Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Bog Poll Haiku

Georgetown loses on the road to the Number 2 team in the nation, so I can't really punish them too much for that. Nothing special from the next three although wins on the road are always good, even at Bradley and Florida International. James Madison finally plays a decent team (Seton Hall) and loses, but the mess that is the bottom half of the poll moves the Duke up a spot. Morgan State moves up idly, Virginia Tech (don't ask me why) is next, and UMBC staves off execution by beating Hampton. American vaults into the poll with its first win over Maryland in 80 years, and this week, it's the Terps' turn to cling to the last spot of the Top 10 like Wily Coyote on a cliffside branch. Old Dominion's two losses drop them out from the #5 spot, even though they beat Virginia Tech eight days ago.

About the comments. Last week Big Stein said he might not run a poll for a couple weeks because of holidays and people not having the time to vote. I replied that not only would I vote, all my pithy comments would be in haiku form. It's not good haiku, and I don't think it's very pithy, but here it is:

1. Georgetown
First loss of the year
I hate John Calipari
Hoyas still Number One
2. Virginia
One quality win
Three-pointers by the bushel
No Grinch in ‘Hooville
3. VCU
Five wins in a row
Maynor indomitable
Sweet 16 this March
4. George Mason
Pimped-out band leader
Larranaga’s wizardry
’06 was no fluke
5. James Madison
Only two losses
Still not much of a ranking
Beat somebody good
6. Morgan State
Bozeman the savior
Bears’ hibernation over
MEAC foes beware
7. Virginia Tech
Inconsistent play
Cannot win outside Cassell
ACC basement
Best team in the state
Destination March Madness
Thanks, James Madison!
9. American
Sweet historic win
Nostalgic thoughts of Kermit
Tenleytown riots?
10. Maryland
Three straight at Comcast
Nobody helping Vasquez
Hokies’ cellarmates

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bog Poll

A little late on this week's poll, but there's all the Christmas shopping and, hey, I'm working without a kitchen here (more on that tomorrow, maybe). Anyway, Georgetown just keeps winning, VCU still hasn't done enough to pass Virginia (beating Longwood certainly doesn't do it), and lots of idle teams this week. ODU makes the big leap with a solid win over Virginia Tech, knocking the Hokies down a few pegs, Maryland would have slipped further with a home loss to Ohio if anyone around them had won, and UMBC hasn't beaten a Division I opponent since the beginning of the month.

1. Georgetown
Hoyas beat Radford, the Highlanders’ worst loss since Highlander: Endgame, a largely unsuccessful attempt to blend the television and movie series. Repeat broadcast of this game will be shown all month on Sci-Fi Channel.
2. Virginia
Least impressive #2 since Rob Lowe replaced Robert Wagner in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
3. VCU
Kirill Pishchalnikov asked his teammates to call him Kalashnikov, but he has to make at least one three-pointer before they will acquiesce.
4. George Mason
Patriots beg Jim Larranaga to take them to go see I Am Legend during the week off, but Coach L is more of an Alvin and the Chipmunks kind of guy.
5. Old Dominion
Monarch forward Gerald Lee’s hometown of Uusikaupunki, Finland, dates back to 1721, but its name translates as New City. Those crazy Finns!
6. James Madison
Dukes’ idle week gives them badly needed free time to find the perfect gift for oh-so-hard-to-shop-for Coach Dan Keener.
7. Maryland
Terps’ home loss to Ohio University is the biggest win for the visiting Bobcats since Gary “Shaq of the MAAC” Trent owned the Athens hardwood.
8. Morgan State
With a season-high 13 points against LaSalle, senior forward Karanvir Aujla is making a name for himself. Not a name you can pronounce or spell, but a name nonetheless.
9. Virginia Tech
Hokies quest for a road win about as successful as Quest for Fire.
10. UMBC

With three straight Division I losses, Retrievers just keeping this seat warm for Mount St. Mary’s.

Friday, December 14, 2007


A couple quick sports hits before we get to some movies opening today:

Mitchell Report
I don't care. Really. Nor am I surprised. I would be surprised if, say, Jose Lind (nine home runs in nine major league seasons) showed up on the list, but other than that, no, not surprised and not really that concerned. There was no effective testing for steroids at the time that most of these guys were juicing, and they had a tremendous financial incentive, so why are we shocked, (shocked!) that many if not most gave in to the temptation. Even if you didn't want to take steroids, you had to at least think about it because so many other players were, and you were losing a competitive edge by not joining them. I don't think MLB should try to take the records away from guys like Clemens and Bonds, but I have never been one to see the records as sacred either. I will still go to games and watch them on TV. I won't buy jerseys and other paraphernalia, but I don't really do that anyway. I can admit to being disappointed for my sons' sakes, but that's about it. I'm with Senator Mitchell on this one. Get a good testing program in place, and let's move on. Best line I heard about it came from my neighbor, "I was surprised to see Manny Alexander's name on the list because I thought they were performance-enhancing drugs." Hi-Yo!!!

Wow, wow, wow! 12-10 after an 0-5 start? 9-5 without Gilbert Arenas? Washington has won five of its last six, and while only one of those wins came against a team with a winning record (Toronto) and only one was a road game (Miami), it is great to see guys like Andray Blatche and Nick Young getting an opportunity to develop. The Wiz are still in the second tier of the Eastern Conference, which, Boston excepted, can't touch the West, but they are not far behind Orlando and Detroit, and they are in much better shape than preseason darlings Cleveland and Chicago. Nothing too scary looms on the schedule until Detroit on January 2, and by then the Wizards might be ready to prove that they will be ready to challenge for an East title with a healthy Arenas.

College Basketball
Ugh. Do I have to? Either hoops or Ravens, you say? Okay, okay, college hoops. After getting crushed at Virginia Tech, GW lost at home to the 2-7 Binghamton Bearcats. The Colonials could not join Cornell, Akron, St. Bonaventure, Rider, Chicago State, Central Connecticut State, or Colgate in doing a victory dance after playing Binghamton and are now 0-2 against America East teams. Nuff said.

Maryland is not as awful as GW, but they aren't that good either, getting beaten convincingly at Comcast Center by Ohio University (the Bobcats, not the Buckeyes). Please stop calling this a shocker. The Terps barely survived Northeastern and Hampton and could not handle VCU. They will get better but Hayes and Vasquez have a lot of trouble with quicker opponents (Eric Maynor of VCU, for example), and leadership has yet to coalesce for this team. For all his flaws on offense, DJ Strawberry is exactly what this team misses most: a lock-em up defender and a player who understands that emotional leadership doesn't mean getting ejected for punching the basket support.

The news is no better else where in the Maryland State University system with UMBC losing to Central Connecticut State. George Mason has a couple weeks to stew on its loss to Kent State while VCU looks to make it four straight against Longwood this weekend. James Madison has one more tasty treat coming up against Radford before getting a real test in Seton Hall and Gerogetown should roll Radford as well but meets #2 Memphis on the 22nd.

Full wrap up on Monday.

I am Legend
Hear me roar! Hmm ... a man finds himself alone in New York CIty and has to fend off the attacks of the undead ... I thought this was a sci-fi film, not a documentary. Anyway, Will Smith recreates a Charlton Heston role as the title character in a postapocalyptic world, science fiction being one of Heston's preferred milieus (Soylent Green, Planet of the Apes, NRA commercials). This one looks pretty good, but after watching Smith destroy the bad guys in Independence Day and Men In Black, I don't think there is any suspense about the ending.

IMDB describes Juno as "Knocked Up for the younger generation." Greeeeaaat, that's just what we need. Man, if you think the Catholics hated The Golden Compass, wait 'til Pope Benedict screens Juno for the College of Cardinals. Since Juno has already been nominated for lots of Hollywood awards, I am pretty sure director Jason (son of Ivan) Reitman is not taking the ABC afterschool special approach. In fact Reitman is an equal opportunity religious offender, no doubt knowing that in Roman mythology, Juno was the queen of the gods, the wife (and sister) of Jupiter, and the goddess of marriage. When you are married to an ob-gyn, you pretty much have to see any movie about pregnancy, so I'll let you know where it falls on the Knocked Up - Vera Drake sliding scale.

The Kite Runner
'Tis the season for high-minded films, especially adaptations of serious fiction (see Atonement, Love in the Time of Cholera, et al), and although director Marc Forster has managed to draw audiences and acclaim for unlikely material in the past (Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland), he will be hard-pressed to match that success with this tale about modern-day Afghanistan falling back under the control of the Taliban. U.S. moviegoers have largely ignored films about the Iraq War and Kite Runner will probably get the same treatment. Forster's next project is a James Bond movie (seriously) which makes about as much sense as the director of Y tu Mama Tambien doing a Harry Potter (this actually happened), but at least he'll have a built in audience.

