Sunday, February 27, 2005

A Few (Mostly) Hoop-Related Rantings

Congratulations to The Man, The Myth, The Legend, James A. Boeheim, Jr. Syracuse won 91-66 yesterday, giving Coach Boeheim career win #700, which put him in pretty elite company; only 17 other coaches have won that many games.


From the "I Told You So" Department: After I said that the best thing for Chris Webber was a move to a team where he didn't have to be The Man, and where he didn't have to take the last shot, Webber promptly blew a layup at the buzzer to cost the 76ers a victory.


Every March, one of my favorite charities comes out to make its voice heard. It's called CWC, or "Commentators With Causes". Have a school that's fighting for its NCAA tournament life and potentially "on the bubble"? Let CWC help; every year, Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas and Digger Phelps will lobby for the NCAA to let your team in the field. And if/when, they don't make it, they'll cry that "it's a shame, baby! How can you have an NCAA tournament without (your school here)!?" It's very touching, really. CWC's ultimate goal is to stuff roughly 78 teams into a 65 team field, as they have never said that a school should be OUT of the NCAA tournament.

Actually, that's not true. There was one occasion where they did just that. In 2003, CWC was all over the NCAA tourney people for letting Auburn in the tournament. The Tigers proceeded to win their first two games and make the Sweet 16. They lost to the eventual national champions, Syracuse, and gave SU all they could handle in a 79-78 defeat. Maybe those NCAA tournament selection guys know a thing or two after all.


From the "Couldn't Happen to a Nicer Guy" Department: Maurice Clarett's draft stock crashed like the Hindenberg when he ran posted 40 yard dash times of 4.7 and 4.8 seconds. To those not well versed in such things, the average offensive lineman runs a 5.0 40 yard dash. Clarett's slow time is nearly certain to keep him out of the top half of the draft, and very possibly the draft altogether. Wow, what a tragedy. To think that a player who accepted illegal benefits, sued the NFL, created problems aplenty for his coaches and generally acted like a head case won't make millions in the NFL just breaks my heart.

Friday, February 25, 2005

My Favorite Sport-Related News Tidbits

Okay, I hate the Yankees as much as anyone, but this is pretty damned clever. How long before the Bills do a charity auction of the naming rights to the Ralph, so I can buy the rights and rename it "Don Shula Stadium"?

Governor Swann? Sure, John Stallworth was better, but still, good for him. And if you think my enthusiasm is solely based on the fact that a famous guy with name recognition and an appeal to a demographic somewhat overlooked by my party is running on the GOP ticket...well, you're right.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

I Got a New Job

(to the tune of "I Want a New Drug", by Huey Lewis and the News, thanks to for the lyrics)

I got a new job
One that won't make me sick
One that won't make me run to the bar
Or make me act like a prick

I got a new job
One that won't hurt my head
One that won't bore me to tears
Or make my brain go dead

One that won't make me nervous
Wondering "what the heck"?
One that makes me feel good when I get my check
When I get my check

I got a new job
One where I use all my skill
One where I work to get the job done
Then send out a bill

I got a new job
One that won't skip town
One that won't get outsourced to India
And make me work as a clown

(repeat chorus)

I got a new job
One where I do what I should
One where I don't have to waste my time
One where I'll get a raise if I do good

I got a new job
One where I don't deal with crap
One where I don't have to babysit marketing
Or put up with SLAP*

(repeat chorus and fade out)

* - Standard Look And Procedure

And if I've got Huey Lewis tunes stuck in your head now...well, you're welcome.

Trade Deadline Winners and Losers

Ah, the NBA trading deadline. Three months of speculation fueled by ESPN's Chad Ford and the New York Post's Peter Vescey, culminating in a 12 hour period of panic selling and a credibility gap that you could drive a fleet of Hum Vees through. If Vescey worked for a real newspaper, they'd have canned him long ago. Or at least condemned him to the "fiction" section of your local library.

On with it...

The 76ers. Like fellow local hero Smarty Jones, the Sixers were an absolute runaway winner. The Sixers turned four undersized power forwards into an all-star big and a solid sixth/seventh man without taking on any extra salary in either the short or long term. Just unreal. The Chris Webber for Kenny Thomas, Brian Skinner and Corliss Williamson deal was this year's equivalent of the Pistons getting Rasheed Wallace for some expiring contracts and a case of Schlitz. Though the 2005 Sixers are unlikely to win the East, they at least have an outside shot now whereas before they were on the way down. Webber, if healthy (and see below for more on that), is a perfect fit for this team. He's a big man who can score and pass without clogging the lane for Allen Iverson, and is plenty content to let Iverson take the big shot in the fourth quarter. Admittedly, that's in large part because C-Webb is a devout coward and choke artist, but fortunately, AI has more than enough heart and guts to go around, so it won't be an issue.

The Spurs. Got Nazr Mohammed for Malik Rose. While other deals got more ink, this would have been the steal of the deadline any other year. A legit center with a power game (unlike Rasho Nesterovic, who is a center with a finesse game), and a friendly contract for a malcontent, undersized power forward with a long-term deal. Mohammed doesn't have quite the defensive toughness of Rose, but his offensive skills are light years better, and he's probably a better rebounder, too.

