New BWW Series - TRANSLATING SPORTS: College Football Edition
Last week I began a quest to unite two quintessentially American institutions; sports and musical theatre. Though this might be nothing more than an impossible dream, this is my quest, to follow that goal, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far... I have to take this metaphor.
In this week's edition of TRASLATING SPORTS, I will attempt to provide you with enough college football information so that you won't be left with nothing more than a vegetarian bratwurst and a confused look on your face at your neighbor's Labor Day cookout.
I will specifically answer the two most important questions, that you didn't know to ask, going into the new season:
First, who is Johnny Manziel and why does he have to sit in time-out for 30 minutes on Saturday before he can go out and play with friends? And, second, how do I sound like I know what I am talking about when someone asks me who I think is going to win the National Championship?
Is His Last Name is Really "Football?"
Ok, let's start with Johnny Manziel (pronounced Man-'zell), a.k.a. Johnny Football, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and the scion of a wealthy Texas oil family. The Heisman Trophy is arguably the most prestigious individual award in all of sports, and undoubtedly the highest honor in college football. Think of it as the individual equivalent of the Tony for Best Musical. Even though there is a new one each year, you will always be known as "Heisman Winner Johnny Manziel," or "Best Musical TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA" (I still can't get over the fact that it beat FOLLIES and GREASE).
Well, after his storybook season, Johnny Football had a summer that he would like to forget; from getting into fights at bars and frat parties to getting fired as an instructor at the prestigious Manning Passing Academy. Manziel was asked to leave the academy, where he was serving as an instructor, after missing a morning meeting, allegedly, because he was too hung-over to get out of bed.
Considering that the Mannings are currently football's first family, this did not sit well with a lot of fans and members of the media. You might be familiar with the Manning Brothers, Peyton and Eli, and dad Archie, from SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, every third television commercial, or the hilarious/horrifying "Football on your Phone" music video:
As the summer ended though, Manziel's problems only got worse as ESPN reported that he had autographed thousands of items for memorabilia brokers in exchange for a numerous five-figure flat fees. Now, you might be asking, "Why is it a problem if someone wants to pay him for his autograph? I'm sure Galt MacDermot would do it in a heartbeat."
The problem is that the NCAA strictly prohibits student-athletes from profiting from their athletic endeavors in an attempt to maintain the purity of their amateurism (while also keeping billions of dollars made for themselves).
This is the single most important rule that all college athletes, in any sport, are taught from Day One on campus. Similarly, the cardinal rule in Major League Baseball is "Don't bet on Baseball," in the NFL it is, "If You Murder Someone, Don't Leave Witnesses," and in the NBA it's "It's Not a Party without Cristal and Funyuns."
Even Actors Equity has their cardinal rule, "Do Not Perform without an Equity Contract." The differences really end there though; as Equity wants to ensure fair treatment and equitable pay for its members and the NCAA looks to disenfranchise their athletes while making billions upon billions of dollars off of their talents and likenesses (we will have more on the NCAA hypocrisy in a TRANSLATING SPORTS in September).
Despite the fact that multiple sources have come forward to media outlets with information regarding payments made to Manziel, the NCAA (which has no subpoena power) couldn't get these individuals to talk to them; so, fearing losing their largest cash-cow, the NCAA suspended Manziel for the first half of the season opener; a punishment made even more laughable by the fact that, given the low-level opponent (Rice University), Johnny Football probably only would have played half of the game anyway.
For the Equity members out there, if you not only performed without an Equity contract once, but did it half a dozen times in a handful of months, would the punishment be having to miss Act I during the first preview performance? Somehow I doubt it.
So, when it comes to the theatrical equivalent for NCAA athletes, we have learned that giving $5 to a millionaire Broadway actor for an autograph at the Stage Door is tacky, but legal; and that giving a broke college kid $5 for an autograph at the Stage Door of a college theatre production is not only illegal, but even way more tacky.
Pick Me Out a Winner, Bobby
All right, now that we have the Johnny Football Saga taken care of, let's see if I can help you make a respectable National Championship pick, and perhaps even win some money.
When picking a National Champion, you really only have five options, and they sit in the top-five spots on the AP Preseason Poll. While, no Preseason No. 1 has won the National Title since 2004, in the years since, only two eventual National Champs started the season outside of the Top-5; and one of those was ranked seventh. So, for statistic's sake, you should limit your options to these five.
