Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Schwab! Seee-crets...

By now, most of you have either watched or heard about my performance on ESPN's Stump The Schwab. For those who haven't, here's a quick and dirty recap, before I reveal its inner-workings:

I beat the other contestants in my particular episode, which was my initial goal. ESPN paid for nothing in terms of travel and lodging, so actually coming out of this in the black was a relief. Unfortunately, I was no match for The Schwab and his minions in the Schwab Showdown, and was thus denied the opportunity to continue on my quest.

I have to thank my friend Colleen, by the way, for allowing me to sleep on her couch for 3 nights. Not only did I get my first exposure to Harlem, but I saved who knows how much on Hotel fees.

As for my "big day", it was quite long. We had to be at the Lower Manhattan studio at 10 am to get ready for this show. In their desire to get this show "in the can" as expeditiously as possible, they were doing 3 episodes this day. We had been assigned our fellow competitors, but then the shows Lawyer-type made is draw lottery balls out of a hat to determine which time-slot we had. Naturally, I ended up on the final show of the day, scheduled to begin shootin around 5 in the afternoon.

No problem, right? I'll just watch the other episodes being shot. Wrong. Fearing that we might be able to divine what categories would be presented to us by watching these prior tapings, we were sequestered in the "Green Room" with some VHS tapes of late 90's cinema. I use the term "Green Room" was more like 2 couches, a 13" TV, and small window. I guess "Minimum-Security Prison Cell" would be more accurate.

Nonetheless, I finally got around to seeing Swingers, all the way through, for the first time. Sad that it's taken this many Jon Favreau-pounds-gained for me to just now see his finest work. After several hours of waiting, not being allowed to study my copious notes, and a showing of L.A. Confidential (great movie), they were ready to send us into the Belly of the Beast.

I hoped to get a chance to exchange pleasantries with Schwab, and even Stuart Scott (maybe even find out he isn't the jock-sniffing poseur that he portrays on TV), but that didn't happen. This really just seemed like a thing both of them wanted to get over with so they could go home. I can't say I was too surprised.

In my college days, I was a TV intern, and worked around many personalities who seemed to take their job for granted - even though there were thousands of viewers, and small-market broadcasters, who would take their place in a nanosecond. Eventually, I guess it all just becomes work, regardless of what you do.

Finally on set, we get the show rolling. I had a notebook with about 150 pages of potential categories, so I felt very prepared. Then, we get the first category in "Leading Off" from Stu:

"Name the 16 players who had 10 or more sacks in the NFL last season."

Well, there's a category I wasn't expecting. I'm first, too, so I go for the most obvious answer...

Me: Michael Strahan
Stu: Correct

That's great. Still blanking on who to go with next. Why didn't I think of this one? The guy next to me misses, then Schwab and the big dude from Chicago name guys I wouldn't have thought of. turn again. I feel so lame going for names even a casual football fan would think of...

Me: Simeon Rice
Stu: Correct

Shwew...that's already two more than the guy next to me. I end up being the last contestant left, and I'm looking to go obscure (i.e. a Falcon). I can't remember who had more sacks though...Patrick Kerney or Rod Coleman.

Kerney, Coleman, Kerney, Coleman, Kerney, Coleman...

Me (aloud): Patrick Kerney
Stu: Incorrect

Great, I can't even remember stuff from my favorite pro team, I'm screwed!

Miraculously, that turns out not to be the case as I scoot through to the next round, take out my reaming competition, and move on to the Showdown. Once there, I get the distinct pleasure of mentioning my Alma Mater on the air.

The Question: "What 3 time ACC Coach of the Year came out of retirement in 2006 to take the head coaching job at College Of Charleston?"

My Answer: "Former Appalachian State Head Coach Bobby Cremins."

In your face, Georgia Tech! Although, I did enjoy Lethal Weapon 3's run to the Final Four back in '90. So, thanks for that.

Really, the first two questions in the Showdown couldn't have gone any better for me. The first question was from the category involving Baseball Mascots, and I honestly had the thought "I wonder if they'll ask one about the former Montreal Expos' mascot, Youppi!?". Sure enough, he/it was the answer to the first question.

