The Best Design in All College Sports: Michigan

After driving through what feels like endless fields of well tended rural nothingness, Ann Arbor springs up out of nowhere and somehow feels like a real city. There are crowds on the sidewalks and construction everywhere. I chose the word surprising because Ann Arbor only has a population of around 120,000 people. And it isn’t a suburb of a metropolitan area, those 100 thousand people are the whole metropolitan area.IMG_2409

To give one an idea of how important the University of Michigan is to Ann Arbor one should know that the school has 45,000 students and approximately 25,000 employees. The University is the town.IMG_2382

It is by all measures, one of America’s top academic institutions with each and every department regularly ranked in the top 20, and most of those departments getting ranked in the top 5, but what the school is most known for is Final Fours. As in March Madness NCAA college basketball. The Wolverines aren’t the winningest basketball team in history but they are known to win, and they are famous for calling a timeout when they don’t have any left, and also famous for getting in trouble for paying those players what they are worth.IMG_2329

Sports are “worth” enough money to Michigan that the teams have their own separate campus. There are all the buildings full of students going to top ranked classes, then there are parking lots and actual train tracks, and then there are a separate group of very glossy and secure buildings housing weight rooms, practice facilities and arenas. I had the privilege of pressing my face up against the glass of one of those buildings so I could see a row of shiny basketball trophies with nets draped over them. Very tall healthy looking people were scanning their badges to get inside while I was gawking. IMG_2310The football team has collected more wins than any other college football team. This has also netted them a great number of awards and trophies, including three Heismans and 11 National Championships. But unlike Notre Dame or USC, Michigan keeps their awards behind glass. Michigan fans don’t appear to mind this separation as is evidenced in that this town of only 120,000 people fills up a stadium that seats 1000,000 people each and every time they play a football game.IMG_2303

Maybe all those people from a top ranked school simply appreciate what is hands down the best design in all of college sports- the wolverines football helmet.

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The Most Collegey of all Big Time Football Programs: and it is still a school

I grew up in a place where none of us were catholic, no one was actually Irish, and we were nowhere near Indiana, yet everyone wore hats, t- shirts, and sweatshirts with the logo of Notre Dame. Make no mistake, the school is a serious academic institution, it is the kind of place where they require you to be smart before you go there to get educated, but really, the biggest reason why so many smart people want to go there, is football.

It is a private religious school with 12, 000 students, and from what I understand many of them play other school sponsored sports like softball and basketball, but in all of America I can find no other university that has full padded, full contact, intramural football, where non-Varsity kids can actually play the game and not just spectate.  The sport is infused into the entire experience of the place, making Notre Dame the very definition of college football. It is one of the few places where a student can stroll across a picturesque quad, populated by kids who look studious, and walk right up to a world class stadium unimpeded. The stadium is built as part of the student’s life rather than a free standing football palace surrounded by parking lots built to accommodate tailgating alumni and other grown ups. Though there is also that. Consequentially the whole country feels the Fighting Irish belong to them. Rudy’s Dad never went there and he cried tears of joy just looking at the field. Ronald Reagan never went to Notre Dame but without their football team he might never have been president.

Condoleezza Rice did attend Notre Dame and as far as I know she never played the game, but it has been argued that she knows more about football than whomever might be serving as Secretary of State today… whenever today is right now, no matter who it is.

At Notre Dame even Jesus is signaling a touchdown (says ESPN, any and every time they broadcast from campus).

It is because Notre Dame is such a great school with such a great football program that I am at this moment with this sentence, petitioning the administration to replace the large murals in that golden dome building with the collected football artwork of J.C. Leyendecker. I don’t think Leyendecker is connected in any way to Notre Dame but who cares because the murals they have in there now are trash. IMG_2038.JPGNot trash in like they are poorly painted and I am talking trash about them, but trash in that in an effort to make an Italian guy look awesome they make a whole indigenous people look silly. It is bad enough to show the Taino Arowak people fawning over a guy who essentially destroyed them, but what really bugs me is that the dude on the far left is clearly wearing a hat made from an animal that never lived on “Hispaniola”. IMG_2036

I would suggest they move some of that wonderful artwork they have over by the weight room into the administration building- but that stuff isn’t just art- they are all trophies.

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Oh. And they also have a church.IMG_2060

Football in L.A.

Football in L.A. is mostly the Trojans. Sure the town now has two pro teams, neither of which are the Raiders, and UCLA has been playing well the past few years, but still, when people here think of pro football, odds are they mean soccer.But the Rams are back in town and no matter with whom they share a stadium, be it Carl Lewis or Marcus Allen, they will all be playing in one of America’s most iconic venues.

I will watch anyone play football any where, but not every game is played in a place with an olympic cauldron {insert shout-out to the University of Utah here}. Now granted, most other venues have better luxury suites, or tailgating, or at least one modern bell or whistle, but none of them are in Los Angeles.

