Archive for August, 2008

Soccer for dummies

August 28, 2008

I hear it all the time.

“What? You like soccer? That’s a stupid sport.”

No, actually it isn’t.

It’s hard to pinpoint where my love for the game began. We didn’t play it at my high school in Marion, S.C., and I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it until I left college. Sure, I watched a few World Cups. But I treated that event kind of like I do the Olympics – love it while it’s here, then ignore for four years until its return.

But somewhere along the line, I got hooked. I think the Barclays Premier League is the primary reason. My passion for the game has since grown to Serie A, La Liga and, of course, international competitions. But it all started in the Prem.

And it can for you as well.

So here it is, a simple set of reasons to give the beautiful game a try…

1. The history – While the current version of the top flight level of English football dates back only to 1992, there has been a top level in place since 1888. Preston North End won the first of its two titles in 1889, and that club still exists today, playing in the Championship. Don’t worry, we’ll get to that.

2. The rivalries – Think of the Prem as a league with haves and have-nots. Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea make up “The Big Four.” They are the richest, most powerful, most successful clubs in England. And they all hate each other.

There are five clubs in London playing in the Prem. They are Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham, Tottenham and Fulham. They don’t like each other either.

Manchester City plays in Manchester with Man U, Everton shares Liverpool with the Reds and Newcastle and Sunderland are about 10 miles apart. And, you guessed it, none of them care for each other. The point is that, every week for 10 months, chances are a game is being played that is either very important in the standings or very important as a rivalry. Usually, it’s both.

The passion runs deep. Man City chants “Munich” at games against City in reference to the Munich Air Disaster, a plane crash in 1958 that killed eight Man U players and 15 others.

3. The athletes – A subject of much debate in England is the fact that only 35 percent of the players in the Prem are, in fact, English. While that might not bode well for the fortunes of the English national team, it makes for some entertaining soccer. 

Some of the world’s best players – Cristiano Ronadlo (Man U), Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Fernando Torres (Liverpool) and Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal) – play in the Prem. That’s just a handful, which is why you end up with club teams with better lineups than most national sides. If you dropped the U.S. national team in England and put them in the Prem, they’d be lucky to crack the top 10.

4. Working for a living – The players are paid huge sums of money to kick a ball around, but they end up earning it. The average soccer field is 20 yards longer and usually about 30 yards wider than a football field. Players run for 90 minutes, stopping only for a 15-minute halftime break. You don’t have to worry about commercials, either, unless NBC is showing a match…

Unlike your average NBA or baseball game, there’s no dogging it, either. Every game is life and death. Why?

Glad you asked…

5. The relegation system – If you want to stay in the Premier League, cashing huge checks from TV distribution deals and such, you have to win. Because, if you don’t, you’re gone.

Every year, the bottom three teams fall out of the Prem and into the Championship – the next level down on the English Football Pyramid. This method is used pretty much everywhere in the world. Except, of course, for MLS here in the states…

With three teams going down, you get three more that come up. So, it’s possible for teams like Hull City to rise all the way up through the system and play in the Prem. This is the first time in their 104-year history that the Tigers have kicked a ball in anger in England’s top league.

To me, this is soccer’s greatest appeal. Can you imagine where the Knicks would be if this scenario played out in the NBA? It makes players care all the way through a 38-game schedule – not including the various cup competitions.

The games are on Fox Soccer Channel and Setanta Sports every weekend. Give it a try. You won’t be disappointed.


College Football – Week one

August 28, 2008

Since I can, and I like reading these kinds of things, here’s a quick look at how I think the major conference games will go this week:

Charleston Southern at Miami – Splat. Miami
Jacksonville State at Georgia Tech – Even Ryan Perrilloux can’t help in this one. Tech
Wake Forest at Baylor – Deacs’ defense is way too strong.
N.C. State at South Carolina – Neither team is great offensively, but defense and special teams are advantages for the Gamecocks.
Virginia Tech at East Carolina – Could be a good game, but I’m taking the Hokies.
USC at Virginia – Is Al Groh nuts? USC
Delaware at Maryland – No Joe Flacco? No chance for the Blue Hens.
McNeese State at UNC – What, was West Virginia State booked up? UNC.
James Madison at Duke – New-look Devils open season with a win.
Boston College at Kent State – I’ll take the Eagles, but these kind of games always give BC fits.
Alabama at Clemson – I think Alabama’s a little over-hyped. I guess we’ll know soon enough. Give me the Tigers.