After that, though, I don't think it could have gone any worse. I blanked the rest of the way, and got a few strange looks from the Schwab when I missed. I wanted to smack the look off his face, just to take him back to High School for a moment, but thought better of it. Besides, how many 28 year-olds do you know can even remember that Wendell Tyler played for the Rams (or who he was), even if it's the wrong answer?

I went pretty meekly. Along the way, though, I learned a few things:

A) I'm too racey for ESPN Classic. Early on in the show, Stu asked me about a particular streaking incident I was party to in college. I completely blanked that I had written that on my application, in a shameless attempt to get on the show. I guess my description of how I protected my...uh... future children (upon taking a nasty fall during the incident) was a little too vivid. Thus, it was edited out.

B) The editors ostensibly also thought I was a Red State xenophobe. The 2nd category in Round 1 was "Name the Final 16 Teams in this year's World Cup". We killed the category...and when I gave my final answer, it involved the States' arch-rival in soccer. My actual reply was "As much as it pains me to say it - Mexico." What made the air was me saying "Mexico". Me saying what I said is basically like a Michigan fan being forced to answer about who won the 2003 Fiesta Bowl.

Apparently, though, the post-production folks were worried that a Mexican-American viewer might be offended...the largest group in this country that is acutely aware of the aforementioned rivalry. Between this and the Streaking story, they succeeded in editing much of my personality out of the show. Kind of ironic, since ESPN has a track-record of including too much personality in their other shows. Boo yah!

C) The Schwab may know alot, but he appears scared of College Football. Considering his Yankee upbringing, it's no shock. I think I'd avoid Hockey like the plague if the tables were turned. I still find it interesting - considering that one of the producers confessed to us that the writers for the show are running out of categories for the "Leading Off" round. It's a subject that certainly would have helped me alot.

So, I come back to Atlanta $1,000 richer (Less the cost of airfare and food. Thanks, ESPN!), and secure in the knowledge that I don't know as much about Sports Trivia as The Schwab. I'm actually glad that I don't. I'd have to think it might affect my social life just a smidge if I did. As one of my female friends put it - "I know how to Stump The Schwab...ask him how to pick up chicks!"

Of course, his wife might have something to say about that.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Parallel Football

I've said many times to friends that the closest thing in the U.S. to the tradition, and atmosphere of European soccer is College Football.

Inspired by my attendance at the SEC West slugfest between Auburn and LSU (the football equivalent of a 1-nil victory), I will effort to explain the various European leagues to you by offering up their corresponding College Football conference. I hope I can continue my efforts to bridge the gap between these two, seemingly disparate, cultures.

Coincidentally - last weekend, Manchester United and Arsenal slogged through a 1-0 decision in a rivalry that is very similar to the one I was witness to. Neither involves a common border. Rather, they were borne out of the fight for league supremacy, and neither fan base has a fondness for the other.

Now, regarding the subject of acquainting these distant cousins.

In European leagues there are several elite teams battling not only for their particular country's League crown, but for the Champions' League title. Meanwhile, smaller clubs would be ecstatic to somehow win the league once a quarter-century, or maybe get a berth in the UEFA Cup.

This, of course, is much the same way a team like LSU considers a season out of the BCS picture a failure, while Kentucky would tear down their goalposts after making the Liberty Bowl.

Much like I-A football having the Big 6 Conferences, European soccer has the Big 4 leagues. Obviously, the numbers don't match, so we'll get a little creative.

The Pac 10: The German Bundesliga - A league that currently houses only one truly top-notch team, Bayern Munich. Leaguewide, there are several serviceable sides that somehow manage to remain pretenders to the throne. Bayern attracts some of the best players from across the continent, while the other teams always seem to get smoked when facing non-German opposition. It's a league that has gradually lost the ability to turn out quality defenses (much like the death of The Desert Swarm), and, if not for Bayern, might be in danger of falling out of The Big 4.

