Archive for February, 2007

Yes, I Can — If Frank Sinatra Says It’s OK
February 28, 2007

Knowing that I’m originally from the home of The Replacements, Prince, and Mary Tyler Moore, a co-worker of mine asked me today if I was going to watch the Twins game tonight. I assumed he was joking. It is, after all, still February. But a quick check of the baseball schedule made it clear that not only was he not pulling my leg, but spring training started in earnest on Wednesday, February 28, with four exhibition games. Now, I like the baseball, but it’s just too early. And there’s too many of these Grapefruit and Cactus League games. People complain all the time about there being too many preseason NFL games (and they’re right), but I usually don’t hear anyone make the argument that there are too many exhibition baseball games each year. And there’s 30 of them! For each team! The only reason to have thirty exhibition games would be to pit MLB teams against a team of washed-up celebrities like the old MTV Rock and Jock specials. I can see it now — Johan Santana pitching to Daisy Fuentes or Poison’s Bret Michaels. Tom Arnold at second base trying to throw out Albert Pujols. That would be good stuff.

But at least Major League Baseball doesn’t seem to pretend that its exhibition season means anything. Fans have to really seek out TV coverage and, except for those who time a visit to their great aunt Sylvia in Sarasota just right, most can’t make it out to the park. That’s contrary to the NFL,which gets tons of TV coverage for its preseason schedule and somehow successfully sells the idea that each preseason game means something crucial to each team. (Here’s what each coach and fan wants out of the NFL preseason: Zero. As in zero season-ending injuries.) I haven’t seen a marketing force as good as the current NFL since Madonna at the height of her popularity — every move the NFL makes is somehow now a major event.

Look at this scouting combine going on now. Where the hell did this come from? I don’t recall having this shoved down my throat before. Not only is it ridiculous to televise this thing (although local Madison Charter subscribers don’t have to worry about watching it, since Charter still doesn’t carry the NFL Network), but do we honestly need it? I mean, this isn’t a Goldie Hawn movie and these athletes being scrutinized aren’t dreamers just wandering off the streets hoping for their big break. Standouts like Georgia Tech wide receiver and Wisconsin’s own Joe Thomas spent years actually playing football! And the games they played in exist on film for NFL coaches and general managers to actually watch to see how they perform in a football game! Does it really matter as much how fast these guys can run, how high they can jump, or how much they can bench press? Why don’t they just add a tug-of-war competition, an obstacle course, and a dunk tank and make it like Battle of the NFL Hopefuls? Maybe I’d watch that. But only if there wasn’t live coverage of a Culver’s Punt, Pass, and Kick event on at the same time.

Hey, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team — fresh off of a game in which they scored 93 points and still LOST — take on Michigan on Friday, March 1. Bucky is ranked seventh and the Wolverines are ranked tenth. Wisconsin swept Michigan this season and with Jolene Anderson leading the way, I expect them to advance easily to Friday’s game. Where, unfortunately, they’ll have to play Purdue, whose star Katie Gearlds dropped a Kohl Center women’s basketball record 41 points on the Badgers at their last meeting. Meaning that the women will be free over the weekend to watch exhibition baseball and college football players doing jumping jacks at the scouting combine.

Where Do We Go From Here?
February 22, 2007

Here in Madison, I’ve noticed that people have been a little down the last couple of days. Co-workers aren’t as quick to exchange pleasantries. The drive-thru guy at the neighborhood Arby’s has been giving me fewer packets of Arby’s Sauce with my daily Big Montana. Even my son seems to have lost his zest for life, as he looks at me repeatedly with sad four-year-old eyes and says, “Daddy, why did Wisconsin lose?”

Yes, Badger Nation is taking the Wisconsin men’s basketball loss to Michigan State pretty hard. And frankly, we should be. Sure, some will say it doesn’t matter, that the Badgers are a lock to get a high seed in the NCAA tournament and to go deep in the 65-team playoff. Some will say that losing at the Breslin Center, where the Spartans have only lost one game this year, is no embarrassment. Some will say that the loss will toughen up the Badgers as they head into the NCAA postseason.

