Tuesday, April 26, 2011

2011 NFL First-round Projection and Arizona Cardinals Draft.

  1.  Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton, QB, Auburn.  Marty Hurney needs to hit a home-run with this selection.  The best players in the draft class are on defense, but that’s where the Panthers have the most talent already.  Newton has weapons to support him and leadership qualities that could galvanize the franchise.
  2. Denver Broncos – Marcel Dareus, DT, Alabama.  Denver needs help on its interior defense, where they play in a division chock full of quality running backs.  The offense has enough firepower to win games, but John Fox needs to build a defense that will allow his offense to take the field more frequently.
  3. Buffalo Bills – Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M.  The Bills’ problems are on the defensive side of the ball.  They’d like to take an interior lineman here, but there will be value at the position later in the draft.  The Bills need to find a way to frustrate Mark Sanchez and Tom Brady if they’re going to return to relevance in the AFC East.
  4. Cincinnati Bengals – A.J. Green, WR, Georgia.  The Bengals aren’t willing to invest in another quarterback when they’re on the hook for Carson Palmer, and a rookie QB couldn’t succeed with the present tools in the Bengals’ arsenal.  A.J. Green will be an immediate contributor and playmaker who can open holes for Chad Johnson.
  5. Arizona Cardinals – Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU.  Very, very quietly the Arizona Cardinals have cleared the deck at the CB position, with no legitimate players following Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and Greg Toler.  Peterson will challenge for the punt return job behind shaky second-year player Andre Roberts and be an immediate contributor in nickel and dime packages in the secondary.  Peterson is also insurance if DRC fails to embrace more zone concepts in the future.
  6. Cleveland Browns – Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn.  Reports are the Fairley is falling down draft boards, but GM Mike Holmgren remembers have to prepare for John Randall and Warren Sapp and knows the challenges that a great three-technique DT can present.  The draft class at this position is thin, and the Browns get an immediate contributor as they transition to a 4-3 defense.
  7. San Francisco 49ers – Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri.  San Francisco has done a good job of picking up sliding prospects in the first round.  The cupboard is shockingly bare at the QB position in the North Bay, and Gabbert possesses the qualities that new head coach John Harbaugh likes in a player.  The offensive line in San Francisco may be able to keep a clean pocket around Gabbert and allow him to succeed.
  8. Tennessee Titans – Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina.  Current DEs Jason Babin and Jacob Ford are not long-term solutions to the pass rush, but they will be starters while Quinn adjusts to the NFL after a year away from football.
  9. Dallas Cowboys – J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin.  This isn’t a flashy pick, and the Cowboys may want to trade down to get some value at the offensive line.  Watt is an excellent prospect at the five-technique DE spot and could pair with Igor Olshansky for the best 3-4 DE tandem in the NFL.
  10. Washington Redskins – Julio Jones, WR, Alabama.  The Redskins get great value for this pick.  Their WR corps is solid right now, but it is aging.  Jones will be an excellent West Coast wideout for Mike Shanahan.
  11. Houston Texans – Prince Amukamra, CB, Nebraska.  The Texans are terrible in the secondary.  They get a player that will be good for them in Wade Phillips’s 3-4 defense. 
  12. Minnesota Vikings – Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson.  Minnesota can’t believe their luck that a player who was widely expected to be drafted in the Top 5 falls to them all the way at #12 overall.  Bowers can learn behind Jared Allen or immediately contribute on the strong side.  Bowers is not a speed rusher in the mold of Julius Peppers, but he is a good technician who can contribute quickly.
  13. Detroit Lions – Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado.  The character concerns about Jimmy Smith are overstated, and frankly the Lions defense could use some attitude.  Jimmy Smith is an elite athlete who can be a cover corner in the mold of Darelle Revis.
  14. St. Louis Rams – Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal.  The Rams are in a position to trade down from this spot without great value at a position of need.  Instead Steve Spagnolo goes back to his Philadelphia roots and drafts the best lineman on the board and will plug him in wherever he’s needed.
  15. Miami Dolphins – Tyron Smith, OT, Southern Cal.  Smith will be able to stay at right tackle for the Dolphins, where Miami has a gaping hole currently occupied by Lydon Murtha.
  16. Jacksonville Jaguars – Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri.  Smith presents good value here for a team that needs to protect its secondary with a productive pass rush in a division that features Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub.
  17. New England Patriots – Corey Luiget, DL, Illinois.  Quietly, the Patriots have been transitioning to more and more 4-3 defensive looks.  Luiget presents great positional versatility for Bill Belicheck.
  18.  San Diego Chargers – Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College.  Castonzo will help protect Philip Rivers as he ages and solves an offensive line problem across from Marcus McNeill.
