Monthly Archives: August 2013

If You Don’t Give My Football Back, I’m Gonna Get My Dad on You

I just wrote about how I don’t like football as much as I used to.  I do, however, absolutely adore the other kind of football; you know, the one played with your feet.

The popularity of soccer has seemingly been rising in the United States, and networks have now gone all-in on bringing the best of the game to the U.S. market.  Because of this, you can watch more soccer in the United States – Major League Soccer, the Premier League, La Liga, etc. – than you can in England.  ESPN has a lot to do with this; they spearheaded the movement by throwing all their resources behind the FIFA World Cup and then adding the Women’s World Cup and the UEFA European Championship to the mix.

However, the Premier League is NBC’s baby now, and they are raising it right.  Every Saturday you can watch three matches on television, plus if there are any being on Sunday and Monday, you can see those too.  Plus, every other match airs online, so you can theoretically see a piece of every single Premier League match for the entire season – that’s 380 games – while still living just about anywhere in the United States.

I’m a Manchester City supporter, and while the Blues already played in one of today’s featured matches, it kicked off at 7:45 a.m., so I decided to pass on watching this one.  That being said, I’m sitting here right now watching Crystal Palace, a newly-promoted side, play host to Sunderland, the definition of a run-of-the-mill, middle-to-bottom-of-the-table club.  It would be like watching a baseball game between the White Sox and the Mariners.  And yet, listening to the crowd and knowing that this is the best league in the world and is airing on national television in the United States makes it seem like so much more.

Good on you, NBC, for bringing us a world-class product and actually giving it a world-class presentation.  I could certainly get used to this.  Assuming of course, that City’s matches air a little later in the day.

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Slightly Less Than I Used To

I don’t particularly like football anymore.

That’s not entirely true, I guess.  I still watch it.  I still know which teams are good and which players are good, but the latter is more a function of playing fantasy football.

I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t love it, even though I’m not sure I ever really did.

Maybe it’s a symptom of my local team having some tough years.  I’m the furthest thing there is from a bandwagon front-runner, but when your favorite team struggles, it’s understandably tougher to get fired up every Sunday.  I still watch, but the emotional attachment that was there during my college years (spent in enemy territory with a bunch of kids from other enemy territories) just doesn’t grab me anymore.

I would like to think it’s a noble thing, and that all the concussions and other life-altering injuries are making it tougher for me to care so much about a game that doesn’t care at all about those who play it.  But that isn’t it, either; football has never not been dangerous, and I’m smart enough to know that.  I don’t need studies and lawsuits and statistics to tell me that covering yourself in what is essentially a layer of plastic won’t prevent you from getting a concussion when another guy puts his layer of plastic right under your chin.  My father had concussions when he was younger (not from football), and he was always checking us for signs the second my sister or I would hit our heads on something.  I grew up with a healthy respect for (and probably a fear of) the dangers of head injuries, but I still watched football.

It’s not just the pro game, either.  I grew up watching Penn State football every Saturday.  Joe Paterno was like a third grandfather to a lot of youngsters in Pennsylvania.  The way his career ultimately ended certainly would have been a hard thing to overcome, but even before that, my investment in the team had begun to wane.  Add in the overwhelming (and overbearing) NCAA sanctions that the program is facing for the next few years, and it’s not easy to be a Penn State fan in 2013.  Sure, when tomorrow’s game comes on, I will watch it, but its result will have little to no effect on the rest of my day.

Here we are at opening weekend of the college football season, and a week out from Week 1 of the NFL season, and as I see the games pop up on television and the game recaps appear online, I feel almost nothing.  Almost as if, within a few years, I might only follow the NFL via fantasy football.  And even that I sometimes feel like I could do without.

It might just be a phase.  I remember breaking up with baseball in the mid-to-late-90s, having an affair with hockey for a while before eventually taking baseball back.  I still watched the games, but if you asked me in eighth grade what my favorite sport was, I would have said hockey.  Now, I can barely stand to watch an NHL game.

I also never used to care for the NBA.  But now, as the league enjoys the fruits of an incredible influx of talent over the past decade, I’ve been to a dozen NBA games over the last two seasons and have enjoyed myself nearly every time.

So maybe it’s that.  Maybe in a couple years, I’ll be painting my face and tailgating three hours before kick-off of a game I don’t even have a ticket for.  Or maybe not.

Baseball is and will always be my favorite.  I’d say soccer ranks second right now, and probably basketball third.  That leaves football in a fourth-place battle with golf.

