Saturday, November 21, 2015

THE OLD COLLEGE TRY

       


  It’s Big Game morn and something’s not right.  I woke up in my own bed, next to my wife. 

No, it’s not as scandalous as it sounds. 

It’s just that usually on Big Game morning, we wake up in a hotel room anxiously waiting the 1pm kick off, and just as anxiously try to remember where we were the night before.
         Normally, even before reading the morning paper I race to my wallet to see if I had a good time on Friday—a day that begins with Bloodies at Gino and Carlo’s in North Beach at 10am, moves on to the Italian American Club were rummies from the 60’s (and each decade after) collect to tell lies and laugh about the many screw ups which defined your days at Cal.

There are dozens of reunions throughout the City. Wherever one gathers, it is the best one of the week. For us, The Mother of them all is the Friday Men's lunch. It was started over 30 years ago at the now defunct New Pizza. It was mostly ruggers, and former footballers--boys, Coach Joe Marvin once called "The fellows who fought the Battle of Berkeley back in the 60's".

We gather to re-tell the same old, stories--laugh way too loud--and return to the halcyon days of yore when everything was possible, and no one could best us--neither footballer nor female.

(In truth, we lost way more times than we won--in both areas--but who's counting). At least we gave it "The Old College Try."

Ours is a friendship held together over the years--not through our triumphs, but through our failures. For that's where the laughs are. In the screw ups. In the errors in judgment. In the vain attempts to be more than we were.

Had we been suave. Had we been cool. Had we succeeded each time--in class--on the field--with the co-eds-- we'd have little to talk about. And nothing to laugh about.

When the sentence begins with "How 'bout the time......." you can be assured it has nothing to do with a triumph.

Mostly it has to do with some humiliating failure which the PCer's would consider a lowering of self-esteem--and which we consider too funny for words.

The 60’s are a bye gone era.

That's when our school yell went from "Roll on you Bears" to "Ashes to ashes/Dust to dust/We hate to go on strike/But we must, we must!"

No parents wanted their kids to come to Cal back then. We were considered a bunch of Commie, Pinko, Weirdoes. It’s a wonder football survived.

In fact, Ackey Boy claims were it not for Ray Willsey back then, Cal football would be dead, there would be no Big Game to look forward to.  He may be right.

Franze defined the lunch with the classic line: "No invitations. That means no jerks. Just good guys inviting good guys".

It is good that we are off by ourselves. The world would never approve of our past shenanigans. It certainly wouldn't approve of the way we laugh about them now.

We were not nice boys. On the other hand, we were just that--boys. Doing things that boys do, and grown men can look back upon and laugh at. Maybe it's a guy thing. My kids don't believe me, but no truer words were ever spoken than when we tell them at their moments of failure, "Don't worry. We'll laugh about this later."

Former pro bowler Terik Glenn made us all proud with his talk about what he’s doing for at risk kids and how much his degree from Cal means to him.

Former Niners stadium announcer and comedienne Bob Sarlotte (Murph calls him “Pteradactyl arms” because they are so short, he can’t reach over to pick up a check); had us on the floor with his one liners and drop dead imitations Coaches Wild Bill Dutton and Ray Willsey.  Even the kids who didn’t know or play for them, were in hysterics.


Morton was a little tardy (I assume he got intercepted along the way), and Big Ed White, McCaffrey and Kapp were rare no shows—though Joe made it out for Thursday night. Tonight’s late night kick off kept more than a few regulars from making the journey this year).


The lunch is followed by a trek over to Grealish’s NorthStar CafĂ© and more beer and more stories.  Big Games past run on a loop on the TV’s providing endless opportunities for conversation and “remembrances.”

(For a great column on some of them check out today’s Chron where another tall good lookin’ guy, clasmate, Bruce Jenkins, nails it).

http://www.sfchronicle.com/collegesports/article/The-Big-Game-History-says-Cal-can-do-this-6647213.php?cmpid=gsa-sfgate-result


In days gone by NorthStar was followed by Irish coffee’s at Buena Vista where we were joined by our lucky wives who might find us face down before grabbing us, spitting and drooling, to a dinner in some hip joint Sarlette knew about, before we closed down the Royale Exchange with all the Cal kids and band.

