Thursday, December 27, 2012

National sports media in love with Arians

By Jeff

The Pittsburgh Steelers choked in a big way this season, the first under offensive Todd Haley.

When listening to ESPN radio, hearing national media personalities talk and reading stories from national sites, it's interesting to see that one of the main things they do is blame Haley for the failures of the Steelers offense.

At the same time, they are praising Bruce Arians, who is working some magic in Indianapolis this year.

It's interesting to hear them say that the team was better off with Arians than Haley. Arians was no offensive genius here. He was good, but not great. At the same time, he was unjustly vilified by fans in Pittsburgh as the problem with the offense. The truth is that the systems implemented by these two men are and were not the problem. The team itself has been the problem.

In his last season with the , Arians' offense scored 20.3 points per game. In Haley's first, with mostly identical talent, the team has averaged 20.8 with a game to go.

While Arians liked to throw downfield more, Haley likes shorter and quicker routes to try and keep Ben Roethlisberger from getting hit too much. Both strategies had their ups and downs. Ben was sacked more than anybody in years with Arians and got hurt a few times. Ben was getting sacked less with Haley and was having an MVP-caliber season at one point, but still got hurt.

There isn't a big difference in production and it's unfair to claim that firing Arians and hiring Haley were mistakes. Haley deserves at least another season before anyone makes that judgment.

Haley had some poor game plans, but he still had the team's offense in position to win eight of the team's nine losses. The offense came up short in all of those with bad sacks, interceptions and poor play. That's not Haley's fault. At some point, professional athletes have to do their jobs.

On the other side of the state, you have Sal Paolantonio telling Philadelphia Eagles fans that Arians would be the perfect fit for the Eagles' head coaching job once Andy Reid is fired at the end of this year.

This is comical to me because Arians is a pass-happy coach and Eagles fans and local media are constantly bitching about Reid's pass-happy ways. So how does he fit as the head coach over here? Arians was fired from Pittsburgh for not running enough.

Arians is doing great things in Indianapolis. But that is a unique situation. That team has been brought together by their coach, Chuck Pagano, having cancer. The team is rallying around the "Chuck Strong" mantra they have developed and having an unlikely run to the playoffs. They also have the most highly touted rookie quarterback since Peyton Manning. Arians would have Nick Foles in Philly.

To me, the Arians love, Haley bashing and Andy Reid love (I didn't dive into this, but the national media claims the Eagles will be sorry they ran him out of town. They don't understand the man has lost this team and needs to move on.) are examples of the national media speaking out of their butts.

They don't follow these teams as closely as the fans who live in these markets do. They see a few games a year and just make statements without diving in to deep to the stats or the film. I don't want to take away from the great things Arians is doing in Indy, but he would not have put the Steelers or the Eagles in the playoffs this year.

Steelers caved under pressure this year

By Jeff

The 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers season may go down as the most frustrating season I've experienced. More frustrating than their 8-8 stinker (2006) after winning the Super Bowl.

This team had the talent to be a championship-caliber team. The defense, while not boasting the standout individual performances of past teams, was very good. They had their let down games against Oakland and San Diego, but they came to play more often than not.

The failures of this season came down to the offense, and it starts with the quarterback. While Ben Roethlisberger had one of his best statistical seasons overall, he came up short in big moments. This is a complete reversal of the the Roethlisberger Steelers fans have witnessed since 2004. As fans, we always expect Ben to pull out a victory if he has the ball late in the 4th quarter. This year he failed more often than not.
  • He took terrible sacks latre in the Dallas game when the team could should have put the game away
  • He threw the interception in overtime in the same game that led to the loss
  • He didn't show up until halfway through the third quarter against a terrible San Diego team AT HOME!
  • He threw an interception returned for a touchdown against Cincinnati
  • He threw another interception with less than 2 minutes in the same game that cost the team the playoffs
Of course, Ben wasn't helped much by his teammates. Emmanuel Sanders had some terrible drops and fumbles, Antonio Brown fumbled a punt return that led to a Dallas touchdown and Mike Wallace seemed disinterested in most of the games I saw.

Let's stay on Wallace for a second. Here is a guy that held out of training camp because he wanted more than his $2.7 million tender. Not just more money, he wanted Larry Fitzgerald money (8-year, $120M). Well, Wallace won't be seeing that kind of money after he failed to break 1,000 yards this season and had a case of the dropsies.

Wallace even went so far as to say he was dropping passes because he wasn't getting enough balls thrown his way, which led to a lack of focus.

First, if you are a NFL wide receiver making millions of dollars, playing for a new contract and fighting for a playoff spot, isn't that enough to make you focus? If not, then why do you think you deserve a $120 million deal?

