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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Monday, January 30, 2006

"I can't believe what a bunch of nerds we are. We're looking up 'money laundering' in the dictionary."

So I was doing my laundry last night, and as I went to put my clothes in the dryer, I noticed a dollar bill laying in the machine.

"Sweet," I thought. "Who would have missed that sitting there?"

Forty-five minutes later, I returned to get my clothes out of the dryer. In there with all of my dry clothes were two dollar bills. So either I made the same mistake someone else did and left money in my pants pocket, or I've stumbled across the best dryer in the world.

It's probably the former, but just in case it's not, I'm going to use that dryer the next time I do my laundry. Hopefully it'll start spitting out twenties.

***

As part of my progression into the iPod-listening, white headphone-wearing "in" crowd, I've been going through a bunch of my old mixes, copying down the playlists, and saving them on my iPod. It's been interesting to see what the soundtrack to my life has been over the past few years. One one mix, I have three songs from the Madden 2005 soundtrack. On another, there's Toby Keith's "How Do You Like Me Now," Eamon's "F*** It (I Don't Want You Back)," "Time To Say Goodbye," performed by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman, Danger Mouse's version of "99 Problems," and "Here Without You," by 3 Doors Down.

Then there's the mix that ranges from Nas (Made You Look) to Midnight Oil (Beds Are Burning) to R. Kelly (Ignition (Remix)) to Sean Paul (Get Busy) to The All-American Rejects (Swing, Swing) to Clay Aiken (Solitaire). Believe me, the other stuff on that CD only makes it seem even more random. And these are just CDs from the last three years. They go back another three before that. When I get to sophomore year of college, then I'll see some really interesting stuff.

***

For your entertainment: Alex Ovechkin's highlight reel. What blows my mind is that this guy just turned 20. Everything you see on this video came from the first half of his first season in the NHL. I can't even begin to imagine the moves that could end up on his personal highlight reel once his career is over. All I know is that I wish I were able to pull off the stuff that would end up on the cutting room floor. (Thanks to Off Wing Opinion for the video.)

One other video worth checking out - if you're a fan of the classic "Peanut Butter Jelly Time" (and really, who isn't?), then it's time you checked out everyone's favorite white trash husband, Kevin Federline, rocking out to the grooves. (Thanks to The 700 Level and Boing Boing, who dubbed the remix "Peanut Butter Federline.")

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Ever Seen A Zebra Yak?

Every so often you go to a sporting event and see something you've never seen before. It happened last March, when I saw a player hit a grand slam and then get called out for passing a runner on the basepaths. And it happened last night in our hockey game against Washington.

We were up about 4-1 with about seven minutes left in the game, when Jake Gunn, our second-leading goal scorer, knocked down a waist-high clearing attempt in the attack zone with his stick and then beat the goalie to the top left corner, popping up the water bottle. It was a sweet goal, the kind that would earn a spot on SportsCenter's Top 10 if, you know, Pac-8 hockey had a national audience. And although the goal was nice, what followed was extremely unusual.

The two teams were lined up at center ice for the faceoff, but the linesman wasn't there to drop the puck. Where was he? Over by the penalty box, helping the ref - who was doubled over and vomiting his brains out. On the ice. In mid-game.

Now, I've seen players throw up during a game. I myself have been guilty of heaving in more than a few practices this season (although there are extenuating circumstances there). But I have never, ever seen a ref hurl during a game. And I don't think any of my teammates or coaches have, either, at least until last night.

I also hope I never see it happen again. We had to delay the game while our trainer and a rink employee scraped the ref's dinner off the ice with a shovel. Jake was out there helping them at first, until we yelled at him that it wasn't his job, especially since he'd just scored a damn fine goal.

Even after the puddle of puke was gone, the stench around the area was still pretty potent. The left winger on my line even tried to switch to right wing for the rest of the game, but the right winger would have none of that. And I offered a couple of our defensemen $10 if they could knock a Husky player to the ice where the ref had barfed (maybe with more time left in the game, they might have).

To the ref's credit, he booted and rallied, finishing the game without further incident. It must have been kind of embarrassing for the guy, but at least there weren't many fans on hand, thanks to a 10:15 p.m. start. After most games, I shake the ref's hand following the team handshakes, but this time I passed on that one.

Anyway, that unusual event aside, we went on to win the game 6-2. Coupled with our 8-1 win the night before, we've clinched a playoff spot and knocked Washington out of contention. It's a nice measure of revenge after Washington upset us in the first round of the playoffs last season. We wrap up conference play next weekend with a pair of home games against Stanford, whom we beat 8-0 and 10-2 earlier this season.

(And if you're counting, that's nine different synonyms used to describe spewing. Make that ten.)

(Yes, I'm a second-grader at heart.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Livin' The Dream

Back in my undergrad days, when I was an Assistant Sports Editor at The Cornell Daily Sun, I would periodically (get it? periodically?) try to convince Mike Schafer, the men's hockey coach, to let me skate in a practice with the team. I never asked him directly, though. Instead, I tried to persuade him by dropping messages in my biweekly column every so often.
When I was a freshman and my parents brought me to Cornell, my dad ran into men's hockey head coach Mike Schafer '86 on the first day I was here. My dad told Schafer that I was a hockey player and came away from the conversation suggesting that I try out for the team. Now, I can skate forwards and backwards and stop and all, but I'm a crappy hockey player. I play in a men's league downtown. I can't hang with the club team, let alone the varsity. But I love the sport.

