Sunday, October 31, 2010

Total Titans

Some catchup on what I've written on Total Titans of late:

Yesterday, I wrote about two myths regarding the Titans' run offense.

I wrote about field position and the Titans' offensive success, which is something I'd written about in the offseason.

I liveblogged the Titans-Jaguars MNF contest.

With today's loss to the Chargers, the Titans now don't play for another two weeks because of the bye. During that time, I plan to write one or more posts at Total Titans covering in some more detail the Titans' struggling run game. Unless I get lazy and don't, which has a small but non-zero chance of happening. I also have a goodly number of bookmarks to sort through, some of which I might blog about at some point during the next two weeks. I'm also continuing to read football books-I should in November finish at least the three I've been averaging over the quarter, with reviews of those appearing at the proper time.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Book Review: God & Football

For God & Football: Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC, Chad Gibbs decided to undergo a season long tour and see a home football game for every SEC team during the 2009 season. If that sounds slightly familiar, well, it should, since that's exactly the conceit behind Clay Travis's Dixieland Delight, written about the 2006 season.* Of course, Gibbs couldn't just write Dixieland Delight Version 2, By Some Other Guy, which meant he had to find a separate hook.

That hook, as you might guess from the title and subtitle, is that the SEC just happens to be located in the South, where 84% of the population self-identifies as Christian. How do Christians like Gibbs square their devotion to their alma mater's gridiron achievements (or lack thereof, see, e.g., Vanderbilt and Kentucky). For his tour, Gibbs spends his time meeting with students who are part of organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ and speaking with local preachers, many of whom tend to be just as fanatic in their football devotions as Gibbs and just as conflicted as he.

As far as hooks go, I am none too religious by personal avocation, so the conflict Gibbs writes about is one I don't personally feel. Nor, I admit, did I find it deeply insightful into other areas. There are no great answers at the end of this book, which I view as being primarily because there really aren't any great and easy answers, and there shouldn't be.

Given that, how does it compare to Dixieland Delight? Travis's book was much more a tale of drunken debauchery, because that's more who Travis is and not who Gibbs is (at least in terms of their authorial presentation). Like Travis, Gibbs is a generally pretty good writer and God & Football does have some amusing moments, though I recall Dixieland Delight being more consistently funny. I did, however, get cranky at Gibbs occasionally, for joking references to the reader to look things up on the internet if they wanted to know something, or (and yes, I freely admit this may be me being cranky) calling a piece of music the 2001 theme (it's called "Also Sprach Zarathustra", which even a cultural philistine like me knows). Travis's book also benefited from more "recurring" characters, as he tended to travel to games with people he already knew. Gibbs does attend games with his college roommate and his wife, but, as mentioned, he's meeting with the local religious establishment, and they're simply not on stage and don't have enough of a relationship with the author for any sort of distinctiveness to stand out.

Anyway, now is the point at which I tend to say something about who should read the book. Unusually, I don't have what feels like a suitable pithy recommendation and will simply state res ipsa loquitur, the thing speaks for itself. I guess I should also note I read God & Football as a library rental, and there are a couple typos, only one of which bothered me (Ole Miss QB Jevan Snead is referred to as "Javon" at one point).

For more on Gibbs and God & Football, see his website. He's also on twitter. If you want to read the book and talk about it, he has a list of discussion questions for each chapter posted on that website.

*-Unless I missed it (and I did look), at no point do the phrases "Clay Travis" or "Dixieland Delight" appear in God & Football. I'd be extraordinarily surprised to learn Gibbs hadn't read and been inspired by Travis, and if he didn't know Delight (published in 2007) existed before writing this book, he didn't do his book prep properly.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Book Review: The Ones Who Hit the Hardest

Chad Millman and Shawn Coyne's The Ones Who Hit the Hardest: The Steelers, the Cowboys, the '70s, and the Fight for America's Soul is perhaps the least satisfying book I've reviewed on here to date. That's not to say it's the worst book on the list, because it's not, but a book actually on the 1970's Steelers, the 1970's Cowboys, their rivalry, and in the broader context of the U.S. in the 1970's could have been a very interesting book.

