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Jake’s Last Dance April 8, 2013

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Jake 2

 

This is an updated draft of a previous story, updated on Feb.15 2016. 

We never knew the animals’ backstories. We never knew what brought them to the shelter in Moncton before finding their way to our foster home near the marsh in Sackville, New Brunswick. They always checked in to our place baggage-free. Jake had been at the shelter for a few weeks before he stepped through the doors of our home, a converted carriage house on the Mount Allison University lot.

 

He was a black lab (though I’m pretty sure there was some Shepherd in him too), with the torso of a bulldog, a massive head like a battering ram, and fur so shiny you could practically see your reflection in his coat. I immediately noticed his weathered grey goatee, and his tail, moving like a metronome set to ‘Megadeath’ as his nervous and needy face eyed his new surroundings. We eventually came to figure that his owner probably croaked, maybe some elderly man who cared for him but couldn’t walk him much- that would at least explain Jake’s pudgy belly- and whose family didn’t want to take on the old man’s dog. But that was just a wild (and wildly optimistic) guess. I have as little a clue to his past today as I did that day seven years ago. At the time, none of that really mattered. He was home, for now.

 

We showed him the fenced-in tennis court in the backyard (which soon became the Fetch Arena as the snow fell) and let him get comfortable around the house. He was starting to settle down, and so I took off to class. I found out later that that afternoon Jake dashed through the front door a few minutes after I had left and took off down York Street toward the Chapel in the middle of campus, three of my roommates chasing after him (later, as I got to know Jake, I felt happy for him, for his little early adventure across the quad). But I wasn’t necessarily surprised he had darted; Earlier that day he was a spaz when my roommates tried walking him, constantly tugging at the leash, anxiously rushing off to nothing in particular. All of that free space, I guess.

 

The SPCA had been very clear that, like all the dogs they brought to us to help socialize to make them more adoptable, they wanted Jake crated. We decided to begrudgingly try, at least for the first day, and it wasn’t too hard to get him to oblige; . But that night, about 1:30 am, I could hear him from my room down the hall, scratching at the metal bars in his cage like it was Shawshank. Poor guy. Who knows how many boxes he’d been put in and out of over the last few weeks. I let him out. I grabbed his tattered maroon leash, and the two of us went outside for a smoke. We ended up walking across town, to Lorne St., past the cemetery, and back. The whole time his leash, tight as mandolin string with my roomates earlier that day, dragged on the ground with plenty of slack to spare. When we got back I filled up his water bowl,  forgot to put him back in the cage, and went to sleep. A couple of hours later, I awoke to the sound of heavy snoring. It was Jake, lying sprawled out on the empty bed across from mine in my room. I woke up again that morning to the scent of smelly lab, only to realize that at some point while I was asleep Jake had commandeered my own bed, covers and all, and sandwiched himself between me and the wall, as if I somehow wouldn’t notice. He never slept in that crate again.

 

Jake adjusted to his new home quickly, transforming into a perfectly obedient, trusting, and well-adjusted dog. Actually, transform is the wrong word. Jake was always a good dog, I’m sure, he just got dealt a shitty hand. But he was happy in his time with us, even if he would always freak a little at the sound of a siren (which always took my mind to dark places about his past life). And he was smart, very wise and intuitive. Before long, I was taking him with me to friends’ houses, and to the Dunn building across the street when I needed a quiet place to study. I began forgoing morning classes to take him for long treks all over Sackville. Soon I found myself walking him off-leash throughout Waterfowl Park, taking Jake deep into the marshlands where he could sprint around like an idiot. He fucking loved it. Then every night, like clockwork, he’d jump up on the end of my bed and curl up until the morning.

 

We were buds, a man and his dog and all that—only Jake never belonged to me. The goal of our ‘Animal House’ was always to help transition animals from the shelter to a family’s home, and we were successful at that. So it was bittersweet when, just a few days before the Christmas break, we received word that someone had seen Jake’s picture on the MSPCA website and wanted to come see him in the flesh. That’s how I got to meet Chris Bell. Her dog had recently passed after a nice life on her farm in Sussex, NB where Chris and her husband Wayne lived on a large property with two horses, and she was back in the market. You could tell right off the bat that she was a dog lover and that, like most everybody, she liked Jake from the moment they met. They really hit it off. She was going to talk it over with her Wayne, and despite how great the situation looked on paper- Jake potentially going to a loving home- I was worried. Maybe I spoiled Jake too much. Maybe I didn’t prepare for a ‘normal’ family life at all. Maybe I made it worse by going on two-hour walks and letting him sleep on the bed. Secretly, I hoped Chris would flake out, that Jake would stay at our house and I would eventually take him back to my home in Toronto at the end of the school year.

 

But, thankfully, she didn’t.

