Posted Jan. 8, 2015

Aug 25, 2011

Fate Intervenes. Via Lawyer Tillman.


As best as I can remember, the year was 1986.

I had just returned from playing a game of neighborhood football, was soaked from head to toe in brown/black November Cleveland mud, and had been quite literally sent to the showers (well, shower, as we only had one in the house) by my mother, who, understandably, was not exactly thrilled to see my brother and I arrive home in such uncleanly condition. All the mud that had soaked into our clothes, that dripped from our hair, that clung to our shoes—none of it, we were told, was to find its way into the house.

So we stripped down nearly to our bones out in the garage, left our sopping wet clothes in a mud-soaked heap and raced upstairs in hopes of being the first to get in the shower.

My brother, though slow of foot and bound for a high school career as a (backup) defensive end and placekicker, managed to win the race. Which left me to stand there, shivering and mud-covered, in front of my parents’ black-and-white RCA television, waiting for him to finish up.

There was no cable. But there was CBS. And on that particular muddy day, at that particularly muddy hour, fate intervened in the kindest fashion. For when I clicked on that crappy little TV, and when the little RZA buzzed to black-and-white life, I was greeted with the sounds of … Auburn-Alabama.

Yes, the Iron Bowl.

What a sight it was. Even in black and white, and even for a Northern kid with absolutely no connection whatsoever to either Alabama or Auburn, the color and passion and undeniable importance of that game simply jumped off the screen. I got lost in it. I really did. And because I was a just a kid, and also because my genetic limitations had not yet made themselves known (Slovenian-Irishmen, I would learn later, are not blessed with Division-I foot speed), I stood there, and I daydreamed, and I imagined what could be.

I imagined myself one day playing in a game just as beautiful. Just as passionate. Just as important.

I imagined myself playing in the SEC, for the entire CBS television audience nation to see.

I imagined myself as a gamebreaking wideout, as a terror on the flank, as the go-to guy, as the proverbial hero.

I imagined myself as … Lawyer Tillman.

Yes, Lawyer Tillman.

Remember Lawyer Tillman, folks?

Six-foot-four. Superb hands. Unnatural strength. A dominating force in the passing game back in the days when teams in the SEC didn’t really pass the ball. Tillman was, it seemed at the time, a revelation: A freakish combination of Al Toon (the elder, not the younger) and Ozzie Neswome (in his ‘Bama days, and ignoring all of the Ravens nonsense). I have watched more college football than just about anyone else on this planet, folks, but when it comes SEC wideouts in the 1980s, I can’t recall anybody of note. Except Lawyer Tillman.

This is partially because he had a cool name. It is partially because he wore those badass Auburn unis, some of the best in all of sports, never may they be changed (looking at you, Nike/UnderArmour). But mostly it was because Lawyer Tillman was a damn good wideout, one of the best the SEC has ever seen, and also because, well, because Lawyer Tillman made plays. He made big plays in big games. Including in that ’86 Iron Bowl—a game he won, in case you were wondering, with a 7-yard touchdown run on an end-around, thereby ensuring his place among the Auburn football legends, in Iron Bowl lore, and, yes, in college football history.

In that moment, it was decided: Lawyer Tillman mattered. He mattered to those folks down in Auburn. He mattered to fans of the SEC.

And, improbably, he mattered to me, an 11-year-old kid from suburban Cleveland. A kid who, thanks to Jimmy Karsatos and Keith Byars, Cris Carter and Mike Lanese, Earle Bruce and Woody Hayes and, most importantly, Patrick J. Hyland Sr. (that’s my Dad) and the late Don Sazima (the biggest Ohio State fan I ever met, which is saying something,), somehow came up in the world knowing that there was no more glorious, no more beautiful and no more important game than college football. Somehow, someway, that lesson was drilled into me. It was there almost from day one. The Lawyer Tillman Moment merely crystallized the idea. That idea being this: In sports, it gets no better than American college football.

It just doesn’t.

And that, my friends, is why I stood there, caked in mud, starting my parents’ crappy Sony black and white television, watching Tillman make play after play against Alabama in 1986. That’s why I watched that SEC battle to the bitter end, understanding even then its enormous importance, years before ESPN would step in and ram the SEC down our collective throats and ruin everything for everybody. That’s why, when I finally hopped in that shower, I dreamed not of growing up to play wideout for the hometown Cleveland Browns, but rather for the Auburn Tigers, or the Ohio State Buckeyes, or the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, or the UCLA Bruins. And that’s why, more than 20 years later, I still remember a completely random and otherwise nondescript Saturday in the fall of 1986—a Saturday on which I played football with the neighborhood kids, laid a serious hit or two on the always-feisty Cornhoff twins, got soaked head to toe in brown/black November Cleveland mud, and then stood there in the chilly evening dark of my folks’ bedroom, waiting for my brother to finish up in the shower, watching college football at its very best. And knowing, all at once, that there was really only one game that I would care about for the rest of my life.

