Dec 27, 2005

My Sympathies

I was blown away the other day to see that Tony Dungy's son had died. I was even more shocked to learn that it was a suspected suicide. It is weird, he is a huge sports celebrity but I hurt for him like he was a relative. I think it is because he and I have something in common. We're both fathers. I can't even imagine what it would be like to lose a child. The very thought of it makes me ill - and makes me want to run home and hug my babies. That pain must be so overwhelming. It must be even worse for someone like Tony Dungy - someone who has strived to be a good father and has spent his life making his family such a high priority.

I met Coach Dungy once when living in Tampa. He came to speak at a BCM luncheon at Univeristy of South Florida. He was such an amazing person. I was furious at the Bucs for firing him. Even though I can't stand the Colts (as you can read in my previous post), I want them to win a Super Bowl so Dungy can have one. I admire him so much - his devotion to God, to his family. I know it doesn't matter what my little post says about him and his situation. It just felt like something that needed done.

The whole situation also helps me to realize how important it is to be the best father I can be, but also to entrust my precious ones to the only Perfect Father. Even if I do everything I can to help my kids become the best people they can be, even if I constantly show them God's love, even if I am able to lead them to a saving knowledge of Christ - I cannot be with them every step. And in those moments I have to trust God to know and do what is best for them. I think that is part of what is so hard in the situations like Dungy's. Not only is your heart ripped open, but your trust in God is shaken too. I hope and pray that the Dungy family finds the strength and peace they need to make it through. And I hope that he is able to continue coaching - the NFL and the world needs him and his example. But if he does decide to hang it up, I know that it will because his family needs him more. And that is way more important than holding up some silver trophy.

Dec 21, 2005

Why I Really Really Love Football

My earth-shattering mini-series on sports continues with the granddaddy of them all. Originally, I was going to save this one to the end as a climax to the entire saga. After experiencing the highs and lows, the twists and turns, you could be a part of the extremely satisfying conclusion. However, since football is the only sport being played right now (just sit down you eight basketball and three hockey fans) and since it is hitting the most exciting time of year, the time felt right.

Football is my absolute favorite sport - both college and pro. It is the only one that I regularly watch games during the regular season. It is the only one that I play in a fantasy league for. And it is the only that I can talk about in any sort of intelligent fashion. It was the first sport I remember watching on a regular basis. It was the only one that my father really loved, and we used to sit on the couch together watching games. Aside from when my brother destroyed his ankle trying out for football, I can't think of too many bad memories associated with football. Why is this sport so amazing and awesome? In the Christmas spirit, let me construct a list.

1. Football has real "heroes" and "villains." Yes other sports have them, but not on the same grand scale as football. In baseball, everyone hates the Yankees and A-Rod (out of jealousy us Yankee fans reply). In basketball, well I think almost EVERYONE is a villain in basketball. What other sport would knock a potential draft pick down a few notches because he wasn't mean enough (Marvin Williams) yet give dozens of certified wackjobs maximum contracts? In football, every fan has his heroes and villains. You know you are going to always "hate" certain teams and players and "love" others. For example, NFL fans are split into two camps on Brett Favre - some hate him (me) and others love him. Why do I hate him? Because he caused my Bucs so much pain over the years. Also, there are those people who adore Peyton Manning and those who loathe him (me). Why do I loathe him? Because he is an overhyped number hunter who has never done a single thing to make his TEAM better, which is why he has never won a title and I hope never will. He is this generation's Dan Marino, who yes, was a villain to me also.

There are some teams that I detest and always will. I will never root for the Raiders, Redskins, 49ers, Packers, Giants, Dolphins, or Broncos -- or Notre Dame, U of Miami, U of Florida, USC, Texas, or Ohio State. If two of those teams play each other, I switch the channel or root for the refs. Or I root against whichever team has the most to lose with a loss. I have developed a recent hatred for the Falcons (because of the villain Mike "Ron Mexico" Vick), and have downgraded my hatred for the Steelers (because they just play football the right way). If I hate a team, not only do I root against them, I laugh when they stink. Like the 49ers right now? HA HA! Why do I laugh, because I know that like any good movie villain, they will rise again. I love the Bucs and the Jags -- and UCF, USF, and U of Georgia. I am fond of the Cowboys, Chiefs, Chargers, and Vikings - mostly for the players or because of a long history.

And there are individual villains too. Favre, the Manning brothers, Ray "Not My Knife" Lewis, Randy "Not My Play" Moss, Ricky "Not My Bong" Williams. And then there are my heroes - not real heroes I want to pattern my life after, but ones I cheer for. Priest Holmes, Antonio Gates, Daunte Culpepper, Hines Ward, Tom Brady, Doug Flutie, Byron Leftwich, Big Ben Rothlisbergerstroganoff. I think football has the biggest line between good guys and bad. It varies for every person, but it is strong - sometimes passed on for generations. (My dad hated the Packers too).

2. The Regular Season Matters - Unlike basketball and hockey, the regular season in football matters. You can't mess around for 2/3 of the year and then put on the jets and get into the playoffs as a five seed and still make it to the finals. If you mess around in football, you stay home in January. Take the Chargers this year, they had a slow start, and even though they may be one of the best teams in football NOW, they will probably miss the playoffs. The same thing with Auburn - two stupid early season losses and they miss out on a 12 million dollar payday. You can't just crank it up in November. You have to be consistent. The year the Bucs won the Super Bowl, they went 12-4. If you broke the season up into quarters, they went 3-1 in each quarter. That's consistent.

3. EVERY Game Matters - Not only does the regular season matter, but you have to be ready for every game. In every other sport, you can take a game off here or there and still survive. In football, you take a game off, you miss the playoffs or get a lousy seed and end up having to travel up to Foxboro in January in a driving snowstorm and you get mauled.

4. Every Play Matters - A game can turn on one play. Somebody throws a dumb pass at the end of the game and it gets picked off and returned for a touchdown and your team loses by two points and you get ripped by talk radio hosts the world over for a week. Or, and offensive lineman takes a play off and the next thing you know, your quarterback is looking for his right arm and left ankle and your team is out of contention.

