Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Do you think this is how the Israelites felt a few years into their trek through the desert (or: Moses sure can recruit, but can he coach?)...

A three year-old child lost in the Alaska wilderness feels less confused and alone than I do right now.

Kentucky Basketball is the only thing with the power to make me feel this way.

It's ugly, people. I'm not quite sure what to do.

Listen to me. Talking like I'm the back-up point-guard. Hmmm... considering the way Porter and Liggins are playing...

Anyway, I have a couple of theories. One is a legitimate analytical look at what's wrong (obvious), and how we might fix it. The other is much more sports-fan-like, and thus will be given the bulk of the attention.

My season tickets are in section 212 in Rupp Arena. On the wall right outside the entrance to this section there is a large advertisement for Whitaker Bank (of bank shot fame). The ad features several heroes of Kentucky High School Basketball lore, specifically, some players who have led their teams to State Championships at the Sweet Sixteen, sponsored by, you guessed it, Whitaker Bank. Richie Farmer makes an appearance (with a mustache that makes you wonder what he sprinkled on his Wheaties), Antwain Barbour is there, Marquis Estill too. All of those guys ended up playing for Big Blue and deserve their spot commemorating Kentucky's outstanding high school legends. However, there is another player whose face graces (if you want to use that word) the enormous ad-space, one who did not attend Kentucky, one who spent his entire four-year college career inspiring groans from every fan who didn't know enough to know that we should NEVER have recruited him over the guys we got in his class. That's right. Maysville's Own. Chris Effing Lofton. There he is, fifteen feet tall, cutting down the nets. In Rupp Arena. As someone who buys in - hook, line, and sinker - to the whole irrational-fan-who-thinks-superstition-in-sports-is-real philosophy, I'm calling this a curse until we hang banner number eight or Chris Lofton is revealed to be a post-op transgender, revoking all of his records from Tennessee for subverting the system as a dishonest, broad-shouldered he-she.


On the sane side of the coin, it's obvious that the 'Cats are turning the ball over more than I would accept from a team of eight year-old amputees, and that concerns me. What concerns me more, however, is the possibility that this team has pulled the grandest of hoaxes on our loyal fanbases, cheating us somehow into believing that they are more than they are, a walking, dribbling collective of smoke and mirrors, inflated expectations, and terminal weakness. All summer and fall I walked around innocently repeating to myself, "More talented, Patterson and Meeks healthy, solid recruits. We're really going to surprise some people this year." And we may still. Actually, at this point, winning a game would be kind of a surprise, so...

I digress.

The biggest fallacy in my essentially three-pronged philosophy may be the first prong. It occurs to me that this team is NOT as talented as the one we had last year. For all the griping that was done during Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley's four years in Lexington, last year, they held together a team that by all indications should have completely collapsed about 19 different times. For every unfortunate turnover, there were five really good plays. These guys invigorated the rest of the team and they led the players on and off the court in a way that Coach Clyde desperately needed them too. Plus, they were really good scorers and underrated defenders. They could handle the ball and hit the big shot. This team does not have anyone to fill the void of their leadership, tenacity, and skill. Yes, Jodie Meeks is a stud. He is also, as of now, an island in the backcourt. Porter plays like a frightened gypsy, Liggins isn't to not being bigger, faster, and stronger than everyone else on the court, and Kevin Galloway can't seem to find his way out of Clyde's dog house. Guess what. Point guard play is important. It can and should get better, but right now, it scares the hell out of me.

As for the frontcourt, we were like, "Hey, Patterson is awesome." And he was like, "Yeah, I know, right?" And Perry Stevenson was like, "Hey, I'll be a legitimate scoring threat from the post." And we were like, "Yeah you will!" And then it was like, "Oh crap, that's right, you weigh 135 pounds and you're soft as a goose-down pillow." And then we were like, "Josh Harrelson! All right!" And the Coach G. was like, "Hey, dumbass, learn to play defense." And the bench was like, "Hi Josh."

And then there are the turnover machines who play in that ethereal, unknown region called simply, "The Wing." Darius Miller (who is going to be really good, even by the end of this season) and Ramon Harris have got to fill some of the void left by Jasper's exit and use their agility - well, Darius' agility - to get the ball to Patrick Patterson and create some match-up problems with their defensive length and their ability to get to the basket on smaller players.

So there. That should fix us. It's going to be a tumultuous season. The good news is that we've got a slew of low-end opponents who we can hopefully use to figure out a system and gain an identity in time for the SEC schedule. We can still do damage, we just have to take the passion and togetherness that last year's team showed toward the end of the year and fuse it with the skill that many of these same guys exhibited down the stretch.

Some say it's a waste to think about this stuff. After all, I'm not on the team and I can't affect the outcome. But, I can't stop caring. And I never will. So, in the meantime, it's all I can think about.

Monday, June 30, 2008

I'll Never Call it Football, But...

I'm already starting to think about fantasy football. I think I have a disease.

That said, this is not a fantasy football post. Or even a football post. Or is it?

No, it's not. I already said that. Anyway, I have officially turned the corner in regards to that great unwatchable, anti-American, boring, poorly constructed sport called soccer. I now no longer find it unwatchable or boring, although there are still criticisms to be made (the shootout is a joke of a way to decide a game). I really, really got into Euro Cup 2008 over the past few weeks on ESPN. I picked Spain (without any real reason) from the beginning of the tournament and happily rooted for them on their way to beating Germany in the final 1-0. What I will now attempt is a rational look at soccer and what has changed that has caused the sudden surge in interest. I will address possible criticisms of logic as I go.

The only real soccer watching experience I have ever had was two years ago when the World Cup was in Southeast Asia. I watched several matches and they were interesting enough for me to keep tabs on who was doing what in the tournament, but I never set my watch by the start-time of a match as I would with UK basketball or the Red Sox. I was suitably jazzed up by my encounter in 2006 to look a little further into soccer as a sport. I did. And I wasn't happy with what I found (this is part where I voice my complaints).

First of all, aggregate scoring is stupid because the nature of the game causes whoever won that first match to play defense to the point of absurdity in the second. It's like if the Red Sox outscored the Rockies 8-1 in the first game of the World Series, and only played hard enough not to let the Rockies outscore them by 7 in game 2. Ridiculous. Aggregate scoring generally only applies to league play, but still, the English Premiership is supposed to be the best of the best, and I don't want to see the best playing for a tie.

Secondly, American sports are all about the payoff. The home run, the slam dunk, the 50 yard touchdown pass. Teams that don't hit a lot of homers are called boring, teams that grind it out in the half-court and hit open 16 foot jumpers are called boring, teams that run the ball 65% of the time and score only after 12:00 minute drives where they punch it in from the 2 yard line on their third try are called boring. And this is in the most popular American sports. Now imagine soccer through the eyes of the average American fan. The average games sees about 2.5 goals scored over a ninety minute span. While it's true that some of the goals are spectacular, they simply don't provide the average American viewer with the payoff they seek. This doesn't mean they're right, but it does go some distance toward explaining why soccer doesn't (and very likely never will) catch on in this country.

However, as I have already stated, it's caught on with me. I loved every minute of the games I watched. By way of explanation, I say the following things:

1. I watched almost every game with friends, many of whom were soccer fans. The next time you're in doubt about the impact this has, try watching a borderline sporting event by yourself. It gets boring really quickly. But, if you have someone to talk to about the game, someone who is somewhat invested, it's a different story. We made events out of getting together to watch, just like with college football or the NCAA tournament. This made a huge difference.

2. I had (kind of) a rooting interest. I was rooting for Spain solely because they were playing well in the World Cup in '06, but then ran into a rolling French team that beat them. It was a sympathy vote, but it also made a difference.

3. I changed my expectations. That, please note, is not to say that I lowered my expectations, but simply altered them. I slowly began to accept that soccer is not a thrill a minute, constant action sport like basketball, or even a thrill-every-few-minutes game like football or baseball. To quote an increasingly used phrase in our lexicon, it is what it is. There is a pace to the game that takes some understanding. The best way to understand it, unfortunately for the sport, is to either play the sport, or watch a lot of it. After doing the latter, I'm now interested throughout the entire game, watching each side's strategy develop and come to fruition. Granted, their is still a lot more non-action that action, but, for whatever reason, that just isn't as big a deal to me anymore. Whereas before, I couldn't see where all that kicking back and forth was going, now I do. It's like when Neo saw the Matrix in green code for the first time. When I began to enjoy the game for what it is, rather than trying to make it what it was never going to be, I saw the whole thing differently.

So there, I like soccer. Now, how to keep this going. I've reasoned that I can't simply wait two years for the next major international competition; I need a club team. Naturally, I can't abide the MLS for the same reasons I don't have a favorite AA baseball team. I'm going to the English Premier League to find a team to follow. Since I live in the U.S. and can therefore claim no geographic proximity to a team, I must find some other way of arriving at one I can root for. I'll end the suspense: I decided on Liverpool. I arrived at my choice thus:

1. They have two players from Spain's national team, Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso, who I have already become familiar with and can instantly begin rooting for in a club setting.

2. The Beatles are from Liverpool.

3. Carlsberg is their sponsor. I like to drink Carlsberg.

4. Their team crest and slogan ("You'll Never Walk Alone") are awesome.

OK, so those are pretty lame reasons to support a soccer team, but it made about as much sense as anything else I came up with. I do have a friend who is a huge Man. U fan, so I guess I could support them in the interest of his happiness, but everyone I know who knows anything about soccer is pro-Man. U (this was especially unbearable in the weeks following my friends' mission trip to Ireland, when all of a sudden everyone had a United jersey and were vowing to religiously begin follow the EPL), and I didn't want to follow suit. So, there it is. The unthinkable has happened. I am a soccer fan. Liverpool kicks the regular season off (no pun intended) on Aug. 16 against those yokels from Sunderland with their much less cool team crest (trash talking also helps build allegiance). I'll try to wrangle some channel that lets me watch most if not all of their games, and I'll enjoy every second of them.

