Three days after the reveal, and I still am not sure what I am looking at.

The alternate uniform craze is nothing new to college football, in fact, it’s been around and prevalent for nearly ten years due to manufacturers Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour giving the nation’s finest football institutions new duds to help wow recruits and peddle more product. For a long time, I thought Michigan was immune to this fad, but come 2011, the alternate uniforms came. The ones worn in the first night game, Under The Lights 1 vs Notre Dame, were technically a “faux-back,” as in they had vintage roots from Michigan’s long, vaunted history. The team then would unleash four more sets of alternates by the end of the 2012-13 season. Michigan’s records when they eschew the traditional maize and blue or away uniform for the alternate unis? A very pedestrian 2-3, with wins vs Notre Dame during the first night game and in the Sugar Bowl vs Virginia Tech in 2012. The three losses were more notable – at Michigan State in 2011 by 14, in the Cowboys Classic vs Alabama by 27, and the heartbreaker to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl by 5. Personally, I would think that is the unseen football gods telling Adidas to stop screwing with tradition, but maybe that’s just me.

My question isn’t so much why make these uniforms, but why provide such egregious examples? The bright yellow numbers on the Outback Bowl uniform were near unreadable by the ESPN broadcast crew under the Tampa sunlight. Every person that owns a Cowboys Classic throwback now has an 80 dollar shirt that reminds them of the a**kicking Alabama laid down on Michigan. As long as fans keep purchasing them and players like them, Adidas and Michigan will keep churning out these atrocities to human eyes. Look at the new one – Michigan has never, and I mean NEVER worn anything but yellow pants at home, and that was long rumored to be the one tradition that would not be touched, but low and behold, there they are. Michigan rolling out in monochrome navy doing their best imitation of West Virginia (I thought Rich Rodriguez was fired three years ago?). The striped reflective numbers are another issue but had this been paired with yellow pants, I wouldn’t mind as much. I am not trying to sound like a crotchety old fan here, but Michigan has the best duds in college football in my opinion, and they keep being touched by those meddling kids at Adidas. What’s next? An all maize get up for Under The Lights IV? (Adidas, if you are reading this, don’t you dare even fathom that idea)

There is one constant with alternate uniforms, new student ticket policies, a different gameday experience, and general unrest among the fan base, and that my friends is Michigan athletics under the reign of former Domino’s Pizza CEO David Brandon. As it’s been evidenced before, I am not the biggest fan of DB, but these uniforms are the final straw in what has already been a miserable off season leading up to what could be another lackluster Michigan football season. Now all the blame cannot fall on Brandon, Chief Marketing Officer Hunter Lochmann and the Michigan staff; part of it is the overall erosion of college football’s historical traditions in the name of the almighty dollar. The schools don’t run college sports anymore, the TV contracts, uniform suppliers and corporations run college football – but that is another rant in itself. The key difference in Michigan football is due to the the team’s overall decline and the use of constant new gimmicks that try to hide the fact the team is losing it’s vaunted fan base gradually has only been amplified under Brandon’s reign. I have been to every Michigan home game since the 2003 season and I have seen the stadium transform for the better, but the gameday experience transform for the worse.

The Seven Nation Army effect

If you have a pulse, you most likely have heard the song ‘Seven Nation Army’ by The White Stripes at a sporting event (if not, click the video above). It is probably the most prevalent chant in all of sports with it’s easy to follow riff. It also was the song that Michigan “adopted” (read: copied) from Penn State starting around the 2011 season. This song is a signifier of the Dave Brandon era at Michigan, a time where it seems Michigan games are feeling more like Pro Football games in terms of atmosphere. One of the most exciting parts of gameday is watching the Marching Band take the field and move across the field in the shape of the Block M to the tune of  ‘The Victors’. Instead, Michigan fans are now treated to the piped in sounds of songs like ‘Till I Collapse’ by Eminem, Metallica, and other pump up anthems one might hear more at an NFL game than in college football. In 2011, Muskegon rock outfit Pop Evil even coined a new anthem ‘In The Big House’ which was anointed Michigan’s pro wrestling entrance music by MGoBlog. Thankfully, it was quickly retired after the 2011 season. I think everything is fine in moderation, but even I have noticed that in the last few years, I hear far less of the marching band than one should at a college football game. In addition to the piped in music, fans are bombarded with ads on the video boards while they await TV timeouts to be done and play to resume. Being a soccer fan and used to watching a sport that has ZERO stoppages in play for commercials, this has begun to grind my gears even more as of late.

Then there was Firework-gate 2014: The Athletic Department submitted a proposal to the University Board of Regents to set off fireworks after the Miami of Ohio game on September 13 this year and during the Penn State night game on October 11. The University Board of Regents usually holds meetings behind closed doors, but in this instance, publicly shot down Brandon by a vote of 5-2. Regent Mark Bernstein said that Michigan games weren’t missing out due to a “lack of fireworks.” This also so happened to be the first time Brandon had attended a regents meeting under the reign of new University President Mark Schlissel. While not holding a background in sports, Schlissel did not hire Brandon, and much like when a new General Manager comes in and there is a lame duck coach, there is always a possibility that job is under evaluation. I for one, am interested to see the dynamic between Brandon and Schlissel since it seemed former University President Mary Sue Coleman would often roll over for Brandon’s many requests and implementations over the last four years of her presidency.

Brandon and co. claim these gimmicks are supposed to “enhance” the gameday experience when really, football is a simple sport – good games draw in fans, as do the sounds of the marching bands and being part of the largest crowd watching a football game anywhere in the country. What draws crowds into this, is winning football but it seems the AD has overlooked this and is trying to find ways to keep an increasingly annoyed Michigan fan base coming to the stadium for seven Saturdays a year. It may take another bad football season, it may take the season ticket waiting list drying up, but at some point, the suits inside Weidenbach Hall need to recognize the real problem: Michigan isn’t very good at football anymore, nor have they been for the better part of the last ten years barring a few surprise seasons.

The Blatant Disregard for the Student Body

This is a picture of the Student Section from 2008, Michigan’s worst season ever at 3-9, and this is more full that it has been at any point in 2012 and 2013

