SEC Network debuts on Thursday
Though fall practice for the Florida Gators is in full swing and there is plenty of football to discuss, let’s start this week’s TSL with a quick look at the SEC Network, which debuts nationwide on Thursday.
The list of cable and satellite providers is long. The talent signed to broadcast games, events and studio shows is strong. And the fact that the SEC Network will air three football games every Saturday, not to mention a ton of contests from the dozen other sports played by Southeastern Conference teams, means most of the time you tune in, there will be something exciting going on.
There are some that think the channel will fail to live up to its hype but there is not much to support that assertion. The SEC Network is better positioned to succeed than any of the other conference-only channels have been at the time of their debut. It has the strongest partner possible in ESPN and enough unique programming to give it some substance at launch.
All of that, coupled with the tremendous amount of live sports programming it will carry (especially in the spring during basketball and baseball season), gives the SEC Network every chance to be a major success right out of the gate.
The Gators’ forgotten sophomore wide receiver
During his first fall camp with the Gators, then-freshman wideout Demarcus Robinson garnered rave reviews. His athleticism and playmaking ability was on full display and coaches discussed how, as long as he put everything together, Robinson could make an impact for Florida right away.
That did not happen. Rather, Robinson failed to be responsible off the field and saw extremely limited playing time, even late in the season when hope was lost and UF was focused on getting its young players repetitions to prepare them for 2014.
Robinson, the four-star prospect that Florida snatched from Clemson’s grips, the player who was supposed to give an ejection of adrenaline to a Gators offense that sorely needed it, finished his freshman campaign completely healthy with just five receptions for 23 measly yards.
Another year older and wiser, Robinson is once again getting a positive press, this time not only from his coaches but also his teammates. Redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel has praised him for his significantly improved maturity, while redshirt senior WR Quinton Dunbar gushed over his ability on Tuesday.
“He’s a freak athlete,” Dunbar said of Robinson. “He can do things that other guys can’t do as far as jumping for the ball and adjusting his body in the air – very flexible, things like that.”
But just like last year, while Robinson is getting the attention, position-mate and classmate Ahmad Fulwood is sneaking under the radar. At 6-foot-4 and 202 pounds, Fulwood is the type of long, fluid and athletic receiver that Florida has been sorely missing and trying to get on the field for years.
It was Fulwood, not Robinson, who was UF’s best freshman wideout in 2013 when he hauled in 17 receptions (11 over the last four games) for 127 yards and a touchdown. Fulwood played in all 12 games and was the most productive first-year receiver for the Gators since Percy Harvin in 2006.
(In case you forgot what that touchdown looked like…)
While Fulwood may not have the sheer athleticism and breakaway freak talent that Robinson possesses, he is definitely the more trustworthy of the two. Like Robinson, he has made his own strides this offseason, though his have come in some different areas, such as adding bulk to his frame.
“It’s benefitted me pretty well. Now I’m able to toss around a few guys that I wouldn’t have been able to before,” he said. “I’m trying to use that as a leveraged-based thing now. I feel a lot better with [the weight] on. … Now, I’m realizing that I got to use it more to my advantage, getting around people.”
Fulwood also appears to be a quick learner who is humble and is less concerned with being flashy as he is with winning football games. Asked his goals for the season, all he could come up with is “just catch the ball and run fast.”
Leave it to sophomore Keanu Neal, who head coach Will Muschamp on Monday declared is UF’s best safety, to give you a defensive back’s perspective on Fulwood: “He’s made a lot of big plays during fall camp. He’s going to be a problem for a lot of teams this year.”
Redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel feels similarly.
“Ahmad, first of all, he’s a great guy, great teammate and great person to be around. He’s only gotten better, his hands, since he’s gotten here. I think he’s going to have to be a big-time player for us,” Driskel said. “He’s a big target for us out there and someone who’s going to have to contribute. … He’s just a guy that you can count on. That’s kind of what I’ve seen from him is just he’s very reliable.”
