The Gophers lost a game at home that they were widely
expected to win. Or as we call that in Minnesota, “Christmas for Vikings avatar
guys who want you to know how little they care and how dumb YOU are for caring.”
My employer gives me 2 flex PTO days for it every year as a religious
The theme of the day from a lot of the fans I interact with
was “if”, specifically how things might have been different if something else
In 2015 we thought we were going to be pretty good. 2014 was
a very solid season, where we beat Michigan and Nebraska, and played in a New
Year’s Day bowl game for the first time since the Kennedy administration. The
Gophers returned quite a bit from that squad and, despite knowing we’d be playing
Michigan and Ohio State in successive weeks, we spent most of the offseason preening
and looking up prices for hotels and cocaine in Pasadena.
Your friends at SGH even had t-shirts made. They said “This
is Totally the Year.” They had #TITTY printed on the back. We sold a bunch of
them. They were cursed. I remain convinced they are the reason Kill had to
resign and why Claeys and Limegrover contemplated the void while the ball sat
at the one yard line as the last seconds ticked off the clock against Michigan.
[Yes, in retrospect I understand these things may have been blessings, but at
the time they felt like eating a bowl of farts.]
I saw someone wearing one of those shirts while tailgating
before the NMSU game and briefly entertained the idea of bringing them back for
the 2022 season; but then decided I want no part in wearing that albatross
around my neck if things went sideways again. Props to dude, though. The #TITTY
shirts purposefully excluded any dates or references to specific teams, so
maybe he was wearing it for this year’s volleyball team. Let’s just go with that.
I’ve had a lot of therapy over the last few years. Like, a
lot a lot of therapy. Four days a week, 50 weeks out of the year, Mecha-Freud lasering
holes in the old brain box. Good experience. Highly recommended.
One of the cool parts about it was learning how my brain processes
information. While the catalyst for starting was severe depression / suicidal
thinking – from the time I was a pre-teen I had hundreds of intrusive thoughts every
day, usually associated with hanging myself or some other mode of casting off my
mortal coil (I promise the rest of the piece isn’t this dark; I’m just
providing context that this wasn’t a generic case of being glum) – after a few
months, my psychiatrist casually mentioned that she didn’t think I was depressed
at all; rather, I had subconsciously used the intrusive thoughts to build an
identity around being a depressed person. That I was essentially choosing to be
That really pissed me off. The idea that I would happily opt
in to the kms lifestyle as some sort of choice was bizarre and I was big mad. I
thought about quitting or finding a new therapist, but the notion of starting over
was not terrifically appealing. So, I expressed my dissatisfaction at her
customer service over the next few sessions, and we moved on.
Inception is a dangerous thing, though, even without sweet
special effects and Tom Hardy. For the first time, I began to see my “thoughts”
and my “self” as separate things. Prior to that, I was my thoughts and my
thoughts were me – bad thoughts, bad person. Now, there was a … space, I guess,
between the processes my brain did on its own and who I was as a conscious agent.
To go all trope up in here, the brain is a computer operating
system, conducting background functions so applications – the conscious self in
this case – can successfully run on top of it. They’re co-dependent, in that the
applications would be unable to process all the inputs/outputs the operating
system takes care of and the operating system would be pretty uninteresting to
most people if there were no applications to run on it. But while applications
are affected by the performance of the operating system, in most cases they can
still run reasonably well even if the operating system is glitchy.
And I had a pretty glitchy operating system. It associated all
sorts of things that I did/was/thought – all with the most profoundly negative interpretation
possible - with who I was as person. The, whatever it is, that created my
internal personal narrative was a filthy liar. Of course, prior to therapy, I
had no idea any of this was happening and, left totally unchecked, my brain
made for a pretty shit operational environment for my conscious experience. To
paraphrase the great Mr. Meeseeks, existence was pain. Which brings us to
For most of my life I have been a rabid supporter of Gopher athletics.
I wear Gopher gear most days, I’d post on all the message boards, I’d watch
replays endlessly on YouTube, I blog(ged) about the Gophers, and would more or
less plan my entire life around the football schedule. A big part of my
identity – how I saw myself and how I perceived others saw me - was tied up in
how the Gopher football team fared.
Of course, we weren’t very good for much of that time and,
during the Wacker and Brew years, we were a lot worse than that. When we lost,
which was often, and particularly if we lost to Wisconsin, which was an annual
rite of sacrifice for half of my adult life, I was inconsolable for days. The ultimately
meaningless losses of [INSERT PREFERRED SPORTS TEAM] manifested as despondency
and hopelessness in my real life. I was the team, and their very public feats
of ineptitude weren’t just a reflection on me; I was somehow personally
responsible for that year-old, open can of salmon baking in a hot car.
We Gopher (and Vikings, Twins, Wild, and Wolves) fans often
joke about the fact we’re in an abusive relationship with our teams, in that we
love them and they always cause us nothing but misery. For me, this was absolutely
true; only the pain was from an unhealthy relationship with my brain rather
than a poor performance by my squad. The Gophers failures were just a heuristic
for my glitchy operating system to interpret itself. Appreciate you, narrator!
This mindset only resolved after my psychiatrist challenged
me over the state of my depression. I can’t change most of my operating system.
That stuff is just biologically hard coded. You can push at it around the edges
with therapy, medication, exercise, and meditation but reprogramming it is like
training your eyes to see a basketball when you’re looking at a dumpster. And
in a lot of ways, that’s a good thing. My brain’s default state is inwardly
focused and hyper creative. I have a very, uh, rich inner experience, which has
been critical in my schooling and work; when not appropriately occupied,
though, it creates a lot of catastrophic fiction where I am the main character.
