Wednesday, July 29, 2009

mid-week: ranting and links

Like most sports fans, I'm salivating over football season. My friends at bamafanzone aren't helping, pumping out videos like this one:

Also not helping: local talk radio shows. With SEC Media Days now firmly in the rearview mirror and actual games still more than a month away (and with most of the conference in the information lockdown stage), our local radio stations — particularly WJOX — are scraping the bottom of the barrel for conversation topics.
To be fair, shows like "The Opening Drive" typically scrape the bottom of the barrel — occasionally I'll get so bored with what's on the satellite radio that I'll turn on to hear what's being discussed locally, only to hear Tony Kurre taking up air-time with topics like "who would you rather nail?" or "which party should we go to?" That show's a waste of four hours masquerading as a legitimate show, much like the new "Harry Potter" movie (in this case, the afternoon programming qualifies as "The Deathly Hallows").
But news is so slow at the moment that even Finebaum is tapped for ideas. Yesterday I flipped him on for a few minutes — much like with Bill O'Reilly, I think it's important to find out WHAT they're discussing and then change the channel as quickly as possible — and heard a legitimate, no sniggering discussion about ... erectile dysfunction. I'm not kidding. Not even remotely.
(It is possible someone at Finebaum is punking the audience.)
Please, football season: come quickly. Please.

Anyway, in the hopes of passing the time until that happens, here are some links from around the world:
— Clearly, the biggest news out of Tuscaloosa this week is Alabama's appeal against the NCAA ruling from earlier this summer. Pete's review is copious and you'll need to make sure you have a few minutes before you attempt to read it all in detail. Here's the summary:
One would be foolish to assume they can predict what any branch of the NCAA will do at any given time, but after reading the appeal, it wouldn't be at all surprising to me if the vacated wins were reinstated.
As it stands, however, the COI's report is rife with the kind deficiencies that simply beg to be overturned on appeal.
Cecil Hurt echoes Pete's sentiments in his column. But he also reminds us that the NCAA doesn't always care about reason. So it remains to be seen what happens.

— In stuff related to actual football, Smart Football has an eye-opening excerpt from Nick Saban's press conference at Media Days. The subject? Tim Tebow and Florida's offense.
— Speaking of those two, Finebaum (hey, it's something related to football this time!) offered a rebuttal to Mike Bianchi's intentionally inflammatory column about Urban Meyer as the new Bear.
For the record, I hate wasting too much energy on rebuttals. Entire blogs now devote themselves to rebutting arguments made in other blogs/news Web sites. And because it's extraordinarily obvious that Bianchi wrote the column JUST for the sake of getting the goat of Alabama fans (reasoned and otherwise), to waste any more breath on rebutting this column would be a waste of your time and mine. Having said that, allow me two points:
• For the last time, Alabama fans don't worship the ghost of Paul Bryant. He was the greatest coach of all-time, no doubt about it. He brought prestige and national acclaim to a place that otherwise would have very little. We love him and respect him for all of that. That's all. Stop beating this horse — it's been dead for too long.
• Urban Meyer can't be the second coming of Bryant because Steve Spurrier already was. Remember Spurrier? The coach at the same university where Meyer is now? Yeah, he coached there a decade ... won just about every championship in sight (read this blog for more details!) and already took this title. Sorry, Urban. You can be the Next Steve Spurrier if you want, though.
— Speaking of Spurrier, Scarbo wrote him off in his column for this week.
I'll be honest: I'm torn on this one. Like most people who lived through the 1990s, I'm terrified of Steve Spurrier. Simply having him on the sidelines makes South Carolina a frightening game, week-in and week-out.
But should it be? Let's be honest: Spurrier hasn't looked much like an offensive genius since November 2001, when his Gators got drilled in Gainesville by a Tennessee team that wanted it more. He wasn't a pro coach and proved it in two years in D.C., and his offenses at South Carolina have been hit-or-miss at best (mostly miss). Part of me wonders if we're not treating him the way most of us treated Mike Tyson in the twilight of his career: everyone still considered him a world-class boxer, even though the last time he'd actually fought at that level was more than a decade ago.
Spurrier has a chance to prove himself this fall. So we'll see, I guess.

—Some AU-related stuff: Gribble says the Teagles are looking for a vocal leader (I nominate Chris Todd!); the folks at Iowa St. talked Chizik vs. Rhoads this week; and Evan Woodberry has excerpts from his new AU football book up at Cool stuff, really.

— A few personnel actions: OHS' Corey Grant committed to 'Bama last week (very cool for the O and for 'Bama), and a pair of players on the roster are preparing to transfer.

— The concept of the "made for TV neutral site showdown in the regular season" is making a comeback: Boise State and Va. Tech are negotiating one in D.C., Army wants to play several games at Yankee Stadium, nearly every team in the Southwest has a game scheduled at the new Cowboy Stadium, LSU and UNC will play in Atlanta to open 2010 ... and now Illinois and Northwestern are talking about a game at Wrigley Field.
— Speaking of that kind of stuff, it seems the Big 10 and PAC-10 have finally backed off their territorial claim to the Rose Bowl. Tony Barhart tells you they had no choice.
— A few other random notes: Bobby Bowden ponders a world in which Tommy took the Arkansas job; and the T-News profiles the Tennessee Eric Berries.

