Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings

Archive for the tag “football”

NFL — 2016-17 Style

For reasons not quite clear to me I have delayed my annual NFL commentary to over a month after the Super Bowl. Perhaps I assumed it would require more effort and thought because we no longer have Peyton Manning to ponder. But, now, I think “Nah-h-h-h…I was just procrastinating.” Pretty straight forward, now that I think about it: Unbelievable SB LI, rookies can take over if you give them a chance, and NFL front office has at last, perhaps, started doing something useful and begun staring at its own navel.

The NFL got perhaps its finest example of a fairy tale Super Bowl; if only it could bottle it and open its likeness every February!  Usually I have mixed emotions over who is in the Super Bowl when I have “no dog in the fight” (no Cowboys or Buccaneers).  Those mixed emotions are based upon the old traditional bias of going with the “old” NFL conference, the National Conference, over the “old” AFL conference, the American Conference (confusing franchises like the Steelers and the Colts notwithstanding).  So, I’m pulling for the Falcons, but it never felt “all in,” for I’ve always been on Brady’s side over the stupid “deflate-gate controversy.”  To suspend “Tommy” for four games over the PSI in the “hog’s bladder” is nonsense to me.  So, back in my mind, as the game started, I thought how sweet it would be for Brady, Belichick, and the Patriots to win and plaster egg all over Goodell’s face; sort of a “karma” thing to me.  But, winning the game after being down 28-3?  It was like karma wanted to make a statement with ten exclamation points at the end!  I felt sorry for the Falcons; players like Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and their whole defense deserved better than that!  The NFL brass got what it deserved, but the Falcons should have won that thing; it was like they showed their inexperience and thought they had it won going into the second half.  Nonetheless, the “poster boy” for the all-year work-out NFL player, for the good ‘ol “Protestant work ethic,” Tom Brady himself, was in the end triumphant.  (Also, I have to admit it was “way cool” to see the most “spaced-out” Aggie ever, Martellus Bennett, win a SB ring, just like his brother with the Seahawks, Michael.)

What a windfall for the Cowboys, those two rookies, Dak and Zeke!  Just when you think all players need “breaking in” before they become NFL starters, people like these two happen.  Of course, that dynamic duo and all us Poke fans know the reason for the incredible 2016-17 season was that great offensive line, which stayed relatively injury free.  Were it not for that unbelievable sideline pass by Rodgers, the Pokes would have played for a SB berth.  That’s how good the defense was all season also.  Tony’s leaving the team is bittersweet to say the least; expect him back working for Jerry after he hangs up his helmet.  The upcoming draft will tell us how high our Cowboy hopes should be for next season, but for now, we need to savor this one.

The NFC South felt good to me this season.  Seems all four, the Falcons, Bucs, Saints, and Panthers were improved and more competitive.  Elsewhere I liked the Chiefs, Vikings, Seahawks, Broncos, and Cardinals, though that Seattle/Arizona tie made me put off the NFL for at least 50 seconds or so.  The possibility of the Raiders going to LV is just too intriguing and pirate-like not to come true.  We shall see.  And when, when, will the Texans get the QB they need?  I sure enjoyed the Houston season also.

The NFL brass made some headway on self-identity this season.  I saw signs of stopping treating millionaire abusers of women like children, and of facing the problem of closed head injuries like responsible adults.  But the front offices of the NFL still have a long way to go.  I think that it needs to get behind ideas like postponing participation in football for young boys and like changing at all levels how tackling is taught and coached.  Penalty for tackling leading with the helmet needs to be reviewed, especially the consistency of what is penalized.  Still think the day is coming when playing football at all levels will be considered legally like volunteering for combat duty.  And, by the way, love the introduction of women as officials; I thought the “rookie” did a great job.  Are other roles for women in the NFL opening up in future?

Wanting to keep this short this time, so until next Super Bowl, may your team not suffer those awful throwback uniforms (Who cares what the Bears wore in the 1940’s?) and may you have some financial windfall in the coming year allowing you to afford attending more than one NFL game next season.  Is it too early to talk about the horror of the stands being filled by only the rich?

RJH

 

2016 College Football — A Forgettable Season?

When Alabama went up 14-0 on Clemson during the championship game, I thought “Here we go again, another ho-hum year with the Tide taking it all…..” But, here came the Tigers to make it a classic comeback victory and not make it so ho-hum after all. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not being complacent with the 4-team playoff (Its still not enough teams to make the championship NOT a bullshit championship.), but I came away at the end of the 2016 collegiate season feeling better than I thought I’d be at first.

It’s tempting to call the Aggies’ season a ho-hum one, given the pattern of starting like a house on fire and ending like a deflated balloon (8-5).  But look at the season’s opener.  A&M came out of a disastrous QB soap opera in 2015 with a big question mark at QB — Trevor Knight.  Trevor turned out to be a God-send, so much so that many Aggie fans thought he was going to lead us to the Promised Land.  But two incredible home overtime squeakers over UCLA and Tennessee should have portended that we were skating on thin ice, not thick.  One self-inflicted wound by Trevor as he dove for a touchdown at Mississippi State, and the deflation began.  They were so much damn fun to watch, however, I can’t wait to re-up for next year’s season tickets.  Sylvia and I want to thank friend and former student David Wesson for the use of his house on the Bryan-College Station city limit line, making four football weekends so much easier on us than usual.  Thanks again, David!

I’ve finally settled on which SEC teams to follow in addition to A&M:  the two Mississippi schools (Ole Miss and Mississippi State), Tennessee, and Auburn as an upper tier and Vanderbilt, Georgia, and Missouri as a lower.  (Sorry, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina, and LSU — may be adding you some day).  Looking forward to making some away games at famous SEC tailgates with my son Chad in future — we’ve done LSU twice, and now have Ole Miss, Georgia, and Tennessee on our list.  My beloved Texas A&M, College Station is not only the largest campus in the State of Texas, it is the largest in the SEC, making it very easy to wander in the conference with no animosity.  The size of the A&M athletic program, its many SEC championships so far, Johnny Manziel, and the fact we entered the conference as nobody’s “doormat” all combine to make getting along with everyone so easy within the toughest football conference.  I’m not looking for rivals, because, in my opinion, who needs them?  We’re doing just fine, thank you!

In case you might not know what doing “just fine” in the SEC entails, we Aggies can easily tell you — more money, more coverage of all sports, and broader recruiting ranges.  In such a situation, W’s and L’s have a way of taking care of themselves.  The reason I can be so “mellow” about W’s and L’s and rivalries, even though I rejoice with Aggie W’s and am disappointed with Aggie L’s, is that I don’t care about bragging rights, I don’t talk smack either before or after games, I don’t bet on football, and I don’t play any kind of fantasy football.  The historical reason for what might seem an odd philosophy of football fandom, if the reader is interested, can be found in the post Confessions of a Cisco High School Lobo Football Trainer/Manager 1960-1963, [March, 2014] on this site www.ronniejhastings.com.

With that awful Baylor football scandal last season, my list of Big XII teams to follow has been altered.  I’m now following Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech, Kansas State, and my all-time favorite underdog, Iowa State.  And I would be less than honest were I not to say I like watching West Virginia football also. (Sorry, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and Baylor)  Big XII’s soap opera is really interesting — expand, play a championship game, or both, or neither?  Only the movers and shakers in Austin know for sure, I’d say.  I might add to the Big XII teams whose colors are not burnt orange and white:  when you get big enough, take a tip from the Aggies, grow a pair, and man up!

2016 brought a season when the Pac 12 did not do so well outside the Huskies, the Big 10 did better than expected, but not so well in the bowls, and the ACC showed why it should one of the “Big 5″ conferences in football.  But, still, still I had to “protest watch” a real playoff in Division I at the end of the season, protesting the fact my favorite collegiate sport still has no true playoff, and, therefore, still has no true champion like James Madison when it won the Div. I championship game in Frisco, Texas, over Youngstown State.  Only four teams make it that much more frustrating — don’t you think teams like Oklahoma, Michigan, USC, LSU, and Wisconsin deserved a shot at a true championship as much as Alabama, Washington, Clemson, and Ohio State?  I sure do!  (As you can tell, just because I don’t talk smack doesn’t mean I don’t rant repeatedly and relentlessly.)  Let’s don’t do just 8, even, let’s do 16 (Div. I does more than 16!)!  One more time, let me say:  seed them like a tennis tournament based upon their ranking at the end of the conference championship games; to hell with expensive committees!  And every match-up (1 vs 16, 2 vs 15, 3 vs 14, etc.) will be one the traditional bowl games, rotating the two surviving teams’ championship game among the already designated “top” bowls.  Do the math, and there are 8 games on one extended weekend (Fri, Sat, Mon), 4 games the next, 2 games the next, and finally the championship game for a total of 15 mega-money making bowls.  There are around 30 or so bowls at the end of each season, so to keep the other 15 bowls going, set up one-time match-ups between teams ranked 17 through 50 or so (allowing for teams who might decline a bowl invitation) as a “reward” for a successful season, according to the age-old bowl tradition.

 

Can’t say a lot of progress was made toward dealing with the problem of football concussions, but signs of teaching future tacklers from the beginning not to lead with their helmets and not to target other helmets seem promising.  Also, I have to have faith helmet technology will improve to increase head safety, although how you prevent the brain from jostling upon impact is yet to be tackled (pun or no pun intended, depending on your mood right now).  I foresee the time that football players of all ages will have to have the sign a waiver (or their parents sign a waiver in proxy) stating that they are aware they are voluntarily putting themselves into possible life-damaging harm, sorta like signing a waiver before going sky diving.  Sobering, but, unfortunately, necessary.

I have to admit that my love of the game overrides the sobriety just mentioned.  Have to also admit that 2016, once I think about it, was not a forgettable season after all.  Looking forward to next season.  Until then, may the little rubber beads that fly up when you drag your toe just in-bounds for a spectacular reception stay out of your sweaty eyes, and may linebackers everywhere find in their DNA traces of Neanderthal-ism, so that they no longer have to rationalize to the press and to fans their uniformed violence.

RJH

 

The Lth Year of the Super Bowl in the “50+”th Year of the NFL

Word has it that the numerals “50” were used in the logo of the fiftieth Super Bowl (2016) because the Roman numeral (used in each Super Bowl) for “50” is “L,” which the credulous might confuse with the finger-symbol for “loser.” Really? What is wrong with keeping up the lesson in Roman numerals? Are we NFL fans that stupid, thin-skinned, and politically correct? Let us hope to every wing in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton we will see next season “LI” instead of “51.” It’s just classier and more cerebral, qualities sorely needed by the most brutal level of an already brutal game — the game we fans un-apologetically love.

I must confess I approached Super Bowl L, once Denver and Carolina were determined the two conference champions, with a degree of neutral ambiguity.  I felt I had “no dog in this fight,” as I cannot label myself a follower of either team.  I admired the way Carolina played as a team — good in all three phases of the game.  And Cam Newton reminded me of Joe Namath back in the days before Super Bowl III — Cam could talk and act however he wanted, because he backed it up; he walked the walk.  Peyton going from the Colts to the Broncos made it comfortable for me to openly express my admiration for the NFL’s elder Manning brother, one of Archie’s sons.  Moreover, even if I did not follow Denver, the Texas A&M connections (head coach of the Broncos, Gary Kubiak = former Aggie QB and star LB for Denver, Von Miller = former All-American Aggie LB) mean I could never think badly of former Aggie players on any NFL team.  Then there was the Defensive Coordinator of the Broncos, Wade Phillips, son of beloved head coach Bum Phillips of the long-gone Houston Oilers, as well as former Cowboy great OLB, Demarcus Ware, who had the chance to win a Super Bowl ring now that he was sadly no longer with the boys with the star on the helmet owned by stupid-decision king Jerry Jones.  In addition to my admiration of the Panthers, I, on the other hand, as an Aggie fan, a “fossil fan” of the Oilers, and a Cowboy fan, could think of nothing negative about the Denver Broncos.

Therefore, when the end to Super Bowl L came, I surprised myself how good I felt, despite the fact the Broncos are in the American conference, opposite the Cowboys’ National conference, because Gary, Von (the game’s MVP, by the way), Wade, and Demarcus were getting rings.  I guess I had a dog in this fight after all, and I didn’t know it.

 

I’ve often repeated that I will never stop loving both upper levels of football — college football and pro football — because one of the fascinations for me as a fan is to see both the correlation and lack of correlation between those players successful on the college gridiron and those players successful on the pro gridiron.  For every whiz-bang success making the transition from college to professional, like Peyton Manning or Von Miller, there seems to be a crash-and-burn failure, like Vince Young or Brian Bosworth.  The failures seem to parallel Greek tragedy — a clear hero with an equally clear “fatal flaw.”

