Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rockin' the B Terminal @ ATL

As we close in on one year at Backtime, I get to travel around the country and talk to people (yes, plural) who like the blog. Some enjoy the opinion pieces, or at least enjoy disagreeing with them. Some enjoy the misadventures from the road. But rarely does anyone get any real useful information...until now.

If you happen to be stuck in Atlanta airport for 4 hours, then B Terminal is the place to be.

The first stop is the Sweetwater Draft House and Grill. Good beer selection, decent menu - chili and cobb salad were high quality, solid wines by the glass, and unlike most of Atlanta airport - excellent service with a smile.

It's a little cramped, but if you can grab a seat against the wall, you might be able to plug in your laptop and set up shop. But if you really want to jam on your work, the place to go is Minute Suites.

What it is essentially provides is a pod-sized hotel room at $30 an hour (or $15 for a half-hour)with high-speed internet service, a pull-out sofa, and a plasma screen. It's a brilliant idea and's expensable.

Now I know what you all are thinking. Hotel room in an airport? Hourly rates? Sounds like a mile-high club at ground level to me, an and excellent business start-up plan for a well-connected pimp.

But seriously, it is a great place to get some work done or catch a quick nap without the rat race all around you.

Then maybe catch a Seattle's Best Coffee (Dunkin' Donuts is in terminal A if you still have time) before your next mundane connection.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Big Blue and Gang Green Weekend

It was the culmination of an all-time sports week, whether I had to work or not. First Allen Fieldhouse on Wednesday, then Rupp Arena on Saturday. They are two of the meccas of college hoops, and currently house the top two teams in the nation as well.

While I take the history of Kansas' home court above all others, Kentucky's home is something to behold for other reasons. The deluge of blue all day along is unrelenting - from the food court to the convention center to the Hyatt, which are all connected to Rupp. And they are real fans that have been born into the tradition and the passion ("Bluebloods?").

On Saturday, the Wildcats took on historic rival Arkansas, who is a little down this year. Kentucky led 10-0 and never looked back. They even led 71-29 at one point, and nobody left - even after a resounding victory that launched the unbeaten 'Cats to the #1 ranking.

...And the crowd still wouldn't leave. The below picture was taken after the blowout win as the masses stayed to watch Coach Calipari on the Big Blue postgame radio show.

After a terrific dinner at Pazzo's, I woke up the next morning and piled all my stuff in for my 3-hour pilgrimage from Lexington to Indy, where I was certain to see a lot more blue at the AFC Championship game. My sub-standard Ford Focus rental had Sirius Radio but no cruise control.

It rained for the majority of my ride, but after I parked strategically (for my postgame getaway - a learned trait in all TV production types), and I took the bright sun emerging over the enemy battleground as a great sign.

And there were a ton of Jet jerseys out on the street. The New York/New Jersey/Long Island posse represented well in Indianapolis. They all, much like Rex Ryan and myself were feeling giddy about our chances.

It's a beautiful new stadium, and I perched myself in the Jets radio booth - miles above sea level, but dead-center.

The rule is no cheering in the press box, but I didn't stand a chance. After some early pressure on Peyton Manning and some great play calls by Brian Schottenheimer, the Jets had a 17-6 lead. I had dreams of going straight from my Gainesville game on Feb. 6 straight to Miami for Super Bowl XLIV, though I would not speak of it.

But it ultimately didn't matter what I did or said, it was about what Peyton Manning did and said, in a clinic on how to play QB on the biggest stage.

The Jets' run was epic, but it was over - much like my week on hallowed sports ground.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dare to Dream? You've got the Green Light

I saw what I saw. It was a tough, will-imposing playoff victory on the road against a team that had won 11 in a row.

Rex Ryan seemed to know what "Jet Football" meant before the rest of us. I get it now. Run on 1st down, run on 2nd down, don't turn it over on 3rd down, and let the D do the rest. 17-14 is the way he drew it up.

The formula for momentum may be mass times acceleration, but momentum is built on moments. A few game-changing statements when Jets fans knew things were a little bit different this time.

There was the 2nd quarter effort where Jet Safety Jim Leonhard lost his helmet but came up with the football after he separated Malcolm Floyd from it. The fact that the play was called incomplete (in a dubious overturn) wasn't the point. The smallest man on the field was a guided missile all night.