And being in L.A. means elote and agua fresca. Everywhere should have elote.

Now forgive my limited sample size (just LA and Philly), but here is what I can say from what I have seen- or experienced. Rams crowds are about 1/28th as aggressive as Eagles crowds. Perhaps it is because of the better weather, or because you would need a pitcher’s arm in order to hurl a battery from the cheap seats to the field in the Coliseum, but I saw people wearing the other team’s jersey in the stands without harassment. I got a sun burn. No one hurled obscenities at their own team’s players. But, in both places, the players ran, tackled, threw, caught and kicked.

And football fans were pretty much still themselves.

A Brief Explanation of Why Americans Don’t Play Soccer (Association Football)

Most of the world calls soccer football. The United States of America calls football soccer because back when the rest of the world started playing that kicking game we were already playing something else called football. Today, despite being a (declining) superpower, we get beat by countries the size of a postage stamp who operate on budgets that can’t afford postage.

There is a reason for this, and it isn’t just that we don’t “get it” or that there is something in American culture that precludes our appreciating the finer points of slide tackles and dramatic flopping. The NBA proves we love dramatic flopping, and no, the reason why we Yankees don’t get the game isn’t some attention span deficiency either.  While soccer is incredibly boring, it is not arguably any more boring than that American game where you take a 1 minute break between every 20 seconds of action. So no, the real answer, or reason, is history. As in there is a historical reason we never got on the soccer bandwagon. Sorry, AN historical reason.

Soccer became soccer in London’s Freemason’s Tavern in 1863. That is when and where a bunch of football clubs got together and argued over whether or not the rules would allow a player to pick up the ball and carry it, as opposed to just kicking. The group voted to only allow kicking, causing those who supported the Rugby School’s version of the game, where you can choose to pick the ball up and run, to leave in protest. The two groups or factions never got back together. Forever after there would be two different games, association football, and rugby football, or as Americans know them, simply soccer and rugby- though we mostly ignore them both.

Back then England was very much meddling in the rest of the world’s everything. Business men, merchants, and their military were still colonizing and influencing all sorts of people and countries everywhere. It was all this influencing that helped both games, soccer and rugby, spread globally. It is also this influencing, and who was influencing who how, that these two games took on two sorts of identities or reputations. Soccer was, and is, the “every man’s” (or woman’s) game. Everyone plays. Kids kick balls of trash in third world hovels or favelas, while rugby is mostly for private schools and otherwise genteel clubs. A rugby shirt, or rugby “jersey” has a collar while soccer jerseys do not, mostly because rugby was played at clubs where the club houses required a collared shirt for entry. Soccer doesn’t really require a shirt for anything other than ripping off and twirling overhead after scoring a goal. It has oft been said that soccer is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans while rugby is a hooligan game played by gentlemen.

And this is why Americans don’t play soccer.

No seriously.

Back when those English guys were arguing about kicking or carrying the ball, Americans were busy killing each other in the Civil War. Once the dust settled and Americans found the time for recreation, the every-man game had already been established as baseball. There was some horse racing and boxing mixed in there too but respectable folks looked on those things the same way backstreet drag racing and MMA are viewed today.

There were of course those who weren’t the “every-man” or were the sort of men who wore collared shirts, and ties, and once those men were done with the war they went home to places like New York, New Haven, and Boston. They themselves were too genteel for any sort of game, kicking or otherwise (except perhaps rowing) but their sons having just gotten their blood all boiling with war and whatnot, were a bit more restless. These boys finding themselves confined in the classrooms of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale made an effort to find a way to expend energy, without lowering their status. They looked to the elites in England for ideas. Oxford and Cambridge were at that time favoring rugby football over the kicking style, and consequentially Princeton challenged Rutgers to a game of football using the rugby rules rather than the “association” rulebook in 1869. The game stuck- and spread. So while England was off influencing the sporting life of all sorts of people all over the world, football players at Yale and Harvard were influencing American kids in South Bend, College Park, and Chicago. Which is one half of the reason Americans don’t compete well in Soccer today.

The other half is money.

Back when all of this was happening, sports were just games, not business empires. This isn’t to say money wasn’t involved, but the idea was that sports, or leisure, was for people who already had money, thereby allowing them to spend their time running around kicking balls when others might be tilling fields or toiling in factories. An English gentleman would have, and there are some who still do, turn up their noses at the idea of playing a sport for money. On the other hand, an Englishman who isn’t gentle will absolutely invest money in order to beat someone who thinks themselves superior. Americans as a whole were never truly gentlemen in the first place, so in both places, England and America, around the same time, 1870-ish, “poor” people started paying people to play for their teams. Americans played baseball and organized a professional baseball league in 1871. English people played association football and organized, or legalized, professional soccer in 1885. So now the world had two very different games being played professionally by working class folks on 2 different continents. This professionalism was for the most part, in both places, rather colloquial with money being mostly limited to whatever some local deep pocket was willing to pay in order to beat the next town over. And here it was that the sporting world split in two, North America, and everywhere else.

