Friday, January 20, 2017

Rodgers

All week I have heard and read about how Aaron Rodgers is playing as well as any quarterback has ever played.  I can't recall vividly how well he did against the Giants during Wild Card weekend, but the game he played last Sunday against Dallas was indeed one of the most startling exhibitions of talent that I have ever seen.

I was watching the game with my buddy Kenny and we were stunned at how effortlessly he was throwing the ball--almost like a dart-to receivers far down the field.  I commented at one point that he had to throw an interception the way he was threading the needle. That is, if you try to throw the ball into such a narrow opening, you are likely to be off once in a while and throw it to the wrong team. But the only interception came on a deflection. Otherwise, it was startling how accurately he was passing.  And the throw he made at the end of the game was other worldly.

If you have not seen it, go on Youtube or some other site.  He was running to his left, near the out of bounds marker. Then he flicked his wrist and the ball went thirty yards to the only spot that would have allowed his receiver to catch the ball. The receiver's catch was almost as good as the throw--just keeping his toes in bounds before the rest of his body fell out of bounds.  That throw and catch put the Packers into the Conference championships this Sunday against the Falcons.

The thing is that if Rodgers could throw like that all the time, his team would be undefeated. Yet the Packers lost 6 times this year.   And the Packers, with Rodgers have won only one super bowl. Nobody can play the way Rodgers played last week on a regular basis.  Rodgers has not proven that he can play like Rodgers played last weekend.

The Packers will not win on Sunday.  Let's remember that the Falcons quarterback, Matt Ryan, is not chopped liver. And he, and his mates, may be getting tired of hearing about how Aaron Rodgers is Zeus.  I say give up the four points and hand them to the Packers.  Then take the money and run.

The Patriots game is a little harder to pick.  I am a fan and can be so biased for the home town team that I don't see things objectively.  Take that as preface.

The Patriots laid a stink-bomb last weekend and still won by 18 points.  Of course they were playing against a team that was so awful as to make one wonder how they could have won their division.  Still the Patriots won by 18 playing poorly.  They turned the ball over with fumbles and Brady threw as many interceptions in that one game as he had thrown all season.

The Patriots are not going to give away the ball three times against the Steelers. And if they do not I do not see how the Steelers are going to outscore them. The Steelers' biggest assets are a distinctive running back and a great pass catcher.  The Patriots are usually good at designing a defense that removes the key player from the opposition.  I don't see the talented runner making hay against the Patriots.  I also don't see the receiver doing as well as he has been.  The kicker for the Steelers kicked six field goals last Sunday.  He is due to miss one or two this weekend. For all these reasons I say give up the 6 points and go with the Patriots.

In sum, Pats-6 against Pittsburgh, Falcons -4 against the Packers.

Before you bet, consider that I voted for Clinton and did not think Trump had a chance.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

joe cool

Today felt like a sort of dress down day; business casual is what I think is the formal name. At a university we don't have dress down days because if you are a faculty member any day can be a dress down day. Since I have been an administrator for the past six years, I tend to dress more like a regular business person than I did when I was on the faculty.

But, as I wrote above, today I felt like I could eschew the suit, wear a pair of decent dress pants, and a sweater. So, that is what I yanked from my walk-in closet.

A word here about walk in closets. When we did our home renovation in 2011 I agreed to including a walk in closet. I thought it was a good idea, but did not feel as strongly about it as, say, the bay window we had installed or the open feel of what would be the new living room/dining room area.  But I agreed.  Now with the renovation completed the walk in closet has proved to be wonderful.  The house in its earliest incarnation was a basic Cape with only a few closets, a couple of which (as a result of a subsequent iteration, before we bought the home) were built into the eaves of the second floor.  So there was limited closet space, but it all seemed fine to me. However, now I have places for everything and it is terrific.  Of things that I could not do without, the closet pales in comparison to a dishwasher--which is as important to me as a front door, but if I was looking to downsize to an apartment, having a walk in closet would be something I'd lobby for with energy.

Back to the point. I pulled a sweater out to go with my pants (what my mother would have called "slacks" in the 50s and 60s).  I put everything on, thought I looked (as my mother would have said), "presentable" and took off on the mass pike on what turned out to be an unusually bad commute day.  I cannot figure out why Boston, for such a relatively small city, has such traffic.  When I lived in New York and there was a jam you would eventually come to the accident or police presence or construction that explained the congestion. In Boston you can drive bumper to bumper in rush hour and then all of a sudden, there is no traffic--usually about the time you want to get off the highway.

