Friday, October 26, 2007

The Top 100: Medinah #3


Part 1 of 100.

As some of you may recall, myself, Pat, and W.T. McCall made an informal pact, before we adjourned from college in May, to (among the three of us) play each and every one of the 100 best golf courses in the United States, as ranked by Golf Digest. Some would be relatively simple, as a sprinkling of courses on the list are open to the (deep-pocketed) public, the notable exception being Bethpage Black (frankly speaking, any jamoke with $50 can play there, so long as he's willing to camp out over night for a tee-time). Others would be a monumental challenge - for example, how exclusive is #51 on the list, Rich Harvest Links? It has a one-man membership committee (the owner, founder, and architect of the course, Jerry Rich) and counts about 25 members...in total. And then certain other courses represent the Holy Grail, a challenge that will, barring a miracle or overnight fame for one of us on an absurd magnitude, will take decades to tame (Augusta National, where they hold the Masters on CBS every year, comes to mind).

However, fate was with us as we knocked off one member of the Top 20 last May: the famed No. 3 Course at Medinah Country Club in Medinah, IL. Known for its iconic temple clubhouse, Medinah has played host to three US Opens and two PGA Championships, and will welcome the Ryder Cup (of Golf, alas, not pong) in 2012. The journey was made possible by pluck, determination, and the happy coincidence that my Uncle Marc (he of TurkeyGate fame) is a nationally-decorated PGA professional who's known Medinah's head pro for 20 years. An early sunrise broke over Lake Kadijah as this intrepid fivesome teed off from the same boxes where Tiger Woods diced up the competition just eight months earlier - notice Pat exhibiting his classic "free radical" behavior by being the only one of us who refused to pose with his driver.

Obviously there's no space to recount the entire round, so we'll just skip to the individual highlights:

George: Achieved goal #1 of nailing at least one long, perfect drive off the tee, using "the Tony Batista stance" at the fifth.
Pat: A pair of beautiful approaches over the water at the twin par-3s 13 & 17, setting up easy 3s on each.
Thomas: Carding the first birdie of the day for the group at the par-4 third, setting into motion one of the funniest conversations ever to take place on a golf loop.
Uncle Marc: Holing out from 190 yards for a 2 on the ninth.
Jordan, Assistant Pro (far left in photo): Getting paid to play 18 holes at Medinah.

Overall, Medinah is a tremendous set-up and it's not mind-numbingly difficult; although us average hacks ranged from fair to nearly double-par, the pros always enjoy playing here because the course has just enough of "go ahead, I dare you" opportunities in a round that they can attempt without being suicidal. There will be some very intriguing moments when match play comes here for the Ryder in 2012, particularly on those tricky par-3s. While long, the course is also very narrow, with most of the wide-open spaces occupying no-mans land between holes (which conveniently sets up a lot of walking grounds for the spectators). Accuracy comes first here, not power - make mistakes out of the tee-box, and you pay dearly for it. Keep it in the fairways and play your approaches right, you should be able to come out in one piece.

So, as of October 26th, 2007, we've played the following of the Top 100:
#11 - Medinah Country Club, Course #3 (George, Pat, & Thomas)
#26 - Bethpage State Park, Black Course (Pat)
#44 - Baltusrol Golf Club, Lower Course (Pat)
#93 - Harbour Town Golf Links (Pat)
Hey, nobody said this was gonna be easy. Until next time...

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Los Angeles is Burning Part II

Well, thanks for the introduction George. First of all, you'll have to excuse me and my lack of creativity, I'm a changed man. It's only 10:45 pm and this is considered a late night for me. I realize that anybody that I shared a dorm room with might be in shock by this statement but the "real world" is kicking my ass. I personally can't say I've been affected by the fires. It does however cast an eerie orange glow over the Malibu mountains north of town. The air quality is also terrible. They actually sent out an e-mail to the air force base stating it was ok to wear sars-esque medical masks in uniform. I haven't yet seen anybody wearing one.

Los Angeles is Burning

Not just the title of ESPN's newest miniseries or a song by Bad Religion. Los Angeles (along with San Diego) is burning, right now.

As Pat alluded two posts down, these are strange times in southern California, what with 500,000 acres going up in smoke, half-a-million people fleeing the flames, and the impending strike by the Writer's Guild of America. How does that last one impact you? Think about it - no writers, no content. No content, networks have to go deep into the reserve of newsmagazines and reality shows to fill the dead air (which is convenient, because a major sticking point in these negotiations is the WGA's stance that reality programming should fall under union jurisdiction). So instead of a full season of Lost, you might only get the first seven or eight episodes produced before the strike, then it'll just be weeks upon weeks of Dancing with the Stars.