As every fan of following players’ transition to the NFL knows, there is no assurance “your favorites” are going to make it (part of the fascination), and one of my all-time favorites, Johnny Manziel, was no exception.  Yet, as the 2015 season brought Johnny’s case into focus as a probable failure, his personal tragedy loomed especially sad for me.  Just as his gridiron success at Texas A&M was countered by off-the-field “negative spinning” by the media, efforts to shine his every NFL off-the-field move in as negative a light as possible became even more ratcheted up than in college, in my opinion.  Johnny definitely has a “fatal flaw,” an Achilles heel, if you please, but for him it seems the NFL, the sports media, and his NFL team set him up to be a failure because of an apparent drinking problem, spinning it as if his problem was on the same plane as the problems of fellow Heisman Trophy winner and QB of my Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jameis Winston — ludicrous at best, as NFL fans paying attention recently to an ESPN crawl line saw Winston settling with a young woman over charges of sexual assault for around a half-million bucks.  All I’m saying is slapping someone in the face while intoxicated is not sexual assault; slapping someone in the face means you are a bad drunk, not an accused rapist.  Johnny does not deserve the bad press he is getting.  I’m not condoning what Johnny did off the field; I’m condemning the demonizing of what he did.

But whether Manziel is a success or failure in the transition is really up to him.  The light at the end of the tunnel for Johnny is that this is a game, not a public office; his career can be turned around with a team that will give him a chance to recover the feeling of having fun playing the game that we Aggie fans saw on the gridiron for two unforgettable seasons.  He needs not only to address his personal demons, he needs to change his personal posse he takes with him to parties; he needs true friends who understand his weaknesses and have his back; if he asked for interviews for such a “posse” position, I think there would be a long line of his generation waiting to apply, not all of them Aggie fans; were I not so damn old, I’d like to join that line.  Johnny could be another Joe Namath, or he could be another Ryan Leaf; with JFF, we can have another “feel-good” story of athletic success, or we can have still another Greek tragedy.  I join the ‘Bama fan who wrote an editorial in the local paper recently hoping that Johnny can turn his life and career around; the NFL needs him to do just that.

(Whatever the future holds for Johnny Football, Texas A&M has to, in the long haul, pay eternal homage to him, if for no other reason than the millions of dollars he brought and is still bringing to TAMU.  The least he deserves is a kick-ass statue that rivals or excels the great statue we already have outside Kyle Field of the late, great Heisman Trophy winner John David Crow.  I am such a “homer” Aggie, I believe Johnny was sincere when he closed his Heisman acceptance speech with “Gig ‘Em!”)

 

When Tony Romo got hurt early in the 2015 NFL season, it was “curtains” to Cowboy hopes for a repeat of a great season.  Tony’s bad luck illustrates a real concern I have as a football fan, especially in the NFL — the damn game is too damn dependent upon one “prima-donna” position, the QB!  The salary money gets top-heavy toward one position, as if the only successful teams are those who have QB’s that can still throw the ball at the end of the season.  How stupid is that?  In the Cowboys’ case this past season, poor choices for back-up QB indicated not only inflated QB salaries, but also idiotic money-saving hires of people who the organization hopes will not take a single snap all season, and the lack of keeping a quality offensive line intact to protect Tony in the first place.  Has anyone out there in “coaching land” not remembered the good old days when the QB did not have to touch the ball but very few times, like in early versions of modern “wildcat” formations or the old wing-T or single-T formations, from all of which you can, with the right personnel, throw or run every single down?  And I mean throw like Joe Namath, Tony Romo, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, or Johnny Manziel?!  Sure the NFL defenses (one of the reasons I liked Super Bowl L — it was dominated by defense) will soon adapt to any innovative or throw-back offense, but does any offensive coordinator really believe that all offensive possibilities have been exhausted?  Bill Walsh sure as hell did not think that!

 

Concussions have to be addressed even more than they have already.  Every NFL fan should see the movie Concussion.  The “art and skill” of tackling needs to be coached differently from Pop Warner football on up.  Innovations in helmet and uniform protection of the player need to be accelerated independent of business factors.  Rules like targeting need to be tweaked and policed to walk atop the fence line between a safe game and a violent game, with the rules simultaneously not being as “metaphysical,” not being such a judgement call, as, say, pass interference.  We’ve not even begun to seriously consider if there is even such a thing as a safe, violent game.  As a football fan, I hope and pray such a game does exist; I hope the Pro Football Hall of Fame never becomes just a museum of history that enshrines some ending date.

 

2015 was another NFL season when the NFL showed it was “too big for its britches.”  Driven by profits, owners prop up a commissioner to do their bidding, and are so impressed with the successes of their bottom lines, they feel entitled to pontificate controls over their “assets,” the lives of the players.  This not only involves the concussion issue, it involves the moral and legal lives of the players.  The NFL should be a big HR department for players, not a police department or a church of the oblate spheroid.  As the only HR the players have, the players’ association should only have to be an adviser to the owners, instead of having to be their antagonist.  Players are the essence of the NFL, not its “workers.”

Unfortunately, the game of pro football became even more a game with only the rich and self-entitled seated in the stands, as costs to “average Joe” fans continued to rise.  Pro football is not really a game of the people anymore, it is more a game of the privileged.  Thank God for great TV coverage of the games!

 

As for the 2015 season on the gridiron, I enjoyed seeing the return of the Minnesota Vikings to prominence and the playoffs, as well as the noise the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made on the field.  The Seahawks were a hard team to figure out, and the Cardinals and Bengals sure were pleasant surprises.  The Chiefs were fun to follow, and the Chargers remain an enigma.  I sympathized with the troubles of the Saints, Bears, and Lions, but, of course, had no sympathy with any troubles suffered by the Giants, Eagles, Steelers, Redskins, and Forty-Niners.  I thought the Raiders and the Falcons had some unexpected bright spots.  Would you objectively call the Packers’ season expected or unexpected?  How about the Rams’ move to LA?  Will they be joined by one or both of the Raiders and Chargers?  Once more the city of St. Louis is left out in the cold.  I loved that former Aggie QB Ryan Tannehill ended up with a successful season with the Dolphins (not to mention former Aggie Dan Campbell’s interim head coaching stint) despite many premature obituaries from the media.  And good for Tom Brady for letting the stupid deflated-balls-fiasco motivate him and his Patriots to a great season.  And, finally, when oh when will the Texans get them a good NFL QB?  A drinking party-man from the Browns with a built-in Texas fan base would serve the boys from Houston better than what happened last season.

Coach Bill Belichick is to the NFL as Greg Popovich is to the NBA; Bill is still the best in the league, in my opinion.  With that, I shall sign off until next season, when the number “50” at the midfield stripes should morph from gold to white and we shall return in our heads to the fallacy that our QB going down is more serious than another on the team going down.  Deep down in our egalitarian hearts, we know that it isn’t true, just like we know deep down that we would like to watch a dangerous game of blocking and tackling rather than a game of touch pass or flag football.

RJH

 

D-I College Football — When Will We Ever Learn?

I expected, as a Texas A&M season football ticket holder, that the 2015 D-I college football season would be memorably good, given it marked the completion of A&M’s new expansion and make-over of Kyle Field.  And it turned out as expected.  My new tickets are not far from the  50-yard line (where my old ones were) and still in the preferred “nose-bleed” high section.  I can walk all the way around the stadium (something never before possible) at a high mezzanine level, and the women’s restrooms outnumber the men’s two to one, as it should be.  I can get a beer before (not during) the game, and I can get almost all the way up to my seats using an escalator.  To build and pay for the new Kyle Field in such a short period of time should be a point of pride for all Aggies.  We have built it, to coin the phase from Field of Dreams, so now the players should come.

Unexpected was the soap opera of QB’s that resulted in an 8-5 season for the Aggies, including a bowl loss.  It was better than I had predicted (7-6), but should have been better and free of discovering the hard way that 1) QB’s in the SEC need to be more like Johnny Manziel, 2) offensive lines need to be as good as during Johnny’s two years, 3) QB’s need to be neither slow nor prima-donnas, and 4) running backs like Trey Williams need to stay and not opt to the NFL after their junior year.  Applying my formula for predicting next year’s record (reduce the wins by 1 and increase the losses by 1) so as to minimize disappointment due to unrealistic expectations, I once again predict 7-6 in 2016 (with a bowl) for my beloved Aggies.

The carousel of coaches has had to plague the Aggies also, but, as usual, coaching soap operas interest me little.  The reason for this is I am a pure fan; I don’t bet and I don’t do fantasy football at any level; I don’t discuss football much with anyone but fellow Aggie fans, and I do not live vicariously through my chosen teams as a frustrated athlete.  My life is not significantly affected one way or another by the outcomes of my teams on the field or court.   The only thing I can reasonably expect from the money I send in support of A&M Athletics is that the Aggies play well and play to win each and every contest.  So far, I have not regretted my monetary support.  I understand the word “fan” comes from fanatic so I am as an irrational supporter of my beloved teams as any other fan, but my perspective comes from being a football trainer/manager rather than as a player, coach, or fan in the stands. (See Confessions of a Cisco High School Lobo Football Trainer/Manager 1960-1963 [March, 2014])  I have even self-analyzed myself as to why I like the sport; it is the physical contact of blocking and tackling; I enjoy watching rugby as much as I enjoy watching American football.  I shall return to this self-analysis shortly, as well as to the ramifications of being a contact sports fan.

I do enjoy being part of the SEC, the best conference in D-I ball, in my opinion, but with numbers to support that assertion.  Just look at the W-L bowl results at the end of the 2015 season:  SEC 9-2, Big 12 3-4, Pac 12 6-4, & Big 10 5-4.  Nothing else need be said on which is the best conference, except I will remind the reader that I’m fully aware that the Aggies were one of the 2 bowl losses for the SEC, but, that we had a chance to win it at the end, which is more than can be said for Florida’s bowl loss.

My good friend Bill Adling, a Texas Tech fan like I’m an Aggie fan, remarked this past season that the Big 12 is a more exciting conference because of all the high scoring that fans seem to like.  I replied that it depended upon one’s definition of “exciting.”  To repeat myself from other football posts, I prefer smash-mouth football rather than an aerial circus, although I do appreciate the passing/receiving skills of football.  But, give me a 16-13 game over a 48-45 game anytime.  If you want to see a high scoring game, watch basketball; if you want to see a lot of throwing and catching, watch baseball.  To me, going from the Big 12 to the SEC feels like going to a REAL old-school football conference.

I’ve decided that I will follow in seasons to come the non-Aggie SEC teams Mississippi, Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Auburn.  Other SEC teams that interest me are Georgia, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt.  In the Big 12 I follow Oklahoma State, Kansas State, TCU, and Texas Tech.  In the Pac 12 I like Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Arizona State, Utah, and UCLA.  In the Big 10 it’s Michigan State, Purdue, Northwestern, Iowa, and Wisconsin.  Other teams of interest scattered all around are USC, West Virginia, Florida State, Florida, Michigan, and Missouri.  No wonder my autumns are filled with watching games live and recorded on TV, as well as at home games in Kyle Field!  In the last two 2-year cycles, my son Chad has taken me to the A&M-LSU game in Baton Rouge for all-day tailgating, as well as for the game.  I’m becoming a fan of college football tailgating too.

Recently I’ve noticed more Aggie fans leaving the game early (regardless of if we are winning or losing) to go tailgating, which is a new experience for me at Kyle.  At LSU I learned that many fans cannot afford to do both — buy season tickets and tailgate, so they do only one, accounting for in part why any tailgate set-up has at least one TV blaring ESPN, etc.  My concern is:  does this portend a path for college ball similar to pro ball — a game only the rich can afford to attend?

Returning to my psychological reasons for liking football — the violent contact, which, of course means concussions.  This is a real sobering concern for me; it is not coincidental that the dark side of Confessions of a Cisco High School Lobo Football Trainer/Manager 1960-1963 [March, 2014] has to do with my close friends receiving concussions while playing.  I encouraged both my sons not to play my favorite sport, to no avail for one of them, because of this dark side.  (Be sure to see the movie Concussion if you have not already done so.)  Thus, my moral dilemma each season when I “re-up” for my season tickets — do I support a system that not only can chew up the careers of young men through injury but also a system that can permanently damage their brains?  Sadly, my dilemma lasts only a few seconds before I “re-up.”  When will I ever learn?  It is like being addicted.

[Lest one take the addiction of being a sports fan too lightly, please read up on the Greens and the Blues, the two groups of sports fans in Constantinople of the old Byzantine Empire.  They were so involved being fans, their fanaticism blended with social and political power to the point the two groups of fans were killing each other in gang-like fashion!]

