Best Place to Find Low Prices - Discontinued Gear

Saturday, August 15, 2009

My Taste in Sports - The Basis For All I Know

October 2, 1992 is the day that caused the greatest impact on my taste in sports. That was the day Disney released a little movie called The Mighty Ducks. Although we did not see it that day, we did make it to the theater opening weekend.
I do not recall wanting to see the movie that badly. All that I can remember clearly is that we thought it looked funny and it was released as a double feature with Captain Ron at one of the local theaters (I believe it was the one on Merle Hay which is now Nova). I know Captain Ron was something my mom wanted to see because she was a huge Kurt Russell fan. Two movies for the price of one was enough to convince my dad to take us.

TMD was not my first exposure to hockey. I had played thousands of games of Blades of Steel on the old school Nintendo, although it was more boxing than hockey. We had driven by Buccaneer Arena millions of times, but we never went inside. The 1991 NHL expansion to San Jose also caught my attention due to the Sharks' flashy colors. Still, I had pretty much no knowledge of hockey in the fall of 1992.

I was not sure what to expect of the movie, but was quickly drawn in by the characters because they were similar to me. Not only were they about the same age (Pee Wee hockey is 11-12 and I was 13), but they were notably nonathletic and out of shape for the most part. The fact that the movie was set in nearby Minnesota rather than New York, Boston, or Los Angeles made it even more relative. The team's star sharing my name was awesome. Emilio Estevez (Young Guns, YG 2, & Men at Work were some of my favorite movies then) as Coach Gordon Bombay was icing on the cake.

I left the theater hooked on hockey. I begged for ice skating and hockey lessons to no avail. I began to search the TV for it and caught as many games as I could. Despite early leanings towards San Jose, a favorite team began to emerge in the Detroit Redwings. My choice came from an unlikely source, Ferris Bueller's Day Off (still one of my all time Top 5). Cameron wears a Gordie Howe jersey throughout the film; I recognized the logo on the ice. The flashy play of the Russian Five soon cemented my love for the Wings.

Sometime between Christmas and Spring Break of my eighth grade year I got my first pair of inline skates and my first street hockey stick. The skates came from Walmart and were black with plastic straps and buckles instead of laces. They had teal wheels and buckles; the trim was purple. My stick was made by Franklin. It was a black wooden shaft with a purple plastic blade. I picked up a lefty and it just felt correct.
My brother and neighbors also got inline skates and street hockey sticks. Their dad made goals out of plumbing PVC pipe. Being on a flat dead-end street that was not connected to a high traffic route had its biggest advantage when we wanted to play. We could set the goals up in the middle of the road without worry. Games of 4 on 4 became regular occurrences for the next two years.

In high school I started acquiring NHL jerseys. My very first was a white Sharks replica. I bought it at Harrison's in Southridge mall (although it might have been Sports Page at that time). It was one of the early CCM replicas and was actually made by Sports Maska; the CCM logo was vinyl and eventually pealed off. My next jersey was a red Florida Panthers, also made by Sports Maska/CCM. Venture (now a Home Depot) carried CCM replicas for a while and a I picked up a blue Toronto jersey for almost half of what I paid for the other two. Throughout high school I continued buying jerseys. CCM began making their own with twill CCM logos sewn on just like the professionals. Starter also got into the jersey business and I bought many of their products. Oddly I did not have my first Redwings jersey until my junior year when my brother sent me one after moving to Detroit. By graduation my collection included: 2 Sharks (white & teal), Panthers (red), 2 Redwings (both white, one was a Fedorov jersey), Canadians (red), Toronto (blue), Capitals (blue), Stars (black), Sabres (black), Ducks (purple), Coyotes (white), Blackhawks (black), Lightning (black, dad bought in Tampa), and Avalanche (mom picked it up in Denver during the Western Conference Finals in 1996; probably why the Wings lost).*

We would all don our jerseys to play street hockey. Over time we switched from rollerblade wrist guards to Franklin and Mylec street hockey gloves. We all picked up inexpensive new Cooper helmets from Play It Again Sports; they were little more than a thin layer of compressed foam under an even thinner plastic shell, but they looked like real hockey helmets. I tore through the plastic blades like they were butter and upgraded to better quality skates.

