Football hit me Saturday

August 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Football hit me like Tom Novak Saturday morning.

I woke up to open windows and cool air; an overcast sky. 68 degree weather. I was instantly thrusted back to the late 90s when I’d wake up late on Saturdays with the windows open and the leaves on our front yard maple becoming a telling hue of amber. I could almost hear snare drums snapping from the living room TV where my dad would be watching the early Big Ten games.

Football hit me like the season’s first tunnel walk Saturday afternoon.

I drove west on I-80 with the windows down from Omaha to Lincoln, listening Gary Clarke Jr. as high as my car stereo allowed. The number of times I’ve made this drive is comparable to the number of consecutive sellouts Nebraska owns, but this drive was special. I never thought the sight of dried brittle cornstalks along the interstate could invoke so much anticipation and excitement. I’m not old enough to feel fall in my bones, but I could feel it in my mind.

Football hit me like a wild pitch Saturday afternoon as I traveled to Haymarket Park to cover my final baseball game of the season.

I’ve developed a love for baseball I never thought I’d have over the past three months, but I knew it was time for football when I found myself wondering what the strong safety was doing batting seventh for the Saltdogs. I had to pause for a moment before I remembered that SS still means shortstop for 10 more days. The designated hitter I interviewed after the game (a Missouri native) told me he could feel the fans counting down the days to the Huskers’ first kickoff.

Football hit me like a 4-year NCAA bowl ban Saturday night.

It was a bittersweet realization that this might be my last season of traditional fandom of college football. By season’s end, I may even be working as a reporter covering football in some aspect. It’s likely going to be my last round of Saturdays for a long time that I get to sit in one spot for 11 hours and cycle anxiously between CBS, FOX and ESPN. While I’m ready to begin a career covering the thing that I love most, I’ll miss the sensation on the of plopping down on the couch with a cold red cup and watching the scores roll across the bottom of the screen after walking back from Memorial Stadium; voice hoarse and adrenaline still pumping.

Football hit me like a four-team playoff Sunday morning when I woke up and really thought about the next chapter of football in my life.

As I sit here typing I dream, no, expect to be doing it for a living one day. Since pursuing a journalistic career, I’ve come to the conclusion on my own that if you’re paid to do what you used to do in your free time, there’s no such thing as work. Like the playoff, it will be different, but I think it’s for the best.

Autumn is when I’m at my finest and when I think life is at its finest. The air is cool and dry and the sun is gentle and warm. Nebraska is tenfold more beautiful and vibrant in the fall, and UNL campus is an even more concentrated sample. Tradition and camaraderie are palpable, like simpler times.

I only know two words that do justice the ecstasy of fall.

Football season.

 

***

Quick hits:

-I’m glad to see Augusta National finally allowed two women to become members, Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, a South Carolina businesswoman. Even though this had become somewhat of a nonissue after the Masters thanks to some brilliant PR work by the Augusta board, they still overturned an archaic and flawed tradition. My thoughts were that once it got to the point when Augusta’s only argument for disallowing women was the strength and duration of the traditional, the argument is no longer valid. Slavery was once a strong tradition too.

-I’m excited that the role of ESPN broadcaster Joe Tessitore is expanding this fall. He’s always had a great voice and has done a good job of transcending boxing in my mind – something his voice was always synonymous with me for. Brad Nessler is still my favorite (not because of NCAA football, I don’t even play video games) but I’m glad Tessitore will be heard more.

-I can’t remember entering a football season in Nebraska that felt quite this way in a long time. I’m not sure if the fan base is becoming more polarized with expectations and opinions of Bo Pelini or if standards are genuinely low this year. There are a lot of people I’ve spoken too that wouldn’t be shocked with a .500 record for Nebraska.

-I’ve always liked Lane Kiffin in some strange sense, but I like him a lot more now. You have to respect a coach who can build a title contender with what he’s working with, even if it is in Southern California. This Gregg Doyel column didn’t hurt his cause either. Finally, I love and admire his stance on the coach’s poll. Having coaches rank teams is ridiculous. How many times has Bo Pelini said on record that he doesn’t even watch football? “I’m a baseball guy” is his usually response to questions about watching sports.

-Sam McKewon of the Omaha World Herald had a fantastic passage in his Monday football report about Nick Saban’s method with some really simple but telling numbers. Definitely worth the quick read.

-I’m as excited as I’ve ever been for the NFL this year. My AFC might look like a real division this year, and the NFC North is going to be a blast to watch. I can’t wait to see if it’s the Giants again or some other team that upsets the Patriots in the Super Bowl after they rip through the moist towelette known as the AFC East. Give me Justin Blackmon for Offensive Rookie of the Year and Melvin Ingram on defense.

