Monthly Archives: November 2011

NCAAF Week 10 and 11: The Darkness In Happy Valley


For over two and a half months I’ve blogged weekly about college football. I’ve talked about the prior week’s performances on the field, highlighted some of the amazing individual players, or chided teams for failing to live up to expectations. College football is something I’ve followed closely since I was a kid and it is probably the one topic I can most easily write about (and ramble on about…) every week. Trust me, the amount of useless facts I’ve accumulated that relate to teams like Eastern Michigan,Idaho and San Diego State is pretty amazing…and/or depressing. Still, writing about it is a release for me, an opportunity to put nearly 2,000 words on a computer screen and rant about something that, while I don’t have any control over it, I love following, discussing, and debating.

And yet, for the last 10 days I have really struggled to say anything about college football. Never before have I put so many words down that wound up getting deleted or tossed out. The last time I had this much difficulty with a finished product I was working on my senior thesis. This two or three page post has, at times, felt far more difficult.

Part of me didn’t even want to write about Penn State and Jerry Sandusky. Already, dozens of articles written by professionals far more talented than I am have explored every inch of this story. Some of them have been mediocre, but many of them have been exceptional, capturing the case and its emerging facts perfectly, while exploring other nuances to the tragedy as a whole. Really, I figured I wouldn’t be able to do it justice and I was scared shitless about writing on something so layered and difficult. Indeed, it doesn’t even seem like we’ve scratched the surface of this case, and yet there is already so much to think about.

Still, another part of me decided that if I was going to talk about everything college football, including the BCS debate and other off-field issues, then I’d better man up and be able to share my thoughts on the worst story ever connected directly to the sport, even if it doesn’t necessarily have a lot to do with the actual sport of football. That is the important distinction to be made; this story is most certainly not about college football. It’s about at least 8 kids who were irrevocably damaged by a predatory monster. It’s about how two major institutions kept the facts surrounding these atrocities concealed and hidden for years, and it’s about how a monster can, for so long, pretend to be an upstanding man in his community. It’s about a Happy town turned to darkness, and a prideful mega-university shamed.

When the case against Sandusky is over, and the civil trials have occurred, and the victims are continuing a life long journey back to some degree of comfort, the college football aspect of the ugliness will seem like a very miniature piece of what has gone on. Oh, it will reverberate in the halls of Penn State, in the stands of Beaver Stadium, and in the locker room of the Nittany Lions for years. If it doesn’t, then that University and its athletic program haven’t learned shit. Still, in areas that really matter, football will fade into the background pretty quickly, a foot note at the end of every stenographers report as Sandusky is processed through the legal system. For now though, it’s still a big part of the focus, mainly because it adds to the severity of the story. There are plenty of predators out there like Jerry Sandusky. The man is, unfortunately not unique in his sickness.

What makes him and this case unique is the man’s station in life, both as a football coach and as the founder of an organization that interacted with nearly 400,000 kids a year in the State of Pennsylvania. As the second most powerful man at Penn State University, Sandusky’s position allowed him to get all kinds of free gifts (the tickets, shoes, jerseys, footballs….hotel rooms) that he in turn used as bait for these children (not a knock against corporate sponsors by the way, just another ugly side affect) and commit the atrocities that he did. The reason college football is important here is because it’s what allowed Sandusky to more easily commit his crimes. But it is not important here for any other reason. Joe Pa’s legacy doesn’t matter. Mike McQueary’s job status doesn’t matter. Nebraska-PSU doesn’t matter. What matters is getting straight exactly what Sandusky did, prosecuting him for it, and sending him to prison forever.

I think the man is as guilty as they come. That abysmal, and pretty disturbing, interview with Bob Costas was as much of a confession as I’ve ever heard. And I definitely don’t think it was just 8 kids. More than 8 may not come forward, but you don’t just suddenly become this kind of sicko as an adult. What causes Sandusky to do what he does is deep seeded and permanent. There is no rehabilitation for what that man is.

