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The last–or next to last–post of 2019

The final 24 hours of 2019–and the 2010s–for those of us six hours behind Greenwich Mean Time are underway.

It will be 2020 at this time tomorrow. YIPPEEE!

Those of you who are going to some lame party later this evening to celebrate the flipping of a calendar–GET A FREAKING LIFE.

I hate New Year’s Eve. I find it to be contrived, phony and nothing but cow feces. Your life is not going to magically change because the year changed. Your debts will not be magically erased because the year changed. Your favorite team is not going to magically win the championship of their league because the year changed.

Resolutions are just as pointless. Why bother? Most people, myself included, are only going to break them.

If I am up when 2019 becomes 2020, I will not be watching live television. I never watched Dick Clark hosting from Times Square, and I certainly have never watched Ryan Seacrest. That tradition should have ended when Clark suffered his debilitating stroke in 2004, and if not then, definitely when Clark passed away in 2012.

I never considered venturing to the French Quarter on New Year’s Eve when I lived in New Orleans. Too many a-holes in the Big Easy like to shoot guns in the air to celebrate the flipping of the calendar, and tragically, it killed a tourist from Massachusetts in the first minutes of 1995, a harbinger of what was to come.

I ended 1995 at the Superdome watching Virginia Tech beat Texas in the Sugar Bowl, the night Frank Beamer’s Hokies officially became a power player on the national college football scene. Four years later, Beamer’s squad was back in New Orleans, losing to Florida State in that year’s BCS championship game.

I got an up close look at Beamer during the leadup to the Sugar Bowl in January 2005, when the Hokies faced Tommy Tuberville’s Auburn Tigers. I came to the conclusion Beamer was one of the nicest men to ever coach college football. If I had a son who had a chance to play football for a Power Five school, I hope he’d have Virginia Tech high on his list..

Anyone who has a bad thing to say about Frank Beamer needs help. A great coach and a greater man. The game is a little emptier without him on the sideline in Blacksburg.

Say what you want about Tuberville, but I enjoyed seeing him at press conferences that week as well. Sadly, the man who called Auburn’s 16-13 victory in that Sugar Bowl for Auburn radio, Rod Bramblett, was killed along with his wife by a reckless teen driver this past May. Ironically, Bramblett became Auburn’s play-by-play announcer for football after his predecessor, Jim Fyffe, passed away from a heart attack in 2003. Life is cruel.

Witnessing the Hokies’ defeat John Mackovic’s Longhorns was one of the best days of 1995 for me. Tells you how bad that year was. It is the only time I have been out past 2100 on New Year’s Eve, and it’s something I don’t want to repeat. As long as I’m in Russell on December 31, I won’t have to worry about that.

Speaking of college football, it’s a good thing LSU and Clemson will have two weeks to prepare for the showdown in my native city. LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger and the rest of the Bayou Bengal family needs the time to grieve the loss of Carley McCord, a sports broadcaster with New Orleans’ NBC affiliate, WDSU, who died in a plane crash in Lafayette with the pilot and three other passengers five hours before the Peach Bowl kicked off. McCord was married to Steve’s first child, Steve Jr.

McCord, who received her undergraduate degree from Northwestern State in Natchitoches and her master’s from LSU, was only 30. Sadly, Natchitoches is where singer Jim Croce perished in 1973 after a small plane crashed just after takeoff from the small town’s airport.

(In case you haven’t looked a a map of Louisiana, Natchitoches is almost halfway between Alexandria and Shreveport along Interstate 49. It’s where the blockbuster motion picture Steel Magnolias was filmed.)

Steve Ensminger was the football coach at Central High, where he was a star athlete from 1972-76, in 2001. I covered two of his team’s games, losses to perennial powers St. Amant and East Ascension. The Wildcats may have been overmatched by their foes from Ascension Parish in those games, but they were disciplined and fundamentally sound. Those kids had to be thrilled to be coached by a Central legend, an ex-LSU quarterback, and someone who had been a college assistant at powerhouses like Georgia and Texas A&M. Ensminger’s wife, Nancy, coached Central’s softball team for many years, and his daughters were All-State pitchers for the Wildcats.

