Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees still shameful

When my neck stiffens and my belly hurts, I either ate some bad food (as I did last night) … OR … the Rock and Roll hall of Fame nominees have been announced. In my case, both were inflictions.
I don’t know where and how this list is collated; don’t know who gets to choose (anyone actually FROM The Who?) or the process. But it stinks (or LOVE STINKS sang J. Geils Band).
It is a shame about the groups or singers omitted or how flashes in the pan (as will be discussed) get any recognition.
But here are the official nominees for the class of 2012: Joan Jett, Heart, Rufus with Chaka Khan, Guns ‘n Roses, Eric B. and Rakim, The Cure, Small Faces/Faces (with Rod Stewart), Freddie King, The Spinners, Donovan, War, Laura Nyro, Donna Summer, The Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers.
To trim the list to a proper class of five deserving inductees, one must begin by tossing out the names who you think will simply make for a good induction ceremony/concert. That means Guns ‘n Roses, who did ONE great album and was self-destructing on its initial national tour, is OUT! The Chili Peppers, who have some longevity to their claim but nothing of earth-shattering worth (meaning HOF ability) is OUT!
Donna Summer didn’t change music, neither did Eric B. and Rakim (sorry, can’t name a single tune they EVER did).
Here should be the final five: Heart, The Cure, The Spinners, War, Joan Jett. Next year for the Beastie Boys, Freddie King, Donovan (long deserving but when limited to five, it’s a tough call) and, one day, the late Laura Nyro, a songwriter of extraordinary prowess, should get in.
Heart is obvious – largest selling sister act in rock; The Cure was a seminal group from the 1980s and its music remains fresh today; War helped change the rhythm and style of “soul” and “funk” music; The Spinners were veritable hitmakers for two decades with a smooth, unmistakable style that oozed class; and Joan Jett helped usher punk rock into the American mainstream from The Runaways to The Blackhearts (if for having only recorded “I Love Rock and Roll,” she should be included).
And the annual question remains: why isn’t KISS on this list? Call them what you wish, but it’s been 30 years of music, 30 years of entertaining and touring and 30 years as one of the most popular bands in the world. Compared to some of the weak sisters already inducted, this remains a travesty!

My baseball post season honors

I’ll stop laughing at the total collapse of the Boston Red Sox just long enough to present my Major League Baseball post-season awards for 2011:
American League
MVPMiguel Cabrera, Detroit. Unlike the National League, leading your team to victory should be a major factor. Adrian Gonzalez has this award sewn up until September rolled around. You could select Curtis Granderson of the Yankees by numbers alone but the Yankees are loaded and, besides, Derek Jeter was the team’s MVP from the All-Star break.
Cabrera means more to the Tigers’ lineup than any other player and responded (after a difficult spring training) to lead the league in batting, hit 30 HRs, 105 RBI, 197 hits and scored 111 runs. And teams tried to pitch around him…
Justin Verlander will get some MVP consideration and deservedly so. But, for the purist, it should be the players MOST valuable to his (winning) team with the best season (not just one month like Tampa’s Evan Longoria).
Cy YoungJustin Verlander, Detroit. It should be unanimous and if it isn’t, the voters should be drug-tested.
Manager of the YearJim Leyland, Detroit. There were contenders (Manny Acta, Cleveland or Joe Madden, Tampa Bay), but Leyland reversed the Tigers’ recent history and instead of collapsing down the stretch, Detroit just got better and better and better …

Rookie of the YearMark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels. In the end, he became the best power hitting rookie (29 HRs, 87 RBI) and the one player LAA could NOT replace down the stretch.
Comeback Player of the YearJ.J. Hardy, Baltimore. Tossed on the scrap pile 12-18 months ago, Hardy had THE most incredible second-half of anyone in baseball … repeat, ANYONE. He hit 30 HRs (20 of which came after June 1) and drove in 80 runs.
Executive of the YearDave Dombrowski, Detroit. His off-season move, signing Victor Martinez was the best overall free agent signing of all, and his trading deadline acquisitions of pitcher Doug Fister (who went 8-1 with a sub 2.00 ERA), 3B Wilson Betemit and OF Delmon Young (who hit .300 for the Tigers and was a solid number 3 hitter) were strokes of genius.
Biggest Surprise PlayerAlex Avila, Detroit. This all sounds top-heavy for Detroit, but few picked them to run away with the division. One of the biggest reasons was Avila’s development from second-string rookie to All-Star in less than a year. Production from the catching position and shortstop were among the top reasons Detroit won 95 games.
Biggest Disappointment PlayerAdam Dunn, Chicago White Sox. Has anyone ever been touted SO much and not even hit his weight (when he was 12) than Dunn? He was simply a non-factor from the start and because he was only the DH, he proved to be more of a liability to the Chisox. I’d be shocked if he wore a SOX uniform next season.
Future MVPJacoby Ellsbury, Boston. This is the real star of the Red Sox; Pedroia is the catalyst. But age has caught the Beantowners and Youkilis, Oritz, Drew and Varitek are closer to retiring than their pinnacle. Next season could be a major rebuilding year but Boston is now destined to fight for a wild card slot – not as a division contender.
By the way, the Yankees won and didn’t spend a fragment of the money Boston doled out (Crawford, Gonzalez). What does THAT say about the state of baseball?
National League
MVPMatt Kemp, Los Angeles. When you are a legitimate Triple Crown contender on the last week of the season, you deserve to be called Most Valuable Player. He was a one-man wrecking crew on a team with little offense elsewhere.
The Brewer twins of Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun deserve ample consideration as does Arizona outfielder Justin Upton. But no one has the numbers and value to his lineup as did Kemp.
Cy YoungClayton Kershaw, Los Angeles. The pride of Highland Park, Texas edges out Arizona’s Ian Kennedy and Philadelphia ace Roy Halladay. Of course, what does it say when a team has the MVP and Cy Young recipients and still cannot compete in the weak NL West???
Manager of the YearKirk Gibson, Arizona. Should be unanimous but some love goes to Ron Roennike of Milwaukee. But Gibby infused his team with the combative spirit he showed during his playing days because, position-by-position, there was far better rosters than the Diamondbacks. But none as feisty and unwilling to lose.
