Archive for August, 2006

Dust the mothballs off of Lee Corso – the college football season is here! With that, here are my thoughts on the Illini (views on this morning’s report in the Chicago Sun-Times of the apparent demise of Chief Illiniwek will come at a different time), Big Ten, and the rest of college football:

1) Mediocrity = Zook the Messiah – The preseason prognosticators have been taking a collective dump on the Illinois football team. CBS Sportsline and the Chicago Tribune are just two of the multitudes of media outlets that have picked the Illini to finish dead last in the Big Ten this season, while ESPN already has us on the “waiting list” for the National Bottom 10. I know that last year was the most horrible season in recent memory (and believe me, as someone that started following Illinois after my marticulation to the school in Champaign-Urbana a decade ago, that recent memory might as well be a Wes Craven movie franchise) while the Penn State backups are still scoring on our defense as you read this. However, I simply refuse to believe that a team that is returning 20 starters from last season along with a top 30 recruiting class coming in (which doesn’t take into account the addition of stud defensive end Melvin Alaeze) is going to be nearly as awful as everyone believes.

So, let me make a bold prediction: the Illini will make a bowl this season. Yes, you read that correctly. Any bowl would be of the Motor City variety as opposed to the Rose, but it would be a bowl nonetheless. How could this happen, other than it being a delusional dream of a flaming Illini homer? Well, in the midst of the college presidents saying that insituting a playoff system would make the season too long, they decided to add a 12th game to the regular season schedule. Completely logical, right? What’s bad for college football in general, though, could be a boon for weak BCS teams such as the Illini. The upshot is that a team only needs to finish .500 to get the minimum of 6 wins to be bowl-eligible. That means if a team can sweep its 4-game non-conference schedule, it can be pitiful in conference play yet still end up in a bowl.

This recipe is in place for the Illini. The mighty Division 1-AA Eastern Illinois Panthers are coming into town for a guarantee game this weekend (although if the Illini somehow come up short here while I attend this game with my law school buddy that went the EIU, I might be pulling a Salman Rushdie for a few years). There is also an October game against the Ohio University, whose existence seems solely to be an excuse for pompous Ohio State grads to call their school THE Ohio State University. Meanwhile, Illinois has two Big East opponents in Rutgers and Syracuse, which might as well be guarantee games. As bad as Illinois was last season, they still were able to beat Rutgers – and the Scarlet Knights were good enough by Big East standards to make it to a bowl! Syracuse, on the other hand, couldn’t even get a single Big East conference victory. Simply put, the Big East is comparable to the Little Sisters of the Poor Conference, or worse yet, the National League. A statement categorizing these two opponents as BCS teams would be ruled as perjury by a court of law.

As long as Illinois can get through its non-conference schedule unscathed, which is a reasonable belief, we only need 2 Big Ten Conference victories to go bowling. Win number one is simple – as I’ve stated before, we’re playing Indiana at home this year, which makes that game a virtual lock in our favor. Therefore, the question is where we’re going to get win number two. Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa, and Wisconsin are all out of the question. That leaves Michigan State, Purdue, and Northwestern on the table. Purdue looks to have one of the strongest offenses in the Big Ten this season, so I’m going to put an Illini win over the Boilermakers into the unlikely category. The matchup with Michigan State is a prime opportunity, since we’re the-game-after-the-Notre-Dame-game for them this year. As I’ll allude to later on in this preview, the Spartans have a habit of catching the Irish with their drunken leprechaun pants down because MSU is invariably always the opponent in the-game-after-the-Michigan-game for Notre Dame. This leads to Michigan State subsequently crash down from that emotional high the very next week against a vastly inferior opponent.

The most likely scenario, though, is us getting our last necessary win against in-state rival Northwestern. The Wildcats will deservedly be the subject of numerous human interest stories as the program recovers from the sudden death of head coach Randy Walker (I can’t even comprehend the emotions that are going to be on display tonight when Northwestern kicks off the season at Miami of Ohio, which just happens to be Walker’s alma mater). In football terms, however, Northwestern is going to have an inexperienced coach in Pat Fitzgerald with an inexperienced quarterback to be determined at a later date. With that combo, I can’t see how anyone other than the Hoosiers are going to fall below the Wildcats in Big Ten play this season.

