Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Only in the 'Noog

So part of my job at the Post is working in the office three or four days a week, helping to put together the nitty gritty of print edition (yeah, it still exists even though most of you are freeloaders who read all the content online and will probably never subscribe to an actual newspaper in your lifetime). That means things like updating standings, making sure upcoming schedules are accurate and editing box scores from pro and college sports.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a college football box score for a game involving Chattanooga University. But because Chattanooga is such a long name, it was too big for the box, so I had to find an abbreviation. Now, the obvious choice would have been "Chat" or "Chatt". But seeing as I was bored to tears going through all these mundane stats, I decided to have a little fun. I changed it to "The Noog" and waited to see if it got through our editing process. It did, and myself and all the other newsaides were dying of laughter the rest of the night and making random 'Noog jokes.

So when I stumbled across this story (courtesy of my roomate, Brad) about a botched sholifting scene at a Chattanooga Walmart, my silent reaction — since I'm sitting alone in my apartment right now — was "Only in the 'Noog. Read on and you'll understand why that's all I could really say:

According to a news release, Officer Josh Wright was off duty when he saw a man trying to force his way past a greeter with about $2,000 worth of stolen goods Sunday night. Wright displayed his badge, but Joseph Anthony Hill said it was fake and tried to force his way by Wright as well. Wright then tackled Hill and arrested him.

Then Hill's wife, Lisa Hill, feigned a heart attack and said she did not know her husband. After a witness told Wright the couple had been together in the store, Lisa Hill followed the witness into the parking lot and attacked her. The witness stabbed her in the arm with a pocket knife, and Lisa Hill had to be treated at a local hospital.

Joseph Anthony Hill is charged with theft over $1,000 and assault on a police officer. Charges against Lisa Hill are pending.

The Year Behind and Ahead in Movies

The past few days, all newspapers and media organizations have been rolling out decade retrospective pieces since, well, it's the end of a decade. Frankly, it's made me reflect on what a strange decade it has been for me. I started out 2000 as an eighth grader and ended up in 2010 as a reporter/writer/newsaide/bitch for the Washington Post.

During that time, I've gone from an avid moviegoer who would see almost every new release that appeared remotely interesting in the theater (I once famously, according to my friends, convinced them to pay money to see Lost and Found starring David Spade. Horrible decision) to someone who rarely has the time or wants to spend the ridiculous amount of money to hit up a theater. Apparantly, I'm alone in this mutation, because in 2009 the movie industry made more than $10 billion, a record, though I'm a little skeptical how legitimate that record is considering it costs close to $20 to see a movie in some markets these days.

In the past couple of days, though, the New York Times has rolled out two movie-related stories that caught my eye. I figured I would share them with you, since most here go to the movies on a fairly regular basis. First, about the the year in movies 2009:

Perhaps the biggest lesson of the year, however, was a positive one. Moviegoers decided that relatable, nonthinking comedies — a little raunch but not too much, please (“BrĂ¼no” seemed to push it too far) — are the perfect balm for the recession.

“The Hangover,” which cost about $35 million to produce and sold $459.4 million at the global box office, is exhibit No. 1. But audiences also responded to “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “The Proposal” and “Couples Retreat,” which Universal Pictures smartly opened its wallet to film in Bora Bora.

The comedies that worked, noted Todd Phillips, director of “The Hangover,” were ones that audiences could see happening to them.

But it's the year ahead in Hollywood that is perhaps most interesting. Remember that writer's strike way back in 2007-08? Well, it's gonna have a kind of weird effect on the the crop of movies that will appear in theaters in the beginning of 2010:

At least 16 of the 28 films set for release by Hollywood’s major studios and larger independent studios in the first quarter, according to a recent schedule from Exhibitor Relations, finished shooting in 2008 or earlier. About 70 percent of those companies’ releases in January and February date to 2008 or earlier.

They reference "Green Zone," a movie starring Matt Damon that was actually filmed a year before his latest flick "Invictus" began shooting, as well as the newest Michael Cera flick, "Youth in Revolt," in which he portrays a troubled teenager, which he was when the movie was filmed. Now he's 22 and doing kind of weird promos in which I'm not sure if he's for real flipping out or just faking a breakdown for the sake of a movie:

I recommend reading both articles, each have some interesting little tidbits for the average moviegoer who doesn't ordinarily study trends.

Mike Shanahan ... Really?

Ahh, the worst kept secret in the NFL. Mike Shanahan will be the next coach of the Washington Redskins. I've largely stayed out of this discussion thus far because 1) I don't have any inside sources within the Redskins and therefore have no actual evidence as to whether the team is pursuing him or not and 2) I think it's kind of weird that whether it's Chris Mortenson, Adam Schefter, Jay Glazer, Peter King, Pro Football Talk, or even the Washington Post's own Jason Reid, they're all inferring that the Shanahan to Redskins Park rumor is all but a done deal even though the current coach, Jim Zorn, hasn't actually been fired.

Now I'm not saying it won't happen, there's been too many reports to the contrary to think Jim Zorn has any shot at returning as head coach (I think the performance on the field this season confirms this). But this Shanahan stuff reached its tipping point courtesy of a gchat from my ex-girlfriend.

She was at a holiday party and heard from a family member/family friend (I forget at this point) that Shanahan was not only going to be the next coach in Washington, but also had already convinced an assistant coach from the Denver Broncos to join him in Washington. She felt compelled to ask if I wanted the contact info.

Being a reporter, I said yes, but it got me to thinking. If a girl, who I know for a fact has little to no interest in the Washington Redskins (especially since she no longer likes me), not only thinks Mike Shanahan is coming to DC but that he's bringing assistants with him already, well that was my sign to chime in.

What are my feelings on Shanahan becoming the next coach of the Redskins? Well, I agree he'll be an upgrade over Jim Zorn, and based on Super Bowl wins, he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the other hot commodities on the coaching market. But when I think elite coach who's going to lead the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl, the crusty face of Shanahan is not the image that comes to mind.

Just look at his career record. If you throw out his two Super Bowl seasons with John Elway, he's got a decent 120-92 overall mark. Now I know what you're saying right off the bat. How can you just throw out two seasons that happen to be the pinnacle of his career? So he had one of the game's great quarterbacks, big deal, he still coached 'em up and it was on the downside of Elway's career.

My response is Elway had perhaps the best last two seasons of any great quarterback ever (barring two straight Favre Super Bowls in Minnesota). And, to me, no matter what the Redskins do this offseason, there's little to no chance they end up with someone approaching Elway's caliber. Whether it's Jason Campbell returning or a draft pick like Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, or Jimmy Clausen, I just don't see an all time great in the Redskins' pipeline any time soon. So if (and according to everyone it's more like when) Shanahan becomes coach, he's going to be handing the keys to his offense to a signal caller with less than Elway credentials.

Now onto the playoff record. Again, if we eliminate Elway's 7-0 postseason run during those two Super Bowl seasons, Shanahan's a disastrous 1-5 (ok, disastrous might be a little strong but I'm trying to make a point here). In 16 seasons as an NFL head coach, the guy has made it past his first playoff game just three times (and that includes those two seasons with our man, Elway).

So maybe I don't appreciate the gloriousness that is Mike Shanahan, but I just don't get the rush to anoint him head coach as quickly as possible. Add on the fact that he'll be 58 in August and has never coached a team coming off a 4 (okay, maybe 5) win season. Should he be a candidate? Absolutely. But shouldn't the Redskins actually go through a legitimate interview process, and perhaps even wait until after the playoffs are over so they can talk to some of the up-and-coming assistants on the teams that, well, to be blunt, played a a whole lot better than the Skins this year?

Like maybe someone such as Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. He actually has first hand experience of what it takes to quickly turn around a loser. Under his watch, the Bengals have gone from the 27th-best defense in 2007 to the 12th-best in 2008, and now, heading into the final week of the regular season, they've got the fourth-best defense in all the NFL and it's the main reason the Bungles are going to be AFC North champions this year. And if you watched Hard Knocks this summer, you would have seen a coach that's both tough as nails and relatable at the same time (and that was before his wife tragically passed away in the middle of the season. Don't take it from me, take it from Peter King of Sports Illustrated:

On HBO's "Hard Knocks'' last summer, Zimmer, to me, came across like a head coach in waiting. I've always known him to be a very good teacher; what I didn't know was how naturally hard-nosed and disciplined he is. It just flows from him, and it's not forced. In the midst of his greatest tragedy, he is building a solid case to be an NFL head coach. If you can turn the Bengals' defense into a top 10 NFL defense, you deserve a bushel of interviews. Maybe you don't deserve a job over the four Super Bowl coaches on the street, but you deserve an airing.