— Finally, Awful Announcing reviews ESPN's experiment with announcers in camera wells. No surprise: the answer is "neutral." No kidding! Do you think one day that TV execs will realize that nobody cares who the announcers are? That really all we want is to watch entertaining games between talented competitors? Maybe?

wednesday: rain, apologies, 'tube

Many apologies for my absence the first two days of this week — it's been a little crazy in the real world, and that's inhibited my ability to function in the fake world.
In any case, a number of things are happening this week, and I'll try to get to those later today. In the meantime, here's a video of one of the weirdest games in Alabama history.

Friday, July 24, 2009

the return of "Lost" Fridays: Sawyer's nicknames, complete version

With Season 6 (and the finale) of "Lost" still only a rumor about the distant future, here's some fun with Sawyer from seasons 1-5.

See? Much more fun than being bored to death by Lane Kiffin and Gene Chizik in Hoover. To read a "Lost" professional, check out Doc Jensen.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

wednesday conversations: killin' time, part ii

Editor's note: After a month's hiatus, here's a continuation of our award-winning, thought-provoking, time-killing blog series, where my cousin's husband (cousin-in-law?) Jamie (a die-hard member of the Auburn family) and I bat emails back and forth regarding the burning, important topics of the day.
Please note: because of a computer crash — [BLEEP] YOU, DELL — details of last month's conversation have been difficult to recover. But we're starting over here and you'll just have to trust us. Please to enjoy, and feel free to get involved yourself in the comments section below.

will: Can you repeat your theory (that you expressed to me earlier) for how Auburn (and UT, actually) assembled its coaching staff? And how much stock do you put in the "we surrounded him with great assistants so he doesn't have to be a great head coach" theory? Also, what do you think of Terry Bowden's assessment of Chizik ('he could be the next me!")?

Jamie: The college football season becomes less and less special every year that recruiting gains attention. Make it a point to listen to the chatter of fans this year during the actual season. $ says you will hear conversations like this: "Dude, y'all got drilled last Saturday." "Yeah, well that's OK because we got a commitment from Johnny Fivestar out of Miami."
Look at the staffs that AU and to some degree UT put together and tell me that they weren't thinking "recruit first, win actual games second." Tell me that bama's last 2 classes vs ours didn't have the most impact on us actually having to put a new staff together.
The real decision makers are only fans too, the same fans that buy into the importance of winning in February is = to winning in the fall. They want to dominate recruiting, and while recruiting is very important, only scoring more points that your opponent actually wins games. AU put together the best recruiting staff, top to bottom, in the league I think. Whether that's enough to overcome the state schools in and around Alabama for the top talent, only time will tell.

will: Do you agree with the sentiment -- expressed in numerous Internet forums (and in this blog) -- that Auburn in 2004 is the best SEC team of this decade?

Jamie: Depends on what you're trying to accomplish. I would say "yes" based on the fact that none of the teams could literally play each other from different years, and AU being the only undefeated SEC team of the decade, in dominate fashion, would grant them that title.
You could also go hypothetical and look at it this way: What would the 10 best teams of the decade do against each other? Auburn '04 would certianly lose some games, but I can't think of a team that would have a better record than they would, with Florida of '08 being the same. I am biased, not because of my fandom, but because I got to see them play every week and it was the first time I can ever remember not being worried about any game after we got rolling. We really beat teams senseless in the first half and put it on cruise in the 2nd. Funny thing is I saw the same tendencies in Alabama last year, not in such dominating fashion, but the way they contolled the tempo of the games. I would have the top 10 of the decade look like this:

1) Auburn '04
2) Florida '08 - would be #1 but you can't lose to Ole Miss at home and have that ranking
3) LSU '03 - same as above, lost to a joke of a Florida team at home
4) Tennessee '01
5) Georgia '02
6) Alabama '08 - Best coached team of the bunch. Should only get better as talent increases.
7) Florida '06 - They got it done, but not an overly impressive team. Good defense.
8) Florida '01 - Didn't even make the SEC championship game, but could beat any team above any day any time.
9) Georgia '07 - Because I'm running out of choices
10) Florida '00 - See #9

(And no, I did not forget that LSU won the National Title in '07.)

— Let's get down to business, with media days on us, gimme the picks 1-6 on either side.

will: From a pure talent standpoint, there's no question LSU is the program of this decade (see here for further details), and that '07 LSU squad basically won the title with a giant hole at head coach (think about this when you have a chance: Jamie DuBose coached a team to a state championship, Les Miles coached a team to a NATIONAL championship).
A couple of other teams you left out:
• Arkansas 2006: McFadden & Jones made the leap and allowed Houston Nutt to keep his job one more season.
• Ole Miss 2003: Everyone forgets this now, but that Reb team was stout, and never made it to Atlanta because ... well, LSU was in the way.
• LSU/Auburn 2006: Gave me one of my favorite games this decade. We'll get into that in a minute.

I handicapped the SEC in this space way back in February (after Signing Day) and most everything I wrote still stands: every team in the West looks dangerous, Florida should control the East and that's really about it. Looking ahead, the one team lurking as a true sleeper — at least to me — is Georgia, and only because everyone is writing them off (even though they're perfect Ewing Theory candidates and have a pretty favorable schedule for the first half of the season). And I'm not as sold on Ole Miss as some others: Houston Nutt's teams at Arkansas were always erratic, just as likely to blow a big game at home for stupid reasons as they were to win a massive upset on the road for stupid reasons (something about that man makes everybody into an idiot and I've got 1,000 examples). True, they don't really play anybody until Alabama, so I'm sure we'll be talking about them, at the very least.
Also, even though Vanderbilt should be better this fall, Mississippi St. from '08 says otherwise: you can only scrape by on luck and turnovers for so long.

