Thursday, May 28, 2009

Can't Forget Paris

It never fails. This time of year, I turn on the TV in the morning and I see the red clay and I can only think of one thing (and it's not the Garth Brooks song).

I was one year out of college and bouncing around the country working on baseball, football, basketball, boxing, and tennis, trying to get my foot in the door of the TV business.

Then I had an opportunity to go to Paris and work for ESPN on the 1992 French Open. No flight, no hotel, just $175 a day for 3 weeks. For a 23 year-old single guy, I thought it would be a great experience.

It turns out that I wasn't as ugly an American as I thought. My burgeoning coffee addiction and pack-a-day cigarette habit fit right in. I enjoyed sitting at cafes and partying at discotheques. I loved staying at the flat of a friend-of-a-friend in Monmarte and riding the Metro to work each day.

When you got your change at the grocery store, the cashier actually said voila, and the moped rider on the opposite side of the street would actually stop for an attractive woman, whistle, and shout ooh la la!

Mind you, this was before the internet, cell phones, ESPN2, and before Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera changed history. I was wide-eyed and wasn't distracted.

That year, I was in the stands to see one of the great events as Monica Seles defeated Steffi Graf in the Women's Final 10-8 in the final set. Jim Courier was at the peak of his career, winning his second straight Men's title, quickly dismantling Petr Korda. Courier thanked the adoring crowd by accepting his trophy and addressing the Court Central faithful in French. A nice touch.

These days, the French Open isn't much of a mystery, at least on the men's side. I saw an article recently titled: French Open Preview - What's The Point?

That's because Rafael Nadal has never lost a single match at Roland Garros. He's won 4 straight titles, including 3 in a row over Roger Federer.

But mostly I remember my experience there for the work. I didn't know what I was going to do there, but somehow wound up in a great spot.

I sat in front of a computer that was spitting out real-time scores all over the grounds. I had a walkie-talkie with two channels - one for each camera crew I was directing to various locations on the outer courts. And it was mostly based on my instincts.

If there was a great match, upset brewing, American result on the line, or we just needed video on an up-and-comer, it was my job to send the crews to the right spot, then inform the producer when they were in position. He would determine whether to go live or roll it back as a taped highlight.

Pretty heady stuff for a guy who was essentially an extra to start. But after returning home and getting back into the grind, I now realize I didn't have the maturity or the people skills to handle my new-found success and responsibilities. My career changed direction, and it wasn't exactly my decision.

By the next year I was on the inside, but working my way up from the bottom.

I worked at HQ for 3 years, but decided to go free-lance and move to New York to improve my life if not my career. You can't fret about the life decisions you make when you're young and a little impulsive. Everything leads to where you are.

Captain James T. Kirk had the best quote, ironically from the worst Star Trek Movie - Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, when Dr. McCoy suggested that he give his life's pain over to an empathic cult leader and his emotional healing powers...
"I've made the wrong choices in my life. That I went left when I should've gone right? I know what my weaknesses are...You know that pain and guilt can't be taken away with the wave of a magic wand. They're things we carry with us
– If we lose them, we lose ourselves."
Experience dictates everything. And I have a lot more to remind me of my one spring in Paris than just a Roland Garros necktie.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Your most unconventional NBA Finalist?

Welcome to Orlando, and the Magic's kingdom, Amway Arena.

And much like the Amway brand, Magic basketball has been snickered at and dismissed, but they are actually a powerhouse.

Mike & Mike on ESPN Radio have been playing up ad nauseum how Shaquille O'Neal called his former coach, current Magic coach Stan Van Gundy "The Master of Panic." And after a couple of head-scratching losses to Boston in the Eastern Semis, Van Gundy himself seemed flustered and was a target for lots of criticism.

But the Magic overcame adversity, winning a Game Seven on the road in the champions' house, and have been the superior team in a very tight Eastern Finals series. They hold a 3-1 lead, but theoretically could have swept already if not for a last second bullseye by the Cleveland LeBrons in Game 2.

But Orlando's team history could have been very different.

Billy Donovan, the head coach of the then 2-time National Champion Florida Gators had taken the Magic job. Then after a quick change of heart, he split and returned to Gainesville, where his team has qualified for back-to-back NITs.

