Thursday, January 31, 2013

We Like Spies Like Us

The spy game of the 80s is great in retrospect. But in the decade itself, our undercover heros were as cheesy as the music and the fashion. Roger Moore was the worst James Bond, and Crockett & Tubbs were hopelessly slick in Miami Vice.

But when we look back, the infiltrators seem so much cooler. Donnie Brasco is in my all-time Top 5 movies, and the new FX series The Americans kicks the genre's ass - at least after one episode.


So much tension and background information came out right out of the box that I'm hooked. But we'll get into the substance in a second. The style rocked.

The 80s music actually kicked ass, with Quarterflash's Harden My Heart and its distinctive sax riff preceding the first word of dialogue (and first blow-job) in the series. That was followed by an epic pulsating chase scene set set to Fleetwood Mac's Tusk. I still haven't gotten the Tusk beat out of my head. Also great in the shopping mall scene was Juice Newton's Playin' With The Queen Of Hearts.

Keri Russell fills out he mom jeans nicely, and the '77 Olds getaway car reminded me of The French Connection.

So high marks for nailing the audio/visuals of the era. But the story itself is pretty well-conceived.

There's the tension of the family dynamic and the mission. "Phillip" has adapted to the American family lifestyle, and can live it out for the right price. He longs to feel the love of his "wife" who is an agent first and a wife and mom second.

"Elizabeth" is the hard-ass officer, the presumed higher-ranking member of the sleeper team. Her loyalty is to the homeland, Mother Russia, for reasons we haven't yet been exposed to. She should have plenty of reason to hate the KGB, but evidently doesn't.

There's also the series-long cat and mouse game with the FBI guy across the street, which sort of reminds me of the dynamic with Walt and Hank in Breaking Bad. The superspies are one step ahead of the FBI at every turn and we don't know who to root for.

There were a couple of eye-rolls in the 90-minute premiere. There was the melee in the garage with the KGB defector who raped Elizabeth back when she was a cadet, with a ton of noise that didn't wake the kids or the neighbors. And the flashback sequences to Russia and the early days in the states made very little effort to make the characters seem 15-20 years younger.

But the show really moved. There's plenty of intrigue and a lot of sex. But the big hook is that the characters are believable and the husband and wife play non-traditional roles, especially for 1981. And anti-heros are big these days.

If we can embrace Tony Soprano and Walter White, then a couple of "Americans" shouldn't be so hard.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Backtime Memo-Random: Charlottesville

Spent a super Tuesday in Charlottesville. It was a Chamber of Commerce type day except the signature building on the "grounds" (don't call it a campus), The Rotunda, is encompassed in scaffolding at least until May of 2013.

It is the quintessential college town experience where history is preserved, and I have some history at UVA as well.

Nov. 18, 1994

In my first game as a network college basketball associate producer, Virginia hosted the Ohio Bobcats in the Preseason NIT. I had worked 8 hours in the edit room prior to the trip on my "Shaq of the MAC" tease, which was promptly burned (recorded over) by one of our tape guys, someone I still work with to this day.

Gary Trent was "The Shaq of the MAC," and had already led Ohio over Ohio State in Columbus in the first round. They had no problems going into ACC country and pulling off the double to get to New York, where they eventually won the prestigious tournament. The team was also buoyed by scrappy point guard Geno Ford, now the head coach at Bradley.

But despite the awesome run to start the year, Ohio U finished weakly and found themselves in the Postseason NIT as well. Gary Trent went on to be drafted in the 1st Round and played 9 years in the NBA. And the brilliantly original "Shaq of the MAC" tease does not exist in any videotape library.

I drove down to Blacksburg the next morning where the Virginia football team reclaimed some honor with a 42-23 rout at Virginia Tech. Rafael Garcia kicked 5 FGs and Tiki Barber ran for a TD to highlight the Cavs' win.

September 4, 1997

The day after two of our crew guys fought with a local band's fiddler, I got into a little dust-up myself.

It was my first game on the Thursday night college football crew. I was in Virginia's football offices when they received word that the #1 recruit in the nation, QB Ronald Curry, was committing to Virginia.

I had the press release in my hand, but it was before the days of "scan and send" and there was no fax machine in the truck, so I decided to hustle it back to our mobile unit where we could shoot it and do some fancy highlighting. I was excited and hurrying and I wound up in a fender-bender in my rental in the parking lot with an adjunct professor.

I had to deal with University police, the rental car company, and a horde of new colleagues that ripped me to no end on my first show with them.

Virginia lost their home opener that night to Auburn 28-17 as Dameyune Craig out-dueled Aaron Brooks. The Cavs later finished the season 7-4 and Ronald Curry eventually de-committed, opting to play football and basketball for North Carolina. All the work for my "scoop" went by the wayside.

His college career was far overshadowed by his high school potential, but Curry did play 7 seasons in the NFL as a WR for the Oakland Raiders.

The University of Virginia was conceived and designed by Thomas Jefferson, and I've often scrounged through his litany of quotations to find something relatable to Virginia athletics. And I found one on confidence:

“We confide in our strength without boasting of it. We respect that of others, without fearing it.”

I used it in the tease of the November 26, 2011 football matchup with Virginia Tech, which was a winner-take-all battle to reach the ACC Championship game. Unfortunately for the home team, Virginia Tech walloped the Wahoos 38-0.

UVA is a great place, though their sports teams have not been great over the years. Even the Ralph Sampson days came up short of a championship. But the football and men's basketball programs seem to be on the right track. As long as they stay competitive, that'll ensure more trips to Charlottesville.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

ACC Party-Crashers

The Virginia Cavaliers took out #19 NC State tonight, so they move to 6-2 in the ACC. Not bad for a team picked 7th, with only 3 experienced players returning.

