Click here for Today's Sign of the Apocalypse, Game to Watch, Leading Off gallery and much more!
Christmas is just about here, a time for us to spend with friends and family, eat a good meal, spread joy and goodwill, perhaps have a tumbler or two of egg nog, extract a measure of revenge on a former co-worker who threw us under the bus by claiming we paid hush money to women we were having affairs with, trim a tree, exchange a gift or two. You know, the basics.
Whoever decided to schedule the Heat and Lakers against each other on Christmas Day is a genius with a wicked sense of irony. I can't wait for the game, especially in light of Shaq's "He's a Corvette, I'm a brick wall" crack. (Really, is there a more quotable man in sports than Shaq? You can have Yogi Berra, who clearly knows what he's doing with his malaprops. Give me Shaq any day.) The Kobe-Shaq feud was covered in interesting fashion by Phil Jackson in his book The Last Season. Jackson can be a bit tedious with his amateur psychology (you like to give players books to read, we know), but he makes Kobe look like an even bigger baby than you'd think. (The Lakers offered him a plane to shuttle to and from Colorado for his sexual assault trial; Kobe complained that the plane wasn't nice enough.) It was the best sports book I read this year, which brings us to...
The Best of 2004
Best individual performance: What Michael Phelps did in Athens was simply amazing.
Best country: Greece. They put on a fantastic Olympics. At first I was happy I didn't get sent there, because I figured all I was going to miss was the opportunity to pull bomb shrapnel out of my butt -- in retrospect, I'm bummed I didn't get to go. By all accounts it was awesome. The Games came on the heels of the country's win in the Euro 2004 soccer championships. No one thought Greece had a chance, but they threw aesthetics out the door and played a tight, lockdown brand of soccer that got results.
Worst Individual Performance: David Beckham's missed penalty kick against Portugal at Euro 2004 was a sight to behold. It landed, I kid you not, in Row Q. I realize about seven people reading this will know what I'm talking about, but Shaun Wright-Phillips ought to be playing on the right side of England's midfield.
Best Book: The Closed Circle, by Jonathan Coe. It's the sequel to The Rotters Club, so you should make sure you've read that one first.
Best Album: Good News For People Who Love Bad News, by Modest Mouse. If someone tries to tell you that Modest Mouse has sold out, punch them in the kidney.
Best Hype-fulfillment: LeBron James. I taped Tuesday's Cavs-T'wolves game and am watching it as I type this. He just punched home a 40-foot alley-oop and has six assists in the first quarter, including a beaut of a touch pass to make Ira Newble look good, which is really saying something.
Best Nickname I Wish Would Catch On: Don't you think Anderson Varejao should be called Sideshow Anderson? The hair? Kind of like Sideshow Bob? Maybe not.
Submit a comment or question for Mark.
Best Out of Nowhere Performance in a Contract Year: Drew Brees. I have to tip my hat to the Browns for holding him without a completion in the second half last week, though. (That's sarcasm. I know he only threw one pass. I understand the fourth quarter, which Brees played with his right arm tied behind his back, was marvelous. If you're Terry Robiskie, you really have to wonder two things: how much your guys really want you to be their head coach, despite what they say; and two, do you really want to be their head coach. A 2-14 record next year could kind of grind the ol' confidence down.)
Best Movie: Fahrenheit 9/11. I refuse to get drawn into a political discussion (the state in which the Blog lives is neither red nor blue), but if you haven't seen this flick you really need to, if for no other reason than it will make you use your melon for a little while.
Best DVD release: A tie between The Family Guy (Brian the talking dog is my favorite character in the history of mankind) and Greg the Bunny, which somehow got canceled after like a dozen episodes. How can something with Eugene Levy, Sarah Silverman, Seth Green and a an alcoholic ape puppet named Warren Demontague (an actor on a kids' show who dabbles in lounge singing and released an album called It's Delightful, It's Delicious, It's Demontague) not last?
This is good news. Having writers play a key role in deciding how the BCS shakes down is not the greatest idea in the world (but then again, neither is the BCS). If I could fix one poll-related thing, it would be to not have the first poll of the season come until the fourth or fifth week of the season. It's too hard for a team that comes out of nowhere to leapfrog over schools ahead of it in the poll; there's no reason to punish a team in December for not being well-thought-of in August.
Idiot of the Week
Last week's selection, Clay Aiken, elicited a response shocking in its quantity as well as its venomous tone. (There were some downright gross suggestions sent my way. You know who you are. And who would have known there was so much crossover in Blog readership and Aiken adoration?) I don't want to get drawn into a debate over the relative merits of Aiken, but I will say there should have been a link to this Philly Inquirer story, in which the principal of the school in question doesn't exactly rise to Clay's defense.
Anyhoo, please stop sending me e-mails that would leave Andrew Dice Clay appalled, if for no other reason than it's Christmastime and when I check my e-mail this week, there's a very good chance my young nieces will be in the room.
As for this week, I'm happy to report there's been little idiocy in the past seven days. I did see this, though. A high school teacher made $60,000 renting out the school's swimming pool and giving lessons -- without the school's knowledge. Idiotic, yes, but what about the people who hired this guy? According to the story, since 1988 he has been "convicted on seven counts of falsifying bank checks, two counts of theft by deception and two counts of being absent without leave from the Army" -- and the district was aware of that when they hired him. AWOL? Twice? Oy.
On that note, have a Happy Holiday, don't go outside without a hat and gloves, stay classy, etc.
Mark Bechtel covers NASCAR for Sports Illustrated and SI.com.