Friday, December 30, 2011

'Twas the Night AFTER Christmas ...

Reprinted with permission from the mind of the great wordsmith David Rode ...

Twas a night after Christmas and yay! It was cold!
A feeling that certainly never gets old
The kids were nestled all snug in their beds
They were sleeping alone, they had nothing to dread
For my kids, keeping warm would be a real cinch
But for me, I slept next to the Blanket Grinch
In the middle of the night, I arose with some clatter
Because I wanted to know just what was the matter
Then what to my wondering eyes should appear?
She had stolen my blankets, I was freezing my rear!
She was wrapped up in blankets from her head to her toe
She looked like a goddamn human burrito
I tried to reclaim them, before freezing like a stick
But the Grinch grabbed the blankets, and grabbed them up quick
Her eyes they were closed, because sleeping is good
Though it sounded as if she was sawing on wood
To take back these blankets would take some real work
But the Grinch is pregnant and I don't want to be a jerk
So I grabbed what I could and covered my nose
And rolling back over... I started to doze
But I heard the Grinch claim from her blankets so tight
"Sucks to be you... quit bitchin'... good night!"

Thursday, December 22, 2011

PDN columnist Bill Conlin makes the news -- it's all bad

Just when you thought it was safe to ride off into the Christmas holiday in a good mood, think again if you come from Philadelphia and you ever read the sports pages of the newspaper.

Bill Conlin
Late Tuesday we learned longtime Phillies beat writer and columnist Bill Conlin is being accused by six people (more sure to come, if the other recent patterns hold up) of sexually molesting them when they were children in the 1970s. Conlin, who had been quasi-retired, living in Florida and contributing infrequent columns to the Daily News of late, immediately retired when he caught word that the story had broken.

If you're not dyed-in-the-wool Philly, then you won't understand why this relevation rocks us who are.

If sports in Philadelphia are like Crusades or attempts to walk on water, then the Philadelphia Daily News and Inquirer are like the Bible -- and Bill Conlin was our Gutenberg. He lived in New Jersey, but he "got it" when it came to knowing how Philly fans bleed and boil underneath the skin.

To readers, he was a lifeline. To aspiring writers, he was a muse.

So if these allegations are true ...then damn you, Bill Conlin. You were one of my journalistic heroes.

Just when you start to heal after a round of these stories -- Gerry Sandusky, Bernie Fine, et al -- you get your heart ripped open again, and you start to feel like a child again. Who can I trust?

If the stories are true, then the victims were violated, and those who enjoyed Conlin's prose feel much the same way. And then there's the feelings of his co-workers, and bosses.

Daily News Editor Larry Platt opined openly in a piece he wrote asking how in the hell to report about one of their own. Readers, in comments that were at first not allowed, then allowed with careful moderated scrutiny, either felt the newspaper went too far with the story, or not far enough. A newsroom full of people had to look each other in the eye and wonder, "How were we supposed to know?"

Conlin can stay in his Largo condo and sit comfortably, knowning that he cannot and will not go to prison for what the victims say he did. The statue of limitations apparently runs 15 years on molestation charges, and since all this happened prior to 1996, there will be no Gerry Sanduky-like treatment for Conlin.

I'm sure we all agree we want this to stop. We can only protect those we can reach, and hope that individually we can widen the circle of protection. If you have children, sometime soon you have to teach the lessons, if you haven't already ... if someone touches you where you don't want to be touched, you scream like a little girl, run away and tell the first adult you see.

We must break through this shroud of hushed secrecy, for those who come after us.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The meaning of Christmas, from the Unemployed

I beg your pardon that this isn't about sports, but all that's going on right now are meaning-deficient college basketball games, lesser bowl games garnering interest only from followers of the participants, and the flurry of activity in the NFL as teams try to secure playoff spots -- and you hear enough from the talking heads over at ESPN and NFL Network about that.

The rest of the world is in full Christmas mode, and the blogosphere is full of long and bloated posts about love and family and so forth. I'm taking a different angle on it this year.

About two months ago I got laid off from a job I enjoyed doing. Intra-office crap was making the brew a little bitter, but what I felt like I was doing for the high-school athletes of Osceola County made it worthwhile. It came without warning, and while I was told the move was based on the lack of revenue and not my job performance, it's like saying I was shot by a cop who was aiming at a fleeing bad guy.

I've spent nine weeks or so applying for jobs I'd like (and some that I wouldn't) and wondering when the hell unemployment benefits will kick in. The whole experience has been equal parts disappointing and humiliating. I feel like I let people down, especially my daughter, who luckily has been shielded from it in her own little world and has no idea why Daddy's dropping her off or picking her up at day care more often. Outside of the freelance work graciously offered by my former employer and hopefully my new one, I'm quite often floating through the day without purpose.

Lately I feel like this shouldn't happen during Christmas. What's better then Christmas? Music, food, family, happy children, vacation time. It's all right there but year's version had just been ruined by a bunch of corporate scrooges. I wanted nothing to do with the holiday ... the official amputation of the Christmas spirit.

Then I thought of what another friend had told me when this happened to him, when he watched the holiday classic "White Christmas" and heard Bing Crosby croon some heavy lyrics ...

When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small
I remember when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings


Amen, brother. I have one helluva resourceful (and hot) wife, the cutest kid on the planet, a roof over my head and the smarts to pull out of this. And the response from friends and some family these last two months has been uplifiting. From offering to do lunch to sending along job leads, it's all meant something and I'll never forget it. In another classic you can't avoid this month, "It's A Wonderful Life", Clarence tells George Bailey, "No man is a failure, who has friends."

