Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Super Marketing

Okay, after yesterday's post, I'm sure everybody is ready to lighten up a bit. I know I am. So, big game this weekend, but as Duane Thomas said, "If it's such a big game, why do they play it every year?"

When did the Super Bowl become such a major megacelebration? As usual, I am way behind on this one. When I was in college, twenty years ago. I worked in the office responsible for the fundraising phonathons for the Athletic Department, the ones that you've screened and dodged ever since you got Caller ID. Sunday nights were always considered great for catching people at home, but my boss made sure that we didn't schedule anything for Super Bowl Sunday. I remember wondering what the big deal was.

I think that was the same year the Giants beat the Broncos (maybe the greatest New York sports year, evah, with the Mets winning the World Series and the Islanders beating the Caps in a four-overtime playoff game). One of my roommates was actually angry at me when I told him I hadn't watched the game. Actually, I did watch it, I just wanted to annoy him, but I was taken aback by his vehement reaction.

This was two years after Apple's "1984" commercial for its new Macintosh computer, which most experts and blowhards point to as the beginning of the rise of the Super Bowl commercial era. In 1986, Refrigerator Perry used his Super Bowl fame to become the Peyton Manning of his time, appearing in a multitude of national TV spots. And in 1988, a reporter at Media Day asked one of the Denver Broncos, "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?" All of these nuggets apparently combined into a large boulder that began rolling downhill, and we have all fled its path of destruction, heading straight for the nachos and chicken wing platters.

So who do you like this weekend, Colts or Bears? Good guys in white hats or black-helmed Monsters of the Midway? All-American, milk-drinking, commercial-filming Super Manning or the antihero, Gross Man? The coach with the ordinary first name and funny last name, or the one with the funny first name and ordinary last name? (Have I mentioned that both coaches are black? Apparently, that's required by Internet publishing law. Great article this week about how that same circumstance went virtually unnoticed when Al Attles' Golden State Warriors swept K.C. Jones' Washington Bullets in 1975). Anyway, like I was saying, dome-stadium, offensive juggernaut or snowy, bare-armed, hard-knock defense?

Me, I'm going with the Bears. The Colts are favored, always a reason to pick against them. After living here for 12 years, some of the Baltimorean hatred of the Team That Left in the Middle of the Night has rubbed off on me. There's not much else to hate about Indianapolis, really, but it is my least favorite American -polis, well behind Minneapolis, MN, and Coraopolis, PA, home of the fabulous Knotty Pine Diner. The rest of Indy is similarly unoffensive - the Indy 500, the NCAA headquarters, ummm, that's it, right?

But, what's not to love about the Bears? The defense, the tradition, Papa Bear Halas, "Brian's Song" (always the original, never, ever, ever the remake), Da Bears, Urlacher (even the name is right out of central casting). And of course, "The Super Bowl Shuffle." There are so many versions of this beautifully awful classic available online that I'm not even going to bother posting a link. Not one, but two Saturday Night Live spoofs. The rapping and dancing of the all-star cast of Jim McMahon, Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, et. al., has held up just horribly over time. I could watch it again and again.

Alright, in case I forget: Bears 23, Colts 17.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

RIP, Barbaro

Predictably and deservedly, the death of Barbaro has received extensive news coverage in the last 24 hours. Here in horse-mad Maryland, it was the top story on the front page of today's Baltimore Sun, and the subject of another article and two columns in the Sports section. I won't attempt to add my voice to the chorus that has praised and mourned a champion whose destiny was so suddenly and terribly altered last spring. I am sure there are at least dozens of people more qualified to tell that story.

What I would like to do is address the question raised by some people since Barbaro first suffered his injury at the Preakness Stakes. Why all this fuss about a horse? Right after the Preakness, it seemed that every news article or radio update was inevitably met with a letter to the editor or an abrasive caller questioning why such a big deal was being made about Barbaro. These were probably the same people who wondered why ESPN named Secretariat one of the best 100 American athletes of the 20th century. I guess these folks never read William Nack's great tribute, "Pure Heart," or Laura Hillenbrand's "Seabiscuit," and I would be willing to bet that they have never seen a horse race up close.

You have to go to the track, watch the horses being saddled in the paddock, see them strut, saunter and stomp through the post parade. And then you have to stand on the rail, near the finish line. Pick a long race, so they pass you twice, and you can feel the energy of the crowd surge behind you as they come down the stretch. You don't even have to go to a big race, just pick an average track day, because the drama is the same to the participants, just as the last out in a Little League game is the same for the players as the seventh game of the World Series. If you do all those things and still come away unimpressed, well, God bless you, and I sure hope you have found a passion somewhere else in your life.

Not that horses are a great passion of mine; I'm not even a close second in my own family. That honor goes to the Doc, who was a competitive equestrienne from childhood through college. Six years ago, she realized a lifelong dream and bought a horse, Egyptian Summer, who she would ride every day if she had the time. A few years back, she did go to the barn every day when Egypt had a nasty bout with laminitis, the same condition that finally felled Barbaro. Even though Egypt hadn't suffered the multiple leg fractures like Barbaro, our vet still cautioned that recovery was doubtful, but the Doc tended to her daily, for weeks going on months, and fortunately the leg healed.

My grandparents on my father's side were also great horse lovers, more as aficionados than riders, though. Their two-week trip to Saratoga for the thoroughbred racing season was an annual summer highlight. One of my earliest memories of them is a picture of my grandmother standing next to a racehorse with my grandfather's face pasted over that of the jockey sitting astride his mount. This pre-Photoshop alteration so tickled them that a lifesize blowup of it hung in their garage.

For years, they would come down from New York for a big family and friends outing to the International, a turf race in Laurel, Maryland, that featured horses from around the world. They would read the racing form and comment on this horse's sire or that one's dam and races they had won or lost. They'd ask you what you thought about the colors or the names and maybe stake you to a $2 bet on your favorite.

Now for the tough part. Those are fond memories for me, but as we learn on days like yesterday, life is never going to be all glory and roses in the winner's circle. Gambling is a large part of horse racing, and much as I'd prefer otherwise, I cannot exclude it from my reminisce because gambling was one of the addictions that plagued my father and brought him to an early death. Without going into more detail, I think it's easy to see how there are more than a few sides to this story for me. So how do you handle a piece of your personal history so confluent with joy and pain?

Well, for starters, knowing the hereditary nature of addiction, you don't make a habit out of going to the track. Nor do you open up an Internet gambling account or make room in your various sports obsessions for point spreads and money lines. But if you allow yourself to continue to enjoy the races the way you did when you were a kid, you can add more good memories to the scale, and let them meld with the old ones to outweigh the bad eventually.

For the last few years, part of our family's end-of-summer ritual is a day at the Maryland State Fair. Sometime between the farm animal exhibits, the simultaneously sweet, salty, and greasy food, and the overpriced thrill rides of dubious safety, we take an hour or so to sit in the grandstand at the race track. Horses that we will never see on TV on a Saturday in May take to the track, and after the Doc's keen appraisal and the boys' color and name analysis, I put down a few bets. Everybody has some lunch, and we watch at least one race at ground level, right by the finish.

And every spring, I watch the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, just as excited as everyone else to see a Triple Crown contender emerge. And when greatness like Barbaro's falls victim to fate, I mourn.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Super Poll

Happy Super Bowl week, everybody! Seriously , when is the federal government going to make it official and declare the Monday after Super Bowl Sunday a national holiday? We could call it Vice Recovery Monday or Sleepitoffday. There could be sales and everything, just like Memorial Day and Presidents' Day, which honor, you know, something. Anyway, today is just another Monday here at FitzFacts, so here is your local hoops Top 10:

1. VCU
“Trailer for sale or rent, rooms to let, fifty cents. No phone, no pool no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes.”
2. Georgetown
Hoyas beat Cincinnati. Shockingly, no Bengals are arrested.
3. Virginia Tech
Seth Greenberg implores Blacksburg community for better Tech support, gets voice mail.
4. GW
Colonials take first place in A-10 with win at Rhode Island. Karl Hobbs praises team bus driver for “overachieving” on quick post-game drive to the airport.
5. Virginia
J.R. Reynolds harder to defend than George Bush’s Iraq policy.
6. Maryland
End of Terps’ two-game losing streak coincides with CBS’ decision to cancel “Armed and Famous.” Coincidence? Umm, yes, that’s why I said coincides.
7. Old Dominion
Monarchs put together their fifth two-game win streak of the season. Two more and they can get a free latte at Starbucks.
8. George Mason
Patriots saving themselves for March.
9. Loyola
Greyhounds whip winless Iona for the second time this season. Also steal the Gaels’ lunch money and dip their pigtails in ink when the referees are not looking. 10. American
Welcome back to the Top 10, AU Eagles! Now, about that fifth place in the Patriot League…

Thursday, January 25, 2007

What a difference ...

