Sunday, January 31, 2016

Random (Sports) Thoughts......

Some random thoughts.....
  • The Pirates announced yesterday that Joe Block has been hired as their new play-by-play announcer, replacing Tim Neverette.  Block is a young guy, 37, and had been doing play-by-play with Bob Uecker for the Brewers.  Welcome to Pittsburgh, Joe, and good luck.  

  • I figure that Block will broadcast one game, maybe only three or four innings of one game, before two-thirds of all Pirates fans will decide that they hate him, while denouncing the Pirates for having fired Bob Prince forty years ago.
  • I hadn't commented upon it when it happened, but farewell to Tim Neverette, who gets to return to his native New England to become a play-by-play guy for the Red Sox, so good for him. He was solid, if unspectacular, announcer and provided a good contrast to Greg Brown.  I liked him, but, of course, he was no Bob Prince......
  • The Grandstander went 1-1 in his predictions on last week's, NFL conference Championship games, bringing my postseason count to 8-2.  Not making my official prediction yet, but based on last week, it will be hard to pick against the Carolina Panthers.
  • Did you notice that as the Patriots lined up for that two point conversion that would tie the game at the end that the announcers mentioned that this was the first two point conversion attempt for the Pats all season?  Sportswriter Bob Labriola, who covers the Steelers, made the point that was essentially, Are You Kidding Me?  In an entire season, wherein the Pats had at least six blow out wins, and on a team that has Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, that the Super Genius Head Coach did not even attempt a single two point conversion all season???  Was Bill Belichick more concerned about Stephen Gostkowski making a zillion consecutive PAT's (and how ironic did THAT turn out to be?) than at least trying a couple of two point conversions during the season, just in case the Pats actually needed to make one in a critical situation, like in the AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME???  Might have come in handy.
  • For me, though, the most noteworthy performance in both games last week was that of Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer.  I had noted after the Cards-Packers game that Palmer performed badly in that game, that the Cards were lucky to beat the Packers, and that if Palmer played like that against the Panthers, his team would be in trouble.  Well, he didn't play like that.  He was worse.  Four interceptions and two fumbles.  Those Bengals genes in Palmer's DNA just shone through in that game.  When I think of Palmer in the future I will see him sitting on the bench with his headphones and Cardinals stocking cap on while paging helplessly through that three-ring binder, as he tried to figure out, unsuccessfully, how to not turn the ball back over to the Panthers.  I actually felt sorry for him.

Worst Movie Ever? "The Swarm" Is In The Discussion

I noticed that TCM was showing this 1978 movie, "The Swarm", in the wee small hours of the morning one day last week so I set the DVR for it.  I had never seen it and was unfamiliar with it, but what drew me toward it was the fact that Katherine Ross was one of the co-stars.  Having just seen her in "Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid", I wanted to see her in this one.

"The Swarm" was a 1970's era "disaster movie" produced and directed by the master of the genre, Irwin Allen.  Well, it certainly was a disaster!  It may have actually been the death knell for these types of movies. It had the proverbial all-star cast, and the description of the movie in the TCM program guide should have been the tip-off to what was to come: "A scientist and a military doctor try to save the city of Houston from a swarm of killer bees."  I'm not making that up.

Well, I started watching it, and it was worse than watching a traffic accident - although the movie did indeed have several car wrecks AND a train wreck.   The acting was so bad that it reminded me of those sketches that Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman used to do when they were actually trying to be bad.  And the dialog, was absolutely indescribable.  Here a couple of examples:

Brad Crane (played by Michael Caine): We've been fighting a losing battle against the insects for fifteen years, but I never thought I'd see the final face-off in my lifetime. And I never dreamed, that it would turn out to be the bees. They've always been our friend.

Or this one:

Brad Crane: These bees, General, are of joint concern, and they are killing Americans, without reference as to whether or not they have a serial number and are expected to salute YOU! So there will be no air drops of any kind until I give the OK! 
General Slater (played by Richard Widmark): Your OK, huh? Then just possible I can persuade you to attack this particular swarm, now that we know where it is! Attack and eliminate it! 
Brad Crane: Possibly, if you can explain to me, how you air drop chemicals, without killing the native insect life! If your chemical will kill the African bee, it will also kill the American bee, right? 
General Slater: Right! And better a few American bees than a lot of AMERICAN PEOPLE! 
Brad Crane: That is the point, general! The honey bee is vital to the environment! Every year in America, they pollinate six billion dollars worth of crops! If you kill the bee, you're gonna kill the crop! If you kill the plants, you'll kill the people! No! No, general! There will be no air drop, until we know exactly, what we are dropping, and where, and how! Excuse me! 
[Crane storms off]

And here's one more....

