Friday, January 28, 2011


Twenty-five years ago today I was a freshman at St. Petersburg High School. Walking from PE to English class, I glanced up at the sky and saw a contrail that was split into two short branches. I didn’t think much of it, even though it was not the most ordinary of sights. But when I got to class I heard that the space shuttle Challenger had exploded; and when I watched the replays of its explosion after school, I realized that the contrail I had seen was the Challenger’s.

It is hard to believe that the 25th anniversary is upon us. Let us never forget those who lost their lives that day, and let us never forget the bereaved loved ones they left behind. Rather than conjure up platitudes about their lives, I will simply leave you with the words that were spoken on national television that night by President Reagan. I still get a tingle in my spine every time I hear them:

“The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.”

To watch the speech, go here.

Monday, January 17, 2011


On this day that is set aside to observe the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., I know of no better way to honor him than to reflect on his own words, so here are some of my favorite passages from his writings and orations:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.

Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law…This would lead to anarchy…I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

Anyone who lives in the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere in this country.

...I am not afraid of the word tension. I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.

We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.

There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.

The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo…If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.

Death is not a period that ends the great sentence of life, but a comma that punctuates it to more lofty significance. Death is not a blind alley that leads the human race into a state of nothingness, but an open door which leads man into life eternal.

I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. The note was a promise that all men – yes, black men as well as white men – would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

…we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.

A man can’t sit on your back unless it’s bent.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: (1) collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, (2) negotiation, (3) self-purification, and (4) direct action.

…right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.

…I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are presently misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom…If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.

If I have said anything in this letter that is an overstatement of the truth and is indicative of an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything in this letter that is an understatement of the truth and is indicative of my having a patience that makes me patient with anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me. I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader, but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all of their scintillating beauty.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

More Thoughts on the Champs

In Tuesday's post I mentioned that it was storybook perfect for Wes Byrum to end his Auburn career by kicking a last-second field goal to win the national championship. Well, I am kicking myself for failing to mention how storybook perfect it was that Kodi Burns scored the title game's first touchdown and served notice that the Tigers' offense would outperform the Ducks'.

The first game Burns ever started for Auburn was the 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl. He was a freshman and he was a quarterback. In that game, Auburn unveiled an entirely new offense that the team had had only two weeks to learn. He orchestrated it to perfection and led the Tigers to an overtime win against Clemson. It looked like the sky was the limit for Burns and expectations soared for 2008, but that year turned into a debacle as the offense floundered and the Tigers limped to a losing record for the first time in a decade.

After a coaching change, practice for the 2009 season began with the knowledge that it was an open competition for the starting quarterback position. Burns narrowly lost it to Chris Todd, and many people speculated that he would transfer to another school. Burns, however, met with his teammates, declared his support for Todd, and said he was remaining at Auburn and would do whatever he could to make it a contender again. As the season progressed, he played whatever position he was asked whenever he was asked. He became a receiver, and in certain situations filled in for Todd at quarterback. His example cemented the team's "we're all in this together" attitude, and with that attitude the team reversed 2008's direction and turned in a winning season in 2009.

After Cam Newton arrived on campus in the spring of 2010, it was obvious that Kodi Burns, now a senior, would never regain the starting QB position. And once again, he embraced his role as a receiver rather than feel sorry for himself. Without the raw receiving skills of teammates like Darvin Adams and Emory Blake, he was rarely the primary receiver. He did not rack up impressive stats or appear on ESPN highlights, but he made his catches and he happily did the grunt work that receivers never get noticed for, like making blocks downfield to help the running game. Other than Newton himself, Burns was the only player on Auburn's roster to score as a runner, receiver, and passer this season -- finishing with one apiece.

He is the embodiment of everything that is meant when you call someone "an Auburn man." For him to go out with a championship ring, and to have scored a touchdown in the championship game on a 35-yard catch-and-run up the middle of the defense, is the embodiment of justice.

