Word broke today that the SEC was not going to enter any further relationship with EA Sports, effectively ending the longest running college football video game series. Common logic dictates that Mike Slive is attempting to avoid any further legal snafus stemming from the ongoing O'Bannon case, which, by the way, is NOT going well for the NCAA. But has anyone considered the alternative?
Is there more money in cutting the middle man out and developing their own video game?
I know this sounds, and probably is, ludicrous, that without the other 111 FBS schools, the value of such an endeavor drops. But, there IS a market for a college football video game. A BIG one. If the SEC were to partner with a big time game developer and release their own game, it would sell - at least for one season, even if the gameplay is awful. And if they were to enter an exclusive licensing deal with said company, and not allow their 14 schools to appear in any other video game, what is the value of any competitor? It certainly drops considerably.
I would argue that the biggest market for a college football game comes from the SEC footprint. Those fans are the most vested in the product. If all of the other conferences band together and make their own video game, sure, there are probably more combined fans of the other 111 schools, but that's also a pie being split 111 different ways. Bang for your buck, if produced properly, an SEC video game would give the 14 schools better return on investment than any game requiring splitting the cash further.
All of this, of course, begs the question: what would the SEC video game contain to differentiate it from whatever the competition might throw out there?
Let's cover the basics first. We're partnering with CBS. Yes, I know that the ESPN deal includes the SEC Network, and the game would be a neat marketing tool by implementing SEC Network graphics on the exclusively licensed SEC video game, but like the game of the week, let's give CBS first crack at this and see if they bite with a wad of bills. I want Verne Lundquist, Gary Danielson, Tracy, Wolfson, and Tim Brando. I want the CBS graphics. I want the national anthem of college sports themes. A deal could be brokered to include both ESPN and CBS on the game, sort of like what EA did with the college hoops game a few years back. That would best serve the interests of the conference AND its media partners.
Speaking of partners, The Home Depot is already on board. We even slapped their logo on the cover. I hope those backwoods fools down in Louisiana don't think this is a carpentry game. We're also bringing in Chick-Fil-A and Dr. Pepper and we're going to put their brands and commercials all thru our game. But we're not stopping there. We're going campus to campus, town to town, and we're asking for sponsorship from the little guys, too. Then, when you're on campus for a home game at Auburn, Gary will talk about going down and having some of the lemonade at Toomer's Drugs, and if you're down on the Bayou, Verne will talk about his dinner at Ruffino's. The SEC is more than just a football conference of 14 teams - it's a way of Southern life, interconnected by the culture of its towns. Our SEC video game is going to help capture that. Since we're only targeting 14 campuses and 14 towns, we can explore those locations far beyond any video game has ever gone. We may even go GTA on this puppy and give you missions to accomplish IN THE TOWN before kickoff. (KIDNAP THE COUNTRY MUSIC STAR IN DOWNTOWN NASHVILLE AND DITCH THE CAR!! +$6000! Welcome to big boy football, Vandy!)
If we're only dealing with 14 towns, Atlanta, Jacksonville, and a few other neutral site locales (such as bowl locations), that means we're ignoring everyone else. It's an SEC game - if you want the ACC or the Big Ten, go buy the other game; it won't have Bama or LSU or A&M or Florida. We're going all generic on their teams, their players, and their stadiums. If it were this season, LSU would be opening at AT&T Stadium against the purple-clad Fort Worth University and next year against Madison College. Florida would be headed south to play South Beach U. in Week 2. Slive and his crew may even see to it that the burnt orange Austin University and scarlet and gray Columbus College get dinged a few extra ratings points across the board. (I hope so, the pettier this game, the better.) In the next paragraph, I'll go over my favorite part of the game, which would theoretically include South Carolina DE #97... or, ya know what... Jadeveon Clowney pop some dude from Ann Arbor U in the Outback Bowl. Yes, we cut a deal to get real players in the game. Come to the SEC, be included in a video game. They're going to get a cut, on the conference's terms. (If this were to happen, go ahead and pre-order the game now, because you won't find it on a store shelf for at least eight months after release.)
Lots of unlockables are to be found in my favorite part of the game: SECnarios! It's not a new concept, but we're playing it up to the max here. FIFTY game scenarios you have to beat, in order of difficulty, all replicating the greatest SEC games ever. Each game unlocks something new, from coaches, players, retro teams, the works. Recreate Auburn's rally from 24-0 down to beat Bama in the 2010 Iron Bowl. Belue to Scott for 93 yards. Langham's interception of Shane Matthews in the '92 SEC Title Game. The Clint Stoerner game. And that's just brushing the surface.
The meat and potatoes of the game is of course the franchise/dynasty season-to-season dynamic, which we're calling Bear Bryant Mode. We're covering all the standards. EA's done all of this well over the years, even if some experiments were a bust. However, this is where we're going the extra mile here to fully capture the pettiness of SEC rivalries. Every interaction between teams and coaches will be tracked, every slight noted. Coaches throwing barbs at each other. Hell, video game Steve Spurrier has a shot of being the greatest video game character of all time. If Arkansas beats out A&M for a 3 star recruit, kid's getting heckled at Kyle Field his first time over there. Tennessee beats Bama for a 5 star recruit, boos will rain down on him in Tuscaloosa. South Carolina beats Georgia in a top five showdown in Columbia, the crowd's going to be extra hungry for the rematch in Athens next season. And if your national championship winning coach decides to leave and then return to a rival school in the division a few years later, the volume on your TV will break the first time he returns to Baton Rouge. The bigger the slight, the bigger the consequence. When those slights add up over a five year period, the rivalry rating goes thru the roof. If Florida's beaten Georgia 13 times in a row in Bear Bryant mode, rest assured Verne and Gary are going to tell you about it. If Arkansas upset LSU on a last second field goal the prior year, we're showing the replay a dozen times in the week leading up to the game. James Franklin talks some smack on the radio (we're getting there) about Tennessee, the quote shows up on the Vols' scouting report that week. Literally, every bit of pettiness we can squeeze into this thing. (Oh, and that rivalry rating number has no max in the SEC. We all know, just when you think the Bama/Auburn rivalry has peaked, there's ALWAYS something that can take it to another level, even if we're not putting the poisoning of trees in the game.) The ultimate goal here is to win the national title... but let's just say that the celebration video for winning the SEC Championship is a bit more wild than when you win the National Title. Ya know, exactly the way Bama handled winning both last season.
