The Calipari Generation

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So I was listening to the KSR podcast just now and Rex Chapman is on because he’s being inducted into the UK hall of fame tonight. This podcast is probably only the 2nd or 3rd time I’ve heard Rex speak, but everything I hear about the guy really makes me fall in love with him even 13 years after his basketball career ended (a career which I witnessed absolutely no part of whatsoever). The more I dig back into Rex the more I see just how amazing his story was (college accolades aside, his NBA success was particularly startling to me) and it really encourages me to learn more about the history of Kentucky basketball. (Afterall, it is The Greatest Tradition in the History of College Basketball)

See, I wasn’t a UK fan growing up. I wasn’t even a basketball fan. I grew up in Fargo, North Dakota where, to tell the truth, until recently there hasn’t really been a well defined sports culture until recently. Grand Forks had the University of North Dakota hockey team which is admittedly (albeit begrudgingly by a life-long NDSU fan) one of the all time great powers in college hockey, and the NFL obviously permeates all levels of American society regardless of borders, but basketball is most certainly not a high priority in the frigid hinterland that is my home. In any event, when it came time for me to decide what college I should go to one of the main factors I considered was I wanted to be somewhere that played big time college sports. I wanted to go somewhere that I could experience a great college sports tradition and where I could experience the pinnacle of college sports. In the case of the former I’m convinced it would have been impossible for me to make a better choice and I believe I did ok in regards to the latter as well.

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However, this meant that I had to alter my sports fandom on the fly. I always liked the NHL because my dad is a big Red Wings fan, and by the same token this left me with Lions the Tigers (although I can honestly only name 3 players on the team. Unless Phil Coke has been traded… *googling* … phew ok we’re good back up to 3) and allegedly the Pistons, but basketball (college and pro) could not have been less interesting to me. Nobody hit each other, nobody got into fights mid match, and it was out of an irrational love of nachos and Pepsi rather than a love of the game that I attended most NDSU basketball games with my dad (I rarely even asked if it was a men’s or women’s game. I had my eyes on the prize folks).

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(these were the subject of many a dream for me circa age 11)

This probably had a lot to do with the fact that the upper Midwest is a predominately white society within hockey (and Canada’s) geographical orbit BUT that is a topic for another time. The point is, I hadn’t been interested in basketball up to this point in my life and as a result I reeeeally didn’t understand much of anything that was happening in the sport at any given time. So for all intents and purposes, the sport of college basketball truly began to exist for me in August of 2008 when I moved to Lexington, Kentucky. Early on I met my friend Esteban, a lifelong Kentucky Basketball fan, and began a period of tutelage in the sport, but I’ve never really managed to fully immerse myself in the entire history of the sport (much to my own chagrin). My ideas of the sport have been profoundly and I think permanently shaped by those 4 years I spent in college watching UK and learning about the sport. The first year my fandom was the last year of Billy Gillispie’s shortlived Kentucky tenure and as such things got off to a bit of a rough start. I distinctly remember watching the VMI loss in my dorm room in shock that everything seemed to be unraveling before it began. I even at the end of the year before the LSU game seeing kids talking all over campus about how we could still salvage everything and still make it into the tournament with a big win over the Cajuns, but in the end UK was NIT bound. I watched every one of those NIT games, but none of them seemed more important than the offseason of door-watching that followed them. (Esteban even had a door watching cameo on ESPN)

That door turned out to be the gateway between my rocky start to Kentucky fandom and the paradise that has followed since. John Calipari came walking through that door like freaking Gandalf ready to save the day with magic and shit. And then everything, including my conceptions of college basketball, changed.

Calipari’s “one and done” recruiting strategy has been well documented and dissected across the internet for a long time now, but I think the strategy looks a lot different from inside than out. People used to scream from the mountaintops that freshmen couldn’t win titles and 2012 changed that (even though some people still refuse to believe.But for me, for the most part this is the only college basketball world I’ve ever known. To me college basketball is about watching various mixtapes, trying to learn about recruits while they’re still high school sophomores so that I’ll have some idea what to expect when they finally get to campus as freshmen. This is what basketball life is like for a lot of Kentucky fans now, but it hasn’t always been this way and it won’t stay this way forever. The aforementioned Esteban is always telling me not to put too much emphasis on mixtapes, because it has nothing to do with what a guy will look like once he’s on campus. This is what I hear from most UK fans and its also the point Rex is making on KSR right now. We don’t know these guys before they get to the school, and we need to wait and let freshmen be freshmen. In Rex’s case this is especially poignant in that while he is widely considered Kentucky’s first “basketball rock star” he said in this KSR interview that he didn’t expect to play much during his freshman year let alone start.

