Monday, July 27, 2009

The Trick for Vick: Gotta be like "Mike"

"There's a lion in my pocket, and baby he is ready to roar."
Prince, 1999

It was 10 years ago when I did a shoot with Michael Vick on the Virginia Tech campus. He was a phenom as a redshirt frosh, but he just seemed polite, friendly, and very unassuming.

When he introduced himself as "Mike," I didn't know who he was right away. There wasn't an entourage, there wasn't bravado, it was just Mike.

But there was plenty of bravado in my script and he didn't carry it like that. He was shy. The piece was average and didn't air because Vick got beat up by the Clemson "D" - though the other man on the shoot, Corey Moore, was the dominant defensive star in a Hokie home win.

I'm not trying to extol the virtues of Mike Vick, the seemingly mature 19-year old. This sick subculture was obviously ingrained in him from a very early age. And somewhere deep inside him was a Ron Mexico with middle fingers extended to his home crowd.

But we had truly never seen anyone like him. A black, left-handed whirlwind who probably could have been the best player on the field at a half-dozen positions. He did it with such confidence and class. His play screamed "look at me" so he never had to do anything arrogant to call attention to himself.

In Mike's freshman year, he led Virginia Tech to an undefeated regular season in spectacular fashion. And he left his guts on the Superdome field erasing a 3-TD deficit to Florida State before falling in the 4th quarter. Head Coach Frank Beamer is still his biggest advocate.

Two years later, Mike was drafted #1 overall. Three years after that and one broken leg later, he finished 2nd in the MVP voting, and led the Falcons to the NFC Championship game.

Then came the contract. The sense of entitlement. The rules didn't apply to him. He could spread herpes around, or bankroll dogfighting, or smoke pot on his MySpace page. He thought the authorities and the media, much like your average NFL defender, couldn't catch Michael Vick.

"Tryin' to run from my destruction, you know I didn't even care."

He was wrong and paid the heavy price. This isn't some run-of-the-mill NFL suspension he has to come back from. He was incarcerated. Every day is a blessing for this man.

This time around, I think we're going to see a lot less Michael and a lot more Mike. And maybe one team's fans will party like it's 1999.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Moving Forward with the Yanks

It's a busy life, but I had appointment viewing here in SE Georgia. What do I get? Another rain delay...Bernie Williams Moving Forward for the 51st time. Anyway it's a great chance to take the Yanks temperature, which is of course very hot. Moving Forward indeed.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

That's Quite a Pitch

The sight of a 59-year old Tom Watson on the doorstep of a 6th British Open title gets more and more surreal with each cutaway. If Hollywood made a movie about it, nobody would believe it. But we're one glorious day away from sizing up who will play Watson in the movie.

I'm thinking William H. Macy or maybe Bill Paxton with a good makeup job.

Last year, Greg Norman's run for the championship was electric, but Norman was never regarded as a real threat by the fans or the oddsmakers. The Shark is an icon and a brand name, but for the most part he's not been a finisher.

The difference this year is that Watson has won this title 5 times. He knows how to get it done. And physically, complete with a new hip, he seems not to be at any real disadvantage against players a generation behind.

He is in complete control of his game, and is out-thinking the field and conquering Turnberry before he swings his club. And most unlike Watson, he is draining one improbable putt after another. That's why he is leading and not just in the mix.

UK book-making sites have Watson as the 4th choice going into Sunday's final round, behind two Brits (Westwood & Fisher) and 2-Time US Open champ Retief Goosen. I say watch out for Jim Furyk (3 back) and Angel Cabrera (5 back).

But the point is, he is a legitimate and very real contender for the world's most prestigious golf title...and he was born in the 1940s. This is the sport owned by a young terminator. I'm trying to think of a precedent or a cross-sport analogy, and coming up blank.

Maybe I'll start my first draft of the screenplay at 9AM eastern Sunday.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Huddle Up

Everyone says this is the worst sports week of the year, but it’s really only the worst sports 3-days of the year.

Three days with no Yankees is a little rough. The All-Star Game has some meaning that now directly affects the Yankees, so that’s good. And the British Open begins Thursday, one of my favorite events.

But mostly this Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday is a time to reflect and gear up for what’s next: The most insane preseason in NFL history.

Think about the Top 10 storylines involving QBs alone. So let's play Quarterback:

1. What will be the fate of Michael Vick?

He has committed a terrible crime, but paid a heavy price for it. He needs to be reinstated.

But what then? Who will take the chance on a 29-year old ex-con who has made numerous errors in judgment? Even for one of the most unique talents in the history of the sport?

