The Grambling State University football team plays in the unheralded Southwestern Athletic Conference, in the division beneath the big boys. They had an 11-game losing streak, stretching back into the 2012 season.
In short, this was not a team that warranted national attention.
But the Grambling Tigers finally got some last month. No, they didn’t notch their first win that day – or even another loss. They didn’t play – and it wasn’t due to bad weather or a bye week. The players simply refused to take the field.
Grambling is a historically black college with a rich tradition. Their legendary coach, Eddie Robinson, won 408 games, which set the record Joe Paterno would break, then relinquish, due to NCAA sanctions.
One of Robinson’s biggest stars was Doug Williams, the first African-American quarterback to lead his team to a Super Bowl title.
But, as a coach, Williams was more beloved than successful. His Grambling teams couldn’t get it done, while the school itself suffered draconian budget cuts. The players had to travel by bus and work out in a weight room so decrepit, several suffered staph infections.
This fall, it all came to a head.
Moments before the Michigan Wolverines introduced Brady Hoke as their new head football coach in 2011, Michigan fans had lots of questions. Why not hire a national star like Les Miles or Jim Harbaugh, who both played at Michigan? Who was Brady Hoke? Was he up to the task of taking over the Wolverines, and returning the team to glory?
Hoke answered these questions by nailing his first press conference. He won over more Michigan fans in just a few minutes than his predecessor, Rich Rodriguez, had been able to capture in three years, for a variety of reasons. When a reporter asked Hoke if the Wolverines would be rebuilding in his first season, he famously replied, “This is Michigan, for godsakes” – and a star was born.
It’s hard to remember a happier honeymoon than Hoke’s. In his rookie season, the Wolverines beat Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State – the latter for the first time in eight years. They won their first BCS bowl game since a young man named Tom Brady did the job in 2000, en route to an 11-2 record. From the fans in the stands to the team in the trenches, the love for Coach Hoke was universal.
But then a great senior class graduated, the schedule got tougher, and Michigan’s amazing luck finally ran out. Hoke’s second team went 8-5, but most fans gave Hoke a pass, and I believe rightly so.
But the Wolverines don’t look much better this year, and might even be worse.
Editor’s note: Since 2008, Myra Klarman, a professional photographer based in Ann Arbor, has been sharing with Chronicle readers her images from the annual Main Street Halloween Treat Parade. [Take a look at her photos from 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008 as well.] This year was a bit damp, but trick-or-treaters – and Myra – were undaunted. We hope you enjoy the festivities – Happy Halloween!
The Chronicle’s November milestone column comes to you a few days earlier than the customary second day of the month. That’s because I wanted to include a quick preview of a performance scheduled for Nov. 1 at the Kerrytown Concert House – by mezzo soprano Laurie Rubin.
The Chronicle has rarely, if ever, written about entertainment. And as I explained to Laurie, when she called me up to make her pitch, our approach to covering Ann Arbor’s community doesn’t include standard “preview” pieces for live performances.
The boilerplate explanation I typically use on the phone includes a description of The Chronicle’s preferred strategy for giving readers advance notice of interesting performances. That strategy is an event listing that runs off Internet standards-compliant data feeds and helps to strengthen the community’s “calendar web.” So obviously the tactic here is partly designed to bore the caller to death, so that they’ll just give up and accept the fact that I’m not going to write a preview article about their performance.
You will find Laurie’s Nov. 1 Kerrytown Concert House performance included in The Chronicle’s event calendar, categorized as music.
Fortunately for you, dear readers, Laurie declined my gambit that she surrender to my boring, rambling talk about data feeds and technology platforms. Instead she expressed a weirdly geeked-out interest in these data feeds and calendars, which I probably seemed very excited about. She instantly grasped the concept of maintaining a calendar that automatically generates a data feed that any publication or individual can access. I didn’t figure that an opera singer would be such a receptive audience for that sort of thing. But at least she had stopped talking about her Nov. 1 performance at Kerrytown Concert House, so that was a good thing, from my point of view.
But in closing out the conversation, Laurie renewed her pitch for a preview article, based on her memoir, “Do You Dream in Color: Insights from a Girl Without Sight.” Even though I was still thinking to myself, “No preview articles! Not even for blind opera singers!” I figured Laurie might be a receptive audience for some additional conversation about a different topic.
