Monday, September 30, 2013

Homecoming: 1972 when Michigan was greased and ready to kick ass!

The annual event known as Homecoming takes place this weekend in Ann Arbor for students and alumni of the University of Michigan. But it ain’t what it used to be.
I’m going to make several assumptions that should hold true. There won’t be any kind of homecoming dance and no one will be crowned Homecoming Queen (or King). 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.
Hopefully, some annual traditions will never die – the Mud Bowl (which would be 81 years alive in front of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity), the Alumni Band and cheerleaders taking the field, and perhaps … a Saturday concert. The Alumni Association will hold 37th consecutive giant tailgate party at the Indoor Track Building this year. If you want to attend, it’s just $40 for an adult ticket (member) and $60 if you’re a non-association member.
The School of Kinesiology (among many others) will have a full weekend schedule for its former classmates, while this year’s Honor Classes will be 1963 and 2003, complete with a Thursday night banquet.
It’s when the older classes migrate back to school, marvel at how much things (other than the foliage) have changed, and how much has been unaltered – asking what happened to all the old retail landmarks now victims to the ongoing recession.
Such as wondering what happened to the Campus Theater on S. University which mainly showed foreign films and those kind of art house attractions which were not deemed to be “mainstream;”
Discovering the brand new fancy-ass mall was Briarwood Mall on I-94 (as opposed to “Arborland,” located on Washtenaw Ave. and U.S. 23, across from the Holiday Inn I remember staying when I returned for Homecoming) is ancient by modern standards;
And knowing if you wanted your parents to bivouac at a classy joint, well, there was the Bell Tower Hotel on Central Campus and Campus Inn (on Huron. Or there was Weber’s Inn, off campus on I-94, but an institution for decades.
There was Ulrich’s and Border’s and the University Bookstore (inside the lower floor of the Union, and where someone could get the best prices on records, i.e. vinyl LPs).
Bimbo’s served pizza and pitchers of beer for $1.75 with a Dixieland jazz band to boot. The Village Bell just had the best cold beer in the basement and there was the Pretzel Bell for food. The best deep dish pizza was ALWAYS at Thano’s Lamplighter, next to the stately Michigan Theater (which had the biggest pipe organ anyone had ever seen).
And Pizza Bob’s made the best sub sandwiches in the world (meaning even a student could afford one at any time).
But Bimbo’s disappeared long ago, the P-Bell closed in 1985 and the V-Bell became a Pizzeria Uno outlet; nothing remains the same as it exists in your memory.
In fact, looking at a campus map, damn near half the buildings were non-existent in the early 1970s. No one called it “South Campus;” it was just the MAIN (or Central) campus (since North Campus was relatively new). What used to be open space now appears to have Monopoly-like hotels and houses sitting everywhere.
Yes, things were SO much simpler back then … but that’s not the point of this story.
For Homecoming in 1972, the University Activities Council (UC) 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 local 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.
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 (the 50s and 60s), had snowballed. What was an end-of-semester joke actually grew to a viable performance “band” – although no one played a single instrument and all music was recorded on tape off scratchy 45s (well before Britney Spears or Milli Vanilli ever decided to fake their way through concerts … or wishing Miley Cyrus hadn’t ever been born).
The male activists were known as Jimmy and the Javelins (of which I was a happily guilty party) – named in that fashion because half of the major doo-wop/pop groups had some reference to cars in their names. Oh yeah, no one among us was named actually 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.
In reality, the members were myself (known as TOR for reasons that require a book worthy in length of Tolstoy), Ron Hummeny (da Prince), Mark Wachter (Big Jocko), Jeff Hirsh (the Penguin, after his affiliation with the Pittsburgh Penguins), David Heilbronner (the Kid), Leslie Rogers (Chastity), Susan Mickel (Big Mama) and Jean Peduzzi (Chicky or Princess).
In their adult lives, they became financial advisors (Ron), television reporters (Jeff), small-town newspaper publishers (myself), renowned orthopedic surgeons (Dr. Dave … and co-inventor of Bone Doctors barbecue sauce – the best!), investment banker (Leslie), executive assistant (Susan) and medical school professor-research scientist (Jean).
Our schtick was simple; do comedy routines or dance steps to classic songs for about three hours – just as people used to see on “American Bandstand,” “Tiger Beat,” “Hullabaloo” or “Shindig.” We usually did 3-4 sets, at 45-60 minutes each, and in between, the students would dance to MORE “stacks of wax from the backs of the racks.”
We performed at many dorms on campus (West Quad, Mary Markley, Mosher-Jordan, Alice Lloyd, East Quad), about every other weekend, and were paid enough money ($125 split many ways, depending on how much help we received for that show) to buy nasty Omega pizzas (nicknamed Omigosh Pizza) for the next two weekends.

