Also, I've learned that when my first waking thought of a day is wondering if I made a factual error in the previous evening's story (and I did) then it's time to slow down. The gaffe? Not recalling that Mississippi State indeed won three games in 2001, rather than two. Which is ironic as my trivia question for last Monday's call-in show involved that '01 win over Kentucky. I haven't checked the boards this morning but figure it was caught by plenty sharp-eyed readers. And sorry, but I can't tip y'all off about the trivia question Jack will be asking tomorrow evening…but any Dog of double-digit age that misses this one should turn in their cowbell.
Finally, today happens to be the deadline for turning in the next month's magazine issue and I'll need the afternoon to finalize, proof (yes, we do try), and format all text documents, as well as coordinate photo submissions. Then we can start on the next edition…
But as tired as this pup, and for that matter most folk in Bulldog Country are at the moment, it's a ‘good' tired, to say the least. In the future some program historian is going to point to these eight days in October '04 as a pivotal point for Mississippi State. Or, as the first big breakthrough of the Sylvester Croom Era, when a new regime made the necessary transition from hope to reality.
I say ‘necessary' because there comes a point when new staffs must produce on the scoreboard, not just in recruiting and practicing, if they want both team and fan base to take the next steps in commitment. Not that the vast majority of Bulldog players and backers would have given up private hopes regardless of how this first Croom season played out. But initial success is absolutely the best instigator of continued progress. And now we've all been able to see and savor honest success from a rebuilding, rededicated football program.
On top of that, and in some sense of even greater importance to sharpening the success-curve, between on-field victories Mississippi State won (mostly) a long, drawn-out, and draining battle with the NCAA. This University's administration and two coaching staffs have been forced to invest irrecoverable energies and resources fighting a war for almost three years, and the full cost can't be counted for at least as long-again. Since sanctions and probation are the result, not to mention the end of a coach's career (which in our collective heart of hearts we can't help believing was the prosecution's ultimate goal anyway), I am not about to claim Mississippi State emerged a winner. Survivor is more like it.
Let's not underestimate how serious losing a year of (budgeted) bowl-share revenue is to this athletic department. At the Starkville Quarterback Club meeting Thursday night I couldn't resist jibing at Larry Templeton in the audience, saying I'd seen him earlier standing at the door hat-in-hand taking up a collection. It's not a joking matter though when scheduled payrolls must be met through June with a big, pre-booked chunk of change abruptly deleted. We'll discuss possible solutions in future pieces. My own opinion is that the cuts in overall scholarships (not the initial ones for Signing Day, thankfully) and official visits can be overcome with sensible planning…and will even save a few dollars!
And as far as not being able to play for a bowl this year, I actually suspect this can be a positive. I mean that instead of these Bulldogs thinking they have to win-out, they can just play each game as it comes without perceived post-season pressurization.
But as far as Croom is concerned, at whatever cost having this case settled is a victory. Because now he and his staff can go about their tasks of recruiting, signing, and developing players into teams that will first contend and eventually win championships. And do it without any of the distractions and speculations that dogged their first year on the job.
A great, big job, too, and one that has barely begun. As much as the Bulldogs can enjoy Croom's first set of consecutive SEC victories, as much delight as we fans take in these successful signs of program progress, these past eight days of October were still just early steps in a lengthy process. But necessary steps, and quite fun ones to take, eh?
In my own, more immediate case the next step is to get a magazine finalized. So we'll wrap this essay up without even commenting on SEC hoops media days in Birmingham, or the very entertaining Saturday morning scrimmage (that's not a new Shane Power, that was the old S.P. who played at Iowa State before knee problems). I will es-say that it's darned nice for the CvsC Classic to tip off on an open football weekend. Because we've barely got time to catch a collective breath before an awful week of mega-hype over Croom's return to Tuscaloosa. Hmm, how to write ‘what fun' and make it drip sarcasm all over the screen.
Now, about that weary face in the morning mirror. Best not leave it this way, unless I wish to send trick-or-treaters screaming into the evening…