Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Let's Get DUKED UP!

That's a new catch phrase I'm trying to start. Do you guys think it'll stick? Picture this awesome scenario:

Parking lot, Cameron Indoor Stadium, I walk up to a crowd of despondent Duke alumni.

Me: Yo everyone, why the long faces?

Them: We're playing a really good team. We have no chance. Life is sad.

Me: Looks like somebody needs to get....DUKED UP!

Background cheers as a huge party truck roars up, painted Duke blue, and Duke cheerleaders jump out of the back carrying banners and pennants and handing out blue body paint and blue kool-aid as everyone gets Duked Up for the big game.


Here's how that would actually go, in the real world of real Duke alumni.

Me: Yo everyone, why the long faces?

Them: Hey bro, no offense, but this party's sorta exclusive.

Me: What? We're in a parking lot.

Them: Bro, be cool. We don't want to have to say it again.

Me: Why are you guys all wearing madras and paisley?

Them: Why are you still here, FAG?

Me: There's supposed to be this truck...


Anyway, I'll be getting Duked up tonight, except with a significant caveat:

Even though I have tickets, I will not be going to the game.

Does this make me a bad fan? It may be my last chance to see the Devils this year, but the game doesn't start til 9:30, and I have a flight out of NYC at 7:30 the next morning (wake-up time = 5:00 am). Sleeping on planes is basically impossible for me, so I've decided to skip the game, watch it on tv, and go to sleep right after rather than come home at 1 am and try to catch whatever Zs are still skittering about.

This probably makes me a bad fan. PS, if anyone wants two cheap tickets to tonight's game ($20 total), get in touch.

Okay, so, as mentioned before I'll be in St. Thomas for the next few days. No more blogs until one week from this morning, on Wednesday the 2nd. That being said, here are some sporting events to anticipate in the next few days:

*DUKE-ASU! DUKE-UCONN! The former happens tonight, the latter happens Friday if both teams win. I'm ridiculously excited to watch us take on a legitimate team. I'm predicting Nolan puts up 18 tonight and 26 tomorrow, with close to 10 assists in each, and gets tourney MVP.

*Alabama-Auburn in the Iron Bowl on Friday, and Florida-FSU Saturday. The Gators and the Tide are already set to meet in what will be the regular season game of the decade (yes, decade) next weekend, but these tune-ups should be a lot of fun. Not only are the rivalries ancient and fierce and whatever else; I feel like both teams will be playing with something to prove, to show that they're the stronger club going into the SEC title game.

*Saturday is actually stacked with great football. I'm a dude who loves the old rivalries, and this weekend brings us: USC-UCLA, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Oklahoma St.-Oklahoma, Arkansas-LSU, Virginia Tech-Virginia, Clemson-South Carolina, and Utah-BYU. In the non-rivalry category, Notre Dame-Stanford should be a pretty fun game. Will the Irish take orders from Weis, or will they look across the field and obey next year's coach, Jim Harbaugh?

PS, Clemson is a really, really good team. They're only ranked 23rd because of three early losses, but they've now reeled off six straight wins against some quality opponents. And take a look at those three early losses: 30-27 against Georgia Tech (top ten team), 14-10 against TCU (undefeated, #4 in the country), and 24-21 against Maryland (national champions in basketball, 2002). Okay, so the Maryland one is rough, but aside from that, those are some tough losses to great teams. They play Tech again in the ACC Championship next weekend, and it may be the first time I've looked forward to that particular title clash...ever? Yes, ever.

*Giants-Broncos Thursday night. A few weeks ago, this match-up gave me the willies. Now? I'll be hugely surprised if we don't win by like 30. Denver is a living example of the classic gut-wrenching fade-out. At 6-0, we the fans had to endure story after story about their boy wonder coach and the team's heart and blah blah blah. Then they lost 3 straight, and it was pretty bad, but they still had that "we have to make a stand" game left against San Diego. Win, the ship is righted and playoff chances look okay. Lose, the Chargers grab the division lead, and the long, awful slide continues, except this time without hope. Result: 32-3 Chargers. In Denver. A total drubbing.

Meanwhile, the Giants had the same situation against Atlanta. After four losses, they risked falling to .500 and losing their puncher's chance at the NFC East title. They squeaked out an OT win, and now may be poised to shift the momentum entirely. I don't care that Thursday's game is in Denver, I don't care about the short week, and I don't care about the altitude. Both teams are 6-4, but the mental states are diametrically opposed. This will be a walk in the park.

PSS, what's the etiquette about watching a ton of football while on vacation in some place exotic and warm? Since it's the Thanksgiving holiday, it's basically accepted, right? Are people going to make me feel guilty if I'm not on the beach all the time? I like the beach, don't get me wrong, but not as much as your average bear. I love the smell, mostly, and the lulling sound of waves. I love things like breezy early morning jogs on the hard part of the sand near the water. I like body surfing. But roasting in the midday sun on a supposedly 'comfortable' lawn chair gives me a sort of unpleasant, over-heated feeling. It's my Northern Euro blood in revolt. I can take it for short periods, but any more and I risk being incapacitated by sun fatigue.

So, is it cool to veg out and be a sports fan? My girlfriend isn't coming, which I'm sad about, but it also means she won't be there to get annoyed with me. I feel like I have carte blanche to find a television and splay out. And to be fair, my schedule is jam packed:

Thursday: Giants-Falcons at night (do they get NFL network in St. Thomas? PANIC!)
Friday: Bama-Auburn daytime, Duke-UConn night (and maybe some Pitt-WVU as well)
Saturday: FOOTBALL BOWWOWOWWOW DROOLLLLLL
Sunday: Free day! Family, beach, fun! NFL? Hey, if it's there, who knows?!!!
Monday: PATRIOTS-SAINTS. Holy crap, what a game.
Tuesday: Fly home.

Expect me to be disowned by about 2:37pm Saturday.

BONUS THING: Tuesday night, the ACC-Big Ten Showdown Throwdown (or whatever it's called) starts. Duke doesn't play until Wednesday, but UNC takes on Michigan State Tuesday in a rematch of last year's title game. It'll be a good early measuring stick for both clubs, and in a roundabout way it should also tell us even more about this mysterious and enticing Syracuse team, who have looked pretty amazing to date.

Okay. I think that about covers it, my friends. Please get absolutely stuffed on sundry foodstuffs, but don't let the trytophan keep you from enjoying the even vaster athletic feast laid out in high definition. Sportsgiving is here again!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Caribbean Ideas

It's now t-minus 2 days until I hop on a plane and jet-set to the splendid little Virgin Island called St. Thomas for a few days of respite. In the lead-up, it's difficult to focus on sports, especially when nothing is really happening at the moment. I'm also a day away from seeing the #7 Blue Devils live and in person when they take on Arizona State at the Garden. So I've got a couple things on the horizon.

For now, though, I'm tired and running in place, and so is the sports world. I'm afraid that's about all I have on offer today. Refueling is in order! Or at least a wind-up...

Monday, November 23, 2009

It's Party Tynes!

While trying desperately to blow another game with miserable defense and craven late-game playcalling, the Giants accidentally beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-31. Lawrence Tynes kicked the game-winning field goal from 36 yards out in overtime, and our five weeks of hell are finally over.

(The title of this post comes courtesy of my former roommate, a Chiefs fan. Tynes used to wear Kansas City red, and legend has it that he was so unreliable (gasp!) that whenever he came out to try for three, the half-nervous, half-fatalistic cry among the fans was 'It's party Tynes!')

(I can't remember if I've told that story in this blog before. Probably. Sorry. Please, let me make it up to you:


)

Good news:

1) Eli and the offense looked pretty great. We finally opened up the downfield passing game, and the receivers proved they can do more than catch bubble screens and quick three-yard slants.

2) We play Denver on Thanksgiving, and after a 6-0 start, they suck. Bad. Yesterday, the Chargers ran them off their home field to the tune of 32-3, taking first place in the west. I don't imagine they'll be relinquishing that spot.

Bad news:

1) After a decent beginning, the defense collapsed like a dude with tinderstick legs. At 31-17 in the 4th, you could start to see the momentum shifting, and it got frightening. Osi and Tuck got tired on the ends, the pressure all but vanished, and Matt Ryan started treating our secondary like a prom king treats the janitor's kid when they run into each other at the Dairy Queen. You hear what I'm saying.

2) And this was COMPOUNDED by the fact that fucking Kevin Gilbride, our offensive coordinator (get it?), has this clause in his playbook:

Clause: Lo, and if thou should gather such leads as persist into quarter the fourth, abandon thy tactics which heretofore have garnered many a point, and trust instead in hitch screens, draws, and other fanciful ploys which involve much movement behind the line of scrimmage.

