Monday, June 22, 2009

Tuesday 'tube: just wastin time

I can't urge you strongly enough to stop whatever it is you're currently doing and watching the College World Series final, currently showing on ESPN. Game 1 is currently in the 10th, and tomorrow night (Tuesday) is Game 2. It's definitely worth the watch, if you like great college sports.

In the meantime, here's an advanced look at a summer feature everyone loves: EA Sports' NCAA Football.

notable, quotable Monday

As I write this, Phil Mickelson and his glorious, Ric-Flair-type chest are making a valiant charge toward a possible US Open Championship. It's totally worth annoying my co-workers by turning it on. Totally.

Anyway, as always this Monday is a busy one, so here are some quick links to keep you entertained till quitting time.
— First up, the dominant Web story of the weekend: Nick Saban vs. recruiting Web sites. The money quote, at least for me:
"That should be addressed by somebody and should be brought to bear. If people are just covering recruiting with honesty and integrity, [there's no problem]. But all those guys that work out there for [recruiting sites] are for the school. Everybody roots for a team. And they get information for a team."
Naturally, many of the writers for these sites have responded predictably — Nick Saban is easy to loathe, and objectivity isn't a desirable trait for team-specific sites anyway. 8Box wonders if Alabama is prepared to fight these guys.
— Scheduling, obviously, remains a hot topic. Moon thinks we as fans deserve better, although he made the curious decision to lead his column by calling us all "suckers." Cecil agrees with his assessment, calling for 'Bama to renew its old rivalries.
— Other 'Bama-related stuff: RBR examines how Julio Jones stole AJ Green's spotlight (Peter von Herrmann likes); UA picked up three more commitments over the weekend.

— has a top 25 of all-time college football programs. No, Alabama isn't on top.

— Some Auburn links: the O-A is reviewing the Teagles' 09 opponents, today with Kentucky; Auburn is also planning a game against JSU, which, like our game against Bill Curry and Ga. State, will inevitably lead to a series of stories/blog posts/message board arguments about Jack Crowe.
Hold on, let's relive one of coach Crowe's best moments:

That was fun.

— Finally, the finals of the CWS start tonight. TCBB is your one-stop shop for all preview needs.

Friday, June 19, 2009

for the record, Dad's great

I said a "blog-free" weekend, and I meant it. Since it's Father's Day on Sunday, I'm being a self-promoter and pulling an old Father's Day column from a few years ago.

Thanks everybody, and have a good one.

Dads pass on more than love of sports to children

Will Heath

Nearly everyone remembers the night they fell in love for the first time. For me, it happened in elementary school. I know most people can't fall in love in elementary school; most people aren't even sure what love is in elementary school.

Still, that's what happened.

Back then, my dad and I were going to football games every Friday night in the fall at old Senior Stadium in Eufaula. I'm almost positive they don't use that place anymore. Which is really too bad.

Anyway, back in those days, Eufaula's head coach was a guy named Wayne Woodham, and its biggest rival was the vexing Smiths Station. Both of them always found a way to ruin Eufaula's season every year.

The best player in those days was a do-everything cat with a surprisingly generic name: Fred Smith. Some Auburn fans (although probably only the real die-hards) might remember Smith, vaguely. He played four unremarkable seasons on The Plains, mostly as a nickel back (if I'm not mistaken, he ran back an interception for a TD against LSU in 1994 … then again, so did everyone in the stadium).

At Eufaula, though, Smith was unequivocally the man. He played quarterback, ran back punts, played all over the field on defense, sold popcorn at the concession stands and directed the band at halftime. If I'm not mistaken, he showed up to every game on Friday with a giant cape on his back, which he used to drag his teammates all over the field.

Fred's greatest moment - and one of the greatest moments of my young life as a fan - was the night I fell in love. With football.

See, Fred separated his shoulder that night in Eufaula against Smiths Station, with the area title on the line. Dad says he can still remember seeing Fred holding his arm up in the air between plays, trying to relieve the pain.

The game went to overtime. There was a sense of fear and trepidation from our seat in the bleachers. Smiths was going to win. They always won.

Still, I can see Fred trotting out onto the field to start the extra period, left arm hanging limply at his side.

As I've grown older, him staying in the game becomes more unbelievable. How can anyone compete with that kind of pain?

But Fred did. In fact, not only did he score the go-ahead touchdown in overtime, he intercepted a Smiths Station pass on the Panthers' possession to preserve a victory.

I think we skipped home that night.

You could say that I'm sitting at this desk now because of that night.

I owe that to my dad. Back in those days, we didn't have any relatives on the team or anything like that. In fact, the only connection I had to any of the football players was that my first girlfriend's older brother was the backup quarterback. I think, anyway.

Still, we were there every Friday night we could be. And we watched every Saturday as well. I can still remember nearly hitting my head on the blades of the ceiling fan after my dad lifted me up in the air when Philip Doyle connected from 50 to beat Tennessee.

