Super Bowl LI blog, part 2

I make it a habit to study the commercials for the Super Bowl, picking out ones that worked and ones that didn’t.  It was interesting watching the commercials this year. I thought they started off relatively weak, then got stronger as the game went on. At halftime, I wrote the following: “Is it sad that one of the best commercials I’ve seen was a local commercial – for Strong Memorial Hospital?” I was not particularly impressed with most of the commercials that had aired up until halftime. They got better in the second half.

So, in the “Best Commercials”…

T-Mobile, several.

Dear God, T-Mobile. It wasn’t one commercial; it was several. Three that stood out, to be more precise. (We’ll ignore the Justin Bieber commercial, because it’s easy to ignore.)

Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg. Whoever thought up this commercial was likely using purple cushy throw pillows, greenery, pot, and a can of bisque. It was absolutely hilarious, with a combination that I don’t think any sane and sober person could have come up with. Well done.

The two that were sort of a play on “Fifty Shades of Gray”, with the pain of penalties for going over data limits (if you’re into that sort of thing)… wow. They grabbed the audience’s attention, and illustrated an advantage the company had over its competition while making fun of it at the same time. You literally could not turn away during the commercials, they were that strong.

T-Mobile, you had the strongest overall showing of the night. You win the internet.

Mr. Clean, “Cleaner of your Dreams”

Speaking of grabbing the audience’s attention… Dayamn, this was an awesome commercial. The language of seduction is a universal one; it was hilarious watching this woman and Mr. Clean clean the house with movements that were decidedly unwholesome. The tagline – “You gotta love a man who cleans” just clinched it. This had me laughing all the way through it; well done!

NFL, “Super Bowl Baby Legends”.

This definitely wins the award for most adorable. Babies dressed as Von Miller, Joe Namath, Bill Belichick (the serious face on that kid was awesome)… ending with a baby walking off, Vince Lombardi-style, with a fedora and trenchcoat. All to the sounds of Chicago’s “You’re The Inspiration”. This was beautiful.

And now, for the last in “Best Commercials”… in this case, I need to talk about four commercials with political overtones, and why two succeeded, and two did not. The four commercials ventured into dangerous territory. Only two got out, and I only put one in the top commercials of the night.

One of the best commercials of the night… … Anheuser-Busch, “Born the Hard Way”.

Anheuser-Busch’s commercial worked beautifully because it was subtle in its message, didn’t overtly preach, never lied or exaggerated to the public, and didn’t forget that, ultimately, you’re supposed to sell the damn product. It basically shows the route that Adolphus Busch took to St. Louis, to meeting with Eberhard Anheuser and creating the beer we know today. There was opposition, some bigotry, but also friendship and success.

Again, it was subtle. The immigration message didn’t preach, didn’t overwhelm, didn’t crowd out the product or the story. It showed positive aspects as well, the welcoming, the friendship. And, ultimately, it both introduced and showcased the product, with a drink shared. It reminded me a great deal of another (non-Super Bowl LI) commercial I approve of, Bacardi’s “Untamable since 1862” commercial, which similarly showed the history and difficulties that company went through.

In short, Anheuser-Busch? Well done. Well done, indeed.

Now, why two other commercials didn’t work. Basically, controversial political messages in commercials succeed if they don’t crowd out the product, don’t preach, and don’t outright lie or exaggerate. If any of these occurs… well, frankly, when that happens, the company involved is making an overt choice to try to court those on one side of the controversy, and alienate those on the other side. In other words, they’re preaching to the converted, and pushing away anyone not. Which, frankly, is the opposite of what you want to do in advertising.

Audi’s commercial about gender inequality could have worked, if the scriptwriters had thought more carefully about what they were saying.   It was frustrating to watch, to be honest. The commercial’s path was about like one of the other soapbox derby racers showcased in the commercial: it went through obstacle after obstacle, then spun out near the end.

Let me explain where things went wrong – other than crowding out the product. Audi’s commercial basically failed because it lied and insulted the public.

The first couple of statements – that her grandfather was worth more than her grandmother, that her father was worth more than her mother – were not going over the line; I thought they were troubling, but not unacceptable. If you understand what marriage is supposed to be, it’s definitely troubling, but it’s not going too far. Then Audi’s commercial came up with this gem of a statement.

“Do I tell her that, despite her education, her drive, her skills, her intelligence, she will automatically be valued as less than every man she ever meets?”

Audi crossed a line with this statement. It’s clear what they’re trying to say. But by saying “less than EVERY man”, that takes the statement into exaggeration to the point of falsehood. And, frankly, the statement itself devalued and insulted both men and women. In a commercial that had to be perfect to get it right, that misstep – that attempt to exaggerate to gain additional effect – completely ruined it.

Afterwards, I replayed the commercial, and muted that one statement. It came out to be a far, far better commercial. I think a more carefully-crafted, nuanced statement there would have done wonders – and would have presented their argument without alienation.

So very close, Audi. But you went too far.

