Thursday, March 27, 2008

-Vivian Stringer was dropping F-bombs? I didn't see that, or hear it, but I have heard plenty of coaches turn court-side seats into an R rating. Larry Eustachy and Johnny Orr could both make Chris Rock blush.

How do you feel about profanity? I used to swear more than I do these days. I'll still do it for comic effect on occasion, which some would say is wrong. I'd say check out Steve Martin at the rental car counter in Planes, Trains & Automobiles or the wedding singer in Old School. Most other times I remember some advice a coach gave me once, "find a more intelligent way to communicate". That's often too much to ask, but avoiding George Carlin's seven words you can never say on TV, keeps me from accidentally saying one of them on TV, not to mention in front of the kids. Ask any parent, we all have stories of an overheard word our kid couldn't stop saying. Funny, until he blurts it out at daycare or church.

The silliest thing I say is "son of a biscuit". I picked that one up from Gary Thompson. Gary is so square, he never swears. He's everybody's all-American.

-For those of you who miss SoundOff, Shane's right, you can listen to the audio, or if you just want to see some of the video clips, including What's Bugging Andy, they're almost always online the next day in the video player on the sports page.

-Kirk Ferentz had to do something. He did a good job of finally acknowledging the big, embarrassing elephant in the room: 14 or so arrested Hawkeyes in one year. Maybe a life coach will help, and it can't hurt.

-Are there fans anywhere coming off a three win season more optimistic than Cyclone fans? It's still too soon to schedule vacation time in late December anytime soon, but Iowa State's relatively strong finish does look promising.

-How did things work out for Tyler Smith?

-Before Celebrity Apprentice, the only thing I knew about Trace Adkins was that he sang Honky Tonk Badonkadonk. This guy is sharp. He doesn't say much, but when he does, it matters. I hope he wins. (Ratings tell me I just lost 80% of you.)

-Can't wait for the Iowa Speedway to open again. We had a blast out there last year.

-Welcome back Barnstormers. If you have kids who enjoy video games, chances are good they won't be bored.

-I'm going to my first Stars game of the season Friday night. I usually see a few, but haven't made it this year. I'm anxious to see if the atmosphere has improved. I know the hockey is good.
-Can't accuse the Iowa Energy of stocking the roster with unknowns. Haluska, Horner, Thomas, Stinson... we know these guys. It's just hard to become emotionally invested in the NBDL, but the franchise is doing all it can to make us care.

-32 degrees and snowing on March 27th?! I'm almost ready to start swearing more.

-If you read this before Friday night's at 10 p.m. newscast (3/28), and you have pride in the role wrestling plays in our state, don't miss Brad Argo's special report . It's terrific. (The story should also end up in the video player at at some point.)

-Finally, if you get a chance, check out this week's Cityview. Andy brought it to my attention. Remember the time of year and enjoy: The cover story is on the new pro basketball team, The Des Moines Dribblers.

-Hope to see you Sunday night. Andy and I will discuss what makes us Iowans.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Some scattershot thoughts:

-Classy move by Klayton Korver, showing up for SoundOFF, even after that heartbreak. He said the outpouring of support from viewers lifted his spirits. I'm sure Adam Emmenecker did too when he called into protest his spot-on look alike, fitness "celebrity" John Basedow. Emmenecker says Korver's the one who cares about his hair. Come to think of it, Klayton does have that High School Musical 'do.

-I don't think you have to worry about Keno going anywhere yet.

-Worst part about working this time of year? People stopping by the office to tell you in painstaking detail how their bracket's doing. I know I complain about this every year, but I can't help it. It's getting worse. Know this: no one cares about your bracket but you. Trust me. (Until you win. Then you can brag.)

-The NCAA women's tournament will be back in Des Moines soon. Iowa State and the city did a great job of hosting, and the crowds were among the largest in the nation (thanks to ISU playing). Now about that parking...

-I've never worked with a team having a big season that was more accommodating than Drake. Mike Mahon and company put on a clinic how to maximize coverage and positive feedback. Of course, it helped that Drake had a terrific group of student-athletes to show off.

-I reluctantly started reading The Kite Runner because Andy gave it to me for my birthday, and that's what friends do. You have to read the book, or watch the movie, or wear the tie --- but I owe Andy an extra "thank you". I was dragged out of my comfort zone (I don't read much on war-torn Afghanistan), and, to my surprise, the book is fantastic. I heard Jon Miller (I think it was Jon) say on the radio a few months back that the movie is good too. Thanks Andy (and Kahala).

