The Fightin’ Side of Me

“If you’re runnin’ down my country, man,
you’re walkin’ on the fightin’ side of me.”

The Fightin’ Side of Me
Merle Haggard 1968

My fighting side is boiling today and there are a number of reasons why.


Joe Paterno died this morning.

“Joe Pa” all the Yankee sportswriters and fans called him, but down South my buddies and I knew him simply as Papa. In SEC country, we loved him just about as much as Bear, Archie, Bo, and Herschel. We’re college football fans see, not fairweather cowards. If he’d have coached at Alabama, or Tennessee, or Georgia, or LSU … I doubt we’d have run him off and humiliated him because a weirdo had been on his staff fifteen years earlier.

Lung cancer gets cast as the culprit in Papa’s demise, but you, me, and everybody with sense enough to come in out of the rain (which excludes Penn State Trustees and much of the school’s administration) knows he died from a broken heart. The chemo and radiation Joe fought through these past few months couldn’t have been nearly so painful as the shameful, hurtful treatment the gallant old lion suffered at the hands of those ungrateful “leaders” at Penn State. A trustee phone call in November saying simply “you’re through” (let that cold-blooded statement sink in) ended more than sixty years of service for a man who’d lifted a rinky-dink cow college into international prominence. I won’t name that squirrelly trustee, but man he’s walking on the fightin’ side of me. Let’s also save a bit of vitriol for the sheep-herd mentality of the shoot first-find out facts later media that pressured the spineless Penn Staters. What a miserable group – the whole lot of them.

I’ll choose to remember Joe Paterno for his greatness.

Papa was an Ivy-League educated football coach, a man who could’ve been a priest and considered practicing law. His teams were just that – teams … players working together, the whole greater than the sum of its parts. This man coached Lydell Mitchell and Franco Harris in the same backfield, the great Curt Warner, a list of linebackers that reads like a Hall of Fame roster, yet always the individuals sacrified their personalities into the group. Happy Valley was not a place for prima donnas.

Paterno won two national titles (1982 and 1986), had a legitimate argument for four others (1968, 1969, 1973, 1994), led five unbeaten squads, won over 400 games (the only FBS coach to do so), coached (37) and won (24) more bowls than anybody, and is the only person to win all the majors bowls (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta).

While different in demeanor and temperament, Paterno most reminds me of the great Vince Lombardi. Brooklyn boys, both considered the priesthood and law before settling on football – at the time still a rather minor distraction in the pantheon of American sports – as the profession where they’d make a mark. Unlike the whiners of contemporary society, where racism and bigotry are claimed at the slightest inconvenience (like having to work for instance), these two men overcame real prejudice against Americans of Italian descent … Lombardi being passed over by schools and teams that were not ready for a coach with a last name that ended in a vowel, Paterno shunned by the WASPy elite at Brown. Neither man forgot those slights and went out of their way to champion fairness on their teams, regardless of skin color or ethnic background.

Penn State did not deserve him … and he surely did not deserve the shameful treatment they gave him these past few months.

College football will not see another Paterno. RIP Papa.

Have We Lost Our Minds?

Let me continue my rant by asking whether this nation has collectively lost its mind.

President Obama seems an incompetent. If news articles and essays are accurate, he may also be condescending and arrogant. Even the first lady seems to be wearing so thin on many Americans that even the reliably liberal NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd recently took her to task.

But … do you think Republicans have an answer?

Think again. The Grand Ole Party seriously could be about to nominate a caricature. Newt Gingrich and I have at least two similarities. We both taught at West Georgia College (he a couple of decades before me) and probably neither one of us should be elected President of the United States in 2012. Rumpled, bombastic, and undisciplined for most of his professional life, I predict the President (who is disciplined if nothing else) would defeat him handily in a general election.

This president deserves to lose, yet the nation seems too fearful to fire him. I think political correctness rears its ugly head as part of this equation … too many Americans probably think someone will consider them racist for an unkind word against Obama. Well, it’s not racist to call him disappointing and following unsound economic and foreign policies.

Is it too tough to understand that as a nation we spend too much?

