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heisman trophy

Mark Ingram Alabama Crimson TideMark Ingram is no longer a Heisman hopeful. He’s the 75th winner of the most hallowed individual trophy in all of sport. Now all there is left to do is to bring home the crystal trophy of the BCS national championship. Some people talk about the “Heisman Slump,” wondering if it’ll affect Mark’s play in the BCS championship game against the Longhorns, but it doesn’t really matter if it does. Trent Richardson guarantees it.

Joe Namath. Kenny Stabler. Cornelius Bennett. Bart Starr. Lee Roy Jordan. Don Hutson. John Hannah. Derrick Thomas. Ozzie Newsome. Shaun Alexander.

Is Mark Ingram, the 19-year old from Flint, Michigan, the greatest football player in the history of Alabama football? Is he even the greatest running back? Well, possibly, but with a tradition as rich as ‘Bama’s it’ll take a bit more time to tell. Regardless, one thing is for certain: he was the most outstanding player in college football in 2009. It is amazing that Alabama, with 12 national championships to their credit and 96 first-team All-Americans, the team that dominated the decade of the 70s, has no Heisman winner in their history before 2009. Now let’s add that thirteenth championship ring and this might be the best year ever.

Now I’ve got to make the trip back down to T-Town so I can visit the Bryant Museum again. I want to see it for myself. Maybe touch it. It’s comforting just to know it’ll soon be there, a mere fifty miles away.

Well done, Mark.

Roll Tide Rollelephant_crimson_bama_logo

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 “Chris” has left a particularly inflammatory comment on my post “How to Fix College Football” wherein he rants about the wrongs of the bowl system and raves about my psychotic, dumb, “bass ackwardness.” For those of you who are wondering, including you, Chris, this is as close as you can come to getting banned without actually getting banned. I’m all about disagreements, but hold back the reins on the ranting insults, and realize that your opinion makes as much sense to me as mine does to you. But I’m not going to call Chris by the name I think he deserves for this tidbit of drivel he’s shellacked onto my blog, I’m going to respond, and I’m going to give it a full post, because I know there are many, many people out there who have all jumped onto the playoff bandwagon and believe it would do something it’s not capable of doing. First, Chris’s prattle:

Are you psycho? Why does everybody think the bowls are good? Most are about as boring as a knitting competition. If the bowl system was so great and “voting” on a paper “National Champion” was the way to go why aren’t the other NCAA sports doing it as well. Why isn’t the NFL, NBA, MLB, etc. clammoring to go that way? Why? Because it is the dumbest most bass ackwards way of determining a champion! Let’s all pull our heads out and get over the super 6 conferences wanting all the money and give the fans what they want!!! A PLAYOFF!!!

Okay, Chris, here’s my answer: you’re wrong. As far as I can tell the only question you raised in your irrational squawk was “why aren’t the other sports clammoring to go that way?” (note that the incorrect spelling of clamoring is Chris’s, not mine). There are dozens of reasons, but historically it’s because, other than the MLB, boxing and horse racing there were no other major sports than college football around when it started up, and guess what? Until 1907 MLB didn’t have a playoff either, and they only did it then because there were two separate professional leagues of teams: the National and the American. Before that those teams had never played one another. And up until 1969 there was no divisional playoff, either. The two teams with the best records played for the championship: that’s it. And neither horse racing nor boxing have playoffs, either. Sure, horse racing has it’s triple crown, boxing has multiple titles, things that make them unique in the world of sports, just like the bowls do for college football. And as for “the super 6 conferences wanting all the money,” well, that again is nothing but drivel. Why do you think MLB instituted the playoffs? Money grubbers, that’s why. And as far as that goes, college football would make more money with a playoff, so that argument is asinine right out of the gate.

And as for the NFL, they, too didn’t begin with a playoff. From Wikipedia:

NFL post-season history can be traced to the first NFL Championship Game in 1933, though in the early years, qualification for the game was based solely on regular season records. The first true NFL playoff began in 1967, when four teams qualified for the tournament. When the league merged with the American Football League in 1970, the playoffs expanded to eight teams. The playoffs were expanded to ten teams in 1978 and twelve teams in 1990.

The NFL chartered its rules in 1876–without a playoff.

So why shouldn’t college football adopt their own playoff system like the other sports have? Because none of the other sports had a system already in place like college football does. They didn’t “playoff” at all, they just named a champ or had one extra game to see who it was. They had to do something to determine the champ, and college football already had the bowls. Where do you think they got the name for the Super Bowl? It was their shot at duplicating what college football had already done with great success.