That topic is an accessibility project for public meetings that The Chronicle has been working on somewhat sporadically. The idea is to provide digital streaming text for members of the deaf and hearing-impaired community to read – either live at public meetings or during a video replay. Yes, I fully understood that I was talking to a self-described “blind girl” – for whom this particular accessibility project offered zero obvious benefit. Yet Laurie turned out to be a willing conversation partner. And in The Chronicle’s basic technological approach, she saw a potential benefit to the blind and visually impaired community that would never have occurred to me.
When you’re 68, working in a young man’s game, announcing your retirement is not a surprise. But Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland has a few underappreciated qualities that are worth remembering.
Jim Leyland was a baseball man to the core. Raised in Perrysburg, Ohio, the son of a glassworker, he grew up wanting to do one thing: Play baseball.
He was good, very good, so the Tigers signed him up to play catcher in their minor league system. But just to get to the majors, you need to be great – and after seven years battling to get to the big leagues, Leyland realized he wasn’t great. Not as a player, at least.
So he decided to become a manager, and worked his way up from Detroit’s lowest minor league team to its highest. That climb took him from Bristol, Virginia, to Clinton, Iowa, to Montgomery, Alabama, then Lakeland, Florida, and finally Evansville, Indiana – Detroit’s top farm club.
Tomorrow morning, one of Michigan’s oldest traditions will be on display. No, not at the Big House, but at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house.
That’s where they’ve played something they call The Mud Bowl every year since 1933, the same season Jerry Ford played center for the national champion Wolverines, and Columbia University won the Rose Bowl.
Back then, the leap from the Mud Bowl to the Rose Bowl was a lot smaller than it is today. Oh, and a new venture called the National Football League was little more than a decade old, but few cared. Today college football is a lot closer to the NFL than it is to the Mud Bowl – which still doesn’t charge its spectators a dime.
Last fall, I woke up on a cold, rainy Saturday morning to see the tradition for myself.
Ohio State University president Gordon Gee’s ability to put money in the bank – both his and his university’s – was equaled only by his ability to put his foot in his mouth. Well, this week he was finally fired – er, retired. Entirely voluntarily, of course. Not pushed at all. Nooooo.
Over his long career as president of West Virginia, Colorado, Brown, Vanderbilt and Ohio State – twice – Gee has raised billions of dollars, while delivering a seemingly endless stream of gaffes, slanders and just plain stupid comments, which culminated in his unexpected departure.
In politics, they say, when a man is shooting himself in the foot, don’t grab the gun. In that spirit, I’ll let the man’s words speak for themselves.
In 1992, when the Buckeyes ended their four-game losing streak against Michigan with a 13-13 tie, Gee said, “This tie is one of our greatest wins ever.” Ooo-kay.
Most sports fans are happy just to see their team make the playoffs. But Detroit Red Wings fans have been able to take that for granted for a record 22 straight seasons. The last time the Red Wings didn’t make the playoffs, not one current NHL player was in the league. Some of the current Red Wings weren’t born. Nine current franchises weren’t yet created.
But the record seemed doomed to be broken this season.
To start, there almost wasn’t a season at all, thanks to the contract dispute between the players and the owners, who both thought the other side was making too much money. And, of course, both sides were right – setting up a game of chicken between self-destructive lunatics.
When a federal mediator finally brought them to their senses in January, they had just enough time left to play a 48-game schedule – which actually seemed about right. But the Red Wings came out flat-footed, falling so far behind they had to win their last four games just to sneak into the seventh of eight playoff spots.
In the first round, they faced the Ducks of Anaheim – formerly the Mighty Ducks – which is already an affront to everything that is holy about hockey.
Amazingly, the Red Wings beat them in seven games – quite an upset. Their reward: an even tougher opponent, the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks, who earned at least one point in their first 24 games, which is a record.
But for hardcore hockey fans – and really, are there any other kind? – this series was a reward.
It wasn’t that long ago that Michigan’s basketball program was not merely unsuccessful, but the shame of the athletic department, if not the university.
