Friday, November 14, 2014

Picking a Final Four ... all just anyone's opinion

        I feel compelled and somewhat motivated to write about a matter of national importance.
The new national-championship trophy, the
College Football Playoff payoff. (Actually,
I liked the BCS crystal ball football.)
      I like the College Football Playoff. There, I said it.
      It is so important. I have seen so much written about it for months and months, and have (not) heard so much said about it (because I try to avoid all the sports talk shows, except son-in-law's when I'm in Knoxville). And the interest is only ramping up day by day.
      Who's in (thank you, ESPN).
      Who will be in the first-ever Final Four -- the two semifinal bowl games, with the winners playing for the national championship right down the road from here (Fort Worth) at Cowboys Stadium, JerryWorld or whatever they call it?
      I am not here to debate the Final Four rankings -- the TCU or Baylor question, the Oregon-jumping-Florida State issue, the Alabama in-or-out talk, the what-about-Ohio State/Arizona State speculation.
      I will leave the debates to (1) all my media friends and (2) more importantly, the committee. (More on the committee below.)
      But this CFP is important enough to bring in a former U.S. Secretary of State to help settle matters. It is more important than which party is running Congress, than U.S.-China relations, the fight with ISIS, Russia-Ukraine, the Middle East's never-ending conflicts, immigration reform, gun rights, tax reform. It's more important than the New York Yankees' off-season roster moves; it's even more important than the frickin' Super Bowl.
       That's right.
       I purposely have avoided writing about this, or speculating about it, or talking all that much about it because I figure there is enough of that on TV, radio and the Internet.
       But, really, I love the idea because I love college football -- and the idea of one true national champion, decided on the field after a playoff game or three playoff games is perfect. Beats the heck out of "mythical national champion."
       Here is the gist of this piece, though: There is no perfect selection system. OK, you got that? As long as the human element is part of the selection process, it won't be perfect.
       But humans -- a committee of 12 people deciding the Final Four teams -- is a helluva lot better than computer-based selections (uh, humans do input the info into the computers, don't they?).
       So scrapping the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) system, with its computer rankings as part of the process, was fine with me. I'm glad the bowl-game honchos -- who have had so much control and so much financial clout -- for years and years are willing to play along with the CFP.
        So why am I writing about this now, what prompted me to force my opinion on you? Because there are stories and talk shows all over the place concerning this, and I want to get my two cents in. Because, in my extensive research for this piece, I came across -- on Facebook and AOL search -- two columns by sportswriters who I know and respect and whose work I admire.
         And they are both blasting the College Football Playoff system, and even embracing the much-criticized BCS.
         Matt Hayes, who writes college football for Sporting News and, in my opinion, knows as much about it as anyone and writes it as well as anyone, began his professional career as a prep writer at The Florida Times-Union where he was regularly and enthusiastically advised -- maybe that should read "chewed out" -- by a prep sports editor. Hmmmm.
         This week, Matt wrote: "The best part of this now-spectacular mess is this new, everything-will-be-better playoff is no better than the BCS. In fact, three polls in, it’s mirroring the most controversial product ever used by the sport."
         David Climer is the talented, very readable veteran sports columnist for The (Nashville) Tennessean. He wrote: "Looks like the BCS formula was less flawed than the current committee structure."
         Look, those are one-paragraph items lifted from a whole column, and I'm certainly not picking on Matt or David because there are hundreds of stories/columns/talk-show debates of the same nature.
        Here is what I am saying: What did they expect?
        There is always going to be controversy on NCAA playoff selections or polls/rankings, no matter what sport. There always has been. It's not perfection; it's just subjective.
       The biggest problem I have with the new College Football Playoff system is that I think they should have started with a Final Eight -- four quarterfinal games, two semifinals, one title game. Picking eight teams rather than four might've eliminated a lot of this BS speculation.
        If eight teams were picked, you think the teams left out -- say, the Nos. 9-10-11-12 teams -- wouldn't feel slighted?
         Look at the NCAA men's basketball tournament. There are 68 teams in it now, and every year several teams not selected are unhappy (SMU, for instance, last season). Every year there are debates on the No. 1 seeds. And I can remember when only 24 teams were selected, and then only 32, and there were no seedings.
          Picking a Final Four this season is so much better than the BCS' final two.
          Southern Cal thought it should have been in the national title game in 2003 (LSU was fortunate to be chosen, through the BCS system, to face Oklahoma). Auburn was the undefeated team left out in 2004. TCU and Boise State, both unbeaten and both in "minor" conferences, had to settle for a Fiesta Bowl matchup in 2009.
           And the worst BCS finalist ever was Nebraska in 2001. It didn't even make the Big 12 Conference championship game, having lost to Colorado 62-36 in its 12th game of the season. But a few weeks later it was playing Miami in the BCS title game. That was absurd.
            LSU, of course, was quite fortunate to be in the 2007 season BCS title game. It took final regular-season losses by Missouri and West Virginia to give the Tigers a reprieve. But, no apologies; that was a great Tigers team, which lost twice in triple overtime. If they'd been picking a Final Four that year, LSU would've been one of the teams.
             There is lots of criteria for the College Football Playoff committee to consider, and I hope one thing it can avoid in a Final Four is a repeat of a regular-season matchup.
              In 1996, Florida State beat Florida 24-21 to end the regular season, but the then-Bowl Alliance had them matched up again in the Sugar Bowl (designated as the national championship game). Florida won the rematch 52-20.
             More significantly for me, LSU won on Alabama's field 9-6 in overtime in the classic 2011 showdown and unbeaten LSU won the SEC title while Alabama watched. But the BCS system had them rematched in the national-title game. We know how that came out. Am I bitter about LSU having to replay a team it had beaten on the road? You bet.
              I almost never look at the college football rankings; the rankings don't matter when teams line up to play.
              I have not watched the College Football Playoff show revealing the committee's rankings the past three weeks. I never read one of the preseason and regular-season Final Four speculation stories. My writing buddy Teddy Allen points out all this was "interesting, but not significant."
              But Teddy and I agree that late in the season -- and from this point -- the CFP rankings do matter. I'd be a lot more interested if LSU was in contention. It's not. And it lost its final chance to be a "spoiler" when it let the game with Alabama slip away, despite a great effort, last Saturday.
              No question, though, the CFP and the rankings make for great interest, give the media great fodder. It helps make college football important to millions of people.
