Month: November 2009 (Page 1 of 2)

Holiday Weekend

Some extended weekend. Here, in 2000 words or less, is a summary of how your trusty blogger passed the holiday.

We were hosts for the local family this year. It sounds daunting to say that we fed 17, but when you factor in that we are a family of five, hosting 12 people isn’t really that big of a deal. Certainly not in my wife’s family. With only three of my sisters-in-law and no brothers-in-law attending, it qualified as a small gathering, I think.

Dinner was good and without incident. The girls, especially the older sisters, were in a fever pitch much of the day. Watching the Macy’s parade got them going and the knowledge that a Christmas tree was in their future kept their fires stoked. I managed to pop in the Cheers “Thanksgiving Orphans” DVD around 9:00 pm, which is just about perfect.

Friday we stayed comfortably entrenched in our home bunker. No shopping for us. At least no shopping that didn’t involve using our internet connection.

That night I covered my first boys basketball game of the year. My team was tied after the first quarter and blew the game open over the final three. Good game, good interviews after the game, and my story was filed at 10:17.

Saturday was Christmas tree day. As has happened the past couple years, we had a lighting failure that postponed the complete trimming of the tree until Sunday when we could make a trip to Target. We did get the tree inside and in the stand, though, and brought most of the decorations down. Fortunately, it was a beautiful day here, so I was able to take M. and C. outside to burn off some energy while I assembled our yard Santa.

Our local ABC affiL.te was showing the Miami-USF game, for some odd reason, so I followed the KU-MU game on my phone. With what’s happened to the football team over the last six weeks, I was about as non-excited about a KU-MU game as I’ve ever been. There have been years when MU was clearly a lot better and I knew an ass-kicking was coming that I had more enthusiasm for than this year. But it turned into another very exciting game, and ABC even switched over for most of the fourth quarter. I got to see Dez’s big catch-and-run*, a solid defensive stand, and then perhaps the worst play calling in the history of the world. I’m not going to run through the numbers for those of you who did not watch, but if there wasn’t already an excellent chance we’ll have a new coaching staff next year, the offensive coordinator made sure his ass is gone with three unforgivable calls late in the fourth quarter.

(I missed his two huge fumbles, I guess. I love Dez, but he’s sucked this year, given the expectations he entered with. Way too many dropped balls, especially in big situations. He’s not shown me he’s ready for the NFL, and I wonder if his stock is down enough that he’ll come back.)

It was like the good old days of the Glenn Mason era, when pretty much anytime we needed ten yards to put a game away, we’d get eight, punt, and give up the game-winning score just before time ran out.

Perhaps it’s better that way. I’d hate to have seen the kids who have Mangino’s back try to carry him off the field had we won.

LOVED the Jayhawk on the helmet. Keep that big beautiful bird where the whole world can see it. Wasn’t quite as keen on the uniforms. A bold attempt, with some heavy 1970s overtones, but I’m not sure they worked. Not as bad as Mizzou’s uniforms from last year’s game, to be sure. And not as bad as those awful helmets MU broke out. The uniforms were fine but the black on gray or whatever those helmets were? I’m sure lots of old men from across middle Missouri called to complain to Mike Alden during and after the game. I suppose by registering my thumbs down I’m identifying myself as an old man from central Indiana.

(I have to laugh at Nike’s marketing pitch for the new unis they’ve been busting out over the last couple weeks. Do uniforms really weigh so much that shaving half their weight off will make a difference?)

Oh, and it sure seems like the move to Arrowhead was a resounding success. Three different games that were all great in their own way. Lots of money for both schools. Lots of national attention. And from what I heard, it sounds like the game day experience has gotten much better as they’ve tweaked things. Of course, it helps that the two programs are both about as strong as they’ve ever been at the same time. We’ll see what happens if the fallout from this autumn causes KU to take a serious step back for more than a year.

Lots of names being thrown around, but my personal favorite for next KU coach would be Kevin Sumlin, the current Houston coach. He’s an Indy native, so I’ve read a lot about him this year. Seems like a great guy, a solid coach, and he’s spent the last decade in Texas or Oklahoma, prime recruiting ground for every Big 12 program. And while perhaps it’s too transparent of a move, hiring an African-American coach can’t hurt given some of the racial contexts that have surrounded this season’s various controversies.

On to the evening. After working hard to get L. to bed, and being puked on as reward for my efforts, I was able to watch most of the second half of the Indiana 5A state title game, which featured my local team that my tax dollars support and whose defense is coached by my man Coach Hebs.

