Kane Webb: Brandon Allen – Are You in or Out?

 

In or Out?

Where do you fall on these semi-hot topics, including Brandon Allen?

Concussions in football. Or: Is anybody else growing weary of the coverage, discussion, debate and self-righteous indignation about concussions in football?

Once upon a time when I tried to play football, the coach put us through the following drill: stand in two lines facing each other, hands behind your back. When the whistle blows, hit the man in front of you with the crown of your helmet.

Crrrack!

Whistle, repeat.

Whistle, repeat.

Whistle, repeat.

We usually stopped when one of the smaller kids cried. (He’d have to run laps.) Now, these were also the days when salt tablets before practice were encouraged and water breaks during practice were verboten, when practice that didn’t include full pads and contact wasn’t practice, when every coach channeled the generous spirits of Vince Lombardi and George Patton. Once we were punished for losing by having to practice two hours in pads before a game. We lost again.

The point is, nobody knew what the hell he was doing then, coach or player. We didn’t question. The coaches didn’t act out of cruelty but some misguided notion of learnin’ ‘em kids hard-nosed football and character. It was a stupid era. And, daresay, football itself is a pretty stupid sport. If it didn’t already exist, would anybody IN HIS RIGHT MIND invent it? No, it’s a legal way to assault the other guy. And this is coming from the biggest football fan I know. It’s a violent, vicious, unhealthy sport, and I love it so. I both hope it lasts forever and that some future, smarter generations will look back on American football the way we do the Roman gladiators — with never-again revulsion.

So, concussions. They’re bad. I’m firmly against them. I’m sure you are too. If your son participates in the previously outlined “concussion drill,” throw a fit, talk to the coach, pull your kid off the team. But, do you think any coach still does that kind of stuff? There’s probably a rogue out there somewhere, but it seems as if the concussion-awareness campaign is working. Even in the NFL. (Lawsuits will do that.) People are officially “more aware” that it’s bad to get your brain rattled on a regular basis.

The other morning, ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” had yet another special about concussions in football. This time, the report featured some newfangled helmet covers that give everybody Martian-head. They’re padded, supposed to help prevent concussions. Experts weren’t buying it.

Concussions in sports, and life, we will always have with us. We’re human. We run into things. And if we agree to continue playing and supporting a game that requires running into things, like other people, well …

Conclusion: Out.

 

Fallout from O’Bannon v. NCAA. Or: Amateur athletes aren’t really amateurs so let’s pay ‘em, but how much and then what and who’s up for a game of touch?

Crazy idea. What if we hit the reset button? Let’s say you’re, oh, I don’t know, the chancellor at the University of Arkansas, a nice, land grant college tucked into the hills of Northwest Arkansas, and you want to start a football team. You know, as a school spirit thing. The rules would be simple, right? If you are a student, you can go out for the team. If you’re good enough, you make the team. No muss, no fuss, no NCAA violations. It’s an extracurricular activity. Nothing more.

The best players may want to make some money at their game of choice professionally. OK. Good luck. Go play and get paid for it. The ones who aren’t so good, or don’t want to play a game professionally, may continue to play in college.

What would happen in this reset world? The best players would try their hand at making a living at professional sports at any time they want. After high school. After a year in college. After a game in college. Just like any other student who wants to work full-time. Drop out if you want. You can drop in later.

In this reset world, popular college sports like football and basketball would increasingly be played by, well, college kids. The elite athletes would already be off making money.

But I’ve checked, and there’s no reset button. We’re stuck with just hoping they blow up the NCAA and go from there. 1

Conclusion: Out.

 

Brandon Allen. Or: Will the most popular player on the team be the backup quarterback?

The Razorbacks’ starting quarterback has every reason to be better this year, right? More confidence. SEC experience. He’s healthy. He has the earnest endorsement of his head coach. He has a strong running game to lean on. And if you’re looking for precedents, plenty of Hog quarterbacks have blossomed in their junior year. Plus, you’ve got to like a guy who responds to a cruddy season that included a nine-game losing streak, a lingering shoulder injury and endless criticism by impressing his coaches and winning over his teammates. Still, we just haven’t seen it on the field enough yet, have we?

Conclusion: In(ish). A bit of a leap of faith, but I like comeback stories. A lasting image of Allen: His first series after Tyler Wilson got hurt early in a game during the John L. Smith disaster. Before nerves set in and, probably, the reality that the coaching staff was generally clueless, Allen tossed a picture-perfect touchdown pass. As natural and easy as you please. Maybe that guy will reappear.

 

Those Jerry Jones pictures. Or: stop emailing me that photo!

Don’t care. And not just because they’re five years old. Don’t care because Jerry Jones’ private life seems only a little less relevant to what he does, and what he’s done, in the NFL than the kind of car he drives.

Would anybody be shocked if those photos were legitimate? Not really. Would anybody be shocked if those photos were doctored? Not really.

So why should we care one way of the other? Because the owner of a professional football team is a “role model”? Please. Because it’ll make us think less of the Cowboys? Please. I’m a lifelong Cowboy-hater; I’m not capable of thinking less of them. Vice versa for my Cowboy-loving friends. It’s part of being a fan. You’re in it for life. You couldn’t disown a favorite team if you tried.

