Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My Own Friday Night Lights Revisited

Sometimes life is kind of funny. Sometimes, providence takes center stage. Without seeing it coming, my foundation was sured up and in some ways I was renewed by my past. The older I get the more I realize how it is all connected. From my past, to my future; from my pals long ago, to the places I have been, it all makes this beautiful tapestry that sometimes I think I have failed to see.

Over this past weekend, I celebrated my 15 year high school reunion. I returned with my daughter in tow, to that sleepy little town on the Ohio River. I returned to the place, that fifteen years ago seemed like a prison, that I could not wait to escape from. Now many years later, I find myself wishing I could return. The impatience and angst of youth seems to be getting replaced, by an appreciation for what that town made me into today. I have come to realize that the good in the long run will always be remembered, while the bad just kind of fades away like fallen leaves.

As I walked into the room of the restaurant, I had no ill feeling of the past, just an anxiousness to see what the present held for my fellow classmates. We were all a little bit heavier, well some more than others. Some of us were a few hairs less. Some were married. Some were divorced. Some had children. Some had child support. We all, though, it seemed, had come together for the same reasons. We came together, because no matter, where we end up in this deal, we all started from the same point. We were forever connected.

I was not prepared for the emotion of the next day. In one of the great small town traditions, the town gave back what it could and reminded me of what my values really were. As tradition held, Memorial Day Weekend in St. Marys, WV has been known as Alumni Weekend. We all knew that our reunion would be this weekend. It was also the weekend that the current graduating class would be walking the aisles and receiving their diplomas as well. The past was touching the present and the future.

After the night of socializing the night before, we all met down at the marina to board our float and be paraded through the town. We weren't the only ones there. There was the classes of 2003, 98,93,88, 83, 78 and so on. All the classes celebrating their reunions, were there as far back as 1938. All of them were donned in the purple and gold. My sister came in too, for it was her class as well celebrating their ten year reunion. There was the float for the past belles or in another vernacular, the home coming queens. There were the honored alumni riding in convertibles. The alumni band came as well. I was impressed that they still remembered how to play. We loaded up and headed back towards the main part of town. I was not fully prepared for what came next.

As we made our way onto the corner into downtown St. Marys, I first saw my daughter with my family standing there to greet us. Standing behind them, lining the street almost three persons deep, was the rest of the town. It seemed like everyone had come out. There were the old teachers and administrators, the local politicos, the volunteer fireman and even the town weirdos had come back to honor the past graduates. They were reminding us all what community meant and giving back in such a way that no amount of money could ever replace. I was moved in a way that I was not expecting. I had never been more proud of where I came from than at that very moment. That to me is what home is all about.

As the float made the turn to head back to the marina, I hopped off and decided to walk through the crowd and make my way back to my family. As I began walking, I bumped into one friend and then another and then another and so on. There were no strangers, just friends from long ago. I made it back to the center of town as the alumni band stopped the procession and played the alma mater. We all broke into chorus singing along just like we did for every function while we were in school. No matter what walk of life, we were one in the same for a brief moment in time.

Afterwards the class met one more time with our families for a picnic. We shared a lot of memories and laughter and never once was there a feeling of angst between the members of the class of 1993. The reunion came to an end, but my journey was not over yet.

The next day, with my daughter and my sister's new boyfriend along for the ride, we headed back to Ritchie County. This was the site of our farm from my early childhood. It had been more than twenty years since I had been back. I decided to take back roads all the way back. I am glad that I did. Maybe I'm just a bit biased, but I will always think that West Virginia is one of the most beautiful places on this earth. The hills and hollers were in full bloom.

As we made the trek up to the farm, everything seemed so much smaller, but I guess I was half the size I am today, the last time I was here. The barn and the chicken coop were about all that was left of the original buildings, but the natural beauty of Dog Comfort, never left. We then drove down to Everitt's Green and White store that has since been abandoned. I used to ride my bike down to Everitt's to buy a soda and play some pinball. Memories were rushing over me. I felt like that kid again riding his huffy over the trails through the woods. This time I was sharing it with my daughter and the rest of my family.

We made the trek to Mam Mam's grave. Mam Mam or Mae Satterfield, as she was known to everyone else, was the epitome of what most West Virginians are about. She lived at the end of our road. She took care of me and my sister. Hell, she practically raised us. Mae treated us as one of her family as we treated her the same. The rest of my blood relatives lived very far away and I was probably closer her than most of the rest of my family. She made our family a part of hers. The kindness she showed was just the way they all are back home. I encountered it everywhere we went. My sister's boyfriend couldn't believe it. Living in New York, it was in stark contrast to what he was used to. By the end of the trip, he had me play Country Roads one more time as we went to the train station.

I took this trip, not looking for anything really. I ended up finding hidden treasures that were always there in front of me. I guess I had to open my eyes and look back, because they were always there helping me through this crazy life that I live. Thanks West Virginia....


