Monday, September 27, 2010

College Football One Month In

More thoughts on college football:

Intellectually, I realize that college football doesn’t begin and end at Auburn University; but emotionally I feel like it does, so I will open this post by saying that Saturday’s victory over South Carolina was the most satisfying win Auburn has had in three years. You know your team is for real when it runs for more than 330 yards against a run defense that had been giving up less than 60 per game -- and when your QB completes 16 of 21 passes, including a pair of clutch TD’s in the fourth quarter -- and when you score four second-half touchdowns against a ranked opponent.

Michigan’s Denard Robinson may not be the most complete quarterback, but he is definitely the most electrifying player in America. And when you consider his passing stats (71.3 completion percentage, 162.01 rating, four touchdowns to one interception) it starts to look like he is a very complete quarterback after all.

Stanford is solid, productive, hungry, and if they beat Oregon this weekend…look out. They are one of the best-coached teams in the country and are a darkhorse in the national championship race. Just remember you heard it here first.

Speaking of Stanford, how good is it to see a two-way player like Owen Marecic prowling the gridiron? He plays fullback and linebacker, and against Notre Dame he scored from each position 13 seconds apart.

Lastly, because I consider my opinions to be as valid as any pollster’s, here is the Stanton’s Space Top Twenty:

1. Alabama

2. Ohio State

3. Oregon

4. Boise State

5. TCU

6. Stanford

7. LSU

8. Wisconsin

9. Florida

10. Oklahoma

11. LSU

12. Auburn

13. Nebraska

14. South Carolina

15. Michigan

16. Arkansas

17. Arizona

18. Iowa

19. USC

20. Texas

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Autumn Equinox

In most years there is no doubt which date marks the official start of fall, but this year some sources say it is September 22nd while others say it is the 23rd. Although my research is limited it appears that, scientifically speaking, the 23rd is the correct date because the equinox will occur a few hours after midnight tonight.

Nevertheless, with temperatures dipping and even Florida beginning to reveal a few scarlet leaves, I would rather be a day early than a day late publishing my “beginning of the season” post. So here are some thoughts about autumn, on what is more or less its first day:

I love stepping outside on that first morning that fall’s nip is in the air.

I love how changing leaves turn Appalachian mountainsides into fiery palettes of orange, red, and gold.

I love driving winding roads through those mountains, catching glimpse after glimpse of falling leaves as they twirl their way to the ground.

I love cold nights marked by the scent of campfire and the sound of wind in the trees.

I love watching my daughter skip through the pumpkin patch looking for the perfect one to bring home.

I love walking behind her as she trick-or-treats on Halloween night.

I love pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day, and how it sets the ideal tone to start the Christmas season.

I love watching flocks of birds land in Florida at the end of their migration, while others keep flying to points further south.

And last but not least, I love football, especially college games where the fans are loud and the bands are blaring…and most of all, where Auburn is winning and the fight song you keep hearing begins with the line: “War Eagle, fly down the field, ever to conquer, never to yield!”

Friday, September 17, 2010

et ceteras

Last week I wrote about how Sarah's first cheerleading appearance, at a youth football game, was cancelled due to lightning. The good news is that this week's game was not cancelled, but the bad news is that Sarah had to miss it because she was sick. Sooner or later I will have pictures of her cheering at an official event to post, but until then, here she is topping the pyramid in practice:

On another family-related topic, this morning I went to a breakfast at her school that was sponsored by All Pro Dads, an organization made famous by Tony Dungy's involvement with it. Much of what was said was common sense boilerplate ("be there for your kids," "stand up to the way pop culture portrays dads as incompetent buffoons," etc.) but something really struck me. The speaker said that he keeps a jar filled with marbles -- one for each week until his daughter turns 18 -- and removes one each week to provide a visual reminder of time slipping away as the day approaches when she will leave for college. That gave me goosebumps, and I feel compelled to pass it on.

Switching to politics, much ado has been made about an editorial written by Dinesh D'Souza. D'Souza theorizes that Barack Obama believes in the doctrine of anti-colonialism, which is prevalent in Third World societies, and that this doctrine is the driving force behind Obama's policies. Predictably, liberals have responded not by addressing the editorial's merits, but by accusing those who agree with it of being racists. In truth, the editorial is well thought out, cites the president's own claims, and is not racist in any way. You can make up your own mind by reading it here.

Lastly, I find it disturbing, but not at all surprising, that the MSM has spent far more time gibbering about Terry Jones (the would-be Koran-burner) than it has ever spent reporting the truth about Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (the would-be builder of the so-called Grand Zero Mosque). Jones heads a minuscule congregation, and his provocations have been widely and publicly condemned by Christians. On the other hand, Rauf has immense influence and cavorts with men of international power, and his refusal to condemn terrorist organizations has received no public criticism from Muslims. That difference is what the media should be focusing on, but they are ignoring it like the sycophants they are.