P.S. - Just to insure you all that I have not lost my mind... ahem... I'm loving Maurice Jones-Drew, but in a split backfield with Fred Taylor, is worth a late first round pick, or should I use that on a QB and hope MJD is there on the comeback? Arrrggghhh!

Friday, June 20, 2008

O Captain, My Captain...

OK, so I can't really get by without mentioning the tremendous collapse of this formerly oft-updated blog. I'm beginning to get harassed by people who for one reason or another have taken umbrage with my lack of posts. There is a lot I could talk about, but rather than do one lengthy post on a single subject, I'll simply post a bunch of thoughts/happenings that have been a part of my life for the past two months.

In no particular order:

- Saw Psycho at the Kentucky Theater. Great movie. Awful crowd.

- I found rap music that is good. There is no caveat to that statement. They're called Flobots. Listen to the song "Handlebars." It will stun you. I was sold when they referenced Buster Bluth.

- Yes, I'm starting a non-profit organization with at least one (and probably more) of my friends. It's in its infancy, so their isn't much to say, other than that I'm serious about it.

- Kentucky Basketball recruiting is awesome. 8th graders? Sure. Who cares? Seriously, if they can play, I don't care if Billy Clyde is abducting them from nurseries.

- Soccer needs some sort of line on the field to designate offsides. I don't like the whole "can't be behind the defender when the ball is passed" thing. It bothers me for some reason.

- My novel is coming along nicely. Thanks for asking. This is part of the reason my blog dried up. When I made posts, I inevitably felt guilty for not having worked on the novel instead.

- I never believed in the whole "acquired taste" concept until recently, when I realized I had fully acquired a taste for beer. Hooray beer!

- Coldplay and My Morning Jacket have released great albums. Buy them both. Even if you didn't like X & Y.

- C.S. Lewis pwns.

- I'm going to see Radiohead and Wilco on back to back nights in August. I will post a long blog entry consisting entirely of a running diary kept for those two days.

- I saw the Raconteurs live in Cincinnati. Jack White is the most amazing vampire I've ever seen.

- Lost is back. Tell your friends. Then mock them because they abandoned the show when Nikki and Paulo showed up in season 3.

- What Tiger Woods did at the U.S. Open last week is so, so, so much more hardcore than Jordan scoring 41 with the flu, or Willis Reed playing on one leg. Just because it's golf doesn't mean he isn't a beast.

- I got to see the Red Sox play three games in Cincinnati, the first time I've seen them play since 2003. Sara and I enjoyed all three games and it was a thrill getting to see these guys in person. As a bonus, the Sox took 2 of 3 and I got to see Josh Beckett pitch one of his best games of the year. I was worried we were going to catch crap from Reds fans after they won the first game 3-1, but then I remembered that they would be riling up fans of a first place team who would instantly remind them how much of an irrelevant joke their franchise has been for the last 17 seasons (funny how arrogant I've become about the Red Sox, considering that just five years ago, they were in the midst of an 86 year World Series drought. But they had competitive years in there, you know, unlike the Reds).

- The American educational system sucks. Lucky for them, I'm coming to the rescue. That's right, people, I'm going to be teaching English to Juniors and Seniors at West Jessamine High School this fall. I am, from this point forward, a real person.

- Oh yeah, I'm becoming a beast at disc golf, so, yeah.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Flying W's impending crash...

Watching somebody you love destroy him or herself is an especially difficult thing to witness.

It's even more difficult when it happens to be four people who are inextricably linked with some of the most formative years of your life.

Weezer, what are you doing?

I love Weezer. I don't want to qualify that by saying I love Weezer's first two albums a whole lot, and their subsequent output less so, but I'm tempted to. Weezer, or The Blue Album, and Pinkerton are solidly in my top ten albums of all-time (#s 2 and 8, respectively). The Green Album, Maladroit, and Make Believe are noticeably behind the curve Weezer set with those first two Golden Treasures. Don't get me wrong, I don't loathe these last three releases, it's just that they aren't perfect, like the first two.

Now, don't think that the warped expectations I have for this band have not crossed my mind. I get that what I expect from them, they couldn't possibly deliver. However, that doesn't really matter much to me at this point.

Their new album is coming out in a couple of months (June 17th, to be exact), and I promise you I'll buy it. But I'm bracing for disappointment. I feel much like I have with Kentucky in the NCAA tournament these past few years: Sure, there's a chance they could make a run and pull of something great, but I'm not exactly brimming with confidence.

Their first single from the yet-again-eponymous Red Album is called - shudder - "Pork and Beans." This is easily the worst name for a song in the history of popular music, and I am including rap in this, so "Move, Bitch" and "Chicken and Beer" and "Barry Bonds" were all considered. Even worse, the song (or, more accurately, the 30 second clip I heard from doesn't sound bad. I would listen to this song and the record it came from. Rivers is still happy, which means his lyrics have lost all of the confessional bite that made those first two records so great, but it still sounds alright. This is what Weezer has been doing musically for the past eight years, taking one step forward just to take two back.

I wish I could stop them. There may have been a time when I thought I would never see the day I didn't pine for the next Weezer album. But I fear that time has come.

Take a listen for yourself HERE.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

You Ain't Gonna Make It With Anyone Anyhow...

The news (ESPNews, but that counts, right) has been peppered with stories of protest amid the Olympic torch's usual Run-Through-A-Lot-Of-Big-Cities tour. In London and Paris, the flame was actually extinguished numerous times when torch bearers were actually accosted during their runs. All the hubbub relates directly to the old Chinese habit of treating human beings like shit. Communism has been around for a long time, and China has been under communist rule since 1949, when Chairman Mao (see the Beatles' "Revolution #1) came to power in what is ironically termed a "New-democratic revolution." The people Mao and his cronies duped pretty much had no choice, as their existence before Communism was just as bad if not worse than it has been. Primarily, the communist regime has ignored the rights of peasant farmers, which they promised they would sort out during the 28 year period after they were founded but before they came to power. These farmers are still being ignored, but, as peasants don't generally do a whole lot to boost the economy (you know, besides FEEDING THE CITIZENRY!), they are able to be ignored without a whole lot of negative effect upon the People's Republic. The economy in China continues to grow at a scary pace while human rights violations remain commonplace.

As you probably know, the 2008 Summer Olympics were awarded to Beijing, the capital of China, in 2001. Part of the IOC's (International Olympic Committee) thought process behind awarding the Games to a nation with such an egregious record on human rights was that the spotlight placed on the country through the games would force them to change their ways, or else be embarrassed on the world's greatest stage. Guess what? With apologies to Clark Gable, they don't give a damn. They pushed peasants out of their homes to make way for state of the art stadiums and Olympic facilities. The trick is, communism is designed to put the government at the top of the priorities list; the prosperity of the state is all that matters. Therefore, when peasant farmers go up against Olympic stadiums, the stadium wins because it will generate more money for the state. HOW DID NOBODY SEE THIS COMING?!

That question is leading protesters to attempt to bring attention to the horrible atrocities committed by the Chinese government, largely against Tibet, which considers itself a free and sovereign state, but which the PRC thinks makes a nice living room addition to the west wing of their house. Funny that you didn't hear much about this in the U.S. media in the SEVEN YEARS leading up to the Olympics from the time they were awarded.

The big question now, and the one I would like to see some discussion on (can Petie have a discussion with himself? We shall see) is what the U.S. and, more specifically, our Olympic teams, going to do about this? Several athletes have mentioned a boycott, which I am pretty much all in favor of at this point. Several groups have put pressure on President Bush to take a stand and issue the boycott himself. The crappy thing is, these athletes spend ALL THEIR TIME AND RESOURCES training for these events, and their non-participation will hardly curb human rights abuses from a self-imposed, non-elected government that has propagated them for years. To end an athletes Olympic dream is a tough thing to do.

But, if you ask me, it's the only thing to do. We boycotted the Games in Moscow in 1980 because the USSR and the U.S. weren't getting along, so why can't we do the same when there are far worse crimes being committed daily by the Chinese Government than the Soviets at that time. To be really effective, though, it would have to be an international boycott, the European Union would have to step up along with every country who stands against human rights abuses. There is, of course, a rather cynical part of me that doesn't see this happening. Why? Because China is a huge economic partner of America, and sadly, their dollars matter more to the government than their crimes. Starbucks, Nike, and a whole host of other companies are firmly entrenched in China, and I doubt they want to see that spending vanish, especially in the tenuous U.S. economy. If we boycott the Games alone, they might pull trade with us. Sure, it would hurt them too, but if the rest of the world was still trading with them, they could pull through it. Besides, it's not like their government is worried about not getting its officials re-elected.

The possibility of boycotting the games actually thrills me. Never mind that I'm just not a big Olympics guy, I think this actually could be a world-changing statement, if done right. If every major economic power in the world pulled out of the Games, China would be crushed and embarrassed in front of the world and the IOC's basic idea, though obviously not the way they saw it, would come to fruition. We could follow with hard-hitting economic sanctions from enough countries that China would have no choice but to submit to frequent U.N. inspections of the quality of life enjoyed by historically mistreated people. Plus, it would be George W. Bush's final grand gesture, one that might actually succeed in recovering some of the good-will he's been squandering as fast as possible these last few years. If he could lead the charge by pulling the U.S. teams and encouraging other countries to do the same, he would leave office with at least one giant gold star pinned to his lapel, and I think he's eager for a positive not on his legacy at this point. We've been given a gift-wrapped opportunity to make a huge global statement. This is not some contrived "what if" game.

