Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Condensed and Biased Saturday Recap.

What a day it's been. Long, long day at work today. That's what happens when you clock a no-break 8 hours on a Saturday this close to Christmas at a retail establishment. Chaos, people.

But all is well. I spent the rather protracted drive home listening to the Georgia High School Football Playoffs on the radio. If you've read/seen Friday Night Lights or Varsity Blues, just understand that everything you think you know about high school football in Texas is essentially correct. And that your knowledge is applicable to the rest of the south. HS football in GA is a high-stakes, high-tenor deal, and it is admittedly both hilarious and compelling to listen to play-by-play announcers getting as emotionally amplified and invested as they are in these games. There are worse ways to spend your time when you're stuck in traffic.

I got home in time to catch the last quarter of Army/Navy. It's not a huge matchup or anything to do with the BCS Championship or even a bowl game, but it does carry a certain, uniquely beautiful intensity. More than any other sport, football is often referred to in terms of warfare. These young men may actually be called upon to practice it someday, and watching them face off yields two important outcomes:

Firstly, it puts sports in their proper context. Sports are entertaining, complex, emotional, wonderful ... and ultimately irrelevant. Army/Navy is pure. Whenever a service academy team takes the field, they are there for the joy of the game, and the thrill of the contest. I would not presume to know their minds and hearts, but I imagine they are relishing a conflict that carries little to none of the import and danger of those they may face in the future. I'd wager they are not thinking of their stats or their positions on Mel Kiper's Big Board. This game is a rivalry without animosity, and a battle waged from which, mercifully and barring major on-field injuries, no casualties or "collateral damage" will ensue. It reminds us that for all the money and theatrics and greatness that are embroiled in these games we love, they are indeed games.

And second, on a much lighter note, Army/Navy is almost always a great viewing experience for football history/system/scheme nerds. Denied the elite athletes and skill players of other major collegiate programs, the service academies often run anachronistic, option-based offenses and idiosyncratic defenses. It's just a joy to watch, really. Today was no exception.

After the last non-bowl college game of the year, and before the Heisman presentation, I flipped over to catch Indiana/Kentucky. Honestly, I'm still reeling. This game was palpable through the television screen, full of that rare verve and energy that only comes around every once in a great while. I'm not sure a more compelling game of college hoops will be played all season, even in the Big Dance. This had it all: two storied programs, roller-coaster dynamics, a second-half comeback, decibel levels that undoubtedly damaged the hearing of everyone in attendance, and a last-second buzzer-beating trey to notch a win for the home team over the #1-ranked team in the country. And the pandemonium that followed that shot.

A little while ago, I opened a piece about college football's Rivalry Weekend with an account of the Georgia Tech/Clemson football game from earlier this year. That game ended in a jubilant field-storming celebration when Tech finished clobbering the Top-10 ranked Tigers. I was there to witness that event live, and it was a sensory onslaught. What transpired in Assembly Hall tonight resonated at a higher pitch, even through a satellite signal beamed from a few thousand miles away. In the last camera shot of the arena before they cut back to the studio, you couldn't see anything other than a mass of red in the throes of undiluted ecstasy. If not for the two backboards protruding from the ruckus, you wouldn't even have known that a basketball game had just been played. You'd have thought is was an especially exuberant political rally, or a well-lit rave, or some other mass convergence of people hellbent on joy.

Chill-inducing, it was indeed.

And then the Heisman folks got it right. Or rather, they got it right within the context that they created. RG3 was the best player on that stage tonight; the most important and critical to his team, and the man who did everything just a shade more impressively than his fellow candidates. I still maintain that it's a travesty Kellen Moore wasn't in the running for the award, but of the people that were selected as finalists, the correct name was called to hoist the trophy.

And now, I'm enjoying a stellar ESPN "30 For 30" doc on Todd Marinovich. And a simultaneous NFL Network program on touchdown dances celebrates the Dirty Bird.


Rough start, great ending. Happy Saturday!!!

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