We're nearly 20 years and several towns removed from those nights at Senior Stadium in Eufaula. But we still talk on the phone a lot. And nearly every conversation winds up being about sports (even if it's after we've discussed things like mortgage payments and whole life insurance).

I learned nearly everything about how to be a sports fan from my dad.

I learned that it's OK to be passionate, to live and die with your favorite teams, but that's it's never OK to let that passion define you as a human being - the games are fun, but they're not life.

For that, I can only thank him. Hopefully I can pass that down to my kids someday.

Friday notes: Webb, Bill Curry and so forth

Just staring at the subject line is funny enough on its own, right?

Today's Derek Webb entry: "Wedding Dress," the most publicized and most controversial song from our boy's first solo album.

Ohbytheway, there's something of a controversy surrounding Webb's new album, detailed here on his Web site. The controversy, as much as anything else, is whether this actually IS a controversy, and not just a well-planned publicity stunt.

A few links to move you through the rest of your Friday:
-- First, the unpleasant: Alabama did indeed announce its intention to appeal the NCAA's ruling from last week, something that, as Cecil said, isn't a huge surprise to anybody who's actually been following the situation. Because OTS is arguably the best 'Bama blogger in the business, he has a (massively) in-depth post on the sanctions from this week. A number of things could have gone terribly wrong with this thing and somehow we dodged all of them. Jeebus.
-- One of the biggest lightning rods this week has been Mal Moore, because he's been the boss through all this. Finebaum, of course, took the biggest step, calling for him to step down in his Tuesday column. And Alabama responded predictably, by figuratively telling him and the rest of the state's press to go suck a lemon.
-- On to actual football: this week we found out that Alabama had solidified its 2010 schedule with a home date against San Jose State, and will play the newly founded football program at Georgia State as well ... which means, yes, a date with Bill Curry. I'm sure when we get closer to it we'll have to read a number of stories on this issue, so I won't belabor the point now.
I will, however, post a cool video from that era of 'Bama football. Be sure to note Curry's terrible sweater in this one. It was a trend.

-- More actual football: Smart Football -- one of my new favorites -- has an exhaustive look at the Gus Malzahn offense. In a nutshell: Gus' offenses will actually run the ball, which is good since that's how this Auburn team is built.
-- The guys at 3sib decided to indulge in a little sado-masochism this week by posting some personal memories of terrible losses, from the Vol and the Tide side. And since I'm into pimping myself for no good reason, here's a similar post I constructed two summers ago -- it pre-dates the Monroe game, but everything else still stands.
(Incidentally, the Monroe game definitely falls into the "this-can't-be-happening" category, easily.)

-- Bama Hoops checks in with an outsider's perspective on the Grant era. Say, did you hear our new coach is already getting some new facilities?

-- Only barely related to sports: the country's best bars, courtesy Redshirt Files; and Jerry gives us a look at how cool soccer can be.

Here's to a quiet, blog-less weekend for all.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

wednesday conversations: killin' time

Editor's Note: With the summer dragging at an oppressive pace already, we at the DP decided to kill some time by bringing back one of my favorite segments from two summers ago: email conversations with my cousin's husband (cousin-in-law?) Jamie Cooper, an Auburn fan from the cradle. At best, it's thought-provoking; at worst it's time-consuming. Not a bad way to pass the time, regardless. I encourage everyone who stumbles upon this gem to get involved: that's why the comment button is there. Discuss, please, discuss.

Without further ado ...

will: Since the Braves are quickly slip-sliding away for another summer and the College World Series isn't providing a ton of entertainment — more of Erin Andrews' butt shots, ESPN! — I figured this would be the best way to while away the hours until camp gets here in August.

Since the first text you sent me several weeks ago, a number of people have jumped on the "this-rivalry-is-getting-too-nasty" meme, with even Mike Bolton penning a column on the subject this week. Those opinions, of course, have spawned an equal tidal wave of opinion the other way, also — this is the way the Internet works, and that's why we love it, obviously. It seems we've really hit on something here.

So let's not belabor that point any further if we can help it. What about actual football? Since the Chiz was officially announced as Auburn head coach, opinion of the fan base (I'm using conjecture here since I'm not actually one of them) has gone from "oh-no-holy-crap-we-effed-up" to "maybe he's not all that bad" to "y'all keep sleeping on us guys — we'll bust your asses this fall."
So I'll ask: in your opinion, what is a (and here I invoke a word too often thrown around for Alabama fans) reasonable expectation for Auburn in 2009?
I tend to look at them the way we looked at Georgia Tech in 2008: at first glance, they don't appear all that dangerous, but you don't want to really play them on a bad day, either. Like Tech, they have an offensive system nobody really wants to prepare for; and also like Tech, they could pull a complete no-show on a bad day and get beat 41-0. The wild card here is that defense: they could carry them through some of those early-season nailbiters and set the stage for an upset or two down the stretch.
But then there's that whole "first-year head coach" problem: basically, when you have a first-year head coach, everybody on the team is a freshman. And freshmen tend to fail in clutch situations because they don't totally trust themselves/the system they're in. You'll probably also see some personnel oddities in '09 too, like how Saban's unit buried Jimmy Johns with little to no explanation in 2007 (and oh, how right he turned out to be).
How do you see it?

