Home / Posts tagged "Sports" (Page 2)

The theme for another few days at least . . .

. . . remains college basketball. Even though the Final Four is days away, lots of happenings on the coaching carousel, none bigger of course than Kentucky. John Calipari of Memphis taking the reigns from Billy Gillispie has the sports pundit world all a-twitter. Calipari is a good coach and will certainly make the Wildcats national title contenders once again. Consider this, though: Two years ago Kentucky was paying $2 million dollars for a well-respected coach with a national championship and a pristine reputation (Tubby Smith). Now, the commonwealth finds itself paying $10 million dollars (if you add the recently fired Billy Gillispie’s buyout to Calipari’s salary) for a coach who has never won it all and whose first Final Four appearance had to be vacated due to NCAA violations. Not exactly what I’d call a bargain.

But who cares about Kentucky! The teams still in it are (1) Connecticut, playing for a banner the NCAA might not even let them hang up if the accusations of using an agent to help recruit a player proves true; (2) Michigan State, playing the role of host in Detroit and working desperately to give its recession-beaten state something to cheer about; (3) Villanova, trying to call up the ghosts of their Cinderella championship in 1985; and, of course, (4) North Carolina, trying to send out my favorite crop of players in the history of my fandom on the perfect note. My bracket has the Heels beating Michigan State in the championship game. Would that it be so!

And in that spirit, here’s another gem from YouTube:

NCAA Tournament ad review: It’s NOT about drinkability

When you watch a sporting event that’s bound to attract a large audience, beer commercials are inevitable. The latest campaign by Bud Light — “The difference is drinkability” — is dumb and disappointing, considering the fact that the folks at Anheuser Bush are usually good for entertaining ads. (I also would point out that Bud Light is “drinkable” because it tastes like water.) Few of the commercials airing during March Madness have been memorable, but a couple have stood out to me.

The first is a Vitamin Water ad featuring Christian Laettner and Rick Pitino. (Unfortch, the video is no long available on YouTube.) I know. I know. I hate Duke, so why do I like this ad? Because that last-second shot against Kentucky to go to the Final Four was probably the highest high of Christian Laettner’s storied college career, which went nowhere in the NBA. It’s funny to see him make fun of himself a bit by allowing us to imagine that he’s always trying to relive it. I’ll also add that Laettner’s Duke teams were actually good. My biggest beef with Duke and Coach K is that they have been coasting on the glory of that back-to-back championship team ever since. They hadn’t made it past the tournament’s first weekend in several years — despite favorable seeding — and got to the Sweet Sixteen this time only to be dismantled by Villanova. And yet, when the pre-season rankings come out in the fall, guess who’ll have a spot reserved in the top ten?

Getting back to the commercials, though, and speaking of Coach K (because no college coach gets more TV ad time than this man), another good one featured him with UNC coach Roy Williams, Louisville coach Rick Pitino and coaching legend and curmudgeon extraordinaire Bob Knight shilling for the new Guitar Hero Metallica.

The throwing of the drum set is what kills — that and Knights knobby, old man knees.

My NCAA Tourney picks, part II: One toe to rule them all

Now that we’ve taken care of the West and Midwest, the two regions of the country I’ve most recently called home, we move on to the East and South, where my formative years took place.

EAST, Round 1
(1) Pitt over (16) East Tennessee State

Someday, or so everyone keeps saying, a 16 will be a 1 seed. I agree that there is parity in college basketball, but barring a 1 seed losing two star players a day after Selection Sunday, it seems unlikely. All championship winners beat their first round opporent by at least 20 points, so keep an eye out for that.

(8) Oklahoma State over (9) Tennessee
(5) Florida State over (12) Wisconsin
(4) Xavier over (13) Portland
(11) Virginia Commonwealth over (6) UCLA

VCU’s final-minute, first-round win over Duke a few years ago is one of my favorite tournament games of all time. The crowd at the bar where I was watching the game in Chicago was decidedly pro-VCU and everyone jumped out of their seats when Eric Maynor took the ball the length of the court and hit the final shot without blinking (or calling a timeout). Look for him do some damage again.

(3) Villanova over (14) American
(10) Minnesota over (7) Texas

This is a heart-over-the-head pick. I love Tubby Smith.

(2) Duke over (15) Binghamton

Duke barely escaped 15 seeded Belmont last year, but that was an experienced Belmont team. Binghamton hasn’t been to the Big Dance in some time. I doubt the same will happen this time but would be very happy to be wrong.

2nd Round
(1) Pitt over (8) Oklahoma State
(5) Florida State over (4) Xavier
(3) Villanova over (11) Virginia Commonwealth
(2) Duke over (10) Minnesota

3rd Round
(1) Pitt over (5) Florida State
(3) Villanova over (2) Duke

Regional championship: (1) Pitt over (3) Villanova
The knock on Pitt the last few years is that the can’t get over the Sweet Sixteen hump. I honestly think they are the scariest team in the tournament and would have been the overall No. 1 seed if they had won a share of the Big East or the conference tournament. There is talk that non-Big East refs will get whistle happy at their physical play, but I don’t think that will be a factor until they get to the Final Four.