Bo Schembechler, then Michigan’s athletic director, fired basketball coach Bill Frieder after he found out Frieder had flown out to accept the coaching job at Arizona State just a few days before the NCAA tournament was to begin. Schembechler famously barked, “A Michigan Man will coach Michigan!” Assistant Coach Steve Fisher filled in, and the team “shocked the world” by winning Michigan’s first-ever national title in basketball.
But, on the eve of Fisher’s ninth season, he, too, was fired, because some of his players had been paid by a booster. Another assistant coach, Brian Ellerbe, was named the interim coach, which usually is a mistake – and this proved no exception. At Ellerbe’s first Big Ten tournament, in 1998, the Wolverines pulled a rabbit out of a hat to win it, and Ellerbe was named the permanent head coach. But three years later he was also fired, partly because of a bad record, but mainly because some of his players had been paid by the same booster.
The NCAA launched an investigation that lasted years. Tommy Amaker, the next coach, had to deal the investigation, the probation that followed, and subpar facilities. He never made the tournament, but he left Michigan’s program much better than he found it.
Former athletic director Bill Martin started raising the money and making the plans for a new practice facility and a complete renovation of Crisler Arena – which ultimate cost about $100 million when it was finished in 2012 – and hired Michigan’s current coach, John Beilein, to take advantage of it. Beilein came to Michigan with a strong resume, having taken three different schools to the big dance, but not a high profile.
Sports columnist Rick Reilly once wrote that weekend golfers invariably claim, “I’m a good golfer. I’m just not consistent.”
Well, he said, if you’re not consistent, you’re not a good golfer.
Americans are great at building things, and rotten at maintaining them. We admire winners and celebrities, but we overlook the loyal spouse and the honest accountant and the people who maintain our bridges – and that’s why they’re falling apart.
So, let this be a salute to consistency – that most unheralded virtue.
In 1984, Red Berenson took over Michigan’s moribund hockey program, which had not been to the NCAA tournament in seven years. Berenson thought it would be easy, but it took seven more years to get Michigan hockey back to the big dance in 1991.
Once they got into the tournament, they made it a point to stay there. Year after year, they suffered heart-breaking tournament losses, but year after year, they kept coming back. Finally, in 1996, they won Michigan’s first national title in 32 years – and they did it again in 1998. They’ve come close a few times since, but they have yet to win another.
This bothers Berenson, one of the most competitive men I’ve ever met. When he visited my class, I introduced him by listing his many accomplishments on the board. When he stood up, the first thing he did was point to the two national titles on the board and say, “That’s not enough. We should have more.”
A few years ago – okay, a bunch of years ago – I bit on a bet I never should have touched.
I was writing for the Detroit News, and a top minor league hockey team called the Detroit Vipers played at the Palace. So, I got to thinking: just how big is the gap, really, between the pros, and beer league players like me?
Good question. And even better if I didn’t try to answer it. But, being the hard-hitting investigative journalist that I am, I had to go down to the Palace and find out. Bad idea.
I called the Vipers, and they said, sure, come on down to practice. Now, I couldn’t hear them laughing themselves silly when they hung up – but I bet they were. I should’ve known I was biting off more than I could throw up.
Editor’s note: A version of this column was originally published in the Feb. 18, 2013 issue of Michigan Today.
In the Michigan hockey program’s 90-year history, some 600 players have scored more than 10,000 total goals. But the man who scored the team’s very first goal, 90 years ago, might still be the most impressive one of the bunch.
He was the son of legendary American architect Albert Kahn, who built the most recognizable buildings in Detroit and Ann Arbor, almost all of which still stand. He pioneered the new discipline of neurosurgery, serving 22 years as chief of the department at the University of Michigan Medical Center. In his free times, he liked to fly planes, speak half a dozen languages, and hang out with folks like Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and Charles Lindbergh.
But to his teammates, back in 1923, Eddie Kahn, MD ’24, was simply an exceptional college hockey player.
When he was in high school, however, you would have been wise to predict none of this. Certainly, his famous father didn’t.
A conversation with Ann Pearlman, who gave readers around the world “The Christmas Cookie Club,” seemed appropriate for a December books column. But, it turns out her 2009 novel isn’t about Christmas. It’s about commitment.
Which, coming from the Jewish author of a memoir entitled “Infidelity,” makes considerable sense.
