It goes without saying that the most difficult endeavor anyone takes up at the collegiate level is forming an intramural flag football team. The mere logistics are frightening: finding at least 10 people who can agree to not be drunk for the same two-hour span, one day a week; figuring out what sporting goods store will sell the cheapest pair of cleats and accept their return two months later with no questions asked; rejecting at least two dozen Anchorman references as suggested team names; and, of course, bullying the dude with the lowest opinion of his athletic abilities into playing center.
Take that situation and extrapolate it into creating a college football team from the ground up, and one that’s going to challenge someone other than the Pi Lam dudes. It takes a leader of inordinate energy and charisma, someone with youthful vigor, a strong sense of purpose, a refusal to look the other way when difficulties arise. Obviously, someone like Phil Fulmer.
In case you were busy winding down all of your Italian business interests, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Trevor Mbakwe and the Minnesota Golden Gophers upset top-ranked Indiana, 77-73 in Minneapolis. Mbakwe, who started his college career playing for Indiana head coach Tom Crean at Marquette, said, "Something about Crean brings out the best in me. Maybe it's his smile that says at once, 'I care,' and 'I know this isn't forever.' Maybe it's that 'come-hither' stare, in which worlds are created and destroyed in his irises every time he blinks behind his wire-framed glasses. Maybe it's his lyrical name, 'Tom Crean.' All I know is, when I see his face, I'm compelled to be at once my best and worst self."
In case you were busy preparing to confess your sins to Oprah for some reason, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Wisconsin notched their 11th straight win against Indiana, upsetting the no. 2 Hoosiers, 64-59, in Bloomington. After the game, Indiana head coach Tom Crean said, "Oh, those rascals got us again, but wait until next time when we deploy our secret weapon," gesturing at a large wooden crate labeled "Acme Explosive Basketballs." Crean then picked up one of the basketballs and started to cackle, only to have it explode in his hands, leaving his grimacing face covered in soot.
Despite missing Chris Paul for a second straight game, the Los Angeles Clippers continued their torrid play, beating the Houston Rockets on the road, 117-109. Though the Clippers' captain told the media "I'm really happy for those guys, and I'm glad they're able to get some W's without me" after the game, a visibly downtrodden Paul was seen making a Spotify playlist called "Better Off Without Me," featuring both "Stay" by Lisa Loeb and "Torn" by Natalie Imbruglia.
Kentucky avoided a second straight SEC defeat, notching a 75-65 home win against Tennessee. Kentucky head coach John Calipari remained upset with his team after the game, telling the media, "With what those guys get paid, avoiding losing streaks is not good enough." When asked to elaborate, Calipari declined, saying, "Nice try, but I'm not going to incriminate myself wait, what did I say just a second ago? Like right before this?" A particularly sweaty Calipari then proceeded to tell the gathered media that the entire press conference was off the record, and if they told anyone about it, he would totally deny everything.
The Lakers won their second straight game, topping Milwaukee, 104-88, at Staples Center with Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant scoring 31 points apiece. "Point brothers," Howard said after the game, slapping his teammate Bryant on the back. "Pretty neat, huh Kob-meister?" Bryant did not respond to Howard at the time, but was later seen disdainfully muttering "Kob-meister" as he watched the first half-hour of a bootlegged copy of Zero Dark Thirty on repeat.
The Chicago Bears took their head coaching search north, hiring Montreal Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman to replace Lovie Smith. Trestman, considered a quarterbacks guru, prepared Brandon Weeden, Brock Osweiler, Jason Campbell, Tim Tebow, and current Bears quarterback Jay Cutler for quarterbacking in the NFL. "Wait, are you serious?" said Bears General Manager Phil Emery after being shown the list. "Oh, no. I swear he only mentioned Jay. He didn't say anything about those other guys. I really should've done my due diligence on this one."
The San Diego Chargers introduced former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy as their new head coach. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers responded to the news by saying, "Oh, man, I never thought I'd escape being coached by Norv Turner. It's like I'm Fantine and this McCoy guy is Jean Valjean, you know? Here, I'll show you." Rivers then proceeded to sing a mournful rendition of Fantine's "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables, before laboriously drawing out the parallels between the lyrics of the song and his plight as a famous athlete playing for an underachieving team. A particularly hoarse Rivers then proceeded to tell the gathered media that the entire song was off the record, and if they told anyone he sang it, he would totally deny hitting that high E.