What can the U.S. do? What should the U.S. do? I know I'm not an Olympian and that it isn't my life's ambition that is being ripped from me in the event of a boycott, but I'd like to think that the service these athletes could be doing for the millions of mistreated and murdered in China would last longer and mean more to more people than even a Gold Medal.

Go Go Gadget Boycott!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Voldemort of the Valley...

Take a long look at that picture before you begin to read this.

There is plenty of buzz still hanging around the college basketball world after KU's incredibly memorable win last night over Memphis in the Championship. KU's victory has given them another bullet in the gun when arguing over their status among the Great Programs. Title number three does move Kansas up a spot in my personal poll, but most importantly, it knocks Duke out.

5. Kansas: 3rd most wins all-time, 3 championships, 4th in winning %
4. Indiana: 5 championships, candy cane pants, 9th in all-time wins
3. North Carolina: 5 championships, second all-time in wins
2. UCLA: 11 championships, 11th most wins, 6th in winning %
1. Kentucky: 7 championships, a freaking Olympic Gold Medal, 1st in wins all-time, 1st in winning %

Duke is really close to Kansas in number of all-time wins and percentage, and they have the same amount of titles, but this is my list, damn it.

I know I can hardly call myself impartial, but I'd like to make my relatively simple case for Kentucky being better all-time than UCLA (It's funny, I KNOW the only people reading this probably already agree with me, but I will insist on writing as though I have a national audience. If nothing else, this will help my friends make the UK case stronger as well).

First, we have the most wins.
Second, we have the best winning percentage, which is actually more important than #1.
Third, we won a Gold Medal, which means that at one point, Kentucky could not be beaten by an entire nation's best players.
Fourth, we have sustained greatness since the 40s. The same cannot be said for UCLA, who had nearly all of its greatest success over a 12 year span in the 60s and 70s. Also, four separate UK coaches have won Kentucky's 7 Titles. One coach won 10 of UCLA's 11.

Speaking of which, allow me to educate you about the existence of a man known to many of the UCLA players of Wooden's championship teams simply as "Uncle Sam."

I cannot, and I mean that literally, believe that more people do not know the story of Sam Gilbert. Gilbert was a fabulously wealthy (is there any other kind?) booster of the UCLA Bruins athletic department (most specifically their basketball program) who had graduated from the school in the late 1930s. He became heavily involved with the basketball team around the time John Wooden won his first NCAA Title in the mid-'60s. He gave recruits illegal gifts including cars, cash, and apartments, allowed players uninhibited access to his Hollywood mansion, and basically bought 10 years worth of championships for UCLA. How much Wooden knew about Gilbert's activities remains uncertain, but let's put it this way, I don't think Reagan had Alzheimer's yet when asked about Iran-Contra, and I don't think Wooden had it in the 70s. The man was so particular about player affairs that he made them wear their socks a certain height, but we're expected to believe his players were being paid without him knowing?

Bill Walton, perhaps UCLA's greatest player, has been open about the benefits Sam Gilbert provided during his time at UCLA. He once got on the team bus wearing, along with teammate Bill Lee, a fur coat. A COLLEGE STUDENT WEARING A FUR COAT, and Coach Wooden asked him where he had gotten it, saying, "Did Sam Gilbert give you those? I don't want to see them again." I think it's all right there, folks. I see what's in front of me, and I want it put back in the closet where it belongs. Walton has admitted that, and this is a quote from his book, "It's difficult for me to have perspective on financial matters, because I've had everything I could ever want since I enrolled at UCLA." He has also said jokingly that he was one of the few players for whom going to the NBA was a bad financial decision, as it would be a pay cut. The NCAA, not wanting to upset the image of its golden coach and his program during their heyday, NEVER INVESTIGATED the connection between Sam Gilbert and the UCLA Bruins while Wooden was coach. After he left the program, the NCAA finally offered a slap on the wrist in 1981, ordering Sam Gilbert to disassociate completely from the University Athletic Programs. Then, just a few years later, Gilbert was indicted on drug-running charges which supposedly netted him more that 36 million dollars in profit.

The fact is that John Wooden and UCLA were very mediocre until Sam Gilbert arrived on the scene when, for 12 seasons, they were the best team in college basketball, bar none. Then, Gilbert left, and UCLA has won one NCAA Title since then, and that by a coach, Jim Harrick, who was accused of recruiting violations as well.

So, all in all, I think the case for Kentucky as the Greatest Program Ever is very convincing, considering "Uncle Sam's" involvement in UCLA's successful history. It's true that Kentucky's program is not spotless, but never were any allegations of violations made during years in which we won the championship, during or after the fact. UK has paid its dues to the NCAA every time there have been violations. UCLA should be penalized for what they were allowed to get away with. Championships should be vacated. But, for that to happen, the NCAA would have to acknowledge its own corruption and habit of "looking the other way" where Coach Wooden is concerned. So, next time you see a Hartford commercial where Coach John Wooden comments on "Trust," try not to scream in rage. If you've never heard of Sam Gilbert, don't take it as a sign that he must not be all that bad because he isn't famous for his misdeeds. Consider my ample knowledge of and passion for the history of college basketball, and realize that I hadn't heard about him until last year. Luckily, we live in the information age, and everything I've said here and more is available at the tips of your fingers. Just google Sam Gilbert.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

That's right, I said Wade Boggs...

Basketball season is just about over and Kentucky fans have had a rough go of it over the last week. Bill Keightley and Marvin Stone passed away, Scotty Hopson committed to UT, and the Final Four is filled with teams I don't even want to think about, much less watch win a championship. With all that in mind, it's time to move on to baseball season.

Yeah, I know. You hate baseball. Everyone does. Something about steroids, blah, blah, salary cap, blah, blah, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds et. al.

I don't care. I love baseball. So there.

Anyway, I'm opening the season with a list, as is my habit. I figure it'll be good for the two people who read this blog (and, incidentally, also enjoy baseball) to read and react.

This list is a position by position breakdown of the All-Corman team. This teams is not personal favorites, per say, but more of a roster filled with the players I would most want on my team at every position. The catch is that all these guys have to have been playing while I was alive to see them play. That means since I was about six years old and really started paying attention to baseball via WGN and Topps Trading Cards. Feel free to accumulate your own team and post it, as I can't get enough all-time sports debate.

Here goes:

Catcher - Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez: This may be the easiest position to select. Pudge has been the best offensive catcher in baseball since I can remember, and he also has the best arm I've ever seen behind the plate. 13 Gold Gloves, a career .302 average, and almost 2,500 hits in 2,100 games, so, yes, he's a monster. And yes, he was somewhat implicated in the steroids mess (by Canseco, I think), but no one has ever come close to proving anything on him.

Third Base - Wade Boggs: I know what you're thinking: "WADE EFFING BOGGS!?" That's right people, get used to it. Even though I'll never forgive this bastard for riding an NYPD horse around the warning track at Yankee Stadium after the '96 Series, he really was the best hitting Third Basemen I ever saw play. He never hit more than 24 home runs, but he is a career .328 hitter, with a .418 on base percentage, 15 all-star selections, and two Gold Gloves. Plus, and perhaps most amazingly, he only struck out 745 times in 18 seasons. Adam Dunn, by comparison, has struck out 1095 times in just 7 big league seasons. Remember, Cal Ripken Jr. only played third the last few years of his career, and A-Rod's only been at third for a few years. So, Boggs it is.

Second Base - Jeff Kent: Sure, he's a douche too, but you know what, he's the best power-hitting second basemen of the last 50 years and even though I'd probably rather have Craig Biggio in my clubhouse, Kent gets the nod because of his 366 career home runs, which is tops among second basemen all-time, plus, he's bound to make it entertaining, what with his latent racism and all. Close second to Biggio and Robbie Alomar. Plus, I thought about Ryne Sandberg, but it turns out all of his numbers are worse than Kent's, and my elementary gym teacher lied about being related to him.

First Base - Albert Pujols: This one came as the second easiest selection. Pujols has only played seven full seasons. The trick is that they're the BEST FIRST SEVEN SEASONS EVER! This man has broken every statistical record for the start of a career, and most of them belonged to probably the best all-around player ever, Willie Mays. He's hitting .332 for his career, averaging just over 42 home runs per season, 128 RBI per season, and he's played an average of 155 games per season. All of those numbers are ridiculous for a single year, and he's making a career out of being this good.

Short Stop - Alex Rodriguez: I hate the guy, and this is probably the most loaded position over the last 15 years. Barry Larkin, Ozzie Smith, Nomar, Tejada, Jeter, and Ripken could all easily be on this list, but A-Rod has redefined the way Short Stop was played, even if he is at Third now. Before he switched to third, he averaged over 40 home runs and 25 stolen bases a year, while batting .300+ and carrying a slugging percentage around .580. Oh yeah, and he won a couple of Gold Gloves at the position while he was at it. Now, if this team was being built for the playoffs, I'd replace A-Rod with Jeter. I wouldn't let A-Rod polish the helmets in the playoffs.