Other questions:
— Do you have a sleeper picked out for 2009 in the SEC? Mine right now is UGA, a team that everyone (including me) is burying for '09 because they don't have Stafford/Moreno (even though they never won much with either of them). Certainly, playing in the same division as Florida will hurt them, but ... what if AJ Green flourishes as the new focal point of the offense? What if they get by South Carolina (a traditional pest for them) and start rolling? What if Mark Richt does what Mark Richt always does: win 10 relatively unremarkable games and beat all the teams he's supposed to beat? What if they're undefeated (or close to it) going to Jacksonville in November? I think that team has more potential than people realize.
— Like every offseason, this one is filled with talk about cream-puff scheduling. Who are your top 5 dream matchups for Auburn in non-conference regular season? Any old rivalries (a la Ga. Tech) you'd like to see renewed?
— Finally, what's your vision for the ideal postseason college football postseason format?

Jamie: Since we are slow, I'll jump right on. As for reasonalbe expectations for Auburn, I think 7-5 is a reasonable W/L projection. We had one of the worst 2 teams last year since Doug Barfield and had 4 plays inside the 10 to beat Ark, 2 inside the 10 to beat UGA (though that would have been a once in a hundred win), were on our way to trouncing Vandy until we decided to stop running the ball, were up on Ole Miss in the 2nd half, and lost to LSU in the last 1:43. We were also tied with Tenn Tech in the 4th quarter, beat UT by 2, MSU by 1 so it goes both ways. I feel confident that Malzahn actually has a plan rather than calling plays like you're playing playstation (although I feel Tony Franklin got a raw deal in some ways) so I have confidence we can score enough to be competitive, but will depend heavily on the QB play. Defensively we'll be fine on the first line. Late in the game or late in the season depth could be an issue that loses a game or two. So, I say we bottom out at 7-6 (bowl loss) and top out at 10-3 (bowl win). We are really only outmanned by LSU, AL, UGA and maybe Ole Miss. On par with Ark, WV, UT, and UK and better than MSU
and the OOC's.

Sleeper pick is Arkansas. Ryan Mallet > Casey Dick and Petrino can move the ball on most anybody. Their defense got better after the Bama game last year which was the single worst defensive performance I can remember. If the D can be competitve, I think they could finish in the upper half of the division.

Dream Matchups: I am really anticipating the Clemson series and I think it that would be a fun one to continue. Others would include Georgia Tech, Texas, and Penn St.

Ideal postseason is a 4 team playoff. If you are the 5th team, you likely lost at some point at which case you have no argument to be in. Also having only 4 teams still gives high priority to the reg season. Your locations for possible BCS games would be Rose, Cotton, Sugar, Cap 1, Whatever is in Detroit (I'll explain) and a location with a dome on the east coast and maybe Seattle. The top 2 seeds play at the venue closest to campus i.e. #1 seed USC would play #4 seed Ohio St in Pasadena, Florida would play in Orlando you get the picture. If your venue does not host a playoff, it would revert back to the natural bowl. I just made this up in the last 17 minutes, so I'm sure there are holes, but it's only an email right?

- SEC coaches: How many are still at their current jobs next year?
- Who will be the POST season All SEC Offensive and Defensive players of the year?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

tuesday tube: an early look at Week 1

I apologize in advance if this fan trailer from a VPI fan makes you wish it was football season ... like, today.
Still cool, though.

Is it really only June 15?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Monday: the notable, the quotable

Should I admit it? Should I keep it to myself?
(Yeah ... whatever.)
OK, I didn't watch one second of the Lakers' Game 5 triumph over Orlando last night. Why? Well ... I'd agreed 10 days ago to watch "Twlight" with my wife on this particular Sunday (I actually thought Game 5 was scheduled for Saturday night). So yes ... I missed the defining moment of Kobe Bryant's career because I was watching a movie about teenage vampires and the women who love them (sounds like a Ricki Lake special waiting to happen).
I'm not sure I would've enjoyed watching Kobe pretend to like all his teammates for 10 minutes, or the culmination of an anti-climactic Finals that were decided as much by Orlando's poor game management and Stan van Gundy's odd player rotations as much as anything the Lakers did (for more, click here and here). But I thoroughly enjoyed giving the tweener classic the ol' "Mystery Science Theatre 3000" treatment, particularly since my wife was obviously irate with me for doing so (even though she said she wanted me to watch it with her so we could make fun of it together).
My review of "Twilight": outlandish premise, poorly acted, poorly shot and doesn't include enough unintentional comedy (yeah, I stole it from Simmons, what of it?) to make it one of those "bad movies that are perversely fun to watch." Basically, I didn't enjoy anything about it. But it's a movie for adolescent girls, so most of that I knew before I watched it (Robert Pattinson's transparent loathing of the story is an interesting twist, though).

