Friday, April 29, 2011

thoughts in the aftermath (this time, really)

Editor's note: What you are about to read is a collection of thoughts from a news reporter who's been attempting to report the events of the last few days in between crying fits. A number of better columnists are already attempting to put this thing into proper perspective better than I. Just seemed like this site should do something.

As a news reporter, one of the things you never know is when you'll be part of a story much larger than yourself or your own community. When the ringing phone woke me at 6 a.m. Wednesday — she was at the hospital working — to tell me the sirens were going off, my main concern was ... making sure the dogs didn't wail. Bad weather scares them, you see.
Here's the thing: If you live here, you hear the tornado sirens maybe 45-50 times per year. Our adopted hometown of Leeds lies in three different counties — Jefferson, Shelby and St. Clair — and we hear weather warnings for all three (so storms in Montevallo wake us up just the same as if they were right on top of us). Eventually you learn to regard them as more of an irritation than anything else.
So that's the spirit that woke me up Wednesday — "This again?"

By the end of the day you start looking around and realize the magnitude of what's happened ... and realize the scope of the story. Every year, a few tornadoes touch down in a few areas; sometimes people sustain injuries, sometimes a person or two is killed. But it's almost always a local story; media outlets outside the immediate area where the storm occurs pay brief attention to it and then move on.
Not this time. As I was going to bed Wednesday, it was settling in: This is a national story. Statewide media will lead every newscast with it; national media outlets will put it in the same block as the President's birth certificate and the royal wedding. As a reporter, it's humbling — yesterday as we were coordinating coverage that is now on our website, it was hard not to think, "You're not good enough to write this story."
It happens that quickly.

We live in a society of hyperbole. It's just what we do. He's the worst president ever; this is the greatest game ever; that song is the greatest song ever. So late Wednesday, when people started calling this, "The worst storm in Alabama history," my sense was to downplay that. Bigger than Opal? Than Ivan? C'mon, man.
Only then the reports start to roll in: Franklin County ... Tuscaloosa ... Pleasant Grove ... Pratt City ... St. Clair County ... Dekalb ...
For once, the hyperbole doesn't match what actually happened.

One other thing: I Tweeted late last night about my fear that this storm will become "The Tuscaloosa Tornado," much like the way Katrina became associated with New Orleans (when it hit Mississippi just as hard), or 9/11 is associated with New York (even though the attack was also in Washington and a plane crash-landed in Pennsylvania).
Look, I love Tuscaloosa, probably as much as anyone. My buddy Peter and I used to eat at that Milo's every Tuesday; by the time we graduated it was actually a weekly appointment. No one wants to help Tuscaloosa more than I do.
It's just that too many areas need help at the moment. There's a swath literally all the way across the state in need of prayer, donations and time.
So yeah, pray for Tuscaloosa. Pray for the whole state. We're hurting today.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

apropos of nothing: A Harry Potter rant

I realize that if you're clicking past this blog, it's probably because you were searching for something sports-related, either some post about the impending disaster at quarterback in Tuscaloosa, or possibly a rant about Fredi Gonzalez's F-minus performance as manager in Atlanta, or maybe even something about the NBA playoffs (note: probably not the last one).

But all that can wait another day. For a moment I'd like to talk about Harry Potter.
(Note: There are many, many spoilers contained in this post. If you haven't read or seen any of the "Harry Potter" franchise, I really envy you I advise you to move on to something else. You're welcome.)

While watching the first installment of "The Deathly Hallows" OnDemand last week (the second time overall I have watched the movie), I realized something rather important; that something important has led me to this blog post: simply, the franchise doesn't make any bloody sense.
Now, before we go any further, it should be noted that I'm nitpicking a) a multi-million dollar franchise someone created completely out of her head; b) a mythical universe in which a large sub-culture of the population has the ability to conjure and perform magical spells with sticks made out of wood.

