A Place in History
The 1994 Penn State Nittany Lions were considered at the time to be the greatest offensive football squad ever put together, piling up a whopping 47.8 points/game en route to an undefeated season, but not a national title. One of the few seasons that the BCS could have salvaged, Nebraska got the sentimental vote thanks to Tom Obsorne never winning a National championship (at the time), so the voters decided to give him one on a platter.

ESPN this week is running a fantasy matchup to see where SportsNation voters feel the 2005 USC Trojans will stack up against history's top 11 teams. According to the voters, Penn State got the #4 seed of all-time, despite no official national championship. The top three haven't been nominated yet, but I doubt you'll see the Cornhuskers. Here's the text from ESPN:
    No. 4 Seed: 1994 Penn State Nittany Lions

    Undefeated, untied, uncrowned -- unjust? The 1994 Penn State Nittany Lions had one of the greatest offenses in the history of college football and produced three of the top nine picks in the 1995 NFL draft. However, the fifth undefeated team in Joe Paterno's career didn't win a share of the national title, as Nebraska was voted No. 1 in the polls.

    The Lions' potent offense, which featured Kyle Brady, Ki-Jana Carter, Kerry Collins, Bobby Engram and Jeff Hartings, averaged 47.8 points and 520.2 yards per game with near-perfect balance -- 250.9 yards rushing and 269.3 yards passing. The 47.8 points is the highest post-World War II average by any Big Ten team.

    The Nittany Lions were the best team that just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The same week they throttled No. 21 Ohio State 63-14, No. 3 Nebraska beat No. 2 Colorado 24-7 and the Huskers vaulted to No. 1 for good. It didn't matter the Lions already had wins over No. 14 USC and at No. 5 Michigan as well, and then blew out No. 12 Oregon in the Rose Bowl. It wasn't enough to pass Nebraska.
Still a bitter pill all these years, but we all knew that historically, our team would be the one to go down in history as #1. I've already done my part, but YOU can still help us out by voting for the Lions.


Paterno's Birthday Present
Today, Joe Paterno officially enters what a friend of mine would phrase as his "mid-to-late 70's" by turning 79. In a landslide, Joe Paterno has won his third AP Coach of the Year Honor. I consider this award to be (in order):
    (1) A reward for delivering a Big Ten title and an amazing turnaround season
    (2)A vindication that his coaching prowess has not left him
    (3) A defacto apology by the media for their irreverent and ignorant hounding of a great coach to retire in 2004.
For what seemed like an eternity, I've had to endure the constant barbs, criticisms, and insults from not only the media, but friends and, yes, Penn State fans, who have jumped on the idiotic media bandwagon and called for Joe's head. He's too old, he's senile. Blah blah. When I respectfully disagreed with their opinions, they'd treat me like I'm crazy or maybe I'm turning senile. Even one of my best friends from Penn State was teaching his daughter to say "Joe Pa must go".

In this article, the AP says that "Despite going 4-7 in 2004, Paterno was convinced that the Nittany Lions were on the verge of good things." Having watched every single game, and having written about just how close we were to winning, I can tell you he wasn't full of it. But nothing I could say then would have convinced anyone, so I put my faith in my coach and my team. I also made a preseason bet with a naysayer that Penn State would be in the BCS. He eagerly shook my hand on that one. Who could've predicted? I did. I'm proud of my coach for not listening to his critics, to doing things the way he wants, to being the greatest. Happy Birthday Joe, and many more.

Bonus: Joe was also selected Home Depot Coach of the Year.


Sense and Sensibility
In the biggest landmark evolution decision since a little monkey trial, the Christian Right were denied an early Christmas gift:
    HARRISBURG, Pa. - "Intelligent design" is "a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory" and cannot be mentioned in biology classes in a Pennsylvania public school district, a federal judge said Tuesday, ruling in one of the biggest courtroom clashes on evolution since the 1925 Scopes trial.

    Dover Area School Board members violated the Constitution when they ordered that its biology curriculum must include the notion that life on Earth was produced by an unidentified intelligent cause, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III said.
The case was brought up because advocates of ID wanted a disclaimer read about Evolutionary Theory prior to its teaching in biology class. Judge Jones (I kind of like the ring to that) went on to discuss the content of said disclaimer, in some of the least equivocating and harshest language I've seen in a decision:
    Jones blasted the disclaimer, saying it "singles out the theory of evolution for special treatment, misrepresents its status in the scientific community, causes students to doubt its validity without scientific justification, presents students with a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory, directs them to consult a creationist text as though it were a science resource and instructs students to forgo scientific inquiry in the public school classroom and instead to seek out religious instruction elsewhere."
The judge even saved a little 'something-something' for those who had supported the idea in the first place, and it was of the same flavor:
    The judge made a point of criticizing the school board members and the "breathtaking inanity" of their decision. Â?It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy," he wrote.
How do you really feel about it? Although my brother's nickname for me is "Judge" (from Caddyshack), I'd have a hard time being as restrained in language as my esteemed namesake. Intelligent Design is slyly repackaged Creationism for the new age, and I'm happy to see that in at least one instance, we can uphold the constitutional separation of church and state. Now about "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays"...


