Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Oscars 2021

It has been several weeks since the nominations for this year's Academy Awards were announced, and it is only now that I am getting around to writing some thoughts and comments on them.  Usually, I am all over that within 24 hours, but this year, well, call it a result of a weird year that changed everything  about how we consume movies.  What movies are eligible for 2020 Oscars?  Were they ever shown in a theater, and if so, who went to see them?  We all watched movies differently this year, mostly through streaming services like Prime or Netflix, so who knew it they were actually a "movie" as defined by the Motion Picture Academy?

Regardless, movies, actors, writers, directors, and others have been nominated, and I ended up seeing a surprising number of the nominees.  So for what it is worth, here are my thoughts.  

Let's start with the Best Picture.  Eight movies have been nominated.  I have NOT seem three of them - The Father, Minari, and the Sound of Metal.  I have heard nothing  but good things about the Sound of Metal, so I am hoping to watch that before the Oscar ceremony on April 25.  I doubt that I will see the other two.  That leaves the five that I have seen:

Judas and the Black Messiah 
Promising Young Woman
Trial of the Chicago 7

(My original write-ups on these various movies are linked in the body of this post.)

I really enjoyed Judas and The Black Messiah, Promising Young Woman, and Trial of The Chicago 7.  In fact, I  rated Trial of the Chicago 7 my favorite movie that I actually saw in calendar year 2020.   Mank was an interesting period piece with a great performance by Gary Oldman, but I was frankly surprised to see it garner the acclaim that it has.  Of course, it is a story that Hollywood is telling about itself, so maybe that explains it.  Nomadland was a piece of filmmaking art, to be sure, and another slam bang performance from Frances McDormand, but as entertainment? Not to my taste.  It is the favorite among critics and will probably win the big prize come Oscar Night.

Interestingly enough, Trial of the Chicago 7 won the Best Ensemble SAG Award, and that is often a harbinger for the Oscars, and if it wins I will have no problem with that.  Not will I have problem with Judas and The Black Messiah winning, as that was one terrifically told movie.  The movie that has stayed with me the most since I saw it, however, is Promising Young Woman.  That is the one movie of all of these that I can see myself watching again and again and again as the years go on.

A word about a movie that didn't get nominated.  Until Promising Young Woman came along, my favorite movie that I have seen in calendar year 2021 had been Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods, and the only sniff that that one received from the Academy was for Best Original Score.  I mean, C'MON MAN!!  If Spike Lee isn't still PO'd at the Academy, he should be.  As a side comment, I hope it does win this one, if only for including the terrific a cappella version of Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On" on the soundtrack.

As for the other categories (and I will only make comments on the films that I have actually seen)....

Chadwick Boseman has collected both a posthumous Golden Globe and SAG Award for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, and I suspect that that will also happen at the Oscars. He was terrific in that movie (as he was in Da 5 Bloods), and him receiving this award will be another poignant reminder of what was lost with his way-too-soon death.  The only other nominee that I saw was Oldman in Mank, and he was very good in that one, too.

I've seen three of the Supporting Actor nominees: Leslie Odom Jr (One Night in Miami) and Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield, both for Judas and The Black Messiah.  Kaluuya has won this award both at the Globes and SAG, but my questions are: Why in a Supporting Role? And why are both he and Stanfield cast as Supporting Actors in the same movie? Both had equally prominent parts in the same film.  I don't get it.

I've seen three of the Lead Actress nominees.  Frances McDormand was great in Nomadland.  She's always  great.  Viola Davis was great in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.  She's always great.  To me, though, Carey Mulligan blew them both away in Promising Young Woman.  Some buzz that I have heard on various movie podcasts is that they expect Mulligan to win, and I hope she does.  They don't expect that the Academy will bestow a third Oscar on McDormand this time, which makes this Mulligan's year.  The wild card, though, was Davis' win in this category for the SAG Award.  This will be an interesting one to watch.

The only Supporting Actress nominee that I've seen has been Amanda Seyfried from Mank, so I'm not sure how qualified I am to make any comments on this one, but here is an interesting theory I heard kicked around in podcast-land.  Will the Academy give Glenn Close, a six time nominee-but-never-a-winner a "lifetime achievement" make-up Oscar for her role in Hillbilly Elegy, a movie that was for the most part, completely panned by critics. That would be a shame and almost an insult to Ms. Close should it happen.

