Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Pains of Enduring an NFL Broadcast

Confession: I love the NFL. It's a perfect sport... a short season where every game is meaningful, where macho players sooner or later are felled by injury or failure, where nearly every game can turn on one great play.

The funny thing, though, is that football has become much better to watch at home than in the stadium. Seeing a game in person is always fun, but you're often surrounded by strange drunken louts. At home, you can be around drunken louts you know, which is always a better option. Plus, at home the food/beer is much cheaper and there's no traffic to fight.

Also: TV has football covered fantastically. Every camera angle in HD makes you feel like you've got a seat in every part of the stadium. And, with DVR, you can decide when you want a reply.

The problem, friends, is a great deal of the announcers just plain stink. I'm not talking about the loudmouth studio shows. It goes without saying those are a waste of your time. I mean what we have to endure during the games. Because, too often, it sounds like this:

That was a game from last year. In the first week. Now, granted, it was a cool play to end the game. But Gus Johnson makes it sound like he just conjured gold from thin air. His level of excitement in no way matches the context of the game. Nothing was at stake. In fact, the loser of this game (the Bengals) made the playoffs last year, despite the "amazing" play. The Broncos did not.

Now, let's see how it should be done. Bear in mind, what you have here is a radio call so more words are required by default:

That play happened in the SUPER BOWL. Where the Giants had a broken play (their QB was nearly sacked) on a long third down where, if they failed, with little time remaining, they would've likely lost the Super Bowl to the undefeated New England Patriots. Instead, David Tyree made a ridiculous catch that he barely held on to. Anyone watching the game who knew all the context was aware they may had just seen a play that could turn the entire game (it did. The Giants scored to win shortly after that catch) and possibly a play people would remember for years because it ended New England's "perfect season" (and that has come to be).

Marv Albert gets excited in that call, but only within the bounds of the moment's context. And he doesn't sound like a yelling idiot like Gus Johnson.

Anymore, announcers try to make themselves part of the game. It slays me. And good announcers (like Fox's Sam Rosen) get buried on lower tier games. It makes no sense.

In my mind, Pat Summerall, for all his alcoholic foibles, was the ideal football announcer. Low voice, reasonably monotone. His calls went like this: "Montana. Rice. Touchdown." That was the whole play. He let the game take center stage, the sound of the crowd booming into your living room. If Fox's Joe Buck were calling games in the 1980s the way he doe snow, the same play would be filled with whatever drama Buck wants to add on his own. He'd preface it with some hyperbole "And it looks like this is going to be it right here... one play." Then he'd get overly excited "Montana LOOKING DEEP... AND HE HAS RICE!!!!"

Yes, thanks, Joe. I can SEE that.

My dream? I want HBO to bid for Monday Night Football... take it away from ESPN. This won't happen, because HBO is too smart to spend a billion dollars to broadcast one football game each week. But in my mind's fantasy land, they do. The move game time to 8 p.m. Eastern. They go commercial-free to eliminate TV time outs. And they hire Marv Albert and pair him with Dan Dierdorf and they just call a nice and easy game.

But, alas. I'm stuck with loudmouths. There are beacons of hope... Mr. Rosen, Greg Gumbel and Dick Enberg still call a good game. Dick Stockton and Marv's son Kenny are pretty good.

Otherwise, it's a sea of loudmouths. Please make it stop.

Friday, September 10, 2010

About 9/11

On Sept. 11, 2001, my train from Trenton, NJ to New York City was running early. I could barely believe it. I was in Penn Station around 8 a.m. and I walked into my office at 5th Ave. and 26th St. at about 8:20 a.m. When I crossed 6th Ave. on my walk, I did my usual look down the street, my only view of the Twin Towers from Manhattan every day. It was a beautiful day.

Sometime around 4 p.m., when my very-delayed train got back to Trenton, the board with the train schedule was flashing with an advisory that PATH service was suspended “due to fire at World Trade Center.” Oh, if it had only been a fire…

I can remember a lot of things about that day. I remember standing on 6th Ave. at about 9 a.m. with hundreds of others just staring in disbelief. I remember making a decision with my coworkers to leave the apartment we were in watching events unfold and walk to the Hudson River as there was nothing to blow up at the River. I remember someone announcing to a boat-full of passengers in Hoboken that anyone who was on board from below Canal St. had to go and be “decontaminated,” a term that meant get hit with hoses and handed a large towel to wrap around you for your train ride home.

In retrospect, what I remember more than anything was just being sad. And I mean everyone. I was sad. My friends and coworkers were sad. The Muslim woman standing in front of me on the train was sad. Because nothing like that had ever happened. Even watching the burning towers at 9 a.m., no one thought it would be the last time they saw the Twin Towers.

The funny thing… I don’t remember being angry. I certainly didn’t think we deserved to be attacked. But, apparently, lots of people were angry. Many of them from places far from New York. The same people who complain that New York thinks it’s the center of the world. As we hit the 9th anniversary of the attacks, the only thing I’m angry about is that the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation decided to pick the most drab plan to rebuilt as possible (I’m still partial to the THINK Design proposal…).

But apparently, “Ground Zero” has become hallowed land to people who probably would hate just about anything in New York a block away from the site. And, boy… people are angry. It’s to the point that people who have never had any interest in the City are trying to dictate a local zoning issue from afar.

In protesting the proposed Islamic community center, we have people getting involved in a local issue that they rail against when the federal government tries to do lesser things in their local communities. Hell, one guy wanted to burn Qur’ans unless he got a private phone call from the imam who is pushing the project.

