Monday, November 17, 2008
On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people, mostly men in their late 20s and early 30s, will line up to buy Chinese Democracy, a mythical album 15 years in the making from rock n' roll's most famous recluse, Axl Rose.
Chinese Democracy, for the last ten years or so, has practically replaced "Hell Freezing Over" and "The Cubs Winning The World Series" as the de facto punchline for things that will never come to be. While his ex-bandmates in Guns N' Roses like Slash became ubiquitous cultural icons not just in rock n' roll, but in video games and literature, Axl Rose stood alone, silent and mysteriously out of reach from the public eye. The only thing the masses could barely see from a well-kept distance was an alleged madman continously tinkering and crafting an album that was supposed to be worlds apart from Guns N' Roses iconic debut album Appetite For Destruction.
Rose practically ditched the whole legendary outfit in pursuit of his White Whale, so to speak. He had promised that the sound would be true to Appetite's roots, but would sound wholly modern in its approach. When buzz on the Internet reached a fever pitch that Rose would finally release the album this year in 2008, the reaction was an equal blend of "I'll believe when I see it" apathy and exasperation. Dr Pepper promised everyone in America except Slash a free soda if Axl actually delivered on his promise. The soda giant knew full well, just like so many other rock n' roll purists, that Axl had promised us this album before. Chinese Democracy was first ready scheduled to be released in 1999. I was 20 years and a junior in college.
I'm now close to 30 years old, and stopped drinking soda close to three years ago. But for one day this week, I will indulge myself with an old friend from my past and a bad habit that I gave up years ago.
On Sunday, Dr Pepper is ready to pay up. Millions, like myself, will drink to that.
Once the official release date was set, I found myself scouring the internet looking for details on the track listings, reviews, etc. I stumbled onto a message board on Fark.com, and found men mostly men about my age bitching about the cover art.
I was pleasantly surprised by this. Not by the cover art, mind you, because I'll concede that it sucks. I was pleasantly surprised that people were even having a discussion about cover art at all.
Fark posters were discussing the lyrics and what they were supposed to mean, what they could mean, what they were supposed to mean. All of these comments, both the good and the bad, made me extremely happy but incredibly sad at the exact same time.
You see, Chinese Democracy is the last significant rock album that will ever be made. There will never be again a rock album that will gain this much scrutiny over everything from the music itself, the lyrics, the cover art and its overall artistic merit. Chinese Democracy marks the last hurrah for three generations that were raised on rock n' roll as it stood in its original artistic format.
An entire generation and generations after them do not and will not understand why this is so significant. The technological innovations of MP3 players and the I-Pod instantaneously transformed the way people process music. Don't misunderstand this as a rant against the young little whipper-snappers and their new fangled gadgets. The I-Pod and creations similar to it were borne of necessity based on the direction of the music industry and the corporate radio ideology of Clear Channel and the ilk.
More and more artists in the late 1990s and early 2000s were compromised by the music industry to release their work for the radio industry as fast as possible aiming for the hit single to push the product to as many people as necessary. It is hardly a surprise that this same era also led to some of the worst music of any generation, an amalgam of slickly overproduced bubblegum pop headlined by the various boy bands, Britney Spears, rap rock and all the various auditory feces that followed.
The focus was more on the image than it ever was the product itself. The music industry was more interested in cultivating celebrities than talent, more concerned with instant gratification than long-term success. Napster.com emerged as a way for people to cut out the middle man and the filler to get what they wanted without having to shell out close to $20 to get it. When Napster came under fire from the likes of the equally craptastic Metallica and others like them, it became evident that technology was going to have to evolve from something less illegal, but to still keep the same overall premise.
I-Pods and other similar products filled the void perfectly and have now become a necessity for anyone who truly cares about music at all. But with that comes a cultural price to pay and it has created a permanent disconnection from a new generation and everyone that has come before them.
That disconnection comes from a certain rite of passage involving music, especially rock n' roll. I can remember spending many nights in high school over at my friend Joseph Kramer's place listening to everyone from the Smashing Pumpkins and Tool to yesteryear artists like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple beneath his black light posters and the PBR neon sign in his room. I didn't necessarily care much for Billy Corgan's voice, but his lyrics on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness were simply mesmerizing. If I could ever write poetry as well as Corgan did on that album, I'd die completely satisfied as a writer.
I loved the cover art of that album and I loved all the various paintings and snapshot inserts that the Smashing Pumpkins threw in there as well. It was a grand artistic achievement where each song was meticulously placed and spaced perfectly. It was high, sonic art that could kick your ass across a room, and make you wonder what it was supposed to mean.
Decades before this, my Dad used to light incense in his room and put on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band with his brothers, Chris and Tim. I've talked to both my Dad and Uncle Tim about the wonder of perhaps the greatest rock album ever made when it first came out. They would pore over the liner notes, trying to decipher the most famous album cover in history, and attempt to piece together the order of the songs and figure out why those songs were arranged in such a fashion.
They studied the clothes they wore for the photo shoots, the concept of the songs themselves and the mystery of "A Day In The Life." Twenty-five years later, my friend Lauren and I would ask all of the very same questions and more over a CD copy of Sgt. Pepper and a brown-bag lunch in high school when the album was brand new to us.
I was over at Uncle Tim's place not too long ago, drinking a few beers with him, and he turned me on to some songs by Black Sabbath that I confess I had never heard before. He had put on a very raw Ozzy Osbourne screaming into a mic, and was quick to point out the exact moment when Ozzy started to scream profanities. He excitely turned to me and said, "This was the part when Dad used to get pissed off and yell at us to turn it down!"
Much akin, of course, to when I was sixteen and Dad used to get pissed off at the gutteral, primal end of "Slaughtered" by Pantera. I left Uncle Tim's place that night and dug out some old Pantera, and put it in as loud as my ears could take.
My neighbors got pissed off and told me to turn it down. Three of them, in fact.
That, I suppose, was the point.
Interestingly enough, Appetite For Destruction was the last major rock album to be mastered by hand. After that, albums were mastered digitally. It seems only fitting that Chinese Democracy is released at the end of another era as well. It will be released to the delight of an entire generation that for one last time will engage in an old rite of passage. They will take home a CD, and study the whole body of work like it was the textbook for a collegiate philosophy class.
Later this week, I hope to put on Chinese Democracy. Like so many others, I hope I can figure out through the lyrics something relating to Axl's various neuroses, his bipolar rage, his endless and meticulous tinkering with an album that probably won't be half as good or as memorable as Appetite For Destruction.
I'm sure I'll endlessly ponder the liner notes, the cover, the inside photos, everything about this album just to figure out what makes this guy tick, what made him want to fire the entire band so that he could pursue this impossible venture that has led us to this point today.
I hope a younger generation understands what all the fuss is about, and why the events of this week are so important to so many. I hope they pick up a copy of Chinese Democracy. But I suspect they won't.
I suspect they'll just download the title cut, dismiss the song because it's from a washed-up has-been and move right on to whatever song is next on their I-Pod. Sadly, they wouldn't be totally wrong in their initial assessment.
But I know they wouldn't be completely right either.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Pretend for just a moment that you're a big-time corporate executive, a CEO or CFO of a major corporation that is looking to make a huge breakthrough in a single fiscal year. Many analysts have been predicting big things for your company. You have assembled a tremendous collection of young, dedicated talent. You have done your due diligence in the scouting department, and it definitely showed in your last quarter when your company did better than expected. In fact, it was because of this impressive showing that expectations have been so high for this fiscal year.
You have brought together a staff of precocious managers with the potential for innovation. And you've hired one project manager to help pick up the slack when others get sidetracked.
Let's focus on this one project manager for a moment because, simply put, he plays an enormous role in your company. He plays almost an apprentice-type role with the company. He's probably good enough, but he needs some adult supervision and the guiding hands of experience when things go awry. And in business, of course, you have to be prepared when things go awry because they will from time to time.
You have to depend on this apprentice, however, because the lead project manager might have to go away for weeks at a time on business trips. He's not going to be in the office, and hell, he might not even be able to be reached if he's flying to and fro from points and destinations unknown. Your apprentice may not be as savvy as the lead, but he has to be capable enough to guide the employees along without rebellion, effectively keep the customers happy, and when situations arise in the office or in business, he has to be worthy of trust and handle such matters in a dignified, respectable manner that all parties find suitable.
He may not be the lead project manager, he may not even be as good as the lead project manager, but considering the fact that the apprentice is being temporarily entrusted with million-dollar accounts and the good faith of your employees and your customers, he'd better be damned well ready for the tasks and responsibilities at hand.
Let's pretend your apprentice finally gets his big opportunity. It seems like he's doing such an excellent job that it's almost effortless. The employees seem to really respect him, the customers are completely enamored with him, and you're watching the whole thing thinking to yourself, "If he keeps this up, he may be getting a promotion in the near future."
Then the apprentice makes a careless mistake against one of your toughest competitors. It was a mistake that, although costly, you can easily forgive because it was a mistake borne of a competitive, almost fearless, nature. You pull him into your office, and tell him how much you appreciate his efforts, but still, you have to remind him that he has to be careful about being too reckless. Too many mistakes like that will result in the company losing not just competitive momentum, but potentially, millions of dollars in the process.