              I have no problem with the 13 people selected for the CFP committee, not even with Condoleezza Rice being a member. They're all very qualified, in my opinion, and very willing. Too bad that Archie Manning had to withdraw because of physical woes because few people love college football more and know more about it.
              About Condoleezza: We've all seen the criticism that she "doesn't know football." Such bull. She as smart as anyone on that committee, smarter probably, and more studied. Uh, she's dealt with more serious issues, OK. Sure, she might have a Stanford bias, but I think her opinion on college football (and most things) is to be valued.
                Here is what I'll remind you: For decades and decades, the "mythical" national champion was decided by (1) The Associated Press poll, which means 25 or 35 or whatever the number of media members -- writers and broadcasters -- or by (2) the coaches' poll; football coaches who might have had a bias for their own team or against another coach's team for one reason or another.
                I've been in a group of 25-35 sports media types. Ask them to rank, say, the best college football teams from 1 to 25 ... and you might have 25-35 different rankings. Never seen a media group -- two people or 50 -- who agree on all that much.
              (I'm just thinking -- suppose the committee consisted of Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Kevin McCarthy, Steny Hoyer, Ted Cruz, Dick Durbin, John McCain, John Cornyn, Elizabeth Warren and Carl Levin. Think they could decide anything with a consensus?)
               Politics, sports ... it's the human element; it's just people's opinion. It's not perfect; it's never been perfect. It never will be.
                 There is much more that can happen in these last few weeks of the regular season (and conference championship games). Hey, I think Mississippi State, Florida State, Oregon and TCU belong in the Final Four right now. That's just me. Next week I might think it's Alabama, Baylor, Arizona State and Ohio State.
                They didn't ask me to be on the committee. But I'm not going to spend much time trying to figure out what the committee has to figure out, and I'm not going to spend time criticizing what they do. I'll leave that to my media friends ... and to you. Good luck.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My mother appreciated Veterans' Day

    "I knew I wanted to go with the wonderful Americans."
       -- Rose Van Thyn, near the conclusion of her USC Shoah Foundation interview, October 1996

Rose Van Thyn, during her 1996 USC Shoah Foundation
interview, telling her Holocaust story
      My mother, who was as patriotic as any naturalized citizen could be, loved the United States Army and was forever grateful for it.
      Veterans' Day is an appropriate time to remember that, to remember how fond she was of the way the American military took in the bedraggled Holocaust survivors wandering in the woods of Germany near the end of World War II.
       Actually, it was the Russian military which first reached my mother and some two dozen other women who had been prisoners in the Nazi work and concentration camps.
        By then, the women were sick and starving and yet somehow had survived more than two months of the infamous "Death March" through southern Poland and eastern Germany. And this was after, in my mother's case, 16 months in the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau camp and then an even more cruel, harrowing stay in Ravensbruck -- the largest women's-only concentration camp.
        The Russians -- the Red Army -- came to the rescue, but it was the Americans that gave the women hope.
        In her USC Shoah Foundation interview, my mother covers many of the gory details of the "Death March," which she said began for her on Jan. 18, 1945, when the Nazis -- knowing the Allied troops were advancing from the west and the Russians from the east -- abandoned the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.
       As my mother recalled, the original group of about 800 prisoners who began the march, was down to a couple dozen. But that, fortunately for Mom, included 10 women from The Netherlands who had stuck together through Auschwitz and all the subsequent adventures.
       People had died of starvation, or had been shot because they could walk no farther, or died of illness, or froze to death (this was in the middle of winter in Germany and no one had much clothing) or were among those the Nazis threw into a tent filled with ice-cold water and drowned (my mother and others could hear their screams).
        After days and days of walking, they were at Malchow, which was an extension of the Ravensbruck camp.              
        "... It was the beginning of March and the sun was out and at Malchov we got a rest, we didn't need to do anything," my mother said in her interview. "We sat in front of the barracks in the sun. Don't know how long we were there [but] people were dying of starvation ... It was bad."
        Then it was another walk -- "it was slower and slower, and more people died. They would let us rest, an hour or so, people would get up and they would be shot. You never knew," Mom recalled.         
          And then another train ride to a town in the middle of Germany. (She referred to it as Talken, but looking at a German map, that is much farther north and west of  where she wound up. She might be referring to Torgau, which is where the Allied forces and Russian Red Army first met.).
          "Every day we marched for an hour around this square," Mom said. "I guess they prepared us for what was ahead of us."
          They left there April 13, then "walked in a circle for 14 days between Leipzig and Dresden, crossed the Elbe (by ferry) ... There were thousands of people [in the area]. We heard screaming. We didn't know, but we assumed that they were throwing people into the Elbe. When we crossed, we very scared that this was it."
           During their walks, she said they were shot at constantly from the air by Russian, German and even Allied pilots.
            Then, on a Thursday morning, a huge surprise.
            "They [the Nazis] gave us permission to sit down," Mom said. "We were all so hungry by then. We found the hide of a horse they must've slaughtered and we tore it up and had a piece of the hide and chewed on it." There was a little ditch from which they drew water to drink. And suddenly, "the Germans told us they were leaving us."
           This was in "what you called no-man's land. [But] nobody got up because we had learned already [not to assume safety]. ... We sat there for a long time because in the first place, we were so weak and we were so scared. But we had made it that far. We finally got up, the 10 of us, and we started walking, very, very slowly."
           The odd thing was that many of the SS guards, having given up and given them their freedom, "just sat in the grass and were waving at us."
           They came to a village and "we saw white flags. That's when we knew the war was over for us. It was April 26, a Thursday."
            They found a place to stay, at a farm. "The farmer was an old man, at least 70," my mother recalled, "and he allowed us to sleep in the hayloft. He cooked for us -- pea soup. Hadn't eaten [real food] in months and he fed us pea soup. He was German, but he was anti-Hitler. We didn't know and we didn't care as long as he fed us."
            Finally, the Russian Army caught up with the group and directed the women to a nearby town where the army was based, put them in a building to rest up. But as my mother said, "There was no organization, no Red Cross, no nothing, no place to sleep. We slept outside [and] we begged for food." 
            There was one other problem. "We had to play hide-and-seek with the Russian soldiers because they were after us (for sex)," Mom recalled.
            This was a town divided by a bridge -- the Russians were on one side, the Americans on the other side. Trouble was, the Russians wouldn't let the Dutch women cross the bridge.
