Friday, August 31, 2012

The Hippodrome: Little Big Town

Posted By on Fri, Aug 31, 2012 at 8:09 AM

This Week In The 'Drome: Bestlettsville, kickoffs, and more...

Huzzah, your prowess at Base Ball is admirable, lads!
  • Huzzah, your prowess at Base Ball is admirable, lads!

Opening Face-Off

Greatness vs. Greatest: What will we remember about the Goodlettsville's Little Leaguers run in Williamsport?

Will it be their 12-2 loss to the well-rested Japanese, a team able to save its ace for the big game?

Or will it be Saturday's U.S. championship, a mind-boggling ballgame featuring three three-run home runs from 'Drome favorite Lorenzo Butler and a furious 10-run comeback by California which would have left lesser teams than Goodlettsville on the mat, punched in the stomach by the improbability of it all?

As I write in this week's dead tree, at the top level, a comeback like Petaluma's typically portends resignation. With the wisdom of age so often comes cynicism and pessimism. When you're 12, though, anything is possible.

So Goodlettsville trotted back in extra innings, responded with nine runs of their own and became America's Little League champions.

The thrilling U.S. final was likely a chronicle of a loss foretold. Little League's intransigent devotion to strict pitch counts forced Goodlettsville manager Joey Hale to start a pitcher who hadn't thrown since late July. It was just too big an ask.

Don't tell Goodlettsville they lost, though. Star player Brock Myers — who hit a home run in every game in Williamsport — said, "We're the second best team in the world. I'm all right with that."

So are we, Brock.

The Week Behind

Anderson Cooper — a Vanderbilt — knows disaster
  • Anderson Cooper — a Vanderbilt — knows disaster

Understanding In A Crash: There was a moment in the first half of Thursday's Vanderbilt home opener against South Carolina when it looked like it'd be over before it really got started.

Jordan Rodgers threw a pass with all the aerodynamic efficiency of a Yugo. Running against the grain, Rodgers heaved the ball across his body and it floated, daintily, politely into the hands of a waiting Gamecock defender.

Shortly thereafter, the oddly run-heavy new-look Steve Spurrier offense — from a man who once would have rather elected a football to the state senate than have his quarterback run it — had moved with precision and taken a 10-0 lead against a Commodore team which had looked low on the iron in the early going.

In the olden days, this would have portended a bashing by the visitors, an outmatched Vanderbilt leading TV viewers to watch something which made more sense — like Clint Eastwood's speech to the RNC.

But this, as we've been told ad nauseam all summer, is not the same old Vandy.

No, no, Vandy fought back, even took a lead — aided no doubt by Carolina's quarterback, Connor Shaw, missing significant portions of the middle part of the game with a shoulder injury. (Reports that Stephen Garcia had drunkenly rambled into the Carolina locker room, begging Spurrier to let him play, were sadly false.)

And, yes, at the end, Vandy was screwed — as they so often are — by a no-call in their 17-13 loss. A Carolina defender mauled the Commodore receiver with the ferocity of a Shark Week outtake.

That, as it ever is, will be the talk — the resigned fans will blame karma, the irrational will claim conspiracy. Neither will mention that Vanderbilt's offense failed to capitalize on a series of early turnovers its defense created.

In the end, this was a close loss to a good team — a Top 10 team which will compete for the SEC East. But you'll forgive the Vandy fans if they seem that they'd seen this movie before.

Full Price Facsimile: The Titans beat the Saints last night.

Well, sort of the Saints. The back-up Saints. Drew Brees probably didn't even leave the hotel room. So this was like the second-choice Saints. The guys who will pretend to be the opponent in the regular season.

So it's more like The Back-Up Saints/Pretend Falcons.

Anyway, the Titans didn't exactly put out a first-rate line-up, although Jake Locker and some of the other first-team offensive players went late into the first half.

So The Back-Up Saints/Pretend Falcons and the Sort Of Titans. It was 6-3 at half time or maybe 3-3. No one knows. Or cares.

