By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
The best of times; the worst of times
Placeholder Image

The results from the opening of high school and collegiate football are in now, as the season finally kicked off last weekend. Roughly half the fans are happy, and roughly half are either somewhat crest-fallen or downright devastated. How happy or sad they are is determined by which side of the field they occupied at their game of choice.

The winners usually comprise a happy bunch, boisterous in their exit from the venues, whilst the losers generally try to leave the scene of the debacle as quickly and quietly as possible.

Ah, football. Winning and losing: emotional euphoria or wretched torment hanging in the balance. The well-being of an entire nation's work force decided weekly by teenagers on a field of competition, influenced by God only knows what. Quarterbacks with cannons for arms, thought to be solid gold on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, turn into gold bricks if their girl breaks up with them the day before.

Truly, as Charles Dickens penned so long ago in "A Tale of Two Cities": "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times..."

The blockbuster news from the world of collegiate football is, of course, that Division I-AA Appalachian State - "Happy Appy," as the place is known to those of us familiar with the Southern Conference - journeyed to Ann Arbor and knocked off the Michigan Wolverines, 34-32. The boys from Boone, N. C., carried their coach, Jerry Moore, off the field before more than 104,000 stunned Michigan fans.

Folks who know about Division I-AA and the Southern Conference in particular, know that any big school like Michigan should never regard SouCon teams lightly.

A few decades ago, for example, another SouCon team - The Citadel - opened the season at Arkansas and shocked the Razorbacks. Legendary former coach and Arkansas athletic director, Frank Broyles, was more shocked than most: He fired the Arkansas head coach the next day.

Folks who don't quite qualify as a true fan - and the word is a derivative of "fanatic," which should tell you all you need to know - may wonder how a tiny Division I-AA school ever found its way to "the big house" in Ann Arbor, anyway. And whilst those folks most likely won't be reading this column, nonetheless I shall digress for a moment to explain.

Despite all the Title IX programs, despite all entitlements and efforts to bring public relations "spin" to bear and to focus attention on non-revenue sports and female participation in sports, among other things, the fact is that at the collegiate level income from football pretty much floats the budget for all those other sports.

A couple of decades ago, the NCAA allowed schools to add an 11th regular-season game to their schedule, which all schools used as a sixth home game in order to increase revenue. This proved so successful that now a 12th regular-season game is allowed by the NCAA.

When you can sell out a 100,000-seat stadium six or seven times a season at a minimum of $30 per seat, it doesn't take a genius to understand the economic forces at work.

However, there are two schools of thought which coaches lucky enough to be able to schedule their own games fall into with regards to picking the opening day opponent.

One school follows Plan A, as exhibited by Michigan last week: You pick a small school from a supposedly lesser conference or division, guarantee them $400,000 for the trip which will help them fund their own athletic budget, then send your big, bad Division I boys out there to trounce the down-trodden into a pulp.

There are, sadly, a lot of fans out there who agree with this train of thought. These "fans" don't so much care about the game of football as they do about tail-gating and then watching their favorite team shellac an outmatched team something like 79-10, which is what Oklahoma did this year, by the way, to open their season. Coach Bob Stoops wants to stay in Norman, apparently.

The problem with that first school of thought is that every once in a blue moon you run into an Appalachian State, and get yourself embarrassed and embattled for the rest of the season.

The other school of scheduling follows Plan B: You use the extra game in a meaningful way by playing a tough opponent. You find out what your team is really made of early on, and can immediately start correcting troublesome issues in order to have as successful a season as possible on down the road.

The problem with Plan B is that you might get whipped convincingly, which also gets you embarrassed and embattled no matter how lofty your intentions.

Notre Dame followed the second approach, and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets went up to "the house that Rockne built" in South Bend, Indiana, and absolutely demolished the Irish, 33-3. It was the most lopsided home opening loss in the storied history of Notre Dame, and the first time the Irish had not scored at least a touchdown in more than 20 years.

So, digression now complete and returning to the point, you have to pick your scheduling poison. Had Michigan not followed Plan A and in the process lost the shocker to Appalachian State, the big collegiate football story this week would have been how Notre Dame, following Plan B, got embarrassed by Georgia Tech.

Instead of fans across the nation wondering whether or not Michigan will fire head coach Lloyd Carr, folks would be surmising as to who will follow Charlie Weiss at Notre Dame.

And although it comes with the territory, I'm sure that Weiss, at least for this one week, is thankful for Carr. But I can assure you there's enough heat in South Bend to melt the phone lines running into the football office there.

Turning now to the local high school scene, I'm sure a derivative of what happened at Covington's Sharp Stadium played out across the land wherever arch-rivals met on the gridiron.

Locally, Eastside wore out Newton, 31-0. Fans wearing the green-and-white who sat on the visitors side left the field in raucous fashion, as much relieved as exhilarated at having beaten the one regular-season opponent on the short list of games which qualify as "must" wins. Those fans clad in blue-and-white who sat on the home side departed in a somewhat quieter mode, for it's hard to intelligently imagine that your team is competitive with the scoreboard glowing for all to see: 31-0.

I mentioned earlier in this column that roughly half of the fans are happy, and roughly half are not. And you might have wondered why I didn't say exactly half. Well, that's because Dickens said more than just what most of us recall in the quotation attributed to him.

True enough, for the winners it was the best of times, and for the losers, the worst of times. But Dickens went on to say "...it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness..."

The small percentage of fans who truly love the game of football and study it know full well that you cannot go forth from the season opener with unbridled enthusiasm, nor in abject despair. Things are not as wonderful as they seem for the winners, nor are they as bereft of promise for the losers.

There is much work yet to be done on both sides of whatever field you visited last weekend. Coaches and players who make wise decisions will build upon the small successes they discovered, and will take steps to correct the deficiencies unmasked by the competition. And those teams will go on to have better results as the season unfolds, whereas teams who make foolish decisions and perhaps throw the baby out with the bath water may well find themselves winless at season's end, with their coaches looking for gainful employment elsewhere.

In my experience, how well a team responds and adjusts in the second week of the schedule is more revealing in terms of how successfully their season will unfold.

But for now, at least for a week, Eastside is off to a great start, fans in Boone exemplify "Happy Appy" and things have never looked better on "the flats" for Georgia Tech.

Surely, the best of times.