Dr. Andrews (Jose Ferrar): Billions of dollars have been spent to make these nuclear plants safe. Fail-safe! The odds against anything going wrong are astronomical, Doctor! 
Dr. Hubbard (Richard Chamberlain): I appreciate that, Doctor. But let me ask you. In all your fail-safe techniques, is there a provision for an attack by killer bees?

I could go on and on, but you get the idea, and the entire script is just full of passages like this from start to finish.  The screenplay, by the way was written by Stirling Silliphant, a highly regarded writer who won an Oscar for his screenplay of "In the Heat of the Night".  One review I read said that it seemed that Silliphant must have been writing it like this on purpose for some reason or another, but, hey, art is one thing, but a payday is a payday.

And how about that All-Star Cast?  Here are some of the names:  Michael Caine, Katherine Ross, Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland, Ben Johnson, Richard Chamberlain, Patty Duke, Fred MacMurray.  By my count, there are six Oscars scattered on the mantelpieces among these various actors, but they were in this one for the money only, that's for sure.  Another review that I read said that Caine was "so obviously contemptuous of the material that he refused to change his expression" for the entire movie.  I honestly don't know how Caine, Ross, and Widmark kept straight faces while acting in this one.  I guess that's what makes them good actors.

I once read an article by the late Pittsburgh Post-Gazette movie critic George Anderson where he interviewed Michael Caine and started a question with "You've made an awful lot of movies..." whereupon Caine interrupted him and laughingly said "I think you mean to say that 'You've made a lot of awful movies'."  Good line, and while Caine is a terrific actor (two Oscars), he's also famous for taking anything ("Jaws 3" being the example always cited) that will get him a paycheck.  "The Swarm" has to be Exhibit A for these peculiar, but no doubt enriching, career choices.

Some movies fall into the "so-bad-it's-good" category and become Camp Classics, but this one goes beyond that.  In his Movie Guide, Leonard Maltin rates this as a BOMB, and says it's "for masochists only."  That about sums it up.

If you ever want to see an example of a really, really BAD movie, you can check this one out, but don't say that I didn't warn you.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

To Absent Friends - Abe Vigoda

Abe Vigoda
1921 - 2016

News arrives today of the death of character actor Abe Vigoda at the age of 94.

IMDB lists 94 acting credits for Vigoda stretching back to 1949, and as recent as 2014.  Over a long acting career, he appeared in countless television shows and movies, including a role in "As the World Turns" way back in 1956, but he is no doubt best known for two roles.

The first was the part of Sal Tessio in "The Godfather" (1972), the once loyal capo to Don Vito Corleone, but who threw his lot in with Don Barzini in an effort to undermine young Michael Corleone.  It didn't end well.

The other noteworthy part was that of world weary Detective Phil Fish in one of the great sitcoms of all time, "Barney Miller" (1974-81).  That show even led to a short-lived spin off Series, "Fish".

His bio in IMDB tells the the story of how rumors persisted in the late 1980's that Vigoda had died and took hold to the point that casting directors would often say things like "I need an Abe Vigoda-type", not realizing that the genuine article was still available.

The best tribute to actors like Vigoda is that they were able to find work right up to the end of their lives.  Hey, he even did that Snickers commercial that ran on the Super Bowl a few years back.

Let us close with perhaps Vigoda's most memorable scene.  From "The Godfaher"...

RIP Abe Vigoda.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Championship Predictions

Perhaps my favorite football day of the year takes place tomorrow, the NFL Conference Championship games.

The Grandstander went 4-0 in his predictions last week, and now stands at 7-1 in this NFL post-season.

I know that Tom Brady's Patriots are 2-6 in games at Denver, and I know that Denver has a great defense, and I know that just about everyone, including me, is hoping that Peyton Manning can muster up greatness just one more time, but I just am not seeing it.  The Patriots win it.

Every time I think of this game, I come up with a different winner.  One thing for sure is that if Carson Palmer plays like he did against Green Bay last week, there is no way Arizona wins this.  Plus, I just heard a commentator on the radio say that Palmer still has some of, and this is a quote, "the stink of the Bengals on him", and that makes it hard to pick the Cardinals.  However, when Palmer finally got around to throwing to Larry Fitzgerald last week, the Cardinals took over that game ( and they STILL almost lost). Carolina overwhelmed Seattle last week.  True, they did allow the Seahawks to get back in the game, but was it ever really in doubt.  I am going to do what I always do in a close game, and go with the better quarterback.  The Panthers to win.

