Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

You cannot contract a rivalry

Here’s a hard-and-fast rule in life and college football: a contract does NOT make a football rivalry. It MUST come naturally and exist for multiple decades, usually through conference alliances, or traditions that stretch back to when football fields actually LOOKED like gridirons.
Michigan has held its 38th meeting with Notre Dame in what is considered a “storied” rivalry. In truth, however, it is NOT all that “storied” – the contract to play Notre Dame didn’t begin until 1978 after a 34-year absence. What you have are marquee matchups involving two major Midwestern schools.
Michigan and Notre Dame only played 11 times up to 1943 when the two institutions contracted to face each other, starting in 1978. And … there have been periods since then when the game wasn’t played (1983-84, 1995-96, 2000-01). Rivalries don’t take that many games off.
Each school will point fingers at the other as the reason for the prolonged gap in between encounters, but it doesn’t matter. A rivalry might have developed but there’s no guarantee it will continue far into the future (pending on upcoming expanded conference scheduling and the uncertainty of the Irish’s TV contract).
Still, these schools should have met on an annual basis throughout the ages, and the truth is that Michigan and Notre Dame did NOT play each other for decades.
Michigan has three natural “rivals” – Ohio State, Michigan and Minnesota. All are long-time members of the Big 10/12 conference and these teams have been playing each other since nearly 100 years.
Ohio State is obvious as is Michigan State (do they still call the school in East Lansing “Moo U”). They are on-field challengers as well as recruiting rivals.
But … Minnesota??? You might not realize it, but Minnesota and Michigan contest the oldest football trophies in NCAA history – a piece of crockery affectionately called the Little Brown Jug.
Sadly, this is the second year in a row – thanks to the non-wisdom of the Big 10’s unbalanced conference scheduling – that the Gophers and Wolverines will NOT play one another.
The rivalry was created on Oct. 31, 1903, when an earthenware water jug, originally used by Michigan coach Fielding H. Yost, is painted with the victories of each team.
It is speculated that the name of the trophy originated from Joseph Winner’s song in 1869 (not the Glenn Miller tune which was probably based on the trophy).
In the turn of the century, both schools had great football programs – Michigan was led by legendary coach Fielding H. Yost, the architect of the modern Michigan sports program (construction of Michigan Stadium and Yost Fieldhouse – the first indoor facility for football). Starting in 1901, the Wolverines reeled off 28 straight victories and face the Golden Gophers, who were seeking to upset Michigan in Minneapolis.
Prior to the contest, Michigan student manager Thomas B. Roberts was instructed by Yost to purchase a water container, showing a tad amount of paranoia about possible water contamination by Minnesota fans. So Roberts bought the five-gallon jug for 30¢ from a local variety store.
On old Northrop Field, before 20,000 rabid Gopher fans, Minnesota stopped Yost renowned “point-a-minute” team to just a single touchdown (back then you scored by “touching down” the ball in the end zone) but did not score a touchdown of its own until late in the contest – which ended in a 6-6 deadlock.
According to legend, with two minutes to play, a thunderstorm exploded over the field, the fans rush the turf and the contest was halted at that point. Michigan left the field, and the jug behind in the University of Minnesota Armory locker room.
The next day, armory custodian Oscar Munson found the darn thing and took it to Minnesota athletic director L.J. Cooke. No one knows for sure what happened, who got it and how. In 1956, Roberts wrote that the jug was a throwaway and he deliberately left it on the field (so much for recycling in 1903).
But the Minnesota people were happy to have something that belonged to Michigan and went ahead painting the putty-colored flask Minnesota brown, with the inscription, “Michigan Jug – Captured by Oscar, October 31, 1903” with the score “Michigan 6, Minnesota 6.” Since possession was still 90 percent of the law, the Minnesota score was several times larger than Michigan’s.
Learning of this, Yost, never one of waste anything, wanted the thing returned back, and sent a letter to that effect. In response, Cooke wrote, “We have your little brown jug; if you want it, you’ll have to win it.”
So in 1904, that is what Michigan went and did, again in 1910 and kept the jug as its trophy.
Michigan did exactly that when the teams met up again in 1909, and repeated the performance in 1910. Oddly, in 1919 when Michigan rejoined the Big Ten Conference, it was the first time Minnesota won the Jug outright.
The Jug has not always been treated with such reverence. While I was on the Daily staff, one of our co-horts (nameless to protect the innocent), who also doubled as a student manager, played some tricks of his own with the trophy, as he reminisced with me recently.
“Remember the year I kept the Little Brown Jug in my apartment after we got home from Minnesota? Then Bob Ufer came over one night with a tape for me and just looked at the Jug and said, ‘What the hell is that doing here?’ We (my roommate and I) just laughed and kept it until the end of the semester.”
It sits today, I’m sure, in Schembechler Hall, in a trophy case, for all the world to see. When I was in school, it sat in the back of the equipment staff’s area in a locked box; it was just something else to haul out when Minnesota came to town. Such are the things of rivalries; at least it’s better than playing for some metal pig.
When the new Big 10/12 alignment takes place, most of Michigan’s rivalries will be preserved (unlike the current unbalanced scheduling which has Michigan and Minnesota bypassing each other for the second year in a row).
Nebraska was been a red-headed stepchild for the longest time since the Big 8 ceased to exist 16 years ago. The people in Lincoln have never been comfortable playing second-fiddle in the Big 12 to Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma.
But exactly WHAT does it bring to the new Big 10/12? What automatic rivalry is sparked by having the Cornhuskers on anyone’s schedule? The college football world is not clamoring to see Iowa-Nebraska, Minnesota-Nebraska or even Ohio State-Nebraska.
For U-M, I’m not sure losing 32-28 in the 2006 Alamo Bowl is a major revenge factor when Nebraska travels to Ann Arbor (when the first visit will BE the first visit).
Missouri, I believe, would’ve been a wiser choice as the 12th conference institution. There is already an instant, intense rivalry with Illinois and Mizzou would have been a major competitive plus in other sports (basketball, baseball). Besides, St. Louis is a better media market to add than Omaha.
It also has a larger enrollment than Nebraska; only Oklahoma State and Kansas State (by a few hundred students) are smaller public Big 12 schools than Nebraska.
One thought on the alignment: In the Big 12-minus 2 (they are going to have to arrange for new conference names to accurately reflect the movement), the football divisions were grouped geographically. The Big 12 South has the four Texas schools plus the two Oklahoma universities. The North division consisted of the remnants of the old Big 8 (Iowa State, Nebraska, Kansas, Kansas State, Colorado, Missouri) and with a few exceptions, the South was ALWAYS superior to the little sisters of the north. That’s one of the reasons Colorado AND Nebraska boot-scooted as fast as they could to “greener” pastures.
The Big 10 followed no similar pattern and what has resulted doesn’t make much sense… at least to me.
Having written ALL of the above, the best part of playing a team like Notre Dame is beating a team like Notre Dame – rival or not. Can’t say the same about UMass or Bowling Green or even Indiana or Northwestern. Hopefully it will continue.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Confessions of a Marxist