 

I was on a plane heading back home on the day Jake got adopted, just a few days before Christmas. It killed me not to be there to see him off, and when I left for the airport early that morning I felt horrible for leaving him behind. I was a mess that entire day, wondering aloud to anyone who would listen whether or not Jake was getting on well at his new home. Do you think they walked him this morning? Does he have his tennis ball? Where did he sleep last night?  The following morning, I opened up my email and there was a message from Chris:

Merry Christmas Dave,
 
Just wanted to let you know that Jake is a great dog and I loved him at first sight.  He slept with us in the bed last night.
 
He is watching the hockey game with my husband, and cheering for Toronto.  
 


Jake was a little nervous at first, when I took him for a walk last night man did he pull, same thing this morning,  Pulling hard all the way,  I just let him go,  I know that he has had a very stressful week watching everyone leave for the holidays.  So I figured, just let him go. 


We went out this afternoon and Jake helped pick out the Christmas tree.

We went to my Sisters and met her 2 dogs,  Kenny and Murdock,  they got along just fine, took all
 3 of them for a walk,  Jake loved it,  Dawn has 200 acres and it is all woods,  so lots of smells. 
Just came in from our last walk of the day, Jake was excellent, he didn’t pull at all,  I let him have the long lead and there was always slack in the leash.

My husband calls him the Professor, because Jake has been to university.  Wayne is quite taken with him. Jake will have the full run of the backyard.  Lots of Blue Jays and Mourning Doves to chase.
 Dave, we can’t thank you enough for taking such good care of Jake,  you are always welcome to visit Jake anytime.  We have a spare room and would love for you to come and stay for a visit.   

-Chris and Wayne

 

I never saw Jake, or Chris, again. I think it’s for the better. I continued to get emails with updates of Jakes new adventures: How they had gone to obedience class and Jake graduated to the advanced level. And how much he loved snowshoeing with her and Wayne in the woods, and that he would fall asleep with his head on the consol in the car on the ride home. How his grey beard is almost all-white nowadays. One correspondence read:

 

Jake is the best dog I’ve ever had. We LOVE him to bits.  He has his own cat, Sydney, whom we found 2 years ago this summer on the side of the highway.  I think Sydney thinks Jake
found him and not me.  Jake is so good to him, its truly amazing, they sleep
together eat together and even play.

We built Jake a dog run, it is pretty much 1/2 of the back lawn.  This way we
open the door and he can run and play, and we don’t have to worry about him
leaving the property.  He never stays out alone, even when he has to go to
the bathroom we go with him.  Who is crazier us or him.

 

Jake had entered a new chapter in his life, after a brief tangential paragraph with me in Sackville. He found his “forever home”, and while I always hated that term,  that was really was it.

 

I left the carriage house after that year, I just couldn’t imagine going through something like that again with the next dog that walked in the door. I get too attached, I guess. But the project kept on rolling, and I stayed in touch with the folks from the shelter and ended up adopting from there in my third year (Eddie, who is at my feet with me now as I write this).

 

A few days ago at a family dinner, out-of-the-blue my stepdad asked, “How’s Jake?” I told him that I hadn’t heard anything in a couple of years, that I’m sure he had settled into old age nicely on the farm. And then today I received another note from Chris:

Jake passed at this morning @ 8:10.

He was the best friend and dog I ever had. I know you loved him too. Thank you for being his friend so many years ago.
It was a very brief illness and he didn’t suffer. 

The more I think about it the more I just realize how lucky Jake was. I have no idea how his story began but I know it had the happiest ending you could ask for. Now more than ever I think about how many good dogs out there deserve that for themselves. In animal shelters around the world there’s another Jake, sitting anxiously in his cage, Jake 1waiting to be let out.

– D.C.Z

The Great Canadian Hope January 30, 2011

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What must have seemed like a dream run for the world’s 152nd ranked tennis player (and a Canadian, no less) came to an end earlier this week at the Australian Open in Melbourne. After beating the 22nd and 10th seeds and becoming the first qualifier to reach the round of sixteen at a Grand Slam in twelve years, Thornhill, Ontario native Milos Raonic lost in four sets (4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4) to #7 David Ferrer. Had he won, Raonic would have become the first Canadian to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal. Not that Canadian tennis fans are exactly complaining.

Equipped with one of the most powerful serves on tour (ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe called it the strongest he’s ever seen) and a 6’5 frame that lets him cover the court with ease, nineteen year-old Raonic is the most promising player to come out of Canada in years. His confidence steadily grew throughout the week as his Aussie Open performance showed that he has the ability to compete amongst the tennis elite.

“There’s a lot to learn from today and from the whole two-week experience,” said Raonic, who unleashed 15 aces in defeat. “The biggest thing is I’m not that far away from this level on a week-to-week basis. This is a great motivational thing for the work I’ve done.”

Of course, anyone in attendance on the opening night of last summers’ Rogers Cup tournament in Toronto knows what Raonic is capable of against tennis’s top dogs.