Rex, then, might have been ahead of his time, but what was extraordinary for his time has become commonplace today. Simply put Cal’s system works and until the NBA changes the rules (something Calipari himself even wants for multiple reasons) its going to keep working. Cal has the most heralded recruiting class in history coming in for this season (even more than the class that included both John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, two players who just signed max level contracts in the NBA) and in all likelihood this team of freshman will start the season ranked #1 in the country. Cal has consistently (2012/13 season withstanding; injury had some impact on that team’s failings) produced at a high level with this system and I’ve “grown-up,” so to speak, watching this very specific brand of basketball (which greatly differs from the history of Kentucky and the history of college basketball in general).

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All the things some bemoan in the Calipari system are the only things I really know and understand when it comes to college basketball. I don’t know whether there are a lot of new fans who have sprung up around this system like me, completely removed for the “tradition” that is Kentucky basketball, but we’re certainly now a part of it. John Calipari represents his own unique era in the storied history of Kentucky basketball and its one of almost unparalleled success. He might not win as many titles as Adolf Rupp, but he dominates his sport in a similar or even more impressive fashion (with the addition of dominating the new world of recruiting which didn’t exist in Rupp’s time). Moreover, if just a few things had broken his way (a historical and disastrous shooting night against an awful West Virginia team and Kemba Walker being Kemba Walker for a UConn team that probably should have been [and eventually was] banned from postseason play)  Cal could very easily be going for his 4th title this year (which would have tied Rupp) but he would be doing so in only 5 seasons, half the time it took Rupp (whose 1st and 4th titles came in 1948 and 1958 respectively).

John Calipari is a winner, an innovator, and a lightning rod capable of producing unparalleled interest in his team, his players, and his sport. He won me over in 20 minutes of firework and laser induced euphoria, not just for Kentucky basketball but for the sport as a whole. His brand of basketball is so exciting and so impactful, his personality and the personalities of his teams are so engaging, and his ability to motivate (and reinvigorate) the greatest fanbase in the history of American sports is so profound that in 3 short years he managed to swing my entire sports world into the corner of Kentucky basketball. College basketball is now my favorite sport and its not even close. I now religiously obsess about something I had absolutely no interest in growing up  and have entirely new ideas of what it truly means to be a fan. The Calipari system won’t last forever. Rule changes, coaches learning to compete for recruits, and Cal’s own retirement will all contribute to its demise, but everything Calipari has built here has helped me personally fall in love with this sport, and as a new lifelong Kentucky Basketball fan I’ll always be grateful to him for it. I may not be truly immersed in Kentucky history yet, but I am living a piece of Kentucky history right now,  I’ll always be a part of the Big Blue Nation, thanks in large part to John Calipari.

I am a petty and easily upset man

So, I was reading this article on Charlie Weis at Kansas, minding my own business… even enjoying myself if I do say so… When all of a sudden I reached the fourth section down. The article is about how Kansas football is terrible and how Weis is trying to turn it around yada yada. Once you get to the fourth section, however, they start talking about Kansas basketball and Andrew Wiggins just in passing. Some of the quotes mention all the hype that comes with Wiggins and imply that certain people at Kansas want it to die down. This makes me want to slap the shit out of every last one of them Tyrion style.

I didn’t really become a college basketball fan until I moved to Lexington from Fargo, ND and enrolled in the University of Kentucky. The level of excitement which surrounds that team in the state of Kentucky is absolutely unimaginable if you’ve never been there. So even though my freshman year at UK involved Billy Gillespie’s drunken swan song, I still immediately fell in love with the fans, the team, the school, and even found myself passionately rooting for the team in that year in the NIT.

Mitch Barnhart

“Billy were you drinking again?”

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“Of course not what are you talking about?! Me drinking on a game night??? Never!”

