Archive for October, 2006

I know that the Ben Wallace Era and the NBA season start tonight, but I’ve been slacking off too much to get in my Bulls/NBA preview on time. Don’t despair, though; I’ll have it later this week. Until then, enjoy “The Shinning”, which I consider to be the best clip out of any of”The Simpsons” Halloween episodes. Have fun trick-or-treating and GO BULLS!

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The long Bears bye week is finally over. Until Sunday’s game, there’s a smorgasbord of links to start your weekend off right, so let’s get to it:

1) The Marques Colston Travesty (Manning Family Reunion) – I make no apologies for noticing this glitch after Week 1 and immediately picking up Colston for my Yahoo fantasy football team to exploit it. You snooze, you lose.

2) We Have Ways Of Making Your Mascot Talk (Deadspin) - A warning for all of my family members that attended or are attending Penn: this video is a bit disturbing.

3) “The Running of the Brides” (Linda) – My sister was caught on TV this past weekend (it’s one her friends that’s the future bride).

4) Portland Trail Blazers Get Hint After Being Left Off 2006-07 NBA Schedule (The Onion) - Last year, I saw a bunch of Trail Blazers walk into the Las Vegas casino I was staying in at the time. Let’s just say that it was like Grand Theft Auto, only in real life with really tall guys.

5) Slabs Are Joining Scoops in Ice Cream Retailing (New York Times) – Cold Stone Creamery rules.

6) Tom Skilling Gets Out of Jury Duty (Chicagoist) – His brother knows a thing or two about criminal courtrooms.

7) Fire Jay Mariotti (Petition Spot) - Sign me up.

8) That’s Where The Money Is (Free Darko) - Here’s a big reason why I’m excited for the upcoming Bulls season that’s starting on Halloween night.

9) Ray-Ban Hopes to Party Like It’s 1983 By Relaunching Its Wayfarer Shades (Wall Street Journal) – Remember when this fashion trend was cemented by this commentary on the University of Illinois by our favorite Scientologist?

10) Harold Ford Jr. On His Playboy Party (YouTube) - Even by today’s lowlife standards, the Tennessee Senate race has been particularly ugly. Fortunately, Harold Ford Jr. perfectly summed up his reasons for attending a Playboy Party at the Super Bowl last year. Amen, brother!

11) The Cubs Might Kill This Man (Siberian Baseball) – Take it from someone that’s a White Sox fan: hiring Lou Piniella as manager was the right move for the Cubs. I know that there was a sentiment out there to bring in hometown hero Joe Girardi, but savvy baseball fans know that you don’t get much better than Piniella at the helm. The franchise has been putzing around since 1908, so the least that it could have done for its tortured fan base was get the top manager on the market, which it certainly did here.

12) Outside of Michigan and Missouri, Series Taking Hits (MLive.com) – Mike and Mike had some ominous words this morning stating that the game of baseball is in real trouble if the only time people tune into the playoffs are when the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, or Dodgers are involved. For what it’s worth, I’m trying to figure out exactly what deal Tony LaRussa made with the devil to give the Cardinals a 3-1 lead over the Tigers in the World Series heading into tonight.

And speaking of the World Series…

13) Indelible Soxtober Snapshots (Chicago Tribune) – One year ago yesterday, I was basking in the glow of the first White Sox World Series Championship since 1917 in the comfort of my home with my wife. What made that Sox season magical was that, unlike the ’85 Bears, the Bulls dynasty of the ’90s, or the ’05 Illinois Final Four run, it truly came out of the blue: I had no expectations for the team whatsoever at the beginning of last year. In fact, I was pretty convinced that I would never see the White Sox win it all in my lifetime. Fortunately, the magic of Ozzie Guillen’s signaling for the fat man from the bullpen, Paul Konerko’s grand slam, Scott Podsednik finding his power stroke twice in the postseason after not hitting a single homerun during the regular season, Geoff Blum coming off of the bench to hit a game-winning RBI after 14 innings, El Duque punching out three straight batters with the bases loaded against the Red Sox, the White Sox starting rotation pitching four straight complete games in the ALCS, A.J. Pierzynksi’s decision to run to first with a phantom ball in the dirt, and Bobby Jenks routinely making that annoying “fire” graphic come up on the Fox radar gun to close the games out made last October one of those months that I’ll be telling my kids about years from now. As for today, though, there’s always next year.

