Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 277)

Sports Notes

Some notes from the sporting world.


KU Hoops

First back-to-back losses in Big 12 play in eight years, first Big Monday loss in 18 games.

Neither of those are a surprise. Against both Oklahoma State and Baylor KU looked utterly overmatched early. Overmatched for sure in the athletic sense, KU looking slow and bound to the floor where their opponents raced up and down the court and flew for dunks and blocks.

What was a bigger concern was how they looked overmatched in being prepared to play. Defense was supposed to be a strength for this squad, with so many similarly-sized pieces that made switching easy. For whatever reason this team seems to start every game extremely slowly on the defensive end, struggling to communicate and cover the right spots on the court. Against OSU it took switching to gimmick defenses for the Jayhawks to find a way to guard the Cowboys. They switched briefly against Baylor Monday, but I think Baylor’s lull was as much about the Bears losing interest as KU doing anything to slow them down.

In each game KU fought back. Hell, they probably should have won the OSU game but played stupid for the final minute to blow it. I guess that’s where KU hoops is right now: finding solace in nearly erasing huge deficits to get conference road wins.

In each game KU had one or two guys play well, but they could never get more than that rolling. KU’s good players aren’t good enough to go out and score 30 and carry the team alone. They need multiple guys being effective every night to have a chance against the top half of the conference.

That said, point guard is the big, glaring weakness that just can’t be corrected. Eventually Jalen Wilson is going to get hot again. There are going to be nights when all of KU’s shooters are hitting and they look good. Against the right matchups David McCormack can be effective. But point guard is a mess with no answer. Marcus Garrett either dribbles too much on the perimeter or goes barreling into traffic to throw up a horrible shot (that usually gets blocked), toss some blind pass out to space, or flat turns the ball over. DaJuan Harris has much better instincts, but looks utterly overmatched physically right now.

For the rest of the Big 12, it’s time to get used to your new overlords in Waco. Until Bill Self can convince a legit point guard to come to Lawrence – and he has yet to do that for next fall’s incoming class – the Jayhawks have no chance to win the Big 12.


NFL

After a highly entertaining Super Wildcard weekend, the Divisional weekend was a bit of a letdown. A couple of the games – Baltimore-Buffalo and Tampa-New Orleans – were close until late, but still not super exciting. The only nail-biter of the weekend was, surprisingly, in Kansas City. Maybe Chiefs fans were nervous and Browns fans excited, but my pulse never jumped a few notches at the prospect of an upset. The Browns were still the Browns until they took the lead, and they never got close to that.

Hopefully the conference championship games will be more fun to watch.


Kid Hoops

I don’t think I’ve written about L’s winter league basketball team yet. She’s playing on a team with girls from four different schools. They were supposed to play in one local travel league, but after that league postponed games until February they jumped to a different league that plays at private facilities in one county, rather than public gyms in multiple counties, thus had more predictable Covid rules.

They first played two weeks ago and got beaten pretty handily. L told us before the game that they weren’t ready to play – they had not had all 10 players together at any one practice – and it showed. They got down big early and had to play hard in the second half to only lose by 9. It was sobering to learn that the team they played was made up of girls that play club soccer together and play basketball to stay in shape in the winter.

Week two’s game was cancelled when their opponents went into quarantine.

The league they are in currently limits fans to one per player, but the gyms all have high-level cameras so families can stream games at home. These videos are also archived for later viewing. At last Friday’s practice, L’s coaches pulled up their next opponent’s most recent game and watched to get some ideas. L came home from practice all pumped up, “Dad, their guards are not good. I’m going to try to steal it every time.” I chuckled at her confidence. I get on her for playing too upright on defense and not being aggressive in going for the ball. “We’ll see,” I thought to myself.

Saturday she went out and had six steals in the first half. She added eight points and four or five assists before the break. She and her teammates played really well. They started the game on a 16–0 run and lead 28–4 at half.

But, I have to be honest: the team they played was awful. Just brutally bad. L’s team was missing four girls, including one of their best players, and still won by 31 points. L ended up with 12 points and eight steals. She said she tried not to steal in the second half, but the other guards were so bad sometimes they would just kind of hand her the ball and she had to take it.

I liked that she was aggressive on offense. She was looking for her shot early and often. She did not shoot well – I’m guessing she went something like 6–20+ from the field – but she was unlucky on several jumpers that spun out. She is still brutal trying to make a layup on a fast break. I think she’s something like 3–30 on those this academic year. She just can’t find the right angle/speed to keep the ball from hitting the backboard way too hard.

Reader’s Notebook, 1/18/21

A busy start to a new year of reading.


Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man – Emmanuel Acho
These are a series of essays by Acho, a former NFL player and currently a talking head on Fox Sports, to help white folks understand people of color a little better. It is light and breezy, at times almost too light and breezy. But the title is accurate: for things to get better in this country, those of us in the white community need to have some uncomfortable conversations and accept that we need to make sacrifices in all aspects of our lives for change to come about.


Life Among Giants – Bill Roorbach
I’ve has this book for several years, a gift from fellow book lover Dave V. I think I put off reading it because he told me it was decent but not great. I could be wrong on that. I just never felt any urgency to get to it when so many other books were on my list.

