Friday, October 22, 2004

Late But Aways On Time

It finally happened. I cliked on an ad banner. How
could you not?

just about everybody reading this would be getting one
of these voicemails if I didn’t think I was setting
you up for a life of marketing calls. I won’t do that
too you, but not because of my respect for you – I
just hate marketers more than I like the idea of
sticking you with them.

Here are some startling numbers for Texas
154.2: Avg yards passing allowed by UT defense.
154.8: Avg yards rushing allowed by UT defense.
And for the Horns…
148.7: Avg yards passing for UT’s O.
- What that means: Texas allows more rushing than
they pass for. Uh oh.

447: Avg passing yards for Texas Tech.

5.5: Created by the Rabbi, and endorsed by the Index,
the line is the over/under on the factor by which
Tech’s passing yards will exceed UT’s. So if Vincent
Younge and company pass for 100 (seems about right,
since they're getting worse), then Tech will have to
pass for better than 550 to beat The Line. Have fun
with that.

Worst Game Of The Year, 2004
5: Rutgers turnovers against Temple in their Annual
Sorriest Game Possible, though The scarlet knights
still won, 16-6. The game’s sole touchdown came in
the last three minutes.

Best Game Of The Year Nominee, 2004
2: Excessive celebration penalities drawn by
Louisville during game with Miami – talk about
tempting karma.
49: Seconds remaining when Miami’s Frank Gore pushed
in from the one to put Miami up 41-38.
1: Losses, all-time, in Louisville’s back-up QB Brian
Brohm’s football career. He was the 3-time MVP of the
Kentucky State Champioship game before coming to
80: Yards in drive Bohm led Louisville in the 4th to
take a 38-34 lead.
97: Yards, in two drives, that Brohm put up against
Miami. He was only in because Louisville’s starter -
Stefan LeFors (3 Tds) - was out with a concussion,
which means non-BCS eligible Louisville demonstrated
that they have two QBs capable of shredding the
defense of the team the BCS computers seem to think is
the second best in the country. BLOW IT UP!!!!
I just decided. Not only is the
Poll-That-Will-Not-Be-Mentioned banished from the
Index, but so is the BCS rankings. It won’t be
discussed from here on.
2: Plays that Louisville failed to make in its own
redzone in the final 2 minutes that would have won the
game – DB Kerry Rhodes dropped a sure-game INT thrown
right at him and two plays later Miami’s Brock Berlin
hit Darnell Jenkins to convert a 4th-and-4. That put
Miami at the 8, Louisville deflated and Gore ran it in
easily 2 plays later.
6: Consecutive possessions No 4. – No. 4 - Miami
scored on in the second half to barely – barely – eek
out that win at home.
1: National rank of defense of Miami’s next opponent,
NC State – who, at 4-2, is 4th in “others receiving
votes.” Come on… Florida State is 5th, and NC State
is 29th?
28: Players on NC State’s roster from Florida.
16: Players from the Miami area. As you may recall,
NC State coach Chuck Amato, prior to taking ove NC
State, was the O-Coordinator at FSU (back when they
were still FSU). He was also the Seminoles’
recruiting co-ordinator for south Florida/Miami.
91: Total yards allowed last week to Maryland – an
effort captured, by coincidence, from the Maryland
side on ESPN’s the Season. NC State’s D is for real.

14,000: Avg home game attendence at Middle Tennessee
15,000: Neccesary attendence to stay D1A. As a
result, MTS has scheduled a FREE Big Boi concert after
this week’s Idaho game – you have to go to the game to
see Big Boi. I can’t think of a better way to insult
your team.

3: Minimum number of undefeated teams Kirk Herbstriet
implied this week that are destined to finish the year
2: Number of times in 20 years that many have done
5: Currently undefeated BCS-conference teams- SC, OU,
Auburn, Wisconsin, Miami.
2: Current undefeated teams in non-BCS conference
that Herbstriet didn’t even mention, ie Boise State
and Utah.
5: Teams whose undefeated streak came to end last
week – Louisville, ASU, Purdue, UVA, Southern Miss.
There may have been some more, but I can't believe it

5: Total points by which Boise State (6-0) won two of
it’s games – 2, at home, over BYU (whose kicker hooked
a game-winner at the buzzer after laying 2 of the 3
best hits of the year) and 3 over Tulsa.
1, 2: Despite Boise State kick, rank nationally of
BYU's kicker's hits on Boise State's punt returners on
two seperate, equally staggering open-field tackles.
2: Losses by for Fresno State, who was projected to
be unbeaten at this point.
60: Total points BSU has beaten Fresno State by in
the last two years. The teams meet this weekend in
what still promises to be a terrific game.
200: Fresno St.’s avg rushing yards per game.
3: BSU’s national rank in rush defense.