84 Lumber’s commercial with regard to immigration was remarkably tone-deaf. The commercial would not be shown in its entirety – Fox rejected it as too controversial – but, with what was shown, two problems occurred. One, the political message drowned out the product. What was the product, anyway? Was there even a product? The closest I could tell was that 84 Lumber was looking for people to work for their company. And two, the commercial failed some important areas with regard to the message. It was fairly obvious what the child was gathering – red, white, and blue material for an impromptu flag. One of the problems that immigration opponents have had with immigration rallies being held is that, all too often, Mexican flags were flying instead of American ones. (The full version of the commercial, with an imposing wall, was even worse.) In other words, in very important aspects, the commercial was not a reflection of reality, and it backfired. Moreover, to those who oppose illegal immigration, they could watch the video and count, “Okay, in how many ways are they breaking the law?” And, frankly, if you’re attempting to spend upwards of $10 million to lecture the American populace, good luck. Political parties have spent far more than that, and news organizations annually spend far more than that, and haven’t had a lot of luck.

The problem is this. It’s easy to pick a side of an argument and, in the echo chamber that is our lives, think that that is the only ‘legitimate’ view, that anyone who disagrees is somehow defective. The problem with both of these issues is that it is never as simple as black and white, good or bad. Is undocumented immigration a good thing? Ask the undocumented immigrant; ask the American who’s been out of work for months while businesses exploit immigration labor. (Which reminds me… just out of curiosity, how much does 84 Lumber rely on immigration labor? Fun question…) Is equal pay for both genders a good thing? Yes, but there are all sorts of issues with measuring ‘equal’ pay. Do you go by age? Education? Years of experience? Do you factor time off to raise children into account? How do you measure equality? More to the point, how do you enforce equality? It’s much like measuring fairness in any taxation plan: usually, “fairness” is defined by a person as whatever gets them the most money while making someone else pay.

Ultimately, that may have been the problem with the Audi and 84 Lumber commercials. It failed reality checks, and went with extreme straw-man arguments. Because of this, both commercials pushed people away, rather than bring them in. Maybe Audi and 84 Lumber thought that the attention was worth the possibility of pushing potential customers away. That said, that’s a difficult gamble to take. Anheuser-Busch succeeded in delivering their message; with a little more care, Audi could have as well. 84 Lumber… I’m still not sure they had a product they were interested in selling.

As for the fourth in this group… the more I examine it, the more I appreciate it. I’ve heard that the Melissa McCarthy commercial for Kia was political. If so, it’s a beautifully subtle one, and it’s hard to say in which direction it’s pointed. To wit: a conservative would look at the commercial and go, “This is such an incredible portrait of the absurdity of the SJWs,” while supporters of the movements presented would be grateful for the exposure. It’s such an incredible fine line, and Kia played it beautifully.

So. Other commercials, other thoughts.

The second Humpty Dumpty commercial (TurboTax) was better than the first, but it really, REALLY didn’t work.

The Persil ad was a good one; I remember saying at that point, having seen the T-Mobile Snoop Dogg commercial and the Persil commercial back-to-back: “The more you know about science, the more you appreciate the Persil ad. And, apparently, the more you know about weed, the more you appreciate the T-Mobile ad.”

And in other laundry detergents… Tide, with Bradshaw-on-the-loose, was a funny commercial. The horrible and evil part of me wondered, “If they could have gotten OJ Simpson on a work-release to shoot this commercial…”

Sprint… I’ve never seen a company take a disadvantage and try to make it an advantage like Sprint has. And the whole fake-death thing… no. Just no.

The Honda commercial with the yearbooks was pretty cool.

The Wendy’s commercial… if it weren’t for Foreigner, it would have stunk, but the song actually made the commercial work.

The Skittles commercial was one of the best commercials of the first half. I wouldn’t rate it in the top five commercials of the night, but it was quite funny.

Christopher Walken narrating Justin Timberlake for Bai works for the same reason Johnny Cash singing Nine Inch Nails works: Gravitas where you least expect it. Bai absolutely killed it with the commercial.

That said, gravitas isn’t everything. Just ask Morgan Freeman and Turkish Airlines.

Somewhere in the middle on gravitas was John Malkovich for Squarespace. Good commercial, and funny.

The most annoying commercial – and easily the worst commercial of the night of those that actually tried to be a commercial – was Pizza Hut. George Takei, I love you, man, but that was a painfully lame commercial.

KFC? TMI.

It’s interesting watching promos of The Handmaid’s Tale with people who are unfamiliar with the work. All I’ll say is… yikes.

Most of the movies, with two exceptions, made me want to avoid the film. Good visuals, but no plot. The two exceptions… Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and Ghost in the Shell. Guardians is likely to not have much of a plot either, but at least the characters will be fun – which is what the commercial conveyed. Ghost in the Shell… the best way to put it is that it didn’t make me want to avoid the film, but didn’t make me want to watch it either. I’ve seen the anime the movie is based on, and the commercial was trying to evoke that anime for those who’ve seen it.

As for the other Anheuser-Busch commercials… Busch beer was a miss, and the Ghost Spuds commercial was okay, but not great.

