A day after I trash the Free Press for focusing on things like Tae Bo instead of information, Mark Snyder puts out an interesting piece about the '97 championship and the ballboys that saved it. This is literally the headline: "How 2 ballboys stopped opponent's signal stealing, saved UM's 1997 title."
The story: two student managers ferret out that Northwestern has somehow stolen Michigan's offensive signals, and run over to the other side of the field at half time to urge Lloyd Carr and company to change things up. After being bottled up in the first half, scoring thirteen points, Michigan explodes for... uh... ten in the second. Without the student manager's contribution, Michigan could have lost to Northwestern by negative one touchdown. The final score was 23-6.
Okay, so the story is oversold. It's still pretty interesting as a tall tale from the past, and you should read it if you've got a few minutes. My take-home message was vastly different from what was intended, I think.
Some key passages:
"There was a guy on their sideline that day, and he had our signals down pat," Datz said. "Every time, he would scream into the defense what we're going to do -- pass or run -- and he was almost always right. ...
"They were blowing up draws, calling our counters and destroying our screen passes -- all a big part of our plays that year. I was just screaming mad. Youtan and I are thinking to ourselves, 'This guy has us.' "
Raise your hand if you think you could predict with 80% certainty whether a Michigan play would be a run or pass. It is possible they just co-opted a cranky 50-something Michigan fan.
Anyway, the kids run across the field and tell Carr early in the third quarter. This is the result:
"I absolutely remember that," Carr said recently. "The reason I do remember it is I don't ever remember anybody else offering advice or information during a game.
"Those are all bright guys that get into those positions. But that's the only time I remember one telling me something."
But that still wasn't enough for the coaches to change their signal calling. So later in the quarter, Datz said he ran around the field to repeat the message to Magnus.
The play that finally sold the U-M coaches on the need to adjust came on a third-and-25 with less than three minutes left in the third quarter. That's when U-M tailback Clarence Williams ran a sweep -- an odd call for that down and distance -- and two Wildcats grabbed him behind the line of scrimmage.
It's only after this play that Michigan grabs Jason Kapsner and starts sending in multiple sets of signals. But this is the kicker:
In 1995 and '96, Hansburg said, all he had to do was watch U-M center Rod Payne, a one-handed snapper who apparently placed his opposite hand on the ground for a running play and on his thigh for a passing play.
This was the plot of an episode of Coach. When the Minnesota State Screaming Eagles play for the national championship in the Pioneer Bowl, ditzy assistant coach Luther Van Dam (Jerry Van Dyke) gets concussed and has to watch from the hospital, where he notices one offensive lineman has totally different stances for run and pass. He calls in the tip and Hayden Fox gets a Gatorade bath. I was 14, and 14 years later I remember this clear as day.
Reading Johnny's piece yesterday was the love side of my love-hate relationship with Lloyd Carr. This is the hate side. ONE: Michigan didn't bother employing multiple signal-callers -- a zero-cost activity -- from day one. TWO: It took them a full quarter and a second prodding to actually act on the information provided by the student managers when the cost of listening was zero. THREE: They ran a sweep on third and twenty-five. FOUR: Michigan football was outsmarted by Jerry Van Dyke.
Silver spoon, coal spoon
None of this should surprise you. This was a program that would run 95% of the time it lifted its starting wide receivers. Lloyd Carr thought deception and trickery had their place in football, and that place was Northwestern.
When you are at a place like Michigan and you have been inculcated in the culture of the program for the vast majority of your coaching career, I think you take certain things for granted. One of them is the belief that a paramount focus on execution is enough. That if you motivate and educate and drill better than the other team, you will win. It did very well for Bo until he got to Pasadena, and it did pretty well for Carr until Tressel showed up (and, it must be said, Carr had a real run of rotten luck re: actually getting to use his senior quarterbacks), but it was always giving something away. You have a limited amount of time with your charges every week; there is always time to work on your poker skills. Michigan's been bad at poker forever.
Rich Rodriguez focuses on execution and motivation -- see Barwis -- but he also makes deception his stock-in-trade, creating a modern version of the triple option that has intricate variations and one end result: linebacker confetti. In a way, the spread 'n' shred is terribly predictable. They run, they run, they run. But you do not run more than all but five other teams and finish top five in YPC three years running unless you know when to bluff and when to raise.
