Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Third annual ‘Big Time Sports’ awards

Welcome to the Third Annual “Big Time Sports” end-of-year awards! I’m glad you could make it. As always, these awards are completely random, and were voted on by a one-man committee of sports experts. Also, these awards, like the baseball trade deadline, are intangible; so if you’re a winner, please don’t contact me in hopes of picking something up for your trophy case. We don’t have that kind of budget here. So without further ado, on with the show!

Strangest Moment of the Year Award

Terrell Owens doing half-naked sit-ups in his driveway. What was that all about? Owens hosted an impromptu press conference at his house in August, which ended with him doing shirtless crunches on his asphalt driveway for no apparent reason. I wonder if Terrell Owens’ neighbors are going to miss him. I can just picture T.O. walking out of his house in the morning to get the newspaper, wearing only boxers and a camouflage bathrobe, and waving to his neighbors as they peaked through the blinds. He needs a reality show. And don’t act like you wouldn’t watch.

Runner up: Anything that involved R. Kelly.

Worst Year Ever Award

Sidney Ponson. The best part of former Baltimore Orioles’ pitcher Sidney Ponson’s year was his ERA, which was 6.21. Ponson began 2005 in jail, because on Christmas Day of 2004, he punched out a judge in his native Aruba. Then he got a DUI. Then he lost 11 games for the woeful Orioles. Then he got another DUI. Then he got released from the woeful Orioles. Two weeks ago he was sentenced to five days in jail for his most recent DUI. All in all, Ponson began and ended 2005 in jail, and in between that, was one of baseball’s worst pitchers. Things can only get better at this point for Ponson. Let’s hope.

Runner up: Colorado football coach Gary Barnett

Most Inevitable Coaching Change That Ended Very Weirdly Award

Pat Riley replaces Stan Van Gundy in Miami. Riley, the president of the Miami Heat, was this close to relieving Van Gundy of his duties before the season even started, but ultimately decided to keep the guy who led the Heat to the Eastern Conference Finals in the spring. But after an 11-10 start, Van Gundy abruptly “stepped down,” citing “family time” as the reason. Apparently, Van Gundy suddenly realized that he had a family at the same exact time Shaquille O’Neal returned from injury. Also, Riley tried desperately to convince Van Gundy to stay, probably saying things like, “You’re sure about this decision, Stan?” while several armed men wearing black sunglasses formed a circle around Van Gundy’s desk.

Runner up: Mike Martz, embattled coach of the St. Louis Rams, goes on medical leave for a heart condition, tries to call in plays from his hospital bed, but Rams’ management refuses his calls. Meanwhile, some guy named “Vitt” coaches the team, and by “coaches,” I mean, “was on the sideline during the games.”

Third place: Larry Brown leaving Detroit for a Knicks’ job he started interviewing for while his Pistons were still in the playoffs. Gotta love Larry Brown. Or hate him. Either one.

Best Facial Hair Improvement Award

Jake Plummer’s mustache. In 2004, sans mustache: 20 interceptions. In 2005, with mustache (and then beard): six interceptions. Enough said.

Runner up: Pau Gasol’s beard. Instantly transforms Memphis Grizzlies’ player from a soft European weakling, to a blue collar, wood-chopping workhorse.

Quote of the Year Award

“It can be very therapeutic.”
- Alex Rodriguez, on therapy.

Thanks for that nugget of knowledge, A-Rod. He would go on to say that his childhood dream was to become a podiatrist, until he realized how much podiatry was involved.

Runner up: “Jim Haslet should be considered for ‘Coach of the Year,’”
- ESPN’s Joe Thiesman, during a “Sunday Night Football” telecast, referring to the coach of the then 2-8 Saints.

Play of the Year Award

Derek Jeter’s diving catch over Robinson Cano. Sometimes I’m not so sure if everything Jeter does is THAT amazing, or if, as a society in general, we are so enthralled with the entity that is Derek Jeter, that maybe – just maybe – his accolades are sometimes overblown. But then I watch this catch, and I’m reminded that he really is that great.

Runner up: Each time Reggie Bush touched the ball against Fresno State and UCLA.

Game of the Year Award

USC beats Notre Dame. Any game that features a) a million points, b) a huge late fourth-down conversion to keep the game alive, c) Reggie Bush, d) a 32-game winning streak on the line, e) a national title at stake, f) a revitalized, legendary college football program with an excellent coach, g) a game-winning, fourth-down touchdown play that ended with last year’s Heisman trophy winner being literally pushed into the endzone by this year’s Heisman trophy winner, and h) a confused and delirious Pete Carroll running around giving man-hugs, will ALWAYS get my vote for game of the year. Always.

