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Monday, February 28, 2005

Movies: The Oscars 

Bingo on 15 of the 18 categories I actually predicted. I missed visual effects, documentary and best director.

At first it looked like The Aviator might make an LOTR-type sweep. As it turned out, though, the "style over substance" comments that marked many reviews of the film proved true. Scorsese's epic swept most of the technical awards, but only Cate Blanchett picked up one of the more prestigious statuettes.

During the short film awards presentation, when the bearded winner bloviated for what seemed like hours, my roommate commented that perhaps Scorsese should enter a short film in 2005. It has to be easier to win an Oscar in that category than it is in feature films, and even if he failed in the attempt, it wouldn't matter because hardly anyone watches that segment. She knows what she's talking about, too, based on her victory in the Alamo Drafthouse "Red Carpet Bash" prediction contest.

I hope that the Academy asks Chris Rock to host again next year. From his opening monologue until the time he closed the door on what was a well-paced broadcast, Rock was a definite hit. The other highlights? Morgan Freeman and Jamie Foxx received the biggest ovations at the Draft House. And after last night, I'm officially a Beyonce fan. The girl can flat-out sing.


Friday, February 25, 2005

Movies: My Oscar Picks (Vol. 2) 

As promised... with a little more of the "why" behind my picks.

(* denotes a film I did not see)

Performance by an actor in a leading role

The field: Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda,Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland, Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator, Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby, Jamie Foxx in “Ray” (Universal)

Will win: I think it could be any of the three between Eastwood, Foxx and Cheadle. I suspect, though, that Foxx gets it because it just seems to be "his year," whatever that means.

Should win: James Caviezel, The Passion of the Christ. I'm only half kidding. Of the nominees, I think Foxx deserves it. Cheadle and Eastwood gave powerful performances, but Foxx transformed himself into a legend and that's not easy to do.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role

The field: Alan Alda in The Aviator, Thomas Haden Church in Sideways, Jamie Foxx in Collateral, Morgan Freeman in Million Dollar Baby, Clive Owen in Closer

Will win: Another tough call. I think it comes down to Freeman or Owen, and I'm going with Freeman.

Should win: Freeman, and it isn't even close.

Performance by an actress in a leading role

The field: Annette Bening in Being Julia*, Catalina Sandino Moreno in Maria Full of Grace, Imelda Staunton in Vera Drake*, Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby, Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Will win: Granted, I haven't seen two performances, but I will be very surprised if Swank doesn't bring home her second Oscar.

Should win: Swank, and that's hard to say because I'm a big Winslet fan and I loved Eternal Sunshine.

Performance by an actress in a supporting role

The field: Cate Blanchett in The Aviator, Laura Linney in Kinsey*, Virginia Madsen in Sideways, Sophie Okonedo in Hotel Rwanda, Natalie Portman in Closer

Will win: I imagine that Blanchett will get the nod.

Should win: Okenedo. Hotel Rwanda deserves some love, and Cheadle gets lost in a crowded field of great performances. Madsen and Portman were solid, but the depth of Hotel Rwanda should speak to how well Okenedo nailed her role.

Achievement in directing

The field: The Aviator, Martin Scorsese, Million Dollar Baby, Clint Eastwood, Ray, Taylor Hackford, Sideways, Alexander Payne, Vera Drake, Mike Leigh

Will win: Scorsese. What The Aviator lacked in substance it made up for in grandeur, and Scorsese's vision accomplished that. He finally gets his reward this year.

Should win: Eastwood. He doesn't rely on grandeur; his film is subtle and gritty and dark. If there was any justice in Hollywood, they'd make up for his losing last year, but there isn't.

Best motion picture of the year

The field: The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby, Ray, Sideways

Will win: Million Dollar Baby. Last year everyone knew LOTR would sweep almost every category, so it's good that there will be actual drama in the races this year. While the Best Picture field is as strong as it's been in a long time, Million Dollar Baby stands above the rest of the nominees. Its ensemble cast was spectacular, and the running theme of redemption and the rise and fall from glory are time-tested Oscar themes.

Should win: I wouldn't complain with any of the five, save for Sideways (a good, but not great effort). I still have a soft spot for Finding Neverland, and if there's a movie that tops Million Dollar Baby, then it's the one. I just don't know if I can make myself believe that it does. It's just Million Dollar Baby's year.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Movies: My Oscar Picks (Vol. 1) 

I'm holding off on the Major six categories until I see Million Dollar Baby (probably tonight). Until then, I'll make my picks for the undercard, not including categories for short films, none of which I saw.

(* Denotes Film I have not seen)

Best animated feature film of the year

The field: The Incredibles, Shark Tale, Shrek 2

Will win: No pick. I didn't see an animated film this year.

Achievement in art direction

The field: The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events*, The Phantom of the Opera*, A Very Long Engagement*

Will win: The Aviator
Should win: The Aviator

Achievement in cinematography

The field: The Aviator, House of Flying Daggers*, The Passion of the Christ, The Phantom of the Opera*, A Very Long Engagement*

Will win: The Aviator
Should win: The Passion of the Christ

Achievement in costume design

The field: The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events*, Ray, Troy

Will win: The Aviator
Should win: Finding Neverland

Best documentary feature

The field: Born into Brothels*, The Story of the Weeping Camel*, Super Size Me, Tupac: Resurrection*, Twist of Faith*

Will win: Supersize Me
Should win: ??? I didn't see the other nominees.

Achievement in film editing

The field: The Aviator, Collateral, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby*, Ray

Will win: The Aviator
Should win: Finding Neverland

Best foreign language film of the year

The field: As It Is in Heaven, The Chorus (Les Choristes), Downfall, The Sea Inside, Yesterday

Will win: No pick. I did not see any of the nominees. I'm guessing The Sea Inside, based on its trailer.

