Saturday, March 27, 2010

song choice

Adam Golka almost made us late for The Breakfast Club. The piano virtuoso was practically forced to play an encore by Maestro Lucas Richman. My wife and I attended last night's performance by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. The second half of the concert was Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3. Guest artist Golka tore the roof off the place with his performance. He received an immediate standing ovation and while the applause was still loud and strong, Richman literally pushed the 22-year-old back to the piano bench. I've been to the symphony dozens of times and had not seen this happen before. Golka launched into an opus by Schubert as the orchestra members watched silently.

Between pieces in the first half of the show, the Maestro greeted the audience and thanked the sponsors as usual. He also got in a plug for his participation in Star 102.1's Dancing with the Knoxville Stars. I found it funny when he urged the symphony audience to go to the radio station's website, where they can find the link to donate in his name. I assumed that most of the crowd had no idea what he was talking about but I may have been wrong.

At intermission, web-connected cell phones were glowing and the Tennessee Theatre was buzzing with news of the Tennessee Vols. Their Sweet Sixteen game against Ohio State was nearing its conclusion. I heard one man say that he had smuggled in a radio with an earphone to listen to the game. Local PR executive Alan Carmichael let me look over his shoulder as he checked Twitter on his smartphone. That's how I learned that the Vols won just before intermission ended. The news spread to the audience as the musicians were tuning up for the Rachmaninoff concerto and a cheer erupted. I sent Carmichael and his wife, Cynthia Moxley, a message suggesting that the orchestra should launch into "Rocky Top."

Golka's encore meant that my wife and I didn't get to the Valarium until after 10:30. I thought we had missed the start of The Breakfast Club show but their opening act was still on its last song when we arrived. The popular '80s cover band hit the stage a short while later. My wife and I figured that they probably save all the best songs for last. Except for "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," I didn't hear any of my favorites during the first set, although the other fans seemed more than ready to Wang Chung last night.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

sweeping into the house

The two biggest complaints about the Olympic telecasts this past weekend were that many of the events were tape-delayed and that the USA vs. Canada hockey game, while live, was not in high-definition. Of the two, I think the non-HD offense is worse. There is no excuse for NBC to have relegated the popular match-up to a standard-def channel.

Admittedly, I am an HD snob. I filter my on-screen guide to list only the HD channels. As a result, I didn't even know the hockey game was on until I saw the complaints on Twitter about the SD broadcast. Today I watched all eight goals in eight minutes, in HD and found I enjoyed it. Sure it was delayed but I didn't mind. It was similar to NFL Replay, but faster.

The HD highlights were only a couple of button pushes away via the On Demand menu on my Comcast Digital Cable. Quick disclaimer: I pay for Comcast service but I get it at the employee rate because ten months ago I started doing testimonial spots for them on the radio.

The only curling I've seen is On Demand. When a bonspiel is boiled down to a minute, the sport actually makes sense to me.They seem to get points for wearing outrageous pants while putting their rock in the circle and hitting the other team's rock out of the circle. Does it deserve to be an Olympic sport? I don't know. It looks like an amusing backyard game, along the lines of croquet or bocce.

I have tried watching NBC's prime time Olympic coverage and have lost interest almost every night. The On Demand choices give me enough to satisfy my curiosity about events such as ski cross and also the opportunity to go back and see the events that people are talking about, such as the hockey game and last night's ice dancing. I like some of the short clip packages too. I just watched a one-minute collection of snowboard crashes.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

let's go to the pearly gates

George Michael was George Michael before the Wham! guy came along. Like the singer, the George Michael I knew had a real last name that wasn't radio-friendly. Because I remember how mad he got when The Washington Post printed it, I will respect his memory and omit it here.

George died today after a two-year battle with leukemia. He was one of the best deejays ever to grace the airwaves, most notably at WFIL. I remember hearing him at WABC when I was in high school. He was also the best local sportscaster I've ever seen. I'm not talking about play-by-play or color commentators, I mean the guys in the trenches squeezing as many highlights as possible into their allotted time on the evening news.

George moved to the Washington area a month or so before I did. For me, he always was the face of sports in the nation's capital. His enthusiasm is also partly responsible for my conversion to being a Redskins fan. My friends who interned at WRC confirmed all reports that George was a tough but fair boss. His off-air perfectionism is what allowed him to seem relaxed on the air.

My first full-time job in broadcasting was at WAVA. Our general manager, Alan Goodman, knew a good thing when he saw it and signed George to provide sports reports three times a week during the morning show. It was my job to call George and tell him that we were ready for his segment. He had a microphone in his house that was connected to our studios via a dedicated phone line.

Once a year, I think around Thanksgiving or Christmas, George would come in and play deejay. We would toss our morning zoo format and play oldies not normally heard on WAVA. And by we, I mean George and me. Unlike most deejays, George did not run his own board. He was major-market all the way and was accustomed to having a board op. I would load up the tunes and wait for George to point at me to hit the button. He had a hand signal for me to turn on his mic and another to start the next record. I'm using the old-school term but I actually played his oldies off CD.

There was one particular song that George insisted on playing every time. He would call me a couple of times in the days leading up to his appearance to make sure that I would have "Come and Get Your Love" by Redbone. Excuse me for a moment while I listen to the intro that George loved talking up.