So, it turns out that yesterday was the one-year anniversary of this blog. In honor of the occasion I have added an Atom feed button over there to your right, just above the Google search box. This will enable you to subscribe to FitzFacts and receive new content on your newsreader. At least, I think that is what it will do (remember, this is being written by a guy who has a hi-fi, but neither hi-def nor wi-fi).

I hope to make some other changes and updates next week or soon after. In the meantime, I looked back at the last year and decided to post links to some of my favorites. So if you have a lot of time on your hands, enjoy!

Getting started

My First Movie Review

Winter Olympics Preview



Pinewood Derby

George Mason Basketball

American Idol

A Not So Shaggy Dog Story

Duke Lacrosse

Cereal Polygamy

Father's Day

Sept. 11

Playing Pickup

Poll #1

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Suns Shine, Wizards Whipped

Well, I found myself all alone in the basement with the Wizards once the Suns went up 41-23 in the first quarter last night. Not even the dog wanted to watch as the rest of the family abandoned me for Randy, Paula and Simon. Just me and several baskets of clean laundry to fold - an activity that can be quite therapeutic when you are watching your favorite team get the Charlie Watts treatment.

Actually, that's not quite fair. The Doc did wander down at one point, around halftime. Coincidentally, at that moment, some guy named Sundance was wowing the Idol judges. And then we switched back to the game and watched the Suns dance all over the Wiz.

Yup, Phoenix really showed Washington what an aberration the Wizards' win in Arizona was. They made six three-pointers in the first quarter and stretched the lead as high as 29 in the second. The Wizards, meanwhile, got off to a slow start, especially Gilbert Arenas, who missed six of his first seven shots. He then made his next four, including two treys, but at the half, the Suns led 76-51 and the only suspense was whether they could score 150.

Caron Butler led a third quarter effort with two powerful dunks bracketing a three point play that got the home crowd riled up and the Wizards within 15, but two quick Phoenix baskets by Shawn Marion quashed any hope of a comeback. In the fourth, it was Antonio Daniels who sparked the Wiz to cut the margin to 13, but again the Suns calmly executed their passing offense to perfection. In some games, teams make a big comeback, only to run out of time at the end. This was not one of those games. You got the impression that Phoenix would have turned back every Washington rally for the rest of the week.

Steve Nash's two MVP awards have correctly bestowed the credit where it is due. Amare Stoudamire was in foul trouble, personal and technical, that limited his minutes, and while Marion and Leandro Barbosa are marvelous basketball players, Nash puts this team way, way over the top. He is never hurried, never panicked, the ball goes exactly where he wants it to go, and he rarely chooses to put it in the wrong hands. He doesn't scare you as a defender, but he puts pressure on your offense to score because you know he is coming to get his two or three at the other end after your team is finished. A British soccer coach I know once described his own diminutive star player as a "wee magic man," and it was this thought that kept coming back to me as Nash and the ball would disappear into a crowd of players and the ball would reappear in the hands of a wide open Sun for an easy bucket.

So,the Wizards reign as Eastern Conference leaders ended quietly. They have the chance to seize it right back with home-and-home against Detroit and a trip to Boston coming up. For no good reason at all, I like their chances.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Tough Choices

Uh-oh, worlds colliding tonight. Just four days after winning their biggest game of the year, the Wizards meet the Phoenix Suns tonight at 7:00. We'll be rushing home from swimming to catch the tipoff, but what's this - American Idol in Memphis at 8:00. Actually, this is an easy one for me; I'd never stay up past midnight to watch an AI episode. But there appears to be a strong Idol sentiment, which may find me and my younger son watching the Wiz in the basement, and catching AI on tape tomorrow.

(We interrupt this blog entry for the following Tony Kornheiser Radio update. TK will be back on the air in a few weeks. Better get the old email machine warmed up.)

Okay, the game and AI should wrap up around 9:00, the kids go to bed, so what should we watch to tide us over until "Dirt" comes on F/X at 10:00? Auburn-Alabama, nah, maybe if it was football season ... "Sex and the City" reruns on TNT, let's hope the Doc doesn't notice that .... "Devil's Pond" starring Tara Reid as a newlywed whose husband is plotting to kill her, sounds like a great comedy, perfect casting, but it's billed as a drama on Lifetime, so no dice.

(By the way, I am really excited about TK's return. It's pathetic, I know, but I am even using his parenthetical writing device)

What? The State of the Union? Seriously? Come on, do I have to? Can't I just watch the highlights on "The Daily Show" tomorrow? Because the preview that Jon Stewart did last night was hilarious. I guess I would watch the State of the Union to win a bet, but if somebody calls while it's on, I'm grabbing the phone. Even if it's the old alma mater looking for an annual gift, I am talking that guy's ear off. Better yet, one of those long, consumer product surveys. "On a scale of 1-10, how would I rate the fabric softener choices at my grocery store?" Wow, that is a tough one, let me see...

Look, it's not that I don't like politics or George W. Bush; well, actually I don't care for either, but that's not why I won't watch it. I was never a big Ronald Reagan fan, but at least he knew how to hold an audience. I'll catch the analysis on NPR tomorrow, maybe a little FOX news to balance that out, but something tells me I'll be more entertained, and better informed, by "Dog, the Bounty Hunter." (9:00 on A&E)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Hoops Junkie

Over the weekend, I watched one entire college basketball game live and most of three on television. I also watched both Wizards games, coached a practice for one son's team and a game for the other's. And I played in pickup games two nights last week. They say the first step in dealing with an addiction is acknowledging that you have a problem.

"Hi, my name is Bill, and I am a basketball addict."

"Hi, Bill."

Not to live in denial, but I think it's fair to blame
Big Stein's Bog Poll for at least part of this. None of the college games I saw this weekend involved GW, but all had at least one poll-eligible team playing.

Saturday afternoon, the whole family headed to the Towson Center for the Tigers' tilt with UNC Wilmington. It was the third visit for me and the boys, the first for the Doc. Our first two trips came on weeknights after swimming, but a few of our sons' friends were ballboys Saturday, so we thought we would go for moral support. The team UNCW put on the floor was not even close to the squad
that went up 18 on GW in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last spring. They had some big inside players but they couldn't handle Gary Neal or the backside lobs that netted a couple breathtaking dunks for Tommy Breaux and less exciting, but equally effective, layups for Dennard Abraham. Pat Kennedy was trying different combinations than we had seen earlier in the season, and it was working well enough on this day. The Tigers stretched a six-point halftime lead to as many as 15 before finishing with a comfortable 75-61 win.

There was more Colonial Athletic Association action after dinner when I clicked on the VCU-ODU game, a ferocious contest that made me rethink my position that Towson has the talent to contend in the CAA. Maybe it was because the teams are higher up in the standings or the schools are traditional geographic rivals, but the atmosphere seemed far more intense than what we had seen earlier in the day. ODU led at halftime, but the Rams stormed back after the intermission, led by Eric Maynor, who had 16 of his team-high 23 in the second period. He was also the high point man in VCU's win at Towson that we saw, but the Rams have had five different players lead them in scoring this season, one of the reasons I am so high on them. Old Dominion obviously has the talent to win the CAA - they beat Georgetown at McDonough in November - but have struggled otherwise on the road.

Sunday was ACC day, sandwiched around some tasty football games of course. In the opener, Wake Forest at Virginia, the Cavs' JR Reynolds was smoking like RJ Reynolds as he hibachied the Demon Deacons for a career-high 40 points. UVA needed every one of them because Sean Singletary played more like Mike Singletary, picking up four fouls in 28 minutes. Wake seems to have made itself at home in the ACC cellar but freshmen Ishmael Smith and Jamie Skeen show a promising future.

