Monday, August 11, 2014

Blue Pants and Tradition: Who does Michigan football "belong" to?

Last week, the University of Michigan unveiled the futuristic all-blue uniforms that they'll be wearing for the Penn State night game this year. As seemingly happens with every single announcement that ambitious AD Dave Brandon makes, a significant number of Michigan fans/alums are outraged. At MGoBlog, where discussion topics usually receive between 30 and 60 user replies (unless it's a game day), the "Blue Pants" announcement has warranted three separate discussion threads and over 500 comments. For such a trivial issue, many people view this as further proof that Dave Brandon's aggressive marketing tactics are somehow destroying Michigan football and everything pure that it stands for--that the sacred Michigan tradition is being both commercialized and eliminated in the shameless pursuit of money and modernity by the athletic department. With so much negative response from the fan base, it's almost as if a modern day Bob Ufer broadcast would refer to Michigan Stadium as "the hole that Yost dug, Crisler paid for, Canham carpeted, Schembechler filled, Carr maintained, Rich Rod emptied, and Brandon DEFILES every cotton-pickin' chance he sees some dollar signs!"

My friend H reacted to these new alternate jerseys with an angry rant on Facebook, railing against the uniforms and Dave Brandon in general. Since H one of the most knowledgeable, and easily the most passionate Michigan fan that I know, I figured his comments were as good a spot as any to examine some of these concerns a little deeper. Not surprisingly, many of the points he makes also closely mirror  the type of things that the Brandon haters on MGoBlog are upset about as well.

Some quotes from H:
-"Why do we have to diminish the experience of our biggest home game…by wearing uglier uniforms, when our normal uniforms are the best ones in sports?"
-"It's not a business at all…It should matter a lot more to Brandon that the players, students, and fans are getting what they want out of Michigan football than how much money the program brings in."
- "(Brandon) just doesn't get that the football program is FOR THE STUDENTS…"

By taking a closer look at these 3 common complaints about Brandon (breaking established traditions, running the athletic department like a corporation, alienating the students), I'm not absolving him of every tacky promotional decision or ego-driven power trip, but hopefully it will at least put things in a broader perspective.

Blue Pants

Not that it matters in the slightest, but here's my personal opinion on the new jerseys (which likely will only be used for one game anyway): I don't like the look of the jerseys, but I think the blue pants are sweet.

Yes, this will look different than the jerseys I got used to seeing when I was a kid, but can we please stop acting as if the past few years are the first times that Michigan has ever switched up their uniforms?   Sure, maize pants and winged helmets have been the norm for MY lifetime, but Michigan football didn't drop out of the sky in 1987. Stupid designs and gimmicks (as well as awesome designs and gimmicks) on the Michigan uniforms have been just as much of a tradition as the iconic maize pants and winged helmets. The reason we don't remember all of this? Because when something new is introduced and turns out to be idiotic, they just don't do it anymore, and within 5 years, no one remembers that they even did it in the first place.

At MVictors.com, there is a comprehensive and very interesting timeline of every single uniform change that Michigan has made throughout their team history. Some of these things I'd forgotten about, and most of them I'd never known about to begin with, but here are some of the highlights:
- Helmet decals awarded for big plays and wins, used most years from 1969 until Lloyd Carr had them removed in 1995.
- Tearaway jerseys- Legendary WR Anthony Carter used to wear a special "tearaway jersey" that was later banned from college football and didn't even look the same as the rest of the team's regular jersey.
- White Pants- Worn on the road for a few years in the 1970s. If I didn't know any better, I'd ask why the Minnesota Vikings are wearing Michigan helmets.
- Yellow jerseys- According to the book Champions of the West, for the 1928 Navy game, the Navy insisted on wearing blue, so Michigan came out wearing "bright yellow jerseys with blue numbers. The team was said to look like canaries, and the uniforms were put away after the 6-6 tie." I can't even find a color picture of one of those things; they must be buried at the Bentley Historical Library along with the '92 and '93 Final Four banners.
- The Biakabutuka Jersey- It always bothered me that the numbers of his 21 were spread apart so far.
- Long Sleeve Jerseys- I would absolutely LOVE it if they brought these back for November games.
- The cartoon Wolverine wearing a sailor hat on the left sleeve- I also really like these ones for some reason, but Brandon would probably be tarred and feathered if he brought them back.
- The 1880s- I know they were just getting started and everything, but look at this crap:

The above list is pretty indisputable proof that there isn't any one "traditional" Michigan football uniform that they are bound to for the rest of existence. In fact, out of their 11 claimed National Championships, 8 of them were won BEFORE they even had the famous winged helmets. Just because we remember something a certain way, that doesn't mean that it's the way things have always been or the way it always needs to be. The thing about traditions is that the ones that are truly valued will endure, and the gimmicks that pop up from time to time will either catch on and eventually seem like they've been around forever, or they'll fade off and be long forgotten within a few years. Blue pants and goofy numbers won't change that.