Also, D-I and all levels of football have got to straighten out this targeting rule designed to protect players from concussions.  Improved helmets and better coaching of tackling would seem a better route to take than a rule that has joined pass interference as the game’s contributions to metaphysics!  To have a player suspended from half a game because he, the tackler, hit the tackled player as the latter was lowering his head in reflex seems a little fuzzy to me.  In addition, I think that whenever a player starts playing football, the parents need to sign off on a legal binding statement that the risks of playing the sport are understood and are the responsibility of the player and parents.  Without this, we are headed to schools and NFL owners being sued for closed head injuries.  For me it is like joining the military — “I understand that by participation, I am choosing to put myself in harm’s way.”  (in potentially life-changing  or life-ending harm’s way)

Finally, I come to my old manta — When will they ever learn that the D-I college championship is bullshit until there is a championship bracket played off like they do in FCS college football (You know, the college football programs that include Sam Houston St., Jacksonville St., and North Dakota St.)?  And D-I football is the only collegiate sport in which the championship is so cheapened.  I would say this even if my Aggies won the “championship” any year or years in the future if they don’t expand the bracket.  I am saying North Dakota St. is a true national champion because they played after Thanksgiving in a 24-team bracket, like a tennis tournament with seeds and byes; Alabama is not a true champion in this same sense; we do not know if the Tide is the best team in the nation like we know the Bisons are the best team in the nation.  Alabama winning is like only the 1st and 2nd seeds of the two NFL conferences (New England, Denver, Carolina, and Arizona) getting to play for the Super Bowl championship.  When will they ever learn?  Maybe after just one other frustrating season, like in 2016?  Maybe….but in the mean time, I’ve got to get ready to go through my seconds-long moral dilemma and order my 2016 Aggie season football tickets.

RJH

 

Mixed Emotions in the NFL…

My belated commentary on the NFL is just now emerging due to last season’s bitter-sweetness for me; I bid the 2014 NFL season farewell with mixed emotions.

The good news surrounds the surprising success of the Cowpokes of Big-D. I don’t think even Jerry in his mindless hype had this kind of season in mind. To advance into the playoffs and be within one Dez catch of playing for a ticket to play in the Super Bowl? Who would have “thunk it?”

Cowboy fans have few critical injuries during the season to thank as well as finally investing in a good O-line to protect Tony and in a good D to get the ball back to Tony, Demarco, Dez, and Co. for their outstanding success this past season. It was enough to begin entertaining the contemplation of the good days of the present instead of the past.

Can we count on building upon this success? We can only hope as Cowboy fans, for only Jerry and his plastic surgeons know for sure.

 

The bad news is longer and more complicated, as it concerns all NFL fans, not just Poke fans; even I admit once in a while that there are fans out there other than Cowboy fans.  The bad news comes for me in two categories:  1) the dark side, and 2) the farcical.   The heavy side first:

It bothers me that, just like the public schools, the NFL, in its new place as the nation’s leading sport money-wise and otherwise, has become the “moral police” of its personnel.  This is just a game in the long run, and if it expands its influence too much beyond the “just a game” boundaries, then the days of the fans of the Blues and Greens in the old Byzantine Hippodrome becoming not just fans, but movers and shakers of Empire policy, begin to suggest themselves.  It is just possible that under-inflated footballs have been compensated by over-inflated NFL League offices.  Take the Ray Rice case for example:  his behavior cannot be in any way defended.  But, the NFL cannot morally reprimand him, in my opinion.  This a violent, dangerous game to play that unfortunately caters to individual uncontrolled violence.  Criminal action by Rice off-the-field may be grounds for permanent dismissal, but for reasons of safety for the players; if Rice is seen as rehabilitated, with encouragement of that view from his victim, his wife, then it is hard for me to see that he is a safety concern to his fellow players on the other side of the ball.  When it comes down to it, what better way of corralling the violence of one individual than to put him on a field with 21 other violent individuals?  In other words, does the game have the same government over a player’s behavior off-the-field as do the laws of the land?  I say “render unto the law what is the law’s, and unto football only what is on the field, in the training room, and in the locker room.”

Then, there is the not-as-heavy paparazzi-like sports media coverage of the NFL players off-the-field; I know that sports are basically Hollywood-like entertainment, but do fans really care whether or not Johnny Manziel has a party before or after a game with his buddies or not?  A player doing drugs off-the-field is putting his field performance in jeopardy, so why should fans be so concerned whether or not players do drugs?  I submit so many fans bet the games and/or participate in fantasy football, they have money riding on a player doing his or her best; this is why they are so interested in following players off-the-field.  It is the same way the Blues and Greens became corrupted way back when; as they gained influence in State policy those two groups began killing each other.  Now, I’m not suggesting Cowboy fans and Steeler fans will one day start murdering each other, but I am suggesting that when teams are loved or hated for reasons beyond the game, then something is getting grotesquely askew.

When athletes are placed on pedestals as examples for young people, for children, then that is an example of “grotesquely askew.”  Getting all teary-eyed when the Babe rubs the head of some street kid is one thing, but when athletes are compelled to emulate that same behavior themselves, even when it is not in their nature to do so, is another.  Some athletes are naturally good examples, but I suspect most are not.  We as a society have not come to terms with this suspicion.  There are plenty of other places to find examples for our children than athletics.

So, what I’ve learned from the “bad news” dark side of the NFL 2014 is fans need to follow the game for the game’s sake and only for the game’s sake.

From the “bad news” farcical side came another “tempest in a teapot” or “mountain out of a molehill” episode — “deflate-gate” or Tom Brady’s deflated balls.  Give me a break!  As a manager/trainer of my high school football team way back when (not as far back as the Blues and Greens), there is more than ample opportunity for lots more stuff to be done to the equipment than merely messing with the air pressure inside the ball.  My experience with sports in general says that teams and players “mess with the rules” whenever they can to get an edge (spit balls, stealing signs, and corked bats in baseball, for example); when “caught,” apologize, correct the matter, and move on.  It is part of “gamesmanship,” a not-so-nice part, admittedly, but part of the game nonetheless.   Fans need not be so shocked, nor should the NFL act as if it is a big deal.  It would have been a bigger deal had the Seahawks won and the loss to the Patriots could be blamed by the media and the public as “just desserts” for “cheating.”  As it was, the Patriots’ victory was tainted in the minds of the “rules are rules” crowd.  Get over it, you purists, and spend some time on a team and/or in a locker/training room.

Both sides of the “bad news” remind us to remember the Blues and Greens……

 

With a big sigh I look forward to the 2015 NFL season.  May our legitimate worries about concussions by alleviated without making football a game of touch pass, by major innovations in helmet technology in the coming year.  May the targeting rule be tightened up, so as to be less ambiguous; may re-play be streamlined and faster processed so as to be applied to every “what was that?” play.  And please, please work on that completed pass all the way to the ground rule so that in future Dez’s catch against Green Bay in the end zone is a catch!

RJH

 

D-I College Football 2014: Turning a Corner

This past season of Division I College Football was a watershed season in its pitiful attempt to have a true playoff season to determine the national champion; at least it was better than the no-playoff of all seasons prior. For all its shortcomings, the 4-team playoff labeled with the names of three of the “big bowls” did represent, in my opinion, a “continental divide” back over which we will never return. For that alone, I suppose, I should be grateful as a college football fan.  However, for a Texas Aggie fan, it was a football season answering the question about life after Johnny Manziel, and, more importantly, it was a season whose end witnessed a quantum leap of improvement for the players, for student-athletes.

As I heard over the media and over the tables of sports bars the excitement of a 2-tiered “playoff,” I could only shout in my head two questions: “WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG?” and “CAN YOU EXPAND THE NUMBER OF TEAMS, PLEASE?”  How about an 8-team, 3-tiered system, or, better, a 16-team, 4-tiered system like Division II or lower?

Let me indicate the advantages of having an 8-team playoff in 2014, reminding all football fans of what we missed. First, teams like Baylor and TCU would have gotten their shot to win it all, as they should have. I’m not a fan of either, but those two teams were as worthy as any of the four who did make it. Second, seed the teams 1 through 8 like a tennis tournament, and look at the four match-ups we would have had in that fantasy fan world of common sense:  1 vs 8 would have been Alabama vs Michigan State; 2 vs 7 would have been Oregon vs Mississippi State; 3 vs 6 would have been Florida State vs TCU; and 4 vs 5 would have been Ohio State vs Baylor.  These would have been like quarter-final match-ups.  Neglecting that farce at Jerry-World called the “national championship,” note in each of these match-ups there was an actual winner and actual loser in the “semi-finals” or bowl.  Using these actual results, the semi-final round of four teams in this fantasy 8-team playoff would have been 4 vs 8 Ohio State vs Michigan State and 2 vs 6 Oregon vs TCU.  The two winners of these two games would have met for a “truer” determination of the national champion.  Note how conference-wise the SEC and ACC would have been shut out, the Pac 12 and Big 12 flush with bragging rights, and the Big 10 with the biggest bragging rights of all.

The fantasy I just described is an 8-team playoff of 7 games over 3 weekends, the national champion having to win three straight.  A 16-team playoff would be 15 games over 4 weekends, the national champion having to win four straight.  And for 32 teams, it would be 31 games over 5 weekends, the champion having to win 5 straight.  The pitiful attempt of 2014 was 4 teams, 3 games, 2 weekends, and 2 games to win.  [The non-wild card playoff formula goes like this:  the even number of teams is expressed as 2^n, n an integer greater than or equal to 2.  (2^2 = 4; 2^3 = 8; 2^4 = 16; 2^5 = 32; etc.)  The number of weekends (the number of “tiers”) to play out the playoffs and the number of consecutive wins for the champion is n, and the number of games or “bowls” for a complete playoff is 2^n – 1.]

For n = 2, like the fledgling “playoff” we just had, the money and excitement nationwide is minimal.  Yet, look at what n = 2 generated:  college football has a chance to surpass the NFL playoffs in the national sports psyche; we will have to wait for Super Bowl 2015 to see if that happens.  In my opinion, college football is a “lock” to surpass the NFL if n = 3 or greater.  Think about that, all you “true” fans like myself who follow the game for  its own sake; think about that all you football betters who bet the Las Vegas line all season; think about that all you who play fantasy football.  Our passion, Division I College Football, has a chance to be #1 again, game-wise and money-wise.  And all because the 2014 season had the courage to try something reasonable and pragmatic — to try something every American understands, fan or not.

 

Football-wise and other-sport-wise, 2014 was a good time to be an Aggie fan.  With regard to Texas A&M’s joining the SEC, 2014 continued to vindicate that decision, many times over.  In Kevin Sumlin’s third season, 8 wins were chalked up in football despite devastating off-the-field QB problems, and I’m not talking Johnny Manziel, who left for the NFL.  2014 turned out to be a A&M football season that, in my opinion, vindicated Johnny Football as a gridiron blessing, not an off-the-field pariah.  Regardless of his success or failure in professional ball, JFF was made by 2014 to be seen as not near as bad as perceived by much of the media while he was at College Station; turns out, we were lucky to have him two years; he will deserve any tangible accolades given him by Aggieland in the future, like a Heisman-winner statue to compliment that of John David Crow.

Texas A&M athletics today not only has unprecedented success in all men’s and women’s sports, A&M athletics have the best facilities and financial solvency EVER!  Recruiting is growing in geographical outreach and success; coverage of Aggie athletics, thanks to not only networks like Fox Sports, ESPN, and CBS, but also to the new SEC network, is broader and deeper than ever before.  Texas A&M is not only the largest school in the State of Texas and largest in the SEC conference, it is being perceived as such in and out of Texas, something we never received while we were in the Big 12.

I predicted the 8-5 2014 Aggie gridiron record, not because the numbers matter (I don’t bet football games nor play fantasy football.), but because they really don’t.  Fans who want their team to win because it makes them money from their bet or in their fantasy league need to be called something other than fans.  W’s and L’s are secondary or tertiary to a fan; what is primary is putting on the field or court the best team resources can make possible and then having the team play as best they can, each and every game, regardless of outcome.  Aggie football is benefiting from being in the perennially toughest division in the nation — the SEC West.  W’s and L’s have, are, and will take care of themselves, as shown by the SEC West’s 2014 bowl record — 2-5 (All seven teams were bowl qualified, but only A&M and Arkansas won their bowl games.)  When you take a gander at the new multi-million-dollar Kyle Field in the fall of 2015, W’s and L’s will seem pretty insignificant from that season on.

A little tip for fans to avoid the angst of W’s and L’s:  don’t bet on sports or play fantasy football; make your money some other way.  Then, to gently deal with your fan psyche, predict next season’s record upon the last by subtracting one W and adding one L.  Therefore, I now predict next year’s 2015 Aggie football record to be 7-6, including a bowl game.  This way, if they duplicate or exceed 2014’s 8-5, I will have a satisfactory season outcome as a fan.  I would like them to win every game, but “if ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas!”  After all, it’s only football!

 

The lasting triumph of the 2014 D-I College Football Season happened after Ohio State won its quasi-bullshit national championship.  And it happened off-the-field, which is hard for me to admit, as I try to ignore tabloid sports media coverage and concentrate upon X’s and O’s.  The “Big-5″ D-I conferences banded together and showed the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) it is little more than an impotent, unimportant bureaucracy; those who play the game “rule the roost,” as it should be.  The NCAA was forced to agree that an athletic scholarship cannot be revoked based upon athletic performance or injury and that student-athletes, in addition to tuition, books, medical care, and board, get a stipend of spending money so they can lead a normal life off-the-field; or, as I like to call it, student athletes now get “pizza money.”  IT’S ABOUT TIME!  Finally, finally, we will have no more of that silly signatures/awards/paraphernalia for money that unfairly got Ohio State in trouble a few years ago.  Finally, finally, the NCAA recognizes the brutal fact that for so many student-athletes, their families cannot afford pizza money; that for so many student-athletes, their scholarship is their way out of socio-economic depression.  Most scholarship athletes do not come from families as financially well off as the Manziels.

