Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Belichick and Tom Brady claimed ignorance of purposely underinflating the balls in separate news conferences last Thursday. Belichick said he had no idea of how the footballs got underinflated and intimated that Brady would have more answers by saying “I think we all know that quarterbacks, kickers, specialists have certain preferences on footballs. They know a lot more about it than I do. They're a lot more sensitive to it than I am” and “Tom's personal preferences on his footballs is something he can talk about in much better detail …”
In the same interview, Belichick also talked about how he makes his team practice and train in all manner of weather conditions “Again, anyone who has seen us practice knows that we make it harder, not easier, to handle the football. Our players train in conditions that a lot of people would recommend that we not drive in. That’s what they do. … And I know that because I work them every day.” I find it hard to believe that a football coach so driven to detail wouldn’t have any understanding of what kind of football his quarterbacks and kickers like so if anything Belichick is likely guilty of some deception in his press conference.
Brady’s press conference was after Belichick’s on Thursday and Brady claimed that not only didn’t he have anything to do with underinflating the balls but that he pays no attention to the balls in play as long as he can grip them properly “From the first half to the second half, I didn’t think twice about it. I didn’t put one thought into the football at that point. Once I approve the ball, like I said, that’s the ball that I expect out there on the field.”
I don’t think the issue is whether the Patriots deflated the footballs in the AFC championship game. After all, the footballs were replaced after halftime and it didn’t seem to affect Brady in the slightest. I think the problem most people have is the perception that the Patriots have been cheating by underinflating the balls for years and only got caught this past weekend. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots inflated the balls at the minimum pressure and then figured out a place to store the footballs where they would deflate further, much like the Colorado Rockies store the baseballs for their home games in a humidor (with the blessings of Major League Baseball) to counteract the effects of the mile high air in Denver allowing baseballs to travel further. I doubt they would be knowingly breaking the rules but I would have no doubt they would push any rule to its absolute limit in order to gain the slightest of advantages.
The Patriots don’t win 10+ games every year and get to the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl more often than not because the balls are underinflated – they have their accomplishments because as an organization they are just smarter than most other football teams. They drafted a Hall of Fame quarterback in the sixth round but when Brady was hurt on the opening weekend of 2008 and missed the year they still won 11 games with seventh round pick Matt Cassel and then traded Cassel (who has since failed to hold onto a starting job in Kansas City and Minnesota) to the Chiefs for a second round draft pick. The Patriots picked up Randy Moss in 2007 for a fourth round pick, kept him for four seasons (including a record setting 22 touchdowns in 2007) and in 2011 traded him to the Vikings for a third round pick. The third round pick was used on backup quarterback Ryan Mallet who stayed with the team for three years and was traded to the Houston Texans for a seventh round pick. The Patriots are masters at picking up players other teams don’t want, getting production out of them, and then trading them for draft picks or players when their usefulness is at an end. Compare this to the Colts trading a first round pick last year to get running back Trent Richardson from the Browns and one year later Richardson wasn't hurt but also wasn't active for the AFC championship game.
Not only are the Patriots masters at personnel management, Belichick has long been at the cutting edge of game management. There was the famous game against the Broncos in 2003 when the Patriots were facing a 4th down from their own one yard line trailing 24-23 with less than three minutes left. Belichick intentionally gave up a safety to trail 26-23. The Patriots got a free kick after the safety to put the Broncos at their own 15, got the ball back with 2:15 left and drove for the winning touchdown in a 30-26 victory. Sometimes the decisions don’t work out so well like in 2009 when he went for the first down on a fourth and 2 play from his own 28 yard line with 2:08 left and a 34-28 lead over the Colts. The Patriots failed to get the first down and the Colts scored a touchdown for a 35-34 win. The point I’m making is that the Patriots and Belichick know more about their sport than the rest of the league combined. In their playoff game against the Ravens last month, Belichick exploited a wrinkle in the rule book to allow him to have multiple receivers and running backs at the line of scrimmage and confuse the Ravens as to which players were eligible to receive passes and which weren’t. The loophole will likely be closed by this time next year but it may have been the deciding factor in their 35-31 Patriots victory.
One thing I learned through this entire scandal was that each team prepares the footballs its offense will use in the game while separate balls are prepared by the league for kicking plays. I understand why each team would want its quarterback to throw a ball he is comfortable with but isn’t this just asking for someone to doctor the footballs? A billion dollar operation like the NFL should be able to have games balls made to their exact specifications for game use and if a quarterback doesn’t like a particular ball they can ask for it to be replaced just like a baseball pitcher can. I expect the NFL to prevent this situation from recurring by taking control of all the game balls in the near future. This 'deflate-gate' controversy is much ado about nothing and has only served to distract the football public from the long term excellence of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots organization and kept the attention away from what could be a Super Bowl for the ages. And speaking of the big game...
Super Bowl 49 – Seattle Seahawks vs. New England Patriots.
