Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Path to the Start Line (and the Finish Line, Too)

1. Journey - Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)

I walked a 5K last December, and it was my first one. I learned a lot of things on that day. First, cities that plow the side streets before the main streets are stupid cities. Second, 5 kilometers is a pretty fair distance to walk, especially if you haven't done a lot of training for it. Third, there are a looooot of people who like to run in the cold. And to be fair, I was a bit jealous. They have their 5K shirts on from their run in November, dressed in their tights and running gloves, their iPods strapped to their arms, setting a fast pace without even batting an eye. And I'm bundled in three layers of sweats trying to walk fast enough to heat up a little.
I thought to myself, Man, wouldn't it be fun to run this race next year?

2. MGMT - Time to Pretend (clean version)

Now, December was 12 months away, and the race cleared my memory. First, I had something more important to train for: Disney World. I was going in June with a friend, and I'd heard from people that you could walk for miles in just one day of touring the parks. I was not looking forward to wearing out early in my vacation, so I was determined to get my feet ready for the wear and tear.

So as soon as the snow melted and light jackets could be worn, I started walking. I walked around town, I walked in the gym, I walked to work, I walked to church, I walked just because! My podcasts were my friend - they made me look foolish as they told their jokes and I laughed - seemingly - at nothing as I strolled down the sidewalk. If people couldn't see my earphones, they must have thought I was nuts.

The walking continued through May and into June, when my trip took place. And even though my feet still hurt after two days at the World, my stamina was a little better than before.

At this time, I was getting word from my friends. They had begun to run regularly, and were really liking it. One by one, my friends succumbed to the racing bug. They entered their own 5Ks, bought the clothing, posted their times on DailyMile, and made their goals. It was a little infuriating and annoying, at the start. 

But then I was reminded, "Hey - remember that race in December?"

3. Taio Cruz - Dynamite

In June and July I walked two more 5Ks and inwardly tried to convince myself that 5K was way too long for me to try and run. This is a person who had to run upwards of 20 laps in basketball practice (for no real reason, if you think about basketball training) and that was the extent of running. Anything else would be suicide! I didn't go out for track my freshman year of high school because they ran one mile to the track EVERY PRACTICE. Torture! 

But I did keep walking. My routes got longer. My free lunches at work got taken away, and instead of buying something, I chose to split my large dinner into two smaller portions. I ate my fruits and veggies (the gross stuff) for one meal, and then a small entree the other meal.

I didn't realize anything was outwardly changing until I came for a meeting one night, and my coworker gave me a look and said, "Wow - you look really good!"

To which I replied, "Uh, thanks?"

And that wasn't the last compliment. Into August, the recognition continued. Friends, family, and even the occasional church member I didn't really talk to! Everyone was taking a notice of my weight loss, except me. I still was in denial, I suppose. Plus I had something on my radar: I finally set a date to start running: the day after Labor Day.

4. Lady Gaga - Poker Face (don't judge me)

If I had started a running journal on my first day of running, here is what day 1 would have read:

September 8, 2010
Ran: .5 miles.

Apparently, the more you run, the better it gets. So the next day - I can't tell you what made me do it - I laced up my shoes again and went out. And it was the same feeling.

September 9, 2010
Ran: .4 miles.

But I kept trudging along - and the distances got a little longer, and a little longer, and a little longer. Finally I came home, plugged in my route onto, and realized I'd just ran a mile, and it didn't feel too terrible! As a matter of fact, after the run, I felt pretty good! (Exhausted, but good.)

I remember wearing this great shirt to work one day. I just found a pair of pants that matched and wore it to complete the look. But when I got to work and started walking around, I realized that these pants, which I'd owned for over a year, were falling off! I had to actually get a piece of yarn and tie it through the loops so I'd stop freaking out about it! My belt loop holes went from the first one to the fifth one in mere months. It looked like I was trying to promote the baggy look because none of my clothes fit anymore! (On the plus side, clothes that I'd owned since the start of college fit me a lot better now!) 

5. Flo Rida - Club Can't Handle Me

I started setting goals for myself. I kept track of my minutes, miles, and pace. A pace of 13 minutes per mile was acceptable. Under 13 was extraordinary. Over 14 was horrible. Gradually I changed from shorts and a cutoff t-shirt to shorts and a long-sleeved shirt. Then I started running past a few leaves. Then bunches of leaves. Then I couldn't see the sidewalk because of all the leaves. They crunched for a few weeks, and then it rained and it was just gross. The trees went from green to yellow to orange and red to ugly brown to bare. I bought my first pair of running leggings, and let me tell you, that was quite the experience!

6. Tupac - California Love (feat. Dr. Dre)

I went to the Nike store and realized I could spend hundreds of dollars there and still not have everything I need. I managed to get out of there with only one item, but I could have had some shorts, a turtleneck undershirt, a fleece pullover, a jacket, a heavy winter coat, gloves, shoes, socks, more socks, a hat, and I think I could have found a treadmill if I'd looked harder! It was overwhelming. Do I really need all this stuff to run? I'd just spent three months running in my normal workout clothes - isn't that enough?

I still have only bought the leggings. But I'm looking into one jacket to purchase. We'll see if I step foot in that store again.

7. Owl City - Fireflies

I'd been jogging around, then plugging in my routes after my route. Too many times I would plug in my route and be thisclose to hitting the 5K mark. Rats! If I'd just did that last block... ran through my head.

But man, that first day I hit 5 kilometers was a momentous day. Not that I posted a fabulous time, but I finally knew that I could do it! And when that barrier has been overcome, the possibilities were limitless!

8. Cage the Elephant - Ain't No Rest for the Wicked

Eventually I'd just go out and run. I'd make myself stay out for a certain period of time, and then see I'd run over four miles. Wow - that was four miles?

Then it snowed. And that changed everything.

