Friday, November 30, 2012

Like A Bridgewater Over Trouble

Louisville's season didn't finish with they type of glory they were hoping for. They were blown out at Syracuse and had a disastrous home loss to UConn. The quest for an undefeated season went up in smoke, but the BCS Bowl bid was still alive, if they could take the season finale' at Rutgers.

Full disclosure: Syracuse is the alma mater and Rutgers is the home state team, but Backtime's been on the Louisville bandwagon for almost all of 2012. Mostly because of sophomore QB Teddy Bridgewater.

Bridgewater is the counterpart to Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. While Manziel is a slasher, Bridgewater is a surgeon. And both are tougher and bolder than any 19 year-old could realistically expect to be.

Last night, Bridgewater came out in the cold New Jersey night with a cast on his non-throwing wrist, which made it impossible to take snaps from center or play-action. He had a sprained ankle that made planting and throwing just as hard.

So what remained was Bridgewater's guts and guile (and some needed subbing from backup QB Will Stein), as Louisville erased a 14-3 halftime deficit. They climbed on his back in the 2nd half and delivered with a game-winning drive and a 20-17 win.

If you saw Bridgewater's line, you never would've known anything was amiss: 20-28, 263 yards, 2 TD and 1 INT. After the game, Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson descended from the coaches' booth to emotionally show his appreciation.

And with all the talk this week of Head Coach Charlie Strong leaving for richer pastures, the team wasn't distracted. They were focused on The Orange Bowl, which just happens to be played in Teddy Bridgewater's hometown.

The opportunities for Charlie Strong will continue to be there. But you'd have to think he's not going anywhere (yet). Not when he can coach Bridgewater for one more year.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

It's A Human-Eat-Human World

For three seasons, The Walking Dead has focused on the human stories amidst a zombie apocalypse. While the show sometimes wanders (much like a "walker") into the melodramatic, with overzealous family ties and love triangles, we always knew who the real bad guys were.

But now the zombies have gone beyond extras, they're more like mosquitos that either bite or are swatted away. The survivors' real enemies are other survivors, battling Lord Of The Flies style for the few inches of safe haven remaining on earth.

The past episode, the week before the highly-anticipated Season 3 Mid-Season Finale, titled "When The Dead Come Knocking" was by far the most gruesome and tense hour so far. People from Rick's "Team Prison" and The Governor's "Woodbury" have finally intersected. The toughest badasses left on earth are colliding off each other in Darwin's petri dish.

Lines of human courtesy have been crossed and the body count will surely mount further as a result. If you're a backwoods scrounger and get thrown to the herd, that's on you.

It's gotten to the point where every new "living" character is reminiscent of the nameless crew member on the Star Trek Enterprise away team, and you just know they're the next to get it. But as we've learned, no character is safe in this world, even if they're listed early in the opening credits.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Historical Tipping Point: The 2013 MLB Hall Of Fame Ballot

If the Sosa/McGwire home run chase of 1998 was "Chasing History," then 15 years later the MLB Hall Of Fame ballot should be subtitled "Confronting History." Or we can do a reality series, "Men Of A Certain Age." However you slice it, baseball's recent murky past is coming back to the spotlight.

While they were still playing, the 2013 first-timers were a who's who list:

Barry Bonds
Roger Clemens
Sammy Sosa
Mike Piazza

Now what is the threshold for these guys to be denied? Criminal implication? Perjury? Mitchell Report? Court of public opinion?

We all suspect who was dirty. Does anyone really think that Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza were clean? But America is about innocent until proven guilty - but by what measure? Just because Clemens and Bonds were cause celebre doesn't mean that other guys from that era get to sneak in under the radar, right?

I consider myself a baseball purist, which essentially means that baseball is my favorite sport. Steroids can't ruin it, competitive imbalance can't ruin it (I'm a Yankee fan after all), Bud Selig can't even ruin it.

I am not a Hall Of Fame voter, but my instincts are to let them all in. The games happened, the numbers exist, we watched them with our own eyes. They will always be viewed with some scrutiny for their alleged actions, but on the field they defined their era. That goes for McGwire and Palmeiro too.