The nightcap featured Maryland at Virginia Tech, tipping off at about the same time the Patriots set the stage for the biggest comeback in playoff history. With the snowstorm in Blacksburg threatening to hold down attendance, Tech opened the doors to its student body, and Cassell Coliseum rocked all game long. The players rocked, too, and bumped, hacked, and fought every play as hard as the the guys on the gridiron in Indianapolis. After a few first half lead changes, the Doc remarked presciently, "It's going to be like this the whole game, isn't it?" Then she wisely fell asleep. And it did seesaw back and forth for the next hour. Maryland was never able to stop Tech's penetration and while James Gist and and Ekene Ibekwe are wonderful athletes, the Terps needed more minutes for Bambale Osby, whose rugged frame was better suited to this game. They also needed better than 9-25 shooting from DJ Strawberry and Mike Jones, especially in overtime when they converted only one field goal. Despite rallying from an eight-point second half deficit, the Terps fell short in OT, 67-64, and suddenly, a team that looked ready to challenge North Carolina in December can barely catch a glimpse of the Tarheels (and BC) in the ACC standings.

So how did all this affect my poll (it is Monday, after all)? Well, Tech lost at Florida State before beating Maryland, so they had to fall out of first. Up comes VCU. Let's see if they can last. And Georgetown won two on the road, so they bypass Tech as well. GW beat the Hokies head-to-head, but that was a long time ago, and Tech's more recent history keeps them a hair higher than the Colonials despite two GW wins. Maryland's two ACC road losses sends them down two spots, just a smidge ahead of UVA. George Mason is a bit further back at #7 but on the come, as is #8 Loyola, but ODU and William and Mary are just filling seats like Kramer at the Tony Awards at this point. Here's the whole schmear:

1. VCU
Rams coach Anthony Grant is the most popular Grant in Richmond since Ulysses S. Grant, which isn’t saying much.
2. Georgetown
Hoyas prefer slow tempo, don’t even use EZ Pass on their successful two-game road trip through New Jersey.
3. Virginia Tech
Hokies can handle Duke, UNC and Maryland, but they can’t handle the pressure of being Number One in the Bog Poll. Seth Greenberg no longer speaking to Big Stein. 4. GW
Colonials beat Charlotte, but instead of game coverage, Washington Post begins a five-part series on Karl Hobbs’ hatred of puppies.
5. Maryland
After losing at Virginia Tech, Gary Williams is overheard asking Maryland’s SID, “When do we get to play Wake Forest?”
6. Virginia
J.R. Reynolds shouts “Bog Poll votes!” as he releases each shot on his way to a career-high 40 points against Wake Forest.
7. George Mason
Patriots win fifth in a row against Northeastern despite rumors that the Huskies had brought in some guy named Vinatieri.
8. Loyola
Greyhounds beat St. Peter’s and Rider, making Poll teams 4-0 against New Jersey teams this week. Insert New Jersey joke here.
9. Old Dominion
Top Ten elimination game this Wednesday when the Monarchs host William and Mary should open the door for Towson.
10. William and Mary
Tribe coach Tony Shaver announces that he has formed an “exploratory committee” on how to break a four-game losing streak.

Playoff Pleather

Oh, what a weekend! If I were a radio talk show host, I would say that I don't know if we are going to have time to cover everything that happened. Especially when you throw in the two-hour, one inch of snow, school delay this morning.

Let's start with the NFL. For a while in the first game, I thought I was watching a snowy rerun of the Ravens-Colts game the week before. Then I guess somebody told the teams they were allowed to score touchdowns, and the Bears listened a little better than the Saints. Pretty impressive watching Chicago run Thomas Jones eight straight times for the first TD of the day late in the first half, but equally impressive seeing Drew Brees march his team right back down the field to answer.

Reggie Bush strutted his stuff just a little too much for my liking when he turned to taunt the Bears' defense at the end of his fabulous 88-yard touchdown catch and run in the beginning of the third. And his flip into the end zone reminded me of the showy Superman TD dive he took just over a year ago against Texas in the Rose Bowl. His opponent got the last laugh in that game and this one as well.

The Saints wisely stacked their defense against the run in the second half and Chicago QB Rex Grossman failed to take advantage, going two-for-eight, until he caught fire late in the third period and completed four straight to put the Bears in the end zone and up by nine. The defense took over from there, forcing a fumble, an interception and two turnovers on downs. Thus endeth the Saints' magical journey.

Game Two gave CBS announcer Jim Nantz almost more drama than he could handle. I won't rehash the details, but when Peyton Manning broke the huddle to start the Colts' final drive, Nantz intoned, "This drive could change Peyton Manning's life," as if we hadn't been listening to the proclamations of every other pigskinhead for the last two weeks. Not much to say about Manning other than he rallied his team to the biggest comeback in playoff history and delivered in the clutch.

So the games were fun even if they didn't exactly stick to Hollywood studio scripts. The Saints couldn't continue to heal their battered and abandoned hometown, and the winning Colts' score wasn't Manning's or Adam Vinatieri's but Joseph Addai's. For me the greatest drama was whether Bill Belichik's trademark cutoff sweatshrt would survive. The way he kept clutching at the collar, I thought he was going to rip it right down the middle (okay, substitute hoped for thought, to make that last sentence more accurate).

So, who's ready for two weeks of mind-numbing Super Bowl overcoverage? As I wrote earlier, we got a dusting of snow yesterday and more is supposed to be on the way later in the week, which sets up two of my most hated media phenomena: local news team snow hype and Super Bowl mania.

The matchup is almost perfect for the media machines. The white-hatted heroes led by their heroic quarterback versus one of the most venerable franchises in NFL history, personified by the All-Pro middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. Seriously, what's the over-under on Dick Butkus references for the next two weeks, about a billion? Which is also the number of emails Bill Simmons is going to receive this week.

Next up, college basketball, including this week's Top 10 Poll.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Weekend Warmup

Okay, let's start with the Colonials today. GW's solid, not spectacular, 63-58 win at Richmond the other night sets up a pretty good matchup tomorrow when the Charlotte 49ers return to the site of their magnificent meltdown last March. Charlotte forward Leemire Goldwire, whose complete loss of composure pulled the nails out of the coffin in which his team had all but buried GW, will certainly get a warm greeting from the Smith Center crowd. The Colonials are now 12-4 with only one quality win - against Virginia Tech - but no bad losses. Charlotte, to toss out the first cliche of the day, is better than its 8-8 record. The 49ers' schedule is sprinkled with names from big conferences and few real dogs, but they are only 2-2 in the decidedly mediocre Atlantic 10. Like GW, Charlotte relies on a veteran backcourt - Goldwire and big guard/small forward De'Angelo Alexander - that is proficient from short and long range, and a wiry 6-9 forward, senior E.J. Drayton. If the Colonials can neutralize the 49ers' emotional advantage, this should be a win for the home team and a statement that they belong closer to the top than the middle of the league, and Big Stein thinks they could jump to Number One. By the way, Cheyenne Moore's numbers through ten games (11.4 mpg, 4.6 ppg, 2.0 rpg, .400 3PFG%) show me a player who is slowly coming along and fitting in, although eyewitness reports cite a major need for improvement on defense. I still see his progress as the key to this season's success.

Much more on the line for the Wizards tonight as they try to hold onto first place in the Southeast Division against the second place Orlando Magic. The Knicks finally forced Washington to find someone other than Gilbert Arenas to hit a game winner the other night, and the Wiz made it look easy with a couple drives, kicks and dishes that found Caron Butler wide open for a dunk. Still, they'll need big presence from Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas to keep Dwight Howard from going wild in the paint tonight. With Cleveland at Denver later, the Wizards could wake up tied for first in the Eastern Conference tomorrow. Smells like a tasty doubleheader to me.

The good news is I didn't have to spend the week searching online for a vendor to sell me strings of purple lights to hang on the house. The bad news is I have to choose between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Let's see, Brady was a guest at the State of the Union, he has supermodels waiting for him outside the locker room, but every third commercial during an NFL broadcast features Manning. But the commercials are funny, and as much as I respect what Bill Belichick has done, I am tired of the notion that he could trot out Tom Brady and the New England Pee-Wee All-Stars and still win the Super Bowl. And it's easy to root for Tony Dungy, but he has to understand that while a Pat Buchanan level of conservatism on offense worked against the Ravens, he needs to move to the middle to win this weekend.

