Saturday, January 31, 2009

a little late to the party ...

Three things I never really had a chance to blog about as they were happening:
  • The presidential inauguration. Way too many people smarter than me have already given their $.02 about it.
  • The plane crash in the Hudson. Holy smokes. I can only imagine what life would be like right now for me had I been on that plane with my wife, who detests flying as much as anyone I know detests anything.
  • The shifting around of the assistant coaches between Tennessee, Alabama and Auburn.
(Hold on -- I'm about to shift into soapbox mode.)

One of the many by-products of the years I've spent writing sports -- and, by extension, writing for a newspaper in general -- is that I've gained some perspective on the culture of fandom. Frankly, it's patently insane. That's probably the reason I've become less of a sports fan since I started working in sports -- the job requires me to think rationally and attempt to be objective, and that's not a mindset that's conducive to being a fan.
One of the other by-products of the job is that I learned a little about the lives of coaches, specifically assistant coaches (granted, I dealt mostly with high school coaches who weren't nearly so high-profile, but still). Most of them have been coaching in some capacity since before they graduated from college; most of them coach multiple sports they don't understand (volleyball, girls' soccer and so forth) trying to make a buck; most of them are married and see their families very little; most of them have very little in the way of money; almost all of them moved from one school to another regularly, always in search of a better job with better benefits and a better opportunity for advancement.

And so it was with a great deal of indifference that I took in the news of coaching changes during the offseason, first of Lance Thompson -- who defected from Alabama to Tennessee -- and then of James Willis -- from Auburn to 'Bama.
I was apparently one of the few. My friend Kurt -- the proprietor of and an unapologetic Auburn homer -- briefly lost his mind during a conversation about the Willis incident, declaring Willis had betrayed the Auburn family, and saying Auburn fans wouldn't ever accept him back in their good graces.
"If you even think about going to the other side, you don't understand the rivalry and we don't want you."
Now, after telling him how dumb this is about 60 different ways, I finally accepted that it was a pointless exercise and tried to change the subject.
The point is this, and I'm going to regurgitate a Scarbinsky column here: it is patently unfair for fans to expect these "rivalries" to mean as much to the participants as it does to us. In Willis' case, he was fired, then re-hired, then (apparently) asked to give back money he'd been given as part of a severance package (like Auburn's athletic department would miss it). Then Nick Saban suddenly had an opening on his staff, offering better pay for basically the same job.
Is it really fair for any of us to judge the man for accepting that? Aren't just about all of us at the age where we're always looking for a better deal? Isn't that more than a little unfair?
Here's another columnist I'll poach: Bill Simmons, right after Johnny Damon jumped Boston for New York:
[L]et's say your buddy has spent eight quality years working for a law firm. He loves everyone in his office, loves his job, never imagines going anywhere else ... and then another law firm comes swooping in and offers him a partnership and big bucks. And let's say he asked you for advice. Well, you know what you would do? You would tell him to take the big bucks. You would. I'm telling you ... you would. And when he does so, you would praise him for doing the right thing for his family. That's the way life works. With sports, for whatever reason, we expect athletes to do the right thing ... for us, not for them. When they choose themselves, we act like they mailed us a pile of dog poop. Somehow they're the ones being selfish.
We expect these guys to be loyal to us. In our heart of hearts, we should know better. What does Tennessee or Auburn mean to Nick Saban? It's unfair to say simply "it's the next game on the schedule," because he knows how much it means to the fans, and to his bosses. But does he sit up at night, watching old youtube videos of The Run in the Mud or Bo Over the Top? Somehow I doubt it.
Moreover, on more than one occasion, fans of Auburn, Tennessee and Alabama have been guilty of booing their own players at the first sign of trouble. Two years after Terry Bowden's Auburn team finished undefeated, the Tigers got drilled at home by Mississippi St. In the postgame, a caller told Auburn Network folks, "If Texas wants him, they can have him."
There's certainly no loyalty when it comes to that. Asking the coaches in this case to be "loyal" to us when we don't care a whit about them is more than a little unfair, and selfish.

Scarbo is right, folks. Get over yourselves.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

notes, "Lost" style (SPOILER ALERT)

Editor's note: In our ongoing effort to understand ABC's "Lost," I'm going to be compiling the notes I'm keeping as a casual viewer via this blog. Updates come with every commercial break. Notes may be incoherent, incomplete or just plain wrong. Also, if you're not watching the episode and plan to watch it at a later date, PLEASE STOP READING RIGHT NOW. THANK YOU.