             One of my mother's group, "Treess," could speak some Russian because her grandmother had been from Russia before the family moved to Holland. Treess went to the Russian officer in charge several days in a row looking for permission for the group to cross the bridge. He wouldn't relent and finally threatened her safety.
             "An American officer came in while Treess was there," Mom said. "Captain Lee. He followed her outside and asked if there was a problem." She explained the situation and "he told her to come to bridge at 2 p.m. and 'I'll make sure that you go over the bridge.'
             "I don't know what he did, and there were thousands of people who wanted to go over the bridge, and here we are, the 10 of us going over the bridge [at 2 p.m.]."
             That included one woman who had typhoid fever, "but we schleped her with us, took her along," Mom said. "We just couldn't leave her. To come that far, I mean, we had to take her."
             Now, the most beautiful part of the story.
             My mother, in her interview, is at times somber, and matter-of-fact, and emotional when talking about family, but when she talks about the American army, she is joyful.
              "So when we came to the other side, the Americans were waiting for us and, I tell you, it was unbelievable," she said. "They were so wonderful to us ... They gave us all the tender loving care, they were good to us. Nobody had said a good word to us for three years.
             "They took us to hospital, gave us examination from tip of our toes to our head -- I never had an examination like that again. My weight was 65 pounds and I was already free for a few weeks. ... We wanted to go back to Holland, but borders were closed because of all the diseases and the western part of Holland had suffered very much, people died in Amsterdam of hunger in the street."
             So the women were put up in a displaced persons camp for three days, in between Leipzig and Dresden ... (perhaps at Magdeburg).
             "There were all kinds of survivors, all nationalities," Mom said. "After three days, some Americans came in there with jeeps. ... We were sitting on a bench, all of us [and] he  stopped  and asked what nationally we were. One Dutch officer was in the jeep and we said Dutch.
           "[The American officer] knew the borders of Holland were closed and that we had to stay in Germany for a while and he said, 'Would you be willing to work in the officers' mess of the 69th Infantry Division?' We said, 'Of course; that is just what we needed -- food.'
           "And they put us up in two houses where Germans had lived. And I never forget, the first morning we came in this officers' mess to work and they fed us breakfast first. And we got each a stack of pancakes with scrambled eggs and each of us had three pancakes and they asked if we wanted some more and we all said yes. And more and more officers came in because they'd never seen women eating like that.
           "Then we went into the kitchen after we ate -- I think we all had nine or 10 pancakes, which was really very dangerous because there were people who started eating right after they were liberated and died because our bodies weren't used to food -- and, I never forget, we went in the kitchen and they were cutting bread, white bread, and they were cutting the crust off and they were throwing the crust in the garbage can. We thought it was criminal."
              The goodness continued.
              "I mean, it was just unbelievable. They were so good to us," Mom continued. "They took us to Leipzig and there was one department store, C and A, it was called, and it was still open, and we needed some clothes because we had nothing, and the clothes we had were full of lice because in Auschwitz there were clothes lice, head lice, all kinds of lice. And so they bought us dresses and they bought us, I never forget, blue raincoats and shoes and socks, and they were wonderful to us, they were just great."
             Eventually, the borders opened and Mom and her friends returned to Netherlands. But after some years, many of them moved on.
             My family came to the United States in early 1956 -- 10 1/2 years after my mother's liberation from Nazi Germany and Poland. She knew from the time the American military treated her so well that she wanted to live in the U.S.
               In her Shoah Foundation interview, Mom is quite outspoken -- harsh, really -- about her treatment in Holland upon her return, and what the country became in the years after the war. I'll spare you the details, but I will say her attitude was a bit disappointing to me. But that's how she felt.
                "Holland didn't mean anything [to me] anymore," she said. "When I came back, I already knew I didn't want to stay in Holland because I knew I would not have anybody left probably and that I would not have any close relatives. I didn't want to live there any more. I didn't feel that was my home any more.
               "Then when we married, Louis really didn't want to live there any more, either. I wanted to go to America, with my wonderful friends."
                And she did. The U.S. became home, Shreveport-Bossier became home, and my mother became a speaker/educator on the Holocaust, telling her story. She always praised the American military for its role, and among her many speaking engagements, few pleased her more than visits to groups at Barksdale Air Force Base, Fort Polk, La., and Fort Bragg, N.C.
                 She loved this country, and she loved the veterans. You don't have to wonder why.  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

It's Election Day, bring on the pizza

    I give credit to Scott Ferrell, longtime sports editor of The Shreveport Times and now digital editor there, for his post on Twitter this morning:
    "Or as they say in every newspaper sports department across the country, every day is Election Day in sports."
    Oh, so true.
    Guarantee you that all those survivors of newspaper sports desk around the country are thinking, and saying, exactly what Scott expressed. And laughing about the pizza party they'll be having in the newsroom tonight while the election results -- and the stories -- roll in.
    The newsside reporters and desk personnel will be in mild states of panic -- mild early, severe panic late near deadlines. It happens five, six, seven nights a week in sports.
    Yes, elections are difficult to cover and there seemingly are thousands of angles and stories and photo ops to cover. Just like any Friday or Saturday night in sports during football season or in March during basketball season or in the middle of summer in an Olympics year.
    If the people who run newspapers gave us -- the sports department -- pizza for every difficult night that we had, we'd have owned a pizza franchise.
    You think I miss those nights? No way.
    I don't miss 50 to 100 or so high school football games -- depending on how big the market you're in -- being phoned in, and stories or roundups needing to be written, while you're also dealing with the 10 to 25 games from which you have reporters sending in stories (which need to be edited and which need headlines written, and possibly with photo cutlines/captions added).
    Plus, there are -- depending on which month -- major-league baseball roundups to be one, and a Texas Rangers game story/sidebar/notes to be dealt with, and/or a Dallas Mavericks story and notes, and a Dallas Stars' game and notes, and maybe some breaking news on the Dallas Cowboys because they're always making news (some of it even good news), and -- hold up the sports front -- here's a late-breaking Rangers' trade.
    There are Tuesday and Friday nights in basketball season when every high school team is playing all over the area, and there are college games going on at all levels, and there's an NBA roundup to be done.
    And even on "slow" days in summer, when there are no high school sports going, there is almost always a full schedule of MLB games and there's news about the Cowboys and there's the shocking latest development of wrongdoing in the sports world.