Categories: Random Links

Solution to the ‘problem’ that’s not going anywhere, Part I

August 6, 2012 2 comments

Bo Pelini and I don’t have much in common as far as life goes. Next to nothing would be safe to say.

But the one thing we have in common (to a certain degree) is that our jobs reach an audience larger than our immediate personal and professional circles. Even still we have our differences there, because Pelini’s audience is significantly bigger than mine. Hopefully my audience can compare someday.

Sometimes Bo expresses his opinions, and sometimes I get to express my opinions in an editorial column. I haven’t had many published, but I know three things about expressing my opinion to a large audience of strangers; (1) don’t talk down to your audience, (2)don’t tell your audience how they should feel and (3) don’t tell your audience what to do.

So when Pelini told reporters at Big Ten Media Days that the Nebraska football program receives a “constant barrage” of criticism (good and bad) I want one thing: Honesty. I want the people surrounding the football program to preach what they practice.

It’s no secret that the football team lives in a fishbowl, as Zach Lee said. Every move is analyzed and scrutinized, written about and commented on. That won’t change, no matter how bad Pelini wants.

My colleague Steve Sipple and the World Herald’s Tom Shatel each wrote similar columns in response to Bo’s remarks about the fans and outside influence. Shatel told him to embrace it, Sipple said deal with it. Because again, Twitter, Facebook, message boards and Husker fandom aren’t going anywhere.

I wouldn’t be the first to call Pelini stubborn, but I would be in the minority calling him stupid. Idiots don’t become millionaire D-1 head football coaches.

That’s why it confuses me when Bo shuns the media with short, often curt answers. Whenever a reporter asks an “X’s and O’s” type question, his response is always something along the lines of “you wouldn’t understand.” His trademark response is “what do you think?”

Remember what I said about not talking down to your audience?

So I’m confused when he thinks that if he’s he shuts out media enough, they’ll go away. We’re not going anywhere. Husker Football drives the bus in Nebraska. Without the revenue generated from NU football, I probably wouldn’t have a job.

Fans may coddle their head coach and defend him to the ‘death’ on ESPN message boards, but they aren’t concerned with keeping him content. They want wins. These they want wins immediately.

So I get puzzled when a smart man thinks any of this is going to change.

Fans won’t stop being fickle. NU will continue to be the 1985 Bears when they win and the 1976 Buccaneers when they lose. It’s fair for the fans supporting your program to expect an explanation when you lose to 5-7 Texas or 6-6 Northwestern. Especially when one of them is the most talked up game in five years.

Pelini and his team have found themselves in some wins that were unexpected, but more of the surprises were losses. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the coach trying to justify a 9-7 loss to Iowa State after all those turnovers.

So what’s my ground-breaking solution? Honesty. And I’m not being sarcastic when I say ground-breaking.

How many coaches went on the record and said “We read the newspapers and pay attention to ESPN”? None. But they all do pay attention. A Husker quarterback once told me his favorite sites were ESPN and anything college-football related. After that infamous loss to Northwestern in 2011, receiver Kenny Bell told me the players don’t pay attention to the haters. By the time I packed up my notes and tape recorder to write my story six blocks away, he was on twitter responding to individuals calling Nebraska a bad offensive team. Most tweets were ended with “SMDH”.

It’s hard to imagine NU’s flat play in the loss to the “revenge game” against Texas in 2010 didn’t involve the overblown anticipation and hype.

Countless times Bo has stressed that he doesn’t “pay attention to media or newspapers”.

You remember Bo’s tirade on Dirk Chatelain of the World Herald after Nebraska’s comeback win over Ohio State in 2011. He began his attack on Dirk by telling him that he read his article, and Martinez played well despite the criticism.

Sounds to me like they’re paying attention.

Pelini made a step in the right direction at Big Ten media days acknowledging that his team is influenced by the fans, namely social media. To his credit, he does have the power to ban Twitter from his players. He’s exercised that right before. I thought he was completely reasonable in doing so after Eric Martin’s bone-headed tweets about players needing stipend checks to survive college. Apparently a free degree isn’t enough anymore.

I’m sure the thought of taking advice on how to run a football team from a lowly reporter would make Bo cringe, but it wouldn’t hurt to take the suggestions into consideration.

Deal with it, as Sipple said, because it’s not going anywhere.

Embrace it, as Shatel said, because it’s not hard to use it to your advantage.

Be honest about it, as I said, because you’re currently not fooling anyone.