Soccer was easily exportable. No matter the language, no matter your wallet, no matter your social standing, the world was ready to let you play association football (soccer). You could be poor and play, and for the most part, for another 100 years, this is what happened. Poor people played soccer and mostly remained poor. Some people eventually made some money, depending an on who and where they were, and eventually we got the Bundesliga and the World Cup, but it took a long time to build up to that. Or this. Whatever.

Meanwhile, back in the USA, you had all those rich boys playing rugby at fancy colleges. Rich Americans care a lot about winning. And being rich. Rich English people cared mostly about who your grandfather was, which is why the ones without cool grandparents left for the colonies in the first place and decided to beat the paternalists in a couple wars in order to better focus on making money (in fact Americans cared so much about money and so little about lineage that they were willing to kidnap the children of royalty from other countries and force them to labor in fields in order to make themselves rich. How’s that for priorities?). So with this mindset American colleges started paying coaches to come up with strategies to beat the rich boys at the other colleges. Then they started letting people without pedigrees into their fancy colleges, and paying them money, in order to beat the other schools. Pretty soon other schools, ones that were less fancy, started paying more money to local coaches and players, so that they could start beating the fancier schools in this game of rugby football. By this time every college, and high school, across the entire North American continent had a football team. Americans were so invested in this game that in the year 1905, 19 “students” died on the field of play. This paying athletes to come to college and possibly die got so out of hand that a group of schools met together in 1910 to start enforcing and changing rules to make the game safer- but mostly they combined to regulate pay for play. They called themselves the National College Athletic Association, or NCAA for short. It should be noted that by this time these simple games between two schools, were bringing in giant crowds of spectators (Harvard and Yale both broke ground for permanent football stadiums seating 30,000 and 70,000 respectively) and these crowds were being sold tickets. As is, and has always been, the American way, people were making money. As the NCAA started to flex its regulatory might and began pushing back against the profiteering in college football, those less attached to the collegiate life were pushed out and shortly thereafter a professional football league was begun (1921). The financial behemoth that is the NFL today sprung up out of the money that had already been seeded on college campuses. So much so that most Americans are more familiar with any particular college’s colors and mascot than they are with those school’s scholastic offerings.

While the English were off seeding the planet with this common people’s game, America was busy turning sports into business. Big business. Gargantuon business. FIFA organized in 1904 in order to regulate international competition, similar to the Olympic commission, but other than bragging rights, there was for the most part no money in it. Americans wanted money. This was back when Jim Thorpe, an American, sailed across the ocean to beat the rest of the world in track and field, just to later have his gold medals taken away because he had once played baseball for money. It took decades for the rest of the world to either build up enough capital to professionalize, or for the gentry to relent. By the time they did (relent) and the “beautiful game” stepped up to take center stage and cause earthquakes in Mexico, any given Yankee had plenty of other sports to choose from- and those other sports have a higher likelihood of making a good athlete rich.

Today, a ten year old in Texas with superior athletic ability who does not come from independent wealth can choose to either play American football, and compete with millions of other Americans in hopes of making millions of dollars, or they can focus on soccer in hopes of one day competing against billions of Brazilians, Argentines, Mexicans, Spaniards, Italians, and Germans to go live in a foreign country making thousands of dollars. For those who buck the norm and just love the game this may look attractive, but it is a lopsided choice. Also, if this young American fears concussions, he (not “she” as women’s sports, especially football, have not monetized at the same rate) could always choose basketball, baseball, hockey… or maybe even surfing.

So while the entire world sans-America joins together in sporting unity, and riots, let us not pontificate on what it is about soccer that doesn’t connect with Americans, or why it is that the USA just refuses to be like everyone else- or which sport is inherently better than another. We know why America doesn’t play soccer and it doesn’t have anything to do with shin guards.

http://www.newsweek.com/mexico-winning-goal-germany-caused-artificial-earthquake-world-cup-celebration-980478

https://www.factmonster.com/sports/baseball/baseball-america-history

https://www.fifa.com/about-fifa/who-we-are/the-game/index.html

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14616700600680930?src=recsys&journalCode=rjos20

https://sydney.edu.au/sup/downloads/MediaReleaseSUSport12jun08.pdf

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1032373215615873?journalCode=acha

http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/678

http://www.upenn.edu/pnc/ptlapchick.html

A Prayer of Thanks and Thanksgiving

For some of us there is an inexplicable need to crash into another person. There is no malice in it, just a reciprocal pleasure in collision. Its fun.