Vanderbilt at Miami-Ohio – The Redhawks have been getting a lot of love, but I’m not picking against the SEC in a SEC/MAC game.
Georgia Southern at Georgia – Good lord…Georgia.
Hawaii at Florida – I’m not sure this would have been close last year. I know it won’t be now. Florida by a lot.
Appalachian State at LSU – It ain’t happening again folks. Geaux Tigers.
Mississippi State at La. Tech – The Bulldogs continue to rise.
Memphis at Mississippi – This could be a good game, but I’ll take the Rebels in a close one.
La. Monroe at Auburn – Take your guarantee money and leave. Tigers in a laugher.
Western Ill. at Arkansas – Really? This is supposed to get a team ready for SEC play? Arkansas…
Kentucky at Louisville – Always a lot of fun. I kind of like Louisville in this spot.
Tennessee at UCLA – A lot of people think this will be a close game. I don’t. Vols win it easily.

Other games of note
Utah at Michigan – A real nail-biter. I just can’t see Utah winning this game against the revamped Wolverines.
Michigan State at Cal – I think the Spartans could be a really good team. I’ll take them in an upset here.
Illinois vs. Missouri – Should be a thriller, but Mizzou just has too many weapons.
Washington at Oregon – I love Pac-10 games. This one should be a back-and-forth affair with the Ducks coming out ahead.

There it is. Happy viewing…

Game, set, match

August 27, 2008

I guess Dish is playing hardball in their dispute with Citadel Communications.

Dish has removed channel 407, formerly Gol TV, from its on-air programming guide.

It’s really sad when a couple of multi-million dollar companies can’t iron out a deal.

The real losers here are us.

Here’s what I don’t get. Why is it that a company that increased its second-quarter revenue by $88 million (Citadel) has to have more money from a company that, for the first time in its history, lost subscribers (25K) in the same quarter?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure Dish shoulders some of the blame here. But Citadel seems to be in a lot better position to comprimise than does Dish.

The latest on Dish Network and Gol TV

August 25, 2008

Since this topic has gotten a surprising amount of interest on this blog, here’s an update.

We’re still screwed.

This was posted on WOI’s (ABC TV in Des Moines) Web site today:

We continue to reach out to the DISH Network in hopes of striking a carriage agreement that would allow ABC5 (WOI-TV/DT) to once again be carried on the DISH satellite service. A lengthy conference call was held this morning during which we once again attempted to reason with DISH executives in a good faith manner. I am disappointed to report, however, that the DISH Network continues to be inflexible and appears to have drawn a line in the sand…a line which makes it increasingly doubtful that we can reach a fair and equitable agreement prior to the start of 1) the new fall primetime schedule, 2) the college football season, and 3) the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase.

So we would once again like to remind our DISH viewers of the options available to them:

First, consider contacting DISH if you haven’t already done so. DISH is the one to whom you are sending a check each month! You can call Erin McIlvain, DISH Program Executive, at 1-303-723-1833. Second, you may wish to consider other satellite (e.g., DirecTV) and cable providers which continue to carry ABC5 without interruption. Or you may want to explore the use of an antenna to receive ABC5 over the air, something that many viewers have told us they’ve already done.    

At the same time, we will remain committed to engaging DISH in the hope that, sooner rather than later, DISH will show  flexibility and a concern for fairness. Should that happen, ABC5 could be back up on the DISH Network in very short order, ensuring that you don’t miss the upcoming season premieres of ABC primetime programming such as Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, Brothers & Sisters, Dancing With The Stars, or Boston Legal…or ABC daytime programming such as The View, All My Children or General Hospital…or ABC News programming such as Good Morning America, World News With Charles Gibson, or Nightline…or ESPN on ABC sports programming such as College Football and NASCAR’s Race for the Sprint Cup…or the newscasts and other local programming produced by the ABC5 News team which feature “Central Iowa’s Most Accurate Weather”…or the ABC5 Sports team’s comprehensive coverage of high school football on the Friday Night Blitz….or local sports programming such as Iowa State Basketball, Big 12 Basketball or the Gene Chizik & Greg McDermott coaches shows…or ABC5’s syndicated program offerings including Martha Stewart, The Doctors (the season’s hottest new daytime program from the producers of Dr. Phil) and Entertainment Tonight.  

Thank you for your continuing support and understanding.

Ray Cole, President
Citadel Communications Company

So, in other words, Dish and Citadel, which also owns Gol TV, continue to argue over how to split millions of dollars.