As I earned money during my freshman year, I bought better equipment. I got some low end Easton gloves and a few Titan wood sticks. I sold my general purpose inline skates to buy Franklin roller hockey skates. Everything about them mirrored CCM ice hockey skates from the materials and colors to the design and laces. I also made new friends that were really into hockey and joined their self-made league.

I was put on the "Disgruntled Postal Workers," a team consisting mostly of juniors and seniors with a couple of younger brothers. Our jersey color was blue (I wore my Caps) and many guys managed to get a hold of US Postal Worker hats which they wore during the games (helmets were a no-no). Our goalie lacked a proper mask and I happened to have one that I picked up for our street games. It was red and patterned like the Canadians jersey; Patrick Roy's name and famous 33 decorated it. It was inexpensive and designed to withstand street hockey ball and roller puck impacts. But it looked almost exactly like his on-ice mask. After a few games the graphics were gone and we decided it needed to be redecorated. I painted it silver and the goalie added the post office's eagle logo to its sides and a red sunburst to the top. It was awesome.

As I was thin at this point, I was speedy and confident with the ball/puck. I loved playing left wing and was the top choice since I was one of the only lefties on the team. We had two "rinks." One was inside of a church; it had a combination gym/cafeteria with office-style thin carpet. The carpet provided an interesting texture and more ice hockey-like surface. It was slightly longer than a standard basketball court and was lined, so we had room to play behind the net and knew where the goal line and face off spot were. Best of all, the kitchen had two large serving windows which proved to be awesome benches for line changes. The other, which we utilized more, was the large and flat parking lot of a church on a side street.

Since most of the original Postal Workers graduated, we decided a rebrand was in order for my senior year. Adopting black and red as our new colors, we rechristened the team "The Bitchin' Buffaloes." Of course, I wore my fresh new Sabres jersey. I also started playing center more frequently as we lost both of ours.

Our goalie had also graduated and my brother volunteered to step in. Whereas I had lost weight he had gained, earning him the nickname "Pillsbury Doughboy." I bought him new Franklin street hockey goalie pads and new goalie mask. We originally intended to paint a giant bison on his mask, but that proved to be too hard. Instead we painted a giant silver Pillsbury doughboy with evil red eyes dubbed "Doughboy from Hell" and "hee, hee" was painted on the sides. Goalies were not required to wear skates, which suited him just fine.

Upfront, we were solid with juniors and seniors. Unfortunately, their forwards were also older and included a Junior Buc player. Doughboy was not as good as his rival for the rabid penguins, Twinkie. Twinkie was a sophomore at the time and sported a custom mask in maroon and gold. He was the first goalie that provided a real scoring challenge for me.**

I do not know for sure how long the roller hockey league lasted after I graduated. All I know for sure is that it was no longer then by the time my brother was a junior. After high school, my taste is sports would evolve once more...

Continue to Part 7

*My favorite senior pictures are in my Avs jersey. It just looks great on me in those pics; they are the only pics that really look like me. Since high school I added: Thrashers (white), 2 Redwings (red and a black RBK Chelios practice jersey), Sharks (newer teal), Iowa Stars (green first year), Iowa Chops (white), DM Bucs (red & blue, last year with old logo), USA (blue 1998 Olympics), ISU (white), and Minn Gophers (white). I still have and wear some of these jerseys in public. A few have been tossed into my hockey bag and others have gone to garage sales.
** Sadly Twinkie and the Junior Buc player died in a car accident a few years later. Both were really good guys.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Landon Donovan

I am not a Landon Donovan fan. I think he is a cocky, arrogant prick that chooses to play in MLS because his ego cannot stand being an average player in Europe. The Beckham Experiment demonstrated how much he hates being second fiddle to David Beckham in LA. Although I respect his contributions to the US National Team, I can hardly stomach the Pauly Shore looking, high-nasal voiced jerk.
When I watched the US vs Mexico game the other day, I was extremely pissed at Landycakes. For the whole game he looked like he was phoning it in. He totally looked like he could give a rat's ass about winning. My hatred for him intensified as we lost 2-1.
Now some startling news has come to my attention. It turns out that when Donovan reported to USNMT training in Miami last Sunday, he felt like crap. He finally went to the doctor and got some swabs done for testing. Despite his illness, he played in Wednesday's game. He found out yesterday that he has H1N1.
As soon as I learned that this morning, I set about on various websites apologizing for my critiques of his play Wednesday. Swine flu is a serious problem and Donovan probably should not have been on the pitch at all. Making matters worse, it is highly contagious during the first week and while symptoms persist. This means that the entire USMNT, Mexican National Team, referee crew, etc. may have been exposed. This could be a serious blow to the two major soccer powers in CONCACAF, not to mention the various club teams that rely on these players.
Despite H1N1's Mexican origin, I highly doubt this was a conspiracy by their soccer federation. Although stranger things have happened. After all, their utter fear of Donovan is legendary. In all seriousness, this is just a freaky coincidence.
Regardless of my personal opinion of Donovan's personality, I truly wish him a speedy recovery. He is an important player for both the USMNT and the LA Galaxy. I believe he is the first American athlete/celebrity to have a confirmed case of the disease, but I could be mistaken. Godspeed for a recovery, Landon. Your health is in my prayers.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

