Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tuesday tube: This worked out pretty well

Since National Signing Day is just a few days away (thank God) — and we're, you know, coming off a national championship and all — it seems like a good time to revisit the recruiting class of 2009 (along with two extraordinarily goofy local announcers), which seems to have worked out pretty well.
If some of those names seem strangely familiar, click here.  Or watch this.
So maybe this is something worth paying attention to, for better or worse.
(We'll talk when it's over.)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Monday links for one Super week

Let's begin with the defending champs.
The girls from Tuscaloosa continued their winning streak vs. Auburn on Friday, with a narrow victory in front of a record crowd at the Auburn Arena. Really the winner isn't as important as the number of points scored — in the latest rankings (updated last week), our girls were actually rated 7th based on average points scored.
— I don't like harping too much on recruiting, if only because the coverage of it is part of what makes people who follow college football so crazy. But, just for fun, take a look at the latest ESPN 150 list, and count the number of Tide commitments. It's enough to be excited, if only for a moment.
(Note: Please read BSR today for an update on the saga surrounding Landon Collins. Apparently we all need to not only follow the whims of selfish, me-first teenagers, but also their selfish, me-first parents. Great.)
— And, of course, there's the basketball squad, which stared down disaster on Saturday vs. Arkansas and staved it off with a win at Coleman Coliseum. While the win itself is nothing to go crazy over, it was important to get back on the right side, particularly headed into the week off. The next 3 games — Saturday vs. Ole Miss, followed by road trips to Auburn and LSU — are all games that should be won, before a home date vs. Florida on Valentine's Day. Saturday's win was also notable for the success of the rotation, and the play of Andrew Steele. Maybe we don't have to start packing for the NIT just yet.
(Then again, if we get dismantled at LSU or Auburn next week ... ya know? Let's just enjoy this for now.)
— And, of course, it wouldn't be an offseason without a "Free UAB" story. They should be at the trustees' meeting this week.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

this newspaper column didn't make the paper

Because of spatial limitations, my weekly column for the St. Clair Times didn't actually make the paper. And that's probably for the best, because the crux of it is me comparing politicians to waitresses at Hooters. Anyway, you can respond here, or by finding me on Twitter. Thanks.
Politicians: They're not really your friend, you know

Here’s the best way I know to describe politics in this country.

We’ve all — or, I should say, most of us — been to one of those restaurants where the quality of the food was secondary to, um, the ambience. I’m probably not bound by any rules that keep me from actually calling these establishments by name, but just to be safe, let’s be intentionally vague.

In any case, most likely you know what I mean. The servers are almost uniformly young women, almost uniformly what our society might call “attractive,” and all dressed in a way that accentuates their, um, attributes. Which is the whole point of having the restaurant in the first place.

(Note: This is somewhat uncomfortable. And it’s about to get worse.)

In addition to their dress code, many of these girls apparently are coached — I say “apparently” because I have no idea what actually goes on in management meetings — to, for lack of a better term, flirt with their customers. The theory, of course, being that their customers (mostly middle-aged men) are likely to stay longer and tip more if they feel they’re receiving special attention from a young lady. So they use terms of endearment (“honey” and such as that) and attempt to strike up awkward conversations (“You’re an Alabama fan? No way, me too!”).

All of this is in place, of course, to mask the fact that the food is mediocre on its best days, the drinks are lukewarm and the seats are uncomfortable. Way too many guys (metaphorically) eat this up, unfortunately.

Here’s why I’m bringing this up: If you aren’t aware these things are taking place, and if you’re starved for attention, you could very easily delude yourself into thinking these ladies have a genuine interest in you as a person. They do not. They have a genuine interest in you as a customer with money to spend, and nothing more. The relationship begins and ends with the check.

I think about this sometimes as it relates to politics. Thankfully, most of our politicians don’t wear the scanty attire. But they are masters of the other part: pretend to empathize with regular people’s problems, reassure them that you can solve their woes … make them think you care about them beyond just the election.

It’s a game as old as democracy itself. But it’s just that: a sham. A politician’s empathy for his constituents goes as far as the next election. They’re not going home with you to meet the family; even if they do, they’re only staying long enough to take a photo and move on.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of the restaurant experience. At least with the restaurant I get some cold cheese fries.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

hardwood thoughts: where are we now

A running feature that was well received definitely existed during last basketball season was a series in which we would visit with my brother Whit, a sometimes aspiring basketball coach who now leads a youth group in Panama City. He and I share opinions about Alabama basketball, and many of them are actually acceptable to share with other people. Here we check in with Whit in the midst of a three-game losing streak, as some question whether coach Grant is getting through to his team (though our RPI remains strong). As always, feel free to find us on Twitter or leave your comments here.