If I ever lose my mind completely, and decide to run for political office (again – been there, stupidly did that as a city councilman for a small town in south Texas), I will gladly make the following confession … so the likes of Glenn Beck will feel good about themselves when they dissect people they don’t know but want to tear down anyway.
I am a Marxist – through and through. Now before you bend over to pick up your crest-fallen jaw, I must explain. I do NOT subscribe to the writings and theories of Karl Marx (sorry, to disappoint you Glenn); I follow the wisdom of that great American, Julius Henry Marx, best known to y’all as Groucho.
In his 86 years (October 2, 1890-August 19, 1977) of entertainment and dispensing of knowledge, Groucho did more to enlighten the masses than ANY politician, author, philosopher (short of Mark Twain) and statesman. He knew more, and knew how to get his point across, than any American before … since.
He didn’t take himself too seriously and took those who did even less. He’d have a field day with the current crop of Fox News know-it-alls like Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck and half of the folks on CNN and MSNBC, too. He’d already have reduced a simpleton like Sarah Palin to a bowl of quivering jelly and no one, regardless of party affiliation, would have been spared.
As it should be. So here’s his viewpoints and credos on several issues of the day (and today):
“All people are born alike – except Republicans and Democrats.”
“Politics doesn’t make strange bedfellows – marriage does.”
“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”
“You’ve got the brain of a four-year-old and I’ll bet he was glad to be rid of it.
“I read in the newspapers they are going to have 30 minutes of intellectual stuff on television every Monday, from 7:30 to 8, to educate America. They couldn’t educate America if they started at 6:30.”
“I worked my way up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.”
“Why a four-year-old child could understand this report. Run out and find me a four-year-old child; I can’t make head nor tail out of it.”
“I made a killing on Wall Street a few years ago ... I shot my broker.”
“Blood’s not thicker than money.”
Health care
“A hospital bed is a parked taxi with the meter running.”
“I’m not feeling very well – I need a doctor immediately. Ring the nearest golf course.”
The arts
“I didn’t like the play, but then I saw it under adverse conditions – the curtain was up.”
“In Hollywood, brides keep the bouquets and throw away the groom.”
“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”
“Well, art is art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce, they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know.”
“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
“Practically everybody in New York has half a mind to write a book, and usually does.”
“From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend on reading it.”
Homeland security
“Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.”
“Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms.”
“Alimony is like buying hay for a dead horse.”
“Anyone who says he can see through women is missing a lot.”
“Behind every successful man is a woman; behind her is his wife.”
“Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?”
“I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury.”
“Marriage is the chief cause of divorce.”
“The husband who wants a happy marriage should learn to keep his mouth shut and his checkbook open.”
“Will you marry me? Do you have any money? Answer the second question first.”
“I’ve known and respected your husband for many years, and what’s good enough for him is good enough for me.”
“Wives are people who feel they don’t dance enough.”
“Here’s to our wives and girlfriends ... may they never meet!”
“How do you feel about women’s rights? I like either side of them.”
“A woman is an occasional pleasure … but a cigar is always a smoke.”
“Man does not control his own fate; the women in his life do that for him.”
“Women should be obscene and not heard.”
“Anyone who says he can see through women is missing a lot.”
Family values
“I remember the first time I had sex – I kept the receipt.”
“It isn’t necessary to have relatives in Kansas City in order to be unhappy.”
“Whoever called it necking was a poor judge of anatomy.”
Senior citizenry
“I intend to live forever, or die trying.”
“A man’s only as old as the woman he feels.”
“Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough.”
“There’s one thing I always wanted to do before I quit ... retire!”
“No man goes before his time – unless the boss leaves early.”
Trash talking (before it was fashionable)
“Why, I’d horse-whip you if I had a horse.”
“I never forget a face, but in your case, I’ll be glad to make an exception.”
“Remember men, you’re fighting for this woman’s honor; which is probably more than she ever did.”
“You know I could rent you out as a decoy for duck hunters.”
“Don’t look now, but there’s one too many men in this room and I think it’s you.”
“He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot, but don’t let that fool you. He really is an idiot.”
“I married your mother because I wanted children; imagine my disappointment when you arrived.”
“I have a mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it.”
Random pearls of wisdom
“A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.”
“I would never join a club that would have me as a member.”
“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.”
“Humor is reason gone mad.”
“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be.
“Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”
“My favorite poem is the one that starts ‘Thirty days hath September’ because it actually tells you something.”
“The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
“There’s one way to find out if a man is honest – ask him. If he says, ‘Yes,’ you know he’s a crook.”
“Those are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”
“Time wounds all heels.”
“Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”
“Quote me as saying I was misquoted.”

