Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tennessee at a crossroad heading into the Georgia game

Mighty tough game at Georgia on Saturday
The first third of the regular season is complete, and the Tennessee Volunteers stand at 3-1. The team has one win against a pretty good team (North Carolina State) and two against lightweights (Georgia State and Akron).  The loss against Florida was a near miss. The Vols played well for two-and-a-half quarters before fading and losing big.

Basically, the Vols stand at where they were at this point in 2011. After four games last year, they were also 3-1. Again, they had beaten one pretty good team (Cincinnati) and two lightweights (Montana and Buffalo).  Their loss was also to Florida, and though the margin of loss was only 10 points, it really was not a close game.
Despite last year's promising start, it went south in a hurry as key players got injured and the team struggled to a 5-7 record. However, this year's team is better. The running game has improved somewhat as indicated by Rajon Neal’s 85-yard performance against the Gators. Florida is stout on defense, and last year, the Vols struggled to put up positive yardage on the ground against such foes.  Though only scoring 20 points against Florida, the Vols likely would have scored more if they had not panicked in the fourth quarter.
Additionally, the team has better depth. This year's freshmen would have seen significant action in the previous two years, but now are being brought along slower. Though we lack the talent of the top teams in the league, there can be no doubting we have gotten better in this department. That not only says a lot about the rest of the Southeastern Conference, but also about the state of the team when head coach Derek Dooley took over.
Now, Tennessee travels to Georgia to play the fifth-ranked team in the country. Only somebody looking through the loveliest pair of orange-colored glasses believes the team has a good chance to win.  A win is a long shot at best.  Right now, Tennessee is a 14-point underdog.  Georgia is probably the best team in the Eastern Division and rates only behind Alabama and LSU overall.
Back on August 5, I picked Tennessee to go 3-1 in its first four games and that happened.  I picked the Vols to go 1-3 in the second third of the season with its win coming at Mississippi State.  I must admit the Bulldogs are better than I anticipated and are ranked in the Top 25.  A win there looks a little shakier than when I predicted it back in August.
Still, the Vols must find a way to win one of the next four games. All four games are against ranked teams.  In addition to Georgia and Mississippi State, there are games against Alabama and South Carolina.  Only one of the games is at home.
If the Vols cannot break through, they will enter November with a 3-5 record, and a bowl berth will not be a sure thing.  Also, if we lose four in a row, the vultures will likely start circling Dooley.  I am not sure that is fair, but it will happen.
The Vols have the talent to break through.  But will they?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

'Stranger in Town' shows Bob Seger at his best

Ha Segah
In the mid and late 1970s, Bob Seger was on a hot streak. After years of struggling to find national success, he had hit the big time with Live Bullet and Night Moves. Both were huge commercial triumphs, and with his straightforward unflinching style, Seger was being mentioned in the same breath as Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty when it came to traditional American rock and roll.
In 1978, Seger released Stranger in Town, and it is a consistently pleasing album that has not lost any of its punch through the years. Coming sandwiched between Night Moves and Against the Wind, I have always felt it has been a little lost in the shuffle when considering his work.  However, there is not a weak track on it, and all of Seger's trademark styles are represented here.
It opens with the thunderous 'Hollywood Nights' and it is highly reminiscent of other Seger rockers such as 'Rock and Roll Never Forgets' from Night Moves and 'Even Now' from The Distance.  His masterful acoustic style is represented on 'Still the Same' and it fits nicely with other similar songs in his catalogue like 'Against the Wind.'
Still, there are other songs that make the album stand out.  For anybody who has ever felt unappreciated by their employer, there is the working man's anthem 'Feel Like a Number.'  For those who were chafing under the popularity of disco in the late 70s, 'Old Time Rock and Roll' felt like a life preserver back then, and it still holds up today.  'We've Got Tonight' and 'The Famous Final Scene' are tremendous ballads that exude warmth in a way that is rare on a mainstream rock and roll album.
Seger brings fire and fury on this album, and if it is not in your collection, it should be.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A day well spent

