Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Autumn Wind is a Bronx Bomber

I live in the past sometimes but I know that when I look forward, I do so with such idyllic hopes and expectations. And that's why a Yankees Divisional Playoff exit (like in '05, '06 & '07) would be heart-breaking.

Because this year is different.

This off-season the Yankees signed the probable MVP (Mark Teixeira - forecast on Backtime June 3rd) and the possible Cy Young winner (CC Sabathia). They also signed AJ Burnett, though his results have been hot & cold. And they traded for Nick Swisher, who has exceeded all Yankee fan expectations. Now the Yankees have often lured in high-priced talent, but these guys have all been valuable to the productivity on and off the field for a 100-win team.

Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano each are over 200 hits. The Bombers have 7 guys with 20+ Home Runs. There are no holes in the lineup. And while Teixeira is the only one over 100 RBI, 4 Yankees have 100 or more Runs Scored.

And while the bullpen sucked (universally accepted term) for the first 6 weeks of the season, they found Alfredo Aceves (10-1) as a valuable innings-eater and shut-down guy. And Phil Hughes (8-3) as set-up man has been as dominant as Joba Chamberlain when he mastered that role two seasons ago.

But it all leads back to him, the most underrated player in the history of sports.

Although Mariano Rivera turns 40 in November, this may have been his best season.

Despite the unusually high number of HR allowed (7), he is 44-46 on Save Opportunities, and has been lights out for months.

And did I mention A-Rod? Or Posada? or Johnny Damon? Or Andy Pettitte? Or The Amazing Melky Cabrera. This team was born to tear through the 2009 postseason.

And if they don't and I have to turn my partisan interests to the NFL, at least the Jets are 3-0.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Trying to re-org Sterling-Cooper? Break a Leg!


This most recent hour of Mad Men was the best twist-of-fate rollercoaster ride in series history.

I felt Joan's story really shared the main stage with Don, as her life is becoming very difficult. On the day of Dr. Harris' residency exam, Joan readies to leave the office that she runs (on some level) to live the good life as a surgeon's wife.

But as we've learned, while Dr. Harris appears to be a dreamboat he is quite flawed. Joan waits home all night for a drunk doc who was told he'll never be a surgeon, and has to extend his internship one more year.

But the announcements have already been made at the office, and Joan's goodbye cake has already been wheeled out...Until a tragic mishap. Now Jane has the perfect excuse to return to Sterling-Cooper, to hold things together after a crisis.

Roger Sterling's character re-emerges from his short funk with a series of quips, one-liners, and even some practical wisdom.

In Putnam, Powell & Lowe's grand plans for re-organization, Roger was marginalized, completely left off an overhead projector flowchart. "My name's on the wall, but not the chart." He sold the ad agency and now the new boss has exposed him as an empty suit. But at least he doesn't lose his sense of humor.

And then there's Don Draper. Always under control, always has the smart answer. Never tips his hand. Even when Pete Campbell tried to expose him as an imposter in Season 1, he played it cool and won. In this episode we saw a little more of him.

Don was practically giddy when rumors of PPL's visit to the office likely meant a promotion for the creative director and a London office. He was genuinely excited, then was put back in his place with his position on the chart, working alongside (though slightly beneath) London's new hotshot account man.

But just as we see Don as angry as he gets, telling Peggy the champagne sucks, his fortunes turn upward. They always do. Conrad Hilton calls him in for a meeting based on a chance encounter they shared at Sterling's party a few weeks back. And Don talks "Connie" into a deal.

Then Don finds out that his new boss Guy McKendrick had his foot severed in a freak accident at an office party. So Don continues to step in shit. And even though he's a scoundrel, lothario, and a phony, I feel a personal connection to him.

Because as a Dad, he's got all the answers at home too.

Nine-year old Sally Draper has become a very compelling character. You can see the conflict and confusion in her with the death of her new best friend "Grandpa Gene" and the nearly simultaneous birth of a baby brother named after him.

While Mom tries to buy her off with a Barbie doll, Don is patient and hopeful, and makes a difference.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The New Look Jets: Changing the Culture before our eyes?

I know it's only Week 2. But I saw something last week in Houston that I hadn't seen in quite some time: a Jets team that dominated on both sides, and pushed people around.

