Posted by: BE | August 2, 2014

Everybody’s Leaving Town

There’s not a soul I know around
Everybody’s leaving town …

Good Time Charley’s Got the Blues
Danny O’Keefe 1971

Last Sunday was the most enjoyable day for this Atlanta Braves fan in quite a while.

Today gave me the blues.

Last Sunday, righty Greg Maddux, lefty Tom Glavine, and the skipper Bobby Cox headlined the Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2014.  In the idyllic (if mythical) birthplace of baseball at Cooperstown, the trio made witty speeches, basked in the tributes of former teammates and coaches, and became the first Braves from the glory days squads of the 1990s to earn plaques at the Hall.

Today, Pete Van Wieren died.  “The Professor” formed one-third of an equally famous Braves triumvirate during his more than 30 years as an announcer with the franchise.  Joining colleagues Skip Caray and Ernie Johnson in 1976, those voices of the Braves … the avuncular, easy-going Ernie, the acerbic, funny, and sarcastic Skip, and the studious Van Wieren played a huge role in making the Braves “America’s Team” with their broadcasts of games on Ted Turner’s satellite superstation (known first as WTCG … now as TBS).

Both events – the passing of the professor and the Hall induction ceremony – evoke memories of vastly different eras in Braves baseball history.

Pete Van Wieren joined the Braves announcing team before the 1976 season.  For the decade prior (since the team arrived in Atlanta from Milwaukee in 1966), the Braves had hovered as a decent franchise.  They were not great certainly, but not terrible either.

Between 1966 and 1975 the team was a mere 20 games under .500 (795-815), averaging out to a seasonal record of 80-82.  The Braves won a West division title in 1969.  That was the first year the majors split the leagues into two divisions … and yes Atlanta was in the West.  The ’69 team lost the league championship to the Miracle Mets, eventual World Series winners.

Pete joined Skip and Ernie (all true Braves fans felt we were on a first-name basis with them) in 1976.  For the next 15 seasons we all got to watch a whole lot of bad baseball.  From 1976 to 1990, the Braves won 1043 games and lost 1322, a whopping 279 games below .500.  A typical season record was around 70-92.  Yikes.  The Braves did slip in a division championship in 1982, but fell to another team of soon-to-be World Series champions – the St. Louis Cardinals.

Baseball fans of a certain age probably knew the three Braves announcers better than most players from those 1976-1990 teams.  In 1977, Turner began beaming Braves games across the nation (and really the globe I suppose) and fans from that pre-ESPN era got their baseball fix by watching the Braves.  The only real competitor to their national popularity would have been the Cubs on WGN, but all those day games at Wrigley did not allow the working masses to tune in.  So, the Braves were the team everybody got to see … no matter how bad they were.

Finally in the 1990s, things turned for the franchise and the new Hall of Fame gang helped lead the change.

Bobby Cox was the first of the newly enshrined trio to make a mark with the Braves.

Having managed the team from 1978-1981 (at his firing, Ted Turner famously remarked something to the effect that if he hadn’t just fired Cox, he’d be the kind of guy Turner would be looking to hire), Cox returned as General Manager in 1985 and helped build a farm system (along with the estimable Paul Snyder) that would supply the talent for a record-breaking run of success from 1991-2004.

Cox fired Russ Nixon and moved back to the dugout in June of 1990, just in time to see the maturation of a young left-handed pitcher named Tom Glavine.  In the big leagues since 1987, but sporting a career record of only 33-41 at that time, Glavine won 20 games and the Cy Young Award in 1991.  He was the ace of a staff that helped the Braves jump from the worst team in the league in 1990 to National League champions in 1991.  The team lost a heart-breaking World Series in seven games to the Minnesota Twins, but the group started a streak of fourteen consecutive division championships (the 1994 season was never completed due to labor strife).  Glavine would go on to win 303 games in his career.

In 1993 the game’s best pitcher joined the franchise.  Greg Maddux cemented the Braves as a legitimate and perennial championship contender.  His signing also solidified Atlanta as a potential destination of choice for big-name free agents.  Maddux would go on to win 355 games in his career, four consecutive Cy Young Awards from 1992-1995, 18 Gold Glove awards, and become the premier control pitcher of his generation.  He, Glavine, and John Smoltz formed the “Big Three” of the Braves pitching rotation, one of the finest starting staffs in the game’s history.  Smoltz and third-baseman Chipper Jones will land in Cooperstown soon enough, giving the Braves of the 1990s and early 2000s five Hall of Famers.

When Glavine won the most important baseball game in Atlanta Braves history, pitching eight scoreless innings in a 1-0 Game Six victory over the fearsome lineup of the Cleveland Indians to clinch the 1995 World Series, the championship marked the seminal event for the Atlanta Braves and fans of the team.

Maddux, Glavine, Cox are gone to the Hall … Skip, Ernie, and Pete are gone but not forgotten.

They provided great memories, but now I feel like everybody’s leaving town.

Posted by: BE | June 30, 2014

Life Ain’t Easy

“Life ain’t easy for a boy named Sue.”
A Boy Named Sue – Johnny Cash 1969

The first thing I noticed was a cluster of women from Susan’s Sunday School class hovering around her on the steps of the church. From the truck where I sat waiting on her, she looked emotional and I could tell she had been crying, but then she had been that way earlier in the morning as we sat in the 9:15 service, and truth be told since her cancer diagnosis last fall … well, for either of us to be emotional or even teary-eyed at church was not so unusual. So, I was uneasy but not alarmed initially. Susan saw me and started to walk over, accompanied by a lady from class. By the time she opened the passenger door, I could tell something more was wrong.

“Stephen’s dead.”

“What?”

“Stephen’s dead.”

Life sure ain’t easy today.

John Stephen Sams was my wife Susan’s youngest brother, and he died in his sleep overnight on June 29, 2014. He was 36 years old. He leaves behind his wife Corinna, his mother and father Paulette and Melvin, his older siblings Mary, Susan, and Russell, his in-laws, and nine nieces and nephews.

He also leaves a hole in our lives and in our hearts.

Stephen was 10 or 11 years old when Susan and I started dating, and from the get-go he was the little brother I never had growing up (even though I was just old enough to have been his dad too). Driveway basketball games, shooting pool in the basement, getting crushed and humiliated in video games by the little Techmo Bowl wizard that he was, laughing over lines from The Simpsons, or lyrics from a song we found funny (one night when Susan and I lived in Carrollton, Stephen and I doubled over on the floor guffawing trying to recite the words to Johnny Cash’s classic A Boy Named Sue) … there might have been a time I was around Stephen and we didn’t laugh and have fun, but none come to mind easily.

