Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Ryan and Joel's Spring Break Road Trip: Day 3

Originally posted on Is It Sports? This is day 3 of Ryan's 7 day spring break road trip in 2005 with his friend Joel. Ryan got to visit a town that has the same name as his last name.

Day 3 Victoria, MN – Brookings, SD
The weirdest part about coming home is seeing how much everything has changed. I live in the outer suburbs, and the growth is explosive. At the rate it’s growing, I expect Victoria to have a half a million people by the end of the decade. In any event, the growth calls for appropriate facilities, and my small little Catholic Church that I’ve gone to for as long as I can remember was next in line for an upgrade. Needless to say, when I went to mass, I half expected to see Bob Vila give the sermon.

While I was at mass, Joel, the heathen, slept in. My dad cooked us a scrambled egg dish that looks like cat vomit but tastes as good as it looks bad. That’s an interesting element in my family. My dad is an excellent chef, as is my mother. I famously screwed up macaroni and cheese on one occasion and to this day refuse to cook anything that doesn’t involve a microwave.

I mention my mother. As it turned out, she, who had been in Venezuela as recently as a week and a half ago, was on a vacation with several of my dad’s sisters and sisters in law in central Minnesota. She was at a resort near Brainerd, Minnesota, and using her powers of maternally inflicted guilt, coaxed me into heading up there to meet her. Our plan had always been to go to Fargo, but this little detour would take us well away from the interstate. Using my powers of persuasion, I encouraged Mom to buy both of us lunch, since she was forcing us to take back roads through rural Minnesota.

In the end, we met in a town called Baxter at a restaurant with improbably good looking waitresses and TVs showing a spring training game between the Twins and someone else, maybe the Blue Jays. The nice thing about my parents is that they don’t go out of their way to embarrass me, and actually, sometimes my mom fixes whatever ridiculous outfit my dad is wearing to minimize his looking like a buffoon. In truth, my parents have given me no reason to be as cynical as I am. That being said, Mom decided to forgo weeping openly when I left, much to the benefit of all involved.

And there it was. Joel and I were on a two lane highway, our speeds being regulated more by the whims of aging farmers in aging Ford F150s than by the speed limit. After about forty miles, still in our effort to navigate through rural Minnesota, we encountered Henning, a town of about 700. It’s not really an impressive town, just sitting there in west central Minnesota. The freaky part, of course, was that the towns name was my last name. I felt like Donald Trump driving through town. My name was on everything.

We finally pulled back onto I-94 and stopped in at North Dakota St. in Fargo, where, literally, all we did is used the restroom at the Taco Bell. We veered southward and drove to South Dakota. Imagine an entire interstate highway where you don’t see another car sometimes for twenty minutes. North Dakota is as sparsely populated as they tell you. We made it to Brookings, stopping only at the north-south continental divide. Thank me, I just condensed about 4 hours of driving into a sentence.

I really can’t come up with too much interesting about the rest of the night. We eventually learned the tournament field, which we had been dying to find out all evening, and the shower head in the room was about 8 feet off the ground. All in all, not a particularly dynamic evening. I’ll fill you in on day 4 in the near future. - Ryan

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Saturday, March 26, 2005

Ryan and Joel's Spring Break Road Trip: Day 2

Originally posted on Is It Sports? This is day 2 of Ryan and his friend Joel's spring break road trip. A review of a Steve Zahn movie is just what every sports blog needs.

Day 2 Victoria, MN – Victoria, MN

All right, so I didn’t get this post up as quick as I wanted. Don’t blame Steve, blame college basketball. Now that my brackets are shot, I think I can focus a little more time filling you in on this road trip. I know you’re dying to hear what went down on day number two on our misadventures across middle America.

The thing is though, we really didn’t do anything. We went to the Mall of America in the afternoon, after getting a solid night’s sleep (which was totally needed after the disaster that was Friday). Joel was impressed by the Mall and the Cities, both by how large and by how clean they were. I guess it was like finding out that Andre the Giant really is 7 feet tall, and he showered.