The Perfect Holiday
Queen Latifah for star power, Gabrielle Union for the guys, Morris Chestnut for the gals, a cute little girl who wants Santa to bring her a new Daddy (like Ms. Union wouldn't have them lining up outside her door). Okay, fine, but the most interesting thing about his movie is that the director, Lance Rivera, cofounded a record label with the Notorious B.I.G. Let's hope things work out better for his cinematic partners than they did in the recording industry.

Alvin and the Chipmunks
Sadly, of the five movies I've discussed today, this is the one I am most likely to see in the theater, probably in the week between Christmas and New Year's Day when the kids are out of school and two-hour blocks of time are in desperate need of killing. Speaking of needing killing, director Tim Hill also brought us Garfield II, A Tale of Two Kitties. Hang on though, he gets off the hook for The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie. He's also the nephew of George Roy Hill, who truly made the world a better place with Slapshot, The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

That's it. Congrats if you made it through all those words. Have a nice third Sunday of Advent.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Philadelphia Freedom

So, what have we got today? Wizards recap? Nope. Nice win and pretty impressive how they've been playing since Agent Zero went down, but last night was dedicated to Christmas tree trimming, so I don't have much to say about the Wiz. Two-day old Ravens rehash? Ugh, no thank you. After a shining turn in the spotlight against the Patriots, Baltimore returned to its hideous ways against the Colts. Not sure which is of greater concern, Kyle Boller's miserable performance or Ray Lewis looking really, really old trying to cover Jospeh Addai on pass routes.

No, today, we are going to talk American history. Really.

See, I went to Philadelphia yesterday, and, for once, my destination was not the Palestra. Nor the Spectrum, McGonigle Hall, St. Joe's Memorial Field House, nor the Liacouras Center. I had seen about 30 or 40 college basketball games in the City of Brotherly Love, but the closest I had come to experiencing any of its cultural treasures was doing the Rocky Balboa Shuffle after jogging up the Art Museum steps (something every good American should do at least once).

But I made up for all that ignorance in five-hour fell swoop, touring the city's Revolutionary War sites with about two-dozen fifth graders and nearly as many parents and teachers. Liberty Bell? Check. Very cool, lots of historical information there, if you care to stop and read, which most fifth-graders do not. Independence Hall and Congress Hall? Yes, indeed. Excellent tours from United States Park Rangers pointing out various distinctions regarding the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both of which were written here.

For instance, the Declaration of Independence was approved by the 56 members of the Continental Congress July 4, 1776, and 200 copies were printed and distributed, but the signed copy that sits in the National Archives is dated August 2, 1776. Only about 25 of those printed copies are accounted for to date, and the most recently discovered copy fetched $8.5 million at auction a few years ago. The actual writing was inscribed by Timothy Matlack (Thomas Jefferson had lousy penmanship), and it was read aloud for the first time in public by John Nixon on July 8, 1776. I knew none of this before yesterday.

All that learning made us quite hungry so we chowed on bag lunches at an historic food court nearby and browsed the gift shops for some patriotic Chinese-made souvenirs. We then proceeded to the site of Ben Franklin's original home, where naturally the big hit for the kids was the privy pit ("Ben Franklin pooped here."). We also saw a demonstration of a period printing press and learned about the archaelogical dig that preceeded the construction of the National Constitution Center (more discussion of privy pits). Finally we stopped in at Christ Church for a brief but informative and surprisingly inspiring tour/sermon about its history. Then it was back on the bus where everything was put into appropriate context with a screening of "National Treasure" on the ride home.

A few asides. As I said, all the tour guides were excellent. We were escorted around to the various sites by a woman in period dress (except for sensible walking shoes) who was knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and about as entertaining as a person in that role can be. Over the course of the day, we walked several miles all told, but there was plenty to keep us occupied and I am sure we could have seen more, had time permitted. Not surpisingly, historic Philadelphia loves Ben Franklin. Much like visiting Mount Vernon and getting the George Washington spin on American history, a trip to Philly takes on a very Franklin feel, just as I would imagine visiting Monticello gives you the Jeffersonian view. Nothing wrong with it, but these localized cults of personality can be amusing.

All in all, this was a great experience and proof that the occasional foray outside the world of sports, movies and what I watched on TV last night can be quite rewarding. Now, about that Terp hoop game against Ohio tonight ...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Bog Poll Week 5

Yawn, Georgetown is still Number 1. Very difficult dilemma coming up for me in a few weeks when the Hoyas play at #2 Memphis. As much as I'd like to see Georgetown lose and fall out of the top spot just for a little variety, there is no one I'd like to see lose more than Memphis coach John Calipari. Maybe the Hoyas will help me out and fall on their faces against Radford on Saturday. Yeah. And maybe the Ravens won't become the Dolphins first win of the season this Sunday.

Virginia stays at #2 with a close home loss to Syracuse because George Mason and UMBC also split their games. VCU jumps to #3 on the strength of three straight wins with Maryland right behind. James Madison needs to beat somebody, anybody, in the top 100 to legitimize its 6-1 record. After that, it's the usual pick 'em with Virginia Tech, Morgan State and Old Dominion getting the nod. American, Loyola, Towson and Hampton also receiving votes.

GW? You can lose by 30 at #2 UCLA, and your ranking won't suffer much, but Virginia Tech is one of the worst teams in the ACC and the Colonials looked awful. Then again, they were a perfect lead-in to the Ravens' game.

1. Georgetown
Kent Benson and Quinn Buckner will have the champagne on ice for the Hoyas’ game at Memphis on December 22.
2. Virginia
Only an endorsement from Oprah keeps the Cavaliers from falling to #3.
3. VCU
Rams cut Richmond’s scoring from 30 in the first half to 15 in the second. Mathematicians throughout the state capital debate whether the Spiders would have scored 0 or 7.5 in a hypothetical overtime.
4. Maryland
Greivis Vasquez and Gary Williams – Proud graduates of the Bart Scott School of Etiquette and Composure.
5. George Mason
Patriots lose to the Kent State Golden Flashes, which were known as the Silver Foxes from 1920-26, and for one day in 1970, the Muzzle Flashes.
Loss at Wichita State hurts the Retrievers’ ranking but not as much as a win at Goucher.
7. James Madison
Dukes continue their merciless rampage through the bottom tenth of the RPI.
8. Virginia Tech
Hokies beat GW 68-36, GW beat UMES 78-39, so UMES would be 71-point underdogs against Virginia Tech, if my math is correct .
. Morgan State
Bears almost ready for long winter nap, also known as the MEAC regular season.
10. Old Dominion

UNC, Louisville, Georgetown, UMES … One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong, can you tell which thing is not like the other, by the time I finish my song?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Fitz Film Festival Friday

Finally a day with some time to blog and since it's Friday, let's take a look at the movies coming out today. I haven't seen any of them, not even a trailer, and it's about a 95% probability that I won't see them, but I like movies, so let's have a look.

The Golden Compass
New Line Cinema tries to replicate its success with Lord of the Rings. Let's see .... best selling fantasy trilogy by British author? Check. Massive budget for special effects? Check. Numerous well-known British, Australian, or South African actors (they're all the same to us Yanks)? Check. Talking animals? Check. Whoops, sorry, scratch that. Talking animals are Narnia, not LoTR.

So what do we like about this one? Well, the religious right is up in arms about it, for one thing. And Nicole Kidman, for another. Always watchable, though I doubt this one will crack her Top Three (Dead Calm, To Die For, Flirting). And Sir Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf in LoTR. He is gay (McKellen, not Gandalf). So is Dumbledore, not sure about Magneto. For the ladies, we have Daniel Craig. For the fellas not captivated by Ms. Kidman, Eva Green. And finally, the protagonist is played by Dakota Blue Richards who has not one but two pretentious names. Anybody else think the casting director got fired for hiring the wrong Dakota?

A little Jane Austen is almost too much for me, and this one just piles it on with Keira Knightley (Oscar-nominated in Pride and Prejudice) and James McAvoy (Becoming Jane) and director Joe Wright (P&P, again). Knightley is great in movies with a sword or a light saber or a soccer ball, but I don't see any of those making an appearance here. Enjoy it, ladies.

Grace is Gone
AKA, Gone Mommy Gone. John Cusack plays a dad who takes his daughters on a road trip to tell them their mom died fighting the war in Iraq. Nobody is a bigger John Cusack fan than I am, but I can't see this particular spin on the classic road movie formula working. State of Grace, Maria Full of Grace, sure. Grace is Gone. Nope.

Finally, a movie for those of us in the testosterone division. It's a badass festival with Jason "The Transporter" Statham, Ray "Goodfellas" Liotta, and Andre "3000" Benjamin. Not in love with Guy Ritchie in the director's chair, but with a script adapted by Luc Besson, this one's got a chance, as long as it doesn't get too French. Otherwise, Hey-Ya!

