Monday, November 30, 2009

"Open" confirms that "image is everything" - Agassi really is as meatheaded as he appears

I've been watching tennis for over 30 years. It's the only sport about which I can speak with any valid authority. So don't try to argue with me when I say that Andre Agassi should have been the greatest tennis player of his generation, and that if he performed to his maximum potential, if he worked his ass off and exploited all the genetic gifts his parents gave him, he would have been mentioned in the handful of greatest players of all time. Up there with Budge and Borg and Tilden and Kramer, supplanting Sampras, not better than Laver or Federer but mentioned in the same breath. David Foster Wallace wrote the single best piece of sports writing ever in which he described Federer's transcendent game, better than Updike's piece about a lyric little bandbox. You should read it, and the footnotes. While you're at it, read Brief Interviews With Hideous Men; forgo the movie.

You've heard that Agassi was the best counter-puncher of all time. But you likely don't know why. Not really. I'll tell you. He had great power off both sides, and he had amazing foot speed. But what made Agassi special is that he could do two things better than anyone I've ever seen:

1. His ability to hit the ball on the rise was super-human. His ability to see the ball is probably Ted Williamsesque. Hitting the ball on the rise, or "taking the ball early," means getting your racquet on the ball immediately after it bounces, and before it reaches its vertical apex after the bounce. I was surprisingly decent at this at the high school level because I worked on my timing to compensate for my miserable depth perception, lack of power, and plodding foot speed. But Agassi could take the ball on the rise when it was served by Sampras. You can't time a pro serve, not against the best in the world who know how to mix up their pace like Pedro Martinez. Agassi simply had better vision, hand-eye coordination, and reflexes than anyone I've ever seen. This allowed him to crowd the baseline, or stand closer to the court than normal humans, and thus gave him angles that weren't available to mortals, and added extra pace to his shots. Agassi feasted on second serves, which sacrifice pace for accuracy by adding topspin, which in turn makes the ball kick higher. Standing closer to the service box made the ball kick into Agassi's wheelhouse and allowed him to hit outright winners off of second serves. Except for Sampras, whose second serve deserves its own 1,000 word analysis.

2. He held the ball on the racquet longer than anyone I've ever seen. I have no empirical data to support this assertion. But if you watched him enough, you could see that he could change his mind mid-stroke and take the ball cross-court instead of down the line, or hit a lob instead of a sizzling line drive, without changing his swing or even his grip. Opponents simply never knew what was going to come back at them after they hit the ball to Agassi's side of the net. But they knew that anything could happen, and that scared them.

These two skills in combination made his return game insanely dangerous, neutralizing all but the best service games. And this allowed him to completely disguise his shots during a point. He didn't have to drop the head of his racquet to lob or open his hips for a cross-court shot like normal players. You simply could not predict where the ball was going based on his pre-shot set-up, or even his mid-shot stroke. And he had several lobs in his arsenal, some of which made his lob as good as a passing shot. No one should have been able to come to the net against him.

I watched tennis religiously from 1988 to 1992, trying to pick things up to make my game better. I briefly adopted a foot-crossing tic on my serve a la Edberg (the most graceful player ever) but it didn't work for me (the least graceful player ever). Becker's deep knee-bend and back arch actually made my serve better (until I screwed up my back). As did Lendl's looping forehand and Graf's slice backhand. But I was physically incapable of doing the things Agassi did on the court.

Throw in Agassi's speed and power, and he should have been unbeatable. And he's American. With a gigantic chip on his shoulder. Swagger like Mick Jagger. Right up my alley, right?

I never liked Agassi though. The hair. The earring. Image is everything. Barbra Streisand. The Prince painted to look like a Donnay. Refusing to play Wimbledon. The periodic lack of dedication to his craft. And most importantly, the colossal choke-inducing mental weakness.

Even things about Agassi that I should like weren't quite right. Nike made cool kicks for him, but he wore the pink-and-black ones instead of the orange-and-navy ones. He liked to party but he drank margaritas. He collects cars, but they're all white and cheesy (e.g., mid-80's Vette, Hummer, '76 Eldorado convertible, Vector W8, Jeep Wrangler).

Simply put, he's a meathead. A preposterously gifted meathead, but a meathead nonetheless. And lazy too. I recently thought my opinion was too harsh. We actually have a lot in common. Like wasted talent. If I ever gave a shit in high school I might have gone to a real college with national street cred. If I ever gave a shit in college I might have gone to top-notch graduate schools. We both had failed marriages. We smoked pot (somehow Agassi's potheadedness gets much less press than his methheadedness, but he apparently smoked his fair shair at the Bolletieri Academy). We suffer from hair loss. Eventually we got our acts together and became successful at our chosen professions.

So I looked forward to his autobiography, Open. I thought it would illuminate the source of his failures in Grand Slam finals. Like his inexcusable loss to Andres Gomes in the 1990 French Open Final, which I watched with the same awe-struck gape-mouthed stupor as the final seconds of the Super Bowl following the 1990 NFL season. Or his loss in the 1990 U.S. Open Final in which Sampras won his first slam and all but played tinkle with Agassi. Or his collapse in the 1991 French Open to Jim Courier where he was up 2 sets to 1. I thought it would explain why he would work his way to a top 10 ranking, then plummet, then get back into the top 10, then plummet again, then surge again.

And I guess it did. But the answer is completely unsatisfying: as I suspected, the guy's a lazy meathead. He's like Nuke LaLoosh come to life, complte with the million dollar arm and 5 cent head.

It turns out that Agassi was, like most people, a scared and insecure kid who was overwhelmed by life. His dad forced him into tennis, a sport that he hates to this day, actually hates, and was incapable of showing him love or affection or approval. He was lousy at school and dropped out after 9th grade, so he's also insecure about his brain power. All that he had was this amazing, borderline supernatural, ability to do something that he hates, with no desire to excel at it and nothing to fall back on. So he didn't work hard at tennis or conditioning and he melted down in big games.