The other categories that interest me are Director, Adapted, and Original Screenplay Awards.  I strongly suspect that Chloe Zhao will be the Best Director for Nomadland, and as I said, as a piece of filmmaking art, it would be deserving.  

In the Adapted Screenplay category, the only movie I've seen besides Nomadland is One Night In Miami, which was another really good movie, and I'd be happy if it won.

In the Original Screenplay category, I have seen Judas and The Black Messiah, Promising Young Woman, and The Trial of The Chicago 7.   Many are conceding this one to Aaron Sorkin for Chicago 7, and it would not be undeserving, but he has won Oscars before so I am hoping that the Oscar this year goes to Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman.  Ms Fennell is also a nominee for Best Director. She won't win both, and this would be a way to reward her for her work on the terrific movie that she made.

So we will finally find out in eleven days, April 25, who this year's Oscar winners are.  That is way, way too long after the close fo the year to be awarding these things.  Let us hope for a return to a February Oscar ceremony come 2022.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Book Review: "Our Team" by Luke Epplin

This recently published book tells the story of the 1948 World Series Champion Cleveland Indians, and it tells it through the prism of four men instrumental in that owner and baseball maverick Bill Veeck, pitcher and Cleveland idol Bob Feller, outfielder Larry Doby, and legendary pitcher Satchel Paige.  Not coincidentally, all four of these men are members of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Signed by owner Bill Veeck midway through the 1947 season, Doby became the first Black player in the American League, three months after Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color line for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  While Robinson's story is well known, and deservedly so, Doby's story as a trailblazer is lesser known, but it is every bit as harrowing and heroic as was Robinson's.   This book is well worth reading only to learn of the trials and travails that faced Larry Doby.

When I was given this book as an Easter gift (Thanks, George!) I was really interested to see how the book would portray Feller.  If you are steeped in baseball history, you probably know his story.  Coming straight out of the corn fields of a farm in Van Meter, Iowa, Feller debuted with the Indians in 1936 at the age of 17 with a fast ball the likes of which no one had ever seen.  By the age of 22, Feller had notched three 20+ win seasons in six years.  Then World War II came along, Feller enlisted in the Navy, served with distinction in combat in the Pacific Theater, and lost three prime years in his career.  He retired from baseball in 1956 with 266 wins, and the question of "How many wins would ol' Rapid Robert have piled up if he hadn't lost three prime years of his career to military service?" became a major part of the Feller Narrative.  It could also be noted that no one brought up that question over the years more than Feller himself, but I digress.

Life circumstances found me living in Cleveland for four years during the mid-1970's, and if you followed baseball, you sure heard a lot from and about Bob Feller.  He was revered in Cleveland, and deservedly so, much like Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski are in Pittsburgh.  However, every story I would read about Feller during those years, every interview I would hear him give, he came across as an extremely bitter guy.  "These guys today make too damn much money"...."Marvin Miller has ruined the game of baseball"...."If it wasn't for the War, I'd have won more games than Warren Spahn."  This was the gospel according to Bob Feller.  And if you dug down deeper, you would learn that Feller's attitude towards and acceptance of Black ballplayers as the game was being integrated was far from enlightened.

So would we get the standard hagiography from author Epplin about Feller in this one?  Simple answer: Nope.  The book gives a pretty unvarnished look at Feller.

As the War drew to a close, Feller asked for and received an early discharge from the Navy so he could come back to the Indians and begin getting back some of the money that he had lost.  He pitched in nine games and went 5-3 in 1945, and then embarked on a barnstorming tour across America with all-star teams, white major league players playing teams of all-stars from the Negro Leagues, whose main drawing card was Satchel Paige.  Much of the 1946 season, when he went 26-15, was spent planning his most elaborate barnstorming tour ever.  His Feller All-Stars visited more cities, traveled by airplanes (unheard of prior to that) and made more money that any other barnstorming tour.   Feller was reported to have earned over $80,000 from the tour alone that year, more money than any other player in the majors.  So it seems that Feller, who came to decry the large salaries reaped by players in the free agency era of the game, was actually way ahead of the game when it came to realizing how to squeeze the most bucks out of the marketplace.  That doesn't make him a sinner, but it does make him a bit of a hypocrite. 

The Negro Leaguers on the tour received a smaller share of the proceeds than their white counterparts, not surprisingly, but most of the Black players didn't hold it against Feller, since they were making more money than they ever had as a result of these tours.  Some players, though, did feel that the books were being cooked against them.  Paige himself brought a lawsuit against Feller to reclaim funds he felt that he was owed.  The suit was settled out of court, and it must have been interesting when Paige joined the Indians in 1948 and became Feller's teammate.