You send your apprentice project manager back out to face your competition and your customers. But that little chat you just had with him seemingly did no good. That effortless charm has been replaced with overt cautiousness. As a result, he makes another huge mistake against that same competitor, but this time the results are much worse. Catastrophic, in fact.
Your toughest competitor has just trumped your apprentice project manager in such a stunning fashion that, as a result, you have just watched your company's stock tailspin out of control. Your customers are incredibly disappointed with your company, and the product that once had promise has devolved, regressed really, to a incompetent laughingstock.
In vain, your apprentice project manager tries to salvage the situation and in a last-ditch effort tries everything possible to seize momentum and money back to your company. He fails miserably again, making an even dumber decision than the previous two dumb decisions.
Certainly, there were a few things here and there that could have prevented such an absolute collapse. But not many. You have limited options at this point. Your lead project manager won't be back for another week, and your apprentice project manager pretty much single-handily destroyed an entire account, lost millions of dollars for the company, alienated all of his employees and is now routinely mocked at the water cooler by pretty much everyone.
Your competitors have zero respect for his business acumen or his ability to handle pressure. And frankly, you don't either.
The decision for you is really quite simple. Given all the damage he did, you are left with no choice but to immediately fire the apprentice project manager. Yes, he still has talent, but that talent can't be cultivated in your company any longer. It goes well beyond just the millions of dollars lost, you think to yourself. It has so much more to with a complete lack of trust that his peers, your peers and the employees have for him. After such a series of inexplicably poor decisions, you simply cannot afford to entrust him again with your employees or your clientele. The trust in his abilities have been irreversibly shattered, and it is best for all parties to move on in a new direction.
Of course, the task of hiring a new apprentice project manager will be challenging. It will unquestionably require much more time than you really were expecting to spend or have during your work week. But hiring on someone else, sorting through resumes, running interviews and all the things that come with the territory are all going to make your company better in the long-term.
Going in a new direction symbolizes to your customers that such failure will not be tolerated and poor decisions cannot be rewarded. Furthermore, your product will be better and although you may see some struggles initially, over time the company will be much better as a result of this clean slate.
Let's stop pretending now. You are not a CEO of a major corporation, and apparently nobody in the Houston Texans front office is either. After the epic meltdown that the apprentice, Sage Rosenfels, had in the infamous Indianapolis game, I wrote:
"Although this seems rather harsh, I don't see any alternative for the Texans but to cut him right now. Not really for the team's sake really, but for his. I'd almost think that Rosenfels would probably prefer anonymity at this point anyway, and God knows there are enough places for a journeyman QB to latch onto anyways."
From a business perspective, firing Sage Rosenfels was the only logical option, even if seemed pretty brutal at the time. His salary which the Texans would have had to pay him whether he was on the roster or not was basically a sunk cost. It was money that was down the drain, an unsolvable cost that would just have to be dealt with by the company and the accountants as a loss.
True also that hiring a new quarterback in such a short period of time would be an arduous process to say the very least. That said, however, the new quarterback wouldn't be expected to save the season either because, frankly, due to the actions of Rosenfels that pipe dream has been essentially snuffed. At least for this year, certainly.
But the Texans decided to stay with their embattled apprentice, the backup in turmoil, Sage Rosenfels on Sunday against the Ravens due to Matt Schaub's knee injury. Four interceptions from Rosenfels and a 41-13 thumping have only led to a larger chasm of distrust from the team, his peers, and perhaps most importantly, the paying customers.
Think back to earlier in this column when I mentioned that your company was losing millions of dollars as a result of your apprentice project manager's actions. For the Texans, that's no lie.
Consider the following two points, if you will.
1. The Texans had all but beaten the Colts, and were up by 17 points with about five minutes to go. If they won, they would have gone to 1-3 with an easy stretch of Miami, Detroit and Cincinnati all visiting Houston. Not only could they have been 4-3, but they would have picked up a crucial division win on the Colts.
Gaining a division victory in a brutally tough division like the AFC South was critical for a possible playoff berth. Maybe if the Texans beat the Colts, they still wouldn't have made the playoffs, but Sage Rosenfels' actions in that game without question decided their postseason fate. The fact that Rosenfels potentially cost the Texans, literally, millions of dollars in revenue due to them not making the postseason cannot sit well with any business owner no matter how lacking in business acumen they may be.
2. One of our closest friends at SportsKarma, Brad Hoegler, is a huge sports fan and a Texans season ticket holder. After Sunday's contest I asked him point blank, "Based on what you saw today, would you renew your season tickets for next season?" His answer was unapologetic.
"From what I saw today," Hoegler said. "I'd say no. That was terrible. I don't even want to talk about it."
He kept his word. Normally, Brad will talk to me about sports for hours on end, literally. After Sunday, I got one phone call from Brad of about two minutes. He was too disgusted to talk about the product on the field, and given today's current economic state, I can't say that I would blame him if that was a cost that he decided to forsake in 2009, even if the Texans were 6-3 and not 3-6.
If Rosenfels doesn't throw a single interception, maybe the Texans still lose the game against the Ravens. But his actions dictated an inevitable loss. It is because of those actions that a season-ticket holder is right now seriously giving thought to not renewing next year. That is also a loss, potentially, of millions of dollars in revenue.
Are there other factors besides Rosenfels' performance that signal trouble for the Houston Texans? Undoubtedly yes, but none are more painfully obvious to the casual observer than one man's mistakes that should have never been allowed to happen in the first place.
Recently in sports and life, we've seen great changes take place and we've had a chance to see people given even a glimmer of hope. Knicks fans saw Isiah Thomas purged from the organization. Lions fans saw Matt Millen fired, and although they don't have a win yet, at least the direction of the franchise is better than what it was. Politically, we saw a bumbling, incompetent fool who can barely articulate a sentence, let alone policy, whose ideology was trumped by a young man from the Midwest who has brought great joy and hope for millions of Americans and billions around the globe.
This Sunday against the Colts, I guess Brad and I will just have to hope for better days. As it stands right now we're watching a bumbling, incompetent fool barely able to complete a pass under center.
Worse yet, we don't see a single person in sight with any common business sense to pull the plug on someone not worthy of our money and our time. But perhaps most importantly, Sage Rosenfels isn't worthy of our trust either.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
I have a lot of these songs from over the years that I adore, and either they were never released as singles, stuck on albums that sold poorly or were just generally never recognized as being of higher quality than the artists' most well-known songs. Some of these songs are also from bands that I sometimes wonder why nobody liked them as much as me, and "Because they sucked" is not a proper answer, smartasses.
To that end, we've compiled the 11 Most Criminally Underappreciated Rock Songs. The rules for compiling this list are pretty simple, actually. It can't be a song that's featured in even light rotation on any rock radio station. Only one of these songs is featured on a greatest hits album, and frankly, it was a major stretch to put it on the album to begin with considering the fact that I hadn't even heard of the song before until I bought the CD.
The only other rules that apply are either that:
A: It can't be one of the first songs that comes to mind by a popular rock band.
B: You probably haven't even thought of this band in the last eight years. I'd say ten years, but a few of these bands are from my high school years, and I'm just slightly past my 10-year high school reunion. I'm willing to give them a pass in that sense.
That's really about it...now come with us. Slightly underground. But not that far, I suppose.
11. Exit Music (For A Film)--Radiohead
Where You Can Find It--OK Computer (1997)
The more well-known songs by Radiohead: Karma Police, Creep
Why it's Criminally Underappreciated: I love Thom Yorke's solitary acoustic guitar, the creepy organ press, and the massive crescendo to close the song. It sounds almost as if David Gilmour of Pink Floyd dressed in all black and did some peyote with his lover right before kidnapping her in front of her parents. It's a beautiful, haunting song with a buildup bigger than Chinese Democracy but better in virtually every respect.
10. Got No Shame--Brother Cane
Where You Can Find It--Brother Cane (1993)
Why It's Criminally Underappreciated--Brother Cane came out in the heart of the grunge era and wrote this blues-rock gem that was so woefully behind the times, it actually came out ahead. Got No Shame is unabashedly bluesy, borrowing more from Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers than from Nirvana and Pearl Jam. It's heart is stuck in the 1970s, and it's soul is smothered in cream gravy with a side of grits. It just couldn't exist in the hyper-caffeinated sounds of Seattle rock. Brother Cane released a few more albums but were done by 1998. Sadly, that was about the time Seattle rock called it quits too.
Where Can You Find It--Rotting Pinata (1994)
Why It's Criminally Underappreciated: I haven't the faintest idea why this song, and this band, didn't do better than it did even in hindsight. Some songs like "What I Like About You" by the Romantics didn't score as well on the charts when they first came out, but gained in popularity as the years progress. I'm surprised this didn't follow suit. Plowed is chock-full of raging sonic energy full of frenetic bombast. Or more simply put: It kicks a metric ton of ass. The only thing I can possibly figure is that Sponge came out at a time when rock music had sorta lost an edge. Kurt Cobain had just committed suicide right around the time this song came out. I'm convinced rock n' roll lacked the frantic energy that this song possesses, and Plowed at the time was like watching a 5-year-old with ADD run around at a funeral.