The Walker
Tough call. Writer and director Paul Shrader has been at the top of the Hollywood heap with his involvement in Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The Last Temptation of Christ, but if you take him away from Martin Scorsese, you get dreck like Cat People and Mosquito Coast. Here, he reworks his box office smash American Gigolo with Woody Harrelson as the escort who finds himself caught up in a murder investigation. Unfortunately, the setting has moved from LA to Washington DC, so instead of glamour and Blondie, we get political scandal and Ned Beatty. Ugh. And, somehow I can't get too excited about a male escort movie where the female costars are Kristin Scott Thomas, Lilly Tomlin, Mary Beth Hurt and Lauren Bacall (I think she plays the corpse). Pass.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Well, that was a game worth staying up for, wasn't it? And as hard as I was rooting for the Ravens, I can't deny that the Patriots earned the win. For every close call that went against Baltimore (Gaffney's winning TD, Ryan's illegal timeout, turnover on downs nullified by false start), they still had plenty of opportunities to win the game. If Ed Reed didn't fumble after a great interception return, if any of the Ravens' defenders picked off the ball that Ray Lewis tipped 20 feet in the air, if Baltimore got just one first down in the fourth quarter .... still, it's hard for me to remember beign so satisfied that my team played so well and came away with a loss. The defense pressured Brady ferociously, Willis McGahee had his best day as a Raven behind an offensive line that gave up no sacks (my personal favorite was the play where McGahee took a short pass and juked the NE defender so badly he was able to use him as a blocker), Kyle Boller outplayed Tom Brady for 3 quarters and even Yamon Figurs chipped in a nice punt return late in the game. Eventually, though, the Ravens succumbed to one of the great cliches of football. For three quarters, they kept Brady, Moss, & Co. off the field; the Pats had only six possessions in the first three periods, but they had four in the fourth. And so again, a one team irrationally uplifts the hearts and spirits of its fans while the other crushes those of its own in the brutal mortar and pestle of bitter defeat.

It was a doubly entertaining evening for me because I also watched the first half of the Denver-Green Bay game. You missed this one? Denver played Oakland on Sunday and Green Bay lost to Dallas last Thursday, you say? Duh, this was the 1996 Broncos against the Packers. Favre vs. Elway, Holmgen matching wits with Reeves, Lambeau Leap against Mile High Magic. Nope, not on ESPN Classic. Not Madden retro either. This epic battle, which ended in a 10-0 halftime score in favor of Denver was a Stratomatic battle between my sons.

Not familiar with Stratomatic Football? That's because you are a normal human being, with a healthy diversity of cultural interests, but if you are an 8 or 10-year old boy who feverishly collects sports jerseys and posters, fills entire notebooks with statistics of Hall of Fame inductees, and/or has already projected the entire 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament (not just the field either, the complete results as well), Stratomatic is a gift directly from the Mount Olympus of sports gaming.

Part Madden, part Fantasy, Stratomatic is a board game that allows players to simulate games, calling offensive and defensive plays with results derived from percentages based on actual statistics from the previous season. Players can run, pass, score touchdowns, be penalized and even get injured. If it still sounds a bit dry for your tastes, you should see how feisty my sons get while playing. Then again, in our house, most board games are contact sports.

Last night was only the second time they played Stratomatic Football, but I foresee many hours spent rolling dice and gleefully checking cards and charts for results. How can I be so sure? Because I watched them play Stratomatic Baseball all summer, including a marathon week at the beach where nearly every waking minute in the house was spent at the gaming table, trying to determine whether or not the 2006 season was a statistical anomaly.

Wait a minute, I hear you saying, there's Stratomatic Baseball as well? Yep, and Hockey and Basketball and College Football, too.

So how did we acquire this blessing/curse? Well, it just so happens that about 22 years ago, I myself sat down with a college roommate and rolled the dice to see if the Redskins of John Riggins and Joe Washington could beat the Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII with me calling the plays this time (obviously, Rocket Screen was not in my playbook). Many epic battles ensued, but I have to say, I have not played (and rarely discussed in public) Stratomatic since graduating from college.

Fast forward to March, 2007, and this same college roommate bestowed a gift of the 1992 Stratomatic Baseball game on my boys. Note that the box had never been opened; he just happened to have it lying around, untouched, for 15 years. Never mind that many of the players in this game had retired before my sons were born, they took to it right away. Well, almost right away. There was that nasty incident where the Mike Mussina card was crumpled and nearly destroyed after a disastrous two innnings (my younger son has a pretty quick hook).

Naturally, I informed my friend how immensely the boys were enjoying his gift; he was so pleased to find some new converts that the 2006 baseball cards arrived in the mail the next week. Last weekend, we had another visit with my buddy, ostensibly to meet his new son, but my guys had a different agenda.

"Do you have any other Stratomatic games?"

"It just so happens I have a 1996 football game right here."

(Me) "We wouldn't want to take your game."

"Oh, don't worry. I've got at least three others in storage."

It seems appropriate to close this entry by noting that that this is a family of three living in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City. Space comes at quite a premium in the Big Apple, so it's not surprising that he might have a storage locker somewhere. Yes, he could store the games at his brother's house in New Jersey, but he doesn't trust his sister-in-law not to throw them away.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Bog Poll #4

Honestly, where do the days go? That's right, it's time for another Bog Poll. Better get this one posted before I go watch the Ravens get slaughtered by the Patriots.

Georgetown continued its monotonous run atop the poll with an easy win over Fairfield. Virginia got back to its 90+ point scoring ways, nearly doubling up Northwestern. George Mason gave away the #2 spot with an inexplicable loss to East Carolina, and another strong week from UMBC has the Retrievers right behind the Patriots. VCU leapfrogged Maryland, dropping the Terps back to #6 despite their strong win against Illinois. James Madison jumps back in all the way at #7 by winning three straight after the debacle at VMI. After that, as usual it's a pick 'em. I took Morgan State, Hampton and Old Dominion, which rallied for a win after losing three straight to Top 10 teams. Virginia Tech, GW, Towson, Loyola, Richmond and even American are all lurking nearby, but you ahve to win some games to get into my Top 10.

1. Georgetown
All wins and no losses make John a dull boy. All wins and no losses make John a dull boy. All wins and no losses make John a dull boy. All wins and no losses make John a dull boy.
2. Virginia
Against Northwestern, Mamadi Diane’s jumpshot was tastier than Steak Diane.
3. George Mason
What’s worse, losing to a team that couldn’t beat Liberty or Richmond or becoming a team’s first Division I victory of the season? How about both?
Retrievers now 4-0 against Bog Poll opponents, with Hampton the only remaining obstacle to an unblemished record.
5. VCU
Verizon Center public address announcer started to sound like Ben Stein on Sunday, “VCU basket by Shuler … Shuler … Shuler.”
6. Maryland
Bambale Osby asks fans and media to stop calling him “Boom” because he feels that name denigrates his heritage. Henceforth, he’d like to be called “Bam-Bam.”
7. James Madison
JMU’s OOC schedule is so soft the Dukes had a moment of silence to honor the death of Mr. Whipple before the Northeastern game.
8. Morgan State
Bears’ Boubacar Coly is the best Boubacar the area has seen since Boubacar Aw roamed the court for Georgetown in the late 90s.
9. Hampton
Howard lost the basketball game, but, more importantly, who won the drumline competition? 10. Old Dominion

Nothing like a little dose of Georgia State to cure the “losing against nationally-ranked teams” blues.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Poll Week Three

How committed am I to the Bog Poll? Saturday, I took the whole family to watch GW at UMBC. Later that night, I watched part of Virginia against Seton Hall and Navy against Penn, a game that was tied 4-4 with 11 minutes to play in the first half. That is dedication, people.

Except for Georgetown, everybody lost at least one game this week. Pretty simple to figure 1-6, but very unclear after that. Number 7-15 could be reversed very easily. George Mason squeaked past Virginia for #2 on the strength of a Top 20 win over Kansas State and a Top 20 loss to Villanova, both at a neutral site. UVA's win at #17 Arizona was on the Wildcats' home floor, but the Cavaliers' loss to Seton Hall looks a little worse than losing to 'Nova, at least right now anyway. Bit of a drop to Maryland at #4, who will have a chance to impress against Illinois and VCU coming up. UMBC made the big move of the week with a solid win over a Maureece Rice-less GW squad. Retrievers have no size, but three-point shooting, experience and hustle covered up their flaws. VCU held its position with a win over Elon and has five straight Bog Poll teams coming up. GW has talent, but injuries and inexperience are major headaches for Karl Hobbs. If he can get this team healthy and fully committed to his system, watch out. Morgan State vaulted in at #8 on the strength of a close loss at Miami and unimpressive weeks by everyone else. Virginia Tech lost to a couple Top 25 teams in Alaska, but the Hokies are clinging to the edge right next to Old Dominion, who is in the midst of a brutal stretch of its schedule. James Madison fell out because of a loss at VMI. Loyola is knocking on the door with four weak wins, including Vermont, a team that Towson couldn't beat even though Towson beat Loyola. Coppin State, VMI, and American could also break through with a few consistent weeks. Big Stein will have his up later today, but here's how I voted:

1. Georgetown
In his postgame press conference, John Thompson blamed the ongoing writers’ strike for the lack of drama in Hoyas’ win at Ball State.
2. George Mason
Jim Larranaga finally made good on his promise to take his team to Disney World for getting to the Final Four, but Folarin Campbell was disappointed that lunch in Cinderella's Castle was sold out.