Having said all that, there are still three very large problems I have with the final chapter in the story (and, by extension, the series as a whole):
Serious staffing issues. In the opening portion of "The Deathly Hallows, Part I" — "Harry Potter Goes Camping," in the words of my buddy Bart — Alastor "Mad Eye" Moody comes up with the following brilliant idea for Harry's protection: Have multiple people drink Polyjuice Potion to make them all look exactly like Harry, then have them all go off in different directions so that, when the bad guys show up, they'll be hopelessly confused (and less likely to kill the real Harry in their attack).
It's a fine plan, with one really massive flaw ... Mad-Eye sends each Fake Harry out with exactly one (that's right: ONE) protector. Worse than that, each of the "protectors" is occupied trying to pilot a vessel — broom, flying motorcycle, whatever — while simultaneously fighting the Death Eaters. Yes, I get that they were betrayed by someone, and that they were supposed to be going for stealth (or something) ... but, I mean, who would it have hurt to have a few extra bodyguards? Or a few extra Aurors? Or the Royal Freaking Air Force? Yeah, I said it — let's see Bellatrix Lestrange deal with an F-18, bro.
It's not just the good guys who have the problem — later in the movie, two (TWO!!!) Death Eaters come upon Harry, Hermione and Ron in a coffee shop ... and are immediately incapacitated. Why exactly were those two there alone? When they realized who they had, why didn't they call for backup? Or their impervious Dark Lord? Or anything?
This, of course, leads me to Problem No. 2 ...
No one seems to believe in The World's Greatest Living Wizard, including him. One of the great jokes about the popular television series "24" is that, at a certain point, it became absurd the way the other characters refused to believe in Jack Bauer. How many unfolding terrorist plots did the guy have to singlehandedly foil before the nation collectively said, "Yeah, OK, fine — we believe him."
The same is true for Harry with each new chapter in the series. In "The Deathly Hallows," he and Hermione and Ron spend roughly 2 hours running from bad guys in the air, in the woods, in the woods some more, and so forth and so on. But why, exactly? Every time Harry actually stops to fight someone, not only does he survive, he wins and wins easily. He repels Lord Voldemort in an air duel at the beginning of the movie, easily knocks out the 2 tools who attack them in a coffee shop, then effortlessly whips Draco and steals his wand at the end of the movie.
And this isn't a new development. Starting with the second movie — when Snape and Gilderoy Lockhart first teach them how to duel — Harry pretty much kicks every ass in sight. In the third movie he casts an awesome Patronus; in Book 4, he fights off Lord Voldemort seconds after the guy returns from the dead; in the fifth, he hammers a whole crew of Death Eaters (only lowering his wand when his useless friends get captured); and in Book 6, he destroys Draco Malfoy so badly the kid is bleeding from every orifice (Harry cast the spell without knowing what it would do, but so what?).
So here's the question: At some point, Harry has to realize he can pop these guys in the mouth, right? So why all the cloak and dagger? If I were him, I'd be calling out Voldemort at every turn like Macho Man.

I'm sure Harry knows a spray-painting spell.

OK fine, maybe Harry can't fight off the world all the time, and maybe it's not fair to bring up the staffing issues. These are secondary issues compared to Problem No. 3 ...
Dumbledore knows everything and doesn't tell anybody. Again, some pretty serious spoilers are about to be laid down here. I'll give you a moment if you've read this far and need to excuse yourself.
You do remember how "The Deathly Hallows" ends, right? Harry realizes he has to die to truly kill off the last of Voldemort's Horcruxes, submits himself to The Dark Lord — who, mind you, he's beaten at every opportunity — takes a killing curse in the face and "dies" ... only to travel to some place like Purgatory, where he sees Dumbledore (who died in Book 6). At that point, Dumbledore decides to tell Harry everything: about how he was the final Horcrux (and by dying, he destroyed the last one); about The Deathly Hallows and how Dumbledore himself had chased them as a younger man; about the Elder Wand, and the connection between Harry and Voldemort ... you get the idea.
Which, of course, leads to the operative question: Wouldn't this information have been useful before now?
Dumbledore pulls this move, repeatedly, throughout the entire freaking series. In Book 1, Harry and his buddies risk life and limb to stop a possessed professor from stealing a Resurrection Stone ... only to find out Dumbledore hid it in a mirror; in the second, it's implied Dumbledore knew it was Tom Riddle opening the Chamber of Secrets years earlier, yet didn't do anything about it; in Book 3, Dumbledore knows all about Sirius Black's innocence, but relies on Harry to set him free and doesn't even bother clearing his name; in Book 4, Dumbledore knows Harry's being set up but says he can't "violate the rules" of the Goblet of Fire; in Book 5, he knows exactly what Voldemort is up to (breaking into Harry's thoughts and giving him false visions to lure him out of hiding) and does nothing until the very end; and in Book 6, he reveals that he not only knows all about the Horcruxes, he already destroyed one (and knows Harry destroyed another) ... but only after he's made Harry go through the rather debilitating exercise of robbing Professor Slughorn of his memories.
To me, that's the gaping hole in the center of the entire "Harry Potter" series: if Dumbledore knew everything the entire time, why didn't he freaking do something about it? What would have been in the harm if he'd written a letter that said, "Harry, I actually kind of killed myself trying to destroy that one Horcrux; my bad. You're going to have to give yourself up after you destroy the others. Oh, and by the way, whatever you hear about Snape, I promise he's on our side. OK?"
There's no way things could be this complicated, right?

