Thursday, January 26, 2012

Weekday Update (Working Before the Weekend)

I've been quiet on the blog this week. Usually I at least have a football wrap up and while I tried to start one, I couldn't get my thoughts out due to things I'm working on before Saturday. One of them is my upcoming sermon at my church this Sunday. I needed to block out some extra time to tighten it up and make sure the message is on point.

The second thing is an application to work at the Los Angeles Times for this program. I don't want to call it an internship because it doesn't call itself that but it's a way to help integrate young writers into working for the Times by giving them a taste of learning how to report as well as do different functions where needed.

Some of you are probably thinking, whoa! Maybe for excitement or maybe because you know how I appear to have given up a future in the media. To be honest, I'm not even sure what to expect but I know it's an opportunity. And when opportunity comes to your door, you have to seize it.

I believe that in my heart, I'm a writer and I enjoy journalism as one to express that. I spent four years at a newspaper and I've enjoyed freelancing for the last year and a half but I'd love to write full-time again. I'm also ready to lay down my pen for a career and pursue something else if that avenue opens up. But if this opens up something I can't see right now, it's a risk worth trying.

So I've been working on finalizing the application all week. It's been challenging at points but it's time to apply what I've learned at my "grad school" and once this goes in, I'll find out in April what happens.

I'll be back to my usual posting next week. But here's a quick take on the passing of Joe Paterno.

I think a lot has been said on balancing Joe Pa's football legacy with his final chapter. Can we praise his good works while also acknowledging what he didn't do when Mike McQueary told him about Jerry Sandusky or Black students facing death threats. Can we laud him as one of the greatest coaches in college football who tried to keep his program clean but fault him for his role in how his tenure ended.

The answer, of course, is yes. When you consider Joe Paterno as a man like the rest of us. He was good, he was flawed. He was a legend, he was a teacher, he was a revered figure to many and he also knows he could have done more to protect the children victimized by Sandusky.

As I've said from Day One, his punishment was his guilt and guilt can cripple a man worse than anything.  It shouldn't overshadow all of his good but it will be part of his story. I wish peace to his family, who will remember him as a father who taught them well.

The best of the memorials I've seen have called for us to stop elevating people as bigger than what they are. I wish people would keep learning this instead of allowing people to keep disappointing them. Even now, I see Tim Tebow and wonder what would happen if he did something wrong - God forbid, the backlash was catastrophic. Not because of him but because we've elevated someone as bigger than life.

Am I saying someone can't be greatly admired in a particular area? No but always remember they are people who have the capability of making mistakes. Our goal is to make sure that whatever good we do in life outweighs the bad and we try to do the right thing regardless of how it may hurt. That's the final lesson Joe Paterno can teach us.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Supporting Red Tails (Because Hollywood Shows It's True Colors)

I've been geeked about Red Tails for a while now. It's a movie about the Tuskegee Airmen and while there have been TV movies about it, this is going to be the first big screen film made about the mighty men of the 332nd Squadron who became the first Black fighter pilots in American military history.

One of my last projects in college was to create a website on the Airmen and I studied them with a passion. I learned about the leadership of Col. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. and how much pressure he, his father and other Black flying pioneers put on the military to put his men to work. How Eleanor Roosevelt lent her support to their training program.  How the Black press fueled it by creating the Double V campaign - "Victory Abroad, Victory Here" - referring to Blacks still being treated as second class citizens.

It's ultimately, though, about those brave men who faced racism, prejudice and rose above it with hard work, diligence and ultimately success. Nothing was cooler than seeing color shots of the P-47 Thunderbolts or P-51 Mustangs with those painted red tails. When Americans saw that escorting their mission, they soon learned they were in good hands and the Airmen were treated as heroes in France and Italy.

It's a great story not just for the Black community, but for America to celebrate the first major war heroes of color who fought bravely and paved the way for the Army to be desegregated. All they wanted was a chance and they earned. It's a history lesson and a military one. But alas, it's not a surprise this movie took 23 years to make despite one of the biggest names in film behind it.

In that interview, George Lucas pretty much says Hollywood prejudice about Black films kept this movie from being done the last 23 years. Hollywood didn't think a movie with mostly Black actors would sell even with Lucas' muscle behind it. They said Black films like Tyler Perry's fit a certain niche and they'll accept it (let's also consider that Tyler Perry had to do a LOT of work himself to get Madea films done before a studio came calling)

Besides an mainly Black cast (including Oscar nominee Terrence Howard and Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. returning from a 5-year absence) and 3-time Emmy winner Bryan Cranston, the film was mainly written by John Ridley (whose work includes Three Kings, Undercover Brother and several other films and novels), co-written by Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder and directed by Anthony Hemingway, who has directed episodes of CSI: NY, The Wire and Treme. The creative control was done with Black input.

