Monday, December 31, 2012

Redskins Beat Cowboys for NFC East Title

"The achievement of Mike Shanahan and the 2012 Redskins, who entered their bye week with a record of 3-6 but wake this morning as 10-6 champions of their division, is one few have accomplished."
It's a new generation that has Washington atop the NFC East for the first time this millennium. There's Griffin -- the vocal leader, the first-round draft pick, the Heisman Trophy winner, the team captain. And there's Morris -- the out-of-nowhere sixth-rounder from Florida Atlantic who merely ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns in the division-clincher and broke the franchise single-season rushing record.

"These aren't ordinary rookies," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said.

According to STATS LLC, only three 3-6 squads have qualified for the postseason since the NFL shifted to a 12-team format in 1990. And still, it was 16 seasons ago since a team last recovered from a 3-6 start to make the playoffs — the 1996 Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Redskins claimed their first division title since 1999, beating the archrival Dallas Cowboys 28-18 Sunday night in a winner-take-all finale to end the NFL's regular season.

"I was 9 years old in 1999," said Griffin, sporting a black baseball cap commemorating the title. "So I stand before you at 22, and the Redskins are the NFC East champions. To me, talking to Alfred after the game, it's the first time the Redskins have been champs since '99 and we came in and we did it in one year. The sky's the limit for this team."

Griffin, gradually regaining his explosiveness after spraining his right knee four weeks ago, ran for 63 yards and a touchdown for the Redskins (10-6), who finished with seven straight wins after their bye week. They became the first NFL team to rally from 3-6 and make the playoffs since the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1996.

With the running game working so well, Griffin didn't have to throw much. He completed nine of 18 passes for 100 yards.

"I've been here for the 4-12, the bad times, almost being the joke of the NFL," veteran defensive lineman Kedric Golston said. "But to do this with this group of guys -- the old and the new -- it's good to be here."

Certainly, Sunday night was mostly about the new. Morris had touchdown runs of 1, 17 and 32 yards and was so dominant that the Cowboys -- missing their five best run defenders due to injuries -- fell hook, line and sinker nearly every time the Redskins faked the ball to him. He finished with 1,613 yards for the year, topping Clinton Portis' 1,516 in 2005.

"I'll tell you what: Alfred Morris became a star tonight," Redskins tight end Chris Cooley said. "He deserved it. He's a phenomenal football player."

To which Morris answered: "I'm never a star. I'll never be a star. Other people might think I'm a star, but I'm just Alfred."

The Cowboys (8-8), meanwhile, will miss the playoffs for the third straight season, having stumbled in a make-or-break end-of-regular-season game for the third time in five years.

Tony Romo threw three interceptions -- matching his total from the last eight games combined.

"I feel as though I let our team down," Romo said.

Romo completed 20 of 31 passes for 218 yards, and his career is now further tainted by post-Christmas disappointments, including Week 17 losses to the Philadelphia Eagles (44-6) in 2008 and the New York Giants (31-14) last year.

Griffin set two more NFL rookie records. His 102.4 passer rating topped Ben Roethlisberger's 98.1 in 2004, and his 1.3 percentage of passes intercepted is better than Charlie Batch's 1.98 in 1998. Griffin had already set the league mark for rushing yards by a rookie QB (815). The Redskins also set a franchise record for fewest turnovers in a season with 14, fewer even than the 1982 team that played only nine regular-season games because of a players strike.

Washington will host Seattle next Sunday, the Redskins' third consecutive playoff game against the Seahawks. They lost at Seattle as a wild-card team in the 2005 and 2007 seasons.

More information:
» NFL Video: Game Highlights
» USA Today: "Most Watched NFL Prime-Time Regular-Season Game in 16 Years"

Friday, December 28, 2012

Redskins-Cowboys Rivalry

Washington Post:
For 52 years, the fortunes of the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins have swung back and forth, their success or failure, especially against each other, defined by a few large figures. You can feel the power shifts in real time because the central characters are usually great quarterbacks or coaches.

Most of the seismic events — until this season - have usually favored the Cowboys, who lead the series by a whopping 61-41-3. Don Meredith (who followed Eddie LeBaron at quarterback), Tom Landry, Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman were all ill omens in Washington. Before Joe Gibbs’ 1982 team, Dallas finished ahead of the Redskins in 17 of 19 years. That domination, especially in national acclaim, was so large that D.C. built an outright loathing for Dallas; several fine Redskins teams got little credit in the shadow of “America’s Team.” Cowboys condescension fed the fires, too.