Buffalo Wild Wings… As with the Spuds McKenzie commercial, sometimes context helps. It was hilarious, but only if you were familiar with an earlier set of BWW commercials.

Buick? Meh, for the most part, though I would like to point out one thing the Cam Newton pass reminded me of. I went to the same middle and high school as the children of Cowboys quarterback Danny White – not the same grade, but we attended at roughly the same time. One bit of information that went around the school: If you end up visiting their house, do not ask him to throw a pass to you. NFL quarterbacks throw with velocity. If you’re a barely-teenager, it’s going to hurt.

So, that’s my thoughts on the Super Bowl commercials.  There’s at least one more part to this – talk about the Hall of Fame voting.  I will likely give some thoughts on the game itself as well, now that I’ve had some distance.

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Super Bowl LI blog, part 1

What.

Just… what.

This game was beyond crazy. I’m reminded of what hockey coach Herb Brooks once said in between periods of USA v. Finland in 1980, with a gold medal on the line:

“If you lose this game, you’ll take it to your f***ing graves!”

This game… those Falcons players will take to their graves. This game will live in Falcons lore the same way as The Catch lives in Cowboys lore, or the Immaculate Reception lives in Raiders lore, or Wide Right lives in Bills lore. There’s some losses that stay with fans. Not sure what we’ll call this – 25 Down? – but I suspect Falcons fans will call it by more colorful names soon enough.

That said… there were so many times in this game where I wrote “Game over”. When Atlanta scored its second touchdown to go up 14-0. When the pick-six made it 21-0. When a touchdown in the third quarter made it 28-3. When the Patriots kicked a field goal to make it 28-12. (Considering the success rate of a two-point conversion is about 45%? Making both conversions if two touchdowns are scored has odds of about 20%. To me, kicking the field goal was Belichick raising a white flag.)

But… Well… what can you say? The Patriots didn’t give up; the Falcons played not to lose, and lost. Any of a dozen things go another way, and we’re talking about the comeback that almost was. There was at least one Patriots ‘catch’ near the end that hit the ground – one that the Falcons didn’t challenge.

I’ll post on the Hall of Fame vote and the commercials later. But, well… this was a masterful game. I’m still shaking my head over this one.

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An Incomplete Hall of Fame Commentary

I wrote a blog post about the Hall of Fame voting today, and didn’t like most of it.  So, I’ll give the summary of the first two parts:

  • Tim Raines and Andre Dawson were incredible, speedy players, well-suited to the 1980s.  Watching them play, there was no doubt that they were Hall of Famers.
  • Tim Raines was awesome, but underappreciated because he played in Montreal, had drug problems, and wasn’t as good as Rickey Henderson.
  • The Killer B’s – most notably Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell – were great players for the Astros in the 1990s and 2000s.  As with Raines and Dawson, there was no doubt they were Hall of Famers.  (By this point, it should be obvious what the theme of this post was supposed to be.)
  • Jeff Bagwell was a really scary hitter – power, but without recklessness.  If you want some fun, check out his 1994 MVP-year stats, and realize he did that in only 110 games.  He gave a top-notch season’s worth of value in only two-thirds of a season.
  • There were other Killer B’s in their time, including Derek Bell and Lance Berkman.  No one sober ever said these two would be Hall of Famers, though.
  • The Killer B’s with their run production earned the two most awesome nicknames for a stadium ever – and it was the same stadium.  Enron Field (aka Ten-Run Field), renamed to Minute Maid Park (aka the Juice Box).

We now bring you to our regularly scheduled blog post.

With Ivan Rodriguez… the situation is far more complicated, almost fascinating in a way. I lived in the Dallas area in the late 1980s and 1990s, so the Texas Rangers were the ‘local’ team. They had some phenomenal young talent then, talent that made you go “Obvious Hall of Famer” – in particular three players: Ruben Sierra in the late 1980s, and Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez in the early 1990s. I and my teenaged logic wasn’t the only one to think so: Bill James, in his 1994 book, “The Politics of Glory”, predicted Sierra would be elected into the Hall of Fame in 2017, and Gonzalez in 2019.

Well, the Hall of Fame is not going to be calling Sierra or Gonzalez anytime soon. Describing what happened with each of them would take time.  Sierra bulked up in all the wrong ways, and sacrificed the flexibility and speed that had made him so good.  He played in the majors until he was 40, but he was not the same player after about 1992 than he was before. Gonzalez’ career fell off the table once he left for Detroit, and it never recovered; just as Dale Murphy’s career had done a decade earlier, Gonzalez had a brilliant prime, but a bad denouement. He probably should have gotten at least some more love and votes than the 5.2% he received in 2011, but, well, the Hall of Fame voters had seen this trajectory of career before. Ten years of dominance is usually asked for, however, if that is followed by uncharacteristically poor play or injury-riddled play, it is not enough.

Rodriguez, by comparison, had an excellent denouement. He spearheaded the Florida Marlins’ World Series run in 2003 (including an NLCS I’d rather forget), had a fine later career with the Tigers, and stuck around long enough to catch for Steven Strasburg’s debut with the Nationals in 2010.

