June 03, 2009

NHL Announces Rule Changes

FOR THE RECORD ... I think these could work.


NHL Tries To Woo Fans By Increasing Scoring With Bigger Nets, 3-Point Line

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May 22, 2009

Yuppie Larvae Miss White House Tour, Steelers Blamed

LEAVE IT TO a bunch of whiny suburban parents to rain on the Pittsburgh Steelers' parade.

Yesterday should have been a day to again celebrate the Super Bowl victory of the nation's greatest football franchise, and with the President, no less. Unfortunately, this great event was overshadowed, thanks to the self-absorbed antics of some witless Virginia parents.

You see, their kids' school had arranged a trip for a large group of kindergarten students to tour the White House on Thursday morning. According to the White House, their tour was supposed to begin at 9:30 a.m., and they had been given a grace period of up until 10:15 a.m. Despite this -- and "heavy traffic" was supposedly to blame -- the kids' bus did not arrive until after 10:30 a.m., and thus the mandarins in the executive mansion said the tour could not proceed. Naturally, in the eyes of the parents, the White House has become the bad guy -- as WRC-TV in Washington reports:

Parents say they tried to make it on time, but their chartered buses hit heavy traffic that slowed them down substantially. They thought they were supposed to show up by 10:15, but they say they arrived at 10:25 instead, and couldn’t get in.

"The person who headed this White House trip up came out and said, 'I’m sorry, the White House tour's off.' There were a lot of crying kids," parent Barbara Stine said.

The White House tells a slightly different story. A spokesperson said the group was actually supposed to be there at 9:30, but they held the gates for the group until 10:30, 15 minutes longer than they told the group, but when they still hadn't arrived, they had to draw the line.

Paty Stine said the White House staff should have made an exception. She feels the kindergarteners were snubbed for the Steelers.

"Here we have President Obama and his administration saying, 'Here we are for the common, middle class people,' and here he is not letting 150 5- and 6-year-olds into the White House because he’s throwing a lunch for a bunch of grown millionaires," Stine said.

Well, lady, the Pittsburgh Steelers had the good sense to show up on time.

Honestly. It's not like you can just show up at the White House any time you want. These things have to be cleared well in advance, it usually requires assistance from Capitol Hill to arrange, and there's always the chance the tours may be called off. You know, 'cause the Government may have something come up. It is a high honor and a privilege to visit the White House, and when such requests are granted, they ought be taken seriously. If that means showing up 30 minutes or an hour early, and spending the time out on Pennsylvania Avenue talking to the kids about the Old Executive Office Building, then that's what you do.

One would hope the kids would learn something from this whole debacle, but one doubts that. You see, even though the White House graciously offered to reschedule the kids' visit, the parents are naturally now in a snit, and won't likely take the rain check, WRC-TV said:

Thursday night the White House released this statement: "The President and First Lady are dedicated to opening the doors of the White House to the public, and it is unfortunate to see young people miss a tour. The visitor’s office is already working to reschedule the group."

Parents say it's probably too late. The school year ends in a few weeks and they doubt the tour can be made up in that time.

Dare I say it, but this is probably a good thing. Besides, let's face it: the parents and kids are from Stafford County, which is a bit south of Washington, D.C. As a result, the parents' animus and disgust must undoubtedly be rooted in support for the Washington Redskins. I mean, it makes sense to me -- after all, Redskins fans are generally (generally, I said) annoying, obnoxious and unpleasant. So it's understandable they would take out their frustration on the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers, who beat them soundly in Week 9 of the 2008 season.

23-6, I might add. Yeah. Go Steelers!

My suspicions about this are also raised due to WRC-TV's impolite cutline for a picture posted with the story, showing the President with a Steelers jersey at the special ceremony to honor the team. As of now, it reads: "President Obama enjoys his new Steelers jersey after making children cry."

This is not the type of comment one expects from a professional news organization, and only lends credence to the idea that Redskins fans -- deluded in their belief that the NFC East is football's toughest conference, and deluded in their belief they'll make the playoffs this year -- are behind this sinister plot to discredit the Steelers.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 16, 2009

This Year's NFL Predictions

OH, NOW THIS is fraught with peril. Although I've been known to have some success with my prognostication, I have well learned that predicting how all 32 teams in the National Football League will do in the upcoming season will ... well, difficult. Certainly my picks last year were largely off, although I did accurately predict Pittsburgh and San Diego would win their respective divisions, and my call for the Steelers to go 11-5 was one game shy of the team's actual achievement.

So I'm going to give it another try. Here's how all 32 NFL teams will do next year. You're welcome.

AFC NORTH

Pittsburgh: 13-3
Baltimore: 10-6
Cleveland: 9-7
Cincinnati: 4-12

Pittsburgh's schedule is much easier than it was last year and I can really only see three games they could conceivably lose: the first, against the Tennessee Titans; the second, against the San Diego Chargers; and third, probably one game against the Baltimore Ravens, who are evil. Baltimore surprised me last year and so I think they'll do well this time around too -- particularly if quarterback Joe Flacco improves. I'm also hoping beyond hope that lowly Cleveland will get a winning season, although they won't make it to the playoffs or beat the Steelers; and as for Cincinnati, well, God help them!

AFC SOUTH

Tennessee: 12-4
Indianapolis: 11-5
Houston: 8-8
Jacksonville: 6-10

I'm thinking Tennessee might still be pretty good. I think the Colts will be too, although I would like nothing more than for the Colts to crash and burn and go 2-14. Also, if Peyton Manning could start off the season rusty again, and then end up griping and moaning because he can't throw the ball when he gets forced out of the pocket, that would be great. Houston ... well, I feel bad for Houston, because I like them and they're in a really tough division, so what are you gonna do? As for Jacksonville -- meh. 6-10 if they're lucky.

AFC EAST:

New York: 10-6
New England: 10-6
Miami: 9-7
Buffalo: 7-9

The Jets, to my eye, have the easiest schedule this year -- so they'll probably end up winning the division. No, really. Plus, if their rookie quarterback turns out half-decent, he might be all right. New England got screwed with its schedule and I'm not impressed with the team so far, even though Brady will be Brady (if he wasn't going to be Brady, the Pats would have kept Cassel). Still, it will take time before he's the old Brady everyone hates. I mean, loves. Miami will have a tough go of it due to its schedule, and Buffalo -- good luck with that, Buffalo.

AFC WEST:

San Diego: 9-7
Kansas City: 8-8
Denver: 5-11
Oakland: 3-13

San Diego is the toughest squad in this cupcake of a division. Kansas City will be better but they have a long way to go, the Denver Broncos will be a disaster and Oakland -- well, that's what happens when your team is dysfunctional.

NFC NORTH:

Chicago: 9-7
Detroit: 8-8
Green Bay: 6-10
Minnesota: 5-11

STOP LAUGHING. Detroit is going to go 8-8 this year. You mark my words. Plus, they might even exceed that and get a wild card spot. STOP LAUGHING, I said.

He who underestimates Detroit will get a boot in his ass come game time, for Detroit still has Calvin Johnson and now has that Stafford guy and more importantly Larry Foote, formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Larry Foote is not going to take shit from anyone. Larry Foote's presence is worth at least two games in the win column. So sayeth me.

Based on how the Vikings fans react down at Billy's every season, there is no way Minnesota will ever do anything unless they get rid of the team's coach, whom they affectionately refer to as "Baldy." I have it on good authority that Baldy must go, now, or he's going to ruin the entire season. Plus, they don't have a decent quarterback.

Green Bay? Please. Team's going downhill. As for the Bears ... well, they'll probably win the division and go on to the playoffs, only to get knocked out pretty quick.

NFC SOUTH:

Atlanta: 10-6
Carolina: 9-7
New Orleans: 8-8
Tampa Bay: 4-12

I could care less about the NFC South, which only becomes important to me once every few years, or whenever it appears one of their teams could make it into the Super Bowl. Atlanta will come out on top, I think. Oh, and Tampa Bay's going to stink, 'cause they're not spending money on talent.

NFC WEST:

Arizona: 10-6
San Francisco: 7-9
St. Louis: 4-12
Seattle: 3-13

Arizona! They're like the Steelers, except they're out West, and they play in the desert. Also they're in the NFC West, which is a cupcake division and nothing like the AFC North. So they're going to win the thing. San Francisco will get better this year, but won't be spectacular; St. Louis will stink as usual and Seattle ... heh. I don't care how loud that stadium gets, they ... kinda suck.

NFC EAST:

Philadelphia: 12-4
New York: 10-6
Washington: 8-8
Dallas: 7-9

Oh, I know -- sacrilege. How dare I say America's Team will end up last in the NFC East? I don't know, maybe it's because they choke like nobody's business? And they haven't won a playoff game in 12 years? And every time the Cowboys lose an angel gets its wings? Even though they have a pretty easy schedule this year, I still say they're going to fall apart like they always do.

Washington: they'll be better, but they'll still kind of stink. New York will be pretty good. But the best squad is clearly Philadelphia, which is still going to be angry they didn't make it to the Super Bowl last year. The good news, however, is that they'll once again fail to get to the Super Bowl this year, and as a result will collapse in enmity and frustration.

So there you have it. Also, Pittsburgh wins Super Bowl XLIV over the Atlanta Falcons, 27-14.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 15, 2008

My Favorite Things

My Favorite Things
(as a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers)

(with apologies to Julie Andrews)

New England Patriots stuck with Matt Cassel
When Manning finds out protection's a hassle
An offensive line that's not on the blink
These are a few of my favorite things

Dallas infighting and Green Bay's a wreck
New York and Tampa soon flat on the deck
Star football players that aren't in the clink
These are a few of my favorite things

Halfbacks that impress on forty-yard dashes;
Tough cornerbacks that intercept passes;
Flying to Oahu just before spring
These are a few of my favorite things

When the Bears strike --
when the Colts win --
when I'm feeling sad --
I simply remember my favorite things,
and then I don't feel so bad!

Baltimore losing and Denver pathetic
Tennessee not looking all that athletic
Getting so close to six Super Bowl rings
These are a few of my favorite things

When the Bears strike --
when the Colts win --
when I'm feeling sad --
I simply remember my favorite things,
and then I don't feel so bad!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:10 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 08, 2008

The Season of Miracles

I STILL CAN'T BELIEVE IT. In the last half of the fourth quarter of their game on Sunday, the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers scored 17 unanswered points to triumph over their tough opponents -- and to make matters even better, the opponents in question were the evil Dallas Cowboys. That's like some kind of a bonus for -- well, not only Steelers fans, but pretty much everyone else in America whose general reaction to the Cowboys involves a string of obscenities.

I mean, really. How wonderful is it knowing that Pittsburgh's miracle victory not only aggravated Jerry Jones, Terrell Owens and Tony Romo, but also the entire city of Dallas and its entire metropolitan region? Well, pretty damned wonderful, if you ask me. Why, I spent much of this morning relaxing and reading the comments of dejected Dallas fans on the Web sites of that city's papers, and found it enjoyably cathartic. Their wailing and gnashing of teeth about the game's outcome, combined with pitiful outbursts about the Steelers and the supposed glory of their own squad, were amusing and all too pathetic. 'Cause let's face it -- the chances of the Cowboys going to the playoffs is rather diminished, and the chances of them actually winning a game should they make it are even more remote. Once again they have failed, and their failure is an enjoyable thing to watch.

Of course, as a Steelers fan, I have watched the team this year with two minds. Part of me thinks like this, while the other part of me thinks like this. But I definitely think this Steelers team has a chance to go all the way. The true test, though, may come next week against Baltimore -- which is super hot and playing extremely well. If we win, we capture the division and a first-round bye. If we lose ... well, we've got a tougher fight ahead.

In other news, I was impressed when Deshea Townsend flew into the end zone and knocked down the trombone player.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 07, 2008

Cleveland Stoic

Knock wood, I hope the guy doesn't fall on his face.

-- Romeo Crennel
Head Coach, Cleveland Browns
on quarterback Brady Quinn's first start

I HAVE ONLY SEEN Romeo Crennel smile once. This was when Mr Crennel was introduced as a special guest at the Cleveland Gladiators' game in June against the Dallas Desperados. The thousands of fans who had filled the Quicken Loans Arena for the arena football game cheered as their hero, who had led the Browns to a 10-6 season the prior year, smiled broadly as he was introduced.

I was so stunned at seeing Mr Crennel smile that it remains one of my most vivid memories of that game. Normally, Mr Crennel does not smile. Normally, during the NFL season, Mr Crennel stands on the sidelines at Cleveland Browns Stadium and stoically watches as the Browns somehow manage to screw things up. Braylon Edwards drops a pass? Stoic. Derek Anderson throws an interception? Stoic. The defense plays like the defense normally does? Stoic, stoic, stoic.

I daresay Mr Crennel is the most stoic coach in the league. Mike Tomlin, who coaches the Pittsburgh Steelers, is close in this regard, but with Mr Tomlin you can see flashes of anger whenever someone fails. For instance, during a game, you can see Mr Tomlin angrily demand to know just who got called for a penalty, or just who did something else stupid, and you know they're in trouble. But when the television cameras turn to Mr Crennel, there is none of that. Mr Crennel's emotions are kept tightly under wraps.

This is part of the reason why I like him so much. Also, I feel bad for the guy. It's not as if it's his fault the Browns have generally played craptacular this year.

Still, what you see on television is one thing, and reality is another. I do wonder how Mr Crennel privately reacted to the Browns' Incredible Sports Choke against the Denver Broncos. After all, the 34-30 loss is the second Major Choke in all of two weeks for the team. I also don't know, given the quote noted above, how sold he was on the idea of Mr Quinn debuting against the Denver Broncos. For Cleveland hates the Broncos -- not as much as the Steelers, but they're definitely second on the list -- and I can imagine Mr Crennel probably would have preferred Derek Anderson to start.

But I do think it would be unfair to blame this loss on the offense. True, the offense went into the game with a big advantage -- most notably, the fact they were playing Denver, which stinks. But the fact Denver stinks -- on both sides of the ball -- means the defense must bear the brunt of this loss. Consider: Cleveland gave up a 93 yard passing touchdown. Consider: Denver had no running backs in the second half. Consider: it's Denver, which on paper should not have come anywhere close to beating Cleveland at home.

In light of these things, it's worth noting Mr Crennel's statement after the game:

''A 93-yard touchdown pass should never happen, ever. Missed tackles, letting them throw balls over our head, tight ends in the middle of coverage. We didn't make any plays. It's unfortunate, it really is.''

I think one of the mistakes the team made this year was hiring from within in terms of their defensive staff. They fired their defensive coordinator after last year, and they replaced the guy through promoting from the ranks. But the subordinates clearly aren't doing the job. For that matter, the players aren't doing the job. It would probably be wise for the powers that be in Cleveland to start reminding players and coaches that there are plenty of other hungry players and coaches out there who would be glad to take their places. Perhaps they have already done so, but that didn't translate into victory tonight.

Of course, the loss leaves the Browns 3-6. Their season is very much in peril, and the fans aren't happy. As the game ended, one could hear the boos raining down on the field from aggravated Cleveland partisans, and I do wonder how long the fans' patience can last. It is Cleveland, and so they have much more patience than fans of other teams, but this is starting to get ridiculous.

Along those lines, I would like to take this opportunity to offer my sincere condolences to all Cleveland fans everywhere. I am not trying to be condescending, insulting, gleeful or a scoundrel -- I do sincerely hope the Browns, my second team, get better and get better soon. Cleveland needs and deserves a winning team, and I am sorry this did not come to pass tonight.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 04, 2008

Activision Blizzard Inc. Winner on Monday Night Football

I NEVER REALLY FIGURED out the whole hoopla over the "Guitar Hero" franchise of video games, but it's worth noting this reaction to one of its commercials aired late in the broadcast of "Monday Night Football," from none other than the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Dan Gigler:

As duly noted by our commenters, the second airing of the Guitar Hero ad did not go unnoticed; yours truly and the entire sports department were held in rapt attention. All night no one shuts up back here then, for 30 seconds, total mouth agape silence.

Yep. Heidi Klum does that.

Oh, also there was a football game. A game in which the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers, despite reeling under an initial ferocious assault from the Washington Redskins, turned things around and kicked Washington's ass. This 23-6 victory against Washington was a testament to Pittsburgh's defense, which completely and utterly destroyed the Redskins' offense. When you consider the Steelers shut out Washington for three quarters, and three of Washington's six points were scored because we got clever and tried an onside kick to start the game, that's really an amazing performance.

But then, there's that whole matter of Pittsburgh's alleged offense -- by which I mean, the offensive line that ONCE AGAIN nearly wrecked the thing. I mean, come on. The defense, folks, can't hold the ship together forever. As we saw in our games against Philadelphia and New York, the defense does a hell of a job, but that's problematic if the offense can't do anything when it goes on the field. It just has to improve or we're not going to go all the way.

Still, we can deal with that next week. Let's talk about next week. Let's talk about how Laser Rocket Arm has to play in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Let's talk about what Pittsburgh's defense is going to do to Laser Rocket Arm and the rest of the Indianapolis Colts. Let's talk about how everyone outside of Indiana, who is sick of Laser Rocket Arm, is going to enjoy the game immensely. I mean, if Pittsburgh can sack Jason Campbell seven times, Pittsburgh should be able to separate Rocket Arm's head from Rocket Arm's neck. It's on at 4:15, so everybody watch!

It'll be great. Watch as Rocket Arm flails about as the pocket collapses around him; watch as he blames his offensive line for his failures; watch as he screams "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" in slow motion as LaMarr Woodley runs over him.

It shall be glorious.

This was the one bright spot in a tough football weekend for yours truly. Michigan, for instance, lost to Purdue, a game I didn't get to watch but was a game I'd prefer not to talk about. Then, on Sunday, the evil Baltimore Ravens managed to beat the Cleveland Browns, despite being down two touchdowns at one point. Ugh. It really would have helped Pittsburgh out if the Browns had managed to win, but no, we couldn't have had that, now could we?

Of course, Browns fans were QUITE unhappy about the loss. I know this because I watched the game at Billy's Sports Bar in the presence of Browns Fan Rick, who watches the games each week with extreme interest.

Like all Browns fans, Rick hates the Pittsburgh Steelers and detests all of their fans. Thus, he was naturally suspicious when I was rooting for his team, and then only half-jokingly asked if I would cheer for the Browns at another spot in the room. Other fans might take offense at such a suggestion, but I did not; for my own brother is a Browns fan, and I know how he reacts to the Steelers and their fans.

Simply put, you must understand that although I consider Cleveland my "second" team, such an affiliation is anathema to the true Browns fan. No true Browns fan would ever root for the Steelers under any circumstances, and can't understand why any Steelers fan would root for the Browns. This hatred is so deep, I can assure you that fans at a Cleveland Gladiators arena football game last year chanted "Pittsburgh sucks!" -- even though Pittsburgh does not have an arenaball team.

Anyway, Braylon dropped the ball *cough* again *cough* and Derek threw a dumb interception and the Browns blew it. I offered my condolences to Rick. He said nothing. I offered them again a short while later. He said nothing. I understood. Being a sports fan can really hurt sometimes. However, Cleveland still has hope -- they are only 3-5 and with a good winning streak they can get back into Wild Card contention soon enough.

It seems unlikely, however, they can win the division. After all, Pittsburgh is now 6-2 -- and with just eight games to go, we're in second place in the AFC. That is hugely important and if we make it into the playoffs, keeping second place (or even moving into first) will be a major advantage. But with three teams tied at 5-3 and two more tied at 4-4, though, we're not far enough ahead of the pack to rest easy. We've got to press on -- and if we do, well, there might just be no stopping us.

Unless we have to play the Giants again. Dammit.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:40 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 27, 2008

Don't Look Now, But the AFC North Got a Lot Tougher

UGH. I don't know what's worse -- the Pittsburgh Steelers losing to the New York Giants in a game we could have won, or the New York Giants dismissively laughing at the Steelers' play. Well, actually, I do know -- it is clearly the latter. As a result, I would politely ask the NFC East to light up the New York Giants and stomp all over them, since we won't have a chance for revenge during the regular season. I'm serious. Stomp, gouge, rip and shred.

Grrrr. I am so not in a forgiving mood right now. Also, the New York Giants are moving on The Rant's Football Loyalties chart. You'll now find them under the "Teams I Abhor" section, one spot below the Dallas Cowboys. Giants delenda est. Unless they are playing Baltimore. Or Indianapolis. Or New England.

OK, I feel a little better. Stupid Giants.

One does wonder, though, just what the problem is with Pittsburgh's offense. Pittsburgh's defense, as usual, played very well during yesterday's contest, and holding the Giants to 21 points isn't bad at all. The goal-line stands against their offense were extremely impressive. So you can't pin this loss on the defense. The offense, though -- my God!

Would someone kindly explain to me why our offense fell apart? I mean, is it too much to ask that our offense -- particularly our coaches who specialize in that field* -- figure out the NFC East is brutal in terms of its pass rush and attack on a quarterback, and adjust accordingly? It was one thing to have the Eagles stomp us into tiny bits; that could be dismissed as a one-off. But now that it's happened twice, one can't just say, "Oh, well, they outplayed us." No. We have to figure this out. So if that means we have to put an extra guy on the line, or run the ball 90 pc of the time, or whatever -- then do it.

Annoyingly, this comes just as the AFC North got a lot tougher. Oh, sure, Cincinnati is 0-8, but Cleveland is 3-4 and Baltimore is 4-3 and both these teams look angry. We can only hope Cleveland beats Baltimore next week, allowing us to rise two games above both, but I hate having to rely on the Brownies for anything. Plus, if Cleveland gets too good, they could conceivably threaten us, and that would be bad. It would be even better if Cincinnati would manage a win against Cleveland or Baltimore. True, that's just a hope and a prayer at their point,but who knows? The Bengals are "efforting," according to the team, so maybe they'll do Pittsburgh a favor.

No, I did not make that up. That's what the headline said. "Efforting." Without the quotes. Crikey, even the Bengals' writers are incompetent.

-----------
* As a fan, I have to say I find Bruce Arians maddening, if only because he's inconsistent. Some weeks, he looks like an absolute genius who can do no wrong. Other weeks -- to borrow from a comment I saw on M Go Blog this week -- Arians looks like a 15 on a scale of 1 to stupid.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:57 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 25, 2008

The Rant Congratulates Michigan State

THE RANT WOULD like to congratulate the Michigan State Spartans on their victory today over the Michigan Wolverines. I realize this game was important to Spartan fans everywhere, and I applaud the squad from East Lansing for not folding like a cheap suit as they usually do about this time of the year. For those of us who went to Michigan, and others who root for the Michigan Wolverines, we should all pause and reflect on some important words that will help us put this game into proper perspective.

If those words are not properly soothing, I would simply note the ancient text of Ecclesiastes 1:9. In this verse, the Teacher said:

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

In other words, one win in seven years does not a dynasty make. (Helpful hint for Michigan State students: Ecclesiastes is a "book" of the "Bible," which you may dimly recall). Also, just as a reminder, readers may find this inspiring:

I'm just pointing it out, that's all.

I realize those readers without Michigan roots or a Michigan connection may not realize just how important the Michigan-Michigan State game is to the Great Lakes State, but Detroit News writer Bob Wojnowski has once again put his finger on the matter:

This is the week everyone in our state loves, and by loves, I mean hates. It's the week when tired stereotypes get tossed around, when Michigan fans pompously accuse Michigan State fans of being simple, insecure, beer-guzzling louts. And Michigan State fans counter by asking what "lout" means, then accuse Michigan fans of being snotty, obnoxious jerks (no clarification needed). It's counterproductive but sort of fun, even if no one else in the country cares about our precious rivalry.

Mr Wojnowski continues:

College football rivalries are supposed to be competitive, respectful and fun, just like sibling rivalries. The Michigan-Michigan State tiff fits that description perfectly, except for the "competitive," "respectful" and "fun" parts. To be fair, the games usually are viciously contested until the very end, when Michigan usually has more points.

This year, sadly, we did not have more points, despite getting pretty much all the breaks during the first three quarters. The Spartans' field goal unit was completely inept, our defensive line played quite well, our special teams were outstanding and we even managed to get a touchdown thanks to a peculiar interpretation of the rules of football. (Thanks, replay booth officials!). Although to be fair, it apparently depends on which rule you examine; I saw one rule that seemed to indicate it should not have been a touchdown, but another one that indicated the play was indeed worth six points. And in the end it did not matter. Unfortunately. That would really have been cool -- to defeat the East Lansing barbarians again thanks to the intricacies of the code of collegiate football.

Of course, losing to Michigan State is prima facie evidence Michigan's season this year has been a complete disaster. The blame for this, of course, can be directly laid at the feet of Lloyd Carr and the former coaching staff, who apparently forgot to recruit this past year. Given the play of Michigan's squad, it is apparent this is the outfit we would have largely had if ol' Lloyd had stuck around. Thus, none of the blame can be placed upon the head of our new coach, Rich Rodriguez, or his assistants, who are making the best of a hand that -- even after all the draws -- adds up to a pair of fives with a jack kicker.

It is also important to note that Coach Rodriguez has already lined up some excellent recruits for 2009, including new quarterbacks. These will prove a blessing next year, as it will allow us to send Steven Threet somewhere more suited to his talents, such as ... oh, Grand Valley State. Although I do not hold any grudge against Mr Threet -- after all, he was the best we could do and he's better than backup Nick Sheridan, who is even worse -- his play has been quite disappointing this year. Mr Threet's three interceptions today did not help us.

True, if we were 6-2 right now, we'd be calling him "Steven Threat." But we're not. So at 2-6, it makes sense we're just calling for him to ... oh, transfer. Retire. Take up needlepoint. 'Cause football is not his thing. I'm sorry, but it ain't. Just the way it goes sometimes. Near the end of this game, when Mr Threet threw a pass into double coverage and it was impossible for his intended receiver to catch it, one could see Mr Rodriguez on the sidelines vociferously wondering aloud just what his quarterback were thinking. We all thought what Mr Rodriguez said, but which the microphones fortunately did not pick up.

But there is always next year -- and that's something we have to think about, because it is clear Michigan's chances of even having a .500 season and a consequent bowl berth are somewhere between slim to none. In the meantime, we should have our players focus on spoiling everyone else's season if possible, up to and including evil Ohio State. Also, it might be a good idea for Michigan's equipment manager to go find the Brown Jug and dust it off for the stupid Golden Gophers, who are apparently pretty good this year. It's back near all those file cabinets with the paperwork from Bump Elliot's reign.

Speaking of trophies, Michigan State fans might have noticed -- but failed to pick up the significance of -- some film that appeared prior to the game today. Michigan's equipment manager apparently had to put the Paul Bunyan Trophy, awarded to the winner of our annual contest, back together again. That's right -- thanks to our six-year winning streak, we actually had the thing in storage.

But do enjoy having it. You did earn it. Just remember we have no intention of letting you keep it for long, so do try not to damage the thing while you are borrowing it. Oh, there's one more thing. This year, you will be eligible for a post-season contest known as a "bowl game." Don't lose it, please. For if there's anything worse than losing to the Spartans, it's having the Spartans then lose to the SEC in the Outback Bowl.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 24, 2008

Evil Baltimore Ravens Put Bounty on Hines Ward

OH, IT'S ON. Word has come that Terrell Suggs, a linebacker for the evil Baltimore Ravens, told a radio station the evil Ravens have placed a bounty on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. The team had tried but failed to get Mr Ward during their game last month, according to Mr Suggs, but this time around, Mr Suggs warned the evil Ravens "got something in store for him" during their matchup in December. Even more amazing, according to published reports, Mr Suggs said the Ravens -- who are evil -- had a bounty on Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh's running back, who was knocked out for the season during the Steelers-Ravens game last month.

Mr Suggs is now denying the team has a bounty on Ward, which conveniently comes as the NFL is investigating. Doesn't matter. It's too late. The cat's out of the bag.

Besides, even if the evil Ravens don't have a bounty on Ward, Mr Suggs' comments will make the Steelers think that they do, which means the Steelers are going to open an industrial-sized can of whoopass in Baltimore on Dec. 14. As a prelude to this, the Steelers have already come out and said they do not care if the evil Ravens had established a bounty, because Hines Ward does not care if you establish financial incentives to tackle him hard, and Hines Ward will knock you silly anyway. That is what Hines Ward does. But they do care, of course -- they'll just play that much harder. For now it is personal.

That said, how stupid could the evil Ravens be to tilt their hand like this? Honestly. Now the officials will flag them for even tiny offenses, and the league will examine their play with a fine-tooth comb. Plus, all the other teams will be especially angry with them, and make a point of beating them. Good decision there!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 20, 2008

Pittsburgh Triumphant, Chick Ludwig Insane

SO THE GLORIOUS Pittsburgh Steelers ran roughshod over the hapless Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, racking up 38 points in a game that started out somewhat tenuous for the Black and Gold, but quickly turned into a rout in the second half. It appeared as if the Bengals would stay in the game, not surprising given their decent performances against teams like the New York Giants, but they finally gave up the ghost once Pittsburgh's offense started firing on all cylinders.

Also, Hines Ward broke a man's jaw.

I still can't believe that. It was one of those freak things, really -- Mr Ward is a hard blocker and in the course of clearing the field for Pittsburgh tight end Matt Spaeth, Mr Ward blocked Keith Rivers, a rookie linebacker for Cincinnati. It is not clear whether the force of the block or Mr Rivers' impact with the turf actually caused the fracture, but the end result was that Mr Rivers' season was done and Mr Ward found himself in an unenviable position. No one wants to injure another player in football, but the game isn't needlepoint either. It should be noted the hit was clean, that Mr Ward was not penalized, and that the hit took place in the course of play, and not after the whistle blew.

It should also be noted that these factors matter nothing to Bengals partisans. This is perhaps no surprise, for fans of other teams do not like Mr Ward. My friend Chris Weinkopf, who roots for the Patriots, teases me in occasionally saying Mr Ward is a "mediocre" talent in the league, while a certain passionate Cleveland Browns fan I know unfairly refers to Mr Ward as "Dirty Hit Hines." Such opinions are clearly false and unwarranted, but Mr Ward's powerful blocking and skill as a wide receiver clearly provoke strong feelings among those whose teams face him on the gridiron.

Perhaps the best example of this can be found in the deranged ranting of Mr Chick Ludwig, a columnist for the Dayton Daily News and a passionate Cincinnati Bengals fan. Mr Ludwig, whose grasp on reality appears to weaken further with each successive Bengals loss, wrote an embarrassing blog post following Cincinnati's loss in which he accuses Mr Ward of making a dirty hit.

As Mr Ludwig appears to be new to the Internet, I would like to introduce Mr Ludwig to what is known as a fisk, a bit of slang referring to a line-by-line refutation of someone else's work. It is similar to how thinkers, in the old days, would write nasty comments in the margins of books they had read. I quote Mr Ludwig in italics, while my responses are in plain text.

Anyway, Mr Ludwig writes:

Now that the verdict is in and Cincinnati Bengals rookie outside linebacker Keith Rivers has a broken jaw and is out for the season, the question is: Was it a dirty hit by Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward? I believe it was. Absolutely & positively. Dirty with a capital “D.” Just like Kimo von Oelhoffen’s lunging hit on quarterback Carson Palmer’s left knee on Jan. 8, 2006.

Lunging hit my eye. I remember that play pretty well, and if Mr Ludwig goes back and looks at the videotape, he'll see Mr von Oelhoffen was down on the ground and was being propelled forward due to his attempts to beat his blocker. He just happened to roll into Mr Palmer at the end of the play, as opposed to spearing the guy's knee.

Mr von Oelhoffen simply had the bad luck to roll up in such a way that it knocked Mr Palmer out of the game. Unfortunate, but it's football. It happens. Get over it. As for whether Mr Ward's hit was dirty, the answer is clearly No. There was no flag. It happened in the course of play. Also, last time I checked, football players block their opponents. It's part of the game, although one with which Bengals fans are undoubtedly unfamiliar.

Personally, I felt Ward should’ve been thrown out of the game by NFL Referee And Resident Face Man Ed Hochuli. But Ed, whose ego is large enough to fill the Rotunda, didn’t have the guts to do it because it didn’t involve a quarterback. ...

Personally, I feel like having some ice cream, but we don't get everything we want, now do we? I am sorry for Mr Ludwig that the game did not go the way he wanted, that the referees did not act the way he wanted, that the Bengals' season is not going the way he wanted, and that the Bengals suck. But that's just the way it is. If players got thrown out of games because they hit their opponents hard, there would be no players left at the end of a game to take the field.

...Rivers was injured on a devastating and vicious block from Ward at 13:19 of the first quarter in Pittsburgh’s 38-10 victory in front of 65,860 spectators, half of whom were Pittsburgh fans twirling their “Terrible Towels” down the stretch of an ugly, 3-hour game. ...

That's right. It's important, I think, to note here that Pittsburgh fans routinely travel to follow the Black and Gold as they venture into hostile territory. Bengals fans, meanwhile, can't be bothered to show up at their own stadium to root their team on against a hated enemy. If the Cleveland Browns were 0-6, and Pittsburgh was on the docket for that week, the Browns fans would pack the house and demand blood.

... As Rivers approached the action, away from the play, he got blindsided by Ward, who has a reputation for being one of the most physical wide receivers in the league.

Play was stopped for several minutes as doctors and trainers attended to Rivers, who walked off the field under his own power.

“Anytime your teammate goes down, it’s not a good thing,” middle linebacker Dhani Jones said.

“Keith is an intricate part of our team, not to mention a good friend,” added Brandon Johnson, who replaced Rivers. “You hate to see a guy go down like that, but it’s part of the game. We all understand the risk. My prayers and heart go out to him and hope he can come back as soon as possible.”

You know, it's pretty pathetic when Mr Ludwig -- who is a credentialed member of the news media, and as such has access to the locker room and what not -- can't find any players on the Bengals squad to accuse Mr Ward of making an unfair hit, but rather have them back up Mr Ward's position that unfortunate things happen. I mean, if one is going to accuse Mr Ward of making a dirty hit, one would think player comments would make up an integral part of one's argument. But hey.

Also, what's all this about Mr Rivers "approaching the action?" What does Mr Ludwig think he was going to do when he got there? Offer Matt Spaeth tea and crumpets? He was approaching the action -- undoubtedly at a high rate of speed -- because that's what linebackers do. They find receivers with the ball and crush them.

It certainly won’t be this year and that’s what burns linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald, who thought the hit was uncalled for because it happened away from the play.

“We’ll take a look at it (on film), but that guy 86 (Ward) has been known to do that,” FitzGerald said. “That’s his deal, and that’s bullshit as far as I’m concerned. (Blocking) around the pile — that’s the kind of game he likes to play.

“It hurts us. There’s no doubt about it. Keith’s a marquee player for us, a guy that’s growing and developing, doing a lot of good things and really coming along, and now his year’s done.”

The linebackers coach? That's the best Mr Ludwig can do? Of course Mr FitzGerald thought it was uncalled for. If one was uncharitable, one might also suggest that Mr FitzGerald is annoyed that a wide receiver -- of all players -- just knocked out one of his top linebackers. It's supposed to be the other way around.

Naturally, Ward said he didn’t do anything wrong. That the hit was above board. That it was a clean shot. What else would we or should we expect him to say?

But the fact that it happened near the pile and away from the play made it unnecessary, unsportsmanlike and disturbing.

“I’m not doing anything illegal,” Ward said. “It was a clean hit. I didn’t stand over the guy or anything. I just celebrated the same as a guy does when he gets a sack. I’m not going to change my ways. If they’re going to keep fining me for that, then I’m going to get fined all year.

“I don’t know if I hurt him or not, but that wasn’t my intention. I saw he was hurt, said a little prayer for him, and that was it. I’ve been playing like that for 11 years. I guess I don’t know what people are griping about.”

Neither do I, Mr Ward. Neither do I. Let me assure you that as a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, I want you to keep playing hard, physical, tough football -- no matter what your opponents, and lame-o sports writers like Mr Chick Ludwig -- demand because they're in a snit about their teams' crappy seasons. I also don't see how a legal and clean block on the field of play can be considered "unnecessary, unsportsmanlike and disturbing," but that's because I appreciate the physical aspects of the game of football.

Ward’s teammates love him because he’s so tough and talented.

Opponents hate him because he has a way of getting under your skin and making you angry with his big talent and bigger mouth.

He sure got under Bengals free safety Dexter Jackson’s skin.

Jackson made no apology for his 15-yard personal foul penalty after Ward’s 16-yard TD catch from Byron Leftwich with 1:54 to go.

Jackson shoved Ward, who was celebrating in the end zone.

“Why are you going to celebrate in our end zone? That’s taunting,” Jackson said. “You don’t celebrate and taunt like that. Yeah, I pushed him. He over-exaggerated, but that’s what he does.” ...

What? Dude. Mr Ward didn't have time to celebrate. He took all of three steps in the endzone before Mr Jackson gave him a shove. True, perhaps I should be charitable -- it undoubtedly annoyed Mr Jackson that Hines Ward, Pittsburgh's favorite wide receiver, had extended the Steelers' lead to four touchdowns over the hapless Bengals. So perhaps it was understandable Mr Jackson would give him a nasty push. But Mr Jackson should be happy Mr Ward celebrated. Celebration implies one has something worth celebrating about. Quite frankly, the way things were going, and given the craptacular play of the Bengals, not celebrating would have been more appropriate -- and a powerful insult to boot.

Anyway, after a bit more maundering and pointing out just how bad the Bengals' season has gone, Mr Ludwig prepares his coup de grace, as follows:

Here’s what I wish:

That a member of the Bengals would have made a statement with a punishing block on Ward. But the Queen City Kitties are too soft & cuddly, too meek & mild for that.

I am surprised they didn't, but I don't think it would have mattered much. Hines Ward does not care if you deliver a rough block against him, because Hines Ward will fight you down as you try. But this is, I guess, indicative of how the Bengals play -- they have mentally checked out this season and are focused on 2009.

That Ward gets a hefty fine — and perhaps a suspension — for his intimidating tactics.

Ooooooooooh. He's intimidating. Does Mr Ludwig want Mr Ward to present his opponents with a tray of cucumber sandwiches during games?

That Hochuli gets reprimanded by the NFL for not flagging Ward 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. That’s the LEAST that should have happened.

What is wrong with you, Chick? The game doesn't go the way you want and boo-hoo-hoo, it's time to beat up on Ed Hochuli? He's the referee, for Pete's sake -- he's way at the other end of the play. There are plenty of officials who could have thrown a flag if the hit had been dirty. But -- oh, that's right. It wasn't. Gee, that's too bad.

In addition to wrecking Rivers’ rookie season, Ward offered further proof that the Pittsburgh Steelers are, without a doubt, the dirtiest team in the National Football League.

Wow. That's a pretty bold statement, there. Not one that, you know, actual facts could support, nor one that stands up when one compares the Steelers to certain other teams -- *cough* Oakland *cough* -- but I guess I can see where Mr Ludwig is coming from. After all, how dare Pittsburgh go out and, you know, win all those games? How dare Pittsburgh have five Super Bowls to its credit? How dare Pittsburgh come into the Bengals' house and crush the lovable but incompetent Bengals on their own turf? It's shocking, it really is.

And, sadly, unfortunately, one of the best.

And don't you forget it!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:41 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 18, 2008

Well, At Least I Didn't Go to Michigan State

THE RANT WOULD LIKE to offer its heartfelt congratulations to the Penn State Nittany Lions for their well-earned and well-deserved victory over the Michigan Wolverines today in Happy Valley. Although I was pleased with how Michigan played in the first half, Penn State just steamrolled over the Wolverines in the second half and their dominance soon became clear. So I do not begrudge the good people of State College their victory, particularly if they defeat Ohio State next week. Oh, and also if they don't make it a habit. Over the past decade, Michigan is 9-1 against the Nittany Lions, and I'd love for those winning ways to continue.

I must admit surprise, however, at Michigan's collapse in the second half. This is not the first time we have royally blown it in the second half of play -- our loss to Illinois was a similar disaster -- but to see it happen when we had played so well, and so well against the third-best team in America, was just crushing. But so much went wrong that one can't point to one thing as the straw that broke the camel's back.

Of course, it could be worse. Ohio State handed Michigan State's heads to them, and the hapless Spartans couldn't give their fans much of anything to cheer about. At least Wolverines fans had a half! I just hope Michigan is angrier than Michigan State next week, because the cowschoolers will come into Ann Arbor with a chip on their shoulder the size of Sheboygan. Could it be that Michigan State will finally throw off its traditional losing ways -- start strong, then collapse -- with next week's big game? I hope not!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 15, 2008

Guess Who's Going 0-7?

YOU KNOW, IT'S A BAD SIGN for a football team when the mayor of their city tells people they should support the squad, and the mayor's earnest call is met with ... well, laughter. The Cincinnati Enquirer has the full story, which I paraphrase here:

MAYOR MARK MALLORY: It is very important that we continue to support the Bengals, even when they are having tough times. They need our support more than ever. So I don’t know why you guys are giggling and laughing --

REPORTERS: *snicker* *guffaw*

MALLORY: I’m very serious, OK? I support our sports teams. We have to support our sports teams.

REPORTER: You realize there will probably be more Pittsburgh Steelers fans there than Bengals fans.

MALLORY: You know what? What did you just say? You said there will probably be more Pittsburgh Steelers fans at the game than Bengals fans. What does that say? It says that Pittsburgh fans continue to support their team. We’ve got to support our team. We absolutely have to support our team. There is just no doubt in my mind about that. No room for negotiation as far as I’m concerned.

Boy, I can't wait for this Sunday -- if only to see how many Pittsburgh Steelers fans crowd into Paul Brown Stadium and cheer on the Black and Gold to their fifth victory of the season. Sadly, this will mean Cincinnati shall fall to 0-7, a fate that for a football fan is worse than death and arguably equivalent to getting hit in the head with a two-by-four every week. A two-by-four with a nail in it.

Of course, Mayor Mallory is right -- one must support one's team, no matter how badly they do, and eventually the Bungles are going to win a game. They just won't do it this weekend. Already the fans are bailing ship -- to the point where desperate fans are unloading their tickets at below face value. That's kind of pathetic. Some tickets are reportedly going for as little as $24. I've paid more for tickets to a Continental Indoor Football League game.

Who is to blame for this? Well, I think the Bengals' owner, Mike Brown, deserves much of the blame -- he is clearly the worst owner in the NFL (worse than the Fords!) and clearly incapable of running a major-league franchise. If he was capable, Cincinnati would have made the playoffs more than once over the past 18 years. But everyone, except the Bungles' long-suffering fans, deserves a share of the blame for this awful, miserable, craptacular football team: the players, the coaches, everyone involved with the whole rotten organization. It is true there is always next year, but that's a heck of a thing to say halfway through the current football season.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 13, 2008

The Humbling of the Patriots

I ACTUALLY FELT a little bad for Bill Belichick last night. Here the New England Patriots are on national television, and the San Diego Chargers are kicking the Patriots' asses up and down the field, and Belichick had this look on his face the entire game as if to say, "Jesus Christ. This can't be happening." At one point, when the camera was focused on the coach after a stupid personal foul, one was able to read his lips and it appeared as if Belichick said, "A personal foul? You've got to be kidding me."

For a football coach, it was not a good day. It was not a good day for the Patriots, either. Like many observers, I was stunned at the San Diego Chargers' performance and just how well they played. Their 30-10 stomping of the Patriots was ... well, powerful is a good word to describe it. The Bolts were firing on all cylinders and they looked strong -- not only on offense, for which the team is well noted, but especially on defense. It could be the Chargers, as they seem to do every year, are picking up steam as they get their bearings and could well make it into the playoffs.

Of course, the rest of the country didn't mind seeing the Patriots lose. Neither did I, for that matter -- as a Steelers fan, I fear the Patriots and don't want them anywhere near the playoffs, where they could face the Black and Gold and ruin our quest to secure a sixth Super Bowl ring. But I heard two comments from non-Patriots fans that I thought were indicative of how the rest of the country sees the team. The first was a suggestion the Patriots get out their video cameras. The second was that we'll see just how smart Evil Genius Hobo Coach is now that he is without the league's top quarterback.

In other football news, I have come to realize that I'm starting to have Issues (with a capital I) when it comes to Baltimore Ravens fans. For instance, when Mr and Mrs Kepple were in town last weekend, we went out for Sunday brunch prior to the day's football. At the restaurant's omelette station, I went to place my order and discovered to my horror the cook was a Ravens fan. I couldn't help myself, and blurted out, "The Ravens!" as if I was a homeowner who discovered Dutch Elm disease in his backyard. Although I fortunately was able to recover, and didn't let on that I was a Steelers fan, I was shaken by the whole experience.

Then, yesterday, at Billy's, a friendly group from out of town arrived to watch football, and I asked which game they wanted to watch. The Ravens game, they said cheerfully, not paying attention to my Steelers cap. I offered a friendly greeting but the look on my face must have said something, because they went to a different table. Then again, perhaps I'm just being a bit oversensitive -- but I fear I'm ending up like a Browns fan or something.

Fortunately, though, the Indianapolis Colts just smoked the Ravens yesterday. Now that was fun to watch! Even though I had to root for Laser Rocket Arm, it still felt good. In fact, except for Miami's loss to the Houston Texans yesterday, everything pretty much went the way I had hoped. Oh, and Detroit got robbed.

God. The Minnesota Vikings-Detroit Lions game was actually given top billing in the back room at Billy's Sports Bar yesterday, as a group of Vikings fans turned out for the game. They were not happy. One fan, a regular who has the Vikings logo tattooed on his arm, spent good portions of the game on his mobile phone complaining about Brad Childress, the Vikings' head coach, and repeatedly calling for Childress to be cashiered. The Vikings fans also considered a questionable pass interference call against Detroit late in the game -- a call that essentially cost the Lions their first victory -- divine providence.

On the other hand, it was fantastic to see the Dallas Cowboys lose. Wow. What a game that turned out to be! I am happy for the Arizona Cardinals -- to a point -- but more glad the Cowboys lost. A couple more good losses and their locker room will fall apart and their fans will wail and gnash their teeth and that will be the end of everything. They can't take losing down there and every time Dallas loses an angel gets its wings.

Sorry, Miami. But keep at it. Remember, the goal is to defeat the Patriots. Also, I applaud the New York Jets for their win. Remember, the goal is to defeat the Patriots.

As for the Cincinnati Bengals ... oooh. 0-6. You know, it's time to like fire everyone and start over, 'cause your season is toast. T-O-S-T toast. I am not inclined to be cordial to Bengals fans at the moment, as a certain Bengals fan sent me a note professing shock over Michigan's loss to Toledo on Saturday. I would simply note that back in February, I predicted the Bengals would go 3-13 this year, and it would appear that I was on to something. Although the Bengals aren't bad for an 0-6 team.

As for tonight -- ooooh. Well, I would like to think the Browns could shock the world and cut off the New York Giants' heads, but I'm not all that confident. Neither are the Browns fans I know. But it would really be cool if the Browns could come out and win -- at 1-3, they are little threat to the Steelers at this point, and I wouldn't begrudge the Browns a win. They need one. The city of Cleveland needs one. The whole bloody state of Ohio needs one. So go out there and take the Giants down a peg tonight!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 12, 2008

Things Fall Apart

WORDS CANNOT EXPRESS the sorrow and anguish I feel over the Michigan Wolverines' loss to the University of Toledo Rockets on Saturday. It is as stinging a defeat as the Fall of Constantinople -- or, it would be, if the ancient city had been conquered by a company of goatherds, stable boys and trumpeters, and not the grand armies and super-cannons of the marauding Turks.

My God! Toledo! A team that's not even a good team in the Mid-American Conference! A team that last won over the pathetic Eastern Michigan Eagles! A team that lost to Florida International! How the devil could we possibly have lost this game? It was a tragedy of errors and capped off with the biggest error of all -- Michigan's kicker, K.C. Lopata, missed a 26-yard field goal. 26 yards! Even a high school player should be able to complete a 26-yard field goal.

I still don't believe our loss is the fault of Coach Rodriguez, though. He came into the situation given these cards, and now he has to play them the best he can. Once he is able to start recruiting, Michigan will rise again, like the phoenix from its ashes. We just have to get through this year. Once that happens, we can rebuild.

Now for the rest of the Saturday recap:

No. 6 Penn State 48, Wisconsin 7. OK, Penn State is scary good this year, all right? Scary. Good. Scary good Penn State plays Michigan next. Maybe Michigan can have the team bus suffer a convenient flat tire on the road to Happy Valley. Yeah. That's an idea. If that doesn't work, Michigan could suffer from a convenient case of "food poisoning." Or just have the team suddenly become "very sick." I'm sorry, but I don't want to see Penn State -- which hasn't beaten Michigan since 1998 -- take its revenge out on the Wolverines when we're down.

It is worth noting that this game featured two of the worst advertisements I've ever seen -- both for the schools themselves. *cough* SPACE. *cough*

No. 11 Florida 51, No. 4 LSU 21. Didn't see that one coming. I am sorry for the LSU Tigers. Although I have no special love for the team, I greatly dislike Florida, so I am sorry to see LSU humbled at the hands of the Gators, who are gauche and classless.

No. 17 Okla. State 28, No. 3 Missouri 23. Oops. So much for vaunted Missouri.

Mississippi State 17, No. 13 Vanderbilt 14. You would think a school that takes pride in being filled with nerds would recognize a trap game when it presents itself. I was quite sorry to see Vandy go down, as they have been the fun story to watch in the SEC this year.

Arkansas 25, No. 20 Auburn 22. Back during the 2004 presidential primary, I was -- for my day job -- at the Manchester headquarters of the Wesley Clark campaign for a story, when all of a sudden I heard guttural yelling from a back room. "What the hell was THAT?" I said, rather unnerved. Well, as it happened, it was a group of Clark volunteers engaged in the "Wooooo, Pig! Sooooie!" shout beloved among Arkansas partisans. They had just completed some important project and were celebrating. Well, woo pig. Or something.

No. 23 Michigan State 37, Northwestern 20. Uh-oh.

On the bright side of things, though, next week IS another week. So after a brief period of mourning, Wolverines fans can regroup and prepare ... well, OK, let's just hope for the best. In the meantime, we can take pride knowing that Michigan alumni rule. As evidence of this, I would note that Michigan alumni successfully indoctrinated thousands upon thousands of schoolchildren via educational television programs to have a subconscious bias towards the Wolverines. Yeah. Hail.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 11, 2008

Non NFL/NCAA Football Update

The Pittsburgh Steelers
have a bye date this Sunday --
now what do I do?

Like the cold desert
gray before the sun rises
the weekend looks bleak.

I HAVE A love-hate relationship with the bye week in American football. There is no denying the bye week has its advantages; after all, it allows teams that have been beaten up in the weeks beforehand to recover from their injuries, and allows them to prepare for the hard weeks ahead. For fans, it also offers them a respite – as one colleague at the office said, it does relieve the pressure a bit from rooting for one's team; one can sit back and watch whatever games one wants without having a stake in the outcome. On the other hand, though, the bye week has its disadvantages too.

For instance, the bye week reduces the number of football games being played each weekend over several weeks of the football season. This consequently reduces the chance one will be able to watch quality football on television. Even worse, if the games are good, they will almost certainly involve teams one hates. This has put me in a situation where tomorrow, I have to ... I have to ... God! I have to root for Peyton Manning!

Bleah! Bleah! Bleah! I can't believe I have to root for Rocket Arm and his gang of idiots! But I must, because they're playing the one team in the league I despise even more than the Indianapolis Colts – the Baltimore Ravens. But since that thought is too disturbing to contemplate further – and the morons had best win, or I shall be quite cross – I thought of the perfect way to get around thinking about this until tomorrow afternoon.

Namely, I figured I'd write a post about all the other goings on in football – but football that's a level or two (or three) down the professional league pyramid. After all, up in Canada, the season is still going on strong and no one down here even knows it. (It might have helped if the Canadians had managed to secure a decent television deal, but that is neither here nor there). And although arena football will not start again until next spring, it's not like nothing is going on. There's even news a bit further down the league pyramid. Although I may be one of the few people in America taking note of this during the month of October, hey, someone has to do so. So why not me?

CFL UPDATE. You thought we had parity in the NFL. Boy.

OK, so dig this. There are eight teams in the CFL, right? FIVE OF THEM have nine wins – and five or six losses, depending if they've played so far this weekend. With records like that, it's understandable that these are the best teams in the league. But here's the real amazing thing – ALL FOUR teams in the Western Division have nine wins! All four!

Fortunately my team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, are one of the 9-5 teams, and are tied for first place in the division. Also, because of the CFL's “crossover rule” -- which is what happens when you have eight teams in a league – all four teams in the Western Division are almost certain to make the playoffs, barring the Winnipeg Blue Bombers going on a super hot streak and one of the western teams completely collapsing. We'll see if the Riders can gain an edge on Monday when they play the Calgary Stampeders. The Rant will be listening to the game at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time via CKRM-AM. The Rant would also like to take this opportunity to wish all of our Canadian readers a Happy Thanksgiving, which for some reason you celebrate in October. OK.

AFL UPDATE. There's little going on in the Arena Football League at this point. OK, there's nothing going on in the AFL. That's not unusual at this time of year. Keep an eye out for free agency, trades and other fun stuff coming up soon. Barring an absolute disaster, The Rant WILL go back home to Michigan yet again this spring to watch the Grand Rapids Rampage play.

AF2 UPDATE. I always find the off-season for the af2 more interesting. In part, this is because the af2, being a minor league, is a bit more fluid than the AFL. Not only do players get promoted (in some cases, all the way to the NFL) and relegated (usually out of football), there are sometimes team changes as well, as the league expands and contracts.

The af2 really is a fascinating case study for people interested in the business of sport. You can really see what makes teams succeed and fail by looking at how they run their operations. The Manchester Wolves, for instance, got profiled in Forbes a while back for their success. The Spokane Shock have also done fantastically well, as have the Iowa Barnstormers.

Anyway, the news so far is that we'll have at least one new team – the Milwaukee Iron – and perhaps more: a team in Buffalo could start this year as well. The league lost three teams at the end of 2008: in Daytona Beach, Fla., Lubbock, Tex., and Austin, Tex. This will make for some interesting times come spring, as I'm thinking the league will make divisional realignments as a result of team changes. But we'll see.

INDOOR FOOTBALL. I'm guessing we have a new contender for the league most worthy of the “af3” sobriquet. A merger of the United Indoor Football league and the Intense Football League, and the addition of some teams formerly in the Continental Indoor Football League, has created the new Indoor Football League. I love it. It's modern-era football with an old-time Twenties feel to it. It's so much fun to go to games like this – where players are striving for the big time, where local crowds turn out to support local teams, where families can actually see games without breaking the bank. It is nice to see a strong indoor league emerge in the nation's football-mad heartland.

Folks, here's what you need to know. 24 teams – most of these in Texas and the Great Plains, but also in Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York. Two teams in Alaska. Alaska. I love it! Two teams that have the same nickname – the (Alaska) Wild and the (Witchita) Wild. One team named the Ruff Riders – they're in Abilene. I'd buy a season ticket just knowing all that, especially if I could see a wild Wild-Wild matchup. It'll be interesting to see how this all turns out but I certainly wish these folks all the best.

THE BIG CONCLUSION. If you got this far, you get a reward! (Provided you're a man ages 18-34).

You see, as I close, I think it's important to turn our attention to ... well, this. Go on, give it a look! Unless you're at work. In that case, make a note of it for later. For those of you who are at work and can't click on the link ... well, it's the Lingerie Football League.

No, I am not joking. It is real. Articles on it have appeared in reputable news outlets. Games will reportedly air on cable television next year – and cleverly, on Friday nights, when no other football worth watching is aired.

Readers are correct in surmising this football league will consist of the following:

* pretty girls
* pretty girls playing football
* pretty girls playing football while not wearing much of anything

When the league launches – as it appears it will – it will be interesting to see how they handle things. For instance, I would think you would have to play in spring and summer, if only because there are teams in Chicago and New England, and as much as I like the idea of bad-weather football, that would be particularly uncomfortable for the players. I can't imagine the league would ruin things by playing indoors – that's just not football – but we shall see.

I am confident the league will realize the importance of quality football to win over fans. Yes, you may think I am joking, but look. I'm a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. The team I root for famously fired its cheerleaders. Not only that, Pittsburgh fired its cheerleaders after one of them asked the team if the squad could wear racier outfits. So let's not underestimate the importance of smash-mouth blue-collar football played in really bad weather, because that's what the game is all about – no matter if the players happen to be pretty model-types.

That said, if they're playing games when the only thing else on television is baseball, and I'm single and not in a relationship, I'd be open to watching a game or two.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 06, 2008

Remember, It Could Always Be Worse

THERE IS A NICE COMMERCIAL for Rolex watches in which various accomplished figures -- such as Roger Federer, the tennis player -- are shown performing great and incredible feats in their disciplines, with video of these accomplishments interspered with video showcasing Rolex SA's watches.

If Sage Rosenfels ever dreamed he could someday appear in one of the firm's commercials, I have some advice for him. Such as: don't wait by the phone for them to call. Also, don't even hint at asking them about it, because they'll be washing their hair. All weekend. You rotten wretched incompetent bum.

You see, Mr Rosenfels is completely responsible for the Houston Texans' stunning 31-27 loss to the Indianapolis Colts today. Not only did Mr Rosenfels fumble the ball -- twice! -- he threw an interception after those two fumbles. All told, his actions not only cost the Texans the 17 point lead they had built by the middle of the fourth quarter, they gave the Colts the desperate hope they required to actually pull off one of professional football's most amazing comebacks. Ever.

Rosenfels, you incompetent bum.

Yes, I have heard the explanations -- oh, he was trying to make plays, he was trying too hard, and so on. These would be acceptable excuses if Mr Rosenfels was a rookie one step removed from his days at Iowa State. But Mr Rosenfels has been in the league FOR EIGHT YEARS.

Now, I don't know about you, but if I was a backup quarterback in the NFL, and I had EIGHT YEARS of experience at the top echelon of the game, I wouldn't try to hurdle a platoon of angry Indianapolis defenders for an extra yard or two. Particularly because Houston's lead at this stage of the game was SEVENTEEN POINTS. All the man had to do was fall down and the game would have practically been over. Instead, he fumbled the ball after rocketing into the air, and the Colts picked it up and ran it sixty-some yards for a touchdown. This sparked a chain of events that resulted in Rocket Arm -- who had sucked for much of the game -- turning on the jets and leading the Colts to victory. As Houston defender Mario Williams told the AP:

"I've never seen anything in my life like that. For that to happen, I can't even remember seeing anything like that growing up. It's just devastating."

It is devastating -- particularly for those football fans, like me, who detest the Colts and want nothing more than to see them out of the playoffs this year. Instead of having the Colts be tied for last place with a 1-3 record, they're now 2-2 and in second place in the AFC South. That one game could well make a difference in a few months, and I'm not happy that Houston -- well, actually, just Mr Rosenfels -- blew it. The bum. The rotten wretched insipid incompetent bum.

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WAIT, WHAT? 45-20? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

I am glad I turned off the Michigan-Illinois game when Illinois extended its lead to 17 points at the start of the fourth quarter. For one thing, I went out to dinner with my folks, and that was a heck of a lot more pleasant than watching the Fighting Zooks kick Michigan's asses all over our own turf. For another, I probably would have put my foot through the television. 45-20? Are you kidding me? My God.

Now, I have to admit that I am taking this a lot better than I would normally. That's because Michigan is in what football fans refer to as a "rebuilding year." Or years. This is apparently because the previous coaching staff forgot to recruit, leaving our present coaching staff with players about as competent as a gang of scrappy youngsters in a summer camping movie, but who are not nearly as lovable. Even Michigan's defense, which is light-years better compared to its atrocious offense, falls apart -- although that is not really their fault. Unless the offense can, you know, do something, the defense won't have a chance in the world.

It would be nice if Michigan could manage to get to a bowl game this year. That's about all I want at this point. But after Saturday's debacle, I do wonder if spending three hours of my day off work watching the Wolverines was really the best use of my time.

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THANK GOD THE BYE WEEK is here for Pittsburgh. Good Lord.

I do realize many readers may not follow the Pittsburgh Steelers as close as I do -- most undoubtedly have their own teams for which they root -- but Loyal Rant Readers should know everyone on the Steelers is hurt, injured, or out for the season due to injury. For instance, our star running back, Fast Willie Parker, was out with a knee sprain. His backup, Rashard Mendenhall, is out for the year with an injury. Fullback Carey Davis was questionable, leaving us with third-stringer Mewelde Moore as our starter, once-and-future-Steeler Najeh Davenport as an alternate, and practice squad promotion Gary Russell as an additional alternate. Heck, at the rate things were going, I would have a shot at making the Steelers' practice squad as an RB.

But I am impressed the Steelers actually managed to pull out a win against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday night. I mean, my God. Our offense actually showed up -- well, at least for more than half the game -- and managed to make plays, even in the clutch. Our defense stepped up too, and prevented evil Jacksonville from pulling off their wily Jacksonville tricks to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat. Of course, the Jaguars were banged up themselves, but a win is a win and I will take it. Now that Pittsburgh is 2 1/2 games ahead of Baltimore, which is in second place in the division, I am hopeful the Steelers will be able to quickly rack up enough of a lead so that we'll secure the division title for our own. Then, we can prepare for the playoffs.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 24, 2008

Well, There's One Job Michigan Won't Mind Losing

SO THE DETROIT LIONS finally cashiered Matt Millen, their widely reviled president and chief executive. I have to say I can't actually believe it happened. However, I suppose that when Bill Ford Jr, the team's vice chairman, came out and said he would have fired Millen if he had the power to do so, it was clear the writing was on the wall.

I am happy for the people of Detroit, the fans of the Detroit Lions, and for all of Michigan. They needed this.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Recovery Mode

NOW THAT IT IS Wednesday, I have finally recovered enough to discuss football. While Michigan was off this past week -- thank God for small blessings -- the Pittsburgh Steelers ventured to the east (read: bad) side of Pennsylvania to take on the detestable Philadelphia Eagles. The game was set. It was aired on national television. Pittsburgh fans were psyched, having won their first two games.

It was thus only natural the Steelers got their asses kicked on Sunday night.

I lay most of the blame for this debacle on our offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, who was clearly outcoached by his defensive counterpart from Philadelphia. I also lay a portion of the blame on our offensive linesmen, who quickly found themselves overwhelmed in the face of a furious defensive assault from the Eagles. But Arians should have made better adjustments and focused more on the running game. At least, that's how I see it. All things considered, our defense played really well -- when you hold Philadelphia to 10 "real" offensive points, that's not a bad outcome.

But it was not a pleasant game to watch. As Loyal Rant Readers might expect, I was down at Billy's Sports Bar and Grill here in Manchester, watching the game on the big screen. If there's one word that would describe my fellow Pittsburgh fans, it would be dejected. Some of them also got a bit frustrated. Including me. However, I was not as frustrated as some, who watched the game in disbelief and were visibly upset at our shellacking. This is not to say I was the model of calm decorum -- football is one of the few things in which I can really get, well, focused -- but there were a few folks who were clearly not happy.

Also not happy was Browns Fan Rick, who turned out to watch Cleveland again. Everyone at Billy's likes Rick, who arrives each week and watches the Browns game from his chair next to the video golf machine. As everyone else (mostly Steelers fans) gets to watch their games on the big screens, Rick makes do with a small 21-inch television screen hoisted above the Golden Tee machine, and watches the Browns play the entirety of their games -- no matter how badly they do.

A friend of his who was at the bar, a Steelers fan decked out in jersey, gleefully told me that after the Steelers' win against the Browns last weekend, he had called Rick to give him crap about the Browns losing. Rick did not return his calls for roughly a week, this friend reported. Rick was particularly unhappy to watch the Baltimore Ravens, who are evil, stomp their way to victory over the Dogs, and by the fourth quarter he was calling for backup quarterback Brady Quinn enter the fray. I can't say I blame him. But word has it that Anderson is the starter against Cincinnati this week and hopefully Romeo Crennel and his team will win one against the stupid Bengals. I hope so.

However, the most astonishing thing about this weekend was the silence that emanated from the main room of the bar, as fans of the New England Patriots watched in silence as the Miami Dolphins -- God help us! -- crushed them underfoot. What an amazing performance Ronnie Brown turned in during that game, and how demoralizing it must have been for the Pats fans to watch as their defense proved powerless against the Dolphins' offense. As one colleague of mine at the office put it, "At least you lost to a good team."

Well, there's that. Pittsburgh plays Baltimore Monday night for leadership in the AFC North. We had better not lose.

Also, while I'm thinking about it, what's up with the Oakland Raiders and Lane Kiffin? It's three games into the season and Kiffin's team actually looks pretty good. This annoys me, because I hate the Raiders, but even I have to say the team looks as if it's much improved. They had a tough loss to Buffalo and Denver stomped them into the ground, but this is not the usual incompetent Oakland team we've come to expect. Why cashier the guy if he's produced the first half-decent team Oakland's seen in a while?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 18, 2008

Change We Can Believe In

IN TIMES OF CRISIS, America demands leadership. For a true leader will stand up for substance over style, for what is right over what is convenient, and for what is just and good and true. In times like these, when the nation is struggling and cries out for healing and salvation, America needs change. Major change. Important change. Change that will have a real, positive impact on Americans' lives.

As such, I would ask our leaders: please, please, please take Tony Kornheiser off Monday Night Football.

I have given this a lot of thought, and after long consideration, I have concluded that no other policy act would have such an overwhelmingly positive impact on Americans' well-being. Removing Mr Kornheiser from Monday Night Football would immediately lead to improved productivity among American workers, particularly on Tuesdays; would significantly reduce chronic hypertension, saving billions of dollars a year in health costs; and could even lead to considerable increases in Americans' happiness quotient, to the point where we become as happy as Canada or Denmark. Thus, we can see removing Mr Kornheiser from the broadcast would cause Americans to look at life with such sunny optimism it would have amazed even Reagan.

I am not, of course, suggesting to our leaders -- by which I mean the people who run ESPN -- that Mr Kornheiser should be removed from the air entirely. I am confident Mr Kornheiser's talents can be put to good use covering other important sports, such as soccer, auto racing, fly fishing or field hockey, preferably at five in the morning. Indeed, one might suggest that certain sports could use a bit of the exaggeration, hyperbole, oversimplification and general buffoonery that Mr Kornheiser brings weekly to the Monday Night Football broadcast. Like, say, curling. Or badminton. Or beach volleyball. Indeed, I think beach volleyball would be much more exciting if Mr Kornheiser were to look at a preliminary friendly match as a "must win" contest, a sobriquet he applied to the Cowboys-Eagles game in Week Two.

Nor is this to say Mr Kornheiser's particular style of analysis is unfit for certain fields. Indeed, Mr Kornheiser would undoubtedly do well as a substitute for Jim Cramer on CNBC's "Mad Money," on those days when Mr Cramer feels he just has to lie down after a busy day screaming about the stock market. In temperament, the two men are not far apart. Mr Cramer, for instance, seems to go on about hedge funds. Mr Kornheiser seems to go on about the NFC East.