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Enough is Enough

I have tried to stay away from weighing in on the Rich Rodriguez-WVU divorce. I have felt that I was too close to the story. It has been too personal. Like most WVU fans, I feel like a child caught in a nasty custody battle. Like most divorces, nobody comes out unhurt or clean. I have felt in someways that we fans have been stuck in this eye of the storm and it still hasn't made landfall. After reading so many negative slants towards West Virginia and just plain lazy journalists, I feel it's time that the other side be heard. I guess I have to do this, because I, like many others, need my catharsis. I need my faith restored.

This past week Rich Rodriguez's deposition was released. Nothing new really was learned in the deposition than what really has been previously reported. It's all now out on the table.

From the start of this whole exercise, I have been trying to determine how West Virginia has been the villain in this whole soap opera. First we were called racists by Rod's top assistant, Calvin Magee because he was not considered for the head coaching position. This made national headlines. Yet, when a sworn affidavit from former Mountaineer Athletic Club official, Larry Aschebrooke, comes out calling Rod and his team on his bluff, it barely makes a ripple. Rod's only response was that were more than twenty lies. Well, my question is what are they and can you back it up with your own affidavit?

Chuck Finder, a writer and I use that term loosely, was covering this situation for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. It was he, who first reported the racist claims without getting verification. Then he cited claims of harassment and threats towards Rod, his family and his coaches. This made national headlines. Rod went on ESPN crying. Yet, the Monongalia County Sheriff and the West Virginia State Police investigated and found nothing. There were no police reports filed, yet nobody, again, in the national media picked it up. Rod found his conduit in Chuck to help spread his PR battle against WVU. After the affidavit broke, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette did not cover it. In it, Aschebrooke, claimed that Rod said that Chuck (Finder) would take care of things in the media. Chuck Finder was "reassigned" to cover the penguins in the NHL playoffs and a new beat writer was assigned to cover WVU.

My question is that how does a journalist like Chuck Finder get away with writing false stories and yet there is no punishment for him? I'm all for freedom of the press, but Chuck and the Post Gazette should be held accountable. The problem is how do you prove libel. That's the problem with modern day media. They go for the tabloidy, sensationalistic stories and there is no reprocussion for their actions. It is a sad state of affairs.

When Rod's deposition was released, the ESPN.com headline read and I quote " Rod Says W. Va. Officials Pressured Him to Sign in 2007". How about calling it down the middle and reading the actual affidavit? Rod does make these claims, but yet again, somehow the headline reads that West Virginia is in the wrong.

Rod's lawyer Marv Robon claimed that the $ 4 million buyout was akin to slavery. Rod had it rough living in his $ 2 million slave quarters on Cheat Lake. I guess two million dollars a year and getting all new upgrades to the locker room, the new academic center, the new suites, and the new scoreboard weren't enough, yet Rod said we hadn't done enough.

I guess it hurts more when it's one of your own. It hurts more when you buy into it and to find out that the man is Charlatan. One can only hope that John Lennon was right and, "Instant Karma is gonna get you."

Maybe I'm sick of the West Virginia stereotypes. Maybe I'm sick of getting talked down to, but enough is enough. We are a proud people. West Virginia has no pro sports teams. We don't have much in the way of well paying jobs or great highways, but the one thing we do have is WVU and I'm sick of the bashing. We were raised on Jack Fleming. We were raised on the arms of Jeff Hostettler and Major Harris. We were raised on the exploits of Jerry West, Sam Huff and Hot Rod Hundley. We were raised on the coaching of Don Nehlen. We were raised on the three pillars, Friday night high school football, Saturday afternoon WVU football and Sunday morning church. If you have a problem with that, kiss my hillbilly ass! Whew, I feel better already...


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Random Thoughts From the Road

After spending the last week in the belly of the beast and looking for fear and loathing in Sin City, I find myself sitting in yet another lonely hotel room somewhere on the outskirts of Minneapolis. Such is the life of a salesman. This is the winter for me. Spring practices are over. The BCS fortress of ineptitude is dormant again. The spring combine recruiting circuit is begining to heat up, but I can't get that interested in how fast a seventeen year old can shuffle between two cones. That's just me. The internet message boards are full of drivel now, mainly filled with guys who haven't been laid since Dennis Rodman married himself; fighting with each other over who has a bigger keyboard. Such is life. At least my beloved Chelsea is in the UEFA finals.

Have we jumped the shark?