So I think if I could get on the ice with the men's hockey team, that would be one of the coolest things to happen to me in my four years here. Just 15 minutes of a practice, that's all I ask. Coach Schafer, can you make this happen? (From Oct. 4, 2002.)
Oh, by the way, I think I can hang with the club team now. Anyway, a couple months later, I still hadn't been on the ice with the team, so I tried again.
"You're Derek Zoolander! Yeah, you're Derek Zoolander. You know what it's like to be another model and be in Derek Zoolander's shadow? You wanna hear something crazy? Your work in the winter '95 International Male catalog made me want to be a model. I freakin' worship you, man!"

This quote is dedicated to the men's hockey team and my request to join the team on the ice for just 15 minutes of a practice this year. I'm not talking about the "Skate with the Red" thing that's happening next week. I'm talking about a practice, full pads and all. Hell, I'll even put on the goalie pads if the team needs someone to replace David LeNeveu in net during practice (as long as Doug Murray tones down the slap shot). Just 15 minutes, that's all I ask. I promise I'll try not to make myself look like too big a fool. I freakin' worship you! (From Dec. 6, 2002.)
After those pleas didn't work, I tried something new - running a promo for The Sun with a not-so-subliminal message in it. On January 28, 2003, a new ad debuted with a picture of me on the ice in full equipment, holding up the Campus Hockey Tournament cup, accompanied by the text: "Let This Guy Skate! The only thing better than skating with the men's hockey team is a subscription to the Cornell Daily Sun. Call (607) 273-3606." Still, no luck, even though my fellow editors and I ran the promo several times. So I tried another plea in my column a month later.
I'm running out of space to jabber on about the team, but I will mention this before I go. Although temporary treatments for Big Red hockey fever are available, there is one possible cure, which hasn't been released to the public and may never be. I still cling to the hope that I might experience it though, for it is the chance to skate with the team at a practice. (From Feb. 14, 2003.)
Still, no luck, even though the "Let This Guy Skate!" promo continued to run. In the end, I never actually got to step on the ice with the Red, although celebrating the 2003 ECAC championship in Albany with them was pretty cool.

Why am I bringing all this up three years later, you might be asking? Well, it turns out that some guy in Montreal figured out a way to skate with his favorite team - one that I didn't even consider. While the Canadiens were practicing on Monday, this random dude, who only is identified as "Raphael," was standing by in full hockey equipment. Eventually, he just jumped on the ice, at which point he skated in on former Hart Trophy winner Jose Theodore and took a couple of shots on the goalie, which, not surprisingly, Theodore saved. Finally a coach and an arena worker got Raphael off the ice. He wasn't arrested, and apart from 15 minutes of fame, he won't face any consequences at all, it appears.

The Canadiens were even good sports about the incident. Theodore said, "I thought about going out of the net and not playing into his game, but then I thought he had the (courage) to go on the ice, so I let him have a free shot at me." (I'm guessing the edited word here was "balls.") And winger Alexei Kovalev added, "Maybe he was wondering if we need a right-handed shot and tried to prove he can play on our team. You need one of those things to give us a laugh."

Dammit, I so should have just jumped out there with the Cornell team and just taken a few shots on David LeNeveu.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Fighting The Hypo

I know casebook hypotheticals are often ridiculous, but when they stray into completely unrealistic sports scenarios, I have to draw the line. From my tax book:
On September 14, 2006, Ken Griffey, Jr. hits his 756th career home run, making him baseball's all-time career home run leader. Adam, a twelve-year old boy, catches the ball in the stands, making it legally his property. The ball is worth at least $1 million, since this is the amount that a wealthy collector has publicly offered to pay for it. William A. Klein et al., Federal Income Taxation 61 (13th ed. 2003).
Now, Griffey is entering the 2006 season with 536 career home runs, which would mean he'd have to hit 220 homers by September 14 to reach that mark, or slightly better than a 1.5 HR/game pace.

In all fairness to the authors, the casebook was published in 2003, so maybe they thought he would reach 756 homers by then. Even so, entering the 2003 season, Griffey had 468 home runs, which would mean he'd have to average 72 home runs a year to make the hypothetical possible. (Actually, he'd have to average a little more than that in order to reach his 756th home run by September 14, 2006.) Only once has any player ever hit that many in a season - Barry Bonds - and he might have had a little help from his friends at BALCO. So this hypothetical is still absolutely nuts. Why didn't they just pick Bonds for the hypo? Bonds already had 613 homers heading into 2003; he only needed to average about 36 homers a year to pass Aaron in 2006. My guess is that the casebook authors, like a lot of people, don't like Bonds.

