Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Rushmore Test

In the movie Diner, which is set in the late 1950's, Steve Guttenberg's character Eddie gives his fiancée, Elyse, a football trivia test, which she must pass prior to the wedding or he will call the whole thing off. It is not going well for young Elyse whose face goes unseen throughout the entire film brilliantly symbolizing the “boys” true feelings towards the girls in the movie. At one point, she incorrectly answers L.G. Dupre when Eddie asks her who the former Heisman Trophy winner who originally signed with the Baltimore Colts before bolting for Canada only to return later back to the Colts was. The correct answer, of course, is Billy Vessels out of Oklahoma. She also does not know the name of the "other" league that the Cleveland Browns were in prior to joining the NFL. To her credit, however, she does know that it was Buddy Young who originally played for the New York Yankees Football team which, by 1959, no longer existed, and she also knew that the Colts' original colors were green and gray prior to the franchise folding and the City of Baltimore getting a new one from Dallas.

The test goes down to the wire. It could go either way when Eddie asks what the longest run from scrimmage was by a rookie in his first ever game. Excited actually to know one of the answers, Eddie's buddy Shrevie shouts out "Alan Ameche!" whilst eavesdropping on the test from the next room. Unfortunately, for Elyse, Eddie hears this and disqualifies the question despite her knowing the answer, "I knew that! 79-yard run. Opening day 1955!” Elyse protested to Eddie’s deaf ears. Because of the Ameche question disqualification, Elyse scores a 63, which is just shy of passing. Eddie comes out of the room and declares, “The marriage is off!”

Later in the film, Eddie does relinquish his disqualification of the Ameche question and the marriage does in fact take place with the wedding hall “tastefully” decorated in the blue and white colors of the “new” Baltimore Colts. Poor Elyse. The point is that Eddie has set the bar so ridiculously high with his football trivia test that even most of his hardcore football fan buddies would not pass let alone his “girl”.

I will concede that sometimes I am guilty of this in my coverage of the University of Delaware Football team, and I suspect that many fans may also be guilty of this as well. Sometimes I think I can set the bar so high that I can be overly critical of what I am seeing on the field, and I think it is partly because I expect so much from Delaware. I always want and expect them to be the top program; I always want and expect them to win the right way. And when things don’t go so well, I think my disappointment can sometimes come across on the air while I am broadcasting.

For example, a couple of weeks ago during the Delaware-Hofstra game, I felt like the Hens were fortunate to win. After making what I considered to be two crucial fourth quarter mistakes, a fumble on Hofstra’s goal line and allowing a forty plus yard pass play on third down and nineteen, I thought that Delaware was the beneficiary of a bad call by the officials. Hofstra was facing fourth and one when quarterback Anton Clarkson attempted to sneak the ball up the middle. I thought his second effort gave him enough for a first down, but the officials did not, spotting the ball short of the marker thus giving it back to Delaware after the fourth down turnover. Delaware would then run out the clock and secure the Homecoming victory.

Two days later, Delaware head coach KC Keeler received a phone call from a friend of his who listened to the broadcast and thought that it sounded like I was overzealously “rooting” for Hofstra and sounded genuinely disappointed that Delaware won. Coach Keeler called me and told me about the call.

After our conversation, I went back and listened to the tape of the broadcast. While I do not think I was rooting for Hofstra, I will concede that my analysis might have come across as too harsh regarding the Delaware mistakes, and overly critical of the referees regarding the spot of the ball on the fourth down play when I could have just as easily given credit to the Delaware defense for coming up and making a big play.

While it is not part of my job to root for anyone, I understand that my audience is a Delaware audience and I try to frame everything with that in mind. When the University first hired me prior to the 1999 season, Athletic Director Edgar Johnson told me that he was not looking for a “homer”. I try to be as objective as I can be, but I never want to be one of those guys in the booth who come across as a glorified cheerleader. But at the same time, I think I can probably cut Delaware a bit more slack in some situations and try not to be overly critical just because of my familiarity with the team and the coaches.

I don’t think I was cheerleading this past weekend when Delaware went on the road and came back with their best win of the season: an impressive 28-24 fourth quarter comeback against the Spiders of the University of Richmond. The Hens jumped out to an early 14-0 first half lead, but Richmond would score 24 straight points forcing Delaware to dig down deep and fight back against one of the stingiest defenses in entire country.

Playing with a sore knee that limited his mobility, which in retrospect may have been a blessing in disguise, Cool Joe Flacco fired the ball all over the place hitting eight different receivers en route to his best game ever as a Hen. His favorite target Saturday night in Richmond was Aaron Love who was also battling injuries. Perhaps they reacquainted themselves with each other while putting in the extra time together early mornings during the week in the trainer’s room.

Love was nothing short of spectacular and borderline heroic getting open downfield making big catch after big catch despite a shoulder injury and a rib injury that was obviously hurting him more and more as the game wore on.

Because of the injury to Flacco, the Hens were forced to scrap their option game (perhaps another blessing) and without Omar Cuff available at all in the second half there was a lot of extra pressure on Flacco to make accurate throws and on the offensive line to give him the time and protection he needed to let his receivers get open. Flacco handled the extra pressure just like he seemingly handles everything: He took it in stride. When I spoke to Delaware offensive lineman Keon Hendricks after the game, he said that the line knew they would have to step up and keep Richmond’s talented defense away from the Delaware quarterback. Mission accomplished. It resulted in a great win for Delaware against a good team on the road, which is never an easy task in the Atlantic-10 Conference.

Just like Eddie and his test, my expectations for the Hens may be unrealistically high, but after a game like the Richmond game, it is easy to see why the bar is set so high for the University of Delaware Football Program. And more often than not they do seem to clear it.

The movie Diner has always been one of my favorites. During my senior year in college, it was in the constant rotation of movies, along with Repo Man, Annie Hall, and Stop Making Sense, that my roommates and I watched over and over and over and over again.

A couple of years back I had my own version of Eddie’s football trivia test. It involved the movie Rushmore. I was thirty-eight years old and still single and for some reason I thought that any potential mate would have to understand and “get” Rushmore, which I considered one of the greatest American comedies of all-time, for her to ever possibly understand and “get” me. That along with a healthy respect and understanding of baseball and more specifically the New York Mets would certainly also help.

I had been seeing a woman, who we shall call Roz, for not quite a year and it was time for the big night. We were going to hang out at my house on a Friday and watch Rushmore. I had hinted to her how much I liked it, but she had no idea how important the night was going to be. Like Elyse in Diner, Roz failed. She fell asleep during the movie and then afterwards uttered the phrase, “it was okay” when asked about it. Ouch.

Unlike Eddie in Diner, I did not waiver. Roz and I split up a couple of months later, and while there were plenty of other issues with our relationship, I always pinpoint that night as the beginning of the end.

Now that I am a few years older and much, much more mature, I realize that a good relationship better be built on more than just a solid knowledge of football trivia or appreciation for a movie.

It is okay to set the bar high. Just not so high, that it is unattainable whether in a relationship with a potential significant other or in a relationship with your favorite college football team.

Bill Komissaroff

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