Monthly Archives: February 2010

A surprisingly awesome movie version of “The Blind Side.” And getting ready for U.S.-Canada, Part Deux

So I’m sure I’m not alone when I tell you that I never, ever see movies made out of books I read.

I just have found that the movie is never as good as the book . I end up comparing the movie to the book the whole time I’m in the theater, and that’s not enjoyable at all. I get mad when they change stuff, and I just feel like I’m annoyed for the whole two hours.

Oh, there are rare exceptions when the movie is as good as better. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The Godfather. But really, most of the times I leave the cineplex angry.

So that said, I really had no interest in seeing “The Blind Side,” the Sandra Bullock movie that everyone told me is fantastic. I read the Michael Lewis book (I try to read everything my namesake writes; moniker courtesy and all) about a young, homeless black kid who is taken in by a white, Christian woman and her family, and eventually becomes a football star. The book was brilliant; taught me a lot I didn’t know, and it was an uplifting story that really wasn’t cloying or treacly.

But, Saturday afternoon, on a rainy day here in Central Florida, my wife and in-laws wanted to go to the movies. So I saw “The Blind Side.”

And I was shocked at how good it was, and how much I enjoyed it.

Sandra Bullock, who I haven’t liked since “Speed” and who will never be confused with Meryl Streep, was fantastic. Strong, beautiful, with great comic timing and a terrific chemistry with the kid who played Michael Oher, the mountainous teenage football player. I thought Tim McGraw was good, too, and the little kid who played McGraw’s son, SJ, stole the movie with his great lines.

The writing was good, it was really funny at times, it was pretty darn faithful to the book, and toward the end, when I expected a sappy, cliched finish, it took me in a different direction.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think it really does deserve to be up for Best Picture at the Oscars next week. I don’t think it should win, but it was a damn good flick.

**Random movie interlude: In one of the previews for “The Blind Side,” I saw that Topher Grace was going to be in a new movie. And I’m wondering: What the hell happened to that guy? He was so good in that Dennis Quaid movie a few years ago (“In Good Company”) that I thought for sure he’d be a leading man, A-list star soon. And then … nothing. Strange.

**OK, today is the biggest hockey game in U.S. international play since some 1980 game people keep talking about (ha ha). In a rematch of the 2002 gold-medal game, Canada and America play for bragging rights, with 33 million Canadians hanging on every pass and shot.

I’m beyond psyched. Will it be like last Sunday’s game, when the boys from the 50 states were totally outplayed, but pulled out a 5-3 win? Or does Canada, facing as much pressure as a team could possibly face, not wilt under that pressure but thrive, and finally win?

I have no idea. My gut says Canada wins, because they have to. But I’ve been underestimating this American team for two weeks now. Ryan Miller has to play  fantastic in net for the U.S., Patrick Kane must play big up front, and the U.S. defense must hold the Canada power play off the scoresheets. That happens, we win.

And 33 million Canadians will cry. Sounds OK to me.

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The insanity of short track speedskating relays. And the pancake race where you couldn’t run

There are some crazy-ass sports in the Winter Olympics. The luge, for example (Jerry Seinfeld’s great line about the luge: “It’s the only sport where you can have somebody competing in it against their will, and it’s basically the same exact thing.”)

The snowboardcross. The skeleton (basically a man hurtling downhill at 90 miles per hour).

But nothing, nothing compares to the pure madness of short track speedskating relays.

If you didn’t see it Saturday night, I implore you to do everything in your power to watch it on YouTube or NBCOlympics.com (it wasn’t up at the time of this blog).

My mother-in-law, visiting us from New York, watched the first 30 seconds and said “this is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Hard to argue. It’s five teams of four skaters each, doing a lap around the ice, then, as their teammate skates around the inside of the track, they push the teammate like a relay race, forward into their own lap, and then the whole thing repeats again.

If short track skating in general is roller derby or NASCAR, then the relay is the main event. Man was it fun to watch. The U.S. was trailing most of the race, but somehow got up into third to get a bronze medal. There was bumping, teammates missing the “handoff,” and all kinds of other wild stuff.

