Thursday, October 30, 2008

Redemption: The Lessons Brad Lidge Can Teach Us All

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

An Open Letter From Austin to Our Good Friends in Lubbock

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.

Hook 'em,
The Longhorn Nation