There you go.  A Patriots - Panthers Super Bowl.  As always, watch but don't bet.

Who's Number 3?

A common discussion point (argument?) among fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers is, "Who's the greatest Steelers quarterback of all-time, Terry Bradshaw or Ben Roethlisberger?"  No one else is ever even mentioned in the discussion, so that got me to thinking, which Steelers QB would rank third on the list of Steelers' signal callers?

My own memory of Steelers quarterbacks goes back to Bobby Layne, a Hall of Famer, but one whose greatest years were with the Lions, and not the Steelers, and that is where I will begin this discussion.Those of you out there who want to make a case for guys like Jim Finks, Ted Marchibroda, Joe Geri, or Buss Warren, have at it, but I will begin with Layne.

Just to refresh your memories, here is a chronological list of every person who has started a game at quarterback for the Steelers since 1957:

Earl Morrall
Lenny Dawson (1 game; his HOF career began when the AFL was born)
Bobby Layne
Rudy Bukich
Ed Brown
Bill Nelson
Tommy Wade
Ron Smith
George Izo
Kent Nix
Dick Shiner
Terry Hanratty
Terry Bradshaw
Joe Gilliam
Mike Kruczek
Cliff Stoudt
Mark Malone
Steve Bono
Todd Blackledge
Bubby Brister
Neil O'Donnell
Mike Tomczak
Jim Miller
Kordell Stewart
Kent Graham
Tommy Maddox
Ben Roethlisberger
Charlie Batch
Dennis Dixon
Byron Leftwich
Michael Vick
Landry Jones

Be honest now, how many of those names had you forgotten, or never even heard of in the first place?  

So, how do you pick the guy who you would make the third string QB on the all-time Steelers team?  

If you go purely by games started, you would take Stewart (75 starts) ahead of O'Donnell (61), Brister (57), and Layne (51).

If you go by completion percentage, O'Donnell (57.1%) edges Stewart (56.5%) and Brister (52.5%).  Interestingly, all three of them are ahead of both Bradshaw (51.9%) and Layne (49.2%).

In terms of touchdown passes, Stewart (70) edges O'Donnell (68), Layne (66), and Brister (51).  

How about total yards passing? Stewart has 13,328 yards, which is 461 yards more than O'Donnell and 3,224 yards more than Brister.  Layne had 9,030 yards as a Steeler, almost 4,300 behind Stewart.

Interceptions O'Donnell rates best here with only 39 interceptions. Brister threw 51, Layne  had 78, and Stewart had 72.  However, we all know that two specific interceptions from O'Donnell stand out above almost all others ever thrown by ANY Steelers QB.

Finally, how about the one stat that nobody really understands, "Quarterback Rating"?  Here is how it stands among all six QBs with the most starts:

Roethlisberger  93.9 (through the 2014 season, per Wikipedia)
O'Donnell  81.0
Stewart  72.3
Bradshaw  70.9
Brister  69.8
Layne  65.5

Looking only at the numbers, it would seem that the choice would come down to either Neil O'Donnell or Kordell Stewart.  O'Donnell took the Steelers to a Super Bowl.  Stewart was a phenomenal athlete who could do more things on the field than O'Donnell could, and who, it could be argued was shackled by some of his coaches (Kevin Gilbride, most notably).

Flip a coin, but my vote on this all important question would go to Kordell Stewart.  I'll listen to alternate arguments.

There is one thing that we all should keep in mind.  It took the Steelers thirty-seven years to get Terry Bradshaw, and we all know what he accomplished.  Once Bradshaw retired in 1983, it was another twenty-one years before Ben Roethlisberger arrived, and you all know what he has and still is accomplishing.  You can see from that list above what the Steelers and their fans had to put up with over those twenty-one years.  How many more great seasons are left in Roethlisberger? Three or four, maybe five? Let's hope the Steelers don't have to wait another twenty-one years to find his replacement.

(My thanks to Wikipedia - so you know it's true! - for the names and the stats used in writing this piece.)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Books of 2015

Before we get too deep into 2016, I wanted to do the post that I just didn't get around to doing in December, and that is a review of the best books that I read in 2015.  I read a total of 44 books in 2015, some really good, some forgettable, and here are the ones that I would recommend to you if you are looking for a good read.  I list them in the order in which I read them over the year.

