Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Weekday Sports!

"The motherfuckers don't even work! That's why they're out at the fuckin' game! They ought to get a fuckin' job and find out what it's like to go out and earn a fuckin' living. Eighty-five percent of the fuckin' world is working. The other fifteen come out here."
Cubs Manager Lee Elia

Who doesn't love some weekday sports? A big weekday sporting event is a great excuse for the 85% of us who normally don't make it to Wrigley every day to take some time off of work and duck out to a local bar or at least gather around a TV or computer. Today was about as wild of a sports weekday as I've ever seen. Obviously most of it revolves around the United States salvaging their World Cup hopes with a 91st minute goal. However, there was also a big hockey trade, rumors of an even bigger basketball trade, and the Brian Bannister and the freaking Royals handed pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg his first loss ever, 1-0. Oh yeah, and throughout ALL of that was a freaking ten hour tennis match at Wimbledon! A match so ludicrous that it's 5th set alone (which still isn't even finished) would have crushed the previous record for longest professional match. Fantastic stuff.

First, we gotta talk some US soccer. The Cardiac Kids do it again. I watched the Slovenia match by myself in my buddy's Omaha, Nebraska apartment. That fact did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm as I did enough cursing and celebrating for an entire roomful of people. Their propensity to give up early goals bit them again. Onyewu may be built like a mountain but he moved like one in this match as he apparently has no concept of not allowing his man acres of space to set up a shot or find a teammate. Anyway, a great second half led to a result and set up a situation where all they needed was win and they were in (although it should be noted that they were robbed of the winning goal by a completely mysterious and nonsensical call of some sort by the referee who looked about as lost and confused as I would have if they called me down from the stands).

So, today the US managed to not give up an early goal but there were still some nerve-wracking moments as Algeria did manage to hit the bar early on. Onyewu was replaced by fan whipping boy Jonathan Bornstein which made me nervous but the back four managed to hold the line today. The finishing of goal chances was as atrocious as it usually seems to be for the US but that's always great for ratcheting up the tension.

That tension in matches like this is one of the absolute best parts of soccer. It starts to build slowly then grows as one (or both) teams start to throw everything they have at the goal. For the team holding a lead every bounce of the ball is a tiny moment of fear and every shot is pure terror. For the team trying to score it's a feeling of being trapped in a box waiting to explode while ruing every missed chance and cursing every mishit ball. There are no timeouts to break up any of this and the clock is always ticking. Then to make things even more intense they're going to add a certain amount of time to the game and you have no idea if that will be enough or too much or when the final three whistle blasts will arrive.

I was still somewhat confident up until the 80th minute because the US was just getting so many chances that I really felt like they were going to get one eventually. Algeria either couldn't get the ball to the box or made the bizarre decision that they were going to play for 0-0 or hope for a lucky counterattack but they didn't really threaten the goal nearly as much. From 80-85 I was getting nervous but still thought the goal was coming. Around 85 I'm really intense and starting to curse, which, in our lab, is barely even noticed, and I'm thinking we might be screwed. I remember looking at the clock at 88 and realizing that we were really in deep shit. 89-90 and I'm already thinking about how brutal it is to bomb out of the Cup like this. 91 I'm freaking out that Algeria almost scored when I see Howard launch the ball like he's Peyton Manning and suddenly Donovan is streaking down the field. Passes it ahead, they try to the cross and I lose the ball for a moment so it looks like Dempsey kicked it right into the goalie who is covering it up. Suddenly the ball is out and I see it moments before Donovan flies in a buries it in the back. Relief, release, screaming, high fives, holy shit, they're through.

It was just such an amazing, emotional moment. All of that tension has been building and building and you know you're a minute or two away from huge disappointment. Suddenly a glimmer of hope, another soul crushing moment when the ball bounces out, then pure, unadulterated joy. And hey, thanks to the wonders of digital video we can relive it all over the country. Las Vegas. San Diego. Seattle (maybe the best because the camera was still so you can see the expressions on the faces). Washington D.C. Portland. Lincoln, Nebraska (another great one and the best at showing the tension and anticipation building.) Hey, how about from inside the stadium? Love it.

You've got to love this team. I think American soccer players are typically tougher than players from other countries because they had to grow up with people questioning them on the sport and the diving. It seems they are often personified by bloody moments like McBride in the Italy game in '06 or Dempsey in this game. They're definitely personified by guys like Donovan who has to be one of the best-conditioned athletes in the world. As maddening as their early miscues are they always seem to find a way to claw their way back into it, a virtue that has led to two of the more entertaining games in at least this World Cup, if not any of them.

So, they end up as winners of their group. In fact, I read in Grant Wahl's piece that they set the World Cup record for fewest total minutes with a lead for a group winner: 2. 2 minutes in 3 games! The previous record was Netherlands in '94 which had a total of 21 minutes. Crushed it! The benefit of the win is a date with Ghana on Saturday (ABC lucks out again and should draw massive ratings) and a potential quarterfinal pairing with the winner of Uruguay-South Korea. There are definitely no easy games at this stage of the tournament but would you rather be playing Germany then the winner of Argentina-Mexico? Yeah. It's going to be tough but I think they have a decent shot to reach the semis. It will be fun to see what they can do.

Other thoughts:
I think Bob Bradley's been making the right calls. In qualifying the US seemed so conservative all the time so it's nice to see them come out of their shell a bit (even if it's mostly been forced by circumstances). Also, his son is playing fantastic. He's earning himself a fat paycheck from somebody after the tournament is over.

