Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Final last words

To readers of this blog:
I am announcing the formal end to this blog having dropped that part of my life.
The Mgotalk podcast has been retired as of the 2014 season, since the two men have far more family and business concerns loading their plates. But it was a fun ride while it lasted, but enough is enough.
Simply put, I cannot keep repeating myself about this team, this program, this set of players (or non-players as demonstrated Saturday night) and this coach.I think Hoke is a nice guy but a BAD head coach (excellent assistant or HC at a mid-major). UM's QB is NOT a strong runner/rusher and either makes decisions too soon or too late. He might be a great student in the classroom, but his football IQ is not nearly as qualified. Our offensive line lived up to its problematic status vs. the Irish, despite assurances that three years of recruiting had solved this malady.
On Saturday, we were outplayed, outcoached, outhustled ... and outsourced to the status of "also ran" and "who cares." This is a program that has been overhyped, and overcommercialized by its athletic administration who thinks every aspect needs a commercial sponsor and will sell the program's soul for an extra marketing buck ... hell, even the AD title was sold! The staff and administration are far too secretive about injuries and other aspects that fans need to know (Is Peppers playing or not? Is Funchess playing or not? Is ANYONE playing or not?) Just tell the truth and let people see how it plays out.
My motto is: "We're a joke; Fire Hoke!" We need to find the right man for the job and it will NOT happen so long as Dave Brandon is the AD ... so he needs to go as well.
So ... for the first time, in recent memory, I won't be rushing to the TV to watch this Saturday's meaningless game against Miami (Ohio). It means nothing, proves nothing (even if UM wins) and impacts nothing. I'll DVR it ... but if it were a choice right now between conflicting programs showing Tigers baseball, Michigan football and Chelsea soccer (Go Blues), I'd watch the action across the pond before seeing the Tigers continue to sink in the AL Central. Michigan would be at the bottom of my list...
And at 62, I've written enough. In the end, I am just tired. I estimate, in my journalistic career, I've more than 2,000 columns alone, not to mention features, editorials, and straight news/sports stories.
That's all my inner Duracells can produce. No more blogging, no Tweeting EVER (the TRUE evil on this Earth) and only one mortal sin - Fantasy Baseball.
I write and edit a bi-monthly newsletter (36-40 pages) for our Celtic music association in Dallas (yes, a nice Jewish boy loves Irish/Scottish music), do the program for the annual festival (with more than 60,000 attending), plus coordinate the sales of performer CDs, and oversee my wife's annual family reunion (including constructing a family cookbook this year, which is VERY time-consuming).
I appreciate the fact that someone (or two) actually wanted to read my thoughts on the game. I have a warm, fuzzy feeling inside - it's either that or my matzo brie I just cooked.
Please keep in touch; I will!

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Johnny Orr: Michigan’s forgotten coach

The final day of 2013 brought news of the death of a man who will go down in the annals of University of Michigan sports history as its most forgotten coach – former basketball coach Johnny Orr. The man who led the 1975-76 Wolverines to an improbable NCAA Finals berth (only to losing to perhaps the greatest team in college basketball history NOT named UCLA) was 88 … and had long since been out of the hearts and minds of U-M fans.
Which is, and was, a tragic shame in itself; Orr did much to reverse Michigan hardcourt fortunes, culminating in that appearance in The Spectrum in Philadelphia and then a season-long number-one ranking the following year.
Even the news leads in most of the printed obituaries referred to his time in Ames, Iowa as the head coach of the Iowa State Cyclones, with Michigan being an afterthought. The news of Orr’s passing was a “stop the presses” moment in Iowa; TV stations did on-site reports from Ames about community reaction o the man credited with putting Cyclone basketball on a legitimate contending footing.
Inside Hilton Coliseum, there is a statue of Orr and an entire section devoted to his years (1981-94) at Iowa State; in Ann Arbor, no such honors or remembrances exist.
But Orr made his real mark within the coaching profession in Ann Arbor, garnering Coach of the Year honors in 1976, ahead of Indiana’s Bobby Knight, who coached IU to that undefeated (32-0) NCAA title. When the honor was announced at the NABC banquet on the Sunday afternoon between the Final Four and the NCAA Finals, Knight was the first to stand and applaud and lauded the choice.
The 1975-76 squad was a mixture of state of Michigan-produced and imported talent coming together as an outstanding team, guided by Orr; it would have been even greater if not for the looming giant that was Indiana.
Initially ranked 16th in the various national polls to start the season, the final ranking was ninth, which did not matter since all issues, including the national championship were settled on court.
Michigan was led in scoring by its point guard, Rickey Green from Chicago, perhaps the fastest and quickest guard in Wolverine history. He averaged 19.9 points per game and 4.4 assists, and would become a first-round draft pick of Utah.
Out of the Cleveland area came freshman center Phil Hubbard (another future first-round NBA selection), who averaged 15.1 points per contest (shooting 54.6 percent from the floor) and 11 rebounds per game despite playing the center position at 6-7.
Those were the “stars” of the squad, but the real heart of the team could be seen in the other three starters.
Sophomore Johnny Robinson, also from Chicago, was the perfect power forward for Orr’s up-tempo, fast-break offense, and his ability to run the floor allowed his, at 6-5, the score 14 points per game and grab 8.2 rebounds.
Steve Grote, the pride of Cincinnati, played more like the standout linebacker he was in high school as a guard, and also averaged in double figures for an offense that led the Big 10 in scoring.
