So, I’ve been finding it really hard to blog lately, and I’ve been trying to put my finger on why, exactly, that might be.
There’s a lot of little reasons, of course, but I think the one it comes down to is the way I write. I really have a hard time writing about something until I’ve thought it over a lot. I’m the only person I know who drafts the comments I write on other people’s Facebook posts. It’s actually one reason I hate reading my own writing; it always feels so labored and forced. I read other people’s blogs, and I’m sure they put, if anything, more work than I put into mine, but the end result just feels more natural, refreshing even. I wish I could write differently, but this is the way I know how, and the end result of all this is I have a very hard time just picking a topic and writing about it. Most topics I’ve written about are the ones that got stuck in my mind and I worked them over and thought about them until I felt confident enough to put something out there.
And, as of late, all of those topics are political. And this presents something of a problem for me.
It’s not that I think politics is not a topic worth writing about (obviously), and this isn’t even a promise that I won’t write about politics in the future. But my biggest problem, I think, comes from the unstated goal of this blog.
My very first post (so long ago now) was prompted by, and largely in response to, a comment thread on my Facebook wall in which two people argued back and forth about the merits of downfalls of Noah, a film that neither of them had seen.
And I decided then that I wanted to use this blog, such as it is, to oppose that sort of closed-mindedness. I didn’t have delusions of grandeur. I wasn’t out to change the world or reshape our cultural conversation. But even if I only got two readers, I’d hoped to use my posts, even in a small way, to promote thoughtfulness, reasoned (and reasonable) discourse. Dialogue.
And right now, when it comes to politics, I’ve just got so much anger. I’m starting to worry that I’m becoming what I’ve always hated. But even if that’s not true, even if every part of my anger is completely justified, what does that leave? If all I’ve got to contribute to this field is rage, I’ll keep it to myself. There’s already more than enough of that going around.
And so I’ve been thinking a lot about what (or if) to write, because every other topic felt so small, so insignificant right now.
But as I was thinking about how all these other topics, movies and TV and art and sports, “don’t matter” anymore, from nowhere a very powerful memory came back to me.
It was July, during my bachelor party weekend in Minneapolis, and we’d gone to the Jazz and Funk Fest to see Sly and the Family Stone. It was very warm, and I was quite drunk, and I’m shockingly ignorant about music history so all of the songs they played were more or less new to me. And then they paused to talk to the crowd before kicking off their set closer.
“I’ve been around forever,” the speaker said. “And this is the craziest election I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what’s going to happen. But one thing I do know…
“And so are you!”
And as they kept singing and repeated the chorus, everyone in the crowd began to sing along. Even I caught on eventually. And there was just this weird, unspoken bond in the crowd. It didn’t matter if you were Republican or Democrat, Making America Great Again© or With Her™, or throwing your vote away on a third party.
I’d never felt that connected with strangers. And never, before or since, had felt more assured that things would work out okay.
I don’t know why that memory came back to me or what prompted it, but it was like a cold splash of water to the face. It helped me remember something I’d always known. That these topics aren’t inherently frivolous. That anything that can connect us is worth celebrating and promoting.
And that is the main reason I, for one, herald the return of the NFL Draft tonight, with the start of the season soon to follow.
There’s so many divisions in the country right now. Don’t get me wrong, the issues are important, I would never say otherwise. Discussion and debate are necessary.
And at the same time, at the end of the day, we are just “everyday people.” “Sometimes [we] can be right and [we] can be wrong,” but “we got to live together.”
And anything that can make us feel united, even for a brief moment, is a good thing.
Which is why, I swear, if I see one more person try to politicize sports, I’mma smack ‘em.
I’mma do it.
So funny story. I remember, the last time I had this blog thingy open, thinking to myself ‘Wow, I’ve got a lot of topics I want to write about. I may need to do two posts this month.’
And here we are, six months later, with nothing new posted in the interim. Huh.
I guess getting married can have that effect. Not to mention finally finishing a screenplay I should have finished a year ago but had been putting off
because I’m a lazy writer because I was waiting for creative genius to strike.
But now that I am getting back to blogging, instead of writing about one of those topics I felt so passionately about before, I’m instead going to write about something recent, because that’s the kind of minute-to-minute attention span the internet has taught me to have.