Mitch Barnhart

“Billy.”

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“Ok, ok, ok so I had a few drinks”

Mitch Barnhart

“A few Billy?”

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“Ok so maybe it was 19… idk”

In any event, by the time Calipari fell down to Kentucky from Heaven (read: Memphis, TN) I was already hooked and primed for a lifetime of happiness (and torment) with UK basketball.

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(Calipari really is a Jesus figure in the state of Kentucky. At least I think so. I edited my copy of Da Vinci’s Last Supper to say so)

So I say all this just to make clear that I have been VERY spoiled in my college basketball experience. My last 3 years at UK were Cal’s first 3 and Kentucky won the national title during my Senior year. All this on the back of John Calipari’s inhuman recruiting success. So, needless to say, I was crestfallen and devastated when we missed out on Wiggins this past offseason. I had delusions of 40-0, potentially the greatest college player ever, and easily the greatest collection of talent ever accumulated on one college roster. And then, Andrew Wiggins decided to go to Kansas. Balls.

The decisions of an 18 year old boy should not make me feel this way (especially when they’re only tangentially mentioned in an article which need not have concerned said boy at all and ESPECIALLY months after they initially broke my heart which was even more irrational in the first place) but they do dammit. I am so mad. Fucking wiggins! You could have had everything at Kentucky! You could have been the brightest supernova in a galaxy of luminescence!!! Now I have thoughts of Kansas officials bemoaning an excess of hype. I want to play Kansas in the tournament. I want to beat them by 50 points. And I want Julius Randle to be the #1 pick in next years draft. 

Gone are my dreams of a perfect season, but we can still win #9. We still have the most talented team in college ball this year. We still have a transcendent talent in Julius Randle. And we still have a demigod for a coach so all will be well in the end (and I shouldn’t irrationally hate 18 year old kids). John Calipari knows what he’s doing and our team has more firepower than Kaiser Wilhelm circa 1914, so I should just calm down and patiently wait for #9. In nomine Calipari fiat.

SEC Rebuild: The 2013 Kentucky Wildcats Football Team

 

 

So being as this is Kentucky’s first bi-week I thought it might be a good time to talk about my alma mater’s shiny new football team and their progress thus far.

The beginning of the Mark Stoops era in Kentucky has really been blissful from day one. Stoops came to Kentucky with an elite coaching pedigree (see: Stoops, Bob) and brought an exceptional staff with him which included Ohio recruiting savant Vince Marrow and the return of the prodigal son Neal Brown to bring the Air Raid Sirens back to the Bluegrass where they belong (R.I.P. Hal Mumme and Mike Leach).

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(Believe it or not some degree of this spread offense stuff that took off so well in the state of Texas and the Big 12 started at Kentucky)

Moreover, that stellar staff brought in an equally shocking recruiting class including 4 star JUCO DE transfer Za’Darius Smith (who is worth a roster spot on any NFL team for his name alone) along with a torrent of other highly talented and highly rated players that would normally be miles out of Kentucky’s league.

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(Hello class my name is professor Za’Darius and today we’ll be elucidating the finer points of fuckin’ bitches up on turf. Questions? Oh, yes its spelled Z-A-apostrophe-D…)

The point being, there was much cause for optimism this season. However, at the end of the day, Stoops and his staff were trying to turn around a 2-10 team which had really gone fallow during the Joker Phillips era. Fundamentals, let alone complex schemes, were apparently not coached meaning that however much talent Stoops had brought in or was left in the cupboards, a lot of coaching up would be necessary. We all, as Kentucky fans, knew this, but I don’t think it fully set in until the Western Kentucky game. UK got flat beaten by a second rate in state school, and to make matters worse it came at the hands of Bobby Petrino, former coach of the rival Louisville Cardinals, UK basher, and all around scumbag. Now, I have a feeling this loss came in large part because Petrino (being the self centered and self serving dick that he is) spent his entire offseason coaching his team specifically to beat Kentucky and Tennessee in hopes that 2 wins over SEC teams would propel him into a big time job next year.

