Friday, May 22, 2015

Hey, SNL! I got yer brilliant political satire right here.

Previously I have written scripts for political pieces and comedy pieces. In this entry, I will combine the two in a satirical sketch like what Saturday Night Live does to open their show. So as you read the following feel free to imagine you favorite "Not Ready for Primetime Players" performing the scene (f'rinstance I've always been partial to Amy Poehler's version of Hillary Clinton).
_________________________________________

O'Malley Press Conference

INTERIOR, DAY: THE EVENT ROOM OF A BALTIMORE AREA HOTEL

(A podium sits center stage facing the audience. Chairs are arranged on either side. Several REPORTERS are seated, but there are clearly more seats than seated. A banner reading "O'Malley" hangs behind the podium. GOVERNOR O'MALLEY ENTERS)

O'MALLEY: Thank you all for coming out. I imagine most of you came because we promised free beer and pizza, but before we get to that I would like to make an announcement. (reading) "When we began this campaign together, I hoped that we could unite America in a common . . ."

REPORTER 1: (Interrupting) Excuse me, but who are you?

O'MALLEY: I'm Martin O'Malley. What did you think the banner was for?

REPORTER 1: I just thought "O'Malley's" was the bar that supplied the beer.

O'MALLEY: If I could finish my announcement please. "When we began this campaign together, I hoped . . ."

REPORTER 2: (Interrupting) Sorry, but campaign for what?

O'MALLEY: President. I have been running for President for about the last three months.

REPORTER 3: President of the United States?

O'MALLEY: Yes. Though, I'm not surprised you didn't know that. No reporters came to my campaign launch. That's why I promised the free pizza and beer this time.

REPORTER 4: Are you a Republican?

O'MALLEY: No.

REPORTER 4: Are you Elizabeth Warren?

O'MALLEY: What? No, I'm Martin O'Malley. I'm a Democrat, and I was Governor of Maryland for eight years.

REPORTER 2: Why are you running against Hillary Clinton?

O'MALLEY: To be perfectly honest, when I started my campaign I didn't think she was going to run.

(ALL REPORTERS laugh)

O'MALLEY: She had so many problems already, and then the e-mail scandal started. Did anyone believe that she was so power-hungry and egomaniacal that she would still run for president with all that baggage tied to her?

(ALL REPORTERS look to each other and nodding and saying things to indicate they readily believed that.)

O'MALLEY: Ever since she joined the race, it's been pretty clear I don't have a chance. No one will donate money to my campaign. No one shows up to my events. Be honest with me, how many of you are only here for the free pizza and beer, raise your hand?

(ALL REPORTERS raise their hands)

O'MALLEY: So we've reached the point where continuing this campaign would not make any sense either for myself or . . .

REPORTER 4: Are you Bernie Sanders?

O'MALLEY: No! Obviously, I have no hope to become the President of the United States, so I called this press conference to announce that I'm ending my campaign, and endorsing Hillary Clinton.

REPORTER 1: Sir, I don't mean any disrespect, but do you think anyone cares if Hillary Clinton has your endorsement?

(HILLARY CLINTON ENTERS)

CLINTON: I think I can answer that question.

REPORTER 2: Senator Clinton! What are you doing here?

CLINTON: I'm like Beetlejuice. If you say my name three times, I'm there. (Steps behind podium, brushing O'MALLEY aside) Thank you, for that wonderful introduction governor. I will be taking over things now. Let's hear it for the Governor O'Malley from the great state of Connecticut.

O'MALLEY: Maryland.

CLINTON: No one cares. (Addressing REPORTERS) Ladies and other voters, I want to thank the Governor for acknowledging the inevitability of my victory. I look forward to the day when all Americans come together and realize that I must be President. And to help us reach that noble goal, I am officially endorsing Governor Martin O'Malley's endorsement of Hillary Clinton!

(ALL REPORTERS applaud)

CLINTON: You know you can trust Hillary Clinton, because you can trust Martin O'Malley, because you can trust Hillary Clinton.

O'MALLEY: Thank you, Secretary Clinton, I'm flattered that you would come here just to support me.

CLINTON: Actually, I came for the pizza and beer.

-SCENE-


Friday, February 13, 2015

Could movie buffs beat Vegas?

The house always wins.

Well, not quite always, but often enough that casinos are multimillion dollar businesses and thousands of people have to seek treatment for gambling addiction, because making bets has ruined their lives. The house makes a fortune and gamblers file for bankruptcy, because the house knows more than the bettors. Casinos are built by exploiting the common person's ignorance about statistics. Almost every game puts the gambler at a massive disadvantage. When the house doesn't have a built in advantage like when taking sports wagers, they try to stay ahead of the public by having far more information. Bookmakers hire highly intelligent people who have a level of expertise no ordinary person can match. When a casino sets the odds for a wager, they have put massive amounts of research into predicting both the likely outcome and the probable distribution of bets they will receive. If you want to make a living wagering on sports, you better have a high IQ and work ethic to match. Just scratching out wins on fifty-three percent of your bets would put you in an elite class of gambler. However there may be a few rare situations where the sharps in Las Vegas don't have the most information.

For special events bookmakers will accept bets outside their normal purview of sports. They will occasionally offer up odds on things happening in pop culture, like reality show outcomes or awards ceremonies. Suddenly a business built around some of the sharpest sports experts in the world has to venture out of their comfort zone where others know more than they do. This gives bettor a rare chance to gamble on a somewhat level playing field. If the casinos aren't the experts, then maybe you could be the expert, or at least find someone who is to advise you.