Yo, Kevin. You've scored 31 points because nobody can cover anyone and Eli's hand is so hot he won't be able to make love to his wife normally for a week. GO DOWNFIELD. GO DOWN THE @#$#ING FIELD. OTHERWISE YOU'RE CONCEDING THE GAME.

Anyway. Philly won, Dallas won, so we gained a bit of ground in the wild card but not much else. It's a good win, though, and maybe the momentum carries us to a couple more. Who the hell knows...this is the NFL.

The Dukies played on Saturday, and hit a ridiculous 18 three-pointers while decimating the Radford Highlanders 104-67. Andre Dawkins, our best freshman, hit 6 by himself. Nolan and Scheyer added 4 each, and Singler got 3.

Finally, a Duke team that can score in a variety of ways!

Just kidding. Apparently Radford went into a zone, and couldn't guard the 3 at all, so they took what was given. I don't mind. I hope we don't get addicted to the downtown scene to the detriment of slashing and (gulp) post play, but yeah, if a defense wants to pack it in, bombs away.

I'm chomping at the bit to see these guys Wednesday at MSG. We're taking on Arizona State (coached by former Packie Herb Sendek) in the semis of the NIT Tip-Off, and we'll probably face UConn if we win. Sadly, I won't be able to share my wacky perspective on those games until next Wednesday, since I'm heading out for Thanksgiving vacation (St. Thomas, baby, U.S. Virgin Islands...nothing but virgins as far as the eye can see, if I understand the name correctly!) Thursday morn and won't be back until late Tuesday the following week.

Luckily, I will be here for you the next two days. And we're going to have fun, like that common memory we all share of something fun we did as children, like jumping on a trampoline or playing with an unlikely toy on a day we all thought would be boring. Today is Monday; love your mortal coils.

Friday, November 20, 2009

LATE POST SHORT POST GREAT POST? POOR POST!

Sorry fellas and ladies, came in late to work today due to a little of the old belly sick, and now I'm swamped and have no time to write. So, quickly:

*I have seen the enemy, and they are good. At least while I'm there. UNC beat Ohio St. by 4 at Madison Square Garden, but they looked like the dominant team for three quarters of the game. The Heels were up 16 with 10:35 left, and that's when I took off. Then Ohio St. came roaring back and got within 2, apparently.

But anyway, I thought UNC looked pretty solid and poised. Syracuse decimated Cal in the early game, and that was probably a bit more fun to watch. Tonight at 7, Cuse and UNC play in the championship (it's the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, by the dubs)...should be a very good game. I won't see it, because I'll be watching my hero's newest movie, The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

*That's honestly all I can write today. Believe me, I know this is not cool. I'm already chastened.

Oh, and CONGRATULATIONS to a dude up north the papers call Special K for making the varsity squad as a freshman. You know who you are, homes! He and his older brother will be burning a trail through the Champlain Valley this winter. Believe me, it won't be pretty; if you thought Sherman was bad, close your eyes and ears for about four months.

It's a football weekend. Giants beat Atlanta 24-13.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Irish Get Screwed Again


No World Cup for poor Ireland, and it happened in typical fashion: in the second leg of a two-match "tie" (soccer terminology) with France, winner goes to South Africa, they scored a pivotal away goal to even the series. 90 minutes passed, and the match went into extra time. If it reached 120 minutes with neither team scoring a goal, it would have gone to penalty kicks (I think). But in the 103rd minute, French striker Thierry Henry received a pass and sent it across the box, where it was headed in by William Gallas. Two problems:

1) The French were offsides.

2) More pressingly, Henry used his hand to corral the ball before touching it on. This, in soccer, is against the rules.

But the goal counted, the Irish couldn't answer, and France made the World Cup by an aggregate 2-1 score.

I love this line from the article:

They (the Irish) exit the tournament with their dignity intact, though...

Of course they do! This is Ireland! You don't think they expected something like this? Here's an actual 'thought diary' of every Irish fan and player, taken straight from the extra session:

102nd minute: Hmmm, this is strange...at the moment, it seems as though we have a fair shot to win this match, and God and fate aren't conspiring to keep our people miserable, subjected, and second-class...

103rd minute: Ah, there we are.

This result should not surprise anyone. The Irish have been on the wrong side of history since the Vikings started getting curious about other people's things in the 8th century (see highly accurate illustration above). They continued getting screwed by the British, by Irish-Protestants, by extremist Irish-Catholics, and by their own potatoes. Then they sent all their people to America, where the established folks (former Brits, of course) thought it was a good idea to start a political party specifically to keep them from power (see: Know-Nothings) because they thought that instead of being poor and desperate, the Irish were actually sinister agents of the Pope. Later, the good guys found a foothold in the country and actually had a president elected. He got shot. Now the Irish line has become diluted all over America, except in Boston where the lovely lilting accent has been corrupted into some loud, yawping monstrosity, and all the people root for the wrong baseball team.

SO YEAH, WORLD, NOT ONLY DID WE FUCKING EXPECT THAT RESULT, WE EXPECTED HENRY TO ACTUALLY CATCH THE BALL, CARRY IT INTO THE GOAL, AND KICK THE GOALIE IN THE NUTS WHILE THE REFEREES HAD TEA WITH MARGARET THATCHER AND THE LINE JUDGE BURNED THE IRISH FLAG.

You'll notice I said "we" in the above paragraph, as though I'm Irish. Let me be clear: Team USA is my squad. I'm only Irish in the sense that a million other Americans are Irish, which is to say very little; some of our forebears came over from the country four or five generations ago, our blood has been mixed with various other tribes, and we've either never been to Ireland or visited for very short periods, but our homes are covered in Celtic trinkets, we get over-excited on St. Patrick's Day, we still have Irish last names, and there's a weird affinity with the motherland surpassed only by our Jewish brothers and sisters.

So I'm kinda pissed. Also, I didn't actually watch the game because it was during work. Also, I like Henry because a friend of mine when I studied abroad (IN DUBLIN!) got me rooting for Arsenal, and he was their stud at the time. So, whatever. But still, man. Erin go friggin' Bragh.

Other quick items:

*I'm sort of looking forward to this weekend's Jets-Patriots game in the way that a weirdo looks forward to a car wreck. Not only is Belichick pissed off about last week, and not only does he have an asshole's proclivity for running up the score; nope, he's also steamed at Rex Ryan for acting like the early Jets win over New England heralded the coming of a new glory. And now the Jets look like crap, and the Pats look pretty awesome. This might be the first time an NFL football team scores 100 points in a game.

*I may go scout the enemy tonight. #4 UNC plays #15 Ohio State and #24 Syracuse plays #12 California in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Madison Square Garden. I'll be sure to hurl some invective at Roy Williams from the cheap seats.

That's it for now. Still thinking about Nolan Smith's performance from Tuesday. Still pleased.

Here's the video of the blatant hand ball, which may be removed at any point due to copyright restrictions:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

In Nolan Time...

If last night is any indication of what we can expect from Nolan Smith this year, the NCAA better BUCKLE THE F%*& UP.


After being suspended for the first two games because he played in an unsanctioned summer league, Nolan came out gangbusters last night, scoring 24 points and playing an aggressive, slashing style that trumps anything we've seen from him so far. His 24 points were a career high, and he did it in relentless fashion, starting with the first possession of the game. The dude had something to prove, and he made no bones about it. For those of us who know how crucial he is to the success of this year's team, it was a beautiful performance to watch.

This is really, really terrific news. I struck a somewhat pessimistic tone in my preview last Friday, but if Nolan plays like this, we will be much better than I thought. As I mentioned, Scheyer is a competent point guard who will be somewhat stifled against the best defenses because of his average quickness. But he's an excellent shooting guard, and Nolan Smith, who has the motor and quickness and point guard ability Scheyer lacks, can free him from the claustrophobia of floor leader and let him blossom off the ball.

It was just a matter of whether Nolan (I prefer calling him 'Nolan' instead of 'Smith,' which sounds too generic...I don't mean to imply I'm on a first name basis, even though he and I have lunch together every Tuesday at the VFW) could assume that role. Before the season and after the first two games, Coach K asserted that in practice, he'd looked "not just good...great." But you never know whether to take that at face value, or what. Fans got the first part of their answer last night, though; the potential is there.

He always had the talent, and yesterday he had the fire. There are certain positions in sports where you can't get away with not being a badass. Point guard in basketball is one of them. That doesn't mean you have to be a gloating primadonna, or a poor sport, but it does mean you have to be utterly confident and play every game with something to prove. The kind of responsibility a point guard shoulders demands a certain type of arrogance, and previously Nolan had seemed too timid, too retreating. Against Charlotte, you started to see some personality. A great sign.

Of course, "against Charlotte" is a key factoid. It's not like he was running amok in the Deandome or anything. But I'm still excited; he's clearly worked like a dog in the offseason, and my gut tells me his shrinking violet days are over.