Australian Sam Stosur crashed out of the Australian Open, losing her second-round match to China's Zheng Jie, 6-4, 1-6, 7-5. "Lemme guess," said golfer Greg Norman when approached by a reporter on his way to his car Wednesday morning, "you want to know what I'd say to Samantha. I'd say, 'Get deeper in the tournament before you choke next time, so maybe The Shark won't be the Australian on call anytime one of his countrymen blows chunks under pressure.'" Sadly for Norman, the reporter had been there to profile his charity work, but after the unpleasant encounter, ran with the unexpected Norman-Stosur feud angle instead.
Former Yankees closer Rafael Soriano signed a two-year, $28 million contract with the Washington Nationals. "To all the Washington fans out there, I'm here to earn my contract, and not be another Jayson Werth," said Soriano upon his introduction. Werth, who was watching the press conference alone from his palatial estate, hung his head upon hearing Soriano's words. "I wasn't that bad last year when I played … eh, who am I kidding? No one wants to be another Jayson Werth. Not even me." A single tear then trickled down Werth's cheek, which a servant wiped off his face before Werth had a chance to launch into his own mournful rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream."
Manassas Junction, Virginia, 1861 — It's July 21, and the Civil War is about to begin for real. Union soldiers march south from Washington, D.C., to meet the Confederates, and the feeling throughout the north is that the rebels will hightail it back south after they get massacred on day one. The high muckety-mucks from D.C. — congressmen, business owners, and various other rich people — come down to picnic and watch the rout. Instead, after a long day of fighting, Stonewall Jackson and the Confederates send their enemies into a headlong retreat for Washington. As they flee north, the soldiers find the roads blocked by the panicked civilians who had come to watch the end of the pesky rebellion. And that's how the Battle of Bull Run ended.
I was a Civil War nerd as a kid, so it probably figures that while watching the Pac-12 shock the world last Saturday, I thought of Bull Run. It was the conference's best day in years, and it completely transformed their image around the country. The three ranked teams did their job, and that was expected — USC beat Syracuse, Oregon beat Fresno State, Stanford beat Duke. But the little guys did their part, too. Arizona dominated no. 18 Oklahoma State at home, Oregon State stunned no. 13 Wisconsin, UCLA outgunned no. 16. Nebraska in one of the best games of the weekend, and Arizona State destroyed Illinois. (Only Washington disappointed in the high-profile games, failing to make a dent against the Baton Rouge Tigers of the NFL's Second Division.)
There are now five Pac-12 teams in the AP top 25, and two more within sniffing distance. It's a revolution! The games were mostly at home, sure, but even under those circumstances the odds were long. Yet the mighty programs of the Big 10 and Big 12 left with their tails between their legs, fans in tow, realizing they'd underestimated the enemy. Week 2 was the Pac-12's Bull Run, and now everyone has to take them seriously.
So I'm calling it: This is the year of the Pac-12. Here are three more semi-ignorant reasons to love the rejuvenated conference.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
Roger Clemens, 50 years old and pitching for the first time in five years, threw 3.1 scoreless innings for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Independent Athletic League. Afterward, when the Skeeters owner found Clemens in the locker room and tried to give him his check, Clemens just shook his head. "Forget the money," he said. "I just want 10 minutes alone in Sugar Land. No cameras, no security guards, no judgment. Just me and that sugar paradise for 10 glorious, weird minutes." The man tried to explain that Sugar Land was just a town name, but Clemens had already slipped into a drooling trance.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
The no. 6 Duke Blue Devils are now 14-0 all-time at the Maui Invitational, beating no. 15 Michigan 82-75 to advance to the tournament final. After the game, Coach K phoned NCAA president Mark Emmert and literally hissed at him until a terrified Emmert agreed to hold the next 10 Final Fours in Maui.
I realize A Triumph of Discipline sounds like a propaganda film from a particularly unsavory totalitarian regime. Luckily, what happened in Maui yesterday was a little less sinister. In essence, three of the four quarterfinal games involved a team with a defined system defeating a team with a looser style of play. Let's start with the opener.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Rob Gronkowski caught two touchdown passes from Tom Brady as the Patriots beat the Chiefs 34-3 in Monday Night Football. Later that night, according to a group of angry, drunken Chiefs fans, he probably also caught mononucleosis from Brady.
In 1982, two days before Christmas, Ralph Sampson and the no. 1 Virginia Cavaliers found themselves in Honolulu facing a tiny NAIA Catholic school called Chaminade. Sampson was in the midst of his senior campaign, only months from earning his third straight Player of the Year award, and the Cavaliers were returning from Japan, where they had beaten the Phi Slamma Jamma Houston team and Utah to move to 8-0 on the season. Meanwhile, Chaminade had lost at home to a 5-9 NAIA team called Wayland Baptist just two days before.