Thanks to some shrewd money management and a Green Bay Packers choke for the ages, I find myself heading into the Super Bowl week $40 mythical dollars to the plus side on this years playoff predictions after gaining $90 from splitting my AFC and NFC championship wagers. I have no idea who will win this game and neither does the betting public as the game is very close to a 'pick 'em' (the Patriots are currently a 1 point favorite). If I had a gun to my head I would pick the Seahawks since I predicted them to win the Super Bowl but since I don’t have a gun to my head I will bet $100 that over 47.5 points will be scored using the Betonline.ag lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page . Please keep in mind that while I am serious about my predictions I am not betting any real money and the picks are for entertainment purposes only.
Monday, January 26, 2015
Last month Vince at the Jiffy was robbed at knifepoint while working the overnight shift. Convenience store clerks are trained to put their large bills in a drop safe so the robber only got a little bit of money and as many cigarettes as he could carry out. Four days later the Kum & Go convenience store got robbed by the same people but this time the crook and his accomplice were caught and arrested. There’s a robbery in the local convenience stores every couple of years but this one was different because the criminals (the robber and his getaway girlfriend) were caught.
In last year’s post I mentioned how Marshalltown was at the top of the Google search rankings for ‘Iowa Corpse Abuse’ and now the town has another top Google rank – this time for ‘Iowa dousing people with gasoline’. On January 14th, Eddie De Los Santos was having a domestic disturbance with his girlfriend and her mother when he doused them with gasoline and set them on fire which unsurprisingly caused a fire in the apartment building less than half a mile from my house. De Los Santos is currently in custody and many of the convenience stores in town have cans set up for donations for the burn victims.
You'll know your town is going downhill when the shootings DON'T make the news...
I was working at home on Thursday. I was on the phone with a customer around 3pm and walked out the front door to check the mail. There was no mail but there was a roadblock on the corner and some police cars and one of those camouflage SWAT trucks. The customer on the phone was from Iowa and knew all about the recent news and wanted me to send him a picture of the roadblock. I took a couple of pictures and posted them to Facebook and went back to work.
At 5pm when Kathy and I went out to take Daisy and Baxter for their walk the street was still cordoned off and there was over 100 people hanging out by the roadblocks. People of all ages, races, languages, and religions were talking to each other like old friends speculating about what was going on and what was going to happen next. There were cars parked on both sides of the street for blocks. Everyone thought that the suspected murderer was holed up in one of the houses but I suggested that maybe someone stole Marshalltown’s All-American City awards and the SWAT team was needed to get it back.
Who needs cable when you have this kind of entertainment up the street?
The story in the paper the next day said that 30 tear gas canisters were fired into the house up the block at 514 N Center St but Jose Morales was not found in the house. Morales was arrested the next day on the south side of town. So that was the month in Marshalltown and it was all pretty depressing except for the impromptu block party that broke out during the SWAT raid up the block. It was such a busy month that I never even got the chance to talk about the police shooting and killing of an armed man down the block from the Jiffy the week before Christmas. This was during the height of concern over police shootings in Ferguson, Cleveland, and New York but once it was determined the victim was armed and not a minority it became old news quickly.
Thursday, January 22, 2015
Until they lost back to back games in Los Angeles to the woeful Lakers and hopeful Clippers I thought the Warriors were a legitimate threat to break the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls all-time best record of 72 wins against 10 losses. They were 23-3 and slightly ahead of the Bulls pace and winning all their home games (except one loss to the defending champion Spurs) by huge margins. The back to back losses put them at 23-5 and even though they are in the midst of a streak of winning 11 of 12 games their current record of 34-6 means they would have to win 9 straight games just to get back on the Bulls pace.
This is the closest any team has to the 72-10 all-time record since the 1996-1997 Bulls went 68-10 before losing three of their last four games. The last team to do as well as this year’s Warriors were the 2007-2008 NBA champion Boston Celtics who started 29-3 before dropping 5 of their next 10 games to drop to 34-8 on their way to a 66-16 regular season record. I can’t count out the Warriors entirely since their coach is Steve Kerr who was a member of that record setting Bulls team and understands the mindset needed to attack that record as well or better than anyone.
I don’t know why the 1995-1996 Bulls never receive the credit I feel they deserve for their record setting season. Coach Phil Jackson and star players Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan are pretty accessible to the media so there could be plenty of chances to interview them about it. Maybe the presence of the tremendous defender and Hall of Fame oddball Dennis Rodman on the team makes the media feel less willing to highlight them. Nevertheless, the 72-10 mark will have stood 19 years after this season and I can’t see it being surpassed anytime soon.
I predicted the Chicago Bulls to win the NBA championship this year but they have hit a major slump as of late. Coach Tom Thibodeau turned the Bulls into a tough, gritty team but he constantly wears his team out by playing his star players way too much and allowing them to play despite nagging injuries instead of resting even if it means some extra losses. The Bulls signed 34 year old center Pau Gasol in the offseason. Gasol has missed large parts of the last three seasons with leg injuries yet is on pace to play the fourth most minutes of his 15 year career. All-star 2013-2014 Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah has been battling injuries all season but he never takes more than a game or two off before hobbling back into the lineup and aggravating his injuries. At this pace he will never be healthy for an extended playoff run.
The success the San Antonio Spurs have had while giving key players games off has led the rest of the league to follow suit. Recently LeBron James took nine games off to rest his back and legs and indicated that his injuries wouldn’t have kept him out of the playoffs. Thibodeau has not recognized the usefulness of this new trend and each year seems to exhaust his team a little earlier in the season in order to have a better regular season record. The Bulls have amassed a tremendous amount of talent but I don’t think they can win a championship unless they manage their player’s usage in a better way.