-I'm into John Adams on HBO. I haven't read the book, which I understand is great, but I may after watching the mini-series. My trip to Washington D.C. has me feeling the history. I can't believe the guy from Sideways and The Negotiator can play a President, but Paul Giamatti is pulling it off.

-The Good Shepherd is a well made, cold movie. I suppose that's by design since Matt Damon plays a detached CIA agent, but it's not very entertaining.

-Did I mention the best part about watching the NCAA Tournament? HDTV.

-Congrats to Kyle Okposo for his first career NHL goal. Okposo and the Des Moines Bucs were the greatest show on ice two years ago. It was free donuts most every night.

-Iowa State played its heart out against Rutgers. Bill Fennelly told us on SoundOFF, his Cyclones would have to play a near perfect game, and get help from Rutgers, to win --- and it nearly happened. Well, nearly may be pushing it. They made a game of it though.

-If the state of Iowa seemed even classier over the weekend it's because Vivian Stringer returned. Don Imus messed with the wrong lady.

-Do you get the feeling the Hawkeye wrestling program is about to make another run of national championships? There's no doubt Tom Brands brought back the swagger. Iowa used to win most matches just by showing up. The Hawks aren't there yet, but they looked old school in St. Louis. Cael and company will have something to say about Iowa dominance, and I can't wait to watch.

-One final note. In the month of February, more people watched SoundOFF than ever before. This kind of growth doesn't usually happen in year 11, and trite as it sounds, we couldn't do it without you. I know most of you who read this support the show, and I sincerely appreciate it.

Though it's nice to be #1 again, that's not why we do the show, and it's not our goal. We want to have fun, entertain, and once in a while, make you think. As long as we're doing that, we'll still feel successful even if we finish behind an infomercial for Gold Bond powder and all its magical, soothing powers. Scratch that---bad choice of words---check that, we probably do need to beat infomercials to stay on the air.

I'd be remiss if I didn't note that I'm well aware the SoundOFF surge in viewers is due, in large part, to the triumphant return of one, Andy Fales. A lot of people didn't fully appreciate Andy's talents until he was gone, and now he's back, a second chance for both sides. (The improbable Drake story didn't hurt either.) Thank you all.

-Oh yeah, speaking of thank yous. I owe several to the people I work with in this sports office. My good friend Ryan and his wife, Heather, gave Jenny and me front row seats to see Bruce Springsteen in Minneapolis. We received the present back in November after Ryan heard Bruce was coming March 16th, Selection Sunday.

Ryan correctly predicted that there was no way I'd have to worry about Iowa, Iowa State or UNI going to the NCAA tournament, so plans were put in place. He never considered Drake. Why would he. So long story short (too late!), I decided I need to stay and work. Andy, Shawn, Chris, and Heather came to me and said I needed to go see Springsteen, and they'd make sure everything was covered. Shawn and Heather volunteered to come in on their days off. Jenny and I had a one of our best times ever. Bruce and the E-Street band rocked, and our coverage back here never missed a beat. Thank you.
(And a thank you to my mom for watching the kids. That one probably should have come first.)


Friday, March 21, 2008

This is why live sports are the ultimate reality show.

In just over two hours, the Drake Bulldogs first NCAA Tournament game in 37 years provided jumping-up-and-down highs, and punch-in-the-gut lows.

It was one of those shared experiences for many of us that we'll never forget. Central Iowans ignoring their work, huddled around televisions, and yelling at the screen. Nobody objected.

When Drake showed so much heart, and worked its way back from a 16 point deficit, it seemed like another incredible chapter in a storybook season. When the Dogs finally pulled ahead, you could hear people yelling and clapping --- and many of those people didn't really even follow Drake before this season. This team, these guys, made us care. The way they played, and even more importantly, the way they handled themselves when they weren't playing.

The end was cruel for Drake, just as it was exhilarating for Western Kentucky. The Hilltopper coach called the NCAA Tournament the greatest show on earth, and he might be right, even when it feels like a punch in the gut.

I was proud of the way Drake kept fighting, the way the Bulldogs handled defeat with class, and perhaps most of all, the way they represented Iowa.

Once in a while a team comes along that reminds you why you love sports. This was such a team. Even in defeat.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Anyone hear if Wartburg won the national wrestling championship?

Seriously, did you catch this blog's feedback section turning into a debate on what schools, sports, and athletes deserve more media attention? I appreciate the passion, both from the defenders and attackers.

This spirited discussion has no right or wrong answer, so I won't pretend I know exactly what we should and shouldn't report. However, like you, I do have opinions. My views are shaped by both research and observation.

Here's the cold reality: no matter what we cover, someone gets left out, and they're not happy. There is absolutely no way to please everyone.

