Friday, January 27, 2012

British actor Williamson ("Excalibur") dead at age of 75

The death of one of the best Britsh actors, Nicol Williamson, was announced this week, at the age of 75 from a long battle with esophageal cancer. The Scottish-born Williamson, possessor of one of the great voices in movies and theater (as well as one of the more volitaile tempers) was best known for his role as Merlin in the John Boorman production of "Excalibur," regarded by many as the best of the King Arthur movies.
Williamson also played Sherlock Holmes in "The Seven Percent Solution," as well as Little John in "Robin and Marian," with Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn.
He actually passed away on Dec. 16 in Amsterdam, but his death was only announced this week on his website.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A contrasting view of two Arizona women

Here is a contrast of two Arizona woman and the state of political discourse, courage versus cowardise and bitterness in our nation. One is a nasty, crabby, snarly ineffective bee-otch of a soul, sadly serving as governor, who is doing nothing more than selling books while acting as a schoolmarm by disrespecting the President of the United States in public.
The other is the very symbol of courage, having battled back from a tragic, near-fatal assassination attmept of her life, where others died but she barely survived and has triumphantly battled back, attmepting to regain as much as her life as possible. So she hugs the President, who was unwavering in his support of her efforts and rehab, at the State of the Union. This singular moment will remain with Americans long after the dust is wiped away from the speech's text.
Which ONE is really worthy of praise?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The last sad days of Joe Paterno

The death this morning of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, at the age of 85, culminates one of the strangest and saddest chapters in college football this season. The man who won more games than any other head coach on ANY level is being remembered more for a scandal, over which he had little control and had even less understanding of it, than his decades long career.
If you imagine how short 90 days actually flies by, it is still hard to fathom how Paterno, in a time-span of less than three months, was idolized for the record-breaking victory, then being in the eye of the hurricane that was Jerry Sandusky, to being fired (in such an ignominous fashion) to the revelation of affliction with lung cancer to literally dying overnight. Sometimes, life AND death take place faster than the speed of light and certainly quicker than the speed of comprehension.
It would probably be proper to state that Paterno stayed too long at the dance; he should have retired a decade ago (about the time he first learned of Sandusky's behavior through McQuerry's disclosure and allegation). I can only play armchair quarterback to ask, in hindsight, what would Paterno have wanted: a clean legacy or the victories record? I don't think the record book, which is still a temporary position until someone else eventually replaces you, is any substitute for retaining your reputation and good name. Paterno will forever be linked to this scandal, even on the day he died.
Here's my hypothesis: Paterno was SO old school, so rigid in his belief system, focusing all of life to football, that when he was informed of the shower incident, involving Sandusky (his trusted right-hand man for 30 years on the job) and a 13-year-old boy, he could NOT process it. Pure and simple. His mind couldn't conceive of such behavior happening, taking place on his facility, and involving a man he trusted for three decades. In a digital age, it simply did not compute.
Paterno did inform his "superiors," despite the unwritten understanding of who lorded over whom, and continued his business of running Nittany Lion football. He didn't follow up because 1) it still didn't register and he had NO idea of the depth of the depraved behavior; and 2) he honestly thought his actions were satisfactory. After all, shouldn't school officials have taken upon themselves to go to the police?
But if you think back, right around 10 years ago, Paterno became less and less involved, on a direct basis, with the football team. His health began to decline, he spent more time coaching in the press box than on the field and most of the game decisions were left to the coordinators. Everything began to crumble - from Penn State's on-field influence to Paterno's physical well-being. About 10 years ago, fans began to hear the various calls for JoePa to step down and allow new, fresh blood into the program for reinvigorate it. However, Paterno would have none of it; perhaps because he saw no reason to exist other than running Penn State football.
In the wake of the nationwide scandal and condemnation, Paterno was fired on Nov. 5, and a few days later (seemingly just a few hours later), his lung cancer condition was diagnosed, followed by reports of a broken hip, identical to the one suffered a few years before.
When Paterno gave his only on-camera interview to Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post, the first half was conducted with Paterno sitting in a chair (although he wore a wig to cover the effects of cancer treatment). The second half, not shown on camera, was held while Paterno was lying in bed. The end was closer than people knew.
On Saturday night, the grim news leaked from different sources that family was gathering to say goodbye; his son bravely denied it through various messages, but ... you knew it was true. Which is why his eventual death was no shock; it was more a feeling of sadness for what had transpired in less than 90 days.
Paterno SHOULD be remembered for his accomplishments and achievements as a football coach - NOT for what others criminally did through an association with Penn State football. But that's not the times in which we live; we have forgotten that people are innocent until proven guilty and Joe Paterno was guilty of nothing other than growing old and failing to understand the depths by which some people will fall in the course of human behavior.
He was the last of his generation of coaches and perhaps the last of an era where one man held such an unflinching grip over a single program and a single university. All condolences to the State College community and the Penn State family.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Leader of the "Maize Rage" pack

