Throughout this young millennium, the Notre Dame/Michigan State series has been marked by high-scoring affairs, astounding individual efforts, and last-minute heroics. With the early struggles of the 2007 Irish offense reaching Prognosis: Negative proportions, one wonders if such a game is in the offing this Saturday. But if recent ND/MSU games have taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected.
"We Claim This Land in the Name of Jennifer Granholm"
Iwo Jima it ain't.
The Irish exacted a measure of revenge last year, overcoming a 16-point fourth quarter deficit for a stirring 40-37 win at Spartan Stadium. Fearing a reprisal of the previous year's flag planting, then-MSU head footbawl coach John L. Smith sent several of his players onto the field as the game ended, protecting the field with all the subtlety of Horatio Sanz performing in drag. Smith was still preoccupied with the loss a week later, slapping himself in the face, in some bizarre attempt at payback to Charlie Weis, during his postgame remarks following MSU's game with Illinois. To their credit, the Spartans' fans, and the local media, had a more reasoned, subdued reaction to the hellacious choke job.
The Spartans are now under the tutelage of head footbawl coach Mark Dantonio, hired from the University of Cincinnati. Dantonio, a former assistant at Ohio St., is often cited as a potential candidate to replace The Vest as OSU's head footbawl coach at some point down the line. It will be interesting to see if he will allow the Spartans to break out the flag if they win this Saturday. The playful, light-hearted hooliganism of flagplantery would prepare Dantonio well for the cartoonish überhooliganism of Columbus.
Michigan St. enters the game undefeated, but they looked unimpressive in their 17-13 win last week over Pitt. However, history has taught us that the Spartans can look flat and uninspired one week, and unleash the hounds of hell the next.
Frick and Frack
"In the Latin, Jehuu begins with an 'I'."
Ringer is the slasher of the two, a quicker back who is like the freakish result of a suburban Chicago lab experiment combining Gale Sayers and Walter Payton. Caulcrick is the power back, a straight-ahead runner who is a veritable brick wall. He is a human battering ram, in the style of Master of the Universe's Ram Man.
Both backs have a proven track record against ND, combining for 224 total yards and two touchdowns in last year's meeting.
Surely such an impressive duo merits a nickname, and as usual, footbawl players and media types alike have failed to disappoint, dubbing them "Thunder and Lightning". How utterly original. No duo of players have ever received that particular appelation, except perhaps for these guys, and these other guys, and them, and them, and many more. The following are alternative nickname suggestions for Ringer and Caulcrick, as well as any other duo in need of a nickname in the future:
Reserved for running backs who are so fast,
it's like they're travelling through time.
-- Sturm und Drang
-- Thelma & Louise
-- Peat & Repeat
-- Mitch & Murray
-- Peas & Carrots
-- Tango & Cash
-- Fat Man & Little Boy
-- The Falcon & The Snowman
-- Mr. Peabody & Sherman
-- McMillan & Wife
Hearts of Darkness: A Blogger's Apocalypse
Venezuela, Six Months Ago...
My journey took me along the Orinoco, deep into the dense Venezuelan rainforest. I had entered the lands of the Guancaro tribe, and I knew that they did not suffer outsiders lightly. And yet, if the stories were true, the man I was sent to find was here. It couldn't be true. This was madness. And yet, this was my mission. The message had to be delivered.
Leaving the river behind, my guide led me deeper into the jungle. Though it was midday, the thick brush made it nearly pitch black, and the limited visibility only added to my sense of dread. After what seemed like hours, we suddenly came upon a clearing. In the middle stood a thatched hut, guarded by two Guancaro natives. They were half-naked and carrying spears---the Guancaro, I knew, eschewed modern technology not out of ignorance to outside society, but out of respect for the ways of their forefathers. These were a proud, disciplined people. With great reluctance, I approached. My guide, who had a rudimentary knowledge of the Guancaro's native tongue, explained to one of the guards my purpose, while the other guard eyed me warily, spear at the ready. My heart pounded in my chest.
