Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Backtime Redux: West Coast Wedding Edition

Occasionally I remember that I once wrote something that tangentially connects to the events of the day. So I throw a fancy intro on it, update a couple of the subjects and there it is: today's weblog.

Backtime may have found the smoking gun: Jason Collins, a grown man, smiling widely at a wedding. We should have known it then. At least I think the tooth whitener model is Jason (his twin brother Jaron was also a groomsman and I don't know them well enough to tell the difference).

Jared Stacy and Caitlin McGinty Stacy are happily married (I assume), though Jared shed the humble associate producer title long ago. He's bigger in the NBA now than either of the wedding's bookends.

And I continue to plod along in my career. Though I'm in a committed, long-term relationship with the ceremony's most beautiful attendee.

So in honor of Jason Collins, a fine NBA center, please enjoy this re-post.

June 15, 2009

Spent the past weekend out west. Attended a family wedding at the picturesque Montecito Country Club in the Santa Barbara hills, overlooking the Pacific.

The groom was my second cousin, Jared Stacy - known throughout my family as the west coast version of me (except that he's better looking, smarter, and younger). He followed me into the TV biz, working as an associate producer on Dodgers and Lakers games. Does he get two rings this weekend? Anyway, here he is with his parents at his last recorded moment of freedom:

This is an important moment since there was something from his lovely bride, Caitlin McGinty, in the wedding vows about an 80-year contract. That's going to be tough to renegotiate.

As for the sports angle, the groomsmen included a couple of NBA big men, Jaron and Jason Collins, who attended Stanford with the groom.

Legendary Dodgers' broadcaster Vin Scully was working and couldn't officiate the ceremony, but he lent Jared his cuff links for the occasion.

And there was an official announcement in the Dodgers' game notes. (I have to learn to photoshop)

Good nuance at the reception. The house red wine was Syrah. The Irish folk dancers were captivating (later emulated by the bride and her siblings). The cupcakes were the best ever.
As for me, with my bride stuck in the Savannah weather center due to a staff wedding down here (congrats to David & Jess by the way), I brought a younger woman.

No such weather issues on the California coast. This one stole the show on many occasions.

Except for my pregame Friday Night toast when I had to explain to her that at least for a few minutes that I was Paris Hilton and she was the chihuahua.

That's alright, take an 80-year contract with her any day.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Mad Men: The One Where MLK Gets It

It wasn't a prediction I made in a public forum, but those are words I said to another human in advance of Sunday's episode.

Yes it's a spoiler, and yes it's as insensitive as Harry Crane bitching about missed commercial advertising opportunities with the ongoing MLK assassination coverage. Though I enjoyed watching Pete Campbell take the moral high ground with his displaced outrage.

Mad Men lives off these reactions to the times of 45 years ago, and the ensemble's soulful response was definitely something I was right to look forward to.

Matthew Weiner's storyboard also dealt with the ugly riots in the aftermath of the death of Dr. King. It was reminiscent of an incredibly poignant episode of The Jeffersons, which flashed back to "The First Store," George's first store opening the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. George had to sift through his anger and find the perspective to cool down his son Lionel.

But I digress - we wondered how Don & Peggy would continue to be connected after she left SCDP.

After the submarine job by Peggy's firm did on Heinz last week, the shock on award night was a perfect opportunity for them to intersect. And the national tragedy was a great chance to realize what's around them that they've taken for granted.

Don has a son who is growing up, opening Don's eyes for the first time while they take in a double-feature of Planet Of The Apes. But Don is haunted by his own childhood and his own father and realizes briefly how lucky he is.

And Don has great scene with Megan. Despite all the pretending in their marriage, she seems to be the one person who can extract Don's innermost feelings.

Peggy put her bid in on an impressive Upper East Side apartment, and it fell through. So she finally asks Abe, her hop-along hippie/flunky boyfriend what he really thinks. Abe wants to raise their children around "different kinds of people," and suggests the West Side.

I think Peggy's move to the West Side over the East Side is one of the great triumphant, seminal moments in the history of the show, but I'm biased.

Don and Peggy's self-hating, shallow lives in advertising have somehow netted people that love them unconditionally. And it took a horrific event to jolt them into reality.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Flash Backtime: Trickle Down Sequestration

As a frequent business traveler, I dreaded the (capital S) Sequester for how it would affect me - as if I was motivated by my own self-interests. But I'm not the only one. We are a nation of the "self-interested" and this a perfect example.

The considerable cuts and furloughs continue, with one exception: air travel. The FAA furloughs for air traffic controllers have been suspended by government intervention.

I expected something like this to trigger the end of the (capital S) Sequester, but those pesky congresspeople found a way around that too. They managed to get only this one element of the Sequester fixed, not many of the more important social programs (Head Start, Meals On Wheels, Cancer Research).

You know why? Because congressfolk need to get home to their states and districts. For that they could all agree to move the meter... Because they are the paragon of this self-interested nation.

As it turns out we were delayed 2 hours from Atlanta to Baton Rouge on this clear April Saturday, because of something called "maintenance." Conspiracy theorists populate my gate, although I didn't recognize a single politician.

March 4, 2013

The news outlets had been promoting the Sequester with a capital "S" for months. We had heard all about the draconian drama that was about to unfold before our eyes: Cuts, furloughs, closings, and more cuts. Yes, I was sure it was just another fire drill - until it affects you. And by "you" I mean me of course.

The FAA has been hacksawed into, which means fewer air traffic controllers, which means less air traffic control, which means less air traffic.

Homeland Security has been slashed as well. And while nobody is writing love songs about TSA agents, if their overtime gets cut and if they can't hire new personnel for a fairly high-turnover position, the process of airport security will be slowed down to a crawl.