3. Virginia
The Philly Hoop Group Classic featured two teams from Maryland, one from DC, one from Virginia, one from Pittsburgh, one from New Jersey and only two from Philadelphia. Not very Philly. And with teams like Howard, Navy and Penn, not very hoop either. Definitely a group. Classic? About as Classic as the CBE Classic, the Old Spice Classic, and the BB&T Classic, I guess.

4. Maryland
Sprint Center joined Verizon Center on Gary Williams’ list of least favorite arenas named for telecommunications giants. Don't look for the Terps to play in the Alcatel-Lucent Center any time soon.
Retrievers lost to Lafayette and beat George Washington last week. I wonder how they’ll do next week against Cornwallis College and Von Steuben State.
6. VCU
In Puerto Rico, Eric Maynor was dismayed to learn that Daddy Yankee is neither a Daddy nor a Yankee.
7. GW
The Colonials gave up more threes against UMBC than the runner-up in the National Go Fish Championship.
8. Morgan State
With close losses at Miami and Connecticut, Bears are ready to storm the cellars of the ACC and Big East.
9. Virginia Tech
Seth Greenberg gave his players a sundown curfew at Great Alaska Shootout, obviously forgetting that the sun won’t set for two more weeks.
10. Old Dominion

Monarchs must have looked past Clemson, UNC and Louisville in anticipation of Georgetown game.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Poll Week 2

Georgetown coasts over Michigan to stay on top while Virginia's win at Arizona moves the Cavaliers up to #2. VCU drops two of three in Puerto Rico, but the losses were Miami and Arkansas and the win was Houston, so the Rams only fall to #6. Hampton had the Terps dead to rights and let them off the hook and then lost two straight. Much as I love the Pirates, you can't lose three in a week and stay in the Top 10. And the inverse (or is it the converse) is true for UMBC. Towson's loss to Bucknell knocks the Tigers out but their win over Loyola is looking better and better and I wouldn't be surprised to see both teams back in before 2008. James Madison hasn't beaten anybody, but they haven't lost either. Old Dominion's stay will be short-lived with one loss to Clemson and UNC and Georgetown coming up. Here's how Big Stein had 'em.

1. Georgetown
Not even a pregame pep talk from Patrick Swayze could help the Wolverines beat the Hoyas.
2. Virginia
Cavaliers were white-hot from three-point range to start their game against Arizona, but since the game was in Tucson, it’s a dry heat.
3. Maryland
Greivis Vasquez now has 28 wins as a Terrapin, only 5,203 fewer than Hall of Fame jockey Jacinto Vasquez.
4. George Mason
World Ball was a huge success except for the Dayton team, which was unable to locate the country where the basket resides.
5. GW
Alert the national media, a Boston area sports team lost a game.
6. VCU
Phi Slamma Jamma, Tom Penders? I don’t think so. More like Lambda Lambda Lambda.
Three wins in one week, and for once, we’re not talking about the chess team.
8. Virginia Tech
Do Hokies eat turkey on Thanksgiving, or is that considered cannibalism?
9. James Madison
Over under for the Dukes’ game at VMI this week is higher than the projected attendance.
10. Old Dominion

Monarchs host North Carolina and Georgetown later this month. Funny, I didn’t know the Marquis de Sade was in the scheduling business.

Friday, November 16, 2007

"Nicotine + caffeine = protein"

Let's get the weekend started right with some great radio. No, I'm not talking about Aubrey Huff and Bubba the Love Sponge; I think the reaction to that appearance has been much more amusing than the show itself, though. Golfer John Daly has a new book out, and his 20-minute appearance on NPR's Fresh Air yesterday was highly entertaining. Biggest surprise: notorious hotel room-trasher Daly is a neat freak, a recovering compulsive bedmaker. Best line of the interview (about his diet regimen): "Nicotine and caffeine equal protein." I might just put this book on my Christmas list.

Hoops, hoops, hoops
Maryland wins their second straight squeaker at home against a theoretically inferior opponent. Northeastern went one better than Hampton and took the Terps to overtime, but free throws doomed the Huskies as they missed the front end of two one-and-ones with less than four minutes in regulation and could only convert one of three when trailing by three with five seconds left in overtime. And of course it was Greivis Vasquez who committed the foul on the attempted trey that sent Northeastern to the line. Vasquez made up for poor shooting (2-10) with 10 assists, two turnovers and six rebounds but he still makes some questionable choices at important moments in a game. James Gist was a stud on offense with 27 points, but Bambale Osby was the hero with 16 points, 13 boards, and six blocks. Anchoring the press, Osby forced the Huskies to back off of several two-on-one fast break opportunities in the second half. The Terps had better get their full-court pressure in gear by the time ACC season comes around because those guys will be able to finish breaks better than the Huskies.

Doesn't sound like I missed much by not seeing Georgetown's easy 74-52 win over Michigan last night. Anybody else think a football game between these two would be a little closer than that?

By the time I post this, VCU will likely be underway against Miami. Both teams are 2-0, but for some reason Glenn Consor called VCU's win over Houston an upset akin to Mercer beating USC and Gardner Webb over Kentucky. I guess Glenn missed the Rams' win over Duke in the NCAAs last year and is not aware that Eric Maynor is as good as any guard in the ACC. Get thee to a Bog Poll, Glenn!

In other Bog Poll team previews, I'm betting Virginia's two-game streak of scoring at least 90 points comes to an end at Arizona. Just like real estate sales, the key to George Mason staying undefeated when they host Dayton tomorrow night is location, location, location; visitors to Dayton generally attempt about half as many free throws as the Flyers. With Towson and Hampton losing this week, UMBC could move up if the Retrievers can continue their road rampage through the bottom of the A-10 tomorrow at Richmond. Virginia Tech is shakily standing pat on a win over Elon, but Old Dominion could very well knock them out if the Monarchs take out Toledo.

Switching quickly to the NBA, the Wizards look to win their third game in a row tonight against Minnesota after starting the season 0-5. Agent Zero went 3-8 from three-point range and 9-11 from the line in the team's last game; if he is rounding into form, the Wiz have a good chance to get back over .500 soon. Washington's next three opponents have a combined record of 11-15, and two of the three are home games.

Looks like a tough weekend for movies inspired by great novels. Robert Zemeckis, the innovator who brought us Back to the Future, Forrest Gump and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, has apparently missed the mark in applying the latest digital animation techniques to the 1300-year old story of Beowulf. I haven't seen it, but when you have a cast that includes John Malkovich, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, Crispin Glover (brilliantly cast as Grendel the evil troll), and Robin Wright Penn, you might want to reconsider going the cartoon route. Then again, it can't be any worse than what Disney did to the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Also falling short of its literary inspiration is Love in the Time of Cholera, from the acclaimed novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Not that I was rushing out to see this one anyway; I never could get through the book. Besides, if it's an erotic tour de force set in revolutionary-era Colombia, how can it hope to be successful with neither Salma Hayek nor Penelope Cruz on the screen?

I would rush to see No Country for Old Men (you know, were I not blessed with two wonderful children and all the delightful obligations thereof). The collaboration of Cormac McCarthy and the Coen Brothers has Baltimore Sun reviewer Michael Sragow invoking Sam Peckinpah and Norman Mailer. In a good way. Just don't expect to feel hopeful for the future of mankind after seeing this one.

Barry Bonds. If he's guilty, and I believe he is, it's a shame that he broke the home run record, but I don't think they should take it away from him. I think he should go to jail, but only because his personal trainer served time for contempt because he refused to testify. So Bonds should serve the same sentence and then go free. That seems like an appropriate punishment for lying to a grand jury about steroids. I mean, we're not talking about national security or murder here. Ground him and take away his iPhone for a month, but I don't see how a long jail sentence makes any sense.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Wednesday Whims

Kyle Boller will be the starting quarterback against the Browns this weekend because Steve McNair injured his nonthrowing shoulder. Based on how he played Sunday, that could be either his left or his right shoulder.

Washington claws its way out of the Southeast Division cellar. Actually the Wizards were pushed out by Miami, whose record fell to 1-6 last night. Weren't these two teams supposed to be fighting for the top of the division?