I believe the annual Academy Awards offer such an opportunity. Plenty of people love movies, and some of them enjoy having the chance to gamble on the highest of Hollywood honors. Casinos gladly accept their action knowing it doesn't take much information to beat the hoi polloi. However a very few film buffs may have the advantage over Vegas. For those of us who study and scrutinize the Academy Awards like religious texts, we can spot those special situations that professional gambler's refer to as value. Sometimes the bookmakers misjudge the odds they should offer for a particular outcome. That means bettors can earn a payoff disproportionate to the actual likelihood of the result occurring. The most clever and committed Oscar watchers know that upsets do occur with some regularity. Actors, writers, directors, and even whole pictures have bested expectations and won when someone else was presumed to have the golden statue coming their way.  So it could pay off to lay some money on the Oscars, if you have reason to believe the reward outweighs the risk. For anyone who may be interested I will provide -FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY- my assessment of the major awards and where I think the sharps may have it wrong. Remember these are not my predictions of who will win, though I may mention that, this is about getting the best value for your betting dollar.

We'll start with the "major" categories, for which gambling odds are readily available.

BEST LEADING ACTRESS-

The Nominees:
Marion Cotillard for Two Days, One Night- 60/1
Felicity Jones for The Theory of Everything- 40/1
Julianne Moore for Still Alice- 1/9
Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl- 25/1
Reese Witherspoon for Wild- 8/1

Best Bet: Bettors can gain an advantage by exploiting an area of ignorance. When the bookmakers or the general public don't have a full picture of the contenders for the award the odds can get skewed. We all know that the kinds of movies that win Oscars usually only get a limited release and few people see them. This is especially true for foreign language films. As such most people know nothing about the film Two Days, One Night. While I haven't seen Marion Cotillard's performance, I have seen the results of film awards that usually forecast the results of the Oscars. So far Mme. Cotillard is the only actress other than the favorite Julianne Moore to win a major award for starring in a movie while being female. In my estimation that should give her the second best odds. Casinos prefer to have money spread among all options, so no matter what happens they never stand to lose too much. Since no one saw the movie, no one is betting on Cotillard, so the bookies have to offer longer odds to attract action and spread out the risk. That gives you a great chance to make a value bet on Marion Cotillard.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS-

The Nominees:
Patricia Arquette for Boyhood- 1/7
Laura Dern for Wild- 28/1
Keira Knightly for The Imitation Game- 25/1
Emma Stone for Birdman-  12/1
Meryl Streep for Into the Woods- 15/1

Best Bet: Patricia Arquette's dominance of the preliminary awards may make you think putting money on her is a safe bet. That may be true, but that does mean putting a lot of cash on the line for a small payoff. If an upset happens does happen, you'll be in the hurt, and you'll have missed out on a great money making opportunity. To select a dark horse most likely to surprise the field I looked to a few key factors. Remember that the Academy is mostly composed of older men. When they decide which actress they want to bestow an award upon, they tend to pick the woman they would most want to sleep with. (Hey, don't blame me, it's the Oscar voters who are sexist.) That narrows the race to Keira Knightly and Emma Stone as the two youngest and prettiest nominees. Between them only Knightly has been previously nominated. That indicates she already has the respect of some AMPAS members. I like the potential of earning a big prize if the obvious favorite doesn't come through, so I'd bet on Keira Knightly.

BEST LEADING ACTOR-

The Nominees:
Steve Carell for Foxcatcher- 30/1
Bradley Cooper for American Sniper- 75/1
Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game- 20/1
Michael Keaton for Birdman-  5/6
Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything- 11/10

Best Bet: Though Michael Keaton seems to be the heavy favorite, there's a strong chance that he'll have some tight competition. While Keaton took the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy, Eddie Redmayne snared the parallel award for Drama. That would make Redmayne the most likely contender to beat Keaton, but that doesn't mean betting on Eddie gives you the best value. With a bet of $10 only returning $11 in winnings, that's a pretty small payoff for what are likely some long odds of an upset. (Also there's the chance the voters will see Redmayne's re-dic-u-lous performance in Jupiter Ascending, and squash his hopes like a post-Norbit Eddie Murphey.) If you want to bet on an upset bet on one that can reward you proportionate to the odds. For this category, I like Bradley Cooper as a long shot for a few reasons. First, Cooper has now been nominated three times in three years. That indicates a lot of voters like him and some may think he's due for the award. Second he has to portray a character that many people already know. Chris Kyle was on our TV screens just a couple of years ago. Keaton plays a fictional person (who is really just a fictionalized version of himself, so where's the challenge there). The people played by Carell and Cumberbatch are both obscure figures of whom voters won't have preexisting impressions. Redmayne does portray the world famous Stephen Hawking, but mostly during the period of his life before he became the man we recognize. Trying to recreate a living person when we can compare Cooper's performance to our memories of that person is a risky move. Sometimes the Academy likes to reward those kinds of risks. Finally, American Sniper has become the biggest box office hit of all the films up for Best Picture. There are members of AMPAS who like to reward financial success. Some of the glory for the film as a whole could give its star a much needed bump in the voting.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR-