So, to review, recently two different athletes have got the internet into quite the tizzy because of their different but (apparently) abhorrent reactions when the national anthem was played.
First it was Gabby Douglas, who made the decision to stand at attention rather than place her hand over her heart during the medal ceremony at the Rio Olympics.
As an unapologetic Douglas fan, I did think about commenting on this, but really, there’s not a lot to say. She thought what she was doing was respectful. Other people thought it was disrespectful. The criticism may have been racially motivated, but also may not have been.
At the end of the day, it seems to me the main crux of the story comes from the fact that celebrities, especially celebrity athletes, are so rarely given the benefit of the doubt, or even just allowed to have lapses in judgment, even though the rest of us demand we be granted these same benefits.
Sunrise, sunset. Nothing new under the sun.
No, the event I wish to comment more in-depth on happened just last night, when Colin Kaerpernick of the San Francisco 49ers chose to sit while the national anthem played before his preseason football game.
Unlike Douglas, however, Kaepernick did intend to be disrespectful, saying afterwards “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
This, too, is nothing new, but it did prompt swift and harsh criticisms from every corner of the internet. It’s this backlash that primarily deserves more discussion and, frankly, criticism.
It’d be easy (and fun) to mock the dumb posts, like this one, which hilariously tries to assert that losing a preseason game (which does not impact a team’s record and will be forgotten by next week) is Kaepernick’s “karma” for disrespecting the US. If that’s all the karma he faces, I guess what he did must not be that bad. But there’s much more troubling posts, like this one, which is also getting much more attention.
The thing is, I really don’t understand this fellow’s logic. His criticism of Kaepernick seems to begin and end with “He makes a lot of money, yet claims he’s oppressed.” Now, what Kaepernick actually said was that black people, as a group, are largely oppressed; to my knowledge he never claimed to have suffered oppression himself, so maybe this is a simple case of the fire-starting fan not reading the statements carefully enough before responding. But since he’s responding to Kaepernic and apparently some people are taking this man seriously, let’s look at the problems created by his response to the statements actually made by Kaepernick, his argument therefore being “Kaepernick makes a lot of money, yet erroneously claims that black people are oppressed.”
There are only two premises from which he could logically draw this conclusion: Either a) Because Kaepernick is well-paid, no black person is oppressed, or b) Because Kaepernick makes $126 million, he’s not allowed to be angry about the oppression others face.
The first premise is an obvious fallacy. The equivalent would be my finding one white person who was broke and trying to claim that all white people are oppressed. As an argument, it’s one step above those who say “It was cold today, therefore global warming is a myth.” Individual examples do nothing to prove or disprove general trends.
The second is much more insidious, but also more problematic. First because it raises some obvious questions right off the bat, such as “How little does a person have to make before it’s okay for them to care about marginalized groups?” If he made $125 million, would his comments be okay? Or would it have to be below, say, $500,000?
But even more problematically, it encourages our human nature that tells us we should only care about problems that affect us. Now, we all know that this is not true–after all, what would be the logical conclusion to that line of thinking? Should I ignore the plight of rape victims simply because I’ve never been raped? I’ve never been persecuted for my faith, so am I not allowed to be angry about the systematic genocide my brothers and sisters in the Middle East have had to face? Should only cancer patients do research on cures for cancer? It’s ridiculous, and we all know this. We all know, at least subconsciously, that we are responsible for making the world a better, juster, fairer place for everyone. And yet, for some reason, we continue to see this argument brought up, particularly in cases of race.
Now all of that being said, I’m far from on Kaepernick’s side here. I find it more than a bit suspect that when he was on top of the league and considered a future Hall-of-Famer, the most important social issue I heard him speak out against was a stigma against people who had tattoos. But now that he’s fallen on hard times and has been largely forgotten, he’s grown a social conscious? I’m not saying people can’t change, just that I find this particular case a bit suspect.
Even if he is sincere in his statements, though, there almost certainly had to be a better way to express them. Many other black athletes have expressed similar convictions in a way that is not only much less headline-grabbing (again, I’m a bit suspicious about Kaepernick’s motives) but also much more thoughtful, and therefore more likely to promote honest, open discussion.