Or, instead of satisfying the Rooney Rule by interviewing your cornerbacks coach, Jerry Gray, who couldn't even get the University of Memphis job last month, why don't you interview an African-American from outside the organization, and one that has legitimate credentials to become a head coach? Maybe follow the trend that has been successful in Pittsburgh, and to a certain extent, Denver, and go after a young coach like Leslie Frazier, the defensive coordinator in Minnesota. He was the successor to Tomlin in Minnesota, and from all accounts, will be a head coach in the next year or two. Here's how Schefter describes him:

Had Denver not hired Josh McDaniels as its head coach, Frazier probably would have been its next choice. He is a mix of the men he has worked for, Mike Ditka and Tony Dungy, not to mention the man who succeeded Mike Tomlin as the Vikings' defensive coordinator.

Or hell, if we want to appease to Snyder's obsession with making money and tricking fans into liking him by capitalizing off events that happened almost 20 and 30 years ago (bringing back Gibbs, hiring George Allen's son), why aren't they bringing in Russ Grimm, a former Hog and assistant coach for the Skins who is currently the assistant head coach in Arizona.

The point here is that there's lots of options, it shouldn't just be Shanahan or bust. Now, there are some out there that have the legitimate argument of "Well, we went the assistant coach route with Jim Zorn and look how that turned out." But seriously, if you don't recall, Zorn was a quarterbacks coach in Seattle and was originally hired as the team's offensive coordinator. He only became head coach after Snyder and Cerrato scared off all the worthy candidates (I mean, looking back, who the hell hires an offensive and defensive coordinator before the actual head coach).

Maybe I'll look back on this post when Mike Shanahan is holding up that Lombardi trophy in 2012 and shake my head in disgust at my apprehension towards the Shanahan era. But as of today, with this franchise's track record under Dan Snyder, I have a weird feeling we're going to see Mike Shanahan sign a five-year contract worth in the neighborhood of $6 million a year, and then four years later, resign his post after several mediocre to average seasons. But let it be known now, the Redskins have/had options during this coaching search, though they apparently have chosen not to pursue any of them.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I came to see Tommy, but I got JT III

I'd been looking forward to this day for the last week. With Harvard coming to town to face Georgetown at the Verizon Center (and because I'm privy to Hoya press credentials now that I cover them for the Express), I would finally get to talk with former Michigan coach Tommy Amaker for the first time since he was fired back on St. Patrick's Day 2007. Why do I remember the exact day? Well, I was too drunk to drive myself to his final press conference once word broke that he'd been axed.

So I sat court side as Georgetown handled the Crimson, 86-70, thanks in large part to Chris Wright's career-high 34 points, all the while passing the time until I finally got to ask Tommy some questions. But when Amaker got to the podium, I couldn't muster the courage to outright ask him about his Michigan days (especially because he didn't seem to recognize me). So the presser was relatively uneventful ... that is, until John Thompson III came in once Amaker was finished speaking.

With his father, legendary Georgetown coach John Thompson, Jr., standing in the back of the room, the man affectionately known as JT III around the D.C. area began pontificating about his team's bounce back win over an Ivy League opponent — GTown was upset by Old Dominion last Saturday. After answering a couple questions about an 11-0 run to end the first half that really was the difference in what had been a back-and-forth game, and another about Chris Wright's effort, I chimed in with a follow up about Wright ... and well, I'll just let the quotes speak to what happened next.

Me: What's been holding him back from converting like he did today?

JT III: Who?

Me: Chris, he went off for 34.

JT III: What's been holding him back?

Me: Holding him back from converting. Obviously, he's a talented player and he's been playing well...

JT III: I don't think anything's been holding him back. Who are you with?

Me: I'm with the Washington Post Express

JT III: Okay, so if you've been covering us, you've heard me say a million times ...

Me: I've been watching games. This is the first time I've seen a game live this year. I've watched most of your games on TV this year.

JT III: If you come in here, in this room, I've said we have a lot of people in that locker room. Everyone in there can score, they know that each other can score, they look for each other, so one night it's gonna be Chris, the next night it'll be Austin, the next night it'll be Greg, and there's also Jason in there. So I don't think anything has been holding him back. Opportunities were there for him today. They have done a terrific job — starting with him, starting with him — of making sure he's trying to get his teammates involved and running the team. So I don't think it's a question of him being held back, I just think the opportunities were there for him today and his teammates did a good job of recognizing that.

Me: Holding back was probably the wrong phrase, but he just hadn't gone off for 30 before, but yeah, thank you, coach

Welcome to the Georgetown beat, right? I would describe the interaction above as both uncomfortable and rewarding. Uncomfortable for obvious reasons — seeing as he questioned my credentials — and rewarding because I learned a whole lot about Georgetown and JT III just from that one exchange.

Personally, I thought it was a pretty valid question considering Wright shattered his career high by nine points and came into the game averaging 11.7 points per contest. He was also averaging 8.5 shot attempts per game, but finished today 13-of-21 from the floor. Like I said to JT III, maybe I could have used a better phrase than "holding back", but if 34 points on 13 more shot attempts than usual doesn't say breakout game, then I'm not sure what that means anymore. And if something is considered a break out game, doesn't that infer there was something holding you back originally?

But it gets to the nitty gritty of what Georgetown's season hinges on. They've got a collection of talent that can stack up against just about anybody in the country with players like Wright, O'Connell grad Jason Clark (who I met last year at a high school basketball game and came off as one of the nicest athletes I've ever been around) and future NBA stud Greg Monroe. The question, though, is whether John Thompson III's Princeton-style offense will help or harm them come tournament time.

Now don't get me wrong, I love the Princeton offense. But it's meant to be run at schools like Princeton, as a way of overcoming a talent differential by cutting down on possessions and relying on backdoor cuts to produce layups and wide open looks from 3-point range when the defense collapses on those backdoor cuts. My belief — and I know some in the media feel this way and I'm willing to bet there are some GTown fans who agree — is that the Hoyas shouldn't be so conservative and would be better served adjusting the offense to fit its uber-talented personnel.

And my guess is, John Thompson III has heard some of these critics. Just look at how defensive he got about me mentioning the phrase "holding back" concerning Chris Wright. Now, let's be real here, he's the one who has led a team to the Final Four. I'm just some 20-something novice reporter who has seen his team play live once this year. Truth be told, slowing down the pace of a game is very effective, especially in high pressure situations like the NCAA Tournament. It cuts down on potential turnovers and forces the opposing team to play defense the entire 40 minutes. But to me, there's a reason why Eddie Jordan and the 76ers are the only team in the NBA that run anything remotely resembling a Princeton offense. It's because when you have talent, you take advantage of it by creating situations for your best players to exploit the defense.

As JT III said to me, "Everyone in there can score," so why wouldn't you run an offense that allows everyone the "opportunities" to do that all the time. I think the most glaring stat from this relatively meaningless Harvard game was the fact that today was the first time this season Greg Monroe (16 points, 16 rebounds), Chris Wright, and Austin Freeman (21 points) all scored more than 11 points in the same game. It begs the questions, what's been holding them back from replicating that all season long? Hehe

POSTSCRIPT: Looking back on the situation, I probably should have re-phrased the question as "Why was Chris Wright so effective today," but at the time, I also didn't think my original question would cause such a fuss.

And back to Tommy for a second ... he's got a pretty good squad this year, one that's 7-3 after today's loss, but a favorite alongside Cornell heading into the Ivy League season. Last week the Crimson beat Boston College and nearly upset UCONN. Watching them play, I was staring intently at Amaker, trying to notice if he still stomped his feet during every defensive possessions (not as much anymore) or if he still ran the twirly finger offense (yes, he does, but with not as much twirling of the finger and many fewer instances of tall, uncoordinated white guys panicking with the ball in their hands at the top of the key with the shot clock running down).

The most fascinating thing about Harvard's team, though, is its best player, 6-foot-3 senior guard Jeremy Lin. He's an Asian American from Palo Alto who can straight ball. He's been getting a decent amount of press recently after putting up 30 against UCONN and 25 against Boston College in consecutive games. He put up 15 points today. He's also being mentioned as a potential sleeper in the NBA Draft. Lin would be the first player from Harvard to make it to the league since 1953.

Let me give you a formal introduction: Jeremy Lin, this is everyone. Everyone, this is Jeremy Lin.

One thing I did notice about Amaker, though, is that he's cut down on the amount of times he answers a reporter's question by responding with "Certainly" or "Obviously" before rehashing exactly what the reporter had just asked of him. By my count he only did it three times this afternoon, but of course, his press conference started like this after someone asked what happened to his team during Georgetown's 11-0 run to end the first half:

"Well, certainly the game got away from us at the end of the first half. But I think we really battled, scrapped, and clawed. We were, obviously, never able to recover from it."

