Thursday, December 21, 2006

Alumni Free Association

Two Michigan football alums have been in the news this past week for non-Michigan football endeavors. Since it's a slow week, I thought I would examine both of them (with a major tip of the hat to Deadspin for being all over both of them.)

To be fair, I think it would be a more interesting game...

So, over the last couple of days, Deadspin has been all over Desmond Howard's analytical faux pas...(initial story here, follow up here.)

Here's the thing, normally this kind of thing would have my dander up, because, I mean, if I start breaking down Michigan State vs. Cincinnati in the International Bowl, you'd just look at me in a very confused manner. And really, who would blame you? But I have a hard time getting upset about it, in part because I am willing to forgive Desmond Howard a lot of things because he's probably my favorite Michigan player of all-time. Plus, he's one of the few Lions to be elected to the Pro Bowl in the last 15 years.

But back to the story at hand. Really, at this point, as friend of HSR Greg once posited, all Desmond Howard did was create fan fiction. It's just that he got his significantly more attention by stating during a national television broadcast. That said, it's still not the most egregious fake thing that ESPN did all year. (That would be the fake hot stove press conferences with Steve Phillips as the "GM" of five different MLB teams. That was horrifying.) And he apologized for it...

But here's what confuses me, in my mind, the apology is a little over the top for what happened. I applaud that he's manning up and saying "my bad", even if it was not just his fault. But, the apology is also off. As was pointed out by one of the Deadspin commenters, this wasn't, as Desmond says, a verbal slip of the tongue. If he had just said Texas but talked about Steven McGee, that would be a verbal slip and no one would be wiser, or even thrown. Even the graphics disagree with him, and yet, no one stops him. No one says "Des, you mean A&M, right? The Aggies?" Desmond could have laughed it off, but now this is a continuing story. It's a mistake, it's a goof, but it's not a verbal slip of the tongue. I'm just saying. By the way, I still love that Desmond's Heisman Trophy portrait will always feature him with "the fade".

On the plus side, Teddy Roosevelt would be proud

Jim Harbaugh has parlayed his back to back 11-1 seasons at San Diego, (which is this school, not this school (coached by Chuck Long) or this school,) into the head coaching gig up at the Farm. Now, Palo Alto is an upgrade, it's a BCS conference program, and honestly, could he be any worse than Walt Harris was the last couple of years?

Some quick background: Wearing #4, Harbaugh was 21-3-1 during his last two years as starting quarterback at Michigan and lead the Maize and Blue to a #2 ranking in 1985 when they won the Fiesta Bowl and to a Rose Bowl berth in his senior year (in which he finished third in Heisman voting, but behind a guy from Temple!). That 1986 Rose Bowl loss holds special meaning to many Wolverine fans, as it was a classic case of losing the battle but winning the war (short version: the story goes that Ohio State saw John Cooper's victory over Michigan in Pasadena as a "sign" and made him head coach of the Scarlet and Grey. And well, we all know what happened next.) Harbaugh was "Captain Comeback" with the Colts, and as someone noted, tongue in cheek, he's still the best Bears quarterback since the end of WWII, and now he's the coach of the Cardinal.

I have two minor quibbles with Harbaugh's press conference:

"I dedicate my life's work to building the foundation here at Stanford, the foundation that will lead to great success, continue the tradition and restore the legacy that Stanford has in college football. I vow that I will attack this endeavor with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind."

1). Stanford's football heritage does have some high points: back-to-back Rose Bowl wins in the early 1970s, the legend of Ernie Nevers, Jim Plunkett, and John Elway. But when I think of Stanford football, the following things pop into my head: "The Band is Out on the Field!", John Elway losing that game, a heritage of coaches which includes Bill Walsh, Jack Elway, Dennis Green, Bill Walsh again, and Ty Willingham, but not a lot of legendary players. So if Harbaugh is set on "restoring the legacy", isn't he setting the bar a little low?

2). "I vow that I will attack this endeavor with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind." As much as I love college football, this would be a quote I'd rather see from a doctor researching a cure for cancer or Alzheimer's, or the head of NASA, or well, most other things. But, you know what, if that's how Jim Harbaugh feels, more power to him. If he wants to stay at Stanford for the "10, 15, 20 years" it takes to build the Cardinal into a legendary program, more power to him. But sadly, because Stanford is a private institution, we can't FOIA his contract to know whether he has a Michigan out clause, like Les Miles does at LSU. Only time will tell. Godspeed Jim Harbaugh!

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