Pete Barrows

Sports Journalist — Pete.Barrows12@gmail.com

Archive for January 2015

Super Bowl Sunday

leave a comment »

How to watch the big game at GVSU

Super Bowl Sunday, like Denny’s, is an American institution, and is revered as a national holiday even though the bureaucrats haven’t gotten around to making it official yet (THANKS, OBAMA!). It’s not just for living, burping beer-guzzling Homer Simpsons to celebrate, either, although their demographic is welcome as long as they bring a dish/can to pass.

Sure, you probably won’t get class off on Monday morning, but the Super Bowl – more-so than any other production on television – is designed for the masses. AND THAT MEANS YOU! You, Grand Valley State University student age 17 to 20-whatever. Male, female, short, tall, rich, poor, young, old, athletes, couch potatoes, sports fans, sports haters, sportos, motorheads, geeks, wastoids, dweebies, etc. etc. – everyone’s invited. Hell, you’re more than invited; you’re implored.

Watching the Super Bowl is your civic duty/right as an American nestled in perceived value somewhere between voting and writing your congressman. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and name one thing more American than consuming in excess for hours on end with family and friends around a football game complete with a fly-over, cheerleaders, pyrotechnics, pop music, Tom Brady in Ugg cleats, Katy Perry in a crop top, crowd shots of beefy, crazed 40-year old man-children glazed in body paint cheering their clogged hearts out and the best advertisements lots and lots of money can buy? I’ll wait.

The point is, you can’t miss it and most of you won’t even if your heartless, callous professor assigns you a book report over the weekend. Although the decorum observed by the general public on this sacred of all Sundays cannot always be met in practice by Joe & Josephine college student. Don’t worry – as a seasoned veteran of broke, time-crunched, under-resourced and overstressed Super Bowls past, I’m here to lend my services.

Step 1: Location, location, location

And I’m not talking real estate. If your bag is going home every weekend and you have the means, by all means pop a squat between mom and dad in your favorite Lazy Boy chair and take it all in. Otherwise, start scouting. And when you start scouting, start with the TV. In today’s age of phones that can tie your shoes, the 19-inch RCA just doesn’t cut it anymore, and believe me when I tell you that you can do better. If you can’t, find someone who can.

A dorm will suffice in a pinch, but a room in Robinson already stuffed with a pair of lofted beds and bureaus is less than ideal for the claustrophobic. Try the common room, or instead take the show off campus; Peppino’s, Main Street Pub and a friend’s pad are all viable options.

Once you’ve located the spot, find your spot. Buffalo Bill made sure to always sit with his back to the wall during poker games (except that once) for a reason, and for best results, you need to follow his lead. Make sure you have a view of the action – whatever particular action interests you most – and remember to plan for the long haul. Comfort is key, and you’ll want easy access to the grub.

Which naturally brings us to step two.

Step 2: Food

Halloween without candy, Thanksgiving without turkey and Christmas without cookies. Can you imagine? We wouldn’t stand for that bunk, and you shouldn’t with your Super Bowl.

You ants out there that have carefully rationed your debit dollars for the semester, well done! Cut loose with a three-meat special from Papa John’s tossed by Peyton Manning himself and all the junk food you can carry in the hem of your folded up Laker hoody from the C-store and never look back. Your stomach might not be your buddy by halftime, but all of the people you shared with will be.

For all the grasshoppers that blew their food budget early, never fear, but start collecting cans, shining shoes, panhandling and writing letters to grandma ASAP. Dealer’s choice, but do what you need to do within the law and measures of human decency to accrue some funds. No five-finger discounts.

Once you are able to open your wallet without welling up inside, bum a ride up to Family Fare and frugally purchase supplies. Load the cart with off-brand chips, pop, Kool-Aid, other beverages (if you’re of age), frozen pizza and be sure to talk your pal / roommate / bestie 4 ever into throwing in. Invite that kid down the hall and your next-door neighbor you’ve never met before in person that plays music way too loud, but seems nice, to join in. Many hands make light work (and affordable food).

Step 3: Pick a team

If you’re a Detroit Lions fan as I am, well I hate to break it to you but we backed the wrong horse. At least there’s next year, right (and there has been since 1957)? That doesn’t mean we – and the fans of the 30 other teams gone fishing – can’t play along.