Bog Poll
Loyola beat American last night, 71-67, after trailing by 17 in the first half. The Greyhounds also fell behind 16-4 in their season opener at Towson. Somebody might want to make sure the clocks in the basketball office got set back an hour when they were supposed to.

Hampton pushed Maryland to the brink Monday night despite head coach Kevin Nickelberry's ejection in the first half for violating the NCAA's new emphasis on bench decorum. Even Terps radio announcer Chris Knoche, the former AU coach and a solid homer, thought the punishment was a little excessive. The hero of the game was Maryland point guard Greivis Vasques, who hit a late three-pointer and scored 10 of the Terps' last 11 points, but Vasquez' erratic play also kept Hampton close. Looks like there's a new sweetheart in Maryland fans' love/hate relationship.

In nonsports news, divers recovered the body of a man who was killed by a nine-foot alligator while fleeing from police after he burglarized a car on the Miccosukee Indian Reservation in Florida. Apparently the man dove into a lake and the divers had to had to search three times in two days to find the body. I guess my question is, did the divers know there was a killer alligator in the lake? Because I would consider that to be a pretty important factoid.

One of the guys who started Google is getting married. Anybody know how I can get some more information on this event?

Some guy named Peterson is suspected in the disappearance of his wife. Haven't we already heard this story?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Year of the MEAC?

Big Stein's Bog Poll is up; my votes are below. As I wrote on Saturday, Towson jumps into the poll with an impressive performance against Loyola, knocking the 'Hounds clean out of my Top 10. Richmond's brief, gallant, appearance last week was probably its last (losing to Norfolk State will do that to you). Hampton dispatches Tulsa and puches Maryland to the brink. VCU will have to prove itself worthy of #2 with three games this weekend in a tournament in Puerto Rico.

My biggest disparity with the voters is their inclusion of Old Dominion and American over Hampton and UMBC. I thought Old Dominion lost too much to graduation to get this much preseason recognition and American has shown nothing (but will have a chance to do so tonight at Loyola). Could be a big year for the MEAC, with Hampton looking strong, Morgan State coming on and Norfolk State beating Richmond.

1. Georgetown
As an exercise in building team unity, John Thompson has Hoyas sew their own Final Four banner. Jessie Sapp has a killer cross stitch and can really (wait for it … ) thread the needle.
2. VCU
Rams win opener against UMES, which actually stands for United Methodist Elementary School, but those kids ball like middle schoolers, yo.
3. Virginia
UVA beats UVM, avoiding prolonged exposure to harmful UVB rays that can have a negative affect on your RPI.
4. Maryland
Bad weekend for birds of prey facing University of Maryland teams.
5. George Mason
Will Thomas goes for 16 and 17 against Vermont, delighting those of us who gambled on him with a second round CAA Fantasy League draft pick.
6. GW
Virginia Tech transfer Wynton Witherspoon is mistakenly listed as Wynton Witherpoon on Do not Google this.
7. Hampton
Go ahead, make all your cute little Pirate jokes, but it’s Hampton that’ll be having the last laugh, mateys.
8. Towson
Pat Kennedy processed more transfer requests in the offseason than Lieutenant Jonathan Kendrick, Rifle Company Windward, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
9. Virginia Tech
Hokies defeat Elon, a team known as the Fightin’ Christians until 1999. Apparently university administrators found this punctuation to be offensive and changed the nickname to Phoenix.
10. UMBC
Retrievers excel at running down long rebounds. Unfortunately they drop them at the feet of their opponents and bark at them until they shoot again.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Bad to worse to worser

Monday Morning Quick Quiz
What's worse than watching your favorite football team embarrass itself on Monday Night Football?

Paying money to see it live.

That's right, yesterday was the annual pilgrimage to M&T Bank Stadium for the Fitzgerald men to bond over the thrilling atmosphere of Ravens' football. While I am unwilling to commit the time, money or emotion to become a season-ticket holder, I do enjoy taking the boys to see at least one game each year. We started this tradition two years ago, watching a relatively easy win over the Texans in an unremarkable season and continued it last year at a thrilling comeback over the Chargers to send the home team to 4-0. Those were good days.

Before the 2007 season began, I took a look at the home slate, compared it to the soccer, swimming and family outing schedules and quickly deduced that Cincinnati would be the game. Day game, division rival, reasonably good chance of winning, all the important criteria. So I called my local ticket broker, took some equity out of the house, and secured three lower level seats.

Even better, the boys had a few friends going the game, and we were invited to tailgate just a short walk from the stadium. Really, the setting could not have been better. Crisp, sunny day, pulled pork sandwiches, delightful seleciton of microbrews, free parking and plenty of room to toss the ball with the kids.

And then the game started. For the second straight week, Steve McNair displayed a Hall of Fame level of ineptitude. He had some help in the form of dropped passes, but he still gets the lion's share of the blame as far as I can see. If you chart the balls he throws, there is a wedge of emptiness emanating from McNair at its point that reaches the sideline about 12 yards downfield. Swing pass, quick slant, five-yard out, six-yard curl, flanker screen, that's about it. Nothing over the middle, nothing down the field, unless you count balls thrown five yards over the head of the trainers on the sideline.

And his physical erosion is having a karmic effect on the team as well. His two fumbles (one just slipped out of his hand) were bad plays, but he made a decent throw to Todd Heap in the end zone that got tipped for an interception. And when the kick return team let a short kick bounce at the 15, naturally the Bengals recovered.

The defense played like heroes, keeping the Bengals out of the end zone all day. Ed Reed absolutely destroyed Rudy Johnson on a key third down play at the goal line when the score was still close. Carson Palmer had a pretty good day at the Ravens' expense, but considering that both starting cornerbacks were out and a third got hurt during the game, it could have been a lot worse.

My eight year old summed it up with about five minutes left. "Can we please just go? I can't take any more of this fumble tragedy!"

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Rising Junior

The Doc and I took the boys to see a local rivalry game featuring Loyola at Towson last night. If I had paid for the tickets, I figured I could deduct the cost because these are Bog Poll eligible teams, but I should still be able to claim the mileage, no?

In the season opener for both teams, Loyola came in as the favorite. The Greyhounds were 18-13 last year and returned four starters, including All-MAAC guard Gerald Brown, who was the eighth leading scorer in the nation last season at 22.2 ppg. Brown came out wearing green socks pulled up to his knees, a great look if you are playing sweeper for Limerick F.C., but I don't see this trend catching on.

Brown transferred to Loyola from Providence and was joined in the starting lineup by Hassan Fofana, a 6-10 transfer from Maryland, and Omari Isreal, a 6-8 transfer from Notre Dame. With so many transfers in his lineup, it's no wonder that Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos was recently praised by Al Gore for his environmentally savvy commitment to recycling.

All the talk about Towson, on the other hand, centered around the question, "What will they do without Gary Neal?" Neal was the fifth leading scorer in the nation last year and is currently playing pro ball in Turkey where he is known as the "American Hedo Turkoglu." Towson coach Pat Kennedy has also gone green in his recruiting, bringing in 6-8 Junior Hairston from College of Charleston, and junior college players Vernon Carr and Tony Durant (who is not making nearly as much money as his little brother, Kevin).

With campuses only four miles apart, there was plenty of spirit from both sides. Several hundred Loyola students turned out in bright green T-shirts and did their best to go Cameron Crazy. Towson countered with its umpteen-time national champion dance team, who not only performed two numbers but also patrolled the lobby, soliciting donations in exchange for 8X10 glossy team photos. Advantage: Towson.

Brown took only ten seconds to jack up a three as the game got underway. He missed but was fouled and made two of three. Towson broke Loyola's fullcourt press easily but Fofana swatted the Tiger's shot and the Greyhounds appeared to be in control. Except that they didn't score a field goal for nearly nine minutes. Kind of reminded me of the Ravens. And the Wizards. And the Orioles. Maybe I should move to Boston.

Not that Towson was blowing it wide open. Most of the Tigers' points came off turnovers, breaking the Loyola press, or on offensive rebounds, but they clearly missed Neal in the halfcourt offense and could only build the lead to 11. By halftime, Loyola had closed to within 2, 31-29.

Loyola took another offensive hiatus to start the second period, and the Tigers stretched the lead to nine as Hairston began to assert himself on offense and defense. Patsos stomped, fumed and sweat through his suit like the Gary Williams protege that he is, and Loyola clawed back and took the lead. And then Hairston really took over. In a five-minute span, he found two teammates for open three-pointers, altered a Loyola layup attempt, grabbed three rebounds, one steal and tossed in two free throws. Towson 59, Loyola 49. The lead grew to 14 and then shrunk to four, but every time Towson needed a boost, Hairston stepped up. Final score 83-69. Final stat line for Hairston: 26 points on 10-15 shooting, 21 rebounds, three assists, three blocks, one steal. All together now: Gary Who?