It definitely has its downside, but it’s mostly a fun and useful partner to
I think the thrust of my therapist’s challenge was the degree
to which I was anchored to the distorted reality conveyed by my glitchy brain. I
really was depressed, but I was in that state because I let an unreliable
narrator tell my story to me. I can’t stop that narrator from telling the story;
but, now that I know a choice exists, I can opt to give it a lot less power
than I used to. And that’s changed my relationship with everything in my life
for the better.
Including Gopher football. I wrapped up therapy in 2019 and,
while I still care deeply, still wear Gopher gear most of the time, and still
spend too much time on message boards, I keep our beloved rodents safely
compartmentalized away from how I feel in real life. Sometimes it feels a bit
muted - the lows after a loss aren’t nearly as bleak, while the highs after a
win may be a little less frenzied than in the past – but I’m an Old now and
that’s probably for the best, lest I stroke out during a game.
I will say, though, the brain compartment where the Gophers
live is pretty fired up for this season. The narrator is telling me it’s the most
complete team in my life and, while it may lack the star power of the 2019
team, is better across the board. It sees a January trip to Pasadena. Let’s
hope it’s a reliable narrator for once.
All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No
matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. -Samuel Beckett, “Worstward Ho”
Minnesota will have a new offensive coordinator. It took some disappointment to get there, but perhaps we should be thankful for it rather than frustrated by the missed
opportunities. There will be plenty of time to ruminate on those in the future,
but my recommendation for you dear reader is not to waste your time fantasizing
about what might have been. Because after a season of wondering whether P.J.
Fleck had what it took to look in the mirror and make some tough choices, this
weekend we were treated to the answer: yes.
Any fool can turn a blind eye but who knows what the ostrich sees in the sand. -Samuel Beckett, “Murphy”
The excitement of P.J. Fleck’s 7 year extension didn’t so much fade over the weekend as it was doused with bleach. I’ve tried hard to bury the fatalism I’ve lived with since the MicronPC.com Bowl. It’s getting harder to lie to myself; the big new paycheck combined with Brett Bielema’s return to Minneapolis gave this all the makings of a trap game, and it delivered.
The sun shone, having no alternative, on nothing new. –
Samuel Beckett, “Murphy”
In the early hours of what was for me August 30th,
2019 I boarded a KLM flight in Abu Dhabi, planning to spend a good portion of
my flight watching the Gophers mopping up South Dakota State. I had made all
the preparations to live-stream the game on my tablet, with one exception: I forgot
that the flight didn’t have WiFi. When I reached my layover in Amsterdam I was
so confident in the result I found a restroom, coffee, a stroopwafel, and a
comfortable seat before checking the score. 28-21 hit me with an intensity that
belied by jet-lagged brain.
How do you unpack general existence since the
last “normal” Gopher football game at the Outback Bowl back on January 1st
of what we didn’t yet know would be The Pandemic Year? I haven’t really tried yet. It’s a lot, and it’s way too much for a last-minute, impulse-driven post on a sports blog that will be seen by tens of loyal readers.
Enough has been written on the events of 2020-2021 by people far more talented
than me and I don’t even want to read THOSE. We’re all yearning for something that
existed before. Thing is, it probably won’t be back like it was, but maybe that’s
not all bad. If beating SEC teams in January 1st bowls is going to
be the nEw NoRmAl, count me in.
After a shocking 0-2 start to the 2020 season, for some faction of the Minnesota Gopher football fan base it appears we’ve already reached “If you have even the slightest doubts about PJ Fleck and the state of the program you’re a traitor and fair weather fan.” Cool cool cool cool cool. There are both political and religious connections to be made here to fanatical and blind following of a leader but with everything else going on this crazy ass year, let’s not go down that road today, shall we?
For the record, I am not out on PJ Fleck and I am not here to call for his head. However, I do have a few questions and comments and perhaps concerns about the state of the program and, well, this seemed as good a place as any to express them (sorry Frothy).
Watching a shockingly bad defense and a not-so-shockingly bad special teams these first two games I am reminded of how difficult it is to be a good football coach at the P5 level, and how especially difficult it is to pull off at Minnesota. A big part of the sheer terror for some of admitting everything isn’t as, um, “rosy” for Fleck and this program as we believed even just two weeks ago is exactly because of how hard it is to win at Minnesota. Since the glory years of the 60’s we’ve seen many different coaches with many different ideas try and fail to win consistently here. It hasn’t happened prior to PJ Fleck because he or the other coaches are bad, it’s just a reminder this is one of the toughest Power 5 jobs in the league.
Fleck’s background and mantra and strengths as a head coach are as a CEO and leader- he’s not considered an X’s and O’s guy on either side of the ball, and that’s ok. We’ve seen many examples of this type of coach being successful all over college football, with Dabo at Clemson being the most extreme positive example. But for that CEO coach to be successful he needs to be able to consistently recognize and bring in coaching talent onto his staff (especially at the offensive and defensive coordinators) and it also helps if he’s really good at recruiting and developing.
But the other really key thing that often gets overlooked for ANY head coach to have sustained success is they need to be adaptable. Time and again we see the hot shot head coach in college or the NFL who worked his way up through the ranks as an offensive or defensive guru and they have success at first or maybe even for awhile. But then the game shifts and they cannot or will not shift with it (Hi Chip Kelly! Hi Mike Zimmer!), OR whatever worked for them at lower levels just isn’t going to work as well at the Power 5 level.
A perfect example of this is actually the guy who came before PJ- well fine the guy who came before the guy who came before PJ- Jerry “Have I told you lately how much I hate PJ Fleck?” Kill. Country Jer was the epitome of the work your way up the ladder CEO coach whose track record said he should have succeeded not just at the P5 level, but he should have succeeded here. And health problems aside, for a time he did. But by year 4 it became apparent he was a little TOO loyal to his long-time assistants and that the real key to his success was Tracey Claeys and the defense. On offense Matt Limegrover was in WAY over his head as an OC (and perhaps even as a line coach) and he had no one on staff who could develop anything besides running backs (I give them no credit for that one generational TE- Hi Maxx!).
