Lang’s World: Ten pearls of Whitaker’s wit and wisdom on sports and beyond
By Lang Whitaker
Grind City Media
1. The SEC Championship
The last time Georgia played in the SEC Football Championship Game was five years ago. I know this off the top of my head because the day UGA squared off against Alabama was the same day my wife was discharged from the hospital – two days after giving birth to our son. And because I remember everything in my life based on sports, I also recall the Falcons thumped the Saints on Thursday Night Football two nights earlier.
I am a UGA fan, and have successfully collectively bargained into my marriage a weekly four-hour time slot each fall Saturday during which I am given free time to watch UGA games. Even though this was the SEC Championship Game, I knew better than to try and convince my wife that she and our newborn son could make it home from the hospital by herself.
But all was not lost. As we sat around the hospital room waiting to be discharged, I watched the game on the standard definition TV in the corner of the room. Just as the fourth quarter got down to crunch time, the nurses finally came in and whisked us out. While Aaron Murray led a last-minute drive that would eventually come up just short, we were in the back of a taxi headed home. I found out UGA had lost by refreshing Twitter over and over on my phone.
Life goes on, and since then I have had a few traumatic run-ins with Auburn, from the horrible loss via a tipped pass, to the time Charles Barkley put me in a headlock, to the loss Auburn handed UGA just a few weeks ago.
So as much as I want UGA to win this game, you’ll excuse me if I head into this weekend a little nervous. After all, Auburn didn’t just win the most recent game, they killed UGA, drubbing my Dawgs 40-17. And as a native Atlantan, I have been conditioned to suspect that in the biggest moments, my team will crush my hopes and dreams in the most painful way possible. (Insert your 28-3 jokes here.)
The only thing I’ve been clinging to is that I find it hard to believe UGA could lose twice in one season against a man (Auburn coach Gus Malzahn) who regularly wears short-sleeve mock turtlenecks. I know, it’s probably not the most penetrating analysis, but it’s all I’ve got right now.
And that thread of hope, after all, is why we’re all here, right? At their best, sports can unite a disparate group of people in search of some joy by providing morsels of optimism. On any given day I might roll out of bed and have a pretty good idea of what’s in front of me, but when Saturday comes, nobody can tell me with any certainty what is going to happen.
So while I expect Auburn to win, it ain’t over until it’s over. Or, put another way, as the great Lloyd Christmas once noted, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”
2. Let’s Dance
Some of you may find this hard to believe, but way back in the day, NFL players used to celebrate when they scored. There were spikes and ball flips and all sorts of stuff. But soon even something as simple as Billy “White Shoes” Johnson wiggling his legs in the end zone got legislated out of the game. Until now.
These days there is a lot going on in the NFL after scores. For instance, the Eagles are doing things like going bowling after TDs.
The Vikings are sitting down for a Thanksgiving meal.
The Detroit Lions are playing ping pong.
And the NFL is OK with all of this! These are perfect nuggets for social media, and they show that even the ‘No Fun League’ can smile a bit from time to time.
And now let’s all dance!
These days, when nostalgia carries such weight, somehow the recent resurrection of Starrcade didn’t make as much noise as I hoped/expected, probably in large part because the WWE didn’t even show it on their network. But last Sunday in Greensboro, the WWE summoned the spirit of WCW and held a card branded as Starrcade. Ric Flair, the Rock ‘N’ Roll Express and Ricky Steamboat were all involved, and 59-year-old Arn Anderson delivered a great spinebuster on Dolph Ziggler. Let’s hope this wasn’t a one-time thing. Shoutout to Jim Cornette.
4. Digital Good Times
It’s still a little early in the process, but just wanted to mention that besides writing for Grind City Media, I am also the GM of the Memphis Grizzlies’ team in the NBA’s upcoming NBA 2K League. You’ll learn more and more details soon enough, but just be aware that we got some great stuff cooking.
In the meantime, I’m spending a lot of time thinking about a lot of different aspects of this, and I think I want to try and collect some retro consoles for our new HQ. So if the mood strikes, I can break out the PS2 and play some MVP Baseball, or fire up the Sega Genesis and get in some NHL ‘94.
What’s your holy grail game/system?
5. Musical Chairs
The college football season isn’t over yet, and already we’ve seen five SEC schools looking for new coaches.