In commemoration of my high school class reunion, here’s an underrated song from my graduation year of 1996. I’m sure Skee Lo reflects a lot of the insecurities that we went through during that time in our lives.

(This and a ton of other clips are on the Frank the Tank Channel on YouTube.)

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I walked into a Wrigleyville bar this past weekend with the strains of Nirvana, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, and tracks from “The Chronic” blasting from the speakers. That could only mean one thing: the Homewood-Flossmoor High School Class of 1996 Reunion!

In many ways, HF was and still is a typical upper-middle to upper class high school in the Chicago suburbs, save for the fact that it is located south of 57th Street, which means that most people from the Chicago area that are not from the South Side would have an easier time finding Krygyzstan on a map than the town that I grew up in (Glenwood). A group of vandals during my freshman year of high school had an interesting way of summing up our student population with some graffiti plastered across the front of our school. Instead of the typical “HF SUCKS” comment or the like, they spray painted an admittedly brilliant knock on our school sign: “GO AWAY YUPPIE LARVAE”. Something told me that this wasn’t your average gang tag.

Personally, I had a great time in high school, so I was looking forward to the evening. (For other observations on high school reunions, check out TK and Cindy.) That being said, it’s definitely a period of time that I would never want to go back to (in contrast to, say, my inebriated college years). Here are my random thoughts from the night where I reconnected with all of my fellow Yuppie Larvae:

1) The More Things Change, The More Things Stay The Same – The largest surprise of the evening was that there was an utter lack of surprises. I was expecting to run into a large number of people who had gone through some type of metamorphasis, whether positive or negative. There had to be a bunch of dorks that were on the lowest rung of the high school food chain that had scored millions in an IPO, right? Hadn’t some of the cheerleaders become fat and ugly?

Instead, in almost all instances, people didn’t look any different and had essentially the same personalities. The popular kids still appeared to be as polished as ever while the nerdier ones of the class really didn’t change that much. It was as if though I was time warped back to a 1996 prom after-party. There was one glaring exception to this, though, where a guy who was a short roly poly-type in high school grew another foot taller, lost all of his excess weight, and is now married to someone that could pass for a runway model. That guy, without question, wins the Comeback Player of the Decade Award.

2) Reunion or Mixer? – At least in the Chicago area, it’s pretty common to have a high school reunion at a bar in the city. This is perfectly fine on paper (I will always take full advantage of any open bar and the tavern hopping scene in downtown Homewood, while better than most suburbs, isn’t exactly enthralling), but for me, our reunion ended up feeling as though I went out to a random bar and just happened to run into a bunch of my high school classmates in the back. I’m not saying that we ought to go back to the days of having a class reunion in the old high school gym with a bowl of punch, yet I feel there ought to be some middle ground here. I just don’t know what that would be.

3) You Don’t Have To Go Home But You Can’t Stay Here – Speaking of the reunion’s location, it was perfectly fitting that a quintessential South Side high school ended up having a class reunion only steps away from the North Side symbol of Wrigley Field. That’s because I would have a better chance of running into a high school classmate in New York City or San Francisco than I would in Glenwood, Homewood, Flossmoor, or the other towns that HF drew students from. Granted, the vast majority of people still live in the Chicagoland area (with a plurality living specifically in either Lincoln Park or Lakeview in the city), but it was amazing to find out that only 2 people that I talked to out of well over 100 people at the reunion still lived within the HF boundary lines. I figured that there was an exodus of some sort, yet I didn’t realize its extent.