  19. New York Giants – Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida.  The Giants need to add fresh bodies to their aging offensive line.  Pouncey is a better story than he is a talent in this draft, but he’ll be a solid contributor who will have time to learn from the veterans ahead of him.
  20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue.  Kerrigan presents the best value to a Tampa-2 team, and ends up in a position where he can be the most successful.
  21. Kansas City Chiefs – Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin.  Carimi can play the right or the left side for the Chiefs, and will open holes in the run game that made the Chiefs a playoff team in 2010.
  22. Indianapolis Colts – Nate Solder, OT, Colorado.  The Colts have an offensive line problem, and they have to protect their franchise player in Peyton Manning.  Solder will give them more opportunities to protect Manning and open holes in the run game. 
  23. Philadelphia Eagles – Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa.  The Eagles keep getting better by drafting good athletes for their offensive and defensive lines.  If there is a run on offensive linemen, don’t be surprised to see the Eagles move up a little.
  24. New Orleans Saints – Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA.  Ayers give Gregg Williams a nice versatile athlete to play the strong side of his defense.
  25. Seattle Seahawks – Aaron Williams, CB, Texas.  At this point in the draft, and without a third-round pick, the Seattle Seahawks would probably like to trade down.  Lacking that option, they take Williams, who will help out a secondary in need. 
  26. Baltimore Ravens – Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi.  The Ravens need help on the offensive line, and Sherrod will give them an able replacement at the RT position and allow them to move Marshall Yanda back to the inside where he was a dominant player. 
  27. Atlanta Falcons – Justin Houston, DE, Georgia.  The Falcons need to find a future replacement for John Abraham.  It might seem like the Falcons are reaching here, but if Houston develops, it won’t matter two years from now.
  28. New England Patriots – Mark Ingram, RB, Arkansas.  New England would love to trade out of this spot to the team that feels like Jake Locker will be the answer and pick up some 2012 picks.  Ingram is a productive player who should be able to excel in the elements and have a quick transition to the pro game.
  29. Chicago Bears – Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor.  The Bears have to do something about their offensive line to protect the investment they’ve made in Jay Cutler. 
  30.  New York Jets – Jabaal Sheard, DE/OLB, Pittsburgh.  The Jets need to manufacture a pass rush somehow.  Sheard is a prospect who will give them a chance to do that.
  31. Pittsburgh Steelers – Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple.  Wilkerson can play DE in the Steelers 3-4 defense and gives them great depth at the position.  Excellent value selection as two-gap DTs always fall in the draft.
  32. Green Bay Packers – Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State.  The Packers have had terrible luck selecting two-gap defensive linemen before hitting a home run with B.J. Raji.  Heyward will be able to keep the Packers’ excellent LB corps clean.
  33.  New England Patriots – Jake Locker, QB, Washington.  The likelihood that New England exercises this pick is extremely low.  Teams will have some 16 hours to make inquiries about the availability of this selection.  Whoever ends up at this spot will take Locker.
  34. 34.   Buffalo Bills – Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor.  After addressing the pass rush at the top of Round 1, Buffalo comes back and addresses the run defense at the top of Round 2.  Taylor will eat space in the middle of the line and become a poor man’s John Henderson.
  35. Cincinnati Bengals – Mikel LeShoure, RB, Illiniois.  Cedric Benson was showing some wear on his tires last season.  LeShoure will help continue the remaking of the Bengals’ offense.
  36. Denver Broncos – Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame.  Rudolph is a risk/reward pick here, but both Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow are used to operating with playmaking tight ends..
  37. Cleveland Browns – Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland.  There’s a lot of pent-up demand for wideouts at this point in the draft.  Smith will provide depth to a relatively talentless WR corps.
  38. Arizona Cardinals - Brooks Reed, DE/OLB, Arizona.  The Cards lose out when there’s a string of pass rushers taken toward the end of the first round, but Reed is a passionate player who will do whatever is asked of him.
69 – Kendrick Ellis, DT, Hampton. The Cards go to another small school in the third round.  Ignorant fans will project Ellis as a backup NT, but he should be successful as a two-gap DE in wave packages for Darnell Dockett or Calais Campbell.
103 – Austin Pettis, WR, Boise State.  Excellent value with this pick.  The Cards get s better version of Steve Breaston here, and will give Stephen Williams some competition.
136 – Alex Green, RB, Hawaii.  Green knows how to pass protect, run routes, and catch the ball from his experience in the spread offense at Hawaii. 
171 – Nick Bellore, LB, Central Michigan.  Should develop into the SILB that the Cards need to pair with Daryl Washington.
184 – Anthony Gray, NT, Southern Mississippi.  5’11”, 330 lbs.  He’s the definition of the kind of fire hydrant nose tackle that is needed for the 3-4 defense. 
249 – Jarriel King, OL, South Carolina.  The kind of developmental OT prospect with massive size that the Cards like to develop.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On the Mystery of the Female Orgasm

