Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuesday tube: some classic opening acts

Continuing with our theme of great openers in Alabama history, here are a few classics from the Bryant era. The most obvious: the 1971 game against Southern Cal, which actually signaled the beginning of a brand new era for Bryant and Alabama.
The second: a 1978 Labor Day night game vs. Nebraska that was made for TV.
 Good to know we'll be playing another of those games this time. Beats the heck out of Kent State, anyway.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

fun with over/unders ... or, Halcombe hijacks the season

So ... it's time we started blogging some actual football around here, no? There have been mitigating factors, obviously — we're in the process of moving to a new house and the Olympics have been on and whatnot. Still, it's August, and football is less than a month away. So it's time we started doing something about it.
Much like Peter King or the staff at Deadspin, I have found that the best entries in the history of this blog came from friends of mine who are way more clever than I am (see, Peter von Herrmann's memorable post from 2008 UGA week, or even the "Gameday Texts" post from the BCS game this past January).
In the past I have attempted to guess the SEC's order of finish, usually based on little aside from intuition. Instead of doing that this time, I went to this SB Nation post regarding win total over/unders, then emailed them to my friend Jason, who serves as Managing Editor of a daily newspaper in Dublin, Ga. Read through any of the "Texts" posts here, and you'll find yourself giggling at his wit. It was a layup, frankly, even if it makes coach Saban mad. In fact, let's ask coach Saban how we should feel about the dawn of football season.

Fair enough.
Ole Miss: 3.5
will: Over. I never saw a college football team that quit on its coach more flagrantly than the Rebels did on poor Houston Nutt in 2011. They lost 30-7 and 27-7 ... to Vanderbilt and La. Tech. Alabama and LSU hung 50 on them apiece; in the Tigers' case, they were deliberately taking knees with 5 minutes still left in the fourth quarter. And Trent Richardson did this to them.
What's really strange about all this is that Ole Miss was considered a fringe SEC title contender as recently as the beginning of 2010, when Jeremiah Masoli chose to enroll at Oxford as a "graduate student" quarterback. Then they lost at home to JSU ... and haven't really been the same since.
I said all that to say, I'm not sure there's THAT huge a talent void for the Rebs. Assuming they don't quit on Hugh Freeze the way they did Nutt, I mean.
(Note on Freeze: He probably doesn't care, but I do wonder if he's angry at all about the way the movie version of "The Blind Side" made him into a clueless oaf who needed help from Sandra Bullock to know which plays to call. The real-life Freeze was considered one of the better coaches in high school football before anyone had ever heard of Michael Oher. Now he's memorialized in cinema as a doofus who took a cell phone call on the sidelines during a game. You're right — he probably doesn't care.)
Their most intriguing game is a Week 3 test at home vs. Texas. I know it's a long shot, but ... I mean, what if, right?
Halcombe: Over. With all these Tigers and Dogs, I'm lost at how a black bear cost the South the Civil War.

Kentucky: 4.5
will: Under. Kentucky had a sneaky terrible season in '11 — they even inspired a meme in their lifeless early-season game vs. Western Kentucky.
Looking at their 2012 schedule, beginning in Week 4 (at Florida), the Cats are likely to be an underdog by at least a touchdown for seven consecutive games. Sorry, UK fans. That NCAA championship was pretty great, though?
Halcombe: Over. Why hasn't Jared Lorenzen been asked to guest host Man v. Food?

Vanderbilt: 5.5
will: Over. Few teams can boast a season as simultaneously exciting and frustrating as Vandy in 2011. The 'Dores went toe-to-toe with every team on their schedule last year, and gave Alabama fits (even though they ultimately lost 30-0). Of course, they also lost three games — to Georgia, Arkansas and Tennessee — in classic "Vandy" fashion. The Arkansas loss stands out the most: they were on the verge of putting the thing away and actually gave up a fumble for a scoop-and-score touchdown. Seriously, who else does that happen to?
In Year 2 of the James Franklin Experience, I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt with the "over," even if it means they have to win at Northwestern, at Missouri, at Wake and possibly upset someone in the Big 4 of the SEC East.
Halcombe: Par. Seriously. Lorenzen would eat Adam Richman in the dust.

Auburn: 7.5
will: Over. Auburn, to me, is probably the hardest team to predict out of the 14. The Teagles possess an abundance of talent on both sides of the football — they're unusually deep at running back, to name one spot — and most of that talent is bearing scars from last year's campaign. On the other hand, they're breaking in two new coordinators — by the way, if someone can sum up the difference between "spread" and "pro style" for me in a brief essay, I'd probably run that on this blog, also — and they were thumped in their 5 losses last year (all BCS opponents, but still). And they're facing a killer first month: Clemson in Atlanta, at State, then home to LSU. So they could be 1-3 by their open date (note: I'm guessing 2-2 or 3-1 is more likely).
While we're on the subject, I'm waving the white flag on the phrase "All-In." It somehow started in Auburn around 2009-10, and now pretty much everybody uses it. It was on the cover of freaking Sports Illustrated. And you know what? I can't fight it anymore. You win, Auburn family. You're all-in. Great. We're all all-in. All-in all the way. Congratulations.
Halcombe: Over. Now, is this the number of people who still giggle like sixth graders at health class pronouncing Chizik's last name? If not, then under.

Florida: 7.5
will: Over. Some highlights I gleaned from Florida's schedule:
• They have the distinction of being the first SEC home game for Texas A&M (more on them in a bit).
• They'll have an open date to get ready for LSU, a welcome relief after the last 2 seasons of Alabama-LSU in consecutive weeks (which essentially ruined them for the rest of the year in 2010 and 2011).
• They close SEC play on the first Saturday in November, and finish with La.-Lafayette, Jacksonville State, at Florida State. Yeah.
Assuming the natural progression in Year 2 under Muschamp, the fact that they always beat Georgia and get South Carolina in Gainesville ... this has to be a dark-horse contender for the division, right? Right?
Halcombe: Over. My sneak threat to win east. My UGA buddies' rants begin in 3... 2... 1...

Mississippi St: 7.5
will: Under. At some point the shine has to come off Dan Mullen, right? Since he came to State in 2009, the Bullies have a) pulled off a few big upsets (Ole Miss in '09, Georgia and Florida in '10); dominated the state of Mississippi; beaten absolutely no one else in the SEC West; played road games against UAB and La. Tech. And this year they're playing Troy. In Troy. I can't give them more than 7 wins. I can't.
Halcombe: Under. On the bright side, StubHub! has tickets for the South Alabama game for only five smackers!

Missouri: 7.5
will: Under. The Tigers have the most unusual non-conference schedule I can find: Southeast Louisiana, Arizona State, at Central Florida (no gimme), home against Syracuse. Still makes no sense they couldn't find a way to play Kansas. I have nothing else to add, except this:
Halcombe: Under. Especially if the Garmin doesn't locate Camp Wilderness.

Tennessee: 7.5
will: Over, but I'm not happy about it.
Halcombe: Under. Lane Kiff...Oops. Sorry about that. The Vols have the SEC title game on their official 2012 schedule. That is all.

Texas A&M: 7.5
will: Um ... over? I confess to knowing nothing about A&M, except that coach Bryant used to be there and they have dudes who are cheerleaders. In a perfect world, the Aggies' 3 biggest games as an SEC team would be Arkansas, LSU and ... well, still Texas. But the world's not perfect, is it?
Halcombe: Over. Dat Nguyen is still the most unique name for a LB in the history of college football.

Arkansas: 8.5
will: Under. Today I randomly flipped over to Birmingham's other sports talk radio station — not WJOX, the other one ... the one without Finebaum — and heard the hosts having a passionate discussion with Andy Hodges of hogsweekly.com. Hodges was arguing, essentially, that Bobby Petrino had defrauded Hawg fan base and the national media into thinking the squad is much more talented than it is; he even called the last 2 years of recruiting at Arkansas "disastrous." Because I try my damnedest not to pay too much attention to recruiting, I looked it up for myself — Arkansas' last two finishes in the Rivals national rankings: 24th in 2011 (9th in the SEC), and 34th in 2012 (12th in the SEC).
In any case, what I saw with Alabama in 2003 taught me a lesson about a program that suffered a tumultuous offseason: the second things go wrong, watch out. For Arkansas "the second things go wrong" is most likely that Week 3 date with Alabama. They have a back-to-back road stretch vs. Texas A&M and Auburn that might make things turn doubly ugly. And their final 3: at South Carolina, at State, vs. LSU. Not good, particularly since they're likely to have checked out by then.
Halcombe: Under. The Razorbacks won't be able to get past the whole "We so coulda been in the BCS title game if we hadn't been in the same division as the two other really good teams."