My "Star" ratings are based on a Four Star scale.


The story of Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey is, I suppose, a story that cannot be told often enough, and this book by Roger Kahn does shed some new light on the story, but too often it becomes Kahn grinding axes towards a lot of people in his past, particularly other sportswriters.  

Two Stars.

Author Erik Larson tells this story of the sinking of the British luxury liner "Lusitania" by  a German U-Boat in 1915.  It is told from the viewpoint of both the Lusitania, the German submarine, the Admiralty Office in London, and the neutral United States.  This could have been the best book that I read all year.

Four Stars.

Another bit of little known Presidential History by one of my favorite authors, Matthew Algeo.  Who doesn't love Abe Lincoln? Who doesn't love dogs?

A charming tale of a Presidential pet.

Three Stars.

This one has been on the best sellers list since it was released in the spring.  Lots of details about engineering and how the fly a glider and a plane in the first part of the book that, frankly, were lost on me.  However, the book really, excuse me here, "takes off" after the Wright Brothers first flew their airplane, when the Brothers had to sell their idea of airplanes and make them a viable, commercial enterprise.  That part was fascinating.

Three and 1/2 Stars.

The story of just what everyone connected to a major league baseball team goes through and deal with over the course of a very long baseball season.  Told from the point of view of players, wives, front office people, clubhouse guys, traveling secretaries.  For most of these people, the season isn't just 162 games, it is a year round undertaking.  The book follows the Washington Nationals, but the endless "Grind" is the same for every baseball team.

Four Stars.

An deep look into the workings of major college football in the United States as written by Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter Gilbert Gaul.  There may not be any particular new revaluations in this book, but to see it all put together in a well written book does make one pause to think about just exactly what we are cheering for and watching on autumn Saturday afternoons.  It has very little to do with the education of "student-athletes" and everything to do with money.  Big money.

Four Stars.


2015 brought always enjoyable books from favorite authors Jonathan Kellerman, John Sandford, Sue Grafton, and Max Allan Collins, and you can never go wrong with any books by those folks.  However rather than list those books, I will just list three from authors that I had not read until this past year.

Author Susan Petrone is a friend of mine from SABR and Facebook, and she has written the story of the first woman to be signed by and pitch for a major league team.  Brenda Haversham is a single mother of two with a loutish ex-husband, a run down house, and is stuck in a dead end job.  However, she does play in a recreational mixed-gender baseball league, and she can break 90 MPH with her fastball.  Petrone paints a believable picture of what Brenda faces as a pioneer, not only in the locker room, but with her kids, her friends, and herself as she comes to realize what a business baseball really is.

Three Stars.

I am lumping "The Girl On The Train" and "The Kind Worth Killing" together because that are similar novels. Both thrillers, both told from differing points of view of different characters in each book, and both are absolutely terrific books.  Chances are, you have already read "The Girl On the Train" as it has been at the top or near the top of best seller lists for almost a year.

As readable, engrossing thrillers, both books get Four Stars.

That's it, and I don't think you can go wrong reading any of these.  If you want to read more of what I had to say about each of these books, just type the title into the search box in the upper left corner of this blog page.

"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Thanks to the good people at Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events, we were able to see the 1969 classic movie, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", on the big screen at the Cinemark North yesterday.  I saw this movie when it was released in 1969, and have seen it, or at least parts of it many times since, but it has been a long time since I have watched it straight through, and, as we have discovered via these TCM/Fathom events showings, there is noting like seeing a movie like this on a big screen in a movie theater.

For example, do you remember how this movie starts out in sepia tones, transforms to full color, and then goes back to sepia at certain points?  I didn't, but seeing it again, it was stunning.  No wonder it won the Oscar for cinematography.

And how great is it to once again see just how stunningly beautiful Katherine Ross was.

And, of course, one of the most memorable "death scenes" in all of movies, didn't actually show the deaths of Butch and Sundance, but rather this freeze-frame:

What an absolutely perfect way to end that movie.

