Saturday, September 29, 2007

The power of negative thinking

Sports analogies are definitely applicable to each of us and are often used to illustrate how we should approach life. Even the Bible compares life to a race, which means we can all learn lessons from sports.

All sports have a psychological component. The mental aspects of a game are often as important as the physical though it may not seem that way on the surface.

A person's mental outlook can be the biggest difference between success and failure.

If a team has a history of success, it becomes an important resource for them when they face adversity in competition. They can draw on their experiences and know they have the ability to come through in the clutch.

There are many examples of this because all sports have teams that are consistently good. Teams like the NFL's New England Patriots expect to win rather than hope to win, and this experience served them well in each of their three Super Bowl wins.

All three games were close and were decided by only a field goal. Knowing they could play at a high level at a time of intense pressure was likely a key ingredient in them winning those games.

Of course, the Patriots got in some hot water recently when their coach and organization received hefty fines from the NFL for breaking a league rule. However, this should not overshadow the tremendous success they have had in recent years.

The bottom line is the Patriots' organization and fans have a very positive attitude about the team, which helps them when the pressure is on.

On the other hand, consider the plight of their baseball neighbor, the Boston Red Sox.

Despite the team's success in recent years, failures of the past are so steep that their fans often cannot enjoy themselves when the Sox are experiencing a lot of success.

For years, the team was haunted by the "Curse of the Bambino." The curse was a creation of a Boston sportswriter who traced all the misfortune the Sox have had back to when they sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees on January 5, 1920.

One of Ruth’s nicknames was "the Bambino," and when this transaction took place, the paths of the two franchises went in two different directions. The Yankees became the most successful team in professional sports, winning 26 World Series' titles since then.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, went 84 years between World Series' titles and sometimes lost championships in heartbreakingly spectacular ways.

The Sox blew a 14-game lead to the Yankees in 1978 before losing the divisional title to them in a one-game playoff.

In 1986, a ground ball trickled between the legs of a Red Sox first baseman, which played a role in allowing the New York Mets to rally and snatch the World Series from them.

The list goes on, but these two examples show how the Sox not only lost titles, but lost them in ways that left deep scars on their fans.

This year, the Red Sox have played brilliantly at times and have led their division for most of the year. On Memorial Day, the Sox led the Yankees by 14-and-a-half games and many sportswriters proclaimed the race over.

However, in recent weeks, injuries and inconsistent pitching led to a slump that allowed the charging Yankees back in the race.

Despite winning the World Series in 2004 and allegedly ending the Bambino's curse, many in the Red Sox nation have reacted as they had in the past when their team started struggling.

To say there has been gnashing of teeth would be an understatement. Just a casual search on the internet will uncover articles with titles like "10 reasons why the Red Sox will collapse."

The bottom line is a culture of negativity like this can spread to the mindset of the team as well. If a team hears over and over that they are going to fail, it certainly increases the pressure on them.

Even though the Red Sox have now clinched their division, it will be interesting to see if all this negativity will hurt them in the playoffs.

Likewise, if we find ourselves in a culture of negativity, it becomes that much easier for us to give in and be negative. When we do that, it impacts our judgment and self-confidence.

Negativity is tough to break free of once a person gives in to it.

Avoid it at all costs.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Titans, Volunteers have this week off, but there is a lot to consider

In an unusual quirk of the schedule both the Tennessee Titans and Tennessee Volunteers have this weekend off. Even though there are no games, there is still a lot to ponder regarding these two teams.

Tennessee Volunteers: The Vols next game is against Georgia and some are already hyping it as the most important game for Coach Phillip Fulmer in many years. While that remains to be seen, it is definitely a pivotal game in how this season will unfold. I'll write more about that next week.

Of course, many fans have been quite vocal regarding how the season has gone so far. One instance of criticism that gets my vote for the stupidest opinion of the year took place after the Florida game. I was listening to one of the post-game radio shows, and one fan called in and berated quarterback Erik Ainge for "choking." He ripped Ainge for his performance in the game and implied he has been a disappointment this year.

The Vols have had a lot of problems this year, but one of them is not Erik Ainge. True, he hasn't thrown the deep ball enough, but I shudder to think where this team would be without him. The running game, defense, and kickoff/punt return teams have been inconsistent at best. Ainge has been the only part of the team to play at a consistently high level this year. He is the fourth rated passer in the league and leads the conference in passing yardage.

If Ainge were to get hurt and miss games, this season would really go down the crapper. He is that important to us. So, the next time you get frustrated with him throwing too many short passes, think about where we would be without him. He doesn't call the plays, you know.

Tennessee Titans: Everything (just about) is coming up roses for the Titans. They are off to a 2-1 start, and most folks would have taken that three weeks ago.

The good news is the schedule appears to be more favorable in the coming weeks. The next four games are against the Falcons at home, the Buccaneers and Texans both on the road, and then the Raiders at home. Tennessee should win three of those games, which would improve their record to 5-2.

