Sunday, August 31, 2008

Game 1, Nebraska 47, Western Michigan 24

Notes about the first game of the Pelini era, after we still convince everyone that we were the first to let everyone know how good Cody Glenn, Linebacker was going to be.

Husker fan should be extremely happy with everything right now, even though lack of a running game has a lot of folks up in arms. Considering the head coach openly admits there's a lot of work to do, I'm sure that little problem will be taken care of. What's most impressive as that Joe Ganz appears to be everything you'd want in a quarterback, considering he's had to add some new songs to his playlist. You got the impression that Pelini and Shawn Watson wanted everyone to know that Ganz can actually run the ball in a pre-WCO way in addition to picking up right where he left off from last year's final three games. Which is fine, although Ganz isn't going to run the option like a Tommie Frazier or Eric Crouch. It was almost like some of those option plays were put in as another example of how everything's back to "normal" if that's the word everyone wants to us. Hell, the pre-game video showed old highlights of Husker legends with the Beatle's "Get Back" playing underneath. We get it already. Next week they'll probably play Springsteen's "Glory Days" with more of those old signature moments.

What I'd really like to get my hands on is a video of the already infamous pre-game speech Pelini gave to the team last night. I'm sure no such video or even audio exists, but players were still talking about it long after the game was over. So instead of constantly referencing the return to "normalcy", let's talk about the new stuff Pelini and company are bringing. They don't have to run the option to Husker Fan excited (although that first option play most certainly worked everyone up in a way I haven't seen in quite some time). All they have to do is win. Pelini spent a good portion of his off-season reaching out to everyone. He didn't try to be Osborne, because Bo doesn't have Osborne's personality. All signs suggest the Corn are on the right path, and frankly I like Pelini's way of doing things. He's the new king of the castle, and it certainly appears that he's more concerned about doing his job more than anything else. Obviously this a really good thing.

Bo openly acknowledged any problems from last night. He called out his coaching staff, saying THEY had to do a better job. And this was after a very nice win. Hell, Billy C famously started his post-game presser following the 2004 Texas Tech debacle with, "We saw some very good things out there". What "very good things" come from a 70-10 loss, aside from the game clock finally reaching 0:00, are now just something Billy C and Brett Favre can explain some day. Anything that worried Husker Nation last night is not going to escape Pelini and his staff. My personal favorite quote from Pelini last night: "Not to take anything away from Western Michigan, but most of what they got, we gave them because of our mistakes."

As A.J. Soprano reminded his father in "The Sopranos" final scene, let's focus on the good times here. The Blackshirts had 4 sacks last night. Last year's Chinese fire drill of a defense had a total of 13 for the entire season. Ganz once again threw for over 300 yards, which means he's done that in every game he's started at Nebraska. And that's a Husker first. There are a lot of great quarterbacks in college football this year -- hell in the Big 12 alone -- but Joey Ganz has to be one of the best kept secrets, doesn't he? Everyone focused on Marlon Lucky in the pre-season as a potential All-Everything player (and despite last night, he's still going to have a great season), but the thinking with Ganz was that his numbers would drop off. Ganz actually looks better in throwing the ball now than when he was picking apart the K-State defense last November.

That picture of Ekeler jumping on top of Cody Glenn after a big play? Just another day at the office for him. I'm just waiting for the game when Mike actually decides to run on the field to actually play linebacker for a series. In no helmet or pads either. Seriously, this will happen at some point in the season.

The other big thing to remember, aside from the fact that this was the first game of the season, let alone with this new coaching staff, is that Western Michigan isn't a bad team. It was a not an easy opener. I spent the majority of the day suggesting to the gambling community that there was no way the Huskers would cover that 14 point spread, thinking this game had 31-21 written all over it. An opening day win is still a win, no matter how you cut it. Just ask the depressed fans of Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech.

Husker fan was already batshit insanely happy hours before the game simply because of the Pitt loss. Once that score went final, a bar packed with over 200 people celebrated as if Nebraska just won a National Championship. As if anyone needed further confirmation, Nebraskans really hate Steve Pederson. In fact, hate might not even be a strong enough word. Husker fan wants to capture Stevie P, and torture him all the while parading him down O Street.

I'm expecting the same reaction every time the New York Jets lose this year. This from a die-hard Husker (and in the interest of full disclosure, Packer fan): "Is it too much to ask for to have the Jets go 0-16?"