Personally I'm fine, nestled in just north of downtown but geographically centered pretty far away from the fire zones, which have strayed more towards Santa Clarita (far north) and Malibu Canyon Country. To give you all a point of reference, I don't think the Malibu house is any imminent peril, however some of the true hot-spots (no pun intended) are just south of it along the Pacific Coast Highway. Many residents of that area were evacuated to Zuma Beach, which is just a stone's throw down the beach from where we had our touch football games last Thanksgiving. And I could totally drop in a few wise-cracks about how appropriate my view of this city as Hell on Earth is, given all the fire and brimstone raining down from the sky. However, even I know it's bad form to kick somebody when they're down.

That's the view from over here, what's the view from over there beachside, Paulie?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The American People Don't Choose Presidents...Chuck Norris Does

Who should we vote for in November of '08? I sure as hell don't know. But apparently Chuck Norris does:

When Chuck Norris does a pushup, he's not lifting himself up.
He's pushing the world down.

California Wild Fires

George-Paul, please update us on your status, and that of the Malibu house if possible. Hope all is well.

On a lighter note: Does smoke from a blazing wildfire classify as second hand smoke?

Floyd of Cretin-Dale

When offensive guard Matt Carufel, bummed over his fluctuating level of playing time and apparently never very comfortable as a Notre Dame student, announced he would transfer eight days ago, the general consensus was that Notre Dame had lost two players for the price of one. Not only was Carufel, the top prospect from the state of Minnesota in 2005, on the move, but surely this (coupled with the announcement that he would be helping out as a coach at his prep alma mater, Cretin-Derham Hall, for the rest of the high school season) would doom any chance for Notre Dame to land the superbly-talented Michael Floyd, a 6-3 playmaking wide receiver from CDH. To top it all off, Floyd was in attendance at Saturday's 38-0 beatdown from USC, so the Irish chances had dropped to virtually nothing...right?

Apparently we were all wrong. Though Floyd had long been pegged as a Notre Dame "lean" in the recruiting sub-culture, he insisted that he'd come into South Bend for the weekend with an open mind. He left having given a verbal commitment to the Irish and calling his other finalists, Minnesota and Ohio State (several 'inside sources' had said he would wind up with the Buckeyes) to tell them his decision was final. So while the Irish slug through a disaster 2007, the cavalry is in fact appearing in the distance - Floyd's announcement gives Notre Dame an even 20 commitments and (for the time being) a firmer grip on the #1 ranking for this recruiting cycle. Of course, any Texas fan could tell you that titles aren't won in February (if they were, Mack Brown would be a five-time national champion by now). Even so, the titanic struggles of this year's Irish squad and the swarm of negativity haven't led to a collapse on the recruiting front (not yet, anyway. I wouldn't predict a mass exodus, but if Notre Dame can lose three commitments late in last year's cycle after going 10-3, I wouldn't bet on all 20 staying committed for what will be 5-7 at best). Despite the dark clouds still hanging over the football program, this was a small bit of good news no matter how you slice it. Just keep in mind that recruiting is merely a small part of the overall battle. (Author's note: pictured above, left is Floyd of Rosedale, one of the more dubious and inane traveling trophies in all of organized athletics. It is awarded annually to the winner of the Iowa-Minnesota game.)

On a humorous/disturbing aside, this comes to us from Rakes of Mallow, the SportsBlog Nation ND site:
Hat tip to the Alumni guys on Madison for showing Floyd a good time on Friday night.
Part of me wants to ask, but a much larger part doesn't want to know.

George

UPDATE, Oct. 23 @ 4:30 PM - Apparently Pat G. was right to quote sources in his comment. News out at this hour that 4-star running back Jonas Gray has switched his commitment from Nebraska to Notre Dame in the wake of uncertainty surrounding NU Coach Bill Callahan and an impressive job of closing on the recruiting trail by Corwin Brown. Irish now have 21 verbal commitments.

Trivia: Name at least two other people who went to Cretin-Derham Hall.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Trojan War

There's a strong possibility that the best thing about this weekend's Notre Dame-USC game, from an Irish perspective, is that by 8:00 PM Saturday, it will be over. At that point, mercifully, the first 8 games of a lost season will finally be over, and the Irish will have two weeks to catch their breath and think about what needs to happen in order to end the season on a positive note against a slate of Navy, Air Force, Duke, and Stanford.

One game at a time though, and for the Irish that means sealing off all the other distractions and controversy (real or manufactured) surrounding them and focusing on USC. We here shall do likewise...