Saturday, September 25, 2010

There IS life after ‘Shoelace;’ second season about to begin - Michigan 65,Bowling Green 21

Perhaps the one question no one wishes to ask got answered Saturday afternoon for the Michigan football program. Could U-M survive if something happened to Denard Robinson?
The answer is “yes,” up to a point. The Wolverines finally manhandled a team of lesser talent in the person of Bowling Green, 65-21, although … again … that rascally defense almost made me lose my $1.25 Totino’s Party Pizza I had for lunch. Apparently in Ann Arbor, only McDonald’s know how to “wrap up.”
You know Head Coach Rich Rodriguez wanted to play all three of his quarterbacks against the Falcons – just NOT all in the first half because of necessity. Freshman Devin Gardner looked like the promising player he has been toured to be and at times looked like exactly what he is – a freshman in much more shark infested waters. He possesses a great throwing arm but not the same overall cat-like quickness of Robinson (who STILL led U-M in rushing with 129 yards on only 5 carries before leaving with his knee boo-boo).
It was actually refreshing to sophomore Tate Forcier step up and take the bit, instead of spitting it out. You’ve got to wonder if this was a “showcase” game much in the way as some pro baseball teams run out roster members to show other teams potential trade value. If you want Tate to transfer to your school, you clearly see what you’d be getting.
But Forcier won this game for Michigan, ripping the Falcon defense to shreds. His scoring drive in the final minutes of the first half was crucial at that point in time. Hopefully his performance will smooth any ruffled feathers from how the season, and Robinson’s overwhelming national/campus popularity has totally overshadowed Forcier’s prior performance. No quarterback controversy here.
Still points of concern: penalties, including dumb mistakes (one cost a long touchdown pass for “hitting a defenseless player” and one for having two number 9s on the field at the same time.
The former is ridiculous in a game of collisions; you should be protecting yourself at all times, not unlike boxing. Since no replay was made available, it’s hard to have really known what happened.
The latter flag is just dumb and dumber from the sidelines. Ninety or so numbers SHOULD be enough to cover all personnel you WANT to play. Having two players with the same number who ACTUALLY see lots of action is a penalty waiting to be called and for the first time in my memory, it got flagged.
Hey, back in the day, if you have a duplicate number, the only change YOU got to play was if someone had gotten into triple figures. Hey, this isn’t another version of “Rudy;” it’s major college football and there are only so many minutes in a game and only so many players who can actually play.
I still remained highly concerned about the kicking game, despite the fact Michigan didn’t have to punt against Bowling Green. Most U-M kickoffs were woefully short (not close to the end zone and usually falling short of the 10-yard-line, meaning better than deserved field position). That cannot happen against the likes of Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio State or even Moo U.
And without a proven field goal unit to garner crucial points, it must be a major concern moving forward for the Michigan coaching staff and all Wolverine nation. It was kinda unnerving to see Bryan Wright boom kickoffs and place kick for BG knowing he was in a Michigan uniform last season. It’s NOT like U-M couldn’t have used him in 2010…
And now … the stage is set for Big Ten Redux for Michigan. U-M enters conference play undefeated, ranked, with an exciting quarterback against Indiana (on the road this time) – seeking desperately NOT to repeat the same outcome as 12 months earlier.
Last year, Michigan had to rally at home to beat the upstart Hoosiers and then fell apart with an overtime loss at Michigan State. With a critical injury to U-M center David Molk crippling a thin offensive line, it all fell apart for the Maize and Blue.
BUT … this appears NOT to be last season’s squad. The running corps appears to be deeper and better, even possessing a big bodied back for short yardage situations in freshman Stephen Hopkins from my neck of the woods (from perennial top-flight program Flower Mound Marcus High School in the next county over), as well as Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith. The line looks stronger and healthier. And Robinson wasn’t ready last year to be the starter; this year, he is the star.
Michigan, with its porous defense, will still have to win high-scoring games – not always the best prescription for victory. But the 2010 version appears to possess the ability to strike quicker than last season’s team, especially running the ball (which WAS non-existent in 2009). Some Big 10 opponents don’t appear to be as formidable (Penn State, Purdue, Illinois, Indiana) as last season and color me unimpressed when you smack around Northern Colorado, Austin Peay (which happens when some Texans have to flush) or even Ball State.
Like it or not, Michigan won a tough road game in a very hostile environment and that will bode well for the Big 10 schedule.
Who knows WHAT will happen coming into the final two weeks against Wisconsin or Ohio State? Even if U-M isn’t ready to win the conference, it will have a team post-season bowl committees will fight to have appear in their contests because of its quarterback and exciting offense.
But, first, Big Blue has to earn its way there. THAT, my friends, starts next week in Bloomington – one game at a time.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why the Tea Party is a collection of hypocrites

