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.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tuesday tube: best year ever?

Things around here have, obviously, slowed down quite a bit. Until August, it's likely the only regular features you'll see around here are this one and my column for the St. Clair Times, when it runs. From time to time, hopefully the muse will strike and you'll be rewarded with something longer. I'm working on one for this weekend, assuming it ever gets finished. 

In any case, this week's edition of "Tube" was inspired by this post from Michael Casagrande, arguing that the 2011-2012 athletic season might just be the best in the history of the program. Watch the highlights and judge for yourself.

Of course, if the softball team can finally pay it off with a championship at the WCWS, maybe there's no more discussion.
Regardless, it's great to be from Alabama. Roll Tide.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

a newspaper column about political arguments & stupidity

This week's column for the St. Clair Times wound up being not nearly as good as this piece about election stories (language NSFW). But I enjoyed writing it, for whatever that is worth. You can enjoy me trying (and failing) to come up with new ways to write the word "stupidity." I don't really own a thesaurus that's any good. As always, contributions are welcome either in the comments section or by finding me on Twitter.
Election season means a lot of arguing

One of the joys of working in a newsroom is working around people with strong opinions, mostly because it leads to arguing those strong opinions with vehemence and absolutism.

Walk into your average newsroom, and you might leave with the impression that all the people who work there hate one another. That’s how heated the arguments often can be.

This apparently makes for very successful television, based on the ratings for ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” and “Around the Horn.” Real-life newsrooms feature a number of those types of arguments, though with more swearing and less makeup.

But the key to each argument is the following: the people making the arguments ultimately respect one another as individuals. They are disagreeing — many times violently and occasionally with no real basis — but they can walk away still friends.

It is now May, in an even year. And that means it’s time for elections again, one of those rare gifts in which a free society can engage.

Election years, however, come with something of a crippling downside. Frankly, some people seem less concerned about making sure their side wins, so much as they are scorching the earth so that nobody wins.

This occurs, near as I can tell, because the people involved with these races are personally invested in their side. And people who are passionate about politics — from either party — tend to make one of two assumptions about the other side of the aisle.

The first assumption: that they (the opponent) is filled with people who are either stupid, na├»ve or simply “misinformed.” This generally leads to a lot of clucking of the tongue and patting of the head.

“It’s really cute that you think that, Person I’m Now Talking Down To, and I bet you really believe what you’re saying. But I want you to know that what you said is idiotic, and I am about to attempt to make you feel dumb for having an opinion and saying it out loud.”

Remember, people who are passionate about these issues tend to see everything on their own terms. And if you refuse to see those things strictly within those confines, you must be poorly educated.

There is a second possibility, however, and it is slightly more sinister than the first. If a person believes differently than you do, maybe he’s not an ignoramus; in fact, maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe it’s because he has a super-secret hidden agenda he’s keeping from the world.

It is the exact opposite of complete oafishness. A person with an agenda is after something; he doesn’t just want your vote, he wants your soul.

“You wouldn’t be saying that, Person On the Other Side of the Aisle, if you truly loved America. You are trying to hurt America, sir. Why will you stop at nothing to let the terrorists win?!”

This, by the way, may be why it is impossible to honestly discuss politics in America: most of us who care have already decided that everyone on the other side is either foolhardy or conspiratorial. Who can have a reasonable conversation with a bunch of idiots being led by shady, evil conspirators? Everything the other side says — no matter how benign — then must fall into one of those two categories: evidence of their ignorance, or evidence of their conspiracy.

I can’t help feeling like we should all be better than that. Which means I’m bound to receive a few e-mails over the next few days calling me a doofus, or telling me I’m in on the conspiracy. I can’t decide which is worse.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

the return of inexplicable road trips: the last-ever Iron Bowl

Editor's Note: A long time ago I started reminiscing in blog form about some of the very odd road trips I have taken over the years to see Alabama play. Since we are once again facing the long dark of the spring and summer, please enjoy the return of said reminiscences. You may remember me trying a few of these last spring before giving up. So we're taking another shot at it. Fair warning: A number of these stories end with Alabama losing. Today's episode does not: the 1998 Iron Bowl, or the last time Auburn visited Legion Field.

The 1998 Iron Bowl might have been the most forgettable game between Auburn and Alabama that was ever played. And that's probably why I don't remember much about it at all. The game occurred roughly 24 hours after my senior football season at Opelika ended in a loss to Tuscaloosa County; we were ranked No. 2 in the state, but ran into a really terrible matchup for us, and ultimately couldn't overcome it (if you care you can read more about my alma mater's brutal decade of sports here). I was in attendance, and here is what I remember.

