With the exception of the parade of nations, which I always get a kick out of, and maybe the cauldron lighting, I can really do without the Olympic opening ceremonies. But this moment, k.d. lang singing Hallelujah, just gave me chills:
The official video is on the NBC Olympics site.
Been feeling very nostalgic lately and two events on Sunday have really fueled my retrospective fire. the first was a documentary about the USFL and the second was the Eagles/Bears game on Sunday Night Football.
When the USFL in 1983, I was in my formative years and hoovering everything sports related. ESPN has just come into existence and I was a hard core junkie. In the early years, which I’ll get to eventually, ESPN was bereft or mainstream programming and the USFL might have been the first “major” sporting events that the network covered.
The games were exciting. The teams had stars. They signed three Heisman Trophy winners in a row: Herschel Walker from Georgia, Mike Rozier from Nebraska and Doug Flutie from Boston College. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. Jim Kelly played for the Outlaws. Steve Young signed a 40 million dollar contract to play for the LA Express. There was Reggie White, Doug Williams, Anthony Carter, Rick Neuheisel, Billy Sims and many, many more great players that eventually went on to play in the NFL. Jim Mora coached the Stars, Marv Levy the Blitz and Stever Spurrier the Bandits. Walt Michaels coached the Generals. Lee Corso coached the Renegades. Even George Allen coached two teams.
Yesterday I got my second look at Graham Harrell, the starting QB for the Texas Tech Red Raiders, and I’m impressed. The guy is simply awesome. Texas Tech is not a team that gets much national exposure. So while he was putting up huge numbers the last two years, they were never on television. I’d see the highlights or the stats in the bottom line (e.g. Harrrell 540 yards passing and 6 TDs) In the last few years, but until last week against Kansas and this week against Texas, I had never seen him play a game.
I’m a huge UCLA fan, but they suck and they are going to suck for a years while Neuheisel rights the ship. While I wait for that to happen, I’m supporting the underdogs. Hawaii last year. BYU this year (before they crashed down to earth. Boise State always. And now Texas Tech. They are undefeated after their last second victory over heavily favored and number one ranked Texas. Who knows how far they can go. They are very exciting team with Harrell at the helm. If they can keep it up, win the Big 12 and somehow make it to the BCS title game, Harrell will be a shoe in for Heisman.
Whatever happens, you can bet that Harrell will be a top draft pick and will be playing on Sundays in the very near future. He reminds me of Brady. He doesn’t have the strongest arm, but it’s strong enough. He’s very accurate. He’s not fast and won’t scramble like a Michael Vick, but he’s just elusive enough to avoid the rush and give his receivers a few extra seconds to get open. He’s incredibly poised. He’s certainly the most polished quarterback on the college level. His corps of the receivers (including Michael Crabtree, probably the best in country) and the offense put in place by his head coach Mike Leach make Texas Tech very fun to watch.
If Texas Tech, now ranked #2, can somehow beat Oklahoma St at home next week and Oklahoma in Norman the following week, they’ll make it to the Big 12 championship game with no losses (sorry Baylor fans, but Tech will destroy you in the last week of the regular season). A win in the Big 12 championship game will put them in the BCS finals. It’s unlikely. Alabama which is currently ranked number #1 is just as unlikely to finish the remainder of their games undefeated, opening the door for Penn State and USC. But I hope Tech can do it, because unlike upstart Hawaii last year who was just as fun to watch, they can actually beat top teams. Go Red Raiders!
I’ve never been much of an athlete. I enjoy sports: skiing, surfing, cycling, what have you, but my athletic aspirations have been of the vicarious sort. I’m ok with that. But as someone who’s ok with that, I want my coverage to be excellent. Nowhere is this more true that with the Olympics.
My feeling is that Olympic coverage has gone in the tank since NBC took over from ABC. ABC just seemed to do everything just right. Their commentators were not only experts in the sports they covered, but incredibly well spoken and interesting. NBC, well, not so much. ABC had a nice balance between coverage of the events themselves and dramatic athlete profiles that would engage the viewer and build that all important empathy between audience and performer. NBC, not so much. In the beginning, NBC had way too many of these things, probably in a vain effort to appeal to female viewers. There was serious backlash. Now they have too few.
Then you need a personality who can frame the games in a larger context. Someone like Dick Schapp. This year NBC has got Mary Carillo. Sure, I like Mary. She’s okay. Serviceable, but not really that interesting But why Mary Carillo? Why not Jimmy Roberts? Where the fuck is Jimmy Roberts? Jimmy Roberts is a poet. We need more commentator’s like Jimmy Roberts.
