Archive for August, 2007

That USC Game is So Easy Now
Thursday, August 30, 2007

From ESPN.com:

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USC starting center Matt Spanos went down Tuesday in practice with a torn triceps while trying to block nose tackle Sedrick Ellis.

Spanos is expected to be out two to four weeks, according to USC offensive line coach Pat Ruel. Left guard Jeff Byers will slide over and play center in Saturday night’s opener against Idaho with Tiny Malu taking over at guard.

After Wednesday’s practice, Ruel said the new lineup actually produced one of the better days the Trojans’ front has had this month. “We were communicating a lot better [Tuesday],” Ruel said. “I really think the responsibility was heightened.”

Idaho doesn’t figure to pose any problems for the Trojans, who have a bye week before their much-anticipated Sept. 15 game at Nebraska. In that game, USC could certainly use the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Spanos, who Ruel pegged as a powerful, aggressive pivot man as compared to the more finesse style of Byers.

Ruel also said freshman Kristofer O’Dowd, who has impressed in practice the past few weeks, will continue to take more reps at center as well. Another possible move could be shifting tackle Drew Radovich, who has been passed up by Charles Brown at right tackle, to guard.

Top-ranked USC may be loaded, but the one area where the Trojans aren’t so deep is on their offensive line.

“Everybody has to play everything right now,” coach Pete Carroll said, “everybody that has any background in another spot.”

The key spot though, is right in the middle.

The 6-4, 285-pound Byers, who came to USC as a center, has experience playing the position, but has struggled there in the past. Last season when USC’s All-American center Ryan Kalil wasn’t on the field in practice, the Trojans had trouble just getting the ball snapped. Ruel, though, says Byers has worked hard and hasn’t had any of those problems this fall.

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Talk about a cake-walk game now. Chalk it up.

And so it Begins
Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Tuesday’s Husker news conference was the signal that the college football season is upon us. It was also a signal that I will be getting free lunch every Tuesday from now until Thanksgiving. While I’m okay when the Nebraska football season ends, those free media luncheons are never easy to part with.

Depth of Knowledge

Coach Callahan makes it clear every year around this time: The depth chart means nothing. In fact, I would offer a suggestion to the sports information staff: Print it on toilet paper next time. Seriously, distribute it as a roll of Scottie Tissue.

Actually, this year’s chart, while somewhat inconclusive, did offer some decent insight. The first noticeable newsworthy item was Armando Murillo’s spot, number one at left cornerback. He succeeds Andre Jones, who filled in admirably for Zack Bowman last year. Bowman is listed behind Cortney Grixby, but once Bowman is 100%, there’s no way he will play second fiddle to anyone. So then does Grixby become the nickel back? Should be interesting. The secondary is deeper than than it’s ever been under Callahan. The key to depth is using it. I’d like to see some more rotation out there. The Huskers should be able to keep their legs fresh without missing a beat.

Also, running back Cody Glenn was no where to be found on the depth chart. He’s had a hard time staying out of the infirmary report during fall camp, and Callahan says they’ll see where he’s at this week. Freshmen Quentin Castille and Roy Helu are listed behind Marlon Lucky. I asked Callahan how much work he wants those young backs to get early on. He actually gave a pretty good answer.

“I can harken back to last year, as you recall we had four running backs, and I sat here at this time last year, and we were talking about how we were going to play all four running backs and all four running backs played, and four of them all gained over 300 yards and they all had success. I thought they were really well coached and managed. They all knew their roles and did well. By the end of the year it was tough to get one of them out on the field. So things change. Like I said it is a process that you go through on a week-to-week basis and one that we look at very closely. I would love to get them all as much work as possible, and experience. I think it is invaluable every time a young player touches the field and obtains a rep in game time experience, it is invaluable in my mind.”


Ta-Ta Tight End

Also of note on Tuesday: Good bye, tight end. Hello, H-Back!

You don’t see a “TE” on the depth chart (except within the names Andy Christensen, Terrence Nunn and Todd Peterson, among others). Instead, it’s an H-Back, a hybrid of a tight end and a fullback. Joe Gibbs made this position famous in Washington, using the H-back to block, pass protect and run receiving routes from multiple sets. The H-back can line up in the backfield, on the line, or is put into motion. It was designed specifically to stop Lawrence Taylor. Maybe Callahan is using it to stop Ball State.

