sports commentary

Sports Commentary
7:33 am
Fri February 3, 2012

National signing day is like game day for college football coaches

Chris Singeltary, the director of player personnel for the University of Michigan's football team, pulls the first signed letter of intent off the fax machine at 7:14 a.m. on National Signing Day.
screen grab mgoblue.com

The most important day of the year for a college football coach is not the home opener, the big rivalry game or even a bowl game.  It’s national signing day, which falls on the first Wednesday in February.

On signing day, the end zone is not grass or Astroturf, but a fax machine tray.  Only when a signed National Letter of Intent breaks the plane of that tray does it count.

A couple years ago I got a chance to see the sausage get made – and it’s not pretty.

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Sports Commentary
6:30 am
Fri January 27, 2012

Joe Paterno: The noble, and the ignoble

When an 85-year old man dies, you cannot call it a tragedy.  Sad, yes, but tragic, no.  

But Joe Paterno’s passing might be an exception.  Born in Brooklyn in 1926, he enrolled at Brown University, where he played quarterback. He still holds a school record -- for interceptions -- with 14. 

After graduating, Paterno was supposed to go to law school, but instead followed his coach, Rip Engle, to Penn State.  

His father was beside himself.  “For God’s sake, what did you go to college for?”  That was 1950.  62 years later, that’s where Joe Paterno died. 

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Sports Commentary
6:30 am
Fri January 20, 2012

Wolverines and Spartans basketball, the rivalry grows stronger

For only the fifth time in the rivalry’s history, Michigan and Michigan State both entered last Tuesday night's contest ranked in the top 20.
mgoblue.com

The rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State in football is one of the best in the country.  But it obscures the fact that, in just about every other sport, Michigan’s main rival is Michigan State.

In men’s basketball, there’s no team either school would rather beat than the other.  The problem is, for a rivalry to really catch on, both sides need to be at the top of their game.  Think of Bo versus Woody, Borg-McEnroe and, of course, Ali-Frazier, which required three death-defying fights just to determine that one of them might have been slightly better than the other. 

The Michigan-Michigan State basketball rivalry, in contrast, usually consists of at least one lightweight.  When Michigan got to the NCAA final in 1976, Michigan State had not been to the tournament in 17 years.

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Sports Commentary
6:30 am
Fri January 13, 2012

Money is stripping the fun out of college football

"The Granddaddy of Them All" - The Rose Bowl was first played in 1902 between the University of Michigan and Stanford University. Today, the "Granddaddy" is being overshadowed. There are 35 bowl games spread out over a month.
Bryan Frank

The college football bowl season has always been a little crazy - but most of that used to be “fun crazy.”

Now it’s “bad crazy.”

Michigan played in the first ever bowl game against Stanford on New Year’s Day in 1902.

The Wolverines won, 49-0 – but didn’t play another bowl game for 46 years.     

Pasadena didn’t host another game until 1916, and no one else sponsored one until 1935, when the Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl, and the Sun Bowl started, followed two years later by the Cotton Bowl.

The games were just glorified exhibitions, intended to reward a few good teams with a nice trip, and for the Southern cities to promote themselves.

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Sports Commentary
6:30 am
Fri January 6, 2012

Michigan football and their bowl games, those who stayed became champions

Both Michigan State and the University of Michigan football teams celebrated bowl wins over their opponents.
Images from MSU and UM Facebook pages

The Big Ten is still considered one of the nation’s top leagues, despite its frequent belly flops in bowl games. 

This year, the Big Ten placed a record ten teams in bowl games – then watched them drop, one by one. 

And not just in the storied Rose Bowl, but in games like the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl, the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, and the Insight Bowl. 

When Iowa got whipped 31-14, I wonder just how much insight they had gained. 

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Sports Commentary
6:00 am
Fri December 16, 2011

A look back at the year in sports

Justin Verlander was one of the good sports stories of the year. Photo - Verlander and Alex Avila receiving awards from Tigers owner Mike Ilitch.
Dave Hogg Flickr

Former Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren said, “I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures.”

But this year, the sports page had plenty of both.

Sad to say, bad news tends to travel faster.

