Partially Obstructed View

By Royce Young

Monday, August 17, 2009

The reason we watch golf? Got me

As I sat and watched the 91st PGA Championship Sunday afternoon, I started wondering something. Why? Why am I sitting here watching this?

I love basically every sport (except that one where guys drive cars around in a circle) and enjoy the heck out of wasting a Sunday afternoon on the sofa watching grown men hit a ball around in a park. But why? In every other major sport, we watch because we care. We care about our team and our players. We care about our city or our school. If you’re an SEC team, you care about your conference. We feel like we’re as much a part of the team as the players and coaching staff. We buy the jerseys, buy the hats, put decals on our cars and fly flags in our yards. We watch because we have invested in the team and they’re our guys. When they win, we win. When they lose, we lose. But nobody’s putting on a Tiger Woods jersey or a crying for hours because Phil couldn’t finish at Winged Foot. Well, besides maybe Phil of course.

But in golf, there’s no such bond. Sure, people can have their favorites. We all root for Tiger on Sunday. When a great story gets rolling like Tom Watson at Turnberry, he’s our favorite person ever for five hours. But for the most part, there’s no link between us and the golfer. We’re not pumping our fists at great shots, high-fiving strangers after an eagle or arguing with friends about next year’s PGA Tour. We basically forget about the sport until Saturday and Sunday roll around and sometimes, we don’t even notice unless Eldrick is involved. But alas, a lot of us deeply care about what happens with the sport. And so I ask: Why?

My best guess is because instead of active fan involvement as in football, basketball or baseball, it’s appreciation and admiration of the game and those involved. Appreciation of what those guys can do, but we can’t. Admiration for their incredible skill and focus. Most everybody has tried to pick up a golf club and swing it around. Some swing it just 75 or 80 times an afternoon. Others take 100 and sometimes more hacks at that little white ball. We can’t do what those guys can. And so we watch and think, What a shot! Why can’t I do that?

And on top of appreciating the skill, golf is really great theater. No sport can be so boring, yet so intense at the same time. We’re enthralled while we watch Lucas Glover squat over a putt, look at it, step back, talk to his caddy, squat over it again, line up, take a practice swing, back off and then do it all again. We can’t pull away from it. Over 18 holes there’s so many ups and downs and even when someone has a three shot lead with two to play, we still think: Is there a chance? That ball could go skip off into the water, he could skull it for a bad drive or he could get stuck in a bunker. Maybe it’s not over. But 99 times out of 100 the player pars one and bogeys the other for the win. They can handle it. We can’t. We’d skull, slice and push our way to an eight and a six.

And maybe that’s why we appreciate it so darn much. It’s all about the competition and in golf, it’s as intense as ever. Like we saw Sunday, two guys can captivate us for five hours just because they’re competing. When the stakes are high and the competition is good, sports fans will watch just about anything. It’s just in our DNA. Doesn’t matter if it’s competitive eating, a baseball game between teams we don’t care about or lingerie football, we’ll watch. If you’re playing, we’re watching.

One of my favorite days of the year is Father’s Day and no, I’m not a father… yet. So it’s not about presents or nice cards. It’s because I go to church, go out to eat with my family and then settle into the cushions for an afternoon at the U.S. Open while dad sits in the chair next to me. It’s just… great. It’s not like when we sit and watch an OU football game together and scream at the TV and complain about that missed holding call. It’s not like when the family gathers around to watch the Sooners play in the NCAA tournament. We’re not rooting for anybody out there. We’re just watching.

So while I watched some guy named Y.E. Yang snatch No. 15 from Tiger and was glued to the TV for hours of pure drama and intensity, I wondered why I was doing it. Sure I wanted Tiger to take home the Wanamaker Trophy, but it wasn’t because I felt the connection of being a fan of his. It was just for the story and the ongoing saga of his greatness. Or if the unthinkable happened and he lost, well, then that’s quite a tall tale as well.

So what is it? Is it the appreciation of what one can do, but we cannot? Is it because we’re hooked in to the high drama of one shot to the next? Is is because of a connection to a player and a desire to constantly see history? Is it the great competition during a high stakes event?

Or maybe sometimes it’s just that there wasn’t really anything else on. Football starts soon, right?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Extreme Makeover: LNC Edition

Jeff Capel went on the radio with Al Eschbach two weeks ago and got some people’s attention. He said he’s sometimes scared walking down the ramp at Lloyd Noble because of what he might find in the crowd – or what he might not find, if you know what I mean. He said the team was at a fast-food joint on the way to Tulsa and nobody recognized Blake Griffin. He said without saying, OU’s basketball fans kind of sort of stink.

Was there some kind of seminar for OU coaches on “How to get the attention of your fan base” last summer? Bob Stoops and now Jeff? If Mark Williams goes on record saying that Steven Legendre didn’t get recognized at Pita Pit, then we’ll know.

It’s understandable that Capel worries about attendance and fan passion. This team deserves support. They’ve definitely earned it. But let’s not forget the LNC can rock with the best of them. ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb (I’m not going to say anything, I’m not going to say anything, I’m not going to say anything) said the Noble is the loudest arena he’s ever played in. The Little School That Can’t self-proclaimed itself to be in the realm of Duke, Carolina and Kansas, but Gallegher-Iba is seeing more empty seats than a church the morning after Daylight Savings.

Winning builds an atmosphere and right now, OU’s winning. So what gives? Why the call-out, Capel?