I decided to finally knock it out and remove it from the stack of books in my office cabinet.

It’s a tough book to write about because it is so sprawling, told through three threads taking place in the early ‘70s, late ‘70s/early ‘80s, then more modern times. Along the way it is a wild, wild ride.

There’s so much going on it’s hard to share a decent summary. The story contains: a murder of parents in front of their teenaged son, a house full of celebrities living life to the early ‘70s highest, two athletic prodigies and two ballet prodigies, an NFL career, an odd sexual awakening, another mysterious death that haunts many of the characters, a truly strange sibling relationship, a look into the struggles of running a restaurant, and a vengeance killing that goes wrong.

I’m not sure whether it all worked. I also don’t know if I had much sympathy for the main character, who seemed a little too good and gifted to be true. But I poured through the pages and read it in about a 52-hour window, which has to say something about my enjoyment of it.


The Intern’s Handbook – Shane Kuhn
This is a fun assassin story with a twist. Rather than a straight narrative, this is presented as a handbook for interns at Human Resources, Inc., a company that takes out some of the most protected targets in the world by placing assassins and “interns” inside their organizations. Through the handbook HR, Inc’s best assassin, John Lago, relates his final mission, one that goes severely off the rails and brings down the entire company.

It is written with a very cinematic feel, and a movie was optioned from the script seven years ago but seems to have died. It would have been interesting to see how the story translated to the screen. While most of the story is fine, it fell apart a bit in the final quarter. I wonder if that would have been corrected/cleaned up as the story was reduced to screenplay.


Rocket Men – Robert Kurson
I know plenty about Apollo missions 11 and 13, the most famous of NASA’s manned flights to the moon. But I did not know much about Apollo 8, which many inside NASA think is the greatest mission of the bunch. Some podcast listening piqued my interest and I snatched this up and read it in two days.

Apollo 8 was an outlier in the Apollo program. NASA was normally very formal and conservative in how they moved through the process of getting to the moon. A had to happen before B, and B had to be completed before C, and so on.

So it was a massive change in process when NASA suddenly, in the fall of 1968, decided to leap ahead and launch a manned rocket to the moon in December of that year. This was a big deal because it was jumping past several milestones that had not yet been satisfied, most importantly that the Saturn IV rocket had not safely taken men into orbit and had failed its most recent unmanned tests. But with the Soviets seemingly very close to launching their own manned lunar mission, NASA decided to throw caution to the wind and proceed with a crash course to orbit men around the moon before year’s end.

The mission worked. Along the way it sent men outside earth’s orbit for the first time ever, had men travel the fastest they had ever travelled (over 22,000 miles per hour), and checked off numerous other firsts. And the entire mission was flown under the mystery of whether what they were attempting to do was possible. Some inside NASA thought the mission had, at best, a 50–50 chance of success. There was a constant undercurrent of not knowing whether making the next set of maneuvers would send the astronauts crashing into the moon or off into space where they would be unrecoverable.

The days when the Apollo missions can be recalled first hand are nearly over. Amazingly, all three men who traveled on Apollo 8 are still alive, and were available to Kurson to help re-tell their story. Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders add great depth to a flight that can be largely reconstructed from NASA documents and recordings.

Apollo 11 is more significant to the broader world, and Apollo 13 more dramatic. But Apollo 8 turned the theoretical into reality. I’m a sucker for a good space program book, and this one was excellent.

Reader’s Notebook, 1/12/21

In my final piece of 2020 business, here are the last three books I read for the year. These put my total at 59 books for the calendar year. I know this sounds dumb, but I was disappointed with that number. I’ve read that many books in a normal year. Surely in a pandemic year I should have knocked out a few more. Oh well, a goal for pandemic year #2, I suppose.


The Birdwatcher – William Shaw
A solid thriller told in two intertwining stories. The first takes place in current-day southeast England, with community police officer William South pulled into a murder investigation of his neighbor and bird watching partner. The murder spins out to be much more than a random event, and South pushes the investigation forward where the proper murder police thought they had it wrapped up quickly.

The second story is from South’s childhood during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, centered on the defining event of his youth that led to he and his mother fleeing to England.

Naturally what happened to South as a child becomes a big part of his modern investigation. And both of those stories are really good. But where Shaw slips a bit is in how he brings the story to its dramatic conclusion. I did not buy for a second the coincidence that tied the two stories together. Which is a pity, because this book had great potential.


The Last Ballad – Wiley Cash
A wonderful historical novel based on real events that took place in rural North Carolina in 1929. Much of the state’s economy is transitioning away from farming to millwork, where cotton and other raw materials are turned into threads and cloth. After a boom during World War I, things are slowing down, work is harder to find, and conditions in the mills are getting tougher. Unions from New York are attempting to organize workers to fight for better wages and work environments. These activities have led to strikes, violence, and the use of force to break them.

In the middle of all of this is 28-year-old Ella May Wiggins. She has four kids, her husband has abandoned her, and she has become pregnant by her new boyfriend. To top it off, she and her kids are the only white family in a small community of Black mill workers.

