Category Archives: Sports

Black History Month: Jerry LeVias

Why have a special Black History Month? From this history buff’s perspective, the answer is simple. Because traditional history teaching has tended to downplay black Americans’ achievements and stories, black children have too often grown up thinking there weren’t any. When Nichelle Nichols appeared in the original Star Trek series (1966-69) at her communications station on the bridge of a proud starship, one person later summed up the impact (quote inexact) on his youthful perspective: ‘It was the first time anyone had made me think there would be black people in the future.’

Maybe someday we’ll do a better job of telling all the stories. For now, I’m glad we have a month that emphasizes those less often told. And I like college football, and Jerry LeVias is not well remembered today, so it occurred to me to tell his story.

Born (1946) and raised in Beaumont, Texas, LeVias (leh-VYE-us) starred as a football quarterback in then all-black Hebert High School. As he came of age in the mid/mod-1960s, the nation was in a ferment of change. It may be helpful to understand that full backdrop, which also coincides with my early childhood.

Vietnam had not yet heated up, but the civil rights and women’s rights struggles were well under way. It was not a time, like ours today when civil rights marchers might just get tear-gassed if things got a little rough. It was a time when peaceful marchers could expect to face water cannon, attack dogs, look-the-other-way Klan assaults, baton charges, and lynchings. In most of the places where civil rights demonstrations occurred, hospitals were segregated, so those who were injured might have limited and lesser options. Recourse to the law was rarely even minimal, considering that the law had turned a blind eye toward the violence–if it was not itself the perp. These marchers were warriors, young and old, male and female, and they were getting the hell beaten out of them for what they believed in.

American sports had followed different integration paths, but the college football world might have had the unwieldiest. For decades its governing bodies were weak, regional conference leadership held all the cards, and things were different in East Lansing, Pullman, and Tuscaloosa. In football, most of the northern and western schools practiced a form of segregation called “stacking.” This meant putting all the black players at a couple of positions (wide receiver, defensive back), to avoid a general takeover on the basis of raw talent. My own alma mater, the University of Washington, stood accused of this–and justly, I believe, to our lasting embarrassment. The amount of talent on the table can be estimated if one imagines a modern major college team without black players and with maybe only a couple of Polynesian players.

Think they’d be nationally ranked? Maybe in the ESPN Bottom 10, which in my view is one of the few really good things that emanates from the Eternal SEC Promotional Network.

Many southern universities remained segregated–these were the Wallace days–and many that were not segregated did not recruit African Americans to play football, nor take the field against them. Quite a few northern and western schools enabled this discrimination by benching their own black players (usually just one or two) out of ‘respect’ for the southern schools when matched up against them. By the 1960s, at least, some northern schools began to face student unrest at this enablement of racism.

The Union had won the Civil War, but lost the civil peace.

In 1965, Jerry LeVias was a senior star at Hebert, and had appeared on the national stage when he traveled to Ohio to play with an integrated all-star team of Texas footballers. This was a first, and it helped crack open doors in one of the nation’s biggest football markets–not least when LeVias caught two touchdown passes from roommate and fast friend Bill Bradley, a white.

Over two decades before the NCAA “death penalty” would inflict lasting damage on its program, Southern Methodist University’s football success was a point of pride in Dallas. With a natural crosstown rival in Texas Christian University, Dallas/Fort Worth was a football center in a football-crazy state. The Southwest Conference (now defunct) was in essence the Texas Conference. SMU Mustang football spared no effort or expense to recruit and compensate the best athletes it could find. As of 1965, the majority of black college football players played at historically black colleges/universities such as Grambling, Howard, Alcorn A&M, and many others. More than ever were moving on to play professionally in the AFL, which was just beginning to appear competitive with the old guard NFL, and where black athletes were more welcome and prevalent.

By the spring of 1965, the racial door was letting in a ray of daylight. SMU coach Hayden Fry was ready. Jerry LeVias accepted Fry’s offer of an athletic scholarship, becoming the first African American scholarship player in the Southwest Conference. (He was not the first black football player to appear in an SWC game, it seems. John Westbrook, who debuted as a walk-on for Baylor in 1966, saw the field one week before LeVias’s first appearance. In those days, freshmen simply did not play, so LeVias would not appear in a 1965 game. Westbrook almost surely deserves his own article.)

American life has never been easy for black pioneers, and LeVias took a great deal of abuse on and off the field. Imagine being eighteen or nineteen, and putting up with that while trying to get good grades and improve in sport. Some blacks on campus called him an Uncle Tom. You can guess what many whites called him, though he had Coach Fry’s unbending support. Did the abuse from some of his teammates (those are supposed to have one’s back, as a rule) hurt him more than the blatant personal fouls, spitting in his face, and stunts like when the Texas A&M cadet corps released a black cat onto the field? I’d think so.