Agassi's book doesn't paint a sympathetic figure though. He continued to melt down throughout his career, even into his 30's when he should have mastered the mental part of the game. He finally decided to get into shape towards the end of his career but only after surrounding himself with an entourage that supported his childish psyche (it's amazing to learn how many people, both on and off his payroll, it took to keep his mental and physical act together; it's also amazing that he doesn't seem to appreciate what a pampered schmuck he was, or how lucky he was to find so many people willing to make large personal sacrifices for his success). He wore a toupe, and blames his loss in the 1990 French Final on a toupe malfunction. He listens to Barry Manilow and Michael Bolton. Seriously. He said that shit like it's a legitimate musical preference.

What I found most frustrating was some time in his 30's, Agassi realized that Sampras treats tennis like a job, and that Sampras "does it with brio and dedication." Incredible! The guy was a pro athlete for just about half his life at this point, and he just realized that hard work and dedication pay off?! He never understood that giving a shit yields better results?! And that tennis was his job!? I shook my head for a good 15 seconds after I read that sentence.

The only thing I can personally relate to is his relationship with Brooke Shields. She told him the words she wanted to hear for her proposal, and that if he ever expected to propose he better damn well use those words. He had one closet for his stuff in their entire house. Their wedding was supposed to look like a fairy tale. Upon learning that they were going to South Africa to meet Nelson Mandela, she went out and bought matching safari outfits. It sounds like he wasn't really sure that he wanted to propose but was bullied and confused and the next thing he knew he was talking to caterers and wedding planners. Sound familiar? Like a guy you know who should have a radio show with The Teej? TR and Marlin are slowly nodding yes.

Agassi confirmed a number of my suspicions: Chang is a Bible-beating dork; Sampras is a tool and he's cheap; Jimmy Connors is a world-class asshole; Courier is a prick; Nadal is the fastest tennis player ever; Brooke Shields is lousy in bed (I made that up ... but if you read between the lines you can see it). The only person that received kind words from Agassi, outside of his family and circle of sycophants/employees, was Pat Rafter, confirming my suspicion that Rafter was the classiest tennis player of his era.

Some other worthwhile stuff came out of Agassi's book. It explains a series of insanely intense matches with Boris Becker, including the 1995 U.S. Open Semifinal match in which their hatred for each other was palpable, even on TV. It's also clear that Agassi found happiness in his second marriage, and I have to applaud him in that regard. Divorce puts you through an emotional wringer no matter how amicable it may be. So for some reason I have to root for other divorced guys (unless they're philanderers or wifebeaters) and I'm glad things are working out for him on the homefront. Agassi also found a sense of purpose, namely his school for poor kids in his home town of Las Vegas, which propelled him through the final two or three years of his career.

There's no reason to read Open unless you're really into tennis. You know he wore a rug. You know he used meth regularly for a while. You know he failed a drug test and lied his way out of a suspension. That's all the salacious stuff, nothing else really.

You probably read the book already if you're an Agassi fan. If you're like me, if you followed Agassi's entire career as a neutral observer and can't figure out for the life of you why he didn't win at least four more Slams, Open isn't completely satisfying. It confirms that Agassi suffers from deep psychological insecurity and mental fragility, and that he's not too bright. Amazingly, his preposterous reflexes are discussed once, in passing, in one paragraph on page 28, in which he describes hitting balls from a Lobster as a kid. His natural abilities deserve more full treatment, at least their own chapter. Wallace's article (supra) does a better job describing them than Agassi does.

What I took away is that Agassi was a tremendously gifted athlete who didn't want his gifts but was forced to use them, who was exploited to a degree, who purposely self-destructed several times in response but eventually made peace with his lot in life, and, despite his meatheadedness, despite all his efforts to the contrary, managed to find happiness and purpose within and outside of his talents. We should all be so lucky.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Futile Superfan Saturday

After a tense Iron Bowl win for Alabama and a somewhat surprising hoops win for Florida over #2 Michigan State, a huge weekend of sports action for the G:TB family continues today. As usual, the center of the sporting universe is Williamsburg, VA, where William & Mary takes on Weber State in the first round of the 1-AA football playoffs.

The 9-2 Tribe returns to the postseason for the first time since 2004, a veritable generation in the wilderness for W&M faithful. Weber State's Wildcats are the 15th seed, entering the game with a 7-4 record that includes a pair of close losses to D-I opponents Wyoming and Colorado State.

While at least one G:TB staff member will be painting his face and attending the game in person, real superfans can follow the action live on the internets via CBS Sports. Kickoff is at 1:00.

This evening, W&M's cagers take on ACC foe Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. The Tribe enters the game with a pleasantly surprising 3-2 record, with wins over Richmond, Manhattan, and Hampton, and a close loss to UCONN. Wake is unbeaten and likely to remain so, but we'll get a chance to see whether this Tribe team is really better than we thought it was when Midnight Madness started.

To round out your day of viewing pleasure, The Second Coming will whip Grandpa Bobby's sinners today at some point, setting up the Second Annual Biggest Game in the History of Ever. Y'all have a good day, y'hear.


I'm not going to steal Rob's thunder but I didn't want to feel responsible for ruining anybody's Saturday (including Urban Meyer's) by not posting my weekly picks. With that in mind, here you are:

Ole Miss (-7) @ Mississippi State:
Yeah that's right, it's the Egg Bowl. Driving around, king of town, always got my windows rolled down. Ready to throw, you know it's the Egg Bowl. Rebels win.

Georgia (+9.5) @ Georgia Tech: In case you haven't figured it out yet, Georgia is terrible. The defense is a joke and the offense is worse. At this point (and I would argue that "this point" was 4 weeks ago) there's no legitimate defense for Mark Richt continuing to start Joe "Ginger Ninja" Coz at QB. First, he's among the worst QBs in recent SEC history. Beyond that, he's a 5th year Senior on a team that's barely bowl eligible. Richt should've broke down and given Aaron Murray some snaps weeks ago. At this point though, you might as well save his redshirt. You know what else? A.J. Green (also know as Georgia's only good offensive player) is out today. Georgia's likely to come out today with tons of fire and emotion, but once that wears off, its tough for me to see them stopping Tech rushing attack or scoring enough to keep up with the Yellow Jackets. Tech wins but they do so in sloppy fashion, allowing an ugly Georgia cover.