shameless promotion (2.0): April 21, 2011 (note: column did not actually run)

Editor's note: In the ongoing effort of this blog to fire the hell out of Will Heath promote its primary author's failing career as a writer, we present to you this week's unbelievably pretentious column from the St. Clair Times. Please note: This week's column did not actually run due to an editor who had good sense spatial limitations. It is, in this sense, a blog exclusive. As always, feel free to comment here or on Twitter. We thank you in advance for feigning interest.
On Barabbas and the freedom of Easter

Scroll through the story of Jesus’ passion, conviction, torture and death, and you’ll run across any number of extraneous characters.

There’s the servant of the high priest, whose ear is severed; the disciple whose cloak is ripped off (and who subsequently runs away); Simon of Cyrene; Joseph of Arimathea; and on and on.

And then there’s Barabbas, the man literally set free from a justifiable death sentence.
You’ll remember the scene, I’m certain, if you’re at all familiar with any of the four Gospels: Pontius Pilate, a Roman prefect, preparing his customary prisoner release for the Passover. The Gospels portray Pilate as highly suspicious of Jesus’ accusers, at one point even asking Him to defend Himself (which Jesus declines to do at any point). But Pilate has one more ace in the hole: He can release Jesus, per his custom, and thus avoid executing an innocent man.

Only the crowd, to Pilate’s consternation, calls out for … Barabbas.

Little is said about the man. His name literally means “Son of the Father,” with “Abba” (no, not that Abba) being the term Jesus most often employs to address God (it’s a personal form of the word, like “Daddy”). Some early Greek texts even refer to him as Jesus Barabbas.

He was either a bandit or a murderous insurrectionist, depending on which Gospel you read (Matthew calls him “a notorious prisoner”). Regardless, the narratives are clear: Barabbas was imprisoned with justification, and standing next to him was a man in whom no one could find any wrong.

In Mel Gibson’s passion play from 2004, the man playing Barabbas looks an awful lot like a character from “Braveheart,” a wild man with violent tendencies. As he stands next to Pilate, and the crowd calls out for his release, he is alternately thrilled and confused. There’s a moment — just a moment — where he starts to walk away after his release, then turns back to face Jesus.

“What is going on?” he appears to think. But then he dashes off and is never seen again.
Every year I hear the same story and really feel a touch of anger. Even if authorities believed Jesus a threat to the power structure, or a false prophet, what justice system on Earth would free a murderer to satisfy petty jealousy? How could they possibly sleep at night with that knowledge?

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized what was taking place. Because really, I’m Barabbas, like the rest of us. And that’s us standing there next to Jesus, confused about why we’re going free, while Someone Else goes to die instead.

There’s nothing that says what happened to the “Son of the Father” after he was turned loose. Some traditions hold that he followed Jesus to the cross; others that he died in a rebellion against Rome some time after.

I like to think he went home and some shocked relative asked him how he’d escaped.

“Actually … Somebody took my place.”

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Thursday cinema madness: Passion Play

Continuing with our theme of insane people in Hollywood making insane movies, here's something that appears to make sense only to someone on drugs.

Yeah. Really.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday tube: Virtual Reality

Since we're stuck until sometime in August when practice starts up again, here's the trailer for NCAA 2012, already broken down in glorious detail by Holly at EDSBS.