The Rockets. This team has been dying for a real point guard all year. Enter Mike James, who's not a star, but he's plenty good enough to get by until Bob Sura gets back. With Sura and James, the Rockets are in decent shape at the point, and decent is all they need with the rest of the talent they have. Their other deal was addition by subtraction. Anything Mo Taylor can do, Juwan Howard can do just as well. The two were redundant and conspired to limit the Rockets' salary flexibility. Vin Baker isn't anything special, but his contract expires soon, and that's all they were looking for. I would have liked the Rockets' chances much better if they could have gotten their hands on a wide-bodied, sharp-elbowed, belligerent power forward, however.

The Pistons. The defending champs did nothing, but they didn't need to, they just needed to avoid a major Eastern rival getting better. They should send a fruit basket to Rob Babcock for his outlandish demands for Donyell Marshall, who the Heat really could have used. Another one goes to the Bucks and Sonics for hanging onto Mike Redd and Ray Allen. The addition of a sharp-shooting two guard to the Cavs would have given The Champs another bona fide threat to deal with; they've got enough to worry about with the Heat.

The Kings. There's only one way this deal makes sense: if Webber was much, MUCH more hurt than we've all been led to believe. Admittedly, its not out of the question. C-Webb, never much of a defender, has become a total liability because of his lack of mobility. Even so, I can't believe they couldn't have gotten more. Surely, if pressed, the Sixers would have given up Glenn Robinson's expiring contract, which would be invaluable to the cap-strapped Kings. Word is that the Sixers were holding firm, but I refuse to believe that they valued their trade for Rodney Rogers (and Jamal Mashburn's contract) over Webber. If the Kings had even come away with Kyle Korver, or Willie Green, or a first round pick, at least they'd have something else to hang their hat on. Nope. Instead they grabbed three guys with no real position. Williamson brings a ring and the experience that goes with it, so that's good, and he's an actual low-post scorer, something the jump-shot happy Kings lack. But Kenny Thomas has underachieved since signing his outlandish contract and Brian Skinner is a decent rebounder and defender without much else to offer. Depth is nice, but one has to wonder how they can find decent minutes for even two of these guys, let alone all three.

The Knicks. I love Isiah a player. As a player, Isiah was my hero. Not Michael Jordan, not Larry Bird, but Isiah Thomas. As a GM, Zeke is a washout. The Mohammed for Rose deal makes no sense whatsoever when you consider that the Knicks already had enough power forwards to occupy Paris. Okay, bad example, but they've got a lot of them. So after getting Rose, what did he do? He went out and got Mo Taylor. ANOTHER power forward, and an undersized one at that. The Knicks traded a competent center and some cap flexibility for two undersized fours with long term deals, when they already had Kurt Thomas, Jerome Williams, Mike Sweetney and 48 minutes of daylight to go around. Even if one puts Thomas at center (all six feet, nine inches of him), and rotates Rose (all six feet, seven inches of him) between the four and five, they're still looking at a serious minutes crunch. And they're looking at it for about the next four years.

The Celtics. They gave away Jiri Welsch for nothing, and then brought back Antoine Walker in exchange for Gary Payton. Huh? Who's going to run the point now? Marcus Banks? You mean the same guy they have so much faith in that they wanted to trade him for Payton in the first place? Admittedly, Payton probably should have been traded, but why not get a youngster or a draft pick or something? What's different about Walker now than when they dumped him 18 months ago? He still can't play D, still hoists a ton of bad shots and now he'll just take minutes from a youngster who they want to develop, be it Justin Reed or Al Jefferson. I just can't find any rhyme or reason to what Ainge is doing.

Kevin McHale. This poor bastard's got to coach Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell for the rest of the year. Hey, at least he didn't trade for Darius Miles, too.

Jury's still out:
Hornets/Warriors. At first, I thought the Warriors were getting a steal, but look at the numbers: Speedy Claxton has actually lived up to his contract: 13 points, 6 assists, and 2 steals a game. And a 3/1 A/TO ratio to boot. Combine that with the fact that Baron Davis was a major headache, and that's suddenly not such a bad deal for New Orleans. Davis is always hurt, always fat (these two things MAY be related), shoots way too much and is grossly overpaid. The Hornets weren't drawing flies anyway, so they might as well cut costs (read: salary) and try rebuilding. Then again, there's serious Vince Carter potential here: you can't question Davis's talent, and this trade may be just what's needed to make him the player he should be. So, we'll have to see how this turns out.

Monday, February 21, 2005

R.I.P. Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson committed suicide last night.

I'd be lying if I told you that this came as a complete shock to me. Thompson was an afficianado of both firearms and drugs and noted for a personality that wasn't always the most stable. And his best work was a solid 20 years behind him. Nevertheless, it's a shame.

It may seem strange for me to be a fan of Thompson's work, given that he was a counterculture icon, but what was interesting was that he was unafraid to assail ANY target. Richard Nixon wasn't his only target, just his most famous. Thompson's work was so thick with venom that one often needed snake-handling paraphenilia just to read it. But that was part of his charm.