Stephen was the baby of his family, seven years younger than his brother Russell, and the pet of sisters Mary, Susan, and everybody else in the family. Stephen was 20 or so when my son Luke Jackson was born (the first grandchild on Susan’s side of the family), and Stephen once playfully chided me, asking what took us so long because he was glad to get some of the attention off him. He meant it too.

Susan and I were working on academic degrees during most of Stephen’s teenage years. I was a graduate assistant teaching physical activity classes at Georgia and then at Tennessee, and the timing and setting could not have been better for a teenage boy. Stephen spent spring breaks with us on occasion, and visited other times too. He would tag along to my racquetball and bowling classes, and so enjoyed playing and competing with those college kids. After a couple of years, he never seemed to mind when I put him on a court with the prettiest girls in class either. At UT, we lived in a small married housing apartment near campus with an extra bedroom that Stephen bunked in on his visits. Susan worked from 9 to 5 at the university, but my schedule was really wide open because I was writing a dissertation on my own schedule and only teaching a couple of hours a day. Stephen and I would walk to my classes; when we finished he would be so sweaty he looked like he’d just come of out a steam room (from playing racquetball non-stop the whole time), we would go grab lunch with Susan or just the two of us, then he and I would spend the afternoon playing video games back at the apartment. Nearly every time he visited, we rented some game called Metal Marine; it was one of those military affairs where you had to build up your weaponry over time (literally hours and hours). We would spend all our efforts building an ICBM nuclear device … and then immediately detonate it to blow up all our enemies and start over.

As Stephen got older he developed into an elite level golfer. Susan and I graduated and started our professional and home life, so we didnt get to see Stephen as often.

Still, his parents rented a beach house in the panhandle of Florida nearly every summer, and Stephen, Russell, Mr. Sams, and I would often make a golf foursome. Stephen and I would team up against Russell (also an outstanding golfer) and his dad (a very good golfer) in scrambles matches. The matches were fun and they were close and competitive. Stephen could hit the ball farther than anybody I ever played with (by far), so I was getting to hit into Par-4 greens from 50 or 60 yards instead of 160 (and from the fairway instead of the woods). Man, he could hit a golf ball. In high school, he won the Georgia state championship in the state’s largest classification. We had a lot of fun on those golf outings over those precious summers.

Life goes on (too fast) and all our families settled into the routine of seeing each other mostly on holidays, birthdays, and at special occasions – whether happy (weddings) or sad (funerals). No matter the setting, for me time spent with Stephen was always time spent laughing, discussing life, and enjoying his kind-hearted nature.

Now, he is gone and he will be so sorely missed by so many.

Life ain’t easy.

 

L-R ... Russell, Mary, Susan, Stephen

L-R … Russell, Mary, Susan, Stephen

Posted by: BE | June 18, 2014

Leaders … or Cheer – Leaders

(This column was originally posted at the Sport+Fitness Network blog June 16, 2014)

Do the faculty at your institution act as leaders regarding athletics … or as cheerleaders?

Since the summer of 1852, when crews from Harvard and Yale rowed against one another on New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee in the first intercollegiate athletic competition, the place of sports on campus has been a topic of debate. By the early 1900s, issues including player eligibility, safety, finances, time, attention, and academic integrity created both a call for reform of college sports and a struggle for control of those reforms.

In his book Pay for Play: A History of Big-Time College Athletic Reform, Dr. Ronald A. Smith explains that five groups vied for control of college sports (and still maintain influence): students, faculty, college presidents, governing boards and agencies, and alumni. Add modern media entities to the mix and that roster has not changed much.

Although faculty joined the fray for a while, for more than a century the prevailing wisdom regarding college athletic reform has focused on the role of the college president. Smith cites various sources that all come to the same conclusion … significant reform must be driven from the presidents. Smith then rightfully points out that the prevailing wisdom is wrong.

Presidents have been mostly inept in enacting significant reform – especially reforms associated with academic integrity – and they’ve been at it since around 1905. Granted, it is a difficult challenge as presidents must answer to demanding constituencies who do not always put academic interests ahead of the numbers on a scoreboard. But far too many presidents fall into the cheerleader role in handling athletics … pouring money into facilities and coaching hires; measuring program success by wins and losses; allowing marginal students into the institution due to athletic prowess. It’s a much easier and more popular path to be a cheerleader than a leader.

So, if presidents have proven mostly inept at enacting reform, and the other invested groups are typically more interested in reforms focused on the sport instead of academics (competitive contests, player safety, money, etc.), what are faculty to do?

Here are five tips I would recommend to faculty who want to act as leaders with regard to college athletics:

Get Engaged with Athletics … Faculty stay plenty busy handling the trifecta of professorial duties – teaching, service, and scholarship. Still, learning about the school’s athletic programs would be useful to even the most accomplished academicians. Find out what teams the institution fields and the athletic conference to which the school belongs; know the Athletic Director and the head coaches (if not the assistant coaches when feasible); realize when contests and championships are being contested. All of this information is readily available on the websites of the most modest athletic program. Even if a professor has little interest in sports, staying engaged is demonstrating leadership.

Recognize the Significance of Athletics to the Students … As a professor, I may not like it but some students are at the university because of their sport. This holds true at all levels of competition. Going back to Ron Smith’s book, he notes that differences among the various levels of intercollegiate competition are of degree, not of kind. NCAA Division III and NAIA schools (typically smaller institutions) follow a very similar athletics model as the big-time giants like Alabama and Oklahoma. They have professional coaches, a significant conditioning regimen, and a demanding practice schedule. They recruit. They compete for championships. The list goes on. Even students not on athletic teams are much more likely to attend a football game than a campus play or concert. So, sports are significant to students. Accepting the reality is another act of faculty leadership.

: the Significance of Athletics to the Institution … We know that big-time college sports generate huge revenue. On May 30, 2014, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) announced revenue distribution of more than $309 million to the fourteen member schools. The Big 12 distributed $212 million to its ten members. The Big Ten is expected to divide over $320 million among fourteen institutions later this month. Revenue generation is not limited to the big schools. If you wonder why so many small colleges have added football teams in the past decade, simply calculate the math. A typical NAIA program may allot the equivalent 24 scholarships with a team enrollment goal of 100 players. Regardless of how the scholarship pool is divvied up, an equivalent of 76 students will be paying tuition. Ask any small college if an additional 76 students is significant. The answer is yes.

