Monday, December 31, 2012

Backtime 2012 Big Finish: Day 12

Appropriately Day 12, the last day of '12 is in the Big 12, at a cold and isolated midwestern outpost. A brilliantly awful morning here in Stillwater - about 34 and freezing rain. I got one last load of laundry done yesterday and the end is in sight. Dinner reservations have been made at Brooklyn's.

In just over 24 hours I'll finally be back home, so you know where I'll be when the ball drops: in bed, sleeping on Tulsa Time.

Tonight it's Gonzaga at Oklahoma State for some hoops at Gallagher-Iba. Oklahoma State has an exciting freshman guard combo, Marcus Smart and Phil Forte.

Smart (right) is the 6-4 point guard, consummate team leader. Forte is the 5-10 shooter. They played high school together in Flower Mound, Texas, where they won back-to-back state titles. They go back way farther than that and have a 6th sense for each other on the court.

Smart and Forte join Le'Bryan Nash and Markel Brown on a resurgent Oklahoma State team that looks to give Kansas and Baylor a run in the Big 12 season. But before turning the page into conference play, the Cowboys have the Zags tonight, who have already whipped four Big 12 opponents this season.

Should old acquaintance be forgot, Backtime returns tomorrow from home base.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

X's And O's At Eskimo Joe's

After years of Big 12 basketball and countless trips to Stillwater, Oklahoma, a number of things can be relied on at Eskimo Joe's. It's a top sports bar with signature chili cheese fries, gear for the kids, and TV coverage of the NFL when you're away from your Sunday Ticket.

Big Monday basketball meant a lot of Sunday travel, and some huge late-season and playoff games games in Eskimo Joe's living room.

February 6, 2005

After a flight delay I arrived in-progress to Super Bowl XXXIX. It was the Eagles' lone Super Bowl under Andy Reid despite 5 NFC Championship appearances.

It was the Patriots' 3rd championship under Belichick and Brady, but people forget it was tied 14-14 after 3 quarters. It turned out to be the story of two WRs: Terrell Owens coming off a knee injury and having a heroic effort, and Deion Branch catching 11 passes and an MVP award for the Pats.

But when the game was on the line, Donovan McNabb was hyperventilating, costing the Eagles valuable time in their comeback. The Patriots held on 24-21.

January 21, 2007

The 2006 NFC Championship game was a blowout, with the Bears ending the Saints year-after-Katrina run with a 39-14 finish. But it wasn't always a runaway.

After the Bears took a 16-0 lead, the Saints cut it to 16-14 after rookie Reggie Bush caught a short toss from Drew Brees and went 88 yards for a score, sending Joe's into a frenzy.

But the Bears D (forced 4 turnovers) and a pre-Jet Thomas Jones (123 yards, 2 TD) pulled away and the Bears were headed to the SuperBowl despite having Rex Grossman in the cockpit.

The Colts beat the Patriots later that day but we watched at another restaurant.

December 30, 2012

With a bye on the line for the Packers and a season on the line for the Vikings, Adrian Peterson ran past 2,000, cinched an MVP award, and launched Minnesota into the playoffs in an awesome regular season finale: 37-34.

So when 2013 rolls around, the Vikings will be in the playoffs, and I won't be near chili cheese fries again anytime soon. That's a shaky New Year's resolution.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Empty The Saddlebags

There's a lot to do along the way to a 62-28 final. Every off-the-field story and far-fetched production element ran in the 3rd quarter:

> Arrests were made in the investigation into the murder of Marion Grice's brother.

> Navy backup QB Rafi Montalvo is recovering from a major car accident.

> Former Arizona State recruit Angelo Richardson being paralyzed six years ago, his scholarship honored, and now he assists with the team.

> The future of dominant ASU DT Will Sutton.

> Navy's season in review.

> The game being played at the home of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

> Numerous promos and some sales obligations.

Next time we'll have to do soundbites too, because there was nothing left for the 4th quarter, except tape of the game's opening coin toss.

Yes, while Washington sits on the precipice of a fiscal cliff (CLIFF!), Senator John McCain, USNA '58, was flipping an Oreo. I'd call this a self-serving political photo-op, except it's an awesome photo. The home state he serves in the US Senate hammered his alma mater, but guess what - he wins either way. Sorta like being in politics.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Backtime Walkabout: The Streets of San Francisco

While I always love a trip to northern California, being plopped right in the middle of downtown San Francisco isn't really my thing. I lived in New York for 6 years and Times Square is for tourists. Ditto for Union Square, SF.

You think of San Fran as a progressive city with their liberal lawmakers and their clean, green taxicabs.

But actually it's really grungy (and I don't mean that in a good way), and very expensive. The streets aren't that clean, there are panhandlers on almost every corner, and tourists from all over the world still blow cigarette smoke all over the place.

During my downtime I found a pretty good mexican joint and a grabbed a coffee and sat on a park bench and people-watched. It was a nice chance to exhale. It's got to be all downhill from here.