If you make your living flying from place to place, this is very ominous. If you make your living connecting through a hub like Atlanta, O'Hare, or DFW, expect things to be a lot worse. Not only is the population exponentially higher than other airports, but double the headaches with the comings and goings of connecting flights.

So when I'm in ATL this coming Friday, on my 8th drink at Cafe Intermezzo, waiting and wondering how this all started, I thought I'd be sure what to tell my fellow refugees about why we're in this soup.

This is initially the Republicans' fault by ignorance, then the Democrats' fault for stupidity. The two are not the same.

In 2011, when the GOPs in Congress stubbornly blocked a perfunctory raise of the debt ceiling, all hell broke loose. Many of them did not know (or at least their constituents didn't) that the debt ceiling was there to pay off the country's standing debt, not raising the debt limit a la credit cards.

So a deal had to be brokered to keep the US in good financial standing. The Dems caved on a "sequestration" deal, which is what you see today with the massive cuts to essential programs. They never thought the Republicans would let it go into effect, which was a colossal miscalculation.

They thought this because the deal included major cuts in defense spending, a sacred cow on the right, while not cutting Social Security and Medicare, the equivalent on the left.

The problem is that hard-line military spending was the GOP platform of the neo-cons a decade ago, post 9/11. It's not the same in this decade, post-Tea Party. The party has transformed - now they'll cut anything and call it a win.

In the meantime hundreds of thousands of Americans will feel direct pain, and then so many more of us, like the business travelers will feel the residual effects. That's when this will reach a tipping point and Congress will have to act.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Paper Backtime: Jay Walking The Walk

When I saw Jay Bilas's Toughness: Developing True Strength On And Off The Court at the bookstore, I had some reservations about whether to plunk down for a hardcover.

After all, I don't think there's an author I would know any better. I suppose I could have made a call or sent an email requesting a complimentary copy, but that would kind of go against the premise of the book. The "tough" thing to do would be pay for it, read it in its entirety, and offer feedback in a public forum.

Maybe Jay can reimburse me in beverages sometime down the road.

This is a motivational/self-help/basketball book, so there's some messaging here that may come across as re-purposed. I pictured a Rick Pitino clinic I attended as a teenager, crossed with a Tony Robbins infomercial. But there truly is a lot of thought-provoking stuff that you can use in any phase of your life.

Bilas's point is that toughness is more mental than physical. It's not about withstanding pain or being fearless, as much as it is doing what's hard and embracing the challenge that comes with it.

From the basketball end of things, I especially liked the segment about talking on defense. Any player can get locked in on his/her individual task, whether it be smothering your man or shutting down your section of the zone. But what takes toughness is to be "responsible" to the task, yet "accountable" to the team. We are all "tougher together" than we are individually.

And that all starts with communication, staying connected and helping the four other guys on the floor to achieve the collective goal on each defensive possession.

The chapter titles are what you'd expect from a book titled Toughness: Trust, Courage, Persistence, Resilience, Self-Evaluation. But Chapter 6 stood out to me, a chapter called "Next Play." It is a philosophy ingrained in Bilas and any Blue Devil from Coach Mike Krzyzewski who said, "You have to be tough enough to move on, whether the last play was good or crappy... Next play is the absence of fear of failure. You have moved on."

Bilas applies 'next play' to his experiences as broadcaster, lawyer, husband, father or weekend golfer, "Instead of staying angry or self-satisfied about the last play - neither of which leads to positive outcomes for the next play - those two simple words focus my concentration and improve my chances to be successful."

I have often applied that to my own life, that my most important assignment is "whatever comes next." It could be picking up and moving around the country, autism, divorce, economic setbacks, demotions, or the positive equivalency of any of those things. There's nothing more important than whatever comes next. I even caught myself shouting, "Next play!" to my son on the soccer field.

Maybe I'm tougher than I thought.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Feeling The Draft For 20 Years

This site sometimes wanders to a professional resume or bio, and the memoirs of a mid-level TV producer. It certainly be categorized as non-fiction, and some may even find my adventures interesting.

Pictured above is the first overall selection of the 1993 NFL Draft, Drew Bledsoe. It was also the first selection in the NINE drafts I covered between 1993 and 2002.

Sure you remember 1993. Back when Paul Tagliabue was commissioner, the draft was at a midtown New York hotel, and ESPN did only 5 hours of coverage.

I was assigned as the producer for reporter/interviewer Adrian Karsten. I was 24 years old in a gangly suit and a bulky wireless headset. I would deal with the point people for the players in the green room and facilitate the interviews.

The main storyline that day was whether the Patriots would take Drew Bledsoe or Rick Mirer with the #1 pick. I specifically remember meeting Willie Roaf and Jerome Bettis before they played a down in their illustrious NFL careers.

At one point, then-super agent Leigh Steinberg claimed that our producer Fred Gaudelli reneged on some sort of interview arrangement. I was in the awkward position of relaying a very explicit and profane message to my boss.

In 1994, I was the graphics point person in Bristol when the move was made to cover the entire draft on ESPN and the fledgling ESPN2. At one time I had a "I survived the 1994 NFL Draft on ESPN2" T-shirt. We worked all day Saturday and all day Sunday until the draft was done.

While graphics in New York was responsible for the bulk of the work, I was constantly grinding back in HQ. I had one graphics machine (Infinit) and operator on my right responsible for all the reporter/remote sites. On my left was another machine and another operator responsible for compositing every player selected with the logo of the team that just drafted him. It was easy to get behind and we'd have to chase our tails to catch up. I remember one stretch going nine hours without standing up, much less going to the bathroom.