Notre Dame vs. #9 USC
3:30 PM EDT
Notre Dame Stadium - Notre Dame, IN

Why USC Will Win

There's no way to avoid it when sizing up the Trojans - this batch of USC players resembles a M*A*S*H unit as much as they do a football team. You can count on one hand the number of key players that haven't seen their season hampered, cut short, or ruined before it started by injuries. LB Rey Maualuga decked WR Patrick Turner so hard in practice Turner missed the season opener. Turner's back and is the top threat at wide receiver; Maualuga could miss Saturday's game with a hip injury. LB Brian Cushing pronounced himself ready to go after a lingering ankle injury; veteran O-linemen Sam Baker and Chilo Rachal are doubtful with hamstring and knee problems, respectively. The "10-deep" at running back everyone hyped during fall drills for the Trojans has turned the fight for carries into a war of attrition, as Stafon Johnson (foot), CJ Gable (knee), Broderick Green (foot), and Marc Tyler (leg) have all been hampered or eliminated, while Emmanuel Moody transferred to Florida. Also, did we mention how veteran corner Josh Pinkard was lost for the season? And key DB Shareece Wright is on the mend from a hamstring injury? Then there's the Trojan QB, John David Booty (pictured, left), who fractured the middle finger on his throwing hand during his 4-interception performance that was a big factor in SC's stunning loss to Stanford two weeks ago. Signal-calling duties will pass to redshirt sophomore Mark Sanchez for a second straight week, and look for freshman tailback Joe McKnight to get his share of touches too.

Here's all USC need focus on though - despite an offense that's been stuck in neutral most of the season (with or without the injury factors), most of the key players on defense haven't been hurt, nor have they let the team be hurt by the offense's lack of dominance. The Trojans still know how to put points on the board, still have experienced playmakers at most of the key positions, still have an outstanding coaching staff, and quite frankly spook me with all the attempts to sandbag their own state of affairs heading into the game. To me, it may seem like every USC player under the sun is a member of the walking wounded, but it just seems that way. Right now the biggest wound USC is nurturing is its own ego after dropping to the edge of the national title conversation, but they're still a one-loss team in a year where the number of unbeatens is dropping daily (latest victim, the Cinderella Bulls of South Florida). With a stout defensive effort paced by LB Keith Rivers, DT Sedrick Ellis, and DE Lawrence Jackson, the Trojans don't need to be concerned. For all the perceived faults, they're still 5-1 and Notre Dame is still 1-6.

Why Notre Dame Will Win

If 1-3, 41-point underdog Stanford can do it, anything is possible. That's talking point #1 for an Irish fan when assessing the chances for the upset. Here's the significant follow-up question: does Notre Dame, this 2007 unit which fell so flat and so hard, which has been the butt of jokes and the target of SNL parodies; does THIS TEAM, walking out on Saturday in replica throwback green jerseys to honor the 1977 championship squad...does this team have enough pride and enough guts to take down a team they have no business being on the field with? If the answer be yes, than anything is possible. If the answer be no...it could be a 4th 31-point deficit in 6 years.

Putting aside the intense emotions that rise to the surface during rivalry week, the Irish do have the blueprint for how the beat USC laid out in front of them. 1) Force turnovers - in the last three games, all of which were against sub-.500 teams and all of which could have been losses, USC committed 12 turnovers, 8 of which were interceptions. 2) Pressure the quarterback - Sanchez and Booty haven't found much success when forced to think on their feet this season. The Irish have stepped up the blitz packages over the past two weeks, and Saturday is no time to pull back. 3) Be smart on offense. The perception over the Irish QB situation is that Jimmy Clausen has been banged around like a pinball enough for one six game stretch, so we might as well feed Evan Sharpley to the Lions and let 'Jimbo' get right for the "honor bowl" that comprises the November schedule against two service academies and two academic bastions. But Sharpley could be a key factor in throwing away any hopes of an upset if he keeps his pattern of high-risk, high-reward passes from a week ago. When you're down 20 in the second half to Boston College, you can understand the risks. But starting at home against a highly-ranked rival, with the score 0-0 from the outset, Sharpley needs to be calm and keep taking the 7-to-10 yard gains SC gives. Carroll's schemes are designed to clamp down on chances for big plays and feast on creating turnovers even during what looks like a successful play (key reference point here: Brady Quinn's 15-yard post pattern to Anthony Fasano that would've put ND deep in 'SC territory during the 3rd quarter two years ago...except Darnell Bing popped the ball loose at the end of the run). If the Irish don't give the game away early, they have a chance to stay in it late.

The Prediction

There's a lot of negativity surrounding Notre Dame right now, some of it with malicious intent from people who can't stand Notre Dame, some of it from people who love Notre Dame and are coping with the depression by lashing out, and you can't think it hasn't dented the psyche of the program by now. Similar to last week's Boston College game, the Irish can win if they totally close ranks and playing 60 FULL MINUTES of inspired football that reflects how little margin for error they have. Sadly, it's just too remote of a possibility for me to see it happening. Doesn't mean it can't happen. But like I said...remote.

USC 27, Notre Dame 14.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wait a Minute...LA Has a Hockey Team?


Yeah, I was surprised too.