Pretty cool, particularly since our own will grace this year's cover.
Thanks for stopping by. Roll Tide.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A-Day thoughts: A different world

Not to sound like Cate Blanchett at the beginning of "The Lord of the Rings," but the world is changed.

On Saturday, I was strolling around campus holding hands with my friend Peter's 2-year-old daughter, surrounded by roughly 90,000 people, the point was driven home. The University barely resembles the place I knew when I graduated.
It's not like I didn't know this already: Right after we graduated, the powers that be immediately set about the task of making campus a much more attractive, safer place, building and renovating buildings all over the place, limiting driving on campus and generally upgrading everything. Much like old New Yorkers, I spent much of the past decade sneering at the campus every time I visited — we all liked it the way it was, even if it was kind of terrible.

Anyway, all that to say that I have little to no memory of A-Day as a student. I remember that it existed and I'm almost certain I went a few times, but it was kind of an underground thing that only the diehards really knew about. In fact, here are the memories of A-Day that immediately come to mind:
• 1998, when I was still in high school (I won a credential to A-Day in a high school sportswriting competition) and A-Day took place in front of a crowd of about 500 because of a driving rainstorm.
• 2003, Mike Price's only game as head coach at Alabama (press box again). For reasons I cannot recall, Price loaded up all his first-team guys on the same squad; since the Tide was paper-thin because of NCAA-related attrition, the first team won 43-0. Things kind of went to hell for him after that.
That's really it. Every other year, as my friend Amanda ably pointed out, A-Day almost always took place around Easter and/or Spring Break. We were all out of town. And besides, it wasn't like it was that big a deal.
But the world is changed.

I'll say this for the A-Day experience: Since Nick Saban came to town and 'Bama fans went berserk back in the spring of 2008 — and decided they were proud of how many of them showed up for a spring game — it is one of the better experiences for a casual fan. Without all the tension that comes with a game against an actual opponent, fans can feel free to walk around and see parts of the campus they normally can't. For fans with young children, A-Day is perfect: free admission, much less chance of a fight or someone screaming violent expletives, and all the side attractions geared toward kids with no attention span.
And the impact of the A-Day crowd on a recruit can't be understated: They're looking around the stadium, seeing people dressed up, hearing the marching band play, and thinking, "This is just a (expletive) practice game." Yup.

Other thoughts:
— Obviously the actual game told us very little. Specifically, neither of this fall's prospective quarterbacks did much to distinguish himself from the other. As RBR correctly notes, the 2011 Crimson Tide offense will live or die primarily on the back of Trent Richardson, with some Marquis Maze and others sprinkled in for good measure.
As for the defense, this Alabama team looks loaded and experienced in the back end, with Upshaw, Hightower, Mosley, Nico Johnson, Jerrell Harris, Mark Barron, Robert Lester ... and so on. If I were Nick Saban I wouldn't be able to sleep nights thinking of ways to get all these guys involved.
— I know I'm supposed to have an opinion about the Nick Saban statue. But ... I ... I just can't.
(One sad note: When we finally did get around to seeing the Saban statue up close, I thought to myself, "This is one of those moments we need Matt Miller. Matt Miller would know what to say about all this.")
— It looked like Maze fell pretty hard on his shoulder in the second half on a deep ball. The initial report coming out of the game was a mild concussion, which shows what I know.
— Look, it's perfectly fine if fans want to drive down to Tuscaloosa for A-Day and tailgate like it's a real game. Lord knows, that's what Stacey and I did Saturday. But is it necessary to dress for it like it's a real game? To wear, say, your decorative leather helmet? Or your ridiculous shoulder pad/Zorro mask combination outfit that looks ridiculous even during the regular season? Or the sun dresses that cannot possibly be comfortable even when it's 95 degrees? That whole practice confuses me.
(While we're here, one more bizarre Greek related note: Multiple Old Row fraternities were throwing parties in their front yards, which they had surround with opaque black material. Apparently not only were the rest of us not invited; we weren't even supposed to look.)
— Just a note before we go: Alabama right now is competing at a championship level in nearly every sport. Its gymnastics team just won another national championship; the men's basketball just won its division (and probably should've won the NIT, for whatever that's worth); the baseball team is right in the thick of things in the SEC; the softball team is ranked near the top nationally yet again. And, of course, coach Saban's football program has won 36 games, 2 division championships, an SEC championship and a national championship in three seasons.
Like I've said before, for a moment we should at least look around. It's a great time to be a 'Bama fan.
(Much better than when I was in school, I should say.)
Roll Tide.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Andy: I swallowed my gum