I will be the first person to admit I completely do NOT get what the Tea Party is all about. To me, it’s nothing but a bunch of old angry white people who hate things, and people, they don’t understand, while being led by the nose by others who lie and distort merely want the glory, power and money that comes from such submissiveness.
With the help of a few comments, I’ve picked up here and there, I’m trying my dead-level best to figure it out, but I have LOTS of questions:
For example:
Why didn’t these so-called Tea Parry sympathizers become outraged when the Supreme Court stopped a legal recount happening in Florida in 2000 and declared who the slim majority wanted to become President (when that person did NOT win the popular vote of the “people” by some 500,000 tallies)?
Why didn’t these people become outraged when the United States falsely sent thousands of America’s best and brightest men and women to fight and die (plus get injured, maimed and destroyed emotionally) to fight a war that should never have happened? Where was the indignation over the constant lying and falsification of evidence about “weapons of mass destruction” and “terrorist sympathizers” when there was neither … in Iraq? How can ANY of these people look the family of men like Pat Tillman in the eye and say, “Sorry but didn’t care about that issue”?
Even more important, where was the outrage over the price tag for that excursion – listed at some $600 BILLION and still growing? What about THAT attack on the national debt? Or the outright theft of $10 billion in Iraq stolen – not by Iraqi forces – but by American companies and contractors (who, by the way, were killing people and NOT being held accountable to ANY court of law)?
Where was the moral indignation about illegal torture of people NOT involved in any crime against America, indefinite detention, sights like Abu Grahib, or the deliberate disclosure of the identity of a CIA operative working to battle possible terrorism against this country, merely for political posturing?
No one heard a word from the Tea Party when the abhorrent conditions were disclosed about U.S. veterans’ treatment at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and throughout the VA system – shamefully starved for funding by the Bush administration, which diverted that funding to the war effort.
How can Tea Party supporters stand for a frontal attack on our Constitutional rights through things like the Patriot Act when they allegedly hold the Constitution to be so near and dear to their hearts and mind? How could be permit overt wire-tapping of private phone conversations made by American citizens? And then stand silent while the (former) President of the United States blatantly lied about the existence of such a program?
No one with the Tea Party cared when incompetent federal governmental response allowed tragedy and death to continue in New Orleans – an American city occupied by American citizens. And these same people have NEVER asked why those citizens have NOT been allowed, or helped, to return home and be provided with the simple necessities of life – clean water, adequate housing, schools, hospitals/medical care – that were all swept away because of multiple systemic failures.
Where was the Tea Party when Bush and his GOP-controlled Congress ballooned the national debt from a surplus (in 2000) to over $10 trillion in eight-years’ time. They only focus on the Democrats’ two-years control (2006-08) but ALWAYS forget that no spending bill was ever, EVER vetoed by Bush while he was in office. (I keep forgetting: the GOP will do better THE NEXT TIME but offer NO proof to that supposition).
No, we didn’t hear about any “Tea Party” until a black man was elected president and he tried to deal with the shit storm left to him by the previous administration and Republi-cant’s in Congress. The banking system was collapsing, the auto industry was collapsing and the debt was growing because, in 2001, the GOP leaders decided to move MORE of the nation’s wealth to the richest 2 percent, even drawing a law that would allow no inheritance tax on anyone in 2010…and then, poof, goodbye tax breaks for all the people.
Right in the lap of the new president the Tea Partiers loathe SO much they resort to bigotry, lies and deprivation instead of logic, discussion and agreement somewhere in the middle (which the dictionary often calls compromise). No, the people who get Social Security checks and Medicare coverage didn’t want the government involved in any form of health insurance coverage for children, lower income people or anyone that didn’t look like them (in terms of skin color especially).
They believe you can say anything about anyone – OTHER than them – and it didn’t matter how crazy, kooky or stupid their standard-bearers were so long as they spewed and regurgitated their particular party line – as in the Tea Party MANIFESTO.
I find their total lack of interest in local issues to be hypocritical, pinning all the future problems on the national debt (which has ALWAYS been there for scores of generations, including the Reagan, Nixon, Eisenhower and Bush years).
They aren’t worried about debt; they are worried about themselves and losing “control” of what the country USED to represent. They want to go back to a time when minorities were denied rights by institutions, sanctioned by state control; when minorities only served at the majority pleasure and whim and literally worked as servants and low wage workers to make things for the pleasure of others.
They profess to want to follow the parameters of God and a particular religious following, while denying that same right to others, despite what the Constitution says (also despite the fact that God, or Jesus Christ, is NEVER mentioned once in that document).
They hate what they don’t understand and don’t want to understand what they don’t know. They want to turn the U.S. into a barricaded island and wallow in their misery. They want to “take back” their country but have no clue where to take it to in the future.
It’s a joke but it isn’t funny because the gullible “sheeple” of this land are about to vote the fools, jesters, deniers, enablers and dishonest BACK into power – thanks much to the gullible nature of the Tea Party.
So, no, I don’t pretend to understand them because I’m not really capable. You see I am a free-thinking, rationale American, not some Tea Partier, who thinks that shouting is a substitute for brain activity.
And I don’t want to change.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

University of Michigan sports trivia

Go ahead and try your luck. Answers next week.
1 – Five numbers have been retired in the history of Michigan football. Name the players and the numbers.
2 – Ironically, the basketball program ALSO has five retired numbers. Name the players and the numbers.
3 – Before Michigan Stadium, where did the Wolverines play football? And what was its most famous event?
4 – Who was Michigan’s FIRST football All-American?
6 – Why was the famous winged helmet introduced to college football?
7 – Which Michigan man won NCAA team titles as athlete and coach in the same sport?
8 – Of all the New Year’s Day bowl games, which one has Michigan NOT participated in?
9 – Which Michigan athlete was the first African-American to win an individual Olympic gold medal?
10 – How many Michigan baseball players and coaches are enshrined in Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Famer?
11 – Which former Michigan athlete was the first U.S.-born citizen to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup?
12 – When Bo Schembechler took over as head football coach in 1969, he retained only two assistant coaches from Bump Elliott’s 1968 staff. Who were they?
13 – Which former U-M football coach was also an elected mayor and state representative in Michigan?
Bonus – Name the original members of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Michigan 42, UMass 37: Still not Top 25 defense yet