St. Elmo’s Fire

I hope you had a chance to see Elmo give his pre-season Husker predictions on KETV Monday night. He may be only three and a half years old, but dude knows his football. Next year, we’re going after Big Bird.

“Minute with Matt” Returns

We had a lot of fun with this feature last year, and we’re going to give it another go this season. Every Saturday during KETV Newswatch 7 Weekend (morning) we will throw random questions at current Huskers. To mix it up this season, we’re also testing their knowledge of Nebraska football trivia.

Sample Question: ” What year did Tommie Frazier win the Heisman Trophy?”

Interesting answers to be sure.

Stay tuned, and keep checking back on the Big Red Zone page. I’m sure we’ll upload those as we air them.

Predictions

As always, feel free to submit your predictions to this week’s game. I’ll share mine with you later in the week.

Monday Morning Riff
Monday, August 27, 2007

  • Michael Vick made his first public apology for his involvement in an illegal dog fighting ring, following his pleading guilty to a federal charge. He sounded remorseful in his apology. The problem is, if Vick hadn’t gotten caught, he’d still be doing it and dogs would still be thrown into the ring. Vick’s is a cautionary tale to athletes. No one is immune to the police blotter. But how many times have we said that?
  • Who is the biggest winner (if there is one) in all of this? The San Diego Chargers. They were blasted for taking Ryan Leaf ahead of Peyton Manning in 1998, and it looked like they were making another blunder when they traded the top overall pick to Atlanta in 2001. The Falcons picked Vick, the Chargers picked LaDainian Tomlinson.
  • Seeing Warner Robbins, Georgia win the Little League World Series on a walk-off home run was one thing. But that was nothing compared to the post-game hugging that went on between the two teams. Seeing the Georgia players embrace the heart-broken Japanese players one-by-one was touching. They say that the hand-shaking after a Stanley Cup playoff series is the greatest tradition in all of sports. After seeing the Little League boys, I’d have to disagree.
  • South Carolina’s AD has upheld the one-game suspension of quarterback Blake Mitchell for missing summer classes. He will miss the opener against Louisiana-Lafayette. Redshirt freshman Chris Smelley will get the start. Here’s the one positive: At least the Gamecocks aren’t playing a season-opening road game with a quarterback named “Smelley”.

Big "N" Versus the Little "N"
Monday, August 27, 2007

It’s game week, as Nevada comes to Nebraska on Saturday. They both have “N”s for their logos… and that’s about where the similarities end.

Here’s an article from the Reno Gazette-Journal:

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In five days, the Nevada football team, in its white-over-blue jerseys, will jog out of its locker room and onto the Memorial Stadium turf in Lincoln, Neb., where it will be greeted, so to speak, by a sea of 85,000, screaming, red-clad Nebraska fans.

And this …

  • 5 national titles;
  • 3 Heisman Trophy winners;
  • 106 All-Americans;
  • 44 bowl game appearances;
  • 282 consecutive sellouts;
  • 43 conference titles;
  • and 803 all-time victories.

    It’s no contest, Wolf Pack head coach Chris Ault said last week. The Nebraska Cornhuskers are unequivocally the most storied program the Pack has ever faced.

    “Without question,” Ault said. “It’s one thing to face them, and then it’s one thing to play. We know where we stand with this thing. … You’ve got a storied program. I think that’s a thrill. I think anybody in their right mind would give their right arm to have this opportunity.”

    It is an opportunity that Wolf Pack players are eagerly awaiting, even if they have no idea what to expect.

    “I don’t know because I’ve never experienced it before,” nose guard and two-year captain Matt Hines said. “I’m excited. I think it will be a good experience, but I don’t know because I’ve never seen that many people in a stadium before.”

    Added junior running back Luke Lippincott, “It means everything to me. If we’re going to be a Division (I-A) school, in order to be one of the best, we have to play the best. In order to make our program better, to get better recruits and to just get this school more known nationwide, we have to play those teams and win.”

