2009 Super Bowl Edge Goes To…

Taliesin West, 1937

The Steelers.  They have the best defense.  Or maybe the Cardinals who have the better offense.  I don’t know.  So, I thought I would put the teams to a mostly non-football comparison.  I’ll look at politics, mascots, wine, film and other categories to help me determine which team has the edge.

POLITICS:  Arlen Specter vs. John McCain.  Both Republican Senators.  I used to like Arlen Specter until he went on a crusade to bring down Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots during the infamous Spygate investigation.  Hey Arlen, Eagles fans and players out there still sore over losing to the Pats in Super Bowl 39;  get over it!

Surprisingly, or maybe not so, according to Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, as posted by John Christopher of the Political Machine,  John McCain ditched Barack Obama’s Super Bowl party declining a White House invitation, but I’ll cut him some slack, because, unlike Specter, he’s not a sore loser.  I didn’t vote for McCain, but I like him – he’s a class act.  By the way, Specter will be at the party even though he’s not a Steelers fan.  Check out the guest list.  Edge – Cardinals

CITY:  Pittsburgh is, Arizona isn’t.  In fact, no team named after a state has ever won a Super Bowl with the exception of New York, which in my view is a dual reference to the city and state, and Washington, which of course is a reference to DC and not the state.  Minnesota, Tennessee and Carolina have all been on the losing end.   Edge – Steelers

MASCOT:  Unless a flock of Cardinals were to rain down on a group of Steelers as in Hitchcock’s classic, The Birds, I’d have to say a Steeler is a bit more imposing.  Edge – Steelers

WINE:   Pennsylvania has over 100 wineries and 14,000 acres of grapes to Arizona’s 35 Wineries and 500 acres of wine grape production.  To be fair, a good chunk of Pennsylvania acreage is devoted to the production of grape juice, not wine.  I can’t attest to the quality of wines produced in these states,  but I would guess (and I’m sure I’ll get some flack for saying this) that wines from Arizona are of superior quality given 1) the proximity to California and 2) that Gary Vaynerchuck featured 4 wines from the state on episode #536 of his Internet wine tasting show.  Edge – Cardinals

FILM:  There have been some great films either set or shot in Pittsburgh including The Deer Hunter and Ground Hog Day.  And the same is true of Arizona with Little Miss Sunshine and Psycho.  If I were to compare these films, I don’t think I could determine a winner.  They are all brilliant.  After the two Arizona based films, there’s not much going on in the state by way of film tradition, ok – Raising Arizona and Bad Santa, if you must.  Whereas, in addition to the two films mentioned, there is a long list of Pittsburgh based films including, Lorenzo’s Oil, All The Right Moves and the Wonderboys.  Edge – Steelers

ARCHITECT:  Frank Lloyd Wright.  America’s greatest architect.  Born in Wisconsin, Wright lived in Arizona for the last 20 years of his life.  Two of his most notable designs are situated in Arizona and Pennsylvania respectively: Taliesin West, pictured at the top of this post, which became his winter home, and Fallingwater, Fallingwater, 1935a stunning house of incomparable beauty.  One of my favorites is the Gammage Auditorium Gammage Auditorium, 1964on the campus of Arizona State University. Edge – Arizona

MUSICIANS:  On the AZ side, Charles Mingus, Linda Ronstadt and 2007 American Idol winner Jordin Sparks.  On the PA side, Marian Anderson, Perry Como, Hall and Oates, The Dorsey brothers, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Stan Getz and Keith Jarrett.  Edge – Pittsburgh

QUARTERBACKS:  Both Roethlisberger and Warner have won a Super Bowl: Warner with the St. Louis Rams in 2000 and Roethlisberger with the Steelers in 2006.  Warner also guided the Rams to a loss in the 2003 Super Bowl against the New England Patriots.  Warner has the luxury of throwing to the best receiver in the game in Larry Fitzgerald, who, incidentally, attended college at Pitt.  Roethlisberger is tough and unflappable, and has some decent receivers, but can’t be expected to bring the team back from a early deficit.  Pittsburgh is 20th in the league in scoring; Arizona, 3rd best. True, Pittsburgh has the best defense in the league, but can they contain Fitzgerald? If they can’t – Edge:  Cardinals

Arizona CardinalsPittsburg Steelers

KEYS TO THE GAME:  If the Steeler defense can rough up the Cardinal receivers a la the New England Patriots strategy in their 2003 Super Bowl win over the Warner led Rams, they could win the game in a low scoring defensive battle.  Arizona needs to get out to a big lead early and try to hang on, keeping relentless pressure on Roethlisberger.