197: Yards rushing last week for Alabama’s Kenneth
Darby to lead Alabama past previously-undefeated,
defending C-USA champ, No. 24 Southern Mississippi,
2: Years since Bama beat a ranked team.
60 Million: In dollars that two ex-Bama coaches are
seeking from the NCAA after they were fired stemming
from an NCAA investigation of Bama – an investigation
fanned by Fulmer, who fed the NCAA info on Bama’s
program. The coaches maintain Fulmer fed the NCAA
info so they would overlook violations at Tennessee –
including an accusation of sexual harassment over
Peyton Manning mooning a female trainer.

114: Total yards in two – two – field goals (60 and
54) kicked by Colorado’s Mason Crosby to beat Iowa
State, 19-14.

SC Honk Of The Week:
4: Undefeated BCS-conference teams USC handed their
first loss (OK, it’s a stretch - ASU, Cal, Stanford
are legit. It was VaTech’s first game).
18-2: Combined CURRENT record of those four teams, not
counting the SC results.
5: Washington losses, who USC’s faces this weekend.
2: Games in which Virginia Tech has shut out an
opponent while scoring at least 60.
2: VT losses – USC and, at home to ‘unranked’ NC
State. Good luck, Miami!

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Index Week 7

360: Degrees in backflip executed by Michigan's Braylon Edwards in the Michigan backfield after the final kneedown against Minnesota. Michigan had just scored a - well, let's use the word - fluke TD to beat Minnesota, 27-24, in Saturday's first. A perfect outburst of joy as one of the nation's best 5 players was momentarily reduced to the poise of a benchwarming freshman by the enormity of what he'd just seen. The perfect way to start what quickly became college football's best weekend since 2001.
6: Games last Saturday between Top 25 teams.
4: Of those, games whose final two minutes saw one offense throwing into the opponent's endzone for the win. LSU and Michigan made good, coming back to beat Florida and Minnesota by 3 each, while Cal and Georgia saw win-or-lose passes fall into the endzone incomplete.
58.5: Average number of seconds remaining when decisive pass thrown in those games- Michigan scored on a 31 yard slant with 2:10 left, Cal's Aaron Rodger's missed a fourth-down pass in the endzone pass with 76 seconds to go, LSU's Marcus Randall finished a brilliant length-of-the-field drive with a short TD pass at Florida with 27 seconds to go and UGA's David Greene snapped the ball for a desperate heave into the endzone with exactly 1 second showing.
Not bad.
219: Yards by which Cal's O outgained SC's, 465-219, probably the weekend's most quoted stat behind Aaron Rodger's insane personal numbers (leading to headlines like "California dominates all but final score" in that notorious anti-SC rag... the Daily Trojan) Or if you prefer...
28: Cal first downs.
12: SC first downs. OK, we get it.
102: Yards by which Cal outgained SC including kick returns, 472-370, a much more representative number of how the game went. SC didn't go as far, but SC didn't need to. Now, as Chingy might put it forget wha'cha hurd'bout Aaron Rodgers. Here's his key number.
33: Consecutive Throws by Rodgers that went exactly where he wanted them - 29 to receivers for completions, 2 intentionally out of bounds, 2 just-as-important crossfield swing passes to receivers that were ruled 'laterals'. You call'em laterals - I call'em on balance throws that are catastrophic fumbles if they're not on the money. 33.
3: After a Greatest Performances Of All Time Short List day, consecutive do-or-die incompletions in SC's endzone.
But let's make mention right now....
11: Yards in pass from Matt Leinhart to Dwayne Jarrett pass that was, pound for pound, THE play of the day. It came a) on the first drive (ie: tone-setter) b) on fourth down c) on 4th-and-10 d) was caught by Jarrett who was instantly hit so hard, high and low, that he spun 180 degrees in the air and landed on his shoulders... and hung on. Drive alive, and 5 plays later, SC scored it's first TD.
The other tone-setter that didn't get much attention:
2: Yardline on which Cal had a first-and-goal in the third, and, in three snaps, went backwards five yards... until the refs whistled SC for a particularly soft pass interference, giving Cal first at the 2, which they then turned into a TD.
4-4: SC-Cal series in last 8 meetings.
18: USC's lead in first-place votes over OU, it's smallest of the season. I'm only surprised that OU didn't take over #1.
18: Consecutive Ohio State wins at home prior to losing 24-13 to Wisconsin.
48: Wisconsin yardline Ohio State failed to cross in the second half.
105,090: Attendence figure announced by Ohio State - fifth-largest in Stadium history! - in that school's bid to join Michigan and Tennessee in the fiction-writing business.
3: Overtime games for Northwestern this year in which QB Brett Basanez has performed flawlessly, including Saturday's 31-24 win over Indiana. Basanez picked up a 4th-and-6 in the OT, and was 28-of-48 for 254 yards and a touchdown on the day. Last week, the Cats beat Ohio State, and Basanez did everything necessary to beat TCU in the season-opener, only to watch his kicker miss an extra-point to lose.
It's a banner year for gutty Qbs - sort of like last year and receivers - but Basanez is right there.
2: Consecutive years that NU has beat IU in OT.
5: Sacks against UGA's David Green by Tennessee.
4: Sacks UGA had given up all season prior.
12: Penalties committed by UGA.
82: Officially, the yardage UGA was penalized.
93: Yards in a late-game UGA kick-off return, to UT's 2 yardline, wiped out by a holding penalty (officially recorded as only a 10-yard penalty).
2: Number of UGA drives that went more than 5 plays prior to falling behind 19-7 in the 4th.
27: Combined plays in UGA's last two do-or-die drives, separated only by a 3-and-out for UT.
6: Combined 4th downs and 3rd downs of 10 or more faced in those final two drives, including a 4th-and-goal touchdown run by Dante Ware where he literally bounced off a would-be tackler to get into the endzone and pull UGA to 19-14.
9: Spots UGA dropped in the polls.
14: difference, in seconds, in time of possession between Texas Tech and Nebraska, .
60:difference, in points.
43: Yardline on which Nebraska went for it on a 4th-and-3 in the second quarter. And they threw it, incomplete. But even that horrible idea - going for it on the 43? Passing? - wasn't the trigger. NU got it back 4 plays later on an interception.
No, here's your Money Maker:
7: Number of snaps Nebraska took in a 7 minute span in the late third/early fourth.
5: Turnovers in those 7 plays.
4: Of those 5, turnovers in it's own redzone.
2: Inside it's own 10.
35: TT points off those turnovers.
1: Rank, in Quotes of the weekend, for Nebraska offensive coordinator Jay Norvell ``We lost a game that we had a chance to win. . . I can't make anything more of it than that.''
Coming up:
Louisville at Miami on Thursday (if it was at Louisville, we might be in a for a show, but at Miami...); North Carolina AT Utah; Notre Dame-Navy. Unbeaten and rolling UVA at damn-near-lost-to-Syracuse Florida State; UCLA at Cal... beware the letdown.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Stanford Game