“Our standard rate for a sock hop was $125, split among all the Javelins, Belts, and our sound guys, which worked out to about $10 apiece. I think we were able to squeeze $150 out of UAC. Big time!”

“When we started, we worked (or performed) for free. Our first paying gig was Mosher-Jordan, where we were paid around $50 – total, not apiece. We hit triple digits ($125 or so) when we played West Quad. In honor of all the great 1950s DJs, that was our first (and only) journey into the world of payola.

One of our “roadies” Gary Kreissman (Gary the K), who, as I recall, either did some backup announcing for us, or worked as one of the sound people, was friends with one of the West Quad council members, who ‘booked’ us to play that dorm. And we had to kick back a share of the big proceeds to said dorm council member … every act has an agent, right?” – Jeff Hirsh

It was nothing but fun for everyone, and apparently it caught the attention of the UAC planning committee.
Jeff and Ron were the “performers” representatives with the UAC group, meeting at places like the Lamplighter.

“Don’t remember much about the meeting, but the pizza was good.” – Ron

UAC offered the challenge and we accepted, with some trepidation, because there was a massive difference between the basement of Mosher-Jordan, or West Quad, and the spacious Union Ballroom, used for major musical events dating back to the 1930s.
There was even a black-and-white booklet published to help promote the entire weekend. Inside was a half-page photo of Commander Cody and Stevie Wonder, but for Jimmy and the Javelins, there was a full-page spread.
A large newspaper ad was placed by UAC in the Michigan Daily, with copy reading, “UAC and WCBN present A WEEKEND OF GOLDEN MEMORIES.” It then announced the station’s plan to broadcast 24 consecutive hours of oldies, followed by the All-Campus Sock Hop, featuring the Javelins and the Belts (with a Javelins photo).
Jeff hosted a three-hour, late-night oldies radio show at WCBN, which helped with the publicity.

“Maybe it was the radio station connection with myself and the Prince, which somehow got us on the Homecoming roster. The Daily ad might have been a ‘make good’ from UAC. Even though a big photo of the Javelins was in the Homecoming program with ‘sock hop’ above the picture, looking at the schedule of homecoming events on the inside front cover, the Sock Hop is not listed at all. The ad may have been a way of publicizing what was only semi-mentioned in the program.” – Jeff

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). Going along with the theme, it went to the trashiest dressed girl.
We even solicited the services of Detroit’s most famous disc jockey/radio personality, Robin Seymour (Bobbin’ With the Robin”), who did the honors of crowning the “beauty” and introducing us to the crowd.
By the way, Seymour is still with us as the 85-year-old lives in Los Angeles and heads a successful production company.
And what a crowd it was! Somehow 5,000 party-goers jammed 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 Brylcreem, Wildroot or Tres Flores Brilliantine was stocked all over Ann Arbor (as we discovered early on, Vitalis did no good).
The Homecoming Queen contest, from a field of five, was won by Jennifer McLogan, who later became a television reporter in New York with WCBS.
Second place went to Ann Cole, the daughter of legendary General Motors executive-engineer Edward N. Cole. She showed up in a motorcycle get-up (body-hugging neck-to-ankle leather) and tried to influence the audience by throwing “cigarettes” to the crowd.  Ann’s “interview” question was, “What was the most interesting thing you’ve ever done in the back seat of a car?” It was THAT kind of beauty pageant.
     Our collective memories might be filled with cobwebs, but a little prompting brought out these responses.

“The biggest thing we had going for us at Homecoming is that our event was free,” Jeff remembered. “Plus we had built up a certain degree of notoriety at our various dorm gigs in previous years. It’s amazing … we were either ahead of the nostalgia craze, and helped create it, or at least we were smart or lucky enough to jump on board.

“It’s incredible to consider the changes in just a few years in Ann Arbor, and our role in that. When I was a freshman in 1969, anti-war fervor was at its pitch, there were struggles over race, and class (socio-economic, not 8 a.m. versus 10 a.m.). By the fall of 1972, things had changed so much we could even be Homecoming performers.

“Now we are having nostalgia for the mock nostalgia we helped create! I do recall Prince saying to that crowd, “You’re not the biggest crowd we’ve ever performed for, but you’re definitely the best.” – Jeff

“I remember girls throwing underpants on stage. I remember taking measurements to sew the guys’ (imitation) gold lame vests a couple of weeks before. The Kid had to have a full vest, pulled overhead, not a cardigan.

“Prince tapped out our entrance ‘The Stripper drumbeat’ on the microphone when Chastity and the Belts made our way onto the stage. I remember a lot of joint efforts in songs, when one of us would play the girlfriend for a Javelin, or one of the guys would play a boyfriend for a Belt.