Nice little flip-flop by Boomer Esiason this week. Two years ago, he made studiomate Dan Marino cringe when he said that Manning could be destined for "Marinoville" after the Pats drummed the Colts out of the playoffs, 20-3. Scroll down to the bottom of this Ray Frager article in today's Baltimore Sun to see where he says, "(Manning) doesn't need to go to the Super Bowl to validate his career."

Might be time for my younger son's Michael Vick jersey to disappear mysteriously from his closet.

Oh, and in the other game, I'm going with the rest of America outside the Chicagoland area and cheering for the Saints. Sorry, Jay.

American Idol
If you don't like reading what I write about this show, just think about how bad I feel writing it.

Pedro Almodovar, Penelope Cruz, "Volver," it all adds up to my finally getting a Netflix membership.

Hi Def Entertainment
From yesterday's Sun, Kevin Cowherd with a fun trick to play on your technology-obsessed, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses friends.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Velveteen Idol

For Christmas 2005, Santa Claus brought my sons an ESPN Gamestation, your basic back-of -the-door Nerf Hoop, but all 'roided up and tricked out for the new millenium. You can shoot hoops, throw baseballs and footballs at a target and even play variations on golf, soccer and hockey. And it has an electronic scoreboard that plays sound effects, catch phrases from Shtu Scott, and the SportsCenter theme. I think the latest model has a wifi and blu-ray bundle, but Santa's elves hadn't got that system past the beta stage when we got ours.

Even without all the up-to-the-nanosecond technology, this toy was a big hit with the boys. For about a month, they tried all the games, and the Doc and I would receive breathless updates on the latest high score or world record for "Beat the Clock" or "Perfect Game" that had just been set. Eventually though, as it always does, the novelty wore off, the automatic retriever was folded up, and we had a plain old hoop standing against a basement wall. It was still put to good use, with simulations of NCAA Tournament games in the spring and Gilbert Arenas gamewinners this winter (and my "no-dunking" rule was steadfastly ignored), but the scoreboard was largely inactive and Shtu, silenced, not that that is bad thing, necessarily.

Then one day last week, with no explananation, my younger son asked me to help him unfold the ball retriever, a surprisingly simple endeavor that involves a few springs and some Velcro. We checked the scoreboard connections, gathered the various balls from wherever they had been scattered about the room, and the shooting and throwing contests began anew.

My first thought, naturally, was one of satisfaction in knowing that the elves hadn't put in all that hard work for a flash in the pan toy that would never again be of interest. But my second thought was of "American Idol." Isn't this show really just the favorite toy of the overgrown children who are in charge of the FOX Network? They take it out for a few months and play with it for a while, it gives them great pleasure in the form of megaratings, and then they set it aside, suddenly fascinated by "House" or "Bones" or another melodramatic one-word title show that holds their interest for a while.

But, as the calendar year winds down, they're sitting around, "The O.C." has gone down the tubes, it's too cold to play outside, and God forbid they should read a book, and there on the shelf, right where they left it last spring, sits American Idol. So they pick it up and start to play. There's comfort in the familiarity: the catchy theme music, the gently hypnotic rotating logo. And the characters, from the sweetly addled Paula and cruel Simon to smarmy Ryan. Some of the contestants are pretty good and most of them are hilariously awful. And as they continue to play, the first night's ratings come in, nearly 38 million viewers, the best debut ever, and nearly 10 milllion more viewers than any other show on TV the week before.

And, just like that, they have their favorite toy back for another few months.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Meet the New Idol, Same as the Old Idol

"Taylor Hicks is my favorite by a longshot ... the other contestants are not even close at this point."


"I've been a Taylor fan since he ambled into the room playing a harmonica in one of the early shows, and I think he should win running away."


So, what was new about the all-new Season Six of American Idol? Other than the contestants, a big, fat nothing. Same logo, same theme music, same bickering judges, same doofus host, same shattered dreams and, I'm guessing here, same blockbuster ratings.

We open appropriately with The Who's "Baba O'Riley," (teenage wasteland, indeed), a timeless anthem even after 35 years. After some typical promotional blathering recap from Dick Clark willneverbe Ryan Seacrest, we meet our first contestant, a nice, Midwestern girl who loves and idolizes singer-songwriter Jewel, who, what a surprise, happens to be a celebrity judge this week (I don't know how much they paid her, but for me, this would be a long negotiation at the very least). This girl's got everything it takes except talent. According to form, AI VI allows her to express her deepest dreams and goals and then, on national television, it rips them from heart, and mercilessly shreds them to a bloody, still-pulsing, pulp. Great fun for the whole family.

After a half-hour of lackluster talent and entertaining oddballs, we meet our first Hollywood-bound hopeful. We know she'll make it even before she auditions because she gets the swelling string music behind her as she talks about growing up in a foster home. Our next golden ticket winner is a Navy crewman on the USS Ronald Reagan, who performs in his dress whites. In today's political climate, pretty easy to predict that FOX wouldn't show us this guy unless he advanced. The final first-hour winner is a pretty Latina girl named Perla, who by the end of today will be known in the blogosphere as La Perla or some riff on Charo, thanks to her little celebratory trill. Navy boy gets one-upped in hour two by the Army reservist (singing in her camos) whose husband is serving in Iraq, and she disarms the panel with her personality and her voice. There's this year's cute blonde Kellie/Carrie clone. And another guy gets through because he can actually hit and hold a note, rather than strangling it through three different octaves. I didn't think he would make it, but I guess the judges heard or saw something I didn't.

Maybe it was the Midwestern setting or maybe the producers are getting soft, but last night's show was not quite as harsh as the early episodes of last season. Very few of the dejected rejects had to have their responses bleeped, and, at times, the judges sounded sincere when they encouraged the failed singers to pursue other talents. To be fair, they appeared to go easier on the more attractive contestants, such as the boy rocker who growled his way through "Dancing Queen," but both Randy and Simon got out the sharp knives for the ugly, the overweight, or the obnoxious.

Then there were the weirdos. Last night, I was torn between the guy in the Apollo Creed/James Brown getup and the girl who thought her Cowardly Lion impression would be "unique" enough to get it done. Urban Amish Guy and Bad Juggler Boy came in just behind them along with Psychofan, who showed the judges her Ace Young-designed tattoo. The producers threw us a curveball with the long intro for the singing cowboy, echoing one of last year's early favorites, but he turned out to be a pretender.

What never ceases to amaze me, and what I guess is a large part of the appeal of this show, is the genuine conviction in the minds of all of them, that they are destined for fame, that they truly believe they can make it. When Bad Juggler Boy wept and said something about wanting to be famous right away at 16, you didn't know whether to slap him or hug him. My heart goes out to them, and maybe even moreso to the parents, who are walking that fine line between supporting their dreams and deluding their reality.

We close with another song written before the contestants were born, ABBA's "The Winner Takes It All." So touching, so profound, so very meaningful. Like the bad poker player that I am, I guess I am all in for another season of American Idol, but before I forget, by the way, the contest is already over. The winner of Season Six, your new American Idol, is Sarah Krueger of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Easily the most polished performer of the night, she's Katharine McPhee with a perm and more confidence. Hey, don't take it from a guy who picked the Ravens to win the Super Bowl, take it from the guy who put Taylor at the top of the chart more than two month before the finale.

FitzFacts, out!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Tuesday Treacle

Gil's Gone Wild!
Gilbert Arenas finally brought his hit parade home yesterday with a 51-point outburst at the Verizon Center, including a three-pointer at the buzzer for a 114-111 win over the Utah Jazz. It was Arenas' third 50+ game this season but his first on the Wizards' homecourt and it ties the arena scoring record set by Michael Jordan in 2001. I am starting to get the feeling that iyou'd feel cheated if you bought a ticket to see Arenas play and he scored less than 40. And I can't believe that the Verizon Center is not sold out every game .

Tomlinson's Tantrum
So LaDainian Tomlinson says that the Patriots showed no class when they imitated Shawne Merriman's sack dance on the Chargers' midfield logo at the end of Sunday's playoff game? Really? Would he have preferred that they come up with their own original choreography? Was that really a story on SportsCenter or did I accidently switch over to "Bring it On" on the USA Network? I just can't believe that a professional football player, who just had one of the best seasons in the history of the game, cares about the dancing that much. I guess we'll be seeing Tomlinson, Merriman and Emmett Smith in "Stomp the Yard, Part 2." I wish somebody would sit these guys down with Chuck Bednarik or Art Donovan to learn what's important to a real football player, although I guess Rosie Grier might have a different opinion.