So long, Doctor Gonzo.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

They Just Don't Have It This Year

My wife: "Honey, I'm sorry Syracuse lost."
Me: "Don't be. After all, it's not your fault they can't rebound."

I feel secure in making a pronouncement: Syracuse will not win the national title this year.

"Oh wow, that's bold. Thanks Phil," you say.

Okay, fine. Here's the thing, though: on paper, there's no reason this team shouldn't have been able to run with Illinois, North Carolina and Kentucky. They have two potential All-Americans, an embarassment of talented supporting players, and one of the best coaches in the land. National titles have been won with much less. However, I've probably watched the 2004-05 version of the Orange more than any other team in college hoops history, and I feel secure in saying that this team just doesn't have it this year. Let's break down the problems one by one.

1. SU can't handle wide-bodied fours and fives. Guys like Craig Smith, Torin Francis, and the Pittsburgh tag team of Chevy Troutman and Chris Taft push the Cuse around in the low post and climb all over the offensive glass. Realistically, SU is a Pac-10 team that's stuck in the Big East; they have one of the most athletic frontcourts in the country and love to get out and run. Unfortunately, Big East basketball tends to be rough and tumble by nature, putting SU's athletic bigs at a disadvantage. Terrence Roberts plays like a bruiser at times, but lacks the wide body to be a real enforcer. Craig Forth has that wide body, but lacks the requisite nasty demeanor.

2. Not enough outside shooting. Gerry McNamara's field goal and free throw percentages have gone down every year, and despite his reputation as a long-range assassin, G-Mac is only shooting 34% from beyond the arc. Much of this results from the fact that he's Syracuse's only legitimate long-range threat, which means that opponents constantly key on him from the outside, forcing G-Money to come off screens to get just enough daylight for a shot. His hair-trigger release is one of the quickest in hoops (he's not quite in Michael Redd's class, but he's close), but he barely ever sees an uncontested outside shot anymore. To compensate, Mac will stray farther and farther from the hoop during a game in an effort to get an open shot, which is a losing tradeoff. Unless you're JJ Redick, opposing defenses will almost always surrender an open 26 footer.

3. The inherent limitations of Hakim Warrick. I feel bad for Hak; if he came out after his sophomore year, he might have been a lottery pick. Now, he'll be lucky to make the first round of the draft. I've watched Warrick for four years; the best case scenario is that he turns into Darius Miles without the lousy attitude. He does not have a jump shot. He will never have a jump shot. He has had four years to develop an offensive game that's effective outside twelve feet and has not done so; at this point, he is what he is. As a result, opposing defenses can take him away for long stretches by zoning and denying him the entry pass. Or, just doubling him once he gets the ball. Warrick isn't enough of a shooter to make them pay. This feeds into...

4. No third scorer. Stop Warrick and McNamara, you stop the Cuse. Granted, that's easier said than done; a defense can usually take away any ONE player it so chooses, but not two. However, aside from G-Mac, there's no one who can make the defense pay for doubling Warrick. Josh Pace is a great complementary player: he hustles, gets a lot of hustle rebounds and points, plays tough D, makes smart plays, but he's their third scorer. If Pace, a player of limited (to say the least) offensive talents, is your third leading scorer, you're in trouble. Louie McCroskey probably should have filled that role this year; his slashing, driving game (reminiscent of another #42, Jerry Stackhouse) would have been an ideal complement to Warrick and McNamara. Unfortunately, McCroskey's selfishness (also reminiscent of Jerry Stackhouse) has left him on the bench a lot as Jim Boeheim tries to explain to him that passing is not a sin.

5. The inherent limitations of the 2-3 zone. Teams that get hot from outside can beat the zone. As it is, was, and ever shall be. This is just a fact of life for a team that lives and dies by zone defense. Boston College made 7 of 19 from beyond the arc today. This was a major reason for their victory.

6. Billy Edelin. Seems destined to be known for the most frustrating Syracuse career since Stephen Thompson. One game he's a poor man's Isiah Thomas; scoring at will, breaking down defenses on the dribble and threading pinpoint passes. The next game, he's dribbling off his foot, getting torched on defense and showing the whole world that his head is anywhere but in the game.

Is there hope for SU? Sure there is. As stated, they match up a lot better with teams outside their conference than they do within the Big East. In fact, they're a potentially disastrous matchup for Illinois because Syracuse is just as comfortable in the running game, the Illini don't see the 2-3 zone very often, and they lack a big man that can push the Orange around on the glass. And some of these deficiencies can still be rectified. For one thing, there's still time for McCroskey to become that elusive third scorer; every game he shows more and more signs that he's getting it. If that happens, a lot of things will fall into place. And Demetris Nichols is an excellent outside shooter who, for whatever reason, hasn't been able to find daylight. If he could work his way into the rotation, that would almost certainly make McNamara much more effective. And maybe Edelin can get his head together, which would give Syracuse an incredible backcourt, equally capable of scoring and distributing.

But for the time being, it looks like they just don't have it this year.

