30 for 30: Youngstown Boys (Film Review)

30 for 30: Youngstown Boys (Film Review)

I despise the Ohio State University football team. Always have, always will.

Mostly because of their improbable victory over the Miami Hurricanes to win the 2002 season BCS National Championship, on what I still believe to be a bogus pass interference call in the endzone during the second overtime period.

I always thought that Maurice Clarett was a joke, someone who had a bit of the Icarus syndrome. He was too good, too soon, and he bit off more than he could chew. And he got bit in the end for it.

But I never knew the whole story.

In another brilliant documentary, ESPN’s 30 for 30 chronicles the rise and fall of Maurice Clarett and his coach, Jim Tressel, in Youngstown Boys.

young2To watch the kid make it out of the slums of Youngstown, to become an incredible running back at a major university during his true freshman year, is impressive. To see him obliterate opposing defenses, it makes us wonder how good he could have been had his body held up, different choices been made, and different circumstances which would have got him to the NFL.

But things did not fall into place for Clarett. Facing NCAA violations, and speaking out against his team for not letting him leave for a day or two to attend the funeral of a friend, Clarett was eventually suspended by the team, leaving him with nowhere to play ball. Eventually, he took his plight to court, where he tried to enter the NFL draft early, having only been one year removed from high school. When that didn’t work, he did what most people would do when they are famous at a young age: he partied. Eventually, he would enter the draft, and was picked up with a compensatory pick by the Denver Broncos, despite a poor showing at the NFL combine. By this point, Clarett was an alcoholic, to the point where he would be sneaking drinks all throughout the day, including before practice. He never played a snap in the NFL, and never got another chance.

For this part of the downfall, there are many things that could be blamed. The NCAA, for having overly-stringent rules on innocent things (like borrowing a car when his broke down). Jim Tressel for not standing up for his player as much as he could have, OSU, for throwing their player under the bus and treating him like a pariah, when he had done so much for the program. And Clarett himself, for making poor choices along the way, making his situation worse.

But his downfall did not end there. Out of football, Clarett turned back to his roots, which were the streets of Youngstown. His drinking got out of control, he began popping pills, and he began committing crimes because he needed to support his girlfriend and child that was on the way. He made terrible choices, and it landed him in jail.

young3At one point, a car chase with police revealed an armoury of weapons in his car, which led him to prison for over three years.

And this is where Clarett was able to change his life.

This documentary is so powerful, because it allows us to see past the news stories of what we had heard about Clarett. He had become a punchline, due to his frequent visits to the news, all for negative of criminal activities. What we never got to see was the kid with the big smile, the love for football, the amazing natural talent, the incredible work ethic, and the dire circumstances around him.

And we never got to hear of his vindication.

As always, 30 for 30 provides the in-depth look of what happens beyond the headlines.

Even though Clarett played for my nemesis Buckeyes, I gained a new respect for him watching this show. Much of that respect came from an understanding of what had actually happened to him, and the series of events that led to his downfall.

Youngstown Boys is another definite winner in the ESPN series. For fans of college football, regardless of who your team is, seeing the story of Maurice Clarett is interesting, dramatic, and often times heartbreaking. A must-see.

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NFL Draft: Johnny Football, Cleveland Browns

NFL Draft: Johnny Football, Cleveland Browns

It’s tough to dislike the Cleveland Browns, because they have been such a picture of incompetence over the past years (pretty much since they came back into the league), that you don’t need to wish bad things upon them, if you dislike them. They will always end up doing bad things to themselves.

With the NFL draft taking place over the past couple of days, many people were wondering what the Browns were going to do with the number four overall pick. Was it time they tried to grab what they hope will be a franchise passer? There is always that possibility, and for a long time the Browns were linked to controversial Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. But at No. 4? Too high, right?

Right.

manzielFor once, it seems like the Browns did some smart thinking as they prepared for this draft. And they weren’t afraid to move around. Trading back from 4 to 9, then back up to 8, they drafted…a cornerback. Which was probably a smart move. Nobody is certain about this crop of QBs, so taking one this early was still a large risk. Sure, the Jacksonville Jaguars took Blake Bortles at No. 3, but they were even more desperate for a signal caller than the Browns were. The Brows at least have Hoyer, while all the Jags have is…Chad Henne? For real?

Then the Browns moved again, moving up from 26 to 22 so that they could grab the most divisive, and headline grabbing prospect in a long time: Johnny Football.

And I like the move. A lot.

I have spent the past couple of years tying to decide if I love or hate the way that Manziel plays football. He is brash, and cocky, which is great. He makes mistakes, which is more fun than so many of our dull athletes out there. He plays the game ferociously, and even if I don’t love the move to scrambling quarterbacks, I understand how they are a nightmare of defensive coaches to plan for.