2. Can Favre still bring it?

The old gunslinger’s got a weak wing. It’s the Vikings’ turn to roll the dice. This whole game of Groundhog Day with the media has gotten tedious. But the bottom line is if Brett Favre can still play, how can anyone deny him the opportunity?

Still you have to question his motivation, trying to stick it to the Packers, who treated him as bigger than the team for years.

3. Brady’s back.

The balance of power in the AFC (and entire NFL for that matter) evened out for one year when Tom Brady was lost for the year in the 2008 opener.

Now the Patriots are the class of the league again. Brady is fully rehabbed, and should even be pretty fresh after not getting hit for a year.

4. Bright lights, big city, a bit risky.

All of a sudden the Jets have decided they want to be media darlings. Let’s hand the keys over to rookie phenom Mark Sanchez, he’s got broad shoulders and rugged good looks. He’s exactly what we need!

The Jets traded 5 guys including a pair of defensive starters to move up in the Draft and get him. Do you think the Patriots act this impulsively?

5. The new king of Chicago.

It’s been a turbulent off-season and regime change in Denver. New boss Josh McDaniels decided to punt on 1st down and kick 26-year old franchise QB Jay Cutler into the wind. Now he’s Chicago’s problem, or as Bears fans call him, “godsend.”

6. TO is gone, but TOny’s soap opera continues.

Tony Romo may have finally put his foot down and helped show Terrell Owens the door out of Dallas. Now finally he may have wised up, and done the same to Jessica Simpson. The spotlight in Big D might just have gotten a little dimmer, so maybe it’s Tony’s time to shine. Until his next celebrity girlfriend comes along.

7. What will Drew Brees do for an encore?

In 2008, Drew Brees became the second NFL QB to throw for 5,000+ Yards in a season. And he did it without a household name at Wide Receiver. He may be the most underrated player in the whole league.

8. Whither Vince?

Maybe we should have seen the signs. But how could we? He was cover boy of Madden ’08 for a reason. He carried his college team to a championship and was tremendous as a rookie. Now he sits behind Kerry Collins on the Titans’ depth chart. Can he be washed up at 26?

9. Here’s…Carson.

After 100+ TD passes in his first 4 seasons as a starter, he played only 4 games in ’08 with elbow problems. Now his return won’t get as much pub as Brady’s, but will even be more important to his team.

10. Mourning Steve McNair.

Tennessee and Baltimore are just a few years removed from his energy and leadership. He’s just ten years removed from a Super Bowl appearance, and six years from a co-MVP. Last year we missed seeing him on the field. This year, he’ll just be missed.

And that’s just the QBs. Numbers 1 & 2 aren’t even on NFL rosters. While the NFL is generally second on my priority list to Saturday-variety football, it’s hard to compile these kind of storylines on the college side. At least before the season starts. At least this year.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Night The UFC Blew Up

Ultimate Fighting has been around for some time now. But despite growing attention to the sport of Mixed Martial Arts in the last couple of years, it had still been considered a niche sport. Until this weekend.

It was the night of UFC 100, the night the sport hit the mainstream. The night the sport found its identity. The night the sport found its 6'4" 265 poster boy.

Brock Lesnar's story is known to many. Former NCAA Champion wrestler becomes WWE star while still in his 20's. He gave the NFL a try but didn't make it, and is now the top man in a surging sport at age 32.

But his name recognition just climbed several notches on the popular culture ladder with his dominant heavyweight title defense over Frank Mir, avenging his only MMA loss.

But winning the fight in lopsided, brutal fashion wasn't enough. He gave the most memorable postgame interview I have ever seen. Lesnar shamed the man he just destroyed...and did it in front of Mir's hometown fans in Las Vegas. He also spoke of having marital relations later in the evening. And maybe most outrageously of all, he totally dissed the event's main sponsor, promising to drink another brand of beer.

Here we had real sport with real competition that (unlike boxing) is well-managed and organized. But it still had the showmanship of pro wrestling.

Lesnar's statement win was the headline on and don't be surprised if he's on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated.

Now we have to wonder - did Lesnar go off the reservation on purpose or was that the sport's master plan? Or does it even matter now? The floodgates are open.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Where No Blog Has Gone Before

I have seen every Star Trek film.

Does it make me a nerd? No. I may fit that description, but not from my love of Star Trek. I have never attended any kind of Trekkie convention, never dressed in Federation uniform, or tried to translate authentic Klingon.

I have, however, repeatedly encroached the Neutral Zone, violating terms of any corresponding cease-fires. Mostly with sarcasm.

So fire up the red alert, and set phasers to stun. Here is Backtime's official ranking of all 11 Star Trek flicks.

1. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

This is the best Star Trek film by far. It should have been nominated for multiple Oscars, and if Will Shakespeare had written it, they’d be teaching it in English Lit classes all over the globe.