But I do have one bit of finger-pointing for the Baseball Writers Association of America. Before any of these guys go in, you have to make things right with this guy:

As a baseball "purist" I have to say the 13 years passing over Jack Morris is a sham. What does a guy have to do? He was the ace starter on 3 World Series champs ('84 Tigers, '91 Twins, '92 Jays), was the winningest pitcher of the 1980s, and pitched the clutchest Game 7 in recent World Series history with 10 shutout innings against the Braves in 1991.

Critics will point to a career ERA of 3.90, which is heavily inflated after his last 2 seasons in the league before retiring at age 39.

Morris passes the smell test with flying colors. And the fact he doesn't stink is a big plus too.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Backtime Walkabout: Tallahassee

I was working at ABC in the aftermath of the 2000 election. While the Bush and Gore legal teams duked it out, I had acquaintances that were stuck in Tallahassee for a month, setting up live shots every day in front of this building.

Tallahassee is kind of an odd capital for a state with the expanse of Florida; geographically it doesn't make any sense. But it does have the deep south's taste for football. There are nods to the 'Noles wherever you go, even at my touchdown in Tallahassee.

I would warm potential recruits that the BMW listed underneath the sign is not part of the deal, at least I don't think it is.

Gauging the morale down here is a little strange too. They love the Seminoles and their 10 blowout wins, but are bitterly disappointed by the two 2nd Half collapses on the other side of the ledger versus  NC State and Florida.

Now Florida State needs to finish off 6-6 Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship game to go to the Orange Bowl. They are a 2-TD favorite.

But I'm in town for the hoops. Florida State had a monumental season last year, knocking off Duke and North Carolina on back-to-back days to win their first ACC Championship. They host #21 Minnesota tonight in a tasty ACC/Big Ten showdown.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Things I Left in Planes, Hotel Rooms, and Rental Cars

I often wonder if my travel misplacements would ever have warranted its own category on $25,000 Pyramid. There are six slots on the board, so I'll simply list some items before I rummage through the lost and found.

6. The book I'm reading

Very frustrating. I fall asleep on a flight and slide it in the seat back in front of me, then forget it when we deplane. Hopefully it's not a hardcover. Although it lightens the load in the backpack, that's real money wasted on a replacement.

The legal pad is tougher to deal with since it's got all my homework. So I label the front with my name and number. But I'm not quite bold enough to leave it with the smiling brunette flight attendant.

5. Shaving Kit

Once in a while a game ends late, I go out for some drinks, and manage to grab 2-4 hours sleep before a flight home. Sometimes I just collect the room and throw it in the suitcase, but forget what's on the bathroom sink.

4. My Hat

I have to wear a hat if I'm spending significant time outdoors to protect my most valuable asset from the elements. But once I get inside a plane, car, hotel room, or meeting, I forget about it. All my baseball caps are swag, so they're a dime a dozen. But my true haberdashery, the essential piece to my my producer uniform is always tough to swallow.

Sunglasses are along the same lines. I try and keep mine in a case or use the straps so they stay around your neck.

3. Cell Phone Charger

This is, by a mile, the most common item.

Here's a tip. Every hotel you check into, tell them you lost your charger. They will go into the back office and come out with a huge moving box full of them. Find your match and take your pick.

2. The Jacket

For years I've been traveling from Savannah to some Big 12 wintry outpost. But late October is the worst. It will still be high 70s at home but 30s on the road. Once you take off a jacket and have to carry it, invariably you will lose it.

In the last 5 years I've had two top-notch network jackets that are lightweight yet warm. One I left in the Ford Field press box in Detroit, one somewhere in the Syracuse airport. These are irreplaceable and I spent hours of my life trying to retrieve them to no avail.

1. Electronic Accessories

Thankfully, I have never left behind my Garmin GPS. I have a routine for that, like I do when I leave the house, checking thermostats and alarms. 

But last week I changed rental cars in Houston and I left my leather pouch full of chargers, USBs, and ear buds in the previous car. The killer was the MacBook power pack. By the time I replaced everything (or at least everything I needed) it was over $100. 