Outside of getting a great workout for the calves, I'm not a huge fan. Next time I'm staying in Pacific Heights, or maybe my next flight to the Bay area will involve a side trip to Napa.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Backtime 2012 Big Finish: Day 8

OK the blog streak ended at 165 days (just 200 short in a non-election year), and lasted way longer than my plants. I was just too busy working, with the responsibilities of a TV producer and digging myself out of a blizzard. Or as they call it in Detroit, "snow," a mere 4-6 inches doesn't qualify as anything more.

My 7th Detroit Bowl game was a lot like many of the previous ones, wild. The 4th quarter involved a (carried over) 9-minute drive, a 7-minute drive, a TD with a fumble upheld, a TD run overturned, a blocked punt in the end zone, and a very questionable 4th down play call. Central Michigan ultimately prevailed over Western Kentucky.

The 19 buses from Bowling Green, Kentucky all managed to arrive in Detroit for the game, and several pulled up in front of our hotel after the game. It was a mad house. Not only were there 5 inches of unplowed snow in front of the hotel but they couldn't even take may car for close to an hour. The story works better visually, but I just can't take pictures everywhere I go.

It was still fully dark when I dropped off the rental car in the slush at Detroit Metro in the morning. While I undersell the holidays, I know what to ask Santa for before my next Christmas in Detroit: a hat, gloves, scarf, and boots. Almost none of which are needed in Savannah...ever.

My seat assignment from Detroit to San Francisco, 21D, reminded me of my first day as a Delta Platinum in 2008. I was traveling from Detroit to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio and I drew 29E - a middle seat. Welcome to Platinum. Well I must have more clout now, because I was the first one called to be upgraded.

And traveling at 30,000 feet with Wi-Fi and a charger, it was a productive and relaxing experience. I didn't mind the snow so much...while flying over Yosemite.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Backtime Walkabout: Christmas Morning In Detroit

"Twas Christmas morning in Downtown Detroit. Not a creature was skating, but the trees were just the right hoit."

This is my 7th Christmas in Detroit assignment, so it's become very familiar to me. Being in the TV business, I'm not a big holidays guy.

I've worked full-time on college basketball since '93 and college football since '96, however when I wanted to break in as a MLB producer in 2000, the opportunities were rare. But there was almost always a slot for me on Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day, when the network would run games all day.

And for years I worked the Egg Bowl, the annual battle between Mississippi and Mississippi State on Thanksgiving Day. That's actually how I met the mother of my children - a story for another time.

So I rarely make plans with family or friends on the holidays, I try and fill my schedule. I use the time to provide for my family instead of spend it with them.

While I'm desensitized to Christmas (because I am a working professional and Jewish), I'm not exactly bah humbug. I still get into the spirit somewhat. I've seen It's A Wonderful Life dozens of times, and I enjoy Christmas music. Except for Baby It's Cold Outside, which has been described as a date-rape anthem.

In previous years we would stay at the GM Renaissance Center, which wasn't bad, but removed from downtown Detroit. It's farther away than it looks, and on the 70th floor you're practically in Canadian airspace where cell phone service is very dicey.

So this morning I took a walk. It was kind of a ghost town on Christmas morning. Even though hockey is out, the Zamboni guy was working the rink at Campus Martius. There was a dusting of snow from Christmas Eve, and no sun this morning. Having lived in Michigan for three years that's not unusual.

And if my soul was any bit empty from the dreariness, solitude, and cold, that got remedied at American Coney Island with a 10:30 AM chili dog.

OK, back to business. But first a side trip to see my sister and brother-in-law in Toledo, who are doing the holidays with his family. Everybody in the world has family in Ohio.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Backtime Dateline: Hockeytown

Detroit is a great sports town but one of its beloved sports teams is MIA. It hasn't been on my radar much, I haven't followed hockey with any regularity since I was in my early 20s. But I know the Red Wings are a big thing around here, and for the second time in less than ten years their fans may be deprived of even a single game this season.

I know that the absence of hockey hasn't made much of a dent in the national sports landscape (which is part of the owners' point in hard-lining player salary structures), but it does affect a lot of people. That includes the mostly-local TV crew I am working with here in Detroit, who count on the home NHL team to provide 40 events they can put on their calendar - not including playoffs.

But what else is lost, is the identity of a city, and a fan base that may not return even after the sport does.

As a baseball guy first, I remember the MLB labor dispute in 1994 and what it cost my team. The Yankees were 70-43 and dominating the AL East. Paul O'Neill was hitting .359 and Jimmy Key was 17-4 when the season was interrupted and then ultimately disbanded.

What if the season had been completed? How would life have been different for Buck Showalter? Don Mattingly? Joe Girardi?

Only the Montreal Expos had a better record in 1994. But what if they went on to win it all? Could they have kept Pedro Martinez or Larry Walker a little longer? Could the franchise have been saved?