As the crack smoke clears from my room, a bowl actually looks like an attainable goal for Illinois. Now, we’re going to have to figure out what to do with Ron Zook’s dance moves.

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2) Irish Eyes and Kissing Cousins Won’t Be Smiling – Being able to predict who will end up being the best team in football four months before the championship, whether it’s college or pro, is pretty tough. However, finding an overrated team to bet heavily against is easier than Paris Hilton in an NFL locker room. There are two “hot” teams to sell short this season: Notre Dame and West Virginia. The weak Irish defense is going to catch up with them this season – I really can’t believe that anyone who watched the Fiesta Bowl last year could rationally put Notre Dame in the same class as Ohio State regardless of how many players the Buckeyes have lost. Even if the Irish somehow win their first three games, which certainly isn’t anywhere near a lock with Georgia Tech, Penn State, and Michigan being the opponents, as stated above the Charlie Weis squad will find a way to crap out against Michigan State like they always do.

At the same time, while it’s perfectly reasonable to rely on this logic for a team to make a bowl (see “Fighting Illini” in point #1), the worst argument that anyone can ever have to say that someone is a national championship contender is that the team has schedule akin to playing the runners-up from a sixth grade Punt, Pass, and Kick contest every week, which is what a number of prognosticators seem to be saying about Big East member West Virginia. For those with short memories, this was a popular sentiment in making fellow Big Easter Louisville one of the trendy preseason national title contenders last season. The problem with weak schedules, though, is that any loss is a really bad loss, such as Louisville losing to South Florida. The money here says that the Mountaineers won’t be running the table (possibly a loss against said Louisville Cardinals), which kills any title hopes.

3) Drink Like a Champion Today – The Chicagoist put together a nice list of bars in Chicago where Big Ten and Notre Dame alums can cheer their respective teams with fellow alums and fans. I can attest to validity of all of the Illini bars listed (and pretty much all of the non-Illini bars mentioned, as well). However, and maybe it’s just me, I always felt as though at least 50% of the bars on the North Side of Chicago are owned by Michigan State fans. The number of pictures that I’ve seen of the Flint Munchkin, er, Mateen Cleaves hanging on wall while I’ve been out on the town is astounding.

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4) Big Ten Final Standings Prediction – Something you’re going to be hearing all season, regardless of whether you live in Big Ten Country, is how stacked the Buckeyes are. Watch out for those pesky Illini kids. The projected conference standings: (1) Ohio State, (2) Michigan, (3) Iowa, (4) Penn State, (5) Wisconsin, (6) Purdue, (7) Michigan State, (8) Illinois, (9) Minnesota, (10) Northwestern, (11) Indiana.

5) BCS Conference Champions Predictions: Nothing too crazy here except that I believe this is the year that USC gets knocked off of its Nick Lachey-sized pedestal, if only for a season. The projected BCS conference champs: Big Ten – Ohio State, SEC – Auburn, ACC – Florida State, Big 12 – Texas, Pac-10 – California, Big East – Louisville.

6) BCS Championship Game Prediction: Auburn is going to be battle-tested in the brutal SEC this season. However, Troy Smith is not only going to roll over Brady Quinn in the Heisman Trophy race, but his team is going to make Columbus forget about the taser use on Maurice Clarett and the reading habits of Mike Cooper. Predicted national championship result: Ohio State over Auburn.

In about 48 hours, I’ll be tailgating outside of Memorial Stadium once again. Even if Illinois doesn’t end up in a bowl or goes 0-for-the-Big-Ten, there are few things better in life than popping some beers and placing meat over fire with some buddies on a college football Saturday. Happy college football season!

