Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gator Bowling: what will it ultimately mean?

As I settle into my easy chair this Saturday to watch the Wolverines battle Mississippi State in the annual Gator Bowl, I will carry the same question from kickoff to final whistle: what will it ultimately mean? What will a win, or loss, actually speak about the Michigan football program, its players, its coaches and … its future?
What will it say for a 7-5 team to face one of the middle rung squads (8-4 on the season) of the Southeastern Conference, albeit a nationally-ranked middle-of-the-pack team? And what happens on Jan, 2 when the dust clears and all eyes return to the future of UM head coach Rich Rodriguez?
Here’s what I know: If Michigan loses the game, Rodriguez most likely will have coached his last game in Ann Arbor. If the Wolverines win, and do it impressively, RichRod will be back for 2011; athletic director Dave Brandon will not have the ammunition to fire him.
Michigan accepted this bowl bid because it will bring more revenue to the school; it IS a New Year’s Day appearance at a recognized post-season encounter (really, who knows any history about the Bowl????); and it will bring exposure to whatever progress has been accomplished in the last three seasons under Rodriguez.
The folks in Jacksonville, Florida invited Michigan because they were contractually obligated to have a Big 10 team and were delighted with UM because of its vast reputation in college football history and … they want to showcase Denard Robinson in their game. He will be a top three Heisman Trophy candidate for 2011 and what better way to inaugurate that campaign than with a huge showing at Raymond James Stadium.
With “Shoelace” at the helm, Michigan, when healthy, possesses one of the top five offenses in the nation. Sadly, too many people were absent against Ohio State in what had to be the worst performance of the 2010 season and THE most disappointing (the overall effort did not match the game’s importance).
Conversely, it turns out that Robinson’s first start proved to be the team’s best win this season – 30-10 over BCS bowl-bound and eventual Big East champion Connecticut in what was the best defensive effort of the year (I know the triple overtime win over Illinois was the most exciting game but it exposed everything that was wrong with Michigan.
So what does anyone in Michigan actually KNOW about Mississippi State? Most people don’t even know where the school is located (Starkville), the coach’s name (Dan Mullen in his first head coaching job in his second season after going 5-7 in 2009) or any “star” for the Bulldogs (you got me there).
Why the Bulldogs are ranked, and why they are a 4 ½-point favorite is a mystery. Mississippi State is clearly the little brother in that state and its signature victory in the 2010 season was over Ole Miss (31-23 in the regular season finale called the Egg Bowl … really?). The ‘Dogs only defeated three teams, all 6-6 (Georgia, Florida and Kentucky), that got bids to minor level games.
The four losses, all in SEC action, were home games against Auburn (17-14) and Arkansas (38-31 in double overtime) and on the road at LSU (29-7) and Alabama (30-10). They average 27.1 points per game and allow a smidge over 20 points per contest, although the defense has surrendered 30 or more points more than twice.
In my mind, the game comes down to Robinson’s ability to dominate the action on offense (if his receiving corps is healthy, it’s a wide-open attack; if not, it will be difficult to reach the 35 points I predict Michigan will score) and the Michigan defense successfully making stops in the Bulldog end of the field.
I’m predicting UM 35, MSU 24 because Michigan’s kicking woes won’t be solved in Florida for any fourth-down opportunity will not mean three-point tries.
And, as said before, most likely come Monday, the REAL game begins about Rodriguez’ continuance as Michigan head coach. So the question remains” what will it ultimately mean?

Friday, December 24, 2010

For all those on the road ...or trying to find their way back

I am dreaming tonight of a place I love
Even more than I usually do
And although I know it's a long road back
I promise you

I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree

Christmas Eve will find you
Where the love light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams.