The credit belongs to the young men who are more than the sum of their parts, like Joe Harris with 22 points tonight, looking more like a guy who should be playing for Navy.

But the blueprint is from Tony Bennett, a real son-of-a-coach from Wisconsin. He is the NCAA's all-time 3-point shooter at Wisconsin-Green Bay. He played 3 years in the NBA with Charlotte, then was National Coach of the Year at Washington State, and is now in his 4th year at Virginia.

It's sort of the Wisconsin-Bo Ryan-Dick Bennett philosophy of slowing down the game to get set on defense. They held a high-scoring and high-tempo NC State team to 55 points. Now hopefully the fans have seen the toughness and start filling John Paul Jones Arena. It's a good product.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Nice Job Today, Delta Airlines

I left Lexington this morning to take a conference call at The Tap Room at Blue Grass Airport. The call was 11 AM, the flight to ATL was 12:30 and the weather was miserable.

In Atlanta - flight to CHO was cancelled, so a number of us made it to Richmond  In fact some colleagues of mine were agreessive in getting seats on the next flight to Richmomd, and we got our rental car in Richmond to drop in Charlottesville. I rocked the aisle seat, overhead space, and turned my brain off reading, Neil Young's Waging Heavy Peace took my mind for and hour and a half.

But the key was what would happen to my 40-pound bag that I checked at the outset of the trip. I used the Delta site during flight and it said that it was scanned for Richmond. I thought that was pretty cool, my bags were being tracked like Fedex and I had hope I'b be whole by the time we hit the road.

We waited a little at baggage claim, but it was ultimately a sucess. Then I rented a suburban without XM. On the ride, I talked with the kids and the boss, and by the time the delay ordeal was over at 7 PM I was checking in in Charlottesvile, VA, life was in order.

So Delta got a curveball and doubled it down the line. I tip my hat. Although why when you can take a straight shot, and avoid airline headaches, 6 hours door to door on one road?

Of course I was impressed by Delta's team response to a bad situation to get everyone to Charlottesville through Richmond because of a canceled flight and bad weather. But as the plane landed there was no bad weather. It was a travel drill, The drive would have been better.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Sunday Away From The Fray: Kentucky

Even with a whole day to myself, I couldn't bring myself to visit the infamous Harlan County. Despite what you gather from the TV show Justified, it isn't right next door to Lexington, it's a good 2+ hours away.

But I did my homework anyway on the central player of my favorite current TV drama. Harlan County is only home to just over 29,000 souls (96% white), and it has at least that many firearms. I met a Harlan native now based in Lexington, and he was actually wearing a cowboy hat just like Raylan's.

ME:   So what is there to do in Harlan on a day off?

HARLAN:   They do ATV tours that are pretty cool.

ME:   What about stockpiling guns and explosives? Is there like a Boyd Crowder fantasy camp?

HARLAN:   There's still moonshine.

ME:   So ATVs, explosives, and moonshine? Or as they call it in Kentucky...Sunday?

HARLAN:   Sounds about right.

ME:   What about Ellie Mae's trailer out in some Holler?

He laughed and said the show makes life look far more interesting than it really is. But some of the stuff is too real. Like last episode, there are plenty of families that'll blow your head off if you try to take away their government "draw."

The "draw" is the government disability/workers comp check for almost every human that has ever worked in the mines. It's ironic that people so dependent on the government are so against it.

Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers has a chapter called "Bloody Harlan" which examines the Culture of Honor that takes place in the American South. The quote that prefaces the chapter is "Die like a man, like your brother did." Generations have killed off each other in Harlan because of an insult directed at one's family.

If I spent the day in Harlan, chances are I would have insulted someone before the day was through. Which would have meant my chances of getting killed would be greater than zero. Especially if I was on the moonshine, setting of explosives while I was ATVing.

So I decided to stay in my Lexington hotel suite and catch up on expense reports. That never killed anyone.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Kickin' It in the L-E-X

This is always a cool trip. Football has taken over the south, but in a couple of states basketball is still king.

I sometimes wonder about that. Why are some states "football" and some states "basketball?" I'm not sure I get it. Why is Ohio a football state and Kentucky a basketball state? Why is North Carolina a basketball state, while South Carolina's a football state?

Whatever the reason, I'm glad that Lexington is basketball-crazy and that it always will be.

When you're sitting in Rupp Arena, it's not quite as nostalgic or awesome as Allen Fieldhouse or Cameron Indoor Stadium. But the fanaticism is what makes the experience so memorable. Rupp Arena is connected to a hotel which is connected to a mall and food court. And everyone wears blue. It's hard to do the scene justice.

About 20,000 (an early-arriving crowd) go to the game and about half of them stay after the game for John Calipari's postgame radio interview. They are here for the action, not the party (for the most part) and the Big Blue Nation is what makes makes the event more memorable than the venue.

Of course I can't sponge in the experience since I'm locked in away from the action. But there are worse views.

Friday, January 25, 2013

He Wouldn't Do This To Us, Would He?

Woody Johnson took over ownership of the Jets in 2000. Since that time, on paper, the Jets haven't been too bad with 6 playoff appearances in 13 seasons.

But it's the way that he's done business that has perplexed and disenfranchised the most loyal and hard-suffering fan base. Now there's talk floating about a possible trade of Darrelle Revis, perhaps the best player ever to put on a Jets uniform.

You know Robert "Woody" Johnson IV, a real American success story. He is of course an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, and has been a major bundler for Mitt Romney and the GOP.