Rather, we get about 175 pages on the Steelers of the 1970's, 50 pages on the Cowboys of the 1970's, and 50 pages on the United Steelworkers Association's history of the 1970's, focusing on the election of 1976. I may have thought Perfect Rivals was slanted toward Notre Dame, but Carroll tried to write a book that treated both schools fairly. Coyne and Millman, by contrast, make no such pretense; despite the subtitle, this is book about the Steelers of the 1970's with other stuff thrown in, apparently because people are incapable of reading more than 20 or so pages about the Steelers at a time without digressing into another topic.

The USWA portions are particularly disappointing; they had some interesting challenges, and there can be a real and valid debate as to the extent to which a union can and should cooperate with and challenge the main employer(s). In fact we've seen this debate in the NFLPA, with Gene Upshaw criticized by some sources for being too cooperative with the NFL and Paul Tagliabue. De Smith, at least in rhetoric, has cut a very different image, but how much of that is the uncertain labor situation and how much truly is a different attitude is another question. The problem is, aside from the USWA being headquartered in Pittsburgh, its story is completely separate from the Steelers, the Cowboys, and their rivalry to be the NFL's team of the 1970's.

There's just enough material on the Cowboys to be slightly interesting, at least if you don't really know that much. Given the Cowboys' second banana status in the book, it's probably not too surprising to see much of the Cowboys content focused on Duane Thomas, his impact as a rookie, and then his squabbles with The Powers That Be in Landry and Schramm, plus native western Pennsylvanian (and son of a steelworker) Tony Dorsett.

Even the Steelers portions of the books aren't fully satisfying. The worst crime is the end; the book abruptly ends after the Steelers' third Super Bowl championship in Super Bowl XIII over the Cowboys, and completely ignores that they won Super Bowl XIV the next season. Other facts that don't fit conveniently in the narrative, like the 1977 season, are covered in little detail or elided over in one manner or another. It's a pretty well-told story, but a disappointingly incomplete one.

I'm not sure I regret reading The Ones Who Hit the Hardest, but I am glad that I didn't spend money acquiring it and doubt anybody other than fans of the Steelers of the 1970's will find it any more satisfying than I did. Not generally recommended.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Total Titans

I haven't been cross-posting my Total Titans stuff here of late, so this'll be a sort of macro-update.

Chase Stuart wrote a post about whether the Titans were potentially lying in the weeds as an elite team, to which I wrote a fairly long response, diving into some FO and other numbers to say I didn't really think so.

I wrote a decently detailed breakdown of rookie corner Alterraun Verner's first start against the Broncos.

Not quite as much detail as I wrote for the Steelers game, but I also did a breakdown of VY's play against the Broncos.

I also answered Ultimate NYG's questions about the Titans as part of our weekly Q&A exchange.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Book Review: Perfect Rivals

Among the (interminable) number of games billed College Football's Game of the Century, the first I remember was the game that bore another, more distinctive moniker: Notre Dame and Miami's 1988 meeting dubbed "Catholics vs. Conflicts." The two programs bestrode college football almost like juggernauts; Notre Dame with the most-storied history of any program, returning to glory after the Gerry Faust Error, and the brash upstart Miami Hurricanes, super team of the 1980's.

Notre Dame would walk away with a 31-30 triumph after a Miami failed 2-point conversion that October day, and finish an undefeated national champion, while the Hurricanes would otherwise be unblemished and stuck a bridesmaid. The return visit to the Orange Bowl the next year saw a reversal of fortune; the once-beaten Hurricanes (by Florida State) would beat the Irish 24-10 and win a national championship after Notre Dame toppled unbeaten Colorado in the Orange Bowl. The programs would meet again in 1990, but they'd both already suffered a disappointing loss and, well, whatever.