Look, we know it. This isn’t some kind of revelation here. OU basketball fans don’t fill the house the way we should. I’m the guy that screams at my TV for two hours throwing stuff and calling for a travel or a foul every single play, and I haven’t been to a home game yet. Why? 1) Because it’s on TV and 2) Because what fun is it to go to Lloyd Noble? A September Saturday in Norman is an absolute production. It’s Gameday baby. Gaylord Family Oklahoma Owen Memorial Field Stadium is an awesome place and part of the reason for it is because the atmosphere is insane. Everyone is excited. The feel of the stadium is crisp and clean and that adds to the awesome product. Lloyd Noble, not so much.

The LNC is ancient. It’s one of the oldest arenas in the Big 12 (built in 1975) and it’s not one of those old, yet charming places. It’s dark, dreary and unfriendly. If you look around long enough you feel like you can find water leaking from pipes and concrete cracking before your eyes. Some older arenas have classic cache – Cameron Indoor, Allen Fieldhouse, Assembly Hall – but the LNC is the college basketball equivalent to Three Rivers Stadium. It was built for multi-use and therefore is horribly dated and doesn’t work for the sport that uses it 95 percent of the time. It’s not like Wrigley Field or Fenway Park that can get by just because it has “tradition.” Fans aren't going to the LNC just for the LNC experience. It's not the draw for the basketball team. The basketball team is the ONLY draw. Basketball is a fun game to watch, especially when you’ve got a team as fun as this one. Make the LNC a place where it’s fun to watch a game because it’s fun to watch a basketball game.

So what’s wrong with it? For starters, the seats are the wrong color – a mash of purple/maroon/crimson. Oh, and they’re way too far from the court too. There shouldn't be 25 feet of concrete separating me and the back of Bob Barry's head. The whole arena is lined with some strange concrete wall, I guess built to keep Renzi Stone out of the stands. The student section is in the wrong place, the upper deck is darker than Eddie Sutton’s soul and the whole thing is built like a bomb shelter. It’s sunk into the ground with the actual hardwood being about 400 feet below sea level. If this were an NBA arena that would have been blown up 15 years ago. Yet somehow one of the premier athletic programs in the country is supposed to deal with it. Why? I have no idea. Especially when the practice facilities and locker rooms are maybe the nicest in the country.

But the thing is, the LNC isn’t beyond repair. It can be fixed. And it better be. With the NBA now in town and their already fancy home getting an even fancier overhaul, Sooner basketball needs to keep pace or it will far way behind in the hearts of Oklahoma basketball fans. The new Staples Center-esque Jumbotron is a start, but right now it looks as out of place as Faith Hill in that Presidential Inauguration music lineup. So what can be done? Forget building new digs, because the university spent $17 million on the new practice facilities already and they’re latched to The Bomb Shelter. I don’t even think we need a major gutting and renovation. A few things here and there could go a long way to making the place much more inviting to watch a college basketball game.

1. Start with the student section.
The students make the atmosphere. I wrote a similar column to this my junior year at OU. I called for axing the stupid “CrimZone” and putting the students back together, like they belong. And they did. Good start. But now the next step: The student section HAS to be moved. Right now, it’s in the northwest corner of the arena. It needs to be taken to the east side so that the students will be the ones you see on TV, not 800 half-empty maroon/purple seats that have bored donors sitting in them.

On top of that, wherever the student section lands, rip out the fold-downs and put aluminum bleachers in. So what about how that affects seating for an OAR concert. Lloyd Noble’s lights are on all the time because an orange ball is being bounced inside, not because Marc Roberge is singing (horribly) that night. This is what every other school in the country has for their students. Three things bleachers do: 1) Packs more students in 2) Looks much better if there’s a few no-shows and 3) Encourages a more general sense of rowdiness and excitement. Against teams like Tennessee-Chattanooga and Utah State, the student section at football games is invariably short about 2,000 people – but does it ever look like it?

2. Light it up like Tim Taylor's house at Christmas.
Why does the LNC look so dark on TV? Well, one, because the upper deck has its lights set on low beam and two, because the seats are all dark colored. It makes for a dim and ugly presentation. If you are hoping to maybe see some friends on TV when the camera pans to the crowd, forget about it because they are sitting in the dark. I don’t know why this is so difficult, because people have been complaining about this for years. Maybe the university is trying to go green and conserve energy. Screw that. Toss some high-volt LEDs up there and blind me. I want to have to wear those sunglasses you only get at the eye doctor when I look up there.

3. Pull down the concrete dam surrounding the north side of the court.
You want people to feel close to the action. You want to get splashed with Blake Griffin’s sweat when he falls to the floor. You want A.J. Abrams to actually hear your clever line about his mother. As it is now, you’ve got some weird barrier between you and the court on the north end. Rip it down and put me so close that I could run out on the floor and launch a three at any moment.

4. Give it just a general glitzing up.
You know what I mean. Make the place feel new. Paint some stuff, replace old seats with new ones, add some flags, update the concessions, throw up some flashing banners or something and just clean it up. It’s not hard. Right now it feels dirtier than a freshman’s dorm room. Instead of feeling like being in a damp, half-lit dungeon, it should be a bright, fresh and exciting building.

The LNC can be saved. Really, it has to be saved because a new building isn’t happening. Its location is good (away from campus a bit) and has great parking. It just needs a little freshening. The football stadium gets something new every day it seems. A 50-yard mega-screen? No sweat. New bleachers, new seats and a total revamp of the locker rooms and offices? You got it. But ask for something at The Shelter, and all they do is put up new nets. I’m actually kind of surprised they didn’t put up chain nets in the 90’s to save a little dough. The football stadium got its makeover, now it's basketball's turn.