The best news for the Gators is that they do not have to choose. It’s not Robinson or Fulwood, Fulwood or Robinson. These two will be relied on to help elevate Florida’s offense back to the elite pedestal it enjoyed sitting on under Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen. The Gators get to use Robinson and Fulwood in 2014, and their next-level talent is apparent, even to teammates.
“Trey [Burton] and Solomon [Patton] were very good players…but we have some young players that are very good players,” said Dunbar. “I don’t feel like we’ll miss a step this year. We have more numbers and more talent overall.”
Review – SEC Storied: “The Stars are Aligned”
Whenever I review a 30 for 30 or SEC Storied documentary, of which ESPN has provided me with numerous sneak previews over the years, there are a few criteria by which I judge. Simply put, I look at the entertainment value of the piece, direction, production and whether I have learned something significant from watching.
“The Stars are Aligned” deviates from most of these documentaries by focusing on the limited perspective of 14 celebrity fans, of which three are not even celebrities per se but rather former student-athletes. Included among those is Florida running back Emmitt Smith, one of the best players in school history and the NFL‘s all-time leading rusher.
Unfortunately for Gators fans, Smith’s perspective is understandably limited because he spent most of his time at UF on the field rather than watching from the stands. While others tell tails about tailgating, school traditions and their first memories of attending sporting events, Smith’s comments are focused on the rivalries in football and basketball, Steve Spurrier and the 2007 BCS Championship game, of which he had this to say from his perspective in the FOX Sports panel during that telecast.
“Eddie George and I and Jimmy Johnson [were] sitting up in the stands watching the Gators play Ohio State, and I remember Eddie George on the set raising his Ohio State shirt and everything else, being so proud of Ohio State. And then the opening kickoff, Ted Ginn takes off and returns it for a touchdown. And I remember our Gators coming right back and answering the bell. And then from that point on, I remember an onslaught and the score getting way out of hand early. And I could see Eddie George over here just starting to sink in his seat. His neck started to go in his chest like a little turtle.”
Smith on the Florida-Georgia football rivalry:
“Georgia-Florida rivalry is a tremendous rivalry. At Florida, we like to think in our minds that we have the best athletes in the world. At Georgia, they like to think in their minds that they have the best athletes int he world. the best way to prove that is on the football field. so when we met at the 50-yard line, you best believe it’s going to be [inaudible].”
Smith on the Florida-Kentucky basketball rivalry:
“The state of Florida is not known for its basketball, period. So you bring in a guy like Billy Donovan, you know what you’re getting. Kentucky has no other goal but to beat Florida right now. Right now, it truly is a real rivalry because of that. … I can understand because Kentucky has been known for being a powerhouse in basketball for a long time, and Kentucky dominated the Gators in the 80s. They won a lot in the 90s. But things changed. All I can say is, ‘Thank you, Billy.'”
Looking at “The Stars are Aligned” as a whole, while there are definitely some bright spots with celebrities sharing memorable moments, school traditions and the like, a lot of it does fall flat. Standout moments include Shepherd Smith (Ole Miss) complaining about Mississippi State’s artificial noisemakers, Jonathan Papelbon (MSU) discussing his school’s Left Field Lounge and Governor Rick Scott (Texas A&M) talking about how he wound up being an Aggie.
There are also some low points, such as when you feel bad for the fans that have to sit next to Ashley Judd at a UK basketball game and realize that Melissa Joan Hart is there representing Alabama despite neither attending the school nor having a great perspective on its traditions.
Smith, Papelbon, James Carville (LSU) and Amy Robach (Georgia) are the standout contributors, though the documentary seems to lack a true focus throughout.
Perhaps my expectations have been raised so high by the quality pieces that ESPN has churned out over the last few years that I am not appreciating this one for what it is meant to be: A bunch of well-known names talking about the SEC in the second show ever to be aired on the SEC Network.