Kentucky just received a verbal from 6'4" Forward Michael Avery. The kid has been dominating his competition. The problem is that his competition is mostly fellow eighth graders. Yes that's right,eighth grade. Let's see ,when I was fourteen, I was barely pubescent, hated my parents, was doing my best Tony Hawk imitation and thought I was well on my way to being the next great linebacker for Joe Pa. I quickly grew out of this thinking, as I think, will Mr. Avery. What the hell is an eighth grader doing by committing? Why is it being covered the way it is on the national recruiting sites where most are barely blinking an eye and calling it the way of the recruiting world? Some of the comments I read from some of the fan sites have me even more concerned that we have truly reached a tipping point in our society. Some said it was "outstanding" and others were "proud at how hard the staff seemed to be working". What? Huh? Why was the kid allowed to be offered in the first place? We're doomed...

Only in Bama

Well, last year, they cut out texting and coaches said it will hurt their recruiting. That's kind of funny since texting had really only been around for about 4 or 5 years. Now coaches are banned from visiting recruits on site for most of the spring. Leave it to fellow Hillbilly Nick Saban and Bama to turn to new technology to get around the NCAA. Ol' Nick is using the next best thing, video conferencing. This is why I love the SEC. It's like the Laverne and Shirley theme song, "...give us a rule we'll break it..."

Leaving on Jet Plane

Looking out a window while flying across the country, I am always struck in awe by the beauty and majesty of our country. Wherever I go, I am amazed by the commonality in all of us. For all it's good and the enjoyment, I get from it, the internet can never replace bull shitting about our favorite teams over cold ones in taverns across this land. That my friends is what America is about. That is what connects us. It's sometimes the simple pleasures that makes it so great here.

P.S. Go Blues, Bring the Cup Home from Moscow...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Fortress Of Ineptitude

The past few days in Florida, the power brokers of college football gathered at their round round table to discuss the future of post season football in Division 1-a. I refuse to call it by its new moniker the Bowl Subdivision, because it's just another way that they are marketing their ruse on the American football public. As predicted, no changes to the current post season in college football were made. I would expect nothing less than nothing from those that work within the walls of the fortress of ineptitude.

I know my enemy and I see him for what he is

Before the meetings were even held, Big 10(11) Commissioner Jim Delany and his minions made it perfectly known that there would not be anything that resembled a playoff in the foreseeable future. Why would he want anything different than the sweetheart deal he has with the Rose Bowl and the Pac Ten. A few years back, to get the Rose Bowl to move into the BCS, the powers that be, waived the annual $ 6 million fee that the bowls must kick in, to be a part of the BCS. The Rose Bowl was able to negotiate it's own deal outside the BCS with ABC, not FOX who has the rest of the BCS. The Big 10(11) and the Pac 10 were able to keep the guaranteed tie in to the Rose Bowl and a tie in to the BCS. Cute, right? We all remember that compelling and evenly matched, Illinois-USC match up from last year.

In many ways, as tough as it is for me swallow, the WVU loss to Pitt helped show what an absolute farse the BCS is. It provided us with yet another match up, that left many wondering if LSU and Ohio State were even the best two teams at the end of the year. I can not wait for another over-rated Big 10(11) team and a two loss team to duke it out for the mythical national title. This is going to keep happening more and more.

No one in the media, seems to grasp the realities of college football. There are less and less of the traditional powers, yet they keep on propping up these programs like they are the be and end all of football. It has been almost two decades since the last time when Notre Dame actually challenged for a national title. Mysteriously, they have a part in the BCS. They, along with the 6 BCS conferences have a seat at the table. They can get in if they are in the top eight. As well, they get money from the BCS even if they don't go to a BCS game. In reality an undefeated conference champ from the WAC or Mountain West would have less of a chance to make it to a BCS game than a two loss Notre Dame team, if they were ranked lower. The fix is in.

With scholarship limit rules in place, no longer are the traditional powers able to soak up all the talent. The playing field is being leveled. LSU is a perfect example of this. They have emerged in the last ten years contrary to popular belief. Their program was good, but never considered elite until Nick Saban built it and Les Miles is continuing to do. My own alma mater, West Virginia is another glaring example of what it is going on.

Money, Money, Money, Money!!!

Teams like TCU, Boise State and BYU (who many people forget actually won a national title), deserve a an equal chance at the table. Now they do not currently have it. Only six of eleven conferences have automatic births. They say that they have opened up the access, which in some ways they have. Now you must be in the top twelve and a conference champ to get access, but why not have equal access like everybody else? It all comes down to money. The most recent revenue numbers I have from the NCAA show that in 2006-2007 the BCS took in a little over $ 142 Million in revenue. Only $ 18 Million and change went to the non-BCS conferences. Why would the BCS conferences want to give that up? Somehow at the end of the day, certain programs and certain conferences are getting all the deserts and the rest are left to scramble for the crumbs.

In my perfect world, there would be a 16 team playoff where all 11 conference champs get in, with 5 at large bids. We would cede it and watch the good times roll. In my perect world, I would be 6'3" 230 lbs and run a 4.3 forty as well. Neither this or a college football playoff are happening anytime soon.