The NBA trading deadline is almost a month away (February 20th), but the contending teams have already started to beef up their rosters for a playoff push. The Cleveland Cavaliers have been the most active. They picked up center Timofey Mozgov from the Denver Nuggets along with guards Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith from the Knicks in return for semi star guard Dion Waiters and a couple of draft picks. I like the pickup of Mozgov a lot. I think the Cavaliers had dreams of Kevin Love playing center on defense much like Chris Bosh did in Miami but when Love proved he can’t play much defense at all getting a traditional center made a lot of sense. Shumpert should be a welcome addition as a defensive guard that doesn’t need the ball much and Smith will take Waiters place as the guard that sits on the bench because he shoots too much. The rest of the Eastern Conference contenders haven’t made any pickups yet. I think all the leading contenders are pretty much set with their rosters except for the Toronto Raptors who have slumped in the past month. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri was a frequent trader when he ran the Nuggets and I expect a major shakeup in the next three weeks.
While the East contenders aside from the Cavaliers have yet to make any big moves, trading season in the West began almost a month ago when on December 18th the Dallas Mavericks acquired all-star point guard Rajon Rondo from the Boston Celtics for some draft picks and spare parts. The Mavericks were 19-8 before the trade and 11-5 after the trade so while there hasn’t been a dramatic improvement there also hasn’t been the drop off that sometimes happens when the roster is changed. Rondo is an experienced playoff veteran who was on two NBA Finals teams and the Mavericks expect his playoff experience to pay off in May.
The Oklahoma City Thunder has been one of the league’s top teams over the past five years but have one Finals appearance and no championships to show for it. Superstar Kevin Durant is a free agent after next year and there is wide speculation that Nike will push last years’ MVP to move on to a bigger market. The Thunder have never traded draft picks or gone over the luxury tax but GM Sam Presti may see his championship window closing and spent a first round pick to get sharpshooter Dion Waiters from the Cavaliers as part of the Mozgov deal (The Cavs passed the pick on to the Nuggets for Mozgov). I don’t know if Waiters is the missing piece for the Thunder but his outside shooting abilities should complement superstars Russell Westbrook and Durant and allows the team to trade backup guard Reggie Jackson for another ‘missing piece’ if the opportunity arises. The Thunder look to be making their move to win it all this year but injuries to Durant and Westbrook earlier this year will likely force them to win at least two playoff series on the road this year IF everyone stays healthy and given their recent injury record that is a big IF. I don’t think the Thunder’s championship window is closing – I think it is shut.
The weirdest trade of the NBA season wasn’t a trade at all. On December 22nd the 5-23 Detroit Pistons released former All-star Josh Smith. Players are released all the time but Smith was in the second year of a 4 year $54 million dollar guaranteed contract. Not only do the Pistons have to pay Smith the remaining $30 million owed to him, they have to count that money against their salary cap over the next five years. Smith was signed on December 26th by the then 20-7 Houston Rockets for $2 million dollars for the remainder of the year.
Most sports commentators thought the Pistons had released Smith in order to ensure an awful record and get a top draft pick but the Pistons immediately went on a 7 game winning streak and have gone 11-3 since the release to enter the periphery of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Meanwhile the Rockets have gone a pedestrian 9-7 since picking up Smith. I picked the Rockets as my surprise team in the West but while the Pistons have performed addition by subtraction, the Rockets seem to have discovered the fine art of subtraction by addition.
Monday, January 19, 2015
My music app of choice on my iPod is the Rhapsody music player. I pay $15 a month to Rhapsody to be able to access their large library of songs. There are plenty of free music players but they all require me to either own the music I want to play or be connected to the Internet to play songs that I haven’t purchased while the Rhapsody app allows me to download music from their library and play it even when I’m off line as long as I occasionally connect to the internet and log in to the Rhapsody server. I have some playlists that I listen to time after time and sometimes I let the app spin out a playlist based on my listening history. There are times where I catch a group of songs that hit me just right and I have a super productive day of work which ends in what seems like an hour or my drive is over before I know it.
On New Year’s Eve I was working and left a few minutes past my five o’clock quitting time and was having a great day listening to music from the Rhapsody app on my iPod. I was looking forward to a pleasant drive home listening to more music but when I got to my car the music stopped and the app was asking me for my password. I figured I hadn’t logged in for too long and went from my car back to the office lobby to access the company’s wireless internet and log in but the Rhapsody app kept telling me my password was invalid. Thinking I forgot the password, I went from the office lobby to my cubicle, turned on my computer, and went to the Rhapsody website to ask for a new password. After a few minutes I received an email with instructions on how to reset my password. I reset my password and once again tried to login to the Rhapsody app on my iPod and was once again told I had entered an invalid password. Then I went to my computer and tried to log into the Rhapsody website and I was again told that my password was invalid.
At this point I started to suspect that Rhapsody was having a problem but since there was the off chance that maybe I didn’t enter the new password correctly I went through the process of resetting my password. I made sure I knew what my new password was but the app and website would still not recognize my password which confirmed my suspicions that there was a problem in Rhapsody-land.
