Follow by Email

Thursday, December 30, 2010

My favorite sports moment of the year: "Little Giants" versus Notre Dame



Hands down, my favorite sports moment of the entire year. Definitely worth watching again (and again, and again, and again).

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Terra Cotta Warriors" The 2010 Schuler Books & Music Fantasy Football League Champion

Several weeks ago I quit with my fantasy football updates, because I was sure that nobody could possibly care whatsoever about what my fictional team was doing--and even I was getting bored with the updates.

Anyone out there who remembers any of those fantasy football posts will recall that in my final update, I mentioned that my record was 6-2.

Well I'm back to let everyone know that, for the first time since I started participating in the Schuler Books & Music Fantasy Football League, I won the title. I've been doing this for eight years, and have never sniffed first place before, but this year absolutely everything came together and I breezed to the championship.

I had lots of luck all season, but also made plenty of roster moves that helped me along the way. I finished the regular season with a 12-2 record. In the playoffs, my luck continued: I was behind in my first round matchup, but got huge performances from Brandon Jacobs and Andre Johnson to pull ahead and win by 10 points.

In the two-week championship "game" I overcame a major brainfart (forgetting to tweek my lineup after the first week because I'd become preoccupied with Christmas wrapping) and still managed to win. This is where dumb luck really played a major role: My opponent had LeSean McCoy, the multidimensional Eagles running back, going for him last night. I was ahead by only 25 points and, along with the rest of the world, was convinced that Philadelphia would roll over Minnesota and McCoy would have a huge game. Somehow, the Vikings played out of their minds and held Philly to only 14 points, and McCoy was limited to a mere 85 combined rushing and receiving yards (which totals 8 fantasy points). Minnesota bailed me out. Thank you, Vikings.

After my forgetfullness with my championship game lineup, it felt like once again I'd fallen victim to self-sabotage. I'd intended on replacing the gimpy Knowshon Moreno and the erratic Brandon Jacobs. I had the Colts' Blair White, whom I intended on starting, and planned on picking up a hot running back off the waiver wire...it didn't happen. I woke up in a cold sweat at about 2:30 AM Wednesday morning, suddenly realizing I'd missed the midnight deadline to submit my "championship week two" starters. Still, I sent a desperate email to our league commissioner explaining my oversight. Rules are rules though, so I had to go with my previous week's starters. (Our commissioner is an attorney by trade, so I knew he'd show me no mercy). Luckily for me, it all turned out fine--but there certainly were some nervous moments this weekend.

Winning the league championship is a much more satisfying feeling than I'd ever imagined. It's the closest I will ever come to winning the Super Bowl or becoming Vince Lombardi, Chuck Noll, Tom Landry, or Bill Belichick. Yeah, kind of pathetic, I'll admit. Winning the fantasy football league title has finally given me official sports fan geek status--and that's okay. I wear that title proudly.

I almost didn't participate in fantasy football this season. I'd become tired of paying my $20 entry fee every year only to finish in the middle of the pack (or in some years, near the bottom). Now, of course, I'm happy that I did. However, I know that it will NEVER get better than this season. Realistically, there's no way I can ever replicate it, or even come close to doing so. I am seriously considering retirement from fantasy football and going out on top.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Michigan State and Alabama: more in common than just Nick Saban

On January 1, the Michigan State football team will be playing against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Florida. It marks the first meeting ever between the two schools.

As everyone probably already knows, Alabama's coach Nick Saban was also head coach at MSU from 1995-1999. In addition, the Tide's special teams coach, Bobby Williams, was also an assistant under Saban at MSU and took over as head coach at State when Saban left for LSU, and Joe Pendry, also on Saban's staff at 'Bama, served under coach Muddy Waters at MSU from 1980-1981. Tuscaloosa could be rightfully called "SOUTH East Lansing".

To add a little to the Spartan/Tide soap opera, MSU's head coach Mark Dantonio was linebackers coach under Saban at MSU throughout Saban's tenure in East Lansing. When Dantonio became head coach at MSU, both he and Saban went after running back Mark Ingram, Jr. from Flint. Ingram's father, Mark Sr. was an outstanding wide receiver at Michigan State from 1983-1986. In what was a hotly-contested recruiting war, Ingram, Jr. chose Alabama over Michigan State. Though he'd grown up a Spartan fan, he was very close to Saban, who had been defensive coordinator at MSU when Ingram, Sr. played there in the mid-eighties.

But the Michigan State/Alabama ties don't end there. There is an historical link between the two football programs. Back in the fifties and sixties, MSU's Duffy Daugherty and Alabama's Bear Bryant were very close coaching confidants and friends. Seemingly, the two couldn't have been more different: Duffy was the outwardly jovial Pennsylvanian, while Bear was the stern, taciturn, houndstooth-hat wearing native Arkansan. However, Duffy and the Bear helped each other on the recruiting trail. The story goes that Daugherty tipped off Bryant about a hot quarterback prospect from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania by the name of Joe Namath. Namath was not able to meet MSU's admissions standards, so the story goes, but could measure up to Alabama's less rigorous requirements. In exchange for Namath, Bear helped Duffy land standouts Charles "Bubba" Smith from Beaumont, Texas and George Webster from Anderson, South Carolina. Smth and Webster, both African-Americans, could not attend Alabama due to segregation. (ADDENDUM: I have since learned that this part of the story is untrue. Tom Shanahan and Jimmy Raye's excellent book Raye of Light clarifies this. Bryant had little to nothing to do with Duffy Daugherty's ability to identify and sign African-American players. Duffy had a network of African-American high school coaches whom he had befriended and were instrumental in what became known as Duffy's "Underground Railroad").

The arrangement greatly helped both Michigan State and Alabama. George Webster and Bubba Smith were the anchors of perhaps the greatest defensive teams in college football history, helping the Spartans to back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1965 and 1966. In those two seasons, MSU's combined record was 19-1-1 and, in the pre-BCS era (where every news service/poll declared its own national champion) were #1 in the nation both years.

In Namath's three seasons at Alabama (1962-1964), he helped lead the Crimson Tide to a record of 29-4 and a national championship in his final season.

Michigan State benefited greatly from Southern segregation. Duffy Daugherty wanted the very best players on his team, regardless of skin color, and MSU's teams were notable for the large number of great African-American players who comprised their rosters. Duffy cultivated his close friendship with Bear most certainly with the knowledge that Bryant could direct the best African-American players up north to MSU. (This was an apocryphal story and I have since learned is untrue. Bryant had little knowledge of African-American players in the South. See addendum above).

By the late sixties, segregation finally began to wane in the deep South. In 1971, junior college transfer John Mitchell became the first African-American football player at the University of Alabama. (Bryant said that he wanted to have black players earlier than this, but the racial climate in the South prohibited this). With the end of segregation in the South, Michigan State's football pipeline also ended. The Crimson Tide's football program remained a perennial national contender over the next several decades, while MSU football entered a long period of mediocrity, only occasionally glimpsing national significance.

In 2010, Michigan State and Alabama both had successful football seasons, with the teams meeting each other on the gridiron for the first time ever. It's rather ironic that the programs have never played each other before, as they known each other intimately in the past, and have more in common than many might assume.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I sure could use an editor sometimes--wait a minute, I AM my editor!

It drives me crazy that whenever I look at the posts I've just published, I have a ridiculous number of typos and spelling mistakes.

I am not disciplined enough as a writer. I tend to write quickly and want to get it out there quickly, and I hate editing. It's not until I go back and see all the mistakes I've made that I see the true value of taking a deep breath, a step back, and EDITING.

So, anyway, please accept my apologies. I will make it a New Year's resolution to be more diligent at checking for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Third Annual Brainsplotch Big Ten Football Awards

I know that all of you Big Ten football fans and loyal readers were just dying for the annual tradition handing out my Brainsplotch Big Ten Football Awards. Unlike the previous two years, in 2010 I will honor more than one defensive player. In 2008 and 2009, I was too flat-out lazy to break down defense and distribute multiple awards. I'm sure the Big Ten was extremely disappointed by my lack of comprehensive analysis. Hey, it's not like I'm getting paid to do this!

You were restless with anticipation to see the players I selected, as I'm sure the players themselves can hardly wait to receive their "virtual" awards. Never fear, your wait is over...drum roll, please:

Most Valuable Player: Denard Robinson, Michigan. There was not a single player in the conference who was more valuable to his team than Denard Robinson, the Wolverines' quarterback. With Michigan's defense and special teams as terrible as they were, it's hard to imagine how miserable the team would have been if it hadn't been for the offensive sparkplug that was Mr. Robinson. He led the conference in total offense, and was, amazingly, the Big Ten's leading rusher as a quarterback. Not only that, but his rushing yards (1643) were almost 300 yards more than his closest competitor in that catagory, Mikel Leshoure of Illinois (1371 yards).

Robinson's critics will argue that when he played against better defenses, his numbers went down. Well, yeah, of course they did--that's to be expected. The critics might also point to the ten interceptions he threw and his passing efficiency, which was only seventh in the Big Ten.

The mistakes that DRob made can be traced to the fact that his defense was completely unreliable, and was never able to put the offense in a position where it didn't feel like it had to make plays to keep up with the opponent.

Honorable mentions go to Ryan Kerrigan of Purdue, Greg Jones of Michigan State, and Terrell Pryor of Ohio State. Who knows how much more disappointing Purdue's season would have been without Kerrigan's contributions on defense. See "Best defensive lineman" for more on Kerrigan. Greg Jones came back for a senior year and delivered on his stated goal to win a conference title. Terrell Pryor is an under-appreciated talent, and had another solid year in leading the Buckeyes to yet another Big Ten crown (albeit shared with Wisconsin and Michigan State).