College kids can be crazy, indecisive, irresponsible, and a whole bunch of other adjectives I cannot write about in a professional manner (I should know). At tailgates on Saturday mornings in the fall, the campus is an absolute zoo as everyone gets ready to watch the Wolverines take on their foe du jour. However, something changed recently – the on field product suffered, but the student attendance did not at the turn of the decade after the 3-9 and 5-7 campaigns of 2008 and 2009. Now though, things have changed for the worse, As of June 6, the Michigan Athletic Department announced that student season ticket holders went from 21,000 in 2012 to a mere 13,000 as of this year. That reflects a growing trend in college football that student attendance is declining due to factors like lack of cell phone reception and ability to sit with friends. As I wrote about last year, the change to a General Admission policy was not well received, and even the revised policy this year doesn’t help the fact the on field product is pretty average compared to ten years ago. The Akron game last year was evidence that the student malaise had reached a breaking point, and that even the lure of free donuts could not convince them to watch Michigan supposedly squash another MAC team at Noon (of course, that wasn’t the case). There also is the option that students can save $300 dollars by going and tailgating with friends and then going to a friend’s house or a bar and watch the game on television. While it is true there isn’t a bad seat in The Big House, there also is overpriced food, a lack of space, being forced to stand for three hours if in the student section, and a lack of access to beer. That last one is oddly significant, as it can resemble a scene from ‘Saving Private Ryan’ at half time when the student section’s collective hangover kicks in, especially if it isn’t an exciting game. Even with promises that cell phone coverage will be improved (it hasn’t) and a revised student seating policy that rewards game attendance for future seasons. The current student body felt jilted last season, and showed that by refusing to pay hundreds of dollars for the worst Michigan home football schedule in recent memory. It cannot be said enough: the current strategy of “Piss off the future alumni while they are in school” with last year’s GA debacle and the basketball ticket policy is how the school could find itself in trouble when current Michigan students go on to be successful, and refuse to be boosters or buy season tickets. Remember: College Football is for the students, just like Wu-Tang is for the children.

The Hand That Controls The Puppets

While Hoke was supposed to be the man that saved Michigan Football, he hasn’t done much since the 11-2 Sugar Bowl season during his first year in charge.

When Brady Hoke was hired to Michigan, even I was fairly optimistic about the former Defensive Line coach coming in and being the right man for the job. Winning the Sugar Bowl in 2011-12 with Rich Rodriguez’s players certainly bought him some time and good will amongst the fan base. Only two and a half seasons on from that game, and I want the man fired as soon as possible, and I am not alone in that sentiment. Hoke’s quirks originally were fun – he was a rah rah type coach who fires up the players, but as the pendulum swung the other way last season – he, along with offensive coordinator Al Borges, became the scapegoats among fans. His lack of wearing a headset being the most notable. As I look at Hoke’s tenure off the field (since as my former professor John Bacon said, Sports do not exist in a vacuum). The key fact of the matter is, Hoke is someone the boosters love, a gladhander who represents the concept of “A Michigan Man” a term that should have died with Bo Schembechler (may he rest). “A Michigan Man” is an illusive set of standards that the football coach must live up to, the irony being, Bo, the original Michigan man himself, came to Ann Arbor via archival Ohio State after serving on Woody Hayes’ staff. Back to Hoke, he was Brandon’s first hire as coach, but let’s all be honest, with a competent defensive coordinator, Rich Rodriguez could have coached that 2011 Michigan team to a 9-4, 10-3 record and everyone would have begun to forgive him for the horror shows of 2008/2009. The last thing a proud man such as Brandon wants to do is admit he made the wrong hire, but here is a blip on the radar: Doug Nussmeier’s hiring this past winter. Michigan getting Nussmeier from Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama was a coup and was well received by fans and pundits alike. Nussmeier’s introductory press conference was held in January; Offensive coordinators don’t get introductory press conferences. Anyone could smell something was fishy at Schembechler Hall behind closed doors: Nussmeier will be the next head coach of Michigan football if Hoke cannot turn it around this year or the next. There is only so much fundraising and memorable press conferences Hoke can go through before the band aid is ripped off – the man is not a good coach. He hasn’t properly developed talent, and is not very good with in game adjustments. He doesn’t even know what is going on half the game since he has an assistant yelling to him the substitutions and play calls he would normally hear through his headset, something 99.9% of other coaches in the country wear. Perhaps Michigan can rebuild under Nussmeier, but it certainly has been a blow to Brandon that Hoke has not panned out as he expected in terms of on field results.

The Demise of Dollar Dave? Only time will tell

For the first time this year, I come into football season not with hope, but with just a meh feeling. I cannot recall the last time I felt this way, but with a bad schedule and a lack of faith in the team, it’s what I’ve been led to. Michigan’s premier home game this season is Penn State – how delightfully pathetic. The rest of the home schedule shapes up as Appalachian State (AGAIN) Miami (OH), Utah, Minnesota, Indiana and Maryland. With the Big Ten’s expansion and realignment the schedule became diluted, but no one decided to raise a red flag to the schedule making boffins that Michigan now had to play away at Michigan State AND Ohio State every other year? This is Michigan fergodsakes, someone missed their chance to pick up the phone to call Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney and change such a miserable error. With this, Michigan’s conference schedule every other year, in terms of home games, will be very blah except when they rotationally play Wisconsin, Iowa or perhaps Nebraska. With such a tough road to the Big Ten Title game this season, the pressure is on Hoke and the players to deliver results to the standards of having the most wins all time in college football history. Let’s say everything falls apart and somehow, Michigan is going into the final weeks of the season at 5-5 (doubtful but possible). If that happens, I predict the 238 game consecutive attendance streak of 100,000+ fans will be broken vs Maryland. It sounds unfathomable, as Michigan has drawn at least 100k fans every game since November 8, 1975, but I think that the fans are so fed up with how the program is valuing the dollar over winning (or so it seems) that this may be the breaking point. Even as of last season, the secondhand ticket market has been drying up, students use to be able to fetch nearly $100 dollars for big end of season games; last year vs Ohio State, kids were selling tickets on the morning of the game for under face value just to make some beer money. If that streak breaks, the fingers will be pointed at Dollar Dave, the man who allowed Michigan’s “Brand” (I hate that word) to overtake the importance of winning Big Ten Championships and challenging for National Titles.

In a few Saturdays, I will attend my 79th straight Michigan football home game, but the question is, will the on-field product be enough to keep me going? As frequent readers know, I am a diehard Michigan fan and that will never change, but I swear if I hear Seven Nation Army on a drive in the third quarter of that Indiana game in November while Michigan sits at 5-3 looking at another mediocre bowl game, I will walk up the stairs, out of the stadium, and not look back until some major changes are made in this program both on and off the field.

 

 

 

Does the number 78 hold any significance to you? Sure it’s a number some linemen in wear in football or the occasional hockey player, but for me it holds a special significance. I have attended the last 78 home football games at Michigan stadium, dating all the way back to the 2003 home opener when Michigan faced Central Michigan. I have seen the highest of highs and the utter collapse of the program. I’ve seen two night games in addition to some of the best college football games of this millennium. I’ve been a part of numerous record crowds and have memories that will stay with me the rest of my life. Spending many a fall Saturday there, I feel like I will always be a part of that stadium even when I move away from Ann Arbor.

More so, I also can now say I have attended every non-football sports event held at the stadium. What would be seen as blasphemy by some has now turned into commercialization opportunities for the Michigan Athletic Department under the stewardship of Athletic Director Dave Brandon. Since Brandon took over in 2010, Michigan stadium has hosted multiple non-football related events. These have included two hockey games, one college, one professional, numerous weddings and even high school proms. This is by no means a bad thing, even for I, someone who has criticized Brandon’s tactics in the past, think making use of a beautiful stadium more than eight Saturdays a year is a win-win situation. Fans can experience the Big House in a brand new way and the Athletic Department can continue to rake in profit on their golden goose of a facility.

