Thursday, October 28, 2010

Quick World Series Game 2 analysis

The Texas Rangers might not be desperate but they be in a heap of trouble.

Matt Cain was "abel" to completely domninate Texas hitters - getting pop ups and easy fly balls when Texas had its scoring opportunities.
And the Rangers bullpen totally imploded tonight and must now be considered a major weakness. How can it be trusted going forward?
Too many walks, too many poor, wild pitches (again WHY is Mark Lowe and Michael Kirkman are on this WS staff???? Someone PLEASE tell me why??? And why there i NO right-handed long reliever???), too many cripple pitches.
The gamble to bench Vlad Guerrero (for defense), and Bengie Molina did not pay off; their bats were noticeably absent, especially Guerrero's. It was a problem before the Series started and has come (sadly) to fruition.
Now the Rangers' Series hope depends on one Colby Lewis ...not only must he win Saturday, but he has to pitch DEEP in the game in order to take it away from the struggling bullpen and get it to Neftali Feliz (the only Rangers pitcher NOT to throw in Games 1 or 2)
THAT will be tough Saturday. SF gets toplay its best OF defense, DH Burrell or Sandoval, while Texas will finally be back to normal at a place it has NOT defended well in the playoffs (just 2-3 at home).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

World Series 2010: how little things will matter

For once, the World Series will truly be special because there will NOT be a traditional baseball power, or traditional rival/fan base, involved. It will be a contest between upstart Texas (no prior World Series experience in its 49 years existence as a franchise going back to its day in Washington, D.C.) and San Francisco (never a World Series winner while located, since 1958, in the city by the bay).
Somebody new will get to celebrate in a couple of weeks and that’s good for baseball.
No doubt people watching come Wednesday will see the greatest living ballplayer – Willie Mays – throw out the first pitch in AT&T Park. Mays was on the last Giants team to win a World Series, when Mays made the greatest fielding play in baseball history in the 1954 Series against Vic Wertz of the Cleveland Indians. Yes, it’s been THAT long ago and it involves THAT much history (at least for one of the participants).
For Texas, it ends decades of frustration and ridicule from the rest of the baseball world. Its greatest living player is now the man who runs (and partially owns) the franchise – Nolan Ryan. In fact, it will end a year of amazing ups and downs for one team – going from contender to bankrupt to a midnight auction in a federal courthouse … to this. It’s actually a fairy tale script on both benches, which will make this matchup so delicious.
When Wednesday rolls around, both teams will have their pitching plans in fine shape. San Francisco will roll out its top two starters – Matt Cain and two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum to go against Texas’ Cliff Lee (also a former Cy Young recipient when at Cleveland) and C.J. Wilson or Colby Lewis. That is a dead-even matchup favoring neither team – something that will be said in comparing rosters. The bullpens rank evenly (both have performed very well in postseason play) and each possesses a “lights out” closer (Brian Wilson and Neftali Feliz).
On paper, the Rangers’ starting eight is superior to San Francisco, who has only one individual, catcher Buster Posey, who could honestly crack the Texas lineup. But the game isn’t played on paper; and the Giants’ “pick and pull” roster has produced its strong September pennant drive and vaulted them past Atlanta and Philadelphia into the World Series.
It might well be decided by little things – an error here, an errant pitch there, the lack of a designated hitter or the way a certain ballparks is shaped and how it plays.
Talent-wise, San Francisco has no Josh Hamilton, the likely American League most valuable player for 2010, and no young emerging shortstop like Elvis Andrus. The Rangers also did a nice job of acquiring mid-season talent, notably Lee (as a rental) and catcher Bengie Molina, from San Francisco of all places (when Posey’s mid-May arrival made the veteran catcher expandable).
However, most of Texas’ other trading deadline moves didn’t really pan out (Jeff Franceour and Jorge Cantu have made little impact). The last Giants transaction, getting outfielder Cody Ross from Florida, produced the NLCS MVP.
Because of the maneuvering, this leaves San Francisco with a better bench than Texas. Manager Bruce Bochy will be more comfortable and have more room to play National League baseball (meaning no designated hitter for four of the seven games) to make lineup changes during the games. He has more versatile players like Pablo Sandoval, Aaron Rowand or Mike Fontenot to weave in and out when making pitching changes. This is not something Rangers’ manager Ron Washington is accustomed to; without the DH, a manager must be careful when going to the bullpen.
And there is the issue of the DH itself. For Texas, it has been Vladimer Guerrero all season long, leaving the Rangers’ outfield fairly well intact (Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and David Murphy). In San Francisco, somebody sits and who will it be? Do you play a slower Guerrero in right, forcing Cruz to move to left field and leaving a better glove (Murphy) on the bench? Or put Guerrero out-of-position at first base? When the Giants come to Arlington, they can use Pat Burrell as DH and strengthen their outfield defense.
Then there’s the matter of AT&T Park … considered the hardest stadium to hit home runs in the majors. It has strange and deep power alleys and at twilight, when the games will begin for the World Series, the air will be thicker coming off the bay and the temperature will be much, MUCH colder than in North Texas. Of course, the old saying goes that the coldest winter anyone can spend in a summer in San Francisco, but I degress…
Giants hitters will find the Ballpark in Arlington friendlier to their hitting style because the baseball flies out of that yard when stroked into the power gaps.
Texas defeated the hardest mental block (the Yankees) to advance and the Giants defeated the most talented team (Philadelphia) to reach this point. As noted, the pitching (really the deciding factor in a short series) is even and each team has proven itself. San Francisco has shown it can win close games and Texas has shown it can bust open close games.
So … my prediction? It goes six games and home field will prevail. Giants – they just have this aura about them…
On a sidenote: I continue to be amazed at the acrimony shown by Texas fans to former Ranger Alex Rodriguez (now on the Yankees). He won an MVP as a Ranger, played his ass off for the franchise and never publically bitched about the lack of support.
A-Rod was traded to New York (for Alfonso Soriano); he didn’t walk away as a free agent. He was the most talented player EVER to wear a Rangers uniform (present company included), but the fans’ expectations with him in Arlington was freakishly overreaching. It takes a team, not just one player, to become champions in baseball; you continue to BUILD around a cornerstone player – not just stand pat.
All hatred should be directed at former owner Tom Hicks; it was Hicks who proposed the contract, Hicks who overpaid for the likes of Chan Ho Park, Kevin Millwood, and the late Ken Caminiti (just to name a few) to wear a Texas uniform; it was Hicks who canned Doug Melvin and brought in John Hart to be general manager; and it was Hicks who then shut the purse strings and nearly choked the franchise to death.
Which means Hicks will probably toss out the ceremonial first pitch for Game 3.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Rangers memories