Man I wish there was a channel that would show speedskating during non-Olympic years. I’m pissed it’s all over after Saturday.

***Quick hockey update. How ’bout those Americans? SIX goals against Finland in the first period? That’s nuts. And Canada, rolling to a 3-0 lead, then barely hanging on against Slovakia, and winning 3-2.

Man, that is going to be a whale of a hockey game Sunday for the gold medal. Cannot wait.

**OK, as always I try to bring you the extremely serious news of the day here in the Wide World of Stuff. This urgent dispatch from last week says that the organizers of the world-famous St. Albans (England) Pancake Race had to change the rules this year, to disallow running.

When I first heard this story, I naturally assumed the Pancake Race was men, dressed in pancake outfits, running around a field or a track or something.

But no, my friends. The St. Albans Pancake Race involves people running around flipping pancakes and trying to outrun the other teams.

Sadly, it was ruled before this year’s event that running would not be allowed, due to inclement weather. Man that sucks. I thought this guy, David Emery, a captain of one of the teams who was disqualified for getting caught running, said it best.

“This is health and safety gone mad,” said Emery said. “I have been disqualified from a running race for running.”

Get that man a stack fo blueberry flapjacks immediately!

Speed dating for writers. And a mascot whose wiener caused a lawsuit

While I anxiously await the incredible Olympic hockey semifinals today, and mourn the death of Boner Stabone, two stories today that made me smile and laugh.

First, and I think this is absolutely brilliant, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Minnesota chapter has created something called

“Freelance Love.” For $30, freelance writers get to come to Bloomington’s Park Plaza Hotel one night and they’re guaranteed five minutes each with a different editor from one of Minnesota’s newspapers, magazines or websites.

I love it. Speed dating for journalists! Just like in speed dating, you know within five minutes if you want this writer to work for you, and the writer gets five minutes to sell themselves, like an actor at an audition.

And hey, just like in speed dating, look at all these chances for rejection! Bound to be good for building character.

In these economic times, writers  need all the help we can get. I hope this idea catches on.

**And now, a sad story about wiener-throwing gone bad.

Meet Sluggerrr, the Kansas City Royals’ lion mascot. As the mascot for the woeful Royals, Sluggerrr’s job is harder than most. You know how hard it is to make people laugh when the home team is down 11-3 to Boston? It’s hard, lemme tell ya.

Anyway, poor Sluggerrr is now the subject of a nasty lawsuit. Seems that last Sept. 8, the lovable furry guy was shooting hot dogs out of his air gun (of course he was), when he put the gun down and started chucking the Oscar Mayers into the crowd.

Well, like most of the throws from Royals pitchers in the last decade, Sluggerrs toss went awry. It struck fan John Coomer in the eye, and in the suit Coomer alleges he suffered a detached retina, and other maladies.

There are so many great parts of this story, most of which my man Joe Posnanski covers in this blog post (scroll about halfway down).

But this has to be my absolute favorite part. The Royals are getting sued, in part, because the team “failed to adequately train its agents … in the proper method in which to throw hot dogs into the stands at Kauffman Stadium.”

Wouldn’t it be awesome if that was part of the mascot training?

“OK Sluggerrr, you want to bend your elbow, then twist your knees, and throw that sucker at a 45-degree angle over your head!” Good, try it again. And again. Next, at 2 p.m. we have “patting kids on the head class, followed at 4 p.m. by “Making fun of Umpires: the Do’s and Don’ts.” Now go put your webbed feet up for a few minutes and relax.


Two stories of hugs. And USA Hockey rolls, while the Russkies tumble

I love hugs.

Huge fan. I hug everyone. I’m usually the last person to let go in a hug, because I usually feel like it’s almost rude if you let go first, like, “OK, we’re done, I’m ready to move on now.”

Anyway, because the world can always use more hugs, two stories today that might make you want to reach out and embrace someone.