My review of the Lakers: whatever. All champions are lucky, of course — think the Celtics win last year if Manu Ginobli's ankle doesn't go down? — but LA felt like they won without trying particularly hard, which is interesting because (aside from Kobe and Pau) they never seemed that good. But they were the best team all season, and now they're the champs. So we have to pretend we like Kobe and Kobe likes us for a little while. Hooray.
(Incidentally, the sound you heard last night was my wife squealing in delight that basketball is now officially over. Until September when training camp starts again.)

Onward, then, with notable links for the early week:
— Stealing my idea completely and totally: both a blogger and an MSM guy feel like this Auburn-Bama thing is getting too nasty. Bolton's column is notable only because Bolton rarely writes about anything other than the outdoors and NASCAR. So apparently it's gotten his attention.
— Elsewhere on the probation front, OTS examines the appeal, and whether it's feasible.
— Other offseason issues of angst: lousy scheduling. 8Box has a fantastic look at how Alabama used to schedule back in the heyday, and the Wiz dissects the issue on a more national scale. And while we're here, props to Jerry for thinking outside the box when he suggested Auburn think about scheduling Florida for a non-conference date. I still like the idea of adding an extra conference date more, but that is one way schools could take this into their own hands.
— Does Alabama, in fact, award the No. 12 jersey to a special player? Actually no, according to Tommy Deas.
Yes, No. 12 has been worn by Paul W. "Bear" Bryant at Alabama, as well as great quarterbacks Pat Trammell, Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler. In that regard, it is special.
It's also been worn by Ryan Pflugner, a kicker; Bryne Diehl, a punter; receiver David Buckner and safety Jeremy Downey (they shared it in 1993 with Diehl); Rod Flowers, a cornerback; Shon Lee, a safety; and many others -- with various levels of distinction.
— For a completely objective look at Auburn in 2009, check out Dr. Saturday's preview. I have to agree with his assessment: they look like a team that should be nasty on defense, struggle on offense and may lose a few close ones early, and only because — as I've learned repeatedly in the last decade — when you have a new coach, everyone on the team is basically a freshman. And freshmen tend to lose their poise in tight situations (for further reference, see 2001, 2003 and 2007 in Tuscaloosa — you think I'm making this up, but I'm not).
— Finally, the College World Series is on this week (and next). For live updates, check out TCBB.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

surveying the landscape in the aftermath

Today's very special episode of "the NCAA vs. College Athletics and Common Sense" naturally spawned a bevy of reactions, around campus and on the Web.
Like me, most of them believe that a) the punishment fit the crime, and b) Alabama is fortunate, because since when does that ever happen with the NCAA?

Before we dive into the links around the Net, here's an apropos video from Derek Webb.

-- First off, the scope of the problem: a total of 201 athletes were involved in 16 sports (7 of them were football players). That, obviously is a problem. And Mal Moore should be held accountable. And so should Dr. Witt. Them is the facts. But it's also worth noting -- as my dad said today -- that if the football players weren't involved, it's likely this wouldn't have even made the news. But they were involved, and it did make the news, so ... (quoting my mom) there ya go.
-- Next, the forthcoming appeal: Dr. Witt and coach Moore suggested they might do so today, and they've got standing: FSU filed a similar grievance to restore some of its lost wins earlier this year (I don't recall the specifics of that case, but I believe the penalties were similar).
It's worth questioning the wisdom of any potential appeal, as Brent at 8Box says today.
The vacating of wins is of consequence to history and tradition. To any other school that might mean little, but at Alabama where the program is always chasing history, its own and that of others, to vacate wins pushes the program a little further down this or that all-time list. Those lists are important to Alabama and its fans. Is position on some all time lists worth possibly poking the NCAA in the eye? Oklahoma was forced to vacate wins over the pay for no work case involving a couple of players and a car dealer, but those wins were reinstated on appeal. If you had to chose would you rather get wins back or reduce the number of years of probation?
Thankfully, we've also got John from BSR to channel his own inner Jonathan Swift.
I therefore suggest the following modest proposal: immediate implantation of thought control chips into the brain of every Alabama citizen and student. Athletes should be padlocked into sanitary rooms where they are provided only with food, drink, and textbooks FOR WHICH THEY MUST PERSONALLY PAY!!! They may attend class, of course, but only under police escort and in shackles. At least we can make their jumpsuits crimson instead of orange.
-- One of the tragic memes from many of the national pundits -- most of whom barely had any notion of any of this until late yesterday -- is that Alabama skated on some kind of very serious violations because Alabama thumbs its nose at the NCAA. OK, basically I mean Dennis Dodd. But it's OK, because I have Todd at RBR to take him to task. Thank you, Todd.
-- Orson actually tackled this subject twice today: first at EDSBS with a fantastic illustration; then at the SB with a reasoned analysis of what went on. And speaking of hilarious illustrations, the guys at Tower of Bammer awakened from a summer slumber to give us one.
-- Finally, because this is what they do, mookie at 3sib reminds us of the pecking order in the SEC.