Even still, I'm going to get tickets to the September 14 Reds game against the Padres. I wouldn't want to miss Griffey's 220th dinger of the season, when he breaks Aaron's record.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Trouble, Indeed

In retrospect, the best part of the Trouble in the Bubble was talking smack leading up to the big event. I knew going into it that winning would be tough; since I usually win only one out of every three or four games I play against Ben, I would need to channel Herb Brooks to pull out a best-of-seven series win.

We weighed in and got ready for the event around 2:30 on Saturday. The tale of the tape had me at 5-10, 160 pounds, and my brother checked in at 5-’8”, 162. Of course, this has no bearing whatsoever on the games. Using no good analysis, we also decided that I was probably a 5-1 underdog.

Here's how the games unfolded:

Game 1 - Ben 4, Alex 3 (Shots: Ben 6, Alex 6)
I scored off the opening draw and went up 3-0 midway through the 2nd, but then Ben'’s left wing scored three to get him back in it. The game went to overtime tied 3-3, where, as I was overcompensating toward the left wing's shot with my right defenseman, he one-timed it to the center to win. I had been riding high up 3-0 halfway into the game, and perhaps if I could have held on to that lead and taken Game 1, the series might have developed much differently. But that wasn't to be.

Game 2 - Ben 4, Alex 1 (Shots: Ben 6, Alex 5)
I let in an own goal in the 1st, but I tied it up at 1 with a shot from the right defenseman. Ben'’s left wing scored again to put him up 2-1, and then he scored with the center. About two-thirds of the way through the third, Ben'’s left defenseman came loose (as it sometimes does), and I lost valuable time for a comeback as we put the d-man back. Ben scored an OT goal to make the final score 4-1. I probably wouldn't have won even without the delay for fixing the defenseman, since I would have needed two goals to win even if I could have scored one to get back into the game.

Game 3 - Ben 2, Alex 0 (Shots: Ben 5, Alex 0)
This one was just about a must-win for me, since I was pretty sure winning four in a row against Ben wasn't going to happen. I was able to hold him to only one goal, from his defenseman, throughout the game, but I couldn'’t seem get any offense going at all. Ben's center sealed it with an OT goal, and I was now just trying to avoid a sweep.

Game 4 - Alex 4, Ben 3 (Shots: Alex 15, Ben 6)
Ben took an early lead and, frustrated, I had a feeling the wheels would come off altogether and I'd get blown out in this game. However, I was able to get a goal, and then, despite another third period mishap with a player coming loose, I scored a buzzer-beater to stay alive and enter the overtime down 3-2. I tied it with a shot from the left wing, and then I had a potential game-winning shot go in and out of the net. This was followed by a shot from Ben that also hit the back of the net and came out. Despite the lopsided shot count, Ben controlled the play for most of the OT. Finally, I scored the winning goal when Ben took a shot from the left wing that I saved. The puck ricocheted off my goalie and into the net at the other end of the ice, and I staved off elimination for at least one more game.

Game 5 - Ben 4, Alex 1 (Shots: Ben 8, Alex 3)
I scored early in the first to take a 1-0 lead, but Ben reeled off three straight goals to put the game out of reach entering the overtime period. Fittingly, one of my shots bounced out of the net, and Ben scored thereafter to make the final margin of victory 4-1 -– the same as the score of the series.

The series pretty much went how I might have expected it to: close games, and mostly wins for Ben. If I could have held on to the leads I had in games 1 and 5, I would have led 3-2 heading for Game 6. But Ben did a lot of damage with his left wing and center, as he always does, and I hurt myself with a couple of own goals during the series. Anyway, there you have it: I lost, and here are the results.

The Passion Of Erica Lucero

All season long, Erica Lucero's columns on ESPN.com's Page 2 have bugged me. Maybe not to the point that I would have written this article, lovingly titled "Erica Lucero: Satan's Minion," but they've bugged me.

Until now, I just wrote it off to the fact that I go to UCLA, and so I'm disinclined to like anything associated with USC athletics. When I got to UCLA Law, I was wondering if I could get into the rivalry between the two schools as a grad student, but after joining the hockey team and playing USC, I have no problem with it. Their fans make it easy by throwing trash at our players and on the ice, and chanting things like "Reg-gie Bush!" when they're down by four goals late in the third period. And that doesn't even take into account their hockey team itself.

But I digress a little. Back to the point: Erica Lucero. One thing that bothered me all year long was her never-ending praise of the USC fans. I may have attended a Division I-AA school for undergrad, but I know enough about college sports to know that USC's fans are not that great, and I'm not just talking about hockey here. It's easy to get behind a team that loses once every other year. But USC, great football tradition that it has, is not known for its fans. It's known for its tailbacks and cheerleaders.

To prove it, let me introduce exhibit A: SI on Campus's ranking, from last fall, of the best college football weekends. Six categories were taken into consideration in developing the rankings. Twenty-five schools are listed; USC is not one of them. Even Montana made the list, which is topped by Tennessee, LSU, and Texas A&M - all places where football is an experience, not just a bragging point.

USC is representative of Angelenos in general when it comes to fandom - it's a casual thing. How else can you explain not one, but two NFL teams leaving the second-largest city in the country? By the way, both of those teams played their home games in a stadium on USC's campus - yet they didn't generate enough interest to keep them there.

