Another silenced voice

Last month my favorite sports announcer, Dick Enberg, died.

Now this, from ESPN.com:

Few telecasters have become as identified with a single sport to a national audience as Jackson with college football. The reason might be that he began in an era when every game wasn’t televised, and we had only a few channels from which to choose. It might be that he served as the play-by-play man of the top games as college football soared to new heights in American popularity.

Or it might be it was as simple as Jackson was so good on the air.

His folksy, pull-up-a-chair voice told you a story, but he also thrived in the biggest moments. Take the 1994 Colorado 27-26 victory at Michigan, when Kordell Stewart threw a 64-yard Hail Mary that Buff receiver Blake Anderson tipped to teammate Michael Westbrook for the winning touchdown.

Three wideouts at the top of the picture. Stewart, with time. Let’s it go! He’s got three people down there! The ball’s up in the air, caught! Touchdown! Caught by Westbrook for a touchdown! Incredible!

And then, 25 seconds of silence. It was never about Jackson. It was about the moment.

There is no time remaining. (Seven more seconds of silence). There are no flags on the field. Only despair for the Maize and Blue, joy and exultation for the Buffaloes of Colorado.

That’s a graduate class in broadcast journalism.

By that time, Jackson had been calling college football games for more than 40 years. Jackson called NFL games, Major League Baseball, the NBA, the Olympics and you-name-it on ABC Wide World of Sports. But he was as integral to college football as the Big House and Ralphie.

I had dinner with Jackson and his beloved wife, Turi, on the eve of the first BCS championship game, Tennessee’s 23-17 defeat of Florida State in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl. As college football entered a new era of determining a champion, Jackson decided to bow out. He had turned 70 during the ’98 season, he had been calling sports events since his junior year at Washington State, and all he wanted to do was fish and play golf with his bride.

The point of the dinner was to interview Jackson and write a first-person farewell to the game for Sports Illustrated, then my employer. We had a delightful evening. It always struck me as odd that Jackson became identified with down-homeisms such as “big uglies” and “Whoa, Nellie!” I knew him as a courtly man with a reserve that was part Southern manners — he grew up in Georgia — and part shyness. That night, even though he did me the favor of granting the interview, he wouldn’t let me pay the check. He had tolerated being feted that season, but he never took the attention to heart.

“It was a little much to hear myself being called the king of college football, since I’m someone who, like Paul Bryant, grew up riding in a two-horse wagon,” Jackson said that night. The Bear’s personal friends called him Paul.

Jackson had a code. He did things the way he thought they should be done. He took heat after the 1978 Gator Bowl because he did not make any comment when Ohio State coach Woody Hayes slugged Clemson linebacker Charlie Baumann. Jackson didn’t see it, and even when the producer in the truck told him what happened, he wouldn’t tell America what he hadn’t seen with his own eyes.

Maybe that’s why America trusted him so much. As much as Jackson mythologized men such as Bryant just by doing his job, as much as Stewart’s play lives forever on the internet, Jackson never bought into the myth. He saw the sport’s imperfections, too. He called for the players “who produce all the money” to receive a stipend, nearly two decades before the NCAA approved it.

“In and of itself, college football has no redeeming qualities,” Jackson told me that night. “It’s what you’re doing when you’re 40 that matters. You don’t have to be a damn All-America. All you have to do is test yourself and try. The game gives you that choice. If you ever played football, you learned never to give up. Give up, you’re dead.”

Jackson didn’t give up after that dinner and that Fiesta Bowl. In fact, he un-retired shortly before the 1999 season and worked another seven years, almost exclusively on the West Coast, near his homes in Los Angeles and British Columbia.

When he retired for good, his timing remained as impeccable as when he called the Stewart-to-Westbrook Hail Mary. Jackson stepped out after what many consider the greatest game of the BCS/Playoff era, Texas’ 41-38 upset of USC in the Rose Bowl in 2006.

The sport continued on. It always does. He might not have relished being viewed as the king of college football, but the public felt what it felt with good reason. Of all the coaches and players I have met in covering the game over four decades, few gave me the inner glow I felt when Keith Jackson returned a greeting and used my name.

Jackson once said he covered every sport other than hockey, which wasn’t to be found in the Deep South where he grew up. He covered sports a lot of TV watchers had never seen for ABC-TV’s “Wide World of Sports,” including lumberjacking in Hayward.

Wisconsin sports fans would remember him probably for seven things, including, if you’re old enough, NBA coverage when the Bucks were one of the NBA’s best teams …

… a huge UW football win in the win-challenged 1970s …

… Eric Heiden’s five gold medals in the 1980 Winter Olympics …

… the 1982 American League Championship Series …

… and three Rose Bowl wins:

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Trouble in Patriot paradise?

Seth Wickersham:

THE PROBLEM WITH living your life under the spotlight is that the camera captures only the public eruption, not the months of silent anger. On Dec. 3, when the New England Patriots played the Buffalo Bills, Tom Brady walked to the sideline after throwing late and behind receiver Brandin Cooks on third down, ending a first-quarter drive. Brady was angrier and more irritable than usual, as has often been the case this season in the eyes of some Patriots players and staff. As he unsnapped his chinstrap, Brady passed offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on the sideline.

“He was wide open,” McDaniels said to Brady, referring to Cooks.

Brady kept walking, and glaring at McDaniels, so the coach repeated: “We had him open.”

Brady snapped, pivoting to McDaniels and yelling at him, “I got it!” Everyone within earshot, including head coach Bill Belichick, turned to watch as Brady screamed. He removed his helmet, and as a Patriots staffer held him back — and with McDaniels’ father and legendary high school coach in Ohio, Thom, in the stands behind the bench — capped off the exchange by yelling, “F— you!”

Video of the scene went viral, with many rationalizing it as a symptom of Brady’s legendary competitiveness. Brady would later apologize to McDaniels, who dismissed the incident to reporters as “part of what makes him great.” After all, many in the Patriots’ building knew that Brady’s explosion wasn’t really about McDaniels. It wasn’t about Cooks. And it wasn’t about the Bills game. It was about the culmination of months of significant behind-the-scenes frustrations. For almost two decades, Belichick has managed to subvert the egos of his best player, his boss and himself for the good of the team, yielding historic results. This year, though, the dynamics have been different.

THE PATRIOTS ARE in uncharted territory. They haven’t just won games and titles. They’ve won at an unprecedented rate and over an unprecedented span, which makes the feelings of entitlement creeping inside Gillette Stadium unprecedented as well. The Patriots, in the only statement anyone associated with the team would make on the record for this story, responded to specific questions by saying that there are “several inaccuracies and multiple examples given that absolutely did not occur,” though they declined to go into detail. But according to interviews with more than a dozen New England staffers, executives, players and league sources with knowledge of the team’s inner workings, the three most powerful people in the franchise — Belichick, Brady and owner Robert Kraft — have had serious disagreements. They differ on Brady’s trainer, body coach and business partner Alex Guerrero; over the team’s long-term plans at quarterback; over Belichick’s bracing coaching style; and most of all, over who will be the last man standing. Those interviewed describe a palpable sense in the building that this might be the last year together for this group.

Brady, Belichick and Kraft have raised expectations and possibilities so high that virtually no other team in the Super Bowl era could truly comprehend what it’s like to be them. Brady and Belichick weren’t only pushing the boundaries of what a team could accomplish. They also were challenging basic understandings of how a group of high achievers escape the usual pulls of ego and pride. For 17 years, the Patriots have withstood everything the NFL and opponents could throw their way, knowing that if they were united, nobody could touch them. Now they’re threatening to come undone the only way possible: from within.

THE CRACKS FIRST revealed themselves in early September. The season had just started, and Guerrero was once again becoming an issue in the Patriots’ building, just weeks before the release of Brady’s first real book, “The TB12 Method.” It was more than a fitness and diet guide. For Brady, a self-described “loner” who always seemed most comfortable surrounded by family or on a football field, the book represented a move to extend his brand beyond the game — and beyond the Patriots. Until a few years ago, he seemed uninterested in ever doing so, content to be a father and husband and son and brother and transcendent quarterback, knowing there wasn’t time for much else.