Left Field - Manny Ramirez: Yes, Barry Bonds is the best Left Fielder of all-time. Except that he cheated to be the best. Manny can hardly be bothered to keep track of the outs in an inning, but he was built to hit baseballs. As someone who watched a lot of Red Sox baseball, I can tell you that while his stats are awesome - 41 HR, .313 BA, .590 Slg. %, 133 RBI per season - he may be the most effective hitter I've ever seen, even when he doesn't get a hit. He's patient at the plate, able to hit anything (second perhaps only to Vladimir Guerrero in that regard) and he never, ever lets one at bat influence the next. He makes the entire lineup around him great, and he's a whole lot less work in the clubhouse than Barry ever was. Maybe most astonishingly, Manny finished in the top ten in MVP voting for eight consecutive seasons.

Center Field - Ken Griffey Jr.: The third easiest selection. He was, at one time, the bar-none best all-around player the game had seen since Mays and was well on his way to being the greatest of all time. We all know about the injuries that have made The Kid a shadow of his former self, but he's still the best Center Fielder I've ever seen, on both sides of the ball. Career Stats: 40 HR and 116 RBI per 162 games, career .290 hitter, and 10 Gold Gloves. The ultimate cautionary tale of what could have been.

Right Field - Tony Gwynn: Best pure hitter I've ever seen (read: great contact hitter with no power). He batted .338 for his career and amassed more than 3,100 hits, all while playing in the ugliest uniforms in the world. He even won a couple of Gold Gloves, pudgy though he was. Perfect guy for the clubhouse and the 2-hole. That sounded bad. Anyway...

Designated Hitter - David Ortiz: I'm an AL fan and yes, the DH is a legitimate position. Big Papi has had incredible stats, but really, you only need to see the ends of games 4 and 5 of the 2004 ALCS to understand why he's on the team.

Starting Pitcher - Pedro Martinez, circa 1999: Pedro was, at one time, absolutely untouchable, like a combination of Johan Santana and Josh Beckett. He still has the best winning percentage ever for a pitcher, and some truly heroic on the field moments. Like when he came off two days rest to seal up the ALDS against Cleveland in '99 with 4 innings of no-hit ball.

Closer - I'm not even going to say it, but you know who it is. Damn him.

There you go. My team. I surprised myself with some of the selections, but most of them weren't too hard to figure. Think about your favorite players and deliver your own team, or just criticize my selections. To baseball season.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

American Idol(atry)...

On Saturday I was fortunate enough to see Bruce Springsteen and the Max Weinberg Seven - I mean the E Street Band - live in concert in Cincinnati. I had great seats and the show was awesome, but more than once the spectacle unsettled me. Allow to elaborate.

Bruce has loyal fans. I mean really really loyal fans. The woman who sat behind Sara and I, for example, has seen the boss 53 TIMES, including 5 times on this tour. She is only slightly above average. Springsteen's the kind of guy who has fans that know all the words to all his songs even though they have roughly 1,286 unrhymed words apiece. Seriously, there were 12 year old girls singing every syllable of "Prove it All Night," an obscure song Bruce wrote about thirty years ago. Also, most of Springsteen's songs and all of his image are cultivated around the working-class stiff ideology that he seems to sweat. More than maybe any other rock star, The Boss is "One of Us." So, long story short, people don't just kind of like Springsteen. They adore him. Which leads me to the unsettling part.

There were several hundred standing room General Admission tickets sold to people who got to show up early and stand close enough to the stage to rest their elbows upon it. At several points during the show, Bruce came one step down from the main stage onto a platform directly in front of all the floor seat people and strutted, as rock stars will do, from one end to the other, eliciting excitations from the crowd. This is all pretty standard stuff. However, at various intervals Bruce would get close enough to be touched by the fans, who reached and laid their hands upon his boots and jeans as though they were reaching to touch the hem of Christ's robe. I'm not exaggerating. I saw people get their hands close and actually withdraw them as though they couldn't bear actually humanizing Bruce by touching him. Others touched him and maintained the contact as long as they could. At one point Bruce lowered himself onto his knees and fans fought their way through to get just a finger on him. I tell you the truth when I say I looked away from the sight after a moment because of a feeling in my stomach which I can describe only as a cross between embarrassment and distaste.

Bruce Springsteen is a showman. I get this. Plus, his songs are peppered with lyrics about Faith and Hope and God and being born in various states (to run, in the U.S.A.), so it almost feels like a worship service at times. It is his job, as Jason Lee's character says in Almost Famous, to, "Find the one person in that crowd who isn't getting off, and [make] him get off." But this crossed the line. For the first time in my life, I saw what I honestly believe was the active practice of idolatry. I've seen people cheer and sing along at concerts and behave in similar ways towards athletes, but I've never felt that it crossed that line from admiration and a feeling of connection to worship. I've said before that my experience at an Arcade Fire concert was a worship-like experience, but I meant that it was such a feeling of dedication and shared experience focused on joy that it felt the same, not that I worship that band. Then again, maybe I don't even know where the line is.

So I'm taking the Petie route and making this a question for all to answer. What does idolatry look like to you? Am I overreacting or underreacting? Have other things, like money or possessions or status become our idols already, and is the Springsteen thing just an extension of that? What? Feed me your opinions and thoughts. I'm very interested to see what you all have to say about something which I believe is often seen as an ancient issue.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Man of Science, Man of Faith (Non-Lost version)...

In light of my last post, I'm never looking forward to anything again.

The SEC Tournament was a disaster on all fronts and I shall surmise the experience in three short points.

1. Being in the Georgia Dome during a tornado is a lot more fun than being outside of it during one. However, the ESPNs and CNNs of the world really blew the whole thing out of proportion. Yes, it was weird inside for about fifteen seconds at the absolute most. No, nuts and bolts were not "raining from the ceiling" as Mark Schlabach put it.

2. I'm still angry Kentucky didn't play Saturday night.

3. I do not think Georgia is a good story. I think Dave Bliss is in my three most hated opposing players right now.

I'm now done with the city of Atlanta for at least three years.

Moving on...

Now, my NCAA Tournament preview post.

As I do every year at this time, I will be spending the next two days glued to my television to watch NCAA Tournament basketball. This is indisputably the best time of year in sports. There are a few delusional fools (Skip Bayless) who feel that March Madness is a contrived way to entertain and make big advertising bucks while only providing an average test of who the best team is in college basketball. He actually prefers the NBA. I think his license to speak should be revoked. March Madness is EVERYTHING that is great about sports. It elicits no fewer than 50 emotions from players, coaches, fans and viewers including, but not limited to, joy, hatred, love, depression, elation, anger, rage, surprise, shock, disbelief and mild insanity.

One of the best parts in all of this, though, comes before the games even start. If you're anything like me you huddled around the television and eagerly scribbled the names of every half-known team in the field and salivated over filling out your bracket. I haven't filled my own bracket out yet, as I'm having a bit of a crisis. This year's top seeds, except Memphis, represent about as bad as it gets in terms of who I want winning a title. UCLA, UNC, Kansas, Tennessee and Duke are all programs which I absolutely do not want winning an NCAA Championships. While UNC and UCLA are the worst of these offenders because another title gives them another bullet in their argument for historical college basketball supremacy over Kentucky, I do not look forward to a final between any of these teams.

So, this is what it comes down to. Am I a man of science, or am I a man of faith? The probability that at least two number one seeds will make it to the Final Four is very high. Despite the Tournament's reputation for being unpredictable, it is only moderately so. Sure, every year someone comes out of nowhere to make the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight and we shout loud and proud that this is why they call it March Madness. But let's be realistic, for all the deliberation over upsets that happens as we fill out our brackets, there really aren't that many. Just last year (given, last year was EXTRA by-the-book), my mom won my bracket pool. Her Sweet Sixteen: The top four seeds in each region. So then, do I do what I've done every year for as long as I can remember and send my super depleted Wildcats on to win it all, or do I side with reason and have who I really think are the two best teams in the finals (UCLA and UNC). Arrghh.

At first, it seemed like this decision would plague me. But, it really hasn't. The truth is, the best team often does not win the Championship. Kentucky in 2003, for example, sustained an injury to their best player and couldn't overcome Dwyane Wade's first career triple-double. These things happen. Most often to me. Anyway, Kentucky's first round matchup is favorable (Dwyane Wade is no longer playing for Marquette), so I've definitely got them winning that one, but Stanford is a NIGHTMARE for us matchup-wise, so, beyond that, I don't know.

I'll end this by giving you a few notes that will certainly prove to be useless.

1. Three of the four number one seeds will be tested in the second round. Kansas won't be. Memphis will have to squeak it out to beat Mississippi State, UNC will have trouble with either Indiana or Arkansas, and if BYU beats Texas A&M, they really could give UCLA a run for their money.

2. Don't fall into the trap of picking Western Kentucky over Drake. Drake went 7-1 against teams in the RPI top 50, so this isn't really a favorable draw for the Hilltoppers. I'm not saying it can't happen, but it isn't like they won the lottery on Selection Sunday.

3.Georgia will not beat Xavier. I know they were hot last weekend, but that's just the sort of upset pick that looks delicious until you watch them play. Sundiata Gaines leads the world in dribbling, and that will not work out for him against Xavier.

4.Don't fall in love with the K-State-USC game and think that whoever wins that one is going to the Sweet Sixteen. Wisconsin is boring, but their good. They should have been a two seed but their not, and their probably angry about it. Nothing like a bunch of angry corn-fed midwestern football players trying to play basketball.

5. George Mason is not this year's George Mason.

6. The weakest bracket is definitely UCLA's. Yesterday on the radio, someone actually supposed this was because John Wooden's health is failing and he might not be around next year, so the committee placed them in an easy region so he could see the Bruins in the Final Four one last time. If this is even slightly true, it is a more egregious crime than Watergate and Tom O' Connor should be hanged.