Fans won’t always appreciate reasoning for wins and losses, but they will always appreciate honesty.

Categories: Random Links

Summer Sports Doc Series

June 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Summer, at least according to the calendar and not to mother nature, is upon us tomorrow. The NBA finals and CWS will be over within the next week, and baseball will be heading into the MLB All-Star break soon. Unless you are into watching re-runs of Sportscenter or the 2010 Pool trick shot competition, the TV won’t be cutting it until we watch Michael Phelps swim for gold in London.

I need to fill that gap. “But with what, Taylor?” I’m glad you asked. Sports documentaries!

We are all familiar with ESPN’s award winning ’30 for 30′ series. “The Two Escobars” was amazing! “The Marinovich Project” was quite intriguing. “Roll Tide/War Eagle” made me still dislike both teams. But since no new ESPN docs will hit the TV screens until the fall, I began looking for other sports documentaries.

With that, I am proud to announce the Summer Sports Doc Series! Every week I will be watching 1 movie and be posting my comments, remarks, and ideas about said videos until July 27th. 5 movies, 5 weeks. Easy task.
Here’s where your help comes in. I have posted the first 2 documentaries below. Why don’t you watch them with me and post your opinions on them as well. It’s a book club, but with movies, and we meet on the internet. No reading, no traveling, no costs (except time)!
—–

This first one can relate to OKC being in the finals and with me living in Seattle currently.

1. Sonicsgate: Exposing the truth behind the Seattle SuperSonics’ tragic exodus after 41 years in the Emerald City
Date of post: June 25

A movie not so much on a sport, but a topic that can be found in all sports.

2. Bigger Stronger Faster*: a 2008 documentary film directed by Christopher Bell about the use of anabolic steroids as performance-enhancing drugs in the United States and how this practice relates to the American Dream.
Date of post: July 2

After these 2 the gates are open. If you have any ideas let me know. Some of my other choices are ‘Undefeated’, ‘Bobby Fischer against the world’, ‘Dogtown and Z-boys‘, ‘The King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters’, and many others. Keep in mind I’m looking for videos that everyone can access (preferably no torrents but we will see) Let me know!

Categories: Random Links

Anatomy of an underdog

June 11, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s tough to find anything the city of Omaha loves more than the College World Series. If I had to name one thing, it would be an underdog.

It’s human nature to pull for the comeback, root for the little guy, see the proverbial David bean Goliath. In Omaha where I’m proud to say I’m from, this holds truer than anywhere I’ve ever been. But it’s also been easy to root for the underdogs in Omaha.

Look back to 2006, the first of Oregon State’s national title runs. It wouldn’t have mattered if they came from Corvallis, Oregon or Tampa, Florida.

You try not rooting for a longshot team named the Beavers.

After the Beavers’ run ended, along came the 8-seed Fresno State Bulldogs. Again, easy pickings with a 8-seed cracking the bracket, especially when the other seven teams were traditionally perennial powerhouses. Fresno State was the poor kid at the private school.

2009 got a bit sticky with Southern Miss and Virginia. Southern Miss was the obvious pick save Virginia, whose coach Brian O’Connor hailed from none other than Omaha, NE. Neither team took home the hardware and fandom had a pretty even split.

Next year’s Omaha baby was another can of corn – the TCU Horned Frogs. Football helped put the school’s name in the media, but it wouldn’t have mattered. TCU was the obvious choice, especially with All-American pitcher Matt Purke, the dude with the goofy athletic glasses and even goofier demeanor. Like 2009, the other seven participants were mainstays.

Last year’s might have been the easiest choice of them all, California. The Golden Bear baseball program was in hospice before the (quite literally) nothing-to-lose squad went and made the big dance on the big diamond. M. Night Shaymalan thought it was an outrageous twist. If you live in or near Omaha, you still don’t go very long between Cal baseball hat sightings.

This year Omaha is burdened with a Sophie’s Choice-esque decision; Stony Brook or Kent State. The MAC Champion Golden Flashes or the (allow me a moment to look up Stony Brook’s conference) American East Cinderellas?

Kent State looked like Omaha’s team early in the super regional round when they stole game one from Oregon. Before Omahans had a chance to preorder their Golden Flashes attire, Stony Brook took down annual Omaha visitor LSU clinching their spot in the College World Series.

It’s going to be tough for Omaha to spurn Stony Brook, a team name you usually only saw on the ticker once per college football Saturday when they’re playing Colgate.