    It's been the same in every market I've worked in -- perhaps not as busy in Shreveport or Honolulu or Knoxville as in Fort Worth-Dallas or Jacksonville. It's a circus act more nights than not, believe me.
    Meanwhile on news side, the "excitement" level might hit that kind of warp speed once every two or three weeks ... if that much.
    Don't mean to say that newsside jobs aren't as difficult; they can be. Newsside does have a lot more life-and-death stories, and I would not trade places with the reporters and editors who had to handle those.
    I am saying that night sports departments are much more accustomed to the frenzy most nights.
    My wife, who has had an interesting and varied array of jobs, worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for five-plus years -- mostly in the editorial department -- and saw the frenzied atmosphere (and the pizza rewards brought in) on newsside for Election Day coverage. She would remind the people in the newsroom that the sports department went through this almost nightly. (We've been married a long time, so she knew.)
    She said the newsroom reply was: Yeah, but if we make mistakes (on election coverage), they are not forgotten. What we do is much more important.
    OK, I'll concede that point. It is a little more important who is elected the governor of Texas and which party is in charge of the U.S. Senate than whether or not Tony Romo plays Sunday for the Dallas Cowboys.
      What I am saying? No, it's not. What chance do you think the Cowboys have without Romo in the lineup?
      And, really, does it actually matter when the Democrats or the Republicans have the majority in the Senate? They're not going to get much of anything done in the next two years either way. Plus, Greg Abbott as governor instead of Rick Goodhair (thank you, Molly Ivins)? Makes no difference ... well, no difference to me, anyway.
David Brooks, left, and Mark Shields: The political analysts on PBS are the
guys we watch to make sense of what is going on ... if it makes sense at all?
      Of course, I voted. I rarely miss any chance to vote. And I love reading about politics, and following politics on television, and I will watch the election results with interest.
      If you must know, I think David Brooks -- The New York Times' political columnist and perhaps as well-known for his political analysis on PBS -- should be our next President. He knows more, and is more sensible, than any of the politicians I see.
      But back to the original subject -- Election Night at the newspaper. I once volunteered to help out on newsside; I think it was the 2004 Presidential election, and my job that night at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram was to do a roundup of the biggest election stories in each of the 50 states.
       As I remember it -- and actually I'm trying to forget -- I did briefs item on each state and then updated as the election results came in. When we got to deadline time, I think I had updated some 30 of the 50 states (couldn't get to the Western time zone states).
        Of course, I panicked near deadline time. You'd think with all the nightly sports desk experience I'd had, I could have handled it with ease.
         But I got in on the pizza party. That's what was really important.
         So I'll miss the pizza tonight, but I won't miss the frenzy on newsside. I won't miss the action.
         Besides, here's the benefit of retirement. There's a pizza seller set up just across from our apartment complex, a monthly occurrence here. I'm going over and buy a pizza now, and we'll eat it as we watch the election results on television. Happy Election Day.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Motivational speeches are so often ... silly

     The cynic in me, growing as I get older, is scoffing at coaches' motivational speeches today. Especially college football coaches.
     Sorry, they are just so over the top, So silly. Forgive my irreverence.
     Perhaps not as over the top -- or weird -- as the fire-and-brimstone preachers you and I have seen and heard, the ones exhorting people to heaven and warning of the damnation of hell. Not as earnest as the motivational speakers people actually pay to hear at seminars. Not my thing.
      (I do know our old friend Terry Bradshaw is one of those speakers, and he is a good one -- as good at speaking as he was at quarterback, and he's a Hall of Fame QB. Go hear Bradshaw and you know you've been entertained.)
     But, gosh, what a show some of these coaches can put on. Do I find them entertaining? Not at all.
     Here's what triggered this piece. I turned on the recording of the Alabama-at-Tennessee game -- played last Saturday while I was watching Ole Miss-at-LSU -- and the SEC Network telecast began with the cameras inside the Tennessee locker room.
     Vols coach Butch Jones, the tough-looking, tough-acting guy with the old-fashioned crewcut, was in front of his football team and staff.
From his first day as the Tennessee Vols' head football
coach, Butch Jones was familiar with the seven Gen. Neyland
 game maxims. (Knoxville News Sentinel photo)
     Jones screamed, "WHO'S GOT MY BACK?"
     Tennessee players: "We've got your back."
     Jones again: "WHO'S GOT MY BACK?"
     Players: "We've got your back."
     Jones (loud, intense): "I've got your back tonight. Everyone in orange has each other's back tonight, on every single play. ... Just do your job. If we win the game maxims, it's going to be a great night for the Big Orange."
     Then he turned to a bulletin board that lists the seven game maxims originated by Tennessee football coach/military hero Gen. Robert Neyland in the 1930s. Jones began reciting those maxims and the players dutifully repeated them.
       This is Tennessee football tradition. The Vols have done this before every game since the '30s. All their coaches know this is part of the job. Lane Kiffin, I heard, didn't want to continue the routine, but the players -- in his one year as head coach (2009) -- insisted. Also, I read that many coaches around the country, some with Vols ties, have their team recite similar maxims.
        With that, the Tennessee team stormed out of the dressing room at Neyland Stadium, ran through the "T" formed by the "Pride of the South" band ... received the kickoff, soon gave up a sack, punted ... and promptly gave up an 80-yard touchdown pass on Alabama's first offensive play.
         So much for starting the game fired up and playing with pride and intensity. So much for
that fiery Jones motivational speech and pregame routine.
          Apply Neyland maxim No. 3: "If at first the game -- or the breaks -- go against you, don't let up ... put on more steam." (Put on more steam; how 1930s is that?)
          Alabama had 27 points by the time Tennessee scored. The Vols did make a game of it, closing to 27-17, but no amount of motivation was going to be enough this night. Not enough steam.
          Don't mean to be picking on Jones or the Vols. We have ties to Tennessee; daughter and son-in-law are graduates, who live in Knoxville, work in the area, and we lived there six years (I worked for the paper there). Granddaughter Josie can sing Rocky Top. I root for only one SEC school, but we don't mind the Vols.
          I'm just using the Neyland maxims routine as an example that what said in the locker room often isn't really meaningful when the game begins.