If I ever needed to present myself with an example of why I have such a blessed life, all I have to do is review the way I spent last Saturday.
Life can be challenging for all of us, but every now and then we all need to take a step back and have some private time. I did that a week ago, and my Saturday was spent immersed in the world of college football.
I enjoy the sport immensely, and I do not entirely understand why. That is okay because we do not have to understand why we feel so passionately about certain things. If we feel that way, there is nothing wrong with that.
I started last Saturday watching ESPN’s Gameday program. The program was a little unusual because they broadcasted the show from Knoxville on the University of Tennessee’s campus. Within the campus, the show originated from Circle Park which was nostalgic for me because that is where I attended a number of classes when I went to school there. It looked like a lot of fun, and I regretted not making the trip up there.
On the bright side, I did get to watch a lot of games. Since I am a Southeastern Conference guy, I focused most of my attention on those games. I began my day by watching two games:  Vanderbilt vs. Presbyterian and Auburn vs. Louisiana-Monroe.
I often hear many University of Tennessee fans in this area talk about how they root for Vanderbilt 11 games a year, then cheer for the Volunteers when those teams play. I am not one of those people. I consider Vanderbilt one of Tennessee’s main rivals, and I never want to see them win. Ever.
A good Saturday for me is when Tennessee wins and Vanderbilt loses. As for last Saturday, the Commodores were playing a lightweight opponent and won easily. We’ll see how they do the rest of the year, but on November 17 I look forward to when the Volunteers come to Nashville.
After tuning out the Vandy game, I caught the tail end of the Auburn game. Sometimes the best games to watch are the ones where a person does not have an emotional investment, and the Auburn game fit into that category. The Tigers had Louisiana-Monroe beat but lost the lead late in the game, which sent the game into overtime. Auburn lived dangerously but they won.
After that game, I took a small break while preparing myself for the big game on my football watching agenda. Tennessee vs. Florida was scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. so I ran whatever errands I had to do to get ready for that.
Of course, this game is where my afternoon of extravagance took a turn for the worse. Despite playing well for two-and-a-half quarters, the Volunteers faded late in the game and got pummeled. What was that I wrote about a good Saturday being when Tennessee wins and Vanderbilt loses? Well, I guess that did not happen. However, as I watched the final games of the evening, I must admit it was a good day.
I mean, we live in a world where Alabama is ranked number one, and that is not a reality I enjoy, but there are less pleasurable ways to spend a Saturday. Simple pleasures are often the best pleasures in life, and college football is one of those things that fills that role for me.
We all need recreation, because if we do not have it, then we become more likely to start climbing the walls. And I do not know about you, but I have climbed enough walls in my life.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The struggle and loneliness of a political moderate

These days, life can be lonely if a person is a political moderate. Many of us tend to be Independents who do not fit inside the tents of the Democratic and Republican parties.
This loneliness was especially acute during the last couple of weeks when both parties held their national conventions. I could not bring myself to watch much of either of them, but I tried.
Both conventions were basically useless when it came to finding substance. Gone are the days when these events produced genuine news, and they are now reduced to nothing but glorified pep rallies. They are infomercials in which people wearing fancy clothes try to convince us that our problems are not their fault.
It would be an overused cliché to state the two parties are like 10-year-olds on the playground pointing their fingers at the other refusing to take blame. Then again, cliches often earn that status because they speak the truth.
This loneliness is further intensified when Independents search the mainstream media looking for evenhanded and reliable political analysis. We live in an age where bias is not only tolerated but encouraged when it comes to presenting information.
This is especially true when getting information from the major television news networks, and many of them were in rare form during the conventions. It was predictable which network praised and criticized candidates.
Most of the primetime programming on these networks falls into the category of political analysis and commentary. Under these rules, it is acceptable to present opinion and be critical of specific candidates and policies.
However, when certain broadcasters repeatedly fall on one side of a party or candidate it becomes easy to identify their ideology and personal agenda. This is where it becomes dangerous for the average viewer because if they only watch a limited amount of programs, then they are exposed to information presented from one point of view.
During the conventions, some of these news outlets toted the predictable party lines. For example, MSNBC is indisputably in the back pocket of the Democrats and especially President Obama when it comes to its primetime programming.
Too often, broadcasters there rely on emotional techniques when discussing issues and sometimes inject race into debates. The most frequent users of this technique are Chris Matthews and Al Sharpton. When discussing opponents of the president, they inject racial bias as a factor much too much.
I understand that racism is a significant problem in our country, and I have no doubt that it is a factor when it comes to some opponents of the president. There can be no questioning that and for those who feel otherwise, I feel they are being naïve if they do not acknowledge our racial divide.
Still, the frequency in which Matthews and Sharpton use race makes it come across as a power play rather than being legitimately concerned about our nation’s racial climate. I believe the reason more white people do not discuss race is because of a fear of being branded racist if they make a misstatement. Therefore, it becomes easier to just avoid the topic. Because of this, Matthews and Sharpton really are not helping.
On the other side, FOX News has people such as Sean Hannity who has no inhibitions when it comes to throwing around terms like ‘liar’ when describing the president. Don’t get me wrong, it is perfectly acceptable to criticize policies or candidates. However, inflammatory name calling really does no good.
In addition to Hannity, there can be no questioning that FOX presents information from a perspective leaning to the right. Therefore, it is important to understand that when listening.
Accepting information can be tricky so choose wisely.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Childhood Memories No. 2: I am the Fire Chief

The burden of power....

