Sunday, December 31, 2006

XBLA review: Hardwood Backgammon (3/10)

The Hardwood series is a nice little set of games for the PC: I have Solitaire and a couple of the multi-player card games. Hardwood Backgammon is one of three games they have for the 360 (the other two are card games, Hearts and Spades), but unfortunately, there really isn't much to this offering.

Backgammon itself is a pretty straightforward game, so a solid backgammon game will offer different variations or game settings. Hardwood Backgammon doesn't really do that. All you can do is play a local or live game from 1 to a preset number, with or without the doubling cube.

Worse yet, it doesn't even provide basic features like a Resign Game function. When you're down 100 pips and your opponent has borne off 12 men, there's really no point in playing it out. Also, it assumes you want to use the lower die first, rather than the higher one, which makes playing quickly more difficult and can also create problems if using the dice in a different order gives you different results (say with men on 2 and 1, you roll 3-1. You should be able to bear off both men, but if it picks the man on 2 and lets you move him 1, you won't be able to). Finally, it doesn't force you to use both dice when possible. (I forgot one more thing: when you roll to see who goes first, not only does it not let you use that roll, which is an informal custom, but it doesn't even show you the roll. It basically decides "behind the scenes" and you just have to take it on faith.)

Control is somewhat simple, but it feels as though the joystick bounces around too much from point to point.

The AI has four different settings: at the lowest setting, it's easy for anyone with even a little backgammon experience to beat. At the higher settings, you'll get a challenge.

The achievements are mostly offline, but vary in strength more than the rewards do. You get 20 gamerscore for a backgammon, but also for winning 10 consecutive games. Keep in mind that you can earn this playing the computer on Easy and can quit a game you're losing. Also, there are no leaderboards for offline play (unlike games like UNO), so you can't tell how close you are to earning the streak or total games achievements.

Overall, this is a pretty lame offering. If you have to have a backgammon game for the 360, this will do, but there isn't much to it, so keep your expectations appropriately low.

zlionsfan's rating: 3 blots out of 10. (Sorry, I had to deduct another point. When you're playing on the higher levels and you find yourself falling victim to a combination of the AI's hyper-aggressive play and remarkably good rolling, there's no reason to play out the game, other than to get one closer to the 100-games-played achievement, and of course you can't tell how many you need because they were too dumb to put that basic info somewhere where you could see it. You're up 120 points and are bearing men off while I have two on the bar and have moved exactly three of my other men. I concede, you win, next game.)

Thursday, November 30, 2006

A sign of things to come?

So, the real Thursday-night schedule kicks off this week, with Baltimore and Cincinati playing on the NFL Network. Am I going to watch? Probably not.

Here's the problem. I think that like MLB in the middle of the Greed Era, from which it has not quite yet emerged, the NFL is taking its fans for granted. Virtually every aspect of its television schedule now is designed around everything but the fans:

  • Thursday-night games. Great idea, right? Well, maybe if you have the NFL Network. Most people don't (including those whose systems don't even carry it). And if you don't have anything else to watch, like maybe basketball (yep, even women's basketball: I'm watching #9 Purdue at #7 Connecticut right now), a little college football (the MAC championship, and how upset are they that they have to share the airwaves with the NFL?), or maybe your regular Thursday schedule.
  • Flex scheduling. Sounds good, unless you're traveling to one of the games and have to change your plans. Besides, we've already seen that moving a game weeks in advance doesn't guarantee it'll be a good matchup, which was supposedly the whole point of doing this.
  • The decades-old, hopelessly-outdated blackout rule. By now, if you can afford to go to the game, you're there. Nobody I know asks whether or not it'll be on TV before they decide to buy tickets. The blackout rule dates to an era when people really did stay home instead of going to the game; now, most people who watch on TV can't afford to see a game, and on top of that, many NFL teams now play in taxpayer-funded stadiums. Tell you what: you can black out the game as long as you play in your own stadium.
  • Length of games. Sorry, the biggest problem is still advertising: the NFL, like every other sport, pushes as many commercials as it can into each game, then doesn't understand why games continue to run over (maybe schedule the second games at 4:30 instead of 4:15 or 4:05? Just a thought) and interfere with other games and recording plans. What's worse is when you're hoping to record the second half of a doubleheader, but the first half is the local game, so they won't cut away from it, and you can't watch it on Sunday Ticket, because it's going to be on the local station, so it's blacked out.
  • Sunday Ticket itself. Most people can't get it, even though there's a huge market for it, because the NFL can't take its snout out of DirecTV's trough. Beware: if you artificially lower supply, but keep it too low for too long, demand will fall as well, and in this day and age, it's really difficult to get people to start watching. There are too many other options for people who could get DirecTV.
  • Non-network games. First it was Sunday night, then Monday plus the Thursday/Saturday package. I've heard fears from some people that the NFL is going toward an exclusively pay-per-view package. I don't think they'd really do that any time soon, but they're certainly moving in that direction.
  • Coverage itself. ESPN and NBC are the biggest offenders, because they think they're showing TV rather than sports (because they are national games), so we have to suffer through every possible NBC or ABC (love that ABC/ESPN tie-in, don't you?) "celebrity" in the booth, but even CBS and Fox have stooped to showing the "human interest" stories, or talking about random things and then focusing on a particular player instead of the game, so you miss 4-6 snaps per game because of this. Hey, some of us are watching for the action on the field. Is it too much to ask for you to show the game itself?


Yeah, maybe this is "the sky is falling" and this will really be just another step toward making the NFL even more popular in North America, but it seems to me more like Sony's plan to dominate the console market: do the exact opposite of what most people think you should do. If that doesn't mess you up, you're dominant.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Un-pro

Oops. Lost my Pro ranking at Wii Bowling. Oh well. I wish you could select different balls to use, even if you only got the sparkly ones as a Pro.

Eh. Probably it'll be something you can buy online.

Wii review: Wii Sports: Tennis (3/10)

Two down, three to go. (I shouldn't have reviewed boxing yet. I haven't tried a full match.)

Ah, tennis. Not bad for the Wiimote, right? Swing with your arm. The ball moves based on your swing. You can only play doubles, and only in a best-of-one, -three, or -five set. However, you can choose to control both players or just one. I'd recommend both so that you don't end up with a slug at the net.

Well, there's one small, little detail. All you control is your swing. Not forehand/backhand. Not your position on the court. Not your aim, other than by hitting early or late.

So basically, once you get to the more-experienced AI players, you get the later matches from Mario Tennis on the GBA - volley, volley, volley, volley. Plus, instead of working your thumb, now you're tiring your shoulder muscles. Okay, maybe it counts as exercise, but that's about it.

The manual's very little help at all. I didn't realize you could serve hard until the computer aced me once.

The inability to point your shot makes the guy at the net almost worthless. I can't tell you how many times he simply whacked the ball back at the back opponent or out of play.

This is another demonstration of how the Wiimote works, but that's about all it is. I suppose I'll play it enough to get a Pro ranking and leave it.

zlionsfan's rating: 3 double faults out of 10.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The dog days of November

Caught an ESPN2 doubleheader today: Butler over Gonzaga in the NIT finals (looks like when they put in some new buildings around Hinkle, they must have worked on the team too - Butler's going to make some noise in the Horizon this year, and could beat as many as seven Indiana teams, starting with their NIT wins over Notre Dame and Indiana), followed by Fresno State at Louisiana Tech in a WAC football game.

Needless to say, the Bulldogs won in both games.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

360 review: Lego Star Wars II (4/10)

Seems like a great idea, right? Lego games. We all played with Legos as kids. People like Legos. Make the game fun, so that both adults and kids can play it. Make it a Star Wars game. Everyone likes Star Wars.

Well.

Lego Star Wars II does a few things right. It recreates the first three movies pretty well; it has a ton of unlockables; two-player mode seems easy to do, with the second person able to pop in and out as needed (perfect if your kids are just a little young to get through some of the harder parts). You do have health and can die (until you buy some extras), but when you do, you drop a few coins and are put right back in the action, so there's no three-lives-and-out.

However, it's a platform game. Not a problem ... but it's also designed to be a cinematic game (third-person view, camera usually fixed at a distance). Very bad combination. There are all sorts of places where you need to hit a jump just right, but with the camera at a distance, it's very difficult to tell where you need to be, so you'll make use of those unlimited lives.

And it's designed to be easy to pick up, so there's no way to aim: it's automatic. Great if there's only one target on the screen. Not great if you're shooting at something in front of you, but the game decides you want to aim at something to your right. Or, for that matter, that you're too close to hit the object right in front of you.

In story mode, you have one or more AI companions; in free play, you have only one. The AI is awful. The computer-controlled characters aren't allowed to do any damage, which is fine, but they usually get in the way during a fight, and at worst, in free play mode, are the same character as the ones you're shooting, so you don't realize you're firing at the wrong guy until he dies. They generally have no idea where they're going and will happily push you off a platform or block a narrow path simply to be near you, but will also display a cat's unwillingness to come down from a platform to which you've led them. The only time they ever do anything helpful is when you are attempting a task that requires two people, which (fortunately) they manage very well.

Most of the achievements are based on completing levels without dying or using extras. Good luck with that. The invulnerability extra is extremely valuable, and I'd suggest finding it and buying it as soon as possible. The second and third movies have a number of parts where you're basically getting shot left and right, so it's much easier to manage when you're not dying every couple of minutes, especially if you're trying to get the coin blocks.

If you're a big Star Wars fan, you might love this game if you can overlook its faults, and if you have a significant other who plays games too, maybe the two-player version is tolerable. But I can't overlook its faults. It's not a bad game to rent for a while, because when you can't take it any more, you can just send the game back and get another one. It's too bad, because with a couple of improvements (intelligent camera and the option for manual aim), this could have been a great game.

zlionsfan's rating: 4 droids out of 10.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

XBLA review: Small Arms (2/10)

Yuck. I don't really have much to say about this game, except that it seems to want to be a platform combat game, and it doesn't do either very well. You supposedly have 360-degree attack mode, except that you're in a platform game, so how often are you going to use 180 degrees of that? The levels look nice, at least the two I saw, except that you can't tell where you can't go until you fall off/through and die. Once you run out of ammo, you basically have to wait until a battery or weapon appears, or the other guy comes over so you can use hand-to-hand. If he doesn't, he just shoots you from afar, and you die.