5. It is Violent - In baseball, you get ejected for hitting someone. In basketball, you get a beer thrown at you and then you get suspended. In hockey, everyone gets into square dance position and watches until you fall down and then they break it up. In football, you get a sticker on the back of your helmet and you get put on the highlight reel. True, this is not the most noble reason, but hey, just being honest.

6. It is Better Managed - From the salary cap that actually is a real cap to the rules that are actually enforced, football is the best run sport. It hasn't had a work stoppage in almost twenty years (keep your fingers crossed). It has an efficient system of appeals and rules. It even has instant replay. And college football is no different. It is an amazing spectacle. Could you imagine a basketball or baseball game with 100,000 fans at it? Yet that happens at a half-dozen college stadiums every week.

7. Better Rivalries - This goes back to point one. (like that? circular. oooo) In baseball, you have the Red Sox/Yankees. In hockey, well I have no clue. In basketball, you had a few rivalries, but they are pretty much dead. In football, you have the truly great rivalries. It is more than just heroes/villains. It is armies massed against each other, each wearing their tribe's colors. Think about them. When they play (once, maybe twice a year) it is a complete explosion. It is an event. People prepare for it and wait for it. And even if both teams suck eggs, the game still matters. And if one team stinks, their whole season is made by beating the other - especially if it costs them a trip to the playoffs or a bowl.

Michigan/Ohio State. Florida/Florida State. Notre Dame/USC. Georgia/Florida. Texas/Oklahoma. Cowboys/Redskins. Bears/Packers. Raiders/Chiefs. Auburn/Alabama. Colts/Patriots. Florida State/Miami.

Just thinking about those games gets your heart racing. The thing about Yankees/RedSox is that they play 19 times a year in the REGULAR SEASON. The Bulls and Pistons play six times. In football, especially college football, you play once. You pour everything into that game and if you lose, it eats at you for an entire year until you get a chance to rectify the situation. And even if you go 10-0 and lose to your rival, a fan of that rival can still get your blood boiling by pointing out the one loss. It seems like so much rides on games in football. And that is why it is so great. There is so much at stake. That is why I can't wait until August and get sad come February. But for six months, things are great.

This winter has the potential to be the best footbally postseason ever for me. Every single team I root for is already in the playoffs, or still in contention. The UCF Knights play December 24. USF and Georgia both have bowl games. The Jaguars and Bucs are about to get invites to the playoffs. Even the Vikings, Cowboys, Chiefs, and Chargers are still sniffing around the playoffs. So, if you are looking for me between now and February 5, chances are I'll be on the couch watching football -- and rooting against Peyton Manning.

Look for upcoming Why I . . . Sports articles coming up in honor of the Winter Olympics, Hockey, and Soccer.

Nov 22, 2005

My Scary Night - Part Two

Well, I survived the camping trip. My son and I had a great time - he loved chucking things into the fire. I really began to see how much he was like me. I remember when my dad used to grill food out back, I loved to watch the fire and watch him. And I really liked that once he was done, I could start chucking stuff in the fire. I would burn potato chips, wood chips, mango seeds, brown leaves, green leaves, grass, sticks. I used to push mango sticks onto the coals to make them get all red and smokey. My son must have thrown a hundred sticks into the fire - and aluminum cans, plates, napkins, leaves, moss, pine cones.

It was a pleasant night and we had a ball. We went to bed much earlier than the college guys, so we were not forced to participate in their shenanigans. And by the time they got done playing manhunt, they forgot we were there. So we came back with all of our hair. We also saw three deer on the way in, which was pretty neat. My son loved the playground as well. It was fun, and we had a great time with the guys. But it was not a life-altering experience that secured my sleeping out in the dirt all the time. I won't shy away from it as much now, but I still think it is more fun to have a dozen guys sitting around watching football or a movie in the air conditioning.

And speaking of football, I did get back in time to watch UCF try their hardest to lose, but still find a way to win. 8-3, 7-1 in conference. And through timely losses by other teams, we are hosting the conference championship game on December 3. Last year, we went 0-11 against the worst conference in the USA. This year, we went 8-3 against a much better one, and are going to a bowl game. Wow. What a difference a year makes. GO KNIGHTS!!!

Nov 18, 2005

My Scary Night - Part One

So, tonight I am going to do something that absolutely terrifies me, something that I have never ever participated in - and part of me never thought I would. Tonight, I am going camping. The College men's Sunday School class that I teach decided they wanted to do this for some reason. After ducking it for over a year, I finally had to agree to go. I am taking my four year old son with me. He, of course, is thrilled by the concept of hanging out with the "big kids" and sleeping outside. I, of course, am terrified by both of those things.

First of all, I have worked with college students for all ten years since I was one. So I am pretty familiar with what college guys do. And based on our last outdoor adventure with this group, my fears are pretty well-founded. There is great fear on my part that I will wake up with some sort of weird thing on my face, or missing hair, or floating in a river. These are my guys. I love them to death, but I don't trust them at all. I'm hoping that my boy will give them pause before destroying me. Yes, I am using my boy as a human shield -- and I'm okay with that.

Second, I have no idea why people like sleeping outside. This is what mankind has tried to escape doing for centuries. This is why we build houses. We want to sleep inside, in the climate-controlled bliss that our AC Units provide. The outside is hard and dirty. My bed is soft and clean - unless one of the kids poured cereal on it or got sick on it. So, I am a bit nervous about the whole thing. I am a couch potato. Look at my favorite activities. They all include sitting in a soft chair. I like to sit and watch television, sit and work on the computer, sit and watch movies, sit and read. Catching a pattern? I don't like to lay in the dirt and fight bugs and bears for food.

Of course, maybe I'll be really surprised and really enjoy it. Maybe I'll be overwhelmed by the beauty of God's Creation and sleeping under the stars. Maybe I'll become an outdoorsman. After all, I am actually GOING in the first place. So maybe there is hope for me yet. As long as I get home in time to watch UCF go for the championship on my computer in my recliner.

