Archive for October, 2006

A Sidewalk Costume
October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween, dear readers. Or, if you aren’t a drinker and/or don’t have small children at home, Happy Tuesday.

Every Halloween I’m reminded of one of my favorite Saturday Night Live sketches: Dan Aykroyd’s sleazeball businessman Irwin Mainway defending his company’s “safe” Halloween costumes to disgusted consumer advocate Jane Curtin: All were hysterical, but the best have to be Invisible Pedestrian (an all-black suit, gloves, and mask) and Johnny Human Torch (a bag of oily rags and a lighter). Also memorable: The Coneheads distributing eggs and six-packs of beers to trick-or-treaters. Which reminds me: Both Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin are still alive. I smell stunt casting: The two should reunite to play Tina Fey’s parents on NBC’s 30 Rock.

The way Tom Brady ate up the Minnesota Vikings pass defense on Monday night, I think Dan Aykroyd could have lined up at wide receiver for the Patriots and caught four passes for 49 yards and a touchdown. And while it was a treat for Packers fans to watch the Vikings get embarrassed on national (albeit cable) television, surely many had the same sobering thought as they watched Brady play a game of catch with seemingly eight consistently open receivers: Crap, the Packers have to play the Patriots too. And last time I checked, the Packers’ pass defense was the worst in the league. At least the Packers/Patriots game won’t be a national broadcast. Well, unless NBC and the NFL move it to Sunday night.

Hey, the NBA season tips off tonight, with the Bucks premiering on the road Wednesday night at Detroit, a game that can be seen live locally on My Madison TV (14 on DirecTV and Charter). As much as I enjoy the NBA and especially the playoffs, for whatever reason I can never seem to get into the games that much until around Christmas. If the Bucks can come close to last year’s relatively quick start (they were 5-2 early on and 17-11 in January), it’ll be easier to sign on early for what is a long season. With T.J. Ford gone, the road will be tougher, but the Bucks got some great news when second-year center Andrew Bogut was cleared to play in the season opener. (How do you go from being expected to miss a month of the regular season to missing none of the regular season? I haven’t seen that drastic a recovery since Star Jones came back from gastric bypass surgery.)

Anyway, I like the Bulls to come out of the East and the Spurs (yes, again) to come out of the West. And I like gummy cola bottles if you want to send me some Halloween candy. Come on, I’m Crazy Newspaper Face, now gimme some candy! (See, I’ve watched SNL since the ’70s. I’m not that out of touch. Wait, what do you mean Joe Piscopo is no longer on? And who’s this Will Ferrell that the kids are so into?)

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It’s Not A Bald Spot . . .
October 27, 2006

If the Cardinals go on to win the World Series, it won’t be vindication for National League fans who have had to put up with smack the last couple of years about how much better the American League is than the National League. It simply means that the Tigers, a young team with a couple key veterans, blew it. The Tigers pitching staff has literally — with four errors in as many games — thrown this series away. If the Tigers had been playing as well, or even nearly as well, as they played against the Yankees and the A’s, they’d be putting this series away. But their youth and inexperience has done them in, just as I suspected it might. But the American League is still the superior league.

UW football fans hoping for a competitive game will likely have to wait until bowl season. They certainly won’t get one this weekend, when Illinois and their freshman quarterback Juice (yep, I said Juice) Williams come to town. Williams only completed 39 percent of his passes last week against Penn State; he’s likely to have even worse statistics against the Badgers’ third-best passing defense in the nation. Unless Illinois can sustain a running game and keep the Badgers offense on the field — and they did net 247 yards last week against the Nittany Lions — this looks to be another laugher. Good chance for fans to get a head start on Freak Fest. Look for me on State Street this weekend — I’ll be dressed as that “Mambo No. 5” guy. He’s a riot.

Unbelievably, the Packers haven’t won a game at home yet this year. That will change on Sunday, when the hapless Cardinals come to Lambeau Field. Look for Dennis Green to actually burst into flames somewhere early in the fourth quarter, when his team falls 30 points behind following an Al Harris interception return for a touchdown. Then again, the Cardinals did win the last time these two teams met, a 20-13 shocker in 2003. But don’t look for that to happen again. If Arizona did win, though, it would be less shocking than if the Bears lost to the 49ers. Elsewhere in the NFC North, the Vikings have a challenge against the Patriots on MNF — I look for the Patriots to win a pretty close game. The Lions have their bye so the sports fans of Detroit can focus their misery on the Tigers blowing the World Series.