Moving Day
Although the title is a golf term that refers to the third day of a four-day golf tournament, I thought it appropriate to describe the repercussions of Sunday's NFL games, especially with respect to the Washington Redskins.

DC is known to many as a transitory town, and I'm probably one of those people, moreso because the cost of real estate is just ridiculous that when I do get a place, it'll be somewhere in the burbs. (I rent a house in Georgetown for very cheap.) I've glacially made my way south over my lifetime, starting out in Western NY and a Bills fan, to the Philly area and gradually assuming the identity of an Eagles fan through several years there and at Penn State (although I never gave up my Bills allegiance). Finally, I headed one more step south about 10 years ago down to Foxhall Rd, where I've been since. Over that time, I've maintained my Eagles & Bills identities, while keeping a soft spot for the Steelers and Redskins based on family ties (NFL Sunday is complicated for me).

Recently, one of my acquaintances who used to live in Philly and has been a lifelong Eagles fan that he was making the transition over to being a Redskins fan after about 10 years of living down here. My first instinct was to yell, "Traitorous dog!" Although I have become more of an Eagles fan than a Bills over the last 10 years or so, I have family in both areas, and I haven't been up to Buffalo in quite some time, so it was a more gradual transition. Plus, the two teams were never in conflict with each other, safely in different conferences. However, going from Eagles to Skins is changing intradivisional allegiances. As I imagine Jaquandor would say about going from Bills to Patriots, this is blasphemous.

Therefore, though I've now logged more time down in DC than up in Philly, I just can't bring myself to root whole-heartedly for the Skins. I didn't grow up in the area, and it especially seems false in the face of my friends around here who have been Skins fans all their lives. That said, it was pleasing to see the Skins crush the Cowboys Sunday, because we do have a common enemy in those Dallas fans, and I am in the habit of rooting for my friends' teams (when their interests do not directly conflict with mine). And on the same day, while the ConsistiSkins made mince of Dallas, the stars aligned to put them back in the playoff race. Not only in the race, but now in control of their own destiny. Because of their conference and divisonal records, they own the 6th spot wildcard, jumping over Atlanta, Minnesota, and the aforementioned Cowboys who all lost this weekend. Now all (ha) they have to do is beat the Giants at home, and then for the grand finale, beat my Eagles at the Linc.

Now for a little confession. I can honestly say I wouldn't mind if the Redskins got in the playoffs. If they beat the Giants at home, I think they will have earned it, and although, I suppose, *hardcore* Eagles fans will want to play the spoiler, I'd rather keep the buzz up around the DC area and have a team to support. But next season we're going to reclaim our division.

And, for a final note of fun, apparently if you are a paid employee of a Dallas sports team, you shouldn't grab the PA microphone and cheer for the Redskins.


Ellen Pompeo
I don't know what it is in particular that strikes me about Ellen Pompeo, who is probably most famous for being a part of the ensemble of Grey's Anatomy, a show I've admittedly never watched in its entirety. She's apparently won for 'Breakout Performance' for a female in the Teen Choice Awards this year, an honor that probably comes with some chagrin as she's older than I (she was born in 1969). Her film career is much less notable, with only supporting roles (and very minor) for Old School, Daredevil, and Catch Me If You Can. I may have to pick up Moonlight Mile just to see how she is in it. I was turned off the film when it came out because I sensed it was a little too contrived, but then I've been (somewhat) wrong before.