Guerrero persuaded Brady to find time. The two men had worked together for years, with Guerrero having found a spot in Brady’s famously small group of advisers, eventually becoming a godfather to one of his sons. Guerrero has a history of controversial methods — in 2005, he paid a judgment to the Federal Trade Commission to settle allegations that he had claimed dietary supplements could help cure cancer — and he believed he had discovered a way to revolutionize how athletes train. In his book and in the building, Brady was offering opinions not only on training but also on lifestyle, writing that he envisioned a world populated with TB12 Sports Therapy Center franchises.

Few in the building had a problem with Brady’s method — mostly based on stretching with bands, eating lots of vegetables, drinking lots of water, getting lots of sleep and, most of all, achieving peak “pliability.” They did have a problem with what Brady and Guerrero promised the TB12 Method could do. They claimed it could absolve football of responsibility for injury: “When athletes get injured, they shouldn’t blame their sport,” Brady wrote. The method also was so consuming and unwavering in its rules and convictions that, while it helped some players, it felt “like a cult” to others, one Patriots staffer says. The way TB12 began to creep into Brady’s life worried people close to the QB, many of whom were suspicious of Guerrero. “Tom changed,” says a friend of Brady’s. “That’s where a lot of these problems started.”

Brady and Guerrero’s training beliefs introduced an unspoken pressure in the building, with players wondering where they should work out. In August, receiver Julian Edelman blew out his knee, costing him the season, and there was “hypersensitivity” among players, in the words of a Patriots coach, over who would take his place. New players felt the surest way to earn Brady’s trust was to join Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and others by seeking advice from Guerrero at his TB12 clinic — and not team doctors, which Belichick preferred. Guerrero says he wasn’t pressuring players to adopt his approach. “Players have always decided to come or not come on their own,” he says now. But according to multiple sources, players openly discussed with Patriots coaches, staff and trusted advisers whether to follow Brady or the team, leaving them trapped: Do we risk alienating the NFL’s most powerful coach or risk alienating the NFL’s most powerful quarterback?

EARLY THIS SEASON, Belichick wanted to discuss all these issues with Brady.

Guerrero had been around the team for years, mostly as an unthreatening outsider who worked with former linebacker Willie McGinest and, starting in 2004, Brady. On the author page in his 2004 book, “In Balance for Life,” Guerrero says he received a degree in traditional Chinese medicine from the now-closed Samra University of Oriental Medicine in Los Angeles, and later opened a sports injury, rehabilitation and performance-enhancement center, also in Los Angeles. In 2013, Belichick had welcomed Guerrero into the New England fold, giving him free rein in the building and, sources with direct knowledge of the situation say, access to meetings in which medical records for Patriots players were discussed (Guerrero denies ever having seen any records). The coach figured that, because Guerrero had Brady’s best interests in mind, he probably had the Patriots’ best interests in mind too, and could be trusted. But Guerrero often would blame Patriots trainers for injuries, while offering few insightful opinions of his own, and Belichick quickly realized inviting him had been a mistake. And so in 2014, he eliminated Guerrero’s access to those meetings while keeping him on as a team consultant. That was the same year Brady and Guerrero decided to market their business as revolutionary; the same year that Brady began to speak unwaveringly about playing into his mid-40s; and the same year that Belichick drafted Jimmy Garoppolo out of Eastern Illinois — the first sign that Belichick was invested in a future that did not include the quarterback who had changed his life and legacy.

It was also the same year that the Patriots would go on a run toward their fourth Super Bowl win, altering the team dynamic in fundamental ways that would come to a head this fall. During their 10-year championship drought, Brady and Belichick had come up just short together and could only dive back into the redemptive power of work, trying to slim the margins between defeat and victory. In beating the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, the two men drew strength from different touchstones. Belichick found virtue in his idea of the Patriot Way — the demanding, football-first culture with an emotionless pursuit of victory — and Brady found virtue in his Method, which he believed helped him thwart the inevitability of time, reinforcing his belief that he was still not on the downside of his career and deserving of a new contract. In 2016, Kraft and Brady’s agent, Don Yee, began negotiating a new deal; Belichick and other Patriots staff had to abruptly leave the NFL combine in Indianapolis to be part of the process. Brady’s two-year contract, with a $28 million signing bonus, was designed to set up 2018 as a key year, when the team could, in theory, look at a 41-year-old Brady and his $22 million cap hit and decide if it made sense to transition to Garoppolo.

A year later, after another Super Bowl win — the Brady-led, historic comeback from 28-3 to defeat the Atlanta Falcons — Brady’s stature in the organization had grown to the point that he was considered management. New players often address him as “sir.” As Brady gained power, so did Guerrero, who became an even more divisive force in the building. One player visited TB12 under what he perceived as pressure, and declined to allow Guerrero to massage his injured legs. Instead he asked to keep treatment limited to only his arm, out of fear that one of Guerrero’s famous deep-force muscle treatments would set back his recovery. The Boston Sports Journal would report on another player who was told by Patriots trainers to do squats but later instructed by Guerrero to not do them. Brady would tell teammates, “Bill’s answer to everything is to lift more weights” — a claim that many staffers and players felt was unfair, given the team’s dedication to soft-tissue science and a healthy diet.

And so after several such incidents, Belichick explained to Brady in early September that many younger players felt pressured to train at TB12 rather than with the team, and asked the quarterback what was going on. Brady said he didn’t know anything about any such pressure, according to people briefed on the exchange, and the two men left the meeting without any resolution.

Belichick felt the need to permanently clarify Guerrero’s role, drawing sharp boundaries. After the brief discussion with Brady, Belichick emailed Guerrero to let him know that while he was welcome to work with any players who sought out TB12, he was no longer permitted access to the sideline or all of the team headquarters because he wasn’t an employee of the Patriots (a point that Belichick would resoundingly make clear when reporters asked about Guerrero).

An email designed to solve problems only created more of them. Guerrero texted some of the Patriots players who were clients and specified, he says now, “that I would need to treat them at the TB12 Sports Therapy Center.” But several players told staffers and coaches that Guerrero gave them the impression that Belichick would no longer allow them to work with him. In the view of many Patriots, it was an example of Guerrero trying to split the organization by turning players against Belichick. All of this happened as Brady, serving as TB12’s test case, continued to reiterate publicly and privately his goal of playing into his mid-40s. In October, he again explained to Kraft and Belichick his plans to play a few more years. The question was whether Brady had earned long-term security from the Patriots, or if he would finish his career somewhere else.

BELICHICK HAS FAMOUSLY staked his entire career on the idea that long-term security doesn’t exist in the NFL. Fear, paranoia, the irrelevance of yesterday and tomorrow, and acceptance of Belichick as the ultimate authority are as much a part of the Patriot Way as selflessness and sacrifice. For years, Brady stood as the perfect model for Belichick’s system, a future Hall of Famer who could withstand tough and biting coaching. Brady always knew the hits were coming during Monday morning film sessions — “The quarterback at Foxborough High could make that throw,” Belichick often would say after replaying a Brady misfire — but he could take it, secure not only in the knowledge of his singular impact on Belichick’s career but also in the theater of it all, that the coach was doing it in part to send a message that nobody was above criticism. “Tommy is fine with it,” his father, Tom Brady Sr., said years ago over dinner in San Mateo, California. “He’s the perfect foil for it.”

Brady is less fine with it this year. People close to him believe that it started after last year’s playoff win over the Houston Texans, in which Brady completed only 18 of 38 passes and threw two interceptions. Belichick lit into him in front of the entire team in a way nobody had ever seen, ripping Brady for carelessness with the ball. “This will get us beat,” he told the team after replaying a Brady interception. “We were lucky to get away with a win.”

The criticism has continued this year, as Brady has been hit a lot and battled various injuries. Atypically, he has missed a lot of practices and, in the team’s private evaluations, is showing the slippage of a 40-year-old quarterback even as he is contending for MVP and is as deadly as ever with the game on the line. Injuries to his shoulder and Achilles have done more than undermine claims that the TB12 Method can help you play football virtually pain-free. Subtle changes have at times hampered the offense and affected the depth chart. On a fourth-quarter play against the Los Angeles Chargers, for instance, Brady had a clean pocket and a first read open deep, possibly for a touchdown. But Brady got rid of the ball quickly over the middle to receiver Chris Hogan, who had nowhere to run and was hit hard, injuring his shoulder. He missed all but one game of the rest of the season. “Tom was trying to get it out quick,” a Patriots staffer says. “As fragility has increased, nervousness has also increased.”