At this point it was 5:30 and I needed to start my hour long drive home. I left a note for Rhapsody customer service telling them I expected a free month’s service for my inconvenience and drove home without any music except for the radio. Normally I wouldn’t have been too bothered about Rhapsody’s temporary snafu but I had really enjoyed listening to music all afternoon and had a playlist all picked out for my drive home. I think what bothered me most was that if I had left a few minutes earlier or the problem had erupted a few minutes later I would have been safely offline listening to my downloaded music and totally unaware there was a problem at all. I got home around 6:30 and after taking Daisy and Baxter on a walk I got an email from Rhapsody letting me know that they knew about the problem was being worked on. I went on Rhapsody’s Facebook page and saw that many other people were having the same problem. I woke up the next morning and was able to log into the app and all was well.
All was well except that I didn’t have my free month of service. So I replied to the previous night’s email from Rhapsody to let them know that I wanted a free month’s service. And they wrote back to let me know that they were going to give it to me. It was so easy I’m thinking I should have asked for two months but one month is pretty generous for a few hours of outage. When I have problems with Mediacom cable or Internet and I ask for some money back they will throw a dollar or two my way but never an entire month of service.
The next day I got another email from Rhapsody asking them to rate their customer service. I was a pretty satisfied customer with my free month of service I not only gave them a big Siskel and Ebert ‘2 Thumbs Up’ I left them a positive review on the iTunes store. After all I really do like the Rhapsody app and definitely wanted to give them some positive feedback for giving me a free month of service.
Our Marshalltown Chess Club had been in some serious downtime with Christmas and New Year’s both on Thursday and the first meeting of 2015 had its attendance cut down by a snowstorm. Last Thursday we had our first real club in a month and I spent almost the entire two hours playing this game with Seth. The game was a lot like my experience with Rhapsody two weeks ago: OK at first, then not so good, but satisfying at the end.
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Yasser Seirawan's grandmasterly commentary of round 3 of the TATA Steel Chess tournament
After four rounds So has proven he belongs among the world’s elite with a win against top 10 player Levon Aronian and draws against Carlsen and Caruana with Black. The world champion started with two draws while world #2 Fabiano Caruana started with two wins. Carlsen then overpressed in round three against Radoslaw Wojtaszek and lost. Perhaps Carlsen is feeling the footsteps of Caruana closing in on him not only on the live rating lists but also as the favorite of the world’s chess fans.
My predicted winner Ding Liren lost to Caruana in the first round but rebounded nicely with three straight wins to share second place with Caruana a half point behind the veteran Vasilly Ivanchuk with his round three win over Jabova being especially crushing. Hou Yifan has two draws in her first four games and now finds herself 10 rating points behind Judit Polgar for the ‘title’ of the top ranked women player in the world.
The 2015 TATA Steel tournament has been full of fighting chess. Check out Ding Liren's round 3 crush of Baadur Jobava!
Seirawan is commentating solo with an occasional interview with the winner of a game and on Tuesday interviewed 1972 world checker champion Ton Sijbrands. Sijbrands holds the blindfold simultaneous draughts record and is also a keen chess fan. There is very little in the way of silly jokes or banter – Seirawan pretty much sticks to the chess and talks about what is happening on the board without the aid of any computer analysis. Sometimes he suggests a move that immediately loses but admits to his mistakes with a good humor when corrected on Twitter by computer armed non-grandmasters. What I like most about Seirawan’s commentary is that if he finds a game particularly interesting he will focus on it with his complete attention for a half hour or more. I can hardly pay attention to a game for more than a minute but it is fascinating to watch Seirawan construct and deconstruct the possibilities as he decides what course the game will take and when he does take this time he is rarely wrong.
Ivanchuk is the leader heading into the first rest day. At 45 he is the oldest competitor (and one of only three over the age of 30) and I doubt he will be able to maintain his pace. Before the tournament I predicted Ling would win but if I had to make a bet now I might put my money on So, who has played the top three seeds and has a +1 score and could be primed to go on a long winning streak.
If live commentary isn't your thing, the tata steel website provides coverage of the games complete with computer analysis and live video.
Green Bay Packers vs Seattle Seahawks
The Packers were crushed in Seattle 36-16 in the opening game of the season. Since then, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been hobbled by a calf strain but the team will have running back Eddie Lacy (who missed the first Seattle game) available. I think this game will be closer than the week 1 encounter but I just can’t see Seattle losing so I will bet $600 to win $200 on the money line and pick Seattle to just win this game.
Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
When these teams met in November the Patriots broke open a close game in the fourth quarter in a 42-20 win in Indianapolis but I think the Colts have come of age and won’t fold as easily even though this game is in New England. The Ravens’Joe Flacco shredded the Patriots last week and Andrew Luck is every bit as good even if he doesn’t have as good a supporting cast as Flacco. I will bet $110 that the Colts will stay close enough to cover the 6.5 point spread and pocket $100 if they manage to.