WRC-TV has posted a retrospective, much of which was also shown when George retired from his nightly duties in 2007. I found several other good links on the @redskinsblog Twitter feed. As you gather with your family this Christmas Eve, take a moment to say a prayer for the repose of the soul of George Michael. Rest in peace sir, rest in peace.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

dam skippy

Take a moment to listen to someone talk about their interests and you may hear about a whole world you have never experienced. Stacey Handel of Garde Bien Spa Salon was bursting with excitement about her daughter's volleyball team. Not only did the Karns High School Lady Beavers (yeah, I know) defeat archrival Farragut to win the Region 2-AAA title but Kelsey Handel was the tournament MVP. On Thursday night, they will host Sullivan South for sectionals.

Like any good sports mom, Stacey takes some photos during the games but finds that they pale in comparison to the professional shots taken by Before You Blink Photography. She told me how several of the fathers of team members video tape the games and then combine the footage into an edited DVD.

In an odd way, what she described reminded me of a dance competition and a dog agility show. Earlier this year, my wife and I watched a bit of the Dance Dimensions Summer Invitational. A professional photographer took photos of the competitors and sells the shots online.

A few years back we wanted to visit with our friend Sandy Weaver but she was competing with some of her Siberian Huskies in an agility trial at Wills Park in Alpharetta. We went to the park and watched the dog show. I remember being impressed by the ingenious woman taking pictures of the dogs and masters as they ran the course.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

punt, pass & cake

Maybe Google Maps was in a playful mood the other day. All I wanted were the directions to Comcast's office on Asheville Highway. Google said I should take I-640. I wanted to see if it would be faster to go through downtown on I-40. I dragged the blue line from 640 to 40 but Google had me getting off the Interstate and taking surface streets. I dragged it back and Google reacted with yet another detour. It took me a moment to realize that the almighty Google doesn't know that SmartFIX40 has been completed since June 12th.

I had been invited to a press conference on the day that additions to Comcast's sports line up were activated. They now carry ESPNU on channel 735. Their high speed Internet customers now get access to at no additional charge. Locally, Comcast will televise seven high school football games. The last game of the season will be chosen by viewers' votes at If you don't have a dog in that fight, do me a favor and vote for Bearden at Catholic once the season starts.

The food at the press conference was themed like a tailgate party. They had mini corn dogs, chips, dip, sandwiches and a cake. The cake was actually two cakes. A football made of pound cake sat atop a field made of sheet cake. I wonder if they got the idea to use pound cake from watching "Cake Boss."

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Friday, February 20, 2009

the homecoming queen's got a gun

George Mason University's homecoming game was televised last Saturday. I watched it, in high definition no less, on Comcast SportsNet MidAtlantic. So why has it taken almost a full week for me to find out that this year's homecoming queen is a dude? There was no mention of it during the telecast. The Washington Post finally had the story today. WTTG-TV and WRC-TV aired reports last night. I got all three links this morning when my daily Google Alert for GMU arrived. I suspect that the mainstream media got their news from Broadside, the weekly student paper.

Reann Ballslee, the queen in question, has previous royalty experience as a drag performer at Freddie's Beach Bar. When not in character, Reann is a popular student named Ryan Allen.

Oddly enough, this is not the first time I've mentioned GMU and drag queens in the same blog post. Please see the last paragraph of my May 18, 2006 entry. It tells you that I knew of the Queen Mary but not that I've also been backstage. The Queen Mary is the same club that Tobias Fünke referenced on the "Arrested Development" rerun I watched yesterday on HDNet.

Tobias would be jealous to know that Maximilliana had me hold his falsies as he dressed as a she. Max has posted video from that night on YouTube. It was part of the infamous Mark & Brian Show football bet punishments.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

mixed marriage

The George Mason at James Madison basketball game seemed like a good thing to put on the TV while my wife and I were relaxing at home yesterday, that is until the Dukes narrowly won in an upset. At least my wife, the JMU alumna, was happy about our schools' rivalry for the first time in five years.

The game was on DirecTV channel 642, which is Comcast SportsNet MidAtlantic. The technicians had some trouble deciding whether or not the broadcast was supposed to be in HD. They switched several times from widescreen to pillars and back. I was hoping to hear the "Mason Nation" jingle during the game. I have read about it but not heard it yet.

The GMU Patriots will be televised again on Thursday night when their away game against the Delaware Blue Hens is on ESPNU. Fans at the game will be entertained by multiple mascots, which might be lucky enough to get some nominal TV coverage. No word if Two Face will be there or not.

Apparently the University of Delaware is a mascot factory. Who knew? In addition to the current YoUDee, the court will be filled with former UD mascot team members who are now working as mascots for professional sports teams. The list includes Screech from the Washington Nationals, Slapshot from the Washington Capitals, Poe from the Baltimore Ravens, Wool E. Bull from the Durham Bulls and Swoop from the Philadelphia Eagles. They should ask Jennaphr Frederick to show up and dance with the mascots like she did a few years ago.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

frozen customers

A nearby bank thermometer said 27° but the wind chill made it feel much colder in St. Louis on Saturday evening. The temperature continued dropping into the single digits during the night. Yet that didn't stop some dedicated fans from lining up in the cold to get their concretes from Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. A lot of them were wearing St. Louis Blues gear, no doubt celebrating the team's victory over the Wild. Many were underdressed and shivering without coats. During Advent, the famous custard stand also sells Christmas trees and wreaths in the parking lot. Ted Drewes does actually close in January for the coldest weeks of winter. Given what I saw on Saturday night, they could probably stay open year round.

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Monday, December 15, 2008


There was a picture of my wife in this morning's News Sentinel. Actually it's her and about a hundred others in the seats at Thompson-Boling Arena on Sunday. A friend of ours had an extra ticket to the Rock n' Racquets exhibition starring Serena Williams and Andy Roddick.

