Wednesday, September 18, 2013

week 2 thoughts: not today

"There is only one god, and his name is Death. And there is only one thing we say to Death: Not today."*
* I spent most of my summer every reading "A Song of Ice and Fire." It's gonna come up periodically. I apologize in advance.

The bulk of a sports fan's life is learning how to deal with losing.

It's true. For as much as talking heads — most of them former coaches — blather on about "the team that makes the least mistakes" or whatever, more games are lost than won. This is particularly true in football — I've been a fan of Alabama football since I was in third grade (1989), and I can remember just about every important game the team has played in that time period.
The difference between winning and losing, then, has always been the mistakes.
In a way, this summarizes exactly what "Sabanball" really is (and, conversely, why so many people hate it). It's an effort to take all the mistakes — all the "losing plays" — out of the game. What's left is a cold, efficient machine that grinds up whatever is in its path.

For a Bama fan who grew up reading about the old Bryant teams — while watching Mike Dubose and Mike Shula teams in front of him — that style has meant a dominance not seen in college football since the 1970s. It's been an odd thing, really — this is a team that has seen more success in the past five years than some fan bases will see in their lifetimes.
But there is still the matter of defending that position. And when it came down to it, revenge vs. Texas A&M wasn't as important to me as simply not losing.

Which, of course, is what followed.
No matter what you think of Alabama, the idea of going on the road against a team as good as the Aggies, immediately going down 14 points and ultimately giving up over 600 yards of total offense seems like a recipe for disaster, one of those days when the home fans tear down the goalposts and make home videos to treasure for a lifetime.
But not Saturday, and not against this Alabama team.
The difference in the game, it turned out, were Johnny Manziel's two interceptions. One of them derailed an almost certain touchdown; the other turned into 7 for Alabama in the opposite direction.
The final? 49-42, in favor of the visitors.
More games are lost than won.

There are, obviously, miles to travel in the 2013 season. No law says Alabama is guaranteed a championship, even if the toughest games left on the schedule — Ole Miss, LSU — are at home (and winnable). But it gives me pride to see this team rage against the dying of light. It should make us all proud.

Some other thoughts ...
• We traveled to Texas over the weekend, visiting friends who live in Killeen, and visited campus on Saturday (didn't make it into the stadium, though — too expensive and way too hot). I'd say College Station is a slightly nicer version of Mississippi State (so, Troy, basically). What made up for it were the people, who could not have been more courteous to their visitors. We visited one tailgate — a friend of a friend, kinda — and the matriarch there gave us all "Texas Aggie hugs" upon arrival. "Make sure y'all tell everybody how nice we are," she said. Hopefully this qualifies.
• No more shade to throw at The Magnificent Johnny Manziel*. Maybe he's a spoiled brat or a hustler, but on Saturday he did things that simply boggled the mind. And while we're here, can we encourage Mike Evans to go pro? Good Lord.
* Probably the most objectively stupid argument I've heard thus far against Manziel for a second Heisman is the fact that A&M lost the game. The guy accounted for yard totals that defy the laws of nature, and he was betrayed by a defense that simply couldn't hold up against the top-ranked team in America. And while we're here, he wouldn't have won the Heisman last year if his defense hadn't stepped up to stop Alabama on its final drive. This is a whole other entry at some point.

• Equally unshaded is Alabama's offensive line, which went from suspect to dominant in a matter of two weeks. Alabama's tailback depth also suddenly looks daunting as well — Jalston Fowler looked great, and 2012's Human Victory Cigar, Kenyan Drake, may be faster than anyone. Of course, T.J. Yeldon remains the bell cow, his key fumble notwithstanding. Just nice to have options.
• On that note, Alabama used some unusual formations to attack the Aggies on the ground, occasionally even lining up five people — a tight end and two H-backs — tight to one side of the formation. The effects were obvious. I'm going to assume we didn't use any of this stuff in Week 1 because we didn't need it.
• Whatever can be said about the defense's performance Saturday has already been said. Allow me to point out, though, that we played most of Saturday without Deion Belue and still haven't seen Geno Smith since his DUI arrest. Oh, and one other thing ...
• We almost lost Haha Clinton-Dix in the second quarter to football's newest reactionary rule: penalizing "targeting," or blows to the head against "defenseless players," as defined by the rules. It's tough to blame the official, who's seeing a play happen in front of him at 100 miles per hour, taking into account the directive he's receiving from upstairs — "Protect the receiver's head" — and hearing whoops from the A&M bench, begging for a flag.
Instead, let's just lay out the problem with the entire initiative: It's an effort by the people who govern football — a violent sport in which highly trained young men crash into one another at high rates of speed — to make the game "safe." Football is not "safe," by nature. Attempts to make it safe by putting your referees on high alert only penalizes a player for doing his job.
Moreover, the NCAA has already acknowledged how dumb the rule is by taking away virtually all of its teeth. In essence, the replay booth can now say, "We have looked at the play and determined no foul occurred, so the player who was erroneously flagged gets to stay in the game. But we're not overturning the penalty itself for some reason, because ... you know, whatever." It's equivalent of an unfunded mandate to the guys in the stripes.
• I don't have a good ending for this entry. Honestly, by game's end, watching from Killeen, we were all exhausted, relieved and maybe a little drunk.
It was pretty great.