Don't bother with this game.

zlionsfan's rating: 2 not even worth a metaphor out of 10.

Getting the hang of it

Got my first 200 at Wii bowling: 214, in the middle of a 594 series (199-214-181). Pretty close to my real-life best (636), and I had some of the same feelings: elevated heart rate, propensity to choke (left a 6-pin in the tenth frame of game 1), although I fought through it nicely in game 2.

In the process, I discovered that when you're a Pro, you get a cool ball, kind of sparkly with stars on it. It makes it a bit easier to pick up the spin on the ball, although I wish they'd use a line or something like that.

What helped was that I did a bit of practice first, the power bowling. Now if only they had some form of shadow bowling ...

I did notice that they are not superstitious. They don't wait for you to finish the string to add up your score: I started off with a four-bagger, and sure enough, in the third frame, it posted that ugly 30. (Hey, I'm not really superstitious, but some things you just don't mess with.)

Mythbusters in the Times?

Yes indeed. There's an article in the New York Times today (free registration required) about Mythbusters and whether or not it's the best science show on television. I happen to like it, a lot, and would say it's definitely up there. I watch a lot of Discovery and National Geographic, and if there is a science show noticeably better than Mythbusters, I haven't seen it.

Nintendumb

Granted, I don't know that much about networking, but it seems to me that if Nintendo were smart about it, they would have realized that wireless networking is not quite at the plug-and-play stage, and they'd have made allowances like the other two for wired networking as well.

After two hours over a couple of days of "troubleshooting," which basically means trying different things that don't matter because if one of them worked, the others would have worked too, my conclusion is that Nintendo put in a decent wireless card, but disabled most of the features that make it work, so that connecting your Wii to a properly-secured network changes from a moderately easy task to an extremely difficult task.

The concept is really simple: once I knew what I was doing with respect to the router, I got my laptop connected easily. Set the SSID, choose the encryption, get the right passkey, enter that information, poof, done. All the time that I'm jacking around with the Wii, my laptop figures out what's going on and connects itself each time, as I'm changing channels, broadcasting/not broadcasting the SSID, etc.

But on the Wii, no, not simple. Apparently it only works under all of these specific circumstances. Whatever. I'm thisclose to simply letting it stay disconnected until Nintendo figures out wtf is going on. I'm not interested in weakening the security of my network because Nintendo doesn't know how to do networking.

And isn't a USB-to-Ethernet adapter going to cut down on connection speed?

Ugh.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Citrus Bowl?

Oh wait, that's not right. This one's the second Tangerine Bowl. That's not so bad, I guess. Purdue's never been before, so it should be fun. Wish I could go, but I just spent my bowl allowance for the next 50 years. (Too bad I'm not an IU fan, ha ha.) Wonder who the ACC team will be?

Wii review: Wii Sports: Bowling (7/10), Boxing (2/10)

It's here! So it did turn out to be two-day shipping, but only if you count Saturday. It was somewhat easy to set up (although I had to put the sensor bar on the TV stand below the TV; my TV has an angled top and it wouldn't sit properly). I'm cheap (and on GameFly too, hell yeah that's a link to refer you, I'm a revenue whore, I admit it), so I didn't get any extra games, so I'm just playing Wii Sports.

Well, there may not be a lot to it, but I'll tell you what, Bowling is pretty much spot-on. My best so far was a 165 with a turkey; it took me a few games to figure out how to get my hook right (and throw it straight, ha ha, haven't mastered that yet) and how to abort a bad throw (at the line, slowly let your arm point toward the floor, then release B to drop the ball, you start over), but after that, it didn't take long for my real-life bowling demons to resurface. It'll just be a matter of time before I start leaving the 7-pin. Beer frame!

Hurray! You can play each sport left- or right-handed. I just tried bowling, tennis practice, and the "fitness test", kind of like the Brain Age test, except this one is for returning balls in tennis, hitting homers in baseball, and picking up spares in bowling. I can hit okay, so that must not be realistic. :)

The one thing I couldn't do is get the wireless set up. It's mostly because my setup is just outside my realm of knowledge, so I know what I did to get my laptop connected, but can't quite figure out the trick to get the Wii connected. (My 360 uses a wired connection, no help there.)

There isn't anything else to it so far, just bowling, although I haven't tried the practice yet. After each game, you get points toward a skill rating. The first level to achieve (I assume there are many) is Pro, at 1000. I'm about 800 or so, I think.

So far, it's definitely got potential as a great party game. I need to check out the other aspects of the game (and the other included sports), but for now, we'll give it a 7.

11/21 update: practice consists of little minigames, and if you do well enough at them, you get medals - I have a silver and a bronze overall. For bowling, the minigames are spare practice, hook practice (think of the skill shot contests on the PBA Tour, only without the stupid throw-it-over-the-chair shot that no bowling alley likes to see), and power practice (bowling at a rack from 4 rows deep up to 13 rows deep). The first two baseball ones are home-run hitting and contact hitting (pull, opposite-field, straightaway). Let's just say that I've got good power (633 ft? whatever), but can't go the other way. I keep pulling the ball, except when I'm supposed to. Very cool.

Also, your skill rating seems to be the number of pins above your average that you bowled, so your first game will set your skill rating. I got to the point where I don't always get points after a game. :(

But I did pick up the 5-6-7-10! I love being able to put a right-handed hook on the ball.

11/22 update: Your skill rating also drops if you miss your average, I think (too bad they don't display your average). Mine's leveled off ...

Boxing is dumb. Bowling seems to work well because it doesn't involve interaction, it's just action (the ball's in your hand, it just rolls when you move your hand). But with the boxing minigames, the problem I had was that I couldn't tell where I was supposed to be jabbing; I thought it was just a matter of swinging, but apparently not. The dodging didn't work very well either.

I'm getting better at the tennis minigames. Didn't think much of the golf ones, though. I saw they only gave you a generic iron and a generic wedge for chipping. I hope you get a full set of clubs when you play for real ...

The 633-foot home run happened because I hit it out of the stadium, so yeah, that's more realistic: they measure the distance the ball travels until it stops moving. If you think about it, once you clear the stadium wall, the ball has to fall all the way down to the ground (as opposed to a shot into the seats, which hits the "ground" several feet in the air), and then it'll roll a ways.

It's too bad you can't see what medals you have when you're picking which minigame to play. You know, the other consoles have all these buttons for a reason ...

The fitness test is exactly like Brain Age in that it picks three minigames at random. Last night, it was two boxing games (boo) and the tennis hit-the-target game.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Really?

Yes, really. Looks like two days isn't always two days. I checked my order status today and apparently something's going to be waiting on my doorstep when I get home tonight.

Maybe I'll stop at the grocery store tomorrow. :)

Nice to see that it's shipping from Lexington. If I'd have known that, I might have offered to pick it up myself. Has anyone ever placed a carryout order from Amazon?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Wiiiii!

Greetings from Amazon.com.

We thought you'd like to know that we shipped your items, and that this
completes your order.


Yeah baby! It's on its way. And what do you know, just in time for the week of PTO that I always take after Thanksgiving! Man, am I smrt or what? :)

Sorry, it's been a busy week. I've been thinking about replacing my car because it let me down on my last trip - nothing against Cincinnati, but I'd rather choose when I spend the night there. So my bank offers a service that will price cars for you and negotiate deals with dealers. Well, I'm ecology-conscious, so I wanted to get a hybrid. I'd already built one online just to get an idea of how it works.

My bank calls me back and says sorry, those are really popular, with gas prices soaring and everything. Most places have lists, and none of them will talk to us - you'll probably have to pay more than MSRP to get one. They suggested I build one online and request an online quote, so that, you know, I don't go there in person and have them talk me into something bigger or uglier.

So I do this, Wednesday, I think. I get an auto-reply, yeah, we got your request, we'll send you a quote. But I don't hear back. Thursday, I don't hear back. Finally, today I get a phone call (I screen my calls, so I really just got a message) saying hey, call me back. I write him back, we trade e-mail, he sends me a quote about $80 under invoice, but only in stock. (??) And he asks when I can drop by. I stop by this afternoon, figuring we can drive someone else's and then I'll get on the list, etc., etc.

Well, there's one on the lot. Right color, has the navi system, right there. Except ... it's been sold. Oops. But wait, there's actually two on the lot. And the second one is also the right color and has the navi system. So I take it for a test drive. (For me, a test drive is a formality. By the time I get to that step, I've already done all my research, and I know exactly what I want. I'm looking for deal-breakers, and pretending that they need to sell me the car.) As it turns out, when we get back and start on the paperwork, in that time, someone else showed up from 150 miles away to look at a hybrid - apparently he'd called before either had been claimed. (Suxor.)

I didn't have half the stuff with me I needed. Fortunately we got some of it from my proof-of-insurance card, and I knew the financial stuff from poking around at loans online. So now I have a new car. And to think, only because they just happened to have one on the lot that was what I wanted. If I'd waited another hour, no car.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I miss you, Tech TV ...

I'm trying to watch what little content is worthwhile on XPlay tonight (which is dumb, because I subscribe to the podcast, so I'd see it, but you know, Morgan Webb is hot, so it's worth watching now), but I keep being reminded of why the G4-Tech TV merger pretty much squeezed the life out of the tech shows. XPlay is about all that's left, and they keep trying to move it to stupid time slots (although they finally figured out that it's about all that people watch, so 11:00 Eastern wasn't a great choice). But when you look at what's on it these days - lame shows or shows that have been on about five other channels already - why would anyone older than 12 watch it anyway? I'd tell you what else besides XPlay is worth watching, but their website sucks too, and it takes too long to load anything. Plus, the on-screen chat is just stupid (Star Trek 2.0? whatever) - it takes up too much space, especially when you get the letterboxing when watching on a 4:3 screen.

It's sad, because Tech TV had some decent shows back in the day, and now they're almost all gone, and G4 is seemingly trying to kill off XPlay as well. (The video viewer mail has to go.)