I just don't know how much more the American people can take of Mr Kornheiser, that's all. I don't know about the rest of you, but certainly one benefit I saw to having the Patriots lose the Super Bowl last year was that we did not have to hear about them from Mr Kornheiser, who had spent much of the season wondering aloud whether the team would go 19-0. It also might be nice if Monday Night Football's top analyst would not say odd things, such as insulting the Mexican people during the NFL's concerted effort to reach out to Hispanics.

But I have confidence ESPN's management will do the right thing. After all, as Ventura County Star columnist Jim Carlisle has reported, ESPN made a major push this year to have the Monday Night Football broadcasts focus on actual football, instead of pushing reams of celebrucrap. Commish is wise, the people said. And there was much rejoicing, because no longer did the people have to dread Mondays, fearing that Matthew McConaughey would emerge from nowhere to ruin the night's football.

As an aside, it's worth noting that the one time ESPN had a decent celebrity guest -- Jimmy Kimmel -- ESPN got huffy and said he wouldn't be invited back. I'm sorry, but I about fell out of my chair laughing when Mr Kimmel innocently asked, "Where's Joe?" (Don't give them ideas, Jim!)

It's also worth nothing that sometimes alternate ideas do, in fact, work. In Monday Night Football's case, I have to say that ESPN's second-tier Monday crew -- of Mike, Mike, and Mike -- was far better than the first-run crew. I would enjoy watching them call the games much more than the present first-run crew of Messrs Tirico, Jaworski and Kornheiser. You've got a decent play-by-play guy in Mr Greenberg, a good analyst in Mr Golic and, well, Ditka. I mean, come on. Plus, they're all named Mike. On general principle alone, that's reason enough to put them in charge of Monday Night Football every week.

It's worth a shot, anyway. So I would encourage ESPN to embrace change; nay, revel in it. Do the right thing, not only for yourselves but for the American people. Have Mike, Mike, and Mike do Monday Night Football from now on. That's change we can all believe in.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 14, 2008

Glory! Pittsburgh Wins Again!

THE PITTSBURGH STEELERS ARE VICTORIOUS! How wonderful that two games into the season, we are an amazing 2-0 and our major divisional archrivals, the hapless Cleveland Browns and pathetic Cincinnati Bengals, are both 0-2! Clearly we are well on our way to the playoffs yet again. Now, it's time for some Football Q&A with Loyal Rant Readers.

Q: Uh, aren't you going to mention the score?

I don't see why. We won. They lost. That's what's important here.

Q: It was 10-6.

Yeah, but it was 10-6 in weather conditions that can only be described as downright miserable. It was muggy and hot. Plus, there were sustained winds of 25 mph and gusts upwards of 50 mph, driving rains that weren't too visible on television, debris flying in from the field -- it was a truly miserable night. Fun to watch, but miserable.

Q: Wouldn't the Browns have won if they had gone on fourth down late in the game, instead of kicking a field goal? Thus, isn't it all Romeo Crennel's fault?

I'll hear no talk against Mr Crennel here. I like Romeo Crennel. Remember, the Browns are my second team and so I do like them, even if I want to see them lose against Pittsburgh. That said, I would not have made the decision to go for a field goal -- the Browns needed a touchdown, it was one of the few times they were within sight of the end zone, and with just three or so minutes left it would be unlikely they would get the ball back. But that's just me.

Q: Didn't the Steelers look a bit off tonight?

Yeah, but only a bit. Besides, the weather had a bit to do with that. But that's OK, as failing to crush the Browns on national TV will only lull our opponents into a false sense of security. Again, to reiterate: we won, they lost.

Q: What did the folks back home think of the game?

Well, Dad was happy, and I understand that Mom and Jesse took it well. It wasn't like it was a blowout. Of course, the folks back home had to scramble. Right before the game went on, the Kepples were among the more than 336,000 households in the greater Cleveland area to lose their electric service due to the remnants of Hurricane Ike. That forced the Kepples to act fast. Among their clever moves: rigging up two five-inch, black-and-white battery-powered portable televisions to watch the game in the living room.

Q: Uh, didn't you have one of those televisions in your room when you were in high school?

Yeah. What, you thought the Kepples would just toss them, just because they're more than a decade and a half old? Ha! They're called durable goods for a reason! The Kepples do NOT throw away durable goods if they work! (The rarely-used popcorn popper at home is older than I am).

Q: It's a good thing the switchover to digital service hasn't happened yet.

They had a battery-operated radio in the event the televisions ran through their batteries.

Q: Did the power come back on?

The power came back on immediately following the conclusion of the game -- something I think everyone could have expected.

Q: PATRIOTS! PATRIOTS! PATRIOTS!

That's not a question, but I was impressed with how the Patriots played. The Jets, not so much. I daresay the game was more about the Jets screwing it up rather than the Patriots playing all that great. Of course, the same could be said for the Cleveland-Pittsburgh game tonight. So it seems clear the real question now is how the Pats will do against shockingly good Buffalo. Where did the Bills come from? I mean, we knew they would be better this year, but they're really off to a stunning start.

Q: Wouldn't it be something if the Rays blew their lead in the AL East, and the Red Sox --

Baseball season's over, son.

Q: I hate Peyton Manning.

Well, that's an understandable reaction -- although I have to admit that I do like these new Sony commercials in which he is appearing.

Heh heh heh. I still hate Peyton Manning though, even if he is funny that one time. Unfortunately, Rocket Arm managed to figure out a way to beat the Vikings today. Gee, and that first half went so well too. But the Vikings kinda ... well, blew it. It's a bit much to ask your field goal kicker to kick six field goals. The Vikings had to get in the endzone to win the game. They didn't, and Rocket Arm made them pay for it. Dammit. The good news, though: the Colts' running game sucked. So unless they get that going, we won't have to worry about them in the post-season.

Q: Simon From Jersey is a Lions fan. How does he do it?

True grit. Plus, when your team is bad -- and as a long-time Steelers fan, I remember when the Steelers weren't so great -- you kinda get used to it. But if I was a Lions fan, I would have been strongly tempted to throw something heavy through my television today. I mean, my God. The Lions are down 21-0 pretty much out of the gate, and are down 24-9 at the start of the fourth quarter. Then they score 16 unanswered points to take the lead halfway through the fourth. What happens next? Green Bay scores 17 points in the final minutes of the game -- including two interceptions returned for touchdowns.

When Detroit took the lead, I was this close to sending Simon a text message ("Yeah Detroit") but thought I would wait until the end of the game before doing so. After the 48-25 rout, I thought it might be better not to talk football, so I didn't. Oh, and fire Millen, for God's sake.

Next up, tomorrow night: Eagles at Cowboys. Go Eagles!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Reflection in the Gray Morning

WELL, THAT WAS A disappointing Saturday, wasn't it? However, I can assure readers I am recuperating this morning through listening to uplifting music! Shostakovich. Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a. It is not snowing outside but with this music playing it feels like it.

As much as it may surprise Loyal Rant Readers, I have actually reconciled myself with Michigan's loss to Notre Dame yesterday. In part, this was because Ohio State suffered a much more grievous loss to evil USC last evening.

There is little worse than suffering a humiliating blowout on a national stage, particularly when one has hopes and dreams of winning a national championship, and Ohio State's hopes and dreams died last night in Los Angeles. It would have been one thing to merely lose to USC, but to lose 35-3, and to be so utterly crushed in the process, had to have been devastating to the Ohio State faithful. Also, as Southern California is a program made up of complete bastards, and whose partisans are also complete bastards, the loss hurts even more for the Buckeyes. For justice demands USC be thrown down to the depths like Capernaum. But the day will come soon enough.

But Ohio State's loss only salves the wound Michigan suffered because it puts Michigan's situation into perspective. Ohio State was the No. 5 team in the nation, whereas Michigan was No. 37, according to Massey Ratings' excellent rankings comparison scheme. We are now arguably somewhere in the mid-fifties -- which is about where we were last year, if I remember right.

There is a lot to like about Michigan even though it is a rebuilding year. It is important to remember Coach Rodriguez finds himself in a situation not of his own making, and as such must go to war with the army he has. The recruiting for future years looks promising, and our glorious freshman running back, Sam McGuffie, would appear to have extreme development potential. As a freshman he cut through Notre Dame like a hot knife through butter; it stands to reason that in a few years he will do the same to much better teams.

Things will get better. I liked the look on Coach Rodriguez's face at the close of the game. He was angry at losing, and that was good. For a man who does not want to lose will find a way to win.

Speaking of winning -- uh, don't look now, but Penn State is looking kinda scary.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 13, 2008

I May Throw Up

ACTUALLY, I WOULD HAVE ALREADY thrown up had it not been for the excellent and inspired performance of Sam McGuffie, Michigan's freshman running back, who will win the Heisman in a couple of years. You watch and see. As for the rest of Michigan's game against Notre Dame -- blech. Blech blech blech. What an absolute embarrassment. I mean, is it too much to ask that our players, you know, hold on to the ball?

The worst part was that Michigan, after getting its ass kicked in the first quarter, actually put the game within reach by halftime. Sure, give us hope, why don't you? God. 35-17. How awful was that?

The Rant grudgingly congratulates the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame on their victory and wishes them well during the rest of the season. Please beat Michigan State. That is all.

UPDATE, 7:52 p.m. Well, at least I didn't go to UCLA. Good God.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 12, 2008

Glory and Honor at Stake This Weekend

GOD, I LOVE AUTUMN. Let me count the ways:

* Saturday, 3:30 p.m. Michigan v. Notre Dame.
* Saturday, 8 p.m. Ohio State v. USC.
* Sunday, 1 p.m. Colts v. Vikings.
* Sunday, 4:15 p.m. Patriots v. Jets.
* Sunday, 8:30 p.m. Steelers v. Browns.
* Monday, 8:30 p.m. Cowboys v. Eagles.

That, my friends, is 18 hours of quality football. One starts with the classic battle between Michigan and Notre Dame; will the Wolverines improve to 2-1 or will downtrodden Notre Dame improve its fortunes against Michigan? Then, just a few hours later, the glorious match between the evil Buckeyes and the even more evil Trojans: can Ohio State -- FOR ONCE -- do the Big Ten proud and defeat USC? (Let's not hold our breaths).

Then, on Sunday, it gets even better -- at least up here in the Northeast. We start off the day a bit slow, with the Colts-Vikings matchup; and as much as it pains me, I must root for the Vikings, for should they win it will put the Colts and Rocket Arm at 0-2. That would be glorious, particularly as the Tennessee Titans would be up two games over the Dolts. (The Titans play the Cincinnati Bengals, which -- let's face it -- is a win for Tennessee).

At four we shall see that epic rivalry in the Northeast, the Jets and Patriots, resume. If the Jets defeat the Patriots -- and I hope they do -- the Jets will take the lead in the AFC East, or at least find themselves tied with Buffalo, who could defeat Jacksonville. Oh, how I like it.

Then, in the evening, the granddaddy -- Pittsburgh at Cleveland. Oh, how I can't wait for this game. In fact, everyone in my family can't wait for this game. Let's review the breakdown of who's rooting for whom:

PITTSBURGH: Benjamin Kepple, Dad, a majority of the extended family
CLEVELAND: Jesse Kepple, Mom
DEFENSE: The Rev. Uncle Dave

Smack talking on The Rant will be done after the game, however, as I do not intend to give my brother any ammunition to throw back at me in the event -- however unlikely -- that Cleveland wins. The Browns winning would be punishment enough.

But even if Cleveland wins, I might still be able to watch Dallas lose on Monday night, when they play the Eagles. I hate both teams, of course, but I hate Dallas more and it would be so wonderful to watch the Eagles beat them. That goes especially since the game is in Dallas and I would so like to see the Cowboys lose at home.

Anyway, as I said, eighteen hours of quality football. I intend to watch every minute of it -- unless the games become absolute blowouts and even I get bored watching. One of my bosses at work, upon hearing of my plan, politely suggested that somewhere along the line -- perhaps during the early Sunday game -- I take a break. Please. That's why God invented March.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:15 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 11, 2008

The Rant's Official Statement on Tony Romo

THE RANT has released its official statement in response to newspaper reports of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo stopping at midnight to help a couple with a flat car tire. The statement, issued from The Rant's headquarters in Hamilton, Bermuda, is drawn from the novel Catch-22, and reads as follows:

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Everything Appleby did, he did well. Appleby was a fair-haired boy from Iowa who believed in God, Motherhood and the American Way of Life, without ever thinking about any of them, and anybody who knew him liked him.

"I hate that son of a bitch," Yossarian growled.

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He may be a decent human being, but he's still a Dallas Cowboy, folks.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 10, 2008

Classless, Yes. Dirty, Yes. But Still --

SO PARTISANS OF the University of Miami are upset with the University of Florida, due to how the football game between the two schools ended last week. It seems that Florida, which has overtaken the ne'er-do-wells of Miami over the past few years, crushed the Hurricanes something fierce. The score was 23-3 heading into the final minute. Then, Florida head coach Urban Meyer sent in his field-goal unit to kick a chip shot field goal with 40-something seconds to go.

This kick in the teeth, delivered when Miami was on the ground pleading for mercy, has prompted outrage and derision from Hurricanes fans. Retired professional football player Warren Sapp, the one-time Miami star, declared that Mr Meyer was a "classless dirtbag" for having the field goal kicked, while Miami coach Randy Shannon obliquely lit into Florida's program. That prompted a response from Florida quarterback Tim Tebow defending his coach.

Well, I for one am not going to disagree with Mr Sapp's sentiments. Kicking that field goal was classless and gauche. On the other hand, Mr Meyer had the field goal kicked against Miami. It's a tough equation to balance, it really is.

I mean, let's face it. If there's one football program that deserves getting trampled on and then having a field goal added to the score, solely for the purpose of adding to the team's misery and kicking them when they're down, it's USC. I mean, Miami. So can we really criticize Mr Meyer all that much? I don't think so. Sure, he shouldn't have done it, but in the grand scheme of things, it's not like he had the field goal kicked against Notre Dame or Elon or Murray State or Minnesota. It was Miami. So I think, when one looks at it all under the Rule of General Principle, Mr Meyer can be given a pass.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Conference Loyalty Cemented for Life

LOYAL RANT READERS know that as an alumnus of the University of Michigan, I detest the Ohio State University and all its works. The Columbus institution, second to Michigan in all but sports, is glorious Michigan's chief rival and total adversary. To defeat Ohio State is a Michigan athlete's crowning achievement; to lose to Ohio State is a Michigan athlete's most burning shame.

Yet I have moderated in my views towards Ohio State over the years. This is not to say that I will not eternally pine for its defeat at Michigan's hands, but rather that I have developed a more realpolitik view towards our situation. Sometimes, you see, the enemy of my enemy is an even worse enemy. As a result, when civilization must be defended from the barbarians, or when the infidels threaten all that is holy, or when USC could become national champions, one must grit one's teeth and root for a team one would normally like to see drown in a festering pit of its own bile.

This is a long-winded way of saying that I have completely and utterly come around to the principle of conference loyalty. Similar to how America's internal squabbles stop at our borders, I realize that no matter how much I detest certain teams in the Big Ten, I must root for the Big Ten to stand triumphant against all opposition. I must pull for the Big Ten to achieve more than its many enemies. And I must defend the Big Ten's honor against all grave insults.

As such, The Rant notes with disapproval the recent remarks of the latest Playmate of the Month, a Florida native and University of Florida public relations major (Gawd!) who disparages the Big Ten -- specifically, the fairer sex of the Big Ten -- in no less than the Gainesville Sun:

The 22-year-old Carrington — Kelly Carrington is not her real name, it’s the pseudonym she uses for the magazine — is a UF public relations major who took a break from school to be photographed and promote her appearance in the magazine.

The annual college edition features a spread on the girls of the Big Ten, so Carrington admits it’s funny that a Southeastern Conference girl made the front.

“There weren’t any girls from the Big Ten who were hot enough to be on the cover, so they had to pull someone from the SEC,” she quipped.

Ha ha ha ha ha!

Ha ha!

Ha.

Oh, no she didn't.

This, my friends, is an insult that cannot be borne. Clearly we should avenge our honor by burning down Atlanta again. Well, OK, that might be a bit much, but we can't just let the hotness of the Big Ten's women go unchallenged. I mean, why else do we keep Michigan State in it? Besides, although several SEC schools do offer their students a decent collegiate education -- and Florida is one of the better ones in this regard -- one fails to see how this is equal to the top-notch education one receives at, say, the University of Michigan. So our course of action is clear: the Big Ten must strive valiantly to defeat the SEC in everything -- and especially football.

And to borrow again from Orson at Every Day Should Be Saturday, I would simply note: SPACE, you wretched Floridian succubus! SPACE!

P.S. For those readers interested in Miss Carrington's cover picture, you can see it here, thanks to a Florida television station, which reports: "Stuart naitive is Playboy's Miss October." Yes, that's what the headline says: "naitive." Let's hear it for that Florida educational system!

P.P.S. I'd rate her an eight, but that's just me.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 07, 2008

Rule the Day

THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM has it that the Pittsburgh Steelers face a meat-grinder of a schedule, an impossible hill to climb in their pursuit of post-season glory. Today, the Steelers delivered a message with their 38-17 win over the Houston Texans. That message is this: it is not a case of Pittsburgh having to play many of the league's greatest teams. It is a case of the league's greatest teams having to play Pittsburgh, and hoping they survive.

I haven't seen the Steelers look that good in years. I mean, in the third quarter, the score was Pittsburgh 35 - Houston 3, and then Pittsburgh put in its backups. Houston, as football fans know, isn't that bad of a team. They are certainly not an excellent team, perhaps even not a good one, but certainly they are middle of the pack. Pittsburgh steamrolled over the Texans like a Hummer over an armadillo. Willie Parker had three touchdowns and 138 rushing yards. Hines Ward had two touchdown receptions. Ben Roethlisberger had a outstanding quarterback rating. And LaMarr Woodley was ... well, LaMarr Woodley. Everyone played great -- even the offensive line. You couldn't have asked for a better game from the Steelers. My reaction to the game can be summed up in three words: oh, hell yeah.

Pittsburgh's message to the league? In two words -- fear us.

Sadly, the Cleveland Browns did NOT do nearly as well as Pittsburgh. True, this was not entirely a bad thing -- the Browns' loss means Pittsburgh is now up a game on the alleged Smart Pick to win the AFC North. But I hate Dallas and watching Dallas win is annoying to say the least. Also, Dallas was unclassy as usual. So it was disappointing to see Cleveland fall 28-10 to the Cowboys. But we learned from the game that Cleveland still does not have, to use the technical term, a "defense." Mom was disappointed; my brother Jesse, who was at the game, was undoubtedly not happy at all. See you next week!

Jerome Bettis just smacked Cris Collinsworth on NBC's "Football Night in America." Verbally smacked, I mean. Made a crack about Collinsworth's work with the Bengals. And with good reason. Hoo boy did Cincinnati stink up the joint against the Baltimore Ravens today. This was pleasing, as I had predicted the Ravens' win over Cincinnati. Also, the Bengals apparently don't have a defense either. I am starting to like the Steelers's chances this year.

Of course, the big story of the day is Tom Brady. I have no idea what happened to Brady, although it certainly seemed to me Brady had the Kimo von Oelhoffen treatment applied to his knee. I've heard everything from "knee blown out" to "broken tibia" to "ACL torn" today -- this from my fellow football fans -- so I don't have any idea what might be wrong with the best quarterback in the league. My guess, however, is the ACL or some other ligament. If that's the case, Brady would probably be gone for the season. But we'll find out Monday, when the Patriots are forced to tell the world the news. I would not put it past them, however, to disguise the injury, thus paving the way for a mid-season Brady comeback, because one cannot underestimate the evil genius of Evil Genius Hobo Coach.

On an interesting observational note, a lot of football fans really don't like the Patriots. When the lowly Kansas City Chiefs pulled off a 68-yard pass play in the closing minutes of the game, bringing them within yards of tying the game, everyone in the room cheered. The Patriots fans, in the main portion of the bar, were silent. But the Pats pulled out the game, 17-10. They may need that win.

In other news: San Diego lost. Jacksonville lost. Now, only if Indianapolis would lose. But it's a long season and there are a lot of weeks ahead!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 01, 2008

Mendenhall's Fumbling Fix

AS MANY LOYAL RANT READERS are fans of the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers, you know that our new running back, Rashard Mendenhall, has had ... issues ... with holding on to the football. As a result, Mr Mendenhall's fellow players have come up with a way to help Mr Mendenhall. They've forced him to carry a football around for an entire week. Should Mr Mendenhall lose the football at any time, he will have to pay the Steeler who knocks it loose $100, and will have to pay $500 should the player return it to the running backs' meeting room.

Naturally, this was Hines Ward's idea. It was a good one too, I might add. But I do wonder: what will the Steelers players do with the money they get from Mr Mendenhall? Here at The Rant, we commissioned a special poll looking at just that question. The results are below:

Heh heh heh.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 30, 2008

Oh, NOT AGAIN

YOU KNOW, ONE OF THESE DAYS, Michigan will actually win its home opener and stay in contention for the national championship for longer than, oh, three hours.

Today's 25-23 loss to Utah was not the way I wanted to start the college football season. Although the loss was nowhere near the magnitude of last year's horrific loss to Appalachian State, today's game brought with it plenty of pain and suffering for Wolverine fans. Still, it could have been worse, for the following reasons:

* We were down 25-10, but managed to score two touchdowns set up through great defensive play, making it 25-23 before our "offense" decided to collapse again.
* For much of the game, we did not have -- to use the technical term -- an "offense."
* For much of the game, our quarterbacks -- to use the technical term -- were "incompetent."
* We could still have had Mike DeBord as offensive coordinator, in which case the final score would have been Utah 25, Michigan 3.

I will say this, though -- I am pleased with Coach Rodriguez. There were some positives, I thought, during the game: such as the excellent second-half play of our defense; the speed and quickness I saw among the players; and clever playcalling that would have worked if our offense had been, you know, effective. And even though our quarterbacks were pretty awful, neither one of them had actually ever played a full game before, so hopefully they will settle down as the season goes on.

Next week we have Miami of Ohio, which should be an easier opponent than Utah. From there it gets pretty tough, but we'll just have to work our way through it. We have not had a losing season since 1967 and there is no reason we should start now.

Also, in the spirit of friendly competition, I would congratulate the Utah Utes on their victory and leave them with a friendly message:

SPACE, you rotten scoundrels! SPACE!

In further news, I should note that -- unlike last year -- Michigan was not alone in sharing the pain today. No. 25 Pittsburgh lost to Bowling Green, 27-17.

This somewhat disappointed Mr Kepple, who for decades has been rooting for Pitt. Save for a few bright shining moments in the late Seventies and early Eighties, Dad has had his hopes and dreams crushed every year before and since. (He also roots for Penn State, which is a story for another post). Today, he summed up the team's loss with the rueful quip that it was yet another strong start for the Panthers.

Also, No. 17 Virginia Tech lost to East Carolina, 27-22. Oh, how wonderful was that? Less than two minutes left and the Pirates block a punt and return it for a touchdown? Good for East Carolina. That brought a little joy to my day today, that's for sure.

Well, now it's time for the evening games. Let's see how Clemson does against Alabama.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Touch and Go

LAST NIGHT, I GOT A CALL from Mr Kepple back in Ohio. It was a short call, but one with an important message: the game between Appalachian State and LSU had been pushed back to 11 a.m., due to the approach of Hurricane Gustav. Stupid hurricane, I thought to myself. It did, however, mean that football started an hour early on a day when I had Saturday off, so there was that.

Unfortunately, the game had been switched to ESPN Classic. This posed a problem. My cable provider, in a fit of Comcastic pique, decided some months ago it would switch ESPN Classic one "tier" up from my present channel lineup. However, it apparently forgot to mention this to everyone, leaving me somewhat annoyed. While ESPN Classic is not a channel I would normally want, it is starting to show more live events, and as a result it has turned from a novelty into a quasi-necessity.

As a result, after I went out and got breakfast this morning, I came back and steeled myself for the call to my cable provider, which went Comcastic. Well, actually, it went fine. The young man on the other end of the line was polite and friendly, and flipped on ESPN Classic for me. True, it did cost me $10.95 per month extra, but the annoyance associated with this faded once I realized I got Bloomberg, BBC America, and ESPNews. Oh, and I got a bunch of channels just for women.

Ahem.

I'm not saying, I'm just saying. Besides, I have the NFL Network.

Unfortunately, as it happened, there would not be a repeat of Aintgonnawin State's shock victory over Michigan. After 45 minutes, it was LSU 17 and ASU nil. Ugh. That didn't work, I thought. So I switched over to the Big Ten Network -- sweet -- and watched plucky Youngstown State take on the (evil) Ohio State Buckeyes. Then that game went badly. I switched that off when that hit 17-0.

I had hoped the Big Ten Network would have shown the Coastal Carolina - Penn State game, because my first cousin once removed, Brian P. Kepple, was an offensive guard for Coastal Carolina a few years ago. Then again, the game didn't really go all that well -- Penn State was ahead 45-7, last time I checked -- so I was again adrift. The other big games were also blowouts.

Except for East Carolina v. Virginia Tech. I detest Virginia Tech, so the fact East Carolina is giving them hell is wonderful. If you're reading this as of now -- it's 2:10 p.m. -- we're close to the end of the third quarter, and East Carolina is only down a field goal. Oops. Big pass play. They're about to be down two scores. But it's good to have at least one good early game to kick off college football season.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 22, 2008

What? My Doug Flutie Rookie Card Won't Let Me Retire?

I bought Polaroid at seven! It's probably up millions by now!

-- Miles Monroe, in "Sleeper"

IN 1987, YOUR CORRESPONDENT -- who was living in Kalamazoo, Mich., at the time -- would routinely trudge one and a half miles up to the retail complex nearest to home, and spend his pocket money at the plaza's five-and-dime store. Sadly, the store in question was consigned to the business cycle's dustbin long ago, but I can assure you the many football cards I bought from it are safely stored at home. Somewhere. I think.

Much to my chagrin, however, I have learned my complete 1987 Topps football card set -- which I spent hours upon hours collecting, storing, putting in sleeves and obsessing over -- also fell victim to the business cycle at some point in time. Apparently there was a bubble in sports cards, and it burst. Thus, I may have actually lost money on the deal when all is said and done.

This is particularly annoying because just a few years ago -- or was it longer? -- some of the cards had actually appreciated to the point where they could have paid for a decent steak. Now, they'll pay for hamburger -- and if I'm lucky, a package of rolls to go along with it.

I think 1987 -- when I was 11 -- was the first year I really got interested in football, although it wasn't for a few more years that I began to develop the hard-core loyalties that I now carry today. (When I was a very young boy, as my father loves to relate, I would root for the winning team in a football game. That's right, the winning team. If, say, Chicago was beating Detroit, I would root for Chicago unless somehow Detroit took the lead, and then I'd root for the Hawaiian blue.)

In any event, it was in this year that I really started collecting football cards, growing up as I did in a house where football was the only sport that mattered. It is amazing to think just how much time I spent on the bloody things, and I grew out of the hobby after a couple of years. After ten years or so, the cards I had collected actually had some value to them -- with a few worth over $20 each.

Unfortunately, these rarefied valuations went the way of tulip mania, the South Sea Bubble, the railroad bubble, the Florida swampland bubble, the dot-com bubble and -- well, you get the point. Consider my chagrin upon idly finding the values of the cards this very evening.

For one thing, there's the fact the Doug Flutie rookie card -- yes, that Doug Flutie -- is one of the most, if not the most, valuable cards in the 1987 Topps set. It is worth $8. Of course, that's the "book value" of the card, which means that is what you could buy it for if you went to your local hobby shop. In terms of actually selling it, it is worth somewhere between $2 and $4 -- and according to checkoutmycards.com, as little as $1.25.

1987 Topps #45 - Doug Flutie RC (Rookie Card) - Courtesy of CheckOutMyCards.com

The 1987 Doug Flutie rookie card, which is theoretically worth $8 in American dollars, but upon sale would probably not pay for passage over the Ambassador Bridge.

The Jim Kelly card is worth $10, and the Randall Cunningham rookie card is worth $6, both values that seem fair. The Dan Marino and Joe Montana cards are also allegedly worth $6. But the value of other cards have dropped precipitously. Jim Everett's rookie card from that year -- and if I recall right, the Los Angeles Rams were pretty good -- is worth just $1.25. On the lower end of the scale, Cris Collinsworth's card is worth just 25 cents -- although given his broadcasting, that might be generous.

1987 Topps #188 - Cris Collinsworth - Courtesy of CheckOutMyCards.com

Cris Collinsworth: Lame then, lame now.

Given these values, I think we can peg the "common card" values at, oh, $0.02 each. Indeed, I daresay the whole set would probably go for about $50 on the open market, if that. Add in the extras I gathered in the pursuit, and it might go for $60 or $70.

All that for $70? Sure, I should probably be happy it might fetch $70, but ... ugh. How many hours did I spend on those walks? How many hours did I spend walking in the winter for those football cards? Why didn't I spend my youth doing something useful, like clipping bond coupons? Plus, at 45 cents per pack, which worked out to three cents per card, I probably lost one cent each on most of the cards I purchased. One 1987 U.S. cent, which is worth two cents today.

But this has taught me a valuable lesson. First off, there's a lot to be said for buy and hold -- but when things are really going well, selling might be a good idea. Second, it's important to pay attention to even the most minor assets one might have, in the event good deals are to be had for those assets. Third -- and keep this in mind, kids -- only buy collectibles if you really like them. If they happen to be a great "investment," that's all well and good, but only collect if you value the good -- like, say, football cards -- more than the cardboard they're printed on.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 21, 2008

At Least Someone in Cincinnati Has a Brain

VIA DEADSPIN: "Chris Henry Again? Are You Serious?"

The Bengals are so going 3-13 this year.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 17, 2008

Time for the Cavalcade of Pre-Season Football

WITH JUST THREE WEEKS -- God! Let it get here already! -- before the start of the NFL season, it's important for fans to analyze important developments taking place in the worlds of professional and college football. This is for several reasons: one, nothing else is going on; two, it's important to see what's happening with the backups and third-stringers on a team, because you may need them; and three, nothing else is going on. So let the Cavalcade of Pre-Season Football Begin!

* HA HA! I now have the Big Ten Network! It's about time, too. I have to say that when it comes to availability of sports programming -- particularly football -- I don't care what it costs to get it. It's just a shame I can't get the NFL Sunday Ticket on cable. But now that I have the Big Ten Network, never again will I be forced to go without watching Big Ten football on television. Well, unless I'm at -- ugh -- work on Saturday.

Although I have to admit it will be difficult for me to get excited about certain programming (ooooooh! Purdue's football team is practicing!) I will probably turn in for the broadcast of Michigan's football practice, which is Monday at 9 p.m. This will hopefully let me ratchet down my expectations (you mean Michigan's not going to be national champions?) or -- and this is most likely -- allow me to have inflated expectations for the season, which will leave me screaming at the television on Aug. 30 during our game against Utah. Apparently, Coach Rodriguez has been giving the team a good kick in the ass and our strength coach is legendary, so I'm excited to see the results.

* THOUGHTS ON STEELERS AFFIRMED. AOL's Fanhouse blog reports about what I expected: Santonio Holmes is crazy good; our running backs look good, to complement a good prognosis for our wide-receiving corps, and our offensive line ... oh God help us.

* A MEMO TO THE NFL. For some reason, the NFL is broadcasting various commercials for NFL apparel and materiel that feature Steelers fans. This may be because Steelers fans are prone to spending their disposable income on Steelers stuff. Tonight, two commercials caught my eye. The first is a commercial for women's NFL apparel, which features four hot female Steelers fans. The second is a commercial for NFL team-themed memorabilia.

Although it is enjoyable to see the female Steelers fans mock the doofus male Tennessee Titans fan who stumbles into their tailgating sanctum, I have an issue with the second commercial. You see, it shows a football room chock full of Steelers memorabilia and then asks, after scanning over to an end table with a plain light fixture on it, "What's with the lamp?" Never mind the lamp. What's with the Steely McStupid bobblehead doll?

No true Steelers fan would ever purchase anything related to Steely McStupid, much less a bobblehead doll, and then put it in his Steelers-themed football-watching room. No. A true Steelers fan would have other things, like a poster of Mr Rooney.

* MUCHO STINKO UPDATE. So Chad Johnson reportedly wants to change his name to Chad Ocho Cinco, thus allowing him to have it on his jersey without the NFL fining him.

The Rant approves of this, if only because it will make the Cincinnati Bengals even more of a laughingstock than they were before. Plus, the paperwork will give Mucho Stinko something to do while healing up from his sprained shoulder. In other Bungles news, the Detroit Lions went crazy in attacking Carson Palmer, and the Bungles' backup quarterback is from ... Harvard. From Harvard! I love it! (Although, annoyingly, he did look pretty good in the Lions game).

* QUOTH THE RAVEN, "Losing season!" Yeah. Baltimore. Maximum suckage.

* I'M JUST POINTING IT OUT. "Shoot, I don't care if it's pre-season! Redskins are 3-0, baby!"

* CANADIAN FOOTBALL UPDATE. Well, at least the Roughriders had a bye week this past week, because they needed it. As Loyal Rant Readers know, everyone on Saskatchewan's squad is hurt, and so hopefully the week off will help many of them recover from their (less-severe) injuries. Also, it's a good thing the CFL has a 19-week season, because it's going to take a good two or three months for the team to recover from its spate of broken legs.

More importantly, the Riders are 6-1 and have a two-game lead on pretty much everyone, plus a 4 1/2 game lead on the two worst teams (Winnipeg and Hamilton) in the league. This means they can pretty much play their backups and STILL make it into the playoffs. Once they get in the playoffs, they'll be well on their way to making a second run for the Grey Cup.

* NOTE TO ROD PEDERSEN: The Voice of the Saskatchewan Roughriders should spend the money to have his blog hosted on his own Web site, and not Blogger's.

* WHAT IF? Saving the best for last ...

As a rule, one is not supposed to read too much into pre-season games. This is because the games don't feature the first-stringers on a team. Rather, they feature the backups, third-stringers and marginal players fighting to retain their own positions or move up on the depth chart. But pre-season games do provide insight into the talents of these players, and that can be important down the road if your starters get hurt.

Which leads us to the "What if?" questions of the week: what would happen to the Patriots and the Colts if their starting quarterbacks got hurt? For that matter, what would happen to the Patriots if many of their starters got hurt?

I mean, I hate to read too much into the Patriots' craptacular performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tonight, but boy. It certainly seems to me they're going to be pretty thin on the depth chart, even if their first unit is one of the best in football. Then again, the Pats may well not suffer any major injuries this year, and it could just be their bad play is a feint, devised by Evil Genius Hobo Coach, to disguise the efficacy of the Patriots' second- and third-stringers. But I haven't seen anything that would save the Patriots or the Colts from a Catastrophic Quarterback Injury.

This is one thing I like about the Pittsburgh Steelers -- they actually realize the backup quarterback position, you know, involves more than holding a clipboard. If Ben Roethlisberger gets hurt, we can turn to Charlie Batch. Or, we would, if Batch hadn't had his collarbone broken. So what did we do? We went out and got Byron Leftwich to be our backup. True, Leftwich isn't all that great of a quarterback, but he'll do well enough. That's not something I think one could say of either Matt Cassel or Jim Sorgi.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:47 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 16, 2008

Well, There's Always Next Year

THE FOLLOWING WILL SERVE as an apt summary of the game between the Manchester Wolves and the Tennessee Valley Vipers this evening in Huntsville, Ala.:

As you may have guessed, Manchester wasn't driving the General Lee.

When the first half was over, the score was 28-14 -- not bad, considering we were down 21-0 at the end of the first quarter. Manchester turned over the ball twice during the half, and couldn't capitalize on a late Bradly Chavez interception in the closing minute. Our opening drive in the third quarter looked promising until our quarterback, Brian Jones, threw an absolute lulu of an interception. Tennessee Valley then marched down the field and we were again down three scores. Somehow, though, Manchester stopped the Vipers twice on offense, and we capitalized. Halfway through the fourth quarter, we were only down 35-28. Then, when Al Phillips made a great interception, it looked like we could tie it up -- until Jones fumbled on the very next play. The Vipers recovered. Ugh.

With some smart play calling into the mix, the Vipers were able to run down the clock and kick a field goal. With 52 seconds remaining, the Vipers were up 38-28. But on the enusing kickoff, the ball bounced off the crossbar and the Vipers recovered, punching it in for a touchdown on the next play. Ugh.

Final score: Tennessee Valley 45, Manchester 35.

But.

There's always next year.

That's something I hope the team can take away from what really was a magical turnaround and a heck of a run for the Arena Cup. To go from a 1-6 record in the first seven weeks to an overall record of 9-7, and then to knock off not only the South Georgia Wildcats and the Green Bay Blizzard in the playoffs, was a hell of an accomplishment. It's one that should be celebrated and recognized. Although tonight's game didn't go the way we had hoped, the season can only be considered a success, and something to build on for next year.

Although I am certainly disappointed -- the team was so close, and yet so far -- the Wolves are not a team in which I can be disappointed. Not when their players are playing for love of the game, $250 per week and a shot at the Arena Football League or even the NFL (a Wolves linebacker in 2007, Maurice Fountain, went to the AFL in 2008 and just signed with the Miami Dolphins). Although I would love for the team to someday win the Arena Cup, I'm happy to have some good football during the off-season. So here's to next year, the quest and plenty of good football yet to come.

---------------
(What's that? Hazzard County was in Georgia? Eh. It's close enough).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 11, 2008

My Football Loyalties Explained

WITH FOOTBALL SEASON just a few weeks away, I thought it would be important for Loyal Rant Readers to know where I stand when it comes to my football team loyalties. Although my partisanship for certain teams, like the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers, is well known, it is less well known that I actually have a complex scheme ranking all 32 NFL teams (and all 8 CFL teams) in order of preference. This allows me to take any game -- even a crappy one -- and turn it from a boring snooze-fest between two awful teams into an exciting contest full of chills and thrills.

I know not everyone is as enamored of this idea as I am. Some time back, one of my colleagues at work asked me -- with a bit of exasperation in his voice -- "Can't you just enjoy the game?" The answer to this question, of course, is No. Besides, let's say there's a real stinker of a game on television -- between, say, the Carolina Panthers and the Minnesota Vikings. Normally, I would really have to force myself to watch it. But under my Detailed Football Loyalties Scheme, I can switch to a pro-Panthers mindset in about ten seconds and start rooting for Jake GoHomme and the Panthers to beat up on the Vikings. It's easy!

So how does it work, you ask? Well, here you go:

Now, you must realize the table is read left-to-right, then up-and-down: the Jets top the Chiefs, who top the Saints, but both teams top the Tennessee Titans. So, for instance, in a game between the Detroit Lions and the New York Jets, I would root for the Lions. In a game between the Jets and the Buffalo Bills, I would root for the Jets. In a game between the Chicago Bears and the St. Louis Rams, I would root for the Bears. You can also see I would almost never root for the New England Patriots and it would require extreme extenuating circumstances for me to root for the Baltimore Ravens.

You see, there are -- in theory -- situations I could root for the Ravens. However, these situations only involve playoff considerations for my favored teams. For instance, if Baltimore is playing the Cincinnati Bengals, and if the Ravens knock out the Bengals it would allow the Cleveland Browns to get into the playoffs, then I would root for the Ravens. These extenuating circumstances are only applicable to the Steelers, Browns and Lions' playoff chances, and not to other teams.

I hope this chart proves handy for Loyal Rant Readers who, during week seven of the season, will wonder why I'm going on about the Saints-Panthers game, a game which no one outside of Louisiana or the Carolinas watched, or why I'm suddenly beating up on the Denver Broncos. It will also help explain my ranting on about Canadian football, a side of football not normally discussed in the United States. (That could change if Americans could, you know, actually watch the games, but that is neither here nor there).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:48 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 10, 2008

WOLVES DEFEAT GREEN BAY

LOYAL RANT READERS will recall my absolute joy when, somehow, someway, the Manchester Wolves -- my city's minor-league arena football team -- beat the South Georgia Wildcats in the first round of this year's af2 playoffs. Not only did we win, we won after a last minute of play that was perhaps the most exciting minute of arena football I've ever watched. Well -- THEY DID IT AGAIN! The Wolves beat the Green Bay Blizzard! The Wolves beat the Green Bay Blizzard!

And I thought last week was exciting. Holy Toledo, this was even better. So dig this: with less than a minute left, the Green Bay Blizzard have scored a touchdown to go ahead 54-47. That gives us roughly 46 seconds to march the ball down the field and in the endzone to tie it all up. With no time outs left, we're under the gun. Well, lo and behold, we're able to advance the ball down into Green Bay territory, and with 7.2 seconds left, we've got enough time for roughly one more play. With 17 yards to the endzone, we were completely behind the eight ball. But Brian Jones, our new quarterback -- who was our starting quarterback before he got sidelined with injury in April -- takes the snap, heads back, and after a few seconds hits wide receiver Emery Sammons in the endzone for the equalizer!

Then Sammons ran into the trombone player. No, wait. Anyway, so now comes the extra point attempt, which would have sent the game into overtime if good. But ... hey. We're not going to try the extra point. We're going for a two-point conversion to win the ball game. Oh God oh God oh God. The try goes ... and the pass is incomplete off the back wall. NOOOO -- but there's a penalty! It's on Green Bay! One more try! It's a running play. Jones walks into the endzone! Manchester's up 55-54!

But with 1.2 seconds left, Green Bay still gets to receive a kickoff and try to return it for a score. Their return man is Steve "Speedy" Gonzalez, who played for the Wolves before getting a promotion to the Philadelphia Soul. In a word, the guy's dangerous. But the unthinkable doesn't happen -- and Manchester wins! Manchester wins! WOW!

Even more amazing, we are not facing Wilkes-Barre Scranton in the conference final. Somehow, WBS lost at home (!) to the Tennessee Valley Vipers, of Huntsville, Ala. So now we're heading down to the Yellowhammer State to see if we can make our way to the ArenaCup game. I do not know what a yellowhammer is but I do know Tennessee Valley is a very tough team. They beat Wilkes-Barre at home. That's an accomplishment that can't be understated. But if we can beat South Georgia and Green Bay on the road we can beat these guys too.

Amazingly, the playoff situation as it stands now gives us an outside chance to host the ArenaCup game -- which would be downright cool. However, it's an outside chance. Not only would we have to win, so would the Amarillo Dusters. I put our chances of beating Tennessee Valley as pretty good. Amarillo's chances of beating the Spokane Shock, the best team in the entire league ... well, they're slim. But if Manchester makes it, that will hopefully mean some sort of television coverage, so we'll see. I don't want to put the cart before the horse, though -- so let's go to Alabama and bring home a victory.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:06 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 06, 2008

A Bridge Too Favre

MY FATHER, UPON HEARING my complaint I was absolutely sick of hearing about former current soon-to-be-traded Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, offered up what I think is a reasonable explanation for the all-Favre, all-the-time news cycle that has emerged over the past few weeks. Namely, my father wondered if ESPN secretly paid Mr Favre ten million dollars to suddenly un-retire and send shock waves throughout the football world. After all, Mr Kepple pointed out, it's not like Terrell Owens has been in the news lately.

Of course, Mr Kepple was kidding, and so am I. But I must admit a bit of secret pleasure -- schadenfreude, perhaps -- at the latest twists and turns in the Favre saga. Not only is Favre almost certain to leave Green Bay, there's a chance he could get traded to the New York Jets. The Rant's reaction to this possibility can be summed up as follows: oh, please God. Please. I mean, how cool would it be if the New York Jets got Brett Favre as their quarterback?

True, the only reason I want the Jets to sign Mr Favre is because it could conceivably help the Jets defeat the New England Patriots. As a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I once kinda liked the Patriots -- at least, until they got really good and started defeating the Steelers despite all our best efforts. Add in the antics of Mad Genius Hobo Coach, the admittedly-brilliant play of quarterback Tom Brady and the fact the Pats lost the "humility" page in their playbooks, and they've suddenly become Public Enemy No. 1 for everyone who does not root for them. Making matters even worse, I live in the heart of Patriots Nation; as such, I am an enemy combatant. So, even though there are situations when I do root for the Patriots -- such as when they play Rocket Arm and his gang of idiots -- I generally view them the same way Cato viewed Carthage. Must. Be. Destroyed. If the generally-likable Jets can help bring that about, I am all for it.

Given this, I think it's clear the Packers ought trade Mr Favre to New York, and not to Tampa Bay, where Mr Favre would quickly fade out of the limelight as he played in games against the -- ew -- Atlanta Falcons. Trading Mr Favre to the Buccaneers would mean he could conceivably knock the Packers out of a Super Bowl trip, and the cheeseheads would go crazy if that actually happened. But trading Mr Favre to New York would almost certainly prevent him from causing trouble for the Packers, as the possibility the Jets could reach the Super Bowl is so remote that it is downright laughable.

Whatever the outcome, though, I can take pleasure in knowing Mr Favre's trade will help take much of the spotlight off Green Bay and its pleasant, albeit vaguely disturbing fans. Although like most fans I tend to like Green Bay, I would be fine if I did not hear about them for the first eight weeks of the season. Mr Favre's departure should help bring that about, as the Pack descends into a mediocrity one would normally associate with the Minnesota Vikings. This would then help my third team, the hapless Detroit Lions, have an excellent season. By which I mean 8-8.

God, I can't wait for fall to get here.

UPDATE, 8:38 a.m., Aug. 7: YES! YES! YES! YES! I am glad to see the Packers listened to me.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 03, 2008

Canadian Football Update

THE GOOD NEWS: In defeating the Calgary Stampeders 22-21 on Saturday night, the Saskatchewan Roughriders are now 6-0, the best start to the season the team has had since 1934.

THE BAD NEWS is that practically everyone on the team is injured. On the other hand, the Grey Cup isn't until November, so maybe they can heal up by then.

This has been your Canadian Football Update.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 02, 2008

WOLVES DEFEAT SOUTH GEORGIA

THEY DID IT! THEY DID IT! My city's minor-league arena football team, the Manchester Wolves, the seventh seed in the af2 playoffs, beat the No. 2-seeded South Georgia Wildcats! I can't believe it! They did it! What a game! I have never seen a more exciting fourth quarter in arena football. Holy Toledo!

I can only imagine what it was like in person down in Albany, Ga. As it happened, I watched it on my computer here at home, using the af2's particularly spiffy television feed. What an exciting last few minutes. Here's how it went down. With four minutes or so to go, Manchester is driving down the field, down 42-39 to the Wildcats. Quarterback James Pinkney throws a neat pass to wide receiver Emery Sammons, who caught the ball at about the five yard line. It wasn't clear what happened next -- whether the ball popped out after Sammons was down or he was stripped of it -- but suddenly, the officials ruled it was a fumble and South Georgia recovered it in the endzone.

Uh oh, I thought to myself. Now we're in trouble. It had been a tough go all night, and the Wildcats now had the upper hand. A few plays later, they seemed well on their way to scoring and getting a crucial two-possession lead. But thanks to some beautiful defensive play, we stopped them on downs. Now, we had the momentum again and had the ball on our nine-yard line. After heading back down the field, Pinkney threw a tough pass to Sammons, and the ball bounced off Sammons' fingertips, took a crazy jump, and one of the South Georgia cornerbacks somehow managed to intercept the ball with about a minute on the clock. Now, we're doomed! I thought.

All South Georgia had to do was get positive yardage and they would have been able to run out the clock. On the very next play, they fumbled the ball on the snap. The Wolves recovered on what looked to be the South Georgia four-yard-line. Oh. My. God. Then the South Georgia center complained to the officials, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Half the distance. Then South Georgia's coach got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Half the distance again!

A touchdown came soon after, and we were up, 46-42. But there were 56 seconds left on the clock, and with the one-minute timing rules in effect, scoring would have been pretty easy for the Wildcats. But boy did the Wolves step up. Not only did South Georgia have to use all four downs to get a first down, on the next play their quarterback screwed up spiking the ball. Don't ask me how that turned into a fumble, but suddenly, the Wildcats had to use their last time out. Then, again, the Wolves stopped them on downs. All we had to do was run out the clock, and we were able to do so thanks to a defensive penalty.

Oh. My. God. We beat South Georgia. A team that had won seven games in a row. A team that beat league-best Spokane in Spokane. A team that won the American Conference's South Division title. We beat them. You can't ask for more than that.

Now, on to Green Bay and victory!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 28, 2008

A House Divided

WITH LESS THAN ONE WEEK before the beginning of football's pre-season, I realized one thing to which I'm especially looking forward this season: the spirited debate which takes place between various members of my family, both immediate and extended, on professional football.

As Loyal Rant Readers know, my family is a very tight-knit bunch. But when it comes to the world of football, we Kepples have multiple and competing loyalties, to the point where spelling them all out reads like a plot-line in a James Clavell novel. Take my immediate family, for instance. I support the Pittsburgh Steelers. My father does as well. But my brother is a die-hard Cleveland Browns supporter who hates Pittsburgh with all his being and would like nothing more for them to go 1-15. My mother, meanwhile, has thrown her support to the Browns, although she still roots for Pittsburgh if they're not playing the Browns. I support the Browns if they're not playing the Steelers or their potential victory won't affect the Steelers, and my father does the same. This annoys my brother to no end, as he would not root for Pittsburgh if his life depended on it. (This is not unusual for Cleveland fans).

But it doesn't stop there. My uncle, the Rev. Uncle Dave, is a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, despite being a man of God. As a result, I suspect his entire family may support the Bengals as well, with the known exception of Cousin Dan, who gave up on the Bengals and started rooting for -- ugh -- the Indianapolis Colts. Fortunately, the rest of my extended family are Pittsburgh Steelers fans, as far as I know, so Dad and I can count on them for moral support.

Fortunately, few of my friends have alarming sports loyalties. My friend Chris is a New England Patriots fan, but this is allowed because he grew up in Massachusetts and suffered during the long march of the Nineties. My friend Simon From Jersey is a devout Detroit Lions fan, so there is absolutely no way I can get upset with him. For one thing, the Lions are my third team; for another, they're the Lions, and as such each season is bound to end in disappointment. My friend Geoff is also a Lions fan, but every time he mentions it, it is with an air of resignation. He knows how things will almost certainly turn out.

But as of now, we're all undefeated. As of now, we all have hope.

Let the -- uh, discussion -- begin.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 27, 2008

Fixing Albany

AFTER THE MANCHESTER WOLVES (9-7) finished off their season with an impressive and exciting 46-45 win over the Corpus Christi Sharks (8-8), I was scanning the headlines on ArenaFan and found a rather interesting story about the Albany Conquest. As in, the team's for sale. As in, the team's for sale for just a quarter of a million dollars.

Hmmmmm. Let's see ... oh, drat. I don't have the money with me. Well, let's look at my books, then -- oh, drat. I'm short. Plus, even if I did have a quarter of a million dollars, that wouldn't be enough money to rescue the Conquest. To do it right you would need at least a million bucks on top of that. Sadly, the Conquest is a money-losing franchise and so you would need a lot of capital to right the ship.

But I do think it could be done. Albany has some particular hurdles that must be overcome, but they can be overcome with the right amount of grit and hustle, by which I mean salesmanship. First, though, let's look at some numbers.

It costs about $1 milion -- now, perhaps $1.1 million or $1.2 million -- to run an af2 franchise for a year. That we know, based on a Forbes magazine story written a few years ago which featured my team, the glorious (and profitable!) Manchester Wolves. It is possible you could get away with less but since you don't want to cut corners, you should expect to pay that kind of money. So let's settle on an expense figure of $1.1 million.

This consequently means that you need revenues of at least $1.1 million to avoid nasty calls from your bankers. So how do you get $1.1 million in revenues? Well, let's look at the revenue breakdown. According to the Forbes article, 47 pc of revenue for a typical af2 team comes from ticket sales, 33 pc from corporate sponsorship, 10 pc from merchandise and concessions, 9 pc from radio and television advertising, and 1 pc from "other." Broken out for our example, that means selling $517,000 worth of tickets, getting $366,666 in corporate dollars, $110,000 from merchandise and concessions, and roughly $100,000 from radio and television.

The two big areas where a front office can do well are on the ticket and corporate sides. Everything else will follow.

Now the corporate dollars require salesmanship. Your corporate sponsors want value for money. How do you do that? Sell ads and tickets. Sell naming rights to the field. Sell ads on jerseys. Sell ads on the padding. Sell ads on the banners around the field. Do business in-kind: you feed my players one night a week, I promote you during each game and invite people to eat at Joe's with the team. Throw in some free tickets as incentives for companies -- they can be used as free morale-boosters for the troops. You provide free stuff for giveaways and we'll promote the hell out of it. Give away gasoline. Give away a car. But promote, promote, promote.

Let's break it down even further when it comes to ticket sales. There are eight home games in a season, meaning one would need $64,625 in ticket sales per game for that portion of the break-even price. An Albany Conquest season ticket holder this year paid anywhere from $33.75 to $9 per game for a ticket, depending on location, with most going for $16 each. If we assume the really good seats cancel out the endzone seats, let's say the average is $16 each. Thus, if the team could sell 4,039 season tickets, they'd break even on that component right from the get-go. The average overall attendance in Albany the past year was about 3,700, according to ArenaFan.

There are two problems I see with the Conquest's strategy as is. First, they've made many of the tickets too cheap. Second, there are no discounts for youth or seniors -- at least, none that I saw on their tickets page. Both these things are serious errors in my mind and will be difficult to correct. After all, since you've devalued the tickets (and the team isn't all that good) you have little power to increase prices. Second, in not discounting tickets for youth and seniors, you're creating a mental barrier for potential buyers.

So how does one fix this? Volume. Raise the adult prices a little bit -- there's some breathing room there. For instance, the single-game sideline seats could be sold for $20 instead of $18 without too much blowback. But youth tickets could be sold for $10 and senior tickets for $15. Be ruthless in cutting prices for kids. Kids mean adults. That's the iron-clad equation of minor-league sports. Kids mean adults.

Let's say you have a family of four wanting to buy sideline tickets for a season. This year, they would have paid $512 for season tickets. Now, I don't know about you, but to me $512 is a lot of money. Here's a better idea. Sell the adult tickets for $18 each (a $2 increase over now) and sell the kids' tickets for $5 each. That brings in $368 -- not too much less -- but your family of four is going to think, "Wow. Football games for the kids cheap." The kids will be happy, which makes the parents happy, and it's good for everyone. (The Wolves offered really cheap youth season tickets this year, and I thought it was particularly inspired).

If you were able to attract just 50 new families with this pricing scheme, it would translate to $18,400 in revenue. If you attracted 500 new families, it would translate to $184,000.

One final thought on promotion: af2 teams should work hand-in-hand with the athletic departments of their local middle and high schools. That's a natural fan base. Run football clinics, offer discounted tickets, do what you have to do, but do it. It'll be good for the players on your team and good for the kids and, one would hope, good for the bottom line.

Oh, there's also the whole football part of the equation. That's the easy part. But Albany's hapless performance on the field needs to be fixed. My guess -- and this is just a guess -- is that a good team on the field would translate into 1,000 or 1,500 tickets sold a game at the very minimum. Also, the team make sure to work with its loyal fan base and get them more involved with the team. That will excite them even more and spread the word to their friends and family.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:32 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 20, 2008

Brave Ohio Soccer Fans Defeat Invading Brittunculi

THE RANT NOTES with disapproval that at tonight's "friendly" match between Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew and the Premiership's West Ham United, a rather large brawl broke out between upstanding fans of the Columbus squad and wretched partisans of the West Ham squad. Fortunately, from news reports, it appears the brave Ohio soccer fans defeated the West Ham supporters and America's honor was maintained.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 18, 2008

Manchester Wins, But Not Triumphantly

THE GOOD NEWS: the Manchester Wolves (8-7), my city's minor-league arena football team, beat the Albany Conquest (5-10) in Albany this evening by an impressive score of 70-49, thus ending the Conquest's playoff hopes and pretty much ensuring our appearance in the post-season.

THE BAD NEWS: our starting quarterback, James Pinkney, got hurt in the fourth quarter and did not return. He was able to walk off the field but was in extreme pain. I don't know what happened to him and neither did the announcer on the radio feed to which I was listening, but I just hope it's not a rib-cage injury. That would be bad. That would be very bad. I hope Mr Pinkney has a swift and speedy recovery from whatever is ailing him.

Also in the "bad news" category -- our play was ... well, a bit sloppy. Yes, I know I'm a perfectionist. Yes, I know I am unforgiving. That's not the point. Albany should not have scored 49 points in that contest, and I think we could have scored more than 70 -- we had 40 at halftime, after all. The only reason we did score 70, as it happened, was because Albany was messing around with timeouts when the game was lost; thus, instead of running the ball, we ran a long-bomb pass play that went for a touchdown.

I suppose what frustrated me as a fan were the innumerable penalties against the Wolves, several of them personal fouls. The personal foul penalty is the bane of every football fan, primarily because it's so stupid. Does the quarterback release the ball? Sadly, he is inviolate. Does some loudmouth on the other side rattle your chain? There is one and only one acceptable response to this -- and that is the word "scoreboard."

I mean, come on, guys. It's Albany. They suck. They always suck. They always have and always will suck*. There is no reason to let them get under your skin. For that matter, there is no reason to let anyone get under your skin. Channel your anger into an appropriate response, such as legally piledriving a wide receiver into the boards four plays later. It is one thing to get mad, but much better to get even.

On the other hand, the Wolves do deserve a lot of praise for turning their season around this year. Things seemed pretty grim back when they were 1-6, but winning seven of their last eight games has turned this into a winning team and an impressive program. Don't ease off the accelerator now!

* This may actually prove the case, as the attendance in Albany tonight was just 3,000 and change -- not enough, based on the Conquest's owner's previous statements, for the man to bring the team back next year.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 15, 2008

Only 19 Days Until the Hall of Fame Game

IT'S GETTING CLOSER -- the Hall of Fame Game, that glorious contest that kicks off the NFL preseason. The game this year will be aired on NBC and will be played at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 3. The teams in this year's game are the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins.

DEFENSE! DEFENSE! DEFENSE!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 14, 2008

And He Can Spend Fast, Too!

REPORTS: Former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chis Henry is broke. Like, flat broke. Like, needs taxpayer help for his legal affairs broke.

I actually feel bad for the guy. True, it's his own fault he is in this mess, but still -- I have to think that if he'd had the proper advice he wouldn't have screwed up on the financial side of things.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:38 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

July 13, 2008

Theologians: Danger of World Ending Lowest Since 2003

By FLIP ARGENTI
The Sporting Rant

TOP THEOLOGIANS have confirmed the danger of the world ending is at its lowest point since 2003, citing religious principles that connect the performance of certain sports teams with God's desire to judge mankind and welcome the elect into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Religious experts widely agree no man knoweth the day nor the hour of the LORD's judgment, citing Matthew 25:13. But the experts also agree the LORD's Generally Accepted Rules of General Principle will prevent Him from ushering in the Apocalypse until He believes the world's events and doings are properly aligned. As a result, many observers are hopeful the end of the world could be tens of millenia off, if not longer.

“According to our analysis, the LORD will stay His hand upon the wretched earth until certain signs and miracles appear heralding that our time is up,” said the Rev. Paul Caldon, SJ. “Thus, it is entirely possible -- indeed, quite likely -- He will hold off until the Detroit Lions win the Super Bowl. As a result, even if that was the only criteria remaining for the LORD, the world could have decades or even centuries of continued peace. You know, before the horrible seven-headed beast rises from the sea to subjugate the nations of man.”

However, Caldon continued, it was likely the LORD has decided several improbable criteria would need to be met before exacting His judgment upon mankind. Other religious experts agreed.

“Even the ascension of Petrus Romanus to the primal seat would not result in the LORD's hand moving against the material world,” said the Rev. George Pistone, SDB. “No way. Based on our calculations, it would require the Detroit Lions, the Cleveland Browns and the Minnesota Vikings to win the Super Bowl, the Los Angeles Clippers to win the NBA playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup and the Chicago Cubs to win the World Series, all within a span of three or four years. The chances of that happening are so small the earth could well fall into the sun prior to that taking place.”

“Besides, what if we added the Buffalo Bills into the mix? I mean, the LORD works in mysterious ways, but if He had wanted the end of the world to happen, He would have caused Scott Norwood's kick to go through the uprights,” Pistone said. "Don't get me started on Philadelphia either."

According to cultural historians, the last time serious discussions arose about sports events leading to world-ending calamities arose in 2003, when the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs were both in the League Championship Series for their respective baseball leagues, thus leading to the possibility of a Red Sox-Cubs World Series. However, theologians now believe that certain actors in those series, notably Red Sox manager Grady Little and Chicago baseball fan Steven Bartman, were divinely inspired to prevent the beginning of what could have been an apocalypse-heralding event.

It is also possible, experts believe, that the LORD may require sporting events around the world to take place before moving to end existence as we know it. If so, this would require not only the events listed above to happen, but also events such as the Bolton Wanderers winning the English Premier League, Scotland winning the Euro soccer championship, US Citta di Palermo to win Serie A, and Venezuela to win the World Cup. The odds against all these events happening within any given five-year period are roughly 600 billion to one.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:33 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 12, 2008

Everything Went Wrong, Then Everything Went Right

WELL, I CAN'T COMPLAIN about this year's Arena Football League season, even if it did come to a sad conclusion for me today when both my teams in the playoffs got blasted out of their athletic shoes. Ugh. It was bad enough when the Philadelphia Soul shellacked the Cleveland Gladiators, but it was even worse to see the Grand Rapids Rampage become the latest victims of the San Jose SaberCats.

Shit.

In any event, I have to give credit to both teams for getting as far as the conference championship games. These teams improved markedly over their performances last year, and provided me a lot of entertainment during these long months without traditional American football. But for now, I shall bid adieu to another Arena Football League season, and will look forward to its resumption in March.

READERS: Uh, last time we checked, there was this whole "Arena Bowl" taking place in New Orleans in two weeks or so, and --

Oh, please. It's the Philadelphia Soul against the San Jose SaberCats. It's the arenaball equivalent of the Indianapolis Colts playing the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. Watching Super Bowl XLI was tough enough but I felt I had a duty as a football fan. Watching this would be downright impossible, particularly as I'd undoubtedly get exposed to air time that in some way, shape or form would involve Ron Jaworski. I'll pass. My guys fought hard but they got knocked out, and so it's time to regroup and focus on other matters.

Other matters like the AF2, I might add!

Up until 6 p.m. today, everything went wrong. After 6 p.m., pretty much everything went right.

I am proud to report the Manchester Wolves (7-7), my city's minor-league arena football team, ran roughshod over the lowly Mahoning Valley Thunder (3-11) this evening -- and did so from the word go. Much to my surprise, I might add. You see, earlier today, I had thought the game had started at 7 p.m., but looked at my ticket and saw the game time was listed as 7:30 p.m. Oh good, I thought: I have plenty of time to get to the game, so I'll take a shower and relax before I get down there.

It was such a nice night in Manchester that I decided to save myself $10 and parked on the city streets about six blocks from the arena, and very much enjoyed my walk. When I arrived at the arena, I was surprised to find the game was already in progress, and realized to my horror that I had forgotten the start time had in fact been pushed back some weeks ago. I poked my head inside one of the sections and found to my amazement Manchester had already gone up 19-0 -- no, 20-0! -- in the first half of the first quarter.

As one might expect, we won this game easily. The final score was 53-27, which is even more impressive considering the Youngstown squad only scored two touchdowns in the second half. The credit for this win must go mostly to our defense, which had a downright fantastic game, particularly defensive back Carl Brown. Our quarterback, James Pinkney, didn't have the best game -- one fumble, one interception. But he still played very well -- he was named the offensive player of the game -- and to be fair the whole match was kind of a tune-up for the next few weeks. It just had that feel, if that makes any sense; once Manchester got out so far ahead, our guys seemed to ease off the accelerator a little, and could do so without fear.

Certainly Youngstown did not seem to bring its best game, but then, they appeared to be playing with their C-team in place. Two of their players were on injured reserve. Oddly, four players -- and good ones, too! -- were listed on the team suspension list in our program. I'd love to know how that happened. Even more odd, their main quarterback got suspended by the league. Supposedly, according to The Vindicator of Youngstown, Ohio, the QB had been playing in a lower-level* indoor football league earlier this year, and apparently one can't do that and play for the af2 in the same season. (The Vindy sources this to the Thunder's latest quarterback, who "heard" that from some unnamed source, so take it for what it's worth. If true, though, that's stupid -- the af2 should use these leagues as a feeder system and take their best talent).

But that's neither here nor there. The point is we won and they lost. Even better, the other teams we needed to lose lost -- not one but two! Much to my surprise, the Albany Conquest (5-9) knocked off the Louisville Fire (7-7) and the Iowa Barnstormers (5-9) manhandled the Quad City Steamwheelers (7-7). This leaves three teams tied for the last two places in the playoffs.

I think we're seventh now. Or eighth. Christ, I don't know. But the important thing is that no matter what happens, if we win the next two games we are guaranteed a playoff spot. I think. Yeah. Strength of schedule. Or something.

Also, I am pleased to note that although it would have been great to see it on television, the Saskatchewan Roughriders somehow managed to defeat the surprisingly good Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the last minute of play at Ivor Wynne Stadium. That's in Hamilton. That's east of Kitchener and southwest of Toronto.

Anyway, dig this: It's like second and hopeless for the Riders on their own 42, and bang! -- Weston Dressler goes 67 yards on a pass play, and would have scored a touchdown had he not fumbled the ball before getting into the end zone. But this gave the Riders the ball on the Hamilton one-yard line, and as such it was not difficult for Saskatchewan to run it in for the score, putting them on top 33-28 with seconds left.

When I checked in on this game before I left tonight, it was Hamilton up 28-26 with a minute left in the fourth quarter. What a win. The Riders are now 3-0 and clearly the best team in Canadian football. Don't talk to me about the Argos or the Alouettes; the Riders are going to win the Grey Cup two years in a row. You know, it'd be great if I could watch the Grey Cup on television.

Anyway, that's it for now, but to recap: Grand Rapids, Cleveland out of AFL playoff chase; Manchester in AF2 playoff chase; Saskatchewan rules; and -- oh yes, it's just a few weeks to the NFL's pre-season. Sweet. And just think, I mananged to write an entire football-oriented blog post without writing about Brett Favre!

Oops.