For Loyola, Patsos has to hope this is a wakeup call. His team got outhustled all night. Brown finished 5-13 from the field but did lead his team with five assists and four steals. There were no bright spots for Fofana and Isreal, who combined for six points and eight rebounds. If the Greyhounds are going to compete in the MAAC, they'd better figure out how to beat a 1-3-1 zone.

For the Tigers, the wakeup call goes out to the CAA. Nothing will come easy for visitors to the Towson Center. At 6-8, 205, Hairston is quick in the paint with a nice array of lefty moves. Durant is a solid compliment inside and guards C.C. Williams, Rocky Coleman and Rodney Spruill are quick enough to force more bad decisions than peer pressure. Towson's conference rivals should also note that the Tigers were without Carr and forward Tommy Breaux, who is Hairston minus the offensive skills.

Bottom line for the Bog Poll? Towson in, Loyola out.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Wizards Wobble, Fall Down

At first glance, the Wizards' 87-85 loss to the Net last night doesn't look so bad. On the road, against one of the top teams in the conference, Washington had a chance to win, but Gilbert Arenas failed to shake his defender for a game-winning shot. Statistically, the game could not have been much closer, as neither team shot well, but some notable points could prove worrisome for Wizards' fans as the season progresses.

First, the Wiz are now 0-4, and two of the losses have come in close games. Second, Agent Zero's recovery from knee surgery is obviously not complete. He is an astonishing 3-24 from three- point range and has gotten to the free throw line only 40 times in four games.

Third, the Wizards' bench should also be called Agent Zero for what it contributes. Darius Songaila threw his body around and grabbed a few rebounds last night, but he doesn't scare you on offense. Nor does Roger Mason, who jacks a couple threes to little effect. Andray Blatche still looks young and tentative on the floor while Antonio Daniels seems to have aged more than enough to compensate for him. Looking at last night's box score, the Nets bench gave them 28 points and 17 rebounds in 93 minutes while the Wizards got 17 and 13 in 70.

Defensively, the Wizards are giving up four fewer points per game than last year, but their team scoring average is down 14 points. In the fourth quarter last night, the Nets scored 30, mostly from Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter, but with several nice plays by (beating a dead horse here) NJ reserves Bostjan Nachbar and Antoine Wright.

So, what's the good news? Umm, let's see ... Caron Butler was 5-5 from the line, so he seems to be regaining his form there. Gilbert had his best three-point shooting night of the season (Yes, he was 2-7, but I'm trying here). Songaila's six rebounds were a season high. Solicitation charges were dropped against Blatche this week. Finally, the Wiz get Denver at home tonight. Expect a cautiously enthusiastic crowd, but it could get ugly if Washington doesn't come out on top.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Life ... less

The last two Wednesday nights, the remote has settled on NBC for nearly two full episodes of "Life." Very pretentious title, don't you think? But I like the cereal and the board game (although I never saw the Eddie Murphy/Martin Lawrence movie) so I thought I would take a look at this show.

At first I thought it was a cop show, featuring Damian Lewis as the classic "Tough Guy with Issues" and his partner, Sarah Shahi, as "Hot Babe in Leather Coat." And this formula has worked for me from NYPD Blue all the way to Law and Order: Criminal Intent. But from the outset, Life's premise was stretched way too thin by making Lewis a cop restored to the force after serving time in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Wouldn't it be more realistic for him to get a huge cash settlement and then a show on Court TV? I mean, isn't he just a little worried that his colleagues don't really trust him?

Apparently not, so he spends lots of time trying to solve the bank job he went down for, ending each episode by drawing lines on the big flow chart in his basement that documents his investigation. Which has come to include his partner, whose father was on the SWAT team during the robbery. She is also a recovering alcoholic and speaks fluent Farsi, which really came in handy on last night's show, where our heroic duo saved a Persian man who was laundering drug money through an offshore account held by his lover, a single mother whose son kidnapped him and killed two of his friends and one off his own accomplices before being taken out by a sniper. The kidnappers almost got away, but the cops cracked the case by having the man's sister play a video game on his computer because she was the only one young enough to have the thumb dexterity to get to the tenth level and open the encrypted account records.

And every now and then Adam Arkin wandered onscreen with a buxom redhead who took him to a solar enegy farm, where they ran out of gas (oh the irony). This subplot confused me so much I thought I had accidently changed the channel, which is of course exactly what I should have done.

Obviously, I joined this show late, and either I keep missing the two-minute "Previously on Life" summaries that are de rigeur on serial dramas, or Life is pushing the envelope to daring extremes by not having them, but I don't think any amount of backfill would catch me up enough to my satisfaction.

I am all for television that makes you think, and quirky characters, but this is plot as jigsaw puzzle, one of those ridiculous thousand-piece numbers that pictures two polar bears on an iceberg, so that once you've put the eyes and noses together, you've got 992 pieces of white cardboard that fall into place only by happenstance.

"Yes," I hear the fans saying. "It's complicated. Just like life. Get it?"

I do get it. But nobody's life is that complicated. Parts of this show are very compelling. It's well shot, and the two leads are pretty good, although both are too pretty to be real police officers. But I think Adam Arkin seals it for me. After two episodes, I have no idea who he is or what he is doing on the show.

Looks like it's NBA doubleheaders on TNT for Wednesdays in the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Inaugural Poll

So the TV writers are on strike, and I support them because I like to write and I have strong Socialist leanings and anything that stops production of "Desperate Housewives" and makes the hiatus of "Back to You" a permanent situation has to be a good thing. Nevertheless, I will cross the digital picket line and post to my blog for the second time in two days which is something of a record around here, of late.

I ended yesterday's Ravens tirade with a throwaway line about college basketball, and, wouldn't you know it, today marks the appearance of the first Big Stein DC-MD-VA college basketball poll. As I am sure you will recall, this poll ranks the top 11 Division I men's college basketball programs in Washington, Maryland and Virginia, according to the votes of a group selected using very low admissions standards. Anyone can tell you who the top teams are nationally (UNC, Memphis, UCLA, Georgetown, etc), but not many people take the time to assess the impact of Morgan State's transfer class and how Richmond's slowdown offense makes the Spiders a tough out on the road.

Anyway, here are my votes for Week 1:

1. Georgetown
Roy Hibbert staying at Georgetown so he can graduate and go to medical school like his idol and role model, Dr. Julius Hibbert.
2. VCU
Nontraditional college basketball powers will henceforth be known as mid-Maynors.
3. Virginia
Sean Singletary hopes to be the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-doubletary.
4. Maryland
In honor of the start of college basketball season, College Park Mattress Discounters store holds a “Burn One, Get One Free” sale.
5. George Mason
Flights from Dulles to San Antonio are already sold out for the Final Four weekend.
6. GW
If the Firebirds took them to overtime, just imagine how they are going to struggle against the Corvettes and the Camaros.
7. Loyola
Jimmy Patsos counting on the emergence of Hassan Fofana, fana bobana, banana fana, fofana, fee, fi, momana, Fofana!
8. Hampton
Kevin Nickelberry is so confident of his team’s prospects he has already requested film exchange with North Carolina and UCLA for his first round NCAA game.
9. Richmond
Spiders celebrate season-opening win over Maine, lose to Memphis in the meantime.
10. Virginia Tech
Biggest question of the season is whether Coleman Collins will miss a dunk in the alumni game.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Ravens Rot

I have never seen a team that I was cheering for play a worse football game than the Ravens played last night. The Redskins' 38-9 loss to the Raiders in the Super Bowl has now officially been displaced. Considering that Pittsburgh was up 35-0 in the first half, this was beyond futility. The Ravens were so bad that Notre Dame is trying to get them on their schedule in Navy's slot.

The whole team was awful, but Steve McNair deserves special attention for his horrendous performance. As bad as his stats were (13-22, 63 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT, 2 fumbles), they don't tell the whole horrific story. He threw more balls in the dirt than a pitcher with two strikes on Barry Bonds. The one ball I remember him throwing downfield was a beautiful spiral into the chest of Pittsburgh defender James Harrison. Harrison also recovered McNair's fumble in the Raven's opening drive. Maybe Baltimore should trade for Harrison and convert him to wideout since he and McNair seem to have pretty effective chemistry. McNair was sacked six times, so obviously his protection was pretty bad, but he held the ball too long, threw way too many short passes, and got called for intentional grounding. He should have gotten called twice, but the officials must have been embarrassed for him. At one point, he completed passes on first and second down and the Ravens still faced third and two. When Brian Billick finally went to Kyle Boller, Boller's first pass sailed 10 yards past his intended receiver, who apparently forgot that pass plays over 15 yards were still in the gameplan.

