What are we looking at in the (spectacular) photo below from Hal Yeager of the Birmingham News? At the most basic level, it's an Alabama student trying to distract Florida's Patric Young from what looks like a fairly high-percentage field goal attempt.
We know a little more than that thanks to Deadspin's Jack Dickey who, being Deadspin's Jack Dickey, managed to track down the student, whose name is (of course?) Jackson Blankenship. We know that Hal Yeager is owed one high-five by The Classical staffer of his choice for dropping his shutter on this image. But there's something buried in this one that, if not quite as good as Blankenship's terrifying ability to transform himself into a very angry cartoon character, is pretty great. And that is the fact that he's waving around a giant head at a basketball game.
This is something that happens at NBA games, although not all that often, and something that, amazingly, happens at college basketball games all the time. Big heads were also very much in evidence—they are either not-there or really there, given the fact that they're large disembodied heads on sticks—at the Maine Red Claws D-League game I attended in Portland on Christmas Eve Eve. If there was a way for me to get the giant disembodied head of Justin Brownlee onto an airplane without having to buy it an extra seat, I'd be writing these words with it glowering hugely at me from across the room. As it is, I was at least able to get my wife to take my photograph with the larger-than-usual head of former DePaul and University of Virginia head coach, and current Red Claws chief, Dave Leitao. Having that photo is, at least, probably preferable to keeping that Brownlee head around the apartment. It's not that big a place, and it would be nice not to be stared at by a four-foot domepiece for at least a few minutes out of the day.
Anyway, anyway: the big head in that shot, nearly as much as the expression on young Mr. Blankenship's face, is the thing that I really enjoy and admire about it. I am not in any position to credit whether or not the Giant Face On Stick maneuver actually distracts college basketball players during free throw attempts, although I'd imagine that the natural befuddlement that would follow for a visiting player upon seeing, say, Bethenny Frankel's (already frighteningly proportioned) head bouncing around behind the backboard at Indiana's Assembly Hall could only redound to the home team's favor. Which is probably why Tom Crean effectively mandated an aggressive big-head policy upon taking the IU job.
But, really, what I enjoy about the big heads—Blankenship's contribution being just the most recent and amusing and terrifying leap forward in this area—is that they're there at all. There are people on this masthead for whom college basketball is too ragged and off-brand and flubby, especially when there's almost certainly an NBA game to be found on another channel. I understand this, and there are times—generally during Big 10 and Big East games, especially those involving Illinois or Notre Dame—that I understand it very deeply and very well. And I'm skeptical, too, of the idea that the synchronized anarchy of the hyped-up undergraduates in the stands somehow makes college basketball any purer or more authentic or more enjoyable to watch unless you're one of those undergraduates. But all the looseness and slop in college hoops leaves room for weirdness that isn't there in the NBA. If you have to fill that space, and there's really no reason not to, you might as well do it like this:
That video found me via this post by Grantland's Shane Ryan, which also provides a thumbnail history of the Comically Oversized Disembodied Head; like many of our more important innovations, it was the product of San Diego State bros. The Jackson Blankenship photo came via Friend of the Classical Michael Katz. Any future photos of Comically Oversized Disembodied Heads can and should be sent to me via email immediately.