Hold Players Accountable … An easy test to determine whether a faculty member is a leader or a cheerleader is to assess whether they hold players to the same academic standards as every other student. We do not have to treat every student the same, but we should treat every student fairly. A baseball player should not get extra time to study for an exam because his team had a road game, a football player should not get to stroll into class ten minutes late because his touchdown was replayed on ESPN, an athlete should not be able to miss multiple class sessions without consequences because of “excused” absences for travel (which is a misnomer anyway). Expect good work from students, whether they are on an athletic team or not, and hold them accountable for academic performance. Doing so is the act of a leader.

Avoid Using Coach as a Crutch … If you are a faculty member, when is the last time the basketball coach called to ask you to help a post player with footwork on the block? Or, when has the football coach sent an email asking you to work with a safety on his backpedal and route recognition. How about the baseball coach calling to get you to work with the second baseman on a double-play pivot? My guess is none of those have ever happened. Yet, some faculty members are quick to contact a coach to help motivate a player to attend class or complete assignments more punctually. Yes, coaches have special relationships and influence with players, and yes most coaches would welcome such contact from a professor … but it is MY job as a faculty member to motivate students in the classroom, to get them to submit work on time, to interest them in our course content. A leader takes responsibility for what goes on with students; a cheerleader is quick to call the coach for help.

Academics should always take precedent on campus. Colleges and universities exist for that purpose after all. But, athletics are significant too – and the concerns associated with college sport are significant enough to warrant attention. Successfully addressing those concerns requires healthy communication between academics and athletics.

Higher education institutions benefit most when faculty act as leaders in the cause.

Posted by: BE | February 18, 2014

A Healthy Tension

Tension about the role of athletics on the college campus provides regular fodder for those interested in the scholarly study of intercollegiate sport.  Hardly a semester goes by, and certainly not a calendar year, without another controversy or scandal creeping into the public eye.

Most of the issues that garner attention are associated with big-time college sports.

To cite just a few …

  • Football players at Northwestern University announced plans this week to form a labor union with the purpose of representing the interests of college athletes.
  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill remains embroiled in an investigation of academic fraud involving the university’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies between 1997 and 2011.
  • Head football coaches at big-time institutions often make far more in salary and benefits than do their athletic directors and school presidents (nominally the bosses of those coaches).
  • Athletic conferences undertook major realignment the past couple of years with little to no regard for tradition, rivalry, or geographic common sense, but with an eye to the economic ledger and huge television rights payouts.

Such a list could go on and on and on.

However, potential problems concerning the role of athletics on campus are not limited to big-time schools – they certainly extend to smaller schools too.  The issues may be different, but are no less troublesome for trustees, administrators, faculty, athletic staff, and anyone interested in protecting the integrity of academics and athletics on campus.

Here are three factors leaders at small schools should consider with regard to the place and purpose of intercollegiate athletics on campus.

Mission: What is the true purpose of athletics on the campus?  Are the teams meant to promote the college name and “brand” by producing winning teams with an ultimate goal of attracting more students?  Or, is intercollegiate competition meant to develop character, leadership, integrity, sportsmanship, and other traits those of us involved in sport love to tout?

Every leader will answer this question the same way.  “We expect both.”

That’s admirable, but what do the actions of the leaders at a school demonstrate?  For example, is a coach more likely to get fired for having a few consecutive mediocre seasons (while fielding a squad of fine students who stay out of trouble and represent the institution well), … or for having outstanding won-loss records (while fielding a team of students who drift in and out of school, fail to take academics seriously, and create problems on campus)?

Enrollment-Driven Recruiting:  The economics of small-school college athletics are interesting.  While sports can generate revenue for the institution, those monies come mainly from enrollment dollars (tuition), and not from ticket sales, merchandise, concessions, licensing, and the like.

Let’s say the full cost of attending School A for a year is $25,000.

Every sports team at the school has an enrollment target.  For example, a basketball squad could be allotted the equivalent of six full scholarships to be divided as the coach sees fit.  That scholarship cost is $150,000 (6 x $25K = $150,000).  The squad’s enrollment target might be 18, meaning the team must have 18 students enrolled.  Those students would generate revenue of $450,000 (18 x 25K = $450,000).  When we subtract the cost of the six scholarships from the gross revenue of the eighteen students enrolled, the basketball squad generates a gross of $300,000.

Want to know why football is so attractive to small schools?  Use the same figures for a football team at School B with larger numbers involved in that sport.

If the scholarship allotment is 24, the cost to the institution is $600,000 (24 x $25K = $600K).  If the enrollment target is 100 (which is not uncommon for small schools), those students would generate $2.5 million (100 x $25K = $2.5M).  Using those numbers a football team would generate $1.9 million annually for the college.  Not bad money.

Those figures are a bit simplistic and do not take into account other expenses that increase as the number of athletic department teams and players grows (travel, lodging, facilities, staffing, etc).  But, any leader on campus should comprehend enrollment-driven recruiting.

Resource Allocation: Another pressure point involves resource allocation.  At many small schools, already low faculty and staff salaries have been relatively stagnant for years, classroom resources are typically limited, and research funding sometimes virtually nil.

Juxtapose those conditions with a very visible increase in the number of coaches hired, new or upgraded athletic facilities and equipment, and the attention given to sports on campus, and campus leaders are faced with managing a potentially volatile relationship between the school’s academic interests and athletic interests.

So, issues associated with college sport are not limited to big-time schools and conferences.

Leaders at smaller institutions must remain vigilant as to the place of athletics on campus.

Author’s Note: This article was originally published on the Sports and Fitness Network

Posted by: BE | October 8, 2013

Autumn Closing In

“Strange how the night moves,
with Autumn closing in.”

Night Moves (click to listen)
Bob Seger (1976)

How many times have you had your heart broken?

You’re not too old or jaded to remember the feeling, right? Can’t focus, can’t eat, can’t sleep … your thoughts flowing toward the object of your affection like a mountain stream moving downhill, sometimes rushing fast and other times just trickling along … but never ceasing and never really under control. Yeah, you remember.

I don’t know how many times my heart’s been broken, but I sure remember the first time.

I remember because an eight year old’s heart is a tender thing. But, damned if that gray-haired old Jim Northrup cared. Neither did big, fat Mickey Lolich, or the gambler Denny McClain, or moon-faced Bill Freehan, or any of the other dastardly Detroit Tigers of 1968. Forty-five years ago this week (October 10th, 1968, to be precise), my favorite boyhood baseball team – the glorious and unbeatable St. Louis Cardinals – were beaten by the inglorious Tigers. Boy, did I cry.

It all came down to Game 7.