First, one of my new heroes. Jeff Ondash is a 51-year-old man from Ohio, and two weeks ago he broke the world record for most hugs given in a 24-hour period (one of those records I’m sure most people lie awake at night, dreaming of breaking). Ondash, whose nickname is Teddy McHuggin (I wish I were making that up), squeezed 7,777 people in one day.

I love his quote: “When you hug somebody, they all walk away from each other smiling,” Ondash said. “They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away; a hug a day — it’s just fun.”

**And then there’s this. Hug E Grams. Yes, this is real. A one-minute infomercial truly doesn’t do this justice. I can’t believe this really, really exists. But God bless America, it does.

**Another great day for Olympic hockey. Team USA continues to amaze, with yet another win. This one was extremely tough, with Switzerland goalie Jonas Hiller playing awesome for two periods. And when the U.S. goal in the final seconds of the second period was disallowed (I mean, the puck was on the goal line when time expired; another tenth of a second left in the period and it would’ve been a goal!), I was nervous. I’m not going to lie to you.

But Zach Parise came through, and Team USA is in the freaking semifinals. Amazing story. Two weeks ago, I would’ve said no way they’re in the semis. And yet … It’s a great story.

The game I was really looking forward to was the ridiculously-early-in-the-tournament Russia-Canada quarterfinal. Everyone figured this would be the gold medal game. So much incredible talent in this one. Crosby. Ovechkin. Malkin. Nash.

And yet, it turned out to be a blowout. Russia’s defense, and goalie Evgeni Nabakov, was beyond awful. Canada, powered by a great home crowd, destroyed Alex Ovechkin and Co., 7-3.

Now, best thing we can hope for is a U.S.-Canada gold medal game on Sunday. Works for me.

Girl Scout cookies and Wal-Mart. And the greatest rock video starring a women’s curling team you’ll ever see

So, as sure as mid-February comes every year, I help make little girls’ dreams come true.

That’s right, I buy box after box of Girl Scout cookies. I worship at the freaking altar of Girl Scout cookies. I love the Tagalongs (now called Peanut Butter Patties, for some reason), the Thin Mints (as my wife says, the only question about Thin Mints when you open the box is “do I eat one sleeve or two?”), the chocolate chip ones, all of ’em.

So last weekend, as I went shopping, I of course ran into three adorable Girl Scouts and a grown-up at a table in front of our Publix supermarket, and of course I bought three boxes.

And it got me to thinking about this post I wrote last summer, about my least favorite corporation, the evil Walmart, and how they had decided to start making knock-off versions of Girl Scout cookies. This pissed me off for several reasons: A, The Girl Scouts don’t deserve to be undercut by a billion-dollar corporation,; 2, it’s just so damn mean-spirited, and C, the Girl Scouts make a huge percentage of their operating budget from selling these cookies.

So, with it cookie time again, I decided to try to find out if Wal-Mart went ahead with their plans. I didn’t have a ton of time to research this today (hey, I’ve got a job, you know), but I checked Wal-Mart’s website, and, hmmm, there’s something called a Fudge-covered peanut butter filled cookie for sale, which is exactly what the Tagalongs from the Girl Scouts are. And some Fudge Mint cookies, which are suspiciously identical to Thin Mints.

So, yeah, nice job, Wal-Mart. Hope your sales of those cookies are spectacular, so some nine-year-old in Idaho never gets to go on her dream trip to Washington, D.C. this year.

**OK, now for the fun. If you only watch ONE rock video this year starting an Olympic women’s curling team, this should be the one  you watch: The attractive ladies of Sweden’s curling squad (and can we have a moment of silence to acknowledge that BOTH U.S. men’s and women’s curling teams have now been eliminated? Thank you.) starred in a video with a band called Hammerfall.

Words can’t do justice to this epic work of film. It’s beyond strange, but I’ve watched it four times already. Curling rocks!

A fantastic piece on Ebert, Boner Stabone missing? And 30th anniversary of “Miracle on Ice.”