Normally using a short rotation, Michigan’s top reserves were guard Dave Baxter, a left-handed outside shooter, and another southpaw, forward Joel Thompson, who possessed great speed and leaping ability. Both players, however, were best known for their flamboyant 1970s Afro haircuts, especially Baxter, whose locks flowed through the air as he ran the court.
And then there was the senior captain Wayman Britt, out of Flint Northern High School, who was the team’s defensive specialist at just 6-2. He was forced to guard players far taller than he stood and much bigger in bulk, since Britt was under 200. Yet he never backed down from a challenge and normally got the best of his assignment, night in and night out.
On the stat sheet, Britt scored at a 10.9 per game average, but his contributions went FAR past what he did with the basketball. He was a captain – a real leader – for his team. If anyone deserved to have a number retired, it would be Britt’s “32.”
As a unit, Michigan outscored its opponents by an 86-77 point margin, shooting more than 50 percent from the field (setting a school record), and held its own on the boards despite an overall lack of upfront size. Its 2,753 point total would stand as the school standard until 1987.
In the 1975-76 season, the Big 10 Conference was loaded with top-flight talent: Greg Kelser and Terry Furlow at Michigan State, Jerry Sichting, Walter Jordan and Kyle Macy at Purdue, Flip Saunders, Mychel Thompson and Ray Williams at Minnesota, and the best starting ever (perhaps in history) at Indiana of Quinn Buckner, Bobby Wilkerson, Tom Abernathy, Scott May and Kent Benson in the post (plus sixth man Jim Crews).
Finishing second in the Big 10, the Wolverines opened tournament play by with narrow 74-73 victory over Wichita State in the Midwest sub-regionals in Denton, Tex., followed by another close win, 80-79 over Notre Dame (which sports a roster that included the likes of Adrian Dantley, Bill Laimbeer, Bruce Flowers and Bernard Rencher) and then defeating Missouri 95-88 in the Louisville regional finals.
Making its first Final Four appearance since 1965, U-M met the “local” favorites, undefeated Rutgers (from neighboring New Jersey) in the first of the two Saturday games on March. Led by All-American Phil Sellers, Rutgers was more than the odds-on favorites to challenges IU in what was projected a classic championship game between two unbeaten teams.
But Michigan was not the desired guest, whipping Rutgers from the opening tip and manhandling the Scarlet Knights 86-70 (after leading 46-29 at half) to set up the first NCAA men’s basketball finals between schools from the same conference. All five U-M starters scored in double figures (led by Robinson’s 20 points, followed by Green and Hubbard with 16 apiece) and Sellers was held to just 11 on 5 of 13 shooting while Phil Jordan missed 14 of his 20 shots for just 16 points. Rutgers, as a team, was smothered to death for less than 40 percent shooting from the field.
Indiana would do its part in the second contest, beating UCLA 65-51 (in the Bruins’ first year after John Wooden retired) in a sloppy affair. Earlier in the season, Michigan had lost to the Hoosiers 80-74 in Ann Arbor and 72-67 in Bloomington, but this kind of matchup had never happened before in NCAA tournament history – from the same conference.
In the championship, Michigan stunned the entire arena by taking a shocking 35-29 lead into the halftime locker room. The team headed into its tunnel and some of us ran towards to Spectrum restrooms, which already sported long lines waiting to “take care of business.”
The Michigan fans were filled with bluster and cockiness, having played one of its greatest halves that season, as engineered by Orr. But we should have all known better; the real Indiana would eventually appear and through past experiences, it would be more than Michigan could handle.
Our confidence quickly waned in the opening minutes of the second half as IU came out and executed its offense to perfection while clamping down on all the Wolverines offensively, Cinderella’s carriage never appeared as U-M lost 86-68 to camp Indiana’s perfect run.
May and the 6-10 Benson (named the tournament MVP) combined for 51 points while Buckner added 16. Hubbard had a double-double with 10 point and 11 rebounds and Green scored 16 (when there was no three-point shot), but IU’s defense forced 19 Michigan turnovers and got to the free throw line 28 times.
Indiana, for the game, shot 52.5 percent from the field, holding Michigan to 47 percent, outscoring UM 57-33 in the second 20 minutes. The Hoosiers finally wore Michigan down with its press and sizeable height advantage.
I got to know Orr fairly well when I worked for the Sports Information Department at UM from 1974-76. I played a weekly “tennis” match with his top assistant Bill Frieder (Orr’s successor) and our antics, when retold in the basketball office, drew belly laughs from his head man.
If there was artwork in the dictionary, next to the word, “laidback,” Johnny Orr’s photo would have been attached. On the court, he often displayed a volcanic nature, when referees called fouls which Orr thought to be particularly egregious, but away from it, he was as affable as anyone in the office, regardless of sport.
Two of my favorite memories actually involve Knight – one on a road trip to Assembly Hall and the other in the week running up to the Final Four.
It would not be incorrect to say most coaches and especially Big 10 officials were intimidated by Knight’s bluster and personality. But not Orr; it seemed as if the two got along well.
Johnny particularly loved telling a story of a Michigan trip to Bloomington, for a regionally televised contest with the Hoosiers. It seemed weather problems delayed Michigan’s arrival for a pre-game shoot-around and left the team with little time for its pre-game prep. All the while, the Big 10 people are waiting and growing impatient to set up their equipment and take over control of the telecast.