How many times have you seen an athlete claim to use an insult as motivation? Believe it. In one infamous 1968 incident, a TCU player spat in LeVias’s face. He threw down his helmet and said he quit. Coach Fry came over to talk with him, convincing him to keep playing. When the conversation was done, and TCU’s punt team took the field, LeVias took his customary station to return it. He carried the punt return for an 89-yard touchdown with eleven tackles broken or dodged, giving SMU the margin of victory over its arch-rival.

As he went through hell, LeVias excelled. In his case, long before AA meant African American, it meant All-American. An electrifying runner, LeVias rewrote the Mustang record books while leading SMU to a conference championship in 1966 and a Bluebonnet Bowl victory in 1968. As Coach Fry told him–meaning it in the best possible way with reference to the public reaction–the more touchdowns he scored, the whiter he got. LeVias went on to a six-year pro career in the AFL and NFL, earning all-AFL honors in 1969.

A gentle-hearted, religious man who always resisted anger, Jerry LeVias would pay for those early days of endured cruelty with years of internalized pain. The price of leading the way for southern sports integration was high. He has succeeded well in life, and nowadays gets some of the recognition he deserves, but I don’t think that many younger fans have heard of Jerry LeVias. All of us who love college football might justly take a moment to give a brave man some respect.


Retiring jerseys is unsustainable and makes no sense

It’s unsustainable because one eventually runs out of numbers to use. Including 0 and 00, one hundred and one numbers are available without resorting to triple digits.

It makes no sense because it kicks the can down this unsustainable path, leaving future generations with the headache (much as my generation has done with most of the real problems it has faced).

It is least dumb in basketball, with its small roster sizes. One could go on retiring a jersey number per year for fifty years without much crowding the available pool of numbers, provided the rule against numbers using integers 6-9 is repealed). It is dumbest in football by far, and especially in college football. Including walk-ons, a college football roster typically tops out around 115 (enough to outfit ten basketball teams, six hockey teams, four or five baseball teams). Take a look at a roster some time. The majority of numbers are used twice, and most teams have to keep a few numbers back without names or assignments, as jerseys to put on a given player in potential number conflict situations.

Most retirement of numbers comes in the heat of an emotional moment: a recent retirement, a death, what have you. I do not look down on collective grief or adulation; I just don’t believe a retired number is the best method. Rings of honor, team halls of fame, anything sustainable: excellent. Retired number? It can’t go on.

In college football, sooner rather than later, it will get to the problematic stage. The pros, with their 53-man rosters, already run into problems because of the prevalence of numbers below 20 (mostly quarterbacks and kicking specialists, until recently) and between 80-89 (mostly tight ends and receivers; nowadays the receivers are taking the teen numbers) that get retired.

When a given team starts to run out of numbers, be it ten years from now or fifty, it will have to begin unretiring them. What then? How will we decide that the kid whose number we retired in a fit of grief over his auto accident, “uh, gee, well, we really need some numbers back, sorry, kid’s family?” At Tennessee football, there are four retired numbers for players who died in World War II. They have since retired three more. At some point, it will get harder to retire more numbers. Are those future kids less deserving than those of yesteryear?

It just has to end. Even if each team maintained just one retired number, there will be a quandary when another loved or mourned great comes along. Do you unretire the old number to retire the new one?

Rings of honor. Halls of fame. Put up a statue. Name something after the player. There are so many better options than taking a number out of the pool. My own pet idea: unretire all jerseys, but for those numbers that were retired, or are in a ring of honor, authorize a name tape to be worn on one shoulder in honor of the recognized past holder. If West Point can wear different units’ shoulder patches on its uniforms, surely we can run to this.

As for retiring them, let’s just stop already, before this gets sillier.

Strat-o-Matic: my chronic illness

No, it’s not as bad as diabetes. It only now and then costs me too much money for too little product which, even then, delivers me enjoyment out of proportion to the dollars spent. It’s probably not classified as an addiction, mainly because I can go for years without engaging in it. But it’s always still there waiting for the next outbreak cycle, like malaria or elective politics. I prefer to think of it as a chronic disorder.

The 1970s: a time when baseball cards were toys, not investments. The era in which kids read comic books rather than investing in them. The era in which we thought American government could not possibly get more corrupt or evil than the Nixon administration.

Even our adults had naive, childish notions, didn’t they?

