Wednesday, November 30, 2011

G:TB Works the Poll

The legend of G:TB appears to be spreading. We were approached last week by Mat Shelton of VCU Ram Nation to participate in a CAA Bloggers' Poll of the league's teams, no doubt because of our in-depth analysis of pseudonymic Jets/Bills fans and the threat posed by the Large Hadron Collider*.  Unfortunately, the poll requires us to actually think critically about the CAA's teams, so our contribution may skew the overall results, given that the other contributors include such CAA experts as Michael "MGL" Litos of CAA: Life as Mid-Major fame, Brian Mull of the Wilmington Star News, and Jerry Beach of Defiantly Dutch.

We're not one to shrink from a challenge, though, so we leapt at the chance. The first week's results follow, with number of first-place votes in parentheses (we were the lone VCU first-place vote, on the strength of their performance at Alabama):

1. Northeastern (3)
2. George Mason (3)
3. VCU (1)
4. ODU
5. JMU
6. Drexel
7. Hofstra
8. Delaware
9. Georgia State
10. UNCW
11. William & Mary
12. Towson

* We trust you all saw the news yesterday about the man arrested outside the LHC claiming to be from the future. His name is Eloi Cole, and in a very strange development, every news story about him has disappeared from the internet. I don't really have to spell this out for you, do I?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dennis Pens an Ode to Darren Sharper

You know Dennis, right? The mud farmer on our editorial staff who is never around? Well, it appears Darren Sharper's retirement stoked the creative he just sent me this email/post. Enjoy.

Shining Path...Fading Tunnel.

Post this please….preferably with a cool photo of him in his Tribe days. I’ve done little to no editing, so post with caution… Clicks. [I chose to barely edit this, because honestly I have no idea what parts Dennis actually wrote, and what parts he just copied and pasted from other sources. Kinda like our college days.]

Former Saints safety and five-time Pro Bowl selection Darren Sharper plans to retire. Just about to turn 36 in November, Sharper got a workout with the Broncos in September but there wasn't much interest in him around the league. The Redskins scheduled a workout but canceled when Sharper parked in owner Dan Snyder’s reserved space. A member of the NFL's All-Decade team for the 2000s, it is likely that he follows through on his plan. Sharper is most notably remembered for his team first attitude, Super Bowl performances, nose for the pick-6, lightly covering Randy Moss, and the greatest 360 dunk in the recorded history of intramural basketball. Though unlikely to garner enough votes to make the cut, he will potentially land on a Hall of Fame ballot or two (he has G:TB’s vote, that’s for certain).

During his retirement days, Sharper plans to further his business career as a part-time producer at BET and entrepreneur of his organic foods supply company, Sharp Simple. He’ll also be kept busy by his 4 dogs and 3 adopted children from Eastern State Hospital. In the new year Darren also plans to launch a charity in his name entitled “The D-List” , through which funds will be raised for former UVA athletes who fall on hard times - Darren’s brother Jamie and former NBC star Tiki Barber will be among his flagship projects. He has always held true to his roots and maintained a need to give back. He reflects fondly on his formidable years in Hampton Roads and Williamsburg, VA. His admiration for local organizations and community initiatives were exemplified by his unique relationship with the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity - Virginia Psi chapter - of the College of William and Mary, where his famous words will forever be remembered when spoken with unwavering confidence even as a scoreboard was thrust at his head during a post game brawl: "I’m out….they rollin’ 30 deep." A man who knows his limits. Darren Sharper, stand and be recognized. And those 30 guys behind you; they’re not chasing you, they’re honoring you…and so are we.

EDITOR'S NOTE/BONUS PIC: Sharper apparently tagged this back in 2010. Thank you Google images. Thank you.

Monday, November 28, 2011

This Week in Wrenball: My Eyes!

Team G:TB had a rare opportunity to take in live Wren action over the Thanksgiving holiday, heading inside the Beltway to catch the Tribe at Howard. With students on break, the Burr Gymnasium crowd was considerably less than capacity, and the W&M faithful outnumbered their Howard counterparts.  Unfortunately, that's about the best thing we can say about the Tribe's performance in the 67-58 loss.

W&M's perimeter players struggled from the outset with Howard's defensive pressure in halfcourt sets, with several lazy passes becoming turnovers and easy buckets. With two sophomores (Brandon Britt and Julian Boatner) and a freshman (Marcus Thornton) carrying a big part of the ball-handling load, a certain amount of inefficiency is expected, but W&M's passivity on offense wasn't.

Thornton's got a ton of athletic ability (he almost hit his head on the rim on a late, ill-advised drive to the basket that resulted in a charging call), and he's more capable of getting his own shot than any William & Mary player in recent memory. Right now, though, his individual talent hasn't meshed with Tony Shaver's disciplined system, which results in a lot of one-on-one play that leaves a bunch of teammates standing around.  We'd like to see Thornton playing off the ball more, using his athleticism to free himself up for easy looks - the offense stagnates when he's at the point.

