First ever mailbag

A couple friends lambasted me this weekend because I managed to get them hooked on my blog and then stopped writing. There's been a few emails along the same lines, especially since I've quit on my last two projects midway through. Other than thanking everyone for reading in the first place, there's not much to say except admitting I pretty much suck.

Part of it was starting a new job, part was writer's block - every time I tried to write something about Survivor I couldn't come up with an angle that was different from what 50 other wannabe's were writing. But mostly it was laziness on my end. Part of writing is simply putting (virtual) pen to paper, and I've used every excuse not to do that recently.

Hopefully my job is settling into a less crazy routine so it'll be easier to find time. With the World Cup next month, Mad Men (and to a lesser extent Royal Pains) returning soon after, and election season kicking into high gear down the line there's plenty of fodder coming, so I plan to be posting more frequently, by which I mean about 3x/week. We'll see if I can hold up my end of the bargain. I'll get it started with some random thoughts mixed in with my favorite email questions. Names left off b/c no one knew I was planning a mailbag:

What happened to Colby on Survivor?
I dunno...it wasn't just the dude getting old. Other guys were older and performed better, and Colby's obviously in good physical shape. The issue had to have been mental. When he let those poles fall 15 seconds into a challenge, clearly the physical aspect was not the reason. My theory: he came in expecting to still be "Colby", but the manhandling Coach gave him in the opening challenge got in his head. It's one thing to get beat, it's another to be dominated so thoroughly like he was.

Remember the Sugar Bowl in the early '90s when Alabama's George Teague ran down a Miami receiver like he was standing still (can't remember who), stripped the ball from behind and ran the other way? That moment was the definitive nail in the coffin of the big and bad '80s Hurricanes. The Dragon Slayer was George Teague, and Colby was the Miami WR. It's unfortunate because if he had made the top three as the weakest player he would have been guranteed the million bucks.

(That has always pissed me off about Survivor. Everyone knows going in they will eventually have to deceive, backstab or simply vote off someone they'd rather not. But the people who do it first - the ones who truly Outwit, Outplay and Outlast - almost never win because jury members are upset they were defeated. I had expected better this time around, and hoped THIS JURY of experienced all-star players would reward people who played the best game. But instead of Parvati winning because she was ahead of the curve socially and won every challenge when she needed it, or Russell winning because he drove the entire course of the game, Sandra wins because she was along for the ride. Other than one good night - when she tricked Russell to get rid of Coach - Sandra did NOTHING to earn the win. She was only on the stage at the end because Russell and Parvati allowed her to be. That's just lame.)

What does Orlando need? A new coach? A new alpha dog?
Coach Super Mario can't make Vince Carter have a heart. He can't make Dwight Howard a reliable free throw shooter (Lord knows he's tried). He can't make Jameer anything more than mediocre defensively.

So the end result is, there's no one to rely on in crunch time. As this emailer of this question - also my former roommate - said: "Steve Nash broke more noses than the Magic broke sweats in Game 3." What the Magic need is a Big Shot Rob - a clutch player who can let big Dwight carry the load for 3.5 quarters and then take over down the stretch. Rashard isn't that guy. Vince most definitely isn't, and there was ample evidence of that out there before they signed him. Vince missing those two free throws with Game 2 (and the series) still salvagable was the equivalent of Brett Farve forcing an INT in the NFC Championship when a five-yard run would have sufficed. People repeat the mistakes/habits they've always made. Expecting anything different makes you the fool, not them.

Can an African team win the World Cup?
I would have said Ivory Coast has a legitimate shot, but hiring Sven-Göran Eriksson as coach just ruins them for me. Imagine taking Vince Carter's playoff career and applying it to football/soccer coaches. That's the guy leading the strongest African team in the first African World Cup.