By the way, here's a great story about Nolan and his dad from last year. Derek Smith was an NBA player who came from nothing, an illegitimate child from Georgia who became the quintessential 'hard worker' and played nine journeyman seasons in the NBA. When Nolan was eight years old, he and his dad were on a cruise ship (where Derek, then a coach for the Washington Bullets, was running a youth clinic) when the older man collapsed. He died of a heart attack with his son by his side, asking him to "wake up." Very sad stuff, and it's always made me read a certain portion of sadness into Nolan's quiet demeanor. I'm thrilled that he's on the verge of maturing into a great college player; it seems a lot like his destiny.

So, the last two Duke wins have been part of the preseason NIT tournament. I guess we've now won the East Regional, which means we'll be taking on Arizona State next Wednesday in...Madison Square Garden!! An early chance for me to see the Devils, and it comes as a complete surprise. Good, good stuff. UConn and LSU are the other semi-final.

Briefly, some other thoughts on last night's game:

*Scheyer and Singler look great. No surprises. At the moment, Coach K is going with a two-guard offense, meaning Nolan and Scheyer will share the point position. I think it's a great move, and if things go well I'd like to see an eventual transition to Nolan making the position his own.

*Coach K threw out a 3-2 zone in the second half last night, which I absolutely love. It seems like every three years or so, Syracuse manages to advance further than they have any right because of their zone defense. When done well, it can give even good teams big headaches; the only tried and true method to break it is by shooting, and that can come and go on any given night. It seems like no other teams have caught on, or they're just not interested in the novelty, or something. As an intermittent gimmick, I think this is a great call, especially with Singler and guys like Kelly and the Plumlees able to play the top wing positions.

*Andre Dawkins is a little unsure of himself at the moment. He has moments where he looks confident and able, but other times he's still finding himself on the court. Granted, we're only three games in, but I'd like to see a bit more assertive behavior. He's supposed to be someone who can penetrate with the best, and Coach K needs to loosen the reins.

*Ryan Kelly is going to be better than I thought. There's merit to my fears that he shies from contact and lacks bodily comfort in the paint, but he's not clumsy or too awkward. His development is very uncertain, but at least we're not looking at another Zoubek here.

*Brian Zoubek is still useless. Lance Thomas looks "competent," at best. Miles Plumlee had a nice game, and might be the most athletic of the three, but I still don't trust him against bigger, stronger front lines.

*All the sudden, I'm anxious about Mason Plumlee. If his wrist injury isn't serious, which was the speculation last night, I'm thinking he might be more useful than previously imagined. If he was truly slated for a starting role, above his brother and Thomas, he must be something more than a gangly freshman.

Reading over this post, I realize that after watching one game against inferior competition, I've completely abandoned myself to the optimism that strikes every single year. Crap. Crap. Crap.

Anyway, about the post title: there's this excellent band called "Mew," from Denmark. The leader singer, Jonas Bjerre, writes in English, but because his English wasn't always fantastic, the lyrics are more expressionistic than narrative or even poetic. The first line in that song is "In Nolan time sign, what does the mind cover?" I got kind of obsessed with them, and was lucky enough to conduct a very long, very fascinating (to me) interview with Jonas two years ago. I touched on this particular line:

A details question: In "Apocalypso," what is Nolan time?

Jonas: Apocalypso is about the fear of Death. I have a lot of anxieties; in fact I'm chock-full of them. And in recent years I have come to believe that they all derive from fear of dying. Many of my nightmares involve bodily malfunction and disintegration. When I was staying in LA recording the album I got this horrible tooth ache. I have a fear of dentists as well (so I take very good care of my teeth) and was trying to put it off, always keeping whiskey in my mouth, that sort of thing. But in the end I had to go and it was actually not such a bad experience. But the pain was pretty excruciating and the dentist was called Doctor Nolan. But in reality, I don't know why I'm even telling you this story because at that point the lyrics were already written and the name was just a coincidence. I guess I have no real explanation for it.

And I don't know why I'm telling you this, except that part of the function of my obsessive brain is that any word in the English language will remind me of a song. When I'm conversing with someone, and they say a trigger word like "holiday," little snippets of music will begin playing in my head, such as that whiny "and here's your holiday!" song by Blink-182. Don't worry: I'm not the obnoxious guy who immediately starts singing and is a total pain to have a conversation with. Nor am I unable to focus and listen. But inside, there's a soundtrack playing. Now, when I'm watching Duke basketball and Nolan Smith scores, the first line of "Apocalypso" starts playing as a sort of theme song. Sometimes I hum it, and if I'm alone I'll actually belt it out sometimes, since it's sort of a celebratory melody and seems to fit my enthusiasm.

And now, if possible, I would like to convey this madness, this curse, onto you.



Rough sports night this evening. Good luck making it through Wednesday.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

An Evening with Vladimir, and Credit Where It's Due


Last night, I missed Duke's 74-49 win against Coastal Carolina due to a prior engagement at the 92nd St. Y. There, to celebrate the posthumous release of Vladimir Nabokov's novel "The Original of Laura," Brian Boyd, Martin Amis, and a very funny book designer named Chip Kidd spoke about the master.

The basic story of this book: Nabokov died in 1977, by most accounts about halfway done with "The Original of Laura." His explicit instructions, since he was an extreme perfectionist, were that the unfinished novel should be destroyed in the event of his death. But his wife Vera and son Dmitri didn't comply, and for 20-odd years they waffled about the fate of the work. Finally, this year, Dmitri (who seems pretty...strange) decided to let it see the light of day. Hence last night's festivities.

The two best parts:

1) A recording of Nabokov reading his poem "The Ballad of Longwood Glen" in the very same room in 1964. Before beginning, he announces that Wyoming is his "favorite state in existence."

2) Martin Amis, the British novelist, giving an amazingly great presentation about Nabokov the tragedist.

Anyway, the point of this is that I was going to offer a link to the video, since the 92nd St. Y gave a live webcast last night, but apparently it's either not up or not being offered. Which means that I should find a nice segue to discussing Duke basketball, and the distinction Coach K deserves for his early season prowess, or else this whole post is a wash...

Much like the fastidious Nabokov perfecting an outline, Coach Mike Krzyzewski obsessively prepares his charges in the pre-season, inevitably resulting in strong openings whose luster only fades when the unruly masses reach equal form after the New Year...

Screw it. The point is this: I give Coach K a lot of shit, and will probably continue to do so throughout the year. But credit where it's due: he doesn't screw up in the easy games. Year after year, strong teams falter in the early going, losing questionable contests due to lack of organization and motivation. This doesn't happen at Duke. Going backward in time, here's the early track record, our highest ranking, the catch-up moment when the shine wore off, and the end tourney result:

2008-09: 18-1 start, only loss comes at Michigan in December.
Highest Ranking: #1.
Catch-up moment: Starting January 28, we face three ranked teams in a 2-week span, and drop all 3.
Tourney: Sweet 16 loss to Nova.

2007-08: 22-1 start, only loss in OT to #9 Pittsburgh over Christmas break.
Highest ranking: #2.
Catch-up moment: late February, two losses on the road to unranked Wake and Miami. Tourney: Second round loss to West Virginia.

2006-07: 13-1 start, only loss to #17 Marquette.
Highest ranking: #5.
Catch-up moment: January, and consecutive losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.
Tourney: First round loss to Virginia Commonwealth.

2005-06: 27-1 start (!), only loss at Georgetown in late January.
Highest ranking: #1.
Catch-up moment: two season ending losses to FSU and UNC.
Tourney result: Sweet 16 loss to LSU.

2004-05: 15-0 start.
Highest ranking: #2.
Catch-up moment: late January, losses to Maryland and Wake in a single week.
Tourney: Sweet 16 loss to Michigan State.

2003-04: 21-1 start, only loss to Purdue in 4th game of the year. This is the only "bad" loss in the early going I can find in the past 10 years.
Highest ranking: #1.
Catch-up moment: Consecutive road losses to NC State and Wake in mid-February.
Tourney: Final 4 loss to UConn.

2002-03: 12-0 start.
Highest ranking: #1.
Catch-up moment: Consecutive road losses to Maryland and NC State in late January.
Tourney: Sweet 16 at Kansas.

The year before that, I was a freshman and Jason Williams was the best player on the best team in the country. We lost a heartbreaking sweet 16 game to Indiana. The year before that, Battier and J-Will led us to the national title.

So, what does this prove? Coach K is a great early season coach. If you compile those admittedly arbitrary records, his 'early season' record over the last decade is 128-5. Arbitrary or not, lesser competition or not, that's pretty friggin' staggering. I guarantee no other program can match those numbers.

Unfortunately, it also shows that he's not a coach who can lead his team to a strong finish. As the season wears on, Duke fades. After all those strong beginnings, a top-5 ranking every year and four #1 appearances, we have only one final 4 appearance to show for it, and no national titles.

