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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, 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.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Keweenaw Vacation and...are you ready for some football?!

On Wednesday, we returned home from five days spent at Fort Wilkins State Park in Copper Harbor, Michigan.

The weather was the hottest that I've ever experienced in the Upper Peninsula, with highs in the upper 80s and low 90s from the day we arrived (August 27) until we left (September 1). All the locals I spoke to in the Keweenaw Peninsula, and especially Copper Harbor at the very tip of the peninsula (I've got to be careful spelling that word--a couple missplaced letters and it appears a bit naughty) said it had been an extraordinarily hot summer up there.

We stayed in a cabin near the state park's boat launch. I wish I'd spent more time hiking the trails around Lake Fanny Hooe, but could never seem to rouse myself out of bed in time to take advantage of the solitude and cooler temperatures.

Despite the hot weather in the UP, it was a good vacation and I was happy to be able to reunite in Baraga with my Aunt Anne along with my cousin Joe and his wife Katy. They ordered Irene's Pizza (in my opinion, one of the best pizza places anywhere) and we had a nice few hours of visiting.

I managed to take some photos of Ahmeek, and old copper mining town north of Calumet. One of these days--put it on my "Michigan bucket list"--I want to tour the Quincy Mine and take some extensive photos of the small hamlets between Calumet and Copper Harbor, such as Phoenix, Allouez, and Mohawk (as well as a few more of Ahmeek). These old mining towns are fascinating.
We headed back for home on Tuesday, August 31, crossed the Mackinac Bridge and stopped for the night in Mackinaw City. I had not spent any significant time in Mackinaw City since the '80s and I was stunned by how much the place has changed. Gpne are the old mom-and-pop 1950s motels with the little swimming pools and shuffleboard and in their place are the Best Westerns, Holiday Inn Expresses, and Baymont Inns. Downtown Mackinaw City is now catered to the upwardly mobile yuppie vacationer. I miss the kitchy old Mackinaw City of my youth.

I could go on about this vacation, but I think I've covered the highlights. Enough for now.

Football is starting soon and it's a cause for celebration. As usual, I have no idea what to expect from Michigan State, nor the Detroit Lions. It could be a good season for MSU and a respectable season for the Lions, but that remains to be seen.