Under ANY circumstances, that did not sit well with Knight, who could have cared less what the conference folks wanted or needed. So when Michigan’s bus finally arrived at Assembly Hall, Orr and company were greeted by Knight, who walked them to the court and said, clearly in a volume that could be hard in Indianapolis, “Coach, how long does your team need to get ready?” Orr answered about 15-20 minutes, or so.
“Naw, Johnny, you guys need MUCH more time, 30 minutes at least! In fact, take as LONG as you need, perhaps an hour would be good?”
The faces on the Big 10 TV people were quickly turning red.
“Bob, it’s OK. I know they’ve got to set up and we can warm up quicker if needed.”
“No, coach! You take as much time for your kids to get properly warmed up,” Knight answered.
“What about the TV people,” Orr asked.
Knight responded for all to hear. “They don’t run this place; this is MY gym, and I’ll say when the damn game starts – not THEM!”
When Johnny Orr retold that tale, he included wild hand gestures and laughed his way through each sentence.
I was “fortunate” to be in Orr’s office on the Tuesday before heading to Philadelphia for that weekend’s 1976 Final Four; actually, I was in to see Frieder when Orr called from his area, “Bloom, come here and sit down. You’ve got to hear this!”
In those days, they conduct teleconference calls, and a group of national reporters were on the line to speak to Orr and Knight. Prior to the start, Orr whispered to me, “Listen to this. Bobby has NO intention of answering their questions. So this should be interesting.”
And for the next 35 minutes, Bobby Knight gave a textbook example on how to hold court without saying a blasted thing. “Almost every question direction Knight’s way was met with “Well, Johnny what do you think?” to which Orr usually responded with “Geez, Bobby! Not quite sure about that.”
This ping-pong conference went back and forth, with neither man budging from clichéd answers and secretly rolling their eyes at some of the more inane questions. The closest thing to an honest response was answering the supposition of meeting in the NCAA Finals.
“I think it would be good for the conference,” Knight said. “It would let people know we play good basketball in the Big 10 and teams like Michigan deserve to be there,” never once mentioning his own squad. Orr could only agree, giving kudos t what Indiana had accomplished up to that point.
“You’re too kind, Coach,” Knight added.
Finally, when it was done, Orr’s office phone rang and it was Knight on the other end.
“Think they got the message about bothering us this week?” Knight queried. And both men laughed loud and heartily.
THAT is how I remember Johnny Orr.
For all his accolades, honors and record, Johnny Orr is NOT in the National Basketball Hall of Fame, which is another crying shame. In 29 years, he went 466-346 for three schools (Massachusetts, Michigan and Iowa State), and his teams made 10 NCAA tournaments.
Orr was hired in 1967 from UMass, coming to a program which was last in the Big 10 just two years removed from an NCAA Finals appearance. By 1970, Michigan had returned to the NCAAs (when there were far fewer teams), and in 1974 and 1977, Michigan grabbed Big 10 titles in one of the toughest leagues in the nation. From Jan. 12, 1976 through Nov. 30, 1977, Michigan won 22 games at home without a loss – another long-standing mark.
But it seemed never to be enough for the Wolverine fan base and by 1980, Orr left Ann Arbor for the heartland that is Iowa, again to resurrect a program in dire straits. When Orr left Michigan, he had become the school’s all-time winningest coach (209 wins), which remains true to this day.
“The Michigan basketball program is saddened by the passing of Johnny Orr,” said current Michigan head coach John Beilein. “Johnny was a tremendous person and basketball coach. We will always value the many positives he brought to both the University of Michigan and college basketball in general. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Orr family during this time.”
Under Orr’s tutelage, Michigan had eight All-Americans: forward Rudy Tomjanovich (1970), guard-forward Henry Wilmore (1971-72), forward Campy Russell (1974), forward C.J. Kupec (1975), Green (1977), Hubbard (1977), forward Mike McGee (1981) and guard Eric Turner (1983).
Orr spent 14 years with the Cyclones, getting them to six NCAA Tourney appearances (the first in 46 years’ time) and five 20-win seasons. Again, when he retired in 1994, he was Iowa State’s all-time winningest coach with 218-200 victories. At the University of Massachusetts, Orr was 39-33 during his three years.
A proud alumnus of Beloit College, Orr was twice named an All-American. He also served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and attended Illinois to play basketball and football for one year. As a prep star in Taylorville, Orr led all of Illinois in scoring and his team to a state championship.
Orr is survived by his wife, Romie, and three daughters; Jennifer, Leslie and Rebecca, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his daughter, Robin, who sadly passed away in 2010.
Johnny Orr is gone but not forgotten among many of us. The University of Michigan athletic department would do itself proud if it established a Johnny Orr wing of Crisler Center (Arena, to us old-timers), dedicated to the accomplishments the old coach created for the Maize and Blue.
I think he more than deserved it.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Michigan-Kansas State: a game of thorns

If any football fan wishes to see a textbook example of indifference by a team on the field, during the entire game, simply pop in the DVD of the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl into the player and see how little Michigan cared about winning that contest.
It was a game essentially decided before halftime, and the 31-14 final outcome, in favor of Kansas State (a second-level team from the Big 12), was only for the scoreboard operator to monitor. In the desert community known as Phoenix, the Wolverines did not rise to the occasion; they produced no emotion, no sustainability, and no inkling of what to do in all facets of the game … except to demonstrate how meekly one team can play against another squad which actually cared about the final verdict.