It was the fourth-straight state title appearance for the local 11. In that stretch, they’ve lost, won, and then lost again, last year giving up an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter.

This year, playing one of their local rivals they narrowly beat earlier this season, they carried an eight-point lead deep into the fourth quarter. The opposing 11 drove inside the ten. After three incompletions in the endzone, they went to the ever-popular fade to the corner. The receiver leapt for the ball as one of our local boys shadowed him. The receiver came down with the ball but appeared out-of-bounds. The referee raised his arms, signaling a touchdown. It was a two-point game with :01 to play. A replay was shown both on TV and inside the stadium. The receiver came down a foot out-of-bounds. Boos errupted from our local fans. The TV announcers didn’t bother to explain what the high school rule on these situations is. They just said it looked like he was out-of-bounds.

Yet, our local 11 was still up by two. Hold on the conversion, and they would be state champions.

They could not hold.

The teams exchanged TDs and two-point conversions in the first overtime. Then our local 11 failed to score in the second, while their opponents marched in for the game winner on their possession.

In the postgame show the announcers still failed to explain why that referee might have signaled for a touchdown at the end of regulation. It wasn’t until I read Sunday’s paper that I learned that in high school, a referee can use his own judgement as to whether a defender pushed a receiver out-of-bounds, and award a catch if he thinks the receiver would have come down inside the line without contact. Apparently that’s what the ref thought. There was contact, but the receiver was heading out-of-bounds already, and I don’t think the defender hit him hard enough to force him out.

So that was a pisser.

Roll on to Sunday. We got our replacement lights and were ready to start trimming the tree while watching the Colts’ game. By the time I got the lights on, the Colts were down 17-0. I figured they would come back, but also wondered if this was the week their luck ran out. I’d not been sleeping well, because of my own cold and L.’s issues. So I laid down, put on <em>Little Bear</em> for the sisters, and took a 90 minute nap.

Wake up, it’s 28-20, Colts. Nice. I’ve already sent a few friends who are bigger fans than me messages saying that I’ll happily take money in order to sleep through every Colts game.

And now, as I’m putting this together, I notice Dennis Dixon is quarterbacking for the Pittsburgh Steelers tonight. I know Dixon well from his days at the University of Oregon. I did not know, until tonight, though, that he is also a graduate of San Leandro High School. I spent roughly a year at that fine institution back in the day. Dixon is my homie! SL in the house!

I hope all of you had happy and safe holidays as well.

Favorite Songs Of The Decade

Something meaty for you to chew on, should this be a short week for you. If not, tuck it away and save it for a day when you have time to read about my 30 favorite songs of the decade.

30 – “Love Steals Us From Loneliness” – Idlewild 2005.
This band started out the decade gangbusters, a rocking outfit from Edinburgh. Their sound morphed, becoming more poppy, radio-friendly, etc. Eventually it kind of sucked. But this power-pop gem was their high point.

29 – “Walk On” – U2 2000.
The lads put it all together for one last, epic album in 2000. Then they kind of turned to shit.* This track was both the centerpiece of <em>All That You Can’t Leave Behind</em> and the magnificent closing song for their Elevation tour.

(In my opinion, of course.)

28 – “Old Enough” – The Raconteurs 2008.
Jack White was the King of the Aughts. Perhaps it is better to call him the Prince of the decade: wildly prolific, always attempting new things and going away from expectations, both defining and defying genres. This is the finest of the many wonderful things he did with The Raconteurs.

27 – “PDA” – Interpol 2002.
Perhaps the first shot in indie rock’s attack on the mainstream, <em>Turn On The Bright Lights</em> was one of the best and most important albums of the decade.

26 – “Plasticities” – Andrew Bird 2008.
Over the last couple months, the girls have forced Miley Cyrus into my skull. She won’t go away. Thankfully, they also indirectly introduced me to Andrew Bird when he appeared on Jack’s Big Music Show as Dr. Stringz. Certainly one of the most interesting and original artists of the decade.

25 – “If You Fail We All Fail” – Fields 2007.
This song has it all: British power-pop, shoegaze, early Radioheadesque guitar rock. While staying true to British rock’s indie roots, it roars in a way that is reassuring to those of us brought up on Top 40 radio.

24 – “Crazy” – Gnarles Barkley 2006.
As if this song wasn’t everywhere in the summer of ’06 already, it seemed like everyone and their mother recorded their own version of it shortly afterwards. Fortunately, it was so damn good it held up to all that exposure.