Now Sarah and I are off to go swimming. Have a good weekend!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Reflections on 9/11

There it stood. Fifty-two months earlier, when America first saw the steel cross standing amidst the ruins of the World Trade Center, I had assumed that rescue workers fashioned it from beams found in the wreckage. I had assumed that was how it came to be a fitting tribute to those who perished on September 11, 2001, and I still thought that when I looked upon the cross in person on a cold January afternoon in 2006. It was not until shortly afterward that I learned the truth: This portion of crossbeam had fallen, as-is, from the upper reaches of the collapsing North Tower and landed upright in the debris.

As I stood at Ground Zero, it was eerily silent despite the fact that America’s largest city was bustling all around me. A gaping hole occupied the spot where the Twin Towers once stood. I looked at the cross and thought I could walk to it and touch it in less than five seconds, were it not for the chain link fence encircling the grounds.

Instead I turned and walked south, to the corner of the property where Liberty Street intersects with Church Street. Looking back to the north, I shifted my gaze from the hole to the street and recalled the images of people leaping hundreds of feet to their bloody deaths on the very pavement which was now before my eyes. How hellishly hot must the temperatures have been, for human beings to choose crushing their bodies to death before knowing the towers were doomed to fall?

I thought of rescue workers proffering aid to others at the very instant more than 100 stories of steel and concrete came crashing down to extinguish their lives.

* * *

Like most Americans, my thoughts about New York over the years had not been wholly positive. The city held poignant symbols of freedom, and hence of the American dream, which was very good. It housed many of the engines of capitalism and birthed some of the best jazz ever played, and those things were also good. Yet it swaggered with arrogance, oozed with moral ambivalence, and was the home of socialites who lived off inherited wealth while attacking the very institutions that made it possible for others to achieve success – and those aspects of the Big Apple were not good.

New York may have been the ultimate ethnic melting pot, but it was shuttered and monochromatic when it came to intellectual matters. How could a city with eight million citizens not have a single conservative? I loved the Statue of Liberty but could never bring myself to root for the Yankees.

Nonetheless, standing at Ground Zero I thought of how all roads seem to meet in this place. Visiting the city in person, walking its sidewalks among its inhabitants, brings a welcome realization that it actually likes the fact it is in the United States. Yes, there was the raw irritation of seeing Che Guevara's mug plastered with praise on a giant window in Times Square – but then I heard the patrons of a subterranean sports bar praise our troops.

The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was still up two weeks after Christmas, and the walkway to it from Fifth Avenue was lined with tall figures of angels blowing trumpets. Here, Christmas had not been neutered by any transformation to something called Happy Holiday.

One block from Rockefeller Center are the twin spires of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, from whose pulpit the late Cardinal John O’Connor delivered many of the strongest sermons in American history. Though a prominent and uncompromising foe of abortion, he was revered in this city that is considered a hotbed of abortion-on-demand secularism. Standing across the street from Saint Patrick’s, it was hard not to notice the street sign showing that this block of Fifth Avenue is officially designated as Cardinal O’Connor Way.

In the East Village we slurped beers at McSorley’s, an old Irish pub where Abraham Lincoln once quaffed ale after delivering a speech. Small and cramped, it does not appear to have been enlarged or significantly upgraded since Lincoln’s time. When our party of four made it inside, a rough-looking worker with an Irish brogue showed us to a small, thin, wooden table and asked if we wanted “light or dark.” Two of us ordered the former, two the latter, and it must have been two-for-one because he returned carrying eight mugs of beer with no tray. He slammed them onto the table in one theatrical move, and we drank them without ever knowing their brand.

* * *
And finally, at Ground Zero, we were a very short walk from my favorite New York City nexus. Head one block east and you come to Broadway. Turn south for two more blocks and you come to Wall Street’s western terminus, directly across from Trinity Chapel.

We strode onto Trinity’s grounds and wandered through its aged cemetery until we found what we were searching: The grave of Alexander Hamilton, marked by a modest obelisk. At its base someone had laid a bouquet. Amazingly, right beside Hamilton’s grave is that of Robert Fulton, father of the steam engine.

Leaving Trinity, you cross Broadway and start down surprisingly nondescript Wall Street. Just one block onto it, with Trinity’s steeple looming behind you, you come to the site where George Washington took the oath of office as America’s first president.

