FitzFacts: February 2006

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Wizards Wither

Don't print those Washington Wizards Southeast Division Champion T-shirts just yet. After winning three in a row to start the second half of the season, the Wizards surrendered a 14-point lead to Memphis, losing 108-98 on the road. Maybe surrendered isn't the right word. No, the Wiz pretty much invited the Grizzlies in, gave them the combination to the safe, and fixed them a nice hot meal.

Memphis' Pau Gasol was unstoppable, scoring a career-high 39 points. Pau Gasol sounds like something I would use in the dishwasher on the "Potscrubber" cycle. At 7-0, 240, with long hair and beard, he looks like a giant Basque shepherd in search of his cigarettes and a vintage bottle from La Rioja. And I haven't seen muscle tone this on TV since Mick Jagger in the Super Bowl halftime. But as Gasol might say in his homeland, "Amo este juege." He has great shooting touch to about 18 feet and footwork as good as anybody in the league, including Tim Duncan. Gasol is such a throwback player, he didn't even shoot any threes last night. Name the last guy besides Shaq who scored 39 in a game without shooting a three-pointer. Karl Malone? Moses Malone? Anybody not named Malone? Actually it was Dwyane Wade; he scored 41 points on December 11, against the Wizards (I sense a pattern here).

I know Gasol made the All-Star team, so I shouldn't be surprised, but the Wizards defense made him look like Bill Walton in the 1973 NCAA Finals (UCLA played Memphis in that game, that's a strange coincidence). Gasol has a nice array of moves and is comfortable posting up or facing the basket, but many of his shots went up unchallenged. I would think NBA defenders would be familiar with the basic defensive concept, "Get a hand in his face!"

Let me offer a another tip. When a guy makes 16 shots, none outside 20 feet, you might try denying him the ball. This fourth-quarter sequence best makes my point. The Wizards trailed by six with just under three minutes to play. With nine seconds left on the shot clock, Memphis inbounded the ball to Gasol, posting up about 12 feet from the hoop. Michael Ruffin stripped the ball as Gasol turned to the hoop and the Grizzlies got it back with five to shoot. Somehow Gasol gets loose for a lob and a layup befopre the buzzer. Again , I understand the guy is good, but whether you were watching in Memphis, Washington, or Madrid, you knew they would try to get him the ball.

Gasol's old-school approach obviously rubbed off on Eddie Jones, who decided to play like it was last century, when he was in his twenties. Actually, that's not fair because Jones has gracefully made the transition from a young, lightning quick slasher and powerful dunker to a slower but stronger veteran with three point range who can still get to the hoop a few times a game. At 34, he is on the backside of a respectable NBA career, and last night, he showed the Wizards that once a good shooter, always a good shooter. You might be able to ignore him in the last half of a road trip when his legs have had it but not at home so soon after the All-Star break.

Washington clearly missed Caron Butler, who was scoreless in 25 minutes and was suffering from a stomach ailment. Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison picked up the scoring slack, combining for 72 points, but ultimately it was defense and rebounding that cost the Wizards this game. Memphis is a good team, with almost the same record as Washington's, but, as a fan, I was hoping this would an occasion to watch the Wizards continue to separate themselves from the second tier teams, as they did in Cleveland the other night. Still, they went 8-4 in February after struggling to get to .500, so they just need to move on and win the ones they are supposed to before they head out west at the end of March.

Patronizing Patrick

I wasted 10 minutes listening to the Dan Patrick Radio Show again. It comes on after Mr. Tony, so I must not have been paying full attention, but those 10 minutes have strengthened my resolve not to listen to this show ever again. Patrick opened the show talking about former Philadelphia Phillies All-Star Darren Daulton's embrace of mysticism, the Mayan calendar and his out-of-body experiences. Patrick had taped an interview with Daulton, and he played some excerpts. Then he told us that the interview will be played tomorrow after his producer has edited it, and they had a good chuckle about what a challenge it will be to cut 35 minutes of bizarre ramblings down to 10 minutes.

So what's wrong with this? Well, how much bandwidth do I have? First of all, this story is almost two weeks old and has been covered extensively in Sports Illustrated and the Philadelphia Daily News. Patrick did not acknowledge any source; I don't expect an ESPN guy to promote a rival publication, but he should credit the news organization that first broke the story. It's not hard to do. I found the Daulton item through my fellow blogger (or is it blogetter?), Rick, whose site provides entertaining nuggets and links on a daily basis. See?

Secondly, Patrick should do the interview live. If Daulton won't do it, don't put him on; or, if it's that good, play the whole tape, as unedited as FCC standards will permit. Let us hear it and decide for ourselves whether he's a wacko or not, because if he's not, we've only got about six years left on this planet. People complain, often rightly, about being misquoted or quoted out of context, so let the guy give us the context.

Thirdly, the excerpts added nothing to the story beyond what has already been written; they were so similar to the quotes in the other articles, Daulton sounded like he was giving a prepared speech. Which is exactly what this is because, as the news stories told us, Daulton is trying to get a book deal to publish his far-out ideas. But Patrick left that part out, too.

Finally, it is absolutely ridiculous to open the show with this and then tell us we will have to wait until tomorrow to hear the best parts. This is the information age. I find it hard to believe that Daulton hasn't given this same interview elsewhere. By tomorrow, if I really want to hear it, I'll have found it online, listened to it, blogged about it, text-messaged my friends about it, responded to blog comments, and moved on to the next item, which will contain snarky references to the end of the world according to Darren Daulton. In other words, by tomorrow, it will be even older news.

This is one reason why the Olympics ratings were so low. You can't make us wait until 11:00 at night to watch Sasha Cohen skate because we already know she fell and didn't get the medal (I hope all of you who TiVOed that have had a chance to watch it. Really sorry if I spoiled it for you). Show the events live; don't come on the air, and tell us to wait three hours to see something that happened six hours ago.

Unfortunately, if the Patrick Show holds true to form, they will continue to talk about this interview and play the same clips throughout his four-hour show, treating the tape like it's the audio equivalent of the Zapruder film. This is a typical approach in bad talk radio. Find a topic, say something about, say it again, pause, say it again, invite other opinions, then dismiss them, restate your opinion, pause, go to commercial, come back from commercial, repeat. Take some callers, read some email, and you are done. Maybe it's too hard to fill four hours. Maybe that's why the shows I enjoy, like TK or Marc Steiner or Terry Gross, are only one or two hours. Or, maybe they are just better, and they don't insult my intelligence.

I like Dan Patrick on television. He and Keith Olbermann are the Burns and Allen, the Lucy and Desi of my generation of sports fans. Along with Kenny Mayne, they instilled in me a lifelong brand-loyalty to SportsCenter. I don't hold Patrick blameless, but I think he is either lazy or too willing to accept the low standards set by ESPN Radio management, who should really demand better. I've heard his show is more tolerable when Olbermann joins him, but I can't seem to wait that long or expend the energy to learn the schedule.

There, I feel better now.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Snorino

Some have chided me recently for taking such a negative view of the Winter Olympics. Let me assure you that I have nothing but respect for almost all of the Olympic athletes; almost all of them embody the Olympic ideals of excellence, dedication and team spirit. Having said that, I think it's fair to criticize the athletes who do not meet that standard, I think it's fair to criticize an event because, even though it involves highly polished athletic maneuvers, it still doesn't quite seem to be a sport, and finally, I think it is more than fair to criticize NBC for the relentless hype and coverage that generated historically low ratings.

I was also told that I should be watching the Olympics because these people are risking their lives to compete for the glory of their nation. Sorry, but until they let ravenous polar bears into the curling arena, I am going to have a hard time swallowing that notion. Furthermore, risk of death or significant injury qualifies an event for MTV's "Jackass," not the Olympics. Maybe this is why I am not a big NASCAR fan; I was very impressed that Lindsey Kildow competed after her horrific crash, but seeing it over and over again didn't raise my level of respect for her, it just diminished my level of respect for NBC.

So while I am not sure they should be Olympic sports, the freestyle skiing and snowboarding events are pretty cool, but watching the moguls made me say, "Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch..." until the guy finished. My favorite skier was the Chinese competitor who screamed as he took off from the aerial ramp. I have no idea what he said, maybe the Chinese equivalent of "Banzai!" but I think we all could identify with his sentiment. I am sure there were many great moments I missed, even in the opening and closing ceremonies, but I just couldn't sit through all the mediocre monotony to see them.

Since I began my Olympic preview with a brief verse, I find it fitting to close in the same. This is not set to any particular tune, but go ahead and make up your own.



So Michelle joins Belle in the Disney parade
Denied gold again, but at least she'll get paid

And Bode was grody, his sponsors' dismayed
Could Nike be seeking to make a trade?