It's fashionable these days to downplay the importance of team chemistry, especially since we can't measure it. While I'm as hip to the value of tempo-free stats as the next guy, this Tribe team sure seems to be suffering from an identity crisis that's hard to understand with numbers alone. Case in point: Tribe star Quinn McDowell's performance against Howard, which was one of the most bizarre disappearing acts we've seen. Entering the game with a team-leading 13.5 ppg, McDowell didn't take a shot until less than four minutes remained in the contest, finishing with a single point, four rebounds, and three turnovers in 33 oddly silent minutes. We've praised McDowell's unselfishness in the past, but if any game warranted a "give me the ball and get the fuck out of my way" moment from the Tribe's best player, it was this one - and he'd done just that in leading the Tribe to a win over Liberty in their most recent game. McDowell's play combined with the backcourt's 8-for-31 marksmanship testified to an uncertainty and lack of offensive purpose we haven't seen in the past three seasons.

On the bright side, and there certainly was one, Tim Rusthoven returned to the court for the first time this season and was the best player on the court in his 21 minutes. Beasthoven scored an efficient 13 points (4-5 from the field, 5-6 from the line), grabbed a team-leading 6 boards, blocked a shot and recorded a pair of steals. He also hit the floor at least three times in pursuit of loose balls, providing the only spark W&M delivered all afternoon.

As the great MGL noted in response to my tweeted frustration about the Tribe's 1-6 start, "It would be more frustrating in January". And so we continue to believe our motto, "In Shaver We Trust", and expect the Tribe to figure out what ails them.  Getting JohnMark Ludwick back to extend the opposition's post defense would be a nice start, though he looked fairly uncomfortable in his walking boot on Saturday.

W&M takes on Richmond on Wednesday, a prospect that seems daunting from where we sit today, before opening CAA play on the road against improving Georgia State.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Most Schlubbiest Game of the Year

Once again, TR and I are at the Meadowlands to root on our respective favorite football teams in their yearly matchup somewhere in the swamps of Jersey. I normally regale you with rankings and stats, but this time around I'm going to keep it short and sweet.

The Bills lost 5 of their last 7 games so they are 5-5 overall. I previously expressed cautious optimism and predicted a 9-7 final record. This is further proof that I am an idiot.

The games that once appeared to be bunnies on the schedule now look like pitbulls. Matt Moore is playing very well over the past 6 games (8 TD vs. 2 INT), during which time the Fins are 3-3 and +62. Seriously:

And everyone knows what's going on with Tebow in Denver. Throw in season ending injuries to Fred "Action" Jackson and Kyle Williams, and suddenly the Bills could very well lose out the rest of the schedule.

The Jets are also 5-5. TR recently noted that their remaining games, including today's, are BUF, @WAS, KC, @PHI, NYG, @MIA. They ought to be 8-5 when they travel to Philly, and if they can one one of those PHI/NYG games they have a good shot at 10-6. Whether that's enough to make the playoffs remains to be seen. They still need to get their running game going (no Jet averages more than 3.9 yards per carry) but if they can do that soon they could make some noise at the end of the season.

Our teams thus appear ready to launch in opposite directions from their current state of win-loss equipoise, but our waistlines are launching similarly outward so there's some commonality between us. Before we dine on burgers from TR's kickass portable webber and drink High Lifes from TR's kickass cooler, we will assume our kickass alter egos (Tony DiSpangola from Ronkonkoma and Evan Weisswasser from Mamaroneck), debate which route to Yankee Stadium is most kickass (yoo gaaaahdda take da Mosholu!), and discuss our kickass window treatments while being whisked to the game in high style in this kickass limo:

Few things properly capture the tone of what is perhaps the league's schlubbiest game (Bills at Jets) like a late 80's Lincoln Town Car limo with the late 80's Jets logo stencilled on the side. Except of course for Zubaz.

Final score: Bills 10 Jets 24

Saturday, November 26, 2011

This game means nothing. And it means everything.