But in any event, Kentucky was not the better team and honestly that loss was pretty deflating. Moreover, a significant portion of the loss seemed to stem from the Wildcats being outcoached. Scumbag though he may be Bobby Petrino is a seasoned vet and a top tier SEC calibar head coach. Stoops and his staff should (and will in my opinion) grow into that same level of elite coaching expertise, but you can’t expect them to start there from day 1. The Western game, then, was all about veterans, which makes sense since so many of UK’s guys were in their first ever NCAA 1A game at their given position (from the players all the way up to the head coach).  So while it may have been a tough loss  it wasn’t inexplicable and it wasn’t bereft of positives either.

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For one thing we had the unveiling of the “ground-raid” offense and our cavalcade of tiny Onager-esque running backs. (you see, they’re like workhorse backs… but tiny and fast… eh eh? Also, the 12th fastest mammal on the planet!) In any event, Raymond Sanders III (another fantastic name) looked fantastic running the ball at a 7 yards per carry clip, dual threat QB Jalen Whitlow ran for 75 yards, and one of those freshmen phenoms, Ryan Timmons, threw in a big 30 yard run. Running is generally a fallback for an inexperienced team. Complex passing offenses like Neil Brown’s Air Raid are not easy to learn and install (I know… I tried… this makes me so sad and confused) and when you’re coming from a nearly non existent scheme as was the case under Kentucky’s last regime its going to make it even harder to develop your pass offense no matter how talented your individual players may be. However, The success of the run game seemed to show that Kentucky’s athletes really were everything we were promised and at the very least this team has the caliber of player that deserves to be on an SEC field.

The Miami of Ohio game didn’t leave me with as much to say simply because the level of competition just wasn’t there. Miami is historically a good football program (see: Roethlisberger, Ben) but this year they are struuuuuugglin’. They’re 0-2 and with 2 upcoming games against Cincinnati and Illinois they’re probably open the year 0-4. As far as the Cats, however, we finally saw how things could really click with them both offensively and defensively, at least schematically since the lack of pressure on all sides allowed for increased ease of execution. What I learned from Miami was that all the pieces are there. Western showed we have the athleticism, and Miami showed our coaches know what they’re doing in terms of implementing schemes and our players can execute if given enough of a cushion time wise to make up for their lack of experience. Learning a scheme takes repetition and that’s something our young team and young coaching staff won’t be able to achieve except through hard work and learning on the fly throughout the season. It will happen even though we might not see it since our level of competition will ramp up so harshly once SEC play starts, but this Kentucky team won’t look anything like the team that lost to Western by the time they play Tennessee on November 30th.

Then came the Louisville game. Watching this game made me more hopeful and positive than anything, from recruiting to on the field play, that has happened this year in the world of Kentucky football. For one thing, it seemed to prove the point that Stoops is just as young as his team and he’s learning along the way with them, but this was an enormous step forward for them both. The defense looked absolutely superb. They were playing against a former title game MVP in Michael Dyer, and stuffed him at the line time and time again. The aforementioned Professor Za’Darius threw in yet another sack to threw himself into a tie for #1 in the nation through 3 games with 4.5. The secondary, largely UK’s biggest weakness on defense, held Teddy Bridgewater, Heisman hopeful and projected #2 overall pick in next year’s NFL draft, to 1 touchdown. Even the Linebacking corps which has been called a weakness at times this season, saw Avery Williamson record 15 tackles to put him at 35 on the year and keeping him on pace to yet again be in the conversation to lead the SEC in tackles. Louisville, a national championship contender, scored only 27 points against a Kentucky team that allowed 35 to a far inferior Western Kentucky team. Defense, much like a running game, can come together a lot faster than a complex passing offense and it seems to me that Stoops has already got things moving in an incredibly positive direction with his defense.

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(Avery Williamson is so frustratingly underrated it pains me. 15 tackles in a game is absolutely insane and he will be a steal for someone in the 4th round of the draft next year. He’s consistently top 10 in the SEC in tackles but constantly overlooked because of his size, but as I see it a wolverine has just as much ‘fuck you up’ in him as an elephant in spite of his stature)

And speaking of that rushing game again… here we started to see the beginning of Stoops’ young recruits shine. JoJo Kemp, true freshman RB out of Deland FL had 80 yards on 5 carries. The guy is insanely explosive and by pairing him with Sanders we should be able to keep them both fresh. This was a major problem with last year’s running game where we relied on Sanders too long and for too many carries. The guy would just get gassed due to his size and the sheer volume of carries he was receiving. Now with two electric backs in the backfield and the running threat of Jalen “gazelle” Whitlow Kentucky should be able to produce on the ground and hopefully encourage opposing defenses to drop 8 men in the box and open up the passing game.