The challenge with most all college sports in our state beyond D1 (FBS) football and men's basketball is that you are dealing with niches of strong support. For anyone to suggest that our news or SoundOFF audience is as interested in Wartburg wrestling as they are Drake's amazing basketball season is ludicrous. Setting aside the fact Wartburg's not even in our viewing area, and Drake is, it's not even remotely debatable. Make no mistake, you can find a Wartburg wrestling fan who cares about the Knights as much as any one fan cares about the Bulldogs, but when it comes to mainstream interest, it's a no-doubter.

There are people all over the metro area, and beyond, talking Drake hoops right now. Thousands of them are folks who don't typically follow sports. I know because I hear from them all the time. This team's once-in-a-lifetime season excited people in ways that take the story beyond sports fans.

Remember a few years ago when Northern Iowa played in the national championship football game? I thought that was a huge deal, and it no doubt was to Panther fans, but most other people just had a passing interest, another source of Iowa-based pride. I'll never forget being in a packed bar/restaurant the night of the title game. There were a couple hundred fans on hand, and only about six of us paying close attention to the game. What do you think that bar would be like if Iowa or Iowa State played for the national championship in football? This state would revolve around that game the entire week. The same will happen the next time Drake, Iowa, or Iowa State play in a Final Four. There would also be a lot of interest and pride in our viewing area---Central Iowa---if UNI made the NCAA basketball semifinals, but it would not be like the other three. That's not disrespecting UNI, it's the reality of where we live and where the most passion lies.

Women's basketball is another tough call. This week, I heard from a really angry fan of Amy Stephens' Bulldogs. This viewer was offended at our lack of coverage for the ladies in comparison to the men. I can't tell her she's wrong to feel the way she does, because she's entitled to her opinion, but the reality is a much smaller percentage of people get really worked up and passionate about the women's teams. Iowa and Iowa State just made the NCAA Tournament. How do you think the buzz compares to what it would be like if the men were in?

It's not easy, and no one has the right to say your sport doesn't matter, because it does. It's just a question of widespread interest.

Forget the argument, "well, if the media covered it more, more people would care." Yeah, maybe a few more here and there, but I know from personal experience, we could do nightly stories on Simpson's excellent women's basketball team, or Grand View's baseball team, or Valley's swimming team, and you're still not going to convert people to passion. They either have that or they don't. We're in the business of trying to inform and entertain as many of our viewers at once as possible.

Once in a great while, a story comes along that's so compelling, people who didn't have passion before, suddenly care. Recent examples: Zach Johnson, Shawn Johnson, and the Drake Bulldogs.

I ran track for four years in high school. We were never on a local sportscast. Andy Fales swam in high school---same deal. (I do remember how exciting it was when the local TV stations came to our football or basketball games.) I went to college at a division II school, we were overlooked compared to the big boys. It's not going to change, and it's not the media's fault.

Another argument I often hear is that "these girls (or boys) work every bit as hard as those basketball players you keep showing". True. They do. Members of the marching band, debate team, and student council work hard too. Should we show highlights? With unlimited time and resources, we would. Why not.

The most difficult conversations I have are with proud parents of athletes in sports that receive next to no media coverage. There's no good answer because their kids are no less important than those who play football, but the interest of others is different. I love to run, but I don't generally want to watch others run. (There are exceptions.)

I wish we could be all things to all people. You'd be happier, you'd like me more, and more people would watch our television station. However, we have to make choices every day. Sometimes those choices are dictated by what else is going on. The Barnstormers have a scrimmage Saturday. On some Saturdays we'd be there. This Saturday, there's no chance.

We'll keep doing the best we know how, and the "how" keeps evolving. We're all still learning.

Thank you for your time and thoughts.

What do you say we move this in another direction next time?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Heard anything on Drake lately?

Yes, we're covering the Bulldogs a lot, and they deserve it.

Not to go too far overboard, but the Dogs delivered the kind of story that made many of us---certainly me---fall in love with sports in the first place. Like you, I've had it up to here with juiced up baseball players, arrested Hawkeyes, and the sex scandals of high school coaches.

Here come the Bulldogs to remind us of the good stuff. Stuff like teamwork, chemistry, unselfishness, joy, camaraderie, discipline, hustle, humility, and academics. These guys are true student-athletes, not NBA majors.

I can't tell you how many people have called, written, or stopped me to say how refreshing they find these Drake Bulldogs. "Refreshing" is the word used most often, and I agree. "Contagious" probably places second.

I strive for objectivity at all times, but as I've said before, no one is completely objective. However, a reputable journalist should always offer full disclosure. To that end, I find it hard not to get caught up in what these Dogs are doing, and the way they're doing it. If they slip, we'll report that too, but I doubt they realize how much they've raised the spirits of many Iowans during this otherwise dreary winter.