Then there's the early-season declaration that "we expect nothing less than perfection from our two-time defending NCAA champion football team," which she wrote about USC fans on September 1. Four-plus months later, after the Trojans have been unseated as the best team in the nation, those USC fans aren't picking up the pieces of their shattered expectations, according to Erica Lucero. Rather, "[t]here are no broken-hearted Trojans."

Erica Lucero also made the claim, in her Rose Bowl preview column, that Texas hadn't played a schedule with the tough opponents that USC had, naming Notre Dame and Fresno State. Come on - Fresno State lost to Nevada, and Texas beat Ohio State, who went to a BCS bowl and also beat Notre Dame earlier in the year. This website rates Texas's strength of schedule 15th in the nation; USC's checks in lower, at 27th.

And oh, the irony in her writing: "USC fans are hard core. By some teams' standards, you're a faithful fan if you attend a few games a year. That just doesn't cut it here in South Central. We love our football, and missing a game is sacrilegious."

Where, you may ask, did Erica Lucero watch the national championship game? Did she watch it in person at the Rose Bowl, 15 miles from USC's campus, where she could have landed a student ticket or maybe even a media pass?

No, she watched it at home, "armed with tortilla chips and my TiVo."

Sacrilege!

Bill Simmons's Red Sox/Patriots lovefest similarly irritates me, largely because as a Philly sports fan, I had no sympathy for long-suffering Red Sox fans and I also hated seeing the Patriots win three Super Bowls while the Eagles lost three NFC Championships and a Super Bowl in the same four-year span. But I respect Simmons and tolerate his undying love of all things Boston because I relate to him as a fan; when Aaron Boone hit his home run to cut out Sox fans' hearts in '03, he began his article the next day with, "Twenty minutes after the Yankees eliminated the Sox, I called my father to make sure he was still alive." (There's probably a better quote with which to make my point, but I don't have an ESPN Insider account, so that's all I can see.)

I know the feeling; I was in the stands at the 1980 Rink at Lake Placid to see archrival Harvard score in the second overtime to deny Cornell an ECAC championship in '02, and I was watching on TV in seventh grade when Joe Carter hit one of the most famous home runs in World Series history. And when the Eagles lost last year's Super Bowl, I couldn't console myself by telling myself that they finally made it past the NFC Championship game.
[T]he goal of any team, I've said before, is to improve on the previous season. The Eagles finally did that this year, reaching the Super Bowl. So why do I feel like the Eagles fell short?

After the Eagles won the NFC championship a couple weeks ago, I put a background on my computer of Donovan hoisting the NFC championship trophy while Brian Dawkins, T.O., Andy Reid, and a longshoreman-looking Terry Bradshaw stood by. I really wanted to replace that background with one of the Lombardi Trophy. I'm not sure what I'll do with that background now - an NFC championship is nice, but that and $5.75 will get you a provolone wit raw at Geno's.
Erica Lucero might have a lot of things going for her - she likes sports and doesn't think a quarterback is a refund, and she can write relatively well (I know this might sound stupid, but really, I value that kind of thing in today's vacuous world). But her fandom is typical of what I'd expect at USC and in Los Angeles (and really, UCLA by extension - I'll admit that UCLA's fans aren't special either). She'll smile and move on the next day from a huge loss like that. That's one thing I miss about the East Coast - the passion of sports fans, be they Philly, Boston, or even New York fans.

(And shame on Erica's mom, too - I'll forgive a Bruin for rooting for USC against Texas, especially if her daughter goes to USC - but how could she wear a "Fight On!" t-shirt?)

Friday, January 06, 2006

Updating Our Top Stories

Apparently I may be closer to fulfilling my dream of rapping Big 'Twan's verse from "Shoop" than I initially realized. I've been informed that every twentysomething woman knows the lyrics, which means that now I just need to find someone who actually wants to do this.

Also, the Dan Band, which you know as the band singing an R-rated version of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" in Old School, has "Shoop" in its repertoire of covers of chick songs (but not an R-rated version). Ironically, they don't do Big 'Twan's part, though. Regardless, I still am against singing any part of "Shoop" in public that is not Big 'Twan's.

***

I know I didn't mention hockey fights in my last post about the brawl in the UMES-NC A&T game last night, and for very good reason: most hockey fights are more intense than the majority of fights in other sports, so you kind of have to consider the hockey fights in the context of the sport. There are plenty of hockey fights where the loser (or even the winner) of the fight comes away bloodier than Paul Wilson did when Kyle Farnsworth pounded him. Even still, I've seen very few, if any, hockey fights (in person) that paralleled the one on the court on Wednesday, where nearly everyone on the floor seemed to be tangling with someone else. In the NHL these days, you rarely see anything where everyone is brawling, since the so-called unwritten rules more or less dictate that enforcers handle the fighting, and the written rules provide for a game DQ for a third man in.