FSU (-21) @ Florida: I'm concerned about the emotion in this game for Florida. Historically, Tebow has struggled with being too pumped in the early part of big games. It happened against Tennessee this year and against Oklahoma in the 1st half of last year's BCS Championship game. I think it will affect him and the Gator offense early in this game as well. I could even see FSU scoring first following a Gator turnover and a big play by a very underrated Seminole offense. I don't expect that lead to last though. The Seminole defense is atrocious and plays too undisciplined to consistently keep the Gator offense down. Florida's going to open things up in the 2nd half and not only win, but cover as well. Gators.

Finally, I'd like to take this space to send a thank you to the greatest senior class in Gator Football history on the day of their final game: So, thanks...Markihe, Doe Boy, AJ, Burgess, Coop, Cunningham, Epps, Wondy, David Nelson, Stamp, the Brandons and, oh yeah, that Tim guy too.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

The G:TB team is thankful for a great many things this year, but we missed an enormous opportunity last week that will haunt us for at least an hour or two. The Pontiac Silverdome sold at auction for $583,000. That is not a typo - 80,000 seats, 127 acres for less than $600,000. Can you imagine what we might have done with the Pontiac Silverdome?

I think we'll regret this one for a while. Muppets can only help so much.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

NME Magazine's Top 100 Albums of the Decade

Lists. They're objective, tough to categorize and create instant debate fodder. And it seems that the point of many of them is to push a controversial agenda and bring it into some sort of public forum. As I (struggle to) mature, I've found that it's usually best to ignore lists I stumble across on the world wide web, as there is usually an ulterior motive for controversial selections. But sometimes, when I fall victim to whimsy and read through a list, I uncover mistakes of such an egregious nature occur that it forces me to fend off ennui, pull out my soapbox, double-check the planks to make sure they won't break when my fat ass climbs up, and vent.

The issue is this: NME Magazine's Top 100 albums of the decade. NME Magazine is a publication that caters to folks on the other side of the pond who like their rock and roll. For the most part, the list is okay, with some well-known monster releases combined with a healthy dose of the indie stuff that music insiders love to know better than suburban Dads.

But's what's the #1 album of the decade, according to these pundits? None other than this shit sandwich.

I have nothing against one-hit wonders who liberally steal from Tom Petty's American Girl when crafting their singles, but I sure wouldn't put them at the top of any list (unless it was a list of d-bags who get hot chicks). Actually, I take that last sentence back. The first part, at least. I do have something against them. The band was fast-tracked to fame because Julian Casablancas' dad was the founder of the Elite Modeling Agency and instantly constructed a sexy following for the guys in the band that sported terrible faux fros and outfits that would make Journey wince. Their music is incredibly unoriginal and unexciting, and these guys are not worthy of holding Jack White's red and white jock strap. Assuming he wears one at all. And that if he did, it would match his band's color scheme.

The Strokes may have spawned the godforesaken hipster movement, but they are certainly not worthy of such adulation, especially if they're not paying Tom Petty and each and every Heartbreaker for stealing the chorus of American Girl for use in Last Night.

On that festive note, happy Thanksgiving.

Dave Solves Problem-- Interviews Self

I was recently interviewed by The Clarion, our school newspaper, on the topic of living overseas, and, now that I've seen an advanced copy of the article, I am unhappy with my performance during this interview. I wanted to sound funny and quotable, but I was preoccupied with drawing a cartoon on the board for the up-coming class, and I ended up sounding flip and tangential-- the other teacher who was interviewed said profound things about living in another culture while I riffed on tapeworms, power outages, and feeling stupid when everyone else speaks three languages. I also forgot that the high school reporter would have a hard time merging the adjective "byzantine" into her own prose.

But I will say this, although I did not take THAT particular interview very seriously, I now have a taste for being interviewed. And I am pretty sure that my thoughts are more important than anyone else's thoughts. But the problem is this: no one has interviewed me in two weeks. In a daring (and extremely egotistical) attempt to solve this problem, I have interviewed myself.

Dave: If there was one rock band you could erase, which would it be?
Dave: I'll answer that question with one of my own. Who made more albums, Steely Dan or Jethro Tull?

Dave: Could you offer your thoughts on the sub-prime mortgage crisis?
Dave: Sure. It's a difficult thing, because you could blame Bill Clinton and George Bush for encouraging lending institutions to offer a wider variety of more complex products which would appeal to higher risk applicants, or you could blame the legislation that allowed loans to be packaged into tranched derivatives, which could be repackaged into bonds, so that everyone could get involved with the mortgage market, not just banks, who have to patiently wait from fifteen to thirty years to collect their money. Or you could blame poor people, who went ahead and took any money that rich lending institutions offered them, even if they couldn't afford it. Or you could blame the houses themselves, because most houses are made of wood and wood is edible: squirrels like to gnaw on it, termites like to eat it, and dry rot spores will quickly destroy it. I wouldn't invest all my money in something made of food and hope to get rich. I think that third pig had a good idea with the bricks.

Dave: Is there anything you feel particularly qualified to expound upon?
Dave: No, and that's sort of sad. For as much as I've read, I'm not an expert in anything. I'm pretty much a dilettante. It's a sad irony that I recognize this, yet still insist on being interviewed regularly.

Dave: Where were you when O.J. took that fateful slow ride in his Bronco?
Dave: That's a great question. I was at a party in Highland Park, New Jersey, but my brother and I weren't really talking to anyone, instead we were trying to watch the Knicks play the Rockets, it was game five of the NBA finals, but once everyone at the party got wind of the chase, they made us shut the game off and turn to that nonsense. My brother and I went into my future wife's bedroom and listened to the game on the radio, which was always fun because of the color commentary of Walt "Clyde" Frazier: "Acrobatic theatrics as Starks wheels and deals to Ewing, who styles and profiles through the lane!" But although the Knicks won, in retrospect, we should have watched the chase, because the Knicks ended up losing in seven, and Olajuwon outplayed Ewing, and that Simpson chase would be the integral event of the 90's.

Dave: Do you have any advice for the young people?
Dave: Yes. If you haven't listened to Girl Talk, you should. Don't be fooled by the name. Also, don't worry about your choices. You're going to pretty much regret everything you do (unless you invested in the Microsoft back in 1986) so you might as well enjoy yourself.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Belated Happy B-Day, Early Happy T-Day

It was mentioned in the comments here recently, but it really should have been a bit more heralded. Gheorghe: The Blog turned 6 the other day. That’s about 96 in blog-years, but we’re still rolling along in this space and only peeing ourselves every once in a while.