But the pain’s been shared — well, some. After Gibbs got the upper hand, the Skins finished ahead of the Cowboys in 9 of 10 years. That’s always the pattern. Parity never lasts long. Somebody’s got the whip and knows it.

Right now, the ground is shaking again. Sure feels like it’s D.C.’s turn.

Ever since the Redskins built a 28-3 halftime lead on Thanksgiving Day in Dallas, then won 38-31, all warning flags have been flying for the Boys. Sunday night, the teams meet with the NFC East title at stake. It’s the favored Skins who have the six-game winning streak and home field edge, too.

In a one-game sample, any factor may be decisive. Sooner or later, the Redskins’ plus-14 turnover differential may dwindle, and the Cowboys (minus-10) may reverse their profligate ways. That alone might ignite a Dallas win.

The Skins lead the NFL in rushing, love play action and bootlegs, plus read options out of the Pistol formation. So weather shouldn’t bother them much. The Cowboys, historically lousy in games with temperatures below 40, may face a sub-freezing kickoff.

Most of all the Redskins have Robert Griffin III, a native Texan who threw four scoring passes in his Dallas debut. This may be just as bad news for Dallas as the arrivals of Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman were for Washington.

He’s now the second quarterback to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 750 (Randall Cunningham did it in 1998) and only the second rookie ever to make the Pro Bowl. The other: oh, just Dan Marino.

No Redskins or Cowboys quarterback has ever been as good and as famous as fast as Griffin. He’s even flipped the notion of "America’s Team." This week, a national ESPN poll showed that 49 states and 73 percent of fans were rooting for the Redskins in this showdown.

The Cowboys can’t do anything about the arrival of Griffin or Alfred Morris, who needs 87 yards for 1,500 on the season, or the Pistol any more than the Skins could when Aikman arrived or Staubach ran the shotgun. The next chapter of the Cowboys-Redskins novel has already been roughed out. The details? Will the Redskins merely be good with RGIII or, eventually, exceptional? Was Thanksgiving in Texas Stadium foreshadowing for Sunday night or a red herring to throw us off the trail?

More information:
» Skins Set New Records in 14-of-15 Games
» RG3: "He just has that mojo about him"
» Photo Gallery: Rivalry Classics

13-10 OT Win for VT at Russell Athletic Bowl

Betting Line:
The early Russell Athletic Bowl odds listed the Hokies, who just managed to extend their bowl streak to 20 seasons, as 2.5-point favorites over the Scarlet Knights, who were 9-1 but lost their last two games to miss out on the Big East championship. Sportsbooks have the Hokies pegged as 1.5-point favorites in this matchup Friday afternoon. The total, meanwhile, was a low 41.5.

How They Match Up:
Offensively, the game matches up Virginia Tech's No. 80-ranked offense (26.1 PPG) against a Scarlet Knights defense that ranks No. 4 at 14.2 PPG. The Hokies passing attack has averaged 234.1 yards per game, more than the Scarlet Knights give up through the air (216.2 YPG on average).

In comparing defenses, the Scarlet Knights own the league's No. 4-rated front 7 in terms of stopping the run, allowing 87.2 yards per game when on the road. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, rates No. 60 this week in generating rushing yards at home.

Washington Post:
But in a game dominated by defense, the Hokies awoke from the dead just in time, defeating Rutgers, 13-10, in overtime to win the Russell Athletic Bowl and avoid their first losing season since 1992.

In a fitting conclusion to the lowest scoring game in this bowl’s history, the winning points came when the Hokies were forced to settle for a 22-yard field goal by place kicker Cody Journell during their first overtime possession. His counterpart, Rutgers redshirt freshman Nick Borgese missed wide right on a 42-yard field goal to end the contest. It was Journell’s third game-winning field goal of the season.

Virginia Tech’s defense was its lone saving grace considering its offense finished with a season-low 196 yards. The Hokies (7-6) kept Rutgers’s offense out of the end zone the entire game, the Scarlet Knights’ lone touchdown coming off a bad snap to Logan Thomas on the second play of the night. Thomas recovered it and appeared to have a knee down in the end zone before the ball was jarred loose and recovered by Rutgers linebacker and two-time Big East defensive player of the year Khaseem Greene.

In what could be his final game in a Virginia Tech uniform, Thomas finished 15 of 39 for 193 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The redshirt junior is considering declaring for the NFL draft, but looked shaky most of the night behind an offensive line that allowed four sacks.

