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Don’t Watch This; Watch That: Football, Making History, Making Football

We know the Rose Bowl is historic, but the role of history in college football is even deeper and more ingrained in modern life than we normally talk about. ...oh yeah, and there are championship games this week, too.

Rose Bowl - Ohio State v Oregon Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Update: I’ve included a full spreadsheet of the games at the bottom of the article.

I teach American history. Often, I use sports as a means of getting at topics with my students—the “invention” of baseball and its subsequent segregation and re-integration, the rise of college football, the United States’ participation in the World Cup (the 1994 win over Colombia dovetails super-interestingly with NAFTA), and others are ways to speak a common language with students increasingly my juniors.

Above all, though, I try to emphasize something in my teaching: Place matters.

Place is why I hate wisconsin and Iowa, why I call it hotdish, why I talk with a nasally “a” sound that says “bag” with an ‘a’ sound that would make the Fonz blush.

Place informs how we are raised, how we interact with others, how we develop—whether we’re rooted in one suburb or bouncing from city to city.

I extend this mindset into how I teach the New Deal—combining place and history, sprinkling in sports to encourage students to make whatever connections as they can to a subject they might never study again. To do this, I use the Living New Deal project map:

This map, searchable and sortable and clickable, is a never-ending project out of the University of California-Berkeley to document, map, and preserve New Deal sites wherever they exist. It’s a staggering, crowd-supported project with pictures of abandoned buildings, still-extant state parks—so many thanks to the Civilian Conservation Corps—and other roads, bridges, and even airports we still use today. Click it and play around a little bit. See what sites are near you—a post office you use, a park you frequented as a child, an auditorium where you take in concerts. It’s worth it—click it!—I’ll wait.

Now, I swear, there’s a connection. When I checked the score of the UAB game last weekend, I realized that stadium names like “Legion Field” implied that these were built (1) a long time ago, and (2) possibly with state and federal money. It reminded me that, though my wife went to UW-Eau Claire and one of my now-best friends quarterbacked the football team, I never realized that Carson Park—home of the UWEC Blugolds football and Eau Claire Express baseball teams, finish line of the Eau Claire Marathon—was a New Deal project, despite having attended a number of events there.

It’s amazing—six years of different life experiences in Carson Park, and I never knew that it was part of an effort to put millions of American men (and some women, but there’s a super-white, super-male side to the New Deal we ought remember) back to work. That’s wild.

So I looked up “stadium” in the Living New Deal project, just for kicks. And I found a ton.

Particularly in the South. You’ll never believe this part, but a whole bunch of funds from FDR’s Democratic administration found their way into the states he most needed to support the massive spending of the New Deal—Southern states controlled by conservative Democrats in functionally one-party regimes who were prepared to buck the national party if FDR’s programs smacked of “creeping socialism” and did anything that would overturn their virtual dictatorships.*
(If you’re wondering, that’s why things like a proposed Anti-Lynching Bill and, generally, the momentum of the New Deal slowed to a halt by 1937-38. Any commitment to civil rights in the Democratic Party wouldn’t resurface until Hubert H. Humphrey’s “Bright Sunshine of Civil Rights” speech to the 1948 DNC and Harry Truman’s desegregation of the military later that year.)

Now that all, while important, is not what I was going for here. There are a ton of D-I stadiums who are a part of the New Deal! We should recognize that more often!

Here’s my incomplete, unorganized list of stadiums who received federal money:

  • Legion Field, Birmingham, AL (UAB Blazers): Improvements
  • Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA (Washington Huskies): Expansion to 40,000 seats was a part of WPA funding in 1936.
  • Foreman Field, Norfolk, VA (Old Dominion Monarchs); Constructed! They still play there!
  • Orange Bowl, Miami, FL (Orange Bowl): Constructed by the Public Works Administration in 1936-37—demolished 2008.
  • Rose Bowl rubble walls, Pasadena, CA: I hope I get to see these in a month.
  • Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH (Akron Zips): Constructed by the Works Progress Administration in 1939-40, the home of Akron football until 2008, the Rubber Bowl’s demolition began this summer.
  • Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, LA: The north end zone facade was originally a WPA project—I have no idea if it’s still there.
  • Balch Field House, Boulder, CO: The old field house provides the backdrop for Colorado Buffaloes football. I walked around it—it is very, very cool.
  • O’Harra Memorial Stadium, Rapid City, SD: Still home to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (go Hardrockers!), O’Harra features a unique “drive-in” style parking area and plays home to SDSM&T still today.
  • Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, MS: Either constructed or expanded by the WPA, Vaught-Hemingway still is the home of Ole Miss football!
  • Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, AR: Constructed by the WPA in 1938, still home to the University of Arkansas Razorbacks to this day! Funny how all these stadiums in the South got money for construction later in the New Deal...
  • Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando, FL: The Citrus Bowl! It’s Camping World Stadium now, and it’s nigh-unrecognizable from its 1936 origin as Orlando Stadium, but if Northwestern goes to the Citrus Bowl, you can bet I’ll try to find the plaque.
  • Glass Bowl, Toledo, OH: The Glass Bowl! Built by the WPA in 1936! Home of the Toledo Rockets! The Miami Hurricanes played there this year! History is alive, kids. I love the MAC.