Then there’s the coverage itself, which, to be honest, has gotten better over the years. For this Olympics there’s almost too much. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I am. But it’s too much of stuff that’s not interesting. Synchronized Diving was on for hours yesterday. Does anyone really care about that “sport”? Blessedly, there’s a DVR to take care of that problem, which is huge improvement for me personally this time around.
NBC also has a wealth of coverage online, both archived and live, which is fantastic. However a lot of the events I have seen online has had no commentary. I like really like cycling—more than the average cycling fan even, but I can’t watch 6 and half hours of a racing online with no commentary. It’s like watching paint dry. Then NBC has this terrible habit of including the result in the title of the video, such as “Kristen Armstrong takes gold in Women’s Time Trial”, which sort of sucks the drama out of watching. Note to NBC, please name the events with the name of the event and not the result. Pretty please.
Of course, in my fantasy world, I would have so much more control. I might not like the announcers that NBC puts up, so I’d want to listen to the commentators from Australia or the UK or Canada. Sometimes I want more information than NBC provides, so I want detailed history of a world record progression. Or maybe I want to see the event in the past Olympics or at the Olympic Trials or the European Championships. And It would be nice to control the replays, although I really can with my DVR, so this isn’t such a big deal any more. What would be cool is to control the camera angles. There might be a dozen cameras (or more) at a particular venue. Why should director control the one camera that we see at any given time. Maybe I’d prefer a different angle.
There’s my quadrennial gripe about the coverage in a nutshell. It seems to be getting better at every Olympiad, which is positive, and maybe in a decade or so, some of the Olympic dreams I have will come to fruition.
Congratulations to Carlos Sastre for taking the 2008 Tour title. Congrats to all the riders really. It was a fantastic Tour—the best in recent memory. Over 3 weeks of racing and almost every day was exciting. From the first stage in Brittany with Alejandro Valverde winning in an uphill sprint through the Massif Central, the Pyrenees, the Alps and all the way the Champs Elysees in Paris. The race did not disappoint.
Up until Sastre blew everyone away on Alp d’Huez, 6 riders were within a minute of the lead (Evans, F. Schleck, Kohl, Menchov & Vandevelde). The racing and attacking was fierce. And here in the States, the coverage by Versus was unprecedented in terms of the length, often going on air before the start of the start so we were actual able to see for the first time how breakaways are formed, established and nurtured. (My only complaint about Versus was Craig Hummer. Nice guy, but not a great commentator. What happened to Al Trautwig?)
In all, there were seven men in Yellow, including 2 from Luxembourg and even a Frenchman for day. The 4 Americans and the two American teams in the race acquitted themselves well. Christian Vandevelde exceeded all expectations finishing 5th and announcing himself as one of the top contenders in the peloton. Team Columbia took 5 stage victories—4 alone to British sprinter Mark Cavenidish and held at times early in the race, the Yellow, Green and Polka-Dot Jerseys. I would have liked to see George Hincapie do better. He almost won a stage in the Alps, but lost some time on the last climb and couldn’t quite make it up on the descent.
The Beijing Olympics are only 2 weeks away. Who’s excited?
I haven’t read any of the pre-Olympic stories (Sports Illustrated, etc.) but I have kept my eyes on the Olympics trials for Swimming and Track & Field and I’ve been watching the Golden Gala meets in Europe. I know there’s going to be problems with this events—pollution, censorship, drugs, terrorism?—but I don’t care. I’m excited to see it as I’ve been for any games.
This will be the first Olympics where I’ve had a DVR. Between that and the blanket coverage that NBC is planning, I will finally be able to see everything I want and not have to stay up crazy hours to do it.
There’s going to be a huge battle at the top of the medal table between the US and China. China has had a plan called Project 119 or something like that to win 119 gold medals including many in events like rowing where they are not exactly traditional powers. I know it will be close, but I hope we crush them. Athletes of free will should always be victorious over athletes driven by state-sponsored programs al la the former Soviet Union and East Germany. It’s really only sports that gets my nationalistic fervor. I can’t really explain it, but I always want the USA to win. If not the USA, then Australia. If not Australia, then Holland. I’d support Samoa, but they’ll never win anything.