Kap is far from beyond criticism here, and it’s important for those who disagree with him to criticize. But. It’s equally important that any criticisms levied at him focus either on his beliefs (i.e. showing that black people, again, as a group, not as individuals are not oppressed) or his actions (i.e. showing more positive ways he could have expressed those beliefs).
Misrepresenting his argument, oversimplifying complex social issues, and personal attacks (especially the particularly childish ones hurled in the video) only serve to perpetuate the juvenile discussions and divisive arguments that are ripping our culture apart at the seams.
The only way society moves forward is if we all pull in the same direction.
Sometimes the truth hurts more than any lie could…
So I may have mentioned my emerging soccer fandom. Since the last World Cup I’ve become a fairly avid Seattle Sounders fan, but, let’s be honest, Major League Soccer is not exactly a good league (sorry, Mr. Garber), so naturally I’ve also kept an eye on some European leagues and a headline from the Spanish Primera División (La Liga) caught said eye.
The story details Cristiano Ronaldo, the star of Real Madrid, one of the richest and most successful teams in all of Europe, and his… less than charitable interview after he and his team were beaten by Atlético Madrid, specifically that he said his teammates were not as good as he was and that was the reason Real Madrid lost.
Now there’s a certain perception that most people hold of Ronaldo, one certainly not hurt by his behavior on the field. Basically that he’s a pathetic baby who can’t handle when things don’t go his way. So if you’re anything like me, you read that headline, thought ‘Same old Ronaldo’ and went back to what you were doing (beating his team on your copy of Fifa 2016 that you play on amateur difficulty because you still don’t understand how soccer works).
Apparently not many people are like me, because it would seem that most did not go back about their day. Ronaldo caught enough heat that, within hours, he retracted his statement, saying “I am not better than any of my teammates.”
And this is where the painful truth comes in, because… Yes, Ronaldo, yes you are. Specifically, you’re better than 99.99999% of people who have ever kicked a football, and no, not just on a physical level. There are 7 billion people on Earth right now, and you’re definitively better at soccer than 6,999,999,999 of them, in every way, and on some days you might even be better than Messi. And what’s more, I refuse to believe you don’t know that.
I hate to admit that. It’s taken me a day and a half to get to this post, and most of it I spent convincing myself to actually write that paragraph.
Look, I’m not here to defend Ronaldo’s first statement. Airing your dirty laundry in public has never done any good for any team and it wreaked of childish frustration at losing to the crosstown rivals and being held goalless.
But why is the way to fix that false humility?
Once the second story broke, I went back and read in full the first article on Ronaldo’s post-game comments. Look at what he actually said there:
I don’t want to say that Jese, Lucas [Vazquez] or [Mateo] Kovacic are not good players — they are very good, but … to win a competition you need to have your best players.
Our best players are injured, unfortunately — it’s a fact, the reality.
And he also claimed “Real Madrid would be in first place if his teammates were on his level.”
Can there be any question that both statements are undoubtedly true? Barcelona currently lead La Liga by a wide margin with one player at Ronaldo’s level in Messi, two great complementary pieces in Neymar and Suarez, and… eight other people who I’m sure are very good (I said a kept an eye on European leagues, okay?). Every one in Barça’s starting eleven is a very good player, but undeniably ten of them are second-tier compared to Messi or Ronaldo, so imagine if Real Madrid actually did have 11 players that good? They’d dominate La Liga in their sleep. They’d roll over in bed and score more goals than most teams could in a month. While wearing rocket boots.
And as for the claim that the backups on his team aren’t as good as the players who would start ahead of them if healthy… I mean, they’re backups for a reason.
I’m reminded through all this, weirdly enough, of Terry Crews. If you’re not familiar with the man’s Facebook page, it may surprise you to learn he’s more than just the incredibly ripped torso from countless Old Spice ads. I highly recommend checking out the videos he’s posted, but one in particular that he’s titled “Humility?” He addresses the concept of
humility we’ve developed in our culture, saying:
People always tell you to be humble… But are you humble going into your house? Are you humble getting into your car? No! You go into those places boldly, because they’re yours!… Let me tell you, man: God gives you stuff… It’s yours. It’s yours to use.