Stan Van Gundy was actually the second choice. He had gotten to the precipice of an NBA Finals with the Miami Heat, then had the rug pulled out from under him (technically he resigned) by team president Pat Riley, who coached Miami to the 2006 NBA title.

Billy Donovan, a college coach decided he didn't fit. And this is not a team that college hoop junkies (like myself) can latch onto. Take the Magic's top 5 guys in scoring this postseason:

Dwight Howard - High School (Atlanta)

Rashard Lewis - High School (Houston)

Hedo Turkoglu - Turkey

Mickael Pietrus - France

Rafer Alston - Fresno State (one year)

It's the kind of roster that keeps Fran Fraschilla up at night cramming for the NBA Draft.

So that's one season of major college basketball amongst them, from the "streetball" legend Alston. In fact, Van Gundy himself had only one season of major college basketball as well - a very forgettable season as the coach of the Wisconsin Badgers in the mid-90s, before Dick Bennett and Bo Ryan made basketball as fashionable as football in Madison.

Yet here the Orlando Magic stand, one game from the NBA Finals. Though there's still work to do, this run isn't going to surprise anyone any longer.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Breaking the Mold of the TV Drama


AMC is now officially a resounding 2-for-2. The basic cable movie channel's foray into dramatic series has been a smashing success.

First Matthew Weiner (Sopranos producer) created "Mad Men," the life and times of a Madison Avenue ad agency in the early 1960s. It's so real you cringe at the constant barrage of sexual, ethnic, and racial discrimination. And you can smell the Lucky Strikes in the air.

Then as a follow-up, AMC released "Breaking Bad," created by Vince Gilligan (X-Files).

Now in Season 2, it's just your average story of frustrated, middle-aged high school chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston). After learning he has late-stage lung cancer, Walt decides to use his chemistry expertise to create the purest form of crystal meth on the market. He does this all behind his family's back to finance his radical cancer treatment and provide for his family's future, which just introduced a newborn baby girl.

But Walt is a square. And even though he may have the criminal instincts to pull it off, he doesn't have the connections or the know-how. That's where Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) comes in, Walt's partner and former drop-out student. Though the two of them are completely different personalities, the scenes they're together in explode with...chemistry.

And their fortunes change constantly, whether it be through their brilliance, incompetence, or sheer luck - good or bad, leaving the viewer unprepared for the next plot twist.

While they're just a chemistry teacher and small-time drug dealer to start, they've advanced quickly up the food chain and left a number of bodies in their wake: Emilio, Krazy 8, Tuco, Spooge, Combo, and Jane (did not see that one coming).

So the stakes are at a fever pitch as Walt tells lie after lie to deceive his wife and Jesse reaches a drug-addled rock bottom since these deaths are crippling his soul.

All that plus some massive foreshadowing ploys to tease next week's season finale. Six days away, and breaking great.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Go Ahead, Mess With Success

You don't mess with a 9-game win streak, right? While I don't want to be a jinx, it is always best to do your re-evaluating from a position of strength rather than from relative weakness.

This streak didn't just start nine games ago. It began in 2003, in Arlington, Texas. It is the year A-Rod won his first MVP (as well as a Gold Glove) and helped mentor rookie phenom First Baseman Mark Teixeira.

More on Pinstripe Alley.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Flash Backtime: A Yankee in the Garden of Good and Evil

I'm a northeast guy.

Grew up in Jersey. Went to Syracuse. Lived in Connecticut and on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

My wife's career brought us a pair of 3-year stints in Omaha and Kalamazoo.

My only knowledge of Savannah before we moved here was the movie adaptation of the John Berendt novel. Not even my extensive travels had ever landed me in this fashionable, unconventional, warm and friendly US city.

We moved here in October of 2007. I spent my first six months on the road, and then we bought a house. When I finally had a chance to breathe and soak things in, I was looking for an outlet for my perspective.

I wrote a blog for Savannah Now, the online arm of the Savannah Morning News. Posting my thoughts, observations, and experiences became habit-forming. On top of that it was an election year, and I had a chance to engage in many political differences of opinion. It wasn't why I started, and it's not where I am. But this site, like myself, is still a work in progress.