8. Drop--Blue October
Where You Can Find It--Consent To Treatment (2000)
The more well-known songs by Blue October: Hate Me, Calling You, Into The Ocean
Why It's Criminally Underappreciated: Actually, the entire Consent To Treatment album fits the bill perfectly. This album came out during one of the absolute worst periods in popular music. It was an era of boy bands and Britney, rap rock and generic schlock. And here came Blue October straight out of the Houston Heights and the San Marcos River, cranking straight-forward rock music with a violin. They were emo with a sneer, and sang about sex, drugs and the saving graces of rock n' roll with a deafening force. Consent To Treatment is, in my opinion, the best album of this decade, but in 2000 no one seemed to care. The music scene eventually caught up to them, and in 2006, they became the toast of alternative rock with the Foiled album. But this is their forgotten masterpiece, and Drop is the single that, to me, defines the album.
7. Unbroken (Hotel Baby)--Monster Magnet
Where You Can Find It--Monolithic Baby! (2004)
The More Well-Known Song by Monster Magnet--Space Lord
Why It's Criminally Appreciated: It's their own damned fault, in a way. Monster Magnet released a killer album, Dopes To Infinity, and then didn't release another album for three years. That album, Powertrip, featured Space Lord which was commercially successful. Their next album sucked. It was four years until they released this tasty piece of rock candy. "Unbroken" has everything you could want in a three-and-a-half minute rock n' roll song: A kick-ass chorus, plenty of profanity, rip-roaring guitar solos, and lots o' screaming. But there just hasn't been enough of Monster Magnet in recent years and this one fell through the cracks.
6. Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now)--Cracker
Where You Can Find It--Cracker (1992)
The More Well-Known Song by Cracker: Low
Why It's Criminally Underappreciated: OK, so I'm technically cheating just a little bit on this one because I just heard it on the Flashback Lunch feature on our alternative rock station here in Austin. But still, "Teen Angst" sounds like a smart-ass Neil Young pounding back bourbons straight with Denis Leary. It's darkly humorous, needlessly sarcastic and damned fine rock n' roll that sounds best after a few drinks of brown booze. This one simply was obscured by Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the ilk when it was released in 1992, and that's a shame because this one could swing with any of the best works of that era.
5. Candy--Iggy Pop and Kate Pierson
Where You Can Find It--Brick By Brick (1990)
The More Well-Known Song by Iggy Pop: I Wanna Be Your Dog (with The Stooges)
Why It's Criminally Underappreciated: I actually knew nothing about this song, or this album, until I read Slash's autobiography. Slash and Duff both played on this album and contributed to a song called "Home." I knew a fair amount about his career and that he was discovered by David Bowie, and so based on the recommendations of Bowie and Slash, I felt it necessary to check out this album. What I didn't realize, though, was how much Iggy Pop sounded like Bowie, and how good of a songwriter he is as well. His voice is beautifully dark and rich, and perfectly complements Kate Pierson of the B-52s on this song that I'm pretty sure is about cocaine, but I can't be totally sure. On a side note, I never knew Kate Pierson was hot. I mean, Good Lord, seeing this video was quite a shocker.
4. God Gave Me Everything I Want--Mick Jagger featuring Lenny Kravitz
Where You Can Find It--The Bruce Almighty soundtrack (2003)
The More Well-Known Songs by Mick Jagger: Seriously, we need to have this conversation?
Why It's Criminally Underappreciated: Lenny Kravitz wrote this one and sings backup for Mick Jagger. I'm not a huge fan of Kravitz, but he does a phenomenal job of channeling old-school Stones like "Gimme Shelter" and puts a modern twist on it with Mick singing lead. But hell, that's not the only reason it's criminally underappreciated. This is the only song on this list to be paired up with somebody else as equally underappreciated: The absolutely stunning Catherine Bell.
3. Supernaut--Black Sabbath
Where You Can Find It--Black Sabbath Vol. 4 (1972)
The More Well-Known Songs by Black Sabbath: Paranoid, Iron Man, War Pigs
Why It's Criminally Underappreciated: "I like it because I think it's prototypical of a certain musical style, and I think it's well done. Also, I happen to like the guitar lick that's being played in the background." --Frank Zappa
Zappa, however, neglected to mention that this riff is one of the heaviest, most evil sons-a-bitches on the face of the earth. If riffs were people, Supernaut would probably be Ray Lewis: hard-hitting, intense and possibly capable of murder.
2. I'm The One--Van Halen
Where You Can Find It--Van Halen (1978)
The More Well-Known Songs by Van Halen--Jump, Panama, Runnin' With The Devil
Why It's Criminally Underappreciated: Eddie Van Halen is widely regarding as one of the greatest guitarist to ever live, but this might very well be his best effort to date. I'm The One is the 5th track on Van Halen's debut album, and that's an album that already features Eruption and Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love, two songs that pretty much every aspiring rock guitarist worth a salt takes their cracks at learning. But I'm The One is perhaps better, not just because it features Eddie's blinding speed and death-defying dexterity on the six-string, but because it many ways he manages to reinvent the blues to suit his needs. Basically, it's almost as if Eddie Van Halen took John Lee Hooker and Eric Clapton, grabbed them by their ankles, flipped them upside down, shook them vigorously until their noses bled, and then threw them down a flight of stairs for good measure. Whatever lands at the bottom of that flight of stairs is what Eddie Van Halen recreated. The blues became a wild, screaming, scary ride because of that shakeup, and on "I'm The One" Eddie Van Halen sounded like a man laughing all the way to the bottom.
1. Give In To Me--Michael Jackson featuring Slash
Where You Can Find It--Dangerous (1991)
The More Well-Known Michael Jackson Songs: See the entry on Mick Jagger and ask yourself that same question. Dumbass.
Why It's Criminally Underappreciated: It's not very often that you'd consider Michael Jackson sexy. And by "not very often," what I mean is "never." But Michael Jackson along with Slash manages to accomplish just this. Michael Jackson sings with raspy soul that accomplishes the near-impossible. He actually sounds like he's trying to seduce women, and towards the end of the song, he sounds like he's actually successful at it. And then there's Slash. He plays like Aretha Franklin sings: Full of soul, guts and grace. His solo is every bit as good, if not better, than anything he recorded with Guns N' Roses or Velvet Revolver. This song was never released as a single in the United States, and as a result, most Americans missed out on one of the great collaborations of the 1990s.
Monday, November 3, 2008
OK, OK, first and foremost, my sincerest apologies to the great people of Lubbock and Texas Tech University. The Red Raiders played one hell of a game, the Longhorns made way too many mistakes, especially in the secondary, and made us pay accordingly. I will pay my penance and gladly spend some money at the Artist Formerly Known As Hub City Brewery the next time I'm in town. Seriously.
And yes, by the way, your nose-picking insurance salesman of a coach with that wacky sense of humor can gameplan a little bit too. Props to him. Even larger props to him if Tech can beat Oklahoma State and Oklahoma as well. That'd pretty much put you in the national championship game as well because there's no way in hell that Tech would lose to Baylor and the Big XII North Champ. At least I don't think so.
But that's the interesting thing here. Tech still has to finish, and just like the Horns, they've got one hell of a task to stay there. If recent years are any indication, getting to the top is much easier than staying there. I believe at one point last year we saw South Florida, California, Mizzou, West Virginia and, of course, the Ohio State WegetourasseskickedroutinelybytheSEC all occupy the #2 spot in the BCS rankings. Texas Tech is #2 right now. Whether they can stay there or not remains debatable.
Now what we have are the Longhorns occupying the #4 spot, and facing a rather winnable stretch of games: Baylor, at Kansas, A&M. In a weird, twisted kind of way, I'm actually kinda looking forward to the stretch run. You see, the pressure's off now. Colt McCoy has been pretty spotty following the Missouri game, and I wonder if maybe all the attention he's been receiving lately has affected him more than he's let on. It's an incredible dynamic having to go from Tuscola to Austin. It's an even greater dynamic having to go from Vince's shadow to your own. I don't even think that the attention has necessarily gone to his head. From what I gather, and this is merely speculative, but it seems like all the attention might be a little embarrassing for a Born Again small town kid like Colt.
Well, the rest of the college football world has moved on, and is looking at Texas Tech. The national spotlight will cast an occasional glare on Texas, but not certainly the way it has over the course of the last month. Baylor and a little home cooking will be good for Colt McCoy and the Longhorns to regain some confidence, and not have to worry about the constant specter of #1 constantly glowering over every move they make.
Let's let some other teams carry the #1 burden for a little while. I think after November, the Longhorns will be strong enough to carry that burden again. And after November that #1 ranking will no longer be a burden anyway, but rather, a ticket to Miami.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
I've never been happier for a professional athlete than I am for Brad Lidge.
I'll never forget the day Lidge was traded to the Phillies for five prospects. I called every Astros fan I knew and started to celebrate like he did tonight. Dad was one of the first people to put me in my place, and reminded me, "He handled everything with class. He's a stand-up guy."
I was the first to remind him, "Yeah, but he sucked and cost the Astros the World Series and the 2006 NL Central title."
And we were both right to an extent. Lidge thanked all his teammates profusely, praised the most difficult fans in America as the best in the world, and lastly thanked Jesus for bringing him to this moment. Normally when an athlete thanks God, it always seems contrived and almost silly. But not here. Considering that Lidge went through Hell after That Night, it only seeemed appropriate to thank the Savior for delivering him, and the city of Philadelphia, to the 2008 World Series Championship.