“I remember Big Mamma bleaching brassy strands of her real hair (far enough back and under so it couldn’t be seen in normal life) while I wore a wig in a beehive and Chickie wearing a ratted up red haired wig.” – Leslie Rogers Manix

“I received an audio clip of the WCBN broadcast of the Union Ballroom Sock Hop. It’s only about five minutes long, but ends with me screaming at the top of my lungs “GREASED AND READY TO KICK ASS – JIMMY AND THE JAVELINS!” – Ron Hummeny

“The New York Times covered the sock hop and interviewed my real parents. When asked about their daughter’s pseudonym, they said, ‘Oh, Chastity ... at home we call her ‘Chas.’ They also used a pseudonym ... instead of using their real, unbelievable names (Eulalla and Will Rogers), they were Myrna and Richard McFarlan.” – Leslie

“I used spray-on streaks; the brassy-toned frosting was my civilian look. There were a few costume changes and perhaps a Motown set. That’s all I’ve got; the hair spray fumes must have prevented my memory neurons from firing. But if you can’t stand the grease, get out of the frying pan.” – Susan Mickel

“I had more stuff in my hair than most people use on an entire automobile; and those flammable lame´ vests.” – Mark Wachter

“I remember on that night how Big Jocko had women SCREAMING at the sight of him on stage, (wearing the skimpiest red trow), doing “Great Balls of Fire,” complete with emphatic pelvic thrusts at all the proper notes. It was his big solo number.

“Even when there was no performance, we would hang together as much as possible. Once we boarded a U-M bus, headed to North Campus, but driven by Mark/Jocko, we simply sat in the very back, chowing down all the Omega pizza we could and laughing our heads off, driving Mark crazy from the scent.

"Seriously, those WERE good times.” – Chuck/TOR

“I also think that as much fun as we had, there was a certain degree of sadness, or at least wistfulness, knowing that was our last show. My guess is we’d all do it again in a second if we could.” – Jeff
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.
But others actually took it seriously, much to our chagrin. And in what should have been termed “A lip-sync too far,” the Javelins/Belts Lip-Sync Revue made an ill-fated excursion to a REAL performance venue – the famous Roostertail Club (off Jefferson Avenue, right on the Detroit River), where the Gold Cup hydroplane races drew more than 1 million fans on both banks (Canadian and American) of the river.
 We flopped, literally, as one of us fell off the small stage provided (a combination of small risers which were not secured together, and had to go to the hospital for stitches. That audience didn’t get the joke; those people thought we were legitimate.

“My wound was a three-inch gash over my eyebrow, which was dutifully stitched up using no. 6 baling wire at University of Michigan Hospital. I remember lying on the examination table in emergency as the doctor looked down at my greased-up hair, my Notre Dame High letter sweater, my leather pants and my Cuban heeled shoes with the gold lame accents and said, ‘you just come from a hockey game, or what?’

“I had no idea hockey fans were so stylish.” – Ron

Later in the spring of 1973 (at the end of regular classes), we held our “farewell” concert at the same venue. It was one of the first activities ever to be taped for the fledgling campus cable TV station.
Again, for our final show (which started at 8 p.m. and lasted well past midnight), it was a full house … until the end. Their energy, and ours, just ran out, which was probably appropriate for what was offered.
Graduation was taking its toll; like a Roman candle, our time in the spotlight fizzled away – to be forgotten by succeeding generations.
I remember sitting on the edge of the stage (as the rest of the group helped pack up the equipment) and stared at the emptiness of the facility. My female compadre, Leslie/Chastity, sat next to me and gave me a gentle hug, softly saying, “You were great tonight.”
I turned to her and responded, “I miss it already,” with a kind of chagrined Charlie Brown smile.
We’ve remained friends for all these years, although no reunion tour will ever be planned. As said, we’ve become investment bankers and counselors, lawyers, doctors and surgeons, professional assistants, research scientists, television reporters and retired newspaper publishers. We have children and a few of us experience the utter joy of grandparenthood.
Our children have enjoyed 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.”
And … Michigan celebrated a happy Homecoming victory at Michigan Stadium, whipping Minnesota 42-0 in a completely unmemorable contest. There were only 84,190 fans at the game (I was there; I just don’t have a single memory of that game); the smallest crowd of the 1972 season. I’d like to think that several thousand students were MIA because of sock hop exhaustion.
We reunited back in the early 80s at the Holiday Inn, did none of our old Javelin routines but talked about it until the early hours of two mornings. Other than a few individual meetings, that was the last time we’ve been together as a group.
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, shouting … “Grease for Peace!”

