Month: September 2009

Weekend Wrap

Weird weekend. No work, but a 3.75 hour KU game kind of messed up Saturday, and then preparations for hosting some friends Sunday afternoon/evening kind of wiped out all the day games. So this will be very heavy on KU, a healthy dose of Colts, and a few random thoughts on the other games.<!–more–><strong>Saturday</strong>

KU – Southern Miss. Closer than I would have liked, but I think it’s a solid win. It’s funny how after being mediocre for most of my life, the 2007 KU season still has me a bit jaded and I’m frustrated when KU doesn’t score on each possession. There are still plenty of wrinkles to be ironed out – more consistent play from the O-line, pressure on the quarterback, receivers dropping balls – but the important thing is that KU made it through the non-conference schedule undefeated and can now focus on the true goal for this season: winning the Big 12 North.

Having seen them the last two weeks, but not having seen either Nebraska or Missouri, it’s tough to gauge just how much improvement is needed to get the 5-6 wins necessary to win the division. Getting Jake Sharp back (hopefully) in two weeks should help the offense some. Having two weeks to focus on practice and health won’t hurt, either. One of the frustrating things about college football is how coaches don’t show much early in the season. The playbook is often dramatically cut down for opponents that will struggle to keep within 30 points. Some even continue with the trimmed options until conference season begins. So you’re never really sure if you’re seeing everything your team has, or if there are still arrows in the quiver that will correct the apparent deficiencies. Missouri is probably a little better than I expected, although I didn’t expect them to drop off as much as some did. Nebraska seems about as good as I expected. It should be a fine three-way battle for the division, with the KU – Texas Tech game on Halloween incredibly important to KU’s hopes.

My annoyance of the day, other than the officials who had trouble deciding what was and was not a personal foul (going both ways), was the announcing team. Joel Meyers always annoys me with his need to either compare a KU player to an MU player (It was Kerry Meier and Chase Coffman this week), or reference a recent Mizzou game. Joel, we know you’re a proud Tiger alum. That’s cool. But chances are, unless KU is playing MU, there aren’t a whole lot of Mizzou fans tuned in. We don’t care about Blake Gabbert’s stats Friday night.

And then there’s the analyst. I’m forgetting his name, and not wasting the time looking it up, but he’s been doing Big 8/12 games forever. He’s not a bad analyst, but his overuse of the term “I can’t even tell you…” drives me bonkers. Examples: “I can’t even tell you how much time Todd Reesing had to throw on that play.” Then he proceeds to tell us, for the next 30 seconds, exactly how much time he had, going as far as counting the time off, backyard football-style. “I can’t even tell you what a big play that was.” Why not? You’re a fucking analyst that once played the game. It’s your job to tell us!

Yeah, I was a little extra cranky. The girls were driving me crazy Saturday.

I love Gale Sayers. I’d love to have a 1960s style KU jersey with his name on it. I’ve talked to people who have met Gale and say that, one-on-one, he’s a very friendly and interesting person to talk to. But for the second straight week, he offered up an atrocious interview on the KU telecast. Whatever charisma he has in individual settings is apparently lost when he gets on camera. Keep him shaking hands and asking for athletic department donations and off the broadcasts.

I love the spread offense and what it’s done for college football. Combine it with kids being more athletic these days, rules changes, and changes in scholarship limits and it’s given us a wide-open game that is exciting to watch and narrows the gap between the good and very good teams. But….these 3 1/2-4 hour games are killers. When the Colts were clicking on all cylinders a few years back, their games routinely ended well under three hours after kickoff. It is just brutal watching a game that begins at noon and you’re finally starting the lawn mower at 4:00. It also makes it difficult to watch any of the late afternoon games if you have things that need to be done.

What the hell is Purdue doing? They just called a timeout that gives Notre Dame two chances to score, rather than one, with under 40 seconds to play.

Watching the Penn State – Iowa game Saturday, I was struck by what a weird thing talent is. The Penn State quarterback is big, fast, and a fantastic athlete. But he can’t throw the ball to save his life. When he wants to go downfield, he just lobs it in the general direction of the receiver and hopes he can out jump the defense. It makes me appreciate Todd Reesing even more.

Yep, Notre Dame just scored. I’ll be eager to read the explanation for that timeout tomorrow.

