This past week was the beginning of my annual review at work which lasted through the weekend and ended Monday. Saturday I was also putting my wife on a plane for a business trip to Canada. I had noticed that they were going to show Tech on TV in Massachusetts after all so it was in the back of my mind to watch them as I was driving home. I turned on the TV to discover that Tech was down big. Then I watched Tevin Washington put the team on his back, drive the field with passing and running and pull Tech back into the game. But I noticed something troubling that I just couldn't figure out. Middle Tennessee State was hitting harder than Tech, tackling better and generally moving quicker as a team. Tech's vaunted offensive line looked lackluster.
Then it happened. On a deep pass in which the wide receiver was wide open Tevin under threw slightly and the receiver could not recover and ended up practically handing the ball to the defender. And just like that it was over. An attempt to get the score respectable later was thwarted due to a total inability of the offensive line to protect Tevin's blind side.
Losses like this make me philosophical. Perhaps if I were one of those rabid anti-Coach Johnson people I would feel different but I doubt it. I have not been waiting all season to write poison pen notes to the newspaper or to the athletic association. That seems like such an utter waste of time given the things I could be lobbying about like not cutting off benefits for Veterans or pushing Congress to finally pass a job creation bill or to do something about all these roads and bridges that have become potential death traps. But I digress. Point is I don't get mad at coaches or players. In my experience they do not like losing either. But it is worse for them because football is 90% of their focus in life this time of year.
When I get philosophical my priorities change. I don't have to obsess about football. There are family gatherings, trips, going for a run, hiking a trail, and generally just getting out from behind a computer or out from in front of a TV.
When I was quite young there was only one real football network and that was ABC, home of the Wide World of Sports. Usually one or two games were shown each Saturday and the whole country got to watch the same games. During half-time, between games and after the last game of the day, there was a college scoreboard. Every single team that was remotely trying to play football got their brief moment in the sun. I used to watch each week for the first scores of the day to come in. Usually it was Holy Cross followed by teams like Slippery Rock and Stony Brook.
I mention this little bit of nostalgia because we seem to be returning to the past, a time when there were very few real powerhouses in football and mostly what you had was either parity or mediocrity. In those days for national prominence it was mainly Notre Dame, occasionally a Big 10 team or Southern Cal, and then there was how the other half lived. I thought about this as I was watching Tech get shellacked and watching odd scores come up on the screen from other games. For what it is worth, Stony Brook, the team that gave Syracuse all they could handle, thoroughly whipped Army on the same day that Tech lost.
Here are a few things that might not make Tech fans feel better but which might at least give us some perspective on our dashed hopes for a great season. Vanderbilt, the team that was not only back but was going to prove that an academic school could win in the SEC is now 1-3. Auburn is also 1-3 and this only because the vaunted former national champions had to go into overtime to beat Louisiana-Monroe. And let's have a moment of silence for Arkansas who is 1-4. This was the team that was supposed to be just a year away from challenging Alabama and who supposedly had one of the best coaches in the country. Louisiana-Monroe also beat them as did Rutgers.
Michigan is even at 2-2 thanks to edging out Air Force in a game that was in doubt from beginning to end. Appalachian State would probably beat them again this year the way they are playing. If you want to see real hand-wringing go on the Big 10 blogs and count how many comments you see asking what has happened to the conference and why they can no longer recruit. And no one seems to have a solution for this or a guess at how long this downward spiral is going to last.
Speaking of a death spiral, has everyone else noticed that Frank Beamer may be at the end of his rope at Virginia Tech? I doubt he will be fired but he seems to have hit his high water mark as a coach. VT can look for a few more years of average football before Beamer retires.
The only real powerhouse in the country appears to be Alabama, the team that seems to somehow give twice as many scholarships as anyone else. Perhaps Texas or LSU or someone else might give them a run but for the most part this is not a great year for competition at the top. Boring.
Then there is this bright spot. Penn State, which lost to Ohio and Virginia, is now playing with the same type of grit and determination as Boston College. And their record is better. As a matter of fact they are playing better than half the teams in the SEC. I am not sure why I have this sudden rush of feeling for Penn State. I have never particularly liked them and I thought they should have gotten a death penalty for making football more important than protecting children. But here is a group of student athletes who are ineligible for bowls or playoffs who are simply enjoying playing the game. They were not part of the recent scandal and neither is the coaching staff. They are holding their heads up high even though they cannot even remotely hope for a good season.
That would be my wish for Tech players and for Tech fans. Quit whining about "a lost season." Penn State has lost a decade of seasons due to penalties and restrictions. Why do their players and fans seem so well-adjusted and happy by comparison? I suspect it has something to do with keeping football in perspective relative to the bigger issues of life.