 

Rise up in indignation over how Baylor and TCU were left out of the cold!  Demand tweaking of the target rule and increased efforts toward safer helmet technology.  Work toward an expanded playoff system.  Pray for more beer sold in stadiums.  Come on, fans, there is much to do in the off-season!  Stop making your bookie and/or fantasy league manager rich and look forward to the day we no longer think of keeping up with changing bowl game names, but, rather only need to think of games in the rounds of quarter-finals, semi-finals, and the one true championship game.

RJH

 

 

Preface to SXYTMCHSC1964M4M

Writings on high school days conjure the descriptor “nostalgia,” and these writings are no exception, but with a very important qualification. These are stories of high school days out-of-the-box — nostalgia “with a twist,” if you please.

Typical of high school and college memoirs are books such as No Other Time Like This One, by Ed Jackson, (2005, Hannibal Books, ISBN 0-929292-63-4) which, incidentally, is also about high school days in Cisco High School, Cisco, Texas. Jackson’s book is set in the late 1940’s and chronicles friendships made while during high school — memorable friendships. It is filled with stories of normal school activity, dating stories, and how graduates went on to business success and service to their country. By contrast, this chronicles friendships molded in the context of school that were so abnormal, different, and unusual, they transcended beyond “normal” memories to include what can only be called unbelievable. In college, what I thought were typical high school experiences of mine turned out to be outrageous and atypical compared to experiences most high school students lived. As I approach 40 years of teaching high school, I am astonished and amazed that has not changed!

What had we done?  What had the four pictured on the cover wrought?  What was the “twist” we unconsciously put on the high school experience in the 1960’s?  Could this have happened at another time and/or in another place?  Rather than a nostalgia book such as Ed Jackson’s, this is a departure from the “usual” into the attempt to answer these questions.  Whatever it was we did, without it, our days in high school would have been normal and mundane in comparison.  Given what we did, those days were anything but!  And, surprisingly, the four of us, in my opinion, can be reasonably defined, which is attempted near the end of these pages.  But, as I try to “spell out,” I don’t recommend our being seen as examples to emulate.

Yet, our transcendent friendships were and still are based upon something priceless:  fun.  That is worth emulating in any circumstances, though our levels of silliness and extreme forms of fun are certainly not for everyone.  Many readers will resonate with the spirit described in these pages, but I suspect not as many as we would like.  What the world needs now is not only love, but also a whole lot more fun.  We were convinced we had brought extraordinary fun into our own lives, but, as the reader will see, whether the world saw our offerings as fun is quite another matter!

Other words usually conjured in writings on high school days are “innocence” or “we were just kids.”  In our case, I do not think you could describe us as innocent, given all we went through.  Therefore, readers might find a few words I’ve used to describe our adventures as far-from-innocent, coarse, harsh, and definitely inappropriate.  I don’t apologize for this at all, because I don’t feel the need to do so; part of our “extended education” in public schools was so strong and atypical, only strong, harsh examples of our lexicon can do our “beyond-the-diploma curriculum” justice; part of our atypical, unusual education was the development of our own sense of propriety.  But, again, the foundation of our special propriety was and is fun, laughter, humor, and the joys of making each other laugh.

Any other conclusions, lessons, or insights gleaned from these pages must be the responsibility of the reader’s interpretations.  Each “chapter” or posting can be read on its own, resulting in repeated references to important events, which I hope gives the appearance of “flow” and unity throughout the entire work.  (The only exceptions not “on their own” are the Introduction and Chapters 1-10 of the chair/desk escapade.)  Though, I must admit, I do hope every reader is, at the very least, entertained; may every reader of these pages apply to them the Lennon/McCartney lyric from “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite,” off the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, “A splendid time is guaranteed for all!”

 

This work is a compilation of posts on my website www.ronniejhastings.com, entitled Beyond Good and Evil, made possible by WordPress.  This website, in turn, was brought into existence by my site manager, good friend, and former student Jim McDonald.  (Jim was one of the high school student researchers that highlighted my teaching career. (Hard to Believe!  High School Student Researchers?  Say What? [August, 2012])  The work is cross-referenced throughout, using the links within the website; the “chapter” titles are the titles of the posts, and the date on each link refers to the month the post was published on the site with WordPress.   Any reference mentioned not included in this work (like the post about Jim above) can be found easily on Beyond Good and Evil, www.ronniejhastings.com, using the month/year date.

Jim will be my first acknowledgement and only one of the preface; breaking protocol of most publications; I shall save the rest for the epilogue, for reasons I hope the reader will see by the end of this work.  So, thanks, Jim!  Without your insight and skills, I would not have been motivated toward fulfilling on cyberspace a life-long dream of disseminating tribute to my friends from our school days in the public schools of Cisco, Texas — friends who made those days unusual and unbelievable.

RJH

 

Confessions of a Cisco High School Lobo Football Trainer/Manager 1960-1963

Outside the classroom experiences, no on-site experiences had more profound and formative effect upon my Cisco school days than those I received as a football trainer/manager for the Cisco Loboes during the four football seasons 1960-1963. These were the four seasons of the 1964 graduating class, and I was fortunate to be the only one of my class to serve the team as a trainer/manager all four of them. These four seasons are the reasons I am today an avid football fan, a season-ticket holder to Texas A&M football home games, a general college football fan, a Cisco Lobo fan who one night in December 2013 had a lump in his throat and tears in his eyes when the Loboes finally won State, and a NFL fan who loves to watch any pairing of the 32 on TV line up and hit each other — all without ever having been a player. Yet, these four seasons are also the reasons why I’m glad I never played football, why I would never be the coach of a sports team, much less of a football team, why I’m glad my sons never played football, why I couldn’t care less about the so-called pageantry of college and pro football, and why I can claim, like a player, I never saw a half time show performed by my peers while in high school. These four seasons are the reasons I cannot be considered a typical football fan. Being a trainer/manager will do things like that to you.

And it is not difficult to see why. Being trainer/manager is a unique perspective on a football team — different from that of players, coaches, and fans. It is an “inside” view, yet a somewhat detached one, due to the “invisible” status trainer/managers have as members of the team. Sort-of-like officials in a football game — players, coaches, and fans don’t notice them unless they are needed and/or they screw up.

Consequently, this is not a history of Cisco High School Lobo football; there will be no season won-loss records, individual game scores, or individual/team statistics; Dr. Duane Hale and others have done a good job registering that. It is a slice of four years of high school experiences — events revealing adolescents in athletics, specifically four football seasons. It just happened to be Lobo football; it happened to be, as I’ve said, profound and formative, made possible by, perhaps, an atypical point of view.

Even the beginning of these four seasons was atypical…….

Berry (Ode to Bob B. Berry [May, 2012]) was walking home to Park Dr., west of Front St., from the 3-story high school building located less than a block from my house on the 900 block of W. 6th St. in June, 1960; he had just come from an organizational meeting of the summer’s driver’s education class. I was playing in my front yard, allegedly doing yard work. Berry and I had graduated from Cisco Jr. High, along with the rest of the 1964 graduating class, and all of us were being “pigeon-holed” into all the roles we could take on as we entered high school. Berry, for instance, was going to play football and take Spanish; I was not going to play football (My parents would not allow it.) and take Agriculture, joining the FFA.

There in my front yard, Berry persuaded me to do two things — sign up for driver’s ed, and talk to the driver’s ed teacher, head football coach Jerrell Rice, to see if I could be the incoming freshman “manager” (as trainer/managers were called) for the football team. Coach Rice said “yes” to both requests. These were two decisions with which my parents had no problems, so they had said “yes” also. Driver’s ed that summer turned out to be not-so-stressful because I already knew how to drive, learning how to drive cars, pick-ups, and tractors on our farms and ranches. But the decision to be a football manager was crucial, as it assured me I would not be out-of-touch outside the classroom with my good friends Berry, Adling (Ode to William L. (Bill) Adling [May,2012]), and Clark Odom — all going to play football — so, I would be “in-touch” without having to play football. (The only good friend from whom I would be deviating in an extra-curricular sense was Lee (Ode to Dr. Bill R. Lee [April, 2012]), who was joining the high school band.) Thanks to Berry, my high school “career” was launched — pocketing a driver’s licence and becoming part of the football team by the time school started. (Who knows what would have happened had I not been in the yard that day Berry walked by!)

Becoming a manager meant that before I entered high school, I took a “manager skills” correspondence course that summer from the Cramer Company. By the time summer football practice began, I knew all kinds of terms and theory, from balm packs to taping ankles, from bandaging to low-tech chiropractic techniques such as “popping” necks and backs. I was ready for the real thing — on-the-job training; practical success and only that would determine if I “made” the team or not.

Becoming an accepted manager by the time school and the football schedule started was like driver’s ed — not so stressful, for basically two reasons: 1) I was not put off by doing menial, dirty jobs (the “rewards” of being a freshman) like un-clogging toilets “jammed by deposits,” thanks to my experiences working and “doctoring” livestock on the farms and ranches, where I had to do some pretty unsavory things. 2) I was mentored and taken “under wing” by Senior manager Larry Johnson, who really taught me by advice and by example how to be a good football manager. It did not “hurt” that he and I “hit it off” right from the start; we had similar senses of humor, similar gifts (like drawing and sketching), and similar student body responsibilities (We were Presidents of our respective classes, also meaning we served on the Student Council together.)

For the 1960 season the managers were a quintet: Larry was the Senior (and head) manager; Jerry Parks and Olin Odom (Clark Odom’s older brother) were Junior managers; Chip White was the Sophomore mananger and I was the Freshman one. Stars of the team were Lynn Hagan, Darrell Holt, Hershell Barnes, Jackie Hammer, Kenneth Kenney, Rex Miller, Bruce Speegle, Jim Coats, Billy Duff Hale, Bill Midkiff, Jim Sitton, Don McCrary, Donnie Wallace, David Wende, Don Gosnell, David Callarman, and Gary Nettik. Head Coach Rice had as assistants Coaches Joe Turner, Ernie Davis, and Gene Hargrove. Varsity managers were Larry and the two Juniors; “B” Team managers were Chip and I.

What stuck in my memory in this first season as manager were the times we managers were “doing our thing” in the field house by ourselves, as when we were washing and cleaning up on Saturday mornings after a home or away game the Friday night before. Olin and Jerry seemed to get away from the job early, giving time to Larry, Chip, and I to have some “much deserved” playtime. The three of us took turns throwing each other in the wheeled laundry cart, and covering the one thrown in with freshly dried washing (towels, T-shirts, socks and jock straps) and/or inflated blocking and tackling dummies (canvas-sheathed tire inner tubes, not big-headed players). The three of us also, when all alone in the field house, would play “knights of old,” each of us donning a football helmet and grabbing a tackling dummy as a shield and a broom as a “lance or sword.” Two would gang up on one, or it was “every man for himself,” as we would “battle it out” all over the field house, giving each other scrapes and bruises — especially on our hands and fingers. Chip would keep us “in stitches” by “throwing a tantrum” by slinging in all directions as fast as he possibly could washed items and inflated dummies which had accumulated in the laundry cart.

Chesley Field, Cisco’s home field just outside the field house to the east (actually NE) did not drain well when a deluge came this season, resulting in the SW corner (actually S) end zone standing in water. It was the task of the managers to drain that water; digging a ditch, the proper solution, seemed impossible to do before a game was to be played as the weekend approached — too little time. We finally resorted to dipping up the water and pouring it over the chain-link perimeter fence of the field with empty athletic tape cans, each of which held eight or so rolls of the white tape with which we taped the players’ ankles for both practices and games; if you could not rip strips of this tape off the rolls with your fingers instead of using the time-consuming surgical scissors, you were not considered to be a very proficient manager. Olin’s reluctance to “get his feet wet” and his hands dirty in the standing water did not sit well with any of his manager colleagues, and this only added to Olin’s reputation of being a lazy manager, maintaining an attitude of entitlement because he was an upperclassman. It was a reputation never to improve, in my opinion, though my estimation of him did improve in areas outside the football team, as the reader will eventually see. In my world of Lobo football managing, he was to me the poorest example.

Part of our job as managers was to mark off the sidelines, end zones, and yard lines every five yards with a “wide-swath” trimming machine. This had to be done, of course, before the start of the season. I remember our messing up one time, not keeping in line with the marking pipes driven to ground level marking the corners of the end zones. Was I ever glad I was a “bottom-level” responsibility freshman! Just before one JV game on a Thursday night, I remember it raining so hard, they started the game with the field still draining to each sideline down the yard lines we had “trimmed.” The ball was spotted on one play right on a yard line divisible by 5, and when the official sat the ball down, it floated down the yard line toward the sideline! He had to retrieve the ball and re-set it.