I am going to repeat myself because apparently the original message didn’t seep through the first time.
This Michigan squad is NOT a nationally-ranked football team … yet. The defensive unit is FAR from possessing Top 25 ability. Last Saturday’s 42-37 victory over FCS UMass is just another reason why, if it were me, I’d invest in kiosk-style manicurist salons all around the Big House.
Folks, it will be nail-bitin’ time each and every Saturday when the Maize and Blue hit the field.
The Wolverine defense did not do a quality job stopping the Minutemen offense and the kicking game is still less-than-satisfactory. Missed field goals inside the 40 and a blocked punt, plus a minus-17 yards on the only punt return is simply unacceptable … for the Top 25 team. It cannot be pictured in any other manner.
Kickoffs don’t nearly reach the end zone and coverage allowed returns averaging more than 23 yards per return. Of course, the blocked punt in the final minutes gave UMass the chance to scare the life out of every Michigan fan on hand, delirious with visions of Appalachian State running through their heads.
The time of possession – just 22:22 – is more a product of the defense in this game than the lack of execution on offense. Aside from the opening drive interception, U-M had decent third-down conversions (4-7) and Denard Robinson completed 10 of his 14 attempts for 241 yards (excellent by anyone’s standard).
But the defense allowed 439 yards in UMass offense on 78 plays!!!!!!! That was literally a full quarter’s worth of time and activity.
So what was the positive? We won! Pure and simple. Michigan is 3-0 headed to a “showdown” with those flying Falcons from Bowling Green State University (bearers of some of the ugliest colors this side of the Cleveland Browns). More than compiling big numbers on offense, the emphasis for this week should be … zero. The defense needs to allow as close to THAT number as possible; that should be the four-letter word uttered by every member of that unit for this game – for ALL games.
Penalties. Yards. Points.
Until the defense shows such form, this is NOT a Top 25 team … YET!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Michigan football: Remembering when…