Rookie of the YearCraig Kimbrel, Atlanta. Despite the late September meltdowns (a product of being poorly used by manager Fredi Gonzalez), this was the rookie with the MOST impact in his first season; he still accounted for 46 saves – a rookie record – and good ERA (2.10) and WHIP (1.04).
Comeback Player of the YearLance Berkman, St. Louis. When the Puma finished 2010 with the Yankees, he was D.O.A. for any squad in 2011. He looked hurt, slow and tired. Well, surprise, the Cards took a flyer and Berkman responded hitting .301, with 31 HRs and 94 RBIs – almost ALL of them coming at key moments (many while Albert Pujols was injured). It was a storybook ending when his key hits, against his former team in Houston, led the Cards to an improbable Wild Card playoff berth.
Biggest Surprise PlayerIan Kennedy, Arizona. Had theYankees REALLY known how good this kid would be, going from 9-10 in 23010 to a 21-game winner this season, he’d STILL be wearing Yankee pinstripes.
Biggest Disappointment PlayerUbaldo Jimenez, Colorado/Cleveland. This supposed new-found pitching ace and starter in the 2010 All-Star Game, faded SO fast, he was dumped by the Rockies in mid-season. For good reason because he lost yards off his fastball and was hit as hard as a throw rug trying to get the dirt out of it.
Future MVP – Mike Stanton, Miami/Florida. I hope they built the new Marlins Stadium for the new Miami Marlins tailor-made for this immensely powerful outfielder. His home runs will become legendary for distance and majesty; he could be a steady 40/30 man and IF the Marlin ownership ever decides to keep its star instead of cyclical salary dumping, you’re looking at a multi-year MVP.
As for the MLB Playoffs:
American League – Rays over Rangers; Tigers over Yankees. Then, Tigers over Rays.
National League – Milwaukee over Arizona; Phillies over Cardinals. Then, Phillies over Brewers (because Milwaukee WON’T have home field advantage).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The return of the Little Brown Jug battle

For the first time in three years, Michigan and Minnesota will battle for college football’s oldest trophy – the venerable Little Brown Jug. Yes, it exists and the games used to be the stuff that created legends.
Last year, in discussing the nature of rivalries involving the Wolverines, I related the origin of the Jug and how it came to symbolize the contests between the two U-Ms.
Because of poor scheduling by the Big 10 Conference, a two-year gap was permitted to exist without an appearance by the Jug. Michigan fought like the dickens to maintain an annual dustup with that school in Columbus and no one would have ever thought of stopping a Michigan-Michigan State annual showdown.
However, it was allowed for two schools that have faced off on the gridiron for more than 100 years. That’s shameful for a conference which advertises its link to college football history. So here, again, is the history:
The rivalry dates to Oct. 31, 1903, when an earthenware water jug, first used by Michigan coach Fielding H. Yost, is painted with the victories of each team. The name of the trophy allegedly originated from Joseph Winner’s song in 1869 (not the Glenn Miller tune, which was based on the trophy).
In the turn of the 20th century, both schools had outstanding 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). And starting in 1901, the Wolverines had reeled off 28 straight victories and faced the Golden Gophers, who were seeking to upset Michigan in Minneapolis.
Prior to the contest, Michigan student manager Thomas B. Roberts was told by Yost to purchase a water container, showing a bit of paranoia about possible water contamination by Minnesota fans. Roberts, in turn, bought the five-gallon jug for 30 cents from a local variety store.
On old Northrop Field, before 20,000 hyped-up Gopher fans, Minnesota held Yost’s 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 – ending in a 6-6 deadlock.
According to accepted legend, with two minutes to play, a huge Midwestern thunderstorm downpour cascaded over the field; the fans rushed the turf and the contest was stopped at that point. Michigan exited the field, but the jug remained behind in the University of Minnesota Armory locker room.
The next day, armory custodian Oscar Munson found the crockery and took it to Minnesota athletic director L.J. Cooke; just how Munson obtained the Jug is not officially known. Later in his life, in 1956, Roberts stated the jug was a throwaway and he deliberately abandoned it on the field.
But the Minnesota people were gleeful to have captured something that belonged to Michigan and painted the putty-colored flask Minnesota brown, with the inscription, “Michigan Jug – Captured by Oscar, October 31, 1903” with the score “Michigan 6, Minnesota 6.” Of course, the Minnesota score was several times larger than Michigan’s.
When told of what happened, Yost sought the Jug’s return, and sent a letter to that effect. Cooke responded, “We have your little brown jug; if you want it, you’ll have to win it.”
So in 1904, that’s what Michigan did, again in 1910 and kept the jug as its own trophy.
Michigan did it again 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 Little Brown Jug has not always been treated with such reverence. While I was on the Michigan Daily staff, one of our compadres, who also doubled as a student manager, played some tricks of his own with the trophy.
“Remember the year I kept the Little Brown Jug in my apartment after we got home from Minnesota? Then (Michigan announcer) 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 has sat in Schembechler Hall, in the trophy case, for all the staff and players to see. When I was in Ann Arbor, it sat in the back of the equipment staff’s area in a locked box; it got fished out and dusted off when Minnesota came to town.
But, back in the day, something strange always happened when Minnesota came to town.
On the Friday nights before a home game, the Michigan squad bivouaced at one place; with everything under Bo Schembechler’s control. Bo started that; he wanted everyone to eat together, watched a movie together (a movie Bo ALWAYS selected), hear from the coach one last time and be IN BED by curfew.
Believe it or not, the movie was important. Just ask the Minnesota Golden Gophers in 1974, under poor old Cal Stoll. I guess they were staying at the Ann Arbor Inn because they were close enough to the central campus to decide about GOING to a movie.
So what were his choices? Only THREE at the time – whatever was at the stately old Michigan Theater, the foreign film (or pseudo soft porn) at the Campus Theater, OR ... what was playing at the State Theater.
On the Friday night before the Little Brown Jug battle, what was showing was this new offering apparently NO ONE in Minneapolis had seen, or know a damn thing about ... the original “Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” Not exactly standard fare for 1974.