That's alright, I got Best Buy on retainer.

Can I expense any of these items? Not directly, it's the cost of doing business in my chosen profession.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Johnny Football: Alone on Heisman Island

The Johnny Football Show rolled on in the season finale at Texas A&M, but not without a brief detour. Late in the first quarter, our hero went down after a tackle and grabbed his knee, and 90,000 went silent and absolutely still.

And the producer of the national TV broadcast swallowed his headset mic wondering how he was going to fill the next 3 hours.

But alas it was just another plot point in Johnny Football, the movie. Manziel came back and did his usual thing: 439 total offense, 5 total TD. And despite the failed attempt for a TD reception, like the failed PAT attempt the week before, it appears that nobody's going to catch him for the Heisman.

It's not that Johnny Manziel doesn't have the Heisman numbers, he certainly does. He's the single biggest impact player on any team in college football. But Heisman voters have been cool to freshmen in the past. But in 2012, who could you vote over him?

Notre Dame's Manti Te'o? Maybe. He is the best player on a tough as nails, possible national champion defense. But he isn't the best defensive player in the country, not even the best LB. That would be the Dawgs' Jarvis Jones y'all.

Kansas State's Collin Klein finishes up with Texas. But the late-season debacle at Baylor (who were obviously protecting last year's trophy) will be stuck in the voters' heads. While Manziel's season only got better as the stakes got higher, beating Alabama on the road and taking the magic carpet ride from there. The night of The Home Depot College Football Awards is Manziel's 20th birthday. The Heisman is two days later.

The Aggies' regular season is over. Manziel can't lose ground on the Heisman. And it doesn't appear that anyone else can win it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Midnight Yell

I have to admit, my profession allows me entree to some pretty cool shit. Early this morning was one of those moments. Just after midnight, I was standing down on Kyle Field by the Yell Leaders as they rallied an estimated 18,000 Texas A&M fans through their songs and cheers.

The position of Yell Leader is actually campaigned for and voted on by the student body. There are 3 seniors and 2 juniors charged with maintaing the spirit of the Aggie Nation.

Even Coach Sumlin made an appearance. The crowds at Midnight Yell have been upwards of 30,000 in the past. I was told that the combination of it being Thanksgiving break and the weather (it was cold out there - especially for Texans) kept the crowd figure at a "modest" total.

It really is the most passionate and partisan fan base in the country. To find it's rival, you'd have to go to the English Premier League. It is truly unlike every other place in the world.

There's nothing bigger in the community than the 6-7 football weekends a year the Aggies play host to. Just this morning I saw two old ladies in a hotel elevator. They were decked out in their maroon sweaters and carrying two huge buckets of ice. I asked what all that was for and a woman in her mid-70s looked at me like I had eight heads, "To ice down the beer."

Friday, November 23, 2012


I actually arranged my holiday weekend travel to see this fiasco from my hotel room. The Jets Thanksgiving night performance, like their 2012 season, has been a waste of my time.

But not only were the Jets beyond awful, the NFL's ridiculous cross-promotion of Lenny Kravitz and his new song "Like A Jet" flopped miserably, tying a marketing campaign to a team with no life and a quarterback with no energy.

But the day's biggest turkey was me. After a making a wonderful Thanksgiving breakfast for the kids: scrambled eggs, turkey bacon, cinnamon toast, and introducing Kit-Kat Pancakes, I got on a plane to Houston.

Only after a 3-hour flight and a 2-hour car ride to College Station did I realize that I left my travel pouch with all my chargers, USBs and ear buds, on my desk in my office. Good thing Best Buy opened at Midnight! I was to lame to go at that hour and brave the Black Friday beatdown for a couple of electronics cords, but it was still bustling when I got there at 7:45 AM

I've been coming to College Station for many years now, and it has grown from the hole-in-the-wall it used to be. Now you can find every mid-level hotel, high-end restaurant chain, and every strip mall department store you can think of - all on one strip of state highway.

Things grow and change, much like the Texas-Texas A&M Thanksgiving rivalry, which is no more.