    The anticipated crowd of 85,000 would no doubt be the largest ever to see a Nevada football game. Attendance records are not kept, but it is believed that the largest crowd previously was the 70,149 who watched Nevada beat Washington, 28-17, in Seattle in 2003.

    And whether there are 85 fans in the stands or 85,000, Nevada’s task is a large one. The 20th-ranked Cornhuskers are a three-touchdown favorite for the 12:30 p.m. kickoff (televised regionally on ABC).

    “We’re playing in a hostile territory, it’s a team ranked in the top 20, and it’s your opening game, and you’re a young team,” Ault said. “All those things come into play.”

    The tradition is defined in the numbers listed above, specifically two of those numbers.

    Only three schools — Michigan (860), Notre Dame (821) and Texas (810) — have more victories than does Nebraska, and no team has won more games since 1970 than Nebraska has.

    No team has more national championships since 1970 (Miami and Alabama also have five). Nebraska won titles in 1971, 1972, 1995, 1996 and 1998. Notre Dame has won eight national titles since The Associated Press began certifying a champion in 1936.

    Interestingly, the Wolf Pack will have played back-to-back games against two of the nation’s most storied programs. Miami defeated Nevada, 21-20, in the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, Idaho on New Year’s Eve.

    “When we played Miami, people asked us about the ‘wow’ factor, but we played them in Boise,” Hines said. “Here, we’re going into their territory, their stadium, all those people. Hopefully, when we get there Friday, it will take away some of that ‘wow’ factor for us. But I can’t say there isn’t going to be, because there is going to be a ‘wow’ factor for us.”

    Some might argue that Nebraska’s stay atop the “most storied program Nevada has ever faced” list will be a short one, though. The Wolf Pack will travel to South Bend, Ind., to take on Notre Dame in 2009.

    “When we moved to Division I-A (in 1992), this was the future,” said defensive coordinator Ken Wilson, who has been an assistant under Ault at Nevada since 1989. “Now the future’s here. We’ve lined up against some of those teams. It’s not enough to play them anymore. Certainly, with 80,000 people, it’s going to be exciting. But once the ball’s kicked off, it’s football. We’re going to play hard, I know that.

    “It’ll be interesting to see the look in their eyes. Miami and Nebraska, those are the teams you want to play.”

    Lippincott, who said everyone on the team “has Google-earthed (Memorial Stadium) to see how big it is,” said he thinks the Pack can use the underdog role to its advantage.

    “I think it will actually help us get fired up, pumped up,” he said. “It’ll be like pilgrims in an unholy land, coming in there like a band of brothers.”

  • Danny Woodhead
    Sunday, August 26, 2007

    Midway through Danny Woodhead’s senior season at North Platte High School, I emailed Colorado coach Gary Barnett (this was back in October of 2003, when I was 18 months removed from graduation and still bleeding black and gold) about the running back from central Nebraska. At the time, I worked at the ABC affiliate in Kearney and had seen this guy run through and around the biggest and best teams from Lincoln and Omaha.

    Knowing that the Huskers didn’t seem ripe to offer him a scholarship, and wanting someone to give the kid a shot at the D-I level (and being a CU grad who had forged a surface-level relationship with Barnett through working at the campus radio station) I figured I’d give him a heads-up. Gary’s email response read as follows:

    Matt –

    We already have a few runningbacks committed, so it would be tough to take another one. I have forwarded your email on to our recruiting guys and have asked them to get some film on him.

    Gary

    Four years later, Woodhead is about to break the all-time NCAA career rushing record. And instead of college coaches sending walk-on invitations, NFL teams are sending scouts, just to catch a glimpse of this not-so-secret weapon.

    And I’m sure Gary Barnett isn’t the only one shaking his head.

    Of course, we’re only left to wonder how a guy like Danny Woodhead would’ve held up against the biggest and best athletes in college football. It’s just a shame we’ll never know.

    Here’s an article from Sunday’s N.Y. Times:

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    CHADRON, Neb. — The most productive running back in college football plies his trade in a dusty, one-stoplight town of 5,300 that boasts the nation’s largest fur-trading museum.