A story was also told about how Feller brought a souvenir back with him from the war: a high-powered military telescope that the Indians used to steal signs while stationed in the Municipal Stadium scoreboard.  Feller never denied doing it, and in fact, bragged about it, and felt that it was perfectly okay to do so. No word as to whether the Indians banged on garage cans to relay the signals to their batters.

The 1948 pennant race became a bittersweet year for Feller.  At the age of 29, and despite a 19-15 season, Feller had "lost it" a bit, and was no longer the dominating pitcher he once was.  He lost a game on the last weekend of the season that would have clinched the pennant of the Indians, lost the opening game of the World Series, despite pitching brilliantly, and with a chance to close out the Series in Game Five, he got rocked by the Braves and knocked out of the game in the seventh inning.  Cleveland won the Series the next day in Game Six, and in the locker room afterwards, Feller was subdued and withdrawn, more disappointed in his own shortcomings in the Series than he was happy for the team's Championship.  So much for being a good teammate.

In focusing on Feller in this essay, I am leaving out the narratives in the book about Veeck, Paige, and especially Doby.  The backgrounds and the stories told of each of these men and their contributions to the '48 Indians are equally as compelling as the Feller tales, if not more so, in this book, and they make for great reading.

"Our Team" gets Three Stars from The Grandstander.

Friday, April 9, 2021

To Absent Friends - Prince Philip

Today we bid farewell to a man who has been on the World's stage for, literally, my entire life: HRH Prince Philip, the Queen's Consort.  ("Consort: a wife, husband, or companion, in particular the spouse of a reigning monarch."  - Oxford Languages.  I looked it up.)

It is not for me, an American who considers the British Monarchy a living, breathing anachronism, to comment on the life of the Prince.  I highly recommend the obituary for the Prince that appears online today in the Washington Post.  It's great reading, and you can read it HERE.  It portrays the Prince pretty much as we here in the Colonies have come to see him portrayed in "The Crown": a real man's man who oft-times comes across as a foot-in-his-mouth twit.

As you read his obit, you will also come to see that he was someone who gave up the life that he really wanted, that of a career man in the Royal Navy, to become a man, a consort, who was destined to live in the shadow of his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, and in service to the Empire.  Their marriage was certainly different than the marriages  of ordinary folk like you and me, but I can only hope that they found a lifetime of happiness together.

RIP Prince Philip.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Pirates 2021, and The "Timberwolves Experiment" Begets "The Pirates Project"

If you are a regular reader of The Grandstander, you know that I usually write this post before Opening Day, but the timing just didn't work out, so here I am, a day late.

So I watched the Pirates 5-3 win over the Cubs yesterday and enjoyed it immensely.  The highlight, of course, was what you see in the picture atop this post: Ke'Bryan Hayes' first inning two run home run that gave the Bucs a lead that they never relinquished, thanks in large part to lousy pitching from the Cubs (11 walks) and stellar relief pitching from the Pirates (6 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 9 K).  We will gloss over the fact that the game took an interminable amount of time to play, that the Pirates could manage only 5 runs when given 11 free passes, and that the Ghost of Starling Marte will apparently still haunt Pirates baserunners, and just revel in the victory.

But have no illusions about this team.  They are going to be bad, and they will struggle to avoid losing 100 games, but that is not necessarily a bad thing, as Ben Cherrington (GMBC) is doing the right thing.  Unloading marketable players for prospects to rebuild the farm system and develop a team that will come 2023 or 2024 bear fruit and contend for championships. with current players like Hayes, Mitch Keller, Kevin Newman, and Brian Reynolds being the centerpieces.  That's what the Astros and Nationals did; that's what the Brewers, Blue Jays, and Padres are now doing.  It's the way to go.

Intellectually, I get it, but the cynicism that the Nutting Administration has built up inside of me wonders what will happen when the time comes to, as they say, Go For It.  Will the team pay the piper with the current core of four above (assuming all goes right in there development), and pay to bring in missing pieces?  Because we have heard this all before, and we were told that players like Josh Bell and Jameson Taillon and Austin Meadows would one day be the centerpieces of contending championship-caliber teams, which they may very well be with the Nats, Yankees, and Rays.