I did so well on the inaugural full draft in 1994 that I drew the same assignment the next two years. As with a number of things in my Bristol years, I had to leave to get promoted. From 1997-1999, I was the field producer at Miami Dolphins camp in Davie FL, complete with "War Room Cam." You may remember Jimmy Johnson's draft-day maneuverings as the early model for how teams do it today.

Mort was my reporter the first two years. I've never seen anyone work the phones harder - from getting all the insider stuff from around the league to relaying to his wife the lineup for his son's little league baseball team. I also had a blast with Hank Goldberg in the third year.

In 2000, I was with Ed Werder in Ashburn VA at Redskins camp. You might remember them picking LaVar Arrington #2 and Chris Samuels #3, and the two of them landing via helicopter on the Redskins practice field. Or you might remember Daniel Snyder blowing on a mammoth cigar in the Redskins war room.

After a 1-year hiatus, I was asked back to help consult on graphics in New York. The irony there was that it was one month after I had moved to Omaha. It took me 9 years to get back to New York, and by then I didn't live there anymore!

I still hadn't fully moved out so I got the rare combination of a flight, but no hotel room. Just another example of all the "right place, wrong time" moments that have dotted my career. Or is that the other way around?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

REVISionist History

It's sad that this was Darrelle Revis's last moment in a Jets uniform. Carted off the field Week 3 in Miami after tearing his ACL on a non-contact play on a grass field.

How would the Jets season have played out if Revis's season wasn't prematurely finished? Would Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow have become BFFs? Would the Jets have made the playoffs? The Super Bowl? Would Darrelle Revis still be a Jet?

Too bad injuries are a big part of the game, and there are no "ifs" in football. It's a business, and the Jets made a business decision in the trade of Revis to Tampa.

As a fan, it's very hard to say goodbye. I've watched the Jets my whole life and there are only two players in franchise history who could be considered the best player in the league at their position. First was Joe Klecko, and now Revis, whose consistently excellent play was so far removed from anything Jets fans have grown to expect.

But I am an educated fan, a realist. The $16M a year Revis was expecting, coming off knee surgery, was exorbitant. He may have earned the right to name his figure, but the Jets can look at the spreadsheet and see they can pay 6 quality starters in 2014 instead. Even deposed GM Mike Tannenbaum knows that.

And did anyone see teams lined up around the block to try to acquire the NFL's best cornerback? No, they all have businesses to run too. Except for the Buccaneers. And more power to them. Maybe Revis is their missing piece, and he's an elite player, a proven quantity.

The Jets got the #13 pick in the draft in return, and the rebuilding begins again. But six years ago, the Jets took Revis with the 14th pick so not all hope is lost. What is lost is the opportunity to watch a master craftsman at his profession, a player that never disappointed you on arguably the most disappointing team in professional sports. OK now, back to business.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Knoxville Hit And Run

I've actually been asked this: What distinguishes a "hit and run" trip from a normal business trip?

If you spend only one night in a hotel room. If you're fortunate to work an event and get home before you have to spend that second night away, that's a "hit and run." If you manage to to work an event that doesn't even require a stayover (Columbia SC, Jacksonville or Atlanta), that's just plain theft.

So on Saturday I took the two shortest back-to-back flights you can imagine, and I was in Knoxvull by nightfall.

I've been to Knoxville over a dozen times in my career, but I never seemed to stay in the right places. Whether I was there covering football, basketball, softball, or baseball, I always seemed to find myself in some isolated hotel.

That wasn't the case on this trip. It was a convenient downtown deal, and I could see Market Square from my 12th floor window.

So I wandered down for some dinner. The orange and white game was earlier in the afternoon, so there was a lively (read: drunk) crowd out on the square. It was the first game for new football coach Butch Jones, as well as the first game for Smokey X.

I headed into Latitude 35, a high end bar & grill for some NBA playoff action and a couple of beers. Dinner was not especially memorable. I got back to the room and finished my prep for the Tennessee/Ole Miss Sunday baseball game while Men In Black II played on the giant-screen TV in my room. The film of course features Johnny Knoxville.

The game was pretty crisp. Tennessee starter Zack Godley was pitching a gem on his 23rd birthday against the #17 Rebels, but threw a ball away in the 9th which led to a 3-run rally. Ole Miss won 4-3 and completed the sweep on the road.

Most importantly the game ended in an economical 2 hours and 29 minutes, and we all made our flights home. My quesadaillas at Ruby Tuesday at Tyson McGhee airport were far better than Saturday night's dinner downtown.  But I'll be back in two weeks to try it all over again.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Picking Up Where We Left Off

After the completion of play this afternoon in Toronto, the Yankees are now 10-6. So, they blew a late lead and cost Hiroki Kuroda a win, but the result was still favorable. With 10% of the season done, we can now assess how the team is doing and what a nice surprise April has been.

Brian Cashman is spinning his usual mastery, handling the Yankees' voluminous injuries with experienced stopgaps, and thus far the spare parts are humming. Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells, and Lyle Overbay not only have exceeded expectations but provided veteran leadership.

But the best Bronx Bomber thus far is a pitcher: Hiroki Kuroda. And it's not all that shocking considering what he did last year.

CC Sabathia (3-1, 2.57) has been strong, and Andy Pettitte (3-0, 2.01) has been brilliant. But Kuroda (2-1, 2.35) has put together back-to back gems, allowing one run and eight hits in the last 16+ innings. And based on how he ended 2012, that seems to be what we can expect.

After his first 9 starts as a Yankee last year he was still adjusting to a new coast in a new league at 3-6 with a 4.56 ERA. Since then, he's 15-6 with a 2.91 in 28 starts, not including two outstanding playoff starts.