As much as I want to draw attention to Burns's contributions to Auburn football, there are other things I also want to mention before I draw the curtain on this remarkable season:

Since I previously pointed out that Auburn held Oregon's running game to 2.3 yards per carry on Monday, versus the 6.1 per carry they averaged during the season, today I feel compelled to point out that Auburn's running backs averaged 6.8 per carry on Monday.

I also feel compelled to point out how low Oregon's point total was on Monday (19) compared to its average for the season (43.3).

Since I previously mentioned some of Nick Fairley's stats, it is only fair that I say how incredible it is that the D line as a whole recorded nine tackles for loss in the title game, and a whopping 22 tackles overall. When linemen are making so many stops up front, linebackers have nobody to tackle 5 and 6 yards past the line of scrimmage, and that is good!

Wes Byrum was not the only bright spot on special teams. Punter Ryan Shoemaker, also a senior, planted three of his five punts inside the 20 and boomed one of them for 50 yards. And the coverage units repeatedly flocked to Oregon's speed demon returners and wrapped them up on the first try, even when it was a one-on-one situation at the moment. So the Ducks' return game, which had struck fear in the hearts of everyone they played all year, was neutered to the point it became a non-factor.

And one more thought about Byrum: Not only was he perfect on field goals for the night, he was perfect on end-of-game winners for his entire career. Made every singe one he ever tried. Incredible. And in the title game, his kickoffs were better than I ever remember them being before -- they averaged 70 yards and always came down around the goal line, helping negate Oregon's run-back abilities.

Often overlooked with all the attention given to the D line, and in all the unspecific talk about "dominating in the trenches," is just how important the offensive line was to Auburn's national championship run. With four seniors among the five starters and two of them (Lee Ziemba and Ryan Pugh) almost certain to be picked in the NFL draft, this was the best, most seasoned line in school history. All season long they opened gaping holes for our running backs and allowed Newton enough time to check all the way down to his third and fourth receiving options. It is my opinion that the offensive line is the most important collective position on the field, and if not for this year's line, Auburn probably wouldn't even have won the SEC West, much less the national championship.

I must praise Auburn's coaching staff. Gene Chizik, for solidifying his players' confidence and helping them believe they could win it all, when nobody else in America thought they had a snowball's chance in Hell. Ted Roof, for those out-of-his-ass halftime adjustments that always seemed to turn our defense from Swiss cheese into a brick wall. Tracy Rocker, for getting this year's D line to embrace their role as keepers of the flame that was lit by those great teams of the 1980's.

And Gus Malzahn, for his daring and creative play-calling. How many times did I swear at my TV when he had Newton line up in the shotgun on 3rd and short, having him field the ball seven yards behind scrimmage when he only needed to go forward for one? It was more times than I could count, but Auburn always seemed to wind up getting the first down, often with several yards to spare, even when they ran for it out of that formation.

And here is my favorite statistic of the week, and it relates to the 2010 Tigers only tangentially. I have always felt like Auburn wins more three-point games than any other team in football, and it especially felt like that this year as four of their fourteen games were won by exactly three points. Well, check this out: Going all the way back the undefeated season of 2004, Auburn's last five bowl victories have all been by three points: 16-13 over Virgina Tech, 17-14 over Nebraska, 23-20 over Clemson, 38-35 over Northwestern, and on Monday, 22-19 over Oregon. What are the odds of that? To me this looks like a time-tested trend rather than a one- or two-time coincidence. This tells me that as a program, over the long haul, Auburn's players have the character to prevail when things are tight.

I have gone on and on and could keep doing so, but I need to wrap it up and it would be wrong if I did not acknowledge how good a team Oregon is. Although Auburn proved itself to be the best team in America this season, the Ducks proved they are not far behind and are clearly a national championship caliber team. Jeff Maehl, their receiver, is the kind of scrappy player every coach loves. And based on comments made on Oregon fan blogs, and made by Oregon fans on Auburn fan blogs, I have to say that their fans are among the classiest and most knowledgeable in the nation.

