Wednesday, April 15, 2015

THE JOY OF SIX: The Masters, the presidential race and the return of the Sons of Pitches

^
6. How 'bout that Jordan Spieth, huh? Every time Phil Mickelson or Justin Rose or anybody else drew within a few strokes of him at the Masters, the 21-year-old Texan would birdie the next couple of holes and re-open a commanding lead. He ended up breaking a bunch of records and tying Tiger Woods' mark for best Masters score ever. Pretty impressive.

I know that I'm looking forward to many years of him dueling with Rory McIlroy, the reigning king who is only 25 himself. Then again, I remember Tiger and Sergio Garcia going toe-to-toe as youngsters in the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah and thinking, "Wow, it's gonna be fun watching these guys go at each other for the next decade or two."

How has that worked out?

^^^

5. At one point, CBS showed a list of the last 10 Masters champions -- reminding me that the one and only Masters I ever covered (or ever will cover) was won by the "least good" (to borrow a phrase from former Bears coach Dick Jauron) champion in decades. Maybe ever.

Despite shooting a 75 in the final round, Trevor Immelman beat a field that never really showed up. Woods tried to rally but got no closer than 3 strokes. Immelman hasn't won since and, since 2012, he has missed the cut more than he has made it. In 10 starts so far this year, he has made the cut twice.

Trevor Freakin' Immelman won "my" Masters. But hey, at least the weather was perfect and I got to see a golf course that actually exceeded my very lofty expectations.

^^^

4. It seems almost impossible that the race for the GOP presidential nomination could top 2012 for sheer craziness, but the candidates are off to a running start.

Ted Cruz is an absolute loony, which is fitting because he was born in Canada (unlike our current Kenya-born president). Rand Paul is supposed to be a Libertarian but he already is sucking up to the far right. Chris Christie just came out with Social Security reform that looks suspiciously like a liberal re-distribution plan. Marco Rubio is backtracking from his compassionate immigration policy because to the party base, there is no room for compassion in an immigration policy.

I already miss Herman "9-9-9" Cain, Rick "Oops" Perry, Mitt "47 Percent" Romney and Newt "I Guarantee $2.50 Gas" Gingrich.

And isn't there anything anybody can do to get Michele Bachmann to run again? She just predicted that Barack Obama's Iran policy would result in the End Times and usher in Jesus' return to earth, saying: "I believe the Bible is true. And believe what the Bible says is  that our nation and the people of our nation will reap a whirlwind, and we could see economic disasters, natural disasters."

I don't remember any mention of the U.S. of A. in either testament, but I admit I'm no biblical scholar.

^^^

3. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton finally stopped delaying the inevitable and announced online that she would be running for the Democratic nomination.

She's a piece of work, too. She actually might be a bigger liar storyteller than her hubby.

It's gonna be a fun 17 months until November 2016.

^^^

2. The Cubs paid $155 million to a left-hander who gets the yips every time he thinks about throwing to first to hold the runner. In Jon Lester's last start, he threw one so far over the first baseman's head it almost landed in the stands. It's the damnedest thing. So Cubbie.

Fortunately for the Cubs, the right fielder chased down the baseball and gunned the runner out at third base.

Obviously, it was a set play orchestrated by Joe Maddon, the latest Savior Skipper who for sure will take the Cubbies to the pennant.

^^^

1. My over-50 softball league's season has begun and I'm thrilled to be back with the Sons of Pitches. Our manager/pitcher, Pat, traded for me because he knows I'm the ultimate softball stud. Either that or he just wanted to be sure he had somebody to drink with after games. (OK, I guarantee it's not the "stud" thing.)

Pat and I entered the league as teammates in 2012 and played one season with the Blue Thunder. He decided to become a manager the following year and traded for me. The Sons of Pitches capped a very nice two-year run by winning the '14 fall championship, but then in accordance with league rules, we (and all other teams) were broken up for the league-wide re-draft.

For the SoP's latest incarnation, Pat did a nice job of getting 5 of us back together, as Pat and I are joined by Bob, Spike (the other Mike) and Wayne. Our 8 teammates seem like great guys and fine players. Definitely a fun group. I'd list 'em all here by name but I'm still getting to know them.