So let’s start with some good news.  In men’s tennis, the rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, already one of the best, was joined by a man named Novak Djokovic, who won three majors this year on a gluten-free diet – no joke. 

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Sports Commentary
7:00 am
Fri December 2, 2011

UM vs OSU game not the best, but one of the most important

U of M quarterback Denard Robinson and other teammates celebrate their win over Ohio State with fans in the student section.
mgoblue.com

Last week, the Michigan football team beat Ohio State for the first time since 2003. While it wasn’t anything like the half-dozen “Games of the Century” these two rivals have played, I believe it might be one of the most important.

Just a few years ago, ESPN’s viewers called the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry the best. Not just in college football, or all football, but in all sports. Period. 

But this year’s game won’t go down as one of the best. Michigan entered the game ranked 17th, but the Buckeyes hobbled into their annual finale dragging a 6 and 5 record behind them, their worst team since the 1990s.

But all that just made the stakes for Michigan that much higher.

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Sports Commentary
7:44 am
Fri November 4, 2011

The game ball goes to "Bump" Elliott

Bump Elliott in 1961. He was the head coach of the University of Michigan Football team before Bo Schembechler.
Michiganensian

At last week’s Homecoming Game, Michigan had planned to honor one of its great alums, a man named Chalmers Elliott – better known as Bump.

He was an All-American football player and a Big Ten champion coach, but earned greater fame as the athletic director at Iowa, Michigan’s opponent this weekend.

Pneumonia kept the 86-year old legend from making it, however, so we're honoring him today. 

Michigan football has produced a lot of big name coaches and players, but one of the finest men who played and coached for Michigan deserves to be a little bigger.

His name is Chalmers Elliott – which might explain why he goes by “Bump.”

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Sports Commentary
6:00 am
Fri October 28, 2011

"Three and Out": Rich Rodriguez's tenure at the University of Michigan

Rich Rodriguez

In the summer of 2008, Rich Rodriguez granted me unfettered access to the Michigan football program so I could write a book.

Three years later the book is finished, and not with a happy ending.

Similar to just about everybody else connected to Michigan football these past three years, I had no idea what I was getting into. 

During my three years following the Michigan football team, the working title of the book changed from “All or Nothing,” to “All In,” to “Third and Long,” before Rodriguez’s last season, and after he was fired, to “Three and Out.”

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Education
12:57 pm
Sat September 17, 2011

Adrian College to improve gender equity in sports

Villa Julie College women's soccer
Flickr/go mustangs

Adrian College has agreed to changes after federal investigators found the small, liberal arts school has discriminated against female student athletes. The Detroit Free Press reports Saturday that the U.S. Department of Education cited the southern Michigan school for 11 violations of gender-equity rules.

Among the changes the school must make: add at least one more women's sport, build a women's locker room in its multipurpose stadium and increase pay for coaches of women's sports.

School spokeswoman Jennifer Compton says the school "has maintained the highest commitment to equality and respect for gender equity" during its 152-year history. She says the college believes it offers "a quality higher educational experience to all students."

The agreement caps a three-year investigation into Title IX violations at the school.

Sports Commentary
11:10 am
Fri September 16, 2011

The greatest finish in Big House history

Denard Robinson drops back before he throws the game winning touchdown to receiver Roy Roundtree.
screen grab from mgoblue.com video

What if you had a night game, and nobody came?

Well, that wasn’t the problem.

The game attracted more than 114,000 people, an NCAA record.

To commemorate the event, Michigan wore “throwback jerseys” – which went back all the way to September 10, 2011.  Michigan’s jerseys never had stripes – and when you saw them Saturday night, you appreciated just how wise Michigan’s founders had been.  It was less about tradition than trade.   

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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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Sports Commentary
9:12 am
Fri July 15, 2011

Desmond Howard's career at Michigan

Desmond Howard strikes the Heisman pose after he returned a punt for a touchdown against Ohio State in 1991.
desmondhoward.com

Desmond Howard stands about 5-foot-8 – I don’t care what the program said.  When Bo Schembechler moved the Cleveland native from tailback to receiver, it virtually eliminated any chance Howard had to win the Heisman Trophy.

In its first 55 years, only one receiver had ever taken it home.