One week and counting ...

So by now, you know that a) Amazon did sneak pre-orders without e-mailing anyone, b) a lot of people are angry about it, and c) Amazon doesn't care.

Anyway, the Tard kindly notified me when he saw it, so I'm in line. Up until today, the system still thought it was going to be shipped in October (because their system doesn't deal with pre-orders well). Well, I pretended to change my shipping (I'm a Prime member) and left it at two days, and sure enough, it updated to ship on the 20th and arrive on the 22nd, which makes sense, because they're not going to ship on Sunday.

The countdown begins ...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Surprise, surprise ...

Microsoft just finished an update to the 360 dashboard; it doesn't seem like too much, unless you play Xbox Live Arcade games, in which case it was a badly-needed upgrade. They've done three things:

  1. Added the ability to automatically download trial versions of games when they become available.
  2. Changed how the 360 is searched for games when it displays the number of games you have.
  3. Added the option to look through games by category in addition to viewing the entire list.


Addition 1 is dumb, unless you have dial-up, in which case you probably don't play much online anyway (although I could see it if you play offline a lot). It's not like they have that many new games each week.

Addition 2 is the most significant. The dumbest thing about the XBLA before was that every time you hit that page, it would patiently look through your hard drive, your neighbor's hard drive, the cat box, and the old refrigerator in your garage for games, just to display the number you owned. Then, when you wanted to play one, it would repeat the search to display the games. Finally, when you selected one to play, you'd have to sit through the intro for it, and then wait for it to load, and then you could play. On top of that, you couldn't always back out of the menu if you decided not to wait for it, because the console was too busy counting your games to respond. Typical Microsoft programming.

Now, it simply gets the count of games on your hard drive from the main page, and it loads the list of titles much more quickly.

Addition 3 is nice once you have more than a few games, especially if you want to play a game in the second half of the alphabet. Of course, with the old system, it was always fun to try to get to the place in the list where the game would appear and see how quickly you could start it.

But it's really funny how they waited until late October to launch this. Why, it's almost like there are two competitors' consoles being released later this month ...

Sunday, October 29, 2006

360 review: Burnout Revenge (6/10)

I missed the first installment in the Burnout series - I was too busy with Gran Turismo to pick up a less-serious racing game for the PS2. However, I did play Burnout 3: Takedown, and really liked it. The crash events were great, even though the racing events weren't that good.

As you probably have seen by now, Burnout Revenge is more of the same. The biggest change is that you can now hit smaller traffic going your direction without wrecking: they've added a new event, Traffic Attack, based solely on this ability. Basically, there are three types of events: crash events, fastest lap events, and race events.

The crash events are outstanding. The Crash events are as fun as in Burnout 3, although there are still far too many times when you can't see in the right direction or you can't find your car at a key time. Surprisingly, there are also times when the best path isn't the path you'd think it would be. Traffic Attack events are mostly fun, although the ones with stretches without cars to wreck are much less fun. Road Rage events are interesting.

Sadly, the racing events suck just as much as before - they're as bad as the crash events are good. The Burnout series is based on crashing, which means that the races involve a lot of accidents. All too often, you'll find yourself ticking a rock, a post, or some other minor outcropping that didn't seem to be a problem the previous lap, ruining your chances at a gold in Burning Lap or Preview events, or putting you too far behind in the race events. If you do fall behind, you've got no idea how far in front the next car is; if you're out in front, you have no idea how close behind your pursuers are until one of them checks a car into you. The Grand Prix events would be acceptable in a normal game, but in this game, the frustration level is high enough that many times, it's simply not worth finishing. There is no option to start a race over, just the entire Grand Prix, so when you've won the first two races but are inexplicably last in the third, you might as well just shut it off.

If EA knew what it was doing – in other words, the EA from five years ago – they'd scale down the race events, maybe just to Eliminator and Road Rage, and focus on the crashing, the things that make this game so much fun. Given their current marketing ineptitude, I wouldn't be surprised to see the next Burnout game drop the crashing completely.

This game is definitely worth renting for the crash events. The race events are tolerable only if you want to get achievements, and at that, a fair number of achievements involve a lot of online play. (There's also a wasted achievement - getting a clip in the Top 20 downloads. I don't understand why they do those.) It's really like two games in one. If I could rate them separately, I'd give Burnout Revenge: Crash a 10, and Burnout Revenge: Race a 2. As it is, I'll have to combine them.

zlionsfan's rating: a mean 6 out of 10.

PS2 review: Guitar Hero (10/10)

Yep, that's right, we're going back to Sony's final successful entry into the console wars. This came out quite some time ago, but I held off on buying it because I had other games I was playing early in the year (like Oblivion and, well, Oblivion). So my brother ends up getting it for me for my birthday, which is why I'm reviewing it now and not six months ago.

It rocks.

If you haven't seen the game, it's a guitar version of the karaoke-style games that have come out for the PS2, the ones where you sing along with popular songs and are scored based on how you match the melody. You use a special controller that works more like a bass than a lead guitar, with five buttons instead of frets, a wedge-shaped strum button instead of strings, and a whammy bar.

There are four levels of difficulty, easy, medium, hard, and expert, and different sets of songs with increasing difficulty within each level (the songs are mostly the same throughout, but you get more songs at the higher levels). I've made it through the easy and medium songs so far ...

For the easy songs, you're basically playing rhythm guitar to the main melody, with single notes spaced evenly and maybe a few chords thrown in, all on the first three buttons. The songs range from Joan Jett and Deep Purple to very-simplified Clapton and Hendrix (and even simplified, they can be a challenge). I was able to go straight through the easy songs, getting five-star reviews the first time in almost every set, and nothing less than four stars.

By the medium songs, you're playing lead, although you won't have to hit every note in some songs. The difficulty ranges from slightly harder Joan Jett and Deep Purple to Pantera and Randy Rhoades ... for these, during the first couple of sets, I could still knock out four- and five-star reviews. By the final set, there were points in the song where I basically gave up and waited for the next measure.

I think my bass background helped me because I was basically doing this type of thing, listening to a song and playing along, so at the easiest levels, I was right at home. I'm getting to the point where I'll have to work on picking rather than plucking (to play up and down rather than just down) to hit the really fast notes.

If you play a real guitar, you may not like this game as much for a couple of reasons. One is that it is definitely not like playing a real guitar (because otherwise, very few people would be able to play it). The other is that you can actually get the feeling that you're able to play Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughan, and we all know that you can't.

For everyone else, if you have any interest in guitar playing at all, by all means, get this game, and set some money aside to get Guitar Hero 2 (although I'm waiting for the 360 version).

zlionsfan's rating: 11. It's one louder.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Evened up!

Well, I feel a lot better now, although I thought for a minute I was going to cry on the bar. Todd Jones has to be the shakiest closer in AL postseason history. I would have left Rogers in myself, which is what I've learned from all my experience managing in the bigs.

Basically, the Tigers played pretty well, and the Cardinals didn't play well until the ninth. The one thing Detroit can improve upon is getting runners home. They stranded five runners in two innings - getting a key hit in either inning would have blown the game open and got them even deeper into the Cardinals' pen.

Oh well, at least the Series is even. A nothing-to-lose Game 3 on Tuesday facing the Cardinals' ace, and I bet that's how Leyland puts it to his team. We'll see if the oddsmakers still favor the Tigers.

coolstandings.com is back to picking the Tigers by quite a bit. After Game 1, the Cards had a slight edge, but now, the three most likely scenarios favor Detroit. (It's worth noting that they have the odds about 3 to 1 that the Series will come back to Comerica.)

In 1990, Detroit had home-court advantage in the NBA Finals, but split the first two games with Portland. Much was made about the fact that the Pistons hadn't won there in something like 17 years (although it was only 14 games or so - at one point, I guess you didn't necessarily play home-and-home against every team in the other conference), and some people were predicting a three-game sweep to end the series. Well, they were right ... but it was the Pistons who took three, not the Blazers.

I'm not saying the Tigers will win three in St. Louis.

But I wouldn't bet against it.

Off to a bad start

Well, I guess the best thing about Game 1 was that it wasn't one little mistake that cost the Tigers the game. They made enough mistakes to give the Cardinals an advantage if St. Louis had played poorly, and St. Louis did enough things well to win without Tigers mistakes.

Verlander got too many pitches high in the zone, the defense wasn't particularly good, and even though the Tigers were more patient than maybe any other game so far in the playoffs, they didn't hit enough balls on the ground. Reyes kept the Cardinals' bullpen idle until the 9th, negating much of the advantage Detroit had from its six-day layoff.

But the good news is that Rogers is pitching tomorrow, and coming from behind is nothing new to this team. If you believe in omens, the '68 team fell behind 3 games to 1 and still won the Series.

In addition to that, Sparky, the only manager to win the Series in both leagues, recorded his AL title nine years after an NL title.

Nine years ago, Leyland's Marlins won the Series.

(Yes, I know, the last Reds title was in '76, not '75, but see, this is how TV shapes statistics for their story.)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Michael Irvin? Reasonable?

Unbelievable. Who would ever have thought it? Michael Irvin as the voice of reason. The ridiculousness that happened in the Florida International-Miami game was made even worse by commentator Lamar Thomas, who basically said that was what was supposed to happen. Irvin said right away that Thomas should have been fired.

However, he quickly reasserted his foolishness by suggesting that the NCAA punishments should be based on the NFL punishments and that the Hurricane players should not be suspended for a full season.

John Swofford, the ACC commissioner, was a fool. One game sending a message that this won't be tolerated? It's the Duke game! If it were only one game, then it would have to be Florida or Florida State, and even at that, it's not enough.

I'd suspend the players for the rest of the season - I'd consider kicking Meriweather off the team, and I'd definitely kick Reddick off the team.

I'd fire Coker immediately.

What did he do? He insisted that he's still in control. That's it. In the meantime, FIU kicked two players off the team and suspended the other involved players indefinitely.

Coker has no control over a program that's been controlled poorly for a long time. The last thing Miami needs is a coach who can't control his players.

The sad thing is that Coker won't be fired for this. He'll be fired because Miami isn't winning enough games.