At the same time, as his age has increased, Brady has become an advocate of positive thinking. Belichick’s negativity and cynicism have gotten old, Brady has told other Patriots players and staff. He feels he has accomplished enough that he shouldn’t have to endure so much grief. Patriots staffers have noticed that, this year more than ever, he seems to volley between unwavering confidence and driving insecurity. Brady has noted to staff a few times this year that, no matter how many game-changing throws he makes, Belichick hasn’t awarded him Patriot of the Week all year.

Those who know Belichick and Brady well are amazed that they’ve co-existed this long, two ruthless and proud self-made men, both secure though still unfinished in their legacies, both loved and hated, both having received stiff penalties for cheating, both motivated by ego, humility and — as much as anything — doubt. Belichick is famously secretive, creating an entire system in which knowledge flows directly to him and only he decides how to deploy and exploit it. And Brady is famously unhelpful toward his backups — or, at least, a threat like Garoppolo. The two quarterbacks were friendly, but Brady — like Joe Montana to Steve Young and Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers — didn’t see it as his role to advise Garoppolo, even on matters as trivial as footwork, as nobody had helped him during his climb. Garoppolo played well in 2016, starting in place of the suspended Brady, and Belichick began to see Garoppolo as the final piece of his legacy, to walk away in a few years with the Patriots secure at quarterback. But after Garoppolo was knocked out of his second start because of a shoulder injury, he set up a visit at TB12. As he later told Patriots staffers, when he arrived, the door was locked. He knocked; nobody was there. He called TB12 trainers but nobody answered. He couldn’t believe it, Garoppolo told the staffers, and that night ended up visiting team trainers instead. Guerrero vehemently denies ever refusing to see any player, and Garoppolo was eventually treated at TB12 — but it was two weeks after he showed up for his original appointment, and only after a high-ranking Patriots staffer called TB12 to inquire why Garoppolo hadn’t been admitted.

Several times this past October, Brady met with Kraft to discuss playing longer. That same month, he also met with Belichick, who was skeptical of a long-term contract extension but was content to start Brady as long as he was the best quarterback. Belichick understood how much Brady had meant to the franchise, and had always insisted privately that he wouldn’t move on from Brady unless he could convince the coaching staff of it. But the reality was that no quarterback has ever played at a championship level into his 40s. The meeting ended in a “little blowup,” according to a source. Complicating matters was that Garoppolo would be a free agent at the end of this season. Complicating matters more was that Brady and Garoppolo share Yee as an agent.

And complicating matters even more was that Belichick didn’t want to trade Garoppolo. He had passed on dealing him last spring, when Garoppolo was in high demand. In early September, Belichick did trade third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett to the Colts for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. “If we trade Jimmy, we’re the Cleveland Browns, with no succession plan,” one person inside the organization said earlier in the year. The Patriots repeatedly offered Garoppolo four-year contract extensions, in the $17 million to $18 million range annually that would go higher if and when he succeeded Brady. Garoppolo and Yee rejected the offers out of hand, for reasons that remain unclear, and the Patriots knew they couldn’t make any promises to Garoppolo about the timing of a transition at quarterback without it getting back to Brady.

Two weeks before the Nov. 1 trading deadline, Belichick met with Kraft to discuss the quarterback situation. According to staffers, the meeting ran long, lasting half the day and pushing back Belichick’s other meetings. The office was buzzing. The meeting ended with a clear mandate to Belichick: trade Garoppolo because he would not be in the team’s long-term plans, and then, once again, find the best quarterback in the draft and develop him. Belichick was furious and demoralized, according to friends. But in the end, he did what he asks of his players and coaches: He did his job. One morning in late October, Belichick texted San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and asked him to call. Belichick had long admired Kyle’s father, Mike, who not only had been one of the NFL’s smartest tacticians but had also personally defended Belichick to commissioner Roger Goodell during the Spygate scandal. At the combine this past February, Kyle, weeks into the 49ers job after being the offensive coordinator for the Falcons, met with Belichick for hours to learn from his team’s humiliating Super Bowl loss. Belichick believed that Garoppolo would excel under Shanahan, and when he and Shanahan connected on the phone, Belichick offered the quarterback for a second-rounder.

It was a steal, leaving Patriots staffers stunned and confused. Why would the game’s shrewdest long-term strategist trade two backup quarterbacks in a two-month span when his starter was 40 years old and banged up? And why did Belichick practically give away a quarterback whom the coaches saw as a potential top-10 player for much less than he could have gotten last spring? It made no sense. Belichick handled the trade as he always does, by not explaining it to the coaches and by burying them so deep in work that they didn’t have time to gossip. Most in the organization understood that it was an extreme case, with extreme personalities, but they felt that Belichick had earned the right to make football decisions. Belichick, having always subscribed to the philosophy that it’s time to go once an owner gets involved in football decisions, left the impression with some friends that the current dynamic was unsustainable.

Brady, though, seemed liberated. Kraft hugged Brady when he saw him that week, in full view of teammates. A few days later during practice, some players and staffers noticed that Brady seemed especially excited, hollering and cajoling. Brady was once again the team’s present and future. His new backup, Brian Hoyer, was a longtime friend and not a threat. The owner was in Brady’s corner. “He won,” a Patriots staffer says.

NOBODY IS BUDGING now. Kraft, Brady and Belichick were supposed to meet in late December to clear the air, but that never happened. It probably won’t until after the season. Those interviewed describe a lingering sadness around the team, as if coaches and staff know that the end might be near. Both McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia are expected to become head coaches; other assistant coaches might leave to join their staffs or for college jobs, or even retire. The imminent exodus raises the question going forward: Is it possible that Belichick would rather walk away than try to rebuild the staff with a 41-year-old Brady and another year of Guerrero drama — all while trying to develop a new quarterback? Belichick being Belichick, those around him know nothing of his plans. He has always been a football genius, artfully letting situations play out. The looming uncertainty has taken a toll on everyone, even as the Patriots finished 13-3 and earned the top seed in the AFC playoffs. “Bill’s done a phenomenal job of holding the building together,” one Patriots official says.

Now 76 years old, Kraft ultimately will attempt to broker a solution. He has paid both Brady and Belichick tens of millions of dollars, won and lost some of the greatest games in NFL history with them, and has stood by both at their lowest moments. He apologized in front of a room of owners for Spygate. And he stood by Brady during Deflategate, even after he backed down and accepted the NFL’s penalty. Kraft did so even though many staffers in the building believed there was merit in the allegation, however absurd the case. The team quietly parted ways with both John Jastremski and Jim McNally, the equipment staffers accused of deflating footballs — they’ve never spoken publicly — and Belichick reorganized the equipment staff. Kraft has privately told associates he knew that he went too far in his attacks against the league. “I had to do it for the fans,” he has told confidants.

A fifth Super Bowl triumph healed some of those wounds, but there’s no guarantee that a sixth will fix the rest. Something has to change, that much everyone knows. Many Patriots players and staff believe that Brady is a good man who has a hard time saying no to Guerrero. They’ve noticed that he seems to be searching this year, as if reaching the pinnacle of his profession is as fleeting as it is rewarding, manifesting itself in outbursts like the one at McDaniels. Belichick seems to be grinding harder than ever, as if more than a sixth championship is at stake. Before the Patriots played the Steelers in December, he told players, “I brought you here for games like this.”

But Belichick also has taken a longer view, as though he sees pieces of his impact leaguewide. He’s preparing assistant coaches for job interviews elsewhere, which he didn’t always do in years past. He has taken pride in Garoppolo’s 5-0 record in San Francisco — and in the fact that Kraft has confessed to people in the building that trading Garoppolo might have been a mistake. He reset a toxic relationship with the Colts with the Brissett trade. He has even become good friends with Goodell. The two men had a long and private meeting during the off week after the regular season, when the commissioner visited Foxborough.