"It's Not a Business"

Yes it is, and it has been a remarkably successful business for over a century now, long before Dave Brandon and his endless supply of trademarks.

Counterintuitively, the fact that Michigan football is a business is precisely the reason why so many of us feel such a strong connection to the team, rather than despite it. Think about it…if it wasn't a business, what reason would Fielding Yost have to create a stadium for his 100,000+ paying customers? There would no Big House, no Rose Bowl appearances, no "College Gameday", just some frat boys playing glorified rugby in front of their girlfriends and a few buddies, and then all going out for a few beers afterwards. As fun as that is, none of us would play any part in it. Speaking from my own experience, I can say with certainty that if it wasn't a business, (a) I would not have grown up watching Michigan games on TV. Without a major financial incentive, the radio and television networks would have no reason to broadcast them. If it wasn't a business, (b) I would never have gotten a tacky Hutch Michigan replica uniform and helmet set for Christmas and fallen in love with the team. Even the nostalgia that creates such a deep emotional reaction to the team is a direct byproduct of the shrewd marketing minds (spiritual ancestors of Dave Brandon) who saw the potential value of this type of merchandizing. Finally, and I say this with no exaggeration, if it wasn't a business, (c) I would not have chosen to attend the University of Michigan. I wouldn't have watched my cousin Tate play on the '97 championship team. I wouldn't have visited my brother on campus in '05 for Manningham's last second touchdown against Penn State. Without the sense the familiarity and emotional ties that I already felt towards Michigan, in large part due to the "business" of their athletics, I would have joined my two best friends from high school and gone to Michigan State.

H, and passionate Michigan fans like him, should not only accept that college athletics is business, they should consider themselves fortunate that it is. If we're going to reap the benefits of this model (which of course is far from perfect), we need to accept the shortcomings as well.

To wrap this section up, I'd also like to present a few major "What Ifs", that I've thought about that could potentially shape Brandon's legacy as AD.
1. What if college teams have to start paying players? Based on the Ed O'Bannon ruling, it looks more and more like a matter of 'when' rather than 'if'…and eventually it's going to cost a lot more than scholarship plus an extra $5,000. I can't claim to be an expert on how the economics of this will play out, but it sure looks like only the schools whose athletic departments raise a whole lot of money would be able to survive and thrive when this happens. Having a nice little rainy day fund, as well as a marketing visionary to keep these funds coming in could allow Michigan to be one of the few teams to survive and thrive during this NCAA upheaval.

2. What if American football has a sudden boom in Europe? Similar to the post-Dream Team Euro-invasion era of the NBA, let's just say that American football gets really popular overseas as well. Thanks to Brandon's genius orchestration of bringing Man U. and Real Madrid to the Big House (and possible future soccer games there as well), when players of this sudden wave of new football recruits decide that they want to head over to the States to play college ball, guess which team would be synonymous with college football in their minds…

This is all wild speculation of course, but the thought that either one of these scenarios could conceivably play out within the next 15 years is enough for me to forgive Brandon for a few oversized bags of Arby's curly fries walking around on the sidelines at the Big Chill.

Who does Michigan football "belong" to?

H is correct that in Dave Brandon's time as AD, many of his decisions have alienated UofM students, shown by the recent drop-off in student ticket sales. I completely agree that this is disappointing; however I disagree that the football program belongs solely to the students, or solely to the players, or the administration, or the fans, or the University, or the advertisers or any single entity.  Michigan football is far bigger than any of those things, and the fact that it can be so many things to so many people is part of the beauty of it to begin with. In my mind, that captures the very essence of sport.

An athletic field is, all at once, a playground, a battlefield, a stage for performance and expression, a business venture, an artist's canvass, a classroom, a sanctuary, a mirror of Erised, and perhaps even a window into our collective soul.

That it is all these things is what has made the experience of sport such a visceral and emotional endeavor for countless people of virtually every human civilization. The thought of it "belonging" to any singular group of people or set of values is unthinkable.