Tickets for this game were, by the way, full price.

Garbage Time: MTSU lost to Division I-AA McNeese State somehow ... Brian Baker is into the second round at the U.S. Open. ... Erstwhile Tennessee receiver Da'Rick Rogers landed in Cookeville where he'll play receiver for Watson Brown's Golden Eagles after being dismissed from UT, where he admitted he failed a number of drug tests. ... The Titans rolled out their whizbang stadium upgrades during the third pre-season game. Are the huge elevator banks countering the NFL's Play60 initiative? ... Legally blind runner Markeith Price from TSU is prepping for the Paralympic Games as is Nashville native Michael Murray. ... The owners' latest proposal in the NHL CBA negotiations rolls the salary cap back roughly $12 million to $58 million, but apparently has no accompanying rollback in salaries, so even spendthrift Nashville would be just $3.2 million or so under the cap. ... Belmont's upcoming basketball schedule has some intriguing match-ups.

Halftime Entertainment

Same as it ever was
  • Same as it ever was

Weirdly, Though, Craig James Still Wasn't Elected: Marketing consultancy Experian is out with a study about which TV programs are the best for reaching people of specific political persuasions.

Sports appear prominently on the conservative lists — which is unsurprising given that hotbeds for college football (the South, the Midwest) are redder than the crimsonest tide. On the "Super Democrats" list, hockey barely makes the list No. 20; it's popular among liberals, just not as popular as the Aristotelian wonder than is Tosh.0 or the heart-wrenching tales on Millionaire Matchmaker.

The big takeaway? People watch a lot of CBS, for some reason.

Well That Kind Of Puts It Into Perspective: Despite the fact this story carries an "Anchor Down" headline, it's well worth a read.

Brandon Priddy shares the story of Michael Han, who marched in Tienanmen Square in 1989 and is a huge Vanderbilt fan.

Years of futile Commodore football hasn't fazed Han and why would it:

Change the culture enough and perhaps Franklin can bring the Commodores another step closer to Michael’s ultimate dream: winning the SEC East. “It might never happen, but I keep my hopes high,” he says with a laugh. “Being a Vanderbilt fan, you gotta be optimistic you know, otherwise you can’t survive!”

And that is the crux of the thing. That is why Michael can endure 2-10 seasons, plaster his cube in black and gold anyway and come back every season for more- and all the time with a smile on his face. Unlike so many of us, he understands that a bad day of football is better than a good day in a lot of other places. More importantly he’s appreciative of the place that provided such life-changing opportunities for him and his family- opportunities that would have never been possible in the land of his birth. And that supercedes anything that could ever happen on a football field.

Kudos to Clay Travis for running something un-bro-ey for once, although I'm sure his quest to find a "hot chick" who can write sports continues even as he manages to come up with terrible ideas based on his central belief that everything would be better in Nashville.

This Week In Slogans: What's this? Is Vandy abandoning "Anchor Down" already?

The Week(s) Ahead

You were wrong on this one, Gil
  • You were wrong on this one, Gil

The Revolution Will Be Televised: The 2012 season opener is an interesting one for the Titans.

It's always A Big Deal when New England comes to town, as we'll no doubt be reminded by the professional coastal bloviators next week. In recognition of this fact, CBS is sending Jim Nantz to do the play-by-play, so if you see Ian Eagle wandering aimlessly around the East Bank next Sunday, be kind to him, as his life is devoid of meaning if he is not calling a Titans game.

But of course, the opponent notwithstanding, Week One has plenty of subplots of its own. Notably, the Titans are handing the reins of the offense to second-year quarterback Jake Locker, who won't be eased into his NFL career. In addition, Kenny Britt will miss the opener, serving a one-game suspension for his LOLerrific DUI arrest.

There will be, then, pressure all around. Pressure on Locker to prove he's ready. Pressure on the rest of the receiving corps — and sort-of receiver Jared Cook — to fill in for Britt. Pressure on Chris Johnson to show that the glimpses of promise he showed in the pre-season weren't just flashes in the pan, reflected off his grill.

