Monday, September 26, 2016

Long Live The King

As a lover of all things involving golf, it's a tough day following the death of Arnold Palmer.  Everything that is the sport today: TV coverage, corporate sponsorship, big money prizes and the Golf Channel can all be directly connected to Arnie. 

He was the sport's first TV star.  The cool persona, the muscular build, and the wry smile were made for the growing medium in the 1950's and '60's.  And his "go for broke" style of play made for some very dramatic Sunday afternoons for fans.

Arnold was also the first golfer to get big-time endorsement deals.  He formed a marketing company to control his image and to sell himself to consumers.  I can still remember the commercials for Pennzoil where he was sitting on the tractor his dad used to maintain Latrobe Country Club and Arnie sold Mercury and Cadillac automobiles--along with Hertz rental cars.  Even into his 80's--more than 20-years after his playing career was over--Arnie still starred in prescription drug commercials with modern day athletes.  And of course, the incredibly refreshing summertime drink--The Arnold Palmer, half-lemonade, half-sweet tea--bears his name and likeness on cans and bottles.

Palmer was also the first player to become a famed golf course architect.  I've played several of Arnie's courses in Wisconsin, Florida and Hawaii.  And his usual design was meant to be a challenge for very good golfers--but not so impossibly tough that someone new to the game would get discouraged and want to quit.

And it was Arnie that was willing to lend his name and his cash to a little startup operation called The Golf Channel.  An unheard of idea that people would want to watch a network devoted exclusively to just one sport.  Now of course, you have the Tennis Channel, the MLB Network, the NFL Network, the NHL Network and NBA TV--not to mention channels dedicated exclusively to motor sports and extreme sports.

They called Arnie "The King" and proof of that can be found in Golf Digest's annual list of the highest-paid golfers--where Palmer ranked 5th in 2015--making $40-MILLION--without even swinging a golf club.

But the greatest thing about Arnold Palmer can be found in a barn in his hometown of Latrobe, Pennsylvania.  Inside are thousands of boxes containing every single letter sent to him by fans.  And each of those letters was responded to with a personal letter from Arnie--signed (in his perfectly-legible signature) by the man himself.

On Wednesday, I will be leaving for the Ryder Cup in the Twin Cities.  I hope that the event will feature a memorial to the man who built the modern game of golf.  The players can honor Arnie by making sure their hats are off anytime they are inside (one of Palmer's biggest pet peeves).  And while there's not any rain in the forecast right now, I hope a quick shower passes through Hazeltine Country Club Sunday afternoon--just so a rainbow can form over the greatest event in the sport.  It would be a fitting tribute.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Fall Fools

This is the week that many people go on and on about how much they love fall.  "No more hot, sticky weather!" "The trees are so pretty!"  "Pumpkin Spice Latte is back!!"  Well those who "love fall" are fools.

Fall is the worst of the months.  Gone is the ability to run to the store real quick to get some milk in just your t-shirt, shorts and flip flops.  Now its find long pants, put on socks and closed toed shoes and throw on a sweatshirt and a jacket--even if you're only going to be out for a few minutes.  Now the leaves pile up along the fence and in the gutter--where they breakdown in a goopy mess that combines with all of those little twigs and branches to form an impenetrable barrier that requires getting up on the wobbly ladder to clear every other week.

Fall is getting less sunshine every day--driving to work in the dark and arriving home as the sun sets.  It's the chill north wind catching you by surprise on a damp, cloudy morning.  It's that first flurry that reminds you of the five months of misery just ahead.  The real colors of fall are the brown grass in your yard--and the white of frost every morning.  And its the sound of money going up your chimney as the furnace kicks on for the first time in five months.  The smell of the registers getting hot for the first time makes you think your house is on fire--that is if you can smell it over the scent of fake pumpkin spice that permeates everything from coffee, to donuts to soy candles.

Why do you think the nicest days of fall are called "Indian SUMMER" (or "Indigenous Peoples Post-Autumnal Equinox Temperature Anomaly" for you snowflakes that are easily offended)?  When we have a cool spell in the middle of summer do we call it "Norwegian Fall" or "Canadian Autumn"?  For retailers, fall started two months ago--after they replaced back to school items in July with Halloween displays.  And that means Frankenstein will be replaced by Santa Claus by mid-October--which should depress everyone even more than the change in the weather.

So for those of you who "love fall" so much.  Why don't you stop by my place to rake up the leaves, clean out the gutters, winterize the house and pay for the increasing utility bills--so I can get out and enjoy all of the "joys of the season" that some you think actually exist at this time of year.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Emptiest of Threats

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is going around saying that GOP leaders that don't show support for Donald Trump this fall "face a penalty" if they plan to run for the White House themselves in the future.  Priebus is hinting that the party will somehow work against non-Trump backers and prevent them from getting a future nomination.  This might be the emptiest threat in the history of American politics.