(Images from Deadspin and Deadspin again)

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I can start thinking about the White Sox again, but I will continue to just ignore what my eyes are telling me about the Bears offense. By the way, regardless of what anyone might have thought of him at USC, Nick Lachey’s wingman Matt Leinart (or maybe it’s the other way around) looked incredible for the Arizona Cardinals while playing against the first team Bears defensive unit on Friday night. I know I’ve said before that the NFL preseason is worthless, yet it’s still pretty impressive when a rookie is able to more than hold his own against one of the league’s supposed top defenses. Of course, how great can the Bears defense be if they can’t stop a rookie, no matter how great he was in college? At least I can take solace in that the Packers look worse than ever. Here are today’s links:

1) Big Ten Preview (Views From Life on a Bench) (from Deadspin) – An entertaining look at the upcoming Big Ten football season, but I was curious as to the hateration for our Illini uniforms. Then, I found out that we are getting new uniforms this season, which include some Miami Hurricanes-style piping for our standard jerseys and then a special orange incarnation (a variety of which has appeared before). Let’s just say that my eyes haven’t burned this badly since K-Fed’s “performance” last week. Look, I love our orange basketball uniforms, but we really need to shelve the monochromatic orange football unis. Teams such as Penn State, Michigan, and Notre Dame are dressed to play football. Our Illini, however, are straight out of a Charlie Brown Halloween special.

2) Watch What You Snap (Chicagoist) – Don’t let the terrorists win. Be alert of those people taking pictures of, uh, Metra trains.

3) Do Not Draft Domanick Davis, People (Deadspin) – I cannot tell you how close I was to drafting Domanick Davis in my first fantasy football draft of the season this past Saturday – it was between him and Reuben Droughns for my #2 running back. On a split second decision, I went with Reuben because, well, that’s a damn fine sandwich. Plus, I’ve had Davis on at least one of my teams for the past two years and he has provided diminishing returns since David Carr’s passer rating has hovered in the low teens (the football equivalent of the Mendoza Line should heretofore be called the “Carr Line”), which gave opposing defenses the opportunity to stack 11 teams in the box against the Texans. Still, until I saw this, I had a little bit of buyer’s remorse since Davis historically has put up decent receiving numbers in addition to his running stats. For once, the fantasy football gods might have thrown me a bone. In the real football world, it’s a good thing for Houston that they took Reggie Bush with the biggest no-brainer #1 draft pick since Peyton Manning. Oh, hold on a second…

4) Web Guitar Wizard Revealed at Last (New York Times) – The identity of funtwo has been uncovered. If you haven’t seen this kid’s technically astounding rock rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon on YouTube, here you go.

5) NBC Expresses Regret for Air-Crash Skit (Washington Post) – The P.C. brigade marches on. By this logic, ABC will need to apologize for airing “Lost” in the first place.

And finally…

6) Hip-Hop Infused Poker Show Coming to Television (AllHipHop.com) – Something tells me that this is going to be a cross between the World Series of Poker and Wilmer Valderrama’s latest MTV vehicle “Yo Momma”, which means that this is a virtual lock to be the greatest program in the history of television.

(UPDATE: Speaking of Matt Leinart, it looks like he’s going to be a daddy.) 

After going through training camp and the first preseason game on Madden 2007 using the Bears in franchise mode, the computer did a reorganization of the depth chart where there are “position battles” to reflect the performance of the players. So, what sign is the game presenting to me when it yanks Rex Grossman out of the starting quarterback role and replaces him with Brian Griese (despite Rex’s higher player rating)? The game is becoming a little too real for me. On to today’s links:

1) America’s Drunkest Cities (Forbes) – Milwaukee is #1. In other news, the sun also rises in the east. Our fair city of Chicago got a more than respectable #6 ranking, which still blows away places such as Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Miami.

2) How the Facts Align: Erasing Pluto From Textbooks, Encyclopedias, Etc. (Washington Post) – My Very Educated Mother Just Said Uh-oh No Pluto.

3) Firing on All Cyllinders (Chi-Sox Blog) – Are the White Sox back on track? We don’t have much time to think about it since the Twins are in town starting today.

4) Making Room for the Hopeless Pop Star in Crowd of Professional Amateurs (New York Times) – A defense of the singing skills of Paris Hilton and her spiritual cousin K-Fed (all of my sensory nodes are still burning from the other day)… sort of.

And finally…

5) Case of Missing iPod Comes With Playlist of Issues (Chicago Tribune) – Only in Naperville.

A bonus post today on some random items because: (a) I need to not think about the White Sox, (b) I need to not think about the Bears offense, and (c) today is Maddenoliday, which means I will be out of commission for the next several days after I pick up my pre-ordered copy of Madden 2007 in a couple of hours.  On to today’s links:

1) Pink Taco’s Owners Make Bid to Name Cards Stadium (Arizona Republic) (from Deadspin) – Mulva?