SOUTH, 1st Round
(1) UNC over (16) Radford

Look for Tyler Hansbrough to try to shoot a three-pointer early in the game. With three points, he passes Duke pretty boy J.J. Reddick for the top spot on the ACC career points list. Suck it, J.J.!

(8) Louisiana State over (9) Butler
(12) Western Kentucky over (5) Illinois
(4) Gonzaga over (13) Akron
(6) Arizona State over (11) Temple
(3) Syracuse over (14) Stephen F. Austin
(2) Oklahoma over (15) Morgan State

2nd Round
(1) UNC over (8) Butler
(4) Gonzaga over (12) Western Kentucky
(3) Syracuse over (6) Arizona State
(7) Clemson over (2) Oklahoma

Clemson is one of the ACC’s top teams but was badly overshadowed by Wake Forest this year. They deserved better than this seed and will prove how weak Oklahoma’s Big 12 competition was. I still expect Blake Griffin to have a huge game, but a team needs more than one weapon in the tournament.

3rd Round
(1) UNC over (4) Gonzaga

UNC fans are scared of Gonzaga. I suppose I am too, especially if Gonzaga gets hot from three-point rage, but I expect this match up to unfold like the Duke games. Gonzaga stays close, maybe even leads early, but eventually UNC’s inside presence and depth pulls away. This is, of course, assuming Ty Lawson is healthy. This is the first real test for the team and the first game that will truly depend on “the toe.”

(3) Syracuse over (7) Clemson

I’m very tempted to pick Clemson here, but Syracuse plays just as physically as they do and has a bit more talent and experience.

Regional championship: (1) UNC over (3) Syracuse
No need to rationalize picking my team to go all the way . . .

. . . and speaking of all the way . . .

Final Four
(2) Michigan State over (2) Memphis
(1) UNC over (1) Pitt
I expect the second semifinal to be the best game of the final weekend.

NCAA Championship: UNC over Michigan State (76-70)
UNC and Michigan State played each other early in the season, and for those 40 minutes UNC was firing on all cylinders for perhaps the only time this season and hammered the Spartans by 30 points. And where did they play? On the same court where this game will take place. It won’t be a blowout, but it will be the same result.

My NCAA Tourney picks, part I: Hanging by a toe

The beauty of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is that any team can win any game on any given day, which means that any NCAA Tournament pool participant can too. You could park yourself in front of the TV and watch ESPN all day for a week and still have no better shot at picking the winner than my mom, who probably has a better lifetime record on her tourney picks than ESPN talking heads Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps and Hubert Davis combined on their best days. In 1995, she was so far ahead of everyone in her office pool — having correctly picked the entire Elite Eight and Final Four — they gave her the prize before the championship game was even played. Matching that remains a lifetime goal for me, but the best I’ve done is finish third in pool that only payed out to the top two finishers.

In past years, I’ve filled out multiple brackets, but I’m sticking to one this year, in part because the last time I filled out only one, the North Carolina Tar Heels won the championship. I chose the same final score that year as the previous Heels’ championship winning game in 1993 (76-70) and was off only by a single point. I want this Heels team, my favorite in a long time, to win it all, so once the games get going, I’ll be less concerned about my bracket than point guard extraordinaire Ty Lawson’s injured toe. Still, the brackets are what make the Big Dance big fun, especially the first weekend with its wall-to-wall games. While I offer some reasoning for some choices, I could just as easily have picked them out of a hat or gone with my cats’ strategy (feline-related mascots win out, which would put the Memphis Tigers and the Pitt Panthers in the final). We’ll see if I manage to beat at least them this year.

Here are my Midwest and West regionals. South and East to come later today.

MIDWEST, 1st round
(1) Louisville over (16) Morehead State
(9) Siena over (8) Ohio State
(5) Utah over (12) Arizona

The Wildcats are still wondering how they even got a bid.

(4) Wake Forest over (13) Cleveland State

Wake’s troubles on the road this year don’t bode well for a long tournament run, but talent alone should get them at least this game.

(6) West Virginia over (11) Dayton
(14) North Dakota State over (3) Kansas

This is probably the unlikeliest upset in my bracket. The NDSU senior class collectively took red shirts as freshmen to have the chance to play in the tournament this year, the first in which their school — which just recently became Div. I — was eligible, so they’ve been riding this wave of motivation for four years. Kansas, the returning champion doesn’t have a whole lot to prove, having overachieved this year after losing most of their championship talent to the NBA. Kansas coach Bill Self is as good an in-game coach as there is in the game, but you can’t coach experience and in the past Self has struggled to get young teams not to flake in the tournament’s first round. Looks silly on paper, but I’ll genius if I get it right.