I don’t link to enough great writing on this blog. I’m going to try do it more often, because in my non-blog life, I’m constantly telling the people I know and love, “You have to read this newspaper article/magazine feature/book.” I’m quite the nag, constantly emailing great stories.

My first step toward highlighting amazing journalism and writing is this Chris Jones feature in this month’s Esquire, on the brilliant, but cancer-ravaged Roger Ebert. I’ve written about Ebert before; the man is truly a brilliant wordsmith, and his genuine goodness and upbeat spirit shines through this piece. Ebert hasn’t been able to eat, drink or speak for years, but his brain and his way with words still carry him through.

Jones is a brilliant writer, and this is a wonderful article. Take 10 minutes and read it if you can. (I posted an old photo of Ebert above here, just so you can see how jarring it is, looking at him now in the photo with Jones’ story.)

**I know this isn’t a funny story, but I’m sorry, part of me had to laugh. If you haven’t heard, a classic sitcom character from my youth, “Boner” Stubone of “Growing Pains” fame, is missing. His parents are looking for him, and say they haven’t heard from him in weeks, and that he’s been depressed for a long time.

That’s not the funny part, of course. This is the funny part; Kirk Cameron, aka Mike Seaver, tried to reach out to Andrew Koenig through Access Hollywood Monday night. And Cameron’s final quote just slayed me: “Andrew, if you’re reading this, please call me. Mike and Boner could always work things out when they put their heads together.”

First of all, as one who watched nearly every episode of the show, NO, that last statement is patently false, Mike and Boner never could work things out.

Mike and Boner were constantly screwing up, getting in trouble or doing bad things to Carol, and it never worked out for them. Mike, Boner and Eddie (the Fredo Corleone of that group, quite frankly) were a bunch of bumbling fools.

And second, please, please, PLEASE tell me Kirk Cameron didn’t really say that. Please tell me he wasn’t trying to liken his old friend’s serious depression with CHARACTERS FROM A TV SHOW that the two were on together 25 years ago! In the tone of Chandler Bing, could you BE more patronizing there, Kirk? Ugh.

I hope Koenig is found safely, and that he gets the help he needs. And that he stays far, far away from Mike Seaver. And Ben, too; I never liked that punk.

One final “Growing Pains” thought: I’m going to say that between characters named “Boner” and Ben’s friend “Stinky Sullivan,” that show had the greatest nicknames of any sitcom, ever. Seriously, tell me what show beats that combo?

**With the hockey buzz in America hopefully growing after Sunday’s remarkable U.S. win over Canada Sunday (and I watched the highlight of that Ryan Kesler diving, clinching goal a few more times Monday, and still don’t know how he did it), I thought this might be nice:

Monday was the 30th anniversary of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” game. Here’s some original game footage from the ABC telecast. Gave me chills. Good stuff starts at about 1:55 mark:

And you can bet all the tea in China that the fantastic HBO “Do You Believe in Miracles?” documentary on that 1980 will be viewed by your blogger this week.

The aura of LeBron, and a magnificent win for USA Hockey

I wouldn’t say I’m jaded.

After 13 years of being a sportswriter, I’ll just say I don’t get nearly as excited about covering events or games as I used to.

It’s one of the many dirty little secrets of being a sportswriter: After a while, we just don’t care that much, most of the time.

But there are certain things that still get my adrenaline going. I feel a little thrill on the way to the field, or the gym, or the rink. There are still so many cool things we get to do.

Sunday, I felt that way. Sunday, I went to see LeBron.

People scoff and mock when I say that LeBron James might end up being better than Michael Jordan. But I truly believe he might. The 6-foot-8, 260-pound human force of nature is the only reason I care about the NBA anymore; going to the Orlando Magic-Cleveland Cavaliers game was the first time all season I’d watched an entire NBA game. (Hey, my Nets are 5-50, what do you expect?)

Why did I go, to write a column on a Sunday afternoon when I could’ve easily stayed home?