So… about that passing game. Dropped passes. They KILLED us in this game. I counted 7 throughout the course of the game, and one of them seemed to be a surefire touchdown pass. Midway through the first quarter Ryan Timmons breaks out on a seem route across the middle and Max Smith probably put the ball 6″ too high (likely misjudging Timmons’ height because the guy is reaally small for a receiver) and Timmons gets his hands on the ball but can’t come up with the catch. That could have been a touchdown in my opinion. However, the offense operated perfectly on that play as far as I could tell which is yet another sign of growth. The fundamentals aren’t there (namely, catching a football that touches all 10 of your fingers) but our young guys have an insane amount of athleticism and as soon as they start catching balls we’ll put up points all over the place . Timmons wasn’t the only guy making absurd athletic plays like that. Jeff Badet, another one of our young recruits, had fantastic rapport with Jalen and Max in the second half of the game in spite of his drops. And perhaps most importantly was the breakout game for Javess Blue, a JUCO transfer and the closest thing we have to veteran leadership at WR with Demarco Robinson hurt. All three of these guys dropped a lot of balls but the offense seemed to be clicking. Guys were in the right place at the right time and I’m convinced we could outrun anyone in the SEC if we could just get the ball in our receivers’ hands.

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(as this hapless Louisville defender is learning, if Timmons can ever get the ball in his hands he turns into a football field equivalent to soap in a prison shower. Let go of it for 1 second and your whole day is ruined.)

The injury to Smith is worrisome because I personally think he has a better command of the Air Raid Offense and Whitlow, but if Jalen can calm down and start slowing the game down we could become an even better team with him on the field given his running ability.

Kentucky probably left 21 points on the field (the Timmons dropped pass and the 2 red zone turnovers) but they hung with a top ten team led by a Heisman Trophy candidate and that is definitely cause for celebration. A lot of our newcomers seem to be learning just as fast as our coaching staff (Dr. Za’Darius, Blue, Blake McClain and Nate Willis at corner back, Timmons, Badet, and Kemp were all major contributors in this game and none of them were in Kentucky uniforms last year). What shocks me most, however, are the exponential leaps and bounds our staff and players seem to be growing in from game to game. Kentucky likely won’t make it to a bowl game this season, but if they keep improving at this intense rate and if they stay healthy, they could beat the likes of Missouri, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee on the back half of the schedule. I can’t wait to watch them play Florida and see if they take another step forward, and I definitely can’t wait to see what they look like next year with another great class incoming and another year of learning and growing from this staff.

 

I am Icarus.

So I was texting my buddy Mike, a Dolphins fan, during last Sunday’s Lions – Cardinals game absolutely raving about Reggie Bush and the wonders he is going to work for the 2013 Detroit Lions. Mike’s response was simply to laugh maniacally at my jubilation and tell me to be patient and wait for Reggie to break my heart. Five plays later Reggie is out and I promptly crash to earth, by avian aspirations shattered.

I am a Detroit Lions fan. Now, this is problematic enough in its own right, but this season, although it is quite early, may prove to be especially problematic for me. This season for Detroit seems to hinge entirely on Reggie Bush’s health. When Detroit first cut Jahvid Best and signed Reggie I was none too pleased. Best needed to be cut for his own health and he wasn’t helping the team so that didn’t worry me at all, but I didn’t see Reggie as a sterling model of health and a viable option to replace him. He hadn’t helped the Dolphins to win in his time there and he hasn’t exactly been a perfect model of health during his time in the NFL (but then again I suppose no RBs are).

And then I was swayed by a semi-glowing endorsement by Grantland’s Bill Barnweel, a litany of fantasy gurus singing Bush’s praises, and even some strong encouragement from friends of mine who are Dolphins fans and have watched Reggie the last few years in a feature back role. I began to think back to Bush’s college days at USC and how my dad and I had started the 2005 Lions season hoping we could end up with Bush in DET (yes, we had already given up hope on picking outside the top 10) and decided everything could work out alright.