Thug

So I'm going back over the Tennessee-Dallas game, and I see the play where Albert Haynesworth stomps Andre Gurode. Now, I have no love for the Cowboys, but even so ... even if I were a Redskins fan, this is not something I would want to see.

Daryl Johnston said it very well. The NFL fines players for uniform violations and suspends them for substance abuse, so they should definitely have taken action to make sure this never happens again.

Well, he got a five-game suspension, but to me, that's not enough. If you want it to never happen again, at a minimum, he should be out for a full season. Not the rest of the season. 16 games. I don't care what's happening on the field. There's no reason, ever, to step on a man's head, deliberately, when he's not wearing a helmet. (For the record, on that play, it looked like Haynesworth basically threw Gurode to the ground, pulled off his helmet, and then stomped him twice.)

At least the NFLPA didn't appeal it. That's one thing I never understand, why players' associations appeal suspensions for players who deliberately injure other players. Hello? Aren't you representing all players here?

I'm surprised Haynesworth didn't attend Miami.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

YEAH!!!!!!!!!!

Seven down, four to go. It's 2:15 in the morning, I have an eleven-hour drive tomorrow, and Magglio Ordoñez is worth every penny.

By the way, Dayn Perry thinks Chris Shelton should be on the WS roster. He's a fool (Perry, not Shelton). I'd write him and let him know that a) Shelton hasn't hit well since April and b) part of the reason the Tigers traded for Casey is that Shelton's defense isn't that good either, but I can't, because Fox doesn't want you to contact their writers. Whatever.

I'm not sure if I'd rather see the Tigers shell Jeff Weaver and the Cardinals, or watch them beat the Mets and burn up the other half of the "Subway Series". Either way, I'm busy the 21st, 22nd, 24th, and 25th, and possibly the 26th, 28th, and 29th.

I say Tigers over the Cardinals in five. I'd almost rather see it go six, so that the Tigers can celebrate in Comerica one more time, but I'd rather not lose two games. Either NL team can definitely cause problems for Detroit, but if they keep playing like this, Bud Selig will be shaking hands with Mike Ilitch in late October.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Two games to none!

Despite having an automatic out in the lineup, the Tigers take Game 2 from the A's, 8-5. Todd Jones gets the save by bringing the winning run to the plate and then getting him to fly out to center. I believe my heart has started beating again.

This is a very good position for the Tigers. It's definitely possible to blow this lead, but not very likely. If they can take Game 3, they'll be in great shape.

No off day! I want a Thursday night game. :)

LCS Game 1 in the books

Now that was the way to start a series. I wonder if Leyland is trying the tennis trick, putting his #4 starter in the #1 spot and hoping for an upset that will give him an advantage the rest of the way through the rotation. If so, it worked like a charm. It was great to watch the Tigers knock Zito out early. If they can get to him, they can get to anyone in the A's rotation. Of course, the trick is to get to everyone in the rotation ... stealing a game on the road doesn't help if you lose one at home.

Game 2 tomorrow (well, tonight), with a lot of pressure on Oakland. Win this and they're in good shape; lose and they have to take at least two in Detroit, with Rogers and Bonderman in games 3 and 4.

My only real concern at this point is with Casey. If the Mayor isn't able to play, they'll miss his bat in the lineup, and perhaps his glove at first - the error by Guillen was a tough one, almost looked like he didn't look the ball into his glove.

Go Tigers!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

How sweet it is!

Wow, how time flies. I still haven't caught up with last week's NFL roundup ... anyway, what a finish! There's nothing like crushing a heavily-favored opponent. Sometimes you don't even feel the full impact right away, like when the Pistons whacked the Lakers in 2004. It's so unexpected that it doesn't really sink in until later.

This is different, though, in part because it's only the division series. The Tigers have four more wins before they even get to play for the real thing ... still, knocking out the Yankees, and better yet, maybe even getting Joe Torre fired? Amazing!

Classic overreaction by Steinbrenner as well, although I do like this quote:

I want to congratulate the Detroit Tigers organization and wish them well.

I love it!

It'll be an interesting weekend. I'm not sure I'll be in front of a TV for very long ... hopefully the first two games go well enough that I don't need to glue myself to the set.

Friday, October 06, 2006

2 games to 1!

Wow! What a start by Rogers! The Tigers have been steadily improving with each game, and I think it's safe to say that the Yankees have been declining each game. However, it's still up in the air. The thing about a five-game series is that every game is important. Detroit can't afford to lose tomorrow - you don't want to have to win two road games, even if you had the best road record in baseball.

I nearly had a very embarrassing thing happen. I was at BWW watching the game, and at some point in the third or fourth inning, after a big hit, a Yankees fan kind of stood up on the rungs of his bar stool and shouted. No words, just a noise. The first time, I wasn't expecting it (he was four seats down from me). The second time, I figured it was because he was an obnoxious Yankees fan.

Later in the game, another regular and his date sat down between me and the Yankees fan. Between innings, the regular turns to this guy and waves at him or something. I'm playing trivia, so this is out of the corner of my eye. The regular turns back to his date and says, "He is deaf. I thought so from the sounds he was making." (He had been signing to the guy - the regular used to be an interpreter.)

:o

I'm glad I didn't stand up and cheer, or point, or anything like that.

:o

(I didn't. I'd just thought about it.)

This is why I keep my mouth shut, for the most part, when I get mad. Almost without fail, when I'm mad at something, it's for the wrong reason.

Game 4 tomorrow afternoon. I'm busy. Don't call me.

Hopefully I'll be free on Sunday. :)

Split on the road ...

... and you know the other part. On the one hand, I was afraid they wouldn't be able to do it. On the other, well, this was the best road team in baseball this season. Verlander did a great job of settling down after the Damon home run (as opposed to Robertson in Game 1), and the Tigers again got a steady parade of hits, although this time they did a better job with them.

So now, all they have to do is ... you know.

Detroit doesn't have much of a playoff history, at least not in the post-expansion days.

In '87, the Twins had home-bubble advantage, and the Tigers were down 0-2 before winning Game 3 in Detroit. Even that required an eighth-inning homer by Pat Sheridan (trivia: the tying run was scored by Jack Morris. Sparky used him on a few occasions as a pinch-runner).

In '84, nothing was a problem. The Tigers took two games in Kansas City (the ALCS was 2-3 back then, with the higher-seeded team getting three home games at the end of the series) and one of two in San Diego (the Series was 2-3-2).

'72 was weird. Somehow, Detroit had home-field advantage, even though they had a worse record than Oakland. I guess it must have alternated. Anyway, the A's won both games in Oakland, Detroit took the next two, and then Oakland won Game 5 in Detroit.

So ... three seasons, four series, 3-6 record on the road, now 4-7. 7-2 at home, though, with their only losses being in the ALCS, Game 4 in '87 and Game 5 in '72.

That means nothing this season. Announcers like to talk about history and all that, but it doesn't matter. All that matters is how you play today.

At 8:20 EDT.

Go Tigers!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Baseball in October???

Sunday's game: Jim Joyce sucks. The best thing you can say about him is that his strike zone is equally mysterious for both teams. Granted, I'm not going to watch a Tigers game and be completely impartial, but there were a lot of pitches called in a way that demonstrated that Joyce understands even less about the strike zone than the average major-league umpire.

Some people believe that this gives baseball character, the fact that for this umpire, a pitch four inches outside is a strike, and for this one, a belt-high pitch is a ball. I think it's a crock. It's one of the ways in which Bud Selig's lack of leadership is palpable. MLB needs consistent officiating more than the other sports because there are so many isolated calls that need to be made, calls in situations where the wrong call is easily identified.

At some point, umpires will be forced to use some kind of system to help in calling balls and strikes. I don't know if this is a recent development, or if it's always been this way and we just never noticed as much, but it's clear that umpires can't call strikes on all sides of the zone. Something has to be done to help them.

Tuesday's game: Yuck. Well, hey, the whole postseason is a bonus. Most people are in agreement that the Tigers will be solid next year, although you wonder if maybe they need another bat (and please, not a current or former cheater: you know who I mean). Still, I'd rather be losing to the A's than the Yankees.

But really, if you look at the field, the Twins can't win outside the bubble (and apparently can't win a postseason game in it), the A's can't win in the postseason, and the NL? Whatever. So it looks like it might be yet another Yankee title. Great.

It still doesn't erase 2004, though. Hee hee!

Saturday, September 30, 2006

NCAA recap, September 30

Wisconsin 52 at Indiana 17: I know Coach Hoeppner means well, but here's the thing: you can't make your team better simply by wanting it to happen. Writing "1-0 Big Ten" on a hat is nice, but it doesn't give you a better chance to win. Instead of "Defend the Rock," maybe IU's motto should be "One Step at a Time." Indiana is a bad, bad team this year. There's no other way to put it.

Purdue 21 at Notre Dame 35: I've got Purdue's defense in our Big Ten fantasy league this year. There were other defenses on the board at that point. I think I should have taken one. Selwyn Lymon had a huge game (7 for 229, 2 TD), so I guess I should have held onto him ... it's really the first game he's done well, though, and I think this was because the Irish collapsed on Bryant. Purdue really didn't stop either the run or the pass once again, so I really can't see them making much noise in the Big Ten this season, except that there are so many other bad teams in the conference, Purdue really could make it to a bowl.

Northwestern 7 at Penn State 33: Pat Fitzgerald will do all right with these guys, but he just needs a few more weapons. They were able to hang with Penn State for about a half, but that was it. Was Happy Valley really nervous about Morelli? He's played fine every time I've seen him (I did not watch the Notre Dame debacle, though).

Alabama 13 at Florida 28: I tuned in just in time to watch Alabama throw the game away. It was just like my NCAA 07 season - coincidentally, as the coach of Florida. My offense sucks, but if I just hang in there long enough, we force a couple of turnovers, get a couple of easy TDs, and rack up another win. Anyway, I guess Urban Meyer isn't a complete moron, huh?

Kansas 32 at Nebraska 39, ot: Interesting side note: this series is the longest continuous series in I-A. I didn't watch long enough to find out how it compared to other series overall.