Jeff Capel is about to jump into elite-coach-that-everybody-wants territory. And he may consider some offers this offseason, especially because he’ll likely be without Blake Griffin and Willie Warren next year. Don't give him more incentive. He played four years at Duke, a place where basketball got all and ruled all. He’s not used to playing second-fiddle to another sport. But he’s smart enough to know that football will always be king. Nothing will ever change that. And it’s not so bad being a basketball coach at a football school. Ask Rick Barnes. You don’t have to worry about supporting your program financially because football takes care of it. The money will be there, but maybe not the attention. That’s the point – the football team makes the money. And because they’re the money-maker, they get the best upgrades the most often. But holy crap, throw the basketball program a bone every once in a while.

Maybe it will take a national title to overhaul the LNC. That’s what it took to take Memorial Stadium from a 71,000-seat ho-hum relic to the current 85,000-seat breathtaking Cathedral of College Football. And if the Lloyd Noble Center is the house Alvan Adams built and Wayman filled, a title run could make the LNC the place Blake Griffin resurrected and Jeff Capel continues to build.

If that's what it takes, so be it. Nothing would glitz the place up quite like a 2009 National Championship banner.

Friday, January 16, 2009

I ask, I answer: Questions and answers about the state of Sooner football

It’s been a full week. A full week of wanting to run into oncoming traffic one minute and then convincing myself it was a great season nonetheless the next. A full week of replaying and second-guessing every, tiny little detail of Jan. 8 one minute and then convincing myself every call was the right one the next.

But that's over and done. It's time to move on to the 2009 season.

A lot has happened in this week, so how about we wrap up Oklahoma football with a little Q&A with none other than myself.

Q: Sam Bradford is back. OU fans rejoice, but is this a good decision for him?
A: Simply put: Yes. Know why? Because it’s what he wanted to do. That’s why. It doesn’t have anything to do with potential money he “threw away” or his draft status dropping or getting his body more “NFL ready,” whatever that means. Sam Bradford wanted to come back and play football at OU some more. It doesn’t matter what Dan from Muskogee may think about it. All that matters is what Sam Bradford thinks about it. I was asked a lot by friends the past few months if I thought Sammy would go pro. My answer every time was, “I don’t think so.” And when they looked at me like I forgot to put on pants that morning, I said, “Adrian Peterson dreamed of playing for the Dallas Cowboys and in the NFL when he was little. Malcolm Kelly dreamed the same thing. Sam Bradford always dreamed of wearing the Crimson and Cream. Now he’s living that dream. I can’t see him giving up everything he always wanted after two years because someone will write him a big check.” I’m not going to be That Guy, but ah heck, I will: I was right.

Look at it this way – your dream has always been to be an astronaut. When you were six you thought about it and ran around in spacesuits. When you were 18, you still wanted it more than ever. Then you finally got your chance. You did it for two years and they were the best two years of your life. But then someone offers you a chance to go to Siberia and still be an astronaut and get paid a butt-ton, but you have to have to go to freaking Siberia. What would you do? The NFL will wait for Sam Bradford. It’s not like he won’t get drafted next year. Matt Ryan was a fifth year senior and he was taken third and won the Rookie of the Year. People like to say, “But his draft position won’t ever be any higher than it is right now.” So? Money may be important to you, but evidently living out a dream is more important to Sam Bradford. You do your thing and let Sam do his.

Q: The defense brings a lot back. Good, right?
A: Basically, all OU loses is Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes. Seriously, that’s it. And Quinton Carter already played a ton last year. Think about OU’s front seven for a second: English and Beal on the ends with Frank Alexander and R.J Washington spelling them. McCoy and Adrian Taylor in the middle with Cordero Moore rotating. Keenan Clayton, Travis Lewis on the outside with Ryan Reynolds back in the middle with either Austin Box subbing or playing outside as well. Brian Jackson and Dom Franks on the corners. That’s a strong unit.

Q: Ok, so everybody knows it: Bob Stoops is now 1-4 in National Title games, 0-3 in his last three and has lost five straight BCS Bowl games. Panic time, right?
A: Wrong. So, so wrong. I’m not going to get into the whole, “Firing Stoops is stupid and here’s why” thing, because if you have a brain in your skull, you know how dumb that is. We live in an era where the media overreacts, breaks down everything two hundred times over, over-analysis everything and takes us to the “Next Level” with insightful stats like “Bob Stoops is 0-5 in BCS games in which he trailed at the end of the game” and in general, causes everyone to freak the crap out. Here’s reality: From 1967 to 1974, the Legend, Bear Bryant, lost seven straight bowl games and had a tie in the middle of it. The King of Oklahoma, Barry Switzer, went 10 years between National Titles. Or this one – it took Tom Osborne 21 years to win his first National Title and in the mean time, he lost seven straight bowls before ripping off three National Championships. Everyone wants to jump on Stoops right now, but I think the morons running the show forget the past. They like to point out OU’s recent history, but forget all the big ones Bob won to start with. No doubt it will be tough next time OU lines up for the big trophy, but it’s not like Bob Stoops is the first head coach to have a rough patch. Chill out, calm down. Everything is fine. You have to be in it to win it, and at the rate Stoops puts his team in it, he’s going to win it his fair share. It’s hard to win a National Title. You’ve got to win a lot of games and then you have to beat either the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the country. If in 2025, Stoops has lost 22 straight bowl games, then yeah, that’s pretty disconcerting. But this little stretch is no different than what other great coaches have gone through. Would it be better to have been 4-1 in the last five bowl games with wins in the Alamo, Holiday and Cotton Bowls? I’ll gladly take what we’ve done instead, thank you.