Which brings me to where I am today. Here in my home in The Beautiful Wissahickon Valley. Writing yet another season-opening column for The College Football Athenaeum.

It is, believe it or not, the 13th season-opening column that I’ve written for this little site, and though there have been moments in each of the 12 seasons previous when I’ve wondered why exactly I spend so much time writing so many words about American college football for so little monetary compensation in return, in the end I always come back to a simple little truth: I write about this game because I love it.

I write about this game because there’s nothing I’d rather write about. And in some small way, I write about this game because of My Lawyer Tillman Moment.

The game chose me. I accept that. So I’ll just keep right on writing.


Exactly six days from today, the 2011-2012 college football season will begin. And from the moment that Murray State and Louisville kick off at 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time until the final whistle blows in the Mythical National Championship Game on Jan. 9, we will be treated to nothing less than this: The latest chapter in the never-ending and ever-unfolding history of America’s grandest sporting tradition.

Baseball is wonderful, yes. The Triple Crown oozes history. The Masters is, as they say, a tradition unlike any other. And the NCAA Basketball Tournament is the closest thing we have to a three-week national sporting holiday.

Great sports and great events all. Yet none of them, ultimately, can approach college football in any of the following categories:











College football, as I am quite certain you know, has now been thrilling fans for 142 years. Yes, that is correct: 142 years. By my estimation, that’s about seven generations worth of program-making upsets and program-crushing defeats, of bowl trips and rivalry games, of coaching titans and All-American superstars. Seven generations of legends created in print and legends created in sound. Seven generations of fight songs and grand entrances. Seven generations of Friday nights strolling through the old college town, of Saturday mornings spent tailgating with old college friends, and of Saturday evenings spent celebrating the big win … and telling old college stories. No sport can match it. College football, quite simply, offers everything the discerning spors fan could want.

This wonderful game has given us 142 years of joy. One-hundred and forty-two years of pain. One-hundred and forty-two years of Saturdays, fulfilled. One-hundred and forty-two years of Autumn, perfected. And 142 years, too, of Lawyer Tillman moments, for untold millions of fans, from 1869 until this very second.

Now, for most of us, our Lawyer Tillman moments have already arrived, and already passed, which is sad in a way, and I would add I'm quite sure your Lawyer Tillman moment was not a Lawyer Tillman moment at all. For some of you, there was very likely a Desmond Howard moment, or possibly a Billy Cannon moment, or perhaps a Chafie Fields moment, or maybe a Johnny Rodgers moment. Those moments, our collective college football moments, have already claimed us; those moments sealed our allegiance to college football; those moments are what we can point to and say, “That’s why I care. That's why I am a college football fan.”

We are the lucky ones, yes. But very soon, starting next week actually, we will be joined by thousands of others soon-to-be lucky ones—kids and adults alike who, when fate intervenes at precisely the right moment, will have their own Lawyer Tillman moment, right here in the year 2011.

Maybe the moment will be delivered by Kellen Moore, he of the blue turf and underdog spirit. Maybe it will be carried on the legs of LaMichael James, he of the hideous uniform and gridiron homerun. Maybe it will be soundtracked by the dulcet tones of one Verne Lundquist, or delivered via the airwaves of The Mighty Big Ten Network. Maybe it will come out of the proverbial college football blue, from the unlikeliest of sources, as some of the very greatest Lawyer Tillman moments ultimately do.

We don’t know what the season will hold, what history will be made, what legends will be crafted, or what memories will be etched.

We don't know where the moments will come from.

We just know the moments will arrive. Because this game has never failed us. Not once.

For 142 years it has delivered.

It will deliver again.

The News, As It Were: Ramblings From College Football Proper

•No, my dear friends, you could not escape the first TCFA of the year without mention of Your Editor’s Beloved Nittany Lions. So here goes: Saint Joe Paterno, battered and bruised but ultimately unbowed, still has yet to name his starting quarterback. And believe you me, this indecision is causing All Sorts Of Consternation up in Happy Valley. At the center of this battle stand two men: There is the alleged wunderkind, Young Robert Bolden, he of the cannon arm and (alleged) limitless potential; and there is the (perceived) villain, scrappy Matt McGloin, he of “moxie.” Now, here’s the deal as we see it here in The Beautiful Wissahickon Valley: McGloin, despite his Outback Bowl meltdown, did absolutely nothing of note last season except, you know, save the freaking season. Indeed, the kid’s (many) critics love to talk about his January failures. They are loath to mention his wondrous October, however—a month that saw him turn around a fast-sinking ship, deliver clutch victories over Northwestern and Michigan, and ultimately steer the Nits toward A Halfway Respectable Campaign. As for Young Robert? Well, as McGloin soared, he sat on the bench. And stewed. Later, a transfer request was made. It was denied. And though Young Robert has since returned to the fold, and though Young Robert is now saying all the right things, there is an undeniable cloud hanging over this program right now. That cloud being this: Should McGloin win the job (and yes, he could win the job, because he’s better than people give him credit for, and because Young Robert isn’t quite there yet), Young Robert seems almost certain to be unhappy about it—possibly unhappy enough to pack up his bags and leave. If this were to happen, folks, it would not only be devastating for the program, but also for McGloin. Because while I am proud to call myself a Penn State fan, I am not always proud of my fellow Penn State fans, some of whom are almost certain to take out their Bolden-related frustration on McGloin. It would be stupid, of course. It would be embarrassing. And it would be unfair to both McGloin and the other guys on the team. But it could happen. Because some people are morons.