“I still have a big decision in front of me, and either way it goes, I’m glad to be a Hokie,” Thomas said after the game.

Luckily for the Hokies, Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova was even worse. He completed just 17 of his 40 passes for 130 yards as the two teams combined for a Russell Athletic Bowl-record 21 punts. Rutgers (9-4) ended the game with just 197 yards.

Virginia Tech Bowl History:
Year Bowl Team1 Score Team2 Score Team2 Line ATS win
1995 Sugar Bowl Virginia Tech 28 Texas 10 -2 VTECH
1996 Orange Bowl Virginia Tech 21 Nebraska 41 -15.5 NEBR
1997 Gator Bowl Virginia Tech 3 North Carolina 42 -9 UNC
1998 Music City Bowl Virginia Tech 38 Alabama 7 5 VTECH
1999 Sugar Bowl Virginia Tech 29 Florida State 46 -6 FLAST
2000 Gator Bowl Clemson 20 Virginia Tech 41 -6.5 VTECH
2001 Gator Bowl Virginia Tech 17 Florida State 30 0 FLAST
2002 Emerald Bowl Air Force 13 Virginia Tech 20 -11 AIRFOR
2003 Insight Bowl Virginia Tech 49 California 52 3 CAL
2004 Sugar Bowl Virginia Tech 13 Auburn 16 -6 VTECH
2005 Gator Bowl Louisville 24 Virginia Tech 35 -9.5 VTECH
2006 Chick-Fil-A Bowl Virginia Tech 24 Georgia 31 3 GEORGI
2007 Orange Bowl Kansas 24 Virginia Tech 21 -3 KANSAS
2008 Orange Bowl Virginia Tech 20 Cincinnati 7 -2.5 VTECH
2009 Chick-Fil-A Bowl Tennessee 14 Virginia Tech 37 -5 VTECH
2010 Orange Bowl Virginia Tech 12 Stanford 40 -3.5 STANFO
2011 Sugar Bowl Michigan 23 Virginia Tech 20 3 Push

More information:
» Offensive Changes Haven't Worked as Planned, Coaches Can't Adjust
» Washington Post: Thomas, Gayle, and Exum Gauge NFL Draft Prospects
» Bleacher Report: Hokies' Struggles in 2012
» 100 Best Traditions in College Football

» Bleacher Report: Hokies' 2013 Depth Chart

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

We Want Dallas!

Washington Post:
If the hair on the back of your football-loving neck is standing up, if you can’t wait for the Dallas flippin’ Cowboys to get to FedEx Field next Sunday for a winner-take-all game for the NFC East division title, then you’re far from alone. Every player in the amazed, delighted and semi-stunned locker room of the Washington Redskins is right there with you, their faces in wide grins after a sixth straight victory, 27-20, over the Philadelphia Eagles here on Sunday.

Anticipation for the Cowboys’ visit seems almost excessive, until you analyze how rare this particular set of circumstances actually is. When was the last time that the Redskins entered the last week of the regular season facing a home game with a head-to-head match to determine which team would finish first in the NFC East or, before that, in the old NFL Eastern Conference? Answer: Never. As in: Zero.

There have been complex, multi-scenario last-day finishes. And in 1939, the Redskins had a winner-take-all game against the Giants for the right to play for the world championship — but it was in New York.

So excuse the Redskins their jubilation. Or join it.

“Pandemonium at FedEx Field. The way you like it. It’s definitely going to be a playoff atmosphere,” said defensive back DeAngelo Hall, who invited the NFL to reschedule the game from 1 p.m. to the marquee 8:30 p.m. time slot in order to maximize television ratings (a decision they indeed made later Sunday night): “Let’s go ahead and flex this game. And we’ll make it real nice.

“Absolutely. We want to be the only show on TV. That’s a good feeling. Prime time, baby.”

Should the Redskins lose to Dallas, there are still ways they could make the playoffs, but only if multiple other teams lose. “Man, I just know we need to win next week,” said linebacker London Fletcher, dismissing all the permutations. “Tough life, tough game. You don’t get a chance to exhale.”

So, for the rest of the week, much of Washington will hold its breath.

The Redskins have had bigger games than their meeting with the Cowboys, including battles to see who would go to the Super Bowl. But after 20 years as the weakest of teams, by far, in the NFC East, this is the season, led by rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, when the Redskins feel they can reverse that division dominance. Since ’91, the Eagles, Cowboys and Giants have gone to the playoffs 12, 11 and nine times respectively. The Redskins: three. Is the pecking order about to flip?