Sidenote: The guy who co-wrote the film was a Texan named Kip Henkel. I became good friends with his family when I moved to Texas a few years later; they owned a community newspaper in the island town of Port Aransas, just outside Corpus Christi.
The dad, Cap Henkel, was an old sea-faring man, who ran a newspaper and wrote columns when he wasn’t deep sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. His daughter, Mary, and son-in-law, Murray, STILL run it and are as normal as normal can be. Mary became the first elected female president of the Texas Press Association.
Second sidenote: A few years before, in 1970, another visiting team went to The State Theater to see a western, starring Candice Bergen, called “Soldier Blue.” It featured a massacre of Indians by American troops and a brief flash of a pony soldier slicing the breast off an Indian woman. Well, THAT was enough to send many of those players to the toilets to revisit the evening meal on its way back up.
But in 1974, the film was shocking and stomach-turning and churning ... and within the minds’ of each of the Minnesota players leaving the theater were THOSE images (and a few in their stomachs, or what was left of the contents). Well ... the next afternoon, Minnesota was as listless as any squad ever to come to Ann Arbor; lost 49-0 … and it wasn’t THAT close.
Bo heard the “movie” story at the end of the game, and dialed up Stoll the following Monday morning, jokingly telling him he was an idiot for NOT pre-screening the movie.
“You’ve got to control EVERYTHING,” he reportedly said.
Finally, here’s a good trivia question: Name all the football coaches for the Minnesota Golden Gophers since Bo arrived at Michigan in 1969.
Answer: Murray Warmath, Cal Stoll, Joe Salem, Lou Holtz (in 1984-85, where he went a non-illustirous 10-12), John Gutekunst, Jim Wacker, (ex-TCU coach), Glen Mason, Tim Brewster, Jeff Horton, Jerry Kill.
Oh yeah, and who was the Minnesota coach in 1930-31???
A man named Herbert O. Crisler, the person and Hall of Famer Michigan would call “Fritz.”

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Michigan-San Diego State: The good, the bad, (the sad) and the ugly

Non-conference play has ended for the first year of the Brady Hoke era, winning against his former employer (San Diego State) to post a 4-0 mark headed into next week’s resumption of playing for the Little Brown Jug against Minnesota. With the undefeated record comes a likely Top 20 ranking and a legitimate shot at being 6-0 (bowl-eligible) prior to Michigan State week (the first road test for U-M).
In what some dubbed The Hoke Bowl, Michigan defeated San Diego State 28-7 for one overbearing reason – it had MORE talent – up front – than the Aztecs. No one in white could bottle Denard Robinson on the ground as the junior sprinted passed the SDSU defense for 200 yards rushing on 21 carries, looking like he possessed Carl Lewis-type speed compared to his defensive counterparts.
A few carries looked like he was auditioning for a future season on “Dancing With The Stars” … his footwork was that fancy and that intricate. He might not be the BEST college football player in the land, but he IS the most entertaining with the ball.
Michigan’s first quarter inability to score was destroyed like a drone attack hit it, scoring smartly on the first two drives of the game – a pair of Robinson runs, including a 53-yarder.
But turnovers and a misfiring passing game kept the score much closer than it should have been. All of it is subject to that old Eastwood spaghetti western movie title…
The good
The defense finally looked like it knew, on every play, what it wanted to do and where it was going. Even when SDSU formations demanded wholesale front line movement by the Wolverines, it never appeared to have been out of position or fooled on any call.
Pass coverage effectively saw more Aztec receivers double covered and while QB Ryan Lindley completed 23 of 48 attempts, for 253 yards, if I were him, I wouldn’t send this DVD to any NFL scout. He did not react well to the Michigan pressure from the front four and missed several open receivers because of that rush.
Another surprising development was the punting and kickoff play on special teams. Whether it was eventual maturity, or perhaps having his father at the game (as SDSU’s team physician), freshman Matt Wile (a native of San Diego) was outstanding. His kickoffs were long, allowing SDSU less than 20 yards in returns on the average. He punted a season-best 49-yard average, kicking inside the SDSU 20 twice.
And after Brandon Gibbons missed a 40-yard field goal try, it could be time to let someone give it a whirl … all the “wile?”
Kudos to Ryan Van Bergen, Jake Ryan and Thomas Gordon for overall top-notch defensive games. We ARE looking light years better on defense than … say … a YEAR ago.
The bad
The Michigan passing game has YET to come together; too many passes seem to be too long (in execution and attempt) and the West Coast-type possession attack doesn’t seem to exist. Against SDSU, the longest pass completion was a screen pass to Vincent Smith for 32 yards, but nothing else went for more than 17 yards in the entire game.
This MUST be fixed prior to the heavy competition of the Big 10 Conference; as opponents stack defenses to stop Robinson, he must have the reliability to hit open receivers about move the ball in that fashion. So far, it hasn’t happened on a consistent basis.
And with field goals an iffy proposition, Michigan might be taking more fourth-down chances than ever before. That is NOT the best option for the future and either Gibbons steps forward immediately, or someone else will have to do the job.
(The sad)
Poor Troy Woolfolk! The fifth-year senior from Sugar Land, Texas (from Stafford Dulles High School, one of the legendary powerhouses in Texas high school football) simply cannot escape the injury bug in any game in which he participates.
Already playing with a cast on his arm, immobilizing his hand, he hobbled off the field in the second quarter. Woolfolk was already having problems grabbing ball carriers with that “club;” trying to play after missing all of 2010, he simply appears to be snake-bitten. And it’s sad because he IS a very talented young man and no one has quite seen but a sliver of his potential.
One thing needs to be said – his replacement, freshman Blake Countess, acquitted himself very nicely on the field. He made some key plays, breaking up a few pass attempts and didn’t look lost at all in Greg Mattison’s schemes.
The ugly
The third quarter was as brutal an exhibition of football – on any level, including Pop Warner and Pee Wee, as anyone has seen in that stadium in quite awhile.
The two teams combined for four turnovers (two interceptions by Robinson on successive possessions), Michigan missed a 40-yard field goal on its only sustained drive while SDSU closed the 21-point gap with a short march after recovering a Stephen Hopkins fumble inside the UM 40.
