Thursday, September 28, 2006

Quick picks on Saturday's big games.

I need more hours in the day. Between raising kids, my job during football season, and all the new TV shows--- I can't seem to find enough time. Therefore, I better make this quick. It goes stale 48 hours after I've written it. Here are a couple of quick predictions on Saturday's big game in Ames and BIGGEST GAME IN THE HISTORY OF THE CIVILIZED WORLD in Iowa City.

ISU will beat UNI by 20+. If the Cyclones don't win this game easily, we'll know they aren't very good. That's not a shot at UNI, the Panthers are a great division 1AA program, but no good D1 football team should lose to a 1AA. Never. Ever. Those two UNI wins vs. ISU in the 90s are perfect examples of how the upset happens: Bad D1 team + good 1AA team = embarrassment/jubiliation. If it happens again Saturday, ISU will have a very disappointing season. I don't think it will.

Ohio State is too much for Iowa. I'd love to pick Iowa. I've tried to talk myself into it. I know Iowa has lost just one game at Kinnick Stadium the past three and a half seasons, but I still can't do it. The Hawks haven't shown me enough; the Bucks have shown me too much. The pick is Ohio State by 10, but I hope I'm wrong. How cool would it be to beat the #1 team in the nation?!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Drunk tailgating, Tate over State, Cursing at Murph.

Iowa vs. Iowa State in the rearview mirror. Here are some of my thoughts looking back on the big weekend, as my 2-year old son Colin watches his Bob the Builder DVD for the 23rd time this week (Bob's building a soccer field today!).

Tailgating: Insane. This started about 6 p.m. the night before the game. It was obvious many of the people who wandered by our live location Saturday morning had not slept at all. The 11 a.m. kick-off put many of the partiers in the quandary of waking up at 5 a.m. or just going all night. Many chose all night.

It's no secret gorging on food and alcohol has long been a game day tradition for many fans, but when you're sober and working, as I was, it really strikes you how, in some ways, the party is now bigger than the game. Make no mistake about it, the game gets in the way for more than a few.

I was live on the air all morning on Today in Iowa Saturday, which by the way is a really entertaining two hours. Courtney Greene and Dan Winters do a great job of being informative and fun. I digress. I was working and so many nice people came up and talked to me. Most were drunk, or on their way. All looked 21 and none were driving. As long as you're not ruining my fun, and not driving a car where you endanger lives including your own... enjoy the party!

However, one thing that happened on the show brings up an interesting discussion, and it's been kicked around the newsroom all week. Shawn Terrell was at a tailgate during our coverage, and an Iowa student celebrating her 21st birthday drank a beer funnel on camera (sometimes known as a beer bong. It transports the alcohol down your throat in seconds). The moment I saw it, I knew we'd get calls. Show people drinking on TV, especially in the morning and to excess, and someone's offended. I understand and appreciate that. As a dad myself, I'd use the opportunity to talk about it with a curious kid. On the other hand, I appreciate that it makes drinking look like a lot of fun, which it can be.

Drinking and partying is a HUGE part of the Iowa - Iowa State game day atmosphere. Not everyone of age drinks, but most do. Is it our job to sanitize the news and pretend it doesn't go on? Or is it okay to show drinking, but only if it's subdued? Should we not show it at all? Or should we show it all, including the wild scenes we stayed away from? I don't think there's an easy answer. My inclination would be to try and avoid the binge drinking, look for more moderate tailgates, and also find the occasional dry party, but make no mistake about it: the party is all around, and most of the people I saw were above college age. (Please post your view on the discussion board.)

No Alchohol Hypocrisy: Here's where it gets ridiculous. You can't drink inside Kinnick Stadium or Jack Trice Stadium... unless you donate a bunch of money, then you can have whatever you like, mixed drinks, beer, wine. Rent a luxury box for tens of thousands of dollars and suddenly the "no drinking at a college game" doesn't apply---not that it completely does anyway. I've seen some creative ways to sneak alcohol: binoculars, flasks, even watched a Cyclone fan at Oklahoma drink out of a football. The fan was dressed as the Heisman Trophy in honor of Seneca Wallace. "Heisman" would just tip that ball up whenever he needed a hit. Wallace had such an awful game, he went from front-runner to no votes, but that fan didn't feel any pain. Until the next day.

