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.