Overall, Rodriguez is one of those players that wasn’t just good, wasn’t just great, wasn’t even just a Hall of Famer. Put simply, Rodriguez is In The Conversation. You know the type: “Who’s the best catcher of all time?” That kind of conversation. Yogi, Bench, Pudge, or Pudge? Take your pick. With this Pudge, teams learned very quickly not to try to steal bases on Rodriguez’ watch; he led the league in caught stealing percentage nine times in his career, including as late in his career as 2006. (Even at the end of his career, he was still a scary defensive player; catching with the Nationals in 2011, teams tried to steal on him 25 times. Number caught stealing? 13.) He was also a solid producer at the plate, with over 2800 career hits, easily the most all time by a catcher. He was dogged by allegations of steroid use (gee, thanks, Jose Canseco) but it wasn’t enough – and wasn’t substantial enough – to keep him out of the Hall, to keep him from being a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

It is not easy to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The game itself is a capricious one, where one wrong turn of a knee can send a surefire path spiraling out of control. Politics may stretch its ugly hand into the mix one way or another, from Frankie Frisch’s Veterans-Committee shenanigans in the early 1970s to the exclusion of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens for steroid allegations to Curt Schilling’s losing of votes for espousing his political views. As a result, people we always assumed would make it into the Hall sometimes don’t, or sometimes wait longer than they should.  It’s good to see three clearly deserving players enter the Hall.

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Man on the Moon, part 3

A colleague of mine told me what it was like to go to college in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “In the 1980s, liberals and conservatives would argue politics, then go to the same bar. By about 1994, the liberals and conservatives would argue politics, then the liberals would go to one bar, and the conservatives would go to the other.”

Unfortunately, now it isn’t even that. Now it’s “After properly vetting that the people I’m debating with share the same political views as my own, we talk politics, call the other side various nasty names, and go to a bar that matches our political beliefs.”

I wish I was kidding.

Think about the last time you ended up in a political discussion. Chances are, you had it with someone you agreed with politically. If you didn’t agree with them politically, how comfortable were you? How much were you thinking, “If I say the wrong thing, is this person going to make my life hell?”

That, unfortunately, is the problem. Discussion is dead. Case in point: if you voted, unless you had the character fortitude to vote Libertarian or Green (or, if you live in Utah, for McMullin), you either supported a corrupt criminal or a misogynist racist.

Well, not really. The truth is far more nuanced – and therein lies the problem.

People aren’t taught nuance anymore. Nuance is difficult, nuance is dangerous.  Nuance is difficult to report in the news, and just confuses people.  But the world is full of nuance, shades of gray. There are always multiple sides to an issue; to assume that anyone who disagrees with your point of view is a (insert bad name here) is the height of arrogance. The problem is, that’s standard operating procedure anymore – insult anyone you disagree with.

Given my line of work and the people I talk with, I am exposed to people on all aspects of the political spectrum. I’ve talked with thought that Bernie Sanders was a step in the right direction, I’ve talked with people who think Ted Cruz isn’t conservative enough. There are all sorts of ways to view any topic, any area of concern. I listen politely, nod and smile; you’d be surprised how far you can get through life with a nod and a smile.

The problem is, I never really talk with them. Oh, I listen because it’s polite to do so, but I rarely talk with them. So few people are capable of talking with anymore. Oh, they were, once – well, except for those too young to experience what it is like to talk with someone, and have just been inculcated with name-calling – but they willingly gave it up.

See, anyone can open their mouth and make noise. People do that all the time. But to truly talk with someone, you have to listen. You have to hear what others are saying, where they’re coming from, what they’re seeing, what they’re concerned about and fearful of, what their hopes and dreams are. You have to be able to accept that someone else has lived a life different from your own, and that they have, as a result, come to different conclusions. More to the point, that you recognize that, despite your differences, that this is a human being and worthy of respect as a result.

People stopped listening. And, so, people stopped talking, and substituted making noise. I miss talk. Talk was awesome; talk was eye-opening. Talk always showed different ways of viewing a topic.

Talk died somewhere around 2010. Talk was replaced by name-calling; talk was replaced by sabotage. I had “friends” calling for my bodily harm or try to sabotage my career for the sole reason that we disagreed politically. So what mortal sins did I commit to earn such ire? I was Catholic (and, as such, opposed the contraception mandate) and I was an adherent of the University of Chicago School of Economics (which meant supporting just about any political movement that advocated curtailing government spending). These are otherwise-intelligent people who decided to put that aside to elevate their supported political view to demagogue status, who decided that a political view was more important than a friendship.

Either I’m a really lousy friend, or that’s a really poor trade.

Which brings me to the 2016 election. If you lived in an environment like this – where the wrong word said to the wrong person could wreck a career – would you be honest to others with your beliefs? Would you broadcast to everyone what your views were? Or would you be quiet, hold your beliefs in, knowing the likelihood that the person at the other end of the conversation might not have the maturity to deal with it?