On what had already been dubbed “Tennis Canada night” at the sporting organizations newly revamped Rexall Centre on the campus of York University, the Canucks shone bright. In the evening’s first match, local kid Peter Peter Polansky (ranked 200th in the world at the time) upset 15th ranked Austrian Jergin Melzer to the delight of the capacity crowd in attendance. Still, the best was yet to come.

When Raonic and Alberta’s Vasek Pospisil stepped on the court, they looked like they were about to be fed to the lions. And, in a way, they were. Roanic and Pospisil, ranked 217 and 329, respectively, were set to take on the world’s number 1 and 2 ranked players, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokavic, in a highly anticipated first-round doubles match. It marked the first time that the top two players in the world had teamed up since Jimmy Connors and Arthur Ashe in 1976. Two closely-contested sets and a nail-biting 10-8 tiebreaker later, the Canadian Kids had beaten Nadal and Djokovic in what could only be considered a Tennis Canada Night miracle.

For Roanic, that match was the Big Bang of his career, the instant when everything changed and his game rapidly expanded. He moved to Spain in September to train full-time under Tennis Canada coach Galo Blanco, and has shown steady signs of improvement ever since.

At the Aussie Open this week, Raonic gave a global viewing audience a taste of what he is capable of (in his four matches, he recorded over seventy five aces), and his electrifying skills didn’t go unnoticed. As he left the court after his loss to Ferrer, those in attendance Down Under gave the kid from Canada a rousing ovation. It was their way of letting him know that, in their eyes, he was no fluke, and had been accepted as the real deal. Though he entered the tournament an unknown, the Great Canadian Hope with the big serve is surely one of the most intriguing players to watch as 2011 unfolds.

Dave Zarum

Book Review: The War for Late Night January 16, 2011

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Note: This article is originally published in The Argosy newspaper and as such can not be reprinted without permission from the Editor in Chief (argosy@mta.ca)

The War for Late Night: When Leno went early and television went crazy. Written by Bill Carter. Viking Press, 2010.

Dave Zarum

“Frankly, either NBC is closing its eyes to a situation it does not wish to acknowledge, or they are unaware of the caliber of disaster indicated by a drop to fourth place (behind CBS, ABC, and FOX)… Well, (cue the ragtime music) we’ve got Trouble right here at NBC with a capital ‘T’ and that rhymes with ‘G’ as in, ‘Gee, we’re screwed!’/Just a few years ago we were sitting on top with Seinfeld, Frasier, and Friends. Then those shows bailed and new ones failed and it started a nasty trend/And the guy who passed on Lost was promoted instead of tossed, and now the Peacock is taking it from both ends.”

It was August of 2006 when Conan O’Brien kicked off his performance as host of the 58th annual Emmy Awards with this ominous song-and-dance number. Who would have thought that it would only get worse for NBC, whose already shoddy reputation would be further sullied thanks to a public battle over the future of late night programming between the network and its two biggest stars, O’Brien and Jay Leno? Yet that is precisely what happened, as meticulously chronicled by New York Times national media reporter, Bill Carter, in his latest book, The War for Late Night.

At the time of his Emmy appearance, Conan was preparing to take over the Tonight Show from its longtime and successful (at least as far as ratings and revenue was concerned) host, Jay Leno- a plan that had been in the works since early 2004. But by the time 2009 rolled around (when Conan was contractually promised the Tonight Show gig), Leno was still easily number one in the ratings and, despite nearing sixty years of age, showed no signs of slowing down. So NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker (the man who passed on Lost) and his executive cohorts were left with the unenviable task of supplanting the most-watched late night personality (Leno) with one who was undoubtedly funny, but ultimately an unknown commodity at the 11:35 Tonight Show time slot (Conan).

Of course, we all know what happened: Leno was moved to 10:00, where the Jay Leno Show failed because, well, it wasn’t funny, while The Tonight Show was consistently losing out to The Late Show with David Letterman in the ratings war for the first time since Leno took over from Johnny Carson back in 1992. Zucker and NBC ultimately chose to axe Conan after only six months, handing the reigns back to Leno (and subsequently forking over almost $40 million to Conan as a severance).

In writing War for Late Night, Carter’s biggest challenge was to tell a story that had already been told in newspapers daily and was carried out on TV nightly in your living room for the better part of a year. Yet he does so seamlessly, thanks to a narrative voice that makes it possible for the reader to legitimately lean forward with interest as he discusses the intricacies of advertising revenues and minute-by-minute ratings analysis- which is no small feat. That the book reads like the late night TV version of All the Presidents Men is a further credit to Carter, who does his best Bob Woodward by conducting an anthropologist’s share of primary research and interviews with nearly all players involved, from agents to executives to the hosts themselves.