Neither Paul nor I could remember the last time we'd attended an NHL game, so this trip was definitely one of the spontaneous variety. I happened to be downtown traversing across the vast Los Angeles subway system (translation: there are about two destinations I can reach on it, one of which is the Central Library), and Senor Jacobs happened across the tickets because of connections with his roommate, public hockey leagues, and the Kings PR Department. As you can probably guess from the above photo, taken roughly five rows from the very top of the Staples Center, these were free tickets. Tuesday night's opponent? The Minnesota Wild, pride and joy of the Twin Cities and favored team of ND Basketball expert Pat Girouard.

At first, I was bummed to learn that The Great One no longer played for the Kings - hey, if Roger Clemens can keep coming out of retirement, why can't Wayne? The Kings, it was quickly established, were a very young team - 18 of their 22 players are under 30, while their two big stars (Anze Kopitar and Jack Johnson) are 20 & 21 respectively. On the other side of the spectrum, the inemitable Rob Blake, still doing it at age 38. Across the glass, Paul had a mild rooting interest in Wild captain Pavol Demitra, longtime St. Louis Blue. More importantly, this was a chance for Demitra's most recent fanbase to welcome his return (he was dealt to the Wild in a draft-day trade last season). The reaction was tepid at best: few people were in their seats until 15 minutes into the first period...like myself and the two Pauls.

Despite the customary LA appearences of wandering in a half-hour late and planning a mid-3rd period getaway, and the fact that they blare Randy Newman's "I LOVE LA" whenever the Kings score, I have to say my overall impressions of hockey at the Staples Center were positive. The fans were legitimately into the game, only reinforcing my belief that the NHL has done so much to ruin its image and alienate its fanbase that the ones who are still going to the games and sitting in the nosebleeds are true fans, indeed. The game was exciting too - a 3-3 tie where the Kings couldn't cash in on several power-play chances through the 3rd period and overtime, ultimately decided in a shootout - Kopitar clinched the victory for the home team with a SWEET triple-deke move that would've made Gordon Bombay proud.

So that was SoCal hockey. Paul and myself also checked out San Diego during NFL Opening Weekend (Chargers-Bears), and met the Mets out at Chavez Ravine (Dodgers-Mets). Can a date with "KOBE!!!" and the Lakers be far behind?

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Greener Pastures?

With the football season having soured over a month ago, it's time for Irish fans to turn their attention to the hardwood. There was a lot of excitement in the Joyce Center last winter, and I'm not talking about Jeff Jackson's Irish Icers' rise to number 1 in the nation. Despite a premature exit in the NCAA tournament, the Irish compiled an 11 win Big East season and an undefeated record at home. The Irish lost several key contributers from the '06-'07 campaign including all-time Big East 3-point shooting leader, Colin Falls, and fellow senior Russell Carter, arguably the Irish's best offensive player. However, the Irish return a strong nucleus of talent, along with several exciting freshman, who are sure to contend for another tournament berth.

A breakdown of Notre Dame's Team:

Starters:

Kyle McAlarney: Kyle McAlarney has traded in his bong for a return spot in the Irish backcourt. McAlarney brings experience and outstanding shooting to the Irish, along with a passion and intensity that was often lacking in Falls and Carter.

Tory Jackson: The biggest surprise of last season, Jackson returns as the Irish's starting point guard. Jackson should compliment McAlarney well with his pass-first and attacking style. Jackson will often be the fastest man on the court and should create countless matchup problems for Big East defenders.

Ryan Ayers: The son of a former coach certainly has the basketball IQ, but does he have the intensity and experience necessary to start in the Big East. Ayers' role increased last season as he served mainly as another 3 point threat. This season he'll be called on to attack the basket more and supply the athleticism missing with Carter's departure.

Luke Harangody: Harangody was an absolute beast last season for the Irish. As a freshman, Harangody clearly established himself as the best inside presence for the Irish. Despite a hand injury that will set him back for the first month or so of the season, Harangody should continue to fill this role for the Irish. With a slimmed down body and a more polished offensive game, Harangody should contend for All-Big East.

Rob Kurz - The best comparison to Rob Kurz is to that of an offensive lineman- when he does his job, no one notices. Kurz has quietly compiled a great career with the Irish and the lone senior will be called upon to lead the team. Kurz has a solid offensive game, but is more known for his rebounding.

The Bench

Zach Hillesland - Unlike Kurz, Hillesland is extremely noticeable on the court. He does a little bit of everything and is always around the ball. A taller, point-forward type player, Hillesland needs to learn to play a little more under control and develop more of an outside game to become a legitimate offensive threat. If Ayers struggles early, Hillesland could fill his role in the starting lineup.

Jonathon Peoples - Peoples will provide toughness in the backcourt and spot both McAlareny and Jackson at both guard positions. No longer the days of Chris Thomas and Chris Quinn playing 40 minutes a night, Peoples is a capable backup who deserves 10-15 minutes a night.