Lindsey Kildow, big spill, OW! How'd she ever survive?
And skied two days later! Bode, take notes, that's called competitive drive.

Jacobellis could tell us why she pulled that last trick
It cost her the gold, she had to be sick.

Johnny Weir, have a beer, so your bus was late?
It's okay, Tom Cruise called, he wants a date


Chad wasn't bad, got the first US gold
But trashing his teammate? That got old.

Shaun White took flight, his halfpipe's a great show
And the world learned the name of the Flying Tomato

Joey Cheek reached his peak, made his sprint with a burst
Nobody was close when he crossed the line first

Hannah Teter, who beat her? No one, that's who.
What's a McTwisty, you say? Dude, I have no clue


Ted Ligety got jigety, won gold on the slope
That's the way it's done, Bode, you dope

Seth Wescott, his best got an Olympic gold medal
A storybook ending like Hansel and Gretel

Shani Davis, he gave us historic achievement
But his post-race interview was the face of bereavement


Mancuso like Clousseau was right on the case
Schussing and sliding in the giant slalom race


Apolo could follow, he just couldn't lead
'Til the last day, then showtime for Ohno, indeed

Torino, now we know was all these and more
Get ready Vancouver, we'll see you in four




Saturday, February 25, 2006

Butler does it from deep

Great statement win tonight for the Wizards in Cleveland, 102-94. Just to prove me wrong, Caron Butler made a season-high four three-pointers; in fact, he made more threes tonight than he made in November and December combined. Washington got 75 points from Butler, Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison and a crucial boost from Antonio Daniels who scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter and added seven assists.

The game went back and forth, but I knew Washington had it once I found "The Karate Kid" on AMC Classics during a fourth quarter commercial break. "Gilbert-san, paint the fence! Antawn-san, wax on, wax off! Caron-san, make the trey!" And an absolutely brilliant move by Eddie Jordan to go with the crane defense in the fourth quarter.

LeBron James looked like he was suffering from a post-All Star game hangover in the second half as he went 0-8 from the field and missed his last seven free throws, including four in the last three minutes. No MVP performance tonight for Bron-Bron. He had some help from Donyell Marshall and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (I spelled that without even looking it up!), but their combined points (42) fell well short of their combined age (62), so I wouldn't expect help from them every night. Drew Gooden had only six points in 20 minutes. He looks a lot bigger than his listed weight (242), and maybe it's that Amish beard he's sporting, but I don't think the camera adds that many pounds.

Maybe the Cavs are looking for help from newly acquired forward Lee Nailon, who did not play tonight, but their immediate future looks worse than Bode Miller's endorsement prospects. Cleveland hopes to get Larry Hughes back for the playoffs, but don't be surprised if they have slipped back a few seeds in the playoff bracket.

The Wizards, on the other hand, appear to be a team headed in the other direction. A win like this is almost enough to make me start thinking they can challenge Miami for the division title. Almost. But then I remember that they gave up a 17-point lead to the Hornets just last week. They catch a break tomorrow night hosting the Knicks (more on the 'Bockers in a moment) and then travel to Memphis on Monday, a team that has a record comparable to the Hornets'. By Tuesday, this blog could really start getting Wizard-centric. Stay tuned.

Before I found Ralph Macchio and the recently departed Pat Morita, I also watched a few minutes of the Knicks-Nets on ESPN (the Olympics, you ask? Please.). With 9:05 to play in the third quarter, New Jersey led 45-35. Not a typo, 45-35. Looks like Larry Brown has smoothly integrated Steve Francis into his Princeton offense. Okay, so the Knicks scored the last 11 points to make it a close 94-90 loss, but did anyone who was not being paid to be there stay at the Garden to watch this horror show? This leads me to one of my favorite contests: guess the New York Post back cover headline. I'm going with a pouty head shot of Francis, accompanied by the caption: "Stevie Nix!"

Friday, February 24, 2006

Wizards

Nice to see the Wizards get the second half of the season off to a good start by beating Minnesota 90-78 at home Monday night. Even better to see Gilbert Arenas score 34 after going 0-4 at the All Star game and 4-22 against the Mavericks last week. I thought Arenas might have broken out of his slump when he finished second in the three-point shootout, but for the second straight year he was essentially a nonfactor in the game. Apparently, he found his role as lead choreographer of the East teams' pregame introductions utterly exhausting.

It's hard to say that the Wizards are better this year than last. The team's major losses in the offseason were Larry Hughes and Juan Dixon and the addition by subtraction of Kwame Brown. Caron Butler has become enough of a scorer recently to replace Hughes, so along with Antawn Jamison, Washington again has two solid offensive options to compliment Arenas, who has had seven 40-point games this season. Still, they are not quite as explosive as last year because neither Butler nor reserve guard Antonio Daniels can shoot the three like Hughes and Dixon. Arenas and Hughes shot Washington back into plenty of games that appeared lost last year.

The interior offense is about as scary as
SCTV's "Monster Chiller Horror Theater", so opposing defenses can help out on the Big Three without worrying about the potential damage from Brendan Haywood, Etan Thomas, or designated screen-setter Michael Ruffin. Nothing against those guy, who perform their roles well, but, in the offseason, they need to find a big man who has some skills beyond rebounding and fouling.

Last season, the Wizards went into the playoffs as a five seed, with questions about their defense. Their first round win over the Baby Bulls surprised some people, but the Bulls have fallen off the map this year. Washington is now in the everybody else group behind Detroit and Miami, and Miami is coming back to the pack quickly as Shaq ages. There's no reason why the Wiz cannot repeat last year's playoff success and maybe even beat Miami if they meet in the second round, but it's all over when they run into Detroit.

I have been a fan since they moved from Baltimore as the Bullets, and I like the way this team is developing. Arenas is not quite on the level of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, or Allen Iverson, but he is not far behind either, so the Wizards have the go-to All-Star guy you need to contend for a championship. I took a look at some
salary cap information, and after several hours of studying, I have no idea what their options are, but I did learn that Jamison is paid more than Arenas, something that will have to change soon. By the way, in 20 years, the salary cap has gone from about $3.5 million per team to $49.5 million (and most teams exceed that), which pretty much blows up any argument from players' unions.

Pops drops

Tough week for GW, but no reason to quit on the #6 Colonials just yet. Just as GW was starting to get some real consideration for a 2 or 3 seed in the eyes of some "experts" and a very nice article in USA Today on George Washington's real birthday, Pops Mensah-Bonsu injured his knee against LaSalle Wednesday night and will be out at least two weeks. Rampant speculation at gwhoops.com about how this affects the team, the rest of their season, and the upcoming midterm elections in the House and Senate, but who knows how long he will be out and if he returns, what kind of shape he will be in?

Pops is the name most casual college basketball fans know if they know any names on the GW roster, but he is not the team's leading scorer or rebounder. GW has plenty of other options on offense, but Pops was the most effective - some would say only effective - interior scorer, and his presence opened up lots of opportunities for his teammates. Earlier in the season, when he was off the court, defenses could cheat away from the lane and match up better. Since the midseason integration of Regis Koundjia, GW has gotten much better at adjusting to running the halfcourt offense without Pops. Also, look for the Colonials to push the tempo even more until Pops returns.

Karl Hobbs still has enough talent that GW can win out the regular season and repeat as Atlantic 10 Tournament champs without Pops in uniform, but if he is still out of commission when the NCAA Tournament rolls around, the Colonials' season may not have the fairy-tale ending the Foggy Bottom faithful are hoping for.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Skating for Godot

So tonight is the big finish for the Olympics. Finally. Yes, I am aware that the closing ceremonies don't take place until Sunday, and there are still medals to be earned in at least 10 events, but tonight is the night that they hand out the hardware for the women's figure skaters and will easily be the most highly rated night of NBC's two week marathon, even without the Olympian-turned-Disney Diva Michelle Kwan in the competition. By the way, the smartest reporting on NBC's Olympics ratings is written by the Washington Post's Lisa de Moraes, who covers television with an eye so jaundiced she should probably start sleeping under bili lights.

Coverage starts at 8:00 Eastern; if they show American favorite Sasha Cohen before 11:00, it will be the biggest stunner in Winter Games history since USA over Russia at Lake Placid. Don't worry, I am sure we will get lots of looks at Sasha before she actually skates. Here's Sasha walking around the warmup area, listening to her iPod. And there she is riding an exercise bike, listening to her iPod. And now she is getting ready to skate, waiting just outside the rink rail, rolling her head around her neck, intently listening to her iPod. I guess if Tonya Harding was on this team, she'd have somebody hide Sasha's headphones or remix her "Get Psyched for Gold" playlist.