The soundtrack to the game is perhaps the most important part. We're not just doing fight songs - that's a given. But we're getting the full band playlists. That same silly tune that Bama's alleged Million Dollar Band plays 50 times a game (you know the one), it's there. All the different variations of War Eagle, not just the TD version. (And yes, the flyover's included here, too, along with every other pregame ritual in the conference.) If you're at The Swamp, you're getting "We Are The Boys" as the crowd sways side to side. Oh, and we've got AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" for Bama's locker room intro. And in what's probably the most controversial inclusion in the game, Ole Miss is playing "Dixie." It comes with the territory. We're getting ALL the sounds of the SEC.
Yes, that means Finebaum.
He'll be gigging the different teams and fanbases on all the menu screens, following the season as it goes along. We COULD include Jim From Tuscaloosa to get the full effect, but that'd be cruel and unusual punishment. You'll have to interview with him at least once during the season. You'll have the option of changing the station and getting something else, but you won't be able to avoid him entirely.
How is this not the greatest sports video game of all time?
There I just told you how to do it. Now somebody go and make this happen. You've already got my money. And I don't even have a PS3 or an XBox. I'd buy one just for this. I'd also be single within a month.
Sixth Year Seniors is back! Phil Steele stopped by last week to talk the national picture and Alan & Mikey looked at conference realignment before jumping into conference previews next week.
There is no player in college football that I am more torn on than Alabama starting quarterback A.J. McCarron. My opinion on him varies from day to day, hour to hour, and will probably change more times during the course of this piece than Lex Luger changed sides in WCW back in the day. I had planned on sharing some thoughts on McCarron this week, then saw Matt Brown's excellent Sports on Earth column today that took a look at the same polar opinions I'd been kicking around in my head. Specifically...
Despite being a two time defending National Championship quarterback, is A.J. McCarron an overrated "game manager" whose quiet preseason Heisman buzz is laughable? Is A.J. McCarron more than just a product of Nick Saban's "Process" and unfairly overlooked because of the wealth of talent placed around him?
Two totally opposite questions. Two legitimately fair questions. It is quite the paradox.
A.J. McCarron is wildly overrated. He's a "winner" because he has a winning team around him. Arguments could be made for his head coach being the greatest college football coach EVER. He's not going to be an NFL mainstay. He has had the luxury of having an elite defense on the field when he isn't on the field. He's given all kinds of time by a fabulous offensive line and has been able to hand the ball off to studs like Lacy, Yeldon, and Richardson. His signature play was a friggin SCREEN PASS! He has loaded up the statbook against inferior competition and struggled in games with comparable opposition. Yeah, he's got the rings, but he's lost his two biggest home games. The Heisman Trophy should be given to college football's best player, and just being quarterback of the best team in the land does not make you, by default, the best player in the country. That's a joke.
A.J. McCarron is a brilliant quarterback. If he wasn't, Saban wouldn't have recruited him. He wouldn't be rated A+ at any one skill, but he does everything at least "good," with no identifiable weaknesses. Great pocket presence, good mobility, can throw the deep ball, incredibly accurate, limits interceptions (8 in two seasons), outstanding team leader. Sure, a trio of fine tailbacks have shouldered a chunk of the load over the past two seasons, but have you thought about the idea that maybe they have a little extra running room because defenses respect the pass? And yes, the screen pass to Yeldon was one of the marquee plays of the 2012 season, but you know what else was? That 45 yard bomb to Cooper with 3:15 left to win the SEC Championship. Of course he has better stats against lesser foes, who doesn't? But his completion percentage has been under 60% just five times in the last 27 games. His two losses? Bama ran into the buzzsaw known as Johnny Football (and two INT's aside, McCarron played quite well) and the Tide dropped the infamous 9-6 OT decision in which Alabama kickers missed seemingly 17 field goals. Yeah, those are the ONLY two losses on his two year resume, meaning he is UNDEFEATED on the road and in neutral site games. Maybe McCarron isn't the most exciting player in college football, or the most marketable, or the most "pro-ready." But he might just be the most reliable high-end player in the nation. Depending on the competition, the Heisman Trophy isn't an outlandish prospect.
Neither is the idea that he could be leaving Tuscaloosa with three national championship rings.
Sixth Year Seniors is back! Phil Steele stopped by last week to talk the national picture and Alan & Mikey looked at conference realignment before jumping into conference previews next week.
What's next in the Manziel saga? Mafia ties? A baby mama? A strip club shooting? Isn't anything in play here? I still think the end game to this is a five interception performance against Bama, leading to a point shaving investigation. AND I'M ROOTING FOR THE GUY!! I don't understand the "haters" out there. Manziel's great. But he's also played out. So let's change the subject.
Let's talk about pro wrestling. More specifically, let's talk about Chris Jericho.