Then again, in those days loaded open-end mutual funds were taken seriously as investments by persons who could do arithmetic.

In those days, if you lived in an isolated place, the Sears, Ward, and Penney catalogues were your nearest approximation to something like Amazon. Companies seeking kids’ money had to advertise where the kids were looking, and that meant comic books. The most common ads:

  • An offer to get catalog rewards by selling seeds. “Send no money…we trust you!”
  • Sets of cheap plastic toy soldiers in some theme: Revolutionary, Roman, modern, etc.
  • “Sea monkeys,” essentially brine shrimp, which in the flesh didn’t look much like the joyful anthropomorphic nudists in the ad.
  • BB Guns. I try to explain this to kids today, and they don’t believe me: we had BB gun wars. No aiming high–you could blind someone.
  • The Charles Atlas transformation exercise manual (I think it was a book), with the proverbial nerd getting sand kicked in his face and girls rejecting him until he kicked some ass.
  • Strat-o-Matic Baseball.

I have no idea what they marketed to the girls, but I’m sure it was sexist. Back then, life was sexist.

When I first saw the SOM ads, circa about 1972-73, I had no idea how the game could back up its brag. All major league teams, with players who played significant time, performing realistically? Before that, my sports simulation mind had involved spinners and kiddie games. Still, $10 (or whatever it was they wanted) was a hell of a lot of money, almost a couple months’ allowance. It would buy a lot of baseball cards and comic books, known quantities of enjoyment. I didn’t go for it. You couldn’t be too careful; you knew most of these ads were a load of bullshit.

We moved, and before he became a mortal enemy, I got to know the neighbor kid as sort of a friend. He had Strat-o-Matic, the 1971 season. Turned out it was completely legit: every player got a card, reflecting his performance. Half the results came from pitchers’ cards, half from batters’ cards, so that would average out. Sophisticated stuff, big-boy sports gaming. I absorbed the homebrew pen-and-paper scorekeeping method that I would desire to use (but not even dream of trying) when I would one day be an official scorer for a local baseball league. I had to have my own game, of course, and in 1975 I sprang for the current (1974) set. A few years later, my enemy sold me his 1971 cards for a song, one of the few times I got the best of him.

I didn’t buy or need any more annual card sets in my youth. I attempted ill-fated season replays with statkeeping, a ludicrous proposition with pen and paper solitaire. Even though I never even came close to finishing one, it kept me somewhat sane through seven years of hell. Between D&D, Strat, and books, I avoided doing all the retributory things that were morally justified but would be life-limiting.

Come the 1980s, I escaped to college, and my chronic SOM pattern continued: remission, outbreak, remission, outbreak. Remissions lasted a year or two. Then I graduated, and I had real money and was independent of my parents, and could buy whatever the hell I felt like. I bought the then-current cards, 1986. They still looked just like what I’d known as a kid: comforting, clean, often irregularly cut, black on white with blue on white reverses (the reverses were for if you were playing with the lefty/righty rules).

Here my memory gets a bit hazy, but sometime around 1990, Strat came out with a computer version of its baseball game. Adult time is different from kid time: even with my Atari ST and a pirated spreadsheet program to calculate batting averages and ERAs, it just wasn’t practical to replay whole seasons with the cards and dice. I lived in Seattle, worked six days a week, spent thirteen hours per day working or commuting, slept maybe seven hours a night, leaving four hours each day to call my own. When the computer version matured a bit, I bought a copy. I had assumed there would be Great Evolutions.


I came to realize a thing about SOM, a mighty strength and crippling weakness all at once: it was hopelessly, comically, defiantly retro. When SOM wanted to make computer games, it hired a programmer. Not multiple programmers; a programmer. He’s still working there, same guy, all this time. Unfortunately, the game reflected a user interface only a programmer could love, but I had learned that was what happened when one let programmers design the UI. In the programming mind, if there is a way to do it and it doesn’t crash, that’s good enough; on to the next issue. In spite of an amazingly clunky setup relative to other computer games, I still enjoyed SOM’s computer baseball. I could replay past seasons and let the game record the stats. It had zero arcade quality, but arcade games were for the insufficiently hardcore.

The boardgame finally did away with a deck of twenty numbered cards, in favor of a twenty-sided die à la D&D, about twenty years after D&D came out. I marvel that they got around to acknowledging the Internet before 2000. Just. Barely. Before. 2000. But they did, fair’s fair. They liked it a lot better when it gave them a better form of copy protection, and Strat is all about the copy protection.