This Christmas, there will be presents, and cookies, and music, and laughter, and it will be among people who are special in my life, who will inspire me to pick myself up, shake off the cobwebs, get another job and pick my chin up off the ground. I'll be surrounded by happy children pleased to unwrap what they wanted from Santa, who is still stopping by at some point Saturday night, and between my wife, mother and mother-in-law, they will fill me up with enough fattening and sugary foods to put me in a diabetic coma until, oh, St. Patrick's Day.

So I'm doing everything this Christmas that I do every Christmas. This time around, however, it's going to mean just a bit more. I hope all of you appreciate what you have as much as I do, and that you have as merry a Christmas as me.

Statement of full disclosure: A good friend of mine expressed a lot of these same emotions in a missive he wrote when going through this same experience about three years ago. Reading it really hit me and I thought, "I hope I'm not like that if I lose my job." Well, um, I am. This feeling is apparently universal.

Monday, December 12, 2011

UCF, Magic stars packing their bags

In the immortal words of Ken "Hawk" Harrelson ... they gonnnnnnne.

Well, one is on his way out according to published reports. The other ... depends on your mood and level of fandom.

Pardon me, time to take this ball and go home.
Monday, UCF sophomore quarterback Jeff Godfrey reportedly received a release from his scholarship and is leaving the Knights football program. Godfrey, who became the starter as a freshman in 2010 and led UCF to a Conference USA championship title, and then to the school's first ever bowl win -- a 10-6 victory over Georgia in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl -- was supplanted himself for quality playing time by redshirt freshman Blake Bortles this season. Bortles was in the game in the fourth quarter in critical stretches of C-USA battles with Southern Miss and East Carolina. In the season finale at home against UTEP, Bortles entered the game late in the first quarter and played the rest of the game as Godfrey watched from the sideline.

Iliana Limon's story sums up the "Why" of all this. I can tell you all about the "How". My best guess is that George O'Leary had seen enough of the "Michael Greco Syndrome" -- drop back to pass, one-one thousand, two-one thousand, RUN! -- that he didn't want to revisit it with Godfrey, who did a helluva lot of that as a freshman. Well, a leopard doesn't change his spots, and Godfrey just isn't a pocket quarterback.

As for Bortles ... Knights fans, you saw it. He's got a cannon for an arm, can thread a needle at 25 yards and at 6-4, 225 with a little hop to his step, he's got the size and quickness to evade a mess. UCF could win with either one at quarterback, but that would mean the other would be sitting on the bench. Godfrey would still be a great option (stick him in there on a 3rd-and-3 or a 2-point conversion and watch the other defensive coordinator experience angina-like symptoms), but no QB wants to be an option. They want to be THE option.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Football ditties: UCF -> Big East and the bowl games

Took 'em long enough, didn't it?

Big East Comm -- oh, wait, excuse me, BIG EAST Commissioner John Marinatto finally made the worst kept secret in college sports official on Wednesday by accepting UCF, along with Conference USA cohorts Houston and SMU as all-sports members, bringing Boise State into the big-boys football club and adding San Diego State's football program in a move that screamed, "What the f$&k else was I supposed to do? The Mormons turned the other cheek!"

So there you go -- football played across four times zones in the same conference. On the surface, it seems kind of silly, and kind of sad -- the whole thing is predicated by money and Marinatto's acts of desperation to maintain a BCS automatically qualifying spot. Oh, by the way, that berth is safe through 2015.

The best suggestion for UCF fans is take the "It is what it is" mental approach to all this, then think of all the postives this will have for the Knights' football program -- and basketball program.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What I've been up to ...

Hey folks, I'll have some insights on UCF moving to the Big East and the Champs Sports Bowl and Capital One Bowl matchups tomorrow, but right now I have some other pressing issues.

First off, J.C. Carnahan and I recorded the second edition of our still-unnamed Central Florida-based podcast on Tuesday at the ESPN 1080 studios in Orlando. You can access it here. It went about 55 minutes but you can easily skip through it. I thought the production really improved over the first one. The site its on logs the number of visitors, and a nice hit count will look good to a potential suitor as to putting it on their website, or us getting our own live radio show.

The other thing I've been doing is setting up a profile on Examiner.com. I am now the Orlando Sports Examiner, and I get paid for stories I post based on the number of unique visitors. Here's my first story. As of last night it had 10 hits and I "made" $0.60 (they cut you a check once you hit $10). Click the story, then scroll to the bottom and then you can close the box. It takes like 5 seconds and maybe I can get paid. If I post 2 more stories by Dec. 31 they'll double my pay. I need Orlando-centric story ideas, so send them to me if you think of any you'd like seen covered.

That is all. Have a great day!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

#1 vs. #2 on Jan. 9, no matter what you think

So let's recap Saturday's college football action ...

LSU won by 32. Oklahoma State won by 34. Alabama won by not playing.

And thus, we get a BCS National Championship Game that nobody outside of central Alabama wants to see.

That's not my opinion. It's fact. As I write this, it's 10:15 p.m. on Sunday, the night that all the bowl game bids were announced. On a poll at CBS Sports.com, the question, "Do you agree with Alabama facing LSU in the BCS title game?" is being answered with "No" by 65% of over 22,000 voters.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

They gave me a microphone ...

... and I used it.

The world may never be the same.