In completing my final one-man "poll," I struggled over where to rank Oregon because they took Auburn down to the last minute and it didn't seem right to rank them lower than second for that. But TCU had no losses and proved they are for real in the Rose Bowl, and how could I punish them by ranking them lower than second when they were one of only two unbeaten teams at the end? So, based on how things played out, I put TCU second and Oregon third. But a very large part of me thinks Oregon would win if they played each other, so I am very uncomfortable with those two spots in my "poll." I mention this because it is the first time I can remember feeling that way at the end of a season.

Anyway, I have gone on long enough. I will type this one more time for my own satisfaction, because I have waited more than 20 years for the chance to do it and I don't know if I will get the chance again: Auburn Tigers, National Champions. Officially. War Eagle!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

War Eagle!

After beating Oregon 22-19 in last night's BCS Championship Game, the wait is over. After 53 years, the Auburn Tigers are officially the national champions.

Those of us who bleed orange and blue have finally witnessed an undefeated team that does not have to say "we didn't get invited to the title game because..." We have finally witnessed a best-in-the-nation unit that does not have to say "we got skipped over in the final poll because..." In college football's unconventional, no-playoff system, some of us have considered Auburn the national champion of a few other seasons during the past generation; but I will not get into that right now because all we should be doing today is celebrating.

Yesterday was surreal. On game days I am usually a nervous wreck from daybreak until the final second has ticked off the clock, but that was not the case yesterday. My heart was racing, but I was always confident our guys would pull it out.

It was a strange game in that both Tiger fans and Duck fans will look back and find reasons to believe the score did not reflect what happened on the field. I think Auburn should have won by more than three because they controlled many aspects of the game and squandered so many opportunities, like Darvin Adams failing to catch a perfectly thrown bomb on 3rd down to kill our first drive, and Eric Smith dropping a TD pass on 4th and goal in the second quarter. However, Duck fans can just as easily say their team squandered opportunities by twice driving inside Auburn's 5-yard line and coming away with no points.

Despite everything that went on during the course of the game, two things made the difference: Auburn controlled the line of scrimmage, and was much faster than anyone else Oregon played this season. When the Ducks tried to go up the middle, they got stuffed, and when they tried to go outside, they couldn't get around the corner and start flying like they did againt their regular season opponents. They averaged 2.3 yards per carry last night after having averaged 6.1 for the whole season; and America's leading rusher, LaMichael James, was held to just 49 yards.

For most of the past four months I have been very critical of Auburn's secondary, but in the last couple games I watched its DB's dramatically improve their tackling. Then, last night, their tackling was tremendous and their coverage was better than it has ever been.

And how about that defensive line? Of course Nick Fairley was a monster, recording three tackles for loss plus a sack, but the whole unit dominated. Watching them rack up two goal line stands was exhilarating, especially the one in the third quarter, when they stopped Oregon on 3rd and goal from the one and then stopped them again on 4th and goal from the one.

Offensively, it was a total team effort for the Tigers. Cam Newton did not have any of his patented highlight reel plays, but he did complete clutch throws to multiple receivers all over the field. And he showed his strength and grit on one particular running play, when he lowered his shoulder and drove a linebacker backwards several yards. Meanwhile, the team ran for 254 yards and Michael Dyer's 37-yard scamper during the final drive was one for the ages. It looked like he was tackled after a 6- or 7-yard gain, and every player on the field assumed as much; however, his knee had remained about an inch off the ground, and after bouncing up and realizing the whistle hadn't blown, and looking to the sideline and seeing the coaches waving for him to keep running, Dyer hustled down the right sideline to put his team in field goal range. Shortly thereafter, he ran for 16 more yards, all the way to the one-yard line, ensuring that Wes Byrum would have as short a kick as possible for the decisive field goal.

And how sweet it was to see Byrum complete his storied career with a last-second field goal to win the national title! Most fans' first memory of Byrum is of him defeating Florida with a last-second field goal his freshman year (and actually converting the kick twice because an "ice the kicker" timeout was called by Florida right before his first attempt). Since then, Byrum has kicked a slew of other game-winners and become Auburn's all-time leading scorer. It was storybook perfect for him to go out the way he did.