But this was meant to be a positive post, so: well done, Coach K. For all your faults, nobody will ever accuse your teams of being unprepared. They'll never fail for lack of effort. And you won't lose to the Coastal Carolinas of the world. There's something to be said for that.


Today's the day where ESPN shows games at all hours of the day. I didn't end up skipping work for it, though I already wish I had, but starting at 4pm this evening we'll have a chance to get a look at #22 Louisville, #20 Georgetown, #2 Michigan State, and #1 Kansas. Those with fancy sports packages can also check out UConn, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, all top 25. If you've been jonesing, it's a good day.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Harrison Barnes Hate Society (HBHS)

Okay, Harrison, you made your play. We see you. We see your #1 recruit status in the land of high school basketball. We see you cultivating an aura of mystery about which college you'll choose. We see you delaying the press conference revealing your choice until the last possible moment. We see the fanfare. We see the publicity. We see you choose THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS.


We see you, Harrison. And know this: you have chosen war.

BEGIN EASTERN EUROPEAN DICTATOR MODE:


THIS EES UNPARDONABLE INSULT! YOU ARE MAKING VERY INCORRECT CHOICE, MEESTER BARNES! I VILL CONQUER YOU UNTIL YOU HAVE FACE LIKE ASPHALT! WE WILL PAVE STREETS WITH YOUR IMAGE SO DRIVERS MAY TRAMPLE IDEA OF YOU WITH FURIOUS NATIONAL WHEELS! NOBODY MAY SPEAK YOUR NAME WITHOUT SPITTING! VIOLATORS SHALL BE PUT ON JAIL TRUCK FOR MINIMUM EIGHT HUNDRED YEARS! THE PEOPLE VILL USE YOUR NAME AS INGLORIOUS VERB! YOU WILL BE COMPARED TO THE WORST ANIMALS IN POPULAR LITERATURE!

END EASTERN EUROPEAN DICTATOR MODE.



That's Harrison. Man, UNC's recruiting class is just really, really good. Ours was pretty good too, but now it looks like second class all the way. The odds of us winning a title any time in the next four years just took a big hit. The worst part is the hope. Harrison, couldn't you have just revelaed your choice a while ago and spared us the heartache? Why did you have to take this one down to the last minute?

Answer: he wanted to make a story of himself. Well, let me amend that: he wanted to make an even bigger story of himself. What does this say about his character? Hard to say...by all accounts, he's a smart, nice kid who works really hard. But maybe there's some ego there, too. Of course, that's not always a bad thing...and yet, what if it's his fatal flaw, damning he and his school to decades of failure?

Am I just trying to find any flaw to make myself feel better? Perhaps, astute reader. Perhaps.

(Semi-related Editor's Note: Faithful reader Spenser e-mailed me over the weekend to note that in last Friday's post, further proving my rich sporting knowledge, I mistakenly referred to Duke center Brian Zoubek by the name "Greg." My apologies to anyone named "Greg Zoubek" for the unfortunate association.)

Moving on:

*Manny Pacquiao is a beast. The Filipino boxer beat Miguel Cotto on Saturday night to win his 7th title in as many weight classes, setting a new all-time record. He began his career fighting at like 102 pounds, or something, and last night he was at 144 to beat the talented Puerto Rican. He's ridiculously fast, ridiculously strong, and ridiculously smart. Everything about this guy's talent is ridiculous. Now, it looks like a fight with the Pretty Boy (Floyd Mayweather Jr.) is in the cards. Mayweather is the undefeated phenom (40-0) who never seems to even break a sweat, much less show any physical signs that another human being is trying to punch him. If and when these two clash, it will be the undisputed fight of the decade. I'm already psyched.

*The HOT PICK OF THE WEEKEND failed when Florida took care of business, defeating South Carolina 24-14. There was a time, though...it looked dicey. Kinda. (Skip a few steps of forced logic and justification) In conclusion, I'm counting the pick as successful.

*While watching that game, I decided to flip to the end of the Ohio State-Iowa game, and that little adventure reminded me why I hate the Big 10. With 2:30 left and the score tied, Ohio St. took possession with a chance to win. And what did Tressel do? Tried to run the clock out. The Horseshoe (OSU's stadium) serenaded him with boos, and the offense only managed to kill about 90 seconds before punting. Iowa took over on the 35 with a full minute to gain 35 yards and attempt a game-winning field goal. Kirk Ferentz, their coach, took advantage of Tressel's inexcusable caution and marched down the field with bold playcalling and won the game, securing a Big 10 Championship and a Rose Bowl berth.

Oh wait, that didn't happen. He ran the clock out. Then overtime happened, Iowa got the ball first, and ran the ball twice into the line. Their QB got sacked on third down, forcing them to go for it on 4th and 26, which failed. So OSU only needed a field goal to win...did they run Pryor on roll-outs, looking for quick strikes and running room to make sure that the FG was only a chip shot? Nope. Tressel ran the ball 3 times, gained no yards, and put his new kicker on the spot for a 43-yard field goal.

It happened to go in, and OSU won, but it was absolutely the most cowardly, horrible end to a game I've seen all year. The Big 10 is so friggin' boring...and the fans knew it. This is the first time in my life I've ever, ever heard a home crowd booing after their team just won a game in overtime and secured a conference championship. And Tressel deserved it. Unbelievable.

*On the flip side of the caution spectrum, ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Bill Fucking Belichick.


I'm still in utter shock about that call last night. To recap: up 34-28 with 2:08 left on the clock, the Pats faced a 4th-and-2 on their own 28 yard line. Now, I know the terminology can be confusing, so let me be absolutely clear: there were 72 yards between the Patriots and the end zone. "Their own" 28 means they were on the wrong side of the field. And Crazy Bill, God love him, went for it on 4th down.

It's an absolutely insane move. You have to punt there. Have to! But at the same time, going for it takes the kind of balls that you don't find in many other people. It's a badass thing to do; you're saying you have confidence in the offense, you know you're going to get the two yards, and conventional wisdom be damned because YOU'RE JUST THAT GOOD.

Well, it failed. Faulk's reception came up short, Indianapolis took over on their own 28, and Peyton Manning did his thing. Colts win 35-34.

Was it a stupid move? Yes, quite possibly. But then again, Peyton could have worked his magic even if they punted. And it was only two yards for a team that had put up 34 points already. I'm not going to try and defend the call, but I will absolutely give Belichick credit for not being afraid, and for considering all options. That's why the guy is the best coach in the game, and it's why New England is a strong Super Bowl contender here in week 10. This time he failed, but next time he might not. And he'll always be the aggressor; you'll never see Crazy Bill back on his heels. Tressel should take notes.

That has to be the best game of the year so far, right? I can't think of anything better. After all the hype, that finish was spectacular. It's hard not to imagine a re-match between these teams in the AFC title game.

*The Undefeated Watch: the year's more than halfway over, so we can legitimately start looking at the two teams with a shot to run the table.

Indianapolis: Currently 9-0. After last night's great escape, here's the rest of their schedule: Baltimore, Houston, Tennessee, Denver, Jacksonville, Jets, Buffalo. Obviously, every game in the NFL is a potential loss, and there are no gimmes, but of those 7 teams, only 3 have records above .500. Houston and Jacksonville are both 5-4, but far from worldbeaters, and Denver is 6-3 and fading fast. By my made-up math, the Colts have a...47% chance to go undefeated.

New Orleans: Barely beat the Rams yesterday to go 9-0. Despite some cupcakes in their remaining schedule (Buccaneers twice, Redskins, Panthers), they still have New England, Atlanta, and Dallas. Only the Falcons game is on the road, though. Still, that New England game in two weeks looks tough. Made-up math: the Saints have a....28% chance to go undefeated.

That's all for now. Another Monday rises from the weekend's ashes. Start piling your mental sandbags.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Silver Boys, Blue Boys, and I should Probably Stop Saying 'Boys' So Much

First off, big congrats again to Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, who each won a Silver Slugger award yesterday. Interestingly, in the 8 American League position categories shared by Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards (only SS awards to the best DH, only GG awards to the best pitcher), 6 went to the same player. Which can only lead to one logical conclusion: the best hitters are also the best fielders.

(Walks away whistling, content in the knowledge that he's thoroughly answered that question.)

And one more thing before I get into the Duke bball preview: a mini-tribute to Chad Ochocinco, nee Johnson, the Bengals receiver.


He's always sort of been in the periphery of my mind as a strange, very talented member of the arrogant receiver set, but it wasn't until yesterday that I realized how funny he actually is.

1) Two weeks ago, he sent gift baskets of deodorant to the Baltimore Ravens before their game.