South Carolina: 8.5
will: Over. I'll be honest: I haven't quite gotten over Steve Spurrier's bizarre midseason declaration from 2011 that he wasn't conducting any more press conferences with columnist Ron Morris in the room. Really, Steve? It's OK for you to make fun of Peyton Manning's trips to the Citrus Bowl, or Mark Richt's players getting suspended, but Ron Morris isn't allowed in the room because he doesn't write exactly what you want? C'mon, man. You're better than that.
By the way, the Gamecocks' schedule sets up almost perfectly for them: assuming they beat Vandy in Week 1 (not a gimme, but they are favored), they should be undefeated going into a tough October: vs. Georgia, at LSU, at Florida, vs. Tennessee. Even if they go 2-2 in that stretch, it's probably good enough to win the East.
Halcombe: Par. The ole ball coach will, as usual, rip his visor from his hair plugs and stomp on it like a little child.

Georgia: 9.5
will: Under. Much as I like Mark Richt, he got wayyyy too much credit for the "turnaround" in Georgia's 2011 season. The reality: UGA played only one ranked team between its losses to South Carolina and its SECCG loss to LSU, and that was 20th-ranked Auburn. They made it to Atlanta because of the ease of their schedule — no Alabama, Arkansas or LSU — and because South Carolina choked on its own dinner vs. Auburn.
Of course, the '12 schedule doesn't set itself up any worse ... I'm taking the under anyway, because I am tired of them and want them to go away.
Halcombe: Under. We're still a couple more arrests away from knowing who will make the opening day roster.

Alabama: 10.5
will: Under. Annnnd ... here comes the part where I start thinking of reasons to be concerned.
• For all the talent on the field defensively, we have way too many kids out there who will be thrown into the fire immediately vs. a pretty good Michigan team. Al Borges is no stranger to Saban defenses, and he's spent an entire offseason working up a game plan. Gawd.
• Road trips to Fayetteville, Columbia (Mo.), Knoxville and Baton Rouge.
• Supposedly the offense will be "explosive," which would be great, except the most reliable offensive threats from 2011 — specifically Trent Richardson and Marquis Maze — are gone. Not to mention, we're breaking in a new offensive coordinator. Isn't everybody a freshman with a new offensive coordinator? And are any of the backs we have now as good as the ones we just lost?! SOMEBODY GIVE ME AN ANSWER.
(Note: This team has won at least 10 games in each of the last 4 seasons. So maybe I should shut up.)
Halcombe: Over. A possible repeat is in the mix. Sorry in advance for the jinx dbh.

LSU: 10.5
will: Over. Wow. Unlike the 2011 meat grinder of a schedule, this year's Tigers don't get a road test until Week 4 (at Auburn). Their longest road trip is to Florida. And if they handle Alabama Nov. 3, they'll finish with the two Mississippis and Arkansas (who I've already tabbed to check out before then). The Tigers could sleepwalk to 11 wins in 2012.
Halcombe: Under. Even though they, along with 'Bama, would beat out the Browns in the NFL's AP Pro32 poll, Les will sadly not be more in 2012.

a newspaper column about 'community' (no ... not 'Community')

Been in a bit of a quandary recently with my columns for the St. Clair Times: I have ideas in my brain that don't make it to paper, and I can't allocate the proper time to making them coherent. Which is how you get stuff like this. If you care to discuss this further or offer me advice, you can comment here or on Twitter.
More to life than ‘community’

Among us media types, there are a number of overused phrases.

We tend to tack the word “-gate” onto the end of every scandal. We enjoy using the word “gaffe” a lot during political seasons, which is odd because no one uses it in any other setting.

Here’s one you’ll hear way too often: the word is “community.”

In its purest definition — according to dictionary.com, anyway — “community” can refer to a “group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage” or “a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists.”

The word “community” usually comes up on television or in the newspaper as a term to divide people.

“That policy is a slap in the face to my community.”

“What you just said is deeply offensive to the members of this community.”

“We have to create jobs, so our community can be healthy.”

The word has uses beyond simply referring to a city or town; it can refer to a neighborhood, a race or religion or a political movement.

When one of these groups is aligned with us, it’s (obviously) much easier to take pride in representing the interests of our “community.” Usually it’s fighting with the interests of another community; we like to call these “special interest groups,” because we’re pretty sure those types of groups are bad.

(Note: I have a number of special interests, though I’ve not yet found a group that supports them specifically. I guess “football nerds who also enjoy Broadway musicals and think both major political parties are embarrassing themselves daily” is too specific.)

Whether it should or not, the word often has a darker connotation: a certain “community” is a term that divides us, more often than not. Discussing “the importance of (a key issue) to my community” is how a leader sets cities, social groups and neighborhoods against one another.

The worst thing that happens: Too often we’re content to stay only within the boundaries of our “communities,” meaning we never see anyone but people who look like we do, live where we do, believe like we do. When you’ve never met or interacted with anybody from the other side, they become unknowable, so you have to imagine how they must walk, talk and think. And we have great imaginations.

In extreme cases, some of these “communities” wind up fighting, and eventually going to war with one another. And that’s bad for everybody’s community.

Maybe we should just be regular folks.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tuesday tube: Opening with a flourish

I feel like I've discussed this game before, but it's impossible to discuss big opening nights in alabama history without this: Alabama's comeback win over Georgia in 1985.
It was a portent of things to come — Alabama wound up bookending its season with another great drive to beat Auburn, rebounding from a 5-7 season the year before.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

a newspaper column about the long, slow offseason

Pretty sure that this week's column for the St. Clair Times is a repeat of a column I wrote last year or the year before last. But each offseason keeps getting worse, and I can't help it. As always, feel free to respond here or on Twitter.
For football fans, the waiting is the hardest part

It’s probably just because I am older. Check that, it’s definitely because I am older.

Seems like the “offseason” becomes more interminable with each passing year, though.

I will confess at this point that I am something of a football junkie. Other people go crazy about Batman or the royal family; my passion is for football — of the Southern variety, primarily, although other flavors will do in a pinch. I love everything about it: the sights, the sounds, the smells … I even enjoy arguing about the lingering embarrassment of the postseason from time to time.

And that’s also why the offseason seems to last forever. Ever been trapped in a meeting or a classroom on a spring day, when all you can do is stare out the window and count the hours until you’re finally free? That’s how the college football offseason feels.

A typical college football season — for a devoted fan, anyway — works in a cycle that begins around the beginning of August and lasts until the spring game. That cycle encompasses the actual season, the postseason, the “recruiting” bonanza (unavoidable at this point) and the last preparations before the next season.

And then … there’s the offseason. One can fill the offseason with old youtube clips, and conversations about “what we’re gonna have next year,” but it’s not quite the same, really, and your relatives who aren’t football fans might think you’re a lunatic (note: you are probably a lunatic, anyway).

That’s not the worst of the summer, though. Aside from the dearth of activity, a steady succession of scandals and tragedy typically dominate the coverage from April until August.

And it seems to be worsening. Our fears as fans used to be that players would wind up in trouble with the law, or that someone might accept something untoward from an agent — or an agent’s representative — and land the program in hot water with the NCAA.

Today, however, a college football season is dawning under the shroud of the most unspeakable scandal I can imagine, with one of its most legendary coaches buried under a shattered legacy. And that lost legacy isn’t even remotely the worst thing to come out of the whole deal (not compared to the shattered lives of the abused children, anyway).

When the season finally started last September, I remember thinking I honestly wasn’t sure I was ready. We had just spent three months attempting to recover from the storms of April 27, after all; it was impossible to drive around Tuscaloosa last fall and avoid thinking about what had happened there only a few months prior.

I’m not so sure we’re ready to go crazy for football again this fall. I am pretty sure it’s better than the alternative, though.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tuesday tube: the band plays on

Annually one of my favorite blog posts is this one: A number of marching bands have pop/rock songs they play that appear to have nothing to do with their schools or their schools' mascots. Here are a few of my favorites. Please to enjoy.

Enough to start getting excited about football season anew. As if you needed an excuse.

