As a native of Ohio, it might seem odd that for the second consecutive post I'm choosing to focus on the state to our direct north, but after watching tonight's Notre Dame v. Michigan State game, I can't help but pour some more words on the state shaped like a mitten. And as an Ohio State fan, it also pains me to have to talk about Notre Dame, but the fact that they lost this heart-stopping contest will sure help alleviate some of those concerns.

The game in question is part of a near-annual affair. MSU and Notre Dame have played each other over 70 times, with the first contest coming in 1897. There have certainly been some incredible games throughout the rivalry's long history, but last night's showdown will surely live on as one of the greatest in their time on the field together, not only because of the frantic back-and-forth point scoring and overtime drama, but more importantly because MSU head coach Mark Dantonio has balls of solid brass.

While this game, which Michigan State won 34-31 in overtime, may not be the most talked-about in the series, it was certainly the most amazing one I've seen between the two sides and featured one of the most daring play calls I've seen in my 20 some odd years of watching college and pro football. It makes Sean Payton's decision to pull an onside kick to start the second half of last year's Superbowl look like the choice between paper and plastic. Seriously, I'm still in shock at what happened last night in East Lansing and it reaffirms my belief that college football is the best thing going in American sports.

The most famous match-up between MSU and Notre Dame is undoubtedly what some have dubbed "The Game of the Century", which took place in 1966. Coming into the game ND was No. 1 and MSU was No. 2. The game ended in a 10-10 tie, which ironically, can no longer happen in college football because of the implementation of overtime, which led to the incredible way that last night's game ended, but I digress...

To this day the game is surrounded by a shroud of controversy because of Notre Dame head coach Ara Parseghian's decision to run out the clock instead of trying to win the game in the final minutes. Parseghian knew that if the two teams tied and ND went on to beat USC the following weekend (an almost absolute certainty that was confirmed by an eventual 51-0 victory), the Irish would most likely win the 1966 National Championship. He was proved right, but the game nonetheless lives on in countless debates involving coaching strategy, gamesmanship, and differing philosophical approaches to sports in general.

Don't just take my word for it though. Parseghian's decision to live to fight another day against the Trojans the following weekend is so infamous that acclaimed author Denis Johnson made it one of the central metaphors of his National Book Award winning novel, Tree of Smoke (a tome that was an earth-shattering read for this writer, check it out if you haven't already). The novel is about the Vietnam War and the game is used by the book's own version of Colonel Kurtz, Colonel Francis Sands, to illustrate his view that the United States could not accept anything but victory in it's campaign in southeast Asia. Needless to say, Sparty was most definitely picking up what Col. Sands was laying down last night.

I know what you're thinking. A tie isn't possible anymore, so this year's MSU squad wasn't facing the same kind of ultimatum that the '66 ND squad was. Plus, that was a No. 1 v. No. 2 showdown near the end of the season, this was just a week three game in a long year with a lot of games left to play at much lower stakes.

While these are both accurate arguments and I have taken them into account, I must bring up the '66 game because it involves the same two teams and stands in stark contrast to the way last night's game ended. It also allows for discussion of the philosophical approach to sports that I mentioned a few lines back, in this case the approach that says when the win is there for the taking, you reach out and grab it. You don't hope for another opportunity to bring home a victory, no matter how big or small the stakes may be.

All that said, last night's game saw regulation end with the two teams knotted at 28-28 after a hard fought, back and forth contest. MSU won the coin toss in OT and chose to let Notre Dame get the ball first, which is a common practice in college football overtime games, where both teams get the ball at least once, each starting from the opponent's twenty-five yard line.

If you win the toss at the start of OT, the logic is that you want to let the other team go first, then see what you're up against when you get the ball at their twenty-five. It's a cool little piece of strategy that the NFL cannot claim because their OT rules force a period of sudden-death action where the first team to score wins. Last night, Notre Dame was unable to score a touchdown on their possession and instead kicked a field goal, putting them up by three and giving MSU a chance to win, lose, or tie as they took over on offense.