Alexander Wolff wrote an excellent account of the ensuing drama in 2007 for Sports Illustrated, and the 77-72 Silverswords victory remains one of the greatest upsets in the sport. Some of the quotes Wolff got from the players and coaches are priceless. For instance, here's head coach Merv Lopes on the team that pulled off a miracle: "The guys came from all different backgrounds and weren't too stable," Lopes says, "But they played hard and played together."
First off, anybody who clicked this blog post is a sick soul who likes to revel in the pain of others. The bad news is, that makes you an emotionally stunted human. The good news is, you're among friends.
One of our main gambits here at Grantland is to chronicle the misfortune of others, and I like to think we approach the task with just the right amount of glee. How else can you explain the dual act of convening a panel to vote on the city facing the toughest time in sports, and then mocking them? We're the bad guys in this movie, and there's no uplifting ending. In fact, the ending is the saddest part of all — the most depressed city. It's a little like Forrest Gump, if Gump had accidentally fallen into a manhole in the first 20 minutes and the rest of the movie was about Lieutenant Dan getting progressively angrier in a traffic jam.
And now it's November, which is a sad month in its own right, what with all those turkeys being hunted. So as you might guess, we're in pretty high spirits.
By my count, there are 2.5 HUGE games left on the college football schedule between now and bowl season. The .5 is LSU-Arkansas on Nov. 25. It falls short of a full point only because I don't believe Arkansas has a legitimate chance to win. We've been over this before — the Razorbacks have one loss, but it was an unvarnished throttling against Alabama, and a handful of their eight wins (Ole Miss and Vanderbilt especially) have not been impressive. Nevertheless, LSU is number one, and Arkansas could be as high as fifth by then. It's worth a mention.
The second HUGE game is Oklahoma-Oklahoma State on Dec. 3. If I had to pick right now, I would guess that the winner (Oklahoma, I suspect) will play in the BCS national title game against LSU. For the Cowboys, it's a no-brainer; they're already ranked second, and they control their own destiny. For Oklahoma, ranked sixth, help is needed. As of now, there are four teams for the Sooners to leapfrog if they want to land in the coveted second position. The first is Oklahoma State, who they'd pass with a win. The second is Alabama, and I believe the nation's desire to avoid a rematch national championship would take care of that. Then there's Boise State, who will almost certainly end the year undefeated if they beat TCU this weekend. Still, we know how that story goes. The BCS never smiles on the Broncos, and I can't imagine this year will be any different, even if they're one of just two undefeated teams in the country.
That leaves Stanford, and brings us to the present for
Week 9 is an opening act. Week 9 is a kid brother. Week 9 is the junior-varsity game, starting at 5 p.m. Week 9 is trying out conversational tidbits in front of the mirror before the big date. (You guys do that too, right?) Week 9 is a house salad with vinaigrette dressing when you can smell the steak sizzling in the kitchen.
(It's Monday afternoon. Two friends, Ricky and Steve, sit on a couch playing a video game. A third friend, Mitch, bursts into the room breathlessly. They're all in their early 30s. Between the three, every possible race is represented.)
Have you followed the Jordan Jefferson saga? If you haven't, it's not measurably different from any of the other black marks on college football's name. The gist is that the LSU quarterback and some teammates were at a Baton Rouge bar in August when a fight broke out. Four people were badly beaten — one suffered three fractured vertebrae — and witnesses reported that Jefferson kicked another in the face. He was charged with felony second-degree battery, and that charge was reduced to a misdemeanor last week. Nobody seems to be denying that the alleged brawl happened, but a grand jury decided it didn't warrant a felony. As his lawyer argued, the injury wasn't serious enough. Jefferson was reinstated, and scored a touchdown in the first quarter of last week's win against Kentucky.
Fair enough. If you can't live with that storyline, you shouldn't be watching college football at all.
Grind your teeth and set your jaws. It's college football, Week 3.
Remember Keith Jackson's trademark call? "Whoaaaaaa Nellie!" I was sitting around my apartment the other day thinking about that. Whoaaaaa Nellie. Who are you, Nellie? Where did you come from? And for God's sake, why are we trying to hold you back? What do you have in store?
A quick Google search later, and it turns out Jackson doesn't quite know. That makes total sense to me. Whenever I get excited about college football, I speak in gibberish. There's not a good way to articulate how psyched I am, so I just make up something that feels appropriate. Something like the first sentence of this blog post. Or a passionate string of words inspired by, but not belonging to, the Italian language. This is also how a crazy person operates, but I'm not afraid of the comparison. Not during college football season.