2) This week, his coach had to actively stop him from sending packets of mustard to the Pittsburgh Steelers in advance of Sunday's game at Heinz field (because, you see, Heinz is a ketchup brand). To me, this is even more hilarious than the first gift, because it's based on a bad...play on words? I don't know. But I really hope the 'sending gift baskets' meme catches on with more players.

3) He changed his last name to 'Ochocinco.' Legally. An old story, yes, but worth recognizing again for its extreme quality. You can't help but admire a man who decides that a nickname isn't good enough, and that he actually needs to file the paperwork to make his rather ordinary last name (Johnson) into the Spanish version of his jersey number.

4) Other things he's done, via this website, which you should really visit just for the pictures: threw a terrible towel into the crowd after a win in Pittsburgh, took a Lambeau Leap after a touchdown in Green Bay, raced a horse (and lost) for charity, gave gifts from a Santa Claus bag following a touchdown during a Christmas Eve game, held up a sign to tv cameras reading "Dear NFL, PLEASE don't fine me AGAIN!!!!", celebrated a touchdown by using the orange endzone pylon like a golf club to 'putt' the football, took a leap into the crowd in Cleveland where the confused fans embraced him, riverdanced after a touchdown, and put this announcement on his twitter.

Keep living, Mr. Ochocinco! Keep on with your crazy living!


Okay:

Duke Basketball Preview.

Let's get (deep, restorative breath)....pumped.

First, hot off the presses, one of our starters is out with a broken wrist. His name is Mason Plumlee (younger brother of current Dukie Miles), and he looks like this:


I mean, what were the odds that someone with this body type would fall and break his wrist at practice against stronger players? 2-1? 1.5-1? Even money? Look at that picture. It should be captioned "this dude will break his wrist unless he never falls in his entire life." I hate to start the year out by going negative, but this injury is emblematic of a severe recruiting problem that's been plaguing Duke for some time, and which I've personally harped on ad nauseam. Namely:

A lot of guys we recruit are fucking wimps. Now, I promise this is the most extreme language I'll use, since we're talking about young fellas here who don't get paid for their work, but why avoid facts? By my count, we had three non-wimps last year; Singler, Henderson, and Elliot Williams. Hendo went pro, and E-Dubs transferred to Memphis to be closer to his ailing mother (I feel terrible for him, and am also quite sad to be losing such an exciting player). That leaves us with only Singler. Mason Plumlee, the twig pictured above, was actually going to start for us this year.

Not that he's not a good player. I mean, I actually think he won't be a good player, but I don't have the evidence yet to back this up. Still, regardless of his ability and height (6'10"), it's a sad commentary when a team has to start an inexperienced freshman with obvious strength issues.

Alright, let's take a look at the roster, beginning with the projected starters:

Kyle Singler, forward: I don't have a bad word to say about him. He was the only bright spot in our hugely embarrassing sweet-16 loss to Villanova, scoring 15 points on average shooting. And that was after the guards were completely nullified, and he had to operate against smothering defense without support. It'll be fun to watch Singler develop into a giant this year, and it's something I fully expect. Last season, he transformed from a skilled swingman with questionable toughness into a legitimate warrior, teaming up with Henderson to lead the Devils to some gritty road wins. I have a lot of faith in the Sing.

Greg Zoubek, center: Fuck me, really? This guy is starting? Whatever. I guess he's 7-feet tall and reasonable on defense. We know exactly what we're getting here; a big body, and not much quickness, grace, or offensive acumen.

Lance Thomas, forward: Needs to become a badass, or he's even more useless than Zoubek. Again, very little offensive ability presents itself; he's another sizeable chunk of a player designed to present a staunch inside defense, but unless he can score and take advantage of mismatches on the other end, he's just in the way. There's a very strong potential that other teams will run us off the floor this year because of Lance Thomas and Zoubek.

Jon Scheyer, guard: Here's the problem: I like Scheyer. I think he's fun to watch, he's a tenacious competitor, and he works really fucking hard. There will be games this year when Duke fans really, really love Jon Scheyer. But anyone who watched that Villanova game knows a very sad, very debilitating truth: at point guard, he's just a degree better than Greg Paulus. The quick front line Nova unleashed just completely outclassed him; he looked lost and a little frightened on the court. His shooting reflected the unmanageable defensive stress he was under: 3-18 from the field, 2-10 from 3. He's a solid guy to have on your team, but he's not a top tier D-1 point guard. He just doesn't have the natural gift of quickness to counterattack and make defenders pay for over-aggression. He may, however, be a top tier shooting guard. But if we're relying on him to run the offense, be prepared for more of what we saw against Villanova- relentless pressure designed to upset his controlled style.

Nolan Smith, guard: Easily the most important player on the court this year. I hope to God he's developed in the offseason, because last year Coach K desperately wanted him to grab the point guard reins from Paulus. He did so for about two games, but couldn't quite handle the heat, at which point Scheyer was conscripted. But Nolan does have the natural quickness and ballhandling ability that Scheyer lacks. The question is, does he have the strength and mental capacity to take on that leadership role? He'll never be Ty Lawson, and I don't think anybody's expecting that, but if he can play a competent point, nullify gimmicky pressure, and let Scheyer thrive in the 2-slot, this team looks a whole lot different.

Now for the reserves:

Andre Dawkins, guard: This is a freshman who actually finished high school in 3 years on an accelerated program so he could come early to college and fill Elliot Williams' vacancy. It's not an exaggeration to call him the second most important player on Duke's roster. He's also apparently a pretty smart dude. Unfortunately, most scouts are in agreement that he's not ready to play the point quite yet, though he may develop those skills eventually. Also, he won't be as strong defensively as Elliot. Still, he's a talented scorer who can pick up a lot of minutes, give us another threat from downtown, and hopefully take the burden off Scheyer and Singler, who appear to be the two lone scoring threats. We need a real quick learning curve from Mr. Dawkins.

Miles Plumlee, forward: Nothing to see here. 6'10", 240, but not quick and not very offensively gifted. Zoubek/Thomas lite.

Mason Plumlee, forward: Hurt, as mentioned, but doesn't need surgery. Supposedly has more skill than his brother, but less strength. Quite obviously, I'm not getting my hopes up.

Ryan Kelly, forward: Freshman, 6'10", can shoot the 3 (he won the shootout at the McDonald's game last year), scored 2150 in his SATs. But he's also scrawny (he gives Plumlee a run for his money) and doesn't like to get his hands dirty in the paint. The scouts call him a 'face-up' 4 man, which is like the last thing we need. Another stringbean who can shoot but can't create his own offense and hates contact? No thanks. (You can read my extensive screed on Kelly and Plumlee here.) I don't expect any impact from him this season.

Seth Fucking Curry, Assassin Guard Extraordinaire: Sitting out a year because of his transfer from Liberty. One year away from saving Duke!!!!!!!!!!


THE PROGNOSIS:

There's no way this team contends for a title, which in some ways is a positive. Unlike last year, we don't have to squirm in our seats and worry about the inevitable collapse, yet still harbor an insane hope that the Devils will live up to expectations and make a final 4 run. Instead, we can watch the team grow, enjoy the victories as they come, and keep an eye on player development in advance of next year's team. Despite our second-tier status, this could be a very fun ride.

What I would love to see: A team that actually improves as the season goes along. Andre Dawkins being worked into the point guard slot and getting comfortable. Kyle Singler taking the ACC by the balls and being an unrepentant tough bastard. Nolan Smith feeling a sense of leadership and responsibility, and carrying himself with a little swagger instead of that vacant scared look. Scheyer shooting the lights out. Zoubek staying out of foul trouble. Lance Thomas showing some attitude and zeal. Mason Plumlee returning from his wrist injury and proving me wrong. The team playing consistent basketball, finishing second in the ACC, winning the ACC tournament because Roy Williams does that thing where he loses in preparation for the big tourney, storming through the first two rounds of the NCAA, shocking a better team in the sweet 16, and going down in a heroic but doomed effort in the regional championship.

What I would hate to see: The typical Coach K effort we've become accustomed to since 2001- a team that starts out more disciplined than their peers and vaults out to a gaudy early record and a top 5 ranking since the players are smarter than the average bear and can master a system, but fades as the season goes along and more athletic teams start to find their bearings, culminating in a disheartening, fatigue-ridden second half and a first-weekend exit when March Madness rolls around.

It starts tonight against UNC-Greensboro, and believe me, I'm psyched. If anybody has a clue where I can watch this game online, do tell in the comments. Let's go Devils!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Surfing the Crazy Wave of Life

Before we get into the meat of today's post, it's time for another installment of...

Answering Fan Mail.


