Sunday, January 5, 2014

New Year's sports et ceteras

Winter Classic
New Year's Day is still meant for college football, but it is no longer reserved for it because the NHL's Winter Classic has become an integral part of the New Year's Day experience. Considering the comparatively short period of time the Winter Classic has existed, it's impressive how quickly that event has woven Canada's sport into the USA's January 1st fabric.

I literally got goosebumps watching the national anthems being sung while snowflakes fell on the players in white-blanketed Michigan Stadium. The Tenors came out dressed in Maple Leafs jerseys and performed "O Canada" in alternating English and French, followed by the Zac Brown Band coming out in Red Wings jerseys and performing an a capella version of "The Star Spangled Banner." Each nation's flag was unfurled during the rendering of its anthem.

If you weren't moved by the spectacle, you're not human. Despite being born 1,000 miles south of the Mason-Dixon Line, I have been whistling "O Canada" ever since because it is stuck in my head.

About those NYD bowls
Wasn't it good that every single one of the New Year's Day bowls was close? That entering the final minutes of every single one, both teams on the field had a shot to win? I don't remember that ever happening before.

Of course I'm not including the Heart of Dallas Bowl, which no one watched because no one has ever heard of it. When a game features a 7-5 team from the Mountain West Conference playing an 8-4 team from Conference USA, it simply does not deserve to be recognized as a New Year's Day bowl.

But getting back on topic, I was especially happy that the Rose Bowl lived up to is pregame hype as a slugfest between old-school teams who like to hit you in the mouth and beat you sans trickery. If the national championship game is not close, Michigan State deserves to jump ahead of its loser and finish the season ranked #2.

I was also happy that Central Florida defeated Baylor to eliminate my earlier doubts about whether they deserve to be nationally ranked. It turns out that the real UCF is not the team that needed last minute heroics to get past 2-10 South Florida and 2-10 Temple. Instead, it is the one that defeated Louisville and Penn State on the road and came within four points of beating #7 South Carolina.

He's baaaack
I'm talking about Big Game Bob. After his Sooners got plowed by USC in the midst of losing five straight BCS bowls, many people started mocking the moniker previously given to Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops, but they aren't mocking it anymore. Not after he led the Sooners to a season-ending road win over sixth-ranked Oklahoma State, and especially not after the Sugar Bowl, in which he led them to a stunning and convincing win over Alabama on January 2nd.

Stoops kept his players focused and confident after humbling losses to Texas and Baylor. He believed in them when no one else did, and as a result, a team that was an afterthought entering the season's final week is suddenly sure to finish in the top ten. Fans from elsewhere better keep their eye on the team from Norman, OK next season, because the swagger Stoops exhibited in early 2001 is back. And it has a reason to be. (And did you know he is now 3-0 lifetime against Alabama?)

Will somebody, whether it's Charlie Strong or someone else, please take the Texas Longhorns' head coaching position so the rest of us won't have to keep hearing about it? I know I'm not the only person in America who is tired of how the media endlessly jawbones over this Texas coaching search. The reason we are tired of the jawboning is that the Texas job simply isn't that big a deal.

To be sure, Texas is a fine football program and leading it is a plum job, but it ain't any better than a lot of other programs. I dare anyone to make a case for it being a better place to hang your hat than Oklahoma, Nebraska, Auburn, Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State, USC, LSU, Tennessee, Oregon, Florida, etc....and etc....and etc. again.

Seriously, what puts Texas ahead of all those other destinations? I hear grads from the others wax poetic about how much they love their school; and while I do not doubt that there are some UT grads who love UT for itself, as opposed to loving it solely because of its football team, I have never heard a'one of them say so.

I hear lots of people say that UT is located in fertile recruiting ground and that is undeniably true, but so what? The same is true for Penn State and Pitt, Florida and Florida State, USC and UCLA. If Texas and its prospective recruits were really as great as Texas grads and the media would have us believe, then the Longhorns would win a minimum of three national titles every decade. Here in the real world, however, they have managed only one in the last 43 years -- just like Colorado, Georgia Tech, BYU, and Pitt!

The Texas Longhorns have been playing football for 121 years and have four national titles to show for it. That certainly isn't bad, but the Minnesota Golden Gophers are well ahead of them (with seven) and the Army Cadets are only one behind them, which goes to show that Texas was not necessarily the king of the hill even way back when.

If anything truly separates Texas from the pack, maybe it's money, because their football program is routinely described as "the wealthiest in America." But then again, so what? People in Austin need only look a few hours up the road to Dallas, where Jerry Jones lords over the Cowboys, to find proof that money fails more often than it succeeds when the goal is to win championships.

The other programs I mentioned (and many more) have more than enough money to pay for lavish facilities and to give comfortable salaries to their coaching staffs. Money-wise, that is all you need. Unfortunately, when you fly beyond the realm of enviably rich and into the realm of filthy rich, money is far more likely to breed dysfunction than it is to breed championships, especially when the Russia-sized egos of UT's boosters drive them to insert themselves into affairs about which they have no expertise.

In my previous post I wrote this about tomorrow's BCS Championship Game: "I can think of several reasons to expect a blowout; several to expect a cliffhanger; several to think the Noles will win, and a few to believe my Tigers will win. Maybe I will get into some of those reasons between now and then, and maybe I won't."

When today dawned, I planned on getting into those reasons in this post. But I think I have already been way too long-winded, so I won't. Sometime after the title game I will be back to opine some more, but until then: Happy New Year!

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