Ladies and gentlemen, this will be my last column for a few weeks.
I’ve got some NCAA to play.
EA Sports’ college football franchise came out this morning at midnight — yes, I was in line to get it — meaning that today and for the rest of the week, college football junkies worldwide will spend their days doing absolutely nothing but this. I’ve been playing this beautiful game for 10 years and it has simultaneously given me poor grades, a disinteresting social life (unless you’re talking about online play) and no sleep. All in good fun.
Fans will be excited about the retooled tackling system, as well as a coach mode that allows you to start out as an offensive or defensive coordinator and work your way up. You can even give some players Rastafarian dreads. Of course, players come with names such as QB No. 7 and WR No. 1, so if you want to make things more realistic you can download roster updates or, if you can’t wait a week for those to come out, you can do it yourself.
The Longhorns are ranked No. 22 in the game (Oklahoma is No. 1) and I thought it would be interesting to simulate the 2011 season, just to see how folks outside Austin thought the rebuilding year would go.
After setting the depth chart — had to redshirt Marquise Goodwin, move Alex Okafor back to defensive end, and slide Adrian Phillips over to corner, among minor changes — I pressed “sim to year” and held my breath.
In this simulated world, Texas won its first game against Rice 35-0. Garrett Gilbert threw for 280 yards and three touchdowns, Malcolm Brown scored twice on the ground, Mike Davis caught seven balls for 150 yards and two touchdowns, and the defense held Rice’s offense to 222 yards of total offense.
Pretty sure Texas fans will take that come fall.
But they probably wouldn’t like this. The final record turned out to be 7-6 after the Longhorns had lost the Texas Bowl to the old foe Nebraska. Final score of that game? Texas, 16. Nebraska, 63. Ouch.
If this is really starting to get you worried, find solace in the fact that Ohio State’s tattooed (ex) quarterback Terrelle Pryor won the simulated Heisman Trophy — and that’s definitely not happening.
“Perfect” — the most overused and inappropriate of all the sports hyperbole. Rarely is anything ever “without error, flaw, or fault, or excellent and ideal in every way” (Merriam Webster’s). Hardly is any sports feat truly perfect.
When perfection does happen, it’s immortalized — there have been 20 perfect games thrown in baseball, and each of those pitchers is labeled as the “man who threw the perfect game.” It’s remembered — unlike an all-time hits list, nobody who has thrown a perfect game will ever be bumped off. Perfection is perfection is perfection, and it can never be topped.
Or can it?
You can make the case that Derek Jeter’s day on July 9 of 2011 was better than perfect, and here’s how.
To start, topping perfection can only happen if the moment is bigger than the box score. If it’s September (or August) and the Astros are officially out of the playoff race and, say, Hunter Pence goes 4-for-4 with four home runs and 16 runs batted in, then that’s perfect. But it’s not better than perfect, because it really means nothing on a larger scale.
So the stage was set, before he ever stepped into the batters box, for Jeter’s Saturday in the Bronx to be perfect. The chase for 3,000 hits was still on, the Yankees only had two games left before the All-Star break, which would be followed by eight consecutive away games. So the pressure was on for Jeter to get hits No. 2,999 and 3,000 in front of the fans he grew up playing in front of. Those circumstances are grand enough.
Jeter needed two hits. He got five.
Before Saturday, he had hit 236 home runs — with just two this season, both coming on the same day earlier this year against Texas. So, in the middle of season No. 17 in the bigs, Jeter has averaged just under 14 long balls a year. It’s likely that he won’t get 10 this season.
That’s necessary information to know when looking at Jeter’s career. As almost anybody can tell just by watching him and by looking at statistics, he is the farthest thing from a power hitter. The single is his thing, an inside-outside swing with which he drives balls barreling toward him right back to right field. Before July 9, only 778 of Jeter’s hits were for extra bases. He doesn’t reach on triples very much, because he has played his whole career in Yankee Stadium — the new one has the same dimensions as the old one — which lacks the sort of gap capabilities triples require. He had 480 doubles, which seems like a lot, but nothing compared to 2,220 singles. Jeter has mastered the art of the single.