Despite the college football season nearing the end of its regular season, there is still plenty of intriguing on field action to be seen this week. There are still games that could determine the BCS Championship game but, perhaps more important to the majority of college football fans, it’s rivalry week. The week where, no matter how good or bad your team’s season has gone, it can all be turned on its head by the result of your final regular season game against your biggest (and more often that not in-state) rival. A perfect example of this dynamic is exemplified in one of my favorites rivalry games of all time. It took place in Gainesville, FL on this weekend in 1997. Florida was coming off its first National Championship but had suffered through a disappointing 3 loss campaign while Florida State had run roughshod over the ACC en route to an undefeated season and the #1 ranking in the country. Despite the game being played at The Swamp, few people gave the Gators a chance. Their offense had struggled so badly down the stretch that Steve Spurrier had resorted to rotating QBs on every other play. Seriously. Think about how ludicrous that is for a second. As if that wasn’t bad enough, one of the the QBs in this rotation was an overweight walk-on named Noah Brindise. Despite all this, Florida hung with the Seminoles all day, largely on the strength of a monstrous performance by Fred Taylor and an inspired defensive gameplan from Bob Stoops (in his final game as the Gators Defensive Coordinator). Still, with just over a minute left in the 4th quarter, the Gators found themselves down to FSU with the ball deep in their own territory. Then this happened:

I will never forget that game, or the scene on University Ave. after that game. Was the Gator season, which began with Florida as the #1 ranked team in the country, a disappointment? Absolutely. However, none of that mattered that day. We had ruined Florida State’s perfect season and dashed their National Title hopes. That’s what makes rivalry games so great. It all comes down to hatred. Hatred for the other school. Hatred for all the fans of that school that you see everyday. Friends, co-workers, and in my case, family. It’s bragging rights for the next 364 days. And believe me, those bragging rights matter. After that game in 1997, Florida didn’t beat Florida State again for the next 4 years. Those 4 years were miserable. Dealing with FSU fans is always a chore, but when they're routinely stomping you out and finishing in the top 3 in the country, well, then it's just unbearable. Just as last year was miserable, when FSU finally broke a 5 year losing streak to Florida and put the topping on the shit sundae that was the Gators’ 2010 season.

I had planned to write exclusively about the Florida-FSU game today, but then a “funny” thing happened…Urban Meyer decided to get back into coaching (allegedly) and accept the head coaching position at Ohio State University. If you follow me on Twitter (@BadNewsHughes), you’ve already read my quick take on Meyer’s new position, the reaction of many Gator fans, as well as my own personal reaction. If you don’t follow me on Twitter, here it is:

Urban Meyer is a football coach. As he said earlier this week, it is who he is. So anybody who expected a wildy successful, deeply competitive football coach to retire in his mid-40s and stay retired for the rest of his days was (and is) kidding themselves. Meyer was always coming back to coaching.

Now, did I expect him to come back to coaching within a year of his retirement at the University of Florida? No. Yet, I also didn’t expect Jim Tressel to get himself fired by Ohio State. Jobs like the Head Coach at Ohio State University don’t come along very frequently. Meyer knows this and knew he might never get the opportunity to take over a top flight program that wasn’t seriously down in the dumps again (kind of like Florida where, despite a couple mediocre seasons by Ron Zook, the cupboard wasn't bare and there was potential for a quick turnaround and ascendance back to the top of the SEC).

In Meyer’s mind (I’m guessing), he HAD to take the job at Ohio State. As I said earlier this week, I hold no ill will toward a man who came to Florida, revived a program suffering a slow decline and quickly turned it around to the tune of two BCS Championships and another BCS Bowl win in a span of five years. I, unfortunately, am not in the majority of Gator fans when it comes to my feelings toward Meyer. Most are some mixture of angry, bitter, betrayed and just about any other emotion you’d associate with a spurned lover. They point to his grounds for retirement (his health & his family) and find it laughable that his health could suddenly be so much better, or that his “year off” with his family (a year off that included plenty of time on the road working for ESPN) with his family was enough to satiate the need to “watch his kids grow up” as he stated last December. Do I believe Meyer’s health was failing? Yes. Even before his first retirement shortly after the 2009 SEC Championship, there had been signs that all wasn’t right with Meyer. It is my opinion that the emotional, mental & physical grinder that is coaching a top tier SEC program was too much for a man of Meyer’s competitive nature to handle. For example: Look at Arkansas and Bobby Petrino. The coach who just had his team’s doors blown off in Baton Rouge yesterday. Petrino led Arkansas to it’s first Sugar Bowl since 1976 last year, and within a game of the SEC Championship game this year, all while only losing 3 games. Total. Yet, somehow, neither team was even considered one of the top 2 teams in their own division. Another example is the 2009 Florida team. They won the Sugar Bowl, they won 13 games. Yet, they lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship and missed out on a chance to defend their BCS Championship. Despite a season that would go down as the greatest in the history of 98% of the Division I Football programs in America, Florida’s 2009 season was considered a failure by most fans, and more than likely, Meyer himself.