          It's just kind of a show, part of the tradition of the game. Coaches, at any level and in any sport, have been trying to "motivate" their players for forever. It's really the coach showing how much he cares, and how much he wants his players to care.
          We love a lot of college football traditions -- the pregame band show (it's always the same at LSU, and how great is that?), the team touching the banner, or the bulldog/tiger/whatever statue, touching the rock and running down the hill, and now -- in just about every sport -- the team- and student-bonding drill ... jumping up and down together. Love many traditions in all sports, really.
           But the point is, motivation only goes so far.
           What's a heckuva lot more important is how prepared teams are after a week on the practice field, or in basketball, a day or two; in baseball, day after day. What's important is if coaches -- and players -- can adjust to what the other team and players are doing during games.
          We've all heard the Knute Rockne exhortations for his Notre Dame teams in the 1920s and '30s. Lots of Rockne imitators since then. I'm just not much of a believer that it makes a difference.
          Butch Jones is about as intense as anyone, and he's had success in previous stops. Not so much -- yet -- at Tennessee. But one coach who might be more intense, more frantic, more vocal, is having great success now and has had it in the past: the local guy, Gary Patterson at TCU.
          Putting it bluntly -- he is a screaming fool. (I find him hard to watch.)
          Again being recognized as one of the nation's best defensive coaches, Patterson takes every opportunity to "motivate" his team. Even his comments to the media -- and he is, in my opinion, no friend to the media (nor is that his job) -- are calculated to send messages to his players.
          But maybe his motivational tactics work. He'd say so, and so do TCU fans. I'd say his teams' success has more to do with practice drills and time, and a drive for perfection.
          Certainly that's true for Nick Saban at Alabama (and LSU before that). He can go off during games and practices, but I suspect his pregame/halftime speeches are more calculating than high-volume.
           And I can't see Steve Spurrier -- who has been among the greatest of college football coaches in his time -- screaming at his team. He'll get irritated and livid for a moment, but he doesn't seem to be a "yeller." Bobby Bowden (speaking of great success) wasn't, either. But he was a helluva speaker.
           I've heard and read that LSU coach Les Miles is quite the pregame/halftime motivator, that is if the players can understand what he's trying to tell them. But I really like his softer, more low-key manner during games, even talking to players who have screwed up. I prefer that, although -- honestly -- I would have been in the "screaming" category. That's where I am during some games (not all) watching at home on TV.
           I think high school coaches still believe in motivational tactics or speeches, and it's part of many college basketball coaches' makeup, too. But I just can't imagine that very many pro coaches -- NFL, NBA, NHL, soccer and certainly not baseball -- stand in front of their teams and their well-paid players and scream at them.
            No, I think the pro coaches leave it mostly to the players to motivate each other. Certainly that's true in the NFL, where you routinely see the crazy gyrations by players on the field and the sideline -- before and during games.
            Ray Lewis, who is going to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the great linebackers of his time, retired the "honor" of the nuttiest pregame hysteria. His act alone was enough reason for me to turn off live NFL games for good.
           My favorite football coaches were Tom Landry, Joe Aillet and Lee Hedges (you know Landry; my old friends know the other two), and they weren't "motivators." They were teachers, detail-oriented and organized. They calmly told players what needed to be done, and left the high-tone motivational speeches to their assistant coaches ... and to the players.
           My favorite "motivational" coach was the man who inspired the name for this blog; I heard him give hundreds of talks to kids at the high school level (and not just in athletics). Jerry Adams didn't yell his messages, but he talked earnestly and was always focused on mental preparation.
           When I called him at his home in Tennessee the other day to talk about this, we agreed that the key for any team, or any function, is the work done prior to the event ... in football, the work done on the practice field.
           "It's not necessarily a long speech by a coach before a game," he said. "Whatever is done or said, it has to be the right time. It (motivation) can come from one moment, one sentence, or one play, or from a (verbal) challenge by a player or two. ... But you have to have a good game plan; everything has to be in place. You have to be prepared beforehand."
           Back to those college traditions. I love the tradition of players (and the coaches) singing the alma mater in front of the school band after victories; I especially love it for LSU and Louisiana Tech. To me, that's a reason to be motivated to win.
           I'm sure the Tennessee Vols like doing that, too. That should be Neyland maxim No. 8: After you win, go sing the alma mater. Then you can yell.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Luck is what you make of it, or it makes of you

     So are you a good-luck person, or a bad-luck person, or somewhere in between?
     Luck, or fate, has been on my mind since my previous blog post when I declared Les Miles "the luckiest coach I've seen in 55 years of following sports." Since then, his LSU football team has won twice more -- and luck had nothing to do with it.
     Those were well-deserved victories. Not much crazy business and lots of discipline and willpower in those games.
     But the intention of this piece isn't to write about sports; it's about luck -- or lack thereof -- in life. I find it a fascinating subject; maybe you will, too.
      I often write from the viewpoint of athletics and journalism because that's who I am, that's where I've been. But, of course, I have many other roles and viewpoints -- son, brother, husband, father, uncle, Opa, friend, co-worker, agitator, etc. -- and I've been here 67 years to offer these opinions.
      I look at my life and say "glad to be here" and "damn, I've been lucky."
      How about you?
      To come to the United States from another country with my family -- as millions have -- and see life develop so splendidly, that's good fortune. That's with a lot of help from a lot of people.
      To settle in Shreveport, La. -- no garden spot, but a beautiful place for us -- and move to a neighborhood and schools where all seemed to be just right for a decade, how fortunate.
      And I'm not alone in that thought. On Facebook recently, my co-sports editor for the high school yearbook in 1963-64, Lewis Allgood, wrote of the Class of '64 reunion ... "how lucky we all were" to be at that school at that time. Several others expressed the same thought.
      How lucky we all are to still be here. One of the photos from that reunion shows the "in memoriam" board -- 71 names listed, including some good friends ... eight of them athletes. From the five seniors on our basketball team in my senior year, one survives.
      We lost so many of these people when they were so young, so far ahead of what we thought was "their time." We've all lost family, friends much too soon. It was not their luck, or their fortune, to live long lives.
      That's hard to explain, perhaps, and we can say it was their "bad luck" (and ours, in a sense). To understand it, we lean on whatever faith we believe in.
      Luck so often is a right-place, right-time deal. Just as bad luck is a wrong-place, wrong-time deal.