Our season started Tuesday and we promptly gave up the maximum 5 runs in the top of the first inning. It was a delightful combination of booted grounders, errant throws, walks and other assorted miscues. We only managed one run ourselves and gave up a couple more runs over the next 3 innings to fall behind 7-1 going into the bottom of the 4th.

Pat, who fancies himself as quite the motivator, yelled, "Do you guys wanna win or what?" Duly inspired, we scratched out 3 runs to make it a 7-4 game. We held our opponent scoreless in the fifth and I led off the bottom of the inning.

While coaching third base earlier in the game, I had a brief conversation with the opposing third baseman. He had a great glove and a gun for an arm, but he told me he was having knee problems and wouldn't be able to move very well. I joked that I was going to lay down a bunt.

Now, bunting isn't allowed in slow-pitch softball ... but swinging bunts are another story. I took a mighty cut and the ball traveled all of about 15 feet down the third-base line. Using my cheetah-like speed -- I mean, there's nothing faster than a bald, slightly chunky, 50-something Jewboy -- I beat out the infield hit.

"Real" hits -- the kind that actually leave the infield -- followed, one after the other, and by the time the 5th inning was over, we had an 8-7 lead. The umpire's timer went off during the inning, meaning the 6th would be the last. Pat retired the first two batters before giving up a hit, but he stranded the tying run by inducing a come-backer. After he threw to first, it was time to head to the bar.

There's nothing wrong with winning ugly, because there's no such thing as losing pretty.

The Sons of Pitches are back, baby!
^

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mike's March Madness Mulligan

^
Those who golf with me know I'm not a big mulligan taker. I mean, if I shank my drive into the woods, re-tee, hit one down the middle and make a birdie, who am I fooling? I know I didn't really get a birdie. So why bother? I'd much rather scramble after a horrendous drive and hack my way to a "good bogey" than pretend I got a birdie. But hey, maybe that's just me.

So even if I go 15-0 with the March Madness Mulligan I'm about to take, I promise I won't pretend I did anything special.

Before getting to the MMM, I'll allow myself a couple of back-pats ... but only a couple: Nice job on N.C. State and Wichita State. OK, that was quick. I'd have had more success with my bracket if I had let my pooch Simmie make predictions with tail-thumps.

Now, here goes ...

MIDWEST

Kentucky easily over West Virginia ... Notre Dame's luck runs out against Wichita State ... The Wildcats chew up overmatched Wichita State.

WEST

Wisconsin survives a challenge from North Carolina ... Arizona crushes Xavier ... Bucky Badger beats Arizona in a thriller.

EAST

N.C. State pulls off another upset, this time against Louisville ... Michigan State keeps getting better and beats Oklahoma ... Sparty goes to another Final Four after a narrow win over N.C. State.

SOUTH

Duke struggles but holds off Utah ... Gonzaga finally gets a second-weekend win, beating UCLA ... The Dookies have too much firepower for the Zags.

+++

So our new, improved Final Four is Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke and Michigan State. Three No. 1 seeds and a No. 7 ... but not your run-of-the-mill No. 7. It's kind of funny that Michigan State is suddenly an underdog darling, no?

+++

In one national semifinal, Kentucky and Wisconsin put on a sensational show, with Kentucky's superior interior defense prevailing. In the other, Duke has too much offensive balance for Michigan State.

One thing hasn't changed from my original bracket: Kentucky still ends up 40-0.

Translation: "Bet everything you have on West Virginia to beat Kentucky on Thursday night."
^

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Don't Bet Against Kentucky Going 40-0

^
In 1973, Secretariat was the 1-to-10 favorite to win the Belmont Stakes. It had to be tempting to bet on just about any other horse in the race.

Kentucky isn't a 1-to-10 favorite to win the NCAA basketball tournament; the Wildcats' odds are 6-to-5 according to online gambling site Bovada. Then again, there are 64 teams in the field (no, I don't count the losers of the "First Four" contests) vs. only 5 horses in the '73 Belmont starting gate, so 6-to-5 is pretty overwhelming.

The team Bovada assigns the next-best odds to is Arizona, which wasn't even given a No. 1 seed. Those Wildcats face 15-to-2 odds. The other No. 1 seeds and the odds: Wisconsin, 17-to-2; Duke,  9-to-1; Villanova, 10-to-1.