4) Please Fill In Occupation, Marital Status, Children – The occupations of my old classmates ran the gamut with a heavy tilt toward the professional side that you’d expect from a suburban high school – tons of lawyers (I’m guilty there), financiers, doctors, and sales people along with a smattering of graduate students. There were a few interesting jobs that stuck out, though, including a director of marketing at a casino (on scale of 1 to 10 as to the likelihood of that type of job leading me to a John Belushi-style early death, I would put it at a 997) and the speechwriter for the CEO of one of the largest and famous companies in the world.

There were a whole lot more married people than I was expecting, if only because it seems as though most of the people that I do keep in touch with from the past are determined to continue to carry on the torch of bachelorhood for the next decade. I was mentally prepared in concept to find out that some of my old classmates had procreated, but it was still jarring to imagine some of these people having to care for the life of another human being.

(It must be noted here that my wife, bless her heart, was a complete trooper throughout the evening since she knew absolutely no one. She absolutely rules!)

In the end, it was a lot of fun to catch up with all of those people that I hadn’t seen in ten years. We all had a drink (or ten) while rehashing and laughing about the drama and the emotional peaks and valleys that we went through in high school that was all for nothing yet, at the same time, shaped us for the rest of our lives. The Yuppie Larvae have finally grown up.

(Image from Wikipedia)

There are a few new features on the sidebar, including The Slant Poll of the Week that aims to capture the pulse of the winners of society that read this blog and lists of Recent Posts and the Top Posts of the Day. Later this week, I’ll step away from the world of sports and news to recap my 10-year high school reunion. (Hooray HF!) Until then, here are some links:

1) Give Me Back the Old Iron Mike, The Wordsmith (Chi-Sox Blog) – A heartfelt call for the return of the preeminent public speaker of our time. For those that need a reminder of the brilliance of Mike Tyson, here’s his magnum opus.

2) Fantasy Sports? Child’s Play. Here, Politics Is The Game (New York Times) – I enjoy discussing politics more than most people, but I’ve got to draw the line here.

3) Obama vs. Clinton – A Primary Fight for the Ages? (Washington Post) - Speaking of politics, people are going a little overboard with Barack Obama merely mentioning that he’s thought about running for President. I’ve said before that 2008 would be a great time for him to run, but it’s not as if though yesterday’s Meet the Press interview was some grand revelation that has justified being the lead story of virtually every newscast and newspaper in the country.

4) Dartmouth – Holy Cross Football “Brawl” (YouTube) – Forget about that Miami-FIU fight. This is what happens when the dregs of society don’t get into Harvard or Yale.

5) Egg Salad Is Latest Food To Be Found Contaminated (Chicagoist) - This is why your diet should consist of only frozen pizza, bacon, and Twinkies.

6) MILF Weed (YouTube) – I don’t have Showtime so I haven’t gotten into “Weeds” yet, but this is a great clip with my main man Snoop Dogg.

And finally…

7) The Cubs Casket (Goat Riders of the Apocalypse) - The Cubs finally killed him. Thank goodness that I’m a White Sox fan.

This week’s classic music video was spurred on by a couple of things. First, Slash has been plastered over the airwaves lately in his new Volkswagen commercial. (I always love how car companies believe that you can be enticed to plunk down $30,000 or more for a car by throwing in a guitar or iPod that you can buy for a couple of hundred bucks on your own.) Second, I received an email ad this past week for the new Guns N’ Roses (which at this point consists of Axl Rose and a bunch of former roadies) Chinese Democracy concert tour. Receiving an email ad about a concert tour certainly isn’t in and of itself unusual, but the fact that it came from the Major League Baseball mailing list definitely threw me for a loop. After investigating this, it turns out that Guns N’ Roses has entered into a strategic partnership with Major League Baseball Advanced Media. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised that Bud Selig has agreed to determine which league gets home field advantage for the World Series based upon the city where Axl gets arrested next. Regardless, no matter how far the mighty have fallen, this song still rules.

(This and a ton of other clips are on the Frank the Tank Channel on YouTube.)