Achievement in makeup

The field: Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Passion of the Christ, The Sea Inside*

Will win: Lemony Snicket's
Should win: The Passion of the Christ

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)

The field: Finding Neverland, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events*, The Passion of the Christ, The Village

Will win: Finding Neverland
Should win: The Passion of the Christ

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)

The field: "Accidentally In Love” from Shrek 2, “Al Otro Lado Del Río” from The Motorcycle Diaries, “Believe” from The Polar Express, “Learn To Be Lonely” from The Phantom of the Opera, “Look To Your Path (Vois Sur Ton Chemin)” from The Chorus (Les Choristes)

Will win: No pick. I did not see any of the nominees.

Achievement in sound editing

The Field: The Incredibles*, The Polar Express*, Spider-Man 2

Will win: I didn't see the first two, so I'm not sure.

Achievement in sound mixing

The field: The Aviator, The Incredibles*, The Polar Express*, Ray, Spider-Man 2

Will win: Ray
Should win: Ray

Achievement in visual effects

The field: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I, Robot*, Spider-Man 2

Will win: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Should win: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (I don't care if it's not nominated)

Adapted screenplay

The field: Before Sunset, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby*, The Motorcycle Diaries*, Sideways

Will win: Sideways
Should win: Before Sunset

Original screenplay

The field: The Aviator, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Hotel Rwanda, The Incredibles*, Vera Drake*

Will win: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Should win: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind


Cowboys: Reveling in Mediocrity 

At Valley Ranch it's out with the old, and in with the not-quite-as-old. Drew Bledsoe looks to be the new signal-caller in Dallas, signaling another year of mediocrity in Dallas.

Hey, Bledsoe is a step up from Vinny T, right? Maybe, maybe not. Matt did a comparison between each QB's 2004 season, and their numbers were startlingly similar:


256/450 56.9 comp. %
2932 yards
6.52 yards per attempt
20/16 TD/INT
76.6 QB rating


297/495 60.0 comp %
3532 yards
7.14 yards per attempt
17/20 TD/INT
76.4 QB rating
What does Dallas gain in this? They get younger at the position, but is Bledsoe the QB of the future? Nope. Does he have more upside? Not really. Other than his relationship with Bill Parcells, which Vinny T could also boast, Bledsoe doesn't bring much to the table, except for an arm with a little less mileage on it. Maybe he makes some better decisions, as well, but I didn't see enough of his play last year to know for sure.

With a considerable number of good players falling prey to the salary cap, the Cowboys will have free agent options to pursue in the coming weeks. Hopefully they can shore up their needs at CB, WR and OL before April's draft. And by "shoring up," I mean improving at the position, not making a lateral move, as with Bledsoe. Otherwise, the Cowboys are staring another losing season in the face.


Monday, February 21, 2005

Television: Austin Held Hostage (Day 24) 

My buddy Porter sent me this link, which mentions an experience with the Real World crew at the University of Texas.

The best part of the encounter was a sign with the following message:

"Come in & Go About Your Regular Business

Ignore the Cameras"
Doesn't a snooty sign telling people to ignore something only provoke more gawking? It's like in elementary school, when some poor bastard starts puking in class, and the teacher impores you all to not look, as she hurries the student to the restroom. Do you ignore it? No you giggle and make gagging sounds. Better yet, it's like when you're young and watching TV with your parents. Invariably they'll flip it to a show with some boobies, and their initial reaction is to shield your eyes, which makes you squirm to get a peek.

Anyway, the link says that the RW crew's "job" is to make a documentary about one of the bands in the upcoming SXSW music festival. That should be interesting.


Friday, February 18, 2005

Longhorns: The Coming of Spring (Vol. 3) 

One of the best rivalries in college baseball resumes this afternoon when No. 6 Stanford visits No. 4 Texas at Disch-Falk Field here in Austin. I plan to attend, even though the low-50s temperatures don't exactly feel like Spring. It's nothing a few ballpark hot dogs -- and maybe a flask? -- won't fix.

Even though they seem to take two of three from us each February, I enjoy the Stanford rivalry. Maybe it's because we beat them when it really mattered, winning back-to-back games in the 2002 College World Series, en route to the national championship. They'll counter that the Cardinal's back-to-back wins in the 2001 Palo Alto Regional kept Texas from even advancing to Omaha, but since they followed that up with a loss in the Super Regional, I don't think it counts.

If nothing else, it will be nice to sit in the stands and embrace the game. Though I love baseball in any form, a ballpark, to me, is like a temple. Attending a game, with the aroma of hot dogs and popcorn saturating the air, is an almost religious experience. From the rituals of the seventh inning stretch to the visual poetry of a 6-4-3 double play or perfectly executed sacrifice bunt to the cathartic powers of heckling an umpire, a baseball park has an aura about it.

Don't get me wrong. I love the experience, but the most important thing is for the Horns to kick some ass. It's time to show those snobby academic sissies from NoCal how we play ball in Texas. Hook'Em, baby!


Thursday, February 17, 2005

Astros: The Coming of Spring (Vol. 2) 

TD Sanchez might have dropped its opener, 10-7, on the chilly dirt of Krieg Complex, but all it takes are four words to make me forget that loss:

"Pitchers and catchers report."

For the Astros, the pitching staff looks to be the birght spot in the upcoming season. Roger Clemens is back, Andy Pettite is hopefully healthy, and Roy Oswalt is... well, Roy Oswalt.

Are there questions? Sure. Can Brandon Back show the reliability all season long that he showed last September and October? Will a fifth starter emerge in the next month? Can John Franco, Dan Wheeler and Chad Qualls hold leads long enough to let Brad Lidge turn out the lights? Will someone please take Tim Redding off of our hands?