Break out your old Tom Brady jersey or the Russell Wilson number Santa brought you for Christmas if you must. Just know even if you were a New England Patriot or Seattle Seahawk aficionado before, we won’t believe you. Not into football? No sweat. Rooting interests have been determined by far less than which team has the best colors or cutest quarterback before.

Once you’ve aligned yourself, start gambling. The ever-popular squares will float around, but the real action is in the prop bets. How many times will deflated footballs be discussed (if it’s anything under 50.5 times, go with the over)? What color of Gatorade will be dumped over a grimacing Bill Belichick or a grinning Pete Carroll (I’m partial to Purple myself)?

Then talk mad smack all night. Make bold proclamations about how if you were coach, the game would be won by now. Critique the outfits and choreography selections of the halftime backup dancers. Pick your favorite commercial, and explain to your friends why it was the best. If they’re not agreeable, make sure to regal them with the punchline that they watched with you. Discuss the socioeconomic and moral merits of buying into a billion dollar event that emphasizes violence, sexualizes women and glorifies winning at all costs.

Grit your teeth at the tropes repeated by talking heads on a loop, relish YouTube compilations of Marshawn Lynch interviews, play catch before the festivities get underway, forget about your studies and worries for a few hours and, more than anything else, enjoy.

America isn’t perfect, and neither is the Super Bowl that encapsulates our nation in a microcosm, but the great thing about both is that they’re free to be savored in most anyway that you would choose to savor them. Even if that means watching the game on a cracked TV your older brother passed down to you while eating a cherry Pop-tart you found under your mattress and catching up on your homework as the sun sets behind Lubbers Stadium.

pbarrows@lanthorn.com

To read the original post “Super Bowl Sunday’”, click here at the Lanthorn online.

Written by peterdbarrows

January 29, 2015 at 10:02 am

Day Dreamin’

leave a comment »

Little Barry
Pete Barrows
Columnist

I have a day dream, and every time I pick up a football, Scotty beams me back to my childhood backyard. Let me tell you, it is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking your own Transporter up.

The fresh cut Buffalograss unrolls like shag carpet beneath my feet when I close my eyes tight enough on the trip, and I’m welcomed back home to the faint smell of fermenting crab apples nestled about the swing-set my old man built by hand. The adjacent barren patch between the sandbox and the shade of the Dogwood was our end zone, and I visited it often.

Dressed head to toe in an off-brand Honolulu blue jersey, silver pants and plastic helmet ensemble my grandma picked up on sale at K-Mart, I was uncatchable as the impossibly twisting helicopter seeds rained down by squirrels from the maples above. Adorning the uniform was the number 20 emblazoned across the chest in a crisp white.

As my dad humored four-year old Pete by playing linebacker for hours, I was Barry Sanders – a blur of blue that made looking running around in circles look good – and you couldn’t tell me differently. The furthest thing from my mind was that Barry was black and that I was white.

All I knew was that Barry was Barry and that Barry was the best at what he did. And in the sphere of sports – ability – not adherence to arbitrarily determined societal standard and preferences, is the primary currency. We live in an imperfect world, and sports are often a reflective microcosm of it, but teams that make it a practice to enlist players by skin, hair or eye color, religion, sexual orientation, pinky size or favorite ice cream flavor historically don’t succeed.

It’s a truth realized when pioneers like Jack Johnson, Jessie Owens, Kenny Washington, Earl Loyd and Jackie Robinson boldly blazed trails in their respective sports and made waves with their contributions not just as inherent civil leaders, but as transcendent athletes.

It’s a truth Grand Valley State University was primed to accept when it opened its doors in 1960 rural Bible-belt West Michigan as liberal education institution with less than 200 incoming freshman and a dream of doing things a particular way.

The sports didn’t come until 1965 when PE department head Dave Sharphorn founded a men’s cross-country team. Men’s golf followed in the same year, as did men’s varsity basketball, rowing and tennis in 1966. In 1968, freshly inaugurated University President Arend D. Lubbers authorized the construction of GVSU’s Fieldhouse, and student Katie McDonald’s write-in choice finished just ahead of the Voyagers, Bruisers, Warriors, Bluejays, Ottawas, Archers – all alternative mascot options – in the polls.