Best quarterback: Denard Robinson, Michigan. It was a great year for quarterbacks in the Big Ten Conference, and this choice was a particularly difficult one. Scott Tolzien (Wisconsin), Terrell Pryor (Ohio State), Kirk Cousins (Michigan State), Dan Persa (Northwestern), Adam Weber (Minnesota), and Ben Chappell (Indiana) are all deserving of honorable mention. No quarterback, however, brings the multidimensional ability of Denard Robinson. For all the reasons mentioned above, Robinson is top quarterback in the Big Ten, but the others are not far behind.

After mulling this over in my head, I almost gave this award to Terrell Pryor, whose athleticism, toughness, and competitiveness are often taken for granted (despite his penchant for accepting free tattoos and selling Big Ten Championship rings). His 4th and 10 scramble against Iowa was a huge play. Kirk Cousins' level-headed leadership helped propel the Spartans to a share of the title, Scott Tolzien improved as the season progressed and led the Big Ten in passing efficiency, Dan Persa was having a great year until his season ended in the Wildcats' win over Iowa, while Weber and Chappell were bright spots in otherwise dismal seasons for Minnesota and Indiana, respectively.

Best running back: Mikel Leshoure, Illinois. By all rights, this award should also go to Denard Robinson, who as a quarterback led the conference in rushing. However, it goes to Leshoure, who finished the season with 1513 yards, averaging 6.1 yards per carry, and had a huge 330-yard game at Wrigley Field against instate rival Northwestern.

Honorable mention to Edwin Baker of Michigan State, and for the outstanding three-headed monster at Wisconsin: John Clay, Montee Ball, and James White.

Best wide receiver: Tandon Doss, Indiana. He was a highlight of an otherwise dismal season for the Hoosiers. Doss was not only a great ball catcher, but led the conference in all-purpose yardage by a large margin. Honorable mentions go out to the Iowa tandem of Marvin McNutt and Derrel Johnson-Koulianos, as well as Jeremy Ebert of Northwestern, and B. J. Cunningham of Michigan State.

Best kicker: Devin Barclay, Ohio State. Barclay was perfect on PATs and led the conference in scoring. A very close honorable mention to freshman Dan Conroy of Michigan State, who was 44 of 45 on point-afters and 14 of 15 in fieldgoals.

Best defensive lineman: Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue. I'd heard a lot of hype about this guy throughout the season, but didn't actually see him play until the Boilermakers took on Michigan State, and I was quite impressed with him. He is incredibly fast off the ball and an extremely hard hitter. MSU's offensive tackle J'Michael Deane had a hell of a time blocking Kerrigan.

Kerrigan led the Big Ten in forced fumble, sacks, and tackles for loss, and I can guarantee he will be a significant contributor to an NFL team next season.

(For what it's worth, I've seen Kerrigan interviewed a few times and he's soft-spoken, modest, and quite witty. It's on the football field that he becomes a wild animal).

Honorable mention goes to J.J. Watt of Wisconsin, who had a terrific season for the conference co-champion Badgers.

Best linebacker: Greg Jones, Michigan State. At the end of the 2009 season, Greg Jones said he was returning to MSU to win a Big Ten title (and, let's be honest, he was returning at least partly because he was NOT going to be a first round pick in the 2010 NFL draft). Jones fulfilled his goal and led the Spartans to their first conference crown in 20 years. He also anchored an MSU defense that was much improved over last season.

Honorable mentions go to the two great linebackers at Ohio State, Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, as well as Martez Wilson of Illinois and Eric Gordon of Michigan State.

Best defensive back: Ricardo Allen, Purdue. I'm going against the grain on this one, since Allen was only honorable mention all conference in the official Big Ten awards, but I'm giving this to Allen because he was the most impressive DB I saw all year. He was only a freshman in 2010, so he will be wreaking havoc in opposing passing games for the next three years. My honorable mentions go to Trenton Robinson and Johnny Adams of Michigan State (okay, go ahead and call me a homer. If the shoe fits, wear it!) who were the outstanding all year in a much-improved Spartan defensive backfield.

Best punter: Aaron Bates, Michigan State. Sorry, I'm not being a homer here. Bates was the best punter in the Big Ten (and, possibly, one of the best quarterbacks in the conference based on his perfect execution of the "Little Giants" fake field goal against Notre Dame and the "Mouse Trap" fake punt against Northwestern). Honorable mention goes to Illinois' Anthony Santella, who tied Bates for the Big Ten lead in punting average.

Coach of the year: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State. Once again, I can be accused of being a homer on this pick, but the facts bear out the cold hard fact that Dantonio did the best, most amazing coaching job of the year in the Big Ten. He took a team that was, at best, a darkhorse to contend for the conference title, and led them to a share of the title. En route, he took a gamble with the gutsiest call of the year (the "Little Giants" fake field goal) to beat Notre Dame on national television.

Shortly after celebrating the most dramatic win of his MSU coaching career, Dantonio suffered a heart attack. He coached the next few games from his hospital bed, then was able to gain enough strength to lead the team from the press box. Despite all these difficulties, the Spartans continued to win. (If I had a coaching staff of the year, it'd also have to go to Michigan State. Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell and the rest of the coaches did a remarkable job in keeping the team going without missing a beat).

When it comes right down to it, no coach in the conference experienced the setback that Mark Dantonio did while at the same time leading his team to one of the best seasons in school history. Dantonio has changed the culture of losing that has existed for far too long at Michigan State and brought the program back to championship caliber levels. In two of the last three years, the Spartans have played for a share of the conference title on the last day of the season.

My honorable mentions go to Jim Tressel and Bret Bielema (the two coaches of the other conference co-champions). Jim Tressel is taken entirely for granted. Many out there assume that because OSU gets so much talent (and they do get considerable talent--but someone has to recruit that talent), they should automatically win even if a trained chimp were serving as head coach. They neglect the fact that the Ohio State program has elevated at least a few notches from where it was under John Cooper. It's amazing what Tressel has accomplished in leading the Buckeyes to a sixth consecutive Big Ten title.

I'll also give a nod to Bret Bielema of Wisconsin. The Badgers overcame one early season speed bump (the loss to MSU in the first conference game of the season) and improved throughout the course of the season. They ran over the #1-ranked Ohio State in Madison, took down Iowa in Iowa City, and by November were simply steamrolling their opponents. He's not going to win any sportsmanship awards with the way he ran up some scores against hapless foes, but Bielema knew how to work the BCS system to get the Badgers to the Rose Bowl. He's developed a formidable football program in Madison.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Michigan State Spartans: 2010 Big Ten Football Champions


The last time Michigan State won a Big Ten title in football, I was 22 years old, and still (sort of) a student at MSU. I had (so I thought--it's a long story that I'll get to some other time) finished my coursework, and was awaiting placement as a student teacher, so I was sort of in limbo during the autumn of '90. I still had friends on campus, so I drove to MSU a few times that Fall to hang out. (I was living at home that autumn, and missed campus life terribly). I recall that the big popular song that autumn of '90 was Bell Biv Devoe's "Do Me!", I was on the MSU campus the day the Spartans beat Michigan in the "Number one vs. No one" game (and joined an impromptu crazed-but-happy rally at the "Sparty" statue following the game), I had a couple crushes on two girls--neither of which panned out (due mainly to my then-cluelessness with the opposite sex), and that I had a youthful scrape with the law--during Thanksgiving weekend--that I was worried would derail my student teaching plans. (Thankfully, everything worked out in the end, I completed student teaching, and I've been a good law-abiding citizen ever since).

Okay, you don't need a discourse on my goofy life ca. 1990. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that it's been a long time since MSU won a Big Ten championship in football. (If I'd known it'd take another two decades for the Spartans to win another Big Ten football title, I'd have appreciated the one in 1990 a little more). Twenty years later, I'm married with kids and a little grayer, balder, and slightly pudgier than I was back then.

Being older, though, hasn't stopped me from basking in this championship as if I were a little kid. Ever since I had the gumption to finally check the score, while at work, at about 3:30--I've been reading everything I can, watching every college football highlight show on ESPN and the Big Ten Network, and generally enjoying the hell out of this. Big Ten football titles certainly don't come every year to East Lansing, and I'm going to appreciate this for all it's worth.

Unfortunately, I was not able to watch the Penn State game. As I mentioned in the previous post, I had to work yesterday. As a public service librarian, I'm obligate to work one Saturday per month, and my Saturday was yesterday. I knew that the only way I'd be able to work effectively was if I made a point NOT to check the score until I was reasonably sure the game was over. It was at times excuciating, but I gutted it out until 3:30, when with bated breath I found the final score on ESPN...then, pure elation. I went into the backroom/work area of the library and had a private fist pump. (Okay, that sounded a little more unintentionally pornographic than I intended--sorry).

A few observations of the game and college football in general:

What a great way to end the yearly series with Penn State, with the first MSU victory in Happy Valley since 1965. Since the Nittany Lions joined the conference, and the yearly Land Grant Trophy was established between MSU and PSU, it's been nothing but pain and heartbreak for the Spartans when they venture into Beaver Stadium. Few of those losses were harder to take than the 2008 game, which saw the Lions clobber MSU 49-18 and celebrate a Big Ten title at the Spartans' expense. Two years later, MSU returned the favor. With conference realignment, Penn State is off MSU's schedule for the next few years and the teams will no longer meet each other every year in the final game of the season.

Once again, I subjected my reader(s) to more hand-wringing and angst prior to this game. I must sound like a broken record. I was thrilled to see MSU play their best since at least the Michigan game. The offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage, the running game (led by Edwin Baker) got it going again, and the defense was solid. With the acception of a few hiccups in the fourth quarter, it was a dominating performance by the Spartans.