Just 35 days ago, the Redskins were 3-6 and couldn’t get the time of day. Now, they see omens of a different future wherever they look. The showdown with the Cowboys “is what makes the NFL great. All the guys are excited,” said nose tackle Barry Cofield, whose deflected pass led to an easy interception for Fletcher that set up the Redskins’ first touchdown.

That seems an extreme goal for a team coming off a 5-11 season, especially since the Redskins depend so heavily on rookies. Against the Eagles, RGIII, playing with a knee brace after missing one game, threw two touchdown passes and had a 102.4 quarterback rating, virtually identical to his efficiency before he suffered a sprained ligament two weeks ago. Alfred Morris rushed for another pounding, contact-seeking, 91 yards, which gives him an utterly unexpected total of 1,413 for the season.

And place kicker Kai Forbath, picked up midseason, added two field goals on a windy day to make him 17 for 17. No kicker had ever started an NFL career with such a streak. Now, he has a ball headed to the Hall of Fame.

Without doubt, these are giddy days for the Redskins, who have had only two winning streaks of more than five games in 20 years and only four in the past 30 years. But in the NFL, there actually are such things as “red-hot” teams that believe the breaks of the game, and the big plays that need to be made, are finally rolling their way. Partly, it’s illusion. But it also tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“They expect to win the close games. That’s what’s different now. That’s where you feel really good,” Coach Mike Shanahan said. “Earlier [this season] we lost a few of those, games we had control of but couldn’t finish.”

More information:
» Cowboys and Indians: Another Rivalry Game
» Giants Bow to Human Nature

Monday, December 24, 2012

Wall Trampoline!

New York Times:
The vertigo-inducing activity, a training program for the circus arts, is known as wall trampoline. Part gymnastics, part parkour, it is a nascent sport that has few participants — they call themselves bouncers — and a rule book that is still being written. But the inventors of wall trampoline, toiling in the chamber of the repurposed church, have big plans for it.

“The ultimate goal is to have wall trampoline be in the X Games,” said Julien Roberge, 23, a computer science student and professional trampolinist.

The hope, he said, is to hold the first competitions in conjunction with skateboarding contests, events brimming with the kind of freestyle energy that Roberge wants to bring to wall trampoline.

“Maybe we could recruit people like that to start training on it,” he said.

Anticipating a growing interest in wall trampoline, Quebec Circus School began teaching the discipline three years ago and brought in three coaches. The school’s general director, Yves Neveu, said it was at the forefront of the sport in Canada, a country with a well-established circus culture.

There is little data on how many people participate in wall trampoline. The sport is more popular in Canada, although several schools in the United States teach the discipline, usually for bouncers who want to hone their skills for circus shows. The Orlando Circus School in Florida and the Werks Shop, an extreme-sports school in Las Vegas, have training programs.

Jeff Jay, the owner of the Werks Shop, said his program had taught 40 people how to use the wall trampoline over the past five years, and the school has two coaches dedicated to teaching it.

Cypher Zero, the owner of New York Circus Arts, said he liked the idea of wall trampoline becoming a sport, but said Roberge and his team could have a hard time making it work in the United States.

“We don’t really have a tradition of acrobatic sports here in the U.S.,” he said. “That said, I think starting in Canada will give them traction.”

Roberge clearly knows how to fly. Born in Quebec City, he has been competing in trampoline since he was 13. As a child, he practiced for hours on a trampoline in his backyard, honing his flips and twists into elaborate routines that eventually got him hired by Cirque du Soleil, the entertainment company that was founded in nearby Montreal. Five years ago, Roberge saw a performance of wall trampoline in a Cirque du Soleil show called “La Nouba” and decided to commit himself to building it into a competitive sport.

Perhaps his only limitation at this point is the ceiling. Some of the biggest tricks he would like to perform, like a triple back flip, elude him in part because the ceiling above the wall trampoline at the circus school is just 22 feet high.

Outdoors, Roberge said, he could reach 30 feet or more, allowing for even more daring tricks.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Lionel Messi: Greatest of All Time?

"Lionel Messi won an unprecedented fourth FIFA Ballon d'Or award on January 7, lifting him above three-time FIFA winners Zinedine Zidane of France and Brazil's Ronaldo. Barcelona players have now won 10 times in the 22 years that FIFA has awarded a world's-best prize. In 2010, the FIFA world player honor merged with the Ballon d'Or prize awarded to Europe-based players since 1956 by `France Football' magazine."