Nobody is ready to live in a world where ESPN gives Nick Saban 24-hour coverage. After yesterday's Alabama win, it appears the network is already head over heels mad for him.

Speaking of ESPN, something must be done regarding their "Junior Varsity" college football group. I love how the rock star team of Fowler/Corso/Herbstreit gets to go on the road every week and does a great job with their Gameday. However, that's maybe 3 hours of their college football day. The rest of it is covered with that JV team. I get the concept of using the bus driver (Reece Davis, who's improved dramatically over the years), former player (Mark May, who we can get into with his own post sometime this week) and wacky former coach (Lou Holtz, the one nobody in their right mind would ever think to put into any sort of broadcast job) as a way to emulate the madly successful Gameday group. What did anyone do to deserve May & Holtz ruining our Saturdays? Can't Davis do that show by himself?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

New Blood, Nick Thallas, An Open Invite To The Self Righteous Brothers: Your 2008 Nebraska Football Preview

We actually have a correspondent who is required to provide fun analysis this season for the Husker Games, however our "consultant" as we'll call the young lad doesn't want to ruffle a lot of feathers. Which of course we're all freaking about around here. At any rate, there's going to be a College Football Game played in Lincoln, Nebraska a week from Saturday, in case you haven't heard. And at least a few people seem to be rather enthused about this.

The problem with excitement over these pre-season practices -- and this is especially the case with College Football -- is how easy it is to work up. Mainstream media writers are on record in recalling the first, ahem, work-outs back in 2004, when a strapping young lad with the last name of Callahan landed a cushy gig with a storied college football program and brought along with him a 798 page playbook. And those practices were CLOSED off to everyone! So before we get to our consultant's notes, let's remember the immortal words of one Winston Wolff and not go sucking each other's dicks just yet. It's great to have 3-weeks of boot camp where you can beat up on each other and get into character, but until an actual game that means something is played, we really can't tell anything.

There's not a ton of breaking news to add to what everyone else has been providing because as we all know, there's a new sheriff in town. One who hasn't treated pre-season practices as some sort of top-secret event. We get it, everything from January, 2004 - November 2007 is treated like Major League Baseball treats the home run records of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa (for further proof, read up on anytime Ken Griffey Jr. hits another home run, it's almost like MLB put a ban on mentioning anyone he passes on the all-time list if the name is something like PALMIERO or SOSA). Every new brochure that comes from the University features pictures of Pelini and Osborne. It's a celebration of the best of the old with what we all hope to be a return to domination. This is the official passing of the baton from Osborne. Not to Solich or that fella who came from Oakland. As far as the University of Nebraska is concerned, the last four years NEVER happened. Instead of joking about their own mistake like George Clooney does about the time he played Batman, the University would just like to bury the Billy C era some place deeper than Starkweather's grave.

But a great thing came out of at least the latter part of that era which is going to lead to something really special going forward. It's name is Shawn Watson. Watson, of course, is one of the lone leftovers from the Billy C era who happens to be the Offensive Coordinator for your 2008 Nebraska Cornhuskers. This is a good thing for Husker fan, as Watson is what some are calling "the best offensive mind in college football." The mix of what Pelini wants to add with Watson's offense is going to pay huge dividends. But let's face it, Bo and his brother Carl are defensive specialists, and the defense was the major cause of concern from day one of the Callahan experiment. Watson is going to be a hot commodity at season's end, and reports on Quarterback Joe Ganz are impressive. Ganz is throwing the ball better than Harison Beck and Zac Taylor did, and he's been asked to run some non-WCO plays. All signs indicate Nebraska is in great hands with Ganz under center. The big concern and gripe Husker fan will have come January will be regarding Watson jumping ship. Anything Nebraska gets out of Watson after this season is a huge bonus.

The thing everyone needs to realize -- and start doing so with game 1 -- when it comes to Watson is that the days of keeping the same coaching staff at any program are long gone. And nobody can fault Watson if his offense puts up big numbers (which will happen in the first three games) for entertaining offers. His name will be bantered around from mid-season through January as a possible successor for anyone on the hot seat, college or pros. Pelini's the new king of the Corn, and can have a TO-esque reign if he wins like everyone thinks he will. Keep that in mind as Watson's star rises. And it will for media darling Linebacker Coach Mike Ekeler, who's hitched his wagon to Pelini's star in his coaching career but will gain much more national notoriety as the program progresses. Of course it'd be wonderful to see both Watson and Ekeler stay with the program for life. But we can't fault either of them should they have dreams of heading their own program some day. And we're talking about this before the Huskers have played a single game this season.