He won with absolute grace and class, not to mention with sheer dominance, so yes, Dad was completely correct on his point. But the guy we saw this season closing games in a Phillies uniform wasn't the Brad Lidge we knew during the 2005 playoffs, nor was it the guy we saw throughout the 2006 or 2007 seasons. This was 2004 Brad Lidge, a closer in complete command of his slider, someone so dominant all he was missing was a leather catsuit and a whip.
He was perfect this season. Lidge was 41 for 41 in save opportunities and had a 0.00 ERA in the postseason. He was the valedictorian of closers this year, even in light of Francisco Rodriguez and his record-setting accomplishments this year. If Curt Hennig were alive today, he'd probably have to relinquish his nickhame because 2008 Brad Lidge was Mr. Perfect.
Without question, though, this Brad Lidge--the old Brad Lidge--could not have been rediscovered by staying in Houston. In a way, Lidge's departure from Houston was like the classic breakup situation. Sometimes, two people have to move on from each other. The relationship simply cannot continue because the two people are bringing each other down, not building one another up. And that's when it has to end, amicably and with respect.
But make no mistake. The relationship has to end.
Lidge continued to struggle in Houston, seemingly unable to shake his 2005 playoff demons. Houston fans and management alike grew increasingly frustrated watching Lidge struggle against the likes of Xavier Nady and his ilk. It was a parting that had to happen for both parties to find their collective peace.
And peace Brad Lidge has now. He has successfully cast aside That Night and every other struggle that he had as a Houston Astro. The last few years, though, Astros fans have hung on to those same bitter memories and gave them a haunting embrace. I hope tonight helps bring closure to the city of Houston and That Night so that we can pursue something better than disappointment.
We must pursue hope, not defeat. We must embrace victory, not loss. We mustn't look at Brad Lidge and ask "Why couldn't you do that for Us?" Instead, we must look to Brad Lidge as an example of what it is like to lose, but to never give up faith in ourselves.
Last of all, we can't wallow in pity. We must pursue excellence in our life's journeys, and thank God for each and every opportunity that we are given to succeed. No matter where it is, no matter what we've done, redemption awaits us all.
Brad Lidge's redemption was waiting for him at the bottom of a joyous dogpile on a pitching mound in Philadelphia. On the whole, I'm guessing there was no place he'd rather be.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Dear Texas Tech fans, residents of Lubbock, the inhabitants of West Texas and the Panhandle:
Congratulations on Saturday's thumping of the Kansas Jayhawks. You truly looked magnificent in your 63-21 victory. You kicked their butts so badly Coach Mangino might even punish his team during Monday's practice by feeding at least one or two of his defensive guys to his pet Rancor.
And as well he should. But I digress.
Y'all racked up 555 total yards of offense and a ridiculous 36 first downs. We already knew Tech's offense was the stuff urban legends and video games are made of. What we didn't know, though, was y'all got yourself a helluva defense too. Tech forced the Jayhawks into five turnovers, including three interceptions thrown by Todd Reesing. Last time I checked Reesing was still an Austin high school legend on recent par w/ Drew Brees. Reesing only led Lake Travis to the 4A state championship, and to the best of my knowledge, around here that's nothing to sneeze at.
Finally, there's another coach in the Big XII that's getting recognized for doing an outstanding job, and his name ain't Mack or Stoops or Pinkel or Jabba, er, Mangino. Boy, the national media sure does love Coach Leach, don't they? And who can blame them?
After all, he looks just like so many of the sportswriters anyway. Hell, Coach Leach doesn't even look like a football coach, does he? More like a nose-picking insurance salesman, if you ask me, and I know you didn't. He doesn't look like the kinda guy that inspires confidence or even knowledge in the nuances of the spread offense, like say, that dreamy fellow down in Gainesville, Urban Meyer.
Hey, but you know Coach Leach knows a thing or two about offense despite not being the most handsome man in the world. And apparently, he knows plenty about a lot of things from pirates to relationships, from the top (only?) steakhouse in Lubbock to lighting up defenses faster than a pyromaniac. Coach Leach has become college football's Yogi Berra, and God Bless him for it. We need more colorful characters in the buttoned-down, downright corporate world of college football. His offense is wacky and so is his advice on where to take a girl on the first date.
So, everyone's pretty damned big on Coach Leach and your Red Raiders right now. Meanwhile, Saturday was a tough day in Austin. It wasn't bad by any stretch, but it was most definitely a challenge. I'm sure y'all know this, but Oklahoma State plays us tough every year. Hell, we even had to rally the last few years when we were down by double digits. They were up three touchdowns when VY was under center during the Championship Year, and I'm pretty sure that was the only time that ever happened that entire season.
They definitely came to play here in Austin, and frankly, of the Top 10 teams in action this week, we were, like Coach Leach, amongst the least impressive looking. Alabama took care of Tennessee like they should have. Penn State went into Columbus and covered the spread, and that's certainly not easy to do. USC got a tough road win against an improved Arizona team. Oklahoma and Florida routed their competition, and were pretty much done by halftime.
The Longhorns couldn't seem to put away the Cowboys, and it took a last minute defensive stand to finally send them back to Eskimo Joe's in Stillwater for a cold one, a pat on the back and a couple o' "attaboy, we'll get 'em next time's." Sure, we'll still keep the #1 ranking for another week, but there's already a lot of talk from the national media--the ones that love Coach Leach so much--that the Longhorns are doomed to fall from that top perch on November 1 when the Longhorns visit Lubbock.
I'll be the first to admit, on paper, it certainly looks feasible. After all, Texas Tech played great on Saturday. The 'Horns, meanwhile, did just enough to win. Graham Harrell threw for five touchdowns and ran for another. Colt McCoy, on the other hand, was a mere mortal throwing a costly interception and fumbling in the fourth quarter to put Oklahoma State right back in the game. Another turnover from McCoy, and we would have to stop anointing him next to Vince and Earl. Hell, we would have had to maybe bring him down a notch or two and start calling him, I don't know, "Sage Rosenfels."
You figure that between a prime-time ABC broadcast, Gameday probably coming to Lubbock, the largest crowd ever for a Texas Tech home game, and the highest ranking Tech has had in my lifetime, it sure does seem like an upset's brewing. Hey, if I could make it work, I'd love to be in Lubbock for Halloween. The next day, I'd shake off my Jameson's hangover, and head to the stadium to watch Fowler, Corso and Herbie broadcast live from your pad. I probably wouldn't even mind when Corso picks Texas Tech to win, and puts on whatever mascot helmet they give him.
I also know that the students will be more liquored up than Hasselhoff, and rowdier than a Delta house toga party. Getting laid that weekend will be easier than changing my shirt. Hell, I'd love to go the more I think about it, and because I also know one other thing about that weekend too.
Texas Tech will be exposed worse than Tara Reid on the red carpet.
Look, I know y'all are excited and you should be. It's going to be a helluva game for at least the first couple o' quarters, I know that and you do too. But there's a few reasons that you're not beating the Longhorns come November 1, and I swear to Good God Almighty none of these reasons will have anything to do w/ your impending Halloween hangover. Although, I admit that probably won't feel very good.
1. Do you really think this guy's going to have another letdown like he did today?
No seriously, here are the stats of Colt McCoy's "letdown game": 38-45, 390 yds 2 TDs, 1 INT, 10 Rush, 40 yds, 1 TD. Keep in mind, Red Raider Friends, this is possibly the worst he's played all year, especially down the stretch. However, he still managed to complete 18 straight passes and set a new school record for most consecutive completions. If he plays in Lubbock the way he played on Saturday, OK, you might have a shot.
But what if he doesn't? What if he comes out and plays like he did against Missouri? That wasn't even a football game in the first half because Colt McCoy made the Tigers' defense look softer than a bunch of Frenchies in a pillow fight. Oh, and since he's from West Texas--Tuscola, specifically--and you didn't recruit him, don't you think Colt's going to enjoy just sticking it to Tech in front of the Lubbock faithful and a nationally televised audience?
Colt may praise Jesus after every game, but by God does he ever play like the Devil in big-time games.
2. Red Raiders, as long as were on the subject of things that are soft like Frenchies...
Remember these guys, Texas Tech? This was your first opponent of the year, the Eastern Washington Eagles, the pride of Cheney, WA. Sure, you jumped out to a 21-0 lead on your 1-AA opponent, but you went to the half only up 28-17. You actually needed the final two touchdowns in the 4th quarter to put away a jobber of a football team. Tremendous.
You've actually been more impressive on the road than you have at home, Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have destroyed Big XII opponents on the road by an average of 30 points per game, but struggled at home to a mediocre Nebraska team, beating them by only six points. The other illustrious opponents from this year's schedule include yet another 1-AA scrub in Massachusetts, and SMU, who I'm pretty sure are less alive from their NCAA Death Penalty than Ted Bundy is from his.
Some say we played a pretty easy non-conference schedule too, and there's some merit to that discussion. But Florida Atlantic at least went to a bowl the year previously. Arkansas did too, and when the schedule was made, hell that was a big game. Huge, in fact.
Bottom line is this, Tech. You had a fantastic win against KU. But all you've done really is beat up on the Big XII North and A&M who have a combined record of 29-29. Couple that with a few wins over some schools that you should have never been playing to begin with, and you've proved a whole bunch of nothing to whole lot of people.
Meanwhile, here in Austin we just got done beating our third top-10 ranked team in a row.