Q: The offensive line lost everyone. Hopefully Sam doesn’t actually die on the football field due to repeated beatings.
A: This is true. The very talented offensive line lost five members in Phil Loadholt, Duke Robinson, Brandon Braxton and Brandon Walker. That’s not easy to replace. But OU returns probably its best guy in Trent Williams and don’t forget about guys like Brian Simmons who have played lots of snaps but didn’t start. Donald Stephenson is a very talented guy along with Stephen Good, Cory Brandon and Alex Williams and LSU transfer Jarvis Jones. The talent is there. It’s just the intangibles. It’s not like we’re throwing a couple of 185-pound idiots out there. These guys can block. It’s just whether or not they understand what a defense is throwing at them.

Q: But there’s no receivers for Sam to throw it to. We lose Juaquin, Manny and even Quentin Chaney. You know you’re not deep when you’re upset about losing Quentin Chaney.
A: Rewind to August 2008. Remember what people were saying about OU’s offense? Bradford may hit a sophomore slump, the O-Line is great but they didn’t play like they should have last year but more than anything, there’s nobody for Sam to throw it to. I actually recall many people saying the biggest question or the 2008-09 Sooners was wide receiver. Remember that? Ryan Broyles is an electric playmaker cloned to play exactly like Mark Clayton, Jermaine Gresham is Sam’s favorite target and Jameel Owens and DaJuan Miller were hot recruits for a reason. Don’t worry about wideout.

Q: What about punter? Mike Knall averaged like six yards a kick and there’s nobody even listed on the two-deep behind him? Who’s going to punt? Is there another Ferguson out there or a baseball player that can do it?
A: Ok, this could be a little bit of an issue. Punting isn’t rocket science, but it’s also a very crucial part. I have no idea what the Sooners will do there, but I’m sure it can’t be much worse than Mike Knall.

Q: What about that schedule next year? It’s going to be pretty tough.
A: A “neutral site” game against BYU, at Miami and Tulsa for non-conference (with another game likely to come). Then at Kansas, at Nebraska and at Texas Tech with big home games against Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Baylor and Kansas State. And of course, Texas. The tougher-than-most non-conference schedule should benefit OU down the line assuming the Sooners survive it. But the tough roadies against the Huskers and Texas Tech are definitely scary. But OU won last time it was in Lincoln in 2005 and Texas Tech won’t be as good next year.

Q: They’ve got holes on the offensive line, question marks at wide receiver, a coaching staff that can’t win big games, no leadership, bad special teams and unfavorable schedule. But you gotta like their chances.
A: I LOVE their chances.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Day After Tomorrow

It feels like I just jumped out of an airplane and realized about .0003 seconds after my feet left the metal that I didn’t have on a parachute.

It feels like I just stopped by my parents to drop the car off and nobody was home because they were supposed to be working and my mom just caught me alone with one of her Glamour magazines, if you know what I mean.

It was like breaking up with a girl you really liked for three hours and at a few points you think it will work out but at the very end of it, she starts making out with a better guy right in front of you as Charles Davis and Thom Brennaman talk about it.

It’s just the worst feeling in the world. Period. No question. It just is. I spent all of yesterday wandering around my house with the same feeling in my gut as you have when you zoom by a Highway Patrolman and you know you’re going 12 over. You know, the “Oh, eff” moment where your stomach leaps out your mouth and you can’t calm down and stop looking in your rearview mirror until you’re about 14 miles down the road? Yeah, that feeling. All day. But then imagine him pulling you over nine hours later and writing you a two million dollar ticket.

I kept trying to prepare myself to lose. Mentally getting ready for the worst. I convinced myself that my confidence level was a three out of 10 and that Florida could likely beat the ’72 Dolphins. I told myself this. It was all in an effort to try and prevent the feeling I have today if the worst came to fruition. Didn’t work. It still sucks more than forgetting your lunch in second grade.

I knew we were in trouble after I pulled out a classic “It’s over routine” early in the fourth quarter and my dad didn’t disagree. He knew it too. He could feel it. OU blew its chances. And you just CANNOT do that against a team like Florida.

It’s simple. Last night’s game came down to four plays:
A. OU failing to get in the end zone of fourth down on the one.
B. OU failing to get points right before halftime.
C. Sam Bradford’s “interception” ( I put it in quotes, because it was a great freaking throw) after Florida took a 17-14 lead.
D. Florida’s third and six conversion inside the OU 10 with under three to go that led to the clinching touchdown.

Really and truly, you flip ONE, just one of those plays around and OU wins. It’s true. That’s how crazy football is. Instead of double-clutching it, Juaquin Iglesias comes down with that seed Sammy threw and OU is in scoring position to go up 21-17 with nine minutes left. Get a stop on third and six and Florida settles for three, Sam becomes the biggest hero in Sooner history as he leads a game-winning drive to a 21-20 victory. Let OU get in on fourth and goal and it’s at least 14-7 heading to the locker room with the Sooners beaming with confidence. But instead, none of it went OU’s way. I’m going to be that guy: There’s nothing for the Sooners to hang their head about. They were ready, they played their onions off but they just came up short. That doesn’t mean it still doesn’t hurt like a Nolan Ryan fastball to the groin.

