Monday, January 31, 2005

Oh, To Be A Fly In The Locker Room After This Game



Sally Anthony, co-owner of the Nashville Rhythm of the ABA, is singlehandedly attempting to push the role of women in sports back decades.

Not only did Anthony fire Ashley McElhiney, who was the first-ever woman to coach a mens professional basketball team, but she fired the coach of a 17-7 winner, but not before heading down to the sidline to physically confront McElhiney during a game. Anthony had to be removed by stadium security.

And people say Al Davis is a meddling owner.

I'm guessing McElhiney won't have to wait long for another job.

Meanwhile, Ms. Anthony's greatest crime may be her music. Man, you can just tell it sucks.

**********************


Ante Razov, the Fire's all-time leading score, has been traded to the Columbus Crew. I'm really starting to have a hard time recognizing the Fire anymore. All the old familiar faces are leaving one by one.

On the plus side, Tony Sanneh is a veteran of the U.S. national team, and Razov has had health concerns, so this deal doesn't look bad.

**********************


Rumor has it that porn star Dale Dabone - Dabone? That's dafunny - is dating Jennifer Capriati.

I wonder if Dabone ever saw this picture. I'm actually frightened.

********************
Try this. It's pretty freaky.

This might be even more freaky...but funny, too.

********************


Have you ever potty trained a toddler?

I haven't. So I'm no expert on the matter. I don't think, however, that the proper method would be to force a toddler to sit on the porcelain throne until he does his thing once and then deem the project complete and successful.

No matter how many times the toddler participates in the glamorous world of correct bowel and bladder movement, the training process isn't over until you never again have to bend over, place a couple fingers down the back of the diaper, and take a nice big whiff.

The potty training process takes time. It can be a long and trying. And you just might put your fingers right in some shit.

So please forgive me if I don't blindly dive into all the joy and relief surrounding the Iraqi elections.

And please don't accuse me of comparing the Iraqi people to toddlers. It's only an analogy.

And, hey, I promised you yesterday I was only taking one day off from my BushCo bashing.

Sure, the Iraqi people turned out to vote en masse and this is awesome. The thing is, we shouldn't be surprised by this. BushCo and all the various talking heads - liberal, conservative and otherwise - shouldn't just plaster photos of Iraqis in line to vote and proclaim the day to be an outright success.

Like I said previously, the Iraqi people have been tortured and tormented for a long, long time. Their willingness to vote, even in the face of the insurgents' warnings and pointless acts of violence, is not a reflection of some monumental success by BushCo. Rather it is the natural progression of a people that has been under the boot of tyranny for so long that - of course! - they will lunge at the first scent of freedom. Is this rocket science? No. Did we have to bomb them to find this out? BushCo obviously thought so.

Naturally, the surely gloating right will tell us that this is proof of BushCo's supreme and unwavering vision. It's not. In fact, the true tragedy of it all is that BushCo failed to envision a path for democracy without slaughtering thousands of innocent Iraqis with the blood of American soldiers.

They will tell us that George Bush is an heroic crusader, better than Ronald Reagan, and an angel sent to deliver freedom to the oppressed. Yeah, well, just like Reagan and his not-so-gallant wars in Central America in the 1980s, Bush is great at assembling America's monstrous military might and trouncing into small, poor countries armed only with makeshift militaries and playing the role of glorious conqueror. Just like Reagan, Bush picks on the weak and largely defenseless and feels proud of himself.

Let me ask you this: If Bush is so strong and righteous and dominant, why not attack Saudi Arabia? Why not attack one of the most tyrannical and oppressive nations in the world? Why not attack the nation that supplied 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11?

Could it be because Bush is nothing more than a fake and an image maker offering futile and phony wars in the name of humanity, self-righteous back patting and oil deals? Could it be because he's a pussy standing on a pedestal of deceptions and half-truths?

Ding, ding, ding!!!

But I digress. I'll ease up on BushCo for just a moment and tell you what is really bothering me about these Iraqi elections.

The Iraqis themselves. Or more to the point, the Middle East, otherwise know as Hell on Earth.

Look, I just don't buy that democracy is going to all of a sudden take hold. In fact, I just don't buy that democracy is going to take hold...well, ever.

After all, this is the Middle East, where if someone isn't your enemy, he should still be looked at very suspiciously, possibly even bombed, perhaps soley out of boredom and pent up frustration over sexual hang-ups and taboos over booze.

The Middle East is an eternal mess where apparently everyone hates themselves nearly as much as they hate everyone and everything else. I know I might sound like a pessimist or stereotyping loudmouth, but the Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds will go on bombing each other and wrestling for power and generally being total dicks forever. At least that's what I suspect.

This is the Middle Eastern way. Iraq. Iran. Saudi Arabia. Syria. Sunnis. Shiites. Jews. Palestinians. Whoever. It's the same old story. Always.

Am I stereotyping? I don't think so. I'm just being honest and objective.

So don't tell me that we should celebrate the dawning of a new day because we held the insurgents relatively at bay for a few hours and spoon-fed democracy to the Iraqi people in possibly a one-time deal.

Please don't tell me this, because that toddler is leaning over to grab the rubber ducky in the tub and smearing shit all over the seat.

No amount of guns and tanks and armor, and no death toll, will change the Iraqi people.

Only they can do this. Only they can change themselves. And too many Middle Easterners have done not nearly enough changing for centuries.

And when the Middle East does change, only then will I celebrate.

And only then will I believe it.

Because as far as I can tell, the Middle East is still sitting in a soggy, stanking diaper looking pathetic.

And the bombings have not stopped.

Not now, possibly not ever.

And you think I'm a pessimist? Sheesh, someone open up some taverns and strip joints over there.

Lighten up already.
*************************

"Why doesn't your intelligence support what we know is out there?" - Dick Cheney
"The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse." - Edmund Burke

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Rock the Vote



At least we now know that the Iraqi people want democracy. This is a positive after three years of nothing but lies and blood and bullshit.

For one day at least we'll forget that the Iraqi people also surely wanted this democracy, this freedom of choice, when they were under the mysterious and miserable spell of Saddam Hussein or, in other words, long before we blew them up.

Couldn't somebody have taken a poll of this, maybe before the war?

TV talking heads could do wonders with those numbers.

Next time let's read the Iraqis' blogs first.

But I won't nitpick.

I think our soldiers are fighting in somebody else's war as America's alleged leaders fight all the wrong wars back home. (Nobody cares if you're gay, BushCo.) These so called-leaders of ours are full of poor ideas and the cluelessness to stand by them. Young American soldiers die one day after telling their families they'll be coming home the following week.

But I won't nitpick.

They say voter turnout was better than expected. If so, I'm impressed. Of course, I wasn't there and I don't believe everything we're told, in word or on screen. Too many agendas. Too many schemes. Too many people getting paid. Too many truths not always seen.

But I won't nitpick.

I can't help the feeling that the suicide bombings won't stop whether we retreat or whether we stay. I say we get out. I say there are too many colliding, conflicting ideas of bloody power and save-the-world twisted rhetoric coming together like atoms in the nucleus at the bottom of a bomb.

But I won't nitpick.

But only for today.

*******


You couldn't ask for a better scene than the orange slice of heaven that unfolded downstate on Saturday.

The one hundredth year of Illini basketball is presently going on and everyone was there to celebrate. All the old heroes, all the old legends. Everybody dressed in orange. Everybody feeling good. Everybody loving life. Everyone squinting in the light reflecting off the earrings of Ken Norman, which were simply huge.

It didn't hurt the festivities that the Illini are 21-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation. And it certainly didn't hurt that they ran all over Minnesota 89-66.

Everyone seemed happiest to see Lou Henson who rolled through the festivities in his wheelchair.

Good to see you, Lou.

********
Random thoughts on the Bulls:

I wouldn't be too alarmed by the loss to the Celtics. Kirk Hinrich and Andres Nocioni fouled out. Ben Gordon was playing with five fouls down the stretch and was being picked at like a scab on defense because of it. The refereeing was very questionable. Way too tight. Both ways. I'm not complaining. But it wasn't good.

The Bulls succeed with their up-in-your-face defense and the refs' calls on Saturday night were tighter than Lindsay Lohan's exquisitely selected wardrobe. The Bulls were taken out of their game, and it didn't help that Paul Pierce and Gary Payton get more calls than a cab company on New Years night. Nobody on the Bulls gets calls like that yet.

And Chris Duhon now knows to take the big shot at the end if need be. It's not likely he'll find himself in that situation very often, but he'll never hesitate again. The game-tying shot was there for the taking and he passed on it. He's a rookie.

Lessons were learned.

********
So at what point does one stop being a sports fan and simply morph into a state of complete slothdom?

I only ask because I was watching Arena league football.



Yes, I caught myself watching the Rush game at the Dallas Desperados, who are pretty good in the grand scheme of all things Arena League. It was the Rush's first game of the season and it was on the road. Dallas sent the game into overtime with a field goal on the last play of the game, and then took the lead with a touchdown on their first drive of the extra period. The Rush came back, scored a touchdown (on a run no less), and then decided to go for two-points. In fact, they came to the line, thought about it, called a timeout, thought about it some more, and STILL decided to go for two points and the win.