I'm sure you will all eagerly await the results.

Oct 28, 2005

Why I Dislike Baseball...Yet I Like It

Here is the second in my amazing sports series "Why I ... Sports." The last one, Why I Hate Basketball was perhaps the most fascinating and useless take on the sport ever. Now, I will turn my incredible insight on baseball - the national pasttime (we'll get to that).

Baseball is the weirdest sport of all to me. I am pretty clear on what I feel about most sports, but baseball is like chips and salsa to me. I am not one of those "order chips and salsa at every restaurant" guys, but if a bowl of them come wandering by, I won't hesitate to cram them in my face at a fairly rapid rate. In fact, I never order them or eat them unless I'm with a group, or a person who likes them. Baseball is like that. I can discuss it ad nauseum with anyone because the rules haven't changed in forever. I'll even watch it if I'm with people who want to, or if that's all there is on television, or if it wanders past my face. When I read the sports page (in print or on web), I will check the stats and standings. But I just don't go out of my way to watch it. In fact, my general feeling is that I dislike baseball.

Why do I dislike baseball? Oh there are many reasons.

1 - The season is entirely too long. 162 games? The stinking thing runs from Spring Training in February to nearly November. It is hard to get too excited about individual games because they don't mean anything. Sure, this past year races were decided by one game. But, in general, a game that takes place in May has no bearing on anything, except for three or four teams.

2 - As I have complained about in basketball, I hate sports that you immediately can just write off over half the league right out of the gate. In baseball, it is even worse because there are many teams that stink and will always stink. Is there ever a surprise team that makes a legitimate move? Can you imagine the Devil Rays next year winning the World Series? No way, that doesn't happen in baseball. The last place team and perennial doormat never wins the championship. It happened in football just a few years ago with the Rams.

3 - Drugs. It makes me angry that steroids have made McGwire's record and Bonds' records questionable. I am not foolish enough to believe that there is not steroid use in other sports. They just aren't as obvious, and they at least act like they are doing something about it. The first time you get caught with steroids, you get a 10 day suspension? What is the equivalent of that in other jobs? The first time you steal money you get suspended? Or the first time you sell secrets to another company, the first time you hack into a computer, the first time you cheat on your taxes? All of those get you fired or arrested. In baseball, you get a 10 day vacation.

4 - The league is run by an extra from Pirates of the Caribbean.

5 - It is a bad thing to like the Yankees. I say I'm a Yankee fan and I get blasted. I was a NYY fan back when they were terrible. I liked them through the Winfield and Mattingly years, when they never made the playoffs. I may not like everything they do, but they are my team. I have read that cheering for the Yankees is like cheering for the referees. Of course, this person was a Red Sox fan. Which brings me to point 6.

6 - Is it required for every sportswriter to be Red Sox fan? What happened to the days when sports journalists and reporters had to keep their allegiances quiet? Go on ESPN Page 2 sometime and see the number of Red Sox fans that write for them. And if they aren't, they still hate the Yankees. I am so tired of the Red Sox. They won. Woo hoo. Now so did the White Sox. I was hoping it would make them shut up - but they were even more obnoxious this year.

7 - Injuries. There's getting hit in the face with a ball (which is absolutely horrible) and then the class of arm injuries (rotator cuff, ruined elbow) which do sound very nasty. But then you get dumb injuries in baseball. You run into the wall, throw your back out sneezing, pull a hammy running to first (Ken Griffey Jr), break a nail slapping a ball (ARod), get spiked, break your hand punching a wall. Most of baseball involves standing and sitting, with bursts of swinging, throwing, and running. Basically that also describes a night of toilet papering houses. What are you saying, that you aren't as healthy or aware as a drunk fraternity guy?

8 - The mismanagement and ridiculous devotion to tradition at the expense of the sport is sickening. They call themselves America's pasttime. And yes, it is now past time for them. They are too self-important to use replay, even though it would help. The umps are all egomaniacs and will never admit they blew a call. The player's union has a stranglehold on the sport. Bud "the Dead Pirate" Selig is a big wuss. The league allows owners like the Tampa guy and the Pittsburgh guy to consistently embarass the MLB by putting a sub-par team on the field.

Yet, every August, September, and October, I find myself watching the games. I cannot ignore the playoffs. I watched most of them this year as well, even though my team went home early. Part of that is because I want to see the Yanks stuff another ring down everyone's throat. Part of it is that I love watching the Braves find a new way to lose in the playoffs and then hear all the talking heads say how "they were so gutsy to even get here." But part of it is that I actually enjoy the game. I like to watch it and to follow it. There are just too many things I don't like about it that keep me from getting to involved. For example, I love fantasy football. I've played for five years and enjoy the whole process. I tried baseball one year and came in dead last. The problem was that I didn't follow the sport every day to know every guy on every team. I only have to check my football teams twice a week. If you don't have a daily ritual with baseball, you get destroyed. I'm willing to give a sport three months - four if it is really good, five if it is football. But to give a sport nine months? That's a baby, not a sport.

Baseball is too much effort to really get into, it takes to long to have a sense of completion, and it has too many warts to really embrace it. It is actually a lot like chips and salsa. Part of the reason I don't eat them more often is that it is too much work. You have to get the chips, get the salsa, get a bowl. Then each chip has to be retrieved from the bag, dipped in the salsa, stuck in your mouth. Then you have to run to the kitchen to get water because you grabbed the hot salsa by accident. Then you eat some more. Then you have to roll the bag up, put a clip on it, put it away. Then put the lid on the salsa, wipe the drippings off the side, put it in the fridge. OR, I can grab a cookie, take a swig of milk out of the bottle, and be done. They both are satisfying -- it just depends on how much of an effort you are willing to make.

Oct 25, 2005

Oh The Horror

With my favorite holiday of Halloween right around the corner, it is only natural to begin contemplating fear. Actually, I hate Halloween and everything about it - I don't understand celebrating wickedness and evil. I also hate scaring people (except my sister, who I have spent a lifetime coming up with new ways to scare). I don't watch horror films or suspense films. And I will not go to any of my area's million theme park Halloween spectaculars.