My oldest friend on earth, Rosemarie Renz Huguet, now teaches in the Central school system, as does Michele Ashmore LeBeouf, who helped St. Joseph’s Academy go 165-9 and win four consecutive volleyball state championships from 2001-04.

A lot of people criticized Ed Orgeron when he kept Ensminger on staff following the 2016 firing of Les Miles, but Orgeron has had the last laugh. Ensminger, who preferred a run-heavy offense in his earlier years, has proven to be flexible and able to adapt to the pass-first mentality of 2019. Orgeron also deserves credit for coming to that conclusion after Alabama came to Baton Rouge in 2018 and embarrassed the Bayou Bengals 29-0. He hired Joe Brady, who along with Ensminger helped Joe Burrow enjoy one of the best seasons for a quarterback in college football history.

Two questions remain for Burrow: (a) Can he complete the job against Clemson, and (b) Will he enjoy a long and prosperous NFL career, something only two previous LSU quarterbacks (Y.A. Tittle and Bert Jones), have done?

It’s a shame Ensminger never got the chance to be a college head coach, yet I think he’s happy where he is and is content with never occupying the big office.

He was cordial enough to me when I interviewed him after the 2001 games, but wasn’t as quotable as coaches like Dale Weiner (Baton Rouge Catholic), Sid Edwards (Redemptorist and later Central), Kenny Guillot (Parkview Baptist), David Masterson (Northeast), J.T. Curtis (John Curtis) and Hank Tierney (Shaw and now Ponchatoula). It’s not that he dislikes the media. Instead, he’s comfortable staying in the background and letting Ed Orgeron do the talking. Nothing wrong with that.

Another rambling post in the books. Night.

Orange and blue makes me blue

I am not dead. However, I went into yet another Howard Hughes phase during the last three weeks. Inexcusable.

March Madness is over. I was ready for it to be over before the first game was played. It was a miserable time in the Sunflower State, with Kansas State losing its first game to 13-seed UC Irvine and Kansas getting dump trucked by Auburn in the second round.

I couldn’t complain about LSU. I had a bad feeling my alma mater would have lost to Lipscomb had it held on to beat Maryland. Then the Bayou Bengals almost blew the game with the Terrapins but survived.

I confess I watched zero seconds of the Sweet 16 game with Michigan State. Had a bad feeling. The final score–Spartans 80, Bayou Bengals 63–validated that feeling. Now LSU is losing Naz Reid, Skylar Mays and Tremont Waters to the NBA. Will Wade may somehow keep his job, but I fear next season might be a long one in Baton Rouge.

I was angry Auburn made the Final Four, because one of their jackass fans who lives in Baton Rouge, Tex Morris, called Sean Payton a “crybaby” on social media following the NFC Championship Game, then told me he’d block me when I disagreed. I was angry Virginia made it, because it is the definition of an elitist school. After all, Thomas Jefferson founded the place.

Since last Saturday’s Auburn-Virginia game couldn’t end in a double forfeit, I was glad the Cavaliers won. The lesser of two evils in that case. Right now, Auburn is at the top of my hate list in the SEC. I never thought a school would eclipse Alabama and Ole Miss as to how much I hate them, but Auburn has, thanks to Mr. Morris’ asinine comments about Mr. Payton. What, Tex, was Sean supposed to be happy and let it go? The Saints got screwed out of a Super Bowl berth. Yeah, let it go. Easy for you to say.

Auburn was not my favorite stop on the SEC circuit. It ranked barely above Oxford and about on the same level as Tuscaloosa and Gainesville. No thanks. Auburn and Kansas State are a lot alike–agriculturally-dominated universities in small towns 50 miles from the state capital with horrendous traffic on football game days and a inferiority complex. The only difference is Auburn is a football school with occasional success in basketball and K-State is a basketball school with occasional success in football, the beatification of St. William of Snyder notwithstanding.