Belichick always had a vision for how, after more than four decades in the NFL, he wanted to walk away, beyond setting up the team at quarterback. He wanted his sons, Brian and Steve, both Patriots assistants, to be established in their football careers. And he wanted the winning to continue without him, to have a legacy of always having the best interests of the franchise in mind. Both Brady and Belichick have redefined how much influence a coach and quarterback can have on a team game. But this year has shown that the legacy of football’s greatest coach, like the game itself, is beyond his control.

The claim is that the letters NFL stand for “Not for Long,” although remember that Brady became the Patriots’ starting quarterback, and the Patriots won their first Super Bowl, in 2001.

How did the Patriots respond to this? Kings of Boston Sports reports:

Facebook Friend Kevin Binversie adds:

This whole thing reads like a New England Patriot version of the Favre to Rodgers transition the Packers had. Only in Green Bay, you didn’t have an owner (or in the Packers’ case a Team President) who was so invested in his future HOF QB to forego investing in the long-term plans of the franchise.

That, and Brett Favre didn’t have a cult leader / guru feeding his body avocado smoothies and giving him massages.

Seriously, when both Brady and/or Belichick are gone, it’s hard not to predict the Patriots return to mediocrity.

In opposition to ugliness

UniWatch’s Paul Lukas has a bold question:

You hear it all the time when people are talking about college football: Schools need to keep introducing flashy uniforms to appeal to top recruits. Some schools, such as Oregon and Maryland, have used their uniform programs as a key recruiting tool, and it’s increasingly taken as a given that you can’t compete without having an equipment room stacked from floor to ceiling with alternate jerseys and helmets.

All of which would no doubt be news to Alabama and Georgia, who’ll be facing off on Jan. 8 for the College Football Playoff National Championship. The Crimson Tide has one of the most conservative visual programs in the nation, and the Bulldogs aren’t far behind. The two schools that lost in the semifinal round, Oklahoma and Clemson, also have fairly traditional uniforms. And judging from the results on the field, these schools haven’t had too much trouble attracting top-level recruits.

But is that just a one-year aberration? The CFP era is now four seasons old, so let’s take a look at the 16 teams that have qualified and rate them on a traditional-to-flashy scale of 1 to 10, with 1 representing Penn State and 10 representing Oregon. Several schools have qualified multiple times for the CFP, so we’ll weight the results accordingly and come up with a basic flashiness threshold for CFP success.

Here are the schools, listed in alphabetical order. Keep in mind that the ratings are not assessments of how good the uniforms are. We’re just trying to locate these uniform programs on the spectrum of conventional to outrageous.

Alabama (four CFP appearances): Whether you consider the Crimson Tide’s uniforms to be classic or just boring, there’s no question that they’re the most traditional-looking program this side of Penn State. On a scale of 1 to 10, let’s rate them a 2.

Clemson (three appearances): The Tigers have a very straightforward look — block numbers, traditional striping, one helmet design — but they occasionally spice things up by going mono-orange and even mono-purpleRating: 3

Florida State: The Seminoles have a bit of natural flash thanks to the trim on their collars and sleeves and their custom number font. But their uniform program still features only one helmet design and two basic jersey-pants combinations — garnet over gold and white over gold (although they did go mono-garnet for the Independence Bowl last month). Rating: 4

Georgia: How traditional are the Bulldogs? They still refer to their pants as “britches” (and by any name, they’re gray, even when paired with the team’s white road jersey). True, they’ve occasionally worn black alternate jerseys, but not this season. Rating: 3

Michigan State: Less than a decade ago, the Spartans seemed firmly entrenched as a traditionalist team. But in recent years they’ve added several newfangled looks and alternate helmet options, along with modern pant striping, a custom number font and the occasional monochromatic look. Nobody would mistake them for Oregon, but they’re not your father’s Spartans either. Rating: 6

Oklahoma (two appearances): It seems safe to say the Sooners will not be wearing a blackout uniform anytime soon, although they’ve dabbled with the occasional modern alternate uni. Still a traditionalist team but not as steadfast about it as, say, Alabama. Rating: 3.5

Ohio State (two appearances): Much like Oklahoma, the Buckeyes are a traditionalist team that has shown a willingness to change things up, if only once per season. Their latest alternate design was apparently a big hit with recruits, for what that’s worth. Rating: 3

Oregon: Oregon is, well, Oregon. The quintessential flashy-uniform program. Rating: 10

Washington: Much like Michigan State, this is a school that was once firmly in the traditionalist camp but has tried to update its image in recent years. In the Huskies’ case, that has meant going with blackout and purple-out looks, and even their standard home jersey now features lots of black trim and that weird number fontRating: 6

Crunch all of these numbers and weight them for the schools that have had multiple appearances and you get an average of 3.7. In other words, the average CFP team over the past four seasons has not needed flashy uniforms — at least not more than about once per year — to attract top-level recruits. Meanwhile, Oregon has gone 11-14 in the past two seasons, and Maryland has gone 33-46 since introducing its flag-based uniform program in 2011. Just sayin’.

How does this jibe with the notion that top recruits respond to outrageous uniforms? The answer might be that it’s one thing to respond to a shiny object, but it’s another thing to base your decision-making on it. Or to put it another way, it’s not surprising that 17-year-olds would get excited by a futuristic-looking uniform, but are they really going to choose a school on that basis alone?

Back in 2013, ESPN.com’s Jeremy Crabtree wrote a piece that appeared to provide answer to that question. The headline — “Trendy uniforms a differentiator” — seemed to affirm the party line that recruits demand innovative uni designs, and the piece included quotes from several coaches and athletic directors who agreed with that position. Deeper down in the story, however, was this:

“But as any good advertiser will tell you, it doesn’t matter how shiny the package is if you can’t get somebody to buy the product. ESPN.com surveyed more than 700 high school recruits from the classes of 2014 and 2015 — including 90 who self-identified as a member of the ESPN 300 for the Classes of 2014 or 2015 — and asked them where uniforms ranked in their college decision. Uniforms were the top factor for only 3 percent of players, and uniforms ranked eighth on the list of criteria behind academics, coaching, playing time, school tradition, location, experience sending players to the NFL and television exposure.”

In other words, your average recruit might get more excited about Oregon’s uniforms than he does about Alabama’s, but on balance, he’d probably still rather play for Alabama.

Despite this, people continue to parrot the line about space-age uniforms being a recruiting necessity. How many more years’ worth of traditional-looking CFP teams will it take for everyone to come to their senses and realize that this conventional wisdom simply isn’t accurate?

Wisconsin hasn’t played in the CFP (yet), but they have played in the Big Ten championship game more than any other Big Ten team. Their new Under Armour uniform design took the radical steps of moving the sleeve numbers to the shoulders (also known as “TV numbers”), modifying the stripes to point forward for the state’s motto, and changing the number and name fonts to UW’s athletic font (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), along with the half-step of white facemasks for road games. That’s it. They don’t even wear the red pants that have made occasional appearances since the early 1990s (and they need to wear them to avoid the road Michelin Man look), and they dumped the red helmets brought in by former coach Gary Andersen.

Of course, UW arguably doesn’t count in this discussion because the Badgers don’t usually bring in the nation’s top players; they just develop the nation’s top players.

Unfortunately the related trend of illegible uniforms has trickled down to the high school ranks. One area girls basketball team has dark gray numbers (in a condensed font) on dark red uniforms with a thin white outline, the opposite of another girls team nearby (which has a thin gold outline). A local high school boys basketball team has black numbers on a royal blue jersey with a thin gold outline. A football team whose game I announced earlier this year had dark gray numbers on a dark red jersey, which was almost impossible to read from a college press box. (Fortunately the team had 10 two-way starters.)

The reason for this uniform chicanery is to prevent video scouting, so that future opponents have a more difficult time figuring out who is whom. (As if that can’t be determined by such things as headbands or wristbands, shoe color, or just plain height or weight.) National and state athletic associations need to mandate legible uniforms immediately.

 

Oh my

I announced a high school basketball game last night. This morning, drinking my first cup of coffee, I read this sad news from the San Diego Union–Tribune:

Legendary sports broadcaster and former Padres play-by-play announcer Dick Enberg died Thursday morning at his La Jolla home, said his wife, Barbara. He was 82.

Barbara Enberg said the family found out later in the day after Dick Enberg failed to get off a flight in Boston, where they were scheduled to meet. She said her husband appeared to be waiting for a car that was set to shuttle him to San Diego International Airport for a 6:30 a.m. flight.