Came the CD-ROM era, and several years into it–when the CD-ROM had since became the norm on all DOS/Windows PCs, SOM breathlessly announced its great innovation: CD-ROM Baseball! It was sort of like being the last car company to market a hybrid vehicle, and making it sound as if they’d invented the concept. Now, this was a spendy game. If you didn’t want the cards as well, it cost about fifty bucks a year, two-thirds that if you kept upgrading every year. Past season disks cost about $20 each. Want modern color ballparks? That’ll be another $20. Want past season ballparks? Another $20, please. Buy both of those plus three past seasons, and you’d lay down $100.

About this time, SOM changed the cards’ basic look. Reverses got blue and red sides for the handedness. Ink on the front went a horrible dull navy blue, harder to read and uglier than a clutch of bigoted facial expressions. No more mis-cut cards–they came in sheets of nine, and you had to separate them yourself, though at least they were all the same size. I looked at these cards and realized my days of wanting new physical cards were over. These weren’t SOM cards, at least not for me. The ones I liked, they no longer would make.

How’s that for comedy? For once the ultra-conservative, change-resistant company makes a legitimate change, and now I don’t like that either? Honestly, I’d have been fine had the fronts stayed the same. As a kid, I’d only played with the fronts anyway.

I settled into a pattern that continues to this day. Every few years I’d miss SOM, and spend some money for a new copy of the game. As the Internet came along, SOM developed very stiff copy protection, requiring your machine to contact their server and authenticate the program and any features in use. I’d have to relearn the clunkiness of the whole UI all over again, at least for starting new seasons, but I would bull through to relearn it. Now and then something would go wrong, and I learned that what one did was write a real letter to Mr. Hal Richman, owner and founder of the company. I always received a fair resolution. SOM is old school in every way, including the potential to write politely to the top person and make one’s case.

Must I even mention that they’re still in the same building as ever on Lon Gisland? Don’t laugh. Every year, when the new cards come out, there are people who go to Glen Head, NY and freeze their butts off waiting in line for Opening Day–the day they can pick up their cawd awhdahs.

And yet for years, and I think still to this day, Strat refuses to fix its weaknesses, or to get with the times. The guy working shipping seems indifferent. They charge by the minute for phone tech support. You can email for tech support, but I didn’t get any answers either time. Worst of all, since seasons are installed from the current version’s CD or from the website, a legitimately purchased past season may become incompatible with the current game. That may force one to purchase that season again. Which may then force one to update the game, in spite of the cold reality that the annual updates deliver less value for the dollar than one can find outside Microsoft (where updates provide negative value and thus the company should actually pay users to accept them). The UI has only minimally evolved in all this quarter century. They were lauding the “VGA Ballparks” as a big deal long after VGA became a bare minimal display standard. If you hate change for the sake of change, fair is fair: SOM is your kind of outfit. It may teach you to ask yourself how much you really do hate change for the sake of change.

And I do. I’m change-averse enough that some of what I’m presenting, which sounds to most people like faults, comforts me. At least with SOM, when I have to relearn everything after a few years off, the everything I must relearn will probably not have changed much; it’s my memory that is the weak point. Far as I know, the arcade action is still limited to watching the flight of a ball in one of several designated azimuths/trajectories tailored to the ballpark image in use. If there is a company in this world that is not going to fix what is not broken (except for that horrible blue ink; that’s broken), it’s Strat-o-Matic.

I’ve still never had a no-hitter, never had anyone hit for the cycle. I read recaps of big tournaments where they talk how so-and-so threw a no-no and such-and-so hit for the cycle. Guaranteed one of each per recap, it seems. I don’t believe them. Never have. What do they take me for? Someone fudged, that’s what I think. It’s a shibboleth, but I don’t much care. What are they going to do?

So here we are, and after all these years I’m still experiencing the chronic condition that is Strat-o-Matic. In a couple of months, it’ll go into remission. By the next acute outbreak, I’ll have a new computer, which will mean I didn’t formally recall the authorization from my old one, which will mean I have to write to them and beg to have my codes reset, which will mean that by the time I install it, some of my past seasons will no longer work because they’ve updated them, which will mean I’ll be annoyed, which may or may not mean I decide to repurchase them, and which will at least shorten my outbreak because it’ll irritate me. Solely because it reminds me of youthful joy, with SOM I tolerate obstacles that would make me dismiss nearly any other company.

The core people at the company have been the same for so long that it’s hard to imagine life without them. Hal Richman must be 80. Everyone else has to be at least looking at retirement sometime in the reasonable future. And yet they’ve brought on some very worthy help. Glenn Guzzo, a fan as long as I have been and a really nice fellow, is working there now. So is Chris Rosen, a longtime secondary market vendor of SOM stuff, great reputation. One supposes that eventually the firm will pass into their hands, and that one day I’ll have my outbreak and find that the company has begun to evolve at a swifter pace than metamorphic rock formations. Both are historic innovators who got things done. I can see them doing that at Strat.

