For all of the criticism that ESPN gets on a whole host of issues that is sometimes deserved and sometimes driven by jealousy the ESPN Outside the Lines report on Tuesday night on the Penn State scandal….
….hosted by the Great Bob Ley showed again why ESPN has no peer when it comes to covering sports and how ESPN is not shy about covering the most controversial and compelling topics of the day which in our opinion has been one of the main drivers of putting and keeping ESPN on top of the sports media world.
This is one of those times when we here at Coaches Hot Seat wish we had the ability to put into words like top sportswriters are able to do all of the stuff that we talk about and debate here at CHS because this Penn State scandal is compelling and horrific in so many ways that speak directly to other BIG problems in our country that are lying just below the surface and could explode at any time that desperately need to be talked and written about in a clear and concise way and those are skills that we didn’t pick-up in our English composition courses and our grades reflected that FACT!
Where exactly does one go in trying to explain what happened at Penn State and how someone like Joe Paterno could fall so far from near “sainthood” is still not exactly clear to us, but as always there is a starting point to try and grasp the GIANT beast that college sports and in particular college football (we will leave the even BIGGER NFL for another day) has grown into in our country which was probably best chronicled by author Warren St. John in his very entertaining book…
…about the craziness, intensity and borderline madness of Alabama and SEC football fans in the South which was nicelyreviewed by Publishers Weekly:
“St. John’s account of following the University of Alabama’s football team as a part of the team’s fanatical legion of tailgaters is just as much fun as the book’s title (words to a school chant). As St. John, an Alabama native who writes for the New York Times, tries to join Bama RV nation, he spends five months obsessing about every tiny detail associated with Alabama football and, in the process, comes into contact with a slew of good ol’ boys, well-to-do entrepreneurs and the most hated man in Alabama. Despite his own passion for Bama football, St. John is an outsider and must go to the extreme, like buying his own dilapidated RV (astutely nicknamed “The Hawg”), to be completely accepted by the hardcore RV-owning regulars. Driving the country roads from Gainesville to Nashville, St. John uncovers the ugly, quirky and splendid qualities of both football fans and the states below the Mason-Dixon line. But this book is more than a beer and barbecue–fueled travelogue. St. John also explores the sociological and physical effects of being a rabid sports fan. These journalistic asides contrast nicely with St. John’s superstitious, obsessed sports-fan persona, which rules much of this amusing and insightful book.”
Where exactly does this “fandom” that Warren St. John so brilliantly described in his book that sometimes borders on madness at times come from and did it get this way just in the last few years or has it been with America for as long as sports have been played on a large scale in our country?
To answer the last part of that question first on whether this crazy “fandom” is a recent phenomenon we take you to the Harvard Crimson (the Harvard University student newspaper) which wrote the following story in 1968 about Harvard playing in the 1920 Rose Bowl. Yes, Harvard played in the 1920 Rose Bowl and WON the game over Oregon!
“Long before the day when helmets had facemasks–when the forward pass was still a revolutionary innovation and football was still second to baseball as the national pasttime–Harvard fielded its first, and only, Rose Bowl team.
That’s right, Harvard went to the Rose Bowl, and what seems even more unbelievable, the Crimson won, downing a mighty University of Oregon team, 7-6 on Jan. 1, 1920.
The sixth Rose Bowl game in history emerged as a battle “to prove whether the prowess of western football is a fact or a myth,” according to pre-game stories in the Los Angeles Examiner.
The last two eastern teams to play in the Tournament of Roses, Brown and Penn, had been shockingly humiliated by coastal squads, and it was up to Harvard to “make a last, desperate stand against the West.”
Certainly the Crimson was a powerful machine, stacking up eight teams and having its unbeaten record marred only by a 10-10 tie with Princeton. Led by lightning halfback “Natick Eddie” Casey, Harvard’s only All-American in 1919, the Crimson scored a phenomenal 222 points to their opponents’ 13 during the regular campaign. Casey was an exceptional runner and pass receiver.
To top everything off, Harvard had another sparkling halfback in Arnie Horween, who was also a deadly drop-kicker, and a steam-roller substitute fullback in Freddy Church. Captain Bill Murray was a more than reliable passer at quarterback.
It was Casey, Horween, and Church who ultimately spelled the difference that New Year’s Day.
Oregon No Pushover
Yet Oregon was no pushover, for it had crushed five teams that year, losing only to an erratic Washington State team by a lone touchdown. Relying more on sheer power than finesse, they promised to push Harvard off the turf.
The Webfoots could boast a second team All-American of their own at quarterback, and Billy Steers was second only to Centre College’s immortal Bo McMillin as America’s top signal-caller. To offset Horween’s kicking skill, Oregon had Skeet Manerud; and fullback Hollis Huntington, already a veteran of two Rose Bowl games, could more than match Church on brute drive.
Nevertheless, it was an optimistic Harvard eleven led by Coach Bob Fisher that arrived in California on Christmas Day–early enough to get in at least a week of practice before the game.