It was 40 years ago when this somewhat naïve, starry-eyed freshman entered the University of Michigan and began a journey which is still ongoing. My time in Ann Arbor changed my life profoundly, from the people I met, the friendships I developed and the events I experienced.
I spent two years at Alice Crocker Lloyd Hall before experiencing the “joys” of off-campus housing (and moving … moving … moving … and more moving; I think I lived in 11 different apartments over the next four years’ time before catching a Greyhound south for Texas). And as memorable as anything during my stint in Ann Arbor (as a student and working for Sports Information) was Michigan football Saturdays and the weekends surrounding them.
Not to bore anyone but things have certainly changed (I assume and I hope) in 40 years.
First, it was NEVER called “The Big House;” we called it the stadium. Warner Bros. gangster movies referred to prison as “The Big House.” Some marketing genius coined that term for Michigan Stadium (or as the late and great Bob Ufer often said, “The house that Yost built and Schembechler filled”).
Second, most of the student body always attended to party; football was important but NOT all-encompassing. No one did pep rallies and spoke of rankings with every breath, although you gladly stood in long lines to get your student tickets before the season started (freshmen in the end zones and seniors toward the 50-yard-line). I think the original price was six games (we played only 10 on the regular season back in the day) for $21 or $24 … something ridiculously cheap compared to today’s face value.
No, we went to have a good time, normally on a sun-drenched Saturday afternoon. Back then, ALL games at the stadium began at 1 p.m. (no lights employed) and not even ABC television (the only outlet to see U-M football) could dictate otherwise. Radio mattered more than television and U-M had eight different networks/stations delivering aural descriptions each week (from the campus station WUOM to the student station WCBN to WAAM and WWJ in Detroit). Michigan football could be heard in every corner of the state on any given Saturday.
Football Saturday mornings meant watching U-M rugby play below our dorm windows on Palmer Field and that contact was always a precursor to what would happen a few hours later. It was also a way to socialize and down a few cup of fresh-squeezed apple cider before walking to the stadium.
You did BYOB and BYOF (beverage and food); the stadium concessions consisted of gnarly hot dogs, popcorn and less than edible hamburgers. If it was November, the rush was on for hot coffee or chocolate. But no one delivered pizza or anything that exotic to your seat; you brought a flask, wine bottle or … perhaps something herbal to enjoy. There were ticket takers at the gate, not security checkers, so almost anything was allowed.
And students brought cheap-ass wine – nothing of quality because, after all, they were students, not foodies or sommeliers. The line at Campus Corners stretched out the door for those $1 green bottles (Ripple, Annie Green Springs, Boone’s Farm) and in the fourth quarter, all around the stadium, you could see long lines of green glassware being hand-passed (from the bottom rows to the top) in an pre-ecological effort to recycle. When the crowd cleared out, there was ALWAYS a huge amount of empty wine bottles lined against the wall of the very top row.
Wine wasn’t the only thing touched by people’s hands. THE most controversial aspect of attending a Michigan football game was the habit of “passing” back females from lower rows toward the top. More than one (perhaps ALL) female-based campus organization objected vehemently to this practice, dismissing the “boys will be boys” attitude that permeated the situation where, yes, inappropriate groping and touching took place (a precursor to the mosh pit movement?). Warnings were issues by U-M officials, but it continued anyway.
Back then, the band was not integrated, gender-wise; it was still proudly “The Marching MEN of Michigan,” and women didn’t join for a season or two after I arrived. Same held true for the cheerleaders – all men – until 1975. Only males did the backflips off the short concrete walls surrounding the field after each Michigan score and often they were joined by the likes of coaches Newt Loken (gymnastics) and Dick Kimball (diving) during Homecoming.
Our freshmen section (in the north end zone) became “disenchanted” with the U-M Pep unit (where a handful of bandsmen would encourage fans to yell “FIGHT!” after a short musical interlude) for deliberating avoiding us, simply because we chose to substitute our own words for “fight.” We chose something more … colorful and it was always censored by the radio people.
So, we began a kazoo band in that section and got fairly proficient at it. In time, there were about 100 students carrying metal kazoos to each home game and performing when the silence permitted. A few times, we actually took requests from other sections and it merely added to the light-heartedness of the stadium atmosphere.
This isn’t to imply everything was dismissed as nonsense – we took ONE game seriously above all others. When Ohio State came to town, it meant war, especially after 1969 when Bo pulled the great 24-12 upset over Woody. In 1971, it was an especially tense time and that afternoon was one of the most unforgettable affairs.
It was a cold afternoon and the skies were threatening all during the pre-game warm-ups. When it came time for the National Anthem, the crowd rose as one; it was also the time for the heavens to open with a hail and rain downpour that, for some strange reason, lasted exactly as long as “The Star-Spangled Banner.” When the Michigan band finished playing, 105,000 fans sat down on cold, wet fannies.
The tone of the afternoon had been set by Mother Nature and Michigan trailed 7-3 headed into the final minutes when the great Billy Taylor (one of the leaders of the Den of the Mellow Men) raced around right end and scored the game-winning touchdown.
On the Buckeyes’ final possession, safety Thom Darden intercepted Dick Wakefield’s pass, then Woody went crazy, ripping up yard markers and tossing them onto the field like a javelin thrower.
The normally-mellow crowd went berserk in celebration, mobbing the field. The jubilation lasted well into the early morning hours of Sunday. Winning normally wasn’t everything back in the day but all rules were suspended for Ohio State. Anyone who has ever heard the class of the BT touchdown by Ufer knows what I mean.
After the game, it was always party-time in the City of Trees. Many hosts could be seen rolling rented kegs of Stroh’s down streets from Campus Corners to their homes and Pizza Bob’s was busy readying the best pizzas and gigantic subs for nourishment.
Of course, if the folks were in town, a trip to places like Thano’s Lamplighter (THE best deep dish pizza period) was the order of the night. If something more “appropriate” was needed, you went to the only fancy restaurant (at that time) – The Gandy Dancer. If you wanted to celebrate with a few pitchers of beer (only a $1.25 in olden times), you headed to the Village Bell, Pretzel Bell or Bimbo’s, where one mixed melted mozzarella with Dixieland jazz.
In 40 years’ time, I can only imagine how “ancient” my memories are compared to experiences of today. When I entered college, we did not have PCs (if you owned an IBM Selectric typewriter, you were top-shelf), DVRs/VCRs or even hand-held calculators. North Campus was decidedly smaller and the campus felt more compact than it is today.
Foreign films were shown at the Campus Theater on University or you went to one of the evening films at one of the many lecture halls that were converted to theaters for the night. Geeks and freaks waited to pay $1 to watch “My Fair Lady” or any Marx Brothers comedy (anarchy was a popular drawing card) or even a porn classic, “Behind the Green Door,” which was always a sold-out SRO affair in the Political Science building.
There were no pep rallies in the Diag because it was usually busy with political rallies, protesting the Vietnam War or protesting for the legalization of marijuana (even though the city of Ann Arbor labeled possession no more serious than a parking ticket).
Scalping wasn’t as prevalent (except for big games) because you wanted to go to the games – if only to drink and have fun. Perhaps the biggest argument all day would be which pizza to order for watching pro football on Sunday – Domino’s (just starting out) or Omega. Or go to Follett’s, Ulrich’s or the U Bookstore for a used textbook.
Some of us gathered as a lip-synching performance group and did sock hops in various dorms, culminating in co-headlining the 1972 Homecoming performance lineup in the Union Ballroom, outdrawing Stevie Wonder and Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen. It was a spoof, of course, we didn’t sing or play a note, but it was a different mood back then. We were Milli Vanilli before Milli got Vanillied.
I know I’d enjoy being a member of the Class of 2010, 2011 or 2012; it’s a great learning institution and as a sports fan, I could go 24/7 merely wrapped up in Michigan sports.
But my time on campus 40 years ago was special. I can only hope readers here loved their time as much as I did.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Michigan football: Good so far; far from great