Well, I got to work and went to work at work.  I had several meetings back to back, and then went for a walk to take care of some business on what would be called a lunch hour if there were such lunch hours at universities. There really aren't. You typically work through lunch and if there is a meeting during what is traditionally called the lunch time, there are sandwiches provided.  When I came back from the walk, after having interacted with many people during the course of the day and on the walk, I glanced at a mirror and thought the sweater looked especially good on me.  And I wondered why I had not worn this sweater previously and why it looked relatively new.  Then I noticed something like a design toward the back of my shoulders.  The design looked familiar.

It looked familiar because what was the back of the sweater as I had been wearing it is actually the front of the sweater. I had been wearing it backwards all day.  Business very casual.  I went to the rest room, switched it around and, you know,  it did not look as good with the design in front as it did when I was wearing it backwards.

So, I switched it back.

It looks cool.  No?





Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A game for the ages

As opposed to the four NFL games played last weekend, the college football championship game last night was one of the best contests ever.  My favorite all time college game is still the Miami 1984 victory over Nebraska. And second place is the Texas win over USC in 2006.  But the game last night may be number three.

In the last few minutes Clemson went ahead compelling Alabama to respond-and they did.  Then with a minute or so to go, Clemson had to retaliate.  With one second left Clemson scored the winning touchdown. So exciting.  Alabama is one of the toughest college defensive teams ever, and Clemson scored two essential touchdowns in less than half a quarter.

Anyone who has read my blogs about college football (and retained the tiny bits of wisdom spewed therein) knows that annually--before the current four team playoff system--I railed against the bogus nature of a national championship in college football. The erstwhile bowl system was a joke and national champions were determined by journalists who selected the best two teams in the land. And these two selected teams played for the trophy.

The current system is very good.  Four teams are invited to participate in a tournament. Other excellent teams play in bowl games which have been rendered more meaningful because there is no illusion that these contests are in any way going to determine a champion.

The college game is so different from the NFL.  Deshaun Watson played a magnificent game last night at quarterback for Clemson.  He declared today that he will forego his last year of eligibility and play professionally next year.  He will get a big contract, but he will never make it big in the NFL.  It's not because he is not great, it is because the quarterback position in the NFL bears no resemblance to the quarterback position in the pros.  In the previously mentioned Texas USC game in 2006, Vince Young, the quarterback for Texas, was plain unbelievable.  He lasted one or two years in the NFL.  Matt Leinart the quarterback for USC had about the same longevity.  RG 3, a great college quarterback, is marginal in the pros.  Remember David Klingler, who was supposed to be the second coming.  After a few years as a professional he now is teaching about the second coming in a Theological Institute.

Seven of the eight quarterbacks remaining in the NFL playoffs are just great.  Most of them were not stars for elite teams when they played. Roethlisberger played for Miami of Ohio.  Brady shared quarterback duties for most of his time in Michigan. Ryan played for Boston College. Dak Prescott labored for Mississippi State.  Wilson played for two different colleges. Rodgers played for Cal-Berkeley and was not drafted until late in the first round. The only one of the seven who was heralded is the most bland of them all, Alex Smith, now the quarterback for the Chiefs.

Most colleges now have a run-option offense. This means the quarterback has an option to hand the ball off or run himself on many plays. The great  college quarterbacks can run and throw.  A quarterback who runs regularly in the NFL is a goner. They will just get whacked too many times. Ask Michael Vick or RG 3, or Vince Young, three quarterbacks who could not be stopped in college. They were regularly injured in the pros.

Still the college game can be exciting. It is just different.  Yesterday I wrote that the pro games this past weekend were stinkers. Last night's college championship was the antithesis, an antidote for the football fan.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Four Stinkers and a trick play

If there are athletic contests that are so competitive and exciting that they are dubbed "games for the ages", then the games played this past weekend in the wild card round of the NFL playoffs were games for the dark ages. Four stinkers. Not one of the games was well played or closely contested.

The Texans beat the Raiders not because of any super skill, but because the Raiders were forced, because of injuries, to start a quarterback who had never started in an NFL game previously. They would have had as much luck with my Uncle Morris throwing passes.  The Steelers shredded the Dolphins who, themselves, were playing with a second string quarterback. Then the Giants laid a stink bomb of no small proportion when, incredibly, they gave up a "hail Mary" to a team, the Packers, that has been successful throwing these prayers. How the Giants allowed for that to happen, who knows.  Also, the Giants--the team my dad and I cheered for when I was a boy--could not catch a cold. Three dropped passes in the first half alone, two of which would have resulted in touchdowns.  And finally Seattle drubbed the Lions, a team that played less like lions and more like pussy cats.