The Titans looked great against the Saints, and if they continue that level of play, the playoffs will be a reality.

SEC picks: Florida over Auburn, Florida State over Alabama, Georgia over Ole Miss, Kentucky over Florida Atlantic, South Carolina over Mississippi State, Vanderbilt over Eastern Michigan, Arkansas over North Texas, LSU over Tulane

NFL picks: New England over Cincinnati, Philadelphia over New York Giants, San Diego over Kansas City, Indianapolis over Denver, Atlanta over Houston

Last week: 9-3 (.750), Overall: 35-9 (.795)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Some things are more important in small towns

For those of you with no ties to my local area, this posting will have little significance, but I have to give a tip of the hat to my local high school football team. The Coffee County Red Raiders (my alma mater) improved to 4-1 last Friday with a 40-0 spanking of previously unbeaten Warren County. More importantly, we are now 2-0 in our region and are in good shape to earn a playoff berth.

In a small town, a good high school football team can unify a community in a way that is very unique. Two weeks ago, we played cross-county rival Tullahoma (a game we won 42-21), and a crowd of 10,000 attended. That is rare for any high school game, and it is a shame the folks at 'The Tennessean' can't be bothered to drive an hour down the interstate to cover our games.

This week, we play unbeaten Wilson Central who is currently ranked eleventh in the Associated Press' 5A poll. It is a non-region game, so it has no impact on whether we make the playoffs. Still, it should be exciting.

We have an experienced and physical offensive line that is the anchor of a really good running game. We have three different running backs that are averaging around 100 yards a game. In high school, if a team can run the ball well, they will win the majority of their games.

It's as simple as that.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

'3:10 to Yuma' is a flick worth seeing

I have always had a soft spot for westerns. They don't make many of them these days, so I was hoping when I went to see '3:10 to Yuma' that it would be really good. After all, the only way Hollywood makes more of a certain type of movie is if one breaks through and is successful.

This film didn't disappoint. Starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, it delivers in just about every way a movie can. It has a suspenseful script, excellent performances by the actors, and was flat-out well made.

I won't bore you with a review because there are a thousand other places a person can visit on the internet that provides more thoughtful movie reviews than I can provide. In my 'Sites Worth Visiting' list on the right hand side of this page, there is a link to Roger Ebert's web site where he provides a review that sums everything up pretty well.

Brad Pitt's new film is also a western and is about the life of Jesse James. I haven't seen it yet, but 'USA Today' gave it four stars in last Friday's paper. Of course, that is just one review, but it might be worth checking out as well.

Westerns could be making a comeback.

Monday, September 24, 2007

GOP race is a toss up but polls can mislead

As the 2008 presidential race heats up, we should all expect to hear more and more about polls as the weeks pass.

After all, polls are a primary way candidates and the media gauge how successfully a candidate is getting his or her message across to voters.

Though an easy tool to use, I believe polls are misused somewhat when determining the popularity of a candidate. I will elaborate on that a little more in a moment, but there can be no denying the emphasis that is placed on polls.

For those who enjoy tight political races, a recent Associated Press-Ipsos national poll shows the race to win the Republican nomination is quite close.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani led the poll with 24 percent. He was followed by former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson who had 19 percent and Arizona Sen. John McCain who had 15 percent.

The margin of error in the poll was 4.5 percent so it is possible the race is tighter than the numbers reported.

Or, then again, maybe not.

I have always been uncomfortable with national polls like this one. National polls are meant to reflect the percentage of votes a candidate would receive if the election was held on that day.

However, this is not the way we elect a president or the way Republicans and Democrats select a nominee. When it comes to the race to win a party's nomination, it is a state-by-state process in which the candidates win delegates to their party's convention next summer based on their performance in each state.

These national polls remove the state-by-state element from their findings. These polls are just a sample of voter opinions chosen from people around the nation.

Because of this, general national polls like the AP-Ipsos poll mentioned above cannot always be a reliable measurement of how a candidate stands in the race.

For example, in that poll former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was a distant fourth with only seven percent. Based on this, it would appear that Romney's campaign is taking on water and is having little success.

However, several polls in Iowa and New Hampshire show Romney is either leading or close to the lead in those states. This is especially important because these states are among the earliest to hold primaries or caucuses next year.

So which is it? Is the Romney campaign hopelessly adrift like the AP-Ipsos poll implies? Or is the campaign poised for great success early in next year's primary season?

If nothing else, successful presidential campaigns are about momentum. If Romney performs well in Iowa and New Hampshire, there is no doubt he will be considered among the top Republican candidates.

From there, it will be anybody's guess as to how he will do.

However, based on the findings of the AP-Ipsos poll, the perception that is being communicated to the general public is that Romney is currently an also-ran in the campaign.