There’s also that fact that Stony Brook had a very impressive tournament run, making them look far more likely to outlast Kent State, and justify that $28 Seawolves t-shirt that no one is going to be believe you owned before this week. I mean, they did beat LSU. Everyone wants to say they picked the eventual winner – but to also pick a Cinderella team? You could feel smug and good about yourself at the same time!

Tigers coach Paul Manieri said there might not be a better baseball team out there than Stony Brook. Maybe he really thinks the Seawolves can win it all. Or yaybe he’s just trying to justify to the country the fact that the class of the SEC just lost to a team named after a small generic body of water. You decide.

So Omaha and CWS patrons, you must choose. You can go the absolutist route and root for Stony Brook in their first ever trip the greatest show on dirt. Or you could take the pro-underdog hipster route and route for Kent State because everyone else will be rooting for Stony Brook. You can go the vintage route and dig up the Florida, Florida State, South Carolina, UCLA or Arizona hat. You could take the nostalgic path and root for former NU coach Dave Van Horn and Arkansas. Something tells me that won’t be happening.

Personally I’m pulling for UCLA, because those blue and gold Red Sox knock-off hats are just the cat’s pajamas.

Categories: Random Links

On Walden Water Hazard

February 16, 2012 Leave a comment

For my Idol, Rick Reilly

Believe it or not, I’m not a good golfer, and by simply being a human being, odds are you aren’t either. But do I have fun golfing? You bet an over-ketchup’d hot dog and $6 Michelob Ultra I do.

I’ve learned that there are two kinds of weekend golfers; those who go to have fun, and those who actually have the fun. I used to be the former.

But at least now I can stand back and laugh when my divot flies further than my ball.

One summer one of my best friends taught me how to put together a decent golf swing. I was better than most beginners. I thought next the April I’d be taking the Green Jacket off Tiger Woods’ back. Imagine Tiger’s relief that summer when he donned the Green Jacket and I was still searching for my ball in the tall grass.

I used to shell out $40 on Sunday for fits of rage between rides in a golf cart because I’m about as good at golf as Carl Lewis is at singing anthems. If donating golf balls to water hazards was tax deductible, there’d be a foundation named after me. There are archaeologists in Egypt who haven’t dug through as much sand as I have. I’ve sliced more golf balls than a driving range mower blade.

I used to be that pretentious ass who went through putters of 32 inches, 36 inches and 34 inches before I figured out the inches that really matter are the six between my ears.

Malcolm Gladwell, a man wiser than you and me once said it takes 10,000 hours to master your craft. If you’re my age, you should be worried about hitting the books, not hitting the fairway. If you’re my dad’s age, well, you probably don’t have 10,000 hours of free time left anyways. So chill out and enjoy the scenery between strokes – before you have one.

Let the CEOs buy the expensive Callaways at Sports MegaStore Incorporated, because the clubs you’re using affect your score about as much as the bag you carry them around in. You’re not going to be the next Tiger Woods. You’re not even going to be the next Austin Bowen. (The guy who finished dead last on last year’s Hooters Tour, which yes, is a real thing) And for the love of Hogan, don’t waste $15 on a sleeve of golf balls that’ll be lost before your next outing is over.

Save your money for those $6 Michelob Ultras, and tip that pretty blonde beer cart girl; she won’t judge you for cracking a beer at 10 a.m. on a Sunday.

Categories: Random Links

The athlete’s sacrifices for greatness and what it means to the fan

January 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Some time ago when a player was great, he or she was beloved. Now they are questioned.

In the microscope today’s athlete lives under, a publicist’s job is a lot harder. It seems like corruption and scandal soiled sports at every level in recent years, but the phenomenon is nothing new.

Cam Newton will forever be remembered as one (if not THE) greatest college football players ever, and will always live under the dark cloud of the “pay for play” scandal he allegedly took part in at Auburn. Pete Carroll’s USC teams of the mid-2000’s were the closest thing to a dynasty college football has seen since Florida State and Nebraska in the 90’s, and will always be accompanied by the ugly asterisk of stripped national titles and awards after investigation of the program.

Tiger Woods was arguably on the fast track to ousting Michael Jordan as the greatest professional athlete of all time, before, well, you know the story. And the aforementioned Jordan? His arrogance and penchant for grudge-holding set me over the metaphoric edge today when I read Thomas Lake of Sports Illustrated’s profile of Clifton “Pop” Herring, Jordan’s high school coach who “cut” him, motivating Michael to become the greatest.

If you want to spare 12 pages of profile, the article brings to light the actual details of Jordan’s high school playing career. Jordan’s sophomore year, Coach Herring gave 6-foot-7-inch sophomore Leroy Smith the last spot on the varsity in order to give Laney High School the height they desperately needed in the middle. Jordan landed on the JV team for just one year.