My Taste in Sports - The Fatboy Strikes Back

I do not remember why it happened only that it did. It was during fall of my eighth grade year that my dad took my brother and me to visit Master Eric Heintz. Long had we wanted to learn martial arts; we never cared whether it was karate, kung fu, or tae kwon do. Now we were sitting in the office of Master Heintz at his dojang.
Within a week the three of us (my dad, my brother, and myself) were in tying white belts for the first time. Kicking, striking, blocks, sparring, and board breaking lay ahead of us. Unfortunately so did jumping jacks, knuckle push ups, air punches, learning to count in Korean, and mastery of forms. I can still recite four of the five tenets of tae kwon do without trying: Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-Control, and Indomitable Spirit (self-control is the one I usually forget).
For three nights each week - Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday - we attended class. The first half was comprised of stretching, cardio, strength, and technique training. Then, after a good sweat, we would take a water break before resuming class. The second half was my favorite because we typically sparred or broke boards. Occasionally we had to learn or work on forms.
Forms were my least favorite part of tae kwon do. They were complex pieces of choreographed techniques done in rhythm with a group. I had to remember the steps, the beat, and the techniques. Focusing on myself was hard enough, but keeping in time with the rest of the group was even harder. On top of that, moves had to be more crisp and more exaggerated than usual. The first half of every advancement tests was a form.
Every other month we had the opportunity to test for advancement. The tests were on pre-scheduled Saturdays and were judged by a tribunal. Master Heintz would always be joined by his instructor, Grandmaster Jung. The third judge would be another Master black belt, sometimes a guest from Korea. In addition to forms, we would be tested over recently learned techniques, improvement of older techniques, sparring ability, and ability to break boards using relevant techniques. We would also be quizzed on the tenets of tae kwon do and counting in Korean. Over time we also learned and were quizzed on a few important Korean words and phrases.
Eric Heintz Black Belt Academy broke up the belts more than other traditional schools. He felt that this encouraged students and strengthened their determination. Whereas some schools give only a single level for each belt above the third, Heintz added sub levels to allow for continuous tests on a bimonthly basis. Materials in the dojang explained his philosophy and the meanings of the various belt levels; they also explained why some dojangs use different colors. Two Rivers Martial Arts (the spiritual successor to Eric Heintz Black Belt Academy) bases their belt colors and philosophies off of the same materials.
I advanced through the belt levels: White, Yellow, Orange, Green (two levels), Blue (two levels), and Brown (six levels total) between my eighth and tenth grades. When I took a break from tae kwon do during my sophomore year of high school, I had reached the fifth level of the brown belt. Only two test remained from the first level of black. Unfortunately a mix of circumstances kept me at the First Gup (temporary) indefinitely.
When I started tae kwon do I was about 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed around 160 pounds (or more). I was fat and out of shape. By the time I reached my last belt two years later, I was 140 pounds of muscle standing at about 5' 8" or so. My body fat percentage was negligible.