Game Day Traffic: Ridiculous. Took us nearly two hours to travel two miles. We were like that guy in Office Space, being passed by elderly people with walkers. I know there's construction---there's always construction---but why is it so bad? And now fans tell me there's no place to park either. I should thank Iowa for the nice parking pass. Sounds like we'd be in Coralville without it.

Kinnick Stadium: Looks great. This was my first game since they renovated the place, and it's better than ever. The entire atmosphere in Iowa City is fantastic, except for the traffic lines.
Speaking of traffic, I thought they put in a bunch of bathrooms?! Must have been for the women because I waited 15 minutes for a urinal. It was downright claustrophobic.

Oh yeah, the Game: I picked Iowa by 11, and it ended up being 10, but it was closer than that, and closer than I expected. ISU had Iowa in trouble in the second quarter. The home crowd was all but out of it, but Drew Tate found his rhythm and led that all-important drive before the half. Iowa State then sat on the ball. Wrong message. I know the thinking was "take the 14-10 lead on the road and get to the locker room", but I think it left Iowa with all the momentum.

For similar reasons, I agree with going for it on 4th and 10. McCarney's right. It's likely Iowa would have run the clock out. ISU's defense was worn down. Remember, ISU only missed by a couple feet. Bret Meyer probably should have taken the tackler on, but he must have thought he could get it by diving. He didn't.

The better team won. And the best player on the field was, hands down, Drew Tate. As I've said before, there may be a better college football player, but none more valuable. As he goes, so goes Iowa. If Tate plays the game of his life, Iowa could upset Ohio State. If he doesn't, it won't be close.

Iowa at Illinois: This would be the perfect game to rest Tate. The Illini are horrible.

ISU at Texas: Iowa State played its best game in the Dan McCarney era last year at Texas A&M in front of 80,000+, which is encouraging, but this aint Texas A&M (try to read that last one with a Texas drawl... kind of like Will Ferrell as President Bush). Texas by 24.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: Phenomenal. Written by Aaron Sorkin. This is NBC's best show since... well, Aaron Sorkin wrote the West Wing. Once he left, so did the magic. Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry have incredible chemistry and timing, both of which are needed to make Sorkin's words dance. This is the guy who wrote the incomparable "A Few Good Men". ("You can't handle the truth!"... "I have no responsibilities whatsoever"... "Is the colonel's underwear a matter of national security? ... "You don't need a patch on your arm to have honor"... "Does Aunt Ginny have a barn? Maybe we could hold the trial there. I'll sew the costumes and maybe Uncle Goober can be the judge"... "I get sick when I fly because I'm afraid of crashing into a large mountain, I don't think Dramamine'll help"... "Joanne, I'd like you to leave the room so we can talk about you behind your back")

Truly must-see TV. The grade is A.

Kidnapping: Great cast, interesting premise, 24 like pacing... too soon to tell. A B+ for the first show though.

Biggest Loser: We needed more Round Guy! I watched this for two hours and had to look for Round Guy like you look for the ghost kid in Three Men and a Baby. C for Can't watch without Round Guy.

Iowa Speedway: Other than the absolutely inexplicable decision to debut the track the weekend of the Iowa State - Iowa football game, this was a rousing success. Looks BIGTIME on TV and in person. Would have 937% more media coverage, if it hadn't been the week of Iowa's biggest sporting event, by far.

SoundOFF 500th Show Party: Don't forget, October 14th at Legends in West Des Moines. Andy will buy you a drink.

Blog feedback: Thank you for the comments.