Anyway, my very first post "A Yankee in the Garden of Good and Evil" was written one year ago today.

May 20, 2008

Greetings and welcome to my first blog entry.

I grew up in the northeast and have spent the last several years in the midwest, before taking up (permanent) residence here in the Thomas Square district almost a year ago.

For those of you who have lived here your whole life, you can't possibly appreciate what a unique place this is.

In my neighborhood, you don't have to travel far to see it all. Churches next to tenements, next to mansions, next to empty lots, next to playgrounds.

Rich and poor, black and white, old and young, democrat and republican all live side-by-side. It is the contrary nature of this town that has me scratching my head about good and evil.

For every friendly neighbor, smiling waitress, or chatty supermarket cashier, there is the spectre of the all-too-common criminal.

My porch furniture may be locked up, but that doesn't deter the pettiest of thieves from walking up my steps and taking such personal items as a decorated Halloween pumpkin, a plant, or a pitcher of sun tea. I can't understand the mental makeup of someone who would take something of only sentimental value.

Back in New York City, I had my car broken into on more than one occasion, but it always seemed like it was par for the course. Here there's something more "unethical" about crime...if that makes any sense at all.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Zen and the Art of Winning in the NBA

In a league full of egos, full of players who have had their every need catered to since they were pre-teens, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has found a way to win 9 championships.

Sure he had Jordan for six of them. Sure he had Shaq and Kobe for the other three. But Jordan had been playing in the NBA for 5 years before winning it all. Shaq and Kobe had played side-by-side for 3 years with nothing to show for it before Jackson hit the west coast.

Jackson has been able to merge the super-sized NBA personalities with selfless role players. The result is...harmony. Phil Jackson's 1995 bestseller, Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior gets a little long-winded in the philosophical, but there's obviously something to it.

If the basketball "Zen Master" could harness Dennis Rodman for 3 championships, and could find a way for Kobe (ultimate practice player) and Shaq (the opposite) to coexist for as long as they did, then he obviously was able to achieve something that nobody else could.

Jackson throws around terms like serenity, inter-connectivity, and visualization. And he credits longtime assistant Tex Winter's triangle offense as the vehicle for these philosophies. Last month, Winter suffered a stroke at age 87 and will likely only be with the Lakers in spirit for the rest of their 2009 journey.

Nine championships or not, Jackson's accomplishments need to be put in perspective today since he hasn't won since 2002. And now other coaches are pushing him with the same style, that now seem a lot less preachy.

Take Rick Adelman for example. After taking Portland to two NBA Finals, he turned the lowly Sacramento Kings into a powerhouse. And most recently, he took a Houston Rockets team that was missing Tracy McGrady, and then lost Yao Ming and still pushed Jackson's overwhelmingly favored Lakers to a Game 7 in the Western Conference Semifinals.

Adelman has found a sense of harmony as well, taking a loose cannon like Ron Artest and turning him into the ultimate team-first guy.

Next up for Jackson's Lakers is another matchup with an easygoing coach who just wins wherever he goes: George Karl.

Karl took the Sonics to the Finals and then later took the Milwaukee Bucks to one win from it. His latest reclamation project, the Denver Nuggets, is a tribute to his patience to his team's common efforts. It didn't hurt that Allen Iverson (me!) was traded for Chauncey Billups (we) early in this season - Thanks GM Rex Chapman! The result was the Nuggets' best season since their ABA days.

Karl's reign in Denver hasn't been all about harmony. He essentially threw Kenyon Martin off the team during a 2006 playoff series against the Clippers. Many thought they'd be unable to work together again. Though Martin can be described as temperamental, he's also come back from major injuries more than once. Karl recognizes that resiliency and has become a strong advocate.

Karl has molded a complex cast of characters: Carmelo Anthony, JR Smith, Nene, Chris Andersen, and turned them into a cohesive unit.

While Phil Jackson is the architect for how to win with the modern NBA players, Rick Adelman and Geoge Karl have been able to translate similar styles in multiple places. Overall body of work aside, at this moment, they may stand alongside Jackson and not behind him.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Something in the Air? Maybe Not

Sunday's Blue Angels Air Show in Beaufort, SC wasn't just a chance for us to tote our young children across state lines to see (and hear) the spectacle.