Had a Black actor or writer made the same accusations Lucas did, they would have been dismissed but thankfully Lucas has enough clout to lend even more credibility to what he's saying. And he's right because if you consider Black films since the late 80's, they've mostly either succeeded or failed without major Hollywood support. It's been due to word of mouth, the Black press, movie critics who see the art in them or DVD sales.

One of the greatest movies to take a look at the dilemma facing Black actors in Hollywood. Hilarious, funny and on point.

But the history of Black films has been one of incredible perseverance against the odds. Going back from Oscar Micheaux in the 20's and 30's to the rise of independent filmmakers/screenwriters like Robert Townsend, Keenan Ivory Wayans, John Singleton and Spike Lee in the 80's and 90's, they always had to operate out of the mainstream.

Consider that Danny Glover has long wanted to make a film about Haitian Revolution leader Touissant L'Overture, who led the only successful slave revolt in N. America.  He has been told that a movie with a Black character at the center wouldn't be marketable with no White heroes and had to get to funding in Venezuela to make this movie.

Glory is one of my favorite movies. It succeeded because it was mainly told through the eyes of Col. Robert Shaw but it also had a strong Black cast that shined as they told of an all-Black fighting regiment in the Civil War that simply wanted a chance to prove themselves. Every time I watch it, it inspires me and it inspires people who've seen it of all races.

Does this make Hollywood racist? Not necessarily, it just means they think dollars first and especially when the industry is suffering, they're more afraid to take risks than before. But in the case of American heroes who fought with honor, made history and played a pivotal final role in desegregating the military, this story must be told and sold.

Above, some of the Tuskegee Airmen and below, the famed P-51 Mustangs they flew into battle.

So I'm asking everyone to please see Red Tails for two reasons. 1. Because I love the Tuskegee Airmen and we need to never forget their story or sacrifice or perseverance. 2. Because Hollywood doesn't think you'll make it successful. Because Hollywood believes the trend that only Black audiences support all Black films. Because Hollywood doesn't have faith in you supporting a movie even if George Lucas is producing it.

Then after you see it, do some more research on these American heroes. Most of the names used in the movies aren't the names of real Airmen. Go learn about General Benjamin O. Davis and the others who formed this group and check the website.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Electric Relaxation: A Debate over "Niggas in Paris" and its success

(Disclaimer: I personally don't use nigga in my everyday speech. But since we are adults and I'll be darned if I let mainstream (White) publications say it with no fear, I'm going to say it here because I'm discussing the song and the word in general. This also isn't meant to be my complete opinion on the word because there's more to say.)

I guess this was inevitable. At some point, there’d be a popular hip hop song with nigga in the title that would somehow cross over and be a pop hit. I didn’t think it was possible but as Jay-Z once said “difficult takes a day, impossible takes a week.”

It’s no surprise that America’s favorite rappers were the first to do it. Jay-Z and Kanye made history again as "Niggas in Paris" is the first #1 R&B/rap hit with Nigga in the title as well as the first Top-5 and 10 pop hit.

Let’s get this out of the way. I didn’t like Watch the Throne when I first heard it. Besides a few songs, it was too gaudy, too much focus on excess, Jay-Z’s still on lyrical cruise control (on the surface at least), and not even an inspired Kanye made me enjoy it like I would have in 2005/06. I’ve only liked one Jay album since he came back from retirement so hearing him isn’t exciting anymore.

But “Paris” was a highlight. It sounded like a foreign beat and it felt funky like what you’d expect to play in the background as you visit Paris. Not to mention, I got visuals of my Black heroes who spent significant time in France – Josephine Baker, Richard Wright, James Baldwin and more. I liked the song more than just the catchy hook or Kanye’s usual lyrical shine.

Yet like Jon Heder said in the sample, I don’t even know what it means…..that a song has crossed over with Nigga in the title (but only says it four times in the song). Is it all bad, quietly dangerous or even a sign of the further meshing of cultures that there isn’t more outrage? Or is this the final spawn of something that’s been bubbling for three decades?

NWA wasn’t the first act to use nigga in their lyrics. 70’s Black movies and Richard Pryor had already made that word a bit popular in the communities and other cats in the 80’s had done it, especially Ice-T and Schooly D. But Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren and DJ Yella made that word part of their identity and Hip-Hop/Black culture would never be the same afterwards.