I knew that my race was in December, so I had to run in the snow - there was no way around it. I'd paid for the thing, registered under a 5K runner, and was ready to get the white bib instead of the yellow one. Snow was just part of the course.

My times dropped dramatically. I had to be extra careful around curbs and driveways for any ice that had formed. Some people don't shovel their sidewalks, apparently, till there's over 12 inches of snow on the ground. I found that wearing layers isn't the best thing if you're running. Guess what? When you run, you work up a sweat, and you warm up. Wearing a short-sleeved shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, a hoodie, a hat, and gloves will cause you to overheat. The first time I came back from a run in all that gear, I had to peel all the layers off me. The leggings were nice, though - they have wicking power, so the sweat leaves the body. Where it goes, nobody knows...

9. Priestess - Talk to Her

The Thursday before the race, it was snowing pretty hard. And I had a meeting that ran a little late. Thanks to the sun going down insanely early, my running window was incredibly slim. But I needed to run that day. I didn't care about snow, I didn't care about the dark, I was going to run for 45 minutes and that was that.

I drove home, threw on my workout clothes, and got outside. Because it was still snowing, barely anyone had shoveled. When I would backtrack, I could see my footprints from when I'd gone the other way two minutes earlier. I didn't see another soul outside of their warm cars and houses. If people were eating their suppers and looked outside, they must have said, "Man, what an idiot for running in this weather."

But I kept going, and ran around in circles, and prayed that the snow would give me some traction over the ice from a few days earlier. The last thing I wanted to do was sprain something on my last training run. But when I got back to my place, I felt fantastic. I'd run in the elements, and I'd survived.

10. Muse - Knights of Cydonia

Race day dawned with cloudy skies and a threat of snow just to the west. I had a feeling we'd be fine. My friends who were running with me (remember the ones at the beginning of the story?) were predicting doom and gloom.

We got to the race in plenty of time. I bundled up (stupidly) and made sure my iPod was filled with only the best music. (Music, in case you haven't been paying attention, that has been listed in italics every so often on this post.) I knew my friends were faster than me, but I'd made my goal. I'd never broken 40 minutes for 5 kilometers. Today I was going to try and achieve it.

The gun sounded, and we were off.

11. Sum 41 - Fat Lip

I was near the middle of the pack, and I let my friends get a good pace ahead of me before my chip timer was activated. The first part of the route was flat, but then quickly turned into an incline as we left the park and went around the perimeter of a college. That first half-mile was trying to find my running buddies - people that would challenge me, but not get too far ahead of me. I passed a bunch of people, a bunch of people passed me, and I did my best not to be sad about that. If you let other people's runs get the best of you, you will never finish a race.

Finally we got to the top of the hill and into the city streets, which had been blocked off for the race. That's where I met my real competition: the walker-runners. You know the types - they run a burst of speed for a minute or two or three, and then walk when they get tired. When they get their energy back, they repeat. And when you're trying to run without walking at all, this can get annoying. Especially when it's people who look like they're in much better shape than you are.

The worst was this man who must have been in his 40s who would not let me pass! He'd walk, I'd get right up to pass him, and he'd start running. But he'd only run for about ten seconds before he would start walking again! I was determined to pass him and finish before he did.

12. Seether - Rise Above This

There were far more hills than I thought there would be. I thought that after that first climb it was all downhill from there. But there were at least two more hills in the city running that I didn't remember from before. Those were not pleasant. But I kept going. I saw the mile 1 marker, but when the mile 2 marker passed I must have been in my daze. The daze of "I am never going to finish this race. I am going to keel over and die and they will find my frozen body after it's too late."

The second wind came when I made it to the hospital. No, I didn't go in. I ran past it. But we'd been dropped off by the hospital and walked to the starting line, which meant I knew exactly how much I had left to run!

I continued at my slowish pace, but I kept going with a renewed sense of urgency. Especially because I had some of my new techno music pump in to get my blood flowing:

13. Tron: Legacy Soundtrack - Daft Punk -Recognizer

The sounds of Daft Punk got me moving a little faster, and before I knew it, I could see the finish line! It was still quite a distance away, but my feet moved a little faster. I was going to finish strong.

With about 100 yards left, I saw my friends, who had finished a bit earlier, cheering me on. I was in too much pain to actually recognize them, though my grimace of pain may have looked like a smile to them. I was just focused on getting past that giant steel thingy.

And finish I did! The large timer was showing the time for the 10K runners, who had started 15 minutes before us. But if that was the case, and that said 53 minutes on it, that meant...I'd broken 40! By a large margin!

14. Tron: Legacy Soundtrack - Daft Punk - Arena

It took me almost two minutes of walking with my hands on my head to catch my breath. But when I met up with my friends, I felt more than great. I felt fantastic! I had accomplished something that 12 months earlier had seemed like a dream. But I'd stuck with it, lost a bunch of weight along the way (around 30 pounds), and realized that distance running isn't so bad!

15. Tron: Legacy Soundtrack - Daft Punk - The Game Has Changed

So now what? My goal has been reached. What kind of new goal can I make for next December?

This race does have a 10K. That is in my sights now. If I can continue running in late winter and early spring, and continue through the summer, I think I can get my body to go over six miles. After that, who knows? Maybe I'll have all the experience needed to run one of those fancy half-marathon races!

Whatever the goal, I'll be sure to keep you posted.

16. The Ting Tings - Great DJ 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

To Fire or Not To Fire?

That is the question, isn't it? Or at least, that's the question that U-M Athletic Director David Brandon has to mull over in this next month or so. But each Michigan football fan has, in their own mind, made their own decision about head coach Rich Rodriguez. Most of the fans I know are ready to see him go, while a few are still hoping for "one more year" to prove himself.