I was going to write that some things don't change, but I'd forgotten that Kansas beat Nebraska last season, and guess what? They almost did it again. Nebraska dominated the game early, but apparently after I switched over to Michigan-Minnesota, Kansas came storming back, only to fall short in overtime.

Hmm. I guess Bill Callahan isn't an idiot either. Makes you wonder how many schools are struggling because they have no patience.

Michigan 28 at Minnesota 14: Someone please tell Mike Patrick that Minnesota's primary color is maroon. It's not red. It's not dark red. It doesn't even look red. I can't believe he's made that mistake more than once. Where's the producer?

Michigan looked pretty good, not great, but then again, they led pretty much the whole game in a place where it's hard to win, they had a big lead late, and they killed the clock when they needed to. The Wolverines may have avoided the post-big-game hangover they've had in the past. We'll see ...

Anyway, I guess Lloyd Carr isn't an idiot. Unless he loses to Michigan State, in which case, yeah, that's probably not a good thing

NFL recap, September 24

Yeah, I'm falling behind on these. Maybe it's because the Lions suck. Yeah, the Football Outsiders don't quite agree, saying they're the best 0-3 team in the NFL, but I remain unconvinced.

Random thoughts about commercials before we get to the games:
  • The Diet Pepsi commericals weren't funny last season either.
  • I don't think most people take "24-7" to mean "on the NFL network," but hey, good luck with that campaign.
  • If you still eat at Taco Bell, and you're not a) strapped for cash or b) really drunk, I feel sorry for you.
  • Message to Citibank: charging something to someone else's credit card is fraud, which is covered by pretty much every credit card company. Identity theft is opening a new account in someone else's name using information you stole from them. Not that it matters: your card is as bad as your commercials.


Green Bay 31 at Detroit 24: One of the reasons FO likes the Lions is that interception returns are basically random, so the TD hurt the Lions much more on the scoreboard than in DVOA. If you could take that mistake away, the Lions would have had a shot to win this game. However, you can't do that. It seems as though the Lions are going to have another one of those years where people say "They could have been 8-8 if such-and-such."

On a side note, I think we're all aware that this could be Brett Favre's last year, and with that in mind, can we maybe not go to a shot of him after every single play? I know he's still on the field. In fact, when the other team has the ball, I suspect he hasn't moved much from where he was in the last shot.

Or maybe that's it. Dish Network is rolling out the Favre Channel, which will be on 24-7. They'll simply run Packers games.

To be fair, sometimes it's not just Favre. Producers have this fascination with a quarterback's eyes - there are way too many shots of a QB looking left and right that suddenly cut to the middle of a play. Yes, we know the QB looks at the defense prior to the snap.

Other games:
— Was that a J.P. Losman sighting? Does this mean Lee Evans will finally post the type of numbers that people predicting for him when he came out of Wisconsin?
— Maybe the Colts still can't stop the run, but it wouldn't surprise me if they eventually become the oddity, the team that wins a Super Bowl despite having weak rushing defense. Of course, they'll have to be able to throw the ball in the playoffs ...
— I told you so. Any team with Daunte Culpepper and Joey Harrington as QBs is not going to have to work about January flight plans.
— Things are starting to clear up for the Bears: Grossman might be the QB they've needed, Jones is probably the guy they want at RB, and if Berrian can be the complement to Muhammad at WR, Chicago might have an offense to help out their defense for the first time in a while.
— I wonder what Joey Porter had to say about Sunday's game?
— Tim Keown, a Page 2 columnist whom I enjoy reading, had something to say about coaches who keep long hours. Not what I was hoping to read – I've never considered long hours to equal better work, and if a certain jut-jawed coach isn't a good enough example of balancing home life and coaching, I don't know what else you need – but close enough. Hey, Chucky, the other way to raise the results-to-hours ratio is to get better results. Maybe you should work on that. Or maybe this is the Gruden that Raiders fans were hoping to lose ...
— No, the Texans wouldn't be much better with Reggie Bush. They'd be better if they'd been able to trade for multiple picks, but there weren't any takers. Houston needs help at a lot of positions, not just RB (and you can't count Davis; at the time, no one knew he'd be out for the year). Keep the Texans in mind when you listen to people talk about expanding further.
— Steve McNair isn't playing badly enough to cost the Ravens any games ... yet.
— Kurt Warner is playing badly enough to cost the Cardinals games. However, I doubt Leinart is going to make a difference at this point in the season, especially with the way that Dennis Green (mis)handles QBs. I don't see why he doesn't just swap QBs after each play.
— This just in: San Francisco doesn't suck (note to Texans: copy the 49ers' rebuilding plan) and Philadelphia might be really good. Maybe that McNabb guy is all right after all.
— Note to Mike Holmgren: NFL games are still 60 minutes.
— If you think Jake Plummer is the right guy to lead the Broncos, well, I'm not saying there's a better QB available right now, but I'll check back with you in January to see how you feel about him.
— The irony is that the last time the NFL saw offenses that were geared for Michael Vick's talents, not only would they not have let him play QB, they probably wouldn't have let him play, period.

Oh yeah, one more thing. When did ESPN start listing elapsed time of a score, rather than time remaining? How stupid is that? Do they realize the official time is the time remaining?

Friday, September 29, 2006

ESPN jumps the shark

(sorry, registration required)

Surprise, surprise. Sports fans apparently aren't willing to pay out the ... um ... wallet to get content that they could already get through their current vendor. Raise your hand if you want real-time access to scores. Next, put your hands down if you have Web access on your phones. Who's left? Not enough people to sustain the operation.

Apparently the people who like watching video content on their phones aren't sports fans either. I don't see the allure in watching highlights on my phone. If I want highlights, I'll watch them on TV, and not on ESPN360, Mobile ESPN, or whatever failed venture they'll try next.

ESPN is like every other market dominator. Once they achieved the position they sought, they wept, because there was nothing left for them to conquer, so instead of ruling their lands, they set off to conquer other worlds. Hey guys, why not work on improving your existing content? You could start with your MNF team ...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

S-M-R-T

Tonight, during the Tigers-Blue Jays game, Placido Polanco laid down a squeeze with Craig Monroe at third. Monroe took off with the pitch, Polanco bunted to the pitcher, sacrifice, run scores.

There are two types of squeeze plays: a suicide squeeze, where the runner takes off with the pitch, and safety squeeze, where the runner takes off on contact. The former is "suicide" because if the batter doesn't make contact, you're dead. The latter is a safety squeeze because you stay on the bag if the batter misses.

So the announcers are talking about how Leyland called for the safety squeeze one pitch after Toronto tried a pitchout. Um ... that's not a safety squeeze. Note that part about "with the pitch."

They come back from the break and are now discussing how it was a suicide squeeze (although Monroe did break a little late, it was way before Polanco made contact). My guess is that the little voice in their ears mentioned that it was not a safety squeeze.

All I have to say is HA!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Play of the what?

Ah yes, sponsored stupidity. I forgot. I'm watching Twins-Royals right now a) in the hopes that the Tigers can pick up a half game and b) because I have difficulty watching a well-produced football game, and ESPN, um, anyway ... it's the top of the eighth, and the Royals' announcers (not sure why, it's at Minnesota) just gave us the Ford Bold Moves Play of the Game.

This is stupid on a number of levels (for one, the way things have been going, the Bold Move should have been Kansas City demoting a player to AA), but the most obvious one is that it's the top of the eighth. In the only team sport not limited by time, you really shouldn't be awarding things before the game's over, whether or not you're afraid that people won't stay tuned after the game, especially not now. Let's face it: if you're watching a Royals game in the eighth, you'll probably be watching later too. Anyway, it's just stupid. If the Royals mount a late rally to win, the play of the game will be ... something completely unrelated.

Sponsors are idiots. It's not as bad as when it's a tie game, though. Those are the best, like during NCAA football when they announce the players of the game in a tie game in the fourth quarter, especially when it's clearly heading to overtime.

But that's all right. All these commercials help keep ticket prices down. What's that? They don't? Oh, well, at least they keep the price of Extra Innings down. What's that? ...

Celebration time

Fox sucks. They don't show it correctly (although they do show the magic number, which ESPN does not). Anyway, the champagne is flowing in Detroit, or to be more accurate, for Detroit, but in Kansas City. The team with the longest playoff drought in the AL loses to the team with the second-longest drought, putting them in (the Royals haven't made the playoffs since the '85 Series, the one with Don Denkinger; this is also why the teams in World Series, the cool game that kept your pitching and batting stats, had teams in red and blue uniforms).

Magic number: 6.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Idiot announcers

Bill Maas, for his comment about turnovers (that you remember the last one, but the others are equally important), is an idiot. He and his play-by-play guy were yapping over and over again about how a game can't end on a defensive penalty (St. Louis-Arizona), but I knew exactly what was happening. The punt returner called for a fair catch, and guess why? That's right. A free kick. So the TV idiots on the field had to get off the field, and the announcers were convinced that they'd make the punter kick again, not understanding that the penalty could simply be declined.

Fox apparently has no shortage of ignorant announcers. It was bad enough to get Ron Pitts again for the Detroit-Green Bay game. Dear Fox, here are some rule books, have your announcers study them.

So their next mistake was in insisting that the Cardinals had to be allowed their free kick, except that of course when the ref initially gave the option to St. Louis, he didn't tell them that if they declined the penalty, Arizona would get a free kick (granted, it would be about 75 yards, but you never know). So the refs explain it again, of course St. Louis accepts the penalty, kneels down on the untimed down, game over.

There are certainly some ex-players out there like Troy Aikman who actually understand the game. I don't see why the vast majority of the ones hired by Fox and CBS are idiots. And let's not even get into ESPN's crew ...

NCAA recap, September 23

Happy birthday, Peebs!

It was an interesting day in college football ...

Minnesota 21 at Purdue 27: For 30 minutes, it looked like Joe Tiller had stepped into the WABAC machine and pulled out a Purdue defense from the days when they actually had one. Fortunately, by the time they reverted to their current level of mediocrity, they had enough points to survive. The ESPN producer, in his finite wisdom, had Linda Cohn describing Purdue's start as their first 4-0 start since 2004. Um ...

