No Such Nonsense

A little of this, that and... what was I talking about again? It's TV, sports, pop culture and politics - all the stuff that really matters in life.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ugly News?

I've been a big booster of Ugly Betty in the past; I think America Ferrera is charming, and love everything to do with the gang at Mode - the ridiculousness of the characters, the sharp banter between Marc and Willy - and, in the past, didn't even mind the occasional heart-warming life lesson thrown in now and again.

With the news the ABC is benching Betty from March-June in favour of Samantha Who, I have to admit, I've been losing my enthusiasm for Betty all season. And I'm not alone, ratings are down dramatically from the campy heights of season one. This season, the plots are dull (Daniel's a dad, oh wait, no he's not), under-developed (Amanda and Betty are roommates - oh wait, now they're not) or tiresome, like all that moralizing (choosing career over family - even at age 21 - makes you a horrible person). For a long time now - since Santos' death, lets day, all of the subplots with Betty's family cause me to reach for the fast-forward button. I had some hope for Justin when he seemed to have found a potential boyfriend earlier this year but, surprise, surprise, that came to nothing too. Betty's love-life is barren - no Henry, no Gio, not even a Walter. All the fun and froth, it seems, has been dropped for melodrama about Betty's dad's health. Ugh. Is it wrong that I hoped he'd die?

Earlier this year, much hay was made about America Ferrera's notably low-opinion of friend (and Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants co-star) Blake Lively's Gossip Girl. At the time, she said the show made girls out to be mean, that it was dis-empowering for girls. Seems to me the girls have all the power on that show - and occasionally learn lessons about wielding that power that don't come delivered by sledgehammer. It's irreverent, soapy, silly and - oh yeah - fun. That, to me, is Betty's missing ingredient.

Your Superbowl Primer

For you casual fans who are heading to Superbowl parties this Sunday-and are anxious to avoid the withering stares of superfans who deride your lack of football knowledge - herein is a primer on the big stories of the day.

Unload some of this knowledge on your buddies, to ensure that your contribution to the discussion is something other than "Hey, that Palomolive guy for Pittsburgh sure has some awesome hair" and "When is the Budwesier commercial with those cute horses coming on?"

The Backstory

On Arizona:
They have a long a glorious history of sucking. A lot. Every damn year. Affectionately known as The Buzzsaw that is the Arizona Cardinals (so dubbed by Will Leitch, former editor of, the Cardinals are known for being a really mediocre team over the really long term. They've been around in one incarnation or another since 1898, and have never been to the Superbowl (though they won a championships in the pre-Superbowl era -in 1947 -back when they were still the Chicago Cardinals). After Chicago, they moved to St. Louis, where they sucked. They then moved on to Arizona in the 1980s where, you guessed it, they sucked. The most famous Cardinal of the Arizona era is unquestionably Pat Tilman, who gave up his NFL career to become an Army Ranger in the days after 911 and died in Afghanistan. For Arizona, even getting to big game was improbable. They've played well, but are here at least in part because Carolina QB Jake Delhomme did the best Brett Favre impression ever a few weeks back.

On Pittsburgh:
In contrast to the Cards, the Steelers have a long history of, well, kicking everyone's ass. In the 1970's they built a dynasty on an unstoppable defense and a talented but not-so-bright QB. These days, they have an unstoppable defense and a talented but not-so-bright QB. They have more championships that any other team in the AFC. They've quite astonishingly had just 3 coaches since 1969 - Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin. Some teams have 3 head coaches in as many years (hello, Miami). Pittsburgh fans - the Steeler Nation - wave around the Terrible Towel in support of the team.

The Players

Kurt Warner
Warner is the QB for the Cards and his life is totally going to be a movie some day. Warner went undrafted out of college, and ended up playing for NFL Europe and the Arena Football League. After a few years, he was making ends meet by bagging groceries. In 1998, he launched an improbable comeback, landing a back-up role with the St. Louis Rams. The next year, starter Trent Green was injured, Warner took over the gig and, what the hey, won the freaking Superbowl and was named league MVP. After a return trip to the Superbowl with the Rams (they lost to the Pats), Warner went to the New York Giants, where he lost the starting job to young Eli Manning. Warner joined the Cards in 2005, and most expected he'd be back-up to another young up-and-comer (first Josh McCown, then Matt Leinart). Of course, McCown washed out and Leinart is more interest in beer bongs than slant routes, so Warner began his second improbable comeback. Warner is also known for being pretty much the most religious guy in the league (and that's saying a lot) and for having a scary wife who, once she grew out the salt-and-pepper crew cut of the St. Louis years, turns out to actually be rather hot.