Any ardent non-fiction reader will enjoy the structure of War for Late Night, as woven in between details of closed-door negotiations between executives from  the Big Three networks (…and FOX) are concise yet thorough biographies of some of the funniest comedians in late night TV including Conan, Letterman, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, and Craig Ferguson.

“I knew it was official this morning when NBC dropped off all my CD’s and picked up its lava lamp”, Conan O’Brien told Tonight Show viewers on January 10th, 2010, of the news that Leno would return to host the show, but not before adding that the network insisted, “I must return the Etch-a-Sketch that my contract was written on”.

By then the national media had pitted Jay Leno and his “win at all costs” attitude against Conan’s “it’s just an honour to be here” mentality, which ultimately saw Leno back on top at NBC with O’Brien left to wander late night opportunities on smaller networks, like TBS.

The War for Late Night dismisses that prominent misconception, amongst others, instead offering insight and unparalleled access into the manipulative world of late night television, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. Everyone who follows has a theory as to what went wrong during the Tonight Show saga, and after reading War for Late Night, you’ll have your very own, too.

The Marshawn Lynch Run: Play of the Year? January 10, 2011

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Note: This article is published in The Argosy newspaper and as such is property of Argosy Publications Inc.

 

Anybody who argues that it’s too early to make “Play of the Year” claims in the second week of January clearly wasn’t watching the NFL playoffs this past weekend.

In the closing minutes of an improbable first round matchup between the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks, running back Marshawn Lynch erupted for an incredible 67 yard touchdown run that sealed the victory for the underdog Seahawks in arguably the biggest upset in NFL playoff history.

The Run, as its being succinctly referenced by now, was the defining moment for a team that was all but left for dead against the defending champion Saints; Seattle had won the woeful NFC West division with a 7-9 record, becoming the only team to ever finish the season with a losing record and make the playoffs.

The Saints had just scored ten points in a minute and a half and were poised to complete the comeback, down 34-30 with 3:37 left in the fourth quarter. The Seahawks offense- which had given up the ball on three straight possessions-was on the field looking to run down the clock and avoid blowing a hard-earned lead when it happened: Lynch emerges from the line with five Saints defenders falling off of him, sheds a couple of tackles, jukes to the sideline, delivers The Stiff Arm From God to cornerback Tracy Porter, a stutter step here, a key block there… Nine seconds and 67-yards later, Lynch is doing the Nestea Plunge into the end zone as millions of viewers begin to pick themselves up off of the living room floor. Devoid of circumstance The Run is jaw-dropping, but when you factor in everything that was riding on it, the play has to be considered an all-time great.

And then there’s Marshawn Lynch. With the departures of Pro-Bowl linebackers Takeo Spikes and London Fletcher along with cornerback Nate Clements to free-agency following the 2006-2007 season, there was an obvious need for the Buffalo Bills to address defense at the upcoming NFL Draft. So it was a bit surprising when, with the 12th pick in the first round, the Bills passed on defensive stars like Darrelle Revis (14th overall), Lawrence Timmons (15th), Leon Hall (18th), Aaron Ross (20th), Brandon Meriweather (24th), and Jon Beason (25th) to select Marshawn Lynch from the University of California. Lynch, the second running back selected in the draft behind Viking’s All-Pro Adrian Peterson, was tasked with bringing the sad sack Bills back to NFL relevancy.

As the focus of Coach Dick Jauran’s run-heavy offense, Lynch thrived in his first two seasons, amassing over 1,000 yards and at least seven touchdowns in both years. He even made the Pro-Bowl in 2008.

However, that summer Lynch found himself at the centre of a scandal in which he was found driving with a loaded gun following a hit-and-run incident. He received misdemeanor weapons charges and was suspended by the NFL for the first three games of the 2009 NFL season. The gun charge proved to be the first in a string of bad breaks that included a nagging ankle injury and the emergence of Bills’ running backs Fred Jackson and rookie C.J. Spiller. It seemed as though Lynch was firmly en route to the NFL’s running back graveyard, home for the throngs of players who enjoyed flash-in-the-pan success playing the most physically-demanding (and shortest tenured) position in all of sports.

With his role in Buffalo drastically reduced this season, the Bills traded him to Seattle for a pair of draft picks. Acquired as insurance for the oft-injured Seahawk running backs, Lynch was solid when called upon during the regular season, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. And when the Seahawks face the Chicago Bears in Sunday’s NFC semi-final, Marshawn Lynch will be starting in the backfield.

All it took was nine seconds and a Run for the ages to revive a player’s career and revitalize a franchise that has been on a steady decline since appearing in the Super Bowl in 2006. And for that, The Run gets my vote for 2011’s Play of the Year.

1994: The Death of Baseball and the Rise of the Baseball Movie December 1, 2010

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By Dave Zarum

“Touch ‘em all, Joe!” yelled legendary Toronto Blue Jays radio announcer Tom Cheek, “You’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life!”