It was, frankly, a boring game, an excruciating exercise to watch (for U-M fans) and a totally forgettable way to spend a Saturday evening. Apparently, the crowd (which contained the usual large number of rabid K-State followers), reflected its indifference, with only 53,284 in “attendance” (compared to the Sun Devil Stadium capacity of 71,706). It was noticeable to anyone watching on ESPN, as cameras shied away from any evidence of humanity sitting in the stadium’s upper decks.
The game might have been extended for two more quarters after halftime, but Michigan had surrendered much earlier, almost from the opening whistle. After all, how does anyone explain starting Justice Hayes, a sophomore running back with only three carries in 2013?
The real waving of the white flag came with 55 seconds left in the first half, when Michigan trailed 21-6. It had the ball at its own 46, on fourth down, and after a timeout and huddle conference, the decision was made to punt – to simply give possession away without so much as a whimper or an attempt to go for a score (or at least a first down). That was the sign of someone trying hard to escape rather than play-to-win – a shadow of the team that tried like hell to make a two-point conversion in the final moments to upset Ohio State just one month before.
I imagine the following prayer was being uttered in Wolverine household at about the same time I mumbled the words at 11:40 p.m. (CST): “Dear Lord, please let this game and this season end … as soon as possible!” It was the proper ending to a season when two of the team’s seven wins were miraculous endings against Akron and UConn (two vastly inferior teams).
Every phase of Michigan’s performance stunk to high holy hell. The beforehand reliable defense looked confused and constantly out of position, leaving wide gaps of playing turf open for the KSU offense to exploit. Perhaps the most telling statistic saw Matt Wile, the team’s placekicker, have more solo tackles than the two defensive ends (Frank Clark and Jibreel Black) – a sad state of affairs to say the least.
In his first collegiate start, freshman quarterback Shane Morris’ outing was workman-like, at best. He finished with 24 completions on 38 attempts and his lone interception (which led to KSU’s final touchdown) did not have any effect on the outcome, other than the point spread.
Morris mostly threw short “safe” passes – the longest gain (a 24-yard play to tight end Jake Butt) was yardage garnered after the reception of an 8-yard aerial. Morris averaged only 5.2 yards per attempt and a miserly 8.2 yards per completion.
In contrast, Wildcat QB Jake Waters, who Michigan made to look like a potential first-round NFL draft choice, completed 21 of 27 passes for 271 yards (and a healthy 12.9 yards per completion). Waters not only avoided tossing an interception, the plays were executed at such an efficient rate, U-M defenders didn’t come within the stadium’s confines of even sniffing a turnover (the lone recovered fumble only led to a three-and-out for the U-M offense).
The coaching staff, led by offensive coordinator Al Borges, took the easy route, and didn’t ask Morris to gamble on deep routes. All that safety dancing, however, meant the KSU defense could play a tighter zone and stop Michigan from garnering significant yardage after catches.
The manner of trying to protect Morris in his first meaningful action was admirable, but this isn’t junior high football; it was a time to discover whether he could be handed the eventual keys to the offense – either in 2014 or beyond. But it was much too timid of a game plan to demonstrate any capability of winning.
While the ball was spread among nine different Wolverine receivers, six of them combined for nine completions for a grand total of … 49 yards! Subtract a 14-yard play to slot receiver Devin Funchess, and you have eight “successful” plays for 35 yards – none over a 9-yard gain. No one can win at that rate.
Of course, Michigan’s total lack of any kind of effective running game hurt Morris all night long. U-M had to resort to trick plays (two of the first four running calls were reverses instead of going between the tackles) and those aforementioned dump passes to move forward. When Morris ran 40 yards on Michigan’s final series, it made him the team’s leading rusher … by a wide margin.
Subtract Funchess’ 14-yard gain on the first reverse play, everyone else carried the ball 13 times for 19 yards. The longest carry was all of 6 yards and the four depth chart-listed runners combined for 9 attempts, gaining 13 yards. What makes is so sad is it wasn’t the worst performance of the season … by a wide margin.
By the way, before anyone creates a false scenario, there is NO quarterback controversy at Michigan. No one can say junior Devin Gardner’s absence would have altered Saturday’s outcome, but Gardner is far, FAR more mobile than Morris and takes more opportunities to throw the ball downfield (north to south), not this West Coast, side-to-side dump-crap passing game on display with Morris under center.
The only point of concern will be Gardner’s ability to recover from what is obviously much more than “turf toe” and remaining healthy for his senior year. But it won’t matter if Michigan doesn’t produce a running game which at least is lifted to the level of adequate, instead of totally ridiculous (as it stands today).
The real difference, other than attitude, is the one commodity Michigan most lacks in its players – speed. Above anything else, speed is what distinguishes Big 10 teams from those in the SEC, ACC and Big 12; it also explains why Big 10 teams, mostly built upon methodical power football principles, have so much trouble in their matchups with teams in those other groupings. As often said, it is the one attribute a staff cannot teach; it’s either there or not.
This was not an ass-kicking because, despite the lopsided score, because no one wearing Maize and Blue actually showed their backside to the purple-clad Wildcats. In the first-ever meeting between these programs, Kansas State played like the outcome mattered to its future; Michigan looked like it was going through the motions of a light-contact scrimmage.
To U-M playing K-State meant nothing; just another name on the schedule with no history or tradition to inspire any player. To Kansas State, it meant a validation of its existence and a victory over one of the most vaunted collegiate programs in history was very meaningful.