If I were a Romney campaign representative, I would be hopping mad about how much airplay this poll got. Perception is reality, and if the perception becomes that Romney has no chance, then the leads he has in Iowa and New Hampshire could melt away.

This is just one example of how powerful poll results can be. We are a results-driven society, and in a long political campaign, it is sometimes difficult to measure the results of all the activity we see. Polls can be a good resource to measure results, but we must be careful how we use them.

America is a sports crazy nation so perhaps polls are so popular because it acts as a scoreboard. We love frontrunners, but at the same time, we cheer for the underdog. Polls definitely play a role in identifying who those folks are.

Despite the dangers of misusing polls, don't expect to see a decrease in them anytime soon. They are a staple of the media's political coverage, and campaigns can't seem to make a major decision without consulting them.

In a way, politicians have become slaves to polls. They are so afraid of making decisions that could hurt their numbers that they become tentative.

I don't know about anyone else, but the last trait that I want in a president is for him (or her) to be tentative.

Boldness is necessary in our leaders.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Prediction: Titans to win second consecutive road game by beating New Orleans

For Tennessee Titans fans, it is time to feel excited about the team again. It is not often that that can be said coming off a loss, but I believe the statement fits. For the third consecutive time, the Titans took defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis down to the final seconds. They are now playing consistently well against elite teams.

This week they travel to New Orleans to play the Saints. When looking at this game on the schedule a few weeks ago, most would have classified the Saints as an elite team. However, they have stumbled to start the season and have an 0-2 record. They got waxed by Indianapolis 41-10 in week one, then fell behind Tampa Bay 28-0 last week before losing 31-14.

The Saints' defense isn’t stopping anybody and as fantasy football coaches can attest, quarterback Drew Brees and running back Reggie Bush haven't hit their stride yet. Playing their first home game this week should help, but the Saints look like a classic example of a team suffering a hangover from the previous season.

Last year, New Orleans was the NFL's feel good story of the year. They returned to the city after being driven to San Antonio in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina and played a significant role in returning spirit and pride to the city. They came out of nowhere to win their division and advanced to the conference championship game where they lost to the Bears.

So far this year, they look out of sync. This means trouble because the Titans continue to build momentum. They already have gotten one significant road win when they beat Jacksonville to begin the season.

Tennessee's physical offensive line will control the game, and running backs LenDale White and Chris Brown should be able to pound the ball. Sprinkle in a few big plays by quarterback Vince Young, and it looks like a Tennessee win.

The pick: Tennessee 27 New Orleans 20

As for the Tennessee Volunteers, they get a breather this week when Arkansas State visits Knoxville. Wait a minute...did I say breather? At this point, no game for the Vols can be considered a breather because they have not shown the ability to play 60 consistent minutes of football.

The defense and punt return team looked hopeless against Florida. The offense showed some life, but the receivers dropped key passes and the offensive line got no surge to establish the running game.

As for Arkansas State, they play in the Sun Belt Conference, which also includes Middle Tennessee State. Most preseason experts picked them to finish in the middle of the pack in the conference. However, they opened the season at Texas and took the Longhorns into the fourth quarter before losing 21-13.

The bottom line is Tennessee does not do anything easy these days. Couple their inconsistent play with the emotionally devastating loss to Florida, and they will likely begin this game in a fog.

However, talent will eventually win out, but the game will be closer than it has any business being.

The pick: Tennessee 28 Arkansas State 21

Other SEC picks: Alabama over Georgia, Arkansas over Kentucky, Florida over Ole Miss, LSU over South Carolina, Auburn over New Mexico State, Mississippi State over Gardner Webb

Other NFL picks: Indianapolis over Houston, Denver over Jacksonville, Philadelphia over Detroit, Pittsburgh over San Francisco

Last week: 7-4 (.636), Overall: 26-6 (.813)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Lack of sausage drives men to madness in New Mexico

Apparently, inmates at a Lea County New Mexico correctional facility will only be pushed so far.

Thirty-three inmates decided enough was enough when told they would only get one sausage with their dinner. They yelled and screamed in their cells, and they caused damage to windows and broke toilets, according to an Associated Press report.

Two law enforcement agencies were called in to restore the peace.

It would be easy to ridicule these folks, but think about it. How would you react if you were expecting pork sausage aplenty and got stuck with one measly piece? I can only try to put myself in their shoes.

After all, how would I feel if "the man" told me I would only be getting four Dr. Peppers today instead of my usual six? Or if the Krispy Kreme delivery man said to me, "Sorry, fella. No doughnuts for you, but enjoy sucking on this bagel."

Trust me, I would be bustin' every toilet between here and the Rio Grande.