Rodriguez comes from a wholly different background than Carr, coming up through the ranks at NAIA schools and Tulane and Clemson and West Virginia. Until Pat White showed up he never had a significant talent advantage agaginst the vast majority of opponents. He never, ever had the luxury of lying back and thinking to himself "if we out-execute the opponent we will win," and it shows. He invented a whole new offense and used it to exploit inefficiencies in recruiting. To seal the Sugar Bowl against Georgia he called a fake punt, exploiting inefficiencies in fourth-down playcalling. For the past seven years he has played Moneyball at West Virginia.
To me, the exciting thing about Rodriguez is not necessarily his system but his mindset. He's looking to squeeze out every ounce of expectation, make every resource stretch as far as he can, and now he's been provided resources few other coaches have. When Moneyball moved to Boston in the personage of Theo Epstein, Pedro Martinez got a hat:
My sophomore year at Michigan was 1998, one of only two years during the long and glorious reign of John Cooper that featured an Ohio State victory in the Game. That one was in Columbus and so I watched in a crowded dorm room that quickly settled into a pissed little funk. A few doors down, we heard the wrong kind of shouts coming from another room. Someone was pulling for Ohio State. Loudly.
It's inevitable that a few poor souls who grew up fans of Ohio State want to be engineers or lawyers or American Studies PhDs (#1 in the country, baby! woo!) and common sense leads them to That School Up North even if their skin crawls at every block M they see. And surely there are a few Michigan fans who wish to learn the fine art of motor vehicle repair. They still carry the rivalry in their blood.
Thirty years of back and forth smack-talk. "1968 - ONE WE WON'T FORGET" meets "HOW ABOUT 1969?" Three different people mention that "Roses are Blue." One Ohio State fan scribbles scores from the Ten Year War down. And, of course, "FUCK MICHIGAN." You stay classy, etc.
This is the heart of rivalry, at once stupid and glorious.
*(Which is a totally fascinating book I demand some Ohio State blogger dissect thoroughly. Page 82 is titled "The Causes of Interceptions" and starts "Since the vogue nowadays is to think positively, some pedagogues no doubt will look askance at such an obviously negative approach as this." Woody Hayes may have been a linebacker-punching, hate-filled lunatic but the number of coaches who would deploy "pedagogue" as a snooty put-down in 2008 is between zero and Mike Leach, and you have to respect that.)
I've been covering the upcoming Big Ten Network-Comcast deal at the Fanhouse (Fanhouse links, by the way, can always be found on the right sidebar). A deal is imminent, but there is a potential not so fast my friend. David Jones reports that the sunny 25 million additional subscribers reported by the Chicago Tribune a couple days ago is not quite right:
Whatever, while the cable carrier's people confirm a deal is close, the agreement as it stands now would place the BTN on expanded basic for only eight months -- the upcoming football and basketball season -- on a trial basis and only within the Big Ten's eight-state footprint. Comcast, they say, would then have the option of pulling the BTN off expanded basic and sticking it on the more expensive digital tier, possibly in a sports-channel package.
Bolded section mine, because WTF?
Jones makes it clear that moving the channel to digital basic is not a big deal. 80% of Comcast subscribers in the Big Ten Network footprint already have it, and those numbers will only increase. But the prospect of an eight-month test period followed by exactly the situation the Big Ten declared unacceptable is gross. It would be, essentially, caving. It would be this:
Another article, this one from Philly.com, has contradictory information:
Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, would provide the Big Ten programming on a preview basis on its main channel package, then reposition the network to its more expensive digital tier next spring, after the football and basketball seasons, the sources say.
Customers with enhanced basic service would have to upgrade to digital when the preview ends to keep the Big Ten Network.
In the Philadelphia area, Comcast will skip the preview and carry the Big Ten Network right away on the digital tier, sources said.
Digital tier == no big deal. Sports package == disaster. Keep an eye peeled.
EVENT! RBUAS posting!