I like Jones because he makes football more interesting. I like him because he dreams big — and then turns those dreams into AT&T Cowboy Stadium with Jumbotrons almost the size of that stripper’s most obvious asset. I like him because he can sell ice to Eskimos and his enthusiasm is infectious and he’s somehow managed to keep the Cowboys popular and at least culturally relevant when they’ve been the definition of mediocre (24-24) over the last three years. 2

Conclusion: Out.

 

Johnny Manziel. The Cleveland Browns’ starting quarterback (yep, I went there) is enormously entertaining to watch. And don’t you go changin’, Johnny. What’s funny is that some so-serious commentators see Manziel as a new breed of arrogant, hard-partying, self- and team-detrimental quarterback the NFL simply can’t abide. Hah! Aside from the de rigeur social-media chronicling, Manziel is a throwback to the Ken Stablers, Joe Namaths, Don Merediths and Bobby Laynes, who partied till kickoff and then kicked butt. What? We’re only supposed to idolize robots like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning? No thanks.

Conclusion: All In!

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Or: Yes, another Apes movie.

Talking monkeys! On horseback! Shooting machine guns!

Conclusion: ALL IN!

 

Baseball has never had it so good. Or: poor, poor baseball.

Baseball is especially great this season, or so I’ve gathered almost by accident via the white noise of sports talk during the day, because of the incredible talents of pitcher Clayton Kershaw and wunderkind Mike Trout. I’ve included photos of Kershaw and Trout below because I didn’t know what they looked like until a quick Google search. Figured you might not either, unless you live in Los Angeles. 3

Look at the numbers on these guys. As of this writing, Kershaw has a record of 14-2 with an ERA of 1.78 with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 8.58; Trout is batting .297 with 27 home runs, 85 RBI and a .960 percentage in something called OPS (on-base plus slugging) that stat nerds say is really good. The kid is 22. Rifle arm. Runs like a deer.

And yet I’m willing to bet you’ve seen that new DirecTV rap video from the Brothers Manning more than you’ve seen Kershaw pitch or Trout hit.

It’s been a tough summer for baseball. 4 First, we all agreed to fall in love with soccer for a few weeks. Then we all agreed to stand vigil while LeBron made up his mind. Then we all agreed to celebrate LeBron’s return home for a spell. Then poor Paul George broke his leg. Oh, and we had to follow that heinous Donald Sterling business to its thankfully happy conclusion. Then football camps began. How is a discerning American sports fan c. 2014 to squeeze in a few innings of baseball, never mind an entire game, which lasts longer than a Minnesota winter.

What is baseball’s problem? Is it a generational thing? A regional thing? Nah, it’s a TV and time thing. Baseball makes for a drowsy televised event, the sports equivalent of that UVerse channel that shows soothing nature scenes. And in an age in which we celebrate our attention-deficit disorder as multi-tasking, a longform sport like baseball can’t compete. 5

Conclusion: Out.

 

The SEC Network/reruns of SEC football games. In the run up to 8/14/14, the Bristol suits programmed old SEC games on ESPN Classic or ESPNU or maybe ESPN8, the “Ocho.” 6 They’re surprisingly addictive. A fair number have been Razorback games from the Houston D. Nutt era, which ran the off-field gamut from weird to weirder. A couple of observations after watching Matt Jones and then Darren McFadden keep me occupied on insomniatic nights: Nutt’s Hogs won several games they had no business winning whether because of good fortune, timely penalties or the individual talents of the McJoneses; and every time the camera cut to the UA sideline it looked as if the coaches had inherited the team at halftime and were figuring it out as they went along. Manic doesn’t begin to describe it. But we knew that, right? In retrospect, Nutt’s teams played hard for him, but, damn, he was exhausting.

Conclusion: In.

 

High school football. If it didn’t sound kind of creepy in print, I’d admit to pulling the car over at the sight of a field of teenagers in colorful, unlogo’d helmets (“you gotta earn that sticker, son!”) and watching a few plays. 7

Conclusion: In.

* * *

Footnotes

 

1 If you are still In on this issue, read this by Charles Pierce over at Grantland. http://grantland.com/features/ed-obannon-ruling-ncaa-violations-lawsuit/

2 You thought I was going to post that photo here, didn’t you? Gotcha.

3 Sheesh, even the Kansas City Royals — the Royals! — are having a good season. There’s nothing better than seeing a team from a small market with a proud history that’s gone forever between successes have one of those years. Like the Pittsburgh Pirates last year. The Royals should be the feel-good story in sports right now, but, really, who has the time? We’ll catch back up when the playoffs start. Honest. Maybe.

 

4 Kershaw. Could use a shave.

 

Trout. Could pass for a high-school senior. 

 

5 A confession: the best baseball story I’ve read this summer wasn’t about a player or manager but a writer, the great Roger Angell of The New Yorker, as told by Tom Verducci in Sports Illustrated. http://www.si.com/mlb/2014/07/22/roger-angell-tom-verducci-hall-fame

6 Watch this clip. Just try not to laugh.

 

7 Because you never know just where you might stumble upon the game of the year. http://www.si.com/vault/2006/12/25/8397453/the-game-of-the-year

 

 

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