Mike, I agree the UNLV coach let his emotions get the best of him. I talked to some colleagues in Vegas, and they say he's a good guy. He just knew what a benchmark win it would be for his program. And as we saw this past weekend at Oregon, officiating is terrible at times. communication must improve. That was the big problem in Ames.

Stouts, hope to see you at Legends.

As for the squabble about whether I'm a Cyclone or Hawkeye fan, the truth is my life is better when they both do well. I'm human, so I usually end up rooting one way or another when they play each other, despite my best intentions. Andy always says I root for whatever will make the best story, and he's probably right. However, there are exceptions. This past Saturday I found myself pulling for Iowa because a couple of Cyclone fans made rude comments to me for picking Iowa to win. The score was 14-3 ISU when they let me have it. I just smiled, but it's a long game. Don't boast too soon.

Similarly, in 2002, I picked ISU to win at Iowa. The score was, I think, 24-7 at the half. I had drunk, angry Hawkeye fans cursing at me with gems like "Look at the scoreboard Murph! Why don't you f------ choke on that, d-------". I brushed it off, Andy could not. As ISU came back to win, 36-31, Andy recorded video of all the people who had yelled obscenities at me for picking against their team (and believe it or not, there were several). Andy showed some of those faces on his poignant What's Bugging Andy about taking things personally and your team too seriously. It was a protective and thoughtful thing for Andy to do, although I did feel sorry for some of the folks who just let their emotions---and beer---get the best of them.

Bob's done building the soccer field. Gotta go...


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Thoughts before the Big Game (and a blog invitation).

Here's what's on my mind today. Please let me know what you think...

UNLV: One of the worst displays of sportsmanship I've ever seen. First of all, the receiver was nowhere near in-bounds, but even if UNLV's head coach got bad information, yelling at your players, "WE'RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE!", is flat out embarrassing. The Rebels made fools of themselves stomping up and down on the ISU logo and taking 20 minutes to leave the field. As my friend Ryan said, it's not every day you can't get people to leave Ames for Las Vegas.

By the way, Andy Fales followed head coach Mike Sanford with a camera as he jogged around demanding a review. Watch the meltdown UNLV Coach's Meltdown, and yes, it includes Sanford's unfortunate fall as he runs back onto the field.

Tailgating at Jack Trice: Great and getting better all the time. No school in America has improved its game day atmosphere more than Iowa State the past ten years. It's not Georgia, Nebraska, or Iowa yet, but it's a good time.

I met a lot of nice people and had the honor of signing the Webster City Short Bus. One of the guys on the bus said to me, "Hey, I saw you at a Springsteen concert a couple of years ago, and you were wearing an Iowa shirt. " I told him I know it's hard to believe, but I don't have a Cyclone or Hawkeye heart. I back both. Speaking of that...

Watching the Hawks at a Cyclone game: I was late going into the ISU - UNLV game, but not because I was playing beer pong or needed one more funnel. I brought my TV to watch Iowa at Syracuse. Dozens of people stopped by at various times to watch, and not once did I sense a Cyclone fan was truly rooting for Iowa to win. I was, to the chagrin of some fans there, but most were bleeding Orange at that point. The one exception: people who thought if Iowa lost it would make them madder for the Iowa State game. But all told, it's a myth that most Iowa State fans cheer Iowa when the two teams aren't playing each other, and vice-versa. It's a heated rivalry, as it should be.

ISU's slow start: There is no way a football team that plans to be good should go to the final play against average teams like Toledo and UNLV (Toledo lost to Western Michigan Saturday. Western Michigan, not Michigan). I was in the stands as UNLV slowly worked its way back into the game with a back-up quarterback. It was one of those nights where suddenly fans had the thought, "Hey, we could lose to UNLV!". ISU needs to step it up. And have I mentioned, THROW BLYTHE THE BALL.

Iowa survives double overtime: First the good: that Hawkeye defense. That was a goal line stand for the ages. The bad: The dropoff from Tate to Manson. Jason Manson seems like a good guy, but there may not be a bigger dip in college football than the one from Tate to Manson. If Tate's healthy, Iowa beats ISU and contends for a Big Ten title. If he's not, Iowa goes 8-4 and thanks the football gods for a friendly schedule.