And with that, I'm off to think about something else.

we'll always have the youtube ...

With the confirmation today that the NCAA penalties — while not harsh — will include the vacation of wins in 2005-the point where the Textbook 5 were suspended (right before the UT game) in '07, here's a look at some of those wins that soon will be wins no longer.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

a lost Wednesday, but not a "Lost" Wednesday

Ever since news came to light that NCAA sanctions could be announced today (Wednesday), I've had the same stomach-in-knots feeling people usually get when they're approaching a big test: sure, I want to get it over with so we can all move on; part of me also wishes it was 2 weeks away so I could keep putting it off.

In any case, turns out the news is expected to be released tomorrow, but through "anonymous sources" (read: Mal keeping his name out of it) we now know what it will be, at least in football terms:
  • 3 years probation
  • Vacating of 10 victories
  • Minimal scholarship loss (if any)
None of that is especially serious, obviously. The probation is notable only because of the repeat offender statute, which is how the hateful era from 2003-2007 came about in the first place. And the vacating of wins -- while ignominious -- isn't something anyone will even care about two years from now (Vanderbilt's media guide recognizes the team's last win over Alabama in 1984, not 1993 even though officially that win is theirs).
Two thoughts and then it's off to bed ...
-- First, anger toward the NCAA: is all this over five kids? Five kids who, once they were caught, were suspended for the balance of the season? Five kids who took advantage of a goofy loophole and were punished accordingly?
(Note: because so much of the report was redacted per Alabama's option, we don't know whether more football players are involved here. And if they are, obviously, this rant is a pointless exercise.)
-- But, like Brent over at 8Box, the point isn't the nature of the penalties (or even the draconian nature of the NCAA, which has yet to seriously punish Tennessee or USC for its continual flouting of regulations). The point is that we were ever in danger of these sanctions in the first place. For God's sake, we just went through this -- not 10 years ago but through the balance of this decade. How did we get back here?

I believe Nick Saban -- work-obsessed and ego-maniacal though he may be -- knows what's at stake here and will run a rigid ship, just as he has to this point.
Even so, I hate going through all this again.

mid-week 'tube: another great forgotten chapter

I have an Internet love affair with Tiderolls67, even though I have no idea who holds that handle. But whoever he/she is, he keeps coming up with astounding video files from games I had forgotten even happened.
Today's entry: 'Bama's 1991 victory over Tennessee at Legion Field, which featured a 21-point explosion from the Tide in the fourth quarter (after spending most of the day puttering on offense).

The underrated part of this game: my dad and I watched it at our house in ... Eufaula (?) ... yeah, that has to be it ... and I have a fuzzy memory (even though I would've been 10 at the time) of Bo Schembechler -- recently retired and working as an analyst for ABC at the time -- angrily declaring, "I don't see Alabama scoring" during his halftime analysis. In retrospect, it's hard to blame him -- no one was ever sure if Alabama WOULD score during the Stallings era.
This game was also one of the first big wins of the Jay Barker era -- Jay completed 100 percent of his handoffs in the fourth quarter for the victory.

We'll try to have a little more later.

Friday, June 5, 2009

on rivalries and all-out war

For most of my life, I've lived divided between the Auburn and Alabama camps. It's not my fault, really: my mom and most of her family are Auburn folks — growing up, I attended way more games in Auburn than in Tuscaloosa or Birmingham. Moreover, Auburn University is the institution that is essentially responsible for my existence: my parents met one another there, and both earned degrees which led to their careers (and to having food put in my mouth and a roof put over my head). I owe a lot to Auburn. I really do.

Despite his choice of curriculum, my dad's football allegiances have always been for Alabama. He grew up cheering the Tide through the 1960s and '70s, and didn't switch his allegiance just because of where he attended class.
(Note: I once asked my dad how he managed to survive during his collegiate years — his response: "It was the '70s ... nobody really said much of anything to me about it.")
Like most little boys, I wanted (and still want, in a number of ways) to be like my dad. And that meant being an Alabama fan. That's just the way it was.