----------------------

* Yes, there are lower ones, as Loyal Rant Readers know. The Rant recommends the CIFL for folks back home if they can't make it up to Grand Rapids.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 09, 2008

Helpful Romantic Do's and Don'ts

IN THE FOLLOWING VIDEO, Loyal Rant Readers will notice two dramatically different situations played out on screen. The first instance is the classic "wrong" video, in which foolish and decadent lifestyle choices are re-enacted so viewers can witness the horrors wrought as a result. The second instance is the classic "right" video, in which proper etiquette and manners are displayed:

My apologies to those readers who were sickened at the first video. It is truly disturbing to see such an unthinkable lifestyle choice played out on screen, but it is necessary to show so that future students and graduates of the schools may be instructed accordingly. I realize some readers may not have picked up on all the troubling aspects of the first video, but let's review them so we're all clear.

One. The Michigan girl is kissing the Ohio State guy -- even though he clearly has venereal disease.
Two. The Michigan girl and the Ohio State guy are starting their make-out session in a room that was last decorated during the first Nixon Administration. We can thus deduce they are making out either a) in the lout's sketchy apartment or b) the basement of his parents' home. In both cases, they suggest the Michigan girl is dating below her station, as further evidenced by her earrings, which may be diamond -- unless the Ohio State guy gave her the earrings, in which case they are cubic zirconia.
Three. The Michigan girl is kissing the Ohio State guy despite the fact he has not bathed in three days and has worn that same sweatshirt to class for the past four weeks.
Four. The Michigan girl has her leg crossed over the Ohio State guy's leg, yet she does not use the opportunity to deliver a well-aimed, debilitating shot to the guy's meat and two veg.
Five. The Michigan girl appears dazed and confused, while the Ohio State guy is clearly planning to make his move. It may be they met at a bar, and he spiked her drink with a chemical agent.
Six. Should the relationship continue, it has the potential to end badly for the Michigan girl, particularly if she is in Columbus when the Wolverines defeat the Buckeyes, which will result in rioting and general disorder throughout Ohio's capital. She thus could find her quest for "true love" and a "soulmate" ends when unruly Ohio State students tip over her car.

Now let's review the second video, in which responsible adults both do the right things, which are as follows:

One. The Ohio State alumnus, despite being an awkward and nebbish sort, and a man who clearly is dating out of his league, jumps out of a moving automobile to flee the hot Michigan alumna. This brave and meritorious action must be commended, as any true Michigan man would do the same if he found himself on a blind date with a hot Ohio State alumna.
Two. The hot Michigan alumna does her duty under the law by stopping to see if the Ohio State wretch was hurt after his desperate leap, but consequently flees in disgust upon realizing the fool was unhurt. This was clearly the proper and correct course of action.
Three. The Michigan alumna is kind and considerate to the schmoe she has picked up on a blind date, even though the yutz is clearly a sad failure. Not only did he not pick her up in his car, he is dressed like a complete schlub while she is wearing classy and appropriate attire for dinner.
Four. Upon observation and belief, the Michigan alumna is driving an American-made sport utility vehicle.

As we can see, both the Ohio State alumnus and Michigan alumna acted appropriately given the situation. This goes especially because both parties knew that if they continued seeing each other, got into a relationship, consummated it, and then later got married, their children would be forced to make difficult and painful choices down the line. Or, even worse, end up attending Wisconsin or Purdue.

God, I can't wait for college football season.

Speaking of college football, Every Day Should Be Saturday has a helpful point chart determining the college football team with the most legal troubles. As The Rant has been accused of anti-Southern bias in the past, I would note that Penn State is tied for fifth on the list, while the Illinois Fighting Zooks are tied for tenth place. That said, The Rant is not at all surprised Alabama -- home of evil Coach Saban -- is far and away in first place. The SEC also has four teams on the list*, no small consideration when one considers the site's writer is an SEC partisan.

* surprisingly, this includes Georgia, which I actually somewhat like.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 08, 2008

July 06, 2008

CHICAGO -- IS -- OURS!

GRAND RAPIDS DID IT! GRAND RAPIDS DID IT! HAHAHAHAHAHA!

Oh, what a joyous game! The sixth-seeded Grand Rapids Rampage defeated the first-seeded Chicago Rush 58-41, in an impressive, hard-fought playoff game in Rosemont, Ill., this afternoon, and what a victory it was. This is one game where I'm glad to have my prediction prove wrong, that's for sure.

We'll get to the victory in a bit, but I must first announce a major shift in my arena football loyalties. Previously, I had somewhat liked the Chicago Rush. But their unsportsmanlike antics throughout the game today have put them thoroughly in the evil column of my football loyalties scheme. As such, they must be destroyed.

While that was fortunately the outcome of today's game, I would call upon the Arena Football League to look over the game footage and assess heavy fines against certain players -- particularly defensive lineman John Moyer, who ganged up on Grand Rapids quarterback James MacPherson along with another Chicago defenseman. That was cowardly and pathetic. This does not mean you should fine Jason Shelley, who was only defending his quarterback when he ran 15 yards to bodycheck Moyer, resulting in Mr Shelley's ejection from the contest.

As Loyal Rant Readers have concluded, these two teams do not like each other much. This is understandable, given the long-standing divisional rivalry between the teams. But I am glad that Grand Rapids was able to keep its cool -- well, mostly -- during the game. It appeared to me most of the Stupid Penalties went against Chicago, and that's what you want when you're on the road and playing a tough -- if stupid -- team.

Now -- on to San Jose!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 04, 2008

One Month Until Preseason ...

... WHICH MEANS it's as good a time as any to show this clip -- with the vocal talents of none other than Mr John Facenda!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Well, At Least I Went Two-for-Four

SO I WAS ON THE PHONE with Mrs Kepple today and we got to talking about football -- I told you my family rules -- and Mom asked me how the Grand Rapids Rampage, which had the late game on Monday, played. Well, as it turned out, we beat the Arizona Rattlers 48-41 and now must face the Chicago Rush in the divisional round of the playoffs. That will be a tough game as Chicago is a very good squad, but Grand Rapids nearly beat them during the regular season, so I'm hopeful the game won't be a gimme-win for Chicago. It had best not.

Grand Rapids' win, and the Cleveland Gladiators' win over the Orlando Predators, puts me at two-for-four in terms of my Arena Football League predictions. I was stunned as anyone when New York beat Dallas, and disappointed the Colorado Crush -- whom I hate -- knocked off the Utah Blaze. But at least the Monday night games put me at two-and-four. I was worried there.

Now, as for the AFL divisional round playoffs, my predictions are as follows:

No. 2 San Jose will knock off No. 5 Colorado. This will prove an easy win for the SaberCats, I'm thinking.

No. 1 Chicago will defeat -- but only barely -- No. 6 Grand Rapids. The Rampage definitely have a good chance to beat Chicago, but a lot will depend on how their defense performs. If Chicago can score at will, Grand Rapids will find it difficult to pull out a victory. I hope Grand Rapids proves me wrong and I will root for them to do so.

In the National Conference, I think the No. 6 New York Dragons will put up a good fight against the No. 1 Philadelphia Soul, but won't be able to continue their Cinderella run -- the Soul are simply too strong for that. The No. 4 Cleveland Gladiators play the No. 2 Georgia Force. I know nothing about Georgia, so I'm going to throw my hat in the ring for Cleveland.

Games will be on ESPN or the deuce.

In af2 news -- well, there's not much news, 'cause the Wolves have the week off. Our next home game is on Saturday, July 12, against the lowly Mahoning Valley Thunder. But I do think there are some pretty big changes in store for af2 fans next year -- like divisional realignments and such. We shall see.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Dear God, No!

ESPN SAYS Brett Favre, the Green Bay Packers quarterback who is just a few years from collecting Social Security, is considering coming out of retirement.

No. Dear God, no. Anything but that.

I'd like to think this is some kind of sick joke, but I have no doubt it is genuine and that Mr Favre is really and truly thinking about throwing his hat in the ring for Year No. 18. He'd better not. The last thing we need is yet another year of the goddam Fox Sports morons blathering on about Favre, the only semi-likable player in the entire National Football Conference. This would undoubtedly lead to more blathering on from Joe Buck, who should stick to ruining baseball.

So I would beseech Mr Favre to give it a rest. Take a year off. Coach a high school team or something. Heck, coach a college team -- I'm sure Michigan State or some other program will fire its coach soon. But don't come out of retirement only to go back into retirement a short while later, and then consider coming out of retirement, and so on. Time for everything and all that.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:37 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 29, 2008

Credit Where Credit is Due

LAST YEAR, WHEN I took my massive two week long-driving vacation around the East/Midwest/South, I started out the trip watching an NFL Films special on -- of all teams -- the Houston Oilers. I was doing last-minute things, such as making sure the stove was turned off, while in the background this special was airing. As I was going about my work, I heard the stentorian voice of Harry Kalas intone, "The 1988 Houston Oilers tested the waters of greatness."

What? What did he just say? I thought to myself. Tested the waters of greatness? You have got to be kidding me. Of all the hackneyed, trite phrases to use -- I love it!

As such, I resolved to use it myself somehow, and with my new banner, I am glad to have a use for it. I might add the 2008 Grand Rapids Rampage -- in the fifth panel on the banner -- are testing the waters of greatness, and I wish them well in their playoff battle against the Arizona Rattlers Monday night on ESPN2.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I Can't Believe I Missed This

I DON'T KNOW HOW I MISSED THIS -- but I did. It's this year's "Get Your Story Straight" commercial for the NFL Network, which as always saves the best joke for last:

AS AN HONORABLE MENTION, I'd also present a short clip the college kids came up with on college football. This is primarily because it mentions a certain Midwestern university, much to my chagrin:

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 04:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 28, 2008

A Traitor Walks Among Us!

RADIO TALK HOST Hugh Hewitt has some explaining to do. I can assure readers that on June 25, Hewitt -- I will not refer to him as Mr -- said the following on his syndicated radio program, which is broadcast on more than 100 stations throughout the United States:

By the way, I -- I'm still trying to find two tickets to the Ohio State-USC game. And none of the USC people will give up their tickets to me. I'd pay fair price. They -- they know Ohio State's gonna slaughter the Trojans. They know that they're gonna slaughter the Trojans, and therefore they do not want me there at the bloodbath, since it's probably the last football game we'll ever get to see before the United States gets blown up by the Islamists under Obama. I -- I would like to see Ohio State slaughter USC. This is what I'm living for right now. I'm keeping -- all the bad news, I just focus on the Ohio State upcoming slaughter of USC. So if you are a USC fan willing to sell me two or perhaps even three USC tickets to the Ohio State game, hugh@hughhewitt.com, or if you're a Buckeye fan with those tickets back in Ohio, I'll trade you some Browns tickets. New York Giants, Monday night game? Think about it. Hugh Hewitt Show.

These comments have caused certain bloggers to heap much derision upon Hewitt, although they have not focused on the prime issue. Yes, it is true Hewitt deserves a 15-yard penalty for dragging politics -- that awful, wretched curse of politics -- into a discussion about college football, which is pure and glorious and wonderful. But I don't care about that. That is politics, and as such is simply red meat for the mob.

What I do care about, however, is that Hewitt is an admitted Ohio State fan. A passionate one, in fact. Furthermore, I note that Hewitt -- according to this blog -- is also an admitted Notre Dame fan, and again, a passionate one.

True, Hewitt grew up in Warren, Ohio, a wretched burg northwest of Youngstown. This might explain his Ohio State fandom. True, Hewitt attended a Catholic high school while living in Warren, which might explain his Notre Dame fandom -- even if he is a reported Presbyterian.

But, ladies and gentlemen, Hewitt also is a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Law.

We have a major problem here.

You see, it is not as if Hewitt went to Notre Dame or Ohio State for his undergraduate work, which would partially excuse him from his delusional antics on behalf of those schools. Oh, no. Hewitt went to Harvard. Since we all know Harvard is the Michigan of the East, this only worsens his transgression against the institution which launched his career. Whether he likes it or not, he is a Michigan man, and as such he must root for the Wolverines above all or be scandalized for not doing so.

I mean, really. It was bad enough that Michael Moore, who attended the University of Michigan at Flint, has appeared on film wearing a Michigan State cap. But this perfidy is far more serious than Moore's transgression. Since his sin is more pathetic than reprehensible, Moore could easily be redeemed, for like all Spartan fans he also hates Ohio State. If he would simply drop his Spartan allegiance and return to the Michigan fold, I am sure Michigan's Alumni Directorate (our motto: imperium supra omnes) would not hold any hard feelings.

Yet one wonders whether Hewitt could even be redeemed; indeed, it is even possible he does not want to be redemeed from his wretched existence. Shocking, I know, but we cannot ignore unpleasant realities. Certainly his reported love for Notre Dame only compounds his treachery. It does not matter that Charlie Weis is a nice guy; you don't root for Notre Dame above your alma mater. Here's the truth: that's just wrong.

Given all this, I must ask Hewitt's radio listeners: can you trust a man who openly roots for the enemies of an institution where he received a degree? Furthermore, can you trust a man who would inject politics into the sacred realm of college football? Finally, since we have established Hewitt's perfidy when it comes to his college football loyalties, does it not stand to reason one can trust nothing out of the man's mouth? I mean, my God. Any man who would throw the beloved Michigan Wolverines under the bus to root for that school (and that other school) is ... well, a sad case.

As a result, I call upon fans of the University of Southern California Trojans to OPENLY MOCK Hewitt for his perfidious football loyalties and refuse to sell him any of their tickets for the game between Ohio State and USC. Besides, it's almost certain he will try to lowball you on the tickets, and then get in a snit when you hold out for market price. Ohio State fans in the Cleveland area, who might be tempted to spring for Hewitt's offer of Browns-Giants tickets, should also refuse to trade -- any man who would trade Browns-Giants tickets is a cad, a scoundrel and a fool. The Browns are going to be good this year; the idea one would give up tickets to a great game like that is further proof of Hewitt's inherent weirdness.

And if all that doesn't get Hewitt back in the Michigan tent, maybe we can have him exiled to France or something.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Defense Wins Arena Football Games

FOR THOSE READERS unfamiliar with the grand sport of arena football, the above statement may seem a bit strange, especially when one hears about arenaball teams scoring 60, 70, or even 80 points in a game. But this was the case last night in Manchester, when my beloved Manchester Wolves (6-7), my city's minor-league arena football team, crushed the Albany Conquest (4-9) 50-33. There was some beautiful defensive ball played last night and I can't say enough good things about how well our defense performed.

We must have sacked Albany's quarterback six or seven times during the game -- I wish I could give an exact number, but I lost count of how many sacks we had. For that matter, I lost count of how many sacks our rookie lineman Larry McSwain, out of UAB, had during the game, but it must have been three or four. His fellow UAB alum Bradly Chavez, who has fast become a fan favorite, had not one but two fumble recoveries -- including one beautiful play where he recovered a fumble for a touchdown. He simply scooped up the ball and was off to the races.

I have long contended the smart thing for players to do when they're going after a fumble is simply to fall on it: that ensures the ball doesn't slip from their grasp in the recovery attempt. On the play prior to Chavez's scoop for six, I had politely reminded the team about this, as Albany had fumbled the ball on that play too but managed to recover it after a prolonged fight. OK, I was actually screaming, "Fall on it! Fall on the ball!" But I suppose that advice goes out of the window when you're a hands guy.

In any event, defense won this game. Defense also kept Albany in it: despite stellar opening play on Manchester's part, the Conquest made a crucial interception of our quarterback, James Pinkney, as Manchester was seeking to extend our 13-0 lead. This allowed Albany back into the game, and before one knew it, it was halftime and the score was 20-20 -- and Albany started out with the ball in the second half. But Manchester's defense really stepped up in the second half -- I mean, they got a safety, for Pete's sake -- and so did our offense, which powered home in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach. Everyone had a lot to be proud of in this game, although being a perfectionist I was a little concerned about the interceptions our quarterback threw.

Although Manchester's victory was not a surprise, I was surprised to learn upon my arrival at home we were still in ninth place in the af2's American Conference. The stupid Quad City Steamwheelers (7-6) of Moline, Ill., somehow managed to wallop the Green Bay Blizzard (9-4). God, how I wanted Green Bay to win that game -- had they done so, they would have probably pushed Quad City down into ninth place. But the news was not all bad last night. Somehow, the lowly Mahoning Valley Thunder (3-10) of Youngstown, Ohio, beat the Louisville Fire (7-6), putting Louisville uncomfortably close to the hot seat. And the pathetic Stockton (Calif.) Lightning (3-10) beat the Tennesee Valley Vipers in Huntsville, Ala., to put TVV at 8-5 on the season. If the Peoria Pirates (4-8) can beat the Lexington Horsemen (7-5) tonight, that will really make things interesting.

The Wolves get a well-deserved rest next week, but will come back in the following week to play the Thunder at home. Sweet. Here's looking forward to a 7-7 record as of July 12.

THEY DID IT AGAIN! Loyal Rant Readers who may recall my "Adolf Hitler, Dallas Cowboys Fan" post will not be surprised at my argument one could as easily contend Hitler would be a fan of the Dallas Desperadoes. After all, both the NFL and AFL franchises are owned by Mr Jerral Jones and as such are evil. Also, both Dallas squads are quick becoming known for playing fabulous during the regular season, only to get knocked on their asses during the playoffs.

Well, much to my surprise -- and I think everyone else's -- the New York Dragons stepped up last night and beat Dallas on Dallas' home turf, 77-63. Heh. Beautiful. Last year, Dallas went 15-1 in the regular season, yet lost to the 7-9 Columbus Destroyers in the first round of the playoffs. This year, Dallas went 12-4 in the regular season, yet lost to the Dragons, which were 8-8.

Oh, joy and rapture. I mean, Dallas had a great squad again this year, and an unstoppable offense -- and having seen them play live, I can attest to this. But how wonderful was it to learn they had lost, lost, lost, and to New York of all teams! Perhaps this schadenfreude is unseemly, but as one catchy pop song puts it, "It felt so wrong, it felt so right." Yeah.

New York goes on to face the No. 1 ranked Philadelphia Soul next week.

Good luck with that.

This afternoon's AFL game is Colorado v. Utah, while on Monday night we'll have a double-header: Orlando at Cleveland and Grand Rapids at Arizona. The Colorado-Utah game will be on ESPN and the Monday night games will be on ESPN2. Here we go, here we go, here we go!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 26, 2008

Why Football is Better Than Baseball, Part VI

WELL, OK, SO GEORGE CARLIN doesn't explicitly say football is better than baseball in this classic routine, and instead just compares the two sports. But if you ask me, the differences between the sports he points out stand as clear and conclusive proof -- to me, anyway -- that football is better than baseball. Yes, it may be a matter of preference, but ... I mean, it's football. How could it be anything but the best sport on earth?

It's a shame Mr Carlin died, as I'm sure everyone has heard. I saw one of his live performances in Las Vegas some years back; he was quite funny and definitely full of spit and vinegar.

(via Sheila O'Malley)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Way to Manage, Hosers!

OK, THERE'S GOOD NEWS! The American schedule for Canadian Football League broadcasts is out!

Unfortunately I shall not actually get to, you know, follow any of the games. Not on television, not over the Internet, and not over the radio. This is because of the following:

The only television broadcasts in the United States are available on stations I don't receive. It is not a question of upgrading my cable package, either: I couldn't get these stations if I tried. America One doesn't have any New England affiliates, and the only other cable TV alternative is some premium option on Cablevision's system. Nor, from what I've been able to tell, would satellite television -- which I can't have anyway -- allow me to get the games.

Also, Comcast doesn't carry ESPN360 -- it's Comcastic! -- which means I can't stream the games over the Internet. TSN's pay-per-view Web casts are blacked out in the United States. Thus, the only option is SIRIUS Satellite Radio. The options there are far too expensive to justify buying it for Canadian football.

So I'm screwed.

Way to manage, hosers! Way to manage!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:44 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 23, 2008

Duke Football: So Bad, Even a Judge Agrees

"Blue Devil must taste like chicken."

-- commenter CardsOneCatsTwo
in the Louisville Courier-Journal

HOW BAD IS DUKE FOOTBALL? Consider the following. The Duke Blue Devils backed out of a contract to play the University of Louisville Cardinals in football. This annoyed the Cardinals, which sought to enforce a contract provision that would require Duke to pay $150,000 per game if a team of "similar stature" could not be found to play Louisville as a replacement. But Duke's lawyers successfully argued their team was so bad that pretty much any other college team would do -- and according to the Louisville Courier-Journal, a Kentucky judge agreed with them! The newspaper reports:

“At oral argument, Duke (with a candor perhaps more attributable to good legal strategy than to institutional modesty) persuasively asserted that this is a threshold that could not be any lower. Duke’s argument on this point cannot be reasonably disputed by Louisville.”

Kentucky courts interpret contract terms “according to their plain and ordinary meaning” barring any ambiguity. According to Shepherd, finding a suitable replacement literally meant any NCAA Division I team would suffice – including those in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA.)

After the teams played their initial game in 2002, a 40-3 U of L victory in Durham, N.C., Duke opted out of the remaining games in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Louisville is annoyed at the ruling, but we'll see what happens. What we do know, though, is that Duke football sucks. Really sucks. We also now know that Duke is honorless and fails to live up to its commitments, and will resort to legal scheming if need be to worm its way out of those. True, this won't really surprise anyone, but at least now we have proof.

However, Duke's refusal to play Louisville should alarm members of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Although I consider the ACC a second-tier football conference -- especially when you match it against the SEC -- it does have several likable teams in it: Wake Forest, Clemson, and Georgia Tech. All three teams are glorious examples of college football excellence, and I almost always root for Wake and Clemson when I see them in games. The conference also has other storied football powerhouses in it, such as Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech, but like most Americans I despise those teams and hope they go 0-12 each season.

But all ACC teams -- good and evil -- should take pause at Duke's cowardly refusal to play Louisville. Louisville, after all, is a member of the Big East -- a conference in which several teams now in the ACC once played, but whose schools opportunistically left back when it sucked. As such, Duke's withdrawal reflects poorly on everyone in the ACC, and other schools in the conference might want to consider whether they should continue to play Duke in football. After all, if Duke can't play against the big boys in Louisville, why should they play against Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Miami?

Fortunately, a solution is close at hand. Let Appalachian State join the ACC as a football-only member, while allowing Duke to remain as a non-football member, and send Duke football down to the Southern Conference, in which the ASU Mountaineers now play. Unlike Duke, the hardy ASU Mountaineers have proven -- much to my distress -- they can play and beat football powerhouses, and have no compunction about taking anyone on.

Speaking of which, ASU plays Louisiana State University in LSU's home opener this year.

Please, God. Please.

----------

P.S. Fans of the North Carolina Tar Heels may understandably want to gloat about the pickle in which their hated rivals have found themselves. Don't. You went 4-8 last year, you haven't won a conference championship since 1980 and you haven't won a bowl game since 2001.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 22, 2008

This Weekend's Football Update

OK, BAD NEWS AND GOOD NEWS. First the bad news.

Fortunately, I was out with friends last night, so I didn't have to watch the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers (10-2, damn them) defeat my beloved Manchester Wolves (5-7), my city's minor-league arena football team. We lost 69-40. This loss can be fairly described as unfortunate. Since the Quad City Steamwheelers (6-6), based in Moline, Ill., also lost this weekend, a win would have put us in playoff position for the moment. Playoffs in the af2 are NBA style: eight teams from each conference of the 29-team league make the playoffs, with seeding along those lines. Right now, in the American Conference, we're No. 9.

Now we are one game behind the playoff contenders, with just four weeks to go before the post-season. Not the best position to be in, although it is one that may be improved upon. Now I must root for the Louisville Fire -- at home -- to lose to the Lexington Horsemen tomorrow night. That would tie up the 7th and 8th placed teams in the conference at 6-6, and improve Manchester's chances of making it into the playoffs. The good news is that our remaining four games are against relatively weaker teams, and given this, a sweep is not out of the question. So there is certainly reason for hope and every expectation we'll make it into the post-season; it's just that being 7-5 would be a heck of a lot more comforting than being 5-7.

But hey, it's exciting. It's especially exciting due to the second piece of bad news, which is that I consider it very unlikely I'm going to get a Canadian Football League broadcast feed here in New Hampshire this year. God bless it. I checked the Web site for the New England Sports Network, which carried CFL games here last year, and on kickoff Thursday they're broadcasting repeats of old Red Sox games. Not a good sign. The CFL's Web site is useless and continues to pledge that a U.S. broadcast schedule "is coming soon." Right.

CFL games are apparently being broadcast on the America One network this year, but sadly for me there are no America One affiliates in New England. The games will also apparently get broadcast on ESPN360.com, but my cable provider doesn't carry ESPN360.com, which is Comcastic. About the only place I was able to find information about this was the CFL fans' forum, so I am guessing I am, to use the technical term, shit out of luck.

If I find out any further information, I'll pass this on to Loyal Rant Readers, who have expressed interest in the CFL's U.S. availability. I do realize I could stream the games on-line from TSN for the bargain price of $9.99 per game, but the value-for-money equation doesn't work. I'd pay $1.99 or $2.99 per game, but not $9.99, which would be better spent on 2.25 gallons of gasoline, if you ask me.

I would say this, however. I realize the CFL's primary focus is growing the sport in Canada. That said, I can't understand why a deal wasn't reached to secure truly wide-ranging broadcasts of the CFL in the United States. I can see why ESPN or ESPN2 wouldn't work, just because they have the college football franchise. Versus, the seeming natural choice for Canadian football, also has college football.

But Gad -- you'd think the CFL would at least cobble together something to get the games broadcast everywhere. You'd think the sport would do great in July and August, when football fans are downright dying. Eventually, you'd think that would help generate interest in the sport south of the border, and revenues from the broadcasts would grow accordingly.

Feh. But now to the good news.

The good news is that the Arena Football League's playoffs are here -- and I have two teams in the hunt. True, with 12 out of the league's 17 teams in the playoffs, it would be difficult not to have two teams in the hunt, but let's not quibble about that for the moment. My teams, as Loyal Rant Readers will imagine, are the Grand Rapids Rampage (ranked No. 6 in the American Conference) and the Cleveland Gladiators (ranked No. 4 in the National Conference).

I about fell out of my chair when I saw the Wild Card schedule, for I was delighted to see that I'll be able to watch ALL of the Wild Card games, despite the peculiarities of my work schedule (I work Saturdays, for those of you who don't know). The full schedule may be found here. My predictions, for what they're worth:

NATIONAL CONFERENCE
* No. 3 Dallas easily defeats No. 6 New York.
* No. 4 Cleveland defeats No. 5 Orlando.

AMERICAN CONFERENCE
* No. 4 Utah will probably defeat No. 5 Colorado, although it will be a tough go.
* No. 6 Grand Rapids defeats No. 3 Arizona.

Here's to a great couple days of football next weekend!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 18, 2008

When Competing Sports Loyalties Collide

SO I HAVE A FRIEND who has disturbing sports loyalties. Consider: I walk into the office Tuesday and my friend has taped on his door a picture of Kobe Bryant slam-dunking a basketball over some hapless Boston Celtic. As a quasi-fan of the lowly Los Angeles Clippers, and as such someone who passionately hates the Lakers, I was instantly annoyed at this. As such, I was forced to harangue and harass my colleague, as we can see in this dramatization:

ME: The Lakers?!
FRIEND: Yeah, I'm a fan of the Lakers.
ME: Are you wrong about everything?! Jesus. The Lakers, the Yankees -- I bet you like the Cowboys!
FRIEND: I do not like the Cowboys! I've always hated the Cowboys!
ME: Well, who do you like?
FRIEND: San Diego.
ME: San Diego?!
FRIEND: I was born there. Look, where I grew up, we had nothing. Nothing!
ME: God!

Yet my friend's wrongness does not stop there. In the Premiership, I accused him of liking Arsenal -- I hate Arsenal -- and he responded that he liked Chelsea instead. True, that's not as bad, and it could have been Manchester United, but still. Pick a team like Everton or Tottenham Hotspur or something. He is not an ice hockey fan, but if he was, I'm sure he would have picked an annoying team -- like the Philadelphia Flyers -- to support. Oh, and he roots for Germany in international soccer. Who the hell roots for Germany? (For the record, I root for Scotland, and barring that, any underdog, which means I was rooting for Austria in the two nations' recent matchup).

When Canadian football starts next week, I'll have to remind him to root for the Toronto Argonauts.

After the Lakers got humiliated at the Garden Tuesday night, the picture came down; but I didn't say anything. He is my friend, after all. Besides, even though we root for different teams, I can't antagonize him too much. That's because he is a rare commodity where I live -- someone who does not root for New England sports teams. This is important, because when the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots play on Nov. 30, I stand a good chance of finding the next workday rather difficult. If I arrive at work, and half my department serenades my arrival with shouts of "Guarantee! Guarantee!" -- well, I'll need to hide in his office.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 15, 2008

Attention, George Will: Baseball Sucks

WE NOW HAVE PROOF POSITIVE that George Will's sociopathic love for the game of baseball has clouded his faculties. This proof may be found in Dr Will's latest column, published in The Washington Post and many other newspapers, in which he argues against the use of instant replay in the sport. I would not normally argue with Dr Will's observations on baseball, as he loves the game and I do not; but he crossed a rather sharp line in his latest work. Namely, he dragged football into it.

In doing so, Dr Will dragged America's greatest sport in the mud, delivering an insult that was not only maliciously unfair and unwarranted, but remarkable for its preening hypocrisy. He wrote as follows:

But it is not true that cameras positioned around a ballpark can answer every question, or even be more definitive than are baseball's remarkably skilled umpires, who render judgments close to a play. And even if cameras could deliver certainty, it is foolish to think that all other values should be sacrificed to that one.

In the NFL, coaches' challenges, which trigger replays, contribute to the sense that a game consists of about seven minutes of action -- seriously: Use a stopwatch, and you will confirm that -- encrusted with three hours of pageantry, hoopla and instant-replay litigation.

Oh, no he didn't.

Football's pace and timing, although sometimes unsettling to the outsider, is indicative of the strategy and cunning each team must employ throughout the game. Just as wars require devotion to planning and logistics, so too does football. Unlike baseball, with its petty emphasis on individual achievement and occasional tactical brilliance, football focuses on cooperative success and strategic excellence.

Furthermore, the questions facing referees in football are far more complex than those umpires in baseball face. For the umpire, there are two main questions: whether a runner is safe or out, and whether a hit ball is foul or fair. For referees in football, there are many more questions that regularly crop up, ranging from whether a player unfairly held an opponent to whether a player had possession of the ball as he was heading out of bounds. Since these questions are often decided when a dozen or more men are fighting for the ball, instant replay helps answer questions the human eye may detect imperfectly, in situations that are far more complex than the one-on-one interaction typical in baseball. Besides, the stakes in football are so much higher.

Also, as a baseball fan, Dr Will has some nerve in criticizing football for its pace and timing. In football, there is generally about one play a minute, perhaps a little less. Compare that to baseball, where one can get up, go to the bathroom, stop by the concession stand, talk with a colleague from the office, buy a souvenir and return to one's seat all while the same batter is at the plate. Then, after a stultifying session of futility, in which the batter vainly swats at the balls hurled at him, he will fire off a long fly or useless ground ball that will result in him being out, if not retiring his entire side. This perhaps explains why baseball became America's national pastime prior to the development of the Model T. It also perhaps explains why Dr Will is not a fan of the designated-hitter rule. I mean, God forbid The Powers That Be try to make the game more exciting.

As much as Dr Will may not like it, the era of Babe Ruth -- just like the era of leather helmets -- is over. Accept it and move on. However, Dr Will's unwillingness to accept modern improvements to the game is perhaps best summed up in his final analysis. He writes:

Baseball, like many sports, involves fast, muscular, semi-violent striving. There are inherent limits to how much precision is possible in enforcing rules. Or desirable: Human error is not a blemish to be expunged from sports, it is part of the drama.

Baseball probably will and probably should adopt replays, but only for the few "boundary" decisions. And only after considering how to make this concession to technophiles a prophylactic accommodation, one that prevents an immoderate pursuit of perfect accuracy until the rhythm of the game is lost and the length of the game is stultifying.

I've got news for you, Dr Will: the rhythm of baseball was lost a long time ago, and the length of its games, its season, and its wretched postseason are already stultifying. I'm sure it could be made worse, but it's already pretty grim: particularly in the miserable depths of summer, when the pre-season is just days away and baseball crawls to its 100th game of the year.

Finally, I would note with disdain Dr Will's bizarre claim that officiating errors are dramatic as opposed to blemishes. These are not the words of a sports fan: they are the maunderings of a sadly-detached mandarin suffering a bad case of ennui. Back here on Planet Earth, sports fans invest a lot of time and energy and love into the games they so enjoy, and they deserve officiating that is correct, just and fair. Given Dr Will's thoughts on other matters, I would have thought he was a passionate supporter of the rule of law, fair play and excellence unmarred by official incompetence. Sadly, we see he is prone to supporting tradition for its own sake -- and last time I checked, blind obedience was not a trait encouraged among free men.

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For a rather profane -- and funnier -- look at the trouble with baseball, The Rant would refer readers to Every Day Should Be Saturday's canonical essay on the topic, "Die, Baseball. Die."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:44 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

An Open Letter to CONCACAF

TO: The Powers That Be @ CONCACAF, Whomever You Are

FR: Benjamin Kepple

RE: Round Two Qualifying

DEAR SIRS: I am watching the Round Two qualifying match between the United States and Barbados, which you have somehow managed to get broadcast on ESPN. Look, I don't know how to put this, but it might be a good idea to figure out a new scheme for World Cup qualification. My idea runs something like this:

1. Did you get into the World Cup last time around?
2. You get to go to the third -- or even fourth -- round for qualifying right away.

I mean, this is really rather pathetic. Don't get me wrong, it was cool seeing the United States score in the very first minute. But now it's the 89th minute and the US is ahead .... 8-0. EIGHT TO NOTHING. I mean, this is somewhat embarrassing for the poor Barbadians. Not only has their country been humiliated on national television in the United States, they now have to play a second game against us on their home turf, or wherever the nearest qualifying stadium can be found. That's probably not going to turn out any better.

Oh, sure -- I realize that it would be a grand coup were the tiny Caribbean island to somehow beat the Colossus of the North, but the likelihood of this event happening is roughly the same as the likelihood a cement mixer will crash into my apartment. It would be better if the smaller nations were given the chance to compete against each other, and then the best of them could face off against the big players like the United States and Mexico. Maybe, when qualifying for the 2014 World Cup comes around, we can shape things up.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Future of the Buffalo Bills

WHEN I WAS A STUDENT in beautiful Ann Arbor, Mich., I would routinely watch Canadian television via my cable firm's CBC feed out of Windsor, Ont. Occasionally, this particular affiliate would run one of those time-filling commercials advertising its own existence, and I remember being struck by the affiliate's tagline: "Television We Can Call Our Own."

This, in a nutshell, is why conditions are acutely unfavorable for any NFL franchise -- much less the Buffalo Bills -- to succeed in the Canadian marketplace, and why any investor who supports the Bills moving to Toronto will be in for a nasty surprise. But if you ask me, all this talk of an NFL team moving to the True North puts the cart before the horse. A better question to ask is: why would the Bills leave Buffalo in the first place?

True, there is no denying Mr Wilson's statements that the team will be sold upon his death. With the team worth some $821 million, according to Forbes magazine, Mr Wilson's heirs would almost certainly face a staggering estate tax bill if the team were to pass directly into their hands. Still, even if the team was sold to outside investors, I don't see why they would necessarily leave Buffalo.

This is because the Bills' finances are sound. It may be in a small market, but according to Forbes, the team has the seventh-best operating income in the entire NFL. At $34.6 million, that works out to about 18 percent of revenues, which are $189 million. It's worth noting that revenue figure is $5 million higher than that of the (evil) Indianapolis Colts, which only pull in $184 million each year. Furthermore, the Bills have a debt-to-value ratio of just 9 pc, the fifth-best such ratio in the league. If you ask me, these numbers suggest the Buffalo Bills are one of the best-run teams in the league.

So why would a new owner go and screw that up? No, really. Why fix something that isn't broken?

We know that as football continues to grow in popularity, the value of the franchise should rise accordingly, if only from ever-increasing television revenues. But not only would any new owners make money there, the fact the team is financially sound will represent a immediate and perpetual return on investment. That's a known quantity. If you ask me, a sharp businessman would recognize that, and would prefer that over the unknowns associated with moving the team somewhere else.

Besides, why would a new owner -- and the league -- risk the backlash that would inevitably result from moving the team? Buffalo has been in the league for decades upon decades -- the idea of moving it would spark howls of outrage. When the Cleveland Browns left for Baltimore back in the Nineties, all of Northeast Ohio felt it had been stabbed in the back, and team owner Art Modell became one of the most hated villains of all time. (It is The Rant's humble opinion that Mr Modell will burn in Hell). One would think those are headaches everyone involved would wish to avoid.

Simply put, it doesn't make sense to take Buffalo out of the NFL picture, and I'd be shocked if anyone would seriously consider doing that after a thorough analysis of the situation. It would make more sense to buy an expansion team -- for which there are several suitable cities (Los Angeles, Los Angeles again, San Antonio, Orlando) -- or buy and move a team that didn't have such history, fan support and general likability. *cough* Jacksonville *cough*

As for this idea of moving Buffalo to Toronto, I would suggest proponents of this idea have not fully considered how Canada works. There are a few things to consider here that, when fully analyzed, will show why such an idea is untenable.

First, football is not the most popular sport in Canada. That would be ice hockey. Although for most Americans hockey is the disease-ridden tree on the landscape of sport, this is not the case in Canada, where pretty much everyone loves hockey. Football, on the other hand, is a distant second in terms of popularity.

Second, one of the defining characteristics of being Canadian is not being American, viz.

No, really. That commerical's funny, but it's not a joke. That sentiment is very real. It is so real, in fact, that the Canadian Football League has proclaimed "This is Our League" as its marketing slogan for the year -- with all the nationalist sentiment that suggests. I realize the idea of Canadian nationalism may prompt some raised eyebrows -- they do have trouble celebrating Canada Day, after all -- but just because they're not flag-wavers does not mean Canadians don't have a lot of pride in their country.

Although it naturally went unnoticed on this side of the border, it seems to me rather extraordinary that Mark Cohon, the CFL's commissioner, wrote a column -- published in no less than the National Post yesterday -- rallying his countrymen to the CFL's banner. Folks, give it a read: it essentially calls Canadians to general quarters. Over football.

In such an environment, it seems to me cooperation from the CFL would be key for an NFL team to succeed in Toronto, which after all has a CFL squad of its own. But given the present state of affairs, it seems unlikely the CFL would sit idly by as the NFL planned to invade their home turf. Of course, the Canadian Government also has no plans to sit idly by -- one Canadian senator has already introduced a bill to essentially keep the NFL out of Canada.

Now, I personally have my doubts about the future of anything that comes out of the Red Chamber, much less a bill about football that could turn into a pesky international trade issue. After all, Canada would not like it if we suddenly kicked its softwood lumber industry in the teeth again. Still, one never knows how these things turn out, and even if nothing came of it, it's certainly a sign as to how many Canadians would view the NFL's intrusion into their territory.

This is not to say the NFL shouldn't do more marketing in certain border areas where American football teams have Canadian fans. We already know many Canadians in Ontario's Golden Horseshoe are Buffalo fans; it seems a smart move, then, to also market the Lions to southwestern Ontario, the Seahawks to British Columbia and the Patriots to the Maritimes. This would help build the fan bases needed for any future northward expansion, or at the very least generate revenue from now-untapped markets. It also seems reasonable to believe that, just as we suffer when the Super Bowl ends, there are Canadian football fans who suffer when the Grey Cup ends, but whom we're not reaching for some reason. As such, reaching out to them would be a good idea.

In the meantime, if the NFL is going to consider international expansion, it needs to turn not north but south. American football is gaining popularity among Mexicans, to the point where Mexican colleges have their own league and several conferences within it. Let's also not forget how well the 2005 regular-season game between the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers went: the game was a stinker, but by God they sold out Estadio Azteca. 103,467 fans in attendance. Given the huge differences on the ground in these two countries, I'd suggest that if there's money to be made in international expansion, it will be made in pesos, not in loonies.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:04 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 13, 2008

Why, Yes We Did Score Seventy-Nine Points

FIVE-and-SIX! FIVE-and-SIX!

I AM PLEASED to report the Manchester Wolves, my city's minor-league arena football team, have improved to 5-6 on the season, and did so in impressive style this evening. Let's review the Youngstown tune-up we pulled on the hapless Mahoning Valley Thunder (of Youngstown, Ohio) this evening:

* We scored 79 points against the Thunder. That's high even for arena football. It is not the all-time record for Manchester or any other team -- the team's record in a game is 80 points, which I saw them pull off a while back, and the all-time scoring record for a team in af2 is 103 points. It was, however, enough for the Wolves to set a new team record in terms of points scored on the road.

* We had three turnovers in the game -- two fumbles and one interception. Sweet.

* For a good portion of the game, we were up by more than 30 points. Double yoi!

* The Thunder only managed to score one touchdown in the third quarter -- and that followed two possessions in which we forced two turnovers.

* Did I mention we scored 79 points? I watched the game using the af2's clever Internet television broadcasting system. I can't say enough how much that rules. Anyway, our offense was absolutely unstoppable -- our guys were routinely yards away from the enemy's defensive backs, and often practically walked into the endzone. Oh, it ruled.

Of course, being a perfectionist, I did notice some things that somewhat concerned me. Youngstown should not have been able to score 55 points in that game. True, much of this was because of the downright sick play of wide receiver Clenton Rafe, who was all over the field and zipping past our players right and left. Mr Rafe scored most of Youngstown's touchdowns and turned in a downright impressive performance; fortunately, in this league, it requires all eight players on the field doing well for teams to win.

So our defensive backs, basically, need to keep on the ball -- pardon the pun -- and work hard in practice this week on coverage. That said, I have to give credit to No. 2, Trey Bell, formerly of the Grand Rapids Rampage, who made our interception tonight. He read the quarterback perfectly and it was a beautiful pick.

Also, I was a bit concerned about our kick coverage -- it seemed too easy for Youngstown to punch the ball out into good field position, even after their players initially bobbled the ball on several kickoffs. That's something, perhaps, to work on. In addition, our quarterback, James Pinkney, is playing fantastic. But Mr Pinkney should feel free to throw the ball away if he finds himself in trouble as opposed to trying to make a play; that was our one turnover tonight.

I realize this may seem a bit much, considering Manchester has won four games in a row, is one game shy of .500 and four of our five remaining games are against relatively weak teams. But we have to play division leader Wilkes-Barre/Scranton -- on the road -- next week. They're 9-2. They've won 17 games in a row at home. And they scored 77 points tonight against a good Tennessee Valley (Huntsville, Ala.) Vipers* squad.

Focus!

The playoffs are in sight!

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* What's that? Yes, the Tennessee Valley Vipers are in Alabama. But they're really close to the Volunteer State. Look, I'm sure they had a good reason for calling the team what they did.

** Also -- last -- but not least -- The Rant hopes No. 5, wide receiver Emery Sammons, heals up quickly from the injury he sustained tonight. But I certainly admire Mr Sammons' guts -- he was hurt once in the evening, but came back and fought on before getting hurt again. That's dedication.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:51 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 10, 2008

Tennis: Australia's No. 1 Sport

WELL, HERE'S TODAY'S SHOCK ITEM: Tennis is Australia's No. 1 sport. No, that's not a typo -- I did not mean to write No. 14 sport. Tennis is the No. 1 sport Down Under, according to no less a source than the Sweeney Sports Report, which knows Australian sports like nobody's business. Amazingly, a full 57 percent of Australians are interested in tennis, while a full 34 percent of Australians attended matches where other people played.

I have to admit I'm a bit -- uh, well, gobsmacked -- about this. I mean, for God's sake, it's tennis. It's a game where the fan's greatest reward is to work out some kinks in his neck. It's a game where a score of zero is referred to as "love." It's a game where you have to dress properly to attend the matches and a game where the preferred fan conduct involves absolute silence. Don't get me started on tennis snobs, either. All of these things explain why only one percent of Americans consider tennis their favorite sport, while in the hierarchy of American sport, tennis ranks below professional bowling.

True, what little I know about Australia comes from a brief reading of their papers once in a while and various American stereotypes of the place, but still -- it's Australia. It's our most dependable ally, the one country we can count upon when the chips are down, and everyone in America loves Australia and its people. So I guess I would have thought Australians would have chosen a more, well, manly sport, like rugby league.

Now that's a sport. It's something like American football -- it even has a gridiron-like field -- except the players are crazy and don't wear any padding. Their teams have even real names. Also, there's that whole University of Michigan connection. Yet rugby league only comes up sixth in popularity, with just 42 percent of Australians interested in the game and only 15 percent attending games.

I just don't understand it. So if any of my Australian readers -- I've got to have one, surely -- could help explain this strange state of affairs, believe me when I say I'd be all ears. However, there is one bright spot to the report -- golf is down to its lowest level of interest since the Sports Report began. That I can understand!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 09, 2008

Being a Minor League Sports Fan is Tough

OK, THIS SUCKS. Here I am, all ready to watch the pivotal matchup between the Los Angeles Avengers and the Utah Blaze of the Arena Football League, and what do we have on ESPN2? A college baseball game between Fresno and Arizona State. A horribly long and wretched college baseball game, which 24 minutes into the AFL game is only in the top of the 8th inning. A game in which Fresno is leading 11-5.

You have got to be frickin' kidding me. We've got a game with major playoff implications going on, and we're forced to watch a blowout of a college baseball game?

Fortunately, I somehow managed to get a radio feed from Utah to listen to the game, which is turning out to be a shootout. But -- this is ridiculous. Even worse, I think the college kids are deliberately stretching out their game so they can take advantage of every second of their 15 minutes of fame. I've already missed the entire first quarter and at this rate, will miss the entire first half.

I hate spring. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. Well, if I'm lucky, the future Class A kids will wrap up before midnight, so I can see the fourth quarter.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 07, 2008

An Open Letter to the Canadian Football League

TO: Commissioner Mark Cohon

FR: Benjamin Kepple

RE: U.S. Broadcasting Schedules

Dear Commissioner Cohon,

In your open letter to fans of the Canadian Football League on Friday, you made a point of saying the league would "focus on our other efforts to continue the strong momentum of our business and our game" following the collapse of talks to extend a cooperation agreement with the National Football League. I am confident these efforts are progressing well and I look forward to this year's season, as well as the future establishment of CFL teams in Ottawa and Halifax.

I would, however, note these efforts would be bolstered if the CFL were to enter into a wide-ranging broadcast agreement with American cable channels so the entirety of the league's games could be widely broadcast in the United States. Unfortunately, since I live in Manchester, N.H., I have traditionally only been able to watch live broadcasts during the first half of the season, along with the Grey Cup. It would really be cool if I could watch CFL games during the entirety of the year, as I root for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and would like to follow the squad closely all year if I could.

Which reminds me: your season starts in less than three weeks, and yet the CFL's Web site has not yet published the U.S/International broadcast schedule. Why is this? How can I plan to watch the Roughriders if I don't know when they are going to air? This greatly concerns me, as the Canadian Football League is an integral part of my strategy to survive the horrible seven-month drought without regular football broadcasts. As a result, I hope the CFL will announce the schedules soon.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Sincerely,

Benjamin Kepple
Manchester, N.H.

P.S. Je peux t'envoyer une copie de cette lettre en français pour vos dossiers, si vous avez besoin d'un.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:31 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Let's See How They Like the Idiot Back Home

GUY VANDERJERK -- I mean Vanderjagt -- has returned to the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, according to published news reports.

Good. Now that the Argonauts are stuck with Mr Wide Right, it should mean even smoother sailing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, whom I think all can agree are due to win the Grey Cup again this year. True, the two teams are in separate divisions, but they do play each other during the year, and so I'm excited to see the Argos tilt the scales even more in the Riders' direction. Yeah.

Mr Vanderjagt, an Ontario native whom you-know-who famously dismissed as that "idiot kicker," was the most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history. However, some observers -- like me -- believe this accomplishment is overrated. After all, the teams he played for hold games indoors and as such, don't have to deal with pesky things like "wind" and "rain" and "snow."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 06, 2008

The Game I Wish My Folks Had Seen in Cleveland

FOUR-and-SIX! FOUR-and-SIX!

Admittedly, the Manchester Wolves' four-and-six record may not seem a lot to cheer about. It is, however, something to cheer about when you consider the following:

* The Wolves have won three games in a row.
* Two of these victories have come against some of the af2's best teams: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (which was 7-1 when we played them) and Florida (which was 8-1 prior to tonight's game).
* The Wolves' defensive play has contributed mightily to these victories.

The progress the Wolves, my city's minor-league arena football team, have made in the last few weeks is nothing short of stunning. I don't know what they did to bring it about, but they finally got things moving all ahead full. Tonight's game against the Florida Firecats was proof positive of how well the team is playing.

We beat Florida by the resounding score of 47-35 this evening. As Loyal Rant Readers know, when your arenaball team holds an opponent to under 40 points, your defense is playing awfully well, and when they hold them to under 30, it's usually a rout. Although tonight's game didn't turn into a rout, it certainly had the potential to have gone that way, given the play of our defense.

To be sure, things weren't perfect: two of Florida's touchdowns resulted from what can charitably be called "blown" pass coverage. I expect our coach will put the players through hell this week as a result, as it is difficult to defend pass plays when your nearest player is several yards from the opposing team's open receiver. But aside from that, the defensive play was brilliant, particularly that of our defensive line, which punished Florida's quarterback severely. The man had to throw the ball away several times under pressure, was sacked at crucial moments, and near the end, as Florida was trying to gain a score that would have put them back in the game, defensive lineman Joe Crear forced a fumble -- which we promptly scooped up. Beautiful. Also beautiful: two goal-line stands that kept Florida out of the endzone and resulted in turnovers on downs.

Then there's the offense, which performed amazingly well. Aside from one unfortunate turnover -- a fumble after a reception -- the offense was unstoppable. Although our 47 points may seem a bit low for an unstoppable performance, don't let it fool you -- that was simply a function of Florida's drives taking long, not Manchester failing to score. We scored right out of the gate and didn't look back, and some of the scoring plays were downright brilliant. My favorite play? Well, our quarterback, James Pinkney, threw a bullet at our star ironman* wide receiver/ linebacker, Bradly Chavez, and as Chavez went for the ball it touched off its fingertips. It flew into the endzone, where one of our other ironmen, wide receiver/defensive back Steven Savoy, caught it. The crowd went wild. Chavez was on the ground, lying on his back, bemoaning the lost catch -- and then he realized it was a touchdown. He too started clapping.

Chavez, who has fast become a fan favorite, made some impressive plays himself. The most impressive was a long touchdown pass which he caught in the endzone and managed to hang onto, despite ramming into the dasher boards and flying out of the endzone -- along with the defender. But he had possession in the field of play, and the touchdown stood.

Simply put, this is the type of game I wished my folks had seen in Cleveland last week, when the Cleveland Gladiators of the Arena Football League -- the big league -- played the Dallas Desperadoes. Tonight, the officiating was nearly impeccable (perhaps entirely so), there was plenty of defense, and the crowd was very much into it. Very very much into it. I also thought the announcers, as I've noted before, again handled the crowd brilliantly. It's amazing how the sight of the "Noisemeter" on the jumbotron can whip people into a frenzy.

In summary, although the Wolves are now 4-6 and are presently ranked ninth in the conference -- meaning they're one spot out of playoff contention -- this is a team I really feel good about. The best part is that the hard part of the schedule is now pretty much over.

We have six games left in the season. Two of these are against the pathetic Mahoning Valley Thunder, which at 2-8 are yet again proof that Youngstown, Ohio, can't get a break to save its life. Two of these games are against the Albany Conquest, which is not a bad squad, but one that has hit a rough patch and can be beaten. We have one game to play against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton -- which we know we can beat, although it won't be easy -- and our final game is against the Corpus Christi Sharks, which is an average squad.

It is likely we will win four of these games. It is certainly possible we could win all six. If we go 8-8 we have a good shot at the playoffs and at 10-6 we would almost certainly make it into the post-season. That would rule. It would especially rule because I'm feeling good things about this team. This is a team that is rising at the right time, and a team that seems to have that special spark about it. Whether they'll be like the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers of 2005 remains to be seen, but they certainly seem to have that potential.

There's even more reason for arenaball fans to be excited about next year. One does not want to get ahead of oneself, but it would appear we're due to get some new teams into the league in 2009. This would rule. If one looks at the Wikipedia page for the league -- gotta love the wiki -- and delves into the source material, it seems very likely we'll have teams in Buffalo and Milwaukee; quite likely we'll have a team in Alberquerque; somewhat likely we'll have a team playing in Mississippi (we'll see if they can find a venue for 2009) and potentially -- as in, there's an outside chance -- teams in Yakima, Wash., and Saskatoon, Sask.

Dude. Yakima? Saskatoon? I am so there -- so frickin' there. God, please let this happen.

In the meantime, though, hats off to the Wolves for another excellent performance.

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* In arena football, an "ironman" plays both offense and defense.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 03, 2008

Hell Hath No Fury Like an Arena Football Fan Scorned

CLEVELAND, Ohio, May 31 -- I CAN ASSURE READERS I am becoming more like my father with each passing day. As the latest proof of this, I would note my extreme disappointment with the Arena Football League, which on Saturday evening single-handedly destroyed months of work in which I've tried to convince my immediate family that arena football is a legitimate sport, worthy of their support and attention.

You see, my father -- Mr Kepple -- does not like it when his investments do not pan out. I don't like it when my investments fail either. I especially don't like it when Mr Kepple spends a considerable amount of money to get the family fabulous seats for an AFL game, all in honor of his eldest son returning home for a weekend, and the game turns into a complete fiasco because of the referees officiating the game. In fact, it was the worst officiating I've seen in more than a decade of being a very passionate football fan -- including the Jan. 15, 2006 playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts. In this case it not only cost the Cleveland Gladiators football team a victory over the hated Dallas Desperadoes, but perhaps a spot in the AFL's playoffs.

As Loyal Rant Readers know, I'm not even a fan of the team. My AFL loyalties lie with the Grand Rapids Rampage, which after a brief flash of glory earlier in the year is again in the league's basement. Furthermore, although I generally watch AFL games on television, my true loyalties are to the Manchester Wolves of the arenafootball2 development league. So it should be pretty clear that I don't have a dog in this particular hunt. However, as a Wolves season ticket holder, and someone who actually travels outside New England for the sole purpose of watching arena football, and someone who blogs about the sport, I do feel as if I have a vested interest in arena football and its future. Saturday's game did not provide a reasonable rate of return on that interest.

For readers unfamiliar with the particular fiasco I am discussing, I would direct you to The Plain Dealer's coverage of the game in question, which contains several enlightening quotes from the Gladiators' top brass, who rightfully blast the officiating. But here's the gist of it all.

Now you should know there were three arguably iffy calls in this game: one the officials were probably right about, one the officials' judgment could reasonably be questioned, and one in which the officials were flat out wrong -- to the point where everyone in the stadium knew it but them.

The first call happened immediately at the end of the first half, in which Dallas was leading 34-31 and had the ball in the waning seconds of the second quarter. Dallas QB Clint "Golden Boy" Dolezel -- whom even I must admit is a fine quarterback, even though I hate Dallas -- threw a deep ball on the last play. One of Cleveland's defensive backs managed to intercept it deep in Gladiator territory, and ran it back for a touchdown. The crowd was electrified. The players were charged. It was an amazing and beautiful play. Yet the zebras called a clipping penalty against the Gladiators, negating the play and ending the half.

That was a heartbreaker. It was not, however, much of a clip -- at least in my judgment. It wasn't even a block from behind; it was a front block, more like a dive, in which the intent of the player was to try and slow up the defender trying to stop Cleveland's man from making a touchdown. Now on this one, the officials may well have been right -- but to me it seemed a bit much.

However, the officials were certainly NOT right when in the second half, Dallas was driving for a touchdown and their running back clearly fumbled the ball on the three yard line. After a scrum, Cleveland recovered it -- but this was negated after the braindead officiating crew somehow ruled Dallas' player was down by contact. The man was no more down by contact than I was in the thirteenth row. Furthermore, I was on the opposite side of the field and even I could see it was a clear fumble -- so how the officials thought the man was down by contact amazes me. When the replay was broadcast on the jumbotron, the crowd erupted in a massive tirade of hate and fury, because the call was so obviously wrong.

Now I can certainly understand that human beings make mistakes -- and spectacularly bad ones at that. But the next play did not help matters. The play on which the fumble was made was a third down, and thus Dallas was now facing a fourth down on which to make a touchdown. Cleveland successfully sacked Dolezel and got the ball back on downs. Or Cleveland would have, had not the refs called a defensive back for holding in the endzone. At this point, my reaction was, "You have got to be kidding me."

As Gladiators president Bernie Kozar put it later -- Bernie Kozar, ladies and gentlemen -- "I can't wait to see the replay on that one." Neither could I -- but sadly, our attempt to record the game at home proved unsuccessful. Perhaps the referees were correct in making that holding call, but it certainly left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Anyway, as one might imagine, Cleveland lost and Dallas won. But the outcome of the game did not bother me. What really bothered me was the fact that I had spent months talking up the game of arena football to my skeptical family, and my family clearly left the game unimpressed with it, even if they were polite about the whole thing. The crappy officiating was the big reason why. I asked my younger brother -- who before the game had uncharitably described the sport as a "clusterfuck" -- whether he had enjoyed the game despite the officiating. His response was, essentially, that one could not separate the two. I can't blame him. And I am embarrassed. Greatly embarrassed.

OK, Ben. Deep -- breaths. Deep -- breaths. Bad air out, good air in.

I do have to give the Gladiators credit for putting on an excellent show regardless of the crappy officiating. I particularly liked the stunt where they blindfolded fans and gave them a chance to win a prize if the fans -- still blindfolded -- managed to stumble from the endzone to midfield, where they had to grab a helmet or something. Anyway, this proved exceptionally enjoyable when one of the excited fans took off like a shot from the endzone, only to run smack into the Gladiators special teams' unit heading out for a kickoff. Oops.

Also, I can assure the Gladiators their cheerleaders were a big hit. However, as a football purist, I am not a fan of having the cheerleaders cheer in the aisles. This is not to say I do not like the cheerleaders; I am a man, after all, and I am not going to complain too much if a pretty girl wearing very little is rallying the troops not fifteen feet from my seat. However, when the pretty girl obstructs my view of the football on the field, that's problematic. I am there to watch football, not dancing girls.

I do, however, have to give a demerit to the Gladiators' announcers, who did not manage the crowd as well as one might have hoped. True, the crowd itself was less interested in the game than one might have liked, but crowds can be massaged. The Manchester Wolves do an excellent job of this at their games and routinely get the crowd fired up on crucial third and fourth downs; but the Gladiators' man was off key in doing this. Improving this might help the team. I have been assured the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team also does a good job of this, and routinely goads the crowd through flashing the Pittsburgh Steelers' and Michigan Wolverines' logos on the scoreboard; perhaps doing that might really tick off -- I mean, fire up -- the crowd. Just a thought.

Also, now that I've vented my spleen, I would be remiss if I didn't note the Manchester Wolves are now 3-6 after upsetting the Albany Conquest and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers in back-to-back wins. Sadly, I have not been able to see the team carry out these wins. Like many football fans I am superstitious and now wonder if my presence at future games will jinx the team. Still, I do feel I should get out there and support my team, especially since it is now playing excellently and has learned some very important lessons. Plus, like all true sports fans, I don't let disappointments get me down. Here's to a victory against Florida on Friday night, and to the playoffs later this summer!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:58 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 17, 2008

Whining Tom Brady Complains About ESPN

SO TOM BRADY HAS WHINED about ESPN's coverage of the "Spygate" scandal, in which his New England Patriots stole defensive signals from other teams, charging the network was seeking to fabricate controversy for its own ends. To this, The Rant would simply say: Shut up, Tom. Please. It's for your own good. Shut up.

After all, as a Steelers fan, I would normally have a lot to say about this. But as a Steelers fan, I take direction from Mr Rooney, who has said to drop the matter. So I have. However, this does not mean I can't discuss Mr Brady himself.

Fans of the New England Patriots, who are loyal to their team and suspicious of outsiders wanting to knock them off their perch, may wonder what justification I have for doing so. Well, it's simple. Although Mr Brady is a superstar quarterback and I am but a writer of extremely minor import, we are both Michigan men. Thus, as a Michigan man with one year's seniority over Mr Brady, I get to talk as much shit about the man as I want.

If you ask me, Mr Brady's whining about the situation is demeaning to our alma mater and generally pathetic: similar to the professional antics of Cleveland receiver Braylon Edwards, the one-time Michigan star, before Mr Edwards suddenly relearned to catch the ball. Take your lumps like a man, or at the very least draw upon your inner reserve of mental fortitude all Michigan students get as part of their orientation package. You went to Michigan. You are a Champion of the West. Thus, the slings and arrows of the world should not bother you.

Besides, on a practical matter, whining about Spygate means we all have to keep hearing about Spygate, and I'm sick of hearing about Spygate. As far as I'm concerned, it's over and it's done -- finito, kaput, an ex-scandal. I am far more concerned about next season and the things the Pittsburgh Steelers, and everyone else in the league, are preparing so they can knock the Patriots on their asses this fall. That's what I want to hear about, not some lame-o scandal that, although entertaining for a time, was not the blockbuster we thought it would be.

As an aside, I would note it is now just six months and two weeks before the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers travel to play the Patriots in New England. Bring it!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

After the Laughter, the Wave of Dread

OH, THE PAIN. What words could better sum up the heartbreaking, last-second loss of the Manchester Wolves (now 1-6) to the evil and depraved Tulsa Talons (now 8-0)? We were so close. So very, very close. But in the end, bad luck and the unique peculiarities of the arena game proved our undoing. Even at the end, when Tulsa kicked in the 25 yard field goal that nailed the coffin shut, we so nearly had it. As our defensive line surged forward and our players stretched out their arms, it looked as if one of our players got his fingertips on the ball -- but the ball wobbled its way through the thin uprights and our hopes were dashed. The final score: Tulsa 59, Manchester 56.

Oh, the pain.

However, I have to admit I'm more concerned with how the Wolves' past two losses will affect the team rather than my own emotional reaction to the loss. I hope they realize just how much they've improved over the past few weeks. I hope they realize that when you lose to the two best teams in the league by a combined score of nine points, you're doing a lot of things right. I hope they realize that this season still has nine games to go, including five home games, and that the playoffs still remain a very real possibility.

Despite our loss tonight, I have to say this was one of the best arena football games I've seen in a long time. Huge wins, of course, have a lot going for them, but there's also something to be said for great football -- and tonight was great football. The final score notwithstanding, this was a game with plenty of impressive defense, and the Wolves really hung in there when lesser teams would have folded like a cheap suit.

The end of the first half, and the beginning of the second half, is a great example of this. Consider: with seconds to go in the first half, Tulsa -- which would receive the ball to start the second half -- was down 28-27. With little time on the clock and their attempts to get in the endzone foiled, the Talons decided to go for a field goal. The snap went, Manchester rushed forward, and blocked the kick! The ball went flying, and everyone made a mad dash for it; it was recovered by Tulsa's quarterback. Just as he was about to end up flat on his back, he threw the ball to one of Tulsa's waiting Big Men, who ran it in for a short touchdown. My reaction was as follows:

ME: Wide right! Wide right! ... YES! YES! YES! YES! .... NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Now Tulsa was going to start out the half with the ball and I knew this meant trouble. But what happened in the opening moments of the second half? Their kickoff man -- an extremely fast and adept player -- was zooming down the field when he was hit from behind and fumbled the ball. Tulsa recovered it, but on the very next play Tulsa fumbled the ball again, and this time we recovered. Shortly thereafter, we had tied the game at 34 all, although we missed the extra point try. On the next series of possessions, we managed to stop Tulsa, and soon afterwards, it was 37-34. Oh joy and rapture. We would hold a lead -- albeit a tiny lead -- through much of the second half.

But tiny leads in this game aren't safe. The wide open nature of the game, and the difficulty of defending against certain plays such as the quick slant and quick out passes, means a team really needs a margin of three or four scores before one can start banking the game in the win column. Against a team like Tulsa, that would have been a miracle. After a bit of back and forth, the game ended up tied again, at 49-49. With less than a minute to go, Tulsa went ahead 56-49, and we scored the equalizer shortly thereafter. Then, the 25 seconds until doomsday.

I just hope the Wolves realize the night is always darkest before the dawn -- and the sun's light is creeping above the horizon.

Oh, one more thing before I go. This is a polite message to the co-owners of the Tulsa Talons, Messrs Henry Primeaux III and Paul Ross -- yes, you.

What the devil is wrong with your team? I'm not talking about their play -- they're clearly an excellent squad. I'm talking about their flagrantly boorish behavior on the field of battle. As someone who has watched football all his life, I can honestly say tonight's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Tulsa coaching squad was a first for me. Never in my more than two decades of watching high school, college, NFL, AFL or af2 football have I seen coaches act so badly that the referees actually penalized them for it.

Simply put, gentlemen, this was not cool and with it. Give your coaches some Xanax or something.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 12, 2008

Steelers Ranked Seventh in NFL Power Rankings

AW, YEAH. GO STEELERS! It turns out our draft, according to people who write about these things for a living, turns the Steelers into legitimate Super Bowl contenders in the 2008 season. Oh, happy day! We're ranked 7th in the latest ESPN NFL power rankings!

What's that? OK, so we have to play against Teams No. 1 through No. 6 during the regular season. Yet, it is to laugh. Clearly the Steelers are on course to get "one for the other thumb," and cement our place in history as the only NFL team to have six Super Bowl rings.

True, there is also good news for the Cleveland Browns, which are ranked ninth. But this is fine, because the idea of the Browns defeating the Steelers, much less doing so in the playoffs, is too silly to even contemplate. Besides, if I did contemplate it, I would start to worry and we can't have that. So, to recap: Steelers, 7th in pre-season rankings, clear Super Bowl contender. We've got it goin' on!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 11, 2008

Improvement!

SO THERE'S GOOD NEWS and bad news. First, the bad news: the Manchester Wolves, my city's minor-league arena football team, are now 1-5. Next, the good news: they're playing a hell of a lot better than they were, because they only lost their most recent game -- against the now 6-0 Florida Firecats -- by six points. The final score was 49-43, and from what I saw of the game, the team played pretty well.

True, I only was able to watch the first quarter and listen to the second quarter on the radio, as I had a previously scheduled engagement later in the evening. Still, I thought the team played a lot better than it did in the first few games of the year, and I came away from it feeling a lot more confident than I did just one week ago. After all, there are still ten games to go, and we could still make the playoffs with a good late run. It would be especially sweet if we were able to knock off the -- God help us -- Tulsa Talons this Friday. The Talons are now 7-0. They are the defending champions. They can be beat.

We know this because Tulsa had a hell of a time beating the Rio Grande Valley Dorados (McAllen, Texas), and only beat RGV 45-40. RGV is now 2-4, so it's not as if they were a powerhouse team. We're going to play Tulsa at home too, which should give us an advantage -- and a considerable one if the crowd stays in the game. The Wolves have to be in top form in order to beat Tulsa, but I think we're well-positioned to make that a real possibility.