Personally, I can say I have been to both hockey games at the Big House as well as the first professional soccer game to be held at the stadium with Manchester United defeating Real Madrid 3-1 this past Saturday. As a Michigan lifer, here are my takes on how these three significant events worked out inside Michigan’s most hallowed football cathedral.

The Big Chill at The Big House (Presented by Arby’s) Michigan vs Michigan State Ice Hockey. December 11, 2010

 

When I awoke in my dorm room on the morning of December 11, something felt different. As I slipped on 3 layers of shirts with my Michigan hockey jersey over it and headed to a friend’s tailgate, I started getting excited. 2010 was the final year of the trying Rich Rodriguez era for Michigan Football, but Michigan hockey had started the season hot, and were playing rival Michigan State in the second outdoor game between these two programs. The first was The Cold War, played at Spartan Stadium on October 6, 2001. The teams played to a 3-3 tie in front of a then record crowd of 74, 544 people. Michigan stadium had long been preparing for this event, as the stadium had just finished it’s luxury box/press box renovation and received permanent lighting for the first time in 2010. The tailgating scene was your standard Saturday Ann Arbor fare, but with the temperature well below freezing, there were an abundance of ice luges and kegs of hot chocolate mixed with spirits as opposed to handles of cheap priced vodka and cases of Hamm’s Light beer. As I made my way into the stadium and my season ticket seats in section 28, I was impressed with the sight in front of me. Seeing the ice rink laid down on the stadium with the end zones still exposed had a wonky beauty to it. The Marching Band had taken on all of the hockey pep band chants and the teams marched out of the tunnel and touched the banner before taking the ice. As the game went on, it was an incredible experience. It felt like the atmosphere of Yost Ice Arena (capacity around 6,000) had gotten jacked up on Red Bull and grew exponentially larger. Obviously it helped that tickets to the game were relatively cheap, and for students, free, but the record crowd of 104, 173 was set ablaze when Michigan defenseman Jon Merrill scored the first goal on a power play 12:04 into the first period. Michigan went on to pepper MSU goalie Drew Palmisano with 28 more shots, leading to four more goals. a 5-0 shutout win over an arch-rival with a stunning fireworks show to cap it off led to strong praise for the athletic department creating such a unique, successful, and fun event for all fans. Score: 5 out of 5 Free Curly Fries

2014 (2013) NHL Winter Classic – Detroit Red Wings vs Toronto Maple Leafs

The parentheses above are because the Winter Classic was originally scheduled in 2013, but the NHL labor dispute and ensuing lockout was not resolved in time, and the game was moved to New Year’s Day 2014. I originally had not even planned on attending the game due to the high cost and low availability of tickets, but due to a friend being called out of town, he was kind enough to give me his tickets. The atmosphere surrounding the game had a week long build up featuring outdoor games at Comerica Park in Detroit as well as a new year’s eve “puck drop” celebration on Main Street in Ann Arbor just north of the stadium. There was only one thing that mildly tainted the atmosphere of this spectacle of an event, and that was the weather. Michigan was just about to enter one of the worst winters on record, and the Winter Classic was just a taste. The snow was blowing, the wind chill hovered around zero, and the game had to be paused every so often for workers to clean the snow off the ice. As I wrapped myself in as much cold weather gear as possible and threw on my Red Wings jersey over it, I began the trek to the stadium. The snow was flying, and even in three layers of under armour and two coats, it was bone chillingly cold; translation: it was the weather that should be expected for an outdoor hockey game in Michigan. The area around the stadium was thriving as I went to my friend’s tailgate for some food and drinks before the game. Once we decided it was time to head in, it was boots up as we slipped and slid our way into the stadium. The amount of people who fell on the ice around the stadium was beyond absurd. The one thing that did hold true were the roots of the rivalry between the Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs. People always speak of how hockey rivalries are the strongest, and January 1 was no different. Both teams fans were talking endless trash to each other and seeing that reminded me of when Michigan played rivalry games against the likes of Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State. Entering the stadium, I noticed the largest difference was the abundance of beer for sale. The Winter Classic was the first time alcohol sales had been approved at the stadium. The only problem was, the cold temperature was turning people’s beers into slushies within minutes. As my friend Ross and I trudged our way down the slippery Big House steps (sensing a pattern here?). As the teams took the ice for warmups, it seemed Michigan Stadium had pulled off the impossible: they recreated the uniquely loud atmosphere the 20,066 fans created at the Wings home of Joe Louis Arena and multiplied that crowd by five fold. The cheers were loud, dueling between pro USA and pro Canada sentiments to more team and player specific chants. As the game went on, it only got more intense. A record 105,491 fans were singing the praises of their team and country. It helped that the on ice action was nothing short of spectacular with both teams playing through regulation to a 2-2 tie. While Detroit may have lost in the shootout, all fans went home happy (and frigid). Growing up as a die hard Red Wings fan, watching my favorite team play in a stadium where I have spent so many fall Saturdays was a special feeling that I will never forget. Rating: 5 Coors Light Slushies out of 5

It was cold, snowing, and near miserable at times, but my friend Ross and I had a fantastic experience at the Winter Classic at the Big House.

2014 Guinness International Champions Cup: Real Madrid vs Manchester United – August 2, 2014

This one probably got me the most excited. The rumor mill was running full steam ahead in the spring of 2014 as Guinness announced that their GICC tournament would feature new locations. One of these was finalized as Michigan Stadium in April 2014. The logistics for the match were a bit more complicated as Michigan features artificial field turf as opposed to grass and a pitch not large enough to field a FIFA specification pitch plus technical areas. The solution? Put the players in the stands…Actually, it wasn’t that odd, the reserves sat in Row A on the press box side of the stadium with the police separating them from the fans. There were no issues, so clearly it worked. The biggest difference between this match and the two hockey games was the crowd it drew. For the first time, the stadium was probably packed with more out of towners than those who live within the state of Michigan. Like the Winter Classic, there was a block party the day before the game as fans descended upon Ann Arbor from all over the world. The day of the game, the atmosphere was more muted than the other games as with more visitors meant less local tailgates and more people went to the many bars and restaurants in town. As I walked towards the stadium, it felt like any other game day, people walking down Hoover street and up East Keech into Gate 10 of the stadium. Seeing a sea of Red and White jerseys (primarily Manchester United) as well as others supporting their own personal clubs was a fascinating sight. Walking into my section, the pitch did look impressive and almost natural in it’s setting. Fans piled in to the stadium and since it was soccer, it was a far more multicultural crowd as opposed to the slightly less diverse hockey crowds. As the game began, the fans stuck with the tradition of standing for the first few minutes before sitting down and in terms of playing attention to the game and engagement, they were more lively than a Michigan football crowd. The fact the game was only a friendly did hurt it somewhat as it was clear the players were not giving 100% with the preseason coming to an end shortly after the match was played. The biggest blow before the game was that Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo would be held out against his former team for fitness reasons. However, in the 65th minute he began warming up and both fans sung his name. Once Ronaldo entered in the 75th, although it was 3-1 Manchester United, the crowd roared and leaped to their feet to see the greatest player in the world make a cameo appearance. Overall, the experience was successful, I personally believe only the fact it was a friendly, unlike the previous two non football games at the stadium, hurt it somewhat. I did have a great time and was part of yet another record crowd, as 109, 318 people packed into the stadium. Also, Relevent Events booked band The Fray to perform at halftime: The Fray haven’t been relevant in a few years and the fans overall disinterest during halftime showed that. That was another negative in my book, but overall, these few shortcomings couldn’t taint a great day and great experience. Rating: 4 Pints of Guinness out of 5