2) Now the Music Industry Wants Guitarists to Stop Sharing (New York Times) – What about tips for Guitar Hero?

3) Video of the Day: Kevin Federline on The Teen Choice Awards (TV with MeeVee) – There are some things that you can’t unsee.

4) A New Way to Use the Force (Wall Street Journal) (subscription required) – How George Lucas plans to keep rolling in the dough even without any new Star Wars movies.  Thankfully, we will be able to hear that goofy Ewok song at the end of Return of the Jedi once more pretty soon.

5) Kids Say the Darndest Things in Their Blogs (Washington Post) – This simply isn’t true.  I was an embarrassment to my parents long before I started a blog.

And finally…

6) Man Trapped Waist-Deep in Chocolate (San Francisco Chronicle) – Only in Wisconsin.

It was fitting that CBS followed up its broadcast of the PGA Championship yesterday with an airing of 60 Minutes that featured an interview (done by Ed Bradley’s earring) with Michael Jordan. On my sports Mount Rushmore, there are three athletes that have secured places so far: Jordan, Muhammad Ali, and Babe Ruth. Tiger Woods, with winning his 12th major championship in Chicago’s backyard at Medinah, has all but clinched the fourth spot.

(On a related note, I’ve heard arguments that the great multi-sport athletes such as Jim Thorpe or Bo Jackson ought to be considered at the top of the list. Certainly, I believe the ability to play multiple sports at a high level is something few have ever been able to do. However, in my opinion, there’s nothing tougher than dominating and perfecting a single sport in the manner of Jordan or Woods. Besides, the greatest athletes could have excelled in any sport if they had wanted to. For example, Michael Jordan was the named top Babe Ruth League baseball player in the State of North Carolina before he decided to focus on basketball.)

For whatever reason, though, there’s been a bit of backlash over the past couple of years regarding Tiger. Phil Mickelson has turned into the “people’s champion” while Tiger has been somewhat put down as being robotic. It’s not a surprise that the public tries to knock down those that have achieved the highest levels of success realtively early in life – it happened to Ali with his refusal to serve in Vietnam and Jordan with his gambling habits – but it’s still disjarring to see such a disproportionate share of negativity toward Tiger Woods when he’s without question the top athlete of this generation.

Tiger doesn’t have the magnetic and quotable personality of, say, Charles Barkley or even Jordan, yet it’s not as if though he’s the ornery Barry Bonds, either. At the same time, Woods hasn’t had been involved any outside scandals in the tabloids. He had an incredibly close relationship with his late father and is just as close with his mother, all while being married to a Femme Bot of a wife. Tiger might have as much in terms of natural physical gifts as anyone that has ever played professional golf, but he also has shown that he works harder to perfect his game above and beyond his competitors.

Maybe it’s the appearance of perfection that eventually drives people away. Just as Arnold Palmer became the crowd favorite over the superior player of Jack Nicklaus, we might be seeing a repeat with Mickelson becoming the public’s choice over Tiger. Phil’s meltdown in the U.S. Open earlier this year almost made him more endearing, as if he’s someone that’s just as flawed as the rest of us.

One of my friends once told me that he enjoyed watching hockey over basketball because he believed hockey players were the types of guys he’d want to have some beers with. For me, it’s the complete opposite: I want to watch athletes that are anything but normal and down-to-earth. The pursuit of physical, mental, and practical perfection is what has always attracted me to sports and there are few things more thrilling than observing someone work toward that level. My favorite sports memories from my childhood pretty much all involve Michael Jordan willing himself and the Bulls to victory with strength, guile, and precision that no one else could match. Tiger is doing the same thing on the golf course right now. While I enjoy watching Phil Mickelson as much as anyone, if you asked me which athlete I’d pay money to watch over any other as of today, my choice is going to be Tiger Woods everytime.

During my ten-minute drive from my house to the train station every morning, I usually listen to National Public Radio. This is because: (a) the music stations seem to think that people only want to hear 45-minute discussions about the latest celebrity engagement/marriage/divorce during the morning drive as opposed to, say, listening to music; (b) the sports stations have about a 2-to-1 commercial-to-program ratio in the morning; and (c) I like my news coverage to be more than reciting the latest Yahoo! News headlines.