Today's fan mail comes from faithful reader "Mercy Doe." Mercy writes:

Hello
good day to you I hope this mail will reach you in good condition. My name is mercy I will like to have a good relationship with you also like to know you more Remeber that distance or colour does not matter but love matters alot in life. I am waiting 4 you
Thanks and God bless you
Yours in love,
Mercy


Thanks for writing, Mercy! Glad you liked the blog. I didn't catch where you were from, but boy, what a World Series, huh? Nice to see the Yankees back on top...unless you're a Boston fan, in which case WHO LET YOU IN?? LOL! Just kidding, Mercy, all folks are welcome here at Seth Curry Saves Duke! I agree with you that distance and 'colour' (British?) does not matter as much as love, and I also would like to have a good relationship with you. I don't quite understand what you mean when you say you're waiting '4' me, but I'll take it as an indication that you're excited for today's entry. In any case, thanks for your continued support, and please send me nude photos of yourself holding a copy of today's newspaper (so I know you're real) and covered from the knees down in yellow mustard (personal). Have a nice day!

Fan Mail Over.


To be serious for a moment, I'm trying to decide if "Mercy Doe" is a hot name for a female. I'm leaning toward no, I think, but that's not 100%. I know 'doe' is supposed to be evocative of an innocent deer, but the sound of the word makes me think of either 'D'oh!', like Homer Simpson, or 'dough,' like a fat little dough boy. But that leads me to wonder...what is the hottest possible female name? Here's a definitive top ten list:

10. Harmony Legkick
9. Jacqueline Redeyes
8. Avaricious Badlady
7. Fronttooth Swimteam
6. Magglio Ordonez
5. Nottingham Peachtree
4. Friendship Phlebotomy
3. Dunsinane Maverningham
2. Lipstick Genevieve
1. Heartlove Cryingnight

What the fuck am I even talking about at this point...I don't know. I don't know. Anyway, let's take a step back from the brink of insanity and touch base with some good things going on in the world of sports. The following dose of optimism is meant to offset tomorrow's post, which will be an oppressively pessimistic Duke basketball preview.

1) Florida and Alabama will have a re-match in the SEC championship this year. Regular readers will remember that I'm a man without a team in the world of college football, so I try to enjoy good match-ups and follow whichever teams are most exciting in a given year. (By the way, the UConn experiment didn't quite pan out...this year.) In 2009, I'm a Bama man. I love their style of play, which basically consists of scoring in the clutch and completely shutting opponents down with defense. Last year's SEC title game was a classic, and Alabama's losing effort was pretty heroic. This year, despite an offense that still isn't quite top rate, I think they go over the top. Definitely keep in mind that this prediction is heavily swayed by my anti-Tebow stance, but I still say it'll be a classic Tide win. The winner of the game will definitely play in the national title game, even if one or both happens to lose in the interim. Exciting stuff.

2) TCU - Utah this weekend. Both teams are undefeated in conference (Mountain West), and TCU is ranked 4th with a legitimate shot to make the national title game. If they win out, they just need Texas to lose; Alabama and Florida will take care of each other, and the only other undefeated teams are Cincinnati and Boise St. The Bearcats are ranked 5th, nipping at TCU's heels, but they don't have the benefit of a Big East title game to vault them up in the standings. Boise St. is 6th, but far enough back that they shouldn't overtake anyone by year's end. Can you imagine the TCU Horned Frogs in a national title game? That would be amazing. Still, Texas losing is a big what-if...the rest of their schedule (Kansas, Baylor, A&M) is cupcake, and then they'll meet someone unimpressive like Kansas St. or Nebraska in the big 12 title game. But stranger things have happened...go TCU!

3) The Knicks are an impressive 1-8 to start the season! Oh wait, that's not positive.

4) College basketball is starting!! Last night my girlfriend made me watch 'Grey's Anatomy.' Because it was her birthday, I lasted through the acute pain for about twenty minutes. I guess it's a hospital show. I don't know. I hated it. I need weekday sports, world. Need it bad. Next Tuesday, ESPN is doing the thing where they show college basketball all day, starting at like 10am. I'm seriously considering taking the day off to indulge. If that's sad, then paint my face with clown makeup and a single tear, baby.

Hey, how about a new feature?

THE HOT PICK OF THE WEEKEND:

In a stunning result that has absolutely no effect on the national title race, South Carolina upsets Florida at home, 20-18.

Take care.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Golden Boys

Big congratulations to Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter for winning a 2009 Gold Glove Award.

There was never a question about Teixeira's candidacy. He made 4 errors all year, on over 1,200 chances, for a stunning .997 fielding percentage. Along with his consistency, he saved our hides time and again with spectacular defense, including at least twice in the playoffs.

As for Jeter...well...HE'S DEREK JETER, Y'ALL!


Actually, according to my friend Spike (a devoted follower of sabermetrics), Jeter isn't a terrible choice this year. His fielding % is higher than any other AL shortstop (.986), and his range improved to the extent that he's 5th in UZR at the position. Cesar Izturis had similar fielding numbers, and better range, but what can you do? Managers and coaches vote on these things, and someone like Jeter is going to have more name recognition by default. Unfairly, the Gold Glove often goes to a great hitter who may be second or third at his position to a defensive wiz nobody will recognize. Such is life. But the fact remains that Jeter's UZR of 6.6 is a drastic improvement from 2007, when he was at -15.3. The numbers owe a lot to his offseason workout regimen, which included intense focus on lateral movement to bolster range. That improvement deserves recognition, and if it was the ultimate kind, well, I won't complain.

It's slow going in the world of sports today. Last night, I finished a jog and had a small sports jones. I knew there were no interesting football games on, obviously no baseball, and when I looked up the Knicks and Rangers, none of that either. Even preseason college basketball let me down; it's too early. Instead, I had to do actual work and lament the state of things. And now I push that lamentation on to you, readers, with this more or less empty blog post.

Tomorrow or Friday, expect some kind of Duke basketball preview. Be safe.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The "Oh Yeah" Tuesday

HEY EVERYBODY, GET READY FOR.....


A LAZY POST!



POINT 1: The Giants stink, and might not make the playoffs.



OH YEAH, THE YANKEES WON THE SERIES!




POINT 2: Duke basketball is going to suck this year, I think. More on this later.



OH YEAH, THE YANKEES WON THE SERIES!




POINT 3: The Knicks are awful, and I'm too afraid to buy a Dino Gallinari jersey because I think he might be traded next year.



OH YEAH, THE YANKEES WON THE SERIES!




POINT 4: It's looking less and less likely that I can ever be unemployed and still have health insurance for free.



OH YEAH, THE YANKEES WON THE SERIES!




BUT STILL, THAT SHIT BLOWWSSSSS!




Okay, I have some commentary to make. This is about that Jay Z/Alicia Keys song "Empire State of Mind." You've all heard it; it's the one with the really catchy "New York" chorus. And man, Alicia really belts it out. It was Jeter's at-bat music at the end of the season, and it's sort of taken the city (and maybe the country? I'm not too up on what's happening out there) by storm.

But man, those lyrics? They're really, really stupid. Here's the chorus:

In New York,
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of,
There's nothing you can't do.
Now you're in New York,
These streets will make you feel brand new,
The lights will inspire you!


The whole thing is pretty banal, which I guess is pretty par for the course in pop music today, but man...would it kill them to have at least one interesting line? I'm not sure who writes Jay Z's lyrics, but was it possible for them to spend any less time composing the chorus? The whole thing had to be finished in less than twenty seconds, right? There's no way a human being spent more a half minute penning those lines.

But the really loathsome part is the second line: "Concrete jungle where dreams are made of."

Because it's grammatically incorrect in such a childish way. "Where dreams are made of"? Seriously? Is it possible that during the (presumably) long production process, nobody caught this? Were people too scared of Jay Z to say anything? And it's not a hard fix- change the word 'where' to 'that,' and voila. You've got a sensical clause.

Even Sinatra's New York song, which is not the height of poetry, has some decent lines, like "these vagabond shoes are longing to stray." At least it gives you an image to hang your hat on. Also, that is an example of 'synecdoche,' a term I would not know without Charlie Kauffman.

"Concrete jungle where dreams are made of." That is the product of a group of people not giving a fuck about the lyrics, but to an extreme degree. To let that one slip by, you have to be assiduous about not giving a fuck. You can't care even a little; you can't even be defiant about not caring. You have to actually write the words in twenty seconds, and then never think about them again.

That single line is maybe the apotheosis of American pop culture. This is what old people and pundits are secretly afraid of when they rant about weird distractions like socialism or Obama's birth certificate.

I sort of read the rest of the lyrics, and it appears to be largely about money, girls, status, drugs, and how the place you're from is the best one going, complete with the five or so lines that are just reciting specific place names. So no new ground there. Except one line pissed me off again:

"I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can."

NOT TRUE, JAY Z, THIS IS A TEAM WITH A LOT OF HISTORY AND 27 WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIPS AND ALSO THE HAT SYMBOLIZES NEW YORK CITY AND YOU HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH IT YOU BASTARD!