Luke Zeller - Can Zeller provide more of a benefit than simply attracting his younger, and more talented brother to the Irish next fall? Blessed with great size and athleticism, Zeller has been a disappointment for Mike Brey. The Irish need Zeller's height to provide depth inside and contribute to rebounding and shot blocking. In addition, if Brey wants to go big, Zeller could see time at the Small Forward spot because of his ability to shoot the 3 ala formerWest Virginia star Kevin Pittsnoggle.

Tyrone Nash - An athletic freshman wing player who is likely the most ready of the Irish freshman to contribute this season. Nash has a well polished offensive game, but could mostly help the Irish on defense, bringing a strong rebounding and athletic presence off the bench.

Carleton Scott - Hakim Warrick type player who is sure to wow the crowd in warmups and on the fast break. Not expected to contribute much this season but could possibly be the best athlete on the team. His rare athleticism could force Brey to play him against more athletic Big East opponents like Louisville and Georgetown.

Ty Profitt - Freshman guard not likely to contribute with excellent depth already in the back court. However, excellent shooter with a bright future for the Irish.

Tim Abromaitis - Freshman forward with excellent basketball IQ and an excellent blend of offensive and defensive skills. Unlikely to contribute unless other big men get in foul trouble.

With great depth, the Irish should be able to play aggressive defense to compliment their already experienced and prolific offense. This could be Mike Brey's best team since arriving in South Bend. While the big names aren't there, the depth and attitude appear to be. In fact, the Irish's biggest challenge could be its non-conference schedule, not for its difficulty, but rather its ease. Come tournament time, the Irish better not be on the bubble, because their refusal to schedule challenging non-conference foes make keep them on the outside looking in.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

NCA-Anarchy

First things first - Mr. Braun, a master stroke. Couldn't have said it better myself, and for a change it was nice to hear another voice from on-high bring me up to speed on some of the hijinks missed out on. To add one additional point, Paul's victory in singles flip cup is just the start of what I predict will be a long and intense rivalry on the West Coast, right up there with Stanford-Cal's Big Game and the Dodgers-Angels Freeway Series.

Now, to more pressing matters...

College football 2007 has proven one thing, and one thing only, beyond a reasonable doubt - nothing is sacred. And no one is safe. And if we're going to be technical here please keep in mind that I'm aware that you could say those are two separate things but they no doubt have a common, unifying thread. Exhibit A: South Florida would be playing for the national title if the season ended today. That's South Florida, a school that has as many years of Division I-A existence (11) as Notre Dame does championships. The true parity, the kind we've seen in the last nine years that takes an NFL team from 4-12 to 13-3 and back to 5-11, may finally be creeping its way into the college ranks.

I would go on with stories about life in the Hollywood underworld at my current (technically former place of employment, since shooting wrapped) but I signed all the standard non-disclosure paperwork, so just stay tuned on FOX for the network's newest and hardest-hitting game show yet. Meanwhile...

...as alluded to by Mr. Braun, traffic is as bad as its ever been in Los Angeles, and unfortunately is about to get even worse as a multi-car pileup turned "The 5" into a road on fire Friday night. The whole city is scrambling for an alternative to the loss of a crucial stretch that serves more than 200,000 automobiles per day. Maybe that guy who proposed building some mass public transit back in the 1950s and got laughed at knew what he was doing after all, City Planners of LA.

Until Next Time...

Serendipity: Take Two

Well, here goes. How to effectively summarize a weekend that saw a 1-5 team doing backflips in the end zone of the Rose Bowl and an estimated 20,000 ROAD TEAM fans cheering until the final seconds?

The weekend of Planes, Trains, & Automobiles began nearly without a hitch, as I was picked up from LA's Union Station by the ever-cheerful chauffeur Paul. What kept Paul running a few minutes behind schedule? Not the epic singles matches of upper deck flip-cup matches against George, but the comforts of his bed and the kinship of an old high school friend. Fortunately, our little Romeo made it in due time, and we returned to his beautiful home in time to savor the view and take in some breakfast before heading to Pasadena.

After a delicious breakfast of Bloody Marys and omelettes, Paul decided to stir up another round of delicious Bloody Marys. When the bottle produced exactly enough mix for a second round, cheers of "Serendipity!" were made and the weekend's phrase was born. We left in 2 cars for Pasadena only 30 minutes behind schedule, meaning we should arrive at the Rose Bowl by 1:00 ...