In 2013, with the NFL running roughshod over the sporting landscape, I find it impossible to believe that someone would say that.  Or, at least, I would, if I wasn’t the one saying it.

I’m Always Last to Be Picked and In Some Cases Never Picked At All

Tonight was our annual captain’s meeting for my bowling league.  Yes, league, singular; I’m down to one this season, and seeing how my back is, I don’t know when I’ll even be able to start bowling.  The season starts next week, so…yeah.

More importantly, tonight was my fantasy football league’s draft lottery.  No, not even the actual draft; the draft lottery, as in, let’s draw numbers and figure out who drafts where.  I’m the commissioner of the league, and I could theoretically conduct this myself a month before the draft, but in the interest of fairness, I like to do it with at least one other league member around.

It’s my favorite thing to do as commissioner.  First, we randomly draw divisions.  Even though it changes every year, I feel like I end up competing with the same two guys each season.  I generally end up on the wrong side of that competition, too.

Once the divisions are set, it also helps decide our schedule.  I’m clever – or, I spend way too much time on these sorts of trivial things – so I came up with a schedule matrix for the league.  Each teams plays its divisional rivals twice (the first three and last three weeks are for divisional play) and every other team once for a total of 14 games.  Again, I once spent way too much time matching teams up so that I could simply plug different teams into slots each season – Team A1 vs. Team C3, for example – so that the schedule is varied but consistent from year to year.

Finally, the highlight of the night is the lottery.  We use last season’s records to give teams their proverbial ping pong balls (which are actually just slips of paper) – there are 12 teams, and the team that finished 12th gets 12 slips.  11th place gets 11, so on and so forth, until the defending champion gets one.  There are some modifications in there – teams that have the same record get the same number of slips, regardless of any tiebreakers – so the number of slips is usually a little over 80.

There were 82 this year, and as the fourth-worst team last season, I had nine of them.  That’s just a hair under 11 percent.  The worst team only had 14.6 percent of the slips, so I had almost as good a shot as any of getting one of the first couple picks.

We started drawing.  The first pick went to one of my divisional rivals, the guy who was third-worst last year.  The second slip…was the same guy.  The third…same guy.  If I hadn’t written them myself, I would have thought it was rigged.  I’m still not entirely sure it wasn’t.

The second pick went to a guy who was 7-7 last season.  An anomaly, but it’s one of the vagaries of a lottery.  The third pick went to last year’s worst team.

And so on and so forth for the next six picks.  My name was nowhere to be found.  I half expected to see all my slips on the floor.  There were only three slots left, and the last three teams without draft slots are in my division.

The 10th pick came up and went to the two-time defending champion, the guy with one slip in the hat.  Finally, one of my nine slips came out for pick number 11.  Last year’s runner-up was 12th.

To sum up: of the three guys picking at the end of the first round, two of them played for the championship last season.  The other one finished 6-8 and is THE GUY WHO SET UP AND RAN THE WHOLE DRAFT LOTTERY.

They say that if you don’t get one of the top three picks, then drafting in the bottom three is preferable.  I won’t get any of the top 10 players, but I will get two of the top 14 due to the snake draft format (last pick in the first round picks first in the second and so on).  Small consolation.

It looks like I’ll have to rely once again on my draft savvy and shrewd waiver wire moves to succeed.  And as a quick look at my past finishes shows…

::looks at past finishes…6th…9th…10th…4th…9th::

Oh, crap.

It’s Not Sane

It was pretty hot the last couple days, and whenever you get a few hot, humid days, it seems like the heat always breaks with a big storm.  While I don’t know if the heat has broken, so to speak, we certainly had a big storm today.

I had a meeting at work, and while we were sitting there, it began to rain.  I was facing a rather large window, and as the meeting went on, it got darker and darker outside.  At one point, it was pretty close to night time out there, and it wasn’t even noon yet.  Kind of impressive, Mother Nature.

I guess someone else in the room eventually noticed as well because I heard a sudden “oh, wow, look outside!” followed by the buzz around the room about how dark it had gotten.  After the meeting, people got up and walked over to the window, marveling at the intensity of the rain and the cloudy sky.

This got my attention because this sort of thing happens all the time.  Seriously, like all the time.  And while it can certainly be something to behold, it’s not the kind of thing that should stop traffic, so to speak.

Actually, this kind of thing literally stops traffic sometimes.  It never ceases to amaze me how the weather affects my commute.  And I’m not talking about driving slower because the roads are slick; I’m talking about how even just the slightest bit of rain, or even the threat of a flake of snow, turns people insane.