The day the ‘Gates’ came down

This is NOT about football, but it IS about sports, a young man and the kind of dreams that can only be satisfied by sitting in the stands of a stadium on a special day … and seeing your favorite team perform miracles through an athletes.
When I read of the passing this past weekend of Detroit Tigers outfielder-pinch-hitter extraordinaire Williams James “Gates” Brown (at the age of 74), I began surfing for photos of him during his Tiger career. Suddenly I spotted the photo you see here and I immediately knew where it came from and what had happened.
You see, I was there! Sunday, August 11, 1968, with his parents, sitting behind the first base (visiting) dugout at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium, celebrating my 16th birthday. Of all the possible presents, or methods to celebrate a pretty significant birth date, ALL I wanted was to be there, rooting for my all-time favorite team – for whom I always wanted to play first base as an adult.
My folks wanted me to be a doctor, lawyer or an accountant; I wanted to be the next Stormin’ Norman Cash (the pride of Justiceburg, Texas, as the late Ernie Harwell would introduce him). It would be my personal level of nirvana to have done that.
It was a grand afternoon and making the situation even more delicious, it was a (scheduled) doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox – back in the time when such twinbills were actually part of the MLB scheduling process. Two-for-one tickets – either as twilight doubleheaders or Sunday afternoon fare – were the biggest bargain in all sports; you paid just once, waited 20 minutes between final outs and first pitches, and got settled for another nine innings … or more.
On this afternoon, it was the “or more” that prevailed. The first game headed into the bottom of the 14th inning, even at 4-all, when Manager Mayo Smith sent up his best pinch-hitter, Gates Brown, a left-handed hitter to face Boston relief ace Sparky Lyle (he was a Red Sox before being traded to the Yankees).
A thunderous ovation greeted the man from Crestline, Ohio, who had earned the city’s trust and devotion as part of his eventual redemption that led his to baseball. A three-sport, all-state athlete in high school, he was recruited for football by Notre Dame, Ohio State … and the University of Michigan.
But Brown ran afoul of the law with a burglary conviction in 1958 and was sent to the Ohio State Reformatory for a three-year sentence (he served 22 months for that crime).
It was while in prison, Brown’s talent for mashing the crap out of a baseball was noticed by one of the guards, who began contacting major league teams to judge their interest. The one team stepping forward was Detroit, who eventually signed the man nicknamed “Gates” for his long home runs inside the prison walls.
Brown played only in a Tiger uniform from 1963-75 and was a vital member of that 1968 World Championship Tigers squad – one of the best teams in MLB history and one of its least appreciated. And on no other day than Aug. 11 was Gates Brown MORE vital than in that doubleheader.
A big, burly man, Brown filled up the batter’s box with his wide stance and no-stride approach. As he slowly rocked back-and-forth, he took one of Lyle’s sliders and crushed it on a straight line, no more than 10 feet off the ground, deep to right field. It left his bat like a cannon shot and cleared the fence with a few inches to spare, winning the marathon first game.
The celebration that followed when he crossed home plate, being mobbed by teammates Willie Horton and Mickey Lolich (the winning pitcher in relief during the time he was banished to the bullpen in 1968 – his World Series would come unexpectedly later).
My Dad and I only had a second or two to cheer; we both bolted for the nearest exit and the closest men’s room available. The 14 innings had taken a toll on both our bladders.
True to the word, 20 minutes later, Game Two started, much to the aggravation of my mother. She had made reservations at a top Detroit restaurant (Joe Muer’s) for my birthday dinner and this extra-lengthy afternoon was mucking up her plans.
I had learned the Yogi Berra-ism from my father, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” and Game 2 was running into nighttime. Down 7-3 headed to the bottom of the ninth, and ... again Lyle, the league’s best reliever, my mother, staring a hole through her watch, kept insisting we all leave.
However, I objected! A fish dinner was not worth the sight of Tiger Stadium at night and I had faith like Oral Roberts had healings. I wanted to stay and my Dad backed me up on this, “Diane, this IS his day after all.”
A single here, a single there, an error tossed into the mix by normally reliable Bosox shortstop Rico Petrocelli and a seeing-eye dribbler by superstar Al Kaline, miraculously tied the game. And up stepped Gates Brown.
My mother promptly announced, win or lose … or tie, we were departing after that inning, so I wished with all my might for a positive outcome.
With two outs and a 2-2 count on “The Gator,” he topped a fastball hard enough to roll under Lyle’s glove, through the infield, over the second base bag and into centerfield. As the winning run crossed the plate, the crowd (half of the original 46,000 sellout actually remainder) erupted as the Tigers again mobbed Brown, celebrated his heroics and took a stranglehold on the American League race (it was the final year of pennant races without divisional play, mind you).
The Muer’s reservation was out the door so we had a late dinner at some diner, which, with the awesome taste of victory, was a scrumptious meal.
That is how I remember Gates Brown, the highlight of a young boy’s 16th birthday and as a Tiger forever beloved.
Hopefully, beginning this weekend, the 2013 roster will dedicate its World Series chase to the memory of one of their own. Go get ‘em Tigers!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hola/welcome to Big Tex II