Aggies fans were still no doubt delighted to see the Longhorns lose on Thanksgiving night to TCU, but it only clears the way for the home finale, the 12th Man, and Johnny Football. The weekend is looking up.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Paper Backtime: When A Dad Loves A Daughter

I finally finished Mitch Winehouse's heart-aching Amy, My Daughter. We all know that Amy Winehouse was a basket case, an addict, and a brilliant artist. Many people's first instincts might think her unraveling was the product of poor parenting. What was evident from this book is how hard it is to keep an unstable locomotive on track.

You might know Mitch Winehouse's backstory by now: Jewish London cab driver and sometime gig musician. He inspired his daughter and fostered her musical genius, he managed her money, and endlessly attempted to keep her mentally and physically healthy.

But what's a father to do? Amy Winehouse was a superstar beyond a family's wildest dreams who inspired millions. She was also a very troubled adult who couldn't simply be kept under house arrest.

He sent her to rehab (despite the song lyrics "If my Daddy thinks I'm fine"). He hired round-the-clock security to watch her. He kicked Amy's junky ex-husband's arse. He showed up at nearly every relapse, seizure, and meltdown (really more than you can count in the book) to help her come out the other side.

At the end, it's your daughter. You always hope for the best, you always see your little girl, you put in all your love and trust into the one person who could never let you down.

Winehouse really explains this throughout the book. He wanted to be a perfect Dad and a positive influence. Did he try to control too much? Not enough? It's hard for someone to know when it's your daughter. Most of his perspective is detailed in his reactions to situations and events, but occasionally he hits it right on the nose.

"If I was stopped by someone in the street and they asked how Amy was doing, I knew they wouldn't understand if I told them what was going on. I'd learned that it's nearly impossible to explain how this could keep happening. I'd imagined that, as they offered sympathy, they'd be wondering, How can her family let this carry on? Or, Why didn't they lock her up until she was clean? But unless an addict wants to quit, they'll find a way to get drugs, and as soon as they leave the rehab facility they'll pick up where they left off.

Long before Amy was an addict, no one could tell her what to do. Once she became an addict, that stubbornness just got worse. There were times when she wanted to be clean, but the times when she didn't outnumbered them."

And Winehouse goes through the blame game. He doesn't hide his hatred for Blake Fielder-Civil, Amy's ex-husband who got her hooked on drugs in the first place. But after he was out of the picture, and drugs were kicked, alcohol addiction pervaded everything. And he knew there that only Amy was responsible for her deepening dependency.

The story obviously has a tragic ending, but it is ultimately about a father's unending well of love and support for a daughter who rose so high and sunk too low.

This Thanksgiving, give your daughter a big hug. But know you're going to have to let go.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Planting Seeds For The Future

There isn't a lot of room for looking back in the world of martial arts education. I can't imagine one of my instructors getting sentimental while they're ordering burpees, calling for full-gear sparring gear, or administering self-defense takedowns.

But after 10 years at Eisenhower Square, Master Richard's ATA Black Belt Academy held its last class in that location tonight. They're moving about a quarter-mile down Waters and will re-open right after the holiday, but there's got to be a bit of nostalgia - I know there was for me and I've only been training there since 2009.

It was really just good fortune that brought me on the last night. I'm home for 24 hours after Kansas City Monday and Tuesday, and I leave for College Station on Thursday, so my body needed to get a class in. I realized the gravity of the night once I got there, with much of the equipment cleared out. So I asked to shut off the lights and lock the door at the end of class.

While the training process isn't emotional or sentimental, it is progressive. There are transitions and promotions and ceremonies and congratulations, but the work is never done.

I certainly plan on breaking in the new place on Monday (should the airlines do their job and the kids not get sick), and I look forward to earning what's waiting for me when we turn the page.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Backtime Dateline: Kansas City

Here's a nice look from my 29th floor hotel room in downtown Kansas City. It's actually warmer here than it was in Orlando this past weekend. There's a November surprise.

When I was flying into KC on Saturday night with all the exciting primetime football going on, my mind wandered back to 2007, when Kansas and Missouri met at Arrowhead as the #2 and #3 teams in the nation.