23 – “Such Great Heights” – The Postal Service 2002.
Written and recorded by the decidedly old school manner of exchanging tapes via mail, this set the standard for indie artists performing in more than one group. In this case, Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard offers vocals.

22 – “The Rising” – Bruce Springsteen 2002.
No one put the events of September 11, 2001 into perspective better than The Boss.

21 – “The Way We Get By” – Spoon 2002.
Spoon carved out its own niche in indie rock. They made smart, literary music, like Death Cab or the Decembrists, but grounded it in rock with a healthy bit of experimentalism a la Wilco or Radiohead.

20 – “1 2 3 4” – Feist 2007.
Try to think back at all the iPod commercials you saw this decade. Didn’t you eventually get sick of every one of those songs? Except for this one, I bet. Feist is like an indie rock angel sent to earth to make us all happy.

19 – “Caught By The River” – Doves 2002.
One of my favorite bands of the decade churned out epic pop masterpiece after masterpiece across five albums. Several of their songs warranted consideration, but this has long been my favorite.

18 – “For Nancy (Cos It Already Is)” – Pete Yorn 2001.
I remember hearing this and not being sure where it fit into the musical landscape. The indie rock movement hadn’t really broken yet, but the mainstream alternative* sound had begun to recede. All I knew was the song rocked and I dug it.

(Cumbersome, Ironic Music Genres for 400, Alex.)

17 – “Jesus Walks” – Kanye West 2004.
Both honoring the sound of classic hip-hop and forward looking, this song drug Yeezy into the mainstream.

16 – “You Could Have Both” – The Long Blondes 2006.
I love songs that are about romantic failings, but tell their tales in an honest way. Don’t just sing about how your heart was broken and how you were depressed, sing about how low you were wiling to stoop to keep a relationship alive, of the awful things you wished on your ex, and of how bad you were really feeling.

In this example, our protagonist is a young man’s second choice. Despite knowing that it means nothing other than pain and humiliation for her, she’s perfectly willing to be the other woman if the object of her affection will have her. That’s honesty, bitches!

15 – “Star Witness” – Neko Case 2006.
Another repeating theme in this list: cinematic songs. This sounds like it was made to be in a movie, perhaps as background music to a scene that takes place in a smoky, sultry nightclub where an important conversation takes place.

14 – “Lazy Eye” – Silversun Pickups 2006.
Beautiful, beautiful noise.

13 – “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” – The White Stripes 2003.
Here’s that Jack White kid again. Give him a Burt Bacharach song, a guitar, and turn him loose. The result: magic.

12 – “Landed” – Ben Folds 2005.
I have to admit, there’s always been a part of me that is worried about admitting that I love this song. I’m a happily married man; why should I enjoy a song about ending a relationship and returning to someone from the past so much? Because it’s Ben Folds and the song is freaking great, that’s why.

11 – “Long Time Coming” – Delays 2004.
Historically I was a big repeat listen guy. If I liked a song I was one of those people who picked up the needle, rewound the tape, or hit the Back button two, three, four times to listen to it again-and-again. The age of iTunes and the iPod have beaten that out of me; now I’m more worried about what’s next that looking back. But this may have been the last song that I would spend an entire afternoon running errands and listening to on repeat.

10 – “Hey Ya!” – Outkast 2003.
The defining song of the decade? It crossed about every genre line, getting airplay almost everywhere. Could be heard in heavy rotation for months. And just about everyone loved it. “Crazy In Love” or “Since You Been Gone” might have cases to make, but this gets my vote for song that best defines the decade.

9 – “Float On” – Modest Mouse 2004.
An important transition song in my life. On July 24, 2004, just after 10:00 pm I was sitting at my desk, listening to it when my wife called down to let me know her water had broke and it was time to go to the hospital. Eight hours later, I was a father. Thank goodness it was a good song!

8 – “Intervention” – Arcade Fire 2007.
Yet another strong contender for artist of the decade. Their <em>Funeral</em> album helped to redefine the music scene. I considered several songs from that album, but this majestic track from their second disk, <em>Neon Bible</em>, got the nod.

7 – “Portland, Oregon” – Loretta Lynn 2004.
LORETTA LYNN?!?!?! WTF?!?! OK, Loretta is certainly part of the equation here; she busts out some old school vocals that defy her age. But the real star here is our old friend Jack White, who took a washed up, has been country artist, threw some bluesy southern rock behind her, and turned her into a siren for a whole new generation. It doesn’t hurt that they’re singing about one of my favorite cities in the world.