It makes people who you’d normally see as reckless into absolute maniacs; instead of just driving fast and honking their horns impatiently if you don’t start moving within .0001 seconds of the light turning green, now they’re driving fast and darting in and out of traffic because everyone else is going slower than usual.  Then, when they hit a puddle, they splash everyone and every thing within two miles with dirty, cold rain water.  I don’t like these people.

Of course, there will always be people like that whether conditions are atrocious or pristine.  There will also always be people who are way too cautious, too; look, I’m all about driving safely, but if the speed limit on a road is 40 miles per hour, it’s probably safe enough to pass 20 on your speedometer.  I’m just saying.

What boggles my mind is how these people seem to multiply exponentially during a rain storm.  At this point, unless you are driving around with one of those garish “STUDENT DRIVER” signs on the roof of your car, you’ve probably driven in the rain multiple times.  We have traction control technology in our cars, and our tires are engineered to handle wet roads.  Trust me: you can drive normally and still make it home.  Instead, when the skies get darker and drops of rain appear on the windshield, half the population goes full-on turn-on-the-flashers, grandpa-in-a-school-zone crazy.

Again, I’m not asking you to be reckless.  Be safe.  But also, don’t panic.  It’s just rain.  If you can’t handle it, stay home.

When I Say I’m Sorry, Will You Believe Me?

So Ryan Braun finally made a statement last week, his first public comments since his suspension for PED use (and being a jerk).  As expected, his apology left something to be desired.

Braun claims to have used a cream and a lozenge late in the 2011 season to help recover from a nagging injury.  First of all, I personally can’t help but laugh at the thought of a guy popping a testosterone-laced Ricola into his mouth.  Second of all, even if Braun really did use the products for a specific, isolated period of time, no one’s going to believe him.  There will always be questions as to whether or not he has used throughout his career, and the 2011 test is just the first time he got caught.  The reason for this, fairly or unfairly, is simply his unwillingness to actually put himself out there, in front of cameras and real-live people, to answer everyone’s questions.

It sounds like a silly notion, saying that our level of trust in his words and contrition is based on the manner in which he chooses to convey them, but it’s true.  Who would you be more likely – and, to be completely honest, more willing – to believe: the guy who sits down and takes questions, explaining his actions to the cameras and assembled media, or the guy who issues a written statement late on a Thursday night?  It’s the first guy, because literally saying the words “I’m sorry” or “I lied” carries so much more weight than a thousand-word statement, even if that statement goes into a detailed explanation.

That’s the strange thing about this dichotomy, though: the first guy, the one who takes questions and provides video and sound bites to the world, can lie through his teeth to the entire world, and we’d be more inclined to believe and forgive him than we would a guy who ends up being completely honest through a written statement.  Statements like that are vetted by attorneys and publicists and more attorneys; we all know this, so we’re on the lookout for careful language and things that are left out, as opposed to what’s there.  On the other hand, a press conference feels less rehearsed, even if a team of specialists has gone over every possible question with their client.  Because of the inherent danger that the guy could get tripped up in a lie, we feel like there’s no use telling any, so he must be telling the truth.  As such, we’re more inclined to think, “man, Braun’s a cheater, but at least he owned it.”  It’s all about the presentation.

Lots of people in sports media have called on Braun to do that, criticizing him for taking the “prepared statement, no questions” route.  Here’s the thing: Ryan Braun has stood in front of reporters and cameras and lied his face off before.  He’s clearly good at it.  If he sat down tomorrow and took questions for three hours, how would we know he was telling the truth?  Have we so quickly forgotten Spring Training 2012?

Normally, I’d agree with those who fault Braun for how he handled the situation.  He is a snake, and he comes off as such.  But at the same time, even the best road to image rehabilitation – in this case, a public, verbal mea culpa – wouldn’t really work for him.

At this point, there is no way for Braun to completely repair his image.  He cheated, he lied, he dragged other people through the mud, and now he’s hiding from it.  There is, however, one way for him to at the very least put this behind him come 2014 and beyond: his performance on the field.

If Braun comes back next season and hits .300 with 30 home runs and 100+ runs batted in, that will go a long way towards making people believe that he used PEDs in just that one isolated instance.  And this may be unfair, but I don’t like that.