I have seen the game highlights, and intend on watching it in its entirety on ESPN 360. Much has been made of Trenton Robinson's gaffe after his endzone interception. Yes, it was ill-advised to try to run the ball back after snatching it nine yards deep in the endzone (and I'm happy I didn't see it live because I would have surely had either a coronary or would have thrown something at my TV), but everyone needs to let it go. Trenton Robinson has had a great year and he made a mistake in the heat of the moment. (I saw Robinson on the sideline as the game ended. A teammate took him aside and Robinson looked like he was in tears). I can guarantee that the next time he makes a pic deep in the endzone, he'll take a knee.

This leads me to one of the primary reasons MSU was so successful this season: they are a great TEAM. They all have each other's back. One never sees finger-pointing among these guys.

I really don't care if MSU plays in a BCS game. To me, the Big Ten co-championship is more important. There was too much going against the Spartans to reach the BCS anyway. Unlike Ohio State and Wisconsin, the Spartans began the season unranked and had to fight their way into the top 10. Despite the win over Wisconsin, of which the Spartans can be justifiably proud, the blowout loss at Iowa really hurt. Let's face it, another factor is that MSU's football resume over the last few decades is much less impressive than the Badgers and Buckeyes, and if you don't think that matters to voters, you're fooling yourself.

As I write this, the latest AP poll was announced and MSU is #7, while Wisconsin is #4 and Ohio State #6. I'm a bit surprised, but pleased, that MSU moved up to seventh.

The Spartans really shouldn't worry about the polls now, anyway. The goal should be to win whatever bowl game they end up in (probably the Capital One Bowl) and the rest should work itself out. With a bowl win, MSU should finish no worse than the top 5 in the BCS, and that would be an outstanding season.

It was a great year for the Big Ten, with three teams tying for the title and all finishing 11-1. It would be great if Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin all won their bowl games and all three finished in the top 5. I know many Spartan fans out there have it out for Wisconsin. I agree that it appears the Badgers have run up the score in their last few games, but unfortunately that's the way the BCS system is set up and Bret Bielema is playing the system.

Although this post has probably been long enough, I may add to it later, so don't say you weren't warned.

Friday, November 26, 2010

On the eve of a possible Big Ten title

"Don't get your hopes up," "don't get your hopes up," don't get your hopes up". That is my mantra as a Michigan State football fan. It was once my mantra as a Michigan State basketball fan, until Tom Izzo came along and essentially changed all of that. Is it possible that Mark Dantonio may do the same for MSU football?

Time will tell if MSU's football fortunes are truly changing under Dantonio's tutelage. For now, though, I still find myself almost always thinking, when Spartan football has a chance to do something good, "don't get your hopes up."

Since I first became truly conscious of MSU football back in 1977, when I was nine years old, the years have been riddled with one disappointment and mediocre season after another. Sure, there have been the periodic moments of glory, like the 1978 Big Ten championship (which, as I've mentioned before, only seems like a rumor now, since there seems to be no visual proof of it ever occurring). That season was marred by no television due to NCAA probation, and also no Rose Bowl. Later, there was the brief period of success under George Perles, with the Big Ten title in '87, the exciting Rose Bowl win, and a few other good-to-excellent seasons in '88, '89, and '90. MSU football then entered a dark period only brightened by the flicker of the 1999 season, but even that year was blighted somewhat by blowout losses to Purdue and Wisconsin, which cost the team a shot at the conference crown and BCS berth.

More recently, we had the nice little season that was 2008, where the Spartans finished in 3rd place in the conference with an overall regular season record of 9-3. (I documented that season pretty thoroughly in this blog). Once again, the season was adversely affected by blowout losses to conference bullies Ohio State and Penn State, and the subsequent Capital One Bowl loss to Georgia. Like this year, that team had a shot to at least tie for the conference crown by beating Penn State in Happy Valley, but were hammered 49-18.

I want to believe that the 2010 Spartan football team is a little different than previous MSU teams that have had some success but have wilted when their big moment came. Despite the team's sole loss of the season, a 37-6 massacre at Iowa, the Spartans have shown more guts and resolve than any MSU football team I can remember. If they can find a way to win tomorrow, they will more than likely be remembered as one of the finest teams that the school has had since the Duffy Daugherty-coached teams of the mid-sixties.

Full disclosure time: If you haven't already guessed, MSU football means more to me than MSU basketball. Don't get me wrong, I love all the success and glory that Tom Izzo has brought to Spartan hoops and I revel in all of the wonderful victories and championships they've had in the last twelve years. As a kid, I worshipped Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Gregory Kelser, Jay Vincent, and the rest of those two great Spartans teams of '77-'78 and '78-'79. I continued to follow MSU hoops through "death valley" losing years after Magic's departure and the brief resurgence with Sam Vincent, Scott Skiles, and Darryl Johnson. I was a student when the '89-'90 team beat Purdue in one of the most amazing games ever played to claim the Big Ten title, and watched in horror as the team's NCAA tournament came to a shocking and controversial end against Georgia Tech.

But when it really comes down to it, I live and breath Spartan football. I was raised on my parents' stories of Duffy Daugherty, Bubba Smith, and Clint Jones. The first Michigan State sporting event I ever attended, indeed my first college sporting event, was the 1977 MSU/Northwestern football game. On that blistering cold November Saturday, I watched an up-and-coming Spartan team thoroughly dismantle the Wildcats, 44-3. Ever since then, I've been hooked though the good times and (mostly) bad times. It's just in my DNA now. Perhaps it always was in my DNA.

I won't be able to see tomorrow's game against Penn State, as I'll be working at the South Lansing library. I don't know that I'll even be able to bring myself to follow the game on ESPN, as I won't be able to concentrate on work and serving our patrons. My plan is to rely solely on our patrons for updates, and if I get none I'll have to sneak a peak on ESPN at around 3:30 PM. I'm sure at least a few times, I'll mutter softly, "Don't get your hopes up", but a guy can dream, can't he?

Go State!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone

I will be off to my sister-in-law's house in East Lansing for some great food, family, and those exasperating Detroit Lions. Can they pull of the upset against the Patriots? Highly doubtful even if Brian Hoyer has to play for Tom Brady.

Anyway, I wish all my millions of readers a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How modern society leaves many people behind

I work at a library in the blue collar Midwest. We get an extremely broad mix of patrons: everyone from families, to elderly people, to folks desperately trying to find jobs and who use our computers in order to fill out applications and create resumes.

I see so many people come in the library who have little idea about the very basics of using a computer. They don't know how to use the internet, they have no idea how to set up an email account, or use Microsoft Word.

One would think that by the year 2010, most people would know the basics of computer usage, but this is not the case. There are so many people who are being left behind by our increasingly technological world. I'm not just talking about older folks, either. There are people in their thirties and even a few in their twenties who struggle with new technology.

This is an even bigger issue recently because many companies and businesses only accept online applications. On Tuesday, a library patron, probably in his fifties, came in the library and told me with some degree of desperation that he needed help filling out KMart and Fazoli's applications on the computer. He was jobless, having been laid off some time ago, and had recently moved back to Michigan. This unfortunate man had rudimentary computer skills at best, and there was no way he was going to be able to complete these online applications, particularly when the Fazoli's application required a submission of an online resume. This man only had a paper resume, and there was no way I could explain to him how to create a resume on Word and save it to a flash drive. He had a hard time using the mouse, there was no conceivable way he was going to be able to create his resume on the computer--at least not in the limited amount of time I had to help him--and the hour and change he was alotted use of the patron computer.

The point I'm trying to make is that technology is advancing at such a speed that many people, most of them working class or poor, are being left behind. This is one aspect of the unemployment problem that does not seem to be discussed much by the media. Working in the public service sector of the library, for the first time in four years, has given me new appreciation for the struggles that so many folks experience in trying to find work, and desperately attempting to cope and survive in this rapidly changing world.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The amazing Spartan football rollercoaster ride continues (Michigan State 35, Purdue 31)


This wild and wooly Michigan State Spartan football season just keeps going. What an amazing come-from-behind win.

We went to my parents' house in the Thumb for a (pre-Thanksgiving) Thanksgiving family get-together. When I stepped in the door a little after 12 o'clock noon, my dad announced that State had just scored the first touchdown. It seemed at that point that the Spartans would go on to roll the Boilermakers and have a fun, relaxing senior day...how wrong I was.

The game went gradually downhill from there. By the time Michigan State was down 28-13 at the end of the third quarter, I was writing off the game as yet another of a long line of headscratching MSU football losses. The Spartans could do nothing right and nothing was going in their favor. Kirk Cousins was banged up and briefly left the game, meanwhile MSU had suddenly forgotten how to tackle, and were committing stupid penalties left and right.

Once again, I thought (and said to my dad at one point) the Spartans had managed to break our hearts. State was going to lose to Purdue, probably lose to Penn State next week, and finish at 9-3 overall and only 5-3 in the conference. I was overcome with despair and knew that the rest of my day, if not my weekend, would be ruined. My dad had enough and decided to putter around the house, and I decided that if the game got any worse, I'd probably let the kids watch Nickelodeon.

Then, a funny thing happened...the Spartans woke up in the fourth quarter. The last quarter of the game looked like the end of a Popeye cartoon, after our hero has gotten his butt kicked by Bluto, desperately reaches for his can of spinach, rips it open, we see his biceps bulge, and the sailor man proceeds to obliterate the suddenly hapless Bluto. This is exactly what happened with the Spartans. With the score 31-20, Chris L. Rucker easily intercepted a badly thrown pass and soon after the Spartans scored a touchdown, converted a two-point conversion, and the score was 31-28. Later, Purdue was forced to punt and Denicos Allen, a redshirt freshman, soared through the air like Superman to block the kick. Johnny Adams recovered the ball at the 3 and a few plays later the Spartans punched it in to take the lead 35-31.

Although the Spartans had the lead again finally, Purdue got the ball back with plenty of time to pull it out, and the Boilermakers were able to move the ball down the field, aided in large part by a 4th down , 15-yard personal foul call against the Spartans. The deciding play of the game, however, came a little later on another 4th down, when Boilers quarterback rolled to his left and was hammered by Greg Jones just as he threw the ball. The force of the collision caused the ball to flutter like a wounded duck and fell into the arms of MSU's Chris Norman for an interception. Game over.