--I should note that tae kwon do was not my sole exercise during this time. In addition to an increase in my bike riding, I worked at Hy Vee and spent several hours during the week on my feet; that alone burned more calories than my previous sedentary lifestyle. More importantly, I took Scuba diving classes during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years. I was certified as on open water diver in August of 1994. Scuba, like most water-based activities, burns a ton of calories without much effort.*
My leave from tae kwon do came about primarily because of my transportation to and from school during the fall of my sophomore year. Lincoln's head wrestling coach lived down the street from me and offered to take me to school. Part of that meant that I had to participate in a sport during his season. My choices were basketball, swimming or wrestling. My lack of a vertical (I'm telling you that Wesley Snipes movie is about me) and competitive basketball history pretty much knocked that out of contention. There was no way I would don a Speedo and shave my legs, so swimming was out. That left wrestling; with my tae kwon do background and newly fit body I figured I would be fine.
The good news is that my low body fat meant that I only had to shed water before weigh ins. The bad news is that I was no Hulk Hogan on the mat. I was tone but not muscular, which caused me to face shorter guys with a ton of strength. These guys knew that they would never play basketball or anything requiring a more than 5'5" so they dedicated themselves to the sport. Still, like most things, I worked hard and pushed myself beyond my limits. Although I wrestled at 135 (or up at 140 depending on the team's needs), I worked with the heavyweights.
I wrestled JV for the entire season. I am not ashamed to admit it, and I am not ashamed of my dismal performance (I do not remember my record, but lets just say it was on the wrong side). I did come in third at my first Saturday tournament and was leading another in points for most of the day. Unfortunately for me I was disqualified.
True story: I was killing a guy in points but my coach wanted me to get the pin. So I went to set the pin and he got his hand free. He then "checked my oil" (if you are unfamiliar with that term, ask any wrestler). I jumped, screamed, and punched him in the face. Oops. I was done for the day.
Wrestling was never my first choice when it came to playing for Lincoln. I tried to play football in both my freshman and sophomore years and planned on playing soccer during my freshman year. My parents, however, would not sign the consent forms or pay the activity fees for either sport. Because I rode to school with Coach McGivern, they had no choice but to let me wrestle. My mom made nearly every meet and tournament. She was a wrestling cheerleader way back when she was in high school and loved the sport.
Over the course of the season, I sustained many injuries. I brushed most of them off and continued. A lingering back pain was a frustration, but I ignored it. During Spring Break that year I was playing baseball with a group of friends when I collapsed in center field. The pain was so unbearable that one of my unlicensed friends had to drive me home. When my mom took me to the doctor the next day, we found out that I tore some ligaments in my lower back. Needless to say my wrestling career was done, especially after my work with the heavy weights was decided to be the most probably cause.
While I wrestled, Master Heintz took a bad turn. A severe ulcer resulted in the complete loss of his stomach. He turned the school over to the black belts while I recovered from my injury. My dad and brother had continued attending in my absence, but their frustration with the direction of the managing black belts eventually led them to stop. A growing work schedule compounded the issue for me and I never returned.
Because of his illness, Master Heintz retired from tae kwon do in 1998. Several former students, including a few that started around the same time as myself, opened Two Rivers Martial Arts with his blessing. I have often contemplated returning to the dojang, but have yet to do so. My employer is willing to pay for a gym membership, but will not pay for tae kwon do. In my case, joining a gym is worthless as I need motivation and direction to work out. Tae kwon do always provided that. Regardless, I will probably not rejoin tae kwon do any time soon since many other activities have taken hold of my life...
The next installment will be all about the primary source of my current taste in sports. You might be surprised, but anyone that really knows me will probably see it coming...

Continue to Part 6

*My certification is lifelong, but I have not dived since high school. As much as I would like to, there are several things holding me back. Money is the most obvious reason.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Did I Mention How the Lizards Fared in Chicago?