Passing along the post from a former Michigan Daily colleague, Rich Stuck, now in Florida, about the Texas (baseball) Rangers:

"Took a little trip down memory lane watching the game ... when I used to spend my summers in Dallas. I called the PR guy Burt Hawkins, told him I wrote for my college paper, and he gave me season press passes each year I was there at the old (Arlington) stadium.
“I'll never forget the night David Clyde made his debut or the look on owner Bob Short's face when a reporter counted out loud the number of people in the stands for an afternoon game in August.
“But the best is still (first Rangers manager) Ted Williams – he was so grateful that I was one of the few who showed every night to talk to him in his little office after the game ... he spent a lot of time teaching me how to tie fishing lures and flies.
“Yes, Chuck, the memories came flooding back last night; it was as if I had gone to my attic and found the urn that carries the ashes of my youth."

Why there will be no World Series parade in Dallas

One of the easiest ways to jinx any run to a major sports championship is planning a parade for that city. The Dallas Mavericks of 2006 discovered such a curse when the Dallas City Council began to plan for a premature celebration (route and all) when the squad was up 2-0 against Miami.
What then happened? Miami proceeded to win the next four games and that festival happened in South Florida.
Parades for World Series or Super Bowl winners should be spontaneous (even if every city has a contingency for such events). To announce these things prior to the actual clinching victory smacks goes against the Gods of sports and spits in their eyes. You don’t tug on Superman’s cape and you don’t take ANYTHING for granted (even 3-0 leads in a best-of-seven series).
However, I can make this prediction: there will be NO World Series parade in downtown Dallas if (or when) the Texas Rangers win the World Series. It’s not that this 2010 team, which just upset the defending champion New York Yankees by outplaying that club six ways to Sunday, won’t defeat either San Francisco or Philadelphia (beating the Giants will be easier than trying to knock off the former champion Phillies).
It’s that the Rangers have never REALLY been Dallas’ team; they’ve belonged, from the start, to the METROPLEX (the all-encompassing region from east of Dallas to the western Fort Worth border). If anything, a parade would be more justified in Fort Worth than Dallas and it won’t happen there, either. Any post-Series celebration will take place in the home the Rangers have only known – Arlington.
The franchise was the dream of the former Tarrant County Judge (and auto dealer) Tom Vandergriff, who could have cared less about Dallas or Dallas County. It was his drive and determination to bring pro sports to Tarrant County and break the domination of Dallas.
Of course, when the Rangers arrived in 1972, there was only ONE other professional franchise – the DALLAS Cowboys (even though the team has already relocated to Irving). Neither the NHL Stars nor NBA Mavericks were on the scene. And Vandergriff, with then owner Bob Short, made sure the name “Dallas” didn’t appear in the franchise’s name.
In its 38 years in the Metroplex, there has never been any serious discussion of moving the team to Dallas; there’s not been a realistic presentation of a downtown Dallas stadium that would have enticed the Rangers to make such a move. Arlington has been the ONLY home the Rangers have ever known.
The route might well wind through Six Flags over Texas, which was the first attraction in the complex along Interstate-30 and Highway 360. Fans can celebrate and cheer along midway and where the Texas Giant used to flank the I-30 access road.
The procession can then drive past the monstrosity that is Cowboys Stadium and flaunt its World Series trophy (should the Rangers do fortunate enough to win it) in front of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (whose own unit will NOT be playing in the Super Bowl this February). Before the “Death Star” was built, the Rangers had Arlington all to themselves and families and businesses were not displaced for one man’s ego.
The route should then stop at the site of the old Turnpike Stadium, which became Arlington Stadium – the Rangers’ home until 1994 when the George W. Bush-built (by getting the taxpayers of Arlington to foot the bill) Ballpark in Arlington opened its door. Many trustworthy fans went to the old field to see baseball, which was actually more fan-friendly in terms of ticket prices, cheap seats (bleachers) and sight lines.
If they really wanted to end the parade some place of immediate import and impact, the parade would conclude at the federal courthouse in downtown Fort Worth, where, only a few months earlier, the fate of the Texas Rangers was settled in the middle of a July night. The team, which had been crippled by the financial woes and inept ownership of Tom Hicks, was auctioned – like a foreclosed home – in bankruptcy court. The eventual bid winners were Pittsburgh lawyer Chuck Greenberg and the man who has become the face, voice and attitude of the franchise – Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan.
Somehow, under his leadership, Ryan and general manager John Daniels were able to swing three mid-season deals – the most important of which brought rent-an-ace Cliff Lee to be the pitching ace the Rangers hadn’t had since Kevin Brown in the late 1980s. By stockpiling young talent in the minor league system (until their cup runneth over), Texas swung all these deals that didn’t impact its bank account (frozen by the court) yet stunned the MLB world for the sheer chutzpah of the action.
Lee not only brought a shutdown ability on the mound, it was a signal that the marketing slogan, “It’s Our Time,” wasn’t just a cliché – it was believable.
So now the Rangers stand on the improbable moment of history – the chance to win a World Series title that nary a single person ever believe would come to the Metroplex.
Yes, Metroplex and NOT Dallas.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Potpourri: (For the love of) Money