Just as H and the alums need to understand that UofM students are not the sole raison d'ĂȘtre for Michigan Football, Dave Brandon also needs to keep his ego in check and understand that the students and devoted fan base also have an important part to play. I also believe that both H and Brandon, in their different ways,  have only the best intentions for the future of Michigan football. It belongs to all of us, after all.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gringotts, Revisited

When I used to live in a relatively questionable neighborhood in Ypsilanti, there was a crazy stretch where the Bank of America a few blocks down the road got robbed three separate times over a period of about six months. My initial thought after learning about this string of robberies was, “Wow, you don’t really hear much about a good bank heist anymore.” After enjoying its heyday in the Roaring Twenties, this method of crime has become so obsolete in today’s world that it carries a Laura Ingalls Wilder-esque quaintness to it. However, my second (and more important) thought was this: I would still feel better leaving my money at the Bank of America down the road than deposit a single sickle at the Gringotts Wizarding Bank. Allow me to explain.

Ron: Look, here’s the stuff Mum got for you in Diagon Alley. And she’s got some gold out of your vault for you.
Harry: Excellent! Tell your mum I say—wait a second…what?      

My first piece of evidence bad pointing to Gringotts’ awfulness is the disturbing fact that Molly Weasley seems to have unrestricted access to Harry’s bank account. Before the start of the school year in Goblet of Fire, Mrs. Weasley is somehow able to make a moderate withdrawal from Harry’s vault, no little gold keys, no photo ID, no signed authorization, apparently no questions asked by the goblins. I guess stealing from Gringotts isn’t exactly as difficult as Hagrid would have it sound. All you have to do is name-drop someone completely different with no evidence that you even know them, head into their vault without their knowledge, and take what you please. Now in this particular case, Mrs. Weasley was just doing Harry a favor, so no harm done, right? Well, all I can say is that I can’t be the only one who found it a bit dodgy that the Weasleys are somehow able to buy an entire year’s worth of school supplies for their four children enrolled at Hogwarts, when their own vault at one point had one galleon in it. On a side note, I also wonder how pleased Harry was to find that his hard-earned trust fund was being used to buy expensive green dress robes that he would wear one time ever.

Griphook: Weasley, what were you doing down in the vaults earlier?
Bill: Uhh…an important client asked me to uh, check their vault for curses. Yeah.

            Next you have Bill Weasley, who also seems to have carte blanche when it comes to the Potter gold, under circumstances somehow even more suspicious than Molly’s. In Half Blood Prince, Bill uses the excuse of the Voldemort panic to justify another unauthorized withdrawal from Harry’s vault. “I got it out of your vault for you Harry, because it’s taking about 5 hours for the public to get their gold at the moment, the goblins have tightened security so much.” On the surface, it makes perfect sense that Bill could get into the vault; he works for the bank as a cursebreaker, and presumably knows the ins and outs of the underground tunnels, as well as the internal security measures in place. He’s in the perfect position to bypass the long lines and help out a family friend. On the other hand, I’ll quote Chris Tucker from Friday by asking, WHAT KINDA SHIT IS THAT??
            Are the goblins also allowed to leave work with their pockets full of their clients’ gold, or is Bill Weasley the only one with that privilege? It’s well-documented that the goblins don’t exactly consider wizards to be trustworthy, so I don’t think that policy would fly with them. This makes me believe that Bill went into Harry’s vault and retrieved some funds without his employer’s knowledge. Notice that he says, “I got it out your vault for you Harry”, instead of “Gornuk took me down there right in the middle of a work day that was so hectic that it caused delays of five hours.” If Bill can get into Harry’s vault undetected, he can probably get into other vaults as well, just saying.
            Before you jump all over me with how great of a guy Bill Weasley is, let me remind you what the guy’s job is: Cursebreaker, for the single richest institution in the entire wizarding world. While in Egypt, his mission was to break through millennia-old curses in tombs and artefacts and retrieve the treasures inside. The Gringotts wiki page claims that Cursebreakers are analogous to muggle archeologists, but that’s not what I see. It seems to me that Bill is more of a magic grave robber who defiles sacred burial grounds and splits the profits with his bank. After all, “The goblins don’t give a damn about my hair, just as long as I bring home plenty of loot.”  With this perspective, I’m actually kind of glad that JK Rowling spared us the full details of Bill’s exploits over the course of Philosopher’s Stone, when he was “in Africa doing something for Gringotts” (Magical blood diamonds, anyone?).
Sirius: I used your name, but told them to take the gold from my own Gringotts vault.
Harry: And that worked?
Sirius: There’s Gringotts for you.