Me? I just want to watch soccer…

EDIT: Gol TV has added a note to their Web site stating that a deal is not likely to be reached in time for the start of the La Liga season. They suggest we find another distribution partner.


A journey to Sparkle City

August 25, 2008

The 2008 Manly Football League Draft is in the books, and as always, it was a heck of a good time.

If you play fantasy football, I highly recommend finding a league where you can gather in person for the draft. There really is nothing better than sitting around a table and ripping your buddies for their dumb picks.

Anyway, here are my top 10 favorite things about this year’s draft:

10. Mutts– I ordered the chicken and barbeque plate. It was huge. And the sauces were good, too. Check it out if you’re ever in Spartanburg.

9. Phone drafting– We had one owner who was watching his son play baseball and drafting over the phone. Every round, we heard this: “Taken. Taken. He’s there. Taken.” And he has one of the strangest drafts ever, taking Vince Young, Jerricho Cotchery, Kevin Boss and Ray Rice with his first four picks. Bless his heart…

8. Political intrigue– True story. We’ve got a guy in the league running for the S.C. State House of Representatives. He’s a former Spartanburg Herald-Journal employee, and as such, good friends of a couple of SHJ staffers. Those staffers are forbidden to be seen in public with the candidate, which is why we had the draft at the SHJ. And the poor guy couldn’t come with us to lunch or to the poker game later that night. Rules suck.

7. The draft board– CBS Sportsline sends this huge draft board, complete with player stickers, that we plaster on a wall and fill up as we go. Good times.

6. The dead tree media – It’s amazing what happens when current and former journalists get together. This year, we had a think-tank worthy discussion on what traditional newspapers must do to stay viable in today’s Internet-based world. I just smiled and directed them to

5. The unnamed cup– We have a trophy that we now pass from winner to winner. It looks like it was buried in somebody’s attic for about 15 years, which may in fact be the case. I sure hope that we name it soon. And it would also be nice if Rex shined it up a bit before handing it to me next summer.

4. The quest for stupidity– A couple of us were sitting around bemoaning the fact that winning a title in the MFL is about as hard as getting a complex sentence out of Paris Hilton. Then, we figured it out. We need more idiots in the league. Every league has a couple of people that – year in and year out – you know you’ll beat down. We’re sort of lacking that in our league. It’s like the SEC. Every game is a battle.

3. What might have been– Few things in the MFL are more entertaining than talking about the trades that weren’t made. I heard both halves of a deal gone wrong Saturday afternoon. One owner was amused. The other looked like John McCain after a Madonna concert.

Both will probably win more games than I will.

2. The airline industry, Bishkek and drunk Turkish pilots – Rex, our current champ, is the funniest guy in the league. And it’s not even close. He’s a pilot, who we’ve nicknamed “Crash” and “Wrecks.” I wonder if anyone in the league would jump up out of a plane if they heard his voice on the loudspeaker. I’d fly with him, simply because he’s not Turkish.

Apparently, Turkish pilots like to sit in a bar in Bishkek and get hammered before flying. Bishkek, it seems, is where Rex stops after flying supplies to Iraq and Afganistan. I think he flew Obama around some, too. No one’s really sure exactly who Rex flies for. The dude’s probably a spy, which would explain how he took so much of my money at….

1. The poker game– If I ever get thrown out of the league, I’d still come just for the poker. Chris Horeth is the world’s greatest poker host. You want smooth, refreshing Smirnoff Ice? It’s there. How about a slow-cooked hot dog with some of the best chili this side of Texas? Got it. The man is a blur of activity, getting drinks, setting up the buffet line and, oh yeah, a fountain of poker knowledge.

This year’s game was fun, despite the fact that I lost my rear end. I played for the first two hours and won one hand. One lousy hand. Business picked up late, but the damage was already done. At least I can take solace in the fact that Rex, while in Bishkek, will at least have some walking around money.

And I slept over and got a farewell breakfast the next morning, complete with bagels and scrambled eggs.

It was a great time, and well worth the 500-plus mile round trip. Maybe next year, I can fly in.

As long as there aren’t any Turks in the cockpit…

All hail Solo!

August 21, 2008
Super goalie

Super goalie


OK, maybe that’s a bit over the top, but the U.S. women’s soccer team beat Brazil, 1-0 in extra time, to win the gold medal at the Olympic Games today.