AP Photo
me: Is it me, or are we basically the same team we were at this time last year? We seem slightly better shooting the basketball, but not by a lot ... and if anything, the kids who are better shooters are more prone to defensive lapses (which drives coach Grant insane).
Whit: I think we ARE a better team this year than we were at this time last year. The main reason I feel this way is because I think Coach Grant is about to "find our identity as a team." I think that he's doing a great job using the entire bench to play disciplined defense, and hustle from tip to final horn. I also like the fact that he'll yank people who aren't doing their job out of the game and put somebody else in who will. I think that our shooting as a whole has been poor for quite some time. The guys seem like they shoot the ball well, like most people, when they have a chance to set their feet. I realize that's not rocket science, and everybody knows that but we just don't seem to be getting our feet set at all when we shoot the ball...especially not from 3. And much like 20-year-old kids, they get upset when they miss shots and don't play defense.
me: And then there's Tony Mitchell, who is the most athletic and has the lowest basketball IQ of anybody on the squad. And he may actually be regressing as a player.
Whit: Ah...Mr. Mitchell...where do we start? You are the most athletic and most exciting player that Alabama has right now. You are actually a pretty good shooter, too. However, you are by far the laziest defender we have. You're moody, You make poor decisions, and then You walk down the court as the rest of your teammates bust their rumps to play defense!
** The best thing that Tony can do as a player right now is to lose some of his emotion. Most of his problems are mental because he seems to think that he's the only scoring option on the court when he plays. If he doesn't get such a big head and try to do things that are ridiculous (i.e. standing still next to the ball handler for 5 seconds calling for the ball, then get the ball, and then take a contested three pointer with two seconds left on the shot clock) he can play well and function as part of what should be a fun team to watch.
** To add to that, all of Alabama's players need to be passionate about the game they're playing but they need to play the game like a business in order to find the success they/we want. We seem to always follow the momentum of the game, and with every ebb and flow, so goes our play. 
me: What's our best 5 right now? On Saturday in Kentucky, we played a crunch-time 5 of Releford, Randolph, Lacey, Steele (because Tony Mitchell fouled out) and Green/Jacobs — basically, a 4-guard lineup that allowed us to run more. And it would've worked, but we couldn't stop fouling them (particularly, Steele's foul on the jump shooter at about the :40 mark was a killer).

Whit: Releford, Lacey, Randolph, Green, Jacobs. --  I think we should start games with this kind of lineup and run some of the high post stuff that Bama ran under (ohgoddon'tsayit) Gottfried. We had Davidson and Hendrix at the time, and they were able to beat some people up at the beginning of games with a lot of that kind of action.
• Releford, Steele, Randolph, Mitchell, Green -- I like this lineup to run with and because Steele provides some leadership and solid decision making on the court at all times. He also tends to be the old guy in the gym who knows when to attack and get fouled, when to sag out and be open for a three, and when to calm everybody else down. I think Randolph will come along as the season goes. I really like him because he has a good looking shot and has the rebounding capability to cause problems underneath.  (Maybe post him up and clear out with undersized defenders?)
me: If we make it in the tournament, you think we have a shot to do anything?
Whit: I think that we'll make the tournament and win one or two. As we all know, Alabama can get hot shooting the ball and blow some people out. We also know that they can make 0 3s for a game, be completely deflated, and quit before it's over. I hope that they can catch fire shooting the ball at the right time. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tuesday tube: The last time

With the passing of the legendary Joe Paterno Sunday morning, it seems only appropriate to dedicate this week's Tuesday tube to him. First, the last meeting between Paterno and coach Bryant, which took place at Legion Field in 1982.
And, of course, there's the 2011 version, which turned out to be little more than a great road trip.
It turned out to be the last loss for Joe Paterno as a head coach. I'm not sure how to feel about that, really.

Monday links (on Tuesday): The Day We All Lost

Editor's Note: This edition of "Monday links" was going up Monday morning, but the tornadoes that blew through here around 4 a.m. sort of knocked me off schedule. My apologies, and here we go.

Like most people who love college football, much of my weekend was dominated by news about Joe Paterno, who really did die Sunday morning, only a few hours after the Internet briefly killed him, then brought him back to life in "serious" condition. There is no way for this blog to properly eulogize Paterno, who was probably more synonymous with Penn State football than anyone is synonymous with a single football program in football (that sentence made no sense, but I'm leaving it there).

And anyway, a number of great writers will discuss Paterno's life and death in detail in the coming days, weeks and months. Jack McCallum and the overly bitter and angry Buzz Bissinger are already on the case, as is the great Spencer Hall.
A 90,000-student university does not rise out of the hills of the Alleghenies without an anchor point, and a tragedy like the Jerry Sandusky scandal does not happen without an institution to shelter it. Build a pyramid around a live pharaoh, and you have a palace. Have the pharaoh die, and it becomes a tomb.
My memories of Paterno will always be affected by two things: That he kept Penn State football in a holding pattern for the last 8-10 years of his career (because he was afraid he would die if he quit) and ... well, you know.
Even so, he may be the last great coach that ever walks the college football universe. And I hope he's at peace.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

playing the name game in this week's column

Another week, another newspaper column. I had a little bit of fun with this one — which, I suppose, is the whole point. As always, please visit the St. Clair Times website, find me on Twitter or leave your comments here. And thank you for caring. Even if you don't.
Careful with the name; it could be tricky

I don’t consider my own name to be particularly difficult. It’s just two syllables — three if you’re a real Southerner and like to draw out words (“Weeuhhhlll”).

Nevertheless, I go lots of places and find that people tend to confuse my given name and my family name.

“Heath,” I often hear. “Get over here.”

Eventually, people will realize their mistake and apologize.

“I just realize I’ve been calling you by your last name. Sorry about that, Bill.”

I learned to live with it. After all, I played football in high school and there’s a certain camaraderie in being addressed only by your surname.

“Gawdamighty knows, Heath. You can’t do no better than that?”

There are worse things to be called, I suppose. Only last week in New Orleans, I was called everything from “Tiger Bait” to “Crimson” to “redneck,” to a bunch of other words I can’t print (and can barely pronounce). It was a welcome change when we made it back so I could pick up my shirts from the cleaners, and received a new name from the lady behind the counter.

“Just one minute, sweetheart … What can I help you with, sweetheart? … Is this all you need, sweetheart? … You have a nice day, sweetheart.”

A pleasant change, if only for a few minutes.

Most everyone I know has, at some point in life, dealt with an unflattering nickname, or just a name they got stuck with.

The head football coach at Clemson University, for example, is an Alabama kid whose given name is William Christopher Swinney. At some point in his youth, however, his brother referred to him simply as “That Boy,” only when he said it, it came out “Dabo.” And so now, he holds a high-profile job and makes seven figures every year … and most of the world knows him only as “Dabo.”

As familiar to local football fans is young Quintorris Jones, from Foley. You probably think his name is “Julio.” I don’t blame you — and, in all likelihood, neither does he — for not knowing that; Julio is much easier to spell.