Trailing 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth with Ricky Henderson and Paul Molitor on base, Blue Jays first baseman Joe Carter stepped up to the plate against Philadelphia Phillies closer Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams and blasted the second World Series-winning home run in baseball history. Carter’s shot remains one of the most iconic Canadian sports moments, cementing the second of back-to-back titles for the Blue Jays.

Graphic illustrated by Matt Collett

During spring training of that 1993 season, the seeds of a nasty feud between owners and the MLB Players Association had been sown over issues with a proposed salary cap. Within eight months of Carter’s blast the players went on strike, cancelling the latter part of the 1994 season and the entire post-season, marking the first year without a World Series since 1904.

How were millions of fans going to cope with the indefinite suspension of Major League Baseball?  What could possibly fill the void? In anticipation of the lockout and in the face of these questions, one group went into action: Hollywood producers.

The result? Rookie of the Year, Mr. Baseball, Major League II, The Scout, Angels in the Outfield, The Sandlot, and Little Big League. An avalanche of baseball movies, all released between 1993 and the strike-shortened 1994. Seven flicks, ranging from the fairly forgettable (The Scout, Angels, Mr. Baseball) to the sublime (Major League, Sandlot, Little Big League, Rookie of the Year). A savvy business move on the part of Hollywood’s largest studios, baseball fans responded and hit the theatres in droves: the films earned a combined 171 million dollars at the box office in the United States alone. But was this a reaction to the lockout, or simply an unprecedented collection of genuinely great baseball movies?

In Rookie of the Year, twelve-year old Henry Rowengartner breaks his arm and in the process somehow gains the ability to throw a baseball up to 103 mph. He’s spotted by the Chicago Cubs manager, who promptly offers him a spot on the big league club, despite the fact that he can’t learn Henry’s last name (“Runamaker!”, “Rulenfurter!”). Under the tutelage of Chet ‘Rocket’ Steadman (Gary Busey) and pitching coach Phil Brickma (the hilarious Daniel Stern), Rowengartner leads the Cubs to the pennant. Did I mention he was twelve?

Riding the coattails of ROY, Little Big League sees another twelve-year-old, Billy Heywood, hit the big leagues… as an Owner/manager of the Minnesota Twins. Heywood has to deal with controlling a bunch of grown men and (spoiler alert) ends up earning their respect in the process. Little Big League will best be remembered for perfecting the baseball montage, which takes up roughly sixty per cent of the movie.

Mr. Baseball follows the journey of Tom Selleck and his moustache, as the two play professional baseball in Japan. In The Scout, Albert Brooks plays a scout for the New York Yankees who tries to recruit pitching prodigy Steve Nebraska (Brendan Fraser). Angels in the Outfield is a remake of the 1951 film of the same name, and features Tony Danza as Los Angeles Angels pitcher Mel Clark, and Christopher Lloyd as an angel.

Major League II chronicles another season of the dysfunctional Cleveland Indians, featuring familiar characters like Pedro Serrano, Jake Taylor, Roger Dorn, Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes), Isuru Tanaka, and closer Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughan (Charlie Sheen). If there was an All-Star team of movie baseball players, all of these guys would make it.

The gold standard of early nineties baseball movies remains The Sandlot. A lifelong friendship is formed when, in the summer of 1962, the leader of a local backyard baseball team, Benjamin Rodriguez, recruits the awkward new kid in town, Scotty Smalls, to play for his team. When a baseball signed by Babe Ruth goes over the outfield wall and into a backyard patrolled by the slobbering monster known as “The Beast”, the boys must overcome their fears and retrieve it, predictably coming of age in the process.

Major League Baseball resumed play on April 2, 1995, and baseball movies subsequently faded away. There have been a handful released in the years since, but certainly nothing that could compare to what we saw during the cinematic baseball boom of 1993-1994. Except, of course for Ed, the 1996 movie where ‘Joey’ from Friends learns to deal with playing on the same minor league team as Ed, a baseball playing chimpanzee. That movie was awesome.

Anarchy! March 31, 2010

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Note: The following was written for the April 1st “Anarchy” issue of the Argosy newspaper. It’s basically our once-a-year version of The Onion…

Lebron James Hulks Out of Shirt, Suspended Indefinitely

NBA commissioner and all-around good guy, David Stern, released a statement early Thursday night reprimanding a recent incident involving Cleveland Cavaliers star, Lebron James. Just prior to the opening tip of the March 22nd game between the Cavs and the San Antonio Spurs, Lebron disrupted the usual pre-game festivities by walking to centre court and demanding that the arena staff “cut the music!” before promptly hulking out of his warm-up jersey. The hulking reportedly left many scared or just plain weirded out. In his statement, Commissioner Stern deemed the action to be “completely unnecessary”. During a press conference Wednesday morning, James tried to clarify the incident.  “It was a feat of strength. Straight up”, Lebron said matter-of-factly. “Delonte (West) triple-dog-dared me- What was I supposed to do?” An investigation as to West’s role in the matter is still pending.

