Saturday, January 30, 2010

Why the NFL Sucks

I wrote about this subject a few years ago, but after watching the Vikings get eliminated in overtime by the Saints last weekend, I thought it was worth reviving.

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a huge college football fan, but I don't care much for the NFL. Other reasons aside, one thing that really irks about the NFL is its sudden-death overtime system. It's wrong and unfair.

Because football is a game of alternating possessions, it doesn't lend itself to a system that determines its winner based on who can score first. Although the college game is flawed with the BCS, its alternating-possession system works well in overtime, where both teams have an equal chance to prevail. Sudden death works best in more fluid, back-and-forth sports like hockey, where possession changes often and the system provides the edge-of-your seat thrills that it's supposed to. It just doesn't have a place on the gridiron.

In football, the sudden-death system favors the offense. Yes, the offensive team has to receive the ball on their end of the field, but they only have to move the ball about 40 yards to set up a game-winning field goal. And this is what kills me the most about watching teams get eliminated from the playoffs in overtime: After a hard-fought game, sudden death essentially allows the random flip of a coin to likely determine the winner—but not necessarily the best team or the one that deserved to win. It's just cheap.

I remember watching the Titans beat the Steelers in overtime a few seasons ago on a Gary Anderson chip shot—well, chip shots (there were penalties). As Nashville began to go crazy, it felt like a victory that was neither decisive nor satisfying—all it proved was that the Titans could kick the ball through the uprights on their first possession in overtime. Could Pittsburgh have pulled that off had the coin flipped their way? Probably. But the Titans got to play the next week while the Steelers were done for the year.

The only way to improve the NFL's sudden-death system is to make teams go the length of the field to score touchdowns. Making it mandatory to get into the endzone would certainly make it fairer for the team playing defense, but the games would run longer. There's a downside no matter how you slice it, but above all, the factor that should take precedence is fairness.

The Vikings shot themselves in the foot several times against the Saints. But if there was no sudden death, Brett Favre might be playing next weekend in another Super Bowl. And although I'm not an NFL guru, Favre vs. Manning is a matchup that even I would be excited to watch.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Take a Bow

I'm not a big watcher of late-night television, but with all the recent drama around NBC's late-show lineup, and after watching Conan O'Brien's final shows last week on The Tonight Show, I realized that I have a lot of feelings on the subject.

Everyone should watch Conan's heartfelt farewell monologue. In the last segment of his last show, Conan laid down the arms that he'd been relentlessly bashing NBC with since he saw the writing on the wall a few weeks ago. In a rare moment of seriousness and sincerity, he closed with a classy statement to thank his longtime employer—the same employer he had faithfully and tirelessly served for over two decades, only to quickly become his adversary in his last two weeks of employment—not to mention the butt of all his (very funny) jokes.
"Between my time at Saturday Night Live, The Late Night Show, and my brief run here on The Tonight Show, I've worked with NBC for over 20 years. Yes, we have our differences right now. Yes, we're going our separate ways. But this company has been my home for most of my adult life. I am enormously proud of the work we have done together, and I wanna thank NBC for making it all possible. I really do."
On His Terms
You have to empathize with Conan in the same way that he empathizes with people on his show, because you can only imagine how devastating his decision was to step down from a dream job that he spent the better part of his career chasing.

But despite the fact that his show would have been pushed back just 30 minutes later to 12:05 a.m., Conan couldn't do it on principle alone. As a purist and a fan, he couldn't bring himself to participate in what he termed "the destruction" of The Tonight Show, according to a written statement. Conan refused to compromise. Earlier in his career under similar circumstances, maybe he would have. But not now.
"I sincerely believe that delaying The Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn't The Tonight Show."
In the same statement, Conan also showed deference to Jimmy Fallon, whose show would have been bumped back even further had Conan gone to 12:05. Even when he was finally on top, Conan didn't forget about the little guy. It was a position he knew very, very well.

On another note of professionalism, Conan was gracious in his untimely exit, choosing to see the glass as half-full.
"But despite this sense of loss, I really feel this should be a happy moment. Every comedian—every comedian—dreams of hosting The Tonight Show. And for seven months, I got to do it. And I did it my way, with people I love. I do not regret one second of anything that we've done here.