Over the last few years, I have even taken this further. I don't watch "realistic dramas" (CSI, Without a Trace, ER) because I don't want to get those images stuck in my head, I don't watch the news because I don't want to see some story on a some mother who killed her kids, and I hate it when sneaks headlines in about kids getting hurt. Yes, in reality things like that happen, but I don't want to watch reality. I live reality. I want to escape that. That's why I like to see an island full of castaways running from monsters (Lost) and men in capes swinging over Gotham (Batman) and old fat guys talking about sports (PTI).

My son experienced the fun of Halloween this year with Heffalump's Halloween Movie Knockoff Thingee. He also got to see the ugly side the first time we walked by Spencer's and saw the disgusting junk in its window. That certainly was a pleasant experience for him and me. He still talks about the "bad stuff" that was there. I don't like fear in any way - even as a motivation for people to get saved. I am not the biggest fan of scaring people into Heaven. Basically, I am not a huge fan of Halloween and its various trappings. If I am a fan of anything, I am a huge fan of it, because I am a huge man. So, you could say, I am a huge protestor of Scare Day.

If I did participate in Halloween, or Trunk or Treat, or Fall Festival, or Harvest Celebration, or Judgement House, or whatever, I would dress up as the scariest thing I can think of -- a hurricane. I swear, nothing gets me as scared as one of those monsters. Yes, terrorists are a scary lot, but a lot of time it is one of those "you can kind of guess where that could happen" things (at least that is what I tell myself). But those hurricanes? If you are in the Gulf you are in danger. And you don't know what is going to happen. They move and wobble and change based on winds and water temps. And just because you made it through one doesn't mean anything. South Florida had weathered five hurricanes before Wilma hit. There had already been a lot of damage, but then they got nutted up by this one - and the back half at that! My family down there had more damage than in the others - including the one that sat on their heads for two days.

Another thing about hurricanes is they include a lot of other issues. If you were to rank the scary stuff about weather, you would have a pretty nice list of disasters: earthquakes, volcano, flood, tornado, hurricane. Hurricanes include three of those. We had tornados popping up all over our area yesterday. So now, in addition to the howling winds that make it sound like your walls are screaming, and the lake behind you rising up higher and higher, you have to watch out for tornados too. Earthquakes you can avoid by not living along a fault line. How do you avoid a volcano? Stay away from them. How about hurricanes? Oh yeah, don't live anywhere near water. Hmmm.

I hate hurricanes. I lived in Florida for thirty years without ever going through one. Florida has been hit by eight in the last 14 months - I was in half of those. And we got nothing like New Orleans, Biloxi, or Cancun. Dracula has nothing on these storms. Of course, the Bible tells us not to be given to a spirit of fear. And we should remember that Jesus controlled the wind and waves. And that God created this world and is not surprised by a storm. And those are indeed comforts. However, there a lot of churches and Christians along the Gulf Coast that suffered the same as the unsaved people there. I guess what makes them so terrifying is that I DO know God and His power and justice. I know what He CAN do. I just need to trust Him. But I still will be glad when November has come and gone and we don't have to worry about them storms until next summer. Instead, I can worry about frostbite. Bwaaahaaahaaaa.

PS - The low today is 47. Everyone is FREEZING here. We may need to break out the scarfs and gloves if it keeps up. Anyone got some we can borrow?

Sep 13, 2005

My Bud

I have wanted to post several times over the last few weeks, but did not do it for one reason or another. There has been so much going on, and so many things to write about. But it seems like it is never the right time. If you want to write about big important things, like the devastation on the Gulf Coast or the loss of a friend - it just seems so minimal and cheap. If you go the other way and write about sports or something it seems like you are shallow and insensitive. So I haven't done squat. So, instead, I'll write about my bud.

Yesterday was my son's fourth birthday. Wow. Four years old. And he is starting to look like such a little boy instead of a baby. He's getting tall and starting to fill out a little in his face and torso. Actually, he is a very muscular kid. He's just growing up so fast. He talks about Jesus and about planets (all the time) and carries on conversations with you. It is fun to take him with you to the store because he just chatters on about everything and talks to everybody. He's so smart that it is crazy. He memorizes books and videos and can recite an entire 45 minutes DVD on planets to you on request. He remembers things from 12-18 months ago that I have trouble recalling. He's just awesome.

That's the thing about having a kid - they are so wonderful. I love both of my kids. They are completely different, but alike. Their faces have gotten so similar. One of them can be so goofy and silly while the other will be very serious. Then they will switch places and one will be bouncing off the walls while the other will be intently reading or watching tv for an hour. They are fun - the biggest blessings in our lives.

My boy has always found his life marked by the horrors all around him. He was born at 2:11am on September 12, 2001. Heather was in labor all day with him on September 11. Soon after the doctor gave her the medicine to induce labor, a nurse came in and told us we may want to turn on the television. For the rest of the morning, while we were trying to help this new life into the world, we saw the world falling apart. Finally, we turned off the tv because it was too much to take on that day. But we had something so many others did not. We had this child coming, and with that we had joy. In the midst of the sadness there was a the promise of this bundle to make our lives better.

Everyone who was a part of our lives during that period has a different take on September 11. They were not just overwhelmed by the pain all around, but they were also anticipating this new arrival. He was bringing hope to all of them. We had family friends who showed up at the hospital at 11pm to be there for the delivery because their other option was to stay home and be assaulted by the images of New York and DC. When he was born, all that other stuff melted away and we just stared at him.

On his fourth birthday, we were again looking in horror at the television at images from New Orleans. We had gone to my mom's house a week before his big day to celebrate with her. While there, we attended a funeral for a precious 23 year old friend, tried to help a family of dear friends who had lost everything in the hurricane, and talked with another couple who had also lost everything. We also were dealing with unexpected scheduling snafus, unpleasant extended family issues, and unfulfilled career plans. But all of that could be swept away when our boy ran in and said, "I'm gonna be four!" He brings joy. And he reminds us that God is faithful and that He gives us good gifts.