The statistics are staggering, the milestones apparently endless and the performances continue to defy belief.

At 25, Lionel Messi is reaching the peak of his powers. It is difficult to see how he can improve having found a rate of scoring few thought possible and married it to an incredible level of consistency.

The debate about whether he is the greatest of them all can wait, but the phenomenal speed with which he is breaking records cannot be ignored.

Messi broke the 39-year record for most goals in a European club season in 2012 when he finished the season with 79. He also became the first player to score five goals in a Champions League match. The Barcelona forward is a three-time FIFA Player of the Year and is expected take a record-fourth Ballon d’Or for 2012.

Messi has set new records at such a rate during his career as to render them almost meaningless. This one, however, is significant.

During the calendar year, Leo scored a record 91 goals combined in all competitions for Barcelona and the Argentina national side, shattering the mark of 85 tallied by Gerd Muller for Bayern Munich and Germany in 1972.

It was a record many thought would stand forever - untouchable until the boy from Rosario, Argentina arrived on the scene.

Udo Lattek, who managed Mueller at Bayern Munich in 1972, the season the German set the record, said: "Gerd was my best player but he was different from Messi. Leo is a better player. He is the best there is, a marvel of football, like a god.

"Without Messi, Barcelona is Barcelona. But with him, they are the best in the world."

Mueller was a fearsome competitor. With a powerful build and a low centre of gravity, "Der Bomber" had the strength to resist most defenders and coupled that with an incredible habit of finding the net however unlikely the situation.

His ruthlessness in front of goal set him apart, both for club and country, and he ended his Bayern career with 365 goals in 427 league appearances. For Germany, he found the net 68 times in 62 matches.

Where Mueller was a poacher and a finisher, Messi is much more. His bewildering repertoire of faints and swerves, sudden stops and bursts of pace are allied to tremendous physical strength for such a slight figure.

His goal-scoring in 2012 has been staggering, even by his standards.

In the first five months of the year he became only the third player to win the Ballon d'Or three times, the joint top scorer (with 14 goals) in a single European Cup season, the first player to score five goals in a single game in the Champions League era, the youngest player to reach 150 La Liga goals, and Barcelona's all-time top scorer.

He also broke the record for the most competitive goals (68) scored in a single European season, also previously held by Mueller. He has won 19 trophies, more than any other at his age.

On his way to beating Mueller's record, Messi has scored six hat-tricks, twice scored four goals and on one occasion scored five. There have been highs and more highs, with his best run of form seeing him score 24 goals in 13 matches. His longest goal "drought" lasted all of three matches.

Incredibly, he has scored 48% of Barcelona's goals in 2012, the club winning 91% of their matches when he has scored and just 47% when he has not.

What is more the statistics show that in 2012, Messi actually gets better as the game wears on and is more likely to score in the final 14 minutes than at any other time in the match. As defenders' legs grow weary, the Argentine comes into his own.

More information:
» FC Barcelona Signs Messi through Mid-2018, $21.2 Million
» Forbes India: Lionel Messi is Human
» Not an Official FIFA Record, Pele Scored 127 in 1959
» Ronaldinho, 32, is Playing for Atletico Mineiro in Brazil

FIFA presented their FIFPro World XI awards during the FIFA Ballon d'or awards ceremony. The following players were recognized as the best XI of 2012: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid, Spain), Daniel Alves (Barcelona, Brazil), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid, Spain), Gerard Pique (Barcelona, Spain), Marcelo (Real Madrid, Brazil), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid, Spain), Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona, Spain), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona, Spain), Lionel Messi (Barcelona, Argentina), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid, Portugal) and Radamel Falcao (Atletico Madrid, Colombia).

Friday, December 21, 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a Christmas television special produced in stop-motion animation by Rankin/Bass. The company was founded by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass in the early 1960s as Videocraft International. The majority of Rankin/Bass' work, including all of their "Animagic" stop-motion productions, were created in Japan. Throughout the 1960s, the Animagic productions were headed by Japanese stop-motion animator Tadahito Mochinaga.

It first aired Sunday, December 6, 1964, on the NBC television network in the United States, and was sponsored by General Electric under the umbrella title of The General Electric Fantasy Hour. The special was based on the Johnny Marks song by the same name which was itself based on the 1939 poem of the same title written by Marks' brother-in-law, Robert L. May.

Since 1972, the special has aired on CBS affiliate television stations, with the network unveiling a high-definition, digitally remastered version of the program in 2005. It has been telecast every year since 1964, making it the longest running Christmas TV special in history, and one of only four 1960s Christmas specials still being telecast with the others being A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Frosty the Snowman.

