Wednesday, November 25, 2009

UGH-A: A Robot Mascot? WTF?

Nice lookin' pooch there, huh? If the domestic terrorists at PETA have their way, that'll be the new mascot at the University of Georgia.

Following the untimely passing of Uga VII, PETA has asked the university to stop using live English bulldogs as their mascot, instead requesting the use of "animatronics" (read: robots like at left) or sticking exclusively to their guy-in-a-costume, Hairy Dawg.

For me, tradition is usually a code word for "We're too lazy or cheap to make any sort of change to anything ever," but the animal attractions that add value to a college football ticket are a huge part of the fun for me.

Bevo the steer at Texas.

Ralphie the buffalo at Colorado.

Mike the tiger at LSU.

Spirit the Malamute at Washington.

Seriously, there are many live animal mascots who embody the fun of a college football Saturday (or even a basketball evening, in some cases) the way no costumed dancing schmuck ever could. Check out a few here.

I can't vouch for the way all of these animals are treated, but I'd gather they're handled with some requisite respect, since few of them have been sued out of existence, even in this hyper-litigious Internet age, where everybody's a private dick...except for the ones who are also dicks in public. (Ahem.)

The Ugas, however, are well-known to be treated like royalty in Athens. The university maintains memorials for all the past Ugas. The current ones reside in an air-conditioned doghouse and sit on blocks of ice during games, as bulldogs are prone to heatstroke.

Bulldog breeding has, over the generations, become progressively more difficult thanks to the breed's narrow hips and large heads, which mean females often have to give birth via C-section. I get that. I'm not convinced PETA's meddling just for the sake of publicity, as I suspect they were with the BatManu case over Halloween.

But still, where else are you going to get a picture like the one here, with Uga and Matt Stafford? These dogs, and, I expect, many other animal mascots, have pretty sweet existences. Lots of affection, well-fed, highly cared for...most people don't live this well. Uga's a part of life at UGA, and if the line ever ceased, I certainly hope to God it wouldn't be in favor of a damn robot. Would you replace Ralphie with a robot buffalo?


Actually, a robot buffalo might be sort of cool. Scary, but cool.

RIP Uga VI's Loran's Best (aka Uga VII)
Deceased November 19, 2009

Notre Dame Is A Mid-Major Program...Time For Them to Start Acting Like It

On the daily now, we're assaulted by the spectacle of Charlie Weis being ridden to slaughter like a broken-down horse. The breathless speculation on his successor as Notre Dame football coach by the Herbstreits and Schads of the world is sort of compelling, but in much the same way as the results of Afghanistan's election. Neither is a job that any sane person really wants right now, and being the Afghan president might actually be safer than being Notre Dame's quarterback. More on that later.

Notre Dame bagmen, er, boosters want AD Jack Swarbrick to nag Urban Meyer relentlessly until he finally remembers that Notre Dame is his "dream job" and that he's nothing until he's coached there. Because, you know, those two national championships in three years were just an audition for a program that's won two national championships in THIRTY-three years.

Cincinnati's Brian Kelly is considered the front-runner to replace Weis, as he's a bit more of a realistic hire. A guy at a program that's just arriving is a lot easier to pry away than a coach who's already brought back a storied team and has the hardware to prove it.

And if Meyer leaves Florida, a state that recruits itself, or Kelly leaves Cincinnati, a program that may be on the verge of big-boy things, one thing is certain:

That man is an idiot.

I grew up in Indiana. Lafayette, to be exact, which sits 150 miles southwest of South Bend. And you know what? Winters in Lafayette suck. Never spent one in South Bend, but I'm sure they're even worse. I spent three years in Gainesville, Florida, and winters there? Quite nice. The wife and I went to the beach for Christmas one year. Any man who leaves the tropics for the arctic is an idiot.

Paul "Bear" Bryant once said that Florida was a hard place to win football games because, with all the pretty little things running around in their suntans, it was hard to make football the most important thing in a young man's life. Steve Spurrier did a fine job of it. Bobby Bowden did a fine job of it, before the Alzheimer's set in. Jimmy Johnson did a fine job of it. And now, Urban Meyer appears to have elevated it to an art form.

The point of all this is that Notre Dame needs to step back and seriously...SERIOUSLY...evaluate itself. Notre Dame is a mid-major program with a major-league opinion of itself. Tradition is all well and good, but face it. High school players don't care about what Ara Parseghian, Knute Rockne, and Dan Devine accomplished. Most of them would be hard-pressed to tell you who those guys were. Hell, they only know Lou Holtz as that goofy lisping fruit on ESPN. The players care about, "Can I get to the NFL?" That gets done in two ways: play on TV and play in IMPORTANT games on TV.