Jump in the rewind machine with me to last year’s World Cup, where Solo was benched by idiot then-U.S. coach Greg Ryan.

Don’t remember? Click here.

Anyway, she said she could stop Brazil, and thanks to no small amount of good fortune, she did just that.

Marta and company were very unlucky in extra time not to get an equalizer, as chance after chance went begging in front of the U.S. goal. Carli Lloyd banged home the winner in the first extra 15-minute session and Solo made every save she had to in helping the U.S. ladies win the gold.

My U.S. soccer shirt, hanging from the wall of my cubicle as I type, has been lucky two nights running. Last night, it saw the Yanks take a 1-0 win away to Guatemala in a World Cup qualifier. Eddie Lewis went off bloody, Steve Cherundolo just went off and Carlos Bocanegra nodded home the winner off a DaMarcus Beasley corner in the second half.

This morning, it helped restore Hope – and give the U.S. a gold in the process.

Olympic Blues

August 21, 2008

This has not been a great day for the red, white and blue.

Let’s recap, shall we?

1. Softball – The era of dominance ends on what could be the final day of Olympic softball competition as the U.S. falls to Japan, 3-1, in the gold medal game. It was our first loss since 2000.

The sport is off the docket for the 2012 Games in London, but could possibly return in 2016. That’s a long time to wait to rinse the taste of this away…

2. Track and Field – We dropped the #$%^&&* baton? NO! The 4×100 relay teams, which may not have won gold, now won’t even get to try as both the men and women botched a baton handoff during the heats.

Wow, aside from Michael Phelps, we’re having a choke fest of an Olympics. Sure, we’ve had some great stories. But our favorites have been going as wrong as John Edwards’ personal life.

Our women’s soccer team is playing Brazil for gold right now. Maybe they can bring this day up a bit.

Sticking it to NBC

August 20, 2008

Through a bit of Internet magic – and no, I’m not telling how – we gathered around a computer in the newsroom this morning to watch Usain Bolt smash the field in the 400 meters.

First of all, NBC is being silly by not showing this event live, either on its Web site or on one of the 15 different channels they’re showing coverage on. The folks at 30 Rock are obviously trying to protect their $900 million investment in the Games, but really, anybody who cared enough to watch it online will still be in front of the tube tonight when they finally get around to showing it.

What I enjoyed was the time-honored tradition of the Games. This morning, news folks and sports guys, Englishmen and Americans, East Coast and West Coast – well, you get the idea – gathered together to marvel at the sheer speed and domination of the Jamaican.

It was a beautiful thing, even if we had to watch a weird Canadian feed with no sound…


Take that, NBC.

Gol TV, Dish Network need to get on the stick

August 19, 2008

OK, enough already.

Dish Network and Citadel Communications, parent company of Gol TV, are sniping back and forth about programming fees.

Why do I care, you ask? Well, it’s simple really.

I want my soccer.

The end result? Gol TV is no longer appearing on channel 407 on my TV. In its place is a free preview of Fox Sports in Spanish. Which would be great if I actually speak Spanish.

Gol TV is the exclusive rights holder to German and Spanish league games in the U.S. So, I’m a little bummed here.

And, rather than meeting to resolve this issue, the companies are sniping at each other.

From Dish…

“Dish Network deeply regrets the disruption of service, but prior to the loss of GolTV, the network refused to offer to negotiate a fair and reasonable price for continued carriage,” the satellite provider said in press release that also included a statement from Eric Sahl, the company’s senior vice president of programming. “We are working hard to negotiate a fair contract with GolTV,” Sahl said. “But we must also protect our customers from unreasonable demands. We take pride in offering consumers the best value for pay TV service in the industry, and we remain committed to keeping our cost structure low to the benefit of our customers.”

Yawn. And from Gol TV…

“Dish Network has demonstrated total disregard for independent networks, the millions of soccer fans we represent, and minority-owned businesses by this action,” said GolTV COO Rodrigo Lombello in a statement. “We urge upset Dish viewers to contact us or Dish to voice their concerns.”

The fact is that Citadel wants more money per subscriber. Dish, having lost 25,000 subscribers in the second quarter, isn’t looking to shell out more money.

All I know is that Dish had better get this worked out soon.

Otherwise, it will be 25,001…

The other Olympics

August 19, 2008

My friend and colleague, Greg Phillips, has been staging a different kind of Olympics at his home in Erwin.

These are really funny if you have kids, but good reading even if you don’t…