I’m afraid to turn on the TV or listen to the radio. I don’t want to see or hear the consequences. I know OU played well and showed up. I know there’s no shame in losing to Florida. But when you’re as heartbroken as I am, that really doesn’t matter. What mattered was that crystal ball and we didn’t get it. But I don’t think I can turn on The Animal today and hear this for five straight hours:

Jim Traber: You’re on the Sports An-e-mal, go ahead please.
Caller: Hey Jim, two quick points: Fire Bob Stoops and Tim Tebow can cure cancer.
Jim: Okay, no more lunatics today please. Look, I bow down to the Florida Gators. I bow down to Tim Tebow. I have all the respect for the guy in the world. I hear what you’re sayin’ bruther, but enough of Tebow. You know what I’m saying? (Weird laugh) Enough already. But boy, my Steelers got a big game this week. I really like Ben---
Al Eschbach: Let me tell you something Jim. If Tim Tebow doesn’t win this game, people still love this guy and still think he’s the best. (Next sentence indiscernible). Back to the phones… you’re on the Sports Animal, goheadplease.
Caller 2: Hey Jim and Al. I think last night’s game was excellent but let me say this: If we’re going to pay Bob Stoops all this money, he should be able to win a big game. Any time we played a good team, we lost.
Al: (Nearing a conniption) What are you talking about? Nobody feels worse than Bob Stoops. Nobody. Youjustplayedinanationalchamionshipgameandlosttoagreatteam! What else do you want? Hang up on this moron.
Jim: It was a great game wasn’t it Al? Nothing for the Sooners to hang their heads about.
Al: Oh YEAH. It was un-a-believe-able.
Jim: But I’ll tell you what Al, it was those daggone third downs. If OU gets two or three more stops on third down, they win the daggone game. Plain and simple. They win. They win the game. Does that make sense?
Al: Un-a-believe-able.
Jim: We’ve got Berry Tramel here. What did you think of the game Tram?
Berry: Wellllp…. You know... I don’ t think Oklahoma played all that…. bad. Bob Stoops… uh…really didn’t…uh, uh… do a bad job. Not really. No.
Jim: But Tram, didn’t---
Berry: (Still talking, oblivious to Jim) It’s kind of like what Alfalfa Bill Murray would say, uh, Jim. If you never get off the tractor, you may not cut any grass. Or like Waleetka's old high school football coach said to me one time -- there's nothing worse, uh, than cutting your bread and finding out you don't have any gasoline in your car.
Jim: Alright Tram, but you didn’t think the call on fourth and---
Berry: Because Stoops has won his fair share of big games. He really has.
Jim: I know Tram, but what’s been the final score for each of the last five of these BCS games? Maybe Matty can look that up for us. Matty, can you see about that? Oh, well let’s take a break. Where ya at Al?
Al: BobHowardChevroletinNormanwheretheyhavegreatdealsoneverythingfromtruckstominivans. Besuretostopbyandcheckouttheirzeropercentfinancing. All the way from Hell, this is the total.
(dead air)
Al: Tot-al.
Jim: Dom-inance
Berry: Hou-arrrr.

Then two more weeks of choke talk, the random “Fire Stoops” calls, Jim and Al doing everything they can to talk sense into people about OU playing well, but Florida just being good and Berry Tramel’s folksy schtick getting really old. The morons call in and the mass majority of the fan base that’s completely normal and sane sit in our cars and listen to the idiots. Because we don’t need to tell Jim Traber how we feel. It’s not going to make anything better. The 95 percent of us that actually have a functioning brain in our head aren’t overreacting, aren’t freaking out and aren’t embarrassing ourselves. We’re just replaying every crucial play in our heads and wishing we would have won.

Here’s the thing: Bob Stoops is as good a coach as you can possibly have. If he and I were in a bank together and it was being robbed and the gunman wanted to make an example out of someone and he grabbed Bob, I’d say, “Take me instead.” I love that man. Like seriously, love him. He was born to be a football coach, as Chad Pennington would say, reeks class and is a fine, fine human being. OU didn’t lose because of him. OU lost because Florida was just a little better. In a damn fine football game, Florida won. Imagine how much this game hurts you – now multiply that by 6,000 and you’ve got how Stoops feels. And no, Stoops isn’t going to run to the basement like Scooge in Ducktales and dive into a huge pile of money and automatically feel better. Sure he makes lots of money, but I guarantee you he’d rather have that trophy right now. So don’t give me that.

But next time. Oh Lord, next time. If you think the questions were bad this go around about the past four BCS losses and so on, next time it’s going to be like Ray Finkel times two. What do you know about PRESSURE? Stoops is going to be hammered. Granted, it will help that OU showed up in a good, solid way (copyright: Bob Stoops) and played a great game, but he’ll still have to answer. But I’d rather go to the National Title game 20 straight years and lose, than never be there at all. It hurts to not reap the reward of winning – but there’s nothing better than basking in the light of a title. And as Bobby says, you have to be in it to win it.

It’s a strange thing, sports. You pour your heart and soul into a team for six months, following every little thing it does. You read every newspaper, watch every highlight, catch every coach’s show. You wear your Gameday Shirt during every game because you believe in that shirt. And when it fails you, it goes in the back of the closet and joins four other Never To Be Worn Agains. You go to battle for them. You argue with some buddy named Dave for hours about them as if it matters a whole freaking lot. This is what you do. And if it all goes right, it culminates on a night on the national stage where it’s all worth it. People kept trying to tell me leading up to it that it was just a game. Just a little football game that really doesn’t matter. Life goes on, the sun will rise tomorrow, whatever. And while yes, it is ultimately just a game, to many of us, it’s more. It’s a team that we love like an only child, that we live and die with everything they do. It’s like as a parent, when your child hurts, you hurt. And right now, my team is hurting. It’s a game, sure. But the school colors, the fight song, the players, the chants, the tradition. It’s just part of us.