I say that’s a lot of crap. Not like I have to remind you, but for the first time in school history, the Badgers basketball team was ranked number one in the AP poll on Monday. Now, being ranked number one doesn’t mean you automatically get a championship trophy bestowed upon you, but it’s an enormous deal. Especially when there is controversy surrounding the ranking. Not only did many feel Ohio State deserved the top spot (which they received in the coaches’ poll), but many felt that Florida, UCLA, North Carolina, and even Pittsburgh were being slighted. What the Badgers had to do on Tuesday night was to defend their ranking, to show the Brent Musburgers of the world (who casually commented during the Michigan State/Wisconsin broadcast that he didn’t feel the Badgers were that good) that they deserved and had earned the right to be called Number One.

They blew it. The officials were favorable to the Badgers and put several of the Spartans’ best players in early foul trouble, but the Badgers still racked up their smallest point total of the season. The Spartans dominated in rebounding. The Spartans’ defense was stifling. Drew Neitzel completely outplayed Alando Tucker in every facet of the game. If Marcus Landry hadn’t stepped up and scored a season-high 18 points, the game — especially the second half — would have been much uglier than it was.

So the Badgers lock on number one lasted about 36 hours. All of the naysayers were proven correct. Assuming the Badgers will lose to Ohio State in Columbus on Sunday — and I think the Badgers will play better than they played against Michigan State, but guess what, Ohio State will play better than Michigan State — Wisconsin could fall in the polls as low as sixth or seventh.

The one good thing to come out of the Spartans victory on Tuesday night is the increased likelihood that the Big Ten will see at least four and maybe as many as six teams — Illinois and Purdue being bubble teams for now — in the tournament. That number is very good for not only increased interest around here in the tournament, but is very important for the prestige and economic and recruiting power of the conference. Not perhaps enough to make up for how the Badgers so abruptly gave up their hold on being the best basketball team in the country, but it’s something. Now if I can only convince the Arby’s guy that all is not lost. Have you ever tried to cover a Big Montana with only two packets of Arby’s sauce? It’s like trying to paint a school bus with a colored pencil.

On Being Number One
February 21, 2007

Well, it was fun while it lasted.

Badgers Number One
February 19, 2007

A big thank you to the voters of the Associated Press Top 25 Men’s Basketball Poll.

By anointing our Wisconsin Badgers the Number One team in America on Monday, you saved me from having to write about two “sporting events” that occurred over the weekend that I just simply don’t care about — the Daytona 500 or the NBA All-Star Game.

[I realize that NASCAR is popular. But so is Ghost Whisperer. I don’t get the appeal of either. Nor do I get the appeal of a regulation-length basketball game that ends with a combined total of 285 points. But at least the NBA doesn’t pretend the All-Star game is anything it’s not — this year’s edition, played in Las Vegas, was referenced more often as a “show,” rather than a “game,” complete with showgirls and Elvis impersonators. And like most shows in Vegas, it was all style, no substance.]

While I’m surprised that the Associated Press poll didn’t concur with the coaches’ poll and pick Ohio State as the top team, I’m understandably pleased. Not only because I live and work in Wisconsin and have a degree from the UW-Madison (in what I don’t recall), but because the Badgers deserve it. The Badgers have more wins — 26– than any other team in Division I basketball. The Badgers are tied with Nevada for the fewest losses — 2 — in Division I basketball. But Nevada plays in the weak Western Athletic Conference against a bunch of teams that would probably get swept by the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Hell, The Golden Girls could probably finish .500 in that conference. (For the Record, Nevada is ranked #11 in the latest AP poll.) The Badgers also have some guy named Alando Tucker who has scored twenty points in seven consecutive games and who should be named National Player of the Year. Oh, and there’s the minor point that the Badgers beat Ohio State in their only meeting.