Anyway, I used this introduction to talk about my search for the team capable of running down the Secretariat of college hoops teams. Is it even possible? Let's go region by region ...

In the WEST, I really like Wisconsin. When I say that, I don't mean I actually like Wisconsin; as a Marquette alum and diehard fan, I'm prohibited by law from liking our instate rivals. But I have a tough time hating this particular Wisconsin team: intelligent, athletic, disciplined, experienced, unflappable, well-coached.

Here's how the West will be won: Wisconsin over Coastal Carolina ... Oregon over Oklahoma State ... Wofford in the upset over Arkansas ... North Carolina over Harvard ... Mississippi takes down Xavier ... Baylor over Georgia State ... Ohio State beats VCU ... Arizona over Texas Southern. In the next round, Wisconsin over Oregon ... UNC ends Wofford's dream ... Baylor is too tough for Ole Miss ... Arizona over Ohio State. Wisconsin advances to the Elite Eight by beating UNC, and Arizona gets there by downing Baylor. And Wisconsin's balance and precision will produce a victory over Arizona and a second straight Final Four trip.

Let's end the suspense about Wisconsin's Final Four opponent right now: It will be Kentucky. The Wildcats will dominate the MIDWEST Region the same way they dominated college basketball all season.

Kentucky over Hampton ... Purdue over Cincinnati ... West Virginia over Buffalo ... Maryland over Valpo ... Butler over Texas ... Notre Dame over Northeastern ... Wichita State over Indiana ... Kansas over New Mexico State. In the next round, Kentucky pounds Purdue ... Maryland handles West Virginia ... Butler takes down ND ... and Wichita State stuns Kansas. Kentucky moves on by beating tough but overmatched Maryland while Butler beats Wichita State in the battle of underdogs. In the region final, Butler is game ... but Kentucky is Kentucky. Game over!

In the EAST, so many pundits have chosen Northern Iowa as their "surprise pick" that it's no surprise at all. So, naturally, I'm going to pick UNI to get upset by 12th-seeded Wyoming in its first game. Take that! And that's not my only surprise in the region. After opening with a win over LSU, 8th-seeded North Carolina State will make Villanova the first No. 1 seed to exit stage right. Also, Louisville over UC-Irvine ... Providence over Dayton ... Oklahoma over Albany ... Michigan State over Georgia and Virginia over Belmont. Joining NC State in the Sweet 16 will be ... Louisville over Wyoming ... Providence over Oklahoma ...and Virginia over Michigan State. NC State pulls off yet another upset, this time over Louisville, and Virginia handles Providence. Going to the Final Four, it's Virginia with a tough win over ACC foe NC State.

I see the SOUTH as wide open, and I'm predicting premature defeat for the top two seeds, Duke and Gonzaga. Early on, it's Duke over Robert Morris ... San Diego State over St. John's ... No. 12 Stephen F. Austin over Utah ... Georgetown survives a scare against Eastern Washington ... SMU over UCLA ... Iowa State over UAB ... Davidson takes down Iowa ... and Gonzaga over North Dakota State. Then, I think there will be four close games, with Duke downing San Diego State ... Stephen F. Austin surprising Georgetown ... Iowa State beating SMU in a great game ... and Gonzaga getting past Davidson. Duke will end Stephen F. Austin's hopes and Iowa State will beat Gonzaga. And then 3-seeded Iowa State will beat Duke to advance to the Final Four.

So our Final Four is set: Kentucky, Wisconsin, Virginia and Iowa State. 

Kentucky-Wisconsin is a rematch of last year's national semifinal, won 74-73 by a young Wildcats squad. Kentucky, not quite as young and even more talented, will prevail again in what should be another thriller.

In the other matchup, it's a great contrast of styles, as Iowa State likes to go-go-go and Virginia likes to milk the clock. Virginia, which fell to Michigan State by 2 points in the Round of 16 last season, will use its defense to reach the title game this time.

In the championship game, the Cavaliers will hang with Kentucky for awhile. The pace will favor Virginia and the Wildcats will get too impatient at times. As the game wears on, however, Kentucky's superior talent will take over. The Wildcats will win by 10 to complete their 40-0 season.