Monday, January 12, 2015
Unlike the iconic ‘Taken’ or ‘Taken 2’ no one gets taken and there aren’t any Albanians to battle. Instead Mills has to deal with his ex-wife fantasizing about him during a rough spot in her second marriage and his daughter Kim learning she is pregnant. Mills handles all this upheaval with his typical stoic aplomb but then his ex-wife is murdered in his bed and he finds himself the prime suspect and has to evade the police and his wife’s killers in order to clear his name and take his revenge.
Neeson plays Mills as the action hero we’ve all come to expect but he appears to be quite out of shape for this movie. In one his getaway scenes he outruns multiple police officers half his age while never running at a faster pace than a slow jog, although he does manage to scale a number of fences at a reasonable speed. Maybe the scenes were slowed down so the viewers could follow along with the action since in one gun battle Mills appears to outrun multiple machine gun barrages sweeping the room.
Although he has lost some foot speed, Mills’ hand to hand combat skills and endurance are undiminished by age as he takes out multiple armed Russian spetsnaz with various chops, kicks, punches, and headbutts so quickly it’s almost impossible to see with the naked eye.
I’m just kidding. Neeson looks old and slow but because he is old (62) and slow but since he is Liam Neeson and this is Taken 3, Bryan Mills manages to outrun, out shoot, and outfight all his younger and fitter adversaries. In order to make Mills look faster, director Oliver Megaton switches camera angles continually during every chase and fight. In the beginning of the movie this did make everything look faster. As time wore on and I got used to the technique I noticed that very little action was actually taking place despite the frenetic switching of the camera angles. This technique worked a lot better in Megaton’s 2008 film Transporter 3 and made 40 year old Jason Staham’s martial artistry pop off the screen but I thought it was overused in Taken 3. There are three car crash scenes (into an airplane, down a parking garage elevator shaft, and off a cliff) that are only semi-believable but provide great special effects.
Except for the disjointed action scenes I thought the pacing was just fine. No one was ‘Taken’ but the plot had a good mixture of tension, action, and intrigue. The chemistry between Mills and his CIA buddies was great as they help him safeguard his daughter and solve the mystery of his ex-wife’s murder. Forest Whitaker plays lead detective Frank Dotzler in an eccentric manner almost as if he’s angling to get his own movie series. Dotzler is only half step behind Mills in unraveling the mystery but spends much of his camera time twirling a chess piece in his fingers or wrapping and unwrapping what may possibly be the world’s most durable rubber band in his fingers (which turns out the rubber band that wraps around the case file).
Aside from Whitaker, the supporting cast was pretty stereotypical. Whitaker’s top men were played by Don Harvey and Dylan Bruno (Colby from the late lamented Numb3rs television show) as bored bumbling cops who were outwitted by Mills, Mills daughter, and Mills’ CIA friends every step of the way. Sam Spruell played Russian super spetsnaz bad guy Oleg Malankov in the manner of a James Bond villain from the 1960s. Malankov was plenty cruel – he called a business partner to tell him he left him a present which was the partner’s shot up assistant in an office sized safe but also likes the good life. Before his climactic battle with Mills, Malankov is living it up with two girls in his giant hot tub but at a moment’s notice the girls are gone and Malankov roaming his apartment with two assault rifles (stopping to put on his shirt first of course). Spruell made a great Russian bad guy and I would have liked this movie a lot more if he had a more prominent role in it.
Mills’ ex-wife Lenore (played by Famke Janssen of X-Men fame) and daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) give workmanlike performances. Lenore didn’t make too much of the movie before being murdered while Kim was featured as a plot device like the first Taken movie instead of the action oriented role she had in Taken 2. Lenore’s second husband Stuart received a significant upgrade from Taken with the balding and effete Xander Berkely replaced by a younger and more conniving Dougray Scott. I assume that since Stuart wasn’t in Taken 2 he was busy receiving HGH therapy and surgical enhancements.
As a standalone movie, Taken 3 is a generic action flick that I can’t imagine appealing to people who haven’t seen the previous Taken movies. I would have liked the plot to recognize that Neeson wasn’t up to full speed action instead of chopping up the action with camera angles to make it look like he was full speed. The movie tried hard to follow the pace of Taken where Mills had to conquer increasingly dangerous villains but his encounters with the police kept interrupting the flow of bad guys and the movie would have been better served having one major bad guy for Mills to battle while being hindered by the police. If you are a Taken devotee you will find this movie a lot of fun to watch on the big screen and despite lackluster reviews the movie had the second best January opening weekend ever. If you are not a Taken fan there is nothing here to make you one and this is a Redbox or Wal-Mart $5 bargain bin movie.
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
While the Ducks and Buckeyes were the winners on the field I believe the biggest winner was the playoff selection committee’s decision to jump the Buckeyes from the sixth seed and out of the playoffs to the fourth and final playoff spot over Big 12 co-champions Baylor and TCU in the last week of deliberations. The committee said that their decision was swayed by Ohio States 59-0 win over 13th ranked Wisconsin in the Big 10 championship game while TCU was throttling perennial loser Iowa State 55-3 and Baylor was beating 9th ranked Kansas State 38-27.