Wiggins is intrigued by the idea of a union and attends a rally. She is asked to sing, and her voice and lyrics about working in the mills amaze the crowd and union leaders. She is quickly pulled into the leadership circle and begins organizing, not just to get her co-workers into the union, but also to integrate the union, which the union brass aren’t enthused about.

After a confrontation between some drunk, off-duty cops and striking workers, shots are fired, a sheriff is killed, and tensions ratchet up even higher. In an attack on a union truck convoy, Wiggins is killed.

There are echoes of the current moment in political history in the book such as manufactured stories to sway public opinion, a supposedly free press putting the views of the corporate class first, and the belief that anyone who follows a non-capitalist view of the world is un-American and deserves any violence that falls upon them.

It is also a pretty sobering reminder of how recently large swaths of the US population toiled in horrible working conditions, with little hope of advancing their cause.


Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Evolution – Brian Freeman
I was quite surprised to see this on a couple Best Of lists for 2020. The Bourne series has never been high art, although Ludlum’s originals were quite good.

As thrillers go, it is pretty standard. Jason Bourne is framed for the assassination of a very AOC-like congresswoman, and has to fight two different organizations that want him dead as he struggles to uncover the truth. A very attractive woman gets sucked into his world and has her life threatened in the process. Lots of violence and death. Some tasteful sex. Again, standard.

What earned this book its accolades, I believe, is how it addresses the age we are moving into. There are three different “evil” organizations in the story, and two are concerned with scooping up all your data and steering your behavior based on that information. Not just through getting the public to consume products, but by encouraging them to get out and protest or take direct actions that higher actors desire. Ten years ago it would have seemed far-fetched. But in 2021, it feels like we’re awfully close to losing whatever grip we have left on reality and large segments of the population can be coerced to act based on manufactured prompts.

(I wrote the above paragraph about two weeks ago. Clearly it is even more relevant after the events of January 6, 2021.)

Weekend Sports

I think the first ever Super Wildcard Weekend was a success. Wall-to-wall football in the midst of a pandemic and winter weather felt right. We got mostly competitive games book-ended by the Colts blowing a winnable game and the Browns shaking off decades of failure and pulling off one of the wildest upsets in recent memory.

Some Indy-focused thoughts from the weekend.


Colts

When your team loses a close game, you spend the time afterward picking through dozens of little moments that could have changed the outcome. Saturday’s loss in Buffalo may have been the ultimate example of that.

While Josh Allen and the Bills played nearly perfect football, the Colts, in some ways, played even better. It was their numerous mistakes that cost the Colts the game.

There was the shitty play call on third and goal before halftime, a pitch to the outside, which pushed the Colts back from the one to the four yard line and made going for it on fourth down a tougher proposition. When that fourth down attempt failed, I chalked up three expected points lost.

On the ensuing drive, on another fourth and short, when the Bills were just trying to draw the Colts offside and seemed content to kick a field goal, a Colts lineman jumped. A couple plays later the Bills scored a touchdown, and I chalked up four unexpected points for them.

In the second half the Colts bounced a makable field goal off the upright, losing three potential more points.

Later when they scored their first touchdown of the half, they went for two and failed, losing another expected point.

That’s 11 points the Colts pissed away in a game they lost by 3.

There was plenty more to bitch about. It made no sense to challenge a catch early in the fourth quarter and blow a timeout. What made it stupid was that there was an injury timeout on the play. The Colts had plenty of time to review the play and see that it was not worth wasting a timeout to check on. But they stuck with their review and blew a valuable timeout.

They lost another timeout trying to avoid a delay of game penalty, something they came dangerously close to doing seemingly every play of the game.

And then the last drive. For some insane reason after getting a first down with about 90 seconds left, THEY HUDDLED UP and wasted nearly 30 seconds off the clock. In a game of questionable moments, this was the absolute dumbest and least defensible. It made everything that happened afterward tougher. Although, to be fair, they benefited greatly from a review of a clear fumble that should have ended the game but somehow went the Colts’ way.

Frank Reich is an aggressive coach. Saturday showed why most coaches are so vanilla. People love it when you go for it on fourth down, or are otherwise aggressive, and it pays off. But it makes them crazy when it fails, especially in a big game. I don’t have huge problems with Reich’s aggressiveness Saturday. He should have called a better play on that third down before halftime. I have zero doubt the Colts’ meltdown in Pittsburgh two weeks ago was in the back of his mind, and he wanted touchdowns rather than field goals. I’m with him at the macro level, it’s the micro level stuff that needs to be brushed up before (hopefully) the next time the Colts are in a tight game in the playoffs.


Roster Decisions

The Colts are in a decent place going into next year.

Jonathan Taylor was an absolute revelation in the second half of the season, and looks poised to give the Colts their best rushing attack since Edgerrin James. The front seven of the defense looks strong. The young receivers came on late.

They will need to replace T.Y. Hilton, who should take a bigger payout than the Colts will offer to finish his career elsewhere. They may need a new left tackle. They could use someone who can provide pressure from the edges. The defensive backfield, as always, needs help.

The biggest question, though, is what to do at quarterback. Phillip Rivers was seen as one-year trial, with the option for a second year. As much as I dislike him, I have to admit this season must be called a success. After a slow start, he became very steady. He’s a solid NFL QB right now; neither elite nor overmatched but one who can manage a game and make plays to win.