And now that I’m in the business of writing for a living — meager though it is — I’m apparently as guilty of giving out false names as anyone else. Not so long ago, I was at a meeting where a lady from St. Vincent’s Health System came up to shake my hand.

“I’ve been waiting a long time to do this,” she said. “I’m the PR gerbil for St. Vincent’s.”

Oops. Guess that one’s on me.

“Um … nice to meet you?”

Monday, January 16, 2012

talking points, the week after

Now that the season is over and the champion is crowned — and by the way, the celebration is Saturday in Tuscaloosa — there's nothing really to do for the next few weeks except talk. As such, there's probably a need to address several of the talking points which will inevitably become fact about this year's BCS Championship Game.

Myth No. 1: Alabama shocked LSU with its offensive game plan by throwing on first down. I have neither the time nor the resources to do the necessary research to back this up, so you'll just have to trust me on this one: Jim McElwain's offense at Alabama has been a throw-first attack since 2008, particularly in big games. Maybe this sounds nonsensical, since Alabama is regarded as a physical team and has produced both a Heisman winner and a Heisman finalist in the last three seasons.
Particularly in big games, however, McElwain's modus operandi has been as follows: throw in early-down situations, attempt to stay out of long-yardage situations, and give yourself advantageous down-and-distance situations (thus making it easier to run the football). More to the point, as we discussed last week, the Tide's biggest wins under Nick Saban have all come in the following manner: Score early to take the lead, lock them down on defense, possess the football on offense and slowly ruin their will to resist you. If you want to go one step further, the reason Alabama couldn't secure the win over Auburn in 2010 (I think ... I blacked out most of it) was the offense's inability to possess the ball in the second half (basically hanging the defense out to dry).
Was it somewhat surprising to see A.J. McCarron perform so ably when no one was sure he could do so? Sure it was. But it was also pretty shocking to see John Parker Wilson throwing all over Georgia in Athens in 2008, just as it was to see Greg McElroy dissecting Florida in Atlanta in 2009. This performance wasn't any better or worse than those; just a different verse of the old song.

Myth No. 2: LSU's offense was inept. We criticized LSU's game plan in this space last week — attempting to play horizontal football even though a) Alabama is the surest tackling team in the country and b) SEC defenses are way too fast to be beaten horizontally — but I also noted at the time that LSU may have been attempting to go downfield all night, and Alabama simply wouldn't let them. OTS noted as much in his review of the game:
For Bobby Hebert: the reason LSU did not drive the ball down the field in the vertical passing game was because Alabama sat deep all night with two safeties and the combination of the physical coverage on the outside by the cornerbacks and the strength of the pass rush up front forced short, quick throws and did not allow either the time or the gaps in coverage on the back end to allow for deep throws of any reasonable chance of success. I would have assumed a former NFL-quarterback-turned-expert-analyst -- well, sort of -- would have figured that out from the press box, but apparently not. Consider that one on the house, Cajun Cannon. 
LSU fans will, of course, spend the rest of the offseason wondering why Les Miles and his offensive staff (apparently) never gave Jarrett Lee a shot, the first "DNP" for No. 12 all season. I can only say, I have no idea. But it might have something to do with Lee's stat line during his November outing against this defense: 3-7-2, 24 yards.
(UPDATE: Furman Bisher — who is 256 years old and hasn't actually covered a game since 1934 — advanced the theory on his website that Lee was actually benched for academic reasons. I have utterly no idea how Bisher would have come by this information that apparently no one else who covered the game knew anything about. Nevertheless, it's an interesting element to the conversation.)

Look, I understand the tendency to rationalize the dominance of a defense like Alabama's as "bad offense" or "inept quarterback play." Fine. But I will always be convinced that this defense — with this group and these coaches — was just way too good for any offense at the collegiate level. It was just an overwhelming unit performing in an overwhelming fashion.
(Note: I doubt anyone who isn't a football geek — like, OK ... me — understands exactly how much professional talent was on the field in last week's BCS Championship Game. Do me a favor: when the NFL draft is over, check the list of draftees and count how many Alabama or LSU names you see. You may be surprised.)

One other note, and only because we're now entering championship weekend in professional football: All season long, the national consensus was that the top-4 teams in football, in some order, were Green Bay, New England, New Orleans and Pittsburgh. But, throw them into a single-game elimination playoff, add a few key injuries and ... well, their regular-season play amounts to basically nothing — only one of that group will get a shot at a championship.
Does it mean that playoffs are bad? Probably not: from a pure entertainment standpoint, it's probably the best for everybody. But, if nothing else, we can that the BCS did match the two best teams in New Orleans. And the better man won.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

your weekly newspaper column: about Birmingham

We welcome you back to this week's newspaper column, with a piece about me cheering for Birmingham to come back. What can I say? I'm a sucker for rebounding. As always, you can visit the St. Clair Times, find me on Twitter, or just comment here.
Believing in Birmingham in new year

Every new year starts out with the promise of comebacks, and people believing that this is the year — no, seriously, this is the year.

Underdogs, after all, are the ones that are the most fun to cheer. That’s why we always attempt to make our team the underdog, even when it’s patently absurd (whichever team wins the Super Bowl, you can guarantee that those players will pretend they were overlooked all season).

The same goes for cities. Believe it or not, part of me is actually rooting for the city of Birmingham in 2012.

Believe me, I know it’s more than fashionable to poke fun at the Magic City these days. In my business, it’s more than fashionable; it’s almost a requirement.

And I can understand why — frankly, Birmingham makes it hard to root for it. Whether it’s seeing many influential leaders carted off to jail, or just ineptly bungling some sort of economic development project, the city often appears to have achieved that rare balance between corruption and complete ineptitude.

In a way, it’s so ugly it’s almost adorable.

