The Hippodrome: Small Ball



This Week In The 'Drome: Minnows swim like big fish, hockey gets flushed, local boys make good, and more ...


Opening Face-Off

Small and Successful vs. Large and Losing : I exhort you: pay attention to the teams behind the curtain.

Vanderbilt and the Titans have struggled early in the season — in fairness, both have had difficult schedules to overcome, though that doesn't excuse the sheer ineptitude both teams are putting on offer. Meanwhile, perennial afterthoughts MTSU and TSU are having surprisingly good starts.

If a tree falls in Murfreesboro, does anyone care? If a light shines brightly on the north side, does anyone see it?

The Raiders and Tigers are putting together great performances even as they are mostly ignored — or perhaps, because they are.

When both teams were in what should still be called I-AA, the local news spent plenty of ink and airtime on them. This was in the pre-major-league days of Nashville, when George Plaster talked to high school football coaches with regularity and no one thought it weird, because, after all, what else was there to talk about (except the Braves of course)?

Things have changed since then. MTSU plays in the Football Bowl Subdivision, only getting attention when they play in one of those bowl games that comes right after Thanksgiving (or after Epiphany) or when they put a scare in some BCS conference team after cashing their check.

TSU finds it even harder to make to the front half of the sports section, presumably because beating Directional Commonwealth doesn't get anyone's heart beating.

But now four or so weeks into football season, the city's gridiron emperors have no clothes. And the once-forgotten state schools are getting their rightful due.

TSU has big games coming up against Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee Tech, the latter now having some cachet as the landing spot of erstwhile UT receiver Da'Rick Rodgers. MTSU welcomes fellow giant-slayer Louisiana-Monroe to Floyd Stadium Saturday and could make a run at the Sun Belt crown.

What's more is that MTSU and TSU tickets are cheap, available and parking doesn't cost a day's wages.

As The 'Drome always says, winning's more fun than losing. And this time, it's easier on the wallet, too.

The Week Behind


The Hurt Locker : Forgive me the obvious headline, but it had to be done.

And not just because Titans starting quarterback Jake Locker separated his shoulder early in the first quarter against the Texans, but also because Houston disarmed the Tennessee offense, which exploded with excitement against Detroit, just as those brave folks defuse bombs in the battlefield.

Houston, too, was a high-powered MOAB, imposing its will on hapless Tennessee, who made a good game of it late in the first half, that progress all but forgotten halfway through the third.

And once again, the Titans defense didn't bend or break — it collapsed like a dam made out of balsa wood and Velveeta.

But hey! Chris Johnson managed 100 yards for the first time since Lyndon Johnson was president (or so it seems).

The Continental System : In the olden days, Napoleon needed to squeeze his old foe Britons into submission, so he enacted a plan — a highly protectionist one — cutting the UK off from its European brethren. In retaliation, the Brits prohibited their trading partners from doing business from the French

The distant Americans responded by, well, ignoring the European swell and in the end managed to tick off their former colonial masters and it all ended with the War of 1812, which itself climaxed with Andy Jackson's win at the Battle of New Orleans.

What does this have to do with golf?

Well, not much, apparently.

In the Ryder Cup, Continental Europe and Britain have been united against the Americans since the 1970s when Jack Nicklaus came up with the great idea to expand the competition to include the non-British Euros.

Now, that European team has bested the Americans a bazillion times out of the last bazillion plus two in golf's best event.

And even with a hefty lead heading into Sunday's singles, a Tennessean couldn't save the American cause, with Nashvillian Brandt Snedeker having the worst match of the weekend, losing 5&3. That, to non-match-play fans, is a meaningless set of numbers. Let's just say Brandt's shots ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles and they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn't go.

Maybe the pre-Napoleon plan of splitting the Brits from the Continent is an idea we revisit.

Garbage Time : Peyton Manning continues to thumb his nose at Nashville. After turning down the Titans offer to come on board as quarterback, he now becomes a professional sports owner ... in Memphis. ... Not a great few weeks for the University of Tennessee in general. An affidavit from Pat Summitt saying she felt forced out doesn't help. ... The NHL cancelled regular season games through Oct. 24, erasing an early Predators home stand. Angry statement from the union; finally a conciliatory tone from the league. And our hockey beat writers have to find something else to do. ...

Halftime Entertainment

  • Mmmhmmm

Dendrophilia : In its annual Most Beautiful People issue, Nashville Lifestyles always picks representatives from the pro sports teams.