When high school started for the graduating class of 1964, I immediately experienced an advantage I had being the only freshman football manager: being such, I could avoid being hazed by the Seniors 1961, for the most part. Summer two-a-day practices at the practice field and the field house had essentially ingratiated me with the Senior football players, like Lynn Hagan, Darrell Holt, and Kenneth Kenney (It did not hurt that I had become good friends with the first two at the church we three attended.) doing “normal” managerial things for them that all the managers did for the players: hand them towels when they came out of the showers, bandaging their cuts and scrapes, apply balm packs for bruised muscles, tape ankles before practices and games, massage backs and limbs in need of relaxing, especially calf muscles seized by “charley horses,” and personally procuring aspirin and/or salt tablets for them on demand.

Consequently, in the halls of 3-storied Cisco High School, when Seniors ’61 like Craig Meglasson, Robert Shirley, James Tabor, James Stanley Webb, or Charles Yardley (all non-football players) would try to haze me like they were hazing freshmen Adling, Berry, Clark Odom, or Lee, I would put myself in close proximity of a Senior football player like Lynn, Darrell, or Kenneth, who did not take kindly to their classmates “abusing” someone who “took care” of them at the field house. For me, it was a “good deal.” And, if I needed it, Larry was always there for me to advise me on “how to handle” these particular hazers.

When players had to run their “windsprints,” Chip White and I would find ourselves with no duties until they finished. We would go to the middle of Chesley Field and play “wrestle-tackle” between two of the yard lines we had helped carve into the grass. We would line up in a 3-point stance like a lineman across from each other and crash into each other, trying to push each other across the yard line behind each of us. Wearing no helmets, we avoided concussions.

Concussions were something many players could not avoid. Here in the 21st century, it is ironic and interesting how the issue of player concussions has come to dominate all levels of football, from pee-wee or Pop Warner leagues, through Jr. High and High School football, college ball, and the NFL. From the beginning, concussions from my perspective as a manager mitigated and moderated who played football and when.

Donnie Wallace was a Junior star on the team the 1960 season until he got “his bell rung” in a game in Ranger (helmet came off), and we applied “Am-caps” (little glass vials of pink-colored ammonia wrapped in a small nylon or cotton mesh, which could be crushed between the fingers and fanned under the noses of players who seemed “out of it”) to bring him around after he was helped off the field. We knew something was serious with Donnie’s injury, despite the fact we were laughing when he asked over and over who won the game, even as we were getting on the bus for the trip west back to Cisco, and we always answered that indeed we had won. “That’s good! That’s good!” was about all Donnie could reply. When we told him he was going to be all right, he said, “That’s good!” When we helped him into the showers, he said, “That’s good!” The last word we heard as he was taken to the doctor after he got dressed was “That’s good! That’s good!” Donnie’s football career was over; he did not play football his Senior year. That was NOT good.

Berry’s football career was cut short similarly our freshman year. More than once, I had to “bring him around” during a JV game (“B” team game) by waving an Am-cap under his nose. The last time was so bad, I had the Am-cap stuffed up into his nostril, and he still was not responding. It was scary! When we finally got him to “come around,” that time, Berry stopped playing thereafter. When the second season of 1961 came around, in order for Berry to be able to be “with his buddies” on the football team outside class, he became a manager, along with Olin and me; that season, Larry had graduated and Olin was the head manager, as Jerry, for reasons I never clearly knew, dropped out of managing, Chip dropped out also, but to play football rather than manage, despite all the concussions he had witnessed and tended. That left only me, so I was “second in seniority” as a manager when I was a sophomore. That meant, in turn, that Olin and I were the varsity managers and Berry was the JV manager.

[Berry’s having to quit playing football at least brought him the freedom from the “Nitrotan compresses” I applied to his football cuts and scrapes. The most infamous one was a cut between his fingers that the compress turned a dirty brownish-green. His mother thought I had ruined his hand, I’m sure, but it did heal up with no infection. (Ode to Bob B. Berry [May, 2012])]

Standard helmets only contained a sling of cotton straps to protect the head, and as more cases similar to Donnie and Berry came along, some players wore the “latest” in headgear, a helmet lined with foam padding. Now, in retrospect, such should have been “standard” a long time before it was. Compared to what players today wear for protection, what they wore in high school football in the early 1960’s seems pretty primitive.

Jumping to the last and in ways most memorable concussion briefly, our Senior year in 1963 Adling, playing the “monster,” strong-side outside linebacker, got run over by a “student body” sweep to his side during a home game one Friday night. He had to be helped off, but seemed to be all right after the game. He said he was going over to Bobby Smith’s house after the game, but he never made the cross-town trek. He simply had disappeared! Soon, in the late Friday evening hours and the early Saturday morning hours several parties were looking for Adling. In my party we heard that his mother had received a call (remember, no cell phones)from Baird from Adling, who had “awakened” to the reality he was on I-20 driving west almost to Abilene; he had lost his memory from the play in the game to that phone call! Several of us, including his dad, met him on the Interstate between Cisco and Putnam near the county line; he seemed none the worse for wear, and medical check-ups afterwards confirmed that impression. (Ode to William L. (Bill) Adling [May, 2012])

[In the summer of 2007, Adling also lost his memory in Las Vegas, where he and his wife Pamela met Sylvia and I for a few wild days. He seemed incapable of refusing all the free white Russian drinks the cocktail waitresses were bringing to him at his seat at the slot machines. He “blacked out” for several hours, again acting as if he was just “sloshed.” His loss of memory made him uneasy, as he claimed the next morning this was the first time he had “blacked out.” I forgot to remind him about the night of his “weird drive” to Baird, or should I say, to “Bobby’s house.”]

Clark Odom’s football career was short-lived also, but not due to concussions. He found he should think about following in Berry’s and his brother Olin’s footsteps and become a manager also. But, unlike Berry, that transition never worked out for him in the long run. In the case of Berry, the irony was he wound up doing for three years what he had talked me into doing for four! He also wound up having migrane headaches for the rest of his life, a condition I want to think was brought on by his concussions and not the rock I hit his forehead with in the eighth grade! (See Ode to Bob B. Berry [May, 2012]) These headaches could also help explain a lot of the academic struggles he had for years in college (which he overcame).

With Olin and I as managers of the varsity and Berry as manager of the JV, the 1961 football season saw stars Jim Sitton, Bill Midkiff, Jim Coats, Mike Cooper, Billy Duff Hale, Don McCrary, Vernon Phipps, David Wende, David Callarman, Robert Mitchell, Carson Snow, Buddy Surles, George Mitcham, Gene Darr, Jimmy Brown, Nicky Lopez, Jackie Williams, Bobby Maynard, and Danny Phipps. Coach Gerald Rice’s staff consisted of Coaches Joe Turner, Ernie Davis, and Gene Hargrove, the exact same staff as the previous year.

Now that they were “big bad Seniors,” Jim Sitton (who went on to a college football career at SMU) and Bill Midkiff figuratively “threw their weight around” by literally throwing Sophomore managers Berry and me around the field house. Fortunately for our health, they usually threw us into the laundry cart (see above), which often contained something soft to land upon. The thing we hated was their “bearding” us — one holding one of us down and the other scraping some exposed part of our anatomy (nothing gross; it was usually like an arm, leg, or back) with their “5-o’clock shadow;” Bill’s beard was especially bad, really long by the end of school, despite the fact he shaved every morning.

This was the season (1961) that defined the job of trainer/manager for both Berry and me, and Olin Odom (the head manager) was the catalyst. Olin was such a bad example and so lazy (the exact opposite of Larry Johnson the previous season), that we simply behaved counter to his behavior, and the result was that we gradually began to run, as Sophomores, the business of managing the team, not Olin. He was so high-handed, acting as if his position gave him entitlement to boss us around and not do much work, we got to where we would do what he told us to do only to the extent he thought we were listening, and then, in his absence, we would do the job in the manner we saw best. By the time the season was over, we hardly listened to him. Not that what he said was all bad, as he did pass on to us some very good tips. And, I did not completely reject Olin, as I found him a better “mover and shaker” socially in the school student body than he was a football trainer/manager. In the spring of 1962 I choose him (or he volunteered, or both) to be my campaign manager in my run for Student Council Vice-President; we won the election!

Hence, Berry and I emerged as “products in the footsteps” of Larry Johnson, not Olin Odom. Since I had one year of manager seniority on Berry, I, as the second varsity manager, got to make the long, chartered bus ride to Lamesa for a non-district game early in the season. (Lamesa is a town on the “bottom” of the Texas Panhandle near the border with New Mexico.) There was no position, apparently, for Berry on that trip. Also there was no overnight stay, so we rode back to Cisco in the wee hours of the morning, during which trek I had crawled under the bus seats and gone to sleep; after a break at a truck stop, through which I slept, I could not be found, leading to a rude awakening for me by the coaches asking what I was doing sleeping on the bus floor. If Berry was resentful over my seniority, he did not show it. It was my tendency to treat him as an equal (See The Chair/Desk Escapade — Chapter 2 (Dramatis Personae) [Oct, 2013]), and we became more like a team, not a hierarchy, a “well-oiled” machine, a “dynamic duo” of apparent efficiency. This self-definition was growing in importance, as it appeared, given that there were no Junior managers, Berry and I were going to head up the managing for the next two seasons, our Junior and Senior years.

No character on the team was more memorable than Don McCrary, Senior fullback. He was like a barometer measuring how the Loboes were doing at any given moment in the game. Were we ahead, he was a dynamo; were we behind, he was sure to contract an “injury;” as we lost a lead, Olin and I got ready to escort him off the field in a play or two. If we somehow came from behind to regain a lead, we would expect him to suddenly be able to go back in the game.

After being a trainer/manager for two seasons, I knew that I never wanted to be a coach. Not that I had a large sampling of coaches to observe (4 over 2 years), I saw in my sample the “dark side” of the profession, if you please, being privy to hours coaches spent at the field house before and after practice, day-in and day-out. I never saw a coach escape the psychological “trap,” as I saw it, being in such a position of influence and power over young athletes. They all seemed to struggle with the inflation of their own self-esteem; instead of emphasizing the positive influence they could have on players both on and off the field, they found it easier to allow their ego to inflate. They all struggled to find time for their families and to find a way to be a head coach (except Head Coach Rice, of course, who already was a head coach). Coach Ernie Davis was so conceited (perhaps because he was from Stamford, the team that kept the Loboes in the days of Randell Hess, Charles Lipsey, Duane Hale, and Delbert Schaefer from advancing in the State playoffs), he actually thought we managers coveted his position and influence as a coach, and, therefore, we would “naturally” want to be coaches like he. I think the opposite was true, but we dared not let him know that. Like Olin, Coach Ernie Davis (I use his full name not to confuse him with Coach Manning Davis, a very different individual.) was not all bad. Outside the field house, in the school building, I found him very understanding and congenial — one time fooling my classmates by pretending to give me licks with his paddle out in the hall for disturbing his general business class; he slapped his leg with the paddle, and I groaned out appropriately. His approach to his profession just “rubbed me the wrong way.”

The 1962 season, the first of Berry’s and my “tenure,” had as varsity stars David Callarman, Bobby Maynard, George Mitcham, Buddy Surles (What Did I Say or Write? WTF?!! (For Adults Only) [Jan, 2013]), Chip White, Adling, Earl Carson, Gene Darr, Ralph Lanham, Robert Mitchell, Danny Phipps, J. V. Plumlee, Leon Bint, Jimmy Brown, Danny Clack, Richard Coats, Nicky Lopez, Coy Miller, Bobby Rains, C. B. Rust, Bobby Smith (The Chair/Desk Escapade — Chapter 4 (Coming Together and Planning) [Oct, 2013]), Johnny Tennyson, and David Waters (Play Rehearsal Night, With a Side of Greased Flagpole [May, 2013]). Lots of changes in the names of the players, for sure, but the greatest line-up change was that of the coaches, percentage-wise. Coach Rice was still the Head Coach, Coach Turner was still the Line Coach, but coaches Davis and Hargrove were gone, to be replaced by only one, Coach Jack Cromartie (The Chair/Desk Escapade — Chapter 8 (Admission, “Punishment,” and Immediate Aftermath [Oct, 2013] & The Chair/Desk Escapade — Chapter 9 (Continued Aftermath and The Birth of a Legacy [Oct, 2013]). Joining Berry and me as managers were Eddy Blailock and my cousin, Dwayne Scarlett, both receiving my support when they wanted to join, but Eddy not turning out to be what the team needed (So much for my endorsements!). He was too frail of health to physically “always be there” — a quality absolutely necessary to be a trainer/manager. Dwayne was a successful manager for a full school year, going on to manage basketball, but the demands caused by his living miles out-of-town with my grandparents made it impractical for him to continue after one school year.

Some managerial memories of Berry’s and my “managerial management team” were:

Berry was delegated to the “field” manager, along with Dwayne and Eddy, and I was the lone “in-house” manager who stayed in the field house cleaning and “tidying up,” washing the daily laundry with the field house’s industrial-grade washer and dryer, and tending to wounds and other injuries emerging during practice that could not be handled on site by Berry & staff on the field. I deliberately chose to be the “in-house” manager, so that when everyone was out on the field for the practice except me, and I had finished cleaning and straightening up the field house and had started the day’s laundry, I could get a head start on the night’s homework that would be finished after practice during the traditional study session over at my house (The 1963 Cisco High School King Lobo Coronation [March, 2014], & The Chair/Desk Escapade — Chapter 2 (Dramatis Personae) [Oct, 2013]) (assuming I did not have a “patient” or “patients” in the field house to attend).