While he clearly wasn’t and isn’t cut out to be a head coach, Claeys and DB coach (and eventually DC) Jay Sawvel proved incredible and borderline miraculous at turning “MAC-level” defensive recruits into good players and even NFL draft picks at Minnesota. At least until they moved onto their next jobs at Wazzu and Wake and then suddenly they couldn’t. Which again speaks to how freaking hard and frankly weird coaching college football is. Everything a coach does works until it doesn’t and then we find out if they’re good enough to figure out how to make it work again.
Two games into Fleck’s fourth season, that’s where we suddenly find ourselves. Whatever worked for him last year in an awesome and wondrous 11 win season is so far not working at all this season. If you want to pick nits about the offense feel free, but I’m not here to do that today. And yes, I watched the 4th quarter prevent offense against Maryland that helped the Gophs eventually lose the game, but I believe that’s more about the HC’s philosophy than the OC’s at this point. Remember all those vanilla offenses we’ve seen in the non-con under Fleck with Kirk Ciarrocca? I think that’s more PJ than his OC, but I’m willing to wait and see on that one.
I’m also not going to talk about special teams because what is there to talk about? They were atrocious last year under Rob Wenger and they’re atrocious again this year under Rob Wenger. I’m going to go out on a very short and sturdy limb and say they will be atrocious as long as Wenger is the special teams coach, so until Peej realizes this and finds a new ST coach, I don’t know why we’d expect anything else.
But the defense? That is one of my two big questions right now for PJ Fleck- WTF is happening on defense? Or perhaps more accurately NOT happening on defense right now? DC Joe Rossi seemed like a revelation two seasons ago when he replaced Robb Smith near the end of the 2018 season. The D suddenly looked competent- including a win over Wisconsin!!!- and then they were mostly awesome last year. But thus far in two games it’s like Robb Smith has kidnapped Rossi and secretly replaced him because it looks exactly like the Robb Smith defenses we saw previously. Sure, we lost Winfield some key and very good players like Antoine Winfield Jr, Kamal Martn, Thomas Barber, and Carter Coughlin, so I was expecting a few bumps out of the gate. But these are not bumps in the road, this is the road spewing open a gateway to hell. This just looks like complete and total incompetence in all facets and I do not understand how we got here considering how Rossi had coached previously.
Fleck as CEO coach is going to be more dependent on how good his coordinator hires are, and we’re seeing that now- it’s too early to say on Mike Sanford, I don’t know what the hell is going on with Rossi but I’m worried, and it’s WAY past time to say on Wenger.
The other issue is one I didn’t think we’d need to be worried about but this one falls squarely on PJ- depth. He has without question improved Minnesota’s recruiting since he got here- the Gophs are consistently bringing in better recruits with not just better star ratings, but to me the mark that we’re getting better players is that their offer sheets consistently include other P5 schools. That’s a very good thing. That said, as we learned with Tim Brewster, recruiting rankings don’t mean anything if you can’t develop that talent. I’m not saying Fleck and his staff definitively cannot develop talent, but I am at least wondering whether we have an issue there, and if it’s more to do with his coordinators or position coaches or what. Kill and Claeys may have gotten “MAC-level” recruits but on defense at least it didn’t matter when Claeys kept turning them into good players and a good defense. Fleck has had three full recruiting classes now and we’re not seeing much in results thus far on D now that the Empire Class that Kill and Claeys recruited are gone. Some of that- a lot of that?- could be just scheme and maybe the talent is much better than what the results have shown but hoo boy when the results are THIS bad it has to leave you wondering at least a little.
On offense, the skill positions look great and that’s really all Fleck kids at this point, but O-line depth is rearing its ugly head yet again, a consistent and frustrating theme for every staff since Glen Mason got fired. For the first time since Mason we had 6 B1G quality O-linemen last year, which was great because we never had to really go past those 6. But in two games this season the right side of the O-line has been missing and it’s been a real problem as we appear to be left with just four good linemen and nothing else.
Why, and how do we fix it? That’s what PJ Fleck is now facing this season on defense, along the O-line and really at depth everywhere on the roster. In hindsight maybe B1G West champs were too high of expectations in a season with no spring or summer practices during a pandemic and we clearly underestimated the impact of losing some key contributors, but it still should be better than this. I still love PJ Fleck as the head coach of this team- I promise I’m not a traitor or a bandwagon fan- but the honeymoon is over. The mark of a good coach is not just having initial success, but when things stop working, can he figure out how to fix it? We’ll find out soon enough how good and adaptable Coach Fleck is with how well he rows the boat through some very tough waters the rest of the season.
Oh hi, I’m Outstate Biff. You’ve caught me writing an
escapist, self-indulgent blog post.
Big Ten football is back. And not like Texas…like, it’s
The college football season, such as it is, has been bizarre
in ways not seen since the 1918-1919 seasons which is a weird
coincidence I’m sure someone will look into sometime. It remains to be
seen whether the Big Ten’s decision to postpone the start of the season will
add stability, but it can’t be much worse than what’s happened
so far. In retrospect, the decisions made by the Big Ten and PAC-12 to delay
their start dates may end up looking not so bad in the long-run.
I’m in an odd place. I work in healthcare (usual
disclaimers apply: I’m not a doctor, this isn’t medical advice, this should not
be construed as representing the views of my employer, etc etc), and the pandemic has dominated my waking hours. Do I believe we should be playing? Um...I…don’t
really know; I have my doubts. But I’m also sufficiently hypocritical to watch
the hell out of it, and I could use the distraction.