(I just read the third verse lyrics, and they're actually okay.)

Hey, I just saw a good movie yesterday. It's old, though: "The Great Dictator," by Charlie Chaplin. Set in a fictional country called Tomainia (a very loose stand-in for Germany), it's Chaplin's first talkie. For the sake of description, let's call it a furious comic manifesto on Hitler's epic creepiness. Chaplin plays the dictator, Hynkel, as well as a Jewish peasant who served in the first World War and lives in a Tomainian ghetto.

If you're like me, you're kinda dkeptical about old 'classic' films, which a lot of times end up being awesome but can also be seriously boring (time to invite some wrath: "Citizen Kane" is a fucking snooze). This one really delivers, though; Chaplin is a pretty timeless comic performer, so there are decent laughs throughout, but the lingering impression is one of utter rage. The film was released in 1940, before America's involvement in WW2 had even begun, but long after people in the know realized what was happening in Europe. His depiction of Hynkel is so good it's almost disturbing; it captures Hitler's manic intensity along with Chaplin's hatred in a perfect character composite. Somehow, it made me hate the Nazis more than a typical war movie, or even a documentary. It gets right to the heart of what's evil about the German war machine, skewers it with parody, and riles the viewer into a state of agitation. And it's a Charlie Chaplin film!

So check that out, if it's your thing. If not, my brothers and sisters, I don't care. Why?

THE YANKEES WON THE SERIES!



Oh Yeah Tuesdays. Can't beat 'em, not in this world.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Meadowlands And Bust

My family and some of their friends came down this past weekend, and yesterday afternoon we braved the Jersey Badlands to catch the Giants-Chargers game. If you missed the result, Phil Rivers threw a touchdown pass with 20 seconds left, and San Diego won 21-20.

Yeah, the dramatic ending sucked. Yeah, watching the stadium deflate was tough. Yeah, it makes Monday morning at work that much worse. But honestly, the team looked like crap for most of the game. The usual Coughlin Caution reared its head at all the wrong times, starting on the game's first drive. After an impressive 7 minute march, they faced third and 1 on about the 25. Instead of using play action, they ran right into the San Diego line and got stuffed a half-yard short. Coughlin opted for the field goal in typical buzz-kill fashion, and then Feagles botched the hold and we lost possession anyway.

After that, stupid penalties, bad luck, and poor execution kept the offense from scoring more than two touchdowns and a field goal. San Diego couldn't do much either, but that owed more to the fact that Norv Turner stupidly stuck to a running game that yielded almost nothing. The ugly game seemed to culminate with a Terrell Thomas interception with 3:30 remaining. He returned it to the 4-yard line, with the Giants already up 3, and the victory seemingly secure. But a holding penalty pushed us back, San Diego was intelligent with their timeouts, and we settled for a field goal without even reaching the two-minute warning. And then Rivers did his thing, and game over.

I won't call this a 'must-win.' It was a huge loss, though, and the 4th in a row for a Giants team that seems to have lost its old winning instinct. Here are some huge obstacles to the upcoming playoff push:

1) Eli and Coughlin don't trust the receivers. These guys never go downfield. Ever. It's either Manningham or Hixon on a short slant, or Smith somewhere in the middle. The few times Eli tried to go deep, his line didn't offer enough protection and he was forced to scramble. I'm not sure what the story is, but it's clear that we're missing a dynamic weapon at wideout.

2) The D-Backs are still very bad. Whenever Rivers tested them, they failed. Corey Webster, supposedly one of our best, got burned badly on a Z-cut on the final play. The rest of the crew were equally bad, giving huge cushions on short yardage situations, conceding the stop route, and sometimes missing coverage entirely.

3) Antonio Pierce is useless. I watched him specifically for two straight San Diego drives, and returned to him all game, and my verdict is that he's a complete waste of space. Which is the verdict I've returned for two straight years. He can't cover a running back out of the backfield, or an end at the goal line (one TD conceded this way), and when he tries to blitz it looks like a little kid throwing himself against a padded wall.

4) The D-line isn't generating enough pressure. 1 sack on Rivers yesterday, and otherwise he was harried very little. This absolutely has to change; a weak secondary looks even weaker when the QB has oodles of time to operate.

Okay, enough for now. It's a busy morning at work. Later this week we'll get into some Duke bball, and maybe some college football. Happy friggin' Monday.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Last Licks

My insides are still slightly effervescent from the World Series win, so today, when the Bombers parade through the Canyone of Heroes downtonw, I'd like to do a little wrap-up.

*The NYTimes goes back in history and ranks every Yankee championship team, from #27 to #1. Interesting stuff.

*NYMag, the Old Gray Lady's kid brother, sorta, does a kid-brotherish piece on the top 10 Yankee moments this season. I was there for #6!

*From ESPN: a surprisingly great article on the Core Four by Jayson Stark, and a Jerry Crasnick feature about the deserving MVP, Hideki Matsui.

I don't have a ton to add that hasn't been said. I could easily wax philosophic about what it means to have Andy Pettitte start the deciding game, and Mariano close it, or about the inspiring nature of Jeter's continued greatness, or the dogged persistence of Jorge, but it all goes without saying.

Oh, here's something: every time the Yankees win a World Series, the teeming world of whiners crawls out from their subterranean tunnel-homes crying a single word in unison: Payroll. On NYYFans, the Yankee message board I frequent on occasion, the topic was brought up by a disgruntled Phillies fan. One of the replies was so good, and so thorough, that I have to post it here. Again, this isn't my material; it belongs to a poster named "Mayner":

Long before they overturned the Reserve Clause, the Yankees were the Evil Empire. They had more money, better scouting, and lifelong holds on DiMaggio, Gehrig, Mantle, Dickey, Berra, et al. Other teams whined that it just wasn't fair, and that they should break up the Yankees.

Then, Lou Brock won a lawsuit, and the rules changed. We now had free agency. And, son of a gun, people are still whining because the Yankees take advantage of the new rules. The old rules weren't fair, and now the current rules aren't fair. Apparently, the only method of signing and keeping players that's "fair," is one where the Yankees don't win.

I've been a Yankee fan for coming up on 50 years. I've lived through last place teams, without ever being embarrassed at my team. I was hardly embarassed when they failed to make the playoffs last year, particularly with all the injuries they had suffered. FritzKekich? Yeah. I remember those guys. I wasn't embarrassed then, either.

Do I like free agency? I do not. Do I like that teams are built based on a checkbook rather than scouting and trades? I do not. But those are the rules. If other teams don't like those rules, they need to change them. But instead, the owners pocket the team's revenue, to include the Yankees' luxury tax, and cry about the unfairness of it all.

The long and the short of it is that I'd rather have the Steinbrenners spend money to assemble a team (in accordance with the rules) than to put that money in their own pocket. I hang on the outcome of every game, all year. I celebrate every win and mourn every loss. But, when my team loses, I don't whine and cry about how unfair it all is.

You can go away now. I'll stay right here and celebrate.

There are two main follow-up points I'd like to make:

1) The Yankees pay a luxury tax for their payroll, which is filtered to the other owners, most of whom don't even invest it in their team! And they don't invest the rest of their revenue either! How anybody can make the Yankees out to be the bad guy in this situation is stunning.

Do you know who the richest owner in baseball is? Carl Pohlad, of the Minnesota Twins. He's one of the richest men in America, in fact. And yet, the Twins are a small-market team with a low payroll, and when they lose each year the entire world feels the need to apologize to them. But it's absurd, because they could be spending the same amount as the Yanks, if not more. They just choose not to. That's a constant around baseball; most owners treat their teams like a business, and try to make optimal profit without breaking the bank. Winning is secondary.

Well it's not in New York. And fans of other teams need to turn their wrath where it belongs, to their own frugal organizations. When George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees, he was the 16th richest owner in baseball. That means more than half of the other owners had more disposable income. And yet, the disparity remains. This isn't a Yankee problem, ladies and gents; it's an everybody else problem.

2) Anyone who believes that money alone bought this championship, that chemistry and heart and clutch performance played no role, just wasn't paying attention. And they weren't paying attention from 2004-2008, either, when the Yanks lacked those qualities and didn't win.

Enough said.

It's with great trepidation that I move onto football. My dad and brothers are coming down this weekend, and we're all going to the Meadowlands on Sunday to see the Giants take on the Chargers. After a 5-0 start against horrendously weak competition, the G-Men have lost three straight. The defense looks miserable, and that word probably isn't strong enough. The NFL is a weird league, and things change drastically week to week, so I'm not ready to count them out. But it will be very hard to make the playoffs, much less advance anywhere, unless vast improvements are made defensively.