Merry MERRY Christmas!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pryor knowledge: five questions to ask involving the Ohio State situation

After reading the initial reports concerning the 2011 suspensions of five Ohio State football players, including quarterback Terrell Pryor, I can think of FIVE immediate questions that can be asked, all of which beg answers:
First, why aren’t these particular players suspended from the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl? Holding Pryor and the others from playing Akron or Toledo is actually meaningless. Only ONE Big Ten game will be sacrificed – (against Michigan State) and only one road game (at Miami of Florida). For the other seven conference games, Pryor gets to suit up including the season-ender Nov. 26 at Michigan.
Ironically, Pryor is accused of selling the vaunted “Gold Pants” he received for beating U-M in 2008..
If this quintet isn’t eligible to start the 2011 season in uniform, what makes the Sugar Bowl so damn different? As a Michigan fan, I’d sure like to have that question answered.
Second, Did the Ohio State administration know something before sanctions were announced Wednesday? Did it know back in November 2009, when according to AD Gene Smith, “We were not as explicit with our student-athlete education as we should have been in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 academic years regarding the sale of apparel, awards and gifts issued by the athletics department. We began to significantly improve our education in November of 2009 to address these issues. After going through this experience, we will further enhance our education for all our student-athletes as we move forward.”
If those people played Sgt. Schultz (“I see nut-ting!”), why was there a “significant” improvement of student-athlete education in this area? And why did it take a full year for this to be revealed? You think Wisconsin and Michigan State supporters aren’t steaming mad at this point?
Third, shouldn’t these students have known better? Each NCAA scholarship-tendered is given a copy of NCAA rules, during recruitment and during school attendance. The best advice ever given to ANY athlete came, of course, from Bo Schembechler, who said constantly, “If you have any doubt about whether you might break a rule, just don’t do it; you probably are the way NCAA rules exist.”
Before those archaic rules change, the violating athlete will suffer. The question then becomes, “Is it worth it?”
And what does Ohio State do with its compliance director when the top players don’t quite fully understand the word, “compliance?”
Fourth, why is the Ohio State athletic administration fighting this punishment? Isn’t this a bit worse than violating practice limitations???
Some might say these players got off scot-free, especially since someone sat on this information for a year’s time. Although, the Rich Rodriguez era in Ann Arbor has not been Windex clean, when the penalties were announced, U-M decided to take its medicine and move along; Columbus is whining.
Finally, anyone really buying the “explanation” of youthful indiscretions and “kids being kids?” They are juniors and have been in the major spotlight for three years … and, in particular, Pryor.
He tweeted that he used the money for tattoos and his high school coach said the money was to help his family. Uh … why does THIS man know the “what for” about an improper transaction?
Of course, I heard one radio talk show host suggested these players should have ALL said, “my father sold it” … a reference to the Cam Newton situation (which was adjudicated FAR faster than this).
For those who don’t see the problem with what these players did, I’ll answer that. While a championship ring was sold for $1,000, what would have prevented a major Buckeye booster from offering … $100,000, or more? Could that transaction be the difference in keeping Pryor from turning pro in January or returning for a fourth year on a possible national championship squad? How much is THAT scenario worth?
The prices for the items are too similar and it sure appears the players were in collaboration with one another. It reeks of a deeper problem, namely WHO purchased these things for that kind of money? It has the familiar ring of booster payments and those of us in Texas know what THAT is all about (especially in Dallas where the former governor was the lead booster doing the payoffs for SMU).

Something smells in Columbus; and someone needs to dig a whole lot deeper into what happened and why.
I’m talking Chilean coal mine deep!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Good enough to serve, but not good enough to be recognized

Riddle me this: why is it NOT OK to be the child of undocumented parents (no one properly raising children in ILLEGAL; there are LOTS of "legal" people - born here - who don't know the first thing about it) who was brought to this country at a young age, but knows no OTHER place of residence but WANTS to be a productive law-abiding legal citizen ...
YET ... it's just fine and dandy for said child-of-undocumented parents to serve - AND DIE - in the United States Armed Forces!!!!!!!!!
Someone try to explain that, please. If he or she is good enough to wear the damn uniform, they should be granted AUTOMATIC citizenship; they are doing a helluva lot more to protect our values/freedoms than MOST actual natural-born citizens.
So when the Republicans in the U.S. Senate vote to derail the DREAM Act, permitting the CHILDREN (not the parents, mind you) to clear-cut their way to U.S. citizenship (including military service), they need not ask in the future why Hispanics turn a blind eye to their speech. Action and votes speak louder than words; in this case, the words say "Screw you!"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bob Feller dead at 92