On a related note, despite the 1-5 record, the Wolves continue to have an above-average attendance at the games. Our average attendance is 5,868, compared to the overall league average of 4,584. That puts us 6th out of 29 teams. Not bad at all!

Now, for some other arena-football related news:

The af2 league -- in what should be a model for sports leagues everywhere -- offers live streaming broadcasts of all its games over the Internet. This allows fans to watch their teams play away games. Now that I bought my new computer, I am quite pleased to report the service works extremely well. The broadcast, although not television quality, certainly exceeded my expectations and allowed me to follow the action just as if I was there. You can also choose whether to listen to your team's audio feed or the home team's audio feed, which is pretty darned slick. Not only that, the service is entirely free -- and that makes it all the better.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 09, 2008

The Worst Sports Team Names of All Time

WHEN IT COMES TO SPORTS, the easiest part of the business -- as most folks in a front office would gladly tell you -- is actually playing the game. Success requires great sales and marketing work, smart personnel management, an eye for controlling costs while still producing an excellent product, and a hell of a lot of sweat equity. I am convinced that sports teams whose owners think the business is like running a bank won't do all that well, while sports teams whose owners realize their business involves competing for entertainment dollars will do quite well, and perhaps even great.

But let's get focus on one point -- the selling. If you want to succeed, your sales and marketing operation is key. Thus, it quite frankly stuns me just how many sports teams out there operate with names that can be charitably described as stupid. Yes, stupid.

I mean, we've all come across sports teams with stupid names. If you're like me, you wonder a few things upon hearing the names, such as, "What the hell were thinking?" and "How the hell do the fans root for the team without bursting into gales of laughter?" That's to say nothing of the opposing players. This might earn the home team a touchdown or goal or two, when the defense gets distracted at having to play the Local Yokels, but it sure won't earn them a bit of respect.

Before I get any further, though, I should note that all the teams I root for -- in order: the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Michigan Wolverines, the Manchester Wolves, the Grand Rapids Rampage, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders -- all have excellent names. As a fan, this boosts my loyalty to the team, something I could not have pulled off if I was rooting for, say, the Colorado Crush. (The Crush have such a bad name that it got mocked in The Onion).

Now, the worst offender when it comes to bad team names -- inexplicably, I might add -- is the Women's National Basketball Association. Why the WNBA's names are so amazingly bad, I don't know, but out of 14 teams in the league only ONE has a semi-decent name, that being the New York Liberty. Whatever one thinks of that name, one must agree that it is far superior to say, the Atlanta Dream, the Chicago Sky, and the Seattle Storm. I mean, come on. The Atlanta Dream? Even the "Lady Hawks" -- which I am not suggesting, I would note -- would be a better name than that.

I have to think the amazing prevalence of bad team names in the WNBA has hindered its success -- just as stupid team names hindered the success of the XFL. (The New York/New Jersey Hitmen? But what about Connecticut? And the Hitmen -- yeah, that's a team everyone can get behind). Now, obviously, a dumb team name isn't going to hinder a well-run organization, just as a great name (Minnesota Fighting Pike!) won't automatically lead to success. But in honor of team names That Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time, here's my rundown of the Worst Sports Team Names of All-Time.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: There are so many bad team names out there that limiting my list to just, oh, let's say 15, will provoke cries of outrage from readers. So here are my list of honorable mentions, and their leagues:

New York/New Jersey Hitmen (XFL), Memphis Maniax (XFL), Atlanta Dream (WNBA), Chicago Sky (WNBA), Detroit Shock (WNBA), Staten Island Stapletons (NFL), Arkansas GlacierCats (WPHL), Cape Cod Freedoms (NEHL), Tampa Bay Strong Dogs (ABA), Roanoke Dazzle (NBA D-League), and the Toronto Ontarios (NHA).

Now that that's out of the way, let's get to the Grand List:

15. WISCONSIN BLAST
This professional basketball team, which competed in something called the International Basketball Association, was based in Appleton, Wisc. Despite this, the "Wisconsin Blast" was the best name they could come up with. I don't know about you, but when I think of the phrase "Wisconsin Blast," I think of the Sunday morning torture innumerable frat boys suffer through after downing far too much Milwaukee's Best the night before.

14. OHIO GLORY
A team that played for one year in the World League of American Football, the Ohio Glory finished their 1992 season 1-9. What was their team fight song? I imagine it went something like this:

We don't give a damn about the whole state of Michigan --
the whole state of Michigan, the whole state of Michigan --
we don't give a damn about the whole state of Michigan --
'cause we're from O-HI-O.

13. ROCHESTER SKEETERS
Another IBA team, the Rochester Skeeters were apparently named with the idea that even if the team didn't perform all that well, it would still be really annoying. Why the team was named after mosquitoes in a place where the ground is only free of snow for two months out of the year is beyond me, but there you go.

12. LANCASTER RED ROSES
Back in the days of the early 20th century, there was actually a baseball team called the Red Roses in Lancaster, Pa., that faced off against the nearby White Roses of York, Pa. Given the rivalry and the history behind the original War of the Roses, the team name was an inspired -- almost genius -- choice. Furthermore, given the state of education back in the day, most people would actually have gotten this -- unlike today, when people would think Dennis Miller had somehow been allowed to come up with the team's name.

But I'm not talking about the baseball team. I'm talking about the CBA team from the Forties, which clearly tried to piggyback on history with the name choice. It didn't work -- and without a rival in York, the team name instead made the players seem like a bunch of pansies.

11. LOUISVILLE ALUMNITES
What the hell is an Alumnite, you're asking? Beats me, but I daresay this was the first basketball team to ever get named after a shaving product. This may have been why the team -- and the NPBL in which it played -- folded before its season ended back in 1950-1951.

10. ANAHEIM AMIGOS
Ole! This ABA team was named in that fraught-with-danger sports tradition, the Name That Team Contest. Amazingly, the team ownership went along with this name, despite the fact that it would undoubtedly annoy a good portion of its fan base. Also not helping matters: the mascot was a stereotypical "Mexican bandit." The average attendance of their games was 1,293, according to Wikipedia.

9. (tie) ROANOKE STEAM/RICHMOND SPEED
These two af2 teams, now mercifully defunct, violated the Cardinal Rule of Sports Team Naming Conventions: don't name your team after some lame-o physical force, especially if that makes the team sound like an WNBA team. Why Roanoke has issues with naming teams -- see above -- is beyond me, but they might want to do a better job with their marketing in future.

8. HOUSTON THUNDERBEARS
I'm sorry, but ThunderBears reminds me too much of this.

7. DANBURY TRASHERS
Since the team was sponsored by a trash-hauling company, you can't exactly blame the marketing guys for this one. In fact, I'd venture to say the marketing guys tore their hair out at having to come up with a team name and appropriate mascot for the owners, who should have stuck to hauling waste. According to the team's Wikipedia page, the mascot was a trash can wielding a hockey stick.

6. LOS ANGELES XTREME
The winner and champeen of the XFL's only season. Sadly, nobody told the XFL guys that -- how to put this -- it's completely and incredibly lame to use the letter X in an attempt to impart coolness. Despite this, there are several sports teams that have done this. As for the Xtreme bit -- although "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" didn't arrive until a few years after this, it should have been pretty clear that using the word "extreme" can only be used in a cynical or sarcastic sense, as in: "So -- not -- extreme!"

5. MINNESOTA FIGHTING SAINTS
I'm sorry, what? The Minnesota Fighting Saints? I don't care if they played hockey in the Seventies -- it's the sports equivalent of UHF's "Gandhi II" sketch serving as your team name for all time. ("No more Mr Passive Resistance!")

4. SOO MICHIGAN REALTORS
Someone please tell me the team's star player wasn't known as "Six Percent." Please. I'm begging you. I mean, can you think of any team name less likely to get your fans fired up about the squad? (I've got three, actually, but we'll get to those). What was the mascot for this Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League team? A guy in a suit with a bunch of paperwork? I guess we should be thankful they weren't a baseball team, because the jokes about closing would be too much to bear.

3. PEORIA PRANCERS
Nothing brings to mind Eddie Shore and Old Time Hockey like a team named ... the Peoria Prancers. Holy God! What were they thinking? Think about it -- it's minor-league hockey. Your natural audience is a blue-collar crowd who shows up to see grown men beat the hell out of each other, and you name the team the Prancers? What was the mascot, a rotating collection from My Little Pony?

To the team's credit, though, the Prancers nickname only stuck for two years in the early Eighties. Someone apparently got out the epsom salts and the owners changed the name to the "Peoria Rivermen." That's not a great name either, but at least it doesn't conjure up images of tea parties and Care Bears.

2. SACRAMENTO ATTACK/MIAMI HOOTERS
Now here's genius for you: not only did you have the team with the worst name in the Arena Football League, you moved the team and found an even worse name. Was there no one with an IQ of 80 in the ownership group that could have said, "Say, I don't mean to rain on anybody's parade, but couldn't this new name complicate matters in terms of attracting families with children to the games?" I don't care if it was a sponsorship agreement: as amazing as it might seem, there are times when not being stupid trumps a lot of money.

Miami Hooters. My God. It's worth noting, by the way, that average attendance fell from about 9,000 in the first year to about 6,250 in the third year, according to ArenaFan. Fortunately, after 1995, the team got an actual decent name and continued to play on for several years.

1. OMAHA BEEF
In South Park, the kids' football team is named the "South Park Cows," who famously play the Middle Park Cowboys. Tell me how this is different. You can't, because it ain't. I mean, if there's nothing that suggests an immobile offensive line, a slothful defense and a quarterback who spends more time flat on his back than Jimmy Clausen playing Michigan, I don't know what does. I don't care if beef's an Omaha specialty, this is ridiculous.

Even worse, the beef analogies exist throughout the whole bloody organization. The mascot is Sir Loin. Yes, Sir Loin. That's somewhat alarming. More alarming is that the cheerleaders are called the "Omaha Prime." God help them -- if somebody from the University of Nebraska's Women's Studies Department picks up the sports section, there's going to be trouble! Or at the very least, two or three doctoral dissertations. ("Patriarchy, Indoor Football and the Continued Sexist Objectification of Women in Minor-League Sports.")

That said, unlike many of the teams I've listed, the Beef are doing quite well and have spent several years in the United Indoor Football league. I just hope they've got a backup name just in case. How about the Berkshire Hathaways?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 04, 2008

We're Entering Jim Mora Territory Here

THE PLAYOFFS? Don't talk to me about the playoffs! You kidding me? I just hope we can win a game.

-- Jim Mora

I AM SADDENED to report the Manchester Wolves (1-4) lost yet again this weekend. Not only have they lost four games straight, they lost their latest home game to the Daytona Beach Thunderbirds, who at 0-5 coming into the game were the worst team in the entire af2 league.

True, I know the Wolves are suffering from injuries. Our starting quarterback was out with a separated shoulder; our best cornerback has been out with a concussion; we have a one-time lineman, whom we're due to sign again soon, who just had hernia surgery. That said, these are three (3) out of twenty (20) players, and we can't win games if the other 17 don't perform up to par.

Things aren't entirely bad, of course. Our line play today seemed to significantly improve -- although I wonder how much of that was actual improvement as opposed to better circumstances, i.e., not playing a very good opposing squad. But our defensive backs continue to perform subpar and today, that just killed us, along with various blunders our backup quarterback made. It's tough to win games when basic facets of the game -- such as the snap from center to quarterback -- are not executed with perfect precision. It's also tough to win games when your defensive backs -- although they had brief moments of glory today -- blow their coverage assignments, as annoyingly happened more than once. As for penalties -- don't get me started on the penalties. Penalties are prima facie evidence of ill-discipline.

Still, today was a day in which everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Consider what happened near the end of the first half. The score was Daytona Beach 22 - Manchester 20. Daytona Beach, in its own territory and facing a fourth down, decided it would attempt a field goal. The kick was blocked, flew into the air and into the arms of one of our defensive backs, who proceeded to run it back for a touchdown to great acclaim. Now that Manchester was up 26-22, the Wolves smartly decided to go for a two-point conversion. Unfortunately, our quarterback's pass was intercepted, and Daytona Beach's player ran it back all the way for a safety. Ugh.

The frustrating thing about this game was that it was a game we should have won and needed to win. We could have beaten this team. When you get off to a slow start in a season, you need to win games against weak opponents to help ride out the games against strong ones. But we blew it. We blew it so bad, in fact, that the af2 highlighted the game and Daytona Beach's upset on their Web site, adding insult to injury.

It certainly isn't going to get any easier, either. Next week, we get to play the hated Florida Firecats down in Florida. This normally would not be too bad, except that Florida is one of three undefeated teams in the 29-team af2. The week after that, back at home, we get to play the Tulsa Talons, who at 6-0 are the best team in the entire league and the defending ArenaCup champion.

I know hope springs eternal, and I am hopeful Manchester will be able to right the ship soon. But this is shaping up to be a rather tough year.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 28, 2008

Hail to the Victors (We Hope)

ANN ARBOR, Mich., Apr. 27 -- SINCE FOOTBALL will be the prime focus of this and several posts following, it's important to mention The Rant's football-related quote of the week, from none other than my good friend Geoff Brown:

Michigan State is like Scrappy Doo -- lemme at 'em! Lemme at 'em!"

This quote, admittedly, will make no sense to anyone over 40 years of age, nor anyone who does not follow college football or the Big Ten Conference. But if you are under 40 years old and do follow college football, you realize the beauty and majesty of this simple statement, which is clearly correct and just.

You see, like many second-rate agricultural schools, Michigan State is in a one-way rivalry with their more prestigious big brothers in Ann Arbor. Simply put, they can't stand us and would consider their annual football season a success if they beat us. We, on the other hand, find Michigan State an annoying irritant. For fans of the Michigan Wolverines, the idea of losing to the hapless Spartans is mortifying and a loss to them would prove hugely embarrassing. Fortunately, we have beaten the Spartans six years straight in our annual matchup. Unfortunately, as Mr Brown pointed out during our recent dinner togheter, they could pull it off this coming year.

After all, as Mr Brown noted, Michigan has a new coaching staff, a new offensive scheme, and a lot of relatively new players. Not only that, it's still somewhat unclear who our starting quarterback may be. All this, therefore, led Mr Brown to conclude Michigan will get beaten like the proverbial red-headed stepchild this season, and part of my worries he is right.

But I remain cautiously optimistic about the season. After all, college football is played in autumn, and autumn is the Season of Miracles. If a miracle doesn't happen, well, I'd settle for beating Ohio State. If we lose to both Ohio State and Michigan State, it will immensely suck, because wearing a paper bag over one's head to mask the shame isn't any fun.

Anyway, Geoff and I had dinner -- as we traditionally do -- at Good Time Charley's, a hangout on South University Street famed for its "count twists," which are a type of cheesy bread. I must say I've never seen Ann Arbor that quiet before -- but it was the day after graduation, and so the campus was quickly emptying out. Although this did not change some things -- the line at Blimpy Burger was still very long -- it did have its benefits, much to my surprise and amazement.

For instance, parking was free in the Maynard Street parking structure. This was downright amazing -- free parking? in Ann Arbor? As a former resident of the city, I concluded what any Michigan student would have concluded: that the rage virus had somehow gotten loose from the University's researchers and was rapidly turning Ann Arborites into zombies. But then I realized the tired, frustrated Baby Boomers I had come across were just ruminating about their kids' tuition bills. A degree in art history, even from a prestigious school like Michigan, is still a degree in art history.

But Ann Arbor was as nice as ever -- and both Geoff and I admitted it would be pretty cool to move back to the place. (Mr Brown lives on the outskirts of metropolitan Detroit). There's something to Ann Arbor that is incredibly pleasant. Perhaps that's just a combination of nostalgia and the grass being greener, but there are fewer places in the world I would rather live.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Grand Rapids Victorious

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., Apr. 25 -- WELL, THE DRAFT WEEKEND turned out to be a hell of a good time for a football weekend back in the Midwest. I did catch some of the draft commentary on the radio while driving about, but all-in-all I thought my trip made more sense. After all, what's more fun: going to actually watch football or listening to analysts drone on about drafted players, 95 pc of whom will be consigned to relative mediocrity over the span of their careers?

As readers may recall, my trip was financed through the Government's tax rebate scheme, which will soon arrive in my pocket. I can assure readers that I spent my tax rebate on goods and services that will directly help the economies of Michigan and northern Indiana. This included roughly $100 spent on tickets to two football games, sodas at the games, parking expenses and one $2 coaster emblazoned with the logo of the Fort Wayne Freedom. Additionally, I spent $144 on a rental car, $225 on hotel rooms and $99.75 on gasoline. Oh, and I spent $18.20 at Meijer for snacks and sodas for my road trip. Throw in meals and that adds up to $650 or so. So: mission accomplished. I spent my stimulus money and did it in a way that will help our most troubled states. I rule.

Oh, and the football was awesome. Not only did Grand Rapids win convincingly, so did Fort Wayne, so I went two-for-two in my football watching. Here, we'll discuss the Grand Rapids game, between the Grand Rapids Rampage and the Kansas City Brigade of the Arena Football League.

Grand Rapids is the one area of Michigan that is seemingly booming and full of economic vitality. There's plenty of activity going on, especially in terms of construction work, and the whole town seems to be doing all right for itself. The Van Andel Arena, its downtown venue, is a well-built and pleasant arena with convenient and inexpensive parking right across the street. I arrived at the arena about 5:45 p.m., about an hour and a quarter before the game got underway, and I was stunned at what I saw.

Outside the arena, a group of teenagers were painting their faces in the Rampage's colors, and chanting "Let's Go Rampage!" with an impressive fervor. A man noticed me standing outside the arena and asked if I had any extra tickets to the game, which stunned me -- either he was a scalper or thought I was one. Keep in mind this is arena football in Grand Rapids. When the doors opened at 6 p.m., the team cleverly had its cheerleaders at the doors passing out souvenirs -- which was a pretty clever idea, I thought. Also, the Rampage's cheerleading squad got a serious upgrade over the past year.

Fast forward to 7 p.m. and the arena was, if not full, pretty close to it. Attendance at the game was 8,102 and it certainly felt like it in the arena, where the crowd was boisterous and happy. My sixth-row seat at midfield gave me a great view of the action and I was in a section with some devoted football fans. Much to my surprise and amazement, there were two former Manchester Wolves players I noticed on the field. On Grand Rapids' side, defensive back William "Roc" Haith, a standout DB with the Wolves, was starting. On Kansas City's side, the starting quarterback was none other than D. Bryant, who was once a starting QB for the Manchester Wolves.

I couldn't believe it. Bryant apparently did quite well after leaving the Wolves and so got a boost up to the big league, but upon seeing him as starting QB, I was feeling pretty confident about Grand Rapids' chances. After all, Bryant was inconsistent in Manchester, so why should that change now that he's in the AFL? And I was right! Not only did he fumble the ball on the first snap -- resulting in Grand Rapids recovering the ball -- he threw two interceptions right after that, leading to Grand Rapids take a 13-0 lead. It was not Mr Bryant's night.

The best thing about the game? It was a true defensive battle -- at least on Grand Rapids' side of the ball -- and the team's defensive antics helped put the game away early. At halftime, Grand Rapids was up 41-17, and we would end the game up 72-38 -- with Kansas City's last touchdown coming in garbage time at the end. But the best part about the whole experience, I think, was the level of fan enthusiasm -- it was a fun time, and that added a lot to the game. So anyone in the greater Grand Rapids area who isn't presently attending the games should look into tickets -- it would make for a fun night out.

I am also glad to report that Grand Rapids now goes to 3-5 on the season, and with the win is actually getting itself into playoff position. Seeing the Rampage in the playoffs would be super cool, especially since the playoffs will be televised. As for Kansas City -- well, they're 1-7, so they have a lot of makeup work to do if they hope to make it to the postseason.

Highlights and the game recap are here.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 18, 2008

Well, THAT Didn't Work Out Well

I HAVE THE SAD DUTY to report this evening that the Manchester Wolves, my city's minor-league arena football team, lost their home opener to the formerly hapless but now quite good Albany Conquest, by a score of 64-54. Despite the seeming closeness of that score, I can assure you that the Conquest stomped all over us similar to how Julius Caesar conquered the Gauls. Football-wise, it was pretty grim.

Of course, this loss was all my fault. You see, as I was halfway to the arena, I realized with horror that I had forgotten my Lucky Steelers Hat, the glorious headwear which I have worn many a time to watch the Wolves triumph over their opposition. Thus, in retrospect it seems clear we never had a chance. Some may argue that I am vesting far too much faith in my Lucky Steelers Hat -- after all, Manchester's turnovers, dropped passes, innumerable penalties and general failure to get the job done may have contributed to our loss. But it's my lucky hat. I mean, come on.

At the core of our troubles was an inability to stop Albany's well-executed offense, particularly the good play of its offensive line and excellent performance running and passing. Along with that, everything seemed to go wrong for our side. Starting with the coin toss, which went against us, and continuing on with many plays that were oh-so-close to successful but which ended up unsuccessful -- and in some cases, disasterously. For instance, one of our wideouts made a great catch deep in Albany territory, but had the ball stripped from him almost immediately after he caught it and started running for the goal line. Albany pounced on the ball and recovered it. There was a blown lateral that our quarterback threw and our receiver missed, leading a quick-thinking Albany defender to scoop the ball up and run forty-something yards for a touchdown. That's just a sampling of what went wrong. All in all, it was tough.

Although we hung in there during the first half -- Albany was only up 33-27 at that point -- at the end of the third quarter, Albany had 54 points and we had but 34. That three-touchdown lead was surmountable, but we needed to play better than we did to make that a reality. The end result is that we're 1-2, Albany's 2-1, and we get to play division leader Wilkes-Barre Scranton (now 2-1) on the road next week. Oh boy.

Still, the game was a lot of fun -- they always are -- and the players played hard. I daresay my new favorite player on the team is No. 22, defensive back TC Myers. First, consider the guy is a cross between a cornerback and a safety in the DB position. Next, consider that he is 5'7" tall and weighs 165 lbs. He's a defensive version of Mack Herron. But did he have energy tonight. He made some of the best plays on defense we had, and the guy could hit like a steamroller. Also, he flew around the field, making tackles and never giving up. That was something to behold -- even as the players he covered had six or more inches on him, he kept at 'em. It was pretty darned impressive. Speaking of Mack Herron, though, I do wonder if Myers might be a good running back. First, the opposition would have to catch him, and then they'd have to tackle him. Good luck with that.

Of course, with such a new squad and yet another new quarterback at the helm, it's going to take some time for the team to coalesce and I am hopeful that they'll catch fire later this season. Admittedly, I'd prefer it if they would catch fire next game, because Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is never an easy team to face. But we'll see, won't we?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 15, 2008

NFL Schedules Are Out!

OOOOH! OOOOH! THE NFL's 2008 schedules are out!*

My initial thoughts:

PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Oh, God help us. I love how we get to play New England and Dallas in back-to-back weeks. That's frickin' great. At least we get to play the Colts at home. Of course, we are playing the Colts, so that's not going to be a picnic either. At least our opening schedule is kinda-sorta easy. Not that it helped us last year, when we lost to Arizona.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: You lucky ducks are going 15-1 this year, and I say that just because I refuse to concede that the Patriots could beat the Steelers. What's that? I don't care if you've got two West Coast trips. Oooooooooh, you have to play Oakland! Cry me a frickin' river, and we'll see you in the playoffs. Which reminds me: when you get off to a 7-0 or 8-0 start, if anybody starts babbling on about an undefeated season, I'm going to throw up.

CLEVELAND BROWNS: Dallas and Pittsburgh ... well! Look who's going to start the year 0-2!

THE AFC SOUTH: You get to play the NFC North? I guess we'll see three of your teams in the playoffs again.

DETROIT LIONS: Look at the bright side -- you get to start off playing the Atlanta Falcons! If that's not a classic "somebody had to win" game, I don't know what is. Unfortunately, I think the NFC North got the second-worst conference rotation this year, behind the AFC North. I can sum up my analysis in two words: Fire Millen.

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* N.B. The above link provides team-by-team schedules for teams in the American Football Conference, as The Rant's Football Department figured no one would really be interested in teams from the other, second-rate conference. However, in the event you are really interested, an NFC link is available via the AFC page.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:29 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 13, 2008

"Leatherheads" Actually an Enjoyable, Decent Movie

OK, I HAVE TO ADMIT IT: I went to see "Leatherheads" tonight not simply because I was bored, but because I thought it would make a good "Bad Cinema With Ben" post, and I haven't done one of those in a while. However, that Bad Cinema With Ben post is going to have to wait, because "Leatherheads" turned out -- wait for it -- to be an enjoyable movie. Silly in some ways, but a heck of a lot of fun.

That I enjoyed the movie quite a bit undoubtedly helps explain why financially, the film is facing a fourth-and-long and will probably turn the ball over on downs. This is a shame, because the movie really was fun. Not only was it fun, it was actually decent -- a movie that relies on wit and humor to score points, and clean humor at that. My God, what a concept. In short, it's a movie that you could take an eight-year-old to see and you wouldn't have to deal with any embarrassing questions afterwards. Also, if you ask me, there's something to be said for movies -- especially romantic comedies, which this was -- that actually have smart dialogue.

True, the marketing of the movie might not have been the best. I never got the sense it was marketed to couples or families, and it might not have been the best move to launch a football movie right when baseball season is opening up and basketball and hockey are headed to their playoffs. The multiplex where I watched the movie was deserted -- no doubt because a) everything else playing was shit and b) the Red Sox were playing the Yankees. In my own theatre, there were all of four people watching "Leatherheads," and I was the youngest one of them. Not good signs, if you ask me.

But that didn't take away from the goodness and beauty of the film, which really was quite well done, and managed to capture the feel of the Roaring Twenties. I always like movies about the Roaring Twenties. For one thing, I like seeing everyone having a good time, because God knows the Thirties and Forties weren't a picnic. For another, the mid-Twenties seemed like a pretty good time -- one full of optimism and full of hope. Of course, as we know, it's easy to be full of hope and optimism when the stock market is booming thanks to a margin-fueled bubble, but hey. Good times were had, and it's nice to see that on film these days; it's a nice escape.

Anyway, the plot takes some explaining, so here goes. Of course, before I do that, I should deliver a quick primer on the history of professional football in America.

As I think we all know, American football was the brainchild of none other than George Washington, and the first football game was played at Valley Forge in 1778. The first epic battle, between Col. Henry Purvis' Fighting Wolverines and Maj. Enoch Tarleton's Redcoat-Buckeyes, resulted in the Wolverines defeating the Buckeyes by the amazing score of 42-3. But in the years to come, football went dormant, as the victorious Americans became soft and decadent and started playing baseball.

However, in the late 19th century, thanks to the efforts of various American heroes, football started to develop into the great sport we know today. By the early 20th century, college football was wildly popular -- extremely dangerous, but still wildly popular. Eventually, massive crowds would turn out to watch college football games -- but professional football, which was formally established in 1920 with the creation of what is now the National Football League, struggled in its infancy. However, it started to pick up speed when the league started hiring football stars out of college -- such as Jim Thorpe, who was paid $250 a game when the Canton Bulldogs signed him in 1915. (When you consider a bricklayer at the time made $33 a week for 44 hours on the job, that made Mr Thorpe kind of a big deal).

Anyway, this is the period in which "Leatherheads" is set -- as professional football is first starting to make its way from an also-ran of a sport to an actual professional phenomenon. (There are some parts in the film where the historical aspects of football's development are completely laughable, but by that point you're having too much fun to really mind). George Clooney's character, Dodge Connolly, is the team captain of the woeful Duluth Bulldogs, who play to pitiful crowds and are lucky if they can get to the next town for their next game. Teams in their league are folding left and right, and Duluth itself finds itself in big trouble. Enter clean-cut Princeton College football star and war hero Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski), whom Clooney convinces to play for Duluth and provides the spark to relight football's pilot light. Enter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger), who is investigating whether Rutherford's tales of heroism are all they're cracked up to be. With two guys and one girl, you can see where this is going.

All in all, though, "Leatherheads" was a fun movie and thoroughly enjoyable to watch -- and Mr Clooney got the classic "big football game" at the end just right. (Football fans who watch it will understand why). As I said, it's a shame the movie hasn't done well at the box office, but I'll probably pick it up on DVD when it comes out. Good movies about football -- that also happen to be good movies in and of themselves -- are precious hard to find.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 15, 2008

Rant Conference Call on AAFL Season Postponement

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UNKNOWN: Was that how you really responded when you got the e-mail about the All-American Football League being postponed for a year?

Mr KEPPLE: Well, it's a good enough approximation -- are we on? Hello? Gad, I can never figure these things out, it's pound-three to ... (BEEP)(BOOP) ... goddammit! Hello? Hello! Konnichi wa! (BEEP)(BEEP)

-----------------

OPERATOR: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the conference call for Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant Inc. With us today is Mr. Benjamin Kepple, The Rant's chief executive, from Hamilton, Bermuda. Mr. Kepple, are you with us?

Mr KEPPLE: Hello? Hello! (BOOOOOP)(BEEP) Wretched godrotting phone system!

OPERATOR: Mr. Kepple will commence the conference call, after which there will be a question-and-answer period. Your phones will be on mute until that time; to ask a question, press "star-one." Mr Kepple?

Mr KEPPLE: Hello, everyone. All right.

As you know, on Feb. 27, I announced on The Rant I would undertake a trip to Michigan in April for the purpose of spending my Government stimulus money. However, I am afraid I have some bad news. As you know, I was planning to head to Michigan to watch Team Michigan of the All-American Football League play Alabama as part of that trip. Unfortunately ... unfortunately ... the league has postponed its launch until spring 2009.

According to published reports, the league's backers were facing liquidity issues related to the Wall Street credit crunch, and couldn't find new investors to pump more cash into the project before it launched. The key quote here, for those of you wondering, is this: "When I told the board I would subsidize the league, that was before the bond market collapsed."

So, anyway, they called the whole thing off and hope to restart next year. Needless to say, this didn't impress a lot of people, but I am hopeful the league will start in 2009. You know, we need spring football. OK, let's open things up to questions.

ANALYST: Yes, this is Harold Marcuse from Catch a Falling Knife LLC. We've been looking over the Rant's financials and are wondering if this means you'll get your ticket money back.

Mr KEPPLE: Yes, the league will refund all ticket purchases shortly. Besides, I paid with a credit card, so I'm all good. So in a way, this isn't so bad, because I'm $73 on the upside.

REPORTER: Kieran C. Hooft from Reuters here -- are you calling off your trip?

Mr KEPPLE: You must be joking.

Mr HOOFT: Actually, I'm not.

Mr KEPPLE: Ah. Well, of course I'm not calling off my trip. I mean, I already paid for the plane ticket. I made all my reservations. Plus, I'm going to an Arena Football League game in Grand Rapids. Yeah. That said, I did try to see if there were any other arenaball games -- AFL or af2 -- in the area, but there weren't. I mean, as much as I love the Manchester Wolves, I'm not driving to Scranton on my long weekend to see them. It's Scranton. Anyway, there's plenty of things to do in Michigan on a Saturday, so I'll figure something out.

REPORTER: Any chance football will be involved?

Mr KEPPLE: Can you believe Kalamazoo's indoor-football league team -- not arena football, but indoor football -- has a bye-week that week? Gad. For that matter, can you believe there are entire leagues of indoor football that aren't part of the arena league system? I mean, my God. I'm still trying to get my head around it.

I'm not kidding, either -- they're the Kalamazoo Xplosion. That's the name. They play in the Continental Indoor Football League.

REPORTER: They're called the Xplosion? That's the best name they could come up with? The Xplosion?

Mr KEPPLE: I guess it fits. I mean, if you can imagine it -- SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNNNN-DAY! GET READY to EXPLODE!

(Laughter).

Mr KEPPLE: The mascot is Xplodey the Coyote.

REPORTER: You've got to be kidding.

Mr KEPPLE: No. You know what the kicker is -- every other indoor football team I could find in Michigan is playing away that week. Flint, Saginaw, Muskegon -- they're all playing away games. If I really wanted to see a game, I'd have to go to Fort Wayne to do it. For all you non-Midwesterners, that's just over the border in Indiana.

Hey, wait a minute.

Yeah. Fuck it, I'm going to Fort Wayne on Saturday night! FORT WAYNE FOOTBALL!

(Silence).

Mr KEPPLE: Oh, come on. You know this is the exact type of crazy stunt I would pull, just because I could.

REPORTER: So let me get this straight. You're going to go to -- how to put this -- a minor-league indoor football game that's so minor-league it's not even part of the arena system, and you're going to do it when you could theoretically get tickets to the NBA or NHL playoffs in Detroit.

Mr KEPPLE: It'd make a hell of a blog entry.

(Murmured assent).

REPORTER: You're completely insane!

Mr KEPPLE: Dammit! I planned a football trip! That was the whole point! And no stupid economic crisis, no stupid hedge fund, no frickin' deleveraging of investments is going to stop me from doing it! Football is part of what makes America great! For that matter, minor league sports are part of what makes America great -- the striving and the guts and the glory of it all! Are you with me?!

REPORTERS: YEAH!

Mr KEPPLE: Plus, tickets are only FIFTEEN BUCKS! And they're good seats! GOOD SEATS!

REPORTERS: YEAH!

Mr KEPPLE: ALL RIGHT! Let's get out there and do this! Football will be ours! Football will be ours!

ALL: ... FOOTBALL WILL BE OURS!

(Pause).

REPORTER: You sure you're not going to see the Red Wings?

Mr KEPPLE: Somebody grab him!

REPORTER: This is a conference call, how the -- (BEEP)(BOOP)(BEEEEEEEEEP)

OPERATOR: Thank you all (BEEEEP) for taking part in today's conference call (BOOOP) with Benjamin Kepple of Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant Inc. This call will be archived and transcribed on The Rant's Web site, at benkepple.com, where (BOOOP) it can be downloaded on demand. Thank you.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:08 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 04, 2008

Arenaball is Back

SO I WATCHED and enjoyed every bloody second of Monday night's broadcast of the Arena Football League game between the evil San Jose Sabercats and the likable Chicago Rush. Chicago won, which I liked, and it did so rather handedly, thanks to a bunch of turnovers (or, as we say in arenaball land, "key defensive stops.") In front of more than 15,000 fans -- sweet -- Chicago beat San Jose 70-47 in a game that was actually quite close until midway through the fourth quarter.

One surprise: Bobby Sippio, the Chicago Rush's star wide receiver, got a promotion up to the National Football League, where he is now a Kansas City Chief. Thus, the Rush had to replace their all-star wide receiver, and did so with none other than Damian Harrell, a longtime AFL wide receiver who last night proved he is very good at his job.

I must admit this somewhat disappointed me, as I had seen Mr Harrell play in person when he was playing for the Colorado Crush. I did not care for his antics then, as I was rooting for the Grand Rapids Rampage, and found Mr Harrell's behavior a bit ... well, a bit Florida State. Boorish, to put it bluntly. But he displayed none of that on Monday night and performed brilliantly. I was also very impressed with Chicago's new quarterback, Sherdrick Bonner -- I can't believe the man is 39.

In other arenaball news, the recently moved Cleveland AFL team got 17,391 fans to turn out to the team's inaugural game in the city. That's higher than the typical attendance at an NHL game. Even better, Cleveland beat New York, 61-49. One thing I found particularly amusing: there were reportedly chants of "Pittsburgh sucks" at the game. This would be more impressive if Cleveland was actually playing Pittsburgh. You know, if Pittsburgh had an AFL team. So my opinions are divided. First, I am proud of Cleveland for turning out to watch some great football. Second, these guys clearly -- clearly -- have issues.

***

YES, I'm going to blog about arena football this year. NO, I don't care what anyone thinks about it. But if you're one of my many readers who wonder why I blog about it; well, I guess I think the game has a lot going for it. The good news, however, is that I plan to blog about a lot of stuff besides arena football, so you'll be all set.

***

SPEAKING OF REGULAR FOOTBALL, though -- let me be the first to wish Brett Favre well as he (finally) retires from the game. I'm saving the snark for the end, so bear with me before you pounce on my curmudgeonliness.

There is no denying Favre was everything one wanted in a quarterback. Not only was he an excellent quarterback, he was a fan favorite whom everyone in Green Bay loved. He was a great talent and from all accounts is a great human being, and the sport will be diminished now that he has left the game. This is a man, after all, who won a Super Bowl and set all sorts of records, and it will be a long time before those records are broken.

That said -- and I think I speak for the 89 percent of Americans who are not Green Bay Packers fans -- I'm glad to see Favre finally retire, if only because I don't have to listen for months on end about whether the guy will actually retire. Jesus Christ. It got so bad there I would have almost -- almost -- preferred listening to people blather on about Terrell Owens. Now that Favre has actually left the team, I look forward to a few years free of having to listen about the Packers, except in the context of the squad being worse than Detroit. That's not to say I won't have a soft spot in my heart for Green Bay -- after all, it is Green Bay, the last of the small-town franchises -- but come on. Enough already.

While I'm on a roll here, Packer fans, enough already with the cheeseheads. I'm serious. For one thing, the cheeseheads are a baseball-related invention -- it's true -- and, as such, are lame. For another, it's not even like they're an old-time football tradition -- they got invented in 1987, for Pete's sake. 1987. I was 11. That's not old-time football. Do something old-time football instead, like bring yellow dish towels to the games. You'll find your team gains strength and performs gloriously when they are waved furiously in the chill November wind. Trust me on this.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 02, 2008

Football Round-Up

I WAS ANNOYED when the Patriots fans stole my Hines Ward car magnet. But thanks to some recent news about the New England Patriots' conduct over the years, now I'm really annoyed.

According to no less a source than Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the shameless Patriots filmed the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers at least four times over the years, including in two AFC Championship games. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports this has Sen Specter, who is wisely a fan of the Black and Gold, upset:

U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter said yesterday that he has a list of witnesses and will pursue the "Spygate" case against the New England Patriots that he said involved four games against the Steelers, including two AFC championship games.

"I think Steelers fans have a lot to be concerned about this and I'm one of them,'' Mr. Specter told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in an interview yesterday, adding that "maybe Steelers ownership should think about it a little."

Specter met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for more than an hour Wednesday to discuss why evidence turned over by the Patriots that documented their illegal videotaping of opposing coaches' signals was destroyed. He said he was not satisfied with Mr. Goodell's explanation.

The story also quotes former Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher, who says any taping would have given the Patriots an advantage, although it didn't impact the outcomes of the games in question. Right. Sure.

Still, it seems clear to me the best revenge is for the Steelers to utterly crush the Patriots, thus restoring themselves to their rightful place on top the American Football Conference. Especially because Mr Rooney basically said, "Drop all this taping talk." Yessir.

***

IT WOULD BE EASIER for the Steelers to utterly crush the Patriots if Randy Moss went away and played for Buffalo or something. That could just happen, according to published reports. Meanwhile, The Boston Herald had a story about the teams to whom Mr Moss might jump if contract issues can't be resolved.

Oddly, Team No. 3 on this list is the Pittsburgh Steelers. Clearly there was some sort of typo, because the Steelers would be No. 30 on any realistic list of the teams to which Mr Moss would jump. Let us remember the Steelers are run by Mr Rooney, the son of the original Mr Rooney, and as such would never sign a player with Mr Moss' troubled history. Also, the Steelers are notoriously cheap. The team never pays top dollar for good players from outside; instead, it develops its own players from within (e.g. James Harrison) while replacing veterans who have become too expensive to keep around (e.g. Alan Faneca). Speaking of Mr Faneca, he has gone to the New York Jets and they could well have a very impressive offensive line this year. Good.

It seems clear Mr Moss would most likely end up with the Dallas Cowboys (because they are scoundrels) or the Philadelphia Eagles (because they're masochists).

***

DEAR GOD, IT'S ME, Ben Kepple. PLEASE give the Pittsburgh Steelers decent special teams players this year. I'll be good, really I will! Please please please ...

***

I WOULD BE REMISS if I did not note the death of Pittsburgh sports legend Myron Cope, the team's longtime radio announcer who invented the Terrible Towel. However, I hope -- as a one-time journalist -- Mr Cope found humor in his obituary, as written by The New York Times.

Here's the Times on Mr Cope:

Myron Cope, the longtime broadcaster for the N.F.L’s Steelers who became a sports treasure in Pittsburgh with his distinctive vocabulary and his creation of the fans’ Terrible Towel, died Wednesday in Mount Lebanon, Pa. He was 79.

At the end of the story, here's Cope on Cope:

Notwithstanding his enormous popularity as a broadcaster, Mr Cope took pride in his years as a writer.

“I’ve often thought that when I kick the bucket, there’d be a story that said, ‘Creator of towel, dead,’ " he remarked upon retiring from his broadcast work for the Steelers. “I would like to be remembered as a pretty decent writer.”

***

AS MUCH AS I hate to admit it, I am somewhat concerned about the Cleveland Browns this year. After all, think of all the improvements they made during the 2007 season. They discovered their backup (later, starting) quarterback could throw the ball. Braylon Edwards relearned how to catch the ball. Now, they've acquired Donte Stallworth from the Patriots, who is a pretty decent wide receiver and should help free up Mr Edwards. Also, they acquired Shaun Rogers from the Detroit Lions and the Lions got Leigh Bodden ...

... which may or may not be a good thing for the Browns.

Mr Bodden was a sharp cornerback, and as one who watched Browns games pretty frequently during 2007, I thought he really improved over the year. True, Cleveland's defense stunk up the joint overall, but I thought he was a good player and so I'm surprised Cleveland let him go. Mr Rogers is a great defensive tackle but from everything I have read, he is undisciplined. So it seems Cleveland is taking a chance on this one. But it could pay off.

***

THIS WEEKEND, as I always do when I get out of work on Saturday, I called my parents at home. Mom informed me about all of Cleveland's personnel moves and we got to talking about Brady Quinn. My mother and I have different views on whether Cleveland should keep him around. Mom pointed out that Cleveland doesn't have a decent backup quarterback, and also noted Mr Quinn is a fan favorite. I think the guy's trade bait and should get sent along to the highest bidder. Surely there are teams out there who need a good quarterback, and the Browns could get some much-needed defensive help through trading Mr Quinn.

As for my father, he and I discussed Browns' fans irrational hatred for the Pittsburgh Steelers, which Steelers fans don't really share for the Browns. True, the Browns have not managed to beat the Steelers since Oct. 5, 2003, and so far this decade Pittsburgh leads the rivalry 15-2. I would like to think this year would make it 17-2, but I'm not nearly as confident as I was in years past. Who knows? Perhaps the Brownies will make up for their past humiliations at the Steelers' hands -- humiliations like that Dec. 24, 2005, game which is still famous in Kepple family lore. *cough* 41-0 *cough*

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 29, 2008

Oh, Thank God

FOOTBALL IS BACK! Well, not the NFL and not college football, but there's football nonetheless to watch -- starting on Saturday, when at 1 p.m. Eastern ABC will broadcast an Arena Football League game between the Dallas Desperadoes and the Georgia Force. Later that night, there's an Internet broadcast of the Arizona Rattlers v. Utah Blaze game, which I'll try to figure out how to watch. On Monday night ESPN2 will broadcast the game between the evil San Jose SaberCats and the Chicago Rush, whom I like, although not as much as I like Grand Rapids.

Anyway, this is important. The past few weeks have been absolute hell. Consider: yesterday, I was at the local arena where the Manchester Wolves, my city's arenafootball2 team, plays. I made a point of taking a minute to see where my seat was for this year's season. I could see the action taking place on the field. I mean, my God -- I bet people out there have been so desperate for entertainment they actually watched the Oscars, just in the hopes one of the winners would use his statutette on a Hail Mary pass to somebody in the audience.

For those Loyal Rant Readers who had previously resigned themselves to spending six months in a football-less purgatory, I've come up with a handy device to help you get through this most trying of times. Keep praying for autumn to come quickly, of course. But consider watching some of the many spring football games to help you cope with this most unpleasant experience:

Dear readers, it was my pleasure to draw up that grid. What's that? Don't you "hey, wait a minute" me. I worked hard on -- well, of course they're my teams' colors. Did you think I'd put the scarlet and gray up there? Wrong. Make your own schedule if you don't like it. I mean -- now look, I'm not going to take -- well, I'm sorry Faneca went to the Jets too. Don't you give me that look! Anyway, we'll take that up in the fall, because we've got plenty of spring football to focus on. Thank God.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 14, 2008

Is It Football Season Yet?

JUST FOR THE RECORD: the Arena Football League and the arenafootball2 league and the Canadian Football League and the All-American Football League seasons -- much less the NFL season -- can't get here fast enough. Christ, I'm dying for football and it hasn't even been two weeks since the Super Bowl. (What's that? No, I did not watch the Pro Bowl. Besides, I heard the NFC won, which proves the game is a complete joke).

All things considered, it was probably a good thing I wasn't here in New England for the Super Bowl. Prior to the game, pretty much everyone in New England was really excited about the game, given the Patriots' incredible season. They were wearing their jerseys and commemorative T-shirts and were in such a good mood even outlanders like me couldn't fault them. All I could do was salute some Jacksonville Jaguars fan I saw in the airport. So I was glad I wasn't around for the let-down afterwards.

As amazing as it might seem to Loyal Rant Readers, I was not openly gleeful, joyous or thrilled the Patriots were defeated on Sunday. As a committed Conference Loyalist, I believe it imperative that the American Football Conference champion must not only beat the National Football Conference champion, but beat them so soundly that I can spend the third quarter mocking the commercials. As this did not happen, I was somewhat annoyed. (Which reminds me: the Terminator robot attacking the Fox football robot was actually cool, because I hate the Fox football robot. Also, I hate the Fox network's football announcers, the Fox network's pre-game football show, all of the Fox network's sports programming, and all the other vapid shit the goddamned Fox network passes off as "entertainment." I don't know how you NFC fans put up with them every week. Cor).

But anyway. I do realize this was not the case pretty much everywhere else in the country: from what I gathered, the rest of the country was a) thrilled the Patriots got thrown down to the ground, and b) glad for Eli Manning, who has gotten crap for years from the New York media and is now on top of the world. As I only dislike Eli Manning -- hell, he's had to live with Peyton his whole life, not just on Sundays -- I also hope he gets to enjoy his great moment for a few days. Because next season the Giants have to play the AFC North and if the Browns don't kick the Giants' asses, the Steelers will. So sayeth me.

Anyway, arena football starts in March (yay!) so I am very much looking forward to that, although I hope ESPN just calls the bloody game and doesn't get cute with its broadcasts like it did last year. For instance, one trick they had last year was letting viewers listen into the quarterback's audio feed, thus telling viewers what play would be run prior to its execution. I don't want to know what play will be run -- that spoils part of the joy and hurt of it all. Come on, guys, don't screw it up.

But until then, I suppose I can set myself up for trouble by making some early predictions about the outcome of the NFL's 2008-2009 regular season. You know, because I can. Here's my thoughts:

AFC NORTH:

PITTSBURGH: 11-5
CLEVELAND: 10-6
BALTIMORE: 6-8
CINCINNATI: 3-13

Due to a brutal inter- and intra-conference schedule draw, the whole division is in Major Trouble. The AFC North must play the NFC East (big trouble ahead) and the AFC South (God help us). Both divisions sent THREE teams onto this year's playoffs, while the AFC North only sent the Steelers. Plus, the division champion Steelers also get to play New England. Oh joy.

Still, I think Pittsburgh will manage to win 11 games, while Cleveland will win 10. I think the Steelers, by next year, will be able to beat any team in the NFC East -- even the Giants -- while they'll face tough fights against New England, San Diego, and all the AFC South teams. We'll see how that works on the field. Cleveland is much improved and anyone who discounts the Browns is asking for trouble. I think Baltimore is in trouble -- they've got Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator, for God's sake. They've also got the former Falcons OC as quarterbacks coach, the former Lions RB coach as running backs coach, and the wide receivers coach hails from the 49ers. They are so screwed. Speaking of screwed, Cincinnati will stink up the joint again as Marvin Lewis once again fails to keep his ill-disciplined rabble under control, while Ocho Stinko's head explodes in Week 12 after once again not getting the ball. If they were 4-12 this past year, they'll have major problems in the next.

AFC EAST:

NEW ENGLAND: 13-3
BUFFALO: 8-8
NY JETS: 6-10
MIAMI: 5-11

New England steamrolls to victory again, helped yet again by six easy in-conference games. The Bills have a mediocre season, beating bad teams but getting pounded when they face good ones. The Jets -- God help them -- will be in trouble. As for Miami, the less said the better, but hey -- it's a rebuilding year and anything can happen.

AFC SOUTH:

JACKSONVILLE: 13-3
TENNESSEE: 11-5
INDIANAPOLIS: 11-5
HOUSTON: 9-7

Now wait, you say. Jacksonville on top and Tennessee second? Are you MAD? Well, no, not as such. I'm contrarian! True, I'll look foolish if I'm wrong but the flip side is that if I'm right, I'll look like a frickin' genius. That's a chance I'm willing to take.

The AFC South plays the NFC North and the AFC North this year. Folks, that's six games in the win column for every team at the very least. We'll see how it plays out in terms of who beats what, but I'm sorry, I can't see either the hapless NFC North or even the decent AFC North doing all that well against this powerful and menacing division. I think Tennessee will be much improved in the off-season, and Jacksonville will continue to be an underappreciated menace on the field. Even Houston might do all right for itself.

As for Indianapolis -- well, the Dolts are moving into a new stadium next year, and I think that's going to screw them up. For one thing, it has a retractable roof. For another, the new stadium is "bigger and better" than the RCA Dome, according to its backers. Unfortunately, one of the key points going for the RCA Dome was the fact it was smaller and thus impossible to hear anything. Also -- and let's be honest -- the Colts secretly pumped in crowd noise. Never mind the official denials from the team, the league, the broadcasters -- you know it, I know it, your neighbor's cat knows it. This new stadium might screw all that up. Plus, I think this is the year the Colts' luck runs out. They've been good for a long time, but I don't think they'll be good enough to challenge Jacksonville or even what I believe will be a very good Tennessee squad.

AFC WEST:

SAN DIEGO: 12-4
KANSAS CITY: 8-8
DENVER: 6-10
OAKLAND: 3-13

San Diego marches on to yet another division title. Kansas City improves, while Denver -- God, I hate Denver -- does not. Oakland -- well, maybe they'll be 4-0 in the preseason. Cue the Raiders guy. Cue the flaming barbecue.

NFC NORTH/EAST/WEST/SOUTH:

All ultimately irrelevant due to the NFC losing to the AFC in next year's Super Bowl.

Well, that should give everyone out in sports blogging land some ammunition. Oh, and never mind that last clip in the video link. That was simply an aberration.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:01 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 29, 2008

Adolf Hitler, Dallas Cowboys Fan

WELL, THIS "ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE" makes it pretty clear, if you ask me:

(post title, and link, via Oliver Willis)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:24 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 15, 2008

Yo! NFL! Get to Work!

UH, WHERE'S THIS YEAR'S "Time to Get Your Story Straight" Commercial? C'mon, dammit! Get to work already! We're waiting! It's not like there's a shortage of material or anything.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 14, 2008

Well, That Worked Out Pretty Well, Didn't It?

I LOVE THE PLAYOFFS. How wonderful was it to see the San Diego Chargers knock off the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday? I mean, it would have been pretty lame if we'd been stuck with another New England-Indianapolis AFC Championship game. But somehow the Chargers overcame the loss of their starting quarterback, their star running back, AND the Curse of Norv! to defeat the Colts, 28-24. Cut that meat! Cut that meat!

You know, somewhere in Cleveland, I think a Browns fan just cracked a smile.

Speaking of Norv! -- boy, I thought Tom Coughlin looked like an idiot on the sidelines, but Norv! takes it to a whole different level. When you see Coughlin on the sidelines, he usually has this uncomprehending look on his face that suggests he can't understand how or why Rocket Arm Junior has thrown yet another interception. Norv!, however, looks like a commodities trader who goes home for the weekend down-limit on his big pork-bellies position, and is hoping -- begging -- praying -- for things to turn around. Somebody get this man some Pepto, and quick.

But they turned around on Sunday, didn't they? Of course, God help the Chargers when they go to New England next week, because the Patriots will eat the Chargers and Phil Rivers alive. Speaking of, I take back for the moment what I said about Tom Brady being a candyass, because Phil Rivers is clearly most deserving of the Quarterback Candyass title. Plus, Brady has not been whining as much during his games.

Speaking of Coughlin, for that matter, I guess I have to take back at least a little of what I said about the man, because his team DID knock off the evil Dallas Cowboys and DID make Terrell Owens cry and thus DID make the upcoming NFC Championship game interesting and DID potentially set up a great storyline for the Super Bowl with their win. Now they just have to knock off Green Bay. Heh. Good luck with that. Although I do think the Giants are playing well enough to do that, even while playing on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.

Also, I realize I'm late to the party on this, but a drink's on me for whomever came up with the "Yoko Romo" tag for Jessica Simpson. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. She's never going to live that one down!

So I guess I'll be rooting for the Giants and -- well, I suppose, New England -- during the game this week. Since my Super Bowl loyalties are strictly conference-based -- the AFC must defeat the second-rate NFC, no matter what -- I'm going to have to root for the Patriots. After all, the power of the Curse of Norv! can't be underestimated.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:46 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 13, 2008

They Don't Give a Damn About Proper Spelling Either ...

... 'CAUSE THEY'RE FROM O-HI-O. Er ...:

BOY, NO WONDER Ohio State's lost two national championships in a row. Oh, well. God willing, it won't matter next year because Michigan will have Coach Rod! and a whole new stable of up-and-coming players who will dethrone Evil Sweater Vest and his Barbarian Legion.

(photo via The Lee Bockhorn)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 04:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 05, 2008

Well, There's Always Next Year

SO THE QUEST for "one for the other thumb" will have to wait another year. We'll survive. All things considered, it wasn't a bad season -- and the Pittsburgh Steelers will be back. Oh, yes. We will be back.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 01, 2008

Chomp, Chomp, You Scoundrels! CHOMP CHOMP!

WE DID IT! WE DID IT! MICHIGAN BEAT FLORIDA! MICHIGAN BEAT FLORIDA! HOLY TOLEDO!

What a game! What a way to start 2008! Holy Mary Mother of God, the Wolverines did it! The defense played great and the offense played great and Arrington and Manningham were on fire and even the coaching was good! Where the hell has this team been all these months? Sure, things weren't perfect -- we did have four turnovers -- but you couldn't have asked for more from this team. Wow! Let us revel in Michigan's 41-35 victory over evil Florida! Ha ha!

Were this any other team -- even USC -- I would celebrate this victory graciously. But it's Florida. Florida, whose undisciplined squad decided they would insult Michigan's honor before and during the game. Florida, whose evil coach Urban Meyer bizarrely claimed at halftime the officiating had hurt his team. Florida, a team whose stupid crowd antics are almost as annoying as Florida State's war chant/tomahawk chop. So chomp chomp, you bastards, because Michigan just whooped yo' ass! I hope you go 3-9 next year and lose to Vanderbilt! Better yet, I hope you lose your 2008 opener against Hawaii! Ha! HA! HAHAHAHAHA!

I do like Percy Harvin, though. Man, can he run. Oh, and not all Florida fans are scoundrels. For instance, I feel this man's pain, because as a Michigan fan, I've been there.

Anyway, THAT was a satisfying end to Michigan's college football season -- the first really satisfying end to a college football season we've had in a long time. I can only hope it kicks off some positive momentum for the 2008 season under Coach Rodriguez and Michigan gloriously marches into bowl season. Finally, my reaction to this wonderful victory can be summed up in one word.

HAIL.

HAIL to the Victors!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 31, 2007

Doomed, I Tell You! DOOMED!

ARE YOU NOT A PATRIOTS FAN? Are you thus feeling a bit gloomy about the playoffs, wondering if the whole thing is thus a fait accompli? Well, my friends, our salvation may have arrived -- and not a moment too soon:

The Patriots are doomed, I tell you! DOOMED! (Then again, if they can overcome the Legendary Curse of the Sports Illustrated Cover, maybe they would be the best team in all of NFL history).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Let the Recriminations Begin!

THE EVIL BALTIMORE RAVENS have cashiered head coach Brian Billick, who ineptly "led" his godless, undisciplined and depraved team to a nine-game losing streak this season and a final record of 5-11.

This naturally concerns me, as there are few things I hate more in life than the wretched Baltimore squad. Over the past few years, Billick proved a dependably stupid coach whose ineptitude could always be counted on as a plus factor for Baltimore's opponents. Now that he's gone, though, it opens up the possibility Baltimore could get a decent coach who would start rebuilding the team, and eventually making it into an opponent other teams would have to actually worry about. That can't be good. As such, my concern over this development far outweighs my admitted joy at seeing Billick get what he deserves.

In other failure-is-not-an-option news, the Miami Dolphins have started cleaning house now that Bill Parcells has taken charge of its operation. This can only be a good thing, as an improving Miami will hopefully improve to the point where it can beat the New England Patriots one game a season. As long as they don't hire Billick as coach, they should be fine.

Also, 82-year-old Marv Levy has taken his leave of the Buffalo Bills. No smart-aleck remarks on me from this one: Mr Levy was a good guy and his willingness to help out the team during a tough point in its history should be commended.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

2008 NFL Schedules Announced

THE NFL HAS RELEASED the 2008 scheduling matrix for the league's teams. As a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, my reaction to this news can be summed up in one word:

D'OH!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:04 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 30, 2007

The Seven Lean Months, They Are A Comin'

WITH BOWL WEEK UNDERWAY and the NFL playoffs soon upon us, football fans' excitement is necessarily tempered with the realization that in just a month, the professional football season will be over. Then, the true test of willpower begins, for it will be seven long months before our teams again take the field in regular-season play. For football fans everywhere, this is a drought that no other sporting events can truly quench.

Oh, sure, there are substitutes. For instance, some people -- especially here in the Northeast -- will turn to America's second sport of baseball to pass the time. Others will look forward to March Madness and later, the NBA playoffs. Some even may look forward to the NHL playoffs. But for true football fans, these don't really muster up in comparison to the greatest sport of all time.

However, there is good news. Thanks to America's glorious capitalist system, the immutable laws of economics and the realization this seven-month football drought created a massive market inefficiency, 2008 should mean PLENTY of professional football will be available to football fans during the off-season. Here's a handy guide to the various minor leagues that will play during the off season:

As you can see, things get started again less than a month after the Super Bowl, when the Arena Football League starts up again. You'll be able to see AFL games on ABC and ESPN. The af2, the AFL's development league, starts up at the end of March with live games in smaller cities all around the nation.

But then, in April, the All-American Football League starts up play for the first time. Spring football, college rules, ten-game season. The teams are primarily based in the South, although I will be rooting for Team Michigan, which will play at Ford Field -- the home of the Detroit Lions. There's no word on TV arrangements yet, but I have to think they'll have some -- perhaps with one of the cable companies' sports networks. We'll see. In any event, if you're a Southerner, and you crave football action, and it's spring, you might want to give their games a shot.

In late June the Canadian Football League starts its regular-season play. Here at The Rant, we're hoping the CFL figures out a way to get live games throughout the season broadcast in New England. Right now, the situation is less than optimal because the games are broadcast on NESN, which is understandably more interested with the Red Sox and other Boston-related sports than the CFL. I mean, one time I was looking forward to watching a CFL game with my favorite team -- the Saskatchewan Roughriders -- and NESN broadcast a Paw Sox game instead. Yes, the Paw Sox. Yes, the AAA team from Rhode Island. No, I was not happy at this.

In August, there's rumors the United Football League will start up play. There's not too much news about the league yet except that it is now winnowing down its selection sites for teams. Basically, from what I can tell, the whole UFL concept is based on rectifying a market inefficiency. It plans to broadcast games on Friday nights, this being a time when the NFL is forbidden from broadcasting games under the 1961 Sports Broadcasting Act. It also plans to base teams in cities where there aren't presently NFL teams, including Los Angeles, Mexico City and Las Vegas. Thus, this should allow the UFL to compete without pulling a USFL and trying to go mano-a-mano with the NFL.

Please God, let it work. Please.

Of course, by August we'll be getting ready for the NFL and college football seasons again, and football fans everywhere will be well again. Still, though, this year promises to contain plenty of glorious professional football action under a variety of different rule schemes and leagues. Which is good. Very good indeed.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Team That Can't Be Beat (Perhaps), and Other Football Stuff

I DON'T KNOW ABOUT the rest of you, but I certainly got an unpleasant sense of foreboding in the fourth quarter of last night's game between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants.

For three quarters of the game, the Giants had outplayed the Patriots, but in the fourth they were clearly starting to run out of gas. It wasn't much longer before Eli Manning, the Giants' middling quarterback, threw an interception and the wheels began to fall off the Giants bus. The end result, of course, we all know: the Patriots, who had been down 28-16, came roaring back and were suddenly ahead 31-28. Soon after that, it was 38-35 and the game was over and the Patriots, whom America has loved to hate this year (and with some good reason), stood triumphant. For the first time in 35 years, America had an NFL team that went undefeated in the regular season.

Of course, as others have pointed out, there have been other teams who have gone undefeated in the regular season other than the '72 Dolphins. There were a couple of teams in the Thirties that ran the table in the regular season. But no one remembers them because they didn't win the NFL championship; and New England, accordingly, must win the Super Bowl if they want to be hailed as one of history's greatest football teams.*

Can they do that? It seems very possible -- but I'm not sure. It will depend on how the playoffs go.

Certainly having the bye week and the No. 1 seed, with its conferral of home-field advantage, will help. Certainly the fact they're healthier compared to other playoff teams in the AFC helps: the Pittsburgh Steelers are pretty banged up and the Indianapolis Colts are really banged up. I also don't think the Patriots would lose to Cleveland (Tennessee?) should the No. 6 seed somehow emerge victorious from the Wild Card games in a week's time.

That said, though, both the Jacksonville Jaguars and the San Diego Chargers are in the hunt, and I think both these teams are underrated: Jacksonville, because it's a small market, never gets the respect it deserves despite being a consistent playoff contender; and San Diego is much improved from earlier this year. The Patriots -- and their fans --would do well not to underestimate either franchise as the playoffs get under way.

It's also possible -- however unlikely -- that the NFC contender in the Super Bowl could pose a threat to the Patriots' plans. As a fierce AFC partisan, I fully and cheerfully admit that I do not give the NFC -- being the league's second tier -- the respect it deserves. Still, some of their squads -- most notably Dallas -- seem much improved this year and it's possible they could pull out an upset.

We shall see. In the meantime, though, even I must congratulate the Patriots on a job well done this season, as much as it pains me to do so. Watching last night's game, there were definitely moments -- as there were during many of the Pats' games this season -- where my reaction to their inhumanly good play was summed up in one word: goddamn!

---------------

LOYAL RANT READERS know my brother, Jesse, is a loyal and stalwart fan of the Cleveland Browns. He knows an amazing amount about the team and its players, follows the team's games and progress religiously, and has developed the most prized virtue among Browns fans: hating the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Well, I am proud to announce that Jesse's devotion to the Browns is even impressive than I thought. I know this because I was at home in northeast Ohio with the Kepple family watching the Browns-Bengals game last Sunday. During this game, I learned that Jesse has perfectly channeled the stoicism of Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel into his football watching.

Anyone who watches a Browns game will soon become familiar with Mr Crennel's reaction to blown plays, awful turnovers, stupid penalties or dazzling displays of incompetence on the part of his players. That is to say, there is no reaction. Whenever something bad happens, the camera will inevitably focus on Mr Crennel and he will stand there mute and immobile, surveying the situation with the weary gaze of a man who has seen it all before and will undoubtedly see it again.

Last week, Cleveland quarterback Derek Anderson threw four interceptions in the Browns' 19-14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, a loss that cost them a guaranteed playoff spot and a loss that came about precisely because of those interceptions. My brother did not react in the slightest. He surveyed the situation with the weary gaze of a fan who has seen it all before and will undoubtedly see it again, although I can see why he hopes that wouldn't be the case. I asked him how he managed to do this, because it's the exact opposite of how i react to the Steelers doing badly. His response could be summed up like this: I've seen them lose a lot, you know.

I do hope the Browns make it in the playoffs. I do hope they go far in them, although not at the expense of the Steelers. It'd be nice for everyone in Cleveland.

As for me -- how do I react to the Steelers losing? Well, if you can, check out that NFL fantasy football commercial that has Daniel Powter's "Bad Day" as the music. Watch how the one Steelers fan is shouting in despair at the television and later is curled up on the sofa clawing at a pillow in agony. It's kind of like that.

------------

THE DETROIT LIONS are my No. 3 team in the NFL, behind the Steelers and the Browns, and I have to say I think they're screwing the pooch once again. The Detroit Free Press reports that offensive coordinator Mike Martz will be cashiered after the Lions' game against the Packers today.

If you ask me, throwing Martz under the bus is only symptomatic of a larger problem with the Lions, in that their front-office management stinks. At best, they'll be 8-8 after a season that saw them start out at 6-2.

Still, 8-8 would be a heck of an improvement for the Lions, which have stunk to high heaven for decades. I mean, since they won the 1957 NFL championship, they've won one playoff game. Yes, one game -- in fifty years. So why get rid of Martz now? Why not let him develop his strategies and staff?

---------

AS FOR THE STEELERS' POSTSEASON, I have become one with how it might turn out. I would like it if we won one playoff game; I would be pleased if we made it to the AFC Championship Game; I would be ecstatic if we made it to the Super Bowl again. It is only just and right that the Steelers be the first team to get six Super Bowl rings.

Still, I know all these scenarios are unlikely, and so I am taking a healthier, more balanced approach to the NFL playoffs. Thus, in the event that Pittsburgh loses in the post-season, I'm going to look forward to next year and start thinking about how wonderful it will be when football season starts up again. Kind of like this:

And from there, let's take it away!

---------

* Note that I said "one of history's greatest football teams." The 2007 New England Patriots can't be the greatest team, because the greatest football team of all time is the 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers. This is an indisputable and incontrovertible fact. Not only did the '78 Steelers have such luminaries as Bradshaw, Harris, Stallworth and Swann on offense, the team also had Jack Ham and "Mean Joe" Greene on defense. As evidence of the '78 Steelers' superiority, I would note that if Pats DT Vince Wilfork had poked his finger into Mean Joe Greene's helmet like he did to a Giants player on Saturday night, Mean Joe Greene would have killed him, and in such a way it would even gross out the developers of "Mortal Kombat."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 20, 2007

One Down, One to Go

SO THE GLORIOUS Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the St. Louis Rams this evening, 41-24. For the most part, it was a great game to watch. Pittsburgh's offense ran up and down the field pretty much with impunity -- our first play on offense was an 83-yard reception -- and while our defense didn't look all that great, it did better than in past games. Our special teams remained not very special, but we did have a sweet fake punt play that went for a first down and set up a nice score. Now that's Pittsburgh Football. Hopefully, our offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, will realize that -- like cowbell -- you can never have enough sweet trick plays in the arsenal.

