Tuesday, August 31, 2010

MILLION DOLLAR MANE


When Lloyd's of London refused to insure Bobby Orr's knee in the mid-1970s, I can recall thinking how odd it was that someone would try to insure a body part. The Boston Bruins had a lot riding on that knee, but Lloyd's wanted no part of a wonky joint that had been surgically repaired five times. Present-day two-time NFL All Pro Troy Polamalu has never suffered a serious injury to his hair, which Lloyd's has insured for one million dollars at the request of Head and Shoulders - the shampoo brand endorsed by Polamalu in a series of advertisements focusing on the football star's flowing, black curls, which cascade nearly three feet down his back and give the impression that Diana Ross is playing strong safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers. It's not clear what sort of eventualities are covered in the insurance policy, although the risks to Polamalu's hair are obvious and - in at least one case - documented. Kansas City's Larry Johnson grabbed a fistful of Polamalu's hair and threw him to the ground during an interception return in 2006, apparently causing some root damage but no serious long term effects. Being tackled by the hair is only the most obvious threat. There are also more subtle dangers, including sideline space heaters with the potential to send Polamalu's hair up like so much dry kindling on a cold Sunday in December, and the ever-present risk of getting his hair caught in the door of the team bus and being dragged halfway back to Pittsburgh while his teammates are suiting up in Cincinnati. Most ominously, there is baldness - an act of God presumably not covered under the insurance policy.

Monday, August 30, 2010

NASCAR A HIT - AGAIN

If there's a race anywhere on any circuit that routinely provides more plot twists and exciting finishes than the Napa Auto Parts 200, I have yet to hear of it. For the fourth time in as many years, the assembled masses got their money's worth and then some from the NASCAR Nationwide event at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, where the nearly four hour event ended in a drag race to the checkered flag between winner Boris Said and runner-up Max Papis, with third place finisher Jacques Villeneuve just a fraction of a second behind. And all of that after snakebitten Robby Gordon ran out of gas while leading on the second to last lap...How's this for fan-friendly and promotionally-savvy? Papis was miked up and fielding ESPN viewer e-mail questions on the formation lap. If the Apollo moon missions were organized and promoted by NASCAR instead of NASA, Neil Armstrong's first words when he stepped onto the lunar surface might have been "boogity boogity boogity"...Michael Schumacher's undistinguished comeback season is all the proof anyone should need that success in Formula One racing hinges at least as much on technology as it does on driving skill, but that doesn't detract from what Schumacher accomplished in his heyday or what he still brings to the track in ability and experience. While three of the five championship frontrunners floundered in unpredictable conditions, Schumacher parlayed 21st on the starting grid into a seventh place finish in yesterday's Belgian Grand Prix...International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Faisal is only protecting his turf when he warns the NHL against trying to expand into Europe, but the IIHF threatening the NHL is a little bit like the Brady Bunch talking smack to the Hell's Angels.

Monday, August 23, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS - AUG23/10

As Anthony Calvillo goes, so go the Alouettes. It has even been thus since Calvilllo became the Als starting quarterback 13 seasons ago, and their chances of successfully defending their Grey Cup title this year hinge on the long-term prognosis on a bruised sternum that was so debilitating in the short-term Cavillo had to be transported off the field on a cart last Thursday and taken to hospital by ambulance. Calvillo has only missed six games in his entire Alouettes career, and five of those were in 2007, when the Als went 8-10 and lost in the first round of the playoffs with Marcus Brady under center. With all due respect to current second and third string quarterbacks Adrian MacPherson and Chris Leak, in the existing Alouettes scheme, they're caretakers, not difference makers...As if he didn't already have enough detractors among Canadiens fans, Carey Price can now look forward to being regularly booed by animal rights activists for his off-season rodeo pursuits...The term "living legend" is tossed around a little too liberally in sports, but it definitely applies to Baseball Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully, who announced this weekend that he'll be returning next year for his 62nd season as the voice of the Dodgers. To give Scully's longevity added perspective, he called his first Dodgers game five years before Red Fisher started covering the Canadiens...The much-anticipated World Hockey Summit opens today in Toronto, where security is expected to be a far cry from the virtual lockdown that accompanied the G20 summit in the Ontario capitol earlier this summer. Seems anarchists and other counterculture riff raff are more antagonized by bank bailouts and fossil fuel subsidization than they are by overtime shootouts and no-touch icing. Still, it never hurts to turn the water cannon on any gathering of 10 or more people in Leafs jerseys, just to be on the safe side.