Also, The Pac-10 houses most of its teams in California, and the Bundesliga covers a unified Germany. Thus, both collectives feature fans who think Communism might actually work if just given another chance.

The Big 12: Italian Serie A - Several very solid organizations at the top of the league, and some shockingly bad teams at the bottom. Serie A embodies the economic gap between affluent Northern Italy and relatively barren Southern Italy much like The Big 12 embodies the difference between the booming population of the Southwest and the static, primarily rural, population of the Great Plains. The league has worked for years to shed images of a largely defensive mentality paired with vanilla offenses.

Much like the formerly seperate Big 8 and SWC of the 1980's, Serie A has recently had to deal with two of it's more powerful clubs, AC Milan and Juventus, being caught in a scandal of the highest order. Juventus played the unfortunate role of SMU in this case, being relegated to the lower divisions of Italian soccer - likely for many years to come. AC Milan is hoping to return to prominence a little...uh..."sooner" than that.

This development has allowed one of the other glamour clubs, Inter Milan, to re-ascend to the top of the league after a relatively dormant period - unlike Texas, it wasn't because they foolishly hired John Mackovic as their Head Coach.

The ACC: French Ligue 1 (Leeg Uh! if you are looking for the correct pronunciation) - Constantly clamoring that they should be included in the discussion of the top leagues, while being pretty much dominated by the same team every year. Before the arrival of Virginia Tech and Miami - Florida State controlled the ACC Title like Olympique Lyon currently controls Le Championnat.

When criticized about their qualifications for inclusion in European's Soccer Elect, will respond in a similar fashion to ACC fans by touting their superior culture and education over neighboring barbarians. Ultimately, these sour grapes are derived from their inability to convert similar resources into the results of their neighbors...

The SEC: La Liga - Spain's top division. Despite grumblings from some pastily complected folks that live north of there, widely considered the toughest league on the continent. Full of teams who have seen success domestically and continentally, as well as a slew of provincial and cross-regional rivalries. Through excessive government control, and shady backroom deals, Alaba...I mean...Real Madrid were able to dominate the league for many years.

With corruption and subversion now less prominent in the region - Real's primary rival - along with 2 or 3 other large clubs appear poised to do battle for supremacy in the coming years. Despite this, Real's fans will still try and convince you that they are the flagship club of La Liga.

Also, as in the SEC, you do not want to commit the egregious era of mistaking one Spanish dialect for another. The consequences could be dire!

Of course, there is another league that often clamors of the title Best of the Best, even though it's teams have a reputation for coming up just short during European competitions...

The Big 10: English Premier League - The oldest of the big European leagues, and despite having teams set in some sparsely populated areas, constantly one of the best attended. A league that, until recently, was dominated by the team with the largest stadium in the country. That is, until a mad genius arrived from a second tier league, and took over a club in one of the largest population centers. Using seemingly endless resources, he finally backed up that teams claim that it is a force to be reckoned with on the continent. Interestingly enough, Ohio State's Jim Tressel and Chelsea's Jose Mourinho even bear a passing resemblance.

Their footprints are both identified as places where ideal versions of the English Language are spoken. Yet, England and Big 10 Country (By virtue of running from Pennsylvania to the Dakotas) have mangled their native tongue into numerous semi-indecipherale vernaculars.

Our next subject is a rogueish monolith that is always trying to butt in on the party. Charting its own course - even though it occupies an overlapping swath of land to the EPL...

Notre Dame: The Old Firm - Scotland's flagship clubs, Celtic and Rangers. They are pretty much an anachronism in the modern soccer scene, despite what their supporters (and a handful of media members) claim. Always purporting to be part of Europe's Ruling Class, until they fall meekly to a team from one of the power leagues. Haven't won anything significant in a really long time.

Inextricably linked with a particular Christian Sect, despite the fact that most of their players likely don't subscribe to those beliefs. If not for years of tradition and rabid fans, their status on the periphery of the main leagues would probably have put them in the same position as...