And it’s easy to forget that. While Crews mentions only physical possessions there, his thoughts extend to gifts and talents, as well, and his video is a response to a stranger at the gym telling him to relax and not make the other people look bad.
Pride can be deadly. I know this, firsthand, and I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say it can eat away at you from the inside. But we see that, and we over correct, especially in the church. We take the command to “walk humbly with your God” and use it to mean that we can’t be proud of our accomplishments or skills. That we should deny the gifts we’re given. Ignoring that thinking poorly of yourself still puts the focus on yourself, and missing the point that some of the faith’s great heroes weren’t exactly shy about their gifts.
If I’m worried another patron at the gym is going to make me look bad, he’s not the one who needs to be humbled. It’s me.
Similarly, if the soccer-watching world bristles at the idea of Vazquez and Kovacic being told they aren’t as good as the players ahead of them on the bench, let alone Ronaldo, the fault is not with Ronaldo.
It’s in us.
Yes, Ronaldo’s first press conference was wrong-headed, and the context and medium of a message absolutely reflect on the message itself.
But the cure for wrong-headed impudence is not wrong-headed meekness.
I couldn’t put my finger on it for sure. But it definitely happened.
There was definitely a time it was not okay to like Brett Favre.
With his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and, perhaps more significantly, being inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame (and his #4 retired), it seems like that time has definitely passed.
Actually that’s probably not fair. It seems like it’s been past for a while now. But with his recent inclusion in the most exclusive club available to football’s greatest, it seems that the time for hatred has officially ended.
But the weird part is I sometimes feel like the only one who remembers it existed at all. But, I mean, that can’t possibly be true, can it? I can’t be the only one who remembers when Favre was as easy to mock as Michael Jackson (back when it was okay to mock Michael Jackson) and the general internet consensus was he’d been reduced to a washed-up has-been who couldn’t play any more and probably never could if we’re being honest, and also he sent pictures of his dick to everyone. Or at least to one person.
Although actually to say that was only one time isn’t really fair, either. Well, okay, the dick pics only came up once, but much like Favre’s famous indecision regarding his retirement…s, the football-watching world could never seem to make up it’s mind about Favre.
Remember back in 2005 when Green Bay drafted Aaron Rodgers? For the next two years,
all the reports ranged between saying Favre was gruff and unwelcoming to the rookie to flat-out calling him a terrible teammate. The fact that these two years happened to coincide with two of the worst in Favre’s career to that point is probably coincidence. Then, 2007, redemption. Favre led the upstart Packers to a surprising 13-3 record, putting up some of the best numbers of his career. Sports Illustrated declared him sportsperson of the year and did an article on what a mentor he was to Rodgers and the other QBs. Suddenly, Favre had become a good teammate.
For one year. The next year Favre got traded to New York, had a strong start to the season, but faded down the stretch as his new team missed the playoffs. ESPN officially declared him “locker room cancer.” The old reports resurfaced. Favre and Rodgers never got along. Favre never made Rodgers feel comfortable. Favre ripped the head off of kittens and ate the placenta of unborn children.
The thing is, the actual facts of those reports hardly changed at all, if you pushed deep enough to actually find them. Favre didn’t go out of his way to help Rodgers take his job, what Rodgers was obviously brought in to (eventually) do, but if Rodgers came to him looking for specific help, he’d provide it. We can debate all day about whether Favre should have made the younger player seek him out or if he should do more to be a “good” teammate, but the simple fact is the reports stayed virtually the same year-to-year, while the judgments and narratives in those news stories varied widely.
And that’s a pattern that holds true not with the little things, t00. Late in the 2009 season, Favre (now with the Vikings) had a Monday night game at the Chicago Bears. Leading up to the game, the story was the freezing cold conditions, and how Favre hadn’t won such a game in almost two years.
The Vikings sleepwalked through the first half, spotting Chicago 16 points, before ultimately falling behind 23-6 midway through the third quarter. But led by Favre and Adrian Peterson, nearly pulled off a comeback for the ages, coming all the way back to tie the game at 23, falling behind again, only to put together a 68-yard drive that ended when Favre hit Sidney Rice for a touchdown on fourth and goal with 16 seconds left in the game.