It’s been a tough year of relentless long work
weeks since February, always playing from behind. I’ve experienced death (my dad) and birth (my son). COVID robbed my family of much of the normal comforts that are supposed to come with those events, and free time has been rare. To cope, I’ve found other escapes, one of which will soon be Big Ten football.
Another has been Yacht Rock. Building something in the garage, watching a
sunset on the deck, driving to the store for a month of quarantine supplies…the
soundtrack has been Yacht Rock.
Now, I don’t mean the adulterated garbage
you get from the Sirius XM Yacht Rock channel or Fleetwood Mac cover bands in
captain’s hats. I mean the real thing, originated in concept in a 12-episode web series that
began in 2005, and further defined in a now-defunct (but
soon to be reborn) podcast and website
hosted by the web series creators.
The Yacht Rock Era occurred from the mid-70s to mid-80s, with a handful of more recent examples. The web series defined the genre
as music with high production value thanks to improved recording techniques
that became available in the mid-70s, a core group of elite studio musicians
with a lot of cross-pollination between bands, influences from jazz and R&B
like complex chord structures and “smooth” sound, lyrics often about
heartbroken and/or foolish characters, and rhythmic characteristics similar to
the gold-standard Doobie Brothers “What A Fool Believes” and Toto’s “Hold The
What is Not Yacht (Nyacht)? The Eagles. Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)
by Looking Glass. Jimmy god-damn Buffett. They’re of the era, and sometimes
touch some of the characteristics but they lack enough of them to count. If
your Yacht Rock playlist includes them, you might be listening to soft rock,
adult-oriented rock, or the West Coast Sound, but it’s not Yacht Rock. I’m not
a purist about much, but This Is It.
So with Yacht Rock on the brain, football in the future, and
desperate for an escape, I’m taking a self-indulgent journey into a world where
Big Ten football programs are defined by Yacht Rock songs. To give us an even
20, talk some football-adjacent topics of interest too. I define “program”
however I want…an arbitrary combination of the characteristics of the school,
coaches, players, history, program image, recent record, fanbases, and my own
personal biases…the best KIND of biases!
Let’s set sail.
Nebraska The Song: Look Who’s Lonely Now (Bill LaBounty, 1982)
The Lyric: Look who’s lonely now Welcome to the other side
Falling to average or below-average from the greatest heights
is hard, and a mourning period is natural. History is replete with examples:
The Spanish Empire. Cadillac. Lead. The list goes on. That’s what makes it so
hard being a Nebraska fan.
It’s a comforting self-justification to tell yourself that
you’re actually WAY closer to getting back than everyone thinks! I can see how
that creates a predilection to be angry when the unenlightened-other doesn’t
see things the same way. Nonetheless for virtually a year straight the entire
Nebraska fanbase, coaching staff, and athletic department has seemed to be
dedicated to forcing even the most sympathetic outsiders to roll their eyes. Not
long ago Scott Frost was complaining about having to play the lower-rung Big
Ten football programs. After pitching a fit about the Big Ten’s season
cancellation and strongly-hinting at taking their ball and going…somewhere
else, Bill Moos is complaining about playing the same set of teams they would
have played if COVID hadn’t happened because they have to start with Ohio
now is supposedly going to be their new rival? For…reasons? Oh, and they’re
TOTALLY responsible for bringing back Big Ten football.
Well, congratulations, you've whined your way to a uniquely lonely place among Big Ten teams. You've made me agree with Badger fans with uncomfortable frequency and I’m not sure how I come back from that. Enjoy the
Iowa The Song: Any Major Dude Will Tell You (Steely Dan, 1974)
The Lyric: I’ve never seen you lookin’ so bad my funky one You tell me that your super-fine mind has come and gone Any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you my
friend Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again
When I think of Iowa football I think stability. The Hayden
Fry and Kirk Ferentz eras have been remarkable for their consistency in success
and styles of play. Aside from a brief period in the late 90s, Iowa has been solid
fundamental football, good defense, regular mid-to-upper tier bowl games, and a
threat to punt at any time. So the internal program churn that has coincided
with the pandemic has made this the most challenging year for Iowa that I can
recall. I have no special knowledge or really any opinions on what is and isn’t
truth for the current challenges to the Ferentz Administration, but somehow I
doubt it’s going to be enough to bring the train to a stop. But then, I’m no
Minnesota The Song: Sweet Freedom (Michael McDonald, 1986)
The Lyric: Always searchin’ for the real thing Livin’ like it’s far away Just leave all the madness in yesterday You’re holdin’ the key when you believe it
The 2019 season was a cleansing experience for Gopher fans
and the program overall, but it was neither the top of the mountain nor a sure
thing to be repeated. It did not remove doubt or prove that we’ve become Big
Ten elite. What it did do is show that the things we always thought we couldn’t
do were not actually impossible. We can
win the big game sometimes. We can
get Gameday to campus. Recruits will
come here. We can have a passing game
as long as it’s run by a CPA.
For Minnesota fans that means no longer having to believe
that we can never achieve more and that the 8-4 so many thought was the ceiling
was artificial. 2020 begins with another big game against Michigan for The Jug.
Minnesota has not beaten Michigan in Minneapolis since 1977, three stadiums
ago. It’s not a lock either way. But we can
win, and cut
one more head from the hydra.
Wisconsin The Song: What Cha’ Gonna Do for Me (Chaka Khan, 1981)
The Lyric: When the chips are down?
What cha’ gonna do for me?
As a Gopher fan coming of age in the late 90s and early
2000s, it seemed like Wisconsin really had it made. Going from nothing to
frequent Rose Bowls in less than 10 years, never having to doubt a bowl trip
(except for 2001), and a (earned) dismissive attitude towards what was supposed
to be their primary rival. Yet I’ve learned Wisconsin fans aren’t satisfied.