         But that was then and this is now—when Big Game means a 7:30 kick off, so people from Sacto and St. Helena (like moi), can count on getting home at 3am.  No es bueno.

         So instead of spending the night at Stanford, or Cal or in the City, it’s back home to wake up in one’s own bed and prepare for an entire day’s wait for kick off time.

         This is the price we pay for 20 plus million in Pac 12 TV money per school.  They tell us it’s worth it. 

         Of course, we don’t think of the Big Game as a revenue source.  We think of it as an essential part of Cal life, and an irresistible magnet which draws us back to the school and times we love so.

Outsiders think we are so arrogant. No one in the country understands how two academic institutions can refer to their contest as “The Big Game.”

That the BCS or some such thing has to be on the line is to miss the essence of college football. Despite the bad press, scandals and under the table activities we read about, first and foremost, college football is about student-athletes competing against one another.

Sure, there are some thugs. And, yes some kids are just passing through on the way to the pros. But for the vast majority of seniors, this is the last football game they will ever play.  (Or should have been were it not the new “extra” game—again TV driven).

So the combination of adrenaline, coupled with the "Ya ain't got nothing to lose" mentality inherent in one's final game, make for some extraordinary moments in sport.

We're not talking about a rivalry where each year Heisman Trophy Candidates rise up to accomplish Herculean feats.

No, from Hart and Patton stopping Skip Face short of the goal line on the last play, and sending the Bears to the Rose Bowl fifty years ago, to Kevin Moen knocking over the Stanford trombone player to win the '82 Big Game with no time left on the clock--the rivalry is rife with "Ordinary Joes" accomplishing extraordinary feats.

It's what makes it great. Is there any finer expression of athleticism than what was once referred to as "The Old College Try?” The Big Game is nothing, if not a show case for "The Old College Try."

The Beauty of "The Old College Try" is that it is not dependent upon physical prowess alone. Heart, determination, courage, guts and grit are the ingredients of "TOCT.” It does not rely upon superior genes or talent. It is a state of mind--dependent solely upon the depth of one's character and the size of one's heart.

"The Old College Try" is not delivered in a vacuum. It is (or used to be) witnessed by family. One of the finest "families" one could ever be associated with--Old Blues.

We won’t be there this year and may never make a night time Big Game again. 

We won’t be missed.  The world has moved on.  We had our time and it was great.

Traditions can’t compete with money—never could. 

But what Big Game traditions gave us over the years made us all rich.  They can take away the game, but they can’t take away the memories, nor the friendships.

They’ve won.  We lost.  Money rules.  But at least we can say that for more years than we can count, we gave it “The Old College Try.” 

Give ‘em the Axe!








        









         

Saturday, November 14, 2015

THE BEAR FACTS OF LIFE

     




