12

Confessions of a Football Junkie

(Warning: If you are not American, this post will probably make very little sense. And almost certainly not be humorous.)

It is true. The pacifist kitten-hugger is also a fan of arguably the most violent mass-marketed sport in the United States. In my defense, I started to like it before field mikes let us hear all the crashing and crunching.

I blame my father – and the University of Michigan.

My father came from the tough male – delicate female mold that was really the only model available when he was growing up. So we didn’t have much in common.

I decided when I was in junior high school (roughly equivalent to middle school these days), that I would listen to football games with him on the radio. Yes, back in those days, there were only three major television stations.

Alas, every football game between every two schools in the nation was not available for public consumption. If it had been, I probably would have been overexposed to it (like Led Zeppelin) and never wanted to watch it again.

Because it was radio-centric, every team had its own dyed-in-the-wool announcer. Dad was a University of Michigan fan, so we had Bob Ufer. Bob Ufer bled maize and blue. They practically shut down Ann Arbor when he died.

When Michigan scored a touchdown, Bob would blow the horn from General Patton’s jeep. What more manly sound could there be?

So it became our Saturday ritual in the fall from that point forward. Bo Schembechler (the Michigan coach) came to my high school to recruit one of our players. Obviously it was a highlight – I still remember it.

Guess what? I went to the University of Michigan. So we didn’t even have to change teams. We could still enjoy Ohio State and Michigan State losing.

One problem. The team was really bad for a few years. During the glory years of “three years and a cloud of dust”, the rest of the country had adopted a new technique. It’s called the forward pass.

And Michigan had recruited quarterbacks who didn’t seem to realize that 1) you had to throw the ball far enough and accurately enough to reach the guy who’s supposed to catch it, and 2) you only throw it to guys wearing the same colors as you are. It was painful, but I was hooked by this time.

Finally Bo recruited a kid named Jim Harbaugh. You may have heard of him. If you watched any sports at all during the weeks around Christmas, you would have seen a never-ending crawl at the bottom of the screen showing the progress the University of Michigan was making in hiring him as the new head coach. (It even annoyed me.)

But long before he (or bottom-line crawls) became ubiquitous on TV, Harbaugh dragged University of Michigan football into the modern age.

It was scary at first. We had learned to (metaphorically) cover our eyes when a Michigan quarterback tried to pass. Luckily Harbaugh’s arrival coincided somewhat with Michigan football being chosen for TV coverage on a fairly regular basis. So the football looked pretty good when it went national.

Harbaugh ushered in a new era of Michigan quarterbacks. The ones that somebody actually wanted to draft into the NFL. You may have heard of one of them: Tom Brady.

Of course, they made Brady back up the brilliant Drew Henson for a while. The reason you haven’t heard of Drew is that he only lasted a few games before the coaches realized he wasn’t very good.

Time goes by. Life is good. I married a man who knew the difference between holding and interference. So we added him to our Saturday afternoon tradition.

Two coaches ago, Michigan decided they needed a change. A non-“Michigan Man”. As far as I can tell, a Michigan Man is a guy who has coached with/played for/been somehow associated with Bo Schembechler. At least that’s what I read in the press.

The first new coach forever antagonized the loyal by not understanding that there is a blood feud between Michigan and Ohio State. Seriously, how can you be a good college coach if you think your fans hate all opponents equally?

So after six or so years of bad coaching, bad recruiting, and bad games; the alumni have spoken. (Always follow the money.) We have a Michigan football hero with college and pro coaching experience. Successful coaching experience. (Except that time he lost to his brother in the Super Bowl.)

Obviously, Jim Harbaugh is going to usher in the new Golden Age of Michigan football. Or at least make it better than Michigan State football. That has been so embarrassing.

(Be grateful. When I started this post, I was going to overwhelm you with my technical knowledge.)

Pro football? I love the Lions. Have been following them for years. Think Stafford, Johnson, Bush, and Tate are pulling things together. But it’s hard to create a story arc around a team whose motto should be, “Wait until next year.”

But they were robbed in the Wild Card game last Sunday.

 

3

A Mind Run Amok

Random thoughts that may or may not have something to do with being home sick last week.

Food

I’ve been reading about Pizza Hut and all of their new crust/topping/sauce combinations. And then thinking about how food companies tailor their offerings in different countries. Do you think a haggis/head cheese/kidney pizza would sell in Scotland? Or is that more of a Subway sandwich combination?

Back in the dark ages when people made gingerbread houses by hand, you had to make them close to Christmas so they’d still be edible on the holiday. People who were good at them (not me) spent hours making them look good. Now there are kits, so there’s not a lot of skill required. It appears that there isn’t any real time constraint either. The expiration date is months in the future. So is it already hard and dry when you make it?

Santa Claus

As we all know, Santa lives at the North Pole. We also know that the North Pole is only a set of coordinates because there isn’t any land/ice mass at the top of the world. So I’m thinking that his workshop must be on one of those really huge ice floes in the far north.

Since he lives on an ice floe, he’s probably going to be affected by global warming the same as the polar bears. Which brings up a series of questions:

  • Will he need to relocate operations?
  • Where would be remote enough to keep everything secret? Maybe Antarctica?
  • Would he pay relocation costs for the elves?
  • Would he offer any kind of training so they could move into another field?
  • Would he replace them with penguins who probably work more cheaply and don’t require housing?
  • Would he keep anyone at the old workshop or just close it completely down?
  • Are there any hazardous waste issues? Old lead paint?

American Football

Speaking of climate change, some of us in Michigan are wondering if the temperature may be dropping down in the underworld. You may have heard that the Detroit Lions qualified for the post-season with two games remaining. Of course, the next day they almost lost to the Chicago Bears who were playing with a backup quarterback who hadn’t started a game in three years. The same Chicago Bears they tore apart on Thanksgiving Day. Same old Lions.

On the other hand, have we finally seen the end of Bobby Layne’s curse?

You’ve never heard of Bobby Layne’s curse? Or Bobby Layne? He was an outstanding quarterback who led the Lions to several championships in the 1950’s. (Yes, you have to go back that far for the glory days.) In 1958, the Lions traded Layne to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was not happy. Layne responded to the trade by saying that the Lions would “not win for 50 years.”

For the next 50 years after the trade, the Lions accumulated the worst winning percentage of any team in the NFL. The Lions were 1-10 in postseason appearances. The last year of the supposed curse, 2008, Detroit went 0-16 and thus became the first team to lose every game of a 16-game season.

In the 2009 NFL Draft, right after the curse supposedly expired, the Detroit Lions drafted University of Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford was an alumnus of Layne’s former school Highland Park High School and also lived in a house on the same street as Layne’s. Coincidence?

So what do you think: bad drafting/coaching/playing for 50 years or a curse? I’m going with the curse.

TV Commercials

Returning to the dark ages when I started watching football on TV, the commercials were mainly about beer and food. Then we moved on to ED. It was a little embarrassing, but probably a mass market.

As we get closer to Christmas, the commercials have turned overwhelmingly to jewelers. I understand that a lot of men propose over the holidays. And a lot of men buy jewelry at Christmas. But were there really that many who are watching the first college bowls this past Saturday who needed reminding that they were going to buy an engagement ring? An expensive engagement ring?

 

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