Thanks to N(D)BC, Notre Dame can certainly deliver on one of those scores. And, to be fair, the Irish players who do show out do still get drafted...somewhat. From 1999 to 2006, the Irish had 37 players drafted...unfortunately, less than a third of those players are still in the league. The total fell to four in 2008, and only ONE in 2009. By contrast, mighty Abilene Christian had two players drafted this year, and both Johnny Knox and Bernard Scott appear to have some NFL game.

Then there's the academic standards. One of the big factors in Urban Meyer not chasing his "dream job" was his understanding that Notre Dame's higher academic standards would chase off some talented athletes who were indifferent toward their studies. Is it a failure to keep the "student" prefix in the term "student-athlete"? Absolutely. However, athletes have been failing to remind themselves to be students for generations, it's only now that we have media in every corner trying to complain about it. Why should a player go somewhere where he has to work even harder in the classroom just to go out and freeze his tail off on gameday when he can do just enough to get by and play in sunny Florida, where the women are scantily clad ten months out of the year instead of six?

In Gainesville, UF players are absolute rock stars, as I suspect they are in college towns across America when the team is doing well. In South Bend...the quarterback's getting popped in the eye coming out of a restaurant with his girlfriend and parents. This is a fan base passing denial and barreling straight into the anger phase. I fear for wives all over South Bend if the Irish finish it off by tanking against Stanford. Why? Read this.

Face it, folks, no matter how many shoutouts Notre Dame gets from Regis Philbin every morning, Irish football stopped mattering the moment Lou Holtz walked out that door.

Bob Davie, Ty Willingham, and Charlie Weis combined to lose 66 games in 13 years, an average of five per year. Parseghian and Holtz lost 47 games in 22 years, an average of just over two per year. Players can go anywhere in the Internet era. Recruiting is much easier for the mid-major conferences and smaller programs. Notre Dame's name doesn't sell itself anymore. NBC helps, but what will also help is getting coaches whose credentials haven't been puffed all to hell, like Captain Schematic Advantage up there.

Get someone quiet and unassuming who's willing to come in and work hard. At the same time, try somebody who has a vested interest in returning the program to the success of the Holtz era, perhaps someone who has a legacy of his own staring over his shoulder.

When Lou Holtz took over the Irish, his career record stood at 116-65-5, a winning percentage of .637. He was 6-4-2 in bowl games at the time. There's a coach at a mid-major program right now who has a record of 67-44, a .604 winning percentage. Only 1-2 in bowl games, but considering where his program was when he arrived, getting to bowl games is a pretty good job. And his name's still rather familiar to Irish fans.

Jack, forget paying $8 million per year to Urban Meyer. Just call Skip Holtz. He can't be any worse than Moby Weis. And if he is, maybe NDBC will put every basketball game on the air.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Writin' Dirty: When Football Does (and Doesn't) Go Too Far

Hines Ward and Ric Flair now have something in common. Namely, the title of "Dirtiest Player in the Game." Different games, but one thing is the same: in both wrestling and football, calling someone dirty is essentially thinly veiled whining.

Sports Illustrated recently gave us a poll where almost 300 NFL players voted on who they felt was the dirtiest player in football. Ward got 11.6 percent of the vote, almost twice what runners-up Albert Haynesworth and Joey Porter received. Remember, that's the same Albert Haynesworth that tried to give Andre Gurode some free plastic surgery.

You'd think that, a decade into his career, people would be used to Hines Ward by now. The guy's a linebacker who runs pass patterns, and he has no qualms about lowering the boom on somebody. If the other guy's not looking (as Keith Rivers apparently wasn't when Hines broke his jaw), that's the other guy's problem.

The "Dirtiest Player" poll is essentially little more than an excuse for players to whine about people that have historically made them look bad. Is it a coincidence that the top ten vote-getters here have a combined 30 Pro Bowls between them?

Jared Allen (2 Pro Bowls), Troy Polamalu (5), Harvey Dahl (0), Richie Incognito (0), Cortland Finnegan (1), Kevin Mawae (7), Roy L. Williams (5), Joey Porter (4), Albert Haynesworth (2), and Ward (4) were your Top 10.

No defensive player likes the idea of getting put on his ass by a wide receiver, most of whom are the most likely players to come out of a game because "OMFG, I SO broke a nail!" Especially when that wide receiver played QUARTERBACK in college. Ward's not supposed to be anywhere near heavy contact, and yet he's often the one seeking it. That damages the ego of a defensive player, who must instantly call the contact "dirty" to make his own psychic boo-boo feel better.

For my money, Haynesworth's head stomp to Gurode is one he'll likely never live down, and Williams' popularizing the horse-collar tackle led to one of those rare safety rules that I can totally get behind.