Friday, July 27, 2012

a newspaper column about our attempts to fix it, whatever "it" is

Editor's note: This week's column from the St. Clair Times was actually borne out of my ambivalence to the NCAA's sanctions against Penn State, which in my mind sort of diminished the tragedy of the offenses committed by punishing ... the football team (for the best take on this, read Spencer Hall's excellent piece from Monday). As always, feel free to leave your own thoughts here or on Twitter.
Nothing left to do but mourn

In these days, when darkness falls early
And people rush home to the ones they love
You better take a fool’s advice
And take care of your own
Cause one day they’re here, next day they’re gone

In one of my favorite episodes of the popular television show “Family Guy,” the main character becomes a lobbyist for a cigarette company.

He spends some time in Washington schmoozing with politicians to relax federal regulations on tobacco, before snapping out of it near the end and decrying the dangers of cigarettes during public testimony. As the easily swayed Congressmen begin to join the chorus, one steps to the microphone to give them what they want.

“Gentlemen,” he says. “I propose we send a message to tobacco companies everywhere by fining the El Dorado Cigarette Company Infinity Billion Dollars.”

One of his colleagues quickly says he admires his sentiments, but “I think a real number might actually be more effective.”

The cartoon Congressman’s sentiment is not uncommon. We see tragedy and terrible things in our world, we feel we’ve got to do something – either to punish the people responsible, or to prevent things from ever happening again.

In the aftermath the terrible events of last week in Colorado — in which an insane gunman opened fire in a crowded theater during a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” — the inevitable call for us to DO something has come.

We should have tougher gun laws. We should have fewer gun laws. Mental health facilities should be better. Our families are too weak.

It has happened many times over to Penn State University, cemented Monday when the NCAA kicked the final bit of sand over the whole thing. Does it matter that the NCAA was probably way outside its jurisdiction here, and that the penalties (mostly self-imposed) amounted to little more than a tomato thrown at a man already in the stocks?

It does not matter. Because we know we must DO something, even if it’s fining the athletic department infinity billion dollars and taking away all their toys.

Reactionary action is, of course, part of the healing process. We can’t accept that there is no suitable punishment or remedy — at least not on this ethereal plane — for the sickness of humanity. We have to DO something.

My mother is fond of saying, “Something good comes out of everything.” I hope she is right. Because today, all our empty talk of remedies and punishments seems like just that.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tuesday tube: a reason to smile

Frankly, the news these past few days hasn't been any fun: shootings, the nightmare at Penn State, the presidential election and so forth. So here are a few games from our past that we can enjoy. Because we need to.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

a newspaper column questioning the greatness of Batman

Editor's note: I want to emphasize something before you read this week's column for the St. Clair Times: My criticism of "The Dark Knight" is NOT that I dislike the movie. I'm simply somewhat confused by the number of people who made it into the Greatest Movie of All-Time. It's a fun movie — maybe a great superhero movie — but some of the folks (like, say, Will Leitch) need a note from Nick Saban.
As always, you can argue with me here or on Twitter. Thanks in advance for indulging me.
The greatest movie ever that isn't all that great

Growing up, one of the easiest ways to spot a movie I knew I would enjoy was this one: Wait until the movie critics started lining up to run it down.

Here’s the thing about movie critics: They are invariably very intelligent people who watch movies for a living. Occasionally, they may even enjoy one of them. But that doesn’t happen often, and if anything, it often seems they seek the popular opinion, then go the other way.

Of course, that’s also what has made the buildup for “The Dark Knight Rises” sort of disorienting for me. “The Dark Knight” turned me into one of those haughty movie critics.

Here’s the thing: I’m not someone who disliked the movie. I enjoyed the movie. I still watch it every time it appears on one of the Turner networks (which is almost every week at this point).

My problem, then, is this: way too many people reacted to the movie as though it were “Citizen Kane.” And … um, I don’t think it quite reached those heights, necessarily.

Here, then, in ascending order, are my problems.

• The movie is too long. I don’t know if such a thing exists as “the right length” for a movie. It’s a little bit like asking my dad what’s the right amount of ingredients for his barbecue sauce — you can ask, but the only response you’ll get is, “Enough.”

Some movies are good at 90 minutes. Some, like “The Godfather,” are OK at over 3 hours. And some, like Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” ramble on forever until people like me are wondering things like, “Why wouldn’t someone just shoot the dude in the head and end it all?”

• Other than Heath Ledger’s remarkable turn as Joker, the acting is abominable. What Ledger — who died before the movie ever reached the big screen — did with that character is something I still cannot believe. It’s not so much the dialogue or the maniacal laughter as the subtleties (licking his lips, changing his origin story, angrily demanding people look at him) that made the character an incredible triumph.

Ledger, however, was essentially Michael Jordan carrying the 1989 Chicago Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals. Normally quality actors like Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Christian Bale seem like they’re auditioning for “Star Wars” in this movie … and that’s not a compliment. Bale, inparticular, unveiled a voice that makes Batman sound like the patient of a really cheap ENT doctor. Was I supposed to take him seriously?

Actually, I was. Which is my final complaint.

• The movie takes itself way too seriously. Please hear me out: It’s a movie about Batman. Batman. A fictional vigilante who dresses up as a bat. Batman.

I know Batman is probably the darkest of the comic book superheroes, but … I mean, he’s a guy who dresses up as a bat! Do we really need metaphors about the Bush administration and super-serious lectures about the morality of man in a movie about a dude dressed up as a bat? Don’t we deal with these issues enough in real life? Should a “Batman” movie allow us to escape from all that for a few minutes?

Arguing about this, obviously, is about as pointless as shouting in the middle of a hurricane. Entertainment, after all, isn’t like sports; there’s no final score to tell us who was right or wrong. Some people even like Rascal Flatts.

And anyway, I’m already planning to spend my $10 to see “Dark Knight Rises” at the first opportunity, anyway. So I guess I have no point.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tuesday tube: Is it time already?

Editor's note: I tried for the entire weekend to come up with a cogent post about the ongoing horror show in State College, Pa. But I can't do it; everything I tried to write seemed to either minimize the tragedy or fall short of what it should've been. So, unlike the Paterno family, I've decided to keep my mouth shut and attempt to move on with life. As with the shooting in Auburn last month, I'm not ignoring it, but I also can't do anything about it. So we're going to continue with business as usual here, as much as we can. Hope that's OK with everybody.

I'm not sure how — maybe I've been wasting too much time sitting in front of this machine — but somehow SEC Media Days snuck up on me this year.
It's exciting, of course, to have football back in our lives — even if Media Days is just a giant circus in which people are asked about inappropriate topics, among the most boring questions anyone can think of. It means practice starts soon. So here's the best "Alabama in 2012 hype" video I could find. Please to enjoy.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

newspaper column about the passing of a TV hero

Editor's note: This week's column for the St. Clair Times is actually a week old, but come on — I couldn't NOT write about Andy Griffith's death, could I? Also you can enjoy the fact that I apparently wrote "passage" when I meant to say "passing." I feel like I'm getting worse at this. Anyway, as always, you can comment here or on Twitter.
‘We shall meet, but we shall miss him’

An open letter, upon the passage of the great Andy Griffith.

Dear Mr. Griffith,
I know you probably get letters from people who say they loved your show all the time. I am joining that chorus, and only because I am sorry I didn’t do it sooner. For some reason I dawdled until after I heard about your passing last week.

I am probably not what anyone would call the target demographic for “The Andy Griffith Show.” It was off the air more than a decade before I was even born, and depicts an era that has long since passed out of anything other than a fond memory.

It matters not. The characters that populated Mayberry were timeless. Anyone who grew up loving “The Andy Griffith Show” felt like part of the extended family that included Barney, Aunt Bea, Opie, Floyd, Gomer, Otis and even the Darlings. I could go on.

I’m proud to say that I know more about the show than is reasonable. I know, for example, that Barney was Andy’s cousin; that Floyd’sOtis' full-time job was as a furniture salesman; that the “jinx” in Mayberry was a man named Henry Bennett; and that Barney’s voice vacillated between “intolerable” and “actually, he’s pretty good.”

A random true story: Last Christmas, my wife and I bought tickets to see the great Bobby Horton at Local Color in Springville, as he played and sang Christmas songs from American history. One of the songs he shared that night: “The Vacant Chair.” I know you remember the words:

We shall meet, but we shall miss him/
There will be one vacant chair/
We shall linger to caress him/
As we breathe our evening prayer

I may have been the only person in the audience who sniggered through the entire song, if only because I saw you and Don Knotts, as Barney, singing the song mournfully in front of Otis’ jail cell. He did vow to stop driving after that, so I suppose it did work.

There were other life lessons. I learned how to trim hedges — “Pa usually just lops the tops off” — and why I should never aim my slingshot at a bird’s nest. And when I took my car to the mechanic, I made sure to tell him, “It’s doing a new thing now – it’s going ‘pa-ding,’ ‘pa-ding.’”