Runner up: Kentucky versus Michigan State, NCAA Tournament.

Third Place: Game Five, NLCS (Albert Pujols’ home run).

Worst SportsCenter Gimmick That Further Serves to Replace Actual Highlights and Drive Me Crazy Award

Fake baseball press conferences. Yes, fake baseball press conferences. In November, ESPN started this thing where baseball commentator (and former Mets’ GM) Steve Phillips pretended like he was the general manager of a baseball team – say, the Houston Astros – and then held an actual fake press conference, where the “members of the press” were simply other ESPN anchors, who would ask him questions about the Astros that he had no business answering. A few things here. First, if you’re flipping through the channels and you come across this, you think it’s breaking news. So if you’re an Astros’ fan, you immediately think that your team just signed Manny Ramirez or something. But in reality, nothing happened, because it’s fake. Secondly, why? What is the point of this? I don’t even like watching real press conferences – why would I watch a fake one? Thirdly, if I wanted fake news, I’d watch CBS (bum-dum, ching!) And fourthly, how ‘bout some freakin’ HIGHLIGHTS?!

Runner up: (Tie) Pedro Gomez’s, season-long, live updates on the progress of Barry Bonds’ knee, and…inexplicably ending “Pardon the Interruption” during “SportsCenter” rather than at the end of “Pardon the Interruption.”

The Most Success With Somebody Else’s Players Award

Roy Williams, North Carolina. Williams’ won his very first NCAA title with the Tar Heels, which finally proved what a great coach he is, except for the fact that he won the title with former NC coach Matt Dougherty’s recruits. And now, with his own players coming into the fold, Williams and the Tar Heels began the 2005-06 season unranked. Whatever. A title is a title, right Roy?

Runner up: Charlie Weiss, Notre Dame.

The “That Doesn’t Sound Right – Are You Sure?” Award

The Rutgers football team goes to a bowl game.

Runner up: The Chicago White Sox win the World Series.

Third Place: The Cincinnati Bengals win the AFC North.

Nickname of the Year Award

A-Vlad. This one is an interchangeable nickname for both Alex Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero that originated out of the fact that both of these guys had absolutely brutal postseasons. It was almost as if they were competing with each other to see who could play worse. I’m not sure who coined this one (possibly my favorite writer, Bill Simmons, or one of his readers), but it’s one of my all-time favorites. It’s unique in that it only captures a specific time period, unless of course, these two are able to simultaneously achieve such a degree of ineptitude again. I sure hope not.

Runner up: The Cooler. Amazingly enough, also for Alex Rodriguez. Used by his former Texas Rangers’ teammates to describe how A-Rod tends to cool off any team he goes to. Ouch.

The Best Athlete Who Is Currently in a Venezuelan Jail Facing Attempted Murder Charges, And Also Whose Mother Was Kidnapped, But Then Rescued Award

Ugueth Urbina. This was a tough one, so congrats, Ugueth. Not sure if we have a runner up for this.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Tree huntin’ on asphalt

This was the second year that my wife and I went out to buy a Christmas tree.

We are 0-for-2.

It’s not so much the actual tree that has been a disappointment – although once we brought this season’s tree inside, we realized it was too big to allow anyone access to the stairs, and thus my wife and I have been entering and exiting our house by sliding up and down a fireman’s pole we were forced to have installed through the deck outside – it’s the PROCESS of buying the tree that’s the problem.

Last year we went to a nearby establishment to purchase our tree. The place however, sold more than just trees – it was a one-stop shop for everything involving the holidays. If you had never celebrated a holiday in your entire life, you could go to this place and come home properly armed to decorate a whole city. If, of course, you had $10,000 to burn on lawn gnomes wearing Santa hats, or a 54-foot long, life-sized train set engineered by Snoopy. We did not. We were only there for a tree.

The trees were in the back lot. Christmas trees, by law, are only sold in parking lots, which makes things difficult, because people are idiots. It is the asphalt jungle. There is no rhyme or reason to the Christmas tree parking lot. The same people who would rather wait 45 minutes on the drive-thru line of a fast food restaurant rather than actually get out of their vehicle and be served in five minutes, are the same people who will navigate their way through the Christmas tree parking lot with their, well, Navigator. Last year, there were no signs telling people NOT to drive through the lot, just the realization that there was only about five feet of space in between each row of trees. Nobody cared. The joy of finding the perfect tree was counterbalanced by the harsh reality that – bam! You are dead because you’ve been hit by an SUV.

