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Great Expectations

logo-virginiaIt started as just another Dead Zone weekend. I had begun my Friday afternoon at a local watering hole. I was with my buddy the Hoo Lawyer and we were engaged in a favorite pastime of swapping tales, wisecracks and insults. The Hoo Lawyer filled the void between his finishing of one Scotch and the time it took the bartender to bring him yet another by relating to me a phone conversation in which he had recently engaged.

It seems he had been whiling away the time in his office playing Solitaire waiting for the bars to open when his phone had rang. Since his harried secretary, the only person in that office who does a lick of work, had been at the courthouse checking out a property title so that she might send out yet another outrageous bill on behalf of her employer, keeping him in Scotch and Kent Golden Lights for another week, he had been forced to do some heavy lifting of something other than a drink and pick up the phone himself. It was going to be a bad day, I could tell.
The Hoo Lawyer informed me that on the other end of the line was a pleasant young lady from the Hoo Athletic and Legal Aid Foundation. Apparently the cost of covering the legal bills for Elton Brown had risen to the point of putting the Hoo athletic budget in a bind. The solution had been to shake down the contributors. She had called to inquire as to whether the Hoo Lawyer might consider raising his annual contribution of ten bucks a year. Obviously she knew nothing about the Hoo Lawyer’s aversion to spending a plugged nickel on anyone or anything other than himself.

The young lady did not seem to take the laughter that request elicited for an answer. She continued to pester him into agreeing to upgrade his contribution to the fifteen-dollar a year range as well as fork over the hundred bucks he had pledged to the new basketball arena the Hoo Lawyer was withholding in protest of Littlepage’s botching of the Tubby deal. She seemed to have no idea with whom she was dealing. The Hoo Lawyer is quite experienced in responding in a negative fashion to those attempting to separate him from his money. Compared to decades spent throwing from his office solicitors from the United Way or March of Dimes, telling the Hoo Athletic and Legal Aid Foundation ‘No’ was small potatoes.

The young lady was nothing if not persistent, however. She finally reached deep into her fund-raising bag of tricks and let the Hoo Lawyer in on a little secret. She told him in tones generally used by Presidents informing the nation he had decided to declare war or the office gossip disseminating the latest corporate rumors at the water-cooler that she had been talking to algroh. In all confidentiality, he had assured her that this was going to be The Year. Yep, this was going to be IT, the year in which algroh finally backed up all of the talk and led the Hoos roughshod over the ACC and everybody else that stood in their way, culminating in a triumphant algroh accepting the MNC Trophy at the Rose Bowl to the adoring adulation of the 10-15 Hoos making the trip. The Year was finally at hand. The young lady completed this astounding revelation by breathlessly telling the Hoo Lawyer, “If I were Frank Beamer I would be very worried.” Yikes!

The Hoo Lawyer was shaking with convulsive fits of laughter as he finished his yarn by telling me that his answer to the young lady, like it had been last summer when they had had the exact same conversation with the exact same forecast of The Year of the Hoo, or even early last December, when he had been called to discover if he was willing to take a few dozen Potato Bowl tickets off of the Hoos’ hands, was ‘No.’ As he finished his latest drink and sucked on each and every ice chip to collect every remaining molecule of Scotch before ordering another, I told him that my recent exchanges with the Hokie Club had involved very little pleading on their part, instead flat statements along the lines of, “If you want to keep your football tickets, pay through the nose.” These days, the Hokie Club is not quite so interested in the art of gentle persuasion.

What occurred to me after the long-suffering wife of the Hoo Lawyer had ordered him home is that if algroh is again bragging, it must be July. There is light at the end of the Dead Zone.

We have entered that part of the year, usually about six weeks or so before the start of another football season, when all media are ruled by Great Expectations. Everybody is still undefeated and harbors elevated aspirations for the upcoming year. For roughly half of the teams, they Great Expectations will last no longer than the first game, but that is still a ways away. Right now all have a shot at the MNC and many are not reticent in claiming it.

You rarely if ever hear coaches touting the prospects of their own team. algroh is the exception. The Great NFL Legend with his annual claims of possession of a coaching acumen far superior to that of mere college coaching mortals Bobby Bowden and Frank Beamer is a rarity among coaches. Most are like Frank Beamer, who has the ability to paint even the worst of the dogs that annually dot Tech’s schedule in glowing terms. Frank did just that recently, telling a Roanoke television station that while Tech did indeed have a shot at being “pretty good,” they were faced with the Herculean task of opening at NC State, in the eyes of Frank about the best football team ever assembled. The Hokies would be lucky to stay within three touchdowns of the vaunted Wolfpack. This is how most coaches talk, always careful not to provide any bulletin board material for the opposing team or Weauxf Gods. The weauxfing is left to the media and, of course, the loon-atic fringe fans.