By the middle of the fourth quarter of last night’s game between the Bears and Cardinals, I was pretty convinced that this was going to be the capper of the one of the worst sports weeks I’ve endured in a long time. Illinois basketball lost its prize recruit in Eric Gordon, Illinois football managed to lose to a MAC school, and the White Sox might need a new starting shortstop since Juan Uribe could soon be rotting in a prison in the Domincan Republic by the time next season rolls around. However, at that point, the sports gods made up for it all and then some. I don’t know how much more I can add to the commentary on the ridiculous comeback by the Bears within the last five minutes of the game against Arizona. I’m still on a buzz after witnessing the Bears give up six turnovers yet score three touchdowns without the use of its offense. Windy City Gridiron posted some initial thoughts on the Bears side, while Deadspin’s Will Leitch, an avowed Cardinals fan (both Phoenix football and St. Louis baseball), will almost certainly be under suicide watch if the Mets end up winning tonight. Honestly, that was one of the most thrilling ends to any football game that I’ve ever seen, much less one involving my favorite NFL team on the winning end. A few other thoughts:

1) I profusely apologize to Jerry Angelo for ripping his draft picks this past spring. Devin Hester alone has made that day a success for Bears management. Once again, I’m sorry.

2) Brian Urlacher proved again why he’s one of the biggest superstars to ever come out of Briscoe High. There are only a handful of defensive players ever that have almost single-handedly taken over a game the way he did in the fourth quarter last night.

3) There was no doubt in my mind that Neil Rackers was going to miss the field goal at the end. Not only is he cursed by being an Arizona Cardinal, but there’s also been an obvious hex on all Illini not named Steve Chen over the past couple of weeks. There might as well been the Bambino throwing a black cat in the middle of the field while riding a billy goat.

4) The everlasting memory from this game will almost assuredly be Dennis Green’s postgame press conference (shown above uncensored), which I believe will rank up there with Jim Mora’s “Playoffs?!” tirade and Rick Pitino’s speech about how “Larry Bird’s not walking through that door”. I must have watched Green’s press conference at least a dozen times since last night and I still (a) can’t figure out who they thought we were and (b) laugh my ass off every single time.

And finally…

5) There’s certainly a lot of critical analysis on tap about Rex Grossman’s putrid performance and how our defense allowed the Cardinals to pass unabated in the first half, but considering that there’s plenty of time to talk about that since the Bears are heading into a bye week, we’ll save that for later. For now, let’s just enjoy one of the most stunning comebacks in the history of Monday Night Football. Hooray Bears!!!

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When I heard the news on Friday that Eric Gordon, the top-rated shooting guard in the nation for the high school class of 2007, was backing out of his oral commitment to Illinois in order to attend Indiana, I was ready to rip into a Tourettes-induced rant that would have drawn multiple fines from the FCC. After letting this situation simmer for a couple days, however, I’ve decided to pare down the ranting (although just a little) and instead have a question and answer session on the fallout from this mess and where everyone goes from here:

Q1: Should anyone be suprised by Eric Gordon’s decision?

A1: No. Although I was keeping up hope through the summer that Gordon wasn’t serious about the overtures from Satan’s Spawn, er, Kelvin Sampson, the longer that he refused to affirmatively reject to Indiana, the worse and worse it looked for Bruce Weber and the Illini. Mark Tupper also noted in his blog that Gordon was feeling incredible pressure in his hometown of Indianapolis to be the savior of IU, which certainly must have had a large impact on his decision.

Q2: Was Kelvin Sampson breaking any rules with his actions?

A2: As much as it pains me to say this, I would answer no. An oral commitment is not binding, so Sampson was in his rights to bombard Gordon with text messages and other sweet nothings such as hiring Gordon’s father’s college coach as an assistant. This is also assuming that Sampson didn’t use the same phone calling tactics that got him sanctioned by the NCAA back in May.

Q3: Notwithstanding any judgment regarding compliance with NCAA rules, is Kelvin Sampson a douchebag that can be proven to be the Spawn of Satan?