More to the point, what would it do to your beliefs? Does name-calling really convince anyone? Does punitive action for a opposition belief really change people’s beliefs for the better – or does it crystallize their opposition?

So, the next time you hear someone give a political viewpoint different from your own, before you react… consider what it is you’re about to say. This is a human being. They have had a different life from your own, and different values from your own. Their beliefs are hard-earned. You, of course, have had your life, and your values, and your hard-earned beliefs. But you might be wrong. They might be wrong. Both of you could be wrong. But all of that is secondary to one simple fact.

That’s a human being there.

Be polite, at least.

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Man on the Moon, part 2

Being a Cubs fan has been a long, strange journey.

Like most sport fandoms, it got its start in childhood, and in circumstance. We are, after all, products not only of place, but of time. I grew up in Eastern Iowa in the early 1980s. This was an odd time, when fully considered; the internet was not yet born, but the computer age had begun. As for television, this was the very early days of cable television, which meant that the options were limited. ESPN existed at that time, but it primarily showed college sports and esoteric sports such as roller derby. HBO existed, and was there for movies; Cinemax existed, but my parents never bought that for our cable package. But, for the most part, cable television consisted of regional stations that sought national audience. Most notable among these were WTBS out of Atlanta, and WGN out of Chicago.

And WGN showed Cubs games – every day.

Well, not every day. It showed almost all the Chicago Cubs games that were available. So, in the summers, during the day, when school was out… Cubs games would be shown. Cubs home games were all during the day then, meaning a child could watch a game from beginning to end without having to worry about bedtime.

And, well… I ended up watching a lot of Cubs games. 1981 happened, and the child I was back then tried to understand the point of a strike; I think I just accepted it and went on. The Cubs were not a good team that year anyway. A group of us went to a doubleheader at Wrigley against the Reds one year; I saw Leon Durham hit a home run, and the second game delayed due to rain tied after 9 innings.

Still… Wrigley. I remember asking my dad for a souvenir, and he bought a copy of the Sporting News for me to read. (It ended up soaked in the rain, unfortunately.) Dads do what dads do; besides, it would have kept me entertained on the bus ride home.

1984 happened, and for the first time, there was a glimmer of hope. Hope is such a remarkable thing, such a magical thing; most people don’t want multiple possibilities; they just want one good one. Sandberg took off as a great player, and the Cubs won the NL East, a remarkable thing in retrospect given the hated Cardinals and a developing Mets team. The NLCS happened, and the Cubs were one win away… and they lose the last three. I remember thinking at one point, “How can you intentionally walk this guy to get to Garvey?” just before Garvey hit a massive hit to break a tie game. (The guy in question was Tony Gwynn, but I digress.)

The 1980s came and almost went… and then came 1989. 1989 also brought hope; a couple of young players named Maddux and Grace had developed into stars, and the Cubs were good again. The Cubs were not as competitive in the NLCS as they were in 1984, but at least they were a good team. I remember saving up to buy a Cubs jersey that year; I’m not sure how often I must have worn that thing at school. (I still have that jersey, by the way, 27 years later.)

Other years came and went; the last vestiges of childhood came and went with them. 1994 just went; the Cubs were bad then anyway. The wild card gave us hope in 1998; granted, running into the Atlanta buzzsaw of Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz wasn’t pleasant, but at least we made the playoffs.

Then there was 2003. Hope, again. It’s a wonderful thing. And again, all we needed was one more win, and we had our best pitchers coming up – Zambrano in Game 5, Prior in Game 6, Wood in Game 7. Surely one of those three could win, right? Right? (This was before I figured out that Dusty Baker, as a disciple of Tommy Lasorda, was not kind to his pitchers, overworking them and shortening their careers.)

I was a grad student by this time, one career (as an engineer) already finished; I was working as a graduate assistant the night of Game 6, running a help session for the first-year MBA students. I arrived at the sports bar just in time to watch Steve Bartman become a household name – an incident I talked about in an earlier post. That was a depressing meal – fried mushrooms for appetizer, some sort of burger and fries. I stayed for about 40 minutes – and watched exactly four outs made. By then, the game was lost.

More years came and went. It didn’t feel like there was much of a chance in 2007 or 2008; not sure why, but it just didn’t feel like the team had enough to win it all yet. I remember crying with joy at Zambrano’s no-hitter in 2008; it was about time something good happened to the club.

Going into 2015, my main thought was, “I wonder how many people are going to be silly enough to bet on the Cubs because of ‘Back to the Future’?” To my mind, they were still rebuilding; it would still be a few more years before Theo Epstein could turn them into winners.

(BTW, Baseball Hall of Fame: Not sure what the rules are for executives, but Theo. Now. Anyone who can bring titles to both the Red Sox and Cubs deserves their own wing in Cooperstown.)

2015 was a surprise, but there wasn’t much hope. I know that may sound odd, but it was more amusement that I felt at their success in 2015. Also, any hope was tempered by an ultracompetitive NL Central, in which the Cubs, Cardinals, and Pirates all finished within 97 to 100 wins. Was awesome seeing the sheer dominance of Jake Arrieta in the second half of the year. The no-hitters were just crazy; pure dominance like that comes around very rarely in baseball.