At this season of giving thanks, and turkey bowls, I must offer my gratitude for those who have fostered God’s great game on Earth. Whether it be the primordial birth at English boarding school, the formation of an ivy league, or the frozen tundra of Vince Lombardi’s soul- thank you.133982157633763565_FF2pqoAT_f

Thank you to Joe Cool, Ronnie Lott, Jerry Rice, the backfield combo of high knees crazy eyed Roger Craig and smash mouth soft handed Tom Rathman and the greatest second string QB to ever play, for making the fandom of my youth worthwhile.

Thank you Walter Camp for making Web Ellis’s game into a militaristic chess match and thank you Bo Jackson for knowing.

There may possibly, but only maybe, be some other way to satisfy the mannish desire to dress up in armor and gear and run and jump and win and lose and scream and play and dance and fall down and put your face right into someone so hard that snot bubbles up in their nostrils and spit flies from their throat and then you offer your hand to help them up. Or maybe you just stand over them and roar. There may be some other way, or venue, to do these things, but they are, or would be, inherently inferior.bowlfight1905

Thank you Barry Sanders for shifting sideways better than everyone. Thank you TO for giving me reason to say out loud, “Wait! Did you see that? Did he just pull a Sharpie out of his sock and sign the ball? Did you see that!?” Thank you Lawrence Taylor for that moment of sympathetic terror we all had in those moments when you got around the corner and the QB hadn’t seen you yet. Oh yes thank you for that.

Thank you Jonah Lomu for being a freak before Jevon Kearse and thank you Jerry Collins for making my sternum hurt despite having never met you.Chabal_Rugby_Racing_vs_Stade_Toulousain_311009

Thank you Chad Hauser for that one time in wind sprints where you didn’t see me coming and thank you Asi Mohi for my first broken nose. Thank you Deb Bilbao for teaching me in 6th grade that a girl can pick a boy up over her head and toss him away like trash, and thank you Vern for teaching me every dirty trick a lineman should know despite my being 2 years and 100 pounds your inferior. Thank you gigantic racist Afrikaner for teaching me that if you reach your right arm all the way over toward the loosehead’s waistband it will keep him from boring in.270919733803588039_YMsWTYK4_c

Thank you Jon Brown for being both classy and terrifying. Thank you Randall Cunningham for throwing the ball in Randy Moss’s general vicinity so he could make amazing things look easy, and thank you Steve Atwater for nearly chopping people in half.

And thank you Thanksgiving for providing a day to celebrate gluttony and collisions together.

click here for a visual ode to beauty, grace, and truth.

Also… team in D.C…. Change your name. You are ruining everything.

the USC in California

The University of Southern California is not in South Carolina. You would think this goes without saying but some people need to hear it. They are known as the Trojans, they have almost 40,000 students, and every year the school receives more donations than almost any other university. They need those donations because while New York is the old world of inherited position, Los Angeles is the new world where nobodies just buy their way in, and USC is not just IN LA but in many ways IS LA.IMG_4586

I have been to more than 200 hundred American college campuses and nowhere have I been surrounded by so many kids who look like well-manicured super athletes. Remember that one sociology class you had sophomore year with all the football players? They would show up in sweat pants, unshaven, with bed head. At USC they arrive in crisp ironed t-shirts with tweezed eyebrows. These polished Adonises appear in white brown and black, male and female, with the only requirements being that they appear chiseled and leave behind first place trophies. There are so many trophies.IMG_4573

Winning is a big deal at USC.

At Harvard you can find a statue of John Harvard. At Penn you find a bronze Ben Franklin. At USC you find statues of a dog wearing a cap playing with a football, the 1969 defensive line nicknamed the Wild Bunch, a white horse named Traveler, several bronze Trojan warriors, actor Douglass Fairbanks, and six, count them six, Heisman trophies. There would be seven but Reggie Bush lost his due to NCAA violations. O.J. Simpson’s is still on display in the Hall of Champions.IMG_4683

Football 101: the Ivy League

When you contemplate the upcoming college football season, because I know you do, what schools are on your mind? Perhaps it is the notoriously ferocious athletes at Princeton? Maybe ‘tis the physically imposing young men of Yale? Ah, or by chance you appreciate the absolute dominance of the University of Chicago?

Right. Of course not.1200x-1

I find this amusing. Ironic, in the Alanis Morissette usage of the word.

You probably think of places like Auburn, USC, or maybe “the” Ohio State. You are wondering, or rooting for, who will win the Florida vs. Florida State game, or Texas vs. Oklahoma. You think of the SEC or Big 10. The PAC 12 or ACC. Do you ever consider the Ivy League? No? Let us consider it now.Ivy-League

Once upon a time America was a relatively new political institution consisting of mostly English expatriates and the ones with money wanted their kids to go hang out with other children of rich English expats. So they sent them to colleges. Places like Princeton, Harvard, Yale and Brown. There these young boys had parties, rioted over bad cafeteria food, memorized Latin, and had rituals where they beat each other up en masse. Now there were some exceptions. Some young men went to college because they were both rich and also nerds. These are the ones who read philosophy and were named Franklin Roosevelt. But make no mistake, FDR was the exception, most of them were more like Teddy. This was way before US News and World Report rankings or even before the BCS. Back then college rankings looked more like a pedigree chart and banking network. Back then college kids wore ties. On purpose.IMG_2580