My wife had a great time at the event. She said that Roddick was really funny, especially when he did impressions of other tennis stars like John McEnroe, Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova. He even stuffed towels in his shirt and shorts to impersonate Serena. My wife said she recognized a couple of the songs by Gavin Rossdale, probably from the days we saw him perform with Bush at various KROQ concerts.

While she was there she spotted WBIR's John Becker in the audience. She also saw Fr. Ragan Schriver, who had a court side seat (see photo) near Dane Bradshaw. Just the other day I was talking with someone about how the former Vol player rode a zipline from atop the Sunsphere in 2007.

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

some will win, some will lose

The Tennessee high school football world was rocked yesterday. A team that has dominated its division for the past several years did something they didn't do last year or the year before or the year before that. They won the state championship. Obviously I'm not talking about the end of Maryville's remarkable winning streak. Knoxville Catholic High School's Fighting Irish got the monkey off their back this year by making it to the Blue Cross Bowl and then winning it. With all the publicity for the football team, you might think that it was the first state championship in the 75 year history of KCHS. Actually, the school's first ever state championships came earlier this year with victories by the tennis and soccer teams.

The game was telecast on CSS. I watched the first half live and recorded the second half to watch after work. Some friends from church happened past my remote broadcast. As they got out of their car, they were bursting with the news that Catholic was winning. I put my hands over my ears and told them that I was TiVoing the game at home.

There was much to enjoy including a successful onside kick and an incredible deep pass by Catholic's quarterback Tyler Williamson. It was not all good news. An Irish field goal attempt was blocked and almost run back for a touchdown. Michael Bonfini and Evan Sanders both left the game with leg fractures. With only seconds to go and the game won, Catholic went into the "victory formation." As the quarterback took a knee, my wife and I noticed that Zach Vann was one of the players on the field. He had suffered a season-ending injury on the first play of this year's first game. Last week Vann dressed out for the coin toss. My wife and I especially liked seeing Mr. Football award winner Daniel Hood carrying the championship trophy over to the fans in the stands. WVLT had a reporter on the field after the game. WATE sent a reporter to interview the team as they got off the bus at KCHS. The players warbled "Don't Stop Believin'" for the camera.

It's not over for two of the Irish. Will Coulter and Jordan Howanitz, were selected to play in the Toyota East-West Football Classic this coming Saturday at Carson-Newman College.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gunston checks out

Gunston, the oft-maligned mascot of George Mason University, is being put out to pasture. He looks like a giant Muppet that's missing a couple of chromosomes. Rather than disappear, he will still represent the University at some events for children.

Although Gunston was far from perfect, I'm worried that I might like his replacement less. The DC Sports Blog and the DCist report that GMU's new mascot will be more human looking. I hope the GMU Patriots don't try to copy the New England Patriots mascot. To me, the creepiest mascots are the ones that have giant human faces. I would prefer an animal mascot, like the ones competing in the Capitol One Mascot Challenge (including UT's Smokey).

When I was a student at Mason, there was no foam-covered mascot. Instead we had a face character. He was an older man who wore colonial garb, which would have been better for a candle-making demonstration in Williamsburg than for rallying a crowd of basketball fans. In subsequent years, the scary-looking Mason Maniak replaced the stately statesman.

Two of my friends have worn the mascot costumes for GMU. I emailed both George and Mike to get their take on the news of the impending change. George started in 1991 as the puffy Patriot. He also wore a gorilla suit and the Green Mask outfit before debuting the Gunston costume. George still works for the University. He went to fix something at President and Mrs. Merten's residence the day after they had attended their first GMU basketball game:
She introduced herself to me and I told her we had met last night. She looked puzzled when I told her we even danced on the court during a time out. When I told her who I was, she ran to the stairs and called out, "Alan, Alan, come here!" She was so excited to find out who I was.
Mike was the last to wear the original Gunston costume and the first to wear the new one. He overlapped with George in 1998 and continued through the school's 2001 NCAA appearance. Mike says:
Gunston was always misunderstood. I was once told that the aim of the athletic department was to appeal to families and kids, but I always thought that as the University's mascot, it should appeal to the students and alumni. It would never fail that at a game I would be asked "what are you?"

Who knows why Mason is making the change. There was talk about this back in 1998 and there will be talk of changing from whatever they chose in the future. Mason is funny like that. It longs for tradition and I think forgets that tradition takes time and stability.

Once I was asked out for Valentine's Day by a couple of sorority girls and went on a date to dinner and a movie with them. The great thing about Gunston was that people forgot that there was a person in there. That's how I knew that I did a good job. I would surf on top of police cars in parades, rollerblade behind vans around Patriot Park and the cops would smirk and shake their heads. Orientation was always fun too. I was the first college guy that hit on many an incoming freshman. I know... kind of impure, but they needed it, Frank... they needed it.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

never give up, never surrender

Today's guest blogger from beyond the grave is once again my father. When I visited my mother this Spring, she gave me copies of three letters he had written to various famous people. I posted the first two here and here. I think you'll agree that I saved the best for last.

I was reminded to look for this third letter one day last week when my mother wrote a comment on my blog entry about the B-17. She recognized the title of that post as an homage to my father. The phrase was a campaign slogan he came up with when a friend of his was running for city council.

As mentioned before, my father was a big fan of sports, especially of the New York Football Giants. They were a championship team when he was a young man but not so good during the twenty years he was a season ticket holder. Unfortunately he died before the Giants made their first Super Bowl appearance.