6 – “Phantom Limb” – The Shins 2007.
The Brian Wilson comparisons are so obvious, yet they can’t be avoided. The second half of the song, beginning with the first “Oooooh, whaooooo, whaooooo” are perhaps the finest 2:00 of music recorded this decade.

5 – “With Every Heartbeat” – Robyn 2007.
Here’s a song that got under my skin in a big way. It nearly slipped by me, then snuck its way into the list as I was putting together my best of ’07 list. By the time I had finalized it, Robyn was into the top five. And how she’s done it again for the decade. Another tale of emotional honesty at the end of a relationship.

4 – “Going Missing” – Maximo Park 2005.
A more standard take on the end of a romance, this one has always sounded like the empty feeling that comes with the end of a summer affair.

3 – “Mistaken For Strangers” – The National 2007.
Cinematic indie rock at its finest. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anything quite like it before.

2 – “Stuck Between Stations” – The Hold Steady 2006.
The most quotable song of the decade by perhaps the most important band of the decade off the most important album of the decade. Heady stuff! This decade lacked a <em>Nevermind</em> or <em>Ten</em>: a huge album that topped the charts, sold millions of copies, and defined the sound of an era. I would argue this was the closest thing we had, though, and the fact it sold a fraction of the copies the biggest albums of the 90s sold tells the story, in many different ways, about how the music industry changed this decade.

Oh, and this song fucking rocks.

1 – “The Modern Leper” – Frightened Rabbit 2008.
Funny thing: I did not have a single breakup this decade.* I was once the kind of romantic failure and I have to admit, this has been a pretty good ten years for me. Yet, I still loves me some breakup music. I suppose it’s because I can always relate to the pain that these songs are loaded with. I never want to relive any of my darkest, post-breakup times, but remembering can be good. Recalling your failures can make you better in your current relationship and remind you of how lucky you have it.

(Knocking on wood that my wife doesn’t dump me in the next six weeks.)

This song, and the album on which it appears, brought the pain in a serious way. So much so that after spending a weekend listening to it intensely, I found myself mildly depressed. Thankfully I moved past that. <em>The Midnight Organ Fight</em> was my favorite album of the decade; so good that it cracks my top ten of all time. And the first track is a fearsome introduction to what the rest of the disk holds.

 

Feel The Excitement

Finally.

Remember how I mock complained about always getting assigned to games that ended up being blowouts, often at the expense of the team I was covering? That was a bit of an exaggeration, but it seemed that more often than not, I was asking a coach questions about a loss than a win.

Things have been a bit better this year. I was lucky enough to follow a good soccer and excellent tennis team, which made things interesting.

The girls basketball season started in Indiana last week. I covered my first game last Friday, a game that was close for a half and then my team pulled away to win easily. This week is the county tournament, and I’ve covered games Tuesday, Thursday, and am scheduled to cover the championship game Saturday.

The game Tuesday wasn’t close. It was my old favorites, the school that doesn’t win at anything, against a team that features the two-time county player of the year. Thursday’s semifinal, however, was a lot more fun.

This game had the team I covered last Friday, we’ll call them Team A, which is one of those teams that has talent and is just trying to figure out how to put it all together. Team B was the winners from Tuesday. On paper it seemed like an even, interesting match-up.

The first half was very sloppy. Team B eventually built a 10-point lead, although their star was having an off night shooting. She had 12 first half points, but was putting in a lot of work to get those points.* Team A ratcheted up their defense and slowly ate into the lead. By late in the third quarter, it was a five point game, but Team A was missing a ton of open shots. You got the feeling the star would get hot at some point and all these misses would come back to haunt Team A.

(She came into the game averaging 32.)

About a minute into the fourth quarter, Team A’s center got the ball on the wing, outside the arc, had space, and drained a three pointer to tie the game. It was the only three her team hit all night. For the next five minutes the teams exchanged two baskets and Team B hit two free throws to go up 2. Then each team missed shots until the final minute. They exchanged free throws, then Team B got a stop and their star went to the line with a chance to put them up four with less than 15 seconds to play. She hit the first and missed the second.

Team A brought the ball up, worked it inside, missed another close shot, and their best player went flying in, grabbed the rebound, put up a shot that went in, and got fouled. She was going to the line with 3 seconds left and a chance to tie. She had just clanked two free throws, so I figured this was money and we were looking at overtime.* She missed. Somehow, for like the first time all night, Team A got an offensive board. A guard had a five footer she put off the front of the rim. The ball volleyballed off of hands. The center, who hit the tying three earlier in the quarter, grabbed the ball and quickly tipped it toward the goal. Off the backboard, onto the rim, the buzzer sounded and the gym went quiet. It rolled completely around the rim, paused for a second, and fell in. Pandemonium!