Have a good weekend, dear readers. Stay safe on State Street.

Packers Best of the Worst and Other Thoughts
October 25, 2006

The Unlucky 13: For a league that prides itself on parity, the NFL sure has a lot of teams with lousy records. Heading into week 8, a whopping 13 teams have only two wins or less. Some sub-.500 teams are surprises (The Steelers? The Redskins?) and some are not (Texans, Cardinals, Raiders, Lions). One of the 13 losing teams, and a team that most predicted to have a rough season, is your Green Bay Packers. But while no one should be planning any January trips to Lambeau Field, fans can take heart that the Packers might be the best of the unlucky 13.

The Packers have lost to teams that have a combined record of 19-6. They have the 10th-ranked offense in the NFL, and the 7th best receiving stats. Ahman Green, who looked healthy in his return from a hamstring injury in the Dolphins game, is ranked 10th among all running backs in yards per game. Granted, their defense is statistically horrible, but they’ve played (and lost to) four of the top-scoring teams in the league (Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and St. Louis). When you consider who the Packers still get to play — Arizona, Buffalo, San Francisco, Detroit — a better record than last season’s 4-12 seems assured, and a 8-8 season is not that far out of the realm of possibility. Not happy with that? Not enough for you? There isn’t a Dolphin, Raider, or Cardinal fan alive who wouldn’t kill for that rosy of an outlook. (Hey, for what it’s worth — look who those three teams brought in to turn their teams around: The Dolphins brought in Daunte Culpepper, the Raiders brought in Randy Moss, and the Arizona Cardinals brought in Dennis Green. Knowing those three ex-Vikings are suffering miserably should be more than enough to bring a smile to any Packer fan’s face.)

Of the other 12 teams with losing records, the Pittsburgh Steelers stand out as the team that seems to be better than its record would indicate. But all is not well in the Steel City: Ben Roethlisberger has had a string of bad luck (motorcycle accident! appendectomy! concussion!) that, coupled with his lousy 74.5 QB rating, has resulted in Bill Cowher being forced to place his team in the hands of Charlie Batch. I guess it beats having to turn the reins of your team over to Charlie Daniels. But not by much. And Pittsburgh still has to play Denver, New Orleans, Carolina, Cincinnati, and Baltimore twice. Ouch.

The World Series: My pick of St. Louis is looking smarter every day. The Tigers bats have gone colder than sales of the Michael Jackson back catalog. Kenny Rogers has shown his true colors by blatantly trying to cheat his way through his scheduled start. Sports fans in Detroit Rock City look like they’re headed for another heartbreak. Hey, they’ve still got Barry Sanders. Oops, I mean Flip Saunders.

McCartney Mess: This isn’t about sports, but can anyone believe how ugly the Paul McCartney/Heather Mills divorce has gotten? Or more specifically, how ugly Heather Mills has gotten? It’s one thing to charge that McCartney was abusive to her (a claim which appears to be wholly false; in fact, there have been more credible reports that Mills was violent towards Macca), but something else entirely to claim that McCartney was physically abusive to his former wife Linda. In the nearly thirty years that they were together, Paul and Linda were about as public as a celebrity couple can be, and they were never portrayed as having anything less than one of the happiest showbiz marriages ever (certainly happier than John and Yoko). McCartney has been accused of many negative things, each of which have been borne out in public: A dopehead (the infamous Japan bust), a bad businessman (Michael Jackson still owns the rights to his and Lennon’s Beatle songs) a horrible filmmaker (Give My Regards To Broad Street), and an uninspiring songwriter (“Ebony and Ivory”). But Ike Turner? I ain’t buying it.