The greatest Cleveland Indian of them all has died today of leukemia at the age of 92.
All of Van Meter, Iowa ... and America mourns.
In his day, he was at fast and strong and brilliant as they came.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Top 10 all-time Christmas movies

Everyone has their lists and opinions and here’s a combination of both – the 10 best Christmas movies (all of which you can rent OR will be shown multiple times before Dec.25 on cable television):
10. – The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) – Despite an overtly Halloween theme, this film, produced by Tim Burton, is very much a Christmas movie and plays well in any year with almost ANY audience (except for the youngest and most timid of viewers).
9. – “The Bells of St. Mary” (1945) – This actually is a double bill since this movie is a sequel of the award-winning, “Going My Way.” Bing Crosby gets to sing and play a baseball-loving priest. If you see one, you must see the other.
8. – Scrooged (1988) – Yes, it is actually demented, with Bill Murray as his kinetic best. But, what I find fascinating, is the parody of network television, as seen through the warped mind of former SNL head writer Michael O’Donoghue, became reality in the form of what FOX has brought to the airwaves.
7. – The Bishop’s Wife (1948) – Talk about star power! David Niven, Loretta Young and Cary Grant is his regal, suave, sophisticated best as Dudley the Angel. The movie was re-made in the 1990s as “The Preacher’s Wife,” with Denzel Washington doing his Cary Grant thing, but it was a vehicle for singer Whitney Houston, who was mediocre, at best.
6. – Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962) – Perhaps the least known and best holiday musical EVER made. It was actually the last time Magoo, the near-blind old crotchety guy, was seen on TV, complete with the wonderful voice of Jim Backus (always known as a comic but should also be remembered as the perplexed father of James Dean in “Rebel Without A Cause”). The original songs (written by Jules Styne and Bob Merrill) were all wonderful and tells Charles Dickens’ story as well as any have done.
5. – White Christmas (1954) – The great director Michael Curtiz, who helmed the likes of “Casablanca,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “The Adventures of Robin Hood” did this lighthearted film with Crosby and Danny Kaye. The plot had nothing to do with the original song and was as thin as paychecks these days. But you don’t care; it’s about the music of Irving Berlin.
4. – A Christmas Carol (1951) – No story has been told and re-told more often than this Dickens classic. The 1951 British version, starring Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge, is the best of the lot. But the 1984 made-for-TV Hallmark production, led by George C. Scott, is also spectacular.
3. – Miracle on 34th Street (1947) – The original is always the best and Edmund Gwenn won a well-deserved Best Supporting Oscar as the ultimate Kris Kringle. And note the years these classic movies were made…
2. – Christmas Story (1980) – Director Bob Clark would become better known for introducing the series of movies known as “Porky’s.” But he helmed this wonderful film, based on the writings of the late humorist Jean Shepherd.
It’s SOOOOO very Midwestern, and as a child of the Midwest, I related to almost every scene. Those people living in the South don’t know the pain of getting your tongue stuck on a frozen lamp post.
1. – It’s A Wonderful Life (1947) – Just one of many Frank Capra movies that could be labeled as “masterpiece,” but this is completely different from all his other offerings. In many ways, it is the epitome of the post-World War II genre where the movie moods were much darker than prior to 1940. The film’s star, James Stewart, often was pictured in light comedies or romances, but after the war, and after Stewart’s own experiences, he NEVER really did a lightweight film again.
The central focus of the plot is a man who is trying to commit suicide which is as dark as it gets. The long journey of redemption finally comes to the forefront in the movie’s final 15 minutes, and it’s the final moments that everyone remembers.
Oddly, it was filmed in the dead of summer, and despite its greatness, it lost the Best Picture Oscar in 1948 to another “masterpiece” – “The Best Year of Our Lives.”
Honorable mention – Several comedies – “Elf,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” “Bad Santa” and “The Santa Clause” – make the honorable mention list. They aren’t Oscar-winners but do have a high degree of originality. Other movies that earned such mention would be “Die Hard” (it DOES happen during a Christmas party), “Home Alone 1 and 2,” and “The Homecoming” – a made-for-TV movie which was the basis for the long-running series, “The Waltons.”
By the way, I do not consider “Holiday Inn” to be a Christmas movie, despite the debut of Crosby’s version of “White Christmas” (the most popular Christmas song ever). It’s about a New England resort only open on … holidays.
Happy viewing!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Den of the Mellow Men