Romeo Muller was a consistent contributor, serving as screenwriter for many of Rankin/Bass's best-known productions including Rudolph, The Little Drummer Boy, and Frosty the Snowman. Billie Mae Richards stars as the voice of the title character and Burl Ives narrates as Sam the Snowman.

Original 1964 NBC broadcast edit
This version has the NBC "living color" peacock at the introduction. It includes the original end credits, where elves are seen delivering boxes which list all the technical credits. The original does not include Santa traveling to the Island of Misfit Toys, but does include a scene near the end of the special in which Yukon Cornelius discovers a peppermint mine near Santa's workshop. He can be seen throughout the special tossing his pickax into the air, sniffing, then licking the end that contacts the snow or ice. Discarded in 1965 to make room for Santa traveling to the Island of Misfit toys, the audience was left to assume that Cornelius was attempting to find either silver or gold by taste alone.

The songs and incidental music were all written by Johnny Marks, with Maury Laws supervising. In addition to the songs previously mentioned, the score also includes the film's love theme "There's Always Tomorrow", sung by Clarice after Rudolph is kicked out of the reindeer games. Marks' holiday standard "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" appears as instrumental background music when Rudolph first arrives at the Reindeer Games. Also included in the soundtrack is an instrumental version of Marks' setting of the Christmas hymn "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."

In 1964, an LP record of the soundtrack was released. It contained all the original songs performed as they are in the special, with the exception of Burl Ives' material, which has been re-recorded. MCA Special Products released the soundtrack on CD in June 1995. The song "Fame and Fortune" is not contained on either release. On November 30, 2004 the soundtrack was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for selling over 500,000 copies.

Dormtainment Part I: Twerk.

More information:
» Dormtainment on YouTube

NHL Lockout Update

USA Today:
With no end in sight to the 96-day-old NHL lockout, the league announced Thursday that it is canceling games through Jan. 14, moving it potentially closer to another lost season.

The announcement knocks another 99 games off the schedule and brings the total canceled to 625, or 50.8% of the season.

The 1994-95 season, which was shortened to 48 games by a lockout, started on Jan. 20 and ran through June 24. A settlement was reached on Jan. 11. The full season was canceled during the 2004-05 lockout.

NHL owners and players are stalemated on their negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement, and players are voting to decide whether to have the NHL Players' Association announce that it no longer will represent the players. That would allow players to pursue antitrust litigation to have the lockout declared illegal.

Players are expected to approve that measure, but the voting will not be completed until Friday.

The NHL has filed an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board and also a class-action lawsuit in federal court in New York, claiming that the disclaimer of interest would merely be a ploy and not a true desire of players to dissolve the union.

The NBA players made a similar move during their lockout and reached an agreement 12 days later.

Russian Machine Never Breaks:

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Hobbit Sets December Box Office Record

The One Ring:
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey brought home a big box office treasure over the weekend, setting a December movie record with $84.77 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales as legions of fans turned out for the long-awaited big-screen return to Middle Earth.

The 3D movie directed by Oscar-winning “Rings” filmmaker Peter Jackson is the first of three films based on a 1937 classic novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. Warner Bros. is aiming to build on the success of the “Rings” series, one of Hollywood’s biggest franchises with $2.9 billion in global ticket sales.

The “Lord of the Rings” movies debuted in theaters from 2001 to 2003. After that, production on “The Hobbit” ran into delays, leaving fans waiting a decade for another look at the fantasy story of dwarves, wizards and elves.

The opening weekend “Hobbit” sales proved interest remained high. North American (U.S. and Canadian) receipts toppled the old record for December set by Will Smith sci-fi flick “I Am Legend,” which pulled in $77.2 million when it debuted in 2007.

More information:
» "The Hobbit" at 48fps: High Frame Rates Explained

Monday, December 10, 2012

tabi Bonney - "On Jupiter" (2011)

"Bottling up the sounds of the most popular season to create a hit with emeritus status is probably on the bucket list for nearly every artist doing it. For tabi Bonney, the D.C. mainstay with dreams of seeing his artisnal value grow with every public appearance, he takes 12 stabs at it with The Summer Years, a digestible but otherwise inchoate project owed to tabi’s inability to match his lyricism with the broad instrumentation on hand."