Dad was also wise enough to raise me with a healthy amount of perspective. Auburn people — as I've said before — are our friends, our family, our fellow citizens. This is a fact of life: we can't avoid them and they can't avoid us. So we've all got to live together, however passionate we are about our teams.
(Note: As I'm saying this, I should add that the whole mantra of "I root for Auburn/Alabama as long as they're not playing Alabama/Auburn" isn't really true, either. No one actually does that. The closest we can come is saying we don't actively cheer for the other one to fail. Unfortunately, most people can't even live up to even that low a standard.)

It's in that spirit that the events of this offseason thus far have troubled me. The Alabama-Auburn rivalry — call it "The Iron Bowl" if you wish — has always been an intense one, no question. When we play one another on the field, we want nothing more than to beat one another's brains in. That's the way football is supposed to be played.
One thing that's always struck me about attending those games, however — and I've now been to every one since 1995 — is how (relatively speaking) friendly the rivalry actually is. Alabama-LSU games always feel like life experiences: I was always just happy to leave them not in an ambulance. Alabama-Tennessee games are terrifying — particularly in 2005, I thought CNN was going to show up and broadcast one of those soccer-style riots.
The Alabama-Auburn game has the same amount of passion, but not the same edge, at least for me. I've been to every game since 1995 — an improbable streak when I think about it — and one thing that's always struck me is how closely the two schools relate. Perusing the stands before kickoff, you'll always find orange-and-blue and crimson-clad fans sitting together, all part of the same big party. Only one time have I ever been a part of an Auburn game where I feared things might break down: during the fateful 1999 game, when a group of Alabama students and drunken fans stupidly attempted to roll Toomer's Corner in celebration of that big victory (for more, read Warren St. John's "Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer"). Even then, cops separated the two crowds, and everybody kind of shrugged and moved on.

Shrugging and moving on is not what's happening right now between the two fan bases. Reports are swirling all over the Web about it: Auburn fans are monitoring every move Alabama makes in an effort to nail us down for NCAA violations. Alabama fans are responding in kind with each Auburn recruiting effort, including the most recent "Limo Tour" and "Big Cat Weekend."
It was bad enough that my cousin Jamie — an Auburn guy from birth — sent me the following text message yesterday:
However these cheating accusations/facts, whatever they are, turns out, it's going to get ugly(er) between the two institutions. It's getting to the point that neither program will be able to breathe without getting turned in. And it's just the fans.
If 'Bama or AU go Albert Means on anybody, they should be punished. But this is getting to be an unhealthy obsession.

There's some precedent here: the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry, which was a clean, relatively respectful rivalry until Roy Adams and Phillip Fulmer turned it into "Gossip Girl" in the latter part of the last decade.
(Yes, Alabama was cheating. Yes, Alabama should've been called out for it. We all admit that. But there were better ways to handle it than by meeting with the NCAA in secret like a third-grade tattle-tale.)
The point is that Fulmer and Adams made it clear by their actions that they were no longer just trying to beat Alabama on the football field. They were trying to ruin Alabama football. They were trying to destroy it.
That changed the rivalry from a football game into something else. Beating Tennessee took on a greater importance, because each success against Tennessee showed they were failing. We were surviving. We were persevering. Tennessee and their army of NCAA flunkies could go straight to hell.

Let me also be clear about this: that shift in the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry wasn't a healthy one. Football rivalries are meant to be contested on the football field, not by hiring private detectives or attempting to prove the other is cheating. And my concern is that's where we're headed, as Brent said recently.
A suggestion was offered that maybe our little band should take to the atomic red and gray blast pattern notion that if it is to be war then let it be that none survive. ... In theory it is a fine notion, go Captain Ahab on those four toed watermelon humpers and burn the whole league to the ground if necessary. Rash and violent action has its charm, but there is more constructive junk that a person can do to employ their time beyond hiding in a drainage ditch with a disposable camera. Auburn can do whatever the hell they want, and I wouldn't give the change and old Cheetos fragments from under my couch cushions to have three guesses and two free vowels to be in the know on the dirt. Real people get hurt in these things, and who really gives two shakes of a goats ass (stop touching yourself Auburn fan) about hiding out in some kid's tree house trying to use the gear you scored from radio shack to stop the cheating. What a riot! How do you explain that to the wife?

Unfortunately, I'm not sure what's the answer here. Recruiting keeps expanding and expanding — yes, it's fair to argue that the recent pushing of boundaries by Auburn and Tennessee is a direct response to the recruiting acumen (and effort) of Nick Saban at Alabama — and the more it does, the more attention media and fans pay to it (instead of doing what normal people do during June, like going to the beach or watching afternoon baseball).
Just know that I'm not the only one who doesn't like where we're headed. To quote Jamie again (this time via email):
Though AU and UA are psycho about which one has the upper hand at the time, I think the SEC in general along with the insanely over-hyped business of recruiting, this could get bad enough to ruin the conference. Southwest Conference was pretty strong at one time too. I may be wrong but I think you'll find that's what helped bring that conference down.