(All times CST)
7:56 p.m.: Currently watching the second airing of "The Lie" with ABC's sub-titles; i.e., the annotated version of the episode. I find this a tad annoying, but whatever.
As we're waiting on the new episode to start, here are a few questions begging answers:
-- Who are Ben's group of mysterious friends off the Island? Are they other survivors from another time period or what?
-- Do they really need to go back to the Island or not? And when Ben said "all of you have to go back," did he mean Desmond too? What about Lapidus?
8:00 p.m.: And ... here we go. Desmond wandering around a mysterious Asian marketplace, muttering something I can't understand.
8:02 p.m.: Wait a second ... Penny is pregnant? Really? And how did she have an already-pink baby with its eyes open? She's the most fortunate pregnant woman of all-time.
8:03 p.m.: Well, scratch that. The birth of that child was a memory -- Desmond is talking about a "special island," that is, of course, England. And Scotland. And my wife is lusting after his voice.
8:06 p.m.: What is the deal with Miles, anyway? Have we ever figured out what is the source of his abilities?
(After the first big explosion, it's worth noting that these Army guys' clothes appear to be US, from the 1950s. Or not.)
8:07 p.m.: And yet another piece of the "Daniel Faraday as time traveler" puzzle falls into place.
(break to watch Wake survive at home against Duke ... well-played, gentlemen -- as an aside, Alabama never ran an inbounds play that imaginative in 10.5 seasons of Mark Gottfried)
8:10 p.m.: Tonight's episode will apparently center on Desmond, I suppose. The title of the episode is "Jughead," possibly a reference to the child involved.
8:11 p.m.: Penny is apparently as confused by all this as much as the rest of us.
8:12 p.m.: Desmond asks the ominous question: "Why in God's name would I want to go back there?"
8:13 p.m.: Wait, Latin? The Others speak Latin?
8:14 p.m.: Miles just confirmed they walked past (dead) US soldiers, and said something about radiation poison.
8:15 p.m.: Richard = Richard Alpert. Of course it does. That guy is like Dick Clark. He hasn't aged a day at any point.
"I assume you've come back for your bomb." There are so many layers to this Faraday character.
8:19 p.m.: Recall that Desmond visited Daniel at Oxford in Season 4, during that episode when Dez kept leaping from time to time like Sam Beckett. I'm guessing this is taking place in the present (2007, or "Three Years Later").
8:23 p.m.: We now know Faraday conducted time-travel experiments at Oxford at some point. And apparently he hurt someone really badly. I'm guessing this is foreshadowing what's about to happen to Charlotte.
8:24 p.m.: A theory I'd like to advance: DHARMA was a scientific group conducting nuclear experiments; those experiments somehow caused the Island to acquire supernatural properties; the real reason Charles Widmore wants the Island is related to that hydrogen bomb.
(That theory, incidentally, doesn't explain how the Island already had time-travel properties when DHARMA was first starting out, as we saw in the opening minutes of "Because You Left." So maybe that theory has a few holes.)
8:27 p.m.: Worth noting: because Juliet was actually brought to the Island from outside to help The Others, she knows all of their ways but isn't technically one of them. Which may explain why she's not jumping with each time flash.
8:28 p.m.: John Locke accepts his destiny. He is the leader of The Others.
8:33 p.m.: I would kill for a purple baseball cap that's completely unadorned.
8:34 p.m.: Just a guess: this chick didn't have what Faraday called "a constant," and that's the reason she turned into that.
8:35 p.m.: So now Widmore was financing Faraday's work? This is getting confusing.
8:36 p.m.: The Others have a thing for taking over other people's stuff.
8:37 p.m.: "Richard's always been here."
8:38 p.m.: Is the chick with the gun the same as the one in the bed from the previous scene? I don't get it.
8:44 p.m.: Question of the night: is the hydrogen bomb pointed at the ground right now the thing that caused the Island to acquire its time-travel properties?
(Aside: "Jughead" is the name on the side of the bomb.)
8:45 p.m.: So ... the source of the energy DHARMA was trying to harness underground resulted from a buried hydrogen bomb. Now we know something.
(Incidentally, this conversation about the bomb is eerily similar to the one Arzt and the survivors had about the dynamite at the end of Season 1. And we all remember what happened to poor Arzt.)
8:47 p.m.: After saying Mr. Widmore wouldn't even know they were there, he charges into his office? Is he out of his mind?
8:49 p.m.: If Charles Widmore knows where Faraday's mother lives, perhaps he's in contact with her. And if that's true, he knows Ben is there.
8:50 p.m.: My channel just randomly changed on me. So whatever Charles Widmore just said to Desmond after "This is something that goes back many, many years," I missed.
8:51 p.m.: That's the first mention of Jacob thus far this season.
8:52 p.m.: The soldier holding the gun on Locke is Charles Widmore. He's a ruthless bastard, obviously.
And now we know his initial connection to the Island.
(break -- also, my brother and I I would like to announce that it's on like Donkey Kong)
8:56 p.m.: Fishing in the Thames. Ha. You wouldn't want to keep whatever you caught.
8:58 p.m.: Desmond named his son after the father-in-law he and his wife hate. Also, there's at least a 100% chance someone followed him back to their boat.
8:59 p.m.: Richard visited Locke when he was at a very young age, in an effort to recruit him for their leadership.
9:00 p.m.: Charlotte falls, and the circle continues.

And that's that. I think we know a little more tonight than we did at this time last week, but obviously a number of questions remain unanswered.
I'll try to have more the more I can learn from people much smarter than I.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

morning links, bball style

A few basketball-related links before I must be off to throw together a newspaper.

Monday, January 26, 2009

turn out the lights, the party's over ...

A self-fulfilling prophecy is officially coming true.

TUSCALOOSA | University of Alabama basketball coach Mark Gottfried will be relieved of his duties this week, ending a run of nearly 11 years as the Crimson Tide’s head basketball coach, sources have told The Tuscaloosa News.

Gottfried, 45, is not expected to coach the team in its remaining games. Although no announcement has been made concerning an interim coach, assistant coach Phillip Pearson is expected to take over the team until the end of the season.

Gottfried has two years remaining on a contract that is worth some $900,000 annually in terms of the University’s liability for buyout. In his 11 seasons, he is 210-131 overall and one game above the .500 mark, 83-82, in Southeastern Conference play. Including three years as the head coach at Murray State, Gottfried’s overall coaching record is 278-155.

He replaced David Hobbs as Alabama’s head coach in April of 1998. After a three-year rebuilding process, Gottfried took Alabama to the NCAA Tournament in 2002, beginning a streak of five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. The Crimson Tide’s best finish came in 2004 when UA advanced to the Elite Eight.
Even though this blog has campaigned tirelessly for Mark Gottfried's ouster (here, here, here and here) and will enjoy a celebratory beverage in the near future, I must admit a touch of sadness. It's never fun to watch someone lose his job, even if that guy's severance package is something I would gladly accept under any circumstances. I'll remember Mark Gottfried as the guy who took on an impossible situation and made it into something respectable, someone who was always classy under pressure and ultimately someone who had simply taken the program as far as he could take it.
And, of course, I'll remember this.