It’s hard to believe that this little blog has been around for six years. Ah, 2003; maybe take a few seconds to ponder where you were, what you were doing for kicks, what you were doing for work, whom you were banging (those last two may have overlapped), and what you were drinking in ’03 – not to mention the state of the world, sporting or otherwise.

It was vastly different back then – just look at how much the Washington Redskins have changed since then: in 2003, they struggled to a 5-11 finish during the head coach’s second and final year as an NFL coach; they had a struggling, young quarterback who would never really prove himself; Ladell Betts and Rock Cartwright were forced into action after the starting tailback got hurt; the Skins blew some games late, and they were just “not very good.” Night and day, right?

Anyway, it’s easy to read the robust banter at Gheorghe: The Blog in 2009 and forget all about its early struggles to survive. By now you all know about Rob founding this vehicle for inanity in 2003, and you get that I’ve been his collaborator in most things bloggy along the way. And it’s obvious that we’ve recruited a roster full of buffoons to join in our revelry. In all likelihood, however, you don’t realize or acknowledge the role of one Thomas James Simspon in single-handedly keeping this ridiculous effort alive for several years until it could get its legs and mature into the full-on dipshittery machine that it is today.

Our new-fangled bean-counter contraptions at G:TB have enabled us to run the numbers more easily. And they stun even me, even though I was right there for the slacking.

Rob cranked out the first 12 posts of Gheorghe’s production. All Rob, all the time for two months. That pretty much ended when 2004 rolled around. In ’04, TJ voluntarily took the reins as Rob faded into the dust ruffle. I chimed in here and there, but here was the breakdown:

2004 G:TB Post Count
Rob 5
Whitney 14
TJ 111
And the one-man show continued in 2005, even though Dennis was added to the fray:

2005 G:TB Post Count
Rob 4
Whitney 19
Dennis 22
TJ 174
In 2006, carrying this blog on his back was beginning to take its toll on Teej:

2006 G:TB Post Count
Rob 2
Whitney 6
Dennis 3
TJ 92
Let’s be honest: it didn’t look good for the future of Gheorghe. Rob’s whopping two (!) posts in all of 2006 (one of them three sentences long) represented an indefensible abandonment of the blog he’d initiated. His disappearance from these pages had everyone predicting the end of Gheorghe (and checking their shoes for the little guy).

Just when Teejay’s broad shoulders were about to give out, however, Like Phoenix rising from the ashes of the 2003-04 season and winning 33 more games a year later under Mike D’Antoni, Gheorghe: The Blog returned to prominence . . . or at least semi-regular posting . . . in 2007. A hearty 69 of the 192 Gheorghe entries that year were from non-Teej sources (including one from newcomer Dave), and a reinvigorated Rob accounted for 38 of those. It represented a rebirth for the blog, one that now has us cruising along at our sixth birthday and planning for the fun that lies ahead.

I didn’t come here today to bury Rob’s reputation as creator, cornerstone, and curmudegeonly heart and soul of Gheorghe by revealing that he contributed a post here just 11 times in three calendar years during the formative years of his own blog. (That’s just gravy.) No, instead I’m here to remind and/or inform you readers of one very special boy without whom we would all have a few extra minutes in every day to get things done, but also without whom perhaps our lives would be one shade less bright.

From what you see and hear of T.J. today, and especially from how the rest of us offer only condescending asides and back-handed compliments to his work at G:TB, you might think of him only as the clown who does the silly YouTubes, News of the Weird blurbs, and the Ghoogles . . . oh, and the guy who puts his name on Mark’s pick posts. I implore you, however, to remain aware that were it not for the efforts of Thomas James, today Gheorghe: The Blog would be a fleeting memory of wasted hours gone by. He’s not a clown; he’s a hero, he’s a savior of blogs, he’s a stubborn ass who posts stuff nobody may ever read but he doesn’t care, and he’s a clown.

So when it comes around the table on Thursday, and it’s your turn to be thankful for something in your life, why not eschew the trite “good friends and loving family” crap and offer up the change of pace: “I’m thankful for Teejay, and how he helped saved Gheorghe from extinction lo those many years ago.” At the very least, it’ll keep you from having to entertain your nephews and nieces for a while…

Tuesdays with Tenuta

What is a Tenuta?

It's a sultry voice.

It's a sexy accordion.

It's a monstrous, saggy pair of breasts.

And it's brilliance personified. With cartoon spaceships and planets.

This should keep you all busy for a little bit

After the last set of Ghoogles, I was perusing algorenet for some college hoops knowledge, and ending up over at our friends Storming the Floor. The post wasn't so much hoops fodder as it was a suggestion that folks start using Google Analytics to track (tepid) action/traffic at your site. Well, why not I thought...SiteMeter had a good run, and while it won't be forcibly removed from G:TB Island, I thought we'd give Cyberdyne Systems yet another way to Big Brother us...

Well, it's only been a few weeks, but I would say Google Analytics is a rousing success. I know how to use about 1/20th of what the application offers, but that's all I need to know. Without freddy adu, here then are the brand spanking new Ghoogles (thanks to the supercomputer at Google Analytics):
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Monday, November 23, 2009

Cracking Good Stuff

A little feel good fandom to start your Thanksgiving week.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

There's a good reason Florida is playing Florida International. I just don't feel like telling you...

If you haven't noticed, I've been playing the part of a disgruntled employee or ,more appropriately, staff member this week. And not in the fun Disgruntled Goat kind of way. You see, I like Geoff. When he used to write for the Wheelhouse, his posts were consistently funny and even, at times, informative. Yet, unlike most of the guys who write here, I don't have much in common with Geoff. We don't live near each other, we didn't go to college together and we're definitely not going to be invited to the same cocktail parties (Full disclosure: I've never been invited to a cocktail party). So, all we have in common are my jokes at his expense and the memory of the time he came to Gainesville and my pit bull (Tinsley) attempted to eat his flip flops whilst they were on his feet. Sadly, those jokes, like my pit bull have grown old and tired. Tinsley's still around, but he's not the vicious baby killer he once was. I have another pit bull now (Mayfield) and much like Rob, he's a tiny, out of control asshole who has forced me to change the way I do things. I'm sure its for the better, but I don't like it. Not one bit.