But even more than this, more than the history and tradition of the game, the greatest reason of all (other than the fact that we don’t need a playoff), is because the regular season still matters in college football. You’ll never see a team in college football with a guaranteed playoff bid running its second stringers out onto the field because the win is meaningless. Every loss has significance. Not so in any other sport.

And besides that, to institute a playoff you’d have to add games to the season. Even if it’s only one or two, you’d still add games, and these are still students who are trying to make the grade. There are enough games.

Look at it this way: The first kickoff of the first game in a college football season is the start of the playoffs. And every team approaches every season with the same attitude: Must Win. NCAA basketball started their own playoff system, and now look at it. It doesn’t become a popular sport until March. Everything leading up to that is filler.

Really, Chris, if you want to make an argument, make one, but throwing insults at the blog host isn’t going to get you anywhere. Give me a good reason for a playoff and I’ll listen, but I’ll tell you right now, because the fans want it isn’t a good reason. Herd mentality does nothing for an argument.

In closing, I’d like to add that I don’t believe the current system is working. I’ve come up with an alternative plan that I believe would fix the situation nicely. We could keep the bowl structure intact, keep the conferences as they are, and even keep the BCS in place. My plan would fix college football. Tell me what you think, or how you would fix it, if you’d do anything at all.

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Sly Croom is doing good things at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have beaten Alabama twice in consecutive years, and this year added cross-state rival Ole Miss, Kentucky and Auburn to its list of wins, finishing with a satisfying 7-win season plus a bowl trip. Eight wins in Starkville? Yes, and with the QB problems they’re having, that’s quite an accomplishment.

And this upward trend of success the ‘Dogs are enjoying prompts the question: What if Alabama had hired Croom instead of Shula? After the Mike Price fiasco, already late in the year and suffering from the shock and awe penalties of the sanctimonious NCAA, the coaching pickings were slim. A proven head coach was out of the question during that time of year. And what it came down to was a choice between Sly Croom and Mike Shula. Croom was an Alabama product and champion as a player and as a coach, with lessons in coaching from Bear Bryant himself. Shula was a Bama product, son of Don Shula, and had great hair. As coaches, both were in the NFL at the time, Croom coaching the running backs in Chicago and Shula the QB coach for Miami.  

Ultimately the choice came down to who had the best hair. No, I don’t believe it was a black/white thing, but I’ll grant you it would have made vast inroads if Croom had’ve been hired. It’s one thing for MSU to hire a black coach, but for Alabama, with all its pride and tradition, it would have made a statement for the whole south, to the entire country. In the end, though, they hired the prettier Shula, and damn the championship rings on Croom’s fingers. Shula looked more like a head football coach, didn’t he? Surely if he went into a recruit’s home the parents couldn’t resist his boyish charm, those eyes, that smile, that hair! Oh, if only hindsight were 50/50! (in the words of Pat Dye).

In the following years Shula would have some successes as head coach, including a 10-win season and SEC crown, and I’m sure his gentle good looks won him the hearts of many a recruits’ dear mother. But in retrospect, looking at the complete package, who looks the most like a head football coach? Shula, who is now the QB coach for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, or Sly Croom, who has coached up a team of blue-collar no names into a 7-win season. Croom walks the sidelines with a scowl on his face, with a furrowed brow, and points and shouts. While Shula, when he was at Bama, stared with an often-dazed expression, and was routinely slow in making the wrong decision.

Sure, it’s easy to get on the Croom bandwagon when he’s winning, and I do remember last year, when the only thing he had to hang his hat on was a win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa. And I’m grateful for the job Mike Shula did; he took a tough job at a school still reeling, still with red butt cheeks from the NCAA’s almighty whooping stick. But Croom, who may not have boyish good looks, does have the classic coach’s stalk when he’s on the sideline, and he’s got rings, people. Championship rings on his fingers, won at the University of Alabama. Rings that I’ll bet shine brighter than Mike Shula’s baby blues ever did.

So in hindsight, maybe it’s possible Witt chose the pretty boy for the wrong reasons. Maybe he should have opted for the grizzled workhorse who is now building a reputation as a coach who not only demands excellence, but will not accept anything less. If he can win seven games at MSU, how many could he have won at Alabama?

Of course, if Croom had been hired and if had had success then Nick Saban would likely be somewhere else right now and all the excitement surrounding the program would be… what?