They missed, but I like their style. Then again, going for the extra point was probably the smart thing to do.

So anyway, back to my question: Is Arena league viewing entirely too much sports television or what?

A) Yes, and you need to take a shower.

B) No, NFL withdrawal is a painful process, but, just like every year, you'll get through it with a) time, b) spring training, and c) methadone.

C) Don't care, no matter, you're not actually betting on the Arena games yet, so you're safe.

****


Quick question for White Sox Nation: Would you rather see Magglio Ordonez come back to haunt the Sox 18 times a season in a Tigers uniform, or would you feel safer with Maggs in a Cubs uniform and in the National League far, far away?

Detroit and Wrigleyville seem to be Magg's two main options at this point.

You've all seen the guy hit, so it's an interesting situation.

Personally, I'd rather see him in a Cubs uniform. I don't want to be forced to root against Maggs and, knee injury or not, I don't think he's done. The thought of Maggs helping an AL Central team is much too disturbing.

And Maggs and Aramis Ramirez would be an awesome 1-2 punch in the heart of the Cubs' lineup.

And why is Sox GM Kenny Williams getting a relatively free ride on this? Saying goodbye to Maggs isn't much different than the Cubs bidding adieu of Sammy Sosa.

They both meant a lot. They will both be remembered. They were both cut loose unceremoniously.

******


Lest Cub diehards and drunks forget that the Cubs still have Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano, they do.

Sosa is still gone, essentially for Jerry Hairston Jr. and some dudes nobody knows, but the Cubs starters are still as good as any in baseball. At least they could and should be.

Aubrey Huff rumors persist and the guy can hit, as do rumors of Maggs' possible never-really-gone return.

All is not lost.

So you miss Sosa?

A) Yes, he deserved to spend the remainder of his career here. Sammy was the best.

B) No, the dude had to go.

C) Don't care, no matter, the Cubs have starting pitching and Aramis, so everything will be fine.

D) Fuck the Cubs, go Sox.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Hey, Ya!



Let me introduce you to some fine upstanding young gentlemen and really, really outstanding musicians. I dig the sound of these crazy young cats and I think you'll dig them too. And if you're a Bulls fan, you'll especially like them. (i.e., it's a song about the Bulls.)

Ladies and gentlemen, the Token Filipinos...



I must go to bed and dream of questionable NBA referees and her...

It's 1:13 in the cold morning here. That must mean it's daytime in Iraq, which means the elections are going on. We'll see how it goes. It could go well, it could be a disaster (literally and figuratively), or it could be little more than indecipherable meaning twisting in the wind coming from the lips of the talking heads and we shall know no true answers.

Sosa: It Was Fun While It Lasted, But...



Sometimes things have to happen. Have to.

Sometimes an arm or leg has to be amputated. Sometimes plugs have to be pulled, on lives, on projects, on tubs. Sometimes the bar closes and you have to leave. (That sucks, I know. "Last" and "call" are two words right up there with "it's" and "yours" on the list of unexpected two-word phrases you don't want to hear.)

And Sammy Sosa had to be traded.

All good things, they say, must come to an end, and Sosa's tenure as the face of the Cubs has come to a long-anticipated halt as he heads off to Baltimore to be replaced by strange fellows by the names of Jerry Hairston Jr. and Jorge Julio and Minor League Prospects (Who, who, and who?)

Of course, it can be argued that the Sosa era of Cubs history, when you think about it, wasn't all that special. Sure, his spirited gallops to right field, his patented hop off of home plate, and his kisses to the camera will always be looked upon fondly, but what do the Cubs really have to show from thirteen years of the Sammy Show?

Not much. A bunch of losing, one infamous playoff collapse, and a horrendous breakup that should warm the hearts of over-sensitive teenage lovers everywhere going through breakups of their own.

Granted, the perennial Cubs disappointment has plenty to do with the inept and cheap ways of the pathetic Tribune Company, which would rather scalp tickets to its own fans and fight with the city of Chicago over ways to further turn Wrigley Field into a cash cow than win, but, as much fun as Sosa could surely be, let's not forget that he was a guy seemingly more interested in stats and public persona than winning.

Let's not forget that Sosa took steroids and corked his bats. (Merely allegations? Sure. And O.J. was only alleged to have murdered Nicole.)

Let's not forget that Sosa always had to be the center of attention, right down to having his boom box heard above everything else in the Cubs locker room, even the chagrin of his teammates.

Let's not forget that Sosa walked out on those teammates on the final day of last season, on Fan Appreciation Day no less.

Let's not forget that Sosa hasn't once bothered to contact the Cubs during this, the most controversial offseason of his career.

Let's not forget that Sosa fought with Dusty Baker, who has only put together the two most successful back-to-back Cubs seasons since...well, I can't even remember.

Let's not forget that Sosa probably wanted out of Wrigleyville as much as the Cubs wanted to dump his exorbitant salary and his ruined reputation.

Most importantly, let's not forget that Sosa had reached the point where he was largely disliked by his coaches, his teammates, and Chicago fans, an amazingly forgiving lot. Most telling, many of those delusional Cubbie fanatics who'd rather die than give up the hope that some year will be "the year," and who considered Sosa a holy figure, had even come to realize that Sosa had digressed into more trouble than untouchable talent

Sosa had to be traded.

Here's an idea. Find some photos of Sosa, or better yet, a DVD or tape of his highlights. Then pop in Jet's "Get Born" album and flip to the song "Look What You've Done."

Now play the highlights and the song simultaneously.

Try it, it works. It's strangely sad and beautiful all at the same time.

Listen to the lyrics:

"Take my photo off the wall if it just won't sing for you anymore/ 'Cuz all that's left has gone away and there's nothing there for you to prove/ Oh, look what you've done, you've made a fool of everyone/ Oh, it seems like such fun until you lose what you have won."


Amen, Australian garage rockers with the funny-looking drummer who I saw in a Walgreens while you guys were in Chicago and he was with a scorching hot rock chick. I want to be a rock star, too. Then somebody else would be in Walgreens buying my hay fever medicine for me and I could spend my time with scorching hot rock chicks in hotel rooms and strange, new positions.

Incidentally, the very next song on the Jet album has a chorus that howls, "You're gonna get what you need!" Prophetic? We shall see. I like to think that the answers to anything can be found in rock songs, particularly any song written while in the throes of a drug-induced state of euphoric pondering.

Don't get me wrong. GM Jim Hendry still has more work to do than Ashlee Simpson's agent. As it stands, the Cubs' outfield is Corey Patterson and a bunch of wide-eyed hopefuls and modestly impressive journeymen. The loss of Sosa and Moses Alou is a lot of offensive production to replace, not to mention surly attitude and "Just For Men."

The talk is that the acquired prospects will be shipped to Tampa Bay for Aubrey Huff, who is a nice player, but not an outfielder. I'm not sure how this works, and I'm not sure that Lou Piniella, of all managers, would appreciate dealing with any more youngsters.

Magglio Ordonez is still available, though his signing with the Tigers seems imminent.

Jeromy Burnitz is still out there, but he's 35, and his impressive stats were no doubt inflated by playing in the light Rocky Mountain air of Coors Field.

Still, more moves must be made yet.

In the meantime, Cubs fans can decide between begrudgingly letting go of a tainted, sullen hero or accepting that a mixed era has inevitably come to a sad and unfortunate conclusion. It can be argued that Sosa's legacy was destined to take this ugly turn ever since his geri curls shrank and his biceps began to bulge, along with his power numbers, with mysterious rapidity. Sosa wrote his own tale. You get what you deserve, and all that jazz.

Really, though, the end of Sosa's stay in Chicago was imminent the moment last fall his infamous boom box met the wrong end of a baseball bat as unnamed teammates watched, assumedly in glee.

Think about that for a moment. Does that sound like a guy you want in your clubhouse? A guy so disrespected that his personal belongings are trashed to the encouraging chants of wild-eyed, circling teammates in a scene reminiscent of something out of "Lord of the Flies?"

No, not really. I'll take Hairston, his hustle, his encouraging on-base percentage, and his youthful willingness to fit in, to succeed, to keep his boom box volume at a more personal level.

Sosa's gone. It's over. It's all over. It was fun while it lasted, but another summer will come and life goes on. Someone in Cubbie blue will trot out to right field and the Wrigley Field faithful will drunkenly stumble in from the nearby taverns and convince themselves that someday their undying love will be returned and life will be perfect and nothing will ever matter again.

So farewell, Sammy, and good luck. I mean it. You gave us many needed smiles while playing for a team dripping with lasting failure. You will not be forgotten. Ever. And, besides, I'm guessing you'll quite like the end of your career as an aging DH in the American League.

Sorry it had to end this way. But let's not kid ourselves and say it wasn't expected.

Oh, it seems like such fun until you lose what you have won.

But you know what? How funny would it be if Sosa decided not to waive his no-trade clause and this doomed marriage was forced into one more year of cohabitation?

Now that would be total Sosa.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Backups Down For It



The sometimes strange substitution patterns of Scott Skiles have warranted much discussion this year, and Thursday night's 101-93 win over the Bobcats will certainly keep such talk snapping.

None of the Bulls starters played in the fourth quarter.

Not a single one.