Like Secretariat -- who won the '73 Belmont Stakes by a resounding 31 lengths to sweep the Triple Crown -- Kentucky is just too damn good to bet against.
^

Sunday, March 1, 2015

An unforgettable basketball journey, with the promise of more to come

^
On The Scholars Academy website, the most recent addition to the photo rotation is of my middle-school basketball players doing their famed, "Fly, Fly, Fly, Eagles!" cheer after our tournament semifinal victory.



I love this photo because, to me, it captures what sports for kids this age should be about. Look at the smiles on those faces. Can't you feel the joy, the love, the camaraderie, the spirit?

At that moment, these girls felt they could accomplish anything. They especially felt they could win the conference championship.

Unfortunately, in that title game, Back Creek Christian Academy simply played better than we did. They jumped on us early and we never really threatened to make it a game.

They defeated us three times, representing 75% of the losses in our otherwise amazing 15-4 season. Remember how dopey Patrick Ewing used to sound when he claimed his Knicks were better than the Bulls even after Michael Jordan & Co. repeatedly whupped 'em? Well, I'm pretty dopey, but I'm not that dopey.

Back Creek deserved the title, and we have no choice but to settle for having reached the championship game for the first time in our school's 15-year history.

A few days have passed since that defeat, and time is a great healer. On Saturday night, we had our team party. It was a festive event, filled with jokes, reminiscences, anecdotes, awards, gifts, laughs, hugs, photos and food. Oh, and it also was filled with a middle-aged bald dude rambling on about how special these last four months were for everybody involved.

We talked about Ruta, our Rookie of the Year and leading scorer, sprinting the wrong way toward a layup, realizing the error of her ways, and slamming on the brakes as if a deer had just appeared in the middle of the road. And we talked about Sholeh, winner of our Coach's Award for Aggressiveness, stealing the basketball and going in for the basket just a second or two after I told her, "I need a steal." (Now that, my friends, is great coaching!)

We talked about Olivia, winner of our Coach's Award for Leadership, being the classic "coach on the floor" by regularly noticing things I didn't so we could make critical in-game adjustments. And we talked about Sienna, our two-time MVP, playing every position in the lineup (and playing them well) these last two seasons.

We talked about Celeste blocking more shots than any other player in the league, including several resounding two-handers against our smaller semifinal opponent -- an example of how being a bully is sometimes OK! We talked about Beijul's transformation from timid lamb to fierce combatant.

We talked about Malika somehow being able to make baskets with that funky, feet-together, no-knee-bend, line-drive shot of hers. And we talked about how Susanna, the last player to make the team, went on to be an instrumental contributor thanks to her competitiveness, intelligence and unselfishness.

We talked about Ritika, our only sixth-grader, making nine 3-pointers -- many of them "daggers" that turned games in our favor. (It's quite possible that there weren't nine treys made by the other 100 or so players in the conference combined.) And we talked about our captain, Margaret, leading us in scoring down the stretch and then delivering a touching, heart-felt speech before the title game.

OK, so I did most of the talking. (That won't surprise my high school classmates who named me Most Talkative.) The girls and their parents did most of the listening and applauding and laughing and picture-taking.

There also was much talk - and not all of it from me - about the program we're building at Scholars Academy.

My first year we had an incredibly young team filled with players who had little or no experience. We quickly established our identity: We might not beat all of our opponents, but we were going to wear them out with our aggressiveness and effort. We flashed our potential with a stunning comeback victory in the playoffs before losing in the semifinals to the eventual champion.

This season, in Year 2, we brought back five good players and added two high-level athletes as well as three super-solid role players. We used our relentless defense, our quickness and our determination to finish the season with exactly twice as many points as our opponents (28.8 points per game to 14.4 points per game), but we fell one victory short of our ultimate goal.

We will soldier on in Year 3 without three valuable players in Sienna, Margaret and Susanna, but we should return seven -- including six 8th-graders. We will have experience and talent and height and speed. Our defense should be especially good. And it cannot be understated how the trust, respect and love the girls have for each other will translate into still more success.

If the coach doesn't mess things up too badly, the 2015-16 Eagles just might end up fly-fly-flying away with the big trophy.

But enough looking ahead. I'm still basking in the glow of the season that was and of the unforgettable journey we all took together.