Speaking of linebackers, the other surprise coming from practices is the position change of Cody Glenn. Expect Glenn to be a key contributor at his new position. He's been given a new chance by a position coach who knows how to move the needle. We're expecting that both Glenn and Ganz to be named among the 2008 captains. But we're also on record of expecting a lot of things, and oddly enough we're expecting what this blog is predicting from the Huskers. (NOTE: The more time you spend on that page, the more you realize how well thought out The Bleacher Report's predictions are, even though we have a beef with the final one.)

Let's see, what else do we have here...Don't discount Bo's brother Carl, who's an incredibly sharp defensive mind as well. Bo is going to get the lion's share of the credit for turning around what was a Chinese fire drill of a defense, but Carl isn't in town just because he shares the same blood. The guy can flat out coach.

Still not sold on this whole Barney Cotton story. He spent last year coaching high school, and the media seems to love the idea of him going back the high school ranks simply for the love of it, and now he's jumping in to be the savior of the offensive line. Barney is taking over what everyone considers to be among the best players left from the Billy C era, so he's got a great chance to succeed. I mean, this is the offensive line at NEBRASKA for chrissakes. Cotton is the guy who will be heralded as loyal and hard-working and will stick with the program for as long as Pelini's around. I guess there's no harm in that, but the thinking is there currently aren't a ton of people begging for Barney Cotton to come in and save their program. It's just when it comes to Barney, we just think of Larry David going, "Ehhhh."

Ron Brown coming back, and as tight ends coach, is something we will never, ever quite understand. It's sort of like in The Blues Brothers when Jake & Elwood needed to put the old band back together. There was the scene in the movie with Aretha Franklin where the boys really wanted Matt "Guitar" Murphy to come back, and "Blue Lou" Marini just happened to be in the back cooking the "best damn chicken in the state", and got the Queen of Soul's blessing to "go on" with the band. The difference is, we know Blue Lou could play the sax and was an important part to that gig, especially the scene when Cab Calloway re-did "Minnie The Moocher", and the way he said "Chicken WIRE?" when the band posed as the Good Old Blues Brothers Boys Band. Not so sure of the case with Brown here. Although the Blues Brothers were on a mission from God, so maybe it makes some sort of sense in that regard.

Nebraska will beat either Virginia Tech or Missouri at home, but not both teams. Still wondering how the Corn has their first five games at home, and a total of 8 in Lincoln and only four road games.

No matter how the season is going in November, the Huskers will flat out destroy Kansas at home. Load up on the Corn that week, no matter what the line is. There, we said it. Why so confident? Out of everything that happened in the last 4 years, those 76 points in Lawrence last year still sting the entire state. Don't think Pelini and Company don't recognize that.

Surprise team of the year? And by "Surprise" we mean this year's Hawaii. Ball State. Remember how they almost beat a down trodden Nebraska team in Lincoln last year? Just saying...

Not sold on Penn State at all. Or Illinois. And really not willing to bet the farm on Oklahoma in the BCS title game.

Billy C and Brett Favre sharing face time in New York this fall. Yeah, we saw that coming.

Our friends at The Bleacher Report seem to be the only one's concerned with Kevin Cosgrove's whereabouts. That sounds about right.

For you Nick Thallas fans, and really that would be all of us: Gregg Hoover from Schererville, Indiana would like to extend his thanks. Everyone is now just waiting to hear when Nick is going to teach that Hunter Safety Class of his again. There are, shall we say, some interested attendees who'd like to know when they can register.

Yes, the Double Nickel's fascinating memoirs have found a place on the New York Times Best Seller List for Hardcover Nonfiction. If you haven't done so already, please do click on the link that's on the upper right of this page and purchase the book. It's not recommended as something you should read out loud to the kids as a bed time story, but is a nice read that will give you pause and even allow you to look up and say, "Whoa" quite often. In an odd twist, former Eagle Don Felder's own book "Heaven and Hell" found a spot in front of Peter's on the list, months after it was first published. How both Felder and Peter turned up even writing books, let alone becoming New York Times Best Sellers, is something we should all just leave to the historians to decide.