I will grant you that skating has provided some great drama; of course with all those drama queens in the sport, it almost has to. Tonya-Nancy is one of the top Olympic stories of all time, but I still remember the heartbreak of Randy Gardner and Tai Babilonia (this was before I was old enough to realize that more heartbreak would surely be manufactured in time for the next Olympics). Sarah Hughes' out-of-nowhere victory was fun to see four years ago, and Katarina Witt's tribute to Sarajevo in 1994 was a wonderfully moving performance, even more memorable than her gold medal efforts.

Here in Phoenix, Maryland, of course, we are rooting for little Kimmie Meissner from nearby Bel Air (or Fallston, depending on whom you ask), not to be confused with rapper Lil' Kim who is apparently getting ready to serve a one year and one day prison sentence by starring in a
reality show. Somehow, I don't think this will really be adequate preparation for jail, especially if she is not allowed to bring her iPod.



Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Brokeback Mailbag

Tony Kornheiser has been asking listeners to recommend a signature touchdown catchphrase that he can use on next year on Monday Night Football. Today he read my submission:


Dear Mr. Tony,

I have come up with an excellent touchdown call that will also serve to shut up Joe Theismann. Tirico says, "Touchdown," and you immediately chime in, "God, I wish I knew how to quit you, Joe." This will probably also silence Tirico, but then you will have complete control of the microphone.

Bill
Phoenix, MD

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

More All-Star

The All-Star pregame was entertaining and set just the right tone for the game. As the Houston Symphony played the theme from "2001, A Space Odyssey," the East reserves walked out onto long risers and were introduced to the crowd. Actually the players were introduced after the trainer and the coaches. That's right, the crowd got whipped into a frenzy by a spectacular light show and musical buildup and the first name they heard was "Ted Arzonico."

Then the East starters were brought up through the floor, elevated slightly above the reserves. Facing away from the cameras, they turned around in unison and did a little dance step, looking like the Pips with a pituitary disorder. Shaquille O'Neal, clearly enjoying himself, made a gesture as if to suggest that his heart was bursting with joy when he was introduced. By contrast, the West All-Stars' entrance music was Beethoven's Fifth, probably more in the Houston Symphony's wheelhouse, but not so good for the weak chain reaction robot dance the West starters tried to execute. It got off to a rough start with Steve Nash and wasn't much better by the time it finished with Yao Ming. You could almost see Kobe Bryant wishing he was on the other side with all the cool kids.

Next came the national anthems of Canada and the United States. It might be time to rethink this policy of singing more than one anthem. If the NBA ever does go completely global and has to include all the anthems of the countries where it has teams, every pregame will take hours. The Canadian anthem was sung by Jann Arden, who came out wearing faded jeans and a beat-up leather jacket over an All Star Game t-shirt. It was a lovely rendition, but raise your hand if you can name one song by Jann Arden. Now raise yor hand if you know whether Jann Arden is a man or a woman. Personally, I think the NBA forgot about the anthem until the last minute when Steve Nash asked who was singing it. So they sent a promotions assistant into the pregame VIP lounge asking, "Does anyone here know the Canadian national anthem?" Destiny's Child, on the other hand, hit the floor coiffed and gowned and filled the house with a "Star Spangled Banner" that ended with floor fans blowing their hair back on the final notes. Not quite Marvin Gaye in 1983, but their performance did seem a little more thought out than Ms. Arden's (oops I gave it away).

As far as the game itself, it's hard to say whether there were more missed alley-oops or free throws. Shaq avoided complete embarrassment at the foul line by lobbing the ball off the backboard and dunking it, not a legal move but much more entertaining than watching Ben Wallace airball his first attempt and barely graze iron with the second. Nobody played any defense for the first three quarters, and Charles Barkley tried to convince us that this doesn't happen in every regular season game as well. Hometown favorite Tracy McGrady looked like a shoo-in for MVP until the Detroit Pistons shock troops of Billups, Hamilton, Wallace and Wallace, put the clamps on the West offense, and LeBron James showed why he could be the All-Star game MVP for the next 10 years. Even if he does, it's a show I'll tune in for every year.

I love the 80s

Last week, Bill Simmons asked "What marquee event from the '80s has you less excited this week: The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, the Winter Olympics or the Slam Dunk Contest?" Well, I think you know where I stand on the Winter Olympics, and as far as I am concerned, the swimsuit issue peaked with the 25th anniversary issue in 1989. Nothing against Tyra Banks or Heidi Klum, but something about the explosion of digital technology and media coverage that turned this from a magazine into a worldwide cultural phenomenon has reduced, not increased, its appeal. I remember watching one of the early "Making of ..." videos and seeing way too much footage of the photographers and the woman who must have been the special editor of the swimsuit issue. It was bad enough to hear her grating voiceover describing how important it was to select a girl with just the right blend of beauty and athleticism to grace the SI cover, but then the camera cut away from Rebecca Romijn prancing in the surf to give the editor some camera time, and let's just say that her face matched the voice. Or Vendela's slow motion emergence from the hottub would be abruptly interrupted by a photographer screaming at his assistant for a new camera with the proper f stop settings. And I just don't need to see another model wrapped in a robe complaining about how cold or early it is because she has to spend one hour out of her week not getting every single whim catered to like some kind of Westminster Kennel Club Champion.

My favorite swimsuit issue story took place a few years ago when I was working at Johns Hopkins University. A former Hopkins baseball player named Jeff Labrecque wrote
a very funny feature for the alumni magazine about how he and a friend had crashed the swimsuit issue launch party. Finding himself face-to-face with Petra Nemcova, a model from the Czech Republic, he was suddenly extremely grateful to the Hopkins baseball coach for taking the team to Prague during his sophomore year. The article is a fun short read, but the best part came the next month when an outraged alumnus wrote to express his disappointment with the editors for printing such filth and asked that they cancel his subscription. I don't know about you, but when the alumni magazine comes, first I look to see if I or anyone I know is mentioned in the "Class Notes" section, and then I fall asleep a third of the way into an article about Egyptology, laser-infused microbe replication, or the stunning influence of Romantic Poetry on the Gutenberg printing press.

So what's behind door number three? That's right, the NBA All-Star Game. In contrast to the Super Bowl, I actually enjoyed the hype and extraneous coverage of the events around the actual game. The Slam Dunk Contest can easily become boring and monotonous, not because the dunks aren't feats of amazing athletic skill (they are), but because they lack any transcendent drama or creativity, but this year's finalists turned in performances that place them in the gallery of memorable images from years past. Like Dr. J stepping off his foul-line take-off point, Spud Webb showing a phenomenal vertical leap, Dee Brown guaranteeing an endorsment contract by inflating his Reebok Pumps before every dunk, Cedric Ceballos wearing a blindfold, Vince Carter hanging on the rim by the crook of his elbow after a vicious slam, or last year's winner Josh Smith donning a Dominique Wilkins throwback jersey, this year Nate Robinson and Andre Iguodala gave us a reason to watch and then tune into SportsCenter to see the recap.

Iguodala's alley oop from behind the backboard showed creativity, hang-time and flexibility as he ducked under the backboard and the hoop to throw down a reverse two-hander. He was rewarded with perfect score from the judges and loud apreciation from the crowd and NBA players in attendance. But the 5-9 Robinson was irresistible, forcing a tiebreaker by bringing out 1986 champion Webb (in a throwback jersey of course) and jumping over him en route to the rim. Give it to Iguodala on technical merit but Robinson on dramatic interpretation. The tiebreaker lacked drama as Robinson missed at least a dozen attempts before completing his final dunk, but the judges panel (Moses Malone, Clyde Drexler, Elvin Hayes, Rudy Tomjanovich and Kenny Smith) clearly appreciated his earlier nod to history and the overwhelming support of the crowd.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Freedomland

If you are thinking about going to see the new film "Freedomland" tonight, I would advise you to wait at least one day. I haven't seen it, and it might be very good, but unless the movie deviates wildly from Richard Price's novel - unlikely, since he also wrote the screenplay - this is not what my friend "Blaine from Maine" would call a "Friday night movie." If you haven't seen the ads, Julianne Moore plays a woman who claims her car was stolen with her baby still inside it. She accuses an unidentified black man from the projects, which enflames tensions between two racially segregated communites and, pretty soon, it's chuckles all around.

Price also wrote the novels "Clockers" and "The Wanderers" and is an accomplished screenwriter, with "Sea of Love" and "The Color of Money" to his credit. He reunited with Martin Scorsese on Michael Jackson's "Bad" video, which I am sure seemed like a good idea at the time. I haven't read "The Wanderers," but I didn't find a lot of levity in "Clockers" or "Freedomland." They are serious studies of life in modern America, compelling and well written, but they don't give you a lot of hope.