Every Big Ten Championship Game loss to Ohio State, every lost Rose Bowl, all I
hear is “same old Badgers, can’t win the big one”. Maybe that’s true…it’s a
situation I still wouldn’t mind being in, and maybe I’ll be lucky to feel the
same way in 2-3 years. Until then, for Wisconsin fans, it doesn’t seem like
it’s ever enough.
Illinois The Song: Lotta Love (Nicolette Larson, 1978)
The Lyric: It’s gonna take a lotta love, to change the way things are It’s gonna take a lotta love, or we won’t get too far
Lovie Smith supposedly has his best team at Illinois this
year. Reflect on that for a moment. I’ll grant you that the trend has
technically been upwards, but since 2016 Lovie has won 8 Big Ten conference
games (yes, I know one was against Minnesota) and 15 games total, but I won’t
be too rough since another one was last year against #6 Wisconsin. A chaos
season in 2020 presents Illinois a unique opportunity. However Illinois has
problems that go much further and deeper into their past than the current
coaching staff. From experience, that change doesn’t happen overnight; there
are still rough years ahead.
Northwestern The Song: Sailing (Christopher Cross, 1979)
The Lyric: It’s not far to never-never land/No reason to pretend And if the wind is right you can find the joy/Of innocence
again Oh, the canvas can do miracles, just you wait and see Believe me
It’s too easy but I’ll still take the cheap shot:
Northwestern is uniquely qualified for 2020 given that a non-trivial portion of
their fanbase has always been empty seats and tarps. Their nice campus on Lake
Michigan gives TV commentators convenient talking points as the camera pans
across the empty stadium even in good years, but I’ve found Northwestern fans
to be mostly good-natured about it and realistic unless they’re trying to
convince you their main rival is actually Iowa. Best to accept fate as it is;
Pat Fitzgerald is doing the best he can with what he can. When it’s good it’s
pretty good and when it’s bad it’s 2019. Rig up those tarps and set sail, the
lake breeze will make it all right again.
Purdue The Song: You Did Cut Me (China Crisis, 1985)
The Lyric: Hear my silence, see my blindness A love ascending, and never ending You did cut me, from the same tree A love incision, my inner vision
Jeff Brohm is the second highest paid coach in the Big Ten. He’s
17-21 in three seasons. Purdue fans and some notable commentators think this
might be the year. Purdue lost the core of their defense after last season. Jeff
Brohm is the second highest paid coach in the Big Ten.
Indiana The Song: One Step Closer (The Doobie Brothers, 1980)
I know it’s risky now and then, what with all the what ifs
and the whens Who is there to say we’re wrong? To tell us it can’t be?
Tom Allen is the lowest paid coach in the Big Ten, and the
greatest bargain. Indiana’s 2019 season was fun and it really felt like a big
step especially for that program even without the bowl win they needed to break
a streak going back to 1991. Like Illinois, 2020 presents a special opportunity
for Indiana in a chaos season. Who knows if there will be bowl games at all,
but even if not, they can make noise in the East Division this year, and set up
nicely for 2021.
Michigan State The Song: Show You the Way (Thundercat, 2017)
The Lyric: Your heart is struggling baby Trying to believe that there might be something you just
couldn’t see But what if I told you that it’s all so easy
The departure of Mark Dantonio after the 2019 season was
like the final domino falling of many that affected the entire Michigan State
athletic department for the past several years. Most of their misery has been
of their own making, with tragic results far beyond win and loss records. MSU
is hoping that Mel Tucker can show them the way from this dark place, and I’m
sure it won’t take MSU fans much to believe that positive change is coming to
East Lansing and that on the edge of darkness there’s a brightest light. Just
remember that change doesn’t come without effort and pain.
Michigan The Song: Je Reviens (Gilles Rivard, 1981)
I saw boredom, my enemy (J’ai vu l’ennui, mon ennemi) Got lost in unknown land (Me suis perdu enterre connue) Sleep during the day (Dormir le jour) Look for the night in avenues full of strangers (Chercher la
nuit dans des evenues plein d’inconnus)
Not going to lie, I mostly was looking for a way to shoehorn
this song in somewhere and Michigan, the Harvard of the West, seemed like the
most appropriate place to plop some Quebecois French. It’s convenient that the
lyrics, such as Google Translate interprets them, fit so well.
I feel like I’ve been hearing about Michigan being BACK
longer than Texas. I was a sophomore in high school when they shared the National
Championship with Nebraska, and it’s been a slow downhill since then. Michigan
remains stronger than Nebraska, and 2019 was actually a pretty good year, but
Jim Harbaugh still hasn’t won The Game and Ohio State’s chokehold on the East
Division remains unchallenged. For Michigan it feels like it’s been 9 straight
seasons of growing ennui, truly an unknown land for this program. Who are all
these strangers with us in the standings? What’s a Hoosier?
Ohio State The Song: Mornin’ (Al Jarreau, 1983)
The Lyric: Then higher still/beyond the blue until I know I can/like any man Reach out my hand/and touch the face of God
How can Ohio State possibly not feel good about where things
stand? The only Big Ten program that has consistently challenged the SEC for the
past decade (until Auburn ran into Minnesota, anyway) continues to reload.
Every season for tOSU is like a walk on a bright summer morning; even the bad
parts are pretty good.
Penn State The Song: Fragments of Time (Daft Punk feat. Todd Edwards,
Familiar faces I’ve never seen Living the gold and the silver dream Making me feel like I’m seventeen And it’s crystal clear/That I don’t ever want it to end
If you’d told me 10 years ago that Penn State would be where
they are as a program right now I wouldn’t have believed you. The scandal that
brought down the Paterno dynasty seemed to be pretty definitive, but here we
are. James Franklin has done an extremely impressive job since coming to PSU
from Vanderbilt and though they remain second in line in the East Division, the
PSU program remains very strong and continues to head the right direction.