So fight on, my New Mexican brothers. Some day, maybe we can all live in a paradise where the sausage, doughnuts, and Dr. Peppers fall from the sky like rain.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Quote of the day

John 3:16 – "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Obviously, this is one of the most well-known verses in the Bible. It has been scrutinized and dissected from just about every conceivable angle throughout the years. I've seen people break down in tears when simply trying to recite it. It is both profound and simple. It has depths that have never been reached and won't be until the end.

A person could make a pretty compelling argument that the words "whosoever believeth" are two of the most important words in the Bible. They are important because they emphasize that Jesus is available for everyone. It does not matter if you are black or white. It does not matter if you are male or female. It does not matter if you are rich or poor. It does not matter if you are pretty or ugly. It does not matter if you live in the United States or Iran. It does not matter if you are the president or a person who works at Wal-Mart. It does not matter if you have lived a life of kindness or live on death row.

Jesus is an equal opportunity Messiah. As a culture, we seem to go out of our way to emphasize our differences. We segregate ourselves by color, economic status, and lots of other artificial categories.

However, when God looks at you, He sees somebody that He wants to spend eternity with. Think about it: the One who created the universe has a deeper love for you than any other person on Earth can have.

And it does not matter where you have come from or what life you have led. He has provided a way for whosoever believeth. It is up to you to accept His offer if you have not already.

If that doesn't make you feel special, I don't know what will.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Excellent book: 'Live from New York'

Recently, I was sifting through the stacks of books I have that are collecting dust, when I found a book that chronicles the history of "Saturday Night Live" from its beginning through 2002. Titled "Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live," it was written by Pulitzer Prize winning critic Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller.

Written as an oral history, the book includes interviews with nearly every significant actor, writer, producer, guest host, and musician to be connected with the program. As someone old enough to remember when the show started, my main interest was the history of the show's first five seasons. However, there is lots of good information about the ups and downs of the program after that.

In the last few years, the show's quality has dipped quite a bit (though I must admit that I don't watch it that much anymore). Maybe because of this, I really appreciate the top notch performers and writers that did the show.

For what it is worth, here are some opinions on folks connected to the show.

Bill Murray – As time has passed, I think we can all appreciate just how talented Murray is. He will always be best known for his work on the show, but in the last few years, he has blossomed into a first-rate actor ("Lost in Translation," "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," "Rushmore," etc.). If I had to pick somebody as the most talented person ever to work on the show, he would be it.

Chevy Chase – As Murray has aged gracefully, Chase really has not. When watching some of the early shows, his humor has not worn well, and it seems more smarmy than creative. What was all the fuss about?

Phil Hartman – Hartman is easily the most versatile performer in the show's history. He had a great ability to control the inflection in his voice that I believe most of us envy. He could plug a hole in any sketch whether he was doing Charlton Heston or Frankenstein. "SNL" is at its best when it has jack-of-all-trade performers who can do it all without wanting to be "the star."

Al Franken – Franken's political commentary in recent years has overshadowed that he once wielded a comedy blade that was both sharp and funny. The show's humor has always been at its best when it was borderline mean (or in the case of Franken's famous “Limo for a Lame-O” piece, flat-out mean). That may not necessarily be a good thing, but many times, it has made the show undeniably hilarious. However, as Franken's more recent work has shown, an approach that makes a person a successful comedy writer does not necessarily translate to the political arena.

John Belushi – It is impossible to think of Belushi without thinking about what could have been. He was versatile, and he had a ton of charisma. I'm not sure how to define 'stage presence,' but I believe he had it.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Barack Obama's secret weapon: Oprah

Successfully manipulating the media is one of the primary challenges presidential candidates face when marketing themselves to the public.

After all, how a candidate is presented is almost as important as what he or she has to say these days. If candidates come across in an unappealing way in the media, the struggle they face is much more difficult than those who handle themselves well.

A famous example of this took place during the 1960 presidential race between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. The race was very close, but a likely turning point occurred during their televised debates.

Kennedy came across as charming and attractive, while Nixon looked sweaty and awkward. Advantage: Kennedy.

Recently, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson announced his candidacy for president by appearing on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." He was glib and relaxed as he commented on his reasons for running.

He knew Leno did not have the skills to grill him from a political standpoint, and as an actor, he knew how to exploit a friendly situation to get maximum exposure.

True, he did receive criticism for skipping a Republican debate to appear on Leno's show, but Thompson obviously knew how important it was to make his announcement in a way that would have the most impact.

As he said, it is a lot more difficult to get on Leno's show than to appear in a political debate. His appearance gave his campaign a successful bounce, and he seems off to a good start.

Another candidate successfully exploiting the media is Democratic Sen. Barack Obama.

Like several candidates in the race, he seems comfortable in front of cameras and is able to present himself in a pleasant way.

He communicates well even though some critics have dismissed him as just another empty suit.

However, as the race unfolds, Obama does have an ace up his sleeve when it comes to having allies in the media.

The most powerful person on television is talk show host Oprah Winfrey. She has publicly announced her endorsement of Obama and has already been helping his campaign.

