Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Does Secretariat Translate to the Millenium Crowd?

"He's moving like a tremendous machine!" went the most famous horse call in Triple Crown history.  I was just a toddler myself when Secretariat dominated the Triple Crown season in 1973.  My memories of the Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont that year are instead from the numerous videos on YouTube.  Just Chic Anderson's calls on grainy color TV footage - that's all any of us really have now of Secretariat.  But after Secretariat - the movie - starring Diane Lane as reluctant owner, Penny Chenery, came out, I thought it would be another opportunity to force my children to enjoy some of the same pursuits that I do.  Of course, life got in the way and we had to wait a year after it came out to watch on TV, but this isn't a Michael Bay movie, HDTV is just as good as the big screen.

Many of us know the story of how Chenery, a housewife in the Midwest, took over her Father's stable in 1969 just to find a couple of decent horses and millions of dollars of debt.  As a result of a lost coin flip with one of the richest men in the country, Chenery was relegated to taking the Bold Ruler foal from the mare Somethingroyal.  It turned out to be an auspiciously failed coin flip as the foal turned in numerous victories during his two year old season and "Big Red," as he was known, ended up winning the Triple Crown, setting records that still stand in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes.  The movie, also starring John Malkovich, details not only the horse and his travel toward immortality, but also Chenery as stubborn owner who fought resistance from her family, the old boys club that was horse racing and herself and her own misgivings.

8pm.  Tonight was a combination of family members watching the movie.  It is 2 hours after all.  We started with LC, DLG and me watching with G close by playing the Wii.  Once in a while he would stick his head over making sure we were still here and taking a peek at the movie.  Questions like, "Why is the horse red" and "When will the movie be over?" crossed his lips.  I tried to ignore those questions and focused him on how cool it was to see history being made.  He's a little bit of a front runner too so I thought explaining how Secretariat dominated the other horses that year would get him excited.  Instead he just stared at me blankly thinking of the next question he would ask us.  Oh well.

In the next moment, I looked over at DLG to find her sleeping next to me on the couch.  Seriously, the one night I don't want you to go to bed and you fall asleep!  Alright, we'll try this again some other night.

9pm. Three days later.  This time DLG was in bed.  She must be having a growth spurt or something.  C and G come in at the end of the movie when Secretariat begins to win the Triple Crown races.  Then the questions start as the boys get interested in the movie.

"Why do they call him Big Red when his name is Secretariat?"  One is the jockey club name, one is his pet name.

"Is he going to win this race?" Ah, yes.

"Is Sham's owner the bad guy?"  Yes, to create tension, Sham's owner was portrayed as the bad guy.

And as the races start, we all sit on the edges of our seats as Secretariat's slow beginnings always create nervous energy everywhere, even though we know who wins.  The boys start cheering as Secretariat comes from behind to win the Derby and then the Preakness.  The boys then recognize the Belmont - one of my favorite races - as I've shown them this race before.  Yes that's right.  I've made them watch this race before on YouTube.  And just as Secretariat was disappearing from the field, the boys disappeared from the living room.  One to play basketball and one to do some Summer homework.

We're getting there.

Monday, July 25, 2011

What the End of the NFL Lockout Means - 4 Absolutes

The Lockout has ended!!  The Lockout has Ended!!  The Lockout has ended!!  The four words that have saved the rest of 2011 for many of us.  Who cares if the two sides will be fighting in a couple of years about the 18 game season and how to split the even larger pot than the $9 billion currently earned?  We have football back on Thursdays, Sundays, Mondays and the occasional Saturday this Fall.  Time to make fun of Rex Ryan again!  I'm esctatic, quite frankly.

Happy Days are here again!                 courtesy of
Football in America has become something of a seventeen week holiday for many of us.  Parents and kids alike.  And with the return of Football, there are four absolutes that will again resurface this year - just like every year before it.

Absolute #1.  The Return of our Sojourns to Foxboro.  When I saw the Patriots lose to the Jets last year in the 2010 Playoffs, I was afraid that this was going to be the last game I saw in a long, long time.  No games missed though.  Now, I am going to go to my obligatory preseason game (so I can bring the boys to a more civilized pursuit than the sloppy fetes that are regular season games) and a couple of regular season games with the "guys".  There's nothing like watching football with a little chill in the air on sunny day after eating some brats and drinking some beers with friends.  Watching the parking guys and their payola.  Let the flags fly!  I'm sure LC will be going to more games than me this year, though. But if I don't have to rake leaves, I'm good.