Look who was part of the Maize Rage last night... why it's Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson!!! (bouncing adn cheering all game long behind the Michigan State bench). Now that's a team/school leader who is saying loud and clear, "I LOVE being a Michigan Man." Was wearing his letterman's jacket too ... having the time of his life!
And a GREAT win over Sparty (I love it when MSU Coach Tom Izzo is hacked off at losing to Blue?).

Monday, January 09, 2012

Ten changes needed to college football’s bowl season

Now that the 2011 collegiate football season has finally come to an exhaustive conclusion, having felt like one of those old WWII prisoner of war movies where everyone is in tattered shoes and physically drained, there are some changes to be made to the whole system. Some are radical and some are common sense, but all of them are very much needed.
First, in the future, only teams with actual winning records will be allowed to participate. Going 6-6, or .500, is not good enough; it means you simply suck half the time. And for sure, NO team with a losing record (regardless of circumstance as was UCLA at 6-7 this season) plays in a bowl game.
Second, no team facing, or under, any type of NCAA penalty/sanctions can participate (and yes, that is aimed directly as schools like Southern Cal and Ohio State). Rule breaking, lying and cheating should never ever be rewarded, as was the case last year (and this season) concerning the Buckeyes. It was a double sham for the 2010 Sugar Bowl because five players, subsequently suspended but made public prior to the game, were permitted to perform. Their suspension should have been doubled.
Third, the Rose Bowl shall ALWAYS be played on Jan.1, regardless of what the NFL has scheduled. The parade is held in the morning and kickoff is 2 p.m. Pasadena time. If the NFL gets upset, screw them! At some point, tradition and history MUST count for something; it was a mockery of both to see the parade and game held on Monday, Jan. 2.
Fourth, hold no more cold weather outdoor bowl games! Let’s simply forget about playing games in Boise, Idaho, or Yankee Stadium when it could blizzard or freeze. Let the NHL play its Winter Classic in an outdoor stadium for the novelty effect; college football bowl games should be seen as some sort of reward (Boise is punishment in December.)
Fifth, Outside of the BCS championship game, a city gets to host just one post-season contest. Sorry, but the organizers and chamber bosses in New Orleans, San Diego, Orlando and Dallas must pick just ONE post-season contest to use as a tourist Power Point presentation. The New Orleans Bowl will just have to find a new home.
Sixth, if a school is planning to fire, or hire, its head football coach, it must wait until AFTER the conclusion of the bowl game it accepts as a participant. In 2011, some 12 schools entered their bowl encounters with interim coaches after the game of musical coaching chairs began. In fact, two games saw both teams played under interim bosses.
But continuity always produces a better quality of football and if a school is all-too-willing to take that bowl game cash, perks and rewards, then it can damn well wait until scrambling its players and staff when the grim reaper makes its appearance.
Seventh, all these corporate sponsors are massive marketing ploys and disturb the natural rhythm of the football universe. I say go retro, back to the future, and return some of these contests to their original names. The Capital One Bowl should really be the Tangerine Bowl, which began in 1947; the Chick-Fil-A Bowl sounded better when it was the Peach Bowl, honoring the peach industry of Georgia; and the Outback Bowl had been known as the Hall of Fame Game.
If college teams can don “throwback” uniforms, which may or may not have actually existed long ago, then these games can return to their true roots.
Eighth, games should be played in cities that people actually WANT to visit in December. Birmingham, Ala.? Charlotte, N.C.? Shreveport, La.? Detroit … in wintertime? Seriously???
Ninth, a game dedicated to the U.S. armed forces should actually involve one of the academy schools. Neither Brigham Young University nor University of Tulsa qualified in 2011.
And, finally, tenth, if the FCS, and its old Division 1-A schools, can execute a legitimate playoff process to determine a national champion (it was North Dakota Stadium in a game held last Saturday in Frisco, Texas), then the big boys have no righteous excuse to avoid it.
These student-athletes have the same examination challenges as anyone in the SEC, Big 10 or Big 12. Their fans had the same travel obstacles as LSU, Alabama, Michigan or Oregon. YET … it was done very successfully (as was the case in Division 2 and Division 3 NCAA action), with no complaints from players, coaches, or administration.
So why, again, does the BCS go through its ridiculous square dance of excuses every year??? Could you imagine the overall fan interest, and television ratings (as well as stadium attendance) if you took the top eight, 12 or 16 teams and worked it out over a four-week time frame? In fact, a national championship could be played on the off-week before the Super Bowl.
The hang-up is found in the offices of the various collegiate presidents, who are the REAL powers behind the NCAA hierarchy – not coaches or athletic directors; for some reason, the prospect of MORE money isn’t as enticing as the seduction process employed by the various bowl committees. What a shame for the rest of us!
In the end, some of these lower-rung games will have to disappear – for the sake of the game itself. Nothing was gained to have Purdue edge Western Michigan, or for Illinois and UCLA to have played at all. If someone in charge will help cull these weak sisters out of the system, future action after the regular season won’t be such a major beatdown.
It might actually MEAN something.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