My wife and I managed to avoid the passing vehicles long enough to find a decent tree. Since it was our first year of doing this, our immediate reaction to this find was…what do we do now? What is the protocol here? Who do we inform that we have located a tree? Who works here? Everybody looks like a lumberjack.

So we followed the sound of the chainsaws. I didn’t know what to do, so I awkwardly carried the tree with me, trying to appear like a real outdoorsman, even though half of my body was covered in sap, and one leg of my sweatpants was being held up by a branch, exposing my now-bleeding legs. Of course, someone “would have done that for me,” but I knew that.

Apparently, our tree needed a “fresh cut,” because the original cut had lacked in freshness. They put the tree in a net, and asked if we needed it tied to our car. Adding to my newfound manliness was the fact that I drive a pick-up truck. Thus, this is the one time of the year that I am actually able to utilize the features of the pick-up truck, and I was more than content to look this unknown lumberjack in the eye, and tell him just to “throw it in the back.” He probably thought I was a steel worker or something, what with gusto I had said that. Then I walked to my truck in slow motion, but my wife said we still had to pay.

It cost us $25 for the tree, and we tipped the lumberjacks a few bucks. We’re very generous like that, especially around the holidays. When we got home, we realized that the “fresh cut” they had given our tree was SO fresh, that there was no stump to go into the tree stand. If our tree was 10 times smaller, we could have just sat in one of our end tables, and it would have balanced itself. Maybe I should have realized this before I lugged the tree up the stairs, knocked over every picture we had the wall, and inadvertently installed a new carpet of pine needles. There have only been a handful of times in my life where I thought I was legitimately capable of murder, and this was one of them. But instead of killing someone, I shamefully drove back to the place where we got the tree, and had the lumberjacks cut off some of the bottom branches, so we had a stump. This time, I did not tip them.

Our first tree never drank any water, it didn’t have any kind of Christmas tree smell to it, and when the time came to remove it from the house, it was as stiff as a board, and the pine needles were like weapons. Other than that, it was a great tree. Well, it was a tree.

We decided not to go back to the same place this year. Instead, we went to a different parking lot. This particular one was in the parking lot of where I work, so for some odd reason, I thought I could trust it, as if this shiesty tree-selling operation had any affiliation to my place of employment whatsoever. Really though, I’m an idiot.

I think we all know the kind of operation I’m talking about. These things are all over the place during the holidays. Someone encloses a portion of a big parking lot with a metal fence, and illegally sells Christmas trees at “One low price of whatever,” with all the proceeds going to the Russian mafia. These people answer to no one, but the good part about these places is that they only sell Christmas trees. No frills. No wreaths, no lights, no nativity scenes featuring Betty Boop. Straight trees, homey. That is their motto.

It was freezing last Saturday, as my wife and I stepped into the cage o’ trees. Almost every tree was tightly wrapped in netting, so it was impossible to make a determination as what kind of tree each was. We sure couldn’t take the risk of bringing one home, cutting open the netting, and having it take the form of an apple. There were only a few trees already out of their netting. Since it was freezing outside, and other, very annoying families were closing in on our section of the cage, we just picked one.

Again, we had no idea what to do. Again, I awkwardly lugged the tree to an area of the cage I deemed “the checkout line.” Someone who looked like Wilford Brimley approached me, as I was holding onto a tree a foot bigger than myself, and asked, “That your tree?” What’s that Wilford? Oh – THIS tree? The one I’m grasping on to for dear life? Yes, this is my tree. I didn’t even know if Wilford worked there, or if he was a customer who had spotted my tree from afar and wanted to make a deal. Nobody wears a uniform in these cages. It’s a freakin’ free-for-all. I could have put the tree down and started collecting money from everyone, and no one would have known the difference.

Wilford asked me if I wanted a fresh cut for the tree, to which I immediately replied, “No.” And as he was asking me what I’d like done to the tree, I looked up and saw a sign that assigned a price to all the things he was talking about. Fresh cut? $1.99. Put a net on? $2.99. Tree preserver? $3.99. Tied to your vehicle? $4.99. Photosynthesis charge? $8.99.

The “one low price” of this particular parking lot was $29.99, but that was actually just what they charge you to go and look at the tree. If your intentions are to actually take the tree home and possibly decorate it, there are many additional charges. Where was I – at a car dealership? Would I like insurance for my tree? Where do I sign? And what, exactly, is a “tree preserver?” Is it water? Because I have some water at home. I mean, of all the obstacles we faced last year, at least we just paid one flat rate of $25 for our tree, and we were able to put it on the ol’ credit card. This year, besides all of the ridiculous fees, we couldn’t even charge our tree. We had to pay cash, because the Russian mafia does not accept American Express.