The transition from the Fisher ground-and-pound to the modified run-and-shoot is nearly complete. None of the Titans running backs is a bruiser the way Eddie George or even LenDale White was. This is a vertical, speed-oriented team. For all the ways Munchak seems an echo of his predecessor, the offensive play-calling isn't one of them.

Worthless Prediction: The Belichick/Brady Patriots play football with a scalpel's efficiency and the Titans are coming off a season of button-mashing. There is still a recklessness on offense for the Titans, but it's restrained — or at least it was in the vanilla of the pre-season. But this game may be won by a defense taking a chance — Colin McCarthy flying to the ball, or the brainy Alterraun Verner doing some quick calculus and jumping a route. Still liking the Patriots, though, but it'll be close: New England 28, Titans 24.

Quiz Bowl: The Commodores get the few extra days off after their loss to Carolina Thursday. Obviously the trip to Evanston isn't an SEC game, but it's a good early litmus test for James Franklin's team in its second year.

Northwestern has achieved success similarly situated to Vandy as the lone private school in a power conference, having been to four straight bowl games. Along with Stanford (and, to a lesser degree, Navy), they serve as examples of how colleges with exacting academic standards can play respectable football without selling out.

The Wildcats will start Kain Colter — who has, at times, played cornerback and wide receiver for coach Pat Fitzgerald and was also briefly Secretary of Commerce and harbormaster for the Port of Long Beach — at quarterback. While "cardiac" is too often appended to the names of teams where it is alliteratively appropriate, the moniker "Cardiac Cats" in this case is well-earned: Northwestern in 30-11 in its last 41 games decided by seven points or fewer.

Worthless Prediction: Expect a close one in this game which may have more tricks than bridge tournament. After the pressure-cooker and expectations of the Carolina game, Franklin may let loose a little on the road. Vandy 35, Northwestern 30

Overtime

Nobody said it was easy
  • Nobody said it was easy

Gold Mush: It was one of the three most highly anticipated Vanderbilt games in the past two decades, rivaled only by Gameday's appearance for the Auburn game in 2008 and the Thursday night game against Notre Dame in 1996.

And yet it was still possible to buy tickets for last night's game against South Carolina mere hours before kickoff. Indeed, Vandy fell about 2,000 tickets short of a sellout in their home opener.

The hard selling James Franklin did in the off-season — all the helicopter rides, all the YouTube videos, all the radio appearances, all the talk of Brand New Vandy — built an enthusiasm so palpable that Vandy fans became something they hadn't been in years: almost annoying. I mean this as a compliment.

But Vanderbilt was like the candidate who polls well in the campaign only to fall short on Election Day.

There are excuses — yes, the Titans played at the same time, and there was an unusually long list of Thursday-night high-school games because of the looming long weekend. Navigating West End on a normal Thursday afternoon is tedious enough, and perhaps the prospect of dealing with the devastating traffic proved Yogi Berra's aphorism: "Nobody goes there any more; it's too crowded."

But in the end, it's about overcoming years of disappointment and lethargy and ennui. One surprising season and one summer beating the hustings doesn't surmount decades of shortcomings.

To use a nautical metaphor that makes sense: no skipper, no matter how able or enthusiastic, can turn a flank-speed aircraft carrier around on a dime.

Your friendly Dromemaster is taking a week off, so look for the return of The Hippodrome Sept. 14. In the meantime, Build Your Own 'Drome: pick a story from here and hit Wikipedia's random page button; relate the two! If you want pass along what you come up with to jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com. And remember to listen Tuesdays at 6 when I join Willy Daunic and Darren McFarland for the final hour of Sports Night on 102.5 FM. Also, be sure to vote for Best of Nashville. The sports-related categories in the Readers' Choice competitions are in the Media/Politics and People/Places/Other sections

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