And ultimately, we'll make it four in a row. Why?
3. Because We Have Will Muschamp And You Don't
This picture is from last season when he was at Auburn. He's now the defensive coordinator here at Texas, and quite frankly, he's probably the most intense guy to grace the 40 Acres ever, and that's even counting the student government lackeys handing out fliers to the masses like they were trying to elect Obama or something.
This is a guy who eats, sleeps, breathes, pisses and poops the film room, and we really hope not in the literal sense on the last two. A guy who has been known to go berserk on the sidelines because the defense gave up garbage time, 4th quarter touchdowns while the Longhorns led by four or five scores in the waning moments of the game (see the Mizzou game for a great example of this).
This is a guy who, as demonstrated above, will chest bump his players even if they outweigh him by 150 pounds or more. Simply put, Muschamp is a stark, raving lunatic and we'd never want him any other way.
That said, do you really think with a week to prepare that Will Muschamp won't be able to prepare and figure out every possible nuance of Coach Leach's spread offense? I'm guessing that Texas Tech will still put some points on the board. But I'm also guessing that Coach Muschamp will be ready and have the defense ready just a tad better than Eastern Washington did.
Or Kansas for that matter.
So all of that said, Red Raider Nation, I'm sure you're counting down the days until November 1, just waiting in giddy anticipation because nothing this big has ever happened in Lubbock before.
Just know this, though. We have big things like this happen all the time here in Austin. In fact, we have a word for it. It's called "Tuesday."
After the game, maybe we can visit over a Lone Star and talk about where it all went wrong. Until then, enjoy this week and the attention. Because after November 1, the attention and the victory will be ours. As usual.
The Longhorn Nation
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
And yeah, I guess they're right. I confess that up until about two weeks ago, I couldn't name more than five Tampa Bay players, and truthfully, I had to really struggle just to name five. It's really a contest between the totally anonymous versus the historically irrelevant. The Phillies have more losses all-time than any other franchise. The Rays were a doormat, one of baseball's worst franchises since their 1998 inception.
So while most pundits truly believe this will be a great match-up, admittedly, it does leave a lot to be desired in terms of star power and name recognition. If this were a Super Bowl, it'd be like watching the Texans play the Cardinals for all the marbles. Sure, it'd be an entertaining game, but I'm not sure anyone outside of Houston and Phoenix would even bother to watch.
But that's not going to stop us at Sports Karma. This is a contest right in our wheelhouse. In fact, the underdog quotient of this World Series is so far off the charts, it makes Eli Manning and the New York Giants sick with envy. Consider for a moment that the Tampa Bay Rays will have to face at some point during the Series none other than Mr. Comeback, Brad Lidge. In order to complete the single greatest turnaround in team sports history, the Rays will have to face Lidge who is looking to complete one of the single greatest turnarounds by a pitcher in baseball history. Something or someone will have to give way in that scenario, especially if it's the bottom of the ninth.
Or even better, Brad Lidge vs. Evan Longoria, bottom of the ninth, Game Freaking Seven. It could happen. The end result could be either the greatest redemption of any pitcher in my lifetime or the final conquest of a team that could revolutionize the game of baseball from a fiscal standpoint. It could just join our list of favorite World Series moments this decade. We've compiled our Top Five.
One thing of note before we begin: The 2005 and 2006 World Series are both curiously absent from this list. The reasoning is pretty simple, actually. We're Astros fans here, and as far as we're concerned, nothing good happened either year. The Astros got swept by the White Sox in 2005. The Cardinals, more specifically the Antichrist, won their ring in 2006. In fact, let's just begin this before I start swearing like a terminally ill Tourette's patient.
5. Roger Clemens throws Mike Piazza's broken bat back at him (2000 World Series).
When this first happened in the 2000 World Series, I had absolutely no opinion of the act, and frankly didn't care to as it was the Subway Series, Yankees-Mets, and I was openly rooting for them, like most Americans, to both lose.
As this decade comes to a close, though, this has become a retroactive favorite of ours if for no other reason than it marks our first legitimate reason to truly hate Roger Clemens. At the time, you may recall the only people who hated Roger Clemens were Red Sox fans (justifiably) and Blue Jays fans (also justifiable but rather questionable as no one has ever actually met a Blue Jays fan).
This marked the first time that pretty much everyone agreed that Clemens had done something truly despicable. Clemens lobbing Mike Piazza's broken bat at his head while he was jogging down the first basepath set the stage for the 2004 All-Star Game where Piazza allegedly tipped Clemens' signs to the American League hitters. It would also retroactively explain why he came back to Houston, pitched one season, hijacked the team for a ridiculous amount of money the year after, refused to travel with the team unless he absolutely had to, took his sweet-ass time decided whether he was going to pitch again for the Astros until they paid his absurd ransom, left the Astros hanging because he had to go pitch for the Yankees who actually would capitulate to his absurd ransom, and then in the end, have his entire career become a sham due to both his monumentally bloated ego and his involvement in steroid use.
So yeah, Clemens was a douchebag. And this was the first time everyone noticed. Good times!
4. George W. Bush's First Pitch (Game 3--2001 World Series)
There was a point in time when George W. Bush wasn't a lameduck president with failed foreign policies, a collapsed economy, a corrupt administration and a general populace that pretty much despised him.
There was a point in time when a shell-shocked nation turned to George W. Bush for guidance and strength. And for perhaps the only time in his administration, he delivered. A deeply-grieving nation returned to New York City for the first memorable sporting event held there since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. People really have forgotten this, but at the time, this was one of the ballsiest acts by a president since Reagan appeared in Berlin and demanded that Gorbachev "tear down this Wall."
Remember back to life shortly after 9/11, and security was a monumental issue. Bush's appearance at the 2001 World Series was a pretty brass move at the time when we were still rather skittish about whether the president should be seen in public not because of his policies and demeanor, but rather because we were literally fearful for his life. And ours for that matter.
Bush assuaged the American public's fear not with an act of foreign policy, but rather with a singular act. A high strike on a change-up. It was the perfect pitch at the right time.
3. Manny Ramirez accepts the 2004 World Series MVP Award
I was a production assistant for ESPN Radio during the Red Sox miracle run through the 2004 playoffs. Because I had spoken to Terry Francona and David Ortiz on a semi-regular basis to secure interviews, I had taken a liking to this particular team, and although I never spoke to him, I loved Manny Ramirez.
He disappointed me to no end with his act this season, subsequently forcing his way out of Boston and into Dodger Blue. That said, there is absolutely no better quote that could not only summarize that 2004 Red Sox team, but Manny Ramirez himself.
"I don't believe in curse. I believe you make your own destination."
Well said, Manny. Well said. I can only hope that after he retires, Manny Ramirez will fade into Bolivian too.
2. Jeff Suppan is annointed "Crappiest Baserunner Alive" by Cardinals' third base coach, Jose Oquendo (2004 World Series)
I'm really disappointed that I couldn't find a better picture of this moment or a YouTube clip of it either. It was seriously funny.
As an Astros fan, Cardinals hater, and at the time due to my aforementioned ties to the team, a Red Sox supporter, I wanted to not only see the Red Sox win, but more importantly, I wanted the Cardinals lose because they were the ones who vanquished the Astros in the 2004 NLCS.
The Red Sox were up two games to none on the Cardinals with the Series heading back to St. Louis. Jeff Suppan was the starting pitcher for the home team, and in the third inning somehow found himself standing on third base. He got caught up in a run-down on what was a routine pop-up. He should have scored on a sacrifice fly, but no. Suppan inexplicably forgot the rules of baseball, got about halfway down the line, and realized he forgot to tag the base first before heading home. This led to a comical scramble back to third base, and as Bill Simmons described it in Now I Can Die In Peace, it was "the first moment in baseball history where a third base coach walked away from a baserunner in disgust during the play."
The third base coach in question was ex-Cardinal shortstop Jose Oquendo. He just threw up his hands and refused to even look at Suppan as he tried to get back to third base. It was pretty much the moment in time when everyone knew the Red Sox were going to win this thing, and more importantly, that the Cardinals were going to lose.
1. Luis Gonzalez's game-winning hit off of Mariano Rivera (Game 7--2001 World Series)
Perhaps the greatest World Series of all-time was ended by a bloop single from Luis Gonzalez. Everyone remembers this. But here's what most people don't remember. At the time, seeing Mariano Rivera fold under the pressure was the equivalent of seeing Ivan Drago cut in Rocky IV. It wasn't just shocking. Up until that point, I don't think anyone had ever done it before.
The Diamondbacks had accomplished what nobody else thought was even possible. They shut down and bullied the baddest man on the planet at the time. Rivera has still been dominant as the Yankees' closer, but after the 2001 World Series he lost his invincibility permanently.
When one considers the circumstances surrounding the 2001 World Series, it seems unfathomable that we could witness anything that epic for this year's contest between the Rays and the Phillies.
But I think we will see something as equally dramatic. Will we see Evan Longoria face Brad Lidge in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 to decide the 2008 World Series?
I say yes. It will be the greatest World Series moment seen by no one else but us.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
But I digress. All that said, it should stand to reason that we should be supporting the Tampa Bay Rays, a completely anonymous collection of young talent that spanked the Red Sox and Yankees all year long, won the AL East and now are on the precipice of going to their first World Series in franchise history. This from a team that has never won more than 70 games in a season, was routinely mocked by both the baseball pundits and the rich jocks in their division who were both too busy outspending their way into superiority, and would never stoop so low as to pay their lowly basement-dwelling cousins to the south much attention.