(I hate overtime. We have a hard 10:15 deadline and that was going to make it very difficult to do interviews and write a decent story.)

A game like that makes the post-game stuff rather interesting, especially when I have to talk to both coaches. One coach is elated, the other down in the dumps. One team is screaming in the locker room, the other wanders around in tears waiting for everyone to be ready to load the bus. Team B is a smaller school and doesn’t get to play their county rivals often outside of tournaments. It’s arguably more important for them to do well in the tournament, and earn respect, than it is for the larger schools.

So that was fun. And hopefully I’ll get another good game on Saturday.

 

Man-oh-Mangino

I keep a small file on my computer with topics I might like to write about. Get an idea, add it to the list, and when time allows and inspiration strikes, I bust something out for you.

Over the weekend I made a single word addition to the list: Mangino. After another fourth quarter collapse against Nebraska, I got to thinking about the pressure that was mounting against the KU football coach and how appearances matter.

Examples: if you are pleasing to the eye, you get a lot of leeway for lack of success, unfulfilled promise, and/or outright incompetence. A certain unemployed politician who has been in the news a lot lately is a prime example. On the other hand, if you don’t fit society’s ideal for appearance, it seems like things can snowball quickly when things do not go as planned.

That was going to be the gist of it, with more detail and eloquence, of course.

And then Tuesday happened.

The situation is fluid, to use a cliche, but it sure seems like the Mangino era is going to end sooner rather than later. And KU’s football program is going to be harmed significantly in the process.

I’ve been in several e-mail threads on the subject over the past day, and as I said in one, I always figured his anger would get him, just in the form of a heart attack or stroke or some other debilitating health issue. I didn’t figure he’d go Woody Hayes / Bob Knight. Not that he didn’t have the potential, I just assumed his heart could give out before he had the chance.

The warning signs have always been there. Early in his time at KU, he caused controversy by berating an official at his son’s high school football game. We applauded when he lambasted the officials after a late, controversial call that cost us a win against Texas four years ago. We chuckled when he lit into players on the sidelines for minor transgressions. We heard the stories of blowups in the hallways of the athletic department and angry meetings with other administrators. We didn’t care because he was standing up for a program that seemed to be getting better. After the laissez faire Terry Allen regime, a little discipline seemed in order.

I’m disappointed in myself and most other KU fans who looked the other way because he was winning. I’m disappointed that people inside the athletic department, who knew first-hand of all these issues, kept quiet, again because he was winning. It seems like this is his personality type and is so ingrained that he is unable to change. But perhaps if someone had stepped in earlier, the outbursts would not have reached the point where there was a long list of incidents and a brewing insurrection inside the program.

I’ve always liked Mangino. I admired the work he put into building the program. I appreciated the way his teams always played hard.* But all along I’ve been hoping that there weren’t things being ignored just because of those positives.

(Until a month ago. Looks like I was right when I wrote a couple weeks ago that something was going on.)

Things looked very bad yesterday. Today there’s been more news that makes me wonder if whatever happened this year isn’t relatively minor, and the pressure on Mangino is more because of his collected incidents since he was hired. It looks like he picked the wrong time to lose five straight games (going on six and seven probable).

Oh, and I think my original argument holds: appearances matter.

We’ll always have Baby Mangino, though.

 

Nothing Gets By Reggie

The buzz this morning is about a certain coach’s certain curious decision late in a certain game played in a certain midwest city last night.

I don’t want to talk about that (the decision).

I want to talk about Reggie Wayne.

Lost in the columns pouring forth this morning is my man Reggie’s catch for the ages that completed the Colts comeback as they beat the Patriots 35-34 last night.

It’s premature to call the AFC race; the Colts are seriously banged up on defense, are relying on several young players on offense who showed some nerves last night, and are wading into the most difficult stretch of their schedule. But last night’s game will go a long way towards ensuring that the Colts get the first weekend of the playoffs off and will be hosting a divisional round game, at least.

The game kind of had everything. Early, it looked like it was going to be a classic back-and-forth affair, similar to either the 2003 regular season game or the 2006 AFC title game.*

(Or was it 2007? I always get confused as to how to refer to NFL games that are part of a season that began in the previous calendar year.)

24 straight New England points made it look like a classic Belichick beatdown of the Colts. The opposing coach might have changed, but the result was the same. The Colts showed some life, and then Wes Welker’s punt return was the gut punch that reminded the Colts the Pats were still the team to beat in the AFC. And then the comeback, assisted by several interesting coaching decisions.