When the final playoff seedings were announced the playoff committee was widely chided for picking a big name team like Ohio State from the inferior Big 10 conference and bypassing the worthier Big 12 co-champs. The complaining only grew when TCU walloped 9th ranked Ole Miss (the only team to beat the top seeded Alabama Crimson Tide) 42-3 in the Peach Bowl. But Ohio State’s victory has vindicated the playoff selection committee and given them credibility for next year although I doubt they will ever have the courage to deny an undefeated team like Florida State that wins a lot of close games against inferior competition a spot in the playoffs.
I felt the biggest surprise of the college football offseason was the firing of Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. Pelini was the Nebraska coach from 2008 through 2014 and had never won less than nine games in a season (you can see his record here). The issue some Nebraska fans and athletic director Shawn Eichorst had was that Pelini had never won more than ten games in a season (he won ten games three times) or captured a conference championship (he did win three division championships and lost three conference title games). Pelini has been exceptionally crude at times and some of his more vulgar tirades (like this one) have caused the University great embarrassment but he seemed to be growing into the job and at age 47 could have been the coach for decades to come.
In firing Pelini (who was under contract through 2019), Eichorst said "We weren't good enough in the games that mattered." and when asked about the criteria for a new coach said "We're going to get it right." Less than a week later Eichorst hired Oregon State University coach Mike Riley as the new Nebraska head coach. Riley is 61 years old and had coached the Beavers for 14 years since 1997 (taking a few years off to coach the San Diego Chargers). In hiring Riley Eichorst said "I have no doubt that Mike will assemble a tremendous staff and lead our student-athletes to win Big Ten titles and compete for national championships in the years ahead." This intrigued me so I decided to look at the record (you can too by clicking here). In his 14 years as a head coach at Oregon State, Riley has won zero Pac-10 or Pac-12 titles, has won nine games twice and ten games once and has never finished a season ranked higher than 20 (Pelini’s Cornhuskers were ranked 14 in 2009 but otherwise also has never finished a season ranked higher than 20).
Riley has never been accused of the kind of vulgar rants Pelini (here is Pelini's classic farewell speech to his players) has been recorded making but he hasn’t won as much as Pelini either. So it seems to me that Eichorst has gotten himself an older, cheaper ($2.7 million vs. $3.1 million), more refined version of Pelini but not a more accomplished version. There is nothing in Riley’s record to make me think he will lead the Cornhuskers to Big 10 or national championships.
It wasn’t that Pelini didn’t win – Pelini didn’t win enough. Nebraska won national championships in 1970 and 1971 under Bob Devaney and three from 1994 to 1997 under Tom Osborne. Nebraska expects to win national championships every year like they’re the Yankees or something. In my opinion the expectations are far too great but given those expectations firing Pelini is a justifiable decision. What I don’t get is If Eichorst is expecting national championships why he didn’t get a coach that has won one or come close to on or has potential to grow into a national championship coach instead of a 60+ year old coach who has a 15 year body of work that says he won’t come close to a national championship.
One state to the east, the Iowa Hawkeyes had a promising season going. They had a 7-3 record and if they could win their remaining two games against Wisconsin and Nebraska the Hawkeyes would win their division of the Big 10 and play Ohio State for the conference crown. With both games at home the Hawkeye had reasonable expectations of winning these contests. Wisconsin took an early 19-3 over Iowa but the Hawkeyes scored two touchdowns to narrow the game to 19-17 but missed a 2-point conversion attempt to tie the score early in the fourth quarter. The teams traded touchdowns but with 5:40 left in the game Wisconsin managed to run out the clock to clinch a 26-24 win.
With nothing to play for except pride, the Hawkeyes took a 24-7 lead against Nebraska in the third quarter only to allow three straight touchdowns to find themselves trailing 28-24. The Hawkeyes proceeded to score a touchdown with less than two minutes left to take a 31-28 lead only to allow a last second field goal by the Cornhuskers to send the game into overtime. In the overtime the Hawkeyes scored a field goal to take yet another lead but then gave up a touchdown to lose to the Cornhuskers 37-31.
When the Hawkeyes suffer, the Iowa economy suffers along with it. Instead of getting $11.90 or more for a bowl game t-shirt these 'TaxSlayer.com' ended up in the bargain bin.
There are plenty of Hawkeye voices calling for Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz to be fired but Iowa athletic director Gary Barta isn't among them. Before the bowl fiasco Barta said finishing 7-5 wasn’t acceptable and that winning at Iowa is measured by championships but after the bowl game Barta said “what I do see are student-athletes who are 100 percent behind their coach. I see a group of coaches are still behind each other and that's important. Because I've been around programs where a coach loses a team, and that's not the case at Iowa”. There wasn’t even a hint of the athletic director newspeak for getting ready to replace a coach (‘We’ll evaluate everything after the season’, ‘No one’s job is safe’, ‘We’re always evaluating our options’).
While Bo Pelini has won nine or ten games in each of his seven seasons and lost his job, Ferentz has won nine games or more games only five times in his 16 seasons (coaching record here) and last won none games in 2009. Yet he still has his job. Why is Barta so patient as opposed to Eichorst? One reason is Ferentz has accomplished things Pelini hasn’t – Iowa was co-champion of the Big 10 twice, finished the season ranked in the top 10 four times, had two 11 win season, and played in two Orange Bowls. While Ferentz’s lows are lower his highs are also higher than Pelini’s Nebraska squads.