“I know money is the root of all evil
Do funny things to some people.
Give me a nickel; brother can you spare a dime;
Money can drive some people out of their minds.”
Making an oblique reference to the O’Jays is always a great way to start a post (and just remembering the coolest opening to ANY song ever).
Paying to play
No one should be shocked or surprised any more when a story emerges about some agent funneling cash, cars or anything to a college athlete in the past. It happened too often, at too many schools, into many sports, under too many different circumstances, for all the wrong reasons, but without the proper resolution.
Fortunately, no Michigan athlete has been fingered in these so-called “confessions of the soul,” made to various media outlets. Former Spartan quarterback Tony Banks was among those “outed” in the Sports Illustrated article two weeks ago, but he was just part of a laundry list of clients to this particular agent.
I won’t begin to claim that Michigan is a lily-white, squeaky clean athletic program because, in modern times, it would be foolish to stand by such a statement. I would HOPE all Wolverine coaches abide by the rules (notwithstanding the current NCAA investigation in the violations of rules governing practice – to quote Allen Iverson “We’re talking about PRACTICE!”) and that all U-M athletes live within the letter of the NCAA law during their time in Ann Arbor.
But if it is ever revealed that they didn’t, I wouldn’t be shocked … not particularly upset. The sacrifices made by the modern day student-athlete, asked (actually the proper word to use is “required”) to excel in BOTH areas by the university and NCAA, are almost too heavy to bear.
Consider what happens in college football – the biggest examples of such infractions and disparities. You sign a national letter of intent to attend and play football for a particular university; you must alter your class schedule, study times and social life to accommodate daily practices and film sessions. You must perform to the utmost of your ability before thousands of screaming critics (also known as fans) each Saturday, enduring pain and punishment for your troubles.
On the next day, you get up and start the weekly process all over again from mid-August until late November or early December (or possibly until January), and even more practice in the spring.
For this, you receive a scholarship which pays for your tuition, book and board – but nothing else. If it involves an in-state student, the package is worth around $100,000 for four years – an average of $25,000 (or slightly above a 40-hour weekly salary at $10 an hour). It’s not THAT much in reality.
The university, for its part, gets to make hundreds of thousands of dollars each week (in the case of the Michigan football program, more than a million dollars worth of revenue per game) from attendance, parking, concession and merchandize … all because of your talent and that of others like you.
The university gets to use your presumed success to recruit other players and solicit donations from eager alumni, waving those pennants (minus the raccoon coats of yesteryear) and high-dollar checks. The athletic department takes all that revenue and spreads it among other “non-revenue” sports and athletes to enhance its image as an athletic powerhouse.
Here’s what you, as the athlete, cannot have – anything else. You cannot accept a bowl of chili from a coach at his home, you cannot accept airline tickets from a coach when you need to fly home to see your sick mother but don’t have the scratch to do so and can’t make long-distance calls from that coach’s office to check on her.
Allegedly, you are not allow special “privileges” not afforded to the “regular” students, even though any of the “little people” can do a thousands of things deemed ineligible to you. A chemistry major can damn well accept the keys to a new car from anyone they wish and a political science major (are there such people anymore?) can dash off to Aspen or Hawaii with any person on campus or in his/her life. Wanna buy a pre-med student a five-course meal? They’d love it but you cannot.
The list of unfair practices against NCAA athletes goes on and on. In order to maintain some unreasonable level of “purity,” the NCAA is only encouraging rule breaking by student-athletes and agents (and/or coaches) over the simple desire to have some money to enjoy a normal life. A change must come forward.
My proposal would be simple – a living expense stipend paid to each athletes on a monthly or weekly basis, monitored by the university’s finance department as a “savings” account. The amount would have to be honest and accurate – the costs of meals, clothing, transportation, recreation and other things that comprise the COMPLETE student experience. Other NCAA rules MUST be re-written to reflect some honesty in the system; that acceptance of small things like a home-cooked dinner at a coach’s home is NO different than a student being invited to a professor’s house for the same damn thing.
If you want the potential corrupting influence of money being shuffled from agent to athlete, then remove the incentive – take away the temptation by providing enough of the taste to keep a student-athlete from him (or her) from jumping off the deep end and infecting ALL of college athletics.
Playing Alabama in 2012
The scheduling of a season-opening contest against Alabama still puzzles me. I continue to wonder why new athletic director David Brandon would place this kind of marquee pressure on the U-M program and agreeing to do it so FAR away from home.
A home-and-home series I can understand – Texas and Ohio State had a two-year quickie like that a few years back and when I was in school, Michigan played UCLA on the same short series basis – in Ann Arbor and in the Los Angeles Coliseum. But without formalizing any Big 10-11-12 schedule (with Nebraska coming aboard starting that season), and still WANTING to play Notre Dame (or so Brandon says), why in the world would you slap that kind of anvil on the neck of your football coach, staff and players?
It ain’t about money because The Big House in Ann Arbor STILL dwarfs the Jerry Jones-owned-and-operated Death Star (Little Barn) by 20,000 seats or more. And neither Texas A&M nor Arkansas, or Texas Tech or anyone collegiate program, has YET to sell that place out. I also cannot imagine that Jones is sacrificing any revenue with his $25 parking fees or concessions … or anything (the man is in it strictly for the moo-lah). Revenue-wise, it would be smarter to do home-and-home with ‘Bama (either in Tuscaloosa or Birmingham) and agree for the schools to keep all home revenue. The contest will be nationally televised, regardless of where or when – so that’s not a factor.
The game, theoretically, will be played around Labor Day weekend – not exactly the best fit into people’s schedules. This agreement locks out almost the entire Michigan student body – either because of cost-factor or scheduling conflicts (unless a three-day holiday is declared on campus for anyone late to classes on Monday or Tuesday because the exact date has NOT been established; it could be a Monday night or Sunday night affair).
Transportation-wise, it’s a terrible place to go, unless you have 3-4 HOURS to kill. Add a possible traffic conflict with the baseball Texas Rangers (whose stadium is right next door to the Death Star) ... and you see what I mean. Actually, for those who do NOT live in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, you DON’T know what I mean because you’ve hardly seen the kind of traffic mess that takes place around this dual-stadium complex (oh yeah, I forgot to mention the third neighbor in the complex – Six Flags Over Texas, which will STILL be operational around Labor Day weekend).
So tell me again – why in the world would Michigan agree to come 1,400 miles for less money, without student support, to play such a difficult opponent, in the first week of the season?
Please, to quote the Beatles, “Tell me why…”
Money, money, money.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Yankees appeared as done as overcooked pasta

I hate to admit it but the Texas Rangers, long the doormats of Dallas-Fort Worth sports, appear to be headed to the World Series for the first time in franchise history, dismantling an aged, slow, anemic New York Yankees team.
Texas is running, hitting and pitching better than the defending World Champions and deserve its place in destiny - so long as they don't choke in the next three games. And it seems unlikely.
The Yankees looked defeated and deflated when Mark Teixeira went down with his hamstring injury in the fourth inning of last night's game. The air went out of the stadium and linup and the Rangers literally pounced on the carcass - claws and antlers, et al.
I don't think they can beat the Phillies IF Philadelphia is playing to its capabilities (which it is NOT at the moment). Texas wants to end this affair tonight in order to have Cliff Lee for a maximum amount of starts in the World Series.
San Francisco is proving to be a tough squad to eliminate even if its starting lineup doesn't include a play - aside from catcher Buster Posey - that could start for the Phillies, Yankees OR Rangers (position by position). But that damn Giant pitching is hard as marble.
We;ll see what will happen next week. But for once, in Dallas, they won't be speaking good about the Cowboys (because that team sucks) - all eyes will be on the Rangers (much to Jerry Jones' envy).
The miracle lives on...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