Several helpful readers provided tricksy ways to unearth the pictures at the official site, so I can now provide you that super picture from the women's academy for those too lazy to dig it up themselves:
But what about the SUPER-SUPERCONFERENCE? When the Wizard of Odds threw out a post on this a few days ago, I shrugged, but the Wiz has now linked to this nut from the Orlando Sentinel twice more and the disease has started to spread outward.
His name is Tim Stephens, and he is a very stupid man. He proposes that college football is moving inexorably towards four sixteen-team superconferences and a four-team playoff between the winners. Nevermind that the WAC was briefly a creaky sixteen-team "superconference" before all its members decided that was an incredibly stupid idea and broke off. Nevermind that it's just a matter of time before the creaky sixteen-team Big East basketball "superconference" splinters. Nevermind that he actually titles a post "could five dollar gas spur the playoff debate" (his answer: yes!) and then, like, in the very next post about his incredibly stupid idea puts Notre Dame in the Pac-10. Nevermind that every team past 12 dilutes the financial impact of a championship game.
These are all reasons that Tim Stephens is a man propounding a very stupid idea and wasting everyone's time, but the main thing is this: at the absolute most, teams will play nine conference games. When you have a "super conference" that's basically two eight-team divisions in which you play seven games and then two games against the other division, which is not a conference at all, really, and is the main reason the WAC exploded.
What a waste of time.
Precedented. A reader forwards along a Chronicle of Higher Education piece on new ADA regulations($) that would about halve the number of handicap-accessible seats stadiums are required to provide. How is this related to Michigan?
The new regulations, if unchanged after a public comment period, would be roughly comparable to the terms of a recent settlement between the federal government and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. This spring, in response to a lawsuit over handicapped-accessible seating in its football stadium, the university agreed to provide 329 spots -- or a third of a percent of its 107,000 seats -- for fans in wheelchairs.
So even though this rough halving of the number would seem to put Michigan under the microscope again, apparently the settlement is being used as a model and we should be okay.
From the same article:
Service animals are another focal point of the new regulations. The proposed rules distinguish service animals from "emotional-support animals," which they say are not covered by federal disability law. ...
Support animals, like ferrets and snakes, have been a sticking point for colleges, where students have asked to keep them in residence halls and take them to class.
That is all.
Defcon 4. Max Pacioretty is the only potential departure who hasn't publicly stated his intention to return. This is probably why:
Heard it from a very good source that he would like to sign and that Montreal wants him but the family will have none of it. At this point, put the chances of him returning for his sophomore year at about 80%.
That's the Wolverine's Mike Spath, so that's legit. I'll take 80% but the news that Patch wants to sign is unwelcome; he was telling teammates he'd be back a month or so ago. He'll be one to watch until September.
(Via Michigan Hockey Net.)
Aw, come on. Notre Dame/Halloween candy blog Rakes of Mallow is providing an overview of ND's oppnents and though they're advertised as "nearly prediction free" there is a little numerical difficulty number applied to each. North Carolina, 4-8 a year ago, warrants a 7. 4-9 Washington gets a 6. Purdue is a 5, Michigan State a 6.
Michigan? 3. The same as Stanford. I know every Notre Dame fan out there yearns for Michigan to have the same sort of Hindenberg season Notre Dame did a year ago, but... uh... not likely. Notre Dame had the second-worst offense of the decade, and outliers, probability, bell curves, binomial distributions, etc.: Michigan replicating that is highly, highly unlikely.
Etc.: I knew those fake-o new jerseys running around had boobs. Boiled Sports interviews yrs truly. Jemele Hill is sitting in timeout for comparing the Celtics to Hitler; shouldn't she be in timeout for not being interesting? Maize 'n' Brew takes issue with the preseason magazines... which is why you should by HTTV 2008!
Anyone who's walked or driven by the Big House knows there are some impressive superstructures going up. But how do they look from your seats? Reader Matthew Waun provides some photos (as always, click for big):
Much more intimidating, IMO.
You can see the top rows of the boxes actually jut out over the field, which will help reflect noise. If you believe the crew of scientists who wheeled the oversized metallic dandelion onto the field at halftime of the Minnesota game, the boxes will double the perceived loudness on the field. Which, like, dude. I'll believe it when I hear it but here's hoping.