As CEO of a private investment firm, he like Romney hovered above the clouds in the business world, unable to relate to the human element of either those whom he employs or those who have been consuming the product he now owns. He is a multi-billionaire who sees only a bottom line: how to maximize value while slashing costs.

If that means bringing in a relatively inexpensive player like Tim Tebow for a temporary spike in merchandising, bring it on. Nothing against Tebow - I don't love him or hate him. But it didn't matter that the coach didn't want him or his presence wrecked team chemistry.

Then Johnson blamed the Tebow acquisition on recently-fired GM Mike Tannenbaum, who said that Tannenbaum "forced" Tebow on him.

Now Johnson has "no comment" on the Revis trade rumors. The plans to jettison the team's best player (ever) have almost everything to do with his pricetag, and maybe just a little bit to do with his 2010 contract holdout.

The new GM, John Idzik, just came on board so what is he supposed to say? Rex Ryan could stand up for Revis, but he's living on borrowed time with one year to save his job. Rex seems like a principled guy who would go down with the ship, so how could he leave Revis twisting in the wind?

My theory is that it's not just Ryan's job that's on the line here. Woody Johnson has the means and the political playbook to ruin Rex Ryan if he doesn't play ball. What if the info unearthed on Rex and his wife a couple of years back was just a sample? Do you still think Rex would go down with the ship at the cost of his family?

Woody Johnson is going to get his way, and nobody is going to get in the way. Certainly not Revis, Ryan, or those pesky unimportant Jet fans. Bill Parcells read the writing on the wall once Leon Hess put the Jets up for sale in 1999. He resigned. The heir apparent, Bill Belichick, also resigned. He found an owner that was on the same page, and the rest is history.

We see how successful a football team can be when everyone's on the same page. The Jets are all over the map. And it all starts at the top.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Capitol Idea

I'm not exactly sure what the powers that be were looking to get out of the Benghazi hearings yesterday, but it didn't seem like there were any dots to connect. If anything, this was master political positioning from the Clinton camp.

I'm not saying Hillary Clinton's illness was faked by any stretch, but it was certainly fortuitous timing as it relates to this matter. She had extra time to prepare for every angle, and most importantly it was her last appearance as Secretary of State. So it wasn't just a congressional hearing, it was a going-away party.

As everyone thanked her for her tenure with the State Department, it became a love-fest. If anyone expected her to fall on her sword in a moment of great panic or bewilderment, that was a Hail Mary.

If anything it hurt the GOP in the future as Clinton came across as forceful and unflappable, and thus an imposing figure should she become the Dem nominee in 2016. The substance of what she was saying was secondary as we've learned in today's politics.

Mitt Romney won a presidential debate by incessantly lying and changing his story. Joe Biden won a vice-presidential debate by incessantly interrupting and talking down to Paul Ryan. It's not what these people say as much as the presence they bring to a confrontation, at least in the eyes of the average American.

Now who's got more headwinds going into 2016, Clinton or Biden? The left probably likes either option, there's "an heir and a spare."

It's hard to see Biden not getting the nod if he wants it. He's been President Obama's hammer in dealing with Congress and spreading the message, which trumps Hillary jet-setting all over the world as a liaison. Obama would be compelled to endorse Biden, though Ms. Clinton at her current standing (which is unlikely to change in the coming months or years) may not even need his endorsement.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Royce White On Real Sports

In the first TV sit-down since Royce White's rift with the Houston Rockets, we didn't get too much more than White has already put out there in the social media world. In fact in an expansive feature like this, it's surprising the tons of Twitter hate messages weren't ever addressed.

I thought Bernard Goldberg was an interesting choice of correspondents to handle the interview - a well-known politically incorrect cynic - which is actually a good foil for White to explain himself.

As Royce White has stressed all along, he is lucid and aware of his anxiety disorder and OCD. When Goldberg asked about why so many teams passed on him before the Rockets took him at #16, is that because they thought he was "crazy?"

"That's the stigma that exists so I expected it. It represents a lack of awareness and a very serious, detrimental stigma."

But the Rockets went out on a limb. They even arranged for separate transportation to allow for White's fear of flying. But right before the season began, White insisted that an independent doctor - not a team doctor - have the say on White's day-to-day fitness to suit up. That's the gap they've been unable to bridge. White thinks the team doctor would have the team's best interests, not his.

"Mental health (disorder) is a documented disability by federal law. It's been around for a long time, it's not brand new. It's new to talk about, it's new to admit. It's not new. My health can't be bought, my morals can't be bought. I'll remain to advocate for myself to have a healthy, safe work environment. I'll remain to stick to my morals."

The team doesn't want to cross that line. What could set White off into an episode? Harsh words? Reduced playing time? At Iowa State he was the star and they weren't going anywhere without him. In the NBA, grown men are paid a lot of money to accept their role. If White gets extra-special treatment and coddling, how does the organizational structure of the team remain intact?

White says he isn't ready to play in the NBA if mental health protocols aren't met.

"What goes along with mental health that goes untreated? Alcohol abuse. Marijuana abuse. Suicidal behavior. Homicidal behavior. Those are things I'm not willing to risk to play basketball. To have money, to have fame?" 

White shrugged. For people who haven't seen him before and only know about the story, they will be surprised how thoughtful and "normal" he seems.

It's not a black and white issue, it's a gray area that White has taken the world of sports into. And it's fear of the unknown on both sides that will likely keep White on the sidelines for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sea Of Tranquility

Tuesday was an infamous "staff planning day" for the Savannah public school system, so that meant a full weekday with the kids. Which of course means a lot of reading, video games, and cooking for Daddy.