I participated in (what I hope becomes a regular) podcast this week out of the ESPN 1080 studios in Orlando. The show is the brainchild of J.C. Carnahan, another former community newspaper sports writer who's now going the freelance route when he's not doing his new day gig as the Director of Media Relations for the Orlando Predators.

The show, which is going by the working title "Upon Further Review" for the time, is centered around Orlando-based stories, from area high school kids now playing in bowl games for in-state and out-of-state teams to features on local pros done good and stories on our local pro teams, major league (or whatever the Magic call themselves) or minor-league, and with the Predators, Orlando City Soccer, Rollins College and the recent re-start of the Solar Bears hockey team, there's plenty of that.

Anyway, listen to it here. It went nearly an hour, but there's some music interludes in there, and you can skip through it with ease. Among the topics were the freshmen starts of Austin Rivers (Winter Park High School) and Shane Larkin (Dr. Phillips H.S.), the new Orlando Solar Bears, Jay Gruden (former Predators head coach, now Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator -- and possibly a head coach in 2012?) and a rapid-fire segment to close.

So, give it a listen. Tell me what you think. We'll be doing it again next week, after the bowl game matchups are released. We will certainly improve -- like the old XFL guy said at the end of their first game, "We made $10,000 jumps in production every 15 minutes." Wait, they only last a year ... nevermind.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Don't cry for me, Urban Meyer ...

Gainesville Sun? Not answering your question. The door's over there.
Okay, last show tune, I promise. Besides, nobody's crying for Urban. They're doing it about Urban.

In Columbus, Buckeye fans have a long memory of what he did to them as the Gators' head coach five years ago and aren't exactly rolling out the OSU red carpet for him. My brother-in-law is a big Ohio State fan, and said when Meyer's name first surfaced as a replacement for the deposed Jim Tressel, "If Urban becomes our coach, I'll go root for Michigan." (I reminded him that the enemy of your enemy is your friend and that he'd be better suited to cheer for Michigan State.)

In Gainesville, the memories are shorter, as are the tempers. Meyer's been chastised among Gator fans for leaving the program ... and then going to coach somewhere else. Perish the thought! How awful!

Can you excuse me for a second?
I gotta go take some Rolaids.
Many claim that he faked his supposed health problems at the end of the 2009 season because he didn't want to hack it anymore and wanted a way out. While he went to lie down, Gator fans said he lied. When a grown man says he went to the emergency room because he had chest pains, I'm inclined to believe him. When he turned his guts into vinegar by trying to win in the SEC, I'm also inclined to show a little gratitude.

Gator fans, your coach is not your slave. Coaching in today's SEC means having a shelf life. You don't do it for years on end like Bear Bryant and become a legend; those days are long gone. Why do SEC coaches work so hard? It's the same reason that they are the highest paid coaches in the land: because it matters in places like Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge and Knoxville and Auburn ... and Gainesville. It's all that matters.

Because of that self-subscribed importance, it sounds like Gator fans hold Meyer responsible for being 6-6 this year. Because it couldn't possibly be that they didn't have as good of players as Alabama, LSU, Auburn, South Carolina or Florida State this year, could it?

Meyer didn't abandon UF for Ohio State. When he left Gainesville, the whole Jim Tressel firestorm hadn't even started and the job was over a year away from being open. He thought he'd be happy working for ESPN -- a two-day workweek where he talked football, something he probably does in his sleep -- but retirement didn't fit the bill. Besides, coaches who reach the top are, by necessity, professional manipulators and career opportunists. He's neither the first or last coach to say one thing and do another.

Florida fans, you won the national championship -- twice! -- with Meyer under the toughest conditions ever drawn up -- playing in the SEC, having to win the conference title and moving to the front of the BCS standings. Urban Meyer doesn't owe you a damn thing.

As for Buckeye fans, stop being skeptical. The guy has been a complete success at every level of NCAA coaching: Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. I think you're worthy of that kind of success. Let the man come and start cleaning up the mess that is Buckeye football right now.

For Florida and Ohio State fans, the 2012 season can't come soon enough.

Thought for the day: With the holidays in full swing, the TV ads are now non-stop. I must disagree with the Kay Jewelers' one. Every kiss on most Friday and Saturday nights does not begin with Kay, rather it begins with, say, a Coors Light.

Monday, November 28, 2011

LSU-Alabama, Part 2, and Why We Can't Avoid It

Now that you've had a night to digest the next-to-last BCS standings that matter, what do you think of them?

It's become a near-certainty that LSU and Alabama will play for the national title in New Orleans. Let me decipher that -- a team that did not win its division, let alone conference, will have a claim to the championship.

I thought we fixed that after Chaos Theory put Nebraska in the big game in 2001, when Miami beat them like a tom-tom, after losing their division title to Colorado. Didn't they make a rule against that going forward?

I thought so, and spent about three weeks complaining about Crimson Tide title talk. No division runners-up in my title game, dadgummit! I don't care if they ARE the second-best team in the nation!

The problem is ... they are the second-best team. I played devil's advocate about No. 3 Oklahoma State -- their loss also came in overtime, on the road, less than 24 hours after the sad loss of the Cowboys' women's basketball coach and a top assistant in a plane crash. It's close ... but Okie State's loss came to five-win Iowa State. Alabama lost to the clear-cut No. 1, and didn't give up a touchdown in doing it.

Hey fellas! How was your Christmas?
You can even make a case that Oklahoma State isn't even No. 3. Craig James, a member of ESPN's BCS Countdown panel and a Harris Poll voter, said he put Arkansas at No. 3 on his ballot. "All they've done is lose to No. 1 and No. 2 and beaten everyone else," he said, or a version of that.