In those 28 starts, Kuroda has allowed two or fewer runs 17 times. He is a stopper, and he's done it with just about as little fanfare as you can get in New York. While Sabathia commands all the money, and Pettitte has the resume, Kuroda is just a Hiro.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Whoa, Man

"I admire your predictability Elizabeth, it's comforting."

The Americans had been consistently excellent in its first season, but you could see it coming: a little cold water on The Cold War. In the form of the show's lead character, Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings. Her character has become too writer-friendly, too adamant, too one-dimensional.

Now every great show, from The Sopranos to Breaking Bad, isn't immune to some subpar episodes. But when the characters are too predictable, the luster can fade quickly. This isn't a comedy featuring Ralph Cramden or George Jefferson. Staid gets stale in a spy drama.

Elizabeth is definitely averse to the American pursuit of happiness like any good deep-cover KGB agent, but her demand for revenge on some bureaucratic lackey for the assassination of her beloved General Zhukov was just tiresome. And the flashback scenes with Elizabeth and Zhukov were just annoying.

The "covert" plan to target CIA middle-man Richard Patterson was dubious at best. But Elizabeth jumped all over it, somehow compiling a surveillance dossier on him in no time. She put together her best Jane Fonda outfit and librarian specs, and seduced him at the bar with jukebox selections and crossword puzzles.

So just while the first half of the show was frustrating, it led to the seduction/abduction scene in the ladies' room at The Wheel House, which set to Pete Townshend's "Rough Boys" was predictable in its awesomeness. The sequence was every bit as great as the opening chase scene in the pilot to Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk."

Then as Elizabeth puts her life in her husband/partner's hands all the time, she can't bring herself to say the words, "I love you. Come home."

You can't blame the writers for continuing to create tension, but the actor has got to be the one to grab the viewer's attention and empathy for the character. There needs to be investment, even if the character is flawed. Despite the terrible things they do, we love Tony Soprano and Walter White. And we could drop Carrie Mathison (Homeland) in a heartbeat.

With a couple of episodes left in a great opening season, we love the ass-kicking Elizabeth, but we want more from our femme fatale and her writers. Surprise us.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Turning Backtime: The Road Not Taken

Above is the most famous sports broadcast team in history. Eighteen years ago, I worked one game as their stat guy in the booth at Skydome in Toronto for a preseason game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills.

Long before Backtime's Executive Editor was a "full-time decision maker," the gig represented the first real career choice I ever had to make.


I had grown up as an unparalleled sports fan, and a full-time gig at ESPN had been beyond my wildest dreams until I got it. Then I was introduced to overnight clip sessions, office politics, and The X-Games.

Don't get me wrong, I was doing well at 26 years old as an associate producer on a pet project like the inaugural X-Games. But the days were long and miserable. Newport, Rhode Island in June was a great place to be, but I got to enjoy none of it.

One miserable night (they all were) I returned to my hotel around Midnight, and the phone rang in my room - it was before most people had cell phones - so it wasn't all that unusual. What was unusual was who was on the other end, NFL on Fox producer Bob Stenner. He was calling from his summer home in Hawaii, so it wasn't even night where he was.

They had to fill their lead statistician position and he got my name from Pat Haden, whom I had worked with on radio, and had put me in the mix for a similar gig on TNT the year before. As it turned out I wasn't needed because Major League Baseball went on strike in 1994 and there were a flood of established guys available.

So that's how Stenner got my name. How he got my number at some rinky-dink hotel in Rhode Island is a mystery. I didn't ask, the butterflies in my stomach were fluttering.

Stenner offered me the opportunity to work with Pat & John. I would audition on a preseason game in Tornoto on August 12th, and if I met their approval I would stay on and do the season. Of course I said yes, but in the next 6 weeks I went back and forth on whether this was the right move.

It was a classic "short-term, long-term" dilemma. The NFL gig would give me a measure of status and a great note on my resume' (I was only 26), but it would derail my career goals in production. And from everything I had heard about John Madden, he wasn't about to stand for someone who was using their show as a stepping stone.

I decided to do the game. So I went to Toronto and I attended the production meeting, where I was introduced to Pat Summerall and John Madden. It might be the only production meeting in my career I didn't say a word in. Madden was abrasive (to put it kindly) with the underlings in the room and I wasn't looking to be roadkill on Day 1.

Several hours later, I was in the booth when the announcers arrived. Madden never made eye contact with me. Summerall, on the other hand, was a gentleman. We had one pre-game conversation as I stood side-by-side with him looking out to the field. I don't remember what we talked about - I was probably just thinking how cool it was that I was talking to Pat Summerall.

When the game began, the Bills sacked Troy Aikman on the second play from scrimmage. I held up a card I had ready - the Bills had 5 sacks in the first half of their last preseason game. I thought Pat & John would be so impressed with my preparation and timing. Instead, SWAT! Madden backhanded the index card right out of my hand. So that was my first on-air moment with those guys. It didn't look good. Though ask anyone who's worked with John Madden, and that outburst wasn't anything extraordinary.

As the game went on, things were better but pretty mundane. Madden referenced a few of my notes. Summerall gave me several very subtle nods of acknowledgment, just as elegant and understated as you would imagine.

But ultimately it was a 9-7 Bills win in a preseason game. Jim Kelly took 9 snaps. Aikman and Emmitt Smith only played a quarter. There was no chance for me shine.

Even at a young age, I was able to step back after the fact and weight the pros and cons. Ultimately there was only one positive about the gig: I would be on the signature NFL broadcast every week.