My Cards, defending champs from 1967 (having disposed that year of the pompous Boston Red Sox and giving me bragging rights over some cousins and an uncle who should have known better than to pull for the Beantowners), looked like they’d cruise to another World Series championship. In Game 1, Bob Gibson – my favorite player, the best pitcher I’ve ever seen, he of the glowering, glistening, menacing countenance – struck out a Series record 17 (!) Tigers in a 4-0 shutout. Gibby came back in Game 4 and pitched another gem, yielding a single run (off a homer by Northrup) in a 10-1 victory. That the portly lefty Lolich kept winning games for the Tigers mattered little to me. Gibson would go in Game 7. Gibson would win Game 7. Gibson was the best.

The other Cards were good too. Fast Lou Brock in left, smooth Curt Flood in center, solid Roger Maris in right, baby bull Orlando “Cha-Cha” Cepeda at first (so good he needed two nicknames), light-hitting Julian Javier at second, non-hitting Dal Maxvill at short, stout Mike Shannon at third, athletic Tim McCarver catching … wake me up from a dead sleep any day of the year and I can name that roster for you. Of course Gibson would be perpetually on the mound for me. He set a modern day record in 1968 with an earned-run average of 1.12 and went 22-9. How the man lost 9 games is a mystery worthy of national security investigation.

On the day of Game 7, I had a problem. It was called third-grade.

Yes, all World Series games were played during the day in 1968. The first World Series night game wasn’t until 1971, and it would be 1987 before day World Series games would become wholly a remnant of the past. So, I found myself sitting in Ms. Nicholson’s class thinking of my team – of my first love – of my Cardinals. No radio, no television, no smart phones … just a fall Thursday that crept past minute by slow minute. Why my mama didn’t let me skip school that day baffles me. I should have been crafty enough to feign an illness. Finally, the bell rang, I dashed to the bus, leaped off at my stop, sprinted through our front yard, and burst into the house and turned on the television.

NO!

It was the 9th inning and the Tigers led Gibson 4-0.

NO!

Lolich had shut down the Cards yet again. The impeccable Flood had misplayed a 7th inning Northrup line-drive into a triple to break a scoreless tie (the god-like Gibson had only given up one hit going into the seventh). A Mike Shannon homer in the bottom of the ninth gave me a glimmer of hope (and made me realize the Cardinals would surely have won had I only the foresight to skip school and watch the whole game – after all they outscored the Tigers 1-0 while I was tuned in), but it was not to be.

The Cardinals lost. Bob Gibson got beat. My heart got broken for the first time.

Thankfully, an eight-year old heart heals fast. A few weeks later, a slouching quarterback wearing white shoes would lead the upstart New York Jets through the playoffs and eventually to a win over the stodgy Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. I had a new team and a new hero – Joe Willie Namath and the Jets.

As Autumn closes in, seasonally in north Georgia during this beautiful October and metaphorically in my life, it is strange how the night moves. While I still like the Cardinals, the hometown Atlanta Braves became “my team” in the 1970s (when they were bad by the way). The Pittsburgh Steelers (when they got good) eclipsed the New York Jets the day Franco Harris caught the Immaculate Reception and remain my NFL team to this day. College football already had a grip on me by 1968, and soon the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Georgia Bulldogs would become my lasting sports passions.

Sports reflect life in so many ways … in both there have been a few heartbreaks along the way for all of us. I still remember my first one.

Boy, I don’t like the Tigers.

Posted by: BE | September 22, 2013

Johnny Football and Archie Who

In October of 1969, Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning set the SEC record for total yards in a game. The record would not be broken for more than forty years.*

Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M has eclipsed that mark three times in the past calendar year.

Seems to me, Johnny Football deserves more credit than he is getting for breaking perhaps the most storied record of the nation’s most history-conscious conference.

Manziel first broke Manning’s record a year ago this week as a redshirt freshman. Accumulating 557 total yards, he passed for 453 yards, rushed for another 104, and accounted for four touchdowns (three passing and one rushing) in a 58-10 rout of Arkansas at College Station on September 29, 2012. It was only the fourth start of his college career and he was just getting warmed up.

Two weeks later (October 13, 2012) the Aggies traveled to Shreveport for a neutral site game with Louisiana Tech, and Manziel surpassed the total yardage mark again. In a wild 59-57 shootout (in regulation no less), Manziel upped his own record to 576 yards by shredding the Bulldogs for 181 yards on the ground and 395 more through the air. He tallied six touchdowns, spread evenly via run and pass. It was a scintillating performance and national attention started to simmer around the former schoolboy sensation from Kerrville, Texas.

That attention came to a boil a month later (November 10, 2012) when the legend of Johnny Football was truly born in a 29-24 upset victory over top-ranked and defending national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Manziel accounted for a relatively modest 345 yards, but his weaving runs and scrambling play-making captured the nation’s attention and catapulted him to Heisman Trophy frontrunner (he would win the award in December, the first freshman to do so).

Alabama played the foil again in Manziel’s third and (to date) last assault on Archie’s old record.

On September 14 of this year, Manziel rolled up 562 yards against the Crimson Tide in a 49-42 loss at Kyle Field in College Station. Those totals include 464 yards passing, 98 rushing, and five touchdown passes. He still has over half of this season left, plus two more seasons of eligibility but in all likelihood he will be off to the NFL after this season (as a redshirt sophomore he is eligible to declare for the draft).

As great as Manziel has been, he may never reach the lofty status of Archie Manning among southern football fans.

Manning’s record stood for forty-three seasons and is one of the iconic moments in Southeastern Conference football history.

Manning set the standard of 540 yards on October 4, 1969, against Alabama and coach Paul “Bear” Bryant at Legion Field in Birmingham. The Rebels lost the game 33-32, but Manning won the night along with the hearts of football fans across the nation – and especially fans in the South. The leading character of the upcoming documentary Book of Manning passed for 436 yards and two touchdowns that Autumn evening, and added 104 rushing yards and another three touchdowns on the ground. 540 yards and 5 touchdowns. Those were myth-making numbers.

The novelty of that Ole Miss-Alabama game contributed to its enduring legacy and to Manning’s status as a favorite son of the South.

When the Rebs traveled to the heart of Dixie to face the Tide, the teams played only the second nationally televised prime-time college football game ever shown (Alabama and Miami had played the first in late 1968, a game that didn’t generate much attention). To contemporary fans, college football on television was in the dinosaur age back in the late 1960s. Now we can watch college football most days of the week from September to January, and games start whenever ESPN (still over a decade away from its origins that 1969 night) or other networks dictate. But, when Archie set the record the nation was only three months removed from Neil Armstrong’s moon walk, starting to learn of the Manson family murders of two months earlier, and just tuning in to a brand new show called The Brady Bunch. Saturdays featured one national college football game, and on some weekends bonus coverage of a regional contest.