So, since I only spend a few minutes in the car each day, NPR is perfect for that time. I know that I’m going to get a couple of in-depth news stories that I wouldn’t have found on my own. (By the way, do you know how you have that stomach turning moment in life where you realize that you have turned into your parents? For me, it was when I started to willingly listen to NPR. I used to complain to my father all of the time in the car when he listened to NPR instead of the mysogynist hip-hop music that I favored. Now look at what’s happened to me – I own a house in the suburbs and listen to NPR while driving a minivan. Once I start complaining about any hoodlums in neighborhood that keep partying with the bass too loud, my transformation will be complete.)

At the same time, I’m not going to be deluged with a bunch of commercials in the traditional sense. NPR does have sponsors for segments, which are usually refined entities that fit the tone and tenor of the station such as financial services companies, corporate law firms, museums, and fine arts festivals.

Considering all of this, I nearly urinated on myself in the car the other day when the NPR announcer non-chalantly stated, “Your Chicago Public Radio traffic and weather report has been brought to you by the WWE SummerSlam.” My goodness, the Hulkster is body slamming the Hezbollah!!! Who’s ready for the Garrison Keillor/Carl Kasell tag team??? The only thing that could have been funnier is if the announcer had capped it by informing the listeners that they could watch everything live this Sunday at the Rosemont Horizon. Vince McMahon must have sent in one helluva check during the spring pledge drive. Anyway, here are the links for the weekend:

1) Slippery When Airborne (Malay Mail) (from Danny M) – YES, THOSE SNAKES DESERVED TO DIE, AND I HOPE THEY BURN IN HELL!!!

2) 2006-07 Illinois Men’s Basketball Schedule (FightingIllini.com) – The nonconference schedule is definitely a step down from the last five or six seasons, although that’s appropriate since this is probably going to be a weaker transition year before the Illini ramp it up again for the monster freshman class starting in 2007-08 (assuming Indiana stops doing the devil’s work in trying to steal our recruit). I’m definitely looking forward to the Arizona game on December 2nd, which will be our first meeting with the Wildcats since the greatest sports event I have ever seen and probably ever will see. If for some reason you need a reminder of what occurred on March 26, 2005, bestill the power of YouTube here.

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(Random Note #1: A couple of my buddies were playing pickup hoops in downtown Chicago last weekend when out of the blue, Dee Brown showed up along with an entourage of 5 other guys and joined the game. Quoting one of the players regarding Dee: “He broke my ankles, drained threes in my face, and trash talked…it was awesome. In one game, we were on the same team and he caught me on a backdoor move. The play was so smooth…it’s like we’ve been playing together for years.” That might be the most awesome story I have ever heard in my life.)

(Random Note #2: The picture above of Deron Williams posterizing Channing Frye has been the wallpaper on my computer since March 27, 2005. Just so you know.)

3) 5 Predictions for the Big Ten (ESPN.com) – Switching to football, I’ll gladly take “long-term optimism” and run with it.

4) The Barkers Meet MySpace (E! Online News) – Well, this is certainly one way to get your side of the story out to the public.

5) The Buerhle Bile File: Making History: Game 120 Thoughts (Chi-Sox Blog) – After what was supposed to be a break in the schedule against the Royals (the White Sox ended up barely splitting the 4-game series against the worst team in baseball), the Sox now have 10 straight games with the Twins and Tigers. I was really hoping that I could enjoy the next 6 weeks without having the worry about the Sox making the playoffs, but no dice here.

6) Snakes on Claire Danes (YouTube) – Heh-heh…

And finally…

7) Australians Upset Over Loud Manilow Music (San Francisco Chronicle) – Sometimes, you’re better off just putting up with those punk kids because the solution is ten times worse.

(Image from FightingIllini.com)

To me, there’s no question that the college game is superior to the pro game in the basketball world. Even though I enjoy the NBA and believe that, pound for pound, its players are the best athletes in the world, it doesn’t hold a candle to the passion associated with college basketball from the first game of the regular season up until the Final Four.