For a segment of the PSU fanbase, compartmentalization
remains the rule. There are two versions, of which the selective memory group picking the fragments of time they like and discarding those they don't is larger and less nasty than the “We Was Framed!” group, but it’s still a
shame. It prevents me from ever fully being able to pull for PSU.
Maryland The Song: Foolish Heart (Steve Perry, 1984)
Foolish heart hear me calling Stop before you start falling Foolish heart heed my warning You’ve been wrong before, don’t be wrong anymore
Maryland hired Mike Locksely. He won 2 games in 2.5 seasons
at New Mexico and punched one of his coaches. Granted he’s won 4 games at
Maryland but, come on, we all know how this is going to end. I don’t know any
Maryland fans, so I have to assume they’re all just holding their breath. Don’t
get too attached, gang.
Rutgers The Song: Any World (That I’m Welcome To) (Steely Dan, 1974)
I’ll be ready when my feet touch ground, where I come down And if the folks will have me, then they’ll have me
I’m not going to make fun of Rutgers; I’ve always had a soft
spot for them. You could make an argument that Maryland wasn’t gaining much
(other than that sweet, sweet cash) coming to the Big Ten but there’s not much
question this was a serious upgrade for Rutgers, and they seem pretty honest
about feeling lucky to have landed somewhere decent during realignment. Greg
Schiano, while a predictable hire, was also a decent one and he can’t do worse
than Chris Ash. If I’m a Rutgers fan I’m feeling fairly relieved right now.
Kevin Warren The Song: Nobody’s Business (Maxus, 1981)
One way or another, I hope you discover We’re together but always alone It’s your attention I need, do you have trouble focusing?
My personal opinion, shared previously on #TAWpod,
is that the Big Ten was entirely justified in their original decision to cancel
the season, and also justified in reevaluating that decision once they had a
test and trace infrastructure. I was a vocal defender of this on Twitter. I
also feel that the decision belonged with the Presidents and Commissioner based
on medical advice rather than well-intentioned but less-informed ADs, coaches,
players, and parents.
All that said, would it have hurt at all to be more
transparent? To share background, medical reports, meeting summaries or even
minutes? The entire process was carried out behind a curtain and developed a
decidedly smoke-filled-room feel that only fueled further speculation. Was
Kevin Warren obligated to share more? No, but that was his choice and his
secrecy did not help his PR; it made a bad situation more challenging. That’s
ultimately on him; it didn’t have to be this way.
Clay Travis, Lou Holtz, and the Like The Song: What A Fool Believes (The Doobie Brothers, 1979)
The Lyric: But what a fool believes he sees No wise man has the power/To reason away
The origin song of all of Yacht Rock deserves a special
place, and these guys have earned it. Clay Travis has made a virtual second
career of misinterpreting and misrepresenting science, medicine, testing,
and epidemiology. The inverse
relationship between knowledge and self-confidence is a hallmark of our time.
Likewise Lou Holtz, whose single talking point has been comparing the risks college athletes, coaches, and fans would face from COVID to the risks faced by American soldiers storming the beaches of Normandy. Lou was 7 in 1944 and he's 83 now with the luxury of calling into ESPN from home so it's worth noting that neither risks are ones he has to take himself. If Lou ever starts selling insurance, you should pass on it because he clearly does not comprehend the differences in risk categories. National Socialism wasn't spread by aerosols and droplets, and the men at Omaha and Utah beaches were at least paid, knew what they were up against, and had the full force of American industry behind them. Comparing the risks they took to the the risk of playing football during a pandemic is both grossly disrespectful to those soldiers and symptomatic of the borderline unhealthy emphasis American society places on our entertainment.
I'd explore that last point further but I’m up late on a work night writing a blog post that will be read by 150
people about a college football season I’ll be watching on TV.
These guys are not serious or knowledgeable about these subjects. That they are so confident in their assertions is warning in and of itself.
Actual Sportswriters The Song: Lowdown (Boz Scaggs, 1976)
The Lyric: Hey boy, you better bring the chick around To the sad, sad truth The dirty lowdown
Actual sportswriters took a hell of a licking this summer
reporting the news as they learned it. The narrative that developed that they
somehow wanted the season to be cancelled and were skewing their reporting to
push it is so obviously wrong that it barely deserves mention, but I’ll bite.
What possible reason would these individuals, who work in an industry that is
far from financially stable to begin with, have to try and kill a season that
provides their very livelihood? If they were to be laid off as a result, how
likely are they to find similar work after the pandemic? Cui bono? Non ea. We
might not like the news they report, but that doesn’t mean there’s always a hidden
reasoning behind it.
I’m grateful for their dedication, for suffering the slings
and arrows of outrageous fortune, and happy that they will now have the
opportunity to report on one of the craziest seasons we’ll ever experience.
Fans The Song: Keep the Fire (Kenny Loggins, 1979)
Believe the sun will rise with the dawn That’s all you need to go on But for tonight Just keep the fire burning bright
We get to have a season, no matter how weird. Maybe we won’t get a
full one. Who knows? Right now, December
might as well be a decade away. Let’s enjoy what we have while we have it,
and hope that everything turns out well. Someday things will be back to normal
and we’ll all be able to tailgate together and sit on uncomfortable benches in
the blazing hot August sun and bone-chilling November rain. Until then, keep
Players The Song: Takin’ It To the Streets (The Doobie Brothers,
The Lyric: You, telling me the things you’re gunna do for me I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see
The players stood up this year as a group in ways I haven’t
seen before. I respect them for recognizing that they have a unique platform to
bring awareness to racial injustice and privilege to groups who are often sheltered
from it. They’ve simultaneously highlighted the complex but very real issue of
college sports as a business for which they put in effort but receive limited
compensation, and the world going forward will be different after this. And
yes, even though I didn’t feel the decision should be made at the player’s
level, they advocated for their season as well. They found a voice (really,
several voices) this year, and I think we’ll all be better for it.