The Big Ten, while a storied conference, doesn’t present that same set of obstacles. There are no LSUs, Alabamas, Georgias or Tennessees or Auburns. If you’re at Ohio State, you have the best facilities, the most money and the most cache of any program. By far. You have to worry about Wisconsin and, possibly (depending on Brady Hoke’s rebuilding job) Michigan as challengers to your elite status. Meyer’s walking into a very favorable set of circumstances. As long as the NCAA doesn’t absolutely nuke the football program for the transgressions of the Tressel Era, Meyer will have the Buckeyes competing for a BCS Title by the time stud freshman QB Braxton Miller is a senior. And when that happens, there will be thousands upon thousands of Gator fans who hate him every step of the way.

One factor in the overly bitter reaction of Florida fans to news of Meyer accepting the Ohio State job is the disappointment of the past two seasons. Florida fans, like most fans of top SEC programs, are very spoiled. Few, if any, fanbases had it better than Florida from 2006-2009 (4 National Titles in football and basketball). Then last year, the wheels came off. Big time. It started with the loss in the 2009 SEC Championship game and continued all throughout last year as we saw a top 5 preseason ranked football team struggle through a 5 loss season while seemingly completely rudderless on offense. It certainly didn’t help matters that our former backup QB Cam Newton was busy leading Auburn to a BCS Title and a Heisman Trophy of his own. Don’t think for one second that Gator fans aren’t a little extra salty about all this as a result of yet another very subpar seasoning 2011, as well as a general feeling that Meyer may have left the cupboard a little bare and ran out of town to avoid tarnishing his stellar legacy and overall career record.

Despite all the news surrounding Meyer this week, his former school still has a game to play today. Against their biggest in-state rival. And though this game may not have the same cache attached to it nationally as it often has in the past, it’s still plenty big in the Sunshine State, for a variety of reasons. Sure, bragging rights are on the line but it goes deeper than that. While Florida’s season has been disappointing by any standards, it was FSU that was picked as a top 5 team in the preseason. After a promising start, that has all fallen to the wayside, finally hitting rock bottom last week in the form of a 14-13 home loss to Virginia. If Florida were to win this game, both FSU & Florida would finish the season 7-5, something that would certainly not go unmentioned by Gator fans over the next 364 days. Second, at perhaps more importantly, is the impact this game has on recruiting. It’s no secret that the state of Florida is the most fertile recruiting ground in all of American. It's also no secret that these two schools compete for most of the same players year-in, year-out. This year is no different. In fact, 12 of the top 100 HS players (according to will be attending tonight’s game in The Swamp. If winning this game helps sway even a couple top tier prospects to Florida or FSU, it could dramatically effect the future fortunes of two programs with just as many questions as answers going forward. The immediate future of these two programs is still very much up in the air and there will be 18 year old high school seniors in the stands tonight with the power to dramatically effect these futures.

The final reason this game still looms so large is legacy. A win over FSU (or Florida depending on your view of things) can forever change the way a player is viewed by their fan base (see: Outzen, Marcus). And I believe that John Brantley deserves a win over FSU. Brantley is a Gator legacy (Dad played linebacker and was a captain at Florida in the 70s, his Uncle was a starting QB at Florida) who chose to come play at Florida despite the system Urban Meyer runs being as ill-suited to his strengths as a QB as any system in college football (save for maybe Georgia Tech). He patiently waited behind Tim Tebow for 3 years. And then…everything blew up. He became the Gators fan’s whipping boy during the tragically terrible 2010 season despite the fact that he was hardly the only problem. If that wasn’t bad enough, he was battered every single game by SEC defenses due to a porous O-Line and a system which asked him to run far too many option plays for his particular skill set. Brantley has his flaws, no doubt, but he’s taken more of a mental, physical and physcological beating than any player I can ever remember at the University of Florida. Even this year, he nearly lost his leg to Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw. An injury so sever that it would've caused many QBs to miss the rest of the season. Yet there he was, only to return 3 weeks later starting for Florida against Georgia. Even today, he's still barely able to jog. His ankle is so bad that he’s been forced to work almost exclusively out of the shotgun (or the pistol in recent weeks) because he’s unable to drop back on his badly damaged ankle. I guarantee you he’ll end up having surgery on that ankle once the season ends. And all this doesn't even begin to address the innumerable amount of brutal hits he’s taken due to yet another underperforming offensive line and a sadly pedestrian group of WRs. Put simply, John Brantley has been a warrior for the University of Florida through some of the roughest times the football program has seen since the late 1980s, Yet, he’s never complained. Not once. He deserves a chance to walk off the field of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with the home crowd showering him with applause. He deserves a chance to have his “One Shining Moment” (wrong sport, I know). And I’ll be watching, hoping, & praying that he get it tonight.

Go Gators!


This is how I felt most of yesterday.

All better now, and ready for a day of hoops and rivalry games.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Adopt-a-Team, 2011 Version

When we last checked in on the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, the suspension of leading scorer Desmond Holloway derailed an otherwise record-setting 2010-11 season in Conway, SC.  The Chants were 24-3 before Holloway's eligibility issues took him out of the lineup, but dropped three of their final seven, falling to UNC Asheville in the Big South Tournament championship game to miss out on their first NCAA Tournament bid.