Stanford Game –
It was 2 weeks ago, but SC hasn’t played since, so my thoughts:
I loved it.
I can tell you honestly that not at a single moment was I worried. Trailing 31-17 at the half, I WOULD have been worried if Stanford had come out and planted another 7. THAT would have made me nervous.
But I felt at the half there were strange things afoot that couldn’t possibly hold up for another 30 minutes. Consider: Stanford came in prepared, astronomically motivated and – let’s give them credit – relatively well-armed. That wasn’t Indiana out there. The QB, Trent Edwards, is clearly a terrific leader, and the rest of that team could have trounced any SC team of the 90s, Keyshawn-era excepted. If you give a team like that a reason to play hard, they’re liable to get loose. And talk about reasons… let’s see: in-state/in-conference and the only private schools in the league, which – take my word for it – means something. And all that’s true every year, which this wasn’t – this year, SC’s #1 ranking would have been, by far, enough motivation for any team, but Edwards and the rest had spent the year hearing how SC’s only real test was going to be – yuck – Cal.
All that, at home.
I don’t know what the line was, but anything more than 6 would have been ignorance.
I write off both of the first 2 Tds, and part of the 3rd to all that. Edwards came out firing, the O-line and the entire defense (the knees that SC usually takes out first in opponents) sold out on every play and suddenly Stanford had 14. On their third real drive, they started to run out of steam and, sensing this, Stanford’s obviously switched-on coach called a fake field goal.
Which went for a TD.
Honestly, how often does that work out so well? Once a season?
So now they had a 21-17 lead and got the ball back with less than a minute left. Smartly, the coach told them to run into the line and take it to the locker room. His team had just played as well as they possibly could against a groggy SC. And to show for it, he had a 4-point lead. Better than losing, but not much.
“Get to the locker room,” you could hear him thinking, “Then I’ll think of something.”
And to get there, he sent his fullback on a dive into the line… from which he emerged and went untouched 70 yards to the endzone. The clock expired while he was 30 yards out.
Like they said in Mean Girls, “Shut. Up.”
How often does something like THAT happen? Once a decade?
I was a little shocked, but then I smiled. Cuz if you add it up, in a span of four minutes, Stanford had just cashed in 11 years of good luck. And it had bought them less than a two-score lead. And now they had to make it stand up for 30 minutes against the best 2nd-half team in the country.
I liked our chances.
What I didn’t expect – and which makes me almost detestably smug about our chances with Cal – was the level of Hurt SC came back with after halftime. Pure savagery. By the fourth quarter, Edwards and the rest of his offense was visibly dreading each snap.
At the half, I thought – on momentum and emotion - Stanford had, maybe, 10 more points left in them. In their first three drives after the half, they gained a total of 8 yards.
On their final drive, at that point trailing, they strung together a few passes for 20 or so, but Edwards never saw a single one, clobbered by the Wave. SC hit every ball carrier high and low, knocked blockers to their elbows and clipped receivers in the sternum. It’s been a while since I’ve seen any defense punish an offense like that. Well, actually, Miami does it Florida State pretty regularly, and Oklahoma can, too. But it’s not often.
The score was close – which Stanford wholly earned – but SC took two knees inside the Stanford 15 to finish the game.
Again Reggie Bush stole the show with a playstation punt return where he ran about 150 yards for a 40 yard return, but as ever, it was the defense and Leinhart.
By the way, Leinhart - upstaged not just by Bush but by the drama of Edwards effort - only threw for 308 yards. Yawn. Just another lazy day minding the switch.
So SC was challenged about as stiffly as Stanford’s collection of talent could challenge them – atmosphere, momentum, preperation, want-to and (perhaps most important) outrageous luck.
And SC rolled them up like the rebels on Hoth.
As for Cal, I am wholly out of the prediction business, but that game was – as ol’ Darth put it – “impressive.”