Me? I am on the fence. I know you hate to hear me say that, but I am. I can see valid reasons from both sides, and it makes my choice hard. Luckily, I am not the Athletic Director, so this really doesn't mean anything besides arguing with acquaintances every once in a while. But here are some of the pros and cons about the whole situation. See it from my view: whatever happens is good for the school and the program.

Situation #1: Give him one more year.
After two years of nothing after Ohio State, Rodriguez got Michigan to a 7-5 record and a spot in the Gator Bowl on January 1. If nothing, this is a major jump. Now January 1 bowls are not as prestigious as they used to be, but it still has some clout. You are guaranteed a major audience of males who have the day off and are committed to watching whatever football game flies across their flatscreens at a particular time of the day. On January 2 people will be talking about those bowls. And nothing beats the GIANT patch they get to put on their uniforms, right? (I mean, seriously! I could take four of those patches and have four placemats for my dining room table!)

The Michigan team we saw had its weaknesses, sure, but those are defensive and special teams problems. The most logical solution would be to fire those coaches, Greg Robinson and Tony Gibson (who also doubles as the defensive backs coordinator - it's like two firings in one!) and bring in some incredibly talented defensive minds to take over.

In this season, you could say that Michigan beat every team it was supposed to beat (UConn, Purdue, Notre Dame, Indiana, etc.) and lost to teams that were better than them (OSU, MSU, Iowa, Wisconsin, etc.). The only game that does not fit into this mindset was the Penn State game, which was just plain horrible on every level. But that was really the only one.

Our offense has a solid foundation. Give quarterback Denard Robinson some receivers that consistently catch the ball, as well as one (one!) main running back, and the offense can put up the points. The defense and special teams need major overhauls, but anything next year would be better than this year for both areas, right?

The biggest problem for firing Rodriguez would be that the players are on his side. Like, majorly. If Brandon were to fire him and bring in a new coach with new ideas, and that trust between player and coach could disappear. Trust me, if these 18-23-year-old males are willing to hold hands and sway to "You Raise Me Up" by Josh Groban because their coach encouraged them to, these guys would do anything to keep him as the coach.

I remember losing some core players from Lloyd Carr's tenure after Rodriguez came on as head coach and thinking, "Man, what if those guys had stayed?" But this was no longer the team that they had signed to play on. It wasn't Carr's system anymore; it was Rich Rod's. And because of that, they took their talents elsewhere. I can't imagine what may happen to some of our core players if a firing were to occur and someone they didn't like took his place.

But still...

Situation #2: FIRE HIM NOW!
The old "traditions" held up in high esteem by the likes of Yost, Crisler, and Schembechler have all but disappeared. Rodriguez has insisted on starting new traditions which don't have the same Michigan luster. If a Michigan fan were to have gone into a coma in 2006 and then woken up before the Wisconsin game this season, he would barely recognize that football team on the field.

I don't care that they're going to a bowl; I don't feel like any progress has been made. It just feels like they've plateaued. They aren't getting any worse (I mean, could that defense get any worse?), but there isn't that spark to be better, to get an upset win, to pummel the little guys instead of letting them hang around.

We haven't beaten Ohio State in SEVEN YEARS. We need a coach that spends the entire season obsessing over that game! It almost seems like Rich Rod treats it like every other game. Newsflash, coach: IT'S NOT.

Our little brother, Michigan State, has pounded us the past three years. It has been embarassing! They give us the standard Dantonio approach, and we still look like scared deer out on that field.

I mentioned previously the lethargy that reigned at the end of last year. Well guess what? The lethargy returned during the Iowa game, and it never left. Do these players know the meaning of "getting psyched" for a game? Do the coaches instill any excitement on these players, or have they already given up before "The Victors" is even played?

RichRod was quoted as saying, "What do you want, me to go jump out there and hold hands with all the Buckeye fans and sing 'Kumbaya'?" And then he goes and holds hands and sways to "You Raise Me Up" by Josh Groban. I wonder what the Michigan State band is going to play when we march out onto the Spartan Stadium grass next year...

Wake me up when he actually recruits a decent kicker.

So What's an Athletic Director to do?
Does he use the Gator Bowl as the deciding factor? Or does he make the decision before that? Does he get down on his hands and knees and beg Jim Harbaugh to come back to his alma mater? Or does he just toss a coin? One thing is for sure:

Aren't you happy this isn't your decision?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Trying to Cling to the term "Career Tiger"

I have read the book Al Kaline and the Detroit Tigers by Hal Butler about three times now. My father owned a copy, and I think I was bored one day and he suggested I read it. (This was before I asked him what number I should wear for softball - I told him I was playing right field and without a beat he said "six.") The book is great, and it really helped me realize how great Kaline was for the Detroit Tigers. His leadership over those seasons, from an eighteen-year-old rookie to the wizened veteran hoising the World Series trophy, was crucial for that team of amazing talents. Not to mention that he was a stellar outfielder and slugger.

I think the thing that impressed me the most about Kaline was his committment to the Detroit Tigers themselves. They weren't giving multi-million dollar contracts at the time, but each year the Tigers offered a contract, Kaline accepted it. And now, for many of my father's generation, he is their favorite Tiger of all time. He never gave his heart to another pro franchise, and he remains a part of the organization to this very day.

This man was a career Tiger.

Think about Steve Yzerman. It's a different sport, yes, but I think it still applies. He came to the Red Wings as a fresh-faced rookie on a pretty terrible team people liked to call the "Dead Things." The Wings knew they had something special and made him captain at age 21. He helped create the ultimate team of the 90s (in my humble opinion) which won back-to-back titles after a 42-year drought.

The man was committed to the team and the fans embraced him back. I loved watching him on those teams - he was never the highest scorer on the team, nor was he the hardest hitter, but you could feel his presence holding the team together for one common goal.

This man was a career Red Wing.

