often can a coach summon the powerful incantation of the locker room before every team is only so much "wolf," as it were? Coaches use language in the same way shotguns use lead.

Furthermore, when outside said locker room, there's the inherent problem of absurdity. From Towson's coach telling the home team that "even if Jesus and his disciples come in here on Saturday, we are going to fuck them up" to our own Coach Bryant's imploring a trailing team to never quit because "this is just a game--one day, you'll lose your job, your dog'll die, and your wife'll run off with a drummer," let's face it, coaches say some crazy shit.

Yet, locker room or dinner hall, Miles has never been one to speak quietly and carry a big stick. He's more the speak loudly while you juggle chainsaws type of guy. Sure, every once in a while that shtick ends up with a bloody arm or two on the floor, like his infamous "let 'er rip" prelude to an ass-whipping, but Miles doesn't live in the past. Hell, he may not even live in the present. Clock management is of little concern to the future man!

So when he brings a team that has averaged fewer than five points a game against Alabama in the last two meetings, a team whose offense looks even worse now than a year ago, and pins his hopes on the vaunted adversity of playing under electric lighting, it is almost expected by now. The more curious puzzle is, if it is expected, how can it be effective? The more you make a myth a fact, the less the myth matters.

I'm relying on the inverse of this thinking this coming Tuesday, by the by. Ultimately, I'm hoping the HNIC gets a second go 'round simply because he's truly not all the awful things his opponents say he is. Such is the danger of letting the crazy talk leave the locker room and get in the news cycle.

Plus, we need a country represented by someone supported by more than 1% of African Americans, 12% of Latinos, and 20% of women. I mean, if you're interest in still having a country in the twenty-first century and not just a franchise location for Chinese business interests... And if that sounds to you, friend, as tempting fate, then I remind you that the other side of mocking superstition is not accepting jinxes.

A coda on the Mrs. Yeats and her connection to the spirit world: If you, as you should, dismiss the stated mechanics of her spirit writing and still wonder how or why Kusta Ben Luka came calling, then the answer here, as in football, comes down to people.

Imagine the young bride of the already famous poet. Is she drawn to him? Without doubt. He struts, he banters, he preaches, but he does not pay much attention to anyone outside his ego for long.

Now imagine our poet rushing home each day and staying awake half the night, eagerly watching each scribble his wife's hands set out on paper. Hour after hour. Day after day. Imagine those hands dropping the paper and reaching out for his. Day after day. Year after year.

You don't have to believe in ghosts to have use for them.

Roll Tide.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Friday, October 12, 2012

University of Alabama Football Report for 10/12/12

Compromise is essential to building a successful life. For example, in a perfect world, Beano Cook would be bludgeoned to death with both of Ron Powlus's Heismans. Alas, we live in a compromised world, where Powlus is a punchline, Maryland fell far short of the national championship, and Cook is mundanely, mortally, and mulishly dead.

Cook will be remembered (which is in itself a marvel today) for his dogged allegiance to northeastern football superiority. That he will be remembered for such by southerners is but a curiosity. That such remembrance is akin to English folklorists speaking of dragons is all but expected. To be remembered means, at some point, peeling one's self opposite the prevailing grain.

To be successful, however, means assessing the landscape and responding accordingly. And despite the negative connotations our native audience might imbue within the word, compromise can bring great pleasure to its practitioners.

Cook lived to be a piece of rebar. Inflexible. Unglamourous. Essential for a foundation.

He, appropriately, never used ten words when one hundred would do the same job. In an imperfect world, Cook often became a perfect foil.

Would that we lived in a perfect world, tomorrow would bring a road game in Morgantown, West (fuckin') Virginny for our beloved Crimson Tide. Yet, for the sake of long-term television contracts, we find ourselves agitated over a plus-22 spread within the state of "miz-URR-ahh." Thus we sacrifice our dreams into the fevered hands of youth, and we dare anticipate a rendezvous with our antithesis: flame vs. stone.

But still, we expect the stone to roll forward. Solid, momentous, and inveterate. Not bad for an imperfect world.

Roll Tide.

Friday, September 28, 2012

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/28/12

“Living on the road, my friend, was gonna keep you free and clean…” --Townes Van Zandt, “Pancho and Lefty”
Anyone who’s spent time on the road knows that Townes was full of shit. Life on the road metes out its tortures at a high price and with ever increasing filth. An unapologetic panorama of rude people, ugly buildings, and ruinous food.

Companions make it not one bit easier. The road is unkind to individuals, but it is downright sadistic to the herd. One by one, your roadmates will turn on each other. After spending a short time on the road, you no longer wonder why the Rolling Stones all hate one another. Now you marvel that Mick hasn’t killed Keef in his sleep.