My father was set off by an article in the New York Times titled "Giants Shown Game Films; Csonka Is Ill." Coach Bill Arnsparger had decided to show game films to the team as a whole instead of dividing them into offensive and defensive squads. Here's the part that Dad highlighted:
The emphasis, said Jack Gregory, the defensive captain who had never before seen offensive films, was on the positive. "It accomplished what [Arnsparger] set out to do," said the defensive end. "I think he was trying to get us to have confidence in each other. He told us we're still his team, he hasn't given up on us and we shouldn't give up on ourselves.

"Let's face it. This is an ideal time for guys to start quitting."

Gregory, echoing the official team line, said the Giants' main problem has been "lack of concentration."
The day after the article was in the paper, my father wrote to Jack Gregory. At the time, the Giants were at a low point in team history. They were near the beginning of a nine-game losing streak in the 1976 season that would end with a 3 - 11 record. They were 5 - 9 in 1975 and 2 -12 in 1974. The previous year wasn't much better. They were 2 -11 - 1 in 1973.
September 23, 1976

Mr. Jack Gregory
Defensive End
New York Football Giants
c/o Pace University
Pleasantville, NY

Dear Mr. Gregory,

I was greatly distressed this morning by a statement attributed to you. And I would only hope that you might consider and pass along to your teammates the corrosive effect such an attitude, as implied in your statement, could have, not only on your current year but on the future of pro football and the security of the future of the pension program for all players.

I do not begrudge professional athletes their above average salaries (the median family income for the U.S. is about $13,000 per annum), their generous pension programs which beat virtually everything other than very top management gets in industry, or the emoluments, opportunities, adulation and favors that flow your way.

What I do resent, is the hint at the possibility that short of gaining the playoffs, the professional athlete does not deliver his finest performance. There are a lot of us in life that never make the playoffs.

This hurts. Those of us who work in offices all week genuinely look forward to just getting out on a Sunday afternoon to see a football game and enjoying ourselves. We love the sport. We love the competition. We stand in respect bordering upon awe, for the outstanding performances that we pay to see. There isn't a single person in the stands who could take your place on the field, for if there were they probably would be there.

So, we come and pay to appreciate your skills, your energy and your perseverance in a difficult, demanding and exhilarating sport. Whether you win or lose frankly only affects us in a vicarious way. We brighten to your wins, we regret your losses, but we don't get to share in your playoff purse. It hardly matters -- unless we bet -- what the score is. The most we can hope for is the opportunity of buying a ticket to see in person the playoffs, or divisional championship if it happens that they are being held in the home city of the Eastern Division winner that year.

We buy tickets because we love the game. And that means we expect to see a good, fair, even competition whether the team has a shot for the Super Bowl or not. It's a Sunday afternoon's entertainment and on those cold days in December -- in snow or sleet or rain i.e. Giants-Vikings Yale Bowl Dec. 1973 (sleet); Giants-Eagles, Yale Bowl Dec. 1974 (snow/sleet/rain) for even in a "meaningless game" (whatever that is) the fan is entitled to a good game. To us, it is the entertainment we pay to see.

We'd rather see you win. But we deserve more than to see you quit. And frankly, the team has quit several times in recent years. I have to go no further than the two games mentioned above for two miserable performances or two equally miserable days.

I realize that you were attempting to say that the Giants were not going to quit even after two disheartening losses. But I say that the notion of quitting should not even be a part of your vocabulary.

As a Giant fan, I have spent about $1,962 for season tickets since seeing the Giants beat Pittsburgh to win the Eastern Divisional title in 1963. In the years 1964 through 1975 the Giants have played 84 "home" games including 12 at Yale Bowl and seven at Shea Stadium. In all of those games, I dare say, there were fewer than a dozen or so interesting ones. I'm not talking about Giant wins -- although I enjoy them more than losses -- I'm talking about good, well played, evenly matched competitive games. In other words -- games in which neither side quit, the Redskin game at Shea last year, for example.

At present, Giants tickets are $9 and $11 each, and we send our money off to buy these seats, including those games in cold, windy, weather-uncertain December, by June 1st. With four seats -- so I can take my wife, children or friends -- that comes to an annual outlay of $322. That's a lot of discretionary income to tie up all summer and most of the autumn, before getting any return.

The cost of going to a Giants game easily approaches $50 to $75 each Sunday. Add to the $46 ticket price, the cost of tolls, parking, program, tip, refreshments, gas and oil, extra clothing, and time, and you have a pretty expensive afternoon. That's the price of four rounds of golf, or rental of an indoor tennis court for 3 hour-long sessions or a good steak dinner for four at Gallagher's.

Tickets for the Metropolitan Opera or New York City Ballet or a Broadway show are cheaper and I don't hear any of those performers "quit," even if it is late in their season. Maybe it's because they just concentrate on offering the best that's within them and devote themselves to excellence in each performance. Maybe that's because they don't have to worry about making the playoffs. You seem to lose sight of the fact that the playoffs are merely the logical product of the season. It's the season that counts. It's the four months of excitement, excellent performance, unpredictable entertainment we pay to enjoy. The season came before the playoffs and that season consists of 14 games. Don't sell the product short.

I mentioned both salaries and pension at the outset. If the prevalent attitude becomes one of quitting because a game has no effect upon the standings -- or because a team has lost the first two games of the season, there is great danger that the fans might become disenchanted with what they get out of this considerable investment of money, time and interest in pro football. And unless the stadium is full, and people are clamoring for tickets -- the wherewithal to provide those salaries and pensions will evaporate -- and so will your economic security.

Giant fans have stuck with you guys through 12 lean years and haven't quit yet. I don't think it's appropriate for you to talk of quitting at this stage or any stage of the season.