Today's edition of "Friday Andy" is one of my favorite scenes: Barney capturing an escaped convict ... by accident.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thursday cinema madness: The Perfect Host

If we know nothing else about Hollywood, we know a lot of insane people are making insane movies about insane topics. This week's best example: "The Perfect Host," which appears to be about a dinner party that's way better than any I've ever thrown.

And yes, that is David Hyde Pierce — Niles Crane from "Frazier" — as the insane, possibly hallucinating host. Which is fun.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

another random thought: on SEC coaches & the next ...

One of the best things about summer: It becomes necessary to cut grass again. And for reasons I can't explain, that's when I come up with a number of my favorite blog entries.
(Note: I say "my favorite blog entries" instead of "my best" because that's absolutely a matter for subjective debate. I know which ones I think are the best. And I can tell which ones received the most hits, although that doesn't mean the two are necessarily the same. None of this has any relation to anything.)

In any case, it occurred to me the other day that, ever since the retirement and subsequent death of coach Bryant at Alabama, various coaches in the SEC have been tabbed as a successor to Bryant. It wasn't always about wins, as you'll note in a moment, and it wasn't always in Tuscaloosa that this occurred.
I don't need to sell you on Bryant's merits as the Greatest Coach Who Ever Lived: his career 323 wins over 37 seasons (a .780 percentage), 15 conference titles and six national titles should probably do the trick. Considering that spans several markedly different eras — the integration of more offense and the integration of black people, to be specific — it's pretty much an untouchable mark.
Moreover, Bryant was the G.O.A.T. in a time before media proliferation and the current back-stabbing climate that exists in college football. He was a legend when legends were allowed to be legends. And living his life the way he did — leaving at the absolute zenith of his powers, then dying a few weeks later — meant neither he nor anyone else got the chance to soil his legacy. It's doubtful we'll ever see anyone quite like that again.

But that hasn't stopped us from trying. In fact, since he died in 1983, we've been attempting to pass the title of "Bryant's successor" to a steady stream of different coaches. Please feel free to comment on this, as I'm sure I'm missing something here or there.

Pat Dye. Yes, I know. You're tired of Dye at this point — between the way he's embarrassed himself repeatedly on Paul Finebaum's radio program (and for some reason is always available to do so) and his incessant need to interject himself into everything going on at Auburn on a weekly basis, Dye's made himself into a punchline these days.
What that has made us all forget, unfortunately, is how brightly Dye's star was burning in the late 1980s at Auburn.

That Auburn program was about as low as it could've been when Dye took it over after the days of Doug Barfield (a guy who mysteriously re-appeared as the head coach at Opelika High School in the 1990s, where my dad delighted in calling him "Barf Dougfield"). After wresting the state conch away from Bryant in '82 (the famous "Bo Over the Top" game), Dye went on to win four conference titles over the next seven seasons (and probably should've won the '83 national title). I actually wrote a column which I can no longer find, that said Dye's Auburn program in the '80s measured favorably against Steve Spurrier's dominant Florida program in the 1990s. With a conference championship game like Spurrier had in the '90s, Dye would probably be remembered differently.
And you forget this now, but Dye was widely compared to Bryant from a personality standpoint, as well. A former assistant of Bryant's at 'Bama in the 60s and 70s, Dye made Auburn the toughest, meanest football team around (it was particularly painful to watch Dye's much more physical Auburn team manhandle Bill Curry's "soft" Tide teams from '87-'89). In Geoffrey Norman's book "Alabama Showdown," set around the 1985 Iron Bowl, the author quotes multiple fans who discuss Dye as the successor to Bryant's mantle, even saying he sounds and looks like Bryant.
What stopped him? Well, for one thing, he never went unbeaten at Auburn — even in his best years, something tripped the Tigers up. And then the NCAA wolves came back, in the form of Eric Ramsey allegations and such. A sick and very tired Dye didn't seem to have the energy to fight back, ultimately resigning the night before the 1992 Iron Bowl, in the midst of his second straight losing season.
Of course, by then, everyone had given his mantle as Bryant's successor over to ...