But today in the NHL, in Hockeytown, there aren't even "what ifs," only ifs.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Backtime 2012 Big Finish: Day 4

That's the street sign across the street from my hotel. No bad act ever dies, they just play half-filled theaters in Vegas.

That's why after the sports were done yesterday, I went to the show at my hotel: Jimmy Stewart and Friends starring Rich Little. But I wanted to go, and that officially makes me old and washed up.

Little is 74 now, and the impressions are still very good. The one-man act is Jimmy Stewart narrating the sequence of events of his life, with the interactions of others along the way.

Little of course nailed Johnny Carson, Andy Rooney, Cary Grant, and Ronald Reagan. His one foray into the modern was a riff from the Geico voice-over guy.

And there was some creative stuff too as Little reenacted a scene from It's A Wonderful Life with Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter and George Bailey, played by Humphrey Bogart.

The crowd, which I estimated at 250 or so, was there because they remembered how big he used to be. They were and older and whiter Fox News crowd, and Little threw some Republican bones along the way.

It was a good show that Little is trying to take to Broadway (or at least the Catskills), but he could use an infusion of some popular culture. Maybe Simon Cowell, Chris Berman, or even a little Joe Biden would liven up the act. But that's just some unpaid advice.

The advice you can count on me for in Vegas is: drink water. If you're drinking or smoking (smoking is still everywhere here), in the steam room, or just out in the desert air, keep yourself hydrated.

Now here is where you would probably be not too wise to take my advice, since I haven't made a football bet in a year:

1. IND Colts (-5) at KC

I don't generally like road favorites. But the Colts can clinch a playoff spot, their coach is returning, and they've got a goal-oriented Andrew Luck at QB. The Chiefs have folded the tent. This one will be done early.

2. DAL Cowboys (-2.5) vs Saints

A desperate team at home against the most inconsistent team in the NFL. The number that popped into my head was 41-14.

3. JAX Jaguars (+14) vs Patriots

That's an awful lot of points to get at home against anyone. And the Patriots are ready for a let down after an emotional comeback came up short last week vs San Fran. And they go on the road to the most dreary and lifeless stadium in the NFL.

4. DEN Broncos (-11.5) vs Browns

The Broncos are 11-3 and shooting for a bye if not home-field. They've won 9 in a row while only playing two home games since Halloween. This has got the makings of a late afternoon snoozer all over it.

So there you have it, three home teams out of four, three favorites out of four. Three out of four would make for a very good day.

But in the meantime, here's some exceptionally bad advice:

So there's pressure on you McElroy. My $20 to win $18.20. Not long after the Jets are a memory, I take the red-eye to Detroit to get back to work on the rest of the grind.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Backtime Memo-Random: Las Vegas

I have less than 48 hours between jobs, so I touched down in Vegas today for the closest thing to a vacation I can get.

I got a room for $59/night, plenty to eat and drink, an awesome gym, and of course it's an NFL weekend. I have two Bowl games and a New Year's Eve hoop game to prep and complete before I return home, so it's a nice opportunity to recharge the batteries.

It's only my second ever trip to Sin City as a tourist, and I have no personal experiences to share (y'all know the expression). But I have been there to work on a number of occasions, and one particular event stands out:

June 17, 1994

It was my first "season" as a 25-year old full-fleged associate producer for the network. And while I still had my hands in some MLB and World Cup Soccer, I was traveling on Arena Football.

The games rated fairly well back then, and increased that year once baseball went on strike and took the rest of the year off. But on that night, we had a fairly nondescript game between the Cleveland Thunderbolts and the Las Vegas Sting.

Former West Virginia QB beast Major Harris played for Cleveland, but there weren't any other players that anyone would remember. The coaches, however, had some history. Las Vegas was coached by former Patriots QB Babe Parilli, and Cleveland was coached by Earle Bruce (yes, that Earle Bruce). I was still wide-eyed at that point at who I was sitting with in coaches' meetings.

The game was at MGM Grand Gardens, which was extremely convenient since we were staying at the MGM Grand. I remember calling housekeeping to ask for an iron, and they said "the" iron would be brought right up. The iron? The place has over 5,000 rooms and one iron?

The thing that was important in my world was that we were going to debut an innovation in our graphics. If a flag was thrown during a play, we would flash "flag" in the upper corner of the screen. We were still using those funky espn2 graphics at that point, so it really stood out.

Some management types were alerted to this ahead of time and we were told they'd be watching. But a funny thing happened shortly after we went on the air. Remember the date of the event? What else happened that day?

A white Bronco made a slow ride down a Los Angeles freeway, and ESPN, along with every major network, broke away for live coverage. NBC even ditched coverage of the NBA Finals to cover the breaking news. We on espn2, however, were told to just keep covering the game since O.J. Simpson was already wallpapered across the nation.

So we did our game, ran our "flag" graphic innovation, and nobody said a word about it because nobody watched. In later weeks we fine-tuned it, and later it became part of what we see in today's football coverage, along with the constant clock-and-score and the yellow 1st down line.