Do not panic. This is to be expected. After all, the road hates you. As Wallace pointedly put it: I know you’re paranoid, but are you paranoid enough? Eventually, the road will bring each member of your party to his limit. Each will tell you how the others are driving him mad. They will say the same about you when you’re asleep. You will grow sympathetic to the Donner Party.

This is especially true if your road leads into the American West, where each step the cracks the earth, knocking up dust of triumph and genocide. Especially Texas, which appears to be a sociological experiment testing the upper limits of cash, sprawl, and beef.

In such environs, it’s devastating to think of home and its comforts, but what else is there? You watch football for the same reason prisoners walk the yard.

Roll Tide.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/15/12 is a game time decision

Were I a betting man (ah ha ha ha), Tyler Wilson won't be taking the field today. Were I an athletic director, I'd fire a coach who'd even consider it. Especially against Alabama's front seven, who are hellbenders for the denizens of the backfield. In many ways, it's too bad John L. Smith is already fired, hired to be fired, really. He's an almost too perfect fit for Arkansas football. Living on borrowed time, in debt to his eyeballs, and wholly halfcocked. Without Bobby Petrino, the Hawg offense has all the moving parts but no steady hand on the lever. Without, Wilson ... Well, there are still parts. And with John L. at the helm, those parts are already being scouted for salvage. Theoretically, each team finds its own way to lose to Louisiana Monroe. (Trust me on this.) However, John L.'s way involves sacrifice. Of his quarterback. Of his job. Of his benefit of the doubt. It is said that only a madman or a despot is free of doubt. And with last week's loss, perhaps John L. has finally achieved sanity. If Vegas is to be believed, he has already lost his troops. One must pay a price to be sane in our world. To one's pride or to one's pharmacist. So, for Alabama and its season, we would do well to ignore Vegas. That is, if we wish for our particular insanity to continue. Roll Tide.

Friday, September 07, 2012

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/07/12

“A thousand tickets? I’ll buy them and give them away. We can’t sell out with all the games we’ve won?”
--Alabama head football coach Nick Saban
If I were a carpenter and you were a lady, then we'd likely not be speaking like this. But here we both are, so let's cut to the chase.

I've never been good at the whole "teaching lessons" thing, mainly, I think, because I associate it with having, on some level, a predictive understanding of human nature. And, to be blunt here, I have no idea what motivates you, why you (and by "you" I mean not necessarily you but "you," you know?) behave the way you do, why you say those things, why you dress that way, why you eat this and turn your nose to that, why you look at me that way when I say, I think, something we were both thinking.

Of course, you weren't thinking that. I have no clue what you were thinking. Nor do I know, at least, in a useful fashion, why you aren't thinking what I thought you were.

Jesus, I'm headed in circles here. Let's try again.

As to motivation, I am, as said above, clueless. Rather, I'm bogged down with a tar pit of worst-case-scenario empathy.

I'll cut you slack, brother. No problem.

After all, the most I can figure out of you is your own worst instincts. I'll excuse your vices and prejudices, your fears and self-doubt. Just about the whole circus. Damn Joe South for being so convincing, because I thought "Walk a Mile in My Shoes"  was as good a creed as anything else. Plus, you can shake your ass to it before last call.

So when I see worries over Alabama coming out flat against a 40-point underdog and hear the Great Leader go apeshit over potentially 1% of the stadium being empty, I'm left to guesswork as to what it all means. Is there a lesson here? For the team? For the fans? For Western Kentucky?

Hell if I know.

What I do know is that sometimes the right thing to do is never clearer than when it feels absolutely wrong, when it sounds like the most indefensible, crazy, impossible, lost-cause outcome you could imagine. For example, you preach to your kids never, ever give up and always try your best. But then, after you watch them crash out and shit their pants, find a way to reverse course, benignly contradict all that garbage, and talk about "perspective" without sounding like a total fraud.

Or you stay on message, you sadist. Which will it be?

Maybe that's the real problem with this lesson stuff. You're always teaching them, you can't choose which ones, and you never know if you passed or failed.

That's what I'd tell the Hilltoppers if I were in the visiting locker room tomorrow. It's what I'd tell the home team too.

Roll Tide.

Friday, August 31, 2012

University of Alabama Football Report for 8/31/12

"I don't know why all this shit about wanting to hear about the football all the time..."
from Infinite Jest

It's hard to comprehend for the old-timers. Why a team from Alabama would want to play a team from Michigan in Texas. And not just any Texas either, but Dallas, Texas. Maybe the most Texasy part of Texas.

To tell them that doing so is for the benefit of sportswriters in New York and high school students in Ohio and California makes even less sense to them. But here's the key to understanding college football in the 21st c.: the less sense it makes, the closer you are to understanding it. Thankfully, Cowboys Stadium, the so-called JerryDome, is a perfect place for not making sense of things.

