Sunday, October 15, 2006

Maybe every day actually should be Saturday

1. The Detroit Tigers. Growing up, the Detroit Tigers were the only team that I loved: not Michigan football or the Red Wings. The Bad Boys weren't yet a glimmer.

I became a sports fan in 1987. The Tigers and the Blue Jays ended the regular season with a three-game series that determined the American League East championship. Frank Tanana ended the season with a 1-0 victory. My elementary school class: overjoyed.

Until moving away in 1999, I followed the Tigers every day. During college, we'd go to an empty Tiger Stadium to watch Juan Encarnacion and Gabe Kapler. (Memorably, we also were in Tiger Stadium the day that Grosse Pointe was struck by a tornado; we spent the entire drive back to Ann Arbor arguing about weather. Jim remains safe.) I still know the Tigers of the mid-1980s better than I know the team today.

This season took me by surprise, like it did everyone. Not until I was home in August did I fall back in love with this team. The problem with baseball is that it's such a daily habit. It requires energy to track any team's rhythm. Reading online doesn't do the trick. Without TV or radio, it's only a long-distance relationship.

A long-distance relationship has its rewards. I was at Yankee Stadium on August 30 when the Tigers won in their last at-bat. Our row of Detroit fans, silent and respectful through the whole game, erupted. We took the slings and arrows of a bitter Yankees fan in the row ahead of us, but no punches to the head like the unlucky Tigers fan a few rows behind. The romance was rekindled.

My happiness with this year's Tigers team is altogether different from my Michigan fandom. It's more about nostalgia than real-time triumph. I don't know if it has to do with baseball specifically -- some kind of watered-down Field of Dreams hokum -- or the fact that I'm so far removed from a team that once meant everything to me. It isn't as triumphant or euphoric as seeing Michigan beat Notre Dame or Ohio State, but for some reason it feels warmer and more satisfying. College football is like standing outside drunk, watching Fourth of July fireworks; the Tigers going to the World Series is like going home for Thanksgiving.

2. Chad Henne: all grown up. Michigan's defense is an apocalyptic concussion machine. It is Ash Williams slaughtering a legion of Evil Dead. It is Kamala the Ugandan Headhunter crushing Tito Santana. Its seven-sack, quarterback-crippling blitzkrieg can only be attributed to Lloyd Carr's secret ownership of the Lost Ark of the Covenant.

Even though we got to see two Penn State quarterbacks melt in real time, the observation that I take from Saturday night's whupping session -- so much starker and more dramatic than the 17-10 score -- is that Chad Henne, a mere boy last season, has become a man. He played with poise and composition. Watching the game for a second time, I was struck by how authoritative and in control he looked. His judgment was superb throughout. But for a dropped pass to Mike Massey and a couple more drops from an otherwise-superb Steve Breaston, this would have been a two- or three-touchdown domination.

In a loud crowd without his star receiver, Henne's worst sins amounted to a couple passes thrown too low and another couple thrown too far. Any Big 10 quarterback short of Troy Smith would have had the aim of a drunken PR flak playing Big Buck Hunter 3. That stage of Henne's college career is over. He is to be believed.

3. Miami's vices. I'm done saying nice things about Larry Coker, who, despite a growing record of mediocrity at Miami, I credited for reining in a program that often displays the discipline and dignity of a prison riot. For much of this season, I viewed calls for his ousting as emblematic of college football's bad priorities.

First came the fracas at Louisville, where Miami's finest thought that it would be good form to hold a pre-game squaredance on Louisville's mid-field logo. But Saturday night's bloodfest -- featuring post-societal anarchical violence best left to a Mel Gibson movie -- was of a completely different scale.

Donna Shalala, the president of Miami, was Bill Clinton's HHS Secretary. Between Clinton, Coker, and his team, she has earned an honorary doctorate in men behaving badly.

4. Breaking Away. Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner has had two brain surgeries in the last year. Indiana is a thoroughly likeable school and inoffensive football program. And yet, I couldn't help feeling frustrated that Iowa -- a team expected to compete for the Big 10 title -- fell to Indiana on Saturday. It was the kind of loss worthy of an ACC program; it made the Big 10 look bush league.

Still, it was a moment of joy, watching Hoeppner's gray-haired wife, in a skirt and white cardigan, run through the end zone as the clock ran out, then peck kisses on Terry's face when his postgame interview ended. I loved every second of that. Thank you, Tivo. Sometimes you forget that sports cliches from TV and movies happen with regularity in real life, and when they do, it's always more satisfying than the movie.

5. Florida-Auburn. It could be my year-long, all-day-long addiction to EDSBS. For whatever reason, Florida may be the team I've watched most this season, after Michigan, and I would have liked nothing more than seeing Florida play Michigan or Ohio State in a national championship game. I've loved the unpredictability caused by the Chris Leak/Tim Tebow quarterbacking duo, and in a day-glo conference fueled by moonshine, Phil Fulmer, cheerleader boobs, and the ghost of Bear Bryant, Florida's program is comparatively likeable.