Our boy is a great gift. He had such a good birthday - got planets galore and got loved on all over the place. We were just thrilled - it was his first "big boy" birthday where he really understood what was going on. It just has filled us all with warmth. We have always said that we don't feel like we deserve him. He's just too special. Everyone who knows him loves him - he has had more of an impact on people than anyone I've known (except his sister).

Our boy's name is Josiah. The meaning varies from place to place. Some say that it means "Jehovah supports" others "Jehovah heals" and other say "Fire of the Lord." I think they all are appropriate. We knew we would name our first son Josiah before we were ever married, just like our first daughter would be Natalie [Christmas baby - and yes, she was born December 22]. I think it was something God wanted us to call him because it fit him - and because it was a constant reminder of some truths about God.

First, Jehovah supports. He supports those dear friends of ours who lost everything - providing them money and clothes and more. Even though they lost so much, they never lost focus on God. And they knew He would take care of them - and He has.

Second, Jehovah heals. That sweet young friend who passed away left a husband of three months. Three months?!? After waiting and being faithful his whole life and finally getting his wife, he loses her in three months? But when I talked to him, I realized that God had already begun to heal his heart.

Third, be a fire of God. I cannot sit by and just wait for doors to fling open. God has called me (and you) to a particular mission. And I need to follow Him with a reckless abandon - tossing aside whatever will not help me in that mission.

So, my bud, thanks for being such a sweet child and such a joy to have as my boy. And thank you for pushing me to be a better man for you and your sister. Thanks for reminding me what is important - and what is eternal. And thanks for continually pointing me to my Father for the love and support I need so that I can be a good father to you. Happy birthday, my little boy. I love you.

Aug 18, 2005

Why I Hate Basketball

So today I decided to begin a multi-part series on sports. I guess I could call it "Why I ... Sports". But that is a pretty dumb name. I will begin with basketball, and then move to baseball, football, hockey, and others. I promise I'll get back to other more important stuff later - not like that makes a huge difference to your world.

Basketball should be the most popular sport in America. It is easily the most accessible. You can play it with the fewest people (one). For the price of a gaming system (Xbox) you can buy a hoop for at your house. There are hoops all over the place. Yet, it has rapidly dropped to third out of the "Big Three" sports in America. Why is that? Why is it that there are, according to Bill Simmons of ESPN, "only 19 true NBA fans left in the world"? Since I'm not a sociologist or a sports journalist, I cannot give you the actual stats or studies on that fall. All I can do, is tell you from my point of view. Here is why I hate the NBA - and as a result basketball as a whole.

It wasn't always this way. I loved basketball. I always liked football more, but I loved basketball. I played it in the backyard with my brother, watched it on tv, actually thought about trying out for it, and served as cameraman for a season with my high school team. When I was in high school, I probably thought about basketball more than any other sport - the Cowboys were frustrating me in the NFL, the Yankees were in their lull in MLB, I didn't know anything about hockey. So for a few years, it was big for me. Then I moved to Orlando - a city with an actual team! And I went to games, and the Magic went the NBA finals. I honestly watched every playoff game that year. This was 1995. In ten years, it went from required viewing to apathy to loating. How?

1 - Shaq - I had become a huge NBA fan - and a huge Magic fan. Shaq, Penny. Awesome. They made it to the Finals in 1995 and lost to Houston in the finals. Then in 1996 they made it to the conference finals against the Bulls and got swept. Shaq was the only Magic player who did much, but he still seemed like he wasn't there any more. Then it happened. Shaq was a free agent, and despite the Magic offering him more money - he bolted to the Lakers - killing the franchise. And the way it happened stunk. He and his agent had been talking to the Lakers before the season was over, and the Magic did nothing about it. All of the Olympians were at MGM Studios for a parade in July, and a friend of mine who worked there got a ton of us in for free for it. So we were at the parade, and the crowd was going nuts for everyone. Shaq rides by and yells, "I love you Orlando." Kept yelling it. The crowd was like, "He's staying!" We all left and drove over to visit a friend working at one of the hotels. He says, "Did you hear Shaq signed with L.A.?" Ugh. I think you would be hard pressed to think of an athlete who meant more to a city that left that city than Shaq with Orlando.

2 - The Atlanta Hawks - They were my first basketball love, largely because we had TBS and they broadcast every Hawks game. That and Dominique Wilkens. Number 21. I had his jersey and tons of Hawks stuff. 'Nique was the man. His battle vs. Larry Bird in the playoffs was legendary. The scoring title, the slam dunk title, the battles with Jordan in the dunks. He was awesome. The Hawks started rolling, had some good seasons and some playoff battles. Then in 1993-1994 it was supposed to be their year. Jordan had retired. The Hawks were going to win their division. Nique would get his title. Then they traded him in February to the Clippers! For Danny Manning. AAAAHHH. It was to get them ready for the playoffs, to make more of a charge. Wilkens had been everything to that team, and then for their first serious title run, they traded him for Manning. That was it for Atlanta. They had a few good years in the late 90s, but they had no soul. I firmly believe their terrible play over the past 5-6 years has been payback.

3 - The Player Revolution - Somewhere along the line, the players took over the NBA. I don't know when it was exactly. Was it when Penny led the revolt against Brian Hill with the Magic, leading to his firing? Was it when Sprewell choked his coach and wasn't banned for life? I'm not sure. But now, coaches are not even given one year to turn things around. People like Vince Carter and T-Mac can admittedly "dog it" to get teams to trade them, and there is no penalty. Bit players with little talent play their hearts out during the last year of their contract, and then go back to being slobs once they score a huge contract from some other sucker (Mark Blount, Erick Dampier, the Knicks). Because he was dogging it and whining all the time, the Magic traded T-Mac (along with two other players) last year for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, and Kelvin Cato. Later they traded Mobley to the Kings for Doug Christie. Francis was mad about the second trade and quit playing well. Christie didn't want to come to Orlando, so he faked an injury, was deactivated, and then cut this offseason. So what did Orlando get for one of the 5 best players in the NBA? A whiny point guard and an injury-prone center. Good night. But nothing is ever done to the players.