And it shouldn't be that way. We're all going to have to work together, worship together and live together when all this is settled.
Let's not lose ourselves over something so petty.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

NBA Finals blog: leave it all on the floor

Editor's Note: Much like our series of "Lost" blogs, I realize in advance that this post may not interest our feeble legion of readers here at The Party, most of whom come here for thoughts on college football and things related to Alabama. So I completely understand if you plan to skip this one. Seriously, I won't mind. Whatever. I'm entitled one entry regarding the NBA Finals. I am. Thanks for stopping by, anyway. And also, stay classy.

This week, I actually started back to school for the first time since 2003. It's a Communications Science program, and three days into it I'm already wondering if I actually have any idea what it is that I'm doing. We'll see.
I bring this up because my professor, Dr. Jonathan Amsbary, reminded me of an old scientific rule about research I'd quite forgotten: as sample size goes up, variance goes down. It's relatively simple, really: the more times you test something, the more accurate your results should be.
For a sports equivalent, it's an explanation of the NCAA Tournament's lack of predictability vs. the NBA Playoffs (it also explains why the NCAA Tournament is more fun): one game is a poor sample size for determining the quality of opponents. The more times two teams play one another, the more likely it is that the superior team should prevail. Would Jim Valvano's NC State team have beaten Akeem, Drexler and Houston in a best-of-7 series? Of course not. But in a one-game setting, this happened ...

That doesn't happen in the NBA. The cream should always, always, always rise to the top. At the end of the playoffs, the team wearing the crown is the best team in basketball. That's the way it is, and should be.
Which is why this year's finals matchup — the Orlando Magic at the Los Angeles Lakers — is so bizarre and confusing. Neither of these teams seems like the team that should be wearing the crown as the best in basketball.
Bill Simmons — damn him — perfectly described all the ways Orlando defies every basketball convention with its continued success in his recent NBA preview:
The big difference between the '09 Magic and everyone else before them: They can play smallball without getting destroyed on the boards thanks to Howard. In their 19 playoff games so far, they finished with more rebounds only six times; in the Boston series, they were outrebounded in six of the seven games. But the Magic were never outrebounded by more than eight boards; only three times were they even outrebounded by seven or eight. That's why the Magic don't have off nights. Teddy KGB would say they had alligator blood: They hang around and hang around and hang around and you can never just wipe out their chips. They're like the NBA's first "Moneyball" team in this respect. Over 48 minutes, the percentages and numbers will usually work in their favor.
For instance, the Lakers got killed by Denver in Game 4 for a variety of aesthetic reasons (lack of energy, fired-up Nuggets team, the Lakers already won the game they needed, etc.) and one easy-to-understand reason: Denver crushed them on the boards by 20. You get killed on the boards in a playoff game, you're going to lose. Period. With Orlando, that variable has been removed. And if they're making 3s, look out. In playoff games in which they were minus-2 in rebounds or better, made at least nine 3s and shot 40-plus percent from three, they were 6-0 and won by an average of 13.5 points. In a typical series, they will play two games like that (and win both), which means they only need to win two of the other five … and because of that alligator blood, the odds are with them.
Does this make sense? Not really. It makes my head hurt and defies everything we ever thought we had learned about playoff basketball: The team with the best guy usually wins a series; defense wins championships; you live and die by the 3 (and always, you die); and playoff experience matters more than anything else. Not anymore. Throw that crap out the window. The Magic are OK defensively; they don't have the best guy; they're living by 3s; and they don't have much playoff experience. Again, my head hurts.
The other big problem, obviously: there's no way ORLANDO wins an NBA title, right? It seems almost silly to even consider a franchise like this — with no history to speak of since stupidly trading Shaq back in 1997 — would topple the tradition-rich Lakers. It couldn't happen, right?
Unfortunately, Orlando already proved uniforms didn't matter much to them by toppling the MORE tradition-rich Celtics in the conference semis (even winning a Game 7, comfortably, in Boston). Then they proved they weren't interested in the NBA's best interests either by whipping the LeBrons in the conference finals.
(Note: this is absolutely why, if we're going to continue with the BCS in college football, we should put most of our faith in computers over pollsters. Coaches and writers see helmets, tradition and conference affiliations, but computers see only hard data and results. The names on the jerseys don't matter to the computers. And that's how it should be, frankly.)