Indiana State 14 at Northern Illinois 48: Didn't have to watch too much of this one. All you need to know is that a) that Wolfe kid is pretty good and b) Indiana State is a below-average I-AA team. So how did they get 35 on Purdue? Let's not think about that.

Rice 7 at Florida State 55: Caught just enough of this game to hear the announcers singing FSU's praises. The running game is fine, Weatherford is fine, blah blah blah. Uh, guys, it's Rice.

Connecticut 14 at Indiana 7: I'll never get those three hours of my life back. This was a bad game. Terry Hoeppner still has a lot of work to do in Bloomington. Over half their players are true freshmen or redshirt freshmen, so he's just starting to get his recruits into the system, but he's going to need a little bit more than talent. I'm not sure the wide-open offense he wants to run is going to work down there. Then again, it worked in West Lafayette ...

I heard the announcers mention that they're putting $55 million into the athletic complex down there, which is nice, but the crazy thing is that they're going to enclose one end of the stadium (to make a horseshoe). Why on earth would they do that? When was the last time tickets were hard to get in Bloomington? 1988? The only thing worse than playing in a half-full concrete sandbox is playing in a third-full concrete sandbox. Good luck with that. (Before you send the hate mail, my folks had season tickets to IU games for quite some time, so I've seen a lot of games there, and yes, it really does suck. At least the campus is nice, and the tailgating was good before they cracked down on it.)

Notre Dame 40 at Michigan State 37: Do you think Louisville is happy about John L. Smith leaving for the Michigan State job? I'd say so. Wow. What a choke job. I don't think there was a way to lose the game at the end that the Spartans didn't try. Naturally, all the Irish fans around here were delirious, at least the ones that were still out at 11:30 (any chance the NCAA would try cutting down on commercials instead of plays?).

You do have to give Notre Dame credit for sticking with their game plan and chipping away at the Michigan State lead, but I can't help but think that John L. saw the tapes of the Michigan game and thought "Hey, if we get a halftime lead, I'm going into a shell in the second half." That only works if you have a solid defense and a QB who doesn't make many mistakes.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

NFL recap, September 18

Hey, like I said, I had a bad weekend, and not just because a certain team that used to be called the Spartans played like, well, what John L. Smith's boys have resembled at times ...

So, games that I watched ... it was my first full week of Sunday Ticket at home (because I was on the road for week 1):

Detroit 7 at Chicago 34: Yeah, it was that bad. I switched over after the second quarter because I couldn't take it any more. It wasn't so much the Lions' inability to move the ball (at least Kitna is accurate - completing about 75% is pretty good) as it was their inability to stop the Bears. The three-yard TD drive didn't count against the defense, but the four drives from the Bears' side of the field did.

When the guy who is arguably your most talented player doesn't see anything wrong with celebrating a first down when the game is already out of reach, and later explains it by saying that the score doesn't matter to him, you've got problems. (Question: if it had been Mike Williams instead of Roy Williams, would he even have finished the game? Would he still be on the team?)

People are piling on Kevin Jones again for not getting 100 yards. Well, the two teams the Lions played had pretty good defenses, I think, and the Lions' O-line hasn't shown it can do the job consistently, so I don't see why you'd expect him to run the ball well.

Up next: Green Bay. Detroit's favored by somewhere in the neighborhood of a touchdown. What does that say about the most talented team of which Favre's been a part?

Houston 24 at Indianapolis 43: Yawn. The most important thing that happened here was that Vinatieri aggravated his groin and might or might not miss some time (he must have brought Bill Belichick's disdain for the injury report with him from New England). The Outsiders may just be right about Joseph Addai (and my fantasy teams hope so), because he certainly looked much better against the Texans than Dominic Rhodes did. Then again, it was the Texans.

News flash for commentators: you aren't always going to notice when a DL is having a great game, so please stop telling us how Houston needed to draft Reggie Bush. Houston didn't need a player, they needed a lot of players, but couldn't find anyone to take the #1 pick, and they would have looked really dumb if they'd have taken Bush and if Davis had stayed healthy. Teams don't generally run the mid-80s Cleveland offense these days, although you might wonder if maybe Atlanta is or could be doing it ...

Other notes from week 2:
— I don't think Michael Vick can play 16 games as an option QB without getting hurt, but we all agree that he can't be a conventional pocket passer, so what's the harm in trying?
— Hey, don't blame us, Cleveland. You wanted another team.
— So, Cleveland's not very good, and Green Bay's pass defense is very bad. Next week, we find out that apparently New Orleans was under water for a while, and lots of people stayed in the Superdome. I bet they skip the part about how large sections of the city will never be rebuilt partly because certain presidents are great at making promises and awful at coming through with the money to pay for them (end political rant).
— So, Daunte Culpepper makes bad decisions in the pocket. You don't say?
— Um, no, Minnesota's not that good, but they're in the NFC North, so they don't have to be. Split with the Bears and that might get them into the playoffs.
— Dear Philadelphia, games are still 60 minutes long.
— How about that Art Shell? Sure turned things around in Oakland. Okay, to be fair, he's made about as much difference as Rod Marinelli, but then again, Marinelli wasn't running around for 10 years claiming that no one would hire him. Art, I think I know why no one else would hire you, and why Al won't be asking you back for a third term, if he survives this one ...
— ... and to make matters worse, Mike Nolan isn't doing so badly with the guys on the other side of the bay.
— Wait, Arizona's not the team to beat in the West? All that talent isn't coming through for them yet? Raise your hand if you think Matt Leinart is the missing piece for this puzzle. Put your hand down, Matt.
— It's a little too early to be seeing Bad Jake, isn't it? The Broncos haven't even played Indianapolis ...
— It almost looked like Belichick packed it in at halftime, too. Good thing the Jets still aren't ready to contend in the East.
— Hey, Tennessee isn't very good this year. And I saw today that Chris Brown was injured. Oh hey, off in the distance, it's the sun, rising in the east.
— Washington-Dallas in football is almost like Yankees-Red Sox in baseball – except that Yankees-Red Sox really does go back for decades – in that if you're not a fan of either team, it doesn't take long to get really tired of having the games forced on you over and over and over again. At least in the NFL, you can root for a tie.
— I missed most of Pittsburgh-Jacksonville as I watched the Tigers beat the White Sox. Well, that's not entirely accurate. I didn't watch most of it. I don't feel like I missed anything.

Blacked out

The first time I tried to rant about this, I found out I was wrong, so I didn't post anything. At the time, the Tigers were playing the White Sox, and knowing Chicago owners' penchants for making money at the expense of their fans, when I tuned in to FSD and didn't see anything, and then tuned to the Extra Innings channel and didn't see anything, I suspected foul play. Turned out I simply hadn't added CSN Chicago to my list - eleven clicks later (I still have my outdated Pegasus system from the DirecTV-is-a-monopoly era), I was watching the game.

So last night, I get home, remember the game is on, and go through the same steps. FSD: nothing (which makes sense, because the game's in Chicago, so MLB stupidly blacks out the visitor's feed). ESPN: nothing (which also makes sense, because it's on CSNC).

CSNC: Cubs.

Uh-oh.

WGN: not baseball.

So here's the problem. I live about 150 miles as the satellite flies from Chicago. Apparently that's close enough to be in their local market, so CSNC is a "local" channel. The Sox are at home, so no ESPN or FSD feed. But the Cubs are on TV, so the Sox are probably on some local Chicago station I don't get. Result: no baseball.

Why is this? It's because all pro sports subscribe to the 1950's theory that the only thing stopping Jack and Jill Couchpotato from going to the game is the fact that it's on TV. Prevent them from seeing it, and tickets will be sold. Never mind that this is a "school night," that I'd have to leave work about 4, and that I wouldn't get home until 2 or 3 in the morning ... it must be blacked out.

Some day, one of the major leagues will figure out that all they're doing is decreasing their potential audience, and they'll change this insanely stupid policy. I'm not holding my breath, though. If anything, they'll just come up with another tier for their pay packages: for an extra $150 or $200, you can see every game, no matter what! Sign up now and save $5!

Stupid. In this day and age, I don't understand why you would try to stop people from following your team, especially not local viewers. Then again, this comes from the league that thought they owned the right to say "Brandon Inge, 3 for 4 with 2 HR, 4 RBI," so I really shouldn't be surprised at all.

At least the Tigers won. But I did want to hear Hawk get really quiet as the game drew to a close. I do have to give him credit, though. He's talked up the Tigers in every game that I've seen - it's not a case of sour grapes, and he does acknowledge that the Tigers are a legitimate team this year. Not everyone would do that.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

NCAA recap, September 16

I know, days late, sorry. I thought I might have broken my legs this weekend, but thankfully, it was just a little inflammation. More training next time. As a bonus, I got some Favres (yes, I realize it's extremely hypocritical for me to make fun of him), but then again, it's probably not so much of a bonus. I would have taken one on Saturday if I'd had them, but now it's not so bad, and I can get back to the business at hand:

Cincinnat 7 at Ohio State 37: I was tired from the 5K walk Saturday morning, so I napped when I got home (before the pain got too bad) and missed the part where the Bearcats led. Ohio State basically controlled the game, a far cry from the 2002 game that Cincinnati should have won. This is how a top-10 team should play in a game against a non-top-10 team.

Michigan 47 at Notre Dame 21: Wow. This was all I could have expected and then some. This area is far from being neutral – it's heavily IU and only slightly Purdue, with just about as many Irish as Boilermaker fans – but not only did we see just one table of fans, they left at halftime, probably having their appetites spoiled. Surprisingly, Michigan leads the series 16-14-1 (yeah, they played twice in 68 years, babies on both sides). With 2003, this makes up for a lot of other games.

Oh yes, analysis. Michigan capitalized on Irish mistakes, that's for sure, but it's not the same as piling up the offense. You'll notice that Henne only threw for 220 yards (which was partly because Michigan quit trying at 34-7, yes they did), but still, the Wolverines' offense has yet to prove it can win a high-scoring game. Remember, the defense scored twice and also set up a one-yard FG drive in the third quarter.

Notre Dame may be all right, but if they can't beat an above-average Big Ten team at home, they really don't want to play in January.