Gotta love Tommy.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

If they do it, please go to the Western Conference

I know we've heard the rumors of LeBron and DWade possibly playing together, maybe as soon as next year, but in today's New York Post, Wade may have provided us the most explicit proof yet. Here's a sampling of what DWade had to say in terms of him and LeBron (read the whole article because it also gets Wade's thinking about his career, and, perhaps most importantly for Heat fans, about his future in Miami):

"Before we agreed to terms, LeBron and I had a couple conversations," Wade said. "I can't recall exactly what we said, but the gist of it was we wanted to give ourselves the flexibility and the option to play together. A lot of times in this league, players usually wind up going where they can get the most money. We're both blessed within that area. We've made a lot of money. So we wanted to base our decision on two things, the organization and the ability to win a title. And that's what we'll do. When the season is over, we plan to sit down and talk about it. I'm not saying it will happen. But I'm intrigued by the idea."

"I probably couldn't have handled playing with someone like LeBron earlier in my career, but I'm older now. You're talking about two big egos and meshing them. That'd take a lot of sacrifice on LeBron's part and it'd take a lot of sacrifice on my part to succeed. But we would succeed because we know winning takes care of everything."

"For the first time, maybe the only time in our careers, we control our destiny. What do you think about that? That's the coolest thing about it."

"Our personalities grated," Wade said. "That's why I say LeBron and I can play together. Our personalities work. Being on the court with him makes me unselfish."

"The options, that's what excites me about this. I like that you think it can't be this team [the Bulls] or that team [the Nets], yet another team [the Knicks] makes sense to you."

Like the title of this post implies, for the Wizards' sake, I hope this togetherness happens on the other side of the country, though it sounds like Miami could have as much as $39 million in cap space and therefore would be the most likely to be able to afford both LeBron and Wade.

Are you ready for some embarrassment?

Well, that sure was humiliating. The Redskins really took ineptitude to a new level last night. Seriously, that game was so bad I could barely stay awake in the second half. I didn't even bother watching the postgame reaction. And let me tell you, it's very rare I fall asleep during a Redskins game and it's even more rare that I don't want to hear what the talking heads have to say in the immediate aftermath.

This was bad in a way most Redskins losses aren't, though. Usually they tease you a little bit, show some encouraging signs against a quality opponent, before eventually crumbling in the fourth quarter. Well, I think it's safe to say the crumbling happened long before the fourth quarter last night. And frankly, I couldn't even tell you about the 12 points the Redskins did score, since I was falling in and out of sleep thanks to the sheer boredom of watching one's team get pummeled.

However, what did catch my attention was the interview new GM Bruce Allen did with Stuart Scott before the game. Scott asked all the right questions (Will Jim Zorn be your coach? Are you negotiating with Mike Shanahan? Do you have ultimate decision-making power?) and Allen stuck to non-answers in his response. It was funny, as Scott essentially asked Allen to lay out his plan for fixing the Redskins, our new GM spent a considerable amount of energy trying to convince the television audience that he's using the next three weeks for evaluation.

Now, if that's the truth, and he has no plan in mind to fix this franchise, I'm gonna be really upset. Why in the world would Dan Snyder expedite the hiring of a GM who couldn't answer the simple question of "How you gonna fix this travesty?" in his interview, then why exactly did you hire him so quickly? In reality, I think we all know Allen was sticking to the GM-speak and the house is gonna be reshuffled dramatically in the off season.

But here's the thing, I know Snyder wanted to beat Jerry Jones and the Cowboys to the punch in hiring, but last night was a perfect example of why beginning the process in-season isn't necessarily the best way to go about things. Yes the team performed poorly and way below standards last night, but I don't think it was a coincidence that it coincided with Allen's signing. The fact that Vinny Cerrato resigned and Allen was hired within a three hour span provided every single player in the locker room the confirmation that the organization is thinking about grand changes. No matter how hard they may have played the past six weeks, the man who brought each and every one of them into Redskins Park is now gone.

Now you would think, the competitor in each of them would say, "I gotta prove myself to this new talent evaluator." But at the same time, if you go back and read some of the players' reactions to the Vinny firing and Bruce Allen hiring, it's pretty obvious none of them knew what was going on. Many on this roster are fighting for their football lives, and just like they were out of the loop during the GM search, they're also now out of the loop in terms of talent evaluation. Then there are the reports that defensive backs coach Jerry Gray already interviewed for the head coaching job because the Skins needed to meet the Rooney Rule qualifications (think about that for a second, one of Jim Zorn's assistants interviewing for his job before he's even been fired from it) and the fact that defensive coordinator Greg Blache stopped talking to the media soon after word leaked that he was the one who ultimately convinced old pal Sherman Lewis in-person to come on board to take over playcalling duties from Zorn. if that doesn't paint a picture of a disjointed franchise in disarray, then I guess I don't know what disarray is anymore.

So sure, last night, was certainly a football version of a disaster. But the dynamite for that explosion was laid weeks ago by the only man in the Redskins organization with the power to hire a GM before the season even ended and okay the decision to essentially nueter a head coach ... our faithful owner Dan Snyder. I'm not saying it was the wrong decision to hire Allen early, I'm just saying we shouldn't be surprised if the on-field product the rest of the season looks like last night.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Most Undercovered NFL Story of the Year

I'm at the Capitals practice facility right now, having just finished blogging for the Post (check out my work here and here) but I felt compelled to tell you about the story that rocked my NFL world last night.

So I'm sure you're all well aware by now about allegations that a certain star wide receiver from the New England Patriots may have been dogging it eight days ago in a game against Carolina. Not a completely shocking revelation, since Randy Moss has admitted to not playing hard at his two previous professional stops. And on a personal note, his poor performance last week couldn't have come at a worse time for someone like me, who was in the first round of fantasy football playoffs and spent the No. 10 overall pick on my fantasy draft on a sometimes-disgruntled wide receiver who happens to be the best deep threat of our generation.

But none of that has anything to do with this post. So when I returned home from working a late shift at the Post (and after I waited foreeeeever for a Metro train because the D.C. area panics when snow hits) Sunday night, I turned on Sportscenter and lo and behold the first segment I saw was a recap of the Patriots 17-10 win over Buffalo yesterday. And up at the podium addressing all the haters afterwards was a man with a beard so thick I did a double take. The above picture is a little blurry, but I think our buddy, Randy, is officially at "I gotta comb it out in the morning to make sure there isn't any food in there" level with this thing.

My question is why hasn't this beard been examined more by the mainstream media? Maybe this is racist (or more like stereotypical) but I cant remember another famous black athlete with that sweet of a beard. Why now, Randy, and why so big? I've heard analogies like he looks like an anorexic Kimbo Slice or that he looks like a guy who could wear a Santa costume and ring the Salvation Army bell or even a hobo. Hell, I heard someone even suggest he was paying homage to Michael J. Fox and his fight against Parkinson's Disease by becoming black Teen Wolf.

This site asks if Randy's beard is the worst sports beard of all time, and proceeds to list out the five worst beards in sports. I would tend to disregard this list on the grounds that they call Baron Davis's beard one of the five worst, and to me, the beard makes Baron one of my favorite non-Wizards. Maybe this is just juvenile of me, but I could totally see the reason for Randy having the beard is that one of his buddies played a disgusting, "Jackass 2"-style prank and taped some pubes to his face. Then when Randy found out, he was like "jokes on you clowns, I'm gonna grow this sucka out."

I would love to hear your thoughts/one-liners, but the bottom line is I think the beard is sweet and probably deserves some kind of Kenny Mayne jokester segment before the season is complete.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Goodbye Vinny, we knew ye too well

When news broke about Vinny Cerrato's "resignation" as executive vice president of player personnel (i.e. Daniel Snyder's right hand man) and the subsequent hiring of Bruce Allen as the team's new General Manager, I wasn't euphoric or happy like a lot of longtime Redskins fans. Maybe I'm jaded now that I'm older, but the move didn't resonate with me like Joe Gibbs' return to the franchise in 2004. I've been burned too many times by Dan Snyder to have blinding faith in another blast from the past — for the non-Washington folks, Allen is the son of legendary Skins coach George Allen.

Instead, my thoughts turned to how exactly we got here. By all accounts, the Danny-Vinny years began like all great NFL dynasties do — on a SQUASH COURT! That's right, the two struck up a friendship because they were weekly playing partners. Snyder was a young, naive owner during that time and understandably (I guess) trusted his squash partner, who happened to have some decent football credentials (he was director of college scouting for the 49ers in 1994 when they won the Super Bowl and he was Lou Holtz's recruiting coordinator when Notre Dame won the 1988 National Championship). And so the Snyderatto dynamic was born.