I have no idea if Manziel will be any good in Cleveland. He is small, and doesn’t have the best arm. But they guy is an athlete, and he is a competitor. And I like that for the Browns, who after so many years of failure, could use some hope and excitement.

Watching Manziel play, I know for sure that he will be a better NFL quarterback than Tim Tebow, who in my mind is one of the worst players to suit up as a QB in history (yes, I know, he won some games as a Bronco, but come on…he was awful). I don’t know that he will be in the league of Cam Newton, who not only holds a similar skill set, but is a physical specimen that Manziel cannot attain. How beat up will he get in a league where everybody is faster than they were in college? Where he will definitely suffer some massive hits just based on his style of play?

I read one article that with this pick the Browns were looking at Manziel as a solution for the next 5-7 years. Not the next 15. I agree with this, but for this franchise, this is what they need to be looking at. They need some spark, and they need something for the fans to cheer for. If Manziel comes in and lights the league on fire, then great. He will probably not last to have a long career like a Brady or Manning, but if he can ignite this franchise for a few seasons, then he has done his job. And it is a massive sign of relief, as they didn’t have to spend a top-5 pick to get him.

I must say that I am pretty excited to see what the kid can do against NFL talent. A big plus, I feel, is that he did play in the SEC, where there are tons of NFL-caliber players anyway, and not some small school in a minor league. The SEC is tough, and Manziel generally tore it up. This will make a more seamless move for him into the pros.

This is something that probably hasn’t been said in a long time, but it must be exciting to be a Browns fan right about now. The possibility of a brighter future is right there, and everyone will have to wait and see if Manziel is all he is hyped up to be. I can’t wait.

The U Updated Look

The U Updated Look

Among the several new sets of football uniforms released over the past couple of weeks (Florida State, Syracuse, Washington), are new duds for my favorite college team, the University of Miami Hurricanes.

It is always kind of frightening when a team you care about gets some new uniforms, because there is always that chance that they are actually pretty terrible. But there is no doubt that the U needed some new unis this year, as they have been trotting out some pretty bad combos over the past few seasons, and it was time to refresh everything. It has been a while since they have redone their main uniforms, at least in terms of how quickly teams seem to rebrand these days, so the fresh look would be welcome.

On first look, I didn’t like them. At all.

But after seeing the details, and the different parts of the new looks, they quickly grew on me. I think that they will look sharp on the field once again.

uSome notes:

  • Orange and green is one of the best, most recognizable colour palates in the game, so I’m glad they didn’t try and introduce something new in there.
  • I was originally offended that the helmet was different. I have long thought that the all white helmet with orange and green U on the sides was the best helmet in all of football. Observing it more closely though, I think it’s pretty cool that the U is a little bigger, shinier, and has the ibis symbol underneath it. Overall, it looks pretty sharp. The orange helmet will be a cool addition to the family.
  • I hate how Nike always shows their images as monochrome pant and jersey combos. Show us what the combinations will look like! Not many teams go full monochrome during games, so I want to know what the white jersey and orange pants look like. And all the other various combos out there.
  • I could definitely live without the fourth set, the black/grey look. Too many teams are doing it, and there is no point in my mind. The U isn’t black or grey. They are brightly coloured teams that are unmistakable with their egos, swagger, and look. The black just mutes the team.
  • I will miss the helmet stripe down the middle. It looks pretty blank from the front without it.
  • Good job at getting rid of the more annoying parts of the previous sets, like the random bib lines on the front and back of the jerseys. That piping always looked awkward, and I’m glad it’s gone.
  • There is potential for some really great combos here. Orange on top and green bottoms should look really good, as with any of the unis with white pants.

Overall, nicely done. I am happy with the changes, and am glad that the Hurricanes will look fresh and new this season, as the team continues to rebuild itself towards relevance and supremacy. They should have a pretty good team on the field, and at least we will know that they will look better than they have over the past few years.

Now that was a game…

After so much buildup for the final BCS Championship Game in history, with the long-awaited four team playoff coming next year, we were treated to a classic finish that gave the Florida State Seminoles the National Championship.

Despite so much anger always being levied towards the BCS as a broken and unfair system, even the most jaded fan has to agree that there have been some amazing games under the formula. Miami-Ohio State. Texas-USC. Auburn-Oregon. And now FSU-Auburn. This was a fun one, with a great finish.

bcsThe game seemed finished once Florida State returned a kickoff for a go-ahead 100 yard touchdown. But it wasn’t. Auburn methodically marched down the field, not afraid to run the ball right up the gut to take the lead once again. But there was still too much time left, so FSU came back with an impressive drive of their own, and the Heisman Trophy winner threw the game winning touchdown with 13 seconds left.

Kind of classic.