We were not the only family whose lives inevitably revolved around the show. Now entire Bible studies are dedicated to episodes of “Andy,” and groups around the country get together to watch old episodes — yes, even right here at home. There’s even a terrible country song that includes the phrase, “I miss Mayberry.”

In a way, we were all like the traveling businessman, Malcolm Tucker, whose car broke down outside of town on a Sunday. Tucker, at first furious that no one would fix the car — it being Sunday and all — eventually gave in to the otherworldliness of the town and its inhabitants. By the end of the episode, he was faking car trouble to stay just a little longer.

We all wish we could spend a night in Mayberry, I think.

Rest in peace, Cousin Andy. Lots of luck to you and yours.

— Very sincerely,
Will Heath

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tuesday tube: defending the Air Raid

Today's post is inspired this excellent post at Smart Football, about the evolution of the "Air Raid" offense. As it happens, Mike Leach's famous offense struggled only a few times that I can recall; Alabama figured in prominently.
While we're here, we might as well show one of those games that was the coming-out party for Hal Mumme and Tim Couch: their big win over eventual 4-7 Alabama. It's fun to watch if you're not me.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

revisiting 2010: the team that was missing ... something

The truest champions — the ones we remember for years and years and years — are the ones that keep coming even with all those circumstances and setbacks, that won't be kept down because that's what champions do.
I wrote those words in February 2010, when our boys were barely a month removed from the 2009 BCS national championship game vs. Texas. At that point, we were riding an undefeated streak that stretched to January of the previous season; were bringing back the reigning Heisman winner; were proudly carrying the belt as reigning national champs; and were tabbed by a number of writers to repeat or at least give it a serious run.

And I'm bringing up what happened that fall only because it's received something of a historical re-write, particularly as we're on the verge of defending another championship in the fall of 2012. Coach Saban has discussed the sense of complacency that took over in Tuscaloosa prior to the 2010 season; players and sportswriters alike have written about the disappointment of the season and how we must avoid it this fall.By the sound of it, the team finished something like 8-5, got shelled on the road and generally was a miserable lot that needed to be gutted for the foundation of the program's future.
Of course, I'm no better, considering how down on the team I was that season. But in order to quiet the voices in my head, I have to concede the following points:
• The 2010 team battled injuries and off-field concerns from before the season started until the last, bitter moments of the Auburn game. Marcell Dareus was suspended at outset for dealings with an agent; Mark Ingram battled knee problems all year; Trent Richardson and Courtney Upshaw battled ankle injuries; Dont'a Hightower was never 100 percent coming back from ACL surgery; Julio Jones played most of the year with a broken hand, and suffered some kind of injury in the second half against Auburn (I don't recall what it was). Actually, Julio and Hanks were both hurt vs. Auburn, along with safety Mark Barron (who was famously unable to raise his arm and turned an easy interception into a game-changing touchdown).
• The 2010 schedule was tougher than it probably appears — based on the final BCS standings from that season, the Tide played the 8th-rated team in the nation, the 10th-rated team and the 19th-rated team (South Carolina, the SEC East champs) on the road; and hosted No. 22 (Mississippi State) ... along with the eventual national champs, with Superman playing quarterback (and this doesn't even count the 9th-ranked Michigan State Alabama throttled in the Capital One Bowl, or the undefeated Florida team we played in September that ultimately crashed and burned after we hammered them at home). That's five teams ranked in the top-25; throwing out the two worthless non-conference games (San Jose State and Georgia State), Alabama's opponents' winning percentage in 2010 was just over 62 percent, slightly better than the 2009 opponents (just under 61).
• Look, there's no other way to say it: Alabama was due for a bit of a letdown in 2010. Coming into the season, the Tide had just given its fans 2 seasons of nothing but football bliss; virtually every break we needed in 2008-09, we got, whether it was a fortuitous bounce of the ball or an official's decision or a kicker's failure to elevate the football beyond the giant paws of our nose tackle. Hold on a second: I'd like to enjoy that again.
The defending national champs are, of course, the game that will be circled on every calendar for every one of its 13 opponents. Alabama in 2010 absorbed the best shot from every team it played. That's just life in this league.
And in reality: here was the difference between the team's final record (10-3) and being undefeated: 14 points at South Carolina (and don't forget, the Tide came back in that game and actually had the ball in position to re-take the lead in the fourth quarter, but squandered it on a fake field goal); 3 points at LSU (how many times are you planning to lose because Jordan Jefferson threw an 80-yard pass?); and the nauseating famous "Camback" in Tuscaloosa (again, the national champs, with a once-in-a-generation free agent playing QB).

It is here that we must stop before we give the 2010 team too much credit. As someone who watches way too much Bama football, when I think of certain teams from certain seasons, each has its own set of characteristics. When I think of 2009, for example, I think of "intensity," as corny as that sounds; that '09 team played with an "eff you" edge to it. The 2011 team I will always think of as "professional" (though not in a way that gets us in trouble); nothing really fazed that team, if anything, it sort of took the joy out of its opponent and never let it breathe (giving rise to the term "Sabanball").
The 2010 team was neither of those. If anything, the 2010 team seemed to play at a high level only in spurts: it played outstanding second halves at Arkansas and at Tennessee; an outstanding first half vs. Florida and Auburn. And other times, it seemed like a disinterested team. There was the bizarre night we went through the motions vs. Ole Miss on Homecoming, or the failure of the team and the coaching staff to prepare for a fake punt vs. LSU.
Much of the defensive failure in 2010 — only the fifth-rated team in the nation in total defense, mind you — was laid at the feet of the "young" secondary that did not cover as well as its predecessors. But it's probably just as fair to point the finger at the front-7 — which I did probably too harshly — for its inability to control the line of scrimmage or affect the quarterback in any way. The best secondary in the world can't cover for 10 seconds. As I said at the end of the year, the final effort vs. Michigan State — the only team all season Alabama looked like the team we expected in 2010 — was both dazzling and frustrating at the same time. Where was this team all season?
Of course, with a similar story returning to the field for 2012 — an experienced offense next to a talented but young defense — the mantra will be to remember 2010, and hope we can do better. It's a noble goal. But 2010 wasn't all that bad, either.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tuesday tube: the newcomers

Something that went mostly unnoticed over the weekend: Missouri and Texas A&M became official members of the Southeastern Conference.
Another stat that went mostly unnoticed: as a result of Missouri's inclusion in the league, Alabama no longer owns an all-time winning record in football vs. all SEC opponents, with an all-time record of 1-2 vs. Mizzou. Bama's last matchup vs. A&M came in the famous "Hurricane Bowl," in 1988.
I'm fairly certain at one point a youtube clip existed of Alabama's last trip to Missouri. But I certainly couldn't find it this time around, so here's the gymnastics matchup with them from this past winter.
Also, since no discussion of Missouri would be complete without it, here's a Missouri boat ride.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

a newspaper column about heroes you don't really know

This week's column from the St. Clair Times actually started out as a blog post several weeks ago. Seems all the more appropriate now. As always, feel free to argue, either here or on Twitter.
Heroes we don’t really know all that well

Two nights before the Auburn-Alabama game in 2010, I was in Opelika for a Thanksgiving function with members of my extended family. As with everything else that year, the discussion inevitably shifted over to the game and, of course, Auburn’s Cameron Newton.

We discussed everything we knew about the case — which I simply don’t have the heart to go into again — and whether we believed Auburn or Newton himself were aware of all the (apparently) nefarious things that were going on behind the scenes before he came to the Plains. One of my (female) cousins, who believes that God wakes up every morning and checks on Auburn before everyone else, held firm in her belief that the Auburn quarterback was and is pure as the driven snow.

“He couldn’t have known about any of this,” she said.

“And you know this ... how?” I asked incredulously.

“I just ... I don’t believe it. I know it in my heart.”

I bring that up not to pick on her*. OK, maybe I did bring that up to pick on her. Actually, I guess I said all that to make the following point: You don’t know these people. You think you do, but you do not.

* "Her," in this case, is my cousin Maggie, whose husband Jamie has been an occasional contributor to this site. You can read Jamie's thoughts from the entire saga in this site's archives.

Rolando McClain was and is one of the smartest football players I have ever seen. It’s really hard to explain that to someone, but I watched him up close for most of the 2008 and 2009 seasons at Alabama — not only did he call the defense pretty consistently, but he often told his young teammates specifically where to line up, depending on the alignment.