(10) USC over (7) Boston College

The ACC is much better than the Pac-10, but I think the tournament committee overseeded BC.

(2) Michigan State over (15) Robert Morris

2nd Round
(1) Louisville over (9) Siena
(5) Utah over (4) Wake Forest
(6) West Virginia over (14) North Dakota State
(2) Michigan State over (10) USC

3rd Round
(1) Louisville over (5) Utah
(2) Michigan State over (6) West Virginia

Regional championship: (2) Michigan State over (1) Louisville
Tough to pick against Louisville coach Rick Pitino and the Big East regular season championship is nothing to sneeze at, but the lengthy run in the conference tournament could leave Louisville without legs the longer this one goes. Plus, Izzo is just as good but doesn’t get as much credit as he might having to play in a conference known for ugly basketball. I’ve tried to talk myself out of putting the Spartans in the Final Four, but none of my other choices here feel any better.

WEST, 1st Round
(1) UConn over (16) Chattanooga
(8) BYU over (9) Texas
(5) Purdue over (12) Northern Iowa
(13) Mississippi State over (4) Washington
(11) Utah State over (6) Marquette
(3) Missouri over (14) Cornell
(10) Maryland over (7) California

This pick is all about ACC bias.

(2) Memphis over (15) Cal State Northridge

2nd Round
(1) UConn over (8) BYU
(5) Purdue over (13) Mississippi State
(3) Missouri over (11) Utah State
(2) Memphis over (10) Maryland

3rd Round
(5) Purdue over (1) UConn

Center Hasheem Thabeet is a great defender, but Purdue’s strength is on the perimeter. The fourth No. 1 seed isn’t always the weekest, but with the game on the line six times against Syracuse, the Huskies failed to close the deal, which suggests that in this case, they are.

(2) Memphis over (3) Missouri

Regional championship: (2) Memphis over (5) Purdue
Memphis is always a bit overrated given the weakness of their conference (and a bit overconfident, having recently proclaimed that North Carolina wouldn’t go undefeated in C-USA like the Tigers did). Still, their road to the Final Four is paved with favorable match-ups. UConn could challenge them if the get to this game, but obviously, I dont’ think they will.

5 things in no particular order

1) Not having a job doesn’t always mean you have nothing to do.

I would argue, even, that one has more to do: look for a job, file for unemployment, do all that stuff you’ve been meaning to do around the house but had been avoiding thanks to the ready-made excuse previously provided by your job. For me, the last two weeks without the paper have been crazier than I anticipated, which is nice in that I’m not just sitting at home playing the Wii in between fits of “what am I going to do with my life” while the cats look at me disaffectedly from their perch by the window. Busy is good. (Even if it means this blog gets neglected — again.)

I am stepping closer to what I think/hope will be my next career. I am helping other print journalists continue to do their work online. And I am moving, not cross-country this time, just across town. A ten minute drive from the shadow of Coors Field to the doorstep of the Mayan Theater. I suppose baseball for movies not a particularly good trade to make in the summer, but we will still get to a few Rockies games. And maybe next year we might have seen some of the Oscar nominees before they are announced. Hubby is busy too. So busy, in fact, his plans for creating an online media empire have limited our quality time even more than our old jobs used to. But we have to be optimistic about the future — how else can we look at this situation and not go crazy? — and optimists, apparently, have a lot to do and a lot of calls to make.

2) Audrey Tautou: the French Penelope Cruz?

I love the movie Amelie. It just makes me happy. That may be an odd way of describing a movie (and very, very, few movies I’ve seen fit that description), but it just works. The heart of the movie, of course, is Audrey Tautou. She was also wonderful in A Very Long Engagement (a lovely, if slightly long, World War I movie), but less so in Da Vinci Code (the not so lovely adaptation of the overwrought and overwritten novel of the same name about evil Catholics who — SPOILER ALERT! — are not actually evil). Her latest role is that of fashion legend Coco Chanel, which is in her native French. (It co-stars a mustachioed Alessandro Nivola! Sweet!)

Like Penelope Cruz, Tautou is a petite European woman with grandly expressive eyes and talent who shines in her mother tongue. Even if you don’t understand, her words, her voice, are moving. But like Cruz, Tautou’s performances falter in English. The translation, the extra layer of foreign-ness derails them. Cruz was able to overcome this with help from Woody Allen, who turned the language barrier, the change in demeanor from one culture to the next, into an asset in Vicki Cristina Barcelona. Could he give Tautou a job next?

3) On a no-good-very-bad feud or be careful what you wish for

First, the Broncos fire Mike Shanahan, which was exciting news in these here parts. The two-time Super Bowl-winning coach had taken a seat of the sofa of mediocrity and showed no signs of getting up. A shake up was necessary, but a few months removed, the Broncos seem to have gotten a little more than they bargained for.