Adam Morrison wins Scandinavian Dunk Contest

The internet and basketball world alike are abuzz following the leak of a video of a dunk contest that broke out during half-time of the Scandinavian All-Star game held in Reykjavik, Iceland this past weekend. The contest featured former Toronto Raptor point guard, Master P, the NCAA’s most prolific scorer (ever), Adam Morrison, and an impressive showing by the P-90 X guy. But the real star was Morrison, who dazzled the crowd with an array of acrobatic jams, including the first-ever Between-the-Face dunk, which literally brought the house down. There were no survivors.

OOOOh Yeeaaa: “Macho Man” out 4-6 Weeks

The most recent comeback attempt by wrestling superstar, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, was sidelined Tuesday afternoon when the former tag-team champion was injured while snapping into a Slim-Jim. Savage suffered a broken lower-mandible and is expected to be out of commission for the next month or so, although a scheduled MRI will reveal the exact results.

Joakim Noah day-to-day (Bad Vibes)

Chicago Bulls centre Joakim Noah recently suffered from a “killed buzz” when a baby caribou was eaten by a wolf on the National Geographic documentary he was watching last night. Says Noah, “I know that’s what happens in nature or whatever, but that don’t make it right, you know?” In related news, Noah did not make the recent road trip with his team because he couldn’t fit his weed into the overhead compartment.

Iverson: ‘Practice’ Incident a Hoax

In a shocking discovery, it was recently revealed that the whole “we talking about practice” ordeal involving Allen Iverson was part of an elaborate hoax created by the Philadelphia 76ers public relations team. It turns out Iverson loves practice; he is on record saying, “I relish the opportunity to bond with my teammates and to develop and refine the fundamental basketball skills that are necessary to be successful at the professional level”. It was also revealed that the cornrows and tattoos Iverson made famous, along with his 2001 MVP trophy were part of the same hoax. Sources learned of the news through legally sanctioned wire-taps on Iverson’s phone made possible by the Patriot Act. God Bless America.

March Madness 2010 March 22, 2010

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As March Madness officially commenced this past weekend, NCAA fans and degenerate gamblers alike were treated to forty-eight games played by sixty-four teams featuring seven hundred and sixty-eight different players over a four day span. The action thus far has lived up to its ‘madness’ claim with numerous upsets and an unbelievable amount of close games. Still, considering the seemingly constant flow of basketball up to this point, it’s nearly impossible to cover everything concisely in five hundred words. So this is happening:

Upsets

When the number 1 seed and overwhelming favourite, Kansas, fell to the University of Northern Iowa (you know, the global hotbed of basketball) on Saturday, it marked the fifteenth victory by a lower seeded team. Any time a team like Ohio University beats Georgetown, the shockwaves will reverberate. But considering the lack of “great” teams and the subsequent parity unfolding in this years’ tourney, the abundance of upsets shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Dominant teams, like Florida in 2007 and 2008 (featuring Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Daquan Cook, and Taurean Green- arguably the best starting five in NCAA history), are non-existent in 2010. Instead, every team has holes, either lacking a certain pedigree or being too reliant on freshman, as was the case with Georgetown (Greg Monroe) and Georgia Tech (Derrick Favors). Sure, Kentucky (led first-year players John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, and Demarcus Cousins) looks unstoppable, and Carmelo Anthony won it all in his lone year in college, but freshman-led NCAA champs are the exception, not the rule.

All-Time Greats

The tournament will be remembered for its record-setting amount of close games and buzzer-beaters (14 games decided by three points or less already- an tournament record, with two rounds yet to be played), but really this year’s edition of March Madness has set a precedent for amazingly cool names. Consider the following: Just-in’love Smith (Sienna), Jimmer Fredette (BYU), Dallas Lauderdale (Ohio State), Nimrod Tishman (Florida), Picasso Simmons (Murray State), Blaze French (UTEP),Scoop Jardine (Syracuse), and my personal favourite, LaceDarius Dunn (Baylor). In the words of Navin R. Johnson, “Wow! All I can say is ‘wow’!”

Bracket: Busted

Listen, brackets are useless. Brackets have become like Lord of the Rings movies- there’s always an insane amount of hype at first, and then nobody cares. Of the 2 million people who filled out a tournament bracket on ESPN.com, a whopping 56 went to sleep on Thursday night with a perfect bracket. Ouch.

My favourite NCAA team is the Missouri Mizzou. I became a fan in 2003 because I thought a)Missouri guard Kareem Rush was going to be the next Vince Carter (and I mean that in the best way possible) and b)’Mizzou’ is the greatest nickname in sports. Sadly, the Mizzou were bounced again in the second round this past Sunday by an impressive West Virginia squad featuring pro-to-be Devin Ebanks and Jerry’s son, Jonnie West. In lieu of empirical and observational analysis of the remaining sixteen teams beginning play tonight, I’m going to simply say this: the West Virginia Mountaineers will be the 2010 NCAA basketball champions.