That said, it was crazy to see 2016 – and see Arrieta as the third-best pitcher on his staff, even though he hadn’t gotten much worse.

2016 was a Big, Heaping Spoonful of Hope. This was a team that seemed ready. This was the year; this was the time. Even something like Kyle Schwarber’s injury couldn’t stop the Cubs this year. They weren’t just winning; they were dominating. I remember the run differential being absolutely through the roof as early as May. Kris Bryant was just insane; the starting pitching solidified. Late June and early July worried me a bit, but they righted the ship after the All-Star Break, and comfortably won the division with 103 wins.

Which, of course, left the playoffs.

The division series against San Francisco was weird – though the comeback in Game 4 was incredibly gratifying. It’s easy to trip up in the playoffs. Any Cubs fan could tell you how. I think every Cubs fan was dreading going for a 5th game against San Francisco… the last thing Cubs fans wanted was an elimination game… and then they came back, so gritty, so ugly, but so beautiful.

From there, the playoffs had an odd theme: The longer a series went, the better they got. I remember the Cubs looking so outclassed in Games 2 and 3. By games 5 and 6, though, those pitchers that had so stymied the Cubs – in particular Kershaw – looked mortal, vulnerable.

Which brings me to the World Series. Another game, another sports bar, another night of being completely disgusted with the Cubs’ performance. Kluber was just that good in game 1; he made the Cubs look silly at the plate.

I need to stop going to sports bars to watch Cubs games.

By game 4, I think I’d gotten to the “Acceptance” part of Kubler-Ross’ Stages of Grief. It had been a good year, with great highlights and memories, but this is a game designed to break your heart. It’s been a good year. I didn’t talk about next year, because next year might suck.

And, yet… things happened. Lester was given a lead in Game 5, and Chapman held on to it. Game 6 was a demolition.

Which all led to Game 7.

How does one describe watching a game 7 for a team that hasn’t won a World Series in 108 years? Tense. There was no way to relax. Even with Russell’s opening homer, there could be no relaxation, no rest.

The other shoe was going to drop. The other shoe always drops. The ball goes through Leon Durham’s legs or Alex Gonzalez makes an error or something.

Which led to me writing down another rule for sports. Call it Tretiak’s Rule: When your lights-out defensive player wobbles a bit, you don’t necessarily have to take him out because of it – especially when your opponent fears him more than his replacement. (Named after Vladislav Tretiak, the starting goalie for the Soviet Red Army team in the 1970s and 1980s. If you don’t know why… watch the movie “Miracle”. Better yet, find a film of the actual game. It’s awesome.) Maddon broke Tretiak’s Rule twice – first to remove Hendricks for Lester after 4-2/3 (and how much of a dick move was that, considering at the time it was costing Hendricks a chance at a win?) then later removing Lester for Chapman.

That said… there was a lot of weirdness in the game. David Ross hitting a home run – in his final game – when his first career homer came off of Mark Grace – was just icing on the weirdness cake. Things could not – would not – be normal in this game.

When Rajai Davis tied it up in the 8th, I felt physically ill. Here it was coming again – another collapse. Chapman managed to extricate himself from the 8th, and efficiently got out of the 9th, but you could feel doom coming like a chill wind off the Cuyahoga.

And then, well… it rained. The rain delay was a bit of gallows humor to the whole affair. Maybe God wasn’t going to allow either team to win. Maybe the rain would not stop, or Judgment Day had come, or something.

Which, of course, led to extra innings.

The 10th… at what point do you dare hope? I remember shouting as Zobrist’s hit came through, and Montero scored an all-important insurance run.

The bottom of the 10th did not help matters. Granted the thoughts were, “One out….. Two outs… come on………. DAMMIT!” That’s how the bottom of the 10th went. When Davis – again this guy Davis – singled to drive in a run, I really began to fear. The winning run was at the plate. One wrong pitch and….

… and a dribbler between the pitcher’s mound and the third-base line. Bryant scoops it up – oh dear lord there’s so many ways this play can go wrong – he throws it….

And the last out is made.

There is no joy at this point. Joy has left for a day or two, only coming back slowly over time. Relief, however, is moving in for awhile. And that’s all that really can be felt – an overwhelming sense of relief. They’d finally done it. Finally.

And… to quote Joe Maddon, “They Did Not Suck”.

Thank God.

This doesn’t feel like the championships I’ve experienced in the past. The ones I’ll claim and claim to have savored are the Cowboys’ run in the 1990s, and the Stars in 1999. That (especially the Stars win, which occurred in overtime) felt like instant gratification; I enjoyed it immediately, and have enjoyed it for weeks afterwards. This one, on the other hand, creeps slowly in, a small realization that yes, sometimes good things do happen.

The World Champion Chicago Cubs. It has a nice ring to it.

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Man on the Moon, part 1 of 3

“The unthinkable had happened. A man had stepped on the moon earlier that summer and for New Yorkers it was hard to say which was the greater miracle.”