Great Non-Sequiturs For Any Occasion

Most blogs are just random, unfocused yappings. I try to make my blog about topical, focused yappings. Nevertheless, I'll give in to my baser instincts for once, and give you, the home reader, some great non-sequiturs for any occasion. I've stolen most of these, of course. Some from movies, some from other people, and some from other people who stole them from movies.

"Do you know what nemesis means?"
"For washin' your backside, right?"
"Nooooooooo basket."
"It smells like mushrooms and everyone looks like they want to hurt me."
"JJ wants the ball!"
"Ass play."
"That's the way you debate!"
"I like your attitude."
"I learned something today."
"As your attorney, I advise you to (fill in the blank with mundane activity)."

Friday, February 18, 2005

Random Ramblings

Lord, I was born a ramblin' man....tryin' to make a livin', and doin' the best I caaaaaaann....


I left my job yesterday. Voluntarily, fortunately. Matter of fact, I've got a new one lined up and everything. Pretty smart, huh? Anyway, there's a certain awkwardness that goes along with leaving a job. I worked with a lot of very nice people, and am even privileged to call some of them friends. Some of them, I'll keep in touch with, and they know who they are. That's great. But whenever you leave a job, almost everyone says things like, "hey, don't be a stranger! Stop by sometime!" It's a charming sentiment, of course, but let's be realistic. Once I'm gone, I ain't coming back.

My friend Sal probably handled this as well (or as poorly, depending on your point of view) as anyone I've ever heard. Sal and I were living in a house after college with another friend of mine. He and Sal got along fairly well, but they weren't close or anything. When we were all moving out, my other friend said to Sal, "hey man, give me a call sometime, let's hang out." Sal responded candidly, "dude, we're not going to hang out. We're cool and all, but I'm not gonna call you, and you're not gonna call me. Let's not make this bigger than it is."


I was watching VH1 today and they advertised a block of Eminem related programming: some videos, some wacky moments, and the movie 8 Mile. They ended the ad by saying, "VH1 celebrates Black History Month." Um, what? I'm a big Eminem fan, but not only is he not black, he doesn't have anything to do with history. What's the grounds for this, that he works in a predominantly black world? If that's the case, I'm eagerly awaiting ESPN's "SportsCentury and Beyond: Gerry McNamara".


By the way, how much of a homer am I that the first white basketball player I can think of is Gerry McNamara?


Speaking of leaving my job, I had a bet with one of my friends. You know how certain words are only used in one context, despite the fact that they can have many uses? One such word is "endeavors". That can be used to describe a lot of different activities, but you only hear it in "best of luck with your future endeavors". I got an email first thing the morning before my last day that wished me best of luck in my future endeavors, so a bet was made. I set the over-under on the use of the word "endeavors" for the next 2 days at 4.5. My friend took the over. I thought over 4.5 was probably the smart bet, but to my surprise, I only got two "endeavors", and none on my exit interview, which I thought was a lock. Anyway, victory is mine! Even if no one gives a damn about my next career.


So what exactly IS it that Meat Loaf (the singer, not the food) won't do for love?


Finally, a question. Which will happen first:
a. Erie County has a balanced budget.
b. O.J. finds the real killers.

I'm going with b. If we're lucky, the City of Rochester can pawn our $40 million white elephant (some call it a "fast ferry") off on Erie County. Not that such a move would make sense for Buffalo and the suburbs it's steadily bankrupting, but then, our neighbors to the west have shown all the fiscal sense of a small child in a candy store.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

It's The End Of The (Hockey) World As We Know It....And I Feel Fine

There aren't many places in the United States that are certifiably hockey-crazy. Detroit is, and so is the whole state of Minnesota. Some people would add Boston to that list, given how the Beanpot is a bigger deal than the Frozen Four. Fine. There aren't many, but I grew up in one of the few areas of the Republic that could be called "hockey-crazy". Before moving to Rochester, I called a small town in Northern New York home. We were about 70 miles southwest of Montreal, Quebec, so obviously, Les Habitantes were a major local influence. Additionally, we had two top-notch Division I hockey programs within a half hour drive: Clarkson University and St. Lawrence University. In fact, I still have some loyalty to Clarkson, since I almost certainly would have gone to college there had we not moved. And yet, I digress.

The point is, hockey has never held primacy in the U.S., save for a few isolated areas and instances. In fact, it's never been close to holding primacy. Obviously, that's very different from how things are in Canada, but that's irrelevant; the NHL as we know it cannot survive without a strong presence in the United States. When I was growing up, hockey was the first sport I cared about. In my sporting universe, before the Miami Dolphins and the New York Mets, there were the Boston Bruins. Before The NFL Today and MLB Game of the Week, there was Hockey Night in Canada. If the B's were on TV, life stopped. This is a state of mind that continued right up through last year's heart-rending playoff loss to Le Blanc, Bleu et Rouge.

Why am I telling you all this? Because hockey is circling the drain and I don't care.