Well there you have it. 3 games, 2 sports, 1 fan attending all three. I fully support Michigan’s quest to use the Big House for events other than football as long as they remain special. The Big Chill, Winter Classic and soccer match were all prestigious events for the sports and teams involved. Rumor has it, GICC organizers want to use Ann Arbor again in the coming years. I think this is fine as long as the teams involved are worthy of playing in such a special place in front of such a large crowd. Some writers in Ann Arbor have said that there may be concerts, even events like WWE’s Wrestlemania. The fact that Ann Arbor is home to the largest stadium in the United States of America is a blessing for lifer’s like myself, and I welcome the next non-football event into Michigan stadium with open arms. For now, I’ll settle for the fact football season kicks off at home in 24 short days. GO BLUE.

 

 

 

 

The 11 men who took the field against Ghana two weeks ago, fittingly they were dressed like firecracker popsicles. #Murica

Like many of you, I spent my Tuesday evening surrounded by sadness yet a sense of pride as I watched the US Men’s National Team lose to Belgium 2-1 in extra time. Even Tim Howard’s valiant effort with a World Cup record 16 saves, and one of the most intricate free kick routines you will ever see couldn’t secure a goal to force the Yanks into penalty kicks vs the Red Devils. There was one thing I did notice however: This team gained a far more devout following this World Cup than they had four years ago. It took all of thirty five seconds, and Clint Dempsey scored a goal that set the nation ablaze with red hot passion for this team. In a span of 16 days, much of this nation fell in love with the USMNT. Of course, in all likelihood many of the people gathering at pubs and other locations for watch parties will return to not watching that much soccer, however, the fundamental difference is this is a team that people wanted to watch and cheer for. A team that so many had written off before the tournament, especially after dropping Landon Donovan from the 23 man squad. This was a team that epitomized the American spirit that made this country great. With recognizable names like Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, new hair icons Kyle Beckerman and Mix Diskerud, and the leader of the motley crew, Tim Howard, there was someone for everyone to like. The first game against Ghana was a 2-1 win was redemption after the Black Stars had knocked the U.S out of the last two World Cups. Granted, the results only got worse as the tournament went on, but a run to the last 16 in a tournament where the eight squads that remain not only won their groups, but feature 6 of the best teams (Germany, France, Colombia, Brazil, Netherlands and Argentina) on the planet is impressive in it’s own right. This isn’t to serve as a plea to force people to watch soccer or adopt a team abroad or even attend an MLS game (I certainly have yet to). This is more focused on the idea that every World Cup can serve as a benchmark for the growth of soccer in America, and I would certainly say it has grown a lot since the 2010 World Cup.

 

Tim Howard’s performance against Belgium forever sealed him into U.S sports history

What helped make this last two weeks great were the support of the fans and the all encompassing efforts of the media in addition to the team that the U.S fielded

The Voices of #IBelieve

ESPN ramped up their coverage this year (compared to South Africa in 2010) considering it will be their last World Cup (FOX takes over next year with the 2015 Women’s World Cup and holds the rights through the 2022 FIFA World Cup). Four years ago, even ESPN itself didn’t focus all that much on soccer, club or international, but this year, not only have the games been great, the pregame, and post game, especially World Cup Tonight with the breakout stars the Men in Blazers, have been delightful and only added thought provoking analyses. ESPN also went all out getting former international stars like Ruud Van Nistelrooy (Netherlands) Michael Ballack (Germany) and Gilberto Silva (Brazil) to join as analysts. For the fans, one of the more impressive things I noticed this cup is how patriotism can overrule sport. Throughout watching the four games at two different pubs, I noticed friends of mine who could not even remotely be bothered about soccer outside the World Cup, were giddy at the prospect of watching the game with other USA fans. Not only were they intrigued, but they firmly entrenched themselves with the cheers and chants that broke out (mostly American Outlaws chants). Not only was it great to see, but it felt like in a society where people debate and disagree so often, everyone put that aside for ninety minutes to support our Yanks in Brazil.

The Team

When Jurgen Klinsmann was hired in 2011 and even to this day, some of the more skittish (and uninformed) soccer fans were wary of the German legend taking over the American team. This only continued when he decided to axe 2010 World Cup hero Landon Donovan from the side and bring along younger players like DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks and Julian Green. In hindsight, his decision played dividends as Yedlin was an explosive presence off the bench and both Brooks and Green each netted a goal during the tournament, Brooks’ being a game winner and Green’s providing one final spark against Belgium. All credit is due to the team’s savvy tactician and technical director, he did his best to make chicken salad from chicken ****. While the USA were exposed to be lacking the proper technically skilled players to succeed, the team adapted and did what they could against some of the world’s best teams. They played hard and held their own, as the team never trailed by more than one goal at any point. The best part is looking forward to the 2018 World Cup (yes, I know it’s a full four years away) is the USMNT under Jurgen Klinsmann has some of the most promising youth players it has ever had. Not only this, but some of these players are currently contracted to big European clubs like Arsenal and Bayern Munich. The starting lineup for 2018 (if all these players continue to grow, develop, etc) is looking as follows

* denotes player was at the 2014 World Cup, (current club team and country) – age in 2018

4-3-3

GK – Brad Guzan* (Aston Villa – English Premier League) – age 33

After Jurgen Klinsmann was hired in 2011, even the most die hard of soccer fans realized Nothing Was The Same

After Jurgen Klinsmann was hired in 2011, even the most die hard of USMNT fans realized Nothing Was The Same

RB – DeAndre Yedlin* (Seattle Sounders – MLS) – age 24

CB – Omar Gonzalez* (LA Galaxy – MLS) – age 29

CB – Matt Besler* (Sporting KC – MLS) – age 31

LB – Fabian Johnson* (Borussia Monchengladbach – German Bundesliga)

RCM – Geoff Cameron* (Stoke City – EPL) – age 33

CM – Michael Bradley* (Toronto FC – MLS) – age 30

LCM – Mix Diskerud* (Rosenborg BK – Norway) age 28

RW – Gedion Zelalem (Arsenal – EPL) age 21

ST – Aron Johansson* (AZ – Dutch Eresdivise) – age 27

LW – Julian Green* (Bayern Munich – Bundesliga) – age 23

The above lineup may seem confusing to some, but in reality, that is the mix of ages and types of players needed to make a deep run into the FIFA World Cup. More importantly, 10 of those 11 players were at the World Cup in Brazil, prior experience can play a big role on the world’s greatest stage. Now of course this is speculative and tentative, but if the younger players develop as they should, this will be a team to be reckoned with in Russia.