But now the Rays have the Red Sox down three games to one, and all the major websites and sportswriters seem to almost concede this series to Tampa Bay. After all, they did just massacre Tim Wakefield's knuckler in Game 4, and this Red Sox team, unlike the 2004 and 2007 teams, don't have Manny Ramirez anymore. The Citgo sign behind The Green Monster just caught fire as well, so many view this as a foreshadowing of sorts, symbolizing the Red Sox inevitable doom.
Maybe I'm wrong. If I am, this piece will look incredibly silly, but I wouldn't exactly write the 2008 Red Sox obituary just yet. Consider the last five years, if you will:
2003: Down 2-0 to Oakland in the ALDS. They won the series 3-2
2004: Down 3-0 to the Yankees in the ALCS. They won the series 4-3, and became the only team in baseball history to comeback from being down three games to none.
2007: Down 3-1 to Cleveland in the ALCS. They were supposed to be beaten by the Indians' two-headed pitching monster in Sabathia and Carmona. They won the series anyway, 4-3.
I don't know whether the Red Sox simply thrive better in do-or-die circumstances, but I do know that they have consistently demonstrated more resiliency and more moxy in pressure situations than any team has over the last five years. And while the faces have changed slightly, a few things haven't.
1. Terry Francona
Until he's proven otherwise, Terry Francona is simply the best big-game manager currently alive. I would take Francona over every other manager in the big leagues, without fail. Not Torre, Leyland, LaRussa, Pinella or anyone else. Francona has captured two rings since being hired on in 2004 by getting more out of his players' abilities, trusting in them to get their job done without ridicule, tuning out the uber-cynical Boston media, and carefully managing the unending circus that comes with being baseball's biggest draw.
His counterpart, Rays manager Joe Maddon, has done a miraculous job of transforming the culture of a losing franchise, and knowing how to handle an incredibly young team of men still learning not just how to play baseball at the highest level, but how to manage their emotions as well. Remember, this is a Rays team that earlier in the season was busy fighting all comers from the Red Sox and the Yankees, and when they got done fighting them, they fought each other in the clubhouse. This is also a team that features budding superstar B.J. Upton, who on multiple occasions, has been benched by Maddon for not hustling out ground balls and pop-ups.
Maddon should be credited for keeping all of these guys together when it seems they could very well have crumbled with all the fighting and lackadaisical play. However, it should be noted that Maddon is a disciple of Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia. Let the record reflect that Francona owns a record over Scioscia in the playoffs that I think is roughly 293-0. My math could be slightly off on this one, but I think Argentina put up more of a fight over the Falkland Islands than Scioscia has in the playoffs against Francona.
If the Rays actually manage to lose this series to Francona and the Red Sox, I'm sure Scioscia might confront Maddon in his room and ask him how he managed to lose in such a fashion. I can only imagine that Maddon would respond like this:
2. Big Papi
Yes, I know he hasn't been playing well. Yes, I know he hasn't been healthy this year. Yes, I'm also aware that he may no longer be what he once was, that his three-year window may have shut and that David Ortiz may very well be remembered like Kurt Warner, The Ultimate Warrior or Axl Rose. Three to four years of absolutely mind-boggling, gooseflesh-rendering dominance followed by a rather drastic and equally absolute fall from grace.
But are we seriously going to shelve the greatest clutch hitter of my lifetime just yet? Does anyone really believe that the 2008 ALCS will be Papi's Spaghetti Incident? I highly doubt it, and it is moments like tonight where David Ortiz has been at his best.
3. Red Sox Nation
Simply put, the Nation is everywhere, and especially in Florida where, literally, millions of New England transplants and retirees now live. Let's just say that the Red Sox steal Game 5 at Fenway. Don't you think the Nation is going to show up en masse to Tropicana Field for a Game 6 and a potential Game 7? Won't Game 6 really be nothing more than a glorified home game? And how do you really think a young Rays team is going to respond when it appears the home crowd is cheering against them? Given their collective temperament does it seem totally illogical that they'd want to go beat the crap out of the paying customers for not cheering them on?
Maybe this is all moot. If the Rays take care of business in Boston tonight, they will face Philadelphia for the 2008 World Series. Win or lose against the Phillies, the Tampa Bay Rays will have accomplished one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports history. By and large, they already have.
But they still have to kill the Red Sox first. And as Oakland, New York and Cleveland can tell you, killing them might actually be the more remarkable achievement.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
True story: Ramiro, Brad and I were all at Lucky's Pub in Houston for the Texas Exes Watch Party against Oklahoma on Saturday, swilling down an array of various adult beverages ranging from the ordinary (Lone Star) to the ridiculous (Red Bull & Jameson's before 11:30 AM). The Longhorns were already down 14-3, and I must admit I was having flashbacks to 2000.
It was my senior year in college, and I was a proud intern for 1300 The Zone here in Austin. The Zone is the flagship station for Longhorn football, and I gladly blew off the trip to Dallas so that I could work the station's watch party at a Tex-Mex joint in town. I was up at 5 AM on a Saturday, at Antonio's by 6, ready for the broadcast by 8, and completely jacked up for kickoff by 11.
And then Quentin Griffin scored. And scored. And scored. And scored some more.
Honest to God, other than my cousin Michael's and my grandfather's passings, this was the worst day of my collegiate life. I had gotten up earlier than any college student ever should on a Saturday, and by the time Oklahoma had finally finished off a merciless 63-14 drubbing of the Longhorns, I was breaking down broadcast equipment in a 52-degree driving rainstorm. I can't even express how crappy this day was, and even though, the Longhorns won the 2005 National Championship led by The Greatest Performance Ever, I admit to this day to having extreme, sometimes completely irrational doubts, about the Longhorns' true capabilities. Hell, I thought we would lose five games this year. I had more faith in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae than I did in Mack Brown.
When we were down 14-3 this Saturday, I immediately harkened back to being the intern, the grunt, hauling out speakers and poles quietly, solemnly and absolutely tired as hell considering what time I got up that morning. I immediately harkened back to stepping outside with microphones and cables, getting blitzed by a swirling rain that tangled my hair in a direction-less mess. I felt like I was being shoved by a multitude of ghosts, random winds, pushing me from countless directions with all that expensive equipment in my arms. I remember getting home and peeling off my prized Longhorn hoodie, which I still have and proudly wear, as it stuck to my skin. Taking it off when I got home was like trying to rip off an upper-torso sized bandage.
"I'll bet you we go down 28-3," I said to Brad.
"I'll bet you a drink on that one," he replied.
No sooner than we made the bet, Jordan Shipley returned a kickoff for a touchdown, and we were right back in the game, only down 14-10.
Our waitress came around and I bought Brad a Double Jack and Coke. I've never been more happy to lose a bet.
True story: Brad and I saw about half of the paying crowd at Reliant Stadium get up and leave when the Texans were down 28-23. They saw what happened last week, and just assumed spare themselves the added misery. From the upper deck of the south end zone where we were sitting, I remarked to Brad: "These people are going to kick themselves for leaving when the Texans win this game."
Sure enough, Matt Schaub inexplicably threw into double coverage again, but Andre Johnson quite literally stole the football from the Dolphins defender. I've seen the replay of that catch at least 10 times now, and I'm still not sure how in the world he managed to catch the football standing behind the cornerback. Honestly, I'm not totally sure if the Dolphins employed the worst cornerback in NFL history or if Andre Johnson is David Copperfield playing wide receiver.
Maybe it's both.
That play, in addition to Schaub's bomb with less than 20 seconds to go to Owen Daniels, set up the Texans' winning play, a quarterback draw from Schaub on fourth down for the touchdown with three seconds to go.
He had thrown two interceptions on the Texans first two possessions. He made more poor decisions with the football than Congress has made with the economy. But Matt Schaub seemingly made all the plays down the stretch, and the Texans somehow defeated Miami 29-28 with only about a quarter of the paying crowd there to see a remarkable finish.
We were getting ready to exit, as so many did earlier, and I turned to Brad confidently exclaiming, "I never doubted it for a minute. Sports Karma rules, man!"
True stories: We walked out of Lucky's Pub triumphant and epic on Saturday. We left Reliant Stadium on Sunday feeling most relieved. We got in the car on Saturday, and listened to Craig Way, the Voice of the Longhorns and a man I interned for at The Zone, speak breathlessly about the greatness of this performance and Colt McCoy. Way even intimated there's the slightest chance that after this performance and several others along the way that Colt might just have his #12 hung next to Earl's, Ricky's and Vince's in the not-so-distant future.
We got in the car on Sunday, and listened to 610 KILT, the Texans flagship station, excoriate and ridicule everything the Texans did. I swear, if you didn't know any better, you'd think they lost by 40. Matt Jackson, the host of the postgame show, damn near said every nasty thing about Schaub except, "His mother was a fat, alcoholic whore." And at the rate he was going, he probably killed his mic and said it under his breath. They ripped the coaching, the offense, the defense, the quarterback play. Everything that the Texans executed poorly, they criticized it. However, everything the Texans did right, including win, they criticized that too.
