Wednesday, September 06, 2017

FIVE YEARS LATE--BUT WORTH THE WAIT



Five years ago a bunch of Alumni were lobbying Sandy to hire Justin Wilcox—an actual football coach.  Apparently, unable to land Anthony Scaramucci she went with Sonny Dykes, instead.   We wanted a football program.  She wanted a quick-fix gimmick—the Bear Raid. 

We ended up with a disingenuous, but charming Southerner who gets high marks for raising the team APR and GPA substantially.  We should all be grateful for that.

But we became the defensive laughing stock of Division I (or whatever they call it these days); and were subjected, as a University, to obscene locker room antics resulting in fist fights, concussions and even the death of a child. 

Yet, for all the wannabe Casanovas out there, at least the Bear Raid meant lots of scoring.

(As someone said about Casanova who was said to have bedded 1,000 women, “Anyone who can’t find what he’s looking for in 1,000 women, is really looking for a man.”  That was true about Sonny.  Rather than looking for wins, he was really looking for another job—all the time schmoozing us about Cal being the best job in the country and the only one he really wanted.

Sandy’s original sin, of course, was compounded by her replacement, Mike Williams, granting Sonny an extension (supposedly preventing him from trolling for work back south of the Mason Dixon line).  It proved to be as effective as giving your kid more gas money based on his promise not to drive the car so much.

But I digress.

The Professor Justin Wilcox seminar in Chapel Hill was one of the most enjoyable football games ever witnessed.

An exaggeration? 

Not to those of us who suffered under the Barbour/Dykes boondoggles.  It’s obscene to criticize 19 and 20 year olds who have less physical talent than, say, Nick Saban’s other world physical specimens.  Our kids are trying to do their best with what they have.   So let’s not blame the kids for the paucity of wins in the Dykes era.

 Cal is supposed to be a teaching institution. To watch young men who have not been properly schooled in elementary techniques like blocking and tackling—thus putting them at a further disadvantage than their more physically gifted opponents-- borders on child abuse.

To say nothing of playing for a coach who hadn't the slightest clue about clock management as it relates to football.

For the first time in five years, on Saturday, we actually saw young men tackle—and tackle well.  We saw them hit “with reckless abandon,” as Wild Bill Dutton preached.  We saw them pursue, relentlessly—from whistle to whistle.  We saw DB’s actually turn and go for the ball. We saw D linemen shed their blocks and make tackles in the backfield.  We saw “Football,” as we hadn’t seen it played in years.  We witnessed a well-coached team.  Wilcox (and his staff) are clearly teachers.

Sure, we’d seen some wins over the past five years.  But that’s like saying we’d picked up some chicks in bars over the last five seasons (does anyone do that anymore—or just on line?). 

What was missing was quality football—on both sides of the ball.  To stretch the analogy to the breaking point, like all men (and women) we wanted both brains and beauty.  Having one at the expense of the other was just not doing it. It leads to lots of cheap thrills, but a lot of morning after regrets.   Leading the country in scoring was titillating, but giving up the most points allowed year after year, meant weekly Sunday morning walks of shame.

Like wondering if last night’s date would call the next day, Saturday’s game kept us on edge.  We thought we knew what was going to happen (we’d lose); but weren’t quite sure—and held out desperate hope.   Suddenly like a masked Antifa anarchist sneaking up behind a Republican wearing a red baseball cap, NC's Jalon Dalton clobbered QB Ross Bowers in the head.  The only difference was he went helmet to helmet, instead of cheap shotting him with a metal bicycle lock, as the Antifas are so wont to do.

Bowers picked himself off of the turf—the rookie jitters clubbed out of him, avoided the rush on the next play, and heaved a 67 yard TD pass to Vic Warton who ran a great route (after the linebacker lost him) and stepped out of two or three tackles on the way to pay dirt.

Even former tree sitters Oak, Burlap and Chief Zachery Running Wolf (he of the So-sue-me tribe), had to be impressed.
           
Now I have no idea what our talent level is.  I’m not trying to say that we are a top 25 team, yet, let alone a threat in the Pac 12.  (I won’t make the mistake the late, sainted John Erby did after Cal beat San Jose in 1962.  He came out on the balcony at the North end and shouted “I smell roses.”  Everyone cheered.  The Bears went 1 and 9 that year).

But, win or lose, there is great pleasure and great satisfaction in watching young men play as well as they are capable. 

We didn’t see a perfect game.  We didn’t see the 22 best football players in the country performing at a high level.  But we did see some kids who kept their composure—who fought through several adversarial moments—who never gave up on one another—who battled confidently from behind.   In short, we saw a team that was superbly well coached.

We saw character.  And that is what athletics is supposed to be all about—building character in young men and women.  That is the true roll of a university.  It is not about getting a job or lots of safe spaces. 

The D line really stepped up.  They were impressive.  During the upcoming Free Speech Month, Chancellor Christ should use them (as the late Clark Kerr used the football team in the early 60’s, clad in Zebra stripes to protect speakers at the Greek Theater).  Remember the picture in the paper of Blanchfield decking a “hippie” who attempted to storm the stage? How “quaint” were the days when athletes in lettermen sweaters could protect speakers form rowdy opponents of free speech?

But that’s for another column.

One game does not a season make.  And it is inappropriate to make any won/loss predictions after only one game.

 The only thing one can say with some degree of certainty, had Wilcox been hired 5 years ago, there’s a chance we’d be playing for a National Championship this year.

Well, better late than never.  With luck, he will make Cal great again.

(One major flaw which should be mentioned:  In the last minute with the Tar Heels threatening to score, and the Bears up by 11, the coaches had a defensive back (on two successive plays, shown on instant replay) tackle the would be receiver preventing him from even receiving a pass.  That is not kosher.  It is not “gamesmanship.”   It is cheating, and cheating has no place in college football—even if it is a clever tactic that might win a game.  This is still a University, and we should act like one—each and every play in each and every game).  Let’s hope the coaches don’t blemish their outstanding performance in the future by encouraging such tactics.)