    But the Chadron State College senior tailback Danny Woodhead savors his relative anonymity, and he has not let the 14-hour bus rides and other quirks of Division II football slow his run to a record. [After gaining 290 yards with four touchdowns in a 34-24 victory over Washburn on Aug. 25, the 5-foot-8, 200-pound Woodhead needs 699 rushing yards to break the career, all-division NCAA rushing record of 7,353.]

    Last season, he became the first player in N.C.A.A. history to surpass the 2,700-yard barrier in a single season, despite not playing in the second half of three games. With his 4.43 speed and shifty moves, he has made this remote northwestern Nebraska town — it is more than 100 miles from the nearest major airport — a destination for curious N.F.L. scouts.

    “The things that he does on the football field I’ve never seen anybody do,” Colorado School of Mines Coach Bob Stitt said. “You would compare him to a Barry Sanders-type runner. He’s one of those guys that you work all week to stop and everyone knows he’s going to carry the ball 30 times, but he still gains 200 yards.”

    Along the way, Woodhead has become the first student at the college to receive a full athletic scholarship. He is also the reason the fifth-ranked Eagles will make their inaugural national television appearance in October.

    Woodhead’s success has also caused heartache among some University of Nebraska fans. They wonder why a player that the former Cornhuskers Coach Tom Osborne called “one of the most productive backs ever” in Nebraska scholastic play is not suiting up for the Big Red.

    After all, Woodhead still holds seven state records, including those for career rushing yards and touchdowns, in Nebraska’s largest division.

    Yet he never received an invitation for an official visit, let alone a scholarship offer, from an N.C.A.A. Division I-A college because of doubts about his size.

    “I am who I am,” said Woodhead, an academic all-American last season. He is a math education major with a 3.72 grade point average. “I’m not going to change it. I just bring what I have.”

    Born in North Platte, Woodhead was home-schooled until his freshman year of high school. A diehard Nebraska fan, he said he cried when the Cornhuskers lost to Florida State in the 1993 national championship game.

    Woodhead was named state player of the year as a senior at North Platte High School, when he led Class A with 2,037 yards and scored 31 touchdowns. That year, he was also the state’s top scorer in basketball, at 26 points a game, and led the soccer team in scoring in the spring. Before his senior year, Woodhead attended Nebraska’s summer football camp. He said he had several conversations with Nebraska’s coach at the time, Frank Solich, who encouraged him to walk on as a kick returner. “It was tough to swallow,” he said.

    Instead, Woodhead committed in December 2003 to Chadron State, where his parents had attended college and where his older brother, Ben, was then playing football. He made his decision after Solich had been fired but before the current Nebraska coach, Bill Callahan, was hired.

    “We held our breath for the entire process,” Chadron State Coach Bill O’Boyle said. “I was hoping a Division I wouldn’t offer him.”

    Northern Colorado Coach Scott Downing, who was Nebraska’s recruiting coordinator when Woodhead was a high school senior, said the Huskers considered offering him a scholarship.
    Downing, whose team plays Chadron State next month, said he had no regrets about the decision to pass on Woodhead.

    “Could he be productive in the Big 12? I don’t know,” Downing said. “You’re talking about a young man that’s four years later playing at Chadron State, and he hasn’t played against Texas the last time I checked.”

    Woodhead has rushed for more than 200 yards in 18 of his 34 collegiate games. His junior season was highlighted by 215 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns in a road victory against Montana State, a Division I-AA program that had held Colorado to 106 rushing yards in an upset the previous week. He finished the season with 2,756 rushing yards, 38 total touchdowns and won the Harlon Hill Trophy, given to the nation’s top Division II player.

    “He’s done a tremendous job,” said Solich, who acknowledged that he might have missed on Woodhead. “That’s not a complete surprise. I think he would have had a chance to have success no matter where he went.”

    Woodhead said he never second-guessed his decision to attend Chadron State, whose most famous N.F.L. alumnus is the former Buffalo Bills receiver Don Beebe.

    “Honestly, this has probably been the best opportunity for me,” Woodhead said. “I don’t think I would have gotten this opportunity at any other place.”

    Woodhead is a Christian who wears a red bracelet that says “JESUS NATION,” but his friends also describe him as notoriously sarcastic and a prankster; he dressed as a Chippendale dancer at a Chadron State basketball game last season and is known for playing video games naked in his off-campus house.

