Wednesday, February 16, 2011

This is America and We Call it Soccer

Don't get me wrong, I love soccer. I grew up playing soccer and love the free-flowing aggressiveness of the sport, but I hate it when people call it "football". And by people I mean Americans. If you grew up outside the U.S. or have an accent, then feel free to call it "football" as much as you want; that's you're right because that's the way it has always been for you. I concede that what the rest of the world calls "football" started long before American football started in the late 19th century, but come on obnoxious guy who's trying to impress somebody - you grew up calling the sport soccer.

Soccer is a sport that has "been on the verge of breaking out" in the U.S. for what seems like decades. The MLS is not a successful league, and our most talented players continue to play professionally for clubs in Europe, Central and South America, and even in Asia now. I have no solution to this. I really wish I did, but this seems like more than just an infrastructure problem. Maybe starting soccer academies like European clubs could help foster home grown talent much the way Major League Baseball's farm system develops talent to move up to the top level. Sounds great in theory, right? Players can be "drafted" out of high school and sent to an MLS team's farm system or they can opt to play in college for four years to earn a degree while developing their talent. The most talented players make it to "The Big Show" almost right away (think the soccer equivalent of Steven Strasburg or Jason Heyward) and become superstars that captures the country's imagination...

Or they become Freddy Adu. Do you remember that guy? Wasn't he supposed to save American soccer? He didn't even make the U.S. National Team for the 2010 World Cup, though I'm sure most people thought that he and midfielder Maurice Edu were the same guy. This is not meant to rag on Adu, the guy obviously has talent but just didn't develop the way a lot of people had hoped. Maybe it's because he wasn't allowed to develop in a carefully structured academy system, or maybe it's because there was so much pressure thrust on him to become the face of the sport at such a young age. Either way, the MLS is still looking for the tipping point that will put them up with the big dogs in American professional sports (I guess David Beckham didn't work either).

Maybe the reason soccer hasn't caught on with a lot of consistent popularity in the U.S. (remember how high everyone was on the sport thanks to Landon Donovan and the World Cup last summer?) is because it and its players are perceived to lack the level of toughness associated with mainstream American sports. Hockey, baseball, football, and even basketball players play injured often. Look at guys like Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers who played a playoff game on a torn ACL, Kirk Gibson hitting a game winning home run in the World Series on a broken leg, and Ronnie Lott who had the tip of his finger amputated so he could continue playing. "Rub some dirt on it" is a saying that a lot of American grew up with. That's the mentality in a lot of American sports - you're hurt, rub some dirt on it, then get back out there and play your heart out. It's this mentality the instills begrudging respect among opponents and creates legends in sports.

Having this type of mentality instilled in you can make it hard to watch the types of flops and dives that you see way too often in a lot of professional soccer. The Diving Board is a site that hosts videos of some of the more ridiculous and embarrassing dives in the sport. It's not hard to spend about five minutes on this site and understand why Americans can't get into soccer. American fans get worked up when a Duke player makes a ridiculous flop, so it's not hard to see how they can't stand the likes of this, or these.

So come on guys, rub some dirt on it and play on. I said play on!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

MST3K: Puma Man

One of my favorite shows as a kid was always Mystery Science Theater 3000. My sister and I used to watch this show every Saturday on either Comedy Central or the SciFi Channel (now SyFy, though I don't know why), whichever station it was on that year. The combination of crappy movies and pithy commentary, both of which I love and aspire to create myself some day, made this show - in my mind - one of the greatest on television. Yes, when I go back now and watch old episodes some aren't quite as funny as I remember, and the argument over Joel vs. Mike, etc., etc., can be saved for another day.

The point is, on of my sister's and my favorite episodes was the one where they lampoon "The Puma Man", the story of a man with the powers of a puma who is descended from Aztec gods from outer space (I mean, yeah, sign me up), but despite the various dvd and vhs collections offered, this fine example of MST3K has been impossible to find. IT DOES NOT EXIST in any watchable format...until yesterday when I found it on Google videos, where I can watch it for free. Google, feel free to continue your battle with Apple to control my technology, my privacy, and my life aslong as you keep good stuff like this coming. You never cease to amaze.

And the rest of you...enjoy!