Next week should be better.  My predictions are that three home teams will prevail. The Patriots will win in Foxboro defeating the visiting Texans, easily. The Dallas Cowboys will end the Packers--who have been playing over their heads.  The Kansas City Chiefs will shut the Steelers up and not a minute too soon. The Steelers were chippy in their win against the Dolphins and will not get away with their unnecessarily rough play next week on the road. The lone visiting team that will win are the Seahawks who will get by the overrated Falcons.

See me on Monday.

On a related note, I am reading a book now about professional football in the 50s.  I'll review it when I am done if I think it is worthy of my criticism, but am just a little over half way done now.  I just read a section which refers to a trick play the Giants ran during the last game of the 1958 season.  For some reason in baseball I can remember 1956 and beyond, but in football it is more like 1959 with some fuzzy recollections of 1958.  This particular 1958 play described in the book I have no recollection of whatsoever.   It was such a complicated play that I wished I could see it. The quarterback hands off to a running back who in turn hands off to another running back who pitches it back to the quarterback for a score.

I can remember doing some writing in the early 80s and to describe a section accurately,  I needed to see a tape of a baseball play. I wrote to WOR in New York; the sportscasters who announced that play; the pr director of the Mets (a Met player, Ron Swoboda, had made the play) and a number of other sources. I could not get a copy of the event.

Today, one minute after reading about the 1958 trick play in the book, I typed in some descriptors in You-tube and then instantly could see the trick play.  I must have spent a month in the '80s trying to get a tape of the spectacular catch by Ron Swoboda, and now 40 plus years later can see instantly, over and over, what took place in 1958.

Too bad the Dolphins, Giants, Raiders, and Lions did not look to You-tube prior to last weekend. They might have found some plays from 1958 that would have been useful.




Thursday, January 5, 2017

Live Spectator

It had been years since I went to a professional football game.  I have a buddy who lives in St. Louis but is a loyal Giants fan.  He has come to Massachusetts a couple of times when the Giants played the Patriots.  Then once on a whim, when the Patriots were terrible, Donna and I drove to the stadium on game day and got tickets easily.  Another time in the 90s my brother got us tickets when the Jets played the Patriots in New York.  In the late 70s and 80s I went to a few games in Buffalo.  It's been over a decade since I went to a game.

For all of my fanaticism, I have not really enjoyed the viewing experience of games at the stadium. When my St. Louis friend came, it rained for one of the games and for the other we had to walk over a mile--easy-- from where we parked to the stadium.  When I saw the Jets play in New York while it was a decent seat in terms of distance to the field, we could not see the other end of the field very well. In Buffalo, we froze even when the games were in October. I never tried to go in November, but one October in particular I was an ice cube when we left the stadium.  There's also the issue of traffic getting out of the stadium.

But recently I thought I would give the experience another shot. I had noticed that the Patriots were playing the Dolphins on new years day in Miami. Well I knew I would not freeze in Miami, and it was the Patriots after all.  It would be good, I thought, to juxtapose for the first time in over ten years the experience of watching the game on tv to seeing it live.

I was so pleasantly surprised. It was just great fun to go to the game.  It did not hurt at all that it felt like a beautiful June day on January 1, or the tickets I bought on stubhub, were--by chance-- fantastic seats, or that to my surprise there were hundreds if not thousands of Patriots fans among the 50,000 or so spectators at the arena.

How was the experience different?

Well, to be sure the traffic getting into the stadium was hard (harder getting out),  I arrived at the park a full 90 minutes before the game was going to start and I kept getting waved on to farther and farther sections of the parking areas.  Then it cost me 40 bucks for the privilege of parking in another county. But that was the bad news.  The walk to the stadium was like a show in itself. There were tailgaters all over the joint. It was like walking through hundreds of parties.  The setups were elaborate.  Picnickers were eating hotdogs and sandwiches while knocking back cold ones (at 1130 in the morning).  Tables and tents were set up in the parking lot. Nobody was worried about getting cold on this 75 degree day.  I almost wanted to hang out with the tailgaters as opposed to going into the game.

I had never used my phone to carry a sports ticket previously to baseball or basketball or any type of contest.  No problem getting into Hard Rock Stadium with my little computer in my pocket.  As I walked in, the attendant scanned my "ticket" and then when something popped on my screen said, "Enjoy the game and you got a text from Bobby."

The noise in the stadium during pre game was as loud as any music you will hear in, well, a hard rock cafe.  Just blasting in my ears to the extent that I could not make a phone call from my seat even though the stadium was three quarters empty an hour before game time.

There was an enormous, but enormous American flag that was draped over the entire stadium for the national anthem. I mean the flag covered the whole 120 yards (field plus ten yards in each endzone). There were four enormous screens at each of the four corners of the stadium. One does not see as many replays as there are when watching tv, but still several were replayed and the images were extraordinary clear.

