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How College Football Players are all like Bruce Jenner, before 1976

Bruce Jenner was so successful he ended up on a Wheaties box. Credit: General Mills

There’s only two ways to look at it: either the International Olympic Committee is not at all that it claims to be, or college football is way, way behind the times. Prior to 1971, the Olympics were just like big time collegiate athletics. The world tuned in to see its best athletes compete in their respective sports at the highest level, all the while strengthening our sense of national pride and celebrating our ability to join together and compete on even ground. The purity of it all was that the athletes competed solely for the pride of their nations and love of sport; their dreams were built on hours of personal time skirted away from their lives as everyday workers. Here were some of our own—coworkers, neighbors, teachers, students—blessed with extraordinary talent and the competitive will to put their time aside to make the most of it. Citizen first, athlete second. It was beautiful, it was pure, and yet, it wasn’t to last.

Watching the 2012 Olympic games in London, and then seeing star athletes in countless awesome commercials, got us to thinkin’….Incredible photo credit JP Photography

 

 

The age of specialization hit sports later than it did industry, but with it came the realization that Olympic sports actually weren’t competed at the highest possible level. The system found the most talented and committed athletes, yes, but it didn’t utilize them to their full potential, because it wasn’t their sole focus. How much faster could a sprinter run, how much more accurately could a gymnast tumble, if that were their sole occupation? If they trained for it 8 hours a day for years, instead of after work or before school? It didn’t take long for the world to find out, and when they did, everyone quickly followed suit. In fact, one of the most notable athletes to reap the benefits of training full time was none other than the step-father to the Kardashian clan, Bruce Jenner, who won gold in the decathlon in 1976 (incidentally, Jenner almost immediately retired from decathlon so he could take advantage of Read more »

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The good, the bad, and that magic of the moment: what draws us to college football fanship

Seven years. Wind the clock back seven years to 2005 season for me. Texas has just pulled an incredible comeback behind their “sky is the limit” quarterback Vince Young, capturing the BCS National Championship by a score of 41-38, and Pete Carroll’s Southern California dynasty is shown to be vulnerable. In that season’s other BCS games: Jim Tressel’s Ohio State team defeats Notre Dame and their first year coach Charlie Weis, Pat White and Steve Slaton narrowly lead West Virginia over SEC champion Georgia in a 38-35 tussle, and two of college footballs most respected/winningest (if that’s a word) coaches, Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden, engage in a triple overtime thriller.

Since that incredible BCS lineup:

-Pete Carroll has fled USC, speculatively due to a pay-for-play scandal involving Heisman winner Reggie Bush

-Jim Tressel’s reputation has been obliterated by revelations of his players receiving improper benefits

-the late Joe Paterno’s legacy has been dragged through the mud like the body of Hector of Troy

-We’ve had to endure the Southeastern Conference winning six (count ‘em, 6) straight National Championship (okay, that one’s not really that bad, except for those of us in Big Ten and ACC territory).

Olivia Johnson (left) and Justin Blackmon (right)

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we read, see, and hear an absurd amount of negative press concerning college football. If I went up to the average college football fan and asked what they thought about Justin Blackmon and Olivia Hamilton they would probably give me a quizzical look Read more »

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Pat Fitzgerald on the issues facing players, the purple Koolaid 95% of his fans are drinking, and why he does not like golf

The mural of Coach Fitzgerald at Northwestern’s football offices.Yea, we don’t take the best pictures.

Pat Fitzgerald strikes you as an uncommon person the moment you walk into his office. The energy that emanates from his side of the room as he gets up in welcome and gestures you to the sofa set on the opposite end can only be described as Energizer-Bunny-like, if the Energizer Bunny were over 200 lbs. and won two Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year awards as a linebacker. Still, it’s not his accolades as a player that Coach Fitz wants to talk about—when asked what questions he is tired of answering, Fitzgerald responds that he is over and done with that phase of his career: “Yea I get it, I had a lot of cool things happen for me and had my name called a lot, and so on and so forth. But it’s not about me, it’s about our program, and it’s about our players.”

Coach Fitz has the kind of football pedigree you’d expect from someone who became a head coach at a Big Ten program at 31, at which time he was the youngest head coach at a Division 1-A program by five years. As a player, Fitzgerald was the first two-time winner of both the Nagurski trophy and the Bednarik award, and he led his mid 90s teams to the Rose Bowl and Citrus Bowl in consecutive years. Unfortunately, he was unable to play in the 1996 Rose Bowl due to a broken leg. In recognition of his playing career, Fitzgerald was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009.