Comparing college football with pro football, on the other hand, is a much tougher task for me. ESPN.com is currently running a debate on which style of football is better, with Ivan Maisel supporting the college game and Len Pasquerelli championing the NFL. Choosing one over the other is kind of like asking a mother which child is her favorite or whether it was more shocking to find out that Liberace was gay versus Lance Bass – if there’s any answer at all, we’re definitely splitting hairs here. From my personal perspective, the fact that the earliest concrete sports memories that I have are of the 1985 Bears Super Bowl season means that the NFL has the oldest roots of my sports fandom (as well as creating a lifetime of unreasonable expectations for the Bears). On the other hand, as I’ve mentioned previously, since I’ve gone to college, there is now no team that I care about more in any sport at any level than the Illinois Fighting Illini (which has been great for basketball, but not so hot lately for football), meaning that the college game has deeper roots for me.

Obviously, the quality of play is going to be higher in the NFL since the players re paid professionals as opposed to amatuer students, so that’s a given. However, there are a whole host of other factors that are in play here in a best-of-seven format:

1) Watching Teams That You Care About – I don’t care that the Packers are owned by the citizens of Green Bay. If you went to a BCS school, the allegiance to your college program runs deeper than anyone could ever have with a pro team.  As of yesterday on Stubhub.com, the least expensive tickets (where you can buy at least a pair) for the New Year’s Eve game between the Bears and Packers, which is the NFL matchup with the highest demand in one of the most expensive scalping markets in the country, are $175 apiece.  In contrast, the cheapest tickets for the September 9th game between Notre Dame and Penn State in South Bend (and these are among the worst seats in a stadium with nearly 20,000 more seats than Soldier Field) are currently $725 each.  When a regular season college football game can command higher ticket prices than the Super Bowl, you can see who has the most obsessive fans.

EDGE: College Football

2) Watching Teams That You Don’t Care About – While I program the Illini and Bears schedules into my electronic calendar every year, I’m also the type of guy that will end up watching a whole lot more football games that don’t involve my teams at all. On the college side, there are the superior rivalries (see #3 below), where the classic games end up getting names like the “Game of the Century” and are are talked about years later in the manner of the great heavyweight boxing matches involving Muhammad Ali or Joe Louis. However, NFL football has the fantasy football component, which means I suddenly end up having a vested interest in nearly every game on the docket. As Adam Smith would say…

EDGE: NFL Football

3) Rivalries – I’m saying this as someone that prays at the alter of the rivalry between the Bears and the Packers: the NFL has nothing on Michigan vs. Ohio State, Army vs. Navy, Florida vs. Florida State, Texas vs. Texas A&M, Alabama vs. Auburn, and a host of other college rivalries.

EDGE: College Football

4) Postseason – I’m hoping that one of these days, the BCS college presidents will accept my modest proposal for a playoff system that uses the bowls. Until then…

HUGE EDGE BY DEFAULT: NFL Football

5) Television Pregame Shows – On the college side, ESPN has an immensely entertaining pregame show hosted by Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, and Lee Corso that is on location as part of the tailgate scene at one of the top games of the week.  For the NFL, there is a choice of an extra hour of Joe Buck, the unstoppable yapping of Chris “YWML” Berman, or an Isotoner gloves spokesman.

MONSTER EDGE: College Football

6) Offseason Activities – When the season is over, pro football has the NFL Draft, which I believe is usually more entertaining than the Super Bowl itself.  As for college, there are spring football practices and middle-aged guys with receding hairlines complaining on internet message boards about the school choices of pimply-faced 17-year kids.

EDGE: NFL Football

7) Miscellaneous – College football has great marching bands, fight songs ingrained in your brain, extreme tailgating, the way Keith Jackson pronounces “A-LA-BAM-A!!!”, drunk student cheering sections, perky cheerleaders, real mascots, and school pride.  Meanwhile, NFL Football has booze at the game that you don’t have to smuggle into the stadium in a flask, Madden NFL for the PS2 or Xbox 360, cheerleaders that were trained at the Admiral Theatre, a plethora of teaser bets, and the gift that keeps on giving with the Super Bowl Shuffle.  It’s a tight one here, but this has got to go this way…

EDGE: College Football

So there you have it.  College Football slightly edges out NFL Football 4-3 on the preference scale for Frank the Tank.  It would be even more preferable if Illinois could win a Big Ten conference game or two each season.  Regardless, I’ll be a happy man in September when the Bears and Illini are both back on the gridiron for real again.