I had an attack earlier this morning, but it’s under control now. It’ll probably hit again this afternoon. I’m replaying the 1956 season as the Boston Red Sox, because I wanted to find out how hard it would be to manage a team whose shortstop (Don Buddin) couldn’t field, bunt, or hit in the clutch, and without one single legit pitching ace. The answer: it’s frustrating, especially when we lose to the Kansas City A’s, but I’m at least seeing what they went through, experiencing a variant of baseball history.

This is without question the most anomalous vendor relationship in my world. Forty years in.


One need not read much online, or drive around much, or read many ads, to see how much opportunity there is for volunteer proofreading.

No one will pay to have small proofreading jobs done. Nothing for it but to get used to that reality. In a smart world, every restaurant would have a proofreader on call. His or her job would be to review their ads, new menus, and so on. In the case of immigrant restaurants, especially so. But we don’t live in a smart world, and in many cases the immigrants write better English than the native speakers anyway.

What it means is that volunteer proofreaders have a chance to make a difference. The number one trait for a proofreader is fascist attention to detail, where the proofreader is so eager to find mistakes that if s/he finds none, s/he will assume that s/he missed a bunch, was phoning it in, and must do it all over once more.

As an editor, I always tell my clients that they still need to have my work proofread. I mention that I will contrive my very best to make that proofreader’s job miserable (defined as finding too few errors to fix), but that it still needs doing, and that I can’t take money to do it. To proofread well, I must see the material for the very first time when I sit down to proof it.

The first recipient of my volunteer proofreading services is a fan site for my alma mater’s sports teams. That was an easy one. We all love UW; we all want to see the school and its teams portrayed in the best way. The reporters who cover the sports are volunteers one and all, hard workers who arrive with a love of the school and a given sport, donating their time so that the rest of us can stay connected when the hometown newspaper has lost relevance. We are all on the same side. They sometimes need my help to bring their writing nearer to the standard I expect from those who did time on Montlake. It was stupid to keep rolling my eyes when I had the opportunity to take a hand, and help out my fellow Dawgs.

This may be the way the pro bono aspect of my work goes, moving forward. I would like that.

While we are here, I want to wish all of the ‘Lancer’s faithful followers a Happy New Year. May you all prosper, kick bad habits, begin positive new ones, and avoid traffic tickets.

What makes a bowl game?

Some of my close friends (those who will not feel their souls seared by even casual sports talk) know what I mean by the above usage. For the rest of you, I have to explain.

US college football’s Division I-A (they changed the name to something stupid a few years back, which I refuse to acknowledge; you all should realize that the privilege of naming is a sort of subtle tyranny to dictate how people will think, a principle well understood by marketing departments and news channels) is the top level of collegiate football play. It has upwards of 125 teams. For the past century or so, season’s end and the Christmas holidays have meant a number of additional games, called bowls. Some bowls have a century of tradition and history by now. Others have none, nothing.

Each year, as bowls happen or cease to happen or change names, the pecking order shifts. For example, suppose that in the Bowl, the bowl sponsors and NCAA have agreed that the 7th place team in the Big Ten Conference (which calls itself the B1G–see what they did there?–and has fourteen teams) will receive an invitation to the Bowl, held December 22 in a warm-weather city with a suitable stadium and seeking to clamor for national attention. Nearly no spectators will actually attend the game, a fact that the TV cameras will do their best to conceal. After a lackluster matchup between a 6-6 Big Ten team and a less prestigious conference’s #3 (again for example), attended by approximately seven people, decides not to blow wads of cash sponsoring a bowl next year, and another bowl has come and gone unlamented.

How did I pick 6-6 as a record? Because the crony system made a rule: can’t be bowl-eligible with a losing record. What the crony system failed to do is to stop the proliferation of bowls. Now there are eighty, with just over 125 potential teams in I-A. Not enough are bowl-eligible. Some 5-7 teams will get invitations. Some will be fool enough to refuse them. is by now just a bad memory. In its dubious heyday, it was the website where you’d find some of the ugliest stuff on the Internet. Beheading videos? They were the ghoul’s first draft choice. I wasn’t an enthusiast, but I knew what it was and how to avoid finding it. Well, comes the dot-com era, and the year 2000 or so, and numerous companies arise whose names are web domains. The first may have been the scrofulous Bowl, but soon there were more, such as the unbearable Bowl. As that trend developed, I decided that the lowest of the bowl low would probably have to be a Bowl, presumably played someplace repulsive. Since there’s no evidence that was ever an actual business name, that’s why it was satire.

