Thursday, June 28, 2012

a newspaper column about heroes you don't really know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tuesday tube: little guys who make things happen

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

Thursday, June 21, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The explanation, for me, was simple.

“I have a heritage to uphold.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seems I had no choice but to watch this.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tuesday tube: places I remember

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

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tuesday tube: just count the rings

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

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

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

Thursday, June 7, 2012

a newspaper column about the inescapable network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tuesday tube: That School Up North

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