No More Mr. Nice Guy March 15, 2010

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The idea of mic’ing players is commonplace in the world of sports. Nearly every televised sporting event features some sort of “Mic’d Up!” segment, where the viewer gets to see and hear a game from the athletes’ perspective. More often than not it’s a waste of time; fans are treated to a minute or so of inaudible grunts and stirring phrases like, “let’s get a stop here!” (Chauncey Billups, guard, Denver Nuggets) or “c’mon Lamar!” (Phil Jackson, coach, L.A. Lakers). Sometimes it’s more worthwhile: during a live game broadcast in 2009, a mic’d up(!) Steve Smith noted to his then-Carolina Panther teammate Jake Delhomme, “Hey, I know you feel like crap.  I mean you’re not a very handsome guy… I never liked you as a quarterback. But as a person, I love you as a person. You know what I’m sayin’?” Um, kind of.

Every so often, however, these Microphone Moments remind us of why we watch sports in the first place. This past weekend a number of tennis’ biggest stars took part in Hit for Haiti, an internationally-televised fundraising event in California. The main draw pitted all-time greats, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer, against their respective natural rivals, Andre Agassi and Rafa Nadal. With all participants wearing microphones, a verbal sparring match erupted between Sampras and Agassi in front of an audience of millions. At one point, a trepid Nadal even tried to quiet his partner, but failed miserably. After Agassi mocked Sampras for being a cheap tipper (whoa, keep it above the belt…) Sampras responded by purposely missing his next serve, instead firing the ball straight at Agassi’s head. It’s been nearly a decade since they’ve last played and clearly they still hate each other! Even though it made for strangely uncomfortable television, good ol’ fashioned, cold-blooded rivaries like this should be the norm.

The truth is sports are more exciting when there’s some degree of genuine hatred between opponents. Great rivalries like Sampras/Agassi, Larry Bird/Magic Johnson, and Adam Morrison/JJ Redick (they never actually played each other in college, but still) remain entrenched in our collective memory as sports fans. We agree that when Patrick Roy explained, “”I can’t hear what Jeremy [Roenick] says, because I’ve got my two Stanley Cup rings plugging my ears.” it was purposefully vitriolic. And perfect. Recently, in a meaningless spring-training game, San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito made headlines when he intentionally nailed Milwaukee Brewers slugger Prince Fielder with a wild pitch. Zito and the Giants, you see, had felt disrespected by Fielders’ excessive celebrations six months prior amidst the final game of the 2009 regular season. And so, the plunk was justified. Of course, in my world- the real world- I can’t throw a baseball at someone when I’m upset. In the world of baseball, of course, its part of the game and that detraction from reality is something of a theme in sports. It took, of all things, a Haitian benefit tennis match to remind me how to benefit from hate. Funny how it works sometimes.

Truth at Last March 7, 2010

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The results speak for themselves. A 9-1 victory over the defending world champion New York Yankees, a 14-6 trouncing of the reigning NL champion Phillies, and a gritty 9-7 win over the Tigers courtesy of a clutch walk-off homer by catcher-of-the-future  J.P. Arencibia. Major League Baseball, be warned: the Toronto Blue Jays came to play. Sure, we’re only a week into spring training, but I’ve seen enough to be convinced that this year’s edition of Canada’s team will be the one that finally, finally, gets past the AL East and those damned Yankees.

Ok, I’m being facetious. Don’t get me wrong- if this were any of the previous ten or so years I would unquestionably allow a minute sample of Blue Jay spring-training victories work me into an unhealthy fervour, but this year something feels different. This season, you see, there are no dreams of division titles or wild card berths- expectations that had been undeservingly placed on the Jays for the past decade. And yet despite the widespread acknowledgement by Jays fans that this won’t be a season defined by winning, there is a sense of unprecedented clarity that has manifested itself in the form of optimism. The 2010 Blue Jays represent arguably the first true rebuilding effort witnessed since the teams’ early expansion years. Built around a slew of promising, if largely unproven prospects like Arencibia, 21-year old Travis ‘Lunchbox’ Snider, and Marc Rzepczynski, along with young stars like Adam Lind, all-star 2nd baseman Aaron Hill, and pitcher Ricky Romero, the focus has shifted from the familiar adage of ‘this year’ to next season and (well) beyond.