But he’s old, and seems older than the other old guys out there like Tom Brady and Drew Brees. He’s lost arm strength and he can’t move. I’m kind of shocked his completion percentage was so high, as so many of his balls were caught at or below the knees. I worry just a little regression means those balls drop, and the deep balls go 5–10 yards shorter. Was this just a charmed year when he (barely) managed to stay healthy through the entire season? Will he be able to rehab totally from his impending foot surgery or is it the beginning of a downward slide physically?

The Colts don’t have the assets to trade up to get one of the top quarterbacks in the draft. Nor should they mortgage their other strengths in an effort to go get Deshaun Watson or Dax Prescott. Reich worked with Carson Wentz in Philadelphia, but I don’t think he’s worth trading for. Sam Darnold is an interesting reclamation project, but not for a team that is poised to win now like the Colts.

In short, unless Andrew Luck decides to un-retire, it seems like the Colts’ best move is to bring Rivers back for another year. Which means another 10-ish win season and early playoff loss. For everything Rivers can do, in his current state he’s not a quarterback who can win you a Super Bowl. Certainly not when you have to get through Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, and Patrick Mahomes just to reach a Super Bowl.


KU Hoops

Based on the last four games, the Jayhawks seem to be on a clear hot-cold cycle. Shot really well and won comfortably in games one and three against West Virginia and TCU. Shot poorly and got run out of the building by Texas in game two. Shot poorly and were lucky to survive Oklahoma in game four Saturday.

So I guess Oklahoma State better watch out tomorrow!

Every KU game the announcers mention how different this team is from last year, notably when David McCormack struggles inside where Udoka Azubuike would be dominating. That’s true. But where this team really struggles is in missing a true point guard. Marcus Garrett is a terrific player, but he’s not a true point guard, especially when he tries to do too much. Which seems like most possessions this year. Dajuan Harris is going to be a good, four-year player. But he’s not ready to be the consistent PG–1. The four/five smalls lineup makes it easier to mask not having a true point, but there are so many moments when the offense breaks down and Garrett or Jalen Wilson or someone else forces the issue late in the shot clock and dribbles into disaster.

You know who would be a perfect match for this offense? Devon Dotson, who – checks notes – has played 10 total minutes in his first 11 NBA games. Alas…

December Media Mega Post

A lot of material to get through, so strap yourselves in.


The Holiday Shit

Classics:
Elf, A+
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, A
A Christmas Story, A
Die Hard, A+
A Charlie Brown Christmas, B
South Park: Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo, A
The Office, see here

New:
Holiday Baking Championship
Lorenzo and Juliana were the most impressive competitors all season. Lorenzo is crazy talented for his age, and always taking his baking interesting angles. Juliana matched him, possesing amazing skills and creativity for a home baker. She was a worthy champion.

A-

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
Tons of references/influences, but somehow it all works. Not strictly a Christmas movie, but rather one that takes place at Christmas. But as a movie the entire family can watch together, it ends up being an ideal show for the season.

B+

The Holiday Movies That Made Us: Elf
There is some good trivia in here about the holiday classic. But the way the information is presented made the show hard to watch. The producers tried to be way too clever in how they cut up the interviews and voiceovers.

C-


Shorts, Shows, and Movies

Dua Lipa: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert
Over the past couple years I’ve given over the car radio to the girls, with some caveats. I’ve put in a few “hits” stations as favorites and we listen to those on rides to and from school. So I’ve heard 8 million Post Malone, Lizzo, and Ariana plays over that span. A lot of the artists kind of run together. I knew Dua Lipa’s name, but not sure I can always connect her name with her songs. I saw her on a lot of Best Of lists for both songs and albums for 2020, so when her Tiny Desk (Home) Concert popped up, I decided to give it a try. What a delightful performance! What a dynamic presence she has. Yes, she’s tall and gorgeous with a fine voice. But what struck me most was how she carries herself with a glorious, bubbly confidence that more women in this world need.

A

Inception
I’m ashamed to admit I had not watched this until last month. It was a first class mind fuck and I loved it.

A+

Bruce Springsteen’s Letter To You
A documentary companion to Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You album, it showed the Boss and the E. Street Band in the studio last year banging the songs out. He still plays with a remarkable energy, but the man is 71, and it shows. The songs are still pretty great, but the sections when Bruce speaks suffer. He’s always been long-winded. Thank goodness Bob Dylan told him back in the early ‘70s that he used too many words in his songs.

A- for the music/B- for the spoken parts

How Tag Became a Professional Sport
This is the good shit right here.

A

The Vast of Night
A quirky, low-budget thriller set in late 1950s New Mexico and presented as if from a Twilight Zone knock-off of the same era. Some parts of it, especially the end, are fabulous. And the camera work is excellent, with several exceptionally long takes. But other parts of it are very slow and keep this from being a great movie.

B+

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Based on one of the greatest spy novels ever written, this was extremely difficult to follow for the first hour as it constantly jumps around. Sometimes a scene would include just a single spoken sentence before it leapt to a completely different shot. But it all comes together nicely as Gary Oldman finds a mole in the 1970s British intelligence service. Ironically I watched this just hours before John le Carré’s death was announced.