His England teams were disappointments, failing to win anything of substance (or even a huge match) through two World Cups and Euro 2004. Following a wasteful stint at Manchester City, he had Mexico struggling to qualify against the minnows of CONCACAF before being mercifully sacked. Once he was gone, El Tri proceeded to blow everyone out of the water, including a gut-wrenching come from behind win against the USA and an away victory against Costa Rica at the very, very difficult Saprissa stadium in a game that derailed the qualifying bid of the veteran Costa Rican team. If Erikkson had still been there, there's a legit chance Costa Rica would be in the World Cup and Mexico wouldn't have made it.

My hope? After the Ivory Coast-North Korea match, Erikkson defects to North Korea and becomes some kind of senior advisor on national defense. His failures would lead to peace in our time within six months.

For the other African teams, Ghana is missing its best player (Michael Essien from Chelsea), while Algeria and the hosts are limited in their skill. All three would have to consider reaching the knockout phase as a wildly successful tournament. So that leaves the Super Eagles of Nigeria as the continent's best hope for a deep run. Could happen...an in-depth (or at least long) World Cup preview will be coming in about a week.

(UPDATE: I meant Cameroon here, not Nigeria. I got my African teams with cool nicknames confused - Samuel Eto'o fans can deservedly boo me. The Eagles have the talent to play with anyone but are supposedly in shambles. Cameroon's Indomitable Lions have some real talent and are in a more manageable group - noted by Nigerian group stage opponent South Korea outclassing Japan yesterday, who's in Cameroon's group.)

You talked about the candidates. Would you expand if you were Big 10 commissioner?
In a word, yes. But only by one team. The logistics of a 14- or 16-team league are too much, and the payoff isn't worth it. Notre Dame is the perfect candidate, but if they don't want to play ball then the conference should simply pick between Pitt and Missouri, go to divisions, cash in on a championship game and enjoy the spoils. The biggest roadblock? Figuring out how to preserve Ohio State's annual beatdown of Michigan and other rivalries is a complicated matter, as you want to avoid rematches in the conference championship game every other year.

Are World Cup friendlies good barometers of a team? Should fans read anything into the results, or are they like NFL preseason games?
Coming on the heels of Portugal being held to a scoreless draw by Cape Verde - which does really exist but is pretty much equivalent in size and population to Newfoundland - I'm going to say usually not.

There obviously are things to glean from these matches, but only in context. I didn't see the England-Mexico clash today - new job again - but if England scored two of it's goals off corner kicks then I feel optimistic about the U.S.'s chances. Why? We're better on set pieces than Mexico is, and as long as Gooch is healthy (BIG FREAKING "IF") we'll have someone who can defend Crouch in the air.

BTW - watching Peter Crouch play reminds of Greg Ostertag's scouting report. I'm paraphrasing, but it said: He's not very athletic, lacks coordination, doesn't have a good mind for the game, has poor footwork and hasn't demonstrated a work ethic high enough to compensate. But he's 7'0" and there's a seven-figure salary for him in the world of professional sports. That's just the way the world works sometimes.

Why would anyone want to be on a reality show?
You got me. Would I? Never say never, but....no I don't think so. I seriously considered applying for Survivor early on in its tenure, but didn't think I could handle all the bug-eating stuff. I'm still probably capable of being good at it, but I've had enough issues with my knees and ankles the margin for error is pretty slim. A 30-something guy with no survival skills who's not a major asset in the challenges will probably have a short shelf life in that game. Plus I don't think I can last 39 days without Pagliacci Pizza.

I've known a few people who have been on reality shows, including the Bachelor and another short-lived dating show of which the name escapes me. I suspect some actually go into these with the right intentions - an opportunity to find love or better their life in some way - but it'd be pretty difficult to not get caught up in the dumbass drama and fake celebrity culture of it all.

As depressing as it is that we know who Paris Hilton and Spencer/Heidi are, it's much more upsetting that there are over a million people at this moment trying to figure out how to become "the next Paris or Speidi". Hopefully they don't all end up in jail like Balloon Boy's dad.