With the World Cup over, it doesn’t mean you have to stop watching soccer! There are 3 fantastical ways that YOU, yes YOU! Can help soccer continue to gain a foothold in this great nation of ours.

 

1. If you know it already, don’t be elitist about it.

The New York Times style section (which makes for great toilet paper if you are short) wrote an editorial about how soccer was the new sport of the thinking class with it’s European roots and near hipster-esque following. This is load of nonsense, as soccer has working class roots from Britain. However, one thing that is a large problem in America is the elitist culture surrounding some soccer fans. When someone asks a question about the teams playing, or if Clint Dempsey is good, or what The Champions League is, the worst thing a person can do is raise their nose up and say “really, you don’t know?” THAT is what turns people off to soccer in America and will continue to do so. There is no reason or need for that level of attitude surrounding the beautiful game, that only will hurt soccer’s following as opposed to bringing new fans into the fold. The best thing to do is to inform people as much as possible, and yes, it may seem dumb for someone to ask who Clint Dempsey is, but cut them some slack.

2. It’s not replacing football (at least not yet) – It should only add to the fan’s experience

Certain people (read: people who I still don’t know why I’m friends with on Facebook) posted yesterday now that the U.S is out, America will go back to not caring about soccer. Full stop. That is about the most 1950’s, Pleasantville-esque xenophobic sounding viewpoint possible. Now it is true that some people will stop paying attention to the tournament, but lest we forget, the World Cup Final is the most watched sporting event on the planet, with an estimated 3.6 billion viewers expected to tune into the final on July 13. For the uninitiated, the best part about watching European soccer specifically is you can do so without spending a whole afternoon. – Premier League games air at 8 am and 10 am on Saturday/Sunday mornings and then the rest of your day is free, especially during the fall, to watch college or professional football. However, it is worth pointing out that with the current concussion crisis sweeping football at all age levels, the sport will not be the same as its current incarnation 40 years from now. Eventually, if current trajectories hold, we are facing a reality where by 2114, football will cease to exist, but in all likelihood, soccer will carry on. Current youth developments are showing this as more parents are keeping their kids away from Football and having them play soccer in the fall instead. With that, why not add one more sport to your plate? There’s no commercials, it wraps up in two hours, and it is genuinely exciting, even if there is no score (yesterday’s game being a brilliant example of that)

3. We don’t have to be European about it

In so many of the reports I have read about and seen, you know whose fans are having the most fun in Brazil? The Americans. European fans have been impressed about the wily antics of team USA fans in Rio De Janiero, Sao Paolo, and all over Brazil. This is where American Exceptionalism (read: why America is so different from everywhere else) comes into play. We are a country that is considered to be so backwards from the rest of the world at times, and that is what makes us great. Why not hold true with that for soccer? Last I checked, it was the American Outlaws organizing chants to a Wu Tang Clan song for the game vs Panama last year. It’s that same group that helps fill stadiums like University of Phoenix and CenturyLink Field with over 65,000 fans to watch this team qualify for the World Cup. More than anywhere, the United States is the country where people self-identify as being American first over their religion, over their job, over almost anything else. I saw this patriotism fly to levels of Bruce Springsteen and Kid Rock levels during the watch parties for the USMNT’s four games. If MLS can continue to build fan bases and continue to increase their quality of play, there could be a 30 team soccer league in these very United States with ravenous, almost college football like allegiances. The best thing the United States can do is NOT emulate European fandom with ultras, but treat watching soccer how we treat watching football, where the pomp and circumstance the crowd provides is just as big as the game itself.

 

You may think that the 1900 or so words are blathering from some kid who is overly infatuated with the beautiful game and is currently drunk on World Cup fever. That is true, but I have held soccer near and dear to my heart ever since I played it as a kid until my knees gave out. From not only my, but many others perspectives, this has been one of the best World Cups to watch in decades. There is excitement, and a genuine unpredictability about who will actually take the final. My advice: keep watching, adopt a second team for fun, and really get into the game the rest of the world is so crazy about, you wont regret it.

I can truly always refer to the Big House as HoMe

I graduate from the University of Michigan on Saturday. Without a doubt, it will be one of the proudest moments of my entire life.

I was born in, and for the most part raised in Ann Arbor (5 year stint in Hong Kong aside). This town has shaped me into the individual who I am, and with that, so has this University. My parents both attended Michigan for graduate school and met on campus. I remember from middle school going downtown for football Saturday’s and spending lots of time on the diag in the summers during high school. More than anything, I have lived and died by Michigan sports for a long time.

Some people come to U of M from all over the country because they remember watching the football team in the 90’s with their great, smashmouth football and unique helmets. Others remember seeing images of the Fab Five growing up, and some love the boys of Yost who won the 1996 and 1998 National Championships. Everyone has their own maize and blue ties that run deep, but growing up in Ann Arbor and around the university, I feel mine to be quite unique.

I hold the honor of being able to say the first ever Michigan football game I attended was the 1998 Rose Bowl with my family, the last time Michigan Football won a National Championship. I didn’t have the greatest understanding of the sport at the time, but attending the only National Championship and the last Rose Bowl Michigan won evokes feelings that still make me smile to this day.

My father and I at the 1998 Rose Bowl. I barely knew what football was at age 6, but I did love cheering on the Wolverines.

I’ll also always remember my first game at the Big House. It was November 2002 when I was in 6th grade, Michigan took on Iowa in a blowout that Iowa won 34-9. We sat at the top of the old Big House and dealt with blowing wind and snow. While the scoreboard and the weather both did their best to make the day miserable, I finally was able to label myself as a true college football fan (2002 was the first year I began watching Football on a weekly basis).

The next July, I had just come home from the pool when my dad surprised me with a golden envelope. I parsed my fingers over the shiny block M and carefully opened the seal. Out slipped a page full of colored tickets. My father had surprised me with season tickets. Section 20, Row 50, Seats 19 and 20. Right about the 10 yard line in the Southwest corner of the stadium. I hurriedly ran upstairs to mark my calendar, it was less than six weeks ’til Michigan opened the season at home against Central Michigan. I woke up that morning, put on my #1 Braylon Edwards jersey and block M cap, and my dad and I headed to the game. Michigan came out firing just as they had against Florida in the Outback Bowl that previous January and won in a blowout 45-7, I was hooked. One moment from that 2003 season that still resonates was before the Michigan vs Notre Dame game in 2003. As a 12 year old 7th grader, I obviously was somewhat sheltered from what college life was like, but I remember arriving at the stadium and hearing a loud chant from a group of about 20 guys in yellow student section t shirts screaming “F**K THE IRISH” at the top of their lungs. It was at this moment, I began to realize I had to come to U of M.