Where does the money come from, since hardly anyone attends most of the games? Even the bowls with proper names (Rose, Sugar, Cotton, etc.) have taken on sponsorships. I remember the first time I heard about a “Federal Express Orange Bowl,” and the difficulty with which I contained the sudden quease. The sponsors weren’t fundamentally bad; what was/is bad was the media’s fellation. Print, online, and broadcast media, with absolutely nothing to gain, were and are glad to help out a corporate buddy by including the sponsor name in all instances of coverage. Evidently a few did not play ball, which is why some companies who sponsored bowls just named the whole bowl after themselves. If it has no other name than the Enron Bowl, the media have nothing else to call it.

To this end, I propose the Rotten.comness Rating System (RcRS). Its goal is to rank the bowls from useless to useful. The more points a bowl game accumulates, the worse it is, the champion receiving the dubious honor of the name prefixed to its official title in full, just as if still fully existed, were a company, and had ever sponsored bowls at all (it didn’t, but if it had, it would have to receive some special consideration). Thus, you might have the “ Bowl.”

This does not need to be complicated. Do note that the full result cannot be determined until the end of bowl season, since attendance figures are required. Award one point for each of the following that is true:

  • Has no history under the current name
  • Has three or less years’ history under the current name
  • Has ten or less years’ history under the current name
  • Has twenty or less years’ history under the current name
  • Name is also the name of a corporation
  • Name is a corporate name that sounds like a word but isn’t (e.g., Taligent, Verizon, Ensighten, Disadvantis)
  • Name is a corporate name that in no way indicates what the hell they do
  • Name is a web domain
  • Name is so blazingly stupid it beggars all common sense (limit one per year, otherwise this would be overused)
  • Invites no nationally ranked teams (top 25 in either major poll)
  • Invites a team with a losing record in conference play (count independents’ overall record as a conference record)
  • Invites a team with a losing record overall
  • Invites two teams with losing records (unlikely, but we’re getting there one of these years)
  • Invites only teams with losing records (the logical conclusion to this farce)
  • Invites the University of Idaho Vandals (whom I like, but they are a longtime punching bag whose very arrival in a bowl game would raise its Rotten.comness)
  • Halftime show includes Celine Dion or Justin Bieber
  • Halftime show includes Kardashians (one point per Kardashian)
  • Bowl is played on or before December 20th
  • Bowl is played on or before December 23rd
  • Bowl has actual attendance less than 10,000
  • Bowl has actual attendance less than 20,000

Subtract one point for each of the following that is true:

  • Bowl is named Cotton, Orange, Sugar, or Rose
  • Bowl has an amusing wardrobe malfunction at halftime show
  • Halftime show includes the Stanford or Rice marching band
  • Halftime show’s outrageous gag results in the marching band being banned from a venue
  • Bowl name is amusing (imagine a Post Cereals Bowl, or a Tide Bowl, or a High Times Bowl)
  • Invites a top ten team in either major poll
  • Invites Army or Navy (because these were powerhouses in days of yore, thus an invitation represents tradition)
  • Has no corporate sponsor’s branding (dream on)
  • Sponsor’s executives are under indictment during bowl season
  • Sponsor declares bankruptcy during bowl season

Some of the conditions may go unmet each year, but we must think both ahead and positive.

And there you go. If there is sufficient interest, I may even take time to compile the preliminary rankings once all the lineups are set, which should be a few days away.

I think I’m about done attending actual college football games

It’s my favorite sport to watch; in fact, it’s the only sport I watch on a consistent basis. But I think I’ll be doing it from my recliner for the rest of my life. I just don’t much like going to the games.

Reasons, in no particular order:

Stadium: long march and/or climb to uncomfortable seat–and I’m not even counting the weather as a negative, since I’m pretty hardy. Recliner: short walk into living room with dedicated, comfortable chair.

Stadium: bathrooms force me to miss action or join enormous scrum in foul-smelling wait. Recliner: bathroom is down hall, can pause DVR so no action is missed, and is as clean as I choose to make it.

Stadium: drunk, noisy assholes who believe they bought a daylong asshole license. Recliner: no one even gets in the house without my will to unlock the door, and no one who would become drunk and abusive is getting in at all.

Stadium: can’t see the action too well. Recliner: can see all the action, as many times as I might wish.