So, it seems pretty clear that it's time to close the book on the McNair era in Baltimore. Yes, he was once a great QB, and last year, he was exactly what the Ravens needed. But he had three weeks of rest to heal and prepare for last night's game, and yet halfway through the first half he didn't look a deer in the headlights so much as a deer tied to the hood. Keeping him behind such a young offensive line is not just poor judgment, it borders on criminal negligence. Just ask Redskins fans how quicky Marc Brunell deteriorated.

And yet, Kyle Boller is not the answer either, which makes Boller's contract extension a few weeks ago completely mystifying. Maybe Baltimore is planning on putting together another defense like they had last year or during the Super Bowl season. That's really the only way this "plan" makes any sense.

Now, I am an optimist; I had the Ravens winning it all halfway through last season and stuck to that right up to their loss to the Colts in the playoffs. So let's put on the seriously purple-tinted shades for a minute. Let's say you win your next two at home against Cincinnati and Cleveland and manage to knock off San Diego (which really could happen unless they get smart and fire Norv Turner first). Forget about New England and Indianapolis, but then you are left with Miami, who stinks worse than the jack-o-lanterns still sitting on my front stoop, Seattle, who really never recovered from losing the Super Bowl, and finish with Pittsburgh, and don't tell me the Ravens won't be fired up for that one! See how easy this is? Now, you're 10-6 and marching into the playoffs when Peyton Manning and Tom Brady suffer a horrible accident while filming a Miller Lite All-Stars reunion commercial and suddenly it's all there for the taking.

Do I believe this will happen? Not a chance. I'm just waiting for college basketball to start.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Pigskin Perambulations

So how many times would the Giants have sacked Donovan McNabb if he were a white quarterback?

I don't know who was calling the Cardinals-Steelers game, but Seinfeld fans everywhere had to cringe a little when the announcer called Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt "the Master of his Domain."

Wow, if Tom Brady and Randy Moss were in elementary school together, all the other kids would complain that they never got the ball until finally the principal would declare a moratorium on all competitive sports at recess.

Anyway, almost a month ago, after the opening weekend, the AFC North was declared a dogfight between the Ravens and the Bengals, with Baltimore getting the nod because they had lost a close game on the road, and, if they could just limit the turnovers, no one in the division could stop them. The Browns were the worst team ever seen in the NFL, Brady Quinn would be starting in a matter of hours, but not before Romeo Crennel was fired. And Pittsburgh? No, that 34-7 win over Cleveland had to be discounted (you know, because the Browns couldn't win on a Friday night in Texas).

So, taking a look at the standings today, we find the Steelers in first with a 3-1 record and the highest rated offense and defense (in terms of scoring) in the division. The Browns are in second at 2-2, courtesy of an easy win at home against Baltimore over the weekend. Cleveland's 2-2 looks a lot better than the Ravens' 2-2, though, as Baltimore's frustrating, endless quest for offensive consistency becomes more urgent with the faltering of the defense for at least one quarter every game. And who is in last? Why, it's the Bengals! Led by Carson, Chad and TJ, the Bengals are just a Lance away from being able to form their own boy band, which is good because if they don't get their act together soon, it will be "Bye Bye Bye."

Last year, somewhere around midseason, I declared that the Ravens would go to the Super Bowl, and probably win it. It was an optimistic, but defensible, prediction, shredded by a superb performance by Peyton Manning and the Colts in the playoffs. You will hear no such predictions from me this year. At the start of the season, you could argue that they might be as good as they were last year: they could withstand the loss of Adalius Thomas, Willis McGahee was an upgrade over Jamal Lewis, Steve McNair would be better in his second year in Brian Billick's system, they always seem to draft players who are ready to make an impact quickly.

Four weeks later, the Ravens have suffered more injuries than Jaime Sommers and can only hope they don't bleed out before they get to their bye week. Jonathan Ogden might as well have retired in the offseason, McNair looks so fragile he has a special bubble-wrap seat on the team plane, and five (five!) of the team's receivers and tight ends showed up as "probable" on the injury report for this weekend's game at San Francisco. On defense, they clearly miss Trevor Pryce (whom I saw at Cheeburger Cheeburger this weekend. He was eating with his family, so we left him alone. Anybody trying to have a meal with three young children really doesn't need any additional distractions. I'm guessing he went for the Famous Pounder). The much-maligned Samari Rolle could be back at corner this weekend, news that falls into the "not good, not bad, just different" category. Still, the memory of a swaggering 2006 defense that seemed as likely to score as many of the offenses it faced is fading faster than Wayne Newton's odds to win "Dancing with the Stars."

Can they win the next three and get to the bye 5-2? Sure! Can they lose them? Absolutely! Can they arrive at December in contention for the playoffs only to be stomped by the Patriots and Colts? Don't see why not!

So do I have a prediction for Ravens' fans? You betcha! In the words of Clubber Lang, "Pain!"

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Movie Writes

"No film whose closing credits list a 'senior inferno artist' is likely to lull us with its tranquil charms, and 'The Kingdom' is a thumper of a movie, full of furious souls."

"It is no mean feat to make a boring film about Jesse James, but Andrew Dominik has pulled it off in style."

The above lines are the opening salvos in movie reviews penned in this week's New Yorker by the film critic Anthony Lane. They are also excellent illustrations of why I enjoy a good movie review as much as any written form. The New Yorkers is a weekly that tends to pile up around my house, and, unlike my neighbor, I don't read every word before disposing of old issues, but I make sure to get to anything by Lane and his colleague David Denby (and I thumb through to make sure I don't miss any of the cartoons, of course).

It doesn't matter that I will likely never see either of the above films. I have read far more reviews than I could ever see movies. I will read reviews of movies I have no intention of seeing, and I will read several different reviews of the same movie if I stumble upon them.

One of my favorite pulp novelists, Stephen Hunter, is a Pulitzer Prize winning film critic for the Washington Post. I also enjoyed his regular radio appearances on the Tony Kornheiser Show, although I generally cannot stand televised movie critics. So it must be about the writing.

And before I go any further, I have to mention Joe Bob Briggs, the king of the the drive-in movie reviews. I certainly can't explain him, I can barely defend him, but I have read way too much of his work to not include him in this post.

I have heard people say that they don't like to read movie reviews because they give away too much information. I long ago gave up trying to avoid reviews that would spoil any secret endings, a strategy that will forever be known as The Crying Game Gambit. Even if you know what's coming, a good movie can still be entertaining. Most movies are pretty predictable anyway, so it's more about the execution than just the suspense (The Usual Suspects would be the first exception that springs to mind). And the studios put out so much press material, it's pretty hard to escape.

So, let's wind this up with a little movie review of my own. The other night, the Doc and I watched Disturbia, an updated retelling of Hitchcock's Rear Window, with a little Silence of the Lambs and some Sex, Lies and Videotape swirled in, an frivolous dash of John Hughes' Pretty in Pink maybe and a tiny taste of Blair Witch Project. Very suspenseful, lots of cameras being jerked around, plenty of claustrophobic and voyeuristic atmosphere. Shia LeBeouf plays a teenager who should hate his parents for naming him Kale, but he can't because they are so cool, and, anyway, his dad dies in a sudden, violent car crash very early on. There are many moments of sudden violence but none of them seem gratuitous and there is very little gore for a plot involving a supposed serial killer. The acting is great, the plot is a little predictable but still satisfactory. With all the shadowy scenes and convulsive camera work, this one would have been fun to see in the theater. It won't change your life, but it has to better than three straight nights of Dancing with the Stars (now there's a show that needs a serial killer).

Oh, and about The Kingdom, which is where we started today ... I saw Jamie Foxx on Letterman and The Daily Show this week, and there is no way the movie can be as good as those 15 minutes of television. Each appearance was full of completely different material, even when they were talking about the movie, and each was equally hilarious. He still uses some of the affectations he tossed out on In Living Color, but you know what, they are still funny. Bill Bob says, "Check him out."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Is it Myanmar or your Burma?

I had a whole different topic in mind for today, and I may get to it later, but first I need to address an issue that has arisen in the media coverage of martial law and government crackdown on protests in a Southeast Asian nation of uncertain name and, for most of us anyway, even more uncertain location. Now, before you read any further, this is a very serious situation involving civil rights, religious persecution, and people willing to die for a cause, so, naturally, I am going to make some jokes about it.

This morning, reported on this story in Burma, said the name Burma in each of the first four paragraphs, and did not once mention Myanmar. said it took place in Myanmar, and the only mention of Burma came in a statement from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who said that the U.N. should send an envoy there. went with Burma, except that a sidebar labeled "About Burma" said that Burma is also known as Myanmar and stuck with that label for the rest of the blurb.

Like most people under the age of, let's say 50, my previous knowledge of this geographic conundrum comes from one J. Peterman on "Seinfeld." "You most likely know it as Myanmar, but it will always be Burma to me." Man, this is giving me a bigger headache than the whole Turin/Torino debate at the last Winter Olympics.