Iowa’s expectations for its football program are to contend for the conference championship and occasionally have a big season and that is what Ferentz has delivered. If he goes another three of four years without a ten win season or division championship then he will probably be replaced for not meeting the program’s expectations. Nebraska seemingly has the expectation of winning (not contending for) conference championships and contending and occasionally winning national championships and Pelini lost his job for not coming close to those expectations. I have the feeling that Pelini’s vulgar tirades are the real reason he was let go and not meeting the programs ‘expectations’ was the excuse. When Ohio State wanted to get back on the national radar they hired Urban Meyer, a coach with a track record of winning. Alabama did the same with Nick Saban. Eichorst quickly hired a coach with a long term record of mediocre results. Either Eichorst is the smartest guy in the room or he really doesn’t have championship expectations after all.
Speaking of expectations, I can't say I met my expectations for last week's playoff bets. My reasoning was sound but my money management left much to be desired. I successfully picked Carolina to win, Baltimore and Pittsburgh to score more than 46.5 points (they scored 47), and the Colts to beat the Bengals by more than four points. Those three bets put me up $300 but I lost $110 mythical dollars on my 25-1 bet of the Steelers winning the Super Bowl and lost my double bet of $220 on the Lions and Cowboys going over 48.5 points when the Lions failed to get a winning touchdown in the last three minutes. So heading into week 2 I’m down $30 despite winning 3 of my 5 picks. By contrast, my guest prognosticator Shawn Pavlik picked all the favorites and is only down $20. I clearly have some catching up to do with this week’s picks using the Betonline.ag lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page and as usual for entertainment purposes only.
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots
I’ve never been able to figure out this Baltimore Ravens team so I won’t start trying now. The Patriots have been the best team in the AFC this year but the Ravens have a knack of winning on the road including their 28-13 win over the Patriots in the 2013 AFC championship game. I think the under 20 degree weather will keep scoring down so I’ll bet $110 to win $100 that the total score will be under 47.5 points.
Carolina Panthers vs Seattle Seahawks
The Panthers have played the Seahawks the last three years, all in Carolina. In 2012 the Seahawks won 16-12. In 2013 the final score was Seattle 12 and Carolina 7. Seattle won again this year 13-9. Even though all three games were within 5 points with and none of the three games saw 30 points scored Seattle is favored by 10.5 points with the over under at 40. It would seem like a no-brainer to pick the Panthers with the points or take the under. The big differences are that this game is in Seattle and it’s a playoff game. I think Seattle will score more than 40 points all by themselves and will bet $110 to win $100 on the over.
Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers
The Cowboys barely beat the Lions at home last week and will now head to Green Bay to play the rested Packers. I expect the Packers to win easily but the Cowboys have that 'team of destiny aura' that makes me hesitant to give the 7 points or give 3-1 odds on the money line. The temperature is predicted to be 15 degrees which makes the over under line of 53 a little high for my tastes so I’ll bet $110 to win $100 on the under.
Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos
The Broncos and especially Peyton Manning haven’t played especially well the past few weeks of the season but I feel the week off will rejuvenate Manning for at least one week and will bet $110 to win $100 that the Broncos will be able to beat the gritty but mistake prone Colts by more than the seven point spread.
Sunday, January 4, 2015
When I last wrote about my Chevy Spark I told the sad tale of how I waited over two hours at Ben’s Tire in Marshalltown getting my oil changed because they couldn’t get oil filters for the Spark from their normal supplier. I also told the happy story of how I was able to get my oil changed at Bob Brown’s Quick Lube Service center in Urbandale and avail myself of the wireless internet, free coffee and soda, and a complimentary car wash that didn’t clean my car. Before my next oil change was needed I got a recall notice. The Bob Brown Quick Lube doesn’t handle recalls so I called Clemons Chevrolet in Marshalltown to schedule my recall repair and also get my oil changed. The recall notice suggested I make the recall appointment well in advance so the dealer could have the parts ready so I made the appointment for the next week so Clemons would have time to get the recall parts.
The next week I arranged to work from home on the appointment date, dropped the car off at Clemons at 7:30 and was told my car should be ready by 10 and I would get a call when it was done. I got a ride back home from Kathy and worked and waited for my car to be done. I waited until 10 and I waited until 12 and I waited until 2 and then I called the service department and was told that they would be done by 5. I asked why it took so long and was told that they had to wait for the parts because they didn’t have the recall parts in stock and had to order them from Des Moines. It made me glad I set this all up a week in advance and I wondered why they told me the car would be ready at 10 when I brought it in. All in all I wasn’t too surprised since this particular service department is one of the laziest I’ve ever encountered which is why I rarely go there. Years ago Kathy had a problem with our Chevy Venture minivan and brought it to this same service department and the ‘service advisor’ told her the repairs weren’t covered by the warranty. I called the ‘service advisor’ and asked how the repairs couldn’t be covered since we had one of those 100,000 mile extended warranties and the ‘service advisor’ said he didn’t check to see what kind of warranty I had and thought I had the standard warranty. I did get my car by 5 and it was probably a good thing for Clemons that I didn’t get one of those customer service surveys to fill out.