Global Boring
Did you watch the Golden Globe Awards last night? Yeah, me neither. Okay, I tuned in for about five minutes, and here's what I learned: the star of Ugly Betty, which won for Best TV Comedy, is not really ugly. I know, I know, shocking. I've never seen the show, but I can't believe any show on TV is funnier than "The Office." The brief clip they showed last night where Steve Carell affirms his racial sensitivity by comparing his respect for Jesus Christ and Apollo Creed was ten times funnier than the clip of Ugly Betty walking into a plate-glass wall. Stupid politically correct voters.

Also, Annette Benning is aging much better than Warren Beatty. I guess this shouldn't come as a surprise considering that she is more than ten years younger than he. This was the segment that caused me to begin the channel surf. I mean, I am sure that Tom Hanks meant well in his tribute to Beatty, and he is just so gosh-darn earnest, but this was his worst performance since Bonfire of the Vanities, with none of the quirky charm of Joe Versus the Volcano.

Neuheisel New Hire
Baltimore Ravens' coach Brian Billick announced that he has promoted quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel to offensive coordinator. I have no idea how this will affect the team, but here is what I know about Neuheisel: he was a success at Colorado, where kept his players happy with inner-tubing trips and his guitar-playing antics, but he left for the big bucks at the University of Washington and left a mild stench of NCAA violations at Boulder. He was also successful at Washington, but was fired after he won a big-money ($5,000) NCAA basketball pool. He then sued UW and the NCAA for wrongful termination and won $4.5 million. Reports stated that Neuheisel shed a few tears on the stand during his testimony. Now, I think it's alright to cry (see Rosie Grier link above) during a multimillion dollar trial, but only if you're the guy who has to pay.

Poll Vault

The title of today's post refers to the big leap made by Virginia Tech to the Number One spot in my local hoops poll. I don't know what's gotten into the Hokies, but they are ripping through the Atlantic Coast Conference like it's football, not basketball, season. Imagine the horror down on Tobacco Road when they see Boston College tied with Virginia Tech atop the ACC standings. Maryland did exactly what I thought they would this week, and Georgetown is finding wins hard to come by without Marc Egerson in the Really Big East. If the Hoyas don't get it together soon, they will get lost in that league and find themselves in the NIT. GW's out-of-conference losses don't look as bad as some thought, but the Colonials probably still have to win the A-10 to get a bid. After the success George Mason had last year, the committee will be under pressure to take at least two CAA teams, and they will have plenty to choose from. Big Stein won't post the official results until later today, but my poll was done yesterday, so here it is.

1. Virginia Tech
Dick Vitale’s head explodes as Hokies follow win at Duke with upset of North Carolina. Virginia Tech now 5-0 against teams in the state of North Carolina. Seth Greenberg left messages with Davidson, Elon and Guilford last week to see if they have any open dates left this season.
2. VCU
Rams have won four of five since Anthony Grant moved Wil Fameni from the starting lineup to a reserve role. So you could say they have benefited from Fameni relief efforts.
3. Maryland
Hope you like theme park rides, Terps fans, because it’s gonna be a season full of thrills, spills, and chills (also mad skillz, platinum grillz, Strawberry fils and, um, Beverly Sills).
4. Georgetown
JTIII presents plan to Georgetown administration that requests a “surge” of additional scholarships
5. GW
Colonials rebound from a loss at UMass by beating St. Bonaventure, which is named for a 13th century theologian nicknamed Doctor Seraphicus by his contemporaries for his heavenly three-point shooting touch.
6. Old Dominion
Monarchs players “agree to disagree” about the Rosie-Trump-Barbara feud in time to win two of three last week.
7. Virginia
Cavaliers’ self-esteem level lower than the GEICO caveman’s right now.
8. Loyola
Greyhounds coach Jimmy Patsos making good on his New Year’s resolution to win every game in 2007.
9. George Mason
Jim Larranaga finally finishes returning all his messages from last March, decides to start coaching again.
10. William and Mary
The Hottest Team in the CAA (W&M) met the CAA Team of Destiny (VCU) and Destiny prevailed. Then William and Mary played Delaware and lost its second straight. Still better than AU or Navy, though.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

And how would you like those words cooked, Sir?

"Once the undefeated Colts burn out under the heat of the national spotlight again, I can't see any reason to pick against Baltimore to get back to the Super Bowl."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"The Ravens are going to win the Super Bowl. I don't see why anything else needs to be said ... I'm telling you right now, book it."

Friday, December 29

Mmmm ... yummy. I always find that words taste a little better when they are italicized rather than boldfaced, which can so easily overwhelm the delicate flavors. So, I was wrong, but it's not like I jumped on the bandwagon late, and I think it's official now. I am a Ravens fan. If anything, this loss solidifies that more than a win.

It turns out that it really didn't matter that the Colts were stolen away from Baltimore all those years ago. That former Colts cheerleaders now in their 60s and 70s were torn about which team to root for. Or that the local supervisor of the Mayflower Moving Company said he had no idea what was going into the trucks on that snowy night that so many Baltimoreans refuse to let go. Or that the mayor of Indianapolis at that time now lives in Maryland. (I'm not going to provide all the links to those stories; they were all in the Baltimore Sun last week).

Nope, none of the history or the karma came into play at M&T Bank Stadium last night. The Colts sure came to play though. In the kind of defensive struggle that was hard to watch - boring if you weren't a fan of either team, excruciating if you were - Indianapolis endured its mistakes and stuck with a gameplan that was conservative and risky at the same time. The Colts' record-setting QB threw two interceptions and no touchdowns, but five times Indianapolis got the ball close enough for Adam Vinatieri to kick it through the uprights, and with each successful boot, the pressure on the Ravens nudged up a few more psis.

So, credit Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning and especially the oft-maligned Indianapolis defense. The only really bad decision the Colts made all day was the third down no-huddle offense that never worked and led to at least one turnover. Aside from that ill-conceived tactic, Indianapolis stuck with the run and the medium-range passing game to move the ball into field goal range. This was not the kind of performance that will get Manning any more commercials, but a few more like it could get him a Super Bowl ring.

Now, what went wrong for the Ravens? Let's see, when Brian Billick fired Jim Fassel midseason and took the reins of the offense, he was able to rejuvenate Jamal Lewis and the running game. On the Ravens' best drive of the first half, they drove 51 yards to the Indianapolis four on six runs and one pass before Steve McNair was picked off by Antoine Bethea. So, what did they do when they got the ball again, this time in the third quarter? Passed the ball six straight plays and then punted. Lewis got all of two carries in the third, against one of the worst rushing defenses in the league. He got two more in the fourth, in a game when the lead was never more than nine points.

Okay, what else? Todd Heap fumbled for the first time this year, which gave Indianapolis field position for its second score. Bethea picked off McNair at the goal line, saving at least three points, and somehow he hung onto the ball despite a violent collision with his teammate. When McNair finally completed a deep ball to Mark Clayton late in the third, Clayton fumbled, but thanks to an Indy penalty, the Ravens ended up with a five-yard gain to their own 22 instead of a 48-yard gain into field goal range.

On defense, Ed Reed had two interceptions but would likely have had four if Ray Lewis hadn't just barely tipped two Manning passes. And on one of his picks, Reed lateraled to Chris McAlister but was wrongly ruled out of bounds, and the play was blown dead. Terrell Suggs forced a fumbled at the Baltimore 24 that bounced right to Ben Utecht, the only Colt anywhere near the ball.

And, just for good measure, on special teams, don't forget Vinatieri's 51-yarder that bounced on, and then over, the crossbar. If the above paragraphs sound like excuses, I can't offer any argument. Being a fan is all about emotional and irrational justification of nonsensical behavior.

This game could not have been more hyped locally. In a town whose residents wear their inferiority complices like badges of honor, the media dug up every painful memory, ripped apart more than two decades of scar tissue to whip the populace into a purple frenzy. For the last few days, you saw purple everywhere you looked. Today, at church, at the coffee shop, at the grocery store, not a stitch. Just like that, it's all gone.

But of course, the fans will remember. And when next year's schedule is released, the date with Indianapolis will be circled in purple.

Friday, January 12, 2007

George Mason 73, Towson 44

Sports fans often argue about which is worse: losing a close game or getting blown out. One week after letting a win get away in double overtime against Virginia Commonwealth, Towson went to the other extreme of losing and let George Mason put on a clinic last night. I don't have a strong rooting interest in the Tigers yet, so I can't claim to be heartbroken by the close loss, but I'll take that game over the one I saw last night every time.