As far as the movie, I feel like we have already seen Julianne Moore play this role two years ago in "The Forgotten" where her character fights to remember a son erased from her memory by aliens. It's a much different plot, but again the central issue is her credibility and a mother-child relationship.

"Freedomland" was directedby Joe Roth, whose previous directing credits include "Christmas with the Kranks" and "Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise," so this would seem to be quite a departure for him. But, thanks to IMDB.com, we can tie this in a neat little bow by learning that Roth's extensive producer credits include ... "The Forgotten."

March Madness Musings

For someone who claims to be obsessed about GW Basketball, I realize I haven't written much about the Colonials lately. They have the nation's longest winning streak at 13 games and are ranked #7 in the AP poll, but instead of jumping for joy, there seems to be some concern over at gwhoops.com (what else is new?).

The last two wins - at St. Joe's and home against UMass - have been very close, and GW failed to break 80 points in both, which hasn't happened since January 11. I thought they had turned the corner with the big comeback win at Xavier and the home blowout of Richmond, but their last two opponents have been more effective in foiling the Colonials' gameplan. Expect to see more of the same. Until at least the third round of the NCAA Tournament, no team the Colonials play should try to run with them; they are just too fast and too deep. Instead GW will see a lot of zone defense and a lot of patient offense. When Pops Mensah-Bonsu gets the ball in the lane, he will be fouled before he can throw down one of his powerful slams; a 56% free throw shooter, Pops gives them no reason to do otherwise.

With the Atlantic 10 regular season title all but wrapped up, Karl Hobbs is focused on getting his team ready to play in March. He doesn't want to get too wrapped up in the future, but he knows that critics will dismiss GW and their weak schedule if the Colonials fail to make any postseason noise. So, I'll let him take the season one game at a time, but that doesn't mean I have to.

At this point they are playing for seeding and most of the "bracketology experts" have them in the 4-5 range. If that holds up, then, assuming they get to the Sweet 16, GW would likely have to beat Duke, UConn, Texas or Memphis, to get to a regional final. If they can get a 3 seed, the roster of likely opponents in that round changes to Gonzaga, Villanova, Ohio State, and Tennessee, which is a little better.

But this line of thinking makes me recall the words of Chris Webber. In the 1993 tournament, 12th-seeded GW opened with an upset of New Mexico and then advanced to the Sweet 16 by knocking off fellow first-round underdog winner Southern. Their next game was against Michigan and its fabled Fab Five. When reporters asked Webber whether his team would have trouble getting ready for a Cinderella team like GW, he replied, "This is the Sweet 16. There are no Cinderella teams. Any team that is here is a good team that deserves to be here." The next day, the Colonials fell behind early but rallied to take the lead late in the second before Michigan prevailed.

My point is, if you get to the second weekend in the NCAA's, it doesn't matter who you play, they are all good teams. Now, if GW can somehow get that far and win that third game, I really like their chances to get to the FInal Four. You may find that hard to swallow, and I had a hard time typing it, but if they are playing in the regional final, GW will face a team that has had less than two days to rest and to prepare, and those are significant factors in the Colonials' favor.

Okay, now, settle down and just beat Richmond tomorrow.

Damn those Chinese!

My fortune cookie last night said, "You are capable, competent, creative and careful. Prove it."

Sonsabitches!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Fitz can really shovel it

Snow, that is. Man, do I love to shovel snow. That's what I was saying to myself as I cleared out the area around the basketball hoop in the driveway on Tuesday. You may find it hard to believe, but the previous sentences contain not a single trace of sarcasm. Shoveling snow has many pleasant aspects for me, but I believe the deeper psychological satisfaction must be related to my complete ineptitude when it comes to household repairs. I am not handy. In fact, no structural, electrical or plumbing problem is so simple that I cannot make it much, much worse. There are only three things I can fix in my house: breakfast, lunch and dinner (okay four if you count dessert). Fortunately, I fix those things very well, and, as my mother is fond of saying, "We all have our gift places."

Another thing my mother used to say is, "No roughhousing allowed in the house" because she did not want things - dishes, furniture, bones - to get broken. As an adult homewowner, I have modified that rule to, "No drills allowed in the kitchen." Without getting into detail, let me just say that there are two kitchen cabinets that now have holes on the outside after I "fixed" them. My deficiency in this area is compounded by the fact that I am married to a woman whose father was a true craftsman, a genius who built entire rooms in the house where she grew up. Whenever I bring the toolbox inside, she watches with a mixture of pity, mirth, and remorse at her choice of spouse.

So, I guess shoveling snow is one of those masculine opportunities to prove that the heart of the hunter-gatherer still beats in my chest. There's just something about pushing the snow aside to reveal the concrete or asphalt below, and, on a good sunny day, watching how quickly the moisture evaporates, leaving you with dry, safe, passable terrain surrounded by a yard still covered in a cold and treacheous blanket. I don't pretend that we can conquer nature, not even in suburbia, but occasionally bending it to our will can be very satisfying.

We got more than a foot of snow Saturday night, so on Sunday, after the kids had been bundled up and sent out to find the neighbors, I found my shovel and set to the task. Now, let's get a few things straight. I had no intention of shoveling the entire driveway, which is more than 100 feet long. That job that is done by a man with a plow. My goal was to blaze a trail from the back door to the garage and clean the sidewalk from the front door to the driveway and the cars. I had the perfect tool, a lightweight shovel with a plastic blade and aluminum handle. No fancy ergonomic curves, just clean lines and right angles.

The shoveling conditions were nearly perfect: light, feathery snow and almost no wind. Little more than half an hour later, the job was done, and I had cleaned off the cars for good measure. I stashed the shovel, grabbed the kids, and off we went sledding.

The plowman arrived later that afternoon and cleared a path from the garage to the street, but a plow is a not a tool of precision, so there were some large patches of snow still covering the driveway, although there was plenty of room for the cars. I could have just waited for the warming weather to melt the snow away, but the basketball playing area was obstructed, and with temperatures projected to break 60 by midweek, I needed to get it back into service.

The hoop went up last spring thanks to a good friend with tools, know-how and a generous spirit. I provided financing and unintentional comic relief when I let go of a support rod and it fell on my head. Sparingly used at first, the hoop has become a major source of interest for my boys, who are eight and six. I had anticipated this development a few years ago when we had the drive way resurfaced, and I had made sure it was expanded to accommodate full three-point range (collegiate, not NBA).

The kids went back to school Tuesday, an unusually quick recovery for a region that normally responds to the threat of snow the way a possum responds to the scent of a predator, and I wanted to have the court clear by the time they got home. So I got out my trusty shovel and bent to the task. The places where the snow was shallow could be cleared Zamboni style, scraping everything into the grass, but the deeper areas required a more gradual, patient approach, cutting through the layers to get to the bottom. I smiled as I finished the lane and mid-range jumper area and began to work more quickly, figuring I'd be done by lunch.

And then I got greedy. A substantial mound of snow sat at the foul line exended on the left side, right where my eight-year likes to set up and fire shots off the glass. The plow had pushed a good deal of snow here and some had melted and refrozen. Instead of working from the top down, I went for the big dig, and my valiant lightweight aluminum handle, suddenly asked to bear more than its capacity, buckled under the heavy strain of snow, slush and ice. I had betrayed my partner by asking too much, and, rather than disappoint me, it gave everything it had. I adjusted my grip to compensate but it was over in a matter of minutes. I gently set down my mortally wounded shovel, and for a moment I felt like American folk hero John Henry, but then I remembered that he actually finished digging through the mountain, and then he lay down his hammer and he died, so I realized the comparison was not at all apt.

Defeated by my own hubris, I went inside and had lunch. Then I put the dog in the car and headed to Home Depot. Despite the weekend panic, they still had a good selection of shovels. I picked out something called "The Bulldozer," with fancy curved sidewalls and a "Comfort Grip." Needless to say, I didn't waste any time lingering over the power equipment in the Tool Corral.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

FitzFacts Jinx

FitzFacts Jinx
You may recall that in my Olympics preview, I mentioned seven members of the American team by name. Three of those seven have absolutely flamed out so far. Michelle Kwan withdrew because of injury, Bode Miller finished fifth in his first event and was disqualified in his second, and Apolo Ohno (yes I have learned to spell his name correctly) lived up to his surname and not his first name when he fell in the semifinals of the 1500 meter short track as he tried to pass the leader even though he would have qualified for the final if he finished second. These people were not close seconds, they have not even gotten a whiff of a medal. The jinx would be more formidable if I had featured Lindsey Kildow, but I still wouldn't bet the house on the other four athletes I noted. For the record, they are Sasha Cohen, Kimmie Meissner, Emily Hughes and Jeremy Bloom. You might say that this means nothing other than the fact that I know nothing about the Olympics and am a terrible handicapper, but let me point out that I did not predict success for them, only that they were recognizable.