MSU started from the ND twenty-five knowing that they could score a touchdown and win the game, end up kicking a field goal and force double OT, or fail to do either and endure a heartbreaking home loss to the Irish. The Spartans attempt at a touchdown drive sputtered out quickly and quarterback Kirk Cousins was sacked on third down, leaving MSU with a 46 yard field goal try to tie the game and continue on into a second overtime period. Kicker Dan Conroy trotted out and lined up his kick looking like he had the requisite amount of pressure bearing down on upon him. If he nailed the kick, he's a hero on his way to a night of fanfare and worship (and likely an admiring coed if he played his cards right), if he missed the kick his options may have been limited to finding a hole somewhere to wallow in.

All the drama was there. Conroy was looking the outcome of the game dead in the face and the only thing I could imagine were images of Scott Norwood dancing through his head. He's young, inexperienced, and facing a long kick to win an overtime game against the team that worships at the alter of Touchdown Jesus. The only problem with my assumption that the kid was a ball of nerves is that Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio had already decided that Conroy was off the hook.

The pressure instead fell to the guy that was the would-be holder of that game deciding kick, senior punter Aaron Bates. The Spartans faked the field goal and Bates, instead of placing the ball on the ground for Conroy to kick, lofted it into the waiting arms of tight end Charlie Gantt, who trotted into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

Dantonio should be given (and will be given) all the praise that exists in the sporting world for calling in the fake field goal. The guy apprenticed under Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel as an assistant before being hired as head coach at Cincinnati then Michigan State, which takes the call from "wow, what a gutsy thing to do" all the way up to "no, I mean seriously, what did he just do?". Tressel is known as one of the most conservative (if not the most conservative) coaches in the college game and I guarantee his jaw dropped to the floor harder than any in the country as he watched a fake field goal turned touchdown pass decide an overtime game between Michigan State and Notre Dame.

After the game, Dantonio justified his play call ("Little Giants" is it's name, if you were curious) by pointing out his kicker's inexperience and the not-so-minuscule distance of the kick, but the truth is that not just Tressel, but 99.99% of the coaches in America would have tried for the tie and gone with the field goal, especially at home where the capacity crowd is on your side. But as staggering as it is, Dantonio decided to polish his brass balls in front of a national TV audience in the final moments of the latest game in a rivalry that started when William McKinley was president.

His decision to go for the win instead of the tie is so far removed from Ara Parseghian's option to live to fight another day in '66 that the two calls can't even be called polar opposites. Dantonio's bravery isn't just the venturous north to Parseghian's pragmatic south, it's the matter to Parseghian's anti-matter. The two calls obliterate each other on impact.

What a call and what a game. Man I love college football.



Unless you’ve been hiding out under a foreign sub-compact for the past few years, you should know that the city of Detroit has seen better days. The automotive industry is in flux, parts of the city resemble a post-apocalyptic ghost town, the mayor’s office is still trying to escape a cloud of indiscretion following the Kilpatrick administration, and the once thriving bed of Midwest industrial activity is mired in a rebuilding process that could take years to show signs of advancement. Oh yeah, and the city’s four major sports teams are flailing in an ocean of mediocrity whose waters refuse to recede.

Yes, it is one tough row to hoe being a Detroit sports fan. If it wasn’t bad enough that the Pistons are rebuilding and the Red Wings didn’t quite live up to their consistently high expectations in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, fans in the Motor City have also had to deal with the two worst pieces of officiating in the year 2010.

I guess folks from Detroit are used to a bit of bad luck these days, but with the Tigers’ Armando Galarraga throwing a perfect game that wasn’t and this weekend’s opening day win that first was then wasn’t for the Lions, fans might be wondering if they broke a few extra mirrors that they didn’t know about. If you didn’t already know, earlier this baseball season Galarraga threw a perfect game for the Detroit Tigers. He faced 27 batters and got 27 outs, except that the very last hitter was called safe at first base by umpire Jim Joyce, ruining the pitcher’s bid at perfection and sucking all of the air out of Comerica Park. Go ahead and check out the (would be) last at-bat/final out and see it for yourself, sports fans:

Joyce called Cleveland Indian Jason Donald safe on that harmless ground ball to the right side, with Galarraga coming over to cover first base and the ball clearly beating the runner to the bag. Joyce called the runner safe even though everyone in the stadium and those watching at home knew he was out. Out by a good half step. An easy call for any ump to make. Galarraga got the next batter out and the game was over, but his perfect game and chance to join one of the shortest lists in baseball statistical history was gone. At least Joyce ate crow and let us all know that he “kicked the shit out of” the call, though it certainly doesn’t help ‘Mando out much.