The Nominees:
Robert Duvall for The Judge- 30/1
Ethan Hawke for Boyhood- 12/1
Edward Norton for Birdman- 10/1
Mark Ruffalo for Foxcatcher-  14/1
J. K. Simmons for The Theory of Everything- 1/5

Best Bet: This is another category with a heavy favorite. So all we need to find the best value bet is determine which of the nominees has the best chance of upsetting J. Jonah Simmons. Robert Duvall may be deeply respected, but very few people are passionate about The Judge as a movie. All the other nominees have past nominations and respectable reputations, so they're all even there. I think Edward Norton may have an edge though. Part of the appeal of Michael Keaton's performance in Birdman comes from the winking nature of an actor famous for playing a superhero in a movie that mocks superhero movies. Well Edward Norton once played the Hulk, and famously had a contentious split with Marvel studios over their designs for the character. Now he plays the "pure" theater actor who serves as the foil to Keaton's former blockbuster star. It's a roll that many Oscar voters imagine themselves playing in their real lives. If AMPAS really wants to flip the bird* to all the comic book inspired films that dominate the box office, they could give the trophy to Norton.

BEST DIRECTOR-

The Nominees:
Alejandro G. Iñárritu for Birdman- 7/1
Richard Linklater for Boyhood- 1/6
Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher- 45/1
Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel- 22/1
Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game- 18/1

Best Bet: This one honestly confounds me. I know Richard Linklater walked away with the Golden Globe award, but in 5 of the last 7 years the Oscar didn't go to the Globe winner. Also, I know that for most of the Academy Award's history the prizes for Best Picture and Best Director went to the same movie, and most people assume that's still the case. In the last couple of decades that has changed dramatically. Of the last 16 years the winner of Best Director didn't direct the Best Picture 6 different times! Boyhood may very well win Best Picture, but that by no means makes Linklater a lock. Based on the buzz, I would make Alejandro Iñárritu the favorite to win. Since Vegas gave him the next best odds after the presumed favorite, they seem to agree. When I can win $7 for every dollar bet on someone I judge to be the favorite, I call that a value bet.

BEST PICTURE-

The Nominees:
American Sniper- 75/1 
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)- 18/1
Boyhood- 2/5
The Grand Budapest Hotel- 9/1
The Imitation Game- 7/1
Selma- 20/1
The Theory of Everything- 30/1
Whiplash- 60/1

Best Bet: You could actually make an argument for a few of the nominees as good value bets. Because American Sniper has a turned into a box office sensation, there will be some AMPAS members who feel that sort of popularity should be rewarded. On the other hand Chris Kyle's story has stirred up some political controversy, and the Academy has distanced itself from similar films in the past (e.g. Zero Dark Thirty). After Selma missed out in almost every category, there came a major backlash against what many perceived as a racially charged oversight. Historically the Academy has underrepresented minorities among their nominees and winners, but that's changed in recent years. More black nominees have won Oscars from 2001 on than won in the previous 73 years of award's existence. There may be enough voters rallying behind Selma to pull of an unexpected win, similar to what happened with Argo a couple of years ago. Though the odds of that happening are probably longer than the 20 to 1 pay out the bookmakers are offering. I believe Birdman represents the best value bet. It has favorable odds to win Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Director. A film that wins all of those prizes is actually pretty likely to win Best Picture. Certainly it's more likely that 18 to 1. So you have a great opportunity to win big by betting on Birdman.

Now I will give a brief (relatively for me) rundown my selections for the best bets to win all of the other categories.
  
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes may have more fans among Oscar voters than any of the 3 nominated super-hero movies and the divisive Interstellar. The film made major strides improving motion capture technology, which is probably the future of special FX.

BEST SOUND EDITING- American Sniper successfully recreated the chaotic sounds of battle. That's an impressive feat that usually garners awards

BEST SOUND MIXING- Whiplash had to incorporate the sounds of musical instruments in realistic, but nuanced ways. I expect the voters will respond more to those subtleties than to the louder competition.
 
 BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT- "The Phone Call" is an emotionally powerful little fil- y'know what? No one cares about this category. Let's move on.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT- "Feast" has the advantage of being paired with a widely scene and loved Disney movie. Plus you should never bet against a movie featuring a cute puppy.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT- "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1" has an incredible one-two punch of being emotionally wrenching and urgently topical. That's like catnip for Oscar voters.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN- The Grand Budapest Hotel was skillfully and intricately produced to such a gorgeous degree, its visual splendor even stand out among Wes Anderson's oeuvre.

BEST HAIR & MAKEUP- The Grand Budapest Hotel; see above

BEST COSTUMES- The Grand Budapest Hotel; see above above

BEST ORIGINAL SONG- "Glory" from Selma will win what I suppose you could call a token award.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE- The Theory of Everything had to lean on its score a lot. How else are going to milk a lot of emotion about a guy who spends most of the movie unable to move?

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM- Ida deals with the aftermath of the Holocaust in Poland through the lens of an individuals profound story. And as Kate Winslet taught us Holocaust movies win Oscars!

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE- CitizenFour has won just about every preliminary award, so I expect the Academy to follow suit.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE- How to Train Your Dragon 2 will likely win, because major releases from US animation studios have a heavy advantage in this category. I know the Academy usually doesn't honor sequels, but I figure How to Train Your Dragon 2 won't be punished for that as much as Big Hero 6.

