Friday, September 4, 2009

Michigan Football - Predictions

Okay, so in a scientific survey of the nominal contributors to this blog (all Michigan grads), here are the predictions for the 2009 Michigan football season

Assman - 9-3
Catman - 7-5
Candyman - 8-4
Brandman - 8-4
Brakeman - 7-5
Taxman - 6-6
Lawman - 8-4

The average works out to 7.5 wins. On the high end you'll find me, the Assman. I am admittedly a shameless homer and optimist (a cockeyed optimist, like Billy Mumphrey), and I actually had to rein myself in to keep from predicting 12-0. On the low end is Taxman, who is a pessimistic dickhead whose joy for life and former Michigan homerism has been crushed by the demands of his chosen career of "CPA," whatever that is, and the mind-numbing task of following the Detroit Lions. The rest of us are somewhere in the middle. At the end of the year, prizes (in the form of bragging rights, blumpkins, and generous helpings of sycophantic praise) will be awarded to the one who is the "least wrong" of all of us. We certainly don't agree on everything, but of course I think we can all agree on the following sentiment:

Go Blue!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Michigan Football Preview - Special Teams/Overall

Last year was a trying year (to say the least) for Michigan football fans. Among the litany of problems: horrible QB play, young offensive line, turnovers, confusion with the new system, poor tackling, bad pursuit angles, etc. Believe me, I could go on. And on. Anyway, 2009 is a new year, and with it comes renewed optimism. Last year I predicted a 9-3 season. I was correct with the numbers, but I had them in the wrong order. My prediction for this year is at the end of this hastily assembled post.

Since writer/director John Hughes passed away recently, I thought I'd use some quotes from some of his best films (as a writer and director) to help me preview this year's Michigan Wolverine football team. Earlier I previewed the offense and defense. Today, special teams and the overall outlook:

Punt Team/Kickoff Teams
"Breakfast Club"
Richard Vernon: You ought to spend a little more time trying to make something of yourself and a little less time trying to impress people.

Well, we all know about the awesomely named Zoltan Mesko. He is already on the watch list for the Ray Guy Award, given annually to the best collegiate punter. Suffice to say, I think this is the only single position on the entire team that I have complete confidence in - rightly or wrongly. Zoltan will boot the ball downfield. I think RichRod should be able to find enough athletes to sufficiently cover his massive mortar shots into enemy territory. The return game is another matter. As Michigan fans, we have been pretty spoiled the last few years. Steve Breaston was steady, and at times spectacular. He was always a threat to take a punt for a TD. We've also had the likes of Charles Woodson, Leon Hall, and Desmond Howard back there in the recent past, so I think our expectations are pretty high. Last year shattered those expectations to the point that I was happy if the return man held onto the ball. I don't want to look at the exact numbers because it's too depressing, but we fumbled lots of punts last hear. Martavious Odoms (he did return one for a TD) probably was the most dangerous, but also had butterfingers. So RR put Greg Matthews, our most sure-handed receiver, back there. And then he fumbled. So did Donovan Warren when he gave it a shot. No one distinguished themselves as a reliable option as a return specialist, so my hopes for this year is for someone to catch the ball and hold onto it like it's his last dollar. The potential return men this year are Odoms, Warren, Matthews, Kelvin Grady, Cissoko, and all of the shifty little slot receivers and RBs (V. Smith, Gallon, T. Robinson, Roundtree, T. Jones, etc.). Just hold onto the damn ball.

For the kickoff team, Bryan Wright is the incumbent, and will probably hold onto the kickoff specialist job he performed pretty well last year. As for return men, see above. Hold onto the damn ball. It ain't gonna bite ya.

Quick Zoltan facts:
- He graduated this spring with a degree in finance and marketing
- Is currently working on his master's degree in sports management
- Was a Playboy All-American last season

"Ferris Bueller's Day Off"
Ferris: Don't worry about it, I don't even have a piece of shit. I have to envy yours.

This is a real mystery position. After KC Lopata (who made 10 of 15 tries) used up the last of his eligibility, we have a severe case of inexperience in the placekicking duties. There are seven (SEVEN!) kickers listed on the roster, and that is one position where you can realistically expect that a walk-on might be able to win a job. With that being said, I still expect Brendan Gibbons or Wright to win the job. However, for some of you the name Eddie Murray might ring a bell. The Wolverines have a "preferred walk-on" kicker by that name this year, but he is no relation to the former Detroit Lions kicker. He has a strong leg and might manage to take the kickoff duties from Wright. I would be satisfied to have a kicker with the success rate of Lopata last year. Worst case: the 2002 season (post-Epstein, pre-Rivas) was the year that started with Phil Brabbs (3-for-9) and Troy Neinberg (2-for-5), and ended with punter Adam Finley (7-for-10) taking over. If that is in the cards for this year, just shoot me now and get it over with. That Washington game almost gave me a heart attack.

"Ferris Bueller's Day Off"
Ed Rooney: I did not achieve this position in life by having some snot-nosed punk leave my cheese out in the wind.

Wow. Where to begin. Personally, I have a great deal of confidence in the head coach, Rich Rodriguez. He has a proven track record of turning around programs. The big leap typically occurs in year two. So, here we are in year two of the RichRod era. I expect big things. However, I understand why others have not embraced him: he's not a "Michigan man" (although his mentor, Don Nehlen, was); he's too nice to the media (many of the same people complained that Carr was too surly toward the media); etc. Some people are now pointing to the ridiculous "non-scandal" regarding offseason workouts - which will ultimately amount to nothing but a footnote at the end of a successful season. After a year in which the defense was a huge disappointment, RichRod made a bold move and hired Greg Robinson to coordinate the defense. Robinson has a proven track record of his own as a D-coordinator, despite his failings as the head man at Syracuse. I think Michigan has a coaching staff that will help them win games, this year and in the future.

Overall Outlook
"Breakfast Club"
John Bender: You know what I got for Christmas this year? It was a banner fuckin' year at the old Bender family. I got a carton of cigarettes. The old man grabbed me and said "Hey. Smoke up Johnny."