It is very rare for there to be a player who is with the same team for his whole professional career. It may be due to the team deciding he's not worth it. It could be for injuries. It may be just for more money. But the offseasons of pro franchises are filled with "This guy's going here" and "We just got this guy!" It makes me excited when we can get a player like Tracy McGrady (the injury-free one) or Mike Modano or Miguel Cabrera and they really embrace their Detroit-ness. But it's always great to have a guy that's been in the system since his first day turning pro.

Now I'm not trying to compare Steve Yzerman or Al Kaline to Brandon Inge here, but the announcement yesterday that he had been re-signed for two more years did make me excited. In all the articles it talks about how he was drafted by Detroit in 1998, played for one of the worst teams in baseball history in 2003, and went to the World Series with that very team in 2006.

In my years as a Tiger fan (which has grown since that 2006 season - before that I was more of a spectator to a losing team), I remembered Inge, whether he was the catcher or at third. I remember for one Spring Training the only thing people could talk about was Inge's complaints about getting paid. But I remember a few seasons after that voting for him as many times as humanly possible so he'd be the last player voted in to the All-Star game!

Ever since he's been given the third base position outright, he has turned into a fine fielder. He led all third basemen this season with a .997 fielding percentage and only nine errors. I want to be able to trust the player in the Hot Corner with every ball hit to him, and Inge has proven himself this season. He won't be the big bat you hope for, but that can be arranged in other areas of the lineup.

I also know that he lives in Michigan. While all the other Tiger players retreat to their warm winter homes (some to their home countries, to be fair), Inge has set up permanent residence in Michigan in a time where everyone is seemingly leaving the state. That gives me a huge sense of respect to this player.

I hope that this is the last contract he signs, whether he plays two or three seasons with the Tigers. I want him to retire as a Tiger - and not one of those day-contract things, either. I'm still clinging to the belief that there are players that are work-hard career players who are committed to their team.

It's more than likely that Inge will never be inducted into the Hall of Fame or anything. But when Brandon Inge does come back to Comerica Park for something, whether it's for a special event or as part of a front office, I know that I'd give him as much of an ovation as he deserves. He stuck with us through thin and thick, and I will always respect him if he sticks with us to the end.

So how about it Brandon? You wanna be a career Tiger?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The M Must Stand for Misery

I guess we know which fork Michigan picked.

It's really unfortunate. The past two games have shown pretty much all of Michigan's weaknesses. The game against Michigan State showed their terrible defense. The game against Iowa showed their terrible special teams. And in both cases, the offense didn't prove that a team could just get by with...well...a good offense.

Also, does it seem like Denard Robinson is injured in some way in every game? I think I've seen him being walked off the field more often than fans at a World Cup match. (it's a few months old, but I think it can apply.) I don't know whether to roll my eyes every time it happens, or be thrilled it's not more serious. (I'm looking at you Stafford.)

These next three games could salvage a season. But does Michigan really have what it takes to defeat three mediocre teams in the Big Ten? They had a hard enough time with Indiana!

This bye week could not have come at a better time. It's been a roller-coaster of a first half for Michigan, and the games only get tougher. A game at Happy Valley under the lights. Another against a pretty formidable defense. And a final one against a team that looks pretty bad, but will probably bring out everything against this team. Everyone brings their A-game to Michigan, unfortunately.

Hypothetically, we could still end this season 8-4. But is it a good season if you lose your third straight game to MSU, your third straight Homecoming game (aren't those supposed to be pancake walks?), and quite possibly your gajillionth straight loss to Ohio State? (Doesn't it seem like a gajillionth by now?) I just can't justify that. They have to show improvements against Penn State. The defense can't run out of gas after the first quarter, like it seemed like it did on Saturday. Wide receivers can't drop passes. Everything needs to click.

Can Michigan save this season? That is really the question on people's minds. And it will stay in their minds for the next two long weeks.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Fork in the Road

The Big Ten season is barely a week old, and already we as Michigan fans are at a crossroads. A pivotal game. A fork in the road. Insert cliche here.

But let's be frank: this Michigan-Michigan State game really does set the tone! Both teams have experienced some tests on their nonconference schedule, and both teams have seen where their strengths and weaknesses lie. But they still haven't had that one true test that separates the contenders from the pretenders. (I'm just full of them today. I sound like an ESPN analysist.)

So where do we go from here? Well, we'll just have to play the game to find out. One team will be 6-0, probably rise up a spot or two in the national rankings, and spend the next few games showing that this perfection is real. Another team will be 5-1, climbing from a hole, and trying to convince people that the first five games were in fact the real deal - not the last game.

If we look at last season with Michigan, it all went downhill after the State game. They lost in overtime in East Lansing, and they just couldn't muster any more energy. I remember watching the last few games at Wisconsin and against Ohio State, and wondering where the electric atmosphere was. It's like they were just in a daze, or at least rushing as quickly as possible to get the season over with.

From what I've seen with State (and it hasn't been all that much, to be fair), I've seen them be a very capable team; a team that could beat Michigan. I have no doubt that this game could be won by State on Saturday. (I just really hope it's not.) But if Michigan wants to prove its real-ness to the country and to the fans, they have to show that they have what it takes to beat this excellent State team.

I hope that the defense enjoyed their brief rests off the field against Indiana, because they'll probably be experiencing that again this week. State will probably use a four-down method and just keep pounding the ball and passing it at the most opportune times - the most opportune times to make the Michigan fans go "UGH! Not again!"

If the defense can recover from those mishaps and show that it can learn, then we'll be fine. That's the best way for a young defense to prove itself: fix the mistakes as quickly as possible! If Greg Robinson wants to keep his job, he needs to show that his young defense is learning and fixing the problems. The defense can only get better...right?

As much as Denard Robinson is the leader of this team, the defense is what will make this team top tier in the Big Ten (with their outstanding offense brought down a bit by its middling defense) or just the middle-of-the-road (with their outstanding offense brought down by their lousy defense). This game against a true opponent with a lot of talent will set the tone for the rest of the year.