Beyond that, it seems most of us around the city — particularly in the suburbs and even here at home in St. Clair County — have either lost faith that anything good can happen in Birmingham, or are openly rooting against anything good happening there. The reasons for this are myriad, of course — some of it’s probably based on old racial prejudices — but mostly it’s because we’ve watched the same movie way too many times.

Birmingham has chances. Birmingham can’t figure out how to exploit those chances. Birmingham stays where it is, while the rest of the world passes by.

Sports fans are often like this. Watching the famous documentary about Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series — when the star-crossed Chicago Cubs famously lost a two-run lead and eventually the entire season in the span of 30 minutes or so — you could tell how the long-suffering Cub fans approached the moment. “I’m celebrating now; I don’t believe we’re really going to win; now something bad has happened, and I know we’re going to lose. I hate myself for thinking we were going to win in the first place.”

Even so, these star-crossed franchises can’t stay down forever, right? The Red Sox did win the World Series in 2004, didn’t they? It’s not impossible, is it?

So I’m rooting for the city in 2012. I’m foolishly optimistic. I believe the city can solve its transportation woes; I believe some sports and entertainment can make downtown vibrant again; I think the populace can elect competent leaders who don’t rob the city blind and put a stain on everything good that’s happening there.

And I may be wrong about 2012. It might be business as usual in Birmingham. But the great thing about New Years: there’s always that chance that this is the year.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

gameday texts: Bourbon Street edition

Once more for football season, we welcome you back to "Gameday Texts," a long-running open thread of the best text messages from arguably the most hilarious group of friends and family anywhere. For this edition, we're going all the way back to Saturday morning, and continuing all the way through sometime early Tuesday. As with every edition of this blog, each message appears exactly as it does on my phone, complete with timestamp. As with any edition of "Texts," understand that some may be offensive and mildly vulgar. Please to enjoy.

Dad (7:55 a.m.) You so cool!
me (8:18 a.m.) Good morning from the Zombie Apocalypse Preview. Or, the French Quarter before 10 a.m.

me (9:04 a.m.) Creepy Guy Who Wears All-Black While Walking Bourbon Street at 9 a.m. don't give a sh-t, either.
Rob (9:08 a.m.) Go to far on bourbon and lots of people don't give a shit
Whit (9:19 a.m.) I bet he's an excellent drinking buddy. Buy him one.
Whit (9:19 a.m.) Also, please don't forget that it's the third hurricane that has the alcohol.

me (10:06 a.m.) The Bluetooth sure has made it harder to identify insane people.
Maguire (10:12 a.m.) This is true. I've been fooled by those more than once.

me (11:43 a.m.) The T.R. Miller High School marching band just played a set in Jackson Square. I have no explanation.
Rob (11:44 a.m.) U need a drink

Halcombe (3:42 p.m.) Women's hoops? ... NFL playoffs? I'm torn.
Halcombe (3:58 p.m.) The Pro Bowl. Watch the NFL's best, except for the absolute best who will be playing a week later, square off in Hawaii. Only on NBC.

me (4:41 p.m.) More impressive to me is Bum Phillips. There's no way he's still alive.
Halcombe (5:18 p.m.) His head is in one of those Futurama floating glass jars like Tricky Dick.

Halcombe (6:03 p.m.) Kubiak has his challenge flag in his back pocket like a hankerchief poised to be slapped out for an old-fashioned duel. Straight Hamilton-Burr style yo.

Pedro (6:17 p.m.) To hell with Georgia

Dad (7:00 p.m.) Vertical passing means he throws the ball straight up?
Halcombe (7:04 p.m.) According to the NFL on NBC intro, Faith Hill is the same height as Eli, Ray Lewis and Hines Ward. My wife also added her legs "are fake. There's no muscles."

me (6:54 p.m.) What frat did Matt Stafford pledge?
Whit (6:55 p.m.) Sigma Douche
Whit (6:55 p.m.) That or delta iota kappa ... dik
Maguire (6:56 p.m.) Probably TKE!
Halcombe (7:10 p.m.) Stafford guaranteeing a beer funnel and tequila shot party at his crib if Megatron catches two or more TDs. Notice "win" appears nowhere in that statement.
Rob (7:17 p.m.) Guess sae not 100% though
Jamie (7:53 p.m.) Talla Dega

Halcombe (7:25 p.m.) Ndamakung Suh wearing Forever Lazy tonight so he can drop trou and leave a steaming pile at midfield. "Blank yo Katrina. Blank yo Bourbon St. Blank yo donuts."

me (8:06 p.m.) There was a Chizik sighting at Mulate's. That is all. 
Jamie (8:07 p.m.) I guess that's why we have no coordinator's and losing recruits
Maguire (8:08 p.m.) Just now?! Did you ask him to smile so you could see his alleged teeth?

Jamie (8:09 p.m.) There is someone selling booze literally out of a hole in the wall on bourbon st. It is cheap. Go there.

me (8:59 p.m.) Mark May sighting!
Maguire (9:00 p.m.) No Dr. Lou?
Maguire (9:00 p.m.) Ask him where his daddy is!
Halcombe (9:00 p.m.) Tell him I look at his college mug on the 1980 Kodiak All-America poster in our office John
Dad (9:00 p.m.) He got big head

Whit (12:44 p.m.) Football verne lundquist & basketball verne lundquist
Whit (12:53 p.m.) The word pseudo penetration was just used ...

me (1:02 p.m.) There are creepy people in the French market selling the exact same masks that have served as key plot points in horror movies.
Halcombe (1:04 p.m.) If your wife falls in love with a strange cat in the Chinese shop, don't buy it. Or, at least don't feed it after midnight.