Everyone has questions at this point, and of course Houston is no different. But how many pitching staffs have two potential Cy Young winners and an elite closer? Not many. So nevermind that the offense leans toward lackluster right now. You need a good pitching staff when that's the case and Houston's fits the bill.

Manager Phil Garner says:

"Some say we're going to score fewer runs. That won't be a problem if we give up a whole lot less runs. We might score fewer runs but score them at the right time, and be a better ballclub. You don't know."
No, you don't know. Who knew in August of last year knew that Houston would rocket past everyone (pun semi-intended) in the wild card race and fall just short of the World Series? Nobody. As pitchers and catchers report today, we don't know what's in store for the club in 2005? We do know, however, that this team has character and damn good group of arms. That's enough for now.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Sports: Congrats to the Cats! 

My Alma Mater, Temple High School, won the District 13-5A championship last night with a 103-97 win over Waco High. Temple finished the season at 28-6, and will receive a first-round bye in the Class 5A playoffs, which start next week.

Go Get'em, Cats!


Movie Review: Hotel Rwanda 

In school I remember learning about the Holocaust. It's covered in every 20th century history course, and as it's also supplemented by popular culture (films such as Schindler's List, Life is Beautiful and The Pianist, or the "Why We Fight" episode of Band of Brothers), history has burned the horrors of the Holocaust into America's collective conscience.

Perhaps that is why it takes a film such as Hotel Rwanda to open eyes about a similar genocidal episode. The civil war between the Hutus and Tutsis occured just a decade ago. I remember watching the coverage on "Channel One" while in high school, thinking how awful it must be over there. But not until I saw the true story of Paul Rusesabagina, Rwanda's own Oskar Schindler, did it register.

Don Cheadle, in his most powerful role to date, portrays Rusesabagina, a Hutu hotel manager. When Hutu militias embark on an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Tutsis, Rusesabagina ultimately saves more than 1100 Tutsi refugees, stowing them in his hotel, while bribing local military officers to assist in their protection.

Hotel Rwanda's conflict between hope and despair takes the face of Cheadle, whose character starts out with only his family in mind before risking his own live to spare his countrymen. The brutal atrocities and seemingly senseless murders will both break your heart and make you question the true nature of mankind. At the same time, however, the actions of people like Rusesabagina remind us that there is good in the world, and that means there is hope for us all.



Sports: The Coming of Spring (Vol. 1) 

Hemingway once wrote, in A Moveable Feast, "when Spring came ... there were no problems except where to be happiest."

Was ol' George a ballplayer? I believe he did have a love for the game, and if he were still around, his hard-nosed, hard-drinking demeanor would fit right in on the T. D. Sanchez roster. Maybe we could have found a spot for him manning the hot corner when we open our 2005 campaign tonight at the Krieg Complex.

As it is, we'll just have to toast Papa's spot-on assessment of the seasons, because even though the calendar says February, the blue skies and green grass signal something else. Of course my arm already feels a little sore as I think about throwing a ball for the first time since November. I'm not sure I've run since then, either. Speed has never really been my biggest asset.

Our opening opponent, the Crycho Psychos, have proven quite the nemesis for us in seasons past, to the tune of an 0-4 record against them. Something tells me, though, that 2005's going to be the "Year of the Sanchez."

Play Ball!


Monday, February 14, 2005

Sports: Bye-Bye, NHL... 

The Stanley Cup won't be going anywhere in 2005, as NHL execs will cancel the entire season within the next few days.

Having suffered through a similar situation with baseball in 1994, I feel bad for all of the NHL fans out there. But do I feel bad about the NHL's absence? Not at all. In fact, the only time I even notice the league isn't playing is when they mention it on the news.

Hockey people are making a huge mistake. They need to realize that their league is one rung up from Major League Soccer and barely among the top ten sports that people in America care about. And before we start talking about the Canadians, remember that if that country could support the NHL, then the majority of its teams wouldn't have relocated south of the Great Lakes in the past decade.

The NHL is done. It was a neat fad back in the mid-90s. The league regained major sport status with an ESPN contract, Wayne Gretzky brought the sport some exposure in SoCal and labor issues in baseball and image issues in basketball gave the NHL an opportunity to showcase its stars and teams on the big stage. The Red Wings and Avalanche fueded WWF-style in sports' best rivalry of the day, and with teams sprouting up in non-traditional areas, and an influx of fun video games, the league suddenly saw a Spice Girls-esque explosion on American pop culture.

The NHL just couldn't keep it up. They tried to capitalize on the game's popularity with over-expansion, thus diluting the product. Television ratings have plummeted to abysmal depths it seems that every team is on the verge of bankruptcy. On top of that baseball's late 90's Renaissance relegated the NHL back to second-tier status, and with more than a century of Americana behind it, the national pasttime is much too formidable for ice hockey.

The simple fact is that few people south of the Mason-Dixon line really care about the NHL anymore. Folks in the Northeast and Midwest still love the game, but the fervor in the warm-weather areas melted away, and what's left will probably be gone once the NHL finally resumes in the Fall. Without that base of support, the NHL reverts back to the regional game that it once was. That's not good for the NHL and it's not good for hockey in America. Sadly, for real fans of the game, it's the reality that the sport faces now, and it will be enhanced by not playing this season.

As for myself, the sun is out, the temperatures are rising, and one sport's death means that it's time for another's rebirth. Forget the NHL. It's time to play ball.


Thursday, February 10, 2005

Longhorns: Hail to the Chief 

The University of Texas system has formally announced its intention to pursue President George W. Bush's presidential library.

James Huffines, chairman on the system's board of regents, established a special committee to put together a proposal.

