And here are two you've probably seen already.
Here's to the beginning of another climb. Roll Tide.
RBR had a nice post about this a few weeks back, and I agree with just about all of it (we're going to lose one, at least — I just haven't decided which one yet).
But it raises the larger issue about Alabama fans and "unrealistic" expectations, a nonsense phrase that took hold over the last decade because of all the coaching turnover (particularly after the firing of Mike Shula). Alabama fans — most of us anyway — aren't stupid enough to believe our guys can win the national title every year. Here are a set of reasonable expectations every Alabama fan has every season:• We expect to win more often than we lose, and our players to exhibit class and discipline on and off the field.
• We expect to contend for the division every season, and play in the conference championship more often than not.
• We expect to beat our rivals (Tennessee, LSU, Auburn) more often than not.
• We expect to be in the national-title conversation every few years.
That pretty much sums up 2010 for me.
My answer is Trent Richardson, if only because I'm anxious to see what Jim McElwain has planned for the Ingram-Richardson package. Will he use them simultaneously, like Al Borges used Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams? And Trent's going to return kicks, too?
In a word: luck. It's no knock on the 2009 squad to say it got lucky, in addition to its ridiculous talent and quality coaching. Any team that finishes 14-0 has to avoid untimely penalties (you realize we went without a holding call for the last month of the season, right? ... Not one); stay mostly healthy; and get every bounce at every opportunity. These things will undoubtedly even out this fall. They just have to. So just get ready for it.
Roll Tide to you all.
Fate of wrestling (and wrestlers) is all too real
A sure sign you’re getting old — you finally have to turn off pro wrestling.
I’ll explain: I grew up a fan of the old National Wrestling Alliance, which eventually became World Championship Wrestling. This was to the dismay of my parents, who always scolded me whenever they caught me watching (interestingly, my wife made the same face when she discovered me watching).
I couldn’t help it. Something about the energy of the crowds, the do-or-die nature of the good-versus-evil matchups … not to mention the personality of the wrestlers themselves. My favorite running storyline was Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat’s ongoing feud with the villainous Ric Flair; the two of them wrestled hour-long matches seemingly every week.
It was a love affair that continued through high school and even college: the New World Order, WCW’s never-ending battle with WWF (E, whatever), Sting descending from the rafters … these are things that resonate with me even now.
Unfortunately, pro wrestling’s dark side now appears to be coming to light. It hit home for me a few years ago, when Chris Benoit — inarguably one of my favorites from his days as a member of the “Four Horseman” — lost his mind one night, murdered his wife and child and then killed himself.
It was such a shocking event, it was beyond reason. Now, several years on the other side of it, the reason seems obvious. Benoit spent so many years wrecking his body with painkillers, performance-enhancers and God knows what else, working through injuries and concussions … and he finally snapped. It was the most horrifying sports story of the year; even worse, nobody seemed to care too much.
Though his was the case that resonated the most with me, Benoit wasn’t the first wrestler to die before his time, and he hasn’t been the last. The story is a familiar one: a wrestler stays in and out of rehabilitation programs, can’t find a second life after wrestling — with Flair and Hulk Hogan the two most high-profile examples — and eventually, his life spirals out of control.
Brian Pillman. Rick Rude. Curt Hennig. Eddie Guerrero. And Benoit, of course.
Drug problems have occurred in every sport — what separates other sports from pro wrestling is an authority structure (not to mention a union) to protect the interest of its athletes. Wrestling doesn’t have that for two reasons. First, because it hides behind the “sports entertainment” (and not pure sports) label, it’s not held to the same standard; second, the powers-that-be in wrestling consider its performers independent contractors, not employees. That, of course, means no drug testing, no health insurance, no retirement. Wrestlers compete, night in and night out, until they absolutely can compete no longer … and then, in many cases, they die.
It’s a much more complicated world than it was when I fell in love with it as a kid. Then again, most everything is.
Jamie: Most replayed plays in no particular order:
1) I'm going to group these 3 plays into one. I still have no idea why this game never got the "did you see that?" notoriety that it deserved. One of the most unforgettable days I have ever spent watching a football game.
2) Related to one of your most forgettable, 1997 Iron Bowl. In case Ed Scissum ever gets this forwarded to him, I will not link the play. I'm sure you have seen it enough anyway.