While many dismiss the impact of endorsements, the political world will be making a big mistake if it underestimates the possible impact Winfrey can have on Obama's candidacy.

Oprah is easily the most influential television personality when it comes to prodding an audience into action.

When she endorses a book, her audience buys them in such quantity that the books zoom up the best seller's list. Her monthly magazine (titled "O") features a cover photo of her each month instead of other celebrities because she understands how powerful she is as a commodity.

Her following is so loyal that her viewers have been called the "Church of Oprah."

Since her endorsement of Obama is the first time she has endorsed a candidate, the real intrigue is whether her influence will transfer into the political arena.

For Obama, the endorsement certainly couldn't hurt. He currently trails Democratic frontrunner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton by double digits in most polls.

With Oprah's endorsement, she may help him compete with Clinton for women's votes since they make up her core audience.

Of course, not all of her viewers are Democrats, and I doubt that dedicated Republicans who watch her show will jump parties just because Oprah tells them to.

Still, I don't think it is much of a stretch to believe that she will have a lot of influence with viewers who are currently undecided on who to vote for or those who don't usually vote but will now consider Obama just because she has endorsed him.

In the long run, it remains to be seen how much of an impact this endorsement will have, but it never hurts to have somebody with a golden touch in your corner.

If nothing else, Oprah will be a valuable resource for fundraising as she taps her friends in the media and in Hollywood on Obama's behalf. She recently hosted a fundraiser at her California estate, and there will likely be more of those in the coming months.

To paraphrase an old saying, it never hurts to have friends in high places.

In Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama has just that.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Prediction: The Volunteers will knock off the mighty Gators (no, I don't have a fever)

The Tennessee Volunteers play their first big conference game of the year when they meet defending national champion Florida down at the Swamp on Saturday. Before you say it, let me beat you to the punch: this is not some starry-eyed prediction from somebody who graduated from UT. The Vols will win and for very good reasons.

I'll begin with the obvious. Tennessee's defense has been inconsistent at best so far this year, and Florida's defense has nine new starters that have barely been tested in their first two games. Both teams have a lot of skill on offense, so expect this game to be very high scoring. It's going to take 40 points to win this one.

The Vols get the edge because they will be able to run the ball effectively. Except for the second half of the Southern Mississippi game, Tennessee has had a pass first offense. However, this has masked the fact that the Vols have run the ball very well this year.

Against California, we abandoned the running game because we fell behind early. However, Arian Foster still ran for 89 yards. Admittedly, Cal has a pretty soft run defense, but against a much better Southern Mississippi defense, Foster racked up 125 yards, while the Vols rushed for 193 yards as a team.

Last year, the Vols rushed for a laughable minus-11 yards against the Gators yet still only lost by one point. Even an average rushing day should be enough to get them over the hump this year.

Also, look for the maligned Vols defense to at least make some big plays against the Gators. Yes, quarterback Tim Tebow will put up some big numbers, but our front seven will put enough heat on him to wear him down by the fourth quarter. With rubbery legs, his mobility will be severely limited. Tebow has a lot of skills, but he is inexperienced and has never had to carry the full load in a big conference game.

As I said in my pre-season predictions, the winner of the Eastern Division will have two losses. Therefore, the loser of this game will still be in the thick of the race. However, winning this one would be sweet.

The pick: Tennessee 42 Florida 40

As for the Tennessee Titans, they also have a big game this week as they host defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis. Think about it: the games involving the two highest profile football teams in the state are being played against the defending national college champion and the Super Bowl champion. This is pretty heady stuff.

The Titans have to feel good about their running game after being able to run the ball down the throat of Jacksonville last week. Chris Brown played the game of his professional life in rushing for 175 yards, but his lack of durability will guarantee that LenDale White will still get plenty of carries.

However, the Colts offense can move the ball on anybody. If the Titans can control the clock by running the ball, it will help neutralize the Colts offense. After all, the only way to slow that offense down is to keep it off the field.

The Titans beat the Colts on a last second field goal in Nashville last year, but I don't see it happening this year. The Colts are playing at an extremely high level. The Titans are light years better than they were at this point last year, but it won't be enough.

The pick: Indianapolis 28 Tennessee 17

Other SEC picks: Alabama over Arkansas, Louisville over Kentucky, Vanderbilt over Ole Miss, Auburn over Mississippi State, LSU over Middle Tennessee

Other NFL picks: New England over San Diego, Philadelphia over Washington, Dallas over Miami, Baltimore over New York Jets

Last week: 9-1 (.900), Overall: 19-2 (.905)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A disturbing double standard could be emerging at Notre Dame

There have already been a lot of surprises early in the college football season and one of them has to be the 0-2 start of Notre Dame. Most folks understood that the Fighting Irish might struggle somewhat this season because of all the talent they lost from last year's squad.