I finished reading D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover...

She clung to him unconscious in passion, and he never quite slipped from her, and she felt the soft bud of him within her stirring, and strange rhythms flushing up into her with a strange rhythmic growing motion, swelling and swelling and swelling till it filled all her cleaving consciousness, and then began again the unspeakable motion that was not really motion, but pure deepening whirlpools of sensation swirling deeper and deeper through all her tissue and consciousness, till she was one perfect concentric fluid of feeling, and she lay there crying in unconscious inarticulate cries.  The voice out of the uttermost night, the life! 

Am I right, ladies?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Review: A Few Seconds of Panic, by Stephan Fatsis

Since we have a little time before football starts (indeed, before the NFL Draft guides come out), I thought I'd recommend some light reading for those who might be interested. In the past couple weeks, I finished reading Stefan Fatsis's A Few Seconds of Panic: A 5-foot-8, 170-pound, 43-year-old Sportswriter Plays in the NFL. It's worth a read, even for a Cardinals fan.

The Premise: 50 years after George Plimpton's Paper Lion, Fatsis gets permission from ownership and Mike Shanahan to attend Denver's 2006 training camp as a non-roster invitee kicker. Fatsis is a rec soccer player, but gets himself into shape as an NFL-kicker.

The Style: Fatsis is a newspaper reporter (for the Wall Street Journal) and works for NPR, so he has some illusions of grandeur, but his style is friendly and readable. He thinks he's funnier than he is at times, but it was worth spending time with him.

Cardinal Connections: 2006 was the year that the Broncos drafted Jay Cutler in the 1st round, and Jake Plummer's last year with Denver. Plummer gives a lot of access to Fatsis. Also, Fatsis befriends former Cardinals' #3 QB Preston Parsons. Finally, in 2006 current Cardinal long snapper Mike Leach is the long-snapper for Denver, and he works with Fatsis for most of the book.

What's interesting: If John Feinstein's Next Man Up is a look at the NFL from the coaches' and front office's point of view, A Few Seconds of Panic looks at the game from the players' side. Fatsis spends some time with Denver's stars, but most of the book is spent talking to the fringe players in the NFL who will be lucky to land a job. Fatsis discusses PEDs after punter Todd Sauerbrun gets a four-game suspension for taking ephedra, as well as examines why players play week to week. As we come into a period of labor unrest in the NFL, it may be useful to understand what training camp means to the average NFL player, or the guys on the roster from 50-85 who are trying to catch on to one. It's interesting to see the conflicted way that a lot of players view the game. Fatsis doesn't get into the nitty gritty of training camp drills and schemes, but his comments on the struggles of a Preston Parsons or Bradlee Van Pelt are worth the time.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

On Million Dollar Money Drop and Game Show Culture

A few weeks ago, How I Met Your Mother did an amazing send-up of the "new" game shows in a parody called Million Dollar Coin Flip, with Alex Trebek as the host.  Even thinking about it today brings a smile to my face.  Then in December FOX debuted Million Dollar Money Drop, which returned last week after a Christmas hiatus. 

The premise of Million Dollar Money Drop is interesting.  A telegenic couple is brought out--usually a married couple but frequently two friends--and introduced as "America's newest millionaires."  They're presented with $1,000,000.00 in twenty dollar bills wrapped in $20,000.00 bundles.  They give their little story and are told that the million dollars is theirs, but in order to take it home, they have to answer a series of some eight multiple choice questions.  They must place all of their money on answers, and leave at least one answer, or "drop zone" empty.