    “He’s just such a goof,” said the Chadron State senior wide receiver Landon Ehlers, who lives with Woodhead. “He just doesn’t seem to realize how big of a deal he is and how good he is.”
    But N.F.L. teams do, which is why scouts from the Bears, the Eagles, the Falcons and the Texans have traveled to Chadron to meet Woodhead. Gil Brandt, the former Dallas Cowboys executive and an analyst for nfl.com, said he projected Woodhead as a second-day pick in the N.F.L. draft.

    “Everybody knows where Chadron, Nebraska, is now,” Brandt said.

    Along with the rushing record, Woodhead needs 1,857 yards and 20 touchdowns to break the all-division records for all-purpose yards (9,512 yards) and scoring (658 points). Yet he insisted this season was about wins, not individual achievements. He said he still struggled to comprehend his success, but knew his fanfare would heighten with each yard gained.

    “He’s a huge celebrity in the whole state of Nebraska,” Chadron State quarterback Joseph McLain said. “Everywhere you go, if you’re wearing something with Chadron, people ask you about Danny Woodhead.”

    Icks-Nay on National Title Alk-Tay
    Saturday, August 25, 2007

    From The Herald, which serves Monterey County:


    It’s a special environment, almost surreal to foreigners. Yet, if you’re a football player at the University of Nebraska there’s nothing like seeing that sea of fans wearing red on game days. Forget about living far away from the mountains and ocean; and having to deal with humidity. Carl Nicks, a former North Salinas High and Hartnell lineman, has had to adjust to being a household name in Nebraska. From The Herald, a newspaper that serves Monterey County:

    “It’s a different world out here,” Nicks said. “These people know who you are, what position you play, where you’re from. At first, it was kind of weird. But you get use to it.”

    On game days, the only thing you’ll find open in Lincoln are the bars. And that’s for the rest of the Nebraska fans who couldn’t land the hottest ticket in the state.

    Heightened expectations have created a buzz for Cornhusker fans. Talk of chasing a national championship is more than just hype.

    “Each day when we break huddle, we say national championship,” Nicks said. “The pieces are in place. You can’t get caught up in it. But there’s an aura of confidence.”

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    Memo to Carl: You beat USC, and Husker fans will end their pre-dinner prayers with “National Championship.” (followed by “Amen”, of course)

    News and Notes from Colorado
    Friday, August 24, 2007


    I’m back home with the family for a few days enjoying the dry Colorado air, along with a few rounds of golf where the ball flies 10% farther and I feel 10% more muscular.

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    The big news out here is how the Colorado Rockies dropped three of four to the Pittsburgh Pirates, seemingly ending any post-season hopes. At the same time, playing meaningful games in August is about as much as you can hope for with this ownership group.

    ——————————-

    The Broncos are getting set for Saturday night’s tilt with the Cleveland Browns. The Broncos’ defense is getting blasted in the media for its sub-par performances this pre-season. I can’t imagine how they’ll get treated when the games actually count. Could you imagine if they played pre-season games in college football? That Nebraska media would be even more ravenous than they already are.

    Wait… I’m a part of that.

    ——————————-

    On Sunday, David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy take on the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Beckham is on the front page of the sports section of Thursday’s Denver Rocky Mountain News, with a lengthy two-page article inside. The Rapids sold out the game back in March, and the team made available standing-room-only tickets to meet the demand.

    Now here’s the hilarious part: Beckham isn’t going to play.

    Seems like in the Galaxy’s attempt to show off its golden goose, they’ve cooked it. He’s played 90 minutes in each of three games over the last five games, and is more than a little exhausted.

    That’s like buying tickets to see a U2 concert, and then finding out Bono is going to sit this one out.

    Ouch.

    Reliving the Pain
    Saturday, August 18, 2007

    KETV aired its annual “Husker Classic” on Saturday. While it was on I received a text message from a friend saying, “Nice Husker classic on channel seven today. Your bosses really do hate you, don’t they?”