My weekend was saved. Soon after the end of the game, my brother and his family arrived at my parents' house. We had some celebratory glasses of wine and relaxed while watching the next game, Ohio State at Iowa.

So the Spartans are still in line for a potential Big Ten title, but Penn State looms ahead. Just for the heck of it, I checked to see the last time Penn State lost its final home game of the year. The Nittany Lions have not lost on their senior day since 1999, when a very good Michigan team beat them. Since then, ten consecutive wins in the their last game of the season in Happy Valley.

Cause for more concern is the way MSU has been playing since mid-October. Sure, they have been winning (with the exception of the Iowa debacle) but they look like a banged up team that has lost some of their mojo. With the exception of Edwin Baker, the running game has evaporated. Le'Veon Bell mysteriously hit the freshman wall after the Michigan game, and I don't understand why Larry Caper hasn't gotten more touches. The offensive line looks a little tired, and quarterback Kirk Cousins is a one-man M*A*S*H unit. On the plus side, special teams continue to make huge plays, the defense has been very solid for the most part, and the receiving corps of Dell, Cunningham, Martin, and Gantt have been collectively outstanding. Let's just hope they have enough to put it together for one last regular season game and take out the Nittany Lions.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Classic rock really rocks me today...then fizzles out

I had a particularly long and grueling day at work, it wasn't necessarily bad, it just wore me out and it was such sweet relief to finally get in my car and drive home.

My normal habit on the nightly drive home is to listen to NPR, generally WUOM 91.7 out of Ann Arbor, because that NPR station has a nice clear FM signal. However, the night before I'd been listening to the MSU basketball game on the way home, and hadn't bothered to change it to nice, staid, calm, relaxing NPR. Instead of the BBC NewsHour (or whatever is on at 6:00 PM), I was greeted by The Beatles' "The Ballad of John and Yoko." That was a pleasant surprise. I stopped across the street from work for gas, and when I finished it was John Lennon singing "Watching the Wheels," a song I didn't much like when it came out in 1980 but a song I've come to appreciate much more the older I become. I turned up the volume a little on that one. It soon became obvious that this was a Lennon tribute music block when "Instant Karma" came on. This is another Lennon solo tune that has grown on me over the years, though I still don't really care for Phil Spector's production. Still, I was diggin it enough to crank up the volume just a tad more as I approached the intersection of Cedar Street and Mt. Hope on the south side of Lansing.

The Lennon tribute ended and, holy shit, the next sound I hear is the burbling synths of The Who's "Baba O'Riley." I hadn't heard this song in I don't know how long but it was just the catharsis I needed. I thought back on when I first discovered The Who's album Who's Next back in college and how I used to crank that mother to 11 so many times I can't count. After a long day at work, the slashing Pete Townshend power chords and manic Moonie drumming were EXACTLY what I needed. I blasted my '97 Volvo's speakers so loud I'm surprised they didn't blow out. I soon learned that simultaneous air guitar and air drumming in the car aren't conducive to good driving, so I ceased before I crashed into someone.

The power of music is funny and it's amazing. I still get the same chill down my spine that I got as a 19 year old kid, and I'm talking literal chill down my spine--not merely a figurative chill down my spine, whenever I hear Townshend's powerful guitar riffs in "Baba O'Riley." There are plenty of musicians I loved when I was young and continue to love to this day, but I don't think any musician ever spoke to me, on so many different levels, as Pete Townshend and The Who. Their music was so emotionally raw, visceral, and muscular (though The Who are certainly not without a tender side) and the Townshend's lyrics spoke to the combination if righteous anger and emotional vulnerability that I felt then and continue to feel, to a certain extent, today.

Well, as often happens with classic rock stations, they can't continue to play the music I love for too long. Eventually they run out of steam and play old clunkers that I didn't like when I was a kid and still don't really care for now. Billy Squier's lame "The Stroke" completely destroyed the mood set by "Baba O'Riley." (I always thought Billy Squier was nothing more than a sleazeball. Yeah, I get it Billy, "stroke" is a double entendre. How witty. AC/DC do the same thing but the difference is they rock and you're just boring). By the time Lynyrd Skynyrd's "What's Your Name" finished, I was just about ready to turn it back to NPR. (Couldn't they have at least played a good Skynyrd song like "Tuesday's Gone" or "Simple Man"? Nope.) After Skynyrd, the DJ promised Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House" coming up next. Awesome, I thought...then, when the heck did the Heads become "classic rock"? Well, I guess the song is 27 years old.

Before Talking Heads came on, I had pulled into my garage, and my evening with classic rock was over.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mark's autumn one-track mind...oh, and another boring fantasy football update

Two years ago, I apologized to those who may be reading this blog (and at this point I believe I've bored everyone to death and they've long sinced tuned out) about my football obsession. I'm truly sorry that I'm presenting myself as completely narrow-minded, but I have to admit that this time of year, with my favorite team and alma mater MSU having an excellent season, football is my obsession right now.

My plan is to try and sprinkle this blog with a few non-football posts (we'll see how that goes). I want to write a post regarding the recent election and my observations of the political atmosphere in Michigan.

Many blogs out there are devoted to the emotional lives and personal angst of the blogger. Hey, if that's what they want to write about, that's great. I'm all for it if it's done well, and there are some bloggers out there who do a wonderful job writing personal confessionals. I just don't think I'm comfortable with airing my dirty laundry via cyberspace for anyone to see. Believe me, I have more than a little dirty laundry to spread around, but you guys don't need to know about it, at least not now. (No, I haven't committed any felonies or killed anyone, if that's what you want to know).

I've ceased with the fantasy football updates because I was finding them as boring as you probably were. I'm 6-2 right now but have made so many roster adjustments lately that I can't keep up with who I have and messed up my starters today. At looks as though several of my guys are having good days, though, so maybe I'll be okay despite goofing up.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Spartans bounce back (Michigan State 31, Minnesota 8)

It was a little dull, a little vanilla, but Michigan State got the job done against a team in turmoil, the Minnesota Gophers. Now, the Spartans get a much deserved and much needed bye week before the final two-game push of the season.

I really can't find much to say about this game. Really not much to say. I will give credit to Minnesota for playing hard and not quitting. Adam Weber is a talented quarterback, and MarQueis Gray (who split time between quarterback and receiver) showed a real upside, but the Gophers made too many mistakes to make it a competive game. As far as the Spartans go, the coaches probably kept the playcalling deliberately conservative because they could. MSU's focus was to simply get through this game with a victory, as few nicks and bruises as possible, and get the guys healthy for November 20 against Purdue.

Special mention goes to Edwin Baker, who had a tremendous game for the Spartans (admittedly against an extremely weak defense) with 179 yards rushing and four touchdowns. I love the way that kid runs the ball. He is extremely tough and a difficult to bring down--in fact, he delivers more physical punishment to defenders than they can muster against him.

A pretty wild day in the rest of the Big Ten. Joe Paterno picked up his 400th career win as Penn State (a team that is beginning to look extremely dangerous) come back from a 21-0 deficit to beat Northwestern, 35-21. (If football games were only 30 minutes long, Northwestern might be undefeated). In a game that featured virtually no defense, Michigan beat Illinois in triple overtime, 67-65. I caught the last minute of regulation and all three overtimes and will say that the game was wildly entertaining, even if Bo Schembechler is spinning in his grave over the horrendous excuse for a defense that the Wolverines continue to put on the field. Michigan's D had exactly one decent play that I saw, and that was stuffing Illinois on their final 2-point conversion attempt. In other action, Iowa played flat and barely scraped by Indiana, 18-13, and after a slow start, Wisconsin outmuscled Purdue, 34-13.

As I mentioned, Penn State makes me nervous, and I could easily see Michigan State losing there on November 27. I rue the day that George Perles decided that it'd be a brilliant idea to make Penn State a pseudo rival and place them at the end of the schedule, ala Michigan/Ohio State. It has not helped MSU one bit, and it won't help them this year. If MSU had caught Penn State early in the year, the Spartans would most certainly have won against a team with a shaky freshman quarterback. But, as almost always happens with Penn State, the Nittany Lions have improved (and may have found themselves a quarterback in Matt McGloin, who has replaced the injured Rob Bolden, who is still recovering from a concussion). Evan Royster and Silas Redd had big days today at running back, and Penn State's defense is solid if not spectactular. What makes it even more difficult to beat PSU is that Beaver Stadium is always a sold-out madhouse, particularly that last game of the season. Oh, and I forgot to menton that the weather in Happy Valley, in late November, is usually about 30 degrees, snowy, and windy. Thank God this is the last year MSU will have to play these guys the last week of the season, as Big Ten expansion has killed this fake rivalry.

It was really a day for college football for me. Perfect weather for the pigskin, with sunny skies, lots of leaves on the ground, and temperatures in the mid-30s. I'd have loved to have been at Spartan Stadium, but was content to settle for the warmth of my living room and flat screen TV.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The dream season takes a detour (Iowa 37, Michigan State 6)

I didn't think MSU had a realistic shot at going undefeated, but I definitely didn't foresee the drubbing they took at Iowa. I now consider myself lucky that I had to work at the library yesterday, and did not have to subject myself to the pre-Halloween horror show put on by the Spartans.

Hats off to the Hawkeyes, they definitely came to play, and it was exactly the scenario that I was afraid of after Iowa suffered their heartbreaking loss to Wisconsin last week. Iowa was angry and focused.

The game exposed MSU's deficiencies that have been glossed over in their recent victories over Illinois and Northwestern. The running game has improved, but is still not where it needs to be. Kirk Cousins is not a great quarterback, but a very good quarterback still prone to making mistakes, and the secondary continues to be a liability.

