Monday, February 8, 2016

Super Bowl 50 Reflections

Well, he Feel-Good Story that so many people wanted, but that few thought would happen, actually did happen in Santa Clara last night.  The Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl, 24-10 and in what will assuredly be his final game, Peyton Manning goes out a champion.

Not that this was Manning's game.  In fact, he wasn't very good last night, but when combined with a ferocious Broncos defense, he was good enough, and his poor game stats will not be inscribed on that Super Bowl ring he will be receiving a few months from now.  Also, a second Super Bowl championship will surely erase the memories of generally uneven performances in post-season play in his extraordinary career. So, congratulations, Peyton Manning.  I am glad that it ended this way.

On the other side of the field, the football world was preparing to anoint Cam Newton as the new Face of the NFL after what would surely be a relatively easy win over Denver.  Well, once again we were all taught a lesson that you really do have to play the game before you can claim victory.  Newton's MVP season will surely be tarnished by what was a generally poor performance and by failing to attempt to recover his own fumble late in the game while deep in his own territory when his team was trailing by only six points.  This was an action that has been called everything from "questionable" to "hard to defend" to "gutless" from various sources in the wake of the conclusion of the game.  And, finally, perhaps most indefensible of all, was his performance in his post-game press conference when he showed up in a hoodie, mumbled one word answers, and the got up and walked out two and half minutes into it.

For a guy who loved the media attention all week and used it as his own bully pulpit, such a performance was inexcusable.  You can't have it both ways, Cam.  Contrast it to how Russell Wilson faced the music last year after his goal line interception cost the Seahawks a Bowl win.  Bill Bellichick gets ripped all the time for what a sore loser he can be with the press.  Newton deserves no less.  As one wag put it, he went from Superman to the Incredible Sulk in a period of three hours.

As for other comments, I took notes (yep, I actually did) during the game to record my thoughts and impressions in real time, and here are some of them, in no particular order.
  • Two minutes and twenty seconds is way too long to drag out the Star Spangled Banner, but despite that, Lady Gaga's rendition of the Anthem was magnificent.
  • The Doritos commercial with the pregnant lady getting an ultra-sound scan of her baby was really good.  In fact, it was to me the only notable commercial of the day.
  • First quarter.  Jericho Cotchery's catch for a significant gain is ruled incomplete and that ruling in then, incredibly, upheld upon review.  I have a good friend who is an NFL official (he was not working yesterday), and I truly respect the work that the zebras have to do in any given game, but THAT WAS A CATCH!!!!  The NFL rules interpretation of what constitutes a "catch" is ridiculous.
  • The non-catch proved to be significant, because shortly thereafter, while still deep in their own territory, Denver forced a Cam Newton fumble that was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.  Would the end result of the game had been different if that Cotchery play was correctly ruled?  We'll never know.
  • Twice in the first half (and it happened again in the second half), Denver got inside the Panther twenty and had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns.  At the time, I thought that this would come back to bite Denver in the hindquarters, but it didn't, as things turned out.
  • With 3:12 remaining in the third quarter and the score 16-7, I wrote "Are Carolina's sphincters getting tight here?"  I guess I was right.
  • With 9:00 to play in the game, after yet another Denver "three-and-out", I wondered what was the Super Bowl record for "Three-and-Outs"?  I never did find out, but if those teams didn't set the record last night, they surely had to have come close.
Now for the obligatory comment on the Halftime Show.  It's not that I dislike Coldplay, but it's more to the point that I am unfamiliar with them and their work.  As a result, I had no interest in the halftime show.  I glanced at it, but was pretty much occupied with otter things during the intermission.  I also wonder if the NFL had doubts about Coldplay, too, since they felt the need to beef up the show with appearances by Beyonce and Bruno Mars, two headliners from previous Super Bowls.  In any event, what I did see was just a display of Excess and Sensory Overload that was just too much to take in.  I find that I just don't care about these halftime extravaganzas anymore.