I’ll give anyone bonus points if they take pictures of themselves at these landmarks (particularly the Rose or Citrus bowls).

The point is that programs like these—whether you agree or disagree with the political and economic principles underpinning them—radically transformed not only the spaces in which the men and women of the 1930s lived and moved, but continue to affect how we live our lives and support our teams today. As a guy committing his career to writing and teaching the history of place, region, and politics, watching football at the Citrus Bowl, Glass Bowl, or even O’Harra Stadium reminds me of how ingrained history is in life and, indeed, sports.


Don’t Watch This

New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys [7:20pm, FOX/NFL/Amazon/Kerblam!]

Watch That

{CBB} Hall of Fame Belfast Classic: SSE Arena, Belfast, Northern Ireland!

Dartmouth Big Green (3-3, KP 255) vs. Marist Red Foxes (1-4, KP 261)
10:30am | CBSSN | Marist -1.5 | O/U 140.5
LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds (3-3, KP 287) vs. Albany Great Danes (2-4, KP 248)
1pm | CBSSN | SUNY-A -1 | O/U 145

Charleston Southern Buccaneers (5-5) at The Citadel Bulldogs (4-6)

6pm | ESPN+

{CBB} Alabama Crimson Tide at UCF Knights

6pm | ESPNU | UCF -6 | O/U 133.5
Ala: 4-1, KP 61 | UCF: 5-1, KP 42, have Tacko Fall [adv: UCF]


Seriously, though, this tournament actually has games (Milwaukee vs. Buffalo, Stephen F. Austin vs. San Francisco) tipping off at 4:30am and 7:30am CT on Friday. BAD BASKETBALL.

SBN Corporate told me off about making these articles more than 2000 words—given that I spent 1500 of them already talking about the New Deal, I recognize that you’re not reading this far. THERE’S A SPREADSHEET AT THE END, SAVE YOURSELF.

But if you are reading, this is your reminder that this is when FCS football gets really good. Here’s the FCS playoffs bracket, aka North Dakota State’s death march to another title:

I’m rooting for Maine. They combine three of my favorite things—angry animal mascots, inhospitable football climates, and drinking-related fight songs.



Don’t Watch This

{CBB} [9] Michigan State Spartans at Rutgers Scarlet Knights [5pm, BTN]
{CBB} [25] Mississippi St. Bulldogs at Dayton Flyers [6pm, CBSSN]
{CBB} [22] wisconsin badgers at [14] Iowa Hawkeyes [7pm, BTN]

Watch That

{CBB} Hall of Fame Belfast Classic: SSE Arena, Belfast, Northern Ireland!

Milwaukee Panthers (2-4, KP 250) vs. Buffalo Bulls (5-0, KP 40)
4:30am | CBSSN
Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (4-1, KP 156) vs. San Francisco Dons (6-0, KP 74)
7:30am | CBSSN

Northern Illinois Huskies (7-5, 6-2 MAC) vs. Buffalo Bulls (10-2, 7-1)

MAC Championship: Ford Field, Detroit, MI
6pm | ESPN2 | UB -3.5 | O/U 50.5

[17] Utah Utes (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12) vs. [16] Washington Huskies (9-3, 7-2)

PAC-12 Championship: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA
7pm | FOX | UW -5.5 | O/U 45

{CBB} Oklahoma State Cowboys at Minnesota Golden Gophers

US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN | 9pm | BTN
OSU: 4-2, KP 53 | MN: 5-0, KP 45

Big Ten basketball begins this week, and we’ve no doubt got coverage coming down the pike...but is Michigan State-Rutgers really how you wanted to tip that off, Jim Delany?

I get that wisconsin-Iowa could be good, but the MAC Championship is on. Let’s not kid ourselves about what we’re really here to do. Even if the collective O/U for these two Friday night championships is the equivalent of one TTU-WVU game.

Anyway, Minnesota is hosting some weird “basketball classic” in US Bank Stadium to help the venue prep for hosting the NCAA Tournament finals in April...and wouldn’t you know it, the stadium that’s killed a million birds—and will kill again!—has yet another sticking point.

It’s bad enough I have to watch Kirk Cousins play there, but now the Viking Spaceship needs blackout curtains for the very features that mildly redeem its massive cost—the translucent roof and massive windows. It could cost $5.2 million, and I am already thoroughly irritated that this will go to blocking out sunlight from melting the vampiric Mike Krzyzewski. It’s bullshit.