Gene Stallings. Like Dye, a former Bryant assistant. In Stallings' case, just about everyone agreed at some point or another that the coach should have been the man who got the call after coach Bryant stepped down in '82. Legend has it The Man wanted it that way. Nobody really knows for sure, and to be honest it doesn't really matter anymore.
In any case, Stallings quickly made everybody at Alabama forget what happened under his predecessor: in addition to being a Bryant guy, Stallings was also a football traditionalist. He'd scowl and say things people could barely understand, then his teams would go out and crack skulls. Go back and watch a tape of a Stallings defense ... if you can take it. They whooped people.
Culturally, it was the kind of football Alabama fans wanted their teams to play. And it was successful: 70 wins in 7 seasons, four division championships, an SEC championship and a national championship.

We'll pretty much do anything to re-live that game around here.

It might be fair to argue that Stallings was the last vestige of "the old way" of winning football: score 17 points and we'll beat most everybody.
Two things hurt that era: first, Alabama was by all accounts one of the most boring good teams to watch in the nation; only a football purist could find beauty in a 17-3 win over Southern Miss. Moreover, 'Bama never could own the conference, partially because of the division format and partially because of Steve Spurrier (more on him in a second).
The NCAA wolves came to 'Bama's door under Stallings as well, eventually forcing a power struggle that the coach lost to athletic director Bob Bockrath and president Andrew Sorensen. He resigned after the Auburn game in '96, and to his unending credit has remained visible and active, but always in a dignified manner (Stallings also appears on Finebaum, but the host is always deferential to him and even allows him to take calls, a staunch difference from his repeated run-ins with Dye).

Steve Spurrier. No one could argue that the 1990s belonged to the man in the visor: the Gators won 6 of 10 conference championships from 1991-2000, including four straight from 93-96; they also won their division two other times ('92 and '99). In 1996, they won the national championship, as well.
Moreover, Spurrier is probably the closest thing this era could ever have to a Bryant-like myth: the mere sight of him on the sidelines in the 1990s, smugly calling plays into his headset, was enough to infuriate and terrify every opposing fan in the building (unlike Bryant, who was generally regarded by most people as their grandfather in the twilight of his career, Spurrier is loathed by nearly every SEC fan from that era, even now). And the coach never shied away from media controversy, whether it was needling Peyton Manning for his inability to beat him (the famous "Citrus Bowl" joke), calling FSU "Free Shoes University" or even firing off an angry letter to Mike Dubose in 1999 for improper recruiting. The Spurrier Myth was as powerful as Spurrier himself.
Comparisons to Bryant don't work, though, for two reasons: first, Spurrier never really owned even his own state; FSU gave as good as it got in the '90s and even won an extra national championship ('93 and '99). And second, Spurrier apparently got bored after losing out on a championship shot in 2001; he signed a big contract with the Washington Redskins and took a shot at professional football.
(One note that no one ever really discussed when this happened: In 1970, after 10 years at 'Bama, Bryant himself was ready to take a shot at the pros, signing a contract with the expansion Miami Dolphins, then recanting soon after. I've always found the notion of Bryant as a pro coach somewhat fascinating — could he have won? The NFL in 1970 wasn't so starkly different from college as it is in 2011, right? And what if he had failed? Would he have gone the Spurrier route and come back to the SEC? Worked in television? Retired completely? I have no idea and neither do you, and it's probably better that way.)
As for his South Carolina tenure ... it's been interesting, to say the least. The Gamecocks did finally break through and win their division last season (albeit a watered down division that wasn't very good), but you often get the sense that Spurrier seems frustrated, like he expects his current roster to morph into 1995 Florida, just because he says. Further, as this Dr. Saturday post from two years ago noted, coaches no longer back up from Spurrier as a strategist.
Famously, Spurrier was nearly blitzed right out of the NFL. This did not come as a shock to many in the coaching cognoscenti. I had a friend sit in on a clinic Spurrier gave while at Florida. He diagrammed a play, showed a route, and showed what the QB's read was. Another coach in the room, while pointing to one of the symbols on the whiteboard, meekly asked, "Coach, what if they blitz that guy?" The second-hand report was that the OBC kind of scowled and said, "They'll never do that." And that was that. Except it wasn't: In the NFL, that guy blitzed, and defenses since have never forgotten.