No offense to Hal Gill, the Predators' rep on this year's list, but, well, there's a reason his nickname is Treebeard. He's tall and stout and wise and a helluva funny guy. But beautiful? Wouldn't go there.

Of course, a sense of humor is always attractive and we had a little giggle at this line from his blurb:

He does have a few grooming secrets, including ... regular pedicures at the team’s spa inside the arena (who knew?)

No one knew. Because there's no spa in the arena. Nice one, Hal.

Complete With Ugly Butter-colored Jackets? No? The Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame is out with a list of this year's inductees: former Titan Frank Wycheck, Belmont basketball coach Rick Byrd, Ermal G. Allen (posthumous), Bob Bell (posthumous), Leonard Hamilton, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, Kelly Holcomb, Chris Jones, John Ed Miller (Lifetime Achievement), Larry Seiver and Trey Teague.

There are lots of great stories at the Hall, but that of John W. Overton sure would make a good book, wouldn't it?

The Week Ahead

Heres hoping for an ill-advised offensive!
  • Here's hoping for an ill-advised offensive!

Pickett's Charge of the SEC East : Vandy's coach and Missouri's quarterback are both named James Franklin. So is this guy. And this guy. And the guy wrote this.

It's not an uncommon name, James Franklin. But here we go. The names-the-same coincidence of Commodore coach and Tiger quarterback is driving the narrative.

Both Vandy and Mizzou are looking for their first SEC win Saturday in Columbia. For the Tigers, it will be their first SEC win ever. For Vandy, it will only feel that way.

Franklin The Coach has yet to say for certain who his quarterback will be (but it'll totally be Jordan Rodgers, unless its Austyn Carta-Samuels or perhaps David Lee. Or maybe Damian Allen. What Coach Franklin has said is that Zac Stacy will have an ever-larger role in the offense. Which means an ever smaller role for Warren Norman who was once SEC Freshman of the Year, wasn't he?

Worthless Prediction : The James Franklin in the helmet wins over the one with the headset. Too much speed for Mizzou. Not enough of...well, anything for Vandy. Franklin Player 30, Franklin Coach 17.

Surprise, No Prize : A double dose of Titans preview this week as the Two Toners face Minnesota Sunday before catching the Thursday game against the Steelers.

The Vikings are among the early season surprises in the NFL at 3-1 with Adrian Peterson doing everything to remind folks how great he was a few years back (sounds like a winning strategy for a running back, no?) and Christian Ponder playing virtually mistake free for a second-year quarterback (wait just a minute — all of this sounds like a good plan).

And the Steelers are just 1-2 (they are coming off the bye this week and play the Eagles Sunday before coming to Nashville for the NFL Network money grab Thursday game). The famed nicknamed Steelers defense has looked quite vulnerable in the two losses — not Titans vulnerable, but still pretty bad, giving up 65 total in losses to Denver and Oakland. But they've been without Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and Polamalu's absurd hair. Running back Rashard Mendenhall returns as well.

Matt Hasselbeck will start Sunday in Minnesota and likely will again Thursday for the Steelers. Rusty Smith will serve as his able back-up as Jake Locker gets his shoulder back to nearly normal.

Worthless Predictions : The Titans can't stop a broken Big Wheel. Ponder doesn't make mistakes, Peterson doesn't stop running. Vikings 31, Titans 14. The Steelers should be more steeler-ish by the time they visit LP Field. Could be a sloppy game due to the short week. Pittsburgh 28, Titans 7.


Powers Boothe as R.A. Dickey
  • Powers Boothe as R.A. Dickey

What's Become Of The Likely Lads : Maybe this happens every year for cities of reasonable size and notability, but didn't it seem like this summer there were an awful lot of sports stories connected to folks with ties to Nashville?

In addition to Brandt Snedeker's handy summer with the hickory, R.A. Dickey finished with 20 wins for the Mets (and did it while pitching with a torn abdominal muscle, apparently) and David Price became Tampa's first ever 20-game winner.

Not bad.

Maybe this is all connected to the "They like us? They really like us!" year Nashville is having, what with our hip restaurants and our fancy music scene and our TV show and all that.

Good news is this comes in a year when our football teams aren't great and our hockey team ain't playing. At least we have something to cheer for.

Or we would if the Mets and Rays made the playoffs (whoops!) so we'd have something to watch in October besides the Titans letting teams score like a Sri Lankan cricket team in The Netherlands.

Got a cricket reference you'd like shoehorned into a Nashville sports blog? Send it to jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com. And be sure to listen Tuesdays at 6 p.m. when I join Willy Daunic and Darren McFarland on 102.5 The Game's Sports Night.

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