Absolute #2.  The Return of the Favre Hole.  I was one of the early adopters of the whole "Brett Favre is a dink" mantra all those years ago.  But he will live on in my fantasy team, or some iteration of him will, at least.  Without NFL Football and by proxy fantasy football, I was going to miss having a bunch of macho guys act like a bunch of spurned prom-date girls because I wanted to trade players now for draft picks the following year.  Again, a couple of wasted hours a week trying to decide if I should start Ahmad Bradshaw over Maurice Jones Chapin-Carpenter beats raking the leaves or mowing the lawn any day.

Absolute #3.  The Degenerate Fifty Dollar Wagers.  My friend hates it when I show up at the club on Sunday afternoons.  He knows that I'm there either to play cards or to make these foolishly small bets.  See, if you are a good gambler, you bet a ton of money on one game.  $50 wagers on four or five games is called being a degenerate gambler.  And I'm enshrined in its Hall of Fame.  No one likes to see degenerate gambling and if you add in extreme emotion on top of that small little wager.  You have the makings of an asshole (or so I'm told.)  But if I can be a part of taking the woeful Cleveland Browns to cover the regular season champions the San Diego Chargers again, and live to scream about it, even better.

Absolute #4.  Activities from which I will be spared because of Absolutes #1-3 above.  Apple picking, autumn fairs and festivals, antique shopping, Christmas caroling, Dave and Bustering, shopping of any sort, corn festivals, apple picking, lawn cutting and leaf raking.

I'm giddy sitting here writing this.  We will have an autumn after all.  Welcome back NFL! I was starting to miss you.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Tom Watson, the 2009 British Open and Hyperbole

As I watched the Open Championship yesterday and this morning, watching 61 year old Tom Watson trudge around Royal St. Georges in Sandwich, England, I couldn't help but be mesmerized.  He's 25 years older than most of the golfers on the course with him and 40 years older than the recent winner of the U.S. Open, Rory McIlroy.  Yet there he was, smiling through one of the worst weathered rounds in recent British Open history (and that's saying something).  He even punctuated this year's tournament with a hole-in-one on the short Par 3 16th hole on Friday, delighting the throngs of fans hoping for another miracle by the sea.

Ah yes, ANOTHER miracle. Remember the 2009 British Open and Tom Watson's turn at history?  Is it hyperbole to say that the 2009 British Open was one of the most important tournaments in golf history?  Forget about Nicklaus winning the 1986 Masters and Tiger Woods winning the 2008 U.S. Open on a broken leg in a playoff over Rocco Mediate.  Is it hyperbole to call Tom Watson near British Open Championship in 2009 his best effort in more than 35 years of professional golf?  In my mind the 2009 British Open was one of the best golf tournaments I've ever watched.  He was just a couple of months shy of his 60th birthday and he was making a run at a championship that kids half his age wanted to win.  Could he turn back the years and relive his best years 30 years later?  I hope so as this was something I really could use, this Summer of 2009.  This pursuit transcended sports and reached the point of pop culture phenomenon on his last day.  I get chills just thinking about it today.  Sometimes even tears well up in my eyes thinking about the possibility.

Turnberry.  Watson had qualified with other Past Open Champions like David Duval and John Daley due to his utter domination of the tournament in late 70's and early 80's - winning five times in the span of 7 years.  He hadn't really competed in a regular PGA tournament in quite a long time, not winning a tournament since the 1996 Memorial, being relegated to the Seniors division since turning 50 back in 2000.

The first day saw beautiful calm conditions, permitting low scores from Watson and other elderly players Mark O'Meara and Mark Calcavecchia (although Greg Norman, himself having competed for the Open Championship in 2008 couldn't make the cut after starting with a 77).  The second day saw Watson tied for the lead after holing long birdie putts at 16 and 18.

The beginning of the weekend saw Watson continue his good fortune (and even better golf) as he continued his lead at 4 under par.  Watson was the oldest person ever to lead a major tournament and was primed to win in what appeared to be threatening weather on the Final Sunday.