But most schools, at least once a year, took off those ties, usually their shirts too, and had giant shoving matches or competitions. They varied from place to place but it was usually something like Juniors versus Sophomores trying to move a gigantic leather ball from one end of a courtyard to the other.  Or a tug of war. Or wrestling. It was a competition to win a bowl, or a jug, or bragging rights. Important stuff.penn

Over across the pond, where these boy’s granddaddies came from, school boys were doing similar sorts of things. Lots of kicking balls and roughhousing and being rich. At one school, called the Rugby School, they started picking up the ball rather than kicking it. The game started to catch on. This was about the year 1827. Back in 1827, England, or rather the fathers of rich English school boys, had pretty much colonized most of the globe. This colonization did include America at one time, but there was revolution and all that mess, so by 1827 when restless rich English kids graduated University, or when they needed to gain some legitimacy, they joined the Royal army and went and played their roughhousing games in places like Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. The boys at Harvard and Yale were watching their cousins but were soon distracted when some clowns attacked Fort Sumter.  That distraction lasted till 1865.resolver (17)

Once the American Civil War was over the young rich kids from up north had to go back to school. The rich kids from the south weren’t rich anymore and the poor northern kids stayed in the army. Funny thing is that once boys have been to war, or even if they were too young to fight while a war was going on, they get extra restless if then sent to sit in a classroom. Having good memories these young students recalled those games their English cousins were playing and decided to follow suit. This was pretty normal for them, after all the whole college thing itself was a bit of an imitation game. Harvard is built in a place they called Cambridge and Princeton had always been trying to be Oxford.IMG_2026

Anywhose, on November 6th 1869, Princeton visited the campus of their divorced sibling Rutgers and played a game of football. They did indeed call the game football, it was mostly kicking, and Rutgers won 6-4. Seven days later Rutgers sauntered on over to Princeton for a re-match. Playing on their own turf meant they got to propose their own rules, one of which allowed for a player to catch a kicked ball mid-air. Princeton won 8-0. Crafty buggers.

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Not too far away Harvard, like any rich kid who notices what the Joneses are doing, wanted in on the action. In May of 1874 they invited McGill to come down to Cambridge for a two game series. On the first day they played football with a round ball like they did in New Jersey. Harvard won 3-0. The next day McGill, being good Canadians who never poured any tea in a harbor, insisted that day’s game be played more like the updated version the English rugby boys were playing. It had an oblong ball and running. The game ended in a tie but the Boston boys were hooked. Later that very same year, 1874, 2,000 people showed up to watch Harvard win the rematch 3 tries to 0.

These rich college kids were on to something.wollen_last_cent

At this time all of America was getting “on to something”. Industrialization was becoming a thing, Manifest Destiny was all the rage, and more rich white people were sending their boys off to college to be with other rich white boys than ever before. Problem was back then telephones weren’t all that big and no one had televisions, so it was difficult for rich parents to keep in touch with their school boys and it was even tougher to make sure everyone else knew your kids were rich and important. Luckily one of the great ways to get rich back then was to own a newspaper. The internet hadn’t started the French Revolution yet and so the Bourgeoisie New York Times was free to cover the activities of rich college kids like the internet would a Kardashian.3707358200_0d296eab18_o

The sports page had things like rowing, fencing, and equestrian events. Pretty soon, thanks to all our practice at Gettysburg, Andrew Carnegie, and the White Fleet, there were even more rich people than there used to be and the sports page was covering football games at places like the University of Chicago, Notre Dame, and Stanford. This football thing was getting big. So big in fact that by 1903 both Harvard and Yale broke ground on permanent stadiums just for this game of football. Harvard’s could seat 30,000 people, Yale’s could seat 70,000. Neither school even had 10,000 students. But people were paying attention to the few students there were at those places, and as is always the case with Kardashians, there were a lot of imitators or spin offs. Soon you had people tackling each other and taking duck lip selfies in places like Pittsburgh and Green Bay. Not necessarily at the schools in those places- just in those places. I mean, these people weren’t even in college let alone rich. Just common Etsy users. The nerve!Yale_Bowl

With the spreading popularity of the game and the historically consistent need of rich people to win, the line between student and athlete was quickly blurred. Schools that wanted to make money by filling stadiums-er- wanted their students to learn valuable life lessons through winning intercollegiate sporting events, started dabbling here and there in paying certain individuals with certain skills to come be a student for their school for a few games here and there. This ruffled feathers. Up until this point college was first and foremost, a place for sons of rich people to commune amongst themselves, with the occasional exception for an extra serious student. This whole football thing was trying to shift those exceptions from smart nerds, whom no one cared about, to poorer (not rich) athletic kids, whom the public loved. Something had to be done.IMG_0542