I really only go this route to share a story. It was the summer of 1999, and after an awesome run in 1998 as "Conspiracy Victim," crybaby heel, Chris Jericho, the self-proclaimed "Ayatollah of Rock n Rollah" was on his way to the WWF. Little did I know I'd witness, up close, one of my favorite wrestlers' final WCW appearances.
They ran a house show in Montgomery in July. Tickets went on sale the May morning after the final day of my junior year of high school. Being the dork that I was at the time (and by NO MEANS still am), I ditched the big end of school party early to get up with the crowing roosters to go be the first person in line for tickets. In a related note, I was single at the time. With ZERO prospects on the horizon.
And sure enough, I was the first person in line at the Civic Center box office. I was an hour ahead of the second guy, who was 45 minutes ahead of the third guy. I was there at 5:30am, tickets were said to go on sale at 8:00, but for whatever reason, the box office didn't open til 9:00. After an hour of wondering if I was getting screwed over by people getting tickets online, which wasn't a big thing yet, they opened the window and BOOM! Major success, I locked down three seats (for me and my two buddies) ringside, front row, dead center. I was giddy.
I made a handful of signs for the occasion, most notably the one stemming from my 180 minute wait on the Montgomery, Alabama concrete: "I Waited Three And a Half Hours in Line Just to See JERICHO!" Jericho's character had been arguing with sign-wielding fans ever since he became a bad guy, so I was hoping this might stir some action. I took the night off from work, and we went to the Civic Center to make idiots of ourselves. As it turned out, literally.
I remember NOTHING about the majority of the show. I THINK Buff Bagwell beat DDP in the main event, but I honestly have no idea. In the time since I had purchased the tickets, the company had gone in a completely different direction, pushing some new guys on top, phasing out others, and in general, really alienating me from the product. But, at least for one more night, I still had Jericho.
He was featured in the co-main, tag teaming with Eddie Guerrero against Rey Mysterio and Billy Kidman. For you wrestling nuts out there, yeah, this was some excellent stuff. The bad guys heeled it up to perfection, Eddie played the aloof wannabe tough guy, and rock star Jericho thanked all his fans for coming out "here in, in... [to the ring announcer] where are we again...? ... MO-BILE, ALABAMA!" The good guys entered to their new No Limit Soldiers music, and I got a laugh from them with my oh so clever "Hoody Who?" sign. But it wasn't long before the masterpiece came into play.
Fairly early in the match, we had the pier six brawl, where the good guys came in a house of fire, where it was indeed breaking down in Tulsa, or Montgomery, or wherever. Jericho ended up on the floor right in front of us and ate a baseball slide from Kidman, sending our hero careening into the guardrail at our feet. Now was the time! I flipped the sign over the rail for Jericho to read as he staggered to his feet. Still shaking the cobwebs, I see him read my sign. Without missing a beat, he berates me, no more than 18 inches from my face: "SIT DOWN! YOU'RE AN IDIOT IF YOU DID THAT!!"
My night was made.
Aside from the smarks sitting around us who ate this up, Jericho rolled back in to boos and the match continued. It's all a blur, I just remember someone doing the job to Kidman's shooting star press, an inverted somersault splash from the top rope. Whether it was Eddie or Jericho that took the three count, it didn't matter. They'd entertained the hell out of me, and I didn't know there was more to come.
Post-match, the bad guys faked a falling out, then opted for a hug instead, eliciting more boos from the fans. My group gets extra loud talking smack of unintelligible nonsense, I'm sure, drawing Jericho back around to our side of the ring, where he proceeds to take my sign and, in a trademark Jericho move, RIP IT IN HALF before calling me an idiot again as he leaves. OUTSTANDING!
Less than a month later, the "Countdown to the Millennium" clock reached zero on Monday Night Raw, and Chris Jericho walked out on the stage and ran down The Rock, who was on the verge of being the biggest star in the business, and called him, of all things, an idiot.
So that's two things that The Rock and I have in common, the other being that we both are totally fed up with this Manziel offseason drama and can't wait for the season to start. At least I presume he is - the Gators head down to Miami to take on Rock's Hurricanes in on 9/7. Can't wait.
If you were anything like me, professional wrestling played a big part of your childhood. For me, growing up in the Carolinas, sitting down for dinner at 6:05 with World Championship Wrestling on TBS was a weekly tradition, with my father explaining to me why the Midnight Express was kicking the crap out of jobbers every night or why the Four Horsemen would get cheered by the crowd despite being the bad guys. Ric Flair was the star of the show, with every episode hinging on whether the champ was in the house to cut a five star promo. (And when he did, it never failed to disappoint.) He was flanked by a plethora of charismatic performers, from Russian madman Nikita Koloff to pretty boy tag team Rock n Roll Express to weirdos like Baron Von Raschke and Jimmy Valiant.
When you think about it, this isn't really isn't much different than the modern day SEC Football scene, whose "Media Days" this week is always a circus of hot air and contrived drama. And that 3:30 ET slot starting mid-September on CBS is, week in and week out, must see television. And the star power in the conference is as high as ever. Alabama is looking to successfully defend its national title for a SECOND consecutive year, something never done in the modern era. There's that QB down in College Station that made some waves last year and getting a lot of hype this offseason. South Carolina has the single most dominant defensive force the college game has seen in a decade in Jadeveon Clowney. LSU reloads again, with batshit crazy head coach Les Miles leading the way. Georgia brings back star signal caller Aaron Murray after taking Bama to the limit in last year's conference title game. And it goes on and on...