One more fact to consider before making your pick, the last seven national champions have come from the South Eastern Conference. So, when looking at the list below, you can either think that it is time for their streak to come to an end, or you can consider Alabama and Georgia unbeatable foes (see what I did there?).
No. 1 The Alabama Crimson Tide (don't worry about the nickname, nobody knows what it means):
Alabama is the reigning Audra McDonald of College Football. Like TV's Dr. Naomi Bennett, the Tide holds more trophies than anyone in recent memory, having won three out of the last four titles, including 2011 and 2012. They are a safe bet, with a returning quarterback, a stout defense, and a coach who no matter how he gets out of bed, it is always the wrong side. Amongst college football pundits, Alabama is the prohibitive favorite to take home their third straight title.
No. 2: The Ohio State Buckeyes (yes, my alma mater's mascot is a poisonous nut):
If Alabama is Audra, Ohio State is Idina Menzel. Though one of the most tradition-laden programs in college football, since winning the National Title in January 2003 (the same year WICKED opened), the Buckeyes haven't been a serious contender. However, they do have arguably the country's best coach and are looking to return to the big time, just as Idina returns to Broadway.
While Idina spent the last decade appearing in movies and TV shows, on world-wide concert tours, and recording CDs, OSU was getting embarrassed in high-profile games and put on suspension.
Considering that Idina's real-life husband, stage and screen superstar Taye Diggs, played Audra's on-again/off-again ex-husband on TV's PRIVATE PRACTICE, if the National Championship ends up being the No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown that I predict, it could end up being a slobberknocker.
No. 3: The Oregon Ducks:
I have a sneaking suspicion that this could be a favorite amongst theatre fans. Though they have a new coach this season, their offense will still be incredibly fast and fun to watch, but, the real reason to tune into a Ducks' game, is their uniforms. With a dazzling array of green and yellow options that would make even William Ivey Long's head spin, there are definite benefits to having Nike co-founder and chairman Phil Knight as your biggest supporter; apparently 9,984 of them.
No. 4: The Stanford Cardinal (singular, like the color, not the bird):
Stanford is known as a traditional smash-mouth football team and has risen to the top of the college football landscape over the last few years with a no-nonsense approach to the game.
The same cannot be said for their comically bizarre "Tree" mascot. I like Stanford, but even for a guy who roots for a poisonous nut, this mascot is a little weird.
No. 5: The Georgia Bulldogs:
The first four teams on this list don't exactly have mascots that strike fear in their opponents' hearts; and while you would think that an English bulldog might be a little better, Uga is far too cute to be intimidating.
Georgia's live mascot has his own pimped-out dog house at home games "between the hedges," complete with a bag of ice for him to rest on when it is hot (see picture on left).
Now, UGA has been one of the most talented teams in the country for years, but they have had a nasty habit of underachieving. The fans alternatingly worship head coach Mark Richt and want him fired. So, while the last seven champs have come from the SEC, tread lightly with these dogs.
Credit Where Credit's Due
In last week's inaugural TRANSLATING SPORTS column I mentioned that I was not the first person to try to bridge the intellectual divide between sports and theatre fans. Tony and Grammy winner Lin-Manuel Miranda has been known to tweet sports nuggets with a theatre hue, and he was at it again last week:
Other Theatre and Sports Headlines
- In the seemingly never-ending parade of Hollywood movies transforming into Broadway musicals, few (if any) have ever been so mind-boggling as boxing classic, ROCKY. However, written by Broadway luminaries, Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty, and Thomas Meehan, and directed by one of the stage's most innovative directors Alex Timbers, this one just might work. ROCKY opens at the Winter Garden in February. Click here for the full story.
- Based on their very unique circumstances, Cincinnati Red's All-Star pitcher Aroldis Chapman and Cincinnati Ballet principal Dancer Cervilio Miguel Amador have developed an unusual friendship. Click here for the full story.
- Every theatre fan's favorite political pundit Keith Olbermann is back at ESPN, where he first rose to national prominence in the 1990's. His new eponymous sports show is getting rave reviews for its humor and intellect. Click here for the full story.
- In next week's TRANSLATING SPORTS: NFL Edition, I will introduce you to the majesty of the NFL SUNDAY TICKET, tell you what Broadway beauty Patti Murin and Gen-X Producing Rock Star Ken Davenport have in common with every single one of your sports fan friends, and help you pick your Super Bowl Champion.
If you want to share your College Football National Champion pick, comment below, or tweet me at @BWWMatt.