"I'm With Her" weekend continued with an invitation for Mrs. Backtime to go up in "Fat Albert," the flagship of the Blue Angels. It's certainly something to cross off your bucket list.

She was the one civilian strapped in, locked and loaded, and 10 minutes to go time. She even signed a death waiver.

But the thunder and lightning hit, and the headline act was canceled. As a member of the American Meteorological Society, she knew it was coming and hoped that Fat Albert would be moved up in the air show lineup.

Grounded for wife. There's always next year.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

An "A" for Attendance

"Ninety percent of life is just showing up" Woody Allen

On Saturday night, all Savannah-area public high school seniors who had 100% attendance for the school year were entered in a drawing to win one of two Chevy Cobalts. Whether GM is in a position to give away anything at this point is a question for another forum, but the event certainly got to showcase the most dedicated and determined local students.

I wasn't there just to represent, it was "I'm With Her" Weekend and I was the valet for the celebrity emcee.

This particular honor does mean a lot to me. Not because I was 100% in attendance as a high school senior - not even close. Once I learned that I could write my own notes once I was 18, I got called to the Vice-Principal's office for a pattern of successive 3-day weekends.

But as a professional, I have never missed an event due to illness, injury, travel mishap, or good old-fashioned hangover. Once I backed out with 24 hours notice because my daughter was 3 weeks old and had 103-degree fever and was checked into the hospital. But I count that one for me rather than against me, because you have to have priorities.

But showing up and being accountable should have its ultimate rewards, both for the exemplary student, and the serious parent. It was definitely a heart-warming moment.

Everyone who didn't win a car didn't go home empty-handed. They got a night with their family and friends and got their name called in recognition (it was a reverse drawing), and received a T-shirt (brought to you by your local Chevy dealers of course) that says it all.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Cross-Checking Game Sevens: Wings Wake-Up Call, Cardiac 'Canes Do It Again

Those manic Hockeytowners have survived one more round. The defending champ Red Wings took out previous champ Anaheim in the West semis, but let their fans stew in self-doubt for 6 games and 57 minutes before advancing.

So the NHL Final Four is here, featuring four working-class cities synonymous with hockey: Detroit, Chicago, Boston, and Raleigh.

That's right, the Carolina Hurricanes, the 2006 Stanley Cup champs are back on the threshold after a second improbable series win.

The team that left broken hearts behind in Hartford continue to succeed in the 919, and are getting downright dramatic about it. In the opening round, they were 80 seconds away from elimination in Newark, before scoring twice in regulation to stun Martin Brodeur, the Garden State faithful, and the hockey world.

Then in Round 2, the Hurricanes blew a 3-1 series lead and had to go back to Boston to win a Game 7 against a hostile crowd. They had to beat Goalie Tim Thomas, who was often "standing on his head" and had to overcome the mojo of our favorite hockey fan:

The Hurricanes finally beat Thomas on a rebound toward the end of the first extra session. Bruins fans still saluted their team after their best season in a long time.

But Boston faithful don't get much of a breather after the Bs were eliminated. The Cs host Orlando on Sunday night and it will be the 3rd Game Seven at the New Boston Garden in a fortnight.

In fact, there will be two Game Sevens in the NBA on Sunday, including the bi-polar Lakers taking on the under-manned, over-compensating Houston Rockets. More appointment viewing ahead this weekend.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cross-Checking Game Sevens: Penguins March past Washington

Usually, Game Seven of a Stanley Cup Playoff series is pro sports' most enjoyable theater. It's when the stakes are highest and emotion, pressure, attrition, and desperation all reach a crescendo, especially if you reach a gut-wrenching overtime period (or two).

I remember driving through the midwest late at night in May of 1993, hitting seek on my AM radio. I remember being captivated by an OT Game 7 between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto upset the heavily-favored Wings, and I heard two stunned radio announcers say goodbye to each other for the off-season before they signed off. Talk about finality.

So I put Tuesday's Yankees-Blue Jays game on the back burner for what I was hoping would be one of the great TV events of the year.