Roll Tide, Coach. All the best to you and yours.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

"Lost" reflections: "I never should've left that Island"

The Season 5 premiere of ABC's "Lost" marked the point in which the show officially embraced its bizarre side, with even the most educated viewers having difficulty keeping track of exactly what year it's supposed to be from one scene to the next. After taking three pages' worth of notes, reading multiple online reviews and staring deeply into a campfire for nearly three hours, the same theme keeps coming back up -- not surprisingly, it's the exact same theme we discussed in this space last spring.

"If we can't live together, we're doing to die alone."

You saw it in nearly every case in last week's death retrospective: with a few exceptions, every character on the show who has died, died alone. The one major character who managed to get away -- Michael -- eventually had to return to the Island, in order to die. And now we see the Oceanic 6, who must either return to the Island they worked so hard to escape, or die alone, and accept the fates of their survivor brethren, who did the same. Maybe it doesn't make sense, but that's where we are.

With apologies to Peter King, I once again present 10 Things I Think I Think about "Lost."
-- I think the central conflict on the show now remains between Charles Widmore and Benjamin Linus. That much we know.
What we don't know is which of them is on the right side. Or if either of them is. Ben, ever since revealing his true identity as Chief Other, has insisted "we're the good guys." But are they really? Do good guys kill innocent survivors, without remorse? Do good guys terrorize innocent people for no good reason? And why would an entire ship of people come to slaughter an Island populated by good guys?
On the other hand, we know Charles Widmore isn't the greatest person, either. We know he was obsessed enough with capturing Ben to send a team of soldiers to get him, then "torch the Island." And he's obviously up to something, possibly with Mr. Paik.
So which side is the side actually occupied by the good guys? Is there even such a thing?
-- I think no one in this story is being entirely honest about anything, with the exception of poor Hurley. The only truly noble character among them, Hurley can't even live up to his promise not to help Sayid when his friend needs it, even throwing in the unintentional comedy of buying an "I Heart Shih Tzus" t-shirt that's miraculously his size (and by the way: why does Sawyer get to walk around for an entire episode without a shirt, but Hurley doesn't even get the courtesy of changing shirts on camera? No justice, I say). Whether Hurley -- oafish though he may be -- and his honesty will cause more grief than is necessary remains to be seen.
-- I think I have very little understanding of the "skipping record" time facet described by Daniel Faraday early in the first hour. Worth questioning is Faraday's own role in the whole thing. We know, for example, that he was around for that opening scene when the DHARMA Initiative was busy drilling below the Orchid station. And we know from an earlier episode that he's experienced the same disembodied behavior experienced by Desmond during Season 4 (he referred to Desmond as "miraculously gifted"). Also worth questioning: if Faraday met Desmond in a time prior to the crash, why didn't Desmond recognize him farther along in the timeline?
-- I think I enjoy watching "Lost" bring back dead characters, if only because it gives those actors -- That Guy who played Ethan and That Chick who played Ana Lucia -- a chance to weasel an extra paycheck or two out of the deal.
Another interesting point: nearly every character who has died during the show's run has made at least one appearance since then. And most of them keep appearing to Hurley. For whatever that's worth.
-- I think the time-traveling Island may explain something about how Ben knows everything about everyone he meets.
-- I think the people who visited Kate claiming to be lawyers were not really. Real lawyers wouldn't have played the cloak-and-dagger "my clients wish to remain anonymous" gag, and real lawyers would have contacted Kate's attorneys (and you know she has them due to her ongoing legal battles) before visiting her at her house.
-- I think I did not recognize the woman at the end of the second hour, who was also the hooded figure pondering complicated math on a chalkboard earlier in the episode (math is not my strong suit). The face belongs, apparently, to a Ms. Hawking, who may or may not be Daniel Faraday's mother. If she is, for the record, that means Penny Widmore is in danger -- remember, Desmond received instructions to contact Daniel Faraday's mother, and Ben has already sworn to Charles Widmore "I'm going to kill your daughter."
-- I think I have little explanation for why The Others don't leap with the Island the way the survivors do. I'm sure there's an explanation, I just can't think of it.
-- I think John Locke may have to die somehow to get off the Island and convince the survivors to come home. Although it's confusing as to how he's going to do that, recall that every dead survivors has re-appeared in some fashion.
-- I think the death of Neil Frogurt was one of the funniest dark moments in the history of the show.

-- I think (and this is item 11) the closing line of the first scene in episode 1, and the closing line of the final scene in episode 2, were exactly the same.
"God help us all."


More depth and obfuscation coming next week.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Lost" Friday on Thursday: at a loss

With Season 5 of "Lost" premiering on Wednesday night — although ABC teased us with that ridiculous one-hour "Destiny Calls" garbage (basically an excuse for two of the show's writers to rub one another's backs) — I resolved to make sure I didn't neglect to mention anything, and thus kept a notepad on which are scribbled questions and rambling thoughts that came up during the two-hour premiere. Unfortunately, I left my notes at home this morning, so the detailed version of it will have to wait until later (I know, I know, it's excruciating).
In the meantime, feel free to talk amongst yourselves. The episode synopses are located here and here.
For detailed analysis from pros, read TBL and EW.
Back with more later.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

wednesday youtube: a mournful look back

With the news late Tuesday that Ronald Steele's Alabama career is now officially done, we offer a look at what the young man from John Carroll contributed to the 'Bama basketball program during his time on the floor.