— Ken Burns, “Baseball”.

 

Sometimes life forces us to step away from things for awhile. I had to step away from this blog for awhile because demands of work and life had taken my time. That said, sometimes the extraordinary happens, and calls us back.

 

In the span of a week, two remarkable events occurred, one that for years I’d feared was impossible, and one that I would never have predicted in a million years – the Cubs winning the World Series, and Donald Trump being elected President.  I will be addressing both of those in parts 2 and 3 of this entry, over the next few days.

 

I should write about other things at some point. My faith has been somewhat restored. I stayed away from the Church for awhile – about a year or two. I came back early this year. Some of the anger had faded away, even if the source of my objection had not. Also… what I found was that it was never about the person speaking behind the altar. It was about the person hanging above the altar. That realization helped things immensely. Things are not completely healed, but they are healing, and that’s what’s important.

 

I read my last post, dated April 2015; the beauty of reading such words so far from when they were first written is that it sometimes feels like a stranger wrote them. That’s the way of things; we change, we grow. I do love those words, though, and some of what I intend to write in the next few days will expand and address what was written there.

 

Until then, be well, take care, and God bless.

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Middle Ground

Recent events have me thinking of the following passage of Scripture:

“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophesy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

– 1 Corinthians 4:1-8

Once upon a time, it was fairly straightforward to talk with those with different beliefs from my own. There was an understanding there, that we were all human beings, and that, no matter what our beliefs and opinions were, that inherent humanity demanded respect above any of our beliefs.

What I didn’t realize – and didn’t appreciate, until far too late – was just how much of a beautiful act of love this was. To be respectful of others, to discuss issues with other people, to bring your own beliefs to the table and listen to the beliefs of others without any form of condemnation… that is patience. That is kindness. That is not pomp or inflation or rudeness. It strives for higher interests than the individual; it strives for the growth of all involved. By removing the possibility of sanction for belief, it does not brood over injury. It rejoices with the truth, even if the truth is, “We see things differently.”

The reason for this can be summed up in one simple fact: We are human. We might be wrong.

To force our beliefs on others in any way, when we might be wrong, is to disrespect that other human being as a human being. It is to say, “I clearly know more than you, so you are defective as a human being. You are lesser than I, and deserve to be punished until you have realized the error of your ways.” Can you imagine an act more pompous, more jealous, more impatient, more unkind, more rude, more self-serving, more brooding, more contemptuous of the truth? We all have had different experiences and were wired with different nervous systems; we all have gone down different paths to get to our final location. To claim to hold All Truth without the patience that we truly see things imperfectly and incompletely is the height of arrogance.

I have tried to keep that middle ground, that place where people of all beliefs may converse without fear of reprisal. I’ve felt that middle ground eroding so much over the years; there isn’t much left, to my sorrow. But if we are to heal things in this world, this middle ground, this gathering place of all ideas, is where we must begin.

Because it is in that middle ground where both love and truth thrive.

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Super Bowl Commercial Review!

As promised, here’s the Super Bowl commercial review.  I had to go back and re-watch some of the commercials; to be honest, I’m glad I did. I thought in general that the commercials were better this year than last; so many of last year’s commercials felt halfhearted. So overall I was much more pleased with the crop of commercials this year’s Super Bowl ran.

The good:

Clash of Clans: Getting Liam Neeson to go full “Taken” because he’d lost at the game? Beautiful. If you’re going to spend that kind of money promoting a cel phone game as though it were a life-or-death struggle, go whole hog, and get the best.

Dodge: Wisdom. This is one that actually made me angry during the Super Bowl, because I couldn’t hear it! I’m glad I went back and watched it again. Good advice, good work. Well done.

Toyota: My Bold Dad. There were multiple Dad commercials; this one worked best, and hit hardest.

Chevy Super Bowl Blackout. How many people freaked out at that moment?

TurboTax Boston Tea Party, Snickers Brady Bunch. Both had me laughing.

The bad:

Skittles. Okay, so everyone has a huge arm because they armwrestle over Skittles. I get it. Yay. Now come up with something that makes me want to buy your product.

McDonald’s. Pay with Lovin’. Way too contrived; way too artificial.

Carnival Cruises. With Carnival, they were trying for the same down-to-earth vibe that made the Paul Harvey “God Made a Farmer” Dodge Ram commercial so good. Unfortunately, the cruises themselves are as far from ‘down-to-earth’ as you can get. The subject, combined with the play, made for a messy, jarring fail.

Coca-Cola. The Coca-Cola ad felt like a “Just say NO to Drugs” ad – fluffy, but so unrealistic as to be offensive. A better way of handling it? Try a modern version of the feel-good ad that worked for Coca-Cola. Imagine if that spill caused “I’d like to teach the world to sing” to go across the internet…

Loctite: Some things are just bowls of fail. This felt like “Hey, I just wasted $4.5 million!”

There was an ad for some medicine that failed even worse than Loctite; it says something that I can’t even remember its name.

The ‘meh’:

Budweiser. Budweiser is usually fairly strong; I thought the lost dog story was weak compared to earlier offerings.