After the starters saw a one-time double-digit lead shrunk to a mere 74-73 advantage after three quarters, Skiles apparently had seen enough and sent in guys like Eric Piatkowski and Jannero Pargo to do their thing. Piatkowski responded with 16 points, while the seldom-used Pargo pitched in with 14, all coming in the fourth quarter in lights-out fashion.

Wait a sec.

Jannero Pargo? Is this the same Pargo who had played all of 31 minutes with two points on the season?

And do Piatkowski and Pargo even have a "thing?"

I guess so.

Weird. Good weird.

Hey, I'm not complaining.

**
I've noticed two slightly disturbing trends in recent Bulls games:

1) They play down to their opponents. OK, I wouldn't exactly call it a "trend" just yet as this whole winning thing is so new, but the win over the Bobcats followed a similar pattern to their win over the hapless Hawks last Friday night.

In both games, the Bulls took an early lead, went up by double-digits in the second quarter, relaxed in the third quarter as the opponent made a game of it, and then pulled away in the end. In both games, you couldn't help the feeling that the Bulls were easing up off the gas just a little bit.

On the one hand, it speaks volumes that the Bulls are suddenly a team that may be deemed to "play down to their opponents."

On the other hand, this is a trend that needs to be outgrown.

2) Eddy Curry. I don't want to overreact. And I certainly don't want to jump all over Curry, whose work ethic, physical shape, and overall excitement and dedication this season have been a massively pleasant surprise.

However, Curry missed a start against the Nuggets on Tuesday after hurting his groin in the pregame warmup - stretch, man! - and was painfully ineffective against Charlotte last night, appearing uninvolved much of the time and committing a team-high five turnovers while being outplayed by the pride of Slovenia, Primoz Brezec.

Like I said, no need to panic just yet.

I'm just keeping my eyes peeled at all times for any unwanted sightings of the "old" Curry. That's all.

**
So how long until Andres Nocioni officially becomes a Bulls fan favorite? Or is he one already? The guy's hustle is pure fun to watch.

**
Congrats to Luol Deng and Ben Gordon on being selected for the Rookie Challenge game. Nocioni and Chris Duhon undoubtedly deserved a hard look here as well, but there are only so many spots.

And props to Kirk Hinrich for being selected to the sophomore squad.

Matt at Bulls Blog discusses the young Bulls here.

**


Sure sign that the world is backwards?

George Karl, in a press conference announcing his hiring as the Nuggets coach, cited the Bulls as an example of a team to emulate.

"They're the happiest bunch I've seen in a long time," Karl said.

This is where I slowly and cautiously look around, keep my ears open for the Twilight Zone theme song, and wonder what dimension exactly I have stepped into.

**


The 1989 Illinois team was not only my all-time favorite college basketball squad, it also had one of the all-time great nicknames.

The Flying' Illini.

Simple. Sweet. Awesome.

Now the Chicago Tribune is running a contest in which readers offer their suggestions for a nickname for the current Illini bunch. A vote will determine a winner this weekend. A list of the suggested possibilities is here.

Some of the Illini players humorously weigh in here.

My favorites? "Orange and Blur" and "Skyllini."

**


The Illini will wear retro uniforms of the '89 team on Saturday against Minnesota as 100 years of Illini basketball is celebrated.

Hopefully, the shorts will be a bit longer than what Stephen Bardo was wearing back then.

**
Word of caution: I still can recall where I was as a kid when the '89 Illini had their undefeated season and new-found No. 1 ranking obliterated by - that's right - Minnesota. It was a sad, sad night.

I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin.

Be careful. The Gophers have a decent squad this year. There's no need for history to repeat itself.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

T.O. Be Or Not T.O. Be



If you were hoping to avoid two weeks of talk of Terrell Owen's broken ankle, tough luck. TO's doc refuses to OK him for the Super Bowl as high school coaches across America scream, "Shoot 'im up and get 'im in there!" Now the drama begins. As the world turns according to the bones in TO's ankle. Reporters will be lined up outside for a glimpse of it. There will be a reality show based on it. ESPN will start a new channel to speculate on it 24-7.

Whatever. Just let me know if he is or he isn't.

Or better yet, don't.

If anyone can pull off a glorious entrance into a Super Bowl stadium as the world finally gets the answer that, yes, yes he is playing, it's TO. He'd soak that limelight up like Willis Reed limping out into the Garden or Curt Schilling bleeding in Fenway.

TO was made for this drama. I'm not convinced his ankle is even broken. This might just be the planned-out prelude to the greatest touchdown celebration ever. He's just setting us all up like a master thespian.

I'm thinking he's playing. I have a hard time seeing TO as the type of player who would finally get to the Super Bowl and not at least suit up, if for no other reason than the world needs a TO Super Bowl introduction entrance.

**
Interesting how the five Indiana Pacers involved in the infamous melee at the Palace were in a Michigan court yesterday and were "allowed to leave the state."

Leave the state. Allowed to. That sounds so criminal.

NBA. Gotta love it.

The five Pacers looked like the court scene at the end of Eight Men Out. Wearing suits. Making their best "Yeah, we fucked up" face. Basically, they looked like anyone would who committed assault and battery from several television angles.

At least the court nailed all the idiotic fans as well. I don't know what crime is technically committed when you toss beers and chairs into crowds (real smart, by the way), but in sheer stupidity, unaldulterated ape-man thinking stupidity, they're as guilty as OJ.

They should be punished by being made to watch Darko Milicic's game tapes for six hours everyday for a week. Just the highlights. All three minutes of them. On an endless a loop. That'll scare them straight.

**
I feel so much better knowing that Ben Roethlisberger broke his toes on Sunday...especially now that his season is over.

**
Whoa, whoa, whoa...hold on a sec. Let me get this straight.

Mark Philippoussis has dated Anna Kournikova, Tara Reid, Delta Goodrem, and Paris Hilton? Interesting list. I don't even know who Goodrem is, but judging by the rest of the candidates, she's a hot plastic blonde.

Now Philippoussis is dating not-yet-even-eighteen-year-old Alexis Barbara, who I believe is an actress or model or something high-tech like that, and also finds time to look nice in photos. Real nice.



You can talk all you want about Roger Federer, but in some way, some less important but still quite impressive way, Philippoussis is the hottest player on the tour.

Incidentally, he didn't play in the current Australian Open and, naturally, this was because of a groin injury.

Naturally.

**
Speaking of the Australian Open, it has quietly become one of the most interesting Majors in years. For the first time since 1995, the top four seeds each advanced to the semifinals of a Major.

Federer. Hewitt. Safin. Roddick.

All in their prime.

All mens’ tennis needs now is someone with a mullet and a headband, and everything will be perfect.

Taking Care Of Business



I could have sworn I saw Jack Ingram play the role of hero in Illinois' 75-65 win over Wisconsin.

I could have sworn I saw Ingram come to the Illinis' rescue and silence the growing enemy noise with a pair of ice-in-his-veins three pointers.

I could have sworn I saw Ingram...

...wait...

Ingram? Jack Ingram?

No, seriously.

I might be prone to flashbacks, but I swear I saw Ingram defining clutch - when clutch was needed most. The game, not to mention the Illinis' No. 1 ranking, was slipping away in a sea of red-clad Wisconsin maniacs and a deafening din that grew more menacing with each Illinois miss or turnover, which were suddenly coming in abundance. The Badgers were rolling. They were feeling it. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan was schmoozing the refs as they all joked, laughed, and generally had a good 'ol time. Bruce Weber, meanwhile, was calling timeouts and looking worried.

You could sense the end coming.

Then Ingram hit a three pointer. Then he hit another. Back to back. Nothing but net. Money.

Yeah, Ingram was saving lives. The Illini were reaching the point where they were up for dead - down eight midway through the second half, the Kohl Center was rocking, Dick Vitale was screaming as the Badgers' momentum neared demoralizing levels - and then the least likely suspect, Ingram, signalled the comeback.

Yeah, THAT Jack Ingram.

The Illini were back and never went away again.

(I only hope I can find a picture of Ingram. This might be hard. There we go...)


I guess Wisconsin's nation-best 38-game winning streak was destined to end some day, but I'm surprised that Ingram was the one to officially announce its coming demise. Actually, I'm bewildered. All you could do was put your hands atop your head and pick your chin back up off the floor. And smile.

Who saw that coming?

Not me.

Or who saw James Augustine being in the center of of a whole bunch of good things in the second half? OK, that wasn't surprising. Not really. Augustine quietly does his thing and comes to play, silently, as the Illini guards play in the spotlight. He deserves more props than ge gets. Augustine's back-to-back dunks were the final nails in the coffin that the Illini guards built, but Augustine was involved in the outcome long before that.

Roger Powell, the ordained minister, might want to pray a little harder if he wants to hit a jumpshot - I'm kidding! - but other than that, the fronline came to play. This is a must. The Badgers won't be the last time the Illini sees a team that likes to bang, scrap and grind things out.

Meanwhile, in alphabetical order:

Dee Brown
Luther Head
Deron Willimas

Applause. Appreciated. Assasins. Alright, alright.

What else can you say about these guys? They're everyhere. They're smooth. They're deadly. And they're really, really fun to watch.

Will somebody please take Nick Smith to get a tatoo?