Hit No. 2,999 was a single; a slow roller through the third baseman and the shortstop. As he has gotten older and his skills have decreased, many of his hits of been weak rollers, finding some small hole in the infield.
Then Jeter turned back the clock 10 years and did something that you see only in movies: He belted a home run for his 3,000th hit, the second player ever to accomplish that feat. The pitch from lefthander David Price was a curveball on a 3-2 count. In his Yankee life, Jeter had hit just 6 percent of his home runs on a full count.
More hits were to come — a double, a single, and then the game-winning RBI in the eighth inning. The Yankees beat the Rays 5-4.
In his career, Jeter has gone long in every 40 at-bats. This season, he has hit a home run in every 95 at-bats.
Those numbers equate to some ridiculously low probabilities that Jeter’s 3,000th hit would be a home run on a 3-2 count off a curveball, when he was surely looking for a fastball.
Unlike most other historic Yankees, Jeter doesn’t have a true nickname — ‘Captain’ is more of a title, not really a moniker.
The Yankee Clipper is a nickname; The Iron Horse is a nickname. Mr. October is one, The Commerce Comet is one, Sultan of Swat is one. He is not known affectionately by just a single name, like Yogi, Whitey, and Billy.
He is not The Derek, or The Jeter — unlike The Babe or The Mick. He is just Derek Jeter, No. 2, shortstop, captain of the New York Yankees.
Except for that one night when, for a fleeting moment, he was Mr. November.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 delayed the start of that year’s baseball postseason, which meant the New York Yankees would play Game 4 of the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Halloween night, October 31.
A 3-3 tie took the game into extra innings, past midnight, and the scoreboard at old Yankee Stadium read: “Attention Fans, Welcome to NOVEMBER BASEBALL.”
In the bottom of the 10th, at 12:03 a.m., Derek Jeter hit a walk-off home run to right field off Byung-Hyun Kim on — wait for the kicker — a 3-2 count.
It was the first non-exhibition November game in MLB history, and it made Jeter, for a night at least, Mr. November — a spin-off of Reggie Jackson’s Mr. October, which was given to him when he torched the Dodgers with three home runs in the deciding game of the 1977 World Series.
Taking Kim deep remains one of the most iconic memories of Jeter’s career. So, for a player not known for power, 3-2 count home runs were linked on Jeter’s 3,000th hit.
The 5-for-5 day Jeter turned in against the Rays Saturday was technically a perfect hitter’s box score. For every time he came up, he successfully came through.
So that makes him perfect, but not anything more.
What does make him better than perfection is this: His team won.
Jeter is not the best winner ever — Yogi Berra is. And he’s not the best Yankee ever. Even crazier, he’s not the best modern-day Yankee — that’s Mariano Rivera.
He’s not some once-in-a-lifetime talent. Honestly, he’s not. When you have almost 10,000 at-bats in your career, and if you remain healthy, you will most likely reach 3,000 hits. Just ask Craig Biggio. What he is a once-in-a-lifetime professional. He plays the game the right way. He handles the notorious New York media. He has handled all the criticism this season that comes with a nasty off-season contract dispute, and has for years listened to people call him “overrated.”
Given how much coverage he is given — it seems like if Derek Jeter wakes up in the morning and eats Cheerios instead of his usual Wheaties, it makes Sportscenter — he probably is overrated.
But he wins. He has enough rings to fill a hand and he will be in contention for more. He has been a part of 1,513 wins since 1996.
Winning, above all else, is what Jeter does.
Getting hit No. 3,000 made his day perfect. That it came off another unlikely 3-2 pitch did too. Going 5-for-5 made it perfect as well.
But winning the game, as usual, made Derek Jeter’s day better than perfect.
Here’s how my 2011 Big 12 Conference Media Preseason Football Poll turned out. If you’re a Texas fan, you might not want to look.
But first, two thoughts:
1) Oklahoma is going to be really, really good (duh). The Sooners have the best quarterback in the Big 12 in Landry Jones, the most electric player in Ryan Broyles, and the best defensive player in Travis Lewis.
2) Sorry to say this, but the Longhorns’ offensive talent looks to be depleted. With the exception of freshman running back Malcolm Brown, who I have as my Newcomer of the Year, not one player was in the running for a first-team selection.