What do you think?

Other burning questions:
— Which games in the SEC jump out at you from this decade? I've got to explore the studio space with this one, but a few that jump out:
• Auburn-Georgia, 2002. Sorry to open up an old wound, but it's one of those that jumps out.
• LSU-Bama, 2008. Really the toughest test that '08 'Bama team faced all season (until Florida): an insane environment, everything going against them (turnovers, penalties, etc) and they prevailed anyway.
• LSU-Bama, 2007. This game felt like it lasted 2 weeks.
• LSU-Arkansas, 2002. Makes my list ahead of the "Bluegrass Miracle" game from the same season — one Hail Mary on one play is one thing, but two? How is that even possible?
• 'Bama-Tennessee, 2005. The high water mark of the Mike Shula era.
• LSU-Auburn, any season. The best series this decade, ahead of UGA-Florida, ahead of 'Bama-UT or anybody else. The 2006 game stands out above the rest of them, and only because those 2 teams beat each other senseless that day: neither of them was really the same the rest of the season (both of them lost the following week). Great game, great series.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tuesday 'tube: the earmark of an a**-kicking

My man-crush for bamafanzone is growing by the day — today's entry is from Alabama's pounding of Tennessee.
(Note: Be sure to watch all the way to the end to hear postgame wrap-up from coach Saban.)

Back with more tomorrow.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday links, media days edition

There's nothing quite like Media Days in this football-crazed world — arguably the driest and most boring event that somehow we still look forward to with trembling and anticipation because ... well, it means football practice starts soon, and that's basically what we've all been thinking about since A-Day. We at the DP plan to have a full week of blogging in celebration, even with the return of our "Wednesday Conversation" feature and so forth.
My favorite memory of Media Days will always be the first one I attended (2005), when Mike Shula entered the print room at the Hilton and spoke to an infuriated room full of pressmen for 26 consecutive minutes before any of them ever had a chance to ask him a question (they only get 30 minutes in there anyway). It was a thing of beauty, and hopefully something I'll never see again in my life, ever.

Anyway, on with the links.
— First, five questions for SEC Media Days. Like, "What time is lunch?" and "When will we get to actually talk football?"
— The Press-Register has put together an outstanding series on college football recruiting, which began yesterday and continues today. The first edition: copious amounts of money are going into this thing. And second: the vitriol rises to unprecedented heights.
— Gentry also has the story on the possible transfer of a high-profile recruit.
— A history of big-time openers, Alabama-style.
— Ga. Tech and Notre Dame may play in the Georgia Dome, and other things in Tony Barnhart's notebook.
— The O-A has a decent preview of UGA in '09 though Andrew's assessment — "Georgia didn't beat Auburn. Auburn beat Auburn" — isn't entirely accurate: Stafford drove UGA the length of the field in the fourth quarter for the game-winning TD, something Kodi Burns failed to do when it came his turn.
Here: I'll prove it ...

— Two Dr. Saturday posts were outstanding: first, Smart Football de-constructs the Pistol; second, Doc himself checks in with some playoff thoughts.

— Finally, other stuff: Deadspin tells us why Tom Watson's gag at the British might have been a good thing; and Sean Payton sits in for MMQB.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

old-style SEC humor (you'll have to ignore the photos)

Anyone who's heard (or read) my praise of Lewis Grizzard and has no idea who/what in the hell that is should absolutely click on the video below and listen (but not look, because the images have little to do with the audio).

Still some of the best there is.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

last rites, newspaper-style

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at
it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know
not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your
gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment,
that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one
now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen?
Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let
her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must
come; make her laugh at that.
Hamlet, 5.1

Since I found out about Bill Robinson's passing on Monday, a number of fantastic tributes to the man have popped up across the Web, most of them at the O-A News site: here are eloquent columns from his colleagues, Jim Minter, Mitch Sneed and Joe McAdory. Once I'm finished updating the site at, I'll link to my own thoughts, as well Here it is.
In the meantime, the good people at The LaFayette Sun were kind enough to send along Robinson's final column, written just before the man finally shuffled loose this mortal coil (two Shakespeare references in one post = something Robinson would've adored). I don't think they'll mind me re-posting it here, just this once. Definitely check out their site for the local angle on the passing of a newspaper legend.
Editor’s Note: We lost our great friend and colleague Bill Robinson this past week. This final story was written just days before he passed. In it we get one last glimpse of the remarkable skills we have lost with Bill. He was part of our family, and we will miss him immensely.