Archie Manning’s play that evening ushered in the modern era of college football according to ESPN’s Ivan Maisel. I agree.

Manning’s antics were every bit as exciting as Manziel’s would be four decades later.

His scrambling and throwing supposedly caused Coach Bryant to fire defensive coordinator Ken Donahue three times during the game, and future Alabama AD Mal Moore (secondary coach that night) said “I’m glad I was in the press box or he’d have fired me too.” (For the record, Donahue must have been “rehired” during the game because he coached with Bryant through 1982).

The performance made Archie into a southern cult hero and even inspired a catchy (or kitschy) little tune called “The Ballad of Archie Who” by the Rebel Rousers (listen and note the song is set to the rhythm of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues).

I don’t know whether Johnny Football will have songs named for him, or become the hero to Aggie fans that Archie Manning was to southerners of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

I do think he deserves more attention for the records he is setting.

(*LSU quarterback Rohan Davey tied Manning’s 540 yard total in 2001 in a 35-21 win over … you guessed it … Alabama. The LSU head coach that Saturday was current Alabama coach Nick Saban)

Posted by: BE | August 31, 2013

Georgia-Clemson … That’s What I See

“I think about all the good times that we had,
It makes me happy and it makes me sad.”

When I See This Bar (click to listen)
Kenny Chesney (2013)

It sounded like a small arms battle. Or, since I’ve never been in one, the way I figure a small arms battle must sound.

It was Labor Day afternoon 1982 in Athens, beautiful like a southern college campus tends to be on game day. Pretty Georgia girls and drunk Bulldog boys milled along the top end of Lumpkin Street, drinking and flirting and getting ready for that night’s game against Clemson. I believe the game was the first played at night in Sanford Stadium, and I know it featured the previous two national champions – Georgia having won the title in 1980, Clemson in 1981 – something that had not happened before in a season opener.

Of all the Georgia games I’ve been to, this one had the most exciting atmosphere.

That tension bubbled up about three hours before the game when two buses carrying Clemson’s football team to the stadium turned off Broad Street and started easing through the crowd.

As the Dog fans realized who was on the buses, they started flinging liquor bottles, beer cans, shoes, rocks, and anything they could launch. I mean it was a pelting of the first order. The buses sped up and got on past that strip of the street. I’ll never understand why Clemson coach Danny Ford had the buses take the route down Lumpkin, but it was something else. The Dogs were ready for the Tigers that night.

When I think of Georgia and Clemson, that’s what I see.

The Fridge

The most famous player on the Clemson squad in 1982 was William “The Refrigerator” Perry and for some reason I couldn’t stand him.

I drove a little silver Chevette with a hatchback at the time. The night before the game, so we wouldn’t have to worry about a parking space the next day, a couple of buddies picked me up after I parked in a lot at the corner of Baxter and Lumpkin – right across from Sanford Stadium and old Stegeman Hall (a few hundred yards from where the Tiger buses would get showered). We walked from our apartment and tailgated there on game day … for me, nothing but fried chicken and cold caffeine. I was too hyped for the game to drink anything but Coke (which didn’t really calm me down come to think of it).

After the bus pelting, a couple of us went into the stadium as soon as the gates opened. There couldn’t have been ten people in there yet. We hustled down behind the hedges and stood back of the Clemson sideline. A few minutes later Danny Ford brought his Tigers – still in dress clothes, not uniforms – out for a walk down the field.

As they got close to us, we started really giving it to Ford and Perry. No cussing or anything, just silly stuff like holding up a thumb and hollering about whether Herschel Walker would play that night (he had an injured thumb) [as an aside - typing this as a middle-aged man is pretty humbling; I rarely raise my voice at a game - any game - anymore, and haven't in a long, long time].

Ford and the Fridge were actually really cool. Ford laughed and shook his head at me when I asked where he parked his tractor. When I told Perry he was too fat to tackle Herschel he feinted like he was coming after me, and I scrambled up about 10 rows. I looked back and a bunch of the Tigers were doubled over laughing.

But, I just held up my thumb and laughed back. I’m from the Larry Munson school of Bulldog fandom (it’s bad for us and always about to get worse), but knew Georgia was going to win that game on that night.

Danny Ford and the Fridge.

When I think of Georgia and Clemson, that’s what I see.

“I see a kid, coming into his own
and I see a man, learning to move on.”

Herschel had a sore thumb.

The best college running back I ever saw – here he is – was the story leading up to the Labor Day opener. Herschel Walker should have won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman in 1980 and would win it at the end of the 1982 season, but nobody knew if he’d play in the game that Labor Day night because he had a broken thumb. The Clemson game was special for Bulldogs of that era, probably more for Herschel than most.

Clemson had recruited him hard. He waffled back and forth between the Tigers and the Dogs for a long time, and the process wasn’t always pretty. Herschel didn’t sign with Georgia until Easter time of his senior year in high school, months later than usual for a top player. His recruitment was a drawn out affair full of intrigue and rumors, a saga that probably signaled the modern era of recruiting in college football (best captured a few years later by Willie Morris’ great The Courting of Marcus Dupree).

Herschel immediately led Georgia to a national title as a freshman in 1980, a season that included a tough 20-16 home win over Clemson. Herschel wasn’t the star of that game though, as Dog defensive back Scott Woerner had two long returns – one of a punt and one of a late interception – to secure the win.

The next year, Herschel’s sophomore campaign, the Tigers would handle the Bulldogs 13-3 at Death Valley, handing Georgia its only regular season loss during the Walker era. That game saw a Dog offense with about three times more fumbles than points. Herschel was kept in check by a Clemson defense the included three future NFL first-round picks in Terry Kinard, Jeff Bryant, and of course my future friend the Fridge. The win over the Bulldogs set the Tigers on their way to a national championship in 1981.

As the ’82 game approached, Walker’s thumb injury provided Georgia coach Vince Dooley an opportunity for a little scheming.

To call Dooley a conservative a coach would be akin to calling Barry Goldwater a conservative politician, but Vince had his moments. The Kirby Moore to Pat Hodgson to Bob Taylor 73-yard flea-flicker to upset Alabama in the 1965 season opener. The 1975 80-yard end-around pass from Richard Appleby to Gene Washington to knock off Florida. The man could pick his moments and he had picked one for the Tigers.