Luckily America was blessed at this time with a president who was also a Harvard alum, so he understood the importance of the situation. He was able to concoct some national crisis or concern about how many people died playing football in 1905 (19). Hadn’t the civil war taught us anything about the value of life? Doesn’t America know we need these kids alive as we ramp up for the first world war? I mean college is where the children of Vanderbilts and Kennedys hang out. Premature violent death is for poor people and immigrants, not Vanderbilts, unless of course they are an officer in a glorious world conflict in places like Cuba, so stay tuned, but for now, football must be regulated! The following year 62 colleges signed on as charter members of the NCAA, a loose organization organized to make sure poor people weren’t being paid to play rich people games, and that the game would be safer. Teddy was great at this sort of thing.IMG_2563

So the NCAA got to work protecting integrity and human life. Most of the schools, Like the University of Pennsylvania, wanted to make the game safer by making the playing field wider. The idea is that if there is more room to run away from someone you are less likely to get ran over by them. Makes sense. Other schools, named Harvard and Yale, wanted to make the game safer by making this new trick called the forward pass legal. The idea is that if you are allowed to throw the ball away when you are about to get trampled, you are less likely to get trampled.Makes sense. This passing the ball idea made even more sense to Harvard and Yale since they had just built their new huge stadiums out of concrete and all those seats might be easier to fill if there was a new trick to watch… and it was physically impossible to widen the field since they hadn’t left any spare room when they built the 50,000 seat concrete facility for student recreation. Fortunately for the Doug Fluties of the world the forward pass won the day. But let me get back to the wide field advocates at places like Penn.out_of_the_game

While Harvard and Yale were the traditional homes of traditional rich people memorizing Latin and rioting over bad food, Penn was the traditional home of more practical press apprenticing Ben Franklin and P&L statement memorizing Joseph Wharton. Add in all the Keynesian economists over in Chicago and just plain nerds at that newfangled Cornell, and you have some relatively influential schools that were highly “invested” in winning football games. The NCAA, which more or less started as a meeting at the White House, settled on being mostly a club where schools could agree on rules like forward passes and flying wedges, and sort of skirted about the whole paying players and filling stadiums stuff so the grand settlement was that Pasadena California should build a big stadium not on any campus and host a “bowl game” every January. This may have been everyone’s undoing as no sooner did they start hosting this big game and writing about it in the Times, than schools like Washington State and Oregon were beating schools like Brown and Penn. It was just like Vogue putting Kim Kardashian on the cover; this was not in the original playbook. USC, Alabama, and Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech? There is a “tech” in the name of the school for heaven’s sake. This desire to fill stadiums and win games got so carried away that in 1916, a full 54 years before USC’s famous game against all white Bama, Brown fielded a brown player named Fritz Pollard. Imagine how popular you would be as a black man with a German name in 1916 (just as an FYI the whole world was in a war against Germany in 1916). Meh, who cares when it comes to football right? Elihu Yale must have been rolling over in his grave. But not everyone was ready to just roll over. Some folks were serious about school and integrity, and rich white boys- I mean education.77

So along comes this guy Robert Hutchins. He was one of those poor white nerds that Yale decided to be nice to back in the day. Huge mistake. First Yale let him in, then he becomes the Dean of the law school, and next thing ya know, bam, he’s the president of the University of Chicago. Ya see, when you let a non-rich nerd take over the show, they turn it into a nerd show. Poor Chicago. In 1935 a Chicago halfback won this fancy trophy they were giving to the best football player in the whole country called the “Heisman” (named after a guy who played football at both Brown and Penn). Four years later, this guy Hutchins CANCELS FOOTBALL! Ends it. Done. No more team. Nerd. Evil nerd. But what else was there to do? This game meant to keep roughhousing rich white boys busy had experienced some serious mission drift and was becoming-uh hum- common. The originally not rich nerd chose to cancel the fun so the school could stay nerdy, but the original club of rich white boys had another plan. They decided to take their ball and go home. In 1936 Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, Columbia, and Penn, along with that new kid Cornell, unofficially banded together in what they were calling “an ivy league” and for the most part decided to just compete against each other and no longer mess with the rabble. This unofficial league had a gentleman’s agreement that they wouldn’t give any athletic scholarships and would only consider one’s actual scholarship (or pedigree) in deciding college admissions. This was a grand return to their educational roots and original scholastic ideals, though those ideals never really existed in the first place. Isn’t it ironic? Yeah, I really do think.8b04d512846bc903_large