Halcombe (3:22 p.m.) Oh damn, here goes another ill-placed Giants' Super Bowl run. They stopped a Niners' three-peat, played awful game vs. Ravens and ended an undefeated season.

me (4:35 p.m.) Apparently if you drink enough Coors Light, you see a miniature former NFL coach, screaming at you.
Maguire (4:50 p.m.) That's what you deserve for drinking a lot of Coors Light.

Halcombe (4:37 p.m.) Anyone considered the possibility Denver may win the game?

Halcombe (5:56 p.m.) James Harrison is whispering to every would-be tackle, "I'll yo children's legs like fried chicken b*tches."

Dad (6:18 p.m.) This is so embarrassing. They got me on the bottom of the pyramid.

me (6:47 p.m.) Tonight our waiter looks like the guy who sang "The Humpty Dance."
Halcombe (7:32 p.m.) What Tebow will say: I want to thank God and my teammates. What Tebow will be thinking: Eff you. Eff you. Eff you. And ... yes, eff you.

Whit (7:48 p.m.) Tebow wins again ...

Jamie (7:57 p.m.) John Elway probably thinks to himself that his organization was set back 5 years today.

me (8:31 p.m.) Suppose I told you we're in the Pat O's courtyard. And the real live LSU marching band just showed up. You wouldn't believe me, I bet.
me (8:32 p.m.) Currently leading us all in a rousing rendition of "Hey Fightin Tigers."

Whit (8:32 p.m.) That's still cool

Halcombe (8:35 p.m.) And you go, "Ra. Ra. Piss off LS-Poo."
Jamie (8:45 p.m.) Then take your tiger baiting with a sense of humor, I guess.
Jamie (8:46 p.m.) Or you probably have time to make it to mobile for the second half of the godaddy.com bowl, if you choose

Melissa Hughey (1:51 p.m.) We left with our hurricanes! ROLL TIDE!
me (2:26 p.m.) Careful with those — the 3rd one usually has all the alcohol.
me (2:26 p.m.) Roll Tide.

Halcombe (5:44 p.m.) Chip Kelly's analysis on LSU: This is how they kicked our ass.

Halcombe (6:06 p.m.) Rinaldi, please don't try to humanize Saban. Even 'Bama fans know he's a dick.

Dad (6:26 p.m.) Bama has no sot. They should just get back on the bus ... ok, that's out of the way

Halcombe (7:00 p.m.) Is Brent wearing a sweater vest? Is he? Is he? The suspense is killing me.

Pedro (7:11 p.m.) "The guy who did the least coaching wins this game" — your wisdom from Lee Corso
Pedro (7:15 p.m.) Chizik refused to pick, Chip Kelly picked Oregon, Corso picks LSU

me (7:27 p.m.) In lieu of the actual president, tonight Pres. David Palmer from "24" will flip.
Travis P (7:39 p.m.) CTU in the house?
Pedro (7:43 p.m.) Keep your eye out for the sniper being tracked by Jack Bauer. Things may get ugly around that guy

Rob (7:51 p.m.) Yeah pulled a hamy on the return doubt he will be back based on his reaction.
Travis P (7:53 p.m.) Not a stinger then. Fbomb.
Maguire (7:59 p.m.) They're not saying anything yet, but he was walking normally when they showed him a minute ago
Pedro (8:05 p.m.) Rinaldi said that the training staff had described Maze as questionable, but then said "it looks like that question got answered" as Maze ran out

me (8:05 p.m.) Last 2 opponents for these guys dominated early & lost late. Not good enough.
Rob (8:06 p.m.) Yeah but they didn't have our defense
Travis P (8:11 p.m.) Debbie downer. Stop it

me (8:16 p.m.) Annnnnd ... we lose. Again. Goddammit.
Rob (8:17 p.m.) Yeah not good
D. Hardin (8:17 p.m.) Yep game over
Travis P (8:17 p.m.) GD. Will. Get your ass some optimism juice NOW. I will pay you back.

Rob (8:18 p.m.) Miss van tiffin
Whit (8:19 p.m.) That's the spirit! Your favorite team is leading the national championship. Enjoy it and pull your head out of your patootie.

Rob (8:32 p.m.) Yay field goals

Rob (8:44 p.m.) Honey badger got worked by Trent
me (8:48 p.m.) Couldn't have been in position for that kick without #7 being an idiot & trying to get on Sportscenter. Thanks, Tyrone!

Jonathan Page (8:49 p.m.) Christ, my heart can't take this shit.
Rob (8:49 p.m.) He is weak against good competition
Rob (8:50 p.m.) Just don't throw near claibourme!
Rob (8:50 p.m.) And yay football!

me (8:54 p.m.) Not sure how we lose this unless we give it away.
Rob (8:55 p.m.) Careful lsu did this against uga
Rob (8:55 p.m.) Gotta keep the pedal down
Rob (8:55 p.m.) Don't get conservative and run Trent run!
me (8:54 p.m.) Then again, I'm an idiot.
Rob (8:56 p.m.) It's ok I am 6 beers in and have a bucket of them next to me so soon I Wil be an idiot!
Maguire (8:56 p.m.) Nah. We're dominating then more than we did in November. Got to keep it up, though.

Pedro (9:00 p.m.) SEC just ran an ad highlighting previous 5 BCS championship games won by SEC schools. Showed highlights of each, ended the ad with "YOU'RE WATCHING NUMBER SIX"

Pedro (9:13 p.m.) Marquis was torn up on the sideline. He ain't coming back.