3) In 1994 four high school kids hopped into an "89 Ford Tempo and set sail for Gaineville, FL (Our 3rd such road trip of the season) with dreams of knocking off #1 Florida. Joyous times were those days.
Most regretable: #1 and not even a close second in my mind:
This game haunts me to this day. I was 10 and could not take the pressure of that final play. I went to the bathroom and turned on all the sinks and shut my ears. When I returned my grandparents (granddad was tide fan) looked at me as if the world had ended. Even at 10, I knew that team was awesomely good, and a loss would be devastating. If Ron Stallworth is one step closer to Tommy Hodson We are watching AU-Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl for the National Title.
Jamie: I keep up with AU guys a good bit. Obviously it's easier to keep up with Jason Campbell or Ronnie Brown than someone like Kendall Simmons.
will: I've actually written about this before, but for the life of me, I can't figure out what is keeping South Carolina from being a contender. South Carolina doesn't have the handcuffs of rigorous academics (like Vanderbilt) or a monstrous basketball program that dominates everything (like Kentucky). Actually they appear to have all the same advantages enjoyed by every other school in the conference: rabid alumni, plenty of cash (Spurrier doesn't work for free) and the designation as the state universities. But they always seem to take a step back every time it seems like they could contend; even the Spurrier thing hasn't worked out for them. So I guess they'd be my pick to be the one who wins the East out of the "bottom 3," although they've shown little sign they can be anything other than "dangerous" most of the time.
will: It's fair to say ESPN has a great deal of influence, only I'm not sure it's entirely their fault. The 24-hour news cycle can be difficult to fill, even in sports. And, much like us as fans, ESPN is a sucker for a good story.
Weirdly, the two biggest problems with ESPN are also its two biggest strengths. To wit:
• Its endless supply of former coaches, former players and longtime writers able to obtain access at every turn. Which is great, until it comes time to criticize. Because all those guys build relationships with the people they cover (obviously, this is how they get the access in the first place) and it invariably clouds their thinking. And God forbid everyone associates an analyst with a certain school (lookin at you, Herbstreit) ... it's hard enough in this business to fight the perception that you're biased.
• Quite simply, ESPN is everywhere. Nationwide (worldwide), they can cover every single story in every single part of the country, almost at a moment's notice. The problem: they don't seem to cover them particularly well. Whenever ESPN writes a story of local interest in the SEC, it has the feel of "drive-by" journalism: they came in, did two interviews, read the local paper and off they went. Didn't take much time to figure out the meat of what's going on ... and why would they? There are other stories in other parts of the country to cover.
Does this influence the country? Somewhat. Fans will believe what they believe, for the most part; anytime they see a story contrary to what they believe, they dismiss it as "media bias." Nonetheless, most of our universities know better than to get on ESPN's bad side.
• How superstitious are you? Do you have any particular pregame traditions? A lucky shirt? A favorite drink? Any place you have to visit?
• Do you have an innovative idea for the playoff system you'd use in your ideal world?
(Note, if you watch this one, ABC's hilariously inept duo of Tim Brandt and Mark ... something. They're genuinely terrible.)
And, of course ...
Opelika rolls past Greenville in al.com Champions Challenge opener
— The biggest story of the week, of course, was the release of the AP poll; like the others, it predictably ranked Alabama No. 1. Of course, the AP poll is kind of a waste, but, as RBR notes, it's good from a historical standpoint. Handling the expectations, obviously, will be a problem.
This also means it's time for the BlogPoll to start. Warblogle.com will undoubtedly have Auburn ranked No. 1 in the universe.
— 'Bama's second scrimmage was focused on "real" situations (more so than the first, anyway) and the numbers showed it. The goal of the season, however, remains to be better on offense.
— Moving away from the field for just a second, a scary story from the basketball world: Mikhail Torrance collapsed yesterday during practice, and remains "critical but stable" at a hospital in Florida. And in another story equally as troubling, former fullback Kevin Turner has been diagnosed with ALS, only a few days after a new study suggesting the disease may be linked to head injuries.
— Miscellaneous 'Bama links: Chris Walsh writes more about the BDS renovations; Kleph visits with the makers of "Gamechanger"; and Man Dance envisions a world in which Alabama loses.