Inside Jerry's World, you can pay around a hundred bucks to not have seat for this game, which is a great deal when you consider that most of the people in those seats will be watching the giant television over the game, rather than the game itself. Try explaining that to the old-timers.

Or don't. It's just another reminder that things have passed them by.

Many of them have spent the past week watching the wrong channels on your own, less-than-giant tee-vees, believing all that stands between them and their own JerryDome is Rowdy Yates kicking over a chair and that the interstate highway system was built by, I don't know, elves dressed like Ayn Rand.

Also, I have become exhausted fielding the hubris of "Michigan Men" et al., especially when they are touting their marquee QB as panacea for a roster of asterisks and question marks. Make no mistake: Denard Robinson is a special player. He is fast. He is elusive. He is surprising. He makes lots of things happen. Hell, he may be the Higgs boson--God knows he's about as tiny.

And there's but one of those asterisks.

It's rare that an Alabama partisan looks across the field and tells the opposition to get with the times, but I, like Las Vegas, am growing comfortable in the Great Leader's polite, violent nihilism--a showcase of muscled and stifling calculus.

This is not romance: this is football as asphyxiation. From Alabama's perspective, goals are now irrelevant. The world is not enough, and there are no more Alexanders left to conquer.

Roll Tide.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

University of Alabama Football Report for 7/22/12: SEC Media Days Hangover Edition

If you were to wander into Birmingham's Avondale Brewery the other night and stumble upon the SEC Media Days' de facto after party, no one would blame you for thinking you'd hit the snooze button on your Zombie Apocalypse Alarm Clock.

However, the slow-moving, slack-faced, murmuring herd sloshing shoulder-to-shoulder from bar to bathroom aren't, technically, the undead. They're what's left of various S.I.D. flunkies and beat writers after a force-fed diet of podium-launched coachspeak.

Coachspeak, as a dialect, concerns itself more with capacity than clarity. In fact, the more a person says in coachspeak, the less information reaches the listener. Conversely, when surrounded by coachspeak's obfuscating influence, actual, denotation-containing, decipherable word-items assume an accelerated gravity, as if the inertia of potential meaning suddenly joins our universe and forms a gravity well around a singularity.

Such is what happened with one of the conference's new additions, Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel. Pinkel violated the fundamental grammar of coachspeak by, you know, saying what he actually thinks. Even worse, he did so in relation to an issue bigger than who will come in on nickel packages.

When Pinkel said the late Joe Paterno was "a great man," he didn't stumble into it. No, he was pretty insistent, repeating it at least three times, which reveals, in light of the Freeh Report's findings, the myopia endemic to lifers in the coaching profession. That behind-the-wall mind-set is created both by the skewed priorities of living in a football program's bubble and the willful ignorance it takes to reinforce it.

Arguably, it's that mind-set that allowed Paterno to justify the enabling and cover-up of his defensive coordinator's predatory abuse. It's also that mind-set that has the NCAA thinking about revisiting the death penalty. After all, say what you will about SMU, but no kids were ass-raped in the Mustangs' glory days. 

Other than a PR snafu, not much newsworthy happened at the so-called news event, which is why the crowd at Avondale is pretty light on shoptalk (another reason might be that, after this summer's newspaper closings and layoffs, the crop's been thinned). After "Gary Pinkel," of all things, became a trending topic on newsfeeds around the country, the other coaches learned quickly to stay mum. We are thoroughly in the reign of SEC, Inc., which means that all us pirates are in this boat together now.

So you'll not hear any concerns over the current BCS structure, the end of the BCS structure, or the replacement of the BCS structure. We support the status quo, whatever that happens to be at the moment... And also that contradictory thing that it used to be, see?

Rumor around the bar is that Penn State has decided to take down Paterno's statue, maybe as soon as this weekend. This news spurs the ragtag remainders from the sports pages to conversation, and they trouble themselves with attempts at understanding. As you'd expect with this lot, they peddle a fair mix of Old Testament retribution, sophomore-year psychology, and half-assed righteousness. More than anything, they stumble over why.

Finally, one of the old saws speaks up: "I can tell you why he covered it up," he says with the bored, flat tone of a science teacher explaining oxidation to third graders. "His team went 5-7 that year. Now let me through. I gotta piss."

Roll Tide.

Friday, May 04, 2012

University of Alabama Football Report for 5/04/2012


List of things MCA destroys in the "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)" video, in order:

  • Beer can 
  • Popular Mechanics magazine 
  • Framed wall art 
  • Pie 
  • Acoustic guitar 
  • White button-down 
  • Dog's self-esteem 
  • Television 

 Roll Tide.