Michigan State also looks like a physically and emotionally tired group right now. This has been one rollercoaster of a season and the guys look like they could use a bye week. They may be the last team in the Big Ten to receive a bye week--it doesn't come until November 13. Fatigue, combined with a motivated Iowa team playing at home, helped create the nightmare of yesterday's game. (Do you like the Halloween-themed decription? Witty, eh!).

More on this a little later.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Some quick thoughts

Not much time to write, since I have to work today. Unfortunately, my schedule has changed at work and now I must work one weekend per month.

It's too bad that on the eve of MSU's biggest football game in 44 years, the big story was not the GAME itself, but the reinstatement of Chris L. Rucker. Everyone has to put in his or her two cents, and MSU has gotten a big black eye over this whole situation.

Well, gotta run. Wish me a quick day at work and good luck to the Spartans.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The incredible, magical season continues (Michigan State 35, Northwestern 27)

Wow, yet another amazing win for the Spartans. They really had to dig deep to get it done against the Wildcats.

Now it's on to Iowa to play a huge game against the Hawkeyes, in the hostile and crazed atmosphere of Kinnick Stadium. No doubt, the Hawkeyes will be ornery after their heartbreaking loss to Wisconsin. (I'm not sure whether to thank the Badgers or curse them. I'll go ahead and thank them for pinning a Big Ten loss on Iowa).

I will be adding a little more to this entry when I get time.

Northwestern: pre-game thoughts (and updates)

Michigan State takes its undefeated record to Evanston to face the pesky Northwestern Wildcats. I expect a big crowd of Spartans to invade Ryan Field.

Northwestern is a tough team to call. They are 5-1, but they have looked unimpressive in their wins, and lost at home to Purdue. I expect they will come to play, and their spread offense will keep the Spartans on their toes. I just don't expect the Wildcats to be able to make enough big plays, or the Spartans to make enough mistakes, for Northwestern to pull out a victory. However, this game does make me nervous. The Wilcats are certainly capable of winning. I'm going to assume MSU's athleticism and depth will be enough to give them a 37-24 victory.

_______________________________________________

Awful first half. Is this SOS, Same Old Spartans? Bad tackling, no energy, inability to pick up third downs, Conroy misses his first field goal of the year. State needs to pick it up in the secon half or they will have their first loss of the season.

_______________________________________________

Postgame: What a win. What a comeback. What big plays made by the Spartans down the stretch, from another successful fake field goal, some big catches by Keith Nichol, an amazing touchdown catch by B.J. Cunningham, some timely defensive stops, and an exclamation point of a touchdown run by Edwin Baker (though it game the Wildcats the ball back and gave me a pounding heart). Eric Gordon intercepted a Dan Persa pass on the Wildcats final possession and the game was over.

Maybe SOS is finally dead.

8-0 feels pretty darned good.

Fantasy football week seven

No longer undefeated, a team beset with injuries and slammed by the dreaded bye weeks. I'm sitting at 5-1 now and have another slapped together team for this weekend. With the Jets, Texans, and Colts not playing this Sunday, I can't start Austin Collie, Braylon Edwards, or Andre Johnson. I will be starting such luminaries as Danario Alexander and the underperforming (and overshadowed by Terrell Owens) Chad Ocho Cinco. Could I be staring at 5-2?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Thoughts on NPR's firing of Juan Williams

I'm a big fan of National Public Radio, in fact I listen to it every single day, but I'm dismayed at their handling of the recent Juan Williams situation. They played directly into the hands of the right wing and the ilk at Fox by making themselves look the like the politically correct "thought police".

Unless you've been living in a cave for the last four days, you're probably already familiar with what Juan Williams said on Fox News and NPR's response. (If you don't know what happened, why are you reading this?). I didn't particularly like what Juan Williams said on Fox (essentially, he stated that people he sees in airports, dressed in Muslim garb, make him "nervous"), although compared to some of the stuff that passes for political discourse on that network, it wasn't THAT egregious. (The readers of this blog, if there are any, may wish to argue that point).

The broader issue is the aftermath of Williams' comments, and I did have a problem with NPR's handling of the situation. Apparently, NPR has a policy that their journalists and commentators must remain neutral, which seems ridiculous (and, for that matter disingenuous, since I've noticed NPR folks like Neal Conan, Terri Gross, and Diane Rehm expressing their opinions on subjects--and what's wrong with that anyway?). In any case, was Juan Williams really representing NPR when he appeared on Fox? Couldn't NPR simply have issued a disclaimer stating that Juan Williams was speaking as an individual when he appeared on Fox, and his opinions did not necessarily represent those of National Public Radio?

Does NPR simply have an axe to grind with Juan Williams? Are they angry that he has the audacity to appear on Fox News in the first place? (I never had a problem with Juan Williams appearing on Fox News, as it provided NPR the opportunity to reach out to a more politically diverse--i.e. conservative--community. Why not present yourselves as willing to reach out to a constituency not generally associated with National Public Radio?).

The fallout has been sharp criticism of NPR from many different sides, which is deserved. What is not deserved, but not surprising, is the cries from the right that NPR should have it's funding cut. This is, of course, completely ridiculous. I have no problem with a rebuke, but NPR still provides easily the best radio programming anywhere. (Of course, that is an opinion coming from a bleading heart liberal like myself, so take it with a grain of salt).

With left-leaning politicians taking a beating this year, and with elections only eleven days away, this sort of negative publicity for NPR is ill-timed. It's just the sort of ammunition the right needs to reinforce, to the American people, how "out-of-touch" the left is, as exemplified by the "elitists" at National Public Radio who profess to open-minded discourse but dump one of their own if he does not toe the company line. (If you haven't noticed, I'm putting words in their mouths--but I'm pretty sure that's how people like Bill O'Reilly and Fox will spin this fiasco).

The big winner in this is...drum roll, please...Juan Williams. Nobody need feel any sympathy for Juan. He just signed a two million dollar contract with Fox and is better known now than at any time in his long career.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The dream season (knock on wood) continues: (Michigan State 26, Illinois 6)


Somebody pinch me, please. Tell me I'm not dreaming this up. Is the Michigan State football team really 7-0?

What a ride this season has been thus far. The Spartans overcame first half miscues, unispired play, mental errors, and a terrific Illinois defense. They turned up their performance more than a notch in the second half and dominated the Illini. Now they stand as the only undefeated team in the Big Ten. Once again, somebody pinch me and tell me this isn't a dream.

I started watching the game on our bedroom television, since the kids were playing Wii on the living room TV. With the Spartans behind 6-3 late in the first half (and they were lucky to only be down by a field goal), I knew I'd have to assume my "nervous nelly" Spartan football watching position in our basement, where I'd be relatively safe in screaming at the TV and whooping it up. I grabbed a beer out of the fridge, headed to the dungeon, and watched the second half. Thankfully, MSU provided me with plenty of thrills en route to taking over the game and winning, 26-6.

With the Spartans' victory, I was free to enjoy the rest of my Saturday. I hate to admit this, but during the autumn, much of my piece-of-mind and enjoyment of the weekend is dependent on the result of MSU's football game. If the Spartans win, I'm good through Monday. If they lose, I tend to agonize for the next day or so. Embarrassing, but true.

Anyway, I watched a good portion of Michigan's loss to Iowa, and some of the Wisconsin/Ohio State game. Although a Michigan victory over Iowa would have helped MSU, I simply could not bring myself to root for the Wolverines, and I enjoyed watching them lose to the Hawkeyes. I was thrilled with the Badgers' victory over Ohio State.
_____________________________________
My old college friend Tom was in town for homecoming weekend. Friday night, we tried to attend MSU basketball's Midnight Madness at Breslin Center, but Tom hit construction and traffic woes coming into town from Royal Oak, so we weren't able to get over to Breslin until after 11:00 PM. MSU hoops has become too popular (I suppose six Final Fours in twelve years will do that) and we were turned away at the door. The place was packed. After playing text message tag all day Saturday (Tom and his friend Holly went to the MSU/Illinois game and then to popular local Mexican restaurant El Azteco for dinner) we finally got together for drinks. We caught up on the last year and watched the end of the OSU/Wisconsin game. Tom was also interested in the Giants/Phillies playoff game, since as a San Franciscan he's adopted the Giants as one of his teams. Anyway, we had a good time visiting, and I was able to meet his friend Holly.
________________________________________

Back to MSU football briefly. All of this national championship/undefeated talk has got me dizzy. I'm trying hard not to get overly excited. But having said that, this might be the most well-rounded MSU football team I've seen: Kirk Cousins has been, for the most part, excellent at quarterback; there's a three-headed monster at running back (Baker, Caper, Bell); the receiving corps is incredibly deep with Cunningham, Dell, Martin, Linthicum, Gantt, and Nichol; the kicking game has been perfect; and the defense has exceeded expectations. We all figured the linebackers (Greg Jones, Eric Gordon, Chris Norman, Jon Misch) would be great, and they have been, but other guys like Tyler Hoover at defensive end, freshmen William Gholston and Max Bullough, Jerel Worthy, and Colin Neely have all made great contributions. The biggest surprise so far is how well the defensive backfield has played, with Johnny Adams, Trenton Robinson, and Marcus Hyde all making great contributions (particularly Adams and Robinson). Chris L. Rucker was also part of that great secondary, but his status is uncertain after a drunk driving arrest/probation violation after the Michigan game. True freshman Darqueze Dennard stepped in for Rucker in the Illinois game and, though he was burned on one long pass play that resulted in an obvious pass interference call, had a fantastic strip and fumble recovery on another play. The kid is fast and has great closing speed.