Fortunately we got to break up the day with a trip to the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium at Skidaway Island. It was a little cold (54 and breezy an the marshes) on the nature walk but it was nice in the sun.

The aquarium itself is nowhere near the scope of Atlanta or even Charleston, but there are some beautiful fish.

The original plan was to drive to Atlanta to go to the mega-aquarium. It was really a perfect opportunity as it was a weekday that wasn't during spring break or summer, and thus it wouldn't be a madhouse. But it was too much for one day.

Although the traffic backup from construction on the Diamond Causeway made it feel like we were in the car all the way to Atlanta. It has got to be an extra hour for anyone commuting from The Landings into Savannah. But that's a good time to zone out too.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Tipping Points: NFL Championship Sunday

The idea here is to examine when these games changed. Both home teams lead at halftime, and both were shut out in the 2nd half at the hands of a Harbaugh.

For the Patriots, it was the moment pictured above, right before halftime. The Pats led the Ravens 10-7, and their defense was playing very well. Tom Brady was running the 2-minute drill as efficiently as you'd expect.

With 26 seconds left, the ball on the 10, and 1 timeout remaining, Brady was forced to scramble and it appeared he had some room, but the gap was closed quickly by Ed Reed, which sent Brady into a slide at the 7-yard line.

It's hard to imagine what's going through everyone's mind at that second, because it's generally kind of a routine play. But Brady saw Reed coming late, and anticipated that he likely wouldn't just let him slide without getting a shot in - even if it's illegal. Reed has a bit of a reputation for making his presence felt (or as they used to call it a couple of decades ago "football").

So Brady went "spikes up" a la Ty Cobb, and karate-kicked Reed in the thigh. It was a dirty play, but also a statement-maker against one of the most feared defensive players in the game who could have easily launched into a half-the-distance personal foul. The problem is it turned Brady from his usual self, a precise automaton into a emotional fighter, and couldn't get his team rallied to the line of scrimmage before having to burn the last timeout with 5 seconds left. They settled for a FG and a 13-7 lead.

They brought the game to a heightened level of intensity, something the Bellichick/Brady conservative gameplan wasn't tailored to fit. Checking off to between the tackle runs at the line of scrimmage, and punting from the opponents' 35 (twice) might have worked if the Pats could match the Ravens physicality.

That's where they came up short. Bernard Pollard knocked Stevan Ridley into next season with a vicious shot that caused him to cough up the football. And Anquan Boldin took (and I mean took) 2 TD passes from Flacco, swatting away Patriots defenders like insects.

The Ravens owned the 2nd half after the Patriots gave away points, momentum, and the emotional edge right before halftime. The Ravens wanted it more.

In the Falcons' case, I'm not certain the right team won. It came down to the last minute but it was a wild series of events that led to it.

There were three egregious errors from Matt Ryan in the 2nd half: the pick and the flubbed shotgun snap he took his eyes off in Niners territory, and the timeout he burned early in the 3rd Quarter. But he was mostly magnificent, and one of the mistakes was nullified when Michael Crabtree got stripped on the shadow of the goal line.

Ryan took the Birds methodically down the field for the possible winning score. The drive started with 8:23 and they were in a great position to score and left SF very little time.

But on 2nd and 9 at the 14, Ryan was flattened after completing a dump-off pass to Jason Snelling and was obviously in tremendous pain. We know now he sprained the AC joint in his non-throwing shoulder. If this were the regular season he'd be out 2-4 weeks.

Ryan gamely finished but was clearly in heavy pain. He had no zip on the ball on the 3rd and 4th down plays, and the one desperation pass once they got it back.

It was this close to being a different history. But that's what Falcons fans have come to know and live. History.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Paper Backtime: Oh What Could Have Been

Today Barack Obama took the Oath of Office for his second term as President. It made me think of what the last 4 years could have been in an alternate universe. And in that time, there is no book I enjoyed more than Andrew Young's account of life in the service of John Edwards.

Young isn't a great writer or particularly funny. But the chronological narrative is well-structured, the details are incredible, and the story is unbelievably believable. It is one part political insider and one part spy novel. The documentation of the trouble and expense of the Rielle Hunter cover-up is truly mind-blowing.

The campaign fraud case of The United States versus John Edwards ended in a mistrial this past May. How dare the feds spend our tax money on a case against the slickest lawyer around?

It was a bad federal case on its general merits - meaning it could be argued out of. Most of the legwork is the result of this book, so Andrew Young is seen as an opportunist. He's a political operative, which automatically makes him a morally flexible money grubber. But that doesn't mean he's lying.

A Senator's right-hand man probably makes about $120K, plus political graft: a handful of free tennis lessons for your daughter, prime Redskins seats a couple of times a year, etc. So were there angles that Young played in the aftermath of the Edwards "affair" for financial gain? Yes of course, but he would likely make his own case that his family earned it.

It was Edwards whose narcissism made Young part of the public eye in the first place, when he coerced him into claiming paternity during Hunter's pregnancy. Young went along with it as his career had become co-dependant with Edwards. And once it got started and all the lies started snowballing it was too late to extricate himself. It was sort of like the Manti Te'o situation, only it really happened.

Young was starry-eyed when he went to work for a prolific trial-lawyer turned wonder boy US Senator. He and his family were sucked in by the potential of being inner-circle power players as Edwards ran for Vice President in '04 and then for top dog in '08. But Edwards was sucked in as well.

Edwards came from humble beginnings, the "son of a mill worker," he grew up with a silver tongue in the courtroom and aged very handsomely despite the death of his teenage son. And despite being puppeteered by another attorney, Elizabeth Edwards.