The fictional cookie club is hosted by narrator Marnie, whose day begins with preparations for a dozen friends who will be arriving at her Ann Arbor home that evening with food, wine and a story to accompany the ritual exchange of imaginatively presented cookies – with frequent dance breaks. But she’s also anticipating important news that evening from her older daughter and her husband in San Diego and, in a month, a grandchild from her 18-year-old, whose boyfriend is “a black ex-convict and aspiring rap star.”
Pearlman belongs to a real Christmas cookie club here in Ann Arbor, and reading her bestseller had me fantasizing about how lovely it would be put something like that together with friends whose company I treasure all year round and don’t see as often as I’d like. But then I thought again about the generally sluggish crowd I hang with and how the kinder ones would simply laugh at me. Righto. What say we just meet for pink drinks in January, hmm?
Such a lame crew, I suspect, would mystify Pearlman. Among her commitments: She’s a writer (seven published books). She’s an artist. She’s an adventuresome cook (her latest effort extends to homemade liqueurs). By her own account, the boundary between her family and her friendships is often indistinct. She has maintained a psychotherapy practice in Ann Arbor even as her writing career became firmly established. And the day we spoke, this mother of three and grandmother of four was looking forward to dancing the night away at the Necto’s Townie Party, despite a lingering cough from a bout of illness that put her off the cookies at this year’s meeting of the club.
This week, the University of Michigan announced an increase in the cost of “seat licenses” for football season ticket holders.
Before I dive into what all this means, let me explain what a “seat license” is, because, if you’re a normal person, it won’t make much sense.
A “seat license” is a fee that teams make their fans pay just to reserve the right to buy the actual tickets. They call it a donation – which is a stretch, since every fan apparently decided to donate exactly the same amount, or lose our tickets. But that allows us to claim it as a gift to a state university, and a tax deduction.
It’s hard to call that honest. Thanks to the latest hike, it’s hard to call it cheap, either.
In fairness, Michigan was the last of the top 20 programs, ranked by attendance, to adopt a seat license program, in 2005 – even though Michigan always finishes first in attendance. And the seat licenses started gradually: $250 for the best seats the first year, then $500 the second. They were nice enough to spare the folks in the endzone.
But this week Michigan pushed the seat license for the top ticket up to $600 each, and even the folks in the endzone will have to pay $150 per ticket, just for the right to buy them. In the past decade, the total cost of my two tickets on the ten-yard line has more than tripled, to over $1,700. But my seats are no better, and the schedule keeps getting worse.
It makes you wonder how we got here.
College football’s regular season ended Saturday, with the various conference championship games closing out a 14-week season. The next day, Sunday, the 35 bowl games sent out their invitations to 70 lucky teams. But when you look a little closer at their bowl offers, you have to wonder if those 70 teams were really that lucky at all.
The people who sell bowl games need us to believe a few things: (1) Their games are rewards for teams that had a great season; (2) They offer players and fans a much-wanted vacation; and (3) The bowls are nonprofits, while the schools make a killing.
These claims are nice – and would be even nicer if any of them they were actually true.
Forty years ago, college football got by with just 11 bowl games. The 22 teams the bowls invited were truly elite, and so were the bowls themselves – like the Orange Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Cotton Bowl and The Granddaddy of Them All, the Rose Bowl. Back then, when your team got into a bowl game, you knew they’d done something special.
But in the past four decades, the number of bowls has more than tripled, to a staggering 35. The “bowl season” now stretches almost a full month, which is how many days you need to fit in such timeless classics as The Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Advocare V100 Independence Bowl, and the legendary Taxslayer.com Bowl. How many Taxslayer.coms fit into a bowl? It’s a question only theologians can answer.
The public address announcer at University of Michigan football games always reminds the fans that they are part of the largest crowd watching a college game anywhere in America. What he could also brag about these days is that those same 112,000 or so people sitting in Michigan Stadium are making the game the most photographed event anywhere in America that day.
At the Nov. 10 University of Michigan game against Northwestern, local journalist Lynn Monson documented that no matter where you look on Game Day, someone has a camera raised. Here’s a small selection of the people who decided to freeze moments in time before, during and after the game won by UM in overtime, 38-31.