Here's to you, Ron. You were probably too good for this program the whole time, anyway.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

an open letter to Mal Moore, re: 'Bama basketball

Dear coach Moore,
You don't know me. You and I spoke briefly on one occasion -- I mentioned being from Opelika, you shook your head and that was about it. It's OK -- you meet a number of people every day and can't hope to remember all of them. That's not really the point here.
In any case, I come to you tonight with the basketball program at Alabama on my mind. It's obviously not in your best interest to listen to the voices of random fans -- we all have our opinions and usually we're wrong. Still, if you're soliciting opinions about how to fix the program, at least hear me out.
The fact is, Coach, this program as it currently stands is treading water. If anything's going to be made better, a change must occur at the top.
Look, I like Mark Gottfried. I always have. I recall being a freshman at the University in 1999: we were hosting top-5 Auburn at Coleman on a Tuesday night, and a bunch of us showed up to the gym early (like super early) to claim seats (in those days the entire student section was first-come, first serve) and coach Gottfried sent pizzas to us. It was fantastic -- we won, rushed the floor, Coach got on the mic and thanked the fans, and so forth.
All indications are that coach Gottfried is a genuinely nice person, a devoted father, husband, Christian man, etc. He graduates many of his players, and they're never in the papers for any ... um, extra-curricular activity (a la some football players).
But, as you and I both know, at Alabama, the athletic programs are expected to function at a championship level. You knew this several years ago when you made a change in the women's basketball program, replacing longtime (and relatively disinterested) head coach Rick Moody -- that program has far to travel still, but is better, at the very least. In other areas, coaches like Jim Wells, Patrick Murphy and Sarah Patterson are the cogs in programs that have performed (and are still performing) at a championship caliber.
It's something you realized two years ago at this time, when you and the university let go all-star nice guy Mike Shula, then broke the bank to hire a proven champion in Nick Saban to run the football program (your department's flagship). Of course, now this will be your legacy -- 50 years from now, when people think of your tenure as AD, they'll think first of Saban (and whatever success he has here).
The time has come to do the same with men's basketball. We all respect what coach Gottfried has done -- he took over a program in shambles, retooled it and had it a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament in his fourth season. In his fifth season the team was actually ranked FIRST IN THE COUNTRY (read that last part again); in his sixth, we reached the Elite 8 (after barely making the tourney) for the first time in school history.
Those days are long past, however. Nothing since that '04 run has suggested anything other than sideways movement for the men's basketball program. If anything, over the last three seasons we've actually watched the squad go backwards. This persists despite a consistency in recruiting and all the available resources of the Alabama athletic department. What reason could there possibly be for such poor performance, other than the man charged with running the program?
I'm sure you're aware of this, but a good many of us as fans care a good bit about Alabama basketball. Of course, football will always be the program paying the bills, as well as the one sport that brings us all together. But we care about and support our boys in basketball, in the same way Kentucky fans care about and support their football program (even though they're basketball folks at heart).
As such, we're tired of caring about and supporting a team that doesn't try. We're tired of watching the same poorly-conceived halfcourt offense. We're tired of watching the boys go on the road and get pummeled. We're tired of the excuses.
No game told a better story about the recent direction of the program than Saturday afternoon against Auburn. Playing our biggest rival in their building, the team failed to even give a respectable effort, falling behind by 17 early in the second half and ultimately losing by double digits. Even notorious UA apologist Cecil Hurt saw through what was taking place.
It isn’t strictly about one game. It’s possible that an Auburn team that hasn’t scored 85 points all season long — not against Alabama A&M, not against Bethune-Cookman — could suddenly, randomly get hot. But it’s not random. If bad shooting is a virus, then Alabama’s defense is penicillin. Ailing offenses recuperate time and again against Alabama. It can’t simply be “bad luck.”
Alabama has been listing in the water for the better part of three years now. It’s been Mark Gottfried’s responsibility to make things better. He has been given ample time to do it. Due consideration has been given to Ronald Steele’s incessant injury problems, or Richard Hendrix’s early departure for the NBA. Three years is a long time to correct things. In the current climate of college sports, it’s an eternity.

In the past three seasons, Auburn has won a total of 12 SEC games, and four of them have come against Alabama. It's embarrassing, frankly.
Kevin Scarbinsky suggested in a column last week that you may be able to hire Tubby Smith to run the basketball program here. While he didn't source the info specifically, it's obviously coming from somewhere. Personally, I think he'd be perfect -- his teams at Georgia and Kentucky always competed, always defended and never, never, never embarrassed themselves on any floor, against any opponent.
Regardless, it's time for something to be different. Anyone who's watched this program over the last, and anyone who loves Alabama athletics, knows it's time for something to be different.
Thanks, Coach. If you're over in Leeds, give us a call.

will heath

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Lost" Friday: before we go forward, one more look back

It's fortunate, perhaps, that there are people much more dorky about ABC's "Lost" than I am -- not only does it make me feel less like a dweeb, but it's given me material for the interminably long wait between the final episode of Season 4 and the premiere of Season 5 (scheduled for Wednesday).
(This seems like the right time to mention how ready I am for this premiere in light of the utterly disappointing and predictable premiere of "24" on Sunday & Monday. Is this show written by Mark Gottfried and his assistants? There's just way too much unrealized potential here. I can't discuss it anymore.)

Anyway, before we move on to Season 5, here's a comprehensive look at the death of each deceased character in Seasons 1&2, Season 3 and Season 4.

As always, feel free to discuss amongst yourselves.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

wednesday youtube can't believe what I just saw

Imagine my surprise to come home from a night of pick-up hoop -- in which my greatest accomplishment was clocking some little kid who wouldn't stop yakking -- to see Kentucky's Jodie Meeks in the midst of a record-setting scoring binge.

If you haven't seen the highlights, definitely take a look. For the record, Mr. Meeks and the 'Cats come to Tuscaloosa on Jan. 24. Good luck finding a seat for that one.

Monday, January 12, 2009

mid-Monday links: now with less Alabama football

Trying to get back into the routine of weekly blogging will be difficult, particularly since Mondays I invariably come in and find the world aflame (or, in this case, underwater). If you're friends with Whit, please apply peer pressure to him to blog more. Seriously, we need it. Nonetheless, here are some of the more interesting things I read over the weekend.

