Archive for September, 2011

11
Sep
11

“America’s Team” and 9/11

It’s important to remember that sports is a part of our lives, in some cases an important part of our life, but not everything. Sports are not more important than your marriage, sports aren’t more important than your values, your hopes and aspirations. Sports are simply sports, and although at times certain games, and certain moments take on meaning and significance, sports will never replace or alter our perceptions about what is truly memorable to us.

Tonight the Dallas Cowboys will play the New York Jets to help kick off the NFL season, and it is no coincidence that the NFL scheduled these two teams, one called “America’s Team” and the other, a team that plays in the tri-state area, to play in the high profile night game for NBC. If you recall the NFL wisely cancelled games immediately following 9/11 in order for the nation to come together and to grieve. But the NFL also wisely chose to come back a week later because people need to move on, and in many ways football, america’s past time did let us move on. The first games back were very patriotic, with each team’s captains coming out with flags, and taps being played at the games. That year, in an unusual coincidence, the Patriots won the Superbowl, beating the heavily favored Rams. The Patriots wear red, white, and blue, and their mascot resembles the american revolutionaries.

Since 9/11, and at times and for other reasons, some people would like to see another team carry the monikor of “America’s Team.” People didn’t necessarily like the name when it was first given to the Cowboys in 1978. At the time Bob Ryan, who worked for NFL films, was looking for a nickname for the team, and since he saw so many Cowboy’s fans at other teams stadiums he dubbed them “Anerica’s Team.” Tex Schramm, the shrewd marketer and GM for the Cowboys loved the name and immediately used it in advertiesments, and at the stadium. For whatever reason the name stuck, and it has been the unofficial name for the Cowboys ever since.

Over the years other teams have either derided Dallas for their name, or tried to coin the name for themselves. The Atlanta Braves used to call themselves “America’s Team 2” because they were in the playoffs so many years in a row. Some people think the Yankees should be “America’s Team” because of their rich history and success, and other’s think the teams with the most Superbowls or championships should be “America’s Team” so you will hear some people say the Packers are the “real” America’s Team, or the Steelers are “truly” America’s Team. One is reminded of the Seinfeld episode where George tried to give himself a cool nickname “T-Bone” but no one would use it because, well, you can’t give yourself a nickname, they just happen. That’s what’s cool about them.

But among the more disturbing trends in this artificial redistribution of “America’s Team” is when fans or the media have co-opted it because of national tragedy. So after 9/11 we saw that the Patriots became “America’s Team” and the Giants, Jets, and Bills were America’s Team because they played in New York, and at least one sports writer dubbed the Saints “this year’s America’s Team” because of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. I understand this desire to use the name in a meaningful context, but to be honest it just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because there is no truth to it. If you’re a Giants fan of course you would like to be called America’s Team, but that doesn’t mean you are. And while Hurricane Kartrina was devastating, and sad for the people of New Orleans, and while I have no doubt that the Saints helped some people get over what happened to them, that doesn’t mean football fans are obligated to root for the Saints or call them America’s Team because again, they jsut aren’t.

There is no set of attributes that go hand-in-hand with the monikor of “America’s Team.” At one time you could say the name stuck because the Cowboys were successful. In the seventies they went to five Superbowls, and won two. They were also in the playoffs a record 20 straight years, so if America is always on top, you could say that about the Cowboys as well. Except America isn’t always on top. We have our success and failures like all nations. We had dark years after Vietnman, but eventually we pulled out of them. We have survived great depressions, and great recessions. We have fought in some amazing, and brutal wars that have redefined this country, and the world, but we aren’t always on top. Most importantly though, we are always trying to get better. We always aspire to greatness.

Likewise the Dallas Cowboys haven’t always been on top. In the eighties they bottomed out, going 1-15 in 1989 a year after Jerry Jones fired the only man who had ever coached the Cowboys. It looked really bleak for Dallas then, but they quickly turned it around and three years later were in the Superbowl, beginning a run of unprecedented success. But after 96 the Cowboys would bottom out again, going 12 straight years without a playoff win. They finally broke through in 2009 beating the Eagles. And if Dallas ever wins another Superbowl we won’t be surprised because this team like America always seems to bounce back. In fact if anything Dallas is a great representative of the spirit of America, because while the Cowboys aren’t always good people always think they will be. More importantly, people always want them to be.

I feel uncomfortable drawing comparisons of 9/11 to football. That tragic day should stand alone, in its own context. But the term “America’s Team” is not simply appropriate when Dallas does well. If you like the Cowboys you can’t simply root for them when they are doing well. They don’t cease to be “America’s Team” when they are down in the dumps. I believe in the Dallas Cowboys, and I hope they will do better. But more importantly I believe in America and I know we will do better. If you love the Cowboys don’t be afraid to say it. This is America’s Team and always will be. On this day of rememberance go out and root for whatever team you truly love, and never forget that the term “America’s Team” is just a name. You can root for whatever team you want as long as we all root for the same country. That’s what is truly important.

Sincerely,

Jack B.

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05
Sep
11

The Downfall of the Big 12

I’m not going to begin to describe the exact reasons why the Big 12 is going the way of the Dodo in this blog. If you’re interested there is a pretty good column by Gil Lebreton in the Star Telegram, (here’s the link: http://www.star-telegram.com/2011/09/04/3337192/after-a-dizzying-weekend-big-12.html  and last week USA Today covered it pretty well, but suffice it to say that the Big 12 is disintegrating before our very eyes due to a series of bad decisions by conference commissioner Dan Beebee, Texas AD DeLoss Dodds, and A&M President R. Bowen Loften, as well as unmitigated greed by all sides.

