Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Not A Game…We Talkin Bout Practice

With all due respect to Dennis Green, Jim Mora, Bobby Knight and the others who’ve cemented their place on the TOP 10 Best Ever sports soundbytes, nothing beats my man A.I. And this recent recollection of the Answer’s best post game rant comes with my reflections from the weekend of the Blue & Gold game. Sure, I’ve flipped by the televised versions of other big-time spring football games… sure, I’ve always thought it was a bigger waste of time than whatever PBA or Professional Billiards event that could otherwise be on… and sure, I’ve always thought: “What kinda die hard obsessed fan you gotta be to waste a spring Saturday afternoon going to one of this things?”…but these were just the thoughts of a skeptic without any personal experience. And now, after participating myself, I get it. Well, I get why people show up anyway. The best part of any college football game is obvious (the tailgating) and so why wait 40 weeks from the end of a season until the beginning of the next when you could offer a perfectly reasonable excuse for throwing another massive outdoor party at the midway point…all the while stirring up a little WSSAQ chatter (Who-Should-Start-At-QB) 4 ½ months before any meaningful snaps? I mean how else are Cubs (or Mets) fans supposed to spend the spring?

The weekend got off to a good start on Thursday as I joined 52 other MBA’s who were bussed up to the Four Winds Casino and Resort – an Indian reservation about 45 minutes from South Bend. After about 3.5 hours of finding the lowest min-bet blackjack and craps tables, I walked out up $4 with a sore palm from too many wind-up high fives. Admittedly, the high-five per $1 of winnings ratio was a bit excessive. A nice little change of pace and, as it turned out, some good “low cost” fun.

But the real football weekend festivities didn’t get going until Friday. Starting with the “Bald and the Beautiful” fundraiser at 2 – a chance to feel good about drinking a beer and watching dudes (and one very brave law school chick) shave their heads in the name of raising $$ for cancer. From there it’s off to the McCloskey business plan competition where finalists in start-up mode present to a full crowd of their peers, professors, and a panel of angel investors (the “Irish Angels”) for a chance at real money. I think it’s close to 100k to the winner. Some really good ideas – an app for alumni networking took home the cake with an MBA-laden team coming in second proposing an efficiency enhancing attachment to wind turbines promising to add 17% more production (idk, the engineer sounded like a pretty smart dude).

Following a happy hour meeting at the corner pub, it was time to walk over for the unveiling of “THE Shirt”. You wanna talk about a waste of time? THIS was RI-DIC-U-LOUS. A THREE HOUR (!!) “ceremony” to celebrate and drum up excitement about a freakin t-shirt… for an 8-5 team! And I suppose it’s time I explained the weekend’s weather – cold, windy and raining from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning. So here we were - a couple of losers standing outside, in the pouring rain, listening to one drawn out speech after another just so that we can be among the first to see this year’s design for a t-shirt that will eventually be obsolete in just a couple of months…all before actually going in and buying the thing for about 5x its cost. Marketing-driven fan-targeted blatant exploitation. That’s what this is. I know somewhere up there's a group of aliens huddled around in the mother ship looking down at this scene scratching their heads thinking, “I thought Earth might be tougher. We’ll have these morons brainwashed by Tuesday”. Coach Kelly must’ve received strict instructions to talk for at least 2 full minutes because the guy was reeeeally struggling….”Uh…what else can I say about this just…uh…this just awesome new design?” Alright coach, unless you’re going to give us some controversial sound bytes on your thoughts about who will start at QB, then just PLEEEEASE put the mic down and drop the cover on this damn t-shirt already. But no, this test of true fandom just won’t end. Next up, an intro to this season’s first string leprechaun….awesome. Dude, it’s 45 degrees and raining sideways. No more speeches, chanting, clapping, dancing, or whatever else leprechauns do these days. Nothing against your carefully honed craft but I’ve already invested 30 minutes into this “experience” and I’m not leaving until I see this freakin thing. Finally, a hush comes over the crowd (there were a couple hundred other geeks there with us) as “THE shirt” is unveiled…drum roll please: Duke Blue? Really? Well, I’m not sure that makes a whole lotta sense but I do like the Four Horsemen tribute. From cutting-edge efficiency enhancing green energy technology to 3hr rain soaked t-shirt celebrations, you can really have it all here on Blue/Gold weekend in South Bend…