One sign of the great team play of this MSU team came after Dennard's pass interference penalty. Immediately after the play, senior Greg Jones took Dennard aside and had a talk with him--not screaming, not angry, just what appeared to be an instructional talk. It reminded me of the MSU basketball team and how the upper classmen always intruct the younger players on the floor. It's an indication of the program that Dantonio is building here at MSU.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fantasy football week six: Amazingly, still undefeated

My point total this week was the lowest it's been this season, but thanks to my opponent having an even lower point total, I was able to win yet again. My team is held together with duct tape at this point, with Knowshon Moreno still out and Andre Johnson still struggling with injuries. Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates once again had excellent weeks, and Peyton Hillis made a solid contribution at the running back position.

Michigan State football at the halfway point: (Somewhat) uncharted territory

It's been eleven years since Michigan State football started the season 6-0. The last time was 1999, and the next two weeks that followed that great start were not good for the Spartans. The team lost in successive weeks to Purdue (52-28), and eventual Big Ten champion Wisconsin (40-10). State eventually righted the ship and went on to a 10-2 final record, but those two ugly weeks cost the Spartans a shot at the conference title and a higher national ranking.

Back in 1999, Michigan State couldn't handle the accolades that came with their great start. At that time, it'd been 33 years since MSU had a 6-0 start. (Coincidently, just like this year's team, that '99 squad topped off their great start with an emotional win over Michigan). Local sportscaster Tim Staudt often relates a story of Nick Saban telling him that he was worried about the Purdue game because he didn't think his players could handle the attention (and pressure) of being undefeated.

I hope that the coaching staff has not allowed this year's team to get complacent. Mark Dantonio was on Nick Saban's '99 staff, so he may have learned the correct buttons to push to keep the team grounded and focused.

The week following the Michigan game didn't get off to a great start with defensive back Chris L. Rucker's drunk driving arrest. He's been suspended from the Illinois game and he could be sorely missed on Saturday.

That brings up the subject of MSU's next opponent, Illinois. Definitely not a team to be taken lightly, as they proved by crushing Penn State in Happy Valley. That may actually be a blessing in disguise, because that sort of resounding victory surely got the Spartans' undivided attention, and ended any thought MSU had of simply coasting through the Homecoming game.

I'm hearing a lot of people around here (including several sportswriters and broadcasters) throwing around the words "undefeated season," and that scares me. I've followed MSU football way, way, way too long to be getting ahead of myself. Yes, there is something about this year's team that feels different from squads in the past, but I keep reminding myself that this IS Michigan State: a school that has been to one Rose Bowl in 45 years, has not won a Big Ten title in 20 years, and last went undefeated in 1966.*

If MSU can remain focused, as they have all season to this point, they should beat a dangerous Illinois team tomorrow...and we will be one step closer to that magical season Spartan fans have been craving for decades.

*The one blemish to that 1966 season was the famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) 10-10 tie with Notre Dame.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Little brother beats up big sister, again. (Michigan State 34, Michigan 17)


First of all, allow me to apologize for my hand-wringing, neurotic pre-game posts. If you've been reading this blog, you're probably used to it by now.

Call it the most satisfying victory over Michigan in my lifetime. I had waited my entire 42 years on this earth to enjoy an absolutely dominating performance over the Wolverines. A game that left no doubt that the Spartans were the better team. Absolutely nothing for Michigan fans to complain about, they were served in their own stadium in front of 110,000 or so of their fans and supporters.

I never thought I'd live to see the day when MSU would defeat Michigan in football three consecutive years.

Reading some Michigan Wolverine football blogs and it's clear their fans don't like Dantonio. It's at least partly because Dantonio had the audacity to call out the Wolverines after Mike Hart's infamous "little brother" comment after the 2007 game. Michigan fans are miffed that Dantonio didn't realize he was supposed to bend down and plead, "Thank you sir, may I have another!"

Kidding aside, Dantonio gets this rivalry in a way that his predecessor, John L. Smith, never did. It's probably because Dantonio was on the MSU staffs of Nick Saban and, briefly, Bobby Williams, and saw first-hand the importance of this game to MSU fans. Then, he moved on to Ohio State where he took on the qualities and attitude of Jim Tressel--and we all know how the Buckeyes feel about the Wolverines.

Michigan fans like to pretend that the game against Michigan State doesn't mean anything to them. I will not argue that it's as important to them as the Ohio State game. Quite frankly, based on the Wolverines' domination of the series prior to 2008, it's hard to fault Michigan fans for not thinking of the Spartans as a rival. But now that Dantonio has raised the stakes by beating Michigan three straight times, with this years' victory being the most decisive of them all, Michigan will have to take MSU seriously from now on.

Michigan State is playing absolutely the best football I've seen in these parts in...gee whiz, 11 years? You've got to go back to the 1999 team of Plaxico Burress, Julian Peterson, et al to find a Spartan team that was playing at this level. As usual, I'm trying hard not to get overly excited, but this team is loaded with talent. Unlike the 2008 team, which was physically manhandled by the likes of Iowa and Wisconsin (and needed some huge plays and a little luck to win those games) this year's squad is now doing the manhandling. They outmuscled the burly and bruising Badgers, and thoroughly controlled the line of scrimmage this Saturday against Michigan. I also see more athleticism on this year's team than I've seen since 1999. In fact, I'd argue that this year's team may be more athletic than the '99 team.

Kirk Cousins had perhaps the best game of his career on Saturday. Any argument that he is not a big game quarterback should be forever silenced. This game against Michigan was HUGE. His quarterback counterpart at Michigan, Denard Robinson, was getting all the media attention--and with the unreal numbers he was putting up, it's not hard to see why. (It's probably unfair to compare the two quarterbacks, since they are completely different in what they bring to the table and run completely different offenses). Cousins won this particular duel decisively. Denard threw three interceptions (though, in fairness, two of them were attributable to his receivers making mistakes), while Cousins was flawless.

By the way, let me say that Denard Robinson is an excellent football player, and has a bright future in front of him.

Michigan's problem is not Denard Robinson, it's that they have perhaps the worst defense in the history of their program. I guarantee you that Bo Schembechler is spinning in his grave.

It is as if the two programs have reversed personalities. Michigan State crushed Michigan by employing an offense and defense that Bo Schembechler would have appreciated.

Anyway, I love what I see from this team. If the Spartans can avoid injuries while maintaining their focus and confidence, a record of 10-2 is not out of the question. In fact, if a few bounces go their way, they may even do better than that.


________________________________________________


We watched the MSU/UofM game with our friends Mark and Angela, who we don't see that often. They have two young daughters and they live about a half-hour away, so it's difficult getting together. Mark is a big sports fan, and a Spartan fan, so it's always enjoyable watching sports with him. (By the way, he's also in my fantasy football league and is usually near the top of the standings). I think I cracked everybody up with how tense I was throughout most of the game. Man, I've got to try and not take these games so personally, but it's hard!

Mark and Angela's small daughter, Lucy, was in my immediate vicinity when the Spartans made a big play (interception?) and I yelled at the TV screen. I think I scared the poor child half to death. I tried my best to reassure her that I was only yelling at the television and not at her. (This is why it's best for me, in most cases, to just watch these games alone or in a bar).

In an effort to numb the pain of a potential Spartan loss, I drank about six beers before halftime (that is a lot for me to drink these days--usually after two beers I'm feeling bloated and tired). Once it became clear that MSU was in full control of the game, and definitely NOT going to blow it, I chilled out and cut out the beers.

It was great seeing Mark and Angela again, and I greatly enjoyed experiencing this great Spartan victory with good friends.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Why Michigan matters and other pre-game thoughts

Trying to fight off pre-game jitters. I feel as if I'm playing, when in reality I have no control over the outcome of a game between 18-22 year old athletes.

Whtether we want to admit it or not, Michigan State people feel that we are the "little brother" in comparison with our snooty brethren in Ann Arbor. We do perceive arrogance, imagined or not, in the folks from the University of Michigan. (Although, in my experience, the most annoying Michigan fans are the ones who never actually attended the school). Though I'm proud of MSU's history as a land grant institution and the advances it made in scientific agriculture, the "Moo U" epithet I hear still stings.

It's difficult having the winningest program in college football history only an hour's drive from us. Whether we should or not, we at MSU are always trying to measure up with U of M.

Three wins in a row over Michigan would be incredible. I never thought I'd see two in a row, but I find myself not satisfied and wanting more.

It's hard for me to be too critical of those who, with no familial allegiance with either MSU or U of M, chose Michigan as their favorite team/school back in the seventies and eighties. MSU's only great year in football between 1967 and 1987 came in 1978, and because of probation MSU did not appear on television. It's almost as if the 1978 season never really happened.

Lesson learned from the 2004 game: never call anyone in celebration before the game has actually ended. More on that later.

Game time is almost upon us, I hope the football gods are smiling down upon the Spartans today.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Fantasy footall week five (Terracotta Warriors are still undefeated)

After some nifty maneuvering to avoid the pitfalls of the first NFL bye week, I'm happy to report that my team won again and I am now 4-0. I picked up Mike Nugent, who was my kicker for the week, as well as the Tennessee defense. Both performed admirably for me. New running back Peyton Hillis was solid, and I had another outstanding week from tight end Antonio Gates.

If I can just get Andre Johnson and Knowshon Moreno back and healthy, I should keep on rolling (knock on wood).

Aside from some minor injuries to the forementioned Johnson and Moreno, my team has been injury-free, which has not been the case in previous years.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Michigan week


It's Michigan week, and with it comes my annual hand-wringing, angst-filled, pre-game post. This is the most anticipated Michigan State/Michigan football game since 1999, when both teams entered the game at 6-0. This season, both teams are 5-0 and in the upper reaches of the top 20.

There are some intriguing storylines with both teams. On one hand, you have the dazzling Denard Robinson and his quest for a possible Heisman Trophy and on the other hand, there is Michigan State's "rallying of the troops" after Mark Dantonio's heart attack after the amazing Notre Dame victory.

I'm nervous about this game. I'm always nervous about this game. I've seen too many MSU losses against Michigan to EVER get overly confident.