To his credit, Galaragga handled it all with class, as did Joyce, as did the fans of the Detroit Tigers, who applauded the two as they met at home plate before the following game at Comerica. Tough luck for the pitcher, the Tigers, and their fans. The obvious problem the play illustrated is that baseball doesn’t use instant replay for safe/out calls, so there was no way for Joyce’s error to be corrected during the game. A day later, baseball commissioner Bud Selig refused to overturn the erroneous call. This despite the fact that the next hitter to the plate also grounded out and Donald would have been the final batter anyway, with the 28th plate appearance changing nothing about the outcome of the game. Selig also defended baseball’s limited use of instant replay, maintaining that the blown call in Galaragga’s near perfecto would not be the impetus for the expanded use of replay in the near future.

Maybe he was on to something, because ironically, the NFL’s dogged commitment to getting every call correct on the field only accentuated the brutally unfair way in which the Detroit Lions were denied a win in the opening week of pro football’s 2010 season. Detroit’s Calvin Johnson (or Megatron, if you’re nasty) caught what everybody in Chicago, Detroit and the rest of the country thought was a game-winning catch as time trickled down against the Bears, except that he didn’t follow the NFL’s rule for a completion to the letter of the law.

Take a look at the play. Whether you do or don’t watch football on a consistent basis, I think it’s easy to see that the big guy in blue caught the ball and the team with the lion on their helmets won the game with precious few seconds remaining on the game clock.

The problem is that as Johnson rose to celebrate his catch, he did so by using the football he had just snagged out of the air as leverage. It squirted away as he ecstatically ran around the back of the end zone, deservedly basking in the glory of a game-winning catch. You can see an official raise his arms to signal a touchdown, but disregard that guy, because that call was almost instantaneously overturned and the play was ruled an incompletion. That eagle-eyed zebra somehow recalled the intricate vagaries of a rule about the ball being controlled all the way to the ground and took the catch away from Johnson and the victory away from the Lions. Check out The Big Lead if you’re as confused as I am, because conveniently enough for this writer, they tracked down the actual and completely mystifying text of the rule.

Every replay that was shown on FOX television afterward, which is essentially what officials look at when they review a call to see if it was correct, showed that Johnson caught the ball, landed with two feet, fell on his ass, then lost the ball when he was getting up. It didn’t matter though, because according to the rule, Johnson had to take the ball home with him, put it in a trophy case, fall asleep, wake up, kiss the ball, and brew a cup of coffee.

Well, not really, but the rule indicates that you have to keep the ball in your possession just about as long for it to actually be ruled a catch in the end zone. So while Joyce’s blown call could not be amended because baseball lacks the necessary instant replay rules, Calvin Johnson’s catch was left called incomplete despite the NFL’s stringent instant replay rules. It’s both baffling and heartbreaking for Lions’ fans and Megatron, but more importantly it points to the fact that no matter how much instant replay you have, it doesn’t matter one lick if your rule book is more complicated than the intricacies of supersymmetry.

So the good folks in Detroit are once again left holding a bag full of officiating ineptitude (no matter how “correct” the Johnson call actually was) and can only commiserate and speculate about a second heartbreaking decision by the officials. The Tigers’ future is still bright for the moment, despite missing the playoffs again this year, but the destitute Lions are coming off a two win season that followed a no-win season. Needless to say an opening day road win against a divisional opponent would have helped buoy a truly shipwrecked franchise. Oh yeah, did I mention their starting quarterback separated his shoulder in the first quarter too? It sure is a gift of to be a Lions’ fan, ain’t it?

So at the end of the day, Motown got jobbed again and while I can’t tell which is worse, having that breathtaking perfect game stolen or watching in disappointment as a rare win escaped the football team yet again, I suppose things can’t get much worse (hopefully). They say it’s always darkest before the dawn, but Detroit sure is looking more and more like an Alaskan winter these days when it comes to athletic competition. All I can say is keep your head up D-Town, we’ll all be rooting for you.



The thing to remember when you're talking about college football, or any college sport really, is that these are kids. Your average college athlete is between the ages of 18 and 23, with a few exceptions towards the older end of the spectrum when you're talking redshirts or guys that have sat out a year or two in the past. That means no matter how much we want to (and believe me I do) we can't take college sports too seriously.