For what it’s worth, I think Mike McQueary didn’t do enough. I also think he did more than anyone else associated with Penn State University. An ESPN article recently interviewed a 25 year veteran FBI criminal profiler (Jane Turner) who shed some light on why McQueary initially froze up when confronted with what he saw in the Penn State locker room. She made the point that most men have never seen what McQueary witnessed in any capacity, and therefore the brain doesn’t necessarily know how to handle that kind of trauma, at least initially. This was especially true for McQueary because of his personal relationship with Sandusky. The agent also said she understood why McQueary didn’t pursue the case after he initially elevated it to Paterno and the gang, stating the man knew his whole career and life would probably be on the line if he did. She also said that this didn’t make his inaction in either instance right, just maybe more understandable, and typically human. She almost described McQueary’s reaction as not bad, but not good, a weird grey in-between where many men in the same scenario probably would’ve fallen. I hope that’s not the case, but this woman knows more about this topic than I do. Still, if I had witnessed this and acted as McQueary did, I would expect to be held in the same sort of harsh judgment. He did more than anyone else, but just because his reaction was a “typical human response” doesn’t make it okay.

In the case of Joe Paterno, his legacy is tarnished and deservedly so. Don’t give me bullshit generational excuses or tell me he elevated it as high as he could. My girlfriend’s father put it perfectly; in many universities the hierarchy goes in descending order of control from Board of Trustees, to the President of the University, to the Athletic Director, to the Head Coach. At Penn State, the hierarchy worked in the exact opposite direction (and to say otherwise is purely ignorant, especially when you consider that it was 2002). Everyone was taking orders from JoePa, and whether you believe that aspect of it was right or wrong doesn’t matter. The most powerful man in Pennsylvania washed his hands of it and let Sandusky continue on his merry way for 9 more years. Paterno had a great run of fame, fortune, and a sterling reputation, and I never begrudged him any of that, regardless of how I felt about his coaching ability. But when a man with that much power fails to squash something like this, he deserves to have that reputation tarnished and his legacy somewhat undone. He most certainly could’ve done more than Mike McQueary, but ultimately he really didn’t do anything at all.

The silver lining to this evilness is two-fold. For one thing, Sandusky is in custody. If the legal system does what it is supposed to (the prosecution should just hand the jury that fucking Costas interview and sit back) he will spend the rest of his life behind bars, rotting away, and learning what the jail definition of “horseplay in the showers” really means. Maybe with this man put away and with some time and help courtesy of Penn State University (thanks Jane Leavy) these victims can finally begin to heal. Maybe over time these victims can finally move past the horrors they experienced knowing that no one else will ever suffer at the hands of their oppressor.

The second silver lining is this; all of you tough guys who have sat there and said you would’ve done more than McQueary, that you would’ve blown the whistle on the abuse, here’s your chance. For the rest of your lives remember Sandusky. Remember Mike McQueary, Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, and the PSU Board of Trustees. Most importantly, remember victims one through eight. Remember them so that whenever you see abuse in any form, whether it be bullying of a kid, the striking of a wife, or a beating in the street, you’ll do everything you can to stop it from continuing. Only then will this have done any semblance of good.

That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for: http://www.childrensdefense.org/

How a Punter Became the MVP of The Biggest Regular Season Game In Years


The above statement is not a mis-print. It is not meant to be some out of the box proclamation that infuriates college football purists or bottom of the page commenters (not that I have any of those). It is not my attempt to be different or to disregard some of the other performances on the field last night. Rather it is simply a statement of the facts. LSU punter Brad Wing, in a game that featured an absolute lack of offensive play making, seemed to be the only player intent on doing just that; making plays. Indeed, his 73 yard punt may have been the play of the game.

"'The Aussie Annihilator'? 'The Punter From Down Under'? 'Wing, Australian for Roll This'? I'm really bad at nicknames...

With 11:07 left in the fourth quarter LSU was forced to punt from its own end zone after what seemed like the 50th three and out of the evening. With Alabama wide receiver Marquis Maze back to receive, Wing launched an arcing punt right at the receiver that went over 50 yards from the line of scrimmage in the air. As the ball neared the Alabama 40 yard line Maze decided not to bother with a fair catch, instead allowing the ball to roll all the way to the Alabama 18 yard line. In a game where offensive yards were at a premium the decision to not even fair catch around the 40 was a somewhat inexplicable move.

"Should I catch this? Nah, I shouldn't catch this."