Leading up to the game, Dooley more or less insisted Herschel Walker wouldn’t play because of the thumb. However, in the second quarter – after Clemson jumped to a 7-0 lead courtesy of a fumbled snap – here came Herschel. As big #34 jogged to the huddle, Sanford Stadium cranked up like a jet getting ready for takeoff. Georgia quarterback John Lastinger turned to give the ball to Walker on the sweep play everybody expected (especially the Clemson defense) but instead handed it to speedy freshman Tron (Electron) Jackson on a reverse that went for a 40-yard touchdown. Although the euphoria was brief – the play was called back on a motion penalty – the momentum had shifted.

Herschel eventually convinced Vince to use him as more than a decoy and he would play quite a bit in the second half (he scored a touchdown but it was called back on another penalty). The Dogs would gnaw their way to a 13-7 lead, and finally hang on for the win when the “Tifton Termite” Nate Taylor intercepted a Clemson pass late in the game.

The game was over, the Dogs had won, and all was right with the world.

When I think of Georgia and Clemson, that’s what I see.

It makes me happy and it makes me sad.

Posted by: BE | May 22, 2013

Tiger and Jack – The Biggest Story

While fans today enjoy more events, better coverage of those varied events, and increasingly wonderful ways to consume our beloved games – HD televisions with pictures clear enough to put you courtside; hand-held devices with apps for every team and athlete; satellite radio available twenty-four hours a day – expect one story to dominate the sports landscape the next five years or so.

Tiger chasing Jack.

Not the NFL and that league’s looming battles over past cases of head trauma.

Not the college football national championship playoff, which will culminate in Dallas a couple of years hence.

Not the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit that threatens to overturn the American college sport model in place for more than a century.

All those are big stories, and others will arise as the calendar pages turn, but my prediction is that the biggest and best of all will be Tiger chasing Jack.

Jack Nicklaus holds the record for most professional golf major championships with 18. Tiger Woods ranks second on the all-time list with 14.

[* For the non-golf fan, "majors" are played annually and considered the most important professional tournaments. The current majors are The Masters (played the first full week of April at Augusta National golf club), the U.S. Open (played in mid-June to finish on Father's Day on a variety of American courses), the British Open (played the third week in July on one of nine courses in England or Scotland), and the PGA Championship (played four weeks after the British Open on a variety of American courses). The tournaments that constitute "majors" have changed over the decades - originally amateur versions of the US and British Opens counted.]

Five years ago Tiger Woods seemed a lock to eclipse Jack’s record.

When he outlasted Rocco Mediate in a terrific eighteen-hole playoff at Torrey Pines to win the 2008 U.S. Open, Tiger was 32 years old and a full three years ahead of the Golden Bear’s pace (Jack won his 14th major at age 35 in 1975 – the same year Tiger was born). As he limped off the course that day, Woods had won six majors the previous four years. The question was not so much whether he would surpass Jack’s record; instead we wondered how soon he would reach the milestone and how far past it would he push his career total.

Tiger has not won a major since.

No one explanation adequately addresses his majors drought, but I remember a frequent comment from Jack Nicklaus that seemed astute every time he said it, and that holds up even better today. Each time a reporter asked if Tiger would break his record, Jack replied to the effect that “yes, I believe he’ll break my record, but let’s let him do it first … a lot of things can happen.”

Jack is a smart man.

A lot of things happened to Tiger.

First, his body broke down a bit. He has a chronic problem with his left knee and leg, having at least two surgeries on the knee and probably more. He’s also suffered a ruptured disc in his back, and injured his Achilles on the left leg. Some of those problems must be due to longevity. Tiger has been on the national stage since the age of two when he appeared on the Mike Douglas television show (and of course smashed one right down the middle). He was a prolific amateur golfer and was by far the biggest star on tour by age 21 when he won his first major (1997 Masters). That’s a lot of golf. Some of the health problems are also the result of Tiger’s style of play. Throughout his career he’s taken some of the most violent swings you’ll ever want to witness, slashing from the deep rough or pounding out of bunkers. The amount of torque he places on his back, spine, hips, and lower legs must be immense.

Emotional scars cannot be dismissed as part of Tiger’s current five-year majors gap either.

The notoriously private Woods created a well-documented media firestorm in November of 2009 when the first reports of his marital infidelities came to light. Over the next several months, Woods and his family endured searing attention and Tiger faced the public humiliation of recorded phone conversations, the loss of sponsorships, and ultimately the breakup of his marriage.

Between the physical and emotional problems Tiger faced, many fans and pundits dismissed his chances to pass Jack’s record, while everyone who followed sports recognized that the odds of him doing so had at least gone down significantly.

That mindset is probably changing as you read.

Woods has won four of the nine tournaments he’s entered this season, including a convincing victory in The Players Championship, which boasts a field comparable to or better than the majors. He will be a huge favorite heading into the U.S. Open at Merion. That’s the site where, in 1930, Bobby Jones completed golf’s only Grand Slam (at the time the U.S. Open and Amateur versions, and the British Open and Amateur). Surely, Tiger embraces the chance to reignite his pursuit of the career record at a place of such historic significance.

So … will Tiger break Jack’s record?

Yes, I think he will.

Tiger has a few things going for him.

At 37, he is still a year ahead of Jack’s pace, although the three majors Nicklaus won in his 40s will be tough to duplicate.

Physically, Tiger has always kept himself in great shape. He is a workout and nutrition fiend by all accounts, and with an emphasis on fitness that was not around during the Nicklaus heyday (unless you were Gary Player), he should have another decade or more of competitive greatness. Emotionally, Tiger also seems to be back on track. He is in a new relationship with Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, and his on course confidence, even intimidation, appears to have returned.

This point will be blasphemous to some, but in my opinion Tiger plays against easier – albeit deeper – competition. There are more good players on tour today than in the 1960s and 1970s when Jack won most of his majors. But, there aren’t nearly the caliber of champions. For example, Tiger has finished second in majors six times, losing to fellows named Beem, Yang, Campbell, Johnson, Immelman, and Cabrera (the only one of the group with multiple majors). By contrast, Nicklaus finished second in majors a whopping nineteen times, falling to such giants as Palmer, Trevino, Watson, Miller, and Ballesteros among others. So, Tiger may have to beat more good players, but there are far fewer great champions he must overcome.

Finally, and this is the deciding factor in my opinion, Tiger knows what he has to do. He has to get to 19 professional majors to break the record. Just like Roger Maris knew he had to hit 61 homers and Hank Aaron knew he had to get to 715 career homeruns (both to pass Babe Ruth), Pete Rose knew he had to get to 4192 hits to supplant Ty Cobb, and the next great sprinter knows he has to run 100 meters faster than Usain Bolt’s 9.58 seconds (good luck) to set a world record … Tiger knows he has to get to 19 to move beyond the Bear.

The person chasing the record always has the advantage.

I think Tiger finishes his career with 20 majors.