State fairs aren't really my thing. Too many people, too much walking. Far too much of that awful smell of overused grease/oil in the air from trying to make the entire population of Dallas-Fort Worth sick as dogs.
I avoid it like the plague EXCEPT if my granddaughter comes to town and wants to go ... then I'm the tour guide of ALL tour guides.
This year, the organizers have unveiled the NEW, improved (non-flammable) Big Tex - the symbol of all this Texan and State Fair-ish. Last year he tragically burned to a crisp (and even sadder, people might have mistaken the corpse for one of the ridiculous fried items - like butter, chocolate, ice cream, jello, etc.).
But one day before opening, the curtain came off the new Big Tex, and, honestly, upon first glance, he seems to have a slight tone of Hispanic to him. Not saying if it's right, wrong or whatever, it just appears to be that way ... which is guaranteed to be a topic for the next four weeks on conservative-blabbermouth DFW talk radio.
If the State Fair is your thing, by ALL means, enjoy! It IS the nation's largest and serves as the site for our annual North Texas Irish Festival on the first weekend of March (Feb. 28-March 1-2).
Except we might put a bonnie wee kilt on him!! :-)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Michigan-Connecticut: déjà vu all over again

The American greatest philosopher in the 20th century, was/is a man named Lawrence Peter Berra, commonly known to the world as “Yogi.” Born and raised in the Italian neighborhood of St. Louis, known as “The Hill,” he was more than just a baseball player and manager (with the Yankees) and Hall of Fame inductee in 1972; he was a man with a particularly marvelous way with the English language.
If you’ve ever repeated the words, “it ain’t over until it’s over,” thank Yogi. If you nodded in agreement to the statement, “90 percent of the game is half-mental,” Yogi strikes again.
So when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris went back-to-back hitting home runs one afternoon, Yogi uttered the immortal phrase that WILL live forever, “it was déjà vu all over again.”
With Yankee captain Derek Jeter (Kalamazoo native and an almost-Wolverine) sitting in the stands (and Yogi perhaps listening somewhere in his New Jersey home), the Michigan football team proved his statement to be true as all “git out,” Saturday night on a former air base in the middle of nowhere (also known as Connecticut).
The Wolverines, stinking up the joint worst than what those people smelled in that Nissan commercial (the one with Kaley Cuoco), allowed the Huskies (replete with some damn ugly headwear) to daydream at night for almost four quarters of embarrassing the 15th-ranked Wolverines on half-national television. It took a miraculous play and some extra Gatorade on the Michigan bench to escape with a 24-21 victory.
Brendan Gibbons’ 21-yard field goal with 4:36 to play concluded a run of 17 unanswered points for the Wolverines, and helped overcome yet another game of “hot potato football” played by the Michigan offense, and, in particular, junior quarterback Devin Gardner. For the fourth consecutive week, he was personally responsible for multiple turnovers (three of the four giveaways and all three committed on offensive snaps).
If it weren’t for the fact that freshman Shane Morris hasn’t played enough this season to even matter, and is fairly immobile from what has been viewed, there could be a quarterback controversy this week when the Wolverines have “bye” on the schedule for Saturday.
The early Las Vegas line has it as a “pick ‘em” for the bye.
You KNOW members of my generation (whether or not anyone indulged in certain mind-altering pharmaceuticals) were having one of flashbacks before their eyes to just one week earlier when it appeared Michigan was going to lose to Akron. As fast as you could say, “Zips-pah-dee-doo-doo,” when Husky Ty-Meer Brown scooped up a Gardner fumble (on a short yardage sneak, no less) and rumbled 34 yards for a 21-7 lead within the first 81 seconds of the second half, every Wolverine fan suddenly auditioned for “The Walking Dead.”
It was Zombieland all over Wolverine World.
BUT … in what MUST be the Play of the Year for Michigan, junior linebacker Desmond Morgan reached up with one paw into the humid night air at Rentschler Field, snagging a Chandler Whitmer pass at the UConn 41, and returned it to the Husky 12-yard line.
One play later, Fitzgerald Toussaint scored the second of his two touchdowns to tie the game at 21-all.
It was at that point Connecticut ran out of Red Bull/gasoline or keys for the student body to jangle in the air (really … as if they were snooty kids from a place like SMU). The subsequent UConn punt traveled only 32 yards and Drew Dileo ran it back to the UC 40; it would have been better field position if not for an unnecessary roughness on a block flag against UM.
Slowly, the Wolverines drove to the UC 4 in order for Gibbons to do what Husky kicker Chad Christen could not do when given his field goal opportunity in the third quarter. No one can say for sure why that kick, with the wind, was hooked like Tiger Woods’ tee-shots lately, but one had to ask when anyone had actually mowed that field in the past 12 months and why huge patches of turf were flying around as if the players were wearing nine-irons instead of cleats.
It got to be embarrassing.
Actually, it’s a lucky thing, or simply good fortune, to sit at home – practicing like they haven’t practiced all season – over the next two weeks. Michigan’s record might state 4-0, but it is not a quality undefeated record; it’s more like a Minnesota 4-0, or if Rutgers were already in the conference and posting a 4-0 mark.
It doesn’t mean what it SHOULD mean – dominance, power and excellence. No one watching last Saturday (either in person or on their computer screen on ESPN3 because it was blacked out on their home cable system in order to see Texas save Mack Brown’s coaching hide in Austin over an overrated Kansas State squad) could attached those words to the current UM program.
There is MUCH work to be done, in all aspects of the game, in every category (offense, defense, special teams).
Michigan STILL doesn’t show a receiver with enough speed to simply run a deep flag or post pattern, get behind a defender and catch the damn ball for a long yardage gain. In their defense, no one was shown they can accurately connect on such a playcall, without underthrowing the pass (for interceptions) or overthrowing the target (for incompletions).
No Michigan pass went for more than 17 yards and the per completion average was an unacceptable 8.8 yards. Perhaps for the first time since, the first year Rich Rodriguez was coach (and no starting QB even existed), UM had less than 100 yards passing in the game.
UM still hasn’t demonstrated a strong running game between the guards (and up the middle) and seemingly can only run on the same side of the field that senior tackle Taylor Lewan mans. Fitzgerald Toussaint’s two scores were around the end and past blocks by Lewan, into open field.
The other side of the o-line did not perform well Saturday, to put it mildly. Michigan saw 10 of its 72 plays stopped for negative yardage, including 57 while running the ball. If not corrected, Minnesota would come into Ann Arbor on Oct. 5 and spoil all of Michigan’s Homecoming plans.
The defense stuffed UConn for just 47 net yards rushing on 25 attempts, but before anyone thumps their chest, the Huskies were second-to-last in all of Division 1 in rushing yards. Save for Morgan’s heroics, there were times when Connecticut was able to throw at will on the Michigan secondary and its first two touchdown drives.
Even the kicking game still maintains problems. Punter Matt Wile shanked one kick for 30 yards and had one kickoff sail out of bounds, giving UConn possession at its own 35 (on its ill-fated field goal drive). Sorry, but there is no excuse for NOT kicking off within the field of play.
I’m sure by now, many of the Michigan faithful are insisting on carrying plenty of Alka-Seltzer when watching UM games. It IS getting tiresome to see the same mistakes over and over when you know they are being coached to do otherwise.
Still … a win is a win is a win…
Right, Yogi?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Zipping through mascot world