Ben Roethlisberger
"Big Ben" is a lumbering 6'5" pivot known for two things:
1) leading the Steelers to the Superbowl in only his second season in the league, back in 2005
2) crashing his motorcycle while not wearing a helmet (nor holding a valid motorcycle license) and landing on his face, in 2006
Ever so slightly less inspiring than Warner.

Larry Fitzgerald Jr.
Playing outstanding football throughout the play-offs, Fitzgerald has consistently been the best player on the field the last few weeks. In the past, he'd been somewhat overshadowed by teammate and fellow wide-receiver Anquan Boldin - but when Boldin pulled a muscle late in the season, Fitzgerald emerged as the Cards number one receiver. A few more Fitzgerald tidbits: he was a ball boy for the Minnesota Vikings as a kid, and his dad, Larry Fitzgerald Sr. is a well-respected sports-writer who'll be in the press box for the game.

James Harrison
This one is for extra credit: Harrison is the virtual unknown who took the NFL's defensive player of the year award. His first three years in the league were, let's say, unaccomplished. But in the last three, he's emerged as one of the finest linebackers in the league.

Darnell Dockett
The Arizona defensive tackle has one hell of a past - he lost both parents when he was thirteen - his mother was murdered and his dad died of cancer - and was raised by his uncle. He's had some off-the-field scuffles- but in this league, who hasn't?

Other Names to Know

Anquan Boldin - wide receiver with a crappy attitude and some mad skills
Edgerrin James - running back, played a minimal role all season but has busted out in the playoffs - Edge is setting himself up for a new contract, likely elsewhere, next year.

Willie Parker - Running Back. Almost always referred to as "Fast Willie Parker".
Hines Ward - Wide receiver (along with Santonio Holmes), he has a knack for irritating the hell out of opposing players
Troy Polamalu - Safety - he of the Hawaiian heritage, flowing locks and punishing hits

Monday, January 19, 2009

On the Inauguration

I've found myself with a lump in my throat more than a few times since the election in November - and in awe of the moment more than once too. I still, at times, can't take in that the American people really elected Barack Obama - little known just 5 years ago, inter-racial son of single mother - as their President. It says to me that the American empire may yet endure.

The sense of history that surrounds this week is nicely captured in this Slate article, in which Dahlia Lithwick notes that Obama will take his oath using the same bible once used for the same purpose by Abraham Lincoln. The chief justice, she explains, who held the bible that day for Lincoln's inauguration was the same one who wrote the majority opinion in the Dred Scott case. In that case, the Supreme Court in essence decreed that Blacks were not, and never could be, American citizens. For 100 years, despite the efforts of Lincoln and others and even universal suffrage, true equal rights remained elusive. And now, in just 40 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Obama will become president.

The audacity of hope, indeed.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The brain of your average football player

Watching James Brown interview Pacman Jones on the NFL Today pregame Saturday* got me thinking about how the college system prepares its athletes for future success. Jones has three years of education from West Virginia University (he left early to enter the 2005 draft). He is also clearly ill-equiped to handle any life skill other than hitting guys really hard (sometimes on the field but mostly outside of strip clubs). The man is a mess. He would probably have been an even bigger mess had he not had some natural talent for football that gave him the tiniest chance to escape a pretty dreadful childhood. But as his opportunities in football dwindle, just what is this guy going to do with the rest of his life. It isn't a pretty picture.

The dirty little secret of college football hasn't really been a secret for decades - not since Dexter Manley admitted he graduated from Oklahoma State while functionally illiterate. Education is not part of the equation for the top athletes at Division 1 schools. So, it's pretty remarkable when a college athlete is able to accomplish something other than a screen pass. All the more impressive, then, that Florida State's Myron Rolle will put off entering the NFL draft this year to accept a Rhodes scholarship. Rolle is off to Oxford to pursue a master's in medical anthropology. He'll enter the draft - and is expected to go in the first few rounds - in 2010.

Of course, just how far those smarts will take him in the NFL is open to debate. Dan Marino scored a 16 on the Wonderlik Test - a measure of intelligence that all potential draftees take at the NHL Combine. At 16, one wonders how Marino managed to find the right test facility. But, damn, he could throw a football. Matt Leinart, on the other hand, scored a more-than -respectable 35 - and can't seem to get a start for the Cardinals. And I have no doubt that Leinart's post-NFL-career won't be anything like as successful as Marino. Book-learning, it seems, can only get you so far in the NFL.

*Note - the best part of the interview -possibly the best part of any interview, ever - was when Brown asked Jones why he can't seem to stay away from strips clubs. I so wanted Jones to say "Well, James, they have these naked ladies there..."