Sam Burnham. Curator
People always seem to think I’m an old curmudgeon when it comes to all the fancy modern bling that is overtaking the football landscape like The Blob. Alternative uniforms, shoe deals, fake plastic grass, hype videos, you know, all that garbage. I hate that garbage.
My critics on the issue like to excuse it because of the ability of such nonsense to attract players or that this somehow makes the game fun. Those claims would have some merit if they just weren’t so ridiculous.
I present to you an inadvertent case study. Twelve Mighty Orphans by Jim Dent is probably the best book ever written about football. It is even better than Dent’s The Junction Boys. These two books were excellent not just because of the outstanding writing and research behind them but because of the amazing stories being documented. I don’t think there should be anyone coaching football in America today that hasn’t read Twelve Mighty Orphans.
This story takes place in Ft. Worth, Texas during the lean years of the Great Depression. “The Home” was The Masonic Home and School of Texas. This was an orphanage and school provided to the children of Freemasons who died while in good standing with the lodge. The size of the school meant that only about a dozen kids ever played football during any one season. Theirs was the first “Dirty Dozen,” the original “Friday Night Lights.”
The Mighty Mites, as the team came to be known, played in makeshift jerseys, often just shirts with painted on numbers. Their helmets were old and scarred. They didn’t even own a football when Rusty Russell became the coach. The most respected players were among those who woke early to walk down to the barn to milk the cows so the school would have milk for the day’s meals. The school owned no bus so Russell drove his kids to games in the old flatbed truck the home owned. The kids just piled onto the back and rode all over Texas.
You would think that these conditions would make it hard for these kids kids to compete. And you’d be wrong. When that flatbed came to a halt, it unloaded one of the best football teams in Texas history. Despite poor equipment, substandard transportation, and giving up about 30 pounds per man, The Mighty Mites wreaked havoc on their opponents. The Mites were mean, scrappy, tenacious, disciplined, and loyal. They didn’t have anything in this world but each other. And that’s how they played.
In the end, that’s why I hate the bling. Because it’s fake. It’s hollow. The characteristics I’ve listed above is what makes a great team. These kids developed a monumental following. They had a huge fan base that followed them everywhere. When some of their fans purchased fancy new uniforms, the boys turned them down. They didn’t want to be something they weren’t.
I don’t begrudge kids good equipment or even a decent place to play. It’s the focus that bothers me. Both my local high school team and my college alma mater unveiled new uniforms for their season openers. The two teams lost by a combined score of 65-26. Fancy uniforms don’t win football games. What wins football games is being mean, scrappy, tenacious, disciplined, and loyal.
I’m going to continue to support both of my teams. That’s just how I am. The high school coach blocked me on Twitter for publicly opposing his idea to replace the grass field with blue AstroTurf, which I politely explained was an abomination. I’d much rather him focus on the lessons that will help the kids not only win ballgames but will also make them successful in life, lessons that will make them men.
Oh, I almost forgot, several of those Mighty Mites made their way to big time college football and even to the NFL. These kids, even the ones who didn’t go pro, grew up to be successful people because of the lessons they learned playing ball for “The Home.” Not bad for a bunch of kids who literally had nothing but each other...which made them far wealthier than kids who just have fancy uniforms and fake plastic grass. It didn’t just make them wealthier, it made them a better team as well.
Sam Burnham, Curator
The season is approaching rapidly. The teams are back in pads and on the practice field. In Athens, the Dawgs are coming off another successful season under Coach Kirby Smart.
Georgia sits at #3 in the preseason Coaches Poll. A preseason poll is worthless but this does indicate the amount of faith the coaches have in the program.
On the other hand, there are several stories appearing online as well as in print publications pointing out that Georgia’s elephant in the room, nemesis, bugaboo, thorn in the side, whatever they want to call Alabama. The theme at the center of it all is that Georgia has to beat Alabama if they plan to win a National Championship.
Call it speculation. Because that’s all it is at this point.
Georgia and Alabama would meet in the SEC Championship Game at the earliest. Bama still has to survive a grueling schedule in the West - A&M, Auburn, LSU, even Mississippi State are all looking to upset the Tide. Honestly, I expect Alabama to survive the challenge and make it to Atlanta, but they still have to do it.
So going on the plausible assumption that Georgia and Alabama meet in Atlanta or even in the playoff, there’s one major thing that Georgia has to do to beat Alabama. That thing has nothing to do with Xs or Os. It has nothing to do with talent, nothing to do with play calling. Georgia is Bama’s equal in all those categories. The thing Georgia has to do to beat Alabama is forget.
Georgia has to put the past in the past. They have to forget the series history. They have to play Alabama as if there is no history. For one game they have to forget that Alabama is Alabama. Football is far more psychological than many fans realize. Games are most often won in the minds of players long before they are played on the field. Georgia has to beat Alabama in their own minds.
Even more importantly for now, they need to be Georgia. They can’t get so focused on a theoretical match up with Alabama that they neglect Florida, South Carolina, Auburn or Tennessee. They have to win the one game that lies before them. For them the task at hand is simple. “Just win, baby.”
Sportswriters, prognosticators, and fans have the luxury of worrying about how Georgia and Alabama will handle their expected match up. But neither the Dawgs nor the Tide have that luxury. They still have to get to that point. For them, the focus must remain closer to their nose.
Sam Burnham, Curator
During the off-season we’re gonna talk about issues surrounding the game. We may discuss some historical stories as well.
I want to focus this article on the issues of TBI, CTE, and other injuries that are related to football. Concussions are typical as are tears in the tissues of knees. We’ve seen great strides made over the years in the treatment of knee injuries, including surgeries, rehabilitation, and physical therapy.