B+

Following Seas
A really interesting documentary about the Griffins, a family who spent most of the 1960s and early 1970s at sea. It is told from the perspective of the mother, Nancy, in interviews done in the final year of her life and almost entirely through the film they shot on their trips. I used to be fascinated by people who sailed around the world. It’s pretty sobering to see how difficult life on a sailboat actually was.

B+

The Barkley Marathons
The Barkley Marathons is an annual race in the woods and hills of eastern Tennessee. When this movie was shot, only ten people had ever completed its full 130 mile course within the 60 hour window. The filmmakers caught a break and saw three people finish this insane race, the winner breaking the previous record by over an hour. Even back when I ran a lot and had way more energy, I don’t think I could have even completed even a single loop of this race.

A-

WW84
So you have Gal Gadot, the woman for whom the term “Galacticly Hot” may have been invented. You have Kristen Wiig, one of the funniest people on the planet. And somehow you still make a movie that is plodding, bloated, and has you hoping for the finish not to see how it ends but so you can stop watching. Pedro Pascal was very good, but it’s like he was acting in a completely different movie than everyone else. He was cartoonish and over-the-top where everything else was reserved and somber. A disappointment.

C-

Bee Gee’s: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart
I heard raves about this and since we have HBOMax for a month – we got it so L could watch WW84 – I figured I would check it out. I knew much of the Bee Gee’s story already from a podcast I listened to a year or so back. But it was interesting to see interviews with the brothers rather than a narrator telling their story. I don’t know that it breaks much new ground, and I’m betting they had more struggles than just not getting along for a year or so in the early ‘70s. But the music, man… You can argue they are one of the most unfairly judged bands ever, given how they took the brunt of the backlash against disco. What they did from 1975–1979 was as good as any band outside the Beatles has ever done.

A+ for the music, B for the content

Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo
I watched this about a year ago with L, when we were watching a bunch of space shows together. I was pushed to watch it again by the podcast listed below.

A

Spies in Disguise
Third time L and I have watched this in the last 12 months.

A

Scoob!, B
Doolittle, B
Our New Year’s Eve movies. Not great but not terrible either, and L enjoyed both, which was the point.


Bond

Casino Royale , A
Quantum of Solace, B
Skyfall, A
Spectre, C
Goldfinger, C+
I went on a mini-Bond run right after Christmas, re-watching the Daniel Craig movies and capping it with a trip back to one of Sean Connery’s best. That was a mistake; if you want to watch old Bonds you need to watch them on their own, not after watching a bunch of new ones. They look awfully dated and cheesy in comparison. I debated whether to watch From Russia With Love, my favorite Connery edition, but decided not to ruin it. And somehow I don’t think I had ever watched Spectre. It was kind of a mess. Here’s to No Time To Die being more like Casino Royale and Skyfall, my two favorite Bond films, and ending the Craig era properly.


Audio

13 Minutes to the Moon
A BBC podcast that aired a year ago for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 flight to the moon. I meant to listen to it then but never got around to it. Picked it back up after I saw a recent recommendation for it. It focuses on the final 13 minutes of the LEM’s trip to the moon’s surface. Over 10 episodes they set up everything that led to that sequence and break down little moments in the sequence. Then, the final two episodes are a guided trip through the 13 minutes, then an episode where they play all the NASA audio from the 13 minutes without any commentary. It’s a brilliant way of setting things up so, by episode 11, you can listen into the tapes from 1969 and have an idea what is going on. And it is just another reminder of how freaking amazing the Apollo program was.

A

Two Broke Watch Snobs
I’ve been dabbling in the horological information space a bit over the past couple months. I still love my Apple Watch but I also love regular watches, and have been debating whether I should be rewarded with a nice mechanical watch of some variety when I mark 50 years on this earth later this year. TBWS is the most irreverent watch podcast out there and highly entertaining whether you care about watches or not.

A

American Top 40 Year End Countdowns
For much of December 29–31 and listened to the AT40 station on iHeart Radio as they worked through the Top 100 Songs shows of the late 1970s. My constant complaint of this station is that they don’t play enough late ‘70s shows. Listening to these scratched that itch rather nicely.

For grins I tracked how deep I could go into each countdown before I came across a song I could not immediately recognize. Here’s how it broke down:

1976: #7
1977: #4
1978: #43
1979: #29

I think I need some more weekly countdowns from 1978 because that year clearly resonated with me.

A++++

Sports Takes

A lot of sports to get through, so let’s tackle the biggest issues of the day in no particular order.


CFP

Alabama crushing Notre Dame was no surprise. As an Indiana Catholic school parent I don’t hate Notre Dame nearly as much as I used to. I don’t mind them winning, but still take some pleasure in their losses. One day that fan base will wake and realize it isn’t 1977 anymore. Brian Kelly is the perfect Notre Dame coach: no doubt he’s an excellent coach, but ultra thin skinned and bristles at any suggestions the Irish might be overrated, not at talented as the elite, and benefit from decades of institutional bias toward their brand.