No sooner than the Laker athletic program was born, it began making strides on the straightaway to race ahead along the sporting equality curve.

Dan Poole signed on as a member of the second-year basketball team in 1968, and by the time his career concluded in 1971, was GVSU’s career leader in rebounding (1,270). He still holds that distinction today and ranks 11th in career points (1,431).

He – as well as track star Bob Eubanks – are also the first African-Americans inducted into the GVSU hall of fame and made the cut in the inaugural class.

In the same year Poole hung up his sneakers and powder blue short-shorts, Athletic Director Charles Irwin resourced funds so that Joan Boand could get her women’s basketball and volleyball projects off the ground. In its next trick, GVSU became the first college in Michigan to award athletic scholarships to women by offering Donna Sass Eaton in 1974, and the titles kept coming.

As of today, GVSU has won 17 national championships in six sports, and has been national runners-up thirteen times in eight sports. Fourteen of those titles have been contributed by women’s teams under storied coaches like Boand, Doc Woods, Jerry Baltes and Dave DiIanni. It’s frequently argued that GVSU has constructed the premiere athletic program in all of Division II sports by brick laying contributions from athletes and coaches of all different colors, creeds, shape, sizes and sex.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke on Aug. 28, 1963, of a dream of a nation where citizens would be judged not by the color of their skin but upon the content of their character, a diverse and prosperous athletic program was probably not foremost on his mind. But it’s progress.

Just as GVSU’s campus has evolved from the Kirkhof Center out alone in the corn into a beacon of higher learning, and its athletic program has developed from a few conjoined extracurricular activities into a national power, the civil rights movement has come a long way.

And still, we’re not there yet. We may never be.

Despite constructing an immaculate new library that emanates advancement out of its glass walls just a year ago, GVSU has expansion projects lined up beyond the end of the decade. Despite 17 national championships, GVSU has it sights set on 18. Despite progress in accordance to Dr. King’s precepts, stories of unsightly hate and injustice still splatter the news on both ESPN and BBC.

It’s crucial to look forward and dream about the future, just as it is equally essential to look back and remember the dreams logged in history worth keeping alive. It’s the dreams that make life tolorable – even if they’re never fully realized – and it’s the pursuit of them that’s as imperative as the actualization.

pbarrows@lanthorn.com

To read the original post “Day Dreamin’”, click here at the Lanthorn online.

Written by peterdbarrows

January 22, 2015 at 7:03 pm

Playoffs?!

leave a comment »

A look at Ducks, Bucks, brackets and the NCAA


13816_fieldo

Pete Barrows
Columnist

As I gazed on entranced, observing the self-anointed THE Ohio State University clinically wallop Oregon on Monday night, I was struck through the screen as if by a charging 250-pound Cardale Jones after keeping the ball on a read-option with a series of epiphanies.

The first was that in some universe, I’m certain that Emilo Estevez discretely strolled into a Corvallis bar to start a “Quack” chant. In that very same dive, Joey ‘Blue Skies’ Harrington soothed a flock of sobbing Duck fans with a rendition of Billy Joel’s eternal “Piano Man” at the end of the night as Charlie Sheen drunkenly crooned Neil Diamond off in the corner.

The second was that Blue Mountain State prodigal signal-caller Alex Moran would have fit right in at OSU with Johnny Utah and his alter ego, Shane Falco, and was brilliant in his aspiration to Peter Pan his way through school as a second-string quarterback. Although not quite as brilliant as Urban Meyer was for maximizing his bullpen.

Cardale Jones may be the 6-foot-5, NFL-ready, real-life manifestation of Radon Randell and played like it during the Buckeyes historic playoff run, but that must make Meyer coach Marty Daniels at his peak for transforming his third-string quarterback famed for penning “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL classes are POINTLESS” on his now defunct Twitter account from out of the NFL Jamarcus Russell into Heisman Tim Tebow.

For symmetry sake, that of course makes Joey Bosa Thad Castle.

The third revelation was perhaps the most poignant, and was recited along my inner monologue in a Forrest Gump drawl: watching playoffs and college football come together was like peas and carrots. Apparently, the nation concurred.