In this business, there's no real personal credit for innovations. I'm not the Neil Armstrong of "flag" graphics, and nobody has called me to set up an exclusive one-on-one interview with a visionary. I can only be in the right place at the right time.

And while I was one of the few people in America that didn't see the Bronco chase live, I just happened to be in LA for pivotal outcomes of the Simpson case. I was there for a Reds-Dodgers playoff game in 1995 when he was exonerated.

And then I was there for a Laker game in 1997 when Simpson was found liable in the wrongful death civil suit.

Simpson later made a regrettable trip to Las Vegas, and he was ultimately sentenced to 33 years on multiple charges, including kidnapping and armed robbery. He has been in prison in Nevada for the last 5 years.

Sorry Juice, I'm only in Vegas for a quick trip. I won't have time to visit.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Flash Backtime: Waco On The Way

It's kind of a glorious morning in Waco. The above picture was taken from the 11th floor of perhaps the tallest building in the city.

The trip to Waco jump starts a very ambitious road trip, but it was a trip I made here several years ago that was the culmination of one. In fact, that's when I sat down a started this little pocket of the internet.

Three hundred and fifty posts ago, Backtime's first entry was titled Waco On The Way. 

February 1, 2009

When you’re on a long stretch on the road like I am, the Super Mario-like obstacles that impede your progress become less annoying and more comic.

Some years ago, I stopped complaining about the “now” and focused on the “next” – the only problem about problem-solving is my mind often races in 5th gear when my body is in neutral.

It all started earlier this week when my 2-day business trip got extended to 9 days thanks to the Oklahoma ice storms. The “now” was I wasn’t going to get home for a while. The “next” was a shopping spree at the JC Penney in Coralville, Iowa. I had three more games to produce and I didn’t feel right going to work in sweats.

After 4 days barnstorming in Iowa (I can now identify in some measure with the presidential hopefuls), I headed for the final outpost between the road and home: Waco, Texas.

On my half-filled commuter flight from DFW, some cowboy moved to the empty seat in front of me right before takeoff, then reclined his seat back all the way back as soon as we were in the air. This was a breach of frequent-flying etiquette and I pondered how to let him know.

If it were longer than a 20-minute flight I probably would have kicked his chair or unfolded my newspaper in such a way that he’d be wearing it as a hat. But I let it go.

It reminded me of the best revenge I ever got on a fellow traveler – it was many years ago. This husky 300+ pound guy sat next to me, dominated the armrest, fell asleep immediately and snored in my face for over 2 hours. When the flight was over, he had no clue where his shoes were. That was pretty mean, but it felt so good.

So I landed in Waco about 8:45 on a Saturday night and got to the Hertz counter. But there was no agent. In fact, there was no agent at any counter. But I had a reservation. There was nobody to cry to, so I collected my mountain of baggage and found an airport policeman outside. It was a helpful conversation.

EP: Excuse me officer, I have a reservation at Hertz, but there’s nobody there.

COP: Yeah, she goes home about 6 on Saturdays.

EP: Can I call a cab?

COP: Might take about a half-hour. Waco’s only got one cab company and they’re clear across town.

EP: Who do you have to be to get help around here, George W. Bush?

COP: Well he’s just John Q. Citizen now. If his helicopter lands at this airfield at this time on a Saturday night, he’s SOL. He’ll just have to call his wife to pick him up like everyone else.

I thanked him. I was just as helpless as before, but at least I was smiling. Out of the corner of my eye I caught the American flight crew piling into a hotel shuttle. I jumped in with them even though it wasn’t my hotel. I humped my gear a couple of clicks up to my hotel and got on line to check in. When it was finally my turn, an old woman in wheelchair cut me off – she nearly ran over my foot - and started asking the guy at the front desk a bunch of inane questions.

What was I going to do? Tell off the rude old lady in a wheelchair? The front desk guy took pity and told her “let me check this gentleman in first.” My first victory in Waco. Not even the ATF could take it away from me.

If you’ve never been to Waco, this is a very Christian town. The hotel doesn’t offer laundry service on Sundays. So here I am, at a coin-operated laundromat for the first time since I was an NYC bachelor. Oh, and I had to walk since I don’t have a car.

But the trip will get better. We’re looking forward to enjoying the Super Bowl at Cricket’s. My man Bubba was in Vegas for last night’s big UFC battle and he threw down some scratch for me. Big Monday is at Baylor for the first time in 8 years and it should be a great scene.

And I will be home in 48 hours. But got to finish the job in Waco on the way.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Backtime 2012 Big Finish: Day 1

So today it began. Gone for 12 days. Holidays? What Holidays? I got a cash register to ring up. I got everything done at home (I hope) and won't return until January 1. Don't worry y'all, I set the alarm before I left.

If the Mayans are correct, which is hard to imagine since they don't exist anymore, then I won't be returning at all. But in the meantime I will tackle the tasks in front of me.