Mark Barron loves to tell the story of how he predicted prior to a play in the ‘09 South Carolina game that he was about to intercept a Stephen Garcia pass ... and then he did. Javier Arenas described Rolando as “Coach Saban if he was way bigger and allowed to play football.” He was unmatched.

That was what made his arrest last December (and subsequent conviction in May) so disorienting for me as a fan of his. It wasn’t so much that a player was arrested — obviously, that happens — but that it was something so stupid. How could someone that smart be so stupid? Didn’t we know this kid? Didn’t we watch him grow up before our eyes?

The answer is yes and no. We did watch the maturation of Rolando McClain ... as a football player. Maybe I think that gives me the right to call him by his nickname (“Ro,” given to him by his teammates) or address him as though he is my kin; but the truth is, if he saw me on the street, he would not know me or want to talk to me. I “know” him in a very narrow part of his life — which is to say, really, I don’t know him at all.

It’s not just with athletes, obviously. I feel like I “know” Mathew Fox because I watched him play Jack Shepard on “Lost” … and that sentence doesn’t even make any sense. There are millions of people who claim to “know” the representative or Congressman from their area, even if they’ve only met him for a few minutes*.

* I deleted a whole section about a former newspaper editor in this area who frequently wrote pieces that included the phrase "my good friend Bradley Byrne." Like Bradley Byrne would be able to pick that dude out of a police lineup. But I am digressing now, which is why I deleted the section in the first place.

The most tragic recent example, of course, is that of Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant coach who was accused, tried and convicted of doing unspeakable things over a period of many years. He got away with it, primarily, because the people who “know” him never believed it could be possible.

And the truth is, they never knew him. Maybe nobody ever did.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tuesday tube: little guys who make things happen

Since I couldn't come up with anything better for today, I went and found a montage of "small guys" in Alabama history who made flashy plays. Enjoy (and try not to get too weepy if you're watching the Prothro video at work ... people will think you are insane).

Thursday, June 21, 2012

this week's newspaper column, about bad TV and my childhood

Editor's note: I couldn't help but watch the reboot of "Dallas" on TNT, and I couldn't help but write about the experience as part of my weekly column for the St. Clair Times. The show may not last, so I'm getting it out there while I can. As always, feel free to comment here or on Twitter.
Return of ‘Dallas’ is return to my roots

Last week I made a rather controversial decision. In our house, anyway.

I told my wife I planned to record the pilot episode of “Dallas” on TNT, and then watch it. With complete seriousness on my face.

Needless to say, she reacted as though I told her I intended to join a commune and attempt to infiltrate the government.

“Wait — why would you do that?” she asked.

It’s a fair question. Between “Grey’s Anatomy” and whatever that haunted house show in the fall was (note: It was “American Horror Story”), I’ve pretty much filled up my dance card when it comes to trash TV.

The explanation, for me, was simple.

“I have a heritage to uphold.”

It is true, believe it or not. When I was a baby, my parents lived in a small house near the Dale-Coffee County line, technically in Daleville but probably more closely associated with Enterprise (at least by me).

So each Friday night was the same: Dad’s childhood best friend Danny, along with his wife, Becky, would come to the house, for dinner and CBS’ “Dallas.” According to Mom, sometimes the proceedings involved Monopoly, as well.

(Note: I had no idea, until I started doing a little research for this column, that “Dallas” ran until 1991. That’s incredible. Mom and Dad moved away from Enterprise in 1984.)

It is astounding, really, how many people’s lives are intertwined with their television shows. Dad and his mother used to set aside an hour at midday for “As the World Turns.” I have memories of “Days of Our Lives” during afternoon naps.

So that was why I felt an obligation to pay attention to the reboot of “Dallas,” no matter how ridiculous it might seem. And by the way, it is pretty absurd: everyone dresses in garish clothing, everyone communicates almost exclusively in meaningful glances and everyone speaks to everyone else with hissing condescension.

Needless to say, I loved it. I think my wife even paid attention for a few minutes.

For the record, my parents are back in on the show, as well. They recently sold the house where they were living back in those days. They’re both retirement age now; one of them is already there, in fact.

Even so, Mom called me Wednesday night to say that the two of them — along with Danny and Becky, who live not far away from their house now — were preparing to watch the show.

“You could’ve come down for the night,” she said. “But we would’ve put you in the baby bed, just for posterity’s sake.”

Seems I had no choice but to watch this.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tuesday tube: places I remember

Today's 'tube is one I stumbled on accidentally — it's essentially a youtube history of Alabama football. Take some time and enjoy it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tuesday tube: just count the rings

Editor's note: There is no ignoring the ongoing tragedy taking place surrounding Auburn University and, tangentially, its football program. Sadly, there is also nothing we can do about it here. So we're going to attempt to conduct business as usual here, as much as possible, with the knowledge that we continue to pray without ceasing for everyone involved here. It's the world turned upside down.

No way today's edition of "Tube" could be about anything other than the 2012 national champs in women's softball, a team that was special enough to keep me awake until 1 a.m. on a school night. Here's the game and some of the aftermath.

Just for the heck of it — and because I know my wife will dig it — here's the video that went (sort of) viral last week, featuring the girls.
As an aside, if anyone out there has any idea what the deal is with the gnome, I'm all ears.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

a newspaper column about the inescapable network

This week's column for the St. Clair Times is about the inescapable nature of the internet. The headline says something about Dad's Facebook, but it's really about everyone's Facebook. And Twitter. And everything else. And yes, I'm probably part of the problem, since I started this and continually advocate for you to direct your complaints to Twitter. Whatever.
The last straw is my dad’s Facebook account

Not so long ago, I really tried hard to quit the Internet.

It wasn’t anything personal between the Internet and myself. The whole thing just sort of reached a tipping point for me — too much noise and not enough value. I realized I was spending more time searching for the latest rumors about “The Dark Knight Rises” and sacrificing time cutting grass or exercising.

Actually, that’s not the real reason. The real impetus was when my dad signed up for Facebook.

Facebook — as I’m certain virtually everyone reading this column already knows — is the most ubiquitous of social media platforms. It started with a couple friends at Harvard and is now so invasive that it’s probably deleting every negative word I type about it before it can make it to the printer. Its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, owns a piece of my soul and is sharing its status with people on Mars.

It’s not surprising that he owns a piece of me, though. I’m part of the crowd Facebook was created to ensnare — it originally made it to Tuscaloosa around the time I left. Eventually I gave in, kicking and screaming.

The sad thing is, most of the free world followed close behind. Including both my parents, most of my extended family and high school friends no one cared about in the first place.

Here’s the best way I can describe it: Everyone has a favorite restaurant, probably an out-of-the-way place that not everyone has discovered but that always has a great entrĂ©e available for a reasonable price. You want the restaurant to stay open, obviously, but you don’t want to spread the word too broadly, lest it lose the characteristics that made it a destination point in the first place.

Facebook has long since passed that point. If Facebook were that restaurant, the line would be a mile long, the familiar waitress would be replaced by a snotty maitre d, they’d be selling tacky merchandise in a gift shop and the price tag would be outrageous. Sitting in the middle of the room would be your parents, your grandparents and every acquaintance you ever knew, wanting to tell you why you should be having babies.

It’s essentially rendered high school and family reunions completely unnecessary. No, thank you — I have no interest in spending a weekend with you. I already know everything you do and everything your children do, and I find it all quite horrific.

I’m not foolish enough to pretend that social media has no benefit. Virtually every news event has been reported and dissected over social media before it ever makes it into an “official” news release. And there must be some value in keeping up with your neighbor’s every movement, in case of an emergency or something. Seems more efficient than smoke signals, anyway.

Still, the most refreshing part of summer will be vacation. And the most refreshing part of vacation is the part where I’m no longer chained to my social network. I hope you can say the same.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

a 4-team playoff in history (subtitled, why the internet rules)

Like most people who love college football, I have spent far too many hours dreaming about what the sport would like with a proper postseason format in place. I've cussed the BCS, argued for various types of playoffs that would be best and tried not to be too self-conscious when the system actually worked in favor of my team*.
*If you want to read about Alabama's curious history of affecting change in college football without really meaning to, check out this excellent piece at RBR. One of the reasons I stopped blogging as much is because RBR basically does everything I used to do here, only way better. But that's neither here nor there.

Now, as you probably know, we are on the precipice of realizing the dream. Or something close to it, anyway: BCS officials are all basically giving verbal assent to a 4-team postseason bracket, that is either a playoff or a plus-one, depending on your verbiage of choice.
(Full disclosure: I have no idea what the difference is between a "playoff" and a "plus-one." I guess it's immaterial at the end of the day.)