With kind regards,

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

replay booth

A packed agenda kept me from watching all the sporting events I wanted to see this weekend, although Friday night's game was only on the radio. My wife and I heard a post-game interview with Luke Smith of Knoxville Catholic High School as we drove home from a dinner party. The description of their game against Baylor and the overtime period made me wish that the contest had been covered by Wazoo Sports. Wazoo offers a live video stream of a high school game each week on their site, which is also picked up by Next Friday they will cover the KCHS at Anderson County matchup. I couldn't get it to work tonight but in the past, I've been able to click on an archived game to see some of Catholic's victory over Austin-East.

I was at work on Saturday and saw none of the Mets game. I caught a little bit of college football. I'm glad Notre Dame won and Florida lost but I feel bad for all the UT fans. The Vols should have won their game against Auburn.

Today I had a work thing downtown at the same time as the Mets game. I recorded the pregame show on TBS, hoping to see some of the "Shea Goodbye" festivities. Thanks to a brief rain delay, I saw none of it. I found out later that most of the stuff I wanted to see happened after the game. The Mets blew the opportunity to make the playoffs and ended their season today.

I've only just now finished watching the Redskins upset victory over the Cowboys. I had to record the game while I went to a table reading for the independent film I'll be in next weekend. I didn't know the score but had a hint that the Redskins had won from my wife's tone of voice. Meanwhile, I found out that the filmmakers still need a few extras for a party scene on Saturday. Send your headshot to

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

son of glitch

Here's a suggestion for the NFL and DirecTV. Next year, add some preseason games to your fabulous NFL Sunday Ticket subscription package. It's not that I particularly need to see second and third-string squads battling for a place on the roster. Every year the first Sunday of the football season means that it's time to work out some technical problems before being able to watch a game. Why not let us fans get our bugs fixed during the preseason?

The DirecTV Supercast came in handy last year. I often watched games online while at work on Sundays. My first several attempts to log in today failed. The error message told me that the Supercast was only available between noon and 8:15 p.m. There was no way for me to tell it to check its watch and see that it was just after 1:00 p.m. This year, the Supercast uses its own streaming video player powered by Adobe AIR technology. They say it's still possible to watch the feed through a web browser with the latest version of Macromedia Adobe Flash. Unfortunately the computers at work don't have the right software and I don't have the administrative privileges to do anything about it. Once I got home from work today, I gave the Supercast player a test drive and was duly impressed. There was no delay between the video on my television and the video on my computer. The picture quality was very good in the small player, not so much when expanded to full screen. I could easily click between games and the Red Zone Channel. At least next week my son will be able to use my password to watch the Redskins game in his dorm room. During our practice run today, neither he nor I had any trouble viewing the games that were also being shown on broadcast TV in our respective areas.

NBC's "Sunday Night Football Extra" player was less impressive. The bells and whistles are a great idea. It's cool to be able to switch camera angles at will. However the stream was choppy and the picture was a little blurry. During commercial breaks, the NBC feed was replaced with other game highlights presented by studio hosts from the NFL Network. Those hosts and highlights had a much better picture quality than the live game. After a while, the video player tried to cut me off. I had to click "yes" to continue watching. On top of all that, the Internet feed was sometimes delayed from the broadcast by up to ten seconds. I was hoping that NBC would give us picture quality as good as we saw online during the Olympics. Instead I was left wondering if some network executive gave the order to keep the online stream inferior for fear of losing his television viewers to the Internet.

An online promo for Notre Dame football reminded me of something I heard during yesterday's NBC telecast from South Bend. Knoxville Catholic High School standout Harrison Smith is a red-shirt freshman for the Irish. You might remember reading my blog entry when he was being recruited by both Charlie Weis and Philip Fulmer two years ago. When Harrison made a good tackle in yesterday's game, the announcers revealed that the other players call him "Hayseed."

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

some less

The plan was to go see an improv performance while in St. Louis. The Improv Trick is run by Bill Chott, who worked in the trailer next to mine at the Comedy World Radio Network and has appeared in "The Ringer" among other films. I emailed Bill to ask about his performance schedule in August and chose a night that fit my itinerary.

After a few wrong turns and much map consulting, my wife and I found our way to The Playhouse at Westport Plaza. It's among a cluster of restaurants, nightclubs and hotels in an office park just off I-270. I thought it unusual that there were restaurants named after local sports legends Albert Pujols, Ozzie Smith and Dan Dierdorf & Jim Hart all in the same complex.

We could hear peals of laughter coming through the doors of the Playhouse. However the box office clerk didn't know what we were talking about when we asked for tickets to the improv show. The performer inside was a comic named Sommore. The clerk suggested we try our luck down the hall at The Funny Bone comedy club. The guy at that ticket window knew the improv show was normally at the Playhouse once a week. They had gotten bumped for Sommore. My wife and I went back to the car, comedy-free.

Whenever I travel, I like to seek out a local improv show for inspiration. I often try to bring back some of their games to Knoxville and add them to our repertoire. I had especially hoped to see a show this week. This coming Tuesday, it will be my turn to emcee the Einstein Simplified show celebrating the group's fourteenth anniversary. Last I heard, recently retired members Todd Covert and Bill Slayden are planning on attending and performing. If any other former members (like Doug McCaughan) show up, I will bring them on stage for at least one game. C'mon out and see us on Tuesday night starting at 8:30 p.m. at Patrick Sullivan's. We're going to extend the show until 10:30, so plan accordingly.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

ahoy there

The amazing Michael Phelps did it again. Tonight's race was the best yet. Earlier in the week, his relay teammates won him a gold medal in a great display of sportsmanship. The other day, Phelps overcame goggle adversity to set another world record. However it was tonight's race that left me slack jawed and speechless while staring at the TV.