Just before that score, one of the game’s announcers commented on all the claims that Favre could no longer play well in cold weather, saying “There’s nothing wrong with that guy in any weather after how he’s played tonight.”
But on the Vikes’ first drive in overtime, Peterson fumbled the ball. The Bears recovered it, and rammed a touchdown drive down the Vikings’ throats, winning the game.
The next time the Vikings came to Chicago, in 2010, to play another game in freezing weather, the story told by all national news writers was, again, “Favre can’t play in cold weather… Favre hasn’t won a game played in freezing temperatures in three years.”
You could chalk it up to what Matthew McConaughey, portraying Jack Lengyal, said in We Are Marshall: That “Winning is everything and nothing else matters.” But it’s far more likely that in the word of professional football, perception simply is not reality.
Perception trumps reality.
So there’s something I don’t admit publicly very often.
I’m a Detroit Lions fan.
And since the Lions has just finished an awful season (again), there are significant questions about whether they’ll fire their coach (again).
But this wasn’t just any bad season. It obviously isn’t the worst Lions season in recent history, but it might have been the most frustrating. I’m so mad, I actually might be happier if Detroit had lost at Green Bay in Week 10 and finished with a worse record. Because at least then they wouldn’t have wasted what should have been a historic moment, ending a 24-year-long road losing streak to Green Bay, on a meaningless season.
They could have done it last year. In Week 17. With the division on the line. For a franchise record 12th win. And with the game tied halfway through the third quarter. And instead, they let the Packers, who had struggled all season when facing top-flight defenses, roll up 30 points.
No. Even when the football gods finally choose to smile on us, the Lambeau curse is finally broken in the midst of late-season surge that
all became meaningless three weeks later after Rodgers flopped like a Cristiano Ronaldo and those cheese eaters got an unearned extra play. And also because the defense let the Rams run all over them a week later. But, mostly, the first thing!
All right, I never claimed to be a well-adjusted person, the point is this season sucked. And after what seemed like such a promising offseason, such a terrible real season should leave the Lions with one very clear answer as to what to do with Caldwell.
They need to keep him.
Despite the 1-7 start, and the 7-9 final record, there are four very important reasons getting rid of Caldwell this year would be a terrible decision.
Reason One: That Second Half Surge
Yes yes yes, as everyone has said, as I said just a few paragraphs ago, the fact that the Lions went 6-2 after their bye week meant, in the grand scheme of things, nothing. The Lions still missed the playoffs and couldn’t even get to a .500 record. And the strength of schedule in the second half definitely helped (6 games against playoff teams in Weeks 1-8, compared to 2 games against the Packers in Weeks 9-17).
But that doesn’t mean we should just ignore that resurgence. A lot of teams who start 1-7 would quit on their coach. This same team has quit on lesser coaches in the not-too-distant past. That Caldwell kept the team focused, and improving, in an otherwise lost season is a good indication that last year’s 11-5 record is closer to what we can expect in the future than this year’s 7-9.
But more importantly than all of that, the improved record over the final 8 games can be largely attributed to promoting Jim Bob Cooter to offensive coordinator. Matthew Stafford never looked fully comfortable in previous OC Joe Lombardi’s offense. This was supposed to be the year he took a major step forward after spending all of 2014 learning the offense and playing it safe. Instead, with Lombardi, Stafford was heading to another mediocre season (13 TDs, 11 INTs, 64.5% completions, 84.1 rating after week 8). When Cooter had a chance to implement his offense following the bye week, Stafford transformed into one of the best QBs in the league almost overnight (19 TDs, 2 INTs, 70% completions, 110.1 rating in weeks 9-17).
Stafford needs to stay in Cooter’s offense. It seems he has finally found someone who can curb his problems with incompletions and interceptions without sacrificing his offensive proficiency. The last thing he needs now is to have to learn a fourth offense in his young career. And the best way to be sure Cooter stays around is to keep his boss around. Caldwell needs to stay.
Reason Two: An Inexperienced GM
Yes! The Lions seem to have finally changed their ways. After firing General Manager Martin Mayhew, they broke recent trends and chose not to promote from within and instead searched far and wide before bringing in Bob Quinn from the New England Patriots.