I think it’s funny that Ohio State waxing Clemson was seen as such a huge upset. It’s Ohio State we’re talking about here! They are the third leg in the current Kings of College Football triad. You expect them to be in the playoff every year and if they have a good QB, have a solid chance to win it all.

That it was a surprise that they beat Clemson is just a confirmation of how preseason narrative controls college football. This was supposed to be Trevor Lawrence and Clemson’s season of redemption. And so the whole season was just playing out the string until we could get to Clemson-Bama. Ohio State being sucked into all the drama of the Big 10 season kept them from making a claim to be one of the best teams in the country. But they thoroughly exposed Clemson, so much that I saw a couple “how can Clemson fix this” posts yesterday. Which are 100% idiotic. Play ten games and those teams probably split them evenly, or maybe one team goes 6–4. Clemson ran into a motivated opponent and lost a playoff game. I don’t think that’s a sign that they need to blow the program up. Although firing Dabo would be cool…

That said, Alabama is just a freaking machine, and this could be their best offensive team ever. If Justin Fields is 100% Ohio State certainly has a chance. But I see another Saban/Crimson Tide title coming.


KU Hoops

We Jayhawks fans were feeling pretty great after KU used a huge second half to run away from West Virginia in their final game before the holidays. It looked like they crushed the souls of the Mountaineers that night, as WVU seemed to completely give up in the final 10 minutes. Hell, Oscar Tshiebwe even left the program after playing particularly poorly.

We were all saying, “Damn, now they have to take 10 days off?”

The layoff sure showed on Saturday vs. Texas. All those shots that fell against WVU were bricks against the Longhorns. For once all that athleticism Texas always has proved to be too much for KU. A convincing win that makes Texas a threat not just to Baylor to win the Big 12, but to actually go deep into the tournament too.

BTW, I found it both ironic and fitting that Texas’ biggest basketball win in a decade or so came on the same day most UT fans were distracted by their football team firing their coach. News even broke of Tom Herman’s firing just before tipoff, meaning most Longhorns fans were busy scrolling and texting and reading about football for the two hours their basketball team was getting a signature win.

I believe I said this last month, but my feelings for college hoops are dialed way back this year. While the season has been without interruption for KU so far, I don’t expect that to hold. The games still feel very different without true crowds. I watch them all but don’t get nearly as up or down as I normally would. I wish that meant I said fewer bad things about David McCormack during games, but I can’t help myself there.

That’s not to diminish Texas’ win, or any other games KU will lose in the coming months. There won’t be an asterisk next to home loses for KU just because there aren’t 16,300 packing Allen Fieldhouse. It just means my emotional investment is not where it has been for the past 35 years or so.


NCAA Tournament in Indiana

This has been rumored for some time and has finally been locked in. The entire NCAA tournament will be played on a variety of courts here in Central Indiana. The plan is for it to still be a March/April deal. I don’t think anyone would be surprised if a champion is crowned later than that, though.

I don’t know that another area could pull this off like Indianapolis. Obviously it helps that the NCAA is headquartered here, and has a long history of working with local government agencies. My only quibble with the plan is that it makes no sense to keep the Final Four at Lucas Oil stadium. Whether there will be crowds or not is still to be determined, but I am confident if fans are allowed, there will not be 40,000+ allowed to watch the game. At a minimum the game should be moved to Banker’s Life Fieldhouse. Ideally it should be played at Hinkle Fieldhouse on the Butler campus. Some people have suggested playing the final at a historic high school gym. That’s a step too far for me. But there is no way it should be played in a huge, empty football stadium.


Colts/NFL

The Colts snuck into the playoffs on the back of Jonathan Taylor’s breakout performance against Jacksonville. For some reason Phillip Rivers struggles against the Jags, and for awhile Sunday it looked like the Colts would be on the outside looking in thanks to him playing poorly twice against the worst team in the league. Fortunately the defense and Taylor bailed Rivers out.

The Colts are an odd team. When they look good, they look really freaking good, like a team that could give the Chiefs a run for three quarters. But in every game they have lapses when things fall apart, when the offense suddenly can’t move the ball, when the defense can’t stop anyone, when penalties pop up at the worst possible moment. They feel like a team that should have been better, but probably got about as much out of their talent as possible. And now I guess we get Rivers back for another year. Yay?

I know the Bills are the hottest team in the game right now, but I think I’d rather the Colts play them than the Ravens. That’s probably dumb, since the Ravens beat the Colts earlier this year and that could be a motivating force. I don’t have much faith in the Bills, though, where I think the Ravens are the Wild Card with the best chance of winning two games.

Looking at the bracket, I admit I did a triple take when I saw that the Bears made the playoffs. I knew the NFC East was awful, but there are enough Bears fans in my Twitter feed that I assumed they were 5–11 or something. I mean, 8–8 ain’t great, but it’s much better than I thought the Bears’ record would be.

That said, I was shocked the Dolphins were a win away from making the playoffs. Weren’t they intentionally choking just a year ago? Things change quick in the NFL!

Right now, I see no reason not to call a Chiefs-Packers Super Bowl and install the Chiefs as early 7.5 point favorites.


Pacers

The Pacers are off to a solid start, sitting at 5–2 after last night’s overtime win at New Orleans. That was the first game I watched almost start-to-finish.