Taken circa 1970, this photo of me and older brother Ed has always intrigued me. I am in the foreground and leaning against my little fire engine that I used to putter around in.  I remember this toy distinctly, but I do not remember the dog on the chair in the background.  The dog is kind of tough to see because it is dark, but he is there.  However, if there is one thing to take from this photo, it is the title "Fire Chief" that is on the side of the fire engine.  Always remember, I am the Fire Chief.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Childhood Memories No. 1: Baseball and Fritos

Without a care in the world...
For whatever reason, this is one of my favorite childhood photos.  Taken circa 1973, I am sitting on a garbage can on my grandmother's back porch.  I am eating a bag of Fritos while snazzily dressed in an Oakland A's t-shirt.  I was only seven or eight at the time, but I do not remember the A's being my favorite baseball team during my early childhood.  However, the A’s were dominant during this time period, winning three consecutive World Series from 1972-74.  Good times...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Cheer but behave

Sports have become a multi-zillion dollar industry in the United States, but it has benefits other than cash. From a societal point of view, it has the potential to unify us all in ways we do not normally see.
Consider this quote:  "The real angler knows his sport transcends every limitation of economics, class, and culture. In my hometown (Wyandotte, Michigan), fishing was the only place the doctor, the alcoholic welder, the priest, the barber, and the town bum could meet on equal footing." – written by novelist Thomas McGuane.
Now, McGuane was only speaking about the sport of fishing, but I have heard similar quotes relating to other sports. When we all share a common goal or interest, we do a little bit better job of coming together.
And in many ways, this coming together transcends all the barriers we have erected around us. We become a little more likely not to be distracted by a person’s economic status or skin color or gender. One could even argue this is one of the few situations where we come close to being the type of society we dream of being.
Of course, I am romanticizing this a bit. While I agree with McGuane's quote, it is not as clear cut as he states. This is for several reasons. For example, as unifying as sports can be, it is becoming more and more difficult for those of us in the middle class to attend events.
Just as sports have become big business, so has the expense of being of fan. With football season starting, it can cost a pretty penny to attend a college or professional game. This is not the case on the high school level, but to attend those other games, a person has to budget wisely.
Depending on the game, a ticket to a University of Tennessee game can cost anywhere between $40 and $80. Toss in costs for parking and meals, and it can take a big wet bite out of a family’s budget. The costs are even more for professional teams like the Tennessee Titans.
This impacts unity because these events are pricing many of the people mentioned in McGuane's quote out of the chance to attend a game.
Plus, there are other factors impacting potential unity. Take it from somebody who has attended many games over the years, the consumption of alcohol is one activity that can change a lovely afternoon at a game to a miserable experience.
Especially when it comes to National Football League games, the league and beer companies are multi-million dollar partners. While this may seem benign on the surface, it becomes a big deal when the man sitting next to you has had too much to drink and is mad because his team is losing.
At times like this, forget about unity. Profanity and physical confrontation are not that uncommon. There is nothing worse than a jerk who has tied one on and feels it is his constitutional right to make everybody miserable around him.
The bottom line is what we get out of life is based on the decisions we make. Unity can be enhanced by taking part in sporting activities. However, if we get selfish and decide to act like a yahoo, we can impact others around us in negative ways. So, when attending events like this, remember that it is not all about you. It is about everybody pulling together.
Obviously, these principles do not only apply to attending sporting events. We need to make smart decisions in every walk of life. If this sounds simple, why don’t we do it more often?
That is another question for another time.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Volunteers still need to work on ground game as Georgia State looms

Beating N.C. State isn't enough.
Now that the euphoria of Friday's win against North Carolina State has faded a little, we can take a more objective look at Tennessee's offense heading into the Georgia State game. This game comes at a good time. Georgia State (0-1) is a relatively new, struggling program, and Tennessee needs a little less emotional game after the contest versus the Wolfpack.  The Panthers dropped their opener 33-6 to South Carolina State.