What should have been Cerrato's only big moment came after the Redskins made the postseason in 1999, their first playoff appearance post-Gibbs I. Snyderatto decided to shake things up that offseason, bringing high-priced veterans like Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Mark Carrier, and Jeff George — all of whom turned into giant busts as the Skins started the 2000 season 6-2, but crumbled to an 8-8 finish. With three games remaining Snyder fired Norv Turner, and in the offseason gave the reins of the organization to Marty Schottenheimer. Cerrato was let go by Marty, and seemingly we were done with this wretched squash-based experiment. But he was brought back a year later, and luckily the incompetancy of the ol' ball coach, Steve Spurrier, hid him from the brunt of the criticism. Then, Gibbs II began, and Cerrato played a key role, but ultimately decision-making fell to Gibbs. Then ... the last two seasons happened.

And while it's now well-documented the various failures of Vinny Cerrato, the executive vice president of player personnel, I wanted to go back to his first big decision to sign so many big name veterans to back loaded contracts back in 2000, because it really gets to the crux of Vinny's epic fail. The man thought he had an eye for talent, but had no clue how to build a team. That may sound simplistic, but it gets to the crux of why the Redskins have been a mediocre NFL franchise during Dan Snyder's stewardship. They're constantly addressing wants, rather than focusing in on needs.

But let's not switch topics here and overlook the fact that he deliriously ignored the Redskins clear weakness along the offensive line — even though everyone and their mother knew that's what they should be focusing on — because many of the offseason moves were done so only after the stamp of approval from his squash partner. And let's ignore that Cerrato's most noteworthy moves the past two offseasons were drafting three receivers in the first three rounds of the 2008 NFL Draft, giving up a second-round pick for a defensive end who ended up with 3.5 sacks (Jason Taylor) and left the team after playing one season, and signing an oft-injured defensive tackle to the biggest contract ever given to a non-quarterback.

Let's judge him on his supposed specialty, the draft, because apparently he was pretty successful at judging talent during his days at Notre Dame and with the 49ers. Let's take a look at the selections the team made while he had a say in the process:

2000: *LB LaVar Arrington, OT Chris Samuels, *DB Lloyd Harrison, *G Michael Moore, *DB Quincy Sanders, *QB Todd Husak, *DT Delbert Cowsette

2002: *QB Patrick Ramsey, RB Ladell Betts, *CB Rashad Bauman, *WR Cliff Russell, *S Andre Lott, *TE Robert Royal, *OT Reggie Coleman, *C Jeff Grau, *DE Greg Scott, RB Rock Cartwright

2003: *WR Taylor Jacobs, G Derrick Dockery, *QB Gibran Hamden

2004: *S Sean Taylor, TE Chris Cooley, *OT Mark Wilson, *OT Jim Molinaro

2005: CB Carlos Rogers, QB Jason Campbell, *FB Manuel White, *LB Robert McCune, *LB Jared Newberry, *FB Nehemiah Broughton

2006: LB Rocky McIntosh, DT Anthony Montgomery, S Reed Doughty, DT Kedric Golston, *G Kili Lefotu, *LB Kevin Simon

2007: S LaRon Landry, *LB Dallas Sartz, LB H.B. Blades, *QB Jordan Palmer, *TE Tyler Ecker

2008: WR Devin Thomas, WR Malcolm Kelly, TE Fred Davis, G Chad Rinehart, CB Justin Tryon, *P Durant Brooks, DB Kareem Moore, QB Colt Brennan, DE Rob Jackson, S Chris Horton

2009: LB Brian Orakpo, CB Kevin Barnes, *LB Cody Glenn, LB Robert Henson, TE Eddie Williams, WR Marko Mitchell

So you know that saying "build through the draft" that was popularized by the Patriots' recent winning ways? Well, Cerrato, a supposed expert college talent evaluator should be the perfect person to implement this. Ummmm ... not so much. All those stars next to names are guys no longer with the team Out of those 57 draft picks, just 28 are on the current roster (and presumably that number will be a lot smaller once Bruce Allen cleans house). Hell, if you wanna go further of the 29 that aren't on the Skins anymore, only eight are still in the NFL altogether.

I don't mean to pile on Vinny Cerrato, especially considering he was probably just doing what his squash partner wanted him to do. And I've only been around the guy once or twice and it's never been in a football setting (a couple times he brought his kids into the Capitals locker room after a game), but from all accounts the dude was totally oblivious. He was a clown, being paraded around as someone with power, so that Snyder could pull all the strings. If that's true, what self-respecting football person allows that to happen? And if it's not true, what self respecting personnel guy makes some of the decisions he did?

Wait, what's that. More piling on? Okay. I dug up a column by Mike Wise from 2005, detailing the relationship between Cerrato and Snyder:

In spite of the perception that he only indulges Snyder, Vinny does work. He has thick, color-coded binders competing for space and time in his office at the team's Ashburn training facility. He shows you Carlos Rogers, whom the team took with its ninth pick in the April draft, was No. 1 on the Redskins' defensive draft wish list. Cerrato said he wrote 300 "Redskin reports" that were used to form the team's final offensive, defensive and overall rankings for the draft. "Look, I've got binders in here, calendars," he said, pointing to his files.

Really? Carlos Rogers, No. 1? The same Carlos Rogers who got benched by the Redskins a couple weeks ago? I looked up some defensive players who were also selected in the the 2005 NFL Draft, along with Rogers. Do the names DeMarcus Ware, Antrel Rolle, Lofa Tatupu, and Shawne Merriman ring a bell? Or what about late-round finds that have already made the Pro Bowl like Justin Tuck, Jay Ratliff, and Trent Cole? And again, I know I've said this already, but the dude's background makes it seem like the draft would be his forte.

So in reflecting on Vinny's tenure here in Washington, I only really have one lingering question. How in the world did he convince Dan Snyder to hire him in the first place. Was it his good serve (are there even serves in squash, I don't know, I'm not an avid player)? Did he let Snyder win or something? How exactly did that conversation go? I don't think we'll ever know, just like I don't think we'll ever know why this man was employed by the Redskins for a decade.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Americans secretly love the Tigerization of sports

I rejoined the blogosphere close to three weeks after this Tiger scandal hit, but guess what? Twenty days after the world's famous golfer crashed into a fire hydrant outside his home and two weeks after he admitted to "transgressions" in his personal life, the story is still in the news everyday.

As a single male who feels he thinks about things in a reasonably rational manner, watching this whole ordeal unfold has been extremely uncomfortable (and I say this as a writer who recently wrote an entire feature whose main storyline was about someone else's private life). Not uncomfortable because I don't think the media should be prying into this. Uncomfortable because deep down inside, I question whether any person put in Tiger's shoes would be able to resist that kind of temptation.

But as a man, especially around women, you just can't say that. It downgrades the male race in their eyes and just makes you look bad. The double edged sword here is that if you take the high road, ultimately you're just asking to look like a hypocrite. Call me crazy, but I refuse to be naive to the fact that a good amount of people (and by a good amount of people, I mean people from all walks of life, no matter the education or tax bracket) cheat. Passing judgment on them would mean passing judgment on many who shouldn't be thought of as bad people. Weak willed, maybe. But not bad or mean spirited.

There's a reasoned explanation of how I feel. Here's a semi-ridiculous, yet shockingly refreshing and entertaining response Clinton Portis had earlier this week on his weekly appearance on the John Thompson Radio Show here in D.C.:

"Hey Clinton, I said if he could keep that many women a secret, he needed to be...." John Thompson began.

"He needed to be congratulated. I said the same thing," Portis interrupted with a chuckle. "If he could keep that a secret and ain't nobody came out and told [on him], hey, congratulate him. You know, most of the time there's one or two, and you can't keep that a secret. So if he can balance 14 and keep it a secret, congrats. You know, at least he knows what he wants. He don't discriminate, he's not against people, he don't care what your job, what your background is....He knew what he was after."

Before I go on, I highly recommend clicking on the link and reading his entire explanation. The part I've included is merely the most hilarious portion of his entire pontification on el Tigre.

Switching gears, in terms of sports, I wanted to highlight a rumor making its rounds around the internet. I want to emphasize rumor because clearly it hasn't been confirmed by the parties involved. The Philadelphia Flyers haven't been playing well this year, and there could be a very specific non-ice related reason behind it:

This one is out of the bizarre rumor mill, however, a credible source told “thephillyfour” a possible affair could be the reason the Flyers locker room appears to be split this season. According to the source Jeff Carter had an affair with Scott Hartnell’s wife and the entire locker room is split over the situation.

Now I won't comment on this actual situation, other than to say I can only hope this ends up in a similar manner to Roger Dorn and Ricky Vaughn in "Major League", i.e. the Indians win the pennant and Bob Uecker drinks whisky. What I do think people should realize is that more and more stories like this one and the Tiger Woods fiasco are going to become regular parts of the sports news cycle. No matter how uncomfortable it makes people feel.