I encounter people when I walk on the street who give me kind of a sad look... I have had more good fortune than anyone I know, and if our next gig is doing a show in a 7-11 parking lot, we will find a way to make it fun."
The Wrong Guy
If they're not kicking themselves right now, NBC execs will when they realize what they've lost. It was one thing to not cut the cord with Jay Leno in 2009 after determining Conan to be his successor five years prior, but it was just insulting to restore Leno's prime placement a mere seven months after the baton had been passed. NBC should have stuck with the newer host who has the better range of generational appeal—the guy they chose to lead them into a new decade of late-night entertainment. Instead they pulled a Brett Favre-type reversal.

Leno is also to blame. If he didn't want to get out of late-night, he should have never agreed to step down years in advance while supporting his eventual successor. He should have taken his show elsewhere. And because The Chin hasn't backed down from a chance to reclaim what was his for a long time, he'll be in an unenviable position next to the martyred Conan when he returns on March 1st: as the bad guy.

During his final slate of episodes, it was really clear that Conan O'Brien is the one guy that NBC shouldn't have screwed over. General NBC trashing aside, Conan was intent on taking NBC for every penny he could—and he made sure everyone knew his rebellious stance. As parting shots, he introduced one-off, 11th-hour characters to the show that weren't so much funny as they were "crazy-expensive."

To illustrate further, the first line from the opening monologue of his last show says it all:
"Ladies and gentlemen, we have exactly one hour to steal every single item in this studio."
King of the Jungle
Out of all the late-night hosts, Conan has always been my favorite because of one simple, underrated quality: humility. Conan embraces self-deprecation like no other. Quite wisely, he's learned that he can always fall back on a bad joke or a failed bit by making fun of himself, be it his ridiculous hairdo or general uncoolness. Conan is simply more likable because he always beats everyone to the punchline. And with his instant comedic analysis, he's also the first to admit to his audience that a joke or bit wasn't funny (which actually makes it funny). His no-ego approach naturally makes him someone you want to root for. And we did.

As someone who understands and appreciates the depths and nuances of the human condition, Conan closed his goodbye speech, ever so humble and wise:
"And finally, I have something to say to our fans. This massive outpouring of support and passion from so many people has been overwhelming for me. The rallies, the signs; all this goofy, outrageous creativity on the Internet; the fact that people have traveled long distances and camped out all night in the pouring rain. It's been raining for days—it's literally pouring out there.

Here's what all of you have done: You've made a sad situation joyous and inspirational. So to all the people watching, I can never, ever [chokes on tears] thank you enough for the kindness to me. I'll think about it the rest of my life.

And all I ask is one thing, and I'm asking this particularly of the young people that watch: Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it's my least-favorite quality. It doesn't get you anywhere.

Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen. I'm telling you: Amazing things will happen. It's just true."
Free Bird
The good news is that Conan will be back at some point in some form, and he'll continue to do the show he wants to do. In a way, it almost seems right that a maverick such as himself didn't stay on a mainstream show more than seven months, because his spontaneous, wildcard humor never really fit a mold other than his own. His departure also validates his identity as a fringe comic who was able to take more creative liberties and abide by an anything-goes approach in the early hours of the morning. Conan's always been a man of the people.

So maybe in the long run, this will be the best thing that ever happened to him. Conan, above anyone, is a firm believer that when one door closes, another opens. It's just true.

After all that, Conan left us with one great last gem on his blog:
"I ask you to take away from all of this one thing: inspiration. Everyone has dreams. Everyone has hopes... Make something. Do something. You can make it happen.

As I sit in this office with no windows, the only sound the whoosh of the little fan that pushes the hot air around my office, I can tell you this: There is no difference between me and you. You can do this. You can do anything. You just have to get out there and do it."


Saturday, January 9, 2010

State of the Union address postponed after 'Lost' fans march on Washington

By Ken Devine

WASHINGTON—Thousands of Lost fanatics staged a historic rally outside the White House this weekend, protesting the potential February 2nd date of President Obama's State of the Union address that would conflict with the ├╝ber-anticipated premiere of Lost's sixth and final season.