Last night's Game 7 didn't provide that type of drama. By the middle of the 2nd period the Pittsburgh Penguins were blowing up the Washington Capitals 5-0 before cruising to victory. The defending Eastern Conference champs served some serious notice with this road thrashing, in a game that they didn't commit a single penalty.

Sidney Crosby, the Pens' 21-year old mega-star, won the showdown with the other "best player in hockey," the Caps' Alexander Ovechkin. And Crosby did it big time with 8 goals in the series, 6 on the road, and a pair in the clincher.

The Penguins seem on track to return to the Cup Finals. And it's an underdog story since they were languishing around the .500 mark in mid-February and summarily fired their coach. But at this moment, only the defending-champ Red Wings are favored ahead of them in Vegas to win it all. And Detroit has their own Game 7 tonight against Anaheim.

In fact there are two Game Sevens tonight. Might just have to put the seat belt back on. Ducks/Red Wings is at 7PM on Versus. Hurricanes/Bruins is at 8 PM on ???? People always argue that hockey isn't a TV sport. Well it might be if you could find it on TV.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Wing and a Prayer: Buyer Beware

In 2008, the New York Jets and their fans experienced the career of Brett Favre in a microcosm.

There were the dramatic inconsistencies in a 3-3 start.

There was the spectacular run of 5 straight wins, including huge character checks in wins at New England and Tennessee.

There was the monumental collapse down the stretch as the Jets lost 4 of their last 5 including embarrassing losses to San Francisco and Seattle.

For quite a while we couldn't complain, Brett Favre was exactly what we had hoped for. Then when we needed him most, he was exactly what we all feared.

When the Jets sputtered to the season's finish line, Favre's decisions were horrible. He threw 2 TD and 9 picks. He clearly was having arm problems, but the Jets couldn't sit him, and he surely wouldn't sit himself. He had a consecutive games streak to maintain.

Brett Favre was bigger than the team. In the one sport in which that premise is certain to fail every time. Brett Favre was going to gut it out on the field to service his own pride. A quarterback with a weak wing doesn't rally teammates, it hands games to the opponent.

Brett Favre may be a warrior, but he's not a winner. Not at this stage of his career anyway.

Now he's flirting with coming back again. This off-season tap dance is a rite of summer and is very reminiscent of Roger Clemens' act through the last few years of his career. He gets his very own spotlight, negotiating platform, and ESPN beat reporter.

And why is he coming back? To stick it to the Packers. The team that gave him all the patience and leverage that Favre required until they no longer wanted to cooperate. Good motivation, revenge. Against your former coaches and teammates that backed you all along. I guess you need an edge when you get to a certain age.

The Jets' opening game against Miami last season tells you everything you need to know. After the Jets' 20-14 win, the TV cameras were all over Favre as the game ended - he got a handshake here and there, but he was still a stranger on the Jets. Favre's teammates all were eager to hug and offer best wishes to the opposing QB, former Jet Chad Pennington, who was heroic in defeat.

Pennington's Dolphins would later win the AFC East at the hands of the Jets. He got his revenge, but wouldn't claim it against the guys he fought with for so long.

Will the Packers be as excited to embrace Brett Favre after the first Vikings/Packers meeting in '09? Not likely.

You see, Brett Favre's teammates, both past and present, know that they're just extras in a one-man show.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Which Job for Joba? We're Still Buzzin' About It

Starter or reliever? Where should Joba Chamberlain pitch? The question still bugs the Yankee organization and their fans.

Backtime tries to look at this as objectively as possible:

More on Pinstripe Alley.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Performance-Enhancing Drugs: An Evolutionary Quandary

Isn’t enhancing performance a good thing?

These PEDs are so potent that they need to be outlawed in sports as to level the competitive playing field. They clearly create such an unfair advantage.

So why aren’t we testing the medicine in these drugs and providing them to our military? Or people with debilitating illnesses? There are so many good societal uses for PEDs beyond baseball. Look what it did for the cast of 300. If everyone was on HGH, we’d probably walk or bike more and drive less. Maybe we’d save the planet.

It’s really all part of the evolutionary process. If not for advances in drugs and medicine, all our ancestors would have succumbed to plague and we wouldn’t be here to debate this issue.