These are amateur athletes after all, and because of that, our scrutiny and cynicism should take a back seat to the fun that can be had watching college athletics. It's what makes college sports superior to their professional counterparts in nearly every way. These kids aren't collecting million dollar paychecks (for some, yet - for others, never) and shouldn't be asked for too much in the way of success or failure, they should be allowed to live out their college careers like college kids, with optimism, naivete, and insouciance.

The problem is we, myself being included, just won't let them. Ohio State football is one of the few things outside of my immediate family that I truly love. I live for the OSU football season like no other time of year. When the winds change and the cool breath of autumn is forcing you out of the t-shirt and into the hoody, you know that football is soon to follow and with it will come agony and ecstasy, wins and losses, but above all else, a great deal of fun. Sure I'll pull my hair out, lose my voice and knock a few years of my life off pounding cigarettes in a nervous frenzy, but I will have fun doing it, no matter what.

If you aren't a fan, you must not be from Ohio and you might be missing out on some of the most satisfying athletic drama you're likely to come across. Need some proof? Just look at the first weekend of action, which played itself out from last Thursday through the following Monday. Thursday night may not have offered too much compelling action, mainly filled with powerhouse programs shredding inferior opponents, but by Monday we already had a season's worth of drama packed into a long Labor Day weekend.

The highlights came in games of consequence and seemingly less-than-alluring match-ups alike and it reminded me once again the appeal of college football on the whole, no matter if you root for a perennially good SEC squad or some kids from northern Florida who took down one of those aforementioned Southeast Conference forces. The game of the weekend? Too hard to call for this writer, but here are my week one highlights in no particular order.

Tulsa at East Carolina If you ask any football fan, the holy grail for any spectator is getting to see a Hail Mary pass decide the game. Well, that's exactly what this game gave us on a lovely Sunday afternoon in September. ECU's Dominique Davis threw a pass with time expiring into a crowd of defenders in the end zone, and his abnormally tall and lanky receiver Justin Jones hauled it in to win the game in front of a packed house of Pirate fans. Nothing more needs to be said really. Last throw, last play, last score, game over. A thing of true beauty on the first weekend of action. I'm sure it brought back some unhappy memories for Kentucky and Michigan fans, but it was a damn fine thing to see as a neutral observer.

Jacksonville State at Ole Miss The main story coming into this game was whether or not the NCAA would clear QB Jeremiah Masoli to play, but it didn't end up mattering as the boys from Jax State stole the thunder from an SEC squad that should have by all rights dominated this FCS team from the Sunshine State. Teams like Jax State usually get a nice paycheck to come play a far superior opponent like Ole Miss early on in the season, just to catch a quick beat down and collect their check. The Gamecocks were having none of that. They battled the Rebels to overtime and went for a truly ballsy two-point conversion in hostile territory to seal the deal. I'm not sure which was better, the incredible catch by Kevin Cooper that brought the Gamecocks within one or quarterback Cody Blanchard's amazing matador act to shovel the game winning two-point conversion through. Either way it was a breathtaking finish to a truly surprising game and is the equivalent of a JV squad from your podunk high school beating some Varsity Blues-style team from Texas on national television. In double overtime. Wow.

Boise State at Virginia Tech So, we have our Hail Mary and our jaw-dropping upset, what could top that? Well, the Broncos and the Hokies gave us something of a cherry atop the college football sundae in Washington D.C. Labor Day night. Boise State has gone from a no-name program that plays on blue turf in Idaho to a legitimate threat to make a run for the national championship in half a decade, coming into the season ranked only behind perennial contenders Ohio State and Alabama in the coaches' poll. The game had national title implications even though it was both teams' first outing of the year, and came down to a drive with under two minutes remaining led by the icy-veined Kellen Moore of Boise State. The game was a back and forth slugfest that somehow lived up to the hype and has a team from Boise fucking Idaho primed to be in the conversation for the national championship game at the end of the year. If they can win out, all hell will break loose in the BCS rankings and every fan in America will debate whether their less-than-impressive schedule holds up with that of college football's big boys.

Well, I'm about an hour away from the Miami v. OSU kick-off and my palms are practically sweating on the keys, so I'll end it here. Here's to another great weekend of football and to college athletes across the country for bashing each other's heads in so I have something to do on Saturdays in the fall.