U-M v. Iowa: The smelly egg layeth again

Call it what you will, but that ugly, smelly gigantic egg (for the sake of the few families that might read this, I won’t use a term related to excrement) laid by the Michigan football team will do nothing to silence the critics of the program OR erase comparisons to last year’s collapse … because it’s déjà vu all over again, my friends.
After Saturday’s 38-28 loss at home to Iowa, it’s on to a bye week for the Wolverines, and frankly, the bye will be a 7-point favorite. Right now, this team will be fighting with Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois for a berth in either the Insight or Sun Bowls. Not exactly what one would call a major motivating factor.
With the various exposed problems that have arisen over the past two weeks, there is NO way Michigan can compete with either Wisconsin or Ohio State – and until that can take place, this is not where Michigan football needs to be.
There must be a dozen questions being asked by most of the 112,000 fans at Michigan Stadium (people should refrain from using the term, “The Big House” UNTIL the team is worthy of such a reference). One thing is for sure: the noise made at the end of the first half did NOT resemble cheering. For the first time on a national telecast, you could hear boos lustily ringing down onto the field as the squad exited.
And they were well-earned. The team’s performance frankly sucked; players looked like they were expecting to fail, instead of making plays and stop with the foolish mistakes.
Turnovers (four), penalties (too many because of stupid play) and sleep-walking on special teams – these were hardly expected by a squad looking to put its best foot forward against a quality opponent. Instead, one MUST ask if this team is being well coached. The on-field results do not allow someone to objectively answer other than, “NO! This team is NOT well-coached.”
I’ll make my case: Defensively, you are only as good as your personnel and there is a complete lack of talent (save a few overachieving individuals) at Michigan. As a result, coordinator Greg Robinson (who had success at Texas as defensive coordinator) is employing a gimmick 3-5-3 scheme … and it isn’t working. In fact, I thought I actually saw a four-down alignment to open the contest but on Iowa’s third possession, it was the same old, same old from Michigan.
In all honesty, when U-M fans speak about future recruiting, the focus should not be on the Demetrius Harts of the world possibly coming to Ann Arbor. The sole interest should be on which defensive stars, especially linemen, are agreeing to where the Maize and Blue. All the blazing speed and elusive runners will only go so far (as is being shown right now).
Unless and until you can actually stop an opponent’s offense (which has NOT happened through seven games in the 2010 season) and come up with turnovers (none in the two losses compared to seven giveaways by U-M), you will NOT win. Period.
The emphasis needs to be on the basics because the tackling was not improved versus Iowa. And the stats proved it – NO tackles recorded by Martin, and Ezeh, only two from Johnson and Van Bergen while Banks had 4. Iowa’s front line dominated Michigan’s and any opponent who has a stronger, larger offensive line will probably to the same for the remainder of the season – a bad recipe for the 2010 future.
Penalties. Face masking is a heat-of-the-moment incident; false starts are a matter of execution, which needs to be eliminated in practice. Three times, Michigan drives were stalled, hampered and vanquished because of flags. A matter of coaching.
The problems that swirl around the performance of tackle Taylor Lean appeared to have required his benching in the third quarter after what I counted as the third flag directly against him. Down 14-7, Lewan’s false start killed that drive and led to a ridiculously-executed field goal attempt – blocked at the line of scrimmage and then returned 37 yards for great Hawkeye field position. Iowa then drove the short field (48 yards for a 21-7 lead … and thus the boos began).
Which brings me to the next problem of coaching – special teams. All I can say is that it appeared to resemble 11 men sleep-walking. Nothing explains the long return on the blocked field goal. Nothing explains the poor kickoff that floated out of bounds to give Iowa possession at its own 40 (four plays later, Iowa scored again). Nothing explains 40-yard kickoff returns by Iowa.
Michigan outgained Iowa but that was deceiving because the Hawks seemingly always had short field to work with. They were more efficient with their 60 offensive snaps than Michigan was with its 86 – mainly because of poor special teams play.
I would probably call for the head of the special teams coach but he’s also the assistant head coach (RichRod’s hand-picked guy), so it won’t happen. But it should; it would at most programs.
Michigan still has a problem with its running game when the ball isn’t directly in Denard Robinson’s hands. Vincent Smith is great on first downs, but is not the runner you need for third-and 3. Freshman Stephen Hopkins looked like he was making good yardage but just as quickly as he appeared, the offensive game plan removed him. Michael Shaw looks like a scout team back at this point of his career.
Sidenote: Despite what was repeatedly said on the ESPN broadcast, Hopkins is NOT from “Double Tree,” Texas. No such place exists except for a few choice Doubletree HOTELS. Hopkins is from Double Oak – a bedroom community outside of Lewisville, Texas (a VERY suburban suburb north of Dallas and south of Denton) and attended Flower Mound Marcus High School, a quality program.
Now I like Ron Franklin; played tennis with him three DECADES ago at a charity event, with the late Farrah Fawcett (love name-dropping, don’t you?). Ron used to be the voice of the Houston Oilers back in the Bum Phillips/Earl Campbell era. But he constantly made mistakes identifying names, yardage and what was happening on the field.
In fact, in the contest, I NEVER heard about the broken foot sidelining Martavious Odoms – something I believed was a problem for Michigan. Why not? It DID matter, taking away an important weapon on offense and kickoffs for U-M.
Time to hang ‘em up, old friend.
Back to the matters at hand.
While Tate Forcier rallied the troops, two poorly thrown passes (his were just as bad as Robinson’s pick) eliminated all hopes of a Homecoming win, or of silencing all conversation about a repeat of last year. Michigan “should” beat Purdue, Illinois and even Penn State. It’ll have to if the Wolverines want to play in some sort of half-ass bowl game (El Paso is a lovely city, really wonderful scenery and a great place to dodge bullets from the other side of the border drug wars).
But the signs are all there. Center David Molk might well be injured AGAIN and all I could see where players limping around, head held down, expressions as dour as if they were living a nightmare … all over again.
Of course, if I had a high def 42-inch set, I probably would have seen things differently. But the economy is bad in places other than Michigan…
Michigan has two weeks to get ready for Penn State – it needs all that time and then some. Time will not change the roster, just heal wounds and make people and players think…a lot…about last year…
“Déjà vu” was a great Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young album – it’s a poor way to approach the rest of the 2010 Wolverine football season. Hopefully, Michigan will “Carry On,” but not look “Helpless.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Rangers-Yankees: Kings until the crown is removed