After time has expired, tension is raised until the drop zones under incorrect answers are released, and the money falls down into fifteen-foot-deep chambers.  At the last question is either "A" or "B", and the contestants must risk all their money.

I love game shows.  I've been watching Jeopardy my entire life, and I religiously follow shows like Top Chef and So You Think You Can Dance.  Even shows like Cash Cab have their appeal.  But there's a difference between Million Dollar Money Drop and these other programs: contestants cannot win money, they can only lose it. 

It's an important distinction.  On a traditional game show, the viewer audience is always on the side of the contestant, or a contestant.  We are cheering for them to win the game.  At our worst moments, we may be cheering for an opponent to lose, but the viewer always has a champion.  What Million Dollar Money Drop has occasioned is the game show that's entirely voyeuristic.  The home viewer may have the answer to the question (or believe they do), but after the minute or 75 seconds for answering the question has elapsed, the audience is treated to an interminable amount of time watching the contestants squirm over their lack of knowledge on some general question.  America's newest millionaires never occupy that rarefied air for long.

Last night presented a common example: a young married couple, the husband a Marine who met his bride at a "Welcome Back from Iraq" party, were faced with the question of who appears on the U.S. dime: John F. Kennedy, Thomas Jefferson, Frankin Roosevelt, or Benjamin Franklin.  They decided to put all their money on Thomas Jefferson.  In the 60 seconds provided, the audience is treated to the frequently aimless ramblings of the contestants while they pile money on this or that drop zone.  This young couple (two kids at home who "miss their daddy very much when he's away on deployment") put all their money on Thomas Jefferson. 

Anyone who has a dime in their pocket already knows the answer.  But the producers throw the program to commercial while we consider their sealed fate.  The program's host then keeps the couple in suspense for two minutes or more after the return.  When their answer is revealed to be false, their new fortune--all of it--falls away from sight in the blink of an eye.  What the viewer is left with is the embrace of a couple who watched literally years of income disappear.

FOX has a reputation of course for game shows that push the edges of decency.  Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire was the beginning, but more insidious and loathsome was Moment of Truth, where a contestant was forced to answer uncomfortable questions about their past live in front of family, friends, and co-workers.  But this is different.

In a show like Deal or No Deal, there is always the opportunity for the contestant to win more than is available to her.  The offer from the "Banker" is always less than what's still available to them on the board.  Only in Million Dollar Money Drop can the contestants only lose

It's good that Million Dollar Money Drop isn't a hit, and likely to disappear from our television sets and consciousnesses as soon as the regular FOX schedule returns after the Super Bowl.  But it may present a threshold that Americans have crossed.  In this weak economy we are happy to watch others lose even more than we have in the blink of an eye.  That's entertainment

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

NFL 2010 Draft First-round Projection and Arizona Cardinals Mock Draft

The 2010 NFL Draft is just around the corner, so I thought I'd waste some time by firing up the ol' blog again and putting together a first-round projection.

For the Cardinals, I'm assuming that they sign Porter, Foote, and then don't have anything beyond one or two more depth signings. Now that Ware's back in the fold, it's difficult to imagine the Cards losing a need free agent.