When the Jets trailed 7-3 early in the 4th, Mark Sanchez rolled right on a 3rd & Goal on the 2. When nobody was open I shouted "Throw it away!" But Rookie QB bought time and space with his feet, and sure enough found 2nd Year TE Dustin Keller in the back of the end zone.

For a guy who threw for only 100 yards, these 2 yards were awfully big.

And for Kerry Rhodes with the massive sack and strip on Philip Rivers, there was a little redemption there. Rhodes was probably the best player on the Jets last playoff team in '06, but was maligned much of his first year in Rex's D.

And there was another rookie, RB Shonn Greene, two hands on the football, running over Eric Weddle and charging 53 yards to the Chargers' end zone. And if you take away all the intangibles that propelled this postseason ride, this runner is the #1 reason the Jets can beat anybody on any field.

But on the huge 4th & 1, to put the game away, it was Jet vet Thomas Jones who powered over the right side. It was the right move in a meeting of the minds of the OC and HC (who also happens to be the DC).

The fact that Brian Schottenheimer can buy into Rex Ryan's old-school vision is symbolic of the total team effort. That's something we can all buy into.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Backtime in Knoxville: Circus Interruptus

I got to Knoxville in preparation for the #10 Vols to take on #23 Ole Miss in a key early-season hoops battle. When I got there, it was a circus. But a funny thing happened under the big top, the new ringmaster showed up and cooled everything off.

Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton was serious (just look at his face) when he said he wasn't returning back to campus without a head coach. And when Louisiana Tech Head Coach Derek Dooley was introduced, Vol Nation was skeptical to say the least.

But Coach Dooley was extremely impressive and composed, and a further look at his resume shows that the Tennessee program may be in good hands for a very long time.

1. He was Recruiting Coordinator for Nick Saban at LSU, which included the 2003 National Championship.

2. He was not only the head football coach at Louisiana Tech, but athletic director as well. So not only does he know how to recruit, but knows a little something about compliance. Not to mention strong organizational and time management skills.

3. He's his "own man." After the previous head coach left for his "dream job," how does someone whose name is synonymous with Georgia football, convince the Tennessee fan base that this is his "destination."

Again, look at the resume. When he went to college, he could have flown into Athens on a magic carpet, but he decided to walk on at Virginia instead.

When he returned to Georgia, it was to continue his education. After 4 years of law school and 2 years as a practicing attorney, that's when he decided to get into football coaching.

After working for Saban with the Dolphins, he could have taken a high-profile assistant position at Alabama, but decided to step into the unknown in Ruston, Louisiana and move the La Tech program forward.

At Dooley's press conference, he said he couldn't sum up his goals in a soundbite. He wouldn't make any promises he couldn't follow through on. He said trust couldn't be asked for, it had to be earned.

Lane Kiffin grabs attention as wonderboy, and he still might be - the jury's still out. He hasn't been anywhere long enough to find out.

Dooley is just 41, and his grades are incomplete as well. But he seems to have pockets full of character.

While Kiffin plays pirate, Dooley is more like a president.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Determination, Thy Name is Bill

One of my favorite dramas, Big Love, often portrays the "normal" life of a "family" in extraordinary circumstances. So while the show evolves into the fantastic, that makes Bill Henrickson a super-hero. Which is what's alluded to in the show's new open sequence for Season Four.

The husband of three and father of eight also has his hands full running his own church, cleaning up the mess at the UEB, managing two Home-Plus superstores, and opening up the Blackfoot Magic Casino. He was the one with the foresight to sell the casino experience to the Mormon masses, just 85 minutes from SLC in Idaho.

Bill is "the sunny face of polygamy" according to his Native American casino partners. Though he's having a hard time escaping the shadow of Roman Grant, the disappeared (and dead) "Prophet" of Juniper Creek, one of the FBI's Most Wanted, and Bill's Father-in-Law.

But no matter how high the stakes are, and Bill has plenty to lose, he never loses his cool or backs down from his principles. Which is of course is "The Principle," which as best I can tell is to accumulate the biggest family possible to build a kingdom in heaven.

Since Bill built his kingdom from nothing - he was kicked off the polygamist compound as a teenager to fend for himself - it's easy to admire him. He won't sweat, lash out, or beg. He makes no apologies for his lifestyle. And he has the will and the presence to negotiate with all sorts of power players.

No wonder his wives love him so much.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Which Green Team will show up in Cincy?