Two things led to that play. The first was a huge (if not slightly lucky) interception off of a throw by the receiver Maze out of a wildcat formation. It looked as if another Alabama receiver had made a beautiful leaping grab before the LSU defender stripped the ball out coming down. The second was Alabama’s return formation all night against LSU’s punt game. Alabama left its defense in the game on punts, protecting against potential fakes that Les Miles has been known for throughout his career. Indeed Brad Wing had scored on a long fake punt run earlier in the season (the Australia native is actually pretty athletic) that was called back on a taunting penalty. By leaving the defense on the field there was relatively little protection for the returner Maze. I should also add that Maze spent most of the second half hurt, affecting his lateral quickness visibly on subsequent offensive drives for the Tide. It also seemed to affect his mentality on the return. Still, not fair catching a ball he could’ve easily run up to is a pretty big lack of awareness.

"Maybe Brad Wing can some day star in an otherwise great guilty pleasure movie ruined by Keanu Reeves."

That was kind of the name of the day for Alabama though. Throughout the game the Tide ran a number of formations with three receivers bunched close in (a “trips” formation) on one side and a receiver (usually Maze) isolated on the other. With about four minutes left in the second quarter and the Tide on the LSU 17 Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron had trips left and an isolated receiver (this time Darius Hanks) on the right. With a wide open receiver in the left flat McCarron rushed the throw on a fade right into the end zone and an incompletion. One look at a furious Nick Saban on the sideline and you knew where the freshman McCarron’s eyes should have been. Bama finally got its first points of the game on a field goal, but after missing three kicks prior to that it was clear that three points was more of a win for the Tigers than the Tide.

The special teams in general were a huge disadvantage for Alabama all day. They went two for six on field goals (something I’d personally never seen before), including one block in the first quarter and a huge miss on their overtime possession. Meanwhile LSU’s kickers seemed completely loose and collected the whole time. On all three field goals their place kickers were completely in control, while Wing made people actually pay attention to a punter. I said last week that having a loose coach, loose team and loose mentality might come into play in one of the most pressure filled and hyped up regular season games in history. I said that LSU would have an advantage in that case playing for Les “The Mad Hatter” Miles. It was no more apparent than in the team’s respective kicking games, where Alabama looked incredibly nervous playing for one of the most methodical coaches in football. While Les looked natural being fired up on the sideline, Saban looked completely out of character. It translated to the players and subsequently to the outcome of the game.

"Strange. He was so nice in that Sandra Bullock movie."

All in all Armageddon was a weird contest, and somewhat of a letdown. While it was exhilarating to watch a ton of future professionals on both defenses it was thought that the offenses would flash at least some of their characteristic athleticism. Aside from a couple of phenomenal Trent Richardson plays (yards after contact should count double statistically) the offenses on both sides looked completely out of sorts throughout the evening. On a day and night where there was a number of exciting college football contests (including a Kansas State – Oklahoma State shoot out that was running parallel to The Duo of the Deep South) Armageddon had less excitement than a bad Bruce Willis movie. Oh well.

"In Bruce's defense, if the poster had Ben Affleck on it from 1998 to 2008 chances were it was just awful."

Still, after seeing the AP and coaches polls today, where Bama is ranked fourth in both, there’s a very real possibility for a re-match in the national championship game. If that happens then maybe, just maybe, we’ll see a touchdown…on defense. That would be truly apocalyptic.

"This ^ is what happens when you search 'armageddon football' on Google images. Seriously, what the shit internet?"

That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for: “No, I did not forget that there were over 50 other games played on Saturday, I promise. On a day and night when Texas won by 32, A&M became completely mediocre, Cincinnati cleared up the Big East picture, Oklahoma State nearly broke their fans hearts again and Stanford and Oregon set up a poor man’s Armageddon game, there was a whole mess of things to talk about. Week 10 break down is on its way.”

NCAAF Week 9: Letters To Clemson and Why Putting All Our Eggs in Stanford’s or Oklahoma State’s Basket May Not Be Such a Great Idea