After the hiring of young Josh McDaniels, formerly an offensive coordinator for the mighty New England Patriots, most Denver fans thought the team would be riding two young bucks (McDaniels and promising QB Jay Cutler) to long term success. McDaniels appears to have had other ideas. He quietly (but no quietly enough) inquired about getting former Tom Brady back-up and sudden flavor of the NFL trade talks QB Matt Cassel to follow him West. Cassel did — but stopped at Kansas City. This all got under Cutler’s skin, and understandably so. Why would a coach want to consider replacing who everyone recognizes is the best player on his team. Does McDaniels not think Cutler is worth the time it would take to teach him a new offense?

McDaniels has since tried to make nice with Cutler, who is not having it. Cutler put his Denver mansion on the market (good luck getting it sold, Jay). So have his parents. Sour grapes, much?

To be sure, McDaniels made a mistake in going after Cassel, but Cutler is starting to look like the brat in this situation. He may be a good quarterback. He may even have a stronger arm than John Elway, as he has famously claimed, but Elway is the one with the Super Bowl rings. Cutler, good as he may be, still hasn’t won much of anything. Sports pundits are starting to label him a diva and a whinner (and since even a stopped clock is right twice a day, you can’t help but think that the label might stick in some circles).

I don’t know what will happen. Maybe Cutler cut a secret deal with Shanahan to go wherever the ol’ coach plans to land. Either way, I really wish I didn’t have the jersey of a guy who suddenly doesn’t want to wear it.

4) You don’t know what you got, ’til it’s gone

March Madness is here! The Selection Show is mere hours away, and I wanted to reflect on a coach I’ll be rooting for in the tournament (until such time as he faces the Heels, of course). The coach is Tubby Smith, formerly of Kentucky and currently of Minnesota. Though his Golden Gophers are “on the bubble,” as they say, it’s more than likely that they are heading toward a birth in the Big Dance. The same cannot be said for his old team. Kentucky didn’t exactly fire Smith — you can’t fire a coach that has won you a national championship and made you a mainstay in the NCAA tournament for a decade — but they asked him in their best Southern drawl, to please get the hell out so we can get someone who will take us to the Final Four more times than you. Smith obliged and Minnesota was only too happy to welcome him.

Kentucky is one of those “storied” programs, the winningest in college basketball (though UNC could pass them if they win it all this year — fingers crossed!), so any fool would take an offer from them. That’s what Billy Gillespie of Texas A&M did after the Billy the Wildcats really wanted (Donovan of Florida, a former Kentucky assistant and two-time national champion) turned them down. To say that Gillespie has struggled is an understatement. He has recruited some good players, but his teams have underperformed, leading to a handful of embarrassing losses (Gardner-Webb, VMI, to name two) and a recent letter from the once proud program stating the Wildcats will, in fact, accept an offer to play in the lowly post-season NIT. Suddenly, Tubby is not looking so bad. And he beat Louisville this year.

I’m certain Kentucky will be back. UNC played an 8-20 season not so long ago, and here they are trying to win their second title in five years. But UNC had to drop kick a coach (Matt Doherty) prematurely (three years) and open their wallets wide (really wide) to get the next one (Roy Williams) in order to return to glory. When Kentucky bid Tubby a not so fond adieu, I had a feeling it would take them more than one try to get to where they wanted to go. Donovan is still a possibility — as long as Kentucky is willing to match the millions that Florida will throw at him to stay — but whoever the next heir to the throne of Rupp turns out to be, one thing is for sure: his name is not Gillespie.

5) There’s something about Idol

I’ve never watched full episode of American Idol, but I’ve (rather reluctantly) become a fan of a few of its participants over the years. There’s no denying that the people who make it on the show have talent, more talent, I would say, than some of the people who’ve managed to get significant face time on MTV over the years (Ashlee Simpson comes to mind). The show is obviously orchestrated to manufacture a non-offensive, not particularly creative, easy on the eyes and ears winner, and not all winners make it out of the box Idol puts them in. But Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, at least, have hung around in the pop culture consciousness long enough for me to know who they are and even download a song or two.

And yesterday, I saw a video of David Archuleta singing the Selena song “Como La Flor” on the fly in a concert in San Antonio (her home), and I have to say I was endeared. I loved that song and now find myself hoping he records it. I don’t even think he was the Idol winner, but he sounds a little like an English-speaking Luis Miguel and he has a nice smile.

Previewing the game nobody is talking about

I think the student ticket distribution policy has changed since then, but when I was at the University of North Carolina, getting a seat to a men’s basketball game against an ACC opponent was like looking for the holy grail.