On to the selections:
Offensive Player of the Year — Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
Defensive Player of the Year — Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
Newcomer of the Year — Malcolm Brown, Texas
Preseason Top 10
1. Oklahoma — See above.
2. Texas A&M — Ryan Tannehill, Cyrus Gray and Jeff Fuller make for a pretty dangerous trio. The O-line is raw but talented, Christine Michael would start in the backfield for any other team in the conference, and Ryan Swope and Uzoma ‘EZ’ Nwachukwu team with Fuller to make the most complete receiving corps in the Big 12.
3. Missouri — Blaine Gabbert is gone, but the Tigers usually have a potent offense regardless of the quarterback or the receivers. Four good running backs return and Michael Egnew is a versatile option at tight end.
4. Oklahoma State — It will be interesting to see how things are offensively with Dana Holgorsen now the head coach at West Virginia and the departure of Kendall Hunter — who seemed like he was in Stillwater for forever — but it’s hard not to like the combination of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. The two teamed up for a ridiculous 20 touchdowns in 2010.
5. Kansas State — The loss of Daniel Thomas hurts the Wildcats, but the addition of 2009 top recruit Bryce Brown should help. And Texas fans remember Collin Klein, don’t they?
6. Baylor — Look, anytime you’ve got Robert Griffin on your team, you have a chance to win any game. I’m not huge on the Bears’ stable of running backs, or either line — though they always seem to have somebody jump out of oblivion to be a first-round draft pick — but Griffin makes stuff happen when the play breaks down. He has Kendall Wright to throw to, also.
7. Texas — This might look stupid come November, but after a 5-7 season, it’s hard to think that the Longhorns are going to drastically improve. Plus, Texas lost to five of the six teams above them on this list last season, and Missouri wasn’t on the schedule. If it’s any consolation, the defense should be leaps and bounds better than last year.
8. Texas Tech — In the days of Mike Leach, Tech could plug in any old quarterback in its Air Raid offense and get huge numbers. Seth Doege is the first “new” quarterback in the Tommy Tuberville era, as Taylor Potts was the starter during the Leach regime. We’ll see how Tuberville — and a new 4-2-5 defense — fares in his second year on the plains. Expectations should be pretty low.
9. Iowa State — Head coach Paul Rhoads is doing something remarkable in Ames: the Cyclones are finally not awful. They beat Texas and Texas Tech last year, and lost to Nebraska by one point in overtime. They still got beat 52-0 by Oklahoma though. Some things never change. (Keep an eye on quarterback Jerome Tiller; a big, athletic quarterback who was the hero of the 9-7 2009 win over Nebraska.)
10. Kansas — Last year was a train wreck for new head coach Turner Gill. The Jayhawks have 14 starters returning, which can be construed as a good or bad thing. Good, because of the experience. Not so good, because those starters only won three games last year.
Preaseason All-Big 12 Conference Team
QB — Landry Jones, Oklahoma.
RB — Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M.
RB — Bryce Brown, Kansas State
WR – Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
WR — Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
TE — Michael Egnew, Missouri
OL — Philip Blake, Baylor
OL — Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OL — Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
OL — Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State
OL — Elvis Fisher, Missouri
PK — Justin Tucker, Texas
PR — Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
For each Casey Hampton, there’s an Andre Jones. For each Shaun Rogers, there’s a Derek Johnson. For every Lamarr Houston, there’s a Quincy Russell.
At least, that’s the way it seems these days at Texas, which can either be referred to as DT-U, or DT-Boo.
In all, there are five former Longhorn defensive tackles playing in the professional ranks. There are also six since 2007 whose careers haven’t panned out exactly as planned.
2007: Andre Jones — A top defensive tackle in the country, Jones spent more time in jail (five days) than he did on the field (not one snap) after being charged with aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon during a holdup in late summer of 2007. Jones was suspended by Mack Brown after the burglary — one of his cohorts was then-safety Robert Joseph — and eventually dismissed from the program.
2007: Tyrell Higgins — Played for Texas, left Texas, played for Texas, left Texas. Higgins’ roller coaster of a Longhorn career came to an end in December when he left the program with one year of eligibility left. He originally signed in 2007, but left the next spring because of personal reasons. He came back in 2008 as a walk-on and re-earned his scholarship. Perhaps he didn’t play as much as he would have liked last fall, because he left school again.
