12/6/2019 0 Comments
I did something this Saturday that I thought I never would, and if the next paragraph stops abruptly it’s because I’m too ashamed to admit it in print.
The Littlest Gamecock got his own Christmas tree this year: a 2 ½-foot tall mini-Fraser Fir to fill our front window. On Saturday morning, the day of the Clemson-Carolina game, we went to Wal-Mart. I told him he could get one ornament---whatever he wanted---to go on his Christmas tree. He combed through the aisles in wide-eyed wonder at the sparkling extent of our Christmas excess. When he arrived at the Gamecock ornament section, he stopped. I was so proud. Surely he’d want the Gamecock truck with the Christms tree in the back, or the rooster with the wreath over its proud neck, or the garnet Cockaboose. I held my breath.
And he grabbed an orange van. From the Clemson section to the left. It even had one of those disgusting paws on it. He held it aloft in euphoria and dubbed it “The best one, daddy!”. This was, to this point, my tensest moment of parenting dissonance. We know there’s a sacrifice for keeping promises to our kids and enabling their dreams, but this price tag felt excessive. I dragged him to other aisles and showed him other vehicular ornaments: Trains, vans, trucks, cars, sleighs. None of them could compare to the singular Clemson monstrosity that he had dubbed “My Orange Van”. I even had him put it back, only for him to echo throughout Wal-Mart, “Where’d My Orange Van Go”? It was a question as earnest and honest as a prayer, so we went back to the Clemson ornament section. After all, I had promised.
I’m still looking for the silver lining in that egregious $6.50 line-item on the receipt. At the time I’d hoped that my benevolent parenting would pay off in on-field karma later that day. It didn’t. Clemson beat us 38-3. Now I envision us laughing about this in twenty years, when we all love Carolina and that silly Clemson van is just an anecdote about the whims and wants of toddlerdom. We’ll put it on the tree every year as a playful tribute to parenthood’s many ironies. That could happen. Or this ornament will be the top of the slippery slope, impervious to parenting friction, that whisks him into that Pickens County Valley of Death for eternity. Whatever happens, I don’t regret my decision. This life is, ultimately, his ornament; and only he should decide where to hang it.
That being said, it sucks that orange is his favorite color. Without further ado, these are The Things I’m Thinking About.
I’m appropriating the first half of this term from the good Drunk Girls of Auburn University (a very large sorority, indeed). In 2010, after my Gamecocks lost a barnburner to Cam Newton’s War Eagles, I was walking around Jordan-Hare stadium looking to reunite with my Auburn-loving in-laws. Seeing my garnet garb, a number of people, nearly all of them young, drunk southern belles, took some liberties with our sacred nickname. Over that half-mile or so, I was branded “Small-cock”, “Shame-cock”, “Lame-cock”, and my personal favorite, “No-cock”. If I’d known their barrage would inspire a blog-worthy pun, I would have stopped to shake their hands.
Will Muschamp is a Lame-Cock Coach: shot and injured, but still allowed to live for one more season until the hounds come to fetch him back to the purgatory of failed head honchos. It’s a state of agony that the Garnet and Black must endure until Clemson beats us for the seventh time in a row, and mercifully puts us out of our Muschamp Misery. Shoot me now.
College football is the sport in which a Lame-duck coach---a coach people know is finished, but who gets to hang on for a little longer--- can do the most damage. It’s suicide for recruiting, where this blissfully corrupt game is really won. Successful recruiting, network of slithering boosters aside, is based on direction. You need to be able to show that you’re moving toward something special. Mac Brown is spinning a tale of reawakened greatness at Chapel Hill, and it’s working. Spurrier convinced players they were going to be unprecedented, grassroots legends at Florida and South Carolina---then they were. Hope is an easy sell for traditional powers with generations of success, but it’s much more precarious at a place like South Carolina, and recruits scare easy. Everyone knew Spurrier’s days were numbered. Then 10 recruits jumped ship the class before he left. We still haven’t recovered. Even the big-time brands struggle to bear a lame-duck’s weight. No one thought that Southern Cal would retain Clay Helton, and the result is a recruiting class outside the top-40 at one of the most prestigious, easiest sells in all of college football.
All said, this type of coach often oversees two down recruiting years: the season they should’ve been fired, and the season they are fired. That’s nearly half a roster of lackluster talent. Rebounding from that can take years.
Lame-duck coaches usually stick for one more season, but what they cost in roster depth, recruiting momentum, and program continuity lingers for years. Maybe Muschamp’s $18 million buyout is a pretty sweet deal.
(I promise that’s the last of the South Carolina talk.)
