John U. Bacon

Sports
1:00 am
Fri November 30, 2012

Brady Hoke's sophomore slump

MGoBlog flickr

This time last year, Brady Hoke was the darling of Michigan football fans. 

He’d charmed everybody at his first press conference, then led a team that had averaged just five wins a year to a 10-2 regular-season record, with thrilling wins over Notre Dame, Nebraska and arch-rival Ohio State.

Then he capped it all off with an overtime victory in the Sugar Bowl. 

The man could do no wrong.

When he referred to injuries as “boo-boos” and Ohio State as “Ohio,” fans did not conclude he was an ignoramus who knew nothing about the greatest rivalry in sports, but a motivational genius, who understood exactly what the duel was all about. 

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Sports
1:00 am
Fri November 16, 2012

Our national anthem is worth more than ten bucks

West Point Public Affairs flickr

On Veterans Day, we generally honor our Veterans.

It’s a good idea, for lots of reasons: they served our country, often in unpleasant places, and in great danger, to keep the worst of the world away from our homeland. 

My grandfather was a New York dentist who volunteered at age 39 to hop on a ship in the Pacific during World War II. 

My dad graduated from medical school, then enlisted in the U.S. Army, which sent him and his new bride to Fulda, Germany, to guard the border.     

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Sports Commentary
1:00 am
Fri November 9, 2012

Politicians need to learn from sports

z.duffy flickr

Whether your candidates won or lost this week, we can all rejoice that it’s finally over. 

Or, we think it is.  We can’t be sure anymore, can we? 

All this made me ponder the relative craziness of politics versus sports. I got to thinking: Which is sillier?  Playing politics, or playing sports? 

As silly as sports are – and I seem to devote half my commentaries to that very subject – after watching the 2012 campaigns, I can tell you, it’s not even close: Playing politics is sillier, in a landslide.

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Sports Commentary
7:06 am
Fri October 19, 2012

Ann Arbor high school football players show better sportsmanship than coaches

user: Michael Knight /flickr

Last week, the Ann Arbor Pioneer high school football team went across town to play long-time rival Ann Arbor Huron.  It wasn’t the players’ performance during the game that made news, however, but the coaches’ behavior afterward.  And the news wasn’t good.

Ann Arbor Pioneer came into the annual rivalry with Ann Arbor Huron, sporting a solid 4-3 record and a good chance to make the playoffs.  Huron hadn’t won a game all year, and was simply playing out the season.  The only stakes were bragging rights – and even those weren’t much in question.

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Sports
1:00 am
Fri October 12, 2012

Remembering Budd Lynch

Budd Lynch began his career with the Red Wings at Detroit's Olympia Arena.
Library of Congress wikimedia commons

His parents named him Frank Joseph James Lynch—but everybody knew him as Budd. 

He passed away this week, at the age of 95.  No, you can’t call that a tragedy, but you can call it a loss—one thousands are feeling. 

In a week that included no Big Ten teams ranked in the top 25, the idiotic NHL lockout and, far worse, Jerry Sandusky’s sentencing, I’d rather spend my few minutes with you honoring a man who lived as long as he lived well. 

Lynch was born in Windsor, Ontario, during World War I.  

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Sports Commentary
7:00 am
Fri September 21, 2012

Denard Robinson, enjoy him while you can

Denard Robinson avoids a rush from the Fighting Irish.
Michigan Football Facebook

Last week, the University of Michigan football team beat up University of Massachusetts, 63-13.

Okay, U-Mass was pretty bad. Even lowly Indiana crushed them.

But the Wolverines did exactly what they were supposed to do, and did it very well. Many Michigan fans complained anyway.

This is not uncommon.

A few years ago, Michigan blew out 15th-ranked Notre Dame team 38-0, the first shut out over the Irish in over a century. The next day, I challenged listeners on a sports talk show to find something to complain about.

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Sports
7:32 am
Fri June 1, 2012

Why Michigan's softball team knocks it out of the park

Scott Galvin U-M Photo Services

The University of Michigan softball team won the Big Ten title this year – for the fifth year in a row, and 15th time overall. It went to the NCAA tournament – for the 18th straight season.  Winning titles is what they do.   