— College football-related stuff first:
  • Part-time South Carolina QB (and Tuscaloosa native) Chris Smelley announced over the weekend his intent to transfer ... to Alabama. Bear in mind two things about Smelley: a) he's been jerked around by Steve Spurrier since he arrived on campus in 2006; b) he probably would've come to Alabama in '06, but Mike Shula & his staff were too busy chasing Tim Tebow in Florida (which worked out great). Exactly how much he'll help Alabama is debatable, since he'll have to sit this fall and will only give the university one season (by which time the job could belong to either Greg McElroy, Star Jackson or even AJ McCarron). But it's interesting, I suppose.
  • While we're on the subject of recruiting and South Carolina, here's a funny anecdote: apparently coach Spurrier has been banned from Tucker High for rescinding a scholarship offer.
  • Of course Tim Tebow decided to return to Florida for his senior season. As Will Graham said in "Red Dragon," "it makes him God — would you give that up?" In all seriousness, however, Tebow's not giving up the chance to quarterback a repeat national champion, win another Heisman and possibly go down as one of the greatest college football players of all-time. Unless you're just broke, why give that up to be a clipboard-carrier in the NFL? Seriously.
  • Slightly more surprising: Glen Coffee's decision to bolt for the NFL. RBR made some good points in a follow-up post: he'll be running behind a rebuilt offensive line; he'll be splitting time with Upchurch, Mark Ingram (and possibly several others); his draft stock likely isn't going up with one more season. Still, it seems unlikely he'll be a high pick with so many other quality RBs already on the board. Anyway, Cecil has a good perspective on this, as always.
  • Ian had a funny story in yesterday's B'ham News: apparently, Alabama's recruitment of Louisiana's top receiver is upsetting many in the state (like it takes that much to upset those people). I said it when Saban was hired, and I'll say it again: the two programs hurt the worst by Saban's hire at Alabama were Tennessee and LSU, both of whom were thumping Alabama for recruits under previous head coaches. Now they're not only not raiding into Alabama anymore, they're losing some of their own in the process. Sorry, guys. But it was a fun 10 years, right?
Other, related material ...
— In case you haven't been paying attention — as Bob Uecker said, "And judging by the attendance, you haven't!" — Alabama's basketball team won its conference opener against LSU, a tepid affair that was ultimately decided by the officials and the whirling-dervish play of Senario Hillman. If Whit ever decides to blog regularly (c'mon, man, everybody's chantin ya name!) he can provide better perspective for us on this Alabama team, which lacks any semblance of an outside shooter, relies a point guard that's at least two steps slower than he was two years ago and steadfastly refuses to play an up-tempo style despite a roster that simply can't function in a halfcourt set. But, whatever.
— For those who don't know, my actual love affair with sports began with the Atlanta Braves, a team I loved even before I ever became an Alabama fan (in fact, the reason I was ever interested in working in sports media was because of Skip Caray and Ernie Johnson). Anyway, with baseball season looming, I encourage all of you to read Talking Chop more often — in fact, I'll help you get started with a link to a post about Atlanta's new Japanese pitcher signee.
(Also, if it's college baseball that interests you, I highly suggest you read The College Baseball Blog, one of those sites that's so thorough it makes me feel like a Grade-A slacker.)
— Finally, since professional football is still going on, I feel obligated to link you to Peter King's MMQB column, as King — an unabashed NFL homer — valiantly attempts to polish up the pig that could be the Worst Super Bowl of All-Time (Ravens-Cardinals).
Of course, the irony is that Baltimore was prominently involved in the game that currently holds the distinction of being the Worst Super Bowl of All-Time (in 2000, when Baltimore defeated the Giants 31-7 in a game so boring I don't remember one single thing about it, and that's fascinating for a dork like me). So if you like football, root for Pittsburgh, as awful as that sounds. You'll thank me.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

just some thoughts

A few notes I left out of yesterday's bizarre ramblings ...

-- Some 'Bama bloggers have wasted a good bit of time dissecting Auburn's newest coaching hires, particularly the staff coach New Coke (I stole that from Tide Druid and may be willing to trademark the term) has assembled on the Plains. For whatever reasons, the nature of the rivalry is such that we often feel the need to print our reactions to what the other school does -- I recall in January of '07, when Auburn's media relations department actually released an "official reaction" to Alabama's hire of Nick Saban (the short version: "Damn.").
Anyway, here's my take: Chizik's doing fine. The Malzahn hire generated the buzz within the fan base that Chizik's hire did not, and snagging Ted Roof -- a proven commodity as a DC, if not a head coach -- was the right move as well. So they've been good on that front, even from a racial diversity standpoint (as Scarbo detailed earlier) -- they've even generated enough positive buzz that, in the wake of 'Bama's lousy performance in New Orleans, they've stolen a little of the Tide's buzz from 2009.
All that is fine. Just remember: if we learned nothing else from the Mike DuBose era, we learned that hiring quality assistants won't mean much if you don't have the right guy pulling the strings. Am I saying Chizik is DuBose redone? Of course not -- DuBose was the perfect storm of bad as the head coach at Alabama. But throwing some money at some big-name assistants won't win you back the state.
-- In case you missed it, UGA's Matt Stafford and Knowshon Moreno declared for the NFL yesterday. In other news, Florida won the SEC East in 2009.
(Know how the networks have election-night coverage and will call various states for one candidate or the other? I think we can safely declare the SEC East for Florida in 2009, as of yesterday. If I lived in Gainesville, I'd be putting a deposit on the Ga. Dome for December today.)
-- The boys in Bristol once again pulled one of those gimmicky announcing ploys last night, sending their NBA crew -- Tirico, van Gundy and Mark Jackson -- to Davidson-Duke, while allowing Dick Vitale to torture NBA fans for a night by calling Miami-Denver.
Not surprisingly, both announcing crews acquitted themselves particularly well: van Gundy's brutal honesty makes him one of the better color guys in any sport, and last night he was in rare form, ripping the refs in Durham repeatedly (in one case he nearly had a stroke over an awful charge called agaisnt Davidson). And Vitale is Vitale: either you like him or you don't (I personally can't stand him -- I watch all of his games on mute and swear I can still hear him).
Here's the problem: can you recall a time in your life when you watched a game because of the announcers? I mean, EVER? Seriously, who says to themselves, "I've got to watch Duke tonight -- van Gundy and Jackson are calling them!" Come on. Give me a break.
I actually asked myself this question and came up with one answer: when Monday Night Football brought in Dennis Miller during my high school days, I turned on one half of one preseason game, just to hear how he sounded (note: he actually did pretty well -- people remember him as being terrible, but they were bringing him back for another season until John Madden suddenly became a free-agent).
Anyway, I can't speak for anybody else, but I watch a good game because I want to watch a good game. If the game's no good, it wouldn't matter if Ben Stein were announcing with Flava Flav -- I'm switching off. I can't be alone here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