First, you’d have to go the to the ticket office to get a wrist band with a number on it. Then, the Friday before distribution, ticket officials would announce the “magic number,” which is where the line for tickets would start. The Saturday of distribution, you’d have to show up at the Smith Center at 7 a.m. (or was it 6 a.m.?) with your wristband and be there when your number was called before the line formed — the numbers were called in small batches, simultaneously. If you weren’t there, you would lose your right to a spot in line, which would form inside after the numbers had been called. You could be 100 feet from the person calling out your number, but if he or she didn’t see you before they got to the next number (and roll call went quickly), you would lose your spot. This happened to me for the Duke distribution, which is even more complicated because there are two sets of numbers, one for seniors and graduating grad students (which I was) and one for everyone else.

I missed the Duke game my first year because it was scheduled for the week of spring break — front page news on The Daily Tar Heel when the schedule was released in the fall. And after making it through the labyrinth my second year, it seemed the ticketing minotaur at the end of it wanted to chew my head off rather than give me my tickets. I was so mad.

Salvation came, though, in the hands of my good friend Nate, who called me in The Daily Tar Heel newsroom minutes before the game started to let me know his roommate had an extra ticket. I sprinted across campus and managed not to hyperventilate from the exertion as we were finding our seats shortly after tip-off. The Heels lost (Damn, you Chris Duhon!) but Nate’s call, the sprint, the game, all together are among my favorite memories of my time in Chapel Hill.

Much as I love the Heels, though, and much as I enjoy nurturing my hate for Duke, I will be the first to admit that the hype over the rivalry has gotten a little crazy (the headline above was written in sarcasm, if you were wondering). ESPN will never be accused of underselling a sporting event, be it the NBA or the bowling tour, so when it happens to be airing the Tobacco Road rivalry, viewers are going to be subjected to commercials for it for at least a month. Piles of books have been written, the best of the lot being To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever by Will Blythe, if only because the title is awesome. HBO has gotten into the game, with an hour-long documentary (currently on my DVR to watch list) and the most recent Sporting News features a retrospective and insider photos. This is all great for those of us who love these teams, but likely less interesting for those who don’t.

If you belong in that latter group, be thankful, my friends, that ESPN isn’t showing Sunday’s UNC Senior night game against Coach K’s crew. Otherwise, the endless stream of hype and game previews by Dickie V would have left you breathless and quivering about a week ago. Still, if you’re looking for (decidedly biased) reasons to watch (or not to watch), here they are.

1) Final home game for UNC’s seven seniors and at least two juniors likely to bolt for the NBA, which means more standing ovations than a State of Union speech.

2) Danny Green might dunk on Greg Paulus again.

3) Gerald Henderson might break someone’s nose for old time’s sake.

4) Someone other than Billy Packer will be calling the game! Hallelujah!

5) If coverage starts early enough, we might see Michael Copeland’s handshakes.

The game itself? Senior jitters (some scrubs will start) and UNC’s typically porous defense will allow Duke to stay in the game in a back-and-forth first half, but UNC’s depth — especially in the post, where Duke has nobody — will help the Heels pull away eventually. Roy will take Bobby Frasor and Michael Copeland out at the 2 minute mark and Danny Green at the 1:00 mark and Tyler Hansbrough at 0:40.

5 things in no particular order

1) Life in limbo city

I’ve been neglecting this here blog recently. Last week, my excuse was that I worked all week, but this week has been much slower in that regard, so I should have been posting up a storm. Certainly, there is no shortage of topics: Michael Phels smokes pot, Alex Rodriguez was/is a juicer, hubby and I finally made it to some Oscar nominated movies that are begging to be reviewed and North Carolina’s class of 2009 just completed a perfect 4-0 run on the soon-to-be-renamed Danny G Court at Hansbrough Indoor Stadium, or HIS. Perfect acronym, don’t you think?

Nevertheless, it’s a hard time to get or remain motivated. Hubby and I still are waiting patiently to find out what will become of our employer, the travails of which, along with those of its competitor, seem to have become a veritable soap opera. We both like the newspaper too much to leave if we don’t have to, and there aren’t a whole lot of other jobs out there to be had anyway. (I’m looking at something else but don’t want to mention it quite yet, lest I jinx myself.) So we wait. Despite efforts to the contrary, everything else takes a dimmer tone as a result, and writing just doesn’t feel like a top priority. But enough about that because the only way to get past this funk is to put your head down and push through. Just like the Tar Heels did after starting conference play 0-2. Now, they are at the top of the ACC standings and not looking back. Let’s see how many times I can reference the team in this post. Onward!