2011-12 looked like a rebuilding year for Cliff Ellis after Holloway (18.5 ppg) turned pro following his junior season, solid guard Danny Nieman left the team, and seniors Chad Gray (14.6 ppg) and Mike Holmes graduated.  Coastal entered the season having to replace 49.5% of its scoring and 44.8% of its rebounds, and with LSU and Clemson on the early-season schedule, rebuilding seemed the operative word on the Grand Strand.

Cliff Ellis has your rebuilding right here. After earning the Bible Belt's enmity by dusting Covenant and Methodist, Coastal topped LSU, 71-63, on the strength of a 53-34 rebounding edge. The win was the second in as many years over the Bayou Bengals. Coastal then doubled up Spalding (they'll get nothing, and like it), 87-43, before going on the road to face Clemson, a team tabbed by many to be competitive in the ACC.

Coastal spotted the Tigers a 12-point first-half advantage before Chris Gradnigo tipped in his own missed jumper at the buzzer to give the Chanticleers a surprising 60-59 win. Gradnigo and Anthony Raffa (from Sentence of Dave-approved Sea Isle City, NJ) each scored 21 in the upset.  Point guard Kierre Greenwood and forward Sam McLaurin join Gradnigo and Raffa in averaging double figures for the balanced Coastal offense.  The Chants have dominated the glass thus far, averaging 45 rebounds per game to their opponents' 28 behind a starting front line that goes 6'7", 6'8", and 6'11".

Our last adopted squad, the 2009-10 Baby Deacons of Wake Forest, went 7-11 after we anointed them, flaming out in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. We expect much bigger things from Coastal Carolina, a school with which we have significant G:TB familial ties. With only moderately tough opposition (Florida International, College of Charleston, and East Carolina) standing between them and the Big South season, Coastal Carolina has a little bit of a 1978-79 Indiana State look to them, minus the tight shorts, feathered hair, and transcendent superstar.

(Before you get all lathered up, we don't actually believe that last part. But we're pleased to jump on the Chantwagon, nonetheless.)

G:TB Thanksgiving Rerun

Back by popular of the greates WKRP clips ever. I ran this post five years ago on Thanksgiving Eve...

YouTube, that's what. At this time last year I could only describe in words what I considered the greatest Thanksgiving episode in all of television history. Now, thanks to that glorious website, I can actually provide the clip to prove it...I give you five minutes and forty seconds from WKRP in Cincinnati's "Turkeys Away" episode. Gordon Jump's last line is a priceless moment in sitcom history.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hail Vermont

My parents' alma mater is renowned for its world-class foreign language programs, highly acclaimed Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, and national championship caliber winter sports teams (not to mention its foundational role in birthing Gheorghe: the Blog). In keeping with its fancy/elitist New England college pedigree as a haven for the most liberal of the arts, Middlebury College also offers the sons and daughters of the 1% a safe place to test the boundaries of their creativity unemcumbered by the messy burdens of public school life.

It was in this nurturing environment that the Muggle game of Quidditch was born in the mid-2000s, and in the Green Mountains where the game's first and only dynasty thrives today. The Middlebury College Quidditch squad captured their fifth consecutive Quidditch World Cup a few weeks ago, defeating the University of Florida in the finals and returning the ceremonial Cup to its rightful home in Vermont. Middlebury trailed Florida by 10 before their Seeker captured the Golden Snitch and with it the 30 points that secured the record-setting victory.

Despite its humble (painfully nebbishy?) origins, ground-based Quidditch has become something of a sensation on North American college campuses, with more than 100 teams participating in the 2011 World Cup at New York's Randall's Island. Time featured the sport in a 2010 article, saying, "Quidditch is a sport striving for legitimacy. It has a rule book, a governing body (the International Quidditch Association, a nonprofit) and its own live streaming webcasts. Its players move with the grace and ferocity of top athletes; the best of them look like lacrosse players and hit like linebackers. All told, 46 teams from the U.S. and Canada vie for the Cup, and hundreds more franchises are just getting started. For a five-year-old sport, it's a remarkable ascension.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

Gheorghe Votes: The Atlantic 11 Poll, Week 2

Gheorghe: the Blog is now a voter in Dan Steinberg's weekly Atlantic 11 poll, a ranking of the local college hoops teams (the image below is blatantly ripped right from Dan's DC Sports Bog). Here's last week's poll results. Below you will find my ballot for this week, with a few snarky comments where appropriate. Enjoy, or don't. I don't really care one way or the other.

1. Georgetown (2-0) 
The Hoyas finally play a real team today (Monday), facing #11 Kansas in the Maui Invitational. Once the game is done, Georgetown will actually head west, to wrap up some unfinished business with those punks from the Bayi Rockets.

