Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Niner Non-Preview

In their NFL season preview, the Deadspin guys let editor Rick Chandler write a "preview" that's more of a requiem for the Niners who won't be playing this year:

You see, the 49ers have won five Super Bowls -- all during my prime football-watching years -- and I'm not greedy. When Steve Young retired after the 1999 season, so did I. Not that Young was the be-all and end-all of 49ers players (although he was my favorite quarterback, ever. Sorry, Joe). It's just that his passing marked the end of an era, and I knew that it was also time for me to go. The writing was on the wall. No longer would my imagination run wild with this team, like one of Young's frenetic, helmetless broken-field scrambles. From now on, I would admire the Niners only from afar. And the only reason I can afford to do this is because of Montana and Rice and Lott, et al.

This pretty much matches my experience exactly, although I stayed around a bit after Young had to retire. For years, I used to know all the team stats and almost every guy on the roster. Before stats were posted online within hours of the games, I used to scour the team stats printed weekly in the newspaper. I listened to the streaming audio of KGO every Sunday through college. I like Mike Nolan and hope he can start the team back on the right path, but right now it's not even a scrappy-but-likeable bunch of players, it just a bunch of poor, undistinguished players. I still watch out of habit, and can't stop myself from continuing to care what happens (I'm optimistic about Vernon Davis, haven't given up on Alex Smith, still admire BY, and of course always root for my ND guys like Arnaz Battle) . . . but all in all, the best era of the Niners, in more ways than one, is far behind us. Now, I just sit back and take my satisfactions from other places around the league, like the total collapse of Brett Favre and the Packers. Did anyone catch that preseason drubbing by the Bengals last night? That looked pretty. Keep on turning the ball over, Brett, and we'll have a nice season.

Morton

I wanted to link to this press conference video from last week of senior lineman Bob Morton, whose father died of stomach cancer last week after a brief battle. The young man speaks with a truly astonishing composure and strength during what can only be a terribly difficult time for his family. I don't know how he can even concentrate on football right now, but it sounds like Charlie Weis has been very flexible in allowing Morton to spend time with his family, and Morton says he is just comforted to believe that his father will still be here this year in spirit. God bless.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Preseason breakdowns

For those looking for a bit more in-depth analysis of this year's Irish team than the major preseason magazines can offer, I wanted to recommend this new publication from a dedicated group of Irish fans and observers, including some of the talented guys at BGS. The article I'm particularly looking forward to checking out is an explanation of why Domer optimism following Weis's first season really is different and more well-founded than that found after Willingham's first season or Davie's couple of good ones (you know, if fifty-place jumpings in offensive ranking don't suffice in themselves). The profile of Charlie is particularly good -- particularly the characterization of confidence (all right, sometimes arrogance) that he exudes himself and has also imparted to the players -- along with the knowledge and skills to back it up.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Mythbusters

Nice column from Stewart Mandel debunking four myths that the Notre Dame haters have been insisting on since Charlie Weis arrived. In addressing No. 4, that "Notre Dame's coach isn't the genius he's cracked up to be," Mandel acknowledges that of course Weis gets more attention just because of the program he came from and the program he came to, but he also highlights one of the most impressive accomplishments we all noticed last year:

[Y]ou've got to be either blind or stubborn if you can't see the dramatic effect Weis has had on the ND program in just one season.

Last year's Irish offense ranked 10th in the country, producing 477.3 yards per game. A year earlier, with practically the same group of players, ND had finished 81st (345.5). Quinn, a 50.8 percent passer his first two seasons with 26 TD passes and 25 interceptions, jumped to 64.9 percent and threw for 32 TDs and just seven picks in '05. Samardzija, after barely getting on the field his first two seasons, morphed into an imposing deep threat who finished third in the country with 1,249 receiving yards. "They're much different," said Purdue's Spack, whose team beat the Irish 41-16 in '04 and got drilled 49-28 a year later. "[Weis] knows how to attack your weakness, and he'll keep going there until you prove you can stop it."

Business professional

An article and a blog post that struck me as related today were: this, from the Post, about how office workers can't really tell if it's hot or cold in the office, and this by Ann Althouse, supposing that the issue of how to dress for work in hot weather is a "nonproblem."

Actually, it is a minor problem if you're not a professor in Madison and you missed being "freed" by the Post's Robin Givhan when she tried to liberate women from nylons. Like the good Washington law firm we are, my office requires business professional attire all the time. That means suits. You can wear pants suits and get a lot of mileage by rotating shells and blouses, but women really should vary the routine at least occasionally. That means skirt suits. You can't wear formal skirt suits without hose unless you have fantastic, tanned legs (just IMO), and judging by the view on the Metro daily, most women do not have these kinds of legs. That means nylons. And the real problem with nylons and suits in general in the summer is that no matter how short a time you're outside and no matter how you try to dress lightly for the commute, you get sweaty in those blocks from the Metro to the office. That means at least 20-30 minutes at work in the morning before you can completely cool down (including the five it takes to redo hair and makeup). And after all that, once you cool off, the office keeps getting cooler.

Which brings us back to the Post, where we are informed that "psychological experiments show that people are not remotely as sensitive to the temperature as they think they are." I actually think it's probably true that a lot is psychological. But then why am I having to drink hot chocolate at my desk when it's 100 degrees outside?