The Wolverine offense looked putrid, to put it mildly; SDSU might have made adjustments at halftime but Robinson continued the unwelcomed practice of overthrowing ALL his receivers. Fans have yet to see the real pro style offense promised as no one has taken the role of possession receiver, no one has claimed the banner as speed burner to the flag/post and the tight end needs better hands to become an offensive threat (Kevin Koger had one of Robinson’s interception fly right through his hands).
It was a period where Hoke was trying to get a few different bodies into action on offense, especially in the backfield, but it merely solidified Michigan’s running back as being three sets of legs – Robinson, Smith and Fitzgerald Toussaint (others need not apply, thank you). If nothing else has been decided this fall, that IS the ground game for the Wolverines and only garbage time (unseen as of yet) will find a different lineup.
The Jug
For the first time in three seasons (Big Ten’s fault, not any school’s schedule), Minnesota and Michigan will vie for the oldest intra-school trophy in college football – the Little Brown Jug. I will review the Jug’s history later this week, but it will be nice to see the old bottle dusted off and see some sunshine.
It represents something lacking lately in much of sports – real tradition – since this game dates back to the days of Fielding H. Yost. It should NOT have been subject to the whims of the Big 10’s unbalanced scheduling.
Check your Big Ten Network listings for some U-M heavy programming; on Thursday at 10 p.m. (eastern), there will be a conversation with Coach Hoke and BTN has advertised a new “Legends” series, about coaches, beginning with Bo, on Saturday. Not sure on times but check them out, DVR them and enjoy!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mixed feelings on death penalty cases

In a practical/political sense, one CANNOT be "pro-life" and pro-death penalty without explaining the apparent hypocrisy. Aside from caring more for an unborn child than the value of life for that child once born, but living in poverty, ignorance and bigotry, the question to ask is "When is it proper to kill people as a society?" The pro-lifers who also advocate wars in which they refuse to participate make no sense; it's a morally bankrupt position and would offend Jesus, Mohammed or any other "prophet" - all of whom advocated peace and life.
While the Troy Davis situation in Georgia is particularly disturbing because there was a decent degree of probability of his innocence, I really have NO problem with the execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer in Texas last night.
He was the white supremacist that participated in the heinous death of James Byrd 13 years ago in Jasper, Texas. When he told a Beaumont TV station, “I’d do it all over again, to tell you the truth," he forfeited his right to an ounce of sympathy from anyone who considers themselves human. The man was an animal of the worst kind. Sorry, but good riddance to his stupid, evil, cracker-ass.
Troy Davis was a different case; seven of the nine eyewitnesses recanted their earlier testimony,the police did not conduct a proper investigation (employing identification methods that don't even pass the Law and Order smell test) and the man went to his grave with his story unchanged - that he was innocent of the crime for which he lost his life.
Our society should be forced to examine guilt/innocence of all death rows inmates to ensure NO innocent person is subject to the ultimate penalty. Too many recent cases have shown how the legal system breaks down in that search for vengeance; too many men have been released when DNA evidence or other procedures have demonstrated innocence from the start.
To those who claim we can't afford it, I say we can't afford NOT to do it. If we don't, we lose any claim to so-called moral superiority (as divined by God claimed by the evangelicals among us) within the nations of the world. Too many societies we deem as barbaric and inhuman execute people at a high rate, but no nation, within those in the industrialized world, does it more often than the United States.
Except for the animals within our civilization, like Lawrence Brewer, we should proceed with ALL caution into that abyss.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Conference realignment: Not so fast, buckaroo!

Just when you thought you knew what was going to happen next in the world of college football realignment, it pivots on a pinhead and suddenly prologue is past.
On Tuesday afternoon, four schools from the Big 12 were seemingly on a straight path to the Pac-12, but a few hours later, the concept got squashed like a cockroach in my old U-M basement apartment. It ain’t happening … at least not right now … not with that lineup … not under those financial conditions.
What is left are four extra-large conferences (SEC, Big 10, Pac-12, ACC), two staggered conference (Big East, Big 12) seeking stability and other schools trying to claw their way into the Big Leagues.
Since this scenario remains a story about greed and money, fans should continue to examine each decision on those factors. As the light of Wednesday has illuminated, money – and the lack of sharing it – is at the root of several decisions.
First, the Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott got fed up negotiating with a reticent University of Texas in regard to its newfound gold mine, The Longhorn Network. Texas will do lots of compromising but NOT in regard to its long-held dream of a national network solely spotlighting its institution’s sports. UT officials have simply worked too hard to bring it to fruition to share with the other kids in the sandbox.
And Scott, acting on behalf of the entire conference, didn’t want to barter with Texas and UT would not accept ANY constraints on its network. So Scott chose to walk away, stand pat at 12 members (Colorado could exhale at that moment for fear of facing Texas … again) and move forward as a West Coast dominated grouping. The exit came despite having a majority of Pac-12 presidents, in Scott’s pocket, voting FOR expansion.
Had it invited Texas and Oklahoma into the fold, those two behemoths would have dominated conference policy and revenues in a short matter of time. That IS their history.
Meanwhile, the Big 12 must restructure itself on solid footing and that will NOT be an easy task. Already, as a result of the Pac-12 fallout, there has arisen the constant bickering and battling between Texas and Oklahoma, with the Sooners, according to five published reports, now making demands upon the conference AND Texas.
To “retain” Oklahoma’s loyalty to the Big 12 (minus 3), OU wants a new commissioner installed, one more to ITS liking. Current commissioner Don Beebe has been accused in Norman of being too Texas-friendly, despite everything Beebe has done to keep the conference together through bailing wire and chewing gum.
The term “financial balance” is being tossed about like a beach ball in the Saturday stands. Texas has told lots of people it could agree to a more balanced distribution of revenue (currently, UT and OU get a higher percentage than the other Big 12 schools), but hands off its Longhorn Network monies. To Austin, it’s non-negotiable!