The reality is the human race constantly grows and evolves. We are bigger, stronger, faster, and have a longer life expectancy than we had the generation before, and the generation before that, etc.

These PEDs may actually be part of the natural order of things. Yet the perception is there are two types of Major League Baseball players: “Using” and “Clean.”

Think about the pressure to use. Money. Success. Your teammates. Don’t you want to enhance your performance? To help your career? Your family? Your team?

If you don’t take the PEDs, you still have your ethics. At least you got that going for you. Maybe the history books will recall how clean you were in your non-distinguished career.

And what measuring stick do we have to judge these guys?

Barry Bonds: Mountain of evidence.

Roger Clemens: Cover boy of Mitchell Report.

Mark McGwire: Non-denial.

A-Rod: Positive anonymous test. Outed by ruthless reporter.

Manny Ramirez: Positive test for banned substance.

Miguel Tejada: Lied to Congress.

Sammy Sosa: No positive test. No admission of guilt. Does anyone actually believe he’s clean? Does he go straight to Cooperstown?

Think about how many players we perceive to be “Clean” but have actually just been one step ahead of the tests. There’s no way to differentiate. Maybe the two categories should be “Using” and “Inconclusive.”

The whole era is tainted. If the red flags didn’t go up during the great McGwire/Sosa Home Run chase of 1998, they sure did when we saw Bobby Estalella.

So where do we go from here? I think the only fair thing to do is to remove the ban on steroids, HGH, and all PEDs.

Naturally, there has to be a comprehensive, mandatory education program that begins in High Schools, so that every athlete, every person, knows about the pros and cons of these substances. When you turn 18, you need to be able to make your own informed decisions about your own body.

Since the juicing would be above board, Major League Baseball (and all other sports) should still implement much more comprehensive testing. This way, teams know what players are taking what, and they can weigh the health risks before signing these guys to multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts.

And maybe we’ll settle into an era where PEDs become mainstream across baseball, America, and the globe, and they are regulated and safe.

Call it evolution.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Leveling The Players' Field

This weekend is The Players' Championship, what many call "the 5th major" on the PGA Tour. It's truly one of the toughest tests in golf. It's got maybe the world's most famous hole, the island green on 17, but the finishing hole is actually much more treacherous.

No. 18 is a 462-yard par-4 shaped like a boomerang (but that doesn't favor the Aussies - just ask Adam Scott about that) with water all along the fairway and green on the left-hand side.

Couple that with the fun and frolic on 17 and you have one of the great finishing stretches in sports.

Every year, the field is just as strong as any major. And the dominant figures in the sport each become just another "player."

Just ask Tiger Woods, who's only won the event once in 11 starts (2001 - which was also his last Top Ten). Tiger's last three finishes: T-53, T-22, T-37. And he didn't enter last year as he was rehabbing his knee for his epic US Open triumph.

Just ask Phil Mickelson, who also has only won it once (2007). The same number of times as Craig Perks and Fred Funk, who each won with both Tiger and Phil in the field. And once fewer than Davis Love and Steve Elkington.

It's also a great stage for tour winners to take that next step before becoming the dreaded "best player not to win a major" like Adam Scott, Stephen Ames, and Sergio Garcia (defending) have in recent years.

My pick will follow that logic. I'm going with the swaggering 23 year-old Ryder Cupper, Anthony Kim. Besides winning twice in '08, he set a Masters record with 11 birdies in his 2nd Round at Augusta this year. He's got all the shots, and it's been a great year for Oklahoma Sooners' individual accomplishments (Sam Bradford, Blake Griffin). Let's add Kim to the list.

Also, he's not short on self -confidence. Check out the customized "AK" belt buckle.

Your turn, player.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Come On A-Rod, Join The Human Race

You can start by breathing, or, blinking, or playing a game of word association. Things you can do without thinking yourself to death.

The Associated Press conducted an interview with the infamous, unauthorized Alex Rodriguez biographer Selena Roberts, after obtaining a copy of the A-Rod book.

The book seems less to do with A-Rod's drug use and misdeeds than his fragile psyche. Those of us that have followed his career, especially since he was traded to the Yankees, are still waiting to meet the real A-Rod.