Saturday Morning

Don’t Watch This

Drake Bulldogs at [25] Iowa State Cyclones [11am, Cyclones.TV]
East Carolina Pirates at N.C. State Wolfpack (-23) [11am, ACCNE]
Akron Zips at South Carolina Gamecocks (-29.5) [11am, SECN]
Marshall Thundering Herd at Virginia Tech Hokies (-3.5) [11am, ACCNE]
{CBB} Northwestern Wildcats at Indiana Hoosiers [12pm, BTN]

Watch That

[14] Texas Longhorns (9-3, 7-2 Big XII) vs. Oklahoma Sooners (11-1, 8-1)

Big XII Championship: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
11am | FOX | OK -7.5 | O/U 77.5

Louisiana Ragin Cajuns (7-5, 5-3 Sun Belt ) at Appalachian St. Mountaineers (9-2, 7-1)

Sun Belt Championship: Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, NC
11am | ESPN | App -16.5 | O/U 58

UAB Blazers (9-3, 7-1) at Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (8-4, 7-1)

C-USA Championship: Floyd Stadium, Murfreesboro, TN
12:30pm | CBSSN | MTSU -1.5 | O/U 45.5

Go buy your Availa-bowl shirts from Raygun this instant!

Have something in Bulldog Blue to commemorate the Drake-ISU game! Will Berkley Bedell and Tom Harkin wager something on this game? STAY TUNED!

Does Matt Campbell bounce? I can’t see why he would, right now. Unless Ohio State opens up and comes calling, what’s out there? Texas Tech is a lateral move, Purdue or Louisville would be a lateral move... So we’d be left hoping for what, Ohio State? Oh God, now he’s rumored to be the next Cleveland Browns coach. MAKE IT STOP.

It’s a barely a step up, but I can see Colorado being a relatively appealing job, what with the weakness of the Pac-12 lately. I can see West Virginia, if the Mountaineers lose their minds and fire Dana Holgorsen. But Matt Campbell ain’t going to UNC or something, is he? He’s holding out for USC whichever P5 school fires their embattled coach after a bowl loss?

Christ, man, stay in Ames.

Dear God, those words just came out of my mouth.

Saturday Afternoon

Don’t Watch This

Norfolk State Spartans at Liberty Flames [1pm, ESPN3]
Stanford Cardinal (-2.5) at California Golden Bears [2pm, Pac-12]
[1] Alabama Death Star (-13.5) at [5] Georgia Bulldogs [3pm, CBS — SEC Championship]
{CBB} Penn State Nittany Lions at [24] Maryland Terrapins [4pm, BTN]

Watch That

Memphis Tigers (8-4, 5-3 AAC) at [9] UCF Knights (11-0, 8-0)

AAC Championship: Spectrum Stadium, Orlando, FL
2:30pm | ABC | UCF -3 | O/U 64.5

{CBB} [19] Purdue Boilermakers at [7] Michigan Wolverines

2:30pm | ESPN
Purdue: 5-2, KP 12 | Michigan: 7-0, KP 6

Southern Jaguars (7-3, 6-1 SWAC) at Alcorn State Braves (8-3, 7-1)

SWAC Championship: Jack Spinks Stadium, Lorman, MS
3:30pm | ESPNU | PICK’EM | O/U 53

I very nearly [update: I did!] put the SEC Championship in the “Don’t Watch” category. Has anyone enjoyed a single ‘Bama game yet this year? Their closest margin of victory was 22 points over Texas A&M. They shut out Top 25 opponents (LSU and Mississippi State) in consecutive weeks. They trucked rival Auburn by 31 points in the Iron Bowl.

Alabama is bullshit, and I petition for them to have to play with 10 men on the field. This way the rest of the SEC can keep it to a one-score game.

Anyway, the AAC Championship is really where the action’s at! Can UCF bounce back after Mackenzie Milton was lost for the year to a “gruesome” leg injury? I don’t know, but I’m taking the over and asking the bar in Indianapolis at which I am drinking away my brain to turn on Memphis-UCF. I’m not wasting my time on ‘Bama-Georgia when this is out there.

Also, in keeping with my tradition of telling you to watch other things that are, inevitably, a lot more fun than watching two pseudo-pro teams that don’t have to pay their players but line them up to crash repeatedly into one another like the trenches at the Somme, watch the SWAC Championship on ESPNU.

Southern, who comes in at 8-3, revved to life after absorbing its program-sustaining beatdowns at the hands of TCU and LaTech, then falling to 2-3 after a homecoming loss to these very Alcorn State Braves. The Jags haven’t lost since, including a 38-28 win over Grambling State in the Bayou Classic, whose logo you need to look at:

Alcorn, on the other hand, has cruised through its season since a loss to Georgia Tech, with only a 5-OT loss against Alabama State as a strike against the Braves in 2018.