In the meantime, try not to think of the season long slog that this Pirates team will experience, but enjoy each individual game that you watch or attend.  If you just happen to catch a game that the Pirates win with Mitch Keller pitching a two hit shutout, or Brian Reynolds going 3-for-four with a home run and four RBI, consider it as you would a record album:  It might be lousy, but it has one or two terrific tracks on it.


"The Pirates Project"

What, you may ask, is The Pirates Project?  It will be a season long wagering experiment, and idea that began when my pal Dan asked over the winter, "If you bet against the Pirates, who are going to lose way, way more games than they will win in 2021, will you end up making money?"  I tested out this theory by taking the worst team in the NBA, the Minnesota Timberwolves, and made small bets against them every game over a long period of time, and wrote about it back in February.

The Timberwolves Experiment ended after thirty games on March 31.  Over that thirty game period, the T'Wolves were bad.  Through twenty games, they were 4-16, and I was making a profit equal to 11.6% of my total wagers.  However, in games 21 through thirty, that team crossed me up by going 4-6, and reducing my ROI to a mere 2%.  

Still, this proved to me that with a bit of study and attention, and over a larger sample size, you can make some money by betting against a crummy team all of the time.  Hence....The Pirates Project.

The plan is to make a bet on the Money Line for whomever the Pirates are playing that day.  The amount bet will vary by the odds for any given game.  I categorize this as a hobby, not a plan to bet rich.  I doubt that any given bet that I make throughout the season will be higher than three dollars, and most of them will be closer to one buck a game.  I know that there might be stretches where the Pirates might go on a hot streak and win, say, nine of twelve games (even bad teams do that), and screw up the profit margin, but over the long haul, it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

One thing about this that makes me squeamish is that it puts me in a position of rooting against the Pirates, the team that I have loved for over sixty years of my life, but I don't think that that will happen.  I was cheering hard for them yesterday, and was excited for the win, even though it put me $1 in the red to start the season.  When I am watching them play, I'll never root for them to lose.

Will I be able to stay with this over the course of a 162 game season?  That's the big question.  Right now the plan is to get through the month of April.  Then the month of May, and so on.  I will be on vacation - public health protocols permitting - in North Carolina for a week at some point this summer, and I don't know if my Fan Duel account will work in that state, so I may miss ten or so games there, but I am hoping that I can stick with it for over a hundred games.  Until then, one month at a time, and of course, I shall keep all Loyal Readers updated on the progress of the Project.

Monday, March 29, 2021

To Absent Friends - Larry McMurtry

 Larry McMurtry
1934 - 2021

American novelist Larry McMurtry died last week at the age of 84.  I confess that I have only read two of McMurtry's novels, but they were among some of the best works of fiction that I had ever read.

One of them became a memorable motion picture, released in 1971...

And this one, a novel that can only be descried as "epic", won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1986.  It 1989, it was turned into one of the great television mini-series of all time and starred Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones....

His novels, per his obituary in the New York Times, "demythologized the American West with his unromantic depictions of life on the 19th century frontier and in contemporary small town Texas."  In addition to over thirty novels, he is credited with writing over thirty screenplays, and he won an Oscar for one of them, "Brokeback Mountain" in 2006.  His novel "Terms of Endearment" was adapted into a movie that won the Best Picture Academy Award in 1983.  His debut novel, "Horseman, Pass By", was made into the 1963 movie "Hud", starring Paul Newman and won three Oscars.

In addition to his Oscar and his Pulitzer, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 by President Obama.

He was also book collector and antiquarian bookseller of some note, amassing a collection of over 400,000 volumes.

Reading about him upon his death has inspired me to seek out and read many of his other works, which should be a good self-improvement project for the year 2021.

RIP Larry McMurtry.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

"Promising Young Woman"

The publicity for "Promising Young Woman" describes the movie a "woman's revenge thriller", and that is an accurate description.  It also could have borne a dedication to Brett Kavanaugh, as the actions of the protagonist, Cassie, wonderfully played by Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan, clearly are motivated by the long ago deeds of entitled young men that were described in such detail during the Justice's confirmation hearings.

When we first see Cassie, she is in a bar, dressed sexily, and drunk to the point of almost being passed out, while three young professionals stand at the bar, leer and make crude remarks about how she is "obviously just asking for it." One of the creeps offers to call her a cab or drive her home, ends up taking her to his apartment, and begins the process of attempting to have sex with her.  The operative word here is "attempting", because it turns out that Cassie isn't drunk, and she has her own reasons for allowing herself to be brought into this guy's apartment.