A few links to get your week started off right:

1) Disconnected in Suburbia – After being banned from the interweb by the FCC for a few weeks, Chronically Insane is back and we’re all better for it.

2) Fat Factors (New York Times) – This is a lengthy article, but it goes over fascinating studies scientists are performing to examine factors outside of genes and eating/exercise habits that could cause obesity (including viruses).

3) Try As They Might, Bears Can’t Quell QB Derby (Chicago Tribune) – I forgot to mention another reason as to why preseason football is excruciating: the inevitable infatuation Bears fans develop with the backup quarterback after the first preseason game. This puppy love will continue until that backup quarterback actually has to play or the last game of the season, whichever comes first.

4) You Hearin’ Those Footsteps? (South Side Sox) – I’m feeling a little bit better today about the playoff hopes for the White Sox, but there’s still a ton of work to be done.

5) Stephen A. Smith Heckled at the 2006 NBA Draft, Second Round (YouTube) (from Minneapolis Red Sox) – QUITE FRANKLY, I NEED MY CHEESE DOODLES!!!

6) VH-1 Flavor of Love Blog – Unofficial takes on the best show on television.

And finally…

7) Kanye West to Tour With Rolling Stones and U2 (AllHipHop.com) – I got jipped with the opening act when I went to see the Stones back in January. Wow!!!

How can we explain what’s been happening with the White Sox this season? Even though we currently have the third-best record in baseball with the AL Wild Card lead and are coming off a spectacular extra-inning win against the Yankees, there’s an ominous feeling on the South Side of Chicago these days that the Sox are going to fall down hard. There are the obvious changes from last season, from the weaknesses of the starting rotation in general to our recurring Mark Buerhle problem, where our ace from up until a couple months ago appears to have now caught Steve Blass Disease. At the same time, the departure of clubhouse leaders Aaron Rowand and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez might have put a dent into team chemistry.

However, there’s one mega-difference from 2005 that I haven’t heard anyone speak of yet: the absence of the great Steve Perry. There’s nothing unusual about celebrity fans, ranging from Jennifer Garner and her no talent assclown husband with the Red Sox to that kid from “Malcom in the Middle” with the Clippers. What made the Steve Perry situation unique, though, was that he was the equivalent of a trade deadline rent-a-player for the stretch run of the season. Here was a guy that had absolutely no connection to Chicago other than playing a few Journey shows at the Rosemont Horizon back in the ’80s (although bandmate Jonathan Cain is a Chicago native) that ended up being the ultimate bandwagon fan after the White Sox adopted “Don’t Stop Believing” as their theme song. Perry rode this resuscitation of his career to the point where he ended up celebrating with the team in the locker room after clinching their first World Series championship since 1917 along with being a prominent part of the subsequent ticket tape parade.

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The average diehard Sox fan, including myself, found all of this particularly disjarring at the time. In fact, we prided ourselves on not being the bandwagon celebrity draw that the Cubs have always been, so it was incredulous to see an aging rock star with no previous association with the City of Chicago, much less the White Sox team, somehow become vaulted to the position of a top Sox fan within the span of a couple of months. Now, however, I recognize that Sox having Steve Perry in the late-summer and fall of 2005 was the equivalent of the Astros grabbing Randy Johnson at the trade deadline in 1998 – the last piece that pushed a team on the cusp of greatness over the top and into the postseason.

I’m not saying that we need the return of Steve Perry for the next few months (although “Any Way You Want It” is a great song while playing golf or for any wedding or bar mitzvah celebration), but there’s certainly a void in the theme song and rent-a-celeb category this season. I’ll take any nominees on this site to fill this crucial spot, with a preference toward lead singers of late-’70s or early-’80s arena rock bands (unless the nominee is the divine intervention named Flavor Flav, who would be an automatic winner). Any way you want it, that’s the way you need it…

(Image from Wikipedia)

I love football. It doesn’t matter whether it’s pro football or college football – I’ll watch it all. I run multiple fantasy football teams every year. There have to be monstrous extraneous factors for me to miss watching a Bears or Illini game. However, for all of this love for the pigskin, there’s one thing that doesn’t excite me at all: preseason football.