Of course, there were a few minor issues that cropped up during the game. Our run defense still wasn't as good as it could be, and our offensive line remained weak. We had a few dropped balls on defense, Roethlisberger got sacked a bunch of times, and Willie Parker broke his leg and is out for the season. Still, on balance, it was a good game and much needed victory, and --

READERS: Wait, what? Willie Parker broke his leg? Isn't he your best running back?

Well, yes. But we've got strong support in that position from Najeh Davenport and Carey Davis, and --

READERS: Willie Parker broke his leg?

Yeah, OK, I guess. I mean, it didn't look like he did. It wasn't like it was a Theismann-esque injury and the guy's tibia was sticking out. He got carted off into the locker room and it seemed like an ankle injury at first, but as it turned out he broke his leg. I am hoping this is some kind of clever deception, kind of how Tom Brady has supposedly had a "sore right shoulder" since his 11th birthday. But if not, that's the way it goes, and --

READERS: Doesn't this mean you're thoroughly screwed?

NO! NOT AT ALL!

READERS: Why is Hines Ward wearing a leather helmet emblazoned with the Steelers logo on the NFL Network's post-game show?

The man just set another team record. He can wear whatever he wants to wear on the post-game show. By which I mean, "I have no idea." Now come on -- we're 10-5, and we're in the perfect position of being able to watch Cleveland and Tennessee battle it out on Sunday with absolutely no worries whatsoever. Even better, we now have ten days to rest up for our epic end-of-season battle with the evil Baltimore Ravens. In the meantime, I'm going to patiently wait for the NFL's latest "Time to Get Your Story Straight" commercial.

Speaking of resting up, The Rant Will Be Away until Thursday, Dec. 27. Until then, check out the archives, the blogs on my blogroll, and what not. Also, I hope all of my readers have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:27 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 17, 2007

"Die, Baseball. Die."

REMEMBER A COUPLE OF DAYS AGO when I posted that brief little item about how football is better than baseball for myriad reasons? Well, along those lines, I've got to pass on this downright amazing post from Every Day Should Be Saturday, the excellent college football blog. The title, as you may have guessed, is: "Die, Baseball. Die." If you ask me, its author, who goes by the pseudonym of Mr Orson Swindle, is right on in his assessment of America's second-most-popular sport.

Here's a representative quote from Mr Swindle's magnum opus, which must be read in its entirety. In this portion of his essay, he is describing the game of baseball:

No contact, no passion, no energy, and as much strategy as a game of horse-shoes. Wait, that’s a disservice to horseshoes. None. If someone preens on one more time about the strategy involved in baseball, we will drop a safe on you from a great height, because there’s simply nothing going on out there. At least the British admit the whole thing is a front for beer-drinking and lolling around outside for a few days. We’d like it if baseball games lasted three days like cricket test-matches, if only because the epic drunk you’d get on would likely get Viking war songs written about you, your friends, and the time you each drank a 24-pack before noon without dying.

As a writer, I can only stand in awe and salute his ingeniousness.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Summing Up Michigan's Coaching Choice

THERE'S ONLY ONE WORD that can truly do justice to the University of Michigan's successful hiring of West Virginia football coach Rich Rodriguez. That word is: HAIL.

For a full run-down on what it means and all that, go visit M Go Blog, which is doing a great job at explaining all of this and what it will mean for the team. The gist, from what I can surmise, is that we'll have a great coach who knows the spread offense inside and out, and can teach our team how to defend against it. This has been a huge problem for Michigan in years past and now, we're finally going to get that handled. Again: HAIL.

It will undoubtedly take time for Rodriguez to get everything in order at Michigan, but I'm confident that within a couple of years, he'll have us back in fighting form. That means that within a few years, we won't have to take any more crap from Ohio State and the SEC and all the Big Ten-haters out there. I am really excited about this and looking forward to Michigan football in the years to come.

Oh, and the fact Rodriguez came from West Virginia, and all the Mountaineers are rending their garments and gnashing their teeth? That's like some kind of sweet bonus. I can understand why they're upset, I guess, but I'm just too happy about getting Rodriguez to coach our team to care what they think. Well, except for a little bit of gloating. And so I have just one word to say to West Virginia:

SPACE!

Oh, and HAIL. HAIL to the Victors!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Playoffs?! I Just Hope We Can Win a Game!

THERE ARE FEW THINGS more frustrating in life than having one's football team not only lose positive momentum, but start screwing the pooch so badly their incompetence threatens to undo all the good work they've done in a season. My reaction to the Pittsburgh Steelers' loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars yesterday can be summed up in the immortal words of Jim Mora:

"We threw that game. We gave it away by doing that. We gave 'em the frickin' game. In my opinion, that sucked. What's that? The playoffs?! Don't talk about the playoffs! Are you kidding me?! The playoffs?! I just hope we can win a game!"

I mean, my God. Our vaunted defense -- which normally strikes respect and fear into even the strongest team -- fell apart like a house of cards yesterday. Not only did they allow Jacksonville to go up 22-7 in the third quarter, they fell apart when our offense finally caught fire and tied the game up at 22-22. You'd think, after that type of momentum shift, the defense would be able to hold. Oh, no. The defense couldn't stop the run to save their lives and Jacksonville marched down the field and got the go-ahead touchdown.

You know Pittsburgh's loss was really bad when a Cleveland Browns fan -- whom I shall not identify to protect his standing among the Browns faithful -- sends you a note saying, "Sucks about the Steelers (I guess)." I mean, let's face it -- watching Pittsburgh lose is one of the few joys Browns fans have in this life. But come on. Not only is Pittsburgh now in real danger of losing the AFC North title, we're in real danger of getting shut out of the playoffs.

You see, unfortunately, the evil Tennessee Titans somehow remain in the Wild Card hunt. Right now, they're on the bubble -- ranked No. 7, they stand one game behind Pittsburgh and Cleveland for the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs. Pittsburgh has the No. 4 seed at present, while Cleveland stands at No. 6 -- we own the tie-breaker over the Browns. But our poor play yesterday puts us in jeopardy of ending up at No. 7.

Right now, the Titans are at 8-6, while Pittsburgh and Cleveland both stand at 9-5. As I understand it, the Titans can make the playoffs if they win both of their remaining games and they get some help from the other teams. For instance, if Jacksonville loses both its upcoming games -- not bloody likely -- Tennessee will be in the playoffs. But if Pittsburgh loses both its upcoming games -- again, not very likely -- the Titans will be in the playoffs too.

But the other scenarios are more problematic. If Cleveland wins both of its games over the next two weeks -- a real possibility -- and Pittsburgh loses to Baltimore -- it will put Cleveland atop the AFC North with an 11-5 record. Pittsburgh, at 10-6, would then face a Titans squad with a 10-6 record, and the Titans would probably win the tiebreaker based on the strength of the teams it beat. That would leave Pittsburgh on the outside looking in -- and what a disaster that would be.

The good news is that Tennessee has to play Indianapolis -- at Indy -- the last game of the season. A loss to the Colts would render all these questions moot. (They play the New York Jets next week in Tennessee, but a loss there is far less likely). Also, if Cleveland loses to Cincinnati in the Battle of Ohio next week, that could also save us, but rooting for that outcome would mean rooting for the Bengals, and that's morally unpalatable.

The long and short of it is that Pittsburgh MUST WIN these final two games -- the first against the St. Louis Rams, the second against the Baltimore Ravens. I hate to say it but I'm not sure either of these games are gimmes -- even if they might have been that way just a few weeks ago. Hopefully, Pittsburgh will get its act together and soon, and not only for its fans.

Coach Tomlin is not amused.

What was interesting about yesterday's loss, though, was that we Steelers fans weren't alone in agonizing over our team's performance. I know this because I was at Billy's Sports Bar here in Manchester, and could hear the groans from all the New England Patriots fans wondering why their team was performing so poorly against the New York Jets. The Pats fans I know are somewhat concerned about their team's apparent willingness to ease off the gas during games in which they are heavily favored. That's because these are Classic Trap Games in which a bit of luck can result in the underdog winning outright.

Also, you should have heard the Buffalo Bills fans yesterday. Boy, did they come out of the woodwork -- the Bills fans outnumbered the Steelers faithful in the special Steelers room, and as a result the sound was switched over to the Cleveland-Buffalo game. I didn't mind this because I wanted to see that game as well, and it was played in Classic Blizzard Conditions, which is the best weather for football. But the Browns shut off the Bills' lights and as a result the Bills' inability to do anything on offense produced plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth.

So I guess it could have Just Been One of Those Days. The trouble, though, is that doesn't leave us any margin for error in the next two weeks -- and God help us, we're playing again on Thursday. And we'd better do better than we did on Sunday, or else we're not going to have a post-season.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:50 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 13, 2007

Alarming Report: Browns Have 13 pc Chance of Winning Division

NO, REALLY. A 13.8 pc chance, according to the good people at Football Outsiders, who would know these things. Even more amazing, the once-lowly Cleveland Browns have a 76 pc chance of making it into the NFL playoffs. As of now, they have a 7 pc chance of being the AFC's No. 3 seed, a 6 pc chance of being the AFC's No. 4 seed, a 17 pc chance of being the AFC's No. 5 seed and a 45 percent chance of being the No. 6 seed. That last position, as all Pittsburgh Steelers fans know well, does not necessarily consign one to post-season oblivion.

I have to admit that, as a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I am slightly concerned about this. Not concerned much, not actively worried, but it's something that has appeared on my radar screen. I mean, my God. What if Cleveland actually managed to beat out Pittsburgh for the AFC North title?

It's not as crazy as it sounds. Over the next three games of the regular season, Pittsburgh must play Jacksonville, St. Louis, and Baltimore. Jacksonville is a strong team, and Baltimore could decide to show up and stick it to the Steelers. So it is entirely possible we could lose two of these three games (the Rams suck, so we'll count that as a likely win). Cleveland, on the other hand, plays Buffalo, Cincinnati and San Francisco. The Browns could potentially win all three of those games. While we do have the tie-breaker over Cleveland, we must win our next two games just to be safe.

This greatly concerns me, as I won't hear the end of it if lowly Cleveland goes on a tear and manages to somehow stand astride the AFC North. I mean, that would blow. The playoffs aren't going to be easy as is, and I don't want them made any harder just because Cleveland somehow sucked out a divisional title. Pittsburgh must win the AFC North -- if only because we'll probably get to play Cleveland in the post-season, and get to beat them yet again.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:15 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

My Solution: Watch More Football

THE MITCHELL REPORT on steroid abuse in baseball was released today. This is marginally less interesting to me than the Broncos-Texans game on the NFL Network tonight.

For any baseball fans out there who are bummed out about the Mitchell report and what it means for baseball, my suggestion is to watch more football. Just because football rules. And if that's not enough reason to switch to watching football, here's some more good reasons.

This is a commercial for baseball's postseason:

And this is a shoe company's football-related commercial:

That kinda says it all, doesn't it? Baseball: lame. Football: cool. Even when it's only part of the equation.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 10, 2007

So Much for Guarantees

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 09, 2007

NOOOOOOOOOOO!

THE RANT WOULD LIKE to congratulate the New England Patriots for their impressive victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers today. Although the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers played well during the first half, the Patriots shut down our offense in the second half and our defense couldn't stop their ferocious pass assault. It was certainly a humbling moment for me and the rest of Steelers Country and I can only hope we learn lessons from this debacle and apply them should we meet the Patriots again in the playoffs. Since we may just do so.

I'd also like to congratulate my good friend Chris Weinkopf in California, with whom I was in constant contact throughout much of the game, until I finally surrendered and decided to go have a good cry. Chris was gentlemanly and kind during the game, whereas I was a bit -- well -- boisterous -- when I got my hopes up. But even as Pittsburgh was thrown down to the ground, he did not needle me or exult in his team's victory. Of course, I wouldn't have done so either, even if I was a bit exuberant at the Steelers' first-half performance.

I am hopeful that should Pittsburgh and New England meet again in the playoffs -- likely during the AFC Conference Championship -- that Pittsburgh will perform better, particularly on those deep pass plays where the SAFETIES NEED TO REMEMBER TO COVER DEEP RECEIVERS, EVEN IF THE PLAY LOOKS LIKE A RUN. Not that I am bitter. Nor am I bitter that backup free safety Anthony Smith got burned several times during the game. Not at all. Why, I would not even exult in glee if Mr Rooney agreed to trade Mr Smith to the Miami Dolphins in return for some spare equipment and a seafood dinner. Or if Mr Smith was busted to the practice squad. Or if Mr Smith were to end up playing in Calgary.

But anyway -- I must salute Patriots Nation, particularly my coworkers at the office, for their team's excellent victory today. I'll be ready for the lumps on Tuesday when I return to work. Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 03, 2007

Consider the Gauntlet Thrown

OH, JOY! OH, RAPTURE! How wonderful was it to see the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers -- actually looking somewhat glorious -- defeat the hated Cincinnati Bengals Sunday evening at Heinz Field. While the Bengals got off to a strong start, driving for a touchdown on their opening possession, that was about all they could do offensively in the Steelers' triumphant 24-10 victory. As for the Steelers, the running game looked pretty sharp, the offensive line actually performed well, our receivers were outstanding and our defense was phenomenal.

Perhaps the best part was that we achieved the victory without Santonio Holmes, Troy Polamalu, Najeh Davenport and Marvel Smith -- four of our top players. They've been hurt. I suspect that our clever coach, Mr Mike Tomlin, decided to rest the four so they'll be in top shape for our game against the evil New England Patriots next week. We'll get to the Patriots in a bit, but first we must talk smack about the Bengals.

Boy, did they stink up the joint. While I have to admit that even I have a soft spot for Chad Johnson, the Bengals' flamboyant wide receiver, I do not share such emotion when it comes to the Bengals' other key wide receiver, the loathesome T. J. Houshmandzadeh. No. 84's key contribution to the game tonight involved whining to the officials about imagined infractions the Steelers' defenders supposedly committed, and it was enjoyable to see his frustration and anger. This is, after all, a player who wiped his feet with a Terrible Towel, and as such no Steelers fan can ever show him mercy, much less respect. As for the Bengals organization, like all Steelers fans I hope they are able to work out the extended legal troubles facing so many of their players, because it's clearly a distraction for them. That doesn't make for good football.

Now, I would remind the Bengals and their fans that there's always next year, and that you'll have a chance to beat us then. In the meantime, go home. Take a powder. Get a relaxing massage. It'll help take your mind off your 4-8 record and your blown playoff hopes, to say nothing of this:

Who dey? We dey.

The other NFL action today was pretty exciting. I thought Cleveland got robbed in its comeback attempt against the Arizona Cardinals, and I was sorry to see the Browns lose. Not entirely sorry, though, because it put Pittsburgh one game closer to winning the AFC North and giving us an automatic playoff berth. I was sorry to hear the Minnesota Vikings blew out the Detroit Lions, and I was also sorry to see the New York Giants launch an amazing comeback against the Chicago Bears. I don't like the Giants and I don't like their coach and I don't like their quarterback, the younger brother of Rocket Arm, and so I was sorry to see them emerge victorious from a hard-fought game.

Speaking of hard-fought games, I was somewhat pleased to see the Buffalo Bills pull off a victory against the Washington Redskins. I felt bad about the whole Sean Taylor situation, of course -- what a tragedy for such a talented athlete to be cut down in his prime, and while at home defending his family from intruders. Still, I'm certainly not a Redskins fan, and for the Bills to pull off the win thanks to an idiotic coaching decision on the part of Joe Gibbs -- well, I'm not going to complain about it. I did feel a moment of pity for Gibbs, though -- he knew it had cost his team the game and you could see the hurt and regret on his face. They have certainly had a bad week.

I was not at all pleased to see the Indianapolis Colts and Rocket Arm cruise to victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, especially because it seemed as if Jacksonville really had some good momentum going for them. But they just couldn't get the job done.

But moving on. On Sunday evening, the gang back at Heinz Field put up a banner that taunted the New England Patriots with the legend: "Five Rings. No Cheating." For the record, I'd like to say that I do not consider this the wisest thing Pittsburgh fans could have done leading into next week's game. Now the Patriots will undoubtedly get all worked up and make a point of throwing everything at us, when it seemed pretty clear this was setting up to be a Classic Trap Game in which we could have sneaked into Foxboro and lit out with a victory.

But what's done is done. Furthermore, since the fans at Heinz Field decided to go great guns with the trash-talking, I guess that frees me up to talk smack about the New England Patriots. Even though I'm going to regret it. Even though I've been talking about our upcoming game against the Pats with the phrase "God help us" attached at the end of every sentence. Even though I'm going to get teased about it at work all next week, after New England beats us 42-3. Let's get the party started.

It pains me to write what I'm about to write, because I'm writing about a Michigan man and I don't like to speak ill of fellow Michigan graduates. But here goes:

Tom Brady is a candyass.

There. I said it. And I'm sorry I had to say it, but someone must. Have you ever noticed how much Brady whines to the officials? Let's say there's a hard-fought defensive blitz that pressures Brady considerably, and half a second after Brady releases the ball a defensive lineman lays a hand on him, potentially smudging that glare-reducing stuff the players wear. Quarterback Candyass will gripe and moan to the officials. Does a call not go Brady's way? Gripe and moan. Does the offensive line get overpowered? Gripe and moan.

I mean, I'm sorry, but come on. It's petulant and unmanly and conduct unbecoming of a Michigan graduate. So I would ask Brady to stop it. Because I don't want to see it on Sunday afternoon. Especially if Pittsburgh's defense plays like Pittsburgh's defense and shreds Brady's Five Layers of Protection and slams him to that not-grass turf-stuff New England has at its field. Play the game.

That said, I can only hope that Pittsburgh's defense plays like Pittsburgh's defense next week, because Brady is too good for us not to bring anything other than our "A game" to the contest. We have got to hurry him. We have got to sack him. We have got to make him throw interceptions. In short, we've got to make him break. New England has too many offensive weapons for us to not throw everything we have at him.

On the other side of the ball, I can only hope Pittsburgh's offensive line -- which looks improved -- will play at top form. I can also only hope our receiving corps will play at top form. New England has a good defense, but it's not a great defense and there's opportunity for us if we don't make stupid decisions. Traditionally, Pittsburgh fans are willing to give Parker a fumble and Roethlisberger an interception, but in this game, we've got to rescind the allowance and demand top form. If only to humble Evil Genius Hobo Coach.

For let's face it -- most football fans, myself included, would like the Patriots if it wasn't for Bill Belichick, whose professional conduct makes the Grinch look like Santa Claus. Every player on the Patriots, after all, is likeable -- although Brady annoys me because he is so good, I actually kind of like the guy, and I like Maroney and Samuel and Bruschi and the Five Layers of Protection. But Belichick fouls the nest. For me, as a Pittsburgh fan, the most enjoyable thing about the idea of beating the Patriots isn't just that we'll have proved to the league that we can compete -- it's that we'll have humbled that son-of-a-gun. Oh, and it'll shut up Tony Kornheiser for as much as three minutes.

Regardless, though, even though I don't like the Patriots and don't like Belichick and wish Tommy Boy would stop whining, I must say that I still give the Patriots the Boba Fett Nod of Respect. They're too good not to do so. And since the Patriots are so good that they may well beat the Steelers like 56-7 on Sunday, and I'll be mocked until June as a result, I have just one request for the Pittsburgh Steelers as they go into Foxboro:

Leave nothing.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 28, 2007

Pittsburgh Football!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 26, 2007

This Had Best Be Some Kind of Sick Joke

THE OLD SAW has it that one buys on rumor and sells on news. Of course, that also works the other way around: sell on rumor and buy on news. To be perfectly frank, this rumor scares the hell out of me: Kirk Ferentz, of Iowa, could be Michigan's next football coach.

(slow motion)
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
(/slow motion)

Sorry. This is clearly an "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" moment. Please, God, let this not be true. Please let it be a trial balloon cleverly designed to see if the people would stand for such a thing. Please let Michigan actually conduct a normal search and get a coach that doesn't suck, like Les Miles. Please don't let Michigan figure a way to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory once again.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 25, 2007

Today's Football Needs a Bit of Rouge

LOYAL RANT READERS might be surprised to hear this from me, but there are some weeks in the midst of the NFL season when even I have trouble mustering up excitement for the greatest sport on earth. This is one of those weeks. Here in New England, we have two early games on tap: Buffalo v. Jacksonville, and Minnesota v. the New York Giants. Both of these games are less than special -- Jacksonville is beating Buffalo, as one might expect, while the Giants are getting their heads handed to them. Admittedly, this is kind of fun: the trouble is that the Vikings are doing the head-handing, and so it's kind of pathetic.

The late game isn't much better: Baltimore v. San Diego. I think we all know what's probably going to happen here, considering that this year, evil Baltimore stinks. So it will be enjoyable to watch for the first quarter or so, until Baltimore falls apart and San Diego runs to glory. The Sunday night game between the Pats and the Eagles will suck, and although I will watch the Monday night game between the quasi-glorious Pittsburgh Steelers and the lowly Miami Dolphins, I will be one of the few in America to do so.

In times like these, you've got to look elsewhere for excitement. Thus, at 5:30 EST, I'm going to watch my beloved Saskatchewan Roughriders play the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Grey Cup in beautiful Toronto. It may not be American football but it's championship football and we're a few weeks away from that down here in the States. The game is being broadcast on NESN in New England; check your local listings to see if the game is available near you.

Oh, and the entertainment is sure to be, uh, different, in that Canadian way.

For those readers unfamiliar with the joys of Canadian football, here's a quick summary of the differences between it and American football:

FIELD SIZE: The Canadian game is played on a field 110 yards (100 m) long, known as a "metric football field." This is in keeping with the Canadians' weird use of the metric system.

DOWNS: In Canadian football, you get three downs to go 10 yards, not four. This means there's a lot more passing than in American football.

PLAYERS: Each team has twelve men out playing, as opposed to 11. This is a convenient way for the Canadians to make sure they have more actual Canadians on their teams. Also, it makes it different. Canadians are big on being different from Americans, even if those differences are only noticeable to them.

SCORING: If you kick the ball into the endzone but miss the uprights, it counts for a point, meaning you can score on a kickoff or a missed field goal. This is in keeping with the Canadian tradition of being nice and forthright even when a team fails miserably.

Anyway, in three hours' time I am going to be rooting on the Melonheads to victory. Hope you'll consider doing the same, as it might just be the only decent football game available in much of the country today.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 18, 2007

Ave Maria!

*** BULLETIN *** BULLETIN *** BULLETIN ***

LLOYD CARR HAS RETIRED AS COACH OF THE MICHIGAN WOLVERINES.

*** ENDITEM ***

---------------------

AVE MARIA! TE DEUM LAUDAMAS! The Associated Press has reported that Lloyd Carr, the University of Michigan's football coach, has decided to retire on Monday. Carr confirmed his decision to the news agency in a telephone call on Sunday.

I know that some of my readers may take the position that God Does Not Care About Football, but the way I see it, He has answered my prayers and those of so many other Michigan fans. It took a while, of course, but who am I to question His authority on the matter? Clearly, Michigan fans have been wandering in the desert for many years now and surely the promised land awaits us. One can only hope that Les Miles will lead us there.

****

SPEAKING OF AVE MARIA -- check out this hit on poor Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan. Amazingly, the Eagles managed to beat the Clemson Tigers on Saturday night despite this hit, which incredibly enough did not knock Ryan out cold. I mean, my God.

***

IN OTHER FOOTBALL NEWS, I am pleased to report the Saskatchewan Roughriders, my team in the Canadian Football League, defeated the British Columbia Lions today to advance to the Grey Cup. They shall play the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL's championship game.

Those readers who follow the CFL -- surely some of you must -- are undoubtedly a bit surprised to see Winnipeg make it into the championship. Winnipeg went 8-10 this year and was clearly the third-best of the four teams in the CFL's eastern division. But they defeated both Toronto and Montreal and have made it to the final. Saskatchewan, on the other hand, turned in a solid 12-6 performance and after squeaking by in their playoff opener against the Calgary Stampeders, knocked out the hated Lions today. Glory!

The Rant, for the record, expects the Roughriders to emerge victorious in Toronto. 29-18 sounds like a good score.

***

SO TODAY AT BILLY'S SPORTS BAR WAS INTERESTING -- from the moment I walked in at 1 p.m. Consider this conversation between me and Hapless Browns Fan Rick:

ME: You had a tough week last week.
HAPLESS BROWNS FAN RICK: (narrows eyes, glares)
ME: I know it was a tough loss.
HAPLESS BROWNS FAN RICK: (glares)
ME: OK, fine, I'm not unhappy the Steelers won!
HAPLESS BROWNS FAN RICK: Oh, man, we should've won that.

But the Cleveland Browns DID manage to win today in a downright thrilling game against the Baltimore Ravens. It may seem strange for the words "downright thrilling" to be associated with a match between the Ravens and the Browns, but boy! What a game! The ending was especially good, considering the last-second field goal which forced the game into overtime. Sadly, I don't think the clip of this field goal is on-line, but dig this:

Browns kicker Phil Dawson launches the rock on a 51-yard field goal attempt as time runs out. Dawson's kick flies up, hits the goal post and bounces inside the goal, hits the post leading into the crossbar and bounces out into the endzone. It took the referees about five minutes to decide that since the ball made it through the goal posts -- if ever so slightly -- that it was good. The Browns went on to win in overtime with a much easier field goal try.

That in itself pretty much wraps up the weekend's football news, and ---

READERS: Ahem.

What? That's it. Nothing more to see here! Let's go! Move along!

READERS: Uh, didn't the Steelers play today?

No! Not at all! They're playing ... uh, Tuesday! Yeah, Tuesday!

READERS: Last time we checked they were playing the New York Jets.

Do we really have to discuss this now? I mean -- look over there! The Buffalo Bills are only two touchdowns behind the New England Patriots! What? Oh, all right. Fine. Let's talk about the Steelers.

You know, I'm wondering if in fact this may not be our year after all. There are some games where we show up and play spectacularly and crush our opponents. Then there are games like today, when we lost to the New York Jets. THE NEW YORK JETS, FOR PETE'S SAKE.

I mean, this was a team that was 1-8 coming into the game. ONE AND EIGHT. This was a team that could do absolutely nothing prior to this week. Then we show up and the Jets go gangbusters on us. Of course, they were aided by the fact that a) our famed defense decided to take the week off; b) our offensive line continues to get overpowered and c) our special teams aren't very special. By "aren't very special," I mean "completely and utterly atrocious" and "deserving of someone getting their walking papers on Monday."

I mean, come on. Even though we were playing the Jets, it was an important game for us to win. After all, we're now only one game ahead of the Browns for the division title, and we're a game behind the Colts for the second bye spot in the AFC. We're playing ourselves out of the bye spot and at the rate we're going, we're going to wreck our own season. I can only hope Coach Tomlin opens an industrial-sized barrel of whoopass at practice this week and starts reminding the players why they're paid so well. Because if we have this conversation next week after we play Miami, we're going to have some problems.

Finally, I would note one other thing. As I watch the Patriots deliver a beatdown against the Bills, I've noticed that Tom Brady -- although amazingly accurate with his passes, as usual -- is whining to the officials a lot. I can only hope the Steelers defense gives him a hell of a lot to complain about Dec. 9. But you know, I'm not too optimistic about that right now.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:37 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 17, 2007

A Disappointing End to a Disappointing Season

WELL, THAT'S THAT. Michigan ended its disappointing college football season with a disappointing loss to the evil Ohio State Buckeyes, marking the sixth such Michigan loss in the last seven games between the two squads. While the Michigan Wolverines will still go to a bowl game this year, it will undoubtedly be an ugly game. Barring some kind of miracle, Michigan will probably go to the Capital One Bowl, and meet a powerful team from the Southeastern Conference. The way the Wolverines have played in big games this year, the as-yet undetermined but still hated SEC squad will crush us mercilessly.

There's been talk this will be Lloyd Carr's last year as Michigan's football coach, and I can only pray to God that will be the case. During the game, Musburger and Herbstreit were going on about how Michigan fans should look at Carr's "whole body of work" over the past ten years or so. However, for most of the past several years, Carr's work has been a disappointment. His continued failure to beat Ohio State and win big bowl games are perhaps the most telling highlights of his recent coaching career, and one can only hope he will see the writing on the wall and retire. If he does not retire he should be cashiered. It is not going to get any better with him as the boss.

While the coaches certainly can be blamed for their stupid play calling and general ineptitude over the years, there is no denying Michigan's players did not stand up to the task before them today. Henne at least had an excuse: a separated shoulder. Hart at least had an excuse: the ankle problem. But the miserable failure of other players -- such as Mario Manningham, who suddenly forgot how to catch a football -- to perform up to par cannot be excused. They blew it. Some of them blew it for the fourth year in a row. I can appreciate Musburger and Herbstreit's charity, but college football at Michigan is not a realm where one should expect to receive it. I mean, it says something when you look at Michigan's play and one can make a case for punter Zoltan Mesko to be Michigan's most valuable player.

That said, it is hard to blame the defense for falling down on the job; they did the best they could, and they only gave up 14 points to the Buckeyes. It was the craptacular play of the offense that was truly hideous. The Wolverines' offense was lucky to clear 100 yards of offense during the game, Henne's completion percentage was awful and our offensive line got their heads handed to them.

One can only hope Michigan -- with a new coach, a new recruiting class and a clean slate -- can perform better in 2008 than they did this year. It was only two years ago they went 7-5 -- an appalling performance for a Michigan squad -- and this year they turned in an 8-4 performance in a season that was stillborn, thanks to the Appalachian State loss. So stick a fork in this season and let's get ready for the next one, because the sooner I can forget this disaster of a year the better.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:46 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 05, 2007

PITTSBURGH FOOTBALL!

OH, GLORIOUS NIGHT. I mean, it's great when your team just embarrasses an opponent, but it's fantastic when your team embarrasses the Baltimore Ravens. I mean, it wasn't just a 38-7 beatdown. It was 35-7 at HALFTIME, and the Pittsburgh Steelers did the following:

* Forced three fumbles and an interception, resulting in 28 points for the Black and Gold.
* Five first-half touchdown passes for Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
* OLB James Harrison forces two fumbles, makes an interception, and gets 3.5 sacks -- IN ONE GAME.
* Shamed their arch-rivals on national television, thus proving to the world we're the ... well, No. 3 team in the AFC. But that's a good place to be right now.

Anyhoo, that's all for now; must go to bed; but God! -- what -- a -- night! Go Steelers!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

And Now, Some Intrastate Sniping

THE RANT NOTES with displeasure that Michigan State University's football coach, one Mr Mark Dantonio, has decided to talk smack despite his squad's continued failure to defeat their betters from the University of Michigan. While I am somewhat impressed at Mr Dantonio's fighting spirit, this is tempered with the knowledge that the game is over. As such, Mr Dantonio's words are about as impressive as Scrappy Doo's fighting antics, and almost as annoying.

Still, as a Michigander, I do not take these words lightly, and as a Michigan native, I must respond accordingly. I have placed a good summary of my response to Mr Dantonio in the "extended entry" portion of this post, as it is more blunt than eloquent. OK, it's profane (and borrowed too). That said, though, let's look at Mr Dantonio's words. The coach said the following, according to the Detroit Free Press:

Michigan State plays Purdue this weekend, but head coach Mark Dantonio had much more to say about MSU’s 28-24 loss to Michigan last Saturday and the extracurricular activities that took place after the game.

Dantonio was asked if he was amused by U-M’s players pausing for a “moment of silence” at midfield. The action was intended to mock Dantonio’s statement on a radio broadcast after U-M lost to Appalachian State. When informed of that loss, Dantonio jokingly asked if he should have a “moment of silence” for the Wolverines.

“I find a lot of the things that they do amusing,” Dantonio said on Monday. “They need to check themselves sometimes. But just remember, pride comes before the fall.”

Dantonio also addressed Mike Hart’s comments after the game in which he referred to MSU as the “little brother” of U-M.

“Does Hart have a little brother or is he the little brother?” Dantonio asked. “I don’t know, he’s…”

Then Dantonio placed his hand up to his chest to illustrate Hart’s stature.

“I don’t know, I didn’t really see that comment, but like I said… let’s just say I won’t comment on that.”

He paused for two seconds.

“I guess I can’t help myself. As I said earlier, it’s not over. I’m going to be a coach here for a long time. It’s not over. It’s just starting. I’m very proud of our football team and I’m very proud of the way our football team handled themselves after the game as well.”

“We don’t have to disrespect people. We’ll come to play. We don’t have to be disrespected; we don’t have to disrespect people. But if they want to make a mockery of it, so be it. Their time will come.”

Oh, please. This guy started out the season making fun of Michigan and spent most of the season being disrespectful to the Maize and Blue. Then, after he and his team get their heads handed to them at home, suddenly he's the paragon of virtue and gentlemanly behavior. Come on. Don't talk to us about needing to "check ourselves," pal. Go home. Take a powder. Take a nap, with your crappy second-to-last spot in the Big Ten standings and your continued inability to win even a game of medium importance, much less a big one.

If Mr Dantonio was smart, he would forget about Michigan and start focusing on his other games, like Purdue and Penn State. Otherwise, he and his team are going to be spending the entirety of bowl season at home, instead of heading off to some bowl of middling import. Because even a crappy bowl would be a victory after the way their season has gone.

But my response to Mr Dantonio can be summed up as follows:

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:07 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 04, 2007

Ah, Crap

WELL, I KNEW THIS WOULD HAPPEN. The one day in my life I end up rooting for Mr Sign My Melon Rocket Arm, he manages to blow it and lets the New England Patriots salt away their -- dammit -- ninth victory of the season. I am so annoyed right now. Here the Colts are, up 20-10 with nine minutes left, and they let the Patriots score two touchdowns in half that time? What the hell? And then Laser Rocket Arm fumbles the ball and it goes right into the arms of the Patriots' Roosevelt Colvin, practically putting the game on ice? Come on.

Oh, I know, I should look on the bright side. After all, this will only make the classic matchup between New England and the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 9 even better, because it will give Pittsburgh -- the league's top defensive team, I would note -- a chance to ruin the Patriots' perfect season. It would be just and right for the Steelers, America's favorite football team, to crush the Patriots -- or at least beat them on a last-second, Jeff Reed field goal. Because you know the weather is going to be just awful on Dec. 9, and it will be a glorious football game, and it's going to be difficult to throw those long bombs when the field is covered with ice.

Besides, SOMEBODY has to stop them and it may as well be us. Why not us? It's not like anybody else on the Patriots' schedule will be able to do it, particularly when you look at their divisional games. Crikey.

But I shouldn't get ahead of myself here. We must defeat the evil Baltimore Ravens tomorrow night. No, we must rout them and crush them and leave them pleading for mercy, only to have our defensive line mock them with impunity. After all, Baltimore is 4-3 and beating them would put us two games up above them in the AFC North. If we -- heaven forbid -- actually lost to the Ravens, that would mean they would be tied with us in the division. For that matter, the Cleveland Browns would be tied with us in the division, and we'd have three teams at 5-3. (The Browns just beat the Seahawks in overtime, amazingly enough, 33-30).

Wait a minute. The Browns are 5-3. How'd that happen?

In other football news, the Detroit Lions pulled a New England on the Denver Browns and beat them 44-7. Now the Lions are 6-2. Now the Lions are in Serious Playoff Contention. What the hell's next, a plague of locusts?

That's about all I could find noteworthy and exciting this week in pro football -- after all, the Steelers didn't play today, so that kind of made things somewhat blahed -- but I will soldier on, even though I'll now be subject to more nauseating hype about the Patriots for several weeks. Maybe I need to move back to Michigan, or Pennsylvania, or California; I mean, at least in those places I could escape all the hype about the Patriots. Oh, and maybe I could find an affordable house. But I'm in New England, for God's sake. Ugh.

Actually, to be "sporting," I suppose I should offer my congratulations to the Patriots. They did play a hell of a football game, and they didn't beat the Steelers, and the way I see it, it's possible they could really play great throughout the entire season and then blow it in the playoffs, like San Diego did last year. That's the great thing about football -- it could happen!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:32 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 03, 2007

An Open Letter to Michigan State Fans

TO: Michigan State University Fans

FR: Benjamin Kepple (A.B., University of Michigan)

RE: Reminder

HAIL.

Oh -- and SPACE!

--------

Actually, I can't believe we won. What a game!

I am glad, though, that we did. After all, had Michigan managed to blow the 14-3 lead they had at half time, the papers would have all talked about how the Wolverines blew it. Now, the papers will talk about how the Spartans blew it after the Wolverines blew it. Yeah, it was that type of game -- a heartburn-inducing roller-coaster of a game in which Michigan got out to a big lead after the first half, then blew the lead because our offense got stuffed until there was seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter, at which time we turned on the after-burners and scored two touchdowns to win, 28-24.

Besides, I would have had to eat a double helping of crow after my downright gleeful predictions about Michigan's chances all this week. My God. I would have arrived at work next week to find my desk festooned in green and white, and my desktop background changed to a picture of Mark Dantonio, and my home page changed to that Appalachian State video -- just because. But Michigan's victory has ensured all is right with the world. Once again, we have rightfully claimed the top spot in Michigan's football lore, and once again, we have triumphed thanks to our squad's discipline, teamwork and honor.

Oh, and also because some idiot Michigan State player delivered an egregious late hit on one of our receivers, giving us 15 free yards in the middle of a crucial drive. Thanks, Michigan State! Cowtippers!

I mean, talk about a mind-numbingly stupid play. As much as I hate to admit it, State had Michigan in a tight spot and had the player NOT hit our guy some six or seven seconds after the play had ended, Michigan probably would have managed to screw things up, and we would've had to punt. Instead, we got into Michigan State territory and went downtown shortly thereafter.

That aside, though, I have to give Michigan State credit for playing a generally fine game of football. They could have given up the ghost after the first half, but they came out from halftime with all cylinders firing. For this Michigan fan, it was a rather unpleasant surprise. So I think Michigan State can feel good about itself even though they lost, as they represented their school well.

Their second-place school.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:57 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 29, 2007

A Well-Earned Victory

THIS WEEKEND, the Trinity University Tigers, a Division III squad based in Texas, pulled off one of the most amazing plays I've ever seen in college football: a series of fifteen laterals all over the field resulting in an end-of-game touchdown to defeat the Millsaps College Majors. It's a play that has to be seen to be believed.

It's also great to see the squad get recognition from around the country for its heroics. Fifteen laterals! Also, the announcer's hysteria is priceless. Fortunately, the whole escapade was caught on video, as I think about 100 fans turned out for the game.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 04:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 28, 2007

Foxboro Delenda Est

WELL, YOU CAN ADD ME to the list of people who are hoping beyond hope someone, anyone, will put a stop to the unstoppable New England Patriots juggernaut. You see, they're not only scary-good, they're also clearly -- well, jerks, as their conduct in their game against the Washington Redskins proved today. Well, if you could call it a game, considering the Patriots at one point were up FIFTY TWO TO NOTHING. I mean, my God. That's just wrong.

I am so annoyed with the Patriots today that I am officially moving them to the No. 1 spot on the List of Football Teams I Despise. Yes, that's right. They are officially supplanting the Baltimore Ravens as the team I detest the most in the NFL, which is saying something when you consider I'm a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

Now, the list of my most-hated NFL teams previously looked like this:

5. Philadelphia Eagles
4. Cincinnati Bengals
3. Washington Redskins
2. Dallas Cowboys
1. Baltimore Ravens

So as you can see, Philadelphia obviously drops off the list while everyone else moves back a spot to make room for the new No. 1 hated team, the New England Patriots.

Some readers may question why I actually have an entire list of teams in the NFL I despise. This is simple: it allows me to easily root for teams playing against them, making football even more fun. In fact, I have a mental list going for all 32 teams, allowing me to determine who I root for in any given game. At the top of the list -- those squads with Most Favored Team Status -- are the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, and Detroit Lions, in that order. I automatically root for these teams unless they're playing each other, in which case my loyalty to Pittsburgh triumphs.

Next on the list comes teams that I am naturally sympathetic towards, such as the Buffalo Bills, the New Orleans Saints, the Tennessee Titans, the New York Jets and the Kansas City Chiefs. Then comes teams I don't really have an opinion on, like the St. Louis Rams and the Arizona Cardinals. After that comes teams I respect but don't like, such as the Indianapolis Colts, the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants. Then comes teams I don't like at all, such as the Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars. Finally, one gets to the Most Hated Teams list.

So, why do the Patriots -- a team to which I was formerly somewhat sympathetic -- now find themselves on the outs with me? It's simple. The Patriots were up 38-0 today: 38-0. They were faced with a fourth and one on the Redskins' seven yard line. Not only was eerily good quarterback Tom Brady still in the game, they went for it -- and that led to a sixth touchdown for the squad a little later.

Now to me, that's sending the Redskins and the rest of the league a particular two-word message. My reaction to this is as one might expect: I love you too.

Simply put, the Patriots' behavior today was the type of gauche classlessness one expects from some sort of demonic combination of the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders. As such, it has become impossible for me to root for them, even in situations when I normally would. And I'm angry about that -- I mean, I'm going to have to root for the Colts next week. The Colts! The Colts with Mr Sign My Melon Rocket Arm! And I hate Mr Sign My Melon Rocket Arm! Blech! Blech! Blech! I mean, I feel like I need to take a shower.

So damn you, New England! Damn you, Evil Genius Hobo Coach! You'll get what you deserve! Hopefully on Dec. 9, when you face the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers in battle at Foxboro. Yesssss. Oh, and while I'm at it, why don't you invest some money into a decent communications system for the other teams?

Speaking of Mr Sign My Melon Rocket Arm, the Colts' game against the Carolina Panthers today shows the Colts can be beat. Never mind the score -- the Panthers gave evil Peyton Manning hell today in the first quarter. Keep that up for an entire game, and victory will follow.

As for the Steelers -- look who's 5-2 with key wins over division rivals! Surely the AFC North title will be ours. Oh, yes. It will be ours.

Speaking of the AFC North, I would not have expected the Browns to be in second place -- but that's about where I like to see them. Oh, and good on the Browns for winning two games in a row for the first time in -- well, a really, really long time.

Finally, I think the Detroit Lions could win the NFC North this year. I really do. Anyone else think the dead might be rising from the grave soon?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:10 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

And Now, a Football Interlude

IN HONOR OF TODAY'S big game between the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers and the lowly Cincinnati Bengals, The Rant would like to present the following informational videos:

Also, to a particular member of the clergy, The Rant would note that while yes, it CAN be hard to win out West, it can ALSO be hard to win at home, especially when a better team comes into your house.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 27, 2007

Savoring Life's Simple Joys

MANY LOYAL RANT READERS know I am often quite appreciative of life's smaller joys. For instance, let's say the gang at work decides to order Chinese, and along with the Chinese food comes a free giant order of crab rangoons for the office. I am thrilled with this. But that's just one example of life's fun simple pleasures.

Another simple pleasure I enjoy in life is knowing that no matter how the college football season turns out, there's always a pleasant constant: that Michigan State, the second-rate agricultural university in East Lansing, Mich., will fold like a napkin whenever the season gets a bit tough. Consider: the Spartans are now 5-4, and a pathetic 1-4 in the Big Ten. That's because they lost to Iowa -- Iowa, for God's sake -- today, blowing a 17 point lead and just barely getting back to force things into overtime, which they lost after two periods.

Oops. I swear, if I was a Spartans fan, I think I'd throw up.

Along these lines, it's worth noting this column from Detroit Free Press writer Drew Sharp, in which he notes the Spartans should take the invite to the Motor City Bowl -- should they get it. With three tough weeks ahead of them, they could well go 6-6 and get stuck with the game. They've got to eke out one more win to even get that, though, and they still have to play Michigan, Purdue and Penn State. Key quote: "But if they lose to the Hawkeyes, there's likely no need to worry about whether they'll stay home for the holidays with a 6-6 record. When you're 5-7, there are no options."

Heh heh heh. Oh, and speaking of heh heh heh -- Oregon beat USC! Go Oregon, with your bad futuristic uniforms straight out of '78! After all, the better this team does, the less bad it is that they crushed Michigan earlier this year. Speaking of crushing, Michigan is now in the process of ripping apart Minnesota limb from limb as we fight to keep the Brown Jug in Ann Arbor, where it belongs. Michigan is now up 27-10 -- even more impressive when you consider we're playing our second string. Go Blue!

And go Georgia, which is -- for the moment, anyway -- beating Florida. Anyway, that's it for now, as I've got to watch the rest of this game. I'd love to watch Florida drop a second loss. Oh, and a shout out to Simon From Jersey, who is watching Michigan charge to victory from the second row in the endzone.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 22, 2007

Oh, Woe and Misery

BOY, I'M STILL in a sour mood from yesterday's unfortunate happenstance in the Sunday night NFL game between the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers and the evil Denver Broncos. Somehow -- wait for it -- Pittsburgh lost and now the Broncos are 3-3. Even more upsetting, Pittsburgh is now 4-2. Normally, this would be cause for celebration and much rejoicing, except for the fact we're in a conference with the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts, both teams that are -- *grumble* -- temporarily better than we are. There's nothing more annoying than being the No. 3 team in a conference and KNOWING that you're No. 3. Oh, and making it clear to everyone on national-bloody-television that you're No. 3.

Like all Steelers fans, however, I can only hope Pittsburgh will get on one of its patented Late-Season Tears and run roughshod over their opponents in the latter weeks of the season. Because if we don't start getting better, we're going to get knocked out in the second round of the playoffs -- by either Indianapolis or New England. I think all can agree this would result in Maximum Suckage for Pittsburgh fans.

READER: Well, yeah, that wasn't a great -- uh, are you listening to Toccata and Fugue in D Minor right now?

Why, yes. Yes, I am. Truly, Bach's masterwork is the only music that properly conveys my feelings right now: the frustration, the dyspepsia, the nausea, the agony. Truly, this weekend started out tasting sweet as honey in my mouth, but has become bitter in my stomach. Blech! Blech! Blech!

READER: Does a football game really rise to the level where one ought quote from The Revelation to John?

YES. For behold, men marveled at the Patriots, saying, "Who is like the Patriots, and who can fight against them?" And the Patriots were given a fan base, some of whom uttered haughty and blasphemous words, and they were allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months; they opened their mouths to utter blasphemies against other teams, blaspheming their names and their dwellings, that is, those who dwell outside of New England. Also they were allowed to run amok in their cruelty and deface the screen-savers and desktop backgrounds belonging to fans of other teams who dwelt in their midst. But the Patriots were cruel and caused all, both small and great, both rich and upper-middle-class, both season-ticket and individual game-ticket holders, to have their tickets marked, so that no one can buy or sell unless he uses the Patriots' authorized ticket exchange, which does not allow ticket-holders to profit on their good fortune. Yet the people loved them anyway, even though the Patriots' ticket exchange somehow profits Ticketmaster, the seventh head of the ten-headed dragon.

Not that I am bitter.

READER: I take it you're expecting a photo of Jason Elam to appear on your desktop tomorrow morning.

Damn right. However, I am confident I shall soon take my revenge, for surely the Steelers will defeat -- somehow -- the Patriots when they play in Foxboro on Dec. 9. (We may re-sign Kimo Van Oelhoffen). Oh, how I cannot wait for that glorious day.

You see, I know some people elsewhere are upset with New England sports fans. This anger is perhaps best noted in Kissing Suzy Kolber's Guide to Being an Insufferable (Expletive) (Expletive) (Expletive) Fan of Boston-Area Sports Teams. I should caution readers the Guide in question is amazingly vulgar and profane, to the point where it even impressed me. Thus, people who are easily-offended, thin-skinned or die-hard New England sports fans should probably give it a pass.

However, I do not share this anger. This is because I take the long-term view of the football situation. Also, I'm arrogant. After all, New England might have three Super Bowl titles and may well win a fourth this year, but I root for a team with five. So there. Also, my team has been in Pittsburgh for 75 years, unlike a certain other franchise which left its home town in the dead of night for a third-rate metropolis surrounded by a vast expanse of nothing. So there. Again. I've got your rocket arm right here, pal.

Besides, if Pittsburgh DOES knock off New England -- either in the playoffs or the regular season -- I get to gloat for, like, an entire week at work. Hell yeah. So I say to Patriots fans: bring it on. For Pittsburgh's overall superiority cannot be questioned. Your run will end eventually and Pittsburgh will again be triumphant, and all will be right with the world. Yeah.

Also, in the unlikely but possible event that Pittsburgh makes it again to the Super Bowl and wins this year, please do not respond with friendly congratulations and pleasant support like you did the last time. That took part of the fun out of it. Please be miserable and angry and frustrated that Pittsburgh somehow managed to grab victory from the jaws of defeat and now has "one for the other thumb." Thanks in advance!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 21, 2007

HAIL to the Victors!

AH, THE JOY OF VICTORY. How wonderful was it to see the Michigan Wolverines throw down the Fighting Zooks of Illinois? Rather wonderful -- even if one considers Michigan's 27-17 victory over the Illini was as much a function of Illinois blowing it as much as Michigan winning it. Illinois could have stayed in this game until the end if it hadn't been for some truly stupid penalties and a blown punt return that gave Michigan the ball deep in enemy territory. So thanks, Illinois! Hey, maybe Michigan will move up to No. 23 or No. 24 in the BCS standings!

This now marks the Wolverines' sixth victory in a row this season and makes us bowl eligible. Maybe we'll even get to the Rose Bowl this year, but I'd settle for the Citrus Capital One Bowl or, the way this year is going, the Outback Bowl. What? Hey, now look -- I've already had my hopes and dreams dashed this year, so it makes sense to ratchet down my expectations accordingly. By the way, if you ever wondered how the bowl games for the Big Ten conference get arranged, here's how.

The football this weekend was pretty good and in some cases downright amazing. Greg Schiano, Rutgers' coach, is some kind of playcalling genius. I was sorry to see Rutgers knock off No. 2 South Florida but couldn't believe the moxie of Rutgers' squad, especially the punter-throwing-for-the-touchdown play. Holy Mary.

Also, who would've thought Vanderbilt -- Vandy, for God's sake -- would have knocked off No. 6 South Carolina? Unfortunately, I didn't get to see any of this game because I am stuck in New Hampshire, but crikey. The Auburn-LSU game, of which I saw most of the second half, was also downright incredible. I felt bad for Auburn because I hate them less than I do LSU, but my God, what -- a -- game. I can't believe LSU went for a last-second touchdown when they could have kicked a game-winning field goal -- they were down by one point, after all -- but they did and it put the knife in Auburn's hopes.

OK, now for the NFL. Loyal Rant Readers have deduced that I am, again, not at Billy's Sports Bar watching the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is because Pittsburgh is playing at 8 p.m. and I can watch it here at home. Besides, if I did go to Billy's today, I'd get treated to watching the Patriots blow out the Miami Dolphins, which I can also do at home. It's fair to say the game, which is going on right now, is downright ridiculous. I mean, come on. It's 42-21 in the fourth quarter and that's only because the Patriots are being nice and pulled out all their good guys at halftime.

The 4 p.m. game available here isn't any good either: Minnesota v. Dallas. Oh, boy. That's swell. But here are a few observations I'd make of the NFL season so far:

* New England is an amazing football team but I think there's a good chance they'll get whacked when they play the Colts and/or the Steelers, their main competition in the AFC. The fact Dallas was able to hang with them for most of that matchup shows the team is beatable. That said, NOW it's 49-21 in Miami. Christ.

* The Rant would like to thank the Buffalo Bills for knocking off the evil Baltimore Ravens today, 19-14. This makes the Ravens 4-3 and two games behind the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers (4-1). Sweet.

* The Detroit Lions are 4-2. Would anyone have expected this at the start of the season? I mean, they have done all right for themselves this time around. Maybe they'll get a shot at the playoffs this year. It's certainly possible at this point. The last time I actually remember Detroit being in the playoffs was 1983, although I think they've been in the post-season since then.

* I'll admit I am rooting for the Jets to beat the Bengals this week, just because I can. So far on this first drive, it looks like the Jets are in command of the situation.

* I think the Cleveland Browns could actually go 8-8 this season. No, really. 8-8.

* I am pretty confident Pittsburgh will crush the evil Denver Broncos tonight; Denver has proved to be a pretty weak team thus far this year and the Steelers, save in one game, have played excellently. I think that will continue.

Anyway, that's it for now, but hope everyone out there is having a good weekend.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 04:17 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 15, 2007

THAT'LL Teach 'Em to Leave the Big East

SO THE BCS STANDINGS have been revealed for the first time and lo! the South Florida Bulls are ranked No. 2, putting them in position to potentially play in the national championship game early next year. The Eagles of Boston College, meanwhile, have found themselves ranked No. 3 in the BCS standings. South Florida, interestingly, is also ranked No. 2 in the AP poll, while it ranks No. 3 in both the Harris and coaches' poll -- its No. 2 BCS place is due to its No. 1 computer ranking.

I have to think this is all a result of Boston College leaving the Big East and joining the ACC -- a move for which they were roundly criticized at the time, and for which they are now receiving their just punishment. Over the past few years, the Big East has quickly become the nation's No. 3 football conference -- and this year, is tougher than the ACC, the Big Ten and many other storied conferences of old. Looking at the BCS standings, we can see the following:

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* There are seven (!) SEC schools in the BCS standings: LSU (No. 4), South Carolina (No. 6), Kentucky (No. 7), Florida (No. 15), Auburn (No. 17), Georgia (No. 20) and Tennessee (No. 21).

* There are five schools from the Big 12 conference: Oklahoma (No. 5), Kansas (No. 13), Missouri (No. 16), Texas (No. 22), and Texas Tech (No. 24).

* There are four schools from the PAC-10 in the standings: Ariz. State (No. 8), Oregon (No. 10), California (No. 12), and USC (No. 14).

* There are three schools from the Big East: South Florida (No. 2), W. Virginia (No. 9) and Cincinnati (No. 23).

* There are three schools from the ACC: Boston College (No. 3), Virginia Tech (No. 11) and Virginia (No. 19).

* There are two schools from the Big Ten: Ohio State (No. 1) and Michigan (HAIL to the No. 25 Victors!)

* Oh, and Hawaii, of the pathetic WAC (No. 18).

-----

Now, the Big East and the ACC are pretty similar here -- except for the fact that the Big East only has eight teams, compared to the ACC's 12. Thus, one can say the competition in the Big East is considerably tougher, especially when one considers the Big East has teams like Louisville and a surprisingly improved Connecticut squad. The ACC, meanwhile, has crappy teams like Duke. So it is understandable why the computer, free of emotional attachments, would give South Florida the nod over Boston College.

Besides, the only people who like Boston College are its alumni and people living in Boston. Everyone else is properly appalled at the idea Boston College would get a shot at the national championship. The only reason to root for Boston College, in my mind, is their glorious placekicker, Steve Aponavicius, who rules and is a testament to the virtues that made this country great.

In related news, I have to say I'm impressed with how the north division of the Big 12 conference has played this year and if things continue, the whole conference should probably be considered the third best in college football this season, behind the surprisingly strong Pac-10 and the SEC, whose dominance even I can't deny. As for the Big Ten, its subpar performance this year is most annoying, although I am hopeful next year will be different. I can dream, anyway.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:35 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 14, 2007

Bye Weeks. Meh.

MY SUNDAY ROUTINE is a bit shaken up today. Normally, right about now I would be getting ready to go see the Pittsburgh Steelers defeat whomever their hapless opponent happened to be at Billy's Sports Bar here in Manchester. But the Steelers have a "bye" week this week, and since they're not playing, that leaves me out of luck in terms of watching football.

Admittedly, with the injuries the Steelers have suffered, having a week off is a good thing for the team. The trouble for me is that, with no incentive to go to my local sports bar, I have to rely on my local broadcasters to provide me with quality football, a prospect which fills me with fear and nausea. As it turns out, though, I think I lucked out: I'll get to watch the Tennessee-Tampa Bay game (go Tennessee!) and the New England-Dallas game (go ... uh, Pats, I guess). Both of these are on CBS, which is great, because it means I'll be free of the horrible cancer upon sportscasting that is Joe Buck. Slam-a-lama-ding-dong! The coverage maps, by the way, can be found here. Dig it.

Oh, which reminds me: what's up with CBS not showing all its games in high-definition? I ask because the Kepple family will undoubtedly gather around their new high-definition television back home in the greater Cleveland area and find, much to their annoyance, that the game isn't being broadcast in high-definition. Yet all the other early games are, including Houston at Jacksonville. Someone at the NFL needs to politely ask the CBS people to get working on this.

I have to admit I have mixed emotions about rooting for the Patriots today. For one thing, if they lost, it would help Pittsburgh in its quest to secure homefield advantage in the playoffs. For another, it might cause Patriots fans to consider the possibility -- as remote as it might seem to them now -- that they'll face a team OTHER than Indianapolis in the AFC Championship game. I mean, my God. More than one Patriots fan has said to me, knowing full well my affiliation, that there aren't any teams in the league the caliber of the Pats or the Colts.

I mean, come on. Hello? Pittsburgh's 4-1, and in winning the four games, crushed its opponents. I mean, it's not like we're Buffalo here. On the other hand, though, the idea of having the league's No. 3 team stay softly in the shadows kind of appeals to me, because that means our opponents won't be expecting it when we strike. It's eight weeks until the Steelers and Pats meeet in Foxboro.

Still, though, I have to root for the Pats. That's because it would be absolutely awful if the Cowboys actually managed to win today's game. Gad, I can just imagine it -- we'd be subjected to weeks of talk about the glories of Dallas and Texas football, and weeks of stories about Terrell Owens, and weeks of stories about how Tony Romo may not only be the best quarterback in football but also the second coming of Christ Himself. Please, God, spare us from these horrible possibilities, to say nothing of the insufferable smugness from Dallas fans we'd all have to deal with.

As it happens, though, there is some other football-related news we can discuss today. For one thing, the bowl schedule has been published and boy-oh-boy did I luck out. Not only do I have a three day weekend during bowl week, I'll get to watch like two straight days of great college football. Here's hoping Michigan makes the Rose Bowl.

Oh, and also, it looks like Spring Football is a Go. Yes, that's right. The schedules for the All-American Football League have been set and will run from April 12 to June 14. About the only downside is that the games are on Saturdays -- dammit, that's when I work -- but the good news is that I'll probably be able to figure out how to go see a game during my spring vacation. Go Presently Unnamed Michigan Franchise! Oh, and please broadcast the games at night, or at least after 4 p.m., so I can at least catch the second halves.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 13, 2007

We Have Ohio State Right Where We Want Them

AS A BIG TEN PARTISAN, I know I've been accused of overhyping the performance of its teams. Still, even I am shocked at the idea of Ohio State University's football team being ranked No. 1 in the nation, as they almost certainly will be when the BCS standings are soon released. It was amazing enough when the (now former) No. 1 LSU Tigers went down to defeat today, but to have No. 2 California collapse just a few hours later was unbelievable -- especially because Cal lost the game due to an unthinking mental error on the part of its backup quarterback.

So what does Ohio State's almost-certain ascendancy to the top of the BCS standings mean? Well, for this Michigan Wolverines fan, it means one thing and one thing only: we've got the bastards right where we want them. As Michigan plays its best football when it can ruin the hopes and dreams of other squads, it accordingly increases the chances Michigan will defeat Ohio State and its Evil Genius Sweater Vest-Clad Coach on Nov. 17.

Speaking of Michigan, now that we've won five games in a row, it would be nice if we received a ranking in the Top 25 polls this coming week. Since No. 18 Illinois lost to pathetic Iowa (that's gotta hurt), No. 19 Wisconsin lost to Penn State (I did not see that coming), and No. 21 Florida State lost to Wake Forest (go Wake!) one would think there would be room for the Wolverines somewhere down near the bottom of the list. Besides, since we utterly destroyed Purdue today in a 48-21 rout, we are clearly accelerating our comeback and hopes of winning the Big Ten championship. Of course, I ought not get ahead of myself here -- we must play the Fighting Zooks of Illinois next week and that will undoubtedly be a tough game. Still, I do think we're deserving of a ranking.

This whole week in college football has been outstanding, if you ask me. The games during the week, which are often blowouts and thus not all that interesting, proved to be fantastic. Navy beat Pitt in two overtimes, Wake beat Florida State in a close game and the Hawaii-San Jose State matchup also went to overtime. Today's matchups were also hard-fought, close games. I didn't get to see Louisville beat No. 15 Cincinnati, but that sounded like a good game, and No. 10 USC almost lost again in their game against Arizona. That would have really been nice, but one can't have everything for which one wishes.

For that matter, this whole season has been outstanding, despite certain circumstances I really wish would not have happened. Generally speaking, I am a fan of parity in football and it has been great to see teams that would get crushed out of hand in a typical year fight their way to victory. The upheaval has also put unexpected names at the top of the rankings. I mean, who would've thought at the start of the year that Boston College would be a likely No. 2, or South Florida a likely No. 3? My guess is no one.

I know lots of people would like to see a Division I-A playoff system put in place, but I have to admit I like all the fuss over the rankings -- even though, as a Michigan fan, I've been burned by this in the past (see our "shared" 1997 national championship). There's nothing like having lots of stuff to argue about to make things interesting -- and things are definitely far more interesting now than they've been in years.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:36 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 08, 2007

I Have Been Called Out for My Blatant Partisanship

WHEN I CHECKED my e-mail this morning, I was delighted to find a long letter from my good friend Simon From Jersey on a matter near and dear to Rant readers' hearts: namely, college football. Despite the nickname with which I've saddled my best friend, Simon originally hails from the South, and his letter dealt with the glories of Southern football and my continued refusal to acknowledge them. It was such a good letter that I feel compelled to respond here on The Rant.

It's not merely because I like a challenge, either, or because intellectual integrity requires one responds to one's critics (the put up or shut up principle). You see, for more than two decades now, Simon and I have always enjoyed a good back-and-forth on myriad issues, and this letter is no exception to that strong tradition. When he makes an argument -- even though I often don't agree with it -- it is always well-thought out and reasoned. Thus, his arguments are something I always take seriously, and when he calls me out on something, I give it a heck of a lot of attention. Here, then, is the text of Mr Einspahr's letter, which he wrote Sunday night:

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Hey Ben, go Blue and all that. And hey, Steelers 4-1 and Lions 3-2 at the bye…not bad!

I have noticed you seem to have a rather inflated opinion of the Big Ten on your blog. The PAC-10 has always been a great conference, they just play on the West Coast so we don’t get to see them; the average strength of schedule has been highest in the SEC and PAC 10 for 4 of the last 5 years. I mean, the Big Ten sucks. It has for 3 years now. We get our butt kicked in bowl games. And the middle and lower tiers of our conference gets beaten repeatedly and sucks.

Meanwhile, whatever your obvious prejudice, the SEC is hands down the best conference in college football, and has been for years and usually will continue to be. If you decided to watch it, you’d see some football that beats a lot of NFL games. Now it is a shame that a small percentage of players have some issues, but most of them are just kids like any other conference including the Big Ten, and I do find the tone of some of your posts regarding southern schools and by proxy the south a bit offensive. Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, Auburn, Arkansas, are all Top 50 to second tier schools with many smart kids, good programs, and accomplishments. Vanderbilt is a great great thinking man’s school. Certainly, in the same league as Mich State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue, Iowa, etc etc. Florida is a fantastic public school, with excellent undergrad and grad programs.

While I realize much of your posts are in jest, the underlying, assumptions about the South are quite stereotypical and mostly unfounded. Mostly, it’s a shame because the quality of football, tradition, and everything we love about college football is top notch and easy to root for guilt free. While it may not have the media in its pocket like the NorthEast and old school Big Ten, Auburn Alabama is the best rivalry in perhaps all of sports. And a lot of the Big Ten schools, including our alma mater, have many of the same problems and issues that the SEC gets continually thrown under the bus for.

My two cents. Discuss.

Simon

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THERE'S A LOT THERE, so I have to admit I don't know entirely where to begin. But I think I'll start with the schools in the SEC themselves and their academic reputations.

I went back and checked over my football posts from the past year, and for the most part, I refrained from smearing the academic reputations of the universities in the SEC and ACC. It is true that on Jan. 8, I referred to the University of Florida as a "wretched, godawful, miserable uncivilized excuse for a university." However, this was because Florida had just taken Ohio State to the woodshed and I was slightly upset at watching the Big Ten get humiliated again on the national stage. So that was more of an embittered insult rather than an actual condemnation of Florida's academic prowess.

I think when one looks at the record, I haven't played the "academics card" and gone after Southern schools for their supposed lack of academic accomplishments. In fact, I believe the only schools I have unfairly criticized for a seeming lack of academic prowess are the University of Nebraska, Michigan State University, and Florida State University. But these schools are "low-hanging fruit" when it comes to that type of charge, and I have -- to my credit, I think -- not levied similar charges against other schools in the South. On this topic, at any rate, I have not aimed too high and accordingly missed.

That said, I am more than willing to admit there are many strong schools, academics-wise, in the SEC and ACC, and I gladly root for the strongest of these. For instance, I like Vanderbilt -- a great school -- and will almost always root for them, and I will almost always root for Kentucky. Also, I have a soft spot for Georgia and Georgia Tech, which are more likable than other squads in the SEC. In the ACC, I will always -- always -- root for Wake Forest, an excellent academic institution, and I have recently discovered the joys of Clemson football. Conversely, I would note that I don't like Boston College despite its northern roots and strong academics.

Now, as for the SEC -- is it the best conference in college football? Of course it is. Even I have to admit that, and I have done so on the blog, when I conjure up the SEC Partisan Foil and knock him with a frying pan to shut him up. Saturday's matchup between LSU and Florida was outstanding -- outstanding -- football, and either of these two squads could easily defeat Michigan and probably knock off Ohio State. The Thursday night matchup between South Carolina and Kentucky also proved to be great football.

I will also admit, as hard as it is for me to do so, that the PAC-10 has gotten considerably better over the years. California and Oregon have become hard teams to beat, and they play excellent football. Arizona State is also ranked in the Top 25. USC, of course, is a perennial powerhouse in that division. I think Ohio State could beat any team in the PAC-10 but I must admit the other Big Ten teams would have trouble with Cal, Oregon and USC, and perhaps even Arizona State. Heck, Oregon just rolled Michigan, and that's a pretty strong statement.

Now, as much as I hate to say it, the Big Ten has been having performance issues over the past few years. Not only is the SEC better, the PAC-10 and Big East (!) are better, although I do think we're about even with the ACC at this point.

I do think that on any given Saturday, the top tier of the Big Ten could compete against the top tiers of any other conference in the nation. (Notice I did not say win; I said compete). I also think the middle tier of the conference would prove competitive against similarly-placed schools in other conferences. However, there's no denying that out of the 11 Big Ten schools, five or six stink to high heaven. The result of this year's bowl season -- please God, let us win -- will shed further light on this subject.