The US was screwed again today on the disallowed Dempsey goal. Loved the shot of a pissed-off Bill Clinton sitting there while Sepp Blatter blathered in his ear about something. Bill should talk him into some better officiating. I'm sure he did some lobbying for a US World Cup in 2022.

I'm totally digging the British announcers. Maybe it's the "Keep Calm and Carry On" influence but they even manage to relax me over the din of vuvuzelas and are opinionated but not obnoxious about it. They have been willing to hammer the refs while still managing to reel in John Harkes who has also been doing a great job but can go overboard for the US at times.

Speaking of vuvuzelas, I can't help but crack up at the Deadspin videos showing them ruining great moments in history. I have no idea why it's so funny to me.

Well, what do you think? Anybody hopping aboard the US soccer bandwagon?

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Big....Something

There's been no shortage of speculation about how the college sports landscape will look in a few years and and as an avid college sports fan I've read too much of it. So much that I've experienced the gamut of emotions including fear, anger, and eventually somewhat of a zen-like acceptance. I suppose up until this point I held out hope that the Big 12 would find a way to remain viable even if they were to lose 1 or 2 teams to the Big 10+1 but the news that the Pac 10 was set to offer a spot to 6 teams pretty much shocked me into the reality that I had always suspected but hoped was untrue. The Big 12 is proper fucked.

In my mind the undoing was a conference leadership that has consistently bowed to the interests of the moneyed few at the expense of the rest of the conference. It's a leadership group that has lacked anything even remotely resembling a vision for the conference beyond mediocre TV deals that maintain the status quo. It's why other leagues are making waves and raiding this league while our commissioner is reduced to saying he's "comfortable" the league will still be together in a few years. Uhh, you're the only one, buddy. Every move Beebe has made has been laughably transparent and toothless. Granted the Big 12 faces some demographic, geographic, and historical issues that others don't have to deal with but keeping things "comfortable" seems like the primary goal of the last several years.

While a conference with better leadership and parties that are equally invested in the success of the league may have been able to adapt and survive a large part of me questions whether it's even worth it. It's not like it's any big secret that there are lots of lots of hands dipping into a very large pool of money surrounding the NCAA and pointing out the hypocrisy of this same group of people waxing poetic about the mythical "student-athlete" has been done to death. However the greedy bastards have become so brazen in recent years as to even make me turn my head in disgust. These assholes have their pockets stuffed with cash already and are clawing for even more but to what end? I'm fully convinced that college athletics is in an arms race that is suicidal or perhaps homicidal by the richest of the rich. Will it finally be enough when we have four 16-team super conferences? Across the country legislatures are cutting the budgets of state universities putting more and more of the burden on students but we're still focused on squeezing every last penny for fucking sports. Ugh.

I kind of assumed that when the cards were down Iowa State would be the ones at the table that didn't have a hand to play and everyone knew it. I mean, when your team is consistently treated as second class in your own tiny state the rest of the country isn't exactly going to be clamoring to bring you aboard. When the ACC was raiding the Big East a few years ago the University of Virginia threw Virginia Tech a lifeline and said no expansion without them but there's no way in hell the University of Iowa would do anything like that. "Uh, good luck with the whole no-conference thing Iowa State, it's just that we really could use a few million more dollars. I'm sure you understand." It's absolute insanity and so completely unnecessary. Doesn't a lot of it seem wrapped up in pride and ego and proving once and for all who the top dogs are?

The prospect of Iowa State, KU and K-State ending up homeless in all of this makes me want to puke and has me questioning why I even want to keep following this charade and pumping money into the system.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Unleashing some outrage

I'm outraged, dammit! Let me tell you about it.

First, there's this oil well thing. It's hard to find anybody that comes out looking even remotely decent in this thing. The BP execs are typical scum of the Earth who should immediately be fired and when the golden parachute inevitably opens and they are rehired by some other oil company we should garnish their wages for eternity. "I want my life back." Yeah, well, we want the "very big ocean" back.

Palin decided that she was going to blame the environmentalists for this one. According to her twisted logic the people that don't want any more drilling made other people drill in the ocean by blocking drilling in the arctic...or something. I shouldn't have even mentioned her moronic ass.

NPR had a story with a bunch of people in the Gulf who have been hit hard economically by the spill but the twist was they wanted to drill more oil. Why is it that actually taking some drastic steps to reduce our oil consumption seems to be the only things not on the table?

Obama. I'll preface this by saying that I'm more than a little skeptical of the GOP's sudden interest in federal intervention in disaster areas and in protecting the environment but could Obama's team have their head up their ass any more on this? There's a couple of things I think could be happening. One is they really don't want to step in too much because they can see the writing on the wall that this thing isn't stopping anytime soon and want to avoid the majority of the blame. Makes sense but it's all going to blow back on them anyway so they may as well own it now and try to get something done. If they actually believed what BP was telling you then they're fucking stupid. These people have nothing but their own self-interest at heart. The people in this administration should be smarter than that. Or maybe they fell for the "Beyond Petroleum" BS these people have been spinning for a while.

It pissed me off to no end that all of this drilling could occur without any sort of plan to fix a problem like this. I had a bunch of other "outrage" to add to this post but after seeing the pictures of the oil-covered birds and barrels upon barrels of oil washing onshore it all seems pretty meaningless now.