So what now? Sam might go pro, Jermaine Gresham probably has one foot out the door and a good crop of seniors graduate – or at least run out of eligibility. Quite honestly, I’m not thinking about next year yet. I will once spring football rolls around, but not now. This is the grieving period. So, so close, but so, sooooo freaking close. Is there a possibility to be here again next year? Absolutely. Is there a possibility to go 9-3? Sure. Either way, will I likely go completely insane following everything little detail and loving every minute of it? Lock it up.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Baited and Switched

There's a reason Bob Stoops hates the media. And a pretty good reason too. What just happened with the media in Miami is Exhibit A for “Why Bob Stoops is colder to reporters than my wife’s toes are to my leg at 6 AM.”

Coach Stoops spoke to a class I took at OU a couple years ago. It was a class on sports journalism and the first thing Stoops said was, “Speaking with the media on a daily basis is my least favorite thing about my job.” And the situation with Dominique Franks and supposed “bulletin board” material sums Stoops’ sentiment up pretty nicely.

In case you're boycotting all things ESPN, here's what Franks said:
"If you look at the three best quarterbacks in the country, they came from the Big 12. The three best receivers in the country came from the Big 12. The three best tight ends came from the Big 12. So we've faced some great offenses, and a lot of people don't understand that other conferences don't have what we face … Going into a game and knowing a quarterback's going to throw the ball 40 times a game versus coming into a game and knowing he's probably only going to throw it about 15 or 20. ... It makes it a lot harder to prepare for those [Big 12] guys.”

Total bulletin board material. Pin it up there. Put it right next to, "We respect Florida a lot. They're a great team and they play in a great conference," and "We just want to go out and play our game regardless of what Florida does." Because if the Gators can somehow use those quotes to motivate them, then they can use Franks' too. Because what he said wasn't over-the-line. Heck, it wasn't even close to toeing it. But when you slap headlines like "Franks not impressed by Tebow" on it, then yeah, that could be bulletin board material. Except for the fact Dom never said that or NEVER implied that he's not impressed by Tebow. The bulletin board material isn't coming from Franks. It's coming from the moronic writers and editors writing and reporting the story.

This is what the media does. While some of it may not be intentional, this is what happens. They stir the you know what. It's what pays their salary. How long can ESPN broadcast Jesse Palmer and Mark May spend breaking down the X's and O's of the National Title Game and seeing who can out-do the other by saying "FOOTBALL" in every sentence? Because after three weeks of it already, if I hear Jesse Palmer say, "In this FOOTBALL game, Florida really needs to run the FOOTBALL. But the Gator defense also has to be able to get off the FOOTBALL field and take the FOOTBALL away from OU. FOOTBALL." I swear, he said it five times in a single sentence last week. So instead of making us all want to grab a FOOTBALL and throw it as Jesse Palmer's face, they stir the poo. They ask questions like "Who's going to win this game?" What purpose does that question serve other than to get next morning's headline? "McCoy predicts Sooner victory!" It's a completely loaded question with only one usable answer in the eyes of the reporter. If he predicts win, I've got something. If he says, "I don't know... it'll be a good game," then I immediately discard that one. Anyone see how ridiculous that is?

Here's how it goes down:
Reporter A walks up to an OU player. Doesn't matter what player. It could be Dominique Franks. It could be Quentin Chaney. Heck, it could be Derek Freaking Gove. Doesn't matter. He's going to get the same answer.

Reporter A: Hey Dominique. Got a little more time?
Franks: Sure.
Reporter A: That Florida offense sure has to be tough to prepare for, right? All the moving before the ball is snapped and all the weapons.
Franks: Sure, sure. You know, they got a lot of talent. They move around and make it tough on you. But we'll be ready.
Reporter A: What makes preparing for Florida different than preparing for one of the Big 12's great offenses -- say Texas Tech, Oklahoma State or Texas?
Franks: Going into a game and knowing a quarterback's going to throw the ball 40 times a game versus coming into a game and knowing he's probably only going to throw it about 15 or 20. ... It makes it a lot harder to prepare for those [Big 12] guys.

See what the reporter did there? Totally innocent question. Equally innocent answer. You asked, he answered. But regurgitate that answer in a news story under the headline of "OU cornerback provides some fodder for Gator offense" and you've got something.

Reporter A: Your defense has been criticized all year long for giving up lots of points and yardage. Is that fair considering the opponents you’ve had to face?
Franks: If you look at the three best quarterbacks in the country, they came from the Big 12. The three best receivers in the country came from the Big 12. The three best tight ends came from the Big 12. So we've faced some great offenses, and a lot of people don't understand that other conferences don't have what we face.

Then the reporter runs off, hammers out a no-brainer story and sends it in. The next day all the stooges sit there in front of Tebow and Urban Meyer and get to ask, "Hey Tim, one OU player says you'd be the fourth best quarterback in the Big 12. Did you hear that?" “Hey Coach Meyer, an OU player says he’ll know your offense better than you when the game starts. What do YOU think about that?” When in fact, Franks said NOTHING out of bounds. He just said things that were completely truthful. The three top quarterbacks in the country are from the Big 12. The three top receivers are from the Big 12. The three top tight ends are from the Big 12. Look it up. It’s academic.

Again, what was Franks supposed to say? "No Comment"? Or, "Uh, Tebow would probably be No. 1 quarterback in our conference. He's so good. I hope he doesn't pass for 2,000 yards against us. Sam ain't even close to him in ability. Or character. Did you see that piece with him going to the Philippines or whatever? Sam never did that. Sam's just some Indian. Tebow is out there saving lives with sutures and circumcisions and whatnot."

Buried in that story or not even mentioned is all the trash the Gators have talked. The line Brandon Spikes tossed out saying Big 12 defenses are slow. Tebow saying he’d love to play against Big 12 defenses. And all the other junk that’s been said.