I don't watch wrestling anymore. I get my fix of macho athletic feats and stilted melodrama every fall Saturday in the South. But if we were to compare the two, who's who in this overbooked soap opera for men?
ALABAMA is RIC FLAIR
This is a given. Nick Saban lives in the big house, on the big side of town. He rides around in long limousines and jet airplanes. His shoes cost more than your house. Bryant-Denny Stadium has the longest lines. I mean, what's causin' all this?? The Crimson Tide has more titles than anyone, even when you discount the disputed ones, like the Fujinami switch and that overseas three day swap with Rhodes back in the day, or when Bama claimed that national title after finishing the season ranked 20th in 1941. Nevertheless, to be The Man, you gotta beat The Man, and no bones about it, Alabama is "The Man" right now, not just in the SEC, but in all of college football. WHOOOOOOO, FAT BOY!
TENNESSEE is Dusty Rhodes
Speaking of fat boys, a football power from years past, Tennessee is Alabama's old rival, having squared off on the "Third Saturday in October" for years, even if it's now the fourth Saturday of the month. (Hey, even traditions like Starrcade got bumped a month due to money, ya know?) The Vols lay claim to the biggest stadium in the SEC, while Dusty lays claim to the biggest gut, but that doesn't keep either from putting away the alcohol when it's time, be it Natty Lights or wine via unconventional means. And if ANYONE knows about Hard Times right now, isn't it Tennessee?
Auburn is Ron Garvin
Will be remembered for a LONG time for being the champ under some curious circumstances. There were DEFINITELY some shenanigans afoot when Auburn stormed up the polls to take the 2010 National Championship. And there were plenty of backstage politics that led to Garvin taking the title from longtime nemesis Flair in the fall of 1987. In fact, if you look hard enough at the above picture, you can see the money changing hands, a la Cecil Newton a few years ago. (Maybe Trooper Taylor learned his $100 handshake from Jim Crockett?) Much like Bama the following season, Flair quickly won the title back, and Garvin, while not exactly escaping Utah State at the gun and landing on probation, wound up in lower midcard hell in the WWF not long after. Same difference.
Vanderbilt is Shaska Whatley
Once the harmless, lovable loser, destined for beatdowns at the hands the big boys week in and week out, Vanderbilt found itself a new head coach in James Franklin and things are looking up for the Dores. Much like when Pez Whatley found Paul Jones, was rechristened "Shaska," and instantly became a semi-player on the NWA midcard scene. I mean, yeah, Shaska wasn't beating Flair all of a sudden, but he was no longer doomed to jerk the curtain against guys like Sam Houston on syndicated Worldwide anymore, and Vandy isn't kicking off at 11:30 every week anymore. Amazing what a heel turn can do for a team.
Arkansas is Magnum T.A.
Oh, what might have been. A few years ago, Arkansas was a program on the rise, with an offense that was fun to watch and the potential to go toe to toe with the Bama's and the LSU's of the conference and become a major player. The Hogs even landed a spot in the Sugar Bowl where they got screwed by a fickle NCAA, allowing Ohio State to play with blatantly illegal players and beat them 31-26 in what remains the Big Ten's only BCS bowl win over an SEC school. Magnum, too, was on the precipice of becoming a superstar. After taking Tully Blanchard's U.S. Title in a bloodbath for the ages, he, too, was screwed by shoddy oversight, with archrival Nikita Koloff cheating like hell to steal the title in the summer of '86. And just when it seemed Magnum and Arkansas were both taking the final big step, the wreck happened. While Magnum was getting help just to walk at the '87 Crockett Cup, John L. Smith was losing by scores of 52-0, 58-10, and doing the job for Louisiana-Monroe. In Little Rock.
South Carolina is Michael "P.S." Hayes
It seems blasphemous to compare Badstreet, Atlanta, G-A's Michael Hayes to South Carolina and not the obvious school here, but I never said this would be perfect. Michael Hayes is one of the greatest talkers in the history of the business. Steve Spurrier is THE greatest talker in the history of his business. Whether it's gigging Georgia, Clemson, or referencing all of the coloring books in Auburn's library, the Head Ball Coach has talked smack to them all. Repeatedly. When Hayes struck off on his own, he didn't find much success. Neither did Spurrier, whose NFL tenure in Washington is laughed upon. Those failures were not the sole faults of Hayes and Spurrier, respectively, and each found more success when they returned to what they were the best at: being the figurehead for their tougher cohorts. One last note: while South Carolina flew the Confederate flag way longer than it should have, Michael Hayes WORE the Confederate flag way longer than he should have.
LSU is Terry Funk
Not exactly the most stable of environments, "Saturday Night in Death Valley" is renowned for its ludicrous fan behavior, alcohol consumption, and downright insanity. Terry Funk would fit right in. Another football power from years past, LSU stormed back onto the national scene in the last decade under Nick Saban, bagging a BCS Title before Saban left for greener NFL pastures, and eventually Alabama. The Tigers continued their domination anyway under their new head coach, as Jim Ross might put it, "goofy as a pet coon" Les Miles. Miles eats grass. Funk spits quarters. Despite being a former World Champion, the Funker was never all there either, a hothead known for crazy antics such as attempting to suffocate opponents with plastic bags, partaking in exploding ring "death matches," and doing moonsaults off of ladders twenty years past his prime. When Funk witnessed the title he once held go back around the waist of Ric Flair, he jumped him (while still wearing his tuxedo) and piledrove him thru a ringside table, setting off a feud of epic proportions. When Saban ended up in Tuscaloosa, the Bayou Bengals and the Tide set off on their own war, swapping wins, but, like Funk losing the blowoff I Quit Match to Flair in convincing fashion, LSU also lost the blowoff with Alabama, getting shutout 21-0 in the National Championship Game.