Even though my heart flutters a little bit when NFL training camps open, preseason football just doesn’t do it for me. Don’t get me wrong – I’ll most likely end up watching the Hall of Fame Game this weekend along with all of the Bears preseason games (not to mention that a number of professional gamblers believe that the preseason presents great betting opportunities). Yet, as opposed to whetting my appetite for the upcoming regular season, which is what spring training does for me with baseball, the NFL preseason is an excruciatingly long month that puts me on edge.

The reason is that the NFL preseason has absolutely no correlation with what occurs during the regular season. (Random Factoid for Use in a Bar Bet – Question: What was the Bears’ preseason record before their 15-1 Super Bowl season in 1985? Answer: 1 win, 3 losses.) While the third game of the preseason is usually when teams leave their starters in for the most amount of time, the ultimate goal for most head coaches is to make sure they don’t have too many injuries going into the season opener. That means the average preseason game might see the starting units on the field for the first quarter, at most (I doubt we’ll see Rex Grossman take snaps for more than a series or two per game). After that, it’s a cacophony of scrubs trying to grab a third-string spot or a place on the practice squad. That’s not real football. At least in spring training baseball games, there is a feeling that the game of baseball is actually being played with the players that are going to be out there everyday.

There is nothing better in sports than a football game where both teams are playing at the highest level. However, preseason football is a bastardized version of this great sport. That being said, I’ll still watch it, though. On to today’s links:

1) Best Sports Cities 2006: Welcome Back, Chicago (Sporting News) – It’s no contest.

2) Zook’s Latest Coup Gives Hope (Mark Tupper Weblog) – How many “risks” are going to be acceptable for Ron Zook to take in order to get the Illini football program back on the map? Illinois just enrolled Melvin Alaeze, who was the number one rated defensive end in the nation out of the high school Class of 2005 but had his scholarship to Maryland rescinded because he (a) failed to qualify academically (which concerns me since Illinois is considerably more difficult to get into than Maryland) and (b) has some problems with the reefer. Of course, something tells me that if he really is the faster and stronger version of Simeon Rice that the scouts claim and Illinois turns into a perennial bowl game participant that we believe it should be, we’re going to end up forgetting these details within the next couple years. It’s somewhat sad, but it’s true everywhere in big-time college athletics.

3) Wee, Wee, Wee – Half the Way Home (Siberia, Minnesota) - Some of my Illini brethren have been foiled again. It’s probably a good thing that Facebook didn’t exist when I was in college (and an extremely good thing for Minneapolis Red Sox).

4) Whoa, Wait – You Meant That? (Chicagoist) – This is what happens when the Chicago City Council fails high school economics.

5) Bears Need Offense to Help Defense (ESPN.com) – The Bears training camp report filed by John Clayton AKA Bill Gates’ Dorkier Little Brother. Interesting tidbit: only one Bears team over the past 10 seasons has averaged more than 21 points a game, which was the 2001 club that averaged a huge 21.1. Bleh!

6) Top Ten Will Farrell SNL Skits of All Time (TK) – For anyone that has ever wondered, I seriously have had the nickname of Frank the Tank since my tenure at Brookwood Junior High at the beginning of the 1990s, which was long before Will Farrell’s character of the same name ever appeared in Old School.

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And finally…

7) Write Your Very Own Sports Guy Column (The Chicago Sports Review) (from Deadspin) – Bill Simmons AKA The Sports Guy on ESPN’s Page 2 is one of my favorite columnists on any subject, whether it’s inside or outside of the sports arena. Over time, he has developed a distinct writing style which has influenced plenty of writers out there (including myself), where a column on a sports topic is heavily interspersed with reality TV show and ’80s pop culture references. In fact, Simmons’ writing style has become so pervasive that it was only a matter of time that someone put up a “Mad Libs”-style form to create your own Sports Guy column. You can take a look at my end product, which is on the next page, but you really need to try it out yourself first before reading anyone else’s versions in order to get the full effect.

(UPDATE: The real Sports Guy has new mailbag column today, where he provides an apt description of the cab line at the Las Vegas airport.)

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