The last time I saw the Patriots play, they were getting a final fitting for their Cinderella slippers against UConn in the NCAA Tournament. They beat the Huskies on national television in a sold-out Verizon Center to get to the Final Four. The media frenzy has cooled, to put it mildly, with GMU's 7-7 start this season. Still, there were signs of a reawakening in a 55-34 win over UNC-Wilmington on Monday. Towson, on the other hand, lost another double-OT at Georgia State before bouncing back with a win against Delaware.

In a promising atmosphere that included an ESPNU telecast and a good crowd thanks to a smart cross-promotion with the Ravens, everything seemed fine for the Tigers until the opening tip. Actually, that's a bit of a stretch; TU hung with the Patriots for the first 10 minutes of the half. Unlike the stymieing fullcourt pressure of VCU, Mason sat back in the halfcourt and swarmed Gary Neal whenever he got the ball. Early on, Neal was able to find open teammates, and the Tigers trailed 15-13 halfway through the first period; but when the teams went to their benches, GMU's defensive intensity picked up. Previously open passing lanes were suddenly closed as more than one Tiger found himself in the air with the ball and nowhere to go. The Patriots closed out the half on an 18-6 run.

After that, the only suspense was who would win the Ravens' halftime free-throw shooting fundraiser sponsored by a local radio station. The loudest cheers of the night came for Baltimore's first round pick, Haloti Ngata, who certainly has a WWE career available if the NFL doesn't work out, and kicker Matt Stover, who missed a free throw, but then nailed a three. Like basketball players, NFL guys don't look too big when they are together on the court, until the normal sized humans join them.

Towson tossed in a couple threes to open the second half but the Patriots answered quickly and then basically stepped on the Tigers' throat as they built the lead throughout the half. Neal finished with 18 points, seven below his average, and no other Tiger reached double figures. Mason got its typical 16 and 18 from Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell, respectively, the two remaining components from last year's iron five, but the real revelation for GMU coach Jim Larranaga was the play of point guard Jordan Carter, who had nine points, seven rebounds and eight assists, and was perfect from the floor.

Last week, I thought VCU looked very strong in the CAA race because they had such a balanced team effort. George Mason looks like it has the personnel to compete and showed it in spades last night. Towson badly needs to find a point guard to take some of the pressure off of Neal in the backcourt.

I'll be taking at least one more look at the Tigers this season when they host UNC-Wilmington next weekend. Now that I think about it, I have yet to see them win in four tries over the last few years. Could there be a FitzJinx?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Hoopsy Daisy!

The Colonials cut a 17-point second half deficit to one, but were never able to take the lead in a 91-84 loss at UMass last night. This wasn't one I expected them to win, and they showed strong resolve in making several runs at the Minutemen down the stretch. The hosts's interior tandem of Stephane Lasme (23 points, 13 rebounds, 11 blocks) and Rashaun Freeman (21, 7) dominated, but it was the unexpected outside prowess of Etienne Brower that opened up the paint for the big guys. Brower, who missed the first seven games of the season with an ankle injury, knocked down two treys in the first six minutes last night. On the plus side, Carl Elliott (19 points, 6 rebounds) and Maureece Rice (30, 7) made lots of clutch shots to keep it close, and GW got good minutes from Cheyenne Moore and Damian Hollis. As I have been saying for a while, check back with me at the end of the month for a more in-depth evaluation of this team.

As I have also been saying for a while, after ripping through the bottom quartile of the RPI recently, Maryland stumbled badly at home last night against Miami. Unlike Iona, Miami has actually won a game this season. Unlike Mount Saint Mary's, Miami decided to play defense against Mike Jones. And unlike Siena, Miami has players who are just as big, quick and skilled as Maryland's. Still, this is not the end of the world for the Terps. In fact, Gary Williams will use this loss to great effect in motivating his team, especially his young guards. But no amount of coaching is going to add bulk to Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist or quickness to Will Bowers. Could be ugly when Tyler Hansbrough gets ahold of these guys. Fortunately, the Terps match up much better with Clemson, who comes to town this weekend. Look for Maryland to catch the Tigers looking ahead to UNC and pull the upset to beat Duke out of the ACC cellar.

Some stat maven is going to have to look up the last time Washington won when Gibert Arenas scored only 21 points, but balanced scoring effort put the Wiz over the Bulls 113-103 at Verizon Center last night. Caron Butler continued his hot streak with a team-high 26 points and Antonio Daniels had his highest scoring total of the year with 15 off the bench. In a game that pitted one of the league's highest scoring offense against one of its stingiest defenses, the Wiz won out, bouncing back nicely from Sunday's loss to the Raptors. Over at Hoops Addict, Ryan thinks that Marty Burns ranked Washington too high at #3 (I disagree) and loves that Slam Online posted Carmelo Anthony's iPod playlist (I am befuddled).

If you're lucky, I'll have a full recap of tonight's George Mason vs. Towson game. How could you want anything more than an up-close look at two teams battling it out for for sixth place in a midmajor college basketball conference?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

"Dirt" under my fingernails

F/X has carved out Tuesday nights at 10:00 as the debut destination for its dramatic series, sometimes with success - The Shield, Rescue Me, Nip/Tuck - sometimes not - Thief, Over There. I enjoy the former, except Nip/Tuck of late, enough that I am willing to give Dirt a few more chances. I skipped most of the pilot last week, but caught up on the replays and tuned in again last night to see where we were headed.

Very simple premise. Courteney Cox plays Lucy Spiller, the Type-A editor of two celebrity gossip ragmags - one lowbrow and the other lower brow. I can see why the pitch meeting for this one was an absolute home run (I think I scrambled a metaphor there, but stay with me). We are so fascinated by celebrity culture and gossip in this country that what could be more interesting than a show dramatizing that process? Sounds great, right?

The trick here is make fiction stranger than truth and more interesting, otherwise viewers will just flip over to Entertainment Tonight and the E! True Hollywood Story. And, for me anyway, it has to be funny, at least a few times an hour. This is why The Shield and Rescue Me work, because if there were no humor, you'd just get dragged into the amoral morass, and how much of that can you take every week?

So, is Dirt getting it done? Not yet. I'm not sure Cox can carry the show (ironically, last night we learned that Spiller's job is in jeopardy). She's got the right, ADHD, barracuda approach that we all suspect this character has to have, but she still hasn't quite shaken the cheery neuroticism of Monica Geller. Getting the magazine published still has a little too much "let's put on a show" vibe. And she always looks a little too good on camera. Her character has the requisite personal shortcomings, but the director needs to let her look ugly as well. The good news is that she seems to have a drinking problem, so we can only hope that there's a major bender in her future, with substantial plot-altering consequences.

I'm equally conflicted about Ian Hart as the "functioning schizophrenic" paparazzo, Don Konkey, the Mickey Rooney to Cox's Judy Garland. If the writers haven't given Cox's character enough flaws, they have overcompensated with Hart's. This guy has a shrine to a his dead cat, thinks that it's raining blood, and is haunted by the corpse of a dead actress. Oh, and even though he hears voices, he's also a Rainman-type savant when it comes to movie trivia and sports statistics. This should do wonders for the image of treatable mental illness.

Outside of these codependent business partners, we have an array of characters looking to grab a little camera time and audience interest. Josh Stewart plays Holt McLaren, a Sean Penn type whose talent hasn't always overcome his nonmatinee idol looks and is overshadowed by his beautiful but clueless starlet girlfriend. After some initial exposition, McLaren sets the plot in motion by making a Faustian deal with Spiller that may or may not have caused a friend, Konkey's corpse buddy, to kill herself. Jeffrey Nordling is quite convincing as a Spiller's scheming boss who leers at a young staffer named, get this, Willa. Rick Fox stretches his chops to play an NBA superstar set up for something by Spiller and Konkey. If those last two sentences sound gratuitous, well, exactly.