<strong>Sunday</strong>

Strange that the same weekend the University of Oregon broke out their old school, normal uniforms – rather than one of the 88 combinations they can build from their standard, hideous uniforms – the Seattle Seahawks busted out perhaps the worst uniforms in NFL history. As great as the AFL throwbacks are, those putrid Seattle uniforms might cancel them out.

I’m no fan of the drama queen in Minneapolis. But that game-winning TD pass was awesome. A laser of a throw, a fantastic catch, and a better job by Greg Lewis to get both feet down. That’s one of those plays that they probably practice all the time and nev er pull off in practice, but in a game situation it just clicks. I don’t care who threw the ball, that was one for the ages.

I have a firm policy against rooting for New York teams, but these Jets are sexy. Subway Super Bowl?

Hell of a performance by the Colts Sunday night. The big play offense was clicking. The defense did a fantastic job getting pressure on Warner and containing the running game. Everyone expected a big Arizona letdown this season, but they’re still a quality team, especially at home. To do that, with tons of injuries on defense, is a sign that the Colts could well be in position to go deep into the playoffs in a year that appears to be wide-open in the AFC. Bonus points for Peyton getting his young receivers into the act consistently. If Anthony Gonzalez can come back healthy, that’s going to be one difficult to defend offense. Oh, and Donald Brown is fast.

Why did it take so long for teams to start changing their defense at the line against Peyton Manning? Oh, I guess because after two plays he’ll go no-huddle on your ass and work you over. Nice idea by Arizona, and perhaps something more teams should do at various times during the game.

Adam Vinatieri is officially washed up. He helped the Colts get a ring, which was the reason they brought him here, but dude sucks now.

As I finish this up on Monday, I’ll just comment that this Monday night game sucks as well.

 

Must See TV

It was kind of a tough week. The weather sucked for most of the time. All three sisters were fighting colds and/or fevers much of the time. Especially in the hours after school, they were extra cranky. Also, we’re in the midst of some renovations in the house, requiring me to be home all day.

Thank goodness for Thursday night TV!

NBC might suck the other six nights of the week,* but they are once again bringing the heat on Thursdays.

(Sunday does not suck for the time being, with football on.)

Fred Armisen’s impersonation of New York governor David Patterson is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. While this week’s <em>Weekend Update Thursday</em> edition wasn’t quite as good as last week’s, Armisen more than made up for any jokes that fell flat. S. could hear me laughing about it all the way upstairs. When you account for the randomness and provinciality of doing Patterson, it might be one of the top five political impersonations ever on <em>SNL</em>.*

(Five, off the top of my head, favorites: Ferrell as W., both Phil Hartman and Darrell Hammond as Clinton, Tina Fey as Palin, Chevy as Ford, with Armisen knocking on the door.)

I tried<em> Parks and Recreation</em> last year and gave up after about five episodes. It seemed like they were trying too hard and thus swinging and missing a lot. I heard some good buzz so figured I’d give it another shot this season. So far, it’s much funnier than last year.

<em>The Office</em> is as good as ever, at least through two episodes. The writers do a brilliant job of juggling the many characters, so you’re never sure who is going to be featured each week. This week, Andy’s cheese platter spiel was the highlight of a strong episode.

Finally, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by <em>Community</em>. I didn’t expect much; Chevy Chase is in it, after all. But I read an early review a few weeks back that was very positive. I added it to the DVR early last week, thinking I’d give it a shot. We had family in town last weekend, so I wasn’t able to watch. I debated whether to go ahead and watch or just delete and stick to the other shows, but checked <a href=”http://www.metacritic.com/”>Metacritic</a> just to make sure. Turns out it is getting excellent reviews. So I fired it up and wasn’t disappointed. It’s certainly treading on all kinds of tried and true comedic territory, but so far the writing and acting have been fine, I’ve laughed a lot, and it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be too cute, clever, etc.

That’s a pretty solid night. And the funniest show on TV* is still in the bullpen, warming up for a mid-October preview. I’m not a Jay Leno fan to begin with, and comedy at 10 pm Eastern on a Thursday doesn’t feel right after nearly 30 years of drama in that slot (<em>Hill Street Blues, LA Law, ER</em>), so no, I do not stay tuned in for Leno’s unfortunate new show.

(30 Rock.)

Two hours of comedy was exactly what I needed to recharge the tanks a bit after a long week. If only TV Land hadn’t messed up the times of the <em>Cosby Show</em> marathon so I hadn’t missed the last ten minutes of two episodes, it would have been the perfect TV night. I think I have some <em>Cheers</em> DVDs around here somewhere…

 

Knuckleheads

Drama in Lawrence!
Idiots.

