Tag Archives: Sports

A Feeling in the Air

29 Jul

I am sitting on the back porch, and, for the first time this year, there is a special feeling in the air. There is a crispness that hits as soon as you walk out the door. The sky looks differently. The breeze feels differently. It is a special feeling that hits suddenly.

Yep, it feels like football.

Coincidentally, my favorite team, the University of Tennessee Volunteers, begin practice today. Last season, the team did not reach the heights that everyone expected. This year, the fans I know have dampened expectations. However, it is always exciting to know that the season is just a few weeks away.

I grew up going to Tennessee games with my dad and have been raised in the traditions of the program. I have cheered them through great triumphs and suffered through the doldrums of losing seasons. I guess that is what fans are supposed to do.

As a historian who is also a fan of sports, I have tried to connect the two and understand why football is important to us. In my opinion, it has passed baseball as America’s favorite pastime. I have this theory that the seeds of football’s popularity began when the nation felt that the westward frontier was conquered.

For generations, the nation captured land in the West. This movement led to the notion that young men could become men by taking part in that pursuit. You know, “Go West, Young Man” and all of that. Once the land was taken, how was a young man supposed to prove himself?

He could do it in a sport that was a smaller version of the same thing. Football is all about gaining land 10 yards at a time until it is finally conquered by getting to its end. The game is all about field position and moving forward while an opposing force is trying to prevent that.

Does that not sound like westward expansion?

It was also safer. Doing battle on a football field was better than being in a pitched battle against Native Americans. You could not get killed on the football field.

Except, you could get killed on the football field. It happened all of the time in the early days of college football. It happened to the extent that the sport almost came to an end. It took rule changes to increase safety to save it.

Now, we are learning that it is still not safe. People may not die on the field, but playing football greatly affects life after the game is over. That effect is no longer banged up knees, crooked fingers and stiff necks. It affects the brain to an extent that ruins life and often proves fatal.

This feeling in the air brings excitement for the next football season. I, like millions of others, will attend games and cheer for our players, but what are we really doing? We are watching men brutalize their bodies for glory and for the shot at fortune.

Football is a sport that I love, but it is also a sport that needs to change. In the early days, they changed the rules to save it, and that will need to happen again. I will continue to watch the games. However, if I had a son I would not let him play.

Our Week With Eric Church, Carole King, the Bandit and the Nashville Predators

30 May

It has been an eventful week in the SBI World, and we have spent a lot of time in the city 30 miles to the west. For those not up on local geography, that city is Nashville.

On Monday night, we had tickets for Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals in the National Hockey League. The Nashville Predators have been on a magical run through the playoffs and have taken over the city. Long time Predator fans are not happy with the bandwagon people, but we felt that Game 6 was a must-see event. They clinched the championship, and I got to High Five the country music star who sat in front of us. I have no idea who he was, but my wife was not happy that I got to touch him and she did not.

On Tuesday night, I was back in Nashville for a fundraiser. Cumberland University, where I work, is the home of the Martin Van Buren Papers, and a Nashville attorney hosted an event to assist with that project. He has an amazing collection of historic artifacts and opened his office for tours. People paid to see documents signed by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Davy Crockett, King George III and various other people. It was interesting to see everything and to hear the stories of how the collection came together.

On Wednesday night, I went with my brother and my nephews to a truly cultural event. We went to the theater to see the 40th Anniversary screening of Smokey and the Bandit, a movie that I have seen a million times.

It was great to see the Bandit, Snowman and Buford T. Justice on the big screen, but it was also great to see people with their t-shirts. As bandit tells Snowman when they get to the warehouse full of Coors beer, it was “redneck heaven.” After it was over, I wanted to get a diablo sandwich and a Dr. Pepper.

On Friday night, it was back to Bridgestone Arena, home of the Predators. However, we were not there for a hockey game. We were there to see Eric Church in concert.

I do not know much about the singer, but we had already seen him at a Kris Kristofferson tribute concert. This one was more rocking and raucous. Eric Church is known for wearing sunglasses, and it was funny to see all of the guys in the crowd wearing sunglasses. I reckon that thought some female would mistake them for the performer.