Their last album “Efil4zaggin” is the first (and to date, only) No. 1 album with nigga in the title and even then, they had to flip it backwards. It was also a sign of hardcore rap making a popular dent following the 3 million seller of Straight Outta Compton.

But as I remember an MTV special showed, Straight Outta Compton and Ice-T’s Power only used Nigga 40-50 times on their album. Cats on average probably use it over 100 times now. Yet NWA’s name and “F--- the Police” gave them a lot of shock value notoriety.

Even as more and more rappers started using nigga in their raps, White fans still knew that word was a no-go. My White peers knew never to say that word when they rapped songs and only the truly smart alecky idiots would dare say it.

Despite the widespread usage, songs like A Tribe Called Quest “Sucka Nigga”, Goodie Mob’s “The Experience” and Mos Def’s “Mr. Nigga” discussed what the word meant and people always got reminded that there was a flipside. Cee-Lo said it best on The Experience - "you ain't a nigger because you're Black, you're a nigger cause of how you act" (meaning it was about ignorance, not skin color). Of course, that got lost among every rapper and their mama using it.

I didn’t grow up using that word. I began saying “brotha” because I realized at some point, it’s better to reinvigorate a term of endearment than recreate one. Like the Last Poets said on Nas’ “Project Roach” - “We should resurrect brothers and sisters instead of trying to kill the word nigger” because that mentality still exists."

(Speaking of Nas, his last album was supposed to be titled Nigger and I would’ve supported it because his album had songs that discussed the word and it’s impact. Of course, it was forced to be changed but it didn’t tone down some of Nas’ songs that looked at how we see ourselves)

Every word we use, it has a capacity

And if you don't understand the words you're using

And understand the capacity of it
You are using words that is creating a destiny for you
That you don't even know, or even conscious of

I once wrote a poem discussing why I didn’t use the word yet at the same time, since my college was so White, I grew to feel comfortable when I heard Black folks use it.  It was a reminder that I could be cool around my people and just be myself instead of always hanging around one group. That may sound hypocritical but it shows how it can be confusing. 

15 years ago, it never would’ve been cool to have a pop hit single with it in the title.  Let’s not forget it was barely 10 years ago when The Source tried to destroy Eminem’s career over 90’s tapes with him saying it.  Times have changed and it’s coincided with the culture becoming far more integrated and younger folks having less awareness of cultural differences/history (and tastemakers being less sensitive about it)

A generation of kids have heard nigga in popular rap and are growing up thinking it’s normal – hence the V-Nasty’s of the world who say it and Black folks who defend them for whatever reason. That offends me more because when we don't check others, we've lost control of a word we tried to empower. Years ago, White people would listen to rap and know much better than say the word. Nowadays, people want to know why they can't say it or what's the harm.

I asked on Facebook how people felt about the song being a hit. Some could care less. Some were concerned over why folks are using that word still. But that small sample showed me why it’s no surprise that in 2011, the right, safe rappers could get away with doing it without most folks raising an eyebrow over it.

A friend of mine made a good point in an email that if 2 of the top Black artists are doing it, it’s troubling because of America’s fascination with violence and hate. Black artists used to uplift the people and now we’ve gotten so comfortable with using that word that it’s regression that it’s become so ingrained in popular music.

Both points are valid and it’s exactly why this song being popular is hardly eyebrow raising yet it also should be. "Niggas in Paris" to me is an ultimate sign of how far we’ve come on culture mixing but a question if it truly is progress – if anything it’s obviously surface progress. Is it cool if Top 40 plays a song with it so kids will have the awkward conversation of requesting it? The way I figure, pop hits have had that word in it for so long that having it in the title is the only logical next step.

It’s a confusing argument for me.  I'm not saying we censor the word cause everyone has the right to do with it as they please but when that word escapes the boundaries of the group trying to reclaim it (similar to other harmful words) - what then? Does it lose it's power and is that a bad thing given the dark history of the word? 

I guess the only thing I’m clear on is who should and shouldn’t use it and the fact that us using so much has created more problems than liberation.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Football Wrap: Defense Still Dominates in NFL

So what do we know at this point, kiddies? No matter how good your offense is, come playoff time, your defense will be the deciding factor.

How else can you explain the 49ers and Giants still being here? It wasn’t just Alex Smith/Vernon Davis and Eli Manning/Hakeem Nicks. It was more of their defenses doing their part as well.

Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers had two amazing seasons which could either have them share the MVP or finish 1-2 with Rodgers winning. Yet all their throwing was no use to staring at a great defense or watching their defense finally let them down.

Consider the AFC too. Baltimore forced four turnovers on a rookie QB-led offense. And New England? Well, besides Tom Brady being Brady, ask Tim Tebow about that beating he took BEFORE halftime, let alone after.

Even in this offensive era, you still need a team to play great defense. I remember the Greatest Show on Turf being hampered by this 10 years ago. Super Bowl 34, they were up 16-0 and nearly gave the game back. The next two years, their defense let them down despite them trying to beef it up.

We all know what happened to New England in 2007, one of the greatest offenses in NFL history. Couldn’t sack Eli Manning, defend David Tyree or not let Plaxico Burress catch the GW TD wide open. Sometimes you can’t just outshoot teams off the field. Even in this offensive era, you have to have some semblance of a great D. That’s your NFL Truth from last week. On to the tidbits.

- Despite what I just said, give it up to Calvin Johnson, DeMaryius Thomas, Vernon Davis, Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles and Hakeem Nicks putting up record postseason catching numbers

- So 49ers/Saints for Game of the Year right? What more can you say. A 17-0 lead, a great comeback and a frenzied 4:02 to remember ending with the Catch 3. Vernon Davis crying reminded me of Terrell Owens crying after the Catch 2 although VD played much better than TO did.

- Want some more irony? Alex Smith got his revenge against Drew Brees and the Saints for what they did in Week 2 last year. For those who forgot, Smith led a late scoring drive against the Saints in SF only to watch Brees march down the field and set up a GW FG.

- Goodbye, Tebowmania. This is the postseason. You know? Where Brady shows his true genius. The Broncos getting housed by halftime made it feel even better.

- Genius strategy by the Pats running Aaron Hernandez out of the backfield. That’s a tight end, folks. Poetic justice of him being a factor in running his former college QB off the field.

- Joe Flacco: 4 straight seasons with a playoff win. As much as you want to love Tim Tebow, Joe Flacco just wins ball games. He wins on the road too. Quietly consistent doing his job.

- Yo, Arian Foster was a beast in defeat. Loved how he and Ray Lewis traded jerseys because if there is one person in the league you want respect from, it’s Ray Lewis.

- Eli Manning’s new nickname should be The Bride cause who dishes out revenge better? Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, now Aaron Rodgers. As much as I want the 49ers to win, revenge is a dish Eli serves as well as anybody.

Oh yeah, that pass to Hakeem Nicks before halftime was beautiful/poor D.  That’s how you kill a team’s spirit (and my blog post praising Aaron Rodgers)

Looking ahead to this week, 49ers-Giants – a rematch the game where the 49ers earned national respect shutting down Eli’s last drive. But it reminds me of another famous meeting.

10 years ago, both teams met in the wild card and it was one of the craziest comebacks/collapses I ever saw. Giants were up 38-14 and cruising in the 3rd and all a sudden, the Niners caught fire quick. They scored 25 points and survived a botched field goal attempt for the win.

It was the last time the 49ers were in the playoffs before this year. Here they are now. Finally better. Finally back to where they used to be in my youth. I’m sure older heads will remember the 1991 NFC title game where the Giants survived a slugfest with them.

Meanwhile, I remember the Pats-Ravens game in 09. The day I realized Ray Rice was a beast and Tom Brady isn’t invincible (even though Denver and Champ Bailey showed me that before). The Ravens thrashed the Patriots in a way I hadn’t seen them look in years. Think they remember that one?

The game could hinge on how Ed Reed is feeling after injuring his foot in the waning moments of last week. It’s hard to stop Rob Gronkowski but can the Patriots stop Ray Rice and force Joe Flacco to beat them?

My picks: 49ers (Can’t go with the Midgets despite Eli swinging his Hattori Hanzo so I go with the miracle worker Jim Harbaugh) and Baltimore.  Harbaugh Bowl Part 2 for all the marbles.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Football Wrap: The Tide Rolls in the Bayou

Three Words. Beat. EM. DOWN!!! Alabama didn’t just win the title, they took it. They may not have belonged on first glance but they took the title by force in the greatest defensive performance in the BCS era.

The stats don’t tell the whole story but they say a lot about Bama’s D. 4 sacks, 1 INT, held LSU behind midfield for all but one drive and eventually pushed them back to punt. They allowed 92 yards of total offense. 92 yards from the No. 1 team in the nation.