Right now, these all appear to be good signs and indicate that the Powers that Be recognize that there are systemic problems in the franchise and are attempting to address them.
But none of this changes the fact that Quinn comes to Detroit with no experience as a GM, and while his experience with the ever-consistent Patriots is certainly what made him an attractive hire, it’s worth noting that he joined the Patriots in 2000, the same year as Bill Belichick. The Patriots have not hired a new coach since then, or even looked at another
one. Not only has Quinn never made this kind of decision before, he’s never been a part of it. Or observed it. Or, probably, even thought about it.
Hiring a new coach is always a gamble. Asking a new GM to take that kind of a gamble when we already have a coach one year removed from an 11-win season does not make sense right now.
Reason Three: The Other Teams Have a Head Start
When the Lions made massive, sweeping changes this season, they announced they were going to wait to hire a new GM before they made a decision on their coach. And that’s fine, that makes sense.
But when they waited until yesterday to bring in their new GM, they gave all the other teams who fired their coaches a free week to research, scout, interview, and form relationships with all the hot coaching prospects.
Even if Quinn and his staff get to work right away, they’re probably not going to get their first choice.
And this is especially true, because…
Reason Four: That Second Half Surge
Okay, so when I said earlier that the Lions 6-2 performance over the season’s last eight weeks accomplished nothing, that wasn’t quite true…
It pushed the Lions to 16th on the NFL Draft Board.
Any new coach who comes in is going to want to bring in his own players and reshape the team to suit his preferences. While it wouldn’t be impossible for the Lions to do that this summer, it’s definitely a lot harder when you’re drafting in the middle of the pack and (presumably) getting middle-of-the-pack college players.
I would vehemently disagree with anyone who would say that the Lions should have folded during the second half of the season in an attempt to get a higher draft pick, but there’s no denying that by not doing so they made any new coach’s job that much harder.
So imagine this, hot, young, head coaching prospect. There’s a franchise out there that might be hiring. This franchise has, in the Super Bowl era, made the playoffs 11 times with a 1-11. Their star wide receiver is probably going to retire and
leave you with a gaping whole on your roster. Hiring you means they would have just fired their most successful coach since 1952. You won’t get your first choice of players this April. And to top it all off, waiting for their call means ignoring the six other franchises blowing up your phone for a week (or longer).
In what world do you wait to see their choice? In what world do you answer that call if it comes?
There are a lot of tough decisions coming for this franchise. Despite their strong showing in the last eight weeks they are definitely in rebuilding mode. But this choice should be pretty clear.
The Lions need to keep Jim Caldwell in 2016.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to take in Iowa State’s drubbing of the Hapless–er, I mean, Kansas Jayhawks. It was a lot of fun and good to see the Cyclones get a win (the quality of the opponent notwithstanding). Despite my Nebraska loyalties, I’ve been a part-time ISU fan for a long time. After all, my favorite football game of all time happened October 1, 2005, when the Huskers and Cyclones battled to a double-overtime Nebraska win.
While nothing beats being in Memorial Stadium for a Husker game, the overall game experience was great. My girlfriend’s father, with whom I attended, knew a lot about football and was a great conversationalist, and whoever runs the PA system at Jack Trice Stadium does a lot of fun things to keep the crowd in the game.
But while I loved the experience overall and hope to get to another game soon, one thing I definitely cannot say I enjoyed was the fans. While they were friendly enough to me (though it certainly helped that I was wearing the right colors), it made me more than a little uncomfortable the way they talked about their coach (one of the most successful ISU has ever had), their starting quarterback (the team’s leader, and best player, for about four straight years now), and their offensive coordinator (who was in the middle of producing over 500 yards of offense).
And I really don’t mean to call the Cyclone fans out in this, because it’s hardly an attitude native to Ames.
Ohio State fans are already whining about their team, despite being undefeated. San Francisco 49er followers started to complain early and often last year, in spite of three straight trips to the NFC Championship game. Heck, reading the comments of Texas fans in the last days of Mack Brown is about like reading the diary of a middle school girl who’d just been dumped (“He said we’d win games together, and he said we’d be national champs forever, and it wasn’t true! And now my life is ruined!”).
I guess that’s just how sports are. The entitled whining, the undue scrutinizing. That is just what football fans do.