2) 30 really does Rock

When Tina Fey’s 30 Rock premiered, another show-within-a-show about an SNL-clone was getting all the hype. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, written by West Wing wonder Aaron Sorkin and starring some of his absolute favorites (Bradley Whitford, Matthew Perry, Timothy Busfield), was a surprising bust. Surely, if you consider the pedigree, you’d have to believe it was an a Emmy-winning hit waiting to happen right? Sorkin does have his haters and many critics didn’t like the show from the start, but few would have guessed that it would fail so thoroughly, not even making it to a second season. Tina Fey’s show did — though barely — and has been racking up the awards — if not viewers — ever since. I watched the first episode of 30 Rock and found it funny, but not nearly enticing enough to return. Part of the initial problem were the rumors about the retooling of the show by NBC before it actually came on the air. Namely, the recasting of SNL alumna Rachel Dratch, whose role was taken over by the prettier, blonder and less funny Jane Krakowski. Krakowski is fine on the show, and she can garner a laugh, but the change in Fey’s vision in such an obvious Hollywood way just didn’t sit right with me. And why Dratch didn’t go back to SNL, where she was hilarious, remains a mystery to me. So even as Studio 60 died its slow death, I watched. But even as 30 Rock got more and more critics to jump on its bandwagon, I didn’t.

One bandwagon I did jump on and enthusiastically was the one for Mad Men, which I adore. When I heard that star Jon Hamm was doing a three-episode run on 30 Rock, I had to tune in. And wouldn’t you know, it was awesome! Hansbrough-hitting-a-late-three-at-Duke awesome! Hamm is playing a love interest for Liz Lemmon, Fey’s character, but the true star of the show is Alec Baldwin and his storyline was Latino-aided hilarity. Currently courting a nurse played by Salma Hayek, Baldwin’s NBC-ish owning exec, Jack Donaghy, is unable to win over her Puerto Rican abuela. Her favorite telenovela stars an evil Baldwin clone (played, naturally, by a tanner, mustacchioed Alec). Jack buys the network and tries to fire his doppleganger, who in turn tries to foil Jack before offering to seduce a Latina woman of a certain age to win over the granny. Great stuff. Don’t know if I’ll keep watching once Hamm is gone, but at least I will agree that the critics are on to something.

3) Baseball has never been perfect, neither are the records

When it comes to steroids, everyone has an opinion. There are those who say, “The hell with it! Everybody juices! Just let them play.” There are those who say, “Ban those cheaters for life.” My opinion lies somewhere in the middle. I believe that before Major League Baseball pulled its head out of the sand, a majority of players in the 1990s juiced and that most of them were doing it not to get an edge, but simply so they wouldn’t get left behind. A soft view on the issue perhaps, but it’s true. For every Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez there were probably two dozen players just trying to get a job, keep a job, stay on the average. Is theirs less of a crime because they aren’t household names? No. It takes more than an single player to stain a sport. The masses, not the individuals, are who made the “steroids era” what it was. Bonds and A-Rod are merely two of many. They get the brunt of the anger because of the record books, but honestly, that’s the least of the issue for me. Those who urge the preservation of the purity of the records and rail against the lost sanctity of the game are naive.

There has never been “sanctity” in baseball. Beautiful though the game is, nothing about it — save maybe the starchy white uniforms on opening day — has ever been pure. Babe Ruth hit 714 homeruns, not a single one against a black pitcher. If the baseball of today is tainted by steriods, the baseball of the first half of the 20th century was tainted by racism, just like the baseball of the 1980s was tainted by cocaine use. I could go on. It’s a game played by humans, which means it’s never going to be perfect. Do I think it’s unfair for a player to use an illegal substance to make himself stronger? Sure, but I also think it’s unfair to compare millionaire athletes who train year-round and who live and breathe baseball and only baseball from childhood to the journeymen of the ’50s and ’60s who actually worked for a living in the off season, who took the subway in to the stadium along with fans, who didn’t have an army of trainers and coaches and massage therapists rubbing their every itch. Is it fair to compare Tyler Hansbrough’s all-time scoring record to the stats put up by the UNC greats who played before freshmen were allowed on the varsity? Times change, players change, expectations change. I don’t know what baseball should do with its records, but throwing out a person’s achievements because he played in a certain era seems wrong. We are nothing if not a product of our times. So why don’t we simply call the era what it was — add the asterix if we must — and move on.

4) Apologizing for being a kid

So much of greatness in sports is about projection, a desire to see someone achieve greatness and feel enveloped by the moment simply for having gotten to se it. “I was there” isn’t just about witnessing something — although that word, “witness,” has taken on added significance in sports thanks to Nike and LeBron — but validating it. Michael Phelps isn’t great merely because of his feats as an individual athlete. He is made great by the millions who watched him achieve those feats. The proverbial tree falling in the forest of sports. So what happens when the greats do something not so? Well, same principle applies. If the masses don’t see you. It didn’t happen, but if they do — as was the case with Mike and his now world infamous bong hit — they will let you know just how not great it was.