7. I am a really, really, really big Cornell fan right now.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Most Wonderful Time of The Year...

A lot going on the world o' Corman right now. I will at some point in the near future give a review of Super Smash Bros. Brawl. For now, suffice it to say that the game is great and that almost every new addition is welcome.

The most important issue at hand, however, is clearly March and all of the delicious basketball goodness. If you check my posts even semi-regularly, you'll remember my ill-advised breakdown and ensuing rant on the state of University of Kentucky. This season among all others has been an utterly incomprehensible roller coaster ride and my post after news of the Patterson Injury represents without question the deepest valley I've felt all season, including when we were 6-7 and had just lost to Sand Diego. I'm incredibly proud of and a little in shock regarding what this UK team has been able to do since losing Patterson and I have to say that after my bout with the mysterious 6th stage of grief (alternately muttering and shouting/ apocalypse predicting) I'm on the mend and very interested/excited to see what kind of damage this team can do in March. Next week I promise a very long and detailed look into the field of 65, which I'm certain includes Kentucky now, but for the time being you'll have to live with my somewhat more abbreviated SEC Tournament post.

First, I'm a-goin' to Atlanta to witness firsthand UK potential triumphs and tribulations and I'm very anxious to experience something more positive than last year's debacle (would someone please explain to me why it makes sense not to foul when you're up three with less than ten seconds to go?). I believe honestly that the 'Cats have a really good shot at ending up in the title game, and here's why.

1. The Draw: This year's draw favors Kentucky so very much more than last year's did. We had to play on the first game the first day and go up against a hot Mississippi State team who seemed to have our number no matter how many six or eight point leads we accumulated against them. This year, we don't have to play until the second day, and we get to face the Georgia/Ole Miss winner. We are a combined 3-0 against those teams this year. So far, so good. We then face the survivor of the Florida/Alabama/Mississippi State portion of the bracket. While we're only 2-2 against those teams, our losses in the regular season to Florida and MSU were very narrow and both on the road. Atlanta will be a virtual home game for Kentucky because, well, our fans are just awesomer than everyone else's in the SEC. Also, Tennessee, Vandy, and Arkansas are on the other side of the bracket, pushing a potential meeting with any of them to the Tournament final.

2. The Patterson Effect: The '07-'08 'Cats (Wow that's a lot of apostrophes) have a very defined and representative identity, whereas the '06-'07 teams had no identity and it was really a crap shoot as to which team was going to show up. Billy Clyde has instilled in his team a mental toughness - I know, I know, you're sick of how much he says that too - that has forged in each and every player a sense of intensity which has only become MORE pronounced in the games since Mr. Patterson so inconsiderately broke his ankle. Perry Stevenson, Ramon Harris, Derrick Jasper and A.J. Stewart seem to have taken every single doubt anyone had about this team in the post-Patterson days as a personal affront, because they're playing like you just took their respective mothers to nice seafood dinners and never called them again. My goodness people, Michael Porter played 15 minutes with a DISLOCATED SHOULDER because he knew his minutes were valuable. Besides Chuck Hayes, I can't think of another player in recent memory who would have done something like that, but this year, EVERYONE IS PLAYING LIKE THAT. Truly an inspiring sight to see players pull together like this. Very Hoosiers-esque.

3. We're on fire: Last year's team may have had more ready to contribute talent than this one (if you exclude Patterson), but like I said before, last year's group was unpredictable and it hurt them because they were as unsure of what would happen after the ball was tipped as the fans were. The Gillispie Wildcats are a different breed. They seem to know exactly what their roles are when they hit the court and they're all comfortable in that knowledge. This has led to an incredibly consistent last 16 games. If you take out the Vandy game, which you pretty much have to or else you'll be tempted to hang yourself, you're left with 12 wins by an average of about seven points, and three losses by an average of about six points. We're hot, because hot doesn't mean blowing the doors off of every team you meet, it means winning a lot, and that's what we're doing. At precisely the right time, might I add. Plus, Joe Crawford has finally flipped on the assassin switch we thought he was going to have when he walked through the door 4 years ago. If I say so myself, he's starting to remind me of Keith Bogans after his ill-fated "I'm going to shoot no fewer than eight threes a game while never driving the ball" Junior season.

So, there you have it. I don't know if they'll win the tournament but I'm absolutely sure they can. I'd say right now the 'Cats have to be considered the third most probable team to win it, after UT and Vandy. Lucky for us we only have to see one of those teams if we see them at all. Actually, I'm feeling kind of saucy, so I'll grace you with my predicted bracket.

Alabama v. Florida: Winner - Florida
UF v. MSU: Winner - UF
UK v. UF: Winner - UK
Georgia v. Ole Miss: Winner - Ole Miss
Ole Miss v. UK: Winner - UK
UK v. UA: UK Champs
USC v. LSU: Winner - LSU
LSU v. UT: Winner - LSU (you heard it here first)
LSU v. Arkansas: Arkansas
Auburn v. Vandy: Winner - Vandy
Vandy v. Arkansas: Winner - Arkansas

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Saint Turtle, a gay dolphin, and a filthy pepperer walk into a bar... (or, a very long Smash Bros. Biography)

There is much to talk about in the world o' Corman right now, but one thing looms largest on my horizon, and I think you all know what that is.

This Saturday night you will find me waiting in line at my local Gamestop in anticipation - and I can't stress that word enough - of Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Nintendo Wii.

I am a twenty-two year old man with a wife and a few scattered responsibilities. Fifteen years ago, conventional wisdom said video games would be a thing so far in my past that I wouldn't remember how to use a fire flower, let alone be playing video games into the wee hours of the morning with several of my similarly aged friends. To a certain extent, age has changed my video game life, as it were. I have to be more selective about which titles I purchase because I know I'm just not going to have the time to play as much as I once did. Right now that adds up to about one game per three months or so, and I'm fine with that. Smash Bros., however, is a different animal.

The first time I heard mention of this game, I must admit, it sounded idiotic. Other franchises had tried this sort of thing - Star Wars: Masters of the Teras Kasi springs to mind - and I thought Nintendo was shamefully trying to cash in on their beloved character base while shelling out a questionably conceived fighting title. Then, my friend Jesse and arch-nemesis Petie - two names that would loom large in my Bros. playing future - rented the game and gave a surprisingly positive review. I played Smash Bros. sporadically over a two year period, routinely beating up on my brother-in-law using Samus and generally having a lot of fun with the wacky combat and addictive challenge modes. Then came the Nintendo Gamecube.

Around the time Bros. Melee was released for Nintendo's cute little purple cube, I met a young man who would also factor heavily into my Bros. playing future named Jonny Walls. Naturally I was excited about finding a fellow Bros. addict and on a few occasions was granted an audience with the Older Guys to play the new, faster-paced game.

I got blasted. Beaten. Demoralized. Unfathomably embarrassed. God as my witness I sat down with these guys for the first time and chose Bowser and actually solicited laughs from the ten or so people crowded around the Walls' living room. They were all faster than me, anticipating moves before I could make them and generally beating me to a cartoony pulp. There was only one recourse: get the game; play like mad. So I did. My friends and I spent most of every day, night, weekend, and holiday with our eyes glued to a TV and our hands glued to a controller. We played relentlessly, unlocking hidden characters and breaking challenge records, slowly developing our talents. Still, the Older Guys seemed untouchable, part of another class of players. We hoped only to compete with them. During this intense few months long period of, well, training, I made new friends and developed existing friendships in a way now that seems so incredible but at the time seemed as natural as taking a breath. There is not a person I hang out with consistently today who was not a part of that time in my life when Super Smash Bros. Melee was not just something to do, but the only thing to do. This game had as profound an effect on my social life over the last seven years as anything besides Jesus and my wife, and it was a tight race.

Eventually, we all got our shot at the Older Guys. We expected to be competitive. What we were was stifling. Win after win for our group gained us instant respect and we had a blast doing it, listening to the language which had been created by these guys that gave the game an extra dimension, linked to our own experience in a way that no other group would have exactly like we did. The game became as much about how we related to each other in the room as opposed to on the screen. Those memories will last me a lifetime and I can't help but get a warm feeling every time some one brings up a particularly vivid happening and relives it for all present.

And now, finally, the sequel we've all been waiting for. We expected this thing to be released just a few weeks after Wii's launch, but delay after delay means that, more than a year later, we still don't have it. That all changes on Saturday night.

At midnight, we'll finally get our hands on this game and set out to create an entirely new set of memories. And, fact is, we'll try too hard. I feel like an aging member of a rock band who will inevitably become a parody of their own heyday. The original Bros. was our debut record, it came out of nowhere to be a hit and we lived up all the fun we had with it, feeling lucky just to be here, not knowing if we'd get the chance again. Melee was our more polished second record and it sold 20 million copies and we had a lifetime's worth of great experiences because of it. Now, on the verge of Brawl, I feel like the unspoken pressure to live up to all the great memories and unforgettable moments will place upon us a sort of need to be clever and come up with funny terms and rebuild the atmosphere we once had in Petie's living room. We'll all be looking at each other, saying behind our eyes, ' This is the same, right?' Maybe it's cynical, but that's how I feel. It certainly doesn't mean that I'm not excited because there's no question that I am. It's just that of that original crew, one lives in Seattle, one in Senegal, the other in Ruston, Louisiana. And, yes, I know about the Wi-Fi, but come on, it's not the same as sitting next to those guys, and you damn well know it.

Bruce Springsteen sang about the Glory Days and I relate.