Now, what is the deal with those medals? Did they punch the middle out as a cost-cutting gesture? Are they leftover washers from some huge European hydroelectric plant that we would never build here in the United States? Are they compatible on DVD players and PSP? If you play them backwards, do they say, "Snowboarding is not an Olympic sport?" Are you supposed to mount them in a glass case or just hang them from your rearview mirror?

Speaking of snowboarding, are the women also stoners or is it just the men? After they won gold and silver, did Hannah Teter and Gretchen Bleiler break out the ponchos and patchouli oil? The real issue for snowboarding is the future supply of television commentators. If the networks are looking for any of these guys to provide coherent analysis after they retire, then they haven't seen enough of those Partnership for a Drug-Free America commercials.

And when is the United States going to get serious about the moguls competition and allow professionals to compete? Jeremy Bloom is a nice story, but you put Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Donald Trump on the moguls team, and it will be like USA Basketball Dream Team in Barcelona.

Finally, there is no truth to the rumor that NBC has threatened to cancel the rest of the Olympics unless the IOC replaces biathlon with four more snowboarding events to keep the U.S. competitive in the medal count.

ESPN.com hates Norway

The only question I need an answer to today is, what did Norway ever do to anger ESPN.com? If you go to the ESPN.com Olympics page, you see a medal count on the right hand side. As I type this, it shows Russia in the lead with nine total medals, followed by the U.S. and Germany tied with seven. Every other news source I can find has Norway in the lead with 11. In fact, if you click on "medals" in the menu at the top of ESPN.com Olympics, the page that pops up gives the correct count, but that news has not made it to the front of the Olympic page.

So the question is, why the snub? Is there some contractual arrangement that the United States must be in the top two in the medal counts listed on the front page? Maybe the ESPN.com webmaster had a bad breakup with his Norwegian girlfriend. Whatever the reason, I think this is really unfair. Norway doesn't have much. Henrik Ibsen, fjords, the Norwegian Elkhound, "Norwegian Wood," and that's about it. It's next to Sweden, and Sweden's got ABBA, SAAB, IKEA, Volvo, the Swedish Bikini Team, and of course the meatballs. Talk about feeling inferior, Norway needs all the help it can get. So come on ESPN.com, set aside your grudge, get over that Norwegian girl (plenty of fish in the sea), and give Norway the front page respect it has earned and deserves.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

What you watched on the Olympics last night

What you watched on the Olympics last night:
Women's halfpipe - What a surprise, the U.S. takes gold and silver.
Pairs figure skating - U.S. not a factor.
Men's speed skating - Second speed skater not named Apolo wins gold for the U.S.

What you missed:
#4 Villanova beat #1 Connecticut 69-64. Nova led 33-32 at halftime, gave up 13 straight points to start the second period and then ripped off a 17-2 run of their own and never trailed again. Great game.

Wizards lose to Hornets 97-96. Wizards led 55-36 after a Gilbert Arenas basket to open the third quarter but reverted to bad defensive habits, giving up 35 points in the third quarter. That's right, first two quarters, 36 points, third quarter, 35. Neither team played well in the fourth, but the Wizards trailed 95-94 when Arenas missed a jumper with six seconds to go. The rebound got kicked around until Antawn Jamison picked it up and threw in a shot from the baseline with 0.5 seconds left. Now, I don't mind that the clock stops on a made basket, otherwise the team that scored would find a way to obstruct or delay the other team as time runs out, but I hate that the Hornets get to call timeout and then inbound the ball on the other side of halfcourt. Which they did and found David West wide open for the game-winner. Tough loss for the Wiz because they had just swept a five-game homestand to get over .500 for the first time since November. Still, the good news is, they are tied for the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. As long as they can stay out of the 7 or 8 spot, they avoid Detroit and Miami in the first round of the playoffs and that's where you want to be.

Dave Chappelle on "Inside the Actor's Studio." If you don't like sports at all, this was the place to be last night ( okay, I don't watch "24"). This show is best when James Lipton is made to be the foil and the butt of jokes rather than attempting to be a penetrating interviewer. It can be awful, especially the insipid questionnaire at the end, but the shows with Robin Williams, Johnny Depp, Mike Myers and Kevin Spacey (Lipton had him do many, many dead-on impressions) were memorable, entertaining episodes worth watching more than once. Last night was great because Chappelle kept Lipton off-guard (actually paid him $200 cash from his pocket when Lipton demanded royalties for a satire sketch). Best line was when Lipton pulled his usual stunt of asking the guest to dance, citing all the famous stars who had acquiesced. Chappelle resisted but then gave in saying, "I've been dancing for the white man for 17 years, why stop now?" They also showed hilarious clips from his Comedy Central show.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Big Mailbag Love

Today, Mr. Tony read the lyrics to the Turin-Torino song. I was hoping he would sing them, but we can't have everything in this life. Later in the show he also read the following, which is a followup to the Michelle Kwan email I sent a few weeks ago:

Dear Mr. Tony,

Sorry to hear Michelle Kwan had to withdraw. Do we know if the Olympic vets were able to save her leg, or will they have to put the old gray mare down?

Bill
Phoenix, MD

Snow Daze

We finally got some real snow for the first time in two months. Somehow, the snowbelt that is Phoenix, Maryland, got less than Columbia and New York City , but don't worry everyone, I am sure they'll have the schools open in a week or two. Until they do, however, this blog is going to suffer in quality and quantity.

This was the kind of storm you prayed for as a kid. No matter how much weather forecasting has improved, and some might say it hasn't, there is still nothing more exciting for an eight-year old than going to sleep as snow is falling and waking up to a blanket of white covering everything you can see.


Sledding sure has changed though. We used to head out to the steep hill on the street around the corner from our house and ride until our hands were chapped raw or until somebody needed stitches after a nasty pileup in downhill sled demolition derby. Our sleds were heavy Flexible Flyers with metal runners that we waxed with the stubs of candles left over from Advent wreaths. (And yes, I walked to school every day for eight years) You had to watch out for cars, except for that time we went to a construction site and stole the sawhorses with the flashers to block off the street. When a car came we would laugh and holler as the driver fishtailed up or down the hill. This was before everybody had four-wheel or even frontwheel drive, so there were some real struggles.

Yesterday, I piled my two kids and their friend into the SUV, and we drove to their elementary school to hit the big hill. When I say big, I mean big enough that one of their buddies fractured his elbow there last year. And despite the fact that my boys arent allowed on a bike, scooter or rollerblades without a helmet, we let them zip helmetless down a hill of hard packed snow because we're pretty sure they won't go into the ditch or the few trees at the bottom. Pretty sure.

When I got out of the car, I took out one foam rubber and two plastic sleds , and off they went. As I turned the corner around the school to catch up with them, I caught a whiff of the unmistakable odor of charred meat. That's right, someone had set up a charcoal grill at the top of the hill. Sledding and tailgating - pure genius. The grillmeister was a hunter, and I heard later that he was offering freshly killed and cooked pheasant. Like I said, sledding has changed. The other award for ingenuity goes to the kids who brought the king-size inflatable mattress. They could lie five across and have plenty of shock absorption with minimal risk of flipping over. Look for this event in the 2018 Winter Olympics; I think it's safe to predict that the U.S. will dominate the five-man king-size mattress downhill.

The only tense moment of the day came when a group of teenagers got tangled up on a run and tumbled in a heap at the bottom of the hill. They got up slowly and huddled around one boy who sat motionless. Several adults exchanged concerned glances, but it turns out that they were just looking at his phone to see how the picture he had snapped on the way down the hill had turned out.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Olympic Update

Pursuit of Happiness
So I turn on the TV today, and what's the first thing I see? Cross-country skiing, thereby ruining one of the best jokes in my preview (see below). Analysis of this event comes from a guest blogger, my six-year old son. "Why are they all in a line? Why are they going so slow? That's not skiing, that's skating." Either he is remarkably precocious, or I have the mind of a six-year old because I could not have said it better myself. But I watched long enough to learn that this was the men's 30 kilometer pursuit; competitors ski the first 15 km in "classical" style and then switch equipment to ski the second half of the race in "freestyle." The equipment change is very important; the announcers compared it to a NASCAR pitstop except that you have to do it by yourself. NASCAR races would take days if the drivers had to do that. Not that the fans would mind. They probably wouldn't even notice.