            I’ll lay off the Weasley family for a little bit now and go into some depth about the Holy Grail of shady Gringotts transactions: the infamous Firebolt purchase. For those of you who haven’t had the chance to brush up on Prisoner of Azkaban for a while, here’s a recap of what happened: Harry received a new Firebolt broomstick as a gift after his Nimbus 2000 got wrecked by the Whomping Willow. For the rest of the year, no one had any idea where this new broomstick came from, though there was suspicion that Sirius Black had sent it. At the end of the book, when Harry is learning the truth about Sirius and Peter Pettigrew, Black also reveals that it was him who sent the Firebolt broom after all. He filled out a mail-order form from Quidditch Warehouse magazine or something, and “I used (Harry’s) name, but told them to take the gold from my own Gringotts vault.”
            To have any kind of credibility and fraud protection whatsoever, there would need to be some kind of communication, either parchment or magical, between the bank and the broomstick dealer. Upon reviewing the order form, the reviewer would undoubtedly notice a discrepancy between the buyer’s name and the vault number used. When looking at that order form, there would be a few reasonable theories that can be drawn:
Sirius Black is buying the broom, (poorly) concealing his identity by using Harry’s name.
- Harry is trying to buy himself a broomstick, attempting to steal funds from the Black family vault. 
-Harry and Sirius are working together to buy a broom, either for Harry, or possibly as a means for Black to further elude the Aurors.
-  An unknown third party is defrauding the bank, and using both of their names.


Any of these scenarios would raise serious red flags for any self-respecting bank, leading to an immediate investigation. I guess under the first scenario, it’s possible that the goblins, who tend to separate themselves from wizarding affairs when possible, simply wouldn’t bother to alert the Ministry. However, if they were to believe that any of the other three scenarios may have taken place, it would be in the bank’s own best interest to uphold its proud reputation of excellent security by performing a full investigation. In any case, Gringotts’s inactivity in the midst of a highly suspicious transaction—involving the most famous wizard on earth, and the 2nd most wanted fugitive in the wizarding world—makes me conclude that Gringotts sucks. Badly.

Unauthorized third-party access to certain vaults? Check. Turning a blind eye to extremely fishy transactions involving some of your highest profile clients? Check. Adding funds to your endowment by methodically desecrating the burial sites of ancient cultures? Check. No effective policy to prevent your own employees from sneaking funds from clients’ accounts in the middle of a Ministry coup? Check. Gringotts bank certainly has it all, with the exception of morals, ethics, security, and common sense. As far as convenience goes, let’s also remember that Gringotts has no branches or ATMs, so even Chinese wizards probably need to go all the way to London every few weeks just to galleon their paychecks or grab a few bucks for quidditch tickets.  All I know is, if I was a wizard, I wouldn’t be  taking my galleons anywhere near that goblin-managed travesty; I’d instead keep my gold at home, employing my own gemino and flagrante charms to keep it safe. Or just take it to the Bank of America in Ypsilanti.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Case for the Seattle Scozzhawks

The Bromolyte Interviews

It's safe to say that out in Seattle, they've caught a pretty strong case of championship fever, the likes of which us Bromos have been vaccinated against since 1957. In honor of Super Bowl Sunday, we're sending this one out to the Pacific Northwest for an exclusive interview with Bromolyte and die-hard Seahawks fan Scozz.

Honolulu Bromothymol: First off, credit where credit is due, congrats on the run to the Super Bowl. Take me through the inside of your head for those last five minutes of the NFC Championship game.

Scozz: Stressful to say the least, my heart was pounding. I was standing on my couch half the time yelling at the D and it seemed like a repeat of not too distant year's past, where we might let the game slip away in the closing minutes; but this time it was different, the Legion of Boom helped seal the deal.

HB: did the fact that it was San Francisco make things that much more intense, or was the stage set either way?

Scozz: Playing San Fran definitely set the stage for an epic matchup. There is definitely a dislike that goes both ways, this incorporates everyone from the coaches and players to the fans. We know that Harbaugh and Carroll aren't big fans of each other dating back to the Stanford/USC days, Sherman and Crabtree have beef since an offseason charity event went awry, and even our 12th man and San Fran fans are always one-upping each other. Even better than this is the great games that usually result on the field. Close games, big tackles and hits, young rising quarterbacks, strong run games. Both teams have similar strengths and it's always a battle to the end of the 4th quarter.

o an outsider, it seems like this whole rivalry jumped up and took over the NFL pretty much out of nowhere. Is there some deeper history, or is it just since Harbaugh got hired that it all started?