Hence, I was disappointed to see them lose to Auburn, whose sour-grapes coach Tommy Tuberville is now giving Phil Fulmer and Jim Tressel a run as most hateable coach in college football. (Post-Neuheisel only.) As a program, Auburn appears to care about bitching roughly as much as competence -- even in victory, Tuberville was whining about the absence of a college football playoff. Rain of dogs, please.

6. A tip for cleaner living. Hey, have you guys tried this shit where you can go to a gym, run on a treadmill, and watch college football on a little TV? A few miles and much sweat later, it's halftime of Wisconsin-Minnesota. Also, running really hard while you watch football is fun. It just is. It may make you too tired to stay out drinking until 4, but I think that it enhances the experience.


Crunk Raconteur said...

I hear you on Florida. One of the things that surprised me the most about this college football season is the fact that I do not, as it happens, hate Florida. This came as quite a shock to me since, well, as an alum of an SEC school, I really hated Florida. But, it turns out that, much like how I don't actually hate the Denver Broncos, all my hatred (and there was a lot) was entirely localized in the person of Steve Spurrier (and John Elway).

Florida 2006 has probably also been the team I have watched second-most this year as well (after Ohio State), but I attribute it more to the fact that CBS's SEC coverage shows them every week (fine by me). They are a fun, interesting team, and while I am always more than a little creeped out by the racial overtones of the fans collective Tebowner, I'm always entertained when I watch them.

I would have certainly have been far more happy to see an undefeated Florida playing the Ohio State/Michigan winner (which is to say, the Buckeyes) in the national championship game rather than USC (yawn) or West Virginia (does anybody really think that a mediocre Big Ten or SEC team -- think Iowa or Alabama -- wouldn't win the Big East?).

I guess I'm pulling for USC, just so I can giggle every time I say "Booty".

evil girl said...

wait, you went to a gym?

CrimeNotes said...

Lately I've been paranoid about turning into a beefcat, so I've been living slightly healthier.

Flop said...

Actually, C-notes, I was telling evil girl you looked a little porky lately.

But more about the Gators.

The 180-degree shift in my perception of the Gators went from lumping them in with the other (less-likeable) Florida programs to official Favorite SEC Team Unless Playing Them in a Bowl of Some Sort in three steps.

1. In college, noticed that unlikeable program in red and yellow in Tallahassee pummeled ACC doormats with unimpressive, jump-ball intensive offense. I regarded them like you do the kid who plays as the 1997 All-America team against Cornell in college football, but instead of giggling at the carnage, flexes and woofs and preens. Weak sauce. Also noticed that Florida's scheme was rather impressively complex and effective.

2. Came home from Michigan's 1997 triumph over Ohio State to watch Florida and it's five-headed quartback phalanx courteously dispatch Florida State and swing needed No. 1 votes to us in the pre-BCS era. Thanks, Gators!

3. Made friends with a UF alumna. Shortly after, found on the internet. At this point, it's all over.

Now I'm leaving bags of Chee-tos next to my ex-roommate's display of Vols paraphernalia and taking time out from celebrating our win over Notre Dame to do drunken Gator Chomps in the bar while Florida tracks mud in Phil Fulmer's kitchen and makes a big, sloppy sandwich of victory.

22280 said...

Um, yes, I will step up and say that Alabama would most certainly NOT win the Big East this year. Or the WAC, for that matter.

And Tuberville is the opposite of hateable. Good for him for speaking the truth and sticking up for his team, even two years later.

22280 said...

Defense of Tuberville rescinded after reading his unbelievably self-serving, inconsistent comments from recent days.

He's right about the playoff, though.

CrimeNotes said...

Yeah, you're in real good company with that argument.

22280 said...

which argument? about tuberville's comments or about the playoff? the playoff is just basic logic. i can understand college presidents ignoring basic logic in the interest of money, but i can't understand why fans would prefer the current system unless they are just really easily deceived.

CrimeNotes said...

Personally, I vote for going back to the days when bowl games were parts of local festivals and we all traveled by train. I care marginally about the equities of how a national champion gets named, but not enough to stomach March Madness-type sickness and hype for a championship playoff. And you're the one who's deceived if you think a playoff wouldn't be an insane cash cow. It would turn college football into Las Vegas, and probably just as corrupt.

Flop said...

blah blah blah blah ... I just want to get the joke about the Car Care festival that has taken place in Charlotte, N.C., every year since 1932. Only recently, however, has this festival been honored with a college bowl game. They had caber tosses and frog-jumping contests before, but it felt so ... so ... well, unsatisfying in a way that could only be fixed with mediocre Atlantic Coast Conference and Big East brand football.