In college, where a fight is penalized with a game DQ, which also carries a minimum of a game suspension, fights only happen rarely. When they do, the players really go at it, because they're going to make the penalties worth it, and they're not going to fight and take the suspension unless they are really angry. A few fights from my four years at Cornell stick in my mind. There was a big brawl in the final minute against Colgate my freshman year; according to the box score, 10 players combined for 110 penalty minutes in that brawl (including Colgate's goalie, Shep Harder, for whom the Lynah Faithful chanted, "Deeper, faster, Harder, Harder!"). You can see video of that brawl here. (Note: The "Who's your daddy?" chant you hear in the video came long before Yankees fans tragically adopted it.) Earlier in that season, in an exhibition game against Western Ontario, a Western Ontario player speared one of the Cornell players and got a major plus a game DQ. Fourteen seconds later, another Western Ontario player put a dirty knee-on-knee hit on a Cornellian, and David Francis hopped over the boards and beat the crap out of the cheap-shot artist. Francis got five and game for leaving the bench, but so did the other guy, for kneeing.

However, the fight I remember best from Cornell was in my senior year, when Greg Hornby got sick and tired of a Vermont freshman named Jaime Sifers, who was taking cheap shots at the Red's big guns. When Sifers got into it with Hornby, Hornby beat Sifers so hard he's probably still feeling it three years later as a senior. Hornby got a game disqualification and a major; Sifers only got a roughing penalty along with both a 10-minute misconduct and a game misconduct (which doesn't carry an automatic suspension). The next week, I mentioned the fight in my column in The Sun:
Speaking of Hornby, his fight against Jaime Sifers of Vermont was ridiculous. The kid probably would have received a game DQ also, if Hornby had even given him a chance to throw a punch. I mean, Hornby hit the guy so hard his mouthpiece slid the length of the neutral zone! I wonder what NHL commish Gary Bettman '74, in attendance at the game, thought of that one.
Hornby is currently leading the ECHL's Idaho Steelheads in penalty minutes with 129.

***

Finally, tomorrow is the big battle in the basement: the best-of-seven bubble hockey series between my brother and me. I've been getting ready, working my dad over like a speed bag lately in our practice sessions. I haven't lost to him since New Year's Eve, and since then I've put up a few shutouts in the games against him. I'm feeling good - I even scored a couple goals with my center using my left hand against Dad, and the centerman's usually controlled by the right. So hopefully, my chemo treatment today will go smoothly, I'll recover quickly, and I'll be ready to upset my brother, who, despite my training, still has to be considered the favorite.I'm trying to talk my dad into working my corner during the series - giving me a spit bucket, rubbing my shoulders, etc., but I don't think I can get him to be partial. Whatever, I'll do it my damn self. It's on.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

MEAC Basketball - It's Artestic!

Last night, I was sitting courtside at the Maryland-Eastern Shore -North Carolina A&T basketball game (don't worry, I caught the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl, which was all you really needed to see). The basketball game was surprisingly exciting, with UMES coming back from a seven-point deficit with about three minutes left to force overtime, and then coming back from four points down in OT to win.

The highlight - or lowlight, I suppose - was a furious brawl that erupted as the players were shaking hands after the game. I've never seen anything like it in person at a sporting event; the only thing I could think to compare it to was the fight between the Pacers and Pistons last season. Because it happened so quickly, and because I can't find any written account of the fight anywhere, it's hard for me to describe it all. So many players paired off and split into individual fights during the melee that I can't remember any particular one. I was sitting next to my friend Josh Maurer, who calls the games for the UMES Hawks, and he was trying to call out as many of the names of the combatants as he could. Both of us were worried that the fight was going to spill over the table in front of us, as players threw punches wildly.

His call of the game is archived here, and the final play of the game - a missed three, followed by a blocked putback that would have tied the game at the buzzer - begins at the 2:21:24 mark. It's followed almost immediately by the fight, which, according to the call, initially involved the Hawks' Art Valentine. His teammate, Brandon Moore, was punched by the Aggies' Jason Wills, who had played a terrific game before fouling out late in regulation. The Hawks' Terrell Harris also took a swing at the Aggies' Michael Hayes. Then, suddenly, as quickly as the fight began, it ended as a few state police officers stepped in. The officers were holding up pepper spray, threatening to use them, and since they were no more than five yards away, I was worried they would.

After the fight, I heard various versions of what happened (obviously none of which could be confirmed). The story went something like this: In the handshake line, A&T's Walter Booth, who had a career game (20 points; he had scored 25 all season entering the game) came up to Hawks forward Antonio McMillion and threw an uppercut at him, setting off the fray. McMillion was the player who blocked the putback attempt at the buzzer in OT, ensuring the UMES win in thrilling fashion. Another version had Booth taking a shot at Troy Jackson, who had been matched up with Booth for some of the game and also scored a career high (18 points off the bench).

As soon as the fight began, I thought first of getting my camera out of my pocket and taking pictures. However, the players were getting closer to the announcers' table as they were swinging at each other, and so I next thought about maybe protecting myself in case anyone came over the table (hey, I saw what happened at the Palace last year). By then, the police were already intervening, and in the half minute that the fight took, I didn't end up taking a picture. I sort of regret not having done so, but it's probably for the better, since I was a guest of the team's announcer. As far as I know, there were no pictures taken of the brawl by anyone.