Folks in these here parts are not quite going ga-ga over the Texas Rangers baseball team, but anytime someone is discussing the local baseball team instead of the football Cowboys, it’s a good thing. It does the area sporting world good to be focused on something OTHER than those prima donnas in that Death Star of a stadium.
The Rangers rode the left arm of starter Cliff Lee (demonstrating why he WON’T be in a Texas uniform next season because the price tag will exceed the sensible Rangers’ budget) over an overrated Tampa Bay in the first round. Now onto the Darth Vadar (doncha love these Star Wars references?) of Baseball – the defending World Series champion New York Yankees.
And, folks, within that title lies the determining factor in this seven-game series – the Yankees ARE the champs and will be until … someone ends that reign. The biggest thing the Yankees have that Texas does not is those damn rings. The base core of the New Yorkers has more than one (five to be exact) – Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada (as well as A.J. Burnett when he was with Florida and Nick Swisher as part of the White Sox) know exactly what it takes to win the World Series multiple times while only Vlady Guerrero has tasted that champagne for the Rangers.
People, that is big at this time of the season. Each squad has already proven how it can win ballgames, what are its strengths and weaknesses. There will be no secrets and no October surprises for the next week.
Texas’ biggest problem is the inability to run Lee out to the mound more than twice in this series (IF it goes to a seventh game). New York has a rested starting quartet, a rested bullpen and ready-to-go lineup. The Yankees can match Texas in the power department, speed on the basepaths (with Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson) and defensively. On the bench, Joe Girardi is a better manager than Ron Washington.
And there is NO post-season closer to compare to Rivera. Ranger rookie Neftali Feliz can throw close to 100 mph but has looked shaky in his first two playoff outings.
Most of all, the Yankees KNOW what to do, how to react and how to prepare for all of this. For the Rangers, this is totally unchartered waters; it is where experience is needed most of all.
Hopefully, the Arlington fans on Friday and Saturday will sit and cheer for the home team instead of discussing the 1-3 miserable start of the Cowboys – the usual topic of conversation at any Rangers game attended by people waiting for football season to start. For once, the Rangers has the attention of the Metroplex in October; it’s their job now to hold it.
I’m picking New York in six games and then choosing the Phillies to win it all, again, in six games.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Michigan Homecoming '72: ‘Greased and ready to kick ass’

The annual non-event known as Homecoming takes place this weekend in Ann Arbor for the students and alumni of the University of Michigan. It’s the time when the older classes migrate back to school, marvel at how much things (other than the foliage) has changed and how much has been unaltered – asking what happened to all the old retail landmarks now victims to the ongoing recession.
I’m going to make several assumptions that should hold true. There won’t be any kind of homecoming dance, no one will be crowned Homecoming Queen (or King), and various classes will gather the night before the game for drinks with bald-faced lies tossed like paper basketballs at the office. Women who continue to work out to maintain their girlish figure will be wearing the tightest outfits (just to let everyone know they still have “it”) and men with the Rogaine touch will be stroking their hairline all evening long.
Some annual traditions will never die – the Mud Bowl, the Alumni Band and cheerleaders taking the field, or perhaps a Saturday concert. The Alumni Association is holding a giant tailgate party at Oosterbaan Hall for the 34th straight year, but that is foreign to me because Oosterbaan Hall didn’t exist when I was in Ann Arbor (it was the women’s field hockey area back in my day) and no tailgating, as such. In fact, looking at a campus map, half the buildings were non-existent in the early 1970s. No one called it “South Campus;” it was just the main campus (North Campus was relatively new). Yes, things were SO much simpler back then … but that’s not the point of this story.
For Homecoming in 1972, the Student Association wanted to do something different by going “back to the future” (years before the movie was ever conceived). It was the time of Vietnam, Richard Nixon, rallies on the Diag to protest anti-marijuana laws and the imprisonment of radical John Sinclair. It was only a few months removed from the Chicago Democratic Convention riots and this small blip on the news called “Watergate.” It was, in reality, not a tribute to the past but something of a satire.
The entire weekend would contain a 1950s-theme with two concerts (Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen on Friday and Stevie Wonder on Saturday – each at Hill Auditorium), the regular activities (notably the Mud Bowl) … and this added event on Thursday night – a 1950s sock hop at the Michigan Union Ballroom.
It seems the reputation of a group of students, mostly out of Alice Crocker Lloyd Hall, who did lip-synching shows to songs from that golden era of rock ‘n roll, has been snowballing. What was an end-of-semester joke grew to a viable “band” – although no one played a single instrument and all music was recorded on tape – well before Britney Spears or Milli Vanilli ever decided to fake their way through concerts.
The male activists were known as Jimmy and the Javelins (of which I was a guilty party) because half of the major doo-wop/pop groups had some reference to cars in their names. Oh yeah, no one performing was named Jimmy; instead we had “cool” names like TOR, da Prince, Big Jocko, Penguin and The Kid.
We were also joined by female counterparts, Chastity and the Belts (I believe that reference is obvious), a trio of “nice” girls in beehive hairdos, a ton of makeup and short, gold-male skirts named Chastity, Princess and Big Mama.
Our schtick was simple – do routines or dance steps to classic songs for about three hours – just like you used to see on “American Bandstand,” “Tiger Beat,” “Hullabaloo” or “Shindig.” We usually did 3-4 sets, at 45 minutes each, and in between, partygoers would dance to MORE “stacks of wax from the backs of the racks.”
We performed at almost every dorm on campus, about every other weekend, and were paid enough money to buy nasty Omega pizzas for the next two weekends. It was nothing but fun for everyone and it caught the attention of the Student Association’s Homecoming committee.
They offered the challenge and we accepted, with some trepidation, because there was a massive difference between the basement of Mosher-Jordan, or East Quad, and the Union Ballroom, which used to hold major musical events dating back to the 1930s. We had no clue as to what would happen but we concocted some plans.
One was the crowning of the first Homecoming “Queen” since 1957 (if I remember) and, going along with the theme, it went to the trashiest appearing girl (who was very sweet and pretty in real time, was the daughter of a major GM executive, but who dolled it up to the hilt) out of a field of five (again, memory fades quicker than a Kodachrome color photo).
We even solicited the services of Detroit’s most famous disc jockey, Robin Seymour, who did the honors of crowning the “beauty” and introducing us to the crowd. And what a crowd it was! Somehow they jammed 5,000 into that ballroom; everywhere we looked there were nothing but students, trying their best to dress like James Dean (“Rebel Without a Cause”) or Marlon Brando (“The Wild One”). Stores reported empty shelves where the Brylcreem, Wildroot or Tres Flores Brillantine was stocked all over Ann Arbor.
In fact, we wound up outdrawing both Stevie Wonder and Commander Cody. The Associated Press carried a story on its nationwide tickers (published in the Detroit Free Press and New York Times) about this less-than-serious Homecoming crowning and event.
A year later, we held our “farewell” concert (graduation was taking its toll) at the same venue and it was one of the first activities to be taped for the fledgling campus cable TV station. Like a Roman candle, our time in the spotlight fizzled away – to be forgotten by succeeding generations.
In between the Javelins/Belts made an ill-fated excursion to a REAL performance venue – the Roostertail Club on the Detroit River – and we flopped (literally, one of us fell off the small stage provided and had to go to the hospital for stitches). That audience didn’t get the joke; those people thought we were legitimate.
We’ve remained friends for all these years, although no reunion tour will ever be planned. We’ve become investment bankers and counselors, lawyers, doctors and surgeons, professional assistants, research scientists, television reporters and retired newspaper publishers. Our children have long belly-laughs when viewing photos from our efforts – mostly at the girls’ hairstyles and the boys’ greasy, cheesy looks before anyone called themselves “The Fonz.”
But for one shining moment, we can say that we held the elusive spotlight at a University of Michigan Homecoming. Or as we would always conclude our shows, “Grease for Peace!”