In fact, I couldn't figure out where I first saw her until I did a more thorough search, and then I remembered she played this whacked out girl named Laura Kendrick on an episode of Law & Order, where she helped rape her sister and then later on confessed that it turned her on. Probably one of my favorite episodes in the series because of all the twists and turns and shocked, and she sold the role. Anyway, there is a point to this. Probably the maturity in her eyes and the little crook in her smile, but for whatever reasons that I view the world in my own skewed way, even fresh off the heels of having seen Scarlett Johanssen in all her glory, I find Ellen Pompeo to be far hotter.
The Island by The Bay
Although I did rent the 40 Year-Old Virgin on its first night of release, the film that I first chose was of greater interest to me, not just because of the blonde but because of the premise and the potential. The second film I've seen recently to not be a disappointment despite lackluster reviews and fair box office, Michael Bay's The Island is a blend of thought-provoking science fiction, pulse-pounding action sequences, and a palpable feeling of dread throughout the picture. And it works, although you have to get past a few moments of sheer unbelievable survival (i.e., falling off a thirty story building, surrounded by exploding wreckage and bullets) and melodramatic this-is-your-slow-motion-closeup moments (i.e., the end). If you've seen any Bay film previously (I'm looking at you, Armageddon), and forgiven these excesses, you'll have no problem here. What's better, he's actually learned to hold back on a lot of the crapulence. Compared to recent efforts, this is actually a restrained Michael Bay.

The Island succinctly combines the elements of Logan's Run, The 6th Day, and Coma. In fact, if one tries, you can picture Mr. Bay himself pitching his idea to the studios. ("I'm thinking 'Logan's Run' meets '6th Day'... with maybe we 'Coma' it 10%...") Well, maybe the first two because it's unlikely that a studio executive could go back more than 25 years. In summation, occupants of a walled-in community are told that the outside world is 'contaminated' and that they can get to the one unspoiled paradise ("The Island") by means of a lottery (Logan's Run). In reality, they are illegally-raised clones of wealthy people in some near-future time (The 6th Day). Unbeknownst to them, their pick on the lottery signifies that their organs are needed for harvesting, which also means they will be murdered in the process (Coma). Combine some witty exchanges, neat and gruesome effects and some intense chase sequences and you've got your film.

As with my FF review, I note that the film is far from great, but still quite enjoyable. The inevitable encounter with Ewan McGregor's 'sponsor' (read: real-world double, who refers to his clone as his 'insurance policy') where they compare accents is funny (McGregor's Scottish to his American), and Scarlett Johanssen has a couple of lines that are funny, but clearly don't distract from her status as a complete babe. Naturally, as with all Bay films, you can predict just about everything that is going to happen, it was about 10 minutes too long, and the ending was a little too pat (but then, these are more of his notorious traits). That said, I'd recommend The Island as a mostly satisfying way to spend a Tuesday. Today.

PS. The title search on Amazon brought up an old film, completely unrelated that used to scare me in my youth, called Island. Starring Michael Caine, it was about modern-day pirates in the Bermuda Triangle. I remember it most for some of the shockingly brutal attack scenes. I wonder if they would be that shocking anymore.


Best return address ever
Since I don't plan on moving to Poland anytime soon, I suppose it's time to start planning a heist of this street sign. Of course, I can't imagine some local isn't already rubbing their hands together in devious anticipation of such a snatch.


Okay Four
I have to admit it, I didn't hate Fantastic Four, the film I rented as promised. Now, this is a far cry from going and praising this film, but I was actually pleasantly surprised at the viewing, owing probably quite a bit to my abyssmally low expectations going in -- there's nowhere to go but up. Granted, I'm a forgiving audience, having owned and read quite a few FF comics in my time, but you'll see I'm far from glossy-eyed.

First, let's dispense with the ridiculous hype around the "Exclusive inside look at X-Men 3". This turned out to be 1 minute and 40 seconds of the producer talking about what would be happening in the film, interspliced with clips from the first two movies. I've gotten more off reading some fan-boy's site. An utter ruse to get me to rent the DVD. Damn it, I hate when they are clever.

My expectations set even lower thanks to the "Inside Look" commercial-length feature, I eased into the picture. This isn't easy, because it takes all of about ten minutes to introduce every major character, set conflicts, establish love interests, launch into space, get irradiated by cosmic rays, and get back home. Not a lot of room for dialogue, it feels a bit rushed, but I felt it worked decently well. Surprise #1.

Surprise #2: The characters. Chris Evans' performance was a bit contagious as the hotshot punk. He was comical, goofy, brazen, shallow, and fun to watch. And what's more very true to the comic book character. In fact, every one of the four was loyal to what they were in the comic. The interactions between the charcters were part of what made the FF such a popular comic.

The two major distinctions that the Fantastic Four had over any other hero/team was that they functioned as a family and they were public figures -- no secret identities. The latter was captured well in Sue's escape from the media via stripping -- and turning invisible, naturally. (Jessica Alba losing her clothes would not cause anyone to lose interest.) Also, the Thing's constant problems with touch-tone phones or holding a glass in his hand were pretty amusing. As a family, you have the love between Reed and Sue, the brotherly atagonistic relationship between Johnny and Ben, and the 'best friends' Reed and Ben, to highlight the major interplay. All of these were ably dealt with, to the level that I felt they were taking a page right out of the comics.

