Laurence Bowers, Springsteen, Dave Brubeck and the 1979 Pirates.
Friends, it has been a while since we last talked, and the fault lies with me. I've been busy. I've not seen many games. While the football team was losing against Syracuse, I was visiting Bruce Springsteen, who remains undefeated. While the basketball team was escaping against Southeast Missouri State, I was celebrating the Christmas season, which remains spectacular. And at just about every moment in between, I was preparing a book for publication.
The book is a novel, titled XL, and it's the best thing I've ever written. And I don't mean that in the way that Springsteen once said that Working on a Dream was among the best albums he'd ever made. XL really is the best thing I've ever written (and considerably more enjoyable than Working on a Dream). Details about XL can be found here. One of the more important details is that you can find it at Amazon and other fine internet retailers. Look for an excerpt here at RMN next week.
Before we proceed, a confession: That Old Man Football character is a persona. I'm not really that old, I'm not really that angry, I didn't really know Woody Hayes. To those who feel betrayed by this revelation, I offer the Milli Vanilli deal: You can have your money back. But for old time's sake, let me slip back into character and answer the two remaining questions in the mailbag.
Dear Old Man Football: How do you like all these new uniforms? Subquestion: When did we start calling gray "anthracite"? – B. Lock Emm.
Dear B. Lock: I'm a minimalist myself. I thought adding the facemask to the helmet was a bridge too far, but now they've gone and added another helmet to the helmet that already went with the uniform. And another uniform to the uniform. And another uniform to the uniform they added to the uniform. And then they mix them all up on somebody's whim and now nobody knows what in the fiddle-dee-dee the team will be wearing from week to week. I thought we put all this nonsensicality behind us when we saw the tragic results of the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates uniform experiment.
Now, thanks to Phil Knight, the Halston of the gridiron, it's all just one big fashion show out there. Honest-to-goshdarn-it, I'm afraid they'll put the boys on the field in kulats and crop-tops next season. It's not natural, friends. Not natural.
As for "anthracite," it's positively Orwellian. What word sorcerer decided that gray could become sexy or complicated? It's like when they started calling coaches "coordinators." Just an unnecessarily longer word that means exactly the same thing.
Dear Old Man Football: What's all this crap I keep hearing about the forward pass? – Nineman O'Line.
Dear Mr. O'Line: Are you by chance related to Paul O'Line, the great Irish-American swingman who played basketball for the Missourah Tigers in the last century? That fella could heat up like one of them newfangled oven things that you're not supposed to put metal in (boy howdy, did I learn that the hard way when I tried to warm a tinfoil swan full of leftover moo shoo pork).
Anyway, this notion that we didn't chuck the ball down the field in my day is hooey, apocrypha, piffle, just out-and-out poppycock. Ever hear of Slingin' Sammy? Johnny U? Bob Waterfield? I guarantee you that Otto Graham could zip it around the field two megatons better than Philip Rivers, Mark Sanchez and Kevin Kolb combined.
The difference is that now you have to treat the receivers like china dolls. Used to be that if a receiver were running free fifteen yards down the field, Mel Blount would just kick him in the junk, and that was well within the rules. In fact, the back judge would come up and pat him on the pack and say "nice junk-kicking, Blount." Jack Tatum's preferred method of tackling was to hit the receiver in the head with a hammer, and the referee would just smile and whistle. And then hand Jack another hammer.
Nowadays, you can't touch 'em, can't hit 'em, can't even blow on 'em. Now you just have to reason with 'em. I swear to good-golly-Miss-Molly you have to use the art of persuasion to get them not to catch a pass. Anything more and it's an automatic first down and a $15,000 phone call from Mr. Goodell.
So to sum up, all the crap you've been hearing about the forward pass is a direct result of coddling a bunch of prima donna ballet dancers who fancy themselves football players. Old Don Hutson would be embarrassed at what's become of his vocation.
And with that, Old Man Football goes into hibernation until next fall.
Some time back, there was a quasi-popular recurring feature here called Hoop M Nation, a weekly trip around the college basketball landscape. I made my bona fides writing about that glorious game, and I've been persuaded to bring the old warhorse out of mothballs. But given that I've not seen much hoop action yet this season, we'll keep the inaugural edition short.
Bow Wow Wow Yippee-O Yippee-A: Laurence Bowers is one of my favorite Tigers ever. The way he plays, the way he carries himself on and off the court, everything about him says poise and class. I was heartbroken for him last year when he lost his season to a knee injury. And as I watch him play this year (I was in the building on Saturday), I feel a little heartbroken for myself. Bowers was always good in the paint, but he has expanded his game, especially when he faces up to the basket. The cat is shooting 62.5% (!) from three-point range to date this season. A small sample size (10 for 16) for sure, but the eye don't lie. The form is true. He's not going to shoot at that clip all year, but he's not falling below 40%, either. Opposing power forwards can't guard him that far out, and smaller perimeter players are powerless to affect his shot. The dude is poetry, and I'm thrilled for him.
So why am I sad for myself? Because in true Mizzou-fan fashion, I've begun to torture myself with my near-certitude that last year's club would have made it to the final four with him in the lineup. The self-flagellating part of me knows that it's true, and you can't prove that it's not.
Go wit da Flo: Kentucky got most of the preseason SEC publicity, and rightly so. After all, those uniforms won the national championship last year. But it wasn't those players. The Wildcats' reconfigured roster is struggling to mesh in a 5-3 start that includes a 64-55 home loss to Baylor (their first at Rupp Arena in 55 games) that saw UK trail by at least four points through the entire second half.
Meanwhile, an SEC coach with twice as many national titles as John Calipari is leading his team on a scorched-earth march through the non-conference slate. Billy Donovan's Florida Gators are 7-0 and they're destroying everything in their path. They've beaten Wisconsin by 18, Marquette by 33, Florida State by 25. They go to eighth-ranked Arizona next weekend. Watch that game. It could be one of December's best. Or it could be just another blowout keyed by a deep and balanced roster that has seen five different players lead the squad in scoring in the first seven games.
The Missouri Tigers travel to Gainesville on January 19. The Gators make the return trip exactly one month later. Mizzou's hopes for an SEC title in its inaugural season in the league will hinge largely on those two games.
Enough of that. Until next time, I leave you with the music of the man who defined a kind of Esquire-man sophistication back before Old Man Football was born. Rest easy, Dave Brubeck.