That was my first thought, and remains for the most part, my assessment of <a href=”http://www2.kusports.com/news/2009/sep/23/witnesses-report-second-altercation-between-basket/”>the nonsense</a> that went on in Lawrence earlier this week between members of the football and basketball teams. The quick version, if you don’t want to follow the links, is that apparently a young lady changed her affections from a member of one squad to a member of the other, creating some bad blood between the old suitor and her new beau. As tends to happen, each fellow’s homies have helped circle the wagons, and after enough harsh words were exchanged, there was at least one fight on campus on Tuesday and another near-fight Wednesday.

Boys will be boys, and all of that. Raise your hand if you’ve never seen a fight between guys in their 20s over a girl. I was once waiting in line for drinks at a sorority formal when the two guys in front of me started swinging at each other. Over a girl, of course. So, to me, that’s not a big deal.

What is a big deal is that A) the members of both teams were too dumb to nip this in the bud and B) according to one source, there is some long simmering bad-blood between the teams. Someone, whether it was a team captain or just someone aware of what was going on, should have told the guys to knock it off. Or, they should have contacted the coaching staffs so they could step in.

Some of the names being tossed around upset me, too. The campus paper reported that both Sherron Collins and Dezmon Briscoe were in the middle of yesterday’s incident. Two guys who are key to their team’s success, likely candidates for post-season honors, and each expected to be drafted next spring. And they’re nearly fighting, in public, with fellow athletes. Not smart.* I’ve seen Tyshawn Taylor listed in the top 12 for next year’s draft. Messing up your hand in a fight isn’t a good way to improve your stock if you’re thinking about jumping early.

Collins keeps talking about one of the challenges for this season is to prove that he can run a team, make smart decisions, etc. I don’t think this will go in his Good Decision Making Examples file.

If the coaches and players have truly gotten on top of the situation and it ends here, it’s not a big deal. Thank goodness J.R. Giddens wasn’t still around to start bashing people in the skulls with bricks. I’ve been following some of the on-line discussions and it seems like a lot of people are far more upset with the language Tyshawn Taylor used on his Facebook page, some of which were quotes from popular music that the youth of today enjoy. They’re worried about the racial overtones of the quotes and how that will affect KU’s recruiting. While I’m beginning to get old enough that I am chagrined at some of the language kids use today, I kind of rolled my eyes at this response. I don’t think any recruits are going to think for a minute about a KU basketball player posting Lil’ Wayne and Biggie lyrics.* While older white folks may find the lyrics odious, it’s not like Tyshawn is the only basketball player in the country into those songs.**

John Calipari might use it against is. “Why would you go to Kansas? Bill Self won’t let you keep it real and post your favorite lyrics to Facebook, Twitter, etc. I understand what those lyrics mean to you. I understand where you’re from. Come play for me and we’ll show all those people who are against a young brother trying to make it in the world what’s what.”

Chances are most of those older white folks have kids who are listening to the same music. Doesn’t make it right, and that’s a whole other conversation, but I’m just saying.

After that long intro, let’s get to what I thought of most after this news broke. I think for a lot of fans, we can’t imagine how players from two teams on the same campus would have beef with each other. “They’re all Jayhawks,” or whoever, “why would they fight?” It misses the point that they’re young men, who tend to fight. They’re athletes, in prime shape, operating with a little extra testosterone (some more than others, perhaps with a little pharmaceutical boost). Turf wars are bound to erupt. Throw in girls, perhaps some beer, and they’re no different than a bunch of guys from different fraternities on the same campus who throw down for one reason or another.

Fans tend to think that all athletes on a campus are part of a tight fraternity. That’s not true. They’re in a bubble to begin with, venturing out only for class (in theory) and the occasional trip to a non-athletic social function. Teams are bubbles within the bubble, seeing others at training table and in the halls of dorms, but mostly sticking together at practice, meetings, and on road trips. While there are certainly some friendships that form across team lines, for the most part teams are insulated from each other. Word has it (shockingly) that the KU basketball players are a bit full of themselves, thinking they run the campus. The football players, in light of their recent success, are looking for respect on campus as much as off. The subtle tension that is always present between revenue sports has been cranked up a notch or two. Throw in the girl situation and you get what we got.