[Editor's note: if the embedded video doesn't work for you, please enjoy this link instead: Puma Man]

Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Bowl XLV

For the average American, the Super Bowls Sunday experience can be broken down into four distinct aspects: the spread (the food), the game, the halftime show, and the commercials. Let's see how this year's SB stacked up:

The Spread
Pizza, buffalo wings, chips, dip, and American beer? Check to all of those. This year our house even featured two, that's right, two types of queso dip. You weren't ready for that, were you? I didn't think so.

Highlight: Did I tell you that there were two types of queso? And one had bacon in it. Jack. Pot.

: The spicy beef/buffalo chicken/potato in puff pastry hors d'oeuvres purchased from Costco were more pasty than filling and kind of bland.

Biggest Surprise
: Batman cupcakes that turned your mouth blue and had Batman rings on top.

The Game
Has anyone else been impressed with the quality of the last few Super Bowls? The overall quality of play has been great the past few years and last night's game was no exception. Excellent play on both sides of the ball by both teams seem counter intuitive, but I would argue that the Packers and Steelers played well on both offense and defense. Turnovers, sacks, long touchdown passes, tough runs; they were all there. It's hard to ask for anything more.

Highlight: Nick Collins's pick-6 on the first play from scrimmage following a Packers' offensive touchdown was an exciting spot in the night, but a drive-extending 31 yard connection from Aaron Rodgers to Greg Jennings in the fourth quarter showed that the GB QB has the steely nerves and talent to make the big plays when it counts on the sport's largest stage.

Disappointment: Roethlisberger not getting Lawrence Taylor'd by anyone on the Packers.

Biggest Surprise: The Packers ability to keep things together and hold onto a win in the 4th quarter despite game injuries to important starters like Charles Woodson, Sam Shields, and Donald Driver.

The Halftime Show
For several years the Super Bowl Halftime Show has been terrible. Overcompensating for the infamous "wardrobe malfunction" of Super Bowl XXXVIII, the minds behind this show have only had "classic rock" acts perform during halftime. Normally I'm all about classic rock music, but it's just sad when you have music legends trying to perform at a level that they're just not able to anymore. Granted I'm no Black Eyed Peas fan, but it was getting really hard to watch 60-year-old men stage slide their crotches right into the camera. I thought this year's performance was pretty decent, but that may have been a result of my extremely low expectations.

Highlight: The cameo appearances by Slash and Usher (while not totally necessary) was neat and I was impressed that they were able to keep this a secret for as long as they did.

Disappointment: Usher has a better voice than any of the Black Eyed Peas, but he spent too much time dancing for the audience really enjoy it. Damnit Usher, we know you've got smooth moves, but I want you to make me want to make love in this club.

Biggest Surprise: I actually sat down and watched the whole thing, which is the first time this has happened in years. Well played halftime show, well played indeed.

The Commercials
Some people watch for the games, some people just use it as an excuse to get drunk on a Sunday night, and some people watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. The commercials can be hit or miss, but there are usually some real favorites that stand out and become a part of our culture (for better or worse) for years.

Highlight: The 'Star Wars VW' commercial went viral before it aired during the Super Bowl (I'll admit I was within the first 1,000 to view it on youtube a few days ago, I kid you not) and has quickly become one of the favorites.

Disappointment: There were so many "old" commercials. I always expect companies paying $3 million for 30 seconds to spend a little extra time on the commercials they submit for the Super Bowl coverage, but there were a lot of commercials that I had seen before, and many of them weren't very good either. Come on ad execs. Get it together.

Biggest Surprise: So maybe surprise isn't the right way to go, but I really really liked Motorola's commercial for its Zoom tablet. It was smart and savvy in the way it parodied Apple's infamous "1984" commercial by portraying Apple as the "Big Brother" that is making us conformists instead of the "freedom" company they originally portrayed themselves to be. It was artistic and a sharp contrast to a lot of the more slapstick offering we've come to expect in Super Bowl ads, and it got its point across while showing some of the Zoom's functions. A nice surprise that shows how commercials can still be smart.

Look Who's Back

A three month hiatus seems long enough to me. Perhaps I didn't feel there was anything worth writing about in that time period, or maybe it was that I was just too lazy and/or forgetful to post anything, but now seems as good a time as any to try to make some new posts. Hooray!