•"The Brand." During my days at My Former Employer, I grew agitated and deeply annoyed by the mere mention of those two words: The Brand. At My Former Employer, you see, the powers-that-be were obsessed by the brand. It was everything to them. But while I found their obsession bothersome during my days there, now that I’ve left, I’ve come to understand why they were so darn persnickety about protecting said brand: Specifically, said brand had value. Enormous value. See, the folks at My Former Employer understand that they’ve earned some cred. They understand that their brand conveys a sense of opportunity. They understand, too, that any damage to the brand is damage to the bottom line. The brand, they know, matters. But you know who doesn't understand the value of the brand? Well, apparently, the people who run major college football programs. Because over the past few weeks, we here at TCFA Headquarters have watched in oft-confused horror as one program after another has rolled absolutely ridiculous, absolutely unnecessary and absolutely off-brand uniforms. Nike has been the (un)creative force behind most of these Atrocities de Fabrique, but in the end, it was UnderArmor that stole the (un)creative show, bringing college football to heretofore unimagined depths of stupidy with its mindbendingly horrific designs for the ever-mediocre Maryland Terrapins. You can see The Worst Uniforms In The History Of History here. It makes me sick and it needs to stop. It really does. I implore you, college football programs of the world: Just. Wear. Your. Uniforms. Respect the brand. Respect our game’s great history. Respect our corneas. Oh, and may I remind you: If you feel the need to adopot "modern" and/or "stylish" uniforms, it means you are deeply insecure about your place in the college football world and should there seek the assistance of a therapist and/or somebody who will not be so shallow as to cave to the wants/demands of a bunch of 18- to 22-year-old kids.

•Let us now move from one aesthetic nightmare to another. As we all know, Iowans love corn. They also love football. And yet somehow, when The Powers That Be Of Iowa Corn and The Powers That Be Of Iowa Football put their heads together to come up with a new design for the mighty Cy-Hawk Trophy (awarded each year, of course, to the winner of the Iowa-Iowa State game), the collaboration resulted in nothing less than Complete And Abject Failure. Yes, folks, that is the design that a select group of elite Iowans came up with for their new trophy: A family of four, looking creepily and strangely and lustily at a bushel of corn. “The farmer, family and corn is all wonderful,” said legendary Hawkeye coach Hayden Fry, “but I don't really get the relationship to a football game,'' Ol' Hayden has a point, of course, 'cuase there isn’t a relationship to football; the trophy looks, in a weird sorta way, like a kid’s birthday cake, provided there is a kid out there is who extraordinarily passionate about ... corn. Or families. In other words, this was A Catastrophic Screw-Up. And you have to give the designers credit for this much: After a few days of being filleted by the media, by bloggers, and by anyone with eyes, they announced on Tuesday that they would scrap the design, use an “interim trophy” (idea for interim trophy: actual bushel of corn) for the 2011 season, and then go back to the drawing board to come up with a permanent design going forward. Said Craig Floss, chief executive for Iowa Corn (?): “The first trophy missed the mark. We appreciate all who spouted off. We want this to be people’s trophy. But [the feedback] wasn’t all that pleasant.”

Miscellany: Notes From the college football Fringes

• I used to have respect for Georgia. Now I don’t.

• If you like Nike Pro Combat uniforms, or if you support "alternative uniforms" in any fashion, then you probaly drink Miller Lite.

• Something is up at The Big Ten Network, aka The Greatest Network Ever Invented. A couple of years ago, when the network made its debut, its annual preview shows (one for each team in the leauge) spread over 90 full minutes of absolutely outstanding, Dinardo-laced, generally awesome television. A couple years later, the shows were shortened to 60 minutes. And this year? Well, they’re down to 30 minutes, which simply isn’t good enough, not for the teams, and not for Dinardo. So one must wonder: Why cut back on this stuff? Isn’t this kind of programming the network’s bread-and-butter? I mean, what are they showing instead of 90-minute football previews?

• In other Big Ten Network news, I haven’t seen a single Ro*Tel ad in months. This concerns me deeply.