Posted by: BE | March 16, 2013

March Madness 2013 – The Three Card Monte

March Madness, one of America’s favorite annual sporting events, tips off March 19.

We hope for three weeks of buzzer beaters, nail-biters, and bracket busters as teams try to reach the Final Four in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome April 6-8.

If this season’s tournament holds true to form from previous NCAA championships played in years that end with a “three” it should be quite the treat. Like a game of Three-Card Monte, you never know what is going to turn up, and since the tourney began back in 1939, those “3” years have provided some memorable moments.

1943 – Champion vs. Champion

In only its fifth year, the NCAA championship still played second-fiddle to the slightly older (by one year) National Invitational Tournament (NIT), which had a stronger East Coast presence, received more media coverage, and played at its permanent home in already fabled Madison Square Garden in New York City. Wyoming won an eight-team NCAA tournament by beating Oklahoma and Kansas in the West bracket (the tournament only had East and West brackets) in Kansas City, Missouri. The Cowboys then traveled to Manhattan and defeated Georgetown 46-34 in the finals at Madison Square. Star for the Cowboys was guard Ken Sailors, a early pioneer of the jump shot, but the most famous player in the tournament was George Mikan, one of the game’s first true big men; his DePaul squad lost in the semifinals to Georgetown.

The NCAA event got less attention than hometown St. John’s taking the NIT crown behind legendary coach Joe Lapchick. Two days later, in what may be the only time this happened, the champions of the two post-season tournaments played a charity game at Madison Square Garden to benefit the Red Cross war effort in front of 18,000 fans. The Cowboys downed the Redmen 52-47 in overtime, a precursor to the NCAA overtaking the NIT in prestige and power.

1953 – The Hurryin’ Hoosiers

The 1953 NCAA championship matched two of the sports titans, Indiana and defending champion Kansas, at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Missouri.

Seeds for the Hoosier title run were planted a season earlier when the NCAA temporarily suspended the freshman eligibility rule due to the military draft for the Korean War (freshmen, ineligible for varsity competition in football and basketball until 1972, were allowed to play in 1951-52). The relaxation of that restriction freed up “the Ox.” Big Don “Ox” Schlundt, a 6’10 post player from South Bend, played as a freshman in 1952, averaging 17 points, and would go on to become the most prolific scorer in Indiana and Big Ten history to that point, a three-time All-American, and the vital cog of the 1953 NCAA champs. He still holds the record for average points per game for a career at Indiana (23 ppg). Schlundt teamed with Bob “Slick” Leonard, a feisty guard and future ABA and NBA head coach (he would lead the Indiana Pacers to three ABA titles), and forward Dick Farley. They all played for the great Branch McCracken, a Hall of Famer who led the Hoosiers to championships in 1940 and 1953 (both times defeating Kansas and Phog Allen).

The game went to the wire and was very contentious. Played in front of a pro-Kansas crowd (the game was played just about 40 miles from the KU campus), McCracken and the Hoosiers were incensed when Jayhawk star center B.J. Born was allowed to return to the game after receiving what was reported as his fifth foul. McCracken and Allen both argued at the scorer’s table. Slick Leonard converted a free throw with less than 30 seconds remaining, Kansas played for the final shot, but a desperate shot at the buzzer was off target. Indiana won 69-68.

That 1953 Final Four was a “Who’s Who” of mid-20th century basketball. Kansas coach Phog Allen ruled the sidelines in Lawrence for nearly 50 years, and actually played under the inventor of basketball – James Naismith. Dean Smith played on the 1952 Jayhawk team that won the championship and the ’53 squad that lost to Indiana. Smith would go on to win more games than any college basketball coach (a record since surpassed). Kansas whipped Oklahoma A&M (now OK State) in one semifinal … the Cowboys were coached by Hank Iba, who won 751 games himself and coached three U.S. Olympics teams. In the other semi, Indiana beat LSU and the great scoring forward Bob Pettit, considered the nation’s best player and a future NBA all-star and Hall of Fame inductee.

1963 – Ramblin Fever

The Ramblers of Loyola University won the 1963 championship in an NCAA tournament with racial overtones and historical implications.

Loyola whipped two-time defending champ Cincinnati 60-58 in the finals at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky. That victory alone was historic. Coach Ed Jucker’s Bearcats were trying to become the first team to win three NCAA titles in a row and were playing in a fourth straight Final Four. This would also be the last season before John Wooden’s UCLA championship run. From 1964-1975, the Bruins would win ten of twelve championships including seven in a row at one point.

Before reaching the finals, Loyola played a second-round game against Mississippi State of the SEC. The Bulldogs of coach Babe McCarthy and star Bailey Howell had been kept out of the tournament three of the past four seasons because of unwritten, but typically unbroken, racial codes that prohibited white Mississippi teams from playing against integrated competition (as the Bulldogs surely would in the NCAAs). This time McCarthy and the team pulled a ruse and essentially snuck out of the state to make the trip to play the NCAA game in East Lansing at the home court of Michigan State (Miss State got a bye in the first round; the game was Loyola’s second round match). In a well-played, respectful game, the Ramblers beat the Bulldogs 61-51 to advance.

The championship game against Cincy was a thriller. In overtime, Loyola’s Vic Rouse tipped in a missed shot just as the horn sounded and the Ramblers had a championship. Rouse and Jerry Harness (Loyola’s star) were two of four African Americans to start for the Ramblers … the Bearcats sent out another three as starters, marking the first time a majority of starters in an NCAA final were African American. By the way, Rouse hailed from Pearl High School in Nashville, Tennessee, where he might have run into young Perry Wallace, who would go on to desegregate basketball in the SEC when he played at Vanderbilt from 1966-1969.

1973 – The Streak

The 1973 Final Four at St. Louis Arena, featured the man who’d already won more NCAA national championships than any other coach (John Wooden of UCLA), the man who would succeed him in Westwood (Gene Bartow of Memphis State), a brilliant and fiery young coach in his second season at Indiana who would go on to win three titles and more games than any coach in history (a total since surpassed by his top protégé) (Bobby Knight), and a gentleman from the East who would be the driving force behind the formation of the most successful basketball conference in America within a decade (Dave Gavitt). What a collection of coaching talent.

A big story before the tournament was one team that couldn’t play. North Carolina State, coached by Norm Sloan and starring the leaping legend David Thompson, 7’2 center Tom Burleson, and fireplug point guard Monte Towe, marched through an unbeaten 25-0 regular season then won two games and the ACC tournament. However, the school was on probation and ineligible for national post-season competition. The Wolfpack would be heard from a year later.