I don't think there will be any consequences, either. Although the police got involved, no arrests were made, and because the refs had already left the court by the time the fight started, there probably won't be any suspensions handed down by the MEAC or NCAA. I doubt the coaches will do anything, either; in the postgame show, UMES head coach Larry Lessett painted the scrap as a good thing, revealing his team's intensity, while NC A&T only had 10 players dressing after a few players became ineligible, so I doubt they will scratch anyone else from their lineup.

Before this, the most intense fight I ever saw in person at a sporting event was in 2003, when the Cubs' Kyle Farnsworth charged the plate and beat the crap out of the Reds' Paul Wilson, as you can see in these pictures. Farnsworth pummeled Wilson silly that day, spattering blood all over his jersey. However, that fight wasn't an all-out brawl; it was more a one-on-one battle. While nobody got their ass handed to them the way Paul Wilson did in last night's fight, it was definitely more intense - the players, for a moment, were wild-eyed, trying to land serious punches and do some damage. Josh, who was calling the game, pulled out the Joe Buck routine and said, "That was one of the ugliest displays of end-of-game sportsmanship I've ever seen in my life, and I'm sorry I had to sit there and watch that."

That's pretty much right - and last night's sorry episode was the kind for which that kind of indignation should be reserved.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Phony Rappers (And Why I Might Be One)

One of the things that emerged from the buzz surrounding SNL's recent "Lazy Sunday" video was that people took notice that what Chris Parnell and Andy Samberg were doing was not simply being a couple of white guys trying to emulate successful black rappers. One Village Voice blogger hit the nail on the head with his analysis:

The video doesn't ape rap-clip cliches, either. It's more student-film: logos coming up anytime they mention a brand, jerky stop-motion between verses, Parnell and Samberg wearing scrubby parkas instead of the Puffy-in-97 shiny suits that white people still wear when they're making fun of rap. I wouldn't be sad if more videos looked like this; it's a whole hell of a lot more appealing than the Nine Inch Nails bleached-out yellow tint that rock-video directors have run into the ground again and again.

And the comedy doesn't depend on making fun of rap for being dumb or the goofy white rappers for being goofy-white. It's the punchlines: "I love those cupcakes like McAdams loves Gosling," "You can call us Aaron Burr from the way we're dropping Hamiltons," "We're about to get taken to a dreamworld of magic." More than that it's likeable, something that Parnell and Samberg might've thought out while bored one day and run out the next day to film. (My girlfriend Bridget: "It's really cute! I want cupcakes!") What's most disarming is the specificity: here's what we're doing today, let's make a song about it. After a particularly weak year for indie-rap, it's something that white rapping herbs across America could learn from: sledding and 7-11 runs and Animal Planet are more interesting [than] another f----Bush song, and you don't have to act like a buffoon to make them funny. Why isn't everything this easy? Tom Breihan, SNL Narnia-Rap Skit: Better Than Actual Rap?, Status Ain't Hood, Dec. 20, 2005.

Get the point here? It's not Parnell and Samberg dropping lines like "I'm so gangsta, let's pop a cap and smoke a blunt, word." They're rapping about something genuine, they do it well, and that's what resonates with their audience.

Now, to give you an idea of the kind of rap that is not going to catch on, let me introduce you to Camden public defender Ruth Ann Mandell, a 47-year-old white woman who has taken to rapping. She raps about things like antismoking messages.

For starters, her rapping alter ego is named "Ruthy the Rapper." I can't imagine anyone who takes rapping seriously naming themselves that. Variations on given names are common in rap (Nelly was born Cornell Haynes Jr., Eminem is a phonetic spelling of his given initials). So if she just went as "Ruthy," I'd have no problem - but adding on the alliterative expletive "the Rapper" is just corny, not to mention redundant. She's on stage rapping; clearly she is a rapper.

Among those who sing her praises are "'educational poet' and rapper friend Shak ir Fidhdh, 54," who calls her "the feminine to the masculine Eminem." Mandell's chiropractor, another 54-year-old named Simon Aslanian, adds, "I think her talents, though obscure, compare to Eminem's. I think she's got that thing."

Have these people ever actually heard Eminem rap? (I'd say the 54-year-old chiropractor has probably heard "The Real Slim Shady" on the radio once.) His lyrics range from criticizing President Bush to being a protective father to killing his ex-wife to shoving a gerbil up his ass. And yet, with all that range, I could never, never, never picture Eminem rapping a public-service announcement telling college kids to quit smoking.

Furthermore, Eminem didn't become the success he is because he was "the white Biggie Smalls" or "the white [insert any other famous rapper here]." He's a rap legend already because his style is unique and he flows almost effortlessly most of the time. Biting off other people's rapping isn't going to make you legitimate - the best rappers all were emergent in their own right.

Even the reporter who wrote the article on Mandell had a hard time finding college kids in the audience who were willing to give her resounding praise.
"She's got a good message," Will Baumgardner, 24, said after her show. "I just think her performance needs work."

After thinking it over, Rickie Sylvestie, 22, gave Mandell a tentative thumbs-up. "She was good," he said.

Katy Trunkwalter, 21, was the most enthusiastic as she danced and spun in time with Mandell. "She got people excited, and for a good cause," the Rowan senior said.
The first two reviews sound like they came from kids who wanted to be nice. And as for the third, well, Mandell uses beats from popular rap songs, so that might explain the dancing and excitement.