Just before the equipment change, NBC showed how one of the German skiers, a favorite in the race, carefully lined up his skis and poles exactly where he wanted them. They went on and on about the "German precision, " even affecting German accents. I was waiting for them to tell us he puts his skis on one at a time, just like all the other athletes. So of course, he botched the exchange during the race and lost time coming out of pit row. "He keeps fussing at his straps!" the announcer told us, "He can't seem to get them adjusted properly!" I'm telling you, I was on the edge of my seat.

Honestly, I probably couldn't have done any better behind the microphone. Those are some tough names, and then you have to resist the urge to make all those "hot pursuit," "trivial pursuit," and D.B. Cooper jokes.

The best U.S. time was posted by Carl Swenson, who finished 40th. Swenson's pit time was 30 seconds flat, 0.9 seconds faster than the winner (I'd tell you his name, but he's not American, so why would you care?). I guess Swenson lost time during the skiing part of the competition. Tough break, but he did move five spots ahead of his 45th place finish in Lillehammer in 1994. Twelve years to move up five spots, I guess he'll be the odds-on favorite in 2102.

Short Tracks
Michelle Kwan withdrew from the figure skating competition after she strained a groin muscle in her first practice on Saturday. She waited a day to finalize her decision, but USOC and NBC executives put the time to good use, imploring children all over the world to repeat over and over, "I do believe in Michelle Kwan, I do believe in Michelle Kwan."

Bode Miller apparently overindulged at the Opening Ceremonies after party. Stumbling back to his accommodations in the Olympic Village, he vomited just outside the front gate. Passersby claimed to see the image of the Virgin Mary in the stain, which has become known as the Spew of Turin.


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Turin for the worse

Allow me to begin my Olympic coverage with a little musical tribute. If you don't know the tune, feel free to just scroll down to read the rest of my screed.

You say Turin, I say Torino
Halfpipe or curling, I'll need some vino
Turin, Torino, halfpipe and vino
Let's call the whole thing off

You say Turin, I say Torino
Why is Wayne Gretzky, in the casino?
Turin, Torino, Gretzky, casino
Let's call the whole thing off

You say Turin, I say Torino
You like Sinatra, I like El Deano
Turin, Torino, Sinatra, El Deano
Let's call the whole thing off

You say Turin, I say Torino
Lasagne and meatballs, pass me the Beano
Turin, Torino, lasagne, and Beano
Let's call the whole thing off

You say Turin, I say Torino
I am quite fond of, Mira Sorvino
Turin, Turino, Mira, Sorvino
Let's call the whole thing off

You say Turin, I say Torino
It's neverending. What time can we go?
Turin, Torino, We've seen enough snow
Let's call the whole thing off


Actually, I'm kind of serious about that last part. At the very least, the Winter Olympics are too long. Two weeks from now, I'll have seen so much skating, skiing, sledding, slaloming, and Slutskaya, I won't even want to see ice in my drinks. No scotch on the rocks, I won't even want to hear "Love on the Rocks." And you know I am a huge Neil Diamond fan; his critically-acclaimed "12 Songs " collaboration with Rick Rubin is extra-heavy in my iPod playlist rotation right now.

After all, the Olympics is really nothing more than a worldwide conspiracy to get the United States to commit to the metric system, and now that they staggered the schedule to alternate the Summer and Winter Games so that we have Olympics every two years instead of four, the pressure is really mounting. The U.S. would obviously have a lot more medals but we get lost in the metric conversions, especially in the Summer Olympics, where there are a lot more events with weights and weight classes. I mean, haven't we all seen the American powerlifters scratching their heads, trying to figure out how heavy a decagram is, when the next thing they know, "My Native Land, My Pride and Joy" is playing while three chuckling Estonians salute their flag from the medal stand.

At least the Summer Olympics offer some familiar, accessible events. Running, jumping, swimming, cycling, boxing, these we can relate to. But the winter events don't even seem like real sports. Why do they bother with names like luge and skeleton? Let's just call them what they are: sledding feetfirst on your back and sledding headfirst on your stomach. Now, if you put four guys and a dog on a toboggan at the top of a hill, and they have to go over a creek at the bottom that may or may not be completely frozen over and then bail out before they hit the chain link fence, now you've got yourself an event with some drama.

Instead, NBC will try to draw us in by getting "Up Close and Personal" with the athletes, which is a good thing because the only people who could name more than half a dozen American Olympians are their relatives and people whose checks have a USOC logo on them. Go ahead, I'll spot you Michelle Kwan, Sasha Cohen, Bode Miller, and Apolo Ohno, which is undoubtedly the most perfect Olympic name of all time. Women will probably know the the two additional female figure skaters, Emily Hughes, the younger sister of 2002 gold medalist Sarah Hughes, and Kimmie Meissner, a native of Bel Air, Maryland, not much more than a giant slalom run from my home in Phoenix, Maryland (Go Kimmie! Yew kin dew it, hon!). And men might recall that Jeremy Bloom, who played wide receiver at the University of Colorado, is also an Olympic freestyle skier. Come on, can't you think of any more? There are only 203 more Americans to choose from!

Not that I won't watch. I already watched some of the Opening Ceremonies last night. What a great moment, a once-in-a-lifetime thrill it must be to represent your country and march into a glorious coliseum as the Village People's YMCA reverbrates throughout the stadium.

Before the Opening Ceremonies, NBC showed some American skiers trying to make the competition roster. This makes no sense to me. You qualify for the team, go to Turin and then you have to try out again? Apparently countires like Austria and Switzerland have to do this all the time because they have so many great skiers, but it's a big deal for the U.S. because it's the first time we've had to whittle down the roster.

Which skiing event was it you ask? Slalom, downhill, giant slalom, Super-G, G-money, Heavy D, ginormous slalom, super terrific happy hour slalom? I don't know, all I can tell you is they were going down the hill really fast, and they seemed to be going back and forth. They stayed on the ground mostly, so it wasn't ski jumping, and there were no guns, so it wasn't biathlon, and they actually showed it on TV, so it wasn't cross-country.

That's all for now. In my next installment, I'll attempt to explain the Gunder Gundersen scoring method for the Nordic combined event. It has an extremely high degree of difficulty, but I have pulled it off in earlier drafts and I am looking forward to testing myself on the international stage.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Grammy Slammy

I tuned in to the Grammy's at about 10:00 Eastern Time, just as Dave Chappelle was introducing the Sly and the Family Stone tribute. "Cool," I thought. I am not old enough to remember them as performers, but their music is ingrained enough into the mainstream that I was looking forward to the segment. It was odd and not exactly what I expected but interesting and not without entertainment value. The tribute was basically a medley of S&FS hits performed by young artists who have yet to record anything nearly as good as what they were singing: Joss Stone, Fantasia and Ciara were the names I recognized, and I swear I saw "American Idol" judge Randy Jackson playing bass. The performances were fine if a bit generic, but took a big step down in quality when Steven Tyler took the lead vocal. Tyler has his gifts as a performer, but they were not well suited to this occasion. And when he called Sly Stone onstage, things got really weird.

Stone came out wearing a huge platinum blonde mohawk set off nicely by a shimmery silver suit and an enormous beltbuckle with studs spelling out SLY. He looked like a reptilian cross between Dennis Rodman and Beetlejuice from the Howard Stern Show. If JIm Morrison was the Lizard King, Stone was the Lizard Wizard.

He took his place behind the keyboards, but whether it was an audio problem or a Sly Stone problem, I had a hard time hearing him sing or play. Less than a minute later, he left the stage and the ensemble continued their jam for another minute or so looking amused and confused. I think they and the audience had to be thrilled to be part of an historic moment, but at the same time had to be left wondering exactly what had just happened.

I watched a little while longer, but the show really couldn't hold my interest; the performances may have been good for the live audience, but they seemed to suffer from surprisingly poor audio and did not translate well to my family room. Bruce Springsteen was just okay singing "Devils and Dust," but it was nice that his closing plea to "Bring em home" (from Iraq, I assume) was not excised by the delay. Kanye West and Jamie Foxx's high concept performance of "Gold Digger" looked great, but, again, sound was an issue, which seems kind of important at the Grammys. Imagine watching the Oscars and all the film clips are blurry.


The Grammys have become an occasion for throwing performers of different genres and generations together just to see if something great can happen. The team of Jay-Z, Linkin Park and Paul McCartney succeeded in their collaboration. The rapper/mogul and rockers skillfully mashed together his "Encore" with their "Numb" for a few spellbinding minutes until the band made a surreal segue into "Yesterday" as Sir Paul came out. It was everything "Ebony and Ivory" was supposed to be, 25 years ago, minus the trite banality, although Jay-Z did sound a tad silly with his punctuative "yeahs" and "uh-huhs" at the end of each line of "Yesterday." The number allowed each participant to shine without overshadowing each other.

