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Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Mid-Winter's Night Tome (16 February 2009)

Surprise!  I’m baaaaack!

You all may have thought my in-season football critiques were, well, seasonal… but with so much happening since the end of the football season, I felt it warranted a special edition of my musings.

Now on to the topics at hand…

This offseason, I’ve been thinking a lot about Nicholas Copernicus (as one inevitably does), the man who rocked our world back in the 16th Century by proving that the earth was not, in fact, the center of the universe.  Let us pause, briefly, for the immediate irony here:  if anyone needed to be shown they weren't the center of the ND universe, it was Charlie Weis. But Chuck just might be leading a Copernican shift in how ND football is viewed… as recently as five years ago, the conventional wisdom was that ND couldn't compete… couldn’t get the necessary athletes, didn't play a style that was attractive to the elite athletes with dreams of playing on Sundays and played a schedule that was simply too tough.  And while there’s still the reality of academic-related recruiting limitations, he’s pulling elite kids from virtually every part of the country except maybe Texas.  And if he won more, those other elites we seem to lose in January wouldn't be slipping away.

But therein lies the rub, the guy just doesn’t seem to be a very good coach – a fatal flaw that probably dooms him... leading to his final, tragic connection to Copernicus. Like Nick, whose recognition came posthumously and after Galileo ran with it to great personal effect, Charlie’s accomplishments may not be credited to him until after he’s gone – when some other more skilled coach starts consistently delivering a top 10 team with 80 or so of ‘Weis players’.

Hey, they say history is written by the winners. Never more true than in sports.

Let’s backtrack…

ND's Bowl game. Impressive, wasn’t it? Why couldn’t we play every game in Honolulu, against a team w. rainbows on their helmets… Big tease or portent of things to come? Let’s put it this way… anyone who wants to revise their wager w. me re of the # of regular season wins for next year, let me know. (Recall I’ve got the ‘under 10’ side of the bet and despite the island euphoria, I’m sticking with it.)

Interestingly, I watched the game w. my brothers, mother and a lot of alcohol. And I felt like Margaret Mead among the natives… now it might’ve been the booze talking but… there’s Tim, mild mannered college professor, laid back So Cal lawyer Mike and 83 yr. old Kay engaged with a passion and intensity that was a little unnerving.

 “Lisa, quickly!  Uncle Tim’s spewing invectives about Jimmy Clausen and he needs a libation – get the eggnog and for Godssakes woman, don’t spare the rum!”

PoPH. At any rate, watching all this go on reminded me of a serious insight I’ve carried with me for many years, The Power of Positive Hating. While not strictly limited to sports – other avocations (e.g. politics) are probably valid surrogates – Terry’s tenet holds that sports provide an important, maybe even necessary, socially acceptable outlet for one's dark side

Consider the indiscriminate wigging out at people you've never personally met but most certainly loathe. Typically in 3 hour bursts (4 if NBC and OT are involved). Speaking from personal experience, the ability to hate within the sports context transcends race, creed, color and ideology. In that respect, I'm pretty much a United Nations poster child of ill will. If Mother Teresa ever suited up for USC, Michigan, the Minnesota Vikings or the Chicago Bears, I would've been hoping she'd tear her achilles.

Check out any stadium, local sports bar or sports-related internet site and you know what I’m talking about. That intensity is such that if the power could be harnessed, we wouldn't be talking about any Arab energy dependency. 

All of which brings me to...

Pete Carroll. Did everyone catch his tantrum w Mark Sanchez declaring for the draft? Well done, Petey. They say that character is revealed not during the good times but when adversity hits… This does not bode well for Coach Carroll if he can’t handle not getting his way all the time. You’ve got Charlie pulling more recruits out of California than he probably likes, UCLA is becoming a viable option for those 5 star guys who don’t want to be 4th on the local depth chart – and I can't wait til the NFL comes back to LA and the Trojans aren't the only game in town. And it is remarkable to me that he doesn’t come under more criticism for his gagging with the amount of talent they’ve got. He’s become a younger, more articulate Bobby Bowden.

And then there’s… Son of Pete, Lane Kiffin! Can there possibly be a more entertaining sub-plot this coming autumn than the SEC piranhas just eating him alive? Here’s a guy who accuses the conference 800 lb gorilla of recruiting violations – incorrectly it turns out – and then commits a few of his own. (The funniest quote I read about him this week: "If LK speaks in the forest and nobody hears it, is it still a violation?")