4 - The Showboating - This is not an urban/rural thing. This is a complaint against how the NBA does not care about talent - they care about potential. They have been drafting 18 year olds for so long, they don't ever get polished players in the league any more. And when they do (LeBron, Dwight Howard) they take over b/c they are such a rarity. As much as I hated Bird, his teams were skilled and played with an amazing knowledge of the game. The same with the old Lakers, MJ's Bulls. They only two teams who still cared about that last year were the Pistons and Spurs (coincidence they were the Finals teams?). But even those two would have been destroyed by any of Magic's, Larry's, MJ's, or Isaiah's teams. There is no focus on skills. It is all about dunking and three-pointers. Where are the low post players (besides Shaq)? Where are the true point guards? Everyone wants the highlights. No one wants to work for them.

5 - The Announcers - I don't think that any sport has anyone to compare to the idiots and loudmouths who are associated with basketball. Yes, they are trying (NFL - Michael Irvin, Sean Salisbury, Theisman - MLB - John Kruk). But no one compares to the idiocy on parade between studio hosts, sideline reporters, and "experts." Let us look at the names: Stephen A Smith (ugh), Stu Scott (not the same personality as the NFL Stuart Scott - I swear he morphs on the court), Bill Walton, Greg Anthony, Tim Legler, Dick Vitale, Billy Packer, Kenny Smith. Morons. What happened to David Aldridge? He had class. There are no classy tv personalities in the NBA, except crossovers Mike Turico and Al Michaels. Most of them just yell and overanalyze, just to get face time. Except Charles Barkley - who is absolutely hillarious.

6 - The Boston Celtics - I hate the Celtics and always have. But they are one of "those teams." Every sport has them - the teams that everyone either hates or loves. The Yankees, the Cowboys, the Lakers, Notre Dame. They are the teams that never seem to really lose it. They may have some sub-par years. But never do they become a joke. But the Celtics have managed to do that - it just doesn't seem right. It is like the NBA doesn't have a villain any more. What good is a movie without a villain? How does the NBA let that happen? That is your flagship franchise.

What happens in the NBA then spills down into college and high school. As a result, all basketball has gone down the same route. They all have turned into sorry displays of poor sportsmanship, poor play, boorish personalities on and off the court, yelling and screaming, immature coddled players, and ridiculously stupid decision making. If I want to see incompetence on the screen, I'll watch a Burger King closed circuit camera or any movie involving Rob Schneider. And that is why I hate basketball.

Aug 4, 2005

This Blog is Steroid Free

If you only had read this blog, and never had met me, you would think I lived in some kind of philosophical state where I look at everything with an eye to the serious and theological. If only you knew how wrong you were. It is pretty funny. So far, I only once have written about my favorite pasttimes - sports and movies. Not playing sports - watching and following sports. So briefly, just a touch of my approach to sports and movies.

SPORTS - I love football. College and pro. My favorite college teams are the Georgia Bulldogs (since 1979) and the University of Central Florida (UCF) Golden Knights (since 1992 - when I began sending large sums of money their way). Fortunately for me, they are in two different classes. They played once, UCF made a game of it and then lost. So there. As far as the pros go, you can go back to the archives to read some of my thoughts on that. My favorite teams are Tampa and Jacksonville. I also love certain players, like Daunte Culpepper and Priest Holmes - which adds to my enjoyment of fantasy football.

I watch college basketball in March and always play tournament bracket challenge. I watch the NBA in June. I watch baseball when there is nothing else on tv. I follow UCF religiously in all sports. I am a Yankees fan (since 1980) and I love Barry Bonds. I follow the Tour de France because I am amazed at those athletes. I like to watch tennis. I'll watch golf if Tiger is playing. I hate auto racing. (That is not a sport. I drive all the time to work and back and don't get squat for it.) My wife likes gymnastics, and I don't dislike it. I am a big fan of Olympic sports - a bigger fan of the Winter Games. I think bobsledding is about the coolest thing I have ever seen. I have never played sports, but I do love them.

On one hand, I hate steroids. On the other, I don't care. I love Bonds (as I already said) but I hate Canseco. I was a big McGwire fan and still am. And I still don't like Sammy Sosa or the Boston Red Sox. I could care less about Rafael "I Never Used a Steroid Sir" Palmiero. I guess it comes down to the fact that baseball is like the Food Network to me. If I have to have the tv on and it has to be sports, I'll watch baseball. Until the playoffs, which I'll watch every game.

MOVIES - Movies cannot be judged on one set of standards. There is the quality measurement, and the entertainment measurement. If you mesh those, you can come up with some sort of overall measurement, but not very accurate. For example, Saving Private Ryan is one of the BEST movies ever made. Its quality is undeniable. Would I call it entertaining? Not really. Neither is Schindler's List, but few would argue that it is one of the finest pieces of film ever released. On the flip side, take Dumb and Dumber. Quality? Not even remotely there. Entertaining? Oh yes, my friend, oh yes. So, you have to realize this to talk movies with me.

The ideal is for the movie to hit on both counts. Now that is harder said than done. That is why there are few "rewatchable movies." [This is a topic covered in Bill Simmons' recent article on ESPN Page 2. I'm not stealing his point of view.] When you have a movie with at least 3 stars out of 5 in quality, and then a strong 4 stars in entertainment - you have a really enjoyable movie. Now some would argue the other way, at least a 3 for entertainment and then 4 for quality. I disagree. But this is the common position for movie critics. Which is why movies like Million Dollar Baby win Oscars.