Sir Yacht The Song: Sunny Hills (Bobby Caldwell, 1982)
The Lyric: There’s nothing more to tell We wish you a fond farewell Maybe you’ll find someone you can talk to
I know someone who spent 14 straight years predicting
Minnesota would beat Wisconsin. Every year it was exactly the same
thing…Wisconsin is a paper tiger, this is the year they’re vulnerable, and if you don't believe it then you're part of the problem. Well, eventually it did, but when you’re 1 for 15 is that an
accurate prediction or is it just the odds? Given an infinite amount of time,
even the most low-probability event is likely to occur at least once.
In a long summer of non-stop prognostication and "insider" information Sir Yacht managed to be right about only one thing, and even then the details were wrong.
Anyway, this is a song about putting a troublesome relative away in a
retirement home and never visiting them again.
OK friends, that’s it. Minnesota 38, Michigan 27. Row The
Boat, Ski U Mah, Go Gophers!
A couple weeks ago my wife and I were blessed with a son,
our first kid. It’s been an incredible time of constant new experiences,
terrifying moments of self-doubt, and a feeling of awesome responsibility. All
of which is heightened by the fact that he entered the world at a time of, um,
*gestures wildly at everything*. The experience of bringing him home after his
delivery and knowing there was no nurse call button if we needed help, no way
for his grandparents to come see him or give us a few hours to sleep, was one
I’ll never forget.
The evening he came home, MLB Network was showing a huge moment in my life: Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Sitting on
the couch, holding my new son, I got to relive those memories in early-90s
resolution, and tell him about that great season as if he understood.
As a 9 year old baseball-obsessed kid I stayed up late (on a
school night!) with mom to watch the game. In the 10th Inning when Gene Larkin
sent a deep single into left center field over a drawn-in outfield and Dan
Gladden jumped on home plate, we hugged and cried and jumped around the living
room. Moments after the game ended our phone rang and I answered knowing who it
would be. My grandpa’s voice on the other line was filled with happiness as he
told me to remember this moment; it was special and even if I was lucky there
would be few like it. Then he said something else: “Keep the book. You’ll never
After my son went to bed I pulled out a giant, dog-eared book I hadn’t looked at in years: “Total Baseball: Second Edition” by John Thorn and Pete Palmer. It’s a massive book, 2,600 pages and 8 pounds of baseball history and statistics up to 1990. Grandpa had lent it to me after watching me spend hour upon hour with it at his house. On the inside of the front cover in the poor handwriting of a 9-year old is this:
Grandpa was right. In his memory, this is
the story of my favorite Iowa fan.
My grandpa was born in 1928 in a small town in northeast
Iowa. His father was the son of German immigrants who owned the local meat
market. Nearly everyone in town was either a German immigrant or a 1st
or 2nd generation American. Services at the church his grandfather
had helped found and build were still in German until 1942, and the cemetery in
is thick with German inscriptions in Teutonic fonts.
He was the middle of three kids and musical talent ran in
the family. His older brother was a talented trumpet player, his younger sister
a great singer, while he played trombone and tuba. But as much as music, he and
his brother loved baseball. His brother, taller and more athletic, played for
the local town ball team until being interrupted by World War Two where he was
an aircraft mechanic in the USAAF, and then an emergency infantryman during the
Battle of Bulge. He came home from war a different and troubled man and never
played baseball or trumpet again. Grandpa was too young, only 17 in 1945. He
eventually spent two years in the Navy during Korea, posted to a naval reserve
air station in Kansas after training at Naval Station Great Lakes in Chicago,
where he spent his only day “at sea” on Lake Michigan.
Like many rural kids west of the Mississippi before major
league expansion, grandpa adopted the closest possible teams to follow: the
Chicago Cubs, the Chicago Bears, and the Iowa Hawkeyes. His Cubs and Bears
fanhood was necessarily limited to radio and newspaper until he finally got to
Wrigley Field during naval training. However, an occasional trip into Iowa City
was possible even for a rural kid and he had detailed memories of playing his
trombone and tuba during high school band days at Iowa Field (now Kinnick
Stadium). Planning to be a music teacher, he started at Wartburg College, a
private Lutheran school in northeast Iowa because he was able to get financial
assistance through his church. Naval service interrupted his studies and he
never graduated, though he went on to have a very successful career in mortgage
He was married in the early 1950s to a girl from a nearby
small town and they had two daughters; the oldest was my mom. They moved all over Iowa as his career progressed, and then in the mid-1970s a promotion brought them to
Minnesota. By then grandpa had added the Minnesota Twins to his teams due to
proximity and his company's readily-available box seats at Met Stadium, but he maintained his Bears and Hawkeyes allegiances. He made it to
Iowa games most years, especially to see his nephew in the
marching band. His fanhood fell somewhere in between casual and die-hard; I don’t
have strong memories of watching Iowa sports with him, but he spoke glowingly
of Bump Elliott, Lute Olson, Hayden Fry, and Nile Kinnick.
I’m sure it’ll shock you to learn I was a weird, awkward
kid. Cripplingly shy, challenged at making friends, and afraid of doing most
things. My parents were concerned but their efforts to get me interested in what “normal” kids were interested in like sports and music mostly failed. I
read encyclopedias for fun.