Tabi Bonney is a Togo-born, Washington, D.C.-based rapper. He is the son of Itadi Bonney, an afro-funk musician popular during the 1970s in Togo and West Africa. Bonney achieved recognition in the Washington metro area with his radio singles "The Pocket" and "Doin It," which featured Raheem DeVaughn. Bonney started a clothing line called Bonney Runway; he has also directed and produced music videos for several artists including friend and fellow D.C.-associated rapper Wale.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Russell Athletic Bowl Preview

Roanoke Times:
The Hokies were selected to play in the Russell Athletic Bowl against one-time Big East foe Rutgers, a Dec. 28 game that will kick off at 5:30 p.m. at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla.

Despite an underwhelming season, Virginia Tech (6-6) got the nod as the ACC's third choice, picked ahead of N.C. State and Georgia Tech. It's the Hokies' first trip to the Orlando-based bowl.

"We're eager," Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. "I think this is a team that is eager to continue to prove our program here."

Under first-year head coach Kyle Flood, Rutgers (9-3) shared the Big East title with Louisville, Syracuse and Cincinnati. The Cardinals got the league's automatic Bowl Championship Series berth. The Scarlet Knights were the No. 2 pick from the conference.

Rutgers is aiming for only its third double-digit win season. The Scarlet Knights have done it mostly with defense. They're fourth nationally in points against (14.3 ppg) and 14th in total defense (321.3 ypg).

Although they've never crossed paths, Flood has a high respect for Beamer.

"Most of what I know from coach Beamer is what I know of his reputation of being in the profession," he said, "being as first-class person as there is, someone who is a tremendous teacher of the fundamentals of football."

The Hokies are 0-2 against Big East teams this year. They were outclassed at Pittsburgh in September, a 35-17 loss in which they were outgained 537-324. Two weeks later, they lost a 27-24 heartbreaker at FedEx Field to Cincinnati on Damon Julian's 39-yard touchdown reception with 13 seconds to play.

The Russell Athletic Bowl matchup reunites two Big East mates who have fled - or soon will - for greener pastures in another league. Virginia Tech left for the ACC in 2004, part of the first big wave of conference realignment. Rutgers announced nearly two weeks ago that it will join the Big Ten in the 2014-15 season.

During their time in the Big East together from 1992 to 2003, the schools met 12 times. Virginia Tech won the final 11 meetings by an average margin of 29.3 points.

The Scarlet Knights started the season 7-0 and were ranked as high as 15th. A surprising 35-23 home loss to upstart Kent State dropped them out of the polls.

They remained unbeaten in the Big East until a 27-6 loss at Pittsburgh on Nov. 24. With the league's automatic BCS berth on the line last Thursday, Rutgers lost a tight game to Louisville 20-17 at home.

The Hokies are trying to avoid their first losing season since 1992, when they went 2-8-1. It's Virginia Tech's 20th straight appearance in a bowl, the third longest streak in the nation behind Florida State (31) and Florida (21).

More information:
» Frank Beamer is 8-11 in Career Bowl Games

Marquez Beats Pacquiao with Sixth-Round KO

Fox Sports:
Juan Manuel Marquez knocked Manny Pacquiao out cold with a vicious right hand at the end of the sixth round Saturday night, putting a ferocious end to the fourth fight between the two boxers.

Pacquiao had been down in the third round but knocked Marquez down in the fifth and the two were exchanging heavy blows in the sixth round before Marquez threw a right hand that flattened Pacquiao face down on the canvas at 2:59 of the sixth round.

The referee waved the fight to an end as Marquez celebrated and the sold-out crowd at the MGM erupted. Pacquiao was down for about two minutes before his handlers managed to get him up.

After being helped to his corner, Pacquiao sat on a stool, blew his nose and stared vacantly ahead as his handlers cut his gloves off. It was a stunning end to a furious fight and it may have signaled the end of Pacquiao's career.

"I threw a perfect punch," Marquez said. "I knew Manny could knock me out at any time."

Marquez had vowed to finally beat Pacquiao after losing two close fights and settling for a draw in the first fight. But after Pacquiao knocked him down in the fifth round and was landing big left hands, it looked like it would be Pacquiao's night.

The two came out for the sixth round and the pace was just as relentless. Both were landing big punches and both were brawling when suddenly as the round came to close Marquez shot out a right hand that landed flush to the jaw of Pacquiao, who crumpled to the canvas in a heap.

"I felt he was coming to knock me out the last three rounds and I knew he was going to be wide open," Marquez said.

It was the second loss in a row for Pacquiao, who dropped a decision to Timothy Bradley in June and who had vowed to regain his prominence in the ring.