Rob (9:23 p.m.) Tick tock!!
Rob (9:25 p.m.) Wind that bitch!
Dad (9:25 p.m.) Need points!
D. Hardin (9:26 p.m.) It has to go faster run clock run!!!
Whit (9:37 p.m.) Moseleys knee no longer intact. Leg was turned the wrong way entirely. Prayers.
D. Hardin (9:38 p.m.) Sad ... Career ender there
Whit (9:42 p.m.) It was pretty gruesome. He had all his weight on that leg and was but leg stayed in the ground
Whit (9:43 p.m.) Definitely dislocated

me (9:43 p.m.) Let's hear it for white guys on D!
Whit (9:44 p.m.) All right! Yay for hard work!!
Rob (9:46 p.m.) Gentry!!!!!

me (9:51 p.m.) We should at least consider the possibility that our team is trolling us. 
Jonathan Page (9:52 p.m.) Most FGs in a BCS game. WTF!
Jonathan Page (9:53 p.m.) Damn your use of the word 'trolling'
Whit (9:54 p.m.) Mccarron sitting and getting treated for cramps ... and other pms symptoms

Whit (9:56 p.m.) Also ... 4th quarter ... can we finish? (ross perot voice)

me (10:06 p.m.) Hello, 7. I'm the guy you clubbed upside the head 3 months ago. And this is for you.
Rob (10:06 p.m.) U better be tweaking ur nipples right now!!
Jonathan Page (10:06 p.m.) Clock. Move. Faster. (I might puke)
Dad (10:07 p.m.) Start the clock!
Maguire (10:16 p.m.) Mandy says they should call #7 the Honey Beaver.
me (10:15 p.m.) Well then.

Jonathan Page (10:16 p.m.) Roll Tide!!
Jamie (10:16 p.m.) Best defense in my lifetime. 92 couldn't hold this teams jock. I know that's sacrilege around your parts.
Whit (10:16 p.m.) Saban ... ver batim — ball ball ball that's our ball. That's it baby. That's it.
Maguire (10:21 p.m.) YES SIR!
Whit (10:21 p.m.) Haha so now we have a regular score but only one td
Jonathan Page (10:23 p.m.) Damn it Shelley!
Rob (10:23 p.m.) Tell honey badger he is a Bitch

Dad (10:31 p.m.) Congrats! RTR!
Jonathan Page (10:33 p.m.) That's 14 National Championships!! Roll Tide!!
Maguire (10:33 p.m.) ROLL TIDE! Here's to our 14th national championship. So proud of these boys!
Jonathan Page (10:34 p.m.) Am I buying the replay on iTunes tomorrow. You bet I am.
Whit (10:37 p.m.) Saban really excited. Welcomed gatorade shower. He's kinda pink now
Rob (10:37 p.m.) This is the part where u get crunk!

Pedro (10:40 p.m.) Remember the last time LSU was shut out? We were there. 2002

Travis P (11:01 p.m.) Tiger bait!!!!!
Pedro (11:14 p.m.) Since 1970, Alabama playing LSU in Louisiana is 17-4-1

me (10:46 p.m.) Aw, please stop talking, 41.
Rob (10:47 p.m.) It's ok eufaula!

Mama (10:55 p.m.) The difference was ... I was cheering for them!

Jamie (11:46 p.m.) Congrats by the way

me (12:00 a.m.) LSU still has not crossed the 50.
Maguire (12:01 a.m.) No they haven't!

me (12:07 a.m.) Who's more fired up to have the "14" helmet on the set: John Parker or Tyler Watts?
Jonathan Page (12:25 a.m.) JP, that douche

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

championship thoughts: Undisputed

I have many bad habits as a sports fan, the worst being an incessant pessimist where my favorite team is concerned. Among those habits, though, is this one: I can't stop thinking about the big picture. Each win, each loss, each bad break, each positive sign — I get flashbacks, I start thinking about history, about momentum, about way too much. It's hard for me to enjoy the moment.

So you'll have to forgive me a moment if I couldn't stop myself last night on my way out of the Superdome. Just give me a moment. This time 5 years ago, Alabama had just hired a new football coach, its fifth of the decade. We were coming off an agonizing 6-7 season, the fourth sub-.500 season of the decade. We were pining for glory days that we were pretty sure couldn't ever return.

I don't know how I got here.

It's not just the national championship, which Alabama owns outright for 2011, after its win Monday in New Orleans. It's not the domination of LSU, a bully football team that was pushed from pillar to post all night long. It's not even the joy that comes from shoving it in the faces of every expert that whined about how Alabama didn't deserve to be in the big game in the first place.
Quite simply, the Crimson Tide is a national power again. Starting with its demolition of Clemson in Atlanta in 2008, Alabama has been a part of the national-championship conversation almost constantly for the past four seasons. They were a 12-game winner and a division champ in 2008; a 14-game winner with SEC and national titles in 2009; and won 10 games during a down year in 2010.
But the 2011 team might just be the best of the bunch. Sure, it's a team with a loss on its record, and for the most part it was a workmanlike team that didn't do much to catch the eye of the casual observer. In a way, though, that is its genius.
It's so good, it's unwatchable*. All season long, watching the Crimson Tide has been like watching a boa constrictor slowly squeezing the life out of a mouse. By the fourth quarter of this game, with LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson clearly reeling from a combination of pressure and frustration, you could have also compared it to watching lions team up on a wounded gazelle. There's no artistry to it. It's not designed for your viewing pleasure. It's just a pride closing in for the kill.
* Here I note that television ratings for Monday night's game were predictably abysmal. In an alternate universe, Oklahoma State would've played in the game, been blown out and still no one would have watched.
It would be easy — and indeed, some will argue vehemently in the future — to diminish Alabama's defensive performance for coming against an LSU team that has "no offense." Consider the following, however:
• In games against teams that weren't Alabama, the Tigers' average margin of victory was roughly 41-11. They averaged nearly 190 yards per game rushing, exactly 161 yards per game passing, and that's not even accounting for their efforts on special teams. It was not a team of singles hitters, by any means.
• Alabama's defense kept coming and coming, continually making stop after stop, unaffected by how many points their offense wasn't scoring. At one point, I looked up and noted that we were ahead 12-0, only it felt like 28. That's the kind of confidence this defense inspired in 2011.
I don't know how we got here.