Phelps looked like he was going to lose throughout the entire 100 meter butterfly event. For the first time in this Olympics, he didn't break a world record (just an Olympic one). Two of his competitors were capable of beating him. American Ian Crocker holds the world record and Serbian Milorad Cavic was the top qualifier in the preliminary heats. From almost every camera angle it looked like Cavic had touched the wall first. The electronic timer gave the race to Phelps by one one hundredth of a second. It wasn't until NBC showed the replay from the underwater camera in super slow motion that it became clear Phelps had touched first. He was still swimming at full speed as Cavic was gliding and reaching for the wall. The last half-stroke made all the difference.

As the swimming events wind down, so does my interest in the Olympics. If something catches my eye, I will watch for a little while but I won't be planning my evening around an event like I did with Phelps' races. Perhaps it will be fun to look for newspaper headlines about track star Tyson Gay. I doubt anyone can top today's San Francisco Chronicle headline: Gay Cruises To Heat Victory!

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

take your mark

There are a lot more people in the stands at the Olympic swimming trials in Omaha than could possibly fit in the brand new Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center at UT, which is hosting the Olympic diving selection camp this week. It's because the Omaha event is being held at the Qwest Center, a building that normally hosts basketball games, hockey games and rock concerts.

The past few nights I've been watching the swimming events in HD on the USA Network while searching the Internet for information on how they got such a huge pool into the arena. First, they put up some yellow tape to give people an idea of where the temporary pool would go. It's technically an above-ground pool, sitting on top of twelve truckloads of sand. Then they brought in the walls in segments, added a vinyl liner and had the fire department spray in enough water to cover the bottom and stretch out the liner. The Omaha World-Herald created a full-page graphic to show the pool's features. Eight rows of seats had to be removed for the pool deck, which covers all the pipes for the filtration system. When the swimming trials are over, local firefighters will drain the pool as part of a training exercise.

The news that Lady Vol swimmer Christine Magnuson made the Olympic team in the 100m butterfly event was on all the local channels. Another Knoxville swimmer competed in the 200m individual medley. Jace Howanitz is the current Tennessee state high school champion in that event. Next year she will swim for Virginia Tech as an H2Okie. This year her time was 9.75 seconds behind the winner, which she will undoubtedly improve upon in 2012. I just wanted an excuse to type H2Okie.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

disturb the sound of silence

After two days of watching CNN, I can't take it any longer. Pardon me while I borrow a formula from my friend Bean's blog, Strongly Worded Letter. Former radio deejay Tony Harris has the good looks to make it as a TV news anchor. He probably Googles himself regularly, therefore it shouldn't take him but a day or two to find this:
Dear Mr. Harris,

May I humbly suggest that you compare a tape of your coverage of today's Papal Mass with the coverage on EWTN, the Catholic network. Granted they have the advantage of already knowing the format of a standard Catholic service, however you will have to notice that you and your team were talking at the times they knew to be quiet and vice versa. More than once you chose to listen in to the proceedings at the wrong time. For example, your viewers heard a minute of silence after the homily and the Prayers of the Faithful read in multiple foreign languages. EWTN used those opportunities to explain what was happening. You completely obliterated the second reading, which was in English, and went to commercial during the Responsorial Psalm.

Furthermore, may I suggest that you spend some time listening to a good play-by-play announcer in your favorite sport. I can think of several baseball and football announcers who know how to be quiet and let the game happen. They may be in the middle of an anecdote about a player when then simply pause the story, let the game unfold and then pick up the story later. Unlike you, they do not spend 20 precious seconds explaining to the audience that they are about to stop talking to let us hear whatever it is that they are talking over.

Thank you for your attention,
Frank Murphy
Knoxville, TN
Now that we have that out of the way, let's move on to the photos my sister took at Nationals Park today. The Popemobile passed close by as she and my mother were walking to their seats. Once they got there, they had a pretty good view of the altar and of the Pope as he headed back to the dugout after Mass.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

impossible things happening everyday

The news out of Fairfax this week was unsettling. George Mason Patriots coach Jim Larranaga was being courted by his alma mater, Providence College. I heard about it yesterday when I called Michael Litos, author of "Cinderella: Inside the Rise of Mid-Major College Basketball," to arrange today's podcast interview. I was relieved to hear today that Larranaga accepted a contract extension to stay at GMU.

In the 11 minute mp3 file, we talk about Coach L, the CAA and mid-major basketball in general. I told Michael about Best Week Ever poking fun at Larranaga over his speech before this year's Notre Dame game. While you're listening, take a look at Michael's CAA blog and the current stories about Larranaga on the Washington Post and New York Times sites.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

one and done

"If it weren't for bad luck, there would be no luck at all." That's what one of the announcers said about GMU with sixteen minutes left in tonight's debacle in Denver. The George Mason Patriots couldn't keep pace with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Many of their shots found the rim but not the basket. The game was so lopsided that CBS bailed out and switched to the Cal State Fullerton game.

The NCAA is offering live streaming video of all the tournament games over the Internet. When I was researching the links for my March 10th post, I saw that fans had to register in advance for the video feed. Thinking that there was a pretty good chance Mason's games would be on regular TV, I had not registered for the stream. I stuck with CBS for a little while tonight, hoping they would switch back to the GMU game on my HD screen. Nope. By the look of the scoreboard at the top of the screen, they weren't going to be returning any time soon. At halftime, I checked the March Madness on Demand website to see if maybe I could still register. After all, I was ready to root for my alma mater, even though the game started so late. I took a nice long nap today and I put on my GMU sweatshirt.

