Friday, February 24, 2012

Davonte Neal is Focused on the 'Right' Things Despite Shameless and Presumptuous Media Backlash

Davonte Neal is not your typical high school football star. While also starring in track and field he's had people, even from opposing teams, stop what they're doing just to watch him run.

So when the #1 rated "athlete" was set to announce where he would attend college in 2012, many eyes were on him. Most stars choose to announce their decisions at one of the big all-star games, such as the Under Armour or Army All-American games. Others choose to announce from their high schools.

Neal took an unusual route, electing to make his announcement at his elementary school. Perhaps the trend of NFL players announcing which high school, middle school or elementary school they attended is catching on.

Or perhaps, as this ESPN article so eloquently explains, he wanted to share the good news at a place that helped guide him through a difficult time in his life.

This post is not about Davonte Neal's decision or credentials on the football field, though if you are so inclined have a look at the following highlight video.

No, this post is about why one should never judge a book by its cover. Nearly all other high school footbal players headed to play collegiate football had already made their announcements on National Signing Day at the beginning of February. So there was a strong contingent from the media waiting eagerly to hear Neal's decision.

Neal was nowhere to be seen, though. After hours of no response from either he or his father, the school cancelled the conference. Rumors circulated that Neal was not a man of character because he was a no-show. After all, who doesn't show up for their own parade?

But, as Neal's father shared, his family was dealing with a very personal, tragic crisis within the family.

Neal's story is another sad story of how vile the recruiting process can be. I am refraining from providing any examples of the media firestorm Neal and his family experienced as a result of the press conference. If you are so inclined, search Twitter or Google.

Can you imagine if 'regular' students' decisions were analyzed, over-analyzed, and re-analyzed the way football, basketball, baseball and hockey recruits are? It is a an unfortunate part that comes along with the territory, but by no means is it a necessary evil.

During this time of Lent, I challenge you to reflect on what you can control in your life and how you can create positivity rather than focus on others' actions and add negativity to the world.

My thoughts and prayers are with the Neal family during this time of hardship in their lives. If only others would have stopped to think about the positive nature surrounding the event - a life-changing decision for Neal and his family.

Welcome to the Notre Dame family, Davonte. We believe in you!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lewis Black Calm and Collected

I've always feared that Lewis Black could explode any moment from an excess of unadulterated rage.

Thankfully, he isn't always like that. Black's biting stage persona is very much at odds with the thoughtful commentary he quietly provides here, though the man's intelligence is always on display.

While this interview is filled with pleasant exchanges, I really dislike the interviewer, Jian Ghomesi.

He's Canadian which by itself is just fine, but he seems like one of those people who tries so very hard to be perceived as hip and cool.

He seems to be fairly popular based on a quick glance at most comments online, but I've seen a handful of interviews where he seemed out of his element.

The most glaring example of his uber cool is what appears to be a mid-nineties brick of a laptop sitting nearby during interviews. It's a wonder the show doesn't come grinding to a halt with a Windows 95 blue screen.

None the less, Ghomesi gets hooked up with awesome guests so his interviews are still worth a listen.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Irish Basketball and Hockey Teams are Polar Opposites

It's hard to believe how drastically different Notre Dame's men's basketball and hockey programs have performed relative to preseason expectations

Hockey was supposed to be a lock as a national title contender. In fact, in some polls they were ranked #1 entering the season.

Basketball, on the other hand, was left for dead entering the year with the graduation of Ben Hansbrough and Ty Nash and early departure of Carleton Scott as he (unsuccessfully) tested the NBA waters. For these reasons, the Irish were picked to finish in the bottom half of the Big East conference and nowhere near the top 25. Tim Abromaitis, seemingly the lone reason for hope, tore his ACL early in the season and it appeared the Irish wouldn't even have a shot at the NIT.

Both teams are more than halfway through their respective seasons and it is abundantly clear that games are not played on paper.

Hockey's Shortcomings
Starting with the hockey program, after starting out the year strong with series splits against Minnesota-Duluth and Ohio State the Irish appeared to be gaining momentum with a 3-2 OT win against Boston College that extending their unbeaten streak to 9 games. Shortly thereafter, though, they would fall in 4 straight contests.