And there is some seed of doubt being spread about the finality of Texas A&M’s departure for the SEC, which happened earlier this month. No less than the conference’s richest supporter, oilman T. Boone Pickens who is Oklahoma State’s Mr. Everything, told the Oklahoman newspaper that the Aggies are “sobering up” and could, mind you, reconsider its exit. A&M officials deny that, but I guarantee you, it’s on its board of regents’ minds.
The Big 12 is now considering a list of possible new conference members, including Brigham Young, Louisville, Houston, Cincinnati, West Virginia and TCU (despite its declaration for the Big East because it would make more sense to remain in the Southwest region of the country). SMU is openly seeking admission back to major conference status, but what will is anybody’s guess.
The Big 10 Conference, with Nebraska as its 12 member, is not standing on quicksand by ANY means. Instead of some far-fetched dreams of joining the SEC, a school like Missouri would be a natural fit into the Big 10 – if Notre Dame continues to play the girl who is too hard-to-get.
The lack of strength of the Big East Conference, which will add Fort Worth-based Texas Christian as a member next season (as un-Eastern as it gets), is demonstrated by Notre Dame’s complete reluctance to join the conference as a football member (it IS a Big East ally in all other sports). Such a stand worked well in the 1980s and 1990s when the program ruled college football, as an independent. But the Irish have NOT been dominated in more than a decade and, as written before, the bigwigs at NBC Sports say “no thanks” to the expensive contract renewal for ND football, the people in South Bend will need a conference as shelter.
In the end, perhaps it was speed that forced the Pac-12 to halt the expansion proceedings. Things seemed to be moving a warp speed and no one could accurately assess any possible damage or ramifications. So… its commissioner simply pushed the stop button on the carnival ride that college football now resembles.
At least such talk should not resume until after the 2011 season is concluded; schools should stop detracting from the games played on the field instead of the games played inside the meetings rooms.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The truth about Rick Perry’s Texas

For better or for worse, I live in Rick Perry’s Texas; in the Dallas suburb of Plano, which very much resembles everything that is right AND wrong with his stewardship of the Lone Star State.
And while the national media scrambles around the state, looking for golden nuggets of information (like miners in the late 1840s in the California mountains), all they have to do is ask me and I’ll deliver (as it said down here) “the straight skinny” on the person often referred as “Gov. Goodhair.”
 My section of suburbia has been the recipient of great expansion from prior decades, but now property values are falling, foreclosures and homelessness are increasing, college is less affordable, diversion of tax dollars from intended causes to the general revenue stream means less for road and state park repairs (going against voters’ wishes) and more children than ever are having children – the most in the United States.
The state unemployment rate is rising slowly but steadily and this month, Texas LOST jobs because the sector of highest previous growth (public sector/government) is bleeding more workers than private business can create. Texas is not what you, or Gov. Perry, think.
First, a little background: Rick Perry has been a fixture of Texas politics since 1986 (meaning he’s been on the state payroll) from state representative to agriculture commissioner to lieutenant governor. He’s been the state’s longest serving governor, elected three times on his own after assuming the office following George W. Bush’s ascendance to the Presidency.
Originally a conservative Democrat from the flat, dusty West Texas county of Haskell, Perry switched parties in 1989 and ran for the ag commissioner slot, pulling a stunning upset (at the time) over incumbent populist Democrat Jim Hightower (the year Democrat Ann Richards was elected governor, and the last time Democrats won any statewide contest).
In his second re-election campaign, Perry could only muster 40 percent to win a three-way race against a Houston congressman that few inside that city even knew, and a well-known humorist/musician/prankster named Kinky Freidman. It was NOT Perry’s finest hour; he appeared weak within his own party and in the halls of Austin.
However, he turned the frowns around less than two years ago with his old-fashioned Lone Star “whuppin’” of U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Perry’s dynamite was his ferocious attack on all things Washington, D.C., which included Mrs. Hutchison (a fellow Republican, mind you). He also previewed his “Texas is open for business” campaign mantra, completely with pearly whites smiling broadly (not unlike the caricature of any used-car salesman).
His views have NOT really changed since he entered politics … he’s been a hard-ass since Day One. Perry is a graduate of Texas A&M University, where he was no better than a B-minus/C-student, but WAS a Yell Leader (a unique position of control at a unique campus atmosphere) and served in the U.S. Air Force as a pilot. When asked about the differences between himself and Bush, Perry’s standard and truthful retort is “I went to A&M; he went to Yale.” It discloses plenty about the attitudes and, at times, disdain each has for one another. In the 2010 election, ALL of Bush’s inside people and advisors were on Hutchison’s endorsement list and his victory was all the sweeter for that fact.
All during Perry’s 2010 run for governor, he denied at every turn (and microphone) any run for the land’s highest office (which is NOT governor of Texas). Despite all those denials, Perry paved the way for his presidential run with last year’s publication of “Fed Up!,” laying out his attack against all things federal and sounding like any “states rights” governor from the pre-Civil Wars days.
Conservatives lapped it up like a thirsty kitten at a bowl of milk, when he penned such statements as calling Social Security “a crumbling monument to the failure of the New Deal.” Perry insinuated its creation violated the Constitution, said it is a “bad disease” that still is spreading and would prefer “a retirement system that is no longer set up like an illegal Ponzi scheme,’ seeking a system that “will allow individuals to own and control their own retirement.”
But his written words are being questioned and Perry’s campaign is moon-walking away from those statements … plus many, many others. Communications director Ray Sullivan, said he had “never heard” Perry saying Social Security was unconstitutional. And the book does not now … “reflect the governor’s current views.”
Of course, it hasn’t been a year since it hit the bookstands and Perry has constantly usurped what his campaign people are trying to cover by refusing to back down (in public) from such “gunslinger” statements. It demonstrates more of the man’s arrogance than judgment.
Almost everything the press has unearthed about Perry’s record is truthful. Texas DOES lead the nation in jobs created because … 1) the state’s population growth has been the largest, 2) the oil and natural gas business is in its cyclical upswing (we’ve also had two industry-crashing busts in my 36-plus years as a resident), 3) it is a right-to-work state where unions, except for those civil service communities that permit police and fire personnel to collectively bargain, have no power whatsoever, and 4) there is no state income tax (revenues come either from consumption sales or ad valorem, or property, taxation.