  Remember how awkward it was when your Dad sat you down for that talk on “The facts of life.”  It was both embarrassing and disgusting.  Certainly something other people did, but NOT your Mom and Dad.
            Then remember how your wife told you it was time you set your own kids straight—only to discover they knew more than you did.  That was the embarrassing part.
            Well, it’s time Bear fans manned up (I love sexist expressions) and had a discussion about the “Facts of Bear life” regarding our Gridiron program.
            As Bear fans we are a lot like Rachel Dozelzal and Elizabeth Warren—two white chicks—one who identifies as Black--one who identifies as Indian.  We may not be an elite program, but we identify as something we are not.  The only difference is that those gals are what they are—despite their protestations to the contrary—whereas we can be what we want to be—it’s simply a matter of commitment—(see Stanford State Indians).  It wasn’t so long ago they were the dregs of the Pac 12.  If they can recruit kids who will graduate AND make them compete for the Rose Bowl, so can we.  But I digress.
            We should “have that discussion” now before the Oregon State game, for no matter what the result will be tonight, it is certain to cloud our thinking.
            (Until and unless we can convince the Pac 12 to institute the Hillary/Bernie Sanders scoring system we are doomed:  If one team suffers from scoring inequality—the wealth is spread so for each TD scored by the successful team, 90% of the points will be given to the team that’s behind—just to “level the playing field.”)  Were that the case today, our record would be 8-1 not 5-4 (the only loss being to Grambling State).
            If we slaughter the Beavers the way the money guys say we will (favored by 21 points, no less) we’re apt to have one opinion of where our program is. 
            Should they upset us, we are apt to have quite a different opinion.
            Regardless, one game shouldn’t matter. 
            What should matter is “Where is the program today?  Where is it going? Are we on the right track?  Are we on the wrong track?  And what, if anything can we as a community do about it?
            Clearly athletic director, Mike Williams, is wrestling with these problems as we speak.  Should he extend Sonny’s contract?  Should he give him a raise (at $2,000,000 per, he’s the 55th highest paid coach—right smack dab in the middle of all Division I coaches).  Should Williams “go in another direction?” Should he just stay the course and let Sonny dangle for the next two years of his contract?  Will Sonny take another job offer?
            These are not easy questions.  And there is no easy answer.
           And, at Cal we are often too quick to eat our young.  Sonny should be given a chance unless close (long term) analysis proves otherwise.
            On the plus side it looks like Sonny is running a clean program. 
            This is no small feat. 
            Despite one glitch in the APR scores (that’s the yearly indication of where we are headed academically), over the past the three years, academics seem to be improving, though at a glacial pace. We are still last in the Pac 12 in GPR. (Deniers won’t admit that this because of the bffoonery of Sandy Barbour and how she lost control of the academic side of the equation during the latter Tedford years.  We had the APR indictors way back when that we were headed for the academic toilet, and no one paid any attention.  Her focus was elsewhere and the current coaching staff is paying for that).
            Mike Williams says our current GPA is 2.78—probably higher than many of the recipients of this screed.  That is exciting.
            The offense, too, is exciting.  Goff is a superstar, though his recent decent to earth a la Icarus,  isn’t due to hubris, but probably due to nagging injuries and a line that though valiant, is just not as big, nor as physical as most other Pac 12 D lines.
            The Bear Raid is exciting.  The games are entertaining.  The Bears are fun to watch—at least half of the time.
            We are one win away from being Bowl eligible.  On the surface, that should count as a huge success—from being 1 and 11 three years ago.
            What is a proper measure of success for the program?  7 & 6?  6 & 7?  5 & 8? 8 & 5?
            So far we have had only 3 good wins in three years (This year’s victories over the Huskies, Cougars, and Texas Longhorns).
            At the beginning of the season, A tall good lookin’ guy wrote:  “(don’t) judge the season on wins and losses…… judge it on defense, tackling and hitting.  If we hit--if we tackle (two items which have been missing the past two years)--then regardless of our record I will jump on the band wagon and say we are on the right road.”
         I think I still stand by that statement. 
         Which makes this discussion difficult. 
         Especially after last week’s boondoggle in Auzene Stadium.  777 yards.  Really?  17 Duck rushes for over 10 yards each?  Is that Pac 12 football?  Receivers dropping 4 and 5 passes per game—at this level?
         D backs grasping for air instead of lowering a shoulder and applying some leather?  (Am I dating myself?).
         As wonderful as the offense is, the D, though improved, is still sorely lacking.
         ‘Tis a puzzlement.
         If one can get kids to move the ball against Pac 12 defenses, how come one can’t stop Pac 12 offenses—or Portland State’s for that matter?  Is it a lack of focus in practice?  Bad schemes?  Lack of athletes? Poor recruiting?
         We played Utah close and except for some dropped passes could have won.  We got blown out by UCLA and did about as much as could be expected against a much larger and faster SC.
         Oregon’s speed made it look like we were playing on the muddy side of the field.
         Formerly being known as the world’s slowest human I know what it is like to run a 10.2—forty yard dash.   One can’t coach speed.  You have to recruit it.  And can it be done with our new stiffer admittance standards?  Maybe not.
            However, the Indians seem to be able to do it.  What I don’t get is why we don’t just try to take every kid Stanford State turns down?  They can only handle 25 a year and they must recruit a couple of hundred who they think will qualify.   Like me in college when it came to girls, can’t we be satisfied with another’s rejects?
            What worries one, some, is that in his last job at Louisiana Tech, Sonny led the country in total offense, but was also last in total defense.  These past two years we’ve been last in total defense in the country—despite spending 500 thou on a defensive co-ordindator who was fired after one year.  This is statistically impossible. 
            To end up last in total defense at two different schools has probably never been done in the history of College football.  
            Also scary is the future of recruiting.  Due to the Bear Raid offense, we will attract the top QB’s and receivers in the country.  That is exciting.  But will running backs come to a "pass first" school?  We were told that Former Sophomore Cal Captain, 6’8” 316 pound, Freddie Tagaloa, transferred from Cal to Arizona because his “posse” warned him that Cal’s “Vertical Set” blocking technique (Google it) wouldn’t train him for the NFL. 
            I cannot verify that this is true (though I checked out Snopes), but it is true that the “Vertical Set” technique is different from what they use in the NFL. 
            If that is accurate, it does not bode well for recruiting elite lineman in the future.  All kids think they are going to play in the NFL.
            Also, after the past four games one has to ask herself, “Has the world finally figured out the Bear Raid offense?”
            (Note that WSU, coached by Mike Leach, Sonny’s mentor, and Cal are both less productive this year than last).
            Still, they are both pretty amazing, offensively—and extremely exciting.
            So what are we to do?  Sonny Dykes is a charming, wonderful man who has infused enthusiasm into a moribund program.  He treats us alumni well and his kids are attuned to the importance of accademics.  He’s got them focusing on the classroom.  In many respects he’s been a miracle worker.
            If the AD decides to continue on this track we should support him 100%.
            But someone still has to ask, “How can one man coach two teams over three years and come in dead last in the NCAA in defense—three years in a row?  And is our defensive improvement this year, enough to mitigate against that record? UCLA, SC and Oregon are not positive signs.
            Unless and until we actually adapt the Clinton/Sanders scoring method, it appears that there will be much “Point spread inequality” in the future.  Is this our destiny?  Or simply a Bear fact of life we have to learn to live with?
           That's why when you come to that fork in the road, you should take it.
           