I still say make the rule -- no team that doesn't win its division, let alone conference, can play for the national title. UNLESS ... the team they lost to is also in the top 2. I'm not crazy about a rematch, but I also like getting the best two teams over the course of a season, after the body of work is written, together in the title game.

I know someone is going to pipe up and scream, "Playoff!" That's not a complete sentence, and I'd like that guy (or gal) to finish that sentence, which ends with, "as long as Houston and Boise State are not involved." Because that's what you'd get this year, and have to accept that they'd have a say in who won the title, too.

Personally, I've always been a "Plus One" guy. It doesn't change the rest of the lineup of deity-forsaken bowl games. It adds one game while going no farther down the list than No. 4 (where I'm comfortable putting Stanford) to find your champion. After all, do you really think Virginia Tech has a claim to the national championship this year?

Tomorrow in an all-new episode of Phoul Balls: why we should leave Urban Meyer alone and let him get on with cleaning up that hot mess in Columbus.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Orlando: A suburb of Gainesville?

So I settle in a bit ago to watch the 4:15 CBS football game on good 'ol WKMG here in Orlando. Only two choices: New England at Philadelphia or Denver at San Diego. Perfect! I'm on the East Coast! Get to watch my Eagles in a low-stress, nothing-to-lose-and-everything-to-gain spot where I don't expect them to win. Perfect way to digest 3-day-old turkey.

Get ready for 3 hours of this. So many ladies just shrieked so high and loud
at the thought of it that neighborhood dogs started rolling in agony.
Except that we're getting Denver at San Diego. Because, I can only imagine, Mr. You Know Who is playing a road game. 3,500 miles away.

Even my wife, who doesn't like me to watch the Green Birds in the house, responded with, "You've got to be kidding me!"

Why do the networks think that all Floridians are Gator fans? Tim Tebow is doing his best Trent Dilfer impression: a deity-awful NFL quarterback who does so little effectively that the rest of the team steps up and keeps them in the game so he can make one play after 57 minutes or so of deep inhaling with his team trailing by 4 to steal a win.

Hey, if it turns out to be a ratings hit, so be it. I still don't have to like that a guy who lived in Gainesville for 4 years gets to call the TV shots in the country's #22 media market two hours away. The happiest guy of all will be WKMG's sports director, David Pingalore, who has a well-established man crush on his Tebowness. I'm sure he used his influence to get the station to choose the Tebow game, er, I mean the Broncos game. Hope it does it for you, Ping.

I tell you Tebow...I'd be the luckiest guy alive if that did it for me.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Football tidbits as you eat leftovers ...

I have UCF tickets tonight. Probably won't go. They have nothing to play for. UTEP, the opponent, is 5-6 and can make a bowl game with a win. The Knights have played without heart, especially the defense, just about all season. Besides, what's to stop the Conference USA folks to whisper to the UCF folks, "Take a knee tonight. You make money if UTEP makes a bowl game." I know I'm going to be accused of being "less than a true fan" for my attitude, but why waste my time and energy on this disappointment of a season, especially with all that Big East talk? Besides, it's basketball season now ...

Speaking of "taking a knee", Tulsa needs to do that this afternoon. If they "let" Houston win, and then Southern Miss does the same next week, Houston should find itself in a BCS bowl game in January, making about $14 million for the conference rather than the $1 million or so C-USA would get for sending its champ to the Liberty Bowl. Nevada cost the Mountain West Conference many millions for beating Boise State in the conference finale last year. Game just went to halftime and, on cue, Tulsa's putting up a fight but trailing 13-10.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Grinch stole Christmas. A coach took Thanksgiving.

This week I was told to expect about 12 people for Thanksgiving dinner -- us, my mom, the in-laws, her siblings and their close friends of the family, nearly all coming from around Naples. No problem, I said, as I made arrangements for a large gathering, including getting a fold-out table, cleaning the porch, stocking up on stuff to set those places, yada yada yada.

I find out this morning that we're going to have 4 fewer. Our good friend's daughter made her under-15 club volleyball team in Naples ... and the overzealous coach wants to have a practice on Friday. At 9 a.m. I don't think there's a tournament this week. So her, her parents and sister are changing plans and staying home. (I was looking forward to chatting her up about volleyball anyway!)

I understand the niche and purpose of travel sports teams in high school. It's the best (and often only) way of matching up the best of the best, and college coaches catch on and often attend the bigger showcases. Often, the only way to get a scholarship is to wrangle (and pay) your way onto one of these teams, and give up a lot of your down time to practicing and playing.

But the need to force kids to choose between total commitment over family at the holidays is a crock. Most people travel over Thanksgiving break. The kids in my area are off school the entire week. These club coaches know it. What do their own families think of it?

I'll have more on Friday about some of the weekend's big games, news and some info about another blog that shares my name. Until then, Happy Thanksgiving, and may you share in a bountiful harvest much like mine -- 8 people trying to put away 30 pounds of ham and turkey, after eating the other accouterments filling my fridge. Meaning that you're all invited over later in the weekend for leftovers. We'll probably still be eating them at the New Year's party.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Big goings-on in O-Town

Yes, I'm slow on the draw on this, and I'm sorry that the whole trying-to-find-a-job-while-doing-part-time-work got in the way the last two days, but a dynamic three-headed ownership group announced Wednesday that Orlando will be back in the minor-league hockey business in the 2012-13 season, and the team will have a familiar name.