We soon learn that Cassie is a thirty year old woman who still lives at home with her parents, and that she was once a promising medical student until she inexplicably dropped out of med school, and is now holding down a dead end job in a "shitty coffee shop."  What is it with her and what is motivating her? 

This is a very taut thriller, and any mayhem or violence is implied or happens off camera.  It is pretty much the perfect example of how Alfred Hitchcock defined "suspense" (and I am paraphrasing here):  "Suspense" isn't watching a building blow up; "suspense" is watching a meeting take place around a conference table while knowing that a bomb has been planted in a briefcase under the conference table.  Will it blow up, and, if so, when?  Just watch the scene when Cassie meets with the Dean of the Medical School, played by Connie Britton, and you'll see what I mean.

Carey Mulligan has been nominated for Best Actress for her performance in this, and it is well deserved.  She really is amazing in this one, especially in the way she can change expressions by a simple shift of her eyes that can tell you that she is not a sloppy drunk but a calculating woman with something else entirely on her agenda.  It is hard to believe that this young woman Cassie is being played by the same actress who portrayed the middle aged war widow in "The Dig."  I guess this is what makes her such a terrific actress.

The movie was written and directed by Emerald Fennell, who also played Camilla Parker-Bowles in "The Crown."  She is only 35 years old, and she has been nominated for Oscars for this movie in both the screenwriting and directing categories.  "Promising Young Woman" also is an example of a point that I was trying to make when I wrote about the movie "Nomadland" last month.  What makes a great or even a good movie?  Is it sweeping and gorgeously shot scenes that are cinematic art, or is it a movie that just truly entertains you?  "Nomadland is a piece of  art, no doubt, but not a movie that will truly entertain you (my opinion, of course).  "Promising Young Woman" does both.  Great acting, great directing and production values, and a story that grabs you right from the beginning and never lets up, and THAT is entertainment.

This is one very suspenseful movie that leads to a dynamic conclusion, and I will give no spoilers, but I will give a hearty recommendation that you see it.  

Three and One-half Stars from The Grandstander.

Oh, and if you are wondering why The Grandstander has yet to weigh in on the Academy Awards nominations that were announced last week, it is because I was waiting to see this movie.  I have now seen five of the eight films nominated for Best Picture, so you can expect my thoughts and comments in the near days ahead.

The many faces of Cassie, 
as played by Carey Mulligan

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

I've Got A Basketball Jones

(Hip Early 1970's 
Cheech & Chong Reference)

For the past four days, I, like many American sports fans, spent most of my waking hours jonesing on the first and second rounds of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, aka, March Madness.  Maybe it was the fact that there was no tournament last year, or maybe it was the fact that this COVID-induced disjointed college hoops season caused me to not get fully engaged in the sport until now, but whatever the reason, man oh man, did I enjoy these last four days in front of the tube.

And, yes, I have random observations to make, and here they are, in no particular order of importance......

First round upsets in the tournament are always fun and exciting, but when the dust settles and the Sweet Sixteen is determined, it is usually the Blue Bloods of college basketball that remain standing.  Only Oral Roberts University can be considered a "cinderella" at this point.  Of the other fifteen schools, ten are from Power Five conferences, two are from the basketball rich Big East, and Gonzaga, Loyola, and Houston, while they are not P5 schools, they are all rich in hoops tradition.

Yes, Creighton is a member of the Big East.  Last time I looked, Nebraska was still west of the Mississippi River.


Maybe it's because I live in an eastern city, but I find that coverage of college basketball contains a HUGE East Coast and Midwest bias.  The Big Ten sent eight teams to the tournament, sentiment was almost unanimous that the B1G was the strongest conference in the country, and yet only one of those teams is among the final sixteen, one didn't survive a play-in game, and two others lost in the first round, including second seeded Ohio State to 15th seeded Oral Roberts.  By contrast, five west coast teams, Gonzaga, USC, UCLA, Oregon State, and Oregon are still standing.

Just about every "expert" and bracketologist out there had Villanova losing to Winthrop in the first round.   You know what happened.  While Winthrop kept it close, Villanova was never really in any danger at all of losing that game, despite playing without two of their best players.  I honestly believe that if the two teams played ten times, Villanova would win eight or nine times.  In the second round, the Wildcats rolled over North Texas, and they remain standing.  Sometimes bloodlines and a coach like Jay Wright really do mean a lot.  A whole lot.  They next face Baylor, and will no doubt be underdogs, but how surprised will you really be if Villanova wins that game?