To my surprise, the website had a button that said I could watch without registering. The video player looked great on my computer. Unfortunately the Patriots did not. The second half was just as bad as the first. Game over, tournament over, 68-50. What did I expect on Holy Thursday?

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Monday, March 10, 2008

final sixty-four

The George Mason Patriots earned their way back to the NCAA men's basketball tournament with a 68-59 victory over the William and Mary Tribe tonight. The win came in the championship game of the CAA Tournament in Richmond. This means that I will now be interested in the Selection Sunday seeds and that I will be watching GMU play in the tournament. Not that I'm superstitious but I think I will wear the same GMU sweatshirt that I wore to watch the CAA tournament during that first round NCAA game. Since I have three different ones, let me remind myself that it was the green one with the gold stitched lettering. I'm not the only one in eager anticipation. One of the fans in the stands at tonight's game held up a sign that read: "George Mason is this year's George Mason!"

Near the beginning of the game, our home phone rang. Of course, not everyone reads my blog and would know that I was watching the game. Since the DirecTV box is connected to a phone line, they can offer a caller ID feature. The name and number of incoming callers is displayed on my TV screen. As we watched Mason take an early lead, the caller ID said "incoming call from Geo Mason Univ." and gave a (703) number. Huh? The voice on the phone said they were calling from the university's Phonathon. I remember volunteering for the annual fundraiser when I was a GMU student myself, calling unsuspecting alumni at their homes. I told the young lady that I was trying to watch the basketball game. She asked who was winning. I told her that Mason had scored the first two baskets. At that point she said her good-byes and hung up. It was the most painless solicitation call ever. We didn't even get to the part where I have to say no.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

knowing what the world is about

The book I'm currently reading put me in the mood to watch some college basketball today. Specifically, I wanted to see the CAA tournament game between George Mason and Northeastern. In case you didn't know, GMU is my alma mater. The book is called "Cinderella: Inside the Rise of Mid-Major College Basketball." It's mostly about the 2005-2006 CAA season and Mason's trip to the Final Four. I'm working on getting an interview with the author for an upcoming podcast.

Prior to the game, I was a little worried for the Patriots because of their recent loss to the Huskies in the regular season. Northeastern had to beat my wife's school (JMU) last night in order to face my school tonight. There was no need for concern. Mason held a comfortable lead throughout the game, winning 63-52. They play UNC Wilmington tomorrow at approximately 5:30 p.m. The winner of that game gets to play in the CAA championship game on Monday night.

In the time since Mason's Final Four appearance, the pep band has evolved into the Green Machine, led by Doc Nix. I read in the alumni magazine that the band's string section started as a joke. The violins got a fair amount of TV time on CN8, which the announcers predictably referred to as "the ocho."

The pregame hosts interviewed Lakers scout Kevin Grevey who said he was also there to look for players for the minor league Defenders. They let him get in a plug for his restaurant in Falls Church too. The play-by-play announcers said there was "lots of ball pressure," whatever that means. I'm sure they meant in the game, not at the restaurant.

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

margin of defeat

The football season ended today for Redskins fans. We were hoping for a win against a team that got to the postseason by playing a much softer schedule than the Redskins did. Instead the Seahawks and their noisy 12th man showed that they deserved to be in the playoffs.

My family and I thought the refs blew a couple of spots today that should have given Washington a first down. The most exciting play of the day turned out to be a bust. With 12:38 left in the game, a Redskins kickoff sailed over the head of the Seattle returner and landed near the 20 yard line. The Redskins recovered the ball and ran it in for what appeared to be a score. The NBC graphics even briefly flashed "touchdown." It was like a really long onside kick. The touchdown didn't count since they can't advance the ball but the Redskins did get great field position at the spot where they recovered the kick. After all that, they couldn't get a touchdown and then missed a field goal. Speaking of NBC, I thought Cris Collinsworth did a good job in the booth. I wish he were there more often.

The Redskins had been on a winning streak since the funeral of number 21, Sean Taylor. Last week much was made about the Redskins beating the Cowboys by 21 points to reach the playoffs. I don't think there will be as much attention to the fact that they lost by 21 points today.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

dressed up with someplace to go

When someone goes to the trouble to give me free tickets to a nice event, I like to be able to use them. Tonight my wife Jere and I felt lucky to attend the Fantasy of Trees Gala Preview Party even though it meant I would have to be a little late for my Einstein Simplified performance. The Fantasy of Trees opens tomorrow and benefits East Tennessee Children's Hospital.

The menu at the gala featured "holiday fare with a Southern flair." The jumbo shrimp was served with a delicious sweet hickory chili sauce that had a good kick to it. The New Orleans bread pudding was a fine dessert but it was a side dish that stole the show. I recently heard about the trend to have a mashed potato bar at catered events. Tonight we enjoyed the fixin's at a sweet potato bar instead. The servers used an ice cream scoop to put some mashed sweet potatoes in a plastic cup. We could then choose from candied pecans, cream cheese glaze, dried cranberry and ginger relish, cinnamon streusel, whipped honey butter, maple syrup and skewered marshmallows that had been lightly toasted with a torch. The potatoes were fine but I was tempted to fill my cup with nothing but toppings.

We spotted several familiar faces from WBIR throughout the crowd. Todd Howell and his wife were walking in to the Convention Center at the same time as Jere and me. As we waited in line for a drink, I asked the pretty woman standing behind us if she was Emily Stroud. She was. A few minutes later we briefly saw Michele Silva and Steve Phillips. We talked with Beth Haynes about one of her relatives who had great success on the same weight loss program as us. John Becker had some helpful advice for my wife's allergy problem.