Army/Navy: The Scottish Premier League - Really just scheduling fodder for The Old Firm. Every once and a while they'll make someone sweat, but never really seem capable of a big breakthrough season. Their best days ended a long time ago, and a UEFA Cup berth is usually a sufficient outcome for their respective fanbases.

Still, they aren't that far behind a league that claims to be part of the elite, but is usually met with raised eyebrows and chuckles...

The Big East: The Dutch Eredivisie - Home to 3 decent teams - Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven, and Ajax. As in The Big East, most fans outside its borders couldn't name the rest of the league if you put a gun to their head. Nonetheless, very few around Europe would want to face those Top 3 in a winner-take-all scenario.

It all makes sense, now, doesn't it?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

2 Athens In Battle For "Ninja City" Title

It's good to know that after all the years of Athens, Georgia honoring its Hellenic namesake, the Grecians are giving back:

Petros Onen, 49, had held up 11 small suburban bank branches making away with 50,000 euros ($63,590) in recent months, threatening to throw his razor-sharp, palm-size stars -- made famous by the Japanese ninja warriors -- at cashiers, police said.

You'll remember that, in April of this year, UGA Student Jeremiah Ransom forever linked the words "Athens" and "Ninja" when he was accosted by some serendipitously placed ATF agents.

Fortunately, this time the authorities in Greece arrested someone actually attempting to abuse Real, Ultimate Power.

Nonetheless, it's nice to see a little friendly competitions among the Athens. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm on my way to Ohio University for Nunchuk convention.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Fake Band Shows Shocking Lack of Creativity

This made my day:

"Orange County, CA band, Supernova, have won their fight against CBS show, Rock Star: Supernova, as San Diego Judge John Houston ruled Tuesday (Sept. 12) that the company will have to rename the band formed from their reality show..."

Yeah, it doesn't take much to make my day.

Wow. You mean the replacement bassist for Metallica, the replacement guitarist for Guns N' Roses, and the uh...replacement hose for Bret Michaels couldn't come up with an original name for a prefabricated band? Shocking.

Just to illustrate the density of the folks making creative decisions for this "supergroup" - the original Supernova has been around since 1989, been on the line-up for 2 Warped Tours, and was under contract to Atlantic Records. In other words, not exactly four buddies playing high school proms.

My college roommate (who I'm sure will be pissed that this is the first time I mention him on here) has been imploring me to watch this show. Discovering this story just reinforces my decision to avoid it.

Nevermind the fact that I'm not a huge fan of any of the bands these dudes previously schlepped for, but I just can't bring myself to watch an hour of what amounts to High-Stakes Karaoke. American Idol for Straight Men and Lesbians, if you will.

To that end - when you strip away the stage show, it's really just karaoke without the alcohol-laden kitschiness. None of these contestants are ever going to sing "Build Me Up, Buttercup" or "Afternoon Delight" are they? Didn't think so. What fun is that?

Even more depressing, some of the show's viewers will have the poor fortune to actually pay money to see Super...uh...whatever their name will be...tour. These are likely the same people who perpetuate the rampancy of cover bands across our fair nation.

I know people who get uber-excited about going to see less talented people play more talented people's music, and gleefully shell out $5 - $10 to do so. Unless I'm seeing a musician that might someday come out with an album of their own music, I am pretty reluctant to pay a cover. I avoid them like the plague anyway.

It's part of living in the city, I guess. Let me get this straight - I'll pay 5 bucks to get into your bar, and I still have to pay 4 dollars a pop for a beer? Really, you're too kind.

Sadly, I'm in the minority. I do have to say, though, that it's a good way to weed out potential dates. If your sole reason for being out is so you can see this "totally awesome 80's cover band", you're probably not someone I'm going to connect with. Thanks for gathering en masse. Your attendance is duly noted.

The cruel irony in all of this has to do with where I'm going tonight - off to eliminate another ten score single women from my dating pool. Damn you, pop culture!
Oh, and my suggestion for a new band name? Easy...they should be called Armada!