I’ve never liked Ryan Braun.  I’ll admit to a satisfied smile when I heard he’d tested positive the first time, and it made my night to see him finally get punished for his misdeeds last month. But I am eager to see him come back, because I want him to hit .250 and see his power numbers disappear and his performance lag as the season wears on; because in his case, I want it to be proven that cheating was the only way he could succeed.

This is petty and stupid, but I don’t care.  Good riddance.

I Live for the Applause

It’s late August, which means that with one notable exception (which I’ll discuss at some point soon), there really isn’t much in the way of new television to watch.  That, plus the fact that I was miserably puttering around all day because my back hurt, left me sitting there with nothing better to do and making the conscious decision to watch MTV’s Video Music Awards last night.

As you might expect, I have thoughts.

• Mark this day down.  It’s not often that you can have Lady Gaga open up a show with what appeared to be a ridiculously over-the-top, kind of peculiar number that ended with her in a seashell bikini, then have her sit in the audience in that bikini for the rest of the night…and have that blown out of the weirdness water within a half hour.

• That’s right, just like everybody else today, I’m talking about Miley Cyrus.  As if Robin Thicke mugging Beetlejuice and stealing his suit before he went on stage wasn’t bad enough, Miley doing her Showgirls 2 audition in front of a national audience was…special.  Special in the way that you’re never going to see anything like that again, mostly because after having seen it, you’re not likely to ever see again.  She no doubt set the giant foam finger business back decades.

• I know it’s been controversial, but “Blurred Lines” is undoubtedly one of the songs of the summer.  I have it second on my list, only because T.I. ruins it with his verse.  And now, as summer begins to turn into fall, we’ll also have the image of Miley Cyrus “twerking” during the VMA performance.  Strike two.

• Number one on my list?  “Get Lucky.”  I loved how Daft Punk was committed to the “we’re going to wear suits, and these ridiculous helmets, and no one is stopping us” thing.  I was disappointed they didn’t perform, though.  I mean, we had Gaga’s opener, and then…well, that, and then…

• …Kanye West.  Like, I just…why can this guy not be normal?  He rapped, but all we could see was his shadow.  For like four or five minutes.  Is that supposed to be artsy or something?  Oh, Kanye, so edgy!  Stupid.  You know what else is stupid?  Performing a song where every other word can’t be said on television.  Imagine reading #### sentence like #### and #### other word #### blocked #### and #### ####.  That was what listening #### his performance #### like.

• I actually feel legitimately bad for Taylor Swift.  A little, anyway.  She was sitting in the crowd trying to enjoy herself, but because MTV put a camera on her every three minutes, she came off as just trying way too hard.  Which she usually does, so it fits the narrative, but just stop already.  Let her live for like five seconds.

• I also feel bad for Selena Gomez, too.  She makes me a little uncomfortable because no matter how much she tries to do the sexed-up, “I’m not on Disney anymore” thing (see: Spring Breakers), she is always going to look like a 12-year-old.  As opposed to Swift, who will simply always write songs from the viewpoint of a 12-year-old.

• Speaking of Taylor Swift, when did Ozzy Osbourne join One Direction?

• And is it just me, or did Kevin Hart bomb?

• Why is it that people from Brooklyn act like it’s some sort of sovereign world superpower?  Brooklyn is a borough.  Of another city.  Call me when the UN adds The Democratic Republic of the BK to the Security Council.

• Okay, so everything I’ve said so far has been mocking, derisive, or mockingly derisive.  However, no matter your opinion of his music, you have to give it up for Justin Timberlake.  Dude performed for like 15 minutes.  I know he sang four lines of like 34 different songs, but I imagine it’s difficult to traverse the arena and stage like he did and sing for that long.  And I think I actually recognized all the songs.  That was a big effort from him, and undoubtedly the highlight of the show.

• Of course, the rumored reunion of ‘N Sync happened…for two minutes.  It was surely still enough to send the hearts of millions of 14-year-old girls from 1999 aflutter, but come on.  While I wasn’t a fan of the group – although I would have taken them over the Backstreet Boys any day – as a child of the ’90s, it still would have been cool to see them actually perform a song and, like, I don’t know, talk?  Basically, JT traipsed on in, the other four guys came up from under the stage, performed like they were his backup dancers (which, let’s be honest), and then disappeared as Timberlake continued on.  Hello, and goodbye, bye, bye.

• Oh, MTV: cut it with the spotlights pointing directly at the camera.  When I can’t see the people on stage because there is a giant white spot in the middle of the screen, that is not good.