Scozz: I'd say it's been in the works for a bit, but with Carroll and Harbaugh taking over the head coaching jobs, it's definitely gone to another level. Seahawks rivalries aren't a new thing, though. If anyone remembers, before we switched to NFC west from the AFC in 2002, we had a pretty heated rivalry with the Broncos.

HB: I remember when Seattle was in the AFC, had never heard a thing about a Bronco rivalry though, interesting.

Scozz: Oh yeah, I remember growing up never cheering for John Elway for that specific reason. There were Seahawks t-shirts with the slogan "Bronco-Busters" and the Bronco X'd out in a red circle (Editor's Note: me and my brother call that "Getting Terry Stanselled", after what we used to do to our old band director's face in our school yearbooks)

HB: Those shirts are awesome.

Scozz: If you get the chance, look up Steve Largent's hit on Mike Harden. I'd have to say that he might have been one of the founding members of the Legion of Boom, dating back to good ol' 1988.

HB:  You've been around Ann Arbor for plenty of Michigan/OSU and Michigan/MSU games, compare this heated Seahawks-Niners NFL rivalry to a college one. Is there any comparison?
Scozz: When cars get tipped and go up in flames, as they do in Columbus, I may upgrade that intensity, but I don't ever see that happening. And I make sure to say in "intensity". College rivalries have such history that span decades, some centuries, that this hasn't touched. I think Michigan and that school down south, UM/MSU, FSU/Florida, Oklahoma/Oklahoma State, Duke/North Carolina and a whole lot of other rivalries have such history that a Seattle/San Francisco can't touch.

HB: This next one has confused me for a few years, so forgive me, but growing up, even in Michigan, I would always hear about an incredible football fan section known as 'the 12th Man'. The Texas A&M 12th man, that is. Had no idea that it was even a thing with Seattle until that famous Saints playoff game after the 2010 season. Elucidate me here.
Scozz: To tell you the truth, I don't know the exact date or time the 12th Man came into being. If you look it up on the Wiki, they say the University of Iowa published something about it first, then Texas A&M, blah blah blah. It became more media-centered around 2006 when Texas A&M sued the Seattle Seahawks for trademark rights. It looks like they settled out of court, we paid them $100,000 and now pay an annual $5,000 fee to use their trademarked "phrase". All in all, who really cares?

HB: Texas A&M, maybe.
Scozz: If Texas A&M had a 12th man like ours, maybe Johnny "Football" Manziel (also trademarked I believe) and WR Mike Evans would stay another year. The 12th Man is a great source of Pride up here in the Pacific Northwest. With the Guinness World Record for Loudest Outdoor Stadium Crowd Noise, numerous false start penalties on the opposing offense, we feel connected and a part of our team. The best part yet is the 12th Man flag raising: Before each home game we have a flag raiser to get our Team and 12th Man going. 12th Man Flag raisers include Seattle's favorite legends, all-time greats, residents and stars,Ken Griffey Jr, Steve Largent, Walter Jones, Shawn Kemp, Bill Russell, Ichiro, Apollo Ono, Fred Couples, Kasey Keller, Gary Payton, Jay Buhner*, and more. It's nice to see support from our local legends. A truly special event.

*Editor's Note: I remember a previous conversation I had with Scozz where he proudly recalled how Mariners fans used to refer to the former outfielder as "Jay Boner". I'm surprised my friend Bitts never pulled that nickname out when he would be the Mariners in our games of MLBPA Baseball on Sega.

HB: I think now we need to tackle the elephant in the room.
Scozz: Sherman.

HB: BINGO. As an impartial observer with very limited points of reference…you're going to give me a reason to not dislike Richard.
Scozz: Lots of reasons. Football-wise: Richard Sherman is the best cover corner in the game. He is responsible for every opposing offense's #1 receiver and shuts them down. Sherman led the NFL this season with 8 interceptions. He is a student of the game, but most importantly Sherman plays with passion--and this is where the critics are divided. He's called out Tom Brady in the past and most recently called out Michael Crabtree. While he could have gone about this better in hindsight, this motivation, energy and attitude is what helps set him apart and helps make him elite. Do Gary Payton, Deion Sanders, Shaquille O'Neal, Terrell Owens, Charles Barkley, Floyd Mayweather, Reggie Miller, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan ring any bells? These guys talked mad trash and I believe it probably helped elevate their game against their toughest rivals. It made them push themselves to elevate their game and Sherman does this as well. 