That said, I'm a Big Ten partisan. I'm going to look at these schools with rose-colored glasses -- academically, athletically, spiritually -- you name it, that's my bias. Which leads to the OTHER bias question: do I have an issue with Southern schools because I have issues with the South?

I don't think I do. When I went to the South on vacation earlier this year, I found the people there friendly, pleasant and courteous. Not one of them took issue with my Yankee-ness, no one brought up the war, and there was no Catholic-bashing either. (Not that I expected them to do that, of course; I note this simply to dispel three of the big stereotypes). Simply put, the South was a nice place, and I received a warmer welcome there than I have other places in America. Plus, the food is outstanding. So, given that, what's the issue I have with Southern schools and their football?

I suppose it all started back in the late 1990s, during the Heisman Trophy race in 1997. Michigan's Charles Woodson, who was one of the best to play the college game, had won the Heisman Trophy, yet there was a whole bunch of complaining from backers of then-Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning. (As Loyal Rant Readers know, I hate Peyton Manning, and this incident is what started all that).

Over the years, I suppose I developed a general dislike of football programs I saw as generally unclassy: whose players I thought were undisciplined and whose coaches I saw as more focused on winning than building good men: the Florida States and Miamis of this world, and to a lesser extent Florida. Combined with a growing and now strong sense of conference loyalty -- even though I'll gladly beat up on Michigan State for these same infractions -- it manifested itself into the hardened, dystopian world view I have today. (And getting taken to the woodshed by these same teams didn't help matters, either!)

Still, despite all that, I would reassure Simon -- and my Loyal Rant Readers -- that this dislike is a mile wide but only an inch deep. When all is said and done, I'm writing to needle and not to wound. Furthermore, when I needle other teams and their fans, I do so in jest -- I may fire with both barrels, but the shotgun only has rock salt in it.

Also, although I'll gladly dish it out again and again, I'm also man enough to take it. That's what being a sports fan is all about. You get to enjoy the wins, but you have to deal with the losses accordingly. And even though I know I set myself up for a heaping platter of crow from rival fans with my bombastic screeds, in my heart I love it nonetheless. The rivalries and the traditions and competition make it all worth it. That said, please let Michigan win the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl, because otherwise I'll never hear the end of it.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:31 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Oh, Glorious Day

YOU KNOW, THERE are Sundays when it seems like everything goes your way. With the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers' 21-0 rout of the Seattle Seahawks, yesterday was one of those days. Consider me impressed with the power and the glory of yesterday's victory, which was even more impressive considering the following:

* Two of our best defensive players (Troy Polamalu and Casey Hampton) were sidelined due to injury.
* Our No. 1 and No. 2 receivers (Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes) were sidelined due to injury.
* Despite these things, our running game was spectacular.
* Despite these things, we completely stuffed the Seahawks' offense
* Our cornerbacks performed fantastic.

The day wasn't perfect, of course; San Francisco inexplicably failed to defeat the Baltimore Ravens, meaning the evil franchise from the Free State remains just one game behind the Steelers in the AFC North. While their schedule has a few tough games in it (New England, Indianapolis) there are enough easier games to require that Pittsburgh keep its foot on the gas throughout the season. This also makes defeating the evil Ravens even more important to our divisional and playoff hopes.

But we can deal with that later. Right now, we can savor our victory over Seattle.

21-0. Beautiful.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 07, 2007

I Believe It Because It is Impossible

SO THERE I am watching the LSU-Florida game -- because Purdue's defense, as it turned out, couldn't stop a Pop Warner team from advancing the ball, much less Ohio State -- and lo and behold, word comes that the mighty USC Trojans lost to ... Stanford. What? No, I'm not kidding.

USC LOST TO STANFORD AT HOME.

I swear, this is REALLY turning into a crazy college football season and we're not even halfway through it. After last week, when so many great teams dropped like flies against unexpectedly strong opposition, one would have expected a bit of normality. Yet this week alone, Wisconsin lost and Michigan State lost and Kentucky lost and Georgia lost, all things that -- at least to some extent -- could be described as cuts against the grain.

But to have USC lose is unbelievable. Consider: USC scored 23 points. This is 18 points less than the total by which they were favored to beat the Stanford Cardinal. Put another way, Stanford's 24 point total meant they covered the total by 42 points -- nearly the total of all the points that were scored in the game. I mean, Stanford sucked. Last week, they lost 45-14 to UCLA, which this week became the first team to lose to Notre Dame. That's how bad Stanford was. And now they knock off USC? USC, of the 35-game winning streak at home?

Admittedly, I am very happy at this turn of events. I like it when USC loses, because USC has a way of beating Michigan in bowl games. Plus, USC plays in the PAC-10, which formerly served up bunches of weak opponents, although this year the conference seems a bit tougher. I approve of the PAC-10 being tougher, because it heightens the chance of USC losing and -- almost as good -- not appearing in a bowl game where they might play Michigan.

And what an LSU-Florida game last night! I was hoping Florida would manage to eke out a victory but alas, LSU won the game through sheer force of will and really savvy coaching. But any game that comes down to the final play is a good one, regardless of whether the team one is rooting for wins.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:04 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 06, 2007

Oops, They Did It Again

GEE, THIS COLLEGE FOOTBALL Saturday is going all right. Not only did the Fighting Zooks of Illinois knock off overrated Wisconsin, the lowly Northwestern Wildcats engaged in a shootout with the Michigan State Spartans and won in overtime at East Lansing, 48-41. This puts the miserable Spartans, who won their first four games, at 0-2 in the Big Ten Conference. Heh. Double heh. HAHAHAHAHAHA!

One of these years -- 2031, maybe, or 2047 -- Michigan State is finally going to get over the hump and have a decent season. Not this year, though. Their loss to Northwestern has made it perfectly clear that even with a spiffy new coach, the Spartans are still the Spartans, and are well on their way to having another miserable season. They're known for folding like a cheap suit once the going gets tough, and it seems pretty clear they're still mired in that losing mentality. This is good, because it almost ensures glorious Michigan, which is better than Michigan State in every possible way, will crush Michigan State's undisciplined squad later this year.

As for Michigan, we defeated Eastern Michigan today, although this was not without the typical screwups one is unfortunately starting to expect whenever Michigan plays an easy game. But a win is a win, and I'll take it, especially since Michigan State did not win, and now finds itself in a considerable hole in terms of winning the Big Ten Championship.

Also: as I should have guessed, Georgia is in fact getting crushed at Tennessee, and I am not watching the Red River Shootout *grumble*, which has naturally been a great game so far. The good news, though, is that Penn State-Iowa is on ESPN 2, and that beats the alternative.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

An Open Letter to the ABC College Football Scheduling People

TO: The ABC/ESPN/ESPN on ABC/ESPABCN College Football Scheduling People

FR: Benjamin Kepple

RE: Not so fast, my friends.

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Dear ABC/ESPN/ESPN on ABC/ESPABCN College Football Scheduling People:

ON FRIDAY NIGHT, I was talking with my Dad about today's upcoming college football schedule and the games we both were planning to watch on the weekend. With the early game -- although I can't really watch it -- I was planning to keep an eye on Wisconsin and Illinois, and root for the Fighting Zooks to beat the Stinkin' Badgers. For the late game, I was definitely looking forward to the Ohio State-Purdue matchup. As for the afternoon game, most of which I would get to watch live, I mentioned just how much I was looking forward to the Red River Shootout between Texas and Oklahoma.

Then I went to Every Day Should Be Saturday, which had the coverage maps up for the game, and I noticed that up here in my market, the North Carolina State v. Florida State game had been penciled in.

Surely, I thought to myself, this was some kind of mistake; an inadvertent error that a junior staffer at the network had accidentally made. After all, no one outside North Carolina or Florida would be interested in such a matchup; it would be like airing the Minnesota v. Indiana game in Columbus. North Carolina State is at the bottom of the Atlantic Division, and FSU is stuck right in the middle. As such, the game is inevitably inconsequential, even to Boston College fans, who sit atop the ACC Atlantic.

But after viewing the coverage maps -- and where DOES one find those on-line, anyway? -- I went to check my cable listings, and sure enough, the NCSU-FSU game is being aired NOT ONLY on Boston's ABC affiliate, but Manchester, N.H.'s ABC affiliate as well!

So I must ask: what the hell is wrong with you people?

Why in the name of God would you subject EVERYONE in the greater Boston area to this miserable, wretched, awful, putrid, disgusting game? Jesus Christ, practically everyone else in the country gets to watch the Red River Shootout, and I'm going to be stuck watching godrotting Florida State and godrotting Bobby Bowden and that godrotting tomahawk chop. And that's just if I keep the sound off so I don't go insane from that godrotting war chant the moronic Florida State fans chant ALL THROUGH THE GAME. Even worse, I bet you've somehow figured out a way to get Paul-fricking-Maguire in the broadcast booth for the contest, you rotten scoundrels. I may throw up.

I mean, now I'm going to have to watch -- ugh -- the SEC game on CBS. And I hate the SEC. But it's Tennessee v. Georgia, and I hate Tennessee, so I'm going to have to watch and root for Georgia and its yappy little mascot dog. Knowing my luck, Georgia will get blown out during the first half and I'll really end up in a foul mood and then get to listen to Brent Musburger during the night game. Thanks, ABC! Thanks a lot!

What really burns me up about this whole situation is we have TWO ABC AFFILIATES in the greater Boston area, and BOTH of them are showing this rotten Florida State v. North Carolina State game. Why not mix it up a bit so fans can have a choice? Put the game you have to show on the Boston station and then put the better, national game on the New Hampshire affiliate. This isn't rocket science. For that matter, this isn't high school chemistry. I could only hope ABC's scheduling people would be history for not figuring this out, but we're clearly not dealing with the brightest bulbs in the lamp store here.

Ugh. I am so disgusted right now. I suppose I ought just be happy that I get to watch Ohio State-Purdue during the late game, as I was almost certain I'd end up having to watch Notre Dame-UCLA. Maybe being forced to watch Notre Dame-UCLA would be a good punishment for incompetent schedulers. You think?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 04, 2007

An Open Letter to the Big Ten Network

TO: The Big Ten Network

FR: Benjamin Kepple

RE: Football

Dear Blockheads,

I note with displeasure reports that suggest key Big Ten football matchups, such as the upcoming game between Michigan and Michigan State, may be broadcast on the Big Ten Network (BTN) while millions of Big Ten alumni in the Midwest and elsewhere cannot get the channel through major cable systems. I would have thought by now you would have seen reason and figured out a way to correct this market inefficiency. Amazingly, however, you have not yet done so.

I trust you will correct this state of affairs in short order through coming to an equitable agreement with the major cable carriers. Of course, I realize that actually doing so would require a modicum of competence in the business arena, something I have not yet seen from you. In fact, your decisions thus far make me wonder whether you folks are simply staggeringly incompetent at what you do for a living, or whether you are the embodiment of some ancient evil whose capacity to inflict mayhem and suffering nears that of Lucifer himself. I mean, come on. You're dealing with Comcast and Time Warner, for Pete's sake. How in the name of God could you manage to end up being the bad guy here? Yet through your wretched stubbornness, you have. Jesus.

Now look. There's nothing wrong with your idea the BTN should be on expanded cable. However, you are deluding yourselves if you think the cable systems will pay $1.10 per Midwestern subscriber per month on a basic tier. I haven't heard whether you've expressed willingness to budge on this, but why you even thought you could get away with this suggests you were higher than a Michigan freshman on the first Saturday in April when you came up with that.

I also note you want the BTN carried outside the Midwest and want to charge $0.10 per subscriber for it. I admit I don't know if this is extravagant or not. However, with so many channels available I think people wouldn't mind paying a dollar or so for all the proposed collegiate networks combined, so maybe that would work. Besides, if it's an issue, I am sure you could convince the cable networks to drop some annoying networks, or put THEM on a special tier. (As Ryan Masse of the Badger Herald put it, "I would love to jettison Lifetime, Oxygen, etc. to a special women’s tier and not have to pay for them anymore. You could do the same with a men’s tier of Spike TV, Vs., etc.") And if the BTN just absolutely has to go on a special tier outside the Midwest, given in to the cable networks' demands and go for it. I'm willing to pay extra for it. And at this point, you're probably bleeding red ink because you're running a network nobody can see.

So, fix this, please -- and soon, because you're not operating from a position of strength. The games everyone wants to see, after all, are going to pass quickly -- and after that you'll be left with basketball and ice hockey, which aren't as popular as college football. If you go into summer with the situation as it is now, you're really going to be in trouble. So make a deal while you still can, or the BTN will end up dead on arrival. Although I have to admit, at this point, I don't think I'd be shedding any tears were that to happen.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 02, 2007

"Nice Girl. Pretty Kid. Fire the Cheerleaders."

IN 1969, ONE OF the Steelerettes -- the Pittsburgh Steelers' cheerleading squad -- approached Mr Rooney, the team's owner, and requested the squad be allowed to wear more revealing clothing. The cheerleader pointed out that street fashion was more liberal than the outfits the squad was wearing, and suggested the squad change its look accordingly.

After Mr Rooney heard out the cheerleader's request, he called in the team's business manager for a private talk. The title to this post is reportedly Mr Rooney's reaction to the cheerleader's idea, as recounted in this excellent column by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Chuck Finder detailing the history of the Steelerettes, the NFL's first cheerleading squad. Mr Rooney was a bit old-fashioned, you see.

Of course, the fact Pittsburgh doesn't have cheerleaders is a point of pride for Steelers fans. As a perennial football powerhouse for more than three decades, we do not need cheerleaders to distract the fans from the action on the field. Furthermore, not having cheerleaders shows we're all about bare-knuckle, physical football, which given our history is how we should be.

On a related note, it is worth noting that Pittsburgh fans are up in arms because -- wait for it -- we now have a mascot. I am among this group. A mascot would have been OK if he did cool things, like stomp on an effigy of Peyton Manning or beat up Pat Patriot in an Oregon Duck-style slapfest. But our new mascot has not done any of these things. In fact, it's hard to tell why we have the mascot in the first place. Also, the mascot's name of "Steely McBeam" is particularly unfortunate.

But in further proof America is the greatest nation on God's green earth, clever Steelers fans have come up with money-making ways to share their displeasure: namely, through creating merchandise. Perhaps my favorite site selling such products is Steely McStupid, which advises that Steelers fans don't need no stinkin' mascot. This site, meanwhile, features apparel with the legend "McBeam McSucks" on it. Alarmingly, this line of apparel also includes thong underwear with the slogan. As I think all readers can agree that might lead to some, uh, interesting circumstances down the line, I would suggest readers stick with the sweatshirts.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

On Baseball

AS I NOTED in this space back on July 10, football is eminently superior to baseball -- and the proof could be seen in each sport's respective choice of post-season pitchman. I was certainly not the only one to realize this, and tonight I found another good example. Ross Douthat, writing for The Atlantic back in September, also noted this unfortunate circumstance and provided video evidence showing why football rules.

On a related note, one of these aggravating baseball commercials out now features baseball's pitchman -- the alleged comedian Dane Cook, who's kind of like that guy who plays Bergwood in the Allstate commercials but isn't nearly as funny -- going on about the opening American League series. These will feature Boston v. Los Angeles, and New York v. Cleveland, and in a nails-on-chalkboard voice Mr Cook informs us these are matchups one can't miss.

To Mr Cook, I would say: watch me, schmuck.

Again, I would ask: what the hell was Major League Baseball thinking when they decided to anoint this scoundrel their post-season pitchman?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 30, 2007

Today's Lesson: Complacency Kills

WELL, THE STEELERS ARE BACK! Unfortunately, it's the team from 2006 -- the team of the blown opportunities, the mindless turnovers, the mental errors. Sadly, the Pittsburgh Steelers fell to the Arizona Cardinals this afternoon, losing 21-14 in a game that wasn't as close as that score might indicate.

As Arizona's old coach might have said, they were who we thought they were, and we let 'em off the hook.

Going into the second half of the game, leading 7-0, I was confident the Steelers would turn on the jets and deliver a beatdown on the Cardinals. We had, after all, squelched their offense in the first half and our defense played well. I had concerns about our offense, particularly the performance of our offensive line and the collapse of our running game, but I was hopeful we would correct those and play up to par. A while later, Pittsburgh has given up 21 unanswered points and we've got the ball with just five minutes or so left. Blech. At least it was an exciting finish.

I have to think it was complacency that led to our undoing. After all, who would have thought Arizona -- Arizona, for God's sake -- would play so well given their performance in their last three games? However, I am hopeful this loss will serve as a wakeup call to the Steelers, and they'll be back on track next Sunday at Heinz Field. We had a great opportunity today to go up two games in the AFC North and we didn't seize it. Next week, when we have that opportunity again, I think the Steelers will grab it by the horns.

Also, I would like to congratulate the Cleveland Browns and their fans on their well-deserved win over the Baltimore Ravens today. That was a beautiful thing. Plus, since the Steelers lost, the Browns fans are happy and content -- in a sort of sad, peculiar way -- but they're happy and content nonetheless. So thank you, Cleveland, for beating the Ravens and keeping Pittsburgh atop the AFC North. It was much appreciated. Just don't get your hopes up too much, because you WILL be smacked down later this season at Heinz Field.

Our loss today does, however, put me in a bit of a quandary -- who the devil do I root for tomorrow night? Do I root for New England, even though their victory would give them a one-game lead in terms of playoff advantage, or do I root for Cincinnati, even though their victory would put them within one game of the Steelers? At this point, I am inclined to root for the Bungles, just because a victory there would make all the Patriots fans -- the same Patriots fans who stole my Hines Ward car magnet -- grumpy this week. But if the Bungles lost, it would put them 1-3 and in deep trouble in terms of winning the division. This may just be a game-time decision!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bring the Pain

OH, WHAT A JOYOUS SATURDAY. There are few things I enjoy more than watching underdogs knock off highly-ranked teams (provided the highly-ranked team is, you know, not Michigan) and so yesterday's college football action was a beautiful thing. Well, actually, it was even better. It wasn't just beautiful in the way a sunrise on a clear day is beautiful, or a pretty girl is beautiful: this was an otherworldly beauty, a Dave Bowman-into-the-monolith beautiful, an angelic beautiful that announces in its terrible and shimmering glory: "Be not afraid."

Let us review the glorious landscape, shall we? (Note: Rankings under 25 are derived from Massey Ratings' composite index).

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No. 3 Oklahoma lost to No. 60 Colorado, 27-24
No. 4 Florida lost to No. 37 Auburn, 20-17
No. 5 West Virginia lost to No. 18 South Florida, 21-13 (on Friday
No. 7 Texas lost to No. 57 Kansas State, 41-21
No. 10 Rutgers lost to No. 65 Maryland, 34-24
No. 11 Oregon lost to No. 6 California, 31-24
No. 13 Clemson lost to No. 59 Georgia Tech, 13-3
No. 21 Penn State lost to No. 31 Illinois, 27-20
No. 22 Alabama lost to No. 29 Florida State, 21-14

--------

That's NINE Top 25 teams -- favorites all -- getting knocked on their keisters this weekend -- and five in the Top 10! The teams that managed to win yesterday also didn't have an easy time of it -- No. 1 USC, for instance, only managed to beat No. 41 Washington by three points, and No. 2 LSU struggled with Tulane for a bit, which is pretty pathetic when you consider Tulane is one of the worst teams in college football.

Anyway, I was loving this, even if I did want Minnesota to knock off Ohio State, a task at which they unsurprisingly failed. I mean, where does one begin? At the stroke of midnight, as the college football action faded, I was half expecting a host of cherubim and seraphim to proclaim, "Blessed are the underdogs, for they shall inherit the earth."

But I suppose this depends on one's point of view. After all, Joe Paterno famously dismissed Michigan's loss to Appalachian State with the quip, "I always thought when they put the devil down below, that was one of the great upsets of all time." So not everyone may be as enamored with all this upset talk as I am. Speaking of Mr Scratch, though, I must admit there is an uncharitable side to all my glee.

Simply put, the teams of my enemies have been defeated, and I am glad. I fully admit that, as a Michigan fan, I want them to suffer as I have suffered.

That said, I did not take all that much pleasure in watching Oklahoma lose to Colorado, nor in hearing of Texas' loss to Kansas State. As a Big Ten partisan, I do not wish ill upon the Big 12 Conference and generally like it when their teams, save Nebraska, perform well. This is because the Big 12 serves as a good counterweight to the barbarian and degenerate Southeastern Conference, whose teams I generally despise. (I realize this may seem strange to some of my readers, but as a Northerner and Midwesterner I can assure you this is just one of those regional rivalry things that some coastal residents just don't get).

SEC FAN: Hey! You can't say that about my conference! We're the best in all of college foot--
ME: Not so fast, my friend!
(WHAM!)
SEC FAN: OUCH! You -- you hit me with a frying pan again! You son of a --
(WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!)
(THUD)

Right! Now, where was I? Ah, yes, the SEC.

How wonderful was it to see cruel Florida get thrown down yesterday? Oh, my! As a matter of course, I don't like Auburn but I was more than happy to root for them against the hated Gators, one of the many Florida teams I despise. Oh, how fabulous it was to see the Swamp get drained, and to behold the suffering of its partisans ("It sucked with the sucking of a thousand burning suns of suck.") May God curse them with 6-6 seasons from here until the end of time!

Also, I don't know how many readers caught the West Virginia-South Florida game on Friday, but that was a glorious and splendid thing. I do not like West Virginia, because they're always overrated and for years have run roughshod over the Big East conference. Also, as my family as roots in western Pennsylvania, I am bound by contract not to like them. So to see a good, upstart football program like South Florida defeat them is fabulous. South Florida is probably the only football team in Florida I like -- they play hard, they've built themselves up from nothing and unlike nearly all the other Florida teams, they're a classy good-hearted bunch.

I was shocked to see Rutgers lost to ... *snicker* *guffaw* ... Maryland. I mean, come on, guys. I have a soft spot in my heart for Rutgers football -- one I daresay every football fan north of the Mason-Dixon shares -- so that was a bit disappointing. I was also not entirely thrilled Clemson lost. I have to say that even though I am not generally a fan of Southern football teams, I do like Clemson and Wake Forest. For one thing, they're in the ACC, which is a far more genteel and upstanding conference than the SEC. For another, they're generally not the best teams in their conference, which puts me in their corner. Plus, Clemson's stadium -- "Death Valley" -- impresses me. (Also, the girls are cute. Which reminds me: how the hell did Florida manage to get all the pretty girls in the front rows and in convenient proximity to the television cameras? They were something -- although as Florida partisans, damaged goods to this Michigan fan. But I digress).

Which leaves us with Penn State and Alabama. I felt bad for Penn State losing to the Fighting Zooks; or rather, I felt bad for my father, who has long rooted for the Nittany Lions. You see, Dad despairs about Penn State's prospects; he fears the team's performance will hurt its recruiting, even though Paterno remains coach. After all, the kids today weren't even born when Penn State enjoyed its glory days, and what do the kids know of Paterno? Still, I have to give credit to Illinois for picking themselves up and building from a perennial doormat to a decent team.

And then, there's Alabama. Truly God is benevolent and merciful, for Alabama has lost two in a row and its evil coach, Nick Saban, has lost two in a row. How I detest Saban -- he of Michigan State infamy. True, the loss was not truly flawless, for the winning team was Florida State, with their stupid tomahawk chop and stupid war chant and thuggish, wretched players. But still -- I will take it. The way I see, Alabama's loss can only be my gain and I am cool with that.

So -- to recap -- this was a weekend in which pretty much everything went great, college-football wise. Oh, joy and rapture. And with Michigan playing its red-headed stepchild from Ypsilanti next week, next week will hopefully go just as well. I am looking forward to it!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:35 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 29, 2007

Fundamentals: Good in Investing, Good in Football

I FULLY ADMIT I'm not the most savvy person in the world when it comes to advanced mathematics. Even though I've been blessed with aptitude for the basic stuff, and can do somewhat complex calculations in my head, my brain shorts out whenever I'm faced with tough mathematics. It was only with the most concerted effort that I managed to get a "C" in basic calculus in college, and the idea of me doing anything beyond that has always seemed pretty laughable. Similarly, crunching statistical calculations has always been a wretched experience for me, and I've hated the subject ever since my days at Michigan.

Fortunately, out in the real world, I've quickly discovered I don't need to do any complex calculations. Other people, who are good at these things, will do the calculations and spit out the data, leaving me to simply interpret the data and draw conclusions accordingly. Keeping this in mind, I would note the excellent work being done by people far smarter than me at Football Outsiders. These statistical geniuses have crunched the data, pored over the statistics, and come up with seemingly irrefutable evidence of how the season is going to go. (As it happens, I learned of this site through Behind the Steel Curtain, an excellent Steelers blog).

Anyway, the good people at Football Outsiders have found the Pittsburgh Steelers have a 94 pc chance of making the NFL's playoffs this year, an 80 pc chance of winning the AFC North and a 61 pc chance of earning a "bye" week -- in other words, earning a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the playoffs. This is better than every other team in the NFL save one -- and I think we all know which team THAT is. The statistics are even MORE resounding when one looks at the other teams in the AFC North. The evil Baltimore Ravens, for instance, have just a 57 pc chance of making the playoffs, while the Cincinnati Bengals have just a 17 pc chance of making it. As for Cleveland, well, hope springs eternal.

Of course, these are just projections and projections have a way of changing. Still, they are fascinating. As of this week, Pittsburgh, according to this wonderful site, has an 18 pc chance of winning the Super Bowl this year. New England has a 17 pc chance, while Dallas has a 11 pc chance and Tampa Bay also has an 11 pc chance. Of course, this is partially where the whole interpretation thing comes in. Everyone knows it is fundamentally impossible for an NFC team to actually win the Big Game, so we can just throw those numbers in the waste bin and focus on the AFC teams. The Indianapolis Colts have a 9 pc chance of repeating this year, while evil Baltimore has a 4 pc chance of winning. As for Cincinnati and Cleveland -- well, hope springs eternal.

So what does this all mean, you ask?

I don't know, Babs. But I do know this: Pittsburgh looks pretty darn good this year, and so does New England. Baltimore already looks tired three games into the season, and Cincinnati's defense is working about as well as the Maginot Line. As for Cleveland, I'm hoping they'll go 8-8 and I think they can beat Baltimore on Sunday. We shall see!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

For Now, Our March to the Big Ten Title Continues

SO I WAS AT WORK today when one of my colleagues called over to me and asked, "Hey, Ben. How's Michigan doing?" Truly, there are few crueler questions the guys at the office could have asked me. You see, this is because these colleagues know perfectly well how Michigan's college football team is doing at any given time. Thus, it was with a sinking heart that I checked myself and found that Northwestern -- Northwestern, for goodness' sake! -- was beating Michigan 16-7.

Uh, no.

Fortunately, however, Northwestern gave up the ghost in the fourth quarter -- turning the ball over like crazy -- and Michigan rallied to win against a team that should never have been in contention with the mighty Wolverines, but was until late in the second half. Anyway, Michigan 28, Northwestern 16, and our drive to win the Big Ten is still alive. Go team!

I talked with my folks after I got home today and I got the impression Dad wasn't too thrilled with Penn State's performance against the Fighting Zooks. Illinois is not a bad team but they should have not have been able to knock off the Nittany Lions. Once again, though, Illinois had a secret weapon -- Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli, who threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball in the fourth quarter. Oops.

Well, Penn State fans can at least sleep easy knowing Morelli's a senior. I just hope Morelli doesn't end up playing for my beloved Manchester Wolves, next year, because we're going to need a good quarterback. Maybe he can go up to Calgary and play for the Stampeders.

I was pleased to see South Florida knock off West Virginia on Friday -- what a great game THAT was -- primarily because West Virginia annoys me. They seem perennially overrated, especially now that the Big East conference has become one of the nation's better football conferences. Speaking of overrated, what the hell happened to Oklahoma? I am stunned they lost to Colorado. I mean, come on. It's Colorado. Weren't they supposed to, you know, stink? I am also surprised at Kansas State's dominance of Texas today.

I was not, however, surprised to see Michigan State's players happy and cheerful today after injuring a Wisconsin player on a tough hit. That's the type of classless and gauche display for which these scoundrels are known. I do hope Wisconsin pulls out a victory today, just because the Spartans will fold like a cheap suit once they endure a tough loss. They always do. I look forward to the annual Michigan-Michigan State game later in the year, when -- God willing -- we will humble them.

I am also looking forward to a good slate of pro football action tomorrow. Good luck to the Cleveland Browns as they play the evil Baltimore Ravens, and good luck to the Pittsburgh Steelers as they march to Arizona and take on the Arizona Cardinals. Not that we'll need it, of course, but it can't hurt.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 26, 2007

Non Credo Quia Absurdum

SO TODAY, AS I bemoaned the fate of my Hines Ward car magnet, one of my colleagues at work politely suggested that -- horror of horrors -- a Pittsburgh Steelers fan might have swiped my decal praising everyone's favorite wide receiver. Then, I got an e-mail from my friend Chris suggesting the exact same thing, viz. and to wit:

Now, Ben, you and I both know it would be beneath the dignity of a Pats fan to touch that silly thing. Clearly the OTHER Steeler fan in New Hampshire, mindful of how hard such items are to come by in the Granite State, was the one who swiped it. Indeed, he probably was watching the game with you at your Steeler sports bar last week, and spotted and grabbed your magnet when he went outside to relieve himself.

Balderdash!

Admittedly, for a moment, I considered this possibility. But then I realized that my parents had picked me up that day to go to the sports bar -- which is a Patriots bar, I should note, but devotes a special room to the Steelers games. Ergo, that couldn't have happened. As my Hines Ward magnet went missing sometime between Saturday night and Tuesday afternoon, and there are a lot more Patriots fans than Steelers fans in New Hampshire, it stands to reason that a Pats fan swiped my car magnet. Thus, the idea of a Steelers fan stealing my magnet is -- well, I just can't believe it.

After all, no Steelers fan -- particularly if he was an honest-to-God Yinzer -- would ever deface another Steelers fan's automobile. That is just not done in the Iron City, or anywhere else in the Rust Belt / the Foundry / the Greater Chicago-Pittsburgh Metroplex. Besides, the Steelers fan would undoubtedly have enough Pittsburgh memorabilia -- perhaps even one of those giant, 48-square-foot "You're in Steelers Country" banners -- to make taking the decal pointless. Thus, it is a theory I just can't believe, and I can't believe it because it is impossible.

I can, however, understand why a Patriots fan would take my magnet. After all, we have five Super Bowl victories, while they only have three. Jealousy makes people do strange things sometimes.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Patriots Fans Stole My Hines Ward Car Magnet

YOU KNOW, I was willing to overlook the Patriots' Spygate scandal. I was willing to overlook the fact that the Patriots play in an absurdly easy division. I was willing to overlook the fact Pariots Coach Bill Belichick is an arrogant schmuck who may or may not be a homewrecker. But I have now been pushed too far.

You see, I think the Patriots fans stole my Hines Ward car magnet.

At least, that's the most probable reason why my Hines Ward car magnet -- which rhetorically asked those who viewed it whether they had everyone's favorite wide receiver on their team -- suddenly disappeared from my vehicle's exterior.

After all, consider that this magnet survived a journey through the home turf of the Cleveland Browns, the Detroit Lions, the Chicago Bears, the Indianapolis Colts, the Tennessee Titans, the Atlanta Falcons, the Carolina Panthers, the Washington Redskins, the Philadelphia Eagles, the New York Giants and the New York Jets without going missing. Consider that this magnet has survived several car washes, torrential downpours, and various other natural and man-made phenomena. Consider that this magnet only went missing after the Pittsburgh Steelers have gone 3-0, and consider that I live in the heart of Patriots Nation. So while it is possible that a Patriots fan was not actually responsible for the disappearance of my car magnet, it is certainly not a probable outcome.

Thus, I am disappointed beyond words and outraged that some degenerate would go so far as to remove a decal from another man's automobile. You just don't do that. It's wrong. It's criminal. It's the most anti-social act I've ever seen. Well, OK, it isn't, but you get my point. That decal cost me ... well, OK, a few minutes' pay. But still -- it's not like I can just saunter over to a great Steelers gift shop, like the one they had in Breezewood, Pa., and pick up a new one.

In this file photo, Mr Ward bests the Patriots' secondary yet again.

I just don't understand it. I mean, why would a football fan vandalize another football fan's automobile? What kind of people are these up here? Nothing like this would ever happen back home, where people recognize the values of fair play, good sportsmanship, and that messing with another man's car is a good way to get yourself beaten to a bloody pulp. Of course, I realize the magnet may actually just have fallen off, or fallen prey to some physical force I didn't notice, and if I learn that's the case I will of course apologize to Patriots Nation for this anguished post. But I think somebody just swiped the thing.

As I said, I'm incredibly disappointed. Patriots fans, for all their faults, are generally nice and classy people who aren't jerks. Did not one of my best friends, a Patriots fan to the core, actually send me a Terrible Towel when he was in Pittsburgh? Yes, he did. But it seems that lately I am experiencing the dark side of Patriots fandom and I do not like it one bit.

So I must respond in the only way I know how -- becoming an even more fanatical booster of my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers, while also generally rooting for the Patriots to lose, unless they're playing one of the Steelers' not-Cleveland divisional opponents. Oh, and now I'm looking forward even more to Dec. 9, when the Steelers march into New England to exact revenge for the losses of years past. It shall be glorious.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 24, 2007

The Steel Curtain Returns

SO THE GLORIOUS Pittsburgh Steelers steamrolled to victory over a better, but still hapless, San Francisco 49ers squad yesterday. Ah, the thrill of victory, and the thrill of victory -- it makes a football fan happy. Especially when one's team wins 37-16, and only gives up a meaningless touchdown near the end of the game. Pittsburgh played well: it shut down San Francisco's run offense and held the team to three field goals when the game was in contention. That was particularly impressive considering a Classic Steeler Football Moment -- Roethlisberger fumbling on the second play of the Steelers' opening possession -- early on. But things turned around quickly from there, as Allen Rossum ran back the 49ers' kickoff for a touchdown. (Thanks, Atlanta!)

Oh, and the Bungles lost again. Ha ha!

I have to say, if things continue to go this way, Pittsburgh is assured a division title and a playoff spot. The Ravens, despite being 2-1, already look tired and don't seem nearly as formidable as they were last year. The Browns -- more on them in a bit -- are still the Browns, and the wheels are coming off the Bengals bus. They've now lost two in a row and next week get to play the Patriots at Paul Brown Stadium. God help them! I do not root for the Patriots often but in a divisional match like this, I'm going to cheer on Mad Genius Hobo Coach and his batallion of alarmingly good players. All in all, though, I am confident about Pittsburgh's chances to win the AFC North.

I am also confident about Pittsburgh's playoff chances, although I don't think any of the top three teams in the AFC -- New England, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh -- have really been tested yet. Of the three, only Indianapolis has faced tough competition, from divisional opponents Houston and Tennessee. Pittsburgh has had one quasi-challenging game and two cupcake opponents, and the same could be said for New England. The Pats look scary-good, but it is easy to look scary-good against the Bills and the Jets. Plus, New England's thumping of the San Diego Chargers last week is diminished now that the Chargers have gone from hero to zero in just one season. (Somewhere, Marty Schottenheimer is laughing his ass off). Anyway, we'll see whether the Pats -- and the Steelers -- are all they're cracked up to be as the season goes on. (Especially since the Pats play the Colts and Steelers this season! Football rules).

I watched the Steelers game with my folks, and we stuck around for the Browns game against the Raiders. God, what a heartbreaker that was. The Browns gave up 16 points and then came back to score 17 unanswered points, prompting a duel between the teams that went to the final seconds. The Browns were facing a 40 yard field goal attempt to win the game -- AND IT GOT BLOCKED. Maximum suckage.

It may seem strange for a Steelers fan to root for the Browns. No Browns fan, as they all have issues about Pittsburgh, would ever root for the Steelers. But I like the Browns and will generally root for them unless they're playing the Steelers. They're a hard team to dislike and especially hard to dislike when your own team has beaten them eight times in a row. Also, Art Modell can rot in the fiery bowels of perdition. But it's still worth noting that even after that heartwrenching loss, the Browns are not in last place. Heh heh heh.

I was disappointed to see the Chicago Bears blow their game against the evil Dallas Cowboys. I mean, come on. This was almost as frustrating as watching the evil Baltimore Ravens -- may God damn them -- beat the Arizona Cardinals. Oh, and that reminds me: I am not a fan of Keith Olbermann, but the man was right on when he criticized the Philadelphia Eagles' hideous, miserable, disgusting throwback uniforms. They should have gone with the pale green 1960 uniforms, as Olbermann said, not the awful Depression-era yellow-and-blues.

But ah well. Next week should be a good one and I am looking forward to it!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 23, 2007

Hail. Hail to the Victors.

OH, JOY AND RAPTURE. My Michigan Wolverines DID open Big Ten conference play with a win yesterday afternoon over the Penn State Nittany Lions, and DID step up on defense, and DID prevent Penn State from scoring a touchdown in the Wolverines' 14-9 victory at Michigan Stadium. Truly the football gods are merciful, and truly does Anthony Morelli suck.

As it happened, the game showed conclusively what I had been saying all week -- that Michigan's secret weapon in the game was none other than Morelli, Penn State's wretched quarterback. For Morelli stupidly fumbled the ball at Penn State's own 10 yard line and Michigan recovered, allowing Michigan's backup quarterback to walk the ball into the end zone just two plays later. Despite this and many other amazing displays of incompetence on Morelli's part, Dad actually kept his composure throughout the game and gave the quarterback credit at the end of it all for playing what he described as a pretty good game. Had Morelli not fumbled the ball here -- and had not Penn State fumbled the ball on Michigan's 10 yard line a while later -- the outcome of the game may well have been different. But in the end Michigan won -- the ninth such victory over Penn State in as many games. Oh, joy!

This game also serves as proof that Michigan plays its best football, and will almost always rise to the occasion, when it is given the chance to ruin other teams' seasons. Speaking of, where the hell is "Wofford" and how did it beat Appalachian State? Also, does this mean "Wofford" could beat Michigan in the Big House? And why does it have a yappy little dog as a mascot?

Anyway, it was great to watch the game with my parents too. There was plenty of back-and-forth between me and my father as we teased each other about each school's respective setbacks on the field, but I have to say most of our ire was eventually directed at the awful commentary. I mean, my God. By the end of the first quarter both me and my Dad were kinda like, "Gee, I think I'd prefer having Musburger here." Yeah, it was definitely a footrace to the bottom with ABC's C-team doing the announcing.

I don't know, maybe this is some kind of punishment for starting out the season 0-2 -- we ended up with the scintillating broadcast team of Brad Nessler, Bob Griese and (God help us) Paul Maguire. Oh, swell. About the only smart thing they did during the game was give a plug to the original Cottage Inn. Dad was annoyed with Griese, who in Dad's opinion spends most of his time trying to make himself look smart, and particularly annoyed with Maguire, whose barely-coherent babbling only serves to point out the obvious.

For instance, after one play, Maguire spent a good thirty seconds praising the skills of a Michigan player because -- wait for it -- he shifted the ball from one side to the other during a run. This is, of course, standard operating procedure for any football player on a breakaway, because it protects the ball from opposing players. However, to hear Maguire's rendition of this play, you would have thought the guy successfully turned the corner on a double-reverse, spinned around two Penn State players and jumped over a third, got thirty yards after that, then went over and kissed a cheerleader, and then body surfed around the student section for two minutes.

Plus, there's the fact Maguire -- who was a punter, for Christ's sake -- is the real-life football version of those two old guys on The Muppet Show whose sole purpose was to criticize the show on the field, except he's more ornery because a tarantula crawled up his ass and died back in 1963. Crikey. Can't we get announcers who don't suck? Oh, speaking of announcers who suck, could someone please call ESPN and tell the idiots who called the Syracuse-Louisville game that although the Syracuse-Louisville result was a huge upset, it was NOT an earth-shattering great upset worthy of recognition for all time? (Trust me, as a Michigan fan I know about these).

Anyway. Michigan won, Penn State lost. Sweet! Oh, Georgia beat Alabama (yay), Mississippi came so close to beating Florida (good try), and Ball State was oh! so! close! to beating Nebraska. Oh, how I wish that had actually happened.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 20, 2007

We Must Defeat Penn State

SO I'VE BEEN BUSY this week getting ready for the arrival of Mr and Mrs Kepple from Ohio. Now that that work is done, I can reflect again on the important topics of our time. This week, clearly the most important topic is the Michigan-Penn State football game scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Michigan Stadium (and televised nationally on the ABC television network).

It is clear Michigan must (and God willing shall) defeat the Penn State Nittany Lions. Winning against the nation's No. 10 college football team would be a glorious start to Michigan's Big Ten season, and would energize a team which experienced two soul-crushing losses in the first two games of the season. Besides, Dad has been waiting a long time for Penn State to beat the Maize and Blue, and I'll be mortified if that actually happens.

The last two years, he has been in New Hampshire to watch the game with me, and for the last two years, he has been disappointed. It would be most uncool if I was forced to bear Michigan's loss, because even though I know Dad will be magnanimous in such an event, he will be secretly joyful and privately exult in the Nittany Lions' victory. He may be so joyful that he will let his stoicism slip just slightly, prompting a gleeful shout of "BOOYAH!" sometime in the fourth quarter.

As it happens, Penn State hasn't beaten Michigan SINCE 1996. They've lost their last eight straight games -- the teams didn't meet for a couple of years -- and I have to admit I don't want things to change any time soon. We even beat them in 2005, when Michigan had an abysmal season (we went 7-5, which for Michigan is particularly unacceptable). That we beat them in 2005 gives me hope we'll be able to beat them in 2007.

After all, let's face it -- Michigan has a Secret Weapon. That Secret Weapon is none other than Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli, who sucks. Watching Morelli "play" will undoubtedly be a highlight for me, because Morelli's suckitude drives Dad into fits of apoplectic frustration. Furthermore, I can take heart knowing that no matter how bad Morelli plays, nothing short of a major injury will cause Joe Paterno to yank him from the game and put in Daryll Clark.

Plus, Penn State's opponents have been uniformily craptacular so far: Florida International, Notre Dame and Buffalo. Craptacular might actually be kind, considering FIU is probably the worst football team in all of Division I-A, Notre Dame hasn't managed to score an offensive touchdown, and Buffalo -- well, my God. It's Buffalo. This is a team whose fans rushed the field when they beat the TEMPLE OWLS a while back. Michigan's opponents have been better, although we did play Notre Dame as well. We beat the Flailing Irish 38-0, while PSU won 31-10. This alone suggests Michigan may have an advantage.

To be sure, Penn State has some advantages over Michigan. I remain convinced that JoePa, who is as wily and cranky as ever, will figure out how to outcoach and outfox Lloyd Carr, Michigan's exasperating head coach. And don't get me started on Michigan's hideous offensive playcalling. Let's face it -- Penn State can win the game if they just prepare for the run up the middle on first and second downs. I don't care if it's Mike Hart doing the running, either; an effective running game needs an effective passing game and vice versa. Plus, their defense will undoubtedly prove better than our own unit, which would have trouble defending against a junior high squad.

Still, I can only hope that Michigan's desperation NOT to be 1-3 following this game, and to salvage something of their season, will prove a stronger intangible than Penn State's desire to finally win one against Michigan. Speaking of Michigan, Lou Holtz called us "an arrogant bunch" tonight during halftime of the A&M-Miami game. I think he is just jealous.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 16, 2007

Change. I Fear Change.

FOR A FOOTBALL FAN, these past few weeks have been absolutely crazy. To be perfectly blunt, it's a strange and exciting new world out there and I'm not sure if I like it.

The shot heard 'round the world, of course, was Michigan's loss to Appalachian State, the biggest upset in all of collegiate football history. But that was just the start of all this craziness. I mean, Utah beat No. 11 UCLA. What the hell was that all about? Auburn not only lost to South Florida, they lost to Mississippi State (yay!). Arkansas lost to Alabama (boo!). Kentucky knocked off Louisville, Tennessee has been having its head stomped on, and Notre Dame -- THEY'RE RANKED EIGHTIETH. I mean, I'm sorry, but when Notre Dame is ranked two spots below Bowling Green, something crazy is going on. What, I don't know, but if I start hearing trumpets blast I'm not going to be entirely surprised.

And that's just college football. Pro football is even stranger. I mean, for the love of God -- the Detroit Lions are 2-0. No, that's not a typo. They're 2-0. They're playing the Eagles next week in Philadelphia, which is as good a reason as any to hope the Lions go 3-0. Of course, if they do go 3-0, it will represent football prowess not seen in Detroit since Axel Foley was wearing a Lions jacket. But not only are the Lions 2-0, so are the Green Bay Packers, who haven't had a decent team in years. Oh, and the Houston Texans -- who have always, always, always sucked -- are 2-0. Meanwhile, formerly good teams -- like the Kansas City Chiefs and the New Orleans Saints -- are doing absolutely horrible.

Oh, and the New England Patriots are playing like they're the '78 Steelers. Goddammit.

On the bright side, though, the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers are atop the AFC North division, as they should be. So I can deal with this whole "crazy change" stuff as long as Pittsburgh makes it to the playoffs. Also, please let the Patriots lose in the first round or something.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Patriots Stole Signals WHY?

I MEAN, MY GOD. It's not even halftime and the New England Patriots are up 24-0 over the San Diego Chargers, who were formerly a good team but have apparently suffered from a lack of Smartyball lately. Boy. I mean, the Patriots are stomping them into the ground like they're ... Oakland or something.

So why exactly were the Patriots cheating again? Gad.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Michigan-Notre Dame Recap

DIDN'T GET TO SEE the Michigan-Notre Dame game on Saturday? Well, here's a great recap -- and just two minutes, 16 seconds long. Enjoy!

(video by Jeremy Bronson/ via M Go Blog)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Pittsburgh Marches on to Victory

AH, THE JOYS OF SUNDAY. The glorious Pittsburgh Steelers have marched on to yet another victory, humbling the wretched Buffalo Bills, 26-3, in a game that can charitably be described as a rout. While the Steelers got off to a somewhat slow start -- scoring four field goals in the first half, but no touchdowns -- the passing game got going in the second half and Pittsburgh cruised to victory. I also enjoyed watching Buffalo's Lee Evans get not one, but two, unsportsmanlike conduct penalties two plays in a row. The first was for spiking the ball after managing to get a first down. The second was for, and I quote, "for getting in the official's face" when Mr Evans thought a pass-interference call should have been assessed against the Steelers, but was not forthcoming. Nice moves, idiot.

So that was nice. Like last week, I watched the game at Billy's Sports Bar and Grill in the special Steelers Room. The Buffalo fans present talked a good game but at the end slunk out of the bar, dejected and morose. I was QUITE pleased, however, to see the Cleveland Browns knock off the felonious Cincinnati Bengals, 51-45. What -- a -- game. It went down to the final minute, and Cincinnati looked like it might manage to pull off a victory until Cleveland cornerback Lee Bodden made a fabulous interception with just 21 seconds to go. Game, set, match.

I got the chance to watch the Cleveland-Cincinnati game as well, and it was a fabulous game from the get-go. When the Pittsburgh game ended up, the remaining Steelers fans all started rooting for the Browns -- along with Hapless Browns Fan Rick, who was downright ecstatic that his team managed to win. He was not having an easy time of it, especially at the end, when Cleveland fullback, on the Browns' last time, Lawrence Vickers dropped a short pass while wide open. That could have sealed the game, but Mr Vickers started running with the ball before he had it, so to speak. Oops.

Still, a hearty congratulations to the Browns for their victory over the hated Bengals. The best part, of course, is that there's plenty of good football still to come!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 15, 2007

Touchdown Jesus Wept

SOME TIME DURING the third quarter, as the Michigan Wolverines continued to roll on over the Flailing Irish of Notre Dame, I received a call from my good friend Matt. Matt informed me that he was also watching the game, and said he expected me to write a long post extolling the virtues of Michigan's football program.

Well, it was good to see the men get back on track, although I don't think we can rest on our laurels anytime soon. Yes, we beat Notre Dame, and normally, this glorious triumph would be cause for great celebration. Was not the first Michigan football game I ever watched at that fine institution a last-second victory over Notre Dame, as our kicker's field goal try flew through the uprights under the placid gaze of Touchdown Jesus? Did we, the students, not run up and down the hall screaming and carrying Michigan's standard, and did we not sing "Hail to the Victors" with gusto? Aye, we did. We did indeed.

But our celebrations today must be tempered, for we are now 1-2 and won our sole victory against an opponent ranked No. 58. We ourselves were only ranked No. 49 prior to the win. As such, there is a long way to go before we can truly celebrate. We must throw down Penn State next week, and Michigan State thereafter, and Ohio State last of all. Only then can we celebrate our glorious victories as is our right.

Still, we looked good today. A 38-0 shutout IS a 38-0 shutout and there is something to be said for that. I like Ryan Mallett, this new freshman quarterback of ours. I like him a lot. I thought our defense's effort this time was much improved. Oh, and Mike Hart -- my God. Wow.

Of course, again -- all these wonderful accomplishments were carried out against Notre Dame's walking undead, whose performance was so wretched and miserable that Loy Norrix High School's football team could have beaten them today. What the hell happened to Notre Dame? Sure, the shine had worn off over the past few years, but they truly looked awful out there. Awful.

In other football news, I was greatly pleased to see Southern Mississippi defeat the Auburn Tigers today. There are few things more enjoyable than watching Auburn and its insufferable coach lose. And how about Utah -- Utah, for God's sake -- beating UCLA? I also have to give mad props to the University of Central Florida for nearly beating Texas, and good on The Citadel for giving Wisconsin hell. Now let's hope Nebraska can knock off USC!

UPDATE: Auburn fan Simon From Jersey informs me that Mississippi State University defeated Auburn, not Southern Mississippi. This is apparently worse. However, The Rant regrets the error.

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September 14, 2007

The Shine's Come Off the Halo

ALEA JACTA EST. We learn tonight that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has fined New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick $500,000, fined the Pats $250,000, and penalized them with the loss of either their first-round draft pick or their second- and third-round draft picks in 2008, depending on whether they make the playoffs or not.

Well, that seems fair enough, I guess. Half a million dollars is still half a million dollars, even if the coach makes far more than that in any given year, and losing a first-round draft pick -- because the Pats will make the playoffs this year, barring a Steelers-esque meltdown -- is quite a punishment. It is not as severe as the punishment my good friend Chris Weinkopf, a Patriots fan to his core, suggested: that the Pats be forced to forfeit their game against the Jets. That, Mr Weinkopf said, would surely deter teams from taking part in this type of foolishness.

Speaking of Mr Weinkopf, he sent me a nice note this evening complaining about my Hines Ward post. Mr Weinkopf, referring to the 2001 AFC Championship Game about which Mr Ward had aired his suspicions, wrote:

Surely a sideline cameraman had nothing to do with the Steelers' letting Troy Brown return a punt for a TD in that game. Or letting a field goal get blocked and returned for another TD. Or letting DREW FREAKING BLEDSOE torch them for yet another TD when Brady went down with an injury.

LOOO-ZER.

This is all well and good, Chris, but who am I to argue with the genius and sophistication of Mr Ward? For that matter, who are YOU to argue with the genius and sophistication of Mr Ward? Clearly, as an expert on the game of football, Mr Ward's comments are clearly correct and just.

Still, I think the real damage to the Patriots is that which has been done to their squeaky-clean reputation. As I discussed with Chris over the past couple of nights, they had such a strong image that their organization's ruthlessness was routinely overlooked, but that certainly won't be the case now. Plus, lots of people outside New England liked the Patriots because they were a good team that seemed to play above board -- there was no showboating, its players didn't get in trouble, and what have you. Those fans may well find other teams now.

However, as Chris and I discussed, there is one way the Pats can put this mini-scandal to rest pretty quickly, and that's through beating the San Diego Chargers to a pulp on Sunday night. This may be easier than it sounds -- San Diego's offense looked wretched against the Chicago Bears last week. Still, I think a defeat against a good Chargers squad would shut a lot of people up, particularly if the victory was a commanding one. On the other hand, if the Patriots lose, this tempest-in-a-teapot may continue for some time to come.

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September 13, 2007

Hines Ward: "Oh, They Knew"

WELL, IT WOULD NOW appear the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers have joined in the pile-up against the New England Patriots, which The Rant submits as further proof the Pats are cheating scoundrels and generally up to no good. Hines Ward, everyone's favorite wide receiver, said the Patriots somehow managed to know the Steelers' calls in the 2001 AFC Championship Game. Well, that would explain a lot, wouldn't it?

Meanwhile, the Steelers' coaching staff say Pats coach Bill Belichick has been doing this for years, even when he was coaching in Cleveland (not that it helped). While Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn't come right out and say the Pats were cheating, he wasn't exactly surprised, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

"You hear rumors of things of that nature. It's nothing new. In terms of confirming it, it's never been confirmed in any instance to my knowledge. But usually where there is smoke, there's fire. Those rumors are founded on something. So it's not totally shocking, no."

Also, for those Pats fans wondering whether the Steelers have a few jokers to hide, it should be noted we have been caught breaking league rules twice and each time lost a third-round draft pick. The first time, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, was back in 1978, when we, uh, accidentally practiced with shoulder pads during a mini-camp. The second time was in 2001, when we got punished for a salary cap violation -- a minor oversight, one could say. In both cases the offenses and punishments were notably minor, and certainly not cheating, like the Patriots have apparently been cheating.

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Behold the Pats Fans, For They Are Not Happy

BEING SPORTING, THE RANT would like to note two particularly well-written essays from fans of the New England Patriots about the present scandal surrounding their team. Suffice it to say these die-hard Patriots fans aren't exactly happy with their team's alleged skullduggery.

First, I would note this excerpt from a long essay from Chris Weinkopf, my dear friend and Patriots fan. Mr Weinkopf writes:

Still, cheating is cheating, and now all of Patriot Nation is disgraced and disgusted.

Patriots Coach Bill Belichick -- a disagreeable genius who puts winning above all else -- has always been a master of finding new ways to get an advantage over other teams. In this case, I suspect, he thought some legalistic parsing of the words would make his offense amount to something less than a violation of the rules. But by all indications, that explanation isn't going to fly with NFL brass.

At last, Belichick's arrogance seems to have caught up with him. What he did wasn't just unethical; it was idiotic. The team he got busted for spying on was the New York Jets -- coached by his own former assistant, Eric Mangini, and boasting a video staff that included two former Patriots videographers. They knew what Belichick was up to because they were in on the gig when they worked for him. Trying the ploy against them was a recipe for disaster. But as they say, sin makes you stupid.

Which leaves us Pats fans ... where? Say it ain't so, Bill. How can we keep on rooting for you?

Mr Weinkopf goes on to look at the overall problems facing the NFL in general, and the essay is good reading for any football fan.

Secondly, I would note a more impassioned post from Patriots fan Basegirl, who is REALLY not happy with the Patriots for screwing things up. She writes, in part:

In addition, do you realize what this is doing to your fan base? We're very upset. You've put us in the unenviable position of having to defend the team's indefensible actions to freakin' Steelers and Colts fans (I've still never met an actual Colts fan), and Chargers players since The Danian obviously has something to say about this. WE WERE PERFECTLY HAPPY KNOWING THAT WE WERE WINNING BECAUSE WE WERE BETTER THAN EVERYONE ELSE. And I'm not saying that we're not. I still think we are, BUT I DON'T APPRECIATE THE ABUSE I'M GOING TO HAVE TO TAKE HERE. Do you understand?

As a Pittsburgh Steelers fan myself, I gladly admit that -- well, look, I'm loving this. I am hoping against hope it stretches out for weeks on end and distracts the Patriots from winning, and the team doesn't make the playoffs. After all, if the Pats do make the playoffs, there's a chance -- however remote -- they could open an industrial-sized can of whoopass on the Steelers and dash our hopes for a sixth Super Bowl victory.

Still, I must admit these two posts are fine examples of the class and decorum one generally expects from Patriots fans. Of course, many Patriots fans are convinced the rest of the league is out to get them and thus will refuse to acknowledge their team did anything wrong. But just because we are all out to get them doesn't take away from the gravity and wrongness of the sin in question. This is something these two writers realize, and it is to their credit and their team's credit that they do so.

And it must really stink to get crap from Colts fans. Ugh. The Colts. With their ONE* Super Bowl victory. God, the indignity of it all. I feel your pain, Pats fans. Really, I do.

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* Super Bowl V doesn't count. That was the Baltimore Colts, which in The Rant's view was a different franchise, no matter how much one wants to parse it. They left that Super Bowl victory behind when they scuttled out of Baltimore in the dead of night.

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September 11, 2007

Patriot Games

SO TODAY I received a nice note from my good friend Chris Weinkopf in which he protested against The Rant's continued lack of comments, which prevented Mr Weinkopf (and undoubtedly other) New England Patriots fans from responding to the charges their team was being naughty. As a gentleman and sporting individual, I wish to make clear that I will gladly post responses from Patriots fans who wish to defend their squad. Just e-mail me and sound off.

That said, do note that just for the record, making fun of the Michigan Wolverines' woes -- although undoubtedly fun and enjoyable -- will not get you off the hook. After all, as a Wolverines fan, I am not off the hook for their ineptitude and must grin and bear the slings and arrows that come my way.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 10, 2007

Report: New England Patriots Dirty Cheating Scoundrels

WELL! IT LOOKS LIKE the New England Patriots may have been adding nitro to the tank!

According to no less a source than the Boston Herald, the Patriots have been accused of stealing signals during their game on Sunday with the New York Jets. But here's the thing -- it apparently wasn't a one-time deal. The Herald also reports the Green Bay Packers AND the Detroit Lions caught them doing the same thing last year.

I am shocked and appalled at these reports. Not because the Patriots were allegedly stealing signals, of course: that's the type of sneaky, underhanded move that one would expect from the team. But as one commenter on the Herald's Web site has already said: why would they steal signals from the Jets, the Packers and the Lions? I mean, my God. That's just embarrassing. It's not like they were stealing signals from teams who they would have trouble beating.

According to the Herald report, the Pats could lose a draft pick if the league's competition committee decides to sanction them for the infraction. But many questions remain unanswered. Here's a list of questions and thoughts I have about the matter:

* Does this mean we have to stop making fun of Mike Holmgren for always shielding his mouth with the playchart? Because he's looking really smart right now.

* Does this mean we can stop listening to broadcasters praising Bill Belichick as if he's some kind of mad genius? I mean, if this report is true, then one can argue Mad Genius Hobo Coach and his staff have had some help along the way, just like one of those old lifelike chess-playing machines that actually had some chess master hidden inside making the moves.

* I have to admit, I always thought the Oakland Raiders would have gotten caught first at doing something like this. For their part, Raiders fans are probably wondering why Al Davis hasn't ordered this set-up for every game at McAfee Coliseum.

* The Steelers play the Patriots in Foxboro on Dec. 9. Does this mean Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will incorporate plenty of weird gadget plays into the mix? Even if the Pats did steal our signals, they'd still have a hell of a time defending against a crazy double-reverse bomb to the post.

* This should prove a nice black eye for the Patriots as they go through the season, and should result in even more opprobrium and disgust directed their way from the rest of the league. I can dig it.

* A memo to Chris Weinkopf: Ha! Ha! HAHAHAHAHA!

* Can the league pass some sort of special dispensation allowing the Cleveland Browns to steal their opponents' play calls and signals? They clearly need some sort of extra boost, and a boost more powerful than they can get from Brady Quinn. Their opponents could call the plays, a Cleveland front-office guy could then signal over to the Browns' sideline using semaphore flags, and the Browns could react accordingly. I mean, that way, at least they'd have a fighting chance.

Anyway, I'm sure we'll figure out in the end just what exactly happened. In the meantime, though, I think Patriots fans should be ashamed and humiliated at the very idea their team would do such a thing. I mean, the Steelers would never ever do something like this, because Mr Rooney would not have approved. And even if the Steelers HAVE, at least they're not dumb enough to get caught!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 09, 2007

Thank God For Sundays

WELL, FINALLY SOMETHING'S gone right for me this football season: the Pittsburgh Steelers, the greatest football team in the history of sport, pretty much crushed the Cleveland Browns at Browns Stadium today, 34-7. As one might expect, I was thrilled to see a team I support actually win. I was also thrilled to see Ben Roethlisberger throw four touchdown passes, and thrilled to see the offense perform adequately well and the defense perform quite well. Six sacks. Five turnovers forced. We're back!

But here's perhaps the most important news for Steelers fans, at least in the Manchester, N.H. area and surrounding environs: Billy's Sports Bar & Grill, a Patriots bar at 34 Tarrytown Road in Manchester, has apparently set aside their small back room for fans of the Black & Gold.

So not only did I get to watch the game, I got to watch it with a small band of Steeler faithful. Maximum coolness. We also watched the game with one unfortunate Browns fan, a Youngstown native (oy) who really stayed with it until the Steelers made it 24-0, at which point he kind of collapsed into a stunned silence. We all felt sorry for the guy: not only was he outnumbered twenty to one, he was forced to grin and bear it as the Steelers fans cheered and screamed. Really, when you got right down to it, we all kind of felt sorry for the Brownies.

Generally speaking, the rest of the games didn't go as I had hoped, but the Steelers victory made it all OK. The New England Patriots crushed the Jets, the Miami Dolphins lost to the Washington Redskins due to an overtime field goal, and the Buffalo Bills lost a heartbreaker to the Denver Broncos. I mean, New England's going to be tough enough in the AFC East without the other teams making it easy for them. We had a few Buffalo fans in the Steelers room, and they were in tough shape. I was pleased to see Tennessee knock off Jacksonville, though. That was nice.

Of course, Pittsburgh plays Buffalo next week, so we'll be back in the thick of it for next week's game. One of the Bills faithful had the audacity to trash-talk the Steelers, although I didn't mind this gauche and unjustified boasting. After all, as I pointed out, our backup quarterback, Charlie Batch, is a better QB than J.P. Losman, the Bills' ineffective starting QB, so even IF Ben Roethlisberger had suffered an ankle injury in the Cleveland game, we would be fine.

Also, I was stunned that a few of the Patriots faithful -- watching the Pats-Jets game in the main room -- were rather pleased when New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington was hurt in the game. Obviously, this was just a few of the dozens of Patriots faithful present, but still. If there's one thing you expect from Patriots fans, it's that they're a classy bunch. True, this befits their generally effete, aristocratic, fair-weather fandom and their secret first love for baseball, but there's no denying you would rather watch football with a Pats fan than fans of most teams in the league -- especially if they're Cowboys or Raiders fans, who are scoundrels and deserve nothing but scorn and derision.

Of course, football's not over this weekend! I am hoping against hope the New York Giants will defeat the Dallas Cowboys tonight, for although I don't like either team the Giants are less annoying than the Cowboys. And then there are tomorrow night's matches. I think the Arizona Cardinals will prove tough against the San Francisco 49ers -- we shall see -- and as for Baltimore and Cincinnati ...

Uh, I don't know what to think of this game. I mean, I hate Baltimore. But I hate Cincinnati too. Do I want Baltimore to win because it means the Bungles will fall to 0-1 right away, and thus lose out on a potential tie-breaker? Or do I want the Bungles to win because Baltimore doesn't need any extra wins? I'm very torn here. But I have a feeling that no matter who loses, I'll be able to find the cloud behind the silver lining.

UPDATE: Oh! Forgot to mention another good thing about Pats fans -- they hate Peyton Manning almost as much as Steelers fans do. So that makes most of them OK in my book.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 08, 2007

It's the End of the World As I Know It, and I'm Not Fine

They tried to make me go retire, but I said no, no, no.

-- Lloyd Carr
(with apologies to Amy Winehouse)

GIVEN MICHIGAN's 39-7 loss today to the University of Oregon Ducks (!), I thought long and hard about what to title this post. "Just Shoot Me" seemed like a good fit, except for the tiny possibility some well-intentioned reader might carry it out. "What a Kick in the Teeth" and "It's Like I Got Hit in the Head with a Crowbar" also seemed to fit, although at the rate things are going I'll need to save those for future weeks. So I'm sticking with the one I've got.

For let's face it. This is the end of the college football world as I know it; as we all know it. The University of Michigan Wolverines, America's most storied and glorious college football team, are playing like a bunch of rank amateurs. Not only did Michigan lose to a pesky I-AA team, we lost to Oregon. Oregon, a mediocre team at best in a mediocre conference. Now everyone is talking about the Pac-10 -- the Pac-10! -- as some kind of emerging football powerhouse. I mean, holy Mary.

This loss today wasn't just a loss; it represents a real problem at Michigan. We've now lost four games straight, something that hasn't happened since 1967. We've lost two back-to-back home games to start the season, something that hasn't happened since 1959. Oregon racked up 624 yards against Michigan's formerly vaunted defense. 624 yards! And it gets worse -- here's a run-down of just how bad it was. Or you could just read Mitch Albom's column, and his stinging quip: "I hate to put it this way, but there were Lions games that were less embarrassing than this."

Oh, the pain. Oh, the agony.

The long and short of this is that some serious ass-kicking needs to go on at Michigan, and NOW. Someone needs to point out to Lloyd Carr, our idiot coach, that everyone has figured out he's going to run the ball up the middle on first down. Someone needs to point out to the folks farther down the line that our secondary sucks and our defense has more holes than Swiss cheese. Someone needs to get on the horn to Bill Martin, our soft and weak athletic director, and tell him to start putting pressure on our coaching staff to get the bloody job done. And if they don't get the job done, they need to start getting cashiered.

And a lot of people need to get on the phone to our ineffectual president, Mary Sue Coleman, and tell her that unless things change, the money's going to start disappearing. We all know that only money talks with these folks, and they won't do anything unless their precious cash starts drying up. Thus, I would call upon all alumni who actually give money to the University of Michigan to start calling, e-mailing, sending smoke signals -- anything -- and make your displeasure known.

I would, but I don't give any money to the University because I'm cheap. So as a result my broadsides against my alma mater are necessarily limited in their effectiveness. Still, all Michigan alumni everywhere must start beating the drum and demanding that things change, before the entire season is irrevocably lost and lasting damage to Michigan's football program sets in.

Also the students should take over the Administration building. Go ahead, it's fun!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 05, 2007

Woooooooo! We're No. 32! We're No. 32!

IF YOU'RE A FOOTBALL FAN like me, you generally find the major college football rankings out there -- the AP poll and the USA Today coaches poll -- a bit lackluster. For one thing, they only rank the top 25 teams, which isn't very helpful in a division of 120 squads. For another, these polls can sometimes be a bit weird, ranking some teams higher than they ought -- ahem -- and others correspondingly lower.

However, there are sites out there that offer a more comprehensive look at college football rankings. One is Kenneth Massey's Massey Ratings site, which crunches the numbers from more than 30 polls and rankings. In doing so, it offers a good look at all 120 I-A* teams. This week's figures show the University of Michigan's football squad, which had been ranked No. 5 in the major polls, now checks in at ... No. 32.