Okay, now for my prediction. I am pretty confident in the offense. With a new QB who is able to throw a reasonably accurate pass, an experienced offensive line that should have a grasp of the blocking schemes, and a deep stable of running backs, this offense could really be something to behold by midseason. The defense worries me, but bolstered by the addition of new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, should show improvement in most areas, despite being somewhat young and inexperienced. The punting game is solid. The return game is questionable at best. The kicking is a mystery. The Big Ten conference is weak. They'll probably lose a couple they shouldn't, and win a couple they shouldn't. The team will take these new allegations of NCAA violations and band together and adopt an "us-against-the-world" mentality that has served so many teams so well over the years. I see a 9-3 season.

And just one last quote from "Planes,Trains, and Automobiles," because I couldn't fit it in anywhere else ("that's what she said"):

Del: If they told you wolverines would make good house pets, would you believe them?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Michigan Football Preview - Defense

Last year was a trying year (to say the least) for Michigan football fans. Among the litany of problems: horrible QB play, young offensive line, turnovers, confusion with the new system, poor tackling, bad pursuit angles, etc. Believe me, I could go on. And on. Anyway, 2009 is a new year, and with it comes renewed optimism. Last year I predicted a 9-3 season. I was correct with the numbers, but I had them in the wrong order. My prediction for this year will come later.

Since writer/director John Hughes passed away recently, I thought I'd use some quotes from some of his best films (as a writer and director) to help me preview this year's Michigan Wolverine football team. Earlier, I previewed the offense. Today, the defense:

Defensive Line
"The Breakfast Club"
Andrew Clark: If I lose my temper you're totaled, man.
John Bender: Totally?
Andrew Clark: Totally.

Brandon Graham is widely regarded as one of the top defensive linemen in the Big Ten. That's a good thing. He's the only returning starter on the defensive line. That's a bad thing. However, the cuboard is not exactly bare. Mike Martin played significant snaps last year - and played pretty well. He brings a year of backup experience to the line. It's hard to tell how they're going to line up - in a 3-man or 4-man line. If it's a 3-man line, the other starter will probably be Ryan Van Bergen. If it's a 4-man line, you might see freshman Will Campbell. After that, there's not a whole lot of depth. For some reason, I'm not too worried, because having Graham there makes it seem okay. Don't make him angry - you wouldn't like him when he's angry.

"Breakfast Club"
Andrew: Why do you have to insult everybody?
John Bender: I'm being honest, asshole. I would expect you to know the difference.

Ever since the departure of David Harris a couple years ago, linebacker has been, at least for me, a sore spot. Harris could go from sideline to sideline, he was a sure tackler, and he could hold his own in coverage. We got spoiled. Since then, we've been saddled with the likes of Chris Graham, John Thompson, Shawn Crable, and Obi Ezeh - who have all been inconsistent at best. Sure, Ezeh makes some plays, but he also misses tackles and doesn't seem to be proficient at shedding blockers. The MLB makes the defense go, and if Ezeh does not make significant improvement this year, the defense is doomed to another season of head-scratching mediocrity.The other LBs are intriguing. Jonas Mouton showed promise last year, his first as a starter. Stevie Brown will try his hand at LB after what could only be described as a horrible season at safety. Others who could contribute this season - sophomores Brandon Herron, Kenny Demens, and JB Fitzgerald, and freshman Craig Roh. While I remain optimistic in the overall defensive improvement, I am in a "wait-and-see" mode for the linebacking corps. Best case: Ezeh makes a huge Harris-like leap to all-conference level play, Stevie Brown finds his true position, and one playmaker emerges from the rest of the linebackers. Worst case: Ezeh does not improve, Brown proves once and for all that he's not a good football player, and no one else does anything of note.

"Mr. Mom"
Joan: Can I give you a hand?
Jack Butler: You can give me two. I don't know what the hell I'm doing.

This may not be the weakest position on the defensive side of the ball, but it's definitely the position with the least depth. The starters will probably be Donovan Warren and Boubacar Cissoko ("It's the Donnie and Boobie Show!"), but with all the spread offenses and three WR sets that every team runs, all teams need at least three starter-quality CBs, or else they'll get shredded. The third CB will either be RS frosh JT Floyd or true frosh JT Turner. Teric Jones just moved over to CB from RB, and could help out as well. Any injuries at this position will further expose the lack of depth. However, after a semi-injured off-year, Warren is poised to fulfill his promise and to start becoming the shutdown corner he is capable of being. Hopefully, the front seven can get some pressure on the QBs and take some pressure off the thin defensive backfield.

"Weird Science"
Chet: [to Wyatt] Boy, I wouldn't give a squirt of piss for your ass right now.

Two years ago, the Michigan safeties were outrageously horrible. The opening game against that one Div. 1-AA team that we lost to? Lots of coverage problems. Last year? More of the same - coverage problems, bad pursuit angles, horrible tackling. This year, it's a clean slate, with two new starters in the safety spots. It looks like it might be Troy Woolfolk in one slot, and it's possible that true freshman Vlad Emilien might start in the other slot. No matter who starts, it will be two players who have never started a college football game. Due to the safety problems the last couple years, I am not terribly confident in the safety situation, to say the least. Other than Woolfolk and Vlad, others who could contribute this year include Michael Williams and Thomas Gordon. Hold your breath and cover your eyes - it could be ugly.

"National Lampoon's Vacation"
Clark: I think you're all fucked in the head. We're ten hours from the fucking fun park and you want to bail out. Well I'll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun. I'm gonna have fun and you're gonna have fun. We're all gonna have so much fucking fun we'll need plastic surgeory to remove our god damn smiles. You'll be whistling 'Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah' out of you're assholes! I gotta be crazy! I'm on a pilgrimage to see a moose. Praise Marty Moose! Holy Shit!