Will somebody please take Weber to get some new duds? I'm not sure there are actual colors to describe the jacket and tie he was wearing last night. His wife actually lets him leave the house like that? (I jest.)

**
Did you happen to peep Wisconsin's Kammron Taylor. There are lookalikes and then there are LOOKALIKES, and Taylor is a dead ringer for Chris Rock like you would not believe. That's funny, funny stuff.



**


Q: How do become a contender in the NBA Eastern Conference?

A: You beat the Western Conference teams.

Of course, the above isn't the only answer, but it's a good place to start. The West is the best, so it's nice to pick off one of its contenders, which the Bulls did with a 111-107 win over Denver last night, although the Nuggets haven't lived up to their preseason hype.

Admittedly, I didn't see this entire game as the Illini game was going on. But here's what I liked:

Everytime I checked in during the fourth quarter the Bulls were taking care of business. Down one. Up one. Up four. Up six. Up eight.

Like I said, taking care of business, which was particularly impressive considering it was the Bulls fourth game in five nights, all wins.

"This was huge because we were tired, beat up and we still battled it out," said Tyson Chandler, who is quietly becoming one of the most intimidating inside players in the league.

That they did.

If I had one complaint, it would be the Bulls' defense in the final moments. They came dangerously close to blowing an eight point lead with less than a minute to play. They need to do a better job of getting in a shooter's face on those desperation three-pointers. Chalk it up to a young team still learning how to close out a win.

Eddy Curry, whose physical shape was once questioned, scored 14 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter. Ben Gordon scored ten in the fourth quarter. You want an amazing stat? Gordon has 18 double-digit quarters this year, including ten double-digit fourth quarters. Wow.

You want an even better stat? Six Bulls reached double figures for the second straight game.

Andres Nocioni has drawn six - six! - technical fouls in the last three games by pounding opponents into the depths of frustration with his relentless defense.

Scott Skiles might even be somewhat happy. Just a little?

Nah, probably not.



Actually, even Skiles, if you look hard enough, has been known to enjoy himself occasionally - stress on occasionally.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Department Of Defense Has Quite The Imagination



If you believe something long and hard enough, at what point does it become true?

I only ask because the Department of Defense is offering some delusional, and at the same time quite humorous, anologies between the upcoming Iraqi elections and the birth of America.

My initial reaction to reading this was anger at how the bloody destruction of Iraq is being propped up and prettied as the glorious birth of democracy, when in fact, it's little more than...um...well...bloody destruction. However, I have to say I was laughing by the end of it. BushCo., and all its minions of spineless and clueless followers, really have a knack for twisting the truth, don't they?

Let's break this thing down one misconception at a time...

The Iraqi elections Jan. 30 "will not be perfect, will not be pretty," officials have said, and in that they will have a lot in common with the beginning of democracy in the United States.


They will? Really? I wasn't around in the 18th century (at least in this body), but wasn't the birth of democracy in America dreamt up by, fought for, and implemented by Americans, and solely Americans, who felt the need to, and decided to, fight for their own land, their own people, and their own government?

How exactly does this relate to Iraqis with guns pointed at them from one side being told that voting is great, and guns pointed at them from the other side being told to vote if they want to die?

How exactly are Iraqis determining their own fate?

In many ways, the Iraqis are duplicating the American experience. The Jan. 30 election will select 270 Iraqis to be members of a national assembly, which will choose a president and two deputy presidents. It will also name a prime minister and department ministers.


And these "elected" officials wouldn't happen to be those handpicked by the U.S., would they? Nah, it's not like that ever happens in small countries with something America wants.

For Iraq, the draft constitution will be presented to the people for a general referendum. That vote must be held no later than Oct. 15, 2005. The constitution will be approved if a majority of the voters of Iraq approve it and "if two-thirds of the voters in three or more governates do not reject it."


I don't want to be a nagging pessimist here, but among the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, someone isn't going to be happy. I'm guessing none of them. And then they'll all start blowing each other up in good old-fashion and ever-dependable Middle Eastern style. And then American troops will leave. And then things will get bad. And nothing will be solved.

Care to wager on this?

Other similarities exist in that there was a rebellion in the United States and there is an insurgency in Iraq.


Applause. Props. Kudos. Now, this is humor taken to the next level. It really is. Is the Department of Defense actually comparing American rebels to Iraqi insurgents who are - hold on, don't laugh just yet - REBELLING AGAINST AMERICAN FORCES?

That's classic. Whoever wrote this just lauded the efforts of the insurgents in a roundabout way and placed the current America in the role of the British. Doesn't anybody check this stuff before it gets sent out? I haven't laughed this hard since Ashlee Simpson appeared on SNL.

The nations of the world predicted that the United States would never prosper and that democracy would never work.

Um, yeah, I guess this is why the biggest powers in Europe at the time were GOING TO WAR with each other over American land.

...the Iraqi national assembly, must by law, be one- third female.

I want to see how this goes over once American troops leave. I'm guessing it doesn't. Incidentally, how arrogant is it on our part to insist on such a provision when we don't have it ourselves? When you consider Muslims' views on women, right or wrong, this almost seems like a deliberate slap in the fact to their customs. It almost seems like one extra jab that American officials wanted to get in as they chuckled amongst themselves. I don't agree with the outdated views of women in the Middle East, but they are what they are. I don't see this lasting.

Iraq has a basis of experience from other countries to draw from; whereas, such U.S. choices were very limited back in the 1700s.


Yeah, because Iraqi leaders (and Middle Eastern leaders, in general) have a reputation for taking a wide-eyed look around the world and saying to themselves, "You know, I think things can be so much better for our people. Let's work on this."

Whatever government Iraq ends up with begins with the elections Jan. 30. While that will be a great day in the history of this ancient land, it is just one of many steps that must be taken.

Who's writing this, a third grader? "And in conclusion, this book taught me..."

Jeez.

**
Speaking of Iraqi elections, this article doesn't paint a very rosy picture, unless you consider being shot at for speaking of voting to be a rosy picture.

**

Apparently, this passes for humor at Republican parties:

Though there was no official poem for the occasion, impressionist Rich Little, emceeing the Constitution Ball at the Hilton Washington, did provide a bit of inaugural doggerel.

The gist of it was: "Let's get together, let bitterness pass, I'll hug your elephant, you kiss my ass!" And the crowd went crazy.

Little said he missed and adored the late President Ronald Reagan and "I wish he was here tonight, but as a matter of fact he is," and he proceeded to impersonate Reagan, saying, "You know, somebody asked me, 'Do you think the war on poverty is over?' I said, 'Yes, the poor lost.' " The crowd went wild.


This is beyond sick.

In another time and another place, palaces would be stormed and leaders taken into the streets and hanged by their feet.

This makes me glad that Little hasn't had a career in the last twenty years.

**
So BushCo. wants $80 billion more American tax dollars for its personal war in Iraq and Afghanistan? This is roughly twice as much as will be spent on American education this year.

Is this smart? Does it even have a point?

Ironically, this article just appeared today chronicling one Chicago teacher's frustrations with an underfunded and overcrowded school system and her ultimate decision to get out. Such a shame.

So, BushCo. has decided to spend lavishly for Iraqi children to be among the civilians killed and maimed, while our own American children are ignored and left to suffer?

Monday, January 24, 2005

As It Should Be



Perhaps it's fitting that on the day Johnny Carson passed away the Patriots and Eagles advanced to the Super Bowl in dominating fashion.

Carson was often described as simply being "the best." Nobody ever had anything bad to say about the guy. He was untouchable. He was that good. He was...the best.

Simply being "the best" would also adequately describe the Patriots and Eagles. They have been winning more than any other two teams for the last four years. They win by running the ball, playing defense, passing well when needed, and outclassing opponents in all facets of the game. They have no egos. They respect the moment and their opponent. They win a lot and they win with class.

The best, indeed.

With all due apologies to the Steelers and Falcons, the Super Bowl is as it should be. The Patriots and Eagles will go down as dominating the present era in the NFL, so it's only appropriate that they meet on the biggest stage at least once. It's like when the Cowboys were dominating in the NFC, and the Bills likewise in the AFC, and they crossed paths. Twice, in fact. Unfortunately for the Bills.

Maybe it's time people stop mentioning the word "parity" as if it's the be all/end all of the NFL. Parity isn't dead, it never existed. The Patriots will be playing in their third Super Bowl in four years. The Eagles are coming off their fourth straight NFC title game. This so-called parity seems to be little more than some concept that experts and fans alike talk about because it's trendy.

Teams don't rise to the top because the NFL's financial system dictates the ebb and flow of success, but rather because teams like the Patriots and Eagles are smart franchises that find players who are dedicated and coaches who are wise. Parity? No.



Clearly, the Eagles are the feel good story of the playoffs thus far, having cast aside the doubt that lingered over their mission. Their haunted past was left behind. How can you not root for Andy Reid or Donovan McNabb or Brian Dawkins or John Runyan, guys who built the Eagles from scratch and came so close in the past only to find disappointment? How can you not root for the Philly fans, who despite their drunken, Mad Maxesque image, never stopped believing in a city that hasn't seen a professional title in 22 years?

(Check out the intro to the Eagles' website. Good stuff.)