Over the years, I experienced the highest of highs, such as Michigan’s 3OT comeback win over Michigan State that only about 50,000 fans saw live in October 2004. Watching Mario Manningham’s touchdown catch from Chad Henne with one second left to give Penn State their only loss of the 2005 season. I also experienced the lowest of lows, like the loss at Ohio State in 2006 the day after Bo died that cost Michigan a chance at a National Championship game. There was also the next regular season game they played against Appalachian State, a game that actually drove 16 year old me to a state of shock and near tears. I learned to live and die by this team over the years, and it wasn’t just for football. I attended a few Michigan basketball games at dark, pre-renovation Crisler arena when the team could barely draw over 3,000 fans per night due to the sanctions relating to Chris Webber. I spent multiple weekend nights during high school at Yost Ice Arena, watching future NHL players like Jack Johnson, Max Pacioretty, Andrew Cogliano and Carl Hagelin dazzle fans on the ice with their skills and deft goalscoring. I was hooked on Michigan sports and it solidified that I wanted to attend no other university in the country.

Pre-renovation Yost and Crisler didn’t have the same allure they have today, but they house some of my best memories growing up with Michigan sports.

 

On a spring day in 2009, that was when the bad news came. I received a letter from Michigan but it was not a welcome packet, it was a single, white envelope with the school’s crest on it. I opened it to find one letter, reading I had been waitlisted at school of my dreams. This waitlist/deferral eventually turned into a rejection with Michigan inviting me to re-apply as a transfer sophomore. I knew what I had to do, I spent my freshman year at Kalamazoo College just down I-94 from Ann Arbor, but I knew the day I arrived there, I was heading back to Ann Arbor. I still attended every home game that fall to keep my consecutive games attended streak alive. Lo and behold, Feburary 18, 2010, I was accepted into the University of Michigan, and it was one of the happiest days of my life. I was going to be able to not only attend a world class institution mere miles from home, but be able to watch the sports I had grown up on with the kids I had grown up with (about 30 kids from my high school graduating class attend Michigan).

I arrived on campus in late August 2010, and what began was a four year journey I would never forget. Like with most of my life, sports here played a huge role in some of the best and worst times I had. Going to my first game in the student section against UConn was the day of the rededication, and was also QB Denard Robinson’s coming out party as starter. Robinson had 383 total yards on the ground in what would be a magical sophomore season for him. I soaked in the atmosphere like a sponge, the loud music, drunk people running all over the place, I felt like I was in my natural habitat, and it was a hell of a lot more fun than the tailgates I had gone to with my parents in years past.

Leaving Michigan means leaving all the memories I have made on game days behind, but I’ll forever remember my four years in the student section above all.

As the years went by, I had the joy of watching Michigan defeat Notre Dame under the lights TWICE, beat Ohio State at home for the first time in 8 years, win a BCS bowl game and so much more. In games I watched at Crisler, I watched the team win two big ten titles and reach the National Championship game in the most successful era for Michigan  basketball since the Fab Five days. It truly has been a magical four years watching these teams. In addition to my life here as a fan, I’ve also had the privilege of covering the lesser publicized sports like men’s and women’s soccer, basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball and lacrosse for the Big Ten Network. Not only did that increase my knowledge of all the different sports and athletes here, but it also upped my commitment to all things Michigan.

However, this wasn’t without a price either. Coinciding with my arrival on campus was the arrival of new athletic director Dave Brandon, who has done excellent work in getting new facilities for Michigan’s varsity athletes and has “built the brand” but I have also watched ticket prices sky rocket for games and students be misinformed by the athletic department while the on field performance (cough. football) suffers. This of course is just my personal opinion but it also shows how the nature of college sports is changing for both better and worse.

As I prepare to leave Ann Arbor for my first job, I know I will always be able to return home, but I also know that my teams are facing uncertain futures. Michigan Football has been treading water since the 2012 Sugar Bowl win and have major expectations on them in Brady Hoke’s fourth year as coach. John Beilein watched 3 of his best players from the 2012 “Fresh Five” recruiting class declare for the NBA draft and now faces down a daunting Big Ten with one of the youngest teams in the country (again). Red Berenson has a team that has missed the NCAA Tournament two years in a row after making it for 22 years straight. While there may be an uncharted path ahead, I will always remember the good times far more than the bad, and I will forever be grateful that this college provided me with some of the greatest times and memories I’ll have. All I can say is, For today, goodbye, tomorrow, good luck, and forever, Go Blue!

Image: Deadspin

Let’s get one thing straight, I f*****g hate Manchester United, but I certainly do respect the club and all they accomplished under legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson.  Manchester United’s 2013-14 campaign has been schadenfraude at it’s best for me as an Arsenal supporter, watching the club wallow in defeats to mid table Prem clubs eases the pain of watching my Gunners squander another title push due to lack of depth, injuries and other Wenger-ian things. The big question at Old Trafford is, was David Moyes in over his head taking over for Sir Alex Ferguson? Did the squad really lack that much quality? Perhaps it shows a bigger institutional problem in the red side of Manchester and Moyes is being scapegoated? Let’s examine the fall of the great red empire this year.

Mo Moyes, Mo Problems?

“I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air” – was it Lorde or Moyes who said that?

What was the first thing David Moyes did when he was announced as the heir apparent to Sir Alex Ferguson’s post? He went on holiday to Spain. While his job did not begin until July 1, this was not the best way to endear himself to one of the biggest football clubs with one of the biggest fan bases in the world. Moyes was also under immense pressure stepping in for Ferguson after the most successful quarter century in the history of English Football. He did lead the club to some silveware before the season even began with a victory over Wigan in the FA Community Shield on August 11, but the good times ended there. What ensued after was the Red Devils’ worst ever start to a Premier League season: losses to Newcastle, West Brom, and archrival Manchester City led the heat to be turned up on him before Christmas. The dubious list of records under Moyes goes on:

compiled by Goal.com

Compiled by Goal.com

Plain and simple, Moyes was in over his head after succeeding Fergie. I know United fans, management, and the Glazer family are frustrated, but Moyes deserved more time than 9 months prior to being sacked by the club, as terrible as this season was.

The Team The Team! The Team?

The player’s expressions in this picture sum up United’s campaign well.

Looking at the transfer window from Summer 2013 and 2014, Man United made a push to defend their 2013 Prem title by purchasing the likes of Marouane Fellaini and 2o year old Guillermo Varela from Uruguay. They only lost reserve defender Scott Wootton and Right Back Fabio to transfers, and longtime midfield steward Paul Scholes retired (again). That means the core of that 2012-13 squad in Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, Nemanja Vidic, Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick and many others returned ready to defend their crown under new manager Moyes. Early in the year, young Belgian starlet Adnan Januzaj even broke out with a few standout performances. By the new year, things still seemed alright, the team had only lost 69 man games due to injury – 7th in the premier league and a far cry behind Arsenal’s league leading 102. However, these injuries included leading scorer Van Persie, starting defenders Patrice Evra and Vidic and many others. The immediate stop gap solution was to sign Juan Mata from Chelsea to play in the coveted “in the hole” role behind the strikers, previously occupied by Paul Scholes. Mata has worked to varying success, but the damage had already been done. The players seemed out of sorts under Moyes and did not perform as well as they did under Ferguson, further proving Ferguson’s status as a respected figure amongst his squad, compared to Moyes, who lost the respect of the dressing room within months of his arrival at Old Trafford.

