Tuesday Throwback Report: Déjà vu all over the holiday weekend
September 4th, 2012 By Patrick Green
So what did we learn from the opening week of the college football season?
Photos by: Al Bradley II (Miliner), Hebert Kratky (Roddick)and Sean Pavone (Atlanta Braves)
As silly as it is to make reference to dialed up clichés, it seems fitting to explore the old phrase, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
First of all, the build up to the Michigan/Alabama contest was intense. There was the collision of two top ten teams, already itself the essential formula for kicking off the season properly. Underneath the scripted preliminaries were several unknown variables.
Gone from the defending national champions backfield was running back Trent Richardson. No longer anchoring the defensive secondary was Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick. Replaced as the No.1 team in the nation by Southern Cal, Alabama was deemed to be slightly weaker than its predecessor, and was welcoming a Wolverines team back in the national title hunt, with a Heisman hopeful quarterback, Denard Robinson, leading the charge.
But well before the Crimson Tide had washed away the Wolverines in Cowboys Stadium to the tune of a 41-14 dismantling, several things were certain. The SEC is still the most dominant conference in the country, if that was really ever in question. Even though the Trojans went into the weekend with the nation’s top spot, and the Wolverines came in boasting promise and resistance, nothing about the opening weekend’s marquee matchup presented an apparent shift. Alabama is back at the top of the nation’s polls.
Alabama may not be as good as their dominant performance might allude and Michigan might not be as troubled as their lifeless effort could reflect. But if Michigan is the best the Big Ten has to offer and Alabama is the premiere squad from the SEC, then the gap between those conferences is still wider than the Mississippi River.
Even with the roster changes, the gap between last year’s talent in Mobile appears much slimmer.
Crimson Tide fans might not soon forget Trent Richardson, but there will likely be no weekly longing for the brute now manning the backfield for the NFL Cleveland Browns. In the same way Richardson made Alabama fans heal quickly over the departure of Heisman winner Mark Ingram, freshman back T.J. Yeldon, might run the memory of Richardson right out of the stadium before the Browns running back ever registers his first NFL carry.
Last year’s Mr. Alabama rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown against the Wolverines, and demonstrated the kind of explosiveness and open field running that can change the face of any game. As well, the defense, after losing six starters from the title team, proved to be stout and suffocated the Michigan offense.
Three-year starter Dee Milliner, playing in the shadows of Barron and Kirkpatrick the past two seasons, highlighted a defense that seems bent on making its own name this season. The Crimson Tide held Robinson to just 37 yards rushing and picked him off twice, with Milliner doling out two doses of punishment on one possession. After picking Robinson off, the senior leveled Robinson on the return as the Michigan QB attempted to make the tackle. Milliner also broke up four passes to go with five tackles.
“Dee Milliner is a very good player for us,” head coach Nick Saban said following the game. “He’s been a good leader for us and set a good example.”
Michigan senior receiver Jeremy Gallon, on being asked whether his team should be discouraged, said “No, it’s just one game. We’ve got 11 more to go. We made mistakes, we didn’t execute or start fast, so it’s not on them. It’s our fault.”
While the senior might want to diminish the value of the loss and offer a perception that the results could have been anything but a defeat for the Wolverines, the bigger picture for Michigan and the Big Ten will always include the Crimson Tide.
Twelve weeks from now, if Michigan is vying for a Big Ten title and makes a return visit to the top ten rankings, the applause for their success will be muted across the country, as will the appreciation of the Big Ten as a conference, based solely on the drubbing the Wolverines took at the hands of Alabama.
Looking ahead in the Rearview
College football and Alabama weren’t the only ones offering something old and something new this past weekend. Last week American tennis star Andy Roddick announced that he would retire following the current US Open, still in progress.
Roddick, who turned pro in 2000, once held the World No.1 ranking and captured his lone Grand Slam Title with a US Open victory in 2003. And while the Austin, Texas, native never secured another victory in the four Majors, he was always competitive. Roddick advanced to the semifinals in the Australian Open four times and made a finals appearance three times at Wimbledon. In fact, his last finals appearance came at Wimbledon in 2009.
But, according to Roddick, the fire and drive to prepare has waned, and so at 30-years-of age, it’s time to shelve the racket. The montages started to run immediately after the announcement, in preparation of a proper farewell. The guard is changing even in the world of tennis.
But, just a moment. The champagne will have to wait. The last standing ovation has been postponed. The balloons have likely lost their air sitting in some small back room. The montages have been replayed a few times over by now. Roddick, who made his announcement early in the tournament just in case he was ousted in the first few rounds, is still playing.
The sun has yet to set and through three rounds at least, Roddick has turned back the clock. And so the man who hadn’t advanced past the third round in a Grand Slam since 2009, will play on Wednesday in the fourth round against Juan Martin del Potro.
“I haven’t hit these numbers in two years, what I’ve gotten in the last two matches,” Roddick said in reference to notching serve speeds north of 130 miles per hour.
Learning old lessons
Another oldie but goodie comes in the form of Atlanta Braves infielder Chipper Jones. The switch hitter, who announced his retirement prior to the season opening, isn’t playing like someone on the way out of the door.
On Sunday, Chipper looked like, well, like what Chipper has looked like for most of his career, all with the Braves. In the ninth inning against Philadelphia, with his team trailing, the 40-year-old slammed a three-run homer, a walk off shot that gave his Atlanta teammates a dramatic 8-7 win over the Phillies.
“Nothing beats that,” Jones said following the victory. “That’s as good as it gets.”
Not many players leave the game with things being “as good as they can get.” Sure, some leave on the high note of playing with a championship team, but in many cases, those players are a shell of themselves and have more moments cheering the actions of their teammates than being applauded themselves.
Not Jones. His teammates were waiting for him, the hero on this night, much in the same way they waited at home plate for him against the Phillies back on May 2nd, when Jones’ two-run home run in the 11th inning gave Atlanta the 15-13 win. Jones’ antics haven’t isolated thrills. The season itself hasn’t indicated greatly that Jones should hang it up. He’s batting .302, just two points under his career average of .304.
Jones and Roddick are doing something not many professionals do, in embracing their end while still competing at a high level. Neither through their runs has indicated a change-of-heart, though we know it shouldn’t be a surprise should they do so. Their retirements thus can’t be viewed largely like a setting sun, but rather a scathing rocket that fades out of view.
As well, Alabama has proven that it appears to resemble a successful Broadway play, with the same script, albeit with interchangeable actors. For Roddick and Jones, it’s similar in that the actors have changed as well. Their bodies today are not the ones that laced up the tennis shoes and cleats a decade ago. They’ve grown; their bodies have changed. But as we learned from just this past weekend, sometimes change doesn’t bring about a different result.
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Posted by cochav on Sep 4th, 2012Pat,
I really enjoyed this article. Your words flow effortlessly as you put a spin, no pun intended, on how fastballs and racquets intertwine in the twilight of two of sports' greatest stars. If Alabama can reload, then why not Roddick and Jones?
All three are interlaced, with the shoe strings of the 'Tide perfectly tying the feats of two stars who have eluded harrowing journeys.
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