One year later: Profile in REAL courage

This photo is of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, (D-AZ), one year AFTER some madman shot her in the head during a meeet-and-greet in a Tucson parking lot. Six people died, including an innocent 9-year-old girl, and 13 were left wounded.
Through it all, she has battled to recover as much normal function as possible and, Sunday night, led a memorial service of 1,000 in the Pledge of Allegiance. As always, her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, has been by her side.
In 2011, the public's reaction and outpouring of affection for this woman, and that community, might have been the high point in a year of such ugliness and sadness.
God Bless Gaby and I hope she recovers enough to run for re-election. If not, I hope Kelly does so to carry on her fights and her legacy.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Sugar Bowl love: Kisses sweeter than whine

The 2011 Redemption Tour of Michigan football is now complete and no place could have been a better finishing port than New Orleans – land of laissez faire and “Laissez les bons temps rouler” … let the good times roll. Before an announced crowd of 64,512 in the Louisiana Superdome (some of us will just have to wait until the Mercedes naming rights have been seared into our brains), the collegiate football program left for dead, just a shade over one year before, was officially resurrected and made nationally relevant by the unlikeliest of sources – its defense, its resilience and its coaching.
The 23-20 overtime Sugar Bowl victory over a very fine Virginia Tech squad brought the Wolverines their 11th victory of the season and more than immense satisfaction for its display of defensive tenacity and good fortune – on at least two overturned calls which, for once, went Michigan’s way in the post-season (just two words to say – Anthony Davis).
This victory was earned; it was NOT given by anyone. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Michigan also had lots of help from an unlikely source – the Virginia Tech coaches. On three occasions, poor game decisions and play calls led to Michigan’s win, and Frank Beamer, now the tenured dean of big school coaches, must assume responsibility and blame for what happened.
First, in what was obviously a defensive struggle from the start, leading 6-0 late in the second quarter, Beamer set aside a sure three points to call for a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1 from the Michigan 4. Although Hokie QB Logan Thomas runs well in the open field, at 6-6, it’s harder for him to get that quick first step needed to make the play successful. The Big Blue defense rose up and held him short of the first down marker. And 9-0 would have been a much bigger hurdle to face than 6-0 with the ball.
In truth, Virginia Tech never fully recovered from that failed execution for the remainder of the game. Michigan, helped by a roughing-the-punter call, marched (actually stumbled) down the field until senior Junior Hemingway made one of his patented midair catches, broke free from a gambling defender and sprinted into the end zone for a 7-6 lead with 49 seconds left in the first half.
On the ensuing kickoff, UM’s J.B. Fitzgerald stripped the ball from Hokie returner Tony Gregory and Delonte Hollowell recovered at the VT 26. Three unsuccessful plays later, Michigan executed a fake field goal play … uh, not exactly.
Holder Drew Dileo did throw a pass into the end zone, which was tipped by the Hokies before it reached that destination, only to see it fall into the friendly arms of Michigan long snapper Jareth Glanda, who rumbled to the VT 8 with 8 seconds left in the half.
All those voodoo dolls being employed by Michigan fans in the stands were obviously working. They absolutely were affecting the VT coaching.
Brendan Gibbons gave UM a 10-7 halftime lead with his first field goal on the night and a team which was completely outplayed was still winning. The difference was the play of the much-maligned Michigan defense and by halftime, no one could rationally question its worth, its talent or its bend-but-don’t-break mentality.