I have spent more than a few hours in the state of Kansas; it is a sports fan base dominated by one sport – University of Kansas men’s basketball (almost to the exclusion of everything else). “Rock Chalk” is the main topic discussed in cafes, barber shops and in taverns; football is almost an after-thought. Kansas’s football program is a joke (hence, Charlie Weis is coaching there).
Within Kansas, the only school that truly appreciates its football is KSU, due to one man – 74-year-old head coach Bill Snyder. When he assumed control of the Wildcats, K-State was one of the five worst programs. In his two separate stints (1989-2005, 2009-present) in Manhattan, Snyder is now 178-90-1, and has been named National Coach of the Year five times; he IS Kansas State football.
Snyder can also “coach,” not just bring talent from across the Midwest and Southwest (including Texas, Oklahoma and other hot spots of talent). It was his game plan his troops followed to perfection in Tempe, making his opposing coaches look like prime-time JV hacks.
When Kansas State was on offense, one player stood head and shoulders over the entire Michigan roster – junior wide receiver Tyler Lockett, son of the school’s all-time receiver (Kevin Lockett). Lockett constantly barbecued, roasted and deep-fried cornerbacks Ramon Taylor and Blake Countess for three touchdowns and 116 yards overall on 10 catches ... and it could NOT have been a surprise, given a full month for everyone to ready themselves for Lockett’s ability to execute double moves and run tight routes.
But no one could stop him, or try anything to negate his influence (such as playing a tighter form of coverage or knocking his at the line of scrimmage to take him off his game, even for a brief moment). It was pathetic after KSU assumed its 21-6 lead.
For this reason, and many more (about 60 minutes’ worth), this loss sits squarely on the shoulders of the Michigan coaching staff. Given 30 days to produce a winning game plan, with or without Devin Gardner, Team 134 looked as unprepared, unmotivated and unemotional as any unit in recent memory.
And after three seasons, during which the team’s record have steadily fallen towards mediocrity, one must begin to harbor thoughts of buyer’s remorse concerning head coach Brady Hoke. He gives the impression of understanding the school’s storied history (something his predecessor, Rich Rodriguez, failed to grasp from the get-go) and can recruit like a demon.
However, getting players onto the campus is one thing; “coaching them up” is quite another. Aside from two victories over Notre Dame and a losing-streak halting victory over Ohio State (at home), Hoke has yet to command a true statement win, especially on the road. I’m sure Michigan fans are beginning to feel those ants in their pants, watching an obviously talent-laden roster lose too many games to satisfy any type of explanation.
Of course, the obvious question is, “If not Hoke, then who?” and the speculation should satisfy no one. I’m not possessed with the magic answer, nor is anyone within Wolverine Universe (especially AD Dave Brandon). But the talk will only grow louder and angrier if an immediate turnaround is not seen; and it won’t help to coach or perform with that Sword of Damocles hanging over the entire affair.
And the final insult to the Michigan program was this final audible note from the ESPN crew: with Notre Dame’s victory over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl earlier in the day, combined with Michigan’s loss, meant the Irish NOW sport the highest winning percentage in collegiate football history – NOT Michigan! It was one of those pre-game bragging points the U-M SID office would place before the media at every opportunity.
Now even that was lost in the desert and I’m not sure anyone really gave a hoot about it … by a wide margin.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Welcome to the dog show: 2013 college bowl predictions

Entering the final year of the current BCS system to determine a “national” collegiate football championship, it is still comforting to know the post-season bowl system – rewarding too many undeserving teams with trips to exotic places (like Mobile, Birmingham, Boise, Charlotte) – is alive and well. Next season, when the playoff system is implemented, there will be even MORE games (four to be exact) to wine and dine and entice college presidents to send their young men to “represent” their institutions.
I liken the bowl season to a dog show – with all sorts of breeds competing to see which one is the best that night. It’s impossible to truly compare a Scottish terrier to a Great Dane, but it’s done. It is the same to some extent to say whether the Belk Bowl is better than the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (at least we know what will be served in one press box).
They are ALL dogs to one extent or another – some are mutts and some are champions.
With some of these games, a fan must ask, “What’s to be gained by playing?” If the game involves a team from a mid-level conference, the answer is obvious …prestige in beating one of the “big” boys.. But a second-division club from a major conference has nothing to gain by putting its reputation on the line in a venue its fans care little about.
The real answer is money, money and mo’ money. A conference like the Big 10 deliberately overextends itself, contractually, is to scoop up each loose penny it can find for its own use (not necessarily its members – how much does Michigan REALLY benefit by having Minnesota play in the Texas Bowl???).
So begins the marathon that is the viewing of too many games before the real crème de la crème meet in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl to crown a mythical national champion. For the rest of the other encounters, please heed these words: buyer beware. You get as good as the records and matchups allow.
Here are the categories (and criteria) of the 2013 bowl/dog show, to be used for this judging:
Grand champion – This game is the best of the best. In this instance, the winner is no mystery.
The two best teams, as sustained in the 2013 regular season, ARE Florida State and Auburn, to play in the Rose Bowl.
If Auburn played Alabama (who probably IS the best overall squad in the U.S.) nine other times in 2013, the Tigers/War Eagles could well go 0-9, but when it counted, in the Iron Bowl, Auburn pulled a rabbit out of its … hat, and won the game. The loss earlier in the season (in double overtime) doesn’t matter; it’s just fodder for the water cooler debating society.
In this game, I just don’t see Auburn bringing Cinderella to this ball. FSU is a better balanced team and the string of consecutive national championships coming from the SEC will end (Florida State 42, Auburn 24).
