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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Under the Dome

It's been a huge two month stretch for the Georgia Dome in its final season. Through December 2016 and January 2017, the Atlanta Falcons' home has hosted or will host the SEC Championship, the Celebration Bowl, the College Football Playoff semifinal in the Chick Fil-A Peach Bowl, an NFC Championship that sent the home team to the Super Bowl, and the Honda Battle of the Bands.

When Mercedes Benz Stadium opens later this year, its stretch a year from now will be similarly impressive. While it remains to be seen if the Falcons will bring any NFL postseason games to the Stankonia Dome, the SEC Championship Celebration Bowl, and Peach Bowl will all return; the Honda Battle of the Bands can be assumed, hopefully, and they'll add to the schedule the College Football Playoff National Championship.

If You Want Me, You Can Find Me in the A

As the events of the College Football Playoff National Championship unfolded in Tampa, I was struck by a tinge of FOMO (or by that point, ROMO - Reality of Missing Out) I couldn't have foreseen. Back when Tampa was awarded the championship, I made a few noncommittal references to making a trip. After all, Tampa was once my home, I still have friends down that way, and they'd be playing in the same stadium where I've spent so many football Saturdays. But I never gave it any effort, it never panned out, and earlier this month, I felt it. And I don't intend to let it happen again.

The new playoff format allows for the championship to come the closest it ever has. And while even Tampa would've been a flight or a long drive, next year in Atlanta is a mere five hours away. The 2017 season championship will be in Atlanta's new Mercedes Benz Stadium (aka the Stankonia Dome) and while actually attending the game may be too rich for my blood, there's plenty to enjoy, especially when your primary beat is, well, the beat. With this year's schedule as a guide, both bands made multiple appearances throughout championship weekend. If I stick around, I'll likely make it to the tailgate lot as well.

While I can't say for certain it's happening yet, I'm working towards it, and part of putting it out here is to hold myself accountable. I've got a hotel booked (though fully refundable). If all else works out schedule-wise, come January 2018 you can find me in the A.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Points in Transition

It may be one game, but tonight will be a home-and-home.

The NBA Developmental League's Greensboro Swarm began play this past season, and tonight, via an opportunity through my daughter's school, I'll be headed to a game.

The opponent? Delaware.

I've known this would happen for as long as the Swarm had existed, and in fact made soft plans to attend the game since I saw it on the schedule. It's happenstance that this is the game I'm attending, but it presents an interesting quandary: Who am I rooting for?

Swarm-87ers isn't the only opportunity locally that pits hometown against current home. I've threatened for 12 years now to go see the Wilmington Blue Rocks play the Winston Salem Warthogs/Dash and root for the Rocks, though I've still not made that one happen. But while I grew up rooting for the Blue Rocks, the Sevens get my support only because they're based in Delaware (and, secondarily, because they're the 76ers' affiliate). I've never been to a game, and in fact they and I have never shared Delaware soil - the Sevens came into being in 2013, 14 years after I last lived in my home state year round. The Swarm, in contrast, are of the city where I now live, have started my career and am raising my family. They should certainly have my allegiance, but the pull of Delaware may prove hard to resist.

I will root root root for the home team, but tonight may be a bit of a ceremonial transition. My in-laws got me a Sevens shirt for Christmas, and I will wear it proudly. But at the game, it is my intent to buy Swarm gear for my Greensboro native daughter, and who knows, I may even get some for myself. I have every intention of supporting the home team. It just may be a bit tougher when they're playing... the home team.

Rank and File

USF football's 20th season was one for the ages. After notching an 11-2 season and a Birmingham Bowl win over an SEC team, the Bulls end the season ranked for the first time in program history: 19 in both the AP and Coaches polls. Notable to many Bulls fans, USF sits just above in-state Miami and longtime conferencemate Louisville. It cements the legacy of the Willie Taggart era and gives hope for the impending Charlie Strong era. While star running back Marlon Mack has announced for the NFL draft, the cupboard is far from bare for Strong; among those returning is quarterback Quinton Flowers, the CFPA Performer of the Year.

From a ranking standpoint, I remain peeved that the College Football Playoff committee does not rerank at the end of the season, their most important job having been accomplished on the field by the Clemson Tigers. In the committee's final rankings, USF was left off in favor of a Navy team who would lose twice more since the early December ranking.

The future is bright for the Bulls, who are looking to capitalize on this year's successes. CBS Sports ranks USF at 10 in its way-too-early top 25, and uses the H word (Heisman) in conjunction with Flowers. USF's schedule should prove favorable for results - the only Power 5 program, an Illinois team that finished 2016 3-9, is coming to Tampa, as are conference foes Temple, Houston, Tulsa, and Cincinnati. It may also prove a hindrance as the Bulls seek the heights: The non-conference slate that also features UMass, Stony Brook, and San Jose State, none of whom had a winning record in 2016. We'll also miss Navy, the American West's champion, so even if USF should go undefeated (a "problem" I'd welcome, to be clear) we would likely lack the national respect. Nonetheless, I'm proud of this year's Bulls and optimistic for the season to come.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Whirlwind Trip

image via
Nearly two years ago, I was questioning whether or not relative upstart Talladega College was the Boise State of black college marching. Now, folks have some other choice names for the Marching Tornado Band.

Talladega has been invited to participate in the Inaugural Parade for President-Elect Donald Trump. They're not the only band to participate - Tennessee, Marist, Citadel, and Olivet Nazarene are among them - nor are they the only to draw criticism for their participation. There have been rumblings since the news first hit before Christmas, and they've gotten louder as Dega's name was included on the official list from the Inaugural Committee.

While Trump's campaign, candidacy, and ultimate election has sparked controversy since its inception, the fact that a historically black college marching band would participate in the inauguration of the preferred candidate of white nationalists has been pretty roundly decried, especially among HBCU bandheads. The Tornadoes have been taken to task on various message boards and social media, and I'm certain the college's public relations team has had their hands full these past couple of weeks. While President-Elect Trump claims to a friend to "the blacks," in the words of Jay-Z, we don't believe you, you need more people.

In early December, it was noted that there would be no participation from DC area high schools or Washington-based HBCU Howard University in the inaugural parade. While a variety of reasons were given, the assumption of many is that this was a referendum on the president-elect and his reception in the black community. This isn't simply a matter of partisanship; both Grambling and Southern participated in George W. Bush's inauguration. Rather, Donald Trump specifically has found himself persona non grata with a sizable swath.

Worth noting about the Marching Tornado Band: While Talladega is Alabama's oldest HBCU, they've only fielded a band for five football seasons, supporting Talladega's NAIA Gulf South Athletic Conference program. They rose quickly, earning a Honda Battle of the Bands invitation and battling formidably with Southern. At face value, an invite to inauguration is a huge honor and a logical step, especially for a program so young eager to make a name for itself. But as many critics have noted, all publicity isn't good publicity. Participation in Trump's inauguration calls into question Talladega's commitment to the very community they were created to serve. Some have considered Talladega a "token" participant. And of perhaps of most concern, Talladega is a private school, which means they rely heavily on alumni giving. If this move has alienated alumni, might it cost them more than they stand to gain?

While the announcement has been officially made, a school representative reports that the college president hasn't yet made a decision on whether or not the band will participate. Whether the band is considering pulling out amid controversy, or whether a statement similar to Marist's on the role of the inauguration is being crafted remains to be seen.

Should Talladega participate? It's not my call to make. But they should know, and they've now undoubtedly seen, how they'll be perceived for the choice they've made. At least they'll confuse some folks looking for Ricky Bobby when they hear Talladega is coming.
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