If I had to choose my favorite University of Michigan football squad from among the many I’ve seen, or studied, or admired, my heart goes back to 1971 and the undefeated team (in the regular season) which beat Ohio State 10-7 in the finale before losing to Stanford 13-12 in the 58th Rose Bowl.
That game was lost, like SOOOOOO many others, to a little field goal kicker, named Rod Garcia, who booted a 31-yarder with 12 seconds left in the game. I cannot tell you how many times Michigan’s “bend but not break” defense fell before opposing field goal kickers (from Notre Dame and Ohio State especially).
It was the final game for an exceptional group of three-year players – the ones that helped stun Ohio State 24-12 in 1969 – and helped establish Bo Schembechler at the face and legacy of Michigan football.
In particular, there was a group of seven teammates (all African-Americans) who lived together in a house on Geddes Avenue, which went by the luscious name – the Den of the Mellow Men.
In this house, near Observatory, and across the street from a cemetery, lived the quintet of amazing talent and personalities – Reggie McKenzie, Glenn Doughty, Billy Taylor, Thom Darden, Butch Carpenter, Mike Oldham and Mike Taylor. And the structure was known because a small sign hung from the front porch, announcing its existence and title.
These guys could be seen everywhere on campus, mostly together, in class, at some restaurant (such as Bimbo’s, Cottage Inn, Pretzel Bell, Village Bell, Lamplighter), or just walking through the Diag. Nobody messed with them and for many, they epitomized “cool.”
In a 2009 U-M publication, the man they called “BT” reminisced about his Ann Arbor days.
“When I came to Michigan, I was part of the largest collection of black athletes ever at the school on scholarship. That was the time of the Black Action Movement (BAM) and Vietnam protests, but Bo wanted us to stay out of politics. And we vowed we were going to be part of a championship team together.
“That fit well with what Bo was planning in 1969 and he kept telling us we were going to beat the Buckeyes. (Everyone in) the Den of Mellow Men were all starters as sophomores and, to this day, I have never seen a team come together like we did for that Ohio State game.
“We expected a long oration from Bo before the game, but he just turned the bill of his cap to the back and said ‘our own newspapers are saying our chances of winning this game are slim and none.’
Then, Bo said: ‘We are going to go out there and kick their ass!’
You had to be a real man to get out of the Michigan locker room that day and when we took the field, no one felt their feet touch the ground. What a great team game we played that day!”
So, as has become the expectation in these postings from me, I have a couple of stories and the “Den.”
First, there is (I assume it still exists) a secret athletic fraternal order on campus – Michigauma, consisting mostly of athletes, which dated back to the formation of the program. I remember when I was living with a house filled with varsity swimmers that the roommates who were part of this group would tell of annual massive banquets, complete with people like yet-to-be President Gerald R. Ford and many legends within their respective sports.
While these meetings were secretive, it was an “open” secret around Ann Arbor, especially when the annual ceremonies for induction – what people call “hazing” – were held in the middle of everyone.
In the spring of 1972, one such public display found new Michigauma members (mostly juniors but the occasional worthy sophomore) took place in the Diag, toward the west end of the (former) UGLI, Undergraduate Library. At the edge of what we called “The Fishbowl” was a patch of grass and on this chilly spring afternoon, it was filled with enough water to produce a nice layer of mud.
As a crowd of curious onlookers gathered, some of the biggest names in UM athletics were lined up along the grass and ordered to do military-like stomach crawls through the muck – all presided by the society’s “Big Chief” – Reggie McKenzie. But Reggie, wearing this huge headdress, with his face painted with war paint-like stripes, wore … next-to-nothing – just a loin cloth with a Speedo underneath.
And to say Reggie McKenzie possessed a body was sculpted like a Greek statue would not do justice to him. He personified the word “chiseled,” and everyone knew it. Back then, an offensive guard (who would go on to NFL fame as the lead blocker when O.J. Simpson broke the 2,000-yard barrier for the Buffalo Bills) did not weigh 290-300 pounds. He was 245 pounds of steel and muscle and NO ONE messed with him on the field.