So why is it surprising that Ohio State didn’t get the nod? Pretty good reasons: Ohio State has won eleven consecutive games, not losing since their game at the Kohl Center on January 9. Ohio State was ranked ahead of Wisconsin last week and neither team lost, so it seemed logical that with Florida’s loss to Vanderbilt, the Gators would tumble and the Buckeyes, Badgers, and maybe even UCLA would ascend in that order. (UCLA remained fourth, behind Florida, in both polls.) And in the RPI rankings, which measures winning percentages, opponents’ winning percentages, and something called opponents’ opponents’ winning percentages (which I think has to do teams’ records against schools who have won the Women’s NIT since 1977), Ohio State (#3) ranks higher than the Badgers (#5). (UCLA, North Carolina, and Pittsburgh are #1, #2, and #4, respectively.)

But give the AP voters credit — they stuck to common sense and awarded Wisconsin first place based on wins and losses. And in doing so, they set up the game of the year on Sunday, February 25, between No. 1 Wisconsin and No. 2 Ohio State. (Provided Wisconsin can get past Michigan State in East Lansing — not easy — and Ohio State can get past Penn State in Columbus — much easier.) Will the Badgers still be ranked at the top next Monday? If they can hand Ohio State their first home loss of the year, they will be. And if they can’t, the Buckeyes will be the unanimous Number One next week. But let’s not go there now — for the first time in school history, your Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team is Number One.

(The Badgers and Buckeyes play Sunday, February 25, at 3 PM, on WISC-TV. Do I need to remind you to watch? Didn’t think so.)

Tim Hardaway and Other (Less Disturbing) Things
February 16, 2007

Unlike some, I don’t give Tim Hardaway any credit for his “honesty.” I don’t know what’s worse, that he said what he said or that there are probably millions of people who are high-fiving their inbred cousins over what he said. It is a cruel reminder to us in “liberal” Madison, Wisconsin, that intolerance and bigotry not only continues to run rampant, but that some people are so comfortable with their hatred that they see nothing wrong with proudly announcing it on a radio talk show. But we didn’t need much of a reminder — after all, it hasn’t been that long since we were forced to actually vote for or against gay and lesbian discrimination. And the fact that that pro-discrimination bill passed was more horrific than anything an ignorant ex-basketball player could say. Unless you’re someone who looks to athletes for moral and spiritual guidance. In which case you’re either seven years old and need to have a talk with a responsible adult or you’re simply beyond hope.

Regarding what’s happening in NASCAR: You mean these guys actually cheat? I haven’t been this stunned since finding out that the Doodlebops don’t really play their own instruments.

What do we make of Penn State’s nearly stunning victory over Ohio State on Wednesday night? Will Ohio State’s inexperience be their downfall this year? If so, when in the tournament will it catch up with them? Is Penn State, the worst team in the Big Ten, not really that bad? What does it say about the Big Ten when the worst team can almost knock off the best team? Is it that good top to bottom or worse than we think top to bottom? Should the Badgers be worried about Saturday’s game against the Nittany Lions? Well, the Badgers aren’t blowing too many teams away, so they should always be careful. Luckily, they almost always are.

A brilliant sports blogger predicted the Bucks would help the Celtics put an end to their stunning 18-game losing streak on Wednesday night. But I couldn’t have predicted it would turn into such a rout. If Michael Redd can come back, I still think they can make the playoffs. But ultimately, they’ll get beaten up in the first round. Anybody else tired of waiting for the Bucks to get better? Anybody else tired of the injury excuse? Sound familiar, Brewer fan?

Beyonce and The Bucks
February 14, 2007

Hey, I got such a nice response from a David Letterman blog I posted here a couple of weeks back that the powers that be have decided to give me an entertainment blog as well. You can check it out at www.mymadisontv.com. I hope to soon add a blog all about my love for soda.