After 16 years of force-fed BCS computer rankings, the first-ever college football playoff championship broadcast averaged 33.4 million viewers across the country, a 21-percent spike in viewership from last year’s title game between Florida State and Auburn, and turned in the highest ratings in the history of both ESPN and cable TV.

As my inner eye shifted and I re-imagined Keanu Reaves with a Rip Van Winkle beard running cross country garbed in a track suit and Bubba Gump Shrimp snapback, it occurred to me. As much as it pains me to ripoff the concept, why not give the whole playoff football bit a spin on the Division II level? The proof is in the Buckeye pudding, and there’s never been a better time to hop on the bandwagon.

Just consider the possibilities.

If Division I can facilitate a four-team playoff with 125 schools under its jurisdiction, Division II, with its 156 universities, ought to be able to manage at least a six-team playoff. But why stop there? Let’s go nuts with a 24-team bracket, and play the games out over a month long period between late November and Christmas.

Sure, there won’t be the panache provided by incorporating classics like the Rose, Peach, Cotton, Orange, Fiesta, Sugar and GoDaddy bowls in to the proceedings, a deciding committee manned by Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck’s dads, nor a talent pool founded by 63 scholarships per team as opposed to the 36 permitted per team in Division II, but it could work.

It could work.

In fact it has worked since 1973 when Louisiana Tech recovered from a 21-19 loss to Eastern Michigan University in its season opener to cap a 12-1 record with a 34-0 dismantling of Western Kentucky University in college football’s first inaugural playoff championship.

Go figure.

Fully reloaded after the loss of NFL hall of famer Terry Bradshaw and starting QB Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame in 1970, Louisiana Tech repeated as champs in 1974 — just ahead of Central Michigan University in the polls. And so one of college football’s very first playoff dynasties was born. It wouldn’t be the last conceived, either.

Louisiana Tech, as well San Diego State, Boise State, Delaware, CMU, Akron, Western Kentucky and Troy all played in and or won Division II playoff championship games before jettisoning for Division I. Despite the success each of the aforementioned programs experienced at the Division II scale, none can match Grand Valley State University’s credentials.

After losing a heart breaker to North Dakota, 17-14, in the 2001 national championship game, GVSU defeated Valdosta State 31-24 in 2002 to claim the program’s first title. The Lakers then avenged themselves with a 10-3 victory against North Dakota in 2003 to cement a rare repeat.

A pair of triumphs against Northwest Missouri State in 2005 and 2006 gave GVSU four championships in a five year span, and a runner-up performance to the Bearcats in 2009 gave GVSU six championship appearances in a nine year duration.

All six performances were broadcast on ESPN, although unless you attended GVSU or happened to have incidentally surfed away from Nick at Night after sitting on the remote, you probably missed it. If you didn’t, you were privy to one of the best-kept secrets in sports.

Gone are the days of Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin, but in the history of Division II college football, only North Dakota State (5) and Northwest Missouri State (4) have won as many titles as GVSU (4). To tell a Laker that playoff football works is to explain that if you lie down underneath an apple tree for a nap, you take the risk of getting cracked in the skull when gravity decides to pull its spherical alarm clock down upon you.

Thanks, Newton.

It’s redundant, and obvious. As clear cut as the NCAA’s blatant exploitation of what it affectionately calls its “student-athletes”. Amateurs that play in front of millions without seeing a dime. Indentured servants dressed in the freshest uniforms who help generate billions of dollars in revenue at major programs across the country while sacrificing their time and bodies in the pursuit of a national crown, regardless of whether or not they play school well.

It’s one of the worst kept secrets in sports.

Rudy was on to something when he proposed a playoff all those years ago, and it’s sports fans that benefit from his vision realized. The NCAA, too. A high-percentage of the athletes passed along through the system with a free-education guarantee that isn’t promised, and then disposed of like last week’s Lanthorn?

Not particularly.

As much as I’d love to see the evolution of five super conferences, an expanded eight-team Division I playoff field, a BMS movie hit theaters and for Division II to maintain its spot ahead of the curve, the next monumental change due to be made in college football is also clear.