Miami 7 at Louisville 31: Caught glimpses of this during the UM-ND game. I looked up when the score was 7-0 Miami and the 'Canes had just recovered a Louisville fumble (their only turnover of the game), and I said something to the effect that a blowout was coming. Yes it was, but not the way I thought it would go at that point.

Larry Coker's doing a terrible job, isn't he? Why, Miami might lose four games this year! Yeah, it's awfully tough when a once-dominant program falls into the ranks of the very good. Lloyd Carr was having the same problem until Saturday, when he suddenly became a genius. College alumni are worse than NFL owners: eventually they expect you to go 13 and minus 1, plus two bowl wins. Oh yes, and beat your rivals by 70.

Losing your starting quarterback is always tough, so it remains to be seen how Louisville will cope with the loss of Brohm. Middle Tennessee State and Cincinnati should be wins; Kansas State might be, but funny things can happen on the road. (I'm pretty sure Bill Snyder didn't schedule this game before he retired.) If it's longer than three weeks, the next game is Syracuse, but the one after that is the biggie, West Virginia, and if Brohm's out for that one, so will the Cardinals be.

BYU 23 at Boston College 30, 2 OT: Heck of a game, and heck of a finish. Nice catch on that interception. The Eagles need some help, though. Having an inconsistent kicker can be a real problem in college, especially when a blocked extra point can cost you three points (one you don't get, two they do). On the other hand, maybe simply missing them isn't that much of a problem ... both teams threw the ball a lot this game, and they combined for only seven points in four overtime possessions. I'll let you decide what that means.

I caught bits and pieces of other games, but not enough for me to make comments, other than that I think Terry Hoeppner has a lot of work to do, as does Pat Fitzgerald, and it wouldn't surprise me if Joe Tiller resigned at Purdue. This is easily his worst team to date, and if they struggle to win in a mediocre Big Ten, I can't see much keeping him around any longer. He's proven he could coach in the conference, has done more for the program than any other coach to date, and is rapidly exhausting the capital he's earned from that run of bowl appearances. I'm not sure this defense can stop Indiana, and he's lucky it won't face Ohio State.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The devil made me do it.

It wasn't my fault. Costco made me.

I've been holding off upgrading my TV for a long time, even though the first time I saw an HD display for a 360, I was impressed, and when my long-time sports bar upgraded to HD for football season, I was more than a little impressed. Basically, it was three things: cost, cost, and the knowledge that I'd have to upgrade my satellite system eventually, meaning more cost.

So Costco sends me an e-mail every now and then, trying to get me to buy things. This one was no exception. Blah blah special, blah blah special, $500 off an HD TV special, blah blah special ...

what?

$500 off?

Oh my.

So my credit card jumped out and bought one. I didn't do it. I had nothing to do with it.

Naturally, the TV arrived much later than the accompanying stand (which was just as well, it doesn't fit the stand very well, so I'll hang onto that until I get a TV that fits it better - yes, I have several TVs and will eventually upgrade them all, like the commercial where the guy has an HDTV in every room, including on the ceiling and in his drawers). It got here Thursday. I was clever enough to be home to sign for it because I'd had a package that they wouldn't leave the week before, and they carefully noted the time they'd stopped by each day - three visits, all between 1:30 and 2:00. Sure enough, at 1:30, the doorbell rings, and the UPS guy is walking back to the truck, leaving the TV on the doorstep. (So you left this, but didn't leave the other package, much less valuable? No big deal, just odd ...)

I hooked it up last night. The difference, even at 480i, was amazing. Set to 1080i, it was stunning. The graphics in PGR3 were awesome (too bad they detract from the gameplay), and I can read the cards so much better in Texas Hold 'Em. Even the standard satellite signal is clearer (and the TV is bigger, of course), so I can see it from the kitchen. Unfortunately, the slowest setting on my DVR looks like crap. I'll have to try the faster settings before I upgrade that ...

I'm almost afraid to play Oblivion in HD. I may not put it down, and that's coming from someone who's put 450-500 hours into the game, completed it once, and got all the achievements.

I may go back and redo some reviews to see if HD made any difference (Bankshot Billiards did look a bit better). It'd only be a point or two, and if so, I'll leave the original score ...

I like it. A large TV I can lift myself. I think the other two I have weigh close to what I weigh ... now I just need to work out the console arrangements. I may end up with everything except the 360 (and the Wii I preordered today) hooked up to the TV in the computer room.

Geek out.

XBLA review: Street Fighter 2: Hyper Fighting (2/10)

Let's say that you're a single guy looking for a date, and one of your female friends offers to set you up. She tells you that she knows two available women. One is smoking hot, intelligent, funny, and great company, but prefers more expensive restaurants. The other is plain-looking and not very bright, has no sense of humor, and isn't much fun to be around, but doesn't mind eating at Arby's. It doesn't matter to her which one you date. (No, really. I know, in real life, this would be a trick question, but pretend she means it.)

Why on earth would you date the second woman?

Yet that's what Microsoft hopes you'll do with Street Fighter 2: Hyper Fighting. No, I'm not using the apostrophe.

If you have any interest in fighting games (I don't have much of one, I prefer a good button-masher like Super Smash Bros. Melee, but enjoyed the original Soul Calibur as well), and you have a 360, you'll have DOA 4, right? So what would make you want to play a game with bad graphics, bad controls (the analog stick isn't an 8-way joystick, folks), few unlockables, and AI like the final boss in DOA 4 during every battle? Nothing at all, right? Oh yeah, it's cheaper, and in this case, you sure get what you pay for.

Yeah, I guess it has online play (it better - 5 of the 12 achievements are for online play), but why in the world would you bother with that when DOA 4 also has online play? Heck, SF 2: HF doesn't even have an arcade-score leaderboard, just the live leaderboards.

If you always wanted to relive the '80s fighting games you played, and you don't have a Genesis on which you could play them, I guess you could buy this, but don't. Let me take the hit for you.

zlionsfan's rating: 2 unblockable AI attacks out of 10.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

360 review: Project Gotham Racing 3 (6/10)

I wanted to really like this game. I did. But it turns out that PGR3 is like the woman you dated who had a really hot sister: everything was fine as long as the sister wasn't around, but when she was, you just couldn't help looking, and when you looked back at your girlfriend, all you could see was what she wasn't. It wasn't that she wasn't hot in her own right; she just wasn't that hot.

PGR's sister is Gran Turismo. On its own, PGR 3 is a solid game - online racing, single-player mode, "creating" tracks, badges, medals, kudos, achievements. But when you start comparing them, you start noticing all the things that PGR doesn't have.

Replay value, for one. The difficulty for each medal is roughly geared to the car you're driving, so you can't go get that gold medal simply by driving a faster car, as you might in GT3. And if you don't complete an event, you don't keep your kudos, so you can't try over and over again just to move up in rank.

Vision, for another. Especially in HD, where Bill Gates must have personally overseen the lighting. "Make sure they know we can show light and dark," he said, and so the nighttime races look like you're running at midnight on a cloudy night. Yeah, it looks cool, unless you're trying to play, in which case you're all over the track because you can't see it.

Of course, it would be easier if they had a course map for you, which they don't. All they have is a little inset map showing the region of the track you're on, and even in HD, the detail is lacking, so you can't tell the difference between a slight bend, a chicane, and some other feature they forgot to detail.

Not only do they not have a course map, they don't show you by how much you trail the car in front of you, except at checkpoints, so there's no way to tell if you have any chance of catching him. Not that it would matter, because he'd just spin you out. You can't spin him out, though. AI-controlled cars almost never spin out. It's magic.

And the things like time and speed challenges? Say you're doing a speed challenge where platinum is 120 mph, gold is 110, and silver is 105. If you try it at silver, and you reach 121, all you get is silver. You can only win the medal you've selected.

It does have one thing in common with GT3, though. It's nearly impossible to tell if you already own a car, just in case you were thinking about trying to buy all the cars in the game. Seriously, would it have been that hard to have some little icon in the list indicating that you've already got one?

And yes, it does have Ferraris and Lamborghinis, so it has something that GT3 doesn't (or was it Ferraris and Porsches?).

This is the best racing game I've played on the 360, for what it's worth (Burnout Revenge is a better game, but a worse racing game. You'll see what I mean when I review it), but it's no GT3. That's okay, though. Unplug your PS2, set it behind you, and enjoy PGR3 for a while. It's fun, worth a GameFly rental, but buy at your own risk.

zlionsfan's rating: 6 Ferraris out of 10.

XBLA review: Scramble (2/10)

Hey, Digital Eclipse guys. You do a great job porting arcade games to the 360 - it's almost like playing the old games themselves. Just one comment:

The games you're porting pretty much sucked.

This week's game is Scramble, an old side-scroller where you moved your ship on the left half of the screen, firing with one button and dropping bombs with the other. You can play it in all its glory on the 360, either with the authentic graphics and sound or with updated graphics and sound. Yep, that's right.

Did they change the controls, the ones that wore out your fingers (because it didn't auto-fire)? No. In fact, they're even worse on the 360 controller, because the buttons aren't close together, and for some reason, on an eight-button controller (L3 and R3 don't count), they wouldn't let you reconfigure the controls.

Did they add additional game-play modes? No.

Did they even bother to persist the high scores table? No.

So this is what you get. I don't know what the Live co-op mode is, and frankly, I don't care. Scramble wasn't that good when it came out in the '80s, and it didn't age well.

If you are a classic gamer, and for some reason you're a big fan, and no one else you know has this game, then I guess you can get it. Otherwise, stay away. Stay far away.

zlionsfan's rating for classic gamers: 2 poorly-configured buttons out of 10.

Monday, September 11, 2006

NFL recap, September 11

First of all, great idea. Too bad they're only doing it this week. A doubleheader every night, one Eastern or Central game and one Mountain or Pacific game. Why?

— 8:30 Eastern is too late to start a game;
— 5:30 Pacific is too early to start a game;
— Two games are better than one;
— We get to see more football without Joe Theismann and with Bonnie Bernstein.

On to the games ...