As I sit here typing this, Clemson and Virginia are throwing Thursday Punches. Every time I turn around, somebody is going for 30 yards and then getting knocked out of their cleats. Clemson just went for it on 4th down in the 1st quarter. Get some.

Friday Night Lights

Do me a personal favor: Don't go see Friday Night Lights, the move version of the book of the same name, until I give the go ahead. I can't think of another movie that could possibly ever be made that I'd ask for such veto power (one about Pararescue training, maybe), but on this one, I'm asking.

Here's why I'm the expert: Within .03 milliseconds of seeing the movie poster for the first time (or actually, seeing a TV ad depicting the scene the poster is taken from ) I knew the players were wearing the wrong numbers. ("wrong," from this point forward, meaing "different from the book").
Now, I admit I know this just by coincidence - the actual book jacket shows the backs of three players, the right two of which are wearing 85 and 62 - which was (and still is) the final four numbers of my parent's phone number in Colorado, a number I've known longer than I've known my own SSN, so it kinda leapt out at me.
But the point is, I've read, re-read, studied and devoured that book so many times over, there isn't a detail you can bring up I don't know. In many ways, it remains the defining book of my personal adult life - after staying up all night as a college freshman to read it, it sent me spinning professionally towards sports writing, politically away from strict conservative points of view and physically towards Philadelphia.
And I have been dreading for 15 years the day this book became a movie. Now they've done it. But I demand first-refusal.

And I promise to be fair - as long as they don't give it the Perfect Storm treatment - inventing comic action at the expense of the book's best passages - I'll give you the go ahead. I don't need The Football Godfather. I just want a respectful translation. I don't expect a Hollywood studio - with stars and a budget and not a single high school athlete on its crew - to copy the exact dialogue of the book, to convey 80 years of segregation, to properly capture the weight of the Midland Lee game. Or make a sweep for a gain of 2 look unrehearsed. Or even get the extras to have a decent Texas accent. I'm resigned to a solid helping of fat-guy cliches (you know, the smiling, jackass fat kid choked up to talk to the pretty girl, or something). I know absolutely nobody's "we win!" face is going to look anything like a real "we win!" face