Remarkably, the guide's words were satisfactory, and the guards stood aside. So it's true, I thought. He's here. I entered the hut, leaving the guard outside.
With the entrance to the hut open, some light from the clearing allowed me to get my bearings. I was standing in a small room, with a doorway leading to another. There was writing on one of the walls, in a brownish-red color. Is that blood?, I thought. The writing appeared to be a series of slogans: "Failure is Not an Option," said one. "Death Before Dishonor," read another. A noise from behind made me turn. A man entered from the other room. This was not the man I had been sent to find, and yet he was familiar. Though his hair was long, his face unkempt, and his clothes ragged, I could tell that this man was none other than Walt Harris.
Harris had ultimately succumbed
to the influence of Bay Area hippies.
"What are they gonna say about him?," Harris answered. "What are they gonna say? That he was a kind man? That he was a wise man? That he had plans? That he had wisdom? Bullshit, man!"
"So he is here!," I exclaimed. "Can I see him?"
"Hey, man, you don't talk to the Coach. You listen to him. The man's enlarged my mind. He's a poet-warrior in the classic sense. I mean sometimes he'll... uh... well, you'll say 'hello' to him, right? And he'll just walk right by you. He won't even notice you. And suddenly he'll grab you, and he'll throw you in a corner, and he'll say, 'do you know that if is the middle word in life? If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you'... I mean I'm no, I can't... I'm a little man, I'm a little man, he's... he's a great man. I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across floors of silent seas..."
After much persuasion, Harris led me into the other room. It was dark, as the room contained no openings to the outside. The room was dimly lit by two torches on the wall. Looking into the corner, I spotted him---there, face lit by the torchlight, his head shaved, was the man I had been sent to find---John L. Smith.
John L. Smith, at the crossroads of
genius and insanity, six months ago.
"No, coach. I've been sent here to deliver a message."
Smith tossed the remainder of the banana at Harris, who left the room. Still not looking at me, he spoke. "The Guancaro use the same word for 'message' as they do for 'threat'. To them, outsiders epitomize the unknown---innocence and mayhem all at once."
My message could wait. I needed to know something.
"Coach," I began. "How did you manage to get the Guancaro to accept you?"
Without looking up, he answered. "There is an ancient rite of passage among the Guancaro, by which they choose their tribal chiefs. In the waters of their lands lives the fearsome anaconda. If one meets the anaconda in combat, and takes from the great beast its fangs, he earns a place of honor."
Smith gestured toward something around his neck. It was a necklace, from which hung several three-inch long fangs. He continued, "After that, they accepted me, much as Mr. Belvedere accepted Wesley as a surrogate son."
Another question was eating away at me. "When you lost to Notre Dame last year," I began, "you sent some players out to protect the field. Were you worried that, after your guys had planted a flag the year before, you would be hoisted by your own petard?"
"What the hell is a petard?" Smith replied.
"Nevermind. Anyway, as I said, I was sent to deliver a message. Ed Gennero has been hired to turn around the program at Texas State. He needs a tough-as-nails guy who won't take any guff to coach the defense. He's offering the job to you."
Suddenly, Smith looked up. There was fire in his eyes. He got to his feet, exclaimed, "What are we waitin' fer?" and stormed out of the room. Before leaving the hut, he turned to Harris and said, "I've leaving, Walty. I have footbawl to coach."
"Is there a job for me?," Harris asked earnestly, eyeing us both.
"'Fraid not," I said, and Smith and I left.
CUT TO: Last week...