           

        

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

PEPPERED IN SALT LAKE

         



   Just had a couple of brewskis with my good friend Steve Sarkasian.  Afterwards we left the house to get some breakfast.
            In the bar—er, coffee shop--we interviewed a couple of guys applying to be our new gardener—Kevin McCarthy and former Cal Astronomer Geoff Marcy.  It’s a tough decision. One is used to talking with plants, while the other has a more “hands on approach.”
            Afterwards, we talked Cal football and SC stupidity.  Mostly, we just got blotto—as though it were a normal working day—like in the Halls of Congress in DC or the halls of the Coliseum  at SC.     
            The consensus? Ok.  Utah was a moral victory.  And we know what Duffy Doroughty said about moral victories—something about screen doors, kisses and sisters. 
            I know little about screen doors and even less about sisters, but what we learned was instructive—if unsatisfying. 
            We learned that the Bears can play with anybody in the Pac 12.  Who’d a thunk it at this time last year?
            Like having the FBI find e-mails on your private server, the defeat was devastating—but not unexpected.
            Young Goff didn’t have his best day, but the loss wasn’t due to him.  The O line had a tough time with the bigger, stronger Utes.  And the receivers—well it’s never been the intention here to spend time criticizing 20 year olds, so I’m not going to begin now.
            But coaches are adults.  So I think it is fair to question some techniques which are being taught and their consequences.
            Much can be learned from the great receivers of the 50’s and 60’s, Raymond Berry, Lance Allworth, Don Maynard, Billy Wilson, Tommy McDonald, et al were probably not a good as today’s athletes.  But they had better technique.  They “cradled” the ball, and rarely attempted one handed receptions.