Candace Rachel, the outstanding editor of the Plainville Times, texted me during Monday’s game saying the announcers were biased towards Virginia. I agreed.

College basketball announcers love the ACC. Greg Gumbel and everyone who was on the CBS selection show March 17 drooled over the ACC getting three #1 seeds. I’m sure many were crying when North Carolina lost to Auburn in the Sweet 16 and Duke lost to Michigan State after the Spartans ousted LSU.

I did not watch much of the game. And no way in hell I would watch One Shining Moment. It was nice at the beginning, but it’s played out now. And don’t get me started on Jennifer Hudson’s version following the 2010 tournament (the one where Duke barely beat Butler in the final). If I had watched it live, I might have melted down. It sucked. BIG TIME.

CBS had the right idea in 1983 when they used Christopher Cross’ All Right for the highlight package following North Carolina State’s stunner over Houston. I don’t care what happens between now and the end of time, but Jim Valvano’s Wolfpack taking down Phi Slamma Jamma in Albuquerque will never, never, NEVER be surpassed. Too bad it was too late for me to watch.

The first final I watched from beginning to end was Louisville over Duke in 1986. That year, LSU made the Final Four as an 11-seed before losing to the Cardinals in Dallas. The Blue Devils eliminated Kansas in the other semi. The last final I watched from start to finish was Kansas’ win over Memphis in 2008, although I did see Josh Hart’s game-winner for Villanova over UNC in 2016 after missing most of the first 30 minutes.

College basketball is done, at least as far as games go, for seven months. I’m not counting down the days.

Thoughts from a barstool

Back at Buffalo Wild Wings this afternoon. Been here since 12:35. I saw my buddy Larry for the first time in a long time. Trey, whom I’ve seen here since I first came here in May 2013, is bartending. I’m sure I’ll see a few more people I know before I leave.

I had to get work done on my car this morning in Overland Park. Didn’t have to wait at Morse-McCarthy Chevrolet this time nearly as long as I did the last two times, when I had new tires put on. Stopped at Staples and Bed, Bath & Beyond before heading north. 

I was thinking about coming back tomorrow and leaving Sunday morning, but there is an 80 percent chance of rain for tomorrow night and Sunday, so I’m going to get out of here tomorrow. The cold front will pass through Russell tomrorow night, and hopefully, that will be it for temperatures above 80 Fahrenheit, or 27 Celsius, until at least April. I do not like hot weather. 

I’m probably going to be back to Kansas City sooner rather than later. Maybe I come back next weekend to watch the Missouri-LSU football game. Or maybe I come back for my birthday in less than three weeks. I can’t stay away. Too many people I want to see. 

LSU plays Auburn tomorrow night on the road. The Bayou Bengals have traditionally struggled at Jordan-Hare Stadium, but if they lose tomorrow, LSU may be in the market for a new coach after the season. I could see the season unraveling if Auburn wins tomororw. WIth road games against Florida, Arkansas and Texas A&M, plus home dates with Ole Miss and Alabama, it could get ugly fast in Baton Rouge. 

Kansas does not play tomorrow. Kansas State might as well not play. Another cupcake, Missouri State, visits Manhattan. Bill Snyder can’t get enough cupcakes. Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines could make a killing sponsoring Kansas State football. 

How much does Snyder fear playing strong teams? When he was hired at K-State in 1989, he canceled the second game of a home-and-home series with Tulane. 

Not making it up. I said TULANE.

K-State played in 1980 at LSU. However, that was a one-time deal so the Wildcats could infuse their coffers with much-needed cash. No way LSU was going to play a game in a stadium which seated 42,000, unless it was an SEC game. Certainly not vs. the worst team in the Big Eight. Certainly not when LSU had four games vs. Florida State lined up from 1980-83, four with Notre Dame (1981, 1984-86),  contests with Washington, Arizona and USC, and a home-and-home with Ohio State later in the decade, not to mention the annual game vs. Tulane. 

