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Free Form Friday: I Got Dibs On The Wacky Neighbor Character When The Dawg Sports Sitcom Drops.

It's college football's offseason. That sucks like the Georgia mens basketball team trying to hold a second half lead. Not that I'm bitter or anything. But in the interest of making lemonade from lemons, I present to you Free Form Friday, our weekly rundown of topics real and surreal, humorous and serious, designed to occupy the restless masses and head off revolution until the football bread line can be reopened. 

First, an obligatory word on the Toomer's Corner tree escapade, which has been covered plenty well enough in other places that epic treatment of it in this space is not necessary. My heartfelt best wishes go out to you, Auburn fans and alumni. The live oak is after all the state tree of Georgia, and a powerful symbol of strength through adversity. It is also becoming more and more rare to see healthy, 100 year old live oaks, so anyone who would knowingly kill 2 of them truly deserves a swift kick where it hurts the most.

I've heard what strikes me as a particularly stupid argument in the great cacaphony surrounding this incident, however, and I feel the need to address it. On message boards and elsewhere I've seen the "thesis" (using "thesis" here because it's a tidy substitute for "smoking heap of logic fail") that due to constant foot and automobile traffic, toilet papering, pressure washing to remove said toilet paper and various other causes "those trees were dying anyway." This made me wonder if Alabama is the only state in the Union in which it's ok to shoot and kill someone with a terminal disease because, not to be insensitive, the guy was going to die pretty soon anyway. But then I realized that in fact there are people both dumb enough to make and to accept this argument in all 50 states. Which is no less sad.

Speaking of people foisting stupid crap on their fellow man . . .There have been rumors about it for weeks, but Deadspin has the ugly script to prove it: there's a Colin Cowherd sitcom in development. Seriously, go read the excerpts, for  they are even more terrible than you would imagine. It's like the writers of Two and a Half Men underwent a lobotomy and the only part of the collective cerebellum that survived was the oft-overlooked boob joke cortex. Now, before this sorry episode causes you to completely give up on network television altogether, remember than networks develop a lot of shows that never see the light of day. Some of them might be the next Cheers if they got the right cast and a good time slot. Most of them should probably be resigned to oblivion, or shot into space just for safety's sake.

I'm assuming the Cowherd show won't go anywhere. It looks like the Jeff Foxworthy Show, only the protagonist won't be wearing a faux redneck hat, he'll be wearing a very real asshat. What can we take away from this? One of the immutable rules of the entertainment industry: an idiot in motion tends to stay in motion, while an idiot at rest is probably just waiting for a Ben Affleck film to start production. The working title of Mr. Cowherd's Opus is Herd Mentality, by the way. I think we can do better than that Dawg Sports comment ninjas. I would propose the following: 1) $%&@# My Race Baiting Nimrod Says, 2) The Big Lead Theory, and 3) Full House. Your suggestions are welcome in the comments.

Today is a bit of a sad day for me because it's the 10th anniversary of the death of Dale Earnhardt at Daytona International Speedway. The Intimidator's death on the last lap of the Daytona 500 struck me very personally, for a few reasons. For one, when I was a kid my family spent every 4th of July in Daytona for what was then the Firecracker (and later Pepsi) 400. NASCAR racing was becoming big at that time, but it wasn't anything compared to the apex of popularity in recent years. It was not uncommon to see drivers, crew members and their families around Daytona, New Smyrna Beach and similar locales.

"The Man in Black" as he was called was a little different because he was one of the sport's certifiable rock stars, recognizable everywhere he went. I never met Dale Earnhardt, but through friends and family I was introduced to several members of his crew and their families. They were as unfailingly nice to a starstruck 12 year old kid as you could imagine.

Second, Dale Earnhardt was, and is, my father's favorite race car driver of all time. This includes drivers he met personally and knew before they were household names, drivers from nearby towns who started on the dirt tracks of middle Georgia, and drivers whose sponsors' products he uses. As a teenager I gave my father an autographed picture of Dale Earnhardt and as far as I know it still hangs on his bedroom wall. Owing largely to these factors, February 18, 2001 was a very sad day in our household. It felt a lot like a member of the family had died. Not an immediate family member, but a favorite distant cousin or an uncle you hadn't seen in years but you always had a soft spot for.  

Third, while I never  met Earnhardt, I have met the man who ever so lightly bumped him from the rear that afternoon, Sterling Marlin. He's a wonderful man. As humble a professional athlete as you'll find. He  used to enjoy bologna sandwiches washed down with Gatorade as his race day meal. Marlin now owns a car dealership in Tennessee and has given up racing. But in his prime he was the premier superspeedway racer in NASCAR, winning back-to-back Daytona 500's and perennially finishing near the top of the standings there and at the circuit's other longest track in Talladega, Alabama. Sterling Marlin was also a friend of Dale Earnhardt. They were both the sons of legends from stock car racing's early days, Ralph Earnhardt and Coo Coo Marlin. Beginning on the night of February 18, 2001 Sterling Marlin, his family and crew began receiving hate mail and death threats from fans who thought that Sterling Marlin had killed Dale Earnhardt. This was a sad turn of events in its own right.

I saw the crash that killed Dale Earnhardt on television. It didn't look very different from hundreds of other such incidents in other NASCAR races through the years.The race ended, I left my apartment and walked up the street to the library to study (well, mainly to goof around on the internet, but I'm sure I would have studied a little). In the course of goofing around on the internetstudying, I found myself on the Georgia Bulldog Scout message board, the Dawg Post. I went looking for interesting recruiting info. What I found was page after page of wild speculation and rumors that Earnhardt had been killed. It's amazing how different the internet culture is even today than it was 10 years ago. Now the things written on message boards and blogs turn out to be accurate surprisingly frequently.

In 2001, however, message boards were not where you got news from. You got it from Dan Rather or Tom Brokaw. One poster after another angrily denounced those spreading the rumors of Earnhardt's demise. They said it was a truly sick joke. They said that it "wasn't that hard a crash" and that NASCAR's safety system was designed to not only prevent deaths but to allow drivers to walk away from impacts like that one.

However Earnhardt's restraint system had in fact failed in the crash, resulting in a fatal skull fracture. Amazingly, it was the last time a driver in NASCAR's top division of racing died in an ontrack incident, though it was the 3rd such incident in under a year. One could argue that NASCAR cleaned up its act after Dale Earnhardt's death, even though no one knows whether many of the safety measures (so-called "soft wall" technology, for example) would have actually saved him.

But stock car racing just isn't the same for me without #3. I grew up around the sport. I really and truly loved it. But there's really something missing from it now. Jimmy Johnson, currently the sport's most successful driver, is probably a nice enough guy. He's also phenomenally wealthy, married to a model, and just doesn't seem like he's ever worked a day hanging sheetrock, or working in a textile mill, or driving a truck. He's the squeaky clean face of a squeaky clean sport which used to be peopled with former moonshiners and other guys who grew up poor and tough and probably never knew that they'd become millionaires doing something they loved. That, in a really big nutshell, is why I miss Dale Earnhardt today.

Of course today's not all bad. As Kyle already noted it's also Mark Richt's 51st birthday, and that's pretty cool. Happy birthday, coach. Here's hoping that on this day you are granted the grace to sit back and appreciate all that you are now:


Until later . . .

Go 'Dawgs!!!