Our longest conversation was with Ben Senger and his wife Alisha. They were sure they had seen my wife someplace before. Jere cracked us up by saying that she had a very common face. I kept questioning the Sengers until we determined that they had attended Fr. Chris Michelson's farewell Mass at All Saints Church. Jere was the cantor at that Mass.

All night long, I was introducing my wife to the people I knew from WBIR. When it was time for us to leave, she introduced me to some people she knew. A lovely woman named Joni had seen Jere first. They had already started talking as I caught up. Jere introduced me to Joni Punch, who then started to introduce her husband. I somehow already knew she was going to say his name was Jerry. She did the whole, "Jerry, meet Jere" thing that happens every time two people with the same name meet. Then I asked if he was a doctor. Remember, we were at a Children's Hospital function so I could pass it off as a reasonable question. As I suspected he was Dr. Jerry Punch but I still couldn't figure out how I knew that name. I asked my wife if she had mentioned Jerry's name to me recently. She was quite sure she hadn't. It wasn't until I got home and Googled the name that I realized he is a sportscaster and medical expert for ESPN. I don't remember seeing him on ESPN but I do recall seeing him interviewed recently on the local news. Sorry about that, Doc.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Friday night slights

First time visitors to a Knoxville Catholic High School football game are amazed by the number of players on Catholic's sideline. In addition to the varsity, the team suits up the junior varsity and freshman players for the Friday night games. As you look at the team roster that is printed on the backs of t-shirts throughout the crowd, you'll notice that some players share a uniform number. For example, senior Eric Lindsey and freshman Chase Fox both wear number 17. Lindsey gets a lot of playing time on offense and defense as quarterback and safety.

The local TV sportscasters must not be reading all the way down their roster cards. Tonight two stations showed Lindsey but called him Fox. I heard the error on WBIR and WVLT. WBIR made the same mistake two weeks ago too. On top of that, WBIR misidentified number 26 tonight. The name "Walden" was clearly visible on the player's jersey as they credited Taylor Kennedy with Ryan Walden's touchdown. If you were watching, you saw Walden score on a pass from Lindsey. If you were listening, you heard that Kennedy caught a pass from Fox. I don't know why WATE didn't even bother to cover tonight's game between Catholic and Anderson County. The Irish trailed at halftime but came back to win, 27 - 14.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

this old Wodehouse

Shawn Green hit a foul ball into the Dreamseats just before his walk-off home run Monday night. I had flipped over to ESPN in time to see the end of the game between the Mets and the Cardinals. Unfortunately, tonight's game didn't end as well.

The Dreamseats are luxurious leather recliners near the foul poles. A brief video on their website shows the seats in use and concludes with an address in Hauppauge. They may sell them from New York, but every Dreamseat is manufactured in Tennessee.

The reference to Hauppauge made me think of an old song from a musical that mentions several places we would pass on the way to Grandma's house. I thought that Hauppauge might have been one of the villages in the lyrics. But as it turns out, the song goes: "let's build a little bungalow in Quogue, in Yaphank or in Hicksville or Patchogue."

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Friday, March 30, 2007

free Masons

Last year at this time, America was crazy about George Mason University, my alma mater. I had a pretty severe case of Final Four Fever myself. Blogger Frank Strovel was kind enough to send me the link to an interesting four-part article titled "George Mason: One Year Later." It tells what happened to GMU's three best players after they graduated. Meanwhile, Jim Larranaga is coaching an all-star game in Atlanta tonight as part of Final Four weekend.

This year's Final Four includes one of the other DC area Georges, Georgetown University. I guess I could root for them, seeing as they're a Catholic school and all. I'm not sure but I think the only Georgetown alum I ever knew is Joe Kelliher, who is now some medium-to-big-shot in the government.

After living in Burbank for ten years, it would make sense that I know a couple of people who graduated from UCLA. One of them, former Burbank mayor Michael Hastings, is on my list of LinkedIn connections.

If anyone happens to see me tomorrow, I'll be wearing my Final Four t-shirt from last year.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

close the humidor

The announcers on ESPN tonight explained it well. All season long, the George Mason Patriots have been the hunted. Every opponent tried extra hard to defeat a Final Four team (even though three of last year's starters had graduated). During the CAA tournament, the Patriots were once again the hunters. I was happy to discover that a channel on my cable system was carrying the tournament. I went to bed early and missed Friday night's game but I was able to watch live as 6th seeded GMU upset the number 3 seed Hofstra on Saturday. I recorded Sunday's game and tried to watch it after I got home last night, but only made it to halftime before I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer.

Mason basketball isn't as big a news story as it was last year. This morning around 9:00 a.m., I realized that I still had not yet heard if GMU was able to maintain their big lead or if number 2 seed ODU had come back to win. I hadn't gotten any emails from my fellow GMU alumni, which made me wonder if the news was not good. I resisted the urge to open a USA Today sports page sitting within reach and I didn't go to a headline website that I usually read daily. After lunch, I enjoyed the heck out of the rest of the game as the Patriots overthrew the Monarchs to advance to tonight's championship game. One more Mason victory would mean another trip to the big dance. A loss would probably mean the end of the season, although an NIT appearance wouldn't be completely ruled out.

One of my son's classmates came over to watch tonight's game with us. Things were looking good as the Patriots maintained a lead over the number 1 seed through most of the game but VCU didn't give up and ended up winning in the last two minutes. During the season I had come to accept that Mason probably would not return to the NCAA tournament but I got my hopes up this weekend. It was fun while it lasted.

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