Are you getting all this? Of course you are, because this is what it takes to follow 21st century dramatic television. The plot twists and turns until you have to go to a message board to sort it out with fellow devotees. You find a character to like and then he/she does something morally offensive but defensible or at least understandable, and now you have to stay tuned to see which way the character goes. I'll do so grudgingly, but not if there is something better on, which seems like a pretty good possibility.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Tuesday Traipsings

No major topic today, so let's just hunt through the headlines and see what's going on:

Florida wins the
National Championship. Like most fans outside of Columbus and Gainesville, I tuned this one out early in the second half, but it was a familiar, if not predictable, result. How many times have we seen one team that is so clearly athletically superior to its opponent in the college national championship? That's why last year's comeback win by Texas was such an instant classic. Ohio State lost Ted Ginn Jr. early in the game last night, but unless they were planning to add him to the defensive backfield, it wouldn't have made any difference. Urban Meyer's offensive scheme makes Steve Spurrier look like Pop Warner. Three backs in an I formation, no backs in the backfield, alternating QB's, the Gators did everything except hide the ball under their jerseys, and everything worked. It even rubbed off on the kicker, Chris Hetland, who came into the game 4-13 on field goals this season, none longer than 33 yards, and booted two from more than 40 in the second quarter. Now, for all those carping for a playoff system or for Boise State to get their shot, please, Florida earned this championship. Personally, I think way too much time passes between the last regular season game and the championship, but until the ratings come down, none of that will change. Maybe they could start the season later or find a good primetime slot for this game before the second week in January. Anyway, on to the NFL playoffs.

The Baltimore Sun is going to get some angry letters responding to its
cover story on Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay. He was only 24 when his father moved Baltimore's beloved Colts away, and the article tries to show his side of the story, but evenhanded journalism has no place in the hearts of the hometowners when it comes to Irsay, whose name is synonymous with Hussein and bin Laden around here (although Khomeini or Gadaffi might be a more appropriate substitute, historically speaking).

Speaking of Baltimore history, Cal Ripken should get voted into the Hall of Fame by the time this is posted today, and no one ever deserved it more. My older son got a chance to meet him this fall at a soccer tournament where one of his kids was playing. I didn't want to take him away from that, but he stopped to say hello and shake hands when I asked. No surprise to anyone who waited in the long lines for his autograph at Camden Yards, and a nice little thrill for my boy (and me).

Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday hails the DVD release of Mike Judge's "Idiocracy." I must have missed this one when it flopped in theaters last fall, but it seems it might be worth a peek. Anyone who came up with Office Space gets a few second shots in my book.

The creator of Scooby-Doo died yesterday at the age of 81. It was neither Hanna nor Barbera, but Iwao Takamoto. He took the name for his canine creation from the last line of Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night." Now there's a FitzFact if ever there was one. RIP.

Today's blogging soundtrack is Johnny Cash's American IV: The Man Comes Around. There are two genii at work on this album; the first is Cash, of course, and the second is producer Rick Rubin. The accompanying musicians and vocalists aren't too shabby either: Nick Cave, Don Henley, Billy Preston, Fiona Apple, John Frusciante, Benmont Tench and others. The disc contains many well-known pop and folk tunes, but don't mistake this for one of those weak standards collections so many former rockers like Rod Stewart have turned to in the twilight of their careers. That notion is quickly dispelled in the title track, a new Cash original based on his reading of the Book of Revelation, which leads off the album. The sparse guitar licks and rolling keyboard bass summon exactly the apocalyptic themes called for in the lyrics. The next cut, the Grammy-winning Cash take on Trent Reznor's "Hurt," lets you know that you can expect just about anything the rest of the way. Not that that there aren't some missteps (I've come around on "Danny Boy," not quite there on "Desperado,") but if you listen to the album from start to finish, and consider that Cash had to know that he wasn't going to be around much longer (American V was released after his death), I think you'll find something to contemplate. So much so, that I don't recommend popping this one in while you're driving; you might end up lost, and not just in thought.

Finally, do you think Dear Abby ever had to deal with questions like this?

Monday, January 08, 2007


Terps stay on top but all these soft opponents are priming them for a big ACC stumble coming up. Georgetown loses Marc Egerson for "personal reasons," but the win over Notre Dame would have been more impressive if Kyle McAlarney had suited up instead of toking up. (I know, he was busted for possession, not using). VCU looks even better to me now that I have seen them play. Virginia Tech still has a lot to prove to the skeptics, including me. GW can jump back ahead with a win at UMass this week. Virginia got one good win (Gonzaga) and one not bad loss (Stanford). Old Dominion's win at Georgetown is fading like Marty McFly's family photo.

1. Maryland
Terps beat Iona even though Gary Williams took two days off to help Brenda Frese with her “You’re the One That I Want” audition.
2. Georgetown
Nancy Pelosi attended Saturday’s win over Notre Dame, asked John Thompson to help with her “Pelosi Paranoia” plan on Capitol Hill.
3. VCU
VCU has won 6 games in opponents’ gyms this year, more than UCLA, Florida and North Carolina … combined.
4. Virginia Tech
Win at Cameron Indoor moves the Hokies up, even if Paulus to McRoberts isn’t exactly Hurley to Laettner.
5. GW
Colonials put an end to the “We Are Marshall” win streak.
6. Virginia
UVA loses to Stanford in a hackfest that was uglier than anything either school’s band has ever done.
7. Old Dominion
ODU gets in on the George Mason Final Four Revenge Tour.
8. William and Mary
The hottest team in the CAA has won six straight games, and none of them were against Longwood.
9. Loyola
With his winless team leading by one, Iona head coach Jeff Ruland got two technicals, and Loyola took the lead for good; Matt Millen called after the game to offer Ruland a job.
10. American
Just a dearth of teams with winning records out there.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Sunshine of Your Love

The Doc and I got our movie-watching New Year off to a good start with "Little Miss Sunshine" the other night. I missed the end of the Boise State-Oklahoma game but after nearly two weeks of nonstop Wizards-Colonials-Ravens-Terps-BCS-Star Wars-Harry Potter, something had to give, and I had wanted to see this movie anyway. Besides the only college football game that matters is next week, not that any of them matter that much anyway.

But back to the movie. As always, first some context. As I said, this one arrived with high expectations despite a title that evoked memories of a high school musical production of "Little Mary Sunshine," a campy stage adaptation of the Nelson Eddy-Jeanette MacDonald vehicle, in which I played a Canadian Mountie. It's neither a painful nor pleasant memory and probably irrelevant, but, hey it's my blog.

The concept - motley misfits hit the road, learn about life and themselves - is not original, but the fully realized characters, excellent performances, and just enough twists in the plot make watching "LMS" the equivalent of ordering a good meal at a fine restaurant: a tasty melange of potent flavors, with some pleasant surprises only hinted at in the menu, and over in less than two hours (a quality hard to find in so many of today's seat-numbingly long epics).

Every member of the cast, from the main ensemble to the fringe, delivers believability, emotion and humor. As a friend of mine said, you could imagine any of the main characters as the star of their own movie. Greg Kinnear as the overmatched, would-be self-improvement maven is both hateable for his criticism of his chubby daughter's diet choices and lovable for his determined and undignified pursuit of her happiness. Alan Arkin, the most charismatic onscreen heroin addict since Diana Ross as Billie Holiday, jolts the story with hilarious rants throughout. Steve Carell shines in the awkward situations, his cinematic trademark. And while it's hard to believe that Toni Collette was ever enough of a movie babe to have been cast as Princess Diana, she perfectly embodies the role of a working mother trying to encourage her entire family in their dreams even as the burdens threaten to overwhelm her. Paul Dano's character holds to a vow of silence for a good bit of the film, but he still portrays teenage angst with humor without getting maudlin. And finally, Abigail Breslin, as the pageant contestant that drives the whole plot, captures you with her charm, her love for her family, and her absolute commitment to her art in the uproarious conclusion.

The child beauty pageant industry comes in for a thorough skewering and stomping from directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and writer Michael Arndt. It's funny and horrifying at the same time, and sadly believable. This is only the second feature they have directed, coming out of the music video backgorund, and the first script from Arndt. I'd keep an eye out for their future efforts, solo or collaborative.

Go Gilbert, it's your birthday!

