Friday, November 30, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of Year, Part Deux

I love college football. There is something about the tradition, the color, the rivalries, the pageantry and the possibility that maybe, just maybe, an unheralded school can knock off a traditional powerhouse (anyone remember Appalachian State?). Teams play in venues with stories passed through generations of families and students. Death Valley (times 2), The Swamp, the Big House, Happy Valley - all conjure images of unforgettable times in the lives of current and former students and fans across the country. Both of my daughters and their friends posed for photos in caps & gowns on their football field. I attended a function at the stadium in Ann Arbor a few months ago. Despite the rain, dozens of attendees took pictures of each other on that field. I know, it's a big business that exploits the labors of young men, euphemistically referred to as scholar/athletes whenever the crass venality of the business is exposed. It doesn't matter to me; I still enjoy it.

Just as I have some indelible memories of specific games over the years, I also have some in-bred likes and dislikes for various teams and personages. A few from the litany:

As a Catholic kid growing up in Oklahoma, I quickly learned that God, country and football are what mattered. At this time of year, however, the order altered somewhat, with OU football achieving primacy. Cheering for OU was just what one did. This loyalty could also blind one to the seamier side of life, like when some players encountered legal difficulty in the Switzer era. Of greater importance was winning; some coaches did not long survive, as they didn't win.

I naturally find it difficult to root for Notre Dame. Who can forget that those papists snapped the most storied streak in all of football, the 47 consecutive games won by the Sooners. Legend has it that the one score of the game (lost by OU, 7-0) turned on a missed clipping call against the Irish. A side effect: it was another 15 years before the state activities association would permit Catholic high schools to compete in state athletic tournaments. Notre Dame was later coached by Ara Parseghian, who allegedly perpetrated the food poisoning suffered by OU players when they traveled to play Northwestern, the team he was then coaching. This same Ara, while coaching Notre Dame, went for a tie in the next Game of the Century, against Michigan State in the late 60's, instead of going for the win. Naturally, Notre Dame was ranked #1. Maybe it's due to the legend of Rockne, or their national fan base or the televising of each game, but I have long believed that the Irish have been the beneficiary of some bias on the part of officials, perhaps unintentional. Their wins at Oklahoma and against Stanford this year each received a boost from very suspect calls.

I don't like decals on helmets. The teams that sport so many of them - Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State (aka the CCotUF; ask for a translation) - are among my least favorite teams. I know they're good schools. I have met many alums of FSU during my time in the hotel business, each of whom has proven to be smart and talented. Two of the peers in my current job whom I respect the most are graduates of Georgia. One of my daughter's grad school colleagues attended Ohio State; I have learned much about the programs they offer that have earned my admiration. Still, I don't get the decals. Do they get these stickers for great plays? Okay; does that also mean that they get some taken away for poor ones? I think not. I suppose there is some tradition at each school about these things; I would prefer to see a team sport something designed by Lisa Frank.

Most of the coaches at the college level appear to be humorless automatons who just aren't very good sports and will do anything to win. You want a reason to think ill of them? Here is the answer in two words: Lane Kiffin. Does anyone believe he had nothing to do with the deflated football kerfuffle in the Oregon game? Nick Saban yelled at his players for dousing him with Gatorade when they won their first title a few years ago. Seriously. Mark Richt and his players refused to shake hands with the upstarts from Central Florida when they had the gall to defeat them in the Liberty Bowl. These guys make millions of dollars a year, never pay for a game of golf, a car or clothes and don't need to work another day in their lives. Can't they act like they enjoy it? Bob Stoops and Will Muschamp seem to have things a bit more in perspective, although the Gators coach does tend to wear his emotions quite visibly. I have observed each of these two smiling and laughing on the sidelines, which certainly separates them from their counterparts.

Just as stadium names in college football are superior to their professional counterparts (Bank of America stadium is hardly anything to get excited about.), team names have similar preference. Gators, Sooners, Gamecocks, Crimson Tide, Longhorns, Ducks (the only team allowed to use a Disney character), Volunteers, Beavers, Nittany Lions are all names that can apply to only one place on earth. Now, most fans even know who the Golden Flashes are.

My children never saw a minute of football until they went to college. At Florida, they rarely missed a game. They became rabid fans, which they remain to this day. I have heard similar stories from people who attended Oklahoma, Florida State and Penn State. There is nothing quite like the loyalty and collegiality that fans share about their college teams. Although neither of my two favorites will be playing for the title, they may end up playing each other in the Sugar Bowl. As to that BCS championship game, it appears that it will pit two teams for which I have decades-long enmity against each other. Whatever will I do?

Monday, November 5, 2012

It's Almost Over, Kids

Frequent visitors to this spot have doubtlessly been awaiting with nearly breathless anticipation a lengthy rationale why someone is or is not tempermentally suited for the office, or my suggestion on some obscure state ballot question. I'll pass. On a less-positive note, I would suppose that anyone who remains undecided, after a billion dollars of advertising and untold stories about everything from Rafalca to whether he said that or not, should perhaps be ineligible to vote.

I gave up in-person voting about 20 years ago. My reasons for this action had nothing to do with Acorn (remember them?) or any other such group. Instead, I was always angered when, approaching the polling station, I was besieged by people attempting to hand me a leaflet promoting one candidate or cause over another. My reaction was always the same: I would get into an argument with the offender, accusing her or him of having so little regard for the intelligence of their fellow citizens that the mere presence of a leaflet in hand would sway my vote at this moment of truth. It was such an unfair fight.

Over this span of time, I have not missed voting in an election, as I have used the absentee method. I sent mine in three weeks ago. I have since taken the time to note some of the foibles of this election season. Some favorites:

There are billboards plastered all over Atlanta, informing the local populace that voting enables the citizen to enter a contest to win a free gun. I'm not certain what cause that organization is promoting, but I am disturbed that ballots and bullets be so intertwined.

Bumper stickers are a perennial favorite soapbox. A couple of the winners I have seen of late:

On a car that could charitably be described as a heap: "This time, elect an American". I don't know if this person was from another country or not. When last I checked, Hawaii is a state in this Union of ours, which, according to the Constitution, makes our current President eligible for the job.

On a pickup truck with Texas plates: "Secede". I do not believe they have thought that one all the way to its logical fruition. Plus, wasn't that sentiment outlawed about 150 years ago?

My personal favorite, though, is one for the ages. A vintage Mercedes, with a like-new sticker, stating: "Don't Blame Me, I Voted for McGovern." I immediately started to hum a tune from Rocky Horror.

As for all the blathering that will emanate from our televisions over the next 36 hours, I'll pass on that, too. I prefer to wait to hear how the two most literate pundits on the airwaves weigh in on the subject Wednesday night at 11 on Comedy Central.

For those of you who have not yet voted, please do so tomorrow. This right is also our privilege.