I hate to say it, but given how Michigan performed last week, I think that's a bit generous.

Still, hope springs eternal and the Wolverines can get a boost to their season this weekend through knocking off the scrappy Oregon Ducks, now No. 28 on the list. Provided we beat No. 52 ranked Notre Dame in the following week, we should be physically and mentally prepared at that point to face the highly-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions, whom you KNOW are just waiting to pound Michigan into the dirt. We have ruined too many of their seasons in the past few years and they would love to kick us when we're down.

Also, it's worth noting Michigan State is ranked No. 57 on this list. They too are going to gun for us but this suggests they shouldn't get their hopes up. Yet.

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* Also, what lame-o at the NCAA decided they were going to rename the I-A and I-AA designations with the monikers "Football Bowl Subdivision" and "Football Championship Subdivision?" It just doesn't work. So I'm sticking with I-A and I-AA, because -- wait for it -- those actually make sense.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 03, 2007

Of Course, Things Could Always Be Worse

DESPITE MICHIGAN'S LOSS on Saturday to Appalachian State University, it should be noted there were no reports of rioting, unruly behavior, mob actions or other general rowdiness following the game. In fact, of the 13 people arrested at the game -- out of 109,218 fans who were there -- 12 were arrested for underage consumption of alcohol.

This good behavior is in stark contrast to how things are at a Certain Other Institution a bit south and east of Ann Arbor. The latest proof of Michigan's civilized superiority over its arch-rivals in Columbus, Ohio, comes straight from the mouth of ... Ohio State's most recent president! The Columbus Dispatch has the shocking story of how former Ohio State president Karen Holbrook described game-day behavior at the school:

Holbrook said in the interview for the president's post at Florida Gulf Coast University that, when she arrived at OSU in 2002, she found Buckeye fans who were looking for any excuse to riot. It was "a culture of rioting," she said.

The videotaped interview was provided to The Dispatch by the Fort Myers, Fla., school.

"When you win a game, you riot. When you lose a game, you riot. When spring comes, you riot. [...]" Holbrook said on the tape. "They think it's fun to flip cars, to really have absolute drunken orgies. … I don't want to be at a place that has this kind of culture as a norm." ...

During the videotaped interview, she said she didn't witness bad game-day behavior at OSU, because on game days she would "go to a lovely brunch with a wonderful group of people, and walk over to the stadium and sit in the box."

But she had been told by another university official that if she ventured out into the neighborhood, she would be appalled. So she said she asked university officials to film students' behavior on the day of the Ohio State-Michigan game in 2002.

The film, she said, showed that by 8 a.m. there were people dead drunk "doing disgusting things, unbelievable things."

The film culminated in that year's late-night riot, in which cars and sofas burned, police lobbed tear gas and OSU fans threatened departing Michigan fans.

"Seven thousand people flipped nine cars, burned them, kicked in windows of things," Holbrook said on the videotape.

Now, the newspaper reports that Holbrook has "softened" her remarks now that they've been made public, but I think it's clear she was speaking her mind when she was in that interview. It just goes to show that even though Michigan is down right now, we will always be better than the barbarians in Columbus. Always. And to any Ohio State alumni who may be reading this right now, I have one thing to say to you:

Space, you uncivilized scoundrels! Space!

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Report: Michigan Law Students Plan Suit Against ASU

Breach-of-Contract Suit Charges "ASU Agreed
to Lose by at Least Two Touchdowns"

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Plaintiffs: "We Didn't Pay Them $400,000 To Win"
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ASU: Suit "Without Merit," "Pathetic."

By FLIP ARGENTI
The Sporting Rant

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A group of students from the University of Michigan's Law School have announced plans to file a breach-of-contract suit against Appalachian State University, charging the school knew full well it was "supposed to lose by at least two touchdowns."

The news was the latest development following Michigan's humiliating loss to the ASU Mountaineers on Saturday, which saw the storied program fall to the Carolina upstarts, 34-32. The students, reportedly infuriated at learning Michigan had paid $400,000 to the school for its appearance, spent hours examining the contract between the two institutions and said they had found "clear evidence of negligence, breach of contract, and tortious interference with Michigan's business."

"Simply put, we didn't pay these guys $400,000 to come here and win," said Kellow Stragler, a second-year law student at Michigan. "Why, in Section 16, Subsection 4, Paragraph II, Item VI of the contract between Michigan and ASU, it states clearly that the visitors will 'endeavor to play the best football they can during the first half of the Game, while ensuring at the end of the Game they will have lost by at least fourteen (14) points.' Obviously, ASU breached that item of the contract and so we are suing for damages."

Stragler said the suit, which would be filed in Washtenaw County Trial Court later this week, would request compensatory damages of $400,000, punitive damages of $1.2 million and "any other relief the court deems just and proper, including the shaving of ASU Chancellor Kenneth Peacock's head."

Legal experts said the case, although seemingly meritless, might actually have a good chance to succeed.

"Ever since The Citadel beat Arkansas in a stunning upset some years ago, clever schools like Michigan have routinely included such riders in their contracts when scheduling early-season games," said Pace University law professor Steven Poullaire. "True, these riders are often buried deep within the contracts, and the details kept secret from the players and football staff. But it's still very strange that ASU didn't take some form of action to keep its bargain, such as suggesting ASU coach Jerry Moore 'take a break' in the fourth quarter, or 'accidentally' only have eight men on the field during a key play."

Appalachian State University officials, not having seen the lawsuit, declined to comment. However, an unnamed school official said the lawsuit "would be completely without merit."

"Hey, you saw that second half," the official said. "It's not our fault Michigan was so incompetent that it couldn't take advantage of the many opportunities we gave them to right the ship."

The students' suit against ASU isn't the only legal action that may arise from Michigan's loss. Michigan Fans Against Losing, an alumni group, reportedly plans to file a $1 billion lawsuit against the university, citing factors ranging from economic damages to severe emotional distress, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium. That suit is expected to mirror a 2000 lawsuit aggrieved Ohio State University fans filed against that school, which resulted in the firing of embattled coach John Cooper and the distribution of a sweater vest to every Buckeye fan.

In other news, a poll from The Michigan Daily found that 75 percent of respondents wanted head coach Lloyd Carr fired for the debacle, compared to 20 percent who were against firing Carr. The remaning five percent responded to the poll with the "What's football?" answer, but observers agreed these five percent were milksop Easterners whose beliefs were unworthy of further consideration.

"What's football?!" said clearly exasperated U-M senior Ernest Burnham, of Traverse City. "Goddamned nouveau riche Easterners, with their foofy pseudo-sports and wretched prep school educations. I guess they were too busy watching the U.S. Open or something."

"Oh, I say, Willingham, why don't we have some tea and cucumber sandwiches before jaunting off to the lacrosse match? It'll be capital good fun!" said Burnham, affecting a faux English accent. "I mean, what the hell is wrong with these people? Christ."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 02, 2007

Football Loss Sends Michigan Into Existential Crisis

Diag Preacher Gains Record Audience
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Interest in Islamic Fundamentalism "Up 600 pc"
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"This is Bullshit," Say Students Exploring Zen Meditation Techniques

By FLIP ARGENTI
The Sporting Rant

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The University of Michigan's stunning football loss Saturday to the Appalachian State Mountaineers has sent the school's Ann Arbor campus into a full-blown existential crisis. Students are struggling to reconcile the loss with the tenets of secular humanism, ruthless ambition and naked greed that have long been cherished traditions at the elite academic institution.

Meanwhile, fallout from the Maize and Blue's loss continued to spread throughout the greater Ann Arbor area, as the Arborland Mall was the scene of a pitched battle Saturday evening between students from the school and nearby Eastern Michigan University. Police said a group of EMU students, upon encountering a group of Michigan students, started pointing and laughing in their direction while heckling them about the loss. Enraged, the U-M students charged the group in a flying wedge formation, resulting in a brawl of "quasi-epic proportions." Eight people were hurt.

"I haven't seen it this bad ever," said Frank Muldoon, a U-M graduate student and chief blogger at "Arbor Day," a local blog devoted to U-M and Ann Arbor issues. "Oh, sure, there was Rocket Left back in 1994, during my freshman year. Boy, did that stink. Then, there was Clockgate back in 2004, and Michigan's loss to Nebraska in the 2005 Alamo Bowl. But nothing even compares to the rancor I've seen since we lost to Appalachian State."

"My God. Appalachian State," Muldoon said. "There are no words."

But on Sunday afternoon, Diag preacher Ted Wormsley found himself ministering to several hundred forlorn U-M students at the campus landmark. Wormsley, like many of his itinerant colleagues a fiery and unyielding preacher, has been responsible for sending thousands of students further into the arms of Michigan's secular culture each year. While confident his rewards await him in heaven, Wormsley's earthly rewards have generally consisted of scorn and abuse heaped on him from passing students. But that was not the case today.

"Friends, I KNOW how you feel now," Wormsley said to an audience of several hundred enraptured students. "You are lost, adrift, hopeless; wondering why the God of your fathers has foresaken you in your time of need. You just want to turn to the sky and scream, why, God, why? Why? Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?!"

"Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?!" Wormsley added.

"But I must tell you this. God has HIDDEN His face from you today as DIVINE PUNISHMENT for your wrongdoing! Verily, I say to you, victory can be achieved next week, and the week after that, and all through the season if ONLY you forsake the evils of drink and marihuana and the other perils of modern life -- like fornication! Oh, and disco dancing is right out too. And you may not order from Pizza House LATER than 2 a.m., for God-FEARING people are asleep by then," Wormsley said.

Wormsley's sermon, which lasted roughly 90 minutes and touched on matters ranging from the dangers of heavy metal music to the creeping influence of Freemasonry, was met -- for perhaps the first time in Michigan history -- with murmured assent and scattered applause.

"Gee, if Brother Ted says I have to give up my pirated cable television connection -- with all the unscrambled adult channels -- AND my late night runs for chapatis to guarantee victory for the team, I guess I'll have to do it," said U-M junior Floyd Marvinson. "I mean, we can't lose to Penn State this year, and we'll never hear the end of it if we lose to Michigan State."

"If it means we win a bowl game this year, I'll commit to a chaste lifestyle," said U-M senior Pete Poindextrus. "Somehow. I mean, that's like six months of ... but I'll do it. I have to do it. God forgive me should I lapse!"

But students aren't just embracing Christian fundamentalism. Interest in what campus officials call "hardline, extremist Islamic views" has skyrocketed since Michigan's loss.

"Really, what it comes down to is this. Given our loss to Appalachian State, what will cause fans of other teams to react the way they should when they encounter Michigan fans? A shout of Go Blue! or a shout of Ya'llah, infidels! My team wishes yours dead!" said a sullen and angry Chadrick Horace, a U-M sophomore. "The way things are going, it sure looks like the second to me, so I'm considering a switch."

"By the way, did you like that? I got it from a computer game," said Horace, who during his time at Michigan has only worshipped Milwaukee's Best beer and Scarlett Johansson. "Also, I'm working on my sullen, hostile stare for when those wretched idolaters from Ohio State come up in November. With God's aid, we shall defeat them and their cursed anthropomorphic mascot!"

Those on campus also say some other belief systems have suffered a corresponding drop in interest since Michigan's loss. For instance, a philosophy professor who tried to rally his students' spirits over the weekend was pelted with books and lambasted with angry chants.

"Yeah, I remember what he said. He was going on about how Nietzsche said, 'That which does not kill us makes us stronger,' and then everybody just snapped," said U-M junior Karen St. Waldo. "I mean, what the hell? Do you feel any stronger? I certainly don't. This sucks. This sucks beyond belief."

A disturbance was also reported at a meeting of a student group devoted to Zen Buddhist meditation techniques. Attendees said that U-M junior Zack Belding stood up as the group was deep in thought, and shouted, "This is bullshit!" Belding, citing the stress of the loss to Appalachian State, then proclaimed he was "through with this peace and love crap" and "going out for a goddamn porterhouse."

"He was going on and on about the football game and how just sitting there only made it worse," recalled U-M graduate student Zephyr Nieldegard. "He destroyed the harmony of the entire group in seconds. It was horrible. Then he kicked open the door and stomped out, shouting about how he was going to -- ugh -- eat meat."

"I really don't know what Michelle sees in him anyway," Nieldegard added.

Campus officials say they are aware of the situation and are taking steps to address it. An additional twenty public safety officers have been deputized to the University's police force, where they will engage in student-pacification activities such as ticketing students' bicycles, ticketing students' cars, and ticketing students for petty offenses such as chalking sidewalks, loitering and possessing patchouli.

"Yes, I realize this may seem a bit counter-intuitive," said Inspector Clyde Argyle of the University's Department of Public Safety. "However, you have to understand that a lot of this is about students being angry. All we have to do is direct that anger against a monolithic force the students can do nothing about, and that would be us and our devotion to making sure the parking laws and petty ordinances of the campus are enforced at all times. Soon, they'll again be up in arms about our ever-present parking officers and they'll forget all about this."

"This all comes from the top, too," Argyle said. "I mean, I think we can all agree it would be a disaster if the students actually got together and worked on a clever plan to force the University to actually fire Lloyd Carr and Bill Martin, his miserable satrap of a boss. That's why we're following that old maxim -- God is with the patient, if they but know how to wait."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 01, 2007

Putting the Game into Perspective

HOW BAD WAS MICHIGAN'S loss to Appalachian State today? Well, I believe this comparison will make it clear even to readers who aren't die-hard football fans.

MICHIGAN'S ADVERTISING:

APPALACHIAN STATE'S ADVERTISING:

I mean, CRIMINY.

It is worth noting what one YouTube commenter said about the Michigan ad: "Michigan could be behind by a million at half time and it still wouldn't matter. What can an opposing school do, advertising wise, against this? Space, bitches!"

Unfortunately, though, it does matter when Michigan is behind when the final whistle blows. Still, as a loyal and proud Michigan alumnus, I must admit I think along those lines whenever I see this ad. Space, bitches!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Some More Worcestershire Sauce With My Crow, Please

TWO DAYS AGO, I wrote the following in my post about the opening week of the college football season:

With a few exceptions, I always root for the underdog in these early games of the season, just because I think it would be fabulous if one of them actually managed to knock off a school that in all likelihood paid the underdog hundreds of thousands of dollars to appear. That goes double if the favorite is a ranked team, because that will mean one less competitor to challenge the University of Michigan for the national title.

Thus, it was only natural that out of all the easy, gimme, tune-up chump games that were scheduled for the opening week, MY TEAM WOULD LOSE. Furthermore, not only did my beloved, fifth-ranked Michigan Wolverines lose, they lost to Appalachian State University, 34-32.

I do believe Mike Heather, a 65-year-old Michigan fan from Grand Rapids, summed up Michigan fans' sentiments pretty well. He told the Ann Arbor News:

"How the (expletive) does (expletive) Appalachian State dominate us like that?" he said. "I can't believe it. Other than the first minute or two, they were so much better than us. There's no (expletive) way we should lose that game."

Appalachian State! Mother of God! Could there be anything more humiliating than losing to Appalachian State? Apparently not, because they're calling this the biggest upset in Michigan football history, if not in the entire history of college football. And that's saying something. I mean, Americans have been playing college football since 1875. It is such an amazing upset that it prompted the Sunday Morning Quarterback blog to write, "This shakes the foundation of my comprehension of the world to such a vastly greater extent than any upset, sighting, conspiracy theory, apparition, miracle or act of nature I could possibly cite. This is frogs raining from heaven. This is physically impossible."

This is not to take away from Appalachian State's victory, which they fought for every inch of the way, even in the second half when it was clear their defense was exhausted and their offense began to stumble. It was a hell of an accomplishment for them. Yes, they may have been I-AA champions, but it is one thing to beat the likes of the University of Massachusetts and another to play in front of 110,000 screaming fans at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., and beat Michigan, the winningest team in all of college football history. The disparity between I-A and I-AA schools is so great -- in terms of money and facilities and all that -- that Appalachian State's victory is even more impressive.

But even as the good people of Boone, N.C., celebrate their victory, Michigan fans are adrift. Michael Brooks, a Michigan fan and blogger in Toledo, sums up how most are feeling when he writes, "I think I am going to vomit." For one Michigan fan -- that would be me -- it is time to eat a good-sized helping of crow.

Please, pass the worcestershire sauce.

The enormity of this loss forces me to admit that Michigan, at least this year, may not be as good a team as I thought it would be. Furthermore, it seems almost certain that another football team will win this year's national championship, as it will now prove almost impossible for Michigan to recoup its highly-ranked status, even if it runs the table through the rest of the season. Even worse, it would appear the LSU Tigers, the USC Trojans, the Florida Gators, and several other teams are without question better than we are. And in the Big Ten, several games one might have considered likely Michigan wins (Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin) now look a heck of a lot tougher than one might hope.

So I am humbled. We are all humbled. The season has already become a "rebuilding year," just one week into the twelve-week-long session. But for all those non-Michigan fans reveling in the Evil Empire's defeat -- that would be pretty much everyone else in the nation, I believe -- I would caution you: we will strike back. We always do. And now, we're really angry.

Which leads us to the next question: how should Michigan react to this defeat? After all, as with most evil empires, failure is most certainly not an option at Michigan. Thus, someone should be severely punished for this. Somebody must pay. Maybe even somebodies.

It seems clear, based on fan reaction to this humiliation, that Coach Lloyd Carr must be at the top of the list. Today's failure shows the man is as clumsy as he is stupid, and he has failed us for the last time. He must be disciplined appropriately. If Michigan's leadership had any guts, they would cashier this idiot tonight and make Ron English -- our glorious savior-in-waiting -- head coach. Sadly, our soft and weak overlords will almost certainly keep Carr around through the end of the season. As a result, they will also almost certainly keep around the new special teams coach, who isn't apparently very special considering Michigan suffered not one, but TWO blocked field goals during the game.

But oh well. Michigan can still have a meaningful season despite this blow. We play some of our best football when we're dashing the hopes and dreams of our rivals, and we're pretty good at that. Plus, there's still the NFL season and the CFL season on which I can focus. So not all is lost. And again, for those who are cheering our loss now, remember: we will be back. And we're really angry.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 30, 2007

Let the Stomping Begin

OK, SO IT'S HALFTIME and the No. 10 University of Louisville Cardinals are beating the hapless Murray State Racers 63-10. Yes, that's right. Louisville has managed to rack up nine touchdowns in the first half. You've got to love the first week of college football.

With a few exceptions, I always root for the underdog in these early games of the season, just because I think it would be fabulous if one of them actually managed to knock off a school that in all likelihood paid the underdog hundreds of thousands of dollars to appear. That goes double if the favorite is a ranked team, because that will mean one less competitor to challenge the University of Michigan for the national title. And although I detest the SEC and would almost never root for any of its teams (except Vanderbilt), I enjoyed it last year when the No. 23 Tennessee Volunteers crushed the No. 9 California Bears in the season opener. Especially because Lee Corso had picked the Bears as the year's putative national champions.

Oops.

There will be no such knock-outs tonight. I have been rooting for the Mississippi State ... uh ... Bulldogs to defeat the evil LSU Tigers in a first-week SEC game, but that looks very unlikely at this point, because the Bulldogs' quarterback sucks. Amazingly, here in the opening minutes of the third quarter, LSU is only up 17-0, even though the Bulldogs QB threw FOUR interceptions in the first half and LSU spent practically the entire game in the Bulldogs' territory. Oops -- now it's 24-0. Shit.

Still, while this may seem like a stomping -- and in a way, it is -- it really isn't, because LSU should have scored about 50 points in the first half, and the Bulldogs' defense played really well, all things considered. In short, this isn't the type of play one would expect from the nation's No. 2 ranked team. I can only chalk it up to the fact that the SEC sucks, and LSU particularly sucks, and I hope they lose to ... uhhh ... crikey, look at this powder puff schedule these guys have. It's not nearly as pathetic as Wisconsin, but still. Anyway, I hope they lose to Florida, because even though I hate Florida, it could shut up LSU boosters for as long as 48 hours.

Now let's look at the other scores. Third quarter: Louisville 70, Murray State 10. Oooooh. C'mon, Murray State! No. 16 Rutgers ... oh, wait, I like Rutgers, so never mind. Cincinnati 59, SE Missouri State 3. Yeeeouch. No. 24 Boise State 42, Weber State 0. Boy, it's not even half-time in that one. Where the hell is Weber State, anyway? What's that? It's in Ogden, Utah? Well, that's explains why -- oh, here's their Web site. Uh oh. It looks tragically hip and with it -- that can't be a good sign.

Anyway, like I said, no knockouts tonight. But hope springs eternal. So this weekend, you'll find me rooting for the Washington State Cougars and the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the East Carolina Pirates and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and the Youngstown State ... uh, Penguins? The Penguins? Are you kidding me?

Boy. Oh, and look, the Bulldogs QB threw ANOTHER interception. And now it's 31-0. Will someone please stick a fork in this guy?

UPDATE: I mean, TJ on the Sonic commercials is throwing better than this guy. Jumbo popcorn chicken, everybody!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 26, 2007

The ($143 Million) Man

MICHAEL VICK COULD lose as much as $143 million over the next several years thanks to his involvement in dog-fighting, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. That includes $71 million in salary over the next seven years, roughly $50 million in endorsement money and $22 million in bonus money the Falcons had paid him since the start of his latest contract. Summed up, that's $143 million. $143 million.

It's amazing to think Mr Vick, through his admitted involvement with a dogfighting operation, threw all that money away. It's even more amazing to think he didn't consider that would happen if he was eventually caught, or had advisors who would tell him, "Say, Mike. You know, this might -- I don't know -- COMPLETELY RUIN YOUR CAREER if it ever got out." But that is all water under the bridge and Mr Vick now faces a prison term.

We won't know the answer to the major question I have for some time, but what I want to know is how Mr Vick will end up after he loses the $22 million the Falcons are going to claw back from him.

Unless he went completely overboard with his spending, it seems certain he would have the money to pay back the Falcons. It would be difficult even for a person with expensive tastes to spend more than $1 million or $2 million per year, and he has undoubtedly sunk at least some of his pay into good tangible assets, like his home. One can also imagine (hope?) he had some pretty good money managers, as the NFL has made a point over the years of educating its players about financial discipline. Plus, some estimates have put his total earnings thus far at $60 million, so unless he really emulated MC Hammer, he's got the cash.

Still, $22 million is a lot of money no matter how you look at it, and I have to think that loss will have at least some impact on Mr Vick's lifestyle. For losing it would mean Mr Vick would also lose out on the considerable annual income that money could conceivably generate. Even if we assume Mr Vick has $15 million or so left after the Falcons claw back his bonuses, he'll probably have to ratchet down his spending in the years to come, because he will never ever make the money he had been making again. (If Mr Vick has any future football career left, it seems likely that will involve him being up in Calgary playing for the Stampedas).

Again, amazing to think he threw it all away, and for nothing.

However, I do think all those Falcons fans out there crying in their beers should cheer up, as from a team perspective this might be the best thing that's happened in a while to Atlanta.

Like most non-Falcons fans out there, I consider Mr Vick a mediocre quarterback whose passing is unremarkable and who was remarkably overpaid for the benefits he brought to the team. (Simply put, we don't understand why Atlanta considered him the best thing since sliced bread). Let's recall the Falcons have only had one decent season since Vick joined the team -- that would be 2004, when they went 11-5 -- and his overhyped style has not helped the Falcons escape subpar performances in 2003, 2005 and 2006. This year, to be perfectly blunt, would have been no different. Even if the Falcons had somehow made it to the Super Bowl with Vick in charge, they would have been blown out by the better AFC team.

But now that the Falcons are freed from having to pay the man his exorbinant salary, they can focus on building their squad and eventually hire a good quarterback for a reasonable sum, as opposed to the oxygen-sucking package that Mr Vick received. The long and short is that every cloud has a silver lining, and the Falcons would be remiss if they didn't take the opportunity Mr Vick's forced departure has given them.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 24, 2007

Football Season: You Know I Love It

AH, FOOTBALL SEASON. A time when families gather together; a time when new dreams are born and old rivalries are renewed; a time when drunken fans allegedly commit cringe-inducing felonies of the highest order against their enemies, and fans from other conferences look on and say, "Whoa! Whoa whoa whoa! That shit's just WRONG."

This year's first Drunken Football Fan Award may well go to Allen Michael Beckett, 53, of Oklahoma City, provided a jury of his peers finds him guilty of, uh, "sacking" a University of Texas fan who made the mistake of wearing Texas gear into an Oklahoma City bar. Fanblogs.com has the scoop:

This year's Texas - OU rivalry is off to a bloody start, thanks in part to Oklahoma Sooners football fan Allen Michael Beckett, 53, of Oklahoma City.

Beckett is charged with aggravated assault and battery for causing "extensive damage to another man's scrotum".

It all started when Beckett began harrassing Texas Longhorns fan Brian Thomas for wearing a UT shirt into Henry Hudson's Pub.

The post then quotes The Oklahoman newspaper, which reports:

Thomas said Beckett, whom he had never met, called him "everything under the sun" for wearing a Longhorns T-shirt into the bar.

He said he and his friend sat at a table in the corner and tried to ignore the other man, but other man -- who apparently is a University of Oklahoma fan -- kept screaming at him.

Thomas said he decided he'd had enough after about 20 minutes of Beckett's abuse so he went to the bar to pay his tab. When he turned around, he said Beckett grabbed his crotch and refused to let go.

Thomas hit the other man several times before several bar patrons intervened, but Thomas said Beckett didn't let go until Thomas heard his scrotum tear and blood ran down his leg.

GOD! GOD GOD GOD! That gives me the shivers just thinking about it! Even worse, it took SIXTY stitches to sow up Mr Thomas, an ordeal I can only imagine was about as bad as the initial injury. Then again, I can't imagine it. My brain won't let me go there.

Amazingly, according to The Oklahoman, Mr Beckett faces up to just five years in prison if convicted of the charge against him. You would think in a God-fearing state like Oklahoma, the penalty would be something more fitting, like death. I mean, you don't DO that to another man. I don't care if he walked into the bar wearing Texas colors -- that's just uncivilized. You don't mess around with the meat-and-two-veg, if you know what I'm saying.

Now, this is not to say there might not be times when a "bit of fun" might be allowable on General Principle Grounds. For instance, if some lunkhead Michigan State fan walked into a Michigan bar and started cheering like a dumbass just because his crappy team managed to score a touchdown, it would be perfectly permissible for a Michigan fan to take the Spartan's Zima and dump it over the Spartan's ill-bred, ill-mannered, 80-IQ, backward-cap-wearing frat boy douchebag head. Along those lines, if a group of Ohio State fans wandered into a Michigan bar and started insulting the Maize and Blue fans within, it would be perfectly permissible for the waitstaff to spit on their nachos and give their order to the surliest, angriest cook in the back. (Ohio State fans are notoriously lousy tippers and never ever recognize good service).

But even if Michigan went 6-6 in a year, and lost to Michigan State AND Ohio State, it would never be permissible for a Michigan fan to assault them. In part, that's because Michigan fans rule and as such have no need to engage in such unsporting behavior. We will eventually have our revenge, because we always do. That's why so many fans from other teams fear and loathe us. We are Michigan. We are the winningest team in college football history. We have the largest stadium in the United States. We have 42 conference championships. Plus, if we do lose, our extensive alumni network will fan out around the country and make life miserable for graduates of the institutions that somehow manage to defeat us. ("It says here you're a USC graduate, Mr Smith -- I'm sorry, we haven't any positions open right now. Oh, and no, you can't have a loan.")

Other fans of Big Ten schools -- even Michigan State -- would also not stoop to such wretched levels. Even though their teams are not Michigan, and as such not as cool as we are, they are members of the Big Ten and the Big Ten doesn't condone that shit. We are not, after all, the SEC. Nor are we the Big Twelve, the conference of which Texas and Oklahoma are a part. (And just what the hell is wrong with Oklahoma, anyway? My God).

And I daresay Mr Beckett's alleged action would make even the barbarians in Florida give pause for a moment. It's one thing to try and kill opposing players with your helmets in an on-field brawl, but another entirely to go after some fan's manhood.

I trust the justice system will move swiftly and try Mr Beckett in all due course, and if he is convicted, I am sure it will mete out a proper punishment, even if it is not death. For what Mr Beckett did not apparently think about, prior to the incidents in question, was that his actions would tarnish the honor of the University of Oklahoma, its football team, and its fans. I mean, my God. EVERYONE was going to root for Oklahoma against the goddamned Longhorns. EVERYONE. But now? Who wants to root for a team whose fans would ... God! The horror! The horror!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 10, 2007

I'm Biting My Lip Right Now, Really I Am

THE RANT WOULD LIKE to extend its sincere condolences -- *snicker* *guffaw* -- to football fans in southwestern Ohio, after the Cincinnati Bengals SOMEHOW BLEW A 16-POINT LEAD and managed to lose to THE DETROIT LIONS in the teams' pre-season opener. While football fans here in New Hampshire were treated to the boring national telecast between the Dallas Cowboys and the Indianapolis Colts, there was apparently a hell of a good game going on in Detroit that practically no one got to see.

I had kept half an eye on the Lions game this evening via my computer, as a sort of salve against having to watch the broadcasters fawn over Peyton Manning. When the Bengals made it 26-10, I stopped keeping an eye on it and started blogging, because the Dallas-Indy game blew chunks. I figured I'd check back in to see if the Lions had made any progress, and found to my astonishment the score had somehow become 27-26. Not only did the Lions block a punt, they managed to recover an onside kick and those tipped the balance in Detroit's favor, as the team went on to score 17 points in the fourth quarter.

So, first things first -- I must congratulate my good friend Simon From Jersey, a devoted Lions fan who also probably didn't get to see the game but still must be pleased about it. However, I would offer my sincere sympathy to all the Bengals fans who settled in to watch their team play this past evening. Even though it was a meaningless pre-season game it had to have been tough to watch the Bungles' second- and third-stringers bungle things once again. Also, one of your running backs got hurt and that certainly won't help things, particularly since he's not in trouble with the law.

So, I'm sorry, Bengals fans. Sorry, Rev. Uncle Dave. It must be hard knowing the game could well be an omen of things to come this season. But that's just the way things go sometimes, I guess.

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August 08, 2007

Report: Expected Johnson League Fines "Could Fall Dramatically"

By FLIP ARGENTI
The Sporting Rant

NEW YORK -- The National Football League confirmed yesterday it was considering layoffs of "non-essential office staff" after an internal report suggested fine income from Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson "could drop precipitously this year."

The expected drop comes as the Bengals face vastly-improved opponents within the AFC North Division as well as outside it. NFL researchers believe the Bengals could fare as badly as 4-12 this year as their offensive production stalls against tough defenses, particularly in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Less offensive production means fewer touchdowns for Mr Johnson -- and that's a key metric analysts use to predict the fine income the NFL will reap from the flamboyant wideout. Mr Johnson is believed to pay 75 to 80 percent of his salary in fines to the league office.

"While there is no indication Johnson will be any less effective a player this year, the troubles facing an alarming portion of the Bengals squad on and off the field make it probable Johnson will score fewer touchdowns, and as a result, engage in far less of the zany antics that have proven such a revenue-generator for the head office," wrote Steve Lashinski, a revenue analyst with the NFL's accounting department. "Any significant fall in these revenues will force the NFL to consider a reduction-in-force, perhaps as soon as October."

"As such, managers should start considering which personnel could be downsized in the event of a layoff. I've already focused on Billy Weston, the lowly-paid intern who screwed up my lunch order and got me tuna fish instead of pastrami. He has failed me for the last time," Mr Lashinski wrote.

While a natural solution would be to markedly increase the fines assessed against Mr Johnson -- for instance, a $250,000 fine for mocking a cornerback following a touchdown -- league officials believe that won't fly, as the NFLPA would complain of disparate treatment. As a result, league officials are considering creating new fines that could be meted out against any and all players or other staff. These include:

* A FINE for coaches having a "constant look of amazement and befuddlement on their faces," particularly when "faced with circumstances everyone else figured out five minutes ago."

POTENTIAL REVENUE: $100,000 per season from Tom Coughlin alone.

* A FINE for players "vainly attempting to swing a penalty call in their favor, or otherwise crowding the officials."

POTENTIAL REVENUE: $50 million.

* A FINE for players "who engage in unsportsmanlike actions in response to good plays, even though their team is behind by three touchdowns."

POTENTIAL REVENUE: $3 million ($2.95 million from Florida State alums).

*A FINE for players who try, "despite all reason and common sense," to imitate the Ickey Shuffle after touchdowns.

POTENTIAL REVENUE: $2.1 million.

League officials also considered handing out fines against broadcasters for using hackneyed, tired catch-phrases, a manuever they believed could raise millions of dollars per year, particularly if Brent Musburger returned to calling pro games. But they decided against this after realizing it could damage the value of the league's television rights.

The NFL will continue exploring the issue as the pre-season goes on, but are quite cognizant the clock is ticking. While they search for a solution, the league is already warning staff to prepare for the worst.

"Save us, Ocho Cinco!" wailed file clerk Ted Casper as he filed papers in the windowless basement of the NFL's New York office. "They said if I could make it here, I could make it anywhere -- but I'm stuck living with three roommates in a one-bedroom, three-story walkup in Queens! If I lose this job, I'll -- I'll have to go back to Des Moines! I can't take Des Moines!"

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 06, 2007

You're in Steelers Country, Baby! Steelers Country!

"Shoot, I don't care if it's pre-season -- Raiders are 4-and-0, baby!"

-- The Raiders guy

THE TROUBLE WITH the NFL pre-season is that it's not a reflection of how teams will perform in the regular season. For the starters, after all, it's a glorified warm-up. The reason to watch the pre-season is because you get to see farther down in the roster; how the guys who may be called upon to play will perform, and whether any of them will perform well enough to get elevated to a squad's first or second strings. So one ought always take a team's pre-season performance with a container of salt. (After all, look at the Raiders this past year).

That said, holy cow did the Pittsburgh Steelers look good in the Hall of Fame Game. Crikey. The Steelers managed to rack up more than 300 yards in the first half on their way to a 17-0 lead at halftime, while holding the New Orleans Saints to about one-fifth of that total. On the Saints' six first-half possessions, they punted the ball six times. Drew Brees went one-for-six and got all of six yards. But it wasn't just our defense that played great, so did our offense. Ben Roethlisberger played one series, and marched the ball down the field like he was playing against a high school team.

Perhaps the most impressive offensive performance came from running back Carey Davis, No. 38. Davis had a stellar run for more than 50 yards during the game and did some fabulous work throughout. If he keeps that up he'll get the No. 3 running back spot for sure and I think could challenge Najeh Davenport for the No. 2 spot. He looked THAT good. Davis is an Illinois alum and has played on practice squads throughout his short NFL career. For that matter, Davenport looked great too -- on one run, he powered through about six Saints players to pick up five post-contact yards, all through sheer will.

Also looking good: our starting cornerbacks, which was a bit of a shock. Defense, as I said, looked great although in the second half there was some weakness among players one assumes are still trying to make the team. Our new offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, did well. Lastly, I was quite pleased with Mike Tomlin -- not just his coaching, but his attitude. Anyone who responds to a question about the pressures of the head coach job with a remark that real pressure involves providing for one's family, is OK in my book.

Final score: Pittsburgh 20, New Orleans 7.

Oh, a couple of other things. Bryant Gumbel is already annoying the hell out of me. This evening, I was quite gratified to see Gumbel, after pontificating about how Pittsburgh kick returner Willie Reid clearly fumbled the ball, had the referees again shoot down the claim upon a New Orleans challenge. If Mr Gumbel must blather on, he could at least look at the footage objectively and make comments to that effect ("Well, it looks like the ball came out, but we'll see what the referees say.") rather than spouting off like a dummy. For those of you who don't get NFL Network, consider that not having to watch Mr Gumbel as the play-by-play guy is a silver lining on an admittedly really big cloud.

Also, the Steelers apparently got a mascot this year. My response to this news can be summed up as follows: WTF?

We're the Steelers. We don't have mascots. We don't even have cheerleaders.* That's yet another reason why the Steelers rule. Other teams can have stupid mascots (*cough* Pat Patriot *cough*) and cheerleading squads -- we do not. We focus on blue-collar, smash-mouth, grind it out football. However, if we must have a mascot, I do hope he ends up with a good name. Like "Rebar."

Yeah. Rebar the Steeler, who uses his Steel Bar of Justice to Fight for First Downs, a Decent Union Pension, and the American Way. Also he must be Generalissimo of Franco's Italian Army and stomp on an effigy of Peyton Manning.

----------------

* What's that? The Steelers were the first pro football team to have cheerleaders? Yeah, during the Sixties, and look where that got us. I like cheerleaders but not at the expense of our tough-as-nails image.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 04, 2007

Thrown for Such a Loss

THE MANCHESTER WOLVES' season was not supposed to end this way. An experienced playoff team that outplayed and outfoxed and outgunned its rivals through the waning weeks of the season was not supposed to lose to a relatively untested squad that it outplayed and outfoxed throughout Friday night's game. But the unthinkable happened and Manchester fell to the Central Valley Coyotes, of Fresno, Calif., in a heartbreaker of a game that was lost as time ran out.

Perhaps the hardest part about the loss was that Manchester beat themselves. In the aggregate, Manchester outplayed its opponents from Fresno. The team pulled off key defensive stops in the second half, the offense generally played well and so did the special teams. But Manchester, despite generally leading the game by one to two touchdowns throughout, just couldn't put the game away when it needed to do so. That gave Fresno the opening to come back and win with a last-second field goal that flew straight and true and beat the Wolves 42-41.

It is hard to determine where the blame, if any, should be laid. Our quarterback, Mark Radlinski, threw two crucial interceptions as we were within striking distance of Fresno's goal line -- and one of them was a true lulu, an amazingly horrible pass right into the waiting arms of a defender. But there was also a fumble and a missed extra point and an on-side kick that we should have recovered but didn't. Wherever the blame lies, it is hard to be too upset about it, because I know the team even now is beating itself up over its loss more than any of its fans can ever do. Plus, it's a local team filled with hard-working guys who make a nominal wage and play for the love of the game, and that salves a lot. That alone makes it easy to forgive.

It can be tough to forgive when your team blows it, and when the stakes are high I fully admit I do not easily forgive when things go down in flames. I will never, for instance, forgive former Pittsburgh Steelers Kordell Stewart or Tommy Maddox for their failures over the years. That's not to say I think they are bad people, of course, and when I speak of not forgiving it is not a personal thing. Rather, it is more in line with military discipline, where failure is not an option and the punishment is being relieved of command (or worse).

I have no doubt Messrs Stewart and Maddox are wonderful and God-fearing people, but in both cases I felt they had forfeited their rights to wear the Steelers uniform long before they eventually left the team. Coach Lloyd Carr, of the University of Michigan, is a similar case; his continued failure to win crucial bowl games, and his recent failures to beat the Ohio State Buckeyes, cannot be easily washed away. His only saving grace is the national championship Michigan won in 1997. It's one thing when you're making $250 a game but when you're making seven or even eight figures a season, the bars are necessarily far higher.

On the other hand, though, continued success must be commensurately rewarded. Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward and Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu and Bill Cowher will always be in my good book football-wise for their accomplishments as Steelers. I don't care if Roethlisberger leads the Steelers to a 2-14 season this year; for two years, he gave me hope and in one year he gave me a Super Bowl victory. At Michigan, old-school quarterback Tom Brady and cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive coordinator Ron English will similarly always be in my good book football-wise.

And the Wolves have consistently been a good football team. Their games have always been enjoyable and everyone in the organization works hard and they generally do what they set out to do. As a fan, I owe them a debt of thanks for making my normally soul-crushing summers filled with a bit of joy. So even though I'm feeling rather disappointed right now, I certainly can't call for the type of changes I would be demanding if Pittsburgh or Michigan had dropped the ball.

Still, it does hurt. On a scale of 1 to 10, where "1" indicates the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders lost a close game and I note this fact wth disapproval but feel no emotional loss, and where "10" indicates the Pittsburgh Steelers losing the Super Bowl in a horrible, soul-crushing finish that saps the very life out of me, this ranks about a 6. I'm going to be down about this all tonight and all day tomorrow and much of Sunday -- right until about 8 p.m. or so, when I focus on the Steelers playing in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, and the NFL pre-season kicks off. For then I will have to put these feelings aside, stand up and root, root, root for my team.

Because there is always next year. And when it arrives, you can't focus on the past. You've got to stand up, wipe off the grit and focus on the present and the future. That goes for teams and fans alike. So on Sunday I will have my Terrible Towel at the ready and cheer on my Steelers and when next April rolls around, I'll be back and cheering for the Manchester Wolves.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:06 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 31, 2007

Report: Brady Quinn Suffering from Delusions of Grandeur

WRITING IN SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, columnist Peter King tackles a subject near and dear to the hearts of Cleveland Browns fans everywhere: namely, what the hell is wrong with Brady Quinn?

Mr King makes the reasonable case that Quinn's decision to hold out for better terms on a contract is not going to help him in the long run, and that everyone from die-hard Browns fans to club personnel are wondering why the devil Quinn hasn't figured this out. As if that wasn't bad enough, the rookie quarterback apparently believes he is God's gift to Cleveland football, even though with each passing day fewer and fewer people in northeastern Ohio hold that view.

Mr King writes:

But the Quinn story is a little bit different because, after he was drafted 22nd overall by Cleveland, it was widely assumed his experienced agent, Tom Condon, would want the Notre Dame quarterback to get paid far better than the slot for the No. 22 pick. There's some logic there because Quinn performed better his last two years at Notre Dame than a guy who you'd normally see get taken in the 20s. But the slot is the slot. And the Browns are not paying him like the No. 11 pick just because they had him graded far better than No. 22.

It isn't just the front office that's frustrated with Quinn. Players are usually business-will-be-business guys, but I got a sense a few of his teammates think Quinn is out of mind for not being in camp. And he shouldn't expect a welcome mat whenever he arrives. After one minicamp practice in the spring, veteran nose tackle Ted Washington, whose role, in part, is to put rookies in their place, yelled at Quinn for being such an attention magnet. "Remember, you ain't done nothing yet," Washington hollered. Spirit of the team stuff, yes. But pointed and with meaning.

I'm told the Browns and Condon are extremely close on the dollar amount in the contract, with only structure and early guaranteed money now standing in the way. It's at times like this when an intelligent player such as Quinn needs to make a call to his agent and say: "Whatever we're arguing about right now in terms of structure isn't worth it. I need to be in camp and I need to be in camp yesterday."

Compounding the problem is that Quinn did an autograph show in Cleveland earlier this summer and charged $75 per autographed photo. Talk about rubbing the locals the wrong way. That, combined with this ill-advised holdout, led one Browns insider to tell me the team wouldn't be surprised when Quinn finally reported to training camp, there would probably be a segment of fans on hand that would boo him. It's absolutely amazing that Quinn, who could have run for mayor in May, now would be lucky to get elected dog-catcher.

It is The Rant's professional opinion that Quinn is a coddled and mediocre quarterback, whose collegiate performance was not indicative of any great talent but rather the efficacy of the Notre Dame squad on which he played. It is also The Rant's opinion that Quinn, who got his ass beaten like a steel drum when he faced better collegiate squads at Michigan, USC and LSU, is this year's Ryan Leaf Waiting to Happen.

This is not to condemn the Browns for choosing Quinn in the first round of the NFL draft. Not at all. The Browns were extraordinarily clever, in my mind, to trade draft slots to the Dallas Cowboys for the chance to pick up Quinn. They had already done great picking Joe Thomas, the offensive lineman, in the first round and so to pick up Quinn later in that round was an inspired choice.

However, it seems strange the Quinn camp doesn't recognize just how far the Browns went out on a limb for their man. After all, had the Browns not drafted Quinn in the first round, it seems perfectly conceivable to think the Great White Hype could well have fallen into the second round of the draft, in which his earnings potential would be impacted even more than it already has been. Yet Quinn's agent apparently believes his client deserves to get paid like one of the draft's top choices. This is unrealistic at best and insanity at worst.

The reason Quinn went at No. 22 was because a lot of NFL teams took a look at Quinn and reasonably decided he wasn't all that special. It also seems doubtful the Browns thought Quinn would be a panacea for their woes -- after all, they already had two somewhat decent quarterbacks in the persons of Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson. As such, Cleveland's choice of Quinn was nothing more than a value proposition, a chance to get a potentially good quarterback on the cheap. If it paid off, great; if not, Quinn was trade bait. For, as Mr King noted in his column, Quinn hasn't done anything yet.

I had not heard the story that Quinn had charged $75 for autographed photos while in Cleveland. However, knowing the northeast Ohio area as I do, I can imagine people looked upon this as a special sort of perfidy, a shameless and wretched act committed solely for personal gain and without consideration of the fans' feelings. It undoubtedly came off as a move reminiscent of Art Modell, whose popularity in northeastern Ohio is a few steps below that of syphilis. In hindsight, it may not have been the best decision for Quinn.

As for this holdout business, if not ended soon, it will also prove not to have been the best decision for Quinn. The boy and his entourage apparently believe Cleveland needs them more than they need Cleveland, but I think that opinion is based on a grave misreading of both the Browns organization and, perhaps more importantly, the Browns' fans. After all, this is a team that has suffered for years and the idea that Cleveland's downtrodden fans will warm to Quinn like a campfire in the Yukon doesn't carry a lot of water. Cleveland's fans are going to want results, results and more results before they open their arms up to the brat, and if they don't get them they'll have no qualms about running him out of town on a rail.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 28, 2007

I Must Admit ...

ONE OF THE BIG REASONS I'm looking forward to this year's football season is because we'll have an all-new, updated, 2007 version of this classic commercial:

And from 2005 ...

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:04 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Eight Days to Go ...

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Now Here's a Scary Thought

SO MY BROTHER sent me a nice note recently about my new football-related top banner. He liked it, he said, except he really thought I should make one improvement:

JESSE: Dude, I like the new banner, but I have to say… I think you should incorporate Marty into it!

I offered up a pleasant but reasoned response to this suggestion:

ME: If I decide to have a banner in which all the people I DON'T LIKE in football are on there, I'll certainly consider it :-D.

Soon afterwards, I got a response. I reacted as one might expect:

JESSE: Say, something like this, perhaps?

ME: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

I should, however, note that Jesse's banner would have been perfect if he had only included Jerry Jones in place of Art Rooney. Mr Rooney would have wanted it that way, because Mr Rooney would not have wanted anything to do with players like Messrs Owens and Manning.

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July 24, 2007

Believe!

ONE OF THE SAD THINGS about the Michael Vick indictment, as many have noted, is that it robs Atlanta Falcons fans of a great joy this year -- the hope and anticipation and excitement that goes along with the start of training camp and the pre-season.

Just a month ago, Falcons fans could look to this year's season and hope for the best. Now, they're facing the real possibility of having Joey Harrington as their starting quarterback. Consequently, they're also facing a season that, at best, will result in a Green Bay Packers-like performance and, at worst, an Oakland Raiders-like disaster.

Not only that, but the Falcons fans must gird themselves for weeks, if not months, of mockery. Why, even the baseball players are laughing at the Falcons. Look at the small-time California team giving away free tickets in return for Vick memorabilia, which it will then burn. One could argue that baseball, with its doping scandals, vastly-overpaid stars and teams still suffering from the 1994 strike, has no business telling football about anything. But that is how things stand and for the Falcons this year's outlook seems decidedly bleak.

The good news, though, is that there are 31 other teams in professional football, and all of them -- even Detroit -- can hope against hope that this year will be the year. Obviously, there are teams that have a better shot than others. The New England Patriots -- for reasons I can't fully understand -- are currently far and away the favorite to win Super Bowl XLII. Still, the Pittsburgh Steelers will field a strong team. The Indianapolis Colts will do so as well. That said, one also can't rule out Baltimore, San Diego, Denver, Kansas City, Tennessee, and the New York Jets. Hell, even fans of the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills have cause for hope. And in the second-tier NFC, fans of Chicago and New Orleans and Seattle have a great shot at seeing their teams make it to the big dance.

But even the lesser teams can hope against hope now. For instance, the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns will have recuperated from the devastating injuries that plagued their squads last year; the Washington Redskins can hope for redemption; the Dallas Cowboys can hope the Romo-Owens combination will really catch fire. Why, I bet fans of the Oakland Raiders are even dreaming of a season where they win six games.

It is a powerful thing, hope. For a football fan, hope is what gets you through the tough times, through the interminable losses, through the valleys that never seem to end. Hope is what keeps you coming back week after week. Hope is what keeps you putting on the hats and jerseys every Sunday. Hope is what keeps you watching in the fourth quarter when all seems lost but there's still a tiny chance of victory.

For it is not winning but losing that truly defines the football fan -- the inevitable losses to more powerful teams, the inexplicable losses to lesser teams, the post-season dreams dashed on a frozen December night. Losing -- and the pain and suffering and gnashing of teeth that goes along with it -- is a constant. It is the natural state of things. It pierces the heart and wounds the soul deeper than any icy wind. And for 31 of 32 teams this year, it will arrive again. It may arrive during the first frost in November or a storm in the bleak mid-winter, but it will arrive.

It will not, however, arrive for many more weeks. Now, the fields bask in the glow of the sun. Now, there is hope -- hope that this year will be the year. Whatever team you support* -- whether it's the Steelers or the Patriots or even the Falcons -- savor this time. Relish it. And believe!

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* Well, unless you're a Philadelphia Eagles fan. In that case, God help you. Except He won't, because He has clearly cursed your wretched city like He cursed Egypt of old. That's what you get for booing Santa Claus.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 23, 2007

An Ode to Joey Harrington

THIS EVENING, IT WAS ANNOUNCED that Michael Vick, the embattled Atlanta Falcons quarterback, has been ordered to stay away from the Falcons' training camp until the NFL has reviewed his situation. As this may well prove the first in a long series of unfortunate developments for Mr Vick, The Rant would like to salute the poor sap who will likely find himself in Mr Vick's place this season -- Joey Harrington, the hapless former starter for the Detroit Lions.

-------------

Falcons Fans' Ode to Joey Harrington
(sung to the tune of Monty Python's "Henry Kissinger")

Joey Harrington --
you're a scary one,
with your passes incomplete;
badly do you fare,
land on your derriere,
when the pass rush can't be beat.
I know they say that you are just a mess,
and soft and weak and inept, but hey, you're under stress.

Joey Harrington -- you're a scary one,
but win some games this year!

Joey Harrington --
you're a scary one,
you're the backup, incomplete.
With your overthrows, and routes always blown,
you're, for a D-line, just fresh meat.
All right, so people say that you're just lame --
but you've got better game than Walter,
and rate a sixty-eight.

Joey Harrington -- you're a scary one,
but win some games this year!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 22, 2007

Terrell Owens Demands Vick Suspension

By FLIP ARGENTI
The Sporting Rant

DALLAS -- Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens yesterday called for the NFL to immediately suspend embattled Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, charging the allegations surrounding Vick's federal indictment were "cruel, callous, and most importantly, taking the media's focus away from me."

Owens, whose ability to score touchdowns in the second-tier National Football Conference is only matched by his ability to drop crucial passes in games, called a press conference to discuss the matter outside Texas Stadium. Owens declared he was "completely disgusted" with media coverage of the Vick affair, saying "it was all he had seen on shows like NFL Live" and that he wanted things to change quickly.

"You know, it's only a week before training camp starts and I haven't heard a goddamn word about all the stunts I'm expecting to pull during the regular season, much less the pre-season," said a visibly annoyed Owens. "Why, in the first few weeks alone, I'm planning to miss key team meetings, openly complain about Wade Phillips, get in Tony Romo's face for not passing me the ball all the time, and drop at least four key passes during pre-season matchups. But has anyone so much mentioned my name in the past two weeks? Hell, no!"

"Also, I'm going to throw a cup of Gatorade at Jason Garrett when he's not looking, in revenge for some imagined petty slight. But have you heard anything about that? Let's see -- no, of course not. Hell, I even sent (agent Drew) Rosenhaus over to scream at Jerry Jones and it didn't even get so much as a write-up in the Dallas Morning News."

"They're not even here, are they?" Owens said, as he looked out over the assembled media, which consisted of one reporter and three bored-looking interns half-heartedly taking notes. "This is ridiculous."

During the remainder of the press conference, Owens said he was considering working Vick's situation into his famous post-touchdown celebrations, including walking a football on a leash, pretending to shoot the football for poor performance, and pulling a Vick jersey out of his helmet and stomping on it.

News of Owens' complaints did not impress other teams in the National Football Conference, most notably the Falcons, which called Owens' press conference "particularly unfortunate."

"It's rather sad, and actually a bit pathetic, when a player from another team would so brazenly try to capitalize on an unfortunate and disappointing situation involving an Atlanta Falcon," said a Falcons front-office official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Besides, isn't it about time for the man to retire? He's been in the league for more than ten years now and still hasn't managed to figure out basic concepts like teamwork."

Nor did Owens find much sympathy from teams in the superior American Football Conference, which dismissed Owens' remarks as "an outburst typical of a washed-up, mediocre player" who would be severely tested were he to actually play against a decent AFC team.

"Please," said Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson, when informed of Owens' remarks. "I'm in the same situation and you don't see Ocho Cinco complaining. I do my talking on the field, where it earns me ever-increasing fines from the league office and opprobrium from fans of other teams."

"Just wait 'til you see what I have planned for our first game against Cleveland," Johnson added.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Over-Under for Falcons-Bengals Game Set at 15

By FLIP ARGENTI
The Sporting Rant

ATLANTA -- Professional odds-makers have set the "over-under" for the Pre-Season Week 3 game between the Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals at 15, citing rumors the legal troubles now faced by the teams' players could "just be the tip of the iceberg."

"With 10 Bengals players arrested in the last 14 months, and Falcons quarterback Michael Vick getting indicted last week, it seems almost certain the teams will face more legal problems as time goes on," said odds-maker Tim "Timmy the Greek" Konstantinos. "Two things seem pretty clear. First, both squads aren't comprised of the brightest bulbs in the lamp store, and second, neither team has any idea how to handle its morally-compromised players. So we're initially setting the over-under line for the game at 15, representing the number of players arrested, indicted, facing suspension or otherwise having engaged in immoral acts as of game time."

"This seems likely given the expanded roster both teams will be fielding, plus the seemingly limitless capacity for the teams' players to get into trouble," Konstantinos said. "I mean, it doesn't take much -- a disorderly conduct charge here, a fight or two there, and before you know it half the squad will require permission to travel out of state. You really can't underestimate the proficiency of either team."

Fellow odds-makers shared Konstantinos' assessment.

"Fifteen seems like a reasonable number to me," said Edward "Teddy the Sharp" O'Callahan, an odds-maker and sports consultant based in Nevada. "Clearly these teams have all the right stuff to get close to that limit without too much trouble, and they could easily surpass it given the stress involved with training camp and the pre-season."

Officials with the NFL declined comment on the matter, although they privately noted that other teams in the league have considerably lower numbers. For instance, Konstantinos has set the over-under for the Hall of Fame Game, between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints, at 1/2.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 14, 2007

Bobblehead Doll, Good. Hard-Fought Victory, Better!

AFTER A QUARTER OR SO OF PLAY during tonight's minor-league arena football game between the Manchester Wolves and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers, I thought for sure writing tonight's synopsis was going to be simple. In fact, the way things were going, I didn't think I was going to have to write anything. I could simply allow Jim Mora to do the talking for me:

But when the game was over, I realized that using Mr Mora's famed analysis wasn't going to be a proper fit. Much to my surprise and joy, the Wolves managed to fight back from a 21-0 deficit AND BEAT THE UNDEFEATED PIONEERS by a score of 49-46. God knows it was close, and the Pioneers nearly managed to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat, but Manchester held on and WE WON.

I still can't believe we managed to pull it off. The first half of the game showed just how scarily good the Pioneers -- who came into the game 13-0 -- can be when they're firing on all cylinders. Their offense was tight and efficient; their defense was spot on as well. After a ruthless opening drive to make the score 7-0, the Pioneers managed to intercept tipped balls on the Wolves' next two possessions. Suddenly, it's 21-0 and I'm wondering if we'll manage to score before halftime.

But something happened along the way -- Manchester started regaining its confidence and its defense began to click. By halftime it was 31-21, and Manchester's defense kept fighting. Suddenly, our boys are up 35-31 in the third quarter and soon after made it 42-31. But the Pioneers weren't done yet, and they managed to claw back within three points in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. This was an even more impressive accomplishment when you consider some of the great plays our defense made. DB Travis Pugh, for instance, somehow managed to strip the ball from a Pioneer receiver as he was heading for the endzone, and Manchester recovered the ball in the endzone. For Mr Pugh, it was a punishing play and he was down on the turf for several minutes, but he was able to recover. That was just one of two fumbles he forced this evening.

Up 49-46 with about a minute to play in the fourth quarter, it looked as if Manchester was about to put the game away -- but then, the Pioneers again intercepted the ball on a short pass bound for the endzone. Oh, woe. Oh, calamity. It's Jerome Bettis' fumble on a smaller stage. One minute to go and the Pioneers have the ball and it looked as if they would both score and run out the clock, leaving Manchester no time to get the go-ahead touchdown.

But the Pioneers came up eight yards short. On their first two downs in our red zone, the Pioneers' passes were broken up, and on the third down -- with 9.1 seconds to go -- our defensive line overpowered the Pioneers and quickly took down quarterback Ryan Vena for a sack. With no time outs left, that was that -- and the fans in the stand went wild.

Although, they had been pretty wild all night. I don't think I've ever been to a Wolves game where the crowd was so loud and so boisterous and so into the game. Hell, we even got an honest-to-God wave going, amidst the shouting and cheering for our defense. It was just fun. Plus, I even got this sweet bobblehead doll of the Wolves' mascot, Blitz, which is now perched on the top shelf of my computer desk. That's like some kind of bonus.

I must admit that part of me feels as if I should claim at least some of the credit for the Wolves' win tonight, through my very presence in the stands. You see, this now makes the tenth arena-football game in a row I've attended in which the home team has won -- a streak which has lasted for more than a year. That not only includes one af2 playoff game, it includes a big-league AFL game I saw on my May vacation, in which the lowly Grand Rapids Rampage shocked the much better Colorado Crush.

I think all can agree, though, that that would be a bit silly. Manchester earned this win and earned it playing hard and smart. Both sides played their guts out -- the match was so intense that one Pioneer player even started throwing up on the field. (This, I did not need to see). Both sides also proved something important tonight.

The Pioneers proved that if one had to pick a single team to win this year's ArenaCup, they would be an awfully good choice. The Wolves proved that they can play with the league's best teams and beat them -- something that will come important come playoff time. Hopefully, we'll play at least one of those playoff games at home.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 29, 2007

The End of an Era (Well, Sorta)

WELL, THERE WAS SOME SAD but not all that unsurprising news today: the NFL has officially pulled the plug on NFL Europe, its scrappy and lovable development league based on the Old Continent. Apparently the NFL was losing $30 million to $40 million per year on the thing and finally threw in the towel. After all, that money could pay the salaries of -- gosh, five or six top draft picks!

The NFL's stated reason for throwing in the towel was because it wanted to focus on promoting regular season games outside of the United States; for instance, a game between the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins will be played in London this fall. However, I do wonder if the emergence of a new spring football league here in the U.S. might have had something to do with their decision.

NFL Europe games were worth watching because of the prospects on the teams, and because those prospects often ended up trying for slots on their sponsoring team's NFL squad. As a result, watching a few NFL Europe games made one seem uncannily smart during the NFL preseason. However, the quality of the football was -- well, pretty third-rate, to be honest. With a spring league coming on board next year, that would have undoubtedly diluted the talent pool even further, and spring-league players could easily make the move to the NFL after the season ended. But oh well. Cologne, we hardly knew ye.

IN OTHER FOOTBALL NEWS:

IS FOOTBALL A MIRROR FOR FOREIGN RELATIONS? I ask this because I kept half an eye on the Canadian Football League game between the glorious Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Montreal Alouettes tonight.

Now, the good news is that Saskatchewan won, 16-7. But here's the strange thing about the game. There was one touchdown scored in it, and the team that pulled it off was not Montreal. In fact, Montreal didn't even score any field goals during the game. They racked up a total of -- wait for it -- three safeties and scored a rouge (one point) when a field goal try missed but went into the end zone.

But here's the real kicker. Montreal got those safeties because Saskatchewan was so deep in their own territory that they said, "You know what? We're not even going to try to punt the ball. Instead, we'll just give you two points and the ball back on your own 35 yard line. Go ahead! Try and score again! Be our guest!"

I'm sorry, but what the hell? Oh, sure, it worked, but that's not the point. The point is that this is football! There's no giving-up-two-points-because-it's-easy in football! I mean, come on. Such a strategy is almost as weak-willed as the Canadian Government's foreign policy.

PHILLY GETS A WIN: The Philadelphia Soul beat the Orlando Predators 41-26 in the first WIld Card game of the Arena Football League playoffs tonight. It was a good game to watch, particularly in the first half, when Philly and Orlando battled to a 20-20 tie. But although Philly played well, one could say that Orlando lost the game more than Philly won it. Three Predator touchdowns and an interception were erased from the board due to penalty calls -- and had those penalties not been committed, the score would have looked much different.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 24, 2007

Well, I'm Ready for Some Football

AH, SUMMER. For devotees of baseball and the beach, it is a fabulous and wonderful season. For football fans, not so much. After all, it's been MORE THAN FOUR MONTHS since Super Bowl XLI wrapped up and there are still 74 ENTIRE DAYS until the New Orleans Saints play the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL's season opener on Sept. 6. As you can see, football fans everywhere are in the midst of the Horrible Summer Drought that comes like clockwork every year.

Like many fans, I have sought out what some might call "football methadone" to get me through this trying time. There are the NFL Europe games and the arenaball leagues and -- starting this Thursday! -- broadcasts of the Canadian Football League. (Many will be broadcast on local sports stations, like NESN and the regional Comcast Sports channels -- here's a handy guide. Sadly, there's no word about Ohio, but check your local listings).

These games are a lot of fun to watch, don't get me wrong -- I really do enjoy them. But that said, they're just not the same. You see, they don't -- and they can't -- offer that incredible combination of joy and hurt that the National Football League and college football provide their fans during the fall. Consider that so far this year, my off-season teams haven't done all that well, and yet I remain fully functional and composed.

Sure, the Cologne Centurions (6-4) didn't make it to the World Bowl, and the Grand Rapids Rampage (4-12) are woefully out of playoff contention in the Arena Football League. But that's OK. (The Philadelphia Soul, at 8-8, still have a shot but it doesn't look good). And one can hope that my favorite CFL team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, will do well this year -- but one wonders how they'll do in a tough West Division. They're 2-0 in the pre-season, but that only means they're potentially setting themselves up for Oakland Raiders Syndrome.

As for my hometown Manchester Wolves, I'm confident they'll make the playoffs in the af2 league. I'm confident because I ran across Blitz, our team's cheerful and friendly mascot, this weekend, and I asked him directly:

ME: Hey, Blitz! Are we going to make the playoffs?
BLITZ: (Ponders for a moment, then pumps fist towards ceiling)
ME: Yes -- we -- are!

Of course, it remains to be seen how the Wolves, now 5-6, will do against playoff opponents who have so far played spectacularly. For instance, our hated division rival, the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Pioneers, is 11-0. 11-0. This team is so good it's scary.

Now, one of the great things about off-season football is that you can watch it without the huge emotional commitment that comes with watching one's absolute favorite teams. I mean, when Pittsburgh gets knocked out of the playoffs, or Michigan loses to anyone, it really throws me for a loss. With my off-season teams, though, they can lose repeatedly and it doesn't have a true gut impact on my psyche.

In part, it's a question of the emotional stakes being so small. For instance, with the Wolves, I don't mind if they lose provided they play hard and play well -- going to the games and watching the guys play their hearts out is fun enough. And in part, it's a question of focus. With the Roughriders, I keep an eye on them throughout the season, but because by fall my attention is focused on the NFL and the college game, their losses aren't all that problematic.

All that said, though, I am quite hopeful that some planned football leagues will help ramp up the excitement level during the off-season -- and even during the fall too. For instance, the All-American Football League is planning to launch next spring with a ten-game season, culminating in a July 3 championship game. My home state of Michigan is slated to have a team, and the league will offer a blend of pro and college excitement. I am so there.

Also slated for a 2008 launch is the United Football League. I am less optimistic about its prospects, because it will play during the fall and "playing during the fall" usually results in "getting stomped by the NFL like a cockroach." But the folks behind it seem pretty darn clever. They'll play their games on Friday nights, when the NFL is forbidden to do so, and they're putting their teams in markets where the NFL presently isn't -- including Mexico City, which will be my team if this thing gets off the ground. I hope they can pull it off -- if only because watching a UFL game would be watching some fourth-rate college game on Friday nights.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 04, 2007

You're in Steelers Country Now, Baby! Steelers Country!

BREEZEWOOD, Pa., May 22 -- ON THE DRIVE from Washington, D.C. to Cleveland, motorists will come across Breezewood -- for decades, a sort-of tourist oasis promised land -- about halfway through their journey. Just prior to getting on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, drivers will find all the necessities they might require -- food, gasoline, perhaps a place to spend the night. Also, there's a gift store selling a huge array of Pittsburgh Steelers merchandise.

It was good to be among friends.

After a disappointing lunch in which several teenagers clad in Ohio State garb ran amok around the quick-service restaurant, the gift shop across the way stood gleaming in the midday sun as a beacon of hope. Inside, there were myriad Steelers-themed souveniers, ranging from bumper stickers (bought one) to bobblehead dolls (took a pass) to mugs (already had a set). Plus, they had those giant "You're in Steelers Country!" banners on sale for $49.95.

Suddenly, I had an idea.

After all, I live and work not in Steelers Country but in Patriots Nation, home to the New England Patriots, with their demented-looking Pat Patriot decals and their hapless division opponents and their coach who dresses like a tornado victim. As such, most of the people I know are Patriots fans. Oh, sure, there are some outliers -- like the one guy at the office who, God help him, roots for Green Bay -- but generally speaking, I'm surrounded by Patriots fans.

As it so happens, the New England Patriots will host the glorious Steelers in Foxboro on Sunday, Dec. 9, for what promises to be a stellar matchup. So, for several minutes, I seriously contemplated buying this giant banner -- six or eight feet wide -- and draping my desk with it when I left the office for that weekend. After all, what better way to loudly trumpet my Steelers loyalty? What better way to remind my colleagues that Pittsburgh is coming to town for a good, cold-weather football game and would surely stomp over their beloved Pats?

Then I realized that roughly three minutes after I left for the weekend, my Steelers banner would probably suffer some sort of accident that required its washing in the nearest men's toilet, or being burned out in the parking lot. My bright idea suddenly became a bit less bright. However, I did splurge on a minor surprise that should do the trick without causing too many issues. Unless, of course, the unthinkable happens and Pittsburgh loses in December. Then I'm in for about a month of teasing.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:32 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 12, 2007

And Now, a Football Interlude

YOU'RE IN STEELERS COUNTRY NOW, BABY! Steelers Country!