Second, Wallace had 119 targets, which led the Steelers. He converted those targets into 64 catches. A stud receiver with a QB like Roethlisberger should do better.

Third, Wallace didn't appear to care this year. He made poor plays, ran wrong routes and didn't fight for contested balls. He just seemed to be going through the motions and blaming others for his poor play.

That leads to another problem with the 2012 team. There were too many instances of the team complaining about stuff to the media. Roethlisberger was questioning the play calling, Wallace his targets and the running backs about their carries. Rashard Mendenhall didn't show up to a game because he was demoted. These childish actions are not what Steelers fans have come to expect from their team, and we certainly don't like it.

Look back at the season and you will find two games where the opposing offense didn't score a touchdown, and the Steelers still lost (At Baltimore and vs. Cincinnati). On top of that, you will find another game (At Cleveland) where the defense only gave up touchdowns after the offense turned it over deep in their own territory.

Those are three games an NFL team has to win, and the Steelers lost all three because their offense was terrible.

Some of the blame falls on coaches as well. Byron Leftwich is not a viable backup. He gets injured every time he steps onto the field. Seriously. Go look it up over the past several years. If he gets in a game, whether it's preseason or not regular, he gets hurt. The organization needs to find a reliable backup who will not break when touched.

You also can't help but question the coaching staff when you hear the players complaining about play calling or their roles to the media. That is something that belongs in the locker room. These are the Steelers we're talking about, not the New York Jets.

There are no legitimate excuses for why the Steelers are not in the playoffs this year. They had the talent and just didn't live up to it. As a fan, who with hockey probably being canceled this year has nothing to look forward to until March, this month was a very sad month.

Friday, December 21, 2012

NRA cares about gun industry profits, not safety

By Jeff

Anyone catch the NRA press conference today?

It was disturbing to me as I caught a taping online. A week after one of the worst school shootings in our nation's history, the head of the National Rifle Association (NRA), Wayne LaPierre, said we shouldn't be talking about limiting access to guns. He says we need to have armed guards in every school.

And then he had the nerve to say that calling for stricter gun control laws was politicizing the Newtown strategy. So wanting to protect children and the public from semi-automatic assualt rifles with high capacity magazines (More than 10 bullets) is politicizing, but calling to arm more people is not?

The man even said that assault rifles are not really a problem, and many are not military weapons. Nope, guns are not the problem. The problems, according to LaPierre, is that we have violent video games and movies.

While I agree that video games and movies have more violence than is necessary, this is just a smoke screen to try and shift the blame from guns that serve no purpose in a civilian's hands other than mass murder.

Japan is the video game capital of the world. They have all the same shooter games the United States has. They have "God of War", "Resident Evil", "Mortal Kombat" and all the gruesome games that rely on extreme violence for popularity. Japan had 11 gun-related homicides in 2008 compared to the our country's 12,000+.

But Japan has serious gun control laws that make owning, let alone carrying them, illegal. Even the guns your allowed to own in Japan are very hard to get permits for.

So here is a culture with very violent video games and media, yet they have practically no gun related homicides. It is in direct contradiction with LaPierre's statements that more guns would make us safer and it's the violent media that makes people want to shoot others.

I also have read and heard several pro-gun individuals cite that the 1994 assault weapons ban didn't work. While it's true that the study concluded that it could not say that the ban resulted in viewer gun related incidents, there are specific parts of the study of the University of Pennsylvania study that they conveniently leave out.

What pro-gun advocates fail to mention is that the study says the ban was in place long enough to draw full conclusions. It also found that while the number of gun assaults were not drastically changed, the results of the gun assaults were. The study says in the conclusion section that attacks with assault weapons and high capacity magazines resulted in more shots fired, more injuries and greater severity of the injuries.

The major problems with the past assault rifles ban was that it had more than 600 exemptions, manufacturers could alter assault rifles to become legal while still incredibly deadly and it couldn't do anything about the millions of guns and high capacity magazines already on the streets of the US.

You can read the full study here:

It's time to get serious about making our country safer from guns. Australia got fed up with guns after a 1996 mass killing. As a result, the pro-George Bush prime minister of Australia, John Howard, banned assault weapons and shotguns, and created a buy back program to get previously purchased guns off the street. Accoroding to this study, gun homicides fell by 59 percent and gun suicides fell by 65 percent after the law was introduced. They still have violent video games and movies in Australia, so I'm pretty sure that's a poor argument.

I'm not saying we need to eliminate the Second Amendment. I respect hunters and that for some it is a way of life. There are very responsible gun owners out there who are not hurting society. But assault rifles don't serve a purpose when hunting.