If you read all the stuff I wrote up above, you might find my overview rather perplexing. Despite the less-than-rave reviews within the position groups, I am pretty confident that the defense will make significant improvements over last year. First of all, I think Greg Robinson, the new defensive coordinator, knows what he's doing. Sure he had a horrible team at Syracuse the last couple years, but all that tells you is that he was a bad head coach. He's been successful assistant in the NFL and at Texas, so I think he will have a positive effect on the defense. Secondly, the improvement in the offense has to help the defense. I can't count the number of times that the offense went 3-and-out and the defense had to get right back on the field again. Or how many times the kick return man fumbled the kick right back to the opponent. They had to be tired. Last year's defense gave up an average of almost 29 points per game. I expect it will be closer to 20 this year.

Next time: Special Teams, and overall season prediction

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Michigan Football Preview - Offense

Last year was a trying year (to say the least) for Michigan football fans. Among the litany of problems: horrible QB play, young offensive line, turnovers, confusion with the new system, poor tackling, bad pursuit angles, etc. Believe me, I could go on. And on. Anyway, 2009 is a new year, and with it comes renewed optimism. Last year I predicted a 9-3 season. I was correct with the numbers, but I had them in the wrong order. My prediction for this year will come later.

Since writer/director John Hughes passed away recently, I thought I'd use some quotes from some of his best films to help me preview this year's Michigan Wolverine football team. Today, the offense:

"Sixteen Candles"
Samantha: This is Farmer Fred.
The Geek: Ted.
Samantha: Oh, I'm sorry, Farmer Ted.
The Geek: I'm not really a farmer. I'm a freshman.

Barring injuries, the QB position will most likely be manned by two freshmen this season - Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Since he enrolled in January, Forcier will probably start the season as the QB, but expect Robinson to see plenty of snaps in running situations. There is no way, even though they are freshmen, that these two will not be able to be better than last year's tandem of Sheridan and Threet, who were historically awful. The final numbers for the Michigan QBs last year: 165-for-338 (49%) with 12 INTs and 11 TDs. I expect a much higher completion percentage on fewer passes this year (180-for-300). And I also expect a lot more than the 345 yards rushing from the QB position (maybe 600 yards). While I wouldn't exactly say that QB will be a position of strength this season, I also think that it won't be a glaring weakness.

"Sixteen Candles"
The Geek: Relax, would you? We have seventy dollars and a pair of girls underpants. We're safe as kittens.

The Michigan stable of running backs is pretty stacked this year. The only significant loss from last year is Sam McGuffie, who after a promising start to last year was laid out by a concussion and was never the same in the second half of the season. He transferred to Rice shortly after the season ended. Returning are seniors Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown (and I almost forgot Kevin Grady). I suspect that Minor will see the majority of the carries, but Brown has shown flashes of greatness when he's been able to stay healthy. Grady will probably continue to be the short yardage battering ram. Also returning is sophomore Mike Shaw, who had some great runs last year, and RS freshman Mike Cox. In addition, there are several freshman who could make some waves as well (notable nano-bots Vincent Smith and Fitzgerald Toussaint). Much like last year, I feel that running back should be a position of strength and depth.

"National Lampoon's Vacation"
Clark Griswold: O God, ease our suffering in this, our moment of great despair. Yea, admit this kind and decent woman into thy arms of thine heavenly area, up there. And Moab, he lay us upon the band of the Canaanites, and yea, though the Hindus speak of karma, I implore you: give her a break.

The offensive line situation at the start of the 2008 season could best be described as "desperate." There was only one returning starter (Steve Schilling), and one of the guards (Tim McAvoy) was so bad that he was replaced part way thru the season by a former defensive tackle (John Ferrara). Many times during the first half of the season, McGuffie and the QBs were treated like tackling dummies. However, the line seemed to gel a bit in the second half of the year and it began to open some holes for Brandon Minor. The line went from cover-your-eyes-awful to competent. This season, I expect the line to make another leap forward from competent to good. The linemen have one more year in the spread system, and there is much better depth than last year. This year's line will return last year's starters Schilling, Molk, Ortmann, Moosman, Ferrara, Dorrestein, and some these guys may be replaced by RS sophomore Huyge or RS freshmen Omameh, Khoury, and Barnum. So unlike last year, there is depth and more talent and experience. Along with QB, this will be the most improved unit on the offense.

"Sixteen Candles"
The Geek: Yeah, but the thing is, I'm kinda like the leader. Kinda like the king of the dipshits.
Samantha: Well, that's pretty cool. Hey, but a lot can happen over a year. I mean, you could come back next fall as a completely normal person.

The wide receivers/slot receivers were a perplexing bunch last year. There seemed to be a lot of talent, but it was hard to get a feel for how good they were when they were constantly being thrown uncatchable balls. When the Wolverines ran the bubble screen last year, it worked when the throws were on the mark - which was rare. That is a pass, more than just about any other, that has to be thrown to the receiver in stride so that he can continue upfield. It's essentially a long handoff, and our QBs were not good at it last year. Henne used to throw that pass perfectly all the time to Breaston, Manningham, etc. This is coming off as QB-bashing in the WR section of the preview, but the point of this is that it was hard to tell how good the WRs were last year when the throws to them were so bad. This year, all the receivers return, and new ones are arriving. I wish I could say with confidence that the receivers are going to be great and no on will ever fumble again, but until we see how they perform when passes hit them where they are designed to, it will be a mystery. I am optimistic that Forcier/Robinson will be much more accurate than Sheridan/Threet, so I expect better things from the receivers, but who knows. At WR, Mathews is a steady and dependable guy, and I expect big things from Stonum and Hemingway. At SR, Odoms showed flashes of brilliance (but he fumbled too much), and the incoming guys could be very exciting (Teric Jones, Jeremy Gallon, Roy Roundtree, Terrence Robinson). It would be great if Kelvin Grady (former M Hoops player and Kevin's bro) could add something to the offense as well.

"The Breakfast Club"
John Bender: So it's sorta social, demented and sad, but social. Right?