Also, because I can, here's a very special clip celebrating a great moment in Pittsburgh Steelers history:


Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 28, 2007

It's Like Some Kind of Bonus

OK, I HAVE TO ADMIT I was enjoying watching Brady Quinn squirm like the overhyped wretch he is during Saturday's NFL draft. The boy shows up as if he's God's gift to the National Football League, and he gets passed over time and time again -- to the point where the NFL offered Quinn's party a private suite, so as to spare him any further public embarrassment. Then, after all that, who picks up Quinn but the Cleveland Browns!

As a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, for me this is like some kind of bonus.

Quinn strikes me as a good but not great quarterback who has been madly overhyped because he played for Notre Dame. Quinn performs well due to his coaches and teammates, but folds up whenever he faces honest-to-God pressure. In short, he's just as annoying and pathetic as Peyton Manning, except he doesn't have the modicum of talent Manning does. While some observers (hi Jesse) have said the Browns will have a good offensive line to defend their quarterback, I believe a rejuvenated Steelers squad will still be able to pressure Quinn -- especially considering that Pittsburgh drafted LaMarr Woodley, the noted defensive end from Michigan. Hell, it'll be old hat for him!

I think the Steelers have done OK in their draft so far, but I have to admit concern over the fact we haven't yet drafted a cornerback. Our secondary just got shredded last season and it bothers me more steps haven't been taken to address that. On the whole, though, I'm pleased with Pittsburgh's picks so far, and I can't really fault them for using their first pick to fill Joey Porter's shoes. But to see Leon Hall go to the Cincinnati Bengals -- that just hurt, especially when he was there for Pittsburgh to take.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 12, 2007

Football Update

FOR THOSE READERS who are starting to bemoan the lack of football, don't worry -- starting this Saturday, NFL Europe games will be broadcast on NFL Network. This is a good way for viewers to gain familiarity with developing players and others who will fight for spots in the NFL during the preseason. As such, watching the games will make you seem incredibly well-informed when August rolls around and some guy hardly anyone has heard of is fighting for the third-string quarterback's job.

If you don't have NFL Network available, you should call your cable company and complain. If you've called your cable company and complained, but they won't do anything about it, you should write angry letters and complain at shareholders' meetings and act generally irritating. Eventually, they'll have to come around, especially when people they know start getting annoyed and snubbing them down at the country club and what not.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 11, 2007

Dec. 9 is the Day of Reckoning

OH, JOY AND RAPTURE. The NFL's 2007 schedule is out, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have a full five games scheduled during the evenings. How sweet is that! Well, actually, it's almost as sweet as the schedule we ended up with this year.

Admittedly, the schedule starts a little soft this year. We start out with a game against Cleveland, and then follow that up with Buffalo, San Francisco, Arizona and Seattle, in that order. While all the teams in the AFC North will face their counterparts from the NFC West this year, this particular arrangement strikes one as, well, not all that difficult. I mean, come on. San Francisco and Arizona back-to-back? That's kinda embarrassing.

However, it does get considerably tougher after that, and that should make for some great football as the nights grow longer and the air gets colder. Especially when one considers the matchups against Denver and Jacksonville and the New York Jets, and the grudge matches against evil Baltimore and iniquitous Cincinnati.

But best of all, on Dec. 9, the Pittsburgh Steelers will travel to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., and there do battle with the aristocratic New England Patriots. There we shall fight, and God willing, Pittsburgh shall defeat them. That way, I can go into work the next day with my head held high, knowing that I will not be mercilessly teased by my colleagues. (Like the last couple of times.) Also, by that time in the season, Pittsburgh will probably need every win it can get as it scrapes its way into the post-season.

So mark your calendars, everyone. Dec. 9 is the Day of Reckoning.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 26, 2007

There is a God, and Truly He Loves Us

SO ESPN CASHIERED JOE THEISMANN as a commentator on their Monday Night Football broadcasts. As an ardent football fan, I can only praise God and all His saints and angels for this wonderful news. It is yet again proof that there is a good God in Heaven and He loves us all very much. Quite frankly, ESPN's decision making can be a bit out there sometimes, so only divine intervention could have explained such a reversal.

However, in the event anyone from ESPN stumbles across this, I would simply like to say thank you. Thank you thank you thank you for sacking Theismann.

Also, I'm enjoying the Arena Football League broadcasts on ESPN2 and would like to see more of them. I'm watching the Orlando-Dallas game right now, and it's good football. Plus, only in arenaball could you watch some dumbass fan try to maneuver himself to catch a seemingly-errant pass, and end up falling from the front row onto the field, and into the middle of a potential touchdown play. Truly this is a fun game.

For what it's worth, ESPN's MNF broadcasts would be even better if ESPN would not allow actors, musicians, comedians or any other very special guests into the broadcast booth at any time during the game. It takes away from the football.

Football is why people watch MNF. They do not watch MNF to see Matthew-fucking-McConaughey blather on about "We Are Marshall." In fact, I made a point of not going to see "We Are Marshall," just because I was still ticked about McConaughey showing up in the booth and going on about this and that while actual football was taking place on the field. I'm still so ticked that I'm not even linking to its IMDB entry.

So I would ask the good people at ESPN to rethink their celebrity policy, which is insipid and wretched and detrimental to the game of football. But enough of that -- I don't want to bash ESPN over the head too much. I mean, not only do I get to watch arenaball on Mondays -- with a good play-by-play squad to boot -- they cashiered Joe Theismann.

Oh, joy. Oh, joy! Shot down like some disgraced cosmonaut. Yeah.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 12, 2007

Oh, Great, Now the Chargers Will Be Unstoppable

THE SAN DIEGO CHARGERS have cashiered head coach Marty Schottenheimer, according to various wire service reports.

The Chargers claim this was due to a breakdown in the relationship between Schottenheimer and A.J. Smith, the team's general manager. However, I personally suspect it was because the Chargers head office realized they were tainted with the Curse of Martyball, and had to act before the curse tainted the 2007 season beyond all redemption.

This leads us to the most alarming thing about this development: the prospect of a revived, Martyball-free San Diego Chargers organization. Clearly they will be the early favorites to win Super Bowl XLII and all the other teams can only hope the Chargers find an even worse coach than Schottenheimer to run their show. You know, like Tom Coughlin. Oh, if only they'd pick Tom Coughlin.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 04, 2007

A Grudging Congratulations to the Indianapolis Colts

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Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this long offseason. Electric phrase, the off-season, it’s like forever and that’s a mighty long time. But I’m here to tell you, there’s seven months – until the fall. The fall of never-ending happiness; you can always watch a game, day or night.

So as our teams get ready for the coming year – you know, like Pittsburgh or Cleveland or New England – instead of asking how much they can win, ask them how much they can survive, baby. Because in football, things are much harder than in the off-season. In football, they’re on their own!

-- Prince, "Let's Go Crazy"
(well, OK, not really)

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WELL, THANK GOD we finally had a Super Bowl where the teams were actually forced to compete out in the elements. While perhaps not as wretched as one might have hoped – although it doesn’t snow in Miami – the driving rain was a nice touch. For one thing, it made the game fundamentally more challenging for both sides, as the turnovers and occasional blown plays showed. For another, it meant Indianapolis was actually forced to play in the elements, something which they only face a few games a year.

Hmmm. Indianapolis. Well. I suppose the Colts deserve congratulations for their victory, although it feels more like the Bears lost the Super Bowl more than the Colts won it. The utter incompetence of Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman, plus the general malaise of Chicago’s offense, allowed the Colts to wear down the formidable Chicago defense. As for the Colts’ defense, they beat Chicago like a drum.

Before the game, many said the idea of Chicago winning the Super Bowl was unpalatable due to Grossman’s generally wretched play this season. But the game itself proved Grossman’s wretched play would preclude Chicago from capturing another Super Bowl ring. The Rant’s thoughts on Chicago’s play can be summed up in three words: put in Griese.

I was gratified to see that Peyton Manning, the Colts quarterback for whom I have nothing but loathing and contempt, did not shoot the lights out during the game -- although even I must admit he played a generally competent game, especially with those little quick passes over center that confounded Chicago. That said, I enjoyed seeing Chicago “sign Peyton’s melon” in the fourth quarter. Christ, I thought it was never going to happen.

But ah well. The Rant would like to offer its congratulations to Coach Tony Dungy and the entire Indianapolis Colts organization – except Peyton Manning – for winning Super Bowl XLI. Generally speaking, the Colts showed they deserved to win the game, especially considering the way they carried their lame, overrated quarterback throughout the post-season.

Also, I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to Dan Kepple, my stalwart cousin and longtime fan of the Indianapolis Colts, on the occasion of his team’s Super Bowl victory. Despite Dan’s perfidious football loyalties and his clearly questionable judgment, this is his team’s year, and I must congratulate him accordingly. Besides, he’s not rooting for Baltimore, which really would have caused problems.

As for the rest of us, here’s the real thing we can all take away from Super Bowl XLI: while the Colts have captured the Vince Lombardi Trophy this year, they have about two weeks to exult in their victory. That’s because as of now, the slate is now clean, and all the teams in the National Football League will again be on an equal footing to compete for the trophy in Super Bowl XLII.

It will soon be time to get back to work.

P.S.: Do you like football? Do you consider spending seven months without football worse than fire ants attacking you en masse? If you answered “yes” to both these questions, dig my Handy Guide to Off-Season Football This Year.

P.P.S.: ARENABALL starts in 26 DAYS!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 27, 2007

Now, March to the Sea!

TODAY IN ALABAMA, a glorious squad of college football players from the North cruised to a 27-0 victory over their colleagues from the South, which apparently and satisfyingly played rather badly. I had forgotten about the Senior Bowl, and as such didn't watch it today, so I will simply have to be content with the press accounts. It may be a small victory after this football season for the ages, but I'll take it.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 22, 2007

And Now, the Super Bowl! (Oh, Joy.)

YOU KNOW, I MUST SAY I looked pretty damned smart around the second quarter of the AFC Championship Game, when the New England Patriots were leading the Indianapolis Colts 21-3. You see, earlier in the week, I had cleverly predicted a Patriots victory to my fellow Kepples Back Home, nearly all of whom were rooting for Indianapolis. This prediction, largely based on general principle, was met with complete and utter silence when I issued it. But then, in the second quarter, I received a call from Mr Kepple.

Dad described his call as "pre-emptive" in nature, given the Patriots' domination over the Colts up to that point in the game. Instead of gloating, however, I simply said the game had a long way to go and noted there was still plenty of time left. Dad admired my statesmanship.

"You're being too nice," he said suspiciously.

True, I said, but I pledged that if the Patriots pulled things off, I would be perfectly nasty about the matter on my blog. Until then, though, I wasn't going to say a thing. That's because I knew the Colts were perfectly capable of pulling off some implausible comeback. Hell, it had happened to Pittsburgh last year, and that nearly sunk Pittsburgh's run for the trophy. It wasn't likely to happen to New England, I figured, but it could.

And it did.

Shit.

Now, that reaction may come as a surprise to many people, as I'm a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I do not generally root for the Patriots in the regular season*. I do not fawn over the supposed genius of Bill Belichick, I do not swoon over quarterback Tom Brady (although he too is a Michigan alum) and I think the Pats benefit greatly from playing in a weak division. Also, for years they had the Steelers' number -- and that still bothers me.

But having lived in New England for nearly six years now (my God!), I've found myself liking the Patriots more, and I certainly have realized one must respect them. They're a good football team on any given Sunday and in the post-season, they're a great football team. Plus, if the Steelers or my Designated Alternate Teams** aren't in the mix, there's little reason not to root for the Patriots -- particularly if they end up playing a team I hate, like the evil Baltimore Ravens.

Also, after thinking about the matter, I realize I don't really like the Colts all that much. Oh, I like Tony Dungy, of course. Everyone likes Tony Dungy, because he is a good guy. But I don't really have any reasons for liking anyone else on the team. Besides, they play in a dome the whole year round. True, there are styles of football for which that is acceptable, but I can't in good conscience approve of any NFL team that purposely avoids dealing with the vagaries and challenges of the weather. If the Green Bay Packers still play outdoors in the dead of winter, so can everyone else.

But alas, the Colts won.

So now what?

True, there is the Super Bowl ahead, but as a colleague of mine said at work today, it will be difficult to fight apathy. Chicago? Indianapolis? Ooooooooooooooh. If it had been Chicago-New England it would have at least had some historic significance, but this matchup is just grim, primarily due to the wretchedness of the Bears offense. The game will likely turn into a rout somewhere in the third quarter; the Colts will glide to victory; Peyton Manning will win his Super Bowl ring. Then, after the game, he will be named a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire whilst drinking Gatorade and exhorting people to use their priceless debit cards so the card processors can increase their fee revenues. May God help us all.

Anyway. We'll have the Super Bowl, and then the Pro Bowl, which no one ever watches because everyone knows the AFC will crush the NFC like a bug. And then ... uh ... uh oh. Um, we're going to have to wait eight months for college and pro football to start again. True, there are other sports to watch, like baseball and basketball and hockey, but it's going to be pretty tough without football.

Unless, of course, you're like me and will find ways to watch football. Thus, as a public service announcement, here's a general listing of all the minor-league professional football available being played during the spring and summer. (You're welcome!)

The ARENA FOOTBALL LEAGUE: At the very least, we'll have 26 AFL games broadcast throughout the spring and summer, starting on Sunday, March 4. Even though people often cut down arena football, it's quite an exciting game. Defense plays a surprisingly large role in the game, and with extremely narrow goal-posts and rebound nets, the kicking game becomes far more than just an afterthought. The season will run through July 29, when ArenaBowl XXI is played in New Orleans. (NOTE: The Rant will support the Philadelphia Soul this spring due to the ex-Manchester players on the squad).

THE AF2 league: The arenafootball2 league (AF2) is arena football's minor league, in which players develop their skills. They can earn promotion to the AFL, in which case they can play full-time and conceivably make it to the NFL. Games start on Thursday, March 29, and the regular season runs through the end of July. You'll probably have to listen to the radio if you can't make the games, but you should make the games if you can -- they make for a fun and generally inexpensive night out. (The Rant, as you know, will support the Manchester Wolves).

NFL EUROPE: NFL Europe games start on Saturday, April 14. Many of the games are broadcast via tape delay -- which stinks -- but the NFL Network has generally carried at least one game live a week, often on Saturday afternoons. Not only do these games provide Quality Football Action, they also allow football fans to become familiar with players who will soon fight for spots on their NFL teams during the pre-season. Why, just a few minutes of watching Shane Boyd play in an NFL Europe game made me look like an expert when he played for the Steelers during the preseason this year. So when you get really desperate for football in mid- to late spring, you know where you can turn. (The Rant supports the Cologne Centurions).

The CANADIAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE: So it's summer. It's hot. It's muggy. The last thing you want to do is go outdoors and commune with nature and all that crap. That's when the Canadian Football League comes in, with its three downs and twelve men and metric football field***. True, it starts in June, and during the fall the games are impossible to find on US television, and you forget about it halfway through September until November rolls around and, oh! the Grey Cup's on! and Pittsburgh played at one o'clock anyway, so ... (The Rant supports -- who else -- the Saskatchewan Roughriders).

If all that doesn't at least pique your interest about "off-season" football, consider this: the chances of stumbling across a Peyton Manning-related advertisement will probably be close to zero. If you ask me, that's reason enough to watch.

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* Unless, of course, the Pats are playing a team which I hate and believe must be destroyed. These teams include the Baltimore Ravens, the Oakland Raiders, and all the teams in the NFC East division.

** The Rant's secondary team is the Cleveland Browns. The Rant's tertiary team is the Detroit Lions.

*** In Canadian football, the football field is 110 yards long (a "metric football field") as opposed to the standard 100 yard ("short") football field used in the United States. Furthermore, the endzones are 20 yards deep by 65 yards wide, which is exactly one "hectare" in area. That's compared to the US endzone of 10 yards by 53 1/3 yards.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 08, 2007

I Don't Frickin' Believe It

YOU KNOW, THIS HAS BEEN A pretty tough football season here at The Rant. While my Michigan Wolverines performed quite admirably this year, they lost to Ohio State again and then were soundly defeated by USC in the Rose Bowl. The Pittsburgh Steelers were subpar all season and didn’t make the playoffs. Then, the few teams I liked which made the playoffs all got knocked out, so now it will be hard to root for any Super Bowl contender. As for college bowl season, that’s pretty been pretty grim too.

That’s not to say there haven’t been victories along the way. For instance, it was nice when Penn State knocked off Tennessee and Wisconsin beat Arkansas, and Rutgers won too, which was fun. But everything else during bowl season has kinda sucked. Navy lost a squeaker and Iowa went down fighting and Wake Forest got felled. And now – oh, God.

I’m sorry, but the idea of frickin’ Florida – that wretched, godawful, miserable uncivilized excuse for a university – being named National Champion of College Football makes me nauseous. What the hell happened to Ohio State?

As one can deduce, I had gone into the game thinking Ohio State would win, and as a result, I figured the boosters of the Southeastern Conference might actually shut up for a week. But now we’re going to have to listen to them go on about how wonderful the SEC is and how it is supposedly superior to every other football conference in America, even though none of its teams could handle a game in the snow.

What’s that? Of course it’s ungracious of me to react this way. It’s pre-emptive, reactionary ungraciousness. But there’s nothing wrong with that in this case, because we’re dealing with the SEC. These guys have ungracious down cold. I mean, just look at that moron Auburn coach who was complaining about his team’s ranking in the fifth week, only to see his team to get knocked on its ass the next week. And just look at Florida coach Urban Meyer’s classless whining about the national championship game itself. Hell, look how the man egged on the Florida crowd late in the fourth quarter. You don’t see Big Ten coaches pulling those types of shenanigans.

Before this year, I was never much of a believer in the idea of conference loyalty, but let me tell you, I’m sold now.

Fellow alumni of the Big Ten Conference, I propose that during the college football postseason, we all root for the SEC to be destroyed in all its bowl appearances, and also root for the general humiliation of the Pac 10 and the ACC. Further, I propose we all root for our fellow Big Ten schools to kick ass in their bowl appearances. Also the MAC, because they’re our peeps. And Big East schools, as individual circumstances permit.

But since we’ll have to wait until next year to unleash this grand strategy, in the meantime I suppose I ought congratulate Florida on playing an excellent game. Their defense was top-notch and their offense also performed extremely well, and despite that great kickoff return at the start, Ohio State couldn’t seem to get things going. So, congratulations to all the Florida players.

Anyway. College football season is over. Pro football season – as much as I want Smartyball to triumph in the Super Bowl – may as well be. So while I’m counting down the days until arenaball starts, here’s hoping the (well, at least my) 2007 football season will turn out better than it did in 2006.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 07, 2007

Now, If Only We Could Get Rid of Our Canadian Coins

A DALLAS-BASED CHAIN of pizza shops will on Monday start accepting Mexican pesos for cash payments, the Dallas Morning News has reported. The Pizza Patron chain, which the News said markets heavily to Latinos, figures the move will prove popular with its core market. There are, however, catches. First, the shops will only accept peso notes, as opposed to coins. Second, change will be given in U.S. currency. Third, and perhaps most notably, pesos will be accepted at a 12 to 1 ratio with the U.S. dollar; the present rate is about 11 to 1.

I'll be interested to see how this turns out, if only because the Pizza Patron chain has discovered a practical use for all those excess 20, 50 and 100 peso notes people bring across the border with them, but don't bother changing at the bank or the change bureau because it's not worth the hassle. Selling pesos far away from the Mexican border can be a frustrating experience. First you have to find a branch of your bank that will buy them; then the transaction can be a pain; and finally, the bank pays a miserly rate when it does buy. It's just not worth the trouble if you've got an extra 50 or 100 pesos in your wallet that for some reason you didn't spend in Mexico.

Of course, it is wise for the chain to only accept peso notes. Coins would prove heavy and impractical. Besides, no one would be fool enough to spend peso coins in an American pizza shop, as that would take even more coinage out of the already-strapped Mexican system. What's that? You don't believe me? OK, fine. Look at this list of Mexican coins. Notice how it refers to something called the "five centavo coin." Notice again how it refers to a coin allegedly in the amount of "twenty centavos." Readers, I can assure you that outside of Los Pinos or a museum, no one has seen one of those coins in years.

It is also wise for the chain to effectively buy the pesos at a discount (or, alternatively, sell pizza at a premium). Pizza Patron is effectively buying its pesos at 8.33 cents per peso when the real value is now about 9.09 cents; a profit of 0.75 cents per peso spent in its stores. Now, let's say on a typical day the chain takes in 100,000 pesos from its 59 stores (for an average of US$140 per day per store). That's a gross profit of $750 just on the currency transaction. Over a year's time, that's a gross profit of $273,000.

Now, the chain says it must buy at a lesser rate due to the expense of changing the pesos into dollars. That's fair enough, but I can't believe the firm doesn't realize some sort of profit anyway. Even at a change bureau, the premium charged tourists off the street is only 1.5 or 2 pc, not the roughly 8 pc gross profit Pizza Patron would realize. Even if its bank charged 4 pc, Pizza Patron would still do all right. But as I can't believe the firm's bank would go out of its way to upset a good customer, a customer which would very much like this idea to work, I must believe Pizza Patron has found a way to get a good rate for its exchange.

So this seems like a very clever idea that, if it all works out, could very well please both the chain's customers and its accountants. That's a rare thing indeed!

As an aside, I have to say it would be great if more places in the north would accept Canadian currency in payment for goods and services. As a Michigander, I grew up under the assumption that Canadian money, although a bit weird and not as cool as U.S. money, was still perfectly viable for use in commerce. Furthermore, Canadian coins were often accepted at par with the God-fearing coinage of the United States. Yet now I find that practically no one will accept Canadian coins, despite the fact they're worth nearly as much as U.S. coinage. This annoys me, as it forces me to be sneaky in dumping my Canadian coins on unsuspecting souls, and I'd prefer to spend the money honorably.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Summed Up in One Word: "Sweet"

YOU KNOW, because laughter makes the pain go away. The horrible, gut-wrenching pain. (Giants and Cowboys fans, welcome aboard!)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wait, WHAT?

WAIT A MINUTE. Explain to me how Dallas actually managed to lose the game which I stupidly turned off in disgust somewhere in the third quarter. A safety? A botched field goal attempt? What the hell? More importantly, where was all this when I checked the stupid online NFL scoreboard and it clearly said, Dallas 20 - Seahawks 13, with ten seconds left in the fourth quarter?

I mean, that WAS what it said, I'm sure of it.

Oh, come on. You don't think I would have REALLY posted the entry below without honestly believing the Cowboys won, do you? I mean, for Pete's sake, there are few things I enjoy more than watching Dallas lose. Plus, since this loss was a season-ender, it really puts all the Cowboys fans in a bad mood -- AND it means there's great potential for months of off-season bickering between Messrs Jones, Parcells and Owens, the Unholy Trinity of Dallas Football.

Yeah. Let the arguing begin!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:31 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 01, 2007

A Grudging Congratulations to USC

THE RANT WOULD like to offer its congratulations to the University of Southern California for its admittedly excellent win today over my beloved Michigan Wolverines. Despite its lesser academic credentials and its reputation as a haven for the overprivileged, to say nothing of its focus on foofy disciplines such as film, USC played an excellent game today and should be congratulated for its Rose Bowl victory. As we Michiganders know, it's tough to go through a football season with only two losses. So, again, congratulations to the USC Trojans for playing a great game and shredding our secondary six ways from Sunday.

God almighty, did they EVER shred our secondary. Oh, and they beat up our offensive line. Oh, and they sacked our quarterback practically every other play. Oh, and they outcoached us. In short, this USC lineup wasn't the same team that lost to UCLA. That said, there's always next year -- which will probably be another good one for the Michigan Wolverines, given our plethora of returning players.

But I digress. Again, my congratulations to USC and USC's football team on their victory. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go cry in my beer.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 31, 2006

Out With the Old, and Now Let's Go Blue

AH, THE NEW YEAR. A time for reflection, and a time for hope. There are few times better than this to think about one's plans and dreams, and to again pledge to make progress towards attaining them. Further, there are few times better than this to look at the calamities and outrages which plague modern life, and to hope that in the coming year, we shall enjoy peace on earth, and good will to men.

Fortunately for my purposes, though, it's more than an hour until the New Year rolls around. That means I can spend the waning minutes of 2006 rehashing old rivalries, settling grudges, and generally rubbing salt in others' gaping wounds! Yes, there's nothing better than spending the last vestiges of an old year in a bilious display of scorn and contempt. What's that? Why yes, we do have Exhibit A ready. Here you go!

HAHAHAHAHAHA! Gotcha!

Oh, how wonderful it was to watch today as the Pittsburgh Steelers threw the Cincinnati Bengals down to the ground. Well, actually it was rather nerve-wracking and at times extremely frustrating, even though it turned out all right.

For instance, there was that fourth-quarter penalty against Steelers linebacker James Farrior for "roughing the passer," just because Farrior actually had the gall to tackle Bengals QB Carson Palmer. Now look. Even though it may have seemed to Bengals fans like we wanted to blow out Palmer's other knee, the rules of the game do permit actually tacking the quarterback and forcing him to the ground. Then there was that whole "potentially game-winning drive" the Bengals nearly pulled off at the end. Fortunately, though, that didn't work out either.

But anyway. It was a hard-fought and emotionally-draining game. That said, it had its moments -- for instance, there was that great play in the third quarter, when Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison picked up Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson and body-slammed him into the turf. Sure, it may have cost us 15 yards, but watching Cero Puntos get slammed down into the muck of Paul Brown Stadium was worth it. Especially when they kept replaying it over and over again.

Now, as fun as it was to beat Cincinnati at home, this was magnified due to the game's importance. Cincinnati had to win if it wanted to go to the playoffs; now, they will spend the playoffs watching television due to their loss. Of course, the Steelers are in the same boat, but it was a special thing indeed to put the icing on the Bengals' cake: a cake of collapse and suffering. I mean, the Bengals weren't happy. As Palmer said after the game: "That's just another game we shouldn't have lost to another team we feel we're better than."

Yeah, well, guess what, Carson -- Ben Roethlisberger wouldn't end HIS sentences with prepositions. Face it: we beat you last year when it mattered and we beat you this year when it mattered and we'll hopefully do it again next year. Welcome to Endsville, son. We'll see you next August.

Gee, I feel better already. I guess the thought of having an essentially meaningless end to this year's football season somewhat stuck in my craw a bit. In any event, I do want to end on some positive notes:

* First off, I'd like to congratulate both the New York Jets and the Kansas City Chiefs for making into the playoffs this year. I don't think anyone knows how exactly that happened, but we're all certainly very happy about it. After all, as a result the AFC Wild Card games are going to kick ass like nobody's business.

I mean, I don't know about you, but I'm damned excited about the idea of the Chefs knocking off the evil Indianapolis Colts. Also, the Jets-Patriots game should be fun too, and a great grudge match between the teams. Besides, we needed another New England-Denver playoff like a hole in the head. Officially, I will observe the match as a disinterested spectator hopeful the game will be a good one; but there's something to be said for underdogs. Hell, even the NFC playoffs will be fun to watch -- New York at Philly? Dallas at Seattle? I'm so there. Go Giants and go Seachickens.

* Secondly, here's hoping my beloved Michigan Wolverines get the job done in the Rose Bowl Game tommorrow afternoon. The whole nation is rooting for you, except all the Bengals fans reading this post, because they know a Michigan loss would break my heart. Also, they're from Ohio anyway and so I can't really blame them for rooting against Ann Arbor -- even though I am sticking with conference loyalty and hoping Ohio State stomps all over Florida in the national championship.

But enough for now. The old year is fading fast and will soon be history; the New Year approaches. Let us hope for happy times ahead, for victories not yet won and accomplishments not yet dreamed. Let us hope for peace on earth, and good will toward men. Also, if it's not too late, let us hope Michigan has arranged for that commercial to play during the Rose Bowl -- you know, the one where the Apollo capsule with the all-Michigan crew flies around in orbit. Yeah. That'll really tick off those prepster scoundrels at USC.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:44 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Pittsburgh v. Cincinnati in 90 Minutes

BECAUSE IF WE CAN'T GO TO THE PLAYOFFS, NO ONE CAN:

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Finishing 7-9 is ugly. Finishing 8-8 is still ugly -- but better.

-- Larry Foote
Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers

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Misery loves company, and we're looking for company.

-- Bill Cowher
Coach, Pittsburgh Steelers


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You can throw out the record books when these two get together. In fact, that would probably be best, given the results of the 2006 campaign for both squads.

-- the Rev. Uncle Dave
Cincinnati Bengals fan

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:23 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 29, 2006

I Must Admit, I Did Not See That Coming

IN THE EVENT any of my readers have any sort of connection with Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, I would congratulate you on your downright stunning victory in the Insight Bowl over the University of Minnesota, the greatest comeback in all of collegiate bowl history.

I mean, scoring four unanswered touchdowns plus a field goal in less than 20 minutes was not just impressive. It was astounding. True, this scoring bout came against Minnesota, which is known for folding like a cheap suit, but still -- Minnesota had played so well during the first two-thirds of the game it seemed impossible they could screw up the remainder. Yet they did. I don't know what to say to Minnesota fans, except that I understand the nights are very long and cold up in the North Star State. As such, you might want to start drinking heavily, and let up around ... oh, let's say Groundhog Day.

As for me, I can't believe I actually saw this comeback happen in front of my eyes. Iffy bowl game, Friday night, NFL network, early blowout; I must be one of approximately eighteen people who saw it live.

Still, I'm a little disappointed. As a Michigan alumnus, I would like to note that I was rooting for Minnesota in the Insight Bowl, as well as for Purdue in the Champs Sports Bowl. Yet tonight both these teams failed to achieve victory; Minnesota against a team from the Big 12; Purdue against the ACC's Maryland. This is unacceptable.

We can't have Big Ten teams falling down on the job during bowl season -- especially if those games involve playing against teams from the evil and wretched Southeastern Conference, and even more so if those games involve overrated teams from a certain conference out west. Now, we have five more bowl games to go; let's go out there and get the job done.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 27, 2006

Rewarding! Very, Very, Very Rewarding!

SLATE MAGAZINE has helpfully published "Ads We Hate," an article examining television commercials which provoke reactions ranging from mild distaste to complete nausea. Strangely, this article makes absolutely no mention of Citibank's alarming and wretched commercials with the strange European who values something called "rewards points" the same way you or I would value things like "cash money" or "concert tickets." You can figure out the tagline.

What's annoying about this commercial -- aside from the omnipresent tagline -- is this focus on something called "rewards points," which seem like a cross between corporate scrip and the prizes people used to choose on old episodes of "Wheel of Fortune." Here at The Rant, there are only two acceptable forms of credit-card usage reimbursement: A) cash back and B) airline miles. Anything else seems a bit foolish.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:39 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 26, 2006

A James Taylor Kind of Christmas

*snicker* *guffaw* *snort*

CHRISTMAS EVE, as Mom put it, was not a good night for football fans throughout Keppledom. The Steelers lost and the Browns lost and the Colts lost and the Bengals lost -- and boy, did the Bengals lose. That snap went back and Mom shouted from the kitchen and Dad started from the sofa and I shouted in glee as the players scrambled and the Bengals' hopes were dashed. The announcers called that blown extra point at Denver, which would have tied the game with just 41 seconds left in the game, a football tragedy. They were absolutely right.

Yet that's the way things go in football. Still, even in tragedy good things may result. For instance, now that the Cincinnati Bengals blew it, the upcoming Sunday game will carry a lot of weight -- and that's nice, considering a Cincinnati win would have rendered the game essentially meaningless.

Arguably, it still is essentially meaningless for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati's opponents, who will spend the playoffs in front of their television sets. However, that doesn't take into account how much Pittsburgh would enjoy knocking the Bengals -- with their wide receiver's crazy antics and their whiny quarterback and their felony-prone player contingent -- out of the post-season entirely. Yes. Now this essentially meaningless game has suddenly become ... important. Crucial, even.

Heh heh heh.

It's time to show the Bengals how we do things downtown.

Pittsburgh 35 - Cincinnati 31.

DESPITE THE KEPPLE CLAN's football woes, however, I certainly had a good Christmas and I'm very thankful I was able to spend it Back Home with my family. As I live several hundred miles from both my parents and my brother, I'm not able to see them all that much in person. That's also unfortunately the case with my extended family. Still, the Internet helps a lot in that regard and I'm thankful I'm able to keep in touch with folks.

This year, the unseasonable weather -- no snow here, no snow back home -- made it feel a little different. As a Northerner, I always associated Christmas with snow and cold weather in general. There has been precious little of that this year, and as much as I hate to say it, I'm missing it a wee bit. That's not to say Christmas felt less like the holiday, because it very much felt like Christmas. It just felt a little different: call it a James Taylor type of Christmas, as opposed to a Sarah McLachlan singing traditional holiday favorites type of Christmas. Yeah. That'll sum it up.

One of the things I like about going back home for the holidays is that there's absolutely no stress at all. Not only that, I generally get to sleep in as much as I want, eat far better than I do back home, and do little in the way of actual work. So for those few days it is somewhat like a spa vacation, particularly when I return to Manchester and realize that not only will dinner not cook itself, dinner requires more than the few meagre ingredients I have in the refrigerator.

The best thing I like, though, is the time I get to spend with family. This year was an excellent Christmas in that regard: it was just fun and nice and pleasant and reminded me how lucky I am in life. We all went out to see a comedy show on Saturday night; spent Christmas Eve watching football and having a great dinner and, at the end of it, unwrapping gifts, viz.:

Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

READER: Uh, do you always wear collared shirts?
ME: Yeah, most of the time, unless I'm doing chores, in which case I have a few T-shirts.
READER: God, you are SO LAME.

Anyway, what can I say? I'm practical. I'm also mindful of sales, which explains the work shirts. Some of those were just $8 each. I offer this as prima facie evidence that I rule. (Seriously, though, Mom, Dad and Jesse, thank you very very much for the Christmas gifts.)

BUT MOVING ON. I must apologize for not posting lately but things here have been hectic to say the least. The Christmas holiday tends to do that, but it's amazing how things can suddenly fall out of the blue.

For instance, on Wednesday the Venerable Ford Taurus -- I guess I can call it venerable, given that it's 9 years old and has 130,000 miles on it -- decided that its ignition switch would go out of joint. Oddly, it decided to do this right after I did all my errands and had a nice breakfast, but before I needed to go to work. While I got to work on time anyway, the repair has been a pain and as such I am now driving a rental car. It is a Chevy Cobalt coupe. It drives well and handles nice, but God knows I feel (and look) ridiculous driving it. Especially given that I'm six-foot-four.

Anyway, as I'm a sedan person by trade, I have decided that I will soon purchase a New Slightly Used Ford Taurus to replace the Family Truckster, Third of its Line. Yes, yes, I know readers are saying things to the effect of, "God, you are SO LAME." But I like the cars and they do what I need of them. Plus they're really inexpensive, because the rental fleets eventually have to get rid of the things. This is good for drivers like me, who for a variety of reasons would feel a bit guilty about buying foreign-branded automobiles, even though I live in foreign-car-friendly New England.

I've also been suffering from a long-lasting cold/sinus issue that has made my life icky over the past several weeks. Such conditions are hell for anyone who suffers through them, but this one was made really nasty due to the presence of a hideously bad sore throat -- so bad that I even lost my voice for a few days this month. (This was particularly unfortunate for a variety of reasons, such as the minor fact my job requires me to talk to people all the day long). All in all, I was feeling poorly enough so that blogging wasn't exactly the closest thing to mind; but now that I've recovered, my blogging should resume accordingly.

Anyway, that's it for now, but I do hope everyone out there was able to have a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or Enjoyable Non-Traditional Holiday of One's Choice, such as the Festival of Navigating Municipal Winter Parking Bans. Although that would require snow, which we haven't had yet here. But winter has plenty of time to go.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

And Merry Christmas to All ...

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 17, 2006

The Wild Card Picture

WHY YES, THE PITTSBURGH Steelers DID beat the lowly Carolina Panthers 37-3 today, in a performance that can be fairly described as complete and utter domination. More importantly, though, the victory moves the Steelers from the unfortunate category of "not yet mathematically eliminated" to the designation of "on the bubble," which I believe all can agree is a HUGE boost in the Steelers' fortunes.

Of course, I know there are some readers who might suggest such a description is akin to saying that mauve is a distinct color from lavender or lilac or red-violet. All are different shades of purple, yes, but purple nonetheless. As such, these teams are not, to use the technical term, "yet in the playoffs by any means." But that's not any fun. Besides, Pittsburgh plays Baltimore next week, so I may only have a week to indulge in this line of thinking.

As of now the Kansas City Chiefs are getting their schottenheimers kicked by the San Diego Chargers, so I'll assume Kansas City continues to stink up the joint and loses. Thus, after tonight, we'll have FOUR AFC teams at 7-7 after tonight, three more teams at 8-6, and an eighth team -- the Cincinnati Bengals -- that could go either 9-5 as of Monday or 8-6, depending if they beat or lose to the Indianapolis Colts. (God save me, I'm going to have to root for Peyton Manning on Monday Night Football.) Let's further assume the Bungles revert to their old form and play badly the whole night; that would also bring them to 8-6. With two weeks to go, that would make the AFC Wild Card picture look like this:

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CINCINNATI*, DENVER*, JACKSONVILLE, N.Y. JETS: 8-6
KANSAS CITY, BUFFALO, TENNESSEE, PITTSBURGH: 7-7
MIAMI: 6-8^

* temporarily holds Wild Card spot
^ completely screwed

----------------

Now, let us review the possibilities. Miami, as noted, won't make it. This is because the Dolphins stink. Also, they can't play in cold weather, have a schmuck for a coach and have a snowball's chance of beating the Colts and the Jets over the next two weeks.

Of course, it WOULD be great if the Dolphins could beat the Jets next week. That loss could well derail the Jets' hopes, given the intra-division tiebreaker. Also, if Oakland could pull off a miracle win to end the season, that would be great too. I mean, really now -- the Jets? In the playoffs? The mind staggers under the possibility. Nobody's taken these guys seriously since Namath, and I haven't seen any cause for change in that regard.

Now, as for Buffalo. That ain't gonna happen either. They've got to play Baltimore on New Year's Eve, a game they will lose. They also have to play Tennessee the week before, and they'll undoubtedly lose that one too. It is true that Tennessee has been on fire lately, but it's also worth noting that during the last week of the season, the Titans must play the New England Patriots. The Patriots don't like losing.

Right now, San Diego has an 11 point lead over Kansas City, so I'm going to guess they're not going to blow it. But the Chefs aren't out of the mix yet -- they get to play Oakland next week. I can't believe I'm going to have to root for Oakland. (Get thee behind me, Satan). Then, the Chiefs play Jacksonville.

Oh, yeah, Jacksonville. Say, the Patriots play Jacksonville next week. Sweet. (Wait a minute. Oh, no. Not the Patriots. I can't -- sigh -- oh boy. Um. Woo. Go Patriots. Temporarily). Well, it's pretty easy to conclude New England will do OK against Jacksonville, hopefully. So if they lost to New England and beat Kansas City, that would be the perfect scenario.

Denver, at 8-6, is also in a tough spot. They have to beat the evil Cincinnati Bengals and they must beat the San Francisco 49ers to be assured of a playoff spot. But they could just beat one of the two and they have an iffy divisional record. Cincinnati, at 8-6, has to play evil Denver and then, at the very end of the season, must play ... the Pittsburgh Steelers. One hopes the Steelers will, this time around, introduce Mr Zero Mucho -- or whatever his tagline is -- to how we do things downtown.

Anyway, based on my analysis, it seems clear Pittsburgh can still make it into the playoff picture, provided the following events take place:

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1. Pittsburgh beats Baltimore and then Cincinnati. (putting PIT at 9-7)
2. Cincinnati loses to Pittsburgh, Denver and Indianapolis. (putting CIN at 8-8)
3. Tennessee loses to New England. (putting TEN at 8-8)
4. Denver loses to San Francisco. (putting DEN at 9-7)
5. New York loses to either Oakland or Miami. (putting NYJ at 9-7)
6. Kansas City loses to Oakland. (putting KC at 8-8)
7. Jacksonville loses to New England and Kansas City. (putting JAX at 8-8).
8. Atlanta Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall vows, then takes, revenge against Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens for Owens' inexcusable behavior in the teams' recent meeting. Or the NFL fines Mr Owens again, whichever comes first.

(UPDATE, 12/20: Oops! The initial version of this had Tennessee losing to Baltimore instead of New England, which would've been fine except the teams don't play. Also, this had Kansas City losing to Jacksonville, as opposed to winning. Sorry. This goes to show the playoff system remains completely cloudy and impossible to predict, although the Bungles should have a rough time of things. Also, my initial version somehow left out the clear Item No. 9, which is that the Detroit Lions fire Matt Millen. The Rant regrets the errors. )

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Oops! Did Terrell Owens somehow make his way into the AFC playoff report? Well, it was clearly only a matter of time before someone, somewhere, did that, so I figured I'd do it and get it out of the way. Besides, think of it as priming for all the crap television broadcasts in which "T.O.'s" antics are discussed. They're coming. We all know they're coming.

But I digress. Anyway, should this scenario take place, it would leave three teams tied at 9-7. Pittsburgh, through virtue of its superior intradivisional record, would thus knock out Denver, and earn either the fifth or sixth seed in the AFC playoffs. It is possible and, heck, it may even be probable in a week or so -- although it could also fall apart in a matter of hours. Hell, it probably WILL fall apart in a matter of hours. But if that's the case, then the Colts lose and that can't be so bad.

Also, it has come to my attention that the teams in that other football conference are also vying for playoff spots, although I haven't been paying as much attention to the NFC's struggles. After all, the idea that the NFC team could actually win the Super Bowl is so outlandish that there's no real point in discussing the matter. Particularly given the way the Chargers are playing right now. Holy Christ, that's a good squad.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 11, 2006

Phrases One Doesn't Want to Hear

THERE ARE MANY PHRASES in life which, when spoken, generally prompt a sense of fear and dread in those to whom they're directed. "Irrational exuberance" was a famous one, and "not economically viable" is always sure to elicit groans and whimpers. For football fans, though, one of the key phrases one doesn't want to hear is "not yet mathematically eliminated."

Yet that very phrase was used on Sunday and used in connection with none other than the Pittsburgh Steelers, which at 6-7 are two games behind the main Wild Card contenders of Cincinnati and Jacksonville. There are just three games left in the regular season, which means Pittsburgh is in dire straits indeed, and almost certain to spend the post-season at home.

I have a feeling it's going to be a looooooooong 2007.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 07, 2006

Well, That Was a Good Start to the Weekend

SAY, MAYBE THERE'S HOPE for the Pittsburgh Steelers yet -- if not this season, then perhaps next year. After all, it's hard to feel anything but optimism when one's team takes a division rival to school, 27-7, and does so in a bitterly cold night game given national television exposure.

It wasn't just that QB Ben Roethlisberger did well, it was that everyone did well. Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington made some great catches, the offensive line was outstanding and Willie Parker, instead of falling down for a gain of one yard every first down, ran for a team record 223 yards. Plus, the defense -- although a little too porous on the pass for my liking -- held our opponents to just 18 yards rushing.

Gee, at this rate, the Steelers will crack the .500 barrier before we know it. Plus, with four weeks left in the season, it's entirely possible the Steelers could still make the playoffs. Admittedly, the chance of that happening is a bit slim, but hey. Keep hope alive.

Also, admittedly, this great victory came against the Cleveland Browns, although I don't want to beat up too badly on our divisional foes tonight. Part of that is because their new quarterback, whom no one ever heard of prior to Cleveland's win last week against Kansas City, did extremely well under the circumstances (21-37, 276, 1/1). It's not his fault his receivers couldn't hold onto the ball this evening, and it's not his fault Cleveland's run game couldn't get anything going either. However, he clearly has a lot of potential and did a lot to keep the game from being a total embarrassment for the Brownies. I mean, as the game went on, I kinda wanted Cleveland to score at least once.

But anyway. The important thing here is that Pittsburgh won, and we're just one game away from being .500. Now all we need is for Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Denver and the New York Jets to all lose this weekend, and it'll really bollux up the AFC playoff picture. OK, so Cincinnati is playing Oakland. But I'd be good with four out of five.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 03, 2006

Now Let Us Turn to the Work Which Must Be Done

SO ENDS THE BUSINESS of college football's regular season. This evening, the Bowl Championship Series alignments were announced, and it was revealed the University of Florida Gators will face the Ohio State University Buckeyes in the national championship game. The University of Michigan Wolverines, which ended up in third place after USC fell to UCLA on Saturday (!), will face the USC Trojans in the Rose Bowl.

Of course, I'm a bit disappointed about this. However, I also knew in my heart only a Florida loss on Saturday would cement Michigan's place in the national championship. Although we had only lost that one game to Ohio State, and by a margin of just three points, we had lost and so a rematch would have been anticlimatic.

Still, all that is now in the past, and Ohio State and Michigan must each now turn to the work which must be done. Simply put, both squads must do all they can in the next month to prepare for the January games, which will be against tough and seasoned opponents. Then, when January arrives, Ohio State must utterly destroy Florida, while Michigan must throw the Trojans down to the ground.

This isn't just about conference loyalty, or proving to the world OSU and Michigan are the two best teams in college football. This is about the hopes and dreams of millions of football fans from around this great nation, who would truly enjoy it if both USC and Florida got knocked on their asses next month. I mean, it's always fun watching the second-rate prepsters at USC cry in their beers whenever their football team loses, and it's always fun watching the arrogant Gators get their jaws snapped shut. Unless they're playing Florida State, which I detest even more, but that's another post entirely.

Anyway, Florida has so annoyed me this season I'm about to write something which would have been unthinkable for me just a month ago: I am going to root for Ohio State in the national championship game. Not only am I going to root for them, I'm going to stand up and cheer whenever they score a touchdown. I'm going to yell at the television whenever Jim Tressel's squad kicks an extra point, because they could have gone for two. Simply put, I want Ohio State to play so hard against Florida the Buckeyes leave the game wearing alligator shoes.

Much of this is because of Florida's coach, the classless and gauche Urban Meyer, who has spent much of the past couple of weeks whining about the BCS and openly advocating for Florida's inclusion in the championship. Now that Florida is in the game, the boorish simpleton is clucking about like a satisfied hen. As he said on Sunday of Florida's berth, "It's well deserved, and I'm proud of it."

(grind teeth)

I will simply applaud Michigan coach Lloyd Carr for his measured and appropriate response to Meyer's shameless antics. I will also applaud Coach Carr for his wise decision to stay silent on the matter until Sunday morning, when all was pretty much decided. Unlike certain schools, the University of Michigan does not need to lobby for a place in a national championship game.

That's because Michigan's football team has something which Florida's doesn't. Well, actually, it has many things, but a key one of those things is discipline. Now, discipline is a hallmark of any quality football program, but something which one may find lacking in a collegiate football squad from Florida. To be fair, the Florida Gators seem to be the most well-run football program of any in the wretched state, but even that doesn't say much. After all, it doesn't take a lot to improve upon the behavior one finds at -- oh, let's say the private University of Miami, or even certain other schools in the Florida college system:

(n.b. clip contains sound)

There are other versions of that tape out there with the actual sound footage on them. Some feature the comments of the game analyst, a one-time Miami football player who practically cheered on the fighting Miami squad. The man was later fired for his remarks, but it says something that players were engaged in a massive brawl, some swinging their helmets as weapons, and it met with approval.

What? Yeah, OK, so Florida technically has "nothing to do with all that" and this whole line of inquiry is "a complete cheap shot." That's not the point. The point is ... well, I wanted to show the clip. Also, even though Florida may be the least aggravating of the state's college football squads, they're still incredibly aggravating. As such, they must be crushed underfoot and beaten like a cheap rug.

But I digress. Ohio State, please go out and mercilessly crush Florida next month, if only because it could shut Urban Meyer up for as many as three weeks; or, at the very least, embarrass him horribly. That would be a beautiful thing.

As for my Wolverines, I hope they soundly defeat USC. For one thing, it's USC, whom everyone dislikes. But if that isn't reason enough, there's always the fact the Pac 10 is a generally overrated conference which needs to get knocked down a peg or two. Michigan, I think, is just the team to do this. So go forth, men of Michigan, and return Champions of the West.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 18, 2006

One for the Ages

THE RANT WOULD like to offer a grudging yet sincere congratulations to the Ohio State University Buckeyes, who eked out a 42-39 win over the Michigan Wolverines this evening in Columbus, Ohio.

The No. 1 Buckeyes and the No. 2 Wolverines fought it out in an epic battle spanning all four quarters, and although Michigan was beaten, its partisans can hold their heads unbowed. In the years to come, there will be other games and other coaches, and the Buckeyes will have to venture to Ann Arbor.

Michigan can stand proud of its performance. With no turnovers, well-coordinated offensive plays and sharp defensive maneuvers, it was able to stay in the game even when things looked grim. Special mention should go to DT Alan Branch, who made a crucial interception AND a fumble recovery, both of which were deep in Ohio State territory. The usual crew -- Hart, Henne, Manningham, et al. -- also deserve praise for their work. Ohio State must also be commended for its performance, as the team DID beat us with that damned offense.

Of course, the game was so strong and so heart-wrenching on both sides that I suppose it might fuel talk about a rematch in Arizona for the national championship. I don't think that will happen for several reasons, not the least of which is that we already had our shot at Ohio State, and missed. But that also tells me something else: that the partisans of teams in the SEC or the Pac-10 or the Big East ought prepare themselves. For on Jan. 8, the night will almost certainly prove very long, and very cold.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

GameDay Awaits

THE DETROIT NEWS' Bob Wojnowski has written a great column reflecting on the life and career of Bo Schembechler, the legendary former football coach at the University of Michigan. Schembechler passed away yesterday, and news of his death has stunned the Michigan faithful.

However, I have a feeling the coach would want us to continue the rivalry with an even greater passion than before. As such, I would note Mr Wojnowski's column printed in Friday's edition of the paper.

Here's some key quotes from Mr Wojnowski:


"The Buckeyes have won four of the past five meetings and are 11-0 and ranked No. 1. When they host underdog No. 2 Michigan on Saturday, it's expected to be the biggest day in Columbus since the invention of the deep fryer."

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"Yes, U-M fans can get ridiculous, too, although they save most of their expletives for Lloyd Carr's play-calling. But there's no doubt it's crazier in Columbus, partly because the Buckeyes have nothing else to distract them, no other major rivals, no other major teams to follow, no silly concerns about "academics," no important social or economic issues to worry about, like saving the whales or saving the auto industry."

---------------

"The competition on the field between the Wolverines and Buckeyes is always spirited, respectful and wonderfully intense. Off the field? Uh, not so much.

"U-M fans aren't blameless, either. I've seen cases where Wolverines arrogantly wore their school colors in Columbus and sometimes even cheered out loud. And I understand many brazenly drive down there -- get this -- in their very own cars with Michigan license plates. Boy, that's pretty dumb. You have a Michigan license plate, you might as well have a sign that states, "Vandalize me! It's OK! I'm insured!""

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Now go read the rest, have some breakfast, turn on GameDay, make sure you have adequate supplies of chips, dip and beer, and get ready for some football.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 17, 2006

I'm at a Loss for Words

THE DETROIT NEWS has reported Bo Schembechler, the legendary former football coach for Michigan, passed away this morning at the age of 77. His death came just a day before Michigan faces Ohio State in what may be the most-anticipated game of their hundred-year rivalry.

Here's another fine story about the game on Saturday, in which Schembechler, among others, shared his thoughts on the upcoming contest.

He will be missed.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Clock is Ticking!

I SUPPOSE I really shouldn't mind the fact ESPN is hyping the Michigan-Ohio State game on Saturday, considering this is one of the few times when the network isn't hyping some matchup in the SEC or other conference I care little about. That said, this countdown clock keeping track of the exact time until the game seems a bit much.

I mean, every fan who could possibly care must know the game will be broadcast on ABC nationally at 3:30 p.m., with one hour of pre-game coverage taking place beforehand. So why have a clock counting down the seconds until the game Saturday? I mean, believe me, I know full well it's 39 hours and change before the kickoff in Columbus. 39 hours. Oh, God.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:08 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 15, 2006

Programming Note

IN THE EVENT any of my readers are close to a television, you may be interested in checking out the Miami of Ohio v. Bowling Green game now on ESPN2. Due to heavy rain, the gridiron has turned into a soupy, muddy mess. It's the fourth quarter, Miami is leading by a score of just 9-7, and no one can handle the ball -- players are dropping passes, falling down while running, slipping during field goal tries, etc.

It's a hell of a great football game!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Michigan, It’s Time for Trampling Out the Vintage

ON SATURDAY, the nation’s two best college football teams will play the greatest game in the greatest rivalry of sporting history. The undefeated Michigan Wolverines, ranked No. 2 in the national standings, will play the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes, who reign supreme in college football. Yet this reign is a tenuous one, for the ranking formulae say Ohio State leads by just three thousandths of a point over their rivals. On Saturday, only one team shall be left standing.

Never has such a battle taken place before, and perhaps no such battle may happen again in our lifetimes. Ever since 1835, when Michigan and Ohio fought a small armed conflict over Toledo, these two states have had it in for each other – a rivalry which is now fought on the football field. As someone who grew up in Michigan, and an alumnus of the University of Michigan, I can only hope my Michigan Wolverines triumph in Columbus on Sunday.

I know they can do it. I have watched them play nearly every game this season. Their defense is impeccable and their offense is extremely good. The same can be said for Ohio State, of course, but Michigan has been infused with a drive and a passion this year that I haven’t seen in a long time. This is a team which wants to win; a confident and determined team which will strike with furious anger when need be.

Besides, Mark May on ESPN just predicted Ohio State would win, and he has annoyed me for the last time. Thus, I would beseech my Michigan team: beat Ohio State. Beat them. Beat them without mercy. Beat them until the Buckeyes’ fans wail and gnash their teeth, and rend their garments in agony and despair. Or, at the very least, are in a bad mood on the drive home. Whichever works – the point is, just beat them. Throw the Buckeyes down to the ground.

Yes, men of Michigan, if ever there was a time for trampling out the vintage, this is it. It has been a hard-fought season and our victories have been sweet, but could there be anything sweeter than earning a shot in the national championship game AND ruining Ohio State’s season at the same time? Clearly, there could not. So though you walk through the valley of the Horseshoe, fear not, for truth and justice – and the best defensive coordinator in all of college football – are on your side.

Good luck, and return Champions of the West.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 10, 2006

A Sea Change in American Life

THIS WEEK, America witnessed a revolution in the standing order of things. As a nation watched transfixed, a small band of partisans challenged the establishment, and triumphed. It was a victory which will undoubtedly make its way into history, and one which has shaken many basic assumptions about American life.

What? No, I'm not talking about the election. I’m talking about Rutgers – Rutgers, for God’s sake – beating Louisville on Thursday night football, and scoring 21 unanswered points to do so. For that matter, I’m talking about the whole Big East Conference, and the very idea of having to take it seriously. My God.

I found this idea so troubling that, faced with such a situation – in which No. 15 Rutgers knocked off No. 3 Louisville, which itself had knocked off No. 3 West Virginia the week before – I did what many Americans would do. Namely, I consulted The Revelation to John to see if this was a sign of the End Times. In Revelation 6:18-25, I found the following:

When he opened the eighth seal, I looked, and behold! there was a great earthquake; and the Trojans fell, the Mountaineers were thrown down and a giant wild boar did devour the War Eagle down to its last feather. The BCS standings vanished like an old ledger shredded on a tired Jan. 3, and every conference was removed from its place.

Then the coaches of the earth and the sportscasters and the columnists and the season ticket-holders and the fans engaged in much wailing and gnashing of teeth, particularly if they rooted for the SEC. Even in Ann Arbor and Columbus, the fans of the great powers paused for a moment and said, “Wait, what? Rutgers did what? Aren’t they the ones with the blue field? No? Wait -- the ones with the blue field are undefeated too? This is madness!”

I don’t know about you, but I have to agree with the commentators tonight who described Rutgers’ victory as the most important since the school beat Princeton – in the first college football game ever. It was an amazing comeback and an amazing performance and proof that Rutgers needs to be in a major bowl game this year.

I’m just having trouble getting my mind about the fact that Rutgers has a great football team. Also, I wish I could say this was an isolated experience this year, but I’m increasingly becoming befuddled at the changes happening in college football. I mean, Wake Forest has a good team this year? What’s up with that? Kent State has a winning record this year? Kent State? One of the worst teams in college football?

That’s not to say I mind the changes – after all, there’s nothing wrong with USC getting knocked on its ass for once – but things are getting a bit out of hand, especially with all these football commentators going on about the BCS. Now look. All this talk about who will play second-fiddle in the National Championship Game is meaningless. We all know which one-loss team will be in the best position to play on Jan. 8.

Ohio State, of course.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:31 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 06, 2006

Nods of Respect

MY GOOD FRIEND Chris wrote me recently and asked whether the Oakland Raiders, having defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, would soon be receiving the "Boba Fett Nod of Respect."

I can assure Mr Weinkopf -- and everyone reading this blog -- that the Raiders will not be receiving the nod of respect anytime soon. In fact, given the way they're playing against the Seattle Seahawks tonight, I'd sooner give the nod of respect to my high school's football team.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

In Which I Insult All Things Peyton Manning

NOTICE: Loyal Rant Readers are advised the following post contains considerable bluster, negative vibes, and outrageous statements about the following people, places and things: Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, the Sprint Nextel Corp., MasterCard Inc., the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, the Southeastern Conference of the NCAA, the South Division of the AFC, and a good broad swath of the American South -- but mostly Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.

Thank you, and remember: buy more! Buy more now!

Standards Dept.
Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant Inc.
Hamilton, Bermuda

------------

A MAN CAN ENDURE MUCH in life, provided he has the right attitude. That may mean suppressing one's indignation at a perceived slight, staying on an even keel through a prolonged period of difficulty, or forsaking a small gain to potentially earn a large one. But there are times when one faces the unendurable, and times when even the calmest of men must stand in opposition to gross pride and infamy.

As such, I stand and say: I've had it with Peyton Manning.

No, really. I've had it with Peyton Manning. I've had it with his smarminess and arrogance. I've had it with the fawning adulation devoted to his every act and the hagiography which appears in the daily press. I've had it with the attention paid to his football career, which too often overlooks all his great offensive lines and his amazing ability to choke whenever the going gets tough. And I've especially had it with all the people who keep foisting the Golden Child onto a national advertising market. Please. Stop it already.

Yes, people at MasterCard Inc., that means you. Now that you're publicly-traded, I realize why you're advertising on television. After all, having more people use their MasterCard cards to buy things translates into more revenue for you, the processing network. Well, guess what. The idea of trying to pay cash until you stop using Peyton Manning in your advertising feels pretty goddamned priceless right about now. Use someone people can actually stomach, like Chicago Bears QB Rex Grossman.

As for you, Sprint, you can take your Sprint NFL Mobile service and shove it until you start using quarterbacks that are better than "pretty good." Perhaps you could sign, oh, Tom Brady, who is classy and includes his offensive linesmen in his commercials. If that doesn't work, why not use Charlie Batch, whom everyone likes and respects? Hell, even Matt Hasselbeck would be nice. But Peyton Manning? No.

This is not to say that I'm opposed to the idea of Peyton Manning advertising stuff. But I can't understand why the advertisers think he would play to an audience outside the states of Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana, which are his natural audience for a variety of reasons. Outside those states, people have their own football loyalties and teams, and generally speaking, they're far different than in those states.

Here in New England, for instance, people generally react to the Colts (and Peyton Manning) with something approaching disgust and nausea, as if they've just seen someone throw up in front of them. As a Steelers fan, I'd venture to guess most Steelers fans would TiVo Colts-Steelers games just so they could go back and watch Peyton get sacked again and again. And I can't imagine this scenario is different anywhere else. There are 32 teams in the NFL and only the fans of one team like that son of a gun. Even the AFC South -- crappy division that it is -- has to hate the guy.

I have to think the national advertisers are overplaying their hand, or are relying on the strange idea that people like Peyton Manning because of his college career. He was a good quarterback at Tennessee, although certainly not worthy of the Heisman Trophy. Yet even this doesn't explain the strange jump to the national scene. Sure, all the Tennessee partisans liked him and thought he was robbed, but come on.

Ah, well. It turns out this post wasn't as bent-out-of-shape as I thought it would be at the start. However, I do think all of us who really don't like Peyton Manning should boycott the products he advertises until the advertisers stop using him as a pitchman, or at least tone things down a bit. Christ.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Well, That About Sums Things Up

THE RANT WOULD like to note this post from Basegirl, the New England-friendly sports blog which you ought regularly read, if you are not already doing so. She writes, in reference to last night's game between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts:

Please stare at this lovely image of Jason Varitek on a unicorn while Kristen rambles on about the worst possible time for Tom Brady to turn human, wonders aloud if it hurts John Madden to have his head that far up Peyton Manning's ass and considers if John Mellencamp has been brought in to drive her completely batshit.

Yeah, that pretty much sums up how people reacted to last night's game -- even if, like me, they're not generally Patriots fans.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 05, 2006

Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls -- It Tolls for Pittsburgh

THE RANT IS PROUD to note our Saskatchewan Roughriders, in an amazing 30-21 victory over the Calgary Stampeders, have made it through the first round of the post-season. They'll play the British Columbia Lions next Sunday for the Scotiabank West Division Championship. Clearly the Grey Cup awaits!

I'm glad to see there's joy in Regina, or Saskatoon, or wherever the Roughriders play, tonight. Even though the Roughriders fell behind 21-5, they managed to score 25 unanswered points to return to victory. How did the Roughriders end up scoring five points, and then scoring 25 additional points? You don't really want to know. Anyway, this -- oh, hell.

Pittsburgh lost. Again. Shit.

This play kind of sums up the Steelers' season thus far. The player on the poster is Hines Ward, Pittsburgh's star wide receiver. At the moment this photo was taken, Mr Ward was doing his damnedest to cross the goal line for a crucial touchdown. Sadly, Denver Broncos free safety John Lynch knocked the ball free from Mr Ward's grasp, leading to a fumble which Denver then recovered.

Shit.

Not that Mr Ward had anything to do with the loss. He played brilliantly throughout the game and that's why this picture depresses me, because the man has grit. But as my father has said, and a colleague of mine said today, it's not the winning that defines a sports fan -- it's the losing. The endurance and the pain of losing.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 03, 2006

This Bodes Well for Annapolis

EARLIER THIS WEEK, Air Force quarterback Shaun Carney told a New York newspaper that his Falcons squad would defeat Army by the outlandish score of 49-7. Cadet Carney went so far as to say his team needed to run up the score against some opponent.

Now, in any collegiate or professional football game, a 42 point margin of victory is pretty amazing, even in an early-season chump game. Generally speaking, it represents a thorough stomping of the other side, and a completely lopsided game. As such, it's an especially bold prediction to make when one is about to travel to the stadium of one's opponent, and when that opponent is similarly talented.

Well, here in the third quarter, it's Air Force 43, Army 0.

Gawd.

Um -- congratulations, Air Force. Geez.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 29, 2006

It's Going to Be a Long, Cold, Wretched Winter

DARKNESS CAME EARLY TODAY. At 5 p.m. it was pitch black outside, and some two hours later I stumbled out of work feeling groggy and wretched. Surely, I thought to myself, there had to have been some mistake. Surely the Oakland Raiders, one of the worst teams in all of football, hadn't somehow managed to defeat my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers. Surely Pittsburgh's playoff hopes, and their hopes for ultimate sporting glory, didn't just enter into the dreaded "slim to none" category. Surely ... oh, God. Stick a fork in the Steelers' season. At this rate, we'll be lucky to make .500.

Already my conniving brother has sent out an e-mail noting that his team, the lowly Cleveland Browns, are listed ahead of the Steelers in the AFC North standings. Ugh. Even the Browns actually managed to win today. We, on the other hand, should have defeated the Raiders soundly, but failed to do so after a series of blunders. As a result, we now face a pretty much ruined season -- unless we manage to win nine games in a row.

We play Denver next week.

Anyway, with the encroaching polar darkness, the dropping temperatures and the noteworthy lack of football progress, I have a feeling this is going to be a long, cold, wretched winter -- barring those wonderful few days around New Year's, of course.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 22, 2006

Happy Thoughts

THE RANT WOULD like to congratulate the Saskatchewan Roughriders, of the Canadian Football League's West Division, for successfully making it into this year's postseason.

I look forward to cheering on Saskatchewan as it fights for the Grey Cup, and I'm confident the Roughriders will make their fans proud during the November playoffs. Admittedly, in the eight-team Canadian league, only two teams don't manage to make it into the postseason; and with one game left in the season, Saskatchewan has a record of just 9-8. Still, getting in the playoffs is getting in the playoffs, and I think that's an accomplishment worth cheering --

READER: Hey! You haven't seen a CFL game on TV since late July! Aren't you just using this as an excuse to not talk about the Steelers?

Uh, no! Not at all! Never! I love talking about the Steelers -- I'm just not now prepared to discuss the team's performance today. I'm still digesting what happened with the game and I think I'll be ready to discuss it at a later point. But Sask--

READER: You've got to be kidding.

No, not really. I mean, it certainly was disappointing to see Pittsburgh lose in overtime, and I thought both Ben Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch played very well. But I still don't feel I can offer adequate judgment on other aspects of the game ...

READER: Wait a minute. Didn't you, earlier today, express what could reasonably called "incandescent rage" at what you termed the "ineptitude" of the special teams squad?

I'm not going to dignify that with a response, although I would note it does help matters when a punt returner successfully catches all his punts, and the special teams unit is able to tackle punt returners. Yes? We have a question over there --

READER: Four fumbles.

Yeah. Anyway, moving on --

READER: Let's talk about the Cincinnati Bengals! They won!

Let's not, please. The last thing I need to talk about is how the Bengals somehow managed to eke out a victory against the Carolina Panthers. Right now, Bengals partisans within my own family are preparing nasty insults and unfriendly e-mails to send out -- or even worse, being silently pleased with themselves and their team. Faugh!

READER: Well, at least next week the Steelers get to play Oakland!

Yeah, that'll be fun! Of course, the trouble there is that we might somehow end up losing that game too, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Right now, the important thing is to focus on ... uh ... well, how about the Michigan Wolverines? Woo hoo! Go Blue!

READER: ...

Oh come on. Give me that, at least. It's been a tough day for football -- a tough, tough, tough day.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 20, 2006

Report: NFL Threat Hoax Man "Disgruntled Brewers Supporter"

By QUINN QUIMBLEY
Daily Rant Staff Reporter

MILWAUKEE, Wisc. -- Federal authorities have said the 20-year-old man responsible for a hoax threat against football stadia nationwide is "a disgruntled Milwaukee Brewers fan,"