• Lots of Macklemore.  I feel like the category of “Best Video with a Social Message” was created solely to give an award to “Same Love” so that the people producing the show could feel like they were doing some good.  I’m sorry, but when you have Jason Collins, without question a courageous advocate for the gay community, co-introducing with A$AP Rocky, whose first words were a plug for his upcoming album, that almost serves to undo any message you were hoping to promote.  If you’re going to do the whole “social message” thing, commit to it all the way, and let Collins present by himself.

• Katy Perry closed the show with a performance near the Brooklyn Bridge.  K.  They said she was going to perform her “biggest hit ever for the first time.”  She then performed the song “Roar,” which I had never even heard of.

Katy Perry is one of the biggest pop music stars in the world right now, and I had never heard of a song that is apparently her biggest hit.

It took more than two hours, but I eventually found the reason why I should never have been watching in the first place.

It’s Just the End of the World

This is a movie “review” of The World’s End.  If you have not seen the movie, but intend to, stop reading.  I don’t think I’ll ruin much of it for you, but you know how it goes once I start rambling.

* * *

Last week I went to a movie marathon of sorts.  A couple buddies and I went to see Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End – apparently known as the “Cornetto Trilogy” – at a nearby theater.  Director Edgar Wright and actor Simon Pegg wrote all three movies, including the newly-released World’s End, and the films feature many of the same actors, as well as common cinematic techniques and jokes (for instance, if you’re a fan of people humorously jumping over fences, check these movies out).  Their plots aren’t really tied together in any way, but I guess everything has to be a multi-film franchise these days, so it gets labeled as a trilogy.

Despite not caring for the zombie popularity trend, I love Shaun of the Dead.  I wasn’t as big a fan of Hot Fuzz because there is a stretch of the film that just isn’t funny.  For a comedy, I believe that’s bad.  Upon a second viewing, I forgot how much I loved Shaun of the Dead, and I liked Hot Fuzz a little bit more – until we got to the not-funny part, and I remembered what my problem was.

As for The World’s End, Pegg plays Gary King, a guy approaching 40 who was most happy when he was still approaching 20.  Through persuasion – and outright lies – he reassembles the five-man crew that never finished “The Golden Mile” – a 12-bar pub crawl back in their old home town.

The believability of Gary actually succeeding in putting the proverbial band back together notwithstanding, the first part of the movie has plenty of scenes and one-liners reminiscent of the other two films.  There’s a good mix of subtle humor and slapstick laughs as the guys visit their old haunts, learning that they’ve been essentially whitewashed of their old character and turned into multiple iterations of the same thing.  I certainly was enjoying it to a point.

I say “to a point” because the trailers for the movie kind of give away that there’s going to be a plot turn, and I’m not a fan of sitting and waiting for something like that when I know it’s coming.  Without giving too much away myself, it turns out that it’s not just the old pubs of Newton Haven that have been “Starbucked,” so to speak.  You see, the townsfolk of Newton Haven have changed, and the guys spend the rest of the night attempting to behave like they haven’t noticed, in the hopes that they will survive the experience.

Of course, because no one else has a better idea, Gary’s plan to finish the pub crawl wins out.  That leads the group into the other aspect of the movie that is reminiscent of the other Pegg/Wright movies: massive fight scenes.  Of course, these fights are much funnier because of the makeup of the group; aside from Gary, none of them appears to be the fighting type, but there they are fending off swarms of locals in various different pubs.  Again, without revealing anything, the way in which they defeat the townsfolk in these fights also lends itself to laughs, albeit some of them cheap.  However, as someone who can’t write a single blog post without cracking a joke, I will admit that cheap laughs are laughs nonetheless.

In the end, Gary and Andy (played by Nick Frost, who also plays the main supporting characters in each of the previous films) make it to the final pub: The World’s End.  Rather predictably, it turns out that this is, in fact, the world’s end, but first there’s a pretty lengthy scene that gets a little too preachy and on-point for my taste.  Look, I have zero problem with a filmmaker wanting to “say” something, and there is nothing wrong with comedic actors/directors/writers delving into some deeper, more affecting material.  I just personally prefer that when they do, they either keep the two worlds separate, or at the very least mix them a little more subtly.

I still think Shaun of the Dead is, by far, the most enjoyable of the three movies, but I definitely liked The World’s End better upon first viewing than I did Hot Fuzz.  If you’re a fan of any of the main figures involved, well, you were always going to go see this movie, but rest assured that when you do, you won’t be disappointed.