I’ll admit I considered going to bed at halftime. Then, I muted the TV, turned on some music, and only kept half of my attention on the game. When the Colts held on fourth down, I sensed my actions were having an effect on events downtown, so I kept listening to <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thievery_Corporation”>Thievery Corporation</a>, lest I force another Manning interception.

And then came the catch. When Marvin Harrison was still a Colt, I always enjoyed the different ways he and Wayne caught the ball. Harrison seemed to catch the pass delicately, at the ends of his fingers, almost accidentally stopping its forward motion. When Reggie caught the ball, on the other hand, it seemed to disappear in his big mitts.

On the winning catch last night, though, Reggie went all Marvin on us. I have no idea how he held on to that ball and kept it from moving at all given that he barely got his fingertips on it. But catch it he did. The brilliance of that catch should not get lost as the myth of this game is written.

 

I Don’t Think That Means What You Think It Means

As you probably know, I’m annoyed by small things at times. A current example: in this week’s hype-fest for the Patriots-Colts clash Sunday night, ESPN’s Josh Elliott called Peyton Manning’s career “incomparable.”

As Amy Proehler and Seth Meyers would say, really?

My dictionary offers two definitions for incomparable.

1 – without an equal in quality or extent; matchless
2 – unable to be compared; totally different in nature or extent

I know ESPN is full of smart writers and producers and anchors who went to some of the nation’s finest journalism schools, have experience at a wide variety of other sports outlets, and in general are familiar with the english language.

But incomparable?

If anything, Peyton’s career is the definition of comparable. It’s comparable to his contemporaries like Tom Brady and Brett Favre. It’s comparable to the members of NFL quarterbacking’s Golden Age: Elway, Marino, Montana, Young. It’s comparable to the legends of the old school: Staubach, Bradshaw, Unitas. Unless he shatters every record these other guys hold: most wins, most Super Bowl victories, most yards, most touchdown passes, most games started, etc. etc. etc. his career will always be <em><strong>comparable</strong></em>.

I know it gets old using the same old adjectives to describe transcendent athletes. You can only call someone amazing so many times. But if you’re going to branch out, at least use the right word.

 

Nicknames

One day recently I heard The Spinners’ “The Rubberband Man” while running errands. That was a song I grew up on, since my parents were very much into the early 1970s soul sound. But I recall it most fondly because of former NBA player Paul Pressey.

While Pressey played his college ball at Tulsa, he earned the nickname “Rubberband Man” because of his dunking abilities. This was back in the day when dunks were simple and you earned a nickname simply if you dunked often.*

(Dr. J. Dr. Dunkenstein. Chocolate Thunder. Etc.)

During his senior season, I remember NBC having a feature about Pressey before their Saturday game of the week. Interviews with Pressey and his coaches, lots of highlights, all with The Spinners as soundtrack. I loved it. I decided when I grew up and played in the NBA, I, too, would be The Rubberband Man. I put my rather meager visual arts skills to work and drew a small poster of a anthropomorphic rubber band dunking the ball and stuck it to my wall. When I made it to the Show, this would be my logo.*

(I was years ahead of Jordan when it came to logos!)

Obviously the NBA thing never worked out; I never even played high school ball. In college I got to the point where I could consistently dunk on a 9.5′ rim, and I could throw down some decent dunks at nine feet. But I don’t think I ever earned the label Rubberband Man. But I can always dream.

The Wikipedia tells me Pressey’s son will enroll at Missouri next year. If he’s the Little Rubberband Man, or something like that, he might instantly become my favorite MU player ever.

 

Must See TV

I’ve been remiss in not recommending ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. I’m a few weeks behind, but with the exception of the Baltimore Colts band episode (which I accidentally deleted after watching only 20 minutes), I’ve enjoyed every episode so far.

Last night I watched <em>Muhammad and Larry</em>, an amazing piece about the 1980 Muhammad Ali – Larry Holmes heavyweight championship fight. It’s one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. It has all the classic elements for a tragedy that many sports documentaries are built around. But it goes well beyond your standard tragedy. Knowing what we know now, and watching Ali 29 years ago, it’s heartbreaking that no one around him could admit he was already slipping badly. The scene where he can barely get the speed bag going it painful to watch. And the moment where he asks what Larry Holmes said about him, and he shares his opinion of Holmes, is magical.