Perhaps some of you do not like Alanis Morrisette, or are not of my generation so you have no idea who that is (the Drake of the 90’s), and consequentially you think I am being unfair in my historical descriptions of the non-scholastic motives of these birthplaces of God’s great game. This might be the case. I was once an offensive lineman so I am not above playing dirty. But consider if you will the idea that before the 1920’s there were no real admissions requirements other than graduating high school, for one to be admitted to college. I mean, way back when colleges started there wasn’t even such thing as a high school. There was only money. But in the 20’s a lot more people started enrolling in colleges and not just more people, but different kinds of people. Some of these people were burly non book reading types who were being paid to play football at Penn, but those guys were asked (paid) to come, and after all, there are only so many players on a football team. No one really cared. But there were also these non–rich only semi-white guys who enrolled in huge numbers called Jews. They hadn’t exactly been invited. Colleges saw this as a problem and thankfully for them they had almost 200 years of previous practice as a coalition of rich white guys and the occasional nerd to devise such things as “geographical balance” and “extracurricular considerations.” These were more or less quotas. In many cases, they were actual quotas.In the 1920’s places like Columbia (in this case Columbia specifically) upon realizing they had become 40% Jewish enacted these extra admissions considerations and successfully got that Jewish percentage down to 20% within two years. Now mind you this is the same Columbia that beat Stanford for the national title in the 1933 Rose Bowl. Go Lions!cops_gordon

New York was not the only place struggling with an influx of non-rich semi-white students. Consider this official statement from Harvard in 1922: “The great increase which has recently taken place in the number of students at Harvard College, as at the other colleges, has brought up forcibly the problem of the limitation of enrollment.

We have not at present sufficient classrooms or dormitories, to take care of any further large increase. This problem is really a group of problems, all difficult, and most of them needing for their settlement more facts than we now have. Before a general policy can be formulated on this great question it must engage the attention of the Governing Board and the Faculties and it is likely to be discussed by alumni and undergraduates.

It is natural that with a widespread discussion of this sort going on there should be talk about the proportion of Jews at the college. At present the whole problem of limitation of enrollment is in the stage of general discussion and it may remain in that stage for a considerable time.”0d1248ee26f2d6cbf70ee83156f27329

It was almost like the game was getting dangerous and Harvard found themselves unable to widen the field and instead chose to pass. They, and the other bastions of college football, were in danger of being trampled and unfortunately US News & World Report wouldn’t start publishing college rankings till 1983 so they were still dependent on pedigrees and bank accounts to decide which schools were best. In fact, these were such dangerous times that it was beginning to be hard to know what exactly was meant by best and how it should be measured. So Chicago quit, the Ivies formed a league, and Southern Methodist University eventually got the death penalty.exit the stadium

This all matters because I recently purchased this special eye black that comes in the colors of the university that employs me. I care about the intellectual development of my children and as a responsible parent I intend to decorate them in collegiate regalia when we go to the games starting this fall. It matters because we have recently learned that football teams in Illinois outrank the college president and that in North Carolina football players can get grades in a whole course of classes while the professor is away on sabbatical. These are great schools. I know this because both the BCS and a magazine tell me so. I have been to a great school and consequentially, and I write this with no irony, I can proudly pronounce the name Chris Fuamatu Ma’afala, with no help and ignore the red Microsoft squiggly lines with confidence. I am confident in my education.jefferson football

I was recently reading Walter Camp’s suggestions on how to train a top notch defensive end. His instructions included rowing and eating toast. Walter should not be ignored because he is who created Knute Rockne, Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden, and Bill Belichick. I may even give old Walter Camp credit for Joe Montana, Joe Brown, Joe Paterno, and Joe Theismann. Yup, all of them. As I peek at ESPN.com while at my desk, listen to Jim Rome during my commute, or watch Sports Center while doing whatever verb describes what you do on an elliptical (ellipticate?) I think of Walter Camp.

And Walter went to Yale.yalecoaches

Tearing Up the Front Porch: University of Chicago

The University of Chicago is one of those Rockefeller schools founded in the late 1800’s with a donation from John D. The first classes were held in 1892, not that long ago by some standards, but since then the place has housed 89 Nobel Prize winners, 50 Rhodes Scholars, and 13 billionaires.

More importantly Chicago was a founding member of the  Big Ten conference, won 2 national football championships, and a Chicago player was the recipient of the first ever Heisman trophy. That was 1935.

In 1939, Chicago stopped playing football.IMG_9687

Make no mistake, I love football. I even love college football. But Cancelling football right after winning the Heisman, at a time when college football was becoming America’s true national game, is FABULOUS!IMG_9906

It was fabulous in that more people today know about the Chicago School of Economics and its original rejection of Keynesian ideas than know about the Heisman. Which is appropriate because it is a college. A school. Odds are if one buys a Chicago Maroons sweater at Walmart they are not cheering a running back but more likely an academic.

Most schools are not that brave.IMG_9581

But to go to Chicago you have to be brave. It is a must.