Friday, April 13, 2012

University of Alabama Football Report for 4/13/12: A-Day Preview

Six years running into the present regime, no one questions the normalcy of our lunacy, or vice versa. With another capacity crowd expected at Alabama’s open scrimmage tomorrow, the only news is that it’s not news. It’s a relativist’s paradise, or nightmare. Who can tell?

Maybe Michael Robbins, whose greatly anticipated collection of poems (yes, such a thing), Alien vs. Predator, was released last week to cooing voices and raised eyebrows. With Paul Muldoon’s (literal) imprimatur in the New Yorker and his own ego in print through various reviews, Robbins is pretty close to bulletproof when criticism is concerned. No one’s going to be the first mole to stick out his head to get whack-a’d while he’s holding the only mallet.

Not that Robbins would deserve to be, either. His manic, compulsive, curious, pissy wit is just as much on display in his poetry as his reviews, wherein he routinely demolishes the antiquated and archaic faux-pastoral sensibility that enshrouds too much contemporary American verse.

Years ago, while serving overpriced shots to hard timers coming in or going off factory shifts and with still too many college professors’ voices in my head, I came up with an idea for a poem. I would title it “Commerce” and it would start “There is no poetry in it.”

That’s as far as I got.

Looking through Michael Robbins’s book, I’m glad too. He not only proved that idea wrong, but did so in about thirty different ways. His world is our world. Garish. Tacky. For sale. Built with an implied obsolescence.

I could start picking apart the lines here. Pulling out the allusions to obscure writers and top-40 divas, but on their own, they’d seem like jokes. And even though the lines are funny (when’s the last time anyone’s been able to say that?), the poems, in toto, are serious stuff.

I highly doubt Michael Robbins is a football fan. He strikes me more the True Panther Sounds listener than, say, Paul Finebaum. Hell, he might even be one of those anti-sports dudes who compensates for the bullying he took in school by making you feel like shit for not knowing that song in the Verizon commercial, and that’s too bad. Football was good enough for James Wright, after all. But besides that, in football, Robbins would find the aesthetic he advocates in verse: an assembly of loud and repulsive instincts harnessed into pleasing music.

Strike up the band.

Roll Tide.

Monday, January 09, 2012

University of Alabama Football Report for 1/09/12: National Championship Edition

There are no second acts in American lives.
--F. Scott Fitzgerald

This game's not about me. . . . It doesn't define who I am as a person.
--Nick Saban

Even the most ardent Alabama supporter has to feel a little bad for LSU. How many times do they have to beat Alabama? Wasn't the first time difficult enough? But second chances being such a rare commodity these days, it would be impolite to appear anything less than thoroughly grateful. More and more, it seems that people are not afforded a first chance in America, much less a second.

The last half of 2011 revealed the long-simmering disappointment and disillusion that a majority of people feel about their country. Not the scaremongering nonsense one finds falling off the lips of one indistinguishably nauseating GOP candidate after another, but small, practical, real concerns that a functioning government would have time and motivation to redress.

Why should the axis between one's education and employment be a recipe for instant poverty? How can the wealthiest nation on the planet have cities falling apart from road to bridge to levee? When did good health become a luxury item? None of these questions will be answered by a football game, but--hell, if you're honest with yourself--none of them will be addressed by your elected representatives either.

How much do you really understand about macroeconomics? Can you predict the consequences of a zoning board decision? How self-destructive is the average American? If you're honest with yourself, you're not going to have ready answers. Listening to a politician is likely the quickest way to lose touch with reality.

(An aside: You'd be amazed how long I can go without thinking of acts of bestiality--like, years we're talking--and even then it's because something or someone else raises the topic. Rick Santorum apparently can't make it through midweek without the subject coming up. He thinks about sex with animals with the same frequency I think about eating Indian food. Dude has problems. Conclusion of the foregoing.)

Therefore, one could turn to what the old Catholic Worker called a "revolution of the heart." If you're lucky, you make the world better in the exact diameter of your own footprint. If you're lucky and smart, you can follow another person's footprints for a while. And that combination being such a rare commodity these days, it would be impolite to appear anything less than thoroughly grateful.

More common are the unfortunate people whose every day is but a repetition of the one before, grappling with one fistful of water after another, trying to pull themselves to the surface until they've reached their reward: being too exhausted to realize they're drowning.

But also, even among that number, are those who are afforded a life preserver, some second chance that their struggle otherwise wouldn't produce on its own merit. And if that happens to you, if your drowning is stopped by a helping hand, don't be a whiny shit about it. Don't bother worrying if you deserve it. You likely don't, but that's unimportant. It's an insult to unhappy nobodies who never had a first chance to piss it away.

Thus, I have decided to solve all the world's problems within the diameter of my footprint by watching a football game, planting a garden, voting for whoever lets gay Marines get married and raise nose tackles, and telling F. Scott to go fuck himself.

Roll Tide.