New coach Nate Bjorkgren has them playing faster, which is fun and suits the roster. But, man, they just get killed on the boards. When you give the other team three chances to score, it sucks the life out of you.

TJ Warren is now expected to miss significant time with a stress fracture in his foot. Jeremy Lamb is still a month or so away from returning from his ACL rehab. Since these are the Pacers, you have to expect at least a couple of the current starters will suffer significant injuries and miss large stretches of games as well.

Yep, the Pacers are still in that weird middle ground they seem to be perpetually stuck in: good enough to make the playoffs, but not good enough to make a deep run. Which means they are never drafting in the lottery. And since free agents do not want to come to Indianapolis, they must rely on savvy trading and take fliers on guys other teams pass over. And then hope they get hot in the playoffs. I guess it’s better than sucking.

“There’s Only One Animal That Can Kill a Snake”


I watched a shit-load of TV in December and have an extra-heavy post coming up soon to cover all of that. First, however, something that would normally go into my January list requires immediate attention.

Netflix did the world a solid by releasing season three of Cobra Kai on Friday. I watched the first two episodes in the gap between the CFP semifinals games that night. Then I crammed the remaining eight into my Saturday. It was the highlight of my weekend!

So, thoughts…

THERE WILL BE SPOILERS

First off, YES!!!! You know when you find something cool and it continues and you fear that it might start to suck? Well season three does not suck. For sure, it starts off a little slower and less even than the first two seasons. But once it finds its footing, it hums along equally as well as seasons one and two.

Before I get to details, I wanted to speak about the show at the macro level.

There are many things that I love, love, love about Cobra Kai. At the top of the list is how well balanced the show is. And I mean that in many ways. The writers do a brilliant job of balancing cheese and schlock and over-the-topness with moments of genuine heart and emotion. The serious moments are just serious enough to bring the show back to center without being shmaltzy or sanctimonious. And all the moments of balance between characters and within the plot are genius. There are always forces that are opposing each other, and the moment something gets either too comfortable or too stressful, another element comes in and counters those feelings.

That balance is what makes it all work. It never veers too far in one direction for too long, which would be easy to do for writers that were trying too hard.

For example, at first I thought sending Daniel LaRusso to Tokyo and Okinawa was a mistake. It seemed like a needless distraction. And when Kumiko and Chozen from The Karate Kid Part II made appearances, I really thought it was going to go off the rails. You know what? It really worked well! The two Japanese characters brought in useful elements for the advancement of the overall story.

Two examples from the Okinawa storyline that show how well this show is written. When Kumiko told Daniel that she had never married because, after him, no other man had fought to the death for her, I was worried. This seemed like a clear chance for a guy who is facing the destruction of his business to give into a moment of weakness when he runs into an old flame. Especially one who lays that on him (I felt really bad for Kumiko, although she seemed to accept her fate happily). A lessor show puts them in bed together. Cobra Kai allowed them to speak to each other as adults and find a genuine, emotional connection to each other than had nothing to do with sex. More on that angle in a moment.

The interactions between Daniel and Chozen were also well done. Their first extremely awkward interaction was terrific. Then, as they were forced together, there were plenty of opportunities for things to go off the rails. Chozen, after living with the humiliation of his fight with Daniel for 35 years, could easily be a total dick, force a confrontation, and get his revenge. And the story does slide toward that direction. Until Daniel earns his respect and we see that Chozen really was changed by their 1980s encounter and is no longer a thug, but rather a guardian of Miyagi-do karate. There was plenty of cheesiness to the resolution of their story. I mean, it was a little too convenient, right? But the scenes are done so well that you forget about the cheese and enjoy the heart of those moments. There was a little Ted Lasso to the Okinawa trip.

Johnny Lawrence remains the best character on the show. William Zabka is just sooo good at bringing all these layers to Johnny. His “you can be a badass without being an asshole” ethos is one a lot of folks should learn to live by. And Johnny constantly digging holes and then climbing out is super compelling.

As with Daniel and Kumiko, Johnny got to confront an old love. Elisabeth Motherfucking Shue shows up as Ali Mills! I knew it was coming but it was still a jolt to see her on the screen. Johnny coming clean to her about his life and their day at the carnival together was great. They came far closer to getting physical than Daniel and Kumiko did, but that phone call that interrupted them was perfectly timed. And it set up the look on Johnny’s face later when Ali learned he was dating someone and asked him about her. Johnny may have had an urge to get the girl from his past and reclaim all his mid–80s glories, but he has grown enough to realize the smart move is to chase the future with Carmen. Well done!

By the way, any time you get Daniel and Johnny together with Amanda LaRusso and Johnny’s date, it works great. Amanda getting a few drinks in her and calling people out for their petty, 30-year-old shit, is outstanding.

As for all the kids, there were some kickass fights. Especially the one in the LaRusso house in the final episode. I have teenagers and I’m starting to fear them having a party when we are gone. Can you imagine coming home to your house being utterly destroyed by a three-way karate fight!?!?