See, we saw it with regular celebrity news. Remember the days when there was just Entertainment Tonight on TV? That was the only thing I ever heard of growing up that, on a daily basis, chronicled the lives of celebrities — and only for 30 minutes a day. Just look in the TV guide these days (I guess people don't really do that anymore because of digital cable, but for this argument imagine me pulling out the style section of the Washington Post and glancing at the TV listings), there's so many options for stalking the private lives of the celebrities we salivate over. Sure Entertainment Tonight is still around, but there's also Access Hollywood, TMZ, The Insider, hell there's even an entire channel whose sole nightly focus is to give you celebrity news with an exclamation point. That doesn't even call into question the fact that we as an American public are so interested in others' lives, we flock to shows that delve into the private life of seemingly regular people (Laguna Beach, The Hills, Jon and Kate Plus Eight, Jersey Shore, and the list really goes on and on).

So if you're sick of this Tiger Woods stuff, I'm pretty sure you're in the minority. The 21st Century has brought people's curiousness to the surface. All those days of looking out your window and wondering what was going on in your neighbor's house (does that make me weird, because occasionally I would do this) have simply been replaced by gazing into another figurative neighbor's living room, one that happens to have television cameras in it.

The Tiger story is more like the first in a string of sports-related "transgressions" that will likely be uncovered in the next couple of years. Media outlets have seen how much attention and conversation the Tiger Woods scandal has stimulated and my guess is they will go after these types of stories even more aggressively in the future. After reading that, maybe your first thought is "God damn media trying to create a frenzy when there isn't one." Legitimate argument, but my reply to the general public is simple. The media won't pursue stories that aren't interesting, that don't draw ratings. And the bottom line is, you may be uncomfortable hearing about the real Tiger, but you can't turn away from it either.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Going crazy with the NHL standings

Last week the Washington Capitals ascended to the top of the NHL standings and still sit there as of today with 46 points, cementing themselves as a Stanley Cup contender this year. It was a huge accomplishment for D.C. sports, which have been taking a pounding of late. Though we aren't at Cleveland levels in terms of title droughts, it's been a long time since a professional team not named D.C. United won a league championship (the answer is obviously 1991, when the Skins won the Super Bowl).

In fact, over at Dan Steinberg's D.C. Sports Bog, he concluded it's definitely the first time in the 21st century a Washington area team has led the league standings this late in the season, and probably the first time since the Skins started 11-0 in 1991. Good for the Caps, too. I've been covering them for about a year and a half now, I like most of the guys on the team, and they certainly have the talent to be considered one of the best teams around. But, at the same time, I watch almost every game and personally, I don't think the Caps have played all that well — definitely not at the league-best level the standings seem to indicate — this season.

So let's take a closer look at those 46 points and how and who they've come against. First off, the Capitals official record is 20-7-6, the six being a point given for reaching overtime, but not winning. Let's start there. It boggles my mind sometimes that the NHL awards a point to a team that reaches overtime, but then loses before the shootout. It's a loss, how is it that a team deserves to be rewarded? I understand the point for reaching the shootout because the game isn't decided over the course of the game. It's more luck than skill.

So if you look at the Capitals' six overtime decisions that didn't result in wins, either courtesy of a shootout or an overtime goal ... just two have come via shootout loss (against Toronto on Nov. 21 and against New Jersey on Oct. 12). The other four points are all overtime losses, defeats in which the Caps allowed a goal during the five-minute, four-on-four extra session. So taking away the kooky Canadian-based logic that a team should somehow be rewarded for giving up demoralizing overtime goals, to me the Capitals actual record is 20-11-2. Still good, but not the league's best.

Now take a look at who the 20 wins and 11 losses have come against, the picture painted isn't necessarily one of a team destined for greatness. When facing teams that would make the NHL playoffs if they started today, Washington is 7-5-2 this year. Against all others, 13-2-5 ... BUT four of those five overtime losses came in actual overtime, not a shootout. And out of those 13 wins, against admittedly mediocre teams, two came in overtime and two others came in a shootout.

To me, that paints a picture of a team playing not playing great hockey, but merely feasting on the dregs of the league. The 7-5-2 record the Caps have had against the league's elite seems more in line with the level the team has been playing at so far this year. Maybe I'm being overly pessimistic, just a douchey media member covering the team looking for ways to poke holes in their success. I guess if you're the glass half full type, you could say the Caps haven't even played that well and they're still on top of the standings. I'm curious to hear what others think...

Michael Beasley, the king of kings?

So I didn't include Michael Beasley in my little John Wall comparisan. One, I didn't really like him as a college player (or a pro for that matter). And two, I knew he averaged a lot of points, but I figured it was done in the most inefficient way considering he's a chucker. Well, my college journalist turned law school friend Brom pointed him out in the comments of that last post (everyone should start commenting, it livens things up here) so I figured I would dig up his stats. And let's just say, I was mildly surprised at what I saw:

Michael Beasley
Offensive Rating: 120.1
eFG%: 56.3
A/T Ratio: 0.4

Better than Wall in offensive rating, he trails in eFG% and assist-to-turnover ratio, although that's understandable since Wall is a point guard. In terms of who was better as a one-and-done college player, even just nine games into his career, I'll stick with my man, John Wall. He's got that "it" factor Beasley never had.

Monday, December 14, 2009

How John Wall gave me my groove back

It was Saturday night, I was at a holiday party, when I walked in on this conversation/debate: Who is more athletic: LeBron James or Michael Jordan? To me the answer was simple ... Michael Jordan, at least as of today, is the better basketball player, but in terms of sheer athleticism, I don't know if there will ever be a specimen like the 6-foot-8, 250-pound King (and we all know he's definitely 15 pounds heavier than this listed weight). Others chimed in on the debate, including a high school basketball coach from this area and an assistant at a local Division-I men's basketball program, both of whom sided with my James argument.

The high school coach brought up an even more interesting point, though. He argued that John Wall might be the most athletic of the three. Now I'm not sure I'd put Wall in the same category as LeBron, but if you haven't watched the Kentucky point guard play yet, you're missing out. Part of the reason I returned to blogging was I was watching the UNC-Kentucky game from a few weeks ago and Wall literally had a sequence of plays that were so mind blowing that I was yelling in an empty apartment. Seriously, watch the youtube clip of it:

What's funny is that clip doesn't even include the disgustingly awesome alley oop he threw to Patrick Patterson immediately following that TV timeout. But when I watched all this live, I needed to tell someone about this kid. I looked over at my laptop and longed for the days when I could walk over, put down my thoughts, and then feel satisfied about getting my opinion off my chest. At the time, I thought I was discovering something, but judging from LeBron's "he's gonna be the No. 1 pick in the draft" comments this week, the secret's already out on this superstar-in-the-making.

The highlights make it plain and simple, Wall has skills and talents well beyond his 18 years. Maybe his first step is a millisecond slower than Derrick Rose's, but it's pretty clear hes already a better shooter than Rose. And even just watching that minute-and-a-half youtube clip, you can see he's got those point guard instincts, like knowing when to speed up and slow down. But I wanted to know ... how does he compare to other one-and-done freshmen that we've seen in recent years? So I decided to compare him with Rose and Carmelo Anthony, in my opinion the two best freshmen we've seen at the college level in the last decade (Greg Oden should be in the discussion as well, but I think it's too hard to compare stats between perimeter and interior players).

I'm not talking shooting percentage, points per game, rebounds, assists, not any of that stuff. That's all dependant on minutes played and how often someone has the ball in their hands. I wanted this comparisan to be about efficiency, specifically offensive efficiency, because we all know 'Melo had the ball every possession and was clearly the best player on that 2002 'Cuse team, Hakim Warrick notwithstanding. DRose had a talented group around him led by Chris Douglas-Roberts, and I would say Wall has the same with Patterson and a couple other of Calipari's too cool for school crew. So I settled on three very specific statistics, two of which you might not be familiar with.

1) Offensive Rating: A mathematical formula that not only takes into account how many points a player scores, but how many possessions/shots it takes them to get those points. In layman's terms, it's kinda sort of similar to a QB rating.
2) Effective Shooting Percentage: Another mathematical formula that takes into account that 3-point field goals are worth more than two-pointers — much more reliable to determine a shooter's range/efficiency than just regular field goal percentage
3) Assist/Turnover Ratio: Self explanatory

Well here's how they shake out:

Carmelo Anthony
Offensive Rating: 113.4
eFG%: 49.8
A/T Ratio: 1.0

Derrick Rose
Offensive Rating:112.1
eFG%: 51.7
A/T Ratio: 1.8

John Wall
Offensive Rating: 116.9
eFG%: 57.5
A/T Ratio: 1.6

Now I know Wall only has a nine-game sample here, but I would argue his stats have come against arguably the toughest schedule in the country. Kentucky has already beaten UNC, Stanford, UCONN, and Indiana this year. With all that said, draw your own conclusions about the player who is already the clear cut No. 1 pick in next June's NBA Draft. If you haven't seen him play yet, set aside next Monday night. Wall and the Wildcats are taking on Drexel on ESPNU.