I am still smarting from the sting of last season's State game - probably the most lingering loss I've felt in a while. All I want to see is a Michigan win on Saturday, and proof that this team is going to take the high road, going to prove its worth, going to be the dominant force, going to choose wisely, etc., etc. etc.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

PLUS: What I'm Watching

I am ready to admit that I watch too much TV. I watch at least two hours a day - which for some people may seem like too little! But when that two hours is the only free time you have in an incredibly busy schedule and doesn't allow you to do much else - like reading a book or baking cookies or playing with children or pets - it may feel like too much TV.

But there's so much good television on right now! (And some incredibly bad television, but I try to avoid those shows.) How can I possibly pass up on the next TV show that everyone is talking about the next day?

This year I went back to a few of my favorites and introduced myself to some new shows. Over the years I have learned that if I'm not fond of a show, I will stop watching it. Past shows I've forsaken are Grey's Anatomy, Desparate Housewives, Bionic Woman (just like everyone else), and *gasp!* Glee.

Whenever I turn on a show, I want to have spent the entire day going, "Ooh! When I go home I can watch ______!" The benefit is that I am doing that every day, even though I am always looking forward to a different show.

This season I had to encounter an odd problem. I gave up my DVR and am recording shows from a VCR again. This has saved me money over the months, and I have no problem going back to the Stone-Age to find videotapes. I have had to deal with the fact that I can't watch other channels while I'm recording, I can't playback as that show is recording, and I only can set the recorder for 8 programs in a week.

This has resulted in me dropping The Big Bang Theory. While my family is having a hard time understanding it (my parents love the show), I have a very reasonable explanation. The Big Bang Theory used to be in a perfect spot for me: Monday evenings, when nothing else was on. Unfortunately, CBS decided to be greedy and move the show to get higher ratings. The highest-rated night is, and has been since Friends and Cheers, Thursday nights. And they scheduled it at 8 p.m., the same time as a show I began watching last season, Community.

This I had no problem with. I'd record Community (and with my limit of 8 programs, I'd also record 30 Rock and The Office on the same program to free space), and watch The Big Bang Theory online.

Oops! Little did I realize that The Big Bang Theory is not a show that they air online. All I could get were brief clips of each show. And that's where I have the problem. Every single other show I watch could be viewed online. Why does CBS think that TBBT is too good to be on the Internet? As a result, I had to drop it.

But this isn't about what I've dismissed from my VCR programming; this is about what I'm actually watching! Here is my list of too many TV shows:

8:00 p.m. Chuck
I have loved Chuck since it premiered back in 2007. It's quirky and action-y and makes me laugh. Plus Zachary Levi is awesome. I am sad that more people do not watch this show. I would prefer that they stick with the spy games and leave out all the "comedy" that takes place at the Buy More, but sometimes those plots intersect (take Monday's most recent episode), and it shows that both elements have to be present.
Watch this show, people! It's hilarious!

10:00 p.m. Hawaii Five-0
The only reason I started watching this was for Scott Caan. I had never seen Alex O'Loughlin in anything else, so I was not in it for him. I have been enjoying both of the actors' arguments with each other, and I have continued to watch because of it. The plots are a little thin, and if Grace Park has to go undercover every single episode I may give it up. But for now I'll keep tuning in.

Online: How I Met Your Mother
Hey CBS! Thanks for putting this show online! Now get The Big Bang Theory episodes available ASAP!
I don't know how I started watching, but I am hooked till they reveal who the mother is. I've also gotten my friends into it, so we have something to talk about! I just wish there were less Barney-centered episodes and more Ted-centered episodes.  

8:00 p.m. Melissa and Joey
I am a child of the 90s, so when I saw Clarissa had a new show on the air, I decided to give it a try. The show is striving to go back to the sitcom roots, including a sprawling set and a laugh track, but the comedy bits are actually pretty funny. The show is about a Toledo city councilwoman (Melissa Joan Hart) with a racy past who hires a nanny (Joey Lawrence) to take care of her niece and nephew. It's good to have some lighthearted nondrama in my Monday and Tuesday full of hour-long drama and dramedy.

8:00 p.m. No Ordinary Family
This show had an online preview of the pilot a few months ago, and I enjoyed the episode. I'm not sure how long I will last with this show if it gets too much into the family angst thing and not enough into the family fighting crimes together thing. But the end of the second episode was intriguing.

10:00 p.m. Detroit 1-8-7
I watched this show because it's filmed in Detroit and takes place in Detroit. Somehow it makes me feel more connected to it than other shows that take place in New York or LA. Someday it's going to be filming right by an area of Detroit and I'm going to go, "Geez, I've been there!" That's not something I can usually say about a scripted TV show. I do like the characters, and the third episode opened up a storyline that's probably going to last for the entire season. I just hope it goes on that long! 

8:00 p.m. The Middle
My parents recommended this one to me, about a middle-class family in the middle of Indiana (thus, "The Middle"). I started watching in the middle of last season, but it's incredibly funny. The three kids especially are hysterical!

8:30 p.m. Better With You
How did I start watching this show? My VCR (I am so not hip) programming problem strikes again. I watch The Middle at 8 and Modern Family at 9, so I just set up one program from 8-9:30. Since I had time, I decided to just watch whatever show was on in the middle. So here we are.
Shockingly, the show is funny! The humor reminds me of How I Met Your Mother with a family cast instead of a friend cast, and the leads all play their parts well. It's actually one of the better new shows that I'm watching!

9:00 p.m. Modern Family
Awkward family comedy that is very different from The Middle yet is just as funny. I love that all of my comedy shows are funny in their own way. None of the comedies that I watch make me laugh the same way! This show sometimes makes me groan at the uncomfortable events that family goes through, but at the end it shows that there's a lot of love going around.