The Patriots, meanwhile, are hard not to like despite their constant winning reaching the point where it becomes boring. They've reached the point where their legacy among the best teams of all time can be debated. It's interesting to watch. This game means as much to them as it does to the Eagles, who just want a first taste of such glory.



The Patriots' excellence is easy to appreciate, if not necessarily enjoy. If one Patriot sums up their story, it's Troy Brown, who has spent much of the season playing offense, defense, special teams, and driving the team bus. You almost forget that he's in his 12th year. He's not a youngster.

Brown is the Patriots in a nutshell. Selfless. Diligent. Hard-working. Role-accepting. And really freakin' good.

For the Falcons and Steelers, their fortunes came down largely, but far from entirely, to their young quarterbacks, who proved not quite ready for the biggest stage.

Michael Vick's passing ability has yet to catch up to his legs and can be shut down without a running game. Ben Roethlisberger is a rookie and his thumb looked injured. Atlanta plays in a dome. The Steelers don't play well at home in AFC Championship games.

Oh well.

**
Terrell Owens looks to be recovering from his ankle injury just fine.

**
I loved Vick's postgame allusion to McNabb reaching the "next level" and hoping to reach the "next level" himself. The next level. I like that. Vick is a guy who gets it. He understands and appreciates the ups and downs McNabb has experienced. He understands that yesterday's loss was just one step on his own personal journey to the "next level." He understands that getting to the "next level" will never be easy, but he's willing to try.

Vick will be back.

**
It was tough watching Roethlisberger talk about not wanting to let his team down. The kid's alright.

**
Does anyone else get the feeling that Jim Nantz and Phil Simms have money on the results of instant replay decisions? They seem to take it seriously, borderline snippy.

(I had my money on Simms, but they split two disagreements. Push.)

**


How enjoyable was the Bulls' 100-89 win over the Pistons in the Palace on Saturday night? Hmm, let me count the ways.

1) I liked when Tyson Chandler drew an offensive foul on Rasheed Wallace late in the game and then repeatedly pumped his fists in total exhaltation. Chandler is taking his defense seriously. Very seriously. I love that.

2) If there was a sure sign of the Bulls' growing presence in the NBA, it came while watching the Pistons nearly reach the point of total implosion in the fourth quarter when a few calls didn't go their way. While the Pistons were whistled for three technicals in a matter of seconds, the Bulls quietly walked away and hit their free throws. Nice.

3) I loved when Eddy Curry was sprinting to the locker room after the win, then turned around to greet the other Bulls with high fives and slaps on the back. That stuff is infectious.

**
OK, all the talk over Scott Skile's substitution pattern regarding Ben Gordon, particularly in fourth quarters, has to stop. Why is this a worthwhile debate?

Has Gordon had some phenomenal fourth-quarter performances? Yes. Is it odd to see Gordon sitting in fourth quarters so shortly after his streak of late-game heroics? Sure.

But here's the thing: HE'S A ROOKIE! Rookies will go through ups and downs. They'll learn lessons the hard way. And, hey, it's working, isn't it? The Bulls are winning.

Gordon has done it in the past, and hopefully he can do it again in the future. But he doesn't have to do it every game. Everyone is stepping up. This is a good thing.

**
I want J.J. Redick in a Bulls uniform. An outside shot like Redick's would be lethal on the Bulls right now. He'd fit into the Steve Kerr role nicely.

**
This is classic.

**
"The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that's the essence of inhumanity." - George Bernard Shaw

Friday, January 21, 2005

So Why Don't DePaul and Illinois Ever Play Again?



Thursday was quite the night for Illinois and DePaul. Both played nationally televised games on ESPN. Both won. And both may have reached a crossroads in their seasons.

For the Illini, their 73-68 overtime win over Iowa may have been just what they needed for more reason than just a win over a Big Ten contender. Hopefully, it served as an eye opener, a jolt to help the Illini realize that not everything will be "seashells and balloons," as Al McGuire used to say.

Close games, losses even, can go along way in steeling a team's resolve, and the Illini haven't had reason to show much resolve this season while routinely running opponents off the court and pondering the possibilty of an undefeated season. The most resolve they've had to show was turning down an offer to be featured on ESPN's "The Season," which was a wise and resolute move.

Iowa, however, proved that nothing comes easy.

Additionally, the Hawkeyes exploited what has long been regarded as the Illinis' weakness - their inside game. While the Illini did have a 46-38 rebounding edge and James Augustine did have a career high 14 rebounds, it's clear that the Illini struggle most when the frantic three-headed guard setup of Dee Brown, Luther Head and Deron Williams isn't clicking on all cylinders, which it wasn't last night.

Brown and Williams managed a mere five field goals between them. As a team, the Illini shot just 32.8 percent from the field, including 6-28 on three-pointers.

If not for 25 points from Head, who hit four of the three-pointers, and some home cooking - Illinois was 23-31 from the free throw line to Iowa's 6-12 - the outcome may have been different.

Nobody expects the Illini inside players to dominate, but if this season is to prove to be truly special, they will have to do more to compensate on the night's the usually dominant guards aren't feeling it.

Cold shooting nights are inevitable, and when they ocurr, the likes of Augustine, Roger Powell and Nik Smith will have to be more than bodies.

Meanwhile, DePaul, an 85-72 winner over 25th-ranked Marquette, notched its biggest win of the season since dominating Notre Dame in South Bend. The Blue Demons are quietly replicating last year, when they looked shaky early in the season and got hot after the new year on the way to the second round of the NCAA tourney.



It was nice to see Sammy Mejia lead the way with 26 points after briefly leaving the team last month because he was "going through some things." (Homesickness?)

I noticed this week that the Blue Demons are ranked 37th in the latest RPI. I had no idea they were so high. This bodes well for them as long as they keep winning.

Isn't it about time DePaul and Illinois play one another? Why haven't I seen this in my lifetime?

**


Lost in the shuffle of the Illinois and DePaul games was Illinois-Chicago's 63-57 over Detroit. At 9-7, and with five wins in a row, the Flames should once again battle for another NCAA bid. "Quietly consistent" adequately sums up Jimmy Collins' program.

An American Party







In China, I wonder what they think of Bush? In the Phillipines? In Australia? In France? Germany? Sweden? Argentina? Nigeria? Mexico? Costa Rica? Canada?

What do they think on Mars?

I wonder what anyone who isn't one of the chosen crowd of cowards, crooks, critics, blowhards, zealots and blind followers...thinks. What does the world beyond our borders think of Bush? What does the strange and exacting universe think? How about the final night of fallen facades, in which simmers the truth? What shall think that night?

Nothing.

That's my guess.

While watching ugly glamour made by men (and their women) for themselves, I think the rest of the world must think we're pathetic. Why shouldn't they? Bush just produced the ugliest inauguration in memory, an inauguration under a gray sky and behind bulletproof windows, and it oozed with unhappiness. The true, trembling murmurs of a nation whispered in the background. This was no celebration. It was ego, ritual and waste.

Our soldiers, and theirs, die for nothing and our leaders put on parties.

These leaders, our leaders, bomb foreign lands for lost and false reasons. They lie. They dream of weapons of mass destruction. They stab democracy in her eye. They wear expensive black jackets down to their ankles. They ride in bulletproof limos. They wave and offer rehearsed smiles. They are in a hurry going nowhere. Then disappear into a world of their own.

They are not America. I call them out. I say bullshit. They are not our leaders.

A bible sits on their laps, its story leaking out like blood and soiling their designer outfits.

They do not read the Bible. They ruin it.

No book was ever written for them. They write their own biographies. Our children will shake their heads and teach of tragedies. They will be remembered in ways that cannot be forgotten, no matter how hard our children try.

They are not our leaders. I call them out. I see fakes, imposters.

Dissenters, our conscience, were caged, behind bars, sprayed, out of distance. They were unwelcome. The parade of no joy carried on far, far beyond them. Their voices were almost heard above the hum of dark grace.

Our leaders waved to the front row, to the people who paid in more way than one, to the always necessary mass, and made small talk behind windows of no penetration. They all agreed it had all gone rather well. There were nine balls to attend in the evening.

They came not near us.

Why are they afraid to speak to our people? Why don't they walk among our people? What are they afraid of? Who are they? What have they done with what we have given them? What have they taken from us that cannot be returned?

I think they have already told us.

I think they think they earned more.

I think they are wrong.

History shall settle this and divide us.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

American Idols My Ass



When did somebody decide that kareoke should be removed from the smoky darkness of bars where it can be tolerated with cupped ears and then quickly forgotten in a haze of booze? Or by physically assaulting the D.J. with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a corkscrew until he stops letting the plump chick who's been pounding Jaeger Bombs butcher Celine Dion songs, which I wouldn't know anything about. (No, really, honest, it didn't happen while bartending.)

When did somebody decide that what America's television audience wanted was pop star wannabees whose only talent - other than looking really, really excited at all times! - is to carry a tune without completely obliterating it?

When did somebody decide that America would actually give a shit about the opinion of Simon Cowell, whose apparent qualification for the show is "producing" horrendously gawdawful music by, ahem, artists who are hardly ever heard of?