Out of pure principle, I refused everything offered to me. I decided I was not paying a dime more than the “one low price” that was displayed. Of course, when it came time to pay THAT, utter confusion ensued. People were everywhere, asking tree-related questions. There was no indication of who we were supposed to pay, Wilford Brimley was scratching himself while I loaded the tree into my truck, it was still freezing out, my wife was pissed, and I was strongly considering stealing a Christmas tree. Finally, we found some jerk was who grabbing money from everyone like he was on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. We paid him. Also, for some strange reason, we tipped them three dollars, mainly because there was a tip jar there, and we are very generous like that, especially during the holidays. It was our little way of saying thank you. Thank you for sitting on your fat asses while I did all the work here, and for trying to squeeze me out of my hard-earned money by trying to convince me to purchase a freakin’ tree preserver. Thank you for making this the worst experience ever. Here is three dollars. I hope you choke on it.

My wife and I did not speak on the ride home, except for when she asked me how I expected to get the tree upstairs and into the house without a net. I did not respond.

When we got home, I had to tie the tree up myself with some string, and I managed to get it upstairs without getting hurt, or breaking any valuables. We put it into our brand new tree stand. The reason we have a brand new tree stand is because one of our a-hole neighbors disposed of their tree stand in our bushes, and since it was nicer than the one we had, I took it. That is a true story. Everyday now, I check the bushes to see if there is a digital printer there, because we need one of those too. Stupid neighbors.

I also had to cut off the excess branches on my own, with a hand saw that was given to me as a gift LAST Christmas because I had no saw to cut off the branches on our first Christmas tree, and everyone found it very funny that I don’t own any tools.

Our tree is huge, but very pretty. Also, it seems to be drinking water, and generally preserving itself, which is nice. Last weekend, my wife and I went to Sunday Mass, and afterwards the Youth Group was selling Christmas tree that were a much better fit for our house, and much cheaper. Also, on the way home from church, we passed a Christmas tree lot featuring a “one low price of $19.99,” which was, mathematically speaking, ten dollars less than what we had paid the previous day. Ha ha! You should have seen my wife’s face! It was worth the extra ten dollars.

Whatever. Now we know where to go next year. To church. And at least I got to use my new saw. Plus, I like our tree. It looks great all decorated and stuff. And I think it’ll still look good even after the holidays.

In our neighbors’ bushes.

We’re very generous like that.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Reggie Bush: The Trojans’ horse

He’s arguably the most exciting player that college football has witnessed since Rudy, and with slightly more talent. His USC team is on a one million game winning streak (an NCAA record) and well on their way to a third straight National Title. He has NFL scouts drooling all over themselves. He can leap tall buildings in a single bound. HE is Trojans’ running back Reggie Bush, and he’s agreed to sit down with me for an exclusive interview involving love, life, and if there’s time, football. For legal reasons, let it be known that this interview never happened.

Me: Hi Reggie! Thanks for stopping by. Did you have any trouble getting here? Sometimes Mapquest can be a pain in the you-know-what.

Reggie: Getting where? You’re at MY house.

Me: Ha ha! Yeah…you must mean that metaphorically. Ummm, it says here that you were named after two great American heroes – Reggie Jackson and George Bush, Sr. Is that true?

Reggie: What? No, that’s not true at all. I don’t know where you heard that. For one thing, you can’t just alter your last name so it’s the same as that of a former president. It’s just a coincidence that my last name is Bush. And I don’t even like baseball.

Me: Well, I’m glad we were able to squash a false rumor. Darn tabloids. Anyway, how does it feel to be part of a college football dynasty?

Reggie: It feels great, man. We’ve really created something special here at USC, and I hope we can continue this run with another title.

Me: Spoken like a true warrior. It seems like head coach Pete Carroll is fun to play for. And by that I mean, it seems as though he probably spends more time kissing your guys’ butts than worrying about things like stupid practice drills. Even when he yells, it’s usually words of encouragement, like, “Yeah! Go get ‘em!” and “You guys are the best!” Then he hugs everyone. Has he ever yelled at you in a negative manner?

Reggie: Yeah, once, when I was a freshman. He said something at practice, like, “Ronald! What are you DOING out there?!” And I was like “Ronald? Who the heck is that? I’m Reggie.” And he was like, “Reggie Bush? Oh crap, sorry about that.” Then he sent me home early so I could take a nap.