However, ask ANY Texan, and they will ALL complain about taxes being too high. Ask any school district superintendent, and they will ALL tell you it’s an inadequate system to properly fund education. Which is why another truth about Perry had him approving a $3-4 BILLION cutback to public education, resulting in tens of thousands of layoffs among the 2,500 Texas school districts.
Texas is also tops in the country is the numbers of minimum wage jobs, lead in the number of children living in poverty, number of high school dropouts, largest percentage of adults without health insurance and number of prison beds. And there are the little things where Texas is number one (root, root, for the home team?) – first for heavy equipment thefts (loaders, backhoes, tractors and forklifts).
The education record is particularly worrisome. In the Perry years, a majority of Texas high school graduates who took the ACT this past year could not pass introductory college courses in math, reading and science. Class sizes are increasing at all grade levels because of the budget reductions, test scores have declined as has classroom staffing on the elementary level. That dropout rate is on the rise, and getting worse by the minute. The facts show how race or ethnic background has little to do with that increase – it’s across-the-board.
Many of the state’s problems – from inability to fund a drastically needed increase in surface water storage capacity to simply fixing the state’s crumbling roads and bridges – has been money. To be precise, the will to allocate funds without either raising revenues/taxes or using the monies actually available, known as the Texas Rainy Day Fund, where a multi-billion surplus sits untouched.
Perry’s opposition to using those funds is rock-rigid and all attempts, including bi-partisan agreements, to dip into that pool have been rebuffed. Yet thousands are unemployed because it won’t be used to meet the state’s obligations to fund public education (the legislature and governor simply rewrote the rules to suit their immediate financial needs).
Sadly, the national media, and other candidates, have been as slow as Vermont molasses in February, to research Perry and other past actions, especially as governor, in the area of political cronyism.
The entire HPV vaccine/Gardacil situation, which has garnered a ton of national attention, is (correctly) more about the cronyism all-too-often seen circling Perry and associates; the debate about whether the vaccine should be employed is a parallel discussion. What rankled many in Texas was his end-around the legislature through executive order and who, in the end, was the big financial benefactors.
There is SO much more to dig through, not much different than looking for clues in the middle of a massive garbage dump – there’s tons of it and it all stinks!
For example, Perry controls (without any transparency) a huge “technology fund” which doles out grants and big dollars at the sole discretion of the officeholder. One such situation involved (now-defunct and horribly bankrupt) Countrywide Mortgage, which got millions from that source in return for thousands of jobs. Not only did the whole plan fall through, Countrywide was subject to criminal investigation.
Perry tried to use eminent domain to confiscate tens of thousands of Texas ranch/farm land and then turn it over to private Spanish (Cintra) developers for a system of super-highway toll roads, called the Trans-Texas Corridor. It would have covered 4,000 miles, in all directions, and it would have been operated, and controlled, by that foreign-based entity. Shockingly, Perry was taken aback by the tremendous adverse reaction and the project was killed … by the Texas Legislature, not the governor.
Everything about Perry can be seen through the eyes of cronyism. The rift between Perry and former President George W. Bush stems from Bush’s failure in 1995, as a new governor, to appoint Perry’s brother-in-law to an open seat on the 11th Court of Appeals. Bush said he’d choose someone of his own liking and Perry got steamed.
There’s SO much to say about Perry and his oft-avoidance of the truth. Despite what he told a young elementary-aged student at a political event, Texas does NOT teach creationism in public school, although he wants it to be included. It’s just one of many such examples.
It is difficult to see how someone who cannot stand so many parts of the U.S. Constitution and wants to alter it so drastically would want to be its defender and protector. He doesn’t want you, the average citizen, to vote on how operates in the U.S. Senate (17th Amendment), eliminate one of the basic checks and balances within the federal government by abolition of the lifetime terms for federal judges (Article III, Section I), outlaw the federal income tax (16th Amendment), given Congress veto power over Supreme Court decisions by 2/3rds vote (court suppression which is totally against principles established by the dear “Founding Fathers”), and adding amendments to ban same sex marriage (now being done as a 10th Amendment state’s rights issue) and mandatory balanced budget amendment (in a document which never mentions ANY form of economic policy to be employed).
Again, the anti-judicial stance is really disturbing. How does Perry expect to take the oath of office from someone whose responsibilities he disdains?
I could argue all these base points for weeks – to prevent Rick Perry from being elected president, but I can sum up most of my reasons in this anecdote.
One of the most visible changes in the American (and Texan) workforce can be seen at some of our lowest level jobs on the career ladder. Faces that occupy such jobs as drive-through tellers at the increasing number of fast food outlets, cashiers at lots more new pharmacies (that sells almost everything else but drugs) and in the checkout line of the supersizing grocery stores are no longer perky high school young adults. Those entry-level jobs, which used in the past to teach people of that age group the value of hard work, savings and reward, are now filled by middle-aged adult men.
The mere sight of men my age doing what MUST be demeaning work borne out of drastic economic necessity is sad. These people probably have more (college) degrees than any thermometer and could best served society is ways other than asking if I want ketchup with my fries.
So here I was, last Sunday, at the grocery store (name withhold for protection of its own reputation, although I don’t know why), with my weekly purchases and there was a man, well into his 80s, bagging the items, slinging around the bags into the cart and helping my wife to our vehicle.
His arms showed ulcerations from prior wounds and he walked in a slight stoop, but he was on the job … and all I could ask myself was, “Why?”
Was it that bad, was his Social Security/Ponzi scheme payout so inadequate that he was forced to bag up pork chops, Cheerios and Hamburger Helper just to make his ends meet? Is THIS what our country is coming to?
The problem is that the old man was NOT an anomaly; in Rick Perry’s Texas, it’s become all too commonplace. And it’s not how the United States should be. If Perry becomes president, it could well be.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

So why DID Michigan play Eastern today?

Frankly, there isn’t THAT much to say about Saturday’s 31-3 victory over Eastern Michigan, in what was laughingly dubbed “The Battle of Washtenaw County.” It’s NOT like there’s this huge Mason-Dixon-like divide splitting Washtenaw Avenue or anyone renaming it “Smoke-Free Road” (that’s a play on NC’s Tobacco Road in case that shot over your heads … which I suspect it did).