Pat Fitzgerald’s football career ended unceremoniously when he was cut by the Dallas Cowboys in the preseason of his rookie year, a fact that is now glossed over in many of his bios—to the point that we were unaware it had happened until we asked him why he decided to leave the NFL. He almost immediately decided to return to college football as a coach, and did so with a graduate assistant position at Maryland in 1998. A year later, Fitzgerald joined his former coach at Northwestern, Gary Barnett, at Colorado. After bouncing around a bit, as most young coaches do, Fitzgerald again found himself at Northwestern under Randy Walker. Following Coach Walker’s untimely death, a tumultuous period for Northwestern football and Fitzgerald personally, the school promoted him to head coach in 2006. “I was thrust into a role, and I wouldn’t wish this on anybody, from a standpoint of losing a friend, losing a mentor, losing a great person, but that is what it is.”

Fitzgerald emphatically comes off as a players’ coach, something that may be a result of his age (37), but also his effusive energy and youthful personality. Coach Fitz is as enthusiastic and as colorful as they come, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have strong opinions on the state of the game Read more »

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A brief history of the world, with a special focus on this blog

An asteroid colliding with football. Don’t worry, it’ll all make sense in a minute. Credit: someone with way too little to do

Note: the history of the world is slightly more complicated than this. The founding of our project is not.

To explain the origins of The Pigskin Project, we present a history lesson:

A statue of Webb Ellis and the rule infraction that made him famous.

1823: Webb Ellis becomes the father of football when he picks up a rugby ball and runs forward with it, probably out of fear. Current rules only allow running backward or kicking the ball forward. Why no one thought of this before 1823 is beyond us, but Ellis is either extremely precocious or too cowardly to handle the scrum.

1863: The Football Association meets at Freemason Hall and decides that an offensive player is allowed to run forward with the ball, while the defensive players are encouraged to kick him in the shins. Progress is, quite literally, painfully slow.

1906: American football, led by St. Louis University head coach Eddie Cochems, legalizes the forward pass. The first pass falls incomplete, but the second is a 20 yard touchdown. Seven years later, Notre Dame great Knute Rockney begins to utilize the “projectile pass.” Football as we know it is born.

Yes, football players used to look like this, and the dog was somehow involved. Courtesy Center College Archives

20thCentury: Despite players dressing like they are going to play croquet, football develops a reputation for toughness (for more about this, including the word “tough” used 64 times, see our upcoming interview with Earle Bruce). The game evolves from an avenue for prep school students to divert their aggression into an aggressive diversion watched by everyone and played poorly at prep schools, not to mention a multi-billion dollar industry. Professional leagues, athletic departments, careers and gargantuan television networks spring forth.

[Meanwhile…independent of the preceding events, my brother and I begin as a twinkle in our mother’s eye. Our dad helps.]

Cataclysmically, these two independent paths collide in the late 1990s, when we become intrepid fans of college football while college football takes no notice of us whatsoever.

2011: We become aware of the grandeur and sophistication that permeate the sport, but also of its incredible divergence from its roots. We also notice that interviews and press conferences become repeats of the same 5 (or so) ideas, and coaches appear to dislike talking to the media. We wonder if it has to be this way, and begin to sense an opportunity. The Pigskin Project is conceived with the goal of meeting those same coaches with a fresh perspective and enlightening questions, and the idea of an enjoyable exchange of ideas becomes a possibility.

2012: You are highly entertained while perusing The Pigskin Project blog. Being an entrepreneurial lover of college football, you and dozens of others are inspired to participate, and the project expands, offering a revitalized interview experience and insightful content to a growing number of coaches and readers. The Pigskin Project not only contributes to the world of college football, but also to an increasing number of independent thinkers who seek new angles on media, lifestyle, and opportunity.

At least….that’s how we see it.

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Why you should read this blog instead of watching College Football Live; at least in the offseason

College football: good enough for the president, good enough for us. Credit US Navy photo stream

Okay, you got us.  We watch College Football Live, too–though sometimes we’re not sure why. It certainly isn’t to hear Rece Davis talk about the virtues of the +1 format, and it shouldn’t be for the experts’ game predictions (where Matt Millen, famous mostly for drafting wide receivers, is by far the most accurate college football forecaster).  But we do anyway, because we love collegiate football, and not just on autumn Saturdays. In spite of our disciple-level attention and capacity to second-guess every decision made on the field, we have an endless stream of questions for our favorite ball coaches that no number of ESPN hours or newspaper clippings could ever answer. Among them:

  •  How a player-turned-coach would respond to the notion that today’s players burden too much expectation, too much attention, and too much fame?
  • What they think about the pressures and rewards that can hinge upon fractions of a yard, literally quantifiable blades of grass, on the playing field?
  • Where do they think the game is headed? Is the spread the way of the future, or is there something else out there that will topple the current trend of wide open, speedy offenses?

The difference between us and the other 102,999,998 college football fans? We have asked college coaches those questions. Instead of calling in to radio talk shows or texting our inquiries to ESPN, Read more »

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