Sunday.  We, I, just need him to last out 18 holes more.  We we willing him on every hole, shifting our bodies with every putt.  He would lose a stroke and then gain it right back.  He would miss a short putt, only to make an even longer one on the next hole.  The nerve racking nature of his game was driving us all crazy.  But he held his own out there on one of the toughest layouts in golf.  Yeah, I know Stewart Cink was the "Leader in the Clubhouse," and all, but Watson kept fighting and held a one stroke lead heading into the 18th hole. 

Unfortunately, he couldn't par the last hole as he missed the green in regulation and ended up missing an 8 foot putt to win the tournament.  He knew and we knew that it was over at that moment.  He fought so hard for 18 holes, and a 59 year old couldn't handle 4 more holes and Stewart Cink ended with the Claret Jug.  Everyone would have remembered his win, but unfortunately his second place finish no one will remember.  Maybe "no one" is too strong.

But back to 2011.  2 years older and Watson is still out there missing short putts, hitting long putts and making us squirm in our seats.  It will make me sad to hear that one day one British Open will be his last.  I guess time marches on even for the best golfer ever to play. Thanks, Tom.

Friday, July 15, 2011

2011 Women's World Cup is a Tough Sell in this House

Abby Wambach and Hope Solo grew up watching these games too.  It was the Summer of 1999.  For a short period of time, the Women's World Cup was the most important sporting event in the Country.  And when Brandi Chastain scored the winning Penalty Kick in the Championship game and tore off her soccer jersey, a cultural icon was born.  Everyone was excited that the U.S won; and the stars of that team - Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Chastain all became celebrities.  They were showing up everywhere that Summer and many would say that the 1999 team did more for soccer in the United States than any Men's U.S. World Cup team ever did. 

That feeling didn't last, however.  I don't know about you, but the 2003 and 2007 versions of the Women's World Cup failed to achieve the same level of fascination that the 1999 team did.  The only thing I remember from both of those tournaments combined was that there was talk about moving the Cup from China because of SARS or Birdflu or something like that.  See, not really that memorable.  For 2011 World Cup, FIFA officials were looking to garner more interest in the States than the last two Cups did.  Results have been mixed I think.  My twitter timeline is rarely filled with the World Cup Hashtags and if you take out ESPN from the equation (they have a financial incentive to make you care about the Cup), the media has tended to shy away from the event.

This despite the United States team advancing out of their group and begin medal play against Brazil.  In one of the most exciting games in Women's World Cup History, the United States beat Brazil on penalty kicks, despite the United States being down a woman and Brazil receiving a bogus second chance penalty kick after Hope Solo was called for leaving the goal line too early.  The tying goal on a header by U.S. hero Abby Wambach - from an unbelievable pass from Megan Rapinoe - could go down as one of the most beautiful goals in World Cup history - Men or Women.

I had my five year old sit down with me to watch the next game (on tape delay - hey, I work you know) against France to see if the game could hold her interest.  DLG likes soccer.  She wants to play soccer in the Fall with her friends.  Most importantly she wants to hang out with Dad. So we sit down to watch the game.  We have the best of all worlds because we can see all of the action, but skip through halftime and the inevitable diving/flopping injuries that always seem to occur.  I have Spongebob cued up on the DVR too - just in case this doesn't go well, but to prove my point, I move the clicker away from our couch.

1pm.  Home.  About 5 minutes into the game, the restlessness begins.  Despite all of my talking up of the game and the players, DLG started to wonder around our living room, looking for something better to do.  I tried cajoling her.  I tell her how no one in the United States like the French because they are so condescending, appealing to her vindictive side.  I tried sweet talking her with a little hint of parental guilt.  And I tried being stern with her.  Finally...FINALLY....I found the solution to the problem.

I put on SpongeBob Squarepants.

So what's the problem?  Well, she is 5 years old.  I understand that watching soccer on TV might not be that exciting.  Particularly when the yellow glow of a cartoon is waiting to be watched.  But is that really the issue?  I don't think name recognition is that much of a problem, since the normal American could probably name more people on the U.S. team (Abby Wambach and Hope Solo) than in all of men's soccer combined (David Beckham).

Maybe I will look into that issue more some day.  But for now, DLG wants me to watch SpongeBob and do arts and crafts with her.  Maybe in 2015.

photo courtesy of Washington Post

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs - Mt. Sinai of Mastication

Every year since 2004, the JMR household sits down to watch one of the most disgusting competitions in sports (and yes, I consider it a sport).  The Madison Square Garden of Gurgitation, it surely is.  At the corner of Stillwell and Surf Avenues on Coney Island resides the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.  Ever since watching the qualifying round at Foxboro six weeks ago, we have especially been looking forward to the 2011 contest.  Will Joey Chestnut win again?  Will Eater X upset the favorites?  Will Takeru Kobayashi be arrested again?  Will we finally see a Reversal of Fortune?  The suspense this year is the greatest I've seen in the last 7 years.