I tuned out Christina Aguilera and Herbie Hancock and when I came back for the show-closing New Orleans tribute, the audio bugaboo was back, which is a shame because this combo was bursting with star power. The Edge, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, Doctor John and later Bruce Springsteen and Sam Moore. They deserved better.

So there were some good moments, and if I ever got the chance to see it in person I would certainly go, but I am not marking my calendar for next year's telecast.

Mailbag Special Delivery

I'll step down off my NHL soapbox now and post today's email, which was read on the air by Tony Kornheiser. Considering my lengthy pontification below, I'll concede that it's a cheap shot.

Dear Mr. Tony,

Do you have a phone number for Rick Tocchet? I need to get a bet down on when you will say the word "turducken" on national television.

Bill
Phoenix, MD

NHL Might Need CPR

I have been asked to provide my assessment of the NHL gambling scandal (keep those requests coming, fellas). Okay, let's begin by establishing my credentials in the pertinent areas.

Here is what I know about hockey. I know that when I was growing up, my hometown team, the Washington Capitals, were one of the worst professional sports franchises in history. They were the L.A. Clippers on ice (Yes, I am aware that the Clips are playing .600 ball right now, but they have only two other .500 seasons in the last 25 years, so I think the comparison stands). The only good thing about the Caps was Rod Langway, the imposing defenseman who was one of the last guys to play without a helmet. I know that the NHL tradition that players on the championship team get to take the Stanley Cup wherever they want is one of the coolest sports traditions ever. I know that I watched every home game the Cornell University hockey team played in the 1986-87 season, and I still can't really explain the finer points of icing. I know that hockey players deserve consideration as the best athletes in the world. If, as some people like to say, the hardest thing to do in sports is hit a baseball, try hitting a moving object of similar size into a goal that is defended by a guy who might as well be holding an ironing board and a butterfly net and don't worry about the defensemen trying to take your head off while you shoot. Did I mention you have to do this while skating at top speed? On ice? If you have ever shot pool or played golf with a good hockey player, you would understand the incredible wrist strength and hand-eye coordination needed to excel in this sport. Finally, I know that if your kid wants to play hockey, you had better be prepared to spend a lot of money on equipment and ice time, drive many miles to practice and play at odd hours, and don't get me started on the potential run-ins with figure-skating moms.

Now, what do I know about sports betting? Less than I know about hockey. I might be the only sports fan, and maybe the only person in America, who has not made some sort of wager on the Super Bowl or the NCAA Basketball Tournament in at least five years. No office pools, no dollar-a-square on the score at the quarters, no fantasy football, basketball or baseball (is there a NASCAR fantasy league?). Not only do I not play in a weekly poker game, I have never played Texas Hold 'Em. I have been to Las Vegas once, where I played blackjack, and have made some bets on horse races at the Maryland State Fair the last two years.

Now that I have provided the necessary bona fides, let me say that this is very, very, very bad for the NHL. Of all the things that turn off modern-day sports fans - enormous salaries, skyrocketing ticket prices, the constant roster turnover - gambling is the worst because it threatens the basic principal of sport as competition. The most troubling issue in the NBA right now is the idea that players are not giving maxium effort in order to get themselves traded (see Vince Carter). If fans believe that players have motivations other than winning, they will lose interest very quickly (unless they think they can see a fight or an explosive car crash).

And it's not like the NHL is in a great position to absorb the haymaker coming its way. This is a league that has been trying to get fans to come back after a management-labor dispute destroyed an entire season. Even before last year, hockey had struggled for years to catch the Big Three of American sports only to falter as NASCAR and golf - whenever Tiger Woods plays - passed it by. There is a solid niche audience for hockey, people who are willing to pay the exhorbitant ticket prices to see the games, but the golden ticket of major sports success, national network television coverage, has always proved elusive. The NHL is still solidly ahead of soccer, lacrosse, and sports that only get attention during the Olympics, but the betting scandal will cripple its efforts to broaden its audience and realienate the disgruntled fans who were coming around on a pretty good season.

The news really couldn't be much worse for the NHL. If you ask any sports fan to name the best hockey players of all time, Wayne Gretzky is likely the first name they come up with. Afficionados might argue for Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull or Mario Lemieux, but Gretzky would be part of the conversation. He may not be an actual participant in the betting, but he is the guy who represents the idea that hockey can expand and be successful where it has no traditional foundation, as it did when he joined the Los Angeles Kings. Even if he is not directly involved, he is way too close to avoid substantial damage to his reputation and collateral damage to the league. The comparison to Pete Rose is unfair right now because we don't know if Gretzky made any bets, but he is every bit the icon that Rose was to baseball.

Some might say that I am overreacting, especially if there is no proof that there was any gambling on hockey. In fact, the authorities have said there is no evidence to indicate that there was, but this is an ongoing investigation of a five-year old ring that handled $1.7 million in illegal wagers during the six weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, so I think it's fair to speculate that there might be a great deal more evidence to be found. Now, $1.7 million is actually a miniscule percentage of what is legally wagered on the Super Bowl every year and estimates of illegal sports gambling are multiples of that, so this investigation is not going to put a dent in sports gambling. But it is going to put a major dent in the NHL as it continues to fall lower and lower in the ranks of American sports. In the words of H.I. McDunnough, "I preminisce no return to the salad days."


More TK on MNF

For those who are wondering what the Monday Night Football Broadcast will sound like, I would like to provide the following as a public service.


Mike Tirico: Brady back to pass...pressure from the Steelers...and Brady has to throw it away.
Joe Theismann: Mike, the Steelers are doing a great job disguising their defenses. That time it was Troy Polamalu who blitzed off the edge.
Tony Kornheiser: So what's the problem? When I went to Harper College, we were blitzed off the edge every weekend. Of course, it's called SUNY-Binghamton now. And they changed the nickname to the Bearcats. Bearcats! In four years of college, I never saw a single Bearcat, except maybe that one time when I was blitzed way over the edge.
MT: Brady on play action...it's complete just short of a first down. Polamalu in on another tackle for the Steelers! He is everywhere.
JT: Mike, Bill Belichick told us yesterday that the Patriots have to know where Troy Polamalu is on every play.
TK: Polly Malu? I think I dated her sister, Betty Malu. I wonder if she's still gettin' it done?
MT: Big decision for Belichick here on fourth and one.
JT: New England could really set the tone here if they get the first down here, Mike.
TK: Binghamton serves the worst cheeseballs at the alumni receptions. You know, the kind with the nuts on the outside. Does anyone actually like those nuts? I hate those nuts! And when you try to spread the cheese, the cracker breaks apart and then you got nothing. Do they have those at the Notre Dame alumni parties, Joe? You probably get shrimp, and open bar, too I bet.
MT: Patriots have their short yardage package in...Brady under center.

JT: It's going to be tough to get this play off with all the noise this crowd is making...the Patriots tried to simulate this in practice all week, but I dont think they realized just how loud -
TK: Are they booing Brady? Why are they booing Tom Brady? Hello, the guy is the greatest Super Bowl quarterback since Joe Montana, and they're booing him? I mean, come on, Brady, Montana, Bradshaw, that's it, that's the list! They wouldn't boo Terry Bradshaw, would they?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Super Bowl Met Low Expectations

Many people (okay one person) have asked for my thoughts on the Super Bowl, so here is my post-Super Bowl Super Post (by the way, Jon, that is not a palindrome; you would think a guy with English degrees from Cornell and Stanford would know that, but thanks, I used it anyway). I thought it was an okay game, and the team I hoped (maybe too strong a word) would win, did, but Seattle has to be disapponted with their effort, especially on offense.

The Seahawks' defense played fine, but gave up three big plays: the 75-yard scoring run by Willie Parker, the gimmick touchdown pass from Antwaan Randle-El to Hines Ward and the 3rd and 28 pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Ward that led to the contested TD. My favorite was the Parker run, only because it broke the record Marcus Allen set against my Redskins back in 1984.

I don't think Roethlisberger actually broke the plane on his TD run, but there was no camera angle that really had a clear shot of the play, which is actually the most surprising thing. You would think that with all the money and energy spent on the Super Bowl, they would have cameras inside of cameras from every conceivable angle, especially around the goal line. Considering what replays were available, the call on the field, whichever way it went, had to stand.