He simply stood there with his arms folded, muscles bulging from his arms and legs and pectorals – with these large-framed glasses. It literally made women swoon, (including members of the Radical Lesbians, an honest-to-God political group in those days with that exact name whose members whore fatigues and didn’t shave their legs) and men jealous.
Big Chief Reggie didn’t feel a thing on the 50-degree day; simply nodding his head when the new members needed to do something different in terms of small humiliation in front of the UM student body. And when the ceremony was finished, Reggie just walked away, while the place exploded in applause and whistles (he just smiled).
But I honestly think the Den members LOVED going to see Michigan hockey games, which were held in the dilapidated barn known laughingly as the Michigan Coliseum. It only held around 3,000 people and you simply jammed your way into the place to root for an average squad against the likes of Michigan State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota-Duluth or Wisconsin.
It was the kind of place where standing room meant you could press your face against the end glass and slam it when you disagreed with a referee’s call or to intimate the opposition.
Since it involved immediate and violent body contact, it became a natural attraction for football players, especially these particular men. Reggie, BT and the others would find their way to the same spot each game, in the corner near where the glass ended its enclosure.
On the Michigan team, there were some pretty good players (although the talent level got progressively better in the future), but the crowd favorite was a young French-Canadian forward-defenseman named Jean-Yves Cartier. However, everyone in Ann Arbor, and on the team, called him “Punch” – for very good reason. He led the Wolverines in penalty minutes and delivered the hardest checks on the team – always to the screaming delight of the crowd. When Punch took out an on-rushing forward into the boards, the Mellow Men would jump up in exuberantly, probably in admiration from one group of attackers to another.
Now, it was known (and witnessed by many, including me) when Reggie, Billy and Mike Taylor would pound the boards as Punch would his thing and … well … reach out from time to time to grab the jersey of a opposing player so Punch could line him up and BAMMM!, down he’d go as Cartier skated away as the fellow Den members would roar their approval. And if you were grabbed by Reggie McKenzie for a couple of seconds, you weren’t going anywhere!
Because, back in the day, things were different; it WAS a closer knit campus and it wasn’t unusual for such student “interaction.” You could show up at an Alice Cooper concert and sit directly behind the starting middle linebacker, who was toking on a nice doobie, as if it were nothing at all (until years later you see the same guy on public access television as an evangelical minister).
Ironically, once those players graduated, no one took their place as a group, as an inspiration …or in that house. However, as it so happened, I wound up living in that house (albeit in the basement for a year’s time) in a “room” that couldn’t pass for a broom closet today. Still I felt I was a part of history on that campus because I knew the “ghosts” of Big Chief Reggie had roamed the upper floors.
Perhaps that, and for many other reasons, is why the term “back in the day” is almost spiritual to former undergrads like me. There WAS something special about the events and people then.

Friday, December 03, 2010

My top 20 favorite movies

In order:
Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai, A Day at the Races, The Searchers, The Maltese Falcon, All the President’s Men, The Natural, American Graffiti, Field of Dreams, Duck Soup, Empire of the Sun, The Magnificent Seven, The Longest Day, The Great Escape, Shane, Citizen Kane, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Adventures of Robin Hood (Errol Flynn), West Side Story, M*A*S*H

Rest in peace, Ron Santo

Rest in peace, Ron Santo; when you died last night at the age of 70, baseball - not just the Chicago Cubs - lost a true fan, warrior and everlasting spirit of the game. Sadly, the people who choose the inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame constantly dismissed and overlooked your career work. Perhaps that will be corrected ... but only after you're gone.