The Second Amendment is outdated and vague. It was drafted before the 19th century, before our ancestors could fathom assault rifles. It was drafted before there were police departments, phones to call the police, the majority of the population was rural, there were no cars to get to a crime scene quickly, and there were serious threats of England waging war or Native Americans attacking.

Times have changed, and we need to realize that assault weapons should not be protected under the Second Amendment.

If President Obama and our lawmakers are serious about keeping this country safe from guns, they are going to have to man-up and take on the NRA. It won't be an easy battle. Many pro-gun people will be upset. But some battles are worth the fight, and this is one of them.

Friday, December 14, 2012

How does Petrino find work?

By Jeff

New Western Kentucky head coach Bobby Petrino "is slime".

There is no better or simple way to put it. The man makes promises and breaks them to players, athletic directors, his family and just about everyone else.

Yet he continues to be hired. And not just hired, he is making big bucks at Western Kentucky ($850,000/year). That's almost $1 million a year for a man who quit on a college football team; quit on a pro football and didn't even have the heart to speak to his players (left notes in their lockers like a middle school break-up); and most recently hired an unqualified woman for a position at Arkansas, had an affair with said woman, got into a motorcycle crash with said woman, and lied to the athletic director about said motorcycle crash.

The Western Kentucky press release brings up how great Petrino is at "developing student athletes. Yes, he has been a successful coach on the field. Off the field is another story. The Razorbacks were near the bottom of the SEC for graduation rates every season Petrino was there (55 percent, 53 percent, 52 percent, 52 percent). So maybe Western Kentucky should just say he is great at developing athletes, and would receive a failing grade for the student part.

This move just shows how college athletics have too much influence within universities. Imagine if a professor applied for a job at a college and the administration knew he had lied to his past employer, had an affair with a previous coworker, and quit in the middle of his obligation for two other previous jobs. Oh, and only a little over half of those taking his classes graduate. I've never hired a professor, but I imagine all those red flags would lead to a big rejection.

I guess that analogy is a little off because Western Kentucky saught Petrino out. That's right, they went out and said this is the guy we need for our school. This lying, quitting, cheating man is the one we want to be a mentor to our student athletes.

Of course, that statement isn't true. The school clearly did not care about their student athletes. They cared about the school's reputation and winning football games. Integrity and responsibility to graduating players be damned!

At least this move is pretty much guaranteed to bite Western Kentucky in the ass. If Petrino succeeds, there is no way he is still there in two years. A big-name school with little intregrity will come courting him with more money, which the sleazeball will take in a heartbeat. The other outcome is Petrino and Western Kentucky football will fail, and in that case, both the athletic department and Petrino will lose.

Alice Cooper - School's Out

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

'Hobbit' exceeds expectations

By Jeff

Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Jouney" is a fantastic movie.

Like any book made into a movie, die-hard J.R.R. Tolkien fans will point out every minor change Jackson and the writers made for the big screen version. But as a pretty big Tolkien nerd myself, I found the movie to live up to and beyond expectations.

Just to give you a little background into my Tolkien nerdiness, I have been a fan of the man's work since I was about 4. My first introduction to Middle Earth was through my dad, when he taped the Rankin/Boss produced TV movie version for my brother and I. From there, I saw the Rankin/Boss "Return of the King" movie, read "The Hobbit", "Lord of the Rings" and "Simarillion", and seen Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" films.

So I am going on over 20 years of fandom and feel I know the world of Middle Earth pretty well. But my knowledge is limited. I can't name the 13 dwarves of "The Hobbit" or the Valar by heart. I can't recite the house of Feanor without the help of a family tree. So I'm sure there are those fans out there who don't think I'm qualified to discuss Tolkien's works and adaptations. Fortunately, they don't read this blog and I don't care what they think or say!

For those who don't know "The Hobbit" is the story before the events that take place in "Lord of the Rings". It is where we are introduced to Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, Elrond, Saruman, Gollum and the Ring of Power. The book was originally released as a children's book, so it's content is much lighter than "Lord of the Rings".

OK, enough with the disclaimers and intro. Review time!

The story follows the hobbit (a peaceful, lazy little person with hairy feet), Bilbo Baggins, as he ventures with a band of 13 dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield, trying to regain their homeland from the dragon Smaug. Gandalf the wizard also helps with the journey. Thorin is the heir to the kingdom Smaug took for his personal lair.