I am HOME. Back in surroundings so familiar that the big light from the long window brings back memories that breaks your heart.
It was in this very room, some 25 years ago, that I had to inform my mother that my son, Robert, was dead from a gunshot wound to the heart. There were many happy memories of this wonderful room. My mother was a kind and gentle Victorian lady and her surroundings in this room were a mirror of her taste in furniture, clothes, and music.
I am here recuperating from open-heart surgery and many other surgeries. I nearly died four times over, but the good folks down in East Alabama Medical Center helped me through each crisis. So here I am home again. Even the music welcomed me home. The GA public radio is playing a sad song of two hundred years ago by Felis Mendelssohn ...and that is fitting.
I am facing months of rehabilitation, but at least I am on a paved road, finally.
My brother put it succinctly: he said "Bill, you felt the dark wings of death rushing heavily against you, but by the grace of God you made it through and we are happy about that and we are also thankful for it." Carmer Robinson, my brother, came down from his home in Gastonia, North Carolina.
He stayed here for weeks. So did my son, Jason, his wife Angie, and children, my daughters Scarlett, Marianna, Cecila, and Annalise. My sons; Cade, Juan, and Josh were also there beside me. They all loved me and carried me through the darkest hours of my life.
There were many friends who had me on their prayer list; Reverend Bill Jennings from Lebanon Presbyterian Church, my home church that joins Jericho Farm. There too was so many more; Reverend Wayne Barrett visited me many many times. His wife Betty, Keeper of the LaFayette Library, also visited me. Dewey Stephens, of Stroud, and his wife Marylan put my name on the prayer list at the First Baptist Church in Five Points ... and also many more in the community up and down highway 431.
And even in Roanoke, Jose, from the Mexican restaurant and another restaurant almost next door were Chris Sears and his father Tim and a host of others, like Jerry Smith and Bill Montgomery at Stephens Insurance Company and so many many more that I don't have room to name.
And to my "Second Family" down at the Lafayette Sun; Mike Hand: editor and publisher, Lisa Edge: my great friend and great confidant of many years too. And the "princess," Sherry, and Shirley the queen of Amelia Island in Florida. And then there is my great great friend Honor Lee Ellis Jr. who took me to my last hospital a year ago in Anniston for five operations on my eyes. I don't know what I'd do without Honor Ellis. And then there is the great newcomer, Chris Busby, who has done a great job running some of my new stories and some of my old yarns of yesteryear.
There are so many more to remember that if I name them all I will forget someone and that will hurt feelings... and my feelings especially. But hundreds of people came to see me, prayed for me, sent cards and gifts, and their special prayers helped bring me back from crossing the river.
Back in this old room of my mother's, I can't walk, I lay here helpless like a bug on his back on a rug, but I am so thankful to be alive. I am truly thankful to the many friends that have helped me through this crisis, especially my kinfolks. When it comes down to it the only thing important is the collective help of your friends and family because they are the only ones who truly care.
My mother died just a few weeks after Robert in a terrible car wreck in LaGrange, It happened near the old historic post office in Gabbetville, but even Gabbetville has been swept away to make room for KIA manufacturing, but time has changed and that is inevitable. West Point is on the cusp of great change and prosperity, so we must not lament the past. We must move forward with the changes of time.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tuesday 'tube: we'll leave the light on for you

Today's vid: a peek at Corey Grant, a hot recruiting prospect who just happens to be an Opelika native (and thus close to my heart).

Also, according to my mother, "he's a real sweet boy." Grant's status is up in the air — goes the current story, he's tiring of the recruiting process and may commit soon to either 'Bama or Auburn. Be cool to have him on our side in '10, but I wish him the best regardless. 

Monday a.m. links, but p.m.

It's been a tough Monday already for me, so I'll toss out a few links before we move on. As always, feel free to send a thoughtful or insightful link this way, if you've got one.

— Tide Sports has the story of LeRon McClain's journey to the NFL. This is one of those guys from the Shula Era who I always believed deserved better.
— Your odds for the SEC this fall, courtesy Crimson Daddy.
— Proof that some of us can read: RBR reviews "Junction Boys."
— From Memphis, a countdown of bowl trips. All of them. Quite an undertaking.
— Continuing its series of player profiles, BSR looks at Mike Johnson.

— Aub stuff: Luke Brietzke profiles the AU RBs; Montgomery tells us why a lack of early commits doesn't concern the AU staff.
— Francoeur trade reax: Chop Talk has a survey around the landscape; Davey O'Brien says we didn't have to trade him, but ...

— Elsewhere, Barnhart previews the SEC East (let me save you some time: Florida); Chris Cooley sits in for MMQB.

go rest high on that mountain

You probably never heard of Bill Robinson. And that's OK. He's not one of our contemporaries. But he is, for sportswriters like me who probably should've come along in the 1960s (when you could smoke at your desk and newspapers were everything), one of the greats. And he died over the weekend.

And I figured you ought to know.

Here's the story from the O-A.