wednesday youtube: just standin here, sellin ev'rything

Via Deadspin, and pretty much every other sports blog on the planet at this point.

Rey, of course, has apologized (or rather, the media relations department did it for him) which is a real shame since I think the man's a borderline comedic genius and possibly the only person who might actually make me like USC.
Oh, well.

random thoughts during a random week

Many apologies for my absence the last two days -- I've been learning more about the laws in the state regarding video gambling and attempting to write about them effectively (not to mention the editorial responsibilities of putting together a newspaper). Nonetheless, here are some thoughts I've collected from the last few days.

-- The collective thought that came out of the Sugar Bowl on the state and national level was mainly positive towards Utah -- "Wow! They're way better than we thought!" -- and it should've been. One thing that's worth remembering: even though they won 12 straight games and were ranked number one, this was never one of the mighty ALABAMA teams in days of yore. Their ranking, as we discussed, was mostly by default -- every team in front of them in the polls lost and they kept right on winning. This team still had major flaws all season which weren't fully exposed until Utah brought them to light. It's really a credit to the coaching staff and the leadership on the roster that they were even in that position in the first place.
It is worth noting -- as TMQ gleefully pointed out yesterday -- that coach Saban neglected to be aggressive in situations where a little aggression might have been appropriate (and possibly inspiring).
-- While we're praising Gregg Easterbrook for being correct on one point, let us count all the ways he is at least 95 percent wrong, which almost always happens when the East-Coast geek tries to discuss college football (something he apparently follows only peripherally). For starters, he states Saban "shifted blame" to his players by not being aggressive in those situations (because afterward, Saban could say it wasn't his fault since he played the percentages). This is outlandish -- Alabama was down by 11, meaning a three-point try would've put them within a touchdown and a two-point conversion, not to mention the indoor nature of the game, which should've made a field goal try makeable from that distance (since Tiffin had already made from 52 earlier in the game; furthermore, anyone who read the transcript in the postgame would've noted how the coach repeatedly TOOK the blame for the loss, saying the team wasn't prepared, and that was on him and his staff.
More laughably, Easterbrook paints the respective tenures of Saban, Rich Rodriguez and Bobby Petrino at 'Bama, Michigan and Arkansas (the "Weasel 3") as a collective failure because the three of them have a collective record of 20-18 this season. To put this in a real-world perspective: let's say you drove by a house that had just burned down, almost completely. Then you found out the owners had hired contractors you didn't like to rebuild it. Would it be even remotely fair to drive by that same house three weeks later and make fun of the owners because their contractors hadn't been able to completely rebuild it in that time period? Absolutely not.
Look, Gregg, we get that you have an axe to grind with these coaches. You don't like them. Nobody does. But your personal vendettas are getting a bit outlandish. Just last year, you kept advancing conspiracy theories about the New England Patriots long after everyone else had stopped caring, mostly because you obviously don't like Bill Belichick.
Now you're attempting to speak intelligently about college football, which is about as promising as me trying to write about astronomy and physics (two areas where you clearly have a one-up on me). TMQ, I implore you: stop embarrassing yourself this way. We, the people who read your column and enjoy it, want to continue doing so.
-- If I could make one big change in the way college football games are played, I'd change the overtime rules to be like the NFL's sudden-death rule.
Bear in mind, I'm probably alone here: both Easterbrook and Peter King complained again about the NFL's overtime rule this week in the wake of San Diego's OT win over Indianapolis, because apparently it's the NFL's fault that the Colts' defense -- strong for the most part all night -- couldn't punch San Diego off the field and give Peyton Manning the chance to win the game himself.
King actually pulled out a statistic to help his cause that wound up affirming mine: in regular-season history, 141 games (33 percent) that went to OT were decided on the first possession. Wow ... 33 percent????!!!! ZOMG!!!!! I can see now why the rule must be changed.
Look, I didn't enjoy that Wild Card game. I was pulling for the Colts, if only because I think it's a farce that San Diego (a poorly coached bunch of pouters) got rewarded for playing in a terrible division and finishing .500 (reminiscent of the national lovefest for USC, which may actually claim a few number-one votes as its reward for dominating an awful conference, a screwed-up Notre Dame squad and thumping Penn St. -- another shaky champ from an awful conference -- in a home game). But it's not the fault of the system that the Colts couldn't get a stop, or that they got at least one truly awful flag (that defensive holding called against one of Indy's DTs), or that they couldn't at least hold SD's offense long enough to trot out its shaky field goal kicker with the game on the line. Any of those things don't happen, maybe the game unfolds differently. But please don't blame the NFL.
The fact is, college football overtime, the longer it drags on, turns into a mockery of football. Even the best-conditioned athletes wilt after such long periods on the field, meaning the offenses become virtually unstoppable. That's not football anymore; that's a skel drill. Furthermore, when you start removing the kicking game, suddenly you're not really playing football anymore. At least in the NFL, the game resembles an actual game. Even if you're dissatisfied with the result.
-- Today, we have three teams -- Utah, USC and Texas -- all lobbying for a share of the Division I national championship. Breaking them down by -- basketball phrase -- body of work, we can eliminate USC by virtue of playing the weakest schedule and having the worst loss (at Oregon St.). And we'll take out Utah -- sorry guys, I loved the way you played vs. 'Bama, but you got no favors from Michigan or Oregon St. in your two other "quality wins," plus some of the others (vs. TCU inparticular) look pretty suspect, and that's not a good thing in the BCS beauty contest.
That leaves Texas and whoever wins the Oklahoma-Florida game. Which is what makes tomorrow night intriguing: if Florida wins, my guess is they bring home both shares of the title. But, if OU pulls a stunner -- and I'm not ruling it out -- would the AP be tempted to split the crown between the Red River rivals?
Before Monday I would've said "Absolutely." But then Texas had to come from behind to beat Ohio St. -- clearly tired of all the crap they've taken the last two seasons -- and put themselves into the category of "good, but not impressive." Comparatively, the two teams are almost identical -- OU has the better offensive numbers, Texas the better defensive. Their schedules are virtually identical: both of them played and beat Missouri and Kansas from the North, with OU pummeling Nebraska and Texas hammering Colorado in their other crossovers. For big non-conference wins, OU drilled Washington and TCU, while Texas beat up on UTEP and Arkansas (none of that is terribly impressive).
And, of course, Texas BEAT OU in their head-to-head. Give that whatever weight you believe it deserves.
So we'll see, I guess.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Sugar substitutes, Utes and so forth