The tight end and fullback spots are an enigma in the spread offense. At WVU, RR used his fullback (Owen Schmitt) a lot, but that's because he was good. I'm not sure if Moundros is that good. The TE is another strange position in the spread. They could use the TE in the slot against a little 5'-8" CB and have a significant mismatch, as all the Michigan TEs are 6'-4" taller. I don't expect the Michigan TEs to have more than 25 catches between them, but I'll betcha they'll have 5 or more TDs.

"Planes, Trains, and Automobiles"
Neal: As much fun as I've had on this little journey, I'm sure one day I'll look back on it and laugh.
Del: [giggles] Are you sure?
Neal: [starts chuckling] Oh God. I'm laughing already

Next year at this time, we'll all be wondering what all the angst and hand-wringing was all about. It may take a couple games to get the freshmen all on the same page as the upperclassmen, but by midseason the offense will be running like a well-oiled machine. Personally, I think this offense is the NCAA offense of the present and the future. It's malleable enough that the mix of running and passing can be tailored to fit the strengths of the team. This year's strength will be the running game. I expect that we'll see around 65-70% running plays, and the team will rush for well over 2000 yards. The strength of the running game will open up passing lanes and make it easier to complete short passes to the talented but unproven slot receivers. By the end of the year, OSU will be very worried about how to stop the Wolverine attack.

Next time: Defense

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dead Again - Buffalo 4/21/09

When The Dead announced they were putting together a limited tour run, I was both intrigued and frightened at the prospect. Intrigued, of course, because the once epic sound and atmosphere of what is left of the Grateful Dead was coming to Buffalo. Frightened because, well, it is 2009, these guys are in the mid-sixties (mid-sixties takes on a different tone when it is an age, not an era), and one Jerome John Garcia would not be stage left. I have seen the many different incarnations of group and individual bands over the years – Ratdog, Phil & Friends, Other Ones, The Dead, and even Mickey’s band – and quite honestly they spanned the spectrum for me of ok to very good, rarely if ever hitting great/unbelievable on the meter. There have been moments, but nothing really consistently driving.
In addition, the apparent sell out to high ticket prices and using a ticket system that was blatantly looking to maximize their dime, made me sick. Long story short, I was online for the pre-sale, their lousy technology made it a 75 minute ordeal, they finally showed decent/mediocre seats after three rounds of lousy seats, so I took them. They then opened up far better seats in the days and weeks to come – give the rabid fan getting seats the first minute (or 75) mediocre seats so the casual fan is more likely to plop down a C-note on a good seat. Sham. Shameful. Plus the overall political shenanigans (whether you are right, left, or center), having Tipper Gore on stage with them in DC, to appearing on the View all make me a bit sick – especially after the GD was so blatantly apolitical all of their careers. Once again, chalk it up to “it is, what it is…”

In addition, one major issue I have personally had with all these post-Garcia bands is that they play too much Garcia material and almost lean on it. In a way, I think that diminishes Weir’s, and somewhat Phil’s, writing and performing of many mainstays of the GD catalog. Unlike some Heads out there who discredit and don’t like Bobby, I have always liked him – rock & roll star and all.

Let’s touch on the departed Garcia for a moment, even though it is all very well documented. Jerry was obviously the leader of the band, and supposedly a reluctant leader. He was a talented guitar player whose sound really defined the band. However, he lent much more - he truly provided a legitimacy to the music because he was a true music encyclopedia who infused all the different styles of music to the band’s repertoire – folk, bluegrass, pychedelia, rock & roll, and let’s not forget the beautiful ballad that I have trouble slotting into a genre. He embodied the music and gave it the sincerity, respect, drive, and ultimately the je ne sais quoi that I, and many, have been embodied with.

On to the show and this particular band. I came to the conclusion that the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. The four – Bob, Phil, Billy, and Mickey – are much better together than the sum of their individual bands because they have more of the GD sound than any of their individual bands. In addition to the original four, they added keyboard player Jeff Chimenti, who is outstanding. He probably could have taken the bench at anytime as the Grateful Dead and fit in perfectly fine. He seemed to be a fine blend of 65% Brent and 35% Keith, adding both texture and melodic highlights.

Warren Haynes had the most difficult job of the night and of the tour, but I can’t think of a better person to fill the role. He did not attempt to simply mimic Garcia’s style or licks, nor did he try to change it up too much to make it all his own. Haynes is a consummate professional, who really did it justice by playing a style reminiscent of Garcia at times, but putting his own mark at the same time. He walked that line particularly well, in my opinion, and he is a great guitarist. His vocals also added a great deal to the show. Honestly, I don’t know how the guy does it and how he keeps all the music straight – he must play 250++ dates per year between Gov. Mule, Allmans, Dead/Phil, and other miscellaneous projects. Another music junkie!

The band has been pulling out old nugget after old nugget out in the first six shows before landing in Buffalo. The likes of St. Stephen, The Eleven, Cream Puff War, Alligator, Born Cross-eyed, New Potato Caboose, and more, have been unearthed. Unbelievable – one side of me thinks how great it is, another side of me thinks they are trying too hard! Stuff that never saw the light of day past 1969.