To be fair, I didn't like meth the first time I tried it either. Now Salvea, that's a different story. That shit was amazing. I hit it (and followed it immediately with a whippit) and within seconds I felt like I was in King Koopa's Castle on Super Mario Bros. Greg's brother was so high he tried to walk through the screened door. That shit is awesome. If your local flea market still sells it, I suggest you get your ass down there with the townies and get yourself some.

Where was I? Oh yeah, meth. Like I said, I didn't like that shit much when I tried it the first time. But now? Oh man. That's my shit. So what I'm saying here is, bear with me. I'll figure out a way to make Rob nervous again, piss TJ off and generate some vitriol for guys I've never met like Zoltan and TR. It's just going to take me some time. But I'll get there. This is my promise to you, dear readers.

UConn (+7.5) @ Notre Dame: Both teams are in a state of mourning. UConn is obviously still mourning the tragic loss of teammate Jasper Howard. Notre Dame on the other hand is mourning both the loss of any hope for a decent bowl game and the end of the Charlie Weis era. Now, Charlie may not think its over because nobody's informed him of his impending termination, but all that tells you is that Charlie is a clueless as he is arrogant. But, we all knew that already. Charlie has seemed in over his head from day one. He's been defensive, cocky and, frankly, not very good at his job. He'll get one last win in South Bend today before Stanford, Andrew Luck and Toby Gerhart run roughshod over the Irish next week. I'm not sure who Notre Dame is going to hire next but until the delusional alums, fans (Hey TJ and Dan!) and administration come to the realization that Notre Dame is no longer an elite program...and that they're more likely to lose 3-4 games each year than they are to go to a BCS bowl game, we'll be having this same discussion about the firing and hiring of Notre Dame football coaches all over again 3-5 years from now. Irish win...big.

Oregon (-4) @ Arizona: Arizona has quietly played pretty good football this year. That's neat and all, but the real Arizona football story that's slipped under the radar this year is this. I guess it's not a shock that an Arizona QB wouldn't have the NFL beating down his door, but a guy with the physical ability and experience of Willie Tuitama should at least be getting some CFL looks. Shit, even Chris Leak's pussy ass is still hanging on up in America Jr. (Quick tangent: Every year around this time, the Canadian National Crew team comes down to my town to live and train for 3-4 months. When they do this, they take over my gym like a pack of pale, boring, annoyingly accented locusts. Don't get me wrong, I like Canadians. The ones who drink and smoke too much. These are not those Canadians. The men are douchey Euro look a likes and the women have traps the size of small dogs. And these people make it fucking impossible for me to have a decent workout in anything under an hour and a half. Seriously, take off hosers). Anyway, Oregon's a better football team than Arizona. More importantly, they aren't going to let a second chance to clinch a Rose Bowl berth slip through their fingers, or past their webbed feet. Oregon wins by at least two TDs and LeGarrette Blount scores at least one TD himself.

LSU (+4) @ Ole Miss: TJ thinks Ole Miss is winning this game. TJ hasn't watched nearly enough of Houston Nutt to realize that his teams rarely win when they are supposed to and specialize in winning games in which they seemingly have little chance. Its how his special brand of crazy works. He's a great motivator and a pretty average coach (Which differentiates him from Les Miles who is an average motivator and terrible coach). Ole Miss has a banged up DLine that will struggle to get pressure on Jordan Jefferson, who's back from a sprained ankle he suffered against Alabama. Furthermore, LSU DC John Chavis is surely going to stack the line in order to take away college football's most dangerous midget, Dexter McCluster (Quick tangent #2: Why doesn't every school in the NCAA recruit the ever loving fuck out of Florida? McCluster was a good not great high school player in Tampa, which is probably the 3rd or 4th best city in terms on high school football talent in the state, and he's been an absolutely dominant player when he's gotten enough touches this year. Every year, grab 8-10 under the radar kids out of Florida and bring them to your shitty school in the south or the midwest or wherever. You're likely to get at least 2 impact players from each class. Now, to be fair, you're likely to have at least 2 players from each class get arrested as well but that's just the price of doing business, right?) and force Jevan "I've lost somewhere between $5-10 million this year" Snead to beat a very good LSU secondary himself. That, ain't happening. On the bright side, the Klan is planning on staging a rally in Oxford right before today's game, which should do wonders for the nation's perception of Mississippi as a state, and the south in general. LSU wins, Snead throws 3 picks and Houston Nutt makes at least 5 ridiculous faces that make me laugh out loud.

Florida International (+43) @ Florida: I've only got two things to say about this game: (1) I like this game and when it falls because it lets some of the Gator's bigger contributors rest up for the stretch run and (2) I can't see Florida covering. If it happens, its because John Brantley's allowed to throw the ball a ton in the second half. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing as Brantley has seen far less game action than initially anticipated going into this season. FIU and Ned cover.

Oh yeah, one last thing: TJ called me tonight (now last night) half drunk whilst looking for Ray Finkle after Rob used his kids as an excuse to get off the phone with him (Kids are good for one thing, they are bullet proof excuses. Nobody will ever say shit if you invoke your kids in your excuse). TJ then proceeded to tell me that I may know a lot about college football but he knows waaaay more than me when it comes to College basketball (all because I jokingly said Cal would beat Syracuse). Of course, this was closely followed up by a discussion on UNC where I mentioned they had two lottery picks on this year's team. TJ said they had three and called Marcus Ginyard and Deon Thompson lottery picks. Uhhh, no. First rounders, maybe. Not the lottery. The lottery picks on UNC are Ed Davis and John Henson, but I digress. So, I'm throwing down the gauntlet right now.

Next week, TJ and I will square off (if he's man enough) in a College Basketball prediction post where we will each pick the Conference Champ (regular season) and Player of the Year from each BCS Conference and 4 mid-major conferences (two of TJ's choice and two of mine). Then we'll see who the most prescient loser on this blog is. Oh, we will see.