If you've read this blog with any regularity, you know about its author and the relatively negative outlook he tends to have, particularly when it comes to Alabama football. I can't really help it -- I've watched enough football to know, at this point, all the things that can go wrong in a 60-minute contest and 14-game regular season. I'm not sure if that makes me a true fan. But that's the way it is.
For once, I threw most of that to the wind for the Sugar Bowl. This football team gave me -- along with the rest of the crimson-wearing legions -- so much this season. Realistically, I anticipated 3 or 4 losses in a best-case scenario for 2008. I anticipated something better than Shreveport. I anticipated pulling an upset or two against Georgia, Tennessee, LSU or Auburn.
I anticipated a gradual improvement process. I didn't expect to be 12-1, to be in New Orleans for the new year, with the possibility of finishing the season in the top-5 in the nation.
And yet, that's where we were on Jan. 1.
Frankly, the result of the Sugar Bowl wasn't as important to me as beating Tennessee in Knoxville, or cleansing those abominable losing streaks against LSU and Auburn. With all the good that happened this season, anything that happened in New Orleans was gravy.

As it turns out, maybe the rest of the Alabama fan base -- as well as most of the roster -- approached the Sugar Bowl the same way I did. Tide fans were pretty laissez-faire the night before the game (or, in this case, "laissez lez bon temps roulez") while Utah fans were raucous and engaging. Before the game, the Utah fans who showed up did so early, and made plenty of noise -- the 'Bama fans who made the trip were quiet, and fairly relaxed (and ohbytheway, I have a sneaking suspicion that a number of the empty seats weren't unsold tickets -- they likely belonged to people who simply couldn't muster the motivation to leave the Rue Bourbon).
That difference was evident in the first quarter between the two teams. Alabama -- aided in no small part by the Smith suspension that caused the offensive line to shuffle around like musical chairs - looked lethargic out of the gate, something they haven't done all season; Utah looked sharp. Alabama missed tackles, something they haven't done all season; Utah hit and hit hard. Even on the sidelines, Alabama's game plan was uninspired; Utah's was flawless. As Gentry Estes put it ...
With or without Smith, Alabama seemed to still be going through the motions down here. It starts with players, who are people just like me and you. They groaned to themselves when Utah was the announced opponent, just like most fans. In fact, one prominent player was overheard in the locker room after the Florida game as saying that if Alabama drew Utah he might as well not even show up. That guy showed up and played poorly last night.
Put simply, Alabama was outhustled, outcoached and outplayed, and it showed in a 21-0 first-quarter deficit.

It wasn't until the second half that it dawned on me the difference in the game for 'Bama and Utah. For Alabama, the Sugar Bowl was a chance to cap off an outstanding turnaround season, get to 13 wins for the second time in school history, represent the SEC well by continuing a fantastic bowl season for the conference and sustain positive feelings going into the winter conditioning program (not to mention the burgeoning expectations that are bound to come with the sizeable returning class for 2009).
For Utah? The Sugar Bowl, simply, was the biggest game in the history of the program. Ever. Utah's biggest win up to this point was its dismantling of 8-3 Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl in 2004 (the school's first major bowl appearance, as well as the last game for Urban Meyer as head coach of the Utes). The Ute players played like a team that wanted to make history, and now they have. Whenever anyone does any research of Utah football, they'll have to start with the 2008 team, the team that finished 13-0 and dismantled mighty Alabama from the SEC.
Watching their fans celebrate in the fourth quarter, I couldn't help but be happy for them. And I wasn't alone -- walking up and down the Quarter on Friday night, I saw multiple instances in which fans -- some Alabama fans, some just sports fans who happened to be in New Orleans -- congratulated Ute fans, shaking their hands, slapping them on the back. How could you be anything BUT happy for them, after all? They'd just witnessed the biggest win in the history of their program -- their joy must have been vaguely akin to how Alabama fans felt the first time the Tide won the Rose Bowl. Utah stood toe-to-toe with an ESSEESSEEE opponent and whipped them like they'd stolen something. They deserved to celebrate.