The showing of this movie yesterday was bookended by comments from TCM's Ben Mankiewicz.  He told of how the producers originally wanted to cast this movie.  Paul Newman was first cast as the Sundance Kid, and Jack Lemmon was to play Butch Cassidy. For whatever reason, Lemmon didn't do it, so Newman was moved to the role of Butch, and the producers approached Steve McQueen to play the Kid.  Disagreements about how Newman and McQueen would be billed led McQueen to decline the project.  The producers than seriously considered both Warren Beatty and Marlon Brando to play the Sundance Kid.  When those choices didn't work out, director George Roy Hill convinced the producers to cast the relatively unknown young Robert Redford for the role.  In baseball, they often say that the best trades are the ones that you don't make.  The same logic applies to how this movie was cast because in retrospect, you just can't possibly see anyone other than Newman and Redford as Butch and Sundance.

"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Director, it lost to "Midnight Cowboy" and Hill lost to John Schlesinger, but it did win four Oscars: Screenplay (William Goldman), Cinematography, Original Score (Burt Bacharach), and Original Song (Bacharach and Hal David).

The next big TCM/Fathom showings will include Hitchcock's "To Catch a Thief" and the Bogart classic "The Maltese Falcon".  Watch for those.

And as for that Oscar winning Best Song?  It was "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head", and here is how it played in the movie:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Movie Review - "Sisters"

We saw this R-rated comedy yesterday, and yes, it was funny, and yes, we often times laughed out loud.  This movie will never win any awards, but it was a good movie and a successful movie in that it succeeded in accomplishing what it was meant to do...make you laugh.

Much of what I read about this movie in recent weeks expressed a great deal of puritanical shock because because the two stars of the movie, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, actually cursed in the movie.  Oh, the humanity!!!  Yeah, they did, a lot, but people, even women, do actually talk like that.  And it was well written, so it was, you know, funny.

The movie concerns two sisters, wild, irresponsible, single mother, party animal Fey, and always responsible and somewhat uptight Poehler.  Seems that their parents - brilliantly played by Dianne Wiest and James Brolin - have sold their home, and need their adult daughters to come home and clean out their lifetime's worth of "stuff".  Stunned by the idea of losing the home in which they grew up, the sisters decide to have one last blow out of a party, this kind for which they were famous as teenagers, to send their house out with a bang.  Hijinks, as they say, ensue.

Like a lot of movies like this, it went on a little too long, but it was funny, and it does have one terrific thing going for it, and that is the obvious chemistry between the two stars, Fey and Poehler.  I hope that they will continue to make other movies together.  Just so long as it's not the same movie.

Two and one-half stars from The Grandstander on this one.  

To Absent Friends - Glenn Frey

Glenn Frey
1948 - 2016

Sad news from the music world continued yesterday with the news of the death of Glenn Frey, founding member of the iconic American rock and roll band, The Eagles, at the age of 67.  Frey died due to complications from arthritis, colitis, and pneumonia.

The Eagles were formed in the 1970's and became one of the greatest of American rock bands.  Their hits are too numerous to list, and their album sales have exceeded 100 million units. As happens with many such bands, they dissolved for a number of years, but reunited in the 1990's and came back as strong as ever.  Frey and his fellow founding member, Don Henley, did have successes as solo artists, but as is often the case, the work that they did on their own, however good, was never up to the standards as the work they did together with their fellow band mates.

I include here a picture that our niece Bonny put up on Facebook last night.  It is Bonny, her husband Michael, and their daughter, Sophie, Standin' On A Corner in Winslow, Arizona.  I'm guessing that this picture was taken about five years ago.  I am sure that tens of thousands of such pictures have been taken in this spot over the years, and will continue to be taken forever into the future.  Pretty nice tribute to Glenn Frey and his band.

RIP Glenn Frey.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Great Season Comes to Disappointing End

As yesterday's Steelers-Broncos game entered the fourth quarter, I said to myself, "The Steelers are missing Le'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams a lot more than they are missing Antonio Brown today."  Of course, you know what happened shortly thereafter.  Fitzgerald Toussaint made a critical fumble as the Steelers appeared to be mounting a drive that, had it led to a touchdown, would have pretty much wrapped up the game.  

You know how in baseball, you often times might run into a well-past-his-prime pitcher, who somehow managed to beat you by, to use the hallowed cliches that I love so much, being  "crafty" and getting by on "guts and guile"?  Well, after Denver recovered that fumble, that is what Peyton Manning turned into.  Manning spent most of the game looking like a shell of his once great self, but when it counted the most, he became, well, Peyton Manning, and he delivered the goods for Denver when it counted the most.