SUMMARY/PREDICTION:  While Arizona has a political, architectural, winemaking and offensive advantage, Pittsburgh is the favorite based on film production, musicality, mascot, city comparison and defense.  Super Bowl 44 won’t be the most exciting game ever played, but should be a good game.  I predict a low scoring affair in which the Steeler defense dominates.  Pittsburgh wins 17-10.

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Franken Waits To Be Seated As Coleman Lawsuit Begins

norm-colemanal-franken

Will Minnesota have representation in the U.S. Senate in  2009?  Not if candidate Norm Coleman has his way.  A required recount of votes confirmed Al Franken won the November 4 Senate election by 225 votes.  Refusing to accept defeat, Republican incumbent Coleman challenged the recount results claiming that thousands of rejected ballets should be reexamined.  A three judge panel appointed Justice Pageby Alan Page, State Supreme Court Justice and Minnesota Viking Hall of Famer, disagreed, but will allow a lawsuit Coleman filed arguing the recount process was flawed, rejecting Franken’s bid to block it.

recount1When will it end? It should have already, but with this latest lawsuit set to begin on Monday, it may be months until the business is settled.  When asked how long the battle will continue, Coleman is reported to have said “we’ll see how it plays out” suggesting that if it does not play out in his favor, he’ll fight on.  In fact, the loser can appeal the panel’s ruling, and likely will.  Meanwhile, Minnesota will continue to be underrepresented in the U.S. Senate during this critical time of economic and foreign policy challenges.   Whatever happened to that Republican slogan, Country First?  I guess Norm thought the chant was Coleman First.

Thoughts on the Inaugural Address

oiaPresident Obama’s inaugural address was not one for all time, but one for our times. While critics have said it wasn’t his best, comparing it to his speeches on the campaign trail, or to the inaugural addresses of former Presidents serves no purpose. His global address was not intended to inspire – he’s already accomplished that mission. Nor was the speech designed to spread goodwill. I believe he saw the need to capitalize on the feeling of hope, inspiration, energy, and the spirit of goodwill that has been in such abundant display here and abroad since the election. Rather than inspire with another lofty public address, Obama’s goal was to lay out his assessment of the challenges ahead and to provide a set of instructions, a prescription for all to follow. It is no accident that he used the word we 46 times. We the people. Shared responsibility.

Despite the “gathering clouds and raging storms” around us, we know what to do – “We the People” have been there before and we must and can carry on.

Interestingly, he and his speech writer decided against a frontal attack on enemies, never naming them – no direct reference to rogue leaders, or unfriendly nations. No Axis of Evil. No specific mention of any terrorist group. However, a new reference surfaced to replace the War on Terrorism – now we are at war with the Network of Violence and Hatred“. I like this euphemistic phrasing better because it suggests a clear alternative – peace and love.

Nor did he choose to assign specific blame for other ills that plague our nation. No mention of Wall Street, corporate greed and corruption, deregulation, dependence on foreign oil and other policies that favor the business class, over the middle class. He carefully described our crisis using passive verb constructions – “our economy is badly weakened….homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered”, saying only that our problems are the result of “greed and irresponsibility on the part of some” and “our collective failure to make hard choices”. On this point, though, I disagree. I don’t think that most of you reading this feel responsible for the recession or feel like if only you had not been so greedy and had made a hard choice your retirement plan might not have lost half its value.

But I do agree that collectively we can meet the challenges ahead – to restore our image and credibility abroad so that we can be an agent of peace, not war; “to restore science to its rightful place”; “to harness the sun and the winds”; to bring relief to people of impoverished nations “to make farms flourish and “clean waters flow… to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds”. Perhaps this means a renewed financial commitment to the Peace Corps to embrace and expand the “spirit of service”?

And to those “nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders.” And here, I am in complete agreement. Down with the fences. Let’s create a humane immigration policy to allow our brothers and sisters “in search of a new life” the right to safely cross our southern border to live, work and prosper in this great nation of ours; this nation of immigrants. “For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness”.

There are many challenges ahead which require thoughtful debate, shared responsibility and decisive action. Together we can, we must and we will. That is what he said. That is what President Barack Obama said.

Transcript

Today Show Runs Jif Ad After PB Warning

Around 8:30 a.m, The Today Show on NBC warned the American public to avoid peanut butter in response to a nationwide outbreak of salmonella traced to a peanut factory in Georgia.  Immediately after the warning, the show went to a commercial break.  First commercial up:  Jif Peanut butter.  Immediately following the commercial break, pb weekend co-host Jenna Wolfe brought on Dr. Steven Lamm, an internist and member of the NYU Medical Center.  He warned of the dangers of eating any peanut butter and mentioned that there were little tubs of creamy peanut butter in the green room.  As he held up a single serve tub for viewers to see, an alarmed Wolfe shouted a warning to a  co-worker not to spread it on toast.

Later, in an interview with Gary Walters, former White House Chief Usher,  weekend co-host Lester Holt remarked that if the President wanted a jelly sandwich in the middle of the night, he could probably have one made.  It was almost as if Holt were going to say PB and J, but made a split second decision to leave out the PB.   Do people actually eat jelly sandwiches?  I’ve never heard of this, but maybe they do.

WBW #53 – Breakfast Wine

2003_Alvear CrianzaBreakfast wine?  Great challenge up at El Bloggo Torcido for Wine Blogging Wednesday #53 from the folks over at Twisted Oak Winery, especially for me since I typically do not eat what one would consider a real breakfast – just a cup a joe with a banana on the go for my morning commute into the heart of Boston.   What’s more, I’m not much of a cook, short order or otherwise.  I have a tendency to burn food – eggs, steak, burgs, roast, toast.  However, there are a few dishes I do well,  and one happens to be a breakfast food – grits.   For this challenge, I’ll be serving up a mess of southern style cheese grits with garlic, hickory smoked bacon and biscuits with white gravy, lightly peppered.

But wine and cheese grits?  My first inclination was to go with a Pinot Noir just because I’d be frying up some bacon, but this just didn’t seem adventurous enough and avoided the question – what to pair with grits? Plus I have had my fill so to speak of Pinot Noir during the Holidays.  I was also thinking a crisp white, maybe an unoaked Chardonnay to cut through all the heavy dairy I churn into the grits – cheddar cheese, sour cream, butter and milk.   I decided to hold off until I got to my local wine shop.  After a few recommendations and samplings courtesy of the nice folks at the Wine Gallery, I narrowed my choices down to two –  a Chardonnay and a Spanish Tempranillo. Ultimately, I went with the red because of the name of the estate – Palacio Quemado – Burned Palace.  Sounds like my kitchen when I’m in it.  The wine is a 2003 Crianza produced by Alvear made from 100% Tempraillo grapes grown in the Ribera del Guadiana, a wine producing area which is part of the Extremadura region of Western Spain.  At $11.39, I was tempted to buy a case, but I had to stay on task and the question remained, will it go with baked cheese grits laced with garlic?

I unscrewed the cork but in doing so, destroyed it – I can never get a good center action going and stripped the thing right down the side.  I manged to extract it, but the cork practically crumbled in my hand.  Off to another great start!  You’ll have to read my WBW #52 entry to understand the reference.

Spice and earth on the nose…and a little cork too – my bad.   Medium-bodied – more weight than I expected from a Tempranillo.  A palate pleasing clean cherry tart with a dash of pepper on the finish.

From the winemaker:

Dark cherry colour, clean and brilliant, it’s aroma is intense, with hints of ripe fruit and mineral backbone.  Good varietal expression, where the wood is present, yet well integrated.  Tasty and yummy in the mouth, with fine notes of toast and liquorice.  Well structured and balanced, with a good finish and great ageing potential.

I did not find the nose intense, nor did brilliant come to mind to describe any aspect of the wine, but I’ll not quibble with the meat of the winemaker’s notes.  Balance, structure, clean, fresh fruit, spice from the oak, longish finish – it’s all there.

Now for the real test:  breakfast.   Fortunately, the wine’s acidity helped cut through the creaminess of the grits and combined beautifully with the cheddar to reveal freshly picked cherries.  The smokiness of the bacon brought out the earthy quality I sensed on the nose.   This red is indeed nicely balanced.  However, the peppered white gravy and biscuits buried the wine like an avalanche.   If you must have biscuits and white gravy for breakfast, better stick with OJ or try a Chardonnay!

With garlic infused southern style baked cheddar cheese grits, this 2003 Palacio Quemado red is definitely a hit!

Greatest American Football Names of All Time

I’ve assembled a team of the greatest football player names of all time.  The criteria for making the team is to have a name that fits the actual position played.  In a few rare exceptions the name simply suggests a toughness (Conrad Dobler) or flare (Elvis Peacock) fitting of a professional football player.  Like my baseball player name selections in a previous post, my methodology was simply to scour the names of football players on pro-football-reference.com for the best candidates and jot down statistical highlights.  This useful website has a list of all players by position so it made it easier for me to assemble a team.

THE TEAM

Quarterback:  Johnny Unitas. The quality of a great quarterback is leadership and the ability to unite the team.  I could think of no better candidate than Johnny U, the NFL MVP in 1967 who threw for 290 touchdowns and over 40,000 yards in a productive career with the Baltimore Colts.

QB Reserves:  Bart Starr, Sid Luckman

Running Backs.  Larry Csonka.  The ultimate punishing runner who csonked would be tacklers.  The Hall of Famer was the 1973 Super Bowl MVP.  In his career as a Miami Dolphin, Csonka scored 68 touchdowns and rushed for over 8,000 yards.  The halfback position was a tough one – there are some great ones I put on reserve, but I went with Frank Gore because I like the idea of a runner with a name that inspires toughness – a runner who might gore a disrespecting linebacker.  Frank Gore, while not the highest profile runner, has been one of the more productive backs in the last few years.  He was a 2006 Pro Bowler and has an impressive 4.7 yard average per rush as a member of the San Francisco 49ers.

RB Reserves:  Sneeze Achiu, Bronco Nagurski, Ronnie Bull, Billy Cannon, Sam Gash, Joey Goodspeed, Harry Hopp, Jim Kiick, Bam Morris, Mercury Morris, Mack Strong and Elvis Peacock

Center: Napolean Barrel.  Just a great name.  In 1923, playing for the Oorang Indians, Barrel created holes for the Hall of Famer Jim Thorpe.

Guards.  Speaking of holes, Ernie Hole is one of my Guard selections.  Hole played for the Muncie Flyers in the early 20’s.  The other Guard, none other than the feared Conrad Dobler who cleared holes for St. Louis runners in the 70’s.  Dobler was a Pro Bowler in 75, 76 and 77.

TacklesBruce Armstrong.  A six time Pro Bowler for the Patriots, Armstrong started in every game he played and he played in quite a few – 212 to be exact.  Another imposing name who played Center and Right Tackle is the inimitable Jug Earp.  Any relation to Wyatt I wonder?  Jug was a durable blocker during a 11 year career for the Green Bay Packers in the 20’s and 30’s.

Tight End:  Alge Crumpler.  Small DBs watch out.  Crumpler was a Pro Bowler from 2003-2006 and has scored 36 TDs in his career with both Atlanta and Tennessee.

TE Reserves:  Jeremy Shockey and Ken Barefoot

Wideouts:  Lance Alworth.  Certainly worth all the money San Diego invested in this former Arkansas Razorback standout.  The Hall of Famer caught 87 TD passes, made the Pro Bowl team from 1963-1969 and averaged 18 yards per catch.  Johnny U will have another great receiver to throw to in fellow Hall of Famer Lynn Swann. Swann, a Superbowl MVP for the Pittsburg Steelers, made some of the greatest and most graceful catches I’ve ever seen – almost as if he could fly.

WR Reserves:  Golden Richards, Hank Baskett and Flipper Anderson.

Kicker:  Ryan Longwell.  For Green Bay and Minnesota, Longwell has converted 20 field goals of 50+ yards.

Punter:  Ray Guy.  Because when I  think of a punter, I think Ray Guy.  Kind of like calling a tissue Kleenex or a photocopy a Xerox.   Selected for the Pro Bowl 7 times.

On the defensive side I assembled the following squad, one that I would field against any modern offense.

Defensive Line:  Tackles:  Mean Joe Greene and Tank Johnson.  Two formidable names and players. Greene, another Hall of Famer on the squad was the defensive player of the year in 72 and 74.   Tank Johnson, while not as well-known as the anchor of the Steel Curtain, the 300 pound Tank has had some good years with the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys.  To date, he has 5 sacks and a safety to his credit. Ends: Jumpy Geathers.  Jumpy jumped quarterbacks 62 times in his career with New Orleans, always getting a good jump off the line.  Marcus Spears another current 300 pound Cowboy lineman has 5.5 sacks in his young career.  Nose Tackle:  the nod goes to Bucko Kilroy, a Pro Bowler for the Philadelphia Eagles in the early 50’s.

DL Reserves:  Jabar Threats, Jerry Rush, Henry Slay, Charlie Toogood and Tom Wham

Linebackers:  Takeo Spikes.  Pro Bowler in 2002-03 seasons.  He’s run back 3 interceptions for TDs and one fumble recovery for a TD.  Drafted by Cincinnati, Spikes currently plays for San Francisco.  Couldn’t have  Kilroy without a Slaughter.  TJ Slaughter.  Drafted by Jacksonville, Slaughter had 174 tackles in a 6 year career with various teams.

LB Reserves:  Paul Butcher

Defensive Backs:  Melvin Bullitt.  For Indianapolis, Bullitt had 5 interceptions and 53 tackles in the 2008 regular season.  Reggie Corner. 17 tackles and 1 fumble recovery in his rookie season with the Bills. Richard “Night Trane” Lane.  Hall of Famer who played for Detroit and other teams.  68 career interceptions.  And Carl “Spider” Lockhart.  Spider, a teammate of Mean Joe Greene’s at North Texas State, had 41 career interceptions for the New York Giants.

DB Reserves:  Earthwind Moreland, Chris Gamble and Quentin Jammer

Top 10 Baseball Names

One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2009 will be to blog more often and not let ideas mildew in the draft bin.  This idea of compiling top 10 lists of sports names is one I’ve been tossing around for years and I’ve finally resolved to pen or I should say to blog the first of several.  As a kid, I spent a lot of time collecting sports cards and was always fascinated by nicknames like Carl “Spider” Lockhart and “Mean” Joe Green, both of whom spider-lockhart1went to North Texas State University, a school known more for its music department than its football program.  I also appreciate unique names like Urban Shocker who played for the Yankees in the 20’s, and Boog Powell and picturesque names like Wade Boggs – I can imagine a hunter wading in a bog on a frigid winter morning with a duck call and a shotgun.

For this post, my focus will be on great baseball names; names that connect to the players’ on-the-field accomplishments.  For the record, I have not consulted any other list;  if these names have appeared on any list, or have been written about by sports journalists before, it is purely coincidental or perhaps a sign that my ideas are not so fresh and original.  My methodology was simply to scan the complete list of baseball player names on Baseball-Reference.com and jot down the appealing ones along with supporting statistics.  And so without further delay, here’s my list of the top 10 baseball names of all time.

 

10.  GENE FREESE.  Interesting name.  I once knew someone by the name of Gene Pool, whose name I think is pretty cool.  Gene Freese played for the Chicago White Sox and had the dubious distinction of being among the league leaders in the caught stealing bases category in the 1960 season.  Like a deer in the headlights I guess.

9.  PETE FOX.  By contrast, Pete Fox, an outfielder for the Detroit Tigers was among the league leaders in stolen bases in the 1934 season.  As the old Bulgarian proverb goes,  the fox falls into the trap only once.

8.  MATT BATTS.  In 1953, Mr. Batts, playing in only 116 games as a catcher for the Detroit Tigers, was one of the most productive hitters on the team, with 104 hits, 24 doubles and a .406 slugging percentage.   I can just hear the announcer now, “Matt Batts bats leadoff for the Tigers.  Batts, known for quality at bats and battling the pitcher is a tough batter with good bat speed.  Breaks a lot of bats does Batts.

7.   DAVE “out of the park”  PARKER.  Parker parked 339 balls in his illustrious 19 year career as an outfielder and DH for various teams.

 

6.  FRANK FLEET.   As a pitcher for the Brooklyn Atlantics in 1875, Mr. Fleet threw some fleet pitches and led the league in strikeouts with 26.  Not so impressive by today’s standards, but back in the 1870’s, teams only played 44 games.

5.  JACK ARMSTRONG.  The 6’5″ Armstrong had a strong arm indeed.  In the 1990 World Series pitching for Cincinnati in Game 3, he pitched 3 innings, giving up only 1 hit and striking out 3.  Cincinnati won the Series against Oakland 4-0.

4.  ROY HITT.  As a member of the Cincinnati Reds, Hitt was not a hit with the opposition.  Hitt was among the league leaders in Hit Batsman in 1912.

3.  ERIC PLUNK.  Plunk plunked 32 batsman in his 14 year career and led the American League in wild pitches with 10 in 1989.

2.  HERB SCORE.  Unlike the name suggests, Score was not scored upon much.  In 1956, he led the American league in shutouts (5) and strikeouts   (2Bob Walk63) while going 20-2 for the Cleveland Indians.

1.  BOB WALK.  What a great name for a pitcher!  Like score, Walk’s name is not reflective of his game.  He actually walked very few batters – just 67 walks per year during his 14 year career.  However, he was prone to throw an occasional wild pitch.  An All-Star in 1988, he led the league in wild pitches, and was among the league leaders in this category for several years.  To my knowledge, there is no pitcher by the name of Wilde.

There are some other good names out there I missed.  I only looked at last names, but probably skipped over a good Homer candidate.  I did run across Homer Bailey’s name who currently pitches for Cincinnati, but he hasn’t hit a homer, though he has no doubt allowed a few.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!