Coach Gennero was in the hospital after suffering a heart attack, leaving Smith in charge. With his Texas State team trailing at halftime, Smith issued the following locker room pep talk:
"Now, let's analyze what's been working for us... [Long pause] NOT A GODDAM THING'S been working for us. Like this goddam suit doesn't work for me... and this stinking tie... and this goddam shirt. IT DOESN'T WORK FOR ME. You know how to play winning, hard-nosed football? You play football like ED GENERRO played football. A guy who gave his life for this football team. He was a 140-pound halfback, and he played like a goddam WILDMAN! NO! LIKE A GODDAM RAMPAGING BEAST! And that's the way you got to do it! YOU GO OUT THERE! YOU TEAR THEIR F----G HEADS OFF, AND YOU SH-T DOWN THEIR NECKS! Let us pray."Coach John L. Smith was back. (Interesting note: As amazing as this story seems, it was not wholly unexpected.)
"SPARTANS!!! PREPARE FOR GLORY!!!"
I recently had the opportunity to spend a few hours chatting with Sparty in his living room, to get an idea of what makes MSU's mascot tick. Below is a partial transcript of the interview.
Sparty: [Shakes hand] THIS...IS...SPARTY!!!
ME: Yes, yes it is. I must say, [laughs] your head is huge. That is one massive noggin. I mean, you could block out the sun with that thing.
Sparty: THEN WE WILL FIGHT IN THE SHADE!!!
Me: Whoa, relax! I was just kidding. Heh, [points] you're dangerous.
Sparty: You speak in the manner of the actor Val Kilmer. I enjoy his work.
Me: Oh yeah? What's your favorite Kilmer movie?
Sparty: [Grabs DVD off of shelf] THIS...IS...SPARTAN!!!
Me: Really? What about Tombstone? What about Real Genius?
Sparty: Yes, Tombstone, of course! [Looks wistfully into distance] I've made a huge mistake.
Me: An Arrested Development fan, I see. That's one of my favor---
Sparty: [Interrupting] THIS...IS...MARTA!!!
The discussion continued in this manner for about three more hours. I gained no real insight. I did learn one thing, though---Sparty makes a lovely pasta primavera.
ND-MSU Football: Cradle of Thespians
Actor: Bob Golic, Notre Dame
Role: Michael Rogers, Resident Assistant and ex-NFL footbawl player, Saved by the Bell: The College Years
Acting Challenge: Having attended Notre Dame, Golic was all-too-familiar with single-sex dorms. So imagine the challenge of playing a character who lived in a dorm which was not only coed, but which had coed suites. Can you imagine having to deal with three guys that shared a suite with Kelly Kapowski? The mind boggles.
In addition, Mike was a multifaceted character who mirrored and related to to the diverse personality traits of the six leads: the rakish charm of Zack, the athleticism of Slater, the geeky earnestness of Screech, the sweet disposition of Kelly, the intellect of the blonde girl, and the comedic naivete of the ditzy brunette. Golic pulled off this feat with the ease of a veteran actor.
Actor: Bubba Smith, Michigan St.
Role: Moses Hightower, the physically imposing but sensitive cop, in six Police Academy movies
Acting Challenge: The gritty realism of the Police Academy series provided Bubba with a meaty character piece. Smith often used the methods of Stanislavski to dig deep to find the vulnerability needed for certain intensely personal scenes; for example, if the gang needed to enter a room whose door was locked, Hightower would be called upon to rip the door clean off of its hinges. It was hauntingly beautiful in its understatedness.
Addendum: Smith, a former Baltimore Colt, for many years after the team moved to Indianapolis, did commercials for a local law firm, with the catchphrase, "They're still my lawyers, and they're still in Baltimore." (Take that, Robert Irsay.) In recent years, Bubba has passed the torch for these commercials to Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
The Verdict: On second thought, the award for Best Actor goes to MSU alum Tyrone Willingham, who has pretended to be a head footbawl coach for 13 years running.
Prediction From The Oracle
Almost right on the money for three weeks in a row, The Blind Oracle At Bristol has become increasingly cocksure about his gift for communing with the footbawl spirit world.
"Warriors of ancient nobility, their thirst for blood unquenched, claim the battlefield as their own. Barbarians at the gate, an unstoppable force, ready to wreak havoc. Bottom line, the Irish lack the team speed to keep up with the Spartans. Michigan St. beats Notre Dame 35-10."