There were too many minuses. ESPN was at war with Fox after they had come on the scene just a year earlier and poached some big-time people. I wasn't big-time, but I would be joining the enemy. And being a stat guy would be a step backwards if I really wanted to be a producer. And John Madden was a dick who might take the joy out of my job, or simply pull the plug on me at a moment's notice.

I got back home on Monday and called Stenner. Even though my audition went fairly well, my mind had been made up. I quit even before I could get fired, though I was honored to be considered in the first place.

My phone rang the next day, it was a producer from NBC offering me the rest of the season as an associate producer on baseball. I worked the National League Pennant race and ultimately the 1995 NLCS. The Braves swept the Reds and headed onto their only World Series title.

As for me, I left ESPN but continue in a freelance role to this day. I produced my first game in December 1996. But my career and my life could have turned out very differently if I'd followed the stars in my eyes.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Summerall: Legend Of The Fall

George Allen "Pat" Summerall died today at 82. He played 10 years in the NFL as a part-time End (back then they didn't differentiate between offense and defense) and an accomplished "straight-on" Placekicker.

In fact, he got the nickname "Pat" at an early age, due to his reputation as a kicker. He was automatic on Point After Touchdowns (back then that wasn't taken for granted) and the name PAT stuck.

But if he never played a down in the NFL, his legacy will be the NFL. He was the lead play-by-play on CBS, and then on Fox. When I was a child I knew enough that the game Summerall was doing with Tom Brookshier was the game of the week. Later CBS elevated John Madden to partner with Summerall, and the rest is history.

But Summerall's broadcast legend extended beyond 40+ years in the NFL booth. He was the voice of the US Open Tennis Championship (back then that was huge) for years with Tony Trabert, and countless Masters alongside Ken Venturi.

His minimalist style is something revered by broadcast hosts to this day, though not practiced very often. Many play-by-play men (and let's not forget their producers) have to justify their own existence by showing the audience (and their bosses) how much they know. Summerall just let the game breathe, getting out of the way of the game, and clearing room for Madden, who was the star of the show. He could come out of a break and just say "Giants Stadium" and the scene would be set.

I worked in the booth with Summerall and Madden once on a preseason game in Toronto of all places, in 1995. How did that come about? Well, funny you should ask. I hadn't even thought of that event in years until I learned of Mr. Summerall's death.

More on my one-and-done experience with the "A" crew, tomorrow on Backtime.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Notes On A Master

Well, Adam Scott can no longer hold the title, Best Player Never To Win A Major. And it was a long time coming. I remember watching Scott win the TPC in 2004 when he was 23 and we were waiting any day for the birth of our first child.

So 9 years later, after a lot of near misses and one colossal meltdown (the 2012 Open Championship), Scott conquered nerves and made some massive putts to finally join the Major fraternity.

So Scott got the monkey off his back, but the thing about golf is that the demons never really go away. Phil Mickelson has won multiple majors and is one of the best of our generation, but he's unraveled in the final round too many times to recall. Jim Furyk seems as steady as they come, he won the 2003 US Open, and has coughed it up many times since.

So Scott will always have those surreal clutch moments in the rain from Augusta 2013, and the Masters Championship is something that will never be taken away.

But in golf the yips find ways to re-emerge. It happened to Tom Watson at age 59 with a British Open on his putter. Scott has finally reached the pinnacle, and now he'll have to work just as hard to stay up there.

So who's the new Best Player Never To Win A Major?

Dustin Johnson (28)? He's already had some Major snafus, but lots of success and plenty of talent and time to get it straight.

Hunter Mahan (30)? A big time cash-cow, but seems to disappear in the big ones.

But I'm going with Justin Rose (32). Already has a Top 5 finish in each Slam, and seems to be in the mix at almost every one.

But even if these guys break through, do they instantly become elite, or are they one-and-done? Remember how much we liked Mike Weir 10 years ago?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Backtime Dateline: Nash Vegas

This is Opryland. You probably know about the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Conference Center complex in Nashville, but until you've been there it's hard to imagine the scope and size of the complex. You could probably see it from space.

It's got over 2700 rooms, a dozen restaurants, shops, salons, cafes, and still plenty of space to roam around. I brought my breakfast and coffee to the Cascades solarium.

As a business hotel it kinda sucks. It's a resort - sort of like checking into a Vegas casino with waits for valet parking and check-in. And extra fees are tacked onto everything like business center access and UPS/Fedex package delivery.

But for one trip, I could stomach some of the hassles for the novelty aspect of the place. That and the two dinners were very good. Wasabi's was good sushi - the rolls were pretty sloppy but tasted good. And Saturday night dinner at Findley's Irish Pub was outstanding. Both were pricy but weren't the standard theme parkish fare you'd expect.

In between the two dinners was work - Vanderbilt annihilated Missouri 12-1on the diamond. It wasn't just a blowout, but the production was not one to put in the time capsule. I won't explain any further, but technically think of a word with the preface "cluster."

It was a beautiful day, and next door 16,000 showed up at the football stadium for the Black & Gold Spring Game.

It's not the crowd that most SEC schools get for their spring game, but this isn't your typical SEC institution. It's a sports town on the rise with the Titans and the Predators, and of course Vandy's #3 ranked baseball team. But it's still Music City first.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Paper Backtime: Getting Your FRECON 101

Let's take life, then subtract social parameters, politics, conventional wisdom. What remains? Hard data bolstered by the human condition. Or as co-authors Steven Levitt (the Warhol of economists) and Stephen Dubner (writer and Levitt's decoder ring) like to say, "People respond to incentives."