Denard Robinson scares me. He is a fabulous player and I'm astounded by his improvement from last year to this year. And, despite what some people have been saying, Michigan is not a one-man team. Stonum, Roundtree, Hemingway, and Odoms are excellent receivers. The Spartan defense will have their hands full, to say the least.

The worst thing that could happen is for Michigan's defense to constantly hear how awful they are. I expect their defense to play one of their best games of the year, and their home crowd will help them exponentially.

I'm still not completely sold on MSU's run defense. They did do a decent job against Wisconsin (in particular, they were able to contain John Clay), but looking at the stats I see that James White had 98 yards on only 10 carries. Denard Robinson is a better and faster runner than either one of those players.

This is Michigan State's first big road test. The game against Florida Atlantic at Ford Field does not really count as a road game. How does MSU respond to 109,000 screaming Michigan fans who will be going crazy for the Wolverines. You know darned well these fans don't want to lose to the Spartans for the third straight year and will do all they can to get their team going. With the expansion of Michigan Stadium, I suspect the place is louder than it ever has been before.

Did I mention I'm a "glass-is-half-empty" MSU football fan?

Having written all of that, I must say there is a quiet confidence about this MSU football team that I haven't seen in quite some time (2008 included). It remains to be seen whether the team is able to behave and perform with confidence throughout the entire season, but I have a feeling that this year's team is different from all the other disappointing or underachieving Spartan teams of the past.

If I have any time between now and Saturday, I'll add more to this post.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Free football tickets are a beautiful thing


Yesterday, I entered a drawing at work for two tickets to today's Michigan State/Wisconsin football game. I never win these drawings, so I had no expectations for that to change. Well, lo and behold, I won the tickets. As it turns out, they're great tickets: lower deck, west corner of the south endzone, row 13. These may be the best seats I've ever had at Spartan Stadium.

Initially, I thought of having my brother come down for the game, but knew it was short notice and he may not be able to make it. His Saturday was already booked, so I'm taking my son Avery. My plan is to keep him supplied with hot dogs, popcorn, and soda pop and he should make it through the entire game (provided it's a game worth staying until the very end).

I have no idea what to expect from this game, but presumably it'll be close. Go State!
_________________________________________
Update: I took my oldest son to Michigan State/Wisconsin game and we had a fun time. Above is a picture of him at the game. He was well fed in hot dogs, popcorn, Coca-cola, and hot chocolate. I wanted to stay for the entire game, but compromised and we left after the end of the third quarter with the Spartans ahead 27-17. (It was getting rather cold and damp anyway, and we were both shivering). By the time we got off to our car, parked at my sister-in-law's house across from campus in East Lansing, the game was over and MSU had prevailed 34-24. An excellent win for the Spartans and a fun day for dad and son.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fantasy football week four: An amazing start for the Terracotta Warriors

Amazingly, incredibly, I am off to a 3-0 start. This is the best start I've ever had in fantasy football, and now I feel the stakes have been raised. It's not enough for me to halfheartedly meander through the season hoping to finish with a record above .500. Now, I need to make a concerted effort to do really well this year. If not win the league title, at least finish in the top three.

I had low expectations for week three based on how minor injuries and silly behavior seemed to be hampering my team. I knew Brandon Jacobs wasn't going to play much for the Giants (and he didn't) and I did not expect Braylon Edwards to get on the field for the Jets (he did, surprisingly, and caught two passes, one of which was for a touchdown). Knowshon Moreno was hurt and didn't play. Consequently, I received no production from my backfield, but other players on my team picked up the slack. Philip Rivers racked up big passing yardage for the Chargers, and his teammate, tight end Antonio Gates, was his favorite target. Austin Collie had another excellent game, the Dallas defense rose to occasion in a must-win against Houston, and when it was all said and done I won yet another matchup.

This week, I'm up against the new guy in the league, who is also off to a 3-0 start. It's the battle of the undefeateds, and I don't want to lose to the upstart. In preparation, I dumped Brandon Jacobs (who will probably not see much playing time unless the Giants have injuries) and picked up Cleveland's out-of-nowhere "star " running back Peyton Hillis. I spent a whopping 50 waiver points on him, so here's hoping he's not a flash in the pan.

The bye weeks have begun, so I was forced to waive the Dallas defense and claim the Tennessee defense. The Titans have recovered nine fumbles so far and have not given up many points, so I hope they can keep it up this week. Maybe, a few weeks down the line, I can reclaim the Dallas defense if nobody else has done so in the meantime.

I just realized that my kicker, Ryan Longwell, ALSO has a bye coming up this weekend. Did I mention what a pain in the a$$ bye weeks are for us fantasy football owners? Anyway, I scoured the official rules of our league and I think I can get away with placing Knowshon Moreno on injured reserve and replacing him on the active roster with Mike Nugent, the kicker for Cincinnati. If Tom, our league commissioner, does not nix this move I'll be okay and have a full team ready to take the (virtual) field on Sunday.

I don't know if I'll win this week, but I'm happy that I've taken steps to improve my team. Success in fantasy football is really dependent on luck, so we'll see if my luck holds up for another weekend.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fantasy football week three

I'm just now getting this fantasy football update on the blog and I know you've all been dying with anticipation.

I'm off to a 2-0 start in the Schuler Books & Music League, and that is probably my best start ever. Last week, I got a great week from Philip Rivers (that draft pick is looking good so far). Knowshon Moreno and Andre Johnson also had nice weeks for me.

I'm a little bit concerned though because various members of my team are either banged up or are behaving like fools. Most notably, Braylon Edwards was arrested last week on a DWI charge. That's what I get for drafting a former Michigan Wolverine: bad kharma. Brandon Jacobs of the Giants got into some trouble for throwing his helmet into the stands in Indianapolis. It was an incredibly stupid move on his part, and he's been demoted to second-string running back. With Knowshon Moreno hurt this weekend and not starting, I was forced to put Jacobs in my lineup but have a feeling he may not do much for me.

I'm hoping for another big week from Rivers, and hopefully my receivers Andre Johnson (who is a little dinged up but will be playing against Dallas), Austin Collie, and Chad Ochocinco will all have good weeks. I'm also excited about how well Philip Rivers' teammate Antonio Gates has done for me. I'm pleading for these guys to pick up the slack because I don't think I'm getting anything from my running backs.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Favorite "first songs" from albums

A few days ago, I was listening to a podcast of NPR's "All Songs Considered," which, by the way, is a great show for music geeks out there. This particular show focused on great lead-off tracks from albums (remember those things called "albums"?). That got me to thinking about some of my favorite first songs from albums that I like. Here are a few I came up with, with some of my own commentary (that I will try to add as I get the time--so we'll see how that goes). I may add more to this list as I think of them. If anyone out there is reading this, I'd like to hear yours.

"So What"--Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (A classic track in its own right that sets the mood for one of the greatest albums in jazz history).

"Break on Through (to the other side)"--The Doors, The Doors (This may as well be The Doors' theme song, a darker version of "Hey, hey, we're the Monkees," if you will. One of the bands' hardest rocking songs and it draws one into The Doors' world).

"Sister Anne"--MC5, High Times (This is just a killer blast of the MC5's typical brand of uncompromising rock, and a great album opener).

"Roadrunner"--Modern Lovers, Modern Lovers (A great driving song, and not just because the subject of the song is motoring in a car. In this tune, Jonathan Richman subverts the classic rock 'n' roll car song by changing the locale to the dull suburbs of Boston--and the protagonist to a geeky white teenager. But the big reason this song is so great is because the Modern Lovers absolutely cook, jamming the Velvet's "Sister Ray" riff and almost making it their own. Like any great "first song," it sucks you completely into the musician(s)' world).

"Thank You For Sending Me an Angel"--Talking Heads, More Songs About Buildings and Food (Chris Frantz's shuffling drumbeat, reminiscent of Ringo's on "Get Back," and David Byrne's manic yelping.)

"Gimme Shelter"--The Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed (That opening guitar patter feels like the sound of the apocalypse. It's the sound of the end of the sixties, the sound of the chaos of Altamont. It's easily the darkest and most foreboding "opening song" on this list).

"Welcome to the Jungle"--Guns 'N Roses, Appetite for Destruction (By now, it's hard for me to hear this song with fresh ears since its first 45 seconds have been appropriated by countless sports arenas and shock jock call-in shows across the country--but what a great 45 seconds it is. The massive, swirling storm of guitars is an incredible hook into Axl Rose's tale of the dark and sordid side of L.A.).

"The Queen is Dead"--The Smiths, The Queen is Dead ("Take me back to dear old Blighty"... The first time I heard this song, it knocked me out, with the crackly recording of the women singing the World War I tune [a soundbite taken from the 1962 British film The L-Shaped Room , followed by Johnny Marr's distorted guitar and Morrissey's witty attack on the royal family. It still holds up).

"Begin the Begin"--R.E.M., Lifes Rich Pageant (Peter Buck's buzzsaw guitar riffage and Stipe's aggressive--for him, anyway--singing put this one over the top. This one still gets me going 24 years later).

And a few others:

"Immigrant Song"--Led Zeppelin III (Led Zep had plenty of great album openers)."Whole Lotta Love"--Led Zeppelin II

"One of These Days"--Pink Floyd, Meddle (I remember a guy who lived on my dorm room floor who loved "testing his stereo speakers" by blasting this).

"Back in the U.S.S.R.--The Beatles, "White Album" (Love the jet engine sounds panning from speaker to speaker).

"Like a Rolling Stone"--Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited (From the first drum stick crack and Al Kooper's organ--to Dylan's angry putdown of the rich girl suddenly down on her heels, this one is a killer).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The greatest ever finish to a Spartan football game (that I've seen, anyway)

Michigan State defeated Notre Dame, 34-31, with the winning touchdown coming on a fake field goal in overtime.