UPDATE: I realized when comparing Wall to one-and-done guys, I failed to mention Kevin Durant, perhaps the most prolific (in terms of scoring) to grace the college game this decade. His stats ... well Wall's ahead of his stats, so far.

Kevin Durant
Offensive Rating: 116.8
A/T Ratio: 0.5

I'm back and better than ever

What's going on out there in the blogosphere? Seems like a long time since we last spoke. Actually 192 days to be exact. That was when I posted a semi-absurd post about North Korea being a threat to America on June 5. I hate dissing myself, but duh?

A lot has changed in my life since then, though. I went from being an overworked sports editor at a weekly newspaper in Northern Virginia to an up-and-coming sports reporter at the Washington Post. On top of all that, I'm also the back-up writer covering the Washington Capitals these days, filling in when the Post's beat writer needs a day off. And I still write for the Express, the Post's free metro daily that people often read on their way to work. They've got me doing the Capitals, a little Georgetown basketball, and some other random college stuff (for instance I was all over that Army-Navy game this past weekend).

Perhaps the biggest development in my career, though, was my first big time feature in the Post. It chronicled the relationship between former Washington Capital Rod Langway and his 16-year-old daughter. It was a big time front page article in the Post sports section and got a lot of attention — both positive and negative — here in the D.C. area. Lots of people read it, some loved it, some hated it, but hopefully it's the jumpstart I needed at the Post.

So to all the naysayers out there, some would say I'm a real live journalist now. But the new gig has left me wanting to express myself more, my thoughts about things unrelated to high school sports -- because even though I've got all that other stuff going on, the preps scene is still my bread and butter. So I've returned to the blog. I've had daydreams of this blog turning into a must read, and the only way to do that is go head first, 100 percent, and update content on a daily basis, not every three day basis. So that's what I'm shooting for.

Hope you enjoy Sports and Life Ramblings, the Relaunch.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Al Gore to the Rescue?

If you've been paying attention to the news cycle lately, it has gone from Sotomayor to GM to the Middle East. And it has been all the rage to talk about our President's strong words concerning a two-state resolution to the long standing Israeli-Palestine issue. 

Well, I'm here to tell you who we really should be focusing on right now. Remember the country that has now defied world law by testing two nuclear weapons in the past two and a half months? North Korea is the biggest threat right now. They actually have nukes and they at least know how to aim them well enough to fall smack dab in the middle of nowhere. Don't me wrong, it's great that President Obama is in the Middle East, pontificating as only he can on "new beginnings." But while everyone has been worried about the possibility Iran could possibly in the near future build a nuclear bomb even though they haven't yet and in actuality have been so brainwashed into the idea that they actually matter, they really aren't an issue any more. Don't believe me? Read this

At a conference of families of shahids (martyrs) in Qazvin, northern Iran, Ahmadinejad said that "as a major power, Iran is playing a leading role in the global decision-making process." He said that Iran is "the final victor in all topics on the agenda," and that as long as the Iranian nation obeys Islam and Islamic religious law, it will accomplish its goals.

During his April 2009 visit to China, Ahmadinejad's vice president Parviz Davoudi reiterated Ahmadinejad's statements, saying that in his estimation, "the U.S. is coming to terms with Iran being nuclear, since it already came to terms with Iran's nuclearization process, and [Iran is] now worthy to discuss important global issues together with the 5+1." Basij commander Hossein Taab said that following the fall of the Soviet Union, only two powers remain in the world - the U.S. and Iran - and both want to lead the world. He added, "The U.S. has military strength, but cannot pull the trigger."

Basically they're crazy, but it looks like the U.S. at least has them crazy with gratification that they're being allowed to sit at the dinner table with the grownups. Hooray for big people food!

That's why it makes it even more ridiculous that we've lost focus on North Korea. It took a half an hour for CNN to get to the news about the two American journalists that are facing trial in North Korea right now. And Al Gore might be coming to save the day. Not sure if he has a cape.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for Gore's California-based Current TV, were arrested March 17 near the North Korean border while on a reporting trip to China on charges they entered the country illegally and engaged in "hostile acts" — allegations that could draw a 10-year sentence in a labor camp. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly did not rule out the possibility of Gore being sent when asked if it would make sense for him to go.

"It's a very, very sensitive issue, I'm not going to go into it," Kelly told reporters. "This is such a sensitive issue, I'm just not going to go into those kinds of discussions that we may or may not have had," he said about whether Gore himself had raised the matter with the State Department. "The bottom line is that these two young women should be released but I'm not going to go into any kind of details on what we will or won't do," Kelly said.

This is the battleground area. Remember how Al Gore was the guy who got the clock moving so to speak on Capital Hill concerning all that environmental stuff. He's about to do that with North Korea. Just look up North Korea in google news. In the past week the trial for the journalists began, which was applauded by secretary of state Hilary Clinton. But nobody asked at the press conference whether the U.S. had anybody there. Because after almost two days of supposed "trial", there ain't any news coming out of North Korea. They're silent. Seriously, the President's foreign policy might be kind of off. The word is that he's already increased units in Afghanistan to go after the Tally Ban. Well, he might have himself a full fledged conflict (I don't want to use war before I'm ready) in North Korea in the next couple months. Just in the past week, this has happened:

The joint command for the 28,500 U.S. troops that support South Korea's 670,000 soldiers raised its alert a notch to signify a serious threat from the North, the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff said. In a statement, its foreign ministry said action would be 'inevitable' in the face of what it called 'further provocation'. In Washington, the U.S. Army's top officer, General George Casey, said he was confident the country could fight a war against North Korea if necessary, despite continuing conflicts elsewhere

Beware of Kim Jong Il, although he did name his son the successor this week. Rumor has it Kim Jong had a stroke last year and hasn't been the same since.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

GM's Bankrupt and It Doesn't Make Much Sense

I was somewhat happy when I picked up the paper Monday morning to read about President Obama's plan to put GM into bankruptcy. No, not because it solved the longstanding issue of what exactly the government was going to do with these car companies. I was really just relieved I didn't have to read more about new Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayer. Seriously, talk about overkill for someone replacing a judge like David Souter, who pretty much always voted with the court's liberal wing, meaning there really isn't much in the ways of a shift of power on the high court.

But now that I've read more about this GM takeover business, I wish we were still talking about petty grievances about a judge using life experiences to explain her point of view more clearly (as a sidenote, all these Republican commentators need to take a step back and actually read Sotomayer's decision before crucifying her for saying a Latino woman might know more about life than a rich white aristocrat. If they did, they'd learn a whole lot more about the judge than by attacking her. Did she use a poor choice of words? Probably. Is she unfit to be a Supreme Court judge as a result? Probably not.)

But back to the GM bankruptcy. Now I'm not one of those people who think Obama shouldn't takeover flailing industries within our wayward economy. I voted for the guy and therefore put trust in him to make what he feels are the right decisions. But I did a double take when I saw these two portions of the much ballyhooed merger between car and state:

Under the proposed restructuring, about 60 percent of the new GM would be owned by the United States, about 12 percent by the governments of Canada and Ontario, a union health trust would own 17.5 percent, and the company's current bondholders would get 10 percent.

If that doesn't sound fishy to you, then maybe this will:
The government aims to make the automaker lean enough to turn a profit once U.S. auto sales return to 10 million vehicles a year. The sales rate is running below that. It topped 16 million during the credit boom.

Debate over the plan rippled across the nation yesterday as communities protested proposals to close or idle 17 GM plants and warehouses. About 2,000 dealerships will be shut down, as well. U.S. employment at the company is slated to shrink by 25,000, from about 88,000 to 63,000 next year.
So a chunk of our biggest and most famous homegrown automaker now belongs to Canada, the plan to get that chunk plus another much larger chunk for the American taxpayer involves making GM a player in the car industry again, and the plan to make GM a big time player again involves cutting some 25,000 American jobs during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. I know I've succumbed to Obama madness before, but I don't think I can stand here and just go, "Well Barack, Rahm, Timmy Geithner, and the gang know what they're doing, let's just let the cards fall as they may."

How does it make sense for the American government — and more importantly the American taxpayer — to give money towards eliminating more jobs? It's one thing if those jobs go by the wayside naturally, at the behest of a privately-owned GM, since, well, that's capitalism. Call me conservative, but I think this is needless nationalism. If we're gonna have jobs eliminated, why should the government prompt a certain amount. And frankly, not only is the government paying to discard jobs, it's paying that amount twice in the increase of unemployment payments that will inevitably come because of this.