5 Reasons The Cardinals Can Win
October 20, 2006

The biggest question surrounding this year’s World Series between the Tigers and the Cardinals is not who’s got the best starting pitching, who’s got the momentum, who’s going to be the MVP, or even which FOX announcer is more annoying. The biggest question is: Can the National League representative — the Cardinals — win a game? After all, the NL hasn’t won a World Series game — that’s game, not series — since 2003, and this year in interleague play the AL put a collective hurting on the NL the likes of which I haven’t seen since CBS tried to program Murder, She Wrote opposite Friends.

So this series — featuring the red-hot Tigers, winners of seven straight playoff games, and the Cardinals — who should be exhausted after a seven-game series against the Mets, should be a borefest, right? Tigers sweep, right?

Not so fast. I don’t trust the Tigers that much. After all, this is the same team that choked the division title away by losing three in a row to the Kansas City Royals just a couple of weeks ago. And sure, the Cardinals didn’t exactly cruise into the playoffs either, but their players have more postseason experience than the Tigers. Maybe I’m just ignoring the obvious signs that this year’s World Series will be a laugher, but I think Cardinal fans have many reasons for hope. Here’s five:

1. If Detroit wins, you know their fans are going to burn down the city. The gods know that too, and they won’t allow it to happen.
2. There’s no drama on the Tigers team. Everyone is getting along too well. It’s boring and it makes players soft. Whereas on the Cardinals, you’ve got Scott Rolen and Tony LaRussa fighting like Kelly and Valerie on 90210. That keeps things interesting and also reminds me that the first season of 90210 is coming out on DVD next month. I hope Joe E. Tata has a piece of the action.
3. Jim Leyland, manager of the Tigers, claims to watch the movie Hoosiers at least once a week. That’s just wrong. Doesn’t he know that Space Jam is a much better basketball movie? I mean, you’ve got Michael Jordan and Foghorn Leghorn together. That’s genius.
4. Last time I checked, Albert Pujols plays for the Cardinals. Doesn’t it feel like he’s ready for a big series?
5. The Tigers haven’t played in nearly a week. You just know that Kenny Rogers, the Tigers’ ace and certifiable nutcase, hasn’t been using the time off productively. Reports out of Detroit claim that he’s been spotted at a local Tastee-Freez threatening the help with physical violence and annoying customers with a profanity-laced rendition of “Jack and Diane.”

All in all, I give the Cardinals a real chance. Heck, I’m saying they win it in seven.

Favre’s Wrong (Again)
October 19, 2006

While Favre’s play has shown signs of resurgence this year, his penchant for saying inexplicable things at press conferences is rivaled only by Arizona Cardinals head coach Denny Green.

Favre’s latest comments surround the one-year suspension without pay of wide receiver Koren Robinson for Robinson’s third violation of its substance-abuse policy. Favre seems to have no problem with Koren’s suspension, saying, “if you suspend him for a year, fine.” But the quarterback takes offense at the NFL’s policy that a player suspended for a year is not allowed to “participate with his club in any way” which includes not being allowed at team facilities. In response to this restriction, Favre comments: “To ban him from the building and the support group that can help him? It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

“A support group”? Is Favre serious? He makes it sound as if he, Robinson, and the rest of the Packers organization have logged more time than Hawkeye and Hot Lips logged in the 4077. Remember that Robinson just signed with the Packers on September 11, 2006, and only suited up for the team for three games. I’ve spent more collective time with the crew at my local Arby’s and I wouldn’t ask any of them for movie recommendations, much less counseling and advice for overcoming a life-crippling illness like alcoholism. And which of the Packers players are really qualified at keeping Robinson from running further afoul of the law? Ahman Green, who was arrested on charges of domestic abuse and disorderly conduct this past offseason after reportedly becoming so irate with his wife that she fearfully ran out of their house in her pajamas? Or maybe cornerback Al Harris, who last year was under investigation for an alleged assault at a strip club? Too bad the Packers cut Najeh Davenport, because he could have counselled Robinson on how avoid the bottle by performing the community service of defecating in the closets of women’s dorm rooms.

The Packers knew what they were getting when they signed Robinson. They knew he was a seriously troubled young man with a disease and they knew he was in danger of being suspended by the NFL for off-field actions related to that disease. Should we feel sorry for the team now that the combination of Robinson’s suspension and Robert Ferguson’s foot injury means that the Packers will be starting the likes of Ruvell Martin at wide receiver? No way. And we certainly shouldn’t feel sympathy for Koren Robinson, who should consider himself lucky his immediate future only includes a year’s suspension from football and not a trial for vehicular manslaughter.