8:00 p.m. Community
The plot is thin, but the way that the cast gets the jokes across is insane. Plus it has had quite a few perfect episodes (paintball, anyone?), and the cast is hilarious.

8:30 p.m. 30 Rock
I watched many 30 Rock episodes bit-by-bit, and the great part about the show is that even when you're entering in the middle of a season, it doesn't really matter. Another inclusion into my Wednesday-Thursday comedy block.

9:00 p.m. The Office
I started watching this show after finding all five seasons for about five bucks when I was working in China. After Christmas I had nothing to do except pack for home, and I watched almost every single episode in five days. So naturally I just kept watching.
Last season wasn't the best, but it still had Jim and Pam getting married and Pam having her baby. I am also invested in an Andy-Erin relationship somehow getting off the ground.

10:00 p.m. Ace of Cakes
This show is fabulous, and it makes me really want to have a pumpkin-chocolate chip cake for my birthday. It just looks so gooooood! I love that some of the second-tier decorators are getting more screen time, and it's not just Duff all the time. Duff and Geoff just went on a road trip making cakes for some small town events, and it was very fun to watch.

5:30 p.m. Inside Michigan Football
Hey - I have to incorporate Michigan sports in here somehow!

So there you have it. There are a few shows that I may catch up with DVDs later, but these are the ones I take the time to watch each week. So far, it's made for some very entertaining evenings! 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Rare Week

This is a very interesting week if you're a sports fan. You may wonder why, though. Football is barely a month old, baseball is ending, and basketball and hockey have only begun to have training camp.

Wait a minute...

Sure enough - if you're an NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL fan, all four of your teams are working right now!

The Detroit Pistons website alerted me to this when they announced that practices have officially begun! I already knew that the Red Wings had a preseason game on Sunday, and the Lions have gone winless in 3 regular season games. Currently, I am listening to Game 1 of a doubleheader between the Tigers and the Cleveland Indians.

It's pretty crazy to think about!

I know I could get flak for saying that the Red Wings and Pistons are "in season", when clearly they are still getting their preseasons under way. But I like to think that counts. After all, the players are wearing official uniforms, getting together as a team, and being managed by their coaches. They aren't doing individual workouts or pending quality vacation time in Malibu.

So what do we do about this rare phenomenon?

Enjoy it! Sure, the Tigers aren't going to the playoffs, but they're still playing good baseball! They swept the Twins over the weekend, and Comerica Park sounded like it had playoff atmosphere. Make sure to stay tuned to their last few games, and give them your full support. After all, we can sit there the entire game and analyze how they are going to fare in 2011.

When it comes to the Lions, they're only 0-3. They're going to Green Bay this weekend to face a very upset Packer squad that imploded with penalties on Monday night. Not to mention that the Lions haven't won in Wisconsin since 1991. But maybe the Packers will be so lackluster from a short week of practice that the Lions will take the upper hand.

Well, maybe not. Let's just take bets on when the Lions will let QB Matt Stafford return!

The Pistons have just begun practice, so all wecan take from them is their quotes from Media Day. They have a scrimmage coming up, which may result in a pretty fun dunk contest. Optimism is high, so it's the perfect time to pay attention!

As for the Red Wings, we can anticipate a season with fresh players. We didn't make it all the way to the Final last year, and that may be the best result for this team. You can get pretty tired playing from October through June two years in a row! Hopefully that extra rest will be instrumental in getting them off to a hot start.

This is one of the only times of the year where we can truly enjoy being a four-sport fan (and if you're a Detroit fan, enjoy the fact that we're a four-sport town). The only other time I can see would be April (in the D!), where the NHL playoffs have started, NBA season is winding down, MLB has just begun, and the NFL has its high-profile draft.

But April is still so far away. Enjoy this time now, before it's all over!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

PLUS: HBO's Movie Supremacy

Welcome to a PLUS section of the blog! Since this is called the Michigan+ blog, occasionally I'll write about non-sports items. In this case, I'm writing about HBO.

Over the summer I have been watching quite a lot of movies and miniseries. I was astonished to notice that my favorite DVDs to put in were all released by HBO.

I don't know how HBO does it (and why it seems like no network stations can follow suit), but they constantly put out grade A movies and miniseries. They are well cast, well shot, and well edited, and the stories really matter.

Two of my favorite miniseries of all time are From the Earth to the Moon (1998) and Band of Brothers (2001), both released by HBO. I have these both on DVD, and decided it was time for me to watch them again.

I have explained to people that I follow a lot of other shows and movies because actors in those movies and shows were cast in Band of Brothers. I called this the BoB Effect.  I became so invested in their storylines and their acting skills that I kept watching them in other things! But this Effect didn't start and finish with Band of Brothers. It also happened with From the Earth to the Moon. I had a few actors and actresses that I liked, and as I watched that miniseries again, I realized that many of them were in it!

I also watched two newer HBO events this summer. I watched Temple Grandin simply because the Emmys told me to - it won Emmy after Emmy after Emmy, Temple Grandin herself was in the audience looking giddy as ever, and I decided to see what the fuss was about.

What I watched was fantastic. I could barely tell that it was Claire Danes playing the lead! The story was incredible, and I was rooting for Temple to succeed from the very beginning. I could hardly believe that people treated her (a person suffering from Autism) so terribly. But at the same time, she persevered and used her brilliant mind to foster her passion for cattle and treating them well.

I would highly recommend this movie if you're looking for a feel-good movie. Be warned: she does advocate for the rights of cattle in slaughterhouses, so if you get queasy thinking about where your hamburger comes from, it may be a bad idea to watch this.