“He was dressed with his bags packed at the door,” she said. “We think it was a heart attack.”

Enberg defined versatility as a broadcaster, covering 28 Wimbledon tournaments, 10 Super Bowls and eight NCAA basketball title games as the play-by-play voice of the UCLA Bruins during their dynasty-building run.

Enberg’s talented voice was paired with relentless preparation and a zest for telling the stories behind a generation’s biggest games. He cared as much about calling a water polo match as a rising star in Los Angeles as the Super Bowls, Rose Bowls, Olympics and Breeders’ Cup spotlights that followed.

His last full-time role came as the TV voice of the Padres. He retired after the 2016 season.

“We are immensely saddened by the sudden and unexpected passing of legendary broadcaster Dick Enberg,” the Padres said in a statement released late Thursday night. “Dick was an institution in the industry for 60 years and we were lucky enough to have his iconic voice behind the microphone for Padres games for nearly a decade. On behalf of our entire organization, we send our deepest condolences to his wife, Barbara, and the entire Enberg family.”

The farm kid raised in rural Armada, Mich., also gained a fierce appreciation for the small guy, the underdog and especially education — sparking the Central Michigan graduate to fund an annual scholarship.

“I’m heartbroken,” former Padres broadcast booth partner Mark Grant said Thursday night. “It’s so sad. I thought Dick was the type of guy who was going to live until he was 100, going on the circuit, talking to everybody about baseball and football and tennis.”

Enberg — known for his signature call of “Oh, my!” — channeled his passion for sports and the people behind them into a new podcast called “Sound of Success,” interviewing stars such as Billie Jean King, Bill Walton, Johnny Bench and Steve Kerr.

He told the Union-Tribune earlier this week that he hoped to lure NBA legend Magic Johnson, controversial quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz and actor Jack Nicholson to his online world.

“At the very top of the list,” he said, “is Serena Williams.”

Enberg’s six-decade career felt unparalleled.

Former NFL partner Dan Dierdorf told the Union-Tribune for a 2016 story: “The man is a walking monument to sports television.”

In the same story, tennis great John McEnroe put Enberg’s mammoth, unmatched resume in perspective.

“If people ask me the top tennis players, when I throw out (Rod) Laver, (Pete) Sampras, Rafa (Nadal), Roger (Federer), I would put him in the same category,” McEnroe said. “He’s a Mount Rushmore guy.”

Service information is pending. Padres Chairman Ron Fowler, who has known Enberg for more than 25 years, said Thursday night that the team has offered the family use of Petco Park for a celebration of life.

The Los Angeles Times adds:

Long recognized as one of the most versatile and enthusiastic sports announcer of his era, Enberg did it all: major league baseball, college and pro football, college basketball, boxing, tennis, golf, Olympics, Rose Bowls and Super Bowls, Breeders’ Cup horse racing — earning a trophy case full of Emmys, awards from the pro football, basketball and baseball halls of fame, niches in several broadcasting halls of fame and other assorted honors.

He also was an author, a longtime fixture at Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses parade, the host of several sports-themed TV game shows and was still calling San Diego Padres baseball games into his 80s.

“Sportscasting is a kid’s dream come true, which is one of the reasons that I keep doing it,” he said in his autobiography, “Dick Enberg, Oh My!” the “Oh my!” having been his signature call. “I can’t let my dream go. I’m still in love with what I do.”

And how well did he do it? “He could orchestrate a telecast better than anyone I’ve ever worked with,” Billy Packer, former college basketball analyst and longtime Enberg broadcast partner, once told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I think anybody who worked with him would just stand in amazement at how great he was at anything he undertook.”

As a former teacher, Enberg was noted for his preparation and his knowledgeable yet eager approach to his craft.

“As a broadcaster, you have to be entertaining, you have to be well informed, you have to be excited about what you know and you have to have a sense of your audience — just like in a classroom,” he wrote in his book. “In fact, when I look into the camera, I’m looking into my classroom. When I’m calling a game, I can envision hands shooting up all over the country with questions. ‘Whoops,’ I’ll think, ‘perhaps we need to explain that concept or strategy a little better.’ ”

Even research and preparation weren’t always foolproof, though. Fans could be picky, and when Enberg began using one of his pet calls, “Touch ’em all!” for opposing teams’ home run hitters, Padres faithful rose up in protest and he quickly reserved that call for Padres’ home run hitters.

“Oh my!” was an Enberg family saying, his mother using it to express dismay, such as during the many hours young Dick spent broadcasting imaginary games. He used it to express wonder at athletic grace, but it could just as well have applied to his life.

Richard Alan Enberg was born Jan. 9, 1935, in Mount Clemens, Mich. The family moved to Southern California for several years, then back to Michigan, to a farm near the village of Armada. “We had a one-room schoolhouse and a two-hole toilet,” Enberg recalled for The Times years ago.

He quarterbacked his high school football team, then after graduation, enrolled at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, where he played college baseball. And, fortunately, took a course in debate. One of his debate classmates was the public-address announcer for the Chippewas’ football and basketball teams, and when he graduated the job was passed down to Enberg. He also applied for a job sweeping floors, at $1 an hour, at the local radio station. A station employee liked Enberg’s voice, and instead of a broom he was handed a microphone and went to work as a weekend disc jockey, still at $1 an hour. When the station’s sports director left, Enberg moved into that slot, producing a 15-minute nightly wrap-up.

All of that was fun, but Enberg had more serious things on his mind. After graduation, he enrolled in graduate health science studies at Indiana University, eventually earning both master’s and doctoral degrees. Just as he was arriving in Bloomington, though, a Hoosier radio network was being put together and Enberg was hired, at $35 a game, to broadcast football and basketball.

Four years later, doctorate in hand, he applied for a teaching job at Indiana University. He didn’t get it, but a flier on the health sciences bulletin board, offering a teaching position at San Fernando Valley State College — now Cal State Northridge — caught his eye. Recalling his early boyhood days in Canoga Park, he applied for and got the job, teaching health science and assisting the baseball coach.

The pay was small, and the now-married Enberg went looking for extra income in the other area he knew, broadcasting. He tried more than a dozen stations in the spring of 1962, getting no call-backs. Changing tactics, he began identifying himself as Dr. Enberg, finally got put through to program directors and was able to pick up part-time work.

He got his big break in 1965. KTLA, Channel 5, was looking for a sportscaster and Enberg was hired, at $18,000 a year. “I felt guilty because that was triple what I made as a teacher,” he recalled for The Times in 1987. “Then I found out I was being paid 10% under the union minimum.”

In quick succession, Enberg was calling the weekly televised boxing cards at Olympic Auditorium, became the radio announcer for the Los Angeles Rams, and began working UCLA telecasts during the Bruins’ John Wooden-Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) glory years.

Then it was on to a decade-long association with the Angels, until NBC called. There, he, McGuire and Packer formed an unforgettable NCAA tournament trio, Enberg serving as buffer between the “What will he say next?” McGuire and the almost dour, statistics-driven Packer. So taken was Enberg with the irrepressible McGuire — “My most unforgettable character, and there’s nobody in second place!” — that he later wrote a one-act play about him, “Coach: The Untold Story of College Basketball Legend Al McGuire.”

Basketball also gave Enberg, and his fans, an especially memorable experience. In a UCLA-Oregon game in 1970, Oregon went into a stall, leaving Enberg with little to talk about and air time to be filled. He began humming “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” from the big movie of the previous year, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

At the next game, UCLA’s pep band played the song and the student section called for him to sing it. He demurred, saying he didn’t know the words, but they insisted and he promised he’d learn them. Then, after the last home game of the regular season, he walked to mid-court and sang.

A few days later, he heard from a music professor, who wrote, “I’ve spent 30 years studying music and you hit two notes I’ve never heard before.”

Dan Patrick pays a nice tribute:

I’ve written here before about Enberg’s announcing the football games I played on the front lawn or the street. He was my favorite announcer, so this feels like a personal loss. It’s not as if I sound like him, but the importance of preparation he always felt, and the enthusiasm he brought to every event he did are something every announcer, full-time or part-time, needs to bring to any broadcast.