2. Virginia (3-1)
The Cavaliers dropped a game to TCU lost week, 57-55, but then defeated Drexel by the aesthetically unappealing final of 49-35. Both teams shot abysmally (is that a word?) in that game, with the Cavaliers winning solely on the strength of 14 more made free throws than the Dragons.

3. Virginia Tech (3-0)
Someone let me know when the Hokies actually play somebody. East Tennessee State, Monmouth and FIU don't count. Well, don't mention FIU to George Mason though, they might beg to differ on that one.

4. Old Dominion (3-2)
Blaine Taylor's squad only lost by 10 to the #2 team in the country, Kentucky. For right now, that gets you a lofty spot in these rankings. Lose upcoming games to Vermont and East Carolina and the Monarchs will drop accordingly.

5. George Mason (2-2)
The Patriots lost to Isiah Thomas' team. As the kids say, LOLZ. If Mason plays a school from Florida that goes by an acronym (FIU, FAU), they will lose. Proven fact. Hope they don't have USF on the schedule. Or UCF. Hold on...all these damn Florida schools go by acronyms.

6. VCU (2-2)
The Rams are one of many (all) CAA teams struggling out of the gate. We'll call it a Final Four hangover. On a related note, the #HalfBid4CAA hashtag has been born.

7. Maryland (2-2)
Terps got absolutely worked by Iona out of the MAAC Sunday, losing by 26 to the Gaels. Mark Turgeon is very mad. You don't want to see Mark Turgeon when he is mad. He actually has a personality then. Maybe he should teach that to Randy Edsall.

8. Richmond (3-1)
Spiders had a two win week, albeit with wins over Sacred Heart and Hampton. But, it's early, and this poll has some truly turrrrible teams, so it keeps them ranked. Plus, I'm lazy.

9. George Washington (1-1)
The Colonials allowed me to judge a dunk contest at their Midnight Madness event. That earns them a 9th place vote. It's my ballot, I'll do what I want (cue Cartman "Maury" clip). Name to watch: GW guard Tony Taylor, from Sleepy Hollow, NY. He's the Rip Van Winkle of A-10 hoops. I have no idea what that actually means.

10. William and Mary (1-5)
I don't care how much they suck this year, they will always be my vote for 10th place. Fun stat rob just sent me: "Tribe has a 57:98 assist to turnover ratio." That's good for 309th in the country (out of 345 D-1 teams). Awesome work, fellas.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Second Greatest Victory

I'm sure many of you are aware of my Greatest Victory, but for those of you who don't follow my life as closely as you should, several months back I won a Cake Decorating Contest. I consider this The Greatest Victory in My Life because never, in my wildest dreams, did I ever think I would get to say the words, "I won a Cake Decorating Contest."

Here's how it went down: I was at the wedding of fellow English teachers Liz and Eric, and instead of having the traditional Big Cake, they opted for having many little cakes . . . blank canvas cakes. And each table was given the task of decorating their table's little cake. The winning cake got the privilege of being cut and eaten by the bride and groom. I provided my idea to the table-- a sperm meeting an egg-- and persuaded my team of English teachers to go along with it (actually while they were debating what to draw on the cake, I took matters into my own hands and grabbed the icing and drew a giant sperm, but once I did this they happily jumped on board). We defeated many beautiful cakes, and seeing Liz and Eric cut our cake was a priceless prize.

This Friday, I was at Liz and Eric's house for their Second Annual Scary Story Contest. The contest is simple-- you write a scary story (under three pages) and put it in an envelope. They are distributed randomly, so most likely you are reading a story that is not your own-- and if you draw your own story, then you have to pretend that it's not yours. The stories are read. Then everyone at the party votes and the winner collects the prize money (10 dollars to enter, 5 dollars to vote).

Last year's party was a blast and the stories were really good . . . Eric won, but the competition was stiff. I guess that's what happens when you get a bunch of English teachers together. Nerds! We also guessed who wrote each story, and last year the only story that everyone guessed correctly was mine. I thought I had disguised my voice, but apparently, at the conclusion of my dream-addled tale, when the old lady protagonist gets eaten by a "series of animals," this indicated to everyone present that the story came from the mind of Dave

This year, I forgot about the contest because of the overwhelming force that is Disney, so I had to whip something up at the last minute. Having a theme helped with this; last year the contest was anything goes, but this year the theme was Winter is coming. Spooky right?