Southern Methodist University in Dallas and Baylor University in Waco already have offered to host Bush's library. UT-Austin offered two possible sites in 2001.

Huffines said it might be possible for the library to include elements at more than one campus in the UT System
How great would this be?

Of the listed suitors, UT-Austin makes a logical choice. It's the flagship of the state's university system, for one thing, and it's located in the state's capital, no more than a few blocks from where President Bush served as Governor for six years.

How could Waco or Dallas top that? Waco is an armpit that should stick to things like the Dr. Pepper museum. Dallas isn't a bad selection, but in a city that large an honor like housing a presidential library is apt to get lost in the shuffle, thus diminishing its importance.

There are other reasons as well:

- President Bush has been UT's most famous supporter in recent years. He used to work out regularly at UT facilities when he occupied the governor's mansion, and he's known to flash the "Hook'Em Horns" sign both on the campaign trail and in other public settings.

- Texas already claims the LBJ Library, and adding the Bush Library would provide a political balance. Besides, UT has a reputation as a liberal institution, which gets overhyped due to a small-but-vocal contingent of left-wing radicals on campus. The less outspoken majority of centrists and conservative deserve something like this.

- As far as I know, no school has two presidential libraries. This would serve as another notch in the belt for UT's "We're Texas" ad campaign and the general arrogance, for which the school has earned a reputation. Besides, it would fit in well with all of the other research facilities and museums that the school currently boasts.

- Come on... Baylor? Name one reason that school deserves a presidential library? Here's who goes to Baylor: hardcore Southern Baptists, and kids who either didn't have the grades to get into Rice, or kids who didn't have the money to get into SMU.

- Chief in-state rival Texas A&M is home to President George H.W. Bush's library. Getting his son's library would provide another of example of UT sticking it to the Aggies. And because Texas is such a red state, it would be worth any hair-brained subsequent Aggie boycotts of GOP politics.

SMU will provide a formidable challenger for this honor, and if they get it I wouldn't be too upset. After all, I think First Lady Laura Bush attended SMU. Still, the best choice is, and always will be, the Univeristy of Texas at Austin. The UT System needs to make this happen, and in the process, give a big "F You" to liberals and Aggies alike.

Hook'Em W!


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Sports: The Evil Empire(s) 

Sign #2341 that baseball is right around the corner: Yankees and Red Sox fans already sniping at each other (check the comments for more).

A year ago the Red Sox were the darlings of major league baseball (co-darlings with Those Bastards from Chi-town, for everyone outside of Houston or St. Louis), but forget all of that now. The curse has lifted, the drought has ended, and Beantown has become an Imperial Star Destroyer to George Steinbrenner's Death Star. In short, the Red Sox now represent the other Evil Empire in the baseball universe.

Since winning the World Series the Sawx plucked Edgar Renteria away from St. Louis (adding insult to injury for all of those Redbird fans) and re-signed sparkplug fan favorite Jason Varitek, on top of overhauling the rotation by signing San Diego's David Wells, Houston's Wade Miller, and the Cubs' Matt Clement. The moves might not compare to King George's trade for Randy Johnson, but in a relatively weak free agent market, Boston's boy genius G.M. Theo Epstein did the best he could to keep up.

It's not just the payroll, though, that has started Boston's ascension toward the ranks of baseball's most hated. Now they wear the target that only comes with a championship. Before they were the AL's loveable losers; now they're Public Enemy No. 2 (I won't hyperbolically suggest that one ring catches them up with the Yankees). And it's not just the title. Rather, it's the same inferiority complex as before, which because of the title, now gets magnified.

Red Sox fans have a memory that fans in Houston and Chicago and Cleveland and a dozen other cities still only dream of having. Yet they continue to blather on with their "Evil Empire" shtick, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they play the same game as New York, even if on a marginally smaller scale. It's a slap in the face to the fans of true mid-market franchises.

Plus, starting in just a few weeks, baseball fans from all walks of American life will have another year of Red Sox-Yankees feuding stuffed down their collective throats, as if it's the only game that matters. We all get to suffer from this regional rivalry's overexposure, while Boston continues their underdog charade.

We get it, Sox fans. You hate the Yankees. Now move on, because it's tired and the rest of us don't want to hear about it anymore. You're the Yankees Lite -- deal with it.


Monday, February 07, 2005

Movies: Super Bowl Spots 

In the past the Super Bowl has provided an avenue for film companies to launch television barrages for upcoming blockbusters. Last night, however, the only spot I recall seeing was for Batman Begins.

I want to see the new Batman movie as much as the next guy, as I've always been a fan of the caped crusader. But no matter how cool it looks, and how much of a relief it will be to see a dark version of the superhero wipe away Joel Schumacher's neon Gotham, there is one movie event this Summer that stands out above everything else: Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith.

Did Lucas run Super Bowl spots for the last two prequels? I really don't remember. Even if he didn't (and I want to say that he did), it seems like there was more hype by now headed into Episodes I and II. Either Lucas thinks this one won't need the hype, or else he's afraid of pimping it too much, in case it turns out to be a disaster. Lucas doesn't seem like he'd let his ego stop him from over-doing the hype of his precious franchise, so I doubt that fear of failure would explain why Episode III lunchboxes aren't already filling the shelves at Wal-Mart.

There must be a reason, though, right? We're inside of 100 days til the epic saga's conclusion, and even the Force.Net is fairly quiet. What gives, George? I sat through four hours of football between teams I didn't like, hoping that you'd tease me with a Star Wars spot. Seriously, you've managed to bilk me and every other Gen-X Star Wars junkie out of hundreds of millions of dollars, as we've lined up to buy your movies and re-releases and special releases and games and toys and everything else you've put out the past three decades. Was a 30-second commercial too much to ask?