Florida is The Road Warriors
In the mid-80's, the Legion of Doom were the baddest of all the badasses. Hawk and Animal ran roughshod over the NWA, after having already run roughshod over the AWA. In the mid-00's, Florida was the gold standard in the SEC, banking two BCS Titles, just a few years removed from taking another National Title in '97, under Steve Spurrier. When Spurrier was there, you always took the Gators, no matter how ridiculous the spread was. When the Road Warriors fought, you always took the under on match time, as Iron Man would usually still be blaring when Hawk and Animal dumped some poor jabroni on their head with their Doomsday Device. Under head coach Urban Meyer, Florida unleashed a devastating move of its own, too: the Jump Pass! Guaranteed to be a touchdown every time it was thrown, the play resonates to this day, as we are reminded of it countless times on every CBS broadcast by Gary Danielson. The Gators haven't been the same since Meyer left, much like LOD was never the same without manager Paul Ellering.
Ole Miss is "Wildfire" Tommy Rich
While they may not be carrying high profiles, both Ole Miss and "Wildfire" Tommy Rich are legends in the South. Ole Miss claims three national titles from some 50 years ago and unfortunately hasn't seen much prolonged success since. Rich had a cup of coffee with the pinnacle of success, as well, upsetting Harley Race for the NWA Title in 1981 - a reign that lasted a grand total of four days. Both are HUGE in Memphis, and both are known partiers. The Grove in Oxford is generally accepted to be the best tailgating destination in the SEC and Wildfire is generally accepted as one of the biggest drinkers in wrestling history, so while not "successful" on paper, each have their perks.
Missouri is "The Z-Man" Tom Zenk
The new guy in town, Missouri's one year in the SEC was fairly uneventful. The most notable thing to happen was the bizarre thunderstorm delay in their home game versus Alabama, prolonging their eventual misery. In the late 80's, Tom Zenk was the new guy on World Championship Wrestling, and didn't do much of anything for many months. Zenk was just happy to be out of his crappy deal with former WWF tag team partner Rick Martel, as Zenk was getting paid way less than his Can-Am Connection partner had been. Missouri feels the Z-Man's pain, having ditched their old Big XII home due to other schools, namely Texas, getting more than their fair share of the pie, at least in Mizzou's eyes.
Mississippi State is "Bullet" Bob Armstrong
Poor Mississippi State gets no respect. They're trapped in the toughest division in college football, the "other" school in their own state, and just plain behind the 8 ball. But they bust their butts under new head man Dan Mullen. Bullet Bob never got much due either, OWNING crowds all over the Southeast back in the territory days, but could never put it altogether while working for Crockett, a tad past his prime. "Bullet" chants were the norm wherever he wrestled, much like the cowbells follow State wherever they play. A second generation of Armstrongs found more success, particularly Brad and especially "Road Dogg." Perhaps the Bulldogs find some success of their own as their new generation begins under Mullen.
Georgia is Lex Luger
Oh yes. Lex Luger had it all when he came into the NWA, so much that he was nicknamed "The Total Package." He was groomed to be the next big star; he had the size, the look, the youth, and the charisma to be HUGE. And, for a multitude of reasons, it never quite panned out. Sounds like a football team in the SEC to me! Georgia has all the tools to be a football powerhouse. Beautiful campus, gorgeous women, prime access to the biggest city in the South, and a central location in the hottest recruiting region in the nation. And, for a multitude of reasons, it hasn't quite panned out. Luger could never get the big win over Flair. Georgia could never get the big win over Florida. Even in later years, when Luger finally did win the title (not over Flair), he pissed it away days later. And when UGA finally won an SEC Title (after losing to Florida), they were embarrassed by West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl. Luger could never shed the choker label. The Dawgs have to shake it now.
Texas A&M is Sting
Could A&M be the next marquee superstar in the SEC? They asked the same question about Sting and the NWA back in 1987 when he debuted as the hot, young rookie. It took neither long to make their marks. A&M upset defending national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa months into their first season in the league. Sting wrestled defending champion Ric Flair to a 45 minute draw months into his first year in the NWA - and would've won the match and the title if not for a crooked judge. Their instant success quickly dwarfed their prior homes, the Big XII for the Aggies and the UWF for the Stinger. Sting was always a tad naive, having been turned on by friends (unofficially) 874 times, usually Lex Luger or Ric Flair. Johnny Manziel hasn't exactly handled his new found fame with maturity, either, but both can get it done on their fields of battle. Sting was destined to be a multiple time World Champion, just as A&M seems destined to be the next superpower in the college football landscape.
Kentucky is The Mulkey Brothers
Every football conference needs its bottom feeders. Every wrestling company needs its jobbers. Whenever you see either of these teams, you know they're about to get their asses kicked, usually in highly entertaining fashion. I'm guessing the Mulkey boys were counting down til basketball season, too.
Paul Finebaum is Jim Cornette
The greatest shit-stirrers of their respective businesses. Cornette had a job - to manage the Midnight Express - but was always sticking his nose in where it wasn't needed to make the product more entertaining. Finebaum has a job - to host a radio show - but he pokes and prods his listeners (and callers) to make the product more entertaining.
Clay Travis is Bill Apter
Both operate independently of the business they cover. Both produce supplemental materials that aren't necessary to keeping up with what's going on, but certainly are interesting. Apter made magazines like Pro Wrestling Illustrated a household name, huge in the territorial days when you didn't know what was going on everywhere else. Travis has made himself a household name by giving his takes on the SEC thru a couple of books and his SEC-focused website. Some fans hate Travis for his takes on off-field silliness, while Apter's refusal to break kayfabe irritated fans for years.