— Smart Football is one of the best sites on the planet for people who enjoy actual football (and aren't blind homers). Here, in this post, they suggest the trend in football right now favors defense.Indeed, what with Nick Saban’s protégés proliferating year-by-year, maybe studying his defenses will tell us what offensive trends to expect. We’re clearly living in Saban’s world — at least for another few weeks.
— Miscellaneous links from around the universe: Gene Chizik makes some interesting comparisons for Cam Newton; Mr. SEC finds the perfect comparison for Les Miles; The State gives us the SEC's key position battles; and Florida coaches and players argue about John Brantley's wheels.
Life in the fast lane is either too fast or not fast enough
While driving to Tuscaloosa this past Sunday to hear my friend preach, I saw what has to be one of the more elaborate speed traps in recorded history.
(Important note: My roommates from college all became Methodist pastors. It didn’t take for me; go figure.)
Around the Mercedes plant (exit 89), I spied a pair of men dressed in black perched on the bridge that passes over the interstate. Initially mistaking them for a) potential suicide risks or b) really bored bird watchers, I realized they were, in fact, state patrolmen, and one of them was armed with a radar gun.
Passers-by didn’t have to waste much time figuring out their purpose — just beyond the bridge sat a cadre of trooper cars. I think I counted three on either side of the highway … and four others had various cars pulled over to the side and were in the process of writing tickets.
Even by my own crude math, that’s an astounding number of troopers poised to stop potential speeders.
Speed seems like a constant battle in today’s world. Each note about the progress of construction on Interstate 20 notes that a speed limit of 45 miles per hour is in effect through the construction zone (the signs say 55, but whatever). And troopers seem to be feasting on the area — drivers can’t go 50 feet without seeing those menacing blue lights, essentially daring drivers to test those limits.
It also seems to be the one topic that makes absolutely no one happy: either people complain that everyone drives too fast, or we complain that no one drives fast enough.
Seriously, attend any city council meeting in St. Clair County (or anywhere, really) with any regularity, and you’re almost guaranteed to hear at least one citizen complaint about speeding in the neighborhood.
Not that I can’t identify: drivers treat the main street in my neighborhood like the Autobahn, and it has three STOP signs, blind curve and multiple homes that house people and their children.
Of course, once officers start actually stopping people and trying to control speed, the level of vitriol goes to still another level. On multiple occasions we’ve had callers to our offices complain about receiving speeding tickets.
“What’s the speed limit on that road?” I asked once.
“35,” the angry person on the other end said.
“And how fast were you going?”
Again, it’s not like I can’t identify: I’ve received traffic tickets twice in my life, and in both cases I was angry enough (and here I paraphrase my mother-in-law) to spit nickels. There was nobody else on the road, man; I wasn’t even going that fast.
But I paid the ticket and tried not to grumble too much. Can’t fault the man for doing his job.
Now starts the season of fans overreacting way too much to stats from one closed scrimmage. ... Examples: On Aug. 9, 2008, JPW threw for 309 yards in a scrimmage. On Aug. 22, 2009, G-Mac hit 295. I think those defenses turned out OK ... n that same '09 scrimmage, Mark Ingram rushed for 19 yards on 8 carries. The leading pass catcher? Brad Smelley ... Don't forget that yardage totals trend higher because every snap counts one-way in a scrimmage. A real game splits it between two teams. ... And it's not just Bama fans. Worst I've personally seen was UT in 06. Fans were freaking over scrimmage INTs by Ainge and wanted Crompton.
This is one thing I do not miss.
• 1998: We might as well start with my own senior year. After missing the playoffs three straight years under coach McCracken, Opelika climbed every mountain in 1999, with early wins over Vigor and Prattville setting the tone to an undefeated run that included wins over Benjamin Russell, Central (our first big win there) and Auburn. We were ranked second in the state going into the playoffs; after surviving in Montgomery vs. Lee (one of the strangest games of all-time), we faced a Tuscaloosa County team (the defending state champs) at home. It was the worst possible matchup: County's size and veer option nullified all our speed advantages on defense; we still had a chance to tie down the stretch, only a pass to a wide-open fullback bounced off his hands and into the hands of a County linebacker, ending the game.
(Hang on, I have to pound my broken finger with a hammer a few minutes. Back in a minute.)