... then Los Angeles happened. And you know what they say about the City of Angels, "If the smog doesn't get you, the 2 hours of traffic will." Traffic on THE [insert highway number here] was actually bearable. Then the Rose Bowl exit happened. (Time: roughly 12:45) We sat in a long line of cars, passing security guards protecting neighborhood entrances. Tiring of the crawling line of cars, Paul went on a recon mission (Time: roughly 1:15). The outlook? Another 10 or so minutes. After 15 minutes, we ask a security guard how much further up. The revised ETA? 5 minutes. (Time: roughly 1:45). Finally, much later, we caught sight of the Rose Bowl. Cell phones were down and nerves were frayed. As best we could tell, George's tailgate was on the golf course . Our directions? Turn onto the golf course at the first possible moment, yell for George, and listen for "Who all seen the leprechaun say YEAAAAHHHH!" or other George-isms. (Time: roughly 1:55). However, this last leg of the journey proved to be the most tortuous. After getting passed by an 85-year old man on a scooter and Pam Anderson had her boobs enlarged, reduced, filmed a sex tape, and enlarged her boobs again to boost sales of said tape, we parked. (Time: 6:30 Eastern, 3:30 in Hell). With no time to tailgate, the pre-game MVP of the day was TJ Maarup, who ran his family tailgate by finishing mass quantities of sake-and-OJ (the aptly named Phillips head screwdriver).

After a whirlwind tailgate, the game began. There was a nice flyover, some 40-year-old man tried to yell at the crowd to count to 8 and spell UCLA, and the Irish took the field. We won, and it was great. The story picks up after the game.

With LA-sized traffic headaches to avoid postgame, it was universally decided to return to George's for some real tailgating. What better way to celebrate newfound victory than with a tailgate shotgun? At this point, it was observed that everything was coming up 5's: under the starry skies of Balloon #5, fully recovered from 5 losses, 5 shotgun participants; it was Serendipity indeed. Unfortunately, the speech commemorating this special moment has been recorded in 5 1-second clips due to camera malfunction, but George's VICTORY! is still echoing in the hills (and smog) of Pasadena. After a successful shotgun, some delicious food, and pouring some out for our dead homeboys (the Philadelphia Phillies), we set off for Hermosa Beach.

Not content to cap the celebration there, the return trip detoured to Ralph's to pick up 3 bottles of (what else?) Andre. Dessert, champagne, and a viewing of Knocked Up that lasted until 3:30 capped off the night.

The next morning (actually 1 hour later), our loyal driver Paul was up and at'em to begin a series of 3 trips to LAX. All he asked for in return was a trip to In 'N Out, which we gladly enjoyed under sunny skies and landing 737's.

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend. Many thanks to George, Paul, Guez, other Paul, and others for their hospitality. If there are any weekend pictures on the Devil's Site (the facebook), please pass them along my way. I leave you with the only photographic record of the celebration:


Peace, God Bless, and Go Irish,
Mr. Braun
(still getting used to that, but if you don't call me that I will give you detention)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Rivalry? Who Said Anything about a Rivalry?

"I don't have a ring on my finger because of them. It feels great to beat a team which made such a big deal out of beating us."
-- Ryan Leahy, 1995, after Notre Dame's 20-10 victory over Boston College


The Holy War, the Battle for the Ireland Trophy, the Leahy Bowl (Ryan's grandpa Frank, whom you may be familiar with, was head coach at both institutions) - call Notre Dame vs. Boston College whatever you want. Is it a rivalry, a pissing contest, a staredown - who the hell knows? And more importantly, who the hell cares? It's a football game featuring two teams and two fanbases that really don't like each other. Just like Hatfield vs. McCoy, Busch vs. Miller, and AT&T vs. Sprint, there's plenty of immaturity and egotism on both sides to explain the mutual disdain. And, just like in those tit-for-tats, both sides are too proud to admit to reality, preferring instead a slouch back into the petty, "They had it coming!" defense as justification for their actions. Is Boston College/Notre Dame a rivalry? Probably not in the sense that Notre Dame/USC is a rivalry. Hasn't been around long enough, probably never will be. But it's at least a highly contentions, much-anticipated battle between two schools with enough pride to know few things would piss them off more than losing to the other.

With those histrionics out of the way, a sidenote: I hopped on over to Sherman Oaks tonight to catch Notre Dame High School's easy win over St. Francis. Knights QB Dayne Crist, a 5-star quarterback, is committed to the Fighting Irish, so needless to say I had something akin to a rooting interest. An imposing 6'5" and decked out in some familiar looking school colors, he cut a figure that was frighteningly similar to another #10 who wore blue and gold just a few months ago. Played like it too, with confidence and plenty of zip on the ball, and also reeled off a 55-yard run that reminded me an awful lot of that improvised scramble Brady went on last year in the Coliseum.