Prediction: Iowa 24, ISU 13. I'm 12-3 picking this game, but all three of my misfires have been underestimating the Cyclones. Know this, McCarney will have the Clones breathing fire, as always; but I think this time Ferentz makes sure Iowa matches Iowa State's emotion.

Fred Hoiberg: A true role model. He was here at the station last week talking about his brush with death. Then he sat a few rows in front of me at the football game. The Mayor made one Cyclone fan very happy by signing her Hoiberg jersey. How did she know he'd be there?

12 years ago, I did play-by-play for an ESPN+ Cyclone game that went to the final play at Nebraska. Hoiberg helped win it for ISU. My voice was giving out from shouting over the crowd, and while I was interviewing Fred, my voice cracked. Without missing a beat, Hoiberg said, "Puberty, Keith?". I was speechless. For some reason, "puberty" struck me as a word you can't say on TV. It's not, but I had no comeback. Classic Fred.

UNI: How in the world did UNI lose to a division 2 team? It's inconceivable. It's like UNI beating Texas. I still can't believe it, and I went to a division 2 school. I'd like to say it's not that big of an upset, but it really is.

The Biggest Loser: Not Syracuse. The NBC show. My friend, the Round Guy, is on the premier Wednesday night. He's worked hard and lost a lot of weight. I'm proud of him. It's not easy to drop pounds for a guy who loves food as much as RG.

Invincible: I loved this movie. Yes, it's familiar, but it's also mostly true. It's a real life Rocky story. Strongly recommended. A-

Crank: If Jason Statham's in a movie, I'm there---and not just because he has a real cool buzz cut. However, I made the mistake of seeing this one with my mother and 19-year-old niece. This movie is rated R for hardcore sex, violence, profanity, and drug use. It's as R as a movie gets. Even though I'm 42, my mom is still my mom, and my niece is still a little girl. I couldn't have been more uncomfortable. I'm not even sure if the movie's good. However, I am sure you should think about who you go see it with. C- for Crank. I think.

Shawn Terrell: Have you seen our new guy? He's got it. We're lucky to have him.

Courtney Greene: Check out her comments in this blog two entries ago. Spot on analysis of "me first" celebrations. Nice job, Court. You can catch her Saturday mornings on Today in Iowa. She'll tell you what she thinks on that show too.

SoundOFF 500th Show: Here's a blog exclusive for you. You're invited to a big party we haven't announced yet. Please mark your calendar for October 14th. Andy, Round Guy, B-Ross, the whole gang and I will host a 500th show celebration from 6 p.m. to Midnight at Legends in West Des Moines. It's going to be a lot of fun. Hope to see you there.

Thank you for stopping by.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Remembering 9/11 on 9/11 (revised)

Among the many memories I have of 9/11 is the debate we had whether to do SoundOFF the following Sunday. It was left primarily up to me, and I decided we would do it, but not like usual. We muted all colors and sounds, had no co-host (it was Round Guy in those days), and took no calls about sports. We asked for our viewers to sound off about that terrible day. It was so moving. I've never been involved with anything on TV, before or since, that was more important. Viewer after viewer spoke with raw emotion. I struggled to keep my composure several times, but Andy Fales---who was behind the scenes that night---kept helping me by saying just the right thing during breaks. A lot of people don't know Andy has that side to him. We went way past an hour, and could have taken calls all night.

Another thing I remember about 9/11 is my disappointment that Iowa and Iowa State still wanted to play the football game that next Saturday. I spoke out strongly against it, and even debated the issue on air with my friend, Steve Deace. Supporters of playing gave the usual reasons that to not play means the terrorists win, and people need normalcy. I couldn't have disagreed more. Worrying about the terrorists winning or losing never comes before respect for the fallen, who were still being pulled out of the rubble. Iowa and ISU---and everybody else---eventually did the right thing. I think the way people still felt that Saturday caught many by surprise. To Deace's credit, he went on the air the following Monday and said he was wrong, that there was no way he could have felt like a football game mattered. He also knew all the post-game questions would not have been about football.