A3:
Unequivocally yes. You can be technically ethical and playing within the rules yet still be a douchebag. Sampson has single-handedly made the oral commitment worthless in college basketball, which is going to have an derelict effect on the recruiting process from this point forward. As a result, that proves that he’s Satan’s Spawn on top of being an old-fashioned douchebag. (I’m keeping true to my word from a few months ago.) I know that Indiana fans are on a high right now, but let’s revisit how they feel when Coach K eats one of their oral commits in the future.

Q4: How will this impact the Illini basketball team in 2007-08?

A4: With Gordon, Illinois would have been a legitimate national championship contender as long as he stayed in school. Without Gordon, the Illini still have a decent recruiting class coming out of the Class of 2007 led by point guard Demetri McCamey, but the expectations will have to be pared down considerably. I firmly believe that Bruce Weber is as good of an Xs-and-Os coach as anyone in college basketball today, so I have faith that he will the most out of each of his players and then some. The reality, however, is that you still need top tier recruits of you want to get past just being a tournament team to a perennial national championship contender. Even the Illinois team that made the championship game in 2005, which was the supposed superior “team” in contrast to North Carolina’s better “talent”, had its roots in a monster recruiting class from 2003, where Dee Brown was the top-rated point guard in the country coming out of high school. There’s no getting around the fact that you need both talent and hard work to reach the pinnacle.

Q5: Speaking of Bruce Weber, how much responsibility does he bear for losing Gordon?

A5: This is a situation where Weber can’t really be blamed per se for this happening, but every single question mark on his recruiting skills that were supposed to have been put to rest when he got Gordon to orally commit a year ago will now come back to the forefront with avengeance. While there were obviously a lot of factors in play in terms of Gordon backing out, it begs to question whether Satan’s Spawn, er, Sampson would have been able to lure the recruit away if Bill Self were the head coach instead. Even though I wish it weren’t true, I have a hard time believing that Self would have lost out to Sampson and maybe anyone other than possibly Coach K in this situation. More importantly, I doubt that Sampson would’ve even tried to do this against someone like Self in the first place. The perception right now is that Illinois is getting beaten in every single key recruiting battle. I don’t think Weber is a bad recruiter by any means, but the comparisons to his predecessor are going to be inevitable, particularly in light of the fact that a number of the top players that have come out of the Chicago area over the past few years that are playing in Lawrence rather than Champaign. Like I’ve said before, I’d put Weber in terms of pure basketball knowledge up against anyone. However, there needs to be a world-class recruiter at the helm of every top program, as well. There are definitely a lot of doubts as to whether Bruce Weber fits that mold and as long as that’s the case, Illinois is going to be vulnerable to this same situation again in the future.

Q6: Is there something wrong with obsessing over where some pimply-faced 17-year old high school kid goes to college?

A6: At a rational level, this answer should be yes. I certainly wasn’t ready to commit to anything at that age, so it’s tough for me to be angry at a child for not choosing the college that I attended. However, for better or for worse, those that follow college sports have a lot more pure emotions attached to their school as compared to pro teams. If one of your favorite baseball players ends up signing with the Yankees, you might feel jilted, but at some level you can rationalize it as a matter of the George Steinbrenner throwing wads of money around while eating his calzone for lunch. In the case of college recruiting, though, when a recruit chooses another school over yours, it’s as if though it’s a statement that your school is somehow inferior, which means that you take it a lot more personally. That’s why you see college message boards such as IlliniBoard buzzing with volumes of comments that dwarf equivalent pro team message boards. This isn’t a commentary of whether this is good or bad, but that’s the way it is. If you’ve been able to read this far in this post, you know that I’m as guilty of this as anyone.

Q7: What do Illini fans think of Indiana right now?

A7: Speaking for myself as an Illini fan, my disdain for Indiana before the Eric Gordon situation was rooted in a general hatred of Bobby Knight when he coached there. Since Mike Davis was such an awful coach and the Hoosiers took several steps back in recent years, the hate for Indiana had tapered off as of late.