My friend Kurt of warblogle.com, however, has argued that the 4-team idea does not advance the cause far enough. "It's still just based on what people think," he said. His primary beef would be with the selection process, which is still very much up in the air.
It's a fair question. In any given year, there has almost always been someone with a gripe about being shut out of the national championship hunt. Sometimes there have been as many as 4 teams with a gripe at the end of the year.
Which leads us to the reason for this post. What will follow is an examination of a 4-team playoff in each postseason of the BCS era, what it would have looked like, and any potential controversies that might have arisen in that scenario*.
*Here I note that I am concentrating on the BCS era because it would take a really long time to go back further — given the multiplicity of polls and such — and frankly would take up all the time I have ever to do anything. The source for this is a site called collegefootballpoll.com. The internet is great, you guys. I'm telling you.

In any case, feel free to comment with your own thoughts.
Champion: Tennessee (13-0). Beat Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl, a month after undefeateds Kansas State and UCLA lost on the final Saturday of the regular season (to Texas A&M in the Big XII championship game and at Miami, respectively).
Top 4 (in ascending order): Ohio State (10-1), Kansas Staten (11-1), Florida State (11-1), Tennessee (12-0).
Thoughts: Somehow UCLA got left out of this grouping, even though they were one of three teams penciled into the final game before losing at Miami in one of the most bizarre games in college football history. I personally have little to no memory of Ohio State that season — apparently they were No. 1 in the nation until losing at home to Michigan State in November. The argument between the two of them for that final spot would be quite vehement.

Champion: Florida State (13-0). Beat Michael Vick and equally undefeated Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.
Top 4: Alabama (10-2), Nebraska (11-1), Va. Tech (11-0), Florida State (11-0).
Thoughts: Wait — Alabama was 4th in the nation? Really? That was the same year we lost to Louisiana Tech, man! Our coach was Mike Dubose! This is making my head hurt.
In all seriousness, the argument in this season most likely would have come down to the final spot between 'Bama and Tennessee, the defending national champ who had handed Alabama its (non-Louisiana Tech) loss that season (Tennessee's first trip to Tuscaloosa since the early part of the 20th century, in fact). Of course, the argument against the '99 Vols would be similar to the one used against 'Bama that year: they didn't win their division, didn't play in the SEC Championship Game. On the other hand, their 2 losses were to Florida and Arkansas, both on the road.

Champion: Oklahoma (13-0). Beat 11-1 Florida State in the Orange, which slipped into the title game despite very loud protestations from Miami, the other team to beat FSU that year (Miami's loss was early, vs. Washington).
Top 4: Washington (10-1), Miami (10-1), FSU (11-1), Oklahoma (12-0).
Thoughts: Here would be the problem to which Kurt is alluding: While this appears to solve much of the controversy — by putting the 3 teams arguing over who deserves a title shot — into the mix, it leaves two more 1-loss teams (Va. Tech and Oregon St.) who were looking up at UW. In both cases, the gripes would be somewhat ignorable — Va. Tech had already lost to Miami, Oregon St. had already lost to Washington — but those fans would still bleat pretty loudly.

Champion: Miami (13-0). Beat 11-1 Nebraska in the Rose, about 6 weeks after Nebraska was severely beaten about the head and shoulders by Colorado (62-36), the eventual Big XII champs.
Top 4: Oregon (10-1), Colorado (10-2), Nebraska (11-1), Miami (12-0).
Thoughts: I had frankly forgotten the sequence of events that put Nebraska back into this game, but here's what I can remember:
• The team that should've faced Miami that year was Texas, but Texas choked on its dinner and lost to Colorado in the Big XII title game.
• The next team that should've been in line was Tennessee, which also choked by losing to Nick Saban's LSU in the SEC title game.
• The next logical team (I think) was Joey Harrington's Oregon Ducks, which had no title game and no real resume to speak of. So while the top-4 appears to make sense, there are 2 teams in 5th and 6th — Florida and Tennessee — who would argue for inclusion there.
• Miami was so good that year, it would not have mattered. At all.

Champion: Ohio State (13-0). Beat undefeated Miami — defending national champs — in the Fiesta in overtime.
Top 4: USC (10-2), Georgia (12-1), Ohio State (13-0), Miami (12-0).
Thoughts: The idea of having that Miami team play against Carson Palmer's USC Trojans is so potentially titillating, I'm attempting to figure out how to go back in time to make it happen. The fact that the '02 Trojans lost to Kansas State and Washington State (Washington State!!!) is nothing short of remarkable. Wazzu, by the way, went to the Rose that year (USC was in the Orange) and lost to Oklahoma, followed by Mike Price getting a job at Alabama and ... well, you remember the rest.

Champion: LSU (13-1). Beat 1-loss Oklahoma in the Sugar, after Oklahoma finished percentage points ahead of 1-loss USC, who was voted AP national champs (the last split championship in college football history, potentially).
Top 4: Michigan (10-2), USC (11-1), LSU (12-1), Oklahoma (12-1).
Thoughts: This was probably the first year that we really started on the road we're on now. There were really no teams outside of this top-4 that would really have much of a gripe, and the two bowl matchups that actually happened — USC hammered Michigan in the Rose and LSU beat up OU in the Sugar — were set up almost to perfection. Hilariously, the administration of Pres. George W. Bush invited both teams to the White House and basically dared them to scrimmage each other on the White House lawn.

Champion: USC (13-0). Beat undefeated Oklahoma in the Orange; the two teams were basically a consensus 1-2 in the polls all year, and undefeated Auburn really never stood much of a chance at jumping over either of them.
Top 4: Texas (10-1), Auburn (12-0), Oklahoma (12-0), USC (12-0).
Thoughts: Not only are all those matchups potentially enticing — Vince Young's Longhorns facing USC and Auburn's Team of Destiny facing down Oklahoma — but there's really only one potential controversy: undefeated Utah, which was sitting at 6 that year, behind 1-loss Cal. Could you see the nation rallying behind Urban Meyer's Utes and attempting to push the pollsters for an all-undefeated Final 4? Sure you could.

Champion: Texas (13-0). Beat undefeated USC in the Rose, with little to no controversy.
Top 4: Ohio State (9-2), Penn State (10-1), Texas (12-0), USC (12-0).
Thoughts: Really, outside the top-2, there's a giant logjam and I have no idea how to unjam it. The '05 Nittany Lions were 11-1, and Ohio State finished 4th ahead of 1-loss Oregon,  2-loss Notre Dame, 2-loss Georgia (the SEC champs), 2-loss Miami, 2-loss Auburn and 2-loss Va. Tech. Oregon would probably cry the loudest, since they were carrying 1 loss, and it was to USC (albeit by 30 at home). 2005 was one of those rare seasons when the top-2 were pretty clear, and if anything an upset of either Texas or USC would have cheapened things a bit.

Champion: Florida (13-1). Beat undefeated Ohio State in the Fiesta, after a national hand-wringing over whether the Gators deserved to be there over 1-loss Michigan, the team that had just played Ohio State and lost by 3.
Top 4: LSU (10-2), Michigan (11-1), Florida (12-1), Ohio State (12-0).
Thoughts: Plenty of fat to chew on from that season. 1-loss teams like Louisville and Wisconsin are on the outside looking in, and that's before we discuss undefeated Boise (way back at 8). LSU sneaked into the top-4 ahead of USC, strange because LSU finished second in the division (to Arkansas, who they beat head-to-head). USC was actually in line to play for the title, but turned in a stinker effort vs. UCLA and dropped out of the picture.

Champion: LSU (12-2). The only two-loss champion of my lifetime — the Tigers beat No. 1 Ohio State (them again) in the Sugar Bowl, after watching dominoes fall in front of them that cleared a path to the title game.
Top 4: Oklahoma (11-2), Va. Tech (11-2), LSU (11-2), Ohio State.
Thoughts: Here's how much of a mess the 2007 season was: the third-ranked team at the end of the regular season was Va. Tech, ranked only one spot behind the LSU team that had beaten the Hokies 48-7 during the regular season (and it really wasn't that close)*. Georgia (11-2), Missouri (10-2), USC (10-2), Kansas (11-1) and West Virginia (10-2) would've all had a gripe that year, and that's before we get to 12-0 Hawai'i (ranked 10th).
* As time goes by, that LSU team becomes more and more fascinating. It was probably the most talented team I ever saw, and in spite of winning the championship, you could almost argue they underachieved that season. It wasn't so much the two losses as the way they sort of drifted through games (letting inferior teams like Auburn, Alabama and Tennessee hang around and nearly beat them). But since they won the title, I guess it doesn't matter. Whatever.