We cannot raise taxes enough … or cut spending enough for that matter … to pay all the Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and Obamacare mandates we’ve promised. That’s just at the federal level and does not include all the state pension systems for government workers. We cannot pay those IOUs without major changes. It cannot happen. Democrats are too often shameless partisans (quick to attribute any legitimate dissent against Obama as racism or to demagogue serious politicians like Paul Ryan). Republicans, on the other hand, can be hopeless dupes (buying into one snake oil salesman candidate after another, many of them seemingly in the public realm simply to sell more books or raise speaking fees).

As citizens we should storm the gates.

Social Media

On all the course syllabi distributed in my classes, a policy addresses the use of electronic devices during class (primarily smart phones). Without that policy and frequent subtle and not-so-subtle reminders, I’d recognize the tops of the heads of some students more than I would their faces. The same goes for most social venues, including highways, where Americans are busy tweeting, texting, talking, and pretty much paying attention to the palms of their hands more than the road or their lunch companion.

I like Twitter and following the news online, but I’m not sure young people understand the permanence and potential implications of using social media without a filter. Not every word or thought that comes to mind should be posted for the world to see … and for future generations to access. Once it’s online, those words or actions never go away.

The lewd behavior of an Alabama fan after the BCS national title game obviously comes to mind. I won’t rehash the story, but the chicanery involves drunkenness, stupidity, vulgar (and potentially criminal) behavior … and a viral video of the whole thing that future family members of all involved will be able to show at reunions. Yuck.

Big brother is officially watching … and he is us.

America in 2012 … as Brother Merle sang … if you don’t love it, leave it. Or change it.

Until next time.

SEC Post-Season Awards

Welcome back to campus!

The 2011 college football season heads for the history books, and congratulations to the Alabama Crimson Tide for winning a second national championship in three years.

Here are a few closing notes on the SEC season.

SEC Awards

Most Valuable Player: Trent Richardson (Alabama) … the Tide defense actually carried this squad, but if you have to single out one player it would be the powerful junior tailback. Richardson rushed for nearly 1600 yards and scored 20 touchdowns. He also set a work ethic on and off the field that was a model of leadership.

Offensive Player of the Year: Tyler Wilson (Arkansas) … excluding Richardson since he was MVP, this became a close race between underclass quarterbacks. Aaron Murray of Georgia threw for a remarkable 33 touchdowns, but Wilson gets the nod for leading the Razorbacks to an 11-2 record with the only losses coming to Alabama and LSU. He and Murray will be back.

Defensive Player of the Year: Tyrann Mathieu (LSU) … who else – the Honey Badger! The little defensive back earned the nickname of the year award for his stellar defensive play and game-changing special teams contributions. He nearly single-handedly saved LSU in the SEC title game against Georgia with two long punt returns and a long interception run back.

Special Teams Player of the Year (tie): Joe Adams (Arkansas) and Brad Wing (LSU) … Adams narrowly edges the Badger by taking three punts to the house and averaging over 16 yards a return. Wing was the only player in major college football to cost his team a touchdown under the new taunting rule, but that was about all that went wrong for the freshman from down under as he averaged 44 yards a punt and was an effective weapon in pinning teams down.

Newcomer of the Year: Jarvis Jones (Georgia) … this USC transfer lead the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss by a large margin over any other defender. The future NFL first-round pick will return for his junior season in Athens.

Coach of the Year: Les Miles (LSU) … yes he reverted to confounding form in the national title game where he was completely outclassed by Nick Saban but that cannot wash away a full season of excellence. Miles’ Tigers whipped the champions of the Rose Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, the Music City Bowl, the Gator Bowl, the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and the BCS Championship Game. Yes Saban is the best in the business, but Miles did the best job in 2011.

Professor’s Picks

The old professor finished up the regular season at a pretty good 120-41 and then prognosticated a 23-12 bowl record. The blight on the record was missing the BCS title game pick for the first time in eight years (though I’m actually partially blaming a Crimson Tide-following cousin who claims I jinx the Tide whenever I pick them in a big game!).

On Deck

Unless you are a recruitnik, the end of the bowl season brings a bit of deflation to the college football fan.