I read this this morning, and it’s excellent advice, reportedly from July 2016:

“Mr. Enberg, what is the biggest piece of advice you’ve received during your career that you now pass along to future announcers?”

“Never say No to anything you’re offered. Big city, little city, Big pay or no pay, You never say No.”

Excellent advice that I have inadvertently followed.

To quote Dave Matthews, everyone goes in the end, but it’s kind of sad to watch highlights of Enberg’s 1980s NBC games with Merlin Olsen and know that neither of them are with us anymore …

… similar to watching 1970s Monday Night Football games with Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell and either Don Meredith or Alex Karras and now that none of them are around anymore.

The public–private divide

With the last fall state tournament taking place in Wisconsin, Ally Jansen writes:

High school sports play a significant role in the lives of many young individuals. Once tournament time rolls around for the sport that is currently in season, everything else fades in importance and the focus locks in on winning the next game.

Battling for the chance to play once more.

Fighting to remain as long as possible.

Every team prays that they have what it takes to make it to the final destination: the state tournament championship game. Any athlete who has a love for the game carries the dream to bring home a gold ball for their school and community.

Each year, a select number of teams will make it to the Wisconsin state tournament; and each year, these teams contain a mix of both public and private schools. The difference between the athletic teams of these two types of schools is the way the teams are created. Public schools take their pick of players from the students available at their school; smaller schools take every student they can get- sometimes it is a miracle just to have enough kids for a team. Bigger schools with more students have the chance to hold tryouts, picking the talent they want and cutting what they don’t.

But private schools are completely different. These are schools that cost almost as much as college tuition to attend, and their athletes are not just students from the area. These athletes are recruited from around the country to attend these specific schools at a reduced cost, or even for free. These schools eliminated the idea of local talent, which gives them a leg-up on their public counterparts.

The state tournament is divided into divisions; the number of divisions depends on the sport involved. Schools are divided based on their enrollment numbers, with higher divisions correlating with smaller schools. A private school may be as tiny as the smallest public school, but that does not make the competition fair. The public school has a small number of students, and an even smaller number of athletes to choose from. The chances of having multiple gifted athletes are minute; whereas the private school hand-picks student-athletes from around the country, which significantly increases their chances of having multiple gifted athletes.

Anybody should be able to see how pitting these two types of schools against each other, based only on enrollment numbers, is unfair.

Each year, in almost every sport, the state tournament will see a public school play a private school.

In many cases, the public school is not victorious.

I once saw a small school from my area lose a football state championship when the other team’s kicker made a field goal. Fair enough, right? That is, only until you consider the fact that the kicker was from Texas, and this was a Wisconsin state championship game.

Something needs to change. In the past, these two types of schools did have separate tournaments at the season’s close, and a fairer playing field was imminent. The decision to combine them was a mistake that needs to be reversed.

Sure, sports are about more than just winning. But when did high school sports become important enough to move these young kids away from their family and hometowns? If they are truly as gifted as recruiters from private schools think, I am a firm believer that they will receive recognition and success, no matter the school they play for or the state they are in.

Let’s separate private and public schools into two tournaments again. Let’s even the playing field. I am a firm supporter of “Public Power,” as the kids are calling it these days.

With three divisions of football remaining, here is the complete list of state team champions over the past year (with private schools listed in italics):
Boys swimming: Waukesha South/Catholic Memorial, Monona Grove.
Team wrestling: Kaukauna, Ellsworth, Stratford.
Girls hockey: Schofield D.C. Everest.
Boys hockey: Hudson.
Girls basketball: Appleton North, Beaver Dam, Madison Edgewood (over Greendale Martin Luther), Howards Grove (over La Crosse Aquinas), Loyal.
Boys basketball: Stevens Point, La Crosse Central, Appleton Xavier, Milwaukee Destiny (a Milwaukee Public Schools charter school), Barneveld. (Marshfield Columbus Catholic and Manitowoc Roncalli also played at state.)
Boys golf: Hartland Arrowhead (over Milwaukee Marquette), Madison Edgewood, Fond du Lac Springs.
Boys tennis: Milwaukee Marquette, Racine Prairie (over Madison Edgewood).
Girls soccer: Brookfield Central, Whitefish Bay, Waukesha Catholic Memorial, Brookfield Academy.
Girls track and field: Milwaukee King, Wittenberg–Birnamwood, Algoma, Chippewa Falls.
Boys track and field: Kimberly, Appleton Xavier, Coleman, Madison La Follette.
Spring baseball: Kimberly, West Salem, La Crosse Aquinas and Athens.
Softball: Chippewa Falls McDonell Central, Juda/Albany (over Stevens Point Pacelli), Laconia, Rice Lake, Kaukauna.
Summer baseball: West Bend West over Milwaukee Marquette.
Boys cross country: Middleton, Valders, Durand.
Girls cross country: Sun Prairie, Freedom, Dodgeland.
Girls swimming: Middleton and Madison Edgewood.
Girls golf: Hartland Arrowhead, La Crosse Aquinas.
Girls tennis: Mequon Homestead and Milwaukee University School. (Three of the four teams in Division 2 were private schools.)
Boys volleyball: Milwaukee Marquette.
Girls volleyball: Burlington, Lakeside Lutheran, Lake Country Lutheran (over Eau Claire Regis), Clayton (over Oshkosh Lourdes).
Boys soccer: Milwaukee Marquette, Whitefish Bay, Mount Horeb and Racine Prairie.
Football: Bangor over Black Hawk in Division 7, Fond du Lac Springs over Iola–Scandinavia in Division 6, Amherst over Lake Country Lutheran in Division 5, Lodi over St. Croix Central in Division 4. (No private schools are playing today.)

Given that around 15 percent of the schools in Wisconsin are private schools, the argument could be made that private schools are overrepresented at state. The issue is particularly noticeable in girls volleyball. One Division 1 team, two Division 2 teams, two Division 3 teams and two Division 4 teams, out of a total of 20 state teams, were private schools this year. In 2014, three of the four state girls volleyball champions were private schools.

You may notice a number of repeat schools italicized in the previous list — Milwaukee Marquette, Waukesha Catholic Memorial, La Crosse Aquinas, Madison Edgewood and Appleton Xavier, to name five. Fond du Lac Springs is a perennial in football. Burlington Catholic Central has been well represented at state boys tournaments.

You may also notice a number of repeat schools not italicized in that list, chiefly Hartland Arrowhead. Cuba City has been dominant in girls and boys basketball for decades. Kimberly plays today for its fifth consecutive Division 1 football title, having won 69 consecutive games. If you were a freshman at KHS in the fall of 2013, you never saw your Papermakers lose a football game, and the Class of 2018 may be able to say the same thing after this afternoon’s game. Wisconsin now has open public-school enrollment, so if a high school football player wants to play for potential state champion Kimberly, only the Kimberly School District can stop that. (School districts can set limits on how many open-enrollment students can come in, but school districts cannot prevent students from open-enrolling out of the school district.)

The issue has to do with what people consider to be legitimate reasons to not have your child enrolled in the school district where they live. Republicans favored private school choice for Milwaukee Public Schools students because of the crappy state of MPS schools. That extended to public school students statewide. If a better educational opportunity exists in another school district for a family’s child, why should that child not be able to take advantage of that opportunity? The flip side, however, is whether an athletics should be part of that “educational opportunity.”

The reason people get more upset over private-school athletic dynasties than public-school athletic dynasties is the accusation that private schools recruit, either openly or covertly,1 students who otherwise would go to public schools. Private schools have the right to set their own admissions standards and even, I suppose, give tuition discounts (up to 100 percent) to whichever students they like, including gifted athletes. Whether that is right depends on your point of view. Whether private schools, which are smaller in enrollment in the public schools within the metropolitan area from which they recruit students, should compete in the same enrollment division as small-town or rural schools is Jansen’s point.

There have been proposals to do something about that. Minnesota weights enrollment by the percentage of students who get free or reduced-price lunch. Illinois has a multiplier for private schools. Both were considered and rejected in Wisconsin. So was a so-called “success factor” that would have pushed schools that get to state, public or private, up an enrollment class.