And across the street from that site sits the New York Stock Exchange. We’ve all seen the images of frantic traders on the exchange floor, and we know the atmosphere inside must be noisy and stressful and chaotic. But viewed from outside, the exchange building is a picture of serenity that is dwarfed by much of its surroundings. American flags fly beneath its facade of Corinthian columns, giving it the appearance of a county courthouse from somewhere in the heartland.

So here, in less than two city blocks, you can walk in the footsteps of at least two Founding Fathers; visit one of their burial sites; visit the grave of one of history’s most prominent inventors; stand at the spot where our republic’s executive branch came into existence, and see the building where more wealth has been created than at any other spot on the planet.

Here, you can feel the heart of freedom beating strong.

Update: I first published this piece in 2008. I did not realize until later that McSorley's serves only its own beer (hence us being offered simply "light or dark") and that it has a two-drink minimum (hence us being served twice what we ordered). In my mind, those facts make McSorley's even cooler than I already thought.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cuteness, Personified

I just had to put this picture on the Internet:

Sarah started cheerleading this year, and she loves it! She is five years old and we live in Land O Lakes, FL, so she cheers for the South Pasco Steelers mighty might/flag team, which is part of the Tampa Bay Youth Football League.

The kids have been practicing for what seems like ages, and were excited to open the season yesterday evening. The unfortunate thing is that lightning strikes caused the league to cancel the game less than five minutes before kickoff...but the fortunate thing is that the kids were revved up in pre-game warm-ups (hence the picture!) because they didn't know the cancellation was coming. Sarah's enthusiasm in the picture makes it one of my all-time favorites. If you have a young daughter of your own, I hope you find her unbridled joy to be as energizing as Sarah's is to me.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Nice Kickoff

Ah, college football is back, and opening week was better than usual!

In an intriguing Thursday night match-up, Utah continued its run of successes against the BCS conferences by defeating Pitt in overtime.

On Saturday Michigan and Notre Dame knocked off respectable foes, giving their fans reason to believe that the programs may be emerging from their recent woes. And for the first time I can remember, two I-A programs lost games to I-AA teams on the same day.

As for my own alma matter, Auburn, I am enthused about QB Cam Newton and the high-octane offense, but worried about the defense. Tenacious D has always been Auburn’s signature, but Saturday’s win was marred by sloppiness in the secondary and a slew of missed tackles. Those issues must get fixed for us to be a legitimate contender in the SEC.

And one of the best things about this opening weekend is that it is not yet over. With today being Labor Day, the weekend’s most intriguing game -- Boise State vs. Virginia Tech -- is scheduled for tonight on ESPN. A Boise State win would continue to polish the Broncos’ resume as a true power, and give them a rare (for them) inside track to the national title game. On the other hand, a Virginia Tech win would go a long way toward restoring some of the ACC’s lost luster.

As entertaining as Week One has been, Week Two looks even better, with lots of big games lined up. I don’t usually do this so early in the season, before we have a real feel for the teams, but I decided to stick my neck out and make some predictions on those big games. Here they are:

Penn State at Alabama. These are traditional juggernauts, but Alabama is clearly the better team right now -- and they are playing at home. As an Auburn fan, I will be rooting for Penn State, but I expect Bama to win easily. Prediction: Crimson Tide 34-16.

Miami at Ohio State. This looks like the best Ohio State team in years, and Miami is clearly not at their level. My brain says that Ohio State will win, but in what for me is a rarity, I am going to ignore my brain while making a prediction. I think the football gods know the injustice of 2002 must be avenged, and therefore will be on Miami’s side. Prediction: Hurricanes 26-24.

Florida State at Oklahoma. Is FSU really on the way back, or is it all hype? I think it’s the latter. Although it’s been a while since “Big Game Bob” coached Oklahoma to a big game win, he will do it this weekend with an overrated opponent on the field and the home crowd behind him. Prediction: Sooners 31-23.

Oregon at Tennessee. The Vols’ history against Pac 10 teams early in the season is not promising. Nor is the general state of their program right now. And Oregon is a hungry team, out to prove that it belongs back in the Top Ten after finishing last year with a loss. Rocky Top is a tough place for opponents to play, and I think this game will be closer than most people expect, but… Prediction: Ducks 34-26.

Georgia at South Carolina. This is an intense early-season rivalry, and you should ignore the fact that Georgia is ranked and South Carolina is not. South Carolina is loaded with talent and I think they just might be the best team in the SEC East. Prediction: Gamecocks 20-17.

Michigan at Notre Dame. Neither team is ranked, but like I noted above, they appear to be on the way back. I believe Notre Dame is more talented, but Michigan made fewer mistakes in Week One and seems to be particularly energized by the play of Denard Robinson. In what is a bellwether game for both teams, the visitor will prevail. Prediction: Michigan 28-24.