After watching virtually every minute of all thirty-five bowls, I would watch another tonight if one was on television. Keep an eye on the BCS post-season formula … I remain staunchly opposed to a playoff but it looks like there is some momentum for a four-team system of some sort (make it the week after the conference championships if it has to be done).

The professor will continue to post regularly so check back often and always feel free to send comments to or

See you at kickoff!

Will It Go Round In Circles?

Will it go round in circles?

I’ve got a song, ain’t got no moral
Let the bad guy win every once in a while

Billy Preston, 1973

The college football world does go round in circles and Southeastern Conference teams keep flying high like Billy’s bird up in the sky (click that Preston link for a nice video clip).

Tonight, for the sixth straight time, a squad from the SEC will claim the BCS championship when LSU and Alabama battle in a rematch of their November 5th defensive struggle (won 9-6 in overtime by LSU). Take your pick on the bad guy that’s going to win this one.

Will it be the little Nictator?

Nick Saban is already the only coach to win BCS titles at two different schools (and actually I can’t think of any other coach to win national championships at two schools even in the pre-BCS period … maybe it happened when the helmets were leather). Intense, loud, controlling, Saban reigns over Alabama football with an aura unmatched since Paul “Bear” Bryant tilted goalposts in Tuscaloosa.

Like him or not, most fans and analysts consider Saban at the very top rung of the college coaching ladder, if not perched atop it alone.

If Saban is not your villain, how about LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson?

As sports fans our memories are often short when it comes to the shortcomings of the Saturday heroes, but remember that Jefferson narrowly avoided felony prosecution for his role in a fight outside a Baton Rouge bar back in the summer. With Jefferson suspended, fellow senior Jarrett Lee filled in and played extremely well … until the Tigers’ trip to Tuscaloosa in early November. At that point, Jefferson reemerged and showed just enough fight on the field to give LSU a boost (primarily with his option runs) in the overtime win.

Non-SEC fans probably consider both teams the bad guys.

Mike Gundy felt his Oklahoma State team deserved the slot opposite LSU, and Big 12 fans probably agree. Big Ten fans chafe under the annual New Year’s Day whippings the boys from the South lay on them. The Pac-12 thought Oregon or Stanford had a real shot at the title this year after the Ducks came close against Auburn last go round, but had to settle for counting all the money the league pulled in from placing two teams in BCS bowls. The Big East posts a strong bowl record most years (including winning lower-tiered bowls against the SEC) but lacks a top-flight flagship program. The ACC … well, it’s basketball season so their fans are now relevant.

So, which team will fly high tonight?

LSU comes into the game with a great deal of confidence. Georgia shut them out and shut them down for half of the SEC title game, but the Tigers never wavered and then blew out the Dogs once special teams turned the game. Punter Brad Wing and returner Tyrann Mathieu (the Honey Badger) are true weapons. The LSU offense also boasts a deep backfield, so keeping fresh running backs in the game will not be an issue. If they can pound the Tide by holding on to the ball that depth could be a factor. I do not see LSU throwing the ball effectively unless they lull the Tide to sleep and hit a deep ball. While Jefferson had some impact with the option, I would expect Saban and Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to shut that down.

Alabama actually dominated most of the first game between these teams and lost primarily because of missed field goals. Trent Richardson should be the best offensive player on the field (Mathieu keeps me from calling him the best overall player in the game), but I’m not real sold on Eddie Lacy or any depth behind him. QB A.J. McCarron does not impress me, but if Richardson can get some movement up front, play-action passes might be available.

My concern with the Tide is the program has developed a tendency to play tight too often. It happened last year against Auburn and it happened as the game wore on against LSU this year. All that yelling and hollering from strength coaches and Saban and from whoever is fine as far as it goes, and it keeps the team motivated, but Alabama needs to loosen up.

There’s a sports psychology/motor learning term called “flow” or optimal arousal level. It holds that players need to be excited to reach maximum performance or flow, but getting too excited diminishes performance. The Tide tends to be a bit too high-energy at times in my opinion.

These are the two best teams in the nation and they’ll play what LSU coach Les Miles called “big boy” football tonight.

The BCS championship will go round in circles, but only one SEC team will fly high like a bird up in the sky.

LSU 23-21.