The game that could have been a trap turned out NOT to be as difficult as the sputtering Michigan offense and defensive line was permitting it to be. After surrendering the first points of the game, a 21-yard field goal, the Michigan coaching staff continued to demonstrate its ability to adjust on the fly and eventually, Eastern stopped its assault around the interior of the Wolverine defense (with sweeps to the left, and sweeps to the right because EMU simply abandoned any semblance of a passing game early).
Meanwhile, the offense, which continues to be Denard Robinson’s legs (26 carries for 198 yards, 1 touchdown), wore down the Eagle defense but did not impress anyone, other than the gullible Big Ten Network announcers, save one – former U-M star Jon Jansen, who noted quickly the lack of drive off the ball by the Michigan offensive line. Unfortunately, it is still a unit installed for a different offensive scheme. The good news is with more practice and coaching, led by Al Borges, it should improve as the season progresses.
(By the way, if you are going to be a play-by-play announcer, say for the BTN, and you want to discuss former Michigan quarterbacks, please learn to CORRECTLY pronounce the name “Henne” as “HEN-nee,” NOT “hay-NEE.” Drives me crazy).
The positives turned out to be the play of the secondary, led by Thomas Gordon, with a nifty one-handed interception that halted EMU’s final assault on the U-M end zone in the first half. After that play, the Eagles were never serious contenders in the contest.
And … lo and behold, Michigan tried … and successfully succeeded in a field goal attempt from … 21 yards out. Hey, better than nothing, right? Each kicking journey begins with the first step.
However, this is STILL a team NOT close to being placed in the top 25 in any national poll (although Auburn’s loss opens the door for Michigan to enter). There are too many holes that must be filled – woeful kickoff return coverage (still surrendering field position with short kickoffs and long opposition returns), absence of a consistent running game from players NOT named Robinson (diminutive Vincent Smith seems to have won the halfback battle but cannot run between the tackles with any consistency) and the passing game still looks … “rusty” (for the lack of a better, non-offensive term). It was good to discover that throwing to the tight end produces touchdowns.
However, Roy Roundtree and Junior Hemingway were kept off the stat sheet and it wasn’t because they were blanketed by the EMU secondary all game long. Robinson simply kept missing open targets.
But Michigan’s aerial efforts were herculean compared to EMU’s passing game, which basically was non-existent (only 3 of 6 attempts for 29 yards). Head Coach Ron English, former U-M defensive coordinator, should consider going to a single-wing or wishbone formation if he is going to disdain the pass to that extent.
But a win is a win and Brady Hoke is the third Michigan coach to start his career at 3-0 – the others? Fielding H. Yost (54-1-1 from 1901-1905) and Bennie Oosterbann (coaching the 1948 champions). Unfortunately, it’s hard to confirm this because complete season-by-season records aren’t included in the Michigan football media guide – not by opponents, just by final season record. Just saying…
Next week should be a “déjà vu all over again” moment for Hoke as his former employer, San Diego State, comes calling to The Big House. It was going to be Hoke’s shining moment in front of his former team (U-M) with his emerging Aztecs. Now, he must prepare for a squad he knows well and a team that’ll have something to prove to their ex-coach.
But exactly WHY did Michigan, of the mighty Big 10 Conference, play Saturday against Eastern Michigan, on the low end of the Mid-American Conference.
The first answer is money … and the second answer is … money. I’ll explain.
With the recent shuffling of conference memberships (not just this month in the Big 12/Southeastern Conference, but last year with all sorts of schools realigning and completely discombobulating all of college football), holes began to sprout in lots of schedules. Suddenly, the Big 10 became 12 schools deep; the Pac-12 went to 14; the Big East got bigger (hello, TCU) and now the SEC will come as see … what’s happening with Texas A&M (plus a to-be-named school to bring schedule balance).
Hence, there are more school committed to conference action than ever before and depending on how that situation is resolved according to each conference, there are fewer and fewer marquee non-conference matchups.
When Florida State joined the ACC, it could not sustain its two major rivals (Florida and Miami, Fla.); it chose to drop the contest against … Florida – one of the nastier rivalries in college football. The ‘Noles played Oklahoma Saturday night but it isn’t the same as bragging rights in Florida.
Colorado exited the Big 12 for the Pac-12 and on its way out, slammed the door on any of its former rivalries after a long relationship with lots of schools. For that matter, the border war between Nebraska and Oklahoma often decided Big 8 (and national) titles; but it’s a thing of the past nowadays.
Hell, it took lots of screaming from Ann Arbor and Columbus to maintain the Michigan-Ohio State affair on an annual basis since the two schools are placed in separate conference divisions. It took an even louder level of volume to play future UM-OSU games in late November; it just wouldn’t have the same meaning if encountered in early October.
But tradition is the vestal virgin often sacrificed at the altar to appease the money gods. In order to fill holes, schools must look elsewhere than other MAJOR conferences (they begin the Pac-12, SEC, ACC, Big East). Of the 48 non-conference Big 10 opponents for 2011, only nine hail from that four collectives. Out of the 12 schools that comprise the MAC, eight of them have found their way to Big 10 schedules (some more than once; Eastern travels to Penn State next week, for example).
Instead the conferences seen as “worthy” opponents include the Sun Belt, Mountain West, Missouri Valley, Conference-USA, Western Athletic, Southern, Mid-Eastern Atlantic and Ohio Valley (there are two independents – Notre Dame and Army). Some of these conferences are not part of the BCS; they are remnants of the old Division 1-AA, now known as the Football Championship Subdivision.
Alliance doesn’t necessarily mean inferior as every U-M fans knows by two words: Appalachian State. But … there IS a basic talent difference (as demonstrated Saturday in The Big House) and no Big 10 teams really has ANY business playing the likes of South Carolina State or South Dakota State or Tennessee Tech.
So why is it allowed on BOTH ends? Money – that’s what I want … (did you know that was Motown’s ORIGINAL hit song by Barrett Strong?). It’s so simple, it’s almost criminal.