But then, just playing at Michigan practically knocked Howard out of the running in the first place.  Only one Wolverine, Tom Harmon, had ever won the award – and that was back in 1940.

Schembechler never promoted any player for any award – Heisman or otherwise.  Because, as he often said, “Nothing comes before The Team, The Team, The Team.”  When Bo stepped down in 1990, Gary Moeller took over, and followed the exact same policy.

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Sports
10:07 am
Fri June 24, 2011

Woe, Canada? Go, Canada!

User: dmealiffe flickr.com

Canada might be the only nation on earth that invented its favorite sport, has no other sport that’s even half as popular, and remains arguably the best in the world at playing it. How big is hockey in Canada?  They put the sport on their five-dollar bill.  It has a drawing of kids playing a pick-up game outside, and a quote from a beloved children’s story, “The Hockey Sweater.”  It goes like this:  

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Sports Commentary
6:30 am
Fri June 17, 2011

The gift of friendship on Father's Day

  • An error occurred ingesting this audio file to NPR

My dad grew up in Scarsdale, New York – but, as he’s quick to point out, that was before it became “Scahsdahle.”  His dad told him always to root for the underdog, and my dad took that seriously.

All his friends were Yankees fans, but Dad loved the Dodgers.  A perfect Friday night for him, when he was a young teen, was to go up to his room with a Faygo Redpop, a Boy’s Life magazine – he was on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout – and listen to Red Barber, who wouldn’t say something so prosaic as, “the bases are loaded,” but “the bases are saturated with humanity.”

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Sports Commentary
7:27 am
Fri June 3, 2011

Jim Tressel and Ohio State: Cheating is excused. Losing is not

Jim Tressel resigned as Ohio State's football coach this past Monday.
Avanash Kunnath Flickr

The Jim Tressel era at Ohio State started on January 18, 2001. 

It so happened the Buckeyes had a basketball game that night against Michigan, so it was a good time to introduce their new football coach.  When Tressel stood up to speak, he knew exactly what they wanted. 

He was hired on the heels of John Cooper, whose record at Ohio State was second only to that of Woody Hayes.  But Cooper’s teams lost to Michigan an inexcusable ten times.  Can’t do that.  And you can’t say, “It’s just another game,” either – which might have been his biggest mistake. 

Knowing all this, when Tressel told the crowd, "I can assure you that you will be proud of your young people in the classroom, in the community, and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the football field.  The place went nuts. “At last,” they said, “somebody gets it!”

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Sports Commentary
8:10 am
Fri May 27, 2011

The Almighty Cleavers: a softball team built to lose

A softball season to remember.
Zach Chrisholm Flickr

I went to Ann Arbor Huron High School, considered by all objective sources to be the greatest high school in the history of the universe. And one of the things that made it so great was an intramural softball league.

Maybe your clearly inferior high school had one, too.  But the IM softball league at Huron was created and run entirely by students – the burnouts, no less.  That meant the adults, perhaps wisely, wanted nothing to do with it.

So the burn-outs got the park permits – God bless ‘em -- and every clique had a team, with names like the Junior Junkies, the Extra Burly Studs, and – yes – the ‘Nads.  If you pause to think of their cheer, you’ll get the joke.

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Sports Commentary
6:00 am
Fri May 6, 2011

A sports lesson: "We don't need to spike the football"

The flag at Yankee Stadium. Many American's took solace in baseball at the attacks of September, 11th, 2001.
Michael Zanussi Flickr

Sometimes the real world is so overwhelming it sneaks into sports.  One of those times occurred after 9/11, when the crowd at Yankee Stadium sang “God Bless America.”

I’m not very religious, but it sounded right to me. 

It seemed appropriate that that signature moment, when we needed to be together, occurred in our country’s most hallowed arena, the nation’s front porch.

We are probably the most sports-soaked culture in the world. We’re the ones who pay for the Olympics, after all – and I believe our code of conduct when we’re competing often represents our values at their best. 

People like to say sports teaches us how to be aggressive.

But you can learn that through alley fighting.  Any jerk with no regard for others can be aggressive.  Prisons are filled with them.  9/11 was conceived by them.  

So I disagree.

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