A final thought on the game itself: I think the fact that Oregon resorted to such things as a fake extra point in the second quarter (resulting in a two-point conversion) and a fake punt in the third quarter, and that they went for it three times on fourth down -- and still couldn't win -- is further evidence that Auburn is clearly the best team.

Finally, I have to talk about the season as a whole and mention how satisfying it was to watch the 2010 Tigers not only go undefeated, but improve every single week in the process. I do not remember a single game in which they did not perform better than the week before. Their resiliency has been amazing, as they have come from behind seemingly every week. I specifically remember four games in which they trailed by 13 or more points, including that magnificent rally from a 24-0 deficit in Tuscaloosa.

After watching so many humdrum offenses over the years, it was thrilling this year to see an Auburn team that was so explosive you knew they could score at any time and overcome any deficit they faced.

After watching so many hardcore defenses over the years, it was peculiar to see an Auburn team whose defense was not its strength. But man, it felt right seeing that defense come of age when it mattered most, and seeing it hold America's highest scoring team to just 19 points on the biggest stage of all! Defense just had to be a decisive factor on the team that broke Auburn's drought of official national championships.

What a team and what a game. And what a season it has been from September until now.

Since I posted my own one-man "poll" during the season, I will do so again now that the bowls are done. Here is the final Stanton's Space Top Twenty for the 2010 college football season:

1. Auburn

2. TCU

3. Oregon

4. Ohio State

5. Stanford

6. Wisconsin

7. Boise State

8. Arkansas

9. LSU

10. Oklahoma

11. Alabama

12. Virginia Tech

13. Nevada

14. Oklahoma State

15. Michigan State

16. Texas A&M

17. Florida State

18. Mississippi State

19. North Carolina State

20. South Carolina

Thursday, January 6, 2011

et ceteras

It's been a couple weeks since I blogged and I feel the need to get back at it, so here are some of what the great Thomas Sowell might call "random thoughts on the passing scene":

There is no greater feeling than the one you get when you see that your child is excited to see you.

When Sarah is clamoring for my undivided attention and talking a mile a minute without giving me a chance to think, I sometimes wish for some "me time" -- but as soon as she is not here, I miss her terribly. She spent last night at her Grammy's, and it felt like there was a void in my home when I went to bed without checking on her first.

Right now I feel another void, albeit a much less important one, when it comes to outdoor activities. I went on major hiking trips in 2008 and 2009, but the one that was tentatively planned for 2010 never came to fruition. I will make sure to do an overnighter this year, no matter what.

Really cutting government spending and regulation (as opposed to raising them by lesser amounts than previously projected) should be the biggest general goal of the new Republican-majority Congress -- but repealing Obamacare should be its first specific goal.

Speaking of Obamacare, it annoys me to no end when I hear people attempt to justify it by saying that other industrialized nations have government-run health care. That argument is lame not only because it ignores the fact that those nations' care is not as good as ours, but because it ignores the fact that the only reason their governments can even think of providing health care is they know we will pay the cost -- both in dollars and in blood -- of defending them against enemies. Canada is a ripe target for attack because of its vast resources and unmanned borders, but its government knows we will protect them so it has no military worth speaking of, and instead throws its dollars toward medicine with an embarrassing degree of ineffectiveness. The same is true for all of western Europe.

And totally switching topics: Holy moley! Check out the size of this freshwater catfish that was recently caught in a river in Italy.

And on to college football, a topic that has consumed many of my posts over the last four months: No, I will not be opining about the BCS Championship Game until after it takes place, even though I am an Auburn grad. I can think of a dozen rational reasons why Auburn should win and a dozen rational reasons why they should lose, and none of that thinking brings me any peace, so I will withhold comment until all is said and done.

And finally: Speaking of college football, I love the following quote that appeared two days ago on the Auburn blog Track Em Tigers: "The bowl system needs a total reworking from top to bottom because it's becoming a mockery of itself and is seriously diluting the product. Bowls have ceased being extravagant post season rewards for deserving teams and have morphed into something resembling pre-packaged sub-prime mortgages sold to Fannie Mae, or in most cases, to ESPN. And all the foreclosures are about to tank the whole neighborhood."

Until next time, take care.