Personally, I favor the higher entertainment number. When I used to watch movies all the time, I could handle more of the high Quality/mediocre entertainment because I knew that I would be seeing more movies again later. Now that I have kids and only see about six movies a year in the theater, I am more wanting the entertainment factor. If I want real life, I'll watch the news. Since I already avoid the news, I don't want that in a movie either. I want to have a good time. That is why I loved Hitch, Batman Begins, and Oceans Eleven. They had enough quality and then rocked the entertainment factor. Some of my friends call me a movie snob. I think I used to be, but that I am slowly losing that. Of course, that doesn't mean I'll go rent Without a Paddle or Electra yet.

I'll probably post more movie stuff soon. I really enjoy reading about how movies develop and I follow all kinds of rumors on that. I find it much more interesting than the discussion of who Jude Law slept with last. I would much rather hear what superhero he is rumored to be linked to than which starlet. So that is the background on those two things. See, I can be empty and shallow as much as the next guy. :)

Jul 27, 2005

The Strangest Place

So, the trip to Vegas is over. The last few days were kind of hectic, so I wasn't able to post. I'll use this post as a summary of my time there. My next post will deal with traveling back. And then look for non-Vegas posts later this week.

100 Years of Vegas. The signs were all over. Apparently this is the Centennial Celebration for the Neon Nightmare. In one-hundred years, we have gone from a dusty desert town to a thriving metropolis with enormous buildings, hotels, and casinos. Millions of tourists come every year to see this testimony to human creativeness. There is a 50% scale Eiffel Tower. There are exact replicas of the Statue of Liberty, Michelangelo's David, and a whole casino based on clowns (eesh). There are also enough burlesque and adult shows to satisfy a whole branch of the military. Seriously, though, the architecture is pretty impressive. The whole city is about marketing. The hotel/casino areas are constructed to funnel you towards more opportunities to spend money - the slots, the restaurants, the shops. Name branding is everywhere. I stayed at the MGM Grand. And in case I forgot, that was on the trashcans, five TV channels, the showerhead, the bars of soap, the tiles in the bathroom, the four pens in my room (now in my bag), basically everything but the furniture (missed opportunity there). And if I was completely braindead, I could look out my window and see the gleaming green walls and remember that it was "The Emerald City." And all of them are done the same way. Brand recognition gone nutty.

Well, on Saturday, I had been sitting through sessions all week - and the lady doing this all-day one decided to rehash the one-hour one she had done on Friday. So I made the choice to bolt. I had not really gone out anywhere. I had rented a car which sat in the parking garage all week. So I went and found the Hard Rock Hotel to buy a pin (what a loser place that was). Then I hopped on the Interstate to sightsee. A friend at work had told me to go find the Valley of Fire and the Hoover Dam. Since the only one on my map was the Valley of Fire, that settled it. I turned my Pontiac Sunfire with its part-time AC north on I-15 and drove. It is amazing how fast you exit Vegas. It is about 15 minutes from one end to the other on the highway. And then you are in .... the desert. Being a Florida boy, I am used to water being everywhere. I also am used to no elevation and lots of trees. The opposite of that what was I encountered. I had a good 40 miles to cruise, and look at the scenery of the Mojave Desert. Here's what I saw: rocks, dirt, a few sprigs of brush, rocks, dirt, mountains, dirt, rocks. Drive drive drive. Dirt dirt dirt. Lots of grays, browns, tans, khakis, taupes, borings.

Well, finally I hit the Valley of Fire State Park, plunk down my six bucks and make the last bend. Gasp. Everywhere around the rocks, mountains, boulders are now orange-red. They look like terra cotta pottery. There are windblown arches, caves, gigantic rock formation. They look like they got dropped there from somewhere else. As you kept driving, there were climbing cliffs of orange-red and stark white. On the other side of the road you could see the boring desert. I have no idea how this one area came to be there. For about ten miles, you drive through this absolutely bizarre and beautiful place. I would just stop my car and stare, trying to get some lousy pics with my camera phone. For the first time in a week, I was awestruck.

And it hit me. It took man 100 years to build a city of concrete, neon, and flashing lights - one of the crown jewels of architecture and marketing. And the thing that I took back with me - the first thing I took a picture of - was a pile of rocks. Rocks. Those are like throwaways of God's creation. There was more beauty and wonder in a ten mile stretch of stinking rocks than in an entire city of wonders. I had been listening to my iPod on the drive on shuffle. As I was heading back through the park, still amazed at the sights, one of my favorite Steven Curtis Chapman songs came on.
How could I stand here / And watch the sun rise
Follow the mountains / Where they touch the sky
Ponder the vastness / And the depths of the sea
And think for a moment / The point of it all was to make much of me
Cause I'm just a whisper / And You are the thunder and
I want to make much of You, Jesus
I want to make much of Your love
I want to live today to give You the praise
That You alone are so worthy of
I want to make much of Your mercy
I want to make much of Your cross
I give You my life / Take it and let it be used
To make much of You (Click here for full lyrics)

That was a pretty good lesson to take back from the conference. We work so hard to strive, achieve, and make much of ourselves and our lives. But it isn't about us. It is about Him. And even when we put our biggest accomplishments on display, they will get trumped by a rock, a tree, a river, a lake, a planet. Really puts things in perspective. My return drive to Vegas was made in a much different mindset, and that city was seen in such a different light upon my arrival. It was like the city and desert switched places.

Jul 21, 2005

The Brotherhood

The sessions today were less than spectacular. They were okay, but not quite as good as yesterday - except for one (taught by the guy from yesterday). Since they provided lunch, we were in the Caesar's Complex the whole day - I didn't leave there until almost 8:00. Of course, that was because I had dinner with a minister from a church plant out here. It was great - the food was good and the conversation was even better.

I had never met Dwight before tonight - we had exchanged emails over the last couple of weeks. He was a co-worker of a friend of mine that I went to school with years ago. We decided to have dinner tonight since I was in town. The really interesting thing is how well we got along and talked. You know how amazing it is when two Christians get together? There is a bond between brothers in Christ that even when they don't know each other, or haven't seen each other for a long time, there is sweet fellowship. The Spirit connects believers in a powerful way. In many ways, the bond between the brotherhood of believers is stronger than even blood relations. I have relatives that I have never seen, or that I have not seen in years. We all have been in family situations that are uncomfortable. There are even times when being around family is not very desirable.