The only other FCS and, indeed, HBCU game—which, if it’s an HBCU game, you always watch for the bands...I can’t wait for the Celebration Bowl—I watched this year was the Bethune-Cookman/North Carolina Central game on November 8, which ended 28-25 for the Wildcats in OT. It prominently featured, some Nebraska fans will remember, Uriel Hernandez—the kicker-turned-backup punter who celebrates every punt and every kick made:

He followed up his performance in Lincoln (which he gave a great interview about! go watch this! It involves him saying “Nebraska?! Like, you’re never ever experiencing this ever in your life!”) by staring down the NC Central bench after making multiple field goals in overtime to eventually seal it for the Wildcats:

I was a weirdly-shaped punter and backup kicker in high school. Players like Uriel Hernandez are 100% the reason why I watch college football. You can have your Death Star lineups of 5-star players. I will take Uriel every day. Go Bethune-Cookman. Go Uriel.

Saturday Evening

Don’t Watch This

[2] Clemson Tigers (-25.5) vs. [24] Pittsburgh Panthers [7pm, ABC — ACC Championship]

Watch That

Fresno State Bulldogs (10-2, 7-1 MW) at [23] Boise State Broncos (10-2, 7-1)

MWC Championship: Albertsons Stadium, Boise, ID
6:45pm | ESPN | Boise -2.5 | O/U 53

[17] Northwestern Wildcats (8-4, 8-1 B1G) vs. [6] Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1, 8-1)

Big Ten Championship: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN
7:17pm | FOX | OSU -14 | O/U 61

A 25.5-point spread in a championship game. For as much as we roll our eyes at the Alabama Death Star, we almost have to give the same treatment to Clemson. Why don’t we?

My theory is that it’s because Clemson, when they do lose, don’t lose to the Top 10 Georgias of the world—they lose to Syracuse or Pitt or someone equally stupid in a weird road game in a dome or empty NFL stadium or whatever a Wake Forest is, tucked away on a Friday night at 8:30pm CT, for some reason. The ACC has made its own Death Star less relevant, and I, for one, totally salute that.

Anywho, I’m pissed about the Mountain West. You may have noticed that in past editions of this flight of fancy. It is, frankly, bullshit that Boise State gets to host the Mountain West Championship, when this year it also got to host San Diego State, Fresno State, and Utah State all in Boise. Those are the other three front-runners for the Mountain West crown, and they all had to come to Boise to play in a stadium named for a regional chain grocer on a field that reminds me of that very inappropriate Funny Junk movie from like 2003 that it was suuuuper edgy to pull up on the media lab computers in 8th grade typing class. BULLSHIT.

What’s the answer? Same as the one to every other question with the Mountain West: Play it in Vegas. Now, I realize that’s a problem, because the winner of the MWC Championship gets an auto-bid to the Las Vegas Bowl, also played in Sam Boyd Stadium (home of the UNLV Rebels). But is that a risk I’m willing to take to stop BIG MOUNTAIN from throwing each MWC title to a glorified community college masquerading as a D-1 program? You bet.

There’s no late late slot (I miss Hawaii football already—can’t wait for the Hawaii Bowl and the 2019 season, my Rainbow Warriors!), for obvious reasons.

Instead, I want to take this opportunity to thank y’all for clicking, reading, commenting, and making this article an actually-fun thing for me to write each week. I’ll admit that I didn’t have enough creativity in the tank to make last week happen...when you’re traveling to and from Bismarck then to an East Metro suburb then to Spooner then to Stillwater between Monday and Friday with Thanksgiving in there, sometimes you just run out of gas.

But, regardless, getting the feedback that this piece made an Army Black Knights fan out of one reader (Army is a DWT;WT Team of Choice), seeing y’all click and comment on these things and share your own thoughts, and having something like a list of the best Culvers on I-94 in wisconsin get amplified on the internet the way it did? It makes this just a little bit more worth it.

My Northwestern Wildcats play in the Big Ten Championship on Saturday, and they should lose to Ohio State by approximately 20 points. I am comfortable with this, and spending hundreds of dollars to drive to Indianapolis and take in that beating is something I have totally made my peace with, because this was a delightfully-absurd season filled with the stupidest second-half collapses I’ve ever seen (Akron and Nebraska), maddening one-score victories over D-II teams (Rutgers and Illinois), and also upsets of teams I take great joy in beating (wisconsin and Iowa).

College football is, on the whole, fun, and it’s more fun to enjoy with people.

Thanks for being those people and for reading Off Tackle Empire. Go ‘Cats.