The bottom line is that Mandell might be well-intentioned, but it sure seems to me like she's simply trying to embrace a popular medium in order to reach kids with her message. It doesn't work unless she fully understands the medium itself, and I don't think she does, nor does she understand her audience. It's kind of like the musical equivalent of showing those old-geezer Colonial Penn life insurance commercials on Adult Swim. Not only is the message not going to be quickly dismissed by the audience, it won't even make sense. At the risk of sounding like Holden Caulfield...she's just a phony.

(Thanks to Philadelphia Will Do for pointing out this goofy-ass PD.)

***

However, while we're on the subject of dumb rap, I have a confession to make. Back in my adolescent years, the two songs that defined rap to me were Warren G.'s "Regulate" and Salt-N-Pepa's "Shoop." My best friend and I used to trade the lyrics to "Regulate" back and forth like Warren and Nate Dogg. Then, Salt-N-Pepa's version performed at Woodstock '94 (to me, the musical event of the decade). Their rendition of "Shoop" appeared on the 2-CD Woodstock '94 album, and we began rapping along to that as well.

I remember one summer evening, we were driving back to Philly from the Jersey Shore, and a mix one of us had made was playing in the tape deck. "Shoop" came on. Immediately, my best friend, riding shotgun, and I began rapping along. I saw another of our friends, sitting in the back seat, looking stunned, mouth agape at two 16-year-old boys singing the lyrics to a chick song. Hey, what can I say, that song is catchy.

Anyway, about 10 years later, I still know all the lyrics, and so what I really want to do is rock it at karaoke sometime. However, I can't maintain my dignity and sing "Shoop" now that I'm in my mid-twenties, so what I really need to do is find two girls who also know the lyrics, have them take most of the song, and then - this is where it gets awesome - I want to strut on stage and rap Big 'Twan's part (specifically, in the exact way he did it at Woodstock '94, because it's cooler that way). If you remember the song (again, specifically, the Woodstock '94 version), then I hope you'd realize how sweet this would be.

Of course, the problem here is that I first have to find two girls who (a) know the lyrics to "Shoop," (b) are willing to do something this goofy/awesome, and (c) know me. And I have a feeling that group C doesn't intersect with groups A and B.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Images Of The First Eagles Game Of 2006 And A Look Ahead

2005 is done, and now, fortunately, so is the 2005 Eagles' season. I went to the season finale, which reminded me a lot of summer camp athletics back in middle school - they tried really hard, but the bottom line is that the Eagles sucked and made so many mistakes that no amount of valiant effort would overcome their lack of talent. Six turnovers? Yeesh.

Anyway, you can get a recap of the game from any number of places, but you wouldn't get the real Eagles experience from my point of view. Luckily for you, I brought my camera to the game.

The temperature at game time was about 40 degrees, which, while nice (for Philly on New Year's Day), was still about half of what it was in Arizona last week when I went to the game with my mom. (I know that technically, the temperature was not half, so don't correct me on that, please.) To compare, here's pictures of me last week and this week at the game with my dad.

We weren't even in the gate yet when I found an Eagles fan who is so full of spite that he would rather customize a jersey to rip on a former player than buy a jersey of someone who is actually on the team.That's not taped-on lettering. He had that professionally done. And I'm not sure if those are his kids with him, but if they are, their first words may well have been "Dallas sucks."

Here, the Eagles lone Pro Bowler, Jeremiah Trotter, comes onto the field in pregame introductions. I was kind of hoping to see a Trotter Redskins jersey, but I didn't come across any. As I suspected, there were even more Redskins fans at the game than usual, since a lot of Eagles fans probably sold their tickets after the Birds were eliminated, and the 'Skins were going for a playoff spot. The Redskins fans were very glad to let us know they were there. I was sitting in the lower deck, and as one Eagles fan reminded this guy in our section, he was lucky he wasn't sitting in the upper deck. This guy, sitting a few rows ahead of us, was so damn irritating that I was rooting for the Eagles to score solely to shut him up.You can't tell from the picture, but he spent the majority of the game facing away from the field, smirking at the crowd and sarcastically clapping on the few occasions the Eagles did something right. He stood up for most of the game until an usher told him to sit down, which drew one of the biggest cheers of the day from our section. After that, he only stood up when he wanted attention, which was still the majority of the time - especially when the Redskins would score. That bastard has probably waited for six years to come up to Philly and taunt Eagles fans.

Another Redskins fan sitting one section over brought a sign that said "5 in a row or we don't go," which had been the team's mantra down the home stretch of the season. He held it up after every damn play throughout the first half - until in the second half, the guy sitting behind him got sick of it and took it right out of his hands, then threw it into the crowd behind him. The crowd cheered wildly and quickly turned the sign into confetti.

Eagles head coach Andy Reid isn't actually that fuzzy in real life, although his playcalling this season was. (Give me a break, my camera doesn't zoom that far.) He's looking at his BigColorChartO'Plays and thinking to himself, "Juqua Thomas? Who the hell is that? What happened to Hollis and Tra?" To his left is Dhani Jones, who is contemplating which movie he should review next for ESPN.com's Page 2.