The second Michigan touchdown came when true freshman linebacker Frank Clark literally stole a pass out of Martin’s hands, setting up the second Robinson-to-Hemingway scoring pass and a 17-6 advantage. Again, had Virginia Tech kicked that field goal instead of trying the QB sneak in the first half, it would have made, in my mind, a major difference in how the game was played.
The second VT coaching mistake was calling for a fake punt with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter; it had no chance to succeed from initiation and the punter was smothered by the swarming Michigan defense from the snap. The gadget mistake gave Michigan excellent midfield position instead of pinning the Wolverines deep in their own territory.
In a close encounter of the fourth (quarter) kind, position means everything. Michigan took advantage by kicking the go-ahead field goal for a 20-17 lead.
Finally, as regulation time rolled down, Virginia Tech, clearly marching to a possible victory, went “defensive” on offense in the final minute. Too many plays were called to merely to establish position for the game-tying field goal (which came with 2 seconds left in regulation). But Beamer never really tried anything true shot to win the game outright…or so it seemed.
This was the first-ever meeting between the schools and showed how a lack of familiarity can come back to bite a team (and coaching staff). For sure, the amount of team speed possessed by the Hokies could never be properly measured on film/tape. You cannot practice for it if you’ve never seen it up close and personal (not permissible since the pairing was made AFTER both teams ended regular season action).
VaTech’s speed on defense gave Michigan’s offense fits all night long, holding the Wolverines to 184 yards and just 56 yards rushing – all season lows. Quarterback Denard Robinson was the obvious focal point of the Hokie attack and with just a few exceptions, he was NOT in control of his fate Tuesday night.
Speed versus power is what distinguished the four major conferences (the Big 10 represents power football for the most part with the SEC and Big 12 displaying most of the speed). In a one-game, winner-take-all matchup, speed usually holds a significant advantage, but over a nine-week schedule, power often reduces the speed factor through sheer wear-and-tear. So it is to Michigan’s credit that it emerged victorious since speed is NOT its middle name.
The Big 10 school which manages to produce a significant speed factor over its conference rivals will dominate for the next decade and be better equipped to play Southern-based schools in bowl encounters.
Michigan’s win helped wipe some of the manure splattering off the Big 10 mantle during this bowl season, but it remained a sorry sight for the conference to have lost six of nine games prior to Tuesday night’s Sugar Bowl. Sparty, despite all the whining about its lot in BCS life, finally decided in the second half to show up and went into triple overtime to edge Georgia. Purdue almost embarrassed itself by barely nipping Western Michigan in the Pizza Bowl in Detroit.
The strength (or weakness) of the Big 10 Conference was not on trial; the silly (non-BCS) bowl system itself was indicted for what it actually is … a fraud. To fill all those contractual obligations, a greedy conference has allowed itself to be ridiculed and teams which had NO business playing an extra game merely got further humiliated.
Just because a team becomes “bowl-eligible” means it should be “bowl-selected.” The proliferation of these unnecessary games is hurting college football. As disclosed on HBO’s “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel,” these games often are held under some guise for “charitable contributions,” but usually don’t give a penny of money to anyone but themselves. That show outlined how the bowl executives got salaries closer to seven figures than five figures, and how IRS disclosure statements revealed no funds sent to any charities.