I don't care. Not at all. I really, truly couldn't care less if the NHL ever plays again at this point. I'd tell you that I'm angry with both sides. I should be angry at the union for being greedy, recalcitrant and ignorant of economic reality. I should be angry at the owners for being greedy, shortsighted and weak. If the union had been willing to accept a salary cap, something that would not affect 95% of the players, there would be no problems. If the owners had shown some fiscal restraint and not allowed salaries to skyrocket, there would be no problems. If the owners had shown some backbone the last few times the CBA came up, perhaps the union wouldn't have dug in their heels so much this time, confident that the owners would cave yet again. If the union had been willing to allow contraction, and allow the league to buy out some of the financially destitute franchises, perhaps this could have been avoided, or at least delayed. I should be furious about all these things, but I'm not.

What's been the net result of all this? I pay more attention to the offseasons of the Mets and Dolphins. Basketball, pro and college, gets a lot more attention from me. I actually followed U of M's recruiting this year. I'm not suffering from a lack of sporting entertainment; I don't miss hockey. And here's the thing: I am a hard core hockey fan. Or I was, at least. If I don't care anymore, what do you think the average Nashville Predators fan thinks?

If the NHL had stuck to its target market and target locations, none of this would have been an issue. One of the better pearls of wisdom to escape my friend Mike was this: there should never be a pro hockey team in a warm-weather city. The NHL decided to go for the short money: expansion franchises wherever possible. Places like Dallas and Miami got teams. Dallas and Miami? These people know two sports: pro and college football. That's it. This was a great idea in the short term, but as I said, before you knew it, the talent pool was diluted. A diluted talent pool means that good players are more scarce. When good players are more scarce, and owners have a bunch of ready cash at hand, what's the net result going to be? Higher salaries in a short period of time. The owners hung themselves with their own rope.

Before you knew it, ticket prices went way up. It cost far more to take a family of four to a hockey game than to a basketball, football or baseball game. Hockey was a sport that catered to a blue-collar audience. Baseball had its longstanding tradition and deep-rooted fanbase, basketball had a strong audience with kids and in cities, and football had its broad cross-culture appeal. And so hockey had its niche audience. It was smaller, but it was loyal. But they ultimately priced many of these fans out of their seats and moved to a more corporate crowd. On paper, that's a great idea, except that they were moving to a more fickle group of fans. Less price-sensitive, but more apt to find other avenues for their entertainment. And now, it's backfiring spectacularly. The corporate crowd doesn't give a hoot that the NHL is gone. What about those blue-collar fans that the NHL once catered to? They've found other venues as well. Is it any coincidence that NASCAR's popularity has exploded over the last 15 years? How about pro wrestling? Those people at the Daytona 500 and at Wrestlemania didn't just pop out of the woodwork; they're the exact type of blue-collar schmoes that hockey USED to cater to. The corporate crowd is gone, the regular blue-collar fans are gone, and the diehards?

Well, they've had their ranks reduced by at least one.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Scenes from the Super Bowl

I broke tradition this year. The Unwin Family Super Bowl party has been a tradition for 19 years running. First it was my mom, serving up a variety of snacks centered around the wonderful thing known as pizza bread. Then when Mom got tired of it, the task fell to me, doing much the same, only I added a lot more heart attack foods. Fried stuff with cheese was more or less the order of the day. With only a couple exceptions (XXII, which was not televised where we lived because we didn't have a local ABC affiliate, and XXXIII, which I watched with my fraternity brothers), this has been the rule every year. Didn't do it this year. I couldn't get behind either team, and so frankly, I just didn't have the desire to go to the time and effort. Yes, I feel bad about this already. No, it won't happen again. In fact, I'm already making plans for the appropriately named Super Bowl XL, so named for the waistlines of my guests at the end of the evening.

Nevertheless, Pete stepped up to the plate and hosted. Pizza was ordered, foodstuffs were brought over, including beer (sure, it's a food), chex mix (homemade) and ice cream cake. Good times were had by all. Here's a few scenes from the Super Bowl...

* Before I left the house, Kobe Bryant was interviewed on the sidelines of the Lakers-Rockets game. The reporter, apparently struggling to fill airtime in a blowout, asked Kobe about the Super Bowl. Kobe takes about 10 seconds before remembering "oh, right, I'm from Philadelphia!" and starts talking up the Eagles. I'll bet Kev's house that he couldn't name 5 other guys from the Eagles if you spotted him McNabb and Owens.

* The opening act (Black Eyed Peas, I'm told) featured a lead singer wearing camouflage pants with a sweater vest and striped shirt. Even by rapper standards, that's bad. Even Bjork wouldn't be caught dead in that getup.

* Philly resident Will Smith, sporting a Terrell Owens jersey (which nicely matched the broken ankle Will suffered from jumping on the speeding Eagles bandwagon), introduced Alicia Keys who played something on the piano. This led to the five of us singing the theme song to "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and then making a suicide pact.
* Celebrities gave intros of the team on FOX. Michael Chilkis, Boston resident, introduces the Patriots. They had to show a quick montage of his work on "The Shield" so you'd know who he was. Will Smith, of course, introduces the Eagles and gets about 3 times as much air time to do it. Between that and the fact that the 78,125 seat stadium had about 78,124 Eagles fans, they should have just made it 7-0 Philly before the kickoff. Michael Chilkis?!? Is that the best they could do? Steven Tyler wasn't available? Curt Schilling wouldn't return calls? Hell, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones would have been a more acceptable counterpoint.

