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Archive for November, 2006

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The Best Football Game Ever

Monday, November 6th, 2006

As a member/alumnus of marching bands since 1983, I’ve been to a lot of football games. In fact, having just attended my fourth game in three weeks, I started adding it up: 36 high school games, 40 college games, 1 high school homecoming game (the year after I graduated), 15 college homecoming games since graduation, and 3 NFL games (including 2 in the last 3 weeks). That makes 95 football games that I’ve seen live. And this coming from a diehard baseball fan.

At any rate, given my rather extensive experience with live football, it should carry some amount of weight when I say that the Penn vs. Princeton game on 11/4/06 was the single most exciting football game I’ve ever seen. For those who missed it, here’s a recap:

Some Context: The game was at Princeton, but was during their Fall Break (a 3-4 day weekend in the middle of the Fall Semester that most students use as an opportunity to go home and visit family, friends, etc.). So there weren’t a lot of Princeton fans at the game. For Penn students, on the other hand, the game fell during an activity known as The Line, in which students participate in a 24 hour ritual that culminates in them being able to purchase season tickets for the upcoming Men’s Basketball season. Since “The Line” included a trip to the Princeton football game this year, there were several hundred Penn students at the game (in addition to the “normal” crowd that bought tickets on their own). The point is: lots of very excited Penn students were at the game.

The First 3.5 Quarters: Ho hum. The Penn placekicker actually made a field goal, which is exciting only in the sense that he doesn’t do that very often (Penn lost the previous two games in overtime, principally because the other team was able to kick a field goal in overtime, and Penn couldn’t reciprocate from, well, anywhere on the field).

The Fourth Quarter: OK, here’s where it gets really good. With roughly six minutes left in the game, Penn is down by 7 points, 24-17, and has the ball deep in their own territory. They complete a couple of long passes and make it to around mid-field. Excitement is building in the (let’s just call it “well lubricated”) crowd, as the potential to save the game becomes evident. On a running play around mid-field, Princeton makes an open-field tackle, strips the ball, and recovers the fumble. Dejection sets in amongst the crowd. But, alas, hope is not lost. Princeton goes 3 & out, and punts with roughly two minutes left to play. Penn once again has the ball deep in their own territory. The band plays some inspirational college fight songs. The team begins to move the ball. The crowd re-engages. With 49 seconds left in the game, Penn completes a long pass down to the Princeton 5-yard line. The crowd goes nuts! But wait! They’re supposed to stop the clock while they move the first down markers and they haven’t! By the time Penn lines up at scrimmage, the clock reads ~20 seconds! The players protest. The ref blows a whistle and has the time added back to the clock. The crowd goes nuts again! On the next play, Penn runs the ball into the endzone. Touchdown! Now for the extra point. Remember, as I discussed earlier, this is no foregone conclusion. But, in this case, luck prevails, and the kick is straight & long. Tie game! 24-24! Penn’s third overtime in three weeks. The crowd, well, you know…

Overtime, Part 1: For those who don’t know, college football has some very strange overtime rules. Rather than playing another 15 minutes, or playing until someone scores (“sudden death”), each team gets the ball at the opposing team’s 35 yard line. If one team scores more than the other, they win. If they both fail to score, or they both score the same number of points (e.g., two field goals), then the two teams each get another shot. This continues until both teams have had equal opportunities from the 35, and someone has more points.

In this case, Penn got the first shot. Now, remember, Penn is sorely lacking in the kicking department, so a game of field goals is a distinct disadvantage. Starting from the 35-yard line, Penn makes a first down (to near the 20), but fails to make another one. On fourth down, still around the 20-yard line, the field goal unit comes out. The crowd is excited, but cautious. The center snaps the ball to the holder, who bobbles it, and can’t get it down in time for the kick! He picks it up and starts running, tries several laterals, but in the end, Penn doesn’t score. Dejection once again sets in among the crowd.

Now, it’s Princeton’s turn. From the 35, they also get a first down, and eventually work their way to a fourth down situation. Their field goal unit takes their place. If he puts in this (fairly short) field goal, Penn would lose their third straight overtime game, in precisely the same fashion (botched field goal vs. good field goal). The crowd is screaming “Block that kick! Block that kick!” The snap is good, the center holds, and OH MY GOD, THEY ACTUALLY BLOCKED THE KICK! WE’RE STILL IN THIS! HOLY S(%&^(T!!!.