Nick Saban/Urban Meyer. While working on this blog post, I considered both Phil Fulmer and Mark Richt for inclusion here. The thing is, both guys just kind of filled a void between Spurrier and these two, and both of their programs immediately went back to the second tier when Saban/Meyer took over the league. So we can argue about this if you want, but it's my blog, so we're skipping over them. Sorry.
Anyway, the Meyer/Saban rivalry should have been the defining SEC feud going into the coming decade: Saban, a defensive guru marshaling his forces at Alabama; Meyer, an offensive mastermind, doing the same at Florida, with the SEC Championship Game each year to decide which is the rightful heir to the throne (a miniature version of Celtics-Lakers, if you will).
Saban is the more tenured of the two, with national championships at LSU and 'Bama, and three SEC titles and four division titles in all (his last 3 Tide teams have won 12, 14 and 10 games, respectively). We've written before about how Saban's 'Bama teams are reminiscent of the Stallings era: tough, physical and kind of boring to watch.
Meyer is more Spurrier than Stallings, in keeping with the identity of his fan base: at their best (2008-2009), the Gators were a fleet of speed merchants playing in an offense based around two premises: first, if anybody is out of position, it's a touchdown; and second, if anybody misses a tackle, it's a touchdown. One of the most interesting games in recent history was the '08 SEC Championship Game pitting Saban's defense — predicated on never being out of position and never missing tackles — against Meyer and all-everything quarterback Tim Tebow. Florida won the game, and one of the Florida media's leading columnists penned a subsequent column that identified Meyer as "The Next Bear Bryant."
Of course, what happened in the 2009 season — Saban's undefeated 'Bama team trashing Florida in Atlanta — put that talk to bed for a while.

Yeah ... too easy.

And after Meyer's Florida team flopped this past fall, his ongoing health problems caused him to reevaluate his life's priorities. Meaning? He dumped football for TV.
Which is no good for us as football fans, obviously. While no one in his right mind would call Nick Saban "The Next Bryant," the rivalry between him and Meyer had no equal in the league.
At least not for now.

As always (assuming you've read this far) please feel free to comment here or find me on Twitter.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday tube: various preview videos, just because

A few season preview montages for this year, courtesy of my friends around the 'sphere.

Well, I'm ready. What day does ... um, wait - it's only April? Oh. OK.

We'll all have to get through this together. Roll Tide.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Thursday cinema madness: Hobo with a Shotgun

Teased you with this one a while back, but just for fun here it is again. The title says it all.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

a random thought: on tournaments and a perfect postseason

I'm not sure if it's something I should confess, but I switched off last night's NCAA Championship Game midway through the first half. It was atrocious, atrocious basketball, and without any kind of hook to keep me interested (Butler's "little guy" persona only goes so far). Anyway, because I skipped the second half and the trophy presentation, it didn't occur to me until this morning: the University of Connecticut is now the "national champion" of the 2010-2011 NCAA basketball season. That would be the same Connecticut team that finished 9-9 in its own league, and lost 7 of its final 11 regular-season games.

As someone who is passionate about college football, I am frequently given to dreaming about what the sport would look like if we could adopt a real-live tournament-style postseason, as witnessed by my own frequent attempts to create one on my own, or Dr. Saturday's revolutionary 10-team playoff from a few weeks ago. We do this, of course, because of the objectivity that comes from having teams decide who wins the championship outside the opinion of pollsters, and on the field where it belongs. And we do this because we have witnessed too often the exclusivity of the Bowl Championship Series force teams like TCU or Boise or Utah (or even a great Auburn team) play for a pile of money and a small amount of pride, because the system is stacked against them before the first practice ever begins.