Few can match Saban as a recruiter, that much is certain. And as a coach he’s got few peers. But he’s not an Alabama product, and that’s his one big detrimental factor. One which, with Alabama fans, will be very easy to overlook if and when he brings home a championship. And it’s true that ‘hiring inside the family’ has bitten Alabama on the butt more times in recent years than the NCAA has. Saban is a gruff man, not personable at all, they say. The media despises him and most other college football fans in the country do, too. But we adore him, we’ve welcomed him, with all his faults, because he brings a foundation to build upon, he brings success, and he has won championships.

For Coach Croom, if he had been hired and not had success, the firestorm would not have been pretty. There’s certainly a faction of fans who would begrudge the decision of hiring a black man, although I believe it’s a small faction, and dwindling. But if Coach Croom took the podium with those rings on his fingers, few could have kept from being dazzled. He’s a product of Alabama and a Bear Bryant Man, a good man, for all accounts.

What happens if Saban bolts, which is been predicted by virtually everyone who isn’t an Alabama fan? What if Coach Saban sees the looming, potential LSU vacancy as a preferable job and grabs it up? For me, I believe Coach Croom would finally deserve the shot at Alabama. I hope him all the success in the world at MSU, excluding of course the one Saturday every year when they play Alabama. I’m not hoping for Saban to leave–God, no–I’m looking forward to this potential #1 recruiting class and I’m looking forward to everything that I think he can do at Alabama. But if he bolts, there’s a Bryant man waiting in the wing, if he’d still have us.

I believe he would.

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“We”
By Matt Mitchell

The team I support is my team. I root for them, cheer for them, I feel pain when they lose, I feel glee when they win. They are my team, I am their fan. They require my support to compete, financially and they need the enthusiasm I provide. They have a home-field advantage because of me, because of what I bring to the table. I hate their opponents more than they do sometimes. I wear my team’s colors. I purchase their memorabilia and authorized merchandise. I study their history. Do I love them? Yes. I do. They are my team. So why is it that some people have a problem with me referring to my team using possessive pronouns? As when, during a game, the team is losing I might be heard to say “We need to score more points!” I’ve heard people say (Doug Gottlieb, who played basketball with Oklahoma State and says that it’s a pet peeve of his to hear fans refer to their team possessively) that I can’t claim the possessive because I’m not on the team, I’m not a coach or a player, so I have no right to the possessive pronoun use, that I should stick with ‘they’ and ‘them.’ But there’s a problem with that thinking: If I stop cheering possessively I’ll lose some of the passion that I have for my team. It’s much more difficult for me to urge ‘them’ to score than it is for me to urge ‘us’ to score. By contrast, I can watch a game that I have no emotional interest in and pick a team and support that team, hoping they win, cheering when/if they do. But it’s a detached enthusiasm; I have nothing vested in a win or a loss. But when it’s my team… by removing my possessive passion you’re removing part of the passion that all fans have for the game and the team, thereby shooting yourself in your own foot.

Now look, I don’t call the head coach “My coach” and I don’t pretend to be a member of the team or coaching staff. But I feel a kinship with the players and coaches of my team. And while they may not be “my” coaches or players they certainly are our coaches and our players. I am a little bit envious of them, a little in awe of them, and when the time comes I do not sit on my hands, I stand up and cheer and I wear my team’s colors with pride. When I use possessive pronouns when I cheer/root/pull for my team, then I am in my own way emotionally involved, and I am actively channeling every bit of emotion I have toward you, to lift you up, to raise you above, to empower you, the team and the players, to succeed. If you don’t think that’s valuable, then I’ll stop, but I warn you, it’s going to be difficult for me to be emotionally supportive of a team who I comment during the game: “Man those guys need to score some points,” because I lose the emotional investment I’ve made for the team. Is that the kind of detachment you want from me as a fan? If it is, then you must be the type of person who wants a cathedral-type setting at football and basketball games, where all the onlookers keep quiet and watch, discussing the play of each team.

Football ain’t tennis, and it ain’t golf. Football is football, and if you want the fans to be detached then you are willing to also say goodbye to that precious commodity known as home field advantage, because the fans, and all their incalculably supportive glee, are ON YOUR SIDE, and they want to win as bad as you do, which is exactly why they cheer for you the way they do.

In closing I’ll just say that I’m not a fair-weather fan. I don’t only support the team during the good seasons. I’m an Alabama fan, I have been since the day I was born, when Paul Bryant was alive and well and still had a few more National Championships to win. But we’ve had plenty of down years lately, and I’ve weathered them all. And after we lose a game, I don’t chastise them then, either, because I win with you and I lose with you. You are my team.

Here’s hoping we beat the hell out of Ole Miss this weekend. ROLL TIDE!!!

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