The Volunteers piled up a ton of big plays in their win, but the running game continues to worry me. It was a disaster last year, and the 191 yards piled up against N.C. State would indicate progress.  While I hope that is so, we have to remember that 109 yards came on two plays.  Rajon Neal gained only 53 yards on 22 carries, which is less than three yards per carry.  While it probably is not fair to take those two big plays out, I would like to see more consistency.  According to reports, Neal is expected to share more carries with Marlin Lane and Devrin Young this week.
With Tennessee's weapons at wide receiver, it is pretty obvious the Vols are a pass first offense, but we have to run the ball.  Despite the changes in the game in recent years, the Southeastern Conference remains a league where teams have to run the ball for success.  It does not matter if teams pass 60 percent of the time.  At some point this year, we are going to have to convert a crucial first down late in the fourth quarter.
The Georgia State game should be a good time to pound the rock.  We should be able to win this game easily, but do not get too upset if the coaches tone down the offensive fireworks to focus on a more meat and potatoes rushing effort.
It may dull the fun a little, but it should pay off in the long run.  After all, who do we really want to beat?  Georgia State?  Or Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama?  The answer is obvious.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Mac Thomason (1971-2012)

Mac Thomason was an excellent writer and blogger, and I first became acquainted with his work a couple of years ago.  I love his site dedicated to the Atlanta Braves, but he wrote about more than that.  He died Saturday after a three-and-a-half year battle with testicular cancer. He was in his early 40s, and I think we would all agree that is much too young to die.  Rest in peace.

Click here to learn more:  http://www.bravesjournal.com/?p=8449

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Justice still preserved: John Lennon's killer denied parole again

Lennon sometime in the 1970s
Late last month, New York officials denied Mark David Chapman's seventh request for parole, and he will remain imprisoned for murdering musician and former Beatle John Lennon back in 1980.

He has been imprisoned since he pled guilty to the crime back then and was sentenced to a 20-years-to-life term.  Looking back through the haze of almost 32 years, it is amazing that his sentence was that light.
The circumstances in which he murdered Lennon were horrible. The musician was returning to his home after an evening in a recording studio. Chapman stepped out of the shadows and shot him four times in the back. Lennon received massive injuries and was pronounced dead soon after at a local hospital.
Murder is a cowardly act, but Chapman’s execution of Lennon was especially cowardly. What kind of a person lurks in the darkness and then shoots an unarmed man in the back? There has been much written about Chapman's mental state at the time, and maybe this helps explain his deeds.
Still, it is hard to imagine why a man who committed such a grisly crime would even have the option to apply for parole. I believe in rehabilitation, and I hope Chapman has experienced that in prison. Despite this, his crime was so heinous that he should spend the rest of his life in prison.
However, in a few years, I am sure we will hear another report about another parole hearing regarding Chapman. I suppose there is a chance he could get out someday, but given the nature of his crime and who he killed, I think those chances are slim.
Even after all these years, I would not rule out the possibility of another misguided person lurking in the shadows waiting to kill Chapman if he got out. Let us face it – we are a violent society, and people are becoming more and more uninhibited when it comes to administering what they feel is true justice. Vigilantism is not the way to go, especially in a case like this because Lennon advocated concepts of love and peace so much.
Based on what I have read, Lennon was a man of many faces. Though he advocated peace, he was deeply complicated, and even he admitted he had aspects of his personality that were not so pretty. Despite this, there can be no denying the impact he and The Beatles had on contemporary society.
I am sure some people could have quite a discussion regarding whether that impact was totally good, but the fact there was an impact is a matter of historical fact. A generation was changed primarily because of The Beatles. Not many other musicians can say that or many other people period for that matter.
Though December 8 will mark the thirty-second anniversary of Lennon's death, it is a memory that remains as vivid as yesterday. I am not old enough to remember The Beatles before they disbanded, but I was aware of the four members when I was growing up in the 1970s.
Like with so many other prominent people, I can remember where I was when Lennon died. I was 15 years old and laying in my bed watching Monday Night Football.  The New England Patriots were playing the Miami Dolphins. Commentator Howard Cosell announced Lennon’s death and I was aware enough of his importance that the game lost its significance to me.
Though Chapman's crime was horrible and is still remembered, Lennon is the one who will be remembered as we go through time. A hundred years from now, Lennon will still be played on the radio. As for Chapman, I do not think we will give him a second thought.