The line between sports and entertainment is blurred all of the time — oh my God, Nicolas Cage is on Regis and Kelly; what is that on his head? — and one of those times happens every February when the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue comes out. Starting when I was in fifth grade, the annual SI swimsuit issue eclipsed Christmas as the biggest deal of the year. Not to sound like a grumpy old man (even though I am), the kids today don’t have to wait a year for something on this scale — they can get it every month with Maxim, FHM, Stuff, not to mention what’s available on-line (not that I’ve checked). Now SI is copying what has made the newer men’s monthlies so popular — namely, their reliance on celebrity skin — with its first-ever celebrity non-athlete cover swimwear model, Beyonce. Nothing against Beyonce, but this news has me about as excited as the upcoming One Day at a Time first season DVD box set — which is to say, not much. Hasn’t Beyonce showed pretty much everything she’s going to show? Let’s get some fresh faces out there! (But if anyone from SI is reading this, feel free to send me a few complimentary copies anyway Or some One Day at a Time DVDs. I can’t believe how that Schneider never knocks! I hope Ann Romano is going to teach him a lesson!)

I don’t know what’s more surprising — that the Milwaukee Bucks have only won three games in 2007 or that they almost beat the best team in the league Tuesday night before completely falling apart in the fourth quarter. The Dallas Mavericks, who have won 29 of their last 31 games, outscored Milwaukee 28-11 in the fourth quarter with Dirk Nowitzki finishing with 38 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists. The Mavericks and Nowitzki are good. Scary good.

What’s scary for the Milwaukee Bucks is that on Wednesday night they travel to Boston to face the Celtics, who are losers of no fewer than 18 games straight. You know that these mammoth losing streaks never last forever — although they seem like it for teams suffering through them — and it appears that the Bucks at home are the perfect cure for what’s been ailing these Celtics. Especially since the Celtics just got Paul Pierce back from injury and he is primed to have a break-out game in what will be just his third game since missing 24 with an elbow injury. Pierce, one of the NBA’s most exciting players, scored nine in his return and then followed that up with 29 in Sunday’s close loss to Minnesota. At that rate of improvement, he’ll score about 93 tonight against the Bucks. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but he’ll probably get about half that as the Celtics end their embarassing streak.

The good news for Milwaukee is that they expect to get Michael Redd back for the second half of the season, which begins next Tuesday after Sunday’s All-Star Game. And even with as bad as the Bucks have been since 2007 began, they are only seven games out of the final playoff spot with a ton of games left. Hey, it’s not likely that the Bucks could make that kind of a run, but should Redd be able to come back strong from his injury, who knows?

Hey, in college hoops, some of the top teams continue to get upset — this week North Carolina and Texas A&M took a fall. When are Florida and Ohio State, the two teams ranked ahead of the Badgers in both major polls, going to lose? Unfortunately, with their schedule, any loss by Florida right now would be a stunner, and the Buckeyes next best chance to lose is to the Badgers on Sunday, February 25. Can’t wait for that game in Columbus. 3 PM on WISC-TV, baby! (Have to get a little station promotion in there. Oh, and don’t forget about the premiere of Amazing Race All Stars on February 18. And this week on Guiding Light — Will Gus blow his chance of getting baby Sydney? What? Too much promotion? You think? Hmmm . . . )