I suppose it was. Thanks for nothing, George. Now I kind of hope the Batman Begins kicks your ass this Summer.


Sports: NFL Wrap-Up 

So the New England Patriots are the champs again, and now they've established an almost-Dallas dynasty. Good for them.

I'd give my thoughts on the Super Bowl, but I don't have any. It was an okay game,, though not nearly as exciting as a 24-21 score might indicate. The commercials were atrocious and the halftime show was as blah as they come.

I almost won two squares, but the Patriots couldn't manage to squeeze that last TD in before the end of the third quarter. Then they abandoned the pass rus in the last minute, when a safety would have given me the fourth quarter.

Looking back at my preseason predictions, I hope no one laid any bets based on my foresight (or lack thereof). I only called seven of the twelve playoff particpants correctly, and I missed both Super Bowl teams. I even had the two eventual conference runners-up finishing below .500. In my defense, Indy-Minnesota would have been a hell of a lot better of a game.

"Don't quit your day job," you say? Don't worry, I won't; not until I visit CareerBuilder.com, anyway. They stole the show in the Super Bowl's watered down field of commercial competitors, I thought. I just hope that my employer received royalties for CareerBuilder's ads, as the "chimpanzees run amok" theme looked an awful lot like the norm around here.


Friday, February 04, 2005

INsite: The Pregame Tailgate (February 2005) 

The Pregame Tailgate
By Andrew Fox

After much thought I’ve come to the conclusion that February flat-out sucks. It has to be the worst month on the calendar. Every other month serves some sort of purpose, except for February. It has no get-off-of-work-worthy holiday, and February’s sports outlook, like the weather, is best described in a word: bleak.

For starters, the Super Bowl signals an end to real football, which means we won’t see another meaningful game for nine more months. Sure Austin has the Arena League, and UT spring football starts in less than a month, but those are fillers. It’s like you’re sitting down at the table for salad and bread, but you know that main course, a 16-ounce Porterhouse, isn’t coming out of the kitchen for a long time. It doesn’t matter how hot and buttery that bread tastes, you’re dropping $30 for the fat, juicy steak.

Pitchers and catchers report to major league camps in a few weeks, which almost means Spring. But full squads and preseason games don’t start until March bring its yearly renaissance. Longhorn baseball is underway now, and though a bright spot, it requires either braving a trip to Disch-Falk Field, where it always feels fifteen degrees colder than what the thermometer reads, or listening to Craig Way’s grating play-by-play on the radio. I’d rather take a foul ball to my skull.

Despite the hoopla of Rick Barnes’ recruiting class, Texas basketball lacks the excitement of the past few seasons. Maybe it’s PJ Tucker’s grade problems or LaMarcus Aldridge’s injury, but the Horns’ stretch run toward March Madness doesn’t really have the Forty Acres buzzing. Hopefully things could pick up come tourney time, once February’s death grip has ended. And as far as the NBA is concerned, we’ll have to wait until May before that matters.

Then there’s hockey. Without the NHL to fill the void… well, does anyone even notice? Good riddance, NHL. The only time I want to see hockey played in America is when the U.S. national team lays the wood to our neighbors from the North. Maybe we can keep the Ice Bats around, though, at least until resident goon Dallas Anderson can make his career jump to the Ultimate Fighting Championships.

So you see, there’s just not much to get excited about this month. To top it all off, Father Time (I assume he holds jurisdiction over the calendar) dictates that February present us with the most awful of pseudo-holidays: Valentine’s Day.

Do you think that Saint Valentine, all those hundreds of years ago, envisioned his martyrdom to eventually result in pre-pubescent, floppy-haired kids exchanging chalky candies with goofy sayings on them, while floral companies cash in on failing relationships by gouging people on half-dead roses? Val probably wasn’t a sports fan anyway, what with such a gooey non-masculine holiday celebrated in his honor, so don’t expect any pity from Heaven this month.

Imagine, though, if Cupid could work his magic for something worthwhile? Instead of hooking up attractive girls with every guy around except me, he could have gotten off of his fat rear end and launched a few arrows toward the UT campus. Might it have made some of the Longhorns’ high-profile academic casualties fall in love with going to class? C’mon Cupid, shoot a few more in their textbooks, just for good measure.

Cupid’s cherubic intercession could have come in handy for Astros fans, too, had he been able to make Carlos Beltran truly fall in love with Houston. Unfortunately that would have required chasing all of the snakes – such as Beltran’s agent, Scott Boras – out of baseball, and that really sounds like more of a job for Saint Patrick. Yes, once again February fails us. Is it March yet? Opinions? Questions? E-mail TPT at drewfox@gmail.com


Sports: Super Bowl Primer 

With the big game now just two days away, I'm no more excited than I was on Monday, though I am semi-looking forward to my friend Paul's Super Bowl party, as he'll have a bevy of beer and chicken wings, as well as a blackjack table and an assortments of gambling pools and prop bet to satisfy my Vegas craving.

Still, it's the Super Bowl, and I have fond memories of the game. Three times I've watched my Cowboys celebrate a world championship on this weekend, and in two decades of watching there have been a number of other games that enraptured the sports fanatic inside me.

So to start out, I'll present my picks for Best Super Bowls of the last twenty years:

1. SB XXV- New York 20, Buffalo 19 If WWF announcing legend Gorilla Monsoon would have called this game, I'm sure he would have tabbed it "the irresistible force meeting the immoveable object." Buffalo's high-powered, no-huddle offense against New York's smashmouth game. It was Bill Parcells v. Marv Levy, Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas against Jeff Hostetler and Otis Anderson, and with a backdrop set against the Iraqi War, the glitz and glamour was held to a minimum. This was a football game, nothing more, and an outstanding one. In the end it came down to the most famous missed kick in Super Bowl history.