Luckily I grew up a 10 minute drive from my grandparents. In
the summer of 1989 my recently-retired grandpa told mom to bring me over for a
day. When I got to his house he had laid out three ring binders, plastic
sleeves, and multiple boxes of brand-new baseball cards. He told me we were
starting a baseball card collection and we spent the whole day sorting cards by
league, team, and alphabetical order. He told me about his own collection, how
valuable it would have been if his mom hadn’t thrown it out while he was away
at college. He told me stories about the 1927 Yankees, Murderer’s Row, Carl
Hubbell’s 1934 All-Star Game, Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Ernie Banks, and
the player he had grown up idolizing, Lou Gehrig. Lou came from German
I left that day hooked, and went back to grandpa’s house several
times that week to watch the Twins and the Cubs and learn the game. My parents
saw a transformation start that summer; dad didn’t have to force me to play
catch in the side yard. I started to make friends at school, getting invited to
birthday parties and sleepovers. I started playing little league and nearly
every day we played pickup baseball at the field near my house. Sundays were
always for watching baseball with grandpa. Kirby Puckett was my Lou Gehrig but
I liked Kent Hrbek too since I was a 1st baseman.
After the magic 1991 Twins season I doubled-down on baseball,
digging deep into the history, player, and team statistics. The math I learned from
SLG, OBP, and ERA did more to prepare me for a career in chemistry and
healthcare than high school algebra. I used Total Baseball statistics to
build all-time Twins teams into my Nintendo games. No internet on my family’s
IBM PS1, after all.
My baseball “career” ended in high school when I realized it
was too late for me to learn to effectively hit curveballs and I focused on
music instead, which led me to the University of Minnesota. I
talked in more detail about that decision on the most recent TAWpod. That said,
my parents were from Iowa and didn’t go to college, so my allegiance was at
least theoretically up for grabs. But grandpa never pushed Iowa on me though I’m
sure he would have been thrilled to see me go there. When I picked Minnesota I
wondered what he would say; I needn’t have. He was thrilled because I was going
to be in the band, and he said Hayden Fry had called Minnesota a “sleeping
In college he was there for most concerts and watched every
game he knew I was playing at, hoping for a glimpse on TV. When he saw me in
the front row at Williams Arena he made sure I knew. When I was home for
Christmas he asked what it was like to get to see a future legend like Marion
Barber III. He doubted Dan Monson was going to turn the basketball program
around and was right. He tried to learn hockey but his eyesight made it
hard to see the puck. He never stopped following Iowa, and while I wouldn’t say
he became a Gopher fan, he was always my biggest fan. Close enough.
After college the Twins got better and we talked more
baseball again. Now we watched college basketball and football together too. He
was still always there for me, in my career and personal life. He helped me prepare for my job, gave me life advice, picked me up when I was down. He slowed down,
in body and mind as age and idleness caught up with him. But there was always a
shine in his eyes when we were together.
In November, 2014 he suffered a bad fall and broken hip,
then another fall that severely injured his neck, followed by more complications that led to a
month of hospitalization. Thanksgiving was spent in the hospital, and by
Saturday, November 29th it was becoming clear that he probably
wouldn’t leave. I spent that day in his room with him. There were difficult
things to discuss; surgical options (risky), medical options (none), and the inevitable what-ifs that eventually come for us all.
Despite the constant stream of friends, family, doctors, and
nurses, he didn’t want to talk about that. Iowa had lost to Nebraska in
overtime the day before, and he was hoping for some measure of revenge on the
universe by a #22 Minnesota win at #14 Wisconsin. The constant interruptions
prevented us from watching the game so I gave him score updates from my phone.
When Minnesota was up over Wisconsin by two touchdowns in the first half it was
the happiest I’d seen him in weeks. As the lead slipped away in the second half
he remained optimistic; as a Gopher fan I knew it wasn’t to be. I don’t
remember much from that day but what I do remember is that when the game ended
he grabbed my hand (no small feat with all the tubes in his), smiled and said
“Don’t worry, we’ll get ‘em next year.”
Unfortunately the Gophers did not, in fact, get ‘em next
year and regardless he wasn’t around to see it. He died in his sleep in hospice
on December 3, 2014. After a long day my parents had taken my grandma home to
get sleep and I was alone with him, holding his hand as he took his last
breathe. I had a silent moment with him between the time the nurse confirmed he
had passed and my parents return. So much of what I am, my love of music, the
fulfillment I find in sports, the ability to make friends, my sense of
self-worth, and occasional bursts of confidence was due in large part to him, a
man who decided to spend an idle summer day in 1989 starting a baseball card
collection with his grandson.
I had not opened Total Baseball: Second Edition in nearly a
decade. When I did it two weeks ago it didn’t bring me sadness. The memories
were all good, and the legacy he left me will live on for my son. Someday this
book will belong to him, if he wants it, in memory of a great-grandpa he never
got to meet but would have undoubtedly loved and supported him in the same
unconditional way he loved and supported me. I can only hope to do half as well
as he did.
2,600 pages are a lot, but it’s time to read it again. Much
love, grandpa. I hope you got to meet Lou Gehrig.
season you can feel it fadin’ fast
So you spend a lazy
Sunday crunchin’ numbers on the past
Would you know a
Special Season if you held it in your hand?
The Gophs you take
for granted I can’t understand
The 2019-2020 sports season has begun its death spiral
towards the wet, hot summer in earnest. It won’t be long before we stop basking
in the waning glory of 2019 and turn our attention to the hope of 2020 and try
to learn what it means to have expectations. For today, let’s reel in the third-years
of Gopher coaching history.
This is a post-bowl
update to Part 1 in a series evaluating where Minnesota is
at in Year 3 of the Fleck era. If you haven’t read that already, maybe go do
it. Or don’t. I’m not your supervisor.
We took the Christmas decorations down at our house this
past weekend, and I hate how bare and dark the house it looks now. It’s a
feeling I’ve had since I was a kid; my family has always gone all-out with
Christmas decorations, and I’ve always felt joy with their arrival and
emptiness with their departure. The feeling is similar to the end of college
football season. Anticipation, excitement, now the void.