1 St. Louis Rams - Gerald McCoy, DT, Okalahoma. Sam Bradford is not a franchise quarterback. But the Rams know that in their HC's one-gap penetrating defense, McCoy can be a huge playmaker and make everyone on the defense seem better.
2 Detroit Lions - Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska. The best player in the draft falls right in Detroit's lap. Jim Schwartz will know just what to do with him after coaching Albert Haynesworth for years.
3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Derrick Morgan, DE, Georgia Tech. The Bucs desperately want to trade out of this position after the Rams don't take their quarterback, but no one wants to spend the money. Tampa's search to replace Simeon Rice continues.
4 Washington Redskins - Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State. The Redskins get exactly who they're targeting here. Okung answered all questions at the Combine, and will be an anchor for years in Washington.
5 Kansas City Chiefs - Eric Berry, FS, Tennessee. The Chiefs were hoping that Okung would fall to them, but instead they look to the defensive side of the ball. Todd Haley knows how exceptional DB play can affect a defense, and Jon McGraw is not the answer for Kansas City.
6 Seattle Seahawks - Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma. Excellent fit all around. Hasselbeck can groom the kid for a year. Seattle corrects the mistake it made last year in passing on Mark Sanchez.
7 Cleveland Browns - Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State. Jerome Harrison may be the answer at running back for the Browns, but there's little on the outside for whomever is taking snaps from center. Bryant gives them an outside option.
8 Oakland Raiders - Bruce Campbell, OT, Maryland. What can you say about Al Davis? If he's going to stick with his OL coach/Head Coach for another year, he's going to give him something to work with in this physical specimen. Could immediately start at RT in place or Cornell Green.
9 Buffalo Bills - Bryan Bulaga, OT, Iowa. The Bills' line is in a shambles after releasing seemingly everyone last year. Bulaga may end up as a pro guard, but they'll try him on the edge first.
10 Jacksonville Jaguars - Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, South Florida. Jacksonville wants to trade out of this spot when it finds no need positions when they come on the clock. If a team wants Clausen, they can get him here. Forced to pick, the Jags realize that you can never have too many pass rushers.
11 Denver Broncos (From Bears) - Mike Iupati, OL, Idaho. The Broncos may also be interested in trading out of this spot, but the OL is in transition from the zone-blocking scheme, and Iupati will provide a physical inside presence for Josh McDaniels's offense. McDaniels has faith in Kyle Orton.
12 Miami Dolphins - Taylor Mays, S, Southern Cal. Bill Parcells loves size/speed players like Karlos Dansby. Mays will be a high-profile player in Miami and plays in a division with only one good passer in Tom Brady.
13 San Francisco 49ers - Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma. San Francisco knows that they're going to have to protect whomever they have taking snaps, and Williams begins that project.
14 Seattle Seahawks (From Broncos) - C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson. Finally an RB comes off the board. Pete Carroll sees a little Reggie Bush in Spiller.
15 New York Giants - Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama. McClain could play any of the three LB positions in the Giants' 4-3 defense, but he'll start, and excel, in the middle.
16 Tennessee Titans - Joe Haden, CB, Florida. One injury at DB crippled the Titans for half the season. They won't let that happen again.
17 San Francisco 49ers (From Panthers) - Brandon Graham, DE, Michigan. Graham will play outside linebacker in the 49ers' 3-4 defense, where they have to find ways to bolster a pass rush against teams that aren't the Arizona Cardinals.
18 Pittsburgh Steelers - Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers. The Steelers must continue to build their offensive line and re-load for the future.
19 Atlanta Falcons - Earl Thomas, S, Texas. Atlanta's thrilled that Thomas falls to them. The Falcons have to get better on the defensive side of the ball if they're going to return to playoff contention.
20 Houston Texans - Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State. The Texans aren't crying that they lost Dunta Robinson at free agency, but they are thrilled to get a young playmaker in the secondary to replace him.
21 Cincinnati Bengals - Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma. Carson Palmer has never in his career played with a receiving TE. He needs more weapons on the offensive side of the ball, and Gresham should give him a quality outlet.
22 New England Patriots - Sergio Kindle, LB, Texas. Kindle will be able to play inside and outside linebacker in the Pats' 3-4 scheme, which will make him the kidn of multi-dimensional weapon that Belicheck loves.
23 Green Bay Packers - Charles Brown, OT, Southern Cal. A little bit of a reach here, but OT has long needed a youth movement in Green Bay, and they're going to have to draft a couple of 'em in 2010.
24 Philadelphia Eagles - Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Missouri. Quick: Name two of the Eagles' starting linebackers. This position has gone with stop-gaps for long enough. Weatherspoon gives Philly a multidimensional threat at the position.
25 Baltimore Ravens - Golden Tate, WR, Notre Dame. Tate will be a nice third option in the Ravens' offense behind Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason.
26 Arizona Cardinals - Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee. It's hard for teams to convince themselves to use a top pick on a DT who can't rush the passer, but the Cardinals are convinced that Dan Williams can be the player they thought they were getting in Alan Branch.
27 Dallas Cowboys - Jared Odrick, DT, Penn St. Dallas would love to trade out of this position. They take a player who can play inside or outside in their 3-4 scheme.
28 San Diego Chargers - Ryan Matthews, RB, Fresno State. There's nothing on the Chargers' roster where "starting running back" should be.
29 New York Jets - Everson Griffen, DE, Southern Cal. Trust Rex Ryan to find a way to use the effective West Coast pass rusher in his defense.
30 Minnesota Vikings - Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame. The Vikings will hope that Clausen can develop behind Brett Favre the way that Aaron Rogers did.
31 Indianapolis Colts - Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida. The Colts were hampered by their lack of depth behind Dwight Freeney. The Colts are always good at building their lines.
32 New Orleans Saints - Brian Price, DT, UCLA. Could pair with developing DT Sedrick Ellis for a fierce one-gap interior tandem.