I've seen quite a few Michigan State football games in my time, but the finish of Saturday's MSU/Notre Dame game was the best that I've ever seen, and I doubt that I'll ever see a more exciting finish to a Spartan football game.

Random thoughts on the game:

It's too bad that the excitement and stress of that game may have contributed to Mark Dantonio having a heart attack. We all wish him a speedy recovery.

Everyone thinks of Dantonio as being perhaps the most conservative coach in college football, and he threw everyone off, particularly Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, with that fake field goal to win the game. Nobody in Spartan Stadium and nobody watching on television (including me) expected that play call.

Who is the genius coach now? Before the season started, one would have thought Brian Kelly was the second coming of Knute Rockne. Now a 1-2 start, with questionable playcalling contributing to close losses to U of M and MSU, has Kelly already on the hot seat in South Bend. The honeymoon is over.

Wins like the one against the Irish, and amazing finishes like that, almost make up for the heartbreaking losses I've had to endure as a Spartan fan. It's never easy being "green," but last night was one I'll alway cherish.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The obligatory football post (of the non-fantasy variety, The Curse of Bobby Layne Lives On and other stories)

This past Sunday, the Detroit Lions proved once again that the Football Gods hate them, as one of the most spectacular end zone touchdown catches I've ever witnessed was incredibly/incredulously ruled a non-catch because Calvin Johnson flicked the ball out of the end zone in celebration. This little flicking/dropping of the football--the NFL rules call this a "second act" or some such vague bullshit--was what nullified what rightfully should have been the probable winning score against the Bears. I qualify this as the "probable" winning touchdown because, after all, we're talking about the Lions here--they could have easily given up a score to the Bears in the final seconds of the game and lost. As we all know, the Lions are much better at losing than winning.

By this point, enough has been written about this controversial play to fill a book as long as War and Peace, so I don't know what I have to add. I'll simply present my perspective as a Detroit sports fan. It seems to me that the world is out to not only screw the State of Michigan, but screw all of our sports teams. First we had Armando Galarraga's (should have been) perfect game that was taken away by quite possibly the worst blown call in baseball history, and now we have a dramatic (should have been) game-winning touchdown--which would have ended a 20-game road losing streak for the hapless Lions--taken away by quite possibly the most obscure, and certainly most illogical, rules in the No Fun League...er, the National Football League.

My only conclusion is that Detroit sports teams are the nerd in school that everyone delights in picking on and/or torturing.

The Curse of Bobby Layne continues unabated for the Lions. (For those not in the know, when the Lions traded their star quarterback Bobby Layne to Pittsburgh in 1958, an unhappy Layne said the Lions would not win for 50 years. The 50 years have expired now, but that doesn't seem to matter).

_________________________________________________

I haven't yet written much about college football this season. The big story in these parts is Denard Robinson and the rise of the Michigan Wolverines. I knew it was too much to expect for the Wolverines to be down for too long, though I was hoping like crazy they would be. I don't know how they'll finish the season, but I suspect they should go about 8-4 at the very least. This does seem to have the hint of deja vu all over again (i.e. young quarterback dazzles the national media as the Wolverines jump out to an undefeated start, only to fall on their faces when they have to play better competition), but DRob has way more talent than Tate Forcier. By the way, lost in the all the love for Denard is the major improvement of Michigan's offensive line.

Enough about Michigan, now on to my team, the Michigan State Spartans. I still don't know what to make of this team: are they just not playing up to their full potential, or are they just not that great? Are we in for yet another disappointing football season in East Lansing? Will the Spartan suffer an embarrassing loss to Notre Dame and find the once hopeful and optimistic fans bailing on them, selling their tickets for pennies, and counting the days until basketball season tips off?

Sorry for the negativity, but this tends to happen when you've followed MSU football for as long as I have--and have been disappointed way more times than you can count.

On the other, more optimistic side, is it possible that MSU has kept the game plan bland in the first two games to not tip their hand? I certainly hope that this is the case.

MSU's running game looks explosive with Edwin Baker and freshman Le'Veon Bell having huge games in the opening two weeks of the season, and we still haven't seen Larry Caper yet because he's been nursing a hand injury he sustained before the season began. Caper is expected to play against the Golden Domers.

I'm concerned about the inconsistency of the passing game, which seemed to be the Spartans' big strength this year (and still may prove to be the best part of their offense when it's all said and done).

The biggest concern has to be with the defense. That really needed to improve after last year and, thus far, it doesn't seem to have gotten much better.

We'll know a lot more about the state of the MSU football team after this Saturday's Notre Dame game. I sure hope I can go to bed a happy football fan on Saturday night.

Fantasy football week two

A win for me in the first weekend of the fantasy football/NFL season. Phillip Rivers, the quarterback I had trepidation over drafting, turned out to be my one of highest scorers of the week tide with my receiver, Chad Ochocinco, at 21 points), and his fellow Charger tight end Antonio Gates did well, too. If San Diego's defense continues to struggle, it may mean that the Chargers will have to throw the ball more, which (barring interceptions) will help me.

I didn't get much production from my running backs, although Knowshon Moreno had a fairly decent game with 12 points. I'm also thrilled that my final round draft pick, Austin Collie, had an outstanding game for the Colts. It looks like the Indianapolis offense will have to do everything possible to make up for the team's terrible defense, so this should help Collie's receiving numbers--good news for me.

I'll be holding tight with my roster this week. No injuries, nothing is broken yet, so there is really no need to make any moves.

By the way, for most years my team has been called the Fighting Chipmunks (one year, I modified the name to the Raging Rodents). This season, I went with a name that I thought would be perfect for a fantasy football team, the Terra Cotta Warriors.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fantasy football week one

I thought of doing this last year, but for whatever reason (laziness?) never actually did it. This may be a complete snooze for most people out there, assuming anyone is still reading this blog, but I thought it'd be fun to keep a weekly journal of my experiences in my fantasy football league: the (sometime) ups and (usual) downs of the (geeky) life of a fantasy football owner.

This year marks my eighth season in the Schuler Books Fantasy Football League. I have never won a league title, and I chalk this up to a combination of bad luck and a little bit of my own indifference. I'm not the type of fantasy football owner who is checking the stats every week, monitoring the waiver wire, and wheeling and dealing elaborate trades to improve my team. I am in fantasy football more for the camaraderie than the desire to win the league title. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to be league champion--particularly because there is money involved in our league--but the problem is I just don't have the time or inclination to consistently upgrade my team throughout the season. My favorite part of the fantasy football season are the handful of excuses I have to get together with the other league owners and drink a few beers.

Last Sunday, we had our draft at Tripper's sports bar on the east side of Lansing. Unlike most other leagues, we don't have our draft online but do it live and in-person. This gives our owners plenty of opportunities to trash talk and B.S. and either rip each other or compliment each other after each draft pick. We have a large white poster board with a grid that is positioned at the end of a long table. With each draft pick, the owner in question making his pick is forced to run the gauntlet of the other owners and face either the cheers and jeers after he writes the name of the player he has chosen. Since the majority of us are bookstore geeks, the jeering is generally kept to a minimum, but there is plenty of smack talk and bullshit slung throughout the evening.

As usual, I didn't do any pre-draft research until about eight hours before the draft. This is much like my approach to Christmas shopping. Every autumn, I tell myself that I'm going to do my Christmas shopping early but inevitably put it off until a week before the big day. Every summer, I am bound and determined to prepare early for the fantasy football draft, but put it off until either a day before the draft or THE day of the draft. (I must admit that my "research" usually only consists of finding an online fantasy football ranking site, ESPN has a good one, and printing out their rankings of NFL players by position.

Despite my procrastination, I feel pretty good about my draft this year. That's not always the case. Sometimes I pick too impulsively, sometimes I don't keep into account which players are one the way up and which are getting old and on the way down. Last year, for example, I drafted LaDainian Tomlinson, a somewhat long-in-the-tooth running back, in the second or third round and he did virtually nothing for me the entire season. I should have known better than to draft a guy on the dowslide of his career so high in the draft, and would have been better to go with a younger, up and coming running back.

This year, my draft position was seventh (in a ten team league). My strategy was to pick the best player available, regardless of position, in the first round. The NFL has increasingly become a league dominated by quarterbacks and wide receivers. It's become rare to find teams that have one dominant running back that is focus of the offense. Beyond Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans and Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings, it tends to be running back by committee on the other NFL teams. Anyway, my first draft pick was wide receiver Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans, who has led the league in receiving yardage the last two seasons.

After Andre Johnson, I took the best available running back in the second round (DeAngelo Williams). My first quarterback pick came in the third round: Phillip Rivers. This is one pick that doesn't excite me. It was between Rivers and Tony Romo, and I'm thinking perhaps I should have taken Romo. I had Rivers a few seasons ago (2008?) and he was a disappointment. I went with running back Knowshon Moreno in round four, and took another wide receiver, Chad Ochocinco, in the fifth round. In the sixth round, I drafted the second-highest ranked tight end, Antonio Gates. After about the sixth round, it's garbage time. I feel good about my choices of receivers Braylon Edwards and Dez Bryant, and think I might have gotten a steal with Colts receiver Austin Collie in the 14th and final round. I hope that I can at least use some of these receivers as trade bait if the need arises. I'm also pleased with my backup quarterback Mark Sanchez, and my backup tight end, Chris Cooley. Depending on how the season develops, both of these guys might be starters. The rest of my roster includes running back Brandon Jacobs (7th round), the Dallas Cowboys defense (12th round), and kicker Ryan Longwell (13th round).

I loaded up my roster with five wide receivers and only three running backs. We'll see if this strategy works. If one or two of my running backs get injured or have sub-par seasons, I will have to jettison one or two of these receivers in a trade--or else check the waiver wire for any unknown who, out of nowhere, starts to have a good year.

The NFL season starts tonight, and I'll post an update next week.