If we’re being honest, the Jays have been in a quasi-rebuilding mode for years. Yet former GM JP Ricciardi never seemed to be able to come to terms with this, acquiring one or two big name veterans every off-season, creating transparent hope year after year. I hate to knock the same guy who brought us Eric Hinske and JFG (John-Ford Griffin, for the uneducated), but the truth will set you free. Or so I’ve heard. This past winter saw no Frank Thomas signings; no hundred million dollar paydays to guys name BJ and AJ; no trades for Corey Koskie (hey, it was a big deal at the time). Instead, new GM Alex Anthopolous acquired young, cheap talent like 1st baseman Brett Wallace, infielder Jaret Hoffpauir, and pitchers Kyle Drabek and Brandon Morrow to complement the existing roster, creating promise and, more importantly, flexibility for the future.

Despite Anthopolous’ best efforts in reshaping the roster, the scars of the 2009 season, the last of the Ricciardi era, still exist. Alex Rios was allowed to go to the White Sox for literally nothing in return, and JP’s refusal to trade Halladay (who, now in Philadelphia, is poised to break Jack Chesbro’s 1901 record of 41 wins) resulted in an eventual haul of uncertainties like Wallace and Drabek. And still, as I mentioned, there is optimism in Blue Jay land. For the first time in years, fans and management alike know what this team is and what it most definitely is not; it’s the kind of clear-minded, rational thinking that the franchise has been void of, and is the lone reason for Jays fans to keep showing up to the ballpark. Clearly for the 2010 Toronto Blue Jays, honesty is truly the best policy.

All-Star Tweakin’ February 15, 2010

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This was supposed to be a feel good story about the sudden abundance of star-power in the NBA. Considering the monster seasons of Josh Smith and Carlos Boozer weren’t enough to translate into all-star selections, I would have argued, the days of appearances by the likes of Shareef Adbur-Rahim and Glenn Robinson (I actually liked the Big Dog, but still) are likely over. The NBA talent pool, it seems, is overflowing to the point where every team has at least two or three superstars. Or so the story would have gone. Instead, I feel I need to call an audible and address the elephant in the room: for all its hype, All-Star Weekend was downright awful. Now we can finally confirm that, when mama said “there’d be days like this”, she was referencing the 2010 NBA all-star experience. Go figure.

The weekend got off to a rocky start thanks to, of all things, a snowstorm in the host city, Dallas. Ideally, we can look to the weather and subsequent travel delays as a catalyst for the general lethargy on display, yet in actuality, the whole charade is just played out. All-Star Saturday Night has long been the NBA equivalent of a punt-pass-and-kick competition (read: boring), but at least the slam dunk contest always makes up for it. Well, almost always. The warning signs for the demise of the dunk contest were apparent as far back as 2002. That years’ contest featured a roulette-type wheel that contestants spun to determine their dunk, leading to Gerald Wallace attempting Dr. J’s Statue of Liberty dunk (with the Doctor as one of the judges, no less) and unsurprisingly failing. It was a lose-lose situation. Though they smartly got rid of the wheel, and with the exception of 2003’s epic showdown between Jason Richardson and Desmond Mason, the dunk contest has been on a downward spiral ever since. Luckily, I have a simple solution: more money. We know that one thing NBA players respond to is cash. The formula is simple: NBA players + an opportunity to get paid = incentive to try. I guarantee it works. While we’re at it, consider these proposed tweaks to all-star weekend:

  • Expand H-O-R-S-E: In the ‘70s the NBA experimented with a bracket-style Horse tournament that saw a series of one-on-one matchups featuring stars like Pete Maravich and George Gervin. Why not bring that back and make a day of it? Actually, if we’re going to go there…
  • 1-on-1 Tourney: Same idea as Horse: let’s say a 16 player bracket pitting the likes of Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose against one another. At the very least we can turn the celebrity game into a 1-on-1 tournament. What could be more riveting than a first round matchup of PGA star Anthony Kim vs. Dr. Oz? (Those two actually competed in this years’ celebrity game. I couldn’t make that up.)
  • Bring back the Legends game: Featuring retired players, the Legends game was a staple for years and provided classic moments like Tommy Heinsohn giving an oxygen tank the Doug Benson treatment during time-outs.
  • All-Star Pickup Game: The All-Star game is already considered a glorified pick-up game, so why not embrace it? The fans choose two captains who subsequently pick their teams from the remaining all-stars. Mainly, I just want to see how Chris Kaman will react to being picked last.
  • NBA JAM: The premier basketball video game of my youth is being re-released sometime this year. In honour, the NBA should adopt an NBA Jam tournament where each team sends two representatives to this 2-on-2 league-wide tournament. To make it interesting, we’ll add an under-25 stipulation. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the perennial favourites.

So, in summary, NBA All-Star Weekend can return to relevancy by dusting off some classics, re-thinking the familiar, and keeping it relatively simple. Also, I just want more brackets in my life. All-star weekend will always have mass-appeal, but its’ current unrealized potential is agonizing. American poets/blues band Canned Heat once sang, “a change is surely gonna come”. I hope they were right.