Fergalicious

May of 2013 was arguably the last time any Man United player or fan was truly happy (like dancing to Pharrell “Happy”)

For the uninitiated, here is Ferguson’s impeccable CV as United boss:

13 league titles (including 7 of the first 9 Premier League seasons)

2 Champions League titles

5 FA Cups

4 League Cups

a staggering 38 trophies over 26 full seasons

Allow Deadspin’s Greg Howard to wax poetic about Sir Alex Ferguson quickly in words that I cannot:

“And he won with these players, all the time, because he’s a disciplinarian. He’s not cruel, but he is a mean fucker. He’s been a “frightening bastard” since his first managing gig 39 years ago at East Stirlingshire, in the third tier of the Scottish pyramid. Everyone loves the idea of a “player’s coach.” And even though Ferguson is renowned for spending every waking moment with his players, from the youngest to the most seasoned, Ferguson is not a player’s coach. He micromanages almost every aspect of his club, and benches or falls out with players who crossed him, no matter how talented.” – Greg Howard, May 16, 2013

The above paragraph is in response to how Ferguson balanced ill-tempered individuals like Eric Cantona, Wayne Rooney, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Jaap Staam, and Cristiano Ronaldo among others and had them play well enough together to lead them to glory.

A quick metaphor to summarize this transition: Moyes was handed the keys to a Ferrari, the problem was no one told him about the rust on the undercarriage, the faulty spark plugs, and the fact Moyes is at best qualified to be driving a BMW.

No man can ever match Sir Alex Ferguson’s 26+ years in charge at Old Trafford. No one can expect that level of success to be replicated, but it seems that club management, ownership and even the fans were expecting Moyes to pick up where SAF left off by expecting the club to win a Premier League title. Expecting that of Moyes is unfair and overzealous for a manager who never led a low budget club (Everton have FAR lower wages compared to United) to higher than fourth in the Premiership (back in 2004-05). David Moyes won PFA manager of the year three times with Everton, however, that was a brilliant accomplishment for a manager of a mid table club with limited funds and far lower expectations. Stepping into the United job requires a zeal that only men like Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Manuel Pellegrini can handle – they have all managed Real Madrid and bring a certain callous sense of a-hole-ishness to their jobs. Moyes did not possess that killer instinct that Ferguson did, and no one expected him to be Ferguson (Ok, nobody outside Manchester did).

Frankly, it looks like United may be going through a transitional period that was bound to happen, whether Ferguson stayed or left. Ferguson leaving  has made the situation/season resemble more of a tire fire than a quick rebuild that would end in a top 4 finish under Fergie. Whoever takes Moyes’ place must be given more time and lowered expectations by the fans, although the new boss will have a slightly easier task with no European competition for 2014/15 (The first time the club has missed the Champions League since 1995). This will provide a lighter schedule and a chance for players to be well rested for Premier League/Cup competitions. As of now, the bettors have the odds on Jurgen Klopp, the man who compared his Borrusia Dortmund team’s style of football to “heavy metal” music, as the leading man to take charge. Personally, I think it will be current Holland manager Louis Van Gaal, who is leaving his post at the end of the World Cup. Van Gaal has 7 league titles and multiple Champions Leagues under his belt during his tenures with Ajax, Barcelona (on two separate stints) AZ and Bayern Munich.

Will Louis Van Gaal redeem Man U?

The latest rumors say Van Gaal may be headed to Tottenham, but a manager of his caliber would surely turn down Spurs for a chance at redeeming United. He would undergo a heavy task, but having managed some of the world’s best clubs at the top level means he has the metal to reshape Man United into Van United (yes, I went there) and potentially bring them back into the Premier League’s summit alongside Liverpool, Chelsea, City and Arsenal. Be patient United fans, you’ll be back to losing in the Champions League final by 2017! (Yes, I also went there)

I know I have been very sporadic on here, but to be frankly honest, I took a bit of a hedonistic approach to this semester in terms of anything not relating to school or work. Now that I am done with college and graduating shortly, I plan to return to my weekly posts here on DTG. As the World Cup draws closer, I will be posting a lot of soccer related content as well as focusing on the NFL draft and Stanley Cup/NBA playoffs.

The Best things in Soccer you missed:

  • Lately, I have become a huge fan of the Grantland Men in Blazers podcast hosted by Roger Bennett and Michael Davies, I highly recommend you give it a listen if you have not before, it’s an entertaining must for any footy fan.
  • Not everyone in Manchester is upset with the job David Moyes is doing at United…

Man City fans showing love for David Moyes during the Citizens game against West Brom on April 21

  •  Benfica won their first league title since 2010 and Lisbon celebrated appropriately

Don’t worry, it’s just a wee bonfire (via @SBNationSoccer)

  • MLS club Portland Timbers have yet to win a match this season, and Real Salt Lake fans used a creative banner to remind them

Cheers to the genius who created this (via @SBNation)

  •  ESPN’s Taylor Twellman had some indirect fun with the telestrator during the USA v. Mexico match back on April 3rd to describe Mexico’s performance

Seems about right (via @KevinMcCauley)

Michael Sam is quick, a terror against quarterbacks, and just happens to be gay.

To be honest I hadn’t really heard of Michael Sam before his announcement last night. However I can say from now on I will be rooting for him his entire career. I’ve always been an advocate for gay rights because why do people care who someone loves? Man or woman it shouldn’t matter. Now this is also due to the fact I was raised in an interracial home in a very progressive city (Ann Arbor is about as upper class liberal as it gets). Now maybe it’s because of this that I find the non-stop coverage of this story to be tiresome. Michael Sam is making history by being the first openly gay NFL prospect, and will become the first openly gay NFL player. I respect his courage for this and his decision to tell the world himself instead of letting the word leak through another outlet. However, what I don’t understand is the 24 hour media cycle’s insistence of covering this non-stop. As I sat on the exercise bike at my gym this morning, the only things in Sportscenter’s sidebar rundown consisted of Michael Sam coming out, his draft stock, impact, and analysis. While this is historical, how much is too much coverage on him? It feels through all this analysis of his coming out and locker room impact, people are forgetting he was the co-defensive player of the year in the best conference in college football. Basically the thought from my personal view is “Ok, he’s gay, this is of historical significance, but how does this affect his play on the football field?” ESPN: The Magazine’s LZ Granderson published a piece today about how there have been many gay players in the NFL and it has never caused a rift before.