But that’s not what the best fans in college football should do.
As bad as I felt for Rhoads listening to the grumbling from delusional fans who don’t understand why it might be hard to win more than a couple of games a season in a place like Ames, I’ve been outright disgusted by Husker fans over the past day and a half.
There’s a lot of reason to be frustrated right now. We’re 2-3 and we could easily be 5-0. But. There’s plenty of blame to go around, and it can’t all fall on the coaches. But. This is a staff trying to adjust to a new program, a new culture and environment, and players they didn’t recruit. But. Let’s not pretend this was the worst loss Nebraska’s had. It’s not even the worst loss in the past decade. If Pelini and his staff could turn the 2009 season around after losing to Iowa State at home, there’s every reason to believe Riley and his staff can turn this one around after losing to Illinois on the road.
But they can’t do it without our support. If you don’t believe fan support absolutely can impact a program, look no further than the aforementioned Pelini regime. Losing the fanbase caused him to go from a hot up-and-comer (in 2011 Bleacher Report ranked him #11 on their list of best coaches in the nation) to a loud-mouthed buffoon in just a few years. Once he lost support of the fans, he was always on the defensive, always trying to justify his employment. It made it all but impossible for him to learn from his mistakes or grow as a coach. And so he didn’t.
The worst thing we can possibly do right now is repeat that scenario with Riley. I don’t know if he’s the man we need for the job, and neither does anyone else. I do know that if we run him out of town before we get a chance to find out, the rest of the football world is going to spend the next year shit-talking our program. I know nobody, coaches or recruits, will want to be a part of that kind of toxic atmosphere. I know the condition of our program absolutely cannot improve if we can’t shake those aspects of it.
The title of best football fans is not something we can just claim. We need to earn it. To defend it. We haven’t been doing this for several years now. I include myself in this.
After this week the game against Wisconsin has suddenly become a lot less important to the division championship, and a lot more critical to our program than anyone could have predicted. Let’s show up in full force and full throat. It’s time to earn that plaque we hang in our stadium the way we expect our team to earn championships.
I try to get out, they keep pulling me back in.
Okay, so I realize that in my last post I basically all but promised that I was not going to blog about football again for a while. And I really meant it. But considering the news broke yesterday that Pelini was dismissed by Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst, less than 48-hours after his team completed the biggest comeback in a road game in school history, I guess I kind of feel the need to put my thoughts out there. In part because a lot of people have asked me for my opinion and I don’t feel I’ve given them a very clear answer. Mostly because I just need to put into words why I, someone who genuinely tries not to call for a coach’s job, finally agree with this decision.
It’s been one of the crazier weekends in recent memory. I went from saying on Thursday that I was done caring about Pelini-led teams, to finding the Huskers down 24-7 and wishing Pelini would just go, to watching them rally back and hopping right back on the bandwagon, hearing of his firing via text message and just feeling utter revulsion, then acceptance, and finally, sometime last night, support.
But first things first, I do want to clarify something. Nebraska football, both the team and its fans, have always had a strong tradition of giving credit where credit is due. When Ricky Williams ran all over our defense in 1998, the Husker fans famously chanted “Heisman” as he walked off the field, and similarly when our players end their practices with prayer, they say “If we lose, we’ll stand by the road / And cheer as the winners go by.” It’s a tradition that has given way in recent years to jealousy; pointless, smug shit talking; and unending negativity. It’s a tradition I would like to uphold today.
So let me start by saying that this is not about Pelini being a bad coach. He’s not. As many people have pointed out, he’s the only coach in history to take over a team that had a losing record and win 9 games each of his first 7 years. That is a good accomplishment. And the claim that he hasn’t won any big games simply is not true. Last year’s victory over Georgia in the Gator Bowl is a good place to start. The program sorely needed that win, and he got it. The year before that, unranked Nebraska upset #20 Michigan, again at a time when we really needed to keep the momentum rolling. But I think his best moment, which most Husker fans have already forgotten, was in 2010 when after failing to show up against a miserably bad Texas team, Pelini rallied his players to knock off back-to-back unbeaten teams, first #17 Oklahoma State on the road, then #7 Missouri at home.