If you recall, on Friday I mentioned that Long Island was playing Chicago at Soldier Field. The game held the Lizards final chance to make the playoffs. A loss sent Washington ahead as the fourth team and would give the Bayhawks home field advantage.
Luckily for me and the other Lizards fans out there, Long Island managed to leave Chicago with a 13-11 victory. Because MLL has a couple of different rules than college and high school lacrosse, the final two points came off of a lone shot by Sean Lindsay. Lindsay was named the game's MVP after nailing the shot from behind the two point arc in the game's final minutes.
The Lizards will join the Boston Cannons, Toronto Nationals, and Denver Outlaws in Annapolis, MD for the MLL Championship Weekend. Despite being the last team to qualify, Long Island has been given the third season over Boston. The Lizards defeated the Cannons in all three of their games this season; both teams have a 6-6 record.
Despite my love for Long Island and the scoring prowess of former Duke standout Matt Danowski, I doubt the Lizards will win the championship. My pick to win it all is Denver; many of their players were inherited from folded San Fransisco and LA (2009), making Denver a kind of western US All Star team. The Outlaws finished the season as the best team overall with a 9-3 record. Toronto (7-5) is favored by many with its great selection of Canadian and Iroquois players, including Gary Gait, but the Nationals did not look very strong against Boston in the game aired by ESPN earlier this week. The Cannons are another dark horse, but their roster is solid. Paul Rabil seems to be improving every game. He has become an unstoppable force in Major League Lacrosse; even more so than he was at Johns Hopkins. There is no doubt that he can change the course of a game by himself.Semi Game 1: Outlaws vs Cannons. Denver should win this one, but it will be a close battle for most of the game. Still, expect a tight finish should Rabil step his game up another notch. I would say that three points, at the most, separate the teams at the final whistle. Regardless, the winner of this game will win the MLL Championship. This game will be aired live on ESPN 2 at 11:00 AM (Iowa time) on Saturday, August 22.
Semi Game 2: Nationals vs Lizards. As much as I want the boys in green and black to win, I think this game will go north. Toronto has way too many established superstars. Gait's leadership and presence will prove to be intimidating for Danowski and crew. The teams split their regular season meetings, but Toronto won their July 18 game pretty handily (19-9). Despite putting forth a strong effort, expect the Lizards to lose by five. This game will not be televised.
Championship Game: Based on my predictions, we will see the Outlaws face the Nationals. This should be an epic battle as the two stacked rosters fight for supremacy. In the end, Denver's youth and well conditioned players will topple Toronto's old guard. It will come down to the final quarter, but Denver will turn up the heat in the closing minutes as Gait and his men gasp for air. Denver by two. Regardless of who is playing, this game will be aired live on ESPN at noon (Iowa time) on Sunday, August 23.

Mexico vs USA

The Us Men's National Team travels to hostile Mexico City today for a very important World Cup qualifying match. Azteca Stadium is known to be one of the hardest environments in our regions, CONCACAF. On top of its high altitude (Mexico City is about 7,349 feet above sea level), Azteca has a capacity of 105,000. You had better believe the place will be full today, which makes it very difficult for players to communicate on the field. The fact that today's game will be played between 3:00 and 5:00 pm local time (also Iowa time) adds in the highest temperatures of the day.
After losing 5-0 to Mexico in the Gold Cup (with our C team and their B team), we desperately need to save face today. We are in second place overall in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying; Mexico is in fourth. The top three teams qualify straight through to the cup while the fourth place team has a playoff match against the fifth place team from the South American region, CONMEBOL. With only a few games remaining, we need to get points in every game to ensure a bid. The USMNT team has never won at Azteca. He have tied several times and a tie would give us enough points to remain in second place. A win, however, would make history and rocket us closer to first place Costa Rica.
The broadcast kicks off today at 2:30 pm on Telemundo (channel 60 on Mediacom). Unfortunately the game is in Spanish. However, NBC Universal (owners of Telemundo) are presenting the English broadcast on Mun2 (normally a Spanish channel). I am not sure why they did not decide to use one of their many English channels like USA, NBC, Syfy, Bravo, etc.* to broadcast the game as the high popularity of the USMNT and the importance of this game would ensure high ratings. Based on something I read earlier this morning, Mediacom is broadcasting the Mun2 coverage free today for digital cable subscribers. Mun2 is on channel 601, but I saw no listing for the game.
As long as Mexico does not secure a win at home, I will be happy. Should we earn our first every victory at Azteca, I will be ecstatic. USA! USA! USA!
*In my humble opinion, NBC Universal should purchase Versus from Comcast. The fledgling sports network has quickly turned itself into a high quality venue with its NHL, Indy Car, NCAA football, and basketball coverage. It presents a nice alternative to ESPN and is a wellknown commodity. Plus, Versus and NBC have worked together to create successful NHL broadcasts and have packaged pro hockey better than ESPN ever did. Purchasing an established sports network rather than starting a new one would give NBC Universal more clout in the full time sports market. With the company's resources it would not be long before Versus was a serious threat to ESPN's dominance.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cascade Better Watch Its Back

Why should the manufacturer of the most popular lacrosse helmets ever (CPX & Pro7) be worried?