Fueled by Internet speculation and ambiguous White House press briefings, Lost fans began arriving in droves early Friday morning after the topic of the February 2nd broadcast date reached a boiling point. Protesters from far and wide congregated quickly outside the front gates of White House and let their voices be heard with galvanizing chants ranging from "The Island wants you" to the increasingly threatening "We'll go Eko on your ass."

Other geeky expressions like "State of the Union = Bad Dharma" were seen on placards.

"I'm curious to hear what President Obama has to say about the serious issues facing our nation" said Lost devotee Andrew Stephenson of Philadelphia. "But honestly, the world has been dying to see this premiere for almost eight months now. We'll finally get to find out what happened when Juliet detonated the H-bomb."

"Obama's just going to have to wait," he concluded.

White House sources have indicated that as a result of the protest's size and intensity, President Obama is likely to push back his crucial speech for at least another week, and will broadcast his decision to the nation in the coming days.

"With the recent airline security failures and the latest job-loss report, the last thing Obama needs is a rabid contingent of Losties fans at his throat," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. "There was a massive backlash a few years ago when 24 was pre-empted by a national address from President Bush, and his ratings never recovered."

According to Gibbs, the State of the Union was originally planned for January 26th, but was nixed once they discovered that it coincided with the premiere of the ninth season of American Idol.

"At this point it's looking like Obama's going to have to speak on a Sunday or Monday night when Chuck or The Bachelor is normally on," Gibbs said. "No one watches those shows anyway."

An ABC spokesperson reported that the network was pleased with the president's decision to put critical communication with the American people on the backburner for at least another week.

"The excitement for this premiere has built to an unprecedented, all-time fever pitch," she said, "and I can't imagine that anyone in America will actually be interested in what the president has to say about his dubious healthcare plan or the failing wars in the Middle East when they know they could be watching Lost."

White House intern Benjamin Holllingsworth, who said that he pointed out the bad timing to the administration months ago, admitted that he's not surprised by the president's decision to delay the address, and that Obama himself is rumored to be a fan of the epic serial drama.

"Well, he was born in Hawaii, so there's an obvious connection there," the 22-year-old staffer pointed out. "But he has this weird thing with lottery numbers—religiously playing 4 8 15 16 23 42 in the Pick 6."

"And he's not available most Wednesday nights."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

In the Years 2000

I can't believe the 2000s are history. It didn't seem too long ago when the Backstreet Boys were on top and Y2K was threatening humanity's very existence. Now I guess we have 2012 to look forward to.

I didn't even realize the 2000s (or "zeroes"—whatever we called them) were coming to a close until I got an e-mail in late November about submitting a list for best albums of the decade. And even though the number of truly great albums diminished in the past few years, I would be remiss not to mention the ones that played an integral part of my soundtrack during the past 10 years.

So without further ado, below are my favorite albums of the 2000s. While I think these are some of the best, I realize that there's a difference between what is good critically and what I like to listen to the most personally. For example, Radiohead's Kid A (2000) is a landmark album I own that's not represented here. Rolling Stone declared it the best album of the decade, and from a critical perspective, they're correct—Kid A is a better album than Chinese Democracy. But it's not an album that I crave to hear as much as Chinese Democracy. And I guess that's what it all boils down to: How do you want music to make you feel most of the time? It's different for everyone, and that explains the sheer range of musical tastes and diversity in best-of lists.

So, in closing, while this list leaves off a lot of other really good albums that I own, these are simply the ones I like to listen to the most; the ones that I feel carry the most power, beauty, and emotion.

My Top 10 Albums of the 2000s:
  1. The Darkness—One Way Ticket To Hell...And Back (2005)
    The Darkness only produced two albums before their lead singer derailed them with his coke addiction, and their first album got more attention than this one. Their debut has some great songs, but track for track, One Way Ticket is the clear winner. Yet despite a slew of sturdy, radio-ready singles and rich production values, it never really got much attention, nor has it made it into a Guitar Hero game, something The Darkness—with their falsetto-heavy, '80s cock rock—seem destined for. Therefore, I'll go on record saying that this is one of the most underrated and overlooked albums of the decade. It's also pure, absurd fun.