Head Coach Rex Ryan brought a defensive attitude that Jets hadn't exhibited since the Bud Carson defenses of the late 80s. Shifting to a 3-4 defense is really like a 4-4 if you count Nose Tackle Kris Jenkins twice. He looks to be the most disruptive force in the league from that position. His only flaw is that he's so big and plays so hard that he needs to come out of the game from time to time.

Ryan brought a couple of key cogs from his Ravens defenses as well. LB Bart Scott was all over the field last week. And Safety Jim Leonhard is a force in the secondary, as a run-stopper, and on special teams.

So the task for glamorous rookie QB Mark Sanchez is to not mess it up. And if Week 1 is any indicator, the Jets offense seems to be in good hands. Sanchez was poised and delivered time and again on 3rd Down. He threw an ill-advised pick which resulted in the Texans' only score, but the Sanchez ledger sheet was pretty well-weighted to the good. And his presence was able to keep the defense honest enough that after 3 quarters of futility for the Jets ground game, they owned the 4th Quarter.

Now is the Jets time to flex their muscles as they host the Patriots today. It was a Week 2 meeting in 2001 between the teams that changed the NFL landscape forever. You may remember Jets LB Mo Lewis crushing Drew Bledsoe's chest. That opened up the door for unproven 2nd year, 6th round pick Tom Brady and the rest is history.

Today the Jets can open a door of their own by punishing Brady and changing the landscape in the NFL themselves.

Friday, September 18, 2009

An Athens Hit and Run

Apologies for not posting earlier - the DigCamera was MIA but it was ultimately unearthed. So while Georgia will have their hands full with Bobby Petrino's Razorbacks this weekend, the home opening 44-41 win over South Carolina had enough action for half-a-season.

Most importantly on September 12, it was a conference game.

The day was full of quirky missteps.

First after talking our way into the best parking lot, we wound up too close to the stadium. My personal vehicle was englufed by fans crowded around for Uga's arrival, and the band nearly ran us over. The crowd was getting a little hostile especially since my friend was in Georgia Tech colors (below).

Later (much later), I got a speeding ticket in podunk Adrian, Georgia. The cop was laying in wait on one of those country roads right after the limit changed from 55 to 45. Dude zapped me at 68. "We were at the Georgia game" - no response. "My friend needs to get home to his pregnant wife" also true - no response. No small talk, no break on the speed, no warning despite the fact that I was hopelessly sober. Adrian must need my $$$ (I called - $211 OUCH) for some kind of southern bridge to nowhere.

But in between, we got a unique vantage point for a thrilling game Between The Hedges.

I could have taken a million pictures down there, but you don't want to look too much like a tourist.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Hard Knocks Rocks!

While I am a huge fan of good TV drama (and some smart comedy as well), there’s only one reality show that I watch. And it wraps up its short season tonight. The Bengals story is all the more inspirational when you see the level of commitment from these professionals, even while working for the least dynamic boss in the history of team sports. Mike Brown seems more equipped to be some middle-manager from the Dilbert comic strip than run an NFL franchise. Fortunately Head Coach Marvin Lewis is a strong leader, and he has the team’s attention.

The individual storylines are riveting as well.

Carson Palmer. Clearly one of the NFL’s top QBs, must be getting frustrated with more injuries. His good health is the only way the Bengals will make the playoffs for the first time since winning the AFC North in 2005.

Andre Smith. The mammoth rookie 1st Round OT out of Alabama held out, showed up out of shape, and suffered a stress fracture in his foot. It will likely take a long time for him to win over his teammates.

Chad Ochocinco (nee Johnson). I know my perception of him has completely changed. Despite being a loudmouth, he’s not in trouble off the field like so many of his Cincinnati cohorts. And he clearly works his ass off. He’s very impressive in the swimming pool and the boxing gym. And he showed off his versatility earlier this preseason by kicking an extra point, and then launching a high, sailing kickoff to the 8-yard line.

Now Ochocinco is very much a poster boy for this generation of Wide Receiver, as a me-first attention seeker. But make no mistake, he is a player. And as for the name change, it’s not like it hasn’t been done before.