I've been there. I've been part of this media horde. These sick hyenas that prey around the locker room with their little press badge around their neck, their extra 200 pounds, their Ray Ratto mustaches and their little recorder in one hand always pretending to be messing with it so that it doesn't look like they're not doing anything. They stand there, look around the room, see a player not talking to anyone and approach him. Ask a few questions, shake the player's hand, thank them for their time and smile like they're best buds. Then they leave and walk to their laptop and grind out a 300-word story with the lead being "BULLETIN BOARD MATERIAL -- FRANKS TOSSES FIRST BLOW."

It’s no wonder Bob Stoops hates these guys. It's why when I was around him, I was always wearing diapers because I was partly terrified and partly going, "Holy crap! It's Bob Stoops! Right here! Right in front of me!" That may be why in my three-year career as a student journalist I asked Coach Stoops precisely three questions. Another reason is because all the idiots standing around me were already taking care of all the stupid ones and pissing Stoops off. It's like kicking a friendly Pit Bull in the face over and over again. At first, he'll be nice and try and brush you off. Then he'll get a little testy. And finally, he'll freak out on you and tear your face off. I never wanted to be the last guy that got his face torn off.

Why should Stoops be nice? I used to wonder why he wasn’t. Now I wonder why he is at all. Some days, he’s a joy. He’ll crack jokes, he’ll smile and he’ll show off his extremely sharp wit. But some days, asking him a question is like messing with Sasquatch. And most times, those days happen after an episode like this or after someone (I’ll withhold names) ask the completely brain-busting question like, “How good is this football team?” and the always thoughtful, “What are you seeing out of (insert opponent) that concerns you?”

I know these questions are necessary. Because that’s what sports journalism is all about. It’s about getting the quote, writing down the quote and plugging it into a story. For some reason, people accept “It’s not as good as it can be” to the question “How good is this football team?” It’s mindless regurgitation of clich├ęs and one-liners, but we’re all ok with it. And why wouldn’t you just spit those little one-liners out all the time if you were in their spot? Especially when some overweight, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing, mustached weirdo is dangling a recorder three inches from your face and asking you baited questions.

But Stoops said it perfectly at media day. Reporters lead these young athletes down a path, manipulating them for a story. They bait them for the bulletin board. Franks sat there with some guy he's never met and the guy asked him questions. And Dom answered. It's not like the guy asked, "Where do you think Tim Tebow would be as a passer in the Big 12?" and Franks responded with, "He sucks. He'd be behind Stephen McGee. We're going to hit Tebow so hard he'll cry. We're going to dominate Florida. He didn't deserve the Heisman last year and didn't deserve to be in the same ballpark as Sam this year." But with the way the media is reporting this thing, you’d think Franks had said he was going to kill Tebow’s future baby.

Reporters and the media are part of this whole process. But sometimes, when you take a step back and don’t just read the story, you can see there’s maybe more to it. If OU loses January 8th, then is it Dominique Franks’ fault? Did he give Tim Tebow extra motivation? If Tim Tebow needs extra motivation for the biggest game of his life, then maybe he needs to stay in the Philippines sewing up wounds. The fact is, Franks was asked a question and he answered. Add in the little things like, “But Franks didn’t stop there…” and “Tebow historically plays better after BEING CALLED OUT by an opponent," and boy, you've got a real zinger.

Once it’s settled January 8th, one side can talk all it wants. Until then, you better shut up or some reporter might bite you.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

If history tells us anything, well, then my brain will explode

I’ve spent the last three weeks torturing myself. Absolutely driving myself nuts.

I don’t know if you’re like me but for some reason, I’m obsessed with sports history predicting the future. I always look for recurring themes and trends and history being a guide to clue us in to what will happen in an upcoming game. Especially when a team I have interest in is playing.

And that’s why I’ve basically run a marathon in my mind with all the occurrences showing why Oklahoma will lose to Florida January 8th. Here’s how bad it’s gotten for me: I was taking a shower yesterday thinking about the game. I started thinking about Sam Bradford and how his hair is long and how Jason White always grew his hair out throughout the season. But then I thought, but Jason White was 0-2 in National Title games! But then I thought, well Matt Leinart grew his hair out during the 2004 season and won the Heisman and won the National Championship. Phew. I've looked at little things like, OU wore white shoes for the majority of 2000. In 2003 and 2004, the Sooners wore black kicks. This year they wore white. Good sign! I need January 9th to get here just so I can live my life again.

You’ve got the obvious -- Sam winning the Heisman. Big Trophy winners (1-5) in BCS National Title games and the last one to play Florida played poorly as Troy Smith ran for his life as the Gators chewed his Buckeyes up.

You've got the other obvious -- OU’s recent bowl performance. The Sooners were inexcusably destroyed by USC 55-19 in 2005, embarrassed by Boise 43-42 in 2007 and whooped by West Virginia 48-28 last year in Phoenix. Before that was a hard fought 21-14 loss in the 2004 National Title game.

You've got your details -- Last year, OU lost a few key players before the Fiesta Bowl. Among them were the two players missing for this year's big game -- DeMarco Murray and DeMarcus Granger.

You've got your trends -- the SEC has won the last two National Titles, with LSU last year and Florida the year before that. Florida is losing offensive coordinator Dan Mullen to Mississippi State. Last year, LSU won the Natty with Bo Pelini having a foot out the door heading to Nebraska.

You've got your evidence -- Ole Miss beat Texas Tech 47-34. Ole Miss beat Florida. OU beat Texas Tech. An SEC defense did a good job limiting one of the Big 12's best offenses.

You've got your link to the past -- The last time Utah won a BCS bowl game, OU played in the Orange Bowl, getting waxed 55-19.