Saturday, October 09, 2010

UM-MSU: Not ready for prime time just yet

We live in a society dominated by alphabet references within our language. The Twitter generation has perfected a separate language all its own, thanks to texting and miniscule keyboards on hand-held computers we used to call phones.
Since I am old school, I still don’t fully understanding half of what “lol” or “lhmo” or “bff” or “omg” pretends to represent. I deal in complete words, but I’ll give it a try in summarizing the 34-17 home loss by Michigan to Michigan State (which could WELL run the table and cause a massive controversy in the BCS – Bullshit Contrived System – since Sparty avoids meeting Ohio State).
Broken down into some familiar three-letter combinations is the analysis of the Battle for that stupid looking Paul Bunyan Trophy (don’t Minnesota and Wisconsin battle for his axe?) How can you have TWO trophies named after one fictional character?
PPT – Piss Poor tackling. It’s been a problem all season and it was in full evidence against MSU – constantly missing tackles because shoulder hits are NO substitutes for wrapping up and bringing down ballcarriers. I’ll need a voicebox transplant from screaming at my TV set about this major annoyance/problem. The defense played well in spurts, actually better than most of the first five games, but it cannot afford to make such mistakes when so obviously lacking in terms of talent.
SAP – Silly ass penalties. Both of the Spartans’ first two touchdown runs, from long distance, were directly aided by stupid face masking flags. There were also chop blocks, late hits and unsportsmanlike calls – all of which aided the train wreck to come. If it continues, Michigan’s chances of winning its remaining games will dwindle.
DDT – Denard’s damn turnovers. He had three; the D got none. “Nuff said!
INT – Interceptions, not touchdowns. Logically, Michigan should have led 14-0 in the first quarter when the offense was actually controlling ALL the action. But we knocked twice and threw our chances away – both passes were mistakes by Robinson, who had the shine on his Heisman Trophy rubbed off quite a bit. He looked human, which was a good thing in the long run but not in the 60 minutes against the Spartans. For the most part, they contained him.
DPS – Dropped Passes Suck. How many dropped balls? Five? Six? More? Three in a row? Two for potential touchdowns?
NPR – No Power Rushing. Michigan has NO running back capable of getting third-and-short yardage on his own. Michigan State had three. Michigan was outgained on the day 261-160 and again, Robinson outgained the other the four Wolverine rushers.
In fact, so ineffective was the ground attack, that only ONE UM runner (Vincent Smith), other than Robinson, even had a carry in the entire second half. That’s not exactly a vote of confidence.
TNT – T’wernt No Turnovers. Michigan never even came close to producing a Spartan turnover. MSU never came close to fumbling and no pass was ever in a threatening position for an interception.
OCB – Out coached bigtime. Anyone want to counter this fact? Mark Dantonio, despite blood clots and heart attacks, STILL did a better job of coaching his squad than Rich Rodriguez. His offense didn’t look as flashy but it was efficient, capable and well-executed. When needed, he pulled off a trick play and it succeeded.
His defensive scheme bottled up Robinson and basically forced him to become a thrower – the right blueprint for all opposing defenses against Michigan. His halftime adjustments were better than Michigan’s.
MSU – Much Superior Unit. Michigan State dominated most aspects of the game; offensive line, defensive secondary, kicking/return game and ability to avoid mistakes. On this afternoon, they WERE the better team.
TRW – Toxic Rivalry Win. Sorry, but beating Notre Dame is NOT the same as defeating Michigan State. And football is not the same as basketball, so critics, don’t count all the MSU wins on the hardcourt to a once-a-year football game. Apples and oranges only make fruit salad and smoothies, not effective arguments.
However, until Rich Rodriguez scores a major rivalry win (MSU or Ohio State), NO season will qualify as successful – period!
ICE – Iowa Comes Excited. The Hawks have a chance to ruin U-M’s homecoming (which it has done often in the last two decades) and destroy all the good that the first five games delivered to the Wolverine program.
BCS – Before Collapse Begins. Michigan’s entire season is on the line on Saturday because a loss would only stoke the fires of destruction that took place one year ago. After the MSU’s overtime loss, U-M never won another game and, if the same thing happens this season, it could spell the end for Coach Rodriguez, as well as disintegrate all the recruiting victories secured up to this point.
SRT – Sun Rises Tomorrow. There is always hope; there is always tomorrow when practice begins and mistakes can be corrected. Personnel cannot be changed, which means the defense remains porous and the ground game is still one-dimensional (Robinson). But the squad must suck it up and play like there IS no tomorrow; because, in reality, there is no other game on the 2010 schedule then this one (you cannot get to Ohio State or Wisconsin without beating Iowa).
EOS – End of story.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Michigan vs. Michigan State: Time to reverse the revenge