HB: There have been plenty of trash talkers, but relatively few of them then try to totally deny that image and act like this victim when some people react negatively to it. Just the opposite for Barkley and Deion. On one side, I get the aggression, and "that's part of the game" type of motivation and intimidation…on the other side, I don't buy the "I went to Stanford, so that must mean that I'm not a total dick out there" excuse. 
 Scozz: Most definitely aggressive. But if you ever watch an interview with him, he's a very composed smart conversationalist. He definitely didn't handle the NFC Championship situation as good as he could, but what can you do, people make mistakes. Hopefully he learns and lets his play speak for itself.

HB: In the wave of opinions floating around about the guy, and definitely amplified by the NFC championship interview, I fall somewhere in the the middle. I don't think the guy is a "Thug", but it's definitely an easy label to attach to the hyper-aggressive persona that he plays up.
Scozz: As for Richard Sherman being a "Thug": total garbage. No one talks about the Straight A student from Compton who graduated from one of the best universities in America. No one talks about work he does off the field in the community or with his "Richard Sherman Family Foundation" and "Blanket Coverage Program" supplying blankets to families and children that are in need. Sherman is a very smart, educated and kind person, but it all gets bypassed for his show of passion. Given, it could've been dealt with more appropriately, but in the heat of the moment, I don't blame him. He admits and apologizes for detracting fron the team's win, but still feels the same way about Crabtree. There's a lot more to #25 than meets the eye. You can't always judge a book by it's cover. If we're just talking about football, the guy is exceptional.

HB: No debate there. He's a great player. However, he brings up this bravado and ego that is still far beyond what most athletes do (most fans hated T.O. for instance), and then tries to play the "but I made it out of the ghetto and am smart, so how could anyone dislike me" card and then generates a whole new wave of discussion and attention towards himself. If you don't want to be seen as the villain, then don't act like one.
Scozz: Agreed, you reap what you sow. Just throwing out the bigger picture. He is only one player on the #1 Defense in the league. Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Chris Clemons, Red Bryant and others make this defense elite as well. Let's not detract from the team.

HB: Give me a ranking of how much the city of Seattle supports/loves/identifies with/is crazy for its pro sports teams. You can include the Sonics if you wish. For example, in Boston it's all Red Sox, with Celtics in distant 2nd, followed by Bruins, then Patriots. In Detroit, it would be Lions (if they were ever even somewhat good), followed closely by Wings and Tigers, and then Pistons in distant 4th.
Scozz: 1. Seahawks 2. Sounders 3. Tie between the Mariners and Supersonics 5. Storm. Then there's the Seattle Metropolitans, the first American team to win the Stanley Cup. Look it up.

HB: Does it all just go based on wins?
Scozz: Not exactly, but having a losing team gets demoralizing.

HB: Would the Seahawks be a 10 in the early 90s?
Scozz: No, they probably wouldn't. But as a younger generation, I only have so much perspective. In those days the rankings would have been different. The Seahawks would've been down a little bit, the M's and the Sonics up. I'd say it's fluctuated a bit because we've seen success, we've had playoff fever and in the case of the Mariners it's been missing for so long. Since Paul Allen bought the Hawks in 1997, him and the organization have worked hard to make them competitive, we realize that and appreciate it. In turn, the support has skyrocketed. The 12th Man arose.

HB: The final score of the Super Bowl will be...
Scozz: 34-24 Seahawks. (Editor's Note: It's been brought to my attention that there's an ape living in Utah who has correctly predicted the winner of the past 6 Super Bowls. This ape is also picking Seattle.)

HB: The Super bowl MVP will be...
Scozz: Russell Wilson

HB: Bromo readers should be cheering for the Seahawks because...
Scozz:  because of their captain/quarterback that's "too short for the NFL", their star Beast Mode RB, cast away by his former team for late round draft picks, and a young Legion of Boom that have made it here against all odds. An exciting story for an exciting team. Go Hawks! #12thMan.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Top 5 Stadium Fan Accessories

One of the greatest agonies of being a sports fan is the feeling of helplessness that often goes along with watching a game, and the urge to do something, anything, to give your team an extra boost. Fans need to feel like they're Part of It, which is where all the extra accessories come in: team gear, orchestrated chants and songs, all kinds of noise-making devices, foam fingers, beer-dispensing plastic helmets, you name. Does any of this stuff actually make a difference? Who knows, but we'd all sure like to think so, which leads me to the criteria for my list of the best of the best in this field. I decided that the four main factors in determining the quality of these stadium accessories are as follows: audio effect, visual effect, the impact it can make on the actual gameplay, and the originality of the idea. I've rated all the accessories that I can think of on a 10 point scale, and was able to narrow it down to a final Top 5 list.