Some other thoughts ...
• It would be impossible to put into words what the atmosphere was like inside the Superdome Monday, or in the French Quarter for most of the weekend, but here's my best shot: Sunday night, my wife and two of our friends were hanging out in the courtyard at Pat O'Brien's, the famous birthplace of "hurricanes" and home to one of the coolest bar setups of all-time. So we're not really paying attention, when all of a sudden we hear the distinct sound of brass music coming from just a few feet away. At first we thought it was a jazz band that came to entertain the denizens. In fact, it was the Golden Band from Tigerland ... or, at least, a portion of it. They led the crowd in a few cheers, played a rousing version of "Hey Fightin' Tigers," then disappeared like ninjas. I have absolutely no idea how that came about or how they pulled it off, but the moment came and went with barely a shrug. It was that kind of weekend in the Quarter.
(Note: Herbstreit and Musburger made a point to note in their broadcast that the crowd was predominantly LSU fans. And maybe it's possible I was just blinded by my crimson-colored glasses, but I would almost swear it was a 50/50 split, or very close to it. Which is what happens when you pit two traditional rivals in an awesome city that both of them know well and can travel to with relative ease.)
• So apparently this year's version of the BCS embarrassment is enough to make them finally come up with something better. I'm OK with that. Here's the thing, though: Alabama fans have no reason to feel at all embarrassed (even though I may have argued otherwise) to boast about this team. This team controlled everything within its power to control. That's what it was supposed to do. Everything else is out of our hands.
• Braves & Birds touched on this today, but allow me reiterate: Herbstreit said this morning on ESPN that LSU's offensive game plan was to attack Alabama on the edges, attempt to stretch them horizontally, hopefully opening the middle in the process for its power runs. If that was indeed the case, then that plan was stoooopid. Alabama's defense was and is far too fast to be beaten that way. And LSU fans — while they probably shouldn't have booed their own QB — do have a right to wonder why the Tigers never even attempted to test Alabama down the field*.
* Here I should note that I have absolutely no idea if LSU attempted to test Alabama down the field, really. At no point did they throw the deep ball. It could be they had receivers running down the field, and Jordan Jefferson just never could find them. 
• In the biggest wins of the Nick Saban era — 2008 Clemson, 2008 Georgia, 2009 Florida, to name a few — Alabama's offense has done exactly what it did last night in New Orleans: Throw in early-down situations, take an early, and (most important) possess the football, limiting the opportunities for the other side. A.J. McCarron did his best impression of his predecessors, John Parker Wilson and Greg McElroy, by avoiding mistakes and hitting a handful of timely throws. It also helps when the offensive line keeps your jersey (mostly) clean for the entire game.
• One guy who had a huge night this time around: Nick Gentry, who whipped LSU's interior linemen multiple times for big hits, and recovered Jordan Jefferson's fourth-quarter fumble that sealed the deal. Gentry is typically a pass-rushing specialist, and it was clear that part of LSU's game plan was to attempt to run when they saw him in the game. Didn't work last night.
(One other note: I feel like I would lose to Nick Gentry in a fight. I feel like most of us would.)
• One of LSU's linemen was upset about officiating or something. Also, somewhere Brent is mumbling "Honey Badger" in his sleep.
• To answer the question posed by Dr. Saturday, when I remember this team, probably the thing I'll remember most about it is its icy professionalism. I spent most of Monday dying — repeat: dying — at the number of points Alabama was leaving on the field: the missed TD pass to Brad Smelley, the missed pass to Brandon Gibson at 1, the punt return that Maze couldn't convert because his hamstring exploded. But Alabama's defense didn't care. It just shrugged it off and moved on.
During the season, my grandmother, an Auburn fan, complained that Alabama is "boring." And she's right. It's not a flashy team; at times, it might even be downright dull.
And that's OK. Because you can be dull, and still be the best.

With that, we can officially put a cap on the 2011 season. Good Lord, how did we get here?

Friday, January 6, 2012

of split national championships and coaching cliches

Greetings from game day in New Orleans. We've been here since late Friday, have eaten way too much outstanding food — seriously, if I lived here I'd weigh 450 pounds — have drunk some fantastic drinks, and have heard "Roll Tide" and "Geaux Tigers" enough for (at least) two lifetimes. Today, we're told, there is a football game.

It's a game nobody, outside of Alabama (and the city of New Orleans), really wants to see. There's the strong possibility that, no matter what happens tonight inside the Superdome, Alabama will only claim a share of the national title.
In a system that continues to defer to polls and resumés, there is virtually nothing Alabama can do short of ritually sacrificing the Tigers to the sun that can make its season better than LSU's season. At best, the Crimson Tide can only pull even. In which case a split crown is not only possible, but preferable — you know, if every game counts. If BCS commissioner Bill Hancock really believed that cliché, he'd take advantage of an Alabama win by inviting both teams to share the postgame stage and congratulate them on fighting to a season-long draw. Since he can't do that, maybe the AP will.
In short, it seems like a no-win situation. (Except for me, since I've had blacked fish, jambalaya, red beans and rice, beignets and gumbo in the last two days. I'm doing OK.)

One of my favorite cliches in coaching is the notion that a team should "control what we can control." Alabama can't control what happened in November; it can't control that it doesn't have a division championship or SEC championship; it certainly can't control what Associated Press voters do in the game's aftermath.
But that's not really important. What's important is the 60-minute period from the game's outset until the final whistle, and whether Bama can make the most of that chance. Win the game, and — outside chatter be damned — this team will have finished 13-1 in the nation's best conference, and will be (at the very least) co-national champions. Here, I'll let Cecil sum it up:

The fact, however, is that the time for debate is over. Two tremendous teams are poised to play. A million words were written and spoken about this matchup in November. A hundred million, it seems, have been written or spoken in the past week in New Orleans.
Finally, they don't matter.
Thank God. And Roll Tide.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

basketball thoughts, pre-conference

By now, if you've read this blog's thoughts about Alabama's basketball team, you pretty much know what I'm going to talk about: outstanding defense, a shaky offensive strategy and whether this team can create enough of a frenetic pace to be successful. The 2012 version of Alabama — now 11-3 after whipping a (bad) Georgia Tech team in Atlanta on Tuesday — isn't exactly breaking any new ground here.