When I was a student at Michigan, I found a fortunate item in the lost and found drawer at The Michigan Daily – a knit wool cap – on a particularly cold January afternoon. It had gone unclaimed for months and the business manager didn’t care who wore it, so long as it provided comfort from the below-zero conditions.
That individual was me; and to this day, it has remained in my possession, emblazoned with the “Akron Zips” logo on the front, complete with a bouncing kangaroo (some 40 years later).
It could be a decade before Michigan’s football team plays a school with a more unique nickname than the University of Akron Zips. In a city and area, best known for being the Tire Capital of the World, the school has stuck with this strange moniker and even stranger mascot (which does not match the nickname at all).
The Zips stems from the term, “zippers,” which were the type of rubber overshoes (or boots), made by the B.F. Goodrich Company (headquartered in Akron), and that were very popular in the 1920s and 1930s.
In 1925, Akron held a campus-wide contest to select a nickname for the school’s athletic teams. Submissions by students, faculty and alumni included such entries as Golden Blue Devils, Tip Toppers, Rubbernecks, Hillbillies, Kangaroos and Cheveliers.
The winner was freshman Margaret Hamlin, and for her creative genius, she got a prize – $10 to buy some “Zippers.”
In 1950, athletic director Kenneth Cochrane officially shortened the nickname to Zips; which is not unprecedented in NCAA history. In the early 70s, Northwestern seemed tired of being Wildcats so the students were given a chance to change it.
However, the NU admission felt the students’ choice – Purple Haze – was NOT appropriate so, today, it remains the Wildcats.
The university’s live mascot is “Zippy,” a kangaroo, one of only a few female college mascots in the United States (A&M’s collie, Reveille, is also a female).
You might ask why Akron didn’t more directly itself with the industry is was best known for … tires and rubber products. The team could have been called the Radials, Flying Shoes, Tiger Paws, the Wheels … or a dozen other avenues.
Akron is tied to the railroad tracks of the tire industry like a damsel in distress.

