Like country music, college football is far more popular outside of New York City than it is here. Nonetheless, the college football world descends upon New York the second week of December every year.
The big event is the Heisman Trophy that honors college football’s most outstanding player and last Saturday night it was awarded to University of Louisville sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson who became the youngest person to win it in its 82 year-history.
University of Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook finished fourth in the voting but he was certainly the most thoughtful of the five finalists who I spoke with at the media session before the start of the Heisman ceremony.
I asked him if he had ever met that famous basketball player who shares his surname and also works in the Sooner State, Oklahoma Thunder guard Russell Westbook. “No, but I have met his brother. I am hoping to meet him in the near future.
Being a Columbia alum I humorously asked Dede if he ever considered playing for an Ivy League school, which isn’t exactly a gateway for most to the NFL, and he gave a serious response. “I would love to have had the opportunity. The truth is that I did not take high school seriously and my grades weren’t very good. Fortunately I went to a junior college and that gave me a chance to mature and appreciate the importance of education.”
The presentation of the Asa Bushnell Cup, the Ivy League’s Heisman equivalent, traditionally kicks off college football week in the Big Apple. Princeton running back John Lovett was named the Offensive Player of the Year while Dartmouth linebacker Folarin Orimolade was the Ivy’s Defensive Player of the Year. It’s a shame that there isn’t a Bushnell Cup for special team players since Columbia place kicker “Scorin’” Oren Milstein was the conference’s best at that position this year.
Jay Fiedler, who won the 1992 Bushnell Cup when he quarterbacked Dartmouth, had a decent NFL career including a short stint with the Jets, attended this year’s ceremony. He now coaches aspiring quarterbacks from 7 year-olds right through college age. He told me that he hasn’t watched the Jets much this year but could understand why head coach stuck with Ryan Fitzpatrick as long as he did instead of turning to Bryce Petty. “Players can tell in practice, meetings, and the weight room who the best QB on the team is and it’s the coach’s job to play the guys who best give the team a chance to win.”
Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue spoke at the annual Sports Business Journal Intercollegiate Athletic Forum last Wednesday. He believes that college football players should be paid but that compensation should be linked to scholarship accomplishment. “If a player completes his degree with a good GPA then he can receive a bonus of say, $75,000.”
Also speaking at the Intercollegiate Athletics Forum was Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank. These have been heady times for Under Armour as it has established itself as the main competitor in the dog-eat-dog world of athletic apparel to Nike. It has been active in locking up exclusive deals with sizable universities including our own St. John’s. Last week Under Armour scored its biggest coup when Major League Baseball announced that the company would become the official supplier of uniforms beginning in 2020.
Plank also talked about how Under Armour has opened a new plant in Baltimore, the location of the company’s headquarters, called the Lighthouse that will produce its first-ever American made clothing. While that certainly dovetails nicely with what Donald Trump was preaching on the campaign trail, Plank may have had business considerations to go along with his job-creation patriotism.
My guess is that Major League Baseball bestowed his enterprise the big future contract contingent upon Under Armour having the ability to sew a “Made in the USA” label on its MLB clothing. Plank admitted that most of Under Armour’s merchandise will still be foreign made and that the American-made product would be costly.
He also believed that when it comes to brass tacks Americans like to talk about how they want things to be made in this country but that they make decisions based on price. While there may be some truth to Plank’s cynicism I pointed out to him as he was leaving the SBJ conference that New Balance makes excellent shoes in its Massachusetts factories and that consumers don’t seem to mind spending more on them.
Major League Soccer’s New York City Football Club had a good sophomore season as they made the playoffs and drew decent crowds to Yankee Stadium. Last week its star player, David Villa, was named the MLS’s most valuable player.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman must be feeling pretty good about reacquiring closer Aroldis Chapman last week as a free agent after dealing him to the Cubs for a bunch of top-tier prospects last July. I’d say that he received a good return for basically leasing Chapman to the Cubs for a couple of months. No one in Chicago is complaining since they did win their first World Series since 1908.
Former Jets linebacker and current CBS NFL personality Bart Scott told me at a network event last week that the gap between the college game and the NFL has never been wider. “A lot of young players don’t understand the game and a lot of NFL coaches don’t know how to teach. Tom Brady could see how the Jets defense was lining up and he could easily pick them apart.”
I told Scott that I wrote in a recent column how Jets kick returner Jeremy Ross rarely made it to his team’s 20-yard line when if he were to just took a knee in the end zone the ball would be placed on the 25- yard line. Ross foolishly risked needless injury and often caused the Jets to take holding penalties on his returns putting them in even worse shape. Scott agreed that was exactly the kind of thing that he was talking about when it came to a lack of player smarts these days. Incidentally, the Jets put Jeremy Ross on waivers last week.
CBS’s Tuesday night series, “Bull,” starring the dapper Michael Weatherly, has been one of the few shows that was launched this season that is an undeniable hit. Weatherly was at the same CBS event that Bart Scott was and I mentioned to him that his character, jury consultant Jason Bull, is one of the few lead characters to wear eyeglasses. I asked Weatherly if those were his actual glasses. “No, they are fake. I just need glasses to read. It would be great however if an optical company signed me to an endorsement deal!” he said with a chuckle. I have a strong hunch that will happen.
Legendary Astoria native Tony Bennett will have his own special on NBC next Tuesday night to commemorate his 90th birthday. Tony is still very much the trouper as he performed a duet with Miss Piggy at the recent Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The first sign of winter is when lips get chapped while walking outside. It’s always a good idea to carry Carmex Lip Balm on you until spring arrives.