Champion: Florida (13-1). Beat No. 1 Oklahoma (12-1) in the Orange Bowl, after the Sooners won a tiebreaker over 1-loss Texas — who beat them during the regular season — to the Big XII championship (the two were tied with 1-loss Texas Tech).
Top 4: Alabama (12-1), Texas (11-1), Florida (12-1), Oklahoma (12-1).
Thoughts: This is where the "conference champs only" argument would've been a big one, for obvious reasons. Conference champs USC (11-1), Utah (12-0), Penn State (11-1, a point away from being undefeated) and Boise (12-0) would all clamor for inclusion in this format over Alabama and Texas (runners-up in the SEC and Big XII, respectively). And frankly, I have no comeback here — Texas and Oklahoma were probably interchangeable that season, and Alabama was at least as good as all those teams, possibly better.

Champion: Alabama (14-0). Beat No. 2 Texas (13-1) in the Rose, with little to no argument.
Top 4: TCU (12-0), Cincinnati (12-0), Texas (13-0), Alabama (13-0).
Thoughts: To be honest, I thought I was looking at the wrong standings when I first saw this. TCU AND Cincinnati? How is that even ... I mean, really? I forgot how good both teams were that season, and if there's a quibble, it's that undefeated Boise is still sitting outside the gates, at 6 (behind 12-1 Florida State). Weren't they at least as good as Cincinnati that year?

Champion: Auburn (14-0). Beat No. 2 Oregon (13-1) in the Fiesta Bowl — once again, little to no argument over the participants.
Top 4: Stanford (11-1), TCU (13-0), Oregon (13-0), Auburn (13-0).
Thoughts: This might be the bracket that proves why a postseason tournament would work so well for fans. Imagine Stanford — Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck — facing Cam Newton in a national semifinal? Imagine Oregon's lightning-fast offense against Gary Patterson's D? Ridiculous. As for potential controversies, it's tough to see any. Wisconsin and Ohio State each had a loss, and poor Boise is still stuck outside, falling all the way to No. 10 because they lost to Nevada. Wait — so if they'd won (and this bracket existed) we could've had a top-4 of Auburn, Oregon, TCU and Boise? Now I'll never get to sleep.

Champion: Alabama (13-1). Beat No. 1 LSU (13-1) in the Sugar Bowl — they reached the game by percentage points over Oklahoma State, and only after one of those Saturdays where the whole world melted down. Needless to say, there was much bleating from around the country, and apparently we're overhauling the entire system as a result.
Top 4: Stanford (11-1), Oklahoma State (11-1), Alabama (12-1), LSU (13-0).
Thoughts: Hilariously, this could've actually ended up with 3 SEC teams in it — 2-loss Arkansas (losses at Alabama and at LSU) could've easily leapfrogged over Stanford and Oregon, but even the BCS isn't that sadistic. By the way, you would've still wound up with an Alabama-LSU final game.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tuesday tube: That School Up North

Few fan bases are as jazzed about the 2012 football season as are the University of Michigan's, most of which is planning to be in Dallas for the September opener vs. Alabama. Many of their more internet-savvy fans have uploaded hype videos. I encourage to check them all out, then immediately close the computer before you head over to StubHub or TicketCity to overspend.
Looks like fun. So let me go to bed before I do anything dumb. Roll Tide.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

newspaper column about newspapers

Editor's note: Just take what I normally say every week about my column for the Times and insert it here. As always, feel free to add suggestions or helpful (or hateful) comments here or by finding me on Twitter.
Wherever we’re headed in media, let’s hope there will be some good people there

I am not nearly qualified to write an obituary for the print industry in this state, obviously. But it feels like someone should.

Last week, the Birmingham News, Huntsville Times and Press-Register (in Mobile) made a somewhat surprising announcement: they were shifting their company titles and switching to a three-day-per-week printed edition. The Times-Picayune, in New Orleans, made the same announcement earlier that day. All four publications exist in a daily format online (hey, just like us!).

Is it sad news? I’m not sure. It’s certainly sad to see jobs lost in any form – and really, no matter how nice a face we try to put on it, there’s no doubt people will lose jobs as part of all this, whether they’re design people or press operators or even newspaper carriers.

But the death of printed newspapers isn’t so much the death of news. News reporters continue to exist, whether they come in the form of talking heads on television, disembodied voices on radio (OK, so the radio guys generally just read the newspaper) or writers and bloggers who maintain a presence online.

In a way, the new wave of the news industry is the proverbial free marketplace of ideas – instead of 30-minute newscasts and daily newspaper cycles, the news now happens all the time on a hundred different channels. And, of course, online, where news can be reported, retracted, reported again, speculated upon, argued and then retracted again, in the space of a few minutes.

Out of that sea of information, somewhere, is the actual truth of a story. Though how one can reach it without being distracted by a vignette about Lauren Conrad’s wardrobe or the latest video game release or possibly a quick game of Words With Friends (or several quick games) is debatable.

The most important thing – whether the reporter works on the Web or the TV or the radio – remains accountability. The ink-stained wretches of this world – now stained with … computer ink? … I have no idea – do not drive into the eye of a storm or sit through a four-hour council meeting because they enjoy leering at misfortune or dysfunction. They are there to tell the story, as completely as they can, as many sides as there can be. It’s a job that pays very little, and for which, if they are fortunate, they might receive a certificate from someone one day saying they did a good job (but very little in the way of compensation).

I hope that reporter still exists 20 years from now. Daily publication or no.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday tube: the finisher

Just a few touchdown runs by No. 3 that finished off opponents in 2011. Please to enjoy.

Friday, May 25, 2012

2009 vs. 2010 vs. 2011: where no man dares tread

I'll lay it out for you this way: It's late May, there's no football other than what you can find on Youtube (and Youtube keeps taking the really good stuff) on the horizon ... and frankly, I could use the distraction. Expect an erratic posting regimen from me until August. What do you want from me?

It's not necessary for me to say this, obviously, but the last three seasons have been a run of football the likes of which this state has never seen. Three consecutive national championships. Two Heisman Trophy winners. And finally the answer to the question, "Is it possible for Alabama and Auburn to be good at the same time?"

So, because I'm nerd like this — and because God forbid I devote my brainpower to something useful — I have been kicking around a post that would objectively compare the three teams. I suppose there are more qualified people to do this and better ways of doing it — you may remember I attempted to do the same thing with 2009 Alabama and 2004 Auburn a few years back, not long after I attempted to determine the Program of the Decade in the SEC. So I like to think I have an idea of what I'm talking about, at least.

Anyway, here are the resumes of the three teams, as complete as I can make them.

2009 Alabama
14-0 (10-0), SEC West champs, SEC champs, BCS national champs.
Best player: Mark Ingram, RB — 1,658 yards rushing (6.1 ypc); 1,992 total yards (6.6 yards per touch); 20 TDs; Heisman Trophy.
Best wins: vs. Florida (12-0, SEC East champs) in Georgia Dome; vs. Texas (13-0, Big XII champs) in Rose Bowl.
Thoughts: Without a doubt, the best resume of any of the three. The 2009 Alabama team had an unbelievable point differential (449-164), and of its 14 wins, only two of them — Florida International and North Texas — were against teams below .500. Also, the '09 Tide beat Ole Miss (9 wins) and Auburn (8 wins)  on the road, and beat Texas, Florida and Virginia Tech (10 wins) at neutral sites.
The Florida game, of course, is the one that will always stand out: Florida hadn't lost a game in more than 14 months by the time it got to Atlanta, and needed only that win to cement the legacies of Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer as arguably the best quarterback-coach combo in the history of the league.
Really, the only holes to poke in this team's resume is the extraordinary good fortune it received vs. Tennessee, the fact that Mark Ingram's Heisman Trophy may have been by default as much as anything, or that Marcell Dareus knocked out Texas' Colt McCoy in the first quarter of the MNC game in Pasadena. Based on pure numbers, though? Hard to argue.