I got my next oil change at Bob Brown’s Quick Lube Service Center and it was a different experience than my May encounter. There was a long line of cars waiting for oil changes so instead of pulling in a bay and going to the waiting area, I waited for over an hour outside in my car and while I could connect to their complimentary wireless network I couldn't connect to the internet. Once I got my car pulled in I went to the waiting area and got a free coffee but the wireless network still couldn’t connect to the internet. I couldn’t check my emails or do anything with my amazing iPod that wasn’t already loaded on it. When I paid I told the ‘service advisor’ the wireless internet wasn’t working and he said that they were thinking about adding a fiber optic line but this was the first he heard of the wireless internet not working. The ‘service advisor’ also told me that the tread on my tires were down to 5/32 of an inch and I should think about getting them replaced. I asked what I thought was a reasonable question which was how much tread came on the tires in the first place and the advisor told me that I’d have to ask where I bought the tires. I told him that these were the tires that came with the car so I was in fact asking where I bought the tires. The ‘service advisor’ then told me that he didn’t know and I told him that I probably could get the answer myself if the wireless internet was working. On the bright side the car wash worked perfectly (unlike my last visit).
I didn’t stick around for the car wash and the next week I received an email from Bob Brown asking how their service was. I asked if I can’t trust Bob Brown to get their wireless internet working or even tell the truth about it not working why am I trusting my car to them? I got an email back from the Service Manager saying this was the first HE heard about it and then I got another email from the Quick Lube Manager telling me that the person I spoke to is part time and laying out all the reasons and excuses that there wasn’t any wireless internet at the Quick Lube center. I noticed that the Service Manager didn't know about the wireless internet not being available for at least two months but the Quick Lube Manger was intimately involved with every detail of the situation. I got the impression that I was being told whatever would get me to stop complaining so I sent an email asking the Quick Lube Manager to let me know when the wireless internet was back working so I could consider going back to Bob Browns for my oil changes.
I was due for an oil change last week and also had another recall notice on my Spark. I didn’t want to go to Clemons and Bob Brown’s hadn’t written me back to let me know if their wireless internet was working. In August, the headlights on our Chevy Aveo stopped working and Ben’s Tire suggested we bring the car to a dealer since there was an electrical system recall with that may have caused the problem and allow the repairs to be made for free. We needed the car for Ben to bring back to school in Idaho the next week but when Kathy called Clemons they said she could bring the car down but couldn’t promise when they were going to look at it so Kathy took the car to Thys Chevrolet in Toledo and they looked at it and had it fixed within a day.
That positive experience prompted me to call Thys two weeks ago to make an appointment for the recall work and oil change. I was using my last three vacation days of the year and scheduled my appointment for 8am on Tuesday (my last vacation day) the 30th for 8am. I had never been to Thys before and figured it would be like Clemons or Bob Brown with a waiting room with free coffee and soft drinks and hopefully working wireless internet. Tuesday morning I drove the 20 miles west to Toledo. I found Thys easily enough and dropped of my car at the service desk. The clerk asked me if I had someone coming to pick me up and I told him I didn’t. Then he said the parts they needed for the recall were supposed to arrive this morning.
What went through my mind was ‘Oh no!! Here we go again. Another day wasted because somebody didn't have the oil filter or didn't bother ordering the parts’ What came out of my mouth was if the parts weren’t in by 10 to just forget it and I’d reschedule. The clerk told me that they would change my oil and the parts were ordered last week and would arrive in just a few minutes.
The service department 'waiting room' is short on amenities but there are other benefits to being a Thys customer....
Luckily I had planned for the possibility of no internet or plugs and was prepared to go 'old school'. I pulled a chess book out of my computer bag, a small chess set out of my car, set up the chess board on one of the plastic chairs and went over the games from my book. Just before I got started, the clerk came out and told me the recall parts had arrived and my oil was being changed. It was nice not to have to sit and stew for a couple hours. I got myself a cup of coffee, poured some of the powdered creamer from Fareway into it and played over some games from my chess book. At 9:30, the clerk came out and said my car was all finished so I packed up my stuff, paid, left, and was home by 10 am.
The waiting area was not the only difference between Thys and Clemons and Bob Browns. Thys didn’t have the amenities in the waiting room or a brand new showroom but they provided the ultimate amenity – they got my car in and out without making it take all day and without any phony excuses. All the new car dealer service departments have elaborate waiting areas designed for a positive user experience with wireless internet, big screen TV’s, and free beverages and snacks. These are all great features but along the way I think the dealers have forgotten the main reason a customer chooses an operation to service their car in the first place and that reason is trust. I bring my cars to Ben’s Tires because I trust them and the only reason I don’t have them change the oil in my Spark is because they don’t stock the oil filter for it. When they tell me a tire is worn down or I need a new belt I have them do it because I trust them and when I have a bigger problem I know I can bring it to them and they will fix it and not do a lot of unneeded work. I don't know anything about cars so I have to trust the repair shop but how can I trust Clemons when they don’t bother ordering parts or a Bob Browns when they dismiss problems by saying it was the first they ever heard of it or pass along my question about how much tread is on my tires to where I got the them until they realize that I got the tires from them in the first place. I don’t know when I am going to get another car but when I do Thys will get the first shot at my business.