When Captain Picard defies orders to assume control of the Federation fleet, he leads them to victory over their most indomitable enemy, The Borg.

But a Borg escape pod slips back in time to take over earth in the mid-21st century by preventing Earth’s “First Contact” with an alien race. The Enterprise is forced to follow and prevent the assimilation of humanity.

A great guest starring performance by James Cromwell as Zefram Cochrane, the drunken anti-hero, hailed as earth’s warp-drive pioneer. Also from Alfre Woodard who plays Cochran’s colleague who has a number of magnificent exchanges with Picard – in Patrick Stewart’s best performance as well.

And a top-notch villain, Alice Krige as the Borg queen who abducts and seduces Commander Data, en route to taking over the Enterprise.

The film isn’t just filled with action, revenge, and further developing character from actors in their roles that we’ve seen a hundred times. It introduces the history of space exploration Star Trek-style, and it all fits.

2. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Coming off the first Star Trek film, which I felt was a broad and boring flop, the franchise needed this – and did it ever deliver.

While the story was full of layers, the arch-villain was the show stealer. The late Ricardo Montalban played in his career role as the exiled criminal Khan, and his lust for payback against Admiral Kirk carries the movie.

But the subplots were great too. There was Kirstie Alley as the ambitious Vulcan Lieutenant Saavik, Spock’s protégée. There was the introduction of the Kobayashi Maru – the no-win scenario that Kirk would not adhere to. There was the mysterious “Genesis” project, creating planets out of nothing, whose creator was an old fling of our favorite lothario Federation captain. And Kirk has a son, who knew?

Once Khan is defeated, he nearly takes down the Enterprise with him. But Spock sacrifices himself to save the ship in an epic finish (before being re-born for future chapters of course).

3. Star Trek (2009)

The untold story of how Kirk met Spock and how the Enterprise crew that we know and love was formed.

Director JJ Abrams re-invents the Star Trek brand, a la Batman Begins, with an awesome cast and a number of references that fans can relate to. But how does it all make sense? The planet Vulcan is destroyed? A young Spock in love with Uhura? An old Spock lecturing a young Kirk?

The keywords in all this were actually mentioned within the body of the script – an “alternate reality.” Just like the second round of the Batman franchise, the new Star Trek franchise has a fully-loaded ensemble and a new direction, while remaining true to the original Star Trek mission.

4. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

This is the last of the top-tier Star Trek movies. I feel bad placing it this low because I really do love this film. And again, a huge rebound from the awful Star Trek V.

Captain Kirk is the fall guy in a conspiracy at the highest level to preserve war between the Federation and the Klingon empire. War is profitable and familiar, while peace is, as from Hamlet, “The undiscovered country” – just too hard for everyone to change their long ingrained prejudice.

Another especially strong supporting cast with Christopher Plummer as Klingon General Chang, Kim Cattrall as the traitorous Vulcan Lieutenant Valeris, and the sexy Iman as Kirk’s shape-shifting bunkmate on the frozen prison outpost he’s been condemned to.

It’s a sprint to the finish as the Enterprise races back to prevent the assassination of the Federation president (Kurtwood Smith), with a heroic assist from Captain Sulu of the USS Excelsior.

5. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

While aboard a cloaked Klingon Bird of Prey (the continuation of Star Trek III), the Enterprise crew is forced to travel back in time to the late 20th Century in search of a pair of some now-extinct humpback whales.

It is the whales’ homing communication that is needed to respond to an entity that is chewing up the galaxy and threatening humanity.

Seeing the crew fumble around the streets of San Francisco is priceless. It’s capped by the capture of Chekov by the US military, who calls him “Russki” despite seeing his United Federation of Planets ID.

Good chemistry with Kirk and guest star Catherine Hicks, the marine biologist who is the caretaker for humpbacks George and Gracie.

6. Star Trek: Generations (1994)

Though there were some good moments with Captains Kirk and Picard sharing the same space within the surreal “nexus” battling brilliant evil scientist Tolian Soran (Malcolm McDowell).

Also the kidnapping of Lieutenant LaForge and the use of his visor to steal the Enterprise’s shield frequencies, and the troubles of Commander Data with his new emotion chip were nice runners in the plot.

But it’s a little too introspective, with Picard mourning the loss of his favorite nephew. And finding the way to nexus is supposed to equal ultimate happiness for all who enter, including a former inhabitant, Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan. She was good in the series, but her use here seemed forced.

7. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

Nice plot. Intricate enough. The Romulans had cloned Captain Picard several years ago in an attempt to take over the Federation from within. But after a regime change, the Romulans had given up on Shinzon (Picard’s double).