The Green Wave defeated the Wildcats 20-16 in New Orleans in 1988. Coach Stan Parrish was fired following an 0-11 season, part of a 30-game winless streak. Tulane, which was an independent at the time, was scheduled to make a return visit to Manhattan, but Snyder canceled the game and picked up some team which was weaker than the Greenies, which took a lot of searching. Tulane won all of 23 games between 1988 and 1995. 

I can’t believe MIssissippi State and Oklahoma have agreed to play Tulane in the New Orleans in coming years. I can’t imagine the Bulldogs or Sooners playing at Tulane’s on-campus stadium, which seats only 30,000. I believe the visitors, not to mention television, will insist the games be played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where the Wave played from 1975 through 2013, save for 2005, when the Dome was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina. 

Tulane cut its own throat when it foolishly voted to leave the SEC in 1966. The Green Wave might have been at or near the bottom of the conference in football every single year, but it would have made money hand over fist. 

Vanderbilt, a private school in a large city like Tulane, chose to stay and take their punishment from Tennessee, Alabama and others. But the money the Commodores have raked in from the SEC have made sure the school’s academic mission continues to be funded at the highest possible level, while athletes get to compete against elite institutions. 

Bowled over at age 7

In the years when January 1 falls on a Sunday–as will be the case for 2017–the major college football bowl games are shifted to Monday, January 2.

It so happens my first memories of college football bowl games was on January 2, 1984. I was a little less than three months removed from my 7th birthday. I was in second grade.

I began to seriously follow college football–and the other major sports–throughout 1983. The salient points of 1983:

  • LSU had a terrible 4-7 season and fired coach Jerry Stovall, hiring Bill Arnsparger, the architect of the Miami Dolphins’ “No-Name” and “Killer Bees” defenses, as his replacement.
  • Tulane was 4-7 under first year coach Wally English, but there were storm clouds brewing around the Green Wave. Tulane was forced to forfeit two victories, one over then-No. 9 Florida State, for playing Jon English, the son of the coach, even though he was ineligible.
  • Nebraska, meanwhile, was at the other end of the spectrum from LSU and Tulane. The Cornhuskers steamrolled their way to a 12-0 regular season and were primed to win their first national championship since 1971, and first for coach Tom Osborne, who succeeded Bob Devaney in 1973. Led by Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier, quarterback Turner Gill, and All-America tackle Dean Steinkuhler, Nebraska held the No. 1 ranking in the polls throughout the season, averaging over 400 yards rushing and 52 points per game.
  • Nebraska’s opponent in the Orange Bowl, which was committed to the Big Eight Conference champion, would be the school which played its home games in the eponymous stadium. The Miami Hurricanes were the new kid on the block, bouncing back from a 28-3 loss to Florida at Gainesville in the season opener to win 10 in a row, ending with a 17-16 victory over Florida State in Tallahassee. In five seasons, Howard Schnellenberger, who played for Bear Bryant at Kentucky, served as an assistant to Bryant at Kentucky, and was on the same staff with Arnsparger with the Dolphins, had rescued the Hurricanes from near-extinction, building a program which was fearless, reflecting the confident attitude of its coach.
  • Southwest Conference champion Texas was 11-0 and ranked No. 2. The Longhorns were slated to play Georgia in the Cotton Bowl, and with a win, could ascend to No. 1 if the Cornhuskers were upset by Miami. Ironically, Texas went into the Cotton Bowl following the 1977 season 11-0 and ranked No. 1, but lost 38-10 to Notre Dame, which vaulted from No. 5 to No. 1 in the final poll following No. 2 Oklahoma’s 31-6 loss in the Orange Bowl to Arkansas.
  • No. 3 Auburn lost in September to Texas at home, but had won its other 10 games against a brutal schedule which included Florida, Georgia, ACC champion Maryland, and a strong Alabama team in its first season under Ray Perkins, who was Bryant’s chosen successor in December 1982 (Bryant died January 26, 1983). The Tigers of the Plains featured sophomore sensation Bo Jackson and Lionel “Little Train” James, who helped quarterback Randy Campbell run Pat Dye’s Wishbone to perfection. Auburn also had one of the nation’s best kickers, Al Del Greco, and a stout defense led by All-America linebacker Greg Carr. Auburn would play Michigan in the Sugar Bowl.
  • Illinois went 9-0 in the Big Ten, overcoming an early loss to Missouri. The Illini headed to the Rose Bowl ranked No. 4. Their opponent was 6-4-1 UCLA, which not only had home field advantage, but an elite quarterback, Rick Neuheisel.
  • Notre Dame? Who cared? The Irish were 6-5 in their third season under Gerry Faust. They defeated Doug Flutie and Boston College in the Liberty Bowl, but who really gave a darn?