Look again at that picture, folks. It really is better than 1,000 words ... so I'll just shut up now and smile.
^

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Not champs, but still a special season

^
After a mild ice storm that forced the conference to re-schedule the championship game to Tuesday, my Eagles finally got to play the most anticipated girls basketball game in Scholars Academy history. Unfortunately, we didn't play very well, we didn't coach very well, our opponent did both extremely well, and we came up short.



It's never easy to smile while holding the 
Conference Runner-Up trophy
just minutes after a tough loss, 
but most of the girls managed to do it.

Despite the final outcome, it is impossible to call our season anything but a huge success. We finished 15-4 - recording more than twice as many victories as last season, my first as a head coach. All five returning players improved, and our five newcomers for this season - none of whom had ever played competitive basketball - got so much better from the first practice to the final buzzer that it's hard to describe in words.

We reached the championship game for the first time in the school's 15-year history and had a season filled with memorable moments --  some of which I'll chronicle in a later post, after the sting of Tuesday's loss is a little less fresh in my mind.

I'll wrap this up by saying I am so proud to have been associated with this group of dedicated, hard-working, smart and fun ladies. These last four months have been special, and I'll never forget them.
^

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Radio Shack is kaput, but my memories are not

^
When you get to be 106 years old like me, you sometimes get wistful when you hear certain news.

So it was last week when I heard that Radio Shack was going out of business.

I haven't stepped inside a Radio Shack store in years -- a fact that obviously doesn't make me unique, seeing as how the company has been bleeding red ink for years. And though I was a bit of a nerd as a kid, I wasn't really the kind of geek who frequented Radio Shack. My father was the electronics guy; my eyes glazed over whenever he talked about such stuff.

So what about Radio Shack's demise brought about my wistfulness?

Well, I credit the company's little TRS-80 Model 100 laptop computer with saving my sanity. Had it not come along when it did, I might be in a loony bin right now.



I first saw a TRS-80 in 1984 when I was a 23-year-old reporter in Madison, Wis. My AP colleague, Rich Eggleston, had just bought one with his own money -- more than a thousand bucks for the little 8-line device with precious little memory and limited editing capabilities. The machine had just been introduced a few months earlier.

When I covered a Wisconsin football or basketball game back then, I had two choices: dictate my story to an editor in the Milwaukee bureau or use a Teleram Portabubble unit when the Milwaukee folks made it available.



The Portabubble was an evil device that regularly ate copy and couldn't handle crowd noise. It weighed a ton but had a tiny screen that was difficult to read. It had no memory. I hated that freakin' thing! So the few times Rich let me borrow his TRS-80, I was in heaven. Unfortunately, he needed it both for work (he was one of AP's political reporters) and for personal use, so I rarely had it. I actually preferred dictating stories off the top of my head than using the Portabubble.

When I was promoted to AP Minnesota Sports Editor the following year, I was issued a Portabubble to use at Vikings, Twins, North Stars and Gophers games. It was the source of much consternation. The cord was frayed and the device sometimes would shut off, which instantly made the work go away forever. When I managed to get an entire story ready to transmit to the Minneapolis bureau or to AP Sports HQ in New York, I had to attach the phone into holes on the top of the machine. If the crowd noise was too loud, it would result in garbled text -- if the story managed to make it at all.

By 1986, AP had been issuing TRS-80s to many sportswriters but I still had the Portabubble. I was working the state high school hockey tournament at the old St. Paul Civic Center, about 12 hours into what would be an 18-hour day, when the machine ate a story just as I was ready to transmit it. I called my boss and demanded we buy one of the Radio Shack laptops. I told him that if I lost another story, I was going to hurl the Portabubble out of the press box onto the ice below!

My boss probably could have fired me for insubordination but instead, nicely, talked me off the ledge. He also promised he'd seriously look into getting me a TRS-80. Sure enough, within about a month, he made it happen.

And I lived happily ever after. The End.

OK ... not quite The End. The TRS-80s had their own issues, including having to send through "accoustic couplers" that also could be sensitive to crowd noise. Within a couple of years, though, I was upgraded to a TRS-80 Model 200, which had a flip-up screen and more memory, and it came with a "direct connect" cable that made accoustic couplers unnecessary. Wow!