County went on to lose the following week to Vigor — yes, the same Vigor team we'd beaten in Week 1 (OWWWWW!!!!) — and Vestavia (seriously) beat Vigor to win the blue map.
• 1999: With senior Corey Larkins — the best player in the state that year, as well as one of the best high school players I ever saw — the featured player, Opelika actually rose to No. 1 in the nation for a brief time. As an added bonus, a sophomore named Sajason Finley evolved into a star by midseason, giving them the reliable second option they needed. Of course, when Larkins and Finley both suffered season-ending knee injuries, offensive production was limited to basically nil. Opelika eventually lost in the playoffs to Lee — a team that they'd drilled during the regular season (playing at full strength, obviously). With no other dominant teams left in 6A, Lee eventually surprised everybody by going to the state finals, where the Generals lost to Clay-Chalkville in overtime.
• 2000: Coach McCracken's most talented Opelika team featured the following seniors: Lemarcus Rowell, Melvin Oliver, Derrick and Dexter Sistrunk; the following juniors: Finley, Will Herring, Tommy Jackson; and at least blue-chip sophomore: Tez Doolittle. And there were a bevy of other talented players I've forgotten. The team was, frankly, scary good. Only then (in what will eventually become a theme) they faced Daphne in the third round of the playoffs, in the pouring rain (seriously, it was a week after Auburn had just beaten Alabama in the sleet and I was suffering flashbacks). Daphne scored twice, both times capitalizing on bizarre mistakes in the punting game (once Matthew Motley fell down while kicking the ball, another time he dropped the snap). And that was pretty much it — Opelika recorded a safety, couldn't score on the ensuing possession, and lost 14-2. Unbelievable. Daphne lost to Hoover in the state finals.
• 2001: Herring, TJ and Finley closed their careers by again winning the region ... and again losing to Daphne, on its way to winning its first state title. Go ahead and start grinding your teeth.
• 2002: Another undefeated Opelika suffered another first-round exit: this time, they conquered Daphne in Round 2, only to get drilled at home by Prattville in Round 3. Hoover won state again, beating Jeff Davis.
• 2003: Ditto 2002, except this time the third-round foe was Daphne's Pat White. Opelika has, to this point, not lost a regular-season game in more than two seasons, and has nothing to show for it.
(Note: It is unclear if, during this period, they could've won anything had they actually reached Birmingham. Hoover was in the midst of its reign of dominance at this point: five state titles in six years, barely challenged along the way. Of course, since they never played us, I say they were never that good. So there.)
• 2005: The 2004 Opelika team had an off-year, but that didn't mean the community didn't have a team to rally behind: the OHS basketball squad rose to as high as No. 2 in the state ... only to meet the top-ranked team (Jeff Davis) in the first round of the regionals. Thank you and please drive through.
• 2005: I never saw the '05 football squad up close, but I knew they were something special when Dad told me they could be the best team in Opelika history. It was the team that finally shed the "can't get outta the third round" curse, going to Prattville and pulling a massive upset, 17-15. That meant the only thing standing between us and the long-awaited Birmingham berth was ... Daphne. Yeah.
Except we were winning the damn thing 21-17 with 48 seconds left, and Daphne needed to go 80 yards to beat us ... and somehow they did. Incredible. Not so coincidentally, the Trojans failed to show up the following week in Birmingham, losing to Hoover by a score of something like 674-3 (note: the actual score was 56-14).
• 2006: Rinse, lather, repeat — the 'Dawgs this time made it back to the semifinals, only to lose a hard-fought game to Prattville (who upset Hoover for the title the following week).
That pretty much was the end of the run: coach McCracken coached two more seasons, losing in the second round both times (to, yes, Daphne and Prattville). Of course, that didn't mean one other sport couldn't give us one more heartbreak ...
• 2008: Opelika's baseball team drops only one game all season and breezes to the state finals vs. Hoover, in Montgomery. The two teams split the first two games (in a best-of-3), and Opelika was winning the damned game 6-2 going into the final inning, only to see Hoover (of all teams, Hoover!) rally for five runs in the last frame for a 7-6 win. I can't find the reports from that weekend, and frankly I don't want to. I don't think I ever felt worse for a group of kids than I did for Opelika's after that game (and I don't know any of them).
Televised nonsense actually causes health problems
As a young person, I was often kicked out of my own house.