The irony is that although that dark time seemed to show us how little sport matters in the big picture, we all came to learn how much it does matter. Once enough time had passed, ballparks turned into makeshift churches and town meetings. It gave everyone a chance to show up in the same place, feel normal again, and heal.

If you haven't been to the Healing Field in West Des Moines, I strongly recommend it. It's a simple idea, but that part of what makes it so effective. As you drive, or walk, among the thousands of flags, your eye will catch just one, and you'll think to yourself how that one flag represents not only a person who died that horrible day, but all the dreams that died with her or him.

You think of your family and friends and try to put yourself in the terrible position of losing a loved one, and it's very emotional.

At the same time, the flag represents not just the one person, but all of us. The Healing Field will make you proud.

United 93 is now on DVD. If you haven't seen it, I urge you to try, unless you think it's just too much. It's an incredible work of art that will help show future generations the heroics on that doomed flight. It is a draining experience---I cried many times---but that's as it should be. When the door to the plane closes, you know it's a tomb.

Also, still in theaters, World Trade Center tells a much more uplifting story from 9/11. Don't let Oliver Stone's name scare you away. It's not political, it's American. It takes you inside those towers as they come down, and it's simply amazing. This one ends with life, not death.

God Bless.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Murph's takes on ISU's close call and Iowa's coronation of Kinnick.

The opinions are free, so take all you like.

Iowa State vs. Toledo: A lot of positives came out of this game:

-ISU, and Dan McCarney, won an overtime game. This is huge. This was more than a monkey on Mac's back, it was a 500 pound gorilla. Many football observers think coaching plays an even bigger part in OT games, so for Mac to be 0-5 lifetime, and 0-3 last year gave critics ammunition, and ISU doubts in close games. That should be over now, or at least subdued.

-Todd Blythe is good. Really good. And here's some free advice: throw him the ball more! Yes, I know, they were using coverages that blah, blah, blah. Just throw him the ball. Don't wait for overtime. They can't cover Blythe, and even if they do, he'll find a way to catch it. Iowa drove me crazy underutilizing the great Tim Dwight ten years ago. ISU may have Blythe for just one more season, this one, so again, THROW HIM THE BALL.

-Bret Meyer looks even better. I've always thought a lot of Meyer as a person, and I think more of him as a quarterback each season. He's already better than I thought he'd be. He's really using his head, not to mention his legs and arm. Meyer's an easy guy to root for.

-The Cyclones are solid up the middle. Stephenson at center, Curvey at nose tackle. Those are two really important positions, and ISU can hold its own with anyone over the football.

-Brett Culbertson made his kicks. You don't think that extra point to tie in OT was pressure? It was a lot of pressure, and the former Lincoln Rail delivered. He's a stand-up guy. I'd love to see him make one with the game on the line.

-ISU found a way to win. Winning begets winning, and in three months it won't matter that it was triple overtime, just that it was a win against a decent D1 opponent.

-The crowd was great. Jamie Pollard could run for Grand Poobah of ISU and he'd win in a landslide. Nearly every person Andy Fales talked to Thursday night gushed about Pollard's moves to make it a better atmosphere. 43,000 fans isn't bad, but still shows there's work to do. The ones who were there will be back.

-A win is a win.

And now for some of the negatives:

-Bonehead play for the ages on blocked extra point. THAT'S A LIVE FOOTBALL! PICK IT UP! Hard to believe at least one player, possibly more, forgot the play wasn't dead. They realized it when Toledo scored two points. That was a two point swing, and as you know, two points kept this game going an extra 3 periods. At least it didn't contribute to what would have been a crushing loss to the morale of cyclone nation.