So it’s embarrassing, disappointing, frustrating that this happened. But as long as it ends now, I don’t think it’s something that will damage either program or the university.* I’ll be thankful no one was dumb enough to bring a weapon to the fray. The players should be thankful the worst injury to come out of this was a dislocated finger and bruised egos. Hopefully the jackasses will leave each other alone and get back to winning games and pretending to go to class.

There was a classic comment on one of the public message boards last night. There was the usual “This never happened when Roy Williams was the coach,” nonsense. First off, Roy covered up a lot of stuff while he was at KU. If you were on campus in the 90s, you heard rumors of this and that going on. Everyone in Lawrence was too scared of Roy to let anything go public, though. Bill Self seems to think his players need some freedom and deserve to face public humiliation if they fuck up.** Anyway, one poster responded that the basketball players were too high in the Roy era to get in fights. An argument for letting your guys get baked and then cover up any positive test results.

(It can be argued too much freedom.)

(See Aqib Talib, who, now that he’s subject to the NFL drug testing policy, seems to be awfully eager to throw down.)

(Just seeing if you read these or not.)

 

The Walker

Have I mentioned that L. is walking? Sucks to be kid #3. We’ve seen it all before.

Actually, the reason I haven’t shared the news is that she’s pretty sporadic about it, and really only took more than 3-4 steps at a time this weekend. But her first steps did come about three weeks ago, making her the youngest B. girl to be uprightly mobile, beating C. by a week.

Of course M., who waited two months longer than her younger sisters, did not mess around. Once she started walking, she never stopped. One of my favorite memories of fatherhood is the morning after M. took her first steps. I was laying on the couch watching Sportscenter and she was playing behind our loveseat, where I could not see her. All of a sudden she comes walking around the corner with a big grin on her face, like it was the most normal thing in the world. It freaked me out a little.

C., on the other hand, took her first steps and then only took a small number of steps for several weeks. Which is kind of funny because once she got going, she quickly learned how to move at the fastest possible speed and has never slowed down.

L. seems to be more in that mold. For the last few weeks she’s been taking short strolls between a couch and a coffee table, for example. Finally over the weekend she started walking for 4-5 feet at a time. She’s still mostly crawling and cruising, but a couple times a day she’ll bust out steps and do the standard, “Hey look at me!” smile and laugh, often will some self-congratulatory clapping thrown in. I keep saying how this stage is my favorite and it’s moments like these that I will miss most. The happy look of a kid who is figuring things out and is extremely pleased with herself. You can be in the worst mood possible and that will always make you laugh.

She’s also up to eight teeth, and we’re hoping for quick arrival of the chewing teeth in the back of her mouth. Homegirl does not dig on the baby food at all, preferring to eat things we give her off of our plates. Once she has some chewing teeth, that will be a lot easier to do, expanding the options from small pieces of fruit and bread. We’re very excited that our current container of Similac will be the last one we ever buy.* We have a few days left then it’s all milk, all the time.

(For our kids, of course.)

The Football

An abbreviated weekend football summary. We had guests in town over the weekend, plus the late finish to the Colts’ game Monday threw things off.
Saturday was another big day. When I checked the local paper in the morning, there were no fewer than 13 interesting games set to air that day. When I say interesting, I don’t necessarily mean competitive. Tulsa-Oklahoma was interesting, for example, but I did not expect OU to have much trouble.

The first game of the day was the KU-Duke game in beautiful HD. A bit of a struggle early, but the defense adjusted, the offense found its rhythm, and I went outside to play with M., which always seems to help. A fairly easy win, after the first quarter, setting up the most interesting non-con opponent of the season: Southern Mississippi. I don’t think Southern Miss is a great team, but they can put points up. It should be a solid test going into the Big 12 season.

I didn’t see much of the late afternoon games, between kid responsibilities and getting ready for another night covering high school football. Finally I was on the right side of a blow-out. The team I covered is ranked ninth in 4A and were playing a 1A team.* My team won easily, 37-0. It wasn’t that close, to be honest. They had touchdown runs of 90, 67, and 25 yards, and had a 34 yard TD called back. Add another nine penalties on the night, and the game could have been really ugly. While not as nice as last week’s game at Lucas Oil Stadium, this game was played at the stadium of Division 3 University of Indianapolis. For being a small school, I think the stadium has the most steps at the highest pitch in order to get to the press box I’ve ever seen. I know, I know, I’m getting paid to watch and write about high school sports. Waaaaah.