Best in Show finalist – In the running for the overall blue ribbon as one of the top 3-4 games, but just cannot get past that one element, keeping it from the crown and the glory.
Rose Bowl (Michigan State-Stanford) – this should be the best game of them all in the long tradition of Big 10-Pac-12 matchups. As a Michigan fan, I’ve learned (the HARD way) NOT to pick against Stanford when playing in Pasadena. Won’t start now (Stanford 27, MSU 21).
Fiesta Bowl (Baylor-Central Florida) – how much does anyone truly know about these two programs? Outside of Central Florida and Central Texas, the answer is very little. It will be time to introduce them to the national stage, unlike anything seen in the past (Baylor 45, CFU 41).
Sugar Bowl (Alabama-Oklahoma) – Seeing Alabama takes its frustrations out on the Sooners will warm the hearts of all Texans to the south (Alabama 42, Oklahoma 20).
Orange Bowl (Clemson-Ohio State) – two overrated programs with something to prove to themselves. Besides, the best running back in the nation is Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde and why he was omitted from ANY Heisman Trophy consideration is a mystery (offering more fuel to the Buckeye bitching fire). Watch him excel in the NFL.
By the way, the Heisman is just another dog (and pony) show; Jameis Winston has already been anointed as the “next big thing,” especially after his clearance of any possible sexual assault charges in Florida. He’ll play one more season and then skip Tallahassee for the pros (Ohio State 30, Clemson 24).
Breed champion – Good matchup; hopefully the game will live up to the hype and expectations.
Russell Athletic Bowl (Miami [Fla.]-Louisville) – the old Tangerine Bowl has itself what should be an entertaining game, especially to see if Terry Bridgewater can become an NFL quarterback (Louisville 35, Miami 28).
Capitol One Bowl (Wisconsin-South Carolina) – Can the epitome of Big 10 football – the physicalness of the Badgers – match the typical SEC overall talent of South Carolina? (South Carolina 24, Wisconsin 21).
AT&T Cotton Bowl (Oklahoma State-Missouri) – A real good matchup on paper, but, in truth, it is just two years removed from being a regular Big 12 game. No real excitement; still should’ve been Texas versus Texas A&M (Ok-State 41, Missouri 37).
Class winner – Game should be better than expected, especially for a minor level bowl.
Las Vegas Bowl (Fresno State-USC) – both in the top 25 and the Bulldogs have that chip of their shoulders about not getting any respect. But why is such a small venue? (Fresno 37, USC 34)
Alamo Bowl (Oregon-Texas) – this was going to be a major blowout for the Ducks, but circumstances can change a team and for the Longhorns, circumstances have certainly inserted itself into the storyline. You never want to play a team totally motivated to prove itself, and its coach, to the football world (Oregon 37, UT 34).
Sun Bowl (Virginia Tech-UCLA) – the folks in El Paso always produce a winning matchup, a well-organized week of festivities and one of the more interesting settings for any college football game (mountains to one side, the border crossing to the other) (UCLA 27, VaTech 20).
Chick-Fil-A Bowl (Duke-Texas A&M) – I don’t think Duke can hang with A&M’s offense and you know Johnny Manziel wants to end his collegiate career on a high (scoring) note (A&M 49, Duke 17).
Outback Bowl (Iowa-LSU) – LSU is by far the better team but doesn’t have its three-year starter at quarterback. Iowa won’t know how to plan for the Tigers’ future and cannot handle LSU’s overall speed (LSU 42, Iowa 20).
Out of the money – Matchups actually not as good as the reputations of the schools involved.
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl (Boise State-Oregon State) – at least Boise is seeing crystal blue water instead of its home ugly-ass blue turf.
Holiday Bowl (Texas Tech-Arizona State) – Tech, with all its so-called high-powered offense, has lost five games in a row because no one knows a thing about defense. Won’t be as close as people think.
Liberty Bowl (Rice-Mississippi State) – of all the teams headed to a bowl game of any repute, who served Rice for this one? Pun intended.
Independence Bowl (Boston College-Arizona) – anyone rooting for Rich Rodriguez? Seriously??? Oh yeah, Shreveport is this nation’s winter vacation paradise … if you’re a crawfish!
Stray – it’s not a good game, and the only reason you’ll watch is either you went to one of the school, or your tuition money is presently headed there.
Poinsettia Bowl (Utah State- Northern Illinois) The “We Got Screwed” award for 2013 goes to poor ole, Northern Illinois, from a ranked, BCS possibility to this crap.
Military Bowl (Maryland-Marshall) – We. Are. Marshall. In. A. Lousy. Game. Maryland is there for local interest only and those God-awful uniforms.
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (Washington-BYU) – Brigham Young is contractually obligated to be in San Francisco (all those Mormons spending time in America’s most liberal city… hmmmm). What’s U-Dub’s excuse?
Pinstripe Bowl (Notre Dame-Rutgers) – Puh-lese! This is perhaps the most overrated game of all. And did the Irish REALLY want to be outdoors in NYC in the dead of winter?
Music City Bowl (Georgia Tech-Ole Miss) – Rebels and rambling wrecks … sounds like a better country song than football game.
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl (Middle Tennessee-Navy) – they’re cutting back on the military budget; start by NOT sending Navy to this lousy game, to face a school no one knows ... even in Tennessee.
BBVA Compass Bowl (Houston-Vanderbilt) – geez, had it been Rice and Vanderbilt, they could have used the old 1950s TV show format, “The College Bowl.”