Overtime, Part 2: This time, Princeton starts with the ball, again at the 35-yard line. The first play results in a 10-yard penalty against Princeton, putting them back to the 45. The second play is a passing play, but Penn sacks the quarterback, putting them past mid-field. The Penn crowd, still celebrating from the near-death experience of the blocked field goal, is in an alcohol/football induced frenzy. Princeton’s next play is a long pass, caught on the Penn 2-yard line.

You could hear a pin drop.

So, first and goal from the two. Princeton tries three hand-offs up the middle, trying to jump over the defense for the touchdown, and fails three times. By the third time, the Penn crowd is screaming again. On fourth down, they decide to go for the touchdown, rather than kick a field goal. More screaming from the crowd. The ball is snapped, the hand-off is made, the runner jumps….and is hit by the defense at the line of scrimmage! No touchdown! The crowd screams! But wait – he landed on his feet after the collision and isn’t down yet! He laterals to someone in the backfield (maybe the quarterback? I don’t remember…), who runs around the entire pile, and scores easily. Now the (few) Princeton fans are celebrating, while the Penn crowd shouts obscenities at the referees for not whistling the play dead after the first hit. The refs ignore the fans, the Princeton kicker adds the extra point, and the score is Princeton 31, Penn 24.

Penn has one more shot, but the crowd is somewhere between fuming and gathering their stuff up to board the bus back to Philadelphia. Penn has the ball at the 35-yard line again. The first play from scrimmage is a 35-yard pass into the corner of the endzone, which the Penn receiver catches in full stride. Touchdown, Penn! OH MY GOD, WE’RE STILL IN THIS! HOLY S(%&^(T!!!.

Time once again for the extra point. The center snaps the ball, but this one hardly makes it to the holder on a fly. He doesn’t even have time to try and place the ball. So, once again, he’s up and running, this time to WIN the game, trying laterals when he runs out of room. Eventually, someone winds up with the ball and breaks around the sideline, headed for the endzone. The crowd, inexplicably, seems to be screaming and holding it’s breath at the same time. The Princeton defense approaches and knocks the guy out of bounds at the 2-yard line. In a last, desperate attempt, the Penn player fumbles the ball forward, hoping one of his teammates will recover it in the endzone, but it too, goes out of bounds just before the goal line.

Game over. Final score: Princeton 31, Penn 30.

It was Penn’s third overtime loss in three games, an NCAA record. ESPN’s SportsCenter listed the end of the game as #1 on its “Top 10 Plays of the Day,” quite an accomplishment for an Ivy League game.

As a band member and fan, I can’t imagine it getting any more exciting than that (except, possibly, for my team actually winning the game). Maybe if I watch another 95 games…

Categories: Sports Talk, University of Pennsylvania | No Comments »

Penn President Trick is no Treat

Sunday, November 5th, 2006

Dr. Amy Guttman, President of the University of Pennsylvania, who is Jewish and the child of holacaust-era parents, hosted her annual Halloween party last week for roughly 700 students. At the party, one of the students, Saad Saadi, dressed up as a suicide bomber, had his picture taken with Dr. Guttman, and then posted it on his personal website. He also posted other pictures of himself conducting mock hostage executions, etc. with other students.

Stupid? Maybe. Funny? Not really (although I’ll give him props for using uncooked hot dogs as the dynamite sticks). Bad Taste? Most definitely. International news? Ugh…here we go again.

The Jerusalem Post found the picture and ran a story about it. The Drudge Report linked to the story. Dr. Guttman posted a response on Penn’s website, as did Saadi on his personal page. Both of the principle actors seem to be keeping level heads about it:

Dr. Guttman:

The costume is clearly offensive and I was offended by it. . . . The student had the right to wear the costume just as I, and others, have a right to criticize his wearing of it.

Saadi:

We wish to make it clear that we do not support terrorism, violence, or anything that is against society. . . . The costumes are meant to portray scary characters much like many other costumes on Halloween. We are deeply sorry for anyone who has been hurt or upset.

He might have gone on to say, “and I didn’t realize anyone outside my circle of friends would find out about it.” So, since college is all about learning, I think we can safely say that Saadi learned a few things this past Halloween:

Lesson #1: There is no “just between us” in a public place. If a picture is taken these days, you almost need to assume that it’s going to be seen by everyone in the world. Casual, stupid humor has consequences that it didn’t have, say, when I was in college. That’s not to say you should refrain, but you’ve got to be aware of the consequences of your actions.