The first leg of the trip was a mid-afternoon flight. The network must have had to save money on holiday travel because I was not on my preferred airline. Which meant a $25 check baggage fee, and almost an additional levy on top of that as my fortnight suitcase came in at 48 lbs, just under the oversize limit.

I flew coach both legs, first to Charlotte, and then a window seat in the last row to Dallas. We were fighting heavy headwinds so we landed in Dallas a half-hour late. Then I waited 30 minutes for the bag and 20 minutes for the rental car shuttle. Then I looked around the lot for about 10 minutes before finally stumbling on a vehicle with satellite radio.

After a brief bout with construction and traffic, I was in Waco less than two hours later. Got Baylor hoops hosting BYU tomorrow evening, and BYU football is on the big screen right now at Cricket's where they have about a hundred beers on tap.

Cricket's was where I watched the SuperBowl four years ago. It was the Pittsburgh-Arizona classic where Santonio Holmes was a Steelers hero instead of a Jet malcontent.

Alright, Waco tonight. Driving back to some airport hotel at DFW after the game tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What Is Backtime?

I was sitting on The Front Porch just a couple of days ago, and during our fireside chat Mr. Hodesh asked about the derivation of this blog's title.

Backtime, in TV terms, is the time left in your show. This is of course presuming that everything goes to format. You'll need to expand or compress your content to fit the show's length.

Life of course has no given length, but there are only 24 hours in a day. And if you're a Dad, a frequent business traveler, writer, researcher, and someone who wants to remain in reasonably good physical shape, that may not be enough time. So you learn how to maximize your time to get the best content on the air, which in this case means your life.

So my constant evolvement as a Dad, my road adventures, memoirs, perspective on sports, TV and book reviews, and not-too-serious political commentary are all a part of who I am. They all need to be cultivated, watered like plants, to keep my mind sharp and focus on whatever the hell comes next.

Yesterday was a good example:

7:30 AM - Homework at coffee joint

9:30 AM - Haircut

11:00 AM - Holiday Feast at the kids' elementary school

12:30 PM - Car wash

1:30 PM - Conference call (90 minutes)

3:30 PM - Conference call (60 minutes)

4:30 PM - Monitor kids' karate and gymnastics class

6:00 PM - Address and stamp 75 holiday cards

7:15 PM - My karate class

9:00 PM - Prepare food for Wednesday holiday party

10:00 PM - Write blog

Then I set the alarm for 6 AM, with a 7 AM personal training session hanging over my head. And a 12-day, 4-event road trip begins on Thursday.

My son is only 8, but he saw my "must" do list for the week and he was moved to say, "That's a lot of stuff." Come May, I'll likely be sitting on my own front porch devouring a book or just watching the traffic go by. But for now, this is the season. You can set your watch to it, I am the traffic.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Just Offensive

It's too easy to blame Mark Sanchez or the anemic offensive line. The Jets offensive problems lie in a repetitive pattern of history, constantly hiring the wrong man for the wrong job at offensive coordinator.

It hasn't always been awful, just mostly awful. Charlie Weis had three good years when the Jets had briefly changed their identity under Bill Parcells from 1997-99, and Paul Hackett actually had moderate success working with Chad Pennington in the Herm Edwards years from 2001-04.

But if you're a Jet fan, the list below will inspire nothing but seething anger at all the years of miserable play-calling and brain-dead clock management. Years of our lives that have been thrown away on a collection of has-beens and never-will-bes.

Joe Walton 1981-1989

Walton was actually a good offensive coordinator in 1981 & 1982, although that just happened to coincide with the NFL debut of Freeman McNeil. Once Walton was promoted to head coach, it was a disaster. For years, the fans chanted "Joe Must Go!" and management didn't listen.

After his second year as head coach, the offensive coordinator duties were unloaded on...

Rich Kotite 1985-1989, 1995-1996

Kotite saved Walton's job at first. Then he gradually took the Jets offense down the tunnel to hell. And for good measure he was rehired as the worst head coach in Jets history. In 1995 & 1996, the Jets were 4-28.

After a brief search on the internet, I found the picture that all Jet fans would cover their dart board with, the only picture living on the web of great minds Walton and Kotite together.

Bruce Coslet 1990-1993

He was hailed as a visionary after great success as the Bengals OC in the late 80s. But after 4 non-winning seasons in the dual role of Head Coach & Offensive Coordinator, he was shown the door. That paved the way for the one-year fiasco that was the Pete Carroll era, a few years too early.

Coslet returned to his assistant role with the Bengals until David Shula was fired, then he drove the Bengals into the ground too. His career record as an NFL Head Coach: 47-77.

Brian Schottenheimer 2006-2011

"Schottie, you suck," said Mark Sanchez on HBO's Hard Knocks, after Sanchez called a preseason game-opening drive for a TD.