However, Buffalo would be a more traditional show without any big bombs, and truthfully, that was fine by me. Yes, it would have been great to hear one of the old-time great tunes, but at this point I was looking for some live Grateful Dead music, because it is all good.
Ø They opened up with a very nice and upbeat Promised Land. Nice, traditional start as far as I was concerned, and a Bobby tune (cover of course…) to boot.
Ø Next they did a very nice They Love Each Other, with a nice hint of reggae groove. Warren took the vocals, some nice extended jams, and took a nice little ditty of a typical Garcia love song to an 11 minute groove.
Ø When the first bars of Mama Tried emanated, I was ear to ear – a cowboy tune!! Bobby seemingly doesn’t like the cowboy tunes much anymore, and it drives me crazy because that is what I want to hear! Nice hippie take on Merle Haggard, as always.
Ø Another heavy duty Garcia tune followed – Loser. Well played and sung mostly by Weir, they did a nice job with the song – again clocking in at 11minutes.
Ø Next, a nice surprise with Smokestack Lightning. I was loving life with another “Bobby” tune, but oddly Warren took the lead vocals. Haynes has a very soulful voice that plays very well with the blues, and he sounded great. Just a great blues tune.
Ø Stella Blue was unexpected and one of those Garcia ballads I would rather leave alone, however as soon as I think that, I find myself enjoying the rendition. They do a very good job with these tunes, no matter if I think they ‘should’ be playing them or not. 12 minutes, and very emotionally charged, “Dust off those rusty strings, just one more time…Gonna make ‘em shine” line, but I am sure it lost some people.
Ø More Bob coming up with All Over Now – one of the great old time cover tunes around...heck, it was the Stones first number one single in the UK!
Ø I headed for the men’s room toward the end because they have been playing 7 song first sets, but hey hey…another cowboy song – Big River!! I danced in the aisle-way for this one, and what a great song. Two cowboy songs in the first set – I was happy!
Ø First set was 65 minutes, well played, traditional 8 song first set – nice!
Ø The second set started after a 40 a minute set break. The tingling of Playin’ In The Band was being thrown around, and a 1973-ish, 17 minute version was being born. They played this song, always one of my favorites, very well with a long and expansive jam.
Ø Next was the closest thing we got to a nugget – Me & Bobby McGee. Wow, was this a good one - why didn’t they keep the tune in the repertoire through the 80’s and 90’s. Well performed and great to hear.
Ø Next were two crowd pleasers and Garcia tunes back to back – Loose Lucy and Ramble On Rose. Lucy was fun and light, as it should be, with some good sing-along. I believe they rotated the vocals around on this one.
Ø Ramble On Rose is just a great song and fun to hear and dance to. Again, like in Stella, it was tough to hear the ‘Take you to the leader of the band’ line without pining for the Fat Man. Are they going to play a 5 song pre-drums or how do they go into Drums from here? It was a bit disjointed, but they simply ended the tune, and Drumz ensued. Drumz began with Chimenti staying on electic organ to create a funky groove with the drummers. Some of it was interesting while parts were techno-sound annoying. Drumz finally took hold when Chimenti took a rest, and boy was it fun to see. Good stuff – truly a highlight, although a bit short with only the drummers working their magic. Space was far out and probably dragged a bit for some, and lost others, but I appreciate it – especially when you only see it 3 times in 15 years!
Ø Coming out of Drums, they noodled in different directions, but then oddly and rather awkwardly fell into a Maggies Farm. It was ok, but did not seem to fit well in that slot. Still a great tune, and any time a Dylan tune is played, it has to be taken seriously.
Ø While I am not usually in favor of Garcia tunes without The Man actually playing on them, next was one of my top GD tunes – Eyes of the World. I just love the song – the melody, timing, crescendos, the hippy-dippy optimism. Everything. Lead vocals were traded between Bob, Phil, and Warren. They did a nice job, although it is a tough Garcia tune to really shoot a bulls-eye because, to me, the song wreaks of him. I liked it a lot, and it took me to another place, as all good music should.
Ø They noodled more and hinted back into Playin’ several times. They couldn’t just go back into a Playin’ before they do one more song – could they? Yes, they did. I love the Playin’ Reprise to close the show, and while I like the fact that Warren Haynes did not try to copy Garcia verbatim on most of his licks, this is one place where I wish he had. That ending to Playin’ (or in the Reprise as the case may be) is one of my all time favorite Garcia riffs – I can still envision myself standing in Soldier Field, or other venues, with that ripping riff growling out at me and loving the fact it was slaying me. Not tonight, but a nice ending to the set, albeit a song short for my personal liking!
Ø I wanted a Box of Rain so badly I can’t tell you (they played it last night in Wilkes Barre). I wanted a Phil tune, on top of the fact that Phil did not take the vocals much at all the entire night, which was odd. Instead we got an all too cliché Truckin’ as the encore. Yes, it was well played. Yes, it is a consummate Bobby tune. Yes, it is a great song. However, too predictable for me.

Overall, it was a very good show and well worth going to. Don’t think it warrants traveling for, nor do I think it is worth making the effort to see multiple shows, but if you have a chance for a local show, I recommend seeing it. However, one aspect does indeed lend itself to seeing multiple shows is the fact they are playing a ton of different material and you never know what you will get.

The sound was very good, however the vocal mix was a bit low in spots. I believe some of the vocal issues come down to the fact that Weir has lost some of the power that his vocals used to feature and demand. The stage set up was traditional and as I remember it. However, the light show seemed to be lacking. We had just ok seats (see ticket issues above) but I thought to myself that it was just as good we were far enough away not to see them up close – the Stones Imax film killed me with all the wrinkles and veins! It has always been bizarre to me that Weir went to the longer grey hair with bushy beard and mustache after Garcia passed – there was not a big screen in the place, and I was fine at a bit of a distance.
The circus was indeed in town! The weather was mediocre at best, although the rain thankfully held off, and there was a smallish Shakedown Street set up. Complete with kind veggie burritos, grilled cheese, beer ($3 now!), big looners, pipes, clothes, and the ubiquitous smell of patchouli in the air.

Make no mistake – this is not the Grateful Dead that we once saw. However, they were very good, and it was a really enjoyable to see them. The depth of material these guys are playing really is remarkable. Only three repeated tunes through the first 6 shows is incredible, and there have been some pretty obscure and daring attempts. Truly great live music allows me to shut down and turn introspective for periods of time, and this one qualified there. One of the omnipotent thoughts I had was that life is nowhere as simple as it once was (not a huge revelation), and nor do I make it that way for myself. Racing off to Chicago, Alpine, or NYC for shows in the late 80’s and early 90’s on a whim were all too good of days that I am certainly glad I had and shared with the closest of friends.
All the years combine, they melt into a dream…

(Set 1)Promised Land, They Love Each Other, Mama Tried, Loser, Smokestack Lightning, Stella Blue, It's All Over Now, Big River
(Set 2)Playing In The Band, Me and Bobby McGee, Loose Lucy, Ramble On Rose, Rhythm Devils, Space, Maggie's Farm, Eyes of the World, Playing In The Band, (Encore)Truckin'

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Isaiah Thomas - FIU Coach

There is no way this turns out badly. After all, Isiah has been successful everywhere he's been...