Reason #1
The new 2010 Warrior Trojan. Finally a Warrior helmet with a traditional (normal) look and fit. Although Warrior has not updated their website, Elevation Lacrosse has this to say about the new lid:

Available in hundreds of custom color combinations!Don't be fooled by its traditional appearance. The Trojan brings a ridiculous level of comfort over your head while providing protection no matter how intense the action. Lightweight but strong, the Trojan is a pleasure to wear. Fully customizable in 15 custom color options. Dual-density fit liners that can be customized front to back as well as side to side. Lightweight moisture-wicking EVA-padded liner provides unbelievable comfort and protection; fit's traditional stripe sticker sets. Components available in 15 colors. Meets or exceeds all current NOCSAE standards for helmet safety.

Anyone with a Venom can appreciate the Trojan's ability to fit traditional stripe sticker sets. What about those 15 colors? Carolina blue, athletic gold, forest green, black, white, maroon, orange, purple, red, royal blue, silver, Vegas gold, yellow, and two mystery colors I have not uncovered.
Prices are not listed on Elevation and nobody else is showing this helmet currently. But I predict that it will come in around the same as a CPX ($190). If Warrior has any sense then they will undercut Cascade. Why would people jump from an extremely popular helmet to the Trojan without a discount?
It is a shame that the pump system did not sneak into the Trojan though...

Reason #2
The Flow is the best looking helmet ever produced by Gait. Sure the straps are odd and numerous, but overall the helmet is a drastic improvement over the Identity. According to Jim, the Identity has great vision, is breathable, is extremely light, and highly comfortable. If the Flow manages to package all of that with a relatively low price (under $140) then I predict this helmet will rocket to the top of the charts. Otherwise it will be another oddity produced by Gait. So far, I have not seen the price for this helmet and will not speculate further.

My Taste In Sports - My Middle School Days

I was fat in middle school. I am not going to sugar coat it (although I loved sugar coated food back then!) and I am not looking for sympathy. My summers were spent at home with a lot of junk food. Sure I spent time in the neighbor's pool, but my life was fairly sedentary - especially during the school year.

Other than swimming, my most athletic endeavors during the summer were biking to Kwik Shop and playing hide and seek. Kwik Shop was over a mile away and the route there was pretty much entirely uphill. Once there we would get large Icees and candy - not exactly a healthy trip. Since the road there was uphill, we pretty much coasted back.

Hide and seek was not exactly the most athletic activity, but it was hella fun. We played after dark. Base was the green transformer in my neighbor's front yard. One of the few streetlights on our cul-de-sac was directly in front of it as if highlighting its safety. We would come out wearing black and camouflage clothing and headgear. Our game zone was on both sides of the street within two houses of the transformer. You could hide in the front or backyard but fence climbing and crossing the creek behind our houses were illegal. The person that was IT had a flashlight and no face headgear. We would usually play for about two hours during the summer.

School brought me back to gym class with the hated Presidential Fitness Award grading. It also brought me back to endless hours of sitting. I thought I was healthy at lunch time because I would usually opt for the salad bar (unless it pizza or burritos were being served). Unfortunately, drowning lettuce in a gallon of ranch dressing (which I can no longer stomach) is pretty bad for you. Recess consisted of basketball (21 - the dumbest version of the game ever) or the king of middle school - four square. Never was there a game as competitive as middle school four square. Popularity was won and lost on the four square court. A sixth grader could instantly earn respect by beating collaborative eighth graders on a regular basis. Eighth graders would conspire to hold the top three spots and humiliate incoming fourth players.

We started to practice at home. Never mind that the secret was the way older kids worked together. We thought if we could just improve our technique...

Sometime around seventh grade I realized that the game was rigged. Recognizing the stupidity of a meaningless game as a measure of popularity, I found different ways to spend my recess. Outside there was more freedom. You could kick a soccer ball, hang out on the monkey bars, or play basketball. I did a little bit of each, but started playing more and more basketball.

Basketball was a huge thing at that time. Jordan, Pippen and the rest of the Bulls were tearing up the NBA. Given Iowa's proximity to Chicago, I jumped on the Bulls bandwagon (to which I still belong, albeit halfheartedly; though I do cheer for the Energy's affiliation with Chicago). I had Bulls t-shirts, sweatpants, hoodies, hats, you name it. I wore that crap to school everyday. I watched their games constantly. And I still think the early 90s was the absolute peak of the NBA - Bird, Magic (remember those McDonald's commercials?), BJ Armstrong, Horace Grant, Alonzo Mourning, Dennis Rodman (he was a great baller back in the day), Patrick Ewing, and a promising young giant named Shaquille O'Neal. Other than LeBron and (maybe) Kobe, today's stars cannot hold a candle to the guys of my youth - especially not old, fat, lazy Shaq.