After the events that just transpired with Eric Gordon, however, the Indiana Hoosiers have catapulted to a special pedestal: Frank the Tank’s most hated team in all of sports. Considering that the Green Bay Packers and Duke Blue Devils were at the top of the list before, that’s saying something. If there’s one silver lining in all of this, it’s that Illini fans can get off of our lame desire to make Michigan our rival and instead turn our hatred toward Indiana, a program that deserves it at a personal level and will also reciprocate it a bit. Make no mistake about it – I truly hate the Hoosiers now.

Q8: Where will Illinois basketball and Illini Nation go from here?

A8: Illinois is arguably the top basketball program in the nation that has never won a national championship. As a result, Illini Nation is essentially in the same state as Red Sox Nation before 2004, meaning that we’re neurotically obsessive about finally getting that championship for experiencing the glory while also shedding a century of baggage. That also entails us being hyper-hyper-hyper-sensitive about everything that happens with our program, ranging from huge events such as this Eric Gordon debacle to minor offhanded comments by Dick Vitale.

Nevertheless, Illinois basketball is a whole lot stronger than Eric Gordon or any other recruit. The very first substantive post that I ever wrote on this blog was entitled “The Paranoia of Illini Nation”, which was a call for Illinois fans to take a step back and try to become the classiest fans in college basketball as opposed to being the most petulant. While it’s fine for us to enhance our hatred of Indiana and refer to Kelvin Sampson as Satan’s Spawn as I described above in order to take care of the fresh open wounds of this spurning by Gordon for the time being because it is definitely a major deal, I hope that we’re still not harping on this same story five years from now. Illini basketball and Illini Nation are strong, so let’s reflect that from this point forward.

(Image from BadgerNation)

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For the most part, I think the American public is a lot savvier and smarter than what Hollywood gives them credit for. I believe that most people are craving for deep story lines that challenge viewers in terms of their emotions as opposed to just going for the easy feel-good ending. However, when I see that a show as nuanced and gripping as ‘Friday Night Lights’ is struggling to find an audience, I start to understand why Hollywood goes for the lowest common denominator.

Cindy had some interesting concerns before this show aired about whether this would inappropriately glorify high school sports at the expense of other important educational issues, but after viewing the first two episodes of the show, I believe that it’s as dark and upfront as H.G. Bissinger’s classic book about the obsession of a small Texas town that is both ridiculously misplaced and spiritually uplifting at the same time. The show is a lot less about football and much more about the triumphs and problems of society weaved through a coach, his family and players, and the town that they live in. It amazes me that the television show that is almost universally lauded by the critics as the top new program of this season is getting trounced in the ratings by ‘Dancing With The Stars’ (which I’ll admit isn’t even really a bad show, but everyone ought to be horrified of the prospect that the vein on Joey Lawrence’s Kojak-style head is going to pop out through the TV screen).

I’m the type of person that has the television attention span of a gnat (while I probably watch as much TV as anyone, I can count on one hand the number of shows that I make the commitment to watching every week), yet ‘Friday Night Lights’ has already made it to my must-see list. I don’t ask for much, but please check out ‘Friday Night Lights’ on Tuesday if you haven’t already regardless of whether you even care about football in general – you’ll be thankful.

(Image from Sports Illustrated)

Everyone remembers “The Humpty Dance” by Digital Underground (it was on my wedding song list), but the group’s other mainstream hit “Same Song” hasn’t enjoyed the same staying power. This is a shame because while nothing will ever compare to “The Humpty Dance”, “Same Song” has the distinction of being the only music video in history to feature Humpty, a cameo by Dan Aykroyd playing bagpipes, movie clips of Demi Moore, Chevy Chase, and John Candy, the presentation of a multitude of ethnic and religious stereotypes, and, of all things, the rap debut of Tupac Shakur. Can you believe that it’s been ten years since Tupac died – that is, if you believe that he’s dead?

(This and a ton of other clips are on the Frank the Tank Channel on YouTube.)