<em>* Catholic school rivalries trump large class differences, apparently.</em>

I made it home in time to watch the second half of the amazing Georgia-Arkansas game. It’s nice that the SEC is playing Big 12 ball, or at least some schools are. I was working on my stats and transcribing my interviews, but it seemed like every time I looked up someone was scoring on a long touchdown pass.

Sunday. My brother-in-law who was visiting from Denver and I went to a sports bar to watch the 1:00 games. It’s the first time I remember going to a bar to watch games in two years. We mostly paid attention to the New England – New York game, but kept our eyes on everything, in between nachos and pitchers of Blue Moon. The place we went to had “smoking at the bar,” which was in no way physically separated from the rest of the place. On the rare occasions I have to be in a smoky environment, I really, really hate it. Getting married and having kids has made me soft!

Watched parts of the Cowboys-Giants game late. Remember, I’ve given up on the Cowboys so I was watching casually. I think I could have predicted everything about that game: Romo throwing picks (he really is a younger Favre!), the Dallas secondary getting burned repeatedly, and the Giants pulling out a late win. But at least Jerry has his Taj Mahal. I’ve always been indifferent about Jerry Jones, realizing he was an attention-seeking diva but appreciating the way he ran the Cowboys. I fear he’s going to ruin the NFL, though, by forcing revenue sharing and the salary cap to either be completely dropped or radically changed. The Cowboys will become the Yankees, the Redskins and Giants the Red Sox and Mets, the Steelers the Cubs, etc. and we’ll have a handful of teams that compete every year and the smaller market clubs will turn into the Royals and Nationals and Pirates. The lesson, kids, is that socialism works.

Onto Monday night. I had to juggle getting the kids to bed and a quick trip to the grocery store, so missed the first quarter and a half of the Colts game. As it stretched into the fourth quarter, I mentally drafted my summary and it went something like this:
<blockquote>Maybe the problems of last year weren’t isolated. Maybe the Colts really are aging faster than we realized and their window has closed. Vinatieri is clearly toast. The defense can’t stop anyone. The offensive line can’t protect Peyton or open holes for the running backs. Reggie Wayne faces triple coverage and Dallas Clark is the only other receiver Peyton trusts. Hey, perhaps he should occasionally throw the ball to one of his other receivers so he can learn to trust them. Maybe this really is the year the Colts go 8-8 and miss the playoffs.</blockquote>
Then Donald Brown busted through the line for the most physical Colts touchdown run I can remember. The defense kept it a three-point game, and then Peyton trusted one of his new receivers. Suddenly what looked like confirmation that the Colts’ best days were past became a stunning confirmation that they are still one of the most explosive, dangerous teams in the league.

We’ll see what happens next week, though. That Arizona offense is going to be a stiffer challenge for the defense.

Still 900 words. Football is grand.

 

Girls, Girls, Girls

A quick catch-up post.

Wednesday night may have been my worst night as a parent. The cold M. and C. brought home from school has hit L. hard, and by late Wednesday, she was tired, cranky, sick of having her face wiped, and every cough made her start crying. So I took her to bed in this state, expecting the worst. Between 8:00 PM and 5:00 AM, she slept for approximately 90 total minutes. In between she cried, shrieked, screamed, spit Motrin out on me, puked all over me and the floor, gagged on her binky, tossed-and-turned, pulled the bathroom door over her foot and scraped it when I was trying to use the toilet, and then played for two hours, from 2:30-4:30, like it was the middle of the day and she was the happiest kid in the world. The last hour before Motrin dose #2, her fever was hot enough that I was worried I would have to take her to the ER. Fortunately, she took that second dose and quickly cooled down.

As you may have gathered, S. was at work. But one of my sisters-in-law and her husband were in our guest room, as well, so I was trying to be extra careful to keep L. sequestered in our bedroom. I was very happy to leave that room this morning. I wish M. and C. understood when I tell them I didn’t get much sleep and will not be dealing with their normal morning nonsense very well. It would save us all a lot of grief.

The cherry on top is that my throat is now sore and I’m feeling some congestion coming on.

Two fun stories from school.

First, M. has had her first dust-up with a friend.

Monday when I picked her up, she said she wasn’t going to wear her pink turtle shoes to school anymore. I asked why and she said that her friend, L., who also has pink turtle shoes, was mean to her and played with someone else on the playground that day. I made a comforting comment, but she wasn’t interested. She was through being friends with L.