Which brings us back to the Lakers. They're the favorite to win the title because a) they have the best player; b) they have home-court advantage; c) they SHOULD be the best team overall.
Starting in the Houston series, however — and carrying on to the conference finals against Denver — we learned something curious about the Lakers: for a team that hasn't actually won anything, they don't seem to be all that hungry. The Rockets — playing without their best player and with no go-to scorer — absolutely ran them out of the building TWICE in the conference semis, and the Nuggets basically did the same thing in Game 4 of that series. In fact, you could make a solid case they could've been swept by the Nuggets, except that George Karl refuses to draw up an inbounds play that doesn't involve throwing the ball to Trevor Ariza.
Even in their wins, it's not entirely clear whether the Lakers really care that much. Their best shooters don't really shoot that well; they're not a great defensive team; they got hammered on the boards by more physical teams in Denver and Houston. Their main goal appears to be as follows: hang around and let Kobe carry us in the fourth.
I should mention as a mea culpa that I don't like Kobe. I didn't like him when he and Shaq were winning championships in LA, didn't like him when he orchestrated Shaq's departure and certainly don't like him now as he tries to pretend to the world that he's a great teammate and all-around nice guy.
That said, not nearly enough has been made out of his performance in these playoffs. Think about this: Kobe hasn't stopped playing basketball for any significant amount of time since the summer of 2007 — he played a full season in '07-08, played every playoff game through the '08 Finals, played the entire Olympic run (carrying the team in crunch time along the way), played all the '09 season plus the playoffs ... and now he's in the Finals again.
It's ridiculous. He has very little lateral quickness; the better defenders (Battier, 'Melo) cut off his drives with relative ease. He can't even really jump; the times I've seen him dunk, he jumps just high enough to clear the rim. Basically, he's the old man in the pickup game, the one with a bulky knee brace who doesn't run down the floor every time — but man, when he gets the ball, look out. His fadeaway is as deadly as ever. And just when you think to yourself, "All this dude ever does is pull up and shoot" he fakes and drives it right by you while you watch helplessly.

As for my pick, I think the Lakers win this thing because of Kobe, as well as Lamar Odom, maybe the only player in the NBA who's a perfect match with Rashard Lewis (who destroyed Boston and Cleveland). I also think the Lakers are well coached enough to not double-team Dwight Howard (and leave their collection of jump shooters wide open the way Cleveland did repeatedly) and have enough large bodies (Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and friends) to throw at him and wear him out.
Of course, what I've learned in these playoffs is that we really don't know anything.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Tuesday tube: long awaited

Today's vid comes from one of my favorite games in one of my favorite Alabama seasons during my lifetime: the 1994 Tennessee game.

Just about every game that season was like this. One other note: you definitely will not hear "Rammer Jammer" being sung at the end of this one, since this game was played during the time period when the university actually stopped the MDB from playing it. Why? No idea. But that's what was happening.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Monday morning, you sure looked fine

I do have excuses for my lack of blog presence here. There's been vacation and work (busier than you'd think), plus I've been preparing for a rather interesting new thing in life (which I'll detail at a later date and no ... it's not a baby or anything gross like that).

In any case, that's hardly an excuse for the callous way I've treated the four or five people who read this thing regularly. I've got a few things to discuss here as the week wears on, but since it's Monday, we might as well start by seeing what everybody else is discussing, no?

Off we go, then ...
— Today's completely ridiculous offseason "controversy" comes from Auburn, where the Teagle coaching staff held a "Big Cat Weekend" (all silly nicknames courtesy of the guys who came up with the name "Mark's Madness"). The highlight of the weekend (aside from a few minor NCAA violations): recruit Texas recruit Lache Seastrunk publicly calling out Nick Saban for reasons that aren't entirely clear (note: if you have a minute, scroll down to the commentary section of this blog and read some of the inane back-and-forth — and you wonder why I have no desire to become a beat writer).
(Note: I know it's wrong to call out a kid, but Auburn may not want to mess with this guy. Nick Saban has all the traits of someone you probably don't want to rile: he's super focused, has a massive ego and absolutely no conscience. I think coach Cheez would rather his guys, um ... leave that situation alone.)
Anyway, all this offseason mess has (of course) led to Scarbinsky's opinion of the new head-coaching trio: he's not impressed. And why would he be, really?
— Rough weekend for crimson-clad supporters on the diamond: Alabama's softball team got sent packing in the semifinals at the WCWS in the most painful fashion imaginable, and the baseball squad went gentle into that good night at the Clemson regional. It's kind of hard to shake the whole "Jim Wells' teams don't perform when it counts anymore" mantra when they ... um, don't.
Of course, the biggest story out of this weekend at the baseball regionals was Texas' incredible 25-inning victory over Boston College. I've said it before: I can't believe more people don't pay attention to college baseball. Is it just the bats? Really?
— More football-related stuff: mookie is counting the days 'till Va. Tech with a jersey retrospective; the O-A News is previewing Auburn's '09 opponents; the T-News ranks recruiting; and RBR's new prospectus is available. I'm told it's excellent.
— Finally, for those of us who think the Mike Price situation at Alabama or Tommy Tuberville's attempted firing (via the famous Jet Excursion or "J**G****") is the craziest football-related thing to ever happen, I present to you ... the Ron Prince Situation. Simply indescribable.