But a lot's gone down since then. Kansas has fired two coaches and fallen flat on its face. And Missouri left the "Border War" to join the SEC.

The Jayhawks have not suffered the same fate on the basketball court - not even close. They won the 2008 national championship, and were runners-up in 2012. This year's incarnation promises to be just as dominant.

I have probably seen Kansas in person (OK in a truck right outside) upwards of 30 times since Bill Self took over 9 years ago. And they never looked as flawless and as dominant as they did in a 78-41 laugher over Washington State in the CBE Semifinals.

Freshman Ben McLemore is a potential Player-of-the-Year candidate and Senior Jeff Withey may be the most dominant big man in the nation.

Tonight KU will take on Saint Louis in the tournament championship here in KC, maybe a new border rival?

The Billikens are without coach Rick Majerus, whose health problems are critical at this point.

But he put together the foundation of a team that will give Kansas a run tonight, especially on the defensive end. Watch out for stopper and all-name team MVP Jordair Jett to be all over McLemore, but will it be enough?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Outside The Box: The Royce White Situation

The saga of Royce White is gaining a lot of media momentum. A special athlete and unique basketball talent, a fine student and artist, who also suffers from anxiety disorders.

It is creating a serious tension between the man and the professional. It isn't a unique story, but White's straight talk on the issue is breaking new ground. His unwillingness (inability) to fly with the team, as well as other episodes have made his attachment to his employer, the Houston Rockets, very shaky.

It's not like the Rockets didn't know about White's problems, which were well documented in college. But his situation at Iowa State was ideal. His coach was Fred Hoiberg, who by all accounts is a prince of a guy. And if you've ever been to Ames Iowa, you know it's an insular college town where individual situations can be managed quietly - as opposed to being a star football player at LSU or hoops rock star at Kentucky.

Iowa State also lives on the Big 12's I-35 corridor, which connects most schools in the conference. Life is a highway, not a charter jet. And White thrived in his one year with the Cyclones. At 6'8" 270, and a sophomore, he led his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals.

White handled like Magic, rebounded like Moses, and made the All-Big 12 team. Then he declared for the NBA Draft, and the Rockets took him 16th overall.

Since then, it appears that the Rockets have bent over backwards to create the ideal environment to accommodate White's limitations. But White has been on his own schedule, often not attending team practices and sessions with the team's therapist.

The results have been the recent racking up of fines and an eventual demotion to the D-League, a fate that would have befallen any "normal" player. Royce White says he is not normal, and has since been using his Twitter feed to elevate the issue.

He has become an outspoken advocate for the mentally ill, but he is also a member of an NBA team. Those two things, it appears more and more each day, are becoming mutually exclusive.

The great Yahoo! Sports writer Adrian Wojnarowski wrote a much more eloquent and direct column about this than I ever could (as he is paid to do), about how this fight may cost White his career.

"Houston redid White's contract so it could pay for White's RV and car services on trips, because of his fear of flying. The Rockets have let him come and go this season without fining him. They owe him that patience and understanding, but they don't owe him playing time. That's earned in the NBA..."

"If it was easier for White to manage his anxiety disorder when he was the star at Iowa State, well, that isn't the Rockets problem. There's no leveraging an anxiety disorder to get out of a D-League demotion and onto the NBA floor."

While White's situation is complicated, he isn't nearly the first pro athlete to have this condition. If he can bring more awareness to the struggles of day-to-day life of mental illness in the professional world, God bless him. But he is now treading down a dangerous path towards martyrdom, and is at risk of being a cautionary tale.

White meets today with Rockets GM Daryl Morey on the issue. Hopefully they'll come up with a solution that benefits all parties, though the common ground seems to be shrinking around them.

But what White needs to realize the most is that this is a speed bump in a hopefully very long career, and he would be wise to take whatever time he needs to figure that out. Then he can return, dedicated to basketball, and use that forum to deliver his message.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Yes, The Buckeyes Can Win The National Championship

The history of college football is littered with alphabet soup national champions. Now that the BCS hands off the big glass Coaches Trophy after the last game of the season, that seems to be the championship of record.