Let’s say you’re Youngstown State, of the Missouri Valley Conference, and you always need an infusion of dollars into your athletic program. Your stadium is the largest in the MVC and holds a whopping … 20,630 people (I can show you almost 50 high school stadiums in Texas larger than that!).
So hosting non-conference games does nothing for your bank account. BUT … going on the road to a Big 10 school – with LOTS of huge stadiums guaranteed to be sold out (Big House, Horseshoe, Happy Valley, Spartan Stadium, Nebraska), your percentage of the gate receipts will FAR outweigh anything happening in Youngstown. The amount of the check will soothe any lingering wounds occurring on the field.
It’s why Michigan gets to have five straight games at home to open the season – smaller schools love the Big House experience, especially all 110,000 fans paying to see Michigan play … whomever.
Notre Dame is Notre Dame, but Eastern Michigan is just another opponent. And the original ND contract back in 1974 was unique in that the two schools decided each one would retain 100 percent of its home gate. Then-athletic director Don Canham couldn’t sign the paper fast enough. Aside from being an incredibly astute businessman, he could do math in his head. Notre Dame Stadium seated 55,000; Michigan Stadium seated 105,000 – you do the math.
It’s ALL about the Benjamins, baby!
Final thought: After ripping the Big Ten Network broadcast and announcers, I was to give kudos to how it handled the “start” of the telecast. They went live to the field, seven minutes prior to the start, and showed (from ground level), the entrance of the Michigan Marching Band, playing “M Fanfare” and going into “The Victors” – a sight every “Go Blue” fan knows by heart. As I sat there, I got shivers down my spine and tears to my eyes.
It’s part of the unique pageantry of college football not shown enough.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The numbers game

The pre-game ceremony to honor former Wolverine standout Desmond Howard was moving, touching and quite proper for a new policy NOT to retire numbers, but salute those special players in Michigan history. Hopefully, this will be an annual event and each player spotlighted will richly deserve.
In my opinion, Michigan doesn’t do such ceremonies enough. In the school’s long history, only five numbers have actually been retired from the active football varsity roster (11, 47, 48, 87, 98). But a quick examination of Michigan memories finds scores of worthy candidates (I’m sure most people will want to see Heisman Trophy recipient Charles Woodson to be the next honoree).
Here are some other candidates – by position – for fans and the administration to seriously consider:
Anthony Carter (#1), as great a wideout as has ever played in Ann Arbor.
Rick Leach (#7), a four-year starter and one of the greatest athletes ever to attend U-M.
Reggie McKenzie (#65), two-time All-American, College Hall of Famer and a top five lineman of all-time for Michigan.
Dan Dierdorf (#72), All-American, inducted into College and Pro Football Hall of Fame, perhaps the best Wolverine offensive lineman ever.
Tom Mack (#96), same credentials as Dierdorf and a top five lineman for Michigan.
Jim Mandich (#88), other than Ron Kramer, whose number is retired, no tight end in Michigan history did more.
Ron Johnson (#40), often forgotten premier running back whose records stood for years, All-American.
Erick Anderson (#37), perhaps the best linebacker to play at Michigan, All-American, and prototype for the position for 20 years.
Dave Brown (#6), there have been many outstanding secondary players for Michigan, but none was impactful as the late great Dave Brown.
In many cases, it would require some younger fans to properly respect the contributions of some of Michigan’s greatest talent from almost a century ago.
In the turn of the 20th century, Michigan dominated college football, under Coach Fielding H. Yost with his “point-a-minute” offense, led by the likes of Germany Schultz and Willie Heston. But those players did not include numerals on their uniforms; those didn’t appear until the 1920s.
There are three names that need immediate attention in order to give them their proper due for the massive contributions to Michigan football; they, in fact, define the term “legend.”
First, the late Willis Ward (#61) was not the first African-American to play for Michigan (George Jewett played for U-M in 1890), but he was an outstanding player (as well as an amazing track performer). He was the center of an early pro-civil rights protest by his teammates in 1934 when Georgia Tech refused to play its contracted home game if Ward participated.
That protest was led by Ward’s road roommate, the team’s center named Gerald Ford. The game was played (after Ward told the team it HAD to play), he did not suit up and Michigan won anyway 9-2 for the only victory of the 1934 season.
In later life, Ward became a lawyer, a judge and chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission, and in all respects, he was the truest personification of a “Michigan man.”
Second, when Tom Harmon was running roughshod over opposing defenses, en route to the Heisman Trophy, his partner in crime was equally as outstanding. In the single-win offense, the “quarterback” had different responsibilities but the tandem of Harmon and Bob Chappius (#49) was as good as it got.
Chappius, who was a World War II hero as a pilot, earned All-American honors in 1947 (finishing second in the Heisman balloting) and was the MVP in the 1948 Rose Bowl. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988.
His forte was as a passer and until Leach played, Chappy’s records were untouched (13 TD passes in one season, 23 career TD passes and 3,487 yards of total offense).
Finally, it is time that all hail one of the all-time greatest college football players from ANY school – the first GREAT quarterback, Michigan’s Benny Friedman (#27).
In the early 1920s, Illinois’ Red Grange was the greatest runner, but the greatest pass combination was the “Benny-to-Bennie” show. Labeled as the “Babe Ruth of football,” he played in a completely different era where men played all 60 minutes (on offense and defense).
In 1925, in a showdown between the two superstars, Friedman led Michigan to a 3-0 win over Grange, one of many outstanding victories. He earned conference MVP honors in 1926, leading Michigan to two Big Nine (not yet Ten) titles.
Friedman later was an All-Pro quarterback for four teams and has been inducted into the College and Pro Halls of Fame.
In a week or so, I will relate more of Friedman’s story in this blog.
Oddly, the current roster is devoid of several “open” numbers (aside from the retired jerseys). There is no 1, 6, 62, 64, 71, 74, 78, 79 and 99; why no receiver wears that distinctive jersey is not known.
Building a proper legacy often requires history to be recognized and properly honored. That includes those players who wore the uniform before cable TV, YouTube and 24-hour coverage. It was in their cleats that Michigan greatness was born and nurtured.