In so many countless ways, it seemed irrational. Just like me making a foolish bet with Brad. But we've been burned so many times in the past, it's in our blood to distrust and to doubt.
After this weekend, I now know why we must also believe.
Monday, October 6, 2008
They were up 17 points with less than four minutes to go. Reliant Stadium was having a good ol' time, whooping it up at Peyton Manning's expense. The fans a were loud and jubilant football stew, simmering in a broth of St. Arnold's beer and frozen margaritas. It didn't look, didn't sound, and certainly didn't feel like a city that had just been ravaged by a hurricane a few weeks ago.
The Houston Texans were on the verge of convincingly winning their long-delayed homecoming against the AFC South Champion Indianapolis Colts in front of 70,000 fans that probably needed a welcome and happy distraction from the news of rising death tolls and steep insurance claims. Quarterback Sage Rosenfels had stepped in and performed admirably for Matt Schaub all afternoon. Schaub, we learned later in the day, was in the hospital the night before with a viral infection. Rookie running back sensation Steve Slaton had scored two touchdowns and was shredding the Colts front 7 like they were top secret Pentagon files.
Meanwhile, Mario Williams and the Texans defense harassed Peyton Manning all day long, sacking him twice, hurrying him on multiple occasions, and probably taunting him endlessly about losing an Oreo lick race to his brother.
Today was a day to celebrate in Houston a glorious homecoming, and a world-class ass-kicking of an elite-level team. It was a day not to count the Galveston Dead or the damage done, but to celebrate life, the living and the passion of a community coming together for fun, football and fellowship.
Four minutes later, Sage Rosenfels became the new Brad Lidge.
First, with about 3:13 left to go in the fourth quarter, Rosenfels attempted to go airbourne to pick up a first down when he clearly should have slid. He was belted in mid-air, spun around, and the ball was knocked loose. Colts linebacker Gary Brackett scooped up the ball and rumbled 68 yards for the touchdown.
After the ensuing kickoff, Rosenfels dropped back to pass and left the ball curiously dangling in his throwing arm. Colts defensive end Robert Mathis alertly knocked the ball out of his hand. The Colts recovered the ball. Peyton Manning connected with Reggie Wayne for the touchdown.
The Colts had been behind 27-10 with eight minutes to go and 27-17 with about three minutes to go.
A minute remained. The Colts were ahead 31-27.
Rosenfels tried in vain to get the lead back, hustling the team down the field. Thirty seconds left, he threw the ball to where and to whom I'm not quite sure. There wasn't a blue jersey anywhere. Literally. Looking around for a blue Texans jersey was like looking for another horse when Secretariat was up by 30 lengths at the Belmont.
Rosenfels tossed the interception, and the game was over. Texans fans tossed their collective cookies, and wanted to toss Sage Rosenfels off a cliff afterwards. The Texans played the first 57 minutes of football flawlessly, and it was all ruined by one man in the final three.
I've never known Houston fans to be the vindictive sort. After all, Houston's the same city that tried to cheer Brad Lidge back to health after he was bombed back into the pitching Stone Age by Albert Pujols. Houston fans tend to be pretty supportive about their guys. In many ways, they are unlike the fans of Philly and Cleveland who throw their guys under the bus at the first signs of trouble.
This will be different, though. I fear Sage Rosenfels won't get the kid gloves treatment on this one, but rather the Steve Bartman Special. Rosenfels may very well manifest himself as the scapegoat for all of Houston's mounting frustrations. Galveston has an unknown death toll right now. FEMA, by all accounts, has been their usual, incompetent selves. Many more residents fight a daily battle with the insurance companies who, of course, want to shell out as little as possible to help fix the most devastated areas.
Rosenfels' troubles may come to symbolize Houston's current problems, and I'm afraid he may just become the city's very own martyr. Although this seems rather harsh, I don't see any alternative for the Texans but to cut him right now. Not really for the team's sake really, but for his. I'd almost think that Rosenfels would probably prefer anonymity at this point anyway, and God knows there are enough places for a journeyman QB to latch onto anyway. In his defense, Rosenfels is better than just about all the QBs that Kansas City, Detroit and Minnesota currently have on their roster. Incidentally, that's an awful statement about the quarterbacking situation in the NFL right now. When a QB that single-handedly blew a 17-point lead with three minutes to go is a better option than Tyler Thigpen, Tavaris Jackson or Dan Orlavsky, you know those teams are completely worthless.
But the fans won't let him forget about it. The media won't let him forget about it. And if he steps in for Matt Schaub ever again, I fear the boos will be so suffocating to the point that it will be a detriment to the team and the individuals at large.
Today was supposed to be a day of celebration for Houstonians, not another test of faith. Sunday's loss isn't the end of the world, obviously. But for people who needed something to cheer about, Sage Rosenfels certainly didn't give anyone hope for something better.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
I've had more than a few people ask me, "Tray, what in the hell makes you so qualified to write something like this? How many brewpubs have you been to, Mr. Beer Snob?" And those people asking me that are my uncles who have been to more brewpubs than pretty much everyone else on the planet. They scoff at me, and that's OK as I am in awe of their prodigious travels.
To review: Since I turned 21 in 2001, I have visited and drank beers in over 125 different brewpubs spanning 26 United States and two Canadian provinces. I have a pint glass collection in my humble apartment that now sits at 81. I wrote a book entitled In Search Of A Beer detailing my post-college life bouncing from one media market to the next while draining beers in the local taverns that I found either where I was living or out on the road moving.
I tend to think my qualifications are solid, and I've never had a bad time anywhere I've ever been. Well, that and I haven't written about beer in awhile. It's a subject near and dear to me, and I'll be damned if I let too much time go by before I write about it again.
So to that end, let's review the ground rules, the disclaimers, and how I came up w/ this list.
1. This is NOT necessarily "The 10 Best Brewpubs in America." I hate when magazines like Esquire write about the best bars in America by going into one place, declaring it good, and publishing the word like it's Gospel. Esquire once wrote that Donn's Depot is the best bar in Austin. I've lived in the Austin-metro area most of my adult life, and I know of only one person that's ever been to Donn's Depot, and he hated every second of being there. And that was a guy who's pretty much been to every bar in Austin twice. This is merely a compilation of the best spots that I've been to. If you know of better, by all means pass the word on because I'd love to go. And if you're buying all the better for me.
2. Because I've lived in Texas, New Mexico and Connecticut, this list does skew in favor of those places and the surrounding areas.
3. I'm giving special consideration to places that gave me a pint glass. There are a few places that I went to once and the establishment may very well have made the cut had they not stoned me on my glass. Redondo Beach (CA) Brewing Company and Willimantic (CT) Brewing Company would have had a definite argument to be on this list on the beers alone, but they didn't give me a glass to add to my collection, so I'm stoning them back. I'm a vengeful little bastard in that regard.
4. There are several places that are now closed that I was tempted to put on the list. Copper Tank in Austin, Hub City in Lubbock, the Milagro Brewery in Bernalillo, NM and the original Blue Corn in Albuquerque also received votes, but since they don't exist anymore, they can't really be Top 10 worthy, can they?
That's enough foreplay, go get a beer from the fridge first before you start reading...
10. Elm City Brewing Company--Keene, NH
"No Crap On Tap" is what is says when you walk in the door, and they ain't lying. I rolled in here one night after a daytrip to Vermont. Keene sits in the southwestern corner of the state just across the Vermont border, and frankly, I couldn't wait to get the hell out of that godforesaken state fast enough. Vermont is sort of like France: They don't bathe, are a bunch of socialists, and probably enjoy surrendering at will. At least France has decent wine, cheeses and a bad-ass president that marries hot women.
I was actually refused service in one of the brewpubs I went into in Brattleboro. Suffice to say, I got the hell out of Vermont almost as soon as I realized that I wasn't even remotely welcome in their state as I have a shaved head, wasn't a hippie and had just bathed before visiting. I stopped into the Elm City Brewery to grab a pint and watch a little college basketball before heading back to Connecticut.
I was greeted by the bartender and the friendly natives sitting around the bar. They immediately inquired as to what I was doing in this particular neck o' the woods. I was working for ESPN Radio at the time as a production assistant, and informed them of this. The whole bar, probably about ten or so guys, immediately wanted to talk about the Red Sox with me. This was January or February 2004, so they hadn't won the World Series yet. When I told them that I really liked their chances, one of the guys bought me another beer as soon as I was done w/ my first. Good thing I was right.
Elm City Brewing Company makes the cut simply on the virtues of strangers buying me beer, having a great conversation with said strangers, and also by virtue of them not being located in Vermont. Oh yeah, and the beer was excellent too.
See Vermont? It's that hard, y'all.
Tray Recommends: The Monadnock Mt. Ale and the Irish Stout.
9. The Draught House--Austin, TX
The Draught House has a well-deserved reputation as being one of the best places to grab a brew in Austin. There's no liquor to be found, but in addition to their crafts, they have at least 50 taps devoted to imports and Texas beers, including the entire Independence lineup.
But that's only part of the appeal. When I think of places that are unique to Austin, this is one of the first joints that comes to mind. Regulars aren't even found in the bar. Typically, people will bring lawn chairs and hang out in the parking lot while enjoying a beer.
Here's the clincher, though. The Draught House is located directly across from a colon doctor. So if you really have to go in for an, ahem, "inspection," at least you'll have something to look forward to when you get out.