Of course, we went on a Saturday, so the Mall that was half the size of Delaware was twice as populated. Additionally, since it was only a few days until St. Patrick’s day, there were, I kid you not, groups of kids dancing Irish Jigs in the Mall’s “Rotunda”, so as we meandered through the Mall we were serenaded with folk music and tap shoes that were very noticeably out of rhythm.

My argument that the Mall really does make a good tourist venue was given a boost. The greatest highlight was the “As Seen on TV” store that had a poster up for Girls Gone Wild. Tell me where to find that at Six Flags.

But after the Mall, we were in that awkward, what do we do next? phase. Well, clearly, this was the time to break out the “road trip” movie. There was no clearer choice than Joy Ride. As a service to you, I’m going to give you an exclusive, Is It Sports? review of this 2001 classic.

Lewis (Paul Walker) finished up his school year at Cal-Berkeley, and his quasi-girlfriend Venna (seriously, that’s her name) (LeeLee Sobieski (seriously, that’s her name)) who attends the University of Colorado wants him to come pick her up. So Lew does the obvious thing and buys a freaking car. On the way to pick up the beautiful Venna, Our buddy Lew gets a message that his older brother Fuller (Steve Zahn) got arrested in Salt Lake City. Lew goes to pick his brother up, and the road trip is on.

At a pit stop, Fuller installs a CB radio on Lew’s new car. With it, they decide to entice a lonely trucker by the name of Rusty Nail to meet with “Candy Cane” a fictional girl voiced, unconvincingly, by Lew. Rusty Nail goes to this hotel, finds there isn’t an attractive young lady but a disgruntled businessman. So what happens? Rusty rips off his jaw, of course. Then he sets his sights on Lewis and Fuller. For the rest of the movie, Rusty pursues the brothers, and eventually Venna as well.

There is a reason Paul Walker was chosen to star in the Fast and the Furious. There are a very select few actors who can make Vin Diesel look like a Shakesperean leading man, and Mr. Walker is one of them. He didn’t try to hide the fact that he was the oldest college student ever, or show any fatigue after driving across the expansive and entirely dull state of Nevada. I’m concerned for his future career, given that his leading roles always seem to involve him driving a car for most of it.

Steve Zahn, on the other hand, has a personality. This translated well to the movie, and if it wasn’t for him, there would be no plot advancement, no humor, no movie. The only problem with him, though, is that Steve Zahn has never ever been a leading man. In that, he should never be given the task of carrying a movie like this, especially when he has to carry the 200 lbs of dead weight in Paul Walker.

LeeLee Sobieski. She always seems to have that pretentious New York actress tone to her voice. It’s like she feels that it is her role to bring the proper thespian attitude to all movies, even ones as trite as this one. That being said, it seems like someone said “being in your underwear and having perpetually erect nipples is vastly important to this role” and she bought it. I want to see the episode of “Inside the Actor’s Studio” where she defends not wearing a padded bra for an entire movie shoot. I honestly think that it’s just a matter of time before she does full frontal nudity. As for her acting, she acted like every stupid girl I’ve ever had a crush on. So I guess she may be a good actress, if not a particularly good judge of movies

Rusty Nail is a great villain in every sense of the word. He has a fabulously cheesy name. You never actually see him. His truck is black. He’s obviously smarter than the “good guys”. He was clearly wronged and is looking to punish those who wronged him.

For most of the movie, ol’ Rusty is messing with the boys, but then the “horny trucker” side of him takes over and he kidnaps Venna’s roommate, makes the boys go to a diner naked and wraps Venna in shrink wrap. He’s creative, violent, and has a nose for suspense, exactly what you want out a movie villain. By far, the best part in the movie, and you never really get a look at him.