Friday, September 01, 2006

It Is Imperative That We Shield This Single Family Residence, 2006 Edition

It's finally here. When I was a child, my favorite time of the year was obviously Summer. As an adult, though, Summer might as well just be called Spring, part 2. I still have to work, but then I have to take extra care that my non-existant pigment isn't exposed to those harmful UV rays.

To put it mildly, other than the reduced traffic on my way to work - Summer is your hot ex-girlfriend from high school, who looks even better now. Meanwhile, you look, and you can't have her anymore.

That's why I welcome the early rustlings of Fall. For a child of the South, Autumn kicked off Thursday night, no pun intended, with the first games of the College Football season.

I'll have to say, last year will be hard to top for me. 2005 was the greatest football season of my life. I really only have 2 others that merit mentioning:

1990: My first season of really paying attention to the college game. Georgia Tech, led by the nasally commands of Bobby Ross, goes 11-0-1 to win a share of the National Championship with Colorado. The only blemish on Tech's record was a 13-13 tie at the hands of Mack Brown's North Carolina Tar Heels. Incidentally, it was the last time one of his team's showed up for a game against a highly ranked opponent before last season.

1998: My NFL entry. I've been a Falcons fan since I knew what football was. The only two players I knew when I was a toddler were Terry Bradshaw and Steve Barsss-kowski (Bartkowski in kidspeak). So, it stands to reason that the Falcons only trip to the Super Bowl is in here. The 1998 NFC Championship Game doesn't get the credit it deserves as being one of the best ever. The 14-2 Falcons upsetting the media darling 15-1 Vikings. I got to watch the game with my entire family, and I will never forget that feeling when I realized Jamal Anderson tore his ACL next year. Of course, Eugene Robinson celebrated in a much different way than I would have, and the Dirty Birds went meekly to John Elway and his Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII.

Both these seasons occupy a space on my Hot-Button List. That's the list my friends know they can go to if they want to see Angry Eric. The reasons being - there is no way a 10-1-1 Colorado team (including their infamous 5-Down victory over Missouri, and another Ref-Aided win over Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl) deserved any part of the National Title. Because of the asinine system that did (and still does) exist in Division I-A, the two best teams in the country couldn't settle it on the field that year. In that same year, 12-year-old Eric becomes a proponent of College Football Playoffs. The Falcons season is there because folks like to claim they were a fluke. Not true...the truth is they didn't provide for the likelihood of Jamal Anderson getting injured. Dan Reeves made the same mistake a few years later with Appalachian State wins the I-AA National Title. That's right, I-AA. I would guess that this might be one of the few blogs that has ever covered both professional soccer and I-AA football in the same year

I'm sure you're loading up your tired small college jokes for the comments section, and that's fine. I'm guessing you probably root for a school that you didn't even graduate from, or an Alma Mater that provides you with some sporting metaphor of acceptance because you can sit in a stadium with 70k + on a Saturday and all pull for the same team.

Okay, maybe this goes on the Hot Button list, too. I look at it this way, I'm not going to ever detract from a 2A High School for winning its State Title because they aren't 5A. They were presented with a similar set of perameters, and provided competition with schools under those same qualifications, and proved to be the best. That's something to be proud of. Add to that, it's the school that provided me with my degree, and there you have it.

Back to my original point, it was a fun ride. Thers is no substitute for playoff football. Former I-A Head Coach Bill Curry said as much while covering the Appalachian State-Furman Semi-Final last year. The fact that the teams know that they are done if they lose exponentially increases the intensity of said match-up. You can argue that a 1 loss team in I-A might behave in similar fashion because, as the BS line goes "The whole season counts." The lack of immediacy, and the I-A Pacifier (i.e. a Bowl Game, of which there are 34) often seems to mitigate that effect.

I hate it,'s the biggest problem I have with College Football. Maybe it's the fact that I was weened on the NFL, or maybe it's just the fact that I am not functionally retarded, but Bowls generally suck. In this way, I guess I look at the College Game as that girl I love, but who I know will never change their foolish ways. Still, I keep coming back, hoping they will finally see the error of their ways.

Ah well, here's to another fun season.