BEST FILM EDITING- Boyhood is your likely winner. Usually the awards for Best Film Editing goes to the film that wins Best Picture. So with Boyhood favored to win the top prize, you should bet on it winning in this category too.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY-  Birdman pulled off an astounding feat by filming the movie so that it appeared as if most of it was done with one continuous camera shot. Any director of photography who can pull that off deserves an award.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY- The Imitation Game would be my pick. This category can get confusing, because apparently no one can agree on what it means for a screenplay to be "adapted". Whiplash was considered an original screenplay by the Writers' Guild, but is an adapted screenplay according to to AMPAS. So be warned that this is my least confident prediction.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY- The Grand Budapest Hotel has the key preliminary awards under its belt. I expect that to continue. The Academy has a habit of rewarding young-ish auteur filmmakers with a screenplay award. After two past nominations, look for Wes Anderson to finally land an Oscar.

Those are my predictions. I wish you all the best of luck with your Oscar pools. Remember if any of you do wager money on these predictions, you owe me 10% of your winnings.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Sketch Script: Achilles' Heel

EXTERIOR, DAY: AN ENCAMPMENT OF GREEK WARRIORS

(A crowd of warriors are gathered in a semicircle around two men, ODYSSEUS and ACHILLES. ALL are dressed in ancient-style armor and holding weapons and/or shields. ODYSSEUS and ACHILLES stand on a slightly elevated platform facing the others.)

ACHILLES: Take tonight to prepare for battle my Greek brothers for tomorrow will be our day of victory over Troy !

ALL cheer and wave their weapons in excitement.

ACHILLES: Tonight the Trojans hide behind their walls and celebrate their Festival of . . . (looks to ODYSSEUS who shrugs) I don't know, some dumb Trojan thing. We shall allow them to sing their songs and drink their wine, and in the morning they will be too sick to fight. Then we will conquer!

ALL cheer and wave their weapons again.

ACHILLES: So sharpen your swords, dress your wounds, and I want to see everyone getting a good night's sleep and eating a healthy breakfast. We will bring praise to Greece!

ALL: Praise to Greece!

ODYSSEUS: And praise to our leader, Achilles!

ALL: Praise to Achilles!

ACHILLES: (Feigning embarrassment) Oh, you guys I don't deserve a lot of special attention. Now get back to your camps. We assemble again in the morning.

(The crowd  disperses off stage except for ACHILLES, ODYSSEUS, AJAX, AGAMEMNON, and NESTOR. AJAX, AGAMEMNON, and NESTOR form a group facing the audience. ACHILLES and ODYSSEUS turn to each other begin a conversation back stage of the others.)

NESTOR: Do you guys think this plan seems a little risky?


AJAX: What are you talking about?

AGAMEMNON: What could be risky about attacking a city of drunken Trojans?

NESTOR: That's the thing. I don't think sound military strategy is based on the assumption that your opponent will have a hangover.

AJAX: Oh, there's no doubt that they'll be sleeping it off. Trojans are known for their drinking.

(At this point ACHILLES and ODYSSEUS cross the stage behind the others.)

AGAMEMNON: Exactly right! Everyone knows that alcohol is their Achilles' heel.


ACHILLES: (barging into the group) Excuse me. What did you just say?

AGAMEMNON: Oh, Achilles, I didn't know you were listening.

ACHILLES: What did you say about my heel Agamemnon?

AJAX: Well since everyone knows your heels are the only weak spot on your body . . .


ACHILLES: (interrupting) Everyone knows about my heels?! That was supposed to be a secret!

AGAMEMNON: Sorry, I had no idea you didn't want people to know that.

ACHILLES: Let's see, I'm fighting in a war, and I am pretty much invulnerable. So, no, I didn't want people to talk about the one body part that the Trojan's should aim at. How did you even know about it?

AGAMEMNON: Ajax told me.

AJAX: I heard it from Nestor.

NESTOR: I heard it from Homer, the poet. Actually, I think he's been telling a lot of people.

ACHILLES: That gossipy blind bastard! His eyes don't work, but his mouth sure does.

AGAMEMNON: It's just a really interesting story. It's on all the pots.

ACHILLES: Oh Gods...

NESTOR: It's not that big a deal. It's just an expression, like when you say you're caught between Scylla and Charybdis. 

ODYSSEUS: Wait, what does that mean?

ACHILLES: Not now, Odysseus. What else do people say about me? Like do they say "Achilles' sword", or "Achilles' smile", or "Achilles' great looking hair"?

AGAMEMNON: No, it's pretty much just the heel thing.

ACHILLES: This is awful. I don't want the most famous thing about me to be my heel. For the love of Jesus!

ODYSSEUS: Who?

ACHILLES: I dunno.

NESTOR: Achilles, if we knew it bothered you, we never would have said it.

AJAX: Yeah, everyone knows how angry you can get.

ACHILLES: (starting to yell) Then why don't people say "Achilles' anger"?!

AJAX: Man, maybe anger is your Achilles' heel.

ACHILLES: Stop saying that!

ODYSSEUS: Yeah, it doesn't even make sense. We know his Achilles' heel is his heel. (ACHILLES glares at him)

ACHILLES: Okay, until the Trojans are defeated, I am ordering everyone to stop talking about my one weakness.

AGAMEMNON: You know, Achilles, having a vulnerable heel may not be such a big deal, if you didn't always wear sandals.