The unfortunate part is that the defects seem structural; Antonio Pierce is a glaring weakness at linebacker, scads of guys are hurt, new Osi does not look like old Osi, and the secondary is almost comically incompetent. It's really a perfect storm of deficiency. There's no pressure on the quarterback, the linebackers are lost at sea, and the d-backs can't cover anyone. What do you do in that situation? It seems a little hopeless, but again, I like our coaches and there's no need to panic yet. If we lose again, though, I might start panicking. Be ready for that.

LSU at Alabama this weekend, in what looks to be the last real obstacle to the 'Bama-Florida SEC title game. Not sure if I've mentioned it on this blog yet, but I love watching Alabama. Aside from a late-game hiccup against Tennessee, they've been dominating with defense all year long, and there's a professional quality about the them that seems remarkable for a college team. Luckily, this weekend's game is in Tuscaloosa; I really want them to keep winning and take down Tebow University at year's end.

That's that for today. Have a great weekend, go Giants.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

It Is Done: Euphoria

No words today. The Cheese Stands Alone. Very happy, very proud. What an amazing team.

#27.




Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Post 150: We Will Win

Last night, I attended an opera for the second time in my life. My good buddy Brandon bought us 'Family Circle' tickets (nosebleed seats that actually end up being not too bad) for Turandot, a play about a Chinese princess who hates men and requires that all suitors solve three riddles in order to win her hand in marriage. The catch is that if they fail to answer correctly, they are beheaded. Enter Calaf, a mysterious stranger who can't resist Turandot or her challenge; the action proceeds from there.

As I said, this was my second time at the Met. The first go-round, I saw Orfeo ed Eurydice, which was an interesting experience just for being at the famous theater and seeing what the operatic craze was all about, but which frankly left me bored. I decided opera wasn't my thing, and wasn't overly ashamed. Different strokes, and such. So when I looked up the running time of Turandot yesterday at work, and saw it was 3 and a half hours, I made a loose plan to politely take my leave during the second intermission. 210 minutes is far too long to sit through something that isn't wholly compelling.*

*Incidentally, there are 480 minutes in the spirit-breaking hours between 9 and 5.

Little did I know, cynical me, that I would be blown away in a kind of stereotypical, cliched opera way. The show, originally directed by Franco Zeffirelli (who also directed the pretty awesome 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet), is full of dazzling stagecraft, and the music is melodious in a way that my first opera entirely lacked. Music needs melody like humans need water; without, it becomes sort of sickly and limp. Turandot was composed by Giacomo Puccini as he was dying of throat cancer in the 1920s, and it's every bit the spectacular final breath of a virtuosic talent.

Anyway, as I was watching in my plush Family Circle seat, I felt it would be supremely important to relate the opera to sports, and the Yankees in particular, in today's blog. So on the verge of our 27th World Series title, I will now give you a taste of Turandot's most famous aria, "Nessun Dorma." It occurs in the beginning of the third act, with Calaf utterly determined to succeed in his conquest of the princess. You'll recognize the music after about a minute. The first version below is sung by Placido Domingo, on a stage that I'm almost positive is the Met, since the set is exactly the same as last night. It has helpful Spanish subtitles, in case you don't speak Italian. The second version is a performance by Pavarotti, who I'm told is strong, vocally speaking. (I will pause now to recognize that I just typed 'vocally speaking' without intending any mischief. This is a 'moment.' What kind, I'm not sure...)

Can I admit that this aria gave me some serious goosebumps without making things weird between us? Regardless, Calaf's final line, before the orchestral swell, is a pronouncement of triumph, germane to the quest of our vaunted Yankees, proclaiming victory in the lonely, uncertain pre-dawn hours: "I Will Win."








THIS IS PART 11, BABY. THE FINAL ACT.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

We Wanted to Win in the Boogie-Down Anyway

Here were some strong reasons to start Chad Gaudin yesterday:

1) It would set up AJ Burnett to pitch game 6 on full rest.

2) It would set up AJ to pitch at home, where he's much more effective.

3) It would allow Posada to start game 5 in the NL park, where the pitcher has to bat and Molina catching would put a serious dent in the bottom half of our lineup.

4) It would remove the potential of AJ having a very, very good game that came up just short against another Cliff Lee shut-out.

5) It would give us a very favorable match-up (AJ against Pedro) in game 6.


Here were some strong reasons to start AJ:

1) His record on 3-days' rest is pretty great. 4-0, 2.33 ERA.

2) If you start Gaudin, you basically sacrifice game 5 and a chance to win the World Series.

3) If you start Gaudin, you lose Pettitte in the rotation (AJ for game 6, CC for game 7).


To be honest, I wavered on which move was correct. The 'go for the jugular' part of me hated the idea of starting Gaudin and letting the Phils gain some momentum with what might be an easy game 5 win. However, the absolute biggest factor, of the 7 listed above, was AJ's home vs. away splits. On the road, his inconsistent tendencies are magnified. The crowd sometimes seems to get to him, and he's subject to bad beginnings. The 4-run first inning against the Angels in game 5 was a classic example.

I don't think the 3 days rest mattered. These guys were used very lightly in September to prepare for this eventuality, and I don't think losing one day is a big deal. Also, AJ is an inconsistent pitcher. As he proved against LA, he's capable of unleashing a stink bomb like last night on any amount of rest. So at the end of the day, I didn't hate Girardi's decision.

But AJ would have had the best chance to win at home. Game 7 was always going to be CC on short rest, so the game 6 options were either Andy on short rest, or AJ on full rest. Obviously, now that we've blown game 5 anyway, hindsight dictates that Girardi should have opted for the latter.

So be it. I don't care. We're not losing two at home. My money's on this baby ending in game 6. Pedro got by (barely) on craftiness and luck last time, but everybody's seen him now, and we will score more runs this time around. Look what we did to Lee last night, compared to Game 1. It's hard to imagine Andy not giving us a warrior's effort, and CC vs. Hamels or CC vs. Happ in game 7 is a gigantic advantage, should we need it. Also, we're 6-1 at home in the playoffs, and had the best regular season home record in baseball; the Yanks aren't losing a pair in the Bronx. It's just not happening.

I AM NOT WORRIED.

Yankee Universe lets out a great sigh. The expiration releases the demons of memory. Breath is held. The inhale brings number 27.

Monday, November 2, 2009

1 More Win, Babies...

I'm a bit overwhelmed by games 3 and 4, so I want to sharpen my focus, narrow the lens, and zoom in on one of the most heroic at-bats I've ever seen.

Johnny Damon. Nobody on, two out. 1-2 count Ninth inning. The Phillies just tied the game at 4 in their own ballpark, and the fans are going nuts. Brad Lidge, their closer, looks strong, and everyone in the place wants the strikeout. If they come through the inning tied, the Phils know they have a great chance to win the game and even the series. With Cliff Lee waiting in game 5, that could be all they need...

Then Lidge delivers a slider, and Damon swings and misses, and Citizens Bank Park goes apeshit. Except, wait...he didn't swing and miss. He tipped the ball, barely, and it went under Ruiz's glove. Rumors of his demise have been greatly exaggerated. The crowd goes momentarily quiet. Then he fouls a couple more, as the cheers peak and die. Then he works the count. And then, when Lidge comes with the fastball, Damon pokes it into left for a single.

And it was the beginning of the end. Not only of game 4, but of the World Series. Moments later, Damon had craftily stolen two bases on a single pitch, Teixeira got hit, and A-Rod lived up to his newfound clutch reputation with a go-ahead double. By the time Jorge added his insurance hit, the 45,000 fans who had been in full throat a moment before were stunned quiet. And then: Enter Sandman. Forget about it.

Brave stuff, Johnny.


There have been a few other heroic moments in the past two games. I mentioned A-Rod's double, which to my mind cements his post-season as one of the greatest individual playoff performances ever. The man is a walking, talking clutch machine, and he keeps delivering.

And what about Andy Pettitte? Not only did he brace himself against an early Philly onslaught, persevering to keep the Yanks in the game while becoming the all-time postseason wins leader; he got an RBI single that tied the game and opened the offensive floodgates.

CC Sabathia deserves a nod, too, for another workmanlike performance. His escapist act in the 5th, when he got Utley, Howard, and Werth after putting Rollins and Victorino on with no outs, kept the Philly fans quiet and preserved a tenuous 2-run lead. He didn't end up getting the win, but without him we wouldn't have had the chance for the 9th inning dramatics. It's nice to know the big man will be waiting if Philly gets tenacious and forces a game 7.

However, I don't think he'll be needed. I may have looked foolish when I called for a Yankee sweep last week, but these latest results have vindicated me, at least somewhat. Lee could extend the series tonight, yeah, but I don't think he will. The life is out of the Phillies. We're going to surprise the home fans by jumping on their ace early, and AJ will be firing with all his new confidence. Tonight's the night it ends.

#27. Catch the scent.