Mutt – Not even worth activating the “power” button on the remote. You’d be better off watching an actually dog show. Not even worthy of making a selection.
New Mexico Bowl (Colorado State-Washington State) – why this? I have no idea (at least someone can go eat at El Pinto, one of the best Mexican restaurants around).
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (San Diego State-Buffalo) – the university or the Bills?
New Orleans Bowl (Louisiana-Lafayette-Tulane) – at least the food should be good.
Little Caesars Bowl (Pittsburgh-Bowling Green) – BGSU deserved better that Pizza! Pizza!
Texas Bowl (Syracuse-Minnesota) – Houston is a long way for fans not to show up.
Heart of Dallas Bowl (UNLV-North Texas) – Local interest involving the ONLY area school at a bowl game; too bad the opposition isn’t a known entity.
GoDaddy.com Bowl (Ball State-Arkansas State) – where is Danica Patrick when you REALLY need her?
One 2013 aspect that strikes home in my household is what should be termed as the “Todd Graham” factor. Three teams that the current head coach at Arizona State led (Rice, Pitt), or is leading (Sun Devils) are in the 2013 bowl picture.
But just more than a decade ago, Graham was stationed as the head football coach at Allen (Tex.) High School (1995-2000), one of the northern suburbs of Dallas, where he established the foundation of what he become one of Texas’ premier gridiron schoolboy programs.
While at Allen, Graham convinced the school district to build one of the first indoor practice facilities in the Metroplex (to perfect scale for a 50-yard surface), and the best weight room in the DFW area. The building was nicknamed the “Todd Majal” by critics, but it showed the kind of commitment to excellence that resulted in AISD voters overwhelmingly approving the construction of a 20,000-seat stadium – the best of its kind around.
His first head coaching assignment (after assistant posts at West Virginia, with a certain unnamed former Michigan head coach, and Tulsa) was at Rice University (in Houston), leading the Owls to a berth in the New Orleans Bowl in 2006. After one season, he moved back to Tulsa as its head coach, winning three Conference-USA titles in four years and going undefeated in three bowl appearances. At TU, Graham was 36-17, including a 28-27 victory at Notre Dame in 2010.
In 2011, he was head coach at Pittsburgh, leading the Panthers to a berth in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Prior to that game, he accepted his current assignment with Arizona State, and has gone 18-8 in Tempe, winning last year’s Fight Hunger Bowl, and playing for the Pac-12 championship against top-five ranked Stanford earlier this month.
For the same reason I root for the New England Patriots (with the Tom Brady connection), I also pull for Graham’s squads – past and present – because he was a friendly and honest interview when I worked for the paper(s) that serviced Allen.
In the STRAY category must be placed the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., involving the Michigan Wolverines against Kansas State’s Wildcats. This less-than-interesting matchup pits the Big 10’s most (overall) disappointing squad against an also-ran from the Big 12 Conference (never in anyone’s serious pre-season championship discussion).
Both teams post 7-5 records, although K-State had a winning conference mark at 5-4 (U-M was 3-5). Each team defeated a ranked team during the year (Texas Tech in Lubbock for KSU and Notre Dame for Michigan at the Big House).
K-State is not nearly as talented as Michigan, and shouldn’t come within two touchdowns, depending on which Wolverine unit appears in Tempe – the fight-to-the-last second team that almost beat Ohio State, or the let’s-not-be-offensive players that lost to Michigan State and Nebraska.
The Wildcats do have a platoon system at quarterback but neither Jake Winters nor Daniel Sams is as individually as gifted as Michigan’s Devin Gardner (when he wants to play as he did versus the Buckeyes). The “Cats are still missing the presence and skills of Collin Klein.
The main offensive threat is junior wide receiver Trevor Lockett, with 1,146 yards receiving and eight touchdowns. If the last name seems familiar, Trevor’s father, Kevin, is the school’s ALL-TIME leading receiver, from the early 1990s.
On defense, ranked 36th in the nation, Kansas State is led by DT Ryan Mueller, with 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss of yardage. He will be paired with Michigan’s Taylor Lewan and should have pro scouts drooling at that one-on-one.
The constant for KSU is its head coach, legendary Bill Snyder, who has rebuilt this program TWICE from ruination. He has forgotten more than most coaches know about football and is as revered a figure in the state of Kansas as one individual can be. Hell, the field in Manhattan is named after him.
One major deterrent to watch this game is its kickoff time – 10:15 p.m. Detroit time (9:15 here in Texas). Why accept a game invitation where so much of the fan base is susceptible to falling asleep after halftime?
IF … and that could be a big “if” … one manages to stay awake, he or she will see (most likely) a high-scoring affair with Michigan emerging victorious (U-M 40, KSU 28).

Response to volunteerism column: Pin-Ups for Vets

Dear Chuck,
I receive Google alerts about Volunteerism and your blog entry came up about the importance of volunteering. What a great piece that was!
After graduating from UCLA, I started a nonprofit to help improve the lives of hospitalized Veterans and healthcare programs in VA Hospitals. We produce a World War-II style pin-up fundraiser calendar each year to help us in our mission to support ill and injured Veterans, deployed troops, military spouses, homeless vets, and female vets entering the workplace, as well as VA Hospitals. You can check out all the pages of our website at www.PinUpsForVets.com.