On Sunday night, we went to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center to see Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. It was a great show about the life of a prolific songwriter who also creating on of the great albums of all time. Through professional success and personal tribulation, she wrote songs that became part of the soundtrack for a generation. Now, we have to see the real person in concert.

At some point, I made the statement that I was not going to go into the city for a while. However, I will it will happen because there is too much cool stuff there to do. This week was just a small sample of that.

Things I Think

25 Mar

I think…

the speed limit means that you can actually go that speed.

cracks in concrete are canyons for ants.

Escape from New York is the best movie Kurt Russell ever made.

the Jessi Colter and Waylon Jennings version of “Suspicious Minds” is almost as good as the Elvis version.

the iPhone is the most addictive drug in the world.

that only rocks live forever.

the Freedom of Speech is under attack from people who only want to what they want to hear.

more people need to like history.

John Wayne and Clint Eastwood should have made a Western together.

people who are famous for no reason should lose their fame immediately.

people who throw chewing gum on the ground should have chewing gum stuck on them.

trees communicate with each other.

a remake of Escape from New York is a bad idea.

married life is a great life.

football, my favorite sport to watch, will one day be banned.

truffled macaroni and cheese is terrible.

I need to buy more vinyl.

reality television is the worst form of entertainment ever invented.

chairs are better than couches.

blogging is awesome.

 

Blind Sided

27 Feb

The Blind Side is a movie based on the real story of Michael Oher, a young African-American who is adopted into a wealthy Memphis family. Through their support, he blossoms into a great football player who goes on to success in college and the National Football League. It is a movie about the goodness of people and about what can happen when someone gets a little help along the way. It is a movie that makes the audience feel good about the world. It is a movie that everyone in my family likes.blind-side

Except me.

That situation has led to arguments. It has led people to think that I am cold-hearted. It has led to statements like “How can you not like The Blind Side?”

Well, let me explain how.

I was initially turned off by the main character played by Sandra Bullock, who hates the University of Tennessee. Why would I want to watch a movie where they talk smack about the team that I like? That makes no sense to me.

For a long time, that was my reason for not liking The Blind Side. However, people did not accept that, and my argument had to be strengthened. That is when I started looking into the story a little more carefully.

Before I get into that, there is something else that I need to explain. I am not a fan of any movie that takes real people and turns their story into a simple fairy tale. There are a ton of these movies out there, and they all make the same mistakes. Humans are complicated, and they have complicated stories. Turning those complicated stories into simple “feel good” narratives is not fair to the people being portrayed, and it is not fair to the audience. I am all for “feel good” movies. However, they are better told in the fictional world.

This does not even take into account the criticism this movie faced for being part of the “white savior” narrative. Those are the movies where white characters find out something about themselves by helping people of color who, according to the narrative, cannot help themselves. Some other movies that fit this are Cool Runnings, Dances With Wolves, Glory Road, Lawrence of Arabia and McFarland USA,

Now, here is the complicated tale of Michael Oher and the Tuohys, his adopted family.

The movie portrays Michael as a big poor kid who did not know how to do anything. Then, Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy took him off the streets. That is when his football talent emerged.

In reality, he was an all-state football player and one of the top linemen in the nation who lived with several foster families. The Tuohys were one of those families, and they adopted him.

This is where my cynicism shows through, but first I will say this. I am sure that the Tuohys cared for Michael. After all, they are real people with real feelings. However, it did not hurt that he was a great football player. Why did that not hurt? Because the Tuohys were huge boosters of the University of Mississippi. Mr. Tuohy played basketball for Ole Miss and worked as an announcer on basketball radio broadcasts. Mrs. Tuohy was a cheerleader at the school.

This is where the arguments ensue. Others say that his football ability had nothing to do with the adoption. I say that I have seen a lot of crazy stuff in Southeastern Conference football recruiting. Adopting a great football player is a good way to pass benefits to the player in a legal way, and some people will go to any length to do that. Heck, Memphis is one of the most notorious cities when it comes to questionable recruiting tactics.