* Jeremiah offered me the Patriots straight up for $5. This, I figured, would nicely counter any losses I should suffer playing poker. I offered Mike the Patriots for $5 if he'd give me 6 1/2. No dice. Damn.

* We chose "special" for the drinking game word of the evening (i.e. hear the word "special", take a drink). Disappointing results. Donovan McNabb didn't get called a "special" player even once, despite Cris Collinsworth being in the booth. Maybe if the Packers were involved, we'd have had better luck. Does anyone get treated with kid gloves more than Brett Favre? Yeah, he's an all-time great, and yeah, he's a credit to the game of football, but some of his decisionmaking makes A.J. Feeley look smart by comparison.

* Lan asks "when are we playing poker?" for the first time during the pre-game. I don't want to say Lan's an inveterate gambler, but he asked about playing poker more times than they showed that Fargo-esque ad for the new Ford Mustang. Shortly before halftime, I caved. Bad move; never play poker when you're not feeling it.

* We took it as a bad sign that the ref doing the game was a first-timer. Not coincidentally, this was one of the most poorly officiated Super Bowls I've ever seen. THREE challenges that reversed calls, and every one of them was hugely important. This game set the "let's get rid of instant replay" movement back about 10 years.

* George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton followed some sort of military review out onto the field. Lan, echoing my sentiments to a tee, pleads with 41 to clothesline Billy Jeff. That would have been the highlight of my month. Instead, Mike provided that shortly after kickoff, with the comment below...

* After questioning something the Patriots were trying to do, Mike stops himself in mid-sentence and says, "wait a minute, what am I talking about? I know less about football than anyone else here. I should just shut up!" I'm laughing as I type this, in fact.

* Terrell Owens doesn't just start, but goes on to catch 9 balls for 122 yards. All things considered, a very strong argument for being just the second player to win the MVP in a losing cause. (5 points for whoever can name the first and only player to accomplish that, without looking it up) TO is also an early frontrunner in the annual "man and a half" contest.

* I'd love to talk about the first half, but aside from TO's Lazarus-like return, (and even though I think he's a complete jerk, I give him all the credit in the world, just an amazing performance. Good for him.) it just wasn't that memorable. You watched it, you're with me, right?

* The poker hands I was dealt were about as appealing as Love Canal real estate. Let's just sum up the poker experience with two stories where I actually got something to work with: we're playing Follow the Queen, and I've got a full house, threes over eights, all natural. Jeremiah pulls four of a kind, with a queen and another wild as his hole cards. Unreal. And people wonder why I think playing with wild cards is retarded. On another hand of five card draw, Ron bets big, then proceeds to draw five new cards. So of course, he pulls three aces from the new five. It comes as small consolation that this would have gotten him hanged back in the Old West.

* The Patriots started the third quarter with one of those championship drives. You know the kind that frequently knock the other guys back on their heels? That's the kind I'm talking about. And for the record, nobody was better at those early third quarter "get out of our house" drives than the Jimmy Johnson Era Cowboys. I thought we were about to witness a rout. Nope.

* The Eagles countered a few minutes later with one of those ideal West Coast Offense drives, where McNabb completes about 12 passes for an average of 6 yards a piece and they score. The second half, however, highlighted the crucial difference between the Eagles and Patriots. I think Lan pointed this out at one point, so I'll give him credit: the Patriots can run when they have to, but the Eagles can't. And if Lan didn't say it, well, he probably thought it. Anyway, Philly ran the ball FIVE times in the second half. That's it. I counted. Donovan McNabb had about the least impressive 300+ yard, 3 TD game I've ever seen. He and the Eagles played WAY too hesitantly, I thought. If you're going to throw it 87 times (that's how many times McNabb threw, right? It sure felt that way), you've got to mix it up. There was not nearly enough work downfield against a beat-up secondary. There was one first quarter sequence that was absolutely egregious: McNabb was picked off, but the play was called back because of a New England penalty. So, the Eagles tried the exact same play on the other side of the field. It was intercepted again.

* The Pats mixed 5 runs and 4 passes on their next drive for a touchdown. A Vinatieri field goal made it a 10 point game, and then...well, I've got to tell a story here. Joe and I are forever talking about sports phrases and cliches that drive us nuts. Joe hates the term "sense of urgency." It's absolutely meaningless, he says. And I agree. But watching the Eagles in the last six minutes, I actually thought to myself, for the first time, "this team really needs to play with a sense of urgency." If that sounds terrible, so was watching the Eagles run their offense in the last six minutes. They huddled. They moseyed up to the line. They took their sweet time calling the plays. I wanted to grab Andy Reid by his 35 inch collar and shout, "You have six minutes to go, and need two scores against the NFL's best defense! HURRY UP!!!" I haven't been this disappointed in a performance from a big-time coach since Phil Jackson blatantly mailed in last year's NBA Finals. Touchdown or no, the rest was a fait accompli.

