This Week In The 'Drome: Amateur hour, a worked battle at quarterback, legitimate football, and more ...
For Love Of The Game vs. For The Love of Money : It was a big week for amateurism in Nashville.
Hendersonville's Steven Fox, now golfing collegiately at UTC, won the U.S. Amateur Sunday despite carrying a 63 (out of 64) seed into the match-play portion of the tournament. With his win, Fox qualifies automatically for three of the four Majors next year.
Fox won despite being two down with two holes to play, capping a dramatic comeback and winning the title on a playoff hole.
Fox's comeback portended a pair of late rallies by the Goodlettsville Little Leaguers. Sunday, facing Petaluma, Calif. and its star slugger — the 6'3", 183-pound Bradley Smith, who looks like he's late for his shift at the body shop — the kids from Mansker's Creek scored three runs in the top of the sixth inning to secure a 9-6 win. In the U.S. winners' bracket final Wednesday, they needed another comeback and they delivered again, getting two runs in the top of the sixth once again to eke out a 4-3 win over San Antonio, which had not lost a game since The Alamo.
All of this has led to much beatific smiling and remembrances about how great it was to play "just for the love of it," and that's a perfectly fine attitude to have. Major league baseball is going through another round of steroid suspensions — including one for a player who was the All-Star Game MVP, meaning World Series home field advantage was determined in large part by a drug cheat. The NHL is staring down a lockout. We just went through 16 days of the greatest "amateur" athletics competition in the world — all of it wrapped in Nike swooshes worn by NBA players. A man regarded as a hero by many who cared about his sport and by millions who don't know a pelaton from a hors catégorie gives up — for whatever reason.
So it's great to watch Fox — who had to turn down a lunch with Arnold Palmer because the NCAA is ridiculous — and the Greatlettsvillians playing for free, I suppose.
But let's not pretend professionals are bad people just because they accept money in exchange for their talents.
No one's asking me to write stories for the love of the words, after all. No one's suggesting that a guy who doodles buildings on the back of a napkin is a purer architect than Earl Swenson, because the latter does it for money.
Watch the Little Leaguers for what they are — a great bunch of kids, having a great time, and, yes, still competing for a trophy — and by all means enjoy it. But don't pivot that into a Pollyanna-ish polemic about the virtue of professional athletes.
The Week Behind
Run 'n' (Worked) Shoot : The quarterback battle between Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck felt like a pre-determined battle all along.
Of course, some of us — well, me — thought it was a dog-and-pony show ending with Hasselbeck getting the blue ribbon and Locker getting the pat on the back and the clipboard.
Turns out, though — worked though it was — Mike Munchak had a swerve planned.
If all Locker had to do was go 4-for-11 for 21 yards and a pick against the Bucs — who are downright woeful — to secure his spot at the top of the three-deep, then there was never really a competition beyond, "Can Jake Locker run a drive without, literally, having a seizure?"
Locker certainly played better against the Cards in Thursday night's 32-27 win, including a few nice hook-ups with rookie Kendall Wright, in a combination the Titans front office expects to pay dividends for a long time. Though, if Kenny Britt is out for any length of time, they'll need to pay off right away. Chris Johnson playing better the past two weeks is certainly a positive sign — maybe not CJ2K, but at least not CJ-Ummok.
And what a force Colin McCarthy looks like in the pre-season. There were plenty of indications McCarthy would be a solid defensive player but this August — and, yes, it's just August — he really looks a leader.
Marc Mariani's nasty leg injury (trigger warning) is bad news, but at least makes it easier for the team to justify keeping fourth running back/returner Darius Reynaud around.
Garbage Time : The Predators signed veteran free-agent defenseman Scott Hannan to a one-year, $1 million deal and inked up forward Mike Fisher for a two-year extension. Hannan doesn't fill the void left by Ryan Suter by any stretch of the imagination, but will likely compete for the second-pair spot left open by Francis Bouillon's departure. The third pairing will be the Kuato of Hal Gill and Ryan Ellis ... The Titans parted ways with 'Drome favorite Shaun Smith, an endless source of Twitter hilarity and important questions. The big guy just wasn't suited to play in a 4-3. ... El Jefe returns to the world of sports blogging, asking whether UT will eschew the Chick-fil-A patch when they play N.C. State — which they'll do without Da'Rick Rogers.
Drollololol : Anybody who's lived in the South for any appreciable length of time has heard the old joke with the set-up of "If Player X and Player Y are in a car, who's driving?"
Players X and Y tend to be either notable troublemakers or, at the least, guys who play for a rival team.
"Bill" called into Mike Munchak's weekly radio show this week to ask the coach that famous question (in Bill's case, Player X was Pac-Man Jones and Player Y was Kenny Britt).
The punchline to this tired re-tread is "The cop." Either Mike Munchak heard the joke before or was oblivious to where Bill was going, but in any case, his response was far funnier than the actual punchline: ""Britt. Because Pac had an entourage, and they were usually driving."
Zing! Check the audio if you are so inclined.
Burning Question: What the heck is Mr. Commodore wearing?
Memes (With Speed) : Friend of the Program The Juice blogging over at Friends Of The Program offers up a series of SEC memes just in the time for football season. Enjoy.
This Week In Slogans : The Preds opted to let their fans suggest marketing slogans this year and there was a whole contest and finals and everything.
Rather than, ya know, actually picking just one — as I think every advertising guru would suggest — they are laying claim to all four finalists. If you combine them and add the name of the team, they make a haiku:
Our Team, Our Town. Hear Our Roar.
Bleed Gold. Smashville Rise.
Neat, huh? It's interesting they opted for more slogans when playing fewer and fewer games seems more and more likely.