I was also recommended by a friend to watch John Adams, the miniseries that aired two years ago and features Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney as John and Abigail Adams. I guess I was just assuming it would cover the time leading up to and immediately following the Revolutionary War. Boy, was I wrong! It barely covered any events of the Revolution, instead reminding us that Adams spent much of the war overseas in France and the Netherlands. And the end of the war took place at the end of the third episode - there were still four episodes to go!

I had always been a fan of John Adams - mainly because of William Daniels' portrayal as Adams in the musical 1776. And I knew that he was obnoxious and disliked. But he was really obnoxious and disliked! I can't believe he even became the President of the United States! He spent so much time obsessing over the US Government and striving to keep peace between the US and France that his quality time with his children was incredibly slim. It's amazing that one of them was elected President (John Q. Adams).

I think the thing that impressed me the most about this miniseries were the costumes. Since this followed the life of Adams from 1770 to his death in 1826 (on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence), the styles of fashion changed dramatically - not to mention they had to include French and British clothing styles, as well. And the costume designers did an incredible job - so much that I, the least fashionable person you'd know, noticed it!

This portrayal of John Adams is a depressing one, but you can't help shedding a tear when they show the last days of his life and how he continued to stay close to his friend Thomas Jefferson till the very end. When the series concluded I could honestly say "That was well done."

I haven't been disappointed by an HBO production yet. Now I can hardly wait to get my hands on The Pacific, another Tom Hanks-Steven Spielberg production about World War II. My parents watched it and said it was amazing; I can't wait to witness it for myself.

So how about it, networks? Instead of doing movie events about a hurricane striking New York City or other drivel like that, how about putting money into something really worthwhile? Because if you don't, HBO is going to beat you to the punch every time.

U-M/Bowling Green: Nothing to Fear

It was all over the news: DENARD ROBINSON LEAVES GAME WITH INJURY. The headlines might as well have said EVERYBODY PANIC!!! with how serious that headline sounded.

Never fear! We have two competent backups who know how to play the game of football. Both Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner came into the game and did not look shabby at all. But there was no reason to panic, anyway; if Denard Robinson had needed to come in and help Michigan beat Bowling Green, it would have happened.

Luckily, we never needed Robinson after halftime.

It got a little hairy during the second quarter, with Bowling Green getting two quick touchdowns before halftime to make the Michigan lead merely 14 - not a great lead. But before we had horrible visions of UMass again, the offense turned on the jets and the defense kept things in blowout mode.

The defense looked far better this game. There were still a few spots that needed help - Aaron Pankratz threw for 231 yards (his longest was 71), and in the two Bowling Green series where they had 4th and goal, the defense allowed two TDs. But the defense made sacks, they caught interceptions, and the rushing crew could only muster 32 yards - a far cry from last week's horrible tackling at the line of scrimmage. The defense has practiced a lot.

I was relieved to give Robinson some time off, even if he had to leave due to injury. He runs, he throws, he scrambles, and he needed a break! While Denard needed a break, Forcier needed to get warmed up. He went 12-for-12, threw for over 100 yards, and was part of a rushing corp (9 players) that gained 466 yards. He looked crisp, and I have a lot more confidence in our Michigan team with whoever is behind center!

Looking back at a few items from the day:

- Was that officiating crew bad or what? Between throwing flags and then taking them back, calling ridiculous penalties, and not calling touchdowns when it clearly was, they were just bad. I hope they aren't doing any more Michigan games this season.
- If you're going to be called Bowling Green, why can't they have a little green in their uniform? It's just confusing.

Finally, we look ahead to Indiana:

If you're looking for a trap game, this may be it. Indiana has always been the punching bag of the Big Ten, where you see them on the schedule and you breathe a sigh of relief. I don't think it's going to be that way this time. Michigan needs to make a statement in this game that they are ready to take on whatever the Big Ten teams are going to throw their way.  Last year we barely escaped from Indiana, and then we didn't win another game the rest of the season.

This year has to be different. We have to come out and crush Indiana from the start, and show Michigan State that we are ready for anything.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

U-M/UMass Reaction: All About Defense

Why has it been that the last two Michigan wins have felt like losses?

Last week against Notre Dame I was so wiped out from that last ten minutes of the game that I could barely celebrate. This week was a little different.

I was listening to podcasts this week, reading articles, and got myself ready for the fact that the University of Massachusetts - a Football Championship Subdivision (Division I-A is a Football Bowl School, or FBS) - is actually a pretty good team. They are part of the Colonial Athletic Association - just like James Madison, who upset Virginia Tech AT Virginia Tech last week. Four years ago they played Appalachian State in the national championship game - right before the winner of that championship played in Ann Arbor and football was never the same. UMass was 2-0 this season, even beating the former #4 team in the FCS: William and Mary.

I was ready for a good Minutemen team to come into Michigan Stadium. Was Michigan's defense?

The Wolverine defense gave up 439 yards of offense to UMass, most of which came from running backs Jonathan Hernandez and John Griffin. Even quarterback Kyle Havens had a stellar game, picking apart the Wolverine secondary and showing they were a freshman and sophomore secondary. He went 22-for-29 with 222 yards and 2 touchdowns.

I was thrilled initially to find out that UMass is a primary rushing team, with Hernandez and Griffin. But I was quickly dismayed when both of them were finding all the holes in the world to rush through. Both of them combined had over 200 yards rushing.

If the Michigan defense is having this much trouble on all parts of the defense, then how is it going to fare when a team like Michigan State comes to town, with their very potent offense? The defense made good steps last week, but this week it seemed to take a step back.

Fortunately, the Michigan running backs had great games and helped make the offense a layered threat, instead of just the wonder and majesty of Denard Robinson leading that side of the team. Michael Shaw especially made his mark, with 126 yards of offense and (finally!) a few breaks through the line. It seemed like whenever Shaw rushed, he always got stopped at the line. Today he was finally getting some yards after that. I'm unsure if it was getting ripped by RichRod before the game, or that the linesmen had a great game. Maybe it was both.