Let's start off with the best ones that couldn't quite make the cut:

Honorable Mention

Hat Trick Hats
Is it cool to celebrate an NHL player's rare individual accomplishment? Yes. Is it awesome to see hundreds of hats rain out onto the ice from behind the plexiglass? Yes. Is witnessing someone who happens to be doing their job better than they normally do it worth losing your favorite ballcap over? Not in my book.

K Cards 
Sure, K-cards can be awesome, when a pitcher gets 15 or more strikeouts in a game. However, seeing as this hardly ever happens, and most well-intentioned K displays end up looking more like racist bathroom stall graffiti than a monument to virtuoso pitching, it can't crack the Top 5. Also, even though Sports Illustrated for Kids explained it to me a long time ago, I still don't really understand why strikeouts are known as Ks.

Now this is just ridiculous. I won't be convinced that Felix Hernandez had upwards of 700 strikeouts in this game.

Apparently, the Michigan student section used to smuggle thousands of marshmallows into the Big House and go all Oregon Ducks on each other during football games. That tradition unfortunately went extinct before I ever arrived on campus, but i would have loved pelting Rich Rod with some Kraft Jet-Puffeds during one of his famous late-season collapses. I would have given this an easy 10 for originality, but my further research shows a bunch of other schools, including Notre Dame and Northwestern, used to do this too, so I guess that was just the thing to do in the late 80s.

Dishonorable Mention

Before diving into the Top 5, I think it also bears mentioning that for every awesome sports stadium fan accessory, there's about three pretty crappy ones as well.

Atlanta Braves Tomahawks
Without entering a discussion on just how offensive these may or may not be, I'll just say that the Braves foam tomahawks are completely unnecessary. Atlanta's version of "the chop" is inferior to Florida State's in every way, and the fans at Doak Campbell accomplish the exact same visual effect just by using their arms to make the chopping motion. As you can see below, these cheap-ass things are so flimsy that they wouldn't even make the proper motion when you try to chop with them anyway. They probably have the TBS logo on the opposite side too.

Artificial Hand Clappers

"Hey guys, I'm too much of a wimp to clap my real hands today. Don't worry though, I'll still be able to cheer on the team with these nifty Artificial Hand Clappers!"

The only justifiable reason for somebody to use these things is if they're a double-hand amputee. You know what, scratch that, a double-hand amputee wouldn't be able to grip the handle anyway. There is no justifiable reason for somebody to use these things.

Central Michigan Foam French Fry Things

There's nothing like a struggling mid-major football team trying to inject some manufactured stadium atmosphere into their program. At a CMU game once, as my family walked past the ticket gates, some ushers handed us what looked like big foam french fries with logos of local businesses printed on them. They didn't make any noise, you couldn't really wave them around and have it look cool, and the stadium was about a third of the way full anyway. I can't find any pictures of the foam sticks, but that's probably for the best.

Now, the time has come to unveil the Top 5 Stadium Fan Accessories in all of sports.

5. The Cadets Section
Audio Effect: 4
Visual Effect: 8
Impact on Gameplay: 2
Originality: 8
Total Score: 22

This exclusive club consists of only the three service academies, and also Texas A&M for some reason. While Penn State seems to think that they invented the idea of everyone wearing the same color t-shirt sometime around 2006, the cadets have pulled off the look for nearly a century now. Penn State's little "White Out" looks positively quaint in comparison to the Cadets all wearing the same jackets, hats, boots, haircuts, and even waking up at the same time as each other every morning. However, service academy football has sucked in the post WWII era, so the Cadets must not be doing that great of a job in the Impact on Game category. Either way, unless you're part of the militarys, you'd have a tough time duplicating this at your stadium.

4. Little, Yellow, Flayygs
Audio: 5
Visual: 10
Game Impact: 6
Originality: 2
Total: 23

Started by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1975, LYFs remain the yellow standard when it comes to visual effect, creating a wonderful organized chaos look in the stadium. This transfers well to TV also, just as long as the color is bright enough to stand out. The towels themselves don't make any noise, but when they're out twirling in full force, it always seems to be accompanied by a heavy increase in volume from the participants. There's a reason why most stadiums will only bring these out for the really big games: those games are the only ones where some dopey corporation is willing to blow thousands of dollars to advertise on a bunch of linens. However, I'd like to think that somewhere deep down, one of the suits in Marketing understands that a home team's chances of winning marginally improve when said team's supporters have a bunch of dishrags to wave around while they cheer. As far as originality goes, Pittsburgh's "Terrible Towels" were the trailblazer in the Little Yellow Flayyg industry, but the sports world has since then seen countless copycats, including the DTLs from time to time. I still love the effect though, and hope they pull them out at Ford Field this weekend in their must-win game.