Stadium: subjected to garish, paid-for displays of ostentatious patriotism. Recliner: can choose my own level of patriotism, from total fast-forward to standing up and singing along with the anthem, without peer pressure.

Stadium: total cost of attendance exceeds $100 per person at the very least, at least for major college action. Recliner: total cost of attendance involves paying my satellite bill of about $64 per month.

Stadium: food is either great but leaves me feeling like a mooch (tailgating) or meh and hugely overpriced after a long hike and a longer wait (concessions). Recliner: food is whatever I decided it should be, prepared and obtained when and how it suits me, priced reasonably.

Stadium: either take a bus, or hike from an adjoining state, or park in a nightmare scrum at high cost. Recliner: walk from office to living room, for free, without becoming annoyed at anyone.

Stadium: pretty much stuck watching halftime show, as there’s nothing else to do. Recliner: either build up footage and fast forward through halftime show, or watch instead updates and commentary on the day’s action.

Stadium: for the introvert, four hours of hard work trying to forget that one is surrounded by a crowd of random people. Recliner: for the introvert, four hours of relaxation surrounded only by people one wants around.

Stadium: analysis provided by random clods sitting in vicinity. Recliner: analysis provided by professionals experienced in the game, and sometimes even able to convey insight and/or humor.

Stadium: phone calls mostly happen to other people nearby, who then must yell into the phone so we can all hear. Recliner: if phone rings, pause DVR and answer it in civilized voice

Stadium: swearing frowned upon. Recliner: swear at will without penalty, and without harming the sensibilities of any elderly people or destroying the fragile innocence of youth.

Stadium: many people whom it would be morally okay to punch. Recliner: no one it would be morally okay to punch, because people who need to be punched aren’t welcome.

Stadium: potential for ejection if one objects to abuse, especially as a visitor. Recliner: no abuse, no potential for ejection.

Stadium: people may stand up and want past me at any time, including during a play, to get more brats or nachos with plastic cheese. Recliner: if someone needs to go in front of me, I pause the DVR.

Stadium: garbage thrown at random, leaving entire place looking like a slum by the fourth quarter. Recliner: garbage thrown in suitable receptacles.

Stadium: decent seats usually cost one kidney, and student seats are usually crappy. Great seats require enormous wealth. Recliner: all seats are great, and are the same price, and I’m welcome to invite students to partake as equals.

Stadium: pouring money into the increasingly corporate college football machine no matter how expensive they make it. Recliner: only money pour is by having premium TV to begin with, and whatever sponsored fan gear I felt inspired to buy.

Stadium: all marketing, all the time. Recliner: fast forward through all marketing I find annoying, which is substantially all of it.

Stadium: when everyone else stands up, I must as well or miss the action, and I were very short, it might do no good. Recliner: when I stand up, it’s because I have a reason, and it never relates to ability to see what’s happening on the field.

Stadium: watch one game. Recliner: watch for up to fifteen hours if I want, taking in up to five full games.

Stadium: searched at gate like common criminal, Dayquil taken away from sick person attending game two thousand miles from home, foldable stadium cushions taken away from persons who drove twelve hours and spent hundreds of dollars to be there. Recliner: bring anything I want, including a blanket fort over my chair if I so desire, or my heroin and syringes, or Scotch, or a cigar, or cold medicine; no one cares who is in a position to object.

Let’s be fair. The stadium does have advantages:

Home crowd energy can be good, and some venues treat visiting fans quite acceptably.

One will not have to miss part of the game because the Pac-12 Netbucks, Faux Sports 1 or 2, or the Eternal SEC Pimpage Network did a bad job of scheduling coverage.

Lots of calories burnt walking, climbing, hiking, and enduring weather.

Some stadiums have gorgeous views.

Direct experience of traditions: the Stanford band, Jump Around, calling the Hogs, singing the fight song, snickering at people with odd objects on their heads.

To people for whom it matters, they get to claim they were present.

Some halftime events which one might want to see, one will not be denied in favor of listening to Lou Holtz give his opinions.

Petros Papadakis is not doing the analysis.

The compensations exist, but are not worth what is asked of one.

Our greatest father-and-son moment: the Sooner Schooner game

For every good moment I can remember of my father, I can remember many bad ones. A mechanical, electrical, and electronic wizard, he obtained a master’s in a subject to which his bachelor’s degree did not pertain. With honors. While working full time and coming to all my Little League games. When I joined the Cub Scouts, he volunteered as Cubmaster.

