Friday, December 04, 2009

College Football Season Recap

Having gone to a college where football and other classic American team sports are not played against other schools at any level, where there are no fraternities, no real exclusive clubs or parties, no gambling rings, no waiting lists, and no classes with 500 people in them, and having for myriad reasons neglected to attend graduate school, I often feel when around other adults who did not go where I did that I never really quite went to "college" at all. Thus when fall comes around and football season and all its attendant rituals are celebrated in their various forms at beautiful campuses all across this land, I always feel a little left out of a great tribal party, though as it is a party I would only like to have attended as a true B.M.O.C., a position which it is highly unlikely I would ever have attained to anywhere, I cannot lament it much. It is however a means of maintaining a psychic connection with much of the rest of the country, which in the remote area, especially with regard to big-time football, where I live can sometimes be a difficult thing to do.

That said, I don't have time to actually watch games, or even highlight shows. My following of the game consists mainly of reading internet columnists. I have never, for example, seen Tim Tebow, the University Florida demigod whose final home game last weekend had fans lined up for hours beforehand hoping to touch him as he entered the stadium, play football. This level of emotion which has accompanied the whole of his final season has nonetheless made him a compelling story to me. Tebow of course is not merely famous for being the spectacular quarterback of a team that has lost 1 game in the last 2 years. He spent much, if not most of his youth in the third world with his Christian missionary parents, where he reportedly did an extraordinary amount of good laboring unceasingly with an infectious spirit, quoting liberally from the Bible, some in the world's worst hellholes. Perhaps most incredibly, he has claimed publicly at least to be saving himself sexually for marriage (if this last tidbit is true, I would have to think he will be sorely regretting taking this stance 20 years from now, but I of course am most familiar with Vatican II era Catholic morality, such that I am pretty sure no one in the domestic Church hierarchy expects the quarterback at Notre Dame to practice abstinence, nor that any holder of that position should volunteer himself to commit to do so). Such relentless greatness has, over the last three and a half years since Tebow burst upon the scene, strained the abilities of the typical college football pundit and fan alike to comprehend, so that both the praise and hatred/envy directed his way at this late point in his career have long since tended towards the ridiculous and the faintly creepy. Fortunately unlike the pros, where superstar worship goes on for decades and sometimes never ends at all, everybody has to move on from college, usually at the height, or very near it, of their greatness. Player statistics in college football don't really tell one a lot more than a few years after the fact. More than other sports, its legends are largely in the moment type of phenomena, a feeling one is inspired with. Even some people who don't move on, like Joe Paterno, whom I will get to momentarily, seem in some essentially way to be ever fading, ever more ghostly, still realized fully only back in 1973 or so, such that the current person appearing publicly as Joe Paterno is not at all the same, does not inspire the same emotional response that this 1973 self would, and once did. Tebow will fade too, probably he will already seem to be fading if not in this weekend's SEC Title Game, then assuredly by his Bowl Game he won't be recognizably himself anymore. This is what made the spectacle of people wanting to touch him so interesting to me. (Note--Florida was rolled by Alabama in the SEC title game and will be relegated to the Sugar Bowl, still a major New Year's Day bowl at least, but not as big a national event as it would have been in the 70s and 80s. Tebow's aura will be diminished by the time this game takes place.)

I concede that the SEC is probably the best conference, but it is also the most ridiculous in many ways. Most of the fan bases are outsizedly jealous of whomever is currently winning, and want to fire their coaches all the time after a 7-5 season even if the guy has been a proven winner for years. These same people are all very adamant about the conference's superiority, which people outside the region generally concede but don't really care that much about. Nobody in the Northeast at least that I am aware of dreams about playing football in the SEC. There is also a lot of pride among the fans of this conference regarding the beauty of their women, which is admirable, though it runs into such insistence of their superiority to those of other regions that anyone who claimed to be partial to the girls at say, Minnesota, has to have his masculinity called into question, as to be annoying. I would suppose the Pac-10, definitely the California and Arizona schools, to be more than competitive even from an objective point of view, but in any event southern belles and their wiles and requirements, marvelous as they are, are not to everyone's ultimate taste, and I find that they tend to leave me cold. When I was in Prague there was a foursome of Vanderbilt sorority girls in the program with which we had gone over, and certainly they were very attractive, and they were smart enough, and though at first they were a little spoiled they even came around to slumming it (a little) in the dingy Czech bars and such which one has to do, but they could not desist from purring and manipulating and cruelty and backstabbing and all of this kind of over the top drama whenever men were around; admittedly I was nothing to them but whereas in other circumstances this would have only served to fire my feelings anyway, the mindset of these girls was so alien to me I could really feel nothing in the way of my usual longing where they were concerned.