We get home and go through the projects she brought home in her bag. One was a string of paper gingerbread girls with three names on them: M., L., and E. I pointed out that L. was on there and she said, “I made that before she didn’t play with me. She’s not my friend anymore.” S. laughed and said, “And so it begins.”

A moment later, the phone rang. It was L.’s mother. L. is one of the twins in M.’s class, and apparently her brother had told their mom about L. being mean to M.. L’s mother said she was calling so that L. could apologize to M.. We put M. on the phone and her side of the conversation went something like this:

“Hi L.
Thank you for apologizing to me.
That’s ok.
I’m going to wear my pink turtle shoes tomorrow, ok?”

It’s all about the shoes.

You may recall that a year ago, in C.’s 2’s class, there was a little boy who hit her one day, and she talked about it endlessly the rest of the year. Hell, she still talked about it all summer. The little thug is in the other 3’s class, and she mentioned that she saw him on the playground.

A day or two later, we had had the following conversation:

C: “Dad, when I get bigger who can I marry?”
D: “You can marry whoever you want. You could marry Cooper or Ben or Sean. You could marry Lance (the hitter) it you wanted to.”
She thought about it a moment and responded, “No. I not marry Lance. He would hit me.”

I figure that’s a good core value to have picked up at an early age: don’t marry people who hit you.

Monday Navel Gazing

Why didn’t someone tell me this wasn’t working? I went to get my weekly stats from Last.fm this morning and thought it was weird that I had listened to Pearl Jam 11 times for the third straight week. Looks like, for whatever reason, it’s not updating. So I’ll manually navel gaze, which sounds kind of dirty.

The Beatles – 23 times
Pearl Jam – 19 times
Soulsavers – 4 times
The Antlers – 4 times
Young Galaxy – 3 times
Neil Finn – 3 times
Bruce Springsteen – 3 times
U2 – 3 times
Crowded House – 3 times
Prince – 3 times

Thank you. I feel better now.

 

I Was Ready For Football

A big weekend for football.

Things got started Saturday afternoon, when I headed to Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis to cover my first high school game of the year. On paper, it appeared to be a blowout and, well, the paper did not lie. As usual, the team I was covering was the underdog and got their behinds handed to them. But they’re young and looking for silver linings in every cloud, so the coach was very helpful and full of useful comments afterwards.

I spent most of the game in the press box, which is about the highest vantage point possible in Lucas. In fact, it kind of hangs from the roof rather than sits on top of the deck below. You are way the hell up there, but at least you have a good view. Although there were official stats,* since this was my first game of the year I busted out my stat-keeping system to shake off the rust and be prepared for the night I’m sitting in a high school stadium press box and responsible for every stat myself. There were some tricky moments in the first quarter, but soon I was getting everything down and reasonably close to the official stats.

<em>* The biggest perk for some journalists is that they have access to a hospitality room (i.e. free food). I’ll take official stats over free food every time. My math isn’t always the best.</em>

I headed down to the field midway through the fourth quarter so I could be in position to grab the coach after the game. I made it down in time to be standing on the goal line as my team scored their only touchdown of the game. I went from being as far away as possible, to being about as close as possible without having a uniform on. The change in perspective was kind of jarring.

It was a beautiful day, so the roof was open. It’s an odd roof at Lucas, in that even when open, it still covers most of the seats, but the wall above the north end zone opens completely, so you can look out of the stadium into downtown.

As I headed back to the locker rooms, I literally ran into one of the teams for the next game.* The nightcap was a contest between two perennial 5A powers that are loaded with talent. The team I walked through wears dark purple uniforms, with even darker helmets. I swear every guy on the team was taller than me, and with their pads and helmets on, it was a little intimidating walking through them.

<em>* There were four games in the event.</em>

After doing my interview, I stayed on the sideline for the first quarter of the next game. Talk about a difference. Both teams were loaded with fast, big players, and amped to be on the field. It was a quantum leap up in quality from the game I covered, although I’m sure some of the difference in perspective was due to my closeness to the action.