But the BCS formula doesn't take into account, in any factor, the most acknowledged measure of college football superiority for decades: the Associated Press Poll. In 2003, USC was ranked #1 in the AP Poll, but the computers picked LSU and Oklahoma to play for the BCS Championship. Separate champions were crowned, just like old times. Shortly after that, the AP seceded from the BCS.

Since 2003, the Associated Press and Bowl Championship Series have awarded separate championships for each of the last eight seasons, although they've agreed on the outcome. This year could be different.

First, there's the curious case of Ohio State. Sanctions levied against the previous regime have left the Buckeyes ineligible for the Big Ten Championship, postseason play, and the BCS. Despite the uphill battle, Urban Meyer's first season at Ohio State cut through all the bullshit, and are 11-0 before hosting Michigan next week in their finale.

Urban Meyer has come in and done what he always does, turns programs around and then wins - a lot. His combined record at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida, and Ohio State is now 115-23. He will have the Buckeyes in the title hunt for many years (should he decide to stick around).

But this year isn't written off yet. Last night after #6 Ohio State's thrilling overtime win at Wisconsin, the AP's #1 & #2 went down, which would likely move the Buckeyes up to #4. So here's how the dominoes fall:

> Ohio State beats Michigan to finish 12-0.

> Notre Dame somehow loses to USC.

> The winner of the Alabama/Georgia SEC Championship game loses in the BCS Championship game.

That set of circumstances would leave Ohio State as the only unbeaten team, with no one-loss SEC team remaining. The Buckeyes would have a great chance to finish #1 in the AP Poll. And they would be national champions.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Better Late Than Never: David Axelrod Does Real Time

Bill Maher's second post-election show, the "season finale" before going on a two month hiatus, was loaded with big-time guests. He had Michael Moore and David Frum on the panel, and a late visit from Eric Idle. But the feather in the cap for Maher was Obama's Senior Strategist David Axelrod.

This was significant since Axelrod had been booked to do the show back in March but canceled. The no-show wasn't because of Maher, but rather because of Rush Limbaugh. Follow this logic:

In early March, Rush Limbaugh made the infamous nasty and vicious remarks about Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke. It became a big media blow-up, which ultimately became political. Conservatives didn't defend Limbaugh's comments, though many (like Mitt Romney) wouldn't denounce them.

And then, since the pendulum had to swing back, the Conservative Entertainment Complex found a false equivalent in Bill Maher. Fox News and others began pulling the most incendiary and offensive clips throughout the history of Maher's program. But here are the main differences between the two:

1) Bill Maher's audience knows he's joking. While many who agree with his politics are offended by his "potty mouth" and vile innuendo, nobody takes his laugh lines too seriously.

But Limbaugh's audience thinks he is the gospel. If he uses off-color characterizations, the ditto-heads are all-in, whether Limbaugh is serious or not. And I tend to think he's not serious.

In fact, I believe that Rush Limbaugh voted for Obama (twice). There's no money in playing the opposition if your audience is the party in power.

2) Bill Maher offers different points of view. While Real Time with Bill Maher is certainly liberally biased, he welcomes opposing views onto the show, and gives them some room.

In 2012, a presidential election year, Maher has a vast array of prominent conservative voices on his panel:

Grover Norquist
Darrell Issa
Ann Coulter
Jack Kingston
Reihan Salam
S.E. Cupp
David Frum

Can you imagine Rush Limbaugh hosting Bernie Sanders, Rachel Maddow, or Paul Krugman?

3) In Bill Maher's own words, "At least I know I'm an asshole." And that is the Mason-Dixon line.

Axelrod, being the strategist that he is, decided that being a lightning rod for the right wing would not be the prudent course in the heat of a reelection campaign. So after the election was over and the goal had been attained, Axelrod and his mustache showed up on location in Hollywood.

You rarely see him as anything other than a talking head, so I was thrown off at how tall and gangly he was. But as always he was professorial, and measured. For the first time, I recognized he was a separated-at-birth twin.