Eventually, AP started investing in "real" laptop computers for all of its reporters. More than a decade later, however, many sportswriters -- especially those at smaller newspapers -- were still using TRS-80s. Those little suckers were durable!

So although Radio Shack soon will be gone forever, I always will have fond memories of its little laptop that saved my sanity -- and very possibly saved the life of a high school hockey player who might have been killed by the Portabubble I'd have thrown out of  the press box.

---

And speaking of wistful memories of bygone days ...

Remember when Tiger Woods was good at golf? Now he chips like me ... and believe me, that's no compliment.

But I digress. That's a different blog post for a different time. Like maybe when he's shooting an 86 at Augusta National.

I sure hope his career doesn't go the way of the TRS-80, because golf needs Tiger a lot more than the rest of us need Radio Shack.
^

Thursday, February 12, 2015

One wonderful week guarantees that there will be another

^
All I wanted was one more week with my fun, fabulous Eagles ... and I'm thrilled to say they gave it to me!

We won two tournament games this week, including Thursday's victory over a team that had beaten us just 16 days earlier, and now we are the first Scholars Academy basketball team ever to reach the league championship game.



My girls -- 8th-graders Sienna, Margaret and Susanna; 7th-graders Ruta, Malika, Sholeh, Olivia, Celeste and Beijul; and 6th-grader Ritika -- are peaking at just the right time. Until a couple weeks ago, we had been struggling a little on offense. We made a few tweaks to our attack and we haven't lost since, playing progressively better each game.

We take a 15-3 record into the title game next Thursday (2/19). Two of our losses were to the team we will play for the championship, including a gut-wrenching 2-point loss in our most recent meeting. They haven't seen our new offense, which should do well against their defense. I am not worried about our defense -- it is the best in the league, IMHO -- or our effort. Nobody out-works or out-hustles my Eagles.

As satisfying as it was to win our semifinal game, I now find myself mostly thinking about other stuff.



Like how much fun we have together. And how much the girls love and support each other. And what nice kids they are. And how much they have improved since January and December and November ... not to mention since early last season, when I honestly wondered if we would win a single game!

My daughter Katie is visiting from Seattle this week and she served as my assistant for both games, as well as two practices. As we drove to Thursday's game, I confided in her that I was more nervous than I had been in a long, long time. I also told her my primary motivation for wanting to win so badly was this:

I wasn't ready for the season to end!!!

And thanks to Ruta, Ritika, Malika, Margaret, Susanna, Sholeh, Sienna, Olivia, Celeste and Beijul, the season has one more wonderful week to go.
^

Monday, January 26, 2015

Ex-Cubbie Ted Lilly... A Felon?

^
Ted Lilly made more than $80 million during his 15-year MLB career. Nevertheless, rather than reach into petty cash to repair his damaged RV last year, the former Cubbie left-hander allegedly tried to scam Progressive Insurance Co. out of $4,600.

As detailed here, Lilly has been charged in California with three felonies: filing a false insurance claim, filing a false statement in connection with an insurance claim, and concealing a material fact in connection with an insurance claim. He faces a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison -- which would be even worse than his 3 1/2-year sentence in Cubbieland.

No matter how the case turns out, however, Theodore Roosevelt Lilly will not be remembered for this. Not by me, anyway.

On Oct. 4, 2007, in the second inning of Game 2 of the NLDS, Lilly gave up a three-run homer to Arizona's Chris Young. As the ball cleared the fence, Lilly ripped off his glove, spun around on the mound and whipped his mitt to the ground. It was a classic Tanner move from The Bad News Bears.

Sitting in the press box on that warm Phoenix night, I laughed my arse off. And every time they showed the replay, I laughed harder.

It was funny and goofy and dopey and oh-so-Cubbie.

The Cubs went on to lose that game and get swept in the series. They won the division the following season but got swept out of the playoffs again, this time by the Dodgers. They haven't been to the postseason since, and Lilly was traded midway through the 2010 season.

And now, Ted Lilly is accused of being a felon.