Tray Recommends: The Sunflower Ale and Northwestern Pale Ale.
8. Appalachian Brewing Company--Harrisburg, PA
One of the most interesting aspects of this gem in Pennsylvania's capital city are the history lessons learned right there at the bar. When I was there about five years ago, they explained not only what the beers were, but how they got their names. At the time, they had beers named after Pennsylvania's native explorers, obscure American Revolutionary patriots, and the Phillies' Double-A affiliate located in Harrisburg. I was surprised to learn that they play in a stadium built on an island in the middle of a river flowing right through Harrisburg. Suffice to say, I thought that was pretty bad-ass.
The building itself is a magnificent structure--a 3-story brick and timber haven of beer--that was rebuilt after a fire gutted the place in the early '90s.
On a personal note, the sports bar upstairs featured Blue October on the jukebox before anyone outside of Texas had ever heard of them. I had to play a couple of tracks from Consent To Treatment just to feel a little more at home.
Tray recommends: The Water Gap Wheat and the Grinnin' Grizzly Spiced Ale, if you happen to be there in November.
Montreal is the best city I've ever been to, hands down. The nightlife is unparalleled, the culture is as unique as any place I've ever been to, and it's only time in my life where I've seen three people speaking three totally different languages (English, French and I think Vietnamese, but I'm not positive), and they all understood each other perfectly. I swear, it was like the three guys were trying to recreate the Mos Eisley scene from Star Wars.
Brutopia is right across the street from where I was staying for my 25th birthday. The bartender at the time was this super-cute, tatted-up redhead. Regrettably, I don't remember her name, but she looked like a 20-something Julianne Moore w/ a big-time bad girl streak. Suffice to say, I was in love.
It was right around 5 PM, and I was hanging out for happy hour, rapping w/ her while the Off The Wall album from Michael Jackson was playing in the background. She was telling me about her alt-country band that was going to be playing there over the weekend. I asked her if she dug a little rockabilly, and she said yes. I left my Honey Beer on the bar, and went across the street to my car to go get my Roadhouse Rebels CD from my car. The Roadhouse Rebels are a now-defunct Austin rockabilly trio led by one of my best friends, Mr. Chris Harrison.
I advised my cute bartender friend to throw on a little Texas music for her liking and the bar patrons at large. After listening to some drunken classics like "Get Your Damned Hands Off Me" and "Lesbian Blues," many of the patrons inquired who they were listening to and where they could get a copy of this band. I had to tell them who they were, where they were from and where I was from as well.
Montreal may very well be a city of high art, cuisine and culture, but for one afternoon right around my birthday, a small section of the best city I've ever been to was transformed into a Texas dive bar with a soundtrack to match.
Tray recommends: The aforementioned Honey Beer and the Frosty Morning Red. And if anyone knows who the cute bartender is, please let me know so I can at least friend request her on Facebook or something.
6. City Steam Brewery--Hartford, CT
Hell yes, I'm biased. I've already admitted that.
Hartford is not a cool city, I readily admit it. It is the "Insurance Capital of America." Last time I checked, insurance was about as exciting as a day's worth of CSPAN programming. And this is what they are trying to promote Hartford as. I can only imagine what the city's marketing team's second place idea was.
"Hartford: At Least We Don't Suck As Much As Providence!"
With all due respect, I think I could get people to Hartford just by advertising the following. Ahem...
"Ever been to a seven-story bar complete with a comedy club in the basement? How about a bar that doesn't serve its beer in pitchers but in 3-foot beer steins with a tap? How about a bar that is hosting an international jazz festival? No? Why not? Come to City Steam Brewery in Hartford. Just stay the hell away from the insurance guys."
I wanted to include a picture of the winding staircases that lead up to the seventh floor. It really is a magnificent looking building.
Tray recommends: The Naughty Nurse Amber and the City Steam Blonde. Drinking them w/ Sean Salisbury of ESPN is recommended but optional.
5. Abita Brewing Company--Abita Springs, LA
If this list were based solely on location, Abita would win going away. Abita Springs is north of New Orleans on the other side of Lake Ponchatrain tucked in a neighborhood of old cypress trees. The drive to the brewery itself is an experience. The trees create a canopy effect over the streets leading up to the brewery. It's like a driving through a dome made of leaves and branches. If you read Evangeline in high school, Longfellow pretty much nailed the description completely of southern Louisiana, and eerily enough, he had never been there before.
When I went there it was the middle of a Wednesday afternoon. Based on my experience, I'd really like to go back if no other reason than when they decide to throw a party, well, like most coon-ass Cajun folk, they THROW A FREAKING PARTY. If I get my picture taken like this dude did, I might be willing to move them up higher on the list.
This picture was taken on their 20th Birthday Party. Why none of the girls I knew didn't do this for me on my 20th Birthday, I'll never be totally sure.
Tray recommends: Abita Turbo Dog and Abita Purple Haze both with a pinch of gold dust.
4. Steamworks--Durango, CO
Certainly, there are many viable reasons for Steamworks to appear on this list and to be as high as #4. There's the laid-back mountain vibes, the fantastic beers lined up on tap and now available bottled in Colorado, from what I gather. There's the view from the back patio that sorta looks like this.
But why lie? In addition to this being a fantastic brewpub, I hooked up there. She was hot, loved their beer, "You Shook Me All Night Long" by AC/DC and me. That's reason alone for it to be #4.
Tray recommends: The Backside Stout, The Ale Diablo and the Chi Omega sorority at Fort Lewis College in Durango.
3. Pike Place Brewery--Seattle
I visited the Land of Cobain and Hendrix on my 27th birthday, openly rooting for my 27th year to turn out better than theirs did. The brewpub is hidden in the Pike Market area, and I seem to recall milling around the area amongst the tourists, watching the vendors throw fish, getting bored and climbing up an enormously steep staircase to find the Pike Place Brewery.
Once inside, I sat myself down at the bar, ordered up some lunch and found a view once I turned around that sort of looked like this.
Not quite exactly, but still it was a very pleasant view of Puget Sound and the sailboats going by. In the words of Bill and Ted, "It was most tranquil."
But that was at my back. In front of me were the Astros playing the Cubs in the middle of the afternoon. Chris Sampson was making his debut for the Astros and he summarily mowed down Cubbies to the delight of the afternoon crowd gathered at Minute Maid Park and me. Especially me.
I ordered up the crab pizza and a Pike Bride Ale (a fantastic fusion of Bock beer and Pale Ales) and hunkered down to watch the Astros while I was two time zones removed from everything else.
During commercial breaks, I turned around for the scenic views of Puget Sound. When the game resumed, I turned back around. This process was repeated over the course of six innings, four Bride Ales, a crab pizza and an Astros victory on my birthday.
When Brad Lidge struck out Aramis Ramirez to end the game, "Voodoo Child" by Jimi Hendrix played over the Minute Maid Park speakers. I smiled and ordered my last beer of the afternoon. Then I turned around permanently.
Tray recommends: The Bride Ale, of course.
I landed my first job post-college in Albuquerque, and have held a special place in my heart for it ever since. When I first moved there in 2002, one of my closest friends, Jesse Gonzales, helped me move. Once we got everything in my smallish apartment, we started asking the natives where the best place to grab a pint was. Everyone said Kelly's was the best spot, and the natives have impeccable taste.
Easily the best aspect of Kelly's is the patio. It's right down the street from the University of New Mexico, and on perfect days in the Spring or Fall, it's the perfect place just sit, sip a beer, chow a green chile cheeseburger, and watch the eye candy walk by.
Last year, I had the chance to go back to Albuquerque for the first time in five years. It was the first time I had been back since I left in 2003. I wandered over to Kelly's right at 12 PM, sat down and fired up an apricot ale. Albuquerque's grown over the last few years so my view of the Sandia's was a bit obstructed due to the recent condo development, but still, it was not to be denied. I had the perfect seat.
To my left was the attractive student body walking down Central Avenue and heading towards campus. Straight ahead were the Sandias dusted with a wee bit of snow even in September. To my right was college football on the big screens inside. In my right hand was an apricot ale.
It was sunny, not a cloud in the sky, and 78 degrees. Damn, the apricot ale was good.
Tray recommends: The Apricot Ale, green chili, the Imperial Stout and an extra helping of green chili to go with the green chili cheeseburger. Green chili.
1. Beer Works (Fenway)--Boston
I haven't been here since I left New England in 2004, but I was here on one night when the Red Sox beat the Yankees prior to the legendary 2004 ALCS. They had beaten Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the 9th. Again. I was there watching it, and people reacted like Andy Dufresne after he crawled out of the sewer pipe to freedom.
Remember when Andy escaped Shawshank and he ripped his shirt off in the rain? Later that night when the crowd left Fenway to reconvene at Beer Works, when the Dropkick Murphys were cranking over the PA systems, when the pool tables were fired up, when the Fenway Pale Ales were flowing, a few girls decided to reenact that scene.
Minus the sewer, obviously.
This was a regular season game, mind you. This wasn't after Games 4, 5, 6 or 7 of the 2004 ALCS. This wasn't after Games 4 of the 2004 or 2008 World Series. This was a regular season baseball game in August. And very attractive women were ripping their shirts off.
Ladies and gentlemen, it goes without saying.
This is the Valhalla of Beer.