The fall of 1980 was when I first started paying attention to boxing. I vaguely remember the Holmes-Ali fight, but it was Leonard-Duran II, a month later, that I really recall. I was too young to be in awe of Ali, but I knew that everyone wanted him to win, so Holmes must be a bad guy. Watching this film, Holmes may be the best, most grounded guy to ever be heavyweight champ.

Tonight is the premiere of episode six, <em>The Legend of Jimmy the Greek</em>. There’s one more before Christmas before the series goes on hiatus until after the college basketball season ends. If you’re not watching already, I highly suggest checking out the reruns, which will no doubt be available at all hours on the ESPN family of networks.

<a href=”http://30for30.espn.com/”>ESPN 30 for 30</a>

 

Fumbling The Season Away

I should have known it was going to be a bad football weekend when, while watching some NBA action Friday, I noticed the ESPN scroll said that Bob Sanders was out for the season. Then again, I really should have expected that at some point before the playoffs, right?

I probably watched less of the KU loss to K-State than I’ve watched of any KU game in the past four years. I could tell early on that, baring something crazy happening, we were going to lose. There’s something about the body language of almost everyone on the team that suggests they’ve already packed it in. I wondered if maybe it was just me reading too much into things I could only view on a TV screen, but others I discussed the game with noticed the same thing. Anyway, I didn’t see much point investing myself in the game if the team didn’t seem to be willing to do the same.

There are many theories as to what’s going on with the team. I don’t think you can discount Todd Reesing’s injury. While I don’t think you can write off all of his awful play the last month to the injury, there are times when it’s glaringly obvious he’s not the same player he was in September. His first interception Saturday was a perfect example. Dezmon Briscoe was five yards behind the K-State defenders. It was an easy throw. And Reesing put it at least ten yards short and it turned into an easy pick. If he’s healthy, i don’t think he misses short like that.

Some theories suggest strife within the team that lingers from the basketball brawl earlier this fall. Others say the coaching staff has lost the attention of the players. I’m not close enough, nor do I have good enough sources, to know if those are valid or not.

My theory is different. I think after the Colorado loss the entire team knew the Big 12 North was, at best, a long shot. With Reesing injured, that made it even less likely they could win the division.* THe main goal for this season was to win the school’s first ever division title. I don’t know if I can say significant parts of the team have given up, but I do think the urgency a team needs to win is missing.

(This was before we saw how shitty the North is. Listen, all credit to K-State and Bill Snyder, who is proving his genius this year,** but that is not a very good team and they just might win the division.)

(Part of Snyder’s genius is looking at the North and thinking, “I can beat all those teams,” and deciding to return to fix the post-Prince mess. He’s beaten KU. Mizzou is next week. Win that, win the north, and even if they get embarrassed in Dallas, he’s immediately right back in the recruiting mix for every local blue chipper. Dude is crazy like a fox.)

If that’s true, it’s sad. The much-maligned defense, which I was begging for even a half-assed performance from six weeks ago, has actually played very well the last three games. Even in the Colorado game, 21 points were the results of turnovers deep in our own territory by the offense. The coaching staff and players have made changes, and they’ve paid off.

The only problem is the offense A) can’t score and B) keeps giving the ball to the other team. Something is going on with the play calling, which has been head scratching for most of the last month. Why Toben Opurum didn’t get the ball Saturday when KU was inside the K-State five I can’t understand. Hell, the kid needs some carries period. They’ve forgotten him since Jake Sharp returned, and Sharp is at his best when he’s the change-of-pace back.

If you take the KU offense from September and the defense from October, KU is 8-1 right now.* Hell, they might have beaten Oklahoma, since the offense again handed them most of their points and Dezmon Briscoe dropped a sure touchdown, and be booking hotel rooms in Dallas.

(I know a lot of teams can make statements like that. I’m just pointing out how bad the offense has been, and how much the defense has improved.)

What’s most frustrating is that this is not how the Fighting Manginos have played. Even when they were overmatched in the early years of his tenure, the teams always played hard and disciplined. They stayed in games they had no business being in because they paid attention to details and stuck to the scheme. That peaked two years ago, when a team that lacked any big time high school recruits went 12-1 and won a BCS game. Has some of that been lost as the talent level has increased? I don’t know if you can say that. It’s odd, though, that with some of the raw skill the current roster has, you don’t see guys making plays like Marcus Henry and Brandon McAnderson made two years ago. Dez Briscoe, for all his talent, has yet to catch a ten yard pass and turn it into a 75 yard touchdown, the way Henry would do. Henry consistently gave KU great field position on kick offs. Despite trying just about every skill player on the roster, none have been able to do much with kick off returns.