I decided not to hide my voice and instead write something I truly thought was scary (although not quite as scary as Fantasyland on a crowded afternoon). The stories were even better than last year-- they were genuinely terrifying. I will ask the authors permission to post them so you can see what I was up against. There were two that had similar plots: women out running who get abducted, there was a Southern Gothic style tale of a corpse that comes alive, and there was the poignant story of an innocent girl who learns the horrible truth about a pleasant spot in her backyard and what her father was doing under there. I read the last one and I was sure it was by Eric and that it would win. I was incorrect on both counts. No one could guess who wrote the stories, except for mine (oddly, the only person who didn't correctly guess that I wrote my story was my wife, who thought I wrote the awesomely scary "Skin and Bones," and so she voted for that, thinking she was voting for me). Despite not soliciting my wife's vote, I won the contest, and I am very proud, especially because I thought I had no chance. I am calling it The Second Greatest Victory in my Life, as I believe it just edges out This Victory.

So here is my Prize Winning Scary Story . . . don't read it alone . . .


His mom only had two, and they were inconspicuous. One dangled from her wrist, like a bulbous charm, and the other was on the back of her calf, so she had to wear dresses instead of pants. But he didn’t think his mom minded. She liked dresses.
His dad had it worse. When he was clearing out the brush on the side of the shed, he had stumbled into a nest of them and they got in his clothes. A strip of five hung down his right arm, four on his left. Then there were several on his neck, and one behind his ear. He had to have his work shirts tailored so that the sleeves were extra loose and the neck was extra large. He looked like a ghost, floating inside all that billowing material. And they were bigger on his dad than on his mom. Nearly the size of golf balls, fat with blood, useless little legs barely visible. Tyler knew that men had a faster metabolism than women, they ate more and felt warmer when it was cold. And that’s why the suckers grew larger on men.
He rolled onto his stomach, so he was hanging off the side of his bed and he reached under. Out came the plastic container. He wondered who would be angrier about the contents, his mom or his dad. Probably his sister. Kelly cried and cried after she pulled on a sock with a sucker in it. And it only latched onto her ankle. That was nothing. That girl in his class, Emily Berst, had one smack in the middle of her forehead, pulsing and sucking away for everyone to see. That was bad. You couldn’t to look at her when she talked, and you could almost hear the little tongue lapping at her blood, lapping at her brain. No one was mean enough to make fun of her to her face-- but behind her back they called her cyclops. And she ate lunch alone. No one could face that glistening, translucent thing while they ate.

That morning his sister said to their mom: “Fuck it. Maybe I’ll cut my leg off, right below the knee. Just so I can wear jeans again.” It was the first time he ever heard her use the f-- word in front of her parents. Tyler looked from his mom to his dad, but they let it slide. He had heard both his mom, his dad, and several teachers use the f-- word in reference to the suckers. He was going to try it tomorrow, in front of some adults, and see if he got away with it.
“Honey . . . honey, you’re so young,” his mother said to his sister. “They’ll figure out how to get them off. I heard that they might be able to freeze them off.”
“You’re going to let them try? Because I’m not.”
Tyler decided this was a good time to chime in, “We learned at school that they generate the neurotoxin no matter what. If they’re injured or killed or anything. It’s automatic. It’s a perfect defense system, because they have no choice. Mr. Mann said it’s like Mutual Assured Destruction. It’s an instinctual adaptation that forces us to get along, to coexist.”
“Hurray for Mr. Mann,” Kelly said. “I hope one latches to his eye-lid. Or his shriveled little di--”
“Sweetie, it’s not the end of the world, there are plenty of people worse off than you, and they’re not complaining.” She glanced at her husband, and then back at her daughter.
“Winter’s coming, honey, winter’s coming.” Tyler was surprised to hear his father speak. He usually let his mother deal with Kelly when she was in a mood.

Winter was coming for the suckers outside, but not for the ones in the container. The suckers outside would go dormant, some would hop and scramble their way into the mud, some would freeze and remain in stasis, and others would find warm spots in heating ducts and unfinished basements, waiting for a victim. But in general, everyone relaxed with the cold. People were better protected because of all the clothing. And snowfall covered everything, made the world clean and safe again.
So if he was going to do it, it would have to be soon. Otherwise his parents would know. He didn’t want to have that discussion. It would be so much better if it looked like an accident. And his parents would so impressed with his mature attitude, the way he would heroically bear it, the exact opposite of his sister’s whining and complaining. They would be so proud of him. And Kelly would be pissed. She wouldn’t be the center of attention. It’s not so bad, he would say, they’re ugly little fuckers, but if you’re careful, then they’re essentially harmless. And his father wouldn’t feel so ugly. Like father like son.