Young backs up the subject that was broached in Game Change, that Elizabeth manipulated John's entire career, verbally abused him relentlessly, berated the senior staff and used them as personal gophers.

I introduced one of my lawyer friends to this book, and he said there was a reason he never dated a fellow law student.

As Edwards got closer and closer to his presidential run, his wife became more and more impossible, and he wound up seeking comfort in a relationship with another relentless and demanding woman, Rielle Hunter. Young was the one caught in the middle, as he was trusted by all parties concerned. His job ceased to be about the campaign, but the all-encompassing cover-up.

The ride gets really wild once Hunter becomes pregnant, with the cloak-and-dagger operation staying one step ahead of the mainstream media. There were private jets, 5-star hotels, donor mansions, spiritual advisors, and a seemingly endless stream of improper campaign funds used to pay for it all.

Young at this point must have known this was going to explode. So as a political person, he had covered his ass. He took unbelievably detailed notes, saved e-mails and voicemails (the nastiest ones were from Elizabeth), and saw the opportunity to write a book.

And as stated earlier, Young does nothing for added dramatic effect. The events themselves, the transcriptions of the messages, and the funneling of the money, are all dramatic enough.

Hunter wrote a book as well, What Really Happened, released this past May. But it's not on my to-do list. She seemed just as narcissistic as Edwards, and she seemed mostly unsympathetic throughout the read. Plus she's very new-agey and while I enjoy yoga and meditation as much as the next guy, it doesn't promise anywhere near what Young achieved here.

Now the whole sketchy mess is over, the trial is over, the Edwards/Hunter sex tape has been destroyed, and everyone has told their story. Andrew and Cheri Young reside with their three children in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Hopefully they are living peacefully, comfortably, and normally.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Backtime Walkabout: Ole Miss

Only 24 hours in Oxford MS, but I got out to The Square a couple of times. Last night I actually got out to a new restaurant, McEwen's and my meal was top notch.

That is sweet potato-crusted Mississippi catfish with creole mustard, Gruyere mac & cheese, and the best spicy collard greens I've ever had. And while I almost always stick to wine or beer with my meal, I had a "when in Rome" moment when I looked at the blackboard.

Yes, "The Grove In A Glass" was just as sweet and southern a cocktail as you would expect. Some of the other options were "Daddy's Little Princess," "Faulkner's Cure," and "Blind Jim Ivy."

So after I recouped and got to my 5:45 AM (CT) call time, I managed to make it back to The Square for lunch (TV people will always call it lunch whether it's 9 AM or 5 PM) at one of the best breakfast/sandwich joints in the country, The Bottletree Bakery.

It was just as packed as you might expect for  a Saturday morning at a place that Oprah once recommended, so I had to take my coffee and breakfast croissant to go.

On the job, the Ole Miss Rebels defeated Arkansas without drama and went to 4-0 in the SEC for the first time since 1937. The drama was in the truck after a 25-minute 1st half power outage put a number of our flights out of Memphis in serious jeopardy.

Yes Mississippi has indoor plumbing, but it still takes 20 minutes for the lights to come on after a power surge. Fortunately we didn't go to OT like both teams had earlier in the week. And the small amount of time spent in Oxford was well backtimed.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Rebel Without a Conscience

He shouts, he taunts, he over-emotes, and he makes shots - a lot of them. Just 16 games into his SEC career, and Marshall Henderson is already the most passionate, exciting, and combustible Ole Miss player in years.

The Rebels are off to a 14-2 starts, 3-0 in conference and tied atop the SEC. Henderson has 4 games with 25+ including 32 & 26 in road wins at Tennessee and Vanderbilt. But the numbers aren't as impressive as the heroics.

Look at the form from 37 feet away with one chance to keep his team alive at Vandy. He's got that kind of range and is deadly at the foul line.

As a TV analyst pointed out the other night, Ole Miss has to always keep an eye on Henderson becoming "emotionally intoxicated." There were plenty of bumps on the road to Henderson's arrival in Oxford, where he's now a 22-year old Junior.

Henderson is from Hurst, Texas, practically in the shadow of DFW. He started at Utah as a Freshman, then transferred to Texas Tech but left when Coach (Pat) Knight was dismissed. But Henderson stayed in the Lubbock area, attending South Plains College, where he was National Juco Player of the Year and led the Texans to the Junior College National Championship.

He already has the shot of the college basketball season, and has even popped up on Grantland's radar. His in-game skills and swagger are reminiscent of another Texan you may have heard of lately, Johnny Football. Hoops Henderson, anyone?

Ole Miss hosts Arkansas Saturday in a surprisingly important early-season SEC game.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The News Cycle Perpetuating Itself

I can understand the constant feeding frenzy of the cable "news" networks during the run-up to the Presidential election. But the election is over, and the networks have found a formula to keep their audiences all day long. Remember when Crossfire was a 30-minute show and not a way of life?

The news, itself, doesn't do it for the American TV consumers any longer. Unless they're invested in it. Hate guns? We got a show for you. Hate Obama? We got a network for you. Want an out-of-context soundbite mash-up to back up your own views? Just stay tuned.

We root for political sides now like we root for our sports teams, and down-the-middle news reporting is now extinct. Not that it's not practiced, but because so few believe that the reporting entity is without bias. With all the black helicopters out there and such.

There is only one thing that can derail the cycle, a salacious sports scandal. The Secret Service sex romp in Colombia and the Petraeus affair are a drop in the bucket compared to Tonya Harding, OJ Simpson, Tiger Woods, Jerry Sandusky, or Manti Te'o.