2010 Auburn
14-0 (10-0), SEC West champs, SEC champs, BCS national champs
Best player: Cam Newton, QB — 66.1 completion percentage; 2,854 yards (10.2 ypa); 30-7 TD-INT raio; 1,473 rushing yards (5.6 ypc); 51 total TDs; Heisman Trophy.
Best wins: vs. LSU (10 wins); at Alabama (10 wins); vs. Oregon (13-0, Pac-10 champs) at Phoenix.
Thoughts: Look at that stat line again. 51 total TDs?! How is that even possible?! Newton's stat line becomes even more unbelievable over time, considering he did much of that against some pretty good sSEC defenses (LSU and Alabama, specifically).
And we can argue until the end of time about whether Auburn did something nefarious to get him there, or whether his hands were really clean in the whole "$camdal" affair, but the fact is that it doesn't matter. That was the best college football season I ever saw, and I have a hard time believing I'll ever see anything like it again.
He was so good, he basically dragged the rest of his team along with him. Auburn had some good pieces in 2010 — Michael Dyer had a breakout season as a freshman tailback and Nick Fairley emerged as both very good and very, very dirty at defensive tackle — but Cam was the man who made the ship go. Having a favorable schedule that brought every difficult opponent except Alabama to Jordan-Hare Stadium that year didn't hurt matters, either.

2011 Alabama
12-1 (8-1), BCS national champs
Best player: Trent Richardson, RB — 1,679 yards (5.9 ypc); 2,017 total yards (6.5 yards per touch); 24 total TDs; 2nd in the Heisman voting.
Best wins: vs. Arkansas (10 wins); at Florida (8-5, but 4-0 coming in); vs. LSU at the Superdome (13-1, SEC West champs, SEC champs).
Thoughts: I said this in January, but I do believe the 2011 Alabama team to be the best of Nick Saban's squads. And I also think it's the best of these three teams, at least in terms of pure talent. That sounds a little odd, given that it didn't put together a resume quite like 2009, and it didn't have a single player as dominant as what Cam Newton did in 2010.
That said, this Alabama team played defense about as well as any team I've ever seen, and that includes the 1992 team generally regarded as the best defense ever. Outside of the LSU game — which took on a life of its own — Alabama was barely challenged the entire season. In fact, other than the very last play of overtime vs. LSU, Alabama trailed exactly four times all season: 3-0 to Penn State, 7-0 at Florida, 7-0 at Ole Miss and 3-0 vs. Tennessee. And that was it.
The highest compliment I can pay to them is this: They were a boring squad to watch. That defense was so good and so smothering, it actually took much of the fun out of the game. And the national championship game vs. LSU was a prime example: They knew everything the Tigers were going to do before they did it, and it simply took their spirit away from them.
The competition was a little iffy: Alabama didn't play either of the two best teams in the SEC East (South Carolina and Georgia) and played all its biggest games at home other than the game at Auburn.
 Of course, the scar on the season will forever be this: It did not win its division or conference title — and needed a great deal of good luck to jump back into the picture —  and thus many (who aren't us) will sort of see it as carrying an asterisk (although if it leads to us finally getting a postseason tournament, maybe that's better for everybody).
All these things are a) very true and b) somewhat immaterial to the final result. Anyone who watched these three teams would say the following: the 2009 Tide played the best schedule: the 2010 Tigers had the best player; but the 2011 Tide was the best of them all.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

newspaper column is about praying

Editor's Note: This week's column for the St. Clair Times wasn't a fully formed idea. But it was fun to write, so I hope you enjoy it. As always, you can chime in here or on Twitter.
Praying in all things, except when it might not be necessary

This column idea, believe it or not, began with “Dancing With the Stars.”

Believe me, that’s not something I admit with any degree of pride. I watched the show because I had temporarily lost control of the remote, and my only other choice was to scream loudly until the person in charge of the remote either changed the channel or called the cops to have me forcibly removed from the house. So I chose to grin and bear it.

In any case, this particular episode was wrapping up and Jaleel White — formerly TV’s “Urkel” on “Family Matters” — was in danger of losing whatever challenge he was facing and leaving the show.

(Note: Jaleel White seems like a nice dude, and I confess to watching “Family Matters” a few years back. But Jaleel is neither a particularly good dancer, nor a “star.” And yet he was probably the third-most famous person on the show. I have no idea what my point is.)

In any case, one of the distracting features on the show is to run “tweets” from viewers who are simultaneously watching the show and posting online about it. I’m not sure what the point of this was, either, but one of them caught my eye.

“Praying for Team Jaleel to not be eliminated tonight!!! #dwts”

That led to the following thought: “Wait … God couldn’t possibly be watching ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ could He?”

Weirdly, one of the most pressing issues for people of faith is to know when is an appropriate time to pray. Some I’ve known believe in the approach offered in 1 Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” and have been known to offer up prayers for runny noses, stuck zippers and slow-running computers. And others scoff and say, “Can we save the prayers for things that matter?”

Poor Tim Tebow somehow found himself in the middle of that fight during the last football season, as people argued over whether Tebow’s faith was some sort of vending machine. If Tim puts in enough tokens, will he win some sort of prize?

And if God listens to Tebow about the Broncos, couldn’t we put Tim in charge of praying about world hunger or ridding the world of boy bands? You know, something meaningful?

The truth is that I’m not sure what the truth is. But the best answer may have come from someone I know who teaches first grade.

“If you’re bashful about what to pray for, you should ask some little kids. You’ll pray about loose teeth, somebody’s missing stuffed animal and somebody’s sick grandma, all in the same day.”

That makes perfect sense, I thought. Do they pray about “Dancing With the Stars?”

“They go to bed too early,” she said.

Fair enough.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tuesday tube: West by God Virginia

Alabama and West Virginia announced a matchup to open the 2014 season late last week, a game that will be, oddly enough, the first meeting between the two programs. Since there's not much else going on and I'm not feeling terribly inspired, here's a random video of West Virginia's defense hitting things.
That was fun. As it happens, Alabama is pretty good at hitting things, also. And we have a good history these days opening the season in the Dome. A few examples for your enjoyment.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

a newspaper column about football and choosing a college

Editor's note: This week's column is also available at the Times' website. I am reposting it here because I can't always reach the website for some bizarre reason.  Also, I'm adding a footnote at the bottom, because I forgot to put it in the original column (it wouldn't have been terribly germane anyway).
School choice about more than just the usual reasons

This is sort of embarrassing to admit, but here goes.

When I was 17, much of my brainpower was dedicated to deciding where I would attend college. Well, that and finding the best chicken wings. I really like chicken wings.

In any case, the college decision weighed pretty heavily on my mind, as it does with many who are faced with the prospect of choosing a destination for the next 2-4 years of life.

“There’s really no pressure,” one person told me. “It’s only, like, the most important decision you’ll ever make.”


Of course there were any number of criteria involved in the decision. And — here’s the part where it’s a little embarrassing — the football team was a part of that.

That makes very little sense since, well, I wasn’t going to, um, play football. I did have a chance to play at a small college, but when it came to showing up on the big time … well, those dreams were about as realistic as me scoring a date with Britney Spears (it was 1999 – these days a date with Britney Spears seems way more realistic).

Even so, when considering colleges, I did consider the football program. You have to understand, at that point, 18-year-old Will had only two real passions in life: youth group and Alabama football. The prospect of waking up every day in a world where everybody else was passionate about Alabama football — remember, I lived in the heart of Auburn country — was as important as the quality of the dorms and the academic regimen.

(And chicken wings. I really can’t emphasize that enough.)

My dad definitely understood the choice, too. The day he dropped me off at the dorm on the corner of Hackberry Lane and Bryant Drive, he looked up at the top of Bryant-Denny Stadium peeking through the treetops — really, it looks from a distance like a spaceship opening up — and said, “This is pretty cool.”

By every objective measure, the choice worked out for the best: I have a degree now, and many of my best friends in life I met in Tuscaloosa … including my wife. Even if the choice seems arbitrary to the rest of the sane universe, it wound up being one of the better decisions I’ve ever made*.

* — Here I note that, from the time I entered the university (1999) until the time my wife graduated with her second degree (2006), Alabama football experienced the single most tumultuous stretch in the 120-year history of the program: four losing seasons, four different head coaches, two very ugly, very public personal scandals and crippling NCAA probation. Weirdly, that period also included three 10-win seasons and an SEC championship. While we're here, I must also note that my brother Whit showed great determination by remaining in Tuscaloosa until the championship season of 2009. Good job by him there.

In a recent column, Buzz Bissinger — renowned and slightly unhinged author of “Friday Night Lights,” among other things — argued that college football should be dropped entirely. It is not an academic pursuit, he argues, and exposes more young men to unnecessary risks, for which there is little to no payoff.

His point is well taken. But it’s possible he doesn’t see the whole picture, either.