My love affair with the NBA would pretty much die by the time I hit high school. A new sport would catch my attention before eighth grade finished up, but that is a story for another day. Up next is my secret to amazing weight loss.

Continue to Part 5

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Yo Joe!

I grew up in the 80s and had an extensive line of GI Joe figures and vehicles. I religiously watched the cartoon and own most of the original series on DVD. I hate that Sigma 6 pseudo-anime crap and the gimmicky odd scale figures that go with it. That series is the worst thing to ever happen to GI Joe- complete trash.
-No, I am not an uber nerd and I do not live in my mother's basement.-
Because GI Joe remains my favorite thing about childhood, there was no doubt that I would see this movie. I knew that, much like Transformers, things would be changed for various reasons. I knew that the brightly colored costumes would never make screen because of the extra goofiness they would cause (same as in X-Men).
I will admit that Marlon Wayans and the Delta Six suits were definitely things that I was dreading. It is not that I do not like Wayans, it is that I was afraid of his goofiness destroying the movie. The Delta Six thing just seemed like a bad idea altogether. I was not too thrilled with a maskless Destro either.
My wife and I went last night. Other than the crappy worn out chairs in the theater (Scumridge), we left with smiles on our faces. GI Joe, again like Transformers, was a fun movie. The pacing may have been off in some areas and some characters got glazed over too quickly, but for the most part we enjoyed it. Cobra Commander proved to be the most interesting character in the movie although his official mask was disappointing. I also became involved in Duke as a character, which is remarkable because I have always HATED Duke.
Ray Park kicked ass as Snake Eyes. Lee Byung-hun rocked as Storm Shadow, but I did not like Cobra's resident ninja using a gun. While Snake Eyes has always been a "commando" and has used small firearms as part of his arsenal, Storm Shadow never saw the honor in using guns. He was strictly an old school ninja with swords, stars, bow and arrows, etc. His repeated use of handguns in the film defiled the character. This was by far the biggest disappointment in terms of characterization in the film.
Marlon Wayans as Ripcord. As I previously mentioned, I was not looking forward to this performance. I have to admit, my fears were wrong. While Wayans did add some goofiness, it was pretty much released in the appropriate manner and at the appropriate times. He was the classic comic relief. I still do not know why Ripcord was chosen as his character considering there was a whole slew of GI Joes available - some of which were actually black guys to begin with (Stalker would have been a better choice). It is not that I have a problem with making Ripcord black; my problem is that Wayans' character was not Airborne. Without a parachute, the name Ripcord makes absolutely not sense (he only has a parachute in a single scene; any other character in that scene would also have a parachute). My other issue with Ripcord was his hitting on Scarlett. This greatly undermined the romance between the red-haired hottie and Snake Eyes.
The Delta Six suits were not as bad as a I feared. They provided some necessary filler during the training sequence (which is actually one of the most intelligent scenes other than Brendan Fraser's obnoxious cameo). They also provided great moments of comic relief, particularly with Wayans. Their involvement in the chase scene added a fun uniqueness to the movie. Still, I was happy to read that they may not return for the sequel (come on, you did not think they would stop at one did you?).
In terms of pure entertainment, I would give GI Joe four stars out of five. It is almost as much fun as Transformers 2, but not quite (who does not love the twins?). It is less cerebral than Transformers 1, but still intelligent enough that it avoids outright goofiness. The characters are fairly three dimensional, even if Snake Eyes was highly underutilized. The fight scenes are well choreographed and put together nicely. The explosions are big and loud. Best of all, unlike the cartoons, the guns fire bullets (most of them anyway) rather than lasers and people die. Sure they are "green shirts" and Neo Vipers, but still... The guns that do not fire bullets are not lasers (thank God!), but sonic energy weapons. Supposedly most of the key technology in the film is based on real research and prototypes...
If you want to see a great, Oscar-worthy film... then go see something else. If you want to have a fun time at the theater and enjoy some great explosions and action, then check out GI Joe. After all, this is a movie based on a toy line...