Dear Clemson, You know I don’t like writing these letters right? Really, I hate seeing teams like you lose. See, I would much rather have 15 teams finish undefeated and cause every college football fan to collectively lose their BCS related shit over this convoluted system we’re subjected to each year. But no. You, like Wisconsin, Georgia Tech, Michigan and Oklahoma before you (and Kansas State with you…), decided you just couldn’t keep winning anymore. You had to take a loss, and pretty much guarantee yourself out of the national title picture entirely. Granted either you or Georgia Tech would’ve had to lose eventually (you know, because you just played each other and everything) but at least one of you could’ve kept this interesting long into December and January. Now I’m stuck rooting for Stanford (we’ll get to you Andrew Luck), Oklahoma State (god help me), Boise and Houston (this isn’t actually a serious statement…) to all win out (mind you, with pretty much all of their toughest games left in front of them) so that we can properly start reigning down holy flames of blog related fire on some BCS ass (holes). Unfortunately, this is now like occupying BCS Street for the rest of the regular season with half a veggie sprouts sandwich, a teaspoon of petrulli oil and a stack of newspapers to sleep under. Don’t believe me? Let me walk you (and the other slackers) through what you’ve left BCS haters with:

"The BCS? They're the guys on the left, which makes me the shirtless weirdo...wait."

Oklahoma State: This program may or may not be the biggest red headed step child in college football…and no, that is not a jab at Brandon Wheeden. They constantly live in the shadow of one of the 5 most successful college football programs ever and have spent decades trying to compete in a relatively barren state when it comes to recruiting (even many of Oklahoma’s players come from Texas). The few times OSU held the national spotlight over the Sooners they’ve routinely blown it (including Barry Sander’s Heisman Trophy winning season and the 2009 and 2010 seasons), and have generally just existed in a consistent malaise of mediocrity. But over the past six or seven seasons the Cowboys have steadily improved under Mike “I’m A MAN, I’m 40!” Gundy and worked themselves into national title contenders. This has culminated in an 8-0 start to this season where they’ve dismantled most everyone. With Kansas State (I can’t emphasis the O in Overrated enough), Texas Tech and Iowa State left before their game with the Sooners they should (I can’t italicize should enough) be 11-0 heading into a game that only back woods ancestors of the “Trail of Tears” could seriously coin as “Bedlam” (which, of course, they did). That the rivalry hasn’t exactly been close pretty much goes without saying. OSU last won in 2002 (prior to Gundy) and has watched their many disappointing campaigns symbolically culminate in a loss in this game. That OSU will probably have an undefeated season, first Big XII Championship and first spot in a national title game on the line here just makes the nervousness in Stillwater that much more palpable.

"No no, you're totally not f***ing bonkers."

Boise State: If I thought these guys actually had a legitimate shot at making the title game I’d be a lot happier with our group of BCS f***ers. Out of all of the teams here I have the most confidence in Boise to go up against LSBama and knock either one off their lofty perch. Boise’s entire history has been filled with success. Since moving up to Divison I they’ve had two losing seasons, and both of them came when they first became and FBS team in 1996 and 1997. Since then? 140-26. I can say with 99% certainty that no other team has done that in the same time frame. When you consider that this team has only been in the NCAA since 1969 and only in Division I at any level since 1978 the success becomes even more astonishing. I have no doubt these guys could compete in a BCS national championship game if given the opportunity. Considering their pedigree and basic inability to lose (as compared to all of the others here…), they’re actually the team most suited to really shaking things up and ending the nauseating SEC dominance. Too bad they won’t get a shot.

"This 12 year old is 45-2 as a starter. Neither of those things are a mis-print."

Houston: Just stop.

 

"This 45 year old threw for 9 TDs in ONE GAME. Again neither of those things are a misprint."

Stanford: I saved Stanford for last because out of all of these teams (yes, even Houston) they were the farthest away from this point 3 seasons ago. Remember last week when I said that prior to last year making a bowl game at Stanford was a big deal? I wasn’t kidding. The Cardinal spent the better part of the aughts bottom feeding in a top heavy Pac-10 and only remained relevant by occasionally paying ESPN to play the “trumpet player game” (which they lost…) as a random highlight. Now? They’ve gone 28-6 since the beginning of 2009 and won a BCS Bowl game by like 50 points. That’s downright impressive for the Cardinal. It’s also ridiculously rarified air for this program.

"Above: Jim Harbaugh fruitlessly tries to mirror how obsessed the rest of the country is with Andrew Luck...Andrew Luck, Andrew Luck, Andrew Luck."