The Riddler was a pretty devious guy, so he must have chosen green for a reason. Maybe it was to torment the faithful of the AFC's New York/New Jersey franchise by keeping them on a yo-yo string.

Even for a star-crossed franchise like the Jets, this had to be one of the weirdest seasons of all-time.

Bill Parcells once famously said, “You are what your record says you are.” Well that goes out the window once the playoffs begin. The 9-7 Jets caught some breaks down the stretch, but now they have a shot just like everyone else.

So now we have to wonder which Jet team is going to show up.

Is it the Jet team that was literally a handful of plays from 14-2? A team that Rex Ryan declared “should be favored” to win it all?

We laugh at Rex sometimes, but it’s a Jets team that has truly changed the culture under the rookie head coach. It is the first Jet team I can remember with a dominant defense. They’ve had some big-play defenses before, but never a shutdown unit like this one. The running game has also out-toughed opponents at the line of scrimmage, behind an O-Line featuring 3 Pro Bowlers.

Or will we see the team that has 5 bizarre losses in the final minute?

Two losses to Miami – in one, they couldn’t stop the Wildcat, in the other they couldn’t cover a kick.

The home loss to the Bills 16-13 in OT that set football back two generations. The Jets threw 6 picks and still had a shot. I’d never rooted so hard for a tie in my life.

The slide by Maurice Jones-Drew to kill the clock and set up the Jags’ winning FG.

The failure to cover Tony Gonzalez on a 4th and goal in a game handed to Atlanta.

Maybe the culture hasn’t changed all that much after all. But then when they needed a win to get in last week, they whipped Cincinnati 37-0. It was important victory for a number of reasons.

1) The Jets have served up so much heartbreak to their fans throughout the years. But in this case, they removed all doubt early and gave their die-hard fans a well-earned laugher.

2) They got in the heads of the team they turn around and play the next week.

3) They have a viable offensive weapon in Brad Smith. The former Missouri QB is now filling the role vacated by the loss of Leon Washington early in the season.

And what of the Bengals? The team I enjoyed so much in Hard Knocks is now the enemy, despite Ochocinco’s weekly theatrics and Cedric Benson’s redemption.

If the Jets can get a big play from Sanchez and the passing game on the first series, the running game will open up and it should be lights out.

I said before last week’s rout that the “Jets would win either 30-3 or lose 9-6.” And that logic still applies. Because you never know what to expect with those guys in green.

They may win another laugher and they may lose again in the most excruciating fashion. They’re a mystery inside an enigma all wrapped up in a riddle, or however that saying goes.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Someone Please Explain the Criteria for the MLB Hall of Fame

OK, this year one guy got in. Andre Dawson, "The Hawk." Now I like Andre Dawson - I loved him him when he I was 10 and he was #10. He was the complete centerfielder, my favorite position. And he is arguably the greatest Montreal Expo of all-time.

But a Hall-of-Famer? Dawson's probably in because of a freakish year he had with the last place Cubs in '87.

Don Mattingly's peak was just as long as The Hawk's but nobody puts The Hit Man (you remember the poster) in the Cooperstown conversation.

And what about the legit contenders for Hall of Fame induction?

Roberto Alomar was the best 2B of his generation, every bit the piece of the Toronto puzzle as Joe Morgan was on the Big Red Machine. Why didn't he get in? Was it a personality issue? There have been some questions about Alomar's "lifestyle."

Is getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame now about playing ball? Andre Dawson was loved by all, just as Albert Belle was hated by all. But it's what's on the back of Albert Belle's baseball card that makes him the better candidate.

While Dawson shined for a few years, Belle raked at the plate for a decade. And for the record, Jack Morris would have chewed up Dawson in October forcing either a popout or a DP grounder if he didn't strike him out first.

I know a Hall-of-Famer when I see one. Alomar is a lock. Morris is a lock. Belle is borderline. As is Dawson, who got an extremely pre-emptive invite.

I always assumed that Hall of Fame voters were either curmudgeonly writers, or old school magnificent players, the curators of the game. Basically the least political people you can find. But they all defy logic too.

I think I'll start my own Hall of Fame and install my own completely arbitrary formula.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Oh, It's On

College Football. Where passions begin at such a young age, and lines are drawn in the sand.