Another “division of labor” occurred concerning game days, both home and away. Berry and I were responsible for packing the managerial medical kit and other side-line supplies, and we usually had those things ready to go at the end of Thursday night practice — well before the actual game the following Friday night. Whether home or away, we were also responsible for setting up the stadium headphones for the coaches well before the crowd filled the stands. While Dwayne and Eddy attended to the team, we would switch out going to the top of the appropriate sideline stands and staying down on the field at our team bench site, stringing a wire between us connecting an ancient Army-surplus set of field phone receivers — in this way coaches up high and coaches on the field could communicate during the game. Of course, it was also our responsibility to “strike” this field communication system after each game. Before we finished our two-year tenure, we could assemble or disassemble the phones in a matter of minutes, returning to taping ankles or removing ankle tape “before most knew we had been gone.”

With Dwayne and Eddy being absent a lot, we also “took over” retrieving the tackling dummies (the inflatable tire tubes, not the players!) after practices in record time, using the “athletic department” car used often by Coach Rice. We good-naturedly “tormented” Mr. Mitchell, the head custodian of the athletic facilities and the high school and Robert Mitchell’s (see above) dad. One day when a player during practice ran into and broke a water line to the practice field, terminating practice for the day and causing Mr. Mitchell “fits” trying to find the cut-off valve, I thought he was going to “bean” us right there with his tools when Berry and I, returning to the field house with tackling dummies, pointed to the high “fountain” of water flooding the practice field and said to him, “Uh..Mr. Mitchell….I think there’s a leak down on the field…..” We also were not comforting to him when he had to repair frozen water pipes that had burst in the field house walls during very cold weather.

I was also the occasional designated whirlpool “administrator,” or, as it is known among teams, “cooker of players.” These were the days before cold or ice water treatment, and the whirlpool was located in the far corner of the community gym, the corner closest to the bonfire site (The 1963 Cisco High School Homecoming Bonfire — No Sleep and Almost Torched Into Martyrdom [Aug, 2013]). I “boiled” many (That was the one instruction I got from the coaches — “Keep ‘em in the hottest water they can stand for as long as they can stand it!”.), but two examples always come to my memory: Darrell Holt the first season and Earl Carson the third and fourth. I don’t remember Darrell’s “cooked” body part, but I remember his being so weakened from the hot water I had to drag him out of the stainless steel tub almost on my own. I also don’t remember whether it was left or right, but Earl’s “part” was his entire elbow; given his complexion, his arm looked like a lobster after each treatment! He spent many school days in an arm sling.

This was the season Coach Gene Hargrove had become part of the staff at Hamilton, and we played Hamilton at their place. Coach Hargrove “had a score to settle” with Cisco, and, judging from his behavior during the game, he had “prepared” his new team on what to expect from all the Cisco players. Adling was one of our running backs; “Get him! He can’t run!” Hargrove would shout; Adling would make three or four yards; “Stop that spook! He ain’t nothing!”; Adling would make six or seven yards and a first down; etc…..etc…. That was also the game where the field was so rain damaged, running back Danny Phipps had to run the ball at least 3 yards into the end zone to get the refs to signal a touchdown (Over the years, the story inflated to 5 yards.). He had told them one or two plays before that he was already in, pointing to the pylons (or spring-mounted flags) at the ends of the goal line.

Berry and I discovered we liked to stay after home or away games into the early morning hours of Saturday doing the washing (everything but the uniforms, which were sent to Cisco Steam Laundry, owned by Mr. O.L. Lee, Bill Lee’s dad — Ode to Dr. Bill R. Lee [April, 2012]) so we would not have to do laundry for hours on our “precious Saturdays.” We discovered many wonders together doing the laundry in the wee hours — finding out we could lie in the coffin-like chests holding track uniforms (locked) without getting claustrophobic (I got caught doing that one afternoon when practice ended early; Berry had to rescue me from tortures from the team who found out I was “in the box.” (Ode to Bob B. Berry [May, 2012]))

More than one early Saturday morning, while we were waiting for the next load of clothes to dry in the huge natural gas-powered dryer, we would go out onto the field and climb to the top of one of the light poles (which were blown down — bent over near the ground — by a tornadic wind sometime during our “tenure,” by the way) with a transistor radio. Sitting on the top bars of the pole among the arrays of lights and swaying in any breeze, we would listen to rock-and-roll on station KOMA out of Oklahoma City, stare out over the top of the press box to survey the expanse of Oakwood Cemetery less than a block away, and watch for Texas & Pacific night trains to pass both directions to our right and left on the tracks just beyond the cemetery. And we would talk — talk as only the two of us could when it was just the two of us. Surreal………….surreal………

One day Coach Rice had the team all in one field house room (the one with the washer and the dryer) telling them something important, while the dryer behind him was ablaze with gas jets atop its rotating cylinder, finishing up a load. We had it on high, and, probably because my dusting of the premises left something to be desired, the flames caught dust-laden cobwebs on top of the dryer afire! Dwayne happened to see it first, standing nearest the dryer and Coach Rice.

“Uh…Coach…..uh….Coach….”

Coach Rice tried to ignore him, but the manager’s persistence finally interrupted what was being said, angering the speaker.

“…uh, the dryer’s on fire…” Word of and sight of the flame got Berry’s and my attention too, and before we could reach where Dwayne was standing, Coach Rice quoted a “classic:”

“Well, put it out, stupid!”

Only then did Dwayne began moving to assist us. We controlled the blaze, and afterwards had loads of laughs over the experience that it was as if putting it out had not occurred to Dwayne until he was ordered to do so. Our imaginations conjured managers standing in front of the charred remains of the field house saying, “We had no authority to proceed to put it out!”

In Ode to William L. (Bill) Adling [May, 2012] I described the chaos of getting from the 3-story high school building at the end of 5th period to get to the field house during football season. As managers, I don’t know how we avoided having to treat injuries from the mad leaps down the stairwells we and the athletes took to race to the north side (NW) parking lot of the building (800 block of W. 6th St.), pile in some random assortment into an athlete’s car before the driver backed out on the street and “peeled out” in a mad traffic rush to get to the field house. One lost count of how many different cars one “bummed” a ride in during a season, if you did not have a car yourself. No wonder Adling forgot he had his own car at school that first day he came with his own wheels and frantically “bummed” someone else’s car to get to football! I suspect some of the “football” scrapes and bruises we treated on lots of days were sustained before arriving at the field house. Arrival and parking of the cars in the parking area of the field house looked like a “simultaneous pit stop” of all the racers in a NASCAR race. To this day I “feel” for any pedestrians, elderly drivers, stray dogs, and unleashed pets unlucky enough to find themselves on the streets between the high school and the field house those first three seasons I was manager. (For the fourth season, the HS building was condemned, and we went to school across town from the field house.)

The fourth season, 1963, brought one important change — we got a new Head Coach, Coach Billy Bates (The Chair/Desk Escapade — Introduction [Oct, 2013]), but Coaches Turner and Cromartie stayed on. Added were Coaches Manning Davis and James Couch. Coach Bates seemed determined to change the whole football program, moving the field house over to beneath the north (actually NW) bleachers of the community gym, next to where the whirlpool was located. Our old beloved field house of the previous years was to become the visitors’ dressing room. But the washer and dryer were not moved (I remember waiting for a load to dry while reading a paperback copy of William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, when a visiting team arrived for a game or scrimmage; they thought I was a Nazi; I didn’t tell them any different.) So, I had to transport the daily laundry from the gym to the field house, do the washing and the drying, and transport the finished washing back over to the gym, doing the folding at one or both sites. I had help using my own car named “Liberty” (after the western villain Liberty Valance). My laundry chores were therefore made more public, so much so that on one return trip to the gym porch paralleling Avenue L with my laundered load, Coach Couch called me “Cisco’s answer to the washer-woman.”

With the departure of Dwayne and Eddy from the managerial staff, Berry and I needed some help this season, so not only were Sophomore Larry “Stick” Owens and Freshman Sidney Mahaney added, our classmate and fellow study session participant, Clark Odom, Olin’s younger brother, was also made a part of our “staff.” We were back to five managers, just like my first season back in 1960. Berry and I continued to not “pull rank” on the two underclassmen managers, despite the fact we were “big, bad” Seniors; we had to “keep them in line and on task,” for sure, but we never hazed them like we were hazed. (See above) Clark never impressed me as a manager (It was hard to live up to the examples of Larry and Berry.), but he was much better than his brother, and, besides, he would often stay in the new field house with me (after laundry) while Berry, Stick, and Sidney were on the field and we would get a head-start on our homework.

Starring on the 1963 team were “Wild Bill” Adling, Earl Carson, Gene “Dummy” Darr, Ralph Lanham, Robert Mitchell, Danny “Wild Horse” Phipps, J. V. “Jasper” Plumlee, Butch Sparks, Keith Starr, Charles Stephenson, Macon Strother, Ervin Addy, Tim Bennie, Leon Bint, Jimmy Brown, Richard Coats, Danny Clack, Nicky “Joe Don” Lopez, Coy Miller, Gary Phipps, C. B. Rust, Anthony Strother, David Waters, Bobby Rains, Bobby Smith, Jimmy Smith, Roger Fields, Benge Burnam, Charles Court, Glen Ferguson, Greg Graham, Larry Hargrave (The Chair/Desk Escapade — Chapter 4 (Coming Together and Planning) [Oct, 2013]), Ross Honea, Mark Johnson, Robert Pitts, James Queen, Larry Pilgrim, Ronnie Reynolds, and Larry Warren.

Gene Darr, who went on to play at Texas Tech, was the captain of the defense and had to get the defensive signal from the sidelines before each play. Proper playing eyewear always seemed to be a problem for him, and, without it, he had to lean toward our sideline and squint noticably to get the signal. Even then, the signal wasn’t clear always to him, and he had to get Earl Carson to tell him what it was so he could pass it on. It would have been more efficient to have Earl get the signal all the time.

Evidence that I, as a Senior manager, was very different from the likes of Olin Odom when he was a Senior (see above) came in the form of I being “punished” far more than once by being banished to Coach Bates’ “Happy Crew,” the group who had to do extra wind sprints at the end of practice for “offenses” committed against the Bates rules. I would usually disrupt the seriousness mandated on bus trips to games or scrimmages by doing something goofy in the back of the bus to get players laughing; soon finding out where the disruption of seriousness came from, I would hear from the front of the bus, “Happy Crew for you, Hastings!” During the wind sprints I had to do as a result, I would try and evoke laughs by often tripping on my feet and falling flat of my face somewhere in the middle of the sprint, meaning somewhere in the mid-yard lines of Chesley Field.

But the “prize” for conjuring laughs, even in the midst of football, must go to Adling (Ode to William L. (Bill) Adling [May, 2012] & The Chair/Desk Escapade — Chapter 2 (Dramatis Personae) [Oct, 2013]):

Ironically, the first Adling athletic “funny” occurred in track season when we were still in the old field house at the SW end of Chesley Field: He was always on the verge of quitting, almost weekly declaring he was fed up with his famous “I quit!” This seemed to be declared always after the coaches had left the field house, especially after the exit of track coach Coach Turner. He would with great pomp and circumstance empty the contents of his locker and fling them, notably his track warm-ups, in the floor, followed by a demonstrative exit of the field house himself. He clearly expected me to follow up this demonstration by doing my managerial duty and pick up his “stuff” off the floor and process it accordingly. But, I knew better, and I did nothing with Adling’s stuff before I exited for the day, leaving it scattered where he had left it. The next school day, predictably, Adling would have a change of heart, realizing the trouble he could get in by quitting track — i.e. jeopardizing his status on the football team — and asking me at school if I had picked up his stuff. I, of course, said “No,” and suddenly I would have his “eternal gratitude.” On those days at the field house after which he had “quit,” he would make sure he beat Coach Turner to the field house that afternoon so he could pick up his stuff I had “lazily” left alone and return it all to his locker.

The second “funny” occurred during football: In the 1963 season one afternoon after practice and after Berry and I had gathered in the inflated tackling and blocking dummies (the inflated kind, not….well, you know the joke), Coach Cromartie called me back onto the field to help him drill the backs in catching punts, one of the backs being Adling. I was to hike the ball to him like a long snapper so he could do the punting to the waiting backs at the far end of the practice field. Adling turned out to be the last back left on the field to catch his alloted five punts. For reasons only he knows, Adling, running in his last punt of the day, as Coach Cromartie called out, “Hustle, Adling, hustle!”, did a somersault just before he flipped the ball to me at the end of his run. This did not set well with the coach, and he called Adling back from his attempt to run to the field house with something like, “All right, Adling, if you like to play fancy, just go right back out there and catch five more!” So Adling caught four more “straight,” but on the fifth he ran the ball back alternating touching the ground with his free hand as he switched the ball from arm to arm for the last twenty yards or so, casually flipping the ball to me at the end. “That’ll be five more, Adling!” was the coach’s response. It was ceasing to be funny, as not only was Adling getting “trashed out” fielding and returning many more punts than usual, Coach Cromartie was getting tired doing all that punting, and I was getting “pooped” doing all that long-snapping!