Well see here’s the thing. Rusty Nail, as I had mentioned, has been following the brothers and Venna across God’s Country, but then when they get to Nebraska, he up and decides to finally try to kill all three of them. He’s clearly not that far ahead of the brothers, but still, he has time to set up a veritable Rube Goldberg machine in order to do all three of them in. Truckers, especially psychotic truckers, don’t tend to have this type of forethought. Without spoiling it for anyone, the movie had an inadequate ending that inexplicably left the option open for a sequel. You might get Paul Walker in on that, but good luck on getting any other member of the Screen Actors Guild involved.

First and foremost, this movie was fraught with great takeaway lines. It was chock full with inane trucker banter that Joel and I used throughout the trip, as well as the typical brother to brother bickering that I live with, only scripted and one sided.

As a road trip movie, it was invaluable for several reasons. A) We were two guys in a car for a week. We needed to see some LeeLee. B) It taught us not to piss off truckers. C) We kept looking for “Kojaks with a Kodak”. I would recommend everyone see it, especially if you are going on a road trip anytime soon.

I’ll be back with Day 3 sometime soon. - Ryan

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Friday, March 25, 2005

Ryan and Joel's Spring Break Road Trip: Day 1

Originally Posted on Is It Sports? This was the first of 7 posts on Ryan and his friend Joel's Spring Break 2005 road trip across the Great Plains. I went to Panama City with some of my friends from school instead, and we had an interesting trip too. My friend Yami lost his glasses somewhere in Northern Alabama when they blew off his face when he stuck his out of my friends truck while trying (and failing) to throw a muffin into an open sunroof on our car. He then lost his backup contacts while trying to put them on in a windy Dairy Queen parking lot in Montgomery, Alabama. If a Japanese guy yelling and dropping F-bombs in a dairy queen parking lot in the deep south doesn't say Spring Break, I don't know what does.

Clearly, Steve and I have had way too much to do to update the site for a while. It was an ugly blend of exams and spring break that led to an even uglier two week span of no updates to the site. Here’s my promise to you. I’m going to crank out update after update for at least three days, so if you don’t see anything up here for a while, um, blame Steve. I don’t know if I have or haven’t mentioned this, but all I do here is write. I don’t know the first thing about the internet. Well anyways, I haven’t talked to Steve-o for a while, but I’m sure he’s got something up his sleeve too.

As for me, I had this crazy idea. My Spring Break road trip was probably one of the weirdest things I’ve ever partaken in. Over the course of the next however long I feel like it, I’m going to share a leg of our journey through middle America. I would talk more about the tournament, but anyone who cares enough about it has been watching. (UNC over Oklahoma State, by the way). In addition, on one of the slower days, I might slip in our second mail bag, because we actually got mail this month! Without further ado, here is the first leg of the trip.

Day 1 Lafayette, IN – Victoria, MN
The goal of our trip, which I went on with my buddy Joel, from the outset, was to see as many states as possible, and see my family for a couple of days. Therefore, the first day was a trip back home for me, and Joel’s first trip to the Twin Cities. For those of you who haven’t made the trip, that’s nine hours in my two door Honda Accord through central Wisconsin. Obviously, music was in order, which brought about an important issue. Joel and myself share different opinions regarding rap and hip hop in general. I like it, he doesn’t. So we decided that we would blend each of our playlists and have my MP3 player play them randomly. Low and behold, I went to pick up Joel, and we heard nothing but rap all the way to the Illinois border.