I guess the season REALLY begins Saturday afternoon for Michigan football – two nationally ranked teams and for the Wolverines, a chance to reverse the recent curse and show that the program has truly matured under Coach Rick Rodriguez.
I call it “Reverse the Revenge.” It’s time for Michigan to use what others have often successfully employed against it in order to win this game – the feeling that payback is due.
Michigan entered last year’s road game at East Lansing in a similar undefeated mode and lost in overtime to the Spartans (after managing a last-minute drive to tie). And every UM fan knows “the rest of the story …” The team fell apart, didn’t win another game for the remainder of the schedule and criticism fell upon Ann Arbor like a blizzard (not the ones from Dairy Queen either).
For the first five games of this season, it has appeared that Michigan plays with a different attitude (at least on offense; the defense remained as porous as it was one year ago). Quarterback Denard Robinson is the envy and talk of the college football world and except for some corners of Alabama or Florida, this is the marquee game of the weekend. When’s the last time THAT said claimed?
This is THE game on the Spartan schedule; the one East Lansing fans employ as the barometer for success of any MSU program. However, it is not true for Michigan followers; everyone knows the final game in November means more than beating Moo U (I keep asking if that is used these days to label MSU; it was back in my day).
Michigan plays Michigan State and the rest of the schedule follows; Michigan plays Ohio State and you take that feeling – win or lose – and live with it for the rest of the school year … until the next time. THAT defines rivalry importance!
The rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State is not unlike the situation here in Texas between the Longhorns and the Texas A&M Aggies in College Station. Texas, in all its burnt orange glory (I can’t tell you how many people drive cars with that specific color scheme in this state…), IS the big dog; the Aggies have ALWAYS been the little brother. Texas routinely gets the pick of the litter during recruiting and A&M gets hand-me-downs. While many Aggies are, in themselves, outstanding football players, UT is always in the top four nationally for recruiting classes as judged by every major service (A&M is not).
Even the association that controls high school athletics is beholden to the University of Texas; it is called the University Interscholastic League (UIL) and the “U” means UT! If it is not a varsity sport in Austin, it is not a varsity sport in Texas high schools. The inclusion of sports like soccer and girls softball had nothing to do with popularity or Title IX; it had to do with Texas adding them to its roster.
Meanwhile, the folks at A&M seethe at the thought of Texas on its throne. Aggies refer to that campus as “t.u.,” deliberately written in lower case to belittle all Longhorns. It’s written in their beloved fight song, The Aggie War Hymn.”
“Good bye to texas university
“So long to the orange and the white
“Good luck to dear old Texas Aggies
“They are the boys who show the real old fight
“‘the eyes of Texas are upon you’
“That is the song they sing so well
“Sounds Like Hell
“So good bye to texas university
“We’re gonna beat you all to Chigaroogarem
“Rough, Tough, Real stuff, Texas A&M.”
Now that is a huge chip on one’s shoulder!
So while Texas is A&M’s biggest rival, the same cannot be said in Austin. A&M is an annoyance most of the time but Oklahoma IS the big rival! OU is the major recruiting rival for UT and that annual game (amusingly marketed as The Red River Rivalry) draws more than 80,000 to the ancient Cotton Bowl at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas. Half the stadium is all crimson (OU) and the other half (exactly divided down the middle) is burnt orange.
Despite changes in the upcoming Big 12/(minus-2) alignment, Texas-OU will be played regardless of where Nebraska or Colorado head. It is a separate contract from the conference and stands as the centerpiece of the largest state fair in the nation.
If you had seen the faces of UT fans around 6 p.m. local time last Saturday, you’d know how serious the game’s outcome means to each school. Thousands of Longhorn followers had their weekend ruined by a better Sooner squad; it was a long drive (200 miles) back to Austin down Interstate-35 and I guarantee you much of it was done in silence.
It will be difficult to handicap this contest: can Sparty win away from home? Blue has shown it can; can the same be said for Green?
Can Michigan stop State’s strong rushing game and can it run the ball itself aside from Robinson? If you subtract Vincent Smith’s 56-yard touchdown run, he only gained 24 yards on his remaining 8 carries … and no one else touched the ball. Michigan MUST show more versatility and personnel diversity (meaning others must step up and perform) in order to win Saturday.
On defense, I have a feeling that MSU will see different alignments than the 3-5-3 because its strength is up front. The young secondary must get turnovers, knowing it will also surrender big plays. The UM coaches must figure out what everyone else has – the Blue defense is vulnerable in the seams; IU killed Michigan with those type of routes.
And hopefully, practice has concentrated on the difference between hitting and tackling. Big hits potentially look good on “SportsCenter,” but tackling is as old as the game itself and it wins ballgames. Tackling is NOT Michigan’s forte at the moment and MUST improve … dramatically ... starting Saturday.
There has been a lot of talk about the imbalance in terms of ball possession last week, which was eschewed by all those one-play scoring drives by Michigan and slow, methodical marches by Indiana. The UM defense CAN help by stopping offenses once in a while – playing ball-control defense – so it can get off the field and rest (if only for a minute or two while Robinson and Company put more points on the scoreboard).
If UM goes to something it has not done all year long – such as a four-man front with strong run-support from the linebackers – it’ll force MSU to adjust on the fly and that’s when a team secures turnovers (when it deviates from its game plan because of opposition adjustments).
And if MSU wants to blitz Robinson and concentrate all its attention of him, Shoelace has shown the ability to throw that little “run/jump” pass to his receivers in the same exposed zone seams (just ask Indiana).
My prediction is influenced by the home crowd, which should set yet another NCAA attendance record, for a 42-38 Wolverine victory. It’s time … to show the cynics this team is for real … for this coaching staff to gain the respect it has sought for three years … and for a little revenge by the home team.
Lots of people will be watching.