Minnesota 19 at Washington 16: Yes, it's week 1, and there's no telling how little this means, but if the NFC East is the strongest division in football, that doesn't say much for the rest of the league. The Eagles started off slowly against the expansion Texans (oh, right, this is their fifth season), the Cowboys played poorly against Jacksonville, the Giants made about 20 stupid plays against the Colts, and now Washington makes Brad Johnson look better than he did in his first career start against the Phil-Pitt Steagles. (No, he's actually 37, unless you're reading this more than a day after the fact, in which case he's 38.)

I-wouldn't-have-believed-it-if-I-didn't-hear-it moment of the week: Joe Theismann correcting Tony Kornheiser, and properly. After a 15-yard face mask penalty on Sean (Personal Foul) Taylor, Kornheiser made some comment about Taylor's reputation preceding him, as if it might have caused the official to make that call, and Theismann basically said no, he got flagged for tackling someone by the head, which is exactly what he did (one hand grabbing onto the end of the face mask at eye level). I'd be interested to see if the incidence of personal foul penalties is greater among Miami players than among the NFL as a whole. (That reminds me: props to Jeremy Shockey for introducing himself as Jeremy Shockey, Miami University. Of course, that's the one in Ohio, not the one in Florida, but still, it's much better than hearing yet another player talk about "The U." I figured it was because they couldn't remember all those syllables.)

San Diego at Oakland, late: Marlon McCree should have been ejected immediately after his hit on Courtney Anderson. I simply do not understand why it is that so many people associated with rulesmaking and officiating watch cheap shot after cheap shot go unpunished or lightly punished and then wonder why it is that the average ex-NFL player has a much shorter lifespan than the average person. Never mind the effects on the player's career, the team, and the game: I'm talking about the player's health. One of these days, some jackass like that is going to knock a guy into paralysis or death, posturing over him like several players do, and then, and only then, will the NFL and NFLPA do something to stop this behavior.

Dear Oakland, you wanted Aaron Brooks, you got him. Sincerely, New Orleans.

Yeah, Art Shell sure put a stop to costly penalties. Well, to his credit, there were only 4 Raider penalties by the 10-minute mark in the fourth, but one of them nullified a missed Kaeding field goal, with the Chargers eventually getting three points. Then again, the Oakland offense was lousy, so giving San Diego three extra points didn't really matter.

I thought Detroit was going to struggle again this season, but after watching Green Bay and Oakland play, I'll say right now there's no way the Lions will be drafting in the top 5 next season.

One more thing: I do like cheerleaders (I was going to link to the Raiderettes, but Oakland's website is stupid and doesn't provide a direct link), and I couldn't understand why the Lions didn't have any. At first I thought it was because Mr. Ford was too cheap to pay them, but after watching a couple of making-the-squad shows on NFL Network (thank you, NFL Network) and wiping the drool from my chin, I realized that not even Ford would be that cheap - you could probably pay the entire squad with one of Charles Rogers' game checks, and it would have been a much better investment.

However, after watching more than one instance of a director cutting a woman from the squad because her 10% body fat included about 12 ounces around her waist, I thought that maybe they were going a little too far with this appearance thing. I mean, let them eat an actual meal every now and then.

Eventually, though, my Y chromosome won out. Hire cheerleaders, Mr. Ford! Seriously! It might be the second-best move the Lions would make all season ...

Sunday, September 10, 2006

NFL recap, September 10

Ah yes, glorious football. The first Sunday of the NFL season has come and gone. Here are my thoughts on the games on which I focused:

Seattle 9 at Detroit 6: Well, it was much better than I thought it would be. The Lions pretty much shut down the passing game (I'll be looking at the game more closely in the next couple of days), blocking one kick and deflected another, and kept Shaun Alexander in check. However, their punt and kickoff coverage teams played poorly, and Hanson missed a 52-yarder that played into Marinelli's decision to punt late in the game (although why they didn't go for it ... never mind, I know why, they couldn't move the ball). Kevin Jones looked good on some plays and had nowhere to go (as usual) on others. The offense looked basically the same as last year - this team has a lot of work to do.

Special teams may be a concern again. Aside from the blocked kicks, whether Hanson's kick was tipped or not, if he can't hit from 50+, and if he continues to struggle from 40-49, then the Lions will be in big trouble. If you can't kick indoors ...

Chicago 26 at Green Bay 0: See, here's the thing. Favre just doesn't get it. He's like an aging pitcher whose claim to fame was his fastball, no longer able to sneak it by hitters and either unwilling or unable to adjust his game. So he keeps throwing off his back foot into triple coverage, hoping to pull something out, instead of dumping the ball short and keeping the drive going. Another bad throw, another interception, another shot of Favre walking off the field. Let's not sell Chicago's effort short – they did a great job containing the 51 players not named Green or Driver – but keep in mind that when Number 4 finally hangs up his cleats, we'll want to stop remembering his career a couple of years ago or so.

Indianapolis 26 at NY Giants 21: (Totally unlike NCAA football, huh? All road winners.) Speaking of past his prime ... Madden is done. He's into Harry Caray territory, except he doesn't have a hidden fridge of Old Style on which he can blame his senility. (They sell anything other than Old Style at Wrigley? I don't believe it.) All he's got left are his reflections on football in the '80s and the rare insight into something on the field. Michaels is starting to miss a step as well (Hey Al, this rule, running 10 seconds off the clock, I think it's been around for a while), but that could be just from, well, not quite osmosis, but whatever the corolllary would be when you are discussing loss rather than gain. Anyway, one thing I think they missed was on Eli's last interception, where I'm pretty sure he got hit as he threw it. They just figured he was throwing up another jump ball ...

Anyway, thankfully we will not have to hear about MANNING VS. MANNING for a while now (last I checked, they weren't playing against each other, not unless Eli was trading jerseys with R.W. McQuarters). My prediction is already coming true: anything wrong with the Colts' running game will be blamed on Edge's departure. You see, he'd have run for 150 tonight. By the time the season's over, pundits will be suggesting that he'd have broken Dickerson's record, despite the fact that he might not even get 1000 yards in Arizona. And John, running backs aren't the same as QBs. You may not have realized this, but a number of teams these days rotate RBs in and out, and it doesn't seem to bother them very much ... hmm, if I could only think of an example ... hmm ... a team who split RB duties and had success doing it ...

Other thoughts from the week:
— Seeing it right after it happened, I thought Geathers did as much as he could to avoid hitting Green in the head, and I thought it was more shoulder-to-helmet than helmet-to-helmet, and Green could have tried to slide instead of getting those extra yards ... anyway, unless the NFL wants to change how its helmets are made, helmet-to-helmet hits will continue to be a serious problem for the players. One suggestion would be to fine the networks $100,000 (or more) every time they show a hit like that in a positive light. ESPN would be broke by now.
— I'm sure we'll soon be reading about how Drew Bledsoe lost the game for the Cowboys by not throwing enough to a certain a-hole receiver.
— I thought Arizona would destroy San Francisco, leading some to believe that Dennis Green had worked his magic, only to discover by season's end that no, their OL still sucks, and the Cardinals are still a mediocre team. Well, they didn't destroy the Niners. Draw your own conclusions.
— The Patriots almost lost at home to the Bills. Nope, nothing to worry about in Foxboro. They're still on course for the Super Bowl, in which they'll play ...
— ... the Panthers, who won't be in any trouble at all if Steve Smith is out of the lineup.
— Before you anoint Reggie Bush as the best running back in NFL history, let's remember how the Browns have done against the run in recent years.
— Pittsburgh-Miami on Thursday night was like opening a new Hooters and having the male owner waiting tables.
— Jake Plummer having a bad game? You don't say!
— No, Donté Stallworth isn't a completely different player now. They played the Texans.
— We're sorry, the Tampa Bay Bandwagon is no longer in service. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

NCAA recap, September 9

More college football ...

Central Michigan 17 at Michigan 41: I'll tell you what. Michigan may not be able to take very much away from this game, but their opponents sure will. Rollout punting may become very popular in the Midwest this year. When your net punting average is over 40 against Michigan, with Steve Breaston returning kicks, you're doing it right.

Ohio 35 at Northern Illinois 23: Great quote from this game. The guys mention that the Cubs are playing later today, one says that they're a game out of the wild card, right? The other says they're a game out of 15th. Then he says they'll win the division next year. The first guy asks him to confirm that, and the second guy says "We all have the same bosses, I've probably said too much anyway."

Frank Solich, Joe Novak. Lots of running. This Garrett Wolfe guy, he's pretty good. Another star RB at Northern Illinois. Who would have guessed? Ohio did a good job of passing out of the 'bone, though. I think some people still underestimate the quality of football played in the MAC. It won't happen much longer.

Western Illinois 10 at Wisconsin 34: No surprises here, as Wisconsin makes a stop on the I-AA Express. One thing I noticed is that the backups didn't execute particularly well for Wisconsin. I'd write it off as inexperienced coaching, but we'll have to see. Twelve men in the huddle, penalties, poor decisions on kickoff returns ...

Ohio State 24 at Texas 7: Looks like Mack Brown decided to go back to not winning big games, now that he's got his ring ... Just joking! Kind of. Yes, a couple of key plays helped keep Texas from staying in this game, but that's part of being a great team, making plays at crucial times. Ohio State did and Texas didn't. Well, there's also this thing about an untested QB vs. a senior QB ... although I thought it was interesting that most current Buckeyes have plenty of room on their helmets. Seems like in the old days, there were more than a few players who had to use the other side ...

With this game, plus the Penn State and Michigan results, and Drew Tate out for Iowa this week, I think Ohio State is separating themselves from the pack. That's no guarantee they'll walk into a BCS bowl, but the odds sure look good right now.

Howard 7 at Hampton 46: I tried to watch the second half of this game, I really did, but the announcers on ESPNU were awful. It was like they just miked a couple of guys in a bar who were watching it on TV. They didn't know the difference between illegal substitution (12 men in the huddle, for example: 5 yards) and illegal participation (12 men on the field, 15 yards) ... there were other things ... it was bad. It's too bad. As I like to mention, I-AA football is solid too, and I'd like to see just how good Hampton is going to be this season (with the blocked XP costing them against Grambling last week).
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