Basically Freakonomics shows you how to read things differently. Hence the cover of the first book where you cut open an apple and inside is an orange. Then you get to the Table Of Contents:

Chapter 1: What Do Schoolteachers And Sumo Wrestlers Have In Common?

Chapter 2: How Is The Ku Klux Klan Like A Group Of Real Estate Agents?

Chapter 3: Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms?

This is where the "people respond to incentives" comes in. Some teachers cheat student test scores in order to receive accolades and rewards, while some Sumo wrestlers throw fights to help others in their fraternity to remain in the big leagues, in hopes that the same compensatory measures will be reciprocated sometime down the road.

The Ku Klux Klan and Real Estate Agents use buzzwords in the literature they produce that is only grasped by the others in their circle. Only those with the time, energy, and acumen to infiltrate these realms can truly expose the secrets.

Drug Dealers still live with their Moms because drug dealing at the street level isn't a lucrative business. But it is a business, and if you survive the very dangerous corporate ladder to become a "soldier" and then an "officer," that's when the incentives really kick in. For many who turn to drug dealing, there isn't the money or the incentive to leave home (if you have one to begin with).

The thesis answer in many of these questions are two parts: cause vs symptom. When crime rates plummeted in the 1990s, why was that? Was it better policing? Tougher gun laws? An improved economy? Maybe.

The authors make a hard, unemotional argument that Roe v Wade was the cause. More aborted pregnancies led to fewer unwanted babies which led to fewer troubled and underprivileged children which led ultimately to a relative dearth of age-appropriate criminals.

Then with fewer criminals on the streets, the police wouldn't be overwhelmed and could strategize better police work. That would be a symptom of the overall crime reduction, helping to create further crime reduction.

Take the chapter, "A Rashonda By Any Other Name." Are kids with "black" and "poor white" names more likely not to succeed because of their name? No, that would be a symptom. Kids are less likely to succeed when they don't have the means or support system, and their parents are poorly-educated. Somehow that translates to "Jake" having a better chance than "DeShawn." But if you flipped the kids' names, and the situations remained, that wouldn't necessarily be the case. Alas there are too few Jakes in the projects and DeShawns in McMansions.

Well that was all from the first book, Freakonomics. A couple of years later, Levitt and Dubner followed up with Super Freakonomics. It really takes a lot of these ideas and applies them empirically to much more inflammatory issues.

For instance, what are the preferred and non-preferred ways to make a living as a prostitute? Should you work with or without a pimp? Should prostitution work be seasonal?

Why your chances of surviving a hospital stay are based on not your doctor's skill but his hygiene, and yes Chapter 2 is titled, "Why Should Suicide Bombers Buy Life Insurance?"

The answer to the last question is reasoned out with cold calculation. First, suicide bombing are very rare. Second, most suicide bombers fit a certain profile - they are more educated than you think, and have certain banking patterns. But if a suicide bomber ever wanted to throw those pursuing him off the trail, he must simply purchase life insurance. After all, what jihadist would pay money into a plan that wouldn't pay out once he's blown himself to paradise?

The answer is simple: one who has read Freakonomics.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Tangled Web They Weave When It's Their Job To Deceive

The Americans is gaining more and more momentum as the season rolls on. And it's not anything new to portray US federal agents as adversaries (The Sopranos, Breaking Bad), but the intricate, conscience-shattering role of FBI Agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) is one of the best turns in recent TV history.

Stan's insight and ignorance blend perfectly in the first 15 minutes of episode 10 "Only You," making you want to hug him and choke him at the same time. You can imagine his internal strife, which is the key to a great character and outstanding acting.

Stan, while reeling from the death of his partner, seeks out the solace of his best friend Phillip Jennings, the KGB ace who killed him - which wasn't premeditated. Maybe Stan finds Phillip in these situations because of some 6th sense (like Hank and Walt in Breaking Bad), or maybe he's just got a soft spot and his head up his ass.

When Stan deals with his bosses or works a source, he is as sharp as can be. But he's emotional, tortured, and sometimes drunk, which makes him all too human. Like his handling of his informant, Nina.

He coerced her, slept with her, then lied to her face when she wanted answers about the death of her friend Vlad, the KGB stooge that Stan executed in an eye-for-an-eye, coldest-blooded Cold War moment you can get.

Meanwhile the Jennings family is going through their own family rollercoaster ride. Their marriage was always a cover, now their separation is too. But their partnership is as strong as ever as they deal with the fallout of FBI Agent Chris Amador's death, and the residual effects that could bring two nations to nuclear war - always the underlying theme of the show.

And the cat-and-mouse games continue. Elizabeth Jennings can't smile on her own, a subtle characteristic of a Russian woman playing in the skin of an American. Phillip Jennings continues to be above all the physical and emotional torture to become one of the greatest spies TV has ever seen. And Agent Beeman continues to reel in the little fish while the big one always gets away.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Backtime's Bird Episode

This beautiful creature is a Cedar Waxwing. Note the red fringes on the wings and the yellow tail. That's how the bodies were identified when I found three of them dead in my yard, seemingly fallen out of the sky. One was mildly gutted like a squirrel had gotten to it, but the other two were perfectly intact.

Like many people who don't know anything about birds, a couple of thoughts got into my head. First, is there some kind of avian flu going around? And second, is this just some sort of Ornithological Darwinism taking place in the tree beside my house?

I know my neighbors have a bird feeder right on the other side of the fence, so I went to ask them if they had any insight, but they weren't home. The mystery deepened and I didn't want to move the bodies until I had some answers.

So I called Savannah Critter Control, who had been helpful when a couple of birds got into my daughter's room through the chimney a few years back. They said if they're babies they might have just lost their mama and given up. They looked very much like the fully-developed bird in the picture above so I surmised they weren't babies. I was told that no warnings had been issued about birds, but I was referred to the Health Department.

