Archive for January, 2006

NBA Basketball, Part One
January 18, 2006

While I enjoy basketball, the NBA regular season has always been is a tough sell for me. Why isn’t NBA League Pass part of my DirecTV package? A few reasons:

The timing of the season. When the NBA tips-off after a far too-short off-season, both the NFL and college football are just getting to the meat of their seasons. Unless you’re a Detroit Lions fan, which means your team has long since been mathematically eliminated. And then when the NFL season is over and all of the NCAA bowl games have been played, it’s all of a sudden crunch time in college basketball, followed by March Madness, which is still the single most enjoyable event in sports.

The number of games. 82 games. 82. Come on. There’s nothing in this world — including that — that I want to see, do, taste, or smell 82 times a year. Remember when the 1998-1999 NBA season was shortened to fifty games due to a players strike? That was definitely a case of addition by subtraction, and even then the season was too long.

I know what you’re saying. “Well, baseball has 162 games a year. That’s twice as many!” But baseball has the advantage of having most of its season played at a time of year when its biggest competition is the WNBA. What would you do in July if it wasn’t for baseball? Spend time with the family? Yeah, sure. And despite the sheer number of games, given that so fewer baseball teams make the playoffs than basketball teams, there are more meaningful MLB games than meaningful NBA games. (Unless of course, you’re a Detroit Tigers fan. Sorry, Detroit. But you do have the Super Bowl this year. Not to mention 48 White Castle restaurants.) Plus, baseball is simply better than basketball. Sorry.

The NBA playoff structure. Now this I like. 16 teams. Almost two months long. A possibility of 105 games. Here the postseason cliche “second season” really applies, as the playoffs seem to last as long as a regular season should. Unfortunately for the NBA, it means that the “first season” is largely irrelevant. The playoffs provide for plenty of action, even if those 1 seed vs. 8 seed series first-round series are about as compelling as a Lindsay Lohan album.

Ticket prices. Again, some fans — including myself — might be more excited about the NBA regular season if the cost of a Bucks game was somewhere in line with the cost of a Brewers game. But Bucks tickets can easily set you back over a hundred dollars, while you can get good seats at a Brewers game for $20-$30. And if you go to a Brewers game, you don’t have to listen to Bob Uecker on the radio. Definite plus.

Given all of these strikes against the NBA, regional interest in the sport was supposed to be at a high this season because of the purported resurgence of the Milwaukee Bucks. Is it? And have the Bucks improved? That’s fodder for my next blog entry. (The cliffhanger. Such a cheap journalistic trick.)


Call Me "Coward of the County"
January 16, 2006

I don’t bet much. I don’t win, I don’t — like Jerry Seinfeld — “break even.” I lose. About the only thing I could maybe win money on is betting what new TV shows are prime candidates for early cancellation. (At least, I thought that was the case until it turned out that people actually wanted to see Jennifer Love Hewitt talking to dead people. I would have bet my dog that that show was a, well, dog.)

The intelligence behind my choosing a largely non-gambling lifestyle was further confirmed over the weekend. If I was — like my idol Kenny Rogers — a gambler, I would have lost large sums of money on three of the four NFL divisional games. (Only the Seahawks beating the Redskins was expected by me, and even in victory Seattle barely covered the spread.)

Although to be fair to myself, I’m sure Half Price Books is a little busier today with NFL fans who gambled a bit too much and now find themselves having to sell their child’s book collection in order to pay the mortgage. (“Fifty cents for this? But this is one of Richard Scarry’s classics! Father Cat really screws up in this one! And look at that pickle car! That’s genius! You gotta give me seventy-five at least!”)

If this weekend proved anything, it’s that you can’t expect players, even the best ones like Peyton Manning, to enter the postseason playing at the level of intensity required by the playoffs when they’ve been out of serious competition for several weeks. Notice I didn’t say resting. Because even if Manning had taken every snap in the final two weeks of the Colts’ season when the Colts had absolutely nothing to play for, he couldn’t possibly have taken the games any more seriously than I take games of air hockey with my two-year-old son.

[Although my heart bleeds for Tony Dungy, I was pleased that the Steelers won that game. I was deathly sick of all of the hype surrounding the Colts and angry especially at that rotten call on the Troy Polamalu fourth-quarter interception. Plus I like things that are consistent — I like knowing that I’m going to laugh every week when I watch the underrated “King of Queens” and I like knowing that Peyton Manning can’t win big games.]

Although Tony Dungy was outwitted by Bill Cowher, no coach did a worse job this weekend than the Bears’ Lovie Smith. Smith started making mistakes when he sat Rex Grossman for the final regular season game against the Minnesota Vikings. This is the quarterback that you expect to take you to the Super Bowl and you think six quarters of experience this year are enough? And it wasn’t just Grossman that looked lost on Sunday — Charles Tillman and the rest of the Bears defensive starters were about as intimidating as The Backyardigans. But the majority of the blame has to go to Smith and his coaches for not tweaking their schemes when it became painfully obvious that Carolina receiver Steve Smith was open anytime he wanted to be, which was quite a lot — 218 yards and two long touchdowns worth. AP Coach of the Year Lovie Smith looked like anything but on Sunday, and his sideline performance fuels the argument that such selections shouldn’t be made until after the playoffs.

So now with the Colts and the Bears out — the two teams I would have picked to reach the Super Bowl — who’s going to make it to Detroit? I’m going with the two teams whose victories most surprised me this weekend: The Carolina Panthers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Are You Sirius?
January 11, 2006

Like roughly three million other people, I recently bought a Sirius satellite radio tuner. This purchase really made no sense at all, since whenever I am in my car my son is usually with me and the radio or CD player can’t be audible because he is demanding that I tell him a story. (My propensity for waving my arms wildly to try to make my lame tales more interesting has resulted in several confused looks from fellow drivers, many of whom seem to think that I am directing obscene gestures their way.)