Dedicated to the people who vote in the various college football polls (which are truly meaningless this young into the season, but still …)
Dear Sirs,
PLEASE! Whatever you think, see or try to believe, do not (repeat, do NOT) rank Michigan in the top 25 after Saturday’s 28-24 win at Notre Dame. While it was a thrilling last-second win (made FAR too close by the Wolverine defense, which will be examined later), this team is not yet deserving of a top 25 ranking.
That mistake was made under similar circumstances one year earlier, after another come-from-behind last-second victory over the same opponent. All that ranking accomplished 365 days earlier was a build-up to ultimate failure in the Big 10 season.
The Wolverine Nation does not need history to repeat itself SO … if you’d please … keep your rankings away for a couple of weeks.
Until this extremely young team finds more answers to the gaping holes within its game. While it was very satisfying to beat the Irish in their own backyard, on their own TV network, with their own cheerleading announcers, there are still plenty of questions to ask and need to be answered before Michigan enters the top 25 of anything.
First, a wonderful game-winning drive engineered by the “IT” player in college football at the moment – sophomore Denard Robinson. He looked cool, collected and stabbed Notre Dame in the heart and shut those damn-ass people up in that frightful stadium.
Sidenote: How sad that the recession has hit the Irish football program. In past years, all Notre Dame player helmets would be spray-painted the night before every game with a new coat of Irish gold, which included REAL flecks of gold!!! This season, those helmets looked like mere old gold dull plastic. How sad!
After Robinson, the second best player on the field was Irish sophomore linebacker Manti Te’o, 6-2, 245, from Punahou High School in Laie, Hawai’i, who earned this fan’s total respect for his performance. Someone else recognized that and the player Robinson sought to congratulate after the final whistle was … Te’o; Denard knew a real player when he saw and felt one and he gave Te’o his props.
And if Roy Roundtree was “doubtful” for the affair, then list his at that level before EVERY game. I cannot think of any one of his eight receptions (for 82 yards) that were NOT crucial. His last grab, at the Notre Dame 3, set up the game-winning run by Robinson. He was Michigan’s second-best player on the afternoon.
But Robinson stood head and shoulders above everyone else, totally 502 yards in total offense, which I’m sure is a Michigan record. I’ll betcha high school coaches all over America will be hearing from players who don’t want to tie their shoelaces, simply to emulate Robinson. And it’s nice to see him credit everyone else and not give a damn about personal stats; he just seems to care about the scoreboard – as it should be.
HOWEVER … there is still lots of work for the coaching staff to do because weaknesses exists all over the place – in all facets.
The kicking game almost cost U-M the victory; if you didn’t notice, Coach Rodriguez changed kickers on the last extra point after Brendan Gibbons badly missed two makeable field goals (39, 40 yards). It was Seth Broekhuizen booting the final point; and I imagine there will be a week-long battle for the placekicking job in practice this week (even kickoffs seemed 5-7 yards too short).
The punting was somewhat sub-standard and things must improve from a 38.3 yard average.
On offense, the lack of a productive running back, behind Robinson, seems to stymie things at crucial times. Subtract Robinson’s totals and the trio of halfbacks gained but 20 yards on 13 carries, and NONE for a first down. That MUST change in future games in order to take some of the pressure away from Robinson’s feet and arm; someone you can count upon to get that first-down yardage on a straight handoff.
The running backs also need to become better blockers, at the corners and downfield. Merely getting in someone’s way is NOT the same as delivering a solid block.
Second-half drives were snuffed out because of penalties by Kelvin Grady and at least two holding calls; we won’t even speak of two ridiculous late hits that almost cost U-M the game.
And then there’s the Michigan defense, which allowed 535 yards of Irish offense (on 76 plays), had scores of missed tackles (a little wrapup drill is in order) and, despite three interceptions, had difficulty covering Irish receivers, notably tight end Kyle Rudolph (8 receptions, 164 yards).
There was absolutely no excuse for Rudolph to have burned the Wolverine secondary for a 95-yard touchdown pass in the final four minutes. It was a crime that he was single-covered when he was burning the U-M defense all afternoon in that scenario. It was unspeakable how the Irish moved the ball SO fast in 14 seconds to have that final shot to the end zone to win the game. How does that happen?!?!?!?!
Michigan WILL have more problems as the season progresses with any team that can put the ball downfield through the air.
Which is why I never got comfortable with a 21-7 halftime lead, never felt good about Notre Dame having the ball at its own 5 with less than four minutes to play and was still shaky in the final 20 seconds.
Which is why … this team should not be ranked in the top 25 – not just yet. A few games are needed to fix the problems and then, maybe, this 2010 team will be ready for prime time.
One player is already there; one defense is not.

9/11: a quick reaction

Here's one of the big problems with all the 9/11 remembrances:
On 9/10, most Americans (outside New York City) had no clue what the TWIN TOWERS were (sports fans in Houston know that phrase from the Houston Rockets' old days). Now that structure has taken on mythical status. And very few remember that it was also attacked earlier in 1994 - just unsuccessfuly.
I was working as managing editor of the Plano Star-Courier, a daily suburban newspaper. My office also housed the county bureau for the FOX TV station so we watched the events unfold with the reporter. At some point, I had to go do my job and not linger... at the images (which were not going to get any better). I/we produced the best paper that community had ever seen that day..and long night.
However, I dashed off a column, begging people and the government NOT to retaliate against anyone, especially Muslims, because no country attacked us - criminals did! Unfortunately, very few listened or read - we attacked two nations, lost thousands of brave Americans (still not sure why), thousands more permanently injured, equal amount of families devestated ... and I, frankly, don't see one inch of progress made toward either eliminating the terror threat, or coming to some measure of understanding among people of the world, or even in this country (witness the silly events of the past week in Florida).
If, after Pearl Harbor, we can be friends and partners with the Japanese, then this, too shall pass.
We should be sad for all the loss of life that occured - at this day, and subsequently. For every action therer is often an equal or worse (lethal) reaction.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

“The West Wing:” best show ever and most insightful

I am watching the last season of what I consider to have been the best written television series … perhaps ever – “The West Wing.” No show about politics EVER went as far, as deep and as literate as this compilation – mainly because so many of those involved actually worked in Washington, D.C. at one time (DeeDee Myers and Lawrence O’Donnell for example).
But beyond that, beyond the brilliant performance of Martin Sheen as President Bartlet (hands down the best TV president ever and perhaps best in Hollywood history), beyond the magnificent ensemble cast, the scripts were unbelievably spot-on.
Down to the 2008 election, presented in the 2005-06 season and written in advance of the filming.
So much of what was placed on the show actually happened (some of it never could but the similarities were astonishing):
The president-elect, the first minority in U.S. history to win, places his biggest electoral rival in the post of secretary of state.
Sound familiar?
Matt Santos’ platform consists primarily of national health care and insurance reform, lobbyist reform and raising education standards. Sound familiar?
The outgoing administration leaves a messy foreign policy quagmire involving massive amount of U.S. troops in a faraway land. Sound familiar?
The new First Family had two young children and youth played a major factor in the victory, versus the age of the opponent. Sound familiar? The Republicans had a VP candidate to play to the right-wing evangelical base to offset the somewhat right-center main candidate. Sound familiar?
Some of the storylines were purely fictional, but it was uncanny how close to what WOULD happen in two years’ time.
While I love my “NCIS,” I miss such beautifully scripted, intelligent and masterful shows. Looking at the new lineup, hope does NOT spring eternal for future “West Wings.”