I found the spectators remarkably civilized and nobody gave the Patriot fans in my section any grief for rooting for the visitors. One guy got tossed for unruly behavior though I assure you that in Madison Square Garden this guy would not have stood out.

There were some serious imbibers. Two Dolphin fans, a couple, seated to my left barely had their asses hit the seat at any one time before they popped back up to get another couple of brewskis.

Each time the Dolphins got a first down the announcer got on with a cheer that would have been annoying had the Dolphins got a bunch of first downs. As it was the Patriots won easily so that noise was more amusing than anything else.

My seat was terrific. I was on the moon but could see the whole field. It was great to see the Patriots sideline, and watch how the substitutes shuttled in and out depending on the play. It was great to see what takes place during commercials as the quarterbacks played catch and others did exercises. When I was in cold stadia, the time outs used to drive me crazy as I was freezing during them. Here it was like a delightful scene played in the park during summer.

There were amusing contests during the breaks as well. The best was a kissing segment.  The camera would zoom in on a couple and then the kissing camera beckoned those caught to smooch.  One woman was holding a placard of her favorite player. When the camera zoomed on her and her man, she eschewed her date and kissed the placard.

While it took two and half hours to get back only about 40 miles, the day was a delight. I felt, truly, like a little boy who had gone to his first ball game.

When you watch a game at home there are lots of plusses. You can see replays from dozens of angles, you can use the bathroom without having to hop over an army. You can park in your driveway and when the game is over you can leave without waiting one minute, let alone two hours.  However, for those like me, who have avoided going to a game, it might be fun to attend one live now and again.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

On Beauty

Does love trump and overwhelm all the impediments lovers manufacture? Does love endure despite the character flaws that sabotage efforts to connect?  I think these are the questions that On Beauty by Zadie Smith addresses, and addresses affirmatively.

This is really a terrific book. The author's ability to describe behavior is indescribable.   It is almost worth reading the whole book for pages 205-207 when Kiki and Howard discuss his infidelity.  The part about the glee club had me giggling like a maniac making a scene in the public place I was in. Also, how Smith could so accurately describe university life given that she is not an academic, really a tip of the hat.  These are just a few examples.  I think I can string words together better than the average bear, but when I read someone like Zadie Smith,  I realize that there are amateurs and then there are professionals.

The book is about a couple living in a university community on the outskirts of Boston. Sometimes I thought it was Wellesley and other times Harvard, not that it matters much. The couple has three kids. The father is a professor who is a bitter rival of a visiting professor.  Howard, the main character, is a white liberal married to Kiki a black woman.  Dr. Kipps, the rival, is a black conservative whose daughter and wife feature prominently in the novel as do Howard and Kiki's three children.

This is the best book I have read in 2016 and the year on the east coast will end in a few hours.  If you are a reader, I highly recommend the novel. It is not a page turner like a who dunnit, but I was sufficiently engaged to inhale about half of the book in a short period of time.  Could be that my interest relates to the fact that much of the novel is about university life. I was surprised to see the many amazon readers whose reviews I read subsequently who did not like the book.  Not me.




Sunday, December 25, 2016

La La Land +

I saw an excellent movie today. La La Land. It is good all the way through, but the last scene in the Jazz Club has happened to us all, or at least many of us.  The movie is about a romance between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling-- an aspiring actress and a dedicated Jazz pianist.  I don't know what else to write without giving away too much. Go see it.

Also finished a mystery this morning.  The novel is called Snow Angels and it takes place in a ski resort town above the Arctic Circle in Finland.  An actress has been murdered, gruesomely, and the Inspector, Inspector Vaara, attempts to locate the killer.  Among the suspects:  his ex wife, his ex wife's long time boyfriend, a registered sex offender, another cop, the other cop's son, and the investigator's own father.  The novel takes place in the darkness as it is around Christmas time (just coincidental to my reading it around Christmas time) when there is no light in northern Finland.  Fast read, though the names can be difficult to follow for those unfamiliar with common names in Scandinavia.   Also there is a lot of dying, and not ordinary deaths either.  Good news is that if you are inclined to learn about another part of the world, the book brings to the otherwise unfamiliar reader, a sense of the culture and life struggles in Northern Finland.

Finally, while I am reviewing, I trekked to the movies a few days ago and saw Manchester By the Sea.  Very good, not as good as La La Land, but I will bet both will be up for the best picture Oscar. A young man becomes the guardian for his nephew and has to deal with a tragedy from his past.  It takes place in the Boston area so if you like references to these parts, that is an added benefit.