I'm not sure how the interview went at Florida International for Isiah to actually land this job. Maybe something like this...

FIU: So, Mr. Thompson...
IT: Please, call me Isiah.
FIU: Okay, Isiah. So I've looked at your resume and I find it very interesting. You claim to have been the commissioner of a minor league professional basketball organization called the CBA, but I can't find any record of it's existence. Can you please explain?
IT: Well, it went bankrupt shortly after I left. Of course it was not because of anything I did during my tenure as league commissioner. I actually turned down an offer of $11 million from the NBA to buy the league and essentially be its minor league affiliate. It didn't seem like a fair price.
FIU: I see (scratches head, writes note). So tell me about your experience as a head coach with the Indiana Pacers.
IT: Well, I took my team to the playoffs for three straight years.
FIU: That's right, I remember that. Didn't you go to the conference finals or something like that?
IT: Well, actually Larry Bird took them to the conference finals the year before I got there. We lost in the first round in each of the seasons I was the head coach.
FIU: I see (scribbles note). So, you then became President of Basketball Operations for the Knicks. Tell me about some of your most successful contribution in that position.
IT: Let's see. I was able to parlay two high first round draft picks and get talented young big man Eddy Curry from the Bulls. I hired Larry Brown. I signed Jerome James...
FIU: Okay, I get it. Let's move on. After you fired your hand picked head coach, Larry Brown, after just one year and replaced him with yourself, how would you assess your performance as head coach of the Knicks?
IT: I feel we performed up to the talent level that the GM gave me.
FIU: Um, but weren't you the GM?
IT: Technically, but Mr. Dolan signs the checks.
FIU: Okay. Well, Mr. Thompson, I don't see anything here that would make this look like a good hire. I'm gonna have a hard time selling this to the board of regents. You seem to have failed at every job you've had since your playing career ended. In addition, I seem to remember some sort of a sexual harassment lawsuit against you and the Knicks. Convince me that you are the right coach to usher in a new era of basketball for Florida International.
IT: Well, the Knicks are still paying me. I'll work for free.
FIU: You're hired. I'll set up a press conference...

FIU = Failure Is Unavoidable

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mark "The Bird" Fidrych - RIP

I was in the kitchen last night making pizza, when my wife turned the TV channel to the news. The first thing I heard was Katie Couric talking about Mark Fidrych. Uh oh. Then, the kicker: The Bird was dead at the age of 54. My mind immediately flashed back to the summer of 1976, when I was just ten years old. The Detroit Tigers were not very good that year. As a team, they won just 74 games, but the Michigan summer was electrified by the emergence of a young 21-year-old phenom by the name of Mark Fidrych. He pitched a complete game in his first start (a 2-hitter over the Indians), and believe it or not it got better and better throughout the summer. Not only did Fidrych have a great season statistically, but his quirky game day antics became a national phenomenon. On the mound, he would seemingly talk to the ball. Between innings, he would get down on his hands and knees and manicure the mound by hand until he got it just right. He was a lovable country redneck from rural Massachusetts. He was a breath of fresh air.

I have been a Tiger fan since my early childhood - as far back as my memory can take me. I remember going to Tiger stadium when I was maybe 6 or 7 years old with my dad. I remember seeing lots of different Tiger players in my formative years: Gates Brown, Joe Coleman, Willie Horton, Mickey Lolich, John Hiller, Ron LeFlore, Dick McCauliffe, Aurelio Rodriguez, Bill Freehan, Al Kaline, Mickey Stanley. But no one really captured my childhood imagination until Mark Fidrych. He was one of a kind. He had the kind of season that young pitchers dream of when they get drafted out of high school. He won 19 games versus 9 losses that season. He had 24 complete games out of 29 starts (for context, the major league leader in complete games this past season was CC Sabathia - he had ten). He had four shutouts. He started the All-Star Game for the AL. Reportedly, teams begged the Tigers to change their rotation to allow him to pitch certain games in their stadiums. Attendance at Tiger Stadium soared when Fidrych was pitching.

Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury early in the 1977 season and was never the same again. He was on a similar pace with 7 complete games in 11 starts prior to his injury. After coming back from the knee problem, arm problems followed. He was out of the majors for good after the 1980 season.

After his baseball career was over, he owned a trucking company and just became a "regular guy." He seemingly never had any regrets about his shortened career, and he never expressed any bitterness. he was happy to have had the time he had. As Neil Young might say, "It's better to burn out than to fade away." Fidrych burned brighter than anyone in the summer of '76, and his flame was extinguished just as quickly.

"The Tale of Mark Fidrych" is probably one significant reason that teams are now so careful with pitchers. They monitor pitch counts. They monitor innings. They try to avoid extreme increases in innings pitched from year to year. If such care would have been taken with Fidrych, perhaps he would have had a more productive overall career. But it may have also robbed us of that one magical season, when a colorful character called "The Bird" let us fly with him.

"That ball has a hit in it, so I want to get back in the ball bag and goof around with the other balls in there. Maybe it'll learn some sense and come out as a pop-up next time." - Mark Fidrych (1976)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Masters Lookalikes, Volume 2

Well, it's that time of year again. April is an outstanding month for sports: MLB opening day, Final Four, NFL Draft, NCAA spring practice, and of course The Masters. I did this lookalike thing last year, and I enjoyed it, so let's have another go at it, shall we? I will not repeat any from last time, so if think of a good lookalike, check on the previous post and see if it was covered already:

Miguel Angel Jimenez - The Most Interesting Man In The World (Dos Equis TV commercials)

I think this one's more for his smoky voice and accent than it is for his actual looks. They both smoke cigars and travel the world. Stay thirsty, my friends...