With a couple wins around New Year's hope still remained for a competitive Irish squad. But a falling in a weekend sweep to Western Michigan in mid-January was a reminder that this team is far from complete. Most recently, back-to-back series losses against Ferris State (#1) and Miami (OH) helped the Irish to its current five game losing streak.

Two games remain against Michigan State before CCHA playoffs begin. It will take a small miracle, such as splitting against the Spartans and at least making it to the CCHA conference finals, for Notre Dame to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. Needless to say, head coach Jeff Jackson won't be up for any awards this year after unless he has some magic left up his sleeves.

Basketball Boon
Mike Brey has probably gotten more out of his group of players than any other NCAA Men's Basketball coach this season. After the aforementioned circumstances losing four of his top players from last season's team, there was virtually no possible way the Irish could earn an NIT bid, let alone an NCAA Tournament bid.

On the heels of an eight-game winning streak, though, Brey has his club primed for a mid-level seed in the NCAA Tournament. As of this post, Joe Lunardi's Bracketology has the Irish as a 6 seed.

The improbable streak started with an upset of then #1 Syracuse and includes home victories against Marquette, Depaul and Rutgers and road triumphs at Seton Hall, Connecticut, West Virginia and Villanova. Last Saturday, it appeared the streak would end at 7 games as the Irish trailed by 20 at the half at Villanova. Resilient as they've been throughout the season, though, they clawed back and emerged victorious in an overtime thriller.

Next up for Mike Brey's squad is Bob Huggins' West Virginia squad, who narrowly lost to the Irish two weeks ago.

Work Left To Do
I actually was hesitant to even post about the basketball team as I am quite superstitious, but they have been truly too remarkable to ignore any longer. Perhaps I've paid too much attention to hockey this year, but with so much anticipation and with the added bonus of breaking in a new facility how could they be left in the dark?

Suffice it to say, both teams have cannot lose focus during this critical stretch in their seasons. For basketball, they need to keep winning games and make a run in the Big East tournament to secure a strong seed in the NCAA Tournament. Hockey has much more work cut out if it hopes to attain its lofty pre-season goals, but if any team can do it it is one led by Jeff Jackson. After all, it was an improbable late season burst in 2008 the led Notre Dame to its first ever Frozen Four appearance.

Good luck to both squads as they look to put strong finishing touches on very divergent seasons.

Oh, and good luck to the Women's Basketball team as they look to secure their first Big East regular season title since 2001, when they shared with the Connecticut Huskies en route to the school's first ever Women's Basketball National Championship. Two words: Skylar Diggins.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Beach Boys Celebrate Their 50th Anniversary

(L to R) Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Carl Wilson, Al Jardine and Dennis Wilson comprised the Beach Boys.

I love the Beach Boys.

Without question, they're one of the best vocal groups of all time and one of the best American bands.

While I've never actually made such a list, if I had a top ten songs of all-time grouping I would most certainly put "God Only Knows" and "Good Vibrations" high in the rankings.

This year marks the group's 50th anniversary. There will be special events and releases including the first tours to feature Brian Wilson in over twenty years.

The band already made their first "reunion" appearance on the Grammy awards where they were regrettably joined by Maroon 5 and Foster The People.

Brian Wilson has had an enormous resurgence in recent years, releasing several albums including Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin in 2010 and In The Key of Disney in 2011.

Wilson made two albums for Disney.

I'll continue to post about the band and Brian Wilson in particular in the coming weeks and months because it's awesome.

Here's a link to a live television performance of The Beach Boys playing "California Girls" in 1965. There's an extended bit with the band and comedians Jack Benny and Bob Hope. It's kind of funny.

Here's The Who messing around and playing "Barbara Ann". Keith Moon handles the high lead vocal admirably and Pete Townshend's distorted solos add a lot of kick ass to the song.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Why Eli Manning Joins My List Of NFL Man Crushes

Several days have elapsed and we’re now at a safe distance to begin looking at what happened on Sunday in the last football game of the NFL season we were apparently lucky to have.

The Giants are champions and Eli is the number one Manning; better than even Papa Bear.

It was a hyped match between the soulless Patriots and the often comically harmless Giants, the accidental champions of the NFC.

I tried telling people weeks ago that if the Giants somehow made the playoffs they stood an excellent shot at winning the whole thing.