The Orlando Solar Bears' old logo,
 along with their colors and jerseys,
will get a facelift and be released in
the coming months.
Bob Ohrablo, Jason Siegel and Joe Haleski unveiled the new Orlando Solar Bears to the community at an Amway Center press conference on Wednesday. The Solar Bears were an entry in the International Hockey League from 1995-2001. In fact, the last time they skated off the ice, they left with the Turner Cup, the IHL championship trophy. The following year, so many teams either defected to the American Hockey League or simply folded, leaving too few teams for there to even be an IHL, and the Solar Bears went into hibernation.

Until Wednesday.

This time around, the Solar Bears will be in the ECHL (formerly the East Coast Hockey League but now known by its initials), an affiliate league for the NHL. Those in baseball circles will understand when I call it Class AA ball, right below the AHL.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

To Russia, With Love

The fun part of having a blogger.com site is checking the site stats periodicially. I can see if anybody's really reading my drivel, and if so, I clean it up a bit.
There's a way to break down by hits by country. Of like 300 hits over the last two weeks, a couple have come from Canada and Germany. And, over three dozen are coming from a mind-boggling outpost.

I have a following in Russia.

Well, they say you should play to your audience, so I ask you, what do you kids in Kiev and mommas in Moscow want to read about? What do you like? I'll assume soccer, because you are in Europe, and I imagine hockey's up there to, because your surfaces are icy five months out of the year. (I'd make a vodka comment here, but I never acquired the taste for it.) Shoot me a note from your neck of the woods, I'm curious to hear from you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ken Jackson -- professional blogger?

Sorry that I haven't had an entry here in a few days. I've been busy with part-time and freelance work while seeking a full-time job. About that search, now in its fifth frustrating week ...

While I'm not totally closing the door on being a full-time reporter, I'd probably have to move out of town to get that job. Are you going to buy my house for $150k? (Don't look at the appraisal.) I'm trying to work my way into editing and publishing. There's a lot of small publications and places that produce other printed materials in the Orlando area, many who are looking for editors/proofreaders/writers et al.

I apply, and if I get a response at all, it's along the lines of, "This isn't what you've been doing, but ..." Cut it out. It's EXACTLY what I've been doing. Yes, I've written sports like 95% of the time for the last 13 years. But, at the News-Gazette, you're a copy editor for the entire paper, too. (Especially when the editorial "department" is essentially the size of a lunch bunch.) I can break down any subject and write about it. I can read it effectively as an editor. And, do you know what the term "proofreader" is? It's an expensive synonym for "editor". I CAN DO ALL OF THAT, UNDER DEADLINE PRESSURE. HIRE ME AND YOUR PUBLICATION WILL RUN BETTER. Well, that and I don't really want to do some of the other jobs I've applied for. I don't want to be a 9-1-1 operator, but my 3-year-old needs milk and chicken nuggets. At this rate though, I may end up being a professional blogger.

Sorry about that. Rant over, energy worked out of my system. I guess I should talk about sports now. Here's a thought, can we get a college football conference oversight committee? I mean, Saturday I was watching the Penn State-Nebraska game (Who wasn't?), and it took me until midway through the second quarter to realize that it was a Big 10 conference game. Penn State-Nebraska? They should be playing in the Orange Bowl, not in November. How do the Cornhuskers fit in with any team in Michigan?

And, the way the new Big East is shaping up, it's about to get worse. SMU and Houston going up against UConn and Rutgers? Hunh? Boise State getting a BCS shot is kind of exciting, but are you clamoring to see them play Louisville and Cincinnati? These are actually pretty exciting matchups, but does anyone outside of Texas, Idaho, and longtime Big 10 cities give a damn?

More to come tomorrow.

Thought for the Day: A note to the Occupy Wall Street people -- we hear ya, folks. Your stand and your message are right on. I sincerely hope your actions invoke change. But, at the end of the day, pack up your stuff and GO HOME! Have a hot meal and a shower, and be part of the 99 percent who aren't hungry and smelly.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Give Paterno a eulogy ... then give up.

So, what have I learned in the last 20 hours or so about the sad, sad situation in State College, Pennsylvania? That taking sides is not an option here.

Say that Joe Paterno was wrong and needed to be removed because he couldn't stop children from being hurt on his watch, and you draw the ire of the entire Penn State culture who firmly believe it's "My school, right or wrong." Say that Paterno has been a scapegoat and that his share of the blame is smaller than other school officials, and children and family advocates pile on for supporting him in any way.

While you're right on both accounts ... you're wrong on both accounts. So why bother taking a side?

I give up. So here's my feeling: Joe Pa died.

When someone close to you passes away, like my grandmother who was in the throes of Alzheimer's, you don't focus on their state in the last years. You remember them in the good times. You try to smile. I'm not a Penn State fan, but I often think of that 1987 Fiesta Bowl where the Nittany Lions' defense shoved it up Vinny Testaverde's ass. Historians will recall the other four undefeated seasons that didn't result in national championships. There were other things Joe Paterno did over a 60-year career that makes it kind of cold to spit on him because he failed -- albeit rather miserably -- while making a very big decision.

I read the grand jury report. Mike McQueary should have gone to the police. Paterno should have persuaded him harder to do so, or done it himself. That was a mistake, as was, it turned out, expecting the administration members he did tell to do what they are supposed to. Paterno committed a crime of omission, but one that was not on par with those of school president Graham Spanier, AD Tim Curley and senior VP Gary Schultz. And don't get me started on that monster Jerry Sandusky. But, hindsight is always 20/20.