And this was not even one of head coach Carol Hutchins’ best teams. 

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Sports
7:25 am
Fri November 11, 2011

John U. Bacon: "You can either be a PR man or you can be a journalist... and try to tell the truth"

Anthony Gattine Flickr

Michigan Radio's Sports Commentator John U. Bacon has a new book out. It premiered at number six on The New York Times non-fiction best seller list this week. Bacon was already well-known at the University of Michigan for the book he co-wrote with Bo Schembechler. So, it wasn’t difficult for him to get access to the Wolverine football program in 2008 when the team got a new head coach Rich Rodriguez, or Rich-Rod.

Bacon's plan was to write a story on the spread offense that Rich-Rod had used so successfully at West Virginia. But Bacon quickly found himself in the middle of a new, more complex story.

"It started out being a very simple story... and, now you realize, of course, three years later, the real story is off the field: it's what it's really like to be a player, what it's really like to be a coach, NCAA investigations, pressure, losing, ultimately getting fired... I don't think you have to be much of a football fan to follow this," says Bacon.

Michigan Radio's Christina Shockley spoke with Bacon about his new book, Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football.

Sports Commentary
9:57 am
Fri October 7, 2011

Wildcats Football: Northwestern's miracle season

Fans at a Wildcats football game.
Derek Tam Flickr

The University of Michigan football team plays Northwestern in Evanston tomorrow for the first time since 2007.  The undefeated, 12th ranked Wolverines are seven-point favorites, but beating the Wildcats is no longer the easy game it used to be.  Whatever happens this weekend, it can’t match what happened back in 1995 – one of my favorite sports stories.

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Sports Commentary
6:30 am
Fri September 9, 2011

Dedication to Michigan Football runs deep

"The Big House" - Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. This photo was taken in 2010. The scoreboards are bigger now.
Andrew Horne wikimedia commons

With a night game scheduled in Ann Arbor tomorrow for the first time in Michigan football’s 132-year history, the town is buzzing.

But it’s fair to wonder just how we got here.  I think I understand why.

George Will recently wrote that when archeologists excavate American ruins centuries from now, they may be mystified by the Big House in Ann Arbor.  “How did this huge football emporium come to be connected to an institution of higher education? Or was the connection the other way?”

It’s a fair question, one I’ve pondered myself many times.  When I try to explain to foreigners why an esteemed university owns the largest stadium in the country, their expressions tell me it’s – well, a truly a foreign concept.

Ken Burns said our national parks are “America’s best idea.”  If so, then our state universities must be a close second. 

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Breaking: Jim Tressel resigns
10:38 am
Mon May 30, 2011

Buckeye football coach Jim Tressel resigns; good for Wolverines?

The man who led Ohio State to victories over the University of Michigan in nine out of the rivals' last ten games has resigned.

Football coach Jim Tressel faced an NCAA investigation into possible corruption in his program, including claims that players received cars from local dealerships. 

Sports analyst John U. Bacon says there have been allegations of corruption for years.  So he's not surprised that a scandal finally brought the Tressel era to an end, despite his stellar performance.

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Sports Commentary
10:58 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Getting to know the Fab Five

The Fab Five - From left to right, Jimmy King, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Ray Jackson, Juwan Howard.
user skoch 3 wikimedia commons

A lot of this story, you already know:

Five super-talented freshmen come to Michigan, and by mid-season the Wolverines become the first team in NCAA history to start all five freshmen. They get to the final game of March Madness before losing to defending national champion Duke. The next year, they make it to the finals again, but lose to North Carolina when their best player, Chris Webber, calls a time-out they don’t have. 

Along the way they make baggy shorts and black socks fashionable, and import rap music and trash talk from the inner-city playground to the mainstream of college basketball.

It’s been that way ever since.

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Sports Commentary
4:11 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

Earl Boykins: The little guy that outlasted them all

Earl Boykins with the ball when he played for the Denver Nuggets. He now plays for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Jeramey Jannene Flickr

Eastern Michigan University had a very strong basketball team in 1996.