You've got your ridiculous thing that only Royce would know -- In 2003 and 2004 I watched the game at my parents house with my father. In 2000, I also watched the game with my dad, but they were living in a different house. I need to drag a TV out to their old house and ask the current residents if I can watch the game there.

But you can reverse the trend. I've always thought Urban Meyer was Bob Stoops Jr. Meyer won a National Championship in his second season at Florida. Stoops won one in year two. Stoops lost his next two. Maybe Meyer is going to follow Bob's trend and lose too.

In 2000, OU played Florida State in its home state in the Orange Bowl. The same thing will happen Jan. 8th.

Florida's one loss was to a team that could score points through the air and go vertical with the passing game. OU does both very well.

Any time the Sooner defense has been doubted, it steps up.

OU is finally getting played the disrespect card. Over 60 percent of the country favors Florida, as well as Vegas. Nobody works better me vs. the world than Bob Stoops. And this was the same feeling OU fans had in 2000.

The last time OU was ranked No. 1 heading into the National Title game was in 2000.

And you know what? In the end, trends don't mean jack. And that's why even though my confidence level is about a three out of 10, I'm picking OU 42-38. Why? I don't know. But the fact is, with under a week remaining, everyone wants to know the result of the game before it even starts. Everyone is so up tight about the game that they're looking for anything that might make them feel more confident about it.

No matter what, January 8th, one set of trends will be confirmed and the other will be bunk. I just know that between now and then, it's likely I'll vomit four to five times, spend hours pacing my house, and torture myself with more trends and listen to so much sports talk radio my ears bleed. Win or lose, I need January 9th to get here fast.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The top 10 Nike commercials ever

Why? Because everybody loves a top 10 list centered around awesome Youtube videos. Well, that and because I just spent two hours on Youtube and I want to have something to show for it. Ever wind up at some random memory and you have to retrace your train of thought to figure out how you arrived there? I got started on these Nike commercials because I searched Adrian Peterson, watched about 16 highlight reels for the 4,000th time and then clicked his "Nike Sparq Training" ad and for some reason this commercial was on the sidebar and that reminded me how awesome some Nike ads are.

Nike makes the best sports commercials. They just do (it). They can be funny, they can be emotional or they can be both. From "Lil' Penny" to "Fate" directed by David Fincher to "Battle", these ads got it all -- awesome music, cool footage, innovative ideas and slick editing. So I spent some major time perusing the Tube and came up with my favorite 10 Nike commercials ever. (Keep in mind, these are MY favorite. Not your favorite.)

10. Pretty much anything with Michael Jordan makes a great commercial. It could be 30 seconds of MJ just dribbling in his underwear with some awesome pulsing beat with a light piano over the top and then you slap, "Become Legendary" and the Jumpman on the end of it and you've got a flippin' sweet commercial.

9. I remember after this commercial, everybody from Lee Trevino to my school's junior high golf team was trying this. It was really the beginning of "Tiger Woods - Advertising Superstar." And no matter how many times you've seen it, there's always one person that still says, "You know he did that in one take?" Yeah, I know. Thanks for telling me for the 200th time.

8. Lance Armstrong has the same marketability of Jordan because anything he does is top drawer. But he has an edge because any commercial he does is softly lined with, "Holy crap, this is inspirational." Beating cancer and then becoming maybe the most dominant athlete on the globe can do that. This commercial wasn't particularly funny or emotional, but it's awesome because the whole time I watch it, I just think about how amazing Lance is. And I think that's the point.

7. "It's gotta be the shoes!" started the Jordan commercial revolution. Well, that and the Micky D's H-O-R-S-E commercial with Larry Legend. My favorite part: "Is it the extra long shorts?" If Spike could have only known basketball shorts would eventually turn into mesh capris.

6. When I was in sixth grade, this commercial ruled the world. Everybody went to school humming, "Bum, buh--buh, bum-bum." I remember watching TV and looking forward to the commercials hoping this one would come on. Admit it - you worked on the heel-kick pass. I know I did. And you also likely made fun of Lisa Leslie doing nothing impressive but being in the video for obvious reasons. I wish Nike would remake this commercial with some of today's stars. That would be awesome.

5. This slot was basically reserved for one of the heart pumping football commercials Nike has. Really, either the aforementioned "Fate" or the Michael Mann directed "Leave Nothing." And Leave Nothing won out pretty much only because of the perfect music selection from Last of the Mohicans. As Shawne Merriman and Steven Jackson tear through opponents, you can picture Daniel Day-Lewis doing the same as he screams through the woods with his hatchet and musket in hand.

4. It debuted before the 2008 Olympics and the first time I saw it I did two things: 1) Went and looked up what song that was playing in it and 2) Rewound my DVR and watched it again. And again. And again. One thing that makes Nike commercials so great is they are so simple, yet so deep. The transition between Lance in a hospital bed to riding with fury with the yellow on gives me instant hot face. And I could watch Jordan kiss the trophy a thousand times.

3. This was the best thing to come out of this year's "Redeem Team." Well, other than the actual redemption and that whole gold medal thing.

2. Some could say it kicked the steroids era into a new gear. Not only only do chicks dig the long ball, but general managers do too. I crack up every time when Greg Maddux says, "Hey, we got Cy Young winners over here!" And the fact the Mad Dog is wearing glasses.

1. You know a commercial is great when it gives you the chill and then gives you the hot face, followed by the welling eyes and the hard swallow. This commercial did it all. The fact that it debuted on Father's Day weekend during the U.S. Open where Tiger played on one leg in maybe the greatest performance ever, sealed it as the greatest commercial ever.

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