He clearly is the unusual superstar, that he cares too much about what people perceive of him. Or maybe he's over-compensating because he's an empty soul and not capable of caring. Either way, I'll play pop psychologist and call it "Pageant Syndrome." Like those contests where everything is practiced and choreographed so that the judges (in this case us) hear what the contestants and their handlers think they want to hear.

A-Rod's hired the world's most relentless agent and is surrounded by a PR team - so we don't know if anything coming out of his mouth is genuine. And that's just off the field.

When he's on the field, he's an automaton. Yankee fans haven't embraced him, not just because of his late-season spirals (although that's certainly part of it), but because he's a mechanical man with a robotic personality. New Yorkers want to see you sweat, bleed, get dirty, and they don't mind if you fail. Just so long as you go down fighting.

No wonder A-Rod is obsessed with Derek Jeter - a true Yankee that will be loved not only for what he's done, but what he represents. And Jeter doesn't have to try to please anyone to accomplish it. He just is. Alex can emulate all he wants, but he will never be the genuine article until his own personality emerges.

Go ahead A-Rod, throw your helmet when you're mad. Celebrate openly when you come through in the clutch. Dive into the stands to get an out for your pitcher and your teammates. Just be yourself already. If there's anyone in there.

Friday, May 1, 2009

May Day! Congress Gives College Football Fans Hope For A Championship Playoff!

It's always good to have hope, and while change is a big word in Washington, College Football fans will have to keep hoping.

A political circus today on Capitol Hill as the power brokers of college football went before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, trade and consumer protection subcommittee. (And you thought there was bureaucracy in the TV business?)

Entertaining stuff. Lots of good sound bites and quote words for the media to exploit. Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) likened the current system to communism. Rep. Barton is a Republican and a Texas A&M Aggie. Congressman? A penny for your thoughts on this snapshot:

One of my favorite role models is in the picture, and he's not the one you all suspect (you know, the one on the far left). My crew joked with me all year about my "man crush" - that genuine smile - just another reason to love the dreamy #12.

Anyhow, I'm digressing because nothing real was accomplished today in Washington. But if the goal is to have a College Football Championship Playoff sometime in our lifetime, then this is a good first step.

Several months ago I posted an "Open Letter to the President-Elect" (below) and asked for some exploratory hearings on this subject, so I can't complain.

November 11, 2008

Dear President-Elect Barack Obama,

You started this. Your interview with Chris Berman last week seemed innocuous and diverting at the time. But when you said you were in favor of a College Football Playoff, you picked up the political football. Now, we want to see you run with it. You’ve given all college football fans the audacity of hope.

Sports radio has been buzzing about it. Bob Stoops and Pete Carroll both said last week that they think it’s time. Joe Paterno, who has had several unbeaten seasons in which his team didn’t get a chance to be champion, has always been a proponent.

Mr. President-Elect, I know your agenda is filling up by the second. But I don’t think one day of exploratory hearings on Capitol Hill is too much to ask for, at least to start. Any weekday in April of ’09 sounds good.

I’m sure you know, but the last eight years have been hard on all of us:

• In 2001, #1 Nebraska was clobbered in Colorado 62-36 in their regular season finale. They didn’t qualify for the Big 12 Championship, but still got to face Miami in the title game, and were out-classed.

• In 2003, #1 Oklahoma was defeated soundly in the Big 12 Championship game by Kansas State. They were still invited to play for the BCS title against LSU. The Tigers won, and USC was awarded the AP crown.

•2004, Auburn went unbeaten through the grueling SEC season, won their conference championship, and still was on the outside looking in. They completed their perfect season with a Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech, but took home no national hardware. Utah finished unblemished as well.

• In 2007, chaos reigned. Teams who had destiny in their hands lost week after week, until LSU emerged as a 2-loss champion. Nobody argued after such a wild ride, but was anyone 100% settled on the final two combatants?

Last week, people turned out in record numbers to vote and have their voices heard. How do you think the people would vote on this issue? Having an unpopular, unfair system in place simply isn’t democratic.

"Yes we can” decide our national champion on the field, not through polls or computers.


Millions of college football fans


Not too bad. You ask for April, and you can't really complain about May 1st. Maybe he read my letter.

Sometimes you gotta go long.