Futile Superfan Sports Round-Up

Here’s my usual lone football pick of the week:

Washington @ Dallas (-11)
It’s Dallas week! If you can’t get excited about Redskins-Cowboys, well, then . . . okay, so much for this enthusiastic stuff. Those of you who don’t think that after last week’s inspired win Washington’s going to lay a huge egg in Big D haven’t been paying attention.

There was a nice story about how after Dan Snyder rescinded his ban on signs mocking him, a group of fans prepared to stage an organized protest during last Sunday’s game cancelled it in the name of good will. What wasn’t mentioned there (but was by the SportsBog) was what Rob and I saw in the seats opposite ours in the third quarter. A group of 20-some people unfurled an enormous banner that said “WORST OWNER EVER” and turned it to face the owner’s box. One win, fun to attend though it was, does not heal this ailing organization.
Cowboys 27, Redskins 10.

* * * * *

For the uninformed, there’s something of a big showdown in the Capital of the South today. Your Fighting Wrens of William & Mary take on the Spiders of the University of Richmond in a rivalry whose trophy has recently been renamed because . . . well, no explanation is needed, really:

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. - The winner of this year's matchup between the University of Richmond and the College of William & Mary will be taking home the Capital Cup.
The two schools are part of the South's oldest college football rivalry, having played each other 118 times.

The new trophy will be awarded for the first time after the Nov. 21 game at the University of Richmond Stadium. It replaces the I-64 Trophy.

The rivalry began with the Spiders winning 15-0 on Nov. 19, 1898. The Tribe holds a 59-54-5 lead. Both schools say the new Capital Cup reflects the historical significance of the cities of Williamsburg and Richmond as the last two capitals of Virginia.

In addition to bragging rights and a nifty Capital Cup, this year’s winner will go home with more cash & prizes: the likelihood of a pair of home playoff games. (Y’know, assuming they win in the first round.) Yes, people, it’s football playoffs time again . . . for some divisions. With a respectable loss, the Tribe may still get a home game next Saturday (11/22). With a victory, however . . . well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Fueling the fire will be the sting the Spiders feel after losing a men’s basketball contest to a meager CAA opponent two nights ago. Yes, the Wren hoopsters knocked off the too-good-for-the-CAA Richmond, 78-71. This will undoubtedly add . . . almost nothing. I just wanted to mention it.

Go Tribe.

* * * * *

In other southeastern Virginia college football news, the Monarchs of Old Dominion University wrap up their brilliant inaugural football season at VMI today. ODU, at 8-2, already has more wins than any other start-up program in I-AA history. But today’s a bit of a tester. Although they have played FCS opponents in all but two games, those opponents have been on the softer side of the division by most accounts.

Don’t misunderstand; what Old Dominion has accomplished thus far not only has been highly impressive and fun to follow, it also bodes well for the future success of the program. This can, should, and probably will be a top I-AA program within a decade. The groundswell of financial and community support, the student body size, the geographic location, and . . . ahem, the lack of overly stringent admissions for athletes like some schools founded in 1693 should all factor into a winning future. Add in the benefits of such a great first season during the recruiting process, and things are looking up in Big Blue-ville.

Today’s game in Lexington will simply be an indicator of how much of a fast-track ODU football really is on. W&M handles VMI season in and season out without breaking too much of a sweat. There have been some scares along the way, but not too many. Meanwhile, the conference ODU will join in 2011, the Colonial Athletic Association, has quickly become the elite of I-AA. As of this writing, CAA teams comprise three of the top five spots in FCS rankings; they also hold the #11 and #25 slots. Two unranked schools, JMU and UMass, could take down plenty of worthy non-conference opponents. It’ll be a tough row to hoe for the DU of O, but today should give us a glimpse of how they measure up in the short term.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Flogging Mollie

So my local newspaper sportswriter has struck again. I promised I wasn’t going to browbeat the guy any more for his missteps, but . . . I guess I lied.

In today’s Virginian-Pilot, Bob Molinaro has once again littered the Sports section with drivel, and in this case, it’s indefensible. From the get-go: his column is entitled “More College Games on TV is Not Necessarily a Good Thing.” I cringed at first read, knowing all too well that the 666 words contained within (not a joke; not a coincidence) would evoke fist-clenching and teeth-gnashing.

I knew what was coming, for I have been reading Mollie’s stuff for way too long. He’s in his third decade of writing for the Pilot, and he hasn’t aged gracefully. Instead of donning the robes of a senior statesman and venerable elder like a Shirley Povich, over the years Bob Molinaro has absorbed the persona of a whiny old crankpot, a cantankerous curmudgeon with some sort of misdirected shoulder chip. I feel like I’m reading a third-rate Tony Kornheiser – in an era where even Tony himself is a pale shadow of his once-worthy self.

And so we venture through the barren wasteland of sports insight that’s today’s piece. The column asserts that the recent all-day, all-night college basketball extravaganza was a pointless exercise. It further attests that there are far too many college basketball games on television these days. Specifically, it highlights the fact that “292 ACC games will be on some form of television,” following it up with “But is more really better? I don't think so. More is just more.” Ugh.

He goes on to include the following assessments:

“Perhaps, too, the unintended consequence of ESPN's marathon is to remind jaded viewers that between now and March they can expect a glut of meaningless basketball games.”

“Many things are more enjoyable in smaller portions.”

“Attempting to digest basketball's TV schedule is like walking down an aisle at Costco past the industrial-sized containers of condiments. You like mayonnaise, but when you see it displayed in two-gallon jars, you feel indigestion coming on.”

And really, I could have included the entire segment. But somewhere in the mix, Bob tried to slip this one by me:

“I say this as a life-long fan of college basketball. I like eating chocolate, too, but not five times a day.”

No. Herein lies my problem with this article, Mr. Molinaro. If the words you wrote were uttered by my sister at dinner, by my co-worker between meetings, even by my dad flipping through channels, my jockeys would be obscuring my buns rather than ‘twixt cheeks in a knotted, painful, thong-like bunch. But the words were printed in a mass-circulation publication in a section labeled SPORTS. I expect a little – no, a lot more from you.

I want my network news anchors to be utter newshounds. I want them to eat, drink, breathe, sleep and sweat news. I want them to know so much about history that friends and acquaintances call them at all hours of the day just to settle bets, and to know so much about current events that their beer buddies nickname them “CNN.” I want them to have educated opinions on everything news-related – tempered with loads of historical perspective.