Likewise, griping about offensive linemen like Mawae, Incognito, and Dahl is pointless, as just about anything can happen when the lines collide. In there, it's pretty much anything long as you're not attacking the eyes and the testes. More on that in a moment.

Hines Ward is a tough bastard. If you think otherwise, it's probably because your team's defense is filled with pussies who just got stuck in the dirt by a QB-turned-WR who forgot he's supposed to be a little priss.

Far as I'm concerned (and I'm fairly far from a Steelers fan), Hines can keep doing what he does all the way to Canton.

Now, back to the eyes and testicles.

Specifically, the eyes of Georgia running back Washaun Ealey being nearly introduced to the fingers of Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes.

You want dirty? There it is, kids.

There's no way to sell that as an accident.

Spikes claimed it was retaliation for similar treatment earlier in the game. Possible, but still...the best way to retaliate in a football game is still to stick your shoulder pad in a back's chest, separate him from the ball, and then lay on top of him and talk about how he just hocked up his manhood when your team recovers the fumble.

Brock Lesnar and Georges St. Pierre, two leading practitioners of what John McCain once called "human cockfighting," aren't allowed to go for the eyes. There's no call for Brandon Spikes to be doing it, either.

And Urban Meyer doesn't get a pass on this one, either. I'm a bit of a Meyer fan, but ye gods, what the hell do you gain by suspending someone for a half? By halftime against Vanderbilt, most of the starters wouldn't be in anyway, so what's the point?

Spikes has now "suspended himself" for the entire game, and it seems like a nice gesture. To whom, I'm not sure, but still. I highly doubt that it was Spikes' idea. Urb's probably gotten a whiff of the whole teapot tempest that his limp-wristed "punishment" started and needed a way to cover himself without LOOKING like he was covering himself. This way, Spikes looks like a "responsible young man" seeking atonement for his actions, and the Gators get a few extra bonus points for "overcoming distractions" and beating Vanderbilt shorthanded.

Since, you know, Vanderbilt's 2-7 record is pretty intimidating and all.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

You Can't Spell "Man Up" Without Manu

Yes, boys and girls, that is Manu Ginobili swatting a bat out of mid-air on Halloween night. Yeah, doesn't seem like a coincidence to me, either. More on that momentarily. While others were undoubtedly practicing their "EEEEK"s and diving under seats, Manu simply said, "Hey, we got a game to play here," and took the matter into his own hand.

This morning on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville, Mark Howard seemed like he was reprimanding Manu for taking down a helpless, defenseless little bat. While I'd expect it from a card-carrying member of everyone's favorite domestic terrorist organization (hint: their acronym could just as easily stand for Pushy, Egotistical, Terroristic Assholes), hearing it from a card-carrying member of the sporting media was a bit disappointing.

Aren't we usually of the mindset that "the game must go on"? Why stand around and allow a game to be held hostage by some jackhole who decided that letting a bat loose at a basketball game on Halloween would get a few laughs? And yes, I'm fully convinced someone smuggled the poor creature in. No way it's a coincidence that a bat invades a game on Halloween night. All arenas hosting Easter games need to be on the lookout for canaries. While we're at it, why not check people for turtle doves...or French hens...or calling birds...or geese a-laying...or swans a-swimming on Christmas? They should be easy to spot, as it's pretty hard to hide seven swans on one's person.

Unless it's in San Antonio, since the Spurs' arena security staff is obviously riddled with EPIKPHAIL.

PETA's response to the "Bat-Manu" incident, which you can read by clicking the above link, tells us that "bats always try to avoid contact with humans." So, isn't a person bringing a bat into the arena (most likely under a jacket) doing more to torture its fragile little psyche than a guy trying to defend himself? We don't know what kinds of diseases the bat might be carrying. So swatting it out of the air before the arena staff comes with a net to REALLY antagonize it might have been the best course of action.

When people start chasing after me with a net (I call it Tuesday), I get tempted to fight back. And so it may have been with the bat. If the bat had bitten someone and given them rabies, I'm sure PETA would still be objecting to its destruction...since, after all, they're the only ones allowed to play God with the animal kingdom.

And speaking of rabies, Manu's going through shots as a result of his daring swipe. From all accounts that I've ever heard, rabies shots are a whole metric ton of not fun. It takes a real man to voluntarily put himself in that kind of situation for the potential well-being of others, and by God, Manu Ginobili clanks when he walks, if you catch my drift.

Besides, the usher to whom Manu handed the beast claims that it did, in fact, fly away once outside. If the bat's not dead, and the game got played, and Manu's smiling through the pain of his shots...then I guess all that's left to say is this:

PETA can officially kiss my ass.