Thursday, December 30, 2010

Champagne and Hamster Wheels

If you are at your ideal weight, raise your hand.

Thought so.  Saying "I could stand to drop five pounds" is kind of like saying "I could stand to comb my hair." 

I feel fat.  Have for about a month.  Must be all of the egg rolls, bacon wraps, crab cakes and mini hot dogs I've inhaled since Halloween. 

We all feel fat this time of year, don't we?  And we resolve to hit the gym.  Right after the New Year.  Or Presidents Day.  Or the next commercial. 

Americans love their cars, guns, TVs and fantasizing about looking younger and thinner (waist not hair).

Most of all, we love to eat.  Nothing like grazing the buffet trough four or five times.  And who needs a buffet when servers lay portions on us the size of phone books?

I keep active, mind you, by swimming several days a week.  Chasing my kids helps keep the pounds off also, I guess.  Still, sometimes I feel like a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving parade.  Seen the ad with the "exploding" pants buttons?  Keep me away from windows and large pets.

There was a time when I could eat, and eat, and eat.   Then I hit 40, and my metabolism, like Spike Lee's speech to the Republican National Convention.

I don't look heavier this time of year (wishful thinking?), just feel that way.

So I swim, but nobody will confuse me with Michael Phelps, or Bo Jackson.  I am reminded of sportscaster Dick Schaap's reaction to Bo's physique.  "Once you have seen Bo Jackson coming out of the shower," Schapp said,  "you will never want to shower again."

Exercise has always been vital.  My time.  No phone, no kids, no screens.  

Swimming is my gig.  A friend does triathlons. Often I will hear from him after a weekend biking up mountains or running through the forest. Me? I get tired hearing about it.

I used to workout at night but switched to (early) mornings many years ago for two reasons:  1) We always control when our day starts, but rarely control when it ends and 2) No matter how my day ends up (trust me I've had some doosies) I know I did something right.

And I'm not into diets.  Always felt like to go on a diet means by definition you will go off of it.  So I try to eat well, consistently.  But we certainly are bombarded by them. Personally I am waiting for the cigar, Mountain Dew and Combos diet. Maybe I'll commission a study.

As an aside, my wife is forming a militia to harm the radio lunatic who claims, "Studies show women over 40 have to work out an hour each day just to maintain their weight."  Applications pending.

So with the new year comes the rush to the gym and annual ritual I call the "hamster chase." 

Regulars know November and December are light gym months.  Then January hits and suddenly the locker room feels like fraternity rush week.  For about three weeks, people are being guided around as if visiting a foreign land, sans the cameras and fanny packs.  You see the newbies either flailing in the pool or hitting the treadmill in dress socks. 

At least they're trying.  I heard at my local Y over 75% of gift memberships aren't used even once. 

See you at the gym. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

May your life be filled with hope and happiness.

For our leaders both here and abroad, who are called on to guide the future of our children, my children...wisdom.

For our brothers and sisters who are hungry, without shelter, or lonely...comfort. 

For those who are blessed...give 'till it hurts, then give some more. 

And may all of us live with the sheer joy of a child on Christmas morning.

My daughter needed one word upon looking in our first box of ornaments.


Peace be with you.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

G.I. Joe and Dandy Don

There were a few deaths in the news recently.  These things happen in threes, right?

Leslie Nielsen, Elizabeth Edwards and Don Meredith.  Each passing was sad in its own way, as they left behind family, friends and fans.  And each achieved fame, or at least notoriety, in ways not intended.

Leslie Nielsen didn't set out to be a comic actor.  He had dramatic roles for many years prior to becoming a caricature in "Airplane" and the "Naked Gun" films.  He was serious - and don't call him Shirley. 

Elizabeth Edwards was an accomplished attorney best known for her courageous battle against cancer. 

And "Dandy" Don Meredith was the original "star" of the Dallas Cowboys, a Texan through and through who never played a home game, at any level, outside of his home state.  But Meredith is best known for  broadcasting "Monday Night Football" in the 70's and early 80's.  Teamed with Frank Gifford (the straight man) and Howard Cosell (the blowhard), Meredith was the booth comedian.  For example, during the 4th quarter of game where the hometown Houston Oilers were getting drilled, the camera focused on a single fan in an otherwise empty section.  The fan looked up and flipped the bird, prompting Meredith to say, "Well, at least someone thinks the Oilers are number one!"
Don Meredith didn't set out to be a TV star.  Yet Meredith's death is felt mainly because he came of age during my formative years in the 1970's.

When Don Meredith began on Monday Night Football it was exactly that.  The big game.  A night game, held once a week.  And because it was the only night game, it was an event. 

I used to beg my Dad to stay up until halftime to catch Howard Cosell's "halftime highlights."  Because back then, those were the highlights.  And maybe, just maybe, our beloved Bears would make the two minute reel. 