Goodyear Tire and Rubber was founded in 1989 in Akron and its headquarters continue to house there.Interesting note: the company is named for Charles Goodyear, the man who invented vulcanized rubber (in 1839), but who had nothing to do with the actual business.
As mentioned, B.F. Goodrich began in Akron in 1870, and it was a fierce competitive battle between the tire giants.
However, as has been the case with many American industries, it has disappeared from the landscape; merging with Uniroyal in 1986 (sold in 1988 to Michelin) and by 2002, after going all-in with the aerospace industries, the official Goodrich name was gone from the scene.
Firestone was begun in 1900 (in Akron), but does not have its offices there anymore.
Firestone, thanks to a close relationship between Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford, kept its market share as the tire slapped on every Ford motor product produced off the assembly line.
Another name that no longer exist include General Tire (founded in Akron in 1915) before being sold to German-based Continental Tire.
It would NOT be unusual for a team to align itself closely with a familiar symbol of that community.
The Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL use the same logo on its helmets as created by U.S. Steel – the Steelmark logo belonging to the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI). The logo was a circle containing three hypocycloids.
In the 1950s, when helmet logos first became popular, the Steelers added players’ numbers to either side of their gold helmets. But towards the end of the 50s, those numbers were eliminated and replaced by the Steelmark symbol.
In fact, it was a suggested by a rival steel manufacturer (Republic Steel) in an “enemy” city – Cleveland. So in 1962, the Steelers unveiled a new helmet with the new logo on just one side.
The “M” on the current Milwaukee Brewers cap is the same as done every bottle of Miller beer (obviously the “brewer” of note).
It even happens on the high school level, here in Texas. Shiner is a town of about 3,000 people, and home to great sausage and the Spoetzel Brewery, which was at last home-owned beermaker in the state. There is hardly a Texan who doesn’t instantly recognize the products – Shiner Beer, Shiner Bock and a fistful of other beverages.
The high school football team plays on Friday nights and has the nickname “Comanches” on its program. BUT when the Comanches take the field, on both sides of their helmets resides the Shiner beer logo (without the word “beer,” of course).
Yet it is unmistakable where that logo came from – the front of a cold Shiner longneck.
Still … let’s NOT give Dave Brandon any new ideas! This needs to stay “un-Brandoned.”