Axelrod's long-awaited appearance on Real Time wasn't particularly psychological. He was polite when Maher tried to corner him on Obama's loath for both Romney and McCain. And when Maher brought up his connection to the campaigns he won for black candidates, calling him "the Robert DeNiro of politics," Axelrod laughed it off saying he just had "good taste" and that Obama is a "great guy." Strategist, indeed.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Backtime Memo-Random: Orlando

I haven't done a game at the Citrus Bowl since New Year's Day, 2002. For the record, Tennessee routed Michigan 45-17. Casey Claussen threw for 393 yards, hitting Kelley Washington, Donte Stallworth, and Jason Witten all over the field.

Now the Citrus Bowl is a relic, kind of a cross between the old Orange Bowl and Legion Field, in the part of town the Magic Kingdom forgot.

But that bowl game isn't what stands out in my memories of Orlando. Neither is my son's Disney World Spring Break meltdown (now why'd you have to go and bring that up?). It's the 1996 NBA Playoffs.

I did five playoff games that spring at The O-Rena, and the games weren't anything really special. The Magic basically had their way with the Pistons (Grant Hill & Allan Houston) and the Hawks (Mookie & Smitty) in the early rounds.

Quick, name Orlando's starting five: There was Shaq and Penny, Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott, but who was the fifth?

Horace Grant was my favorite in a lineup of standouts. He was the relentless heartbeat of a team that was often questioned for its toughness, back when we wondered if Shaq would ever win a championship.

But before he was with the Magic, he won 3 titles with the Bulls. And when he would throw down an offensive rebound, you'd hear Bulls play-by-play man Jim Durham uncork HOAR-ess GRRANT!

I worked NBA and NCAA games with Jim Durham many years ago. It's a cliche, but he was a great broadcaster and a better guy. He did a lot of radio in recent years, and I had occasion to run into him when I was on the TV side of something. 

I would shake his hand and ask him, one time, to give me a full-throated HOAR-ess GRRANT! He would laugh and give me a half of one. You couldn't blame him for his lack of adrenaline without a live event going on, or an open mic in sight. He was a professional.

Jim Durham died last week at age 65. He was a power forward of broadcasting. RIP JD.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Back On Home Land

This is the picture in my mind when I'm away too long. But my return home wasn't a beautiful Savannah day - it was gray and cold and dreary. My lawn is brown, the paint is peeling, and it looks more like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil at high noon.

It didn't help that there wasn't really time to manicure anything. Between conference calls, lunch with the kids, errands, sorting out upcoming travel, setting up a birthday party, filing expense reports, and getting back in the swing at karate class, I only had time for one thing at home:

I figured it was now 9 days after the election and I didn't want to be accused of spiking the football, so I  finally picked the souvenir up off my lawn. I'll just wait by the phone for the Smithsonian to call.

When I settled down tonight I ordered a pizza, cracked open a Stone IPA and got caught up on Homeland. While I think Claire Danes's portrayal of Carrie Mathison is a little overdone, Damian Lewis as Sgt/POW/terrorist/Congressman Nicholas Brody is phenomenally layered and conflicted.

I like the second season better than the first, as the intrigue of Brody being a double agent is really reaching a boiling point. But there's still silly romance and family drama. If I'm going to watch a soap opera, it better have a lot of zombies getting decapitated on a weekly basis.

Although in the real-life intelligence community, it would seem that there's plenty of love affair sleaziness to go around. One pundit on whichever cable news outlet described the Petraeus fiasco as "The Real Housewives of CentCom." Maybe I'm too hard on these shows that romantically link all their main characters. Maybe life does imitate art after all.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Erik Murphy Needs An Entourage

Sometimes the support guy becomes the lead guy. This was the case tonight with Florida senior forward Erik Murphy, who was supposed to help carry the load for senior guard Kenny Boynton, who will likely become the Gators' all-time leading scorer by season's end.

But against nationally-ranked Wisconsin, Murphy was the star in a sublime performance of a lifetime: 24 points on 10-for-10 from the field, a couple of threes, and 8 rebounds to boot. It was a dazzling array of layups and jumpers, offensive put-backs and sweet half-hooks.