Again, the kids display the show’s balance. Miguel, Sam, Robby, and Tory form a nice love…square? Rectangle? It can’t really a triangle with four sides, right? Anyway, any time one of them, or a pair of them, seem to be finding normalcy, here come one/two of the others to upset that. It is relentless and gives the show much of its momentum.

The backstory on Kreese was interesting. Not just in showing how he became a psychopath, but also by showing that he was once a caring person. The question for season four is does something reignite that caring side of his personality, or is he so far gone that he must be destroyed?

Some other bullet points:

  • Eagle Fang Karate? Hell yes!! Johnny insisting a mongoose isn’t real about had me falling off the couch.
  • Hawk is an absolute menace. And then he does the heel turn in the final episode. For all the twists and turns this show throws at you, that one still has me reeling a bit.
  • I do not buy, for one second, Yas and Demetri as a couple. I can handle a lot of unrealistic shit in this show. But I will not stand for this.
  • I noticed that Courtney Henggler always wears flats. I don’t normally notice these things but I thought it was weird she had them on with a business suit and began keeping track. I assume this is so she doesn’t appear taller than Ralph Maccio, right? Pussy.
  • Speaking of the exclamation “Pussy!” I need a Johnny Lawrence soundboard.
  • Dee Snider!!!
  • Peyton List. I’m having a hard time with her. My girls watched all the Disney shows she was on, so I literally watched her grow up. And her body is very, very different than it was then. I understand puberty, I know how young people’s bodies can change dramatically. But I keep wondering if all those changes were natural. If you know what I mean. Which, you know, who cares? And, also, stop being a dirty old man. While I am thrilled she seems to have survived the Disney machine, it is distracting to see a child actor as an adult. Especially when they are, um, very curvy.

There are dozens more things I could write about. But, bottom line, season three of Cobra Kai was another triumph. Shooting for season four is expected to begin soon – Covid allowing of course – and may debut next January. I can’t wait to see how the writers handle LaRusso and Lawrence teaching together. As much as anything they’ve done so far, that likely has the most potential for disaster. But also potential for absolute magic.

If we do get a January 2022 release date, I know what I’ll be streaming next December to prepare.

A

A (Gradual) New Start

Families in Indianapolis got an early Christmas present about two weeks ago when the county health commissioner said that schools could return to in-person classes beginning today, rather than waiting until Jan. 19.

St P’s normally starts the Tuesday after New Year’s Day, so today is a mini-virtual day with the kids having a few light assignments but no actual classes. Then they will be back the classroom tomorrow.

CHS will begin virtual classes tomorrow and return in person next Tuesday. They have an extra week’s buffer knowing high school kids were probably together on New Year’s Eve (M hung out with four friends who all come from families that seem to be keeping safe, although five girls spending the night together is probably not strictly a super-safe event…)

I think the girls are all happy with the change. I certainly am, although my fear is that this will be a short-term routine and schools will return to eLearning sometime between now and spring break.

This has certainly felt like the longest Christmas break ever, since the girls have all been home since before Thanksgiving. Not being able to do normal Christmas break stuff made it feel even longer. There were some friend hang-outs, but they were much more sporadic than they were a year ago. We didn’t go out to eat at all. Other than one car trip to look at Christmas lights with a couple nephews, we didn’t go to any holiday events. Family events were obviously much more scaled back. Fingers crossed that being in school is safe, but we all needed a change in routine after seven weeks home together.

Lots of content in the queue for this week. There are sports to discuss and a metric ton of media I consumed over the past month to review. My Friday Playlist pool is overflowing.

Hope all of you had good New Year celebrations, your families are healthy, and your homes are starting to return to some normal rhythms.

Stats

I’ll dispense with the monthly stats, since December is dominated by Bing and Frank and other seasonal fare.

Instead here are my totals for the year. I believe they reflect the oddness of 2020 appropriately. I would not have guessed Pearl Jam, Springsteen, the Beatles, or Prince would be in my top ten one year ago.

* Pearl Jam – 347
* Bruce Springsteen – 301
* Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – 228
* The Beatles – 205
* Phoebe Bridgers – 165
* Doves – 156
* Prince – 134
* Ratboy – 126
* Waxahatchee – 125
* cartalk – 123

And an annual refresh of my total Last.fm stats since I began using the service in February 2005.

* Frightened Rabbit – 3452
* Pearl Jam – 3295
* The War on Drugs – 2433
* Ryan Adams – 2248
* The Beatles – 2234

Complete stats available at my Last.fm page.

Good Riddance

Welp, it’s almost over. The worst year ever has but a few hours left. And then everything will magically get better at midnight, right?

If only…

2021 has to be better. Vaccines are being administered and research continues to find more ways to fight Covid–19. It may take months, but the tide is turning.

While Covid is our biggest issue, there are plenty of other issues for which there are no vaccines. And even if there were vaccines for racism and hate and greed and lack of empathy and people focused on obtaining/maintaining power by finding ways to divide us, well, let’s be honest, most of those fools wouldn’t take it.

There are lots of reasons to be pessimistic about the future. Rolling the calendar over to a new year won’t fix that. That doesn’t mean we can’t take a moment to celebrate putting 2020 in our rearview mirrors.

Happy New Year, be safe.

And fuck you, 2020.

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