On SNL, Seth Meyers asked on Weekend Update what kind of a person it took to see Michael Phelps at a party and think “Ka-ching” instead of “Cool, I get to party with Michael Phelps!” A dick, he concluded, and he’s probably right. Mike, however, should have known better. Not about the pot-smoking (marijuana is less bad for you than tobacco), but about doing it in public. He’s been down this road before, having gotten a DUI (a much worse offense, if you ask me, given the dangers of driving drunk) after the Olympics in Athens. That he didn’t learn his lesson the first time shouldn’t really surprise. Being a great swimmer doesn’t make you any smarter than the rest of us. Mike’s problem is that he’s done all these amazing things — he’s a 14-time Olympic champion for goodness’ sake — but he’s still just a kid. He could retire now, at 23, and probably not live to see some of his records broken. To malign his achievements over a night of youthful indiscretion is just silly. Yeah, we all think that if we were that great at anything, we’d be smart enough not to be stupid. Yeah, right.

Maybe something good will come out of all of this for him. After Tar Heel point guard Ty Lawson got a DUI last summer (he wasn’t over the limit, but he was underage at the time, so any alcohol in the system was a no-no), he ended up dropping out of the NBA draft and coming back for his junior year. Now, he’s playing better than ever and, given the weaker class, will likely go higher in the draft than he would have last year. So hang in there, Mike. Win a few more medals in 2012, and the world will love you again.

5) The not-so-well-behaved college basketball fan

Hubby doesn’t like watching UNC games with me. I have stopped pointing out that I turned myself into a Broncos fan, sat through all those interminable games this season, for him. He seems unlikely ever to reciprocate. He says that I don’t seem to enjoy the games, what with my yelling at the TV and on rare occasion throwing the remote across the room. (I’ve actually only done this once, but it seems to have left a big impression.) Hubby has obviously never watched a game with my dad, who I get all this from. We are passionate people — Colombians, Obregons — so it can’t be helped. I certainly don’t enjoy watching the Tar Heels lose, but I do love to watch the games. And I love this particular team so much, I wish the season would just keep going and going. It can’t though, so I am trying to take hubby’s words to heart and enjoy every bit, even the stretches of terrible defense, the missed lay-ups, the stupid fouls, all of it.

I don’t even want to think about what might happen in March (except for the awesomeness of a Billy Packer-less NCAA Tournament) because then I’ll go back to being ornery. For now, I’ll say that the Heels have until Senior Night against Duke to get whatever losses they feel are necessary out of the way. After that all of them will be heartbreaking.

Are you ready for some football? Week day after Super Bowl

So the Super Bowl came and went, and I can’t say I was paying much more attention than usual, even this year, in which I made a concerted effort to get into football. I had to work Sunday, which obviously put a damper on things, and there wasn’t much about the match up that seemed compelling to a casual fan such as myself. Yes, Kurt Warner’s whole aging-quarterback-makes-triumphant-comeback story was great and all, but for there to be real drama in sports there has to be a villain too — at least a perceived villain. And despite their continued success, it’s hard to cast the Steelers in that role. It’s a forward looking franchise (its owners are to be credited for the NFL’s famous “Rooney” rule, which has proven that African-Americans can do more than merely sacrifice their bodies to the game, their coach Mike Tomlin being the perfect example). It unabashedly sells itself as a blue-collar team for blue-collar fans. Even the bearded and pudgy Ben Roethlisberger with his average looks appears miscast in the role of pretty boy quarterback, but his achievements speak for themselves.

Last year, the world was rooting against the Patriots, who were trying to go undefeated, and the Patriots (and their fans) relished in the us-against-the-world mentality. It made for excellent pre-game drama. This year, at least, the game itself made up for it. There was the 100-yard interception return just before half-time (I seriously thought that guy was going to hyperventilate when he finally got to the end zone) and the back and forth drives of the fourth quarter. There are no moral victories, but the Cardinals did play with heart at the end.

There was all the usual bloat the the Super Bowl brings: the halftime show, the commercials and the endless bags of chips and dip (at least that’s what we had in the newsroom, though, sadly, no seven-layer dip). But the bigger the hoopla and the hype, the less interested I get. Yes, some of the commercials were funny, but they’re still just commercials — just who are these companies that can afford to pay more than a million dollars for 30 seconds. I am glad that organizers have gotten in the pattern of choosing a single classy act after the debacle that was Justin Timberlake and the wardrobe malfunction (if you watch that entire show, which also included P. Diddy and another random hip hop guy I can’t bring myself to remember, you’ll realize the boob was the least offensive part). Still, I’d be happy with a marching band or nothing at all except the anticipation of what the second half of the game will bring. It should be, after all, about the game. I guess that’s what I can take away from this football season, that the game now means more to me than everything else around it.

So now we wait and wonder, can the Broncos win it next year?