The one SEC team that I think does need to fire its coach is Georgia. The level of abuse and humiliation that their rivalry with Florida has attained, to the point that even though they are already losing 49-10 they are afraid of fighting back or responding to the egregious insults continually flung their way by everybody connected with Florida for fear that something worse will be done to them on the field is too much to be endured.

My favorite SEC story is about the time former Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill tried to fire his team up by castrating a bull in the locker room before a big game. If I'm sitting in there watching this I don't even know what I would be thinking. You've got to say something funny but what would it be?

I wrote about Notre Dame about this same time last year and my take on them is still pretty much the same. I still think they just need to get a more solid, thorough coach, and they will be able to go 9-3, 10-2 on a regular basis with an occasional run at a top 5 record. This idea that they have to abandon all hint of academic standards and load up on speedy thugs, I presume black ones, is overrated. Most of the teams they lost to this year were not recruiting powerhouses loaded up with this raw talent that is supposedly inaccessible to Notre Dame. Half of them probably have a whiter team than Notre Dame does. Stanford almost certainly draws from a similar academic/talent pool as ND, other than that they have a slight advantage being in California. Navy I would assume has far more stringent academic requirements than ND, and they have beaten them 2 of the last 3 years. Connecticut is a second rank Big East team recruiting primarily in the supposedly talent deficient Northeast, where even the black people for some reason are slower than they are in the south. Penn State's talent level is not considered to be all that high (or fast) compared with elite teams, and while they were called out for playing a schedule loaded with patsies this year in going 10-2, if they had played Notre Dame's supposedly more challenging schedule, I am sure they would have gone at least 9-3, if not equaled the 10-2 record. Penn State hammered the two common opponents they played, Michigan and Michigan State, while ND lost to the 1st (a team that proceeded to go 1-7 in the supposedly weak Big 10) and squeaked by the 2nd in a somewhat miraculous finish. I suspect PSU would have taken UConn and Navy at home as well. The Notre Dame situation is not that dire. I don't understand why they shouldn't be able to put together a solid team even with all of their restrictions. Winning national championships always involves a degree of luck. One doesn't have to be absolutely the best team in the country, but building up a good record and having things fall your way sometimes will do the trick, other years you can go undefeated even through your bowl game and not win the title (Joe Paterno has done this 4 times at Penn State, including 1973, when Notre Dame was awarded the title, and back to back years in 1968 and 1969!).

West Coast Football. If I have ever been jealous of any league, far from it being the SEC, it is the Pac-10, especially the California schools. I know California has lost some of its allure as the promised land in recent years, but to a child of the 70s and early 80s it was the place where everybody was better looking, healthier, happier and better at sports than those of us stuck back in the cold gray east, and USC, UCLA, Stanford, etc, symbolize a kind of sporting collegiate glamour that only the Ivy League could really have had here but which they had given up by the time I came along. Stanford made a splash of course by having the first really good white running back at a major school in at least 20 years. I didn't see him play, but he gashed USC and Notre Dame, as well as Oregon, Cal (Berkeley) and numerous other heavyweights, which gets people's attention.

Not exactly West Coast, but I had always thought BYU and Utah were more or less the same kind of school, Utah kids were maybe a little less pristine but still adhered to the basic philosophy (a lot of the Utah players in football and basketball seem to be Mormons, as pretty much all BYU players are). Apparently the two schools really hate each other; some of the comments that came out in the aftermath of this year's game (won by BYU) revealed a level of real animosity as high as anything else I saw coming out this year anywhere in the country, Alabama-Auburn included (though departed Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis's accusation that married USC coach Pete Carroll was shacking up in Malibu with a grad student added some much needed spice to that rivalry).

I written a little about Penn State, which is my team, in various places above. They should have played a tougher non-conference schedule, at least one, if not two, legitimate teams, but 6-2 in the Big Ten is a respectable season, considering that their coach is 82 years old. The other teams in the league have got to be a little bit embarrassed that they're getting schooled by a guy who got his job: two years after Ara Parseghian, who has been retired for 35 years, took over at Notre Dame; five years before Alabama fielded its first black player; three years before legendary coach Bo Schembechler, who has been dead for about a decade, got hired at Michigan. Joe Paterno briefly accepted an offer to coach the New England Patriots in 1973, but changed his mind a day or two later. The idea of Joe being a pro coach now seems ludicrous but at the time he was probably the best college coach in the country, as noted earlier PSU went undefeated 3 times in 6 years, going 62-6 over the span between 1968-73, finishing 2nd, 2nd, and 5th (!) in the final rankings in those undefeated seasons. I don't remember those teams as I was born in 1970 but when I was growing up he was considered the most competent public figure working in the state of Pennsylvania by a fairly wide margin. And he's still there! And he has no plans to step down.

This is off topic, but as proof that I really never watch television, how could I have missed this?

No comments: