Monday, November 30, 2009

NFL 2009: Week 12 -- Ravens Back in Playoff Picture

It sure wasn’t pretty, but the Ravens did what they had to do, secure a win against their arch rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. A field goal in overtime did the trick. Surely the local talk shows tomorrow will be jammed with fussy fans quick to find fault in some aspects of the game’s execution. Still, what’s most important is the win and second it did not create any major injuries.

Had the Ravens lost, their hopes of advancing to the playoffs would have essentially been over. Falling to 5-6 with three teams ahead of them and three teams sharing that same mediocre mark, their ability to advance would have become largely out of their hands. Now, they’re almost in there. Baltimore, Jacksonville, and Pittsburgh all share 6-5 records. Baltimore has the edge on tie-breakers over Jacksonville and Pittsburgh but, ooh, it’s just by a whisker! Denver remains a game up with a 7-4 record, but many feel Denver is in a state of free fall having been overachievers with their brilliant start.

So how do things shape up for the Ravens and their primary wild card competition?

Here’s the road ahead for these four teams:

Denver Broncos
Kansas City (away)
Indianapolis (away)
Oakland (home)
Philadelphia (away)
Kansas City (home)

Kansas City and Oakland are bottom feeders but both have pulled significant upsets in their limited wins.

Two of their three remaining road games are against playoff contenders not the least of which is Indianapolis going for the perfect season.

Baltimore Ravens
Green Bay (away) Monday Night Football
Detroit Lions (home)
Chicago (home)
Pittsburgh (away)
Oakland (away)

Detroit and Oakland are miserable teams that the Ravens should master with ease. Chicago is a mediocre 4-7 team. They must win these games, period.

Their two toughest games against playoff contenders are on the road. Green Bay is a Monday night game. Pittsburgh won’t be as easy next time as they rule Heinz field. Big Ben and Polamalu could surely be healthy in four weeks.

Bottom Line: Run the table and they’re in.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Houston (home)
Miami (home)
Indianapolis (home)
New England (away)
Cleveland (away)

Cleveland is probably the worst team in the NFL right now. It’s too their advantage to face Houston and Miami at home. While the Colts will be big favorites to beat them, at least they face them in Jacksonville.

With both Indy and New England on the schedule, New England, in Foxboro on December 27th, Jacksonville could have the toughest schedule of all the wild card contenders.

Bottom Line:
The Jags have no margin for error and must be healthy and execute to near perfection to beat the two teams that will probably have first round byes in the playoffs.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Oakland (home)
Cleveland (away)
Green Bay (home)
Baltimore (home)
Miami (away)

Oakland and Cleveland are two very weak teams. Their remaining game against division rival, Baltimore, is at home.

Green Bay and Baltimore could be facing do-or-die consequences playing the Steelers. While beating Cleveland should be a given, the Browns will face the Steelers, the city’s long standing rival on the chilly shores of Lake Erie. The Browns have nothing to lose and upsetting the Steelers would be the high point of a terrible season.

Bottom Line:
Their remaining schedule is roughly even with the Ravens with a slight advantage with the remaining home schedule being more favorable. It’s shaping up to where the winner of their game versus Baltimore could decide who is in and who is out.

Remarkably, all four wild card contenders have almost dead even scheduled teams yet to play. Jacksonville probably has the toughest schedule, but Denver and Baltimore face their toughest competition on the road. That Pittsburgh faces both Green Bay and Baltimore at home could be their advantage. Results could turn on which teams remain healthiest and late season weather in the Northeast and Midwest.

One final word, it’s pretty safe to call this race almost exclusively a wild card race as the first place teams generally have a sustainable margin over second place. Baltimore and Pittsburgh are two games behind Cincinnati in the North.

Indianapolis has already secured the South. New England at 7-3 leading Miami, who at 5-6 are pretty much out of wild card competition have the East nailed down. San Diego only has a one game advantage over Denver. San Diego visits Cleveland and Dallas, hosts Dallas, visits Tennessee and concludes hosting Washington. Therefore, the AFC West is really the only open division race with San Diego having a slight advantage to maintain their advantage.

For the division races, New England must defeat the undefeated New Orleans Saints to maintain pace with Cincinnati and San Diego atop their divisions. The battle for the second seed, the second bye remains a three team race as Indy flirts with perfection.
One final note for Ravens fans....
The long range forecast for Green Bay, Wisconsin calls for a mostly cloudy day with highs in the mid 30's and lows in the mid 20's, chilly compared to anything folks from Crab City have faced so far, but far more forgiving that what the "Frozen Tundra" is capable of dishing out. Meanwhile, Baltimore will enjoy a sunny day of 50 degrees and in the 40's at night.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Abbey Road and Let it Be: "And in the end, the music and the mysteries remain..."

Synopsis: Whether the Beatles' recording career ended triumphantly or reeking of unfinished business and controversy depends on whether the listener considers their last recorded album, Abbey Road, or their last released album, Let it Be, as the "Fab Four's" finale.

Abbey Road was the last album the Beatles recorded. Let it Be was the last album the Beatles released. What became compiled as the album Let it Be was recorded mostly during January, 1969 as part of an ill-conceived project which did yield a movie of the band’s efforts, but nothing went according to plan, the least of which was the inability to get a coherent album to show for the effort until well over a year later.

As the film, Let it Be, documents, songs from Abbey Road were already under construction as the work for the project commenced. Some snippets from this effort are included in the Beatles Anthology series.

With years of history and many Beatles fans not even having been born when John, Paul, George, and Ringo officially split in the spring of 1970, the irony of their final recordings becomes even clearer.

The way things actually played out with Let it Be being the Beatles final album, their stellar career ended on a note of uncertainty and incompleteness. Examining the finished product, the album released as Let it Be, how can one not feel certain emptiness?

The Beatles were to have created a film that showed the band in preparation recording an album leading to the grand finale, a concert. The project was largely Paul McCartney’s brain child with John and George reluctant participants from the get go. Instead, what became the movie, Let it Be, documented a band falling to pieces. Starting in Twickenham studios, the lads are shown working through a series of songs, many of which would wind up on either Abbey Road or Let it Be. Others would show up as solo material on Paul’s and George’s first albums. The tension was obvious especially between Paul and George while John seemed more interested in drifting off with Yoko and Ringo seemed largely indifferent. No material from Twickenham could be polished off to make it on the album. The Beatles then moved to the Apple Records studio setup in the basement of their Apple headquarters in London, not as sophisticated as EMI’s Abbey Road where they would normally record, but certainly an environment suitable for recording a rock album. They brought in keyboard player Billy Preston, whom they had known since performing with Ray Charles early in their career. Suddenly, the music started to percolate. Bits and pieces from these sessions did make it to the finished album, but the most noteworthy material from the Apple Headquarters recordings was a hastily arranged noon January 30th concert on the rooftop of the studio where the band performed “Don’t Let Me Down,” one of several versions of “Get Back,” “Dig a Pony,” “I Got a Feeling” and “The One After 909.”

Few would argue the rooftop set was absolutely brilliant. How wonderful it was to hear the Beatles plus Billy Preston play as a live band, no studio gimmicks, playing great rock n roll music, the kind of music they honed their skills playing before Beatlemania swept the planet.

The following day, the band retreated to the basement to record most of the rest of the album, “Let it Be,” “The Long and Winding Road,” and “Two of Us.” Two songs on the album have nothing to do with the sequence of the Get Back/Let it Be project. “Across the Universe” dates back to February, 1968 where a very different mix of the song was released on a special compilation of English artists performing for the benefit of wild life preservation. “I Me Mine” was the last song the Beatles minus John would ever record in January, 1970 as they were putting the final touches on what would become the single version of “Let it Be.”

Somehow, the goings on of all these efforts were flying below the radar of all the eyes cast upon the Beatles. In early 1969, the rock music scene was exploding on both sides of the Atlantic. Beatles’ fans attention was riveted to the The Beatles or the“White” album and Yellow Submarine. The meteoric career of Cream, Eric Clapton’s band, had been riding high, but almost simultaneous with the release of Yellow Submarine came their final release, Goodbye Cream, with just three studio tracks, one of which was co-written by George Harrison who played on the track as Mysterioso.

The Beatles were getting attention. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were staging bizarre stage events centered on an anti-war message. Plastic Ono Band became the vessel for Lennon’s solo recorded efforts first with “Give Peace a Chance” and then “Cold Turkey.” George Harrison had numerous projects in the works including finding talent for Apple Records for which he would serve as producer, Jackie Lomax, Billy Preston, and Doris Troy.

While clues were abundant in the “White” album and all kinds of things were pointing toward the world’s most famous act falling apart, none of that was apparent to the fans or the entertainment media who perhaps as a matter of faith simply could not comprehend the dissolution of the Beatles. Their individual exploits were more seen as their maturation, branching out, giving their faithful fans even more material to appreciate.

While the “White” album has plenty of great music as part of the Beatles’ legacy, what can be appreciated in hindsight is that each song clearly was the project of its composer, not an ensemble production. John, Paul, and George were acting more like solo artists using the rest of the band as mere studio performers. It also marked the first time high caliber artists were participating in the recording sessions with Eric Clapton contributing to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and Nicky Hopkins adding the piano for the single, “Revolution.” Billy Preston’s involvement with Let it Be seemed to be taking that progression one step forward.

After the completion of recording on January 31, 1969, the Beatles were cranky, tired, and at each others’ throats. Paul was at odds with the business direction of the band but also enjoying the joys of his romance and marriage to Linda Eastman. Even producer, George Martin, whose roll was much less defined through the Let it Be project and had delegated some of the production duties to Chris Thomas during the “White” album was growing impatient with the Beatles.

Despite the dueling egos and conflicting agendas, the Beatles weren’t done yet. The first tidbit from the Get Back/Let it Be project was released, the single: “Get Back” backed with “Don’t Let Me Down” in April of 1969. Paul McCartney contacted George Martin asking him if he were interested in working with them on their next album telling Martin they wanted to work the way they used to with Martin behind the controls at Abbey Road studios. Martin felt apprehension at first particularly concerned of John’s commitment, but Paul indicated the whole band was ready to go.

Limited activity took place in April, the same week as the single’s release, as “The Ballad of John and Yoko” and “Old Brown Shoe,” their next single was recorded. Work began on “Something” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Some work was completed in April including remaking “Something” and some initial overdubs for “Let it Be.” At the end of the month, their last single before Abbey Road, hit the streets, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” actually just John and Paul recording and “Old Brown Shoe.”

From early July to mid-August, Abbey Road studios were busy as the band worked diligently to record what would turn out to be the final album they’d record together. While they worked to use the studio to its maximum benefit under George Martin’s careful watch, they weren’t attempting to explore any bold experiments but rather to harness their full creative power to record a magnificent cohesive album. George Harrison introduced the moog synthesizer into some of the songs. The album featured intricate arrangements and lush harmonies, creating at least the illusion of much more an ensemble approach to the repertoire.

All the A sides of Beatles’ singles were Lennon/McCartney compositions with John and/or Paul in the lead. Unlike coincident with most Beatles albums, no isolated single was recorded, so the single would come from the album itself. This time, the A side would be George Harrison’s, “Something,” with John Lennon’s lyrical adventure, “Come Together” as the B side.

On September 29, 1969, Abbey Road was released during a fall season some of the greatest albums in rock history were issued. The album was received with instant acclaim around the world perhaps exceeding the fanfare of any of their releases in the past. There would be no controversy as surrounded Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was a more digestible single album unlike The Beatles (White Album), its predecessor. There was none of the confusion brought on by earlier albums with different American and British releases. The world-wide media was now in place allowing Abbey Road broader instantaneous exposure than any album before.

As if the album itself were not enough to blast its sales into orbit, an insane urban legend/conspiracy surface soon was sweeping the airwaves and campus buzz. Paul McCartney was dead and since their final tour in 1966, he had been replaced by a stand-in. Almost six years after the Beatles first crossed the Atlantic to appear in the United States in early 1964 conquering the music world, they remained high atop the world of pop music having grown so tremendously as artists and having such a profound influence on pop culture.
From its catchy beginning with “Come Together” followed up with one of their most touching love songs, George Harrison’s, “Something,” the first side of the album included Paul’s catchy pop for “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and “Oh Darling!,” then features what amounts to almost a children’s song, Ringo’s “Octopus’s Garden,” before coming to a dramatic climax with the extended hard rocker, “I Want You (She’s so Heavy)” featuring awesome guitar duels between Lennon and Harrison.

Side two opens showing George Harrison surely attained peer status to John and Paul as a song writer with the uplifting, acoustic guitar driven, “Here Comes the Sun.” From that glorious introduction what follows is unlike anything ever attempted by a rock band before, a mixture of fully realized songs, little snippets, and what amounted to in parts, a series of medleys where almost every element of the bands’ immense talents could be showcased leading to a huge big production finish that winds up with Paul McCartney’s vocal line, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” That final line would almost seem to be the fitting message, a perfect coda for their collective work, but always being ones for a humorous or ironic touch, twenty seconds of silence follows, then a goofball little ditty, “Her Majesty,” a tongue in cheek love song for the Queen.

When the Beatles work is taken in its entirety and one realizes Abbey Road is actually their last album to be recorded, the last work all four participated in producing, everything about it seems like the just conclusion to their brilliant efforts. They did not go into Abbey Road studios with the intention of it being their last album nor did they feel they were finished as a unit when the album was completed. It just worked out that way.

By the time the album was released, John Lennon had pretty much lost all interest in the band engaged in his theater of the absurd avant-guard presentations with his Japanese bride, Yoko. Days before the album’s release, Lennon joined forces with Eric Clapton, drummer, Alan White and bass guitarist, Klaus Voorman performing six tunes for a Toronto audience. He was active with his own recordings, releasing the single, “Cold Turkey” and then “Instant Karma” produced by Phil Spector early in 1970.

Engineer Glyn Johns, whose work included the Rolling Stones, who worked with the band during the Get Back/Let it Be project labored over the tapes attempting to come up with a marketable album. Though a finished album was presented and widely bootlegged, it never got the go ahead. The tapes remained sidelined as Abbey Road flourished.

As the band was increasingly at odds finishing an album from the project continued to gather dust. Anticipating an album of largely new material, Apple and Capitol records threw fans a biscuit with the release of Hey Jude (The Beatles Again), a compilation of familiar Beatles tunes never released on a Capitol or Apple album going as far back as “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Should Have Known Better” but also bringing “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” out of orphan status before going to some recent singles not finding a place on an album, “Lady Madonna,” “Revolution,” “Hey Jude,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “Old Brown Shoe,” and “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” Missing in action was “Get Back” perhaps with the understanding it would anchor their album of unfinished material.

1970 opened with the Beatles final recording sessions on January 3rd and 4th, putting the finishing touches on “Let it Be” as it would be released as a single, and tracks were laid down for “I Me Mine.” Their final worldwide single was prepared for release finding a novelty number, largely John Lennon’s doing, “You Know My Name, Look up the Number” as the “B” side.

“Let it Be” was released as a single on March 6, 1970 complete with a video shown on Ed Sullivan’s show. Even though it was competing with John Lennon’s “Instant Karma,” fans still had no idea the Beatles were heading to a breakup though John Lennon’s behavior became more and more difficult to predict.

The battle for the band’s financial management was getting ugly with John and George seeking to work with Allen Klein who managed the Rolling Stones but was about to get the boot leading many to believe they would have been wise to have consulted with Mick Jagger for a little savvy business advice. Paul McCartney sought to have his father-in-law handle the business. Allen Klein, anxious to get the Beatles cash register ringing again got John and George to bless handing the tapes off to Phil Spector, whom John already had a working relationship to pull a marketable album from the Get Back/Let it Be stash. On April 1st, his work was completed. The album, Let it Be, was ready to coincide with the release to theaters of the movie of the same name, but Paul McCartney was furious. Incensed by Spector’s heavy handed approach to “Let it Be” and “Long and Winding Road,” Paul quickly put the finishing touches on his first solo album with a handful of familiar McCartney sounding tunes and some instrumental filler to have a preemptive release prior to Let It Be hitting the stores. April 20th was the day that rocked the world as McCartney went on sale along with a scathing announcement from Paul announcing the end of the Beatles.

Less than two weeks later, Let it Be was released as the Beatles’ final album. Though generally not their best, the album had plenty of brilliant material. Opening with a John Lennon wisecrack, then starting with a spirited acoustic duet, “Two of Us,” Let it Be appeared off to a great start. The live sound of the rooftop concert material was a welcome change from the carefully crafted studio sound that was the band’s signature from Revolver forward. “Dig a Pony,” a John Lennon lyrical workout, follows with just straight forward two guitars, bass, drums, and keyboards format from the rooftop concert. Phil Spector’s influence pervades the next two songs but most effectively. “Across the Universe” is reworked to become a dreamier less spaced-out composition with strings and female voices gently worked in to help create the atmosphere. George’s “I Me Mine” follows where Spector’s sense of drama is quite appropriate. Trying to recapture the original live intent of the project inserted a short little jam, “Dig It” follows. After that, perhaps the greatest shambles ever to wear the Beatles’ imprint follows. Starting off faithful to the single, all sounds in good order, as the title track, “Let it Be,” begins. If anything, the first Spector touches open the song up a little helping to enhance its gospel elements. The instruments stand out more vividly; however, at one and a half minutes into the song, things start to turn horribly wrong with some very loud blaring brass mixing in quickly followed by an absolute disaster. Gone is George Harrison’s beautiful soft telecaster solo enhanced by being played through a Leslie speaker system, burying it is a loud, raucous, out of tune guitar that completely destroys the whole spiritual tone of the song. That horrendous guitar continues to surface in bursts through the rest of the song, but after the solo then comes another dreadful miscalculation mixing the percussion up to an unnatural annoying level. Dramatic backing vocals and blaring brass continue to the song’s conclusion. Spector’s efforts would be the musical equivalent of trying to touch up the Mona Lisa with crayons.

The first side ends with a little John Lennon jam singing lines from an old Liverpool pub tune, “Maggie Mae.”

Side two begins with rooftop numbers and couldn’t sound better with their back to the basics approach. “I Got a Feeling” and “One After 909” are great live performances. The third track on side two of the original LP is one of the Beatles’ greatest controversies. Rather than using the take used in the movie, Spector found another recording of “Long and Winding Road” that was lean on instrumentation, mostly just Paul accompanying himself on piano. This beautifully simple arrangement presented unaltered on Anthology 3, is buried beneath one of the boldest employments of the massive Spector wall-of-sounds ever with sweeping Hollywood style strings and horns and a female choir. The results apparently infuriated McCartney who criticized passionately the results even citing usurping his creative control in legal briefs supporting his attempts to dissolve the band. Ironically, Paul’s arrangement for a live version of the song on Wings over America borrows substantially from the Spector approach.

The album wraps up with a happy-go-lucky, blues influenced George Harrison tune, “For You Blue” featuring some lively lap steel by John Lennon. “Get Back” concludes the album without the reprise at the end that was part of the single increasingly giving the album an indefinite finish.

For younger fans who did not live through the thrills of the Beatles when they were an active band, it’s easy to put things in chronological sequence and see a band’s career so beautifully balanced ending with the perfect swan song. Abbey Road can be seen as the wonderful final effort after signs of unraveling to the point of near chaos shown in the execution of Let it Be.

For those of us who were there, the Beatles seemed to be reaching for even higher heights when Abbey Road blessed our turntables in the fall of 1969. With so much great music from so many of the great icons of pop music its contemporary, perhaps we were distracted from seeing what was happening to the band that started so much of the great phenomenon.

The following spring, we had heard the news that Paul McCartney had announced the Beatles demise as many of us were seeking satisfaction from his first solo album, McCartney, but as we went to the record and discount stores just a few weeks later, we must have been in denial as we picked up Let it Be and if we had some extra coin the wallet the sprawling three record Woodstock album released the same week. Some of us would be lucky to get British or Canadian releases of Let it Be with the beautiful color book, dozens of fabulous photos of the band at work during the sessions.

The Beatles were just too good to leave us. Maybe they needed a break. Perhaps getting a couple solo albums out of their system would do the trick.

Soon the solo efforts started to pile up. By year’s end in addition to Paul McCartney’s effort, John Lennon and George Harrison would release landmark albums: John’s Plastic Ono Band and George’s All Things Must Pass. Even Ringo Starr got in the act releasing two albums, neither were rock albums but instead he explored old standards for his parents with Sentimental Journey and his passion for country music with Beaucoups of Blues.

In the early 1970’s, all four former Beatles maintained active recording careers, some albums well received while others were almost universally panned. No album elevated Beatles fans’ high hopes more than Ringo’s first pop effort in the fall of 1973. So far, Ringo had played on both George’s and John’s albums and George played on John Lennon’s album Imagine, but with the release of Ringo, all four Beatles performed, but never did all four perform on one song. George Harrison was quite active on the album, but the album’s opener, “I’m the Greatest,” John and George join Ringo with Billy Preston supplying keyboards for even more Beatles’ authenticity. Paul and Linda contributed a Beatles-sounding tune, “Six O’clock.” Richard Perry’s production helped pull the album together and give it often a distinctly Beatles’ sound.

High hopes and rumors would unite the Beatles’ in their fans’ imaginations, but what concluded with the recording of Abbey Road and the release of Let it Be marked the end of the most universally popular band in pop music history. Whether their legacy ended on a triumphant note or one of uncertainty and promises left unfulfilled depends on the listener’s perspective on how to put these two albums in their proper historic perspective. While Let it Be might seem to be getting a bum rap in this article, it would be a masterpiece by just about any other band’s standards with the horrible butchery of the title track standing out as painful insult to such an idyllic legacy.

Abbey Road is many listeners’ favorite album and the one producer George Martin is the most proud of. Along with Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, and The Beatles, it is an essential recording for all music lovers who enjoy classic rock, post World War II pop music, or any serious collection of the best recorded music ever released. Let it Be is far more than a curio; it is a welcomed addition in many music collections as well.


Right Minded Fellow readers beware. Your humble writer is going to engage in a little indulgence, his love of pop music, particularly the Beatles. Two articles are in the works, one on the Beatles final recordings the other our suggestions on how to make Beatles fans happy for Christmas. While it's been almost 46 years since Beatlemania rocked America in early 1964 and some of our writing goes down the "long and winding road" many of us have travelled, we hope to honor the fab four, share some memories, and perhaps give newer listeners some perspective on the most universally appreciated musical performers of all time.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Get Ready, It's Here....

Millions of Americans are flocking to retail establishments some getting started as early as 5:00 am at Walmarts in the annual ritual we've come to know as "Black Friday."

"Black Friday" is the day after Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season, the make or break period for many retail outlets profitability. Over the past couple decades this ritual has become far more publicized and much more extreme as vendors resort to every trick or gimmick they can dream of to get as much traffic through their stores resulting in the familiar "ch-ching" at the registers.

There is no holiday on the calendar anything like Christmas. It is the most widely celebrated and the one that results in the highest level of activity by the public at large exchanging gifts among friends, family, and even coworkers. It is this writer's opinion that this is a reflection of the secular celebration of Christmas and that any connection with the Christian observance celebrating the birth of Christ is almost an entirely separate phenomenon. Certainly, millions of Christians will engage in religious activities, church services, participating in choirs, and engaging in community activities as part of the religious celebration, but the huge spending spree of Christmas shopping is more its own celebration that only uses the sacred holiday as a focal point.
One need not be Christian to celebrate Christmas. It is a Federal holiday for all citizens as the birth of Christ is perhaps the single most significant historical event mankind has ever known. There could be no US Declaration of independence or Constitution without a strong sense of deeply ingrained Christian morality. Further, "peace on earth, goodwill to men," is a message worthy of celebration for all citizens.

Take a look around and see if atheists you know don't exchange Christmas gifts with one another. How many decline to participate in social activities just because they might be called "Christmas" parties.

The whole point is, Christmas belongs to us all, though it would certainly be beneficial if some of the higher values associated with the teachings of Christ were given a much more significant voice not just for Christians but everybody. Likewise, perhaps we need to consider if the crass materialism that "Black Friday" represents doesn't get out of hand. How many Playstation, X-Box, or Wii games does your kid need anyway? Likewise, it's sad that Christmas often turns out to be used as an excuse for extreme gluttony.

No matter how much some might try to suppress the notion, Christmas is an American holiday for all of us to appreciate and enjoy. For this reason, the whole attempt by the forces of the politically correct as reflected by advertisements that go to extremes to avoid any mention of Christmas, schools and government agencies striking references to Christmas from their calendars, and the general attempts to get anything specifically Christmas out of the Holiday celebrations, is absolutely insane.

How sad it is that many school systems no longer allow the singing of traditional Christmas songs. The hideous rewrite of "Silent Night" to become "Lonely Night" a sickly attempt perhaps to sing of seasonal affective disorder brings home the insanity of the whole mindset. Some have gone so far as to not allow kids to give their classmates Christmas cards or to even wear the traditional Christmas colors of red and green near the Christmas holiday. Does your community intend to have a "holiday" tree on display?

We'll say it in case others are too timid to do so. We really don't care if a handful of militant atheists or practicing Muslims who hate Christians are offended by the celebration of Christmas. All are invited to join in the joy of the celebration. Reducing Christmas to "the Holidays" or "winter solstice observance" is just plain nuts.

Maybe if everyone pauses for just a moment to consider just a little more about what got the whole celebration of Christmas started, that would be a good thing.

In case we don't have the chance to say it later, "Merry Christmas to all, and God bless you, all our readers, whoever you are. May peace be with you."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

NCAA '09 Football: Week 13 -- Reflections on a Surprising Season as the Regular Schedule Completes

The final weekend of November, 2009 is the last hurrah for a full schedule for college football with some conferences finished for the year such as the Big 10. Others are playing their conference championship. While other games feature great rivalry games.

It’s interesting to go back and look at the AP Top 25 to start the season. Sure enough as expected, Florida is #1. Texas was ranked 2nd and many would argue they should be ranked higher than ‘Bama who claimed the second spot. One thing’s for certain. If Texas continues winning, after next weekend’s action they will be at least #2 as either Florida or Alabama will have suffered one loss. Oklahoma was ranked 3rd. Where are they now? State rival Oklahoma State stands 12th in the BCS. The Sooners are goners not even in the top 25.

Shockers of shockers, what happened to USC this year? They were ranked 4th but some argued they were slighted, but with a 7-3 record including an embarrassing home loss to Stanford, they’re way down in 20th rookie quarterback and all.

Alabama started in 5th, perhaps slighted a bit as they are now the bridesmaid, but Ohio State at #6 had a mighty tough season leading them to 10th.

We’d have to get technical talking about the ACC in 2009. Technically, the conference was seen as weak not fielding a true championship team. If they had one, it would come from Virginia Tech who was ranked 7th. Well, they got the Tech part right but it’s Georgia Tech who was ranked 15th but pulled all the way up to 7th.

Mississippi looked great as #8, but they’re hanging on the edge of the cliff in 25th.

Oklahoma State was supposed to put two Okie teams in the top 10 sharing 9th place with Penn State. They finished close to where they were predicted, 12th, but no one expected them to be the real pride of Oklahoma.

Could Joe Paterno guide the Nittany Lions to a championship? Once again, the bubble was burst initially by Iowa who beat them on a horrible rainy night in central Pennsylvania. The team with the most ordinary uniforms landed in 13th while Ohio State turned in at 10th and the upstart Iowa Hawkeyes are in 11th.

The top ten has some uninvited guests with TCU in 4th, ranked 17th in August. The same can be said of Boise State in 6th but started in 14th.\

Perhaps seeing Oregon in 8th helps fill the void left by USC’s absence. They were only in 16th.

Other teams on the board the beginning of the year included Georgia in 13th. Had that held, imagine how that would stir up this weekend’s grand cocktail party in Jacksonville.

Dark clouds and vultures hover over two of the most historic and accomplished programs in college football history who were both supposed to return to being significant respected powers in 2009. Florida State started in the 18th slot while Notre Dame stood in 23rd.

Though they played a classic intense game against their rival, Miami to open the season, the Seminoles lost 38-34. Losses mounted and Bobby Bowden’s tenure erupted into hot controversy as they lost to South Florida, Boston College, Georgia Tech, and Clemson. One surely sees Bobby Bowden’s days as a factor in the highest echelon are over. It’s tragic to see a once great figure still hanging in there after the magic is gone. His trip to Gainesville could be his last. Meanwhile, Miami mounted a significant comeback taking what perhaps was supposed to be their ACC Florida rival securing 17th.

The chill of winter was felt early in South Bend Indiana. What could have been proved to be worse that wishful thinking? Though ranked at 23rd when the season began, the Notre Dame Publicity machine and their vast network of dedicated fans had much higher hopes such as BCS bowl competition or even a shot at the championship. So what changed from last year to make them that much better? Nothing really. QB Jimmy Clausen could not carry the team and coach Charlie Weiss’s effectiveness was questioned through out. At 6-5, the Weiss regime never accomplished what they were hired to do, but the fighting Irish have not been much of a factor since Lou Holtz charmed the sidelines. Sure, they’ll get some minor bowl bid, but they have so little to show for it as they were almost certainly be slaughtered by Jim Harbaugh’s team at Stanford.

One more team deserves so much praise, the US Naval Academy who should run the table and finish their season at 10-3. Not only did they beat the Fighting Irish in South Bend, they also beat Louisiana Tech, and SMU as a couple of their most noteworthy wins. They lost to Ohio State in Columbus by just four points. The whole nation should be proud of these wonderful young men.

Week 13 Picks:

Alabama #2 (-10) at Auburn
Sweet home Alabama will be rocking as the Auburn Tigers are no match for the much more powerful Crimson Tide. Auburn will need to improve as an organization to reinvigorate this classic rivalry.

Pittsburgh #9 (-1) at West Virginia
West Virginia isn’t quite strong enough to hold off a superior Pitt.

Florida State at Florida #1 (-24)
What a sad game this will be. How much restraint can Florida afford to show when they’re competing for a BCS championship? Though it will come as no surprise, Florida State’s loss to Florida will be a very heartbreaking loss as it might be the end of one of the greatest tenures in all sports, the brilliant career of Bobby Bowden.

Utah #21 at Brigham Young #19 (-7 ½)
Two closely matched teams compete for being second best to TCU in the Mountain West. Brigham Young shows a slight edge, perhaps not the touchdown plus advantage those bad boys down the road in Vegas project.

Georgia versus Georgia Tech #7 @ Jacksonville, FL (-8)
Just because both teams aren’t in the upper ranks of the BCS doesn’t mean the Georgia family feud won’t be a wild one. Had the original AP poll rankings held, this game would be white hot. Nevertheless, Georgia Tech needs this win to finish as high in the national rankings as possible perhaps a top 5. Georgia is looking for bragging rights for a season that fell apart.

Notre Dame at Stanford (-10 ½)
Stanford returns home ten feet tall after their historic smashing of the USC Trojans last week. Meanwhile, it’s an unhappy locker room for Notre Dame with coach Weiss’s fate dangling in the wind. Much more was expected of his tenure, but that tenure almost certainly is coming to an end despite the ridiculous long term contract the Notre Dame brass committed to. Stanford should dominate this game convincingly.

Navy (-9) at Hawaii
How wonderful it is that the Midshipmen should be able to journey to Hawaii to prepare for their annual battle with Army the following week. Aloha men! They’ll surf to a sure victory while getting ready for a bigger win against Army next week.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

NFL 2009: Week 12 -- Serve up the Turkeys as the Playoff Picture Becomes Clearer

Tony Romo: Victor or Thanksgiving Turkey?

Week 12 begins with the most traditional Thanksgiving game possible, the Detroit Lions hosting the Green Bay Packers. Some of us remember this as the matchup for Thanksgiving as these two teams met in Detroit from 1951 through 1963. How many Baltimore fans remember the Colts played in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day in 1965 playing to a 24-24 tie?

Controversy has more recently arisen why Detroit maintains the hosting privileges for the early game since they’ve been so atrocious in recent years (and when were they ever that good short of being able to marvel at Barry Saunders running ability?). Then is it okay that the publicity happy Dallas Cowboys likewise get the nod since they are the self-anointed America’s team? Surely if someone took a poll, would the Cowboys truly be “America’s” team? Well, don’t get your hopes up Mid-Atlantic fans. It sure wouldn’t be the Ravens or Redskins – hmm, but wouldn’t that be cool? How about those teams meeting alternating hosts each Thanksgiving?

Now the NFL has its own network to promote, thus there’s a third game that can be played anywhere, preferably with an AFC team hosting so there’s wall-to-wall football.

So order up the Turkey subs, get the guys together, fire up the big HDTV, and enjoy a full day of football twice in one week. Isn’t being an American grand? Stay home on Friday and Saturday. Who needs that Black Friday madness? There’s good college action too.

We’ve almost established 2009 as the year of the turkey with so many lack luster teams, but now is time to start looking at the playoffs. We see ten teams in contention in the AFC and 8 in the NFC.

In the AFC, first the division leaders and for once all four of them have better records that the wild card possibilities with six games remaining.

Division Leaders:
Indianapolis 10-0
Cincinnati 7-3
New England 7-3
San Diego 7-3

Possible Wild Cards:
Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Denver 6-4
Baltimore, Houston, Miami 5-5

The NFC division leaders also exceed the wild card teams’ records. There are fewer contenders.

Division Leaders
New Orleans 10-0
Minnesota 9-1
Dallas 7-3
Arizona 7-3

Possible Wild Cards:
Philadelphia, Green Bay, New York Giants 6-4
Atlanta 5-5

This week’s action features potential playoff teams doing battle including Indianapolis at Houston, New England at New Orleans, Pittsburgh at Baltimore, Denver at the New York and Giants. At the risk of offending Indy fans, how much hype could there be that the New England/New Orleans game could be a Super Bowl preview? See the teams listed above as sixteen reasons why not!

Let’s look this week’s matches and picks:

On Thanksgiving Day:
Green Bay (-10 ½) at Detroit
Green Bay will knock the stuffing out of the Detroit Lions.

Oakland at Dallas (-13 ½)
The Cowboys will yank the drumsticks off the Oakland Raiders.

New York Giants (-6 ½) at Denver
Yikes, here are two teams that started off brilliantly. The Giants won their first four games while Denver won its first six. Both teams have struggled since with Denver losing four straight tumbling to second place. With a sore QB and a general loss of confidence it looks like the Giants pull the wishbone.

Washington at Philadelphia (-9 ½)
Unless Washington’s defense is perfect, Philadelphia should put this game away with ease.

Tampa Bay at Atlanta (-12)
Atlanta needs this game to help restore a lack of confidence and help Matt Ryan find his groove. This game should be no problem for the Falcons.

Miami (-3) at Buffalo
As long as Miami doesn’t take their opponent too lightly, they’ll win in Buffalo.

Cleveland at Cincinnati (-14)
Cincinnati must show that last week’s dreadful performance in Oakland was a fluke. Cleveland must be able to show they can even walk on the field. The best NFL team in Ohio is way down on the southern border.

Indianapolis (-3 ½) at Houston
Indy showed some weakness against Baltimore. If they sure up their game, they’ll beat Houston.

Chicago at Minnesota (-11)
Brett Favre will go Bear hunting in doors and the Bears will slip even further.

Carolina at the New York Jets (-3)
Oh, here are two teams that can break your heart. The Jets should have enough juice to hold off the Panthers.

Seattle (-3) at St. Louis
Unless Kyle Boller can play the hero, Seattle clobbers the Rams.

Arizona (-2) at Tennessee
Tennessee sure looks different from the team that lost its first six games. Vince Young is getting better each week, but Arizona’s the proven winner here.

Kansas City at San Diego (13 ½)
Kansas City upset the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime last week. Can they beat another mighty team? Probably not, San Diego has work to do.

Jacksonville at San Francisco (-3)
Jacksonville might be the second biggest playoff contender surprise besides the Cincinnati Bengals. Poo on Las Vegas. Jacksonville wins.

Pittsburgh at Baltimore (-2 ½)
Between playing at home for the Ravens and the Steelers being pretty beat up, the Ravens should finally prevail against their hated rivals. Watch for the Ravens’ defense to be ready to clobber Big Ben early and often in the Sunday night thriller.

New England at New Orleans (-3)
Two years ago the buzz was about New England running the table, but this year they can stop another team from going undefeated. However, New Orleans looks to have everything working right now while New England is not 100%. Give New Orleans the slight edge.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sprint Cup 2009, Race 36: Jimmy Johnson Makes History with 4th Championship

Before we discuss the finale of the 2009 Sprint Cup Season, we need to vent about something we saw this weekend that is very disturbing. Punkish behavior is hardly a topic that should be part of the end of the season discussion but this weekend showed examples of this that one would hope the sport is a little too mature to see happen.

While we have not covered the Nationwide series this year given it’s been essentially a one car championship field for most of the season for Kyle Busch, much of the competition seems to be just Saturday money for Sprint Cup racers, and that the start and park phenomenon is even more out of control for the junior circuit, a conflict between two drivers with Sprint Cup credentials has drawn our fire costing our respect of two drivers tremendously. Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski have been feuding for most of the second half of the season, each driver quick to blame the other with Hamlin being the most vocal. In yesterday’s race, when close enough to attack, in what clearly was not a racing move, Hamlin rear-ended Keselowski causing the #88 Chevy to spin out.

Denny Hamlin has looked like a driver with a tremendous future enjoying tremendous success in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup series serving as Joe Gibbs Racing’s only competitor in “The Chase” this year. Going into this season, Hamlin’s conduct would have been seen as hard-nosed and competitive. This year, he’s become one of the biggest whiners when a microphone is stuffed in his face. It’s always somebody’s fault and “boo hoo, boo hoo” all over the airwaves. A professional driver does not attack a competitor for the sheer purpose of causing a wreck. If it’s hard hitting racing and moving somebody out of the way when the race is on the line in short track racing, that’s an entirely different matter. Moves that are part of winning the race are one thing. Moves that are for the sake of the driver is simply pissed off are never acceptable. The legendary fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison was fueled by red hot competition in the 1979 Daytona 500. It’s a matter of passion versus immaturity.

Tony Stewart and Juan Montoya entered the final race thinking of all kinds of “would have’s, could have’s, should have’s” as they were both not in a position to win the 2009 Sprint Cup trophy but were the toast of the field at various points in the season before Jimmie Johnson started to run away with everything. Metal met metal today, one machine with the #14 and the other with the #42. It was an afternoon lost for the #42 Ganassi-Earnhardt Chevy spending much time off the track. However, once the car was patched up and ready to go racing again rather than focusing on the best outcome for the race, the mercurial former IRL driver sought the #14 car, rear-ended Tony Stewart’s ride causing the Office Depot Chevy to brush its driver side front fender on an inside retaining wall.

When a driver clearly goes into attack mode as Denny Hamlin did yesterday and Juan Montoya did today, regardless of what led up to it, NASCAR must slam these drivers hard. While they might think they’re just laying on little love taps, there are 41 additional cars besides the two drives involved whose fortunes and lives hang in the balance. This is not a matter of NASCAR becoming too polite or not allowing passion, it’s simply a matter of driver safety, the most important consideration of all.

There is simply no accounting for just how horrible the 2009 season has been for Dale Earnhardt Jr. In the waning races of the season with seemingly nothing to lose but all to gain, the hapless #88 car continues to find bad luck as was the case today with tire trouble. How a few top ten finishes and a win or two could have taken the hurt out of a bad season. Lance McGrew and the driver have much work to do in the off season. How much of it is Junior’s damaged psyche and fractured confidence is hard to assess. Perhaps he needs to start a rip-roaring all fun vacation immediately, put 2009 behind him and then gear up for the season that fulfills the promise granted when he signed with the sports’ best garage.

How historical an accomplishment is Jimmie Johnson’s fourth consecutive championship? Consider this: he joins a fraternity of just three other drivers with four or more championships sharing four championships with teammate and partial car owner, Jeff Gordon, exceeded by Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty with seven. None of them won four in a row. Consider Jimmie Johnson’s rookie season was 2002 and has never finished a season lower than 4th, his rookie year. In 2003 and 2004, he finished second then finished 3rd in 2005 before beginning the championship run. With 47 wins, he stands 13th over all in just eight full seasons. Should he win just three races in 2010, he’ll tie Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett with 50 wins, tying them for 10th place. Lee Petty with 54 wins and Rusty Wallace with 55 would be next in line before a huge margin to reach Dale Earnhardt’s mark at 76 career wins.

Lost in Johnson’s success as a driver and Chad Knaus as the crew chief supporting all four championships is just how dominant Hendrick Motorsports has been since winning their first championship in 1995 with Jeff Gordon after Dale Earnhardt’s final championship with Richard Childress in 1994. Since 1995, Rick Hendrick’s teams have won nine championships, 4 a piece for Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, and one for Terry Labonte. In that run Robert Yates won one cup with Dale Jarrett. Joe Gibbs won three championships, two with Tony Stewart and one with Bobby Labonte. Roush/Fenway has two championships: Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch. This is the kind of achievement that only the New York Yankees, the Boston Celtics in their glory years, and UCLA basketball during John Wooden can understand. The depth of their success for 2009 is also noteworthy wrapping up the first three positions, with Johnson, Mark Martin, and Jeff Gordon. Tony Stewart finished 5th and Ryan Newman finished 9th in essentially Hendrick’s equipment.

Surely, Mark Martin’s accomplishment is noteworthy. Having been racing part time for the past two seasons, Martin was competitive all season after some initial difficulties in the earliest races. The 2009 campaign surely adds to his reputation of being the greatest driver never to win a championship, but how close can he get given some of his second place finishes behind the likes of Dale Earnhardt twice, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and now Jimmie Johnson, all repeat champs.

2009 will be a season easy to forget for Ford entries only finding victory lane three times, twice with Matt Kenseth to begin the season and Jaime McMurray at the 2nd Talladega race. While Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle made “the Chase,” neither driver posted a single victory for the 2009 season and they were not factors in the championship run. The Yates organization essentially faded into oblivion with Travis Kvapil not being able to earn a spot in the top 35 after four races and having to disband. Paul Menard failed to impress with a substandard career. Much attention focused on their working agreement with Hall of Fame racing, putting past champ Bobby Labonte in their stable only to suffer an absolutely embarrassing career. The end result was Yates being absorbed by George Gillett’s Richard Petty Racing. The one thing Yates has done well is create horsepower. In 2009, there will be four Roush/Fenway Fords and four Richard Petty Fords all with the same engines. The fate of Hall of Fame Racing remains uncertain while supposedly the “Legendary” Wood Brothers and Bill Elliott will continue to make a few cameo appearances at select races.

The end of 2008 and the offseason pointed to economic misery for NASCAR racing. Crowds were down and teams were forced to merge. Nevertheless, the Sprint Cup series never failed to have a complete field of racers though one has to wonder what to make of the dreadful “start and park” phenomenon. This situation must be addressed by NASCAR and the team owners.

Joey Logano earned one victory en route to the 2009 Rookie of the Year award showing tremendous growth as the season commenced.

A subject seldom mentioned but surely influential on 2009 results was the testing ban on all NASCAR sanctioned tracks. Members of the Roush/Fenway team indicate their struggles could have been in part due to the inability to test. Testing is also a valuable experience to help inexperienced drivers work on their skills. While the well-financed teams worked at tracks like Rockingham, no longer a NASCAR track, there is no substitute for working at the actual tracks where competition takes place.

The Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series will no longer race at Memphis for 2010 as tracks outside the Bruton Smith and France family empires struggle. There will be no Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Motor Speedway while Bruton Smith continues to look for options to open up that facility for the sport’s top series.

Thus the 2009 season comes to a close as we’ll start looking toward what 2009 will have in store. For many, once Jimmie Johnson took control of the 2009 Chase, it became a bit of a yawner but the hot competition between Mark Martin, Tony Stewart and others during the heat of the summer was highly competitive racing. That the sport held up as well as it did making history for the #48 team is noteworthy given the doom and gloom many saw in store for a sport so intimately related to the fortunes of a floundering automotive industry.
The cold of winter is upon us as the last vestage of summer sports concludes. We look forward to Speed Week at Daytona in February as the first tangible sign winter's chilling grip is near an end.

Sarah Palin's Magical Book Tour

Cheap shot! Demeanng displays by the radical left
such as the editors of Newsweek distract from the real
liabilities Sarah Palin presents that should concern
all Americans who fear where Obama-Nation is
taking us.
So what message resounds loud and clear from Sarah Palin's big book tour appearing on almost every TV show imaginable that does interviews: Oprah, Barbara Walters, Bill O'Reilly, and anybody short of Charlie Gibson, Katy Couric, or David Letterman -- figures with whom she has outstanding grievances?

Why's everybody always picking on me?

Cry me a river, Alaska girl! Her own words are often her worst enemy as she illustrated being interviewed in Grand Rapids by CBN. Palin asserted,

"These are probably some lonely people, some shallow people who want to take a shot like that and we need to pray for these people for one.."

Trying to make sense of Sarah Palin is like trying to find warmth in the Alaskan winter. To her credit, she really rattles the exact people on the left who need to be rattled. It's unbelievable to watch the obsessive Sarah Palin derangement syndrome in action. The Associated Press assigned eleven reporters to fact check Palin's book. And how many fact checkers did they turn loose on some recent books by prominent Democrats. Al Gore's Inconvient Truth would be a good place to start.

How about the image of Norah O'Donnell from MSNBC attempting to interview Palin loyalists in Grand Rapids desperately trying to invoke editorial comments in her questions?

Give Sarah Palin credit, she's sure good at getting everybody at each other's throats including conservatives.

Bill O'Reilly's interview is the most revealing interview of her yet. O'Reilly has played his roll about as neutral as possible. While to some, Palin may have had all the right answers, her answer showed little reflection and were mostly just fill-in-the-blank responses. She showed a total lack of nuance or perspective.

Beneath the bubbly, friendly "aw shucks" demeanor is a person who appears to see things in very personal terms. That the public admires her folksy ways, "she's one of us," is not a good thing. She almost appeared boastful talking about how she and her husband eloped to get married. Okay, we all did some wilder things when younger, don't we look for some stability and maturity in our leaders?
The real danger Sarah Palin poses is her uncanny knack to become the issue and thus diverting attention from the crucial issues so important to our nation's well being.
The timing of Sarah Palin's grand expose couldn't be worse. At the very time the Obama administration decided to try the most dangerous terrorists in Federal Court in New York and the Senate pushes forward the government seizure of medicine, the opposition to these dreadful developments are enthralled in Palin-mania. While Palin gives lip service to numerous conservative positions, she is doing little to foward these issues because the focus is on her -- her relationship with the media, how she deals with her critics, her family situation, and a variety of themes which are becoming a real life soap opera.
Conservatives and all conscientious citizens have a lot of tough work to do in the months ahead. The business at hand of working to make sure Obama's seizure of the nation's medical system never happens and that his other extremist agenda items likewise must be soundly defeated. That agenda includes vicious weakening of national security and defense no better illustrated that trying the worst terrorist thugs in civilian court. On economic matters, the administration is mounting an all out attack on free enterprise and for profit enterprises through more regulation and taxation. The environmental policies seek more to tie the hands of business having to conform to stifling regulations with huge noncompliance penalties rather than making environmental improvement a profitable enterprise that benefits all.

Sarah Palin is not the leader who can stand up against these outrageous goals of the most dangerous presidency in American history. She is a horrible distraction from moving forward with the nation's business and helping the next generation of Republican and conservative leaders emerge.

We offer Sarah Palin a plush going away present. Please go away.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sprint Cup 2009, Race 36: Homestead - The End of the Line

What could have been?
Mark Martin is doing what he needs to do to be able to compete for the Championship Trophy on Sunday at Homestead. He qualified fourth outside the second row, right toward the front where he needs to be.

That’s what the story could have been, but one small problem. Guess who’s sitting on the pole?

Jimmie Johnson, that’s who qualifying a full mile per hour plus faster than the second qualifier, a bit of a surprise, rookie, Scott Speed. In third next to Martin is Marcos Ambrose. After Martin, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Bill Elliott, and Clint Bowyer round out the top ten.

So given it would be so easy for Johnson to add another five points to his tally with one lap led after lap one making his victory that much more inevitable, what’s left to watch? Isn’t it all over?

For the sake of the 2009 Sprint Cup Championship, only catastrophe could ruin Johnson’s dream. There are so many ways to look at it all of which add up to his championship win. It will not only be NASCAR history but a major feat in all of sports winning four consecutive championships, an accomplishment of only the most elite competitors in the best of times.

Where this puts Johnson in NASCAR history is open to speculation, but remember, NASCAR just inducted its first five members of into their Hall of Fame. Does this already put Johnson in the same class as Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, and Junior Johnson?

For starters, there are only three drivers with four championships so far. Besides Earnhardt and Petty with seven, Jeff Gordon has four. Now does anybody want to imagine Johnson’s chances of bringing home at least three more trophies? (Maybe even the next three in a row.)

For casual fans, a race is a race no matter how it figures into “The Chase” or the whole championship drama. Homestead is proving to be an exciting track with no defined lines allowing drivers to race all over the track. That’s good racing!

Naturally, this is the silly season. Who might be hopping in his ride for the last time and who is poised to take his place? Once again, Bill Elliott makes a cameo appearance for the “Legendary” (we note we feel obliged by NASCAR tradition to cite them as such) Wood Brothers qualifying in 9th, far better than many “chasers” who will be considering all the what-if’s during the off season.

We paid attention to Joe Nemechek’s plight when he had some remarkable qualifying runs earlier in the fall only to have to park his car before a tire change. In what must be a frustrating roll to begin with, the NEMCO racing car failed to qualify at the track that took his brother John in the early days of the truck series. While we condemn the start and park efforts, Mr. Nemechek is a class act who has always raced like a true professional while fulfilling his responsibilities to the greater community with his off the track efforts. How sad it is that he and his family have such a huge investment in a sport they know they can’t even compete in beyond even one pit stop.

No doubt the parking lot will fill quickly in the early laps of tomorrow’s Nationwide race and then Sunday’s Sprint Cup race. We hope that NASCAR can find some means to discourage the practice. How did it impact Jimmie Johnson’s situation at Texas.

As the last few leaves fall off the trees in the mid-Atlantic, the end of NASCAR season sure hastens the cold weather months just as the Daytona 500 lets the world know, winter’s almost done.

Bring it on, and gentlemen start your engines one last time for 2009.

Sports Talk - A Few Words from Rightminded Fellow Himself

I don't want to sound too elitist, but damn, some of the folks who call sports talk radio are so freakin' stupid. It's not just that I don't agree with their opinions, they just don't live in the real world. It can be calls where they think all the great players are available at some great retail outlet where the owners go shopping and bingo, if only our owner weren't so cheap, or didn't buy the right guy, suggesting they'd be available in the first place. Some just don't know the game or how to set realistic expectations. Then there are always the conspiracy figures.
There are also fans that in some measure are maybe too smart. This week, the Ravens started off as a one point favorite in Vegas. Today, their even rated as an even pick or a 1 1/2 point underdog. Local sports talk has been so obsessed with the point spread and what it all means. Egads, while it might be interesting to know who is favored, when it gets to the level of studying the games on the basis of point spreads, over-under's and all that Vegas stuff, I guess it's interesting for hardcore gamblers, but play the darned game and enjoy the competition on the field for goodness sake.
I have some methodology I use to make my picks, but this weekend, I'm just a homer picking my team knowing deep inside the Colts could slaughter the Ravens. So be it. I also play in a fantasy league though not too well. I don't want to get too obsessed with all the figures and numbers that go into calculating how the excel in the weekly games. It's getting so bad that folks are rooting against their home teams because they're up against players on their fantasy teams. That's not good. Also, some fans are starting to expect coaches to make the decisions that are best for their fantasy teams not what's in the interest of winning the game. That becomes warped logic.
While it's good to be a knowledgeable fan, know the plays, and the strategies, I know darned well when many callers call in and act like they're as smart as Bill Bellichick insist that the Ravens or Redskins lost because they don't play shotgun enough, I wonder how many of those fans even know what shotgun formation is or they're just used to hearing it and didn't hear it mentioned when the local teams played.
There's a part of me that would never want to see a team win using the "West Coast Offense" thinking that it would have to be a lot like a lot of other things that come from the left coast. We realize there's a sports talk language all its own that perhaps gets way too overworked.
This fan is more interested in who's hot and who's not and the game, it's how they play the game, HELLO!!!! And then, "Playoffs, didn't somebody say playoffs?" Around Thanksgiving that conversation starts getting very serious. Does your team have a shot this year or not? Is there a team you'll adopt as the one you'll want to follow through to the Super Bowl?
The Ravens are still in the hunt, but Sunday's game against the Colts is almost a must win, then there's two games against the hated terrible towel gang, yes the Pittsburgh Steelers!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

NCAA '09 Football: Week 12

The 2009 college football season is beginning to wind down as the first of some of the great traditional end of the season games are being played. The real issue is for teams fighting for conference leads and bowl bids. In a year where the mighty have fallen and the upstarts slaughtered by the improbable teams with high hopes at the beginning of the season are left asking “why?” while some of the less likely are asking “why not?”

Two of the great historic programs, USC and Notre Dame, perhaps are best illustrations of how the mighty have fallen. There has never been a season where early on USC is not seen as a possible National Champion, but mired in fifth place in the PAC 10 standings reeling after being slaughtered by Stanford after earlier losses to Washington and Oregon. For Notre Dame, the picture is uglier. 2009 was supposed to be the Fighting Irish’s return to glory. Anything less than a BCS bid would be a failure. Well, forget about the BCS bowl, can they do better than the trip to Hawaii they won last year. Perhaps their first loss of the season, 38-34 against Michigan would have seemed legit, the Wolverines are not a threatening team who’ve lost against all Big 10 rivals besides Indiana looking timid and weak in most of those losses. USC beat them, but they are USC, aren’t they? Their next loss was a home loss to Navy, a team Notre Dame is supposed to beat with ease but lost 23-21. Last week, they lost to Pittsburgh ranked 12th. Pittsburgh’s a good team, but teams worthy of a major bowl win those games. With Connecticut this week and then a trip to California to play Stanford, talk about Charlie Weiss not returning next year is mighty loud in South Bend. Does anyone believe he’s the coach to lead Notre Dame back to the Promised Land?

Alas, then there was Iowa, the Cinderella team who looked destined to oust the Big 10’s most powerful having ruined Penn State’s dream of a National Championship? Iowa’s still having a respectable season ranked at #12, but after achieving a 9-0 record, they lost to the lowly Northwestern then fell to Ohio State in overtime.

The ACC’s story is one that is apparent to a lesser extent in some other conferences giving the appearance of achieving some kind of parity as there is no clearly dominant team unless Georgia Tech’s achievements would qualify them as such. Clemson leads the Atlantic division at 5-2, 7-3, overall, with Boston College at 4-2. All the rest of the Atlantic division has losing records including Florida State at 3-4 with calls demanding Bobby Bowden retire hastening the governor of Florida weighing in he should be allowed to stay. The Coastal conference appears more muscular with Georgia Tech at 7-1, 10-1 over all, with Virginia Tech at 4-2 and Miami at 4-3. Miami appears to have taken great strides toward being the great team they once were. North Carolina will enjoy a bowl bid despite having only three ACC victories stands at 7-3 overall, but the Tar Heels have gotten stronger as the season progressed. A win against FSU would secure their argument.

Our games this week feature a mixed bag of hopefuls, rivals, and good stories.

Oregon #11 (-6) at Arizona
This is a must win for Oregon to remain in the upper reaches of the Top-25. They should beat Arizona, a team appearing to be lost in a late season fade.

Ohio State #9 (-12) at Michigan
Given years of recent futility and little sign of a change in the near future, a radio commentator argued this historic matchup can hardly be called a real rivalry any longer since Michigan is not upholding its roll as a worthy competitor. The “Big House” will be laid silent by the Buckeyes.

Maryland at Florida State (-19)
What a sad game this is, a team that really sucks versus a team that should be doing much better. Since this game in being played in Tallahassee amidst all the controversy, Florida State must win big or the 2009 season’s end will be a campus wide nightmare. Having only one quality win versus Clemson and losing five straight, Maryland’s mailed it in. That they would rally their forces and beat Florida State seems most unlikely.

Penn State #13 (-3) at Michigan State
Michigan State cannot be taken lightly as Penn State must give their maximum effort to try to work in to the top ten to finish their season.

LSU #10 at Mississippi (-4)
LSU will prove the odds makers insane and likewise convince the world they belong in the top 10 by winning against Mississippi in grand fashion.

Oklahoma (-6 ½) at Texas Tech
Both teams are motivated to put in a good showing to show the world they belong in the same conversation as Texas and Oklahoma State so this should be one heck of a toughly fought game. Oklahoma should prevail with Tech making them earn it.

North Carolina at Boston College (-3.5)
Here’s a great chance for UNC to dismiss their sluggish start and show that they are a team building into a proven winner by upsetting the favored Boston College, that weird school so far removed from the rest of the ACC geographically.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NFL 2009: Week 11 - A November Chill in the Air as Races Heat Up

That the Ravens did not play their best football en route to a 16-0 shutout is not that big of a concern. If the team played to make sure they had things under control to secure the win and played with something in reserve in anticipation of the next three games that’s fine. Joe Flacco might be suffering some of the “sophomore jinx.” Some of his moves appear a little tentative in recent games. The absolute outrage is that after tossing an interception, Browns local kid and former Notre Dame Quarterback threw a cheap shot, chop blocking Raven defender causing a substantial knee injury that has him out against the Colts and possibly longer. The league took action, fining him, but it indicates just how desperate and out of control the Cleveland Browns franchise is. The Browns are a unit with no class, no sense, and no plan for where they are headed. Does anyone expect coach Mangini to be around next year? He’s another one year wonder, here today, gone tomorrow just as the Lerner group ditched their last GM and Phil Savage before.

Is 2009 the season of the terrible team? It well could be. While Ravens fans could take enjoyment in watching the Baltimore team win, it was bad football. How’s this for pathetic? Cleveland moves on to play the Detroit Lions with the Lions favored to win. St. Louis, Oakland, Kansas City, and Tampa Bay are teams, as we’ve lamented before simply don’t have much to allow locals to feel any encouragement, at least not yet.

On the other side, are teams like Indianapolis and New England who fought like warriors in Sunday night’s classic only to have such a hard fought game be lost to New England coach, Bill Belichick’s decision to go for it on fourth down buried deep in his own territory, falling short, giving Payton Manning a short field to pull out the win. Few games have gotten so much attention over a call like that one.

This week has some powerful matchups, as playoff contenders begin to materialize. Starting with Thursday night’s contest with Miami versus Carolina, teams with 4-5 records urgently need wins and some luck to keep their hopes alive with the 5-4 teams must build momentum because while it’s okay in the NFC, AFC teams will have to go beyond Pittsburgh and San Diego with 6-3 records.

The games:
Miami at Carolina (-3)
Carolina has been playing better since their horrendous start. Miami shows flashes of last year’s playoff team at times, but have had their difficulties. Carolina is just a wee bit better than the Fish.

Indianapolis at Baltimore (-1)
The book opened with the Ravens a one point favorite in Vegas. How can this be? We’re picking the Ravens because we don’t have enough sense not to be homers.

Washington at Dallas (-11)
Washington does have a decent defense despite their horrible offense. Dallas must play well to overcome their unexpected loss at Green Bay. Dallas needs to win or else fall back in the pack and a possible three way tie with Philadelphia and the Giants. It’s hard to see Washington pull the upset.

Cleveland at Detroit (3 ½)
The hapless Detroit Lions might look cool and professional at home against Cleveland. Monday night’s loss against Baltimore had all the markings of a team just whose offense just stopped playing. Detroit will obliterate Cleveland sending them floating back to Cleveland down Lake Erie in body bags.

San Francisco at Green Bay (-6 ½)
San Francisco’s early promise has deteriorated into misery as Coach Mike Singletary searches for the right buttons to push to be a winning team. Green Bay is another inconsistent team but should win handily at home against the 49’ers.

Buffalo at Jacksonville (-8 ½)
Perhaps the Bills belong on the list of dreadful teams having fired their coach Dick Jauron earlier this week. Meanwhile, Jacksonville is a team few believed would do anything sports a winning record they will increase by one victory after they go Buffalo hunting.

Pittsburgh (-10) at Kansas City
Here’s a chance for the Steelers to get well after their embarrassing loss to Cincinnati last week.

Seattle at Minnesota (-11)
The Vikings will roll along with a strong win over Seattle.

Atlanta at New York Giants (-6 ½)
Here’s a battle between two 5-4 teams needing to prove themselves as worthy contenders in the playoff hunt. Atlanta has shown they still need to grow to move beyond their surprise success last year. The Giants now show weaknesses easily exploited especially for their passing game. A Giants’ win by a touchdown makes sense.

New Orleans (-11 ½) at Tampa Bay
New Orleans will smash the Buccaneers in the battle for Gulf of Mexico NFC leadership.

Arizona (-9 ½) at St. Louis
Arizona is definitely looking like the leader of the NFC west perhaps stronger than the team that snuck into the Super Bowl last season.

San Diego at Denver (no odds yet posted)
The odds makers make sense. This is a tough one to pick. The Chargers can look tentative and underachieving at times while the color, orange, comes to mind thinking of the Broncos who appear to have turned back into a pumpkin in Cinderella lore. Here’s the battle for the lead in AFC West. With QB Kyle Orton beaten up, San Diego wins.

New York Jets at New England (-10 ½)
New England has work to do. After their embarrassing loss last week and having lost to the Jets in their house in week two, they need a solid win to keep the AFC East from becoming a race again. This one has to be the Patriots.

Cincinnati (-9 ½) at Oakland
The Bengals can have victory celebration as they live it up stomping on the miserable Raiders.

Philadelphia (-3) at Chicago
Philadelphia needs this game to keep pace with the other possible wild cards while Chicago needs to win to get back in the contest. Both teams are erratic to be sure; however, the Eagles are more multidimensional with deeper talent.

Tennessee at Houston (-4 ½)
Houston is a competitive team this year at 5-4 trying to advance into the playoff picture. This will be a key test for the Texans since Tennessee seems to have escaped from their miserable opening of six straight losses. Houston’s time to shine has arrived as they should win against their divisional rivalry.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sprint Cup 2009, Race 35: Johnson Wins

Mark Martin did what he had to do, achieve a top 5 finish to remain a championship contender for the Sprint Cup trophy, but what good does a fourth place finish do when Jimmie Johnson rebounds from his troubles a week ago and wins the race. It gave Johnson fifteen more points to his lead putting him a comfy 108 points ahead of Martin. Our math might be off by a position or so, but essentially, Martin would have to win and lead the most laps with Johnson finishing in 27th or worse. Surely, it is possible to lose 108 points in a race given what happened in Texas, but is it likely?

We’ll see next week when the field fires up their engines at Homestead.

There’s not much else to report from Phoenix. Finishing 9th finished Jeff Gordon’s faint hopes at a championship. Dale Earnhardt Jr. can’t buy a break getting tangled up in a late race mishap. Surely, finishing second has to be a bit of a fine consolation for Jeff Burton and Richard Childress Racing given their rough campaign for 2009.

It was a bad day for Fords; however, A.J. Allmendinger, running for Richard Petty Racing, preparing for its merger with Yates, had the best Ford finish in 13th position. The best Ford finish and the best finish from that garage. Greg Biffle finished 14th and Carl Edwards 16th as the best Roush competitors.

For Dodge, all hopes ride on Penske for next year. Their hopes were rewarded by a strong showing from Kurt Busch in 6th but who was one of Johnson’s toughest rivals in this race while Same Hornish finished 17th. There have been no credible stories that the Dodge/Penske partnership will be dissolved for next year meaning Dodge would only have three cars in Sprint Cup.

Like him or hate him, Jimmie Johnson is making NASCAR history the likes of which only Richard Petty could lay claim to exceeding. His expected fourth consecutive championship would be a feat not even the King could comprehend. We’ll discuss the significance of Johnson’s achievement only after it happens.

Maryland Freshman Democrat Congressman Votes No to Pelosi Health Bill

Frank Kratovil (D) would almost certainly never been elected to congress were it not for the Republican infighting in the Maryland 1st Congressional District combined with the anti-Republican sentiment in 2008. The 1st district represents Maryland’s Eastern Shore, a region that is of a completely different mind than across the bay, largely rural, including a large senior population, traditional and conservative.

Given the demographics of his district and the narrow margin by which he was elected, supporting the House health care bill would have been political suicide. Frank Kratovil did the right thing and voted against the bill. We applaud him for his courage.

Obama-Care: Here's Reason Enough to Stop the Madness!

Here's an article from today's Washington Post that indicates just how much harm particularly for those dependent on Medicare the current house proposal could cause. Not only does it seriously impact Medicare patients, but the strain it puts on the system will harm everyone.

Remember, Medicare is, in many ways, a miniature model, of how government run health care would affect the entire population. While Medicare does okay with the routine needs, for chronic, on-going issues, it can be disastrous especially to the disabled. Additionally, Medicare has never been able to function within any kind of budget projections tracking its performance.

It is every Americans patriotic duty and responsibility to him or herself, families, neighbors, to make sure every elected official know that it would be political suicide to stuff this horrible overhaul of our society down our throats. This is the most serious political misjudgement in American history except perhaps the south's decision to succeed from the Union.

Read this article and understand its consequences.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sprint Cup 2009, Race 35: A Little Chase After All

So who’s the happiest guy at Phoenix this weekend? How about Michael Waltrip? Michael Waltrip? Yes, Mikey, indeed, look at the front row from qualifying with Martin Truex Jr. on the pole and Kurt Busch on the outside poll, and things look good for Michael Waltrip racing since Kurt Busch’s crew chief, Pat Tryson will be Martin Truex’s chief next year when they both work for MWR!

Get beyond the front row, and look at 3rd starting spot and it’s the same old story. Jimmie Johnson qualified 3rd with Mark Martin 10th and Jeff Gordon 14th as the results from last week’s race at Texas opened up “The Chase” to reintroduce an element of competition given the almost one race lead Johnson achieved after Talladega. Phoenix is a good track for Johnson who has three wins, seven top fives, and ten top tens with an average finish of 5.4 at the Arizona speedway. How many drivers have anything approaching a 5.4 average at any racing facility?

So then is Rick Hendrick the happiest of all? It looks like he’ll have positions one, two, and three in the championship standings. Of course Hendricks power drives two more chase teams with Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman.

For most of the field, it’s look good for next year as several drivers will be looking for rides and teams looking for sponsorship. Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. ever have a respectable finish in 2009? Can Roush-Fenway turnaround their slump with only Matt Kenseth victories for the first two races of the season to show for the Ford effort in 2009? It’s had to imagine that neither Carl Edwards nor Greg Biffle have a single win between them.

The ability for Martin or Gordon to win the championship is as conditional on Johnson floundering as it is their ability to succeed given there are but two races left and the lead Johnson currently has over them. Last week proved how costly an early race mishap can be on the front running team, but how likely is that to happen in the last two races? Having a starting spot of third toward the front of the field makes safe racing a lot easier for the #48 team.

For drivers like David Stremme and Jaime McMurray, Phoenix marks perhaps the next to last race they enjoy rides on the Sprint Cup level as neither driver has a sure ride for next year. Where will the remainder of the #26 team go?

The long season that started at Daytona in February is almost over. Assuming Jimmie Johnson hangs on and wins the championship, what else besides his accomplishments will be noteworthy for NASCAR’s future when the history of the sport is told.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Obama Surrenders Terrorists Prosecution to ACLU Extremism

More concern shown this thug than the thousands he plot to kill.
Just how bad can it get?

If anyone who truly understands American history, the Constitution, and just good old common sense doesn’t realize Barack Obama is the most dangerous President the United States has ever elected, his decision to have Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks tried in civilian court in New York City, a court room in the shadows of where the World Trade Center towers once stood, is a dreadful capitulation putting politics and political correctness ahead of justice.

At the heart of the matter is failure to recognize the profound difference between how justice operates in civilian society versus a state of war up against enemy combatants. The Constitution is designed to protect the rights of American citizens not enemies sworn to destroy us.

The rules of evidence, the protection and presumption of innocence, and many other legal safeguards take on different character when functioning under the rules of warfare.

Given the financial resources available, Sheik Mohammed will be able to hire legal defense that will have the means to make the terrorist leaders’ trial a media showcase where our society will be put on trial for all the conventional grievances radicals who hate us trump up when given the opportunity and the victims themselves will be taunted and insulted. The Islamic terrorist movement will seize every opportunity to use the trial in the worldwide media particularly in the Islamic world to create stark images of “the great Satan” through Al Jazeera. The radical left and its apologists in the more extreme elements of the conventional media will likewise use the trial to push an ACLU agenda making the victims of 9/11 the criminals and the terrorists victims of the American system.

The stress put on the prosecutors, those charged with securing the court facility, 9/11 survivors, victims’ families, servicemen who’ve fought in the war on terror, and stake holders in the American justice system functioning as it should and not being politicized to fulfill a warped left wing agenda will be enormous. Anything short of the death penalty for Sheik Mohammed will be unacceptable, but given the kind of spectacle his supporters will be able to make of his trial, the ability to make him a martyr to the most impressionable followers of Islam will be absolutely out of bounds.

Regardless of what tough rhetoric President Obama uses to try to denounce Sheik Mohammed’s treachery, he has done the world of radical Islam the greatest favor imaginable except from setting this terrorist free without trial. The specter of some technicality turning loose these enemies to a civilized world is a real possibility that would further attack the very foundation of American security and justice.

All peace loving Americans who believe in the rule of law and the security of our homeland must condemn President Obama and do everything possible to discredit this radical administration rendering them as ineffective as possible to execute the awesome powers of the Presidency.

Nothing is more painful than hearing a 9/11 widow express her shock, hurt, and anger over Obama’s disgraceful and anti-American decision. It’s for people like her we find the power to sustain our motivation to show the Obama administration for what it is, a radical, anti-American, corrupt and incompetent regime that is not looking out for our best interests on virtually all levels of Presidential power.