None of it matters now. Paterno's been labeled. And removed. In an odd juxtaposition because of what's going on now, his long career as a football coach only happened because he passed on law school, defying his parents.

Choose to grieve his loss, or choose to spit on his grave, so to speak. Either way, somebody's gonna write a euology.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

2 Demises, 1 Day

What a day. Leave the house for one crummy job fair and all of metro Hades breaks loose.

First, in light of the heinous, criminal things that Jerry Sandusky did years ago, Joe Paterno announced he's hanging up the whistle at Penn State at the end of the season. Funny thing is, that season -- the regular season at least -- could end in the inaugural B1G TEN Championship Game. The Nittany Lions have a two-game lead in the Leaders division with 3 to play (granted they're grinders Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin). I can't wait for that circus to roll into Indy. Merry Christmas, Hoosiers!

There's folks that want Joe Pa out like, 5 minutes ago, and start the house-cleaning toot sweet. That's fueled by the same emotion as the kids rallying in State College Tuesday night to show their love for Joe Pa.

CALM THE HELL DOWN, EVERYBODY. Think rationally for a second.

If you relieve Paterno of duty immediately, what's the very first effect? You penalize his players, who did no wrong, before there's any benefit to the program. They deserve the chance to play in the first Big 10 title game, win it and go to the Rose Bowl. Deny them that because Jerry Sandusky is (allegedly) a perv?

We've also got to assess Joe Pa's level of culpability -- which he couldn't do on Tuesday because the school canceled his weekly press conference, even though he was open and willing to talk. The court of law won't rule on this for months, but the school had a chance to gain favor in the court of public opinion -- and flushed it. Controlling what you can control sometimes involves talking about it.

But back to what Joe knew, when he knew it and who he told. Here's my best guess: Paterno found out what happened back in the mid-90s. He reported to his AD at the same time he confronted Sandusky and said, "Fix this." Then he went back about the business of being the head coach.

Where'd he go wrong? Is he supposed to go to the media and say, "I got a molester on the staff, you get that?" Sandusky resigned in 1994 before he could have been canned. That's not to say Paterno has no level of guilt here, but it's of the coulda-used-better-judgment level than the raping-kids-in-showers level.

It's very, very sad that Joe Pa is going to go out of a very, very storied career this way. You've never heard about him doing things the wrong way before, and fate hasn't shined on him bright, with three undefeated seasons that didn't result in a national title. He deserves better, but so does Penn State.

Then this afternoon, UCF athletic director Keith Tribble and top football recruiter Dave Kelly "resigned" when the results of an NCAA investigation said they broke recruiting rules. I say they "resigned" because they were probably told to do so, or be sumarily fired in a very ugly way.

Under Tribble, UCF Athletics became less about being a fun, little school and more about becoming a money machine. It's what it takes to be a part of big time college athletics in this day and age, and you wonder who a good hire would be to maintain that vision.

I guess if it's gonna rain, then let it pour. The football team is in the midst of completely underwhelming its preseason expectations. The only pull from the doldrums is talk of a new conference.

Big East? Forget it. I think the Knights finally qualify to apply to the SEC.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

OK Eagles fans, NOW it's over.

To all those who told me to keep hope that the Eagles were still a contender because the NFC East is the Least instead of the usual Beast ... hey, guess what, it's college basketball season!

Philly lost to the Bears, 30-24 on Monday, blowing a 4th quarter lead for the 4th time in their 5 losses, and are now 3 games behind the Giants, who somehow beat the Patriots on a final-minute TD pass Sunday. The Eagles are 3-5, and I can't see them getting past 8-8. Upcoming, they'll beat Arizona, the Giants (they're good enough to split), Seattle, Miami and Washington. They'll lose to New England, the Jets and in Dallas.

The Giants will beat the Jets, Washington, and split with Dallas. That's 9 wins, and they may beat San Francisco on the Left Coast next week.

Game, set, 3-card monty, and the queen done gone around the corner.

At halftime, they honored former head coach Buddy Ryan and some of his cast of Eagles defensive characters from the late '80s. They needed to take off their civvies and get into the game. I think by the second half, Chicago started kneeling it on 1st and 2nd down. Why risk a turnover when you're a lock on 3rd down, no matter the yardage? And, um, pass rush? You don't hit him, you let him get comfy, and suddenly Jay Cutler looks like J. Montana. And, that 3-headed DB monster of Asomugh, Cromartie and Samuel? No chemistry, no heart. Less Dream Team, more cream cheese.

Philly, you had to have that one, and you got had.

Guess Sunday's now for teaching my 3-year-old how to ride her bike. And wash Daddy's car.

Other exciting tidbits:

** The Vegas wiseguys seem to favor Alabama over LSU in a neutral-site game, if one were to be played later this season, nudge-nudge, wink-wink. But, it doesn't matter. LSU won the only meeting that will matter, if there's justice. Thought you couldn't play for the BCS title if you didn't win your division, let alone conference. The Sugar Bowl will be just fine for Alabama to roast Cincinnati or Boise State in.

** Haven't formed an opinion on this disgusting case coming out of Penn State regarding Jerry Sandusky. I usually don't pay attention unless the talk is about an upcoming matchup, and I don't listen to much of the talk anyway, preferring to research stuff myself. My only thought is this: what possesses a human being to do the despicable things to a child that are being alleged?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Thoughts from the Tussle In Tuscaloosa

Well, like Gene Wojchiechowski said it best, if that was the Game of the Century, then I want my 100 years back.