We had the new feature running back I had always wanted who could really open up our offense.

We had kept the D Line strong by picking Ziggy Ansah with the #4 overall pick (please disregard the fact that Ziggy had only played 1 season of football IN HIS ENTIRE LIFE coming out of BYU)

we had locked up our star quarterback with a new 3 year, $50million extension (please disregard the fact that until last season Mr. Stafford was a running joke at Grantland.com which dubbed up “Matthew Stafford if-he-stays-healthy” When  you spend the entirety of you NFL fandom life watching the likes of Charlie Batch, Joey Harrington, Mike McMahon, Jon Kitna, Dante Culpepper [post knee blowout], and Dan Orlovsky [who is not aware the stepping out the back of the endzone gives points to the other team] you are willing to roll the dice with a guy whose best attribute [and I’m not trying to be factious] is that he can throw a football as hard and as fast as Calvin Johnson runs.

 

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(Dan no! Please stop!)

We had taken steps toward improving a badly undermanned secondary by drafting Darius Slay out of Mississippi State in the 2nd round [please disregard the fact that Slay was coming off a knee injury that required surgery just after the Lions had drafted him.]

All this, whether predictably or not, came apart last Sunday against the Cardinals when Bush went down. Losing Bush hurt both the running game and the passing game. I love Joique Bell, but he just doesn’t have the same hands as bush (few running backs do) and we Stafford sent one of his patented bail out rockets Bell’s way he dropped them much more often than not.

The Lions have an insanely scary offense when Bush is on the field. But without him they take a serious step back and are certainly not a playoff team.

Moreover, the defense looked anything but great on Sunday. Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald could not be happier to have one another in their respective lives and our secondary felt it. I’ve really softened my hatred of Chris Houston over his time in Detroit and Louis Delmas is great when he’s healthy but Detroit still lacks an elite pass defense. This can be duct taped together when the D Line is running on all cylinders, but Rashard Mendenhall looked pretty good running against them in spots and for whatever reason they weren’t their normal dominant selves (only sacking Carson 1 time all game in spite of the fact that Arizona’s best offensive lineman broke his leg before the season even started).

So in short, I’m reaching desperately for the panic button at this exact moment in time. Bush’s injury doesn’t look serious and the Lions can obviously recover. I still think they’re a playoff caliber team, but losing that Arizona game right before a murderous 3 game stretch (Washington at home at 0-2 might need this win more than the Lions do, Chicago is Detroit’s biggest competition for 2nd place in the NFC North and a Wildcard spot, and at Green Bay for week 5… I mean… the Lions haven’t won in Green Bay since 1991… so yeah). The D Line will improve (as much as I hated the pick at the time, Schwartz is obviously a wizard with linemen cuz Ziggy has looked really good in limited snaps over 2 games), the secondary is still healthy and improving this early in the season (and better than last year. Hurt or not I think Darius Slay + Chris Houston and Delmas is a serviceable core), and the Detroit Linebacking corps has looked great (DeAndre Levy with 2 picks returned for TDs on the year [even though the one against MN was wiped off the books] and I continue to love the steal of Stephen Tulloch in 2011) so the defense will shape up. And your offense can never really go wrong when it revolves around Calvin Johnson (Even with Hill at QB I wouldn’t be worried). Now if Bush can bounce back and stay healthy and Patty Edwards, and Ryan Broyles step up to become legitimate contributors this is easily a 10-6 team. But things are not clearly as sturdy as they seemed and I for one will probably have to do my best of staying out of the sun.

 

Lemonaid to Lemons

So last Saturday I (along with all Fargo natives) was greeted by a fabulous surprise that ESPN’s College Gameday would host their September 21st show in Fargo, North Dakota. Bison Athletics have been on a steady upward trajectory for the last 10 years and this is yet another notch in their belt. Rising from a Division 2 sports program to a Cinderella hopeful (one of the many reasons I deplore KU sports… but its ok… NDSU has had some stuff to say about them as well), Minnesota‘s bane (should have been 3 wins, but UofM got lucky in 2006), and a two time FCS national champion (tough luck Sam Houston). Hosting College Game Day is yet another step in the right direction for this program and I hope it can be a springboard to even bigger and better things (from recruiting to conference realignment).