2. SB XXIII- San Francisco 20, Cincinnatti Great players make things happen, and they do it on the biggest stage. This wasn't the first championship won with Joe Montana at the helm, but without his poise and leadership, the 49ers wouldn't have a perfect record in Super Bowls. Trailing in the fourth quarter, Montana directed his team down the field and won the game with a touchdown pass that stands out as one of the most memorable ever. It wasn't Montana's first game-winning drive, but it was certainly his -- and the Super Bowl's -- biggest.

3. SB XXII- Denver 31, Green Bay 24 The brief Green Bay dynasty died a dramatic death in Super Bowl XXXII, at the hands of the most unlikely of teams. Long known as Super Bowl choke-artists, John Elway's Denver Broncos shocked the NFL with their win over the golden boy, Brett Favre. As Favre led Green Bay down the field in the waning seconds, trailing by seven, I just knew the Packers would find a way to tie the score and win in overtime. But the Denver defense held. After years of futility, Elway finally got the ring he deserved.

4. SBXXXIV- St. Louis 23, Tennessee 16 Having survived the "Music City Miracle" weeks earlier, the Titans needed one more prayer answered on the final play against St. Louis. It just didn't happen. Kevin Dyson's sprawling stretch that fell inches short of the goalline replaced Leon Lett's gaffe against Buffalo as the most memorable non-scoring play in Super Bowl history. As has been the case with many recent Super Bowls, XXXIV's exciting end overshadowed a lackluster first three quarters, in which the Rams built a 16-0 lead. By the time teams traded touchdowns and started moving the ball at will in the final minutes, though, no one really cared.

5. SB XXX- allas 27, Pittsburgh 17 Call it the closest ten-point win ever. Steelers head coach Bill Cowher showed his cajones with a surprise onside kick in the fourth quarter, setting up a touchdown that pulled his team within three points. Minutes later Pittsburgh got the ball back with great field position and four minutes on the clock. Enter Larry Brown. Brown alertly picked off an errant Neil O'Donnell pass to set up Emmitt Smith's game-clinching score and the Cowboys survived a scare to win their third title in four years.

You might ask, where are the Patriots' Super Bowl wins? They had exciting moments, I'll admit. But their win against St. Louis was the ugliest non-blowout Super Bowl I've ever seen, and they lose points for needing a comeback to beat Carolina last year. We'll call them honorable mentions.

It's unfortunate that so many Super Bowls do end up as runaways. For every Buffalo-New York, you have two San Francisco-Denvers. It's really probably not a bad thing. Blowouts are still kind of fun, especially if a team you hate is getting reamed. I'd rather see Tampa Bay lay the wood to Oakland than watch Green Bay handle New England just enough to know there's no way the Packers won't win, but without completely mauling them. The indecisive Super Bowl victory is like the unanimous decision in boxing. Sure it's a win, but you feel cheated because there's neither drama in the end nor a bloody knockout.

Naturally that leads me to my Favorite Super Bowl Blowouts:

1. SB XXVII- Dallas 52, Buffalo 17 My dad was convinced that Buffalo would win. No one really thought of Dallas as a titan that season; they were a good team that was probably a year away from greatness. Beating the Niners at Candlestick and then running all over the Bills changed people's minds.

2. SB XXVIII- Dallas 30, Buffalo 13 The week after Dallas-Buffalo I, The Sporting News predicted the two teams would square off again the next year, with a closer outcome. Technically this was more of a blah affair than a blowout, but Dallas outscored Buffalo 24-0 in the second half and the Bills never stood a chance. Plus it's my list and what I say goes.

3. SB XXIX- San Francisco 49, San Diego 26 This really isn't even the best San Fran blowout, but it just proves how much better the Cowboys and 49ers were than the rest of the league in those days. It also marked possibly the worst QB to ever play in the game -- Stan Humphries. If there were ever an easier blowout to predict, then... you know, it's no use. There was no easier blowout to predict.

4. SB XXII- Washington 42, Denver 10 When you give up five touchdowns in the second quarter and see a ten-point lead turn into a 25-point deficit, you should probably just stay in the locker room. Before Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson did what they did, Doug Williams had the honor of being the worst QB to lead his team to a Super Bowl title, but he did it in style.

5. SB XXIV- San Francisco 55, Denver 10 Poor John Elway. How he survived these blowouts and returned to win two titles is beyond me. You know when you get a new video game and you're still learning, so you scale the difficulty down to the easy levels and decide to take one of the best teams on the game and just bend them over? That's about what Montana and the Niners did.

What does this year's game hold? Besides boredom, I mean. I don't expect that it will crack the top five best games list when the time comes to make this post next year, but unfortunately, I don't think it'll crack the top five blowouts, either. It'll be like a Vladimir Klitschko fight on pay-per-view, except without the $44.95 price tag. The two teams will dance around for a while, land a few blows, tease us into thinking something great might happen, and in the end it'll go to the scorecards. No drama, no fun, no more NFL for eight months. Yee haw. Patriots 27, Eagles 16


Thursday, February 03, 2005

Politics: State of the Union (Vol. 1) 

I hope to have my full thoughts on the SotU this afternoon, after I've had a chance to read back through it at lunch.

Briefly, though, I wanted to make a few (somewhat trivial?) initial comments...

Which Repulican woman wore the hideous purple suit? They never gave a close-up, but she stood out everytime the camera panned the room. I'm pretty sure it wasn't Kay Bailey Hutchison, and I'm leaning toward Elizabeth Dole.