As Clay Travis headlined on, the Te'o story is the kind of thing that breaks the internet, and causes the whale to show up on Twitter because it's overloaded.

A sports scandal brings both political sides together and takes over the 24-hour cycle. Even on MSNBC's (smartly named) The Cycle, they led with the Te'o fake, dead girlfriend (or is it dead, fake girlfriend?) story. They even had Tom Scocca on,'s managing editor who broke the story.

While we spend the next day or two figuring out exactly how the Te'o situation all went down - as if we ever really will - the cable news networks will move back to partisan fights and rhetoric.

And that all comes from sports, since you can't like Alabama and still respect Auburn. And 24-hour sports radio preceded 24-hour cable news.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Why Can't Georgians Just Believe?

C'mon Falcon fans, visualize it.

Past performance is a predictor of nothing. Well that's not entirely true, if you have Tom Brady you're probably going to win and if you're the Cleveland Browns you're probably going to lose. But outside of that, nothing is pre-written in today's NFL.

But it's all doom and gloom for the Falcons faithful. Despite having the #1 seed and the home field for the NFC Championship game, the fans are pointing to disappointing previous playoff exits, a blown 4th quarter lead last week (they still won y'all!), and the unstoppable Colin Kaepernick and his 8 career starts riding into town.

What makes the plight of the Atlanta Falcons so special? A home blowout two years ago at the hands of Aaron Rodgers and the eventual Super Bowl champ Pack? Eugene Robinson? The Cowboys comeback in 1980?

Let me put on my reality glasses and I see a team that was devastated after Michael Vick, and an embarrassment after Bobby Petrino. But a magic wand got waved and it all got fixed. Underrated coach Mike Smith and undersung QB Matt Ryan have the Falcons in the playoffs for the 4th time in 5 tries. And Ryan is 34-6 at home, 8-0 this season in games that counted.

So what's the problem? Is it that the Braves came up short so many times? Is it that Georgia's national championship hopes ended on the same field on the last play of the game?

Get over it. Or don't. Just enjoy the ride, you might just win the Super Bowl.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Right To Colbert Arms

I try not to post about The Colbert Report too often because practically every single episode is worthy of a page-long retweet. But the episode from Monday January 14 is one for the time capsule.

At Eleven Dark Thirty, Colbert emerged from his bunker to take up the case of every right wing survivalist and gun nut out there with Stephen Colbert's Double Barrel Blam-O-Rama.

He of course sung the songs of the persecuted and their guns: Alex Jones, Larry Ward, Ted Nugent, and viral You Tube sensation James Yeager.

"I'm not gonna let anyone take my guns. If it goes one inch further, I'm gonna start killing people."

Colbert obviously surmised "Now why would you want to take this guy's guns?" and showed Yeager's contrite follow-up from the next day.

"I probably let my mouth overrun my logic. But I don't retract any or my statements...I don't condone any kind of felonies up to aggravated assaults or murders. Unless it's necessary."

Colbert says you can't blame the guns themselves, the civil rights victims of our time. And it's not just a coincidence that most of them are black. Or that Gun Appreciation Day falls within the same weekend as Martin Luther King Day. And after all, Ted Nugent compared gun-owners to Rosa Parks.

The interview appropriately enough was Piers Morgan, who has become a lightning rod for the fringe. Colbert pressed Morgan on Britain's draconian gun policies, and repeatedly handed him pocket-sized copies of the Constitution. The right to have guns is to keep the government from taking our guns.

It was a classic episode of what the show is all about. And whether we have armed insurrection, a military police state, nuclear winter, or a zombie apocalypse, this 30-minute block will survive in my DVR.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Jets Offense Could Use Some Pep

Attention New York Jets: hire this man. Reports are Pep Hamilton is already on the Jets' radar as a potential offensive coordinator. Of course, he may be interviewing at an empty desk since the Jets presently have no GM.

Pep (given name: Alfonza) currently is Stanford's OC, technically the "Andrew Luck Director of Offense." And having been around Jim Harbaugh, David Shaw, and Andrew Luck for the last 3 seasons, he has been part of a lot of victories and a big time offensive brain trust. He also has NFL assistant experience with the Jets, 49ers, and Bears. And this is the formula, get a 38-year old guy on the way up instead of some retread.

The other names thrown around have been Norv Turner (appears headed for Cleveland thank goodness), Cam Cameron (Ravens offense hasn't looked back without him), and Marty Mornhinweg. Hopefully Chan Gailey has hung up the headset at least until the Jets have found their man - then please somebody hire him - especially if you're in the AFC East.

This should be the trend right now, get an open-minded college tactician rather the stale NFL assistant/former head coach who's had some success by default and been fired 2-3 times already. So what if they've called plays in the NFL? So has Brian Schottenheimer.

Of course I could be wrong about this, I often am when it comes to the Jets. But not as often as they are.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Paper Backtime: Gladwell's Greatest Hits

In the early part of the 21st century, Malcom Gladwell has been a pioneer in teaching us how to get beneath the surface and re-examine what we think about a lot of things, but mostly about expertise and what makes someone or something great.

The Tipping Point examined the exhaustive connectivity and machinations that goes into explosive change. Blink showed how we all rely on our instincts, that have been built on a foundation of life experience. And Outliers deconstructs individual achievement and brilliance, and breaks it all down to the root cause: extremely hard work amid favorable circumstances.

I refer to Gladwell's Outliers and "10,000 hours" rule often. I can claim it as a TV producer and a parent, though situations continue to come up in both areas that I'm completely unprepared for. And despite certain levels of achievement in martial arts and Mario Kart, I am still in a Gladwellian sense, a novice.