I guess if there was some kind of screenwriting competition that would guarantee a major studio deal to the winner it'd be tough to ignore that, as the odds of catching a break in this industry are pretty slim under even the best of circumstances. But I don't have a high enough tolerance for bull---- to be able to hide my true feelings for diva-like behavior 24/7, and any reality show (especially one among entertainment industry hopefuls) has got to be like the cruelest version of Mean Girls ever conceptualized. I'd either last three days or become such an awful person in the process I'd be unable to look in the mirror. Maybe both.

What's the picture on your website of?
It's the Seattle skyline over Lake Washington, with the Olympic Moutains in the backdrop. This was taken from the office of my previous job in downtown Bellevue, WA. Needless to say, it was the highlight of my morning coming in. One day the entire lake was covered in fog (if you've seen Excalibur imagine the magic fog Uther rode his horse on) and it looked like the Space Needle and other buildings were floating on it. Simply breathtaking...suffice to say my cell phone camera couldn't adequately capture the moment.

Which players do you expect to get dropped from the U.S. World Cup squad?
The obvious ones:
30. Sacha Kljestan: Cause he sucks monkey balls
29. Robbie Rogers: While he may be better at crossing the ball than most of the mids, Holden, Beasley and Bedoya are all more complete players.
28. Clarence Goodson/Chad Marshall: I consider Marshall to be the slightly better player, but if he's not going to be 100% by the opener (or even the June 5th friendly against Australia) then Goodson gets the nod. Only one will make the trip, and either will provide quality depth on the backline.
27. Robbie Findley: He has a future with the Nats, but has spent the past six months demonstrating new ways to wilt under the pressure of being considered. If anyone is brought along solely as a set of wheels coming off the bench, Eddie Johnson's solid play in Greece will give him the nod.

Three tougher choices remain. I don't envy Bob Bradley at all. I'd drop:
26. Heath Pearce: Simply put, he's not a World Cup-caliber player. Our best option is Bocanegra playing on the left side of the defense with Bornstein as his backup. If Boca has to play in the center this leaves the team very short-handed at fullback, but I think Bornstein/Spector/Cherundolo would all be called upon somewhere on the back line before Pearce. Even in a worst-case scenario I'd rather have Beasley fill in there than him. At least that way a glaring weakness at LB only takes up one roster spot instead of two.

25. Edson Buddle: I never did a full forward roster battle post, but I see it this way: Jozy Altidore's spot in the starting lineup is cemented. Brian Ching's experience with the team and proven ability to hold possession at the international level will get him a spot on the plane, and unlike the last go-around he'll actually see the field in South Africa. EJ's speed makes him a necessary commodity, even if he's not as good an all-around player as some others.
That leaves at most one spot for the two camp newcomers to fight over - potentially zero spots if Dempsey gets moved up top - and one in-form striker to make the trip. My guess is Herculez Gomez gets in over Buddle, because while both have scored A LOT of goals this season, Gomez did it against higher quality competition and more importantly did it as a sub...exactly what one of these two will be asked to do in South Africa. That's a wholly different endeavor than getting the start every game like Buddle does for the Galaxy.

24. Alejandro Bedoya: The last man out. Assuming Stuart Holden is healthy and ready to go, the final midfield spot probably comes down to Bedoya vs. Beasley, and the burden of proof is on Bedoya to clearly outshine the experienced Beas. My guess is he doesn't do enough to convince the coaching staff to leave off a two-time World Cup veteran who's still capable of injecting some much-needed speed into the lineup.
(NOTE: I'm flip-flopping here on Jose Francisco Torres, who I've long said would be mistakenly left off. I've come to think the fact we're facing two teams likely to simply bunker in and hope for scoreless draws makes a second central creative/off-the-cuff player like Torres more likely to get a spot over a third winger. I hope that turns out to be the case.)

Thanks for writing (and reading). Look for another post about...well, something...later this week.


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