But the sweet relationship between brothers in Christ is so much different. You can encounter a believer from the other side of the world and have an instant spark. I have felt that with ministers in Australia and Canada. There was a common bond and sense of purpose. And there is always something to talk about - because there is always work to be done. And even when that work is done, there is somewhere in common we are all going. I have heard the Gospel described as a scarlet thread that runs through history. It also runs through the hearts of all believers, tying us all together with a bond that will never break. Quite an unexpected lesson to learn in a place like this. More tomorrow.

Jul 19, 2005

Vegas Part One

So this is the first time I have been able to write since I began this great adventure. Just some quick thoughts, to cover the last two days.

If you are stuck sitting next to a six foot seven guy who easily is as wide as you are (Very Wide) and he has a bad back and insists on stretching and twisting the whole three hour flight, it doesn't matter that you are in an exit row with more legroom. Unless, of course, you could get out of your seat and crouch down into that leg room. Which you can't.

I love Oceans Eleven. One scene in particular came to mind when we flew into Vegas. The one casino owner tells Brad Pitt & George Clooney that even if the thieves made it out of the casino, they were still "in the middle of the stinkin desert" (edited and paraphrased). That could not be more true. We're flying along and looking down at the vast blackness. All the sudden, you go over a mountain and WHAM - lights everywhere. Really can't describe it. Didn't stop me from trying, though.

Vegas is like Disney on a freaky combination of crack and steroids. Each hotel is like an amusement park - well a park with lots of gambling, smoking, booze, and half-naked women. Actually, thus far I have not at all been attracted to this place. This city is completely numb to sin and immorality. There are posters of nearly nude women everywhere. I don't just mean small posters either -- I mean gigantic five story posters and billboards. It also smells like the entire city is covered with a layer of cigarette smoke. Quite an unpleasant city. Makes you wonder what Sodom and Gomorrah were like.

Dry heat - uh, what? It is just hot. I live in Central Florida, grew up in South Florida. It gets hot there. This is not hot. It is HOT!!! Incredibly, oppressively, distgustingly hot. Another reason that I'm not too impressed.

I ate lunch at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill today at the Caesar's. Let me say this. I have always thought Flay was a bit annoying on television. The restaurant is beautiful. And his food is AWESOME. I had a bowl of corn soup and a Mesa Burger. Absolutely incredible. I can see why he has become so popular. I think I may have to try to get back there again.

The session today was great. Our instructor was Project Manager for the development of Adobe Illustrator. So he was a weeeee bit qualified to teach our session. Great stuff. Well worth that money. We'll see how the rest of the days go.

I'll be back tomorrow with new boring updates for all three of you. :)

Jul 16, 2005

And They're Off

Well, we will soon be off - departing for a well-deserved vacation. First we will visit the oldest city in the United States. Then I must leave my family and extended family to go visit the uh, most glamorous city (?) in the United States. That's right - it's VEGAS BABY. I have a training conference there that begins Tuesday.

I'm a weeeee bit nervous about the trip. I've never been to Vegas, and most of what I've heard doesn't do much to ease my concerns. There are some things that I am fairly certain - from my preliminary investigations. One, it is hot. Two, it is expensive. Three, there are a lot of questionable activities readily available. Four, there are a lots of beautiful sites just mere hours away.

So, join me over the next week and a half on David Staples' Vegas Adventure. I hope to blog quite a bit over that time - with updates on the city, the conference, the hotels, the food. So check in frequently. This is my first trip to a city west of Texas, so there are a whole lot of possibilities.

Jul 7, 2005

We're Gonna Do Big Things for Jesus

My little boy prayed a prayer with his mommy on Saturday night. They had been having a spiritual conversation about God and Jesus and the cross. And he prayed and asked Jesus to come live in his heart. Naturally, since he is wee lad, I wondered about whether it was "genuine" or not. But I went and talked to him, and we had a nice little chat. I guess we'll find out whether or not he completely understood what happened in a few years. But for now, the greatest feeling a parent can have, is to know their little ones are interested in God.

As we were talking, he looked up at me and said, "We're gonna do big things for Jesus." I looked at my wife and we both started to cry. I looked at him and said, "Yes, yes we are. That's why we do everything we do." When he was born, I was sure that God had something really special planned for him. And I believed God had something planned for me too - more than just doing a random routine job. He wanted me to be doing something BIG for Him.

When you have those BIG dreams, you have a great outlook - to some extent. But you also have a bad case of far-sightedness. You miss out on the up close because you are waiting for the not here yet. I know I have missed opportunities right in front of me because I have been staring out into the distance. One of the biggest right nows was what happened on Saturday night with my boy. As a Christian parent, you cannot wait until your child accepts Christ. The fact that our little boy was even asking means we were doing something right. Another right here is found in my Sunday School class that I teach. They are college guys. And my working with them is making a difference in their lives. They aren't wishing it was forty years in the future. They are struggling with today. And God has let me work with them. And I need to make sure that I am giving it my best.

We're doing big things for Jesus every day. They way we treat a waitress or a Publix cashier or a fellow driver may be what God is going to use in their lives. Our life is not made up by huge events - for the most part. It is made up with lots of small interactions and events, that come together to form a lifetime. And Jesus wants us to include Him in every part. Yes, we need to have a vision for the future (with His guidance). But we also need to be aware of the here and now and take advantage of it.

I finally in the last few months have caught a glimpse of that BIG THING God was planning. And man, is it going to be great. But instead of just waiting for that day to come, I need to seize every moment and make it BIG.

Jul 6, 2005

I'm Back

Well, I'm going to give this one more go. I hope I can keep up with it better than last time. Hopefully, I will be posting at least once a week. I also will be taking a trip to Las Vegas soon, and want to post there every day. But, we'll see how that goes. Look for another post later today. I know you all will be sitting there with baited breath. Or maybe that's garlic.