Bill Robinson, Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports writer, Opelika-Auburn News columnist and NASCAR- writing legend, died Saturday leaving a hole in his wake. A hole filled with stories from friends and fond memories of his witty writing.
Robinson, who covered all manner of sports in his long career, retired in Chambers County and was known to make appearances in the Opelika-Auburn News office.
“He was a true wordsmith. After his retirement, from the Atlanta papers, the Opelika-Auburn News was blessed to have him in our roster of columnists. We’ll miss having him hang around the newsroom and enlighten us with the countless stories and instruction to younger journalists. We’ll miss his columns. But most of all, we will miss the man,” said Jim Rainey, publisher of the Opelika-Auburn News.
A legend in the field, Robinson made a name for himself in both his work and his life.
“Bill was a rare talent and an even rarer person,” said Jim Minter, friend of Robinson and retired AJC editor. “He was a brilliant writer and, you know, he was the one that named Richard Petty ‘King Petty.’”
Minter added, “He was unforgettable. We’re friends and we called ourselves brothers. Probably the kindest person I’ve ever known.”
Lee Walburn, who worked with Robinson in the AJC sports department, also remembered Robinson fondly, saying he was an “original.”
“There’s nothing to compare him to,” he said. “Bill was probably the most gifted writer, probably the most well -read of any of us.”
Walburn said Robinson was an expert on college football, especially Alabama football, and, like Minter, he said the old newsman had a gifted memory.
“An amazing memory where he could just spout facts and little known things about football,” he said.
Walburn also spoke about Robinson’s history with NASCAR. The man is rumored to have named Dale Earnhardt Sr., “The Intimidator” and Richard Petty “King Petty.”
“The drivers adored him and if he happened not to be on the scene they would call him and give him the information,” Walburn said. “He wrote one of the great ledes of all time on a race, we still paraphrase it, we try to quote it, it’s amazing.”
Walburn is referring to a lede in which Robinson wrote that a car won by “running flat out, belly to the ground, chasing a hurrying sundown.”
Walburn said “Billy Bob” or “Robbie” or “whatever we were calling him at the time” was legendary and that he had no respect for starting times.
“It was always a question of if and when he would show up,” he joked.
Walburn said Robinson would live on in the memories of friends and family. “I wrote a column about another friend of mine who died, Skip Caray (legendary announcer for the Atlanta Braves) … When does a person really die? When they put him in the ground, or when they stop telling stories about them? We’ll be telling Bill stories for a long time. In that respect, he will live on.”
Jim Hunter, vice president of corporate communications for NASCAR, was also a close friend of Robinson’s. He remembered him as an old newspaperman with a unique personality.
“When you think about an old time journalist and you think of the person with one of those green visors and garters on the shirt sleeves and the most cynical attitude in the world and a devil-may-care-attitude, then you got Bill Robinson,” Hunter said.
Sunday, Hunter recalled a story about Robinson.
“Minter was always giving ‘Billy Bob’ a hard time for being late, for being tardy. One morning we were supposed to be in the office at 6:30 a.m. It got to 7 a.m., then 7:15 a.m. He came off the elevator rolling a tire. He’d brought the evidence with him. He said ‘I swear guys I had a flat tire. Here it is,’” Hunter recalled.
Hunter added, “People just like Bill. He was fun to go to dinner with, he was a great storyteller. A great guy to have a cold one with. He was just a character. He was a fun-loving, outgoing, unique individual,” he said.
Hunter said he remembers his friend two ways.
“I think of him as that old newspaperman … but I also think of Bill as that old Southern gentleman with a Panama hat, maybe, and white suit or a tan suit, and a white hat … to me that’s Bill Robinson,” he said.
Hunter said Robinson had a way of looking at a story and seeing it differently than everyone else. That he was a gifted writer, a good friend and a gentleman.
But most of all “when you think of Bill Robinson, he was Atlanta Journal sports.”

Back with some Monday links later.

Friday, July 10, 2009

weekend links: beach-bloggin'

Hello from the tranquil shores of Panama City Beach, the end result of an afternoon/evening trip that started out as a simple beach trip and ended up something of a life experience — angry drivers and heavy traffic all over the place. Things are tranquil here on the beach, though only a few feet away they're anything but. Panama City, it seems, will always be Panama City. 

Nevertheless, the DP does owe you guys a few links to end your weekend. As always, we can't go forward without a little from Derek Webb — things have been moving fast there lately, as his new album is apparently actually going to drop (after an apparent controversy over its release). In any case, today's song is not from his new album, but instead a reprise (sort of) from his first solo project: "Lover, Part 2." 

Always a blast. With that, your weekend in links ...
— First things first: after nearly 2 seasons of crossing their fingers and hoping he gets better, the Braves finally found a taker for Jeff Francoeur. Hard to quibble with this one, even if it's not entirely clear Frenchy and his trading partner (Ryan Church) aren't the same player. Regardless, watching Francoeur on a daily basis the last 2 seasons has been a frustrating exercise: he just doesn't seem to have improved one iota as a baseball player since the day he came up with the organization (as opposed to, say, his minor-league buddy Brian McCann, who has evolved into one of the two best hitting catchers in the bigs, as well as the franchise's only All-Star). For more breakdown on that, check out Chop Talk
— Apparently out of cliched college football posts, TBL decided to re-hash The Toughest Coaching Jobs in College Football, one of those gimmicky lists that screams "it's July and nothing else is going on" (see the previous post on this blog, for example). 
Obviously, I have to take umbrage with their assertions about Alabama's fans, if only because they took the word of Bill Curry, a preening schmo who has been playing the victim about his experience at Alabama since he decided he couldn't stand the heat any longer 20 years ago. Apparently, because some drunken idiot allegedly threw a brick at an office window that turned out to be Curry's, that makes this the most insane environment for football fans on the planet. Whatever. 
— RBR has one of its typically awesome posts up from a fan blog: the case for the 1941 team as national champs. It's kind of a waste of time trying to defend the program's tradition against the ignoramuses (ignorami?) who do it just to push our buttons, but a good show nonetheless. 
— One of our own got paid this week: Rashad Johnson and the defending NFC champs agreed to terms. Quite a story, really. While we're here, here's a look at recruiting for 2010. Also, BSR takes a look at the monster that is Terrence Cody
— Steve Spurrier's offense and the NFL: Smart Football has the skinny. And it's predictably fantastic. Deadspin also has a post about the use of the flea flicker
— Because this blog seeks to pacify Peter von Herrmann as often as possible, here's Tony Barnhart's ACC Coastal preview. Here's to the Teckities, and a conference championship game that draws more than 55 people. 
— What fans will haunt your college football season? This link gives you an idea. And since someone has to comment on the recent release of the fall TV schedule, Jerry breaks it down for us all
On that note, a moment of silence for Mike Patrick, a relatively good technical announcer who unfortunately lost a ton of credibility with his audience in one swift moment: 

And yeah, he was probably trying to make a light-hearted joke. He's guilty of poor timing and not giving his co-anchor a chance to join in. Too bad, really. 
— Finally, a bit of bittersweet news: Ian Rapaport, like most good beat reporters, is moving on to other things. I'm sure Nick Saban will miss his snide questions and refusal to take everything the coach says at face value, as much as Rap will miss St. Nick's odd rants at things he didn't actually say or write. 
One thing worth noting for Ian: he's one of the first in-state reporters to put a face on his coverage through his blog, and was perfectly willing to open himself up to criticism (oftentimes very unfair and personal) from readers throughout the whole thing. Saban wouldn't ever say so, obviously, but he'll probably notice when Ian isn't there for the first press conference in a few weeks. 
And thus, good luck and best wishes to I-Rap, one of the best in the business. May God hold you in the palm of His hand. 