Count me among the many who do not care for Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim, but he is some coach.   The Orange finished eighth in the ACC this year and here they are in the Round of Sixteen.  I heard that this is 25th or 26th time he has taken a team to the Sweet Sixteen.  That's amazing.  In the second round he went up against a superior WVU team who has a great coach too in Bob Huggins, and Huggy was completely outcoached by Boeheim.

Is there anything more exciting than seeing a highflying and exciting basketball game being ground to a halt in the last few minutes of a game while the zebras spend countless minutes agonizing over a replay to see whether the ball was last touched by the guy in the white shirt or if it actually grazed off the fingernail or shoelace of the guy in the blue shirt?  Or seeing them then spend another two or three minutes deciding whether there is 1.7 or 2.4 seconds remaining on the clock?  And then there are the endless time outs and parades to the foul lines.

Talk about buzz kills.

I note that the trend to baggy and well-below-the knees basketball shorts seems to have gone by the wayside.   Current styles are shorter, but not as short as the nut-cutters worn by players in basketball's jurassic era.  They are looser than in the old days and stop in mid-thigh, several inches above the knee.  A good and a stylish compromise, I believe.

However, I'm not crazy about the leggings that more and more players are wearing.  I guess they serve a purpose, but aesthetics isn't one of them.

The four network coverage of games remains one of the great innovations ever in sports television.  I remember being skeptical when this was first introduced by CBS and Turner several years ago, but now I couldn't imagine it any other way.  Halftime? Switch to another game.  Commercials?  Switch to another game.  Game you're watching turning into a boring blow-out? Switch to another game.  

What could be better?

Speaking of commercials, the Capital One spots with Chuck, Sam, and Spike, with Jim Nantz as a Plus One, remain the gold standard.  The new one this year that shows them all as little kids at their first game should win an award.

I've loved the commercials that note the return of watching this event that was missed last year, and I love the one for Apple AirPods of the hip-hop kid dancing through he neighborhood and joining in with kids jumping rope.  

Most other commercials were old and aggravating by midway through the first day, especially that creepy one for Coke Cherry-Vanilla in the convenience store. Eeuew.

I would also like to call bullshit on those who have speculated that this tournament is somehow tainted or deserving of an asterisk because of either (a) the disjointed nature of the regular season, (b) the uncertainty up to the last minute of who would or would not be able to compete in it,  (c) the lack of spectators, or (d, and most ridiculous of all) the fact that neither perennial participants Duke and Kentucky were not included.

If a tournament is held at all, and it is being held, and if you make it through the six round grind and win six games, you are a Deserving Champion.  Period.  No asterisks required.

Another ridiculous sentiment that some are floating is will Gonzaga, should they win it all and finish 32-0, something that has not been done in 45 years, do they deserve to be included in the same conversation with other undefeated teams - Bill Russell's USF team, Frank McGuire's UNC team, the Wooden/Alcindor/Walton UCLA teams, or Bob Knight's Indiana team?  The answer is YES!!!!  Gonzaga will have played a schedule that was set out for them, and then survived a 68 team tournament.  If they end up beating every team that comes before them, they are, by definition, one of the great teams of all time.  You want to argue that Alcindor's Bruins were better, fine, that's what sports are all about, but don't short change their accomplishments.

And yes, I know that that previous paragraph, can be rendered completely moot between now and April 5, but I like the Zags chances to at the very least get through the Regionals and into the Final Four.

Based upon various nieces and nephews choice of colleges, I made a number of what I call "loyalty bets" this weekend.  Lost money on Ohio State (Brian and Francie), North Carolina (Bonny, Michael, and Sofie), St. Bonaventure (Bill), Georgetown (Katie), and went 1-1 on Ohio U (Zach).

Prior to the beginning of the tourney, I made four separate $8 bets at various odds on each of four schools to win the whole enchilada.  All four schools remain alive, and here is how the payouts would go for me if any of them win: Gonzaga $24, Baylor $56, Houston $176, and Alabama $184.

So you all know how I'll be cheering this coming weekend.

Not counting last year, when, of course, there was no tournament, this is the first time in many years that I had not spent at least one of the first two days of March Madness gathered at a local sports bar with groups of friends to watch the games.   Of course, such gatherings are fun and you can't put a price on camaraderie, but I have to say that I was able to get more into the games themselves by watching them in the comfort of my home.  You can pick what game you want to watch at a given time, the food and drinks are cheaper, and really, when it comes to camaraderie, who better to watch games with than Mrs. Grandstander?