No matter how year one of Pelini turns out, we do know that the holidays will be a whole lot brighter with the addition of the Self Righteous Brothers Christmas Album. Oh it's not on vinyl, even though we're pretending it is. Words can never do these guys justice for the joy they've provided us. We'll forever be happy to have lived a life where we were able to see them in person, and hope to be around for the next show in Hell.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Mad Men "Sopranos" Complex

We've been very hesitant to jump all in with AMC's Mad Men, not just because it's been the industry's new go-to show and receiving praise that hasn't been heaped on a new show really since The Sopranos debuted. But the comparisons between the two shows are inevitable (Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner was a writer for the last three seasons of The Sopranos). But AMC really got behind the show after it's first season, and aside from the blitzkrieg advertising campaign, the really smart thing they did was make every episode from Season 1 available on-demand for an extended period of time, allowing those of us on the fence at the beginning to jump in and figure things out for ourselves.

Here's what you need to know if you haven't watched what actually is a great series:

  • It's not nearly as good as The Sopranos, and frankly there may be nothing that come close to that masterpiece.

  • Since this isn't HBO we're talking about, there's no swearing (not even a "freaking" bomb), or nudity. Of course, the series takes place in the early 1960's, so you can forgive it for not having the Bada Bing dancers in the background.

  • The series main character, Don Draper, is fascinating enough for series television. But again, he aint Tony. In fact, last night's episode didn't even have Draper appear until ten minutes in. You couldn't pull that sort of shit with Tony.

  • Like The Sopranos, this series adds so much more presented in HD.

  • It's best enjoyed without commercial interruption, meaning you should wait for it either on-demand or even on itunes. The good news about this is that the new episodes are readily available at both outlets immediately following the new episode. AMC wisely premiered the Season 2 premiere with one short one-minute commercial break, and then went back to normal commercial breaks for future episodes. One of the joys of The Sopranos was (and still is) being able to watch it uninterrupted to devour it like a movie. Mad Men offers the same rewards, so wait the extra hour and watch it on-demand.

  • One of Chase's major mantra -- one he's on the record as saying he borrowed right from Scorsese -- is that there'd be no score music at all, just great and often obscure songs used in the background, and most importantly a perfect piece to play over the closing credits that summed up everything about the episode. My theory on Weiner not going totally with this route is he didn't plan on the budget Chase did to secure the rights to use that music throughout the series (HBO was famous for letting Chase get the money he needed to get clearance from pretty much any song he wanted). But the occasional use of some scored music under certain scenes drives me nuts. It's not needed, and the audience that gets into Mad Men can understand the mood of what's happening without a score to give us some sort of emotion. Plus Weiner really can't use a lot of appropriate songs that came out after say 1962, which limits him in some of his music choices.

  • Resolved to the fact it's not going to take the place of Tony and his family in your life, it's still worth mentioning that Mad Men can stake it's claim as currently being the best new series on television -- even though I prefer to catch some of the old Sopranos episodes on DVD or on-demand. Mad Men has become the go to Sunday night show now, at least until Larry David comes back with a new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Another reservation I first had when Mad Men debuted was Matthew Weiner, who has the unfortunate label of being the sole writer of the few weak Sopranos episodes. However, the Sopranos episodes Weiner co-wrote with other writers (including Sopranos mastermind David Chase), are some of the best in the series. He co-wrote a number of classics: "Kennedy & Heidi" (the one where Tony kills Chrissy); "The Blue Comet" (the penultimate blood-bath of an episode where Bobby gets murdered at the train store and Silvio lies on his death bed); and "Sopranos Home Movies" (the one with what Bruce Springsteen calls the best fight in television history between Tony & Bobby and the infamous Monopoly game).

After getting through the first season, it became apparent to me that Weiner had been holding out some of his better story lines for "Mad Men"--once he realized the show got the green light from AMC--while he was helping Chase and company finish up The Sopranos. Weiner's made no secret that Chase is his mentor, fashioning a mood and style similar to The Sopranos. He's also created a classic, complex main anti-hero of a character in Don Draper (brilliantly portrayed by Jon Hamm, an actor who it turns out likes hanging out with the likes of ESPN's Bill Simmons to watch NFL games on Sundays). Hamm isn't in James Gandolfini's league in terms of totally commanding a room and saying so much only with his eyes. But it's a role of a lifetime for Hamm, and even though he has some great supporting actors and characters around him, some of those don't merit extensive screen time they sometimes receive.