NESTOR: That is true. We Greeks don't have the most protective footwear.

AJAX: Maybe you should pray for something sturdier and more protective

ACHILLES: What god do you pray to for better shoes?

AGAMEMNON: I would go with the goddess of victory.

ACHILLES: You mean Nike?

-SCENE-

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Can't Blog Now, Noveling.

I highly doubt there will be anyone eagerly awaiting any new posts in this space (especially given the pace I post at). Just in case though I want to let you know that I am taking some time to focus on a longer more substantial work. Also, I hope seeing this post anytime I try to blog in the near future will remind me I have bigger fish to fry. I do not wish to abandon this blog, but I do need to dedicate myself to other pursuits at this time.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The College Football Trophy Room: Week 5

Enjoy this week's installment of my series on the trophies found in college football. If you need an explanation of the series you can read the introduction. Previous editions in the series are archived under the "trophy room" tag.

This week's edition will focus on one trophy which is of special interest to morally upright college football fans. 

http://www.antiquehelper.com/auctionimages/49392t.jpg
Above: An image of a 1917 "sawhorse" dollar bill taken from AntiqueHelper.com which CANNOT be copied, printed and used as legal tender.
 Sawhorse Dollar- Dartmouth Big Green vs. Princeton Tigers- 11/17/2012
(The following is an open letter)

To Mark Emmert, NCAA President
700 W. Washington Street
Indianapolis, Indiana 46206

Dear Mr. President,

I wish to inform you of my extreme disappointment in the lack of responsibility shown by the NCAA as an institution and you as an administrator. For decades our nation has relied on your organization to protect our scholar-athletes from the pernicious grasp of gambling. The NCAA was once a fierce opponent of the sinfulness of wagering. You had strict rules prohibiting anyone affiliated with any athletic program from getting involved with any bets made on NCAA sanctioned activities. In fact I'm pretty sure if a football player buys a lotto ticket you have wisely required them to submit forms seeking clemency from your office.You have even threatened to ban certain states from hosting NCAA championship events if they allow gambling on single games of NCAA sports. I, for one, thought it was about time those dens of inequity, such as Delaware and Montana, were put on notice. Why then, I must ask, have you allowed two football teams to compete each year in a game with a cash prize?

While the sum awarded to the winner may seem like small potatoes, a single dollar bill, but the principals your organization stands for could be stained by even the smallest wager. Additionally if some year the victorious team decides to cash in this rare note on the collectors market they could be looking at a pay day of hundreds of dollars. Divided between a football roster that could be as much a $4 a player -more than enough to corrupt otherwise innocent college students. Of even greater concern is the schools involved in these avaricious proceedings. Dartmouth and Princeton have long served as academic bastions in this country. As members of the Ivy League these schools have led the way in keeping student-athletes pure, forgoing national notoriety because they refuse to recruit elite athletes on the principal of academic purity. If these institutions are allowed to become corrupt, well, I'm sure I don't need to tell you that a fish rots from the head down.

As in any case the immorality comes from outside interlopers. A businessman from each of the respective schools decided to juice their enjoyment of a simple display of athletic ability by placing a wager on it. I do not hold you responsible for allowing private citizens to wager on college sports as you do not have the power to stop them . . . yet. Where I feel you should have acted is when these lowlifes (Or is it lowlives?) drew the coaches and athletic directors into their seedy dealings. Perhaps you thought exchanging a collectible piece of currency with a cute design as a traveling trophy was harmless. These teams played eighty-three times without the taint of money. Now that cash is on the line that means the Tigers and Big Green players are knowingly involved in a bet. As the last defender of amateurism in sport you cannot allow this to happen.

Unless, of course, the idea of amateur athletics is a preposterous, outdated myth. In that case I guess this sort of thing is really no big deal.

Hugs and kisses,
Joel A. L. Thomas 

Please return to this space each week during this college football season for more information and lore about college football's many trophies. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

The College Football Trophy Room: Week 4

Enjoy this week's installment of my series on the trophies found in college football. If you need an explanation of the series you can read the introduction. Previous editions in the series are archived under the "trophy room" tag.

This week none of the games played in the NCAA's Footbal Bowl Subdivision involve a trophy. The only rivalry game of note, New Mexico Lobos vs. New Mexico St. Aggies, retired their trophy in 2000. Apparently the Lobos just decided the Maloof Trophy wasn't even exciting enough to merit opening their trophy case. So I will skip over any of those games and focus on something much more interesting.

The edition will take an extended journey into the many trophies that receive little attention in the popular press. Plenty of football games take place every week that won't make ESPN's highlight reel, and lots of those have stories and spoils just as fun as anything in the prestige conferences. I have prepared a special expanded version of  my regular feature "For Those Who Do Not Bowl". So please take this opportunity to learn about some of the most colorful and fascinating piece of hardware exchanged on a gridiron. You should note the dates of these games coming up on your calendar, because if you have any chance to check out these games in person, I think you will find them worthwhile. 

The Blue Ribbon Trophy of the Week
 
Goat Trophy
Above: A photo of the beleaguered looking Goat Trophy by Tom Dahlin from Carleton.edu

"GOATROPHY" - Carleton College Knights vs. Saint Olaf Oles- 10/20/2012
You may think that the glamor programs in college football have a monopoly on colorful traditions and entertaining history. If those small schools had anything interesting going on, you surely think you would here about it. Well allow me to demonstrate the falsehood in that axiom with the rivalry between Division III colleges, St. Olaf and Carleton, which has as rich a lore as any trophy game I've covered in this series.