There was no magic left for Auburn, even though there was the briefest of seconds when they started to lateral the ball on the final play of the game, when I thought that if anyone was going to be able to pull this off, it would have been this Tigers team. They had won by miracles twice before this season, and maybe…just maybe, they could do it for a third time.

But the Seminoles shut it down pretty quickly.

This was an entertaining game to watch, and as someone who is not particularly a fan of either team, all you can ask for is a game that is fun to watch. And this one delivered.

Now to debate what the final would have looked like if this year, there would have been the four teams in the playoff. Would it have been FSU-Oregon, with an Auburn-Alabama rematch? The winners moving on? Or woudl the dreaded Ohio State have been given another chance against FSU? Or Michigan State? Or a two-loss Stanford team? I guess we’ll never know.

Now that the BCS era is done, it was a good way to say goodbye. With a great game.

Can You Bet Against the SEC?

Well, I got my dream, in that Ohio State will not get to participate in the BCS Championship Game. I love it. As an added bonus, they won’t even get to play in the Rose Bowl, which is just a cherry on top of the delicious sundae of the Buckeyes losing to the Spartans last week.

So our final is set…the Florida State Seminoles against the Auburn Tigers.

This is a tough pick, in my mind. FSU has been ripping people apart this year. Ranked or unranked, they have decimated their opposition and look like an incredibly complete team. The Tigers have lost a game, but they survived the ultimate brutality that is playing in the SEC. You know, the conference that has won the past what, 7 national championships? Plus, they beat that little team from Alabama to get there. No easy feat, especially since the Mighty Tide looked like they were rolling to their 3rd straight championship. What an incredible beast of a team.

Auburn has benefitted from two unbelievably lucky finishes to keep their path to the NCG on track. But, whatever, they won the games.

As much as the Seminoles look like the better team, could I bet against the SEC representative?

I guess I can. I’ll take FSU by 10.

Ohio State, I’ve Always Hated You

Being a massive fan of US College Football, I have cheered for the same group of teams for the majority of my life. Since I was a little kid, I’ve loved the Miami Hurricanes. Everything about them. The dominance of their national championship years, the often garishness of their orange and green uniforms, and especially the iconic white helmet with the simple “U” on the side. It was easy to cheer for them over the years, because they were such a successful program. Lately, it has been tougher, since they have definitely fallen on tough times, but it was great to see them rise into the Top 10 again this year, if it only lasted a little while before they imploded after getting whipped by Florida State.

One team that has always been the focus of my undivided derision, however, has been the Ohio State Buckeyes.

I hate their bland grey and red uniforms. I hate their lame pride stickers. I don’t like their coach, or any OSU players that have moved on to the NFL. I cheered their NCAA sanctions, and laughed when they picked the wrong year to take their bowl bans. I hate the way their fans and players call it THE Ohio State University. Like it’s being mixed up with another Ohio State University? And I hate that they are currently #2 in the BCS. I don’t want to see them in a National Championship game ever again.

I especially hate that they beat my Hurricanes in one of the most exciting championship games in recent memory, especially since they were given new life on, in my opinion, a blown call. That interrupted what was a great ‘Canes dynasty, with a plethora of NFL stars on the roster. That game still makes me mad.

To me, a one-loss SEC team should be in the NCG over the Buckeyes. And yes, this all comes down to their soft conference, and non-conference, schedule this year. If Auburn wins the SEC, they should play FSU. Heck, if Auburn loses, I think they should put Alabama back in the big game. It is no secret that they are a dominant team, and they are one fluke play away from being undefeated yet again. I think if the Crimson Tide were to play OSU, it would be an absolute decimation in favor of ‘Bama. They would shred them like they did Notre Dame last year. Not even close. I don’t think the Big 10 can roll with the SEC.

So it pisses me off that it will probably be the Buckeyes in another National Championship Game, another chance for them to be embarrassed nationally when they get whipped by a superior program. I will like that, but as a fan of the game whose team is not in it, I will feel ripped off because there are more deserving teams out there, that should be there before the Buckeyes are.

Or maybe it’s just me. I like seeing the SEC dominate. Because, let’s be honest, they are the dominant conference. I want to see the best teams in the best game, and I honestly don’t think we’ll get that with Ohio State this year. I’m sure that part of that is because of my eternal hatred for the team, but the more realistic part of me knows that because there are better teams out there that will provide a more entertaining game, and a better challenge to Florida State. I don’t think many people outside of Ohio would argue that an Alabama-FSU matchup would be more entertaining.

All I can do at this point it cross my fingers and hope that Michigan State can pull off a huge upset and send the Buckeyes packing to some random other bowl game (probably still a BCS bowl, but it seems many of those have lost their value to me…maybe that will be a post for another day).