I called the Health Department and reported the dead birds, and they immediately referred me to mosquito control. Mosquito control told me it was far too early in the season for that type of transmitted virus, and they would have no need to remove and study the birds. But they also said that I should use gloves and a sealable bag when I disposed of the birds, just to be safe. Which I did, and kept them in a clear, sealed bag for my neighbor's return.

It turns out she is in a bird-studying program, and was able to call up the Cedar Waxwing through some app in her phone. She had heard some commotion in my tree (which extends into their yard) the night before, which supported the Ornithological Darwinism theory presented earlier. I had heard the birds too that evening as uncommonly loud, but my daughter was playing Angry Birds on her IPad at the same time, so I wasn't sure what was which.

The neighbor said she would call her mentor, and ask what may have happened. A few minutes later she relayed another theory.

The Cedar Waxwings love berries, so much so that they get drunk from them - which is probably why they were so loud - damn drunk birds! Then when they were drunk, they either flew into the side of my house and died, or simply lost the ability to fly and then died when they hit the ground after a significant fall. Don't drink and fly!

So now I know something (or at least next to nothing) about birds, in my quest to know a little bit about everything. When Jeopardy! comes to Savannah I want to be ready.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Cigarette Lighters, A Violin, Headphones And A Shine Box: The Mad Men Season Premiere

There's nothing avant garde about a psychotherapy session in a TV drama, but Roger Sterling on the couch was as entertaining as television gets. Not only that, it set up the theme for the episode and the season: mortality.

"What are the events in life? It's like you see a door. The first time you come to it you say, 'Oh, what's on the other side of the door?' 

Then you open a few doors, then you say, "I think I want to go over that bridge this time, I'm tired of doors.' Finally you go through one of these things and you come out the other side and you realize that's all there are: doors. And windows and bridges and gates, and they all open the same way. And they all close behind you.

Look, life is supposed to be a path, and you go along and things happen to you and they're supposed to change you, change your direction. But it turns out that's not true. It turns out the experiences are nothing. They're just some pennies you pick up off the floor, stick 'em in your pocket, and you're just going in a straight line to you know where.

It is the eve of 1968, one of the most turbulent years in our nation's history. How will Matthew Weiner and the Mad Men think tank handle the ongoing Vietnam War? MLK and RFK assassinations? LBJ's lame duck year? Bloody riots? Black Power? The Detroit Tigers?

They've already dealt with life and death - Don Draper's encounter with the doorman and the surgeon (and the surgeon's wife and Dante's Inferno) all set against the backdrop of his Hawaii trip and a young serviceman facing the horrors of Vietnam and marriage: "The jumping off point."

And Roger's self-analysis comes fill circle as he deals with the death of his mother (This is my funeral!) however delayed the reaction. And his experiences with his ex-wives (both of them) and his daughter are just more pennies in his pocket.

Now only if we could kill off Betty Draper Francis. She's a character that continues to be unnecessary, unlikeable and unsympathetic. That would be a mega plotline - Betty dying (most likely behind the wheel - don't think that reckless driving ticket was in the script for no reason) and the kids moving in with Don and Megan. That would be a significant doorway to inch through. And deal with death in the most personal possible way.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Thank You For Participating In Grand Theft: Paycheck

Over the years, I would sometimes get assignments that were "late" (within 2 weeks of air date) and "local" (driving distance). When living in Kalamazoo, I used to love the call to get Michigan State taking on Coppin State or FIU, while I frantically rearranged my schedule to procure a convenient day rate.

I used to call these events "529 Games," meaning unplanned money that could go straight to the kids' college funds. Now I just call it stealing. As with any heist there's a certain amount of logistics that needs to take place, especially when curveballs pop up.

A couple of weeks ago I got the call to do a nationally-televised college baseball game: Liberty vs Coastal Carolina on April 7th. Great. I would get home from Spring Break, and drive up to Myrtle Beach on Saturday for a Sunday early game, hit the cruise control and drive home.

Right before my own personal family vacation, I got an "oops, my bad" from my boss. The game was actually Saturday April 6th at Noon. I could always have turned the assignment down - it wasn't my fault after all, but then I wouldn't collect either. One game check = a couple of family vacations.

So my Friday adventure began at noon in Kissimmee, Florida where I drove the kids 6 hours home to Savannah through Spring Break traffic and bad weather and lines at rest stops to get back before night time. Then I printed out all my work for the Saturday game, grabbed some producer clothes, paid a couple of bills, and got back in the car.

I hit the GPS for the hotel in Myrtle Beach and it spit out 3 hours and 45 minutes, or an arrival time of about Midnight. Then I would have a couple of hours of work to do, which would leave me 4 hours of sleep before my 6 AM call time. But unfortunately the road that takes me most of the way there was the same quagmire I was just on: I-95.

About 3 hours into the trip, some of it at a standstill, I was still 2 hours away from my destination and fading from mental and physical exhaustion. There were no hotel rooms in Santee SC or Manning SC. So I was stuck.

The network's emergency travel department was useless, as were my multiple furious efforts to find hotels on my own. Hilton Honors saved the day, booking me a Hampton Inn in Sumter SC - about 20 minutes the wrong direction off I-95. The hotel was right across from an Applebee's (of course it was) so I did some homework there with a cold one while the Friday night crowd got ready for karaoke.

All the cars at the hotel parking lot were covered in frost - it was a solid 40 degrees colder than when my day started. I slept from 1:30 AM to 4 AM, showered, shaved, and then took the 1-hour 45-minute drive directly to Pelicans Park in Myrtle Beach.