I also want to give him credit for how hard his job has been, more so than I think people realize. As I said, I thought Pelini’s best coaching moment came in 2010, though the end of 2009 would be a close second, as Nebraska nearly upset undefeated Texas in the Big 12 Championship, then shut out Arizona in the Holiday Bowl. Either way, after 2-3 years, it seemed like Pelini and his staff might have been building a contender, putting the pieces together.
And then between 2010 and 2011 we change conferences to the Big Ten. I think this was a good move and that we are better off, but I think this made the job harder for Pelini than many realize. Not only did he have to adjust to new opponents, new opposing coaches and coordinators, but it also completely changed his recruiting dynamic. Nebraska coaches can’t recruit in Texas and Oklahoma the way they used to, and the recruiting territory it opened up, such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and, now, the D.C. area, is devoid of programs we have any history or rivalry with. Nebraska can be a hard sell to recruits to begin with (cold weather school, located in a small, quiet city) and this change certainly didn’t do the man any favors.
That said, this was still the correct decision on Eichorst’s part. Because I don’t think Nebraska can be good. I don’t want a program that wants to be good. I want a program that aims for greatness, even if it means taking a tumble or two along the way.
The question is, then, what if Pelini was just on the verge of greatness? After all, as everyone points out, it took Osborne 9 years before he won an outright conference title. Who’s to say Pelini wouldn’t follow the same arc? Well, I don’t buy that for a second, and here’s why:
If things were ever going to be different under Pelini, they would have been different this year.
All the talk last year was about Pelini’s hot seat. Would a 9-win season save his job? Did he need to win the conference in order to be safe? It was inescapable, and it never let up.
If that didn’t galvanize the team, nothing will.
When they lost to Iowa, the dreaded 4th loss of the season, it seemed Pelini’s days were numbered. And after his now-infamous press conference, I think everyone, myself included, thought it was only a matter of days. Instead, Eichorst came out in full support of Pelini and said he would be leading our team into the future. The team rallied one last time and upset a much more talented Georgia team in their bowl. Fans and players chanted “Bo! Bo! Bo! Bo!” during the trophy presentation.
If that didn’t give the program positive momentum, nothing will.
Over the offseason, we saw a much more open-minded Pelini. He allowed reporters at his spring practices and fall camp, showed us a different side of his personality than the rage-filled boor we’d grown accustomed to on the sidelines and in interviews. These moments gave the program great press, scored huge points with the national commentators, and, most of all, were fun.
If that didn’t allow the team to come to this season loose and focused, nothing will.
And none of it has happened.
I really thought things might be different at the start of this year (and I know I wasn’t the only one). The players talked differently. They carried themselves differently. For a while maybe they even played differently. Even the fan base seemed to have changed.
By the time Michigan State rolled around we got our first indication that this was no different. By the time Melvin Gordon clocked out early, a new FBS record in hand, we got our final, bitter confirmation: we were watching the same season we’d seen play out six times before.
I commented during that game that I didn’t think Pelini had learned anything in his time as a head coach. In fact, in a lot of ways I think you can say he’s regressed. For all the complaints you can put on his early teams, they showed up to play and they played their best football at the end of the season. They were tough, not the least bit flashy, and they didn’t always win, but they rarely felt out of the fight.
Now it’s the exact opposite. Now Nebraska will dazzle you with their finesse in September and be fighting for scraps come November. They’ll impose their will on opponents… as long as those opponents don’t push back. At all.
Pelini either can’t or simply won’t fix this problem. What keeps causing these collapses. What keeps inspiring these blowouts. Why his teams never seem to show up for a full game. Instead we get quotes about executing (which has always been a bit too similar to Callahan’s excuse that the players were making mistakes). Instead we get reminders of his accolades.
A coach who informs us, after getting embarrassed on national television in a conference championship game, that he doesn’t have to apologize for 10 wins is not a coach I want leading my team.
Or a coach who’s likely to win those championship games in the future.
I sincerely wish the best for Pelini. I hope he finds a soft landing spot and another head coaching job some day. I hope he learns from mistakes he made here and builds a perennial national power. I hope we see him in the playoffs every year.
But if there’s any reason to believe he could have taken Nebraska further, I just don’t see it. Time for a change in Lincoln.
Go Big Red.