A musty smell emanated from the holes he had poked in the lid of the container. Hamster shit. He put on his gardening gloves and unlocked the clasps. Two suckers were latched onto the hamster, glistening and warm, and the other three were safe in the plastic bag, barely pulsating, and slightly shrunken, like large raisins with legs. They needed food. They perked up when his arm got near them, like leeches, they sensed his heat. They were awesome. They were perfect. They were from outer space, and they came and they knew what they wanted. Once they got it there was no removing them. He knew if he pulled the sucker off the hamster, his hamster would die in seconds. It was tempting, to grab one of the scrawny newt legs and yank-- and even if the leg popped off without the body-- the hamster would still die. It was a perfect system, a perfect way to live.
He could barely remember the pods exploding over all the land masses, the creatures raining down like a Biblical plague; in fact, he probably only remembered the event because people told him about it.  But still, he had always been fascinated with them, even more so than snakes and bugs. And he knew was lucky that one never latched him, because when he was young, he was always outside, adding to his collections-- his arrays of rocks and bugs and sticks and weeds and flowers and bones that he kept on the concrete walk behind the house.  His mother was more lenient than the other mothers-- because Tyler would have died if he had to stay inside, if he couldn’t play in the dirt-- but she  always made him wear gloves and long shirt and long pants and boots, even in the heat of summer.

After the incident behind the shed, he asked his dad the big question, the question everyone was thinking about: “Why do you think they came here, dad?”
“Buddy, I don’t think these things think ‘why.’ They just are. Like a tick. A super tick from outer space. Space-ticks.”
“That’s what they should call them, Dad. Space-ticks. Sucker is stupid name. And it’s already a fish.”
“I don’t think anybody cares about stealing the sucker-fish's name. They’re about as low as you can get on the fish totem pole.”
“You think space-ticks are low on the alien totem pole?"

So it was just a matter of deciding where. It was like when his cousin Samantha was deciding on a tattoo. She wanted to be able to hide it or show it off, depending on her mood. This was the same. He didn’t want one on his forehead, like Emily. She was shunned and friendless because of it. He wanted it-- or them-- somewhere that showed that he was in control. It was like having a loose tooth. Better to pull it out than to wait. And everyone was always impressed when you pulled out the wiggly tooth yourself, impressed and a little scared of you. He definitely wanted it somewhere where it wouldn’t change how he had to dress . . . his wrist was convenient, but his mom’s looked too much like a piece of jewelry, plus he didn’t want to copy. He wanted it somewhere he could watch it feed, suck with that round mouth . . . he wanted to watch the translucent skin turn deep reddish purple as it filled with circulating blood from his body. He couldn’t decide if he wanted one or two or three.
His door flew open. He thought he had locked it. “You little klepto shit, do you have my iPod?” And then his sister saw the container, took it all in. “Holy fuck. Mom and dad are going to kill you What did you do to your hamster? We learned in psychology class if you torture animals, you’re pathological.”
“Don’t tell them. Please?”
“I’m telling them,” she said and turned to leave. Tyler jumped up, holding the box, and tilted it towards her, as menacingly as he could. He said, “I’ll put them in your bed if you tell. I’ll latch one to your forehead."
His sister turned and stared him down. “Tell me right now you didn’t put that one in my sock." 
Oh shit. He looked down at the floor. “No. Jesus, Kelly. I’m kidding. I swear. Just listen, okay, listen for a second. Please?"
She breathed out and stared at him.
“I can’t stop thinking about them. I just want to get it over with. I’m going to put one on me, or maybe two, but I don’t know where.”
“Jesus Christ. Can’t you just cut yourself? Or put a vodka-tampon up your ass like everyone else?”
“Other people are doing it. Not just me. It’s not like I’m crazy.”
She motioned with her hand. “Let me see.”
He held out the container, so she could see them feeding on the hamster, and see how carefully he had stashed the others in the plastic bag.
“Yuck,” she said, and then there was a flash of movement-- a kick-- and he felt pain in his crotch, and then she had the box and was running down the stairs, and he couldn’t follow her because an invisible vice was crushing his testicles and then he heard her yelling for mom and he was glad dad wasn’t home yet. But he would do it anyway, in the spring. And she didn’t know, she didn’t know he put it in her sock, which wasn’t that bad anyway, not as bad as it could be.

His mother was angry, but his father was nothing but understanding.“Winter’s coming son. You won’t have to look at them. And maybe you’ll outgrow this feeling. We know what’s going on-- we heard about some of the high school boys. We didn’t want to talk about, but it’s a compulsion, like getting a tattoo or piercing your tongue. I’m not going to deny what you want to do, and I understand you want to be like us, like everybody, but try to wait it out. Give it to the first snow. You’ll be sledding down the hill at the golf course and you’ll forget all about it.”
But he wouldn’t forget about it, and though he was going to respect his dad’s wishes-- because his dad was being so good about it all-- it still wasn’t going to change the way he felt. Winter wasn’t going to change that. Maybe he would latch one to each bicep, so that when he flexed, they would throb ever so slightly, bulge along with his muscles, and fill with more of his blood. They would grow along with him.