Our task then is to create a new set of memories, unreliant on the past for validation of our experiences with each other. I hope we can use this new game to forget about all the change that has happened among our group that has made things a little less bright around here in Kentucky. And I hope that those members of the group who are now far away can use the game to recapture some of that old feeling we had when we sat down for the night's first match. I look forward to landing that first killing blow on Petie as that smug smirk he detests so much grows on my face, because, even from 2000 miles away, he knows it's there and he hates me for it. Gentleman, I look forward to seeing you on the battlefield.

If you read this and thought, ' Man, that guy cares way too much about some stupid game.' I can only - and I mean this sincerely - pity you. If you read this and thought, 'Man, I absolutely agree and cannot wait for Saturday night." I can only - and I mean this sincerely - say one thing to you: First Game!

Friday, February 29, 2008

I'm not saying I agree with it, but sometimes I get why nihilism is so appealing...

I can't believe I'm actually typing this.

Patrick Patterson is done for the season. It's 3:51 PM on Friday and there are people still blissfully going about their days who have no clue that Kentucky's best player and only hope for some sort of post-season run is limping around the Wildcat lodge with a cast over his leg. I can only imagined the joy felt by Bruce Pearl and Billy Donovan when they heard the news, as they no doubt have by now. I am Ill.

There I was, minding my own business, substitute teaching my little heart out when I felt an unsteady vibration on the right side of my stomach. No, it wasn't my bowels trembling with that devastating feeling you get when you look for something valuable and it's isn't there, only to remember you've put it somewhere else. That was still a few seconds away. It was my cell phone. Normally, I don't check messages until the very end of the day. It's rare, however, that Bubba calls me during the day, so I checked. Of course, I wish I never had. I triple-checked the story and it was as true as the day is long.

The last time I wrote something about UK this tinged with sadness was after our 2005 double OT loss to Michigan State, the infamous Patrick Sparks miracle shot game. It was raining and miserable outside then, just as it is right now. Our season is over. Our season is over. Our season is over. I have to keep saying it just to make sure I don't start to rationalize, as I'm prone to doing. If I didn't beat the truth into my head so fervently, I may start saying things like, "Maybe we can still get Meeks back into a consistent role," or, "The Coury/Carter Combo could make up 17 points and 8 rebounds a game, right?" God Help Me. Our season is over. Never mind the Tennessee game. How about South Carolina and Florida and the one SEC tournament game we'll get to play. I was pumped to go to Atlanta and cheer for these cardiac-close call-bend but don't break-10-3 in conference 'Cats. No longer. Perry Stevenson has improved, you might say. Patrick Patterson is Stevenson's improvement personified. Without Patterson sucking defenders to the low block like a black hole, Stevenson is still just the team stick figure. And the tournament selection committee. Oh Lord. Even if we manage to Houdini our way out of this death trap and put ourselves in a close call bubble situation, what sane person looks at this team minus Patterson and thinks, yeah, they've got a real shot to do some damage.

Perhaps you say I'm being pessimistic. Perhaps you think I'm underestimating the will of this coach or these seniors. Perhaps it's a little early in the day for you to be drinking. I am a noted optimist. I swear to you that before every game for the last three years, I have fully expected to see my previously unthinkably bad Wildcats come out, put it all together and in one broad stroke, right the ship, undoing all of the crappy underachieving they had seemed to revel in. I had real hope for this team. Not SEC tournament hope or Maybe we'll get a bid hope. REAL, honest to goodness feelings of excitement for what this team could do given a lucky matchup or two in the NCAAs. Obviously, I was a fool to think that luck would ever smile kindly upon this particular group of injury plagued whipping boys. I was four when probation happened at the University of Kentucky. I do not cope well with this sort of abject despair.

So, here I am + a few hours from PPID (Patrick Patterson Injury Day). I am miserable. I am miserable. I am miserable. Though Jonny made a point (I haven't decided if this is comforting in the least, although my inclination is that it is not only not comforting, it actually somehow adds to the pain) by saying that this could be worse. We could be 25-1 right now and this loss could signify the end of Championship hopes as opposed to the end of maybe-we're-in-the-tournament hopes. This is bad.

The team will, of course, try picking up the pieces and shocking themselves out of the stupor this has surely induced. And although it seems foolish to think that in the wake of events at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois in the last year that something as trivial as the broken ankle of a nineteen year old kid could make me feel so hopeless when those events certainly didn't affect me this much, this team is a big part of my life, for better or worse, whatever that says about me or the millions like me who give of themselves to invest in sports.

It just dawned on me that one of those blissful masses mentioned above may well be my beautiful wife. Sweet, innocent Sara, unblemished by doom and despair. The thought of breaking the news to her makes me feel worse, if that's possible. So why then do I know I'm going to pick up the phone and call her as soon as I'm done typing?

They say you always hurt the one you love. They forget to include that this happens most when you don't even recognize the faces of the ones who love you. Yes, Patrick, I'm talking about you.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

And the meaningless little statuette goes to...

I've been berated for not having posted in a while. My internet was AWOL for nearly two weeks, but now I'm back and likely no better than I was before.

My last unsolicited fit was caused by my immense level of frustration with the political system. I was made even more depressed by a conversation with Jonny Walls in which we both agreed that the system is a complete disaster and we still can't think of a better one. Ugh.

I'll lighten the mood with this post.

The somethingth annual Oscars are tomorrow night and I will be paying attention. The general consensus among people I know is that the Oscars are interesting, but almost always wrong. I get that. Annie Hall over Star Wars, Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction: all atrocities. And I really really like all the movies that won, it's just that they had no business beating the others. And then there are the all-time great movies which don't get nominated. Do the Right Thing, Children of Men, The Big Lebowski (I'm only partly joking) and Fight Club weren't even sniffed in the Best Picture category.

All that said, I'll still watch and root for the movies I think are best for each category. I've seen all the Best Picture nominees and a healthy number of others with nominations, so I feel pretty confident in my votes. However, I'll not bore you with a dull Academy Award prediction list. Instead, I'll bore you with a "my favorite movie moments of all-time list." Below are five of my favorite (I can't promise they're my five favorite) movie moments of all-time. I'd like to go a little off the beaten path to find these, and would encourage you to post a few of your favorites and why you like them so much. A lot of great moments will get shafted, so let me hear about it.

VERBAL WALKS AWAY, from The Usual Suspects: If you haven't seen this movie by now, you're a fool. The end of this twisting crime caper tale packs a heavy punch and when Kevin Spacey's character, "Verbal" Kint, makes his grand final exit, it's like getting kicked in the groin and punched in the back of the head simultaneously. And, please, don't lie and say you saw it coming the entire time. If you've seen it, you know exactly what I and that barber shop quartet from Skokie, Illinois are talking about.

THORWALD GETS WISE, from Rear Window: Alfred Hitchcock is my favorite director and Rear Window is my favorite of his films, just edging out North by Northwest, Vertigo, Psycho, and probably Rebecca. Each of those have great moments - Cary Grant diving under an oncoming plane in NXNW, Jimmy Stewart watching his transformed former love emerge from that green fog in his hotel room, and, obviously, the shower scene - but none matches the few minutes Grace Kelly spends searching suspected murderer Lars Thorwald's apartment for his missing wife's wedding band. As Jimmy Stewart looks on, stuck in his wheelchair, Grace shows us the ring, and Thorwald breaks the fourth dimension for the first time. When Rear Window opened in 1954, people in the theater actually screamed when this happened.

FATHER BARRY'S SPEECH, from On the Waterfront: Marlon Brando is absolutely sensational as Terry Malloy in this movie full of great moments - The "I coulda been a contendah" speech comes to mind - but Karl Malden's speech as Father Barry after a dock worker has been killed following his attempt to stand up to corrupt union bosses is a bona fide chill inducer, especially when he continues through the boos and thrown refuse to invoke the name of Jesus as the protector of every abused man on the docks.

THE FORCE CAVE, from The Empire Strikes Back: OK, so my favorite movie was bound to find its way on here. As Luke is training with Yoda on Dagobah following the Battle of Hoth, he senses a powerful surge in the dark side of the force coming from an underground cave. Refusing to listen to his master, he enters the cave armed not only with his weapons, but with equal doses of fear and self-doubt. Luke engages the force-created image of Vader with his lightsaber, decapitating his enemy, only to find the face revealed behind Vader's mask is his own. This is the precise moment when the Star Wars franchise went from a great adventure/fantasy story, to being a darker, more grown up literary exercise on the nature of good and evil. All of this would be undone 29 years later by Jar-Jar Binks.

RINGO AND THE RIGHTEOUS MAN, from Pulp Fiction: Having just watched this again for the first time in a while, I am reminded just how awesome this scene is, not only by itself, but as the conclusion of all the debauched criminal activity we've seen unfold over the previous two-plus hours. Tarantino's gift for dialogue is on full display here as Jules Winnefield simultaneously holds down the fort during a diner robbery while also managing to expose some hard-hitting personal truths, anchored by made up Biblical scripture. When, at the end of his monologue, Jules' voice is shaking and he tells us just how hard he's trying to be the righteous man from Ezekial 25:17, it's hard not to agree with the man's wallet.

So, there you have them. Five really awesome movie moments from my own personal bank. Think up a couple of your own and let me have 'em. If this doesn't garner response, I don't know what will.