Why? Because it is unbearably cold there. Freezing. Yeah, yeah, yeah, people there chose brains over sports but really, it was probably just way too cold outside. Seriously how do people live in that?IMG_9959 Ranked #4 by US News & World Report

Student body: 15,312

Endowment: $7.5 billion

Mascot…. the Phoenix!

The Letter on My Chest: Hillflint

I once spent a day in the archives of the University of Pennsylvania. I was doing research on the history of American football, focusing on its roots as an elitist quasi military ivy league creation and then its metamorphosis into a blue collar American religion. In the course of investigation I was able to handle a number of artifacts of various type and description, but my favorite item, was a sweater.sweater stuff

After handling this 100 year old piece of knitwear, woven back in those primitive times, I was a bit surprised at how hard it was to find one of like quality today. I started in my own college’s bookstore, one of those misnamed retailers of pennants and polo shirts but no dice. Plenty of t-shirts, but no classic P. In my various travels and continued research I was able to find some schools with similar items, but not the one I wanted. I looked everywhere. Lots of sweaters, but not the right one.

Then there was the internet and this one website. Hillflint.
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I found it and finally, over the holiday, I got it.

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The letter was not a felted applique patch but rather an intarsia knit letter woven right into the chest, just like the original I found in the archive.

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The little bit of branding in the waistband was their own touch but I liked it. This was not a jersey meant to be worn on Franklin Field, it was a sweater meant to be pulled over a button down on a crisp campus afternoon. Or in my case, a California evening when it dips down to the unheavenly temperature of 60 degrees.
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Mancation: Leather Head Sports

Kaleo called shotgun, climbed in and said, “My five year old told all our neighbors I’m going on a bro-trip.” We agreed that was a good moniker but we were sticking to “mancation”.

It was getting much later than we had planned, and against my own rules, the first stop was actually planned.

“I told Paul we would be up there maybe around ten, we gotta get moving.”leatherhead sewing

Around noon we pulled into a gravel parking lot and parked next to a tractor. We knew we had the right address but there was no sign, no awning, just a red brick garage and a craggy old man dragging something toward a dumpster. He told us we would find Paul inside and upstairs.

Paul makes footballs.leatherhead multi balls

He likes the idea that people will go have a catch, maybe kick the ball around, but really, mostly these footballs end up on bookshelves and in trophy cases.

He makes some in zebra stripes, some in chrome, all sorts of ways. But it isn’t just footballs. He also does medicine balls, old school basketballs, medicine balls, and these old fashioned baseballs he dubbed the “Lemon Ball”. But really, the draw isn’t really the sporting equipment. In no small way, the draw is Paul.

Paul once had one of those dream jobs. Maybe not a dream job exactly, but more the sort of job that is sidled up right next to the dream. He was a photo editor for Major League Baseball. He worked for the League! Sure he wasn’t throwing out pitches or swinging for the bleachers, but he was in the building. A reasonable man would be content.

But what does reason have to do with baseball?

Leather Head Rugby ball at the Brohammas.com headquarters.
Leather Head Rugby ball at the Brohammas.com headquarters.

One day Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones pulled up to Paul’s office in an old VW bus and asked him to join them in Iowa. Not really, but after talking with Paul for a couple hours you get the feeling his is a byline in the Field of Dreams story line that you might find in the special features directors cut. It has that sort of romance.

Paul left MLB to work with a company that made baseball mitts. He wasn’t making the mitts, just advising those that did. Still not satisfied watching, or standing next to those doing something tangible, Paul left again; to make footballs.

Not advise those that make footballs, not to take pictures of footballs, but make them. With his own hands… and a sewing machine.IMG_5213

Walking into Leather Head Sports is a bit like stepping into the equipment room of an old movie. There are boxes full of balls, bats leaning up against the walls, and stacks of dye cut leather strips waiting to be sewn into treasures. Paul straps on a denim apron, sits down at a workstation, picks up a hammer, and starts pounding on a stack of something that will soon be a football. As he snips thread, cuts edges and works, we get him talking. He talks about why he does what he does, talks about the ridiculous things people ask to get monogrammed on the balls, and all the while his employees stand around impatiently trying to get some business done. They look maybe a little bit annoyed, they are trying to run a business, but you can’t get too upset when watching your boss do something he obviously loves.

He isn’t the only one who loves it.

An online search of Leatherhead sports will turn up feature after feature on Paul’s products. Guys are eating this stuff up. When we visited the shop he was busy sewing up a run of special edition balls for Urban Daddy, a website that specializes in keeping men up to date on whatever is the newest and the coolest thing around. Leatherhead balls are the coolest. He has been featured or contracted by USA Basketball, an Oscar winning movie (Silver Linings Playbook), the Wall St. Journal, Fox Business Report, Men’s Journal, and on, and on.threads

It’s not almost like, but exactly like, some voice whispered “If you build it, they will come.”

And we did.

And Paul, who has been featured by the who’s who of everything, took way too much time to host three vagabonds in his shop.