With colleges and universities raking in millions on the sport, they have a lot on the line for the sport’s survival. I’d hope this article wouldn’t be necessary. I would hope they would be stumbling over themselves to address the issue. It works for all injuries but it is coming to a head over CTE.
ESPN’s coverage of the somber anniversary of Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski is probably the most recent on the issue. The 21 year old’s suicide has been connected to CTE. This follows a pattern of former players who had similar deaths, including NFL star Junior Seau.
Schools are fielding teams and are employing trained and certified athletic trainers to provide critical medical care to student athletes. This trade is passed down through a training staff that includes students who work along professional trainers to gain practical experience to accompany their work in the classroom. This is imperative to the survival of the sport.
Schools also have staffs of equipment managers managers who bear the responsibility of issuing the needed equipment thereby each player has all the correct protective equipment and that it is fitted properly.
These two staffs need the right knowledge, tools, and equipment if football has a future.
Here’s where colleges need to step up more.
Where do doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, pharmacists, therapists, engineers, practically everyone who can have an impact on injury prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and recovery get their education and training? That’s right, at our colleges and universities. They are sitting on all the resources they need. Schools of medicine, science, and engineering located at our major research institutions have the patients on campus, they have the knowledge to begin to study this problem, not with lip service but with actual work. They have the researchers, the professionals who can deliver treatment. Every piece of the puzzle is on campus.
Schools could partner together to work on the issue. Smaller schools may not have all the components, even a larger school might be better equipped to address medical or engineering, but not both. But collaborating with a school that can offer the missing pieces could advance the cause. Perhaps if the ACC, SEC, Big 10, PAC 12, or Big 12 worked on this with their member institutions the pieces could be assembled.
While such an an effort could rescue football, it also would advance treatment and even prevention of TBI in the general population. This has ramifications for industry, transportation, and other categories. And any progress would be thanks to our favorite sport and the efforts to make sure it will be around for generations to come.
Rank Team Points
1. Clemson 50 (5)
2. Alabama 43
3. Notre Dame 39
4. Ohio State 31
5. Texas 26
6. Oklahoma 23
7. LSU 17
8. Georgia 16
9. Kentucky 8
10. Florida 7
Also receiving votes: UCF 5, Washington State 3, Army 2, Northwestern 2, Oklahoma State 2
Every once in a while you get to see a team that puts everything together in one game. Monday was one of those nights.
While Curator & Coach both picked Clemson, neither could have predicted what happened.
True freshman Trevor Lawrence found receivers who made some of the most amazing catches of the season. Sophomore running back Travis Etienne carried the ball flawlessly. Clemson’s defense stopped Bama at every turn, despite the absence of star junior DT Dexter Lawrence. The Tigers stopped the Tide twice in the red zone, including a goal line stand to start the 4th quarter.
Bama made uncharacteristically foolish errors in an attempt to make something, anything, happen. Most notably, a fake field goal attempt failed and Lawrence turned that opportunity into a 74 yard TD pass.
Dabo Swinney’s staff executed a game plan that handed Nick Saban the worst loss in his head coaching career. Most shocking of all was seeing Bama quit. In the second half, the Tide just didn’t respond. Expecting to see halftime adjustments and a rejuvenated Tide come out of the tunnel, viewers instead saw Bama’s body language slowly morph into malaise and, eventually, surrender.
Clemson beat them until they quit. And that is the concise commentary on this game.
And so it's time to say congratulations to the new national champions, the Clemson Tigers.
When we were kids we loved pro wrestling. We knew it was scripted and choreographed and the the outcome was predetermined but we still loved it. We had a theory that if it were “real” and there was no plan that Andre the Giant would have beaten everyone every time...except for one. When we saw Big John Studd come out, straddle-step over the top rope, and look Andre in the face, we knew this would be the match up Andre could lose.
That's the match up we have in the CFB Playoff finals. Bama is the juggernaut, the unbeatable giant that can crush any opponent. But then Clemson comes out, maybe not quite as big, not quite as strong, but big enough to look the giant in the face and say, “you’re gonna have to throw your best out there tonight. Your average ain’t gonna cut it tonight.”
The Tide comes into Levi’s Stadium led by Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovaiola. The Tigers are led by freshman phenom Trevor Lawrence. The match ups across the line mirror that of the field generals. Clemson might be a little less noted, a little less famous, but they get the job done. Their performance against Notre Dame demonstrates that they belong in the title game.
Bama is gonna be the favorite but don’t count Clemson out. Even with suspended players, they’re going to be prepared. Clemson's defensive front will put pressure on Tegovaiola, something only Georgia has done so far. Clemson will have the discipline and the determination to stay in the game. They won't make foolish mistakes for Alabama to capitalize on. Alabama is going to have to complete a three day run against Georgia, Oklahoma, and Clemson. Even with the breaks, that;s not an easy task. Dabo Swinney has been on this stage before. He’s stared across at Alabama before. And if anyone is gonna beat Alabama, Clemson is a team that can do it.
We're both looking for an upset.
There’s no need to second guess the committee or talk about what might have been. There’s no need to question whether or not Notre Dame or Oklahoma are good football teams. It is clear they are. But this year we have a tier of good football teams and a tier of championship caliber teams. And the latter is small. What is important at this point is that the two teams who earned the right to play in the finals are there.
For all the talk of playoff expansion, it’s worth mentioning that this year it could have contracted. Once Bama beat Georgia, it was an event for the Tigers and the Tide. The BCS would have worked this year.
We’ve got an an interesting match up ahead. Keep an eye on ABG CFB for a special title game Curator & Coach.
The Curator and other knowledgeable voices...mostly Southerners... on the subject