Arizona Cardinals Draft:
1 (26) Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee
2 (58) Brandon Ghee, CB, Wake Forest - The Cards looked for an ILB here, but there was no one on the board. You can never have too many good cornerbacks, especially when you're one injury away from starting "Money" Michael Adams.
3A (88) Sean Lee, LB, Penn State - Cards are taking a huge risk on a player with first-round talent but a fifth-round body.
3B (89) Thaddeus Gibson, LB, Ohio State - Cards have to load up on a youth and talent movement if they can't get high-round talent.
4 (120) George Selvie, DE, South Florida - Will play outside linebacker for the Cards.
6 (185) Jim Dray, TE, Stanford - He blocks people, and will become a threat in the passing game over time. Possesses immense untapped potential.
7 (217) Chris Marinelli, OT, Stanford - The Cardinals look to the Cardinal back-to-back to end the draft. Marinelli was a four-year starter for Stanford, but shoulder injuries held him back as a senior.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Competitive Me

I am the eldest of five siblings. My three youngest siblings, two brothers and a sister, all competed in varsity-level high school athletics in at least two sports. I've written about my own athletic experiences before.

In the past two years, two family friends have joined the ranks of Division I NCAA athletics. At least one of my brothers could have played football at the Div. IAA level (probably). When we were visiting with one of these student-athletes, The Boss was singing the athletic praises of his progeny.

At a certain point, The Boss pointed at me and said that I was a pretty good athlete. We both knew that this wasn't the case. I was a pudgy kid growing up and didn't really come out of it until my mid-20s. Even then, in the greatest physical condition of my life, I was not a good athlete. What I was great at was a competitor. I've always been a great competitor.

It's not easy being a competitor without talent. It makes you a terrible teammate. In graduate school I left a shattered Ultimate Frisbee team in my wake. I'll never understand people who like to practice, who want to go out and kick a ball around or have a catch without preparation for anything. You have to practice if you want to be good. If you want to compete, you have to have a certain amount of skill.

But when you're a competitor, losing is not fun. Practicing twice a week in order to get thumped 21-3 isn't fun. I've never understood my teammates who liked to go out there and just run around. If you're not interesting in winning, then why are you playing? Playing a close match and then losing isn't fun, but it's rewarding in the moment. Being non-competitive isn't fun.

A couple of weeks ago, a good friend invited me to play indoor soccer with him. My wife did not think that was a good idea. When we were in college, we all played co-ed intramural soccer on another team that lacked talent and skill. In that league, I got so frustrated on game that I semi-accidentally laid out a opposing player while playing defense. This wouldn't have been such a big deal if that player hadn't have been a girl.

I'm approaching middle age, now. My competitive juices are still high, but the outlets for that competitive drive are reducing. I do not want to be that sad 35-year-old at the YMCA trying to run with guys in their early 20s in pickup basketball games. I'm sure that I'm not alone in this. The drive to compete always outpaces our ability to do so. This explains why golf is so popular with men of a certain age, the free Texas Hold'em tournaments at many bars on Monday or Tuesday nights, and the aged gentlemen who populate so many racquetball courts.

I think this also explains the sudden, runaway popularity of on-line gaming. It's not just college students who are gobbling up copies of Madden 10. A commercial in regular rotation features men in their early 30s unpacking Madden shortly after the game becomes available at midnight (and, interestingly, denying it to one another). One of the features of the last two editions of Madden has been expanded on-line game play. For a small fee, content providers will match you with players of similar skill set for a competitive game. The providers track your ranking and your record. Some services even allow you to taunt your opponent over an add-on microphone headset.

Playing Madden on-line is a fun and frustrating experience. But it doesn't replace being able to actually compete. I just don't think that I'm really ready to hang it up yet. I'll see you on the court at the Y.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Summer Movie Reviews: Bruno

It's difficult to categorize Sacha Baron Cohen. With his combination of completely developed characters and surprise arrivals in real situations, he's been compared to Andy Kaufman. His comedic roles in fictional movies such as Sweeney Todd and Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby suggests that he's a gifted comic actor as well as a gifted, fearless improvisationalist.