All this reminds me how magical the 2007 was. I’m sure I had my hopes a little too high this season based on those memories. Being KU, you always kind of expect the worst when it comes to football. But I hoped that, no matter what, the team would play hard and care about every game, the way the Fighting Manginos have always played. Losing that focus is perhaps more disappointing than the losses.

Whatever the explanation is, and I have a feeling it’s more complex than anyone outside the locker room knows, I’m not moping about it. It’s disappointing and frustrating and I hope the team can pull it together and get at least one more win to become bowl eligible. Whether they go to a shitty bowl is a whole other matter. There is a lot of young talent in the program, perhaps more than there has ever been. Recruiting has gone very well this fall, although if we go 0-3 the rest of the month, you have to start worrying about kids looking elsewhere. And don’t think Old Man Snyder isn’t salivating at the thought of doing his annual “I’ll go steal three KU recruits the week before signing day” act.

In general, the program is miles ahead of where it was the last time we approached the end of a decade. If we can manage to get wins against Nebraska and Missouri, some of the sting will disappear. Not that I’m holding my breath or anything.

As for the Colts, I had a long night with L. Saturday. Her Sunday nap coincided with the Colts game. I slept with her and missed most of the game. It’s very disappointing, though, to see their defense, which was becoming one of the best in the league, get leveled by injuries. It seems like each morning I pick up the paper, I read of another player who is out for the season. Something is going on over there. Peyton better watch his knees.

And lookie here: the Colts are undefeated in November and New England is coming to town. I think I’ve seen this one before. This time, though, the Colts seem to be the stronger team in just about every aspect. Can Jim Caldwell match wits with The Brain, though?

 

Deep Dance Party

S. and the girls have a new evening routine. She opens up her computer, pulls up the YouTubes, and they watch fun music videos. The vids run the gamut from our favorite kid music singer Laurie Berkner to the Black Eyed Peas and Beyonce. Their favorite song, though, is Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA.” No surprise, I think most girls under the age of 10 would say that right now.

It’s been funny to watch M. and C. take to the song. While they do typical kid singing around the house, and will sing parts of songs they know in the car, they’ve never sang all of a song before. Now M. happily sings along to the entire song, throwing her hands up in the air at the appropriate parts. C. is funnier, going into the serious voice of someone who is completely lost in the song. She knows every word, from beginning to end, and as soon as she hears the first notes, she breaks into a smile and starts wiggling in her seat (when we’re in the van). They both shout, “It’s ‘Party in the USA’!” and shush everyone so they can hear all the words.

Generally I’m anti sugary, processed, pop music. But I don’t mind this song at all. Mostly because of the way the girls react. I’m sure we’re slipping down a slope that will have us listening to nothing but the Disney approved teen popsters sooner rather than later. But this isn’t a bad way to start.

There are parts of the song that still bug me, though. A few of the rhymes feel forced, but this isn’t high poetry we’re talking about. What really got me was the chorus. We go from Miley nodding her head, and moving her hips like yeah to it being a party in the USA.

What?

I did not get it. I could not see the connection between going to LA for the first time and trying to fit in to this broad statement about it being a party from coast-to-coast.

I imagined the writers, when they were coming up with the lyrics, hitting a block.

“We have a great beat and a killer hook. But this chorus needs something else…”

Just then, Billy Ray strolls through the room.

“It’s not my place to do your job for you, but in Nashville, anytime we get stuck, we just make the song about America and it seems to work.”

After a moment of silent contemplation, the writing team bursts into applause.

“That’s why he’s Mr. Achy Breaky Heart, ladies and gentlemen!”

Billy Ray dips his head, waves, and says, “Just tryin’ to help.”

Then he shuffles off to get his highlights redone.

But the more I listen to the song, the more I think there may be some real depth to it. It’s the classic story of an outsider going to California, looking for their fortune. Miley Cyrus is the Joad family of the 21st Century! Once there, she learns that despite differences in fashion and local patois, we’re really all the same, and music is the great uniter.

She’s just restating a concept that hip-hop legend <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rakim”>Rakim</a> articulated much more simply over 20 years ago: it ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.

All that is lead-in to the brilliant piece of video I took Thursday night. The camera can cause the girls to break character a bit, so you don’t get the full, back-of-the-van performance, but you get some bonus dance moves that aren’t possible when strapped into a carseat. And you get a special guest star who steals the show.

Enjoy.

<a href=”http://gallery.me.com/dbrann#100395″>Dancing to Miley</a>

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