But now, in the growing darkness, it was growing beyond funny; it was becoming ludicrous! Now, despite my fatigue, I was having trouble suppressing my laughing at Adling’s “battle of wit and stamina.” (Coach Cromartie and Adling were always at odds, good-naturedly, in civics class, wherein Adling could not keep from “wiseing-off,” always unsolicited, prompting Cromartie to take 5 points off his grade; nicknames for Jack Cromartie were “Old 5 Points” and “Ratfink.”  To be fair, Adling could have his “5 points” erased by writing nursery rhymes hundreds and thousands of times; during that civics class, Adling “killed lots of trees;” one week he “wised off” so much he “shot” his entire week end, having to write “Mary had a little lamb” 5,000 times!) As “Old Wise-off” tortuously ran back out to receive the next fifth ball, Coach Cromartie said to me so that Adling could not hear, “I hope he doesn’t do anything this time; I’m dog tired!”

“Me too, Coach!” I said, as I painfully bent over for the snap.

This last punt was fielded and returned, amazingly, reasonably “normal” by Adling, or, at least, normal-looking in the dusky twilight of the practice field. I think anything he did would have been acceptable, so tired was Coach Cromartie. For me, I’m not sure how many more snaps I could make, darkness or no darkness!

There was and is, of course, much more, but this will give you, hopefully, the ideas and feelings of my “confessions”…..

Because of these four seasons (get it? 4 Seasons….”She-r-r-r-y,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Let’s Hang On To What We Got,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” etc………OK, nevermind………..) I never took PE in high school, but got full credit for it for graduation. Because of these four seasons, I never got to see the Lobo band perform at halftime; nor did I ever see any halftime ceremonies. But because of these four seasons I got free pre-game meals like I was a player, topped off in the first two seasons with a delicious Dr. Pepper (in a paper cup) from the machine at the entrance of the “Cracker Box” “basement” gym beneath the auditorium floor. During the first three seasons I got all the free ice-cold Coke I wanted (after the players had finished) just before we went back on the field before the second half (This was before Gatorade had reached Cisco, and was three seasons instead of four, as I don’t remember Coach Bates approving Cokes at halftime.). Because of these four seasons I got all the salt tablets and dextrose tablets I could swipe — you didn’t have to ingest such to be a manager, but I thought it helped! All in all, with these and all the other “perks” presented above, I thought I was in “tall cotton.” Looking back, I must confess I still think today I was. Those four seasons for me had more “Good” than they had “Bad and Ugly.”

I’ve emerged from these four seasons not only a weird, twisted, and unorthodox football fan, I have life-long phobias of both athlete’s foot and jock itch, based upon all the cases I tended (I did NOT treat the cases of jock itch, I want you to know, only handing the medicine to the “patient” for self-treatment!). Every trip to Cisco I always do a nostalgic drive-by of Chesley Field, the community gym now-turned-football-practice-facility, and the site of the old field house, which looks replaced by a new one. They are only two blocks removed from that front yard in which Berry put me on the path, back in 1960, toward becoming very familiar with industrial laundering of towels, jock straps, and tee-shirts.

RJH

Whither the NFL?

The 2013-2014 NFL campaign certainly left a bittersweet taste in my mouth. I had “no dog in that fight” (apologies to Michael Vick and to dogs everywhere) during the Super Bowl, though I do admire Peyton Manning and how he plays the game; but, I pretty much “flatline” success for the Denver Broncos, and you couldn’t call me a Seahawks fan. Like most everyone, the lop-sided score surprised me. Think of all the money that was lost by the plethora of betters certain that Peyton had this one “in the bag!” Consider all the money the Las Vegas casinos made on that game!

A lot of college football fans I know cannot fathom how I continue to follow professional football, given facts like the preceding paragraph. Truth is, I’ve always loved both levels of the game, if for no other reason than to follow specific players moving from the college ranks into the NFL. I am intrigued how difficult it is to predict how a given player will do in the pros based upon his performance in college ball. I won’t bore the reader with past examples, but true NFL fans out there know examples of which I speak. What I will do is give you a present/future example of what keeps me “coming back for more” each NFL season, regardless of the season’s success of my “beloved” teams I follow (Cowboys, Buccaneers, Vikings, Saints, Texans, and several “wild cards” that vary each season). (My “wild cards” last season were Dolphins, Patriots, Raiders, and Seahawks.).

Russell Wilson and his ilk of young QB’s in the NFL (conjuring ghosts of Doug Flutie and Fran Tarkington) have changed the thinking of what constitutes a successful NFL QB, and that bodes well for Johnny Manziel and his fans, one of which am I. What intrigues me is Wilson’s future career and whether or not Johnny will “make it” in the big time as a well-known example of the “new breed” of QB’s. Will “Johnny Football” go the way of Vince Young or Tim Tebow, or, will he emerge as the reincarnation of Fran Tarkington? I bet you can get odds in Las Vegas on that question, if you have any money to throw away! Only time will tell, and I will definitely “stay tuned.”

Because “my” teams did not do so well, my tendency is to have little to say about last season; I much prefer on-the-field facts as opposed to off-the-field facts. However, it is worth noting in passing that the Cowboys’ perennial off-the-field problem — their owner Jerry Jones — seems to remain constant. I seem to have developed, thanks to Jerry and the owners of the baseball Texas Rangers, a prejudice against the notion that professional sports are, above all, businesses. I still believe, all money aside, they are still games, and will never be, when all is said and done, any more than that. (I don’t know him well, but I want to believe Nolan Ryan agrees with me.) You cannot argue with Jerry’s business success with the Cowboys, but without the success of lots more banners hanging from the girders of the expensive roof of Jerry World, it’s just money. And money does nothing for me like the snap of a football and the collision of two huge lines; a well-executed four-yard gain, a “clinic” on how to do it from both sides of the ball, is worth far more to me than the increased net worth of the franchise with the starred-helmets.

The way the business success of the Cowboys is admired league-wide and the way the NFL front office is tinkering with the game both bother me. It is as if the front office leans toward the business definition of football.

You don’t have to wait to see Super Bowl ticket prices to know that the NFL game is becoming a game for rich folks. In the words of Jimi Hendrix in the song Hey Joe “That ain’t too cool…” Only rich families can have an “outing” to an NFL game, or you can only afford one game, or, you have to depend upon your company to have bought enough seats for you to attend. I know we can all see it on TV, and I am grateful I can watch my beloved games on a medium that seems to get better and better. But, with all the money brought in by TV and the jacked-up prices, the game is becoming a far-off fantasy for we “common people.” That ain’t too cool. I think players like Nitschke, Bednarik, Huff, Tittle, Unitas, and Capp would agree with me. You don’t play or own a team for money.

Yet, look at what the game has done to players with life-affecting head injuries. What has recently happened to Tony Dorsett is heart-breaking. Every year I have about a 30- to 90-second moral crisis over whether to buy my Texas A&M season football tickets, as I know I am feeding a system that can go on up into the NFL to physically ruin lives. As I said in “Confessions of a Cisco High School Lobo Football Trainer/Manager 1960-1963″ [March, 2014], football is an agonizing combination of the good, the bad, and the ugly; probably only because my sons and I were not injured by football, I remain a fan believing the good overcomes the bad and the ugly at all levels of play.

Where is the NFL going with the head injury issue? Are they going to eviscerate to game of its violence and danger — the very reasons many players play the game in the first place? Cannot new technologies for equipment make up for the greater speed, quickness, and size of the players? The NFL can “protect” the players with so many new rules, the game will cease to be interesting to a lot of us fans. (Imagine if at the old Roman Colosseum, the fights were called off at the first sign of blood! That ain’t too cool….) Or, the NFL can morph into a giant Monopoly game that can only be played by rich gamblers and moneyed thrill-seekers, eventually using robot players as the “ultimate” in “head-injury” protection. I’m sure the reader can come up with even better, fanciful scenarios, but the “bottom line,” it seems to me is to preserve the humanity of the game — a brutal side of humanity, for sure, but very human nonetheless — the willingness to risk life, limb, and head because it seems worth the risk.

That brutal side of humanity is what I’ve seen watching the game played at the high school, college, and professional levels. The feeling I’ve had as a fan walking out of a Cisco Lobo State Championship game, walking out of another Texas A&M football bowl victory, or watching a Dallas Cowboy Super Bowl win all have something in common — they are to me beyond price.

Whither the NFL? Don’t follow the money! Follow the difference between strong- and weakside coverage by the defense; take a shot of your favorite beverage every time Peyton yells out “Omaha!” when he is under center or at shotgun.

RJH

By a Thumb

Before I make my annual college football commentary, let me give an emotional shout-out to my high school team, the new Texas State Champion 2A Div. II Cisco Loboes! The “Big Dam” Loboes!  (That Damn Dam Painting! [April, 2013]) This is their first State Championship EVER! Appropriate accolades need to be made by those who followed them all the 2013 season; since I only got to see them in their last two games of their undefeated (16-0) season — State semi-final and State championship at Jerry World — I need only mention my heart-felt appreciation.

This is a team that, since 2002, made it to the championship game four, count them, 4 previous times and was always a “bride’s maid,” never the “bride.” Fifth time was the charm! Beating Refugio, the team that kept them from state back in the 2011 season, 56-36, they not only received their measure of justice with a thrashing on the field over a physically superior squad, they taught Refugio a much-needed lesson in sportsmanship, taking a knee in the final seconds going in within the Wildcats’ 10-yd line.

Walking out of the victory outside the stadium beside James Stanley Webb, we both looked at each other in disbelief. “Wow, it finally happened! I can’t believe it!”

It finally happened on the 50th anniversary of my graduation from Cisco High School. My class, in a way, had to wait 50 years, but, somehow, we too felt vindicated, as if the joy of State gridiron triumph finally stopped eluding us.

Congratulations to the 2013 Cisco Loboes, Coach Brent West and all his staff, and the community of Lobo supporters both in and out of Cisco. You don’t get to the championship game as many times as Cisco without a great city-wide youth athletic program of remarkable width and depth for a town the size of Cisco. As a football manager/trainer all four years in CHS, I know how much work, sweat, blood, tears, and sacrifice it has taken to achieve the pinnacle and hoist the State championship football trophy. Thank you, thank you, 2013 Loboes, for making it possible for those of us from Cisco who never knew what it was like to hoist that trophy to at least now surreptitiously know, a little bit. Go Loboes!

 

Now to the 2013 FBS college football season, the last for the idiotic BCS system, thank the football gods! As they say, BCS, “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out!” However, as you will read, such rejoicing is heavily qualified.

I would love to have anyone ask me as an Aggie fan, “How’s that move to the SEC working for you?” “Great, thank you very much!” would be my and many others’ answer, I’m sure. Texas A&M was promised better coverage of their sports programs in the SEC compared to the Big 12, and on that promise the media has delivered. We were promised more $ in the SEC, and a big promise kept in that regard is evident in the A&M coffers. We were promised better and wider recruiting for our athletes in the SEC compared to the Big 12; time will tell, but early indications here in our second year say that promise too is being kept.

No Aggie or no non-Aggie football observer saw these last two seasons, 2012 and 2013, coming, because nobody saw Johnny Manziel coming; just ask U. of Texas and Baylor! What we Aggie football fans have experienced is a nothing-short-of-remarkable juxtaposition of Johnny Football with the “100-yr” decision to go with the SEC. The mix is nothing short of heady and intoxicating. Mostly paid for already, according to 12th Man reports, is the new Kyle Field, which will seat 102,500, the third largest football facility in the US, behind the “Big House” at U. of Michigan, and the stadium at Penn State. In other words, “for sure” A&M will have the largest stadium in the SEC, along with its #1 or #2 ranking (depending on the numbers at U. of Florida) in SEC school size and enrollment. And we are still a couple of years away from the first snap in our anticipated completed facility!

If he had stayed healthy, it would have been difficult to expect Johnny Manziel to repeat his Heisman-winning season of 2012. (See Texas A&M Aggie Football — 2012; Go, Johnny, Go! [Jan, 2013]) And this, even if he had had an average defense. Yet, despite and awful defense compared with the Aggie D in 2012, and despite a not-well-known struggle with little-publicized injuries, he just about repeated in 2013 the numbers of 2012. It could be argued that his Heisman votes might have given him the trophy again or at least 2nd or 3rd place in the balloting instead of the 5th place he received for his second trip to New York City in December. I think he would have had more consideration if the team had improved upon the 11-2 record of 2012 instead of dropping to 9-4 in 2013. To have 4 instead of 2 defeats was not the fault of Johnny performing below 2012 standards.