Because I only saw Michael Jordan live once, at the end of his career when he was a Washington Wizard. That would’ve been like only seeing Willie Mays with the Mets, or Joe Montana with the Kansas City Chiefs. It was a terrible representation of who and what they were. I never saw MJ in his prime, and I feel my grandkids will suffer for it (I’ve gotta tell them stories, you know)

And so since I feel I was gyped on Jordan, I’ve decided I’m going to see LeBron in person as much as I can. He’s just that freaking good. Last season, I interviewed him a couple of times in a group, and piqued his interest briefly when I noticed he was reading “Outliers,” then a new book by Malcolm Gladwell.

He’s not a criminal, he’s not a moron, he’s a genuinely polite and successful kid who has the whole world in his palm and doesn’t usually act like it.

Sunday, he was his typically brilliant self, slashing his way to the basket, hitting rainbow jumpers, and toying with the Magic. Orlando won, but LeBron was the show, as usual.

And I was very glad I got to see it.

**And now, a bowling interlude: Yours truly, in a bowling for the public schools charity thingy on Saturday, rolled a 185. My highest score in at least 10 years or so (I rarely bowl).  I was darn excited and proud of myself. Thank you.

**OK, when people in my Facebook friend universe are writing about hockey in their status updates, I know this was not just an ordinary game.

In as exciting a hockey game as I’ve seen in quite some time, the U.S. Olympic men’s team, despite being outshot 2-to-1, pulled off a thrilling 5-3 win over Canada in Vancouver.

This is what hockey should be about; I kept thinking while watching the game. This is like the NHL All-Star game, but with checking and intensity. Fabulous game by Ryan Miller in net for the U.S., and an incredible defensive effort in the third period by all of America’s boys.

And that diving goal by Ryan Kesler into an empty net, when the American shocked everyone in the area by poking it in and outworking the Canadian defenseman? That hustle, that effort, that desire, should be put into an instructional video and shown to every youth hockey team.

What a great win, and a tremendous upset. No, it wasn’t the Miracle on Ice, not even close. But still, pretty damn good.

I bet you there are a bunch more hockey fans in the U.S. tonight than there were on Saturday.

Of course, the American win could be erased in a few days, if Canada goes on to win the gold medal. But still, you have to think the weight of the pressure on the Canadian guy is even heavier than it was a few days ago.

Can’t wait for the next game, Wednesday.

The greatest “Oh Canada” performance ever. Apolo freaking Ohno! And psyched about Olympic hockey.

**So you may think I’m just getting swept up in all things Maple Leaf because the Olympics are in Vancouver, but I can assure you I’ve had this clip on my Youtube Favorites since it happened. I’ve always loved the Canadian national anthem, maybe because I heard to so much growing up watching NHL games (True story: when my cousin Robby was like, 5 years old, he and my uncle sat down to play a game of table hockey. After my uncle and Robby sang the Star-Spangled Banner, Robby insisted they sing “Oh Canada,” too.)

Without further ado, the greatest, most spine-tingling anthem by 18,000 fans I’ve ever heard. This was from a 2006 Edmonton Oilers playoff game:

**Have to tell you, I watched the short track speedskating last night after we got back from dinner, and if there’s a more exciting two minutes in sports than a short-track race, I’m not sure what it is (don’t give me the Kentucky Derby. Those aren’t always exciting.)

Couple of fantastic races, with our American Apolo Ohno getting a bronze medal after all the dust (and the wipeouts) had cleared. Can’t believe American J.R. Celski made it out of the arena alive after he basically threw down that Canadian guy in the semifinal. He better not walk into a bar in Sasketchewan anytime soon.

Truly breathtaking, how fast things turn in speedskating. It’s like bumper cars, or NASCAR, or whatever else you want to call it when things constantly crash into each other. Love, love, love it.

And how ’bout that huge American women’s win in curling? Down 5-3 to the Brits, the U.S. girls, led by Debbie McCormick, rally to win 6-5 in extra ends (or whatever it’s called). My father-in-law and I were totally riveted.

I love this sport!