Also, from what I am seeing on social media today, there apparently is some controversy surrounding Beyonce's performance, either in the song lyrics themselves or some gestures that she made.  If that is the case, and this blows up into another PR disaster for the League, then I suggest that NFL bring in a couple of dogs who chase and catch Frisbees for next year's show.  Or bring back the Florida A&M band.  Better yet, bring in the Stanford band.  They would no doubt put on such an iconoclastic show, that the NFL would long for a return of Janet Jackson's bare bosom.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Super Bowl Prediction Time

I will begin this post by bragging, just a little.  In predicting the winners of the NFL playoff games this year, I sport a record of 8-2.  Of course, I just picked a winners with no point spreads, but, still, if I say so myself, that's a pretty good record that I will be putting on the line as I  select a winner for Super Bowl 50.

Everyone, it seems, is picking the Carolina Panthers to win, and many of them, and this includes smart guys like Steve Young and Ron Jaworski, are picking them to win big.  Personally, I get a little leery whenever EVERYBODY says that Such-and-Such team will win and that the Other Team has No Chance of winning.  This is still professional sports, both sides are getting paid, so unless you are talking about the 2010 Pittsburgh Pirates, it's foolish to say that a team like the Denver Broncos has no chance of winning.

Yep, I know that Peyton Manning is pretty ancient and often ineffective these days, but he and his Broncos beat the Steelers, which I didn't think they would do, and then they beat 

Tom Brady and the Patriots, which I didn't think that had a chance of doing, and they have a terrific defense. So while Manning may be pretty much washed up, who can't be rooting for a storyline where the beloved veteran somehow summons up his past greatness for one last time before riding off in the sunset with a Lombardi Trophy in tow?  I know that's how I will be rooting tomorrow.

However, on the other side of the field, there is this guy:

Cam Newton, the presumptive NFL MVP, is truly a force.  Yeah, I know he dances, and struts, and dabs (whatever that is!), and does stuff that drives cranky old guys nuts, but what football player!  Watching him in these playoff games has been enough to make your jaw drop.  While the favored storyline might be the Broncos Wining One For the Old Guy, I think that the more likely storyline will be the Longtime Face of the NFL, Manning, passing the torch on to the New Face of the NFL, Newton.

So, who wins?

However, I think that we are going to see a much closer game than most people expect.  The line I saw this morning is Denver +5.5.  So, if you want to bet like the big boys in Vegas, I say that it's the PANTHERS to win the game, but the Broncos will cover the spread.

Enjoy the game and the commercials, everyone, and, as always, watch, but don't bet.

To Absent Friends - Edgar Mitchell

Edgar Mitchell

A news obituary in the Post-Gazette reports of the death of Edgar Mitchell at the age of 85.  Like many of you, if you had asked me "Who was Edgar Mitchell?" I would have drawn a blank, which is too bad when you consider Mr. Mitchell's greatest accomplishment in a life that was filled with them.  

In February, 1971, Apollo Astronaut Mitchell, a graduate Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh, landed the Apollo 14 lunar module on the surface of the moon, and he became the sixth man to set foot upon the lunar surface, one of only twelve such men to do so.  It was an amazing feat, and it's too bad that the names of these men have slipped from our minds and into the sometimes dusty recesses of history.

With Mitchell's death, seven lunar explorers remain alive.  They are Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, David Scott, John Young, Charles Duke, Gene Cernan, and Harrison Schmitt.  The youngest of these surviving moon walkers are Duke and Schmitt, both of whom will turn 81 in 2016.

And while we are at it, let's also remember those Men of Apollo who walked on the moon who are no longer with us.  In addition to Mitchell, they are Neil Armstrong, Pete Conrad, Alan Shepard, and Jim Irwin.

RIP Edgar Mitchell.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

To Absent Friends - Bob Elliott

Bob Elliott

Bob Elliott, he surviving member of the classic comedy team of Bob and Ray, died yesterday at the age of 92.  

The comedy team of Bob and Ray actually predates television, believe it or not.  According to the obituary in the New York times yesterday, Elliott went to work for Boston radio station WHDH in 1946 following his discharge from the Army.  It was there that he met Ray Goulding, who was then the morning deejay at the station.  The two hit it off immediately and started ad-libbing with each other while the records were playing.  Station executives realized that they might have something and gave the two of them an afternoon radio station, and then an additional morning show.  After five years, they moved on to a radio show in New York City.  Later in the 1950's and -60's, they transitioned to television, and never really went away.  In 1970, they did a two man show on Broadway that lasted for five months.  Even when their brand of humor was supplanted by louder generation of comics, Bob and Ray remained a constant.  I can even remember them hosting an episode of Saturday Night Live back in the 1970's.  They moved on to National Public Radio in 1983 and remained there until Ray Goulding died in 1990.