• In other Big Ten Network news, the beautiful and talented Charissa Thompson is no longer with the network. She works for ESPN instead. Kill me now.

• Denard Robinson, aka The Fastest Big Ten Player Ever, may very well be the only person in Ann Arbor who will actually and legitimately miss The Snake-Oil Salesman Wearing A Wizard's Hat. And the reason is simple. The Brady Hoke Regime seems intent on turning Robinson into something he’s not: The much-dreaded “traditional drop-back passer.” For evidence, I give you this, from Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges, speaking to blogger (and, sadly, Colleague Of Charissa Thompson) Brian Bennett: "We’re not trying to turn him into a total pocket passer, don’t misunderstand me, but we can do some things with him within the pocket that will allow him to see better down the field and threaten the run from our passing game. He’s a guy who you want to make a good passer, but you also want to be able to threaten that quarterback draw, too, when it isn’t there.” That was a long way of saying: “Denard Robinson will be hamstrung by my offense and will ultimately become a wide receiver and/or transfer to Ole Miss.”

• Here’s what tailback Lache Seastrunk (great name!; could have been a European soccer player) had to say about his decision to leave Oregon this week, a decision made with rumors swirling of NCAA-related troubles up in Eugeune (troubles linked to Seastrunk, by the way): "I felt like God wanted me to be [at Oregon], but God will also pull you out of the storm before it happens. I felt like something was about to go down, and God wanted me to get up out of there." That sounds bad Ducks fans. I blame your uniforms and everything they represent.

• A whole lotta folks have a whole lotta respect for Nebraska this season. In fact, the Huskers are the runaway favorite to win the Big Ten. Such predictions would seem to make sense. I mean, the Huskers return Taylor Martinez aka A Low-Budget Denard Robinson and the best defense in the league. However, there is this: Martinez will play behind a completely rebuilt offensive line, will have no legitimate deep threat at wideout, and will not enjoy the companionship of a good tailback. Not. Exactly. A. Winning. Formula. When. You. Are. The. New. Guy.

•I have a great deal of respect for Ivan Maisel, and I am a longtime fan of his podcasting work with TCFA Hall of Famer Beano Cook, but I must take issue here with one of Maisel’s recent Southern-fueled remarks. Commenting (once again) on the (oft-mentioned) dominance of the SEC, Maisel speculated this week that, should the SEC continue to win national titles at its current clip, the sport could ultimately become regionalized, with passion for the sport taking a nosedive up in the Rust Belt even as those crazy Southerners continue to revel in every minute of The Blessed Autumn. This is utterly ridiculous. In fact, I believe Maisel is suffering from a case of Grewupinalabamaitis, and does not understand—not in any way shape or form—just how deeply people from Pittsburgh and Cleveland and Columbus and Detroit and Milwaukee care about their football. The South does not own football. And if we are to be finicky about things, it should be pointed out that football was invented in the freaking Northeast. Enough, Southerners.

• In light of the stunning (but not reallllly …) allegations that have been levelled against the Miami Hurricanes, it strikes me that the entire Ohio State situation was Quite Grandly Overblown. I mean, I get that The Vest lied to the NCAA. I get that players received illegal benefits. I get that there was A General Sense Of Lawlessness permeating the program. But when you really sit down and think about it, and when you really compare this "scandal" to other "scandals" (some still-as-yet unpunished, by the way) I must say, it seems awfully odd that Tressel lost his job over this thing.

• It seems odder still that Luke Fickell is actually the coach at Ohio State.

• Teams that will disappoint this season: Nebraska, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Florida State, LSU

• Teams that won’t: Alabama, Oklahoma, Stanford, Oregon, Boise State

• Teams that will surprise: Penn State, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Syracuse

• Teams that play in rented stadiums: Miami, USC, Pitt.

• Teams that should not play in rented stadiums: Miami, USC, Pitt

• Teams that will continue to play in rented stadiums and will therefore continue to perform far below their potential: Miami, Pitt

• No, I have not stopped watching soccer. No, I will not stop mentioning soccer here in the space. And no, I will back down from my support of The World's Most Beautifully Named Football Club. Speaking of which: Aston Villa vs. Wolverhampton Wandererrs, 7 a.m., this Saturday, ESPN2. Tune in, if not for the soccer, then for the dulcet tones of Ian Darke, the greatest sports announcer who does not (yet) work college football. Ian Darke to the Big Ten Network. It must happen.

• Looking for the latest TCFA Podcast? Well, click here.

• Looking for A Beer Worth Drinking during this college football season of 2011? Well, click here.

• Looking for A Song Worth Playing at your next tailgate? Well, click here.

• Looking for one last reminder for why college football is our nation's greatest game? Well, click here.

• Like the column? Got something to say? Write me at or

• See you next week, folks.


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