Jackson does a great job of mixing story telling with action. It's not a dumb action/fantasy movie that leaves you wondering what the hell everything was all about. We get good exposition setting up the story and the action scenes are well spaced out so audiences will have trouble getting bored.   In the book, the first couple chapters are pretty tough to get through. Tolkien loved detail, so we spent a whole chapter learning which cakes which dwarves liked. It served nothing to further the story and Jackson was able to make this scene enjoyable.   We also get a few songs that reminded me of the old cartoon and that were missing in the LOTR trilogy. If you haven't seen the cartoon movie, you might think these are silly, but I loved it for nostalia.

Of the Tolkien works that Jackson has brought to life in film, it is with "The Hobbit" where he remains the most true to the book. Of course there are plenty of scenes that slightly or greatly differ from the book, but I found them to be refreshing and clever ways to incorporate other characters from Tolkien's mind.

The greatest example of this is the main antagonist of the movie, an albino orc named Azog. Azog never appeared in the novel, but was mentioned in the appendices found in "The Return of the King". He was an orc leader in Moria who killed Thorin's grandfather. The murder caused what was known as the War of the Dwarves and Orcs that lasted for years and ended when the dwarves killed Azog and forced the orcs to retreat into Moria.  

In the film, Azog is hunting down Thorin and his band because in Jackson's version, Thorin chopped off Azog's hand at the final battle of the Dwarf/Orc war and that crazy orc has held a grudge ever since.   I see reviews that don't like this "exaggerated blood fued", but I think it enhances the film. We get a cool battle scene between the dwarves and orcs, as well as giving a sense of urgency to the dwarves quest.  

Bilbo, played well by Martin Freeman, is almost an afterthought for quite some time. The dwarves, especially Thorin, dismiss his company and he doesn't do too much after joining the quest. He is more like comic relief than the focus of the story.  

That all changes when he meets Gollum in the goblin cave. Here we see the perfect combination of acting and technology come together. Andy Serkis again plays the computer generated Gollum. But with the updated motion capture technology, we see ever wrinkle Serkis', and therefore, Gollum's face makes. The whole scene is just incredible and intense, but sprinkled with humor. Freeman shows that he was the perfect choice for the role and the scene as a whole is the film's finest moment.  

And that is why I appreciate the work Jackson did so much. This moment is the moment that sets the LOTR trilogy in motion. Without it, there is no Fellowship of the Ring, there is no quest into Mordor and perhaps Sauron has more time to build up his armies, thinking the Ring is still lost. This had to be done right or else I think the movie would have been a disappointment. That's not to say the rest of the movie wasn't good, it just tells you the magnitude of this event is in the history of Middle Earth.  

While I was originally skeptical of Jackson making "The Hobbit" into three movies (originally it was just going to be two), the pacing of this first film was near perfect. It didn't feel rushed at any point and there were only a few scenes that felt a little drawn out.

 The drawbacks of the film starts with some of the characters, especially the majority of the dwarves. There are just too many. Viewers are not introduced to each one, just Dwalin, Balin, Fili, Kili and Thorin. Then you kind of have to guess who is who from the dialogue. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's not. Just having Gandalf recite their names will not help casual viewers. And with 13 dwarves, clearly you're not going to get much character development with all of them. Even Tolkien didn't give us too much about them.  

While the addition of Azog is effective, there is a scene involving rock giants that Jackson took liberties with that didn't serve much of a purpose. It just seemed like an excuse to either include them in the movie because he thought they'd look cool (they didn't) or he wanted another action sequence.  

There is also the rather slow start to the film. It is more for the fans of the first trilogy. We get to see Frodo and old Bilbo, with old Bilbo narrating the introduction. It would have been better to just start with a young Bilbo meeting Gandalf.  

A lot has been made about the 48 frames-per-second filming of "The Hobbit". I think it looked great and didn't take long to adjust to the crazy clear picture. I could see others not liking it, but to me it was just like seeing HD for the first time. It looked unnaturally clear at first, then it just became the norm.  

Go see "The Hobbit". It was awesome.  

Frodo of the Nine Fingers  

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Celebrating 4 years with Yigo

By Jeff

On this day 4 years ago, I brought home the dog that became the mascot of this blog.

That's right, Yigo and I have now been together for 4 years. Where the hell does the time go? It feels like just yesterday I was spending a Friday night pulling what felt like dozens of ticks off the coolest and most gentle dog I've ever met. Jeff and Yigo 24, ticks 0. Suck on that, Guamanian ticks.

Since that night, we've pretty much been inseparable. On Guam, he went on hikes, to the beach and even into work with me on some occasions.

There is not enough space here to tell all the fun stories he's given me in the 4 years. In those 4 years, Yigo has made quite impression on just about everyone he's met. From friends, family, groomers and strangers, everyone loves the little guy.