How he could go from that to religious fanaticism and domestic violence, I am not sure I will ever understand, but he died in my twenties within two weeks of the attempt to reboot our relationship. In any case, most of what I learned from him was negative, as in “never be that kind of man.” We only had a few truly great moments, and at halftime Saturday, my alma mater celebrated one of them. (It was all we had to celebrate, as we lost to Cal. But we didn’t lose as badly as Oregon did to Utah. Even during our anniversary dinner, I had Deb keep checking the score. Just the look on her face was golden, especially when she would burst out laughing.)

On New Year’s Day 1985, I was home from UW for the holidays. When in school, I honestly didn’t care that much about football, and with all the foolhardiness of youth, I took the Huskies’ success for granted. I did respect the players as fellow students, because Don James ensured that they behaved themselves. In my first year as an RA, I had a tailback, a tackle, and a defensive tackle living in the cluster right next to me. Some of the nicest ‘dents I had, and that year, I had very many. I had trouble with men’s basketball players, and the men’s crew, but never football players. One of the quarterbacks, whom I knew from a Willis class (non-UW folks: to understand this, google ‘Willis Konick’, and believe me when I tell you that nothing you read is exaggerated), had a sister living in my floor’s elevator cluster. Paul Sicuro was bright, personable, and was destined to start under center for the Huskies in the Orange Bowl on January 1, 1985. He is now an oncologist, and I suspect a very good one.

Now, the old man loved college football. His viewpoints on it were dogmatic and Big 8-biased, but he watched it all day every Saturday in fall. My mother still hates even the mention of the sport. I didn’t watch very often, but here we had a rare convergence of his ideas and mine. You see, my father was a Jayhawk who also liked Nebraska, and he hated Oklahoma Sooners football like I hate Oregon D*cks football. I’m fond of saying that if the University of Pyongyang showed up to play Oregon, I’d be out there holding up a big picture of the Dear Leader, chanting communist slogans in Korean. Well, if there were a school titled the New York Atheist University Fighting Evolutionists, and they showed up to play the Sooners, my father would have been out there waving a copy of Origin of Species. Knowing him, he would have been drawing vocal and unflattering inferences with regard to the covered wagon opposition and the lower rungs of the evolutionary ladder.

I have enough friends from Oklahoma not to feel quite as strongly about this as my father, but I certainly didn’t mind it. For my part, I was a Husky of Kansan origin, and this was the Orange Bowl, and it was obvious which team I would support. Our interests and opinions were aligned if not identical, a rare arrangement indeed.

The game didn’t begin too well for my Dawgs. Switzer had a good football team in Norman, with stud defenders like Tony Casillas and Brian Bosworth (who failed in the pros but was a force of nature in college ball). My man Sicuro didn’t have his best game. Three quarters in, with the score tied, Oklahoma lined up for a chip shot field goal to take the lead. Their kicker made it, but the referees called the play back for illegal procedure. Another try, right, but surely a 27-yarder isn’t much harder than a 22-yarder? Might even be easier, depending on the location of the ball between the hash marks? Then as now, no Division I-A kicker considers 30 yards or less to be a distance issue.

Ah, but…you see, the Oklahoma mascot is a Conestoga wagon maintained by a pep group, drawn by impressive horses and titled the ‘Sooner Schooner.’ Having not seen the penalty flag, the drivers brought it onto the field to celebrate. It got stuck in mud in front of the UW bench in a gesture that surely wasn’t meant as a deliberate middle finger, but looked like one to an observer. My father and I watched in disbelieving, unrestrained hilarity: did the Okies really just bring their covered wagon onto the football field in the Orange Bowl? Yes, they had.

Being killjoys, the officials didn’t think it was very funny. They tacked unsportsmanlike conduct onto the Sooners, and the former chip shot was now a 42-yarder. For longer field goals, a kicker will generally go for lower trajectory in search of distance. Oklahoma lined up to kick again, and Husky safety Tim Peoples blocked this attempt. My dad and I came unglued again. He was actually in tears of laughter, face the color of a brand new breast cancer ribbon, emitting his peculiar rutting-rhino laugh. (Imagine Arnold Horschack with real lungs.) It was hard to credit the TV evidence. Looking back, I still have a hard time believing it. I’m reading a retrospective news article from an authoritative source, and it’s still hard to believe what I saw.

The Huskies went on to win that game with two fourth-quarter touchdowns, as father and son broke out in periodic snickers, chuckles, giggles, and guffaws.

As I approach the age at which he died, I guess it’s natural to reflect on my father and compare. Too often, I think of the face frozen in ruddy and violent fury, the indifference he showed as I spiraled down to a very dark time in life, the oppressive religious fanaticism, and how much more I hated the man every time I saw the way he treated my mother (and us). Now and then, I think of one of the good moments. This was one.