    When we were brainstorming games to re-broadcast, I immediately thought of the 1999 Nebraska/Colorado game. Being a Colorado graduate (’01) the Nebraska games are the ones that immediately come to mind. But I didn’t think they’d actually choose that one.
    While I was at school, Nebraska-Colorado games were always close… and heart-wrenching. From 1997-2000, the Huskers beat the Buffs four times by a total of 10 points. I think I received a few ulcers from those contests.

    1999 was my junior year at CU. I was in the always well-behaved student section for the first half of that Nebraska game, and then went up to the press box to do radio play-by-play on the student station for the second half.

    I’ve got the tapes of my play-by-play from that day. I think I hyperventilated a couple of times. Thank goodness for my inhaler.

    When Mike Brown stripped the ball from Cortlen Johnson on the CU17 with two minutes to go, the game was over in my mind. Nebraska was in field goal position and just had to run down some clock and kick the game-winner. I was baffled when Nebraska called for that option play with 1:50 left. I was dumbfounded when Eric Crouch decided to pitch it, and more than a little excited when Dan Alexander couldn’t handle it. The fumble gave CU the ball back, but they still had to drive down the field. Minardi’s 35-yard turn-around catch and run took the Buffs down to the NU21. Colorado drove far enough to give Jeremy Aldrich a chance for a game-winning 34-yard field goal.

    Every student in the front row had a leg over the front rail, ready to storm the field. As Aldrich’s kick sailed over the upright, many of those students ran down, thinking it had won the game. The wide-right signal from the judge told a different story.

    Now understand this: I’m also a Buffalo Bills fan. I grew up in upstate New York and have followed the Bills since I came out of the womb. There is one phrase you can never utter to a Bills fan: “Wide Right.” That phrase reared its ugly head again that day.

    As much as Colorado fans want to say Aldrich choked, I didn’t think so. He booted the heck out of that football, and furthermore he had missed a kick of similar distance earlier that season, so it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. And to be honest, if the judge had called it good, no one would’ve argued. It was that close. Do I still think the kick was good? Sure. But I also still think the Music City Miracle “lateral” was a forward pass.
    That being said, you have to make that kick.

    Oh, Jeremy.

    “That’s about as close as you can get, I think, without winning,” Colorado coach Gary Barnett said.

    “This could be my last football game in Folsom, and for it to end like this is just awful,” Buffs defensive back Rashidi Barnes said.
    After that game I thought to myself, “There’s no way any Colorado loss will ever be as painful as this one.”
    Little did I know that I would watch something even more torturous the following year in Lincoln, in my first game ever at Memorial Stadium.

    If KETV chooses that game as next year’s Husker Classic, I’m outta here.

    Hey, That’s My Headline!
    Tuesday, August 14, 2007

    Obviously, the New York Daily News reads this blog every now and then. After seeing Tuesday’s back page, that’s the only logical conclusion. Regardless, it’s incredible how fast Joba’s star has risen. Feel free to submit your Joba Chamberlain headlines. Maybe the Daily will use yours, too.

    While I’m at it, here are a few more:

    1) Right Man For the Joba
    2) Joba Hunting
    3) Snow Joba (when the weather is bad in October)
    4) Joba Satisfaction
    6) Joba Training (would’ve been good before his debut)
    7) Chamberlain “K”hoir

    Tiger by a Tail
    Monday, August 13, 2007

    We’ve grown so accustomed to Tiger Woods that I think we’ve grown numb to his greatness. What he did at the PGA Championship was nothing short of remarkable. I’ve never seen a guy make a two-shot victory look like a 12-shot triumph. I used to be of the group that said, “Let’s hold off on pouring on the accolades. Wait until he’s further along.” Why wait? Without a doubt, he is the greatest golfer to ever live. Despite my admiration for Jack, it just feels right to call Tiger the greatest of all time.

    At 30 years of age, Tiger now has 13 major championships to his name. By comparison, Jack Nicklaus didn’t notch his 13th major until he was 35.

    Tiger is way ahead of schedule. Just five majors to go to catch the Golden Bear.

    I would also argue he’s one of the greatest athletes of all time. This is a conversation that comes up time and again: Can you consider golfers athletes? Can Tiger Woods be in the same conversation as Jerry Rice or Michael Jordan? I say yes.

    Heck, just look at the guy.

    I wish I could get away with wearing those shirts on the golf course.