Do you say that Denard Robinson had an average game? He only had 361 yards of total offense this game. But I saw him stay in the pocket a lot more and complete some very nice passes. After the first 28 minutes of the game, where the Michigan offense looked like it hadn't woken up yet, the offense looked fine.

But alas, another problem arises. The kicking team. I never thought I'd be as distraught with our kicking/punting unit than I did when Hayden Epstein left Michigan. But it's getting really close, especially since every kicker we've put out there hasn't been the reliable kicker we'd hope to have. Will Hagerup, our punter, still seems very scared when punting - going for only 33 yards in one punt and getting blocked, too. When are we going to see those two positions get off the ground? Will we have to go to the Michigan soccer team and recruit from there?

I checked out our opponent for next week - Bowling Green - and they are currently 0-2. Hopefully that will be a good warm-up for our team next week. What we need to happen is for everything to go right: the defense allows fewer than 200 yards and accomplish tons of sacks, fumbles, and interceptions. The kicking unit gets all the time in the world to set up and kick beautiful PATs and field goals. The punter doesn't freak out. And Denard gets to play five series and then sit and relax for the rest of the game. We really need for a few of those dreams to happen next week - because if we have another nailbiter, we'll be down to our knuckles once the Big Ten season begins in October.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Big Ten...BIG Changes

I think everyone that lives in a Big Ten state should read this blog, because there are lots of changes going on next year. Yes, NEXT year - 2011. This season everything is as it has been. Eleven schools, play everyone but three, rivalries still there, no championship game. But over the summer (I almost missed this news, since I was in Disney World) Nebraska agreed to leave the Big Twelve Conference and join the Big Ten. Of course, this caused me to drool, since I hate Nebraska almost as much as I hate Ohio State (almost) and a chance to play them on a regular basis is neat.

But this also caused the Conference to deal with the fact that it's not a Ten. Nor is it even an Eleven! (Goodbye, old logo, which I didn't even realize had an 11 in it till a few years back!) It is a Twelve (though it's still going to be called Ten - don't get me started.), and by being a 12-school conference, they are obligated to have a championship game and split into divisions.

Tonight, the Big Ten announced those divisions and explained how it would keep traditional rivalries while maintaining divisions. The two divisions are

Division 1: Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin
Division 2: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Northwestern.

If you read that carefully, you'll realize that Ohio State and Michigan are NOT in the same division. But while yes, a team will play each of its division teams every year, they'll also play three of the other division's teams. One of those games will be a "guaranteed cross-rival game" where those two teams will play each other even though they're not in the same division. And yup, Michigan's guaranteed cross-rival game will always be Ohio State.

My dad hates this, because he thinks it's going to make it even harder to make it into the championship game because they're always playing the always formidable Ohio State. And this guy I'm watching on the Big Ten Network, Gerry DiNardo, is saying the same thing.

I also have a few thoughts. Read on...
  • Honestly, how much money did Michigan State AD Mark Hollis pay the Big Ten to have INDIANA be their cross-conference rival on a permanent basis? We play Ohio State; they play INDIANA?? Are you kidding me??
  • I am loving the fact that Wisconsin and Penn State are not in our division. We don't even see either team in the 2011 or 2012 seasons! They are always difficult teams to play, and not having them on the schedules make me breathe a little easier.
  • I am eagerly anticipating the final two games of the 2011 season for Michigan. Both games are at home, and the first is Nebraska; the second is Ohio State. I'd like to mention now that I am all for the match-ups. Unlike my dad, who always likes to see how we'll get to a championship game, I take each game at a time (unlike what I do for baseball, where I'm always looking ahead). To host Nebraska will almost be more exciting than going to the Ohio State game! (Dad: I'd like to claim that ticket, if I can get the free time.) I can already imagine the lusty booing that will resound through the newly renovated stadium. 
  • I watched the Big Ten Network coverage tonight, and they interviewed Nebraska AD Tom Osborne. It looked like he'd been dead for two years and had been decomposing! It's the Crypt-Keeper!
  • I really didn't care if U-M/OSU was at the end of the season. I'm happy it is, but having to play them while they are NOT a division rival is a bit unsettling.
  • The season just got a ton harder. That mountain that Lloyd Carr talked about back in 1997 was just a molehill compared to this gigantic Everest that we're going to have to play in future seasons.
  • The first championship game is in Indianapolis, but I really hope that Ford Field can claim a championship game in the future.
  • I'm still a little confused about how exactly you get to the Big Ten championship game. If you win all your divisional games, does that put you in the championship? Or do you have to win every game in the conference, regardless of which divisional team you're playing? Because people keep saying that Michigan and Ohio State could play twice in a row. (For example, both teams are 5-0 in their division and play each other twice.) But I only see that happening if they only count the divisional games. How do the conferences like the SEC and ACC do it?
  • This is all extended only to the 2012 seasons. This is a method that even the Big Ten commissioner has said can change. And I'm comfortable with that. It's not like the BCS, where the NCAA has pretty much said that there's no way a playoff is going in place anytime soon - it's the BCS, period. The adjustments after the 2012 season will be welcome.
  • Did we really have to keep all the rivalries? It seems like they wasted a lot of time on something that is purely tradition. If they had done away with tradition and just adopted any old format, sure the fans would have griped for a while about schedules, but after the griping we would begin to adjust with what's been given us. One acronym helps me to explain this reasoning: ALCS. After the 1968 season  Major League Baseball adopted a divisional system where they had a championship game for the AL and the NL before the World Series. There was complaining, but after a while it just became how it is.
So here's how it is, and here's how we handle it. We complain for a little while, and then let it happen. And then when they change it, we'll want this version back! So I'm just going to skip over all of that complaining stuff and go with it. I hope you do, too. It will make the transition a liiiiittle easier.