Just for S and G’s we went a different route than I’m used to, and took US highway 52 through Kankakee. I’d heard jokes about what a dump the town was but I had no idea. For those of you who don’t know, Kankakee has been voted the least liveable city in America. Worse than Jersey City! Not a nice town. As if on theatrical cue, when we arrived in “Skank”-akee, it started snowing and Bill Withers started singing “Ain’t No Sunshine”. It was like I had Quentin Tarantino in my trunk cuing the soundtrack. Needless to say, we exceeded the speed limit when getting the hell out of there. (As a fellow Illinoisan, I know a little more info about Kankakee. After it was voted as the worst city in America, David Letterman bought them a gazebo with a giant chain lock and urged their mayor over and over again on the phone to get an arena football team. Their high school was in my conference, and they called themselves the Kays. If you look at, I guess they were either fans of the alphabet or King Arthur's helpers. - Steve)

When we were sure that we could get out of the car without smelling Kankakee, we pulled off the highway in Mendota, Illinois for McDonalds. Joel and I were enjoying our meal, acknowledging that we were shaving a good week off our lives when the older lady whom we had assumed to be dead or particularly enthralled in her romance novel took a shine to Joel. Apparently, she worked at our current diner of choice and was opinionated about her coworkers and felt the need to share those beliefs with her new friend. She reminded me of the stray dog that you didn’t kick, but didn’t really want around either. She kinda smelled like that dog too.

Again, knowing it was time to get out of there and keep going, we hopped in the Honda and headed to Wisconsin. Just north of Madison, we encountered something we scientists call “snizzle”. Don’t worry, Snoop Dogg is OK. See, drizzle is like light rain and snow is lightly falling frozen water. So what happens when drizzle freezes around snow? Snizzle! Or snow grains if you want to be truly scientific. Whatever. (On a somewhat related tangent imagine a short Indian fellow saying drizzle drop. Hilarious. But I digress). This snizzle north of Madison was the heaviest snizzle I’ve ever seen. Inevitably, this slowed traffic entirely too much, and by the time night fell, turned I-94 into one of the lamest bobsled courses I have ever seen. The best part was, there were tractor trailers slipping through western Wisconsin!

So we finally made it to Minneapolis and St. Paul (“they’re actually like, two built up cities!” as Joel said) and eventually back to my house. We touched base with my family and hustled off to Mystic Lake Casino. This day was bound to have good luck at some point right? Joel is a fan of the slots, I prefer the tables so I made my way to a 5 dollar blackjack table and sunk in 20 dollars. Second hand I hit a blackjack. In retrospect, I should have quit then. I was looking for Joel again five minutes later.

The final tally on the day, -20 dollars at the casino, 1 colorful character, 1 reminder of why its great to live nowhere near Kankakee, and edition of the Ice Capades, I-94 Mac Truck edition. Be back later with day two. - Ryan

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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Holy Rollers Gather Moss

Originally posted on the old Is It Sports? site. Ryan was still a die-hard Vikings fan back when Moss was traded, so I'm putting his text in Purple. My text will be in black. Moss came to the Raiders with a bad attitude, so Ryan's points were pretty much right.

Ryan: i have something great to write about
Steve: that's fine
Steve: what's that?
Ryan: Moss got traded!
Steve: haha oh yeah
Steve: how could I forget
Ryan we could have a point-counter point article Ryan: point - this is awesome for the vikings Ryan: counter point - this sucks for the raiders
Steve: yeah actually we could
Steve: my dad is actually really excited about the trade
Ryan: .... why?
Steve: because he's extremely talented
Ryan : granted, but in the much stronger AFC one talented wide receiver isnt going to push them over the top Ryan: if you get a good receiver, you need him to be a role player, and not the focus Ryan: Moss was his best when we had Cris Carter on the other side catching passes
Steve: this is kind of a weak draft this year, so Moss is probably better than anyone they can draft
Steve: the Raiders just re-signed Porter to do that
Steve: who's pretty underrated
Ryan: Porter is no Carter
Steve: well obviously not, but if you leave him open he'll still kill you
Ryan: you can say that about any nfl wide receiver Ryan: even darrell jackson
Steve: its not like he's complimented by a 43 year old Jerry Rice
Ryan: So are the Raiders content to have Collins-Moss be their only threat every game? Ryan: well, Collins-Porter also Ryan: I honestly dont know who their running back is

I don’t know what it is with this off season. First A. J. Pierzynski goes to the White Sox, and now Randy Moss goes to the Raiders. The trend here is that the cancers from my teams are going to teams that Steve has a vested interest in. Both times I talked to Steve though, he hasn’t seemed phased by this. The teams he cheers for are so fraught with headache inducers that another one isn’t going to matter.