For Alabama, the loss revealed something coach Saban has repeated since the beginning of this season (and yes, it's vaguely Bryant-esque): this team was never really that great. A month of back-slaps and high-fives -- as well as the loss of the best player on the team, Andre Smith -- was just enough to take away that chip-on-the-shoulder edge Alabama had played with all season. And without that edge, Alabama had flaws that any quality opponent could expose and expose repeatedly: the secondary is vulnerable; the DL can't generate pressure without blitzing; the offense doesn't play well from behind; the quarterback isn't effective when he's under pressure; and so on, and so forth. It's why one of the first things Saban discussed afterwards was recruiting.
"The seniors did a great job for this team. But we need to continue to improve as a program for the future. We need more good players, more depth in the program. We need quality big people. We need quality skill guys. We need a lot of things for us to continue to improve to be the kind of program that is recognized as kind of a dominant program on a national level."
Nowhere was that lack of depth more obvious than on the line. Smith, obviously, is a behemoth whose absence can't be underestimated. But more than that, without him, the line is thrown into chaos -- Mike Johnson, the starting left guard, has to move to left tackle, which means you have to throw a second-teamer (in this case, David Ross) to left guard. Then Johnson got hurt -- the extent of his injury I never heard -- meaning we had to move Drew Davis from right tackle to left, meaning now you have a second-teamer playing right tackle (I have no idea who was playing RT Friday night).
You get the idea. Utah, of course, was smart enough to exploit this weakness by constantly shifting its DLs prior to the snap -- confusing everyone's assignments -- and dialing up blitzes from unexpected places. Against Alabama's regular OL, with everyone playing in his place, having practiced together since August? Probably nothing we couldn't handle. Friday night? It basically turned every pass play into a jailbreak.
Which raises the terrifying question: is this Alabama's offensive line for 2009? I don't like to think about it, but it's certainly not outside the realm of impossibility (particularly with yesterday's predictable announcement that the junior is heading to the pros). If it is, you'll need a quarterback who can move outside the pocket ... because he's not going to be able to set up in the pocket very often.

A few other, scattered thoughts ...
-- I'm with Dr. Saturday on this one: maybe Utah didn't prove itself worthy of a national championship vote. But, along with USC in the Rose Bowl, they at the very least proved there are two teams worthy of consideration.
Looking at Utah's -- and here I invoke a phrase used in March for selections to the basketball tournament -- body of work in 2008, they needed a failed two-pointer to beat a 3-win Michigan team, and barely survived consecutive games against New Mexico St. and TCU (the TCU game they wouldn't have won if not for an horrific performance from the opposing kicker). Their best win of the season -- other than the Sugar Bowl, obviously -- was a three-point win against Oregon St. at home.
So no, Utah shouldn't win the national championship. The point is that you can't make a definitive case for either team in the BCS championship. A two-team system simply isn't cutting it. Honestly, I think we'd all be having more fun under the old bowl system, with every national contender playing in its traditional game and the possibility that multiple teams could claim a championship when the season's over.
-- Little things that cost Alabama dearly: on his second possession, John Parker Wilson missed a wide-open Nikita Stover down the middle of the field on what would have almost certainly been a touchdown. And, of course, two missed field goals by the perpetually baby-faced Leigh Tiffin, either of which would've kept the Tide in the game in the fourth.
One more: early in the fourth -- with the score 28-17 -- PJ Fitzgerald killed an outstanding punt at the Utah two-yard line, with the chance to take advantage of outstanding field position (or possibly another Javy Arenas runback) with a quick three-and-out. So what happened? Well, Utah picked up one first down, then Arenas failed to field the ensuing punt at his own 40, which led to a big hop away from him, which led to Alabama starting from its own 20 instead of near midfield.
It was pretty much over after that.
-- One of the more interesting aspects of Utah's game plan: by running a no-huddle attack for much of the game, the Utes effectively eliminated Terrence Cody's impact on the game. He barely played after the first series, and with good reason -- mobile though he may be, a 380-lb. guy simply can't run 30 yards, then line up and run a play without a breather, then do that again consistently.
-- Poor John Parker Wilson. I can't think of a quarterback in Alabama history who's run hot-and-cold more.
The raw numbers are impressive: he's the career Alabama passing leader in almost every category; he played behind an offensive line that could barely protect him for two of his three seasons; he endured multiple coaching changes -- including one of those coaches being named Mike Shula -- and his brother embarrassing his family on that ridiculous "Two-A-Days" show; he quarterbacked the team to a 12-2 season.
On the other hand, he never solved the maladies that beset him from his first day as a starter: he doesn't throw well outside the pocket; he has a tendency to favor one receiver over the others (this year's DJ Hall was Julio Jones); if you can pressure him he'll force the ball in places it doesn't belong (insert tasteless joke here).
I don't know how history will remember John Parker Wilson, Alabama quarterback. Hell, I don't know how I'll remember him. But if fans are willing to run him down for his missteps, they'd damn sure better thank him for what he gave to Alabama.
-- Speaking of DJ Hall, I saw him Thursday night hanging at Razzoo on Bourbon. It sort of made me sad -- I don't think he showed up with anybody, just showed up and stood there waiting on 'Bama fans to recognize him. A few of them did.
Tyrone Prothro was there also, along with brother Quinton (who I'm almost certain is not 21). Both of them, naturally, were exceedingly popular.
-- One more note on the Andre Smith saga: I truly hope all those 'Bama fans who were so quick to slam the big LT for being selfish and a bad teammate when news of his suspension first broke -- when they had no idea what haappened -- are willing to come forth and recant (now that we know it wasn't him, but one of his crazy uncles, apparently causing all the trouble). Well-done, folks. Well-done.
-- Finally, looking ahead, BSR has a great report on 'Bama's scholarship numbers for 2009. Don't look for there to be nearly as much howling this offseason as t here was in 2008.

And with that, we can effectively put a cap on the 2008 season. Scrolling back to the first Monday of game week, we've done the best we can to provide you with one (mostly rational) fan's thoughts on what's going on. We'll do the best we can to get everybody through the months between now and more Alabama football.
Until then, one more big "thank-you" to the 2008 Crimson Tide. Roll Tide Roll.