However, it has unfortunately become a point of controversy in the city of Fargo. ESPN has chosen a site in downtown Fargo for the program which is neither near the stadium nor on campus. This has many fans (particularly students) upset, and rightfully so in its own way. As stated above I personally see this show as a reward to the Athletic Program for their achievements and therefore it initially struck me as slightly unjust that the show would be taken away from Fans, students, and the university on whole, and be made into a civic endeavor rather than a University endeavor. (I have a bit of a personal axe to grind when it comes to cities co-opting a University’s popularity as relates to the current controversy over the remodeling of the University of Kentucky basketball team’s Rupp Arena but thats a story for another time).

After thinking over the issue for all of two minutes, however, it quickly became clear to me that this shouldn’t be an issue at all. For one thing College Gameday is a TV show looking for a story, and as they’ve stated themselves they loved the view of the scenic Fargo downtown and particularly the historic Fargo Theatre because it allows them to sell Fargo as Small Town, USA. Personally I really like this narrative. Downtown Fargo and the Fargo Theatre really are beautiful and I’ve always loved walking up and down Broadway in town.

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I think it will provide for a great setting for the show, and since its ESPN’s decision, NOT the University OR the city’s, I don’t have any problem in trying sell one good story alongside another (creating a “small town Fargo worldbeaters” kindof thing with this amazing sports program we have). However, it makes perfect sense to me why some fans are upset, wishing the show could be about the football fans and the football program since thats what is bringing ESPN to Fargo in the first place. Its fine that they’re upset with this, but they won’t stay upset. Ultimately everyone will support the program, the city, and the show and they will come downtown making for a wonderful experience for everyone. The gameday crew is going to have camera crews at the Bison Tailgates outside the Fargodome and I’m certain they’ll have plenty of glamour shots of the campus itself as well, so in the end no harm no foul.

What really bugs me, though, is the backlash I’ve seen from a lot of people I know back in Fargo along with some members of the media in North Dakota.  They’re really coming down hard on these Bison fans, for what seems to me to be a necessary reaction. These fans take pride in their program and they want this experience to be about the program, which it should be! What especially bothers me about the complainers is that as far as the ones I know personally, none of them are football fans (or even sports fans for that matter) and they’re certainly not North Dakota State fans. For whatever reason as far as I can remember there has always been a cohort back in Fargo that really deplores NDSU sports and were much happier when they were in Division II or losing 8 games a year. I know this happens everywhere but for some reason it always really bugged me in regards to NDSU. Until the 2004 D1 jump and until Craig Bohl changed everything about Bison sports nobody but the truly passionate fans and alumni cared about anything that had to do with NDSU. Now, the fanbase has increased exponentially and so has their determination and love of their team. They travel with them in enormous packs all the way to Texas for 2 national title games and even packed Manhattan Kansas to open this season.

So frankly, it really strikes me as sour grapes when hack’s in the media criticize fans for being fans (the word fan, of course, is derived from the world ‘fanatic’ after all) and old high school friends of mine, who were never Bison fans in the first place, pile on the Debbie-downer bandwagon. Fans are going to be irrational. They’re going to be possessive about their sports teams. Its just the way this stuff works. In Ancient Byzantium during the reign of Justinian riots broke out which wrecked half of Constantinople based on which color chariot team you liked versus which color the Emperor happened to like. And lets not forget that there is currently a man in prison in Alabama for killing trees. Fans are inherently and of necessity crazy. So when some pot stirring hack whose every article seems to attack, demean, and criticize Bison fans for being some sort of irrational plebeian troglodytes, decides to repeatedly patronize fans for doing what fans do it really bugs me. This is not a time to be patronizing and petty just like its not a time to be irrational. Just look at Jeff Kolpack and Dom Izzo. You don’t have to be divisive yourself in order to talk about this issue.

The fact of the matter is, ESPN is giving an amazing gift to the city of Fargo, to Bison Athletics, and to the fans themselves. And even if the process has shown that perhaps not all fans on the new Bison Nation are as united as I’d like,  I’m just glad NDSU sports have risen to a point where fans will stop to complain if they think they’re program isn’t being properly represented, whether I agree with them or not.