"Who's Kobayashi?" G asks as I remark that Kobayashi is eating somewhere else in New York.  Major League Eating has banned him, and I try to avoid answering questions about why the police arrested Kobayashi last year.   

The women are first - The "lovely" Juliet Lee vs the "Black Widow" Sonya Thomas.  We watched the winning woman for 3 hot dogs in Foxboro so G is not impressed.  But when the winner won with over 40 hot dogs eaten, even G was astounded.  The pink belt winner?  Sonya Thomas.  It seems that Renee Herlocker is psyched to be the sideline reporter for this sporting event.

Now onto the men.  Everyone starts to laugh at the two hot dog guys dancing right before the men are introduced.  The giggling continues as they talk about the rapper winning the contest because he appears to weigh about 400 pounds.  The boys don't believe me when I tell them that obese people can't eat as many hot dogs because the fat around their midsections constrict the necessary expansion of their stomachs.

C asks me what they win if they win the contest.  When I answer that they win $10,000, G chimes in that they also win a trophy, remembering the big trophy that Pretty Boy Pete Davekos won in Foxboro last month. 

"Dad, Pretty Boy doesn't look like that."  Even at 7 years old, G doesn't understand irony, I guess.
After Davekos introduces eating methods, ESPN features Deep Dish Pat Bertoletti in a touching retrospective, looking to beat Joey Chestnut with his 34 world records.  But the kids are more excited by their America's Got Talent Emcee, Nick Cannon, being named the honorary grillmaster. 

Sports science for this?  Fast forward, please.  We're all grossed out by the jumping up and down and stomach capacity explanation.  This is perhaps scarring my children for life - particularly the disturbing skeletal treatments certain of the techniques are given.

Onto the introductions..."Who's that girl?" C asks about Matt "Mega Toad" Stonie.  "Yeah, he sort of looks like a girl" G explains to us.

A couple of lackluster introductions leads to our favorite eater being introduced.  He's found unconscious in Tangier with no family and no identification.  Remains a man of mystery even to himself.  EATER X!  My son asks me if he really was found unconscious in Tangier.  No, his name is Tim Janus and he lives in his Mother's basement in Des Moines.  He doesn't know the difference, I should have come up with something more exotic than that.  Eater X jaws are compared to Burrows' jaws from the Stanley Cup Final. Low blow for all the Canadian fans of competitive eating.

In an event, unfortunately, we all think that Joey Chestnut is going to win.  But can he beat his record of 68 set in 2009.

Let's go over the MLE Rules: Eat as many hot dogs you can in 10 minutes.  Dunking the buns are allowed, but for no more than 5 seconds.  Eat both the hot dog and the bun.  Reversal of Fortune leads to automatic disqualification.  Yellow card for messy eating.  As the rules are described, I feel bad for Renee - she must really be hating this assignment as she briefs us from the spray zone with her rain slicker on.

And...the most disgusting 10 minutes in sports begins!  Oh God, Bertoletti is disgusting I think to myself.  Jesus.  But he's keeping up with Chestnut at the 3 minute mark with 25 hot dogs each.  With the red Gatorade, it looks like he's eating raw meat or bleeding.  Truly vomit-inducing.

"Oh my God this is gross."  C wails after I tell him that Bertoletti's hands are red from that Gatorade.  The boys are enthralled.  I'm continue to be nauseous. The HD screen makes this really disturbing.
And at the end of 7 minutes, Chestnut is winning 48 to 43 over Bertoletti.  Our hero, Eater X, is way behind in third place.  And in the Final Minute 56-51.  Chestnut looks like he's going on to win a fifth straight title.

"Oh he just ate 62 hot dogs.  I think I'm going to throw up."  C tells us.  I'm right there with you my man.  I'm right there with you.  G jumps up on the couch he's so excited.

As the yellow belt is handed to Chestnut, we all look at each other with grim looks on our faces.  Then G pipes up.  "I want to do a hot dog eating contest!"

Time for bed, I think.