When Vince Lombardi found out he had a gay player in his locker room, this is what he reportedly told his assistants: “If I hear one of you people make reference to his manhood, you’ll be out of here before your ass hits the ground. – LZ Granderson, 2/10/14
Once drafted, Michael Sam will not be the only gay player on an NFL roster, he will be the only openly gay player, which for him is a landmark, I just wish the media circus surrounding him now would focus more on him as a football player, instead of him as a gay man. I have had gay coworkers before and it has never been any trouble, but I also will never understand other people’s fascination with being so against homosexuality.
Now another point worth showing is the darker side that the media hasn’t addressed as much, Sam told his Missouri teammates in August about his sexuality, and many of them received him with open arms. I have a friend who attends Missouri and knows a few players on the team, and this is what he told me earlier: “A friend on the team can confirm that teammates did talk shit about Sam behind his back and even during an in season fight with (redacted), redacted called Mike Sam a fag.” That last word sends shivers down my spine, I abhor it more than any other word in the English language. Sure, not everyone in Sam’s NFL team locker room will support his lifestyle, but I do hope that they will not shun him because of it. Just as I hope Sam will not fall in the draft due to his coming out, however, I fear that because of this, Sam will be labelled “a distraction” by some GMs and teams, which if that is the case, shame on them. There was already a rumor going around that former All Pro safety Kerry Rhodes was blackballed by NFL GM’s for sheer suspicion of him being gay. The fact this was an issue is another problem already, but Michael Sam being out in the open is him challenging the NFL to change, and for that, bravo sir, bravo.

What scares me about the situation right now is let’s say Mike Sam makes a big play in a road game later this year, I know some jagoff in the crowd will say “yeah, but he’s a f-g.” There is nothing that can change a culture that has so many intolerant people that have an outlet safely behind their computers in social media as well as not caring to censor themselves in public. This oddly relates to the Marcus Smart incident from over the weekend. He responded to comments a Texas Tech fan made to him, but the difference is in football, there is a lot more space separating fans and players. Having attended many NFL games, I can already imagine what horrible words will be hurled at Michael Sam next season, however, he seems to be a young man of such sharp character that he will not let these words get under his skin. In his interviews he was very certain of his decision, and as long as he can keep up a mentality of “I am a football player” over everything, that is all that matters. It will be interesting to see how this narrative is brought up again during the NFL Draft, training camp, and the start of the regular season, I just hope that the focus will be because Sam is an explosive, high motor guy who led the SEC in sacks and wants to make an NFL impact, not because he is a gay man.

Even watching at home from over 2000 miles away, I get fired up every time that 12th Man flag is raised.

It’s a funny story how I became a Seahawks fan.

Backyard Football was my first exposure to pro football in video game form.

It all started when I was a kid playing Backyard Football on Windows 98. I didn’t know a ton about the NFL besides the fact I always had Barry Sanders and Pablo Sanchez as my running back tandem. What I did know is when I had to pick my team, the Seahawks with their marine blue and bright green color scheme caught my seven year old eye as something cool, and I chose them as my team to draft my backyard squad. Coincidentally, I had Jerry Rice as a Seahawk 6 years before he was traded to the team.

Flash-forward two years to January 1, 2000. Michigan is taking on Alabama in an Orange Bowl for the ages. For Michigan, Tom Brady had 369 passing yards and 4 Touchdowns but on the other side was a senior running back by the name of Shaun Alexander who had 161 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns in the Crimson Tide’s losing effort. Michigan won 35-34 but I did remember that running back. As the story goes, he got drafted by who else, but the Seattle Seahawks in the first round of the 2000 NFL Draft.

Shaun Alexander caught my eye in that Orange Bowl but I didn’t see him again until I started watching the NFL full time in 2002

Two more years later and it is 2002. I was entering sixth grade and I finally started watching the NFL on a full time basis. I remember coming home from church that day with my parents and seeing Ricky Williams run all over the Lions in his debut for the Dolphins. I knew that day, it would be important to keep a second team in the back of my mind. I bought my first copy of Madden that year (Madden 2003) and as I listened to the awesomely 2000’s soundtrack consisting of Andrew W.K and Good Charlotte, I was deciding who to start my dynasty with. With a beautiful new stadium, cool new monochrome uniforms and moving into the newly re-formed NFC West, I picked the Seahawks.

Chad Eaton was one of the many Seahawks I turned into a pro bowler in Madden 2003 for Xbox.

Behind Shaun Alexander’s power running and a defense led by Shawn Springs and the always entertaining (and still very good in Madden) John Randle, I led that team to multiple Super Bowl wins in the fantasy land that is Madden. Playing fantasy GM became a passion of mine and in subsequent years I always chose the ‘Hawks in Madden as well as catching their late games when they were on Fox and local market picked them up. The Seahawks were a refuge for me away from the godforsaken Lions fandom I dealt with, but I still followed them with an intense passion. This only intensified when Shaun Alexander reemerged on my radar Sep 29, 2002. Vikings vs Seahawks on Sunday Night Football, Alexander scored FIVE first half touchdowns to set an NFL record as the Seahawks pounced Minnesota 48-23. I had a new favorite running back in the league.

When 2005 came around it was a match made in heaven. The Seahawks were playing the Super Bowl in my home town of Detroit. While I couldn’t attend the game, I went to the Super Bowl Experience with my dad at Cobo Hall in Detroit decked out in my Lofa Tatupu rookie jersey I begged my parents to get me for Christmas in 2005. The Monday after the Championship game I discovered I was most certainly in the minority at my high school in cheering for Seattle, but I held firm. When they lost in Super Bowl XL, I was sad, but I was still proud of my team for making it to the pinnacle of the pro football summit. Over the following years of ups and downs, I still cheered them on even harder than I did the Lions, because unlike the Lions, the Seahawks actually won games, and when they lost, it didn’t wretch my heart out.

In 2007, by virtue of luck, I was able to visit Qwest Field and take a tour of the loudest stadium in the NFL. In person the place is incredible, and unlike any other pro football stadium. Wandering around the stadium, seeing the 12th Man flag, it reaffirmed why I loved this team from the Pacific Northwest. I still have yet to return and attend a game but my goal is to go to CenturyLink within the next two years.

Although I was in Seattle only for a day, my trip to Qwest Field was the highlight

Things only got better for me when Russell Wilson, my favorite college QB of the late 2000’s with NC State and later Wisconsin, was drafted by the team and won the starting job. Watching him play has been an absolute delight. That along with the moves for players like Marshawn Lynch, Percy Harvin and Richard Sherman has led to a team that I not only idolize, but I enjoy because they are viewed by so many as the underdog. They barely get any media coverage being all the way up in Seattle, but when Sherman gave the interview heard round the world, the world listened.

I still am a pseudo lone-wolf as a Seahawks fan in Michigan, and tonight at the Super Bowl party I am going to, I will most likely be the only member of the 12th Man (and I even have a wager in place with my best friend who is a die-hard Broncos fan). However, I will wear my Richard Sherman jersey with pride, and while I respect Peyton Manning, tonight is the night the Seahawks will rise to the occasion and take their first Super Bowl title home in New Jersey. Even if they don’t, with the Lions latest pathetic coaching hire in Caldwell, I am just about ready to shift to Seattle full time. My college athletics professor John Bacon always said that you can change your pro team geographically because the ties don’t run as deep as personal ties to college sports. However, through a series of coincidences over the better part of 15 years, I became a Seahawks fan, and I am damn proud to be a member of the 12th Man. GO SEAHAWKS! LOB!