Jordan Jefferson looked dazed and confused and unable to be a quarterback. LSU’s rushing game that floored a few times got dominated off the block. And the funny thing is the same thing happened in the 1st game. Alabama’s offense played better.

Trent Richardson by himself had 96 rushing yards and the only touchdown of the night.  DragonflyJonez said it best on Twitter, 0 losses, 0 points in the final. Alabama destroyed LSU on a historic level in a similar way to how I saw the Baltimore Ravens destroy the NY Giants in Super Bowl 35.

Nick Saban won his 3rd title in 8 years as is without a doubt the best coach in college FB. T-Rich wins his 2nd title. And big ups to AJ McCarron being the first sophomore to win a BCS title game and earning every bit of it with 234 yards and a surprisingly great game behind center.

Final irony. In a year where kickers appeared to cost their teams everything in the end, how fitting is it that Alabama’s kicker Jeremy SHelley did most of the key work tonight.  Congrats to the Tide in a year where Tuscaloosa was ravaged by tornados and tragedy.

NFL Tibits.

Let’s recap a wildcard weekend where two WR’s had 200 yards in their debuts, a highpowered offense showed no mercy and a team suffered the worst embarrassment you can without being “shutout”

Drew Brees is on some Kurt Warner steez. He’s transformed the Saints into the 99-02 Rams and every time something happens, you sit back and wonder how ridiculous they are to stop. Their latest destruction: An NFL record of 616 yards of total offense.

Between him and Darren Sproles’ 2 TD’s, this was a bad week for Chargers fans. Need I remind you that D. Sproles is postseason money. Go look what he did to the Colts in 2009.

Pierre Thomas is a difference maker. I counted at least 4 hard runs that bullied their way through the teeth of the Lions D for 8-10 yards that were difference makers.

Big ups to Houston winning their 1st playoff game. Remember the expectations I had in 02 of them possibly going to the playoffs. Well they finally met them. Next is now.

Atlanta are some playoff frauds. Frauds, I tell you. It’s still early before assuming Matt Ryan has peaked. I think Atlanta has zero defense to account for their offense and that’ll be their downfall. But that O has major questions about being inconsistent.

Only scoring 2 points is like being shut out in my mind.

Remember Me? I'm Still a Big Deal.
Hakeem Nicks just reminded everyone he was Victor Cruz last year. A sleeper who emerged out of nowhere. 2 TD’s in the postseason shows why the Giants are deadly. Secondaries can’t stop Nicks and Cruz at the same time. And oh by the way, Mario Manningham is lurking.

The Giants are 2007 scary.

Finally, you know why I’m finally giving Tim Tebow his props? Because he had his best game as a pro and did it in the playoffs. He took advantage of what the D gave him and his receivers did the rest. He took John Elway’s advice and let it rip.

Denver’s defense harassed a less than 100% Steelers team and a hurt Big Ben, yet Roethlisberger still led a late comeback like he always does. Only problem was before we could figure out these new overtime rules, Tebow and Demaryius Thomas capped off their great day with a 1-play bomb to end the game.

Coldest stiff arm since Marshawn Lynch stuffed Tracy Porter towards that TD.
The irony is that Tebow played terrible in the 2nd half. Big ups to Thomas having an insane day on that Pittsburgh secondary and he deserves just as much credit as Tebow.

I honestly thought Big Ben was going to find a way to win like he always does. But everybody’s luck runs out and when you’re hobbling on 1 leg without Rashard Mendenhall, there’s only so much you can do.

This is the first NFL game I can truly say Tebow stepped up and won a game with his arm. The defense made great plays too but I give #15 his due. Dang shame that Tom Brady will have to humble his fans next week.

Friday, January 6, 2012

2011 Year in Review: January and Everything After

The Year that the Populace revolted. Egypt, Middle East, Occupy Wall Street. It was a year of major and minor uprising that showed the voice of the people still mattered. The Middle East and Africa saw their people overthrow their governments and it was a powerful reminder that people still have power. Occupy Wall St. may have had mixed results but their voice was a vital reminder of enough being enough.

That’s probably what led to the rise of Wikileaks, Julian Assange’s crusade to reveal the hidden truth. I don’t know if he’s doing this to speak truth or if he’s saying too much for no point except to be a TMZ-like figure, but he had a dramatic impact this year with his documents.

Blackberry’s Death. The king of smart phones has become a pauper because Research in Motion failed to innovate and be forward thinking like Apple. Despite their full keypad, their quality lagged behind iPhone and Android and folks began abandoning ship. It didn’t help that a 4-day power outage, poor apps, not making sure all phones had the capacity to upgrade and delaying their new phones til late 2012 were all bad signs.