Ray Goulding & Bob Elliott
"Bob and Ray"

After Goulding's death, Bob Elliott continued to work in television, movies, and commercials.

One of the glories of the world in which we currently live is that the work of people like Bob and Ray can be sought out and found on the Internet.  Go to YouTube, type in "Bob and Ray" and be prepared to laugh, and laugh a lot.  I include here one of my favorite Bob and Ray routines, "The Slow Talkers of America".  Enjoy.

RIP Bob Elliott.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Random (Sports) Thoughts......

Some random thoughts.....
  • The Pirates announced yesterday that Joe Block has been hired as their new play-by-play announcer, replacing Tim Neverette.  Block is a young guy, 37, and had been doing play-by-play with Bob Uecker for the Brewers.  Welcome to Pittsburgh, Joe, and good luck.  

  • I figure that Block will broadcast one game, maybe only three or four innings of one game, before two-thirds of all Pirates fans will decide that they hate him, while denouncing the Pirates for having fired Bob Prince forty years ago.
  • I hadn't commented upon it when it happened, but farewell to Tim Neverette, who gets to return to his native New England to become a play-by-play guy for the Red Sox, so good for him. He was solid, if unspectacular, announcer and provided a good contrast to Greg Brown.  I liked him, but, of course, he was no Bob Prince......
  • The Grandstander went 1-1 in his predictions on last week's, NFL conference Championship games, bringing my postseason count to 8-2.  Not making my official prediction yet, but based on last week, it will be hard to pick against the Carolina Panthers.
  • Did you notice that as the Patriots lined up for that two point conversion that would tie the game at the end that the announcers mentioned that this was the first two point conversion attempt for the Pats all season?  Sportswriter Bob Labriola, who covers the Steelers, made the point that was essentially, Are You Kidding Me?  In an entire season, wherein the Pats had at least six blow out wins, and on a team that has Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, that the Super Genius Head Coach did not even attempt a single two point conversion all season???  Was Bill Belichick more concerned about Stephen Gostkowski making a zillion consecutive PAT's (and how ironic did THAT turn out to be?) than at least trying a couple of two point conversions during the season, just in case the Pats actually needed to make one in a critical situation, like in the AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME???  Might have come in handy.
  • For me, though, the most noteworthy performance in both games last week was that of Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer.  I had noted after the Cards-Packers game that Palmer performed badly in that game, that the Cards were lucky to beat the Packers, and that if Palmer played like that against the Panthers, his team would be in trouble.  Well, he didn't play like that.  He was worse.  Four interceptions and two fumbles.  Those Bengals genes in Palmer's DNA just shone through in that game.  When I think of Palmer in the future I will see him sitting on the bench with his headphones and Cardinals stocking cap on while paging helplessly through that three-ring binder, as he tried to figure out, unsuccessfully, how to not turn the ball back over to the Panthers.  I actually felt sorry for him.

Worst Movie Ever? "The Swarm" Is In The Discussion

I noticed that TCM was showing this 1978 movie, "The Swarm", in the wee small hours of the morning one day last week so I set the DVR for it.  I had never seen it and was unfamiliar with it, but what drew me toward it was the fact that Katherine Ross was one of the co-stars.  Having just seen her in "Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid", I wanted to see her in this one.

"The Swarm" was a 1970's era "disaster movie" produced and directed by the master of the genre, Irwin Allen.  Well, it certainly was a disaster!  It may have actually been the death knell for these types of movies. It had the proverbial all-star cast, and the description of the movie in the TCM program guide should have been the tip-off to what was to come: "A scientist and a military doctor try to save the city of Houston from a swarm of killer bees."  I'm not making that up.

Well, I started watching it, and it was worse than watching a traffic accident - although the movie did indeed have several car wrecks AND a train wreck.   The acting was so bad that it reminded me of those sketches that Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman used to do when they were actually trying to be bad.  And the dialog, was absolutely indescribable.  Here a couple of examples:

Brad Crane (played by Michael Caine): We've been fighting a losing battle against the insects for fifteen years, but I never thought I'd see the final face-off in my lifetime. And I never dreamed, that it would turn out to be the bees. They've always been our friend.