I realize a few people want to put a turd in the punchbowl. Life offers some unhappy people who want to pull others down, but I think the vast majority of Iowans know they're seeing a once-in-a-decade story, maybe once-in-a-lifetime; others may genuinely not like Drake. I never forget that my grandmother went to see ET and hated it. She thought it was a stupid movie and didn't really care if ET lived or died. My best friend and I went on a double date in high school to see Kramer vs. Kramer and his girlfriend rooted for Meryl Streep. Andy Fales roots for the bull in a bullfight, which is more understandable than not backing Dustin Hoffman. You just never know what others see.

A few buzzkills who read this blog scoffed at me, and many of you, a few weeks ago for suggesting Keno Davis as front runner for national coach of the year. This just in: The Sporting News named Keno Davis National Coach of the Year.

One of my favorite SoundOFF moments happened this past week when Adam Emmenecker and Klayton Korver got off the bus after winning the MVC Championship and came straight to the studio with their trophies and net. They could have slept, partied, watched ESPN, or knowing Adam, studied, but they wanted to share their high with the rest of us, and they were giddy. Again, it reminded me why I love sports.

A shout out to Andy and Shawn Terrell for doing such a good job in St. Louis all weekend, and Chris Hassel for anchoring our coverage here so I could go with my family to Washington, DC. I had the opportunity to tour the White House and Capitol, along with the other monuments and it was a patriotic thrill. Big thanks to Congressman Boswell and his staff for all their hospitality.

A few days in our nation's capital serves as a stark reminder how much terrorists changed the world on 9/11. Flying makes you feel like a suspect, and though you understand it, even appreciate it, it is inconvenient and frustrating. You can't get near anything in DC without going through a metal detector, and you wouldn't want to.

I did miss my new TV while I was gone. I'm like a kid with his new all-time favorite toy. HDTV makes me want to see everything in high def. I'm re-watching movies, following games I usually ignore, and feeling let down when something is not in HD. It really is awesome. I can't believe I'm about to type this, but I could even see myself staying home to watch a game on TV when I could be there in person. Yikes.

It really is Hilton South for the Cyclone women in Kansas City. Did you realize no Big 12 team has won more tourney games there than ISU? The Clones are 14-5, and I think after that blasting of the Buffs, I-State is in the NCAA tournament, which would be great news for the Des Moines economy and next week's NCAA Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena.

Monday, March 03, 2008

I doubt Lisa Bluder was ever really on the "hot seat" in Iowa City, but to start the season with that bad buzz, and end it as "Big Ten Coach of the Year" is quite a turnaround. Congrats Lisa. Bluder coached the Hawks to a share of the Big Ten title, but next to no one noticed---or at least they didn't bother to show. The U of I needs to figure out why more fans don't follow the women's basketball program. Go spy on Iowa State for ideas.

Bill Fennelly's doing his best job of coaching at Iowa State, and that's saying something. Des Moines needs the hobbled Cyclones in the NCAA tourney and Bill is coaching his head off to make it happen. Iowa State and Iowa at Wells Fargo Arena sounds good. Maybe the Iowa fans on this side of the state would support the women.

I called Klayton Korver, "Kyle", on SoundOFF. That's about the 17th time that's happened in the past five years. Sorry Klayton. Once was more than enough. The First Family of Iowa basketball deserves better.

Is there a better story in college basketball than Adam Emmenecker? Former walk-on with no division one scholarship offers takes on four majors and two minors while leading one of the nation's losingest basketball programs to a 25-4 record. As I watched Drake honor Adam on Senior Day, I felt proud. I imagine his mom and dad couldn't contain themselves.
Good story from the Register's Andrew Logue on Leonard Houston and the reason his dad couldn't make it to Senior Day: prison. Houston overcame a lot.

Shawn Johnson will win the all-around gold in Beijing. I'm more sure of that than ever after she finished second at the American Cup. Shawn tried new, harder routines and she didn't get all depressed after stumbling. I'm sure she's disappointed, but she still had fun. Shawn will stick it when it matters most.

My youngest son, Colin, celebrated his 4th birthday at a Bucs game at 95KGGO Arena. He loves that place. One of the nicest guys in sports, Brad Chiafos, took us on a tour of the locker room between periods. Uh, thanks Brad... I guess. The smell defies description. Andy tried with "Bigfoot's butt crack", but that doesn't quite capture the full stink.

I honestly don't know how I lived without high def television. All of you are right, the difference is staggering, and watching basketball---or any sport---is best of all. I love it. Can't wait for baseball.