But there's another side to that coin: When it comes to the NCAA Tournament, the system is almost too inclusive, culminating in what we just witnessed in the Final Four. I'll let Braves & Birds explain:
How exactly does one sell the four-month college basketball regular season when the Final Four is comprised of: (1) the second-place team in the SEC East that went 2-6 on the road in KenPom’s sixth-placed conference; (2) the ninth-place team in the Big East that lost seven of its last 11 games (so much for that theory that you can watch games in February and figure out which teams are peaking); (3) a team that was at one point 6-5 in the Horizon League; and (4) the fourth-place team in the Colonial Athletic Association that finished on a four-game losing streak in that mighty conference?

While the inclusiveness of the system isn't enough to make me wish away a playoff entirely, it is food for thought — for everyone but the most hardcore fan, the basketball postseason is the only thing that matters, as Joe Posnanski points out.
North Carolina’s Dean Smith always wanted to point to his team’s remarkable consistency during the regular season — his Tar Heels won 17 ACC championships, won more than 20 games and reached the tournament every year from 1975 through 1997 — as a TRUE measure of his team’s ability. Coach after coach, after losing in the NCAA tournament with great teams, have talked about March Madness as a crapshoot, have talked about wanting their players and fans to be proud of their great seasons.
But, to be honest, the randomness of the NCAA tournament has blunted much of that. Only North Carolina fans remember the ACC titles. Dean Smith is remembered much more for his two national championships — both with odd finishes — and all the ones that his teams didn’t win.

Ask an Alabama fan, for example, about the Mark Gottfried era, and he'll probably tell you about the Elite 8 trip in 2004. He probably won't mention that Gottfried was on the verge of being fired before that tournament run, or that Gottfried's two best seasons — 2002 and 2005 — have been mostly forgotten. And why? Because the team flopped in the tournament both seasons (2 rounds in '02, 1 in '05).

It's the price you pay for a single-elimination postseason that gives a proliferation of teams a chance. Maybe you wind up with the best teams in the title game, but most of the time you get the teams that were the hottest when it counted the most, and sometimes it results in the kind of agony-inducing basketball we saw Monday night.
For football fans, we should find some kind of happy medium.

We always encourage commentary, either here or on Twitter. Thanks.

Tuesday tube: cracking domes

Apropos of nothing, today's edition of "Tuesday youtube" comes from late August, 2008.

Just thought that was fun. We need to see a return to that type of intensity, starting soon.

See you all tomorrow. Roll Tide.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

back on Monday morning with some links

My best of intentions include starting every week with a blog post including some of the best of what I've read over the weekend. They almost always fail, so when I actually get it right, it bears celebrating.

In any case, the Alabama sports world has been hopping lately, so it definitely bears a few minutes of our time.
— First, I'd be remiss if I completely ignored the basketball team's season-ender at Madison Square Garden, in which Alabama's season-long enemy — the jump shot — reared its ugly head. It didn't help that we fumbled away multiple transition opportunities. Or that the referees realized they were losing control of the game in the second half and completely overreacted (sending Jamychal Green to the bench for an extended stretch because of a half-assed bump).
In any case, Alabama and Anthony Grant — as we've written here repeatedly — deserve credit for overachieving with a limited roster. And, as Cecil Hurt writes, there's no reason to believe this was an aberration. Remember: the last Alabama team to finish in the NIT finals won the SEC outright the following season.
— Bama's baseball team looks sharp through three series: the Tide failed to sweep Arkansas Sunday, but our guys are still 7-2 in the SEC, with a trip to Nashville to face top-ranked Vanderbilt upcoming (Vandy just finished pasting Auburn in Auburn). And the softball is having its usual banner year: we just finished sweeping South Carolina in Columbia.
— Speaking of powerhouse programs in crimson, Alabama won yet another regional gymnastics title over the weekend as well.

— On the football field, the battle between A.J. McCarron and Phil Sims continues to be the headline of every story involving spring practice, including yesterday's scrimmage. Of course, since the scrimmage was closed to everyone except coaches, no one really knows what went on. So we'll take their for it.
— There was big news off the field as well: the impending transfer of Duron Carter, who's apparently all set to take over the No. 8 jersey. RBR has a compilation of highlights.

— One more football note: Phil Steele released yet another mock draft today, and guess who's at the top.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday Andy: where we throw 'em?

In today's edition of "Friday Andy," Aunt Bea stops by with some of her famous pickles. Famous for the wrong reasons, that is.

Back with more this weekend. Roll Tide.