P.S. - Oscar Picks (Which I think will win, not necessarily who should)

Best Picture - No Country for Old Men (will and should)
Best Actor - Daniel Day-Lewis (will and should; this category is stacked)
Best Actress - Julie Christie (I've only seen Ellen Page's performance, so I can' t really judge, but Christie's got the buzz)
Best Supporting Actor - Javier Bardem (will and should, although this is a stacked category)
Best Supporting Actress - I'm hearing a lot of good stuff about Cate Blanchett, and Oscar loves her so it's a safe pick. Funnily enough, I didn't see her movie (I'm Not There), but did see the other four which picked up nominations. I liked Amy Ryan a lot (Gone Baby Gone) and hope she wins. If its Ruby Dee (American Gangster), I'll be upset, because she's in the movie for about ten minutes total and doesn't really support anything. However, she IS old, which seems to count double in the supporting categories).
Best Original Screenplay - This is a tough one. I'll bet Juno wins, but I hope it's Michael Clayton. Ratatouille being here is awesome, too, and a win would do wonders for Animation.
Best Adapted Screenplay - No Country for Old Men (will, should, and there shouldn't be any other nominees) Seriously, this is the best adaptation I've ever seen. The book is perfectly represented onscreen and deserves an extra Oscar for sheer awesomenacity.
Best Director - The Coens (will and should).

Look at that, I lied. I bored you with both lists anyway.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Preacher, a Veteran, and two Lawyers walk into a bar...

Recently I promised a log political post, but I just don't know if I'm up for something long today.

What follows is essentially my political complaint of the week.

Delegates are being snatched up like kids at the county fair and I have to say, I'm not surprised. Mitt "the hair" Romney has given up, shaming Mormons and styling gel companies everywhere, leaving John "shaky McVeteran" McCain and Mike Huckabee (just 'cause I didn't give him a nickname doesn't mean I like him) to fight amongst themselves. Huckabee is way behind, but no doubt he'll rally his troops with a David and Goliath allusion before kicking the bucket himself sometime in mid-March. Meanwhile, Clinton (shudder) and Obama are tooth and nailing each other (that didn't sound right) in an incredibly -and unfortunately - close race.

Now, for the complaining.

I try and I try to listen to what every person running for President has to say. I honestly want to know what each of them thinks, why they think it, and if what they think might help this country. This is, however, impossible. It may sound like nothing new, but these people are lying all the time. They talk out both sides of their faces constantly, in a failing effort to be all things to all people. Take Clinton, who was for the war in Iraq, who now isn't, because her party says she shouldn't be. Take McCain, who opposed the war and pretty much everything else President Bush said up until about 18 months ago, when he started thinking about a Presidential campaign and therefore had to violently realign himself with the stricter conservatives within his party to retain those voters who had helped elect Bush twice. If you thought the great and glorious Reverend Huckster was going to be any different, think again. Just a few months before announcing his bid for the Presidency, Huckabee spoke passionately about discrimatory, damaging action proposed through immigration legislation, calling Minutemen backed legislation unfair and bigoted. Now, he's on the Deportation bandwagon along with his fellow running mates. I really like Obama, but I'm sure he hates palsied infants and the truth will out.

Cynicism is hard to fight, especially when you feel, like I do a lot of the time, that politicians seek only to please the most beneficial constituency. They quickly become a pitiful, molded, party-pumping model of stagnant thought. They are the opposite of bold and envigorating. They can afford to be strong and independent when they're governors or congresspeople because charm will take you a long long way in those roles (see Jesse Ventura), but, as Presidential candidates they have to be drones. Again, I'm supporting Obama wholeheartedly at this point, but I can't listen to the man speak because everything he says follows the same pattern: Hope, change change change, hope. Hope hope change my fellow candidate change hope hope change you can help us hope hope change. SUBSTANCE PLEASE! A REAL LEADER PLEASE! CAN I FIND AMONGST YOU JUST ONE WHOM I COULD PROUDLY CALL COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF!?

So, ladies and gentlemen, meet the next leader of the free world: An inevitable liar who owes their station in life to corporate contributors and past favors who will make waves and progress this country only insofar as it positively effects their re-election bid and their bank accounts post-Presidency.

Leffel would be disappointed in me, I'm sure. He was so thrilled with the process that he skipped the country, though, so I don't know what that means.

Talk me off the ledge, if you dare. I'll save you a spot up here when you come to your senses.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

So America, the time has come, who's it gonna be?

So much tension in the air! Huge tests for both parties in front and behind. Filthy comments from each side being flung to the other. The most important match up for each receiving constant media exposure.

So. Who're you rooting for? Who's got your vote? It's time to settle the accounts and come to grips with your choice. Which evil is lesser? Which one are you taking?

I am, of course, referring to the first of two games between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils. These despicable programs have been battling it out along with Kansas, Indiana and UCLA for second fiddle in the college basketball world for ages and each year in February and March they play and I'm disgusted because I know one of them has to win. And not just that. They get to beat their most hated rival. Unadulterated joy is their reward, and it makes me sick. Of course, one of them has to lose too, which is nice. My wish (I'm at least 1.7% joking) is that during the game, a fire would start in the Dean Dome and both teams, along with a small chunk of their fan base would be roasted alive (OK, if you're averse to the whole burned alive thing, we can settle on a whole lot of bug bombs. Peaceful sleep of death for all). I hate their fans and hate that UNC is actually within 5 or 6 good seasons of catching us on the all-time wins list. So now it comes to it. Who do you root for in a game like this? The obvious answer is that you don't root at all, but that's kind of unrealistic. You know one team has to win. It's really all about who you hate more.

I gotta go with Duke. Laettner, Wojo, Coach K, the Crazies and that smug sense of entitlement, Seth Davis pisses me off too, come to think of it. And Dukie V. And Laettner. Bastard.

As much as I never want to see UNC get any closer to UK in total wins, I still hate Duke more. And besides, Kentucky will be in a position in less that three years to be back competing for National Titles, so I'm not terribly worried about UNC catching us anytime soon. Now, if this were the National Title game, I'd go with Duke, even though I hate them more, because it would give them six titles to our seven, and I don't like being that close to them.

So, as you tune to ESPN tonight to watch the hype and hysteria that goes along with this ESPN wet dream of a game, decide early who you hate more and start rooting for that fire.

So, who's it gonna be? Who do you want to lose more, Duke or UNC?

P.S. - I was strongly tempted to do a long political post today, but I'll wait until after the weekend. For the time being, permit me a sentence. Come on America, where's your knee-jerk reactionary foolishness when we need it most (OK, two)? We have a conservative in office for eight years and all you can think to do during the Democratic Primaries is give votes to a middle of the road corporate conservative with slight social leanings to the left instead of an actual advocate of liberal social policies? More on this later, depending on how the primaries go over the weekend.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Something that is so close, but still so far out of reach...

Waking up to a thunderstorm sets a weird mood for the day...

Last night, everyone you know was watching the Super Bowl, or, at the very least, they were in a room with a TV tuned to Fox. The game was awesome, though the outcome was not what I had hoped (in a room of fifty people, I was one of two people rooting for the Pats), because I was hoping to witness history and instead saw the Patriots turn into the 1997 Seattle Mariners (120+ wins, out in the divisional round of the playoffs). There are many things to say about the game, and if that's what you want to hear, go listen to ESPN radio, watch ESPN, read one of ten thousand articles on, or simply wait for your copy of ESPN: The Magazine to arrive in the mail. I finally reached my football threshold and am glad that from here on out it'll be basketball and baseball.

I did, however, want to make a comment about that most hyped of rituals: The Halftime Show. Jonny made the point as we watched Tom Petty and Co. play their socks off that in a way, that moment took a redeeming step for American Culture. I think he's right. We live in a world that does not look kindly on the culture we've cultivated here in the U.S. And who can blame the world. We act like global police when our interests could be affected, but subscribe to isolationism when they don't. We lead the way in a Western Culture that prizes the quick fix, the easy out, materialism to the nth degree, instant gratification, disposable celebrities and filtered truth. And, in a way, the Super Bowl is the culmination of so many terrible parts of our culture. Commercials cost a hundred thousand dollars a second, runaway capitalism is on display at every turn, everything has corporate sponsorship and hundreds of millions of dollars are spent for the sake of grown men playing a children's game. Of course, we're all complicit in the spectacle. I love football and wouldn't miss the Super Bowl for anything short of a natural distaster. In a way, that's the most depressing part. I embrace with my actions the culture which I tell you I despise. What a tool am I.

Anyway, back to Jonny's comment about redemption. In a global society which features fewer and fewer true communal moments, when a large portion of the population are intensely focused on one event, occur, it is refreshing to know that in one moment, the entire country and a lot of the world is bobbing along to "Running Down a Dream" and "American Girl." The Super Bowl is the last bastion of real shared experience in this country. At one time, and album or movie release would be so ubiquitous that you literally could not walk down the street without finding someone who had shared in the very same experience you had. Gone With The Wind, Sgt. Pepper, the last episodes of M*A*S*H and even Seinfeld all held real cultural significance. Not even the election of our next leader will resound the way those did, because not even 50%of eligible voters will cast their ballots in November. The internet and 500 DirecTV channels have precipitated this change, for better or worse. We have a million different choices for entertainment and information, and we rarely come close to these grand moments of singular consciousness anymore that we should take them any way we can get them. Knowing that more than a billion people were watching the same (American) musician play the same songs at the same time is comforting, allowing us to forget everything that lurks under the surface of an event like the Super Bowl for just a few moments.

As I only have one reader (and not even the same one each time) I'll tentatively make the call.

Comments? Questions? Arguments? Hate Mail?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Man From Tallahassee...

Obligatory LOST post alert!

OK, so it's LOST eve and I thought I'd do a quick post on the upcoming season and what I think we may see.

Jack and Kate will have no fewer than 439 shouting matches/heartfelt conversations this season.

We will - God willing - meet no more "new" characters. Paulo and Nikki, thankfully, are dead.