The Death of Osama Bin Laden, Kim Jong Il, Qaddafi – a year of uprising saw three of the most famous villains meet their end. Kim Jong Il was the last but perhaps the most significant considering nobody knows what direction N. Korea will take. Bin Laden was a key victory for US foreign policy, but not the end of terrorism or Al Qaeda. And you know who’s still around? Castro.

Consider this: Fidel Castro has been in charge of Cuba for 50 years. He’s been in charge longer than Obama’s been alive and has long outlived the fall of communism in Russia. You thought Koreans were bugged about Kim Jong Il dying? When Castro finally passes, it’s going to be a crazy domino effect.

For President Obama, 2011 had some successes. The war in Iraq has ended. Bin Laden was killed on his watch. The recession is slowing. The GOP candidates are a weak bunch that wouldn’t beat Hillary Clinton. Yet somehow someway, he has to deal with a Congress that refuses to work with him. 2012 is shaping up to be a crazy end game for his first term but I still think much must be done 

2011 also brought us Good Ole Herman Cain. Let Herm Cook was one of the popular sayings on Twitter as Cain got popular with his catchy sayings, plainspeak and frankly being a comfortable Black Republican. Unfortunately, he proved to be all hype with no backbone and no clear plan and when he proved to be unready for Prime Time, his unraveling was great. Even Sarah Palin thinks he needed to shut up and get smart.


Penn State. The fall of a legend for the sins of another. As I stated here earlier this year, Joe Paterno committed no moral crime. He is perhaps the 4th worst offender in all this. But no man is bulletproof. He was aware of what happened to those boys and it's sad that a legend has to leave like this but it's sadder that Jerry Sandusky abused his privileges. He took advantage of two organizations for his disgusting behavior.

The coverup of Penn State (combined with the scandals at Ohio State, Miami and the Fiesta Bowl fiasco) showed me that college football's facade is slowly being revealed. It's the last place where loyal fandom elevates individuals to god-like status (that doesn't happen in the pros anymore) and we are seeing the dangerous results of that.

Taylor Branch said it best in one of the year's finest stories, college football is a cartel where players are product and institutions make millions off them. If I may add, fans are customers and it's about time we see not just what we're given but the bigger picture.

1. The Packers win the SB and then go 15-1 as a followup.
2. The NBA in transition to a new era from my youth to the LeBron/Durant/Rose era (kinda how old heads must have felt in 1998/99 when Shaq, Duncan, Kobe, KG and Jason Kidd took over)
3.  Game 162 of the baseball season (Magical), Game 6 of the World Series (Un-BELIEVABLE, Pujols coming to the Angels*
4. Realizing that my Lakers are headed for one last run.
5. NFL/NBA lockouts, David Stern’s killing the CP3 trade – I was glad to see fans support the players and realize that the owners care mainly about making money instead of their satisfaction.
6. Cam Newton’s great year/Tim Tebow’s hype
7. The return of USC/the fall of UCLA to new lows
8. The Dallas Mavericks winning the NBA Title/The Heat's collapse
9. A weak college basketball year gave us two mid majors in the Final Four but also Kemba Walker being the definition of a leader in leading UConn to the title. 

I watched more soccer this year than I did in a non-World Cup year. The good news was appreciating the genius that is Lionel Messi and learning to understand the beauty of great soccer teams. Messi is without question a joy to watch but also discovering the future genius of Mexican wunderkund Chicarito will make me more intrigued to grow into a game I dismissed for so long. 

USC is poised to have make 2012 just like 2004 when they won the title. They are going to be loaded while UCLA welcomes a new coach, a shaky offense and not much to look forward to.

Everyone talked about the Heat, few people made a lot of sense when discussing them. They weren't built to win the title in Year One. Meanwhile Dallas didn't tell us that Dirk Nowitzki was poised to play possessed in one of the best postseasons I've seen in giving the Mavs - a longtime joke of my youth - and Mark Cuban that ring.

No matter what, I'll remember Game 162 and Game 6. Two magical nights of the 2011 season. I'll remember Albert Pujols' Game 3 as one of the greatest offensive performances in World Series history before he electrified Los Angeles coming to the Angels. 

The Dodgers had to deal with the end of the Frank McCourt era and his divorce from his wife. This season was supposed to be a downer of low expectations but I was able to see two young players I watched from the start develop into stars. Thank you Matt Kemp and Clayton "Cy Young Prince" Kershaw for saving this season. 