Seattle's offense, meanwhile, put up a measly 10 points on nearly 400 total yards, and made no big plays. Jerramy Stevens caught the only Seahawks touchdown of the day, but he was otherwise ineffectual despite talking such a big game earlier in the week. NFL MVP Shaun Alexander rushed for nearly five yards per carry but had only one play that gained more than 10. The Seahawks were robbed on the pass interference call that took away a touchdown, but the offense never did anything to scare the Steelers. Seattle's biggest play, in yardage and impact, was Kelly Herndon's interception return that led to the touchdown.

The pathetic output by the offense and complete clock mismanagement at the end of the game will certainly tarnish Mike Holmgren's reputation as an offensive genius, but I think he just finally succumbed to the intense pressure that has shattered many other good teams much earlier in this game. I would cite actual examples, but there are so many blowouts and I'd hate to leave out someone's favorite.

This was a true team victory for the Steelers. No one player stands out, as evidenced by the MVP trophy going to Ward, who had five catches for 123 yards and one touchdown. No offense to Ward, but Ricky Sanders had more yards and touchdowns in one quarter against the Broncos in Super Bowl XXII. Normally in this situation, they just give the trophy to the quarterback, but Roethlisberger had unimpressive numbers, let the the Seahawks get back in the game on Herndon's interception and did not throw his team's only touchdown pass.

All the pregame hype pointed to the Steelers as the emotional favorite. They had Jerome Bettis, the Rooneys, Bill Cowher, the history, and colorful players like Joey Porter and Troy Polamalu. Maybe that is part of why they won. In a game of two evenly matched teams, maybe you have to have character and characters, people who can give you an emotional edge and make the big plays.

As far as the commercials, the halftime, the national anthem, I couldn't tell you. Like I said in my preview, I really just like to watch the game.

GW Makes History, Rolls Over Dayton

The George Washington Colonials are beginning to look like one of those teams that cannot be beaten by an opponent, only by themselves. In the Atlantic 10, anyway, there doesn't seem to be a team that can match or counteract their speed, depth and intensity. Last night's 81-67 win over Dayton was a close game right up to the opening tip. Flyer guard Jimmy Binnie hit a three-pointer on Dayton's first possession, and the Colonials scored the next 14 points, forcing six Dayton turnovers in four minutes. Dayton cut the lead to eight on a Brian Roberts jumper with 4:13 to play in the first period, but the Colonials closed the half with a 13-2 run to lead 49-30.

Dayton never got closer than 14 in a second half that turned into the Danilo show; Pinnock scored 11 points, four of them on two tremendous alley oop dunks, actually throwing the pass to himself on the second. Roberts, Dayton's leading scorer at 16.9 ppg, became the latest casualty of the Colonials' defense, scoring only 11 points on 5-14 shooting, 0-7 from three point range.

The win brings George Washington's record to 19-1, matching the best start in school history by the 1953-54 GW squad. That team finished ranked #7 in the nation; with #6 Florida's home loss to South Carolina last night, the Colonials are poised to equal that achievement as well. If they keep winning, the only mark left for them to reach will be the Sweet 16 finish of the 1992-93 team. Frankly speaking, it will be a disappointment if they don't blow that away, too.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Tony Kornheiser to MNF

Mr. Tony confirmed the rumors (and the official announcement from ESPN) that he will be the third man in the booth on Monday Night Football. He will still do PTI and write for the Washington Post, but the radio show seems to be in real jeopardy. Could this be the end of "Bill in Phoenix, Maryland?" I certainly hope not.

On that note, I had two recent mailbag hits.

Yesterday

Dear Mr. Tony,

If it's such a big game, why don't they call it the Chuck Norris Bowl?

Bill
Phoenix, MD


And today:

Dear Mr. Tony,

I generally steer clear of the serious emails, but what you just did for John Feinstein was one of the most generous gestures of friendship I have ever witnessed. I can't believe anyone who has lost a parent or close relative was not moved to tears. What a great thing to be able to do for a friend and a privilege for those of us who got to listen.

Bill
Phoenix, MD

GW looks for 11th straight against Dayton

I haven’t seen Dayton this year, so my knowledge of the Flyers is limited to what I could find online. They have struggled with injuries recently, most significantly their second-leading scorer, Monty Scott, a preseason First Team All-Conference selection. Despite the casualties, Dayton has won three of its last five games although two of those wins came at home against Duquesne and St. Bonaventure.

A study in contrast to the eighth-ranked Colonials, Dayton averages 64.3 points while holding opponents to 60.3 This is apparently not a team that likes to run on offense or press on defense. In the A-10, they trail only Xavier in field goal percentage defense but are second to last in steals. They are a good three-point shooting team, led by sophomore Brian Roberts (53-125), but they are right in the middle of conference ranking of three pointers made. Mr. Roberts, I’d like to introduce you to Montrell McDonald.

It’s hard not to favor GW heavily here. Dayton’s current starting backcourt is small (6-0 and 6-2), and there’s not much help coming off the bench because of the injuries. GW absolutely disassembled Richmond in their last outing, and Dayton looks to be in for similar treatment. The Flyers are always tough at home, where they feed off their tremendous fan support, but they haven’t won a road game since November. That win came at Cincinnati, which might give GW fans pause, but the Colonials have been on a roll since winning at Charlotte two weeks ago and a home game against Dayton should not disrupt that momentum.

Dog Walk

It is 5:30 am and the dog wants to go out. She’s housebroken, but whining will turn into growling and growling into barking. My wife scrubs for surgery in two hours, so this one is on me.

Socks in the nightstand drawer, jeans on the chair, and any number of shoe options scattered on the floor. In the dark, everything matches. She waits patiently while I pee - is she wondering why I don’t just do that when we get outside? Leash, collar, coat, poop baggie, and we are out the door.

It’s cold, but it’s February and fortunately not windy. No moon but plenty of light from various neighbors worried about security and unconcerned with disrupting amateur stargazers. Three cars pass by as we walk, but no one else is out. Just the two of us, and I am glad there are no crystal raindrops.

We take the short loop today. Her basic needs have been met, and she’ll get plenty of exercise playing with her dog friend while the kids wait for the bus. My face is starting to freeze, so I am less patient with her investigations as we turn for home. She still stops whenever her nose tells her to, and it’s obvious which houses have dogs.

When we get home, the clock says 6:10. No sense going back to bed. The doc is in the shower, and the kids will be up sometime in the next hour. Coffee. Newspaper. SportsCenter or Morning Edition?

Monday, February 06, 2006

#8 Colonials Improve with Youth

The most tantalizing aspect of GW's 80-55 thumping of Richmond yesterday was not the borderline felonious defense, the balanced scoring, nor the dazzling display of dunkitude. No, the most appetizing item on the boxscore menu was the McDonald-Diggs combo platter: 29 minutes, eight points, three rebounds, three steals and one delightful assist.

Irrelevant verbosity aside, the Colonials continue to prove that they deserve their #8 ranking and can get even better by the end of the season. Following an emotional comeback win at Xavier, GW showed no signs of a letdown and simply dismantled the overmatched Spiders. Numerous Richmond possessions ended at halfcourt as the Colonials repeatedly denied their opponent any opportunity to set up their deliberate offense. GW forced 22 turnovers and kept Richmond's score in single digits for the first 15 minutes of the game.

On offense, GW shared the ball with Danilo Pinnock and Pops Mensah-Bonsu scoring 16 points each, and Mike Hall added 15. After a 21-point performance at Xavier, Maureece Rice stepped into the background, while Omar Williams stepped right into SportsCenter with a ferocious posterizing of Richmond's Drew Crank, one of eight GW dunks on the day. The Colonial's 80 points was slightly below their average (81.6) but 13 more than Richmond had given up all year.

The game was everything Colonials fans could hope for, but the development of McDonald and Diggs is the real story here. These were not garbage-time minutes against UMES or Kennesaw State. Both players got in the game early in the first half and made significant contributions against a league opponent in February. McDonald terrorized the Richmond ballhandlers at the point of the press, extending his hand like a traffic cop in his signature defensive stance. His quickness and wingspan led to several deflections and on offense, he needed only the tiniest space on the baseline to slide his slender frame past the defender before those long arms lay the ball in the hoop. Diggs' presence was less flashy, but clearly Hobbs has moved him ahead of Alex Kireev on the depth chart. He might be even skinnier than McDonald, but with all the pressure GW applies on the perimeter, quickness for size is a reasonable tradeoff on the interior.

Many members of the media argue that GW is overrrated, citing a soft schedule and the bad loss at North Carolina State; but this is not the same team that played more than a month ago in Raleigh, which was also the first game for Regis Koundjia. If you don't actually watch GW play and just dismiss their wins as easy blowouts of subpar opposition, you are missing the point. Check the boxscore and the play-by-play and see how many minutes McDonald and Diggs play and when they are getting in the game. If they keep improving, GW will be every bit as good as its ranking in March.