I say we settle this thing once and for all, right now. Burma implies a connection to Burma Shave, a product that harkens back to 1950's era American nostalgia and optimism. Myanmar could be a generic brand Mallomar or, more likely, a file-sharing system your kids are using to illegally trade the latest Fergie and Plain White Tees singles. Sure it's popular now, but once the FCC and the corporate overlords catch on, it'll end up sharing a room with Webvan and Against my better judgment as a closet subversive, I think I'll go with Burma.

Okay, so it's Burma, now where is this place? My frame of reference for world geography will forever be the map from Risk ("the game of world domination), so is Burma anywhere near Yakutsk, or is more in the Kamchatka neighborhood? I know, I know, it's in Southeast Asia, which means Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, etc., so at least we have a solid track record of military success should we need to intervene in this crisis.

What did we learn at Fitzfacts today? Personally, I learned that there is no such breed of dog as the Burmese Mountain Dog. It's a Bernese Mountain Dog and is native to Switzerland, which has had the same name, location, and geographic borders for nearly 200 years.

Tomorrow: My Favorite Movie Critics

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Near Occasion of Cardinal Sin

Okay, already a day late on the start to the week, so let's begin with a nice and easy warmup on the home team Baltimore Ravens. Nothing too strenuous, wouldn't want to pull anything.

Trailing Baltimore 20-6 in the third quarter, Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt replaces second-year starter Matt Leinart with former NFL MVP Kurt Warner. Warner responds by leading his team to three scoring drives and a 23-23 tie with 3:43 to play in the game. Leinart uses his sideline time wisely as the cameras catch him fixing his hair just so in front of the cooling fans. Doesn't he know he's supposed to put on a baseball cap and headset and grab a clipboard?

Veteran coach and offensive genius Brian Billick counters Whisenhunt's move by inserting Kyle Boller into the game for the Ravens' first possession of the fourth quarter. Weren't expecting that, were you? Of course not. Only a master of gamesmanship and sports psychology could understand the logic of removing a QB who had completed 20-27 passes for one touchdown and no interceptions. But genius cannot be explained and often cannot be appreciated.

Boller quickly makes two bad throws and the Ravens' offense heads back to the bench after a three and out. His second effort starts out better with a couple long passes to get into field goal range, but consecutive sacks force the Ravens to punt. Finally, on Baltimore's last possession, the home team drives back into field goal range again (thanks in large part to an unnecessary roughness penalty on the Cardinals), and ever-steady Matt Stover boots the gamewinner home.

This might be a good time to point out that, for all his flaws, Steve McNair is supposed to be a great clutch player. He's the guy who led the final scoring drive against San Diego last season, to name one. Over and over, we hear how calm and poised he is. I can almost understand Billick's decision to give Boller a series or two to give McNair a rest and to show some appreciation for the job Boller did last week as the starter. But once the Cardinals rolled through the defense like Kramer at the dojo, you might want to reconsider.

The quarterback shuffles were fun and distracting, but the real story of this game and season is the Ravens' defense. For two straight weeks, we have seen fourth quarter collapses just when this unit should come up with a big sack or turnover to turn out the lights. Rex Ryan's rep as a defensive guru might start to ring as hollow as Billick's offensive field cred. Except that he's not exactly firing the same caliber weapon he was last season.

Some have pointed out the injury to Trevor Pryce, but the simple fact is that Baltimore misses Adalius Thomas more than most people seem willing to admit. Thomas was the best player on the team last year and while Ed Reed can make some great plays and Ray Lewis is the emotional leader, nobody on this defense has the opposing offensive coordinator really worried the way Thomas did last year.

On the bright side, the Ravens are winning the games they are supposed to win. Yamon Figurs jumped right in for BJ Sams with a touchdown return. But what looked like a break in the schedule suddenly seems more stressful than Baltimore fans might have expected. Road games at Cleveland and San Francisco will show whether the Ravens are ready to be contenders or just really good spoilers.

Monday, September 17, 2007

That's So Ravens

For 30 minutes yesterday, the second Kyle Boller era sparkled brighter than the sunshine glinting off the waters of Baltimore's Inner Harbor. The halftime score (17-3) and Boller's line (17-24, 125 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 sacks, 0 penalties, 0 interceptions) read as if Brian Billick had written them himself. The Ravens' defense had its foot on the throat of the Jets' offense with two sacks of New York's rookie quarterback and numerous plays in the offensive backfield.

But instead of crushing the visitors' windpipe in the third, Baltimore toyed with its prey, and the emotions of its fans. The conservative passing game sputtered, and the defense went from poundcake to pattycake. Still, a field goal at the start of the fourth built the lead to 20-3, normally more than enough cushion for football fans to rest comfortably. This is the perfect scenario for lining up your power back behind your fullback and your two tight ends and crushing the spirit of your opposition as the clock ticks away. Back in the 1980s, the Redskins called this the Riggo drill although John Riggins said he never liked it much. Probably because he spent a lot of Mondays in traction.

Except that the Ravens let Jamal Lewis go to the Browns in the offseason, and his replacement, Willis McGahee, waits for holes to open rather than lowering his shoulder and knocking the defense back for a few extra yards. Not that I'd rather have Lewis. McGahee rushed for 97 yards and showed his versatility catching a swing pass for Baltimore's second touchdown. But the injury to Jonathan Ogden and the resulting youth of the offensive line showed that this group is not quite ready to close out a game. So instead, the Jets scored 10 points on their first two possessions of the final period and had Ravens' fans holding their breath until Ray Lewis intercepted a Kellen Clemens pass in the end zone with about a minute to play.

I attended a game much like this one last season where the Ravens scored quickly and built a lead against the Bengals. The game should have been over midway through the third but some misplays and clock mismanagement and a sudden resurrection of Cincinnati's offense left fans grumbling as they filed out.

So, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Take the win, enjoy the solid, controlled performance by Boller, the timely defense, and hope that McGahee and the offensive line are more in sync as the season goes on. Forget about the Ravens being in the same class as the Patriots and the Colts for now, though. Fortunately, the schedule breaks nicely for a team that is still getting its act together. With any luck, the Ravens roll into the bye week with only two losses and get rested for a visit to Pittsburgh, a home rematch with Cincy and the San Diego, New England, and Indy troika of terror.

Me, I'm hoping we'll have a bona fide quarterback controversy by then.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Back to School, Back to Blog

The door accordions shut, the school bus pulls away, and summer is over. Baseball, swim team, basketball camp, day camp, Camp Invention, two weeks at the beach - done. Sunscreen, snow balls, mini golf, lemonade stands, Orioles Dugout Club, Ravens training camp - over. Pack the new school supplies in the new backpacks, fill out the emergency medical contact and early dismissal forms, fix a couple lunches, and off they go. It's a long way from that first anxious day at the bus stop a few years ago, and middle school is still a year away, so, aside from a minor crisis involving a defective three-ring binder, Day One is a pretty smooth affair.

So, where does that leave FitzFacts? Well, certainly without any excuses. Step one is remembering the password that hasn't been used in almost three months. Okay, good. Now, what's big in the news? Presidential campaign? Way too early for me, but, naturally, I'm pulling for the Irish guy, Obama.

President Bush visited New Orleans on the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Did he also stop by Trent Lott's house? You know, the one that Senator Lott was supposed to rebuild bigger and better? And where is Mike "Heckuva job, Brownie" Brown these days? Ah, here's the answer, buried in the "A" section of the Washington Post. A "disaster preparedness consultant?" (In my best Jon Stewart voice) So you preside over the agency that horribly mismanaged the worst natural disaster in American history and now you make money by what? Reciting everything that you did wrong? Hope that gig pays by the hour. (Alternate punchline: right up there with the Michael Jackson babysitting service and OJ Simpson, marriage counselor).

More politics. Idaho Senator Larry Craig wants everyone to know that, despite trying to hide his arrest for disorderly conduct in a Minneapolis airport restroom, he is not gay and further, has never been gay. And here I thought his gayness had been successfully treated and was in remission.

Okay, enough heavy world news. Let's turn to the lighthearted world of sports, where the Orioles have lost eight in a row. I flipped over to the game last night just as the Camden Yards crowd rose to its collective feet, cheering for Danys Baez to get the third strike on Tampa Bay's Delmon Young and end the game and the losing streak. Of course, Upton singled, Delmon Young walked on a 3-2 pitch, and the next batter singled to drive in the tying run. I didn't even watch the rest of the inning, let alone the game. This morning, for about the fifth day in a row, I tried to explain to my older son that the Orioles are looking ahead to next year and trying a lot of new players. Pretty tough argument to make when veterans like Baez, Miguel Tejada and Melvin Mora play a big part in blowing the game. has been purchased, but, as yet is not an active page.

Countdown to Ravens is almost under 10 days.