Television watched me fall in love again with Treme and Boardwalk Empire. Boardwalk ended on a shocking note while I enjoyed seeing the slice of New Orleans through the eyes of my favorite musicians and Treme folk. I enjoyed getting into Modern Family and peeking at Happy Endings but I really didn’t have too many new shows that I enjoyed.

The last season of Entourage was a mixed bag to some but I liked it. To me, it showed that everyone on that show had to grow up and realize what mattered. The fairy tale ending felt a bit much but I liked seeing Ari Gold brought to his knees and a reminder that Vince is at his core, a loyal friend that Drama, E and Turtle benefit from. I always saw Entourage as a show about not just Hollywood, but about friendship and relationships. Even Ari with Lloyd showed that as much as Ari crapped on his assistant, he needed him in more ways than he thought.

Moviewise, this was a pretty weak year filled with plenty of sequels and unimaginative superhero plots. I only saw a few films and my favorite was Midnight in Paris, a Woody Allen nostalgia trip that showed the glamour and danger of nostalgia as well as teaching people to appreciate the present.

I realized this year, Hollywood showed the essence of what it made attractive. Imagination, creativity, uniqueness, adding something extra to the product. As usual, the later films of the year brought that in time for Oscar bait (Hugo for one, looks like that from the surprising touch of Scorsese) but it seems like everyone is waiting for the greatness to emerge in 2012.

That said, I enjoyed crossing a few films off my list. Die Hard, Dog Day Afternoon.

Troy Davis became a big story because we watched the justice system kill a man who potentially was innocent. Reasonable doubt wasn’t enough to prevent a man from being executed. I’ll remember how angry I felt and how sad I was that night. I’ll remember how many folks rallied together and remember that the justice system is set up against certain folks so I have to remain vigilant.

Rest in Peace to the many we lost. A new year means remembering those who didn’t make it this far and we all know somebody who unfortunately got called home. Let’s honor their memory however you see fit. Play a song, watch a movie, just keep living.

I’ll have more to say when I officially cap my thoughts on this year but I can’t say how much I appreciated my blog this year as change came.  I’ll end this with 10 of my favorite posts of the year.

Writing on LCD Soundsystem (This became one of my most popular blogs and I’m grateful for that)

Reminding Folks the World Won’t End when Man says it

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Football Wrap: Playoffs, Bowls and Perspective

Let’s start with a bowl wrap first shall we?

Rose Bowl – Oregon finally gets over the hump and wins a BCS bowl game under Chip Kelly. The Black Mamba De’Anthony Thomas showed out at home with that insane 91-yard TD run and a cruise control 68-yard run (he slowed up like it was a track meet). Big ups to Darron Thomas and LaMichael James atoning for last year.

And count me as a fan of Oregon’s Chrome Dome uniforms. It makes college football cool when a team not just gets cool unis but also wins with them.

Washington State in the 98 Rose Bowl had 2 seconds to run one last play and it didn’t work. Makes me wonder why Wisconsin didn’t just do a quick play instead of spike it. A great season for Russell Wilson and Montee “Let’s Make a Deal” Ball otherwise.

OutBack Bowl – Michigan State has been in 2 of the most thrilling games this season. Great comeback and Capt. Kirk Cousins deserves to go down in MSU lore for that.

Fiesta Bowl – Andrew Luck and Justin Blackmon had excellent auditions for the NFL but a kicker didn’t deserve to decide this game. Blackmon amazed the mess out of me with his size, elusiveness, Luck ran a brilliant 2-minute offense that he should have finished had the coach let him .

Luck reminded me of John Elway’s last game. Elway led a brilliant last minute drive to give Stanford the lead. But unfortunately Cal’s special teams ran The Play. As for Blackmon, who declared for the draft in his postgame interview, he's going to make an impact as soon as he gets called on the NFL stage. What a marvel

As for OK State, I wish they would’ve had a shot against LSU. But there’s no shame in them having a spectacular season. They have a case to be ranked No. 2 depending on what happens next Monday.

Alamo Bowl – We watched the Present and the Future. Robert Griffin the Great and his tailbacks ran ragged over Washington in maybe his final game as he helped Baylor have their best football season in ages. But Keith Price of Washington had a magical day. 7 total TD’s for the former Bellflower St. John Bosco product. 