"It would have been a good day to invest in Little, Yellow, Flayygs."--Thom Blanck

3. The Free Throw Missing Apparatus
Audio: 4
Visual: 9
Gameplay: 8
Originality: 4
Total: 25

Clutch free throws are hard enough to make to begin with, and the Free Throw Missing Apparatus certainly can't help things. I'm sure most players will tell you that they just "block it out" or that they're so used to it that it doesn't matter, but how many other situations in sports are there when you can literally disrupt an athlete's field of vision right as they are trying to perform? I would love to see the concept of this adjusted for Olympic archery competitions. For the desired visual effect, the amount of variation here is pretty much endless. You can go for the hypnotic effect, the optical illusion, put Dwight Schrute's face up there, just bluntly tell the shooter your desired result for the shot, appeal to Larry Bird's taste in women, I won't go so far to say that the possibilities are endless, but there are quite a few. No matter what, it usually looks pretty cool. From the pro levels all the way down to high schools with large enough gyms, these things are everywhere. However, most places do a decent enough job of putting their own unique spin on the theme to keep it from going completely stale. For my money, Indiana's Assembly Hall wins best in class as far as the FTMA goes.

2. Vuvuzelas
Audio: 9
Visual: 5
Gameplay: 4
Originality: 10
Total: 28

Nobody in the western hemisphere had ever heard of them before June 2010, but now at least 95% of the 2 billion or so viewers of the last World Cup not only has a strong opinion of these polarizing fan accessories, but also mispronounces their name in a wide range of equally hilarious ways. Like fake Cubs manager Sal Martinella trying to say Henry Rowengartner's name, or Spongebob Squarepants talking about "the Hash-slinging Slasher".

When blown in unison, the vamooshimas sound like a relentless swarm of billions of angry hornets. It's beyond me why every sports team in the world with a bee-related team name doesn't hand them out at all home games. As far as the visual effect goes, I suppose i could go either way on this one. I guess it depends on how much you're feeling the whole "Whoville Christmas Celebration" vibe. While aurally shocking at first, most World Cup players seemed to get familiar with the vuvuzela as the tournament went on, not really even noticing them anymore by the end. They're not for everyone, but I think they would make for a great niche accessory for a team to build up a unique home field advantage. Georgia Tech would be perfect for this. "Oh crap, we have to go to Georgia Tech this year, that place is gonna be rocking, everyone with those stupid Kazoozulas going!"

This was an accessory a little bit ahead of its time back in 2010, and Americans weren't quite prepared to handle the vesuvius back then. I think they might be ready now.

1. Oklahoma State's Orange Paddles

Audio: 8
When the wooden paddles are all banding on the foam padding of the wall, it gives off that ominous feeling of 40,000 bloodthirsty Orcs marching in to get their asses kicked by a dwarf, an elf, a wizard, and a few hobbits. It seems to work better for the Pokes than it does the Orcs.

Visual: 7
With the proper camera angle, this looks awesome. The problem is that it's only in the front row and only in the student section. This goes up to a 9 if they get the entire front row in on it, and it goes up to about a 16 if they got the entire student section doing it, with everyone just absolutely wailing on the person directly in front of them. This would be one of the few conceivable scenarios where being in the top row would be the best seat in the house.

Gameplay: 6
It goes back to my previous point--how much of a difference does any of this stuff actually make? With the large orange clubs beating against the wall, it definitely at least seems like it's doing something. As a defensive lineman, how could you not rush the QB just a little bit harder on a big third down while being urged on by that delightfully barbaric atmosphere?

Originality: 10
The first time I saw them in the background on TV, I almost didn't believe my eyes. It just seemed way too awesome that the stadium ushers would let people bring large orange clubs past the front gates and smash them against the walls for 3 hours. I mean, at my old high school, the athletic director kicked out just because he let off an air horn during a timeout--and it was the athletic director's own son! This is just a perfect match for Oklahoma State, so much so that I thought to myself, "Oh yeah, because their team name is the Cowboys", without even realizing that Cowboys with wooden paddles makes about as much logical sense as the boys at your local AEPi chapter. For these reasons, the Oklahoma State orange paddles conclude this list as the #1 Stadium Fan Accessories in sports.

Total: 31

"It's where the SENIORS find Freshmen, and NAIL them with paddles!"-- Joe Swanson