I know that some New Yorkers are anti-mosque. But I cannot help but wonder where these people were on 9/11. Were they shut inside their Upper West Side condos, far from the bustle of the city on even a normal day? They certainly weren’t on my train where seemingly one of just about everyone was there. Where were these New Yorkers in the days after the attacks when the city’s transit hubs were papered with somber “missing” posters with pictures of people from every ethnic group possible who never made the trip home from their World Trade Center jobs that Tuesday.

Where were these people when the Sikhs, one of the most peaceful sects in the world, had to hand out glossy printed brochures at the entrance to Penn Station informing people they were NOT terrorists simply because they had brown skin and wore turbans (attacks or harassment against Sikhs had been popping up).

Imagine having to print a brochure to tell other Americans you’re really a nice guy and don’t want to kill them.

I guess these angry folks didn’t see any of that. But this 9/11, as I reflect, I also find myself sad yet again. Because 9/11 has been hijacked by people who, despite not being anywhere near a collapsed building or people covered in eerie white dust waiting in line for a boat, believe it is a tool to fuel American extremism. They believe this to the point that they want to exclude a group of Americans from doing something a few blocks away.

To me, if that aim is met, there will have been another act of extremist terrorism upon New York. Because Muslims died in those attacks. As did Jews. And Christians. So if we’re going to exclude any of those groups, then shouldn’t they all have to go?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A day outside... Bumbershoot 2010

I had been pretty psyched all week for Bumbershoot. And, for once, it was something that lived up to the hype.

Now, I've been to my share of outdoor concert festivals. But this one was different. First, most don't take place around a well-known landmark. Bumbershoot is set up in the Seattle Center, which, to all of you from outside the Puget Sound area, means the Space Needle. From many of the event's stages, you have a full view of the Space Needle. Which is cool.

A few other things that make this unique:

  • Re-entry privileges. I watched two bands this afternoon (more on that in a bit), got my ticket and hand stamped, and went home. Where I ate my food and drank my beer. Granted, if I didn't live a stone's throw from the Seattle Center, I couldn't have done this, but it made a gigantic difference. Instead of spending a day on my feet eating overpriced greasy food, I was able to go home and sit on a real couch in between bands I wanted to see.
  • You can bring stuff in. Mainly water. Which, again, standing in a crowded field all day watching a band gets you thirsty. And I could bring in my water.
  • The "economy" ticket. For $50, you get a one-day ticket (it's a three-day festival) that grants you access to the Mainstage. Tonight, the mainstage was Rise Against, Hole and Weezer. I didn't want to see any of those bands. I wanted to see smaller bands on smaller stages. Bumbershoot allows this via an "economy" ticket. Brilliant.
So what did my economy ticket get me today? Here's the rundown:

  • Horse Feathers - Portland, OR-based four-piece. Violin, Cello, Guitar and Banjo. And they were outstanding. They have the "Fleet Foxes harmonies" going on. Elegant songs, though, I felt more suited to a cool evening than standing in the warm sun.
  • Hey Marseilles - Seattle-based I-don't-know-how-many-piece. They were a flipping army on stage. Strings, guitars, all kinds of drums. Horns. They were incredible. All kinds of layers to their songs. I'm definitely going to check out their album To Travels & Trunks.
  • Ra Ra Riot - I have had this Syracuse outfit on my "must-see" list since their first album and their latest, The Orchard, did nothing but enhance my desire to see them. Just amazing. So well rehearsed and so energetic. It was hard to pick a high point of their set, but there were several. A song from their first disc "Ghost Under Rocks" was intense as you might expect a song at least partially about the drowning death of a former band member to be. Songs like "Shadowcaster" from the new album were also excellent. Go see this band.
  • The Dandy Warhols - My fourth time seeing the Portland, OR masters. They never disappoint. They have such a deep catalog and they can put together a set for whatever crowd they need. With the larger festival crowd, they stuck to material that most people would know instead of some of their deeper tracks that you might get at a show they headline on their own. They were in great form, as always... just wish the rules of the show had let them play another hour!
A grand day... all for $22. Already looking forward to Bumbershoot 2011!

Friday, September 3, 2010


No surprise here but in the six months I've had my Kindle, I hear the occasional argument of "Oh, well, I read real books," as though there is an intellectual preference to do so. You and I might both read Anna Karenina, in other words, but since you read a "real" book and I read it on my Kindle, somehow, your experience is superior to mine.

This sort of thing has to stop. Unless Tolstoy intended for you to be taken by the sheer weight of the volume (dear lord, it is a bit long, no?), who cares how you read it? And fine, you read a "real" book. Let me go find someone who read a "real" copy of the book. In Cyrillic. Then, where are you, huh?

The point is nowadays we all have different ways of consuming media. Is one so far superior to another?

This is hardly a new issue. I spent many a day in high school in ridiculous conversations that went like this:

Some guy: What are you listening to?

Me: Smashing Pumpkins.

Some guy: What album?

Me: Siamese Dream.

Some guy: Oh. I won't even listen to anything they did after Gish. That was when they were for real.

Dude, whatever. At least that's what I should have said at the time. Or "Gee, thanks for wowing me with your clearly superior taste in music and well-reasoned fandom of The Smashing Pumpkins."

I remember conversations where people were basically told they were some sort of lesser fan because they hadn't been there from some ambiguous point back-in-the-day.

Sports is the same way. The first question I get about half the time when I tell people I'm a Yankees fan is "since when?" They assume I'm just on the bandwagon. When I respond with "Long enough to have seen Mike Pagliarulo play in person," they seem to get the picture. But again, why the attempt to lessen my fandom?

Why do some people have a desire to be superior for some nebulous reason? I chalk it up to good old-fashioned American insecurity. Maybe it's some sort of carryover from the long trend of the "New World" trying to prove itself as culturally equal to Old World standbys. One would think years of literature, cultural influence and a few major wars would've taken care of that.

Yet here we are. Each of us trying to one-up someone else for some imaginary crown.