I want my rock critics to know much more than I do about music, and I think I know quite a bit. I want them to be able to tell me that a new Old 97’s album is in the works within 48 hours of Rhett Miller calling Ken Bethea to talk about it. I want them at a show three nights a week, to know things like why Adam Ant reversed the D’s when he would write ADAM AND THE ANTS, and to – at all times – be able to steer me towards unheard gems.

And dammit, man, I want my sportswriters to be insatiable sports addicts. I want sports on their brains at every waking moment . . . and also the backdrop in the every dream. I want them to secretly think that the NBA season isn’t long enough. I want them to call the day prior to and the day after the Midsummer Classic “Black Monday” and “Black Wednesday.” I want them to have a new take on tired topics, have a running schedule of must-see sports on the tube or in person, and run the company’s expense budget ragged by attending sporting events all year long. I want them more rabid than any mere fan, and I want the prose they put forth to exude sports fanaticism. Factor in a cool perspective bred of a supremely vast historical knowledge, and these are the people I want to read.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe the same folks who elected a guy president simply because “he seems like one of us, like he’d be a good fella to have a beer with” instead of actual inspiration want their sports columnists to be more everyman-ish, more average Joe – a casual fan just like them.

I think that’s bunk of the highest order. That column is a privilege. A pedestal. You’re there because you have two things going for you: (1) You can write. You put words together in a way that turns pages. (2.) You know sports in and out, up and down; you spend all of your time watching, writing, talking, and thinking about sports; and you bring to light the finer points the casual fans might miss.

Why does it matter? Because when sports columnists have that rare combination of wisdom, zeal, style and skill, they can elevate in the public an awareness, a sensibility, and a passion for all things sports. The best newsmen and newswomen keep you wanting to know more about what’s up in the world. The best music gurus can make you dust off the old stuff, dig up the new stuff, and get off your hind quarters and go see live music. The best sportswriters make the games pertinent, make them more interesting, keep you plugged into it all, and reveal an overt joy for the material in all that they do, say, and write.

So “Terrell Owens is a pain in the neck and a distraction to the team” doesn’t do it for me, Bob. “The Fighting Irish have problems bigger than Charlie Weis” starts to get a tiny smidge closer. (Although not including the barb “but no beltlines” was a missed opportunity.) Predicting the Skins would beat the Broncos was even better, going against the grain; that you pegged Kyle Orton as a major reason why proved fallible, and the thinly veiled, self-congratulatory “aw shucks, I’m not really a genius” cowpie of a column that followed undid much of that momentum, unfortunately.

And now this. Too much college basketball on TV? Oh, my. Are we longingly lamenting the demise of the days of three channels on the air giving us one basketball game a week and the knob we had to turn with our hands on the B/W with rabbit ears? If you really were a sports enthusiast in the truest sense or even a "life-long fan," you’d be telling us that there’s no such thing as too much basketball on the telly. You’d insinuate, as you did in today’s column that the hoops marathon was “ESPN gimmickry,” but you’d revel in it, anyway. Just as you’d wax poetic in March about “hope springing eternal” on the diamond, you’d be giddy with college pitball galore this week. Yes, many of the games aren’t must-see TV in the competitive or monumental way, but how fun is it for an otherwise national-broadcast-deprived I-A hoops program to get a little airtime? How fun is it to see a game played at 6AM? How fun is it just to be kicking off a new season? It all starts to get the college basketball juices flowing, and it should spark some interest in our sportswriters to do a little research and tell us who looks good on the local and national landscapes this season. But, no.

And too many games on TV this season? Piffle. I’m not suggesting you have to TiVo, watch, and critique every one of them. But how awesome is it that you have such a huge assortment of choices available? As analogies go, don’t equate this to the restaurant with a menu that’s too large. You have three minutes to make a meal choice, and some menus are indeed too big. But if that was your menu from now until the first week of April, wouldn’t you bask in the 10-page Bennigan’s-style book of food rather than a one-pager?

My decision to renew the Extra Innings package every year has increasingly become something you could file under “financially asinine,” and this season in particular should have scared me off. By March, though, I just know I’ll be plunking down way too much money for the awesomeness of over 1,000 baseball games available for my viewing. 1,000 baseball games. Is more really better? Hell, yes, you cretin. Am I going to watch 1,000 baseball games? Of course not. But I grew up lucky to get WWOR as a basic cable bonus for a couple of years, catching a Mets game here and there and wishing like mad for more. With the package, 140-150 Mets games are right there for me. And Red Sox games to see how Rob’s mental health is at the moment, and Yankee games so I can recall how Michael Kay’s voice could drive a man to mass murder, and just all those frickin’ games. I take the remote and stroll up and down the dial, rolling around in all that baseball like Woody Harrelson in all that money in Indecent Proposal. It’s not an “overcrowded schedule.” It’s absolute luxury, because I love baseball, and I love sports.

ACC basketball (not football, mind you) is great viewing. Top to bottom a competitive conference with a lot of history. More ACC hoops on TV is better to many, many people. Their local sports guy telling them it’s not is mind-numbing.

Bob, I sense that you aren’t Mr. Crabby-pants about sports so frequently in real life, that you do still revel in the concept. That maybe you’ve tapped into a persona that suits you. So show us the real you. Make us love it as much as you do. But if you’re not . . . if this is you, if you feel that all that basketball clogs the airwaves and precludes you from seeing . . . whatever other dreck is passing for actual television content these days, then please stop writing. Please step down, become sportswriter emeritus, and let someone else with an unquenchable thirst for sports and everything about it do your job. They’re out there, giddily tuning in, rooting for one side or the other, and celebrating an era when technology gives us sports overload.

Not bemoaning . . . celebrating.

[And I aim to put my money where my mouth is later today with an enthusiastic post about sports (and otherwise).]

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fuck your shoe...

I don't post here often during the week because I'd have to get up extra early to beat the normal morning filler posts that TJ slaves over each night. Plus, between shaving my head, trimming my beard and electing a few popes, well my morning's pretty well full. However, I don't want you to think I'm just college football posts and banned material. No, no. I'm far more than that. When I was "working" from home I often posted about a wide variety of, drugs, Ric Flair and...yeah, that's about it. I'm sure I've touched on a few other topics during my tumultuous time here at Gheorghe, but my memory is not what it once was and I don't much feel like combing through the archives.