Since I began the project eight years ago, I have been able to make volunteering "glamorous."   Young women who never thought to step foot into a Veterans Hospital are contacting me daily to see how they can join our 1940's-style calendar girl volunteers on our 50-state VA Hospital Tour. I am most proud of the fact that I have been able to encourage volunteerism to help our Nation's heroes in hospitals across the U.S. You can visit the "Gina's Vists" page and our "Press Room" page on our website to learn more about our project. Also our Blog page has some interesting entries.
I would love to come to Michigan someday to visit your hospitalized Veterans. We are always looking for sponsors to help our volunteers make the trips to each state. We have visited over 5,000 hospitalized Vets at their bedsides across the U.S. to boost morale and deliver appreciation gifts. Our hospital visits are always so very appreciated.
If you know of a business or group of people that you think might like to sponsor us to help us get to Michigan for a visit with your hospitalized Veterans, please let me know.
Thanks again for a great piece on volunteering.

Best wishes for a happy New Year,
Gina Elise
Pin-Ups For Vets
501(c) 3 Non-profit Organization

Monday, December 09, 2013

Volunteerism: Personal choice you need to make

If you wish to make a New Year’s resolution that will actually be worthwhile, resolve to do something … I mean do SOMETHING meaningful within your community.
My late father used to describe the method used in the Army (when he served during World War II) in procuring volunteers for something or other.
“You lined up everyone in a straight line and when the mission was announced and the request for volunteers, everyone took one step backwards ... well ... almost everyone,” he said. “The guy who didn’t move, the one who was left standing there by himself, became the volunteer.”
My elementary school Spanish teacher employed a phrase (which I will never remember in that tongue) which translated meant “handcuffed volunteer.” It seemed as if I was in shackles often when no one raised their hand to help.
These days, not enough people are raising their hands – to help various worthy organizations, to help the youth, to help build a better community for us to live in. The list of need is long and not enough people are stepping forward to ask the clarion call.
As a society, each of us has an obligation to live together and form a bond of genuine humanity. As many move up the ladder in terms of economic and social standing, others cannot, and, sadly, do not, share in those benefits.
But the chain of our every-shrinking world feels the strain of all people. I need not repeat the adage about a chain and its weakest link. Or do I?
As a product of a different generation, I was taught that one could not live in a community, be part of any group, and not try to make things better for others. The greatest legacy a person can leave is seeing one thing – one area of need – improved by personal involvement.
In other words, you NEED to volunteer … regardless of the need. And if you ask people in various social agencies, or on any school campus, the need grows by the day. It’s like the price of most goods and services; it always goes up, never down.
Volunteerism is a very personal thing; it is actually a commitment between your body and your conscience. Such a discussion is held between your mind and inner voice which directs your heart to do things.
People “give” in their own way – some give time, some give labor, some simply give money. No one form is better, or worse, than the other. A combination of that Holy Trinity – time, labor, money – is greatly needed, especially in these current times when vital social services are starving for any one of those three entities.
I never criticize benefactors who want to stay in the shadows, but feel the need to help through financial contribution. Manpower is a wonderful thing and busy hands can accomplish so much. But groups still have to pay for items most of the time (unless that benefactor contributes goods); all show and no dough leaves many projects unfinished.
Others would be surprised at what they can do. Some gather litter from highways, some can provide tax and legal service to poor families who could use the help the most; some can read and mentor to a child in after-school programs. Food banks are struggling to combat a problem – hunger – which should NEVER exist in the richest country on earth.
The list is endless because the need is endless. Sitting her surrounded by ice and ridiculously frigid (harmful and even fatal) temperatures, there is a segment of our society unable to financially or physically cop – the homeless! I live in one of the more affluent counties (Collin) in Texas (although I never resemble that remark), yet even among people of higher means, there ARE too many adults, and even children, spending nights in cars and without so much as a roof, or a decent meal to project ahead of them.
I have (for years) supported the only homeless shelter in this county (The Samaritan Inn) because it provides a valuable and needed service. The facility, which has expanded its capacity twice in the past decade, is ALWAYS filled to capacity, and is forced to turn away twice as many people as it accepts – the need is THAT great!
I was stunned to learn that in the midst of this recent cold spell only a handful of the hundreds of churches in the county bothered to offer open doors to merely shelter these people from the cold, and offer so little as a cup of coffee, some bread or soup, to them. It simply makes a person wonder about how the teachings of a man who professed compassion for the unfortunate around him could be that misshaped.
There are homeless people everywhere in this nation and not ALL are mentally unbalanced drug addicts; most work full-time jobs and a third of those labeled “homeless” are children under 17 (who have done nothing bad in their lives other to be born to lesser circumstances). Far, FAR too many homeless men (and even women) are U.S. military veterans, for whom society has turned its collective backs on these former heroes and warriors. Such is but one of several national shames this country continues to permit.
The best volunteer helps because it’s the right thing to do. The best volunteer does it without fanfare and without seeking approval of others ... because it IS the right thing to do. And the recipient(s) of volunteer efforts need to deliver regular thanks and appreciation for that which they receive ... in the form of sincere pats on the back.
Because that is ALSO the right thing to do.
Every community, regardless of where you live, offers worthy organizations that could use help with that “trinity.” Each organization could benefit from donations, or a phone call where you ask a simple question, “What can I do to help?”
Find as much to do as your schedule will allow – at your church, at your school, through various outreach services. Take that step forward and raise your hand.
You’ll be a much better human being for it.
To everyone who reads or listens to Mgotalk, please have a safe and rewarding holiday, keep supporting this venture and the University of Michigan athletics (and other activities) and help your fellow man, woman and children.