Speaking of Jones, it was Fan Appreciation Day at the Linc, and the video screens promised over a thousand prizes to be given away (most of the thousand prizes were taken care of by giving an entire section coupons for ice cream). Several of the players - Ryan Moats, Jon Runyan, and Jones, along with a few cheerleaders - would read off the prizes and then point to their left, where the winning seat location was listed on the screen. Jones insisted on referring to himself as "Dhani Jones - you know, the man with the bowtie?" I think a linebacker with a career low in tackles, no sacks, and no fumbles forced this season might want to dial the ego back a notch...but that's just me. I'm a hater.

Anyway, there were a handful of decent prizes, like signed jerseys and the airline tickets that one guy won. There was also the $150 Forman Mills gift certificate that a guy won for making a great diving catch off his back shoulder after the first quarter, but that doesn't really count, because they have that contest every week. It was the best catch of the game, though. (You hear that, Billy "Hands" McMullen?) However, most of the prizes were of the sort that don't really set the Eagles back much. A visit to Merrill Reese in the booth? Well, cool, I guess...if you want to get a quick hello during a commercial break and then get shooed out of there. Then there was this prize:Uh, a Swoop Gram? I'm guessing this is where Swoop, the Eagles' mascot, delivers a message to someone for you. Now, this is probably the kind of thing that crazy fans would pay $250 for, but to the Eagles, how much value can it have? And really, if you're the average Eagles fan, what are you going to do with a free Swoop Gram? It's not like you can get him to make an appearance at a function - all you get is him to deliver a message. Basically, I see this as having some serious prank value, and that's about it. For example, you could have Swoop serve Jason Michaels with his next arrest warrant.

Anyway, the Swoop Gram wasn't the funniest prize to me, though. There's an old joke that begins, "Do you know what a Jewish dilemma is?" Incredibly, the Eagles gave out the punchline to the joke:Oh, man...

Anyway, the game itself was more or less exactly what I've come to expect from the Eagles this season, and considering the 6-1 turnover difference, it's surprising the score wasn't more lopsided. At least the crowd got to sing "Fly, Eagles, Fly" a couple of times today.
However, I think the Eagles may have missed the off-ramp to that road this year...

And so the sun sets on another season of Eagles football. As the Onion put it in one of their famous headlines, "Eagles Fans Long For Days When Inevitable Playoff Elimination Happened During Playoffs."

In all honesty, though, I'm very confident that the Eagles will be back strong next season. I'm not all that impressed with the NFC this year. The Seahawks? Bears? They don't strike fear in my heart, not if I can put a healthy Eagles team on the field against them. I have a lot of faith in Reid and Joe Banner that they'll find the right pieces to put us right back with the conference's best teams, which really aren't head and shoulders above the rest of the league (the 42-0 embarrassment on Monday Night Football notwithstanding). Ultimately, what did the Eagles in this season was a whole lot of bad luck. They had nine returning Pro Bowlers from last year; only four finished the season on the active roster. To give you an idea of how much scrambling the Eagles' front office had to do this season, consider the team picture that the Eagles handed out to fans leaving the Linc tonight. There are 68 players in the picture. 27 of them were not active for the season finale. That's 40 percent of the team from preseason that didn't finish the year on the field!

Those 27 players, if you're wondering: Correll Buckhalter (injured reserve), Sean Considine (injured reserve), Hank Fraley (injured reserve), Todd France (released), Paul Grasmanis (injured reserve), Todd Herremans (injured reserve), Alonzo Jackson (signed by Giants from practice squad), Justin Jenkins (injured reserve), Dirk Johnson (injured reserve), Jevon Kearse (inactive), Mike Labinjo (released), Reno Mahe (inactive), Jerome McDougle (physically unable to perform), Donovan McNabb (injured reserve), Terrell Owens (suspended), Todd Pinkston (injured reserve), Robert Redd (released), J.R. Reed (physically unable to perform), Greg Richmond (physically unable to perform), Lito Sheppard (injured reserve), Jason Short (injured reserve), Thomas Tapeh (physically unable to perform), Tra Thomas (injured reserve), Andy Thorn (practice squad), Jeremy Thornburg (released), Brian Westbrook (injured reserve), Scott Young (inactive).

Only four of the 27 were released, which tells me that the Eagles were forced to send guys out onto the field with whom they had no intention of making a playoff push. At the start of the season, the Eagles were not thinking McMahon to McMullen with a dash of Moats on offense, and Juqua Thomas and Trent Cole anchoring the d-line. (Although I must say, Cole has been impressive as a rookie. Hugh Douglas can keep his role as badassador.)

So fear not, Eagles Nation. The team will be healthy and ready to go next season. Remember, it's the NFL. Teams routinely have big turnarounds from season to season. In fact, the last time the Eagles had a losing record, in 1999, they began a string of five straight seasons with at least 11 wins the next season. And in the offseason, while the Eagles brass tinkers with the personnel and the players heal up, the Flyers are playing kick-ass, exciting hockey lately. Fly, Flyers, Fly!