Thursday, July 9, 2009

impossible task, like always

A realization hit me recently: this decade is nearly over.

How is that even possible? Weren't we just fretting about the dangers of Y2K a few months ago? Didn't Sept. 11, 2001 happen last week? How did we get here?

Unfortunately, I'm no philosopher, as my latest column will attest. But I am a pretty devoted follower of SEC football, something that tends to manifest itself in really odd ways. Like ... as in, what you're about to read.

It occurred to me the other day that I might be able to jump on the "Team of the Decade" subject in the SEC, at least give my own feeble attempt before more capable bloggers and columnists take over the subject. Obviously, this is a subjective thing, and was a lot closer than I'd originally believed, as you'll see below.

Looking back, the teams of the decade in the SEC appear to read as follows:
1990s: Florida. Conference titles in '91, '93, '94, '95, '96, with two other appearances in the title game AND a national championship. No wonder we all hated Steve Spurrier.
1980s: Auburn. A little less dominant, but still impressive: titles in '83, '87, '88 and '89. And they probably should've won a national title in '83.
1970s/1960s: Alabama. The root of all those "Bammers have unrealistic expectations!" jokes you've heard ever since coach Bryant died in '82: SEC titles in '61, '64, '65, '66, '71, '73, '74, '75, '77, '78 and '79. National titles in '61, '64, '65 (jobbed in '66), '73, '78 and '79. And also they had the greatest coach who ever lived, which counts for something.

(Note: You may be asking yourself, "Why doesn't he go back any further than that?" Answer: because I'm lazy and I want to get on with it. And also, I'm not nearly as much of a college football historian as I'd like to believe. So let's all build a bridge together.)

As far as this decade, we'll work backwards ...
Vanderbilt: 32-73 overall, 13-59 in-conference; one coach (Bobby Johnson); one bowl appearance (last year's Music City), 1-0. Best mark: 2008 — 7-6, 4-4.
Thoughts: Weirdly, the most stable program this decade, as well as the coach who wins the award for "SEC coach who looks most like a movie star" (in this case, Steve Martin). SEC fans like me don't think of Vandy as being so moribund, if only because they're always such a tough out for everybody. But in the end, they seem to be stuck in the role of "jobber": taunt the crowd, land a few moves, get the good guy on the ropes, then miss your finisher and ultimately fall apart. Somehow I don't see that one going away.
Mississippi State: 36-69 overall, 17-55 in-conference; three coaches (Jackie Sherrill, Sly Croom, Dan Mullen); two bowl appearances (2000 and 2007), 2-0. Best mark: 2007 — 8-5, 4-4.
Thoughts: Sometimes you know things are about to change for your program the moment something happens. For the Bullies, it happened in September 2001, when they lost at home to South Carolina on a Thursday night. That loss, coupled with the month that followed — a narrow loss to Auburn, a Homecoming loss to Troy, two nasty poundings against Florida and LSU — took away the customary swagger that had characterized Jackie Sherrill's squads from the late 1990s. State hasn't really been the same since, and even the giant leap they took for the rest of the SEC (hiring Sly Croom) ultimately crashed and burned. Whether Mullen can do anything with it remains to be seen; they're still a pretty scary team, as we've delineated earlier.
Kentucky: 43-64, 17-55; three head coaches (Hal Mumme, Guy Morriss, Rich Brooks); three bowl appearances ('06, '07, '08), 3-0. Best mark: 2006 — 8-5, 4-4.
Thoughts: As an Alabama fan, it's easy to forget how cruel this decade has been to fans of Kentucky football. First, Hal Mumme's out-and-out bizarre coaching philosophies — "we don't really practice the kicking game, you know" — and poor program management steered the ship into an NCAA cliff just as bad as what happened at Alabama (with worse results in the long term). Then the football gods chose to take away what would've been the biggest victory in the program's history (look away, UK fans, look away).