Death, taxes and Smoltzy in a Braves uniform

It’s funny the things I remember from my first Major League Baseball game. The Atlanta Braves were at home at Fulton County Stadium. It was raining, so we had to wait something like two hours for the game to start. At some point, a guy sitting in our section (the nosebleeds, which were a blessing at least on that day because we were protected from the rain) stood up and started yelling at the top of his lungs, “ROLL THAT TARP!” It was amusing for about a minute, and a few people even joined him, but we were so high up there was little hope anyone on the field could hear him. It was also batting helmet day. One of my mom’s co-workers, with whom we’d driven to the game, asked his wife to go down to one of the gates and tell one of the greeters that her kid didn’t get a batting helmet on his way in. She got one, and he wore it the rest of the night. If any ushers got suspicious, none ever let on.

I don’t remember much of the actual game or even who the opposing team was. It was the spring of 1991, and the Braves hadn’t done much up to that point, in my short history as their fan, that was worth remembering. I’d begun watching them on TBS simply to spend with my dad, who watched them simply to watch baseball. It hadn’t even occurred to me, when mom and I moved to Georgia in 1990 that we’d actually have a chance to see them in person. My favorite player, Dale Murphy, had been traded the year before, which was sad, but my next favorite, John Smoltz, was on the mound for that first game. At the end of that summer, catcher Greg Olson jumped into Smoltz’s arms as the Braves clinched first place in the National League West. (This was before the expansion, when Atlanta was, bizarrely, in a division that included Los Angeles and San Francisco.) A week or so later, Smoltz was once again on the mound when the Braves won the pennant in seven incredible games against a Pittsburgh Pirates team that featured a skinny guy named Barry Bonds. A week or so after that, Smoltz matched Jack Norris pitch for pitch in an interminable World Series game seven that the Minnesota Twins ended up winning by a single fracking run in the bottom of the 10th inning. I cried.

Even though the Braves didn’t win their last game, that season is by far the best I’ve ever experienced as a fan af any sport, and John Smoltz was right in the middle of it. He’s in the middle of every memory I have as a Braves fan. So when he announced last week that he’d be leaving the Braves and signing with the Boston Red Sox, I didn’t want to believe it. If this post is about a week too late, it’s because that’s how long it’s taken me to come to terms with the situation.

I get it. When someone offers you $10 to do something that someone else is willing to pay $100 for, you take the money and run. It makes perfect sense on paper. Free agency in sports has made this a normal occurrence. A year after his hairy mane led the Red Sox to its first World Series in 86 years, Johnny Damon got a shave and a haircut for a little extra dough courtesy of the Steinbrenner family in New York. There are no franchise players anymore — not for small teams, not the way there used to be. Earlier this year, the Rockies traded their star Matt Holliday in anticipation of his free agency next year. After he turned down a huge contract for a chance to see what bigger money would be out there, the team’s hands were tied: get something for Holliday in a trade or get nothing except the bitter taste of seeing another young star sign with someone else.

But Smoltz was supposed to be different. He was supposed to have one last hurrah or two with the Braves and look forward to the day he and buddies Maddux and Glavine would be enshrined in the Hall as the greatest trio of pitchers ever to play on one team. That may yet happen, and he’ll certainly be wearing a Braves cap to his induction if he does make it to Cooperstown, but the plaque will have to mention the Red Sox now. I don’t blame Smoltz for the ridiculously unbalanced system that allows big market teams to operate with a budget that doubles and even triples that of other teams, that lets them throw money at every decent player in the game to see what sticks, that leaves guys who just want to play the game one more year with little choice but to take money from GMs who can afford to give it and leave a career’s worth of fans behind.

I do blame him for making me a baseball fan and for making me think that I could count on three things in life.

Photo from Atlanta Journal Counstitution slideshow on Smoltz’s career.

2008 in review: Olympics

Where to begin. Every year in sports is memorable, bringing some athlete, some team the type of glory that prompts the talking heads to wonder, “Are we watching the greatest ever?” We never really are, of course. Not at that moment. You can’t answer that question until you’ve waited 10 years to see if people are still talking about it. Such is the nature of sports media, though, which has brought the art of hype to a whole new level.

Nobody faced more hype this year than Michael Phelps. NBC basically planned their coverage of the two-week event around the long, spindly golden boy and his various trips across the pool. He won an unprecedented eight gold medals and should have been awarded another merely for not wilting in the spotlight as many Olympians have before him. He also made watching the Olympics a shared experience in a way they hadn’t been for a long time. Each race took only a few minutes, but for those few minutes each night, millions stopped what they were doing to see if dolphin boy would do it again. When Phelps won the 100-meter butterfly race, his seventh of the meet, by one 100th of a second, I heard a guy in my apartment complex screaming from his balcony: “FUCK YEAH! BUTTERFLY!” It’s a shame that those of us not living on the east coast had to watch it on tape delay, but even sitting in my living room, refreshing the swimming results page over and over to see what happened, I felt like part of the phenomenon.

So thanks, Mike. Because even if you weren’t that great on Saturday Night Live and even if I don’t need People magazine to tell me what Vegas waitress you brought home for Thanksgiving, for a week in July, you kept us all watching.