Michigan-Akron: As bad as it looked

“You know how bad my voice sounds; well it feels just as bad.”
Babe Ruth, farewell speech to baseball, Yankee Stadium, 1948
To paraphrase the Bambino, “you know how bad your stomach sounded (in the final 50 seconds of Saturday’s game versus Akron); well it looked just as bad.”
The 28-24 version of “Escape from Ann Arbor” didn’t need Snake Plissken to snarl at anyone in the Michigan Stadium stands. Those folks among the 107,120 watching the debacle against a team which had lost 27 consecutive road games and was a 37-point underdog just KNEW things weren’t going to turn out well for the Wolverines.
After all, who is the hell were the damn Zips? What team, with any pride in itself, has a female kangaroo as a live mascot and is nicknamed for footwear worn in the depths of winter? The answer is ... the University of Akron, under the coaching of former Auburn mentor Terry Bowden, who outcoached his opposition and got his players to out-hustle and outplay the vaunted Michigan football program.
And if it wasn’t for one defensive blast from the past (the Rich Rodriguez era), it would have been the most embarrassing loss for U-M since 2008 when Michigan lost to Toledo at home in Rodriguez’s initial (disastrous) season. And that was pre-Tate Forcier …
What was needed, with five seconds left between victory or ignominious defeat, was the same call Rodriguez pulled out of the butt on Nov. 6, 2010 against Illinois on fourth down in the third overtime of a 67-65 defensive battle. RichRod asked to bring every defender on that final play to force a throw before anyone on Illinois was ready.
Déjà vu all over again and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison asked the entire student body to storm the pocket and force Zips QB Kyle Pohl to essentially throw the ball away on the final play.
Somewhere in Tucson, Rodriguez had to break a small smile.
Honestly, it should have never gotten to that point.
Now, all talk about Devin Gardner being the second coming of Rick Leach (still, to this day, the BEST dual threat at quarterback in U-M history) should be muzzled until the (still) young signal-caller proves he can play steadily without turning the ball over to the other squad. Thus far in 2013, despite some fairly gaudy passing and rushing numbers (that are echoes of Denard Robinson), Gardner is directly responsible for seven of the eight turnovers (one interception was tossed by backup QB Shane Morris against Central Michigan in garbage time).
Almost ALL of those miscues stem from poor choices by Gardner – much of it due to poor footwork in the pocket when he needs to escape pressure (he tends to turn INTO pressure rather than away from it). However, fans need to remember (in Gardner’s defense) it was just his eighth start at quarterback on a BCS level; that’s NOT a lot of time for a young player.
People will compare Gardner to Robinson for the next two years; that will be unavoidable. But when Robinson had problems, and committed a plethora of turnovers, it was against the likes of Notre Dame (en route to the BCS championship) or Ohio State – not Akron or Central Michigan.
Many, MANY questions will have to be answered during this week’s practices. Such as:
What has happened to the Wolverine punting game? Matt Wile is NOT the same punter who was a weapon for Michigan in the past two seasons. He is ONLY averaging 32.2 yards per punt (the 51-yard boot in the opener was made by Kenny Allen, not Wile).
And when opposing return yardage if factored into the equation, it’s just a hair over 30 yards, meaning the defense must face a shorter field to defend – a bad things on ANY level of competition. That’s a liability and a contending team cannot have such liabilities.
I’m not sure what solution is available. Colleges can’t pick up players on a waiver wire, or concoct a trade. You play with what you’ve recruited.
Sometimes kickers/punters are like relief pitchers in baseball – good one year and horrendous the next and no one can explain why. Three years ago, UM fans thought Brendan Gibbons couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn six inches away. Now, he is considered a fairly reliable three-point when he attempts a field goal (of course, as was par for the course, he missed his only try against Akron).
So things CAN change …
Where is the depth, in running back, people thought existed after the first two games?
Other than Gardner running out of the pocket when no receiver was available (as opposed to a pre-called quarterback option run), senior Fitzgerald Toussaint is the ONLY rushing option, and everyone – in the stands, in the press box and on the opposing coaching staff – knows it. The Akron game should have been one of those tryouts to see who would be in the Wolverine Running Idol finals.
No one made the grade and, because of circumstances, no one was invited to the audition. So will it happen at UConn this Saturday? Who knows and that question MUST be answered prior to the start of conference play.
Why can’t Michigan get any pressure on the opposing quarterback – either from the front four or linebackers? The Zips did not have the same size advantage this week as Notre Dame possessed last week, yet Akron, bouncing around like kangaroos, made Michigan look slower than “zippers” in a blizzard.
Either through better effort, or a re-crafted scheme, there MUST be consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback, or it WILL be a long, and unsuccessful, season. Hopefully the impending return of Jake Ryan, Michigan’s best pass rusher last year, will make things feel all better.
I’m sure many Michigan followers believed the Wolverines might well fall to a certain team from Ohio, but not THIS particular team. And all those churning stomachs in the stands had to feel as if their lunch was about to reappear in the most painful of manners. It was the type of game that induces involuntary vomiting; when it ends, you fell like a jockey, trying to make weight, just stuck his fingers down YOUR throat.
But the same fans, pointing fingers at problem areas for Michigan, need to take stock of what happened. First, some respect needs to be given to Akron; the Zips played with more passion and Bowden was the lead cheerleader. His defensive coordinator, former NC State head coach Chuck Amato (who spent 18 years as defensive coordinator with Bowden’s daddy, Bobby, at Florida State and has gotten rid of those ridiculous sunglasses he wore on the sidelines for the Wolfpack), did a whale of a job of forcing Michigan out of its comfort zone.
When your top three tacklers are secondary/safety people, it’s not a good thing, and when it was on offense, Akron constantly burned UM’s corners in the person of Zach D’Orazio and L.T. Smith. Poor Raymon Taylor was burned worse that a slice of rye bread in a cheap toaster.
When a third down stop was needed, Michigan only responded half the time (Akron converted 9 of 18 third-down situations, and actually ran more plays from scrimmage than Michigan).
Now … after ALL that has been said, written and spoke, there is a bottom line not given proper due – Michigan WON! In 2012, Notre Dame played most of its games looking like a bad Irish stew, outplayed at least half of those victories.
But … they were victories, not losses. This goes into the scorebook as a win and that IS what counts at the end of the day. What would you really do – win ugly or lose ugly? THAT answer is obvious to a blind man.
It was also a bad 24 hours for the Big 10 Conference; all but one of the schools previously ranked in the top 25 fell in the polling. Ohio State, blessed its’ cheatin’ little heart, remained at number 4, but all but one of the first-place votes went to defending national champion Alabama (and one vote for the Day-Glo mello yello Oregon).
Nebraska, up 21-3 over UCLA (at home), surrendered the final 41 points of the game and slinked out of the top 25. It’s just rewards for donning terrible uniforms (black tops in front of a crowd yelling “Go Big Red!”).
Along with Michigan’s debacle (resulting in a drop of four spots to 15th), Wisconsin looked bad in Tempe, falling to Arizona State; Penn State lost at home to Central Florida; Washington beat Illinois in Chicago’s Soldier Field; and Purdue lost an early lead and fell to Notre Dame, 31-24.
And based on strength of schedule, no Big 10 team defeated any team that could generously be called “quality.” The vanquished opposition, for those conference teams winning Saturday, consisted of Youngstown State (them Penguins), Bowling Green (ugliest colors in college football), Iowa State (perhaps the worst team in the Big 12, along with Charley Weis-led Kansas), California (NOT a Pac-12 powerhouse), Western Illinois and Western Michigan (I thought westerns were dead).
As said, it was NOT a red letter day for the Big 10.