***Tremendous day of hockey coming Sunday. Just tremendous. The capper is the U.S.-Canada game at 7:40 p.m. Eastern Time, a rematch of the 2002 gold-medal game (won by Canada). The U.S. and goalie Ryan Miller (above) are definite underdogs. Canada needs this win, psychologically, I think. Both teams will advance to the quarterfinals,I’m certain, but if American can spring the upset here, man oh man, the amount of Maalox that’ll be sold in the Great White North on Monday? Off the charts. It’ll be a great, hostile environment for the U.S., kind of like the one Rocky Balboa faced when he fought Drago in Russia in “Rocky IV.”

Here’s a great preview of tonight’s game from the terrific hockey writer from the L.A. Times, Helene Elliott.

Trippy fun with Photoshop. And Tiger Woods makes a man cry

So this kind of freaked me out when I first saw it the other day, but it was so creative and interesting I kept going back and looking again

You know how sometimes you don’t want to look, but you have to? That’s how I felt with this cool website, www.freakingnews.com. They took celebrity photographs, (like the one of Heidi Klum, above) and turned them upside down, but sort of left their faces right side up so it looks like it’s layered on top of each other.

I don’t know  how they did it, but we’ve come a hell of a long way from “The Print Shop,” floppy disks and my Apple IIC computer. Remember “The Print Shop?” Man, I loved that thing. It took like a half hour to print a birthday card for your friend, but you were so super cool when you gave him that card. Ah, Print Shop.

** I didn’t watch any of the Tiger Woods sham of a press conference Friday; was busy doing other things, more important things than watching a spoiled rotten philanderer who happens to hit a golf ball really well pretend to offer a sincere apology. (Hey, I read the transcript. Wasn’t impressed).

But in yet another blow to professional journalism everywhere, a guy named Charlie Rymer of the Golf Channel got choked up talking about Tiger’s courage. Makes me want to puke.

The bizarre world of Chatroulette.com, the hilarious Colbert, and a great Yoo protest

So apparently Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and the like just aren’t giving us enough interpersonal connections to people we know, or once knew.

Nope, now we have something truly bizarre called chatroulette.com, and the way it works is this: If you have a webcam, you sign on to their site, and within a few seconds another random stranger with a webcam pops up on your screen. Within five seconds, you can begin to talk to that person, and you or your new “friend” can decide to end the conversation by clicking “end.”

I read about it in New York magazine and in the Washington Post, and so I decided to try it last Sunday (Julie’s opinion: “I don’t want some stranger seeing me.”  I didn’t mention that strangers see her every day on the street. But I digress).

My verdict? Eh. I was on for about 10 minutes, and after an initial “Hi,” I was rejected by every person I connected with. I’m sure the guys on there are just looking for hot women, and vice versa for the women. It seems thrilling at first, “hey, let’s talk to a total stranger who could be on the other side of the world.” Then, it quickly turns into high school, when you’re not cool enough to talk to the other kids with webcams.

I guess chatroulette.com is harmless fun if you’re bored. When I discover sites like this, I’m still kind of amazed at how fast and how far the Internet has come. Just stop and think for a second: The fact that sitting in my living room, I can click a button and have conversations with people, and see them, from any continent in the world, would’ve been unimaginable to most of us 15 years ago.

**And now, for something completely different: When unconvicted war criminal John Yoo (he wrote the torture memos during the Cheney/Bush administration, and yes, that’s the order they should be listed in) showed up for a speech at Johns Hopkins, two students quietly protested. They held up a banner reading “Try Yoo for torture.” Security at the school and the professor of the class tried to silence them, but they stood firm.

As Andrew Sullivan pointed out today, this should be common practice everywhere Yoo goes. We cannot forget the horrors that this man helped perpetrate, and the incredible damage he did to our reputation, worldwide.

Bravo to these two students at Hopkins:

Finally, a big ole’ belly-laugh for your Friday. Stephen Colbert, with Bob Costas late Wednesday night. I nearly doubled over in laughter near the end.

Check it out here.