Personally I thought Schottenheimer was awful. I know he got stuck with Brett Favre, and a rookie Mark Sanchez, but somehow the team succeeded despite him. He was a classic game-planner that would rather trick you than just beat you. Thank goodness the Jets had a punishing RB like Thomas Jones who had a couple of brilliant seasons in that stretch.

Tony Sparano 2012-

Sparano got dealt a bad hand too. A few years ago, he had success running the Wildcat with the Dolphins. But since then the gadget offense, as any fad in the NFL, was figured out and dismantled. But the word came down from up high (no pun intended) to involve Tim Tebow.

Early in the season, the results were mixed. But later in the year, all it did was take Sanchez out of rhythm and bring any semblance of cohesion in the offense to a grinding halt.

Does he deserve to stay? Rex Ryan? Sanchez? Tebow? Does anyone?


Who could forget one-year wonders like Ray Sherman (1994), Ron Erhardt (1996), Dan Henning (2000), or Mike Heimerdinger (2005)?

This is the problem with the Jets and their offensive coordinators: they mostly hire retreads, and when they don't they hire guys who have to justify their existence by being fancy.

My only advice, whether hiring an offense-minded head coach, or just a new OC, please do not hire Andy Reid, Norv Turner, or Todd Haley.

Find a guy who's hot, innovative, on the way up, and throw a bunch of money at him. Like they do in college.

Monday, December 17, 2012

2012 New York Jets: Playing Us For Dummies

"So you're telling me there's a chance." ~ Lloyd Christmas, Dumb and Dumber

At 6-7 and headed into a Monday Night game in Nashville, the Jets have a chance, and they're better than the one-in-a-million that Mary Swanson quoted Lloyd. But do we buy it? And why exactly should we?

The Jets finish at Tennessee (4-9), home for San Diego (5-9), and at Buffalo (5-9). All three teams have already thrown in the towel and the Jets could win them all, especially the finale. There's an old expression in the AFC East that applies there:

"As long as they've got Chan Gailey, we've got a chance."

So the Jets need to win out and then need help. It's not as preposterous a situation as you might think and the Jets have been in this position before, backing into the playoffs in 2009 and then making a deep run, leading 17-6 in the AFC Championship game before falling to Peyton Manning in Indy.

The simplest route (assuming the Jets can win out and finish 9-7) is for the Bengals to beat the Steelers this weekend, then lose the final week to the Ravens. The Jets would win a tiebreak with the Bengals, but not the Ravens or Steelers. The Jets would get further help if the Colts lost out and met them at 9-7, but they've got a game at KC this weekend so that's unlikely.

This is all assuming the Jets can sweep to the finish, making 5 straight wins to close the season. Which is a dumb assumption.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Most Thumb-derful Time Of The Year

My daughter's birthday falls in December, so between that and Hanukkah and Christmas, you'd might as well move the toy store here.

The problem is she plays with them all. Everything is opened and fully diagnosed. Nothing gets re-gifted. And I am obliged, between events and on little sleep, to assemble everything. It's not an armoire or anything, but it does take some effort.

And there is no procrastination allowed - you can't just do it tomorrow. Tomorrow is a flight or a conference call or a million other things. So I'm stuck with these moderately intricate directions, and a 6-year old peering over my shoulder ready to pounce.

Whether it's a multi-level Barbie House or a customized Hello Kitty headband-maker, these are mentally challenging exercises.

Even the Monster High and Bratz dolls are so accessorized, that even if you manage to get through the plastic shell, there are a million tight bands and tie wraps to cut your way through before you can extricate Frankie Stein from the box.

Video games are tough too, because the directions, rules and controller functions don't fall on the kid but the dad. The Monster High Skultimate Rollermaze on Wii is fairly simple, and thus is kind of a waste of time to play. Tangled and Brave are much more intelligent and strategic if I'm going to play video games with my daughter.

Just an observation: boys' video games are all about racing and competition. Girls' video games  are more about teamwork and task completion. We can learn a lot about society from this. Except if you're playing Monster High Skultimate Rollermaze, which isn't really about either.

But you'll never really know until you get it out of the box and put it all together.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Backtime Dateline: Chapel Hill

It was an 18-hour hit & run in Chapel Hill, enough time for a nice dinner and an IPA at the Carolina Brewery on Franklin Street, and then a noon matinee at the Dean E. Smith Center.

The headline today wasn't that East Carolina was in town to play the Tar Heels, but rather that their coach, Jeff Lebo brought his team where he starred over 20 years ago. It was so long ago, that Roy Williams was the #3 guy on Dean Smith's staff.

It's a good look for Lebo to go scorched earth on the dome in his advanced age. I can relate. Who loves ya, baby?

East Carolina didn't put up much of a fight for most of the game, but finished with a barrage of 3's to close within 4 before a tough 93-87 road loss. They scored 61 2nd Half points, so (North) Carolina's going to have to work on some D.