When did somebody decide that Clay Aiken was anything other than a wuss version of Barry Manilow, who looks like Dirty Harry next to the red-headed waif?

And who OK'd the orginal idea?

And why haven't these people been shot?

And where are they so I can take care of this?

And, most importantly, why do people watch?

I only ask because FOX, that bastion of boundry-pushing artistic genius, is starting up with its new season of "American Idol." This means that if the possibilty of driving a steak knife into your eye socket sounds enticing, you can spend valuable minutes of your life watching some talentless hack become a household name while asking yourself things like, "Is this really my life - watching this glorified junior high talent show?" and "If Simon Cowell was to turn up dead, could I make-up a solid alibi?"

Nevermind that the talentless hack doesn't write his/her own songs. Nevermind that the talentless hack has probably never picked up an instrument in his/her life. Nevermind that the talentless hack's voice isn't all that special, at least in a way that would draw attention if it wasn't for a show specifically designed for talentless hacks who can look really, really excited at all times.

Put these talentless hacks in a room with the instrument of their choice, a pen, and some paper. Tell them to come out when they've written a song, something viable and worthy, something that they actually - gasp!- created on their own.

What do you suppose you would you get?

The sound of silence, if you were lucky.

Look, any show that unleashed Aiken on an unsuspecting world should be cancelled faster than a sitcom starring post-Seinfeld Jason Alexander.

I guess the saddest part of this glorified kareoke is that people actually watch. By the millions.

People are stupid. This is clear.

This is a Poll!


What would the Unknown Column do as a contestant on "American Idol?"

A) Sing a medley of "Rock Music" by the Pixies and "March of the Pigs" by Nine Inch Nails - but louder and angrier.

B) Beat the living hell out of Simon Cowell, and then ask him what his opinion is of that. And then continue to beat the living hell out of him when he begins to answer.

C) Try to score with the show's hottest female contestant - and the other female contestants, as well.

D) Sadly inform Paula Abdul that, yes, I'm being straight up; yes, I'm just having fun; no, I'm not going to really love her forever; and, yes, she's caught in a hit and run.

E) Find out from Randy Jackson if the thug life is really as dangerous as they say.

F) Defecate on the stage in a beautful and forever memorable moment of true rock'n'roll rebellion. And Jim Morrison thought he was being rebellious by singing "Girl, we couldn't get much higher" on the Ed Sullivan show? Ha!

G) All of the above.

**
"Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosphy. Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents." - Ludwig van Beethoven

**
Tonight's Likes - 1/19/2005


Bulls (+5) at Celtics
I'm still riding da Bulls, baby!

Boston College (-6) over Villanova
Just evening out my Boston vibes for the night

Record: 18-13

A Tale of Two Quarterbacks




Winners.

That's one word that would adequately describe both Tom Brady and Donovan McNabb. Without question. And, of course, there really isn't a bigger compliment. Peyton Manning may have the records, Steve McNair may have an MVP, Michael Vick may be more hyped, but Brady and McNabb are the preeminent quarterbacks of their generation until somebody proves otherwise.

However, once you look past this quick and easy summation of the two quarterbacks hosting conference championships games this weekend, their careers are remarkably different. One stands upon a pedestal of greatness, while the other is desperately scratching to join him.

Take a look.

Brady is on the verge of entering a pantheon of NFL quarterbacks reserved solely for legends like Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana and John Elway. He's on the verge of becoming more than great, but rather a football God, which a third Super Bowl win in four years would assure. He avoids trouble. He has little ego. He dates beautiful actresses. He's too good to be true, as they say.

McNabb, meanwhile, is on the verge of becoming a tortured tale of near-miss greatness that continually stumbles at the finish line. He's quickly becoming the new Jim Kelly, which is nothing to sniff at, but not the stuff of American legends.

At this point, Brady is almost more than a superstar. He's a burgeoning folk hero. Think about it. The Patriots' first unexpected run to a Super Bowl title came in the months following 9/11. Look, some team was going to win that Super Bowl, but, at the time, it seemed somehow fitting that a team called the Patriots - the Patriots! - did so. They wear blue and red, and have a nickname that conjures up images of Lexington and Concord and the defeated British. The birth of America! Even their helmet logo, which looks more like a flying Elvis than an 18th century revolutionary, was symbolic. What's more American than Elvis?

Let's not forget that the 2001 Patriots were 0-2 at the time of the World trade Center tragedy, at which point they took flight. (Pun intended.) And let's not forget that the Patriots were massive underdogs to the Rams in the Super Bowl.

It was a thrilling and strangely symbolic tale that involved unlikely escapes (against the Raiders in the snow), triumphs in enemy territory (Steelers), and historic upsets (Rams, against whom they were the biggest underdogs in Super Bowl history).

I'm not always convinced that the universe works in mysterious ways (although I tend to lean this in this direction), but somewhere, deep inside, I wanted to believe that a championship by the Patriots- the Patriots! - was somehow magical and preordained. It was destiny and undeniably American.

Look, I'm not a Patriots supporter, but at the time I remember thinking that the Patriots' win was just too fitting. Despite all the sorrow and grief following 9/11, a team whose very image is based on the earliest, most mythical days of American history was celebrating a win in our nation's biggest sporting event as millions of viewers watched in countless countries around the world. It was a blue and red sea of triumph. To hell with our grief for one day - we're all Patriots and the Patriots are champs! I doubt that Muslim terrorists, nor anyone else worldwide who harbors ill will towards us, pay much attention to football, but if they happened to notice, it couldn't have made them feel comfortable to see a team decked in America's colors, and with America's earliest hero on their helmets, celebrating.

Planes? Terrorists? Death? Destruction?

Screw it, the Patriots won. The Patriots! They always do! Take that, you twisted, violent malcontents.

Enter Brady. Just think about his name for a moment. Tom Brady. Tom friggin' Brady. The name itself sounds like an American folk hero, right on par with Johnny Appleseed or Huckleberry Finn. Naturally, Brady was an underdog, an American underdog, an overlooked sixth-round pick who only received his chance to shine when Drew Bledsoe's insides were crushed by the Jets.

Even better, Brady has all the charm and charisma to make his tale even more loveable, even more All-American. He has the looks of a cover model, and the humble, laid-back approach of someone who just doesn't understand all the fuss over him. He's an American dream. Heck, if I was a chick I'd be sending my panties to him in perfume-scented envelopes. And it might help if I was a woman, as he has yet to respond to the boxers I sent him.

The point is, Brady was the perfect hero on the perfect team at the perfect time. It was almost mystical. Prophetic. Am I getting carried away? Maybe, but I'm just throwing it out there.

Think about it.

Brady. The Patriots. Red, white, and Blue. Victory against the odds.

America.

Now here we sit three years later. We're still at war and Brady and the Patriots - the Patriots! - are still on top. Weird.

Meanwhile, McNabb's ongoing legacy hasn't been nearly as smooth. He's had to overcome the stigma of being a black quarterback. He's had to overcome the doubts about whether he'd ever win with his arm, rather than relying on his legs. He's had to overcome the merciless boos from Eagles fans on draft day who wanted Ricky Williams. And he's had to overcome the burden of playing in a town that is championship-challenged.

Now he faces his most daunting obstacle yet - the big game and, more importantly, the securing of his legacy. Three sraight losses in the NFC championship, with another possible on Sunday, will go a long way in soiling one's final and lasting image. Nevermind that he is the cornerstone of the Eagles' continued excellence, and that their success would not have happened without him. (Koy Detmer, anyone?) People only remember the record books, which are written in cold, hard, black and white ink. That's it, nothing else. Memories can be unforgiving. They can't be altered.

McNabb does enjoy one luxury, however. Nobody, at least not yet, lumps him in with the other great quarterbacks who couldn't win the big game. While Peyton Manning is rushing towards a lonely spot in history alongside Dan Marino, McNabb avoids such less than complimentary comparisons. Why? Interesting question. I don't know.

Will it always remain this way? Hard to tell. With Terrell Owens injured, there is a feeling that McNabb will receive a sort of pardon if the Eagles again fall short of a Super Bowl win. Personally, I think this is reasonable. Owens is a huge loss and his absence is monumental. It was about as crushing a blow as one team could take. That may sound like a built-in excuse, but it is what it is. And it's crippling to the Eagles' chances.

McNabb, as will the other Eagles, will talk all week long about how he feels no added pressure. That's a lie. Has to be. By each and every Eagle. They may fight it, but they can't deny its presence. The pressure, lingering, growing, gnawing at their soul. It's there, an albatross. Any team, no matter how good, enjoys its window of opportunity for only so long until it shuts violently and they're left to ponder what might have been. McNabb and Andy Reid and all the other Eagles are wise enough to recognize this.

If McNabb has avoided joining Manning as the Marino of their generation, maybe Kelly would be the best comparison. Despite four straight Super Bowl losses, nobody has ever accused Kelly of being a choke artist. Nobody ever says it was his fault, nor his burden to carry. Rather, Kelly is regarded as a quarterback who was unlucky once (see the Giants game) and simply outmatched three times (see the Redskins and Cowboys debacles). The scars on Kelly's legacy are minimal.

McNabb, likewise. The scars are there, however. And growing.