2008: Jarvis Humphrey — One of the sadder stories in recent memory, Humphrey came to school as a highly regarded tackle with an opportunity to play quickly. But a strange kidney condition forced him to sit out a year and a half before he ultimately withdrew from the program.
2009: Derek Johnson — The out-of-state recruit from Arkansas transferred back home to Arkansas State University after a year because of family issues. “I recently had a little boy who was born premature,” Johnson told the Jonesboro Sun in July 2010. “I’m moving back home where my family can help.”
2010: Taylor Bible — Well, at least Bible is still on the team. He’s just not the guy the Longhorns thought they were getting, at 310 lbs, which is 50 lbs (!) higher than his reported weight as a high schooler. The jury is still out on him after a redshirt year, but Bible is running out of chances to make an impact.
2011: Quincy Russell — Tuesday’s news that the Sam Houston High School product failed to qualify at UT and will attend junior college ensures that, for the fifth straight year, something goes wrong for the Longhorns at the defensive tackle position.
Marquise Goodwin’s decision to redshirt the upcoming football season in order to train for the 2011 World Championships and possibly the 2012 Olympics is best for him and the football team. Here are five reasons why:
1. It allows Goodwin to chase his initial dream.
If you remember, Goodwin was the No. 1 track recruit in the nation coming out of Rowlett High School in 2009. He took home two gold medals in the 2008 IAAF World Junior Championships, and was going to Texas to build off that. He joined the football team as well and, rather surprisingly, became a quick contributor at wide receiver. So it makes sense that Goodwin will chase what he came to college to do.
“I honestly see myself as a professional track athlete,” Goodwin told ESPN Rise in a 2009 interview.
2. It doesn’t throw Goodwin into an uncomfortable situation.
Even if he had elected to participate in this year’s football season, Goodwin would have missed the season opener against Rice after qualifying for the 2011 IAAF World Championships. And he would have missed all of summer and fall camps to do so (he already missed spring practices). This might have been a problem for a couple of reasons.
First, missing that much football would have created a steep learning curve of the new Texas offense — one that might take Goodwin at least a month to feel completely comfortable with. Also, it would not have gone over very well with some other wideouts on the team who would be vulnerable to lose their starting job or spot in the receiver rotations the moment Goodwin’s track obligations were fulfilled.
3. It opens the door for others to gain experience.
Speaking of those wide receivers, many of them stand to benefit from Goodwin sitting out a year. DeSean Hales has been waiting his turn at the slot position for a while, and he should finally get a chance to start. Fan favorite D.J. Monroe should get more touches. Chris Jones and John Harris, two who redshirted last season, were not supposed to be in line for immediate playing time — now one or both will be asked to play a significant role. Freshmen Jaxon Shipley and Miles Onyegbule should also get better chances to show what they can do. This all means that Texas will enter next season with many receivers with game experience, plus Goodwin, and that will go a long way to making next year’s offense a scary one.
4. It loads the wide receiver position.
Goodwin sitting out a year will make him a junior receiver in 2012 rather than a senior, meaning he’ll fall into the same class as Mike Davis and Darius White. If those three all stay for the 2013 season — their senior year — they will be joined on the field by Jones, Harris, Shipley, Onyegbule (who would be juniors) and Texas commits Cayleb Jones and Thomas Johnson, who would be sophomores.
Why is 2013 so important?
It would be the first year without Garrett Gilbert (assuming he finishes his career as the starting quarterback), meaning whoever steps in to replace him would have an absolutely stacked receiving corps to throw to.
5.It gives Texas an advantage in recruiting two-sport athletes.
The fact that Mack Brown is OK with Goodwin taking this year off should give him some street cred among the athletes that would at least like the opportunity to consider playing two sports in college.
Take super recruit Tyrone Swoopes, the starting quarterback at Whitewright — who has skills similar to Vince Young — and one of Texas’ biggest targets for the 2013 class. He is also an all-state basketball player who averaged 20 points and nine rebounds in his sophomore season. Swoopes may never play two sports in college, but he might like to hear from Brown that it would be fine if he wanted to.