So give Weiner credit for having a great vision on what he wants from this series, including being notorious for getting set pieces that are exact replicas from the time period. He's also surrounded himself with a number of crew members who worked on The Sopranos, all of whom help with the quality and mood of the show. And he stuck to another David Chase mantra: The audience will accept the main character and his flaws because he's always the smartest guy in the room. Draper's associates aren't as uneducated in the likes of Paulie Walnuts and Company, but like Tony, Don is decisive, confident and enjoys carrying on the occasional affairs while his loving wife Betty (January Jones) stays home to keep the house in order, but even she's starting to realize her husband aint exactly the most faithful bastard in the world. Like Tony, Don Draper gets bored (Draper occasionally skips ad meetings to go to the movies). And in a role reversal from Tony Soprano's therapy sessions, it's Betty who winds up confiding in a therapist. Weiner's fascinating world keeps you coming back for each new episode and rewards repeat viewings.

The Soprano's first season dealt with Tony and his over-bearing mother he never wound up making peace with (ordering a hit out on your only son's life will do that sort of thing). Draper had a similar unhappy childhood, and it eventually led to him developing a new identity, something we learn late in season 1 that only adds to our interest in Don. He keeps his secret from everyone, until one of his co-workers (Pete Campbell) uncovers the truth and threatens blackmail against him. In Tony mode, Don tells Pete, "I thought about what you said, and then I thought about you and what a deep lack of character you have...This country was built and run by men with worse stories than whatever you’ve imagined here.”

Weiner starts Season 2 the same way Chase did with his own first episode of season 2 of The Sopranos. In what's now regarded as one of the best uses of montage in any television show, Chase underscored Frank Sinatra's, "It Was A Very Good Year", using a montage of clips showing what all of the key characters have been doing since we last saw them: Tony enjoying the spoils that come from becoming the new acting mafia boss; Chrissy getting high on drugs watching television; Paulie banging one of the Bada Bing girls; and Carmela dutifully cooking family dinner. In Mad Men's opening moments of Season 2, Weiner uses Chubby Checker's "Let's Twist Again" while key characters get dressed up for another day of work at the Sterling Cooper advertising agency. Both song choices suggest a recognition of how great the previous season has been for each show ("Let's twist again, like we did last summer..."). And then the new season of Mad Men brings us to how these characters -- especially Draper -- are dealing with the ever changing times (Weiner wisely chose Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" at the end of season's 1 final episode).

But last night Weiner and company finally gave us Draper's ultimate Tony Soprano moment, the one that will definitely change the course of the series from here on out. The moment The Sopranos went from great television series to modern masterpiece occurred in the 5th episode of the series, "College". It's widely regarded as one of the best episodes of the series, and it also marks a landmark event that Chase had to fight with HBO to even make happen: Tony Soprano's first on-screen murder. The episode was simple enough (Tony takes daughter Meadow on a tour of colleges, she calls him out on what he really does for a living, and oh by the way a guilt-ridden Carmella confesses a little too much to her creepy priest who almost sleeps with her). But along the way, Tony spots an old friend, Fabian "Febby" Petrulio, who went witness protection some time ago. In a move Chase would spend hours defending to get on the air, Tony tracks the rat down and chokes him to death with a wire. The moment changed the series forever, as we became more fascinated by this new character. It was part of Tony's code, something he could have sent Chrissy or another member of his crew to take care of, but this was the sort of thing T needed to literally take in his own hands. The previous four episodes set Tony up to be a sort of good, family guy (as good a guy who makes his living in "waste management consultant" as he wanted everyone to believe), but now we were prepared to get the full Tony Soprano, warts and all. And more importantly to the show's rich history, anything was now possible.

Don Draper got his own series changing moment last night. Living in his advertising world, he can't prove his mettle by exacting murderous revenge. But Weiner pushed AMC to the limit by allowing Draper to show how he makes shit happen. The sudden vagina-fingering, hair-pulling and all-out turning some woman who dare shake him down into submission is a scene that literally turned on viewers. Most found it erotic and even intimidating. Others were uncomfortable. But the scene, listed below (and no, it's not the greatest quality but our youtubers will be sure to get an HD version of it up in no time - but it's our first foray into posting a youtube video and it's already getting comments there, so we're doing something I reckon) tells us even more about Don Draper, and another reason to watch the show. Even though it's not afforded the freedom that Chase and Company had for it's entire run on HBO, this moment now tells us that in this world, even in the early 1960's on a basic cable network, anything's possible.