This is not whining or rationalization; Texas A&M, in the toughest division in the toughest conference, averaged 10 wins in its first two SEC seasons. Any Aggie who would complain about that needs to have his/her head examined! The early struggles of Arkansas and Missouri when they joined the SEC will NOT be a part of A&M’s SEC legacy.

Let me remind the reader of Johnny Football’s, or as I like to say, JFF’s, 2013 numbers in comparison to his 2012 numbers. Then I will remind the reader of the circumstances in the late 2013 season in which he chalked up those numbers. He was responsible for 46 touchdowns in 2013, either by throwing the TD pass or running it into the endzone (47 in 2012); his total offensive yards, running and throwing, was 4,873 (5,116 in 2012). If the reader is paying attention, that is a 2-yr offensive yardage total of 9,989 over 26 games (Bowl numbers are included in NCAA stats.), or 384.2 yds per game! He had a 2-yr total of 93 touchdowns, or 3.58 touchdowns per game! No wonder, as he leaves college football for the NFL, he has in 2 years the top two offensive yards totals in a game for a QB in the SEC! In addition, in his two years at A&M he personally was responsible (running and passing) for 70.46% (2012) and 69.62% (2013) of the team’s TOTAL offense.

[The 9,989 number, 11 shy of 10,000, reminds me of something my College Street Pub friend Bobby Huskins in Waxahachie (See Things I’ve Learned at the College Street Pub, Waxahachie, Texas [April, 2012]) said about Johnny in his first year, when we were speculating about his being at A&M for four years: “If he keeps this up, do you realize he has a shot to accumulate 20,000 yards in four years?” Johnny was on pace to make Bobby a prophet.]

What makes the 2013 season for JFF so remarkable is the evidence that not only did he have an anemic defense to rely upon, he was injured, and injured in a very critical, unlucky way for a QB such as he. I do not think it is “sour grapes” or hyperbole to say that in the absence of his injuries and in the presence of just an average defense that could have made for the offense just a few more stops than it was able to do, this JFF-led Aggie squad stood a very good chance of running the table in 2013.

Here is the evidence of which I speak, evidence not reported by the media thanks in no small part to Coach Sumlin’s lack of injury reporting during the season. Keep in mind I saw in person or on TV every snap of the 2013 version of the Aggies. First, A&M needed just one more stop than it got to defeat Alabama once again, this time at Kyle Field. The next defeat from Auburn came at Kyle Field, wherein Johnny was injured and did not get the benefit of a horsecollar call against him when they were driving for the winning score; he took on a linebacker near the goal line and injured his neck or shoulder or knee, and the Aggies did not get a touchdown to win the game on this drive. You could see him writhing in pain on the sideline when our defense was trying, in vain, to stop Auburn’s offense.  In addition, apparently, he injured the thumb on his throwing (R) hand during the home Mississippi State game, after engineering victories over UTEP and Vanderbilt at home at Kyle.

In the last two games of the season, both road losses against LSU (in person) — by 24 and Missouri (TV) — by 7, he played in pain not seen in the three prior victories. Apparently, he had reinjured his thumb (hitting it on a D-lineman’s helmet) during practice before the LSU game, accounting for the throws that went uncharacteristically awry. The same scenario was played out in Columbia, Missouri; on the bench he was in a lot of obvious pain.

The break before the bowl game allowed the thumb to recover (at least ligament damage, I’m surmising, and/or a fracture or fractures in the bones of the thumb) to the point he seemed at least 90% recovered, enough to bring the Aggies back from their greatest football deficit EVER, over Duke.

No ordinary QB could have done what Johnny did under those circumstances. To have reported all that had happened to his thumb would have appeared as excuses for the defeats and might have hurt his NFL stock should he, as he indeed did, forego his last two years at A&M and declare for the NFL draft. As the draft approaches, if I know JFF, any tests he goes through will show no need for concern over any injuries he might have, reported or unreported.

Therefore, it is not too far-fetched, in my opinion, to say, risking sounding like an Aggie “homer,” that Johnny Manziel, Johnny Football, missed a second Heisman trophy and a trip to a top BCS bowl by a thumb. It was closer than most fans imagine; but “close” only counts in hand grenades and horseshoes.

I said in Texas A&M Aggie Football — 2012; Go, Johnny, Go! [Jan, 2013] nothing that subsequently happened could take away from Aggie football fans the magic of the 2012 season; that will always be true. But, much to our surprise, there was a magic in the 2013 season that just about equaled 2012 — how lucky are we Aggie fans? This second dose of magic will also always be with us, and it almost, beyond our wildest dreams, exceeded the first — almost — not quite, but close — by a thumb.

As a final swan song for Johnny on my college blog, let me cite two similar events that sort-of sum up the college football legacy of “the kid” from Kerrville: Despite his being deemed controversial and a lightning rod for trouble, a veritable terrible example of a Heisman trophy winner, he transcended all that to become the most exciting and most watched college football player for two seasons; I give you these two events as proof:  During the 2013 season a retail store clerk and a restaurant waiter, both male and in their 20’s, spotted my Aggie cap. Unsolicited, they introduced themselves as NON-college-football fans. But, both said they had their DVR’s set at home to record all Texas A&M games, because they wanted to see every snap Johnny Manziel took. JFF was the player to watch, to watch in a way that exceeded the anticipated performances of great QB’s of the recent past, like Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, and RGIII; people who did not give a crap about football wanted to see him perform.

It is only my opinion, but, I think I know Johnny’s secret: His draw was his unpredictability and his escapability; no one knew, not even Johnny, what he was going to do on a given play, even though the play was “drawn up” to unfold in a particular way; he was reactionary, improvising in time units of fractions of seconds. Not even the machine-like “X’s & O’s” preparation of programs like Alabama could adequately prepare for him. His “secret” compelled his teammates to play differently; they expected the play to evolve in an unplanned way and to, therefore, keep blocking or getting open until the whistle blew the end of the play. It was the spontaneous joy of back yard and playground touchpass we all enjoyed as kids in school. Johnny played with that same joy, and the joy was infectious — infectious for fans and non-fans alike.

Thanks, Johnny Manziel! We will miss you in college football! We can only hope you can take your game to further success in the NFL. NFL owners and coaches know that you can be for them what you were for Texas A&M Football — you were “money!”

 

Speaking of “magic” and “money” games, how about those two Auburn games against Georgia and Alabama? It took an impressive Florida State team (with a Heisman winner far more controversial and questionable than Johnny) to keep Auburn from extending the SEC/national champion streak. Yet, look at the results and number of participants in the bowl games when trying to evaluate strength of conferences. Despite upsets like Oklahoma’s impressive win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, when the dust cleared it was bowl results reading SEC — 7-3; Big 12 — 3-3; Pac 12 — 6-3; Big 10 — 2-4. Anyone doubt the upcoming SEC TV Network is going to be a success?

The irony is that in a conference where the U. of Texas always acted as if they are the “big brother” of teams, now they are part of a conference that might well be seen as a “little brother” of conferences. Yet, you cannot say that the Big 12 seems weaker than the Big 10. Next season, it will be interesting to see if these trends among the “big four” conferences continue or change.

Some random observations: It was great to see, as an Aggie fan, two great defenses play in that Rose Bowl. It made me pine for the return of the Wrecking Crew, which has not been spotted at Aggieland for quite a few seasons now. Now that they don’t play each other, I don’t hear much about Texas Tech and A&M hating each other; because of Kliff Kingsbury and what he did for Johnny in the 2012 season, I don’t hear Aggies bad-mouthing Kliff or Tech or Lubbock anymore; no Aggie blames Kliff for going to Tech; if anyone understands school loyalty, it’s the maroon and white of College Station. Gotta admit that my son Chad has got me watching the fancy uniforms of the teams like a “fashion designer.” Can’t say I like the predominantly gray uniforms, like I’ve seen Texas Tech, Texas A&M, and Ok. St. come out in. Oregon’s array gets out of hand, but they have so many good ones, I think they should stick with the top 10 and forget about the rest. I also am intrigued by the old guard schools who think they should not change: U. of Texas, Michigan, Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State, etc. I’m looking for a “second team” to follow in the SEC; haven’t found it yet, like I found Okla. St. in the Big 12 — still follow the Cowboys and their “better, brighter orange.” My following is based upon the balanced offenses Ok. St., Oregon, and, now, A&M run. Hate the new Oregon St. beaver head logo, but like the Pistol Pete head of the Ok. St. cowboys showing up more. How about those “mirror” helmets, like Baylor’s? The impressive new Baylor stadium going up on the banks of the Brazos is the “house that RGIII built,” just like the new Kyle Field in a couple of years will be the “house that Johnny Football built.” Went to an LSU tailgate for the first time — rumors about LSU fans tailgating are not exaggerated. Chad and I were treated well, welcomed into tailgates both before and after the game, and given food and drink we will never forget. I hope Aggieland treats those LSU fans in College Station as well as we were treated in Baton Rouge. While there as “Tiger bait,” we thought we saw an interesting division among the fans: because of economic reasons, many had to choose between tailgating and going to the game; it was too expensive to do both. Made me wonder if it is like that at all major tailgate sites, like College Station. Also made me wonder how we can avoid making attending the game something only the well-to-do can do, like it is in the NFL.

Now for my not-so-random annual rant on the college football playoff situation. One might think I am happy and complacent about the new 4-team playoff system for D-I teams (FBS) beginning next season, with a committee chosing the 4 instead of a computer. I am happy all right, but it is only one step in the right direction; I am not complacent.

The new system is better than what we’ve been having: Again, it was like at the end of the NFL season, the team with the best record in the National Conference played the team with the best record in the American Conference in ONE playoff game, called the Super Bowl, and the winner got the Lombardi Trophy! Ridiculous, right? But the new system is not much better: it is like the two top seeds of the National and American conferences play a two-round playoff, with the winner of the second game being the Super Bowl champion! Not much better, you’ve got to admit! The NFL has twelve teams (out of 32) make the playoffs, six from each Conference, with 4 of the 12 being Wild Card teams. Its playoff system lets “Cinderella live;” think of all the NFL Wild Card teams in the past that have gone on to get to or even win the Super Bowl!

The new college system still does not let “Cinderella live.” The upset of Oklahoma over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and the upset of UCF over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl should tell every college football fan that the college FBS football champion, the team that gets the crystal football, is a faux champion, a “chump”ion, if you please. Though it may upset some readers, I think I need stronger language here, as obviously not enough people are paying attention (What Did I Say or Write? WTF?!! (For Adults Only) [Jan, 2013]). The national college football championship is a BS championship, a bullshit championship! I told my friend Jim Burns when he returned from a visit back to his home in Norman, OK, to be sure and remind Bob Stoopes when he saw him that the Sooner national championship(s) are bullshit. (Jim probably needs to stay at arm’s length from Bob if they ever did talk!) And so are all college D-I championships, going all the way back to the beginning, including the 1939 championship of my beloved Aggies.

The true football champions are those who come out on top in a REAL playoff system, like the lower divisions of college football, that have a 16- or 32-team playoff beginning in late November, or like the Texas HS football playoff system that saw my beloved Loboes win this season (see above). Only when our beloved FBS college teams follow such a system will we ever have true champions.

Why don’t we play to a true champion? Because we are still under the influence of the “bowl tradition,” which originated as a “reward” to “deserving” teams at the end of the season as an exhibition to accompany the holiday traditions of pageantry such as the Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA. It’s stupid; it’s archaic bullshit.

The solution is very, very simple, and, amazingly, the solution will make more money for the “bowl traditionalists” than they make now. I’d love to have a 32-team bracket, but I think only 16 is realistic; the 16-team playoff will be played from early December to early January. (The 32 or 16 would be designated by the computer-ranking system we already have in place, with no limits on how many teams from a conference can be in the playoffs; if they are good enough, they are included, no matter how they are affiliated.) Each game will be held at the traditional bowl sites, preferably in the middle of the week so as not to interfere with the NFL regular games and playoff games on the weekends (College classes are mostly taking the break between semesters, so attending classes is no problem for the players. By the way, how come we don’t complain about all the interference of basketball playing with attending college classes during March Madness? It seems hypocritical to complain about college football players missing classes if we have a true playoff system.). Teams not in the 16 can play in the traditional “exhibition” bowls so that all bowls (we had 36 D-I bowls in 2013-2014) can make their money; remember, a 16-bracket championship playoff (with seeded pairings like a tennis tournament) means 15 games (or bowls); a 32-bracket one means 31 games (or bowls). Finally, if such a system is employed, we will have bowls that mean something; we will have more excitement in watching teams survive to the next round; we will have more interest from fans; more money will be made off college football, even more than is now!

Even though the playoffs next season will stink like the cattle lots of my father, my father-in-law, and my grandfathers, I am looking forward to next August for another exciting season to start. Until then, may you have more clarity on the “targeting” rule than I have had, may your year be filled with college football recruiting “soap-operas” galore, and may your love of college football, when distilled down, like moonshine, to its essence, be a vision of Johnny Manziel and you playing with a football in the park. Remember, college football fans, none of us has seen a true upper-level college football champion; we can only hope, at least, most of us live to see one.

RJH

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