Apparently, it isn't any easier to sneak a bogus claim past the folks at Progressive than it was to sneak a mediocre fastball past Chris Young.
^

Monday, January 19, 2015

Today's Top 10 - NFL Edition ... Plus A Dad-In-Law Update ... Plus My Next Big Game

^
10. Was that the Genius Bill Belichick leaving Tom Brady in to get clobbered by a Colts pass-rusher while trying to throw a deep TD pass with 6 minutes to go in a 45-7 game?

I never root for guys to get hurt, and I actually really like Brady, but if ever a coach deserved a negative fate, it is that cheatin' jerk Belichick.

Makes it even easier to root for Seattle in the Super Bowl.

9. The Seahawks couldn't have played much worse, especially on offense, in the first 55 minutes of the game. But they sure knew how to capitalize the 10th time the Packers all but begged them to steal it.

Champions find a way to win even when they suck.

8. Early 2015 Turkey of the Year candidate: Brandon Bostick.

The backup Packers tight end was supposed to block so that Jordy Nelson could field the onside kick. Instead, Bostick tried to make the play only to have the ball go through his Crisco-covered hands and into the waiting arms of Seattle's Chris Matthews.

Paraphrasing the amazing words once uttered by former Twins great Gary Gaetti:

"It's hard to catch the football when you have both hands wrapped around your throat."

7. As bad as Bostick's play was, the Packers still might have won had they knocked down the highest-thrown 2-point conversion pass in NFL history ... and/or had they managed the clock better after taking possession with 1:19 left in regulation and all three time-outs.

I guess Pack coach Mike McCarthy was saving his last two time-outs for next season.

6. Some pretty horrific playoff performances by elite QBs Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton and Joe Flacco.

Russell Wilson was no great shakes, either, but at least he came through with the game on the line.

5. New Bears coach John Fox missed out on the Jay Cutler Denver Experience so now he'll get to enjoy the Jay Cutler Chicago Experience.

Hey, Fox got to a Super Bowl with Jake Delhomme and won a playoff game with Tim Tebow, so could Cutler be any worse?

Never mind. I won't answer that question.

4. Brady might already be the greatest QB ever. But if the Patriots win this Super Bowl, there isn't a shred of doubt in my mind. Of course, I said that each of the last two times he got to the big game, too.

At least he doesn't have to face the Giants this time.

3. Seahawks fans are so self-important, crowning themselves as the best in the world. Well, the best fans in the world don't leave a winnable game in the closing minutes.

I'm glad those "12th Man" dopes missed one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history.

2. I hope injured Seahawks DBs Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman can play near peak ability in the Super Bowl because I always want both teams to be as healthy as possible.

Brady vs. the Seattle secondary figures to be an epic battle.

1. How ridiculous that Ohio State tailback (and future NFL star) Zeke Elliott can't go pro because he's only been at college for two years.

Yeah, let's make an NFL-ready kid who already has reached the pinnacle of college football go back out there and take 250-300 handoffs -- and crunching hits -- for free. What a system.

+++

And in non-football news ...

Two weeks in, my father-in-law Frank and I are getting on just fine. We just got back from Aldi -- or as he hilariously calls it, "Aldis" -- where he insisted upon buying 4 yogurts even though he hadn't touched the 3 yogurts he wanted last week.

On Saturday, Robbie had "The Talk" with him, telling him we want and expect him to stay with us for the foreseeable future. She had spoken with his Chicago-area doctor a couple of days earlier and the doctor agreed Frank can no longer drive or live on his own.

He of course wanted to know what was going to happen to all of his stuff -- his townhouse, his two cars (including the one we drove from Chicago to N.C.) and the 700 tons of mostly useless crap he has accumulated over the years. We told him we're not worrying about that immediately.

He has been amazed at all the things I can do on the computer, especially being able to pay his bills without having to write a check, stick it in an envelope, lick a stamp and send it via snail mail. He also has been amazed by my grocery-shopping acumen.

"You only paid 2 bucks for all that?"

Mostly, he has accompanied me here, there and everywhere ... as if he were the octogenarian sidekick in some kind of buddy sitcom.

For one thing, he has gone with me to every basketball game AND practice. At practice, he just sits in the corner and minds his own business. Probably just enjoys being out of the house and surrounded by activity.

+++

And speaking of my team ...

My Scholars Academy Eagles play our biggest game so far this season Tuesday when we meet the "1" in our 10-1 record: Back Creek Christian.