That 9-6 overtime win by LSU, while a classic, was not classically played. For most of the nearly four hours it took to play out, neither team looked like it wanted to win it. For example, both teams took stupid penalties. The block in the back on the punt that essentially took out Alabama's Merriwether kid stands out for LSU. And Alabama getting called for 12 in the huddle in the overtime, costing them five precious yards? Yeah, they'd been called for that earlier in the game, too. Simply put, championship teams simply play smarter in those spots.

Other random ramblings:

** I never thought that, as a UCF fan, I'd have pity on another team's field-goal kicking unit.

** With about 6 minutes left in the game, Nick Saban and Les Miles were clearly playing for overtime. Why? Because with those defenses, both knew it'd be the only way they'd get to the opponent's 25-yard line.

** I told ya so on Thursday -- A.J. McCarron would win the battle between him and Jarrett Lee, but if Miles worked Jordan Jefferson in, the Tigers would have a puncher's chance. (Now, if Jefferson's in there and I'm the Tide's DC, I'm flooding the box with nine guys. If Jefferson finds an arm in the next five minutes, you win and I yield.)

** No TD's? No problem. I took the under (42) and in my picks took Alabama by 3, effectively taking the 4.5-points Vegas gave LSU. Let me reiterate, I selected them, but I didn't bet them. The unemployed ought not bet with scared money. Or the Christmas fund.

** When the polls come out this morning, LSU will be the consensus No. 1. They better get all the first-place votes, too. Who else are you gonna put up top? Not Oklahoma State or Stanford, yet. And not Alabama. Boise State? Well that'd be ballsy. And dumb.

** This loss should eliminate Alabama from the BCS title game discussion. All this talk of "possible rematch" went out the window when (I thought) they made a rule that you can't play for the title if you didn't win your division, let alone conference. If Oklahoma State and Stanford both stumble, Boise State is the only logical choice. Failing that, a one-loss Oklahoma team that wins the Big 12 title is viable to me, too.

** Last word: thank God we got an extra hour's sleep last night. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a tournament tee time in 45 minutes.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Kyle Busch: a driver only Jersey could love

Because I know you all are bored out of your skulls waiting for the LSU-Alabama game, so I give you this ...

Good to see that NASCAR got some dignity and some stones for what Kyle Busch pulled on Friday night. I'm attaching the video (I hope it plays), but in a nutshell, Busch, noted for being an iron-headed bully on the track, was racing Ron Hornaday hard in the early stages of the Craftsman Truck race at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday.

Hornaday, a Truck series points championship contender, had to go around a slower truck at the same time that Busch, not racing for points and just trying to win another race, was trying to go around Hornaday, who got loose and pushed Busch up to the wall. Busch brushed it and Hornaday bounced off both trucks and got damaged. The contact prompted officials to throw the yellow flag.
Once under yellow, Busch couldn't believe that someone would try to get in his way, so he took umbrage and spun Hornaday right into the wall -- under the yellow, mind you.


Immediately, NASCAR parked Busch for the night, the first right step. Saturday morning, they told him to go home, as he was suspended from today Nationwide series race and Sunday's Sprint Cup event. Kyle was 7th in the points in the Chase for the Cup going into Sunday, a spot that he'll drop like a lead rock from.
And, yanno what, good riddance. Ever since he stormed onto the top-level scene of NASCAR (the name's changed like three times since he came up), his attitude has been, "Everyone needs to get out of my way because I'm better than all you losers. And the world ought not piss me off." People used to rail on Dale Earnhardt for his renowned aggression, including me. But his style was more "I'm going to do what I can to move you because I'm trying to outwork you." Plus, ol' No. 3 would handle any problem he had with another driver after the race in the pits with words and maybe some fists -- not with a 3,000-pound missle going 150+ m.p.h.
NASCAR sent a nice message to Busch and a few other hotheaded drivers -- take a good look in the mirror. Other drivers have done similar shenanigans and gotten nothing more than a stern talking to. I remember Tony Stewart once got fed up with Matt Kenseth (maybe or Ryan Newman, I forget) in the Daytona 500 a few years ago. During green flag laps, Stewart pushed him into the grass, sending Kenseth sliding back across the track and nearly into the wall. Luckily, he hit neither the wall or another driver and was able to continue on.
After the race, Stewart was asked about his actions and replied with something like, "He did it to me earlier in the race so I did it to him and turnabout's fair play." Oh, grow the hell up. "He started it" does not wash for a reason in a sport where people can die, either on the track or in the stands. What if Kenseth had been hurt in that wreck? What if he collected, say, eight or nine cars in that wreck, ending their days too even though they weren't involved in those two lovebirds little spat.
Hey Busch, and the rest of you, save your road rage for the New Jersey Turnpike, where even rain storm is no excuse for only doing 65 in the right lane. You're racers, not assassins.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

SEC Game of the Century? We mean it!

At my old job at the News-Gazette, we used to joke about that week's big game in the SEC as the "Game of the Century of the Week." Always seems like there's on each week -- Auburn-LSU, Florida-South Carolina, Tennessee-Alabama, et al -- that's larger than life; the loser has to live with finishing the season in the Peach Bowl or something.
Saturday night's LSU-Alabama game fits the bill. SEC Game of the Century, and 'das it.

