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Thursday, December 30, 2010

My favorite sports moment of the year: "Little Giants" versus Notre Dame



Hands down, my favorite sports moment of the entire year. Definitely worth watching again (and again, and again, and again).

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Terra Cotta Warriors" The 2010 Schuler Books & Music Fantasy Football League Champion

Several weeks ago I quit with my fantasy football updates, because I was sure that nobody could possibly care whatsoever about what my fictional team was doing--and even I was getting bored with the updates.

Anyone out there who remembers any of those fantasy football posts will recall that in my final update, I mentioned that my record was 6-2.

Well I'm back to let everyone know that, for the first time since I started participating in the Schuler Books & Music Fantasy Football League, I won the title. I've been doing this for eight years, and have never sniffed first place before, but this year absolutely everything came together and I breezed to the championship.

I had lots of luck all season, but also made plenty of roster moves that helped me along the way. I finished the regular season with a 12-2 record. In the playoffs, my luck continued: I was behind in my first round matchup, but got huge performances from Brandon Jacobs and Andre Johnson to pull ahead and win by 10 points.

In the two-week championship "game" I overcame a major brainfart (forgetting to tweek my lineup after the first week because I'd become preoccupied with Christmas wrapping) and still managed to win. This is where dumb luck really played a major role: My opponent had LeSean McCoy, the multidimensional Eagles running back, going for him last night. I was ahead by only 25 points and, along with the rest of the world, was convinced that Philadelphia would roll over Minnesota and McCoy would have a huge game. Somehow, the Vikings played out of their minds and held Philly to only 14 points, and McCoy was limited to a mere 85 combined rushing and receiving yards (which totals 8 fantasy points). Minnesota bailed me out. Thank you, Vikings.

After my forgetfullness with my championship game lineup, it felt like once again I'd fallen victim to self-sabotage. I'd intended on replacing the gimpy Knowshon Moreno and the erratic Brandon Jacobs. I had the Colts' Blair White, whom I intended on starting, and planned on picking up a hot running back off the waiver wire...it didn't happen. I woke up in a cold sweat at about 2:30 AM Wednesday morning, suddenly realizing I'd missed the midnight deadline to submit my "championship week two" starters. Still, I sent a desperate email to our league commissioner explaining my oversight. Rules are rules though, so I had to go with my previous week's starters. (Our commissioner is an attorney by trade, so I knew he'd show me no mercy). Luckily for me, it all turned out fine--but there certainly were some nervous moments this weekend.

Winning the league championship is a much more satisfying feeling than I'd ever imagined. It's the closest I will ever come to winning the Super Bowl or becoming Vince Lombardi, Chuck Noll, Tom Landry, or Bill Belichick. Yeah, kind of pathetic, I'll admit. Winning the fantasy football league title has finally given me official sports fan geek status--and that's okay. I wear that title proudly.

I almost didn't participate in fantasy football this season. I'd become tired of paying my $20 entry fee every year only to finish in the middle of the pack (or in some years, near the bottom). Now, of course, I'm happy that I did. However, I know that it will NEVER get better than this season. Realistically, there's no way I can ever replicate it, or even come close to doing so. I am seriously considering retirement from fantasy football and going out on top.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Michigan State and Alabama: more in common than just Nick Saban

On January 1, the Michigan State football team will be playing against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Florida. It marks the first meeting ever between the two schools.

As everyone probably already knows, Alabama's coach Nick Saban was also head coach at MSU from 1995-1999. In addition, the Tide's special teams coach, Bobby Williams, was also an assistant under Saban at MSU and took over as head coach at State when Saban left for LSU, and Joe Pendry, also on Saban's staff at 'Bama, served under coach Muddy Waters at MSU from 1980-1981. Tuscaloosa could be rightfully called "SOUTH East Lansing".

To add a little to the Spartan/Tide soap opera, MSU's head coach Mark Dantonio was linebackers coach under Saban at MSU throughout Saban's tenure in East Lansing. When Dantonio became head coach at MSU, both he and Saban went after running back Mark Ingram, Jr. from Flint. Ingram's father, Mark Sr. was an outstanding wide receiver at Michigan State from 1983-1986. In what was a hotly-contested recruiting war, Ingram, Jr. chose Alabama over Michigan State. Though he'd grown up a Spartan fan, he was very close to Saban, who had been defensive coordinator at MSU when Ingram, Sr. played there in the mid-eighties.

But the Michigan State/Alabama ties don't end there. There is an historical link between the two football programs. Back in the fifties and sixties, MSU's Duffy Daugherty and Alabama's Bear Bryant were very close coaching confidants and friends. Seemingly, the two couldn't have been more different: Duffy was the outwardly jovial Pennsylvanian, while Bear was the stern, taciturn, houndstooth-hat wearing native Arkansan. However, Duffy and the Bear helped each other on the recruiting trail. The story goes that Daugherty tipped off Bryant about a hot quarterback prospect from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania by the name of Joe Namath. Namath was not able to meet MSU's admissions standards, so the story goes, but could measure up to Alabama's less rigorous requirements. In exchange for Namath, Bear helped Duffy land standouts Charles "Bubba" Smith from Beaumont, Texas and George Webster from Anderson, South Carolina. Smth and Webster, both African-Americans, could not attend Alabama due to segregation. (ADDENDUM: I have since learned that this part of the story is untrue. Tom Shanahan and Jimmy Raye's excellent book Raye of Light clarifies this. Bryant had little to nothing to do with Duffy Daugherty's ability to identify and sign African-American players. Duffy had a network of African-American high school coaches whom he had befriended and were instrumental in what became known as Duffy's "Underground Railroad").

The arrangement greatly helped both Michigan State and Alabama. George Webster and Bubba Smith were the anchors of perhaps the greatest defensive teams in college football history, helping the Spartans to back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1965 and 1966. In those two seasons, MSU's combined record was 19-1-1 and, in the pre-BCS era (where every news service/poll declared its own national champion) were #1 in the nation both years.

In Namath's three seasons at Alabama (1962-1964), he helped lead the Crimson Tide to a record of 29-4 and a national championship in his final season.

Michigan State benefited greatly from Southern segregation. Duffy Daugherty wanted the very best players on his team, regardless of skin color, and MSU's teams were notable for the large number of great African-American players who comprised their rosters. Duffy cultivated his close friendship with Bear most certainly with the knowledge that Bryant could direct the best African-American players up north to MSU. (This was an apocryphal story and I have since learned is untrue. Bryant had little knowledge of African-American players in the South. See addendum above).

By the late sixties, segregation finally began to wane in the deep South. In 1971, junior college transfer John Mitchell became the first African-American football player at the University of Alabama. (Bryant said that he wanted to have black players earlier than this, but the racial climate in the South prohibited this). With the end of segregation in the South, Michigan State's football pipeline also ended. The Crimson Tide's football program remained a perennial national contender over the next several decades, while MSU football entered a long period of mediocrity, only occasionally glimpsing national significance.

In 2010, Michigan State and Alabama both had successful football seasons, with the teams meeting each other on the gridiron for the first time ever. It's rather ironic that the programs have never played each other before, as they known each other intimately in the past, and have more in common than many might assume.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I sure could use an editor sometimes--wait a minute, I AM my editor!

It drives me crazy that whenever I look at the posts I've just published, I have a ridiculous number of typos and spelling mistakes.

I am not disciplined enough as a writer. I tend to write quickly and want to get it out there quickly, and I hate editing. It's not until I go back and see all the mistakes I've made that I see the true value of taking a deep breath, a step back, and EDITING.

So, anyway, please accept my apologies. I will make it a New Year's resolution to be more diligent at checking for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.