Friday, August 20, 2010

CY DUMB


It's less surprising that Roger Clemens was indicted for perjury yesterday than it is that it took this long to indict him, but the legal process is not known to move at breakneck speed.
In a streamlined judiciary, a grand jury would have been convened within 10 minutes of Clemens' February 2008 appearance before a U.S. congressional committee on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, and he'd have been indicted, convicted and sentenced by suppertime.
It didn't have to happen this way. Clemens was the one who insisted on appearing before Congress, apparently believing that his star power combined with the time-honored "deny, deny, deny" defence strategy would both dazzle and bamboozle the committee members. Instead, bemused congressman heard the seven-time Cy Young Award winner deliver the lamest denial since notorious Hollywood womanizer Chico Marx told his wife he wasn't kissing another woman - he was whispering in her mouth.
It's a measure of the enormity of his ego that Clemens thought he could get away with any of it. Had he come clean or just kept his mouth shut, the worst that could have happened is that Clemens would be rebuffed by Hall of Fame voters, but he's so caught up in delusions of grandeur that he voluntarily put himself in a far worse predicament with substantially graver consequences.
Meanwhile, his lawyers get rich giving him bad advice.

Monday, August 16, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS - AUG16/10

Dustin Johnson didn't do himself any favors with a wayward tee shot on 18 at the PGA Championship, but the ruling that cost him a two stroke penalty and a spot in the playoff was brutal. Johnson was penalized for grounding his club while playing out of a tiny patch of sand, which tournament officials subsequently informed him was a bunker, even though the gallery had been walking in the same spot all weekend. The ironhanded interpretation of the rule was more mean-spirited than it was judicious, and there's considerable and legitimate debate over whether the same rigorous standard would have been applied for Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson...There wasn't a lot to like about the Alouettes' 37-22 loss in Toronto Saturday, but there was this: Anthony Calvillo completed 37 of 50 passes for 450 yards and three touchdowns. So much for Calvillo's effectiveness being impaired by a dislocated finger on his throwing hand...Hamilton Tiger Cats owner Bob Young is intelligent, engaging, reasonable and entirely in the right in his dispute with Hamilton city council over the location of a new stadium. But it's about the hat, Bob. For anyone who doesn't take the time to scratch below the surface - and most people don't - a 51 year old businessman who insists on wearing a yellow baseball cap with a dress shirt and jacket for news conferences and interviews isn't enhancing his crediblity...So, a report from Venezuela says the women's World Cup of Baseball was relocated for security reasons after a player was hit in the leg by a stray bullet. Two things about that: 1. the description of the bullet as "stray" implies that other bullets were flying and hitting whatever or whomever they were meant to hit, and 2. the tournament was being held on an Army base. Well, there's your problem right there.

Friday, August 13, 2010

REX F#%*ING RYAN

Doris Ryan should stick to basic cable. The mother of New York Jets coach Rex Ryan telephoned her son to admonish him for his salty language on this week's season premiere of HBO's Hard Knocks - an uncensored, inside look at the Jets training camp. No one should swear in front of their mother, but there's a big difference between NFL training camp and the Tuesday night Blue Rinse Bridge Club. F-bombs are dropped on the football field as liberally as they're tossed around in a military barracks or aboard a marauding man o' war crewed exclusively by pirates with Turret's syndrome. Hard Knocks isn't even the filthiest show on HBO. This is the same network that gave us The Sopranos and Deadwood, among other profanity-laced but critically-acclaimed series, and most or all of its hit shows use socially incorrect repartee to one extent or another. HBO is a critical and commercial success for a reason. Its writers don't employ obscenities because they're stuck for dialogue. Even the gratuitous swearing has a calculated gratuity, and that's on the scripted shows. Hard Knocks is a reality show, and what viewers saw Wednesday is how Rex Ryan really talks, whether his mother likes it or not.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

TALLAGEDA CUFFLINKS AND MONACO PULLED PORK

As someone who pays more attention to Formula One than he does to NASCAR, it took me a minute and a couple of paragraphs to realize that Kasey Kahne's impending move to Red Bull Racing doesn't mean he's jumping to F1. Red Bull sponsors two cars in the Sprint Cup series and Kahne is switching TEAMS next season, not circuits. In fact, the driver traffic between NASCAR and Formula One is decidedly one-way. One-time open wheel phenom Juan Pablo Montoya won this past weekend's Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen, New York, where fellow former F1 drivers Scott Speed, Jacques Villeneuve and Nelson Piquet Jr. also competed - the latter two in the Nationwide Series event. It taxes my memory, patience and Googling powers beyond their limited capacities to come up with a single prominent NASCAR driver who's ever made the move to Formula 1, which is why I was momentarily puzzled and excited by the notion of someone of Kahne's calibre and repute forsaking the good ole boys to hobnob with the Eurotrash. I'm not saying it's an easier transition from F1 to NASCAR. That's a debate for the drivers themselves. Suffice to say they are two significantly different disciplines in two profoundly different milieus, and if you doubt that for even a minute, try finding a set of souvineer Ferarri cufflinks at Talladega or a decent pulled pork sandwich in Monaco.