This is the story told in Jeff Carroll's Perfect Rivals: Notre Dame, Miami, and the Battle for the Soul of College Football. Carroll begins his story in 1985 with Miami's 58-7 rout in Gerry Faust's last game as Notre Dame head coach and spends the first chunk of the book setting the stage for the 1988 (and 1989) games. He's a former Notre Dame beat writer (currently a student at mine graduate alma mater, if twitter is to be believed), so the story is somewhat ND-slanted. In fairness to him, ND's story is probably more narratively interesting, as Miami had reached elite status and stayed there, while Lou Holtz was dragging the Irish out of the dregs and building a real team.

The stage duly set, Carroll takes us through the 1988 game, the rest of the 1988 season, then the 1989 season, the 1989 game, and the rest of the 1989 season. The 1990 game is discussed in the book's third part, which features a discussion of Notre Dame's decision to break away from the CFA and sign its own television contract. That's a very interesting issue, but one covered in more detail in Dunnavant's Fifty-Year Seduction and feels out of place here since it didn't really affect the game on the field at all.

Now is the time for me to begin my ritual complaint about how the subtitle vastly overpromises what the book delivers. Catholics vs. Convicts really felt like a big deal, and a big culture clash. In terms of national reputation and fanbase, it was, but in terms of player profiles and whatnot, it really wasn't, or at least if it was you don't really detect it from Perfect Rivals. Rather than a "battle for the soul of college football," it comes across as just a series of games between two very good football teams that ended up being meaningful in terms of its impact on the national rankings.

In case you can't tell from the review, Carroll's book is best described as workmanlike. The events are competently related, the generally right sources properly read, and the major events covered, but the narrative never really rises above the mundane. The book is none too long, only 262 pages including epilogue, but my reading of it dragged because I just never got into it. Carroll's ND slant (though he really did try to be fair) will likely put off some Cane-focused readers as one of the Amazon reviews points out, but didn't really bother me that much. This was a library rental for me, and that's all it was worth to me.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

My Football Outsiders Archives

Most things I've written for Football Outsiders online have been co-authored, so they don't necessarily show up if you click my name on the site. Therefore, this post will be an irregularly-updated repository of links to what I've written for FO that's available online. It will include all columns and any commentary Extra Points I make, but will not include regular extra points.

2012 Season
2012-05-09: Four Downs: AFC West
2012-04-04: The 2006 Draft: Six Years Later
2012-02-16: The Tom Coughlin All-Stars
2012-02-13: Four Downs: AFC West

2011 Season
2012-02-08: Scramble for the Ball: Super Bowl XLVI Recap (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2012-02-01: Super Bowl XLVI Prop Bet Extravaganza (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2012-01-25: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 All-KCW Team (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2012-01-18: Scramble for the Ball: Well-Named Losers (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2012-01-11: Scramble for the Ball: Fantasy All-Stars (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2012-01-04: Scramble for the Ball: Playoff Fantasy Draft (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-12-29: Scramble for the Ball: Best of the Bad Teams (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-12-21: Scramble for the Ball: Rethinking the Machine (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-12-14: Scramble for the Ball: Strength of Schedule (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-12-07: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 Hall of Fame (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-11-30: Scramble for the Ball: Harajuku Suhspension (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-11-16: Scramble for the Ball: Over/Under Update (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-11-09: Scramble for the Ball: Point of Origin (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-11-02: Scramble for the Ball: Comebackery (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-10-26: Scramble for the Ball: Strange Correlations (co-written with Mike Kurtz, except intro)
2011-10-19: Scramble for the Ball: Get Off My Lawn (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-10-12: Scramble for the Ball: The New Losers (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-10-05: Scramble for the Ball: Back to Basics (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-09-28: Scramble vs. Zombie Welker (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-09-21: Scramble for the Ball: P-P-P-Pressure (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-09-14: Scramble for the Ball: Doubt and Regret (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-08-31: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 FO Staff League (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-08-24: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 AFC Over/Unders (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-08-17: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-08-10: Four Downs: AFC South
2011-05-11: Four Downs: AFC South
2011-04-08: 2005 Draft: Six Years Later
2011-02-15: Four Downs: AFC South