      Most of the "bad" that's happened to me has been self-inflicted; it wasn't "fate." I put myself in that wrong place. Conversely, I've been lucky that someone -- Bea and others -- was there to give me a lifeline, a boost ... a job. My family certainly benefited from those times.
      Oh, I could point to some "bad" luck with, say, automobiles. Haven't we all had that?
      Let's see ... three instances where we had huge dents or extended scrapes on one side, a blown-out tire on a bridge coming into Baton Rouge, a loose truck muffler I couldn't avoid on a bridge going into Jacksonville that caused a busted oilpan, a flash-flood I ran into in Knoxville when the car got caught in deep water, killing (and ruining) my engine, a 10-car pileup (I was third) late one snowy, icy night at "malfunction junction" on the interstate in downtown Knoxville ... another dented bumper and side panel.
      Almost forgot my first accident -- the day I backed my mother's car into my father's car. Oh, yeah. Dad didn't get all that mad at me very often, but that day, he was just a bit ... furious.
      As my son Jason and my friend Teddy Allen taught me to say ... "My bad."
      So I kind of understood when Jason, while in high school, came home and told us that he had backed the rented car he had used to take his date to the prom into the girl's father's car.
       But -- knock on wood -- no injuries, no pains. Bad luck, but also good luck.
      We, Bea and I, have had some things stolen from us here and there, but nothing major. My parents' home got broken into, and it shook them up, but the damage was minimal and the crime was solved in short order.
      We've known people who we thought were beset by "bad luck." Something disastrous -- a family problem, financial woes, physical trouble -- was always happening to them. Sometimes it was out of their control, but the feeling we had also was that they caused their own issues, and so often you can feel their "woe is me" vibes.
      Most importantly, whatever happens to us -- good luck, bad luck -- it's how we react to it. We can take a positive approach, deal with it and move on; we can whine/complain about it, or be angry ... and then what?
       I am dismayed when people express their frustration/anger at their bad luck, or what they perseve as bad treatment, on Facebook. That happens much too often; it's tiring to read.
       It's all in what you make of your luck, or if you let it control you.
      When I think of good and bad luck, though, what counts most is a person's health. Nothing is as crucial as good health.
       It is, as we know and have been told repeatedly, imperative to do what you can to preserve your health -- to eat properly, exercise, stay in shape, to live as safely as possible.
      We had our big scare in 2002 when Bea was found to have colon cancer. It was Stage II (Stage IV is most often fatal), and the chemo was a tough process. But she recovered and a relapse scare and radiation/more chemo three years later was difficult, too, but she is here and she's well, and we are blessed.
      My parents each lived into their late '80s, mentally alert for most of those years. There were some issues (kidney stones, diverticulitis, a broken wrist, a growing battle with diabetes) on the way, but they rolled on and kept living.
      But, gosh, we see people, friends, whose lives were cut short by cancer, strokes, heart trouble, brain tumors and accidents, and the thought is "bad luck." It is those sudden deaths, when people were seemingly well or in the prime of their lives, that shake us so. We don't forget them.
       I have close friends who have had heart attacks/blockages, have stents, have survived prostate cancer, and a stroke. I am thankful they seem to be doing as well as they can.
      We've all known people who were physically handicapped -- some from birth -- and those who have had to care for those people, parents with babies/kids with special needs. And yet, they face their challenges and so many have managed productive lives. I have so much empathy and admiration for those people. Bad luck maybe, but no give up.
       I think about my family history, and I can say it was "bad luck" that my grandparents, uncles and aunts -- and my parents -- were caught up in Europe in the late 1930s/1940s and were Jewish ... and were victims of the Nazi horrors.
       My parents' good luck was that they somehow survived and -- with a lot of breaks, some self-made -- found the way to a new and better life.
       Final thought, back to Les Miles. Our "good luck" football guy coached Saturday's big game with nemesis Ole Miss a day after his mother passed away. The death wasn't unexpected; she was in her early 90s.
       But the unexpected happened 3 1/2 years ago when the Tigers' coach and his family lost his younger sister in a car accident near Baton Rouge.
       So no matter how famous, how high-profile a prominent coach is, how "lucky" he might be, he's human. Bad luck or fate affects him -- and it has nothing to do with football. We should all handle matters as gracefully as he did this past weekend.            

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The joy, and agony, of LSU football

     LSU football can drive a person mad, specifically the person writing this.
     I was at my best -- no, worst -- Saturday night. The woman who also lives in this apartment, a Dallas Mavericks fan, also was mad ... at me. Don't blame her.
     It was a tough night, and while the game's outcome at The Swamp in Florida was a good one for us, the method was -- as usual -- maddening.
     You would think that after 10 years of Les Miles-coached LSU teams, we would be used to this. You would be wrong.
Les Miles and the LSU Tigers sing the alma mater after every victory, as
 they did Saturday at Florida, but often it is a struggle to get there. (AP photo) 
     The stress of watching the Tigers is going to take me out of this apartment in future games. I think a padded room, with me as the sole occupant, is the answer. Easier LSU victories would be a good solution. That's not likely to happen.
     The stress of watching the Dallas Cowboys live and the New York Yankees live, and even the Dallas Mavericks live, have taken them out of my television rotation. That's what U-Verse recording system is for. Late-night watching -- by myself -- is a bit easier and much quieter.
     I am writing this strictly from a fan's perspective, not a former dip-spit sports writer. I am a much more passionate fan; when I was working, I did manage to maintain a sense of decorum and -- yes -- professionalism.
     I have been following LSU football since that magic year of 1958, sometimes very closely, sometimes not. There are many, many more passionate Tigers fans that me, and many, many more with greater knowledge of LSU football history.
     But as I've written before, there are few sports teams and events that I enjoy watching more and there are few that provide more agony (see: Yankees, Cowboys, Dutch soccer).
     LSU-at-Florida on Saturday night was agony.
     I have been able to stay fairly calm this season, through the woeful first 2 1/2 quarters in the opener against Wisconsin, and through the basically one-sided SEC losses to Mississippi State and Auburn (if your offense is sporadic and your defense can't read plays and can't tackle, you get what you deserve). But I felt that this Florida team was very beatable, even by a struggling LSU team.
     Thus the impatience with this mistake-filled game. The beautiful thing was Florida was just as prone to mistakes, and in the end, even more so. But I will reveal now that when Colby Delahoussaye made that winning 50-yard field goal with 0:03 on the clock, I wasn't watching.