But, like State, UK football turned around in the blink of an eye in 2006, starting with a narrow win over (you got it) the Bullies, then an upset over Georgia. Since then, the 'Cats have evolved into a much tougher program, the sort of team that looks harmless enough until you're down 14 at their place and their (supposedly docile) fans are screaming their heads off. I'm actually looking forward to going up there in October.
(Important note: What would Kentucky be like in a different conference? Wouldn't they win the Big XII North? Or challenge Ohio State in the Big 10? What if they could play in the Big East with their friends from Louisville? I'm telling you, being a Kentucky fan is cruel.)
Ole Miss: 52-53, 29-43; three head coaches (David Cutcliffe, Ed Orgeron, Houston Nutt); four bowl appearances (2000, 2002, 2003, 2008), 3-1. Best mark: 2003 — 10-3, 7-1, share of the SEC West title.
Thoughts: Speaking of cruel, it's Ole Miss! They're averaging one 10-win season per Manning, which (I think) means they'll be right back in that thing whenever Peyton's or Eli's kids get old enough to have an impact. In all seriousness, Ole Miss had one shot this decade at Atlanta, and it was ruined by Nick Saban. That's just the way life works sometimes. Whether Houston Nutt will lead them back to the promised land isn't clear — his teams at Arkansas were erratic, to say the very least. But having him on the sidelines means other teams must take them seriously, something you couldn't say with coach O.
South Carolina: 59-47, 34-38; two head coaches (Lou Holtz, Steve Spurrier); five bowl appearances (2000, '01, '05, '06, '08), 3-2. Best mark: 2001 — 9-3, 5-3.
Thoughts: There's absolutely no sensible explanation for why South Carolina's football program has never achieved greatly. They have all the prerequisites to being great: specifically, a rabid fan base, a tradition-steeped program and a number of rich boosters that can throw crazy amounts of money around to get what they want (read that head coaches' file again). And yet somehow they can't get over the hump. I know the high school football in South Carolina isn't great, but ... sheesh. There's something else going on here, clearly.
(Importante note: South Carolina APPEARED to be right on the precipice in 2007, starting out 6-1 and rising to the national top-10. Then they went and laid a big steaming egg AT HOME against Vanderbilt, and wound up losing out to close the season. You figure it out.)
Arkansas: 62-46, 34-38; two head coaches (Houston Nutt, Bobby Petrino); six bowl appearances ('00, '01, '02, '03, '06, '07), 1-5. Best mark: 2006 — 10-4, 7-1, SEC West champs.
Thoughts: Few teams have had a weirder decade than the Hawgs, who somehow managed to participate in a 7-overtime game (against Ole Miss), a 6-overtime game (against Kentucky), and played multiple games that featured goofy endings (the 2002 LSU game comes to mind). Anytime your team played at Arkansas during the Houston Nutt era, you could count on at least one crazy sequence in which both teams fumbled or it started raining for no reason or — in one case forgotten by everybody except me — one team played 12 players on the game's biggest play and nobody on either side noticed.
(Important note: Everyone touting Houston Nutt's coaching acumen should remember that he was on the verge of being fired before 2006, after consecutive losing seasons, before the McFadden/Jones combo propelled his program back into the stratosphere. So how responsible was he for Arkansas' big turnaround? Hard to say.)
Alabama: 64-47, 38-34; five head coaches (Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione, Mike Price, Mike Shula, Nick Saban); six bowl appearances ('01, '04, '05, '06, '07, '08), 4-2. Best mark: 2008 — 12-2, 8-0, SEC West champs.
Thoughts: You don't want to read any more from me about this roller-coaster decade in Alabama football, but it's worth repeating: in a single decade, Alabama has suffered two losing seasons, two more non-winning seasons, endured a crippling NCAA probation and more leadership changes than your average Methodist church. In that same period Alabama has also seen three separate seasons with double-digit victories.
The good news: for whatever flings we've had with these other guys, we did wind up in bed with the right dude. Even if it took shelling out a ton of cash for a boob job and a completely new wardrobe.
Tennessee: 74-33, 47-25; two head coaches (Phil Fulmer, Lane Kiffin); seven bowl appearances ('00, '01, '02, '03, '04, '06, 07), 3-4. Best mark: 2001 — 10-2, 7-1, SEC East champs.
Thoughts: It's been kind of funny in the aftermath of the Phil Fulmer era listening to Tennessee fans talking themselves into the whole "Fulmer was a lousy coach and we've got the right guy now!" mantra. For whatever warts he has as a person, Fulmer won 10 games four times this decade, and went to the SEC Championship Game three of those seasons. Ultimately his teams never won the big game, however — he maintains an abysmal mark against Florida, and during the season that should've been his legacy (2001) the squad fell flat in Atlanta against a hungry LSU team. Now they're looking up at Alabama and every other team you're about to see on this list (save for one).
Auburn: 78-32, 49-23, 1 SEC title ('04); two head coaches (Tommy Tuberville, Gene Chizik); eight bowl appearances ('00-'07), 5-3. Best mark: 2004 — 13-0, 8-0, SEC Champs, 3d in the final BCS standings.
Thoughts: First things first, just so all my Auburn friends and family will leave me alone: I have no problem with saying that Auburn, 2004 (13-0) is the best team of this decade. Better than Florida last year, better than LSU two years ago. And the Teagles were among the SEC elite from '04-'06 — starting with the 10-9 win over LSU ('04) and ending with the home thrashing to UGA ('06).
Weirdly, however, Tuberville's era was marked by mediocrity outside of that run: the first half of this decade for Auburn was marked by being pretty good, and that's about it. Most famously, the 2003 team looked like a national-title contender, fell flat in its first two games and never recovered.
Now they're helmed by another of the great unknowns (Chizik) and complaining that their old coach didn't recruit. I don't get it, but whatever.
Georgia: 86-22, 53-19, 2 SEC titles ('02, '05); two head coaches (Jim Donna, Mark Richt); nine bowl appearances ('00-present), 7-2. Best mark: 2002 — 12-1, 7-1, SEC Champs, 6th in the final BCS standings.
Thoughts: I lived in Georgia two full years and have a kind of special affection for 'Dawg fans, even if they have a completely unfounded belief that their program's football tradition is as good as Notre Dame, Michigan and Alabama (it isn't even as good as Georgia Tech's in reality). In terms of pure numbers, this has been the best decade in UGA football history — their conference record is the best of the best, and their postseason mark is outstanding.
But it's been frustrating as well: Mark Richt has been soundly outcoached for the most part against Florida (career mark: 2-7) and UGA has watched while Auburn, LSU and the Gators stole their glory at season's end (in a truly torturous twist, UGA finally got over its Florida hump in '04, then was promptly drilled by Auburn). We'll see where it goes — everyone's kind of writing UGA off this season and that may be a mistake: they're still loaded with athletes and may surprise some people this fall.
(Gawd, I hate that cliche).
Florida: 85-26, 53-19, three SEC titles, 2 BCS NCs; three head coaches (Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook, Urban Meyer); nine bowl appearances ('00-present), 4-5. Best mark: 2008 — 13-1, 7-1, SEC Champs, BCS National Champs.
Thoughts: Assuming any Florida fans ever read this blog, they may be outraged they're not #1. I'm penalizing them for the inexcusable Ron Zook era — Florida could've had any coach it wanted after Steve Spurrier left, and somehow settled on that guy.
Beyond that, I can't find too much to nit-pick from Florida's decade — even during the Zook era, the worst they ever finished was 7-4, which a team like Vanderbilt would claim as its best season of the decade.
(Important note: after some deliberation, I decided to rank 2008 as the program's best season this decade only because of the sheer domination offensively, and also because of Tim Tebow. In fact, let's bask in the man's awesomeness once more while we're here.)

