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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Enough to start getting excited about football season anew. As if you needed an excuse.
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.
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.
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.
‘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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 entrée 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.
Looks like fun. So let me go to bed before I do anything dumb. Roll Tide.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.