     As the great Jerry Byrd often said (in this case, it applied to me): No guts.
     I had to laugh when I saw that Miles said that this was "an immensely classic battle." Classic? No,  it wasn't (LSU's 2007 comeback win vs. Florida at Tiger Stadium was classic; those were two outstanding teams; programs that totaled three consecutive titles).
      This game was bizarre. This was two mediocre teams.
     At the risk of the wrath of LSU fans, and Les Miles fans, I am going to put in writing what I've been telling people for several years now: Les Miles is the luckiest coach I ever have seen in 55 years or so of following sports.
     I have tried to think of someone luckier, or equally lucky. I can't.
     Let's qualify this: This luck is a good thing. And maybe luck isn't the right word. Maybe Les is the most fortunate coach. Whatever. It works for the Tigers, doesn't it?
     Saturday's win was Miles' 100th as LSU coach. So many of those can be put in the "unbelievable" category, games when you (I) didn't think it was possible. A friend of mine said in a text after the Florida game: "Seems like every year they win two or three games they shouldn't."
     In this game, it took -- among other things -- the 50-yard field goal at the end, a tipped-pass interception of a last-minute Florida pass (a poor decision and throw by the Gators' QB), a drop of a sure touchdown pass by a Florida tight end that would have given the Gators the lead with less than 2 minutes remaining; a breakdown in the Gators' secondary that let LSU escape a third-and-25 hole when Florida led with 2 1/2 minutes left; three major breakdowns by LSU (two Florida punt returns -- one for a TD, one setting up another -- and a 79-yard Gators pass play). Etc., etc.
     A typical see-saw LSU victory under Miles.
     Our pal Glenn Guilbeau detailed the history of LSU's "lucky" victories under Les in his Monday column for The Shreveport Times and other Gannett Co. papers in Louisiana:
     Read that; it saves me the time of recalling those agonizing games.
     It was baseball icon Branch Rickey who is credited with first saying, "Luck is the residue of design." If so, Les Miles is covered in residue.
     I look at LSU, and so often see a team that is undisciplined, scattered, and looks unprepared. Plays are signaled in late, the QB audibles and then has to rush things, the play clock runs down (or out), timeouts are wasted. Doesn't matter who the QB is or the offensive coordinator, it's happened for nearly a decade. This is by design? I don't think so.
     Defensively, what I see are more problems of execution. I think John Chavis has a strong record as a coordinator, at Tennessee and LSU; he had a great defense in 2011; I didn't hear anyone complaining then. The man knows what he's coaching. But players don't always get where there supposed to be, or tackle/break up passes when they do.
     Special teams? The punt-coverage unit almost cost the Tigers the game Saturday.
     I wish things went more smoothly more often. But all that said, when LSU can pull out games as often as it does, talent does win out, and obviously there is some good coaching going on.
     We can always second-guess the LSU play-calling.  I think it's too often too conservative and predictable. But on Saturday, the Tigers' staff obviously felt it could run the ball against a pretty tough Florida front -- and it did. This was what we'd been waiting to see from heralded freshman Leonard Fournette; he looked like a big-time running back in that game, several times one desperate Florida tackle from breaking a long TD run.
     But I am not here to be too critical of Les Miles and his staff. I think Miles knows how to run a great program. Obviously, talented players are being recruited and put in the right places.
     From everything I've heard and read, and my media friends tell me, Miles treats people well -- even the media -- and he deals with discipline problems best he can (yeah, you can criticize, and people do, but the coaches at this level everywhere have tough jobs in this area).
     I think Miles is fun, and entertaining, and we never know how he's going to express himself. He's refreshing compared to the dead serious, uptight, coach-speak types who can turn on the media (or shut off everyone else in his program from the public).
     Sometimes I wish Miles would show more emotion on the sidelines. He can get animated, but he stays mostly cool. And while I debate this aspect with myself, I come to this conclusion: Because he stays calm, so does his team. I think he instills confidence; he expects his players can perform.
     So there's not a great sense of panic; thus, his players -- such as sophomore QB Anthony Jennings on Saturday against Florida when he made some hurried decisions and rushed (missed) passes -- can make the plays they have to. Jennings made those big throws to Travin Dural and a couple of crucial shorter ones.           
     Here's what we know -- winning in college football isn't that easy. An example close to where I live: TCU upsets mighty Oklahoma one week, then leads Baylor by 21 points in the fourth quarter the next. How do you figure that TCU, with its defensive genius head coach (Gary Patterson really is a great defensive coach), gives up 24 last-quarter points and 61 in all?
     It has been one wild season. How do you explain that Mississippi State and Ole Miss are now the powers in the SEC West? It's a topsy-turvy world, and that's why we love college football.
     So this LSU team -- any LSU team -- will keep us in agony, and will give us some joy. I'll try to hang it there because watching the Tigers play is about as exciting as it gets. But it's stressful. It takes guts. And if you let it, it will drive you mad.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Hey, look at the oddballs (or is that a mirror?)

          I keep thinking that it's an odd world out there, especially in sports.
          Second thought: Maybe it's not so odd these days. Maybe it's me that's odd, or behind the times, or whatever.
          I have been accused of "odd" or "unconventional" or just plain nuts. And that's what I'm thinking when I watch sports events -- or some of our favorite shows on television.
          And I'm not talking about the PBS Newshour or the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, which we prefer over everything else.
          I mean Hawaii 5-0 and Person of Interest, and some of the other things we try to watch. We accept the abundance of violence and noise and some of the strange conversations and twists in these shows (and movies we see) -- and we say, this is just today's world.
          When I see the behavior and the appearance of today's athletes, I have to remind myself constantly that it's not the world I came up in.
           Let's break this down: I am bugged (perturbed?) by (1) the lack of humility in sports and, well, politics; (2) the proliferation of hair and beards in sports and -- I might as well say it -- the guys on Duck Dynasty; and (3) the ever-growing presence of tattoos on our athletes.
           These things probably don't bother the generation or two younger than me. OK, so my 1950s/1960s conservative side is showing. More on that in a moment.
           I have written about this previously (and I probably will again), but I expect athletes to take success in stride.
           I really can't stand all the sack dances and touchdown celebrations, and the poses and 3-ball signs in basketball, the outrageous goal-scoring aftermaths in soccer (when there are goals scored) and mostly -- because I love the sport so much -- the outlandish (stupid) behavior in baseball.