Wooden’s UCLA squad, led by the incomparable Big Redhead Bill Walton, won a seventh consecutive NCAA championship by beating Knight’s Hoosiers in the semifinals and Bartow’s Tigers in the finals. The championship game was played on Monday night for the first time, starting a new tradition in American sport that endures today. The Bruins, in the midst of a winning streak that would eventually stretch to 88 games, were never seriously challenged in the tournament, winning four times by an average of 16 points. The title was Wooden’s ninth and the UCLA dynasty was at its zenith.

That championship would be Wooden’s next-to-last. The long winning streak would end in 1974 in a regular season loss at Notre Dame, and when the Bruins lost back-to-back games later in the season to Oregon and Oregon State, the tiniest of cracks first appeared in the dynasty. Still, the Bruins made it to yet another Final Four in 1974, but lost a double-overtime semi-final classic to N.C. State. The Wolfpack would go on to take the title and erase the empty memories of 1973.

“The Wizard of Westwood” had a final charge left in him. His relatively unheralded 1975 team closed out Wooden’s career by winning the 1975 NCAA championship, the tenth in twelve seasons. It is a record that will not be matched.

1983 – Jimmy the Jester

When the basketball world descended on the desert for the 1983 Final Four at The Pit in Albuquerque, a coronation was supposed to take place. Or perhaps an induction ceremony. The brothers of Phi Slamma Jamma, the Houston Cougar’s coolest, quickest, baddest, and most exclusive fraternity was going to soar up and over powerful Louisville and upstarts Georgia and N.C. State to take the NCAA championship. Instead, a jester of the court slipped in and stole the crown.

One of the most storied Final Fours in the tournament’s history started with a workmanlike win by State over Georgia in the first semifinal game. That game figured to simply be the stage-setter for a dunk contest between Houston’s fly boys of Phi and the Doctors of Dunk from Louisville. The second semi-final lived to its billing as one of the most exciting games in tournament annals. The Cougars, featuring Akeem “the Dream” Olajuwon (he changed to Hakeem later), Clyde “the Glide” Drexler, and Benny “the Jet” Anders (they had the best nicknames too!), raced past a Louisville squad that included Milt Wagner, Billy Thompson, Rodney and Scooter McCray, Flash Gordon, and Charles Jones. The final was 94-81 and most thought the championship game had already been played when the show ended.

Jim Valvano of N.C. State had other plans. His Wolfpack used a controlled offense, played behind the Cougars on defense to limit their dunk opportunities (the Pack chanted “One Slamma Jamma” after the game in reference to the number of stuffs allowed to Houston in the title game), fouled and fouled the notoriously poor free-throwing shooting Cougars, and finally received a gift from Houston coach Guy Lewis inexplicably put his team into a spread delay with about 10 minutes to go in the game.

The game ended with a famous dunk, but it was by State’s Lorenzo Charles who caught a last-second desperation air-ball from Dereck Whittenburg and stuffed it through at the buzzer. State won 54-52, and Valvano scurried across the court looking for somebody to hug. The jester had stolen the crown.

1993 – Flub Five

Michigan’s Fab Five exploded onto the college basketball scene during the 1992 tournament. Wearing black socks and black shoes, the freshmen quintet strutted and smack-talked all the way to the finals before getting pasted by Duke 71-51. The next season, they stormed to the finals at the Superdome to meet another team from the ACC … this time the North Carolina Tar Heels and venerable coach Dean Smith.

The Final Four was basketball royalty. North Carolina knocked off Kansas in one semifinal, and Michigan took care of Kentucky in the other. It set the stage for a contrasting matchup on Monday night.

The Heels were the antithesis of the Wolverines in the eyes of the public. Smith’s system called for players to point at a teammate after a good pass, to subjugate individuality to the team, to never show up an opponent. Even the great Michael Jordan bought into the Tar Heel way, and on the Superdome court eleven years earlier he had clinched the beloved Smith’s first championship with a late jump shot.

The Fab Five showed little respect to anybody. Their attitude reflected (at least in their own eyes and those of some social commentators) the breakthrough of hip hop culture into the mainstream of America society. With their sagging shorts and in-your-face on-court personality, the Wolverines embraced the bad guy persona.

It was quite a contrast.

In the end, the system won and the upstarts again folded under the pressure of the finals.

The most infamous play came late in the game. Chris Webber, the most talented and vocal of the Fab Five got flustered when double-teamed and called a timeout even though the Wolverines had none left. The resulting technical sealed the 77-71 victory.

Dean Smith would go on to become the first Division I men’s coach to win over 800 games and the 1993 championship would be his last. The Fab Five never won a title and ended up vacating the entire 1992-93 season due to NCAA violations.

2003 – Cupcake

Jim Boeheim of Syracuse is a great coach. He has taken the Orangemen to the post-season every one of his 34 years at the helm except 1993 when the school was ineligible. He has never had a losing season, and has won more games at one school than any other D-I men’s coach. He trails only Coach K of Duke in total wins and may surpass him depending on who holds off retirement the longest.

Still, for much of his early career coaching the Orangemen, Boeheim’s schedules were ridiculed for being soft … filled with easy opponents … cupcakes so to speak. That sentiment seemed to always bear out come NCAA tourney time when the Cuse could never quite get over the hump to win a national title. Trips to the championship game in 1987 (loss to Indiana) and 1996 (loss to Kentucky) only provided more fuel to detractors.

Finally, back in New Orleans at the site of that excruciating 1987 last-second loss to Indiana and Bobby Knight, Boeheim got his championship. Carmelo Anthony, only a freshman, earned outstanding player honors as the Orange overcame a strong Kansas team 81-78 in the finals.

2013 – ???

There are a lot of story lines for the 2013 version of March Madness. Can Syracuse or Louisville claim a title for the Big East in its last year as currently comprised? Will the powerful Big Ten lineup of Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and the like take a championship back to middle America? Will Coach K further stake his claim as greatest coach since Wooden (and perhaps of all time) by winning a fifth championship at Duke? Can one of the upstart mid-majors like Butler or Gonzaga grab the crown?

Tune in the next three weeks for one of America’s great sporting spectacles.

Thanks for visiting The Campus Game.

Posted by: BE | January 8, 2013

In the Zone with Jim Gumm

If you enjoy sports talk radio, please visit ESPN Chattanooga and the In the Zone with Jim Gumm Show from 3:00 PM – 7:00 PM ET daily.  I’ve been on as a guest a few times and always enjoy visiting with Jim and Wells Guthrie.  They are both knowledgeable and friendly.

By the way, new Tennessee football coach Butch Jones will be In the Zone on Thursday afternoon.

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