I hadn't done a Carolina hoops game in Chapel Hill in quite a while. I've been there for football, women's basketball, and women's soccer (they just won their 21st NCAA championship) since my last game at the Dean Dome. My homecoming wasn't quite as noteworthy as Lebo's.

That's because I had my one brush with the law in Chapel Hill in December 1995, in the aftermath of a house party hosted by some members of the women's swim team. I can't blog any further without a lawyer present.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Red Flags (In A Good Way)

It's weird. When I'm in the house I prefer beer, but when I'm on the road I prefer wine. I've had every generic red wine in each airport bar, off the room service menu, or in the hipster college town eatery.

So, much like when I watch the production of live sports events on TV I'm desensitized. A glass of wine has got to be exceptional or awful to get my attention these days. Which is why I've been so pleasantly surprised twice in the last 48 hours.

First in the Hyatt Place in Sugar Land, Texas. It wasn't even a bar, more like an upgraded pantry. I asked what reds they had seeing if they even offered Pinot Noir. I was sure I'd get a glass of Mirassou like I've had a thousand times. Sure enough she reaches up on a shelf and pulls down a Hangtime from Marlborough, New Zealand. Best glass of Pinot I've had in a while and it was only $7.

Then, surprisingly enough, the "house" red on my United Express flight from Houston to Raleigh was an Australian Fox Grove Shiraz/Cabernet blend. The bottle retails at $12.50 according to the website, but it really seemed a lot bolder than that.

Maybe I was caught off guard by these two wines since my expectations had become so low. But it was also where I received them. So now the bar has been raised in mid-level hotels and on commuter jets, and thus the bar has been raised at the bar as well.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Backtime Walkabout: Sugar Land

Staying in Sugar Land, Texas, one of the well-to-do suburbs of Houston. And you'd think like in most of Texas you can't really walk from one place to another. But here, that isn't the case.

You leave your brand-new hotel and cross a brand-new bridge over a man-made lake, and you find yourself in an upscale outdoor mall with a number of restaurants and shops.

I made the walk last night with a friend to an excellent pizza/pasta/wine bistro, called Coal Vines. The pizza was very reminiscent of John's in New York, which is the gold standard for brick oven pizza.

My colleague had to pay since he had lost our bet on the election. I would have preferred to split the tab, and just remind him every time I see him that he still owes me dinner. But like a good little Republican he didn't want to be beholden to his debt.

So the walk this morning was in search of a good breakfast joint. But no greasy spoons were to be found in Sugar Land, the one-time "fittest city in Texas." Instead I found the largest Whole Foods I had seen in my life.

I went up to the breakfast bar, and shoveled a lump of migas (when in Texas...) into an eco-friendly container, ordered a dirty chai, and got out of there spending just $6.75 - a new record.

Now it's off to work - going to go see the Harrison twins, in a possible sneak preview of Kentucky's next basketball championship in 2014.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Homeland Blows Its Cover

There’s one more week left in Season 2 of Homeland, which means there’s one week before I cancel Showtime once and for all. 

I enjoyed the first season, though I thought it was a guilty pleasure. It was a major reach to win the Emmy for Best Drama. I really do like depiction of the CIA intelligence gathering operation, and the on-the-ground stuff in the Middle East. But the hierarchal aspect is so contrived and far-fetched, it makes me cringe even in the comforts of my living room. The second season was gaining some steam but completely blew up into an off-brand version of 24.

Damain Lewis is the show’s only great character. As the tormented Sgt. Brody his performance is complicated and nuanced. With all that’s happened with him, as a POW, a terrorist, a US Congressman, and a double agent; every reaction to every situation has multiple emotions. You can see it on his face. Excellently played.

Mandy Patankin as CIA veteran analyst Saul Berenson is believable as a super-intelligent hothead. But he clashes with his superiors too often to think he’d still have a job, if not erased fro the earth. CIA assistant director David Estes is just an asshole, and Vice President William Walden (thankfully deceased) was just a bigger asshole.

Mastermind terrorist Abu Nazir was also a preposterous character. He had a nice role in Brody’s flashbacks, and how he went from being torturer to spiritual mentor. But once he showed up in the US, able to invisibly evade military TAC teams (and killing them) and move around an unlimited army of terrorists, he became farcical. I’m glad he’s dead too.

Which brings us to the show’s lead character, Carrie Mathison. Claire Danes’s portrayal transcends unrealistic and unsympathetic to absurd. Matheson, despite a schizophrenic condition that should be a constant disability, continues to be the smartest and most dogged ex-agent ever. She’s got heart coming out of her neatly tucked blouse.

She goes rogue more often than Jack Bauer and Dr. House combined, but she continues to get away with it because she’s always right, nobody can do her job as well as she can, and nobody knows the terrorists like she does.

I’m not-so-secretly hoping that everyone dies in the Season 2 finale. Then the show will have gotten it right.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

MoneyBall vs CashBall

I would have plenty to comment on the Yankees postseason moves...if there were any. Usually there are transactions and plenty of distractions, but this year there's mostly inaction.