Going into these films, you need suspension of disbelief to get past the super-powers. Little did I know you would also need to overlook some pretty obvious flaws. Teleportation, for instance. Somehow each member of the crew who went into space somehow gaining the ability to teleport in addition to their powers. Characters would appear suddenly when minutes before they were across town, or improbably aware of the circumstances. The most obvious was when Ben was transforming himself into the Thing in the Baxter building at the end, which produces an electric-light show. Reed is watching this from Dr. Doom's skyscraper about a mile away. Less than a minute later, at the penultimate tense moment, naturally, The Thing crashes through the wall and rescues them. Teleportation! Poof!

Then you have Ben's shallow wife archetype. Seriously, I get that The Thing isn't attractive (to a human -- for all I know he may be the cat's meow to a boulder), but I think it was a bit unnecessary to have him be immediately rejected by his wife (whom he adores, of course), twice, once when he first comes home and the second, after he's caused/saved dozens of lives. Cornball.

Also, their introduction as 'heroes'. Poorly orchestrated, basically The Thing causes (by saving a suicidal guy's life) a huge, violent multi-vehicle crash on a bridge, and the other three (who just happen to be driving over the bridge) help save some lives. The one I couldn't figure out is why Reed tells Sue to strip so she can get them past the crowds. The first thing she does when she turns invisible is to start pushing through the crowd that's blocking them and say 'Excuse me!' Wow, good thing she was invisible, or that would have never worked! (In retrospect, it's pretty clear that the logic involved was getting Alba into an underwear shot, and for that I loudly applaud the film's writers.)

Understand that the film is written in a tongue-and-cheek manner, rather than the realism of recent superhero films. Yeah, it's got some problems, but it wasn't as bad as most everyone said. It's not a waste of a rental fee, but the sequel better step it up a notch.


Fantastic Alba
Although it has been announced that there will be a sequel to this summer's critically panned Fantastic Four, I have yet to pass judgement myself.
I'd consider myself to be a casual fan of the comic series; I probably have about 40 or so of the title in my stash, but I never really got all that into it, although I'm versed enough to know who Willie Lumpkin is. That said, the reviews shied me away from seeing it in the theater. That, and reports that extra money was spent on the Mr. Fantastic effects after The Incredibles came out. Never a good sign when a cartoon film homage (and a great one) makes the original nervous.

Of course, I'm going to at least rent the DVD when it comes out this Tuesday. And, although you should (rightly) suspect that it is more a shallow worship of Jessica Alba that drives me, my bonus motivation to spend the four dollars is the news that the DVD includes an exclusive inside look at X-Men 3. (The teaser trailer is due any day and will be attached to King Kong, which sadly has no Alba, but a very nice portion of Naomi Watts.)

Update:The X-Men teaser trailer is up and running. Good glimpses of Angel, Juggernaut, and Beast.
BCS, Penn State, and Florida Oranges
Before I get rolling, let's give credit where it is due, and that's to Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions for securing their first ever BCS Bowl game, the illustrious Orange Bowl, where we'll be playing Florida State on January 3rd, 2006, prime time. I'm excited about playing in the Orange, but I don't think it's a good matchup.

Florida State are the "ACC Champions" by virtue of the way the division was split up, and somehow getting a home game for the championship. Granted, the Hokies chokied, but at the end of the day, FSU shouldn't have even been playing in the game. They were and are the third-best team in the conference. I'm irritate because FSU is rewarded for being lucky enough to be in a crap division and play one good game so they get to play a virtual home game in the BCS. Also, PSU is the only team with anything to lose in the game. I'd hardly call that a good 'matchup'.

I respect good matchups when I see them. All the other bowl games are good matchups. I was dying to play Notre Dame. That would have been a good matchup. This BCS media machine have these two schools playing not because they are evenly matched (they aren't) or that their records are close (please), but because they have the two winningest coaches in NCAA history, period. It was the only recourse for the BCS system that got screwed, this time by the inclusion of a team who have absolutely no business playing in a BCS bowl game when there are at least 20 better schools ranked ahead of them.

Well, believe it or not, the government may be getting involved. Last week, congress issued a statement. "Calling the Bowl Championship Series 'deeply flawed,' the chairman of a congressional committee has called a hearing on the controversial system used to determine college football’s national champion." I don't know if it is the oversight of the government, and I don't care, because the college presidents and Atheletic Directors have absolutely no intention of ever going to a playoff system. If not this, then we just accept our fan fates as the helpless observers of presidential greed.