A laughable statement at the time (even now it’s pretty funny) but that’s the kind of team they are.

They were woefully inept for much of the campaign, losing two games to the lowly Redskins who won only four games all season. New York stumbled through most of the other matches, but won a handful in come from behind fashion.

That left NFL junkies and even diehard fans with little confidence in the Giants.

But the NFL playoffs reward a team on a hot streak like a casino temporarily caters to a drunk who keeps winning.


If we were to compare the football abilities of Archie’s boys using the metaphor of penmanship, Peyton’s words would appear as a sweeping eighteenth century font worthy of the Declaration of Independence. Eli is more like someone who scrawls important documents in all caps because his lower case hatchet marks are illegible to even him.

But beautiful flourishes and grace aren’t always the best way to win a football game. It’s a gritty, ugly sport and sometimes the brute force of all caps writers can bulldoze their way into the endzone more often than the other team.

Such is the legend of Eli.

We've seen Eli Manning bleed from the head.

Take an honest look at Eli for two minutes and see if you can hate him. It’s impossible unless you’re some kind of heartless, lobotomy cast-off.

Manning is a goofy child of a man whose default visual appearance is one of utter confusion.

Which makes that old criticism from Tiki Barber all the more laughable.

Barber is one of the great idiots of our time, famously retiring early from the NFL to go into television— a career he was poorly suited for—and infamously left his pregnant wife of 11 years for a 23-year-old NBC intern.

Barber said that Manning’s pre-game speeches were, “almost comical”. That’s unfair because I’m sure they were downright hilarious.

Eli is the, “aww, shucks” kind of hillbilly near and dear to everyone’s heart and his earnestness is endearing. His confusion adds to his sincerity and we relish it almost as much as his tough as nails mentality on the field (see the NFC championship game against the 49ers).

We’ve seen Eli pummeled into human hamburger on national television only to scrape himself up with a, “gee whiz” and a shake of his clouded noggin to lead comeback after comeback.

He’s answered his critics and is a two-time Super Bowl MVP. Even if somehow big brother ends up across town in the off-season, Eli is King of New York and will reign in all modesty for some time to come.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

College Football's National Signing Day Treats Hokies Well

WR/Athlete Joel Caleb announces his decision to attend Virginia Tech

Almost every February I get involved in what I politely refer to as a "debate" with someone (usually Brian) on the merits of recruiting rankings and if they actually matter.

I maintain that they do not. Simply look at the Notre Dame and Virginia Tech programs and that thinking seems to hold quite a bit of water.

Just like this year, the Irish routinely field top ten classes while the Hokies barely register in the top 25 in rankings produced by ESPN and other recruiting services.

Yet, almost without fail those rankings are flipped come the end of the college football season.

Just an aside to point out no one should get to high or too low based on the results of recruiting. Things will play themselves out on the field.

Virginia Tech is usually done receiving commitments far in advance of signing day, but this year there were several high profile recruits saving their decisions for the final day.

WR/Athlete Joel Caleb made his pledge to Tech official, choosing the Hokies over Ohio State and West Virginia.

At 6-3, 205 lbs. Caleb projects as an outstanding receiver for Tech quarterback Logan Thomas.

Despite missing two games due to a torn meniscus, Caleb still tallied over 1400 yards and 18 touchdowns his senior year at Clover Hill in Midlothian, VA.

Defensive end Ken Ekanem picks the Hokies at his high school in Clifton, VA.

The other big splash was made by defensive end Ken Ekanem who chose the Hokies over the Irish. The 6-3, 240-pound prospect from Centreville High School in Clifton, VA decided not to visit Notre Dame last week, thus ending his recruitment by the folks in South Bend.

Also of note to Irish fans still reading, Tech's January enrollee Donaldven Manning (pronounced Don-a-von) was also high on both program's list of prospects, taking visits to both schools last October.

Manning is thought to be one of the top cornerbacks in the country and appears poised to continue the run of Tech producing NFL corners.

It was certainly a successful recruiting class for both Virgina Tech and Notre Dame. I'll leave it to Brian to delve into the specifics of the Irish class as I know little about the players involved, aside from Les Miles' thoughts on Gunner Kiel.


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