However, I don't think many expected a start this slow. They have lost to Penn State and Georgia Tech by a combined score of 64-13, and the offense has not scored a touchdown yet. Given the reputation of head coach Charlie Weis as an offensive genius, this is especially surprising.

If Notre Dame's season continues to crumble, Coach Weis could be on the hot seat. He is in his third season and had quite a bit of success in his first two years. However, as we all know, major programs do not have much patience with losing.

Weis' predecessor was Tyrone Willingham. Willingham had winning seasons in his first and third seasons but was fired after that third season with an overall record of 21-15. If Weis is held to the same standard as Willingham, his job could be in jeopardy if he leads them to a losing record.

In his first two years, Weis had his success with players recruited by the previous coaching staff. Stars like quarterback Brady Quinn won a lot of games for Weis, but they were not recruited by him. This year, many of the players are ones recruited by Weis and the results have not been good so far.

True, the team is young and inexperienced, but programs like Notre Dame expect to re-load and not go through major rebuilding seasons. At least, that is what they like to say.

The curious aspect of all this will be if Notre Dame does post a losing record and Weis does not get fired. They will be opening themselves up to charges of a double standard because they will not be treating him like Willingham.

Where this could get especially ticklish is that the school could be charged with racism. Willingham is black and had a successful track record as head coach at Stanford before coming to Notre Dame. Weis is white and had no head coaching experience in college football before he got the job.

Thus, it will appear that Notre Dame will be showing greater flexibility and patience with a white coach with no previous experience than it showed with a black coach who had better credentials.

By the way, Willingham is now in his third season at the University of Washington where he is slowly but surely rebuilding the program. The Huskies are 2-0 this year and beat nationally ranked Boise State last weekend.

I would be willing to bet that that has been noticed by some folks at Notre Dame.

Obviously, there is a lot of football left to be played, and given Notre Dame's track record, they can still pull out a winning record. If they don't, things could get interesting.

Monday, September 10, 2007

It's hard to believe it has been six years since 9/11 attacks

As I'm sure most of you remember, Tuesday is the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that happened on September 11, 2001, in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.

It was a remarkable day just as it is remarkable that six years have already zoomed by since then. When we are young, the days can't pass fast enough, but once we become adults, days seem like minutes and years feel like months. I don't know if that is a good or bad thing, but it certainly makes you stop and think.

Obviously, this anniversary provokes a lot of different emotions and thoughts. Additionally, our nation's focus has changed a lot because of these attacks. We have since fought wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and regardless of how a person feels about those efforts, we should never take for granted the sacrifices many have made serving our country in those conflicts.

If there is one thing that is surprising in the last six years, it is that another large-scale terrorist attack has not happened in the United States. There have been plots uncovered, and terrorists have committed crimes in places like Spain and Scotland, but we have largely been spared.

Given how much liberty we have to move around in our country, it is surprising that our enemies have not been able to exploit that freedom. They certainly were able to do that in 2001, and it would be naïve to believe that they won't be able to do that again. Our enemies are relentless and are committed to their cause with a fervor that we do not have. That is not meant as a criticism of America but is a statement about how committed the radical Islamic movement is.

At some point, another attack will happen. It is not a matter of 'if,' but a matter of 'when.'

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The cover-up is always worse than the crime

The current scandal involving Idaho Senator Larry Craig is a political story that has all the elements needed to fascinate the public.

It has power, prestige, sex, stupidity, and a lot more hot button issues that provoke opinions from us all.

When reviewing the events of the last couple of weeks, one recurring emotion that I keep experiencing is how familiar this all seems. Not necessarily the circumstances that led Craig to announce he will resign, but how his handling of the situation was a classic political blunder.

He handled it in a way we have all seen before.

When it comes to politics, it is not necessarily the mistake or crime a person commits, but the way they try to cover it up that eventually leads to their leaving office.

In Craig's case, he submitted a guilty plea to a disorderly conduct charge stemming from an incident in an airport men's room back in June. On Aug. 8, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and paid a fine. None of this was noticed by the media at the time.

Later, when the story finally became public, he said he decided to plead guilty in an attempt to make the situation "go away." If he quietly pleaded guilty, he apparently thought there was a possibility the incident would be unnoticed.

Of course, since then, he said he regrets the guilty plea. But because of his attempts to cover-up this incident, he has boxed himself into a corner.

Now, he desperately wants the public to believe he is innocent, but most people will never understand why anyone would plead guilty to these charges if he was really innocent.

From a political standpoint, it doesn't matter now if he is innocent. His botched attempted to cover this up has led to a conviction in the court of public opinion that likely can not be overcome.

In other words, he is political toast.

Instead, he should have taken a proactive approach in dealing with this situation when it first occurred. He should have taken control of the situation and not let it control him.

If he had pleaded not guilty and defended himself, the situation would still have become public, but he would not be in the corner that he finds himself now.