No program in recent memory has quite done what the Cardinal have done since the start of 2009. Sure we’ve had some very interesting teams seemingly come out of nowhere. Cincinnati had that cool two year run under Brian Kelly (remember 13-0?!). Kansas inexplicably went 12-1 a few years back. Michigan State’s 11-2 season last year was pretty out of the ordinary. Hawaii made a BCS Bowl in 2006 (Colt Brennan anyone?). Texas Tech had the Michael Crabtree year (goddamnit…). All those teams had the same things in common. They were generally terrible to decent football programs that broke through for one truly magical year where everyone in the country stopped and said, “what in the f*** is going on?!” The closest doppleganger for the Cardinal though isn’t any of the above. It’s 2006 Rutgers.

For people not from the Tri State area (or the Northeast for that matter) 2006 Rutgers was a really big deal. It was a relevant college football team from a place whose most significant college football moment before that had been Donovan McNabb’s senior year at Syracuse. Rutgers rose to 9-0 and number 7 in the country before inexplicably dropping a 30-11 decision to a decent 8-5 Cincy squad led by Mark Dantonio. They’d still finish 11-2, barely losing the Big East Championship to West Virginia in an epic 41-39 triple OT season finale before winning their first bowl game ever (seriously). Prior to the game, Rutgers’ had been around forever (the first somewhat modern football game was played there in the 1800s) and yet never done anything even remotely remarkable besides be a doormat for some great Big East teams (which has pretty much been the case with Stanford for decades). That year they quietly gained national title game talk out of seemingly nowhere before settling down a bit and having a historic year. So really they’re a good doppleganger for 2010 Stanford. 2011 Stanford? We’re kind of in uncharted waters here…

"FACT: Every Rutgers fan and team member had a blowout in 2006."

For one thing Stanford won that BCS Bowl Game last year (something only Kansas, out of the schools above, can say). For another they kept the party going. All of these other schools had let downs following their golden year or two. And while most of them didn’t completely fall off the map, none of them got to 8-0 the next season, or number 4 in the country, or had anyone remotely like Andrew Luck. It’s what sets Stanford apart from all of them, but also makes Stanford an unlikely candidate to keep it all going and wreak some havoc on the system. This is not typical Stanford territory and like the schools before it we have no idea how much the team can handle.

Last year they lost their one game pretty early on to Oregon and from there somewhat understatedly got to 12-1. Sure everyone was freaking out about Andrew Luck but the limited west coast college football media attention was almost wholly focused on whether Oregon could actually stay undefeated and then compete in the national championship game (which they did, admirably). Now Stanford is dealing with mounting pressure and an undefeated campaign that has to get through four more regular season games (including Oregon…) plus a first ever Pac-12 Championship Game to have any shot at the national title. Then they have to win the stupid game for anyone to actually say “oh wait, I guess one of these teams can win a national championship.” And make no mistake, Stanford is one of those (read: middle of the pack or worse) programs. Oregon could have done that last year, but they blew it to Auburn. Now it may be Stanford’s turn, and while I love Andrew Luck and the Stanford story, I’m just not sure how much faith I have. Shit, now I’m depressed.

"You know Andrew, you look like one of those Occupy Wall street people. So how bout you go occupy the end zone in the national championship game?

In terms of games this week I’m just going to skip LSU-Alabama. It is the biggest regular season game of the last 5 years (Michigan-OSU in 2006 had similar hype, but for some reason isn’t being talked about at all) and has completely dwarfed the other 118 teams in the FBS. There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said. With that, I’ll only say that I’m rooting for LSU. After reading the Outside The Lines piece on Les Miles this week I love the guy, which from the sound of it is pretty typical. He’s a loose coach, he runs a relatively loose program, and with the build up to this kind of game you have to have some small sense of, well, looseness. Plus, I once called Nick Saban a soulless ass. So…yeah.

"I didn't stutter."

There are a couple of other somewhat less small games this weekend though. Most notably…Oklahoma State-Kansas State:  All that stuff I just talked about above regarding this team and breaking hearts? It could very well happen as soon as tomorrow against a Kansas State team that was thoroughly embarrassed last week. Still, something feels different about the Cowboys this year. If it’s going to end, it won’t happen here. South Carolina-Arkansas: If you BCS haters give two shits about Boise State squeaking into that national title game you will root for Arkansas (and Georgia). Damnit.

"So Boise's National Title hopes may be riding on this douche's team? Great."

That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for: “I’m slipping this post in under the radar and subsequently watching Brian Wilson on College Game Day as I finish. Seriously, he should quite baseball and do this permanently. He just told Corso not to ‘point his Ticonderoga at him.’ Hilarious.”