You certainly can name plenty of instate rivalries in college football. Perhaps you can even think of some crosstown foes. Well, Carleton and St. Olaf don't just share the city of Northfield, MN, they are the only annual opponents to come from the same ZIP code. On top of that their rivalry has an amusing moniker, "The Cereal Bowl". Northfield contains a major plant for producing Malt-O-Meal cereals which fills ten percent of the cereal bowls in the U.S. For years the Malt-O-Meal brand has provided sponsorship support for the game, including samples of the sugary processed breakfast foods athletes need. The actual trophy dates back to 1931 when a local clothing store funded the creation of a goat themed prize to award to the game winner. That's what counted as major business support for a Division III school in the great depression. Now there's also a trophy called the Cereal Bowl that's awarded to the winner, but I don't find it interesting so I shan't mention it again. The schools already had a goat based trophy in basketball and the winner would say, "We got your goat" to the loser. Even if none of that tickled your fancy, I still haven't told you the best stuff.

The Goat Trophy has done something  no other trophy in NCAA football history has done, honored the victor of a game played on a 100 meter field. Back in 1977 the two schools in a fit of liberal arts enthusiasm backed a movement to convert the United States to the metric system. So they decided to use a field that measured 100 meters by 50 meters, and dub the game the "Liter Bowl" (for all you non-Canadians that's pronounced "leeter"). Surprisingly enough the fans got behind this idea -they had metric themed sign, t-shirts, and everything- and it drew national media attention. With a field that was 110% the size of a normal gridiron, the Oles and Knights had the opportunity to record some inflated stats, or at least be the American football players most prepared for the Canadian Football League.  However the NCAA didn't get behind the idea. As one official said, "none of us on the rules committee understands the metric system." So the only metric game in college football history resulted in St. Olaf winning 43-0 (or in metric, they won by 7.3 kilogoals over -17.8 points Celsius).

The greatest honor related to winning the Goat Trophy comes just after the game, but before the boozing. The victorious team walks to the center of Northfield where the Civil War Monument stands (Yes, both schools' football stadiums are with walking distance of this park. I tried to tell you this is a very intimate rivalry between almost literal neighbors.)  Hoisting the wooden caprine as proof of their triumph, the players turn the eagle statue at the top of the monument to face the campus of the winning team. We don't know the origins of this tradition, but it carries great meaning to anyone involved -that's actually pretty normal for traditions. Then the fans and players, still in their pads and jerseys, head to the bars. I did mention there was boozing.

The next time someone from a school with a famous football team tries to tell you about how special the tradition of football is for their fellow fans, try to remember how much tradition Carleton and St. Olaf squeezed into their trophy game. All you need for a great football tradition is people who care.

 Spoils of the Game-Obscure School Edition
This time we'll take a look at some of the prizes at stake in games played outside the FBS.

Above: The Massachusetts Maritime team celebrates winning The Scoop, pic from MMABucs.com.
The Scoop- Bridgewater State Bears vs. Massachusetts Maritime Buccaneers- 11/3/2012
Whenever a trophy captures a unique aspect of regional pride, my heart just melt. For the annual match-up between two teams from Massachusetts, someone "wicked smaht" decided to hand out a prize that represents New England provincialism so well it should come with maple syrup. The Bears and the Bucs had played a few times early in the history, but in 1979 they began meeting every year in an event dubbed the Cranberry Bowl. (You receive no bonus points for correctly guessing who sponsors that event.) Since cranberries hold the enviable post as Massachusetts official State Berry, it makes all the sense in the world that the game and trophy should both have a cranberry theme. Cranberries come from bogs, and for a long time they were a pain in the tuchus to harvest. To this end cranberries farmers have used variations on a scoop to collect the berries since as far back as the 1850's. Mechanical harvesters replaced hand scoops back in 1947, but they still make great decorative items. That may explain why a cranberry scoop makes such a great trophy ; it's local and it looks good.


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Above: In a photo from CalVulcans.com, representative of California and Indiana hold the Coal Miner's Pail and wonder why they're in Pennsylvania.
Coal Miner's Pail- California (PA) Vulcans vs. Indiana (PA) Crimson Hawks- 9/22/2012
Usually, I have to write about the less famous trophies well before the actual games, to spread the coverage out across the season. When I saw I had a chance to post about a game actually happening this weekend, I knew I had to do my best to be topical. (Though if I wind up posting this late, then I will sure be embarrassed.) The most interesting thing about this game is that it seems to turn all U.S. geography on its head. An innocent observer may find it puzzling that California and Indiana would have an annual rivalry to begin with, and she would be totally flabbergasted to learn that it was played in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The two schools warrant their names, because one is in the city/county of Indiana, PA, and the other is in the borough of California, PA -though why those locations have those names is a harder question to answer.