I think this was the first time I’ve ever been on a Field Turf field. It’s interesting, especially compared to the old Astroturf-styled surfaces. Very soft, almost spongy. It has a wet feel to it, which is strange since I assume the roof at Lucas is closed 90% of the time, so it’s not like it gets soaked every time it rains. To go with that feel, the predominant smell is a musty, wet-cardboard odor. It’s not entirely pleasant. There is also a healthy whiff of warm rubber, since the surface is made from recycled tires and sprinkled with small rubber bits for added cushioning. Unless you’re used to it, you can’t help from continuing to notice those odors, because they’re so counter to the way a football field normally smells: warm, earthy, slightly damp, and above all organic.*

<em>* If only I had more space in my story, I would have described what the field smelled like to my paper’s subscribers. I would have asked players for their views on the subject. “So, you got your asses handed to you, but what about that wet-dog smell?”</em>

So that was fun. Thanks to the beauty of AT&amp;T’s lightning fast 3G network here in Indy,* I was able to track college scores from the press box and on my walk to my car after the game. I was home in time to follow most of the KU game. UTEP seemed kind of scary when the schedule came out. A road, night game against a team that can score a lot of points. When KU has rarely scheduled this kind of opponent in the past, they’ve tended to get their asses handed to them. Thus, this seemed like a big test. Or maybe not. It’s clear UTEP wasn’t as good as advertised, although I think KU’s defense had something to do with that.

<em>* Apparently it pays to live in a medium-sized city. 3G in Indy is awesome. So good I’ve shut off my iPhone’s wifi access completely. Even on my home network, it takes several seconds to connect, so I stick with 3G. I’ve heard less-than-great things about the networks in Chicago, San Francisco, and New York, among other places.</em>

Amazing how much of the post-game discussion centered around how Todd Reesing was off all night. Yet we still racked up over 500 yards of offense. The defense has been solid, and is now getting pressure on the quarterback. The coaching staff showed a willingness to mix things up after some of the breakdowns in week one, and those changes seemed to work. Jake Sharp looks, ahem, sharp. Dezmon Briscoe was back on the field and putting up huge numbers.*

<em>* It’s entirely possible this year’s All-American receivers could be Dezmon Briscoe and Dez Bryant. Briscoe is 6’3’’ 200. Bryant 6’2’’ 215. Both are from Texas. Both are juniors. Both play in the Big 12. Wacky, wild stuff.</em>

A nice win, not unexpected but easier than anticipated. Now we have to be careful not to start looking too far ahead, to say the Oklahoma game, and stub our toes like tOSU did on Saturday.

Onto Sunday and the first full day of NFL action. The Colts opened at home, under an open roof, against nemesis Jacksonville. Yes, all afternoon I kept looking to see where I was standing less than 24 hours earlier and telling the girls all about it. “Daddy was standing right where that cheerleader with the massive fake breasts is standing.”

The good was Joseph Addai running hard again. He didn’t rack up a lot of yards, but he looks like a different back than he did a year ago. The new defensive coordinator is already paying dividends. A blitz on third down? Unheard of in these parts. And it worked! You can’t complain too much about the Tony Dungy era. He did win a Super Bowl. But things had gotten stale, and while Jim Caldwell seems to be very much in the mold of Dungy in terms of personality, mixing things up on the field should pay dividends. Oh, and my man Reggie Wayne is going to have a huge year.

The bad: Anthony Gonzalez collapsing in a heap without being touched. That’s never good. Not being able to tackle Maurice Drew-Jones for the 180th straight game. Not creating consistent space to run on offense.

And of course, since it was a Colts-Jags game, the Colts had to play a little sloppy, the Jags had to hang around, and it looked like Josh Scobee might get a chance to kick his third game-winning field goal in Indianapolis in the last five years. Fortunately the defense held and it never came down to that. 1-0 is a better start than last year.

As I was running some errands Sunday evening, I listened to a local sports talk station. I was amazed that one of the big subjects was Lucas Oil stadium. The hosts and people at the game were complaining that it isn’t nearly as loud as the RCA Dome was and the open roof ruined the game for some. It’s a gorgeous building, designed as it is so that it can be easily adjusted to host the Final Four every fifth year. It has all the amenities you could ask for. And in year two people are turning on it.

It’s funny how many communities have spent loads of money on these fancy new stadiums, built to be luxurious and offer endless outlets for people to spend any money left in their wallets after paying for parking and tickets, and while they end up being wonderful to look at and comfortable, something is lost in the transition.