Luke Donald - Soren Kjeldsen - actor Neil Patrick Harris
Could there be two golfers who look like Doogie Howser/Barney Stinson? Apparently there are at least two entered in The Masters this week. Each has a forehead that won't quit - more like a "five-head." Hey-o....

Larry Mize - UNC head coach Roy Williams
A former Masters champion, and a current NCAA champion...

Craig Stadler - a walrus

The main difference between these two - one has whiskers and a 6" thick layer of blubber to keep himself warm during the inactive winter months, and the other is a flippered marine mammal.

Soren Hansen - actor Paul Lieberstein (Toby Flenderson from "The Office")

Kevin Sutherland - actor Jack McBrayer (Kenneth from "30 Rock")
They both have an "aw shucks" quality.
"Gee Mr. Donaghy, I think you're the best boss ever."
"Gee Mr. Woods, you sure can putt real good?"

Carl Petterson - actor Larry Joe Campbell from "According to Jim"

Alvaro Quiros - actor Sacha Baron Cohen from "Borat"

Add your suggestions in the comments and I'll try to add as the day progresses.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Michigan Coaching Change

Ann Arbor, MI -- In an unprecedented move, the University of Michigan Athletic Department has announced that they have terminated the contract of head football coach Rich Rodriguez after just one season on the job. Athletic Director Bill Martin stated that "the team was not progressing at a satisfactory pace," and that coach Rod's methods were not "Michigan-like" enough. Martin also cited the high rate of transfers out of the program since coach Rod took over, including presumed starters Sam McGuffie, Ryan Mallett, Steven Threet, Justin Boren, and Toney Clemens. He also noted that he had been contacted earlier this week by coach Bo Schembechler himself, who told him that he needed to find a new coach who didn't run some sort of newfangled fancy offense, and preferably one who is more surly with the media. Martin further explained that the coaching search will begin immediately. Martin is awaiting further instructions from Bo as to the potential candidates, but speculation is running rampant that candidates will include Lloyd Carr, Mike DeBord, Stan Parrish, Gary Moeller, Jerry Hanlon, Les Miles, Corwin Brown, Jim Harbaugh, Mike Trgovac, Jamie Morris, Mark Messner, and Todd Bowles. Bo is expected to re-appear in Martin's dreams in the next few days.

Updates will be reported on this site as news develops.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Random Thoughts and Links

I don't really have a topic today, but I do have some random thoughts about some stuff:

- Steven Threet did the best with what his talent allowed him, but everyone knows he was not a good fit for the spread as RichRod likes to run it. The old style Michigan QB (a 6'-4" 230 lb "pro-style" QB) is a thing of the past. At best, Threet could have expected to start for a few games this coming season, but only until Forcier or Robinson got up to speed. He was a gamer, he played hurt, and despite his rather limited speed, he ran the ball when RichRod called for it. But in this offense, you have to either be a very good passer, a very good runner, or decent at both. He was not an accurate passer, and was too slow to make other teams respect the run. I still can't figure out how Wisco let him run 50 yards untouched near the end of that game. Anyway, I wish him well at his new school. He left without trashing the program, unlike some other ungrateful traitors *cough*Boren*cough*. Anyone out there who is reporting the Threet transfer as another nail in the Michigan coffin is way off base. Threet was a square peg who transferred into a situation where all the holes were square. When Carr resigned, the holes changed shape and became round, and the square Threet no longer fit. He recognized it and decided to move on. End of story.

- Delaware State? Really? Is that the best we could do to fill the schedule? Michigan's out-of-conference schedule is WMU, EMU, Delaware State, and Notre Dame. Ohio State has Navy, USC, Toledo, and New Mexico State. While that's not exactly a fantastic schedule, it's at least all Div. 1. Delaware State, unlike App State, is not even among the best teams in their conference (MEAC). In fact, they are not even the best team in Delaware. That distinction would go to Delaware University, which sports a familiar looking uniform. That would have been a novelty - having these two teams match up in the big house.

- Dear you are making it very hard to read the articles about actual sports on your website. I visit the website, and Bar Refaeli is staring at me with that come hither look and those exquisite cans, barely restrained behind the minuscule amount of fabric that passes for a bathing suit. What is a fella to do? I'll tell you what I did. I went and took a gander at the bathing suits. Let me tell you, in case you had not noticed, Brooklyn Decker and Bar Refaeli are quite spongeworthy. How am I supposed to get any work done?

- "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" is one of the best shows on TV. Of course, being on FX, it's hard to find. Anyway, I just downloaded seasons 1-4 and it is absolutely hilarious. Each of the main characters is such a scumbag in his own way that it's almost endearing. It's like watching South Park, but each character is like Eric Cartman. They are completely devoid of any positive character traits. I have begun watching episodes on my Zune on the bus to and from work. Have I mentioned that I love my Zune? Well, I do.

- Buffalo is in the news again. What the hell? A beheading? If reminds me of my time in Trinidad. When I was there back in 1998, I started hearing about people being hacked to death. I thought it might be some sort of a Trini slang term, but it was just what it sounded like - people using machetes to kill people. Sheesh.

- Michael Phelps should get his own bong and smoke whatever he wants in the privacy of his own home, not in public, where practically everyone on earth has a camera phone. I think 8 gold medals is enough to earn him some time to relax. Whatever cretin took that photo and sold it to the British tabloid that published it should definitely watch his back, because Michael Phelps is a pretty big guy and is in pretty good shape and could probably severely punish you for doing what you did. Asshole.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fun with Names - Super Bowl Edition

Previously I had a good time poking fun at some unusual names in the SEC and the Big Ten, and even the Summer Olympics. It's Super Bowl time, and it's time to make fun of more names. The usual disclaimers apply, and these are meant for entertainment purposes only - even if they are only for my own entertainment...

Arizona Cardinals

- Calais Campbell - "You know what will make us sound sophisticated? Naming our kid after a French town. Paris? Nah, that's overused. How about Calais."
- Karlos Dansby - "Carlos" is just too pedestrian. How about "Karlos?" Ooooh, that's edgy.
- Early Doucet - He has a sister named Timely, and a brother named Tulate.