LSU: 86-24, 50-22, three SEC titles, 2 BCS NCs; two head coaches (Nick Saban, Les Miles); nine bowl appearances ('00-present), 7-2. Best mark: 2003 — 12-1, 7-1, SEC Champs, BCS National Champs.
Thoughts: For most of the history of the conference, LSU has been considered something of a sleeping giant: everyone knows how much talent is located in Louisiana, and the fear has always been that one day they'd get out of their own way and hire a coach capable of turning that talent into a lethal killing machine. Of course, that's basically what happened when LSU hired Nick Saban: within two seasons, that team was dismantling a pretty good Tennessee team for the SEC title, and two seasons after that was hoisting a crystal football (OK, so they shared it with USC, but you get the idea). Where they're headed the next few years is anybody's guess: Miles is still reeling in the talent, but it's up in the air as to whether he can actually win with his own guys (that '07 team could've coached itself to the national title and basically did). So we'll see.
If nothing else, perhaps Bengal Tiger fans will settle for being the DP's Team of the Decade.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tuesday 'tubing: listen to the voices

One of my new favorite youtube obsessions is bamafanzone, who (or which) turned all 12 wins from the '08 season into breathtaking music videos. 
My favorite (and it will soon be yours) is the LSU game
Listen closely after you press play — the voice you will hear belongs to Nick Saban. 

I don't know about you, but I just did a lap around the house for the 18th time. Gawd ... is it still only July?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

snap back to reality

My name is will, and I'm a mac. Now, officially. 

In any case, I owe everyone on my loyal reader list a real-life update, or at least some kind of excuse as to why you haven't heard from me since ... sheesh, last Tuesday? Really? There's no excuse for that, is there?

Well, if there is, I think this qualifies — I've had a 10-year reunion and Music & Arts Week, an exercise I can't promote highly enough and intend to continue doing so throughout the year. And since MAW takes place in a land time forgot (no cell phone service and only limited Interwebz), there wasn't much chance to blog or anything like that. 

In any case, we're back now, and there should only be a few interruptions between now and the start of football season (Media Days is a mere two weeks away, folks). In fact, just for fun, let's play a football video (h/t: RBR). 

That was fun. And with that, let's take a look at some of the things we missed from this week.
• Obviously, the biggest story around the sports world today is the death of Steve McNair, one of those "holy crap!" moments that life throws us from time to time to remind us of how fleeting this ethereal plain really is. 
The country's best writers are and will continue to put McNair's life and career into perspective, as this excellent post from Dr. Saturday will attest. I'll always remember McNair as the old guy in the pickup game: he never appeared to be moving very fast, nor throwing the ball very hard, and he was always nursing some kind of injury that would sideline the best of us under normal circumstances. But he kept coming, kept coming, wasn't fazed by much of anything ... and he won. And he kept winning. I have no idea what kind of guy he was, but he was a HELL of a football player and he'll always be one of my favorites. 

On to less serious things ...
• A pair of fantastic posts from Smart Football, both of which will make Peter von Herrmann smile: first, a look at Nick Saban's defense; second, the maddeningly simplistic stylings of Paul Johnson. The guy knows his stuff and makes me feel inadequate. 
• Speaking of Saban, you've no doubt heard that he keeps rolling up commits for his recruiting class of 2010, removing all the suspense from the process, in the words of Cecil Hurt. In a sense, this is consistent with the way Saban's teams play football, as well — they work harder and execute better than everybody else, essentially removing all the drama from games, as well. Obviously, even with all that, sometimes you'll still lose ... but not because you didn't do everything you could and cover every angle. 
If you're into recruiting for '10 — and I try not to be, but it's hard — RBR has you covered. Gentry Estes has a good look at the attrition for the program, also
• RBR also tackled another big issue this week: the phenomenon of the second-year improvement. Not surprisingly, the outlier in this study is Houston Nutt, something to think about before you go jumping on the Ole Miss bandwagon
• Things only tangentially related to football: Tower has the story of a potential curse on BDS; 8Box tackled the important subject of which coach you'd hire, fire or destroy; EA Sports has a look at virtual stadiums across the country; and here's a gut-wrenching story that will make you stop hating Tennessee for a minute