I'm not going to give a painful recounting of the game.  If you care enough to be reading this, you already know.  I will say, though, that for the most part of this 2015 season, the Steelers delivered the goods for us fans.  We all know about the injuries that they had to overcome.  Who among us, while watching Ben Roethlisberger being carted off the field early in the season with that injured foot possibly imagined that we would be watching the team playing deep into January?  Did you think, early on, that we would be praising the work done by the Steelers defense, particularly the line and the linebackers (admittedly, help is needed in the defensive backfield)?

Speaking for myself, I will take a lot of pleasant memories from this 2015 version of the team.  They were far from perfect, but in the end, they were pretty damn good.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Patriots and Cardinals Advance

Off the top of my head thoughts on yesterday's NFL Playoff games.....

  • I thought Rob Gronkowski was supposed to be injured.
  • Why would any team win the coin toss and then choose to defer, thus giving the ball to Tom Brady and the Pats to start the game?
  • When Brady hit Gronk for a TD on that opening drive, I posted this on Facebook: "The Chiefs will not lead at any point in this game."  I believe I had that.
  • That was a marvelous, textbook, time consuming touchdown drive that the Chiefs engineered in the fourth quarter.  Only trouble is that it consumed too much time and the Chiefs were down by fourteen, not seven, points at the time.  What could Andy Reid have possibly been thinking?
  • A lot of the so-called experts said that the Patriots were vulnerable in this game.  Sure didn't look that way to me.
  • For about three and one-half quarters that Packers-Cardinals game was a bit of a snoozer.  But then...WOW.  A game like that is why you follow sports.
  • For those first three and one-half quarters, was it a function of really good defense, or a couple of inept offenses?
  • I admit that I didn't see the Cardinals all year, but if Carson Palmer played like that all year, how did they win thirteen games?
  • In winning that game last night, Palmer may well have been the luckiest player in the NFL all season.  Especially after that fourth quarter interception in the end zone that he lobbed up to Green Bay.   That was a certifiably awful throw.
  • Did you notice that the Cardinals started to make things happen when they decided to start throwing the ball to Larry Fitzgerald?
  • That game tying drive that Aaron Rodgers put together, with no time outs, less than a minute to play, and after being sacked back to the two yard line, and included not just one, but two unbelievable Hail Mary passes, will be forgotten because the Packers lost the game, but that was just Amazing and Unbelievable with a capital A and a capital U.
  • How in God's name does a defense allow Larry Fitzgerald to be standing all by himself with no defender within 15 yards of him?  In overtime of a playoff game no less.
And not to pick on the zebras, but how can that guy screw up a coin flip? Also, and this isn't the Officials' fault, but the endless debates and reviews on what is or is not a "Catch" are totally ridiculous and absurd.  That it was even subject to debate both on one Fitzgerald reception and the Green Bay reception that tied the game was, well, I hate to use the same world twice in the same paragraph, but it was absurd!  And we have seen that dance in almost every NFL game this season.  Something really needs to be done about that.

Looking forward to that Steelers-Broncos tussle today.  More so than how an impaired Ben Roethlisberger will play today, it will come down to this: Which version of the Steelers defense will show up today, and which version of Peyton Manning will show up for Denver?


Saturday, January 16, 2016

A Trip to Phipps

If you told me when I woke up on Friday morning that I would be spending that evening at the Phipps Conservatory in Oakland that night, I would have derisively said, "Yeah, right."  However, a phone call from friend Dan Bonk late that morning, an enthusiastic response from Marilyn, and - BOOM - there we were on a Friday night double date.

I can remember visiting Phipps twice in my life.  Once on a St. Phil's field trip when I was in seventh or eight grade, and once with Marilyn when we were dating, which means to has been well over forty years since we had been there.  So, let me tell you this: What we experienced last night was not your Grandpa's Phipps Conservatory.  

First of all, it is about three or four times larger than I remember it.  Second, they now have a nice cafe.  Third, the flow of the exhibits is terrific, and fourth, the exhibits themselves are terrific.  Currently, the exhibits include a railroad village, an amazing array of plants and flowers, beautiful Chihuly Glass exhibits throughout the place, and a beautiful holiday light display.

If it has been a number of years since you have visited the Phipps, I can't recommend it highly enough.  We thoroughly enjoyed it.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Football Weekends

Some thoughts on last week's football before moving on to this week's predictions.