When the President spoke about faith-based initiatives, I had hoped for a close-up reaction from Hillary Clinton, who spoke in favor of them recently. The few times she did show up on camera she was attentive and receptive, as opposed to her open scoffs of a year ago.

Mr. President, is there any particular reason that you kissed Senator Lieberman on the walk out?

Shiela Jackson Lee, in addition to being an incompetent flame thrower, is a camera whore. I love how she blasts the President and the GOP with her mean-spirited vitriol at any given opportunity, yet rushes to the aisle to greet him as he enters the House chamber.

I forget the exact moment (damn not having a functional home computer right now), but Joe Biden showed restrained jubilation during the President's section on the Middle East. I thought he was about to pump his fist and yell "hell yeah," which surpised me in light of the critical remarks he made about Secretary Rumsfield during Condoleeza Rice's confirmation.

Sometimes I feel bad for the invited guests that get put on the spot. Marine Sgt. Byron Norwood's mother visibly shook during her ovation, and the emotion in her face was overwhelming. God bless her and her husband.


Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Football: Good-Bye to a Great One 

Will Emmitt Smith retire tomorrow? Various reports say yes, though Smith has denied the rumors.

Barring the unexpected, it appears as though one of the NFL's greatest careers has come to an end. I would side with many fans, who think Smith should hung up his cleats two years ago, but at the same time it's hard to fault a competitor for wanting to grind ahead.

That was the hallmark of Emmitt Smith's career -- grinding out yards. He didn't have the moves or speed of a Barry Sanders, but he also had qualities that superceded those of his contemporaries: vision, determination and toughness. Everyone remembers the final week of the 1993 season, when Smith put the Cowboys' postseason fate on his shoulder, literally, en route to a 16-13 win against New York. Weeks later Smith won the Super Bowl MVP in Dallas' back-to-back championship victory.

It's three other moments stand out to me in his storied career. The first came on his first carry of the 1995 season. Emmitt took a handoff and blew through the line into the open field. By the time he reached the endzone at Giants Stadium, there wasn't a New York defender even close. So much for the knock on his speed.

Later that season the Cowboys traveled to Atlanta to play the Falcons. On one run it appeared that the Falcons defense had Emmitt stopped for a big loss. Then Smith reversed field and ran into another wall of Falcons. By the time he reversed again he managed to hit the corner, bowl past a defender, and sprint the remaining 30 or 40 yards for the touchdown. So much for the knock on his moves.

The final play that sticks out to me didn't end up in the endzone. Well, Emmitt did, but he didn't score. In the waning moments of 1996's season-opening loss to Chicago, Dallas faked a handoff to Emmitt. Now a veteran on the downside of his prime, he ignored the futility of the 22-6 deficit and leaped over the goalline pile, landing on his neck. What looked like a serious injury, though, kept him out of action for just a week. That was typical Emmitt Smith determination.

Critics will contend that Emmitt, despite his all-time rushing record, wasn't as good as Barry Sanders or Walter Payton or Jim Brown. Maybe that's true. What's also true is that Emmitt has three championship rings and the aforementioned trio of talent combined for just two. Sure Emmitt had a great supporting cast, but in 1993, during a contract dispute, the Boys started 0-2 without Emmitt in the lineup. They lost just twice after he returned, and ultimately won the Super Bowl.

With the game on the line, there's no one I would have rather seen in the backfield than Emmitt Smith. He played football the way it should be played. He gave a maximum effort and came through when his team needed him. He personified the greatness of the Dallas Cowboys as much as any other player in franchise history. And yes, he will be missed.


Random: Yessssssssss 

Annoy your co-workers with the Napolean Dynamite soundboards.



Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Television: Austin Held Hostage (Day Four) 

This firsthand report (from Hornfans.Com) of "The Real World: Austin" didn't take long.

I was out downtown last night getting primed up with a Long Island Ice Tea at the Library. As I am enjoying my beverage, and considering the ladies around the bar, I am blinded by some Million Candlelight Power high beam coming through the entrance. As I am cursing at the source of the light, my buddy mutters, "Great, it's the fuckin Real World." I see the camera, light guy, some troll with a ton of equipment strapped to his fatass, and three total choads. A black dude, a fooch of a brunette, and some scrawny white boy with too much gel in his hair. What annoyed me the most about these douchebags was their total disrespect for the rest of the patrons. The camera ass practicaly shoved me to get an angle on their engrossing conversation. What cracked me up though was that after the camera crew went outside to get their exiting shot the cast members were treated like lepers. The crowd must have left at least a 10 foot bubble around them, and everyone looked pissed off.
I cannot attest to the veracity of the report, but I suppose it sounds about right. Austinites don't seem hip to the show's presence here. As a quick disclaimer, though, I should add that most Austinites above the age of 22 aren't hip to The Library either. Maybe this experience was warranted.

I ended up downtown on both Friday and Saturday night, but the closest my going-out exploits took me to the RW house location was Logan's, which resides on the far east stretch of Sixth Street's main bar district. I saw no traces of camera crews or people looking for camera crews. In fact, downtown was pretty dead as late as 10:30 or 11:00. Bar owners might not see that spike in revenue after all.


Music: A Cruiserweight Facelift  

My friends Cruiserweight, the popular Austin foursome, have a new website design, as well as a new CD coming out on Feb. 15.

If you enjoy any flavor of pop, punk or rock, then I would definitely recommend giving them a listen. Better yet, go check'em out on their upcoming tour. If you go, demand to hear "Dearest Drew." It's by far their finest work.


Longhorns: A Memo to Ryan Perrilloux 

For those that don't follow college football recruiting, the name Ryan Perrilloux probably means nothing. To those that do, the name either means a jewel (if not the jewel) in the 2005 recruiting class or simply a pain in the ass.