What The Dog Saw is a compilation of Gladwell's essays over the years for The New Yorker, a follow up to his three other books, and no doubt re-released in book form to capitalize upon his previous literary successes.

Inside are a number of extrapolated deep thoughts. Here are some of the chapter titles:

The Ketchup Conundrum: Mustard Now Comes in Dozens of Varieties. Why has Ketchup Stayed the Same?

John Rock's Error: What the Inventor of the Birth Control Pill Didn't Know About Women's Health.

Blowup: Who Can Be Blamed for a Disaster like The Challenger Explosion? No One, and We'd Better Get Used to It.

Late Bloomers: Why Do We Equate Genius with Precocity?

The Talent Myth: Are Smart People Overrated?

The last two are the best examples of Gladwell's premise as a whole. Being smart or being precocious are not necessarily indicators of anything. It is the hard work, perseverance, and most importantly the ability to tinker with your approach that makes all the difference.

I don't know too much about Gladwell's resume, but I do know he became a staff writer for The New Yorker at 32 years old and published his first book, The Tipping Point, at 36. So he wasn't exactly an overnight sensation. He had to work on and fine-tune his craft for years, and then he needed the vehicle for the audience to receive his message.

He was able to look at things a different way and pull in his audience, often drawing parallels between two completely different subjects and find a common link. Like mammography and military infrared weapon location. Or plagiarism and music sampling. Or spotting terrorists and faking mental illness. Or pit bulls and the New York City crime rate. He's got a million of them.

My favorite chapter is The Art Of Failure: Why Some People Choke and Others Panic. This essay (no chapter is more than 29 pages) breaks down the difference between Jana Novotna's infamous Wimbledon meltdown to JFK Jr's piloting crash in the Atlantic.

"Choking" is the pressure of the moment causing you to seize up and forget your years of learned experience, while "panicking" is a result of poor judgment based on inexperience. Jana Novotna knew how to serve, yet double-faulted three times when the Wimbledon title was on her racket. Conversely, JFK Jr had no idea what to do on a foggy night when he lost his horizon in his small plane.

It's a perfect example of why we can't paint everything, even failure, with such a broad brush. All you have to do is dig a little deeper.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

An Athens Hit And Run

Nothing extraordinary about my 24 hours in Athens. Certainly not Georgia hoops. They lost at home to Mississippi State in the battle of the Bulldogs.

While UGA gets all the pub, Bully's just as cute. In fact Bully guards my back door at night.

Even though it was the quickest of Athens trips, I managed to hit an outstanding dinner at The Last Resort, and breakfast at Five Star.

For the Xth time in a row I avoided a speeding ticket on the backroads around Athens, but that didn't mean the trip was without adventure.

My engine was running on the echo of gasoline. I'm pretty sure the Murano has an 18 gallon tank, yet I put 19 gallons of fuel in it. There were some shaky moments on the lonely highway between Dublin and Milledgeville. But I sputtered into Friendly Gus. Now I'm only out of gas when I get home.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The E-Man Chronicles: Through The Looking Glass

Earlier this week, The Thinking Mom's Revolution published Backtime's guest blog "What Makes You Beautiful." It was not only a thrill to be considered a "thinking Mom" even for a day, but it was also a coming-out of sorts as an autism dad.

So I have submitted a follow-up. I hope they have me back on the TMR, but in the meantime here is a sneak preview on Backtime, Through The Looking Glass:

As the saying goes, “To know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been.” The past is prologue. History shapes perspective.

I remember E-Man when he was 2 ½ years old, still head-banging and incessantly slamming doors and drawers. He couldn’t talk, didn’t nap, and could barely feed himself. But we invested in aggressive intervention: speech therapy, occupational therapy, college students that spent one-on-one time with him, floortime tasks and drills, and lots of valuable time.

There were fights with insurance companies, lots of parental squabbles, money we’ll never recover, and time from our lives that had to be re-channeled with only incremental results.

Six years later, the progress is astounding. E-Man is doing great in school and he is an engaging and empathetic young man.

You never say you’re “out of the woods,” because just a few months ago he practically tore my shirt off at a pizza joint when I told him no video games until after dinner. But for every step back, there have been two-to-ten steps forward.

Anyway, I was sitting with E-Man last week as he was waiting for a haircut. He doesn’t handle waiting well, so I was trying to engage him on a bunch of subjects. Which is when I caught a glimpse of the future.

A couple of seats away sat a dark-haired pre-teen, a pimply-faced cute boy with black socks and sneakers, playing intently on his Nintendo DS. He didn’t even look up from his game and interrupted our conversation a number of times.

When we were talking about football:

“Football is much better than baseball, but if you play you might get post-concussion syndrome.”

When I was talking about my recent trip to Oklahoma:

“Nothing ever happens in West Virginia. You never see anything on the news about West Virginia.”

And when E-Man was whining about the previous haircut taking so long:

“Cosmetology is a very precise science. Sometimes it takes a long time.”

He was the Asperger’s kid from central casting. And most people wouldn’t get that because he looks so “normal.”

I interacted with him briefly, though it was hard not to be a little uncomfortable. I was now “someone else’s” parent, through the looking glass. I was somewhat put off by an older version of my E-Man, and questions raced through my mind about what steps his parents had taken.

The boy’s mom was there and didn’t react to anything. She didn’t redirect him or even acknowledge that he was speaking.  She didn’t even throw him a disarming, uncomfortable laugh.