  • I felt bad for the Vikings kicker Blair Walsh after he missed what would have been a game winning field goal against the Seahawks.  Even his coach threw him under the bus in his post-game comments.  Never mind that Walsh had already kicked three FG's in the sub-zero temperatures, and that these were the ONLY points that the Vikings crummy offense were able to produce that day.  On the other side of the field in Minnesota was Russell Wilson, who, it should be remembered, threw a ridiculous interception on the goal line that cost his team the Super Bowl last year, but Wilson somehow gets a pass on this (it was the coach's fault!).  Walsh, on the other hand, will carry that Wide Left miss him for the rest of his life, and it will probably be in the first paragraph of his obituary.  Not fair.
  • The Steelers won the battle in Cincy last week, but it certainly could cost them the war, as Antonio Brown has now been ruled out for the Broncos game, and an impaired Ben Roethlisberger will be at the helm on Sunday.
  • Congratulations, I think, to Hue Jackson on being named the head coach of the Cleve Brownies. As is always pointed out, there are only 32 such jobs like this in the world, so when the opportunity presents itself, you have to take it, but Jackson surely goes to perhaps the most dysfunctional organization in football, if not in all of pro sports in America.  On the other hand, he goes to a team at rock bottom, so there is no where to go but up.  Still, what are the odds that he's still there in 2018?
  • Chip Kelly, after screwing up in Philly, gets another shot as a HC in San Francisco (another dysfunctional organization).  I'm betting that this won't end well for the 49'ers. Or Kelly.
  • The best game of the weekend turned out to be that CFP Championship game between Alabama and Clemson. Just a fabulous game.  Clemson's DeShaun Watson was the best player on the field, but the most valuable person on that field that night was clearly Nick Saban.  Like a lot of successful college coaches, Saban is not a lovable and maybe not even a likable guy, but man is he a great coach.  Clemson put it to the Tide on Monday night, and Saban truly had to "coach 'em up" to win that game.  The early call for an onside kick was brilliant, and it set the tone for the Alabama victory.  Plus, that kickoff return for a touchdown.  Fabulous game.
  • Is Saban the greatest coach in college football history?  It's hard to proclaim anyone THE GREATEST in any endeavor, but Saban certainly belongs in the conversation with the Rocknes, Leahys, Bryants, and Paternos of years past.
Okay, on to this weekend.  Last week, The Grandstander went 3-1 in his predictions (4-1 if you count the CFP game).  Pretty good. As for this weekend....

Steelers at Broncos.  All things being equal, I would take the Steelers in this one.  After all, they handily beat the Broncos less than a month ago, so why shouldn't they do so again?  All things are not equal, though.  As mentioned above,  Brown will not play and Roethlisberger will be less, and perhaps far less, than 100%.  Oh, and while that Bronco QB may be close to washed up, he is still Peyton Manning and he will be well rested.  Sadly, I call for a Broncs win in this one.  I also predict that the first call to The Fan calling for Mike Tomlin's firing will come within 30 minutes of the final gun.  The first call for it on Facebook will come early in the second half.

Chiefs at Patriots.  The Chiefs thoroughly thrashed Houston last week, they are the hottest team in the NFL, and the Pats are ravaged by injuries.  However, using similar logic to my predicting a Bengals loss last week, I simply can't call for a Patriots and a Tom Brady loss until they actually, you know, lose a game like this. Patriots to end the Chiefs 11 game win streak this weekend.

Seahawks at Panthers.  Seattle got a bit lucky last week against the Vikings.  The Panthers are 15-1 on merit.  Seattle's Super Bowl appearance streak officially ends this weekend.  Panthers to win.

Packers at Cardinals.  Two weeks ago I said they the Cardinals will play in the Super Bowl this year.  That means that they have to start by beating the Packers tomorrow night, and, Aaron Rodgers notwithstanding, they will.  Remember, they beat the Packers by thirty points just a few weeks ago.  It may not be that decisive this week, but the final result will be the same.

As always, watch, but don't bet.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Oscar Nominations Are Out

Here my Off-The-Top-of-My-Head thoughts on the Oscar nominations that were announced this morning.