The latest proposal from a small-town school superintendent who sits on the WIAA Board of Control is to eliminate the public or private distinctions, but instead assign schools based on the U.S. Census classification of the community they’re in, moving up schools smaller than a certain size if they fit in the City or Suburban category. That would move some, but not all, private schools upward, with the added effect of moving many public schools to smaller enrollment classes. It’s being considered for basketball, possibly as early as next year, and my guess if it’s approved and it has no big issues, it will extend to other sports in the following year.

This is not a universally loved plan. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported:

Milwaukee-area athletic directors and administrators in attendance at the area meeting in Greenfield two weeks ago essentially dismissed the idea like a shot swatted into the fifth row. There was absolutely no interest in discussing it further. Zero. In every other meeting state-wide, there was a general interest in continuing the discussion.

What that means is anyone’s guess. The plan we see now doesn’t have to be the one that is voted on early next year and there is obviously no guarantee anything will pass.

What is clear is that schools in the Milwaukee area need to make sure their opinions are heard and that they contribute to the process. Otherwise, you might not like what you get.

“My hope is that through the coaches advisory, sports advisory and advisory council process that they tease out some things that make it better or make it more closer to the end product,” said board member Luke Francois, who crafted the plan.

Monday’s area meeting at Mount Horeb High School was the last of seven the WIAA held around the state. Schools in Mount Horeb’s region have been the loudest in the push for greater competitive equity in the state. Francois, the superintendent at Mineral Point, represents the area.

As the plan reads now, any urban schools with an enrollment below 600 would play in Division 3. That means you Salam (enrollment 151) and Heritage Christian (165). Ditto for Milwaukee Juneau (203) and Milwaukee Academy of Science (200). Defending Division 4 state champion Destiny (285) could handle the move up a division on the boys side, but the girls team won one game last season.

Using the most current enrollment numbers, the enrollment disparity in the division would be 588-61.

As one administrator noted Monday, “That’s not good for kids.”

When the plan was discussed at Greenfield, it was ripped for segregating schools and some wondered its passage would set the up WIAA for a lawsuit.

I don’t like the plan. If the issue of competitive equity is going to be dealt with, it should be done in a manner that doesn’t just help smaller schools in one sport. It should apply to all sports and do so in a way that doesn’t target schools because of their location.

Otherwise, you’ll get what we have now, which is many people in this part of state feeling like they’re targeted because of their success.

But that’s just me talking. I’m not a coach or an AD or a principal of students who would be affected by this. Those are the people who need to make sure they’re heard on this topic.

The WIAA plans to convene its basketball coaches advisory committee as soon as possible. At that meeting, the group can vote in favor or vote against what has been proposed or amend it and then make a vote. It will then continue to move through the committee structure and eventually back to the board of control for its January meeting. At that time a final vote is expected to be taken.

”This is where I’d look to my friends in the southeastern part of the state to help us tweak this to help us address their concerns,” Francois said.

Many of the sentiments in that Journal Sentinel opinion could be said to express the attitude that “we’ve got ours; the hell with you.” There is a line roughly from metro Green Bay to metro Madison east of which population growth, including school enrollment growth, is taking place (except in the city of Milwaukee), and west of which population growth is not taking place. Schools east of that line are able to spend more money on activities, including athletics, because they have more students and more money.

Another option would be to simply assign private schools to their own state tournament classes. The WIAA could, for instance, change from five basketball divisions to four public-school divisions and two private-school divisions and keep the state tournament at three days. (In fact, adding a division would add a session to state and thus bring in more money, something lost when the WIAA went from four divisions to five, eliminating the Division 1 quarterfinal round.) That would negate the rationale for the merger of the WIAA and the former Wisconsin Independent Schools Athletic Association in 2000. Private schools don’t appear to want to be handicapped, but public schools the size of private schools claim they’re already being handicapped.

The even bigger issue, perhaps, is how society feels about sports. You can tell high school students and their parents that it’s much easier to earn academic scholarships in college than athletic scholarships, and the message goes in one ear and out the other. You can pass on the percentage of high school students who become professional athletes — 1 percent or less. You can point out that high schools produce more professional musicians than pro athletes. No dose of reality seems to work on high school students with unrealistic expectations, or parents forcing aspirations on their own kids that they themselves couldn’t reach.

State of the stadium

At 10 this morning (Central Standard Time) I will be calling the 2017 WIAA state Division 7 football championship here.

This will be the third state football championship game I’ve called. The first two were losses — Platteville to Winneconne in the 2013 Cinderella Bowl (both teams ended up 9–5, which is an unusual record for the top two teams in a division), and Shullsburg to Edgar last year. That doesn’t really minimize the experience because I got to announce the last game of the year (in their enrollment divisions) those years. I’ve also done state basketball championship games where the right team won.

The worst game to lose is not the state championship game, though you might think that. The worst game to lose is the game before state — Level 4 in Wisconsin football and the sectional final in other sports. That’s because if you lose that game, regardless of what you accomplished, it won’t include the state tournament experience — having entire communities wound up for you, having your games on statewide TV, being on Camp Randall’s field or the Kohl Center or Resch Center’s floor, and having your name reverberate through those stadiums when introduced.

 

The press box’s big three

I had a great time announcing a women’s basketball game at the UW–Madison Kohl Center Wednesday.

The team I was covering lost 107–58, and we had some technical problems. I don’t care. It was still fun. Sports announcing, as I think I’ve said here before, is the most fun thing I do in my life.

I pointed out to my on-air partner how things had changed in that neighborhood over the years. Thirty years ago, when I was a UW journalism and political science student (pause to blow the dust off myself), the first story I did for my TV news class was of a proposal to finally build a replacement for the Fieldhouse and the Dane County Coliseum on the east side of campus where students lived in old houses. As part of that story I got to interview UW men’s basketball coach Steve Yoder and hockey coach Jeff Sauer, and they were nicer to students who weren’t their own players than one would figure. (Sauer was a class act who didn’t get enough credit for his coaching success.)

The Kohl Center did open in 1997, after Herb Kohl donated $25 million of the $72 million for it. A lot changed at UW over that time, beginning with cratering football, followed by football’s rebirth. Twenty years after it opened, I cannot think of a better college basketball facility, and it’s better than the soon-to-be-replaced Bradley Center in Milwaukee, since the Herb Garden has basketball sightlines patterned on the Fieldhouse and the Bradley Center did not.

Then while wasting time on Facebook (and I apologize for the redundancy) someone mentioned former UW football announcer Fred Gage. Which got me to find this:

Long off the tee and legendary around a piano bar, Fred Gage was a pillar of the local radio market and a voice of the Badgers in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. He was also a pretty good athlete. At Green Bay East High School, he competed in football, basketball and golf. At UW (1938-1940), he lettered three times in football for head coach Harry Stuhldreher. One of his earliest teammates was running back Howie Weiss, the Big Ten MVP and sixth-place finisher on the 1938 Heisman ballot.

After serving in the Navy during World War II, Gage returned to Madison and went to work in the communications business with the Capital Times and WIBA radio (the former owned the latter through 1977). In the late ’60s, Gage was instrumental in expanding the FM band, out of which “Radio Free Madison” was born. Besides sitting on the board of directors of the Cap Times and the Evjue Foundation, he was one of the top amateur golfers in the state of Wisconsin.

It has always been hard to sell Shreveport, Louisiana, as a desired postseason destination. But the Independence Bowl committee scored a major coup in 1982 by landing Don Meredith to be the guest speaker at the luncheon honoring the competing teams, Kansas State and Wisconsin.

Meredith, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback (1960-68), was then sharing ABC’s Monday Night Football booth with Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell and Fran Tarkenton.

“Everyone has asked me what Howard is really like,” Meredith crowed to the gathering. “Well, he’s a guy who changes his name from Cohen to Cosell, wears a toupee and says he’s telling it like it is. You’ve got to be kidding.”

That got yuks from the audience, which included announcers from Wisconsin’s three broadcasting teams. Prior to radio exclusivity, Madison listeners could choose from Jim Irwin and Ron Vander Kelen (WISM), Earl Gillespie and Marsh Shapiro (WTSO) or Fred Gage and John Jardine (WIBA).

Following the luncheon, Gage and Jardine, the former UW head coach, were mumbling to themselves “You’ve got to be kidding” when they learned of their broadcast position for the game. Because the stadium press box was too small to accommodate everyone, they drew the short straw.