In this case, it's the McElroys against the McCoys. Son sports the colors of his mom's alma mater while I choose the colors of my adopted one. Or at least one of them - you can include Kansas, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Clemson, and even Auburn (yes I said it!) as great places where I've logged enough work and play hours to put towards an honorary degree.

But we'll put the family battle aside. My wife will be at work, and my son will be asleep. This is about validation for both the 2008 and 2009 Longhorns.

Last year's team was denied the opportunity to represent the Big 12 South in the conference title game despite a win over Oklahoma and a loss on the last play to Texas Tech. It's the only blemish in 2 years against Colt McCoy's 25-1 record as a starter.

McCoy lost out on the Heisman this year to Alabama's Mark Ingram, mostly because he was made to look very mediocre against a Nebraska defense that validated itself by shutting out one of the Pac-10's top offenses in a 33-0 rout of Arizona in the Holiday Bowl.

Alabama's real difference-maker won't be Ingram in this game, but rather QB Greg McElroy. The kid form Southlake Carroll threw only 4 INTs and was sacked only 13 times in 13 games in his first year as a starter.

And Alabama has (sigh) the best coach in college football, there's really no doubt about it. But that's kind of the point. Nick Saban, known in some TV production circles as "The Nicktator" has coached B+ talent onto an A+ season. Texas has the A+ talent. McElroy couldn't go to Texas because he wouldn't play there.

But coaching is overrated, right? Just a few years ago, Mack Brown couldn't win the big one. Now he's looking at a twin for the Texas trophy case.

Texas 30, Alabama 20. As they say in Texas, "Sorry son."

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Hometown Hit and Run

Even a veteran traveler like myself can still get nostalgic with a rare visit to the town where I spent my formative years and half of my life.

Teaneck, New Jersey - population approx. 45,000. About 5 miles west of the GW Bridge and 5 miles east of the shopping mall empire of Paramus.

Thomas Wolfe wrote "You Can't Go Home Again," and if you could, would you recognize it? I hadn't been back in over 7 years, and it's amazing how much smaller my suburban bedroom community seems.

If this house wasn't located on Ogden Avenue between Sussex and Rugby, I probably wouldn't have picked it out of a lineup. Even though it was my home address from 1973-1993.

And what about the track that I ran around thousands of times in my life?

It's been moved in conjunction with the football field. But the tacky, outdated Highwaymen scoreboard which was still there when I graduated in '87 was still presiding over the field.

The real reason for the visit? Bringing the kids for the first time to the town where Daddy grew up. And a visit to Cedar Lane and Bischoff's of course. Where the same manager was working behind the counter.

I rocked the tuna melt and chocolate ice cream soda with chocolate marshmallow ice cream. The kids ordered grilled cheese sandwiches and declined ice cream since it was a wind-chill of about 10 degrees outside. What do they know growing up in the paradise of Savannah, Georgia? Wimps.

Friday, January 1, 2010

If Urban Meyer Hangs up the Headset...

After a historic 4-year run, Urban Meyer's future at Florida is admittedly uncertain, to say the least. Now the speculation begins - if Meyer decides to step down and put his health and family first - as to who will lead the Gator Nation into the future.

The names of Dan Mullen, Charlie Strong, and anyone with a connection to Gainseville or Meyer is bound to be mentioned as long as the situation remains in limbo after tonight's Sugar Bowl.

So I'm going to go off the board, and name Tim Tebow as the next Florida Head Coach. OK now, when you're done laughing let's look at this objectively. What are the main requirements of a major (MAJOR) college Head Coach?

1. You are the face of the university.
2. You recruit the best players.
3. You have the full attention of everyone in the program.

Tebow? No doubt. Check, check, and check.

My favorite Tebow story is that when he was a true freshman, on campus for one month, and he wasn't even the starting QB, he was voted his team's captain for the offense vs defense tug-of-war at the end of training camp. That is the type of presence he possesses.

Why should Tebow live in relative obscurity as an NFL tight end or clipboard-holding backup QB when he can continue his legacy and cut maybe the most unique profile in the history of college football?

Is he ready to run a program from A to Z, formulate a gameplan, or call all the plays? Probably not. You can't think he's going to out-strategize Nick Saban at 23 years old. But there's nobody who'd be more comfortable with an on-the-job training situation.

Knowing what we know about Tebow, he would rise to the challenge. Most importantly those rabid Gator fans would be on board. And we know the headset fits.