It is still my sincerest hope that Sawyer be left alone in a room with Ben for 15 minutes.

How long before Claire and Jack discover their creepy Luke/Leia relationship?

What are the odds we see Charlie (in flashback or otherwise) within the first four episodes of season four?

Not so bold prediction: We won't know who was in the coffin until the season finale.

Speaking of which, the season finale may take place in July if the writer's strike isn't shored up soon.

The reduced episode format (16 instead of 24) will return the season to its season one form, where every episode had at least two genuine "What!?" moments.

Sayid will be revealed to be the distant cousin of Samir Nagheenanajar from Office Space.

When will we see Walt again? Will he be a grown-ass man at that point?

Locke will put the lives of no less than a dozen people into serious jeopardy at least eight times this season. Good ol' Locke, he's back to doing what he does best.

Hurley, after 90 days on the island, will still not lose any weight. This will be accounted for by a half-hearted cannibalism storyline.

It's a real shame Patrick Patterson couldn't have been on Oceanic Flight 815. If he had been, this whole mysterious black smoke problem would be solved and the others would all be dead. Wait, is it possible that Patterson is the black smoke? I hope for the castaways' sake that it is not.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Who watches the Watchers...

There is much in the air right now. Politics, sports, and entertainment are rife with any amount of topics which I could use as springboards for filling the space I'm starting to feel obligated to fill. I will instead take those helpful, obvious, interesting prompts and spit on them in the interest of addressing a more abstract and therefore more self-indulgent discussion about the nature of art.


OK. Those of you still with me, thanks. And I'm sorry.

On Friday night Sara and I made our weekly pilgrimage into the shared world, grabbing a bite to eat (hooray for cajun pork chops) and stopping off at Regal for a 9:30 showing of the newly-reintroduced-into-theaters Michael Clayton, starring George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, and Tilda Swinton. First things first: go see Michael Clayton. Now. It will lose out big time at the Oscars, because as almost every critic would likely tell you, it's only a movie. I say this because when compared to staggering meditations on the American condition past and present such as There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men, Michael Clayton just looks like a movie. It's a fairly straightforward (although complex) narrative that takes the time to concern itself with the human soul and the damage that can be done to that soul when goodness is abandoned in favor of malicious corporate duty. It is superbly acted and directed and written (by the guy who wrote The Bourne Ultimatum, Tony Gilroy), and it achieves all these things without once appearing artsy, a real minus in the eyes of Academy voters. Anyway, it's awesome, so do yourself a favor and catch it while it's back in theaters for a limited time.

All that and I still haven't gotten to the point. Again, I'm sorry. Those of you still with me, however, will be treated to free peanuts and soda following the show.

Anyway, while waiting for 9:30 to roll around, my lovely wife and I made the requisite stop at Barnes & Noble, where she picked up a helpful guide on professional photography and I predictably spent more money that I reasonably should have (bye-bye lunch money). I made two purchases. The first was a book of rambling essays written by famed rock critic Lester Bangs I'd been looking for since I can't remember when and which no store ever had in stock - though I'm told they'd all be just ever so happy to order it for me - but which Barnes & Noble did. Score one for me. My second and final purchase was of another book I'd wanted for a while, though had through one or another gap in my conscious (and Christmas list) I had yet to pick up. This second book is called Watchmen, a graphic novel by V For Vendetta creator Alan Moore. Watchmen follows the saga of a group of aging "Superheroes," only one of which actually has any super-powers. These crime fighters have been outlawed in the wake of a police strike highlighting the public's fear of their particular brand of rogue vigilantism. The world is a different place than ours (we won Vietnam, for example, and Tricky Dick Nixon has just been elected to his fourth term in office), and nuclear terror still grips every inhabitant in the civilized world. I am about halfway through it and I have two conclusions. First, buy it now. Second, Watchmen is the third graphic novel I've read, the other two being V for Vendetta and The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller of 300 and Sin City fame.

I was, in my youth, never much of a comic book reader. I remember distinctly attempting to ingratiate myself into the comics world on more than one occasion, as all the fantasy-superhero-crimefighting stuff seemed like it would appeal to me. It may have, but comics were not a format which kept me interested for very long and my attempts to "get" them failed. I'm still not a comic book guy. I have never bought an individual issue of any comic although many people in the field of entertainment who I admire (Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino) rave about series this-that-or the other. However, my experience with graphic novels has been nothing but positive: I love all three I've read and I see no reason why I would stop now.

I think, at last, that I am able to pin down exactly why a medium once written off as a mind-wasting vacuum has trancended to the status of truly high art. Just like movies before them and the novel before them, comics started as a highly simple exercise in time-passage. Pure good vs. pure evil, no complications. As each form developed, however, characters became less clear cut and with their shady motives and behaviors and ideals came depth to the works they populated. Superman is flawless and will always fight for the perfect reason. That's why Batman is more interesting (although now both have been carried along on the wave of serious-minded work that has greeted us all in the age of the graphic novel and movie adaptations thereof). New comic artists and writers like Moore and Miller have added an adult depth to works previously populated only be caricatures of do-goodery. Every character in Watchmen is highly complex socially, psychologically, politically, sexually, and ethically. Real social problems are laid bare in this novel (which is what it is, having broken the elementary bonds of comic books), examined in different contexts under myriad focused lights that bring the faults of the characters and ourselves (what all great literature is meant to do) out in the form of thought and speech bubbles. If you've never considered yourself a "comics person," join the club. Then go buy and read Watchmen. Just as novels and movies were once considered trash mediums where true art could never survive, let alone thrive, comic books have, in the past twenty years, been transformed into a unique and powerful canvas for some of the great literature of our time.

The next evolutionary step in this chain seems obvious to anyone under the age of thirty, but there are still massive amounts of people who doubt that the next great medium - video games - will ever be anything more than a way to kill a few hours, valuable only in and of themselves. Some games have already crossed the threshold, and yet the industry continues to survive as the whipping boy of media pundits across the land. They will, of course, be proven fools in the end.

I know that a few people read these posts, but I have gathered that the only real way to garner response from those few is to pose some great question designed to spark debate and discussion. This is a dangerous practice, however, because if I do pose some deeply powerful, intrinsically fretful question fraught with all sorts of power and uncertainty, but no one leaves a response, it's likely to cause suicidal thoughts. Off the diving board I go.

Comments, questions, disagreements, hate-mongering name-calling, and philosophically unanswerable conundrums are, of course, welcome.

What, then, can we call art? Maybe you love video games or comic books or (probably) both, but don't think they're art. Maybe you hate them both but think they are art. Whatever the case, make your case for art. Where does it start? Where does it end? What criteria do you use to measure art? What are your thoughts on graphic novels and video games and pulp westerns and all the rest? Come up with 5 or 10 or 59 (lists always elicit discussion, right?) great works of art that aren't getting their proper due in wider society. Hell, come up with just one. Say something. Anything. Please.

Thanks for reading. To all (or perhaps none) of you still with me. I apologize, but Alan Moore ate all the peanuts and spit in all the soda, so you're out of luck. According to the back of my copy of Watchmen, Mr. Moore currently resides in Central England, so if you wish to hunt him down, there's your head start. I'll warn you, though, in this picture he looks like a cross between the unabomber and Gandalf, so, you know, it was nice knowing you.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Few Words in Defense of Our Program...

They say the dynasty has fallen, that the University of Kentucky Men's Basketball team is the worst we've ever seen. They say expectations are down, that losing games has become OK. They say the hiring of our new coach was a bad decision and that his players have quit on him. They say our recruits just aren't good enough, that the talent on the floor doesn't match up with everyone else. They say that Rupp Arena, that fabled hall and home to so much tradition, is a hollow shell where shadows of the former fan base appear from time to time to hang their heads at what they see now and try vainly to remember what it was like in '48, in '49, in '51, in '58, in '78, in '96, and in '98. They say so many things and have said them so often, even a boy like me, a child of eleven at heart, has begun to believe some of them.

I can't begin to tell you if what they say is true. All I can say is that I've been to the mountain top, and the sun still shines there, the sky is still blue on the other side. I saw there a group of young men who had absorbed the identity of their coach, a hard nosed nail of a man from nowhere, Texas. They remembered what the eight letters on their chest meant, and what the seven banners hanging in the rafters meant, and what the untold numbers of cheering spectators meant. They grabbed each other and pulled with everything they had, making solid once again their hobbling and broken teammates, unwilling to stop bleeding for each other. I saw a Senior who could barely walk, who the masses have called a quitter, a showoff, a letdown, coaching his squad, looking into the sea of blue all around him and smiling because he remembered how it feels to wear the name Kentucky in that place in a moment like that. I saw a coach who has been written off, a has-been before he ever got to be, salute the reinvigorated throng, telling them with his eyes what they all wanted to hear: that this is what it will be like now and forever. I saw for one night the house that Rupp built transformed once again into irrepressible shrine that it ought always be, the greatest place there is to watch a basketball game, Cameron Indoor be damned.

I cannot prognosticate upon the future of this group, but I knew when the buzzer sounded at 23,000 stayed to sing "My Old Kentucky Home," that they had done something to win over so many of the people who have cursed them for more than two months. We are not a program of moral victories. Close losses are of no use to us. And so tonight we can remember what we may have forgotten.

Kentucky is the home of the greatest tradition in college basketball history, and as the late Al McGuire said, "They had it before you, they had it during you, and they'll have it after you."

As I stood behind the Kentucky bench tonight and marveled anew at the names of Hayden, Jones, Groza, Issel, Macy, and Mashburn, I could retrieve only one thought from my brain: This is still Rupp Arena, and we are still Kentucky.