Thankful to be running for cover with the peace of mind that a box has been checked on the bucket list (things that are worse than being beaten to death with bucket), I swing by and pick up Em on my way to the Stepan center for RCAND. This year’s matchup was a highly touted one and looked to pit two well-balanced and capable teams against one another with an “electric” atmosphere (snicker) and a “charged” crowd (snicker) in attendance. It proved to be can’t miss entertainment. Oh, right, guess I should mention what RCAND stands for – Robotics Competition At Notre Dame…Duh. So yea, this year’s competition – just your everyday run-of-the-mill robot football game; ‘cept it’s definitely not everyday run-of-the-mill kind of stuff. As the brochure points out, “RCAND is the first effort at collegiate robotics football anywhere”. Where you at Ivy League? Nerds. Having never been to an RCAND before and going strictly off the promotional email circled around campus, I was expecting some kind of crazy R2D2 stuff with life-sized robots calling audibles at the line and running hitch-n-go hot routes to beat single coverage on the outside after picking up the blitzing safety…OK, in truth I guess I really didn’t have much by way of expectations other than seeing something that was totally cool and built by people with IQ’s equal to some multiple of my own. So back to the ‘bots….think less Terminator; more suped-up remote-control toy car. These things were like little boxes on wheels controlled by their creators holding remotes on the sidelines. So how does it work? Tackling – each robot has a light atop its body controlled by a protected sensor that measures how rapidly the robot accelerates and decelerates. A quick change from the former to the latter (think D End robot colliding with RB robot) – light turns blue and pesto: you’ve got yourself a “tackle” (none of this "Was his knee really down crap"). The Skill Players – Sleepy Jim, QB (uses infrared and sonar to locate open receivers. SEE PICTURE); Knute Robotne, RB (Can scoop up a bouncing football); Ocho Blinko, WR (emits infrared and ultrasound to be located – a la a Twitter account for the real Ocho)…hey, you think the color guy (yes, they had a play-by-play and color guy) could explain what “infrared” means to the MBA’s in the crowd??? The point system rewards extra points for completed forward passes. And, of course, it’s Blue vs. Gold. An awesome event that totally made up for the whole t-shirt disaster. It’s all put on by the senior engineering majors who’ve apparently spent the better part of the semester constructing and designing these robots before drilling them on the practice field. The students are invested in winning and have clearly invited lots of their friends for the home field (court? whatever) advantage. Standing room only. It’s an intense game that produces its fair share of fumbles, sacks, 50yd TD runs, and yes, blown calls by the men in stripes. Seriously, the officials blew a couple of calls. I think I’ve got the Engineering School’s PhD project for next semester…can you sayyy, on-field robot replay??? Who won, you ask? Anyone who showed up. But who walked away with the MVP? That was unanimous – #99 Adam Tinateiri. The kicker. This thing uses compressed air to launch the ball as high as the ceiling (which it hit on one occasion - a point of contention for his coach) and as far as the full length of the field. His counterpart, The Death Star, couldn’t help but watch with feelings of jealousy and inadequacy. Well done, engineers. Well done indeed.

After a restful Friday night, we’re up nice and early Saturday morning. Precious tailgating minutes are not to be wasted on sleep when our swan song parking lot party is awaitin. In spite of temps in the low 40’s and constant rain, our classmates show up in full force providing some tented protection and ample supplies to last the day. Before you know it, it’s already 2:30. I guess we should go in and check out the game…right? We get in, find the restroom, and get to our regular seats at about midway point in the first quarter. What were we thinking??? It’s still raining. Not many people here. No beer. And who really goes to practice anyway? Cue the video: We stayed for one play before heading back to the tent. I mean, “How the hell can I make (our) team better by practicing?!?!”

After the game it’s back to the crib to see if the outdoor backyard party is still going strong in my backyard (described earlier in the week by an undergrad as “the only day Notre Dame actually feels like a state school”). We pull up from around the corner and all of sudden hundreds of under-dressed and over-saturated 19-21 year olds are fleeing for coverage. Not from the cops or from the loser old heads coming from the actual game; they run from the pouring rain. We get home just in time to catch the end of the party and see about 50 kegs spread out amid the sea of red solo cups now littering our unpopulated yard. Whoa, wait a minute…this keg still has some beer in it. What else is a guy supposed to do? We haaaad to rescue it in from the rain. After a couple of hours at home with our “found” beer, the night concludes where all tail-gating, football watching, post-game partying Saturday’s should – The Backer. Good times, long day. In bed by midnight.

Sunday afternoon I find myself at the gym trying to sweat out a still lingering hangover. A dude in a straight brimmed backwards hat and fingerless gloves walks by sporting his latest purchase – THE (blue) Shirt...but already just two days later, with a personalized touch - cut without the sleeves. Some things about the spring football weekend were great (Robot Football/tailgating/Free beer). Some things, not so much (THE Shirt/that guy and his red solo cup in my backyard).