Being a football coach in the SEC is not a position that comes with a lot of job security. Jim McElwain was fired by Florida after going 22-12 in a bit less than three seasons. While his firing wasn’t entirely due to football reasons, I suspect if Florida had won the SEC at some point during McElwain’s tenure, we wouldn’t be talking about him in the past tense right now. Kevin Sumlin was recently shown the door at Texas A&M after going 51-26 over six seasons, and Butch Jones and his crew cut were let go in Knoxville after posting a 34-27 record.
Sometimes fans want a change just for the sake of making a change, and in a perfect world this can work out well for all involved. When Georgia parted ways with Mark Richt after 15 seasons and 15 bowl games, it was hard to argue that Richt had not had every opportunity to win a title. Now Richt is down at his alma mater in Miami beating up on ACC teams, while UGA has a shot at making the BCS playoff.
Everyone knows that coaching in the SEC is tough. When these coaches were hired, presumably none of them showed up expecting a ten-year window to prove themselves. And while there probably should be a bit of a grace period for these coaches to prove they can recruit players that fit their systems and implement their schemes, I don’t know what else you can realistically expect. McElwain won most of his games. So did Sumlin. Jones was coming off back-to-back 9-4 seasons.
The key word in that last paragraph was “realistically.” Should Texas A&M “realistically” expect Sumlin to regularly beat this juggernaut Nick Saban has assembled in Tuscaloosa?
At the same time, it’s not like these SEC coaches don’t know what they’re signing up for. Even with the way Tennessee has handled its current coaching search, I’m guessing plenty of coaches would be willing to make Knoxville the next move in their career. The blockbuster salaries they are being paid are, in large part, fueled by the very same passion (some might say mania) that generates great expectations. And I don’t think you can have one without the other.
6. Boogie at the Movies
If you haven’t seen it, here’s New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins explaining “Titanic.”
7. Return of the Zach
It doesn’t matter which NBA team you root for, the one thing you should always root against are injuries. We saw Zach LaVine put up one of the all-time great dunk contest performances back in 2016 in Brooklyn at All-Star Weekend, before he tore his ACL midway through last season. But the good news? If this video we saw from a Chicago Bulls practice this week is any indication, LaVine is close to being back and as eye-popping as ever.
8. Moving Cool
Have you ever packed up and moved? Like, taken everything you own and transported it thousands of miles? When I moved from Atlanta to New York City almost two decades ago, I didn’t so much as “move” as I did just make a bunch of trips back and forth hauling stuff in checked bags. Since I’ve been in NYC, I’ve lived in two apartments, and the one move from Place A to Place B was literally four blocks.
I’ve spent all week packing up and getting ready for the big move to Memphis. I’ve got boxes and packing tape and bubble wrap up to my shoulders. It’s quite a feeling to see everything that you have accumulated over the decades condensed down into a series of cardboard packages. It also reinforces to me that stuff in the boxes isn’t what matters in my life -- it’s the people and relationships that I really treasure. Well, that and my XBox.
9. Nog Your Head
Perhaps the best part of the holidays only being limited to a few weeks (other than it keeps us from getting too tired of the music) is that it limits my exposure to egg nog. Because if I have the opportunity to consume anything containing egg nog, I will take that opportunity. Egg nog latte? Egg nog ice cream? Yes, please!
I should specify that I am not talking about the textbook definition of “egg nog,” the custardy, boozy cholesterol spike traditionally served at parties around the holidays. I prefer it without the alcohol, and not quite as refined. I grew up drinking virgin egg nog out of a can. In all likelihood, what I was drinking was probably closer to flavored milk than egg nog, but that was my gateway, and I’ve been guzzling it each December since.
So as the holiday season rolls around, you go hang your twinkling lights and trim the tree or whatever it is you do. I’ll be over in the corner sipping on my golden holiday sizzurp. Merry Christmas!
10. Go Forth With Song
I’ll end the weekly Lang’s World column with a music video, and since it’s the holidays I thought I’d embed one of my favorite holiday songs: Wham’s “Last Christmas.” I enjoy this song because on the surface it’s a frothy pop tune with jingle bells shaking in the background, which is seemingly all a song needs to qualify it as a Christmas song.
But when you really read the lyrics, this is a mean song, and it cracks me up. Last Christmas I gave you my heart, this year I’ll give it to someone special, you jerk. Also, I’d never seen the video for this song and it is peak ‘80s. I believe the story here is that a group of people break into a chalet, claim squatter’s rights, then throw a dinner party.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.