To invoke material Freud, sometimes a cigar is just that. But when it comes to coaching, perhaps these simple products of hand and sunlight can tell us something about the flavor and personality of the game. John Galsworthy's famous observation, "By the cigars they smoke, and the composers they love, ye shall know the texture of men's souls," is not lost on this fan.
22 June 2008
The Rivalry Classics - Coach, but no Cigar
Left: President John F. Kennedy enjoys a petite Corona from his fifth-row seat at the 1963 Orange Bowl.
Everyone needs a good vice. For my part, there are few things in life more endearing than watching a Thursday night football game out on the front patio of my Victorian home with a cold micro-brew, a thick cigar, and the faint tingle of ragweed and honeysuckle in the air. There's something about the milky draw of a tightly-packed blend and a straight burn that begs contemplation.
The cigar is a fixture of a lost era -- the days of sideline bowler hats, neckties, tweed blazers and real grass playing surfaces. The legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant used to pass out victory lonsdales to his Alabama teams after wins over rival Tennessee. There was even a Cigar Bowl in Tampa, Florida that featured smaller namesakes from 1946-1954 (although it can boast hosting the Florida State Seminoles in their first postseason appearance -- a 19-6 win over Wofford). And who can forget Lloyd Carr's simple, but triumphant walk into retirement after an unlikely 2007 Capital One Bowl upset of Florida The consummate professional unbuttoned his collar and headed for the team bus with a bottled water and a lit Churchill in hand. (If you'd like to share a short story with Carr, he's rumored to keep a private locker at Smoky's in Ann Arbor).
What follows is a tongue-in-cheek review of four modern coaches at top ebb and their predicted smoke of choice.
Above: Rich Rod drags on a torpedo during the "Champions for Children's Hearts" celebrity golf tournament May 18th in Ann Arbor.
Indianhead Dynamite 652 Maduro (6'' x 56)
With its dark-oily wrapper, thick ring-gauge, and orange power band, Indianhead's Dynamite has a slightly foreboding, explosive appearance just like RR's spread em' out and run em' over offense.
The hand-rolled exterior is veined and dimpled, and the cigar lights quickly and burns balanced. It's a big hotheaded smoke, thick with Appalachian mountain coal, and toasted almond. This isn't the kind of stick you light to celebrate a new birth -- but might be just right to toast the settlement of a contract dispute with your former employer.
Gurkha "His Majesty's Reserve" (HMR) (7.5'' x 52)
This royal entry holds the distinction of being the most expensive cigar in the world. At $750.00 a piece (a box of 20 is available for $14,999.95 at Cigar.com) the HMR is accessible to only a handful of elites. Fortunately, Nick Saban's paycheck at Alabama just qualifies him.
An aged Dominican-leaf is loaded with a proprietary filler blend flown in from four corners of the world. An entire bottle of Louis XIII Cognac is involved in an infusion process that rivals great triumphs in modern engineering.
Fewer than 100-boxes of HMR are released each year with Gurkha Cigars President Kaizad Hansotia exclusively responsible for their distribution. Fortunately for Nick, Hansotia is a Crimson Tide fan. There are some things money can't buy, and other things that just aren't worth the price. We know Saban isn't the former -- the later remains to be determined.
Padron 1964 Anniversary Series Natural (4 1/2'' x 46)
This perennial 10-best legend is named for the year Cuban refugee Jose Padron opened up his cigar factory in Miami. By then Bobby Bowden had already been coaching for almost a decade.
Both men have been labeled the best in their business, and this box-pressed cigar is worthy of the distinction. Filler tobacco, aged for four years, is uncannily balanced with warm pleasing hints of vanilla, wet leather, fresh-ground black pepper,and coffee.
Each band is individually numbered and perforated in a familiar motif: garnet and gold.
Right: Bowden's office overlooking his namesake field at Doak Campbell Stadium. Check out the humidor on the right side of the desk...
Sabor Cubano Grand Torpedo (7'' x 54)
Those who think of Senator straightforward as having a political demeanor more akin to Ronald Reagan than the slippery-rock antics of Bill Clinton might be surprised to discover he shares one key habit of leisure with Mr. "It Depends."
As the Columbus Dispatch reported in January: "Tressel's vices appear to be few. He might sip a glass of red wine from time to time, but he's not a big drinker...He smokes the occasional cigar but is just as likely to chew on the unlit stogie as he listens to contemporary country music and mows the yard...a favorite pastime."
Tressel...really? It's true. I know first hand. The mom-and-pop cigar shop where Tress' buys his stogies happens to be my favorite study nook: Barclay Pipe & Tobacco in Upper Arlington. This hidden gem, leftover from the old Lane Avenue Mall 10 minutes from campus is a timeless retreat. Neatly framed and inconspicuously hung next to the door (so that you might miss it if you weren't looking) is an autographed extra glossy photo of Jim: "To my friends at the Barclay..." it reads plainly.
The Sabor Cubano is a natural maduro -- no fancy leaf treatments here -- that burns slow and sweet, with easy subdued notes of nutmeg and freshly cut grass, and transitions into a long, white ash. Simple and elegant like the man himself.
Editor's Note: This story has since been rebanded and featured on Rivals.com's Fanblogs site under the title "Choose Your Weapon: Cigars of the Coaching Elite." Webmaster Kevin Donahue added a few more coaches to the list. You can get the full coverage at www.fanblogs.com.