And what's not to love? He will cuddle with anyone after 5 minutes with them, he hardly barks and he has the definition of the sad puppy dog face. Seriously, could you say no to this face?

It will be hard to outdo the past 4 years, but now that Yigo has a crazy sister in Lucy (Seriously, she is crazy!), chances are good the next 4 years are going to be a blast. Or Lucy will eat me out of house and home and Yigo will be traumatized by having a 50-pound ball of furry energy trying to play with him 24/7. Either way, it's going to be fun!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Batch inspires us all

By Jeff

Here is a great read from Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Dejan Kovacevic regarding Charlie Batch.

As football fans, we tend to exaggerate the importance of football. We talk about the toughnes of players who fight through injuries. We treat them as heroes when they win games they are expected to lose. Just look at my recent post showering Batch with praise for his ability to overcome a bad outing and national criticism for his recent play.

The truth is, win or lose Sunday, Batch would would be holding his head high and should. He has overcome so much and helped and helped so many throughout his life. The success of his charitable works has been assisted by his success as a professional athlete, but I bet he still would have made his community better even without his football career. That's just the type of person he is.

Monday, December 3, 2012

NBA owes Spurs $250,000

By Jeff

It's very rare that I care about anything happening in the NBA, but David Stern fining the San Antonio Spurs because they benched their star players before a game against the Miami Heat is a joke.

A very expensive joke. The fine was $250,000.

Just to put that in perspective, Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rando threw a punch and tackled Brooklyn Nets Kris Humphries into the stands and only received a two-game suspension. The suspension without pay is the equivalent of a $243,000 fine.

So while one player embarrassed the league and endangered some of its fans, he wasn't monetarily punished as harshly as a team trying to keep their team healthy. A team that was playing it's fourth road game in a five-day span, claiming the Spurs were acting "contrary to the best interests of the NBA."

But what about the best interests of the Spurs?

Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker are all 30 or older. I don't know why Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sent Gerald Green home, but I don't care either. A coach does what he thinks is in the best interest of his team. If that is benching his players to give them some rest early in the season, that is his decision. He wanted his stars fresh for an upcoming game against first-place Memphis Grizzlies.

They sacrificed a practically meaningless Eastern Conference game to be better prepared for an important division game. It makes sense to me.

One of the first things Stern said to justify the fine was this was the Spurs only trip to Miami and they didn't give enough notice to the Heat. Give me a break. The Heat have LeBron James. They don't need help selling tickets. There will be plenty of great basketball for Heat fans to attend. I don't feel bad for anyone going to that game and being disappointed that they didn't see Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Green.

There is also the fact that the Spurs almost won the game! The Heat needed a last-minute 3-pointer to seal the game. Fans got their money's worth.

Let's also not forget that just last season the NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said it was OK that the Spurs were resting players.

This is a story of David Stern flexing his muscle. He doesn't really care about the fans, but he wants them to think he does. He is showing the Spurs and the rest of the league that he can pretty much do whatever he pleases at the moment.

Van Halen - 1984

Batch silences critics

By Jeff

There is no denying that Charlie Batch had a bad Week 12. Three interceptions (at least one was not his fault) and a loss to a bad Cleveland Browns team reminded me of the 2002 game where the Steelers gave up 70 total yards, yet lost 24-6 because of three turnovers returned for touchdowns.

The saddest part was it looked as if it could have been Batch's last start, maybe even playing time in the NFL.

Fortunately, Batch found redemption this Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. He outplayed self-proclaimed "elite" quarterback Joe Flacco and led the Steelers to a very important win. If or when the Steelers make the postseason, people will look back and say this is the game that made it possible. A loss yesterday, and the Steelers would have had a tough road to the playoffs.

What made yesterday's victory even better for Steelers fans was how emotional Batch was after the game. He was locked in a massive embrace with Ben Roethlisberger and crying onto Big Ben's shoulder/chest.

Moments like that are why we love sports. With Roethlisberger likely to return next week, Batch thought this was his last game. He went out with his career's best win. I'd cry too!

Batch has always been a good teammate. When the team was grooming Byron Leftwich to start in place of a suspended Ben and Dennis Dixon to back up Leftwich, it was assumed Batch was to be released. Batch never cried to the media or sulked. He went about his business and made sure he was ready.

Well, Leftwich got hurt in the preseason, which he has done in two of the past three postseasons. Then Dixon got hurt and Batch was the only one left. He helped the team win two of three games when the team was supposed to start 1-3.

Batch has been great for the Pittsburgh community and will always be beloved in Pittsburgh. It was great to see him have that moment in the sun. Not many athletes, in Pittsburgh or elsewhere, deserved it more.

Saves the Day - Jukebox Breakdown