So there you go, a 24-21 Super Bowl that didn't feel nearly as close as the score might indicate.

See you at Casa de Phunwin for Super Bowl XL.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Bad movies...God bless 'em!

Everyone has guilty pleasures in cinema. For everyone, there are certain movies that are just appallingly bad, but you enjoy them anyway. How else could "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" gain such a following? I, of course, am no exception. In fact, I enjoy bad movies perhaps more than most. I can actually appreciate bad acting on a level that most cannot. Well, maybe not as much as Kev, who's a big Keanu Reeves fan. They don't get much worse than Keanu. I could watch Keanu say "I know kung-fu!" in a continuous loop all day and never get tired of it.

Of course, one has to be careful about defining what exactly is a bad movie. And so we're going for a tightly circumscribed definition here. We've gotta have a bad plot, bad acting and lame dialogue. But, it can't be intentionally bad. Take any given Adam Sandler movie, for instance. It's pretty clear that no one's taking themselves seriously. Now, if I had seen "Spanglish", where he WAS taking himself seriously, and sucked anyway, that might make the list. It also has to be enjoyable. That's the tricky part. Yes, I've seen movies chock-full of mindless violence, and I actually failed to enjoy them. 90% of John Woo's work falls in this category.

So, with no further ado, my all-time favorite bad movies...

The Italian Job -
Why it's bad: Probably the most light-hearted action movie I've seen in a dog's age. There's a blowaway cast, and yet everyone is just portraying one-dimensonal cartoon characters. It's got Donald Sutherland shamelessly pimping himself out for a paycheck. Seth Green steals scenes left and right while Jason Statham, Ed Norton and Mark Wahlberg shamelessly read cue cards. There's a 600 pound Samoan guy named "Skinny Pete" uttering lines like, "If there's one thing I know, it's never to mess with mother nature, mother in-laws and, mother freaking Ukrainians. " Yes, he actually said "freaking".

Why I love it: Sometimes there's fun in watching a movie where there's no suspense whatsoever. I don't know why, and maybe I'm alone on this score. But basically, you know everything that's going to happen before it does. Lots of acting here to make fun of, too.

The Chronicles of Riddick -
Why it's bad: It's got Vin Diesel, so we're off to a good start. It's got Vin Diesel doing a fair amount of monologue and inner dialogue. Better still. It's got Judi Dench shamelessly pimping herself out for a paycheck. It's got Vin Diesel playing with knives and breaking people out of underground prisons on a planet that's 700 degrees Fahrenheit. It's got an ending that's barely tenable with the movie.

Why I love it: Because it's basically a vehicle for Vin Diesel to be Vin Diesel for 2 1/2 hours. And I love these kind of quasi-apocalyptic movies.

Highlander - You know, a lot of people think this is actually a good movie. I can see their point, really. I mean, what's bad about a bunch of immortal guys running around New York, concealing 4 foot long swords from view all the while, chopping each others heads off so they can gain the ultimate prize: mortality?

Why I love it: Are you kidding? Does anyone NOT love this movie? It's one of the five greatest sci-fi flicks of all time. It's probably closer to the category of movies that are bad, but no one really knows it.

Rocky IV - Why it's bad: I didn't mind Rocky refusing to throw in the towel and Apollo willingly dying in the ring. I didn't mind Brigette Nielsen showing all the acting range of Natasha from "Rocky and Bullwinkle". I didn't mind Rocky running up a 4000 foot tall mountain with no equipment in the dead of winter, or even fighting in Russia, on Christmas Day, for no money, and forfeiting the heavyweight championship in the process. Nope, none of that got to me. Much. The Moscow crowd chanting "Rocky, Rocky!" was bad, and that was followed up by Rock's Cold War-ending speech. Just catastrophically bad.

Why I love it: It's a Rocky movie, for one. And the Rocky movies, as a rule, are all awesome. Plus, the "US beats USSR" theme never gets old. Great stuff.

Gone in 60 Seconds (2000 version) - Why it's bad: Let's not kid ourselves; this is a TERRIBLE movie. Nic Cage flip-flops between Shatneresque scene chewing and complete apathy, sometimes in the same scene. The principle of the whole thing is silly: let's have Nic Cage and his team steal a whole bunch of cars in one night, and of course, they're the good guys. The villain is the most comically awful thing I've ever seen; for reasons unexplained, he has some sort of fetish for wood furniture, and speaks with an accent that seems equal parts English, Irish, Scottish and Australian. Angelina Jolie, for some reason, has dreadlocks (and no, even she can't make them look good). It's got Robert Duvall shamelessly pimping himself out for a paycheck. I loved every minute of it.

Why I love it: Most people don't realize this, but Nic Cage is by far at his most enjoyable in bad movies. I don't want Nic Cage gunning for an Oscar, I want him bouncing off walls and then back to reading cue cards once he's had his lithium. It's got an awesome car chase. It's got great "buddy movie" characteristics between the two cops. It's got Delroy Lindo trying to match Cage's lousy acting. On the Bill Simmons Unintentional Comedy Scale, the whole movie is about a 97 out of 100, and Cage's scene at the car dealership is probably a 120. This is, by far, the heavyweight champion of enjoyable awful movies.