The annual game's status as the Coal Bowl, and Coal Miner's Pail trophy originated with a pair of brothers with ties to the two schools. Barry and Bob Lippencott graduated from IUP and CUP respectively and endowed each school with money for a football scholarship. Along with the cash came the gift of a shiny coal miner's pail and certain expectations (that's sort of how my dates describe a night out with me). The pail would serves as a prize for the winner of the year grudge match between the Vulcans and the Crimson Hawks to pay tribute to the Lippencott's many coal mining ancestors. Barry and Bob thought coal miners represented the sort of tough, hard working, and fearless attitude that all college graduates should have, or maybe just the football players. They weren't very clear. Still for the last four years the schools have traded the trophy as part of a budding Division II football tradition.

(As a disappointing postscript for any Star Trek fans out there, I should add that CUP's nickname refers to Vulcan like the god, not Vulcan like the alien.)
Please return to this space each week during this college football season for more information and lore about college football's many trophies.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The College Football Trophy Room: Week 3

Enjoy this week's installment of my series on the trophies found in college football. If you need an explanation of the series you can read the introduction. Previous editions in the series are archived under the "trophy room" tag.
 
For your edification, I decided to use the trophies in the spotlight to answer some of the biggest question the common fan may have about the nature of these odd little relics of gridiron glory. So I will relate each subject of this post to a WIITBAFAQ (What I Imagine To Be A Frequently Asked Question).

The Blue Ribbon Trophy of the Week


Megaphone Trophy
Above: Todd Rosenberg took this picture of an ornamental megaphone for the AP and SI.
 Megaphone Trophy- Michigan State Spartans vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish- 9/15/2012
WIITBAFAQ: Do the players and coaches actually care about these trophies?
Generally, yes the participants in the game do care about the goodies they get if they win. There's an inset in the picture above that nicely displays the jubilation football players express when they get to hoist a hard-won prize. Having said that, I would be remiss not to note that every team and every set of fans can have widely differing levels of excitement for any given trophy for which the team competes.

The Megaphone Trophy on the line this Saturday nicely demonstrates the disparity that can arise between to parties that share a common trophy. Notre Dame plays for more trophies than any other college football team, so you can't expect them to be highly passionate about all of them. It is somewhat plausible that veteran players would be surprised to see a gaudy conical item carried into the locker room.Witness the reaction by the players at the 15m 55s point in this video. This surfeit of spoils seems to have created a kind of  "trophy-fatigue" amongst the Irish faithful. A typical comment from a popular Notre Dame fan blog calls for a major rollback of hardware in the ND football season, including the Megaphone. In 1997 the Irish forgot to bring the trophy to the game, so after the Spartans one the MSU athletic director had to drive to South Bend to pick up their rightful prize.

Contrast this with Michigan State which shares in a few trophies and seems to enjoy having them on hand for celebrations if nothing else. (I refer you again to the picture above.) I asked Chris Vannini, from The Only Colors, to assess the feelings among Spartans about the Megaphone. He confirmed that for the players and coaches any win against Notre Dame is a big deal. The fans may not get as much out of seeing the Megaphone paraded around the stadium after a victory as they do when other trophies make the trip, but Vannini thinks "it's a fun trophy to see in the case at the football building". So the Megaphone may not mean a whole lot to your average Spartan. Still, based on Vannini's insights, the folks at MSU seem to care about winning the Megaphone at least as much as Jabba the Hutt cared about capturing Han Solo frozen in carbonite. That certainly would rank several rungs above the level of concern seen from ND. Though the definitive flashpoint where Megaphone-mania peaked actually came in 2005.

The 2005 match-up between MSU and ND combined a number of highly colorful elements that briefly brought a surprising amount of national attention to an upturned bullhorn covered in paint. The game itself  certainly caused a good deal of excitement on its own merits. The Irish were undefeated and highly ranked coming into the game, but the Spartans defeated them in an overtime thriller. Then the trophy became a factor. Notre Dame did not have the Megaphone on hand to pass over to the triumphant Spartans in accordance with Notre Dame's policy, or lack thereof, on handling trophies. Inflamed by this perceived insult John L. Smith the MSU coach -not exactly a stable fellow to begin with- made a series of gruff remarks. The Spartan players decided in lieu of using the absent trophy as an awkwardly designed free weight, they would plant their flag in ND's stadium. In turn the Notre Dame coach, Charlie Weis -not exactly an ingratiating fellow to begin with, basically declared war on Michigan State. As a result the passions on both sides reached all time highs for a few years.

Things have quieted down since both schools have replaced their respective coaches. Weis went from leading the most prestigious college football program in the world (Yeah, you heard me Calcutta Tech!) to coaching the Kansas University football team that depends on the Kansas University basketball team for funding. Well at least expectations are low -though so are the results. Mr. L. Smith's career path has taken some odd turns -much like his thinking seems to- and he's become the head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks.  Though he likely won't keep that job for long. You can be sure that whoever is involved at ND or MSU there will people who will care about the Megaphone everywhere from South Bend to East Lansing.

 Spoils of the Game- Week 3
This is where we take a look at all the prizes at stake in this week's games.

