Monday, February 20, 2006

I don't usually use this space to say anything more than a few sparse comments on sports very often because I'm usually too excited/relieved over a win or upset over a loss to feel like saying anything more substantial than "Roll Tide" or "Go Blazers." But seeing as Bama's upset of #8 Tennessee (their iniquitous crusade has turned against them, The Bear be praised!) is still sticking with me after two days it got me to thinking about my feelings towards basketball and, subsequently, the state of Alabama football.

I don't pretend to know a lot about basketball. Growing up in Birmingham I was a default Blazers fan, but I was relatively young during the glory days of the Gene Bartow era and didn't understand the game well enough or even care enough to pay much attention. To my way of thinking if it wasn't football, it didn't matter, and I kept that attitude through college, occasionally checking UAB and Bama scores in the paper and filling out brackets come March based solely on what I knew of their football programs (which, quick aside, that method was eerily accurate, but now that I know a little something about college basketball my brackets are shot to hell by the third round). Once I had graduated and had more free time on my hands (read: not a damn thing to do but sit on my butt and watch TV) I started watching Bama and UAB whenever they were on TV and learning the game and strategies and started actually liking it and caring about my teams' success. When Lee moved in with me it only made matters worse. He's one of those sports fans that actually enjoys "the game," where as I'm one of those guys that needs a team to pull for. Unless it's a meteor game like Miami and Tennesse I can usually watch anyone play football, but when it comes to basketball I need a reason. Anyway, he would watch any game that was on, including the NBA, and I actually found myself watching the playoffs a few years ago and realizing that if I didn't stop now I would be lost forever. So I quit watching NBA games and focused only on college ball in general and Bama and UAB in particular.

Two years ago when both made their runs to the Elite Eight with upsets over Stanford and Kentucky people blamed their next round flame outs to the SI jinx (both were featured on the cover that week), but I know exactly what happened to UAB. Lee and I had watched the first round game against Washington at the apartment, grilling hamburgers before the game, and in a superstitious move we repeated the same setup for the Kentucky game. It was the single greatest game of basketball I've ever seen, thanks mostly to The Pass, and was replayed the next day on ESPN as an "Instant Classic." In the waning seconds of the game Lee was on the phone getting tickets to go to St. Louis for the next round to see the Blazers take on Kansas, and I don't need to tell you how that game turned out. At the half Lee called and I told him he was the reason we were losing, his dumb ass should be back in the Ham in the same seat eating a hamburger, but no, he had to drive to St. Louis and let us get manhandled into defeat and the end of the dream and it was all his fault and would he please go down to the bench and tell them to attack the rim or we don't stand a chance at a come back. He didn't, we lost, it was done. I still clung to the hope that Bama would move on, but come Sunday night they dropped out against eventual champions UCONN and I didn't watch another game that year.

Leaning on the principle that the heartbreaking losses stay with you longer than exhilirating wins, I've been devoted to both teams since. To this day I hate Okafor with a passion after his dominating performance in Bama's loss to UCONN in the 2004 tournament. I laugh at LSU's "Big Baby Whatever" and will routinely do the "o-ver-ra-ted clap clap clap clap clap" taunt anytime I see him after UAB's 82-68 ass whipping in last year's tourney. And before Nicole gets all "thanks for bringing that up," you can call us even since UW-Milwaukee knocked Bama out in the first round. After UAB fell to Arizona I lost interest once again, and since it was the year of living dangerously I focused on the movies instead of keeping an eye on that year's outcome.

I never thought I'd spend the off season following basketball instead of scanning the paper and internet for even the slightest tidbits concerning Bama football, but that's what's happening now. Despite Bama's injury issues (for once I'm NOT talking about football) and early struggles they've put together some impressive wins, capped off Saturday by a huge road win against the hated Vols to bring the series to seven in a row, again reminding us of why Gottfried had a higher salary than Shula until this past season. And to me, that's kind of sad and indicative of the state of Bama football over the past few years. When a Bama fan is crowing about THE BASKETBALL TEAM'S success against their most hated of rivals something isn't right. Don't get me wrong, beating UT this weekend is huge for us both as a rivalry win and in terms of getting a tournament bid, but until Gottfried came along Bama basketball was a sideshow attraction for most fans, something in Crimson and White to occupy our minds while we silently counted down the minutes to the first kick off. When we won, we were happy, when we didn't, it was just basketball. Even though the program has had a good bit of success over the years, second only to Kentucky in number of conference titles, this is Alabama, and in Bama we worship football.

Since Stallings stepped down, we've only had moderate success on the football field. While it's true that every coach since Bryant has reached ten wins by his third year, it hasn't brought us much to hold onto. Perkins beat Notre Dame, a feat never accomplished by Bryant, but he never equaled the standards Bama fans were used to. Curry never beat Auburn, plus he was an outsider that few warmed to. Stallings gave us a national title and restored Bama to prominence, but spent the last several years of his career unable to unseat Spurrier's Gators for control of the SEC. Then a second dark age of Bama football set in. While DuBose backed into a conference title (as much as we like to remember that "magical" year, who among us doesn't silently hope no one brings up La. Tech and the Orange Bowl when discussing the '99 season?) he proved himself completely incapable of getting the job done by going 3 - 8 the following year after a #3 pre-season ranking and a top recruiting class. I have a theory that Tennessee's slide this past season had nothing to do with the impotent "Randy Sanders and the two headed quarterback" offense, but that Fulmer took DuBose's dreadful last season as a personal challenge and tried to outdo Bama by squandering his own top recruiting class and #3 ranking. And in that regard, you're 0-2 on the season fatty.