The lead-up: While researching for this blog post, it occurred to me that I have little to no memory of the 1998 season for either Auburn or Alabama. Which should probably tell you something — either that I am developing dementia, or the season just wasn't all that memorable for either team (note: it is entirely possible that both are true).
Here's what I do remember: Alabama, in the second season of Mike Dubose's reign of ineptitude, was attempting to wash away the bad taste of a 4-7 season — at the time, only the second sub-.500 campaign of the post-Bryant era — which had ended with Ed Scissum's fumble that gifted Auburn both the biggest game of the year and the SEC Western Division championship. The following season was ... um, less than thrilling: after opening with a win over BYU (Shaun Alexander's 5 TDs carried the team) and beating Vandy at home, the Tide got slapped at Arkansas, 42-6. The following week we lost at home to Florida, 16-10, in what (I think) was the debut for quarterback Andrew Zow (a redshirt freshman who was inserted into the game under the time-tested, "He can't be any worse than freaking John David Phillips" logic). The team held together for wins over Ole Miss (in overtime maybe?) and East Carolina (by a point!), lost on the road to eventual national champ Tennessee and beat Southern Miss at home. They should've been drilled the following week at LSU, but ... well, you know by now. We were at least bowl-eligible by then, but the momentum from the LSU game didn't carry over — we were drilled the following week in Starkville by a superior State team, and limped into Auburn week 6-4.
(Sidebar: It is remarkable, looking back, that a college football team as poorly organized as Alabama ever won a thing. It's almost sickening to watch now the number of pre-snap penalties, special teams mistakes and just genuine bizarre mental errors. Thank God those days are over; my dad's blood pressure is high enough.)
It was an uninspiring season, but still better than what was going on in Auburn that year. Coming into the season, the Teagles were the defending SEC Western division champs — they had come within a whisker of winning the title game vs. Peyton Manning and Tennessee — but there was a pretty strong undercurrent around town against then-head coach Terry Bowden. I was living in Opelika at the time around throngs of AU folk, and the general consensus was as follows: If Bowden ever stumbled, he would be chased out of town with rocks.
And that's basically what happened. Playing without all-everything quarterback Dameyune Craig, Auburn lost five of its first six games, and stumbled into the Bama game 3-7. They were playing a combination of Ben Leard and Gabe Gross at quarterback ... and that's about all I remember. At one point my uncle took me — an Alabama fan who had just played a high school football game — with him to Gainesville to see Auburn play Steve Spurrier's Florida, a game played the day after Bowden "resigned" his post (Florida barely tried in the second half and won 24-3) ... because there was literally no one else who wanted to go. They had gone through a bizarre stretch where their quarterback couldn't field a snap from center. They had another sequence in their loss to Tennessee where they recovered a fumble on UT's six-inch line ... and couldn't score in 4 tries. The interim head coach was Bill Oliver, the same guy who had fled Tuscaloosa after the 1995 season because he didn't think Gene Stallings would ever resign. They had needed a fourth-quarter comeback to beat Central Florida. They unequivocally sucked about as bad as Auburn has ever sucked in my lifetime.

How we got there: This is where my own memory starts to get fuzzy (not for the reasons you think, you jerk ... I was president of the youth group). I'm fairly certain someone who was a college counselor at church — was her name Hillary? Maybe? — sold me the ticket. It was in the AU section, but both teams were so bad, who really cared? I had on a Bama hat and my letterman jacket from OHS; you know, to be incognito.

The trip: I'm pretty sure I rode to Birmingham with my folks — there was a family party in ... I have no idea — and to Legion with my aunt and uncle. If memory serves, we parked at my cousin's frat house on the Birmingham Southern campus. I met the group I was supposed to be sitting with inside the stadium. I must have been close friends with someone in this group at some point, which is probably why it bugs me that I have little to no memory of any of them.

The game: In what was easily the greatest game of Gabe Gross' football career, Auburn roared out to an early 17-0 lead. And that was about that — Alabama rallied to narrow the margin to 17-14 before halftime, and drove the ball into scoring possession two other times to either tie or go ahead (naturally, both drives ended in turnovers). Finally, the lone star on the team made a play:
Bama went home a 31-17 winner.
It turned out to be the last time Auburn and Bama played at Legion Field — not long after that, the University announced it was moving its home game vs. Auburn to campus, something Auburn had already done 10 years earlier. Alabama continued its relationship with Legion until 2003, and now neither team will ever go back unless something goes horribly wrong and they wind up in the Papa John's Bowl.

The aftermath: Well, Alabama continued its characteristic play under Dubose by turning his first bowl bid as head coach into a nightmarish 31-7 loss to Va. Tech (to be fair, Va. Tech wound up playing for the national championship the following season). Auburn, after apparently giving Oliver the idea that he was the frontrunner for the permanent head coaching job, hired Tommy Tuberville away from Ole Miss. I don't suppose I have to tell you how either coach worked out for either program.
Two other notes from this game that I couldn't remember at all until I started writing this: First, I caught a ride home with another college person from church, an AU student who couldn't wait to lecture me about how my faith would be tested if I chose to go to Alabama. Everybody there drank, was his contention, and everyone there is in a fraternity. Apparently fraternities and alcohol did not exist at Auburn.
Second, when I finally made it home that night, very late, I plugged in the tape of the game and plopped down on the couch in my parents' basement. The day had been very long, and I was quite tired from the events of the preceding week. And yet, in my haze, I was almost convinced I saw highlights from my high school playoff game playing as part of ESPN's pregame introduction. I rewound it and watched again. The following day, I made my family watch it, as well.
Wouldn't you know? ESPN had sent a camera to our second-round playoff game vs. Lee in Montgomery, and had cut the highlights as part of the pregame narrative about kids in Alabama who grow up wanting to play for the hometown universities.
It was the only thing memorable about either the game or the season.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tuesday tube: Celebrating the Petrino era a few weeks late

Allow me to be the very final columnist or blogger to say my goodbyes to Bobby Petrino, the ex-Arkansas head coach. We'll say it the only way we know how: by reminding him about his failures vs. Alabama. You know, just because.

I think, of all of them, the 2010 game is my favorite. We had absolutely no business winning that game, and frankly every time I watch the highlights, I sort of doubt that we will.