If he had fought and lost, he would have faced being pressured to resign, but at least he still would have the leverage of maintaining his innocence, which is something he lost when he decided to plead guilty.

I know it sounds like I am saying it is acceptable to manipulate the judicial system for political reasons, but I really am not.

If this man is really innocent, he should have fought for that. I am just saying as a long-time politician, he should have done a better job of weighing his options from a political standpoint before making his decision.

It sounds like he let fear dictate his decision making, and we put ourselves in dangerous positions when we let this happen.

Of course, Craig isn't the first high-profile politician this has happened to, and he certainly will not be the last.

In recent political history, the worst example of a cover-up was when President Richard Nixon's administration attempted to hide events related to the Watergate scandal.

The attempt to cover-up a break in at Democratic National Committee headquarters eventually led to Nixon resigning in disgrace and several high-ranking administration officials going to prison.

Also, President Bill Clinton's impeachment was a direct result of his attempts to cover-up decisions he made in his personal life.

The examples of Craig, Nixon, and Clinton all illustrate the risks of cover-ups.

When people try to hide things and get caught, it injures their credibility. For public servants, their credibility is the most important resource they have.

A person spends a lifetime building their credibility, but it can be lost with just a few bad decisions.

The fallout from those decisions can be swift and permanent. It can distort a lifetime's worth of work.

That may not be fair, but it is reality.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Prediction: Titans, Volunteers both will post wins this weekend

This weekend, it is the National Football League's turn to begin its season after college football debuted last week. The Tennessee Titans will visit the Jacksonville Jaguars in what should be a close game. Playing an afternoon game in Florida in late summer will certainly be a challenge for the Titans, but I believe they will win.

The X-factor in this game will be Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard. He won the job over long-time quarterback Byron Leftwich, and he primarily did so because he brings a lot of mobility to the position. Mix in his athleticism with running backs Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor, and it is obvious the Jaguars have some playmakers.

However, the Titans defense gets a lot of work against mobile quarterbacks in practice every day going against Vince Young. Despite his youth, I'll take Young over a lot of quarterbacks in the league. He has a gift for making the big play. He will need to make several big plays Sunday because Jacksonville's outstanding defensive line (led by former University of Tennessee star John Henderson) will likely stuff the running game.

It's crazy to say that the first game of the year is a “must win” game, but this one has that feel to it. After the Jaguars, the Titans host defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis and then travel to New Orleans. Obviously, these are three tough games to start the year and starting with a loss to Jacksonville could begin a slide toward 0-3.

However, that will not happen. Vince Young will make just enough plays to pull it out.

The pick: Tennessee 20 Jacksonville 17

As for the Tennessee Volunteers, they have several questions to answer this week. Will there be a let down or hangover from last week's loss to California? Will the defense tackle better? Will the kickers be able to get the ball deeper on kick-offs or should we get used to seeing our opponents begin every possession at the 40-yard line?

This would be the perfect week for the Vols to play a creampuff, but this is not the case in playing Southern Mississippi. Like the Titans, the Vols begin the season against three tough teams. Southern Mississippi is the favorite to win Conference USA. The Golden Eagles return eight starters on a stout defense and have an excellent running back.

Damion Fletcher rushed for 1,330 yards last year, and one of the biggest concerns regarding Tennessee's defense is its inability to stop the run. It gave up 230 yards rushing to Cal last week, and if this does not get better, the Vols will struggle mightily once conference play begins. Simply put, the defense has a big challenge this week.

The good news from the Cal game was that quarterback Erik Ainge's broken pinky did not affect his ability to throw. As a whole, the offense looked good against Cal. It put up 31 points against a team ranked in the national top 12. Most weeks that would be good enough to win.

Tennessee better take Southern Mississippi seriously. This will be a close game, but the Vols will pull it out. Then, it's time for Florida.

The pick: Tennessee 27 Southern Mississippi 24

Other SEC picks: Alabama over Vanderbilt, LSU over Virginia Tech, South Carolina over Georgia, Florida over Troy, Kentucky over Kent State, Auburn over South Florida, Missouri over Ole Miss, Mississippi State over Tulane

Last week: 10-1 (.909)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Corpse-gate reaches conclusion in Ohio

Hamilton County in Ohio recently reached a settlement with 532 families and will pay them $8 million to settle a lawsuit over unauthorized photos taken of posed bodies in the county's morgue, according to the Associated Press.

Apparently, the photographer took the photos as part of an artistic project regarding the cycle of life from birth to death. He posed the bodies with props including pieces of fruit and doll house furniture, according to the story.

Doll house furniture?

When I read this, I couldn't help but think about a movie from the early 1980s called "Night Shift," which starred Michael Keaton and Henry Winkler. It was directed by Ron Howard.

In the film, Keaton and Winkler turned a morgue into a house of prostitution, and as the saying goes, wackiness ensued.