Unused to torrid California temperature, the Crimson worked sluggishly at first. It took the entire week for the men to get used to the excessive heat and to the loss of weight. They had not had any “full speed” hitting since the Yale game in November. Oregon, on the other hand, was playing on home territory, and appeared to be in top condition.
On game day, the confident Web-foots quickly set out to humble the Eastern visitors. Oregon centered its attack in the middle of Harvard’s defensive line. Slashing off tackle, both inside and outside, they exploited their weight advantage to push Harvard all over the field for the first quarter.
The Crimson fumbled twice to kill their scoring threats. Steers carried for repeated long gains, and Oregon drove from midfield to the Harvard 15 by the end of the first period.
On the second play after switching goals, the Webfoots scored on Steers’s field-goal, but Harvard retaliated with its only touchdown of the game a short time later.
Successful Against Yale
Using the same play that proved so successful against Yale, Murray hit Casey with two quick passes that moved Harvard to the Oregon 23. A penalty put the Crimson ahead five more yards, and Casey carried to the 13.
Then Church, substituting for the injured starter Ralph Horween, ducked around the weak side for the final yards and six points. Arnie Horween yards the conversion that was to be the deciding point.
This time it was Oregon who struck back, tallying a field goal near the end of the half, set up by a Harvard penalty.
But in the third quarter, with Casey and Arnie Horween playing both ways, the fired-up Crimson defensive unit completely throttled the passless Webfoots on the ground. An, Oregon field goal attempt near the end of the quarter fell short.
Yet it was not until the final period that Harvard’s defense put away the game. Unable to run on the Crimson, Oregon scratched out yardage, but finally had to try a drop kick to get on the scoreboard.
But Manerud’s hurried boot was wide by a foot, and by twelve inches the Crimson squeaked through with its only post season bowl title in Harvard’s football history.”
Yes, Harvard won the 1920 Rose Bowl over Oregon and that was….
92 Years Ago
….and the reason we picked out that 1920 Rose Bowl game is because we believe that we can trace all of the bluster, focus on winning, hatred of losing, wanting to act in a “manly” and “proud” way and “fandom” in modern American college sports and in American sports in general back to…YES…Harvard University at the start of the 20 th century when Harvard professor, psychologist and philosopher William James was promoting something loosely referred to as….
….which was brilliantly chronicled in great detail by Kim Townsend in her entertaining book:
“The philosopher William James sought to achieve a tough-minded practice of philosophical thinking, an intellectual attitude he described largely in the language of masculinity. For several decades, James championed this mode of thought to students at Harvard, who ranged from W. E. B. DuBois to Theodore Roosevelt. Professor Kim Townsend’s book Manhood at Harvard is an analysis of the language and ideas that James and other faculty at Harvard promoted throughout the late 19th century. Townsend argues the language had great influence through its mark on the leading lights of America, influencing notions of individualism in the literary works of Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway, and the imperial foreign policy championed by roughriding Teddy Roosevelt. An interesting account of Harvard’s physical and intellectual environment in these decades, the book is also a provocative reading of gender and sexuality in American intellectual history.”
Just what in the Hell does what a Harvard professor taught in the early part of the 20 th century have to do with the development of “fandom” in America which has in some ways become all encompassing to some Americans and is sometimes borderline crazy and mental as it seems is the case at Penn State that allowed a Monster like Jerry Sandusky to exist and commit horrible crimes in the middle of a HUGE football program that may indeed have been the cover that gave Sandusky the protection he need to carry out his horrific acts?
Well, Harvard University at the turn of the 20 th Century was like Stanford University and the University of Alabama all rolled into one and imagine for a moment a place where much of the serious intellectual thinking in America was taking place and where many of the country’s leaders were being educated AND a place where sports was taken very seriously, promoted on campus by the president and faculty members and WON big on the field of play AND then one can understand the large impact and influence that could be had by one of America’s all-time most influential thinkers in William James upon the entire country and we only have to look at American history and what actually happened in the 20 th century that saw the American Republic change from a relatively week country still recovering from the Civil War in 1900 to the world’s sole superpower by the year 2000.
Very simply, America and Americans in the 20 th century were as former Marine in Vietnam and author Bing West described in his brilliant book on the War in Iraq…
….and America became the “Strongest Tribe” and now on top of the world’s power structure as the 20 th century ended because Americans have been during most of the nation’s history just flat-out…
Very Damn Tough People
…and it was William James emphasis on “Manliness” while a professor at Harvard that filtered far and wide throughout the entire American Republic and ended up becoming a dominant theme of what it meant to be “An American” and thus why it was no surprise to us when looking over the history of the Rose Bowl that Harvard would have played in and won the 1920 Rose Bowl game over Oregon with a team made of…
Very Damn Tough People
…which more importantly also happened to be Very Damn Smart in the classroom and Very Damn Successful in Business once they left Harvard and went out to make their mark in both America and around the world.