  • Of the eight Best Picture nominees, I have seen four of them: Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, The Martian, and Spotlight.
  • Of the four I have not seen, I would like to see The Big Short.  No desire at all to see Mad Max, Room, or The Revenant.
  • Based on the four I have seen, my vote goes to Spotlight, followed by The Martian, Brooklyn, and Bridge of Spies.
  • Of the twenty acting nominations, I have seen five of them - Matt Damon, Saoirse Ronan, Mark Ruffalo, Mark Rylance, and Rachel McAdams, so I can't make an educated prediction, but I CAN say that all five of those actors were terrific in their roles.
  • No love for Will Smith or "Concussion".  The NFL wins again.
  • The "awards tide" seems to indicate that Leonardo DiCaprio and The Revenant will be big winners this year.  I have seen the trailer, and I have read the reviews, and sorry, I'm still not going to see what looks to be a very grim and unpleasant viewing experience.  Two and a half hours of watching Leo get mauled by a bear, grunt and groan, and eat raw buffalo liver.  Nope.  Not for me.
  • Eddie Redmayne gets a nod by playing a man who receives an operation to become a woman.  This is after playing Steven Hawking last year.  Does this guy ever play just, you know, a regular person?  On the other hand, the Motion Picture Academy just loves people who play roles like this.
  • I'm pulling for Inside Out to win Best Animated Feature film.  I've seen that one, and really was good.
  • Why is there still an award for Original Song?
I'm sure I'll be writing more between now and Oscar night.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Some Books to Read....

With the holidays behind us, and the weather getting a bit foreboding, I have been able to knock off three books thus far in 2016.

This one came as a recommendation from high school classmate and Facebook friend Jack Longmore.  No, this is not, as the title might imply, a book about strained race relations.  The "whites" in the title refer to unsolved cases that confront several police detectives in New York City. Such cases are the "white whales" that each cop continues to pursue in Ahab-like fashion over the course of their careers.

This is a pretty gritty story of cops on the night shift.  I am guessing that the author is trying to fashion himself as a latter day Joseph Wambaugh, and in that regard, he falls a little short.  There were a lot of characters and overlapping story lines in this one that made it difficult to get into, but if you are able to stay with it past the half-way mark, it is a pretty good story.


"The Crossing" is the latest in the Connelly's series about Los Angeles police detective Harry Bosch, and in this one, Connelly brings in his other series character, Mickey Haller, the "Lincoln Lawyer", into the story.  Turns out that Bosch and Haller are half-brothers, a fact I missed somewhere along the way.

I have read a number of these stories, and always liked them, but I fear that Harry Bosch has jumped the shark.  In this one, Harry is now "retired" from the LAPD, and looking for things to do when Mickey asks him to work on investigating circumstances surrounding a murder, the suspect charged with the crime being Haller's client.  After a lifetime of chasing down and arresting killers, Harry is reluctant to make the "crossing" to the other side and try to free an accused killer.  Harry's angst over the whole thing takes up a large part of the story, and gets a bit tiresome, but he takes it on anyway, and ultimately finds the truth behind a shocking crime among the upper crust in LA.

As I say, I think I'm pretty much done with Harry, and I'm thinking that Connelly would be better off writing solely about Mickey going forward.


This is a book that was one of those Kindle "Deal of the Day" books that Amazon sends out all the time, and I am glad that I spent the $2.99 on it.

The story involves the murder of a beautiful young heiress in Portland, Maine in 2012 that is eerily similar to the murder of her great-great-grandmother in the same Maine location in 1904.  The featured characters are Portland police detectives Michael McCabe and Maggie Savage, and it turns out that "The Girl in the Glass" is the fourth book in a series featuring these two.

This one offers a very good, believable whodunit, and McCabe and Savage look to be good characters to follow in a series.  Once I got into it, I knocked this one off in two days.  I will certainly be checking into the first three novels in the series, and you should, too.

To Absent Friends - David Bowie

David Bowie

To be totally honest with you, I cannot say that I was a fan of David Bowie.  It's not that I disliked him, he just wasn't on my Musical Fan Radar.  However, that doesn't mean that I discount his enormous effect and influence on rock and pop music and pop culture in general, and because for that, the news of Bowie's death yesterday due to cancer at the too young age of 69 comes as a shock and is very sad.

I will leave it to others to analyze his musical contributions and his persona to the culture, and such opinions were and are all over Social Media yesterday and today, but this one particular posting on Facebook I found to be particularly touching.  It was a posting made by the College of Wooster and is was shared by my friend Matthew Algeo.  Here it is:

As the world remembers David Bowie, we also remember...a proud dad watching his son, Duncan Jones '95, graduate in the Oak Grove at Wooster. Our thoughts are with Duncan and his family today. (Photo credit: Mike Schenk)

Sometimes we forget, I think, that even famous mega-stars are human beings with families, just like everyone else.  I think that picture says a lot about David Bowie.

Anyway, let me close this out with a music video that Bowie made with Mick Jagger in conjunction with the Live Aid Concerts in 1985, "Dancing in the Streets".

RIP David Bowie.