Keep in mind that Priebus is overseeing a party and a process that couldn't keep a non-Conservative, non-Republican, Hillary Clinton supporter from becoming the presidential nominee in this election!  Donald Trump didn't have access to the Republican party's donor network or grassroots infrastructure either.  So what of great value or influence would Priebus actually withhold from a non-Trump supporter four years from now?  Besides, when things get very ugly very early on election night for the GOP, don't you want someone free from the "guilt by association" to be able to pick up the ball and start running it back in the right direction?

Unfortunately, House Speaker Paul Ryan has decided to do his Wisconsin buddy a huge favor by playing the "I don't agree with anything he says or how he says it--but he's still our nominee and I will support him" game--so far.  Ryan must be betting on the extremely short memories of American voters--who will likely have completely forgotten that Donald Trump ever ran for President--much less who supported him in four years time.  Priebus' other Wisconsin pal--Governor Scott Walker--is doing everything but holding his nose every time he give lukewarm support to Trump.

It will be Reince Priebus and all those who follow his call to sell your soul for "the good of the party" who--when this is all said and done--will be made to look the fool.  I just wonder how long after the November shellacking that Trump will do his highly-compensated, "exclusive" TV interview--where he admits that he was not only a "plant" by the Clinton political machine to make her look like the lesser of two evils to just over half the people who went to the polls--but to also destroy the Republican party from the inside for generations to come. 

And that is a threat that is NOT that empty.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Lot of Bad Football

I spent too much time watching too much bad football this weekend.

We got in from our Saturday morning golf tournament to find the Wisconsin Badgers struggling against the Georgia State Panthers at Camp Randall Stadium, in what should have been a cakewalk.  The blame for the poor showing was being placed on 5th year senior quarterback Bart Houston--who seemed incapable of completing downfield passes.  That led to the question "Why can't Wisconsin get a decent quarterback....ever?"  That's when I always run off the list of Wisconsin QB's that have made the NFL in the modern (Barry Alvarez and later) era: Joel Stave, Scott Tolzien, Brooks Bollinger, Jim Sorgi, and Russell Wilson have all played in the league.  You can count Tanner McAvoy as well--even though he is a receiver with the Seahawks.

The reason Wisconsin QB's get interest from NFL teams is that they come out of one of the few systems that still run a Pro-Style offense.  Badgers quarterbacks work with tight ends and fullbacks in formations--and they have to read the entire defense every play--not just one linebacker or one cornerback as is required of QB's in the spread offense.  Of course, Wisconsin's offensive struggles weren't the only ugliness this weekend.

The Oregon-Nebraska game was an embarrassment of embarrassments.  Oregon scored five touchdowns--as did Nebraska.  But the Ducks went for two every time and succeeded just once--while the Cornhuskers kicked the conventional extra point and made it all five times--giving them a three point win.  Why did Oregon eschew five automatic points?  Because their head coach is an "offensive genius who is changing the way the game is played".  Apparently, the object now is to be avante garde--and not actually successful in winning games.

I almost vomited during that game when the ESPN play-by-play guy called a read option running play with four wide receivers, no tight ends and no fullback in the formation "Power Football".  Of course, this after Oregon lined up on third and inches and goal to go inside the five situations with an empty backfield and the quarterback in the shotgun formation--so that's as "powerful" as pass-happy football gets.  And then, the game ended with Oregon running a read-option QB keeper on a fourth and 15th--which gained all of one yard.  More of that "changing the way the game is played" nonsense, I guess.

Then last night, NBC ran a graphic that reminded us all of how great the game used to be.  To illustrate how well Adrian Peterson has done in his career against the Packers, the TV crew reviewed the five all-time leading single opponent career rushing averages--and Jim Brown held three of the five spots.  I liked to say that Jim Brown would probably rush for 25-hundred yards in a season--since he never played more than 12 regular season games a year--and tackling is so poor in the league right now.  But Jim Brown would probably languish on the bench or get converted to tight end today because so many head coaches (like Mike McCarthy) refuse to run the ball anymore--because "geniuses" only throw it.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The "If Sully Was" Game

The number one movie is America is Sully, the story of pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger (and co-pilot Jeff Skiles--who seems to be getting the short-shift in all of this hype) and their landing of a US Airways flight on the Hudson River after double engine failure caused by ingesting a flock of Canada geese during takeoff.  I probably won't go to see the movie, having interviewed Sully a couple of times and getting the story of his experiences first-hand.  Hopefully, Tom Hanks nails the cool, calm demeanor of Sullenberger, even in the face of almost impossible odds.

But what is Sully hadn't been Mr Cool, Calm and Collected in the cockpit?  I have a fun little game we can play called "If Sully Was...."

If Sully Was a Bernie Sanders supporter.....The plane would have crashed with him shouting about how Airbus should have put eight engines on that plane and it's because of their corporate greed the plane is going down.

If Sully Was a Donald Trump supporter....He would have turned the plane back around and went through the flock of birds again to take out as many as he could because HELLO, THOSE ARE CANADA GEESE!  WHAT ARE THEY EVEN DOING IN THE UNITED STATES!!