Ernest Hemingway’s books, John Wayne’s movies, Woody Hayes, Vince Lombardi and Paul Bryant’s toughness, General and later President Dwight Eisenhower’s leadership and the “American” ideal of how a “MAN” should behave can all be traced back to the teachings of….
“Manliness or Acting Like A Man”
….by William James at Harvardand it was James’ philosophy being taught on the Harvard campus and Harvard’s very successful athletic teams that sewed the seeds and to this day intertwined the importance of sports on America’s college campuses and even the importance of winning in America which has had both positive and negative impacts on the American Republic and has led directly in our opinion to the “hero-type” worship of Joe Paterno at Penn State and the massive excesses of sports on many college campuses in America where the fundamental relationship between academics and athletics has been lost and replaced with an almost out-of-control athletics department and an over-the-top fan allegiance to their team, coach and anything else associated with “their” favorite school and sports teams.
Is there a point to ALL that we have written above about how modern day college sports and the crazy “fandom” can be traced back to what William James was teaching to his students and the intellectual elite in America from his Harvard post at the beginning of the 20 the century?
YES, we have a point and our point is that deeply embedded into the American psyche of both Men and Women is the idea that “being American” is “being tough” and that often that belief translates into fans of college football teams wanting their favorite school’s team to prove they are “tough” or “the best” which leads to ALL kinds of excesses from players being bought by boosters to what has recently happened at Penn State.
We here at Coaches Hot Seat come not to denigrate or even discourage the borderline “out-of-control” fandom in America that….YES…does lead to all kinds of idiocy, NCAA rule-breaking, crazy behavior, myopia and many other mental disorders that could keep psychiatrists busy for decades to come, BUT rather we would like to see a balance and a return to the things that can be controlled and even driven forward in a positive way by college and university presidents which is that as the crazy “fandom” is going on all around and on the campus it is in our opinion the duty and obligation of the president of the school is to make Damn sure that his employees, coaches and student-athletes keep the sport they are supporting and playing in the proper perspective relative to what is REALLY important at the school and in life as well.
We could easily offer up Stanford University, Stanford president John Hennessy andStanford Athleticsas the ideal example of what EVERY Division I/FBS school should be like in both its academics and athletics and how a proper balance between the two can be achieved if the leaders of the university are willing to work very Damn hard to make sure that balance exists and the proper perspective is kept on what really makes a place like Stanford a great university….which it is…., but that would be too Damn easy so we offer up another example of an American public university where the actions of one person, the president of the school, has turned the athletic department of the school into one that was under almost constant investigation by the NCAA and had student-athletes getting into trouble all over the place into an athletic department today that is winning on the field with its sports teams and doing pretty Damn well in the classroom as well and that school president and school are:
Bob Witt has now moved up to chancellor of the entire University of Alabama system, but what he accomplished at Alabama over his 9 years as president of the school is nothing short of remarkable and now along with Alabama’s reputation of having one of the best football programs in college football history the University of Alabama has academics that are impressive as well as we have seen first-hand ourselves while sitting in a few courses over the years at Alabama where we found first-rate professors teaching very Damn motivated students and a few of those students were in FACT Alabama football players that were sitting in the front of the class, paying very Damn close attention and asking lots of very good questions.
A couple of us here at Coaches Hot Seat first ran into Bob Witt when he was Dean of the University of Texas – Austin business school and our impression then was that Witt would rise to be president of some large university one day and after several years of being president at Texas – Arlington we remember reading in 2003 that Bob Witt was taking over as president of the University of Alabama and we knew immediately that Alabama was about to change and change for the better in both academics AND athletics and that is exactly what has happened and all because of the work and drive of one man that was committed to changing the culture at the University of Alabama where athletics often came first to a place that celebrated both athletics and academics and put an emphasis on achieving a proper balance between the two which in our opinion helped the academic side of the school to prosper and grow precisely because academics was placed upon its proper pedestal and is now respected by everyone including the athletics department, the coaches and most importantly the student-athletes.
The Bottom-Line: America’s universities and colleges where athletics plays a large role in the life of the school can find the appropriate balance between a high-profile and big money athletics department that has its goal to WIN CHAMPIONSHIPS (see Stanford Athletics winning its 18 th consecutive Directors’ Cup, Stanford News) while still maintaining strong and respected academic programs and all it takes for that to happen is for a strong, open and clearly defined relationship between the president, the administration, the faculty, the athletic department, the coaches and student-athletes of the school that are all committed to ALWAYS acting in a first-class way both on and off the field with a special emphasis on making sure that the core mission of the university which is to educate and to prepare young people for life after college is always kept uppermost in the minds of the “leaders” of the school and not only does the core mission of the school need to be driven home, talked about and lived on a daily basis it must become embedded into the DNA of the school to such a point that to do anything else but drive the core mission of the school forward would be an outrage among everyone at the school that would have come to expect both high standards to be set and high standards to be met by EVERYONE that works for the school or pulls on a uniform with the school’s logo on it.