The ‘almost!’:

The two that get the ‘almost!’ award share several characteristics. I thought both were well done, and have a far higher opinion of the first one than most others; however, both were not done perfectly, in cases where they needed to be perfect.

Nationwide: Boy Can’t Grow Up. I’ll be honest; this was almost perfect. I realize some people hated it. However, Nationwide would have had a winner if they’d omitted one thing: the announcer’s voice.

Consider the play-by-play. Boy has 30 seconds of beautiful, almost giggleworthy adventure. And then, the boy crushes all of it by saying, “I couldn’t grow up – because I died from an accident.”

At that moment, it was perfect. If they’d said nothing else, and just showed the visuals – the bathtub, the open door under the sink, the fallen television, and then the website at the end – it would have been the most awesome thing ever. It would have kicked your ass, and you would have been grateful for it. If they wanted some audio, they should have started with something like the opening of Barber’s Adagio with Strings; don’t do anything to spoil the moment.

But what happens? Julia Roberts comes on as the announcer. “At Nationwide… “ And, because of that intrusion, all of this drama seems like a cheap money grab. If they’d just shut up and let the visuals speak for them, it would have worked. But they had to intrude with an announcer, and it ripped the mood to shreds.

Just for experiment, watch the commercial again, except this time hit mute once the bathtub shows up. You’ll find it’s a far better commercial.

Always: Like A Girl. The “Like A Girl” commercial stumbles for the same reason that I can’t play poker for anything other than real money. There is a difference between playing poker for M&Ms, and playing poker when real cash money is on the line. When it’s just for fun, I do stupid stuff when playing poker, I’ll take silly gambles, because it’s not the real thing. The same phenomenon occurs here. Asking the girls on the sound stage to ‘throw like a girl’ or ‘run like a girl’ was not the real thing, and that is why it failed; while spirited, which I think was what the commercial was trying to do, it looked awkward, and almost as bad as what the non-girls pantomimed. The one smart case was the girl who DID run around the sound stage when asked to ‘run like a girl’. If they really, REALLY wanted to get this done right, here’s what they should have done: Ask for the non-girls to pantomime, then show girls actually performing those acts. After the boys pantomime ‘throwing like a girl’, they should have shown girls throwing a baseball; after the boys pantomime fighting like a girl, show a girl performing karate. That would have driven the point home far better than asking the girls for more pantomime.

Again, overall I felt that the commercials this year were stronger than last. Some I didn’t mention or talk about because there wasn’t much point; others (such as the Sketchers Pete Rose spot) barely missed the cut.  But they were good commercials for the most part, and made a distasteful game better to watch.

Super Bowl review, part 1

Watching this game was like watching two demons fight over Hell. After the ball-deflating issue, you would think that there would be reason to root for the Seahawks, or at least against the Patriots. Problem was, the Seahawks’ play reminded me of a recurring joke told in the old Fat Albert cartoons. “You’re like school on Saturday… no class.” Which actually explains a lot about the NFL.

The end had me wondering if Pete Carroll had studied his NFL history a bit too much. Situation: 2nd and goal from the 1, roughly 25 seconds left, down by 4, in the NFL championship game. There is an analogy that closely fits this situation, but not exactly: the Ice Bowl. The Ice Bowl had its differences (Packers were down by 3 at that point, and it was 3rd and goal with 16 seconds left, and had no timeouts), and it’s those differences that affect the decision.

Here’s the thing: Lombardi letting Starr run it in the Ice Bowl? If it didn’t work, the Cowboys win. Running the ball was considered the LAST thing anyone would do; you either go for a pass attempt (what Landry was expecting), or you kick the field goal for a tie. The run was considered the worst possible play call you could possibly make in that situation, and it worked because no one was expecting it.

By comparison, the pass was considered the worst possible play call for the Seahawks’ situation (other than something royally stupid, like kicking a field goal when down by 4). For all Carroll’s dissembling post-game, he was right about the Patriots lined up for the run.  The run was also a good idea, as Carroll still had one time out left, and one of the league’s best rushers in Marshawn Lynch.  So, like Lombardi and Starr, Carroll went for the least-likely play; unlike Lombardi and Starr, Carroll’s gamble didn’t work.  Had it worked, we would be having a very different conversation, perhaps about Carroll being one of the great coaching geniuses of our time.

Excuse me.  I think I threw up a bit typing those words.

Anyway, that’s all I wish to say on the game itself.  I do intend to give my thoughts on the commercials (hey, it’s what’s most important to Goodell!) once I’ve re-reviewed them. I normally take notes on the commercials, but was distracted this year.  A few re-reviews have shown the importance of audio; not clearly hearing the words affected my view of more than a couple of the commercials.

Oh, and the password-protected post from before? I’d made a fountain pen for someone, and wanted to show a few people before sending. I would have made a full public post about it, but couldn’t come up with good content for it at the time.  I may have to edit it later for general purview; I think it’s really good work but, like I said, I couldn’t come up with good content to go with it at the time.

Protected: Fountain Pen

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