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 Top Picture: A photo of victorious Miners lifting the Brass Spittoon by Bob Corral for The Prospector
Bottom Picture: A photo of a triumphant Aggie holding the Silver Spade by Brax for VPC

The Brass Spittoon and the Silver Spade- New Mexico State Aggies vs. UTEP Miners- 9/15/2012
WIITBAFAQ: Where do these trophies come from? 
Every trophy has its own back story. Though there are some recurring patterns. I can assure you that pretty much anything can become a treasured relic of football regardless of providence. One game this week features two trophies that nicely illustrate this axiom. The Brass Spittoon is a fairly conventional trophy by college football standards (even if it does inspire an unsavory mental image). Actually I should call it the Mayor's Cup because it originated with the mayors of Las Cruces, NM and El Paso, TX deciding to offer up a new prize in 1982. This is a common story. Some big-wigs decide to juice the excitement surrounding a given game by offering up a tchotchke to be exchanged between the schools depending on the outcome. The Silver Spade has a far more interesting -albeit incomplete- story. In 1947 someone went exploring an abandoned mine in the Organ Mountains which border El Paso and Las Cruces. (Some research on my part shows that this was apparently a not uncommon pastime in the region at that time.) In that mine they found a disused shovel left by an unknown prospector. Somehow -I cannot determine how- this shovel became a traveling trophy between NMSU and UTEP. At some point the shovel was lost. The Aggies' Media Guide makes the tantalizing declaration that "the whereabouts of the original spade are a mystery." Then in 1955 the student government of UTEP decided to replace the spade with the current model. This Silver Spade has the game scores etched into it, and is presumably prettier than something found in an abandoned mine. I had so many questions about the Silver Spade. Who found the original? Why was it used as a football trophy? What happened to it? Unfortunately after e-mailing with Jeff Darby, a senior associate athletic director at UTEP, I had to concede that the answers to those questions are likely lost to history. But that just because we don't know much about it doesn't mean the Silver Spade can't be a fun trophy.  


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Above: Tom Tontala took this handsome pic of The Bell for SportsPageMagazine.com
The Bell- Marshall Thundering Herd vs. Ohio Bobcats- 9/15/2012
WIITBAFAQ:  What determines if any given game involves a trophy?
You just need two things: a trophy and a game. No really that's all it takes. You don't need to consult some NCAA Committee on Trophy Oversight. No one has to apply for a special permit. It doesn't even require any additional money beyond the price of a trophy, so you can cancel the bake sale. If someone with some connection to at least one of the schools involved wants to put a prize on the line, then you are halfway to the start of a new tradition. In the case of the 'Cats and the Herd, the two schools had played many times dating back to 1905 before there was a keepsake involved. When both teams wound up in the Mid-American Conference in 1997, the schools decided to add some spice to the game in the form of a traveling trophy. A couple of representatives of Marshall and Ohio met in an Athens, OH restaurant to brainstorm. When they realized that the two schools sit on or near opposite sides of the Ohio River, they decided to use a replica of the kind of bells riverboats used to send signals. The trickier part of the equation for the Thunderin' and the Bob's has always been scheduling the game. Thought the schools are only 80 miles apart, they have typically faced each other in intermittent stretches. After Marshall left the MAC in 2004, the two teams didn't face-off until 2009, and that was only because they coincidentally played in a bowl game. The old Bell trophy must have been an after thought, because as best as I can tell Marshall didn't even bring it to the game. (Who do they think they are, Notre Dame?) That renewed the rivalry though, so we now are in the midst of a six season stretch of Battles for the Bell. I am sure there will be more games to come after that. Eventually.

For Those Who Do Not Bowl
Each week I will use this space to highlight one trophy contested between teams from the less covered divisions and subdivisions of college football.


Above: A photo Darrell Rebouche had taken of him and his wife taken next to Chief Caddo. I thank him for its use.
Chief Caddo- Northwestern State Demons vs. Stephen F. Austin State Lumberjacks- 11/17/2012
WIITBAFAQ: Which trophy is the most outrageous?
Over the course of this series you will certainly see a wide range of bizarre trophies. Really the question of which one stands out as the weirdest comes down to a matter of personal taste. So I will answer this question by presenting you with the item that is the most trophy -by which I mean largest- that definitely has caused some outrage.

The largest prize in all of college football stands at 7 feet 6 inches, weighs about 330 pounds and looks like a gigantic cigar store Indian. The statue travels between Nacogdoches, TX -home of Stephen F. Austin State (no relation to Steve Austin)- and Natchitoches, LA- home of Northwestern State (no relation to Northwestern University). It originated in 1960 when the schools agreed to create a highly un-PC statue to mark their rivalry. Like most controversial representations of Native Americans, it began with good intentions. The schools wanted to pay tribute to the legend of  a leader of the Caddo Nation who split control of his people between his sons. According to the legend one of the sons founded Natchitoches and the other Nacogdoches. That is why the two cities can trace their names to the Caddo language. SFASU lost the game the year the statue was planned so they supplied the wood, a 2,000 pound log from a black gum tree. The log was carved down to its current shape over 230 workhours by a man named Harold Green. Ever since then the massive racial stereotype has been a revered symbol of gridiron victory.

In recent years many universities have stopped using nicknames, mascots and other items that made offensive use of Native American imagery. Even beloved football trophies are not immune to this purge. While Texas and Louisiana may not have a reputation for very progressive attitudes, eventually even they had to address the 300 pound injun in the room. The Texas Board of Regents -which has authority over public universities SFASU- called the continued use of Chief Caddo into question. This fired up passions on all sides among Lumberjacks and Demons alike. Eventually the Board quietly put the effort to abandon the trophy to rest. Still, I would suggest you take any opportunity you can to see Chief Caddo now. I doubt he'll be around forever.

Please return to this space each week during this college football season for more information and lore about college football's many trophies.