That might have been one of the most exciting bowl games I've seen. You literally had to stay tuned otherwise you'd miss the next score because no lead was safe. By the way, this is your Pac-12 QB watch next year:

Matt Barkley (USC), Darron Thomas (Oregon), Keith Price, Matt Scott (former All-State dual-threat QB here in CA now at Arizona under Rich Rodriguez). That's a deadly 4 pack, not to mention Jordan Wynn at Utah.

I have to agree with ESPN’s Gene Wojo who tweeted his frustration about college kickers being frequently put into the role to win games. Having a money kicker is extremely important and with all the specialization going into HS kickers these days, there’s no excuse for college coaches not to offer scholarships.

There’s also no excuse why in this era of spread offenses, coaches don’t take more chances to score in the end zone instead of play for the field goal.  Especially if your quarterback is elite or on a roll.

While kickers have an easy job, coaches have a job to make it easy for them instead of arrogantly forcing them to atone for mistakes. To quote Gene Hackman in The Replacements, winners want the ball and before you give the kicker a chance, give your regular offense a chance to finish what they started if they have time.

NFL Tidbits.

Matt Flynn huh? Outdueling the Lions off the bench with the greatest day in Packers QB history huh? Shout out to the Lions possibly hurting Aaron Rodgers' MVP chances, their playoff mojo and the rep that the SEC typically produces crappy QB's.

Tampa Bay ends the year losing 10 straight.  Raheem Morris went from great coach to out of a job. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow (c) Gang Starr

Scariest injury news? Ryan Clark of Pittsburgh sitting out next week’s playoff game due to a sickle cell condition. Props to Mike Tomlin doing the right thing.

Another year, both my Cowboys and Chargers are out of the playoffs and nobody to blame but themselves. The Chargers shot themselves in the foot too early and too late and the Cowboys did the same. And there’s no sign of things potentially changing in 2012 now that Norv Turner will be back as Chargers head coach and Jerry Jones is still the GM.

Pardon me while I go barf in the corner. You are what your record shows and being 8-8 says the Chargers are average despite having above average parts. The Cowboys are slightly above average but can’t be a guarantee to win big games (they have before but aren’t consistent).

Congrats to Cam Newton having the greatest NFL rookie season I’ve seen since Edgerrin James. Has anybody had a better 2-year run short of winning an professional championship? JUCO Nat’l Title, NCAA Nat’l Title, Dominated as a rookie QB in record fashion.

Killin em with a smile the way I remember another rookie doing throughout his "Magic"al career 
I don’t know which offense is scarier – Green Bay, New England or New Orleans. Since I said let’s discuss the playoffs.

Denver v. Pittsburgh. Tim Tebow backs into the playoffs and will promptly be thrown out by the wolves of Steel Town. I can’t wait!! Virgo Gumbo Pick: Pittsburgh

Detroit vs. New Orleans – As great as NO is, do NOT be surprised if Detroit opens up a shocking can because Detroit’s offense can go off in an instant. Calvin Johnson remains a difficult matchup and the Saints are still smarting from Seattle running on them. Yet if Matt Flynn destroyed Detroit, what will Brees do? VG Pick: Saints

Cincinnati vs. Houston – The surprises of the season. The patchwork Texans battling injury to reach the playoffs while Andy Dalton attempts to do his Joe Flacco/Mark Sanchez impersonation. Carson Palmer, meanwhile, has to enjoy this karma at home. VG Pick: Houston

Atlanta vs. New York – You never know which Giants team will show up. The team that beat Dallas and New England and stared Green Bay in the face or the team that sputtered down the stretch. Atlanta on the road is far more overrated despite Matt Ryan and that offense. VG Pick: Giants

Drew Brees and Tom Brady both shattered Dan Marino’s record of 5,084 yards (while Maurice Jones Drew quietly won the NFL rushing title and Rob Gronkowski destroyed several TE records.). It’s impressive once you keep it in context. Marino and Elway slung that rock in an era dominated by running backs and smaller wideouts. Brees and Brady have dominated a more pass-happy era and have excelled at their craft.

Consider this though. 10 QB’s passed for over 4,000 yards. In 1996, only 3 QB’s passed for over 4,000 yards. 10 years ago (2001 season, 02 playoffs), only 2 QB’s did it – including Kurt Warner with an insane 4,830 yards. Times have changed so you can appreciate the now while acknowledging how much more special it was in the past.

If I had to vote for MVP, give it to Aaron Rodgers. The quietest 15-1 season I’ve ever seen and remarkably efficient. His defining moment is either his 6 TD game (4 passing, 2 rushing) or his 1-minute drill against the NY Giants to win the game.