All these temperature imbalances and work dress requirements are yet another reason -- as if football wasn't enough -- that fall is the best season of the year.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Eyes on the prize (or at least Georgia Tech)

Football season is almost here, and I know people who have their internal countdowns to kickoff already going (25 days, 21 hours...). I'm definitely starting to get excited, and I can't remember the last time I felt quite this way about the season. Four years of Bob Davie, followed by three post-grad years of Ty Willingham, can do deep, lasting damage to a Domer's psyche -- with anxiety, pessimism, fatalism, and despair all being common symptoms (you'd always be happy in a few given weeks, but knew it couldn't last, as it never did). One year of Charlie Weis has done wonders, though there are still occasional flashbacks. Healing comes in the little moments -- the surprise at first down plays with more creativity than your basic counterproductive run up the middle; the joy of a downfield throw caught in a spectacular grab instead of being typically out of the receiver's reach; the stunned awe at repeated 80+ yard drives instead of frequent three-and-outs; and the pride in the team's refusal to concede when down, even when down by a lot. I watched some of the highlight videos from last season the other day, and was impressed by the Michigan State one (and yes, even the USC one). Can anyone even remember the last time we had a great highlight reel in a loss? But last year's Irish merited pride in their performance even in defeats (okay, maybe not so much with OSU, but we won't talk about that one...). This year, I'm thinking I might be able to move past my post-traumatic ND football stress disorder once and for all. Are we ready for some football??

The team is back at practice, and Charlie Weis had some great comments at his opening press conference. One interesting note was the planned move of RB Travis Thomas to linebacker:

Last spring Travis and I got together and I told him I felt I was one of best 22 players on our team, and I wanted to know if he would be interested in trying to play linebacker on our team. Of course, anyone who looks at a possibility of starting when he's a backup behind Darius would love that opportunity. So last spring we started it and went through the summer, and what I'm going to do is give him an opportunity to be a starting linebacker on our team.

Now I would not let him play defense if it wasn't for the fact that I'm going to give him an opportunity to start. I told everyone we were getting more athletic on defense, he's one of the best tacklers we have on our special teams, played strong safety in high school, he's dying for an opportunity to get on the field on a full time basis and I'm going to give it to him.

Given the great depth we're developing at running back, it's good that Weis is willing to give Thomas a chance at more playing time by shifting position. Certainly it always helps to get strong tacklers on defense -- despite the return of standouts like Crum and Zbikowski, there is a bit more uncertainty here with newer guys coming in. Based on his comments, I think Charlie doesn't mind starting with less experienced players, as long as they're the best on the field -- maybe he likes being able to get them before they've been molded in other defensive styles.

Weis also mentioned that Rhema McKnight is in great shape as is Jeff Samardzija, but the freshmen should get chances to play at receiver since these are the only two set guys. I'm interested to see McKnight again, because it's honestly hard to remember how real his ability was a few years ago, so outstanding was the effort by Samardzija and Stovall last year (and so much improved the offense overall). How will he fit in? Weis gave a nice expression of confidence: "I hope they double team Jeff every day because Rhema will have a field day."

Charlie said he's had conversations with Brady Quinn about him being "the public sacrificial lamb" for the team this year, what with all the magazine covers, interviews, and over-the-top Heisman hype. I'm a little concerned about how he'll handle the pressure, only because it is so intense. Last year, at least there was Leinart, Bush, and Young to be the primary focuses of media attention, while Quinn could put up stellar numbers without attracting quite the same pressure. On the other hand, with the exception of a very few instances when he seemed rattled, he responded well under the considerable pressure that did exist last year. A few years ago when the team was down, he'd come out on the field and lead excruciating three-and-outs; last year, when the team was down, he led cool comebacks and made clutch throws. Once he makes it through the first series of the first game, he should be fine. Certainly Weis will be there to make sure his head doesn't ever get too big:

Every time that Quinn throws an incomplete pass, he already knows it's coming. You can ask him because he already knows it's coming. And I will say, "Yeah, there's my Heisman Trophy winner." Or every time Samardzija drops the ball, I'll say, "Yeah, you'd better get that fastball geared up." You just know that it's going it be a regular it is going to be a comedy act in training camp because, you know, I've been working on my lines here all summer.

Sounds about right, and Weis is keeping everyone, not just the offensive stars, as grounded as he can. You can set goals of national championships, but you have to do it one game at a time. And first up is Georgia Tech, when we'll get to see how effective it's all been. (Was that a hedge? That PTSD hasn't entirely gone away.)

25 days, 20 hours, 20 minutes ... :)

New date, same (liberal) storyline

Last December I commented on a Washington Post Magazine cover story about gay couples leaving Virginia because the state's intolerant and homophobic lawmakers "chased them across the Potomac." I promised to let you know if I ever saw a story of similar prominence and slant (namely, with minimal opposing perspectives) -- or even of lesser prominence, with balance -- run on families who might conversely be choosing to move to places like Virginia because of their stronger marriage laws. Checking in a few months on, I can now point out . . . a Metro page 1 story about gay couples leaving Virginia because of Virginia state legislators passing "hostile" legislation. The article does qualify the phrase by saying the legislation is "perceived" as hostile, not objectively is so. (Commenters on the article exercise no such restraint, calling the state hateful, backwards, Nazi-like, reminiscent of Jim Crow, etc. They also direct a lot of derision towards religion in general and Christianity in particular, though these are nowhere mentioned in the article.) Not that the article is a model of balance. It talks to four couples and cites a couple dozen who have made the move across the Potomac to more pleasant and tolerant locales -- but Virginia has grown by half a million people in the last five years, so some people must be finding Virginia an attractive place to live; what's drawing people to the state? Besides noteworthy economic growth, maybe four couples or a couple dozen out of that half-million found the presence of stronger marriage laws (and a less likely chance of court-imposed SSM) part of the draw. Some gay couples have certainly stayed in Virginia, and maybe, the article admits, some moved to the District just because "they want the excitement of city life." In other words, maybe there's no real trend here -- or if there is, certainly it's not the whole story. The Post has missed another opportunity to look critically at a story that has many more dimensions than just the liberal one that seems relatively standard at this paper.