Damn - I said it. Now I gotta have a quick rant: along with Hollywood soldiers' everlasting inability to properly salute, the industry's consistent failure to produce a decent "we win" face remains one of the great mysteries of film. Hollywood's Joyful Response research facilities being sabotaged by Norwegian commandos like they Nazi's heavy water plant? The "we win" faces of Varsity Blues showed no advancement in the art over Reagan's in Knute Rockne All American. Will the next star wars have painted tincans on strings with sparklers for engines? So why can't Hollywood capture a decent "Wide Right!" reaction?
And here's the worst part: nobody throws one arm in the air and goes, "Yeah!" with eyes straight ahead. Nobody even does that watching a game on TV. Nobody does that watching Jeopardy. People in the stands of a real game they are emotionally invested in CERTAINLY don't. There's nothing controlled about the reaction to a dramatic, one-play win. It's focused panic. Arms go wide, or at least uplifted, and eyes and faces dart in a million directions because there's a better-than-25-percent chance that you're about to fall over. Remember one of those Brett Favre wins where, watching the final kick from the sideline, he came sprinting onto the field with his arms out in the airplane, his face dripping with fear? That's "we win." More often than not, a crowd lunges forward. Where do you think the storm-the-field/court thing comes from? People can't help it. You just have to get closer, arms wide to embrace it. WE WIN!
Basicly, the "we win!" face is not much different from the "holy shit, tear gas!" face. It certainly isn't the "Winger Rocks!" face, which is the only thing Hollywood ever gives us.

End Rant. but I'll be watching.

So FNL has been relentlessly promoted not on its own merit but on the fact that Sports Illustrated once called FNL "one of the greatest sports stories ever told" which is deceptive on two fronts.
1 - SI wouldn't know a great sports story unless it showed up on it's writer's expense account.
2 - The story was so good for reasons that absolutely defy movie making - the story was good because it was about race, class, anticipation, pacing, a great deal of luck and - in no small part - because HG Bissinger is an obscenely talented reporter and writer.
None of those things translate well - or at all - to film. Certainly not to a film released in the middle of football season.
Consider this: it takes FNL 50 pages to walk the team - and hence, the transfixed reader - through the collision of worlds that occured surrounding the Dallas-Carter football team in 1988. Keep in mind, the book is 'about' Odessa's Permian high school, not Carter. But as Odessa made its run at state that year, on the other side of the bracket, Carter, an all black school, beat an all-white team (Plano East) in the playoffs. It then emerged that at least two of Carter's players had been passed in classes they clearly flunked when a principal changed thier grades, over the objections of a 20-year career English teacher who thought football players get too many breaks.
So Plano East, losers on the field, then sued, claiming Carter was ineligible, got an injunction and - if i recall correctly - actually played the next playoff game, and won. Carter then counter-sued, got a second injunction and was back in the playoffs instead of Plano East.
The racial (and suburb-vs-city class) overtones of the battle were lost on exactly no one, particularly not on 300-miles from nowhere, overwhelmingly white Odessa.
This all really happened. It's easily the book's best (and, for Bissinger, luckiest) parts. Bissinger brings in decades old school-reform efforts, Ross Perot taking on the football barrons over eligibility rules, and the ever-present spectre of segregation.
And it all got sorted out just in time for Carter to meet Odessa in the state semis.
(emphasis 'semis' - i've read two reviews so far which state the movie puts the showdown in the state finals, though that could easily be a reviewer's mistake).

Now, I went to the trouble of laying all that out so that you can ask yourself: how is that going to translate into a movie? Have some newscaster take the screen and give you a quick synopsis of it, then cut to the Carter-Odessa sideline?
That would be a disservice I could't tolerate.
It's a 2-hour movie. They can give 5 minutes to a microcosm of Texas - and hence, american - educational reform before getting back to the AC/DC soundtrack.

The same is true of the book's other 'big game' the showdown with hated rival Midland Lee. Midland, as in, George Dubya's Midland. The Have Town to Odessa's Have Not.
In a year - 88 - when a Bush was running for re-election.
The structure of the collision - Odessa vs Midland, have vs have-not, oilmen vs redneck, capital vs labor - is probably the closest thing the book has to a thesis.
Is that worth 10 minutes of backstory?

Probably not.
What the movie is likely to be about - fairly - is the five or six characters on the team that dominate the book. Or rather, 5 players and the coach, played by Billy Bob Thorton. And they certainly fit Hollywood - the black star running back who blows a knee, the white punk running back with the bad dad, the white QB with a confidence problem, the spanish tight end bound for Harvard, and the coach, a good man under unbearable pressure and the shadow of his mythic predeccesor.
That sounds like a great football movie, particularly with the two big games. I see great possibility for a James Horner soundtrack.
No reason in the world why you have to drag my book into it.
But they did.
And since they did, they had better pay the rest of it - or rather, the real parts of it - the proper respect.

So let me go see it, and i'll let you know.