           It's OK to show emotion or celebrate if it's a really big game, such as the home runs hit in playoff games this past week. But in the regular season? Dang, it's 162 games. Not many are worth acting like you just won the World Series.
           The handshake/fist-bump lines after games have become routine. That's not so bad. But when teams win games in walkoff fashion, it gets crazy ... the team-hopping routines, the pouring of the water/Gatorade bucket on the "hero," the shaving creme-in-the-face drill.
           The championship- or playoff-clinching celebrations are now bizarre, with everyone wearing goggles and spraying champagne and whatever all over the place and all over anyone who happens to be in the way. I don't even want to see clips or photos of it.
            It's all too much. And here's what really gets me: When teams celebrate -- and it really doesn't warrant it. Take my favorite baseball team, the New York Yankees, for example (please take them).
            There was a game in mid-July when the Yankees scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth as what should have been an easy popout to first base got wind-blown a bit and ended up falling between three Cincinnati players (any of them easily could've caught the ball). The Yankees treated the batter who hit the ball as it he'd done something great.       
             Same thing in September -- winning run scored in the bottom of the ninth when a ground ball went between the legs of the Toronto first baseman. Again, the batter who hit the ball got the pounding, Gatorade-pouring treatment. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
             As if it helped the Yankees make the playoffs. They didn't come close.
Auburn's team deserved to celebrate last Saturday, not LSU's (AP photo)
             I don't criticizing college kids, or seeing them criticized, but unwarranted celebrations came to mind last Saturday night as LSU was getting pounded at Auburn.
             I posted on Twitter: "I am an old fart, but it is irritating to see DBs on a football team losing by 24 points celebrate a pass breakup [in the end zone]."
             At least some people agreed with me. Didn't help LSU any. But it makes me wonder how LSU's coaches must've reacted to see how delighted that defensive back was with himself.
             Back to the pros a moment. I look and listen to LeBron James and Tiger Woods -- just using them as examples -- and they're not outrageous, but they're not all that humble, either. But I watch Dirk Nowitzki, and the San Antonio Spurs' "Big Three" -- Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili -- and I think, well, there are still some winning, class athletes out there.
             Now about hair and tattoos ...
             I've never had long hair, but I see the early and mid-1970s photos and see thick hair and long sideburns ... and I roll my eyes at that look. Never had facial hair; it bothers me.
             So, yeah, maybe I prefer a "clean" look or at least a moderate one. I'm conservative that way.
             Some people will know that I'm not all that conservative in my political/social views -- sorry, old friends -- but I admit I can never get used to see flowing hair and beards on a baseball diamond, or underneath and coming out of football helmets, and basketball players whose tattoos greatly outnumber their scoring and rebounding averages.
             It's just not my thing.
             I have plenty of friends, young and old, with tattoos and longer hair and neatly trimmed facial hair -- emphasis on neat. So why is it that I find so many athletes (and entertainers/musicians) so hard to look at? And I don't want to hear/see interviews with them, either.
              Does it matter in terms of how they perform? It does not; it should not. And I feel almost guilty because I'm not pulling for those guys to do well. I am making judgments on their looks, not their character, their values. No doubt some are fine people.
              I need to remember how outrageous we thought the Oakland Athletics were in 1972 when most of them grew mustaches -- including Rollie Fingers' famous handlebar -- and some had long hair and it was so wild for the time. All they did was win three World Series in a row and five division titles.
             (And, gosh, didn't the Beatles have such moptops when we first saw them in 1964?)
             Every team, every organization, has its standards or its rules -- and obviously with some, there are no limits on facial hair/tattoos. We know that in baseball, for instance, the Yankees do not allow beards or excessive mustaches and suggest to heavily tattooed players that they cover up as much as they can.
Joba Chamberlain: A "clean" Yankee; a year later, a bearded Detroit Tiger
(photos from 
               So? I haven't seen the Yankees in the playoffs the past two years. I'm wondering if I'd feel better if they all had long beards and long hair and tattoos ... and they won the World Series.
               I'll pick on one ex-Yankee: our old friend Joba Chamberlain. I hadn't seen him pitch for the Detroit Tigers this season or seen any pictures of him ... until late August. Imagine my surprise when I saw his long, thick beard; as one friend said, he looks like he just came in from the woods.
               Oh, Joba -- you're such an oddball. You were with the Yankees, just a clean-shaven one.
               (Of course, Joba lost me as a big fan last season when he smarted off to Mariano Rivera in the clubhouse while Mo was talking to the media. It was rude and uncalled for, and typical of one of several "stunts" Joba pulled while he was with the Yankees.)
               As I observed to a few friends after Chamberlain came in and helped the Tigers blow a 6-3 lead in the eighth inning of Game 2 in their playoff series against the Orioles, he looked like crap (not the word I used) and pitched like crap.
               I will pick on a couple of other relief pitchers, both with the Los Angeles Dodgers, because they exemplify what I don't like about baseball (and sports) now.
               One is Brian Wilson (same name as the Beach Boys founder/star who was pretty unconventional himself in the late 1960s/early 1970s). Wilson, the pitcher, a few years ago with the San Francisco Giants was the most unusual looking player in baseball -- long, thick black beard, shaved head (but not totally) and braided goatee. Braided goatee? Yes.
              He was even more weird-looking than his basketball counterpart, James "The Beard" Harden.
              Maybe Wilson (and we sheepishly acknowledge that he is an LSU guy) started the current baseball trend; he certainly set the standard. He also was one of the big heroes when the 2012 Giants won the World Series.
                Now consider J.P. Howell, a left-hander with a long, unruly red beard who on Monday night relieved Wilson in the eighth inning against the Cardinals. The bases were loaded and Howell  promptly made a great stop on a grounder to the mound to begin a home-to-first double play to end the inning.
                Howell headed to the dugout, screaming in celebration. Only problem: The Dodgers were behind 3-1 (and that's how the game ended). What exactly and why was he celebrating?
                That's our sports world today. That's our world. So much of it is about "me" -- look at me. Even if my team is losing, look how great I am. Even if I'm a losing politician, I'm still the best person for the job. (Please let me know when you find a modest politician.)
                 I don't have to pay attention to games or political races/debates, do I? But I choose to pay attention ... so that I can write this blog and tell you how odd the world is.