Don't get me wrong I think the brain trust knows what it's doing, but this is just boring. They re-signed Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte to 1-year deals. And just now as I write, Kevin Youkilis has signed a 1-year deal to hold down third base for a bit. And all signs point to Ichiro re-signing for one year as well. There is Moneyball, and there is Brian Cashman-brand CashBall.

This is not a calm before the storm, but rather a method to the madness - as I mix metaphors. The Yankees' over-inflated payroll has cost the team a fortune in salary cap luxury tax. Now after seeing the exponentially diminished ROI on the A-Rod investment, they are being a lot more frugal to keep their payroll in line. As opposed to teams like the Dodgers.

The 1-year deals make sense, not just for the veteran pitchers, but for Youkilis as well. Alex Rodriguez still has multiple years left on his contract and will be set back by hip surgery to start the year. It would be difficult to see him playing anything other than DH when he returns. And if he can't hit, that would make for a very ineffective DH. Youkilis is a proven hitter (though not last year) and a strong defensive 3B.

There is still a fairly large hole at the catcher position, after Russell Martin signed a free agent deal with Pittsburgh. I don't have a problem with this as I see catcher as a defensive position first, and it's not like Martin set the world on fire with his bat (.211, 21 HR in 2012). For historical reference, the Yankees replaced Mike Stanley with Joe Girardi in the mid-90s, which coincided with a dynasty. Hmm.

But the Yankees now are down to three catchers on the 40-man roster: Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, and Austin Romine. We don't expect much at the plate, but which of these perennial backups and career minor leaguers will handle a venerable pitching staff?

What you do see is an emphasis on speed: Brett Gardner, Chris Dickerson, Eduardo Nunez, and Ichiro Suzuki (if he's back) are all guys that can steal 30+. So what we see here is not only a re-shaping of the Yankees organizationally, but on the field as well.

The upcoming season promises to be interesting, even if the offseason hasn't been.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Flash Backtime: It's A Wonderful Life (This Week Anyway)

It's that time of year again. Time to celebrate the holiday season, the spirit of giving and unselfishness. When we all live in Bedford Falls.

But would George Bailey's story play today? In this economic and divisive political climate?

An conservative cohort once admitted his incongruous love affair with It's A Wonderful Life, "Isn't it clear that George Bailey is a socialist community organizer?"

The Backtime archives on Barack Obama's first week in office:

January 23, 2009

I was on a plane during inauguration, so it took me a few days to get up to speed. It unfolded like a Capra film - there was Mr. Obama going to Washington to bring conscience to the DC consortium. And the masses braved the cold to see the man who came from nowhere to be the ultimate example for everyone's dreams. 

Just like George Bailey, Barack Obama is driven by a responsibility to others. His self-expression has to take a back seat while he tries to bail out the US Savings & Loan. And the supporting cast was right there to fill out the party. 

Ted Kennedy's moment of the week was something Uncle Billy easily could have pulled at the big gala. Caroline Kennedy was Violet Bick, outcast through a web of unspecific innuendo. And who was Clarence the angel? The good-natured oddball dimwit who showed President Obama how important he is to the world? I'm going with George W. Bush. And tell me Dick Cheney in the wheelchair didn't conjure up thoughts of the warped, frustrated Mr. Potter. Fortunately Potter's reign is over and Bedford Falls can thrive across America. 

If only this were a black and white film.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Tebow Issue A Non-Starter

You know the story: hometown hero takes the local team on his back, fills the stadium, pulls out victories, and propels the squad to new heights.

That was the Tim Tebow story last year in Denver, but it wasn't good enough for the hometown team. The 2-11 Jaguars could have had him too...twice. They could've gotten him from Denver in the offseason if they ponied up anything more than the 4th & 6th round picks the Jets did. Then during the season, they probably could've gotten him wholesale at the trade deadline.

You wonder what the downside would be for the Jags, unless they've decided what 31 other NFL teams including the Jets have, that Tebow can't play QB at this level.

The Jets' acquisition of Tebow has been a non-starter, as he has been. And it's not that Mark Sanchez or the Jets offense couldn't have used his jolt of energy. But ultimately, even at 6-7, the Jets must have decided that the plusses will never outweigh the minuses in replacing Sanchez with Tebow.

And at 6-7, the Jets aren't quite done. They've backed into the playoffs before, and all the way to the AFC Championship game. The two wins since the rock-bottom Thanksgiving night effort haven't been things of beauty: a 7-6 win vs Arizona and a 17-10 snoozer at Jacksonville.

Sanchez was just barely above flatline, passing for 111 yards, though 37 of them were on a crucial 3rd & 8, late. Tebow never got off the sideline even in his hometown.

Can conspiracy theorists run with this? Could Jacksonville purposefully be tanking interest in the team? Will Shahid Khan move the team after all? Or is it merely a football decision not to go for Tebow? They wouldn't be alone.