This, I suppose, doesn’t make me much different from most people my age. The natural inclination for any child — and some adults, sadly — is to spend their free time doing as little as possible. In our case, this meant staying seated in air-conditioned rooms watching as much television as possible.
Of course, my mother would have none of it.
“Outside,” she said.
“But-but-but … the Ninja Turtles!” I’d whimper helplessly.
“You can watch them later,” she’d say. “Too much TV will rot your brain.”
(Note: Most of the time she sent us outside with little to no agenda, which, for boys in their formative years, usually ended with someone bleeding. I’m not sure if this was any more or less edifying than the Ninja Turtles.)
It took a while, but I finally figured out what Mom meant when she said “rot your brain.” I thought it was a figurative term. At least until I watched “Jersey Shore.”
In a world in which “reality” TV — code for, “we shoot this with natural lighting, so it’s supposed to look like you’re watching people live their normal lives, even though it’s perfectly obvious to everyone they know they’re on camera and are acting accordingly” — has taken our lives, no show is more unfortunately popular than “Jersey Shore.” If you haven’t seen it, premise of the show (apparently) is to follow around a group of the most loathsome people on the planet (only one of which is actually from New Jersey) while they chemically alter themselves and find new ways to swear and pick fights with random strangers.
That’s it. That’s the whole show. Basically, it’s exactly like “Lost,” only the complete opposite.
Five minutes into the premiere of the new season — no kidding, they’re in the second season and have plans for a third — I could actually feel parts of my brain rotting. I had to change the channel and call a doctor.
It’s not like “Jersey Shore” is breaking new ground here. With each passing year, popular television continues to glorify idiots (“The Hills”), serial dating (“The Bachelor”) and complete and utter lunatics (“The Real World”). In a weird way, reality TV has created a bizarre sub-culture (emphasis on “sub,” as in “sub-human”) in which people actually want to compete for the chance to have their every move followed by a camera crew.
Do the people auditioning for these shows not realize the joke is on them? Really?
What’s really strange is that these shows are flourishing in a time when some of the most cerebral shows ever created are also booming. The hopelessly complicated “Lost” enjoyed one of the most successful runs in history, and shows like “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” and “The Wire” managed to generate strong fan bases with plots that advanced well beyond “Gym, Tan, Laundry.”
It’s a puzzling dichotomy. And unfortunately, I don’t have an answer; I was pondering the question when my wife broke in.
“Aren’t you going outside today?”
Oh, yeah. Sure.
Alabama's players meet the media on Fan Day
Art of celebration can be a dangerous one
When I played football in high school, one of our great nemeses was Montgomery’s Robert E. Lee High School.
A tradition-rich program (eight state championships in all), Lee was the constant thorn in the side of Opelika; three different times, Opelika advanced into the playoffs, only to be foiled by the Generals.
So a huge celebration was already swelling the night we finally broke through and beat Lee. We were leading 17-14, when a sack by our defense appeared to drain all the time off the clock.
Students rushed the field, along with players. Water buckets started pouring. It was a night to remember.
Only then it wasn’t — there had been a fumble on the play, and the clock stopped with a few seconds left for a change of possession. Officials herded everyone off the field for one more snap.
The final score didn’t change, but one weird result did occur: in the resulting confusion, our basketball coach fell and tore up his knee. The resulting surgery and rehab forced him to limp through most of the rest of the season.
I found myself thinking about that recently, after reading that Chris Coghlan, a rookie with the Florida Marlins, tore ligaments in his knee during an attempt to blast teammate Wes Helms in the face with a shaving-cream pie after Helms’ game-winning hit vs. the Atlanta Braves.
Interestingly, Coghlan’s injury isn’t even the weirdest thing to happen during the celebration of a big baseball victory. That honor would go to the Angels’ Kendry Morales, who broke his left leg after an overly dramatic leap into home plate following a game-winning homer. Read that last sentence again.
Of course, there’s no discussion related to over-exuberance in sports celebration without the Gramatica brothers, NFL field goal kickers who celebrated every made kick like V.E. Day. Most famously, middle brother Bill, then with the Arizona Cardinals, once injured his knee celebrating a made kick … in the first quarter, in a game that absolutely zero playoff implications. Could the trainers even look at him afterwards?