Verne & Gary are Tony Schiavone & David Crockett
Duh. They might not be the best announcer tandems out there, but we love them anyway. If Verne calls out a player by the wrong name, drink. If Tony claims this to be the greatest night in the history of our sport, finish your drink.
Tim Brando is Jim Ross
If Verne is Schiavone, this makes Brando the not yet "Good Ol' J.R." Jim Ross. Brando's the voice-in-waiting for the SEC, much like Ross was obviously the next voice of the NWA. Hell, in that case...
Keith Jackson is Gordon Solie
The greatest. Everyone else is playing for second place.
Sixth Year Seniors returns in August.
You might've heard the news late Wednesday. How they managed to keep it under wraps, I have no clue, but the Boston Celtics sent a shock wave thru the basketball world by snagging young prodigy Brad Stevens from Butler to be their new head coach. What he'll exactly be coaching is unclear, given the ultimate rebuild has started in Beantown, with only Rajon Rondo left from the core of players who made two Finals appearances in the past six seasons, and even Rondo himself seems to be the final piece on the move.
No matter what happens in Boston, Stevens will be fine. Worst case scenario, the Celtics win 30 games combined over the next two seasons, GM Danny Ainge is run out of town for lack of acquiring any talent, and the new guy in town runs Stevens back to college, leaving him to choose among a dozen major conference suitors who would undoubtedly sign him to a BIG contract within hours of his removal from Boston. Best case scenario, after winning the 2014 Lottery, Stevens builds a title contender in Boston around Andrew Wiggins, and his X's & O's approach pays huge dividends in the Association, and he's the second coming of Red Auerbach, sans victory cigar, not having to deal with the trivialities of convincing 17 & 18 year old kids to come throw on a jersey to play in Indianapolis or whatever college town in which he may have landed.
But where does this leave Butler? Behind guys like Hayward, Mack, and Nored, Stevens coached the Bulldogs to heights so-called "mid-major" schools had never dreamed of: two Final Fours and back to back NCAA Championship Games, literally fractions of an inch of a Hayward 45-footer from hanging an NCAA Title banner in Hinkle Fieldhouse. These journeys had led Butler to a new conference home, from the Horizon League to the Atlantic 10 to being invited by the "Catholic Seven" to join the new (old) Big East, where football is pushed aside for the hardwood and the battles within a 94' x 50' rectangle are what define collegiate athletic glory.
Butler will have to chase that glory under the command of a new general. Who will it be? The Bulldogs are already handicapped by the timing of Stevens' departure. The coaching carousel in college basketball has made its rounds already, the biggest splash coming when Steve Alford left New Mexico for UCLA. Presuming that never happened, wouldn't Alford have been a natural fit for Butler, the native son and legend returning home to coach the upstart school? Wouldn't going from New Mexico (in the Mountain West) to Butler (in the new Big East) be an upgrade? Moot point now, but it would've been perfect.
I bring this up because the question lingers: with two Final Fours in the past four seasons, but its coach now gone, how much clout does the Butler brand carry? Can the Bulldogs pluck a hot, young coach from another "mid-major" school? Guys like Shaka and Marshall aren't going anywhere, but who's left? Alford's to UCLA. Andy Enfield went from tournament sensation Gulf Coast to Southern Cal seemingly overnight. Son of the reigning National Title-wining coach, Richard Pitino, made his move from FIU to Minnesota. Longtime Duke assistant Chris Collins (I will refrain from making editorial comments here) finally made a move, to Northwestern, leaving Krzyzewski to find some other peon to handle his halftime interviews. (Sorry, I couldn't help myself.)
Butler's left in a huge bind here, and it seems to me they have two options. One, they find a top assistant from a big time school. I think Collins would've been a good fit, someone in that mold. Or two, and from the early reports I'm seeing this is the plan, hire from within and try to hold the course with one of Stevens' assistants, Terry Johnson or Michael Lewis.
How does this hurt Butler as they move to the Big East? I think they're okay. You can't forget that behind all the hype of the new Big East, it's really only Georgetown, Marquette, Creighton, Xavier, and some also-rans. If the Bulldogs can find an X's and O's guy that can come somewhat close to replicating Stevens' game management and pair that person with a decent recruiter that can point to the conference name and the Final Four banners, Butler should be able to maintain their standing as pesky upstart who you'll have to deal with in March, despite the upped competition in the new conference. Where Stevens' departure hurts them is building upon the foundation which he laid, and that is where this new hire is going to be critical.
Butler has to be competitive in the Big East, that is the minimum expectations for the next head coach. Returning to the second and third weekends of the NCAA Tournament will be a bonus, at least for now, as they make acquaintances with their new conference neighbors.
Man, is there gonna be some property destroyed tonight!
Someone on Twitter posed the following question the other day: what is the greatest sports call of all time? The answer everyone instantly gave was Al Michaels' immortal narration of the final half minute of the 1980 medal round hockey game between the United States and the Soviet Union. (I think something memorable might have happened that afternoon in Lake Placid.) It is the most recognizable sports call ever and I'll argue among the most historic phrases uttered in American history, alongside Roosevelt's "a date which will live in infamy," Lincoln's "four score and seven years ago," and Cronkite's "from Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official..." It was more than just a sporting event, more than just the red team versus the white team in a sixty minute game of ice hockey, more than just the underdogs pulling the biggest upset of a generation. So, with that said, should "Do You Believe In Miracles?" count in the discussion for greatest sports call of all time? You have to disqualify it, right? If so, what's the best? If not, what's number two? If we're looking for purely sports, the play on the field, and the announcer's crafting of the narration to his audience, I think I have the correct answer.