Not sure if today is actually Gilbert Arenas' real birthday, but there is a party for him in DC tonight that is becoming the event of the season, to borrow a phrase from Kansas. I used to believe that I played my best basketball of the year on my birthday, even when it was just a pickup game. Gilbert had pretty special night with the gamewinner on Wednesday; maybe that was his birthday. Head on over to Big Stein's for all the news and links, but be careful, you could be there a while.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Tiger Trouble in Towson

The Wizards won on a dramatic Gilbert Arenas three-pointer, the Colonials opened their A-10 schedule with a win over lackluster Fordham, so what did I do last night? Took my boys a battle of two Local Poll Top Ten teams - Virginia Commonwealth and Towson University; the Doc, having had quite enough of the recent sports bonanza that the holidays brought, scheduled a massage. So, after the fellas finished swim practice, we scooted across campus to the Towson Center. Thanks to my friend D-Fly, we had some quality seats a few rows behind the Towson bench, which we settled into just as the opening tip went up.

A typical "students-on-break" crowd scattered comfortably around the arena, including a surprisingly large contingent of the Towson Pep Band; alas, no sign of the national champion dance team. Several other cliches of the college basketball crowd were present, including the large, loud and increasingly profane fan a few rows behind us and the "wacky student who is not nearly as amusing as he thinks he is," in front of us.

Early on, the visiting Rams showed why they have risen as high as #3 in my rankings, with a bruising interior defense and challenging fullcourt pressure that took advantage of the limited availability of Towson point guard C. C. Williams, who has played only 11 minutes in the last two games because of illness. When Towson was able to get the ball across midcourt, they relied on leading scorer Gary Neal and also got a couple threes from sophomore Tim Crossin. The Rams also struggled to hang onto the ball, committing 10 first half turnovers, but solid contributions from their second unit resulted in a 25-20 halftime lead. As the teams jogged to the locker rooms, Cursing Fan exhorted Towson coach Pat Kennedy to "Wake their asses up!"

The Rams' first-year head coach Anthony Grant, a Billy Donovan protege (how old does that make you feel?), wisely focused his defensive strategy on Neal, the only Towson player who averages double figures in scoring (24 ppg). At 6-5, 200, Neal is the Arenas of the CAA, complete with Agent Zero's range, confidence and conscience. The Ram defense did everything they could to discourage him and his teammates, closing in on any Tiger who challenged the lane. "Better be plenty of ice in the training room," I remarked as several bodies collided near the basket, again.

At the half, we beat the rush to the concession stand and fueled up with some hotdogs and pretzels; and I set out to find the athletic director from VCU, a college friend of my brother's. He was seated near the team bench just in front of a vocal group that had travelled from Richmond, including their own "Wacky Student" in a Rams jersey and headband. Who knew you could buy such items?

At the start of the second half, Towson continued to settle for long jumpers and VCU began to pull away a little, stretching the lead to eight on the shoulders of their balanced, three-guard attack. But after the first media timeout, the Tigers' Tommy Breaux sent TU's Wacky Student into paroxysms with an ESPN-worthy block and dunk, and when Neal followed with a three, the Tigers had captured the momentum, but not the lead. As the clocked ticked toward the 12:00 mark, Kennedy subbed Neal out, figuring to rest his star through the upcoming timeout. In Neal's absence, either VCU relaxed or the Tigers stepped up because the next three Towson possessions resulted in baskets from inside ten feet, and when Neal returned, his team led by three.

But the Rams were not ready to roll over. They continued to pressure the ball and crash the offensive boards. Close games as are often decided by free throws, and this one could have been, except that nobody made them; VCU missed five straight in the last two minutes and Towson'
s Dennard Abraham managed only 1-2 with a chance to boost the lead to three with 19 seconds left. Down by two, Jesse Pellot-Rosa drove baseline, drew a foul and tied the game by finally making two from the line. Overtime.

We hustled down for a quick bathroom break, where I saw the VCU AD. "What do you think?" he asked. "Tough way to make a living," I replied. "And both teams could use a free throw coach."

Overtime could not have started better for Towson as Neal chucked in a trey and was fouled, but he missed the freebie. The Tigers clung to the lead thanks to some clutch shooting by Neal and Dennard, whose free throw pushed the margin to four with less than a minute. But then VCU drew a foul and made two, forced a bad pass by Neal and scored again to tie it. Neal could not escape the VCU defense on the last possession and Rocky Coleman's shot went awry.

Double overtime! Wacky Student was aghast! Cursing Fan had long since abandoned creativity and launched a continuous assault of cluster F-bombs. I called the Doc, "We're going to be home a little late."

Again the OT began with a Towson three, this one from Crossin, but Pellot-Rosa drew Breaux's fifth foul on the next possession. Kennedy chose to go small with freshman Rodney Spruill, but youth was not served. Spruill missed a shot, mishandled a bad pass from Coleman and fouled Pellot Rosa, not exactly the spark his coach was looking for. By the time senior forward Winstonn Tubbs came in for him, VCU had grabbed the lead. Towson took it right back as Neal scored twice to go up three, but VCU caught them celebrating and Walker knocked down a quick three to tie it with 1:47 left. Neal answered with a "No, no, no, Yes!" trey of his own, but the Rams again drove for a quick score. Towson milked the clock but failed to get a good shot and Walker drained another three to put the Rams ahead 82-80.

On the final possession, Neal worked himself free at the top of the key with about eight seconds left. He fought through a double team, elevated into the lane ... and short-armed the jumper, didn't even draw iron. Maybe he was expecting more contact, there had certainly been plenty as he initiated his drive, but VCU grabbed the airball, and made the ensuing free throws to ice the game.

Neal finished with 36 points, including six threes, but VCU's defense, depth, and mental toughhness proved to be too much for the hosts. The Rams are 5-0 on the road this year (1-2 at neutral sites) and they seem to have figured out how to get that extra effort it takes to get the job done. Towson has a tremendous asset in Neal and some nice complimentary players, but when Breaux fouled out, VCU penetrated easily. The Rams and Drexel look like the teams to beat in the CAA, but Towson should be in the second tier with Hofstra, Old Dominion, and William and Mary (suddenly the league's hottest team). Not that I anticipate a change in the FitzFacts subtitle, but living only 15 minutes away, I'm hoping to see a few more Towson games this year. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Greater love hath no man ...

Belated Happy New Year greetings! For those of you having trouble sticking to your resolutions on Day 3, here's a little inspiration for you.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Year, New Poll

Maryland takes two easy ones to stay on top. Georgetown moves up by beating Coach K protege Tommy Amaker (Somebody give me a won-loss percentage of former Coach K assistants. That would be Amaker, Quin Snyder and Mike Brey. Who else am I missing? Other than Brey, have any of them gotten it done?). Everybody else loses and falls down or even out. I'm done with Navy for a while; you can beat up on D3 teams but can't handle the big tough Ivy League? Shove off, sailor. And AU, I want U to want AU, but come on, Longwood? You might as well have lost to Bushwood, with that tremendous Smails-Webb backcourt. I hope to get a live look at Towson-VCU tomorrow and GW later this month. Check my votes against the final tally over at Big Stein's place:

1. Maryland
Terps beat Siena, who was picked fourth in the Crayola Conference behind Periwinkle, Goldenrod and perennial powerhouse Raw Umber.
2. Georgetown
Hoyas lead the entire way in a solid win at Michigan. Wolverine Band plays “Detroit Rock City” instead of “Hail to the Victors” to honor Gerald Ford’s lifelong membership in the Kiss Army.
3. VCU
My Team of Destiny reverts to a George McFly Team of Density, falling at Appalachian State, the poll’s bizarro UAB.
4. GW
Air Force Academy’s strategy of making shots while not allowing the Colonials to do the same seems unfair to GW fans, but is remarkably effective.
5. Virginia Tech
Hokies lose at Marshall, because well, maybe you’ve heard, they are Marshall. Just ask them. What, you have a better explanation?
6. Virginia
Cavaliers get back on the winning track by applying a little topical ointment of victory, aka American University.
7. Old Dominion
Readers’ choice: ODU can’t get the drop on Winthrop. Monarchs flop against Winthrop. ODU can’t stop Winthrop. Old Dominion fails to top Winthrop. Monarchs efforts plop versus Winthrop.
8. George Mason
Congratulations if you guessed that the Patriots would split their two games against Drexel and Mississippi State last week, but don’t even try to convince me that you were right on the win and the loss.
9. Towson
Tigers put up 40 in each half of Winston-Salem’s 13th straight loss. The Rams have played only four home games this season with losses at Fresno State, Auburn, Georgetown and Kansas. Special thanks go to schedule consultant Fang Mitchell.
10. William and Mary
The Tribe make their first entry into the Top 10 because Navy lost a second Ivy League game, which is an automatic three-week suspension.