Number One vs. Number Two. The defacto "playoff" people are calling this a BCS title game national semifinal. I say they're probably right, having seen them both play. Come Saturday night, if this game is won by more than 7 points, then somebody got a defensive or return touchdown.

Neither team is going to be able to move the ball on the ground, there's just too many hungry wolves on those defenses. Whoever passes the ball the most effectively is going to win, which in the SEC is a scary thing; when you throw the ball, three things can happen. Two of them are bad. I really hope this doesn't come down to the showdown of Jordan Lee vs. A.J. McCarron, I have to go with McCarron, although I expect Les Miles to sell a little more of his soul (Does he have any of it left?) and work Jordan Jefferson in there, which throws this thing even more askew.

My prediction? Since I figure Alabama (-4.5) will win this matchup like 53% of the time, I'll take the home team. Crimson Tide by 3. More picks to come, by the way. But I have to approach what will happen after this week.

Saturday's winner is definitely in the driver's seat for a shot to win it all. Their opponent? Oklahoma State? Stanford? What if they slip, to say Oklahoma or Oregon. Who does that leave? Boise State? Of course it does. And of course they're gonna get screwed and the voters would put Saturday's loser back in it over them (even though I thought the powers that be added a rule that a team that didn't win its division couldn't play for the BCS title).

So, without the "plus-one" game that college football could use more than decent compliance, do you think Boise State wishes it was in the Big East right this moment? Speaking of which, let me get this straight: it's completely dumb for the Bluefielders to go to the Big East, but it's okay for West Virginia to make three 2,000-mile trips to Big 12 schools a year?

Put Boise in the Big East. TCU's in the Big 12. Utah made it to the Pac-12. Are there any other teams with real "BCS-buster" aspirations not in a BCS conference now? BYU? Puh-leeze. This round of conference realignment fixes a lot of ills. (Add the plus one, and it's the perfect game.)

But, just to show that perfect is an abstract concept, here's some more picks for the weekend:

Tulsa at UCF (-1): Really? Knights favored? We've been as consistent as wet paint. Tulsa has three losses. To Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State. Golden Hurricane by 4 in "I Believe, But Just Not Enough" Upset Special.

Florida State (-15) at Boston College: 'Noles have been inconsistent too, but Eagles could conceivably be 2-10 at the end. 'Noles by 17.

Vandy at UF (-11): Don't be surprised if Commodores make Gators fans really nervous, or even win. Fighting Muschamps by 7.

South Carolina at Arkansas (-4.5): The SEC B-game of the week, and it's a bitch, too. Hogs by 1.

 Michigan (-3.5) at Iowa: Iowa's tough at home. With that said, Wolverines by 3 Denard Robinson big plays.

 Cincinnati (-3) at Pittsburgh: A coach who I worked with in Kissimmee has a son (Pat Lambert) at Cincy. I'm still not allowed to pick against them and I don't even work there anymore. Bearcats by 6.

 The paid professionals:

Miami at KC (-5.5): Wanna make money at this racket? Here's an easy tip: pick these Dolphins to lose every week. Chiefs by 7.

Tampa at N'awlins (-8): Saints score 62, then lose to St. Louis. Time to go back to the other side of the inconsistent side, right on schedule. N'awlins by 11.

NY Jets at Buffalo (-1.5): A game primed for unscripted goofy-ness. I don't feel like reading the script. Bills by 3.

Green Bay (-5.5) at San Diego: Chargers are still really good when they play well, they're at home, a place way in the corner of the country, and the Packers are primed to let a little air out of the balloon. Call me nuts, but Bolts by 3 in "Hey, the Rams won last week" Upset Special.

Baltimore at Pittsburgh (-3.5): What do the Steelers have left after last week's emotional win over the Patriots? Enough to beat a decent Ravens team, but some weeks they're world beaters in purple. When they're bad they can't beat an egg, but I'll take a flier. Quoth the Ravens, win by 4.

Chicago at Philadelphia (-8): Eagles are rolling, but an eight-point fave? Um, whatever. Birds by 7.

If you want to go head-to-head with me, shoot me an email. If you beat me, I'll holla at'chya boy in the blog next week.

Thought for the Day: Lucky rabbit's foot -- wasn't so lucky for the rabbit, was it?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hank Williams not only thing missing from MNF

So last night, a Monday night that happened to be Halloween, I went out with my 3-year-old, her in a fairy costume and her Mommy and I clutching our cold drink mugs, and proceeded to acquire likely every piece of candy on Earth. We got home, put the little one to bed, watched some TV and headed to sleep.

This morning I realized, "I picked the Chargers to win last night!" I had totally forgotten to switch over at some point to Monday Night Football. Turns out the Chargers lost because Philip Rivers couldn't handle a center-QB exchange late in the game with the score tied and San Diego in Kanas City's red zone. The Chiefs went on to win it OT.

And I missed it all. It wasn't the first time this season, either.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Confessions of a Rookie Blogger

Up until the past month, I thought of about 95% of bloggers out there as "wannabe journalists". A thought and an Internet connection does not make you a reporter. Reporters have journalism degrees. Bloggers have an axe to grind and bad hygiene.

Then I lost my job as a reporter, and realized there's probably no way I'm going to be back in a newsroom with full-time employ for quite some time. Writing in this space will at least scratch that itch to be a columnist again.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Testing, testing, 1 ... 2 ...

Hey all. This is the dry run for my new sports blog. Tomorrow there will be acutal content here, with the sports buffet ramping up next week going into a very exciting sports weekend.

So, welcome. Hope this becomes a habit.
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