The Cotton Bowl kicked off at 12:30 that Monday afternoon. In a defensive battle, Georgia took advantage of a fumbled punt to score the game’s lone touchdown, a 17-yard run by quarterback John Lastinger, with 3:22 to go. The Bulldogs, who were in line to win their fourth consecutive SEC championship before falling to Auburn in November, prevailed 10-9 to finish 11-1, a remarkable accomplishment given the loss of Herschel Walker, who surprisingly left Georgia in February 1983 to sign with the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League. Georgia coach Vince Dooley fully expected to have Walker for his senior season, to win a second Heisman Trophy, and to get the Bulldogs back to New Orleans.

Texas would not be a serious national championship contender for the next two decades. Coach Fred Akers was fired in 1986 despite winning 86 games in 10 seasons after succeeding the legendary Darrell Royal. The Longhorns struggled badly under David McWilliams (1987-91) and John Mackovic (1992-97) before Mack Brown finally returned the Longhorns to elite status.

Illinois was blasted 45-9 by UCLA in the Rose Bowl. The Illini have not been ranked in the top five since, and their only major bowl appearances resulted in losses to LSU (Sugar Bowl following 2001 season) and USC (Rose Bowl following 2007 season).

Auburn struggled vs. Michigan, but won 9-7.

Meanwhile, Miami jumped to a 17-0 lead over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. The Cornhuskers got on the board int he second quarter when Steinkuhler ran the fumblerooski for a touchdown, but the Hurricanes still led 31-17 in the fourth quarter.

Jeff Smith’s touchdown run with 48 seconds to go narrowed the gap to 31-30. There was no overtime in college football in that era (and would not be any until 1996), so Osborne could kick the extra point to tie, which would have left Nebraska atop the polls, but subject him to a great deal of ridicule; or he could play for the win by opting for the 2-point conversion, which, if unsuccessful, would cost the Cornhuskers the championship.

Osborne chose to play for the win. Gill’s pass for Smith was broken up by Miami safety Ken Calhoun. The Hurricanes recovered Nebraska’s onside kick. The 31-30 victory was enough to push Miami past Auburn and Nebraska and to the top of the polls.

Nebraska wouldn’t get its national championship for Osborne until 1994, then won two more in 1995 and 1997. Schnellenberger left MIami in late April and was succeeded by Oklahoma State coach Jimmy Johnson, who led the Hurricanes to the 1987 national championship and a 52-9 record over five seasons before leaving for the Dallas Cowboys in 1989. Miami won titles in 1989 and 1991 under Dennis Erickson, and again in 2001 under Larry Coker.

Pat Dye complained vociferously that Auburn was screwed in the final polls, and he had a legitimate point then and still does now. Auburn’s schedule was far tougher than Miami’s, and let’s not forget while the Hurricanes lost to Florida, the Tigers defeated the Gators. Would Miami gone 10-0 against the likes of Texas, Georgia, Maryland and Alabama? Probably not. Then again, Miami defeating a Nebraska team considered one of the greatest in college football history–which I thought was misguided, considering this wasn’t even the best team in Nebraska history–carried a lot of weight.

For better or worse, my life changed noticeably on the second day of 1984.