Then there was Fran.

EDSBS rightly lists Franchione (aka Fran-phoney; aka Man-tits) in their "Ten Least Likeable People In College Football" post. We loved him for getting us in a bowl when we thought the season was lost, especially since he beat Auburn to get us there. We loved him for beating UT in Knoxville with a redshirt freshman (do I have to say his name?) and shutting out LSU in Baton Rouge while leading us to a #9 ranking and Western Division title that sanctions kept us from claiming before the Iron Bowl. And then he stumbled. The top ranked defense gave up 17 points in the first quarter before shutting AU out the rest of the game. Instead of starting Croyle and giving his offense the continuity that had allowed it to function so well all season he started Watts and ran the option against a defense that knew he wouldn't throw and then subbed Croyle and threw against a defense that knew he was going to pass. It was the closest to a dream season we'd had since '99, losing only to a 12-2 Oklahoma and eventual SEC champions UGA (whom we should have had a rematch with in Atlanta but sanctions sent a woefully outmatched Arkansas team to be slaughtered instead), that was given away at the last minute with only a trip to Hawaii as consolation. And then he left without a word; Packed up, got on a plane, and flew to College Station without looking back. On the one hand, I don't blame him. He walked into NCAA sanctions for the crimes of a previous regime and as an outsider he knew there was no way he could weather the storm of criticism and calls for his head that the inevitable bad seasons would generate. I don't fault him for jumping ship under those circumstances. I fault him for pledging his loyalty to Bama the day before he left. I fault him for looking like a classless buffoon by not talking to his players and letting them know he was leaving. I fault him for stealing Brodie away from FSU by promising John Croyle that he would treat Brodie like a son and then abandoning him, letting what should have been another legend with a number 12 on his chest spend his career injured, sidelined, full of unrealized potential, and held so high in the esteem of the Bama nation more out of respectful pity than onfield success. I fault him for having a mercenary, opportunistic bent on par with Tuberville, heading to fundamentally sound programs in need of a boost and then jumping ship before he's exposed. But mostly I thank him for jumping ship when he did. His tenure at TAMU has finally exposed him as the quick fix artist he is, has the Bama nation openly laughing at his failure and thankful that he isn't doing that to us.

Mike Price, the Bama coach that never was, barely rates a mention beyond the embarassment he brought to the program. What can I really say? He was warned that kind of behavior wouldn't fly at Alabama and, considering the sanctions and tarnished image we were working out of, should have known better. I'm happy to see he's found success at UTEP; I don't think he's a bad guy, but I don't feel a lot of sympathy considering he made his own bed and then got a stripper to lie in it with him.

Which brings us to Mike Shula. No one blamed him for his disaster of a first season. Some grumbled about the disaster of a second season, but the grumbling was softened by understanding mentions of the injury problems that plagued the offense and pride in the defense's performance. He got us to a bowl our first year back from sanctions and had us within an overthrown pass (or one terrible series of officiating that gave a clearly recovered fumble back to Minnesota who subsequently scored within the next few downs) of winning it, and kept a classy demeanor through it all. This past season, despite dropping two in a row to LSU and AU, he brought Bama back into the national spotlight despite once again losing the offense's spark early in the season. Bama fans love defensive football and there was a lot to love about this season, especially the win over Tennessee, and would have been happy if EVERY game was decided by a long drive capped by a last second field goal, so long as we won. In the end, though, it doesn't make up for the loss (once again) to Auburn and the year's worth of "fear the thumb" we'll have to endure til next November.

All of this brings me back to Bama basketball and my misspent affections. I am first and foremost a fan of the Crimson Tide football team, but in order to continue to show pride and faith in the Crimson and White, I've latched onto the athletic program that's shown a favorable light on my beloved Bama while my first love struggles. We aren't beating AU on the football field, but by God they can't touch us in the basketball arena. UT might have owned us in football for the past decade, but put a round ball between us and there's no question. It's these sort of feelings that make me long for the start of the football season once again, when I can watch those (Killing Floor) Crimson jerseys against a field of green instead of light brown hardwood, when I can talk real shit to our UPS driver when we put an end to this "fear the thumb" nonsense instead of making fun of their basketball team which really isn't even worth the effort, when I can look on the sidelines at Fulmer and know the immense joy and pride of defeating pure evil instead of looking with bemusement to the UT bench and laughing at Pearl's orange blazer. September 2nd can't get here fast enough.

While making Pearl angry and laughing at his jacket might be fun...

...keeping the Doritos eating public safe from this madman is a reason to breathe.


Blogger Newspaper Hack said...

I was at a meeting with B'ham News stringers, and an intern from Indiana said, "Auburn has a basketball team?"

It's great to hear smack talked from a guy that doesn't even have a dog in the fight.

12:19 PM  
Anonymous nico said...

I can't believe I read the whole thing.

1:33 PM  
Anonymous nico said...

Alabama blew an 18 point lead in Fayetville? Ugghh.

7:08 AM  

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