I follow it and I vote for the latter. With all of the Google hits I'm getting in regard to RP, it's time to finally address this prima donna and the hype that surrounds him. Bluntly put, he isn't worth it.

Since committing to Texas in the Fall, Perrilloux has taken subsequent official visits to other schools, and acted like anything but a solid commitment. Recent rumors have him sending a text message -- "LSU, holla" -- to a fellow recruit, as well as declaring that he'll shock the world tomorrow when he goes to sign his national letter of intent.

For the love of God, RP, sign with LSU. It won't really shock anyone, but you're the last thing that the University of Texas needs in 2005. The Horns return an almost-full cupboard of talent next season, with a legitimate chance to return to the Rose Bowl for the BSC Championship game. Distractions from arrogant freshman won't serve a useful purpose in that quest.

We have a QB for next year, and his name is Vince Young. A month ago today Young walked what Perrilloux can only talk at this point, and the entrenched signal caller still has two years of eligibility. Even if Perrilloux does somehow end up at UT, he will watch from the sidelines, coming no closer to supplanting Young than any of the 80,000+ fans that will fill Royal-Memorial Stadium this Fall.

No one player is bigger than the game, though Ryan Perrilloux obviously thinks that he is. LSU fans can have him. We'll get Vince Young's successor next year.


Sports: Super zzzzzzz Bowl zzzzzzz zzzzzzzz... 

Holy crap, I just remembered that we're five days from the Super Bowl.


Headed into Championship Weekend, I was hoping that the lowly Atlanta Falcons would claw their way to the Lombardi Trophy. They were the only team of the four participants that wouldn't make my Cowboys look bad by winning the Super Bowl.

Think about it: a Pittsburgh championship meant that the Steelers would have tied Dallas and San Francisco as the only teams with five world titles. Now Dallas is light years ahead of the Niners in terms of trying to start a second hand's worth of rings, but they would still trail Pittsburgh in their proximity to number six, and by a lot. Thankfully the Steelers proved to be the fluff daddies I thought they were.

But that still leaves Philly and New England. The Eagles have never won a Super Bowl, though they've worked Dallas like no other team has during the past few seasons. Watching those bastards celebrate a world title would make my blood boil. Likewise, a Pats victory means that Dallas' feat of three Super Bowls in four years would now have an equal, and what Cowboys fan wants that?

Quick aside: I hear rumblings from Cowboy-haters that New England's run has been more impressive that Dallas', because it came during the Salary Cap era. That's asinine. The 'Boys won Super Bowls despite a steady stream of attrition from 92-95. They just managed to keep reloading. Also remember that Dallas came within a game of making that streak four in a row. New England, on the other hand, missed the playoffs entirely a year after claiming their first Super Bowl. Oh yeah, and the Pats haven't won anything yet this season, so all talk of this New England "dynasty" should be tabled for at least a few days.

Anyway, silver star envy aside, this Super Bowl just doesn't get the juices flowing. I'm a firm believer that for a championship game to register historically, it needs one of the following teams to participate: Dallas, San Francisco, Green Bay, Washington, New York Giants, Denver, Pittsburgh, Oakland, Buffalo or Miami. These teams have all attained Super Bowl glory in multiple eras, dominated specific eras or at least managed to contend for so long that it seems like they did the latter two. These are the teams you think of when you're watching NFL Films productions at 2 a.m. I hear that classic DUM DA-DA DUM DA-DA DUM DA-DA DUM DUM theme music and I immediately envision Marcus Allen sprinting in slo-mo past the Redskins' defenders, or Montana hitting Rice in the back of the endzone against the Bengals. This year's lightweight participants aren't even in the same mold as the giants of yesteryear.

New England? They were an NFL laughingstock until a few years back, and stop with the "this is their fifth Super Bowl trip and they're 14-2" because unless you eat chowdah by Bay in Beantown, you probably don't even realize that. The Patsies' first two appearances were forgettable flukes that saw them get stomped. No one even gave them a chance to win the game until their fourth try last year. That's not a dynasty; it's lightning in a very big bottle.

Philly? Their one shining moment in the early 80's preceded almost two decades of silence. Just getting to the Bowl this year seems like an accomplishment because they've been the poster boys for the Heimlich Maneuver for the past three years. Sure it's a far cry from the Rich Kotite days, but does anyone look at this team and see them in the same light as a Dallas or San Fran?

Now sometimes teams do come along (the 99 Rams and 86 Bears are classic examples) that are so intriguing, by virtue of a prolific offense or exciting players, that history takes a backseat to the here and now. But who cares about these squads? Except for pretty boy Tom Brady and Donovan McNabb, there are no marquee names in this game. The most colorful guy (Terrell Owens) probably won't even play.

Simply put, this year's game features two boring teams in an even more boring city. Ho Hum. Forget the beer, chips and dip -- pass the No-Doze.


Television: Random Thought While Watching '24' 

Enjoying television requires viewers to suspend disbelief in many instances. That's certainly the case with "24," the popular fourth-season FOX drama to which my roommate recently got me hooked.

Contrived drama or not, though, I hope that our nation's actual counter-terrorism headquarters wields considerably better control on its security than "24's" CTU does. You've got rogue agents, infiltrators compromising missions, and civilians meandering without any supervision at all. Hell, I remember getting dirty looks in high school for not having a visible hall pass, and our "security force" consisted of a redneck rent-a-cop nicknamed "Elvis" and a half-blind parking lot attendant known as "Mr. Stop."

I do give the show credit for having actual Islamafascists conducting the terrorism. It would be hard to watch a bunch of Canadians, for instance, try to cause a nuclear holocaust in the U.S. when they can't even beat us in hockey half the time.


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