You don’t want to speculate about someone else’s family dynamic, but at first I found the mom’s inaction troubling. We were always taught to constantly engage and have as much interaction as possible.

On the other hand, maybe she had intervened tens of thousands of times already, maybe she was having a bad day and just wanted to ignore him and have some peace at the hair salon.

And maybe she was just happy about how far he’d come, and was unconcerned what anyone else thought.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Justified Season 4: The Search For Truth

The season premiere of Justified took a little bit of a turn. It was more like a day in the life of Deputy U.S. Marshal (and unauthorized free-lance bounty hunter) Raylan Givens. Nothing seems more natural than Raylan walking on a Harlan County sidewalk, carrying some keepsakes in a Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale crate.

He collared a fugitive by discharging his weapon to activate a steering wheel airbag, got his car stolen with the aforementioned fugitive in the trunk, and confronted Daddy Arlo in the pen. Boyd blew up a car, a hooker shot a john in a bear costume, and old Arlo shanked a guy in the joint.

It was a very entertaining hour for the second-best show on TV (ahead of Mad Men, but still behind the king). The season premiere didn't offer up too much in the way of a criminal mastermind like Mags Bennett, or a sinister samurai like Robert Quarles, or a brash angle-player like Wynn Duffy. But there were some serious show runners revealed.

First there was the unearthed Panamanian diplomatic bag, linked to a 30-year old botched coke drop, with the mysterious drivers license name Waldo Truth. And then there was the snake-handling religious revivalist, looking to snake away (see what I did there?) Boyd's oxy clientele. Expect everything to converge with some three-way shootout before the end of the season.

As always the dialogue was top-notch, as you would expect from characters drawn from Elmore Leonard. Boyd Crowder's vocabulary goes a little over the top, but the characters are all so well-drawn it is very forgivable. One thing the show was missing was the byplay with Raylan's boss Art Mullen, who didn't appear in this episode.

And Raylan's work "off the books" for cash is bound to have some consequences. A straight-arrow detective doesn't get ratings or sell as many novels as our favorite flawed lawman.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Well That Was Anti-Climactic

The 2013 Baseball Hall Of Fame inductees: much ado about nothing.

I get the premise here, it's a protest vote against the crop of "Steroid Era" players who defined a generation of baseball on the field, but tainted the game in doing so.

How do you differentiate a Barry Bonds from Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Mike Piazza? You keep them all out? - For now? But what about Craig Biggio, who isn't linked in these circles? The Hall Of Fame ballot seems just as subjective and biased as its always been.

But I will continue to make the case for at least one more year for the most deserving name on the ballot that doesn't fall into this "generation" of players.

See, they didn't even have color photography when Jack Morris dominated a decade for the Detroit Tigers.

I don't understand how the BBWAA could bypass Morris 14 straight years. I'm not going to make the full Buster Olney/Nate Silver mathematical case, though I've done plenty of research and gathered plenty of evidence, but I am still compiling.

Baseball is a dichotomy. It's a stat-driven game, it's how we measure players against one another and history. Yet it's also a game where a lot of the contributions don't show up in the box score: moving runners, eating innings, great defense.

I believe a catcher's first job is to manage a pitching staff, then to keep baserunners from running wild, and then to hit. Mike Piazza's numbers as an offensive player at his position are unprecedented, but how did he fare in his more primary responsibilities?

Without getting into numbers (and like I said those are ready to go), Jack Morris was a horse.

First and foremost, he was the ace starter on three World Series champions. Second, he pitched 10 shutout innings in Game 7 of the '91 World Series with no margin for error. Third, he was arguably the most durable pitcher and one of the most reliable for 14 years from 1979-1992.

And he did it all in the Designated Hitter era in the American League, pitching in the bandbox that was Tiger Stadium. The critics point to his moderately high ERA. He was a starter and a finisher, and in today's game with pitch count and inning counts, he is a throwback to a previous era.

Morris is the outlier on the 2013 ballot. The protest vote shouldn't have included him.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Right Team Won (It All)

The SEC title game was the real championship. The BCS championship was a 3+hour coronation. But the same formula won both games.

In an era with spread offenses and dual-threat quarterbacks, Nick Saban's team doesn't do wrinkles or tricks. They set you up with a power running game, which puts a smart QB in position to find NFL-caliber receivers downfield. And the offensive line does their job brilliantly as well.

Let's examine Alabama's four 1st Half drives to go up 28-0 at intermission:

1. 5 plays, 82 yards (Lacy 3 runs for 31 yards, 20 yard TD)

2. 10 plays, 61 yards (alternated 5 runs and 5 passes)

3. 8 plays, 80 yards (5 Yeldon runs, McCarron: 3-3, 63 yards)

4. 9 plays, 71 yards (5 runs, Lacy catch-and-run-and-spin for TD)

The game was effectively over at that point. AJ McCarron's numbers were gaudy at the end of the night: 20-28, 264 yards, 4 TD. And you have to give him his due. He's got two championships now, and is much more than a game manager. He's a weapon.

But there's no question the MVP of the game was Eddie Lacy. As he ran over, through, and around Notre Dame's vaunted defense, he sucked their will as well as all of their attention, which opened up everything else.

And here's a tip when Lacy goes pro and skips his senior season: take him on your fantasy team. He is obviously a guy who can carry the load and catch it out of the backfield. But also, he doesn't have the wear-and-tear that an every down back (think Marcus Lattimore) has endured. He hasn't needed to.

Lacy's career high for carries came in both the SEC and BCS championship games: 20.

Again it bears repeating, in an era when coaches a re-inventing the wheel each year in college football, Nick Saban sticks to the system. Repeating indeed.