I remember one Monday game vividly featuring the Bears against the Green Bay Packers when Wally Chambers, the Bears All-Pro defensive tackle, was featured in the intro as Jim Croce's "Bad, Bad, LeRoy Brown" played in the background.  What did I want to be when I grew up?  Meaner than a junkyard dog. 

I also remember watching baseball's "Game of the Week" on NBC with Joe Gargiola and Tony Kubek because that's exactly what it was.  The game of the week; the only nationally televised game.  I watched, even though it always featured the Yankees, Red Sox, or Dodgers. 

Now games are ubiquitous, available now or on demand.  A big game?  Only until tomorrow night.  Reminds me of Dallas Cowboys running back Duane Thomas, who said shortly before playing in the Super Bowl, "If the Super Bowl is the ultimate game, why are they playing it again next year?

Growing up we had electric football (with the vibrating field), Slinky's and Pong. And Etch a Sketch.  You could either call sports phone (at 50 cents a pop) for scores or wait for the local news. 

My kids play interactive video games, pull up Internet highlights and choose among Sunday, Monday or Thursday night football games. 

We didn't hear much from Don Meredith after his retirement in 1984.  I admire him for knowing when to walk away, unlike Frank Gifford, who is trotted out like a weekly circus act.

Don Meredith won't ever be mentioned in the same breath as Vin Scully or Walter Cronkite, but his death is significant for two reasons:
First, Meredith was one of the last personalities in broadcasting. Can you name more than a couple network announcers today? Do you tune in to listen to them? Nobody "turned down the sound" in Monday Night Football's heyday.

Second, Meredith's death represents one of the last links to a bygone era, when the channels and games were few. Today everything seems instantaneous. Less was more. Or was it?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bowled Over, and Over, and Over

As I write this, Oregon and Auburn, both undefeated, figure to play for the college football's national championship. 

They play for a championship on the field now, not like the old days when writers and coaches voted for champs.  It's on the field, sort of, based on nerdy computer rankings through something called the BCS. 

Two teams, Auburn and Oregon, will battle for the brass ring. 

On January 10th. 

In the mean time, 68 other teams will go at it in an endless orgy of bowl games. 

This year there are 35 bowl games.

35 games, 70 teams.

70 teams will appear in bowl games out of 119 teams in major college football.  In other words, college bowl games have become the NHL playoffs, where the saying used to be "let's play 82 games to eliminate Winnipeg."

The original idea behind bowl games was to reward a handful of successful teams with the opportunity to play another game after being shuttled around by the host city for a series of photo-ops and glad handling.  Sounds cool, but the definition of "successful" team has been stretched quite a bit.  Stretched, shaken, stomped and spit on.  In today's college game, its six wins and you're bowl eligible, baby.  6-6.  Mediocrity rules. 

It wasn't always this way.  To illustrate, I looked back a few years.
I was born in December, 1967.  I picture my Dad with his infant son asleep on his chest, a stiff drink and cigarette in hand (must be true because I watch Mad Men), waiting on the evening paper and a chance to watch his alma mater.
In 1967 there were nine bowl games, and they were pure exhibition games, since the final polls came beforehand.  In fact, the AP writers poll had only 10 teams until 1968. 

USC finished first in 1967.  Wyoming was the only undefeated team, but finished sixth.  I'm sure nobody outside of Wyoming noticed. 

The 1967 bowl lineup was Orange, Rose, Sugar, Cotton, Sun, Gator, Tangerine, Bluebonnet and Liberty.  That's it.  In those days plenty of good teams went home after final exams.  Purdue finished the season ranked #9 with a 9-2 record.  No bowl. 
Fast forward to 2010 and the land of money spewing scrimmages.    Why so many bowl games?  Two reasons - money and programming. 

Schools love bowl games because they get big payouts and provide another reason for proud alums to cut a check or show up with face paint and a corncob on their head.  And coaches love it because a bowl game means a few extra weeks of practice.  And players love to play. I get that.

Then there's programming and those omnipresent letters - ESPN.  After all, how much pool and poker can a viewer take? 
So get ready, because bowl season starts in a week or so.  Just think, some day players can gather the grand kids and tell tales about:

- The GoDaddy Bowl (are they virtually hosting?)
- The Ticketcity Bowl (plenty of tickets available)
- The Meinecke Car Care Bowl (do players brake with pads or shoes?)

And they can reminisce about their lovely December week in Detroit (Little Caesars Bowl) or Boise (Humanitarian Bowl).  Regarding Boise and the "blue rug," wouldn't it be more humane to stay home?  Do players ride snowmobiles to the game?

The BCS is not without controversy.  The plan was to settle things on the field, but there still are issues.  TCU is also undefeated but shut out of the big game because they play in the Mountain West conference. 

Big conferences rule, such as the Big 12, SEC and Big Ten.  And teams feast on directional schools early (Southeastern Middle Florida, Northwest Virginia State) to ensure gaudy final records.

As an aside, next year there will be ten teams in the Big 12 and twelve teams in the Big Ten.  Discuss.

Some have called for a playoff.  I like the bowls.  But only a few of them.  What do you think?