A Necessary overhaul in Athlete Endorsements
When companies unconnected with athletics employ athletes to sell their stuff, things get weird. Roger Federer, for instance, sells Rolexes, when he plays one of the few games that has no time limit. The insurance industry is awkwardly smitten with athletes who have, at best, a questionable connection to security. State Farm’s tandem of Chris Paul and James Harden have lately been known for untimely injuries and getting jerseys retired in Houston strip clubs, respectively. Nationwide Insurance, I suppose, cast Brad Paisley alongside Peyton Manning to distract from the quarterback’s history of famous losses. Perhaps no sponsor-athlete relationship is more disorienting than Phil Mickelson’s representation of KPMG, the massive accounting firm. Mickelson’s long spate of reckless gambling, and brush with the law for his insider trading, hardly qualifies him to do your taxes.
The fact is, the public deserves more faithful, representative endorsements, that create an honest, instinctive link between athletes and products. Harden shouldn’t be advertising insurance. He should be advertising Taaka vodka. Why, you ask? Because he likes to take bad shots. The world deserves to see an overall-clad Gardner Minshew in a Mississippi field, harvesting perfect mustaches as an advertisement for Gillette razors and grooming products--- “No one sprouts ‘em like the Gardner!” (for what it’s worth, the porn industry has already offered him an endorsement deal).
This would work for coaches, too. If Xanax needs a frontman, look no further than Nick Saban. Roll a clip of him losing it while up 40 on Western Carolina; give a couple snippets of aggressive press conferences. Then show him stretched out in a hot tub yuckin it up with those guys from the “Roll Tide” commercial and hit the line “Xanax, for the fan bases with no chill”. Hell, he might even give a smile.
These don’t even have to be personality or profession-based. Why not have Saquon “Bark”-ley team up with the humane society? Who better to represent Ikea, a chronically mispronounced company (actually pronounced ee-KAY-uh), than Giannis Antetodkjfsifojosijimpo, a chronically mispronounced athlete? Can you say “M-V-P, silent G”? Giannis and Ikea: pronunciation is hard, buying furniture shouldn’t be. End with a shot of Giannis on an Ikea couch, watching himself play basketball…...while an announcer mispronounces his name. Then he smiles knowingly at his couch. This stuff writes itself.
This might sound cheesy (but not as cheesy as Russell Wilson and Ciara in a Hallmark commercial amirite?), but within this processed cheddar is a satisfying self-deprecation. Few things do more for public favor than a little self-awareness: an admission of imperfection, and a willingness to laugh about it. The joke isn’t at you anymore, it’s with you; there’s no better way to endear you to the public. Kevin Durant, a man tragically unable to laugh at himself, should be advertising Flying Js or Pilot Truck Stops: “I may not be here for long, but it’ll be fun while it lasts!”. He might already be onto something like this with his representation of Alaska Airlines. Kyrie should be repping fireworks: “They’re just like me: You pay for the show and hope they don’t burn the place down!”. Of course, this can go too far---you probably wouldn’t want Vontaze Burfict as the frontman for a conglomerate of assassins--- but, if done right, this can be a humanizing step on the road to an authentic connection with the public.
If it doesn’t work, whatever, at least we might get George Brett doing a spot for Depends.
ACC Depth Redemption?
I, along with most college football enthusiasts, have spent the year gleefully bashing the sport’s shallowest power conference: the ACC. Are my criticisms legitimate? Do we have to put Clemson in the Playoff just to find out if they deserve to be there? Yes and yes. But the reality is they aren’t much worse than almost everybody else.
Utah, for instance, has managed to make it all the way to the Pac-12 Championship game without a win over a current top-25 team, and Oregon’s most impressive game might’ve been a loss to Auburn. The Big 12 is as questionable as old Chinese food, with few quality out-of-conference wins, and even fewer complete teams. Their resume, honestly, might be better than that of the vaunted Big-10.
Between Ohio State, Michigan, Minnesota, Penn State, and Wisconsin, there is one(1!) out-of-conference win over a Power 5 team. Yes, I’ll give Michigan a win over Notre Dame (slightly suspect), but outside of that it’s just Penn State beating Pittsburgh 17-10 at home (Pitt just lost to BC at home, who got blown out by Kansas at home. The transitive property remains undefeated.). Ohio State exposed each of them for the puffy pretenders that they were, who’d grown fat on low-hanging cupcakes.
Outside of the SEC West, this is just the way it is. Maybe Clemson will add Bureaux and Chase young to their Tagovailoa scalp collection. Maybe they’ll get blown off the field. If they do, just don’t totally blame the ACC. The other conference aren’t exactly putting them to shame.
Until next time, readers, keep Carolina on your mind.