2010 Season
2011-02-10: Scramble for the Ball: Super Bowl XLV Commercials (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-02-02: Super Bowl XLV Prop Bet Extravaganza! (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-01-26: Scramble for the Ball: 2010 All-KCW Team (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-01-19: Scramble for the Ball: Smooth Outliers (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-01-12: Scramble for the Ball: Wild Weekend (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2011-01-06: Scramble for the Ball: Second Season (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-12-29: Scramble for the Ball: Fantasy's End (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-12-22: Scramble for the Ball: Holiday Wishes (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-12-15: Scramble for the Ball: QBs, Continued (co-written with Mike Kurtz, except intro)
2010-12-08: Scramble for the Ball: Pretty Good Quarterbacks (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-12-01: Scramble for the Ball: Bad Predictions (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-11-24: Scramble's Turkey Day Showdown (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-11-17: Scramble for the Ball: Robot Snowmen (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-11-10: Scramble for the Ball: Losers and Winners (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-11-03: Scramble for the Ball: Party Tray (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-10-30: Matt Schaub Could Be Big Against Colts (ESPN In$ider piece on HOU-IND MNF game, link to FO thread)
2010-10-27: Scramble for the Ball: Disparity (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-10-20: Scramble for the Ball: Magnificent Losers (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-10-13: Scramble for the Ball: Rules and Regulations (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-10-06: Scramble for the Ball: Powerhouses (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-09-29: Scramble for the Ball: Let Them Score (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-09-22: Scramble for the Ball: Controversial (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-09-15: Scramble for the Ball: Cheesecake (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-09-01: Scramble for the Ball: NFC O/U II and Fantasy Drafts (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-08-25: Scramble for the Ball: NFC O/U I (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-08-18: Scramble for the Ball: AFC O/U II (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-08-11: Scramble for the Ball: AFC O/U I (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-05-26: Breaking Down the American Needle Case (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-05-16: Four Downs: AFC South
2010-03-29: Four Downs: AFC South
2010-02-22: Four Downs: AFC South (wrote JAC and TEN sections)

2009 Season
2010-02-10: Scramble for the Ball: Wrap Party (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-02-03: Super Bowl XLIV Prop Bet Extravaganza! (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-01-28: 2009 All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-01-20: Scramble for the Ball: Warm Fuzzies (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-01-14: Scramble for the Ball: Our Biscuits (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2010-01-06: Scramble for the Ball: Stuck in Your Head (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2009-12-30: Scramble for the Ball: Ratedness (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2009-12-24: Scramble for the Ball: The Clutch of Our Lives (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2009-12-18: Scramble for the Ball: The Winter of Our Discontent (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2009-12-09: Scramble for the Ball: Playoff Etiquette (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2009-12-02: Scramble for the Ball: Heck of a Guy (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2009-11-25: Scramble for the Ball: Coaching Carousel (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2009-11-18: Scramble for the Ball: In a World ... (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2009-11-11: Scramble for the Ball: Parade of Losers (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2009-11-04: Scramble for the Ball: We Were Wrong (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2009-10-28: Scramble for the Ball: Responsibility (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2009-10-21: Scramble for the Ball: Keepin' the Faith (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2009-10-15: Scramble for the Ball: Bye Week Fodder (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2009-10-07: Scramble for the Ball: Epicure (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2009-09-30: Scramble for the Ball: Fair Market Value (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2009-09-24: Scramble for the Ball: Snuggie-licious (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2009-09-16: Scramble for the Ball: The Beginning of the Beginning (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2009-09-11: Scramble: 2009 Over/Unders Part II [AFC, our fantasy teams] (co-written with Mike Kurtz)
2009-09-04: Scramble for the Ball: Change Partners Again [NFC, staff league] (co-written with Mike Kurtz)

2007 Season
2007-12-07: Book Review: Bowls, Polls, and Tattered Souls (guest column)

Site News

I've stopped posting regular promos of my other work on here, for no very good reason, and that's not likely to change until I start writing actual posts here on a semi-regular basis.