One of things that struck me about my first high school football game in at least six years was the size disparity. You figure that, even at a powerhouse program used to sending kids on to Division I-A (or whatever we're calling it these days), most of the team has no aspirations to play football beyond high school; they're just slower and smaller than what is required to go to the next level. Having said that, it was kind of shocking how small NDHS was. They had one player who would've made Sean Astin in Rudy look intimidating. And, in another pleasant surprise, size seemed to matter very little. Here was this guy, Rudy Jr, all 5'3" of him, (I'm guessing) flying all over the field as a defensive back, wideout, and punt returner. He probably played 3 full quarters without one break to the bench. Then there were a ton of players who were out there playing both ways, including the whole NDHS offensive line, which featured LB Anthony McDonald, another Fighting Irish commit who comes from a USC family. Met his father Mike at the game, a Trojan linebacker in the late '70s, who deadpanned that he'll let Anthony move back into the house once he changes his mind. Overall, I was impressed and at the same time a little spooked at how much of the University imagery gets ported down the high schools operated by the Holy Cross - not just the interlocking ND and the gold helmets, but the fight song, the alma mater, the halftime band fanfare (I half expected John Thompson to burst off the speakers at intermission), and the band's usage of awesomely bad classic rock material (Earth, Wind, & Fire was this week's artist).

All that out of the way, a preview of this week's titanic grudge match upcoming football contest...


Notre Dame vs. #4 Boston College
3:30 PM EDT
Notre Dame Stadium - Notre Dame, IN


Why Boston College Will Win

BC is breathing truly rare air by its program standards - the Eagles have never been ranked this high, ever, in any college football poll, not even when Patron Saint Flutie was tossing Hail Marys in the Orange Bowl and winning the Heisman. Ask fans of the Golden Eagles what got them to such lofty heights in 2007, and they'll tell you what the rest of the country is slowing figuring out: the current team is being led by the Second Coming. Senior QB Matt Ryan has quietly laid the groundwork for a Heisman bid of his own down the stretch, starting with consecutive appearances on national television; first the Irish, then #12 Virginia Tech. Both games are on the road and both give Ryan the kind of platform to show off his incredible decision-making (15 TDs vs. 5 interceptions along with 1857 yards) and considerable leadership skills for a team that is not lacking experience - 18 starters are back, in contrast to a Notre Dame team where 18 players have made their first career start this season.

We could spend a lot of time talking about the raw talent matchup, like we would if the opponent were a USC or an LSU, where the talent gap would figure to be a major hurdle for the Irish. In this game - and I DO NOT mean this as a slight to Boston College - the Irish match up just fine talent-wise. That's not just me pointing to recruiting rankings in an effort to mouth off, it's also me looking at the fact that five of the last six meetings in this series were decided by less than touchdown, half of them were decided by less than 3 points. That tells me two things - 1) the two teams were playing at break-even, if not in a situation where Notre Dame was underperforming and 2) close games were being one and lost on the sidelines...like when you have the ball at the BC 30 up by 3 with 9 minutes to go...and you punt. Poise and experience are a huge intangible of college athletics, and Boston College has the upper-hand in those categories. It's why they didn't wilt in the face of Georgia Tech's blitz down in Atlanta (not unlike a veteran Irish team that walked into Bobby Dodd last season). It's why they've been business-like and efficient in flicking aside NC State and their old coach, Tom O'Brien, as well as 2006 ACC Champ Wake Forest. It's why no sane Notre Dame fan should be expecting the Eagles to cough the game away like UCLA and its third-string walk-on QB did a week ago. And it's probably the biggest reason why BC fans should be confident in a victory.

Why Notre Dame Will Win

Charlie Weis said it all in his assessment of the UCLA performance: it was an indication, more on defense than on offense but still indicative on both sides, of a team stocked with very inexperienced players finally learning and playing past their level of experience. Kerry Neal, Pat Kuntz, David Bruton, Darrin Walls, & Brian Smith were untested and virtually unknown, save perhaps for Bruton's heads-up performances on punt coverage the past two seasons (and also, perhaps, his cringe-worthy substitution for an injured Chinedum Ndukwe in last year's USC game). Now each is an important (and, far more critically, a playmaking) cog in the Notre Dame defense. Despite having the opportunity gift-wrapped for them by an inept UCLA coaching staff, the Irish defense still had to seize the opportunity to take over the game last Saturday. They've had a nasty run of making guys who are middle-of-the-road (Tyler Palko, Jeff Smoker, Kyle Orton, Curtis Painter, Joe Dailey, TC Ostrander) look like Heisman winners. So to see the Irish pounce on a woefully out-of-his-depth quarterback and come out with a +7 turnover ratio was a huge positive.

And, although the Irish cannot and should not expect the same kinds of mistakes against an extremely talented and confident senior, the defense has to key on forcing them. Pressure, pressure, pressure, and not necessarily by blitzing the house. Neal brings more speed to the edge of the linebacking corps, and if he and John Ryan can seal off BC's opportunities to gash a suspect run defense, Notre Dame's secondary just might get the chance to prove that #4 ranking of its own (in pass defense) isn't only the product of having a bad year versus the run. Forced or unforced, the Irish need a big momentum-changing play or two on defense to set up situations where Jimmy Clausen and the still-maligned offense can assert themselves and put points on the board. The Irish win if they once again seize control of the game on defense - the catch is that's going to be a lot harder this week than last.