I got my first clue that we had reached the Great Expectations period of the Dead Zone a few days ago while scanning newspapers. A Pennsylvania one was relating to its readers that THIS was going to be the year that Penn State got it turned back around and re-claimed its position among the nation’s elite. It was so because a few of the rising PSU seniors said it was. This was the fifth straight year I have read this about the Nittany Lions; the only thing changing in the stories was the names of the players proclaiming THEY were just the guys to bring back the glory days. Maybe they will, but it seems that it is a lot easier for them to assert dominance in July than it has been for the last few Penn State teams to do so on the field.

Bounding through the magic of the Internet from one section of the country to another, I discovered a story in a Dallas paper assuring its loyal Texas fans that the Longhorns were primed and ready for a run at the MNC. Never mind that the last time Texas beat Oklahoma the White House was occupied by a Whig and every time Mack Brown is involved in a meaningful game it is necessary to have near him on the sideline cadres of medical personnel proficient in the application of the Heimlich Maneuver. The UT-OU game is not played until October and this is July, the period of Great Expectations. It is indeed possible this time of year to speculate that Mack might finally win big.

Great Expectations are not limited to underachieving teams. Entire conference can get into the act. The Li’l E recently held its media day. This is the league, formerly known as the Big East, that last December saw its previous claims to football legitimacy battling for the ACC championship. This is the bunch that saw Pittsburgh, the team that staggered to Arizona to represent the Li’l E in the BCS, get pounded by a mid-major Utah team that had used a loophole to worm its way into the party. Not to worry, according to Li’l E commish Mikey.

The Li’l E had moved its annual Media Day from picturesque New Jersey to Rhode Island. This was done so that Mikey would not miss more than a few minutes of summer workouts by the Providence basketball team and perhaps because it was felt that holding it at its usual site next to a toxic waste dump might provoke unpleasant comparisons to Li’l E football. It seems a real possibility.

The feisty Mikey was in fighting trim when discussing the prospects for his league that somehow managed to balloon to sixteen teams without adding a single football power. “Two years ago, people were telling us we were going out of business,” Mikey said. “We were losing our BCS bid, we were going to lose our television contract and we were going to lose all our secondary bowl games. I stand here before you two years later, and none of that is true.” It’s early yet, Mikey. The Li’l E is placing its BCS hopes and dreams on the shoulders of Louisville in the hopes that the Cards’ weekly blasting of CUSA dogs the last few years have steeled them for the rigorous competition to be provided by the rest of the Li’l E. Now there’s a plan, an easy one to dream about during July Great Expectations. That is likely to be the last we will see or hear from Mikey or the Li’l E until the beginning of basketball season.

Great Expectations are not limited to the media. In fact, for connoisseurs of message boards, media attempts to convince us that some team will rise above its usual mediocrity are strictly a sideshow. The really good stuff is on the message boards.

No matter how lousy a team has been for as long as anyone cares to remember, even from the dawn of football time, there is somebody out there ready to announce to the entire world that this year will be different, by cracky. These true believers profess to have the real inside dope. Their lovelies might have turned 2-9 into an art form for the last few decades but it doesn’t matter because they are going to dominate college football this very year. Anyone who doesn’t believe them is a message board troll who obviously doesn’t know the first thing about football, including all of those morons picking their team at the bottom of its conference.

As usual, Rutgers is the best example. The DORKS [Dear Old Rutgers Knights of Scarlet] haven’t been any good since two centuries ago when they won the first football game played only to see things go downhill ever since. Visit a dorkboard, however and you will see serious discussions about how many fans the Knights will pack into Miami for the Orange Bowl. The only reason it won’t be the Rose is that the strength of the rest of the Li’l E will drag down their SOS. Those speculating that thirty thousand success-starved DORKS will swarm over the Jacksonville Landing for the Gator Bowl are considered pessimists who should immediately have their password revoked. Of course, given that Tech and Miami have disappeared from the schedule, replaced by Cincinnati and a Directional Florida, if RUTSgers is ever going to do it this would seem an opportune time. Chances are neither the BCS nor Gator will be available to them much longer.

Another great example is East Carolina. This is a mid-major outfit that a couple of years ago fired the winningest coach in its relatively short Division I-A history, only to see the bottom drop out to the depths of three wins in the last two seasons. The Pirates have hired a coach with no real experience at even ECU’s modest CUSA level of competition, in whose last job found himself demoted from Offensive Coordinator by the head coach, also his father and whose prime qualifications for the job at ECU would seem to be that he was willing to work for the modest salary that the Pirates can afford to pay. This would not seem to be the recipe for Great Expectations.

Nevertheless, they were in evidence for all to see as an ECU message board recently found the resident loons engaged in a dead serious discussion of ECU’s chances for going undefeated and cracking the BCS. The likelihood would seem to be about on a par with Averett’s, but this is the period of Great Expectations.

The Great Expectations period is harmless. Media types have to fill their column inches with something during the Dead Zone and it might as well be ramblings about the invincibility of the local team. Message board loons have to be message board loons. It is fun to read. The Great Expectations arising all over the place also serves as a reminder of something much better than speculation about the upcoming season: it means the season is getting that much closer.

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