Anyway, huge Ole Miss boosters adopt one of the nation’s top high school football players, and he ends up going to Ole Miss. It caught the attention of the NCAA.

Members of my family read this blog, and this post may lead to more heated discussions about The Blind Side. So, why am I bringing it up? Here is why.

This week, the NCAA announced that Ole Miss lacked institutional control when it came to football recruiting. There are violations after violations. People are wondering what punishment they will receive. People are also wondering what will happen to Hugh Freeze, the head football coach who oversaw some of this activity.

Do you know where Hugh Freeze used to be the football coach?

Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis.

Do you know who was one of his best players?

Michael Oher.

Do you know how he got into college coaching?

He was hired at Ole Miss 20 days after Michael Oher signed the papers to play at the school.

I am sure that The Blind Side is a good movie about good people. Heck, Sandra Bullock won an Academy Award for her portrayal. I am also sure that Michael Oher would not be where he is today without the influence of the Tuohys. However, there is more to the story than this simplified version, and I wish that was the movie that had been made.

Bad Football and a Musical Complaint

7 Nov

Lately, I have watched some bad football. The Tennessee Titans leave a lot of be desired. The season of the Tennessee Volunteers has gone from great promise to a quagmire. I am also reading a book about an infamous game in the history of Cumberland University. For those who do not know, our school lost to Georgia Tech 222-0. It is the biggest defeat in the history of college football.

Sam Hatcher, who I have known for years, wrote a book to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the game. Heisman’s First Trophy: The Game that Launched Football in the South is an interesting read that provides a great story of the game. I would recommend it to anyone. Some of it is fictionalized, but the heart of the story remains true.heisman-book

I have been surrounded by bad football, but I have also witnessed some bad halftime performances. The University of Tennessee Marching Band is known as the Pride of the Southland, and they have been performing something called the “Circle Drill” for 50 years. I know that because they announced  that this year is the 50th anniversary of the routine. Certainly, it is a difficult marching formation to perform, but I have one request.

PLAY SOME NEW SONGS!

I have been watching the “Circle Drill” for 42 of the 50 years that it has been in existence, and they have played the same songs the entire time. I can even recite the announcer’s script.

They do a musical tour of Tennessee by starting out in Memphis. That is when they play Elvis Presley’s “signature” tune “C.C. Rider.” Then, they go to Chattanooga with “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” Next is a visit to Nashville with “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” They end up in Knoxville with “Rocky Top,” the school’s unofficial fight song.

I understand “Rocky Top.” It fires up the crowd and needs to be played. However, it is time to spruce up the rest of the collection. Tennessee is one of the most musical places around. I know they can do better.

First, “C.C. Rider” is not the “signature” song of Elvis Presley. I guarantee that if you ask anyone to name and Elvis song that one would not be mentioned. I would choose “Hound Dog.” Here is the other thing. Elvis was not the only creator of songs in Memphis. What about doing a Tina Turner songs? Or an Isaac Hayes song? What about a Blues classic or something from Stax Records?

I know that “Chattanooga Choo Choo” is an obvious selection for Chattanooga. However, they could throw the crowd a curve with “Chattanooga City Limit Sign” by Johnny Cash. How about “Lookout Mountain” by Drive-By Truckers?

Nashville, otherwise known as Music City, is home to hundreds of artists and thousands of songs. I think they can find a new one. “Nashville Cats” by The Lovin’ Spoonful would be a great pick. Heck, they could shock the world by playing a Jimi Hendrix tune. It would work since he spent his early days in the clubs on Nashville’s Jefferson Street. I cannot even do this paragraph justice. There are so many songs to play that they could close their eyes and pick one out of a songbook.

Better yet, they could get the band from Tennessee State University to do the “Circle Drill.” I know the Aristocrat of Bands and the Sophisticated Ladies could circle it up.

An Ode to Lester Strode

26 Oct

The Chicago Cubs last won the World Series in 1908, and they have chance to do it again over the next couple of weeks. Around the country, people are celebrating the return of the Cubs to the pinnacle of baseball achievement, but, around here, we are celebrating something else.