If Sully Was an Islamic terrorist....He would have turned the plane back toward the city and tried to hit as many buildings as he could on the way down.

If Sully Was an animal rights activist....He would have crashed the plane BEFORE hitting the flock of geese because the lives of those beautiful birds are far more important than those of people sitting on a plane.

If Sully Was a Black Live Matter protester...He would insist that the geese had their wings up and were yelling "DON'T FLY INTO ME!!" and never tried to fly into the plane's path.

If Sully Was a Hillary Clinton supporter....he would insist that he never actually flew the plane.  Then he would say that he made a mistake flying into the birds and that he would never do that again.  And then he would wonder why everybody keeps making a big deal about this--and let's just move on.

There are probably hundreds more of these--but time doesn't permit me to list them all here.  So the next time your stuck in boring chit-chat at a gathering, play the "If Sully Was..." game and get everybody riled up!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Rules Are The Rules For a Reason

It was the college football play of the year--so far.  Central Michigan completes a Hail Mary and lateral play that gets it a game winning touchdown on a final--untimed--down to defeat Oklahoma State last Saturday.  It was a situation we all love: the "little guy" sticking it to the "big guy".  The only problem is, it should not have happened under the rules of college football.

For some background, Oklahoma State had the lead with just a few second left in the game.  On fourth down the Cowboys' quarterback threw a pass from the pocket deep down the sidelines and out of bounds--running off the remaining time and giving OK State a narrow win.  But the officials flagged the play as Intentional Grounding--as the QB was in the pocket and threw a ball to an area where there was no receivers present.  Since the infraction occurred on 4th down--and intentional grounding results in a loss of down--the officials ruled that Central Michigan would get the ball and an untimed down--as the game cannot end on a penalty.

However, the officiating crew did not know the rule that pertains to such end of game scenarios.  Yes, Oklahoma State committed intentional grounding--but nowhere in the rules does it allow for the Chippewas to get an untimed down after that.  In fact, the rule clearly states that an untimed down does not apply when the team with the ball commits an infraction (which prevents a losing team from continuously committing fouls to extend the game) nor does it apply on any penalty that results in a loss of down--as it did in this case.

Yes, the rule as written benefitted a team that committed the penalty--and it may seem like "justice was served" by the officials botching the call--giving CMU the untimed down--and the resulting miracle touchdown.  But the rules are the rules for a reason--and you would not want officials to set them aside (or just plain not know them) at any other point in a contest.  That is why there have been calls for the conferences involved--the Big XII and the Mid-American--to reverse the call on the field, nullify the untimed down and credit Oklahoma State with the victory they deserved.

By the way, the officiating crew that worked the game and botched the ending has been suspended indefinitely.  If only we could do the same with activist judges that set aside the rules and laws they don't think are "fair"........

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Not Completely Selling Out

I'm not a Green Bay Packers fan, but I have to give the franchise credit for being one of the few teams willing to stand up to the idiocy of the NFL.  This week, all of the teams unveiled their Nike "Color Rush" jerseys--which will be worn for primetime TV games.  The "Color Rush" duds feature flashier colors than a teams regular jerseys--and usually are monochromatic--meaning the pants are the same color at the top.  They appear to have been created by the same folks at Nike that give us a visual assault every time you turn on an Oregon Ducks college football game.

The Packers deserve credit for doing the absolute minimum required to meet the "Color Rush" scheme.  When the Pack takes on the Chicago Bears next month on a Thursday night, they will wear their road white jerseys with white pants featuring green and gold stripes down the side.  It's bland--but it keeps the traditional Packers look and saves the players from looking either like human taxicabs or pine tree air fresheners you hang from the rear view mirror in your car.  It also means that the Packers Pro Shop won't create an entire "Color Rush" section--since white jerseys have always been available (unless you plan to buy white football pants to wear every Sunday).

This refusal to sell out to the NFL and Nike's obvious money-grab (order your "Color Rush" jersey today so you have it in time for the game!!) comes after Packers President Mark Murphy told the league in no uncertain terms that he will NEVER give up a home date at Lambeau Field to have the Packers play a regular season game overseas.  Undoubtedly, the Packers would be a huge draw for a game in London or Mexico City (not as much as the Dallas Cowboys or the Pittsburgh Steelers)--but Murphy realizes that part of what gives the franchise such appeal is the fact that they do still play at Lambeau--and every game there should be protected at all costs.  Not to mention, having the smallest local radio and TV contracts in the league, the Packers need every gameday penny they can make at Lambeau (see the creation of Family Night for proof of that).

So, while a number of NFL teams will be looking like giant highlighters going up and down the field this season, The Packers (and a handful of others--like the Raiders, Saints and Cowboys) will look like actual adult men playing a game meant to be enjoyed by serious fans and not making a giant sales pitch to Millenials that need flashy colors to hold their interest for more than a minute.