The Eagles were so good they stunned the Duke Blue Devils in the first round of the NCAA tournament, 75-60.

They had nation’s second-leading scorer - and their program listed his height at 5-foot-8 inches.

This, I had to see. 

I watched Earl Boykins and his teammates torch Central Michigan, Western Michigan and Ball State.

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Sports Commentary
4:31 pm
Thu February 24, 2011

Remembering Fred Fragner

Fred Fragner was a parent John U. Bacon met while coaching his son's hockey team.
Dean Michaud Flickr

Whenever I talk to a high school coach who quit, they always say the kids were great, but the parents drove them crazy.

It doesn’t matter what sport.  

But when I coached the Ann Arbor Huron High School hockey team, I was lucky.

Yes, getting to know the players was the best part, and now, seven years after I stepped down, I’m going to their weddings.

What I didn’t expect, though, was becoming lifelong friends with their parents, too.  

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Sports Commentary
4:55 pm
Thu February 17, 2011

February, the slow season for sports

Watching channel zero
user greenkozi Flickr

Last week my beloved television went POOF! It was seven years old, or 14 in sports writer years.  

So, what great sports events did I miss?

Well, I can’t be sure, of course, but I’m willing to bet… not much.

Sports writers complain about the dog-days of summer, when all we have to write about is tennis and Tiger and the Tigers – and, that’s about it. But there’s a lesser-known slow season for sports scribes, and it's called February.

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Commentary
8:13 am
Fri February 11, 2011

Super Bowl Hoopla

A storm trooper prepares to take the stage at a downtown Pittsburgh Super Bowl XLV rally
user daveynin Flickr

Forty five years ago, the Super Bowl wasn’t even the Super Bowl.

They called it the NFL-AFL Championship game, until one of the founders renamed it after watching his grandson play with a “High Bouncing Ball” – a super ball.

Tickets were only fifteen bucks for that first game, and they barely sold half of those, leaving some 40,000 empty seats in the Los Angeles Coliseum.   

A 30-second ad cost only $42,000, and they weren’t any different than the ads they showed the previous weekend.

The half-time show featured three college marching bands, including one you might have seen from the University of Michigan.

Over the next couple decades, of course, the event became a veritable national holiday.  Tickets now sell for thousands of dollars, and ads for millions.  The game attracts more than 100 million viewers in the U.S. alone.

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Sports
3:43 pm
Thu January 6, 2011

Love or hate Rich Rodriguez, coaching college football is tough

For the past three years I’ve had unfettered access to the Michigan football program, from the film room to the locker room, to write a book about what I’ve seen.

Before I walked into that first staff meeting, I thought I knew Michigan football as well as anyone.  But after three years of seeing everything up close, I can tell you this unequivocally: I had no idea.

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Opinion
4:18 pm
Thu December 16, 2010

Commentary: New Big Ten Logo a Big Zero

The new Big Ten logo

Last spring the Big Ten Conference added Nebraska, giving the league 12 teams.

So, what do you do -- change the name to the Big 12?  No, because that name's already taken by another conference -- which, naturally, now has ten teams.  So the Big Ten decided to keep its name -- and change everything else.   

To create a new logo, they could ask some corn-fed rubes like you and your friends, but you would probably do something stupid like draw on the Big Ten's 115-year history and come up with something simple, honest, and authentic.  Or you might just pay some art student a hundred bucks to make a new logo, like Nike did, and end up with some swoosh-looking thing, which no one remembers.

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Opinion
7:28 pm
Fri December 10, 2010

The Big Chill is big time, but hockey was not always so popular at UM

Dubbed "The Cold War" - University of Michigan vs. Michigan State University ice hockey in Spartan Stadium in 2001. "The Big Chill" is coming to Michigan Stadium tomorrow night.
wikipedia user grosscha

Tomorrow, more than 100,000 frozen fans will watch Michigan play Michigan State at the Big House. Not in football, which happens every other year - but in hockey, thus setting the record for the biggest crowd ever to watch a hockey game - anywhere.

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