It would be nice to see Brady and McNabb, pure winners both, collide in the Super Bowl. Their careers have been remarkably similar and all together different at the same time. Few quarterbacks - neither today nor in history - have led their teams deep into the dangerous abyss of the postseason with such consistency, and dare I say, graceful ease.

Of course, should they meet, one would have to triumph, and one would have to lose.

But football fans everywhere would be winners.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

What Would MLK Have Thought?



Last Thursday the Bulls were playing the 76ers. A win would put them in playoff position for the first time in years. It was a big game. Just before halftime Kirk Hinrich hooked up with Eddy Curry on a buzzer-beating alley-oop, sending the jubilant Bulls into the locker room to the roars of a raucous United Center.

It made me smile. Why?

Well, the obvious reason was that the Bulls are playing winning basketball, something I vaguely remember them doing before, though it was a long, long time ago in a previous lifetime in a galaxy far, far away and my memories are foggy.

More than that, however, was the sheer sight of Hinrich and Curry jumping into each others' arms, caught up in the moment, excited, carefree, happy.

Maybe it would help to look at Hinrich and Curry, and at how much they differ, to truly realize the sweetness of the moment.

Hinrich is white, six-foot-three, and clean cut. He played college ball at highly-respected Kansas for four full years. He has no tattoos. (At least visibly, and if he does have tattoos and they're not openly visible I don't want to know about them.) He has never been viewed as anything but a class act and model citizen. He's regarded as a perfect example of professionalism, hard work, and humility.

Curry, meanwhile, is black, nearly seven feet tall, and a walking embodiment of Hip Hop Nation, whatever that is exactly. He's covered in tattoos and only recently got rid of cornrows. He's had trouble with the law (although only for some minor incidents involving his traffic record and pit bulls, I believe). He entered the NBA straight out of high school, and, while always maintaining a reputation as a good guy, has been accused of a lack of discipline and dedication or, you know, being the stereotypical NBA player. Of course, the fact that he was 18, still a kid, when entering the league probably didn't help.

The point is, Hinrich and Curry are complete opposites. Yet here they were, blind to background, blind to color, blind to everything, just two dudes playing basketball and appreciating their dual accomplishments and relishing the moment. They were brothers in arms.

Meanwhile, the crowd was a mix of blacks and whites as well, celebrating alongside each other, slapping five, oblivious to everything other than the good times the Bulls were providing. They walked into the United Center side by side, and left the same way with smiles on their faces. (The Bulls won, baby, 110-78!)

I love stuff like this.

I love when a basketball team, both black and white, huddles arm in arm before a free throw to get on the same page.

I love when they celebrate together.

I love when a young white kid looks up to a black athlete with awe-struck eyes. Or vice versa.

I love when a white offensive lineman does his job blocking so a black running back can get all the glory. Or vice versa (though there aren't many white running backs).

These are simple pleasures, but not as simple as you might think.

**
There are countless examples of color blindness when it comes to sports. For all it's arrogant egomaniacs, for all its slimy agents, for all it's problems with drugs and steroids, for all it's overbearing and annoying glamour and glitz, for all the problems regarding race that, yes, do still exist, the world of sports, ever since American heroes like Jackie Robinson helped to break down barriers, has long enjoyed an ambivalence to race that is light years ahead of the rest of society.

To understate the role sports have played in easing racial tensions in America would be foolish and unfair. No, it isn't perfect and racism hasn't disappeared, but the world of sports in regards to race relations is a lab experiment with astoundingly positive results. Props where props are due.

And, lo and behold, the rest of America isn't that far behind, as long as you're willing to drop your guard for a moment and look around with eyes that aren't jaded.

With Martin Luther King Day being celebrated this week, perhaps instead of looking at how much still needs to improve in race relations in America, we can look at how much they already have. People are so quick to flash a light upon each and every suspected instance where racial inequality may be rearing its ugly head and cry foul. And there's nothing wrong with this. Inequalities should be exposed. Always. Bring the bastards to their knees, I say. Always.

I also believe, however, that race relations in America have reached a point where maybe, just maybe, we can take pause and appreciate the good, rather than being so eager to focus on the bad, if only for a moment even. Go ahead, it'll be fine. Is the fight over? Far from it, but much has been accomplished. Things are better, much better, believe it or not.

Yes, I realize that racism is still alive and well, violent even, particularly in bastions of stupidty in the South. Of course, many of these areas are occupied by the same buffoons who reelected Bush on the grounds of national security. Apparently, they're deeply concerned that terrorists might attack their small rural outposts rather than - oh, let's just say - New York. (But that's another story.) The point is, these people have never been the brightest bunch.

And, yes, I realize even the big cities of the North are far from free from prejudice. People with small, closed minds know no designated territories.

And, yes, I realize the battle to earn more blacks coaching and front office positions in sports is an ongoing cause.

And, yes, this could be read as the ramblings of a white person who has never felt the sting of racism. I try not to take this for granted.

And, yes, I realize I could continue with this list.

Thing is, for a moment, just one moment, I don't want to look too hard. I don't want to squint. I don't want to frantically scratch and dig until the ugliness is uncovered.

I'm looking around and seeing a whole bunch of people, Americans, whites and blacks, other races as well, living together, existing together, simply being together. I'm talking about the sidewalks, the stores, the restaurants, sitting in traffic, having a smoke, reading the news, getting gas, waiting for the bus, going here, there, or anywhere.

I'm talking about everyday life.

I think it's fair to say that, when looking at world history or, more to the point, the evolution of man, America has been the "Great Experiment." Never before have so many people of so many races and backgrounds come together to share a land and life. Of course, problems were always destined to happen. Problems HAVE happened. Many problems. The road to peaceful coexistence has not been an easy one, nor is the end of the road yet in sight.

Maybe, at times, whites can be too quick to think that everything has already improved enough. And maybe blacks, at times, are too quick to pull out the "race card" at the first hint of adversity.

And maybe nothing will ever be perfect.

But are we closer to perfection? Yes. And is "closer to perfection" possibly the only goal we can all strive for, whether it be in regards to race relations or any other facets of our lives, even the simplest? Yes.

**
Later in King's life, he shifted some of his focus towards American foreign policy, much to the chagrin of pockets of his followers who believed he should have remained focused on civil rights. It's a shame he's not around to give BushCo. hell today. I have a feeling he would have been pissed. However, doesn't it say something that, if he WAS still around, King could have focused on America's twisted foreign policy without the dimension of civil rights regressing back to a dark haven of prejudices, hatred, and stereotypes?

Doesn't it say something that King could have focused on the REAL fight, the fight for America's soul and all its people, white, black, and otherwise?

If King was still around to serve as an important American conscience, I doubt he would have been satisfied with the progress made in racial equality, but I don't think he would have been disappointed either. Those who fight for change are those most apt to see it, to appreciate it. I think he would have enjoyed seeing blacks enjoying massive success in music, on television, in movies. I think he would have enjoyed seeing blacks coaching in the NFL, and especially in the NBA. I think he would have enjoyed seeing Mos Def doing an interview on "The View," which is just funny. I think he would have enjoyed seeing blacks climbing to the highest rungs of the political ladder, even if some of them have not acquitted themselves well. (Again, another story.)

I think King would have enjoyed it all, without becoming complacent.

Look, the bottom line is that, while America's eternal quagmire of race has provided some of its darkest moments, and while the struggle is far from over, it has, at the same time, provided the world with an unequivocal glimpse of race relations at its most beautiful, a glimpse of what race relations COULD be.

America has served as a model, something to strive for, warts and all.

Think about it. America has done this. Don't be a hater, and don't be so anxious as to believe everything can be perfect right now, this instant. It takes time. Things have improved, and will continue to do so.

This is why I feel such anger when seeing uninformed, quick-tempered clowns around the globe so quick to condemn America as evil. Fuck them. They fail to take the time to look at the REAL America, to walk down our American streets, and choose instead to judge America solely on the actions of a few bad people in high positions. (Yet again, another story.)

All in all, I think King would have been proud.

Satisfied? No.

But that aforementioned road whose end is not yet in sight? He would have felt it.

Maybe we can all try to do the same.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Air Gordon




This is getting crazy. All the winning by the Bulls, that is. Seven in a row now.

As enjoyable as it's been, it's been hard not to feel cautious in your joy, as if the bubble was going to burst at any minute. I keep expecting to wake up and see Eddie Robinson sitting on the Bulls bench collecting unearned paychecks. Aaaaaggghhhhh!!!

More and more, however, the Bulls look to be the real deal. Their second two-point victory over the Knicks in three days, an 88-86 win in the Garden, was a perfect example of the "new" Bulls. There's an old saying that says the good teams find ways to win even when they don't play well. This is exactly what the Bulls did.

They trailed much of the game, including by eight late in the fourth quarter. They never found an offensive rhythm. They were cold from the field for long stretches. They tried to give the game away with careless turnovers in crunch time.

And they won, mainly by buckling down on defense and holding the Knicks without a field goal over the final 3 1/2 minutes.