Ah, bad movies. Where would we be without them?

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Crossing Over

Wasn't that the name of a crappy show on the WB or something? Or maybe Fox? Well, no matter, this post has nothing to do with some TV show I can't think of. Rather, I was thinking that, for the most part, the creative energy in music has declined greatly. How many artists have made entire careers out of playing one song, tweaking the lyrics and music slightly, and making a dozen hits out of it? In fact, the most creative thing many people can think of now is to cover someone else's tune and/or cross over (hence the title) into another genre.

Mind you, I don't think this is necessarily a terrible thing. For one, I'm a mainstream kind of guy, and I eat up a lot of this stuff. Frankly, I think there's a good reason that music hasn't grown a whole lot over the last few years; everytime someone tries, it sucks. How Bjork has fashioned a good career for herself, for example, is totally beyond me.

So anyway, without further ado, here are a few crossovers that should...nay, MUST happen soon.

Metallica covering "House of the Rising Sun" - this was actually the one that inspired this whole post. This would probably be the coolest cover ever. Frankly, I don't know how they missed it when they did the Garage, Inc. CD. Can't you just picture James Hetfield busting out his pissy/intimidating voice, like the one he uses for "Unforgiven II"? "There is...a New Orleans....IT'S CALLED THE RISING SUN!!!!" Just awesome. Then again, back in college we had a theory that Metallica could play anything and make it sound good. We extended this to Metallica covering the Jackson Five and "ABC, it's easy as 1-2-3".

Tom Petty covering "Paint it Black" - By the way, some purists may object to how I've written the title, claiming it's "Paint it, Black". To the best of my recollection, the Stones dropped the comma after the song's initial release. It doesn't appear on "Hot Rocks". Anyway, I digress. My dad would probably feel his work on earth was complete if he could convince Petty to cover this song; I think he wanted me to become a Hollywood agent just so I might meet Petty and put the idea in his head. And it's only fair, really. After all, the Stones covered "Like a Rolling Stone" some years ago, and Bob Dylan is too far gone to handle anything more complex than oatmeal. So, the task falls to another Traveling Wilbury.

Kid Rock covering "Simple Man" - Or Freebird. Or Sweet Home Alabama. Whatever. Fact is, Kid appears to be the rightful heir to Lynyrd Skynyrd as the King of White Trash Rock. If you think that's an insult, well, you obviously don't know me very well.

Velvet Revolver covering the "Use Your Illusion II" album - Though most people feel "Appetite for Destruction" was Guns n' Roses best work, I opt for UYI II. I thought it showcased their versatility a little better. VR, of course, is really just Scott Weiland fronting the remnants of G n' R, which is good and bad. It's bad because Weiland doesn't have the same vocal range or creativity that Axl Rose did. However, he also doesn't have the sampler pack of psychoses that Axl possessed (paranoia, megalomania, manic depression, now and get a 30-day trial of Tourette's syndrome at no charge!). It would be like trading Ron Artest for Tayshaun Prince; you're not getting as talented a ballplayer, but you're getting more of a team-first guy who's less likely to beat the hell out of someone. Or stop a show 10 minutes in because he's pissed off, and touch off a riot in the process. By the way, not writing about Axl in my "Heartbreakers" post was absolutely inexcusable. I may have to devote an entire post to that in the future.

Eminem covering the "Licensed to Ill" album - Without the Beastie Boys, do we ever get Eminem? And isn't "Girls" just dying for a Slim Shady twist? Paul, Ad Rock and Mike D were collectively like the Jackie Robinson of rap. Without those guys, we never would have had Eminem, Bass, Vanilla know what, maybe rap is best left to black guys after all.

Robert Goulet covering "Crazy Train" - I still can't believe this actually happened. But why not expand it? Let's see what kind of chops Goulet really has. Let's see him cover "Mr. Crowley", "Enter Sandman", and hell, how about the entire Pantera "Vulgar Display of Power" album? By the way, I love Robert Goulet. Not for his music, but because he's only half a step below Wayne Newton on the campiness scale.

Limp Bizkit covering "Master of Puppets" - I give Fred Durst a world of credit. As I discussed in an earlier post, most musicians are talented, right-brained fools with a thimble full of business sense. Durst is a left-brained guy with plenty of business sense and a thimble full of talent. You could probably count on one hand the number of musicians who have made more with less than Durst. That said, the one thing Limp Bizkit does well is the angry song. Could they improve on the original? Not bloody likely, but it would be pretty cool, and we also know they have no problems ripping off someone else's stuff.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band covering the Sopranos theme song - They've probably done it in concert before, but why not share it with the rest of us? The show's been so big that I don't even think of the guitarist as Steve Van Zandt anymore, I think of him as Silvio. Besides, it's possibly the greatest band ever playing the greatest TV theme ever. What's wrong with that?

Metallica covering the Miami Dolphins Fight Song -

I told you, those guys could make anything sound good.