41 Thoughts for Super Bowl 41
February 2, 2007

1. Not surprised that Favre is coming back. Is anyone?
2. Favre’s decision has more to do with his love of playing than the Packers having, in his words, “a talented young football team.” Certainly the Packers were better late in the year, but they feasted on bad teams (Minnesota, Detroit) and teams with their minds elsewhere (Rex Grossman was more concerned with partying than football when the Bears met the Packers on New Year’s Eve).
3. Surprised at Favre’s timing. The Friday before the Super Bowl? A Super Bowl that actually might live up to its hype? Is Favre tired of hearing about how great Peyton Manning is?
4. Why break the story to the Sun Herald in Biloxi, Mississippi? Did Favre miss the deadline to the Cottage Grove Shopper Stopper?
5. Maybe the Sun Herald has some dirt on Favre and he agreed to give them the story in exchange for them burying whatever it is they have on him. I’m guessing it has something to do with who’s really behind that Aqua Teen Hunger Force marketing campaign.
6. It’s insane that the city of Boston treated light displays of a robot flipping the bird as a series of bombs. This is so ridiculous that all residents and administrators of the city of Boston should be forced to wear New York Yankee gear for the entire 2007 baseball season. Asinine.
7. Aqua Teen Hunger Force is now the best-known series on cable television. Marketing mission accomplished.
8. No matter how hard I try, I can’t root for Peyton Manning.
9. I like Manning’s commercials though. He’s funnier than Jay Leno.
9. The way the Manning family screwed with the NFL draft in 2004 made me a lifelong Manning hater. Well, hater’s a strong word. I’m a Celine Dion hater. I’m not a fan of the Mannings.
10. I love that the Giants have been mediocre and the Chargers much better since the Eli Manning/Philip Rivers swap. One of the best stories in football over the last couple of years. That and the total disapperance of Randy Moss.
11. Billy Joel is doing the National Anthem. I like Billy Joel, but he’s kind of a tool. Put a new album out, Billy. And stay away from the bottle. And cars.
12. For anyone that complains that the Rolling Stones are too old to be rock stars, look at the newly resurgent Bob Seger. Looks more like Bob Barker than Bob Seger. Except Seger’s fatter and has less teeth.
13. Love Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy. It’s too bad that we’re making a big deal about African-American coaches making it to the Super Bowl in 2007. Too bad because it should have happened about a long long time ago.
14. Did anyone know that Rob and Amber from Survivor and The Amazing Race have a reality show on Fox Reality about Rob becoming a professional poker player?
15. Does anybody care about Rob and Amber? Apparently not, or their show wouldn’t be on Fox Reality, where it has to compete for time with paid programming and Real Stories of the Highway Patrol.
16. I can’t believe Eddie Murphy didn’t thank Joe Piscopo during his Golden Globe Acceptance Speech. Dude made Murphy.
17. If Murphy wins the Oscar and doesn’t thank Joe, I’m boycotting Murphy’s movies. Wait, I’ve been doing that since I saw The Golden Child.
18. Rex Grossman is in a lose-lose situation. Either he’ll suck or he won’t suck. Even if he plays well, no one will give him respect.
19. It won’t matter, because he won’t play well. He’ll stink.
20. Peyton Manning will win the MVP.
21. Reggie Wayne will deserve the MVP.
22. Criminal Minds, the program slated to air after the Super Bowl, will get its largest audience ever.
23. People will be talking about Criminal Minds until . . . Monday morning, when it’s quickly forgotten amid talk of new episodes of 24, American Idol, and this adult cartoon show that brought the once-mighty city of Boston to its knees.
24. Edgerrin James will be watching the game and cursing his decision to leave Indianapolis for the Arizona Cardinals.
25. Dennis Green will be watching the game and cursing his decision not to get the double meat portion on his sub. Dude needs nourishment.
26. The Colts will out-run the Bears.
27. Rex Grossman will complete more passes to the Colts than to the Bears.
28. Devin Hester will run a kick off back for a touchdown. It will be called back because of an illegal block in the back.
29. The Bears defense will score more points than the Bears offense.
30. Adam Vinatieri will not need to continue his streak of clutch kicks.
31. I will not need to continue my streak of clutch drives to Piggly Wiggly to get more Funjuns. I stocked up this year.
32. My overindulgence on Funjuns will cause me to have that dream again about Chuck E. Cheese, Mayor McCheese, and Chester Cheetah. I can’t get into details here on a family site.
33. The Colts will win, 31-21.
34. Did I say I had 41 thoughts? I’m exhausted. Isn’t 34 close enough?
35. Enjoy the game.
36. Enjoy Phil Simms and Jim Nantz. Can’t they work Erin Andrews in there somehow? Does she work for CBS? Does it matter?
37. Letterman’s 25th anniversary show was disappointing. He’s still doing “Know Your Current Events”? Ouch.
38. Halftime entertainer Prince is going to have a wardrobe malfunction of his own, but since he’s only 2’11”, no one will notice.
39. The highlight of the game for me will be the Beatles/iTunes commercial. It’s about time you can download “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” legally.
40. The best part about the Bears losing? No more Super Bowl Shuffle.
41. The best part about the Colts winning? Doesn’t matter unless they cover the spread. Come on, Indy — I need me a new HDTV!