            We’re old, so we favor traditional approaches—especially when it comes to mechanics.  No, we don’t think Hank Luscetti ruined basketball with the one handed jump shot. Clearly, techniques change as athletes get bigger, stronger, and more skilled than their predecessors.
            The back shoulder pass never existed in our day.  The “fade” came in around 1967.  It had never been seen before, and was probably discovered when some QB made a bad pass over a receiver’s outside shoulder, and the receiver made an improbable reception.  No doubt someone caught it on film and noticed that the defender had no chance to defend the ball.  Wallah!  A new pass pattern was born—the fade in the end zone.  The same is probably true about the back shoulder pass.
            When one witnesses on You Tube an Odell Beckham making a spectacular one handed catch, then learns that he works on one handed receptions in practice and in pre-game warm ups, it becomes all the rage.
            Surely, catching with one hand increases the number of passes which can’t be reached with two hands?
            Wrong. (Mostly).
            There are several problems with one handed catches.  First, is simply that  one is more likely to complete a reception with two hands.  Second, if you can get one hand on the ball, in most occasions (there are a couple of exceptions—see Beckham's catch)--if one can get one hand on the ball, she can get two.
            Back in the day, we were never allowed to raise just one hand to go for the ball.  Why?  Because if you don’t catch it, the ball is going to be tipped and stay in the air—ripe for an interception.  Since most one handed grabs are not complete, the odds are more will be intercepted than completed.
            A one handed attempt cost us the game when an extremely good receiver (on 4th and 5 in the 4th quarter), raised just one hand up on a fairly easy “out route,” and didn’t come down with the ball. 

                Probably he makes that catch dozens of times in practice, but it is a low percentage technique.  Two hands and he has it—and the Bears most likely get the W.

            On two handed receptions, watch the films.  The great receivers of the past “cradled” the ball. (Of course, there hands were smaller and the ball was bigger in the 50's)

            That means when looking left, the left hand is on the bottom, right hand on top, and little fingers together.  Looking right, was the opposite—right and on the bottom, left on top, little fingers together.
            Only rarely (when a defender was behind them and they were using their body like a rebounder in basketball), did they use “full extension” and thumbs together. Another exception:  the back shoulder pass.  But I digress.
            In the first quarter one receiver (perhaps our best) used bad technique by looking left and having his left hand up, instead of down—thumbs together.  The ball bounced though his stiff hands (you can’t softly cradle it that way) and was intercepted.
            He repeated that technique later on and dropped a sure TD.  Now THAT affects a QB’s confidence.

     Hate to get too technical but poor technique cost us the game in Salt Lake—not Jared Goff. 

            Not picking on the kids, but when you think of all the things that go into a successful pass play, the blocking, the timing, the routes, the throw, and the catch—as Ray Willsey used to say to me time and time again, the easiest thing is the catch.
           
            The D was stellar—continuing to opportunistically get take-aways (though they were largely negated by our give-aways).

            On another important note, Sonny Dykes is getting national recognition.  He was just has been named one of 20 coaches  to the mid-season watch list for the Dodd Trophy, (Coach of the Year).  It’s quite an honor.

            Less of an honor was that Sonny’s salary of $2,000,000 places him 55th in the nation (among College coaches) and last in the Pac 12.  I think we all know what that means if the Bears continue to perform above expectations this year.

            Athletic Director Michael Williams is probably more pleased that the team GPA is now 2.78.  Significantly higher than what most of us had (just kidding). 

            Back when Marshawn Lynch was a Freshman and then a Sophomore, a tall good lookin’ guy wrote that he needed to touch the ball more. 

            Is it plagiarism if I substitute the name Khalfani Muhammad for Marshawn Lynch? 

            Tre Watson played well.  No complaints.  However Khalfani picked up 3 yards on his first carry.  Then 24 yards on his next.  He almost broke it as he did against Texas.  He touched the ball twice more, the last time being with 13:25 to go in the 2nd quarter. 

            If he’s hurt, fair enough.  But he entered the game with a 9.o yards per carry.  What did he do wrong?

            For those kids who aren’t studying for mid-terms on Thursday night, there is a scrimmage against UCLA down in the Rose Bowl.  Thursday night games are what put the “student” in “student athlete,”  according to the Pac 12 hierarchy.  Clearly it’s not about money or ratings.

            For the Bruins, this is their 2nd Thursday night game in a row (Makes it tough to get up early for sun rise surfing after these late nights).

            They say (whomever “they “ are) that the Bruins’ defense is depleted and that they are down after two losses after being ranked as high as 7th.  Don’t bet on it.  They are always tough.  There’s a reason they are favored by 3 ½.

            And, win or lose, the one thing we learned ins Salt Lake was that we can play with anybody in the conference.  Utah’s slogan was “Bring ‘em Young.  Tomorrow night, it’s “Bring ‘em on.”  This year the Bears can handle it--even if we alumni can't.