If you’ve listened to Jordan speak about what drives him, you’ve heard about his high school coach that “cut” him, the coach that MJ set out “to prove wrong.” That’s Coach Herring.

That’s the same coach that welcomed Jordan into his home whenever he wanted, feeding him, lending him his truck. And placed him on varsity just one year later. The coach that helped him find his way to the University of North Carolina.

***

I’m a fan of Cam Newton. I watched USC in amazement when Pete Carroll (who I still believe is a magnificent coach) led the Trojans during their run last decade. I still maintain that Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer ever to walk the planet and will watch him walk Augusta until the day he can’t walk anymore or my eyes can’t see him do it. I’ll never forget watching Air Jordan sink the jumper against Utah in the finals as child, not even knowing why I loved him so much.

I’m a fan of theses athletes, not necessarily of these people. So what about their sacrifices?

If you like sports in any capacity, you know you don’t succeed without making sacrifices. The hours put in, the money spent, the heartache endured – but what else? What about socially? emotionally? Psychologically?

Larry Bird was great at the cost of his childhood. Bird didn’t have friends, so he played around the world by himself until he was perfect. When he was perfect, he played around the world by himself until every shot hit nothing but net.

Todd Marinovich, one time USC quarterback also sacrificed his entire childhood to become the quarterback he was as a Trojan. He succumbed to addiction of hard drugs for years after fizzling out of the NFL. Did he sacrifice his stability? His sanity?

Tiger Woods also sacrificed his childhood. Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his famed book “Outliers” that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master one’s craft, which usually comes sometime around your mid thirties. By all accounts, Woods likely had those 10,000 hours in before he had a driver’s license.

Michael Jordan’s fuel comes from a persistent need to disprove people, from unfathomable grudges. Did he sacrifice his reputation? His likability? After years of arrogance, he affirmed the belief with his NBA Hall of Fame acceptance speech “crediting” his success to all those who “doubted” him.

There’s countless examples that make you wonder exactly what it is a great player sacrificed to become who they are. Would Jordan be the greatest without the angst raging inside of him there to fuel him? If Woods hadn’t grown up with such an intense resolve, personality and competitiveness, would he be the short-tempered champion he is today? Would Larry Bird go down as one of the purest shooters to hit the hardwood if he had friends like any normal kid?

***

 Sadly in today’s sport’s world not only is everything scoured by the media, but also scandal selling a hell of a lot more papers than good news. But the phenomenon is nothing new.

Corruption in sports has been around much longer than me, and much longer than my parents. And their parents, and their parents’ parents. It’s the same with unpleasant secrets and details about our beloved athletes and the sacrifices they made. Even Joe DiMaggio discreetly smoked his cigarettes in the dugout to keep kids from seeing him. These days, he couldn’t buy a pack of cigarettes without being hounded by cameras.

So remember, in this generation, one that seems riddled with scandals that bring down the greats, try to remember we’re not in a dark age of sports. We’re living in what I like the call the “Dark Knight” days of sports, and the coach’s office is Gotham City. Perpetrators of corruption in scandal in sports are taking notice and thinking twice.

Remember, you can’t put every great athlete’s sacrifice down on a spreadsheet. You may not like it, but some players may have sacrificed a value you hold dear in order to become who they are, whether intentional or not. Being great comes at an incredible cost, and it isn’t always pleasant or likable. Be careful of who your “role model” is because as we’re seeing in recent years, less and less athletes are as worthy to be role models as we once thought.

Remember, it’s not our generation of athletes, it’s our generation of awareness. Some would rather not know what their favorite athlete is really like; for times more like that of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. Remember these athletes have made great sacrifices to become the champion that you and I are not.

***

If you have any interest in Michael Jordan, and I mean any, do yourself a favor and read the Sport’s Illustrated article linked above. It’s a beautifully written piece about the coach that according to Jordan “cut him” and underestimated him. It’s a prime example of why I personally try to be strictly a fan of the player not the person.

Categories: Rant, Uncategorized

Week One Top 25

September 4, 2011 Leave a comment

1. Alabama

2. Oklahoma

3. LSU

4. Stanford

5. Boise State

6. Oregon

7. Texas A&M

8. Virginia Tech

9. Oklahoma State

10. Wisconsin

11. Florida State

12. Arkansas

13. Ohio State

14. South Carolina

16. Florida

17. Penn State

18. Nebraska

19. Baylor

20. Mississippi State

21. Houston

22. Michigan State

23. Arizona State

24. Northwestern

25. Central Florida