The Week Ahead
War All The Time : Not to lament the good-old days, but it sure was nice when every college football game not involving BYU was on Saturday.
Now, though, TV money is big money and that means playing pretty much any day of the week — Sundays excluded, of course — and, really, kicking off the season on the Thursday before Labor Day weekend isn't as bad as say, two MAC schools hooking up on a random Tuesday in November like two drunk college students who have long-since failed their classes.
Both big-time midstate programs open Thursday night. Down the road in Murfreesboro, Middle Tennessee will do their damnedest to "Fill Floyd" with a riveting match-up against McNeese State. Middle has trouble packing in fans even with the most dazzling of opponents; trying to do with the FBS might of McNeese is ambitious. Really, the only chance was if Tyrann Mathieu had transferred to McNeese — which he didn't.
The big ticket game takes place on West End in renovated Vanderbilt Stadium as Steve Spurrier straps on the visor once again to lead his South Carolina Gamecocks against the 'Dores in the ESPN game.
Vandy comes in with a lot of momentum — James Franklin had the most successful first year of any Commodore coach in decades — and lots of off-season attention. South Carolina, meanwhile, enters with dreams of an SEC East title.
This could be the first of many sell-outs at what I will stubbornly refer to as Dudley Field until the day I die.
Vanderbilt is counting on Jordan Rodgers to take a step forward this year. In this game, he'll have to deal with the Gamecocks defensive ends, Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor, one of the best DE tandems in the country. Carolina has a young secondary, which Rodgers could exploit if he has time. On offense, Carolina returns Connor Shaw, who took over at quarterback mid-way through last season, and heavy-hitting workhorse running back Marcus Lattimore.
Zac Stacy returns for the 'Dores as the top returning rusher in the conference, but Vandy is still very, very young on defense with Casey Hayward and Tim Fugger, both key cogs, having graduated.
Worthless Prediction: No problems in the Bucket City for the Raiders, 35-7. Vandy will keep it competitive with their trick-happy offense, but talent wins out. Carolina 28-20.
Be Good(lettsville) Two More Times : The Little Leaguers are back on the field Saturday for the one-off U.S. title game in a re-match with Petaluma, Calif. and their big-swinging Big Country.
The hometown boys have had success in the late innings throughout the tournament, but it may be to their advantage to strike early and save some pitching for the World Series title game against (probably) Japan Sunday. But you can't worry about a game you're not in yet.
The idea that the undefeated team can lose in a single-game final is a bit disconcerting — just ask any SEC baseball fan — but Goodlettsville does have the advantage of two days off and starting stud pitcher Brock Myers. Plus, they know they can wait around to the sixth and win.
Worthless Prediction : Always back a winner, so we'll do that again. The Sunday match-up against Japan is a tough one, though. Nevertheless, I like the local favorite.
Oh Yeah, That Too : The Titans play a fourth pre-season game next Thursday.
Worthless Prediction : This will be the most incredibly meaningless game of football played at LP Field until the Music City Bowl. Watch at your own peril.
Independent Streak : Rather quietly, the Idaho State Board of Education gave approval for the University of Idaho to take steps to leave the Western Athletic Conference and compete in football as an independent.
As the stakes (and just to be clear, by stakes I mean "money") have grown in college football, the move for power schools has been to join up, Voltron-like, into power conferences. The Pac-10 is now the Pac-12, the Big 10 has 12 teams, the SEC expanded into Texas and Missouri and on it goes.
Eventually, it seems likely there will be four regional mega-conferences who might as well split off into their Premier League and leave the crumbs for the left behind.
Conference re-alignment has been a top-down phenomena. As the big boys poach off schools, the upper-middle class has had to draw from middle-middle class, who then have to suck in the lower-middle class.
The shakeout has resulted in middling conferences — like the WAC — joining the ranks of the weak — like the Sun Belt.
There's a line in Swingers in which Jon Favreau says there's a myth in New York that TV producers in LA were handing out sitcoms at the airport. That was sort of the attitude in the late 90s and early 2000s when schools — like MTSU and, later, Western Kentucky — jumped from I-AA to I-A. There was so much success, everybody would get a piece.
That's turned out not to be the case. The rising tide hasn't raised all boats — it's left the small craft floundering on a sandbar.
So that leaves us with Idaho. While football independence has long been the way of life for Notre Dame, Army and Navy, it seemed lucrative enough for BYU — like the Irish, the Cougars have a national draw related to their religious affiliation.
But Idaho? Unless there's a vast underground diaspora of Vandal fans, they don't really fit.
Unless surviving with the schedule strictures of conference affiliation in an era where the majors keep their thumbs on the minors was too tough an ask. Independence means schedule flexibility — no more Thursday games at Utah State — and that means more money.
Is this something MTSU could entertain? Sure. Their ties to the Sun Belt are even more tenuous than Idaho's to the WAC (Idaho, interestingly enough, was once a Sun Belt member when that conference, in a desperate grasp for relevance stretched from sea to shining gulf) and Middle sits smack dab in the center of the universe, football-wise. Being a designated patsy a few weeks a year, sprinkling in the occasional rivalry? That could be good business. Promises of playing big programs on a national stage? That could go a long way on the recruiting trail.
But that's only if you could make it work. Fortunately, Vandals have always been good at taking a chance at challenging the power structure.
Hit your friendly Dromemaster with a note at jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com. And remember to listen Tuesdays at 6 when I join Willy Daunic and Darren McFarland for the final hour of Sports Night on 102.5 FM. Also, Best of Nashville voting opened this week. The sports-related categories in the Readers' Choice competitions are in the Media/Politics and People/Places/Other sections