One of big complaints about my Comcast DVR is that if you set a recording, the DVR will stop at the scheduled time, not when the broadcast of the event actually stops. At first I would record programs after the event. Then I realized that I could modify the settings so that the DVR would continue to record for up to two hours after the event, which is usually more than you could need. It pisses me off that I still have to do this and I think Comcast needs to figure out a way to continue recording until the event ends. Period end of story. The DVR will be an inferior product until they can figure that out.
So. Wimbledon. I wasn’t about to wake up at 5am like I used to do, and I was going to be out all day, so I scheduled a recording and I set it to finish an hour after the scheduled end. I thought that would be more than enough. Shit, the event was scheduled for 6 hours. How could that not be enough?
The first of the Euro 2008 semifinals will be kicking off later today, Germany v. Turkey. You have to believe that this is the end of the line for the Turks. They’ve had a great run with two scintillating comeback wins against the Czech Republic and Croatia, but half the team is sidelined due to injury or suspension and, well, they are playing Germany. Expect a resounding Teutonic victory.
The other semi is rematch of a group play game between Spain and Russia which the Spaniards took handily 4-1. I don’t think it will be so easy this time, but the result should be the same. I do expect the game to be very exciting as both teams play a positive brand of football.
Thankfully the Spanish dispatched the Italians in the quarters. I just can’t stand watching Italian football. Sure, they have talented players, but they simply play the most regressive football in the world. They play not to lose, pack in the defense so there’s no hope for the other team to score and try to get lucky on the few half-chances they are able to generate. If they don’t manage to score, they’re happy to take their chances in penalty shootout with Buffon.
Sure, they’ve won a few games playing that style, but they certainly haven’t won many fans. And it’s backfired on them a few times, most notably in the 94 World Cup final against Brazil (most boring game ever—thankfully Baggio missed his penalty and the Brazilians won) and again here in Euro 2008 (probably many more times). The Italians are the exact reason why so many Americans think soccer/football is boring.
My predictions have been horrible, but I hope to see Spain and Germany in the final with Spain finally breaking through with a major tournament win behind the strength of David Villa and Fernando Torres. However, German air power and height advantage could be the Spaniards undoing. However, let’s see if they can get by Russia and Turkey first.
I’ve been catching a few of the Euro 2008 games here and there (whenever I can remember to record them), and I have to say that I can’t remember a series of more interesting games in a major competition. World Cup, while it’s fun to watch, often pits two sides that are playing not to lose. The classic example is the 2004 final between Italy and Brazil. Only a handful of games are really interesting. The rest are marred by negative football.
On the other hand, Euro 2008 had been nothing but end to end, action-packed positive football. Tackling is fierce. Goals, while not plentiful, have been exciting. Goal keeping has been great. Teams are well matched.
Could it be because poor England didn’t qualify? It’s easy to blame the English (what say you, Phil?)
We’re one game into the quarters. Yesterday Germany dispatched Portugal 3-2 in a game that would have been much more exciting (for me) had not the BBC divulged the results before I had a chance to watch. Germany looked really good, although Ballack did push the defender in the back before heading in the goal that turned out to be the game winner.
I have high hopes for the remaining games. We’ve got Croatia v. Turkey today. Netherlands v. Russia on Saturday and Spain v. Italy on Sunday. I’m hoping that the Dutch finally pull through and win a major tournament. They have a fantastic team and are really fun to watch. Of course, they’ll have to get by Russia and the magician Guus Hiddink and then eventually (probably) their nemesis, Germany, to win it all, but if they ever had the team to do it, this is the one.
Today, the Olympic Torch Relay for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics has come to San Francisco. Right now, a few hundred yards from where I’m writing this, the torch is traveling down the Embarcadero.
During lunch I went down to justin Herman plaza which is where the relay iss scheduled to end and there’s a sea of people, media trucks and protestors.
Look, I understand that many people in the world have problems with the way the Chinese operate. I do. I want Tibet to be free as much as anyone (outside of the Tibetans and Richard Gere, I suppose) and I think the Chinese human rights record and its treatment of the environment is abysmal.
However, this is the Olympics and the Olympic ideal is that the participants put aside their problems with each other to compete. It’s about athletics and the spirit of competition, not politics. Certainly if the ancient Greeks could lay down their arms (see below) and have a cease fire so that athletes could travel to and from Olympia in safety, we can put aside our differencse so that the athletes who have worked so hard, dreaming of competing in the Olympics can go to Beijing.
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