The Bulls were also the beneficiaries of the heroics of Ben Gordon, who will quickly gain a reputation as one of the NBA's best clutch players if he keeps up his current pace up. After 19- and 14-point fourth quarters in his previous two outings, Gordon exploded for 13 points in the fourth against the Knicks, including a sweet running jumper that arched for an eternity over the outstretched arms of Mike Sweetney before falling through the net for the game-winner with 0:0.1 left. Gordon, returning to an arena he graced several times in high school and college, has been eerily similar to Jordan with his his late-game antics of late. (OK, let's not get crazy with the comparisons - yet.)

If there was a telltale sign of Gordon's growing confidence, it happened late in the fourth quarter. After slipping and losing the ball to Stephon Marbury, who went the other way for a layup and a foul, Gordon responded by hitting a three-pointer with a hand in his face on the Bulls' next possession. Money. He doesn't get rattled easily.

It wasn't a bad homecoming for the New York kid.

Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Andres "Wild Man" Nocioni each had double doubles.

Meanwhile, it was nice to see Scottie Pippen sitting in the front row, laughing and dancing as the Bulls made their move late in the game. Better yet was Pippen standing up, proud grin on his face, a single fist in the air, stoic, after Gordon hit his winner. Moments later, we saw Pippen heading down a tunnel with his jacket already on before the Knicks attempted the final shot attempt, which couldn't have counted anyway. Pippen had already seen what he came to see.

Bulls pride. Scottie has it. (How does he not have a job with the Bulls yet?)

Meanwhile, the rest of Chicago will soon be catching up. This winning is becoming more than a novelty. It's becoming fun.

Small Scott Skiles jumping into the arms of towers Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler after Gordon's winner? Priceless.

The huge smiles adorning each and every Bull as they walked off the court? Priceless.

The mellow Gordon showing humility and maturity in his postgame interview with Red Kerr? Priceless.

The good vibes are growing.

**
Ah, we saw our old friend Jamal Crawford, who was making his return from injury, in a Knicks uniform for the first time. He entered the game in the second quarter and didn't wait long to attempt an ill-advised three-pointer with a hand in his face. It was an air ball. Moments later he was arguing with a ref.

Yup, same old Crawford. He isn't missed.

**
I have a beef with the Bulls TV play-by-play guy, Wayne Larrivee. First, Larrivee is a guy who left his radio gig with the Bears to do Packers games. OK, strike one. Now, what's up with him referring to the Bulls as "Chicago?"

That bugs me.

If Larrivee wants to be a Bulls TV guy, fine. He's a solid announcer. But don't refer to the team as "Chicago" as if you're merely passing through town doing just another game in Some City, USA.

Come on now. Show a little respect. They're da Bulls, mofo.

**
"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones." - Albert Einstein

Poor Peyton Manning



At what point did you just start feeling sorry for Peyton Manning? Seriously? I'm no Manning fan, and actually openly root against him, which I'm not necessarily proud of but I can't help it, but it couldn't have gone much worse for the Silver Spooned Wonder Boy.

Everything went wrong. Again. It was last like last year, except this time the Colts couldn't find the endzone at all.

It wasn't supposed to snow, but it did. And that was just the start.

The Patriots are writing a sad chapter in Manning's biography, which may end up being titled, "Yeah, But I Broke Marino's Record". The Pats own him. They slap him around. Toy with him. Their 20-3 win on Sunday was an old-school, in-the-alley ass kicking. It was a brutal destruction of the NFL's scariest offense. It was ugly...but beautiful if you like watching a good football team do its thing.

The Colts, meanwhile, are far from being at the Patriots level, despite the overwhelming pregame chatter that they were ready, that this was their year. They weren't. It wasn't. The Colts are soft. They dropped passes. They fumbled. They couldn't stop the run. They were freezing and just hoping the nightmare would end. You could tell. Dome teams can build up visions of grandeur, but more often than not, they can't back them up.

Manning was far from alone in his horseshoe sorrow. Where was Marvin Harrison? Where was Reggie Wayne? Most importantly, where was Edgerrin James? As good as Manning is, James was infinitely more important in the hard, frigid conditions. His low profile was conpicuous.

The warning signs came early.

Dallas Clark and Marcus Pollard each dropped early catchable passes and things immediately looked bad for Indy's aerials circus. You don't drop passes against the Pats and not pay for it. Shit.

With 13:25 left in the second quarter we saw our first shot of Manning looking worried on the sideline. Tom Brady was driving the Pats at the time. Bill Belichik was still in his pajamas, but he looked into it. The crowd was just waiting for it.

Manning looked screwed.

With 10:25 left in the second quarter, Manning was harrassed into a fumble. Although the Colts recovered, the wheels were really coming off. You could tell.

With 9:37 left in the second quarter, Manning walked off the field shaking his head for the first time. It was almost getting predictable. It was like an episode of "Cheaters". Manning was being followed and filmed and he was destined to be the dog in the end.

Late in the second quarter, the Colts, for just a few fleeting moments, looked like they may have come to play after all. They drove deep into Pats territory trailing only 6-0. A touchdown and a lead going into the half would have been huge.

But it was not to be.

With 37 seconds left before halftime, Manning, having one of his customary seizures at the line of scrimmage, attempted a fake walk off the field as the ball was snapped to James, and Manning was called for a false start. Trickery. But that move is completely illegal. Jut ask Kurt Warner. Trickery gone awry.

Just then the snow started coming down as if on cue. Really coming down. For the first time in the game the snow was truly falling down and the crowd welcomed it like a reserve flank. Meanwhile, Guns'n'Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" was blaring in the background. The place was rocking.

The end was in sight.

Yeah, the Colts managed a field goal, but the vibes heading into halftime suggested that the snow had arrived to tell the Colts their passing fancy offense wasn't welcome in New England in January. You need a dome for that. Yeah, Rodney Harrison was busy yapping about the same thing all game, but the snow made it certain. Incidentally, Rodney Harrison was in short sleeves, which gave him the right to yap. That and the scoreboard.

The Patriots don't go into halftime under freshly falling snow with a lead at home, and lose. Shit.



The second half got ugly. It reached the point that when you weren't watching things go horribly wrong for the Colts, you were watching a commercial for Cold Case or CSI: Wherever.

Manning couldn't hit a receiver, and when he did, they often dropped it. Or they fumbled. Manning didn't choke as much as he was choked. There was plenty of blame to go around. Presumably, talkative kicker Mike Vaderjagt will sort it out all out through the media this week.

With 1:29 left in the third quarter the Colts took over the ball trailing 13-3. Manning had a little more than one quarter to prove that he doesn't crumble in the big game, which has become more expected than a Grant Hill anke injury. By then, however, the field was white, the Patriots were strutting, and few things seemed less likely.

At least we were spared any shots of Archie Manning, who is presumably attempting to figure out a scenario in which his son would never play the Patriots again.

Meanwhile, Brady was busy being Brady, which is much better than Manning, statistics be damned. Corey Dillon was running like all he ever wanted was a chance to play on such a big stage. Troy Brown was everywhere. Teddy Bruschi and Willie McGuinest were playing like the Hall of Famers they should probably be.

Typical Patriots. A machine. Blah, blah, blah. It was borderline blasphemy that they were underdogs at home. Talk about disrespecting the champs in their backyard. Shit.

The Patriots might be beaten, but I woudn't count on it.

**


I'll give the Eagles credit for one thing at least.

They know how to take care of business in the divisional round. They may be wounded, but they left little doubt that they want to play the games anyway by thumping the Vikings 27-14.

Of course, it helped that the Vikings were having one of those weeks they decide to take off. Jeez, get the Vikes on mood pills or something. They're the Anna Nicole Smiths of the NFL.

How fitting is it that the Rams and Vikings both got smacked around this weekend. Who did they think they were kidding? Let's check the facts:

- Dome teams? Check.
- Like to pass a little too much? Check.
- 8-8 records? Check.
- Poor defenses? Check.
- Maligned coaches suspected of incompetence? Check.

Nah, the Rams and Viking weren't really necessary anymore. As it should be, as it should be.

Randy Moss? Whatever. He seemed highly uninterested and, basically, spent most of the day being moody and arrogant. And he messed up Mike Tice's one big idea, a fake field goal that turned into a Monty Python skit. Moss had no idea what was going on. Maybe he was dogging it during team meetings.

Dononovan McNabb continues to waver between being either the Jim Kelly or the John Elway of his generation. He might win a Super Bowl, he might not. Either way, he's continually awesome, as he was Sunday.

If there's a sentimental favorite among the final four teams, it's the Eagles. Between the injury to Terrell Owens and their three NFC title game losses, you'd like to see them catch a break that doesn't include an x-ray. How can you not root for McNabb? Or Andy Reid? Or the Eagles cheerleaders?

Unfortunately, no team has more to lose. No matter how many times we'll hear that they feel no added pressure, surely they must. Nobody wants to be remembered for losing on such a grand scale. Nobody wants to be the Buffalo Bills.

Come next weekend, the Eagles will be battling their own fragile legacy as much as they'll be battling the Falcons.

**
Can Boomer Esiason and Dan Marino stop continually contradicting everything Shannon Sharpe says? Please? Sharpe has two Super Bowl rings. How many do Esiason and Marino have? Combined? Thought so.

**
Speaking of Esiason and Marino, here'a a clip of Esiason calling Manning the Marino of his generation - in front of Marino! Classic.

**
"If you can't live together in here, you can't live together out there." - Bono