Monday, August 9, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS - AUG.9/10





The systematic dismantling of the Chicago Blackhawks on the heels of the franchise's first Stanley Cup in 49 years is a brutal testament to the impact of the salary cap on a team's ability to keep its roster intact. Eight players who were in uniform for the Cup-clinching win have been traded or released, but here's the thing: with the arguable exception of goaltender Antti Niemi, the Hawks haven't lost a single player from their championship nucleus. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell still represent as strong a core as exists in the NHL, and make Chicago a credible threat despite the roster turnover to become the first team in a dozen seasons to successfully defend its title...Friday's 30-26 win over Saskatchewan was a tale of two halves for the Alouettes offence, which ran up a comfortable 24-7 lead in the first 30 minutes but played the second half like somebody spiked their Gatorade with a combination of correctol and ativan, leaving a heroic and exhausted Montreal defence to clean up the mess...My nine year old blond-haired son got a crewcut last week and I can't figure out whether he looks like Roger Maris, Johnny Unitas or Red Berenson, so I've decided he looks like Charlie Bird with a crew cut...After finishing with a career-worst 72 hole total of 18 over par at the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio, Tiger Woods reportedly drove to the airport doing 42 miles an hour in a 60 zone because he wanted to remember what it was like to be 18 under.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

WHAT I DID ON MY SUMMER VACATION

On my summer vacation, I took Danielle and the kids to Niagara Falls. I'll always remember the first time I saw the Falls - on the way to a Rolling Stones concert in Buffalo in 1981 - and how impressed I was by the majesty of it all. They made less of an impression on Danielle, who remarked "I thought it would be a lot bigger." Not the first time I heard her say that...
The Niagara Falls tourist district is as tacky as the Falls themselves are breathtaking. There's a wax museum on virtually every corner. We actually checked into a wax replica of a Marriott hotel, adjacent to a wax Keg restaurant, where I enjoyed a wax steak with a side of wax mushrooms.
The town was packed because it was a long holiday weekend in Ontario, and while I understand the business philosophy of making hay while the sun shines, that still doesn't excuse some of the price-gouging that was going on. One chain restaurant that I won't name - but its initials are TGIF - had the nerve to charge five star prices for three star fare, including a potato skins appetizer for 17 dollars. I don't even want to think about what a whole potato would have cost.
Of course, it's all about the family, and Sam and Charlie are at the perfect age for Niagara Falls, which is kind of like Las Vegas for kids, without the hookers (or at least the workings girls are less conspicuous in Niagara Falls). The undisputed highlight for the boys was Marineland, where Charlie went on a ride called the Sky Screamer, which he said was ten times scarier than he thought it would be. This from a kid who doesn't scare easily. Sam, on the other hand, decided discretion was the better part of valor and watched from the ground. I decided isolation was the better part of valor and stayed at the hotel, where two year old Allison and I tested our courage and resolve with whiteknuckle rides on the elevator.
I figure we spent more money in two days in Niaraga Falls than we spent in the better part of a week in the south of France a few summers ago. I'm not complaining - I'm just saying that for my money, the view from a castle hotel overlooking the Dordogne River valley beats the House of Frankenstein every time. But what do I know? I'm just Dad.
And that's what I did on my summer vacation.

Monday, August 2, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS - AUG2/10

At an age when most running backs are experiencing eroding skills and declining production, Avon Cobourne keeps getting better. The 31 year old Alouettes dynamo rang up a career high 231 all purpose yards in last Thursday's rout of Toronto at Molson Stadium, and is on a pace to exceed his totals from 2009, when he was named a first team CFL All Star and won the Grey Cup MVP Award. Cobourne could even break quarterback Anthony Calvillo's stranglehold on the Als nomination for CFL Player of the Year, except that the ageless Calvillo keeps putting up league-leading numbers...Here's good work if you can find it. St. Louis Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, who has yet to play a single down of professional football, just signed a six year contract worth 72 million dollars, including 50 million guaranteed, which begs the question: where, exactly, is the motivation to earn the other 22 million?...They've already got former Canadiens goaltender Cristobal Huet - now the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Black Hawks are reportedly courting Jose Theodore. If talks with Theodore fall through, maybe they can take a run at Doug Soetart...For a political movement based on altruistic principles, the Green Party has taken a sharp turn to the right by naming former NHL enforcer Georges Laraque as its deputy leader. Laraque brings a number of fresh elements to the environmentalist cause, not least of which is his new campaign slogan: "Recycle or I'll beat the shit out of you."