Marvin Philip Aufrichtig = Marv Albert

Reginald Kenneth Dwight = Elton John

Prince Rogers Nelson =

Obviously the position battles and who gets cut is where the real drama lies. Director of Football Operations Jim Lippincott is the ultimate badass "Turk." Completely unemotional in his overweight frame stuffed into coaches' shorts, "We're putting you on waivers today." What an awesome character. I had a similar job with my fraternity during rush week, but I was nowhere near that level of efficiency.

But Hard Knocks still has plenty of levity. Like DT Tank Johnson mixing up Bill Walsh (the late football legend) and Donnie Walsh (the NBA GM).

My favorite moment was from Jordan Palmer, Carson’s younger bro, who’s fighting for the backup QB job. Jordan Palmer’s side job is as a website creator and manager. Except he’s a little more innovative than I am. His site tracks first-run movies, and when it’s a good time to relieve yourself without missing anything or disturbing those around you. God bless the internet.

So while tonight is the season finale’ of Hard Knocks, the Bengals season opens this Sunday. When they finally take the field in anger, it will be hard not to root for them.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Sterling-Cooper still on the clock Labor Day Weekend

While Home Box was out of the office, the ad men from Mad Men were working the Holiday. Thank goodness. CAUTION - SPOILERS.

Episode 4 of Season 3 was one of my favorites in the ever-evolving Best Show on TV.

First, Peggy's apartment search. It turned your stomach to see her bitter aging mother turn this into a personal affront. But it was hysterical to see her office-mates play a top-notch practical joke on her in response to her stilted roommate ad. My jaw dropped as one of the receptionists pretended to be from Teaneck, New Jersey - my hometown!

There was the watershed moment with Sal and his wife. She knows she's not getting any "tending" but never dreamed why. Sal says it's stress about the crossroads in his profession, but ultimately she starts to see that he has different tastes.

Sal got the gig on the Patio Cola shoot as the commercial director, a knock-off of the open of Bye-Bye Birdie. He was a little too effusive and effeminate when describing the cut to the negligee-clad Mrs. Romano.

Ultimately, Sal's work was excellent but the Patio Cola people didn't go for it. The Sterling-Cooper brain trust was stunned that it failed and wondered why. Roger Sterling chimed in with his only line of the show "It wasn't Ann-Margaret."

But the most underrated (and maybe most compelling) storyline was the building bond between 9-year old Sally Draper and "Grandpa Gene."

Don's father-in-law is an eccentric, tough SOB, still recovering from a stroke but finding a best friend in his granddaughter.

Just as he's starting to emerge as a breakout character, he drops dead at the A&P while buying fruit. In the aftermath, the family enjoyed some levity while discussing the arrangements. Sally was hiding, heard it, and she was outraged by their callousness. She was told to get back to the TV, to watch depressing news and even an early report of violence in Vietnam.

That's something that Mad Men does so well, weave in the events of the turbulent, changing times of the 1960s as storyline plot points.

But the Sally Draper character is clearly affected by this. She was always spunky (although a little chunky), but now you can see her developing into an out-of-control tween.

Outstanding work AMC, Mad Men is just too good to to take even a one-week hiatus.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Taj Mahal, Texas Style

When I work on the road, I work primarily in college towns or mid-sized cities. Arlington, Texas is neither. I always thought it was kind-of-a-cow-town, and it is the largest city in America that has no public transportation.

But Arlington is very close to DFW, which is a city in itself. And it's got a pretty strong Six Flags, and the Ballpark at Arlington is a excellent facility. Oh, and there's this:

There was an awful lot to my first job in over 5 months. Hopefully we let you inside enough in a very very memorable telecast. The grind of day trip to Norman became a thrill as we sat down with a Heisman winner. Then our hearts sunk as he returned from halftime with a sling on his throwing arm. And there was live television to produce, and big upsets are exciting.

But almost as exciting was our tour through the visionary Dallas Cowboys Stadium. I could have shot plasma screens all day, but I was in the Cowboys' Cheerleaders locker room.

And when I was in the Cowboys locker room I got to play QB for a second. Though my crew thought I looked much more like Jon Kitna than Tony Romo.