Letterman At 25
February 1, 2007

OK, OK, I know this is a sports blog, but I would regret it if I didn’t use my little forum here to mark the 25th anniversary of David Letterman’s first late night broadcast.

As much as I feel silly admitting it, there was a period of about six years of my life when Letterman’s show was more often than not the highlight of my day. (Not that I was that miserable a kid — I simply enjoyed the show that much.) In 1984, after Letterman had been on NBC for a couple of years, I decided (after the occassional viewing) to commit. So from about the seventh grade through high school graduation, I probably missed his show less than ten times.

I can recall family vacations where I had to rotate the hotel room TV to prevent the light from waking my parents; unfortunately, one of those nights was Letterman’s classic disruption of a “Today” taping with a bullhorn and these unforgettable lines: “I’m Lawrence Grossman! I’m the President of NBC News! This prime-time special was my idea . . . and I’m not wearing pants!” screamed at Bryant Gumbel and company. I howled with laughter, awakening my folks and quickly putting an end to my clandestine hotel Letterman viewing.

To mark Letterman’s anniversary, every TV critic out there is predictably doing a “Top Ten Letterman” moments. While I surely agree with most of them (Crispin Glover, Cher, the Monkey Cam), I tend to remember less celebrated moments: A rant from performance artist Brother Theodore followed by a perfectly-timed reaction shot from a disinterested and/or confused Billy Joel, “The Strong Guy, The Fat Guy, The Genius,” Larry “Bud” Melman offering Penthouse magazines to tourists, the after-school special parody where Letterman consoled a young boy upset at the cancellation of his favorite show, “David Letterman’s Summer Time Sunshine Happy Hour,” stage hand Al Frisch doing anything, a disasterous appearance from a unintelligble Sam Phillips of Sun Records fame. His final NBC show with Tom Hanks and Bruce Springsteen — Letterman had never seemed so excited about a guest as he did for Springsteen — is one of my favorite hours of TV ever. (NBC allowed Letterman to go over by about 10 minutes as he emotionally thanked his staff, a foreshadowing of the sometimes more serious and thoughtful Letterman that CBS got in 1993.)

Since Letterman’s move to CBS, I haven’t kept up with his show as much. (Now I TiVo it and watch it in bits and pieces.) Don’t get me wrong. I still think Letterman’s the best in the business. But his show is now more a talk show with comedy elements than a comedy show with talk elements, which it was in its mid-eighties heyday. But 25 years in, Letterman is fresher and funnier than talk-show hosts 2/3 his age and for my money has made a more lasting impression on TV than his hero Johnny Carson, a point that Jon Stewart correctly made after Letterman gave a moving tribute to Carson at the Emmys a couple of years back. And for anyone who doubts Letterman’s relevancy, his is still the only late night talk show to consistently make news and for a myriad of reasons: His first post-9/11 broadcast, his tales of his surprise holiday trips to Iraq, his welcoming a newly single (and hopefully underwear-wearing) Britney Spears.

Thanks Dave, for the memories and for the highlights to come. Now where’s that DVD boxed set of highlights? Can you get someone working on that?

Well, I had planned on writing about sports, but I went on long enough about Letterman, who is from Indianapolis, home of the Colts, who I believe are playing in some game this weekend. More about that tomorrow!