By all accounts the major unravaling of the Big 12 came two years ago when Texas announced it was partnering with ESPN to form the Longhorn Network, and reportedly will pocket 300 million dollars in the deal. Much like spoiled five year olds whose parents don’t buy them an ice cream cone, schools like Nebraska, Colorado, and Texas A&M had their little feelings hurt, and either bailed from the conference immediately (Colorado to the Pac 10, Nebraska to the Big 10) or made plans to do so as soon as possible (A&M, possibly Oklahoma, Oklahoma State). This is not to say that other schools liked Texas’ contract with ESPN, but only a handful chose to throw a public temper-tantrum over the ordeal. What miffs these schools is that Texas has opened up its own form of revenue that they do not have to share with other schools. The Big 12, unlike some other conferences, does not evenly split its revenues, and Texas, which gets about three nationally televised games a year, along with Oklahoma, already makes a lot more money than most of the Big 12. Schools like Nebraska and A&M won’t say it publicly, but they are also resentful of Texas’ on-the-field success over the last decade. Nebraska and A&M have historically been much greater schools than Texas with more championships, but since the Big 12’s inception they have been choking on Orange Dust, looking in the Longhorns rear-view mirror.

There is no adequate way to spread the blame around, and determine who is most responsible for the Big 12’s impending doom. Texas did offer A&M a 40% split of their TV deal, but the Aggies turned them down, which could point to this being either schools fault, depending on how you view that decision. To be certain Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebee should get the Lion’s share of the blame for not growing this conference at least two years ago and not trying to work out some new deal with A&M in the off-season, but even he doesn’t deserve all the blame. Other conferences, most notably the Pac 10 have been sending love letters to schools in the Big 12 for years now, and the love has been resiprocal. Texas schools do well in TV ratings, but they don’t get the market share ( 0r media attention) that schools on the West Coast and East Coast get (Oklahoma playing Stanford would draw a much better rating than Oklahoma vs. Kansas). And on the other side, schools in California need to recruit players from the state of Texas, and it is hard to do that if kids don’t see your games. None of this is of course about football, or what is best for the kids playing these games, but it is about money, always about money. Being a capitalist I hate to take away from schools trying to make a little extra cash, but jeez guys! How much fuckin dough do you need! This is a game played by college players, right? Tjis is supposed to be about tradition and the university, right? Silly me for thinking that.

Let’s go back to why we have conferences to begin with. The idea was to allow schools in various reasons to play each other throughout the year. The same way football has division, college has always had conferences. In the old days, when schools didn’t have $100 million dollar TV contracts, most kids played each other by way of bus, or their parents drove them out to the game. Not only that but you knew players at the other school, because the lived in the same areas, and over time certain schools developed a rivalry. The Red River shootout didn’t happen overnight. It developed because Oklahoma and Texas were both very good in the fifties and sixties, and people drove for miles to watch them play. Eventually someone got the bright idea to put the teams at a neutral site (the Cotton Bowl) and history was made.

But Nebraska playing Michigan has no historical or even regional importance. A&M playing LSU might sell a few tickets when both schools are good, but there is no true rivalry there. And does anybody really want to see Oklahoma, and Texas, these two great rivals of the southwest loaded into a Pac 12 with Oregon, and Stanford, and Cal Tech? Who the hell cares? Even worse though, is what this realighnment will do to all the little sports at each school. When your football and you play one game a week and you make tons of money maybe you can afford to travel halfway across the country, but how fair is that to baseball players, basketball players, women’s volleyball players? Should some girl that’s studying to be a doctor at A&M have to travel to Oregon ( a six hour flight) to get in a women’s basketball game? How fair is that? What a lousy thing to do to some kids. At what point does someone in college football put an end to this travesty?

Okay, it was good to get that off my chest, but now onto the important question: what happens next to the Big 12? Believe it or not the Big 12 might not be dead yet. Probably dead, yes, but not completely dead. Schools like Baylor, Kansas and Iowa won’t be very attractive to any of the major conferences, and so they could either stay in a newly formed, smaller Big 12 or try to break off and join smaller confernces ( a school like Kansas, because of basketball, could join the ACC). If some schools stay, others could be added to form a new conference. Two years ago I touted Houston, SMU, and TCU as possible contenders, but you can throw TCU out now since they joined the BIg East, and there appears to be no interest in Houston. SMU, and BYU are possible contenders. Much of this is predicated on what Texas does. Texas could leave with Oklahoma to join the Pac 12 but Texas has enough money, and fans that they could go independant (much like Notre Dame) or stay in the Big 12, where they would have an easier time going undefeated. Regardless the Big12 will either cease to exist or be completely reformed. Being a solutions oriented guy I have come up with a new concept. Instead of the Big 12 how about an all Texas conference? The Lone Star Conference perhaps? I could see taking Texas Tech, Baylor, Houston, SMU, UTEP, RICE, UNT, and three other schools and forming a new, smaller conference that would compete for the Texas Bowl each year. No national champions here, but regionally I think it would be a big hit, and Fox Sports Southwest could air it. Just an idea.

Anyway, that is it for now, but hopefully one day soon this Big 12 mess will be ironed out. And just one last thing… Shame on A&M and Oklahoma for making public comments about their departure while the college football season is underway. They could have waited quietly to annouce these moves in the offseason, but instead they have taken away from the games and the fans with their public posturing.

Sincerely,

Jack B.