While this post does is definitely basketball related, basketball plays but a bit part in things. Instead, I bring you this morning Youtube clip in the hopes of adding a little humor, a bit of a smile and a sprinkling of crazy to your Thursday morning. Who better to bring all of these things to the table the Ron Artest? He is truly an artist and crazy is his medium.

Most of you probably missed this clip since it happened late Sunday night, and closet racists like Rob, Whitney and Zoltan hate the NBA and everyone associated with it. (Except for Stu Jackson of course, they love that fucking guy.) Anyway, enjoy the comedic stylings of Ron Ron the Rottweiler...and have a good Thursday.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are G:TB

Seems like a higher and higher percentage of the concerts I see these days fall under the "Reunion Tour" heading. Over the last decade or so, I've witnessed the reformations of quite a few acts, highlighted by the E Streeters' impressive return in '99. That one was so brilliant that they've stayed mostly together (RIP Danny Federici) ever since. Others . . . well, not quite so brilliant, but in most cases they deliver.

The Bruce shows were big news and big events, as was The Who's 6th or 7th "Farewell Tour" that I saw in 1996, but little re-groupings like the Violent Femmes in 2007 have proven nearly as enjoyable. There have been bands off minor hiatuses like the Black Crowes coming back in '05, and bands back together after 20+ years like The Police in '07. There are the ones nearly nobody else here has heard of (New Potato Caboose and Indecision last year, The Connells in 2006), the ones only the alt-rock dweebs would appreciate (Camper van Beethoven in 2001, Pixies in 2004, Fishbone in 2005), and the ones that were so killer that I can't properly convey the coolness (The Pogues in '06, Random Idiots in '04). Man . . . it's rampant.

Oh, yeah, before all of this I saw The Monkees' reunion at Norfolk Scope in the mid-eighties. Peter Tork kicked ass.

Some folks have a differeing viewpoint than I on this stuff -- they see sad, aging, debatably washed-up musicians trying to cash in one last go-'round. Pathetic. While they'll touch on some truth in such an assessment, the world isn't so rich in top-tier rock and roll concerts that I'll discount Part Deux regroupings just because it's been a while.

So long as they aren't trying to carry on without integral members, I'm in. I'm looking at you, INXS, The Cars, Alice in Chains, and, as we covered extensively, The Beach Boys. You don't see incomplete, rather phony versions of The Beatles, The Clash, Queen, Nirvana, The Ramones, or The Jackson 5 touring these days, thank the Lord. Come on. The dudes are dead.

Among the inane conversations Rob and I have had after many a beverage, some time ago we threw out there a number of bands we'd like to see re-group for a tour. Since that time, a handful of them actually have. I'm still holding out for The Kinks, Talking Heads, Uncle Tupelo, The Replacements (minus dead Bob), The Jam, The Smiths, R.E.M. (playing old stuff with Bill Berry back), and even some lesser-knowns -- risking more mockery for rock snobbery again, but oh, well -- like Hoodoo Gurus, Squeeze, the English Beat, and Norfolk's own Waxing Poetics. Oh, and Wham! In some cases, it'll never ever happen, but further estranged bedfellows have gotten under the sheets in the last decade or so. (Note the absence of a potshot there directed at anyone from our sister blog.)

So go catch a newly re-formed older act sometime. Here and there I've been missing some highly publicized tours of KISS, the Sex Pistols, Jane's Addiction, Eagles, etc -- or in some cases, I wouldn't say I've been missing them, Bob. But by and large I've been sucked in like a tractor beam by bands I thought would never get back together.

Like Devo. Who are touring for the first time since 1990 or so, who played at the 9:30 Club in DC on Sunday & Monday night, and whom I saw Sunday.

Devo . . . best known for "Whip It," yellow rubber jumpsuits, and tripod hats. And geekiness galore. If you file acts like They Might Be Giants and Weezer under "geek rock," the genre is pretty much defined by Devo. In 1978, they were five pencil-necked inspirations for the Louis Skolnick character in Revenge of the Nerds. In 2009, they are five fiftysomething, pot-bellied, graying . . . inspirations for Louis Skolnick's dad.

Back then, they also made very good music, and they're still doing it. Sunday night was packed at the 9:30, as full as I've ever seen it. The place was filled with aging nerds in tripod hats, music snobs like myself, and lots of curious sorts. Great stuff.

Three things Devo did that are common downsides to the reunion tour: 1. They played the shortest set I've heard in quite some time. (A little less than an hour.) 2. They're playing the same thing night in and night out, with a few exceptions. 3. They are playing albums in their entirety, meaning other great hits are omitted.

You see, they are promoting the soon-to-be-released deluxe editions of their two biggest albums, so they play two shows in each town on the tour: the first show features their first album played start-to-finish with a 2-song encore, the second show does the same for the other one. I get it, these guys are old and not terribly athletic (see the video below for evidence), so they can't combo it. But after so long, "Whip It," "Freedom of Choice," "That's Good," and a few others should really be played every night. (Sunday night showcased their first album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo.)

But even though a few points will be docked for these concert no-no's, it was still a highly worthy trip to the local music saloon. The energy was super-high, they sounded very good, and the old songs do hold up, despite being very much of that era.

Best songs: their cover of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," "Come Back Jonee," "Gut Feeling," "Gates of Steel," and especially the story of the boy with "one chromosome too man-y, "Mongoloid" . . . as seen below in a show a week or two ago.

...and now for something completely deranged. This is Neil Young's "Hey Hey, My My" as performed by Neil and Devo in a bizarre, post-apocalyptic 1982 film called Human Highway (featuring Neil Young, Devo, Dennis Hopper, and Dean Stockwell). Devo are wearing creepy-assed masks and doing weird stuff, per usual. How they crossed paths with Neil Young is anybody's guess, but supposedly this song's inspirations had a lot to do with Neil's shared vision of de-evolution (Devo for short), at least in rock & roll. Weird, wacky stuff.

Neil Young & Devo

Paul | MySpace Video