Obviously, what happened in Ohio was not quite the same thing, but I guess the moral of the story is that morgues can be unusual. Or maybe posing a dead body with fruit is more normal than I realized.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A dog's life? Pooch to get $12 million...which gives me an idea

Among the more unusual news items of the last week or so was the revelation that the late Leona Helmsley left $12 million in her will for her dog named Trouble.

Of course, Helmsley was well known during her life for extravagance and excess. Her estate was worth billions, but in the 1980s she gained notoriety when she was indicted and convicted on charges relating to tax evasion. She received the nickname "the Queen of Mean" and one of her employees once quoted her as saying, "Only the little people pay taxes."

So, it really isn't much of a shock that she would do something like this. Additionally, when the dog dies, she will be buried in the Helmsley mausoleum next to Leona. That is a pretty comfortable final resting place for a dog.

It got me thinking about how I would like to be memorialized when I pass away. I don't mean to sound morbid, but I believe all of us have thought about this at one time or another.

With this in mind, I hereby announce that once I die all proceeds from my estate will be used to build a statue in my honor. It will commemorate my life, and I want it to be erected at Measurement, Inc., in Antioch. I also request that the management at MI (that means you Steve and Mary Beth) be in charge of this effort, and I would like you to develop a proposal soon summarizing your plans.

Like I said, all the funds from my estate will be available to build this statue once I die. Now, I don't know how good a statue you can build for $80, but I'm sure you two can come up with something. Perhaps it can be built out of some type of cracker.

Sure, it won't be as extravagant as what Trouble gets, but who of us will get that?

Monday, September 3, 2007

States continue to undermine presidential process by moving up primaries

In this age of convenience that we live in, most people want to get tasks performed quickly with as little personal investment as possible.

After all, we are all very busy people, and we don't want to get bogged down with issues that take us out of our daily routine.

Many times, this can be good. There does not seem to be enough minutes in the day for many of us so it is helpful if we can quickly wrap up some responsibilities.

However, we are becoming more and more of a 'microwave' society. When it comes to our meals, we are often more content to throw a frozen dinner into a microwave and zap it for a few minutes than to take the time to cook a nice meal.

True, using the microwave will feed a person in only a few minutes, but are those meals as tasty and fulfilling as a slowly cooked one? Usually, never.

It's an example of how we will trade time to make a task easier even though the final result is not as satisfying as it could be. It is a triumph of mediocrity.

Unfortunately, this is a mindset that we are applying to responsibilities far more important than what we will eat today.

Next year is a presidential election year and many candidates have been grinding away for months on the campaign trail trying to get the attention of voters. But because it is so early in the race, many voters are not interested yet in what they have to say.

To those voters, I would issue this warning: next year's election is a lot closer than most people think.

This is because the presidential primary season has been significantly shrunk. In the past, primaries and caucuses began in January and slowly unfolded through spring into early summer.

Now, a significant amount of primaries will take place by the first week of February. Several months ago I commented that many states were considering moving their primaries up in order to have a more significant impact on the race.

Since then, some states have moved their primaries. The latest example of this was when Arizona announced last week that it was moving its primary to Feb. 5.

The state joins approximately 20 other states that will hold its primary on the same day. Tennessee is among those states along with California, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York.

Because of this, both the Democratic and Republican parties should decide their nominees by late February or early March at the latest. A long marathon is being reduced to a quick sprint.

Most folks don't see anything wrong with this. After all, most folks would rather jam long, steel needles into their eyes than sit and listen to politicians for a lengthy amount of time.

While I agree that that is not an exciting way to spend time, there are some tasks that require us to take our time and thoughtfully consider what decision we are going to make.

The most negative result of shortening the race is that it consolidates the power of the frontrunners and makes it much more difficult for dark horses to emerge.

For example, with the way it is now set up, there is no way Hillary Rodham Clinton will not get the Democratic nomination. Because of her comfortable lead in the polls, all she has to do is avoid saying something incredibly stupid and the nomination is hers.

Since the primaries are now so front loaded, all she has to do is navigate a few crucial weeks.

Even if one of her opponents pulls an upset in a state or two, it will be largely overlooked because she will be winning so many other primaries on those days. The opportunity for somebody like Barack Obama to build momentum will be greatly hampered.

The Republicans have the opposite problem. They have no clear cut frontrunner so it is hard to believe at this point how they will find a consensus candidate in only a few weeks.

Rudy Giuliani is slightly ahead in the polls, but it remains to be seen how his liberal views on social issues will play with mainstream Republicans.

Other candidates like Mitt Romney have shown promise, but will he have enough time to make a move because of the short length of the primary season? It is difficult to say.

Despite the indifference of most voters, the big loser in all this is me and you. It is in our interests to have an overabundance of time to grill candidates.

Now, the system is being set up to make it easy on them.