The RCA Dome wasn’t that old, it’s not like it was Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, but it was small and generic and its upper deck was entirely bleacher seats. People were cramped next to each other. It was hot and ugly and uncomfortable and loud. Lucas is comfortable and pleasant and the sound gets lost in the much higher roof when closed, or escapes to the city when opened. So the team and city got their new jewel, and a Super Bowl in 2011 as reward, but perhaps ruined some of their home field advantage in the process.

Hey, 27 new Peyton Manning commercials. Great.

I’m not sure there will be a better play this year than Brandon Stokley’s game-winning touchdown against Cincinnati. It was so good I sent my brother-in-law in Denver, who is a huge Broncos fan, an email that only said “Holy shit!”

I was feeling a bit under the weather in the afternoon, so I slept through the late games. In the five or so minutes I watched the New York – Washington game, the Giants looked awesome. I’m feeling pretty good about my Super Bowl pick one week in!

The Brett Favre Sears commercial is pretty great. I’m also enjoying Southwest’s “It’s On!” campaign. Genius.

The referees in this Sunday night game could have used a few more preseason games. They’re not in their best form.

Hey, let’s make this a tradition. 1500-2000 words about football every week!

 

Fearless Forecasting

It’s a traditional nearly as old as the blog itself:* my annual NFL predictions post. Always entertaining, at least for me, since I hate the NFL preseason and don’t follow it, have only the barest of memory of off-season roster moves, and make most of my picks based on mental coin flips. So let’s see how my mind is working this year, shall we?

  • The first version of TBB launched in June 2003; my initial NFL predictions followed a couple months later.
  • First off, props to the NFL for giving us Pittsburgh and Tennessee on opening night. Two of my favorite coaches and two franchises that always seem to do the right thing. I despise the Steelers, but I can’t deny they run their organization the right way. Pretty solid game, 7-7 in the third as I begin this.

And now for the ### AFC:

EAST:
New England. Is there a surer pick in football? It’s kind of like picking the 49ers to win the NFC West from 87-95 or so. As long as Tom Brady stays healthy, the Pats will win the division.

NORTH: Pittsburgh. OK, maybe this one is pretty easy, too.

SOUTH: Here’s where it gets interesting. Anyone could win this division. I’ve seen the Colts picked as low as third, while others have them as the team with the best chance of making the Super Bowl. I don’t think they’re going to suffer all that much from the coaching staff changes. The running game should be better. If the defense can stop drives and get off the field, the Colts will be fine. Still, my pick is Tennessee.

WEST: San Diego. OK, this is really easy. The Chargers could have a season full of off-the-field issues and they will still run away and hide in this awful division.

WILD CARDS: Indianapolis, Baltimore

PLAYOFFS:
New England over Indianapolis. Another 10+ win season down the drain for the Colts.
Baltimore over Tennessee. Two years in a row.

San Diego over Baltimore. Baltimore remains a team you don’t want to play in the first round of the playoffs. After that…
Pittsburgh over New England. Forget the Colts and Pats, this has been a pretty terrific rivalry over the last decade as well.

San Diego over Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh runs out of gas in the fourth quarter.

NFC:

EAST: New York. There should be a channel where they show nothing but AFC South and NFC East games all year. The NFC East is the better of the two, but both divisions feature four pretty evenly matched teams.

NORTH: Chicago. Deliberately picking against the Drama Queen’s team in Minneapolis.

SOUTH: New Orleans. I guess. Carolina isn’t winning 12 games and Atlanta isn’t winning 11 games this year.

WEST: Seattle. Big bounce-back season. I kind of fear for Kurt Warner’s safety this year. He’s due for something bad to happen to him.

WILD CARDS: Philadelphia, Minnesota.

PLAYOFFS:
Philadelphia over Chicago. Michael Vick might have something to do with the result.
Minnesota over Seattle. Uh oh. Crank up the hype machine! Peterson bails out Favre by running for 225 yards and five touchdowns, balancing out Brett’s three picks.

Philadelphia over New Orleans. The Saints sit on a throne of lies.
New York over Minnesota. Favre throws two first quarter picks in his return to New York. It goes downhill from there.

New York over Philadelphia. A late field goal wins this classic.

SUPER BOWL:
We shall call it Manning Bowl, as San Diego of course drafted a petulant, young Eli Manning against his wishes and then traded him to the Giants and ended up with Phillip Rivers. That worked out ok for both teams. Steady Eli, ferocious defense, and a monster running game will lead the Giants to their second title in three years. Eli has more rings than Peyton!

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