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Michigan football recruiting: Not playing to the home base

In college football, the overwhelming factor that decides victory is pure talent. Coaching only gets you SO far; you cannot coach size, speed or strength. You can only manage and shape it as a mentor.
Where a school mines its talent has certainly changed from the “olden” days, when I attended the University of Michigan in the early 1970s. Back then, Midwest schools consisted of players solely from the region and it was a rare sight to see someone outside a 4-5 state region play on Saturdays for U-M.
But we didn’t have cable television and in-conference networks sharing those players’ exploits across the country. You knew about Notre Dame and Penn State (when they were independents) and the Big 10 opponents, but little was actually known about West Coast or Southern schools until it came time to face one of them in post-season bowl competition.
Today, there are dozens of websites and services exclusively dedicated to high school players – not just seniors but anyone on any roster anywhere in the U.S. AND Canada. There are no sleepers anymore – no more recruits like David Gallagher, who got Bo Schembechler’s final offered scholarship in 1969 and became an All-American defensive tackle in 1973 … when no one else wanted him. No more players like Calvin O’Neal who came to Michigan from a 0-9 Saginaw High School team but Bo knew he was a special player and became one of the most feared linebackers during that era.
Among Michigan fans, it has been obvious that there has been a dropoff in talent level over the last five years, if not longer. Players being drafted into the NFL from Ann Arbor have been fewer by the year and the record of the last couple of season speaks for itself.
The obvious question is why? Every recruiting class is touted by every head coach – if for no other reason than to keep fan interest at a higher level. You simply cannot be honest (if you haven’t landed the recruits you had hoped) and expect seats to be filled for next season.
It needs to be said that grades distributed on National Signing Day are as ridiculous as tits on a boar hog. No one, no so-called expert and certainly no head coach, can accurately grade a recruiting class until the junior year. Some players blossom late, some live up to expectations and some never get any better than that senior year in high school.
And with early exiting for the NFL, it makes that level of judgment even harder. The program that actually recruits four-year players is looking for a different type of youngster than those going for those who do not expect to get a degree and will not be around to become seniors.
However, quality programs still do better when going with the “distance” runner than the blazing star. To that, I say two words: Demar Dorsey.
I looked at the U-M roster and what I saw frankly stunned me. Here are some facts to ponder:
Fact: A majority of the U-M 2010 squad is from out-of-state (71 of 123 listed on the roster).
Meaning: Many of the state’s top players are going elsewhere and it costs significantly more in department revenue to provide out-of-state scholarship money and recruiting expenses to garner them.
Fact: Of the remaining 52 in-state players, only four are from Detroit public schools programs (three of which attended Cass Tech, and that connection finds Cass head coach Thomas Wilcher a U-M grad).
Meaning: Where once the Wolverines ruled in terms of attracting the best city players to wear Maize and Blue, it’s all but a dry hole for U-M. These players are going elsewhere to shine.
Fact: After Ohio (with 20 players), Florida (12) is next in terms of most population on U-M roster (followed by Texas with 5). Illinois is down the line at just three players (Pennsylvania, South Carolina and California each have four players). In all, there are players from 21 different states, plus Canada.
Meaning: In the halcyon days, Wolverine recruits mainly (with a few exceptions) hailed from Michigan, Ohio or Illinois. Again, the cost of recruiting these players annually inflates the budget and forces the school to compete against scores upon scores of other nationally-known programs for the same talent. Think about this: there are as many players from suburban Houston as there are from the city of Detroit public schools. Seriously, what sense does that make?
By comparison, let’s examine the two schools from the state where I currently reside – Texas. Granted, it’s a much larger state in terms of population, high school districts and programs and amount of available talent.
Still, what is done at the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University display a completely different attitude towards their recruiting concepts. And with UT’s annual success, no one can argue with its plan.
The Longhorns have a 2010 roster of 107 players and ALL but six of them come from Texas!! Take a moment and mull that number over in your mind. Six out of 107 are not in-state products (meaning additional tuition costs, etc. on scholarship awards; thus saving a ton of dollars for the school). And each recruiting year, Texas leads in the number of Top 100 recruits it lands – all inside the Texas borders.
It is no accident; it’s carefully planned and cultivated by head coach Mack Brown, one of the shrewder recruiters in the country. He has an instantly recognizable brand to sell to players who see his team play every Saturday – either on television or in person … or in their sports dreams.
Not far behind is UT’s in-state rival, Texas A&M, with a scant 13 out-of-state players (five from next-door neighbor Louisiana, which has always been a strong Aggie recruiting base) out of 116 on the roster.
Between the two schools, and University of Oklahoma, Texas Tech and, in a few cases, Baylor, almost the entire upper echelon of Lone Star talent remains close to home.
It should be said UT does not monopolize all the in-state talent. More quarterbacks leave Texas to shine elsewhere than stay at home; that’s because there are so many of them to share. While the Longhorns had Vince Young and Colt McCoy for seven years, players like Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees, Greg McElroy, Andrew Luck, Chase Daniel (just to name a few) crossed the state line for playing time.
But Texas isn’t complaining about who stuck around… Can the same be said about the state of Michigan? Hardly, and for the Wolverines, they have NOT been getting the best of the brightest lately.
One has to stabilize the home base in its recruiting before venturing into “enemy” territory. If a third of the Michigan roster was out-of-state, it might be expected. But 60 percent?!?!? That’s abnormal and unhealthy for any program’s future.
This isn’t a small area of base recruiting; there is plenty of talent in this state, and in the Midwest, to stock a championship program. So I ask again: where are all the Michigan players wearing a Michigan uniform?
Someone needs to provide an adequate answer.