Gage and Jardine were perched on top of the press box. They had to climb a ladder to get there. Save for a tent over their heads, they were exposed to the elements. Of course, it rained. Cats and dogs rain. Thunder and lightning. Sideways rain. Below freezing temps and 23 mph gusts.

About 50,000 tickets were sold. About 25,000 showed up.

On the air, Gage noted that the Independence Bowl committee had spent $20,000 to paint the field with a gigantic red, white and blue eagle, whose wings spread from the 20-yard-line to the 20-yard-line. But he quipped that they hadn’t spent a nickel on a tarp to protect the field.

Gage and Jardine soldiered on. As they did famously throughout their friendship. When Jardine retired from coaching, he had his choice of analyst jobs.

“My dad had a choice between taking the money (from the other competing radio stations) or hanging out with Fred on a Saturday afternoon,” Dan Jardine once recalled fondly of the negotiations. “And he went with hanging out with Fred on a Saturday afternoon.”

Friday nights were fun, too. Especially since Gage could never turn down an opportunity to belt out “Danny Boy” — his go-to Irish ballad. Former UW athletic director Pat Richter used to say, “There are certain people who are characters in every lovable sense of the word and Fred was one of them.”

Gage was the Voice of the Badgers in football for 35 years.

As previously mentioned, there were other “Voices” who shared the stage before exclusivity.

Irwin was best known as the Voice of the Packers. That was his title for 30 years — 20 of which were spent bantering with analyst Max McGee, the former Lombardi-era wide receiver. There was a folksiness to their broadcasts, not unlike Fred and John. They were Jim and Max to their loyal fans.

Irwin was ubiquitous.

In addition to his “Ironman” stretch with the Packers, 612 consecutive regular season and postseason games, he was a voice of Wisconsin football for 22 years. During that period, Irwin missed only one Badgers game, and that was when his father died in 1977.

In another role, Irwin was the Voice of Hoops in the state. He did UW basketball for five years and UW-Milwaukee games for two years during which his partner was Bob Uecker, for whom he’d sub on Brewers broadcasts. Moreover, Irwin was the voice of the Milwaukee Bucks for 16 years.

Irwin was indefatigable.

For those 16 years, he pulled off the hat trick as a voice of the Packers, Badgers and Bucks.

“I probably had, from a sportscaster’s standpoint, the three best jobs in the state and that’s very fortunate,” Irwin told the Wisconsin State Journal in 1999. “But I don’t know whether I would recommend anybody trying to do that. It was a logistics nightmare trying to get to all of those events.”

It might mean covering the Bucks on Friday, the Badgers on Saturday, the Packers on Sunday.

There was even an occasional doubleheader.

“There were a number of times when I would do a Packers game,” Irwin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “then jump in a plane and fly home for the Bucks. Somebody else would start the (Bucks) game and I would slide into the chair at the end of the first quarter and take over.”

While Irwin was synonymous with the Packers, he had strong feelings for the Badgers.

So did Gillespie, who was the Voice of the Milwaukee Braves after the franchise moved from Boston in 1953. Gillespie’s run lasted a decade. (The Braves eventually relocated to Atlanta in 1966.)

His signature phrase with the Braves was “Holy Cow,” which he began using while broadcasting the Class AAA Milwaukee Brewers in the early ’50s. Even Harry Caray conceded Gillespie used it first. “You tried to paint a picture with your words and I painted it the way it looked to me,” Gillespie said.

When covering the Badgers, he used broad strokes.

“There are so many people in the business who look for the glass being half-empty,” Shapiro, a longtime TV sports anchor in Madison and the owner of the Nitty Gritty, once noted. “Earl always looked for the bright side and it was always half full when he talked about Wisconsin football.”

Whether listening to Gage, Irwin or Gillespie, the results were always the same even though the on-air presentations were different. So it was on Dec. 11, 1982, when the Badgers beat Kansas State, 14-3, in the Independence Bowl. It was the school’s first bowl win.

But it was not Gage’s and Jardine’s first rodeo.

They survived the wind, rain and rooftop view.

It’s a safe bet that they even toasted to it once or twice.

Jardine, who stayed at Wisconsin after he retired as football coach and did a lot for the UW, was Gage’s last on-air partner. Having done a high school football playoff game on a press box roof in similarly dire weather (no rain, but 50-mph winds), I am highly amused at the thought of having to do a Division I bowl game (known to the UW Band as the “Inconvenience Bowl,” because it was played the day before fall-semester final exams, and known by others as the “Insignifance Bowl”) outside. Somewhat amazingly, the Independence Bowl (now sponsored by something called Walk-On’s Bistro and Bar, previously sponsored by the Poulan Weed Eater) still exists today.

Gage’s UW broadcast was only on WIBA in Madison. Gillespie’s broadcast originated, believe it or don’t, in Wisconsin Rapids; his partner before Shapiro was ’60s Packers radio announcer Ted Moore. Gillespie, as you know, was the first voice of the Milwaukee Braves.

Irwin’s broadcast originated from WTMJ in Milwaukee and was on WTSO before WISM. When Gage and Jardine retired, their replacements were Paul “Shotandagoal” Braun and former UW tight end Stu Voigt, who did Vikings radio for several years. There were two other broadcasts until UW decided to consolidate broadcast rights in the late 1980s.

Irwin first worked with Gary Bender (as well on Packer games) …

… and then got the play-by-play role when Bender left for CBS, leading to …

Those three and others worked during the days when the Badgers would go entire seasons without being on TV. (Though Wisconsin Public Television carried replays the night of the game, with Braun announcing.) The only way to follow what was happening at Camp Randall if you weren’t there was by radio.

Irony that didn’t happen: Had Bender, instead of (future Bucks announcer) Howard David, had done the game (it was a syndicated broadcast), he would have been announcing his alma mater (Kansas State) against one of his former employers (Wisconsin). Irony that did happen: The Badger quarterback that year was Randy Wright, who ended up getting drafted by the Packers and replacing KSU alum Lynn Dickey as quarterback.

 

If it’s Wednesday I’m in …

I am making my season college basketball announcing debut tonight when UW–Platteville plays Wisconsin in women’s basketball from the Kohl Center on http://www.am1590wpvl.com at 7 p.m.

This is a first for me because I have never announced a game for an opponent of my high school or college alma mater. However, it’s an exhibition game. It will also be the first time I have ever announced a game where the UW Band will play.

I have done two Division I games. The first was when Ripon College played at Utah (the defending national runner-up, coached by the entertaining Rick Majerus) in 1999. It was a great trip extended because the day of the game O’Hare International Airport in Chicago was hit by two feet of snow, pushing our departure three days back. About 18 inches of snow fell that night in Ripon, and since the game wasn’t on TV the radio station news and sports director said they probably set a listener record.

The second was when the UW–Platteville men played at UW–Milwaukee (then coached by former UWP guard Rob Jeter) in 2014. I sat courtside at the old Milwaukee (now Panther) Arena, the same place where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Sidney Moncrief played and Al McGuire and Don Nelson coached. That was a cool realization that I didn’t get to savor because after that game I had to run from Milwaukee to Green Bay to announce two days of state volleyball.

The great thing about doing college sports is that someone else does some of your work for you — compiling statistics going into the game (though that is now easier thanks to such websites as WisSports.net and MaxPreps), and statistics and other information during the game from sports information directors. That takes one big thing off your plate to allow you more time to report and observe. (Packers announcer Wayne Larrivee says the hardest sport to announce is high school football due to the need to generate your own information, along with sometimes, shall we say, interesting settings. I think a lot of high school announcers put into a major college or pro broadcast would probably sound a lot better just because they would have comparably less to do.)

Then, Friday night, I get to announce a Level 4 football game between Black Hawk and Fall River from Middleton on http://www.wglr.com. Level 4 is the game before state, so of course it is the most pressure-packed game of all.

Wait! There’s more! I am also making my public address announcing debut at UW–Platteville’s final football game of the season against UW–Stevens Point Saturday at 2 p.m. (If you listen to the game online here, you may be able to faintly hear me. I will not be doing any sort of impression of Michael “lllllllletsgetreadytorumbbbbllllllllleeeeeee!” Buffer.)

 

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