Now Obama's admisitration is justifying a lot of this thanks to the recently approved merger of Fiat and bankrupt Chrysler that has made the gas guzzling makers of Jeep recognize the gas-saving ways of European cars. Apparently, they've just decided to ignore the laundry list of failed mega auto partnerships. Better yet, just take a look at the track record of mergers between the two companies the government's trying to save. GM and Fiat tried this merger thing in 2000, but quickly ended the arranged marriage in 2005. And Chrysler just finished a disastrous divorce with Daimler, a so called "match made in heaven" just like this new relationship with Fiat.

I'd love to hear how Obama explains this to the workers. Oh wait, he already did.
The administration also will dispatch eight Cabinet secretaries and other top officials to Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin this week to "discuss immediate ways the federal government is cutting through red tape to bring relief to auto communities and achieve long term economic revitalization," according to a White House statement.

Addressing the workers directly, Obama said there would be pain ahead but added that their sacrifices will ensure the future of the manufacturing base so that "all of our children can grow up in an America that still makes things, that still builds cars, that still strives for a better future."
Now I want to take you back to what I thought was a short, yet key statement from just a few short months ago at Obama's inauguration. He said, "The state of our economy calls for action: bold and swift. And we will act not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth." How is this laying the new foundation for growth. To me, it seems like Obama is just feeding a cow with hard earned (and by hard earned, I really mean the guy running the printing machine at the Bureau of Engraving just pressed the red button that reads "internet money") resources after it's been tipped over and badly beaten. You just gotta cut your losses, and the way to do that with GM is to allow it a death of natural, capitalistic causes.

Or better yet, instead of giving broad parameters of measures like "sending Cabinet secretaries to help cut through red tape to bring relief," which to me means high priced and high profile grief counselors, Obama should be presenting some concrete ideas to the American public. How about giving me some more specifics on these much bally-hooed public works projects.

Noted filmmaker and controversial liberal Michael Moore agrees and takes it a step further, when on the day of the announcement, he condemned the idea of saving GM, a quote that many news types ran: "Please, please, please don’t save GM so that a smaller version of it will simply do nothing more than build Chevys or Cadillacs. This is not a long-term solution. Don’t throw bad money into a company whose tailpipe is malfunctioning, causing a strange odor to fill the car."

But he also suggested some ideas that I'm not saying I agree with, but at least they're ideas. Click on the link to read them in full, but I'll give you a rundown to close out the post:

1) "Just as President Roosevelt did after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the President must tell the nation that we are at war and we must immediately convert our auto factories to factories that build mass transit vehicles and alternative energy devices."
2) "Don’t put another $30 billion into the coffers of GM to build cars. Instead, use that money to keep the current workforce — and most of those who have been laid off — employed so that they can build the new modes of 21st century transportation. Let them start the conversion work now."
3) "Announce that we will have bullet trains criss-crossing this country in the next five years. ... Let’s hire the unemployed to build the new high speed lines all over the country."
4) "Initiate a program to put light rail mass transit lines in all our large and medium-sized cities. Build those trains in the GM factories."
5) "For people in rural areas not served by the train lines, have the GM plants produce energy efficient clean buses."
6) "Transform some of the empty GM factories to facilities that build windmills, solar panels and other means of alternate forms of energy."
7) "Provide tax incentives for those who travel by hybrid car or bus or train. Also, credits for those who convert their home to alternative energy."
8) "To help pay for this, impose a two-dollar tax on every gallon of gasoline."

As a driver of a 2004 Chevy Blazer that gets 15 miles a gallon, it saddens me to think my vehicle of choice will likely not be viable option for someone of my income status in a few years. My question to the Obama administration — and I'm sure many former GM workers want to know the same — will I even have an income status in a few years?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Vancouver 2010 Lights Up

Look at the above picture. What does it look like to you? I'm willing to bet your first answer wasn't the official torch of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. It certainly wasn't this lady from the Toronto Star's first guess. Via Deadspin:

All hail – or inhale – the 2010 Olympic Torch. Or, as it's jokingly known around Vancouver, the Olympic Toke. Composed of stainless steel, aluminum and sheet moulding, the torch was designed to evoke snow, ice, skiing and skating, but to many, the metre-long white torch looks suspiciously like a marijuana joint, especially when lit.

The observation has become so common in this city that it's hard to know who was the first to say, "Hey, doesn't that look like ..." But the torch's resemblance to British Columbia's biggest cash crop was evident right away to Jodie Emery, editor of Cannabis Culture magazine.

"A lot of people come to Vancouver because it's marijuana-friendly, so I think people who already enjoy a joint themselves will feel a little more kinship to the Olympics," said Emery. "I'm sure the organizers didn't intend for it to look like a joint, but that's what a lot of people are seeing."

Next thing you know, the big bag of pot from Harold and Kumar is gonna be the official mascot. Kinda like this:

Of course there would also have to be a superimposed graphic that read: "Vancouver 2010: Canada's Rocky Mountain High." And upon further research, since mascots are so important to the success of all major international sporting events, here are the actual Vancouver 2010 mascots. Think Hello Kitty meets Woodland Christmas critters from South Park with ridiculously non-sensical names just to spice things up a bit:

Monday, May 18, 2009

That Infield Audience? ... Yeah ... it's Gone

Preakness weekend came and went unceremoniously this year. As detailed previously on this blog, I had a formal ban against the thing with BYOB privileges taken away. Sounds like I wasn't alone:

They threw a hell of an infield party at Pimlico Race Course yesterday. Too bad nobody showed up. Normally, you have, what, 60,000 beered-up fans shoehorned into the infield for the Preakness? Saturday, there was a fraction of that. Saturday, you could have landed planes out there, it was so empty.

In one of the great Baltimore protests of all time, the sweltering masses rose up as one and thundered: You won't let us bring beer to your party? Fine, we won't show up at all. See how you like that.

The Maryland racing officials dug their own grave here The column later goes on to say how the powers that be for Pimlico estimated numbers as low as a few thousand people. Yes, they did have added perks like a concert and oxygen bars and other "sweet" entertainment options and even the an added bonus of a "Breakfast Special" so that from 8 am to 11 am it's dollar beers. Heck, TV ratings were even up 27 percent But it only disguises the real truth which is that the BYOB part of Preakness was the only real bargain of attending the race in the first place. Most drunks out there barely catch a glimpse of the horses, maybe bet on the big race. So essentially they've paid $50 to drink and a field and probably waste more money. Even if you're a hardcore gambler, you're still having to throw $50 just to have the right to give more of your money to the track.

And God forbid Pimlico officials appease their customer base a little bit here. They're track has been called a "sinking ship" as far back as this 2005 article. In recent months, the Maryland government took steps to ensure Preakness remains in the state, but there's no denying some serious financial and viability issues that aren't looking any rosier following a less than phenomenally attended Triple Crown race this past weekend.

(Pimlico's) owners had to file for bankruptcy earlier this year. Magna Entertainment Corporation now has to sell Pimlico racetrack and its other assets to stay alive. Even leaving aside the bankruptcy, Pimlico racetrack is hitting hard times. Attendance has been down at the Preakness Stakes, though more than 100,000 fans still attend every year. Controversy has erupted over plans to put in slots at Pimlico, as a way to raise money. And efforts by Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley to have the state control Pimlico, in order to keep the Preakness, have raised even more eyebrows.

But hey, on the bright side I guess it was kind of cool that a girl horse won the race for the first time in a long time. The headline in the Washington Post was "Girl Power: 'Rachel' Wins. I wonder how much this gender-breaking victory will actually resonate in the horse community. Will there be new leagues developed, almost like the WNBA of horse racing, Triple Crown races that emphasize the fundamentals and whose biggest fan is Rosie O'Donnell?

Just for old time's sake, one last "infield in all its glory" shot.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Some Shady Dealings in Grand Forks

One of the most fascinating things about North Dakota is the sheer distance between things there. Although I must admit before I start this, I have limited views into the psyche of the Flickertail State (no joke, that's straight from Wikipedia). My experience there consists of a wild two-day road trip from Ann Arbor to Grand Forks. Myself and several Daily folk — 4 other dudes, a Ford Taurus, and a cheap motel, not exactly roomy accommodations — were covering Michigan's 2006 NCAA Tournament game against North Dakota.

We had decided to drive through the night and arrive in Grand Forks late morning time so we could nap before the night's game. So we were cruising through Fargo around 9 a.m. when we made our final pit stop of the morning. I remember asking someone there how far it was to get to Grand Forks because at this point I was expecting some one-lane nothing road since I had never been in this state.