The Prediction

If we played this game inside an X-BOX, where only the ratings and the guile of the controllers mattered, Notre Dame could probably win. Again, I am not trying to diss Boston College when I say that the Irish have just as much talent, and probably have more. This same group that goes into Notre Dame Stadium tomorrow will have three more cracks at the Eagles, each time knowing more about themselves and having the experience the BC starting lineups currently have in spades. I think the Irish do get a potential "game-changer" play on either defense or special teams, but on the whole they are still a team in the growing pains phase matched up against a very experienced squad. The point spread is 13.5; I figure BC pulls away late for the cover.

Boston College 35, Notre Dame 21.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Serendipity

To those of you not fortunate enough to make it to the city of Angels this past weekend:

I had typed a George-ian post describing the...


And that's as far as Kevin Braun got. If he wrote more, we have no record of it. It's not exactly the foreboding final words written by Charles Dickens' for his final, unfinished novel (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, in case you were wondering), but rest assured there was plenty of intrigue, and yes, serendipity to go around this weekend at the Rose Bowl, Hermosa Beach, La Jolla, and all points in between and across "The Southland". I'll let Kevin finish up this post when he gets the chance, so for now just kick back and enjoy the buzz of serendipity and a 20-6 Irish victory.

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Our Long National Nightmare is Over...

At last, Notre Dame is back in the win column.

With all the grace and offensive continuity of a Tyrone Willingham-coached team, Charlie Weis and the Irish sat patiently and waited for Karl Dorrell to heroically snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on Saturday night. Crazy like a fox, that Coach Weis is.

Now, obviously, no coach in America gameplans around the hope that the opponent will trip over themselves just badly enough to hand the game away (save perhaps Turner Gill and the Fighting Blue Bulls of Buffalo), but that's essentially what happened on Saturday night. I don't exactly want to heap praise on Weis for his throughly handcuffed strategy on offense, but he seemed to finally have hit the right notes in regard to what he's always proclaimed as his number 1 credo - "You don't put in more than the quarterback can handle." The Irish were squaring up against one of the toughest defenses in the nation, one that arm-wrestled Brady Quinn to the ground last year before he pulled a magic act in the final minute, so Weis had two choices - A) Force the issue with either Evan Sharpley or Jimmy Clausen at QB (really doesn't matter which one, as they both suffer from the same problems of lacking meaningful minutes prior to this season and holding the ball too damn long), which probably would've lead to game-changing mistakes as it did during the first half of the Purdue game or B) Play grind-out, dink-and-dunk ball, putting the onus on UCLA to seize a tight ball game rather than have opportunities to blow the Irish out early. Weis smartly chose Plan B.

On the flip side, his counterpart Karl Dorrell? "He chose...poorly." Even in the first quarter, with shaky Ben Olsen under center, the Bruins were throwing the ball more than they should have. I get one of UCLA's top two backs was injured and on the shelf, but over the course of the game it didn't matter who was touching the ball - the Bruins were gaining five yards per carry without even trying. Take away the negative rushing yards piled up by the two quarterbacks thanks to Irish sacks, and they were taking a healthy 4.3 yards per rush. And when Olsen twisted his knee on a Tom Zbikowski sack and strip, forcing walk-on third stringer MacLeod Bethel-Thompson into the game? Surely even Dorrell knew the time had come to just tote the rock on the ground for the rest of the game. I mean, on 4th and 1 from inside the Notre Dame 45 you pound it ahead for a new set of downs, not roll the untested, non-scholarship QB on a play-action bootleg...right?

It was a little shocking to be in the stands at the Rose Bowl (fantastic venue, by the way, far more charming and matched with the pageantry of college football than that abomination across town) and watch a win drop into Notre Dame's lap so easily. They accomplished almost nothing of substance on offense. They got saved from a long UCLA touchdown play by a holding penalty, and a big interception on one of the few deep passes attempted thanks to a pass interference call. The second-longest pass completion of the night was thrown by a freshman running back. And who knows what might've been had Karl Dorrell come to his senses and kept his third-stringer away from an energized pass rush led by Maurice Crum? Despite all that, the Irish pulled out the win. There's no point in analyzing all the ways Notre Dame did wrong (only to be saved by the fact that UCLA did worse in just about every way). You ask anybody on an 0-5 team if they'd rather play pretty and lose or play ugly and win, they take the latter every time. Fans of an 0-5 team can't be any different, particularly when the next two weeks will see two Top 10 opponents marching into Notre Dame Stadium.

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