Really, when observing the violent nature of so many sports celebrations, it’s amazing more people don’t disfigure themselves permanently. After blocking a Daniel Lincoln field goal to save a 12-10 win over Tennessee last October, Alabama’s 350-pound tackle Terrence Cody (in order) tossed his helmet, ran approximately 50 yards at a sprint (dangerous for a guy that size) and leapt in the air to execute a chest bump with someone not even half his size. Somehow he crashed back to earth, none the worse for wear.
I’d like to say I know better, but then again, I don’t. Once after returning an interception for a touchdown I violently chest bumped a teammate, knocking him down and stepping on his hand in the process.
Not so bad, right? It was a flag football game.
“Maybe you tone it down next time,” my then-girlfriend (now my wife) said.
If there is a next time, sure.
1) 04 Auburn vs 09 Alabama: Hell that's easy, '09 Auburn almost beat '09 Bama...no contest.
2) I think most AU fans would agree with me in that I am proud of what Tommy Tuberville did here winning most of his games, all the while having one of the cleanest 10 year runs I can remember in terms of off the field issues. Tommy did some things that made me ill (referring to early season losses as "pre-season", wearing fear the thumb t-shirts and counting all shared western division titles as...western division titles). All in all however, I will look at his years here as a time to be proud of our program. As for the Richt comparison, ask me 3 years ago, I'll take Richt's success. Right now, I would rather be Vanderbilt than to be associated with the thugery that is UGA football. Give me Tommy's 10 years please.
... Back to the first question for a serious answer.
I have said this before but after we went to Knoxville in 2004, I knew we would beat every team left on the schedule only question in by how
much. 10 out of 10 games between the two teams I would have to say that 5-5 is likely for both teams. Earth shattering answer, I know. breaking down the two schedules Bama gets points for beating the best 2 teams on either schedule. AU gets points for winning only two games by less than 10 pts (LSU and VT) Bama had three wins by less than 10 but all 3 were against teams which ended the season with at least 5 losses. O vs D: AU was explosive on offense with a very underrated defense (#1 scoring defense in the country) while Bama had the nations best defense along with a an offense that was very good most of the time. If there is one advantage AU would have, it is that I believe AU's offense vs Bama's defense would be close to a wash while I would give AU's defense a slight edge on Bama's offense. Give me a homer pick of AU - 21 UA - 20 and I'll go home.
Jamie: If you could pick 1 SEC QB in the last 10 years to be the next starter at Alabama, who would it be and why?will: Weird answer: Jamarcus Russell. I know, I know ... he's failed miserably as a professional, and for the life of me I cannot figure out why. Quite simply, I never saw anyone do the things he did from the quarterback position.
Considering he (apparently) did all those things with little to no practice or training, I can't imagine what kind of player he'd have made with some coaching.
Jamie: Out of every game you have ever seen Alabama play. What single play do you replay in your head the most?will: A difficult question. The one I've probably replayed the most in my head is a play that actually didn't count: George Teague running down Lamar Thomas in the 1993 Sugar Bowl.
I say "didn't count" because 'Bama was offisdes on the play. In retrospect, though, to have that play happen in that game, to that player (Thomas had been running his yap all week) ... was just too perfect. Nobody would bother writing that story, because no one would believe it.
Jamie: On the same note, what one play would you go back and change the outcome of?will: Tough to call: it's much easier to recall the painful memories than the positive ones. I've narrowed it down to these 3:• 1995: Curtis Brown's "Catch" vs. Auburn. One of the only memorable plays in the history of this rivalry that is nowhere to be found on youtube, or anywhere on the Web (as far as I can tell).
• 1997: Ed Scissum's fumble vs. Auburn. I will link to it but not show it, for reasons related to my father's mental health. Arguably the cruelest stomach punch I ever endured during my time as a fan.
• 2005: Tyrone Prothro's broken leg vs. Florida. This one is especially painful because it ruined a) the 2005 season; b) the career of a promising underdog football player; c) the reputation of the university's medical staff (because they botched the whole thing beyond repair). I could barely watch at the time, and I certainly can't look at it now.
will: My follow-ups:
• Aw hell, your two questions are so good, let's flip them around from the Auburn side: your most-replayed plays? Most regrettable plays?
• How much do you pay attention to Auburn guys at the next level?