We obviously want to win -- the girls are super-stoked to avenge our only defeat, and I have put in a few new wrinkles -- but the fact is that whether we win or lose, it is highly likely that we will be playing Back Creek again in the championship game a month from now.

So I need to find the right words to let the girls know that a victory guarantees us nothing and a loss doesn't ruin our season in any way.

Hmmm ... those are pretty good words right there, aren't they?

Go Eagles!
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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Busy start to what figures to be an interesting, funky and hopefully fun-filled year

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If the first week of January was any indication of how the next 51 are going to go, 2015 is gonna be a pretty eventful year.

It started out with Robbie and me arriving home from our Chicago visit, accompanied by her dad, Frank. He is going to be staying with us for, as we told him, "a few weeks." Now, I'm not saying yet that he'll never go back to Chicago to live by himself, but let's put it this way: We had his mail forwarded to us here in N.C., we turned off his cable service, we cleaned all the expired foodstuffs out of his fridge and cabinets (meaning pretty much nothing is left), etc, etc. You get the idea.

Frank is almost 89 years old and is in amazing physical health, but he no longer can live by himself. So it's either us or an assisted-care facility, and we're trying to make this work for at least a spell. We'll see how it goes.

By the way, I'm not too worried about him reading this given that he has never used a computer.

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Last Saturday, my new(ish) hometown faves, the Carolina Panthers, scored a resounding playoff victory over the Arizona Cardinals. We went to a sports bar to take in the game with like-minded fans and it was a lot of fun watching Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly and the rest of our boyz hold the Cardinals to the lowest yardage total in NFL postseason history.

It should be a similarly festive scene this Saturday night when the Panthers take on the Seahawks ... although I'd like "our" chances a lot better if the defending champs would play their third-string QB the way Arizona had to!

Seriously, though, the Seahawks and Panthers tend to play close, low-scoring games, so an upset isn't out of the question if Cam Newton takes care of the football and the D bottles up Russell Wilson.

Two pretty big ifs, I admit.

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Meanwhile, my Scholars Academy Eagles went directly from Xmas break to a game on the very first day back to school. We started horribly, fell behind St. Anne's immediately and still trailed 21-10 early in the fourth quarter.

For those unfamiliar with middle-school girls basketball, an 11-point lead with a few minutes to go is the equivalent of a 30-point lead in men's college basketball. In other words, it usually is money in the bank. The girls stayed after it, though, and we whittled into the lead. We turned up the heat on our press, and the shots we had been missing all game suddenly started falling. A layup from Margaret here, a short jumper from Sienna there, a 3-pointer from Ritika here, two free throws from Ruta there. All of a sudden, it's a 2-point game and there's still 2 minutes on the clock.

The St. Anne's coach called time-out and I spent the minute reminding our girls to stay calm and to just keep playing the great basketball they'd been playing the previous several minutes. And how 'bout this for crazy ... they actually listened!

It was 23-23 with 15 seconds left when Olivia, Margaret and Sienna teamed to break St. Anne's press. Eventually, we got the ball to Ruta for the winning layup with 3 seconds to go. Wow! It was the best quarter of basketball in my 2 years as coach, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

The next day, we played again. This time, we rolled to a 51-6 victory in a game we could have won by 100 if I hadn't called off our press in the second quarter. Hey, I'm nothing if not compassionate.

We're now 8-1 at the season's midway point, and that's one more win than we had all last year.

Pretty exciting stuff for a school with zero basketball tradition -- other than the tradition we're building right now!

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I also had my 50th personal finance article published on Seeking Alpha.

My previous piece has garnerned more than 54,000 pageviews and 900 comments. To provide a little perspective, anything receiving more than 10,000 views is pretty darn good, and 100 comments is a lot. That article and a few other popular pieces before it helped me to my best quarter of freelance earnings since I started with Seeking Alpha about 2 1/2 years ago.

I didn't expect my latest article to approach that level ... and it hasn't. But it did give me the opportunity to unveil the new logo I designed, so check it out!

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Oh, and here's one other cool thing: Robbie was the featured employee on the Levine Children's Hospital Facebook page this week.

So now she's famous for something other than being my Sugar Mama!
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