But the thing about it is, A.J. won’t shift the balance of the whole team. All he will do is make life unpleasant for the Joe Borchards and athletic trainers of the world. Randy Moss will shift the balance of the whole team. They will focus their entire offense to revolve around Number 84. Granted, his ego is probably big enough to have a pretty substantial gravity field, but if you are going to be dogging it half the time, don’t pretend like you are God’s gift to football.

The funny thing is, he’s already started to help the Vikings. Let me explain. The other morning on SportsCenter, there was a phone interview with his agent, curiously named Dante. He, in Randy Moss’ (henceforth known as Hasbro, given how much he looks like one of those Trolls ®), behalf, lambasted Pro Bowl quarterback Daunte Culpepper for, among other things, fumbling incessantly, throwing interceptions incessantly and spelling his name with a U.

As I was listening to this diatribe, a little light went on deep in my soul. It was like running into an old friend, one you used to love talking to but parted ways, usually because of mitigating circumstances and not because of a falling out. I remembered how to be critical of Daunte Culpepper.

See, the thing is, Moss’ agent was right. Culpepper just doesn’t have his head screwed on straight. The thing that wasn’t mentioned was that this is all Hasbro’s fault. If you’ve ever looked at Daunte on the sideline, really looked at him, you would notice an empty look in his
eye. Back at Central Florida, he was a dynamic leader, propelling a subpar team to heights they would never have dreamed of. Then he got drafted and played back-up for a few games, behind Jeff George and Randall Cunningham no less. In addition, he was always overshadowed by the cocksure wide receiver who always seemed vaguely condescending towards the younger Culpepper.

Most young hotheads need to be knocked down a peg when they reach the league, but Culpepper was not one of them. He already knew how to overcome adversity and carry a team on his shoulders. Now he was being placed in a lower stature than two other quarterbacks and a wide receiver. I can name a lot more great teams led by a quarterback than by a speedy, formerly coke driven wide receiver. This was the worst possible environment for him to start his career.

The problem, then, for the past half decade was that Hasbro was the undeserving leader of the team. The team went as he went, which was despicable, for many of the reasons you may have read about in a previous article. The leader is supposed to call out his teammates and push them harder to do better. Instead, what Hasbro did, was berate Culpepper for not getting him the ball.

That empty look I mentioned earlier, was the same empty look a lion has after he is taken out of the wild.

This season, I expect the intensity he had coming out of college to return. I expect him to respond to Hasbro’s agent, not by rectifying the mistakes he has made in the past, or dramatically improving his personal faults, but by leading this team to wins, perhaps more than they should be capable of. The lion is back in his jungle. - Ryan

Let me just note that what Ryan wrote above was back on March 3, when this whole Randy Moss trade was fresh news. At the heart of all of this, I'm still a Mechanical Engineer and my Senior Design class and exams have been taking away from my "webmaster" duties as of late....

Well I have no idea what is going to come of this trade for both teams. So I'm going to do a point-counterpoint sort of thing with myself from the Raiders point of view here. I do need to clarify something first. Picking up the most talented player at his position to come around in a long time is never a bad thing for any team. Sure he might carry some baggage, but if he's on the field doing what he does best he will win you games, and isn't that the point of sports? Last time I checked the team that had the fewest arrests, fines, suspensions, and edited quotes on ESPN didn't receive the Lombardi trophy at the end of the season. So here is the good, bad, and ugly in Oakland for this trade.