The combination of professional triumphs and personal tragedies that Brett Favre has endured while with the Green Bay Packers is the stuff of legend. Koren Robinson’s past is the stuff of stupidity. Robinson is 26 and will likely — if he stays clean, and that’s a BIG if — be a wealthy star in the NFL. Favre is 37 and is likely playing his last season. Robinson has a lot to learn –some of it about football, but much more of it about himself, his addiction, and how to keep his addiction from ruining or ending his or someone else’s life. Robinson needs to stay away from football and re-connect with a real support group of friends, family, and fellow addicts battling alcoholism. And Favre needs to concentrate on his family and on saving the Packers’s season (again), and not on saving a troubled guy like Robinson. He’s not worth it.

Packers Give Us A Rest, But UW Picks Up Slack
October 13, 2006

Shame on me. Here I was going to sit down and write a blog about the Packers and their bye week and what they need to improve upon and how things aren’t as bad for them as people think and how they have three very winnable games coming up after the bye week and how the combination of Green and Herron is an exciting possibility and should lighten the load on Favre and how Greg Jennings is the best thing to happen to the offense in a long time and how yes the defense stinks but they did hold St. Louis to mainly field goals and gave the offense a chance to win last week and how Koren Robinson showed up at my house and drank all of my Zima. Wait, OK, that last one isn’t true. Well, not entirely.

I know. Boring, right? Especially when there is so much going on with local teams that are — you know — actually playing this weekend?

It has to start with the Badgers/Gophers game on Saturday. After a shaky game against San Diego State, the Badgers have been impressive. They held off a superior Michigan team until the second half before crushing — yes, I said crushing — Indiana and Northwestern. The pundits seem to think that Saturday’s game will be a more competitive affair than the last two, but I ain’t buying it. Yes, the Gophers may be playing with a chip on their shoulder after last week’s crushing — yes, I said crushing — defeat to Penn State. But you can play with Chip Caray on your shoulder and it still won’t make you good when you’re not. Last I checked, the Gophers were at the bottom of the Big Ten rankings. Look for this game to get out of hand by the third quarter and for most fans to start watching the UW Band in hopes of seeing some of their nationally recognized crude, lewd, and semi-nude behavior. I guess the Alyson Hannigan stories about Band Camp weren’t such a stretch . . .

Indoors, the national champion Wisconsin men’s hockey team opens its home season Friday and Saturday against North Dakota. And while it’s going to be tough to repeat as champs — the team’s 1-0-1 start against lowly Northern Michigan has already raised some eyebrows, including Mike Eaves’s, as he’s changed all the lines from last weekend — Friday’s game will be special indeed as the NCAA championship banner is unveiled before the opening face-off. North Dakota will be a tough test, but the Kohl Center atmosphere as the Badgers return home will be intense. OK, maybe not as intense as the political arguments between Rosie O’Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck on The View, but still pretty wild. And don’t forget about those other national champions, the UW women’s hockey team, as they look for their 17th straight win at Ohio State.

All of this, plus a lot of interesting matchups in the NFL and both League Championship Series continuing in baseball. You’re not going to miss the Packers this week, are you? You are? Well, I hear lots of Packer players are going to be in town this week enjoying their bye. Maybe you could invite Koren Robinson over to your house to watch the NC State/Wake Forest football game on Saturday. I hear he’s quite the raconteur, and, by keeping him off the streets, you’ll be doing us all a favor.

Sure, the Badgers and Bears Won, But Who Could See It?
October 9, 2006

First of all, a big Rosey Grier-sized shout-out to my old frat brothers who came to town last weekend for the Badgers/Northwestern game. Lizard King and Grandpaboy, let’s do it again soon. And I swear I’ll pay for the damages. Sorry again.

Good thing those friends of mine went to the game, since they weren’t going to be able to see it on TV. Which brings me to addressing a couple of concerns that WISC-TV viewers had about football coverage the weekend of October 7-8.