Erik Murphy? Where have we heard that name before?

"E" aka Eric Murphy was the guy behind the guy on HBO's Entourage. But he became the star of the show - well maybe not within the show where much of the show's ongoing theme was E breaking from Vinnie's shadow, but Kevin Connolly's name was first in the opening credits.

Florida's Murphy has now established himself as at least Boynton's co-star, and maybe a breakout lead on a Top 10 team. He should be getting the star treatment soon enough.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Watching Out For The Horizon

Watching the Tip-Off Marathon today on ESPN, the unofficial kickoff to the college basketball season, I have a different take: Try and identify March's upstarts in November. And I already see a handful from the Horizon League, even with perennial power Butler now in the A-10.

Valparaiso went at 8 AM, they're the preseason favorite. The Crusaders torched Northern Illinois. Valpo is coached by former NBAer and March Madness legend Bryce Drew.

Detroit had St. John's on the ropes in the 2nd half in Queens behind Ray McCallum (the coach) and Ray McCallum (the point guard). The Titans made the NCAA last year as a #15, and returning a senior all-league coach-on-the-floor, they should be even better this year.

And of course last night, Youngstown State left Georgia in the dust in Athens.

Youngstown State went to D1 in hoops 30 years ago, but had never beaten a major-conference team. Until Monday when Kendrick Perry and the Penguins knocked off an SEC team on the road, by 12.

So that's three teams to watch for in a league that can play with anyone. File away for your brackets.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Athens To Athens

"They got a message from the action man: I'm happy, hope you're happy too..."

I know it  sounds like a David Bowie song, but it describes my recent itinerary. The action man's been on the road for 8 days now, trying to keep things straight.

Last Monday, Athens OH; This Monday Athens GA. It's a little anticlimactic to be here at the University of Georgia without covering a football team that is now, actively, involved in a for real national championship chase. So even though the Georgia bandwagon is full I saw the actual empty vehicle in my hotel parking lot.

It doesn't mean there isn't some drama. The first basketball broadcast of the season almost always comes with unknowns, headaches, and stress. You just have to do what's in front of you. November is the craziest month of the year with football and basketball crossover.

The first order of business: Have a good breakfast.

The Five Star Day Cafe is one of the best in the country. Backtime recommends the Veggie Benedict, a twist on the traditional breakfast dish, subbing out the Canadian bacon and Hollandaise for fried green tomatoes and country gravy. Only in Athens...Georgia.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Legend Of Johnny Football And The Perfect Storm

Think about the events that led to this moment. Kerrville-Tivy HS quarterback Johnny Manziel was not considered by Texas. He went to Texas A&M where he redshirted.

After a miserable 2011 season, the coach that recruited him (Mike Sherman) was fired. A big-time offensive coach (Kevin Sumlin) was hired.

The Texas Longhorns had created their own cable TV network. So Texas A&M told them to go fuck themselves, left the rivalry, left the Big 12, and joined the SEC. Texas A&M's facilities, rabid following, and most importantly their on-field program, were every bit up to the challenge in joining college football's toughest conference. They put all their faith in a 19-year old to lead them.

Hurricane Isaac wiped out a tough season opener in Shreveport vs Louisiana Tech, which cleared the way for the new Aggies to have a national rollout, complete with College GameDay in their SEC opener against Florida. Even though the home team lost by a field goal, they proved they belonged.

In Manziel's 4th career game, he set the SEC total offense record in a 58-10 win against Arkansas. In his 5th career game, he led the Aggies on 2 TD drives in the last 7 minutes to pull a victory out of the fire at Ole Miss. In his 6th career game he re-set the SEC single-game total offense record in a 59-57 thriller over Louisiana Tech.

In his 10th career start, after back-to-back road wins at Auburn and Mississippi State, Johnny Football took his team into Tuscaloosa and knocked off #1. Now we are rightfully talking Heisman, and the Manziels are talking about trademarking "Johnny Football."

In our wildest imagination, not even for a kid who starred in the real version of Friday Night Lights, could anyone have written a script like this. But the funny thing is, the story isn't over. Not even close.