So how does this check the boxes? It was marginally entertaining and well-directed, but I definitely believe production could have done a better job casting some school representatives. Passionate SEC fans will not learn much of anything – at least nothing that provides a deeper perspective on the conference, its schools or former student-athletes, which has been the point of all prior SEC Storied documentaries.
“It is extremely fun to go back there,” Smith said of Florida in one of the doc’s closing segments. “It makes it even better when I’m able to bring my son to be able to go back and say, ‘This is my college’ and to take pride in it. Watching basketball games or football games, I’m sitting there taking pride in our Gators. And that, to me, is probably the best part of all: being able to share the Gator experience with your family.”
The late, great Robin Williams
Those of you that have been avid TSL readers since this column started a few weeks back are probably expecting a long and detailed piece here on Robin Williams and his sad, unfortunate death this past week. The truth is that nothing I say in praise of Williams or the incredible legacy he has left behind will do him justice. Rather, I will share how I experienced Williams and his art to this point.
Despite being much younger than those that saw the show when it aired live, my first glimpse of Williams also came from Mork & Mindy, which I watched with my mom on Nick at Night. I found it hysterical. Little did I know what my mom knew, that he was so much better as a stand-up comedian and had already made some of the best movies that I would ever see.
Williams was making though-provoking masterpieces when I was too young to understand – let alone enjoy – them. Hook, Aladdin and Jumanji all came at the right time for me, but it was Good Will Hunting in 1997 that made me open my eyes to his true acting chops.
Shortly after seeing that film, I became infatuated with Williams. My mom suggested I start with his movies. I watched Good Morning, Vietnam and laughed, saw Dead Poets Society and was inspired, and found it hard to contain myself during Awakenings which to this day, to my recollection, is the first movie that made me truly cry. If you have missed any of these three flicks, make it a point to see it/them before the end of the week.
The quality of the films Williams participated in leveled off over the years, but the variety of roles he has been able to take on proved time and again not only his incredible range but also his superb – and in many ways, unmatched – talent.
Williams is no better than when he is on stage with a microphone in his hand, pretending his arm hair is a woman’s public region, using his cartoonish expressions to accentuate funny-enough-on-their-own jokes or making you think and laugh simultaneously by not only being the funniest but also the smartest person in the room.
Many consider him the best comedian to ever perform at Gator Growl. I cannot say I have ever seen that performance. It was likely taped but probably written over by Florida, which for a long time wanted to pretend it never happened due to some of the vulgarity Williams used in his set. However, plenty of you have been quick to not only tell me you were in attendance that evening but explain how hard you laughed at his performance.
As talented as Williams was, it now appears that he was also deeply disturbed. His depression was a long-known condition, as was his drug and alcohol abuse at times during his life, but certainly no one could have expected an ending like this. William’s death at his own hands is disturbing and sad, but it is also a cautionary tale and could wind up being a learning experience that saves the lives of others.
Depression is a real condition. It is treatable, though not always easily. If you know someone showing signs of depression, go online and find the best ways you can help. You can start here.
There is no proper way to conclude this other than me telling you to go and watch as many of his stand-up specials as you can, from start to finish. Here’s one of his best jokes from one of his best specials (expletives included).
This Week’s Movie Trailer
Dead Poets Society (1989):
The Top 5 Lists
From the home office in Wahoo, Nebraska…
Best films starring Robin Williams:
1. Dead Poets Society
3. Good Will Hunting
4. Good Morning, Vietnam
5. The Fisher King
Fun films starring Robin Williams:
1. Death to Smoochy
4. The Birdcage
5. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Best stand-up comedians of all-time (not ranked):
1. George Carlin
2. Richard Pryor
3. Louis CK
4. Chris Rock
5. Robin Williams
Honorable mentions: Bill Hicks, Sam Kinison, Eddie Murphy, Moms Mabley
Thanks for reading. Now leave your comments.