Monday, October 04, 2010

MLB playoff predictions

ALDS: Tampa Bay Rays over Texas Rangers in 5; New York Yankees over Minnesota Twins in 5

NLDS: San Francisco over Atlanta in 4; Philaldephia Phillies over Cincinnati Reds in 4

Rays vs. Phillies in World Series; Phillies in 6

Friday, October 01, 2010

The day Slippery Rock invaded Ann Arbor

Apparently, an old tradition has returned to Michigan football for the 2010 season. Sometime in the second half of each home game (probably around the fourth quarter), the public address announcer, while updating the 100,000-plus audience of out-of-town scores “from elsewhere in the Big 10” and Top 25, will inform the crowd, “and in the fourth quarter, it is Slippery Rock 42 …” and the crowd goes crazy.
At least, those in attendance from a different Wolverine era will react strongly. Athletic director David Brandon, Class of 1974, who heard those words ring in his ear from the press box, instituted the old tradition to the current game presentation.
This is no accident; there is a strong tradition behind it, and, as a former employee of the Sports Information Department as a student assistant (often charged with tracking down the Rock scores plus all the games on that afternoon’s score sheet), I know some of the history behind it.
As well as the day Slippery Rock came to Ann Arbor …
A nifty trivia question and answer goes like this: How many attendance records does Michigan Stadium hold in the annals of NCAA football for single-game attendance? The answer is TWO – one for the next crowd to set foot in the old girl (with her facelift complete, beginning with this year’s UConn game and surely to be topped in coming weeks). And one for the largest crowd ever to witness an NCAA Division II contest.
That happened on Sept. 29, 1979, when Slippery Rock played Shippensburg State on the stadium turf before 61, 143 in the yet-to-be nicknamed Big House. But more on that later.
Why Slippery Rock? How did this small Pennsylvania school become folk heroes to many of us? Here’s how”
At first, it was Steve Filipiak who FIRST announced the results (usually incomplete) from 1957 until his retirement in 1971. He handed the microphone to Howard King, whom many of us affectionally called “Papa Bear,” because he was a big guy with a burly moustache and a booming voice. Howard, who was Michigan Stadium PA man from 1971-2002, was also the voice of Crisler Arena for decades – for Campy Russell, Henry Wilmore, Phil Hubbard, Rickey Green, Waymond Britt, Joe Johnson, Steve Grote, Tim McCormick, Roy Tarpley, Robert Traylor, The Fab Five and the 1989 NCAA champions.
The current PA guy, Carl Grapentine, has been around U-M since MY undergraduate days as the voice of the Michigan Marching Band, leading that unit (when it was all male and after it became co-ed) for pre-game and halftime performances.
So exactly HOW did Slippery Rock get its name? It seems that in 1779, Col. Daniel Brodhead was in command of Fort Pitt (which all of you know as Pittsburgh, Penn.) and strongly asked (bordering on begging history tells us) Gen. George Washington to let Broadhead lead an expedition against the Seneca Indians, who were raiding area settlements.
Broadhead’s troops faced the Seneca warriors and were forced to flee for their lives. In the retreat, the soldiers crossed a creek with a stream bed consisting of large, smooth rocks. The soldiers were able to cross the creek safely because they wore boots, but the Senecas – wearing smooth moccasins – only slipped about and fell down, allowing the cavalry to escape.
Historically, the Senecas called the stream “Wechachochapohka,” meaning … “a slippery rock.” Since the stream in land once occupied by the Delaware tribe, it helps to legitimatize the legend. Shortly after the Slippery Rock Creek was christened, the adjoining town also became known by the same name.
The popularity of Slippery Rock among the Michigan Stadium faithful was not lost on U-M athletic director Don Canham, himself a marketing genius who left an indelible stamp upon Michigan sports as well as ALL of college athletics. Canham, who was a successful track coach for U-M, also owned his own business, supplying supplemental athletic equipment for events/games (such as yard markers, chains, track meet necessities – you name it, he sold it).
If it was one thing Canham clearly understood, it was making money and he brought that kind of creative sense to the 1000 S. State Street headquarters.
The idea had been brewing for awhile and Canham decided to combine two events (Band Day for the 1979 season, also a Michigan initiated tradition) into one. He convinced Shippensburg State to move its home game against Slippery Rock to Ann Arbor (paying the Raiders travel expenses as well as provide compensation to the SU Student Association for its lost revenues).
In turn, Michigan got to keep gate, concession and parking receipts, which (at more than 61,000 fans) would be considerable.
On that date, Michigan would play in Berkeley against the University of California, allowing for U-M fans to see The Rock play and still listen to the radio broadcast of the Wolverines’ game – as win-win situation for everyone.
The pre-game buildup included interviews in the Detroit News and Free Press (including columns by Joe Falls and Jerry Green) plus stories from the Associated Press, United Press International, Sports Illustrated, the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Shippensburg’s Red Raiders, led by freshman fullback Steve Moskowitz, roared to a 31-0 halftime lead before winning the contest, 45-13.
The halftime show included the Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and Michigan bands plus 13,000 high school musicians, concluding the show with the usual, thundering version of “Hail to the Victors.”
According to John Alosi, former Shippensburg sports information director, the game provided live cut-ins from ABC’s telecast of the Penn State-Nebraska game.
After the game, to settle their friendly wager, Slippery Rock’s president, Dr. Herb Reinhard, had to hang a Shippensburg pennant in his office for one year.
Two years later, Slippery Rock returned to Ann Arbor to play the Wayne State University Tartars in Michigan Stadium before more than 30,000 spectators, with WSU winning 14-13.
Michigan Stadium is NOT the only major athletic facility to host Slippery Rock football. In 1937, the squad played Boston University at Fenway Park before 6,000 fans, losing 20-0.
In 1963, SRU played against Northwestern (Oklahoma) State in the All-Sports Bowl at Oklahoma City. The next season, more than 15,000 fans turned out at the Rose Bowl to watch The Rock play California State College (at Los Angeles).
In 1972, The Rock christened Nichols State University’s new stadium in South Louisiana.
The Rock made its first trip to Florida in 1990 when it met Central Florida in the season finale at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. In 1998, The Rock opened its season against South Florida in the final game played in Tampa Stadium.
SRSU played 2001 season at Pro Player Stadium in Miami to begin the 2001 season, against Florida Atlantic (then a Division 1-AA school).
Slippery Rock football has enjoyed past success (since the sport was introduced in 1898), with its share of undefeated teams, nationally-ranked teams and postseason playoff teams. From 1997-2000, Slippery Rock was usually ranked number one in the PSAC’s Western Division and went to three NCAA Division II playoffs. The 1999 team finished the regular season ranked No. 2 nationally, the highest ranking in school history, which came on the heels of a No. 5 ranking in 1998 and a No. 7 finish in 1997.
Sadly, as the Rock slipped in terms of gridiron excellence, the school asked U-M NOT to continue broadcasting its scores. But when Brandon took the AD reins, an “accommodation” was reached and that small tradition was reinstalled.
The student body might question the inclusion, but, as Tevye sang in “Fiddler on the Roof,” “It’s tradition!”
“Slippery Rock is the USA’s college football cult team,” Erik Brady of USA Today once wrote; dubbed “the Snoopy of college football,” Slippery Rock is the team everybody in America seems to love.
… and you now you know why it’s part of the Michigan football tradition.