Lester Strode, the bullpen coach for the Chicago Cubs, played baseball for Cumberland University, the school where I teach. In honor of Coach Strode, he are some other things that happened in 1908.woody-strode

A long-distance radio message was sent from the Eiffel Tower for the first time.

The first major commercial oil discovery in the Middle East was made.

Robert Peary set sail for the North Pole.

The Hoover Company acquired manufacturing rights to the upright portable bathroom cleaner.

Emile Cohl made the first fully animated film – Fantasmagorie.

Henry Ford produced his first Model T automobile.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were killed in Bolivia.

Louis L’Amour was born.

Bette Davis was born.

Ian Fleming was born.

Estee Lauder was born.

Lyndon Johnson was born.

Grover Cleveland died.

 

 

Pat Summitt – In the Presence of Greatness

30 Jun

Pat Summitt passed away a few days ago. Better writers than me have written about her legacy and her impact on women’s sports. I am not going to attempt to duplicate those articles or try to encapsulate her influence in one blog post. Simply stated, her on-court records may eventually be broken, but her off-court records will stand the test of time.

Pat Summitt took a university with a deep football tradition and turned it into a women’s basketball school. She took Tennessee fans who were proud of their gridiron legends and made them more proud of the Lady Vols. She took a sport that was on the fringes of the sports pages and willed it onto the national stage. She was a force to be reckoned with.

Yesterday, someone asked if I had ever met Pat Summitt, and I was lucky enough say yes. My friend worked as an intern for the Lady Vols. A few years after graduation, we were in Knoxville, and my friend said we should stop by the offices and see what was going on.

First, we went to the football office and met Philip Fulmer, the head football coach. He was riding high. Peyton Manning was his quarterback, and the team was on the cusp of winning a national championship. We walked into his massive office and chatted for a while. However, it did not feel like a big deal. It was like talking to anyone else in any other office.

Next, we went to the women’s basketball office and met Pat Summitt. She was at the peak of her career. She was in the midst of three straight national championships, which would make a total of six. Eventually, she would win eight. Her office was not as palatial, but I felt that I was somewhere special.

Pat was friendly and open. She hugged my friend and made me feel like we had known each other forever. She even autographed a couple of basketballs for us. However, I was in awe and could not say much. Truth be told, I was intimidated. On some level, I did not want to disappoint her and receive her famous glare. I have met a lot of people, but that was the only time that I felt I was in the presence of greatness.Pat Summitt

Through the years, my dad and I have watched a lot of Lady Vols games and a lot of Lady Vols victories. Luckily, I have also been able to attend several. The 1998 NCAA Tournament game against North Carolina comes to mind.

Tennessee was undefeated and playing to go to the Final Four. However, North Carolina had a lead late in the game. It was going to be a disastrous loss. The game was at Vanderbilt’s gym in Nashville, and we had court side seats. It is as tense as I have ever been. Pat was working the officials and got a call that turned the game. My friend looked at me and said, “You’re supposed to get those calls at home.” An elderly lady who was obviously as Vanderbilt fan punched him and said, “This ain’t your home, sonny boy.” She was not at all happy that Tennessee was winning on her court.

Pat Summitt and the Lady Vols went on the win their third straight national championship.

When Pat Summitt announced that she suffered from dementia, Tennessee fans were devastated. How could something like this happen to such a powerful person? When she announced that she would coach another year, Tennessee fans hoped that she would go out on top. That did not happen, but it gave us a chance to do something else.

My wife and I were dating, and we wanted to take her daughter to a Lady Vols game. I got tickets, and we went to Knoxville to watch them play Vanderbilt. Pat was not doing much coaching, but the crowd went wild when she jumped out of her seat to glare at an official. Tennessee won, but there is something better. My stepdaughter can always say that she saw Pat Summitt coach and that she was in the presence of greatness.

As I wrote at the beginning, Pat’s records will eventually be broken, but, in my mind, she is the greatest women’s basketball coach and one of the greatest coaches of any sport of all time. She, along with many others, built a sport from nothing and showed women everywhere what they can accomplish. She also made a bunch of people in Tennessee and all over the country proud to be Lady Vols.