The Good
Before I bother typing anything, I want you to read this great article by Skip Bayless on the other day. He pretty much summed up almost all the good things I wanted to say about this trade when I first thought of making a post on it. First of all, what do the Raiders have to lose? They just came off 4-12 and 5-11 seasons after taking their veteran loaded squad to Super Bowl XXXVII. This year's draft isn't extremely deep, so trading the 7th pick and a linebacker for a superstar receiver isn't a bad idea. If the Raiders still want a high first round pick for some reason, they have the franchised Charles Woodson to trade, possibly to Dallas for the 11th pick overall. Norv Turner had a season to learn his players, and now will be able to fit his personnel into his air-it-out game plan that Al Davis loves so much behind the cannon armed Kerry Collins. The Moss-Porter speed and athleticism combo fits the Turner system well, while the Rice-Brown slower, route running tandem fit the Gruden/Callahan west coast offense well. And as Ryan said above, yes, the entire offense will revolve around Moss, and that's the point of the trade. Who did it revolve around last year?

any guesses?

still waiting......

Yep. no one. And they won 5 games.

As far as personality goes, Al Davis has always lived by the "Just Win, Baby" philosophy - who cares what you do off the field, just make sure you show up for the game and win - and its earned him 5 trips to the Super Bowl and 3 rings. Moss fits this perfectly and he could flourish with Northern California's more laid back approach to his lifestyle and how the insane Raider fans will embrace him for his rebel actions as one of their own, just like the Raider legends of the past. For decades Raiders fans have adored the wild personalities of the team and the controversial plays they've caused (like the Holy Roller against the Chargers in 1978, hence the title of this post) and Moss could write another chapter in their history.

The Bad
The Raiders have a lot of problems on defense. They were ranked 30th in the league last year and Warren Sapp and Ted Washington aren't getting any younger. They do have some young talent though like Phillip Buchanon and Stuart Schweigert that could step up and have huge years. I think they just need to jell as a unit, and hopefully this new offense can take some pressure off them. Another problem they have is at running back. Last season Amos Zereoue was the leading rusher with a measly 425 yards. They signed Lamont Jordan from the Jets for this season, who's been buried behind Curtis Martin for the past few years, so he might not be bad but he's nothing to be worried about. Needless to say, that number 7 pick could have been used on Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, Antrell Rolle, or Erasmus James. One other problem I see is that old Raiders thug style from the 60's, 70's and early 80's may not really work in today's world. It seems like teams today get paid too much and are too pampered to have the same blue-collar attitude that those Super Bowl winning teams of the 70's and 80's had. Back in those days, those guys got paid just enough to make a living and if the winning stopped and they got cut, they couldn't just retire and live lavishly like players today. Assembling a team of bad asses has led to a lot of problems for the Raiders since 1983, and it took the more mature 2002 team led by Gannon, Rice, Brown, and Garner to bring them another conference championship, before ultimately being derailed by an all night Tijuana bender by Barrett Robbins the night before the game (and Callahan not changing any plays of course).

The Ugly
Randy Moss never suits up for the Raiders. Instead of showing up for mini-camp he goes on a Grand Theft Auto style rampage across Oakland and takes out 437 pedestrians and 58 police officers with an assortment of shotguns, explosives, and shoulder fired missiles before being finally taken out by Arnold Schwarzenegger himself, who makes a witty quote after killing him in some exotic fashion. Meanwhile back in Minnesota, Vikings rookie superstar Braylon Edwards breaks every single season receiving record, wins rookie of the year, and carries the Moss-less Vikings to 6 consecutive Super Bowl titles.

So what do I think is going to happen? The Good is optimistic but could very well happen in the topsy-turvy NFL, the Bad is probably a little more realistic, but they will at least have Moss and Porter in place at wideout while they build the D and rushing game over the next few years (and hopefully draft a QB), and I wouldn't completely rule out the Ugly part, minus the Vikings actually winning a championship. 28 years ago the Raiders picked up their first Super Bowl win by thrashing the Vikings in Super Bowl XI, so now we'll see if the Raiders are finally thanking them with this trade or if the Vikings will continue to be the gift that keeps on giving (just ask any Cowboys fan). - Steve

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