And I also didn’t buy Sirius for Howard Stern. I will be listening to the channels devoted to Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Presley, and The Rolling Stones far more than I will listen to Stern and Baba Booey engaging in what can now be profanity-laced arguments.

No, a big reason I went satellite was for sports. Too many times I have been driving either between Madison and Minneapolis (my hometown) or Madison and Milwaukee (my wife’s hometown) and become frustrated because I lost the signal of the game I was trying to listen to. The coast-to-coast coverage of satellite radio eliminates that problem.

But satellite does present a series of new problems: It’s basically an embarrassment of sports riches. Although Sirius doesn’t have baseball (going with the inferior XM being another in the long list of bad decisions by MLB), it does have literally every other sport on the planet, including the NFL, NBA, NHL, college football and basketball, and even English soccer.

If you’re like me, this could be more a reason to not subscribe than to subscribe. When I invest in something, I want to get my full return out of it. That’s why I have stacks of DVDs at home that I haven’t watched: I can’t settle for just watching the movie, I have to listen to the commentary tracks, watch the documentaries, page through the photo galleries, everything. Usually I decide to watch ESPN rather than undertake such a time-consuming task. I could see the same thing happening with satellite radio: The fact that I’m paying $12.95 a month but won’t be able to juggle making breakfast with listening to the Manchester City at Manchester United soccer game or that I’ll fall asleep while trying to catch the play-by-play of the late-starting Capitals/Mighty Ducks hockey game may finally just become too frustrating for me to deal with.

Then I might go back to struggling to keep those signals coming in on that old-fashioned
terrestrial radio. Or better yet, turn the radio off entirely and tell my son some more of those stories. Let’s see — Clifford the Big Red Dog and Baba Booey were at the park . . .

Who To Root For: Badgers, Bears, Packers, Vikings, or All of the Above?
January 10, 2006

Welcome to the first installment of my new sports blog for Channel 3000. This blog will be available for free for a limited time until its staggering popularity causes us to turn it into a audio podcast that we can charge $1.99 a day for. The good news is, we’ve already signed former Vikings head coach Mike Tice to do the podcast narration. It doesn’t look like he’s going to have anything else to do for a while . . . .

If you’re unlucky enough to know me, you’ll see some humor in me writing a blog, as I’ve always considered people who wrote blogs to be living in some kind of sad fantasy world. Why don’t people just write in personal journals anymore? Because they think that someone with connections in the publishing world will accidentally stumble across their blogs and be so impressed that they will want to turn their tedious on-line ramblings about reality television or the dating scene into a book and then into a hip independent movie starring Scarlett Johannsen and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Not me. I’m just hoping for a shot on Dancing with the Stars. I could salsa rings around George Hamilton anyday. And have you tried my salsa rings? They’re delicious with a little ranch sauce.

As a Twin Cities native and a Minnesota Vikings fan (I figure I’d better get that out of the way early so most of you can bail out now and click over to the porn site of your choosing) who came to Madison to attend college and never left, I’m fascinated by the prospect of my favorite NFL team, the Vikings (again, you are free to leave if I offend), seemingly being taken over by players and coaches with ties to my favorite college team, the Badgers.

For those of you with better things to do than worry about the status of the Vikings coaching staff — like worrying about the status of the Packers coaching staff and its quarterback — here’s the story: Owner Zigi Wilf announced the hiring of Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress as the team’s new head coach on Friday. Before joining the train wreck that the Eagles have now become, Childress served under Barry Alvarez as the Badgers’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 1991-1998. Childress’s first order of business has been to throw people out of Minnesota at a rate not seen since the North Stars dropped the “North” and moved south to Dallas. In all, at least nine of Mike Tice’s assistants have been or likely will be fired. Four of the available positions may be filled by former Badger players or coaches, including former UW quarterback Darrell Bevell, who is now the Packers quarterbacks coach. Bevell has emerged as the leading candidate to be Childress’s offensive coordinator.

Assuming that most Badger fans are also Packer fans (come on, you know who are, your ride is tricked out with not one but two of those annoying strap-on flags), do you wish these men — who helped guide your beloved Badgers to heights undreamed of as recently as the early nineties — at least some degree of success should they join Childress with the Vikings? Do you grant them at least that much as a small measure of thanks for bringing home to Wisconsin multiple Rose Bowl victories? The answer, I’m sure, is “Hell, no!”

And that’s what I don’t understand. You see, I was raised in a benevolent household where beatings were kept to a minimum, Kenny Rogers was revered as both a singer and an actor, and cheering was allowed for any team in the NFC Central (except when they were playing the Purple, of course). I guess the logic was that the other teams in the NFC Central — now the NFC North — were like the extended family of the Vikings and you didn’t cross the family, even if it meant learning every step to the Super Bowl Shuffle.

This contradicts fans’ attitudes elsewhere: For example, it seems that many Badger hoops fans, come March Madness, will root for the Big Ten to make the strongest showing possible. Likewise, I know plenty of people who bleed cardinal and white who root for all Big Ten football teams in bowl games. But ask most Packer fans who they are cheering for this NFL postseason, and it’s unlikely you’ll get anyone to say the NFC North champion Bears, even with the Packers having been eliminated from postseason consideration sometime around the ending of Daylight Savings Time.

So Packers fans, I’m proposing two things: One, you cheer for the division this weekend and root for the Bears, and two, that you wish Coach Childress and whatever current or former Badger colleagues he may bring to Minnesota at least a half-hearted “good luck.” And if it will make you feel better, let’s cut a deal: We’ll take Childress, Bevell, and the rest, and you can take Mike Tice. Please.