Me: He seems like a true enforcer. Most people feel as though you locked up the Heisman Trophy with your performance a few weeks ago against Fresno State. You had 513 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. I’m not sure the Cleveland Browns have 513 yards and two touchdowns on the season. Do you think the NCAA is going to even bother inviting four other guys to the Heisman ceremony? They might as well just put a couch on the stage instead of five chairs, and you can just lounge out on the couch while people throw flower petals all over you, and the video monitor can play interviews of people saying how you’re not just a great football player, but a great person as well. It’ll be like the Reggie Bush Show!

Reggie: Ha ha! I appreciate that, but I don’t think I’ve “locked” anything up. There have been a lot of great performers in college football this season, including my own teammate – Matt Leinart. Brady Quinn has had a fabulous year at Notre Dame as well, and we all know what Vince Young has meant to that Texas team. I think there are several players just as deserving of the award as I am.

Me: Spoken like a true warrior. You mentioned Matt Leinart. I understand that he is a huuuuuuge celebrity in California, and can often be seen at various celebrity functions, like a Frankie Muniz engagement party, for example. Does this bother the team, that Leinart has achieved such status within the community, while the rest of you guys continue to live a life of virtual anonymity?

Reggie: Oh, not at all. I mean, we have a lot of fun with it. Like, this one time, Tara Reid left this rambling, drunken message on Matt’s voice mail, and we played it over and over again at a team meeting. It was hilarious. Hey – Matt’s a good-looking guy, and the quarterback of a great college football team. He deserves all the attention he gets. Plus, it’s not like the rest of us are no-names on the L.A. scene. People know who we are. I mean, you’re here talking to me now, right?

Me: Yeah, but that’s only because Leinart cancelled. Ha ha! Just kidding, Reggie. Sort of. Anyway, if you had your druthers – Jets, Texans or 49ers?

Reggie: Ya’ know, I haven’t even thought about it. We have unfinished business here at USC, and I’ll worry about my NFL prospects when the time comes.

Me: Are you saying that your lifelong dream of having a 53-year-old Vinny Testarverde handing off the ball to you for a 3-yard loss hasn’t crossed your mind even once?

Reggie: Nah, not at all. And I don’t run for losses.

Me: Spoken like a true warrior.

Reggie: Why do you keep saying that?

Me: I don’t know – it sounds cool. Well, you guys have one more big hurdle to climb – a National Championship Game against a tough Texas team. Is this going to be a good game, or reminiscent of last year’s drubbing of Oklahoma?

Reggie: No disrespect to Oklahoma, but Texas is a great team. We’re definitely going to have our hands full with them. It should be a great game, but obviously, I hope we come out on top.

Me: Are you saying that you expect Texas to actually show up for the game, instead of curling up into a little ball while you guys run all over them for 25 touchdowns, similar to Oklahoma’s game plan last year? I still want my money back for that game, and I didn’t even pay for it.

Reggie: No, that’s not what I implied at all. Let’s just say that I think Texas matches up with us very well.

Me: Yeah, whatever. Reggie, it seems as though there’s nothing you can’t do on the football field. Are you the greatest college football player of all time?

Reggie: That’s for the world to decide.

Me: Reggie, what would you say if I told you that I talked to the world, and they agree that you are, in fact, the greatest college player ever?

Reggie: I’d probably say that’s impossible. You talked to the whole world?

Me: Actually, just a few people at a bar by my house. But they said they had friends who thought the same thing.

Reggie: Well, that’s a start, I guess.

Me: One last question before we go. People have compared you to such greats as Gale Sayers, Barry Sanders, and Ladainian Tomlinson. Does that bother you? Because personally, I hate it when people compare me to Ernest Hemingway. I mean, I’m my own man, ya’ know? How do you feel about that?

Reggie: Well, it does kind of add some unwanted pressure, but I consider it a huge compliment when people compare me to such great players. Hopefully in time, I can prove them right, and maybe someday, people will be comparing some young college football player to Reggie Bush.

Me: Wow. I’m holding back tears right now. Happy tears. Listen Reggie, thanks for stopping by. I wish you the best of luck on Saturday night during the Heisman ceremony. It’s going to be a close one. Really close. Can you see me winking? Cause I’m winking.

Reggie: Yeah, I can see. And what are you throwing at me? Are those flower petals? Where did you get those?

Me: From the front yard. Why?

Reggie: My mom is going to kill you.