Game day was pretty run-of-the-mill. We got on the air OK and the game took a neat 2:30 though we had some tense moments when the game was tied 1-1 late and we were nearly certain we'd go extra innings. The Chanticleers picked up a 4-spot in the bottom of the 8th and painstakingly put the game away in the 9th 5-1.

When I walked out of the truck at 2:45 PM, the plan was to go back to the hotel, rest up and head home first thing in the morning. But it was too beautiful a day and too early. So on barely 2 hours sleep, I drove straight home while it was still daylight. I listened to the entire game as the Yankees got clobbered by Detroit. I stopped only for gas and ice cream. I laughed at the northbound jam-ups on I-95 as I cruised south.

I was home on my couch watching the Final Four, 23 hours after I had left the house. Syracuse couldn't steal a win though this Syracuse graduate stole a paycheck. Then I just had to steal a few hours sleep before the kids would be returning on Sunday.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Gimme A Spring Break - Days 5 & 6

Medieval Times was the perfect wrap-up event for family vacation. It was brilliantly choreographed and built great drama to a crescendo finish for the roaring crowd. It was like Broadway theatrical meets WWE.

Not only was the show a nice surprise, but it was probably the best dinner I had all week. Like the middle ages there's no silverware, and everyone is served soup, garlic bread, roasted chicken, a spare rib, baked potato, and an apple turnover. After feasting on amusement park fare and fast food all week, I felt like a Lord of the realm feasting like a king.

But I lost the battle with the kids, trying to get them from chicken nuggets to the real thing. But you could make the argument that the battle had already been won earlier in the day.

Thursday was the only Disney portion of the trip, with a scheduled day at Blizzard Beach. It was a rainy morning and I had to break the kids' hearts and the water park was out. The protests were too loud to ignore, so I gave them one shot - if we left now. They complied and we got almost 3 solid hours on a wide-open, cooler day before the weather hit for real.

The traffic the final day was considerably worse. The first Friday in April was a mass exodus from the Tragic Kingdom - all the minivans headed back to North Carolina, Michigan, and everywhere else east of the Mississippi, and they all were at the the Chick-Fil-A drivethru and on Interstate 4 & 95 the same time as the Backtime Editorial Department. A 4+ hour drive home actually came in at a ++ 6 hours.

As with any family trip there were ups and downs, but when you bond for this long with your closest people, history only records the highlights. I didn't have time to relax and watch any of the Yankee games this week (thank goodness). And I had to order The Walking Dead and Justified season finales on Amazon.com (in an upset, Justified was actually the far superior hour). I also couldn't realistically stick to my diet or exercise properly.

And after the kids got 6 hours of movies, video games and snacks while I drove us back home in the traffic and the rain, I dropped them off with their Mom. But my day of driving was far from over. I-95 would test my fortitude once again. Much more on that tomorrow...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Gimme A Spring Break - Days 3 & 4

The kids often pull you in opposite directions, especially when there's only one adult capable of keeping up with them. But there is a healthy way to settle sibling disputes: bumper cars. That's a situation where kids are allowed to hit each other, repeatedly. Bumper boats also work.

The Magical Midway was a refreshing change from the Mickey Mouse pop culture of Orlando. It was more reminiscent of an Atlantic City Boardwalk type of amusement park. There are two outstanding wooden, multi-level Go-Kart tracks - the best I've ever ridden on.

In addition there were the bumper cars and boats, the StarFlyer, trampolines, plenty of video games, and what they tout as the world's largest Sling Shot. I don't know who the governing body is that verifies that, but I'll take their word for it. It was an extra $50 so neither the kids or I took the flier.

There was an unrelated family trip to the ER, but that's a story for another post. But it involved us getting a late start for Busch Gardens in Tampa on Day 4. There were some rides there that made the Sling Shot look fairly tame by comparison. Fortunately, despite the kids' enthusiasm, they weren't tall enough to ride them.

So we opted to get soaked instead on the Stanley Falls Flume and the Big Congo Rapids rides. The weather cooperated. It wasn't too hot to enjoy the day and it was overcast enough to scare off the huge droves of Springbreakers.

The kids have gone to sleep way too late every night, but also woke up late every day. The days have been long and exhausting, but sleep deprivation hasn't been a problem. Bathroom breaks on the other hand...

Monday, April 1, 2013

Gimme a Spring Break - Days 1 & 2

Spring Break with the kids isn't really a vacation. In fact at the end, I will most likely need a vacation from the vacation. We did Disney last year, and this year we returned to Orlando (off-campus) to see what other sadistic and expensive adventures the Tragic Kingdom has to offer.

The new Honda Pilot was called on for its first road trip, and the drive down from Savannah was low maintenance as the kids watched DVDs with their wireless headsets, while Dad listened to Michigan whack Florida in the Regional Final on XM.

So three generations of the Backtime Editorial Department found a very nice and reasonably priced 3-bedroom villa in Kissimmee as home base. After unloading all the toys, board games, clothes, and food, we headed out to Dave & Busters for a decent dinner and some video gaming.

It's like Las Vegas, only with kids from all over the world. The staff was very accommodating and the dinner booth was huge. We easily could have fit a party of 8.

Then today was the all-day Sea World trip. I was told this was a "can't miss" stop in Orlando, which is a little bit of a stretch. The kids liked Hershey Park much better because they qualified hight-wise for so many more rides. Though the Sea Lion/Pirate show, and the Whale show were both fun and amazingly choreographed.

The show at Shamu Stadium was almost as well orchestrated as this trip, which still has three full days left. And as any good producer will tell you, it almost always looks better on paper.