You know Meyer, Saban, Richt, Miles, (well everybody) are just going to go out their way to ring up 50 on La Famiglia Kiffin. Lane better hope his dad comes up with some unbelievably innovative defenses…

Recruiting. Ended in a slightly more interesting-than-usual fashion and it led me to the following epiphanies:

  1. James Brown meet Charlie Weis. The hardest working men in their respective professions… Charlie’s working his ass off, after coming potentially close to losing his job, was very, very impressive to me... one could argue that he’s all about the team but cynically, we know it’s at least as much about self-preservation. Nonetheless, if he’s getting canned at some point in the next couple years, he’s not going to go out quietly. In fact, I’m thinking he’s gets tougher to fire with each top recruit who publicly signs up. And while he’ll have win more than he did this year, I would submit that his recruiting production gives him a 1-2 win cushion next year. Meaning this: 8-4 with another impressive class keeps him in place. Even though I still think the Mendoza line should be 10 wins.
  2. You say Man-TAY, I say Man-TEE.  Did everyone notice how one recruit – who may only stay a year before buggering off to God knows where – seems to have completely changed the vibe around the program?  You’ve got 2010 kids seemingly jumping on board and my guess is by mid-summer, next year’s class will look on paper as impressive as any in the Weis era… I guess it’s true what they say, hope does spring eternal.
  3. Deal or No Deal?  Is it me or was this year especially egregious with kids reneging on their commitments?  In ND’s case, it’s hard to fault the kids in question – all returned to their original commitment schools and with the uncertainty of Weis and the program’s direction, I’m kinda surprised more didn’t consider it. Charlie must be wishing an early signing period were here now.
  4. Just Win, Baby.  This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. 7-6 ain’t gonna cut it ever again for Charlie. And the parallels to the Quinn / Samardzija junior class he inherited start now. Ten wins – maybe nine – give him some breathing room and another killer recruiting class. It’s no surprise that Florida and USC finish strong – elite athletes want to play for winners.

Easy come, Easy go. As the high hopes for the men’s basketball team’s season went down in flames with emphatic suddenness, I was taken aback by own ability to… adapt.  Which is to say, shrug it off. Move on. And this revelation came: can you imagine if this had been the football team (Top 10 expectations, barely above .500 in actuality), we’d be freaking out!  Oh wait, this did happen! Nonetheless, the basketball team’s place in the school’s sports hierarchy is even more evident – a distant 2nd. At best. And Charlie probably wonders, ‘why doesn’t Mike take any shit for his flaming out?’ Life’s not fair, Charlie. To quote Sesame Street, it’s good to be Brey.

“Re-discover Your Inner Idiot”. It’s not too soon to start thinking about ND Reunion 2009, June 5-7th… Did you know that in the Taoist culture the 30th year of anything has auspicious, nay mystical, properties? So I’m hoping you’re making every effort not only to be there (a given) but to evangelize about the event.  I've got my roommate / best man showing up… what surprising special guest do you have coming? And did I mention that Mr. Castellini will be turning 52 while we’re there?

“Blago, we hardly knew ye…”  This may matter to perhaps only Peter but with our governor’s recent impeachment – 59 to 0!! – I think it’s safe to say, Louisiana has a long way to go to be catching Illinois in state corruption. 

“Let The Games Begin”.  The Corrigans finally closed on their downtown apartment, Dearborn & Delaware, mere blocks from Villa Castellini and the infamous Rush Street Viagra Triangle which Jerry so generously took me and Jerry Perez to dinner at a few weeks back.  I feel a new chapter in my life is about to be written…

Playing with house money.  And finally, the aforementioned Buddy the Wonder Dog turned 14 yesterday. We've had him for 10 years and it would not be a stretch to say that on many, many occasions Bud has been my favorite member of the household. Big dogs (he’s an 80 lb. Alaskan malamute) don’t have great track records for living long but other than arthritic back legs, he’s is pretty good shape. Long may it continue for him but let’s face it, any time we get with him from here on out is pretty much icing on the cake.

On that note… time to go.  Ungie, any chance we could get together on Saturday – lunch or dinner?  Maybe a Twin Anchors outing?

Stay in touch everybody!

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