The year was 1980. Georgia football was at a fork in the road. Head coach Vince Dooley had been in Athens for 16 seasons, bagged three conference titles, five nine-plus win seasons, but was still looking for the school's first national championship since 1946. Despite a 6-5 record the year prior, the Bulldogs were optimistic about the 1980 season, bringing back 17 starters, as well as an incoming freshman by the name of Herschel Walker. Entering the season #16 in the AP Poll, would this finally be the season the Dawgs broke thru? Or was Georgia destined to be nothing more than a perennial SEC contender?
After unleashing Walker on the world - and most notably, poor Bill Bates - in a 16-15 win over Tennessee in Knoxville, Georgia went on a tear, posting a combination of three shutout victories, a rout of TCU, and hard-fought wins over Ole Miss and budding power Clemson. This left the Dawgs 7-0 heading into a nationally televised showdown with 6-1 and 14th ranked South Carolina and Heisman Trophy candidate George Rogers. Rogers rushed for 168 yards, but, with the Cocks trailing 13-10, fumbled on what would've been a game-tying or game-winning drive with just over five minutes to play. Rogers would have to settle for the Heisman, as it was Walker and his 213 yards leading Georgia to an eighth straight win and a matchup the following week with #20 Florida in "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party."
The game was played in Jacksonville, as it had been since the 30's, with the schools splitting tickets and the gate 50/50. The Dawgs had held the upper hand in the rivalry since Dooley had taken over the program, a significant shift after the Gators had won ten out of twelve in the 50's and early 60's. In the national scene, save for Notre Dame, all of the other title contenders had lost, and Georgia had moved to #2 in the polls. To continue its quest for a national championship, UGA had to vanquish its old foe yet again. Florida, on the other hand, had gone winless in 1979, the worst season in school history, but had rebounded impressively under second year head coach Charley Pell, and the Gators, as they would do many times in years to come, were out to play spoiler in Georgia's dream season.
The Dawgs were favored, and jumped out to an early 14-3 lead after Walker broke 100 yards in the first quarter alone, opening up the lesser-used passing game headed up by junior QB Buck Belue. News came that Notre Dame was trailing to Georgia Tech back in Atlanta, and the UGA faithful in attendance began to stir even more. However, a Walker fumble (his first lost fumble of the season) gave way for a TD by UF receiver Cris Collinsworth, cutting the UGA lead to 14-10. After long Bulldog drives sputtered inside the 10, with UGA settling for field goals instead of touchdowns, Florida answered late, with a 11 yard TD run by fullback James Jones, the subsequent two point conversion, and then a field goal with 6:52 remaining to give Florida its first lead of the day at 21-20.
Georgia was unable to answer, but the Gators could not run the clock out, pinning the Dawgs inside their own ten yard line with a minute and a half left. Two plays went nowhere and defeat hung over the red and black clad Bulldog contingent like a rain cloud. But on third down, the skies parted...
Belue to Scott. 92 yards. Euphoria. And Larry Munson's call of this play is absolutely perfect. He simultaneously tells the story of the action on the field while speaking to, and along with, the audience (Georgia fans) to which he is narrating this story.
"Back, third down on the eight, in trouble..."
Belue is forced to scramble, the Gator defense had rattled him on first and second downs, too. Belue is in trouble. The Dawgs are in trouble. The entire season is in trouble as Belue runs to his right and back toward the line of scrimmage.
"Got a block behind him, gonna throw on the run... complete to the 25, to the 30, Lindsay Scott..."
Wait, there's hope! At least a little, as Belue finds Scott sitting underneath the Florida's zone. It's obviously enough for a first down, and maybe UGA can drum up a couple of more big plays and get this thing into field goal range. Scott catches and turns, good for at least a few more yards. If you're a Georgia fan, you're not dead yet.
"35, 40, Lindsay Scott 45, 50. 45, 40..."
Scott pivots right and curls back downfield toward the sideline - in case he needs to get out of bounds - but there's nothing out there but green grass. The defense overcompensated for Belue being forced back to the nearside. Munson's cadence has clearly increased at this point. This is not a "prolong the agony" play, this is now a "this could change the outcome of the game" play. Munson amps up the intensity as the play escalates.
Along with every Georgia fan, Munson's now all in. There are memorable plays that happen in an instant, and there are memorable plays that take what feels like forever to finish, in which you can sense the increasing enormity of the situation as the play develops. Between the scramble, the pass, the catch, and the run, multiplied by the mammoth stakes involved, this must have felt like three minutes. When Munson implores Scott to keep going, it has been more then 12 seconds since the ball was snapped, an eternity on a football field. Scott, himself, has been the ballcarrier for more than six seconds before Munson cheers him on. This is the apex of the call. That isn't just Munson pleading with Lindsay Scott to keep going, it is every UGA fan watching or listening, all buying in that their prayers have been answered.
"25, 20, 15, 10, 5..."
Now we're coming down the stretch. Munson's counting down the yards, not unlike Michaels counting down the seconds in Lake Placid. Will Lindsay make it? Does he have enough gas in the tank? He's not going to step on the chalk, is he? Please tell me Sonny Gilliam (the Florida defensive back who had the best line on Scott from all the way back at the UGA 25) isn't going to run him down! Gilliam can't catch him.
"LINDSAY SCOTT! LINDSAY SCOTT! LINDSAY SCOTT!"