This person, sorry don't remember what he looked like, responded, "Oh, you're pretty close. Just up such and such highway a bit." For some reason after 80 miles of driving 90 mph, speeds that were understandable since we had just come 16-hours for a hockey game, I had this weird fixation on the fellow in the gas station who had told me we were "pretty close" even if it meant in the neighborhood of 55 more minutes of driving (let me know if my math is off here, I'm pretty sure that's how long 80 miles of 90 mph takes you). Call me obsessive, but Gettysburg is around 80 miles from Washington, D.C. I don't go around flinging ridiculous statements like, "Yeah, Gettysburg, just up the road," insinuating to random folk looking for answers that I'm a few exits away.

So how does this have anything to do with your life? Well, it seems this incident of peculiar North Dakotan behavior is not singular. See, I was reminded of this trip to North Dakota because Friday North Dakota's Board of Higher Education agreed to drop the Fighting Sioux nickname for the University of North Dakota after a decades-long squabble. And let me tell you, that weird, peculiar, and oddly fascinating misjudgement of distance that I think of from my only adventure into North Dakota was just the beginning. Maybe I'm just being a muckracking journalist, like one wise, yet wifed up amigo has suggested of late, but I think there might be something fishy going on in the state that produced ironcally zen-like characters such as Chuck Klosterman and Phil Jackson.

So why do I think this? Well, when we finally arrived in Grand Forks, we went to the home of North Dakota hockey, Ralph Engelstad Arena to pick up our credentials for the game that night. Now the week leading up to the tournament, the few journalist-types that follow Michigan hockey on a regular basis had been getting lectures from coach Red Berenson about how one summer on his annual road trip to his hometown of Saskatchewan, he stopped in Grand Forks and got a formal tour of this hockey palace. He opined about the "cherry wood chairs" and the "marble floors." So why is it a hockey palace? This official website describes it pretty succinctly.

All concourse floors are granite, each seat is constructed of leather and cherry wood, and there are 48 full luxury suites, two mini suites, and two enormous club rooms featuring the longest freestanding bars in the state. The training facility features a 10,000 sq. ft. weight room and underwater treadmill, fourteen locker rooms, the extra Olympic Sheet of Ice, and with the addition of the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center for the basketball and volleyball programs, what you have is more than a world-class facility; you have the Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Or better yet, thanks to the wonders of the internet, I can show you what Berenson told Daily superstar H. Jose Bosch in a story right before we left for Grand Forks that year:

Yesterday morning, while talking to reporters, Berenson raved about Ralph Engelstad Arena, the location of the Wolverines' regional. He mentioned the imported leather lining every seat and the grand marble floors of the arena.

That's the lobby.

Here's the inside.

Here's the thing, though, and this has been written about extensively, but this palace of hockey was built from a $100+ million donation courtesy of Ralph Engelstad, and well, he's not a fan of people who want to get rid of the Fighting Sioux logo. In the meantime, this mecca of hockey is in the process of being built with his money when this Fighting Sioux mascot controversy starts heating up again. Well guess what? Engelstad decides he wants his Fighting Sioux mascot so badly that he wrote a letter to ND President Charles Kuptchella elucidating that he was willing to call off this construction right in the middle of things, even if it means throwing $35 million down the drain:

If the logo and slogan are not approved by the above-mentioned date, I will then write a letter on December 30, 2000, to all contractors and to everybody associated with the arena, canceling their construction contracts for the completion of the arena. I am a man of my word, and I will see to it that a settlement is made with all subcontractors, with anyone who has purchased prepaid advertising. I will refund money to all ticket holders and abandon the project. It would then be left up to you if you want to complete it, with money from wherever you may be able to find it. I have spent, as of this time, in excess of $35 million, which I will consider a bad investment, but I will take my lumps and walk away.

Remember, this is the type of ridiculously classy structure that — and I say this not intending to just pile on our brothers and sisters in North Dakota — just doesn't ordinarily get built in a place like North Dakota. And to just show that he meant business with this letter, Engelstad ensured that every friggin seat and nearly every wall in that joint had a big ol' Fighting Sioux logo on it, making possible renovation in the future a tricky proposition with the recent decision to get rid of the mascot.

But wait, it all gets so much better when you know just what kind of character this Engelstad fellow is.

His other claim to fame ...On April 20 in 1986 and 1988, Engelstad hosted parties to celebrate Adolf Hitler's birthday at his casino in Las Vegas which featured bartenders in T-shirts reading "Adolf Hitler — European tour 1939-45. The room he held the party in happened to be his casino's top secret Nazi memorabilia room.

Now you would think all this ugly business would be coming to an end now that the Board has finally just decided to get rid of the mascot and well, Ralph Engelstad died in 2002. So the threat of kickass Ralph Engelstad Arena going bye bye kind of ... ummm ... passed. Still, though, a state school's defining facility, and quite frankly the whole state's defining facility, is funded by a Nazi lover (for the record, he did apologize for his pro-Nazi ways). Even more cooky ... they've got a statue of the guy up in the lobby. I saw it myself.

Call me crazy, but all of this recent news about the mascot being retired and such suggests to me that things have calmed down in North Dakota. But no, nothing's that simple when you've got shadiness involved.

In a referendum last month, residents of the Spirit Lake reservation voted more than 2 to 1 to keep the nickname. However, the vote was not binding on the tribal council, and ... a similar referendum on the Standing Rock reservation could not force the tribal council to endorse the nickname.

American Indian backers of the nickname, who have been campaigning on the reservations to garner support for it, asked the Board of Higher Education before Thursday’s vote to back the nickname and logo. Many residents of both reservations take pride in “Fighting Sioux,” they said. Sam Dupris, a Cheyenne River Sioux Indian who was hired by the Ralph Engelstad Arena to lobby for the name, said most pressure to dump the logo came from “a handful of irresponsible and uninformed malcontents from the reservation.”

That's a little more weird. They got rid of the logo and the mascot even though nobody really wanted it gone? Or did they? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON IN NORTH DAKOTA? And so to bring this long winded post about the great state of North Dakota, I'll leave you with the explanation of the decision from the side that apparently wanted to do away with the Fighting Sioux mascot in the first place.

Terms gave the University of North Dakota permission to continue using the nickname and logo if the school could get approval from the Standing Rock and Spirit Lake tribes by November 2010.

Ron His Horse Is Thunder, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and a fervent opponent of the nickname and logo, cheered the board's decision. "It's not an easy step," His Horse Is Thunder said. "And it is full of controversy. But I think every great step in this country was filled with controversy ... The civil rights movements in the '60s didn't happen with a whimper."

Honestly, I can't imagine what my reaction would be if I ever wrote a story and had to use the phrase "Ron His Horse is Thunder said." How could I not LOL right out of my chair. I totally respect Native American traditions and the odd, nature names are part of that, but you'd think that in the process of voting for chairman of a tribe the whole "if we let this guy speak for our tribe to the mainstream media, are people gonna take him seriously since his name isn't actually a name, it's more like a sentence?" conversation would have come up at some point.

Now as a sidenote on the memorable road trip to this mecca of hockey — and if you've come this far reading about North Dakota stuff I gotta get a plug of the stuff I actually write for a living in here — later that night I would witness the greatest college hockey upset of all time when Holy Cross beat Minnesota in the first round. I used this to my benefit earlier this fall when I met a dude who happened to be one of the better players on that Holy Cross team while watching a girl's field hockey game I was mercifully covering. We connected through our general disdain for girls' sports (he was there because his Mom and Dad coach the high school team together, which is what I wrote about that night. From talking to this guy, James "Bubba" Sixsmith, I learned he was currently toiling away in the minor leagues and I ended up writing what I consider a fairly interesting story based off that.

Making this one random excursion to the great state of North Dakota even more absurd was when we left the Ralph after picking up those credentials and falling into a stupor over the grandiose of what I must admit is probably the nicest arena I've ever stepped foot in, the Ford Taurus wasn't in mint condition anymore. Someone had hit n' run our car. The real kicker in all this ... we had literally parked in a basically empty arena lot. It was 5 or 6 hours before faceoff. Some North Dakotan had nailed the bumper of this poor Ford Taurus that had just endured a 16-hour marathon drive with five random dudes and he/she had done it when they could have parked an 18-wheeler lengthwise over 15 spots and still not come close to even scraping a car. Long story short, we called the ND campus police since this was a University of Michigan vehicle and none of us wanted to pay for the damage. We had a giant dent in this car and it was really annoying.

So there you have it, too many instances of weirdness relating to North Dakota to overlook. You've got the guy who somehow thought Fargo and Grand Forks are "pretty close," the Nazi loving millionaire, a tribe that elects a run-on sentence as its leader, and the worst parkers since a friend of mine in high school made his New Year's resolution was to execute every park job in one turn for a whole year.

As chance would have it, this guy is also a wise, yet wifed up amigo of mine (I'm hoping that line gives this a full circle feel, but I don't know if it worked so I added the extra parentheses for some real closure).