Shinzon was then banished to Romulus’ twin planet, Remus, a miserable slave state that remains dark at all times. Shinzon, who owns Picard’s intellect, spirit, and DNA, builds an army, and is bent on the destruction of Romulus as well as Earth.

It is truly a case of environment trumping heredity (much like Trading Places), as Shinzon is Picard, but is cold, brutal, and merciless because of his tormented past.

Anyway, it’s the last we see of The Next Generation gang, as Data is destroyed while thwarting Shinzon and his ultimate weapon, and Earth is saved. But Data has a double too, that is of inferior quality, and Data's return is left open.

8. Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984)

The storyline of Spock’s resurrection is a little hard to believe, even by Star Trek standards.

Admiral Kirk disobeys orders, and steals the Enterprise after learning the Spock may be alive on the newly-formed Genesis Planet.

Christopher Lloyd is colorful as an unstable Klingon commander bent on Kirk’s destruction. He kills Kirk’s son.

Kirk wipes out the Klingons while self-destructing the decommissioned Enterprise. At the end, Spock lives on for further adventures.

9. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

Picard ignores the Federation’s Prime Directive, interfering with the course of another planet’s events. He leads the Enterprise to Baku to save a small, unique civilization of people who live without aging.

Star Fleet gets coerced into siding with their invaders, and Picard of course does the right thing, falling in love in the process.

Too much talk. Not enough action.

10. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

A feeble attempt to turn a cult series into a mainstream film.

Admiral Kirk takes over the Enterprise from the ill-equipped Captain Decker as a seemingly all-powerful entity threatens the galaxy.

What it turns out to be is a 20th century Voyager probe which was sent into space to collect information, and never returned – until it collected all the information in the universe.

Too many sprawling shots of the new Enterprise, since we hadn’t seen it in years. Not nearly enough action. Pretty hot bald chick.

11. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

Sentimental and dumb opening sequence with Enterprise crewmates paired off bonding at Yosemite. The best films about friendship don’t hit you over the head with it.

Spock’s half-brother (didn’t know he had one) is a 23rd century shaman, attracting legions of followers of the great unwashed. He has some type of psychic healing ability, and is leading the masses on some type of vision quest to find God, taking over the Enterprise in the process.

Captain Kirk defies this, choosing to hold on to his pain and guilt, because it makes him who he is, and his rationality saves the day.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Juneau What I Think

The hardscrabble icecap politics of The Last Frontier must have been too much for this shooting star. Conservatively speaking, of course.

Sarah Palin stirred up the GOP base with her smile, winks, values talk, and her ability to relate to "regular folks" (read: white people).

She was without a doubt an American success story. Mother of five (or is it four or six - I can't keep count) becomes mayor and then governor in her home state. It was quirky and cool until the big fish left the small pond.

Yes Governor, you could see Russia from your home base. You just couldn't see the lower 48.

You could throw your weight around, usurp the legislature, create your own ethical roadmap, and make back-room deals all the way from Wasilla to Ketchikan - until America heard of you.

The national spotlight and Katie Couric's softball questions gave the Alaskan hockey mom a lot of Northern Exposure. She became a target for comedians, commentators, and even some conservatives as she continually put her foot in her mouth, and left a financial twister in her wake.

Palin burst on the scene on August 29, 2008 when Senator John McCain tabbed her as the wild card VP candidate the morning after Senator Barack Obama stirred up 70,000+ at Invesco Field in Denver and hundreds of millions worldwide.

Just over 10 months later, Palin resigned her post as the executive officer of the nation's least-populated state with a ton more name recognition and a lot more baggage.

Cash in those speaking engagements while you can. Your name was in the news cycle longer than Elian Gonzalez, but shorter than OJ Simpson. Your run for the White House was historic, but your footnote in history will be merely historical.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Got Six? Go Fish

Is your 6th Anniversary a day for the couple or for the family? Six of one, half-dozen of the other. Considering that our first-born was delivered 9 months and 2 days after our wedding day, I’d say that we’ve been in a family way for just about all 6 years.

So we made the road trip to Charleston to visit the South Carolina Aquarium. Kids and adults both had a fun time. I mean, who doesn’t like penguins. Right? Reminds me of a joke, but that’s for a later post.

In a fortunate dose of serendipity, we were all hungry when we arrived in Chuck-town, and swung by a Mellow Mushroom about 1 mile from the aquarium. We all got to see the end of one of the all-time epic tennis matches, with Roger Federer making history, and breaking Andy Roddick’s heart again.

I’m the guy used to taking pictures not being in them, so the opportunity presented by the Welcome Center was worth the price tag. Is this the family portrait for the time capsule?