Scott has scored, 92 yards from Buck Belue. The national championship dream is alive. It's pandemonium in Jacksonville. The Bulldog half of the crowd is beyond ecstatic. Munson goes silent for seven seconds, the listener is able to soak in the thrill of the crowd through the audio. The season has been saved by Lindsay Scott.
At this point, this is a phenomenal football call. But, there's that period, particularly when there's a big celebration, between the touchdown and the extra point in which some time has to be filled. It is here where Munson's work transcends from flawless sports call to "you know where you were when it happened" status.
"Well, I can't believe it. 92 yards and Lindsay really got in a footrace, I broke my chair. I came right thru a chair, a metal STEEL chair with about a five inch cushion - I broke it. The booth came apart, the stadium... well, the stadium fell down, now they do have to renovate this thing, they'll have to rebuild it now. This is, this is incredible! Ya know, this game has always been called The World's Greatest Cocktail Party, do you know what is gonna happen here tonight? And up at St. Simons, and Jekyll Island, and all those places? Where all those Dawg people have got these condominiums for four days? Man, is there gonna be some property destroyed tonight! 26 to 21, DAWGS on top! We were gone! I gave up, you did too. We were out of it and gone!"
After recomposing himself, Munson comes back and relays his own reaction, in the press box, to the fans, many of whom likely went thru a similar experience wherever they were listening. He describes the spur of the moment damage to the chair, then describes the delirium at the Gator Bowl, unable to be contained and thus the need for mass cleanup, Munson himself guilty as anyone else. Hyperbolic, sure, but permissible given the ramifications of Lindsay Scott's catch and run. He openly references the alcohol consumption, a huge no-no in the modern era, and allows the listener to connect the dots as to how many more cocktails the Bulldog camp, many having made the drive down from Athens and Atlanta and posting up on the beach for a long weekend, will throw down that evening, and nails the money quote here, blatantly announcing that Georgia fans will be celebrating like idiots as the sun sets on this dramatic victory. He closes the call with disbelief, clearly a man who, despite the necessity to call the action on the field with at least some journalistic neutrality, is allowing the biased observer inside to come out and partake in the exasperation of the Dawgs' undefeated season rolling on.
If I am listening to my home team's radio voice, this is exactly how I want the story to be told to me. This is perfection.
Georgia finished the season 12-0, defeating Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to claim an undisputed national championship. Larry Munson, you are missed dearly, not only by Bulldogs the world over, but college football fans everywhere. Your finest work will never be forgotten.
My dad was in the Air Force. He got stationed at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery when I was in the fifth grade in October 1992. Moving from the Carolina coast to Alabama was, needless to say, a culture shock. We were "lucky" enough to move to the heart of the Southeastern Conference the same year that Gene Stallings coached one of the most ferocious defenses in college football history to an undefeated National Championship, capped off by a Crimson Tide 34-13 Sugar Bowl beatdown of Miami. While it was pretty cool to see all the locals (well, HALF the locals) all jazzed up about their school bringing home some hardware, it QUICKLY became evident that no matter how many games they won, how many trophies they captured, or how many scholarships they were stripped of due to NCAA probation, these people were not going to shut up about their football team.
The following summer, the Eric Ramsey case sent the state into mass hysteria, as Auburn got SLAMMED with NCAA sanctions. Nobody was safe, as even Auburn icon Pat Dye was ousted as head coach. For several months in 1993, unless your name was Jordan and you were in the process of winning a third consecutive NBA Title, nobody knocked Ramsey off the headlines of the Montgomery Advertiser sports page. The day after the probation came down, the paper had an entire section dedicated to the fallout. All the key figures involved, the intricacies of the various parts of the case, what it meant for Auburn (and Alabama) for the upcoming seasons.
Of course, Auburn, unable to play on television (I miss the TV probation days), leaving radio legend Jim Fyffe to narrate the Tigers' season, proceeded to go 11-0, upsetting Bama on the final day of the season, and staked a claim to a national title they were doomed to be denied of. In 1994, BOTH teams went undefeated (Auburn's winning streak was snapped by a 20-20 tie with Georgia) until Bama held on for a 21-14 win in Birmingham that propelled them back to the SEC Championship Game. Then the Antonio Langham case broke, and it was Auburn's turn to laugh at the Tide.
The lesson here, if you haven't figured it out yet, is that it doesn't stop. If there's not a national title to talk about, there's an SEC Title to talk about. If there's not an SEC Title to talk about, there's the Iron Bowl to talk about. And if the Iron Bowl - the rowdiest, craziest rivalry in sports - is down, as it has been since Cam Newton left The Plains, Bama fans will find someone else to snipe with.
The most recent target of those attacks? Texas A&M. But the Aggies aren't backing down, coming back at the Tide with some barbs of their own. A&M athletic director Eric Hyman dropped this gem earlier this week:
What do the moon and Texas A&M have in common? They both control the Tide"
Yes, there's already a shirt you can buy, too.
I love this. While Alabama was a difficult place to live at times, those same crazies who made it miserable so often would also provide me the entertainment to get thru those long, hot Alabama summers when it's too muggy to go outside and do much of anything. That SEC mentality is starting to creep into Texas behind the rise of Kevin Sumlin's Aggies. The A&M contingent, after having to deal with all the burnt orange in Texas for all these years, have ditched themselves of old baggage and have started anew in their new SEC home, and they've grasped the culture instantly.
September 14th can't get here soon enough.
Spoiler: You will get more takes from Mikey on the NWA U.S. Title scene from 1986 thru 1990 than you will on PAC-12 or Big Ten football.