- Jerheme Urban - Odd spelling for the first name, and he might be the whitest looking man in the NFL.

Pittsburgh Steelers

- Orpheus Roye - Orpheus? Wasn't he in The Matrix. "You are the one, Neo."
- Marvel Smith - Short for Marvelous, I'm sure. And who wouldn't want their kid to be named Marvelous? Oh, you either?
- Limas Sweed - This one looks like an anagram to me. Sawed Limes? Sesame Wild? Sea Mildews? Ass Weed Mil?
- William Gay - You know how I know you're gay? It says "Gay" on your uniform!
- Willie Colon - You combine a Willie and a Colon, and that spells trouble. Hey-O!
- Mewelde Moore - His lesser known brothers are named Uwelde and Hewelde. Dad's name is Iwelde.
- Keyaron Fox - I think she's a sideline reporter on the Versus Network or something.
- Santonio Holmes - "Hey, why don't we name him after where he was conceived - the parking lot of the Alamodome in San Antonio? How about Alamodomelot? Too long? How about Santonio? All right, let's go with it."
- Jared Retkovsky - There's nothing particularly unusual about his name, but it should be noted that he was a furniture mover until he was signed in October to replace injured long snapper Greg Warren. From carrying a piano up to a third floor apartment, to jogging onto the field and throwing a ball between your legs eight times in a game: Upgrade!

Old Guy First Names
- Ralph Brown
- Bertrand Berry
- Clark Haggans
- Victor Hobson
- Lyle Sendlein

- Elliott Vallejo
- Gabe Watson
- Arnold Harrison
- Ike Taylor

Sounds like a fine group of fellows who get together every Tuesday night at the Senior Center for a game of dominoes or canasta: Ralph, Bert, Clark, Victor, Lyle, Elliott, Gabe, Arnie and Ike. Prune juices all around!

I'm sure I missed a few good ones. I am but one man. Leave more ideas in the comments if you'd like.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day Is Finally Here

In case you haven't heard about it, today is inauguration day. The constitution says that the new President is to be sworn in by noon today. There are so many thoughts going through my head about the significance of this day. I thought I would just start writing a "stream of consciousness" type of a post, with my various thoughts, as if anyone cares. Some of this is gonna sound sappy, but whatever. It's a historic day:

  • - I have not seen so much national pride on display on a single day since 9-11-01. Obviously, the nation came together on 9-11 as a reaction to several despicable acts of cowardly terrorism, but today is much different. Today, it's because there is a genuine feeling of hope and brotherhood. Despite the fact that the global economy is in the crapper, Barack Obama obviously has the ability to inspire hope in people. Just look at the above picture of the National Mall in Washington, DC. Amazing. There are supposedly about 2 million people gathered on the Mall to witness this historic event.

  • - Even the most cynical among us must acknowledge that Obama has a unique ability to inspire people of all types. It's telling that there people traveling from foreign countries to attend the historic inauguration festivities.

  • - I acknowledge that the hope that Obama has inspired could partially be due to a feeling of desperation - a need to cling to something new and positive. Nevertheless, if desperation can lead to positive action, then I'm all for it. If desperation can lead to making the right decision, then embrace that desperation. If desperation can make you proud to be an American, gimme some of that desperation. I'm tired of being thought of as a smug, arrogant country due to the public image of our smug, arrogant President and Vice President. I want America to be great again, and not because we can lob bombs at people - but because people aspire to something more. I want to be a peacemaker, not a war-maker.

  • - During the election, and since the election, I have been considering why people would vote for a black man for President when they would not in the past. In addition to Obama's aforementioned ability to inspire, I think it's also partially due to the fact that he seems to be someone who is very different from past black candidates (of which there was only one of significance - Jesse Jackson). Jesse was from the older generation that was closely tied to the civil rights movement, and many people still associated him with that movement. Many older white people were still suspicious of that era of what they considered "black militants." Obama was born in 1961, so while he grew up during the sixties, he was not a participant in any of what suspicious white people might call militant activities.

  • - I can't remember what bands played at Bush's inaugural celebrations, but I'm guessing that the bands that are playing for Obama's inaugural parties are much better: Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Usher, U2, James Taylor, Beyonce,, etc.

  • - We have finally broken from the pattern of electing an endless stream of old white guys to be president, despite the fact our country is one of the most multi-cultural and diverse in the world. What took us so long? It just took the right candidate. In fact, you could argue that Obama is the true picture of America. He's multi-ethnic (white mother, black father). He was raised by a divorced mother (around 50% of marriages end in divorce, according to some experts). He's admitted to using drugs in his younger years (like most of us, and unlike the last two Presidents, who danced around the subject).

  • - Does anyone else think it's curious how Israel and the Palestinians took the opportunity to escalate the situation in Gaza during the time after the election, but before the inauguration? They knew that they could pretty much do whatever they wanted during Bush's "lame duck" time. Not that he would have necessarily done anything anyway, but it just seemed like a fortuitous bit of timing. And now Israel has said that they will be out of Gaza by the time Obama is inaugurated. Hmmm.

  • - Despite the fawning coverage by the news media, not everyone is happy about the results of the election. Some of the quotes in that article are startling to me. Here's one that is particularly disturbing:

    "I don't want the federal government to give away our individual rights. I don't want them to take over our business. I don't want them to take over our religion."

    Are you kidding me? They are worried about the government giving away our individual rights after what Bush did with the Patriot Act? And this person somehow has gotten it into his head that the government will "take over our religion," despite the fact that Obama has never expressed any desire to do so, and the fact that the constitution expressly forbids it? You know - the First Amendment. Stuff like this just baffles me. I get the feeling that they're just worried about their guns.
  • - For the first time in a long time, I feel obligated to capitalize the word "President." Take that for what it's worth.

So there you have it. My thoughts. Leave yours in the comments it you choose. Or you can grumble to yourself about what an idiot I am, or nod your head in agreement. Either way, in the immortal words of Grace Slick at Woodstock:

It's a New Dawn...