That’s for the NCAA to either eradicate the hypocrisy of a “remain eligible at all costs” status quo or to start calling its business what it is, officially, with ratified benefits beyond a free ride.

Just like the playoffs were, it’s an overdue movement waiting dormant for an opportunity to manifest itself. Now all there is to do is stand by for 42 years until the big business Division I football-regulating bodies that be get it right.

pbarrows@lanthorn.com

To read the original post “Playoffs?!”, click here at the Lanthorn online.

Written by peterdbarrows

January 16, 2015 at 1:19 am

Lumps

leave a comment »

When life gives you zombie snowmen, throw snowballs, not blame


zombie-snowmen


Pete Barrows
Columnist

I woke up with a lump in my throat.

As if Santa delivered me my share of coal a week late and shoveled it directly down my esophagus. He didn’t stop there, either, no! That wouldn’t have been festive enough.He snowglobed the place as he departed back home — which can’t be far if the weather of late is any indication —  and coated the roads with what I assume to be the reject residue slush extracted from the bottom of the slurpee machine at the local Speedway. What a jerk!

At least the one thing I really wanted for Christmas – a Lions Super Bowl win – was already in the bag. I have a tattoo on my calf to prove it! I even received a Division II football  national championship in my stocking earlier in the season when Grand Valley State University brought the hardware home. At least that’s what I keep telling myself every time I snap into a partially cold-induced daydream.

That Santa guy’s a hack. So is Pete Morelli, head official from Detroit’s crushing Wild Card loss to the Dallas Cowboys. And as far as I’m concerned, there’s only one way to deal with hacks.

A snowman firing line.

***

As I patrol back and forth with hands held behind my back, I inquire if my captive snowmen dressed in effigy have any last words. Silence. At least Frosty Santa and Morelli are taking it like snowmen.

With no further ado, I remove the glove from my right hand and dip it into my bag of footballs. Lock and load. With a steady hand, I take aim and exhale a puff of air that momentarily clouds my gaze. In that moment, the ground shakes.

My head begins to spin as if it were riding a carousel Tim Allen got a hold of. Al Borland isn’t there to save me. I hit the deck, and when I peer back up, I’m surrounded. Not by two snowmen, but by dozens; half wearing charcoal stripes and black baseball caps, the other half toting burlap sacks and donning glasses and red hats trimmed with white.

It’s an army of zombie Santa snowmen commanding NFL referees minions and they’re out for blood. Turns out, so am I, seeing as it’s they who ruined my holiday.

I fire the football in my hand at the first charging snowman as I dive towards my bag of ammo. It’s a direct hit! I’m instantly transformed into the 24-year old version of Spaceman Spiff, combating wave after wave of evil mutant-snowmen, and I love it. It’s cathartic.

Every carrot nose I upturn or spherical torso I punch through is better than any apology the NFL could issue. Every disappointing loss suffered by GVSU this football season is avenged until I’m the last one standing.

Which is primarily because I was the only one standing there from the beginning. That lump in my throat might not have been all of Santa’s fault after all.  When you’re sick and delirious with a fever, it’s ill advised to play in the snow.

Who knew?

***

As I sipped hot chocolate from the living room, casually glancing back outside to ensure an army of snowmen wasn’t congregating for a sneak attack, I made another realization. When a season, a game, even a play goes bad, it helps to have someone to blame. Anyone and anything in sight.

“The sun was in my eyes!”

“I’m tired!”

“I’m still warming up!”

“That coach is an idiot!”

“That ref is blind!”

“Bad call!”

It’s so easy that any schmuck can do it – even a delusional snowman fighting schmuck like me – and most of us are pros. Instead of acknowledging our own faults or accepting errors by others, we have a tendency to instead excuse and blame. And that isn’t just a sports thing.

GVSU football underperformed this year. The Detroit Lions got jobbed, but to hold one person, one play, one call culpable is coping at best, and self-destructive at worst. It’s a victim mentality, and it’s how teams and players and people get stuck in slumps.

Fight a snowman if you must – it’s terrific exercise. Scream into a pillow, chop onions, eat a carton of Cherry Garcia. But take your lumps, and then remind yourself that there’s always next year.

Written by peterdbarrows

January 7, 2015 at 1:14 am