They are mere vehicles for sponsors to primp around the host cities like they own the damn place, and college student-athletes become their unwitting pawns. No sponsor with the name “” should be allowed to sponsor ANYTHING related to college athletics and Yankee Stadium (or Boise, Idaho), in late December, is NO place to play a college football game.
I live in suburban Dallas and I can assure you there were fewer people in the Metroplex aware that Penn State was playing Houston in the TicketCity Bowl (sponsored by a service unavailable in this area) than voted for John Huntsman in the Iowa Causcuses. And the empty seats, disguised as ticket-purchasing fans, echoed that fact. For the Cougars, it was a chance to score a big win over a formerly-decent national name; for Penn State, the game meant nothing and it showed.
Same holds true for the Buckeyes, who quit against Florida, and Nebraska, who shut it down in the fourth quarter against South Carolina. Iowa was overmatched against Oklahoma from the moment the matchup was announced and Northwestern didn’t have the talent on its roster to handle an underachieving Texas A&M team, essentially playing a home game in Houston just 90 minutes away from College Station.
Of course, Illinois and UCLA (both of whom should be in witness protection) still got to “play” in the Hunger Bowl, while neither of which had named new head coaches. I wonder if they could’ve filled AT&T Park in San Francisco if they gave those tickets away for free.
To be fair, Wisconsin fought tooth-and-nail in order NOT to lose its second straight Rose Bowl and should be commended.
But you know WHO likes this system? NCAA college presidents. That’s because schools get paid to play and the honchos get wined and dined by this various bowl representatives. Of course, these are the same people (the campus bosses) who have firewalled any NCAA-BCS playoff proposal, citing the myth of semester testing and runaway practice schedules.
This Saturday, a Texas school – Sam Houston State University in Huntsville (home of Texas’ state prison and death row) – will face North Dakota State at noon just a hoot and a holler from my house. The game will be played at a soccer stadium in Frisco, Texas, and will culminate a four-week playoff process. If it works for the Bearkats and the Bison, despite the semester finals, extra practice and week-to-week uncertainty where the next game will be held, it can work for the big schools, earning even MORE money for the NCAA and its institutions.
It’s just that no one gets wined and dined to death and no fans get scammed.
For the first time in a decade, the future looks SO damn bright, Michigan fans will need more than the best shades Oakley makes to hide the shine. Recruiting classes for 2012 (and beyond) are becoming the envy of the conference and the start of a permanent place in the top 3-4 in the nation. There are some big holes to fill in the defensive and offensive lines and more depth needs to be added.
But while other programs scramble to find their way in the dark, hoping old names in new places will be the magical answer, Michigan has defied the experts (and critics within its own circles) and demonstrated how making changes … properly … with the correct choice to be the leader … makes all the difference.
As said time and time again this season, in this blog, the personnel appeared to have been there all along – even on defense. It merely took the right coaches/leaders to have gotten the best (and complete) performance to come to the surface. The fifth-year seniors, recruited by Lloyd Carr and thought to be less-than-stellar performers, proved their worthiness and ultimate legacies in UM gridiron history throughout the season and especially in this Sugar Bowl.
Made all those beignets Tuesday morning taste that much sweeter.
By the way: Best sign(s) inside the Dome was “Spartan. Tears. Taste Like. Sugar.”
Go Blue!