The lucky ones among you knew about Cohen from his three-season run on HBO's Da Ali G Show, where he portrayed a variety of clueless characters in white-boy hip-hopper Ali G, Kazakh reporter Borat, and gay Austrian fashionista Bruno. All three have transitioned into feature films, but while Ali G's feature-length 2002 outing was quickly forgotten and remains unseen by this reviewer, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan was an enormous success, making over $26 million in its opening weekend, over $128 million in American box office, and making a gigantic star out of the chameleon in the title role.

The reasons for the success of Borat is a little difficult to describe. Without question, Bruno was a hilarious character, but the most memorable moments in that film aren't the things that Bruno does, but the things that Bruno somehow convinces his victims to do. The genius of Cohen's work here is to hold up a mirror not only to the ridiculousness and close-mindedness of rural, red-state America, but also to turn the same lens on the liberal elites and their seeming willingness to smooth over awkward cultural differences. Borat came out at a perfect time. In late 2006, America had largely turned on the swaggering cowboy image of American foreign policy under the Bush Administration, and Borat seemed to satirize some of those assumptions. Bruno comes out in a very different atmosphere.

While Borat seemed backward, he was largely harmless. He comes from a foreign country that most Americans have never heard of (and possibly assume is made up), and his views seem quaint, like something a particularly senile great-uncle would express. Bruno is, instead, in his late 20s and seems largely economically empowered. He's also very, very upfront about his sexuality.

As with Borat, the plot of Bruno is largely unneccessary and uninteresting. One wonders why Cohen and his collaborators even bother putting together a narrative at all. It would seem just as useful to use the more episodic logic of the Jackass series of films. But, there is a plot, so let me summarize it: After an incident at Milan Fashion Week, Bruno is fired from his job as a gay fashion icon in his beloved Austria. As a reaction, he decides that his best option is to go to America and become a celebrity. This leads him on various adventures, from being an extra on NBC's Medium, to trying to trick former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul into making a sex tape, to brokering peace in the Middle East. Along the way, he learns an important lesson about life and love.

If you are afraid of the male organ, this is not the movie for you. The first 10 minutes of the film are some of the most provocative and offensive that I have seen in a mainstream picture. Or any picture. It's difficult to get a bead on the politics of Bruno. Bruno is a charicature of the right-wing's view of homosexuality and what gay sex is. If Bruno had been a bigger hit, this question probably would have been discussed more in the popular culture.

When I went to see this film in a local cinema, my ID was checked at the door and again when I entered the theatre. This movie is not appropriate for any children, and it's difficult to understand how this walked away with an R rating instead of an NC-17. Despite the difficulty getting in, my Friday afternoon screening was packed with people. There was laughter in the audience, but it's difficult to tell how much of it was genuine. Bruno is such an in-your-face experience that frequently the only response is laughter, but I found myself checking the reactions of members of the audience more than I have in almost any movie.

Which isn't to say that Bruno isn't a very, very funny movie. The film is at its funniest when Cohen takes aim at those who broker in celebrity or desperately seek celebrity for themselves or others. The standout moments for me were when Bruno speaks to a couple of celebrity consultants on what will be the next big issue ("George Clooney has Darfur. I'm looking for Dar-five."), and a hilarious sequence when Bruno asks parents what their children would be willing to do to get cast in a photo shoot.

My feeling is that America responded with some ambivalence to Bruno. This has something to do with the rank sexuality on display in the movie; something with which Americans continue to struggle with. While America is currently engaged in a deep debate about health care, it's certainly true that it wasn't long ago that the status of America's gays were at the forefront of the debate. Ultimately, Bruno seems much more unfocused than Borat, which seemed to have a clear thesis. Despite this lack of focus, Bruno is a successful, funny movie, that you'll never, ever, ever seen re-run on USA. What's more interesting is what Cohen will do next. His star has risen to such an extent that it's difficult to believe that he'll continue to find willing patsies for his stunts. Lets hope that he continues to find projects, because ultimately Sacha Baron Cohen is a fresh voice in American comedy.

Final Verdict: Better than Pineapple Express but not as good as Hellboy 2: The Golden Army.