Courtesy tidesports.com
What it is doing, however, may be good enough to give us a chance to enjoy basketball well into March. To wit:
• The offense is still not great. Of course it isn't. No one is ever going to mistake this unit for a vintage Kentucky or North Carolina team. But it is ... a little better. Currently, the squad shoots slightly better than 46 percent from the field, a full 10 percent better than last year's team. The 3-point shooting is still abhorrent — under 30 percent for the year — but on the whole it's a little better.
Two huge obstacles remain for the squad on offense: first, the halfcourt offense; specifically, I'm not sure if we have one. In the heartbreaking loss to Georgetown, the Hoyas played a 2-3 zone, and Bama had no answer (and really, appeared to have no idea what to do). Transition basketball is fun, but when the game slows down, you have to have some kind of answer. Right now we do not.
And second, of course, is our lack of depth at point; right now, the only reliable ball-handler is Trevor Releford, currently averaging nearly 29 minutes per game. Even that average doesn't truly reflect how little faith coach Grant has in his reserves (Ben Eblen and freshman Trevor Lacey). In the home win vs. Oklahoma State last week, the Cowboys pressed our non-Releford guards and nearly destroyed both of them. Grant, who was trying to rest his point's legs, had to bring him back quickly to right the ship. If Releford gets hurt, gets into foul trouble or just needs a blow this spring, hold your breath.
(Note: It's worth noting, in Lacey's case, that he's an 18-year-old who appears to get better every time he takes the floor. Might be a huge X-factor in some of these league games. Which leads us to encouraging point No. 2.)

• With the return of Andrew Steele Tuesday in Atlanta, Alabama now has 11 players it can play, almost interchangeably. Not counting Steele — who played 12 minutes and made both of the shots he took and all 5 of his free throws — the Tide has 8 players who have played over 10 minutes per game, plus two more — Eblen and 7-footer Carl Engstrom — averaging over 6 minutes. This is important for two reasons: first, it allows Grant the depth to play the kind of pressure defense he wants (a lot of bodies means a lot of energy and a lot of fouls); an invaluable resource in league play. And second, it allows Alabama some flexibility in style. The team can go big with guys like Jamychal Green and Engstrom, can go small with Lacey, Releford and Levi Randolph, and its best player — Tony Mitchell — can play 2, 3 or 4 effectively.
As always, the defense is what's driving the engine. Tuesday night they threw Tech — down, but still an ACC team playing at home — so badly off its game, the Jackets threw in the towel early in the second half. It's a point of pride for this team, and I love to watch for that very reason.
(Note: It helps when you're playing that style to have some leeway from the officials. Bama had that and then some Tuesday.)

Looking ahead, the next two games — at Georgia, home vs. LSU — are games the team really should win, if only because the following three — at $tate, home vs. Vandy and at Kentucky — aren't games that should make or break our resume in March (which, for better or worse, is what this time of year is all about). The SEC should be a much better basketball conference in 2012, so it's a good idea to win the ones you're supposed to.

Starting Saturday.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tuesday tube: we've got history, and so much more

For storylines, you can't do much better than what's taking place Monday night in New Orleans. Alabama and LSU have a history all their own, of course, and then there's the tiny fact that this time it's for the BCS championship. 
Here are some of my favorite videos related to those facts.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Monday links: finally, finally game week

Of all the things I really hate about the current system of college football's postseason — and there are many things about it to hate — the ultra-long layoff for the two participating teams is probably at the top of that list. Look no further than last season's championship game — had they played in December, Auburn and Oregon probably could have combined for 100 points. Instead, they both looked disjointed and sloppy, and the final result — while it was taut — wasn't particularly well played football. Now, take that rust and combine it with the following factors for this year's game:
• These are two superior defensive teams with fairly unremarkable offenses.
• These two teams know each other very well — because, you know, they play one another every year and recruit most of the same kids — and will have 6 weeks of preparation time* before the game ever kicks off.
It's safe to say you shouldn't expect a much different game than what you saw the first time around.

* Prep time is most likely a larger advantage for the defenses than anything else. I have yet to see any evidence that extra preparation time does Jim McElwain any good whatsoever. Just sayin'.

Anyway, since game week has finally arrived and there are bowls to watch today, here are a few links to while away an hour or so.
— Having run out of storylines in advance, Birmingham today has a story about Marquis Maze's ankle, and how it most likely affected his pass to Michael Williams that was caught and unfairly taken away from himintercepted. The story doesn't mention that it was a stupid play call to begin with, but we won't split hairs.
Elsewhere in football cliches: Win the line, win the championship. Also, come out, play hard, execute the game plan, limit mental mistakes and be more physical. Jess breaks things down, as well.
— The biggest advantage for LSU remains unchanged, and that is in the kicking game. Starting with Brad Wing, the punter, who completely changed the November edition of this game with his punt off the goal line that either hit a guy wire or completely fooled a hobbled Marquis Maze, and flipped the field. Alabama still doesn't have anybody who can affect field position that way, so far as I know.
— In offensive coordinator news, Kausler reported yesterday that the staff could be grooming Mike Groh to take over play-calling duties for 2012. I have little to no opinion about this, but it seemed worth mentioning.
— Finally, in "blow the system up and start over" commentary, we have a guest at The Wiz saying the BCS got it right (correct, but misses the point) and the guys at TBL complaining ... about the NFL playoffs.
See? Nothing's perfect, guys.