Lesson #2: People are wound very tightly about certain subjects. One would think the concept of a “costume” would be well understood by most rational adults in the world. The guy dressed as a flasher isn’t condoing sexual harrassment, the woman dressed as a stripper/prostitute isn’t really willing to take her clothes off for money, and the folks with sheets over their heads aren’t dead, nor are they advocating certain religious beliefs about the afterworld. In fact, if you wanted to make a political statement by altering your clothing, Halloween is the worst possible day to do it, since your message would be obscured amongst all the revellers. That said, there are people in the world, particularly people who strive to sell advertising on TV and in newspapers, who seek out opportunities to point out offensive activities to others. By doing so, they draw more attention to the supposedly offensive thing than it would otherwise have received, and weaken their own (stated) goals.

So, to sum up: Saad Saadi – quite a fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into. Rest of the world – lighten up, it was just a costume…

Categories: Political Rantings, University of Pennsylvania | No Comments »

Local Economic Indicators

Friday, November 3rd, 2006

I so rarely have a camera with me when I drive around my neighborhood. On Tuesday, though, while shuttling the kids between various Halloween-related events, I did. And so you all get to see what I see on my way to the train station every morning:



(click on the image for a larger view)

The station on the right closed down during the summer, but they never took the sign down. The station on the left is still open. And so I have a constant reminder about the “Fall fall” of 2006 for gas prices.

80 cents and counting for a gallon of regular gas…

Categories: Money Talk | No Comments »

Oops, He Did it Again (and again and again…)

Thursday, November 2nd, 2006

Much has been made of this already, but let me just add one small point: I don’t believe for a second that John Kerry thinks our troops are dumb. Nor do I believe that he has anything but the deepest respect for those in uniform, especially given his own military history. It seems clear to me that he meant to say one thing and said another, and it earned him some justifiable embarrassment in a “Gotcha!” sort of way.
If he ever laughed at a George W. Bush clip (“Fool me once, um…er….you can’t fool me again”), then we can chalk it up to karmic balance and move on.

But there’s still something that bugs me about the whole thing, and it’s this:

Here’s what Kerry actually said:

You know, education, if you make the most of it, and you study hard, and you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.

Ouch. Now, here’s what he intended to say, as per his prepared remarks:

Do you know where you end up if you don’t study, if you aren’t smart, if you’re intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush.

So rather than implying that our troops are dumb, what he meant to do was to jokingly imply that our President is dumb (not to mention irresponsible and lazy). I can just imagine him reviewing his prepared remarks for the California speech and telling the speech writer, “it’s a little dry – how about we start with this, move that to the end, and insert a one-liner calling Bush a moron right there? Great, perfect. Thanks.”

This kind of thing bugs me every time I see it. Bush, like all prominent politicians, has what I like to call a “Late Night TV Caricature,” that of a simpleton and/or bad public speaker. Al Gore had “stiff,” Bill Clinton has “slick,” Dan Quayle had “stupid,” Ronald Reagan had “forgetful,” and the list goes on. These memes made for some funny talk show monologues and Saturday Night Live skits, all of which were generally in good fun, even if they seemed a little bit mean at the time. Either way, they were delivered by comedians on television shows that were intended to be funny.

More recently, the line has begun to blur. We’ve got shows like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and Real Time with Bill Maher, which toe the line between news and entertainment. There’s enough real content in them that when they refer to Bush as stupid, some folks start believing it, rather than writing it off as a joke, or at least the opinion of a single talk show host. We also have actual candidates/politicians who appear on these shows, and attempt to fit in by trading quips with the host (if I see one more presidential candidate appear on Letterman with their own Top Ten list…) In the end, though, these shows are still just entertainment vehicles and on their own, probably don’t do too much damage. For example, had Kerry made the above statement while appearing on The Tonight Show, it probably would have passed without comment. “Time and place” and all that…

But that’s not what happened. This was a sitting senator, a former (perhaps future?) presidential candidate, and arguably the most prominent member of a major political party, telling jokes at a campaign appearance on behalf of a congressional candidate.

What makes him think this is a time for jokes (botched or otherwise)? The best case scenario for this kind of thing is a cheap laugh from the crowd. The worst case is a national political incident, a distraction from his message (or, in this case, the message of the candidate he’s stumping for), and another small bite out of whatever’s left of the respect people have for the office of the President. It also reinforces the theory that John Kerry has absolutely nothing to say about himself or his party, and can only ask for our vote by telling us how terrible the other side is.

And don’t get me started on the whole, “I was against an apology before I was for it” bit…

Stick to governing, Senator, and leave the jokes to the professionals, OK?

Categories: Political Rantings | No Comments »

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