-The defense looked soft at times. It's true, ISU is inexperienced in spots, but the D-backs must tighten up the cushion they're giving receivers or they'll be giving up 40+ a few more games. ISU made Toledo's quarterback looked like a veterans, and he was starting his first game.

-McCarney said before the game all the talk of Iowa State "outscoring people was a lot of happy horse crap." Well, make it: Happy Horse Crap 1, Visitors 0.

-Clones let another team back in the game. Up 20 to 8, the Cyclones again failed to put their foot on an opponent's throat. At least this time, it didn't come back to bite them as it has so many other times.

-Too much praise for Toledo. Yes, the Rockets are a good MAC team, but they're still a MAC team playing on the road at a BCS conference contender's home opener. ISU should have beaten Toledo by ten or more, and fans should expect that. Respecting the opponent is one thing, making them seem better than they are is another. Iowa State should beat Toledo at home 10 out of 10 times and it should never go to overtime. Period. The Cyclones and their coaches, not to mention the fans, need to think like that.

-Reaction after winning. You could see that for a split-second, fans were about to storm the field and players were about to go nuts, and then it hit them, "Wait, we just beat Toledo. This isn't 1996." This should almost be in the positive column.

Iowa vs. Montana:

-The stadium looks great. Kinnick was the real star Saturday. A serious upgrade from top to bottom. Iowa City on game day, Montana notwithstanding, is one of the five best college football atmospheres in America, at least of the ones I've visited, and I've been to a bunch. It just doesn't get any better, or if it does, not by much.

-Kinnick Statue. The new "must see" attraction. As our Shawn Terrell pointed out, you'll see this statue with Hawkeye fans on a lot of Christmas cards and e-mails. Nile Kinnick was the real deal, and this was a great idea.

-Oh yeah, Iowa won. Can't remember when an Iowa football game was less dissected and analyzed ahead of time, but come on, it's Montana. The Grizzlies are a great 1AA team, but completely mismatched against Iowa. The Hawkeyes won, and won going away, so that's all that really matters, and all anyone expected.

-Tate and Young looked good. No surprise. Tate seems to be enjoying himself more this season, he would almost have to, while Young is underrated, as usual. Didn't take a hit all of August. Didn't matter.
-Austin Signor can kick. He's no Kyle Schlicher, not yet anyway, but he doesn't need to be. Signor gives Iowa a credible option until Schlicher's leg heals.

-The defense looked solid. But what else could we expect against Montana.

On the negative side:

-Iowa played Montana. I know games like this are here to stay, and Iowa's not the only one scheduling controlled scrimmages at game prices, but it sure is a different vibe than a game in doubt. I suppose it beats pre-season games, like in the NFL, but not by much. If the Missouri Tigers had some backbone, the season would have looked more interesting.

-Kyle Schlicher was hurt. Let's hope it's nothing serious. The thunderfoot from Ankeny is a difference-maker for Iowa.

-Herb Grigsby and Kenny Iwebema were suspended. If ever a suspension failed to weaken a team's chances of winning or worried a fan base, this was it, but only because---have I mentioned this---Iowa played Montana.

-11 a.m. kickoff. I know some people like these, but I'm not one of them. I enjoy a few more hours of tailgating---when I'm not working, of course. This week I stayed at home.

-ESPNU. Mediacom doesn't have this channel, and I have Mediacom. Let's make sure it doesn't happen again or I'll have to break down and get the dish. On the other hand, it's always nice to go to a restaurant or bar and have a shared experience with other football fans.

-Slow start. The offense looked sluggish, but football is a very emotional game. I played for ten years, and it does matter how much you get up for the game. It's hard to get up for a team you know you're going to beat even if you fail to execute. 17-7 raised eyebrows, but it was never in doubt. Iowa could score whenever it really wanted to.

I'll close by congratulating Drake on improving its game atmosphere by leaps and bounds. The Bulldogs had everything they needed Thursday night, except a way to slow down UNI. The Panthers look like future national champions to me.

I'll be back next time to catch up on the non-football stuff.

As always, thank you for reading and for the feedback.