Fans not attending the whipping that the Badgers put on the Wildcats on October 7 were unable to watch the game live on TV. Why? Because the Big Ten has determined that ESPN and ABC (owned by the same company, of course) are to be the sole television providers of their games. And when their impressive yet limited resources — including ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Regional, and ESPN Local (the latter two being games available to local stations like WISC) are allocated for games presumably more interesting or competitive than ones involving the Badgers, then games are either not televised or are only made available via ESPN360.

Now I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable sports and television fan, and before last week, I had never heard of ESPN360, an expensive Internet service only available through a limited number of providers. So while ESPN may pretend that ESPN360 is a viable broadcaster for games, in reality telling people that they could see the Northwestern game was akin to telling people they could make a martini out of vegetable oil and Shasta Cola. Not very likely.

My take on this? It stinks, but you can’t fault ESPN for only being able to cover so many games. Badger fans (and Wildcat fans, for that matter) may take umbrage that their game was considered less interesting than other games, but out of the three Big Ten games involving then non-ranked teams (always due to be the first eliminated from television consideration), the Wisconsin game was the least competitive of the three, with both Indiana @ Illinois and particularly Penn State @ Minnesota being much closer. Perhaps the answer would be for the Big Ten to retain a right of recapture, whereby allowing the conference to find a more suitable television partner on a game-by-game basis if ESPN/ABC are not able or willing to do so.

Of course, much of this will change next year with the introduction of the Big Ten Channel. All Big Ten games should be televised with the inclusion of the new network; however, it remains to be seen how many cable and satellite providers will carry the new channel. If not many do (right now I believe only DirecTV has signed on), Badger fans that rely on television coverage can count on being disappointed a time or two again next year.

With their team’s dominating performances so far this year, the last group of people to be disappointed should be fans of the Chicago Bears. But none of them in the Madison television market were happy with WISC-TV’s coverage of the Bears/Bills game on October 8. With 6:59 left in the third quarter and the Bears ahead by the commanding score of 30-0, viewers saw coverage switched from the lopsided Bears/Bills contest to the much closer (13-10 at the time of the switch) Dolphins/Patriots game.

Why would WISC-TV switch from a Bears game to a AFC East matchup featuring the lousy Miami Dolphins when it is common knowledge that there are hordes of Bears fans in the Madison area? Are people at the station unaware that the Bears are enjoying their best season in twenty years? Are people at the station bitter Packer fans looking for any way to upset fans of their arch rival? The answers are: We wouldn’t, no, and maybe.

Seriously, WISC-TV did not make the switch, CBS did. CBS has a policy to switch their affiliates (like WISC-TV) to more competitive games when a game is out of hand. CBS defines out of hand as an “18 point lead (not before the start of the second half).” Certainly Chicago being up by thirty points with more than half of the third quarter elapsed qualifies under these guidelines. (And, no, CBS wouldn’t do this to WISC-TV during a Packer game, just as CBS didn’t switch Chicago and Buffalo markets even when the score become 40-0.)

Did CBS do right by Madison football viewers by switching from a blowout with local interest to a competitive game with little local interest? (And it’s important to stress that it was CBS’s decision; WISC-TV only has a say in what games they are assigned, the station has no say in how those games are presented, including when and if they are switched mid-game.) The NFL fan in me says “yes”; after all, that’s why I ordered the NFL Sunday Ticket (love it), so I could access the most competitive NFL games at any time. But the broadcaster in me says “no”; our first rule is to serve our viewers, and common sense tells me that a Bears game is more valuable to more of our viewers than any AFC East game, even if the Bears game is as competitive as a wrestling match between King Booker and Ugly Betty.

So WISC-TV will try to convince CBS to keep Bears coverage intact the next time the station airs a Bears game, which is Sunday, November 5. Unfortunately, that game is against the previously mentioned lousy (so lousy they need JOEY FREAKIN’ HARRINGTON to be their savior) Miami Dolphins. The Bills game could have been a squeaker for the Bears compared to how they are primed to manhandle the inept Dolphins. So, WISC-TV will try, but Bears fans, be prepared to call in on November 6 with your complaints about abbreviated coverage. Either that or hope that your team actually struggles (at home, no less) against a markedly inferior opponent. We’ll expect your calls.