My Taste in Sports - The Not-So-Lean Years

In addition to soccer, I took swimming lessons at Southtown every summer. When I was old enough, my parents also signed me up for tennis lessons. Margaret, my babysitter/daycare provider, drove me and other kids to and from the respective lessons and events.
I loved swimming and tennis was fun too. Every year we got a different color t-shirt, which was the "uniform" of the south side team. One year we had an almost neon yellow and another (my favorite) was gray with black print. We would travel to other areas of town to compete against their teams in the same program. I specifically remember matches at North and in the Roosevelt area.
When we finally moved to the south side (west of Fleur, near the airport), I stopped going to Margaret's house. I was just wrapping up second grade and was looking forward to getting to stay home unattended all summer. Unfortunately this also meant no more swimming or tennis lessons. I had also stopped playing soccer by that point.
Before long I started to get chubby. Then I started to get fat. Sure we played outside - running with toy guns, playing touch football or baseball (with a rag ball) across the front yards - but I was definitely not burning the calories I used to. On top of that, Margaret controlled our portion sizes; left to my own devices, I consumed however much I wanted.
Third grade saw me switch to a new school, Jefferson Elementary (which is still the best school in the Des Moines district for a multitude of reasons; it has open enrollment and a wait list). My new friends were similar to my old friends in that they played baseball rather than soccer. Since I was not playing soccer any longer, I thought for sure that now my parents would sign me up for baseball. Unfortunately I was wrong.
For the remainder of my elementary years my athletic experience was confined to playing in the neighborhood, recess, and gym class. I kept getting fatter. I only did the mandatory running events during Jefferson's track and field days; I filled the rest of my schedule with shot put and Frisbee.
Sixth grade at Brody Middle School saw me stuck with gym class tests based on the Presidential Fitness Award. I soon began to loathe push ups, pull ups, and running a mile. Surprisingly, I excelled at sit ups despite my fat gut. We also had an "obstacle course" that we had to run every year; the pommel horse was the bane of my existence.
Despite all of that, I did fairly well in many of the sports we got to play in gym class. I was one of the best every time we played soccer (which was a joke anyway). Volleyball was also one of my stronger sports; my family has a long history of competitive games on Independence Day and other warm weather gatherings. I was also shockingly decent as a receiver when playing flag football.
Brody had a wrestling unit at that time. It started with arm wrestling and finished with broken down components of Greco-Roman. My upper body has always been fairly weak so I hated the arm-wrestling portion. Since I was at the heavy end of the line and matched up with eighth graders, I was never a fan of the Greco-Roman portions either. However, leg (a/k/a Indian) wrestling was in between. This was my speciality. In sixth grade, over two days of competition I only had one loss. The loss came to an eighth grader that was nearly a foot taller than me; he used leverage rather than strength to get the win. After a long match, with the class divided between Jeff and myself, he finally figured out how to beat me. Oh well, I was proud of my accomplishments against the other eighth graders.
After begging to play baseball since at least second grade, my parents finally caved in my seventh grade year. Unfortunately I was terribly behind the rest of the players at this point. I had never been taught to properly throw a baseball, which resulted in many "rainbows" during practice. My "hitting" was abysmal at best.
Luckily another older cousin was a guru when it came to baseball. Joel spent lots of time working with me on the fundamentals of throwing, catching, and hitting. He took me to the batting cages, spent time throwing and catching with me, and helped teach me the basics. My coach noticed the changes in my ability.
Of course early games saw me where most inexperienced little leaguers end up - right field. Way out in the boonies was deemed a safe place because very few hitters every reached right field. Unfortunately when they did, my arm strength was not up to snuff to hit the cut-off man consistently. That was pretty pathetic considering I usually played less than half of a game.
Before long, something remarkable happened; I was given a shot at the infield. Despite my crummy play in the outfield, I excelled at second base and short stop. Somehow I consistently hauled my heft in front of ground balls and pop flies. I never missed the first baseman's glove on my throws. Soon I started getting more playing time and it was at shortstop, which was extra awesome to me because I wore number eight and played for the Orioles. As an avid (at that time) baseball fan, I was well aware of who Cal Ripken was and was already a fan of his (I still think he is the all-around greatest baseball player of my generation). I also started picking up time at right and center field, where I had also improved.
My hitting, however, still sucked. I would get too eager and would strike out more than anything. I did manage to snag a few singles and even got beaned a couple of times. Even though I was a fat kid, I never got out while on the base path. I even managed a steal or two.
Just as my defensive game got fairly good, the season ended. Seventh grade would prove to be my lone season playing little league baseball. Other things would soon catch my attention...

Continue to Part 4

Tribe 7