Or this one:

Brad Crane: These bees, General, are of joint concern, and they are killing Americans, without reference as to whether or not they have a serial number and are expected to salute YOU! So there will be no air drops of any kind until I give the OK! 
General Slater (played by Richard Widmark): Your OK, huh? Then just possible I can persuade you to attack this particular swarm, now that we know where it is! Attack and eliminate it! 
Brad Crane: Possibly, if you can explain to me, how you air drop chemicals, without killing the native insect life! If your chemical will kill the African bee, it will also kill the American bee, right? 
General Slater: Right! And better a few American bees than a lot of AMERICAN PEOPLE! 
Brad Crane: That is the point, general! The honey bee is vital to the environment! Every year in America, they pollinate six billion dollars worth of crops! If you kill the bee, you're gonna kill the crop! If you kill the plants, you'll kill the people! No! No, general! There will be no air drop, until we know exactly, what we are dropping, and where, and how! Excuse me! 
[Crane storms off]

And here's one more....

Dr. Andrews (Jose Ferrar): Billions of dollars have been spent to make these nuclear plants safe. Fail-safe! The odds against anything going wrong are astronomical, Doctor! 
Dr. Hubbard (Richard Chamberlain): I appreciate that, Doctor. But let me ask you. In all your fail-safe techniques, is there a provision for an attack by killer bees?

I could go on and on, but you get the idea, and the entire script is just full of passages like this from start to finish.  The screenplay, by the way was written by Stirling Silliphant, a highly regarded writer who won an Oscar for his screenplay of "In the Heat of the Night".  One review I read said that it seemed that Silliphant must have been writing it like this on purpose for some reason or another, but, hey, art is one thing, but a payday is a payday.

And how about that All-Star Cast?  Here are some of the names:  Michael Caine, Katherine Ross, Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland, Ben Johnson, Richard Chamberlain, Patty Duke, Fred MacMurray.  By my count, there are six Oscars scattered on the mantelpieces among these various actors, but they were in this one for the money only, that's for sure.  Another review that I read said that Caine was "so obviously contemptuous of the material that he refused to change his expression" for the entire movie.  I honestly don't know how Caine, Ross, and Widmark kept straight faces while acting in this one.  I guess that's what makes them good actors.

I once read an article by the late Pittsburgh Post-Gazette movie critic George Anderson where he interviewed Michael Caine and started a question with "You've made an awful lot of movies..." whereupon Caine interrupted him and laughingly said "I think you mean to say that 'You've made a lot of awful movies'."  Good line, and while Caine is a terrific actor (two Oscars), he's also famous for taking anything ("Jaws 3" being the example always cited) that will get him a paycheck.  "The Swarm" has to be Exhibit A for these peculiar, but no doubt enriching, career choices.

Some movies fall into the "so-bad-it's-good" category and become Camp Classics, but this one goes beyond that.  In his Movie Guide, Leonard Maltin rates this as a BOMB, and says it's "for masochists only."  That about sums it up.

If you ever want to see an example of a really, really BAD movie, you can check this one out, but don't say that I didn't warn you.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

To Absent Friends - Abe Vigoda

Abe Vigoda
1921 - 2016

News arrives today of the death of character actor Abe Vigoda at the age of 94.

IMDB lists 94 acting credits for Vigoda stretching back to 1949, and as recent as 2014.  Over a long acting career, he appeared in countless television shows and movies, including a role in "As the World Turns" way back in 1956, but he is no doubt best known for two roles.

The first was the part of Sal Tessio in "The Godfather" (1972), the once loyal capo to Don Vito Corleone, but who threw his lot in with Don Barzini in an effort to undermine young Michael Corleone.  It didn't end well.

The other noteworthy part was that of world weary Detective Phil Fish in one of the great sitcoms of all time, "Barney Miller" (1974-81).  That show even led to a short-lived spin off Series, "Fish".

His bio in IMDB tells the the story of how rumors persisted in the late 1980's that Vigoda had died and took hold to the point that casting directors would often say things like "I need an Abe Vigoda-type", not realizing that the genuine article was still available.

The best tribute to actors like Vigoda is that they were able to find work right up to the end of their lives.  Hey, he even did that Snickers commercial that ran on the Super Bowl a few years back.

Let us close with perhaps Vigoda's most memorable scene.  From "The Godfaher"...

RIP Abe Vigoda.