  2. Muse—Black Holes And Revelations (2006)
    As I listened to The Resistance, Muse's newest album released last September, a co-worker and I ended up talking more about their previous record, Black Holes And Revelations. The new one is good, like all their albums, but we decided that it was no Black Holes, which is the first Muse album I bought after spontaneously attending their concert with a high school friend who came into town, having never heard a single song of theirs. While I liked the show, I didn't think I'd get hooked on the band the way I did, and particularly this album. In fact, it was only when I went to delete certain songs I didn't want that I realized it was a keeper. And after that, this revolutionary opus of apocalyptic proportions continued to blow me away, spin after spin.

  3. Dixie Chicks—Taking The Long Way (2006)
    File this one under "Political Upheaval Makes for Better Ensuing Album" and "The Only Dixie Chicks CD I Own". After lead singer Natalie Maines bashed Bush in 2003, their fans called for their heads and dumped their CDs. But as seen in the excellent documentary Shut Up and Sing, what didn't kill the Chicks only made them stronger. Their answer to the world was Taking The Long Way, an unapologetic, un-countrified album in the vein of '70s Fleetwood Mac. Their heart and soul is in these 14 songs, and it's an incredibly moving, sympathizing journey.

  4. The Elms—Truth, Soul, Rock & Roll (2002)
    In 2002 a good friend of mine in Nashville turned me on to The Elms, a Christian rock band from small-town Indiana. I say "Christian" with an asterisk, because The Elms sound more real than any Christian band, and their Midwestern brand of rock & roll is more of a throwback to Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. Truth, Soul, Rock & Roll is a potent sophomore effort filled with muscle and melody, and will likely stand as the peak of the band's career.

  5. Coldplay—A Rush Of Blood To The Head (2002)
    Coldplay has a lot of similarities to U2 in their universal appeal and artful approach to making music, yet because they're mainstream, a lot of people think it's "uncool" to like Coldplay. ("Know how I know you're gay? You listen to Coldplay.") Uncool or not, A Rush Of Blood To The Head catches Coldplay before they were very well-known, and is impressive in its breadth, beauty, and the musical landscape it paints. It's also a superior follow-up to a first album that was much more straightforward and subdued. (Are we seeing a pattern here?)

  6. The Decemberists—The Crane Wife (2006)
    The Decemberists are one of the few indie bands in my collection, but The Crane Wife was the Portland quintet's major-label debut, and not coincidentally, I think it's their strongest effort (although 2009's The Hazards Of Love is also good). What's cool about this album, besides its array of song structures and seafaring singing, is that it just rocks, especially the second song, The Island.

  7. Guns N' Roses—Chinese Democracy (2008)
    I guess that after all this time, a lot more was said about Chinese Democracy before its release than what effect it had after it finally surfaced in late 2008. Although I think it's a great Guns N' Roses album, I suppose that it's simply more exciting for people to talk about what they don't have, especially if it takes 15 years to get it.

  8. Elton John—Songs From The West Coast (2001)
    Elton John was one of those musicians I never thought I'd ever like simply because my parents liked him. Plus, he played the piano, which never seemed cool. I guess sometimes you just have to grow up to appreciate great music. I'm not very familiar with some of Elton's early albums, but this passionate 2001 effort is excellent from start to finish, and no doubt features some of his best work.

  9. Sheryl Crow—C'mon, C'mon (2002)
    This is one of those albums I remember more by where I was. It was about a month before college graduation in April 2002, and I'd discovered this great pop-rock album from Sheryl Crow. This is another all-around solid listen, and even in the year of its release, I remember thinking how untapped its potential was—there are several radio-worthy singles here that were never released. The other thing I remember is listening to this in my parents' van, slowly nodding off as we drove away from my school on graduation day. The whole circus finally over, I breathed a sigh of relief and let the music take me home.

  10. Chantal Kreviazuk—What If It All Means Something (2002)
    This is another strong, overlooked pop-rock album from the Canadian chanteuse. "In This Life", the first track and biggest highlight, is an incredible soaring ballad. And while I now prefer the Raul Malo and Martina McBride duet version, Chantal's cover of "Feels Like Home" is just as good in its own right. Let's just say I've known for a while that this song will be played at my wedding.