Pacquiao was aggressive from the opening bell, but paid the price in the third round when he got by a Marquez right hand that put him down. Pacquiao got back up and seemingly took control of the fight, dropping Marquez in the fifth round and landing the bigger punches until he was dropped

"I got hit by a punch I didn't see," Pacquiao said.

Pacquiao, who earned more than $20 million for the fight, was ahead 47-46 on all three scorecards after the fifth round.

There was no title at stake in the 147-pound fight, but that didn't stop 16,348 fans from filling the MGM Grand Arena and roaring in unison from the opening bell as the two fighters went after each other.

Ringside punching stats underscored the ferocity of the bout, showing Pacquiao landing 94 of 256 punches to 52 of 246 for Marquez. But it was the one big right hand from Marquez that counted more than anything, knocking Pacquiao out for the first time in a career that goes back 17 years.

"He was in charge," Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach said. "He just got a little too careless and got hit with a punch he didn't see."

Promoter Bob Arum immediately said he could see a fifth fight between the two boxers, and a dazed Pacquiao seemed to agree.

"Why not?" he said.

Pacquiao weight the class limit of 147 pounds, but it was Marquez who looked like the stronger fight entering the ring after having bulked up with the help of a strength conditioner even though he weighed in at 143 pounds. In their earlier fights, Pacquiao had been the bigger punchier, knocking Marquez down a total of four times, but on this night it was Marquez who had the biggest punch.

The stunning knockout was the first real loss by Pacquiao in seven years. He lost a close decision to Bradley in his last fight, but most ringside observers believed he had won it fairly convincingly.

Marquez improved to 55-6-1 with 40 knockouts, while Pacquiao fell to 54-5-2.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

DUIs are a Major Problem in the NFL

"Irving police spokesman John Argumaniz said the accident happened about 2:20 a.m. Saturday in the Dallas suburb. Brent was speeding when the vehicle hit a curb and flipped at least once. He said when officers arrived at the scene on a state highway service road, Brent was dragging Brown from the vehicle, a Mercedes, which was on fire. Officers quickly put out the small blaze."
For the second consecutive week, the NFL was broadsided with a tragedy – a preventable, painful tragedy.

On Saturday, Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent was charged with intoxication manslaughter after what Irving, Texas, police described as a high-speed early morning crash on State Highway 114 that caused his car to flip at least once before winding up on a service road.

His victim was teammate Jerry Brown, a 25-year-old linebacker from St. Louis. Brown, a passenger at the time of the crash, was a teammate of Brent's at the University of Illinois.

This comes on the heels of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher committing suicide in front of his coach and general manager last Saturday after murdering Kasandra Perkins, his girlfriend and the mother of his 3-month-old daughter.

Two unrelated incidents; two horrific, troubling moments.

The Belcher case was quickly seized as a political opportunity – pounced on to discuss everything from guns laws, to football's violent way, to concussions. Brushed over was the core issue – Belcher was a bad guy, a cowardly murderer. Yet even as the tangents strained, the voices just got louder.

If the Brent case is going to go the same way, with big publicity and pointed discussion, then let it be used for a more practical purpose: to continue to remind players and fans alike of the dangers of drunk driving, particularly in the NFL community where it remains a scourge.

Let it be used as one more example for the need to plan ahead, to call a cab (or limo for some of these guys), to find a designated driver, to stay home or anything else to avoid this absolutely, 100-percent preventable issue.

Even Belcher drove after drinking last week. Police discovered him at 3 a.m. last Saturday sleeping off a night of partying in his Bentley, which was parked yet running. The cops gave him a break; he was allowed to go inside a nearby apartment complex and get some rest. Hours later, he went home and shot Perkins nine times.

He likely could've been detained at 3 a.m.

DUI is the league's biggest legal issue. A study by the San Diego Union-Tribune found that 112 of the 385 NFL player arrests (29 percent) between 2000 and 2008 involved drunk driving.

Belcher's crime was spectacular but beyond rare. The NFL doesn't have a murder problem. It doesn't even have a gun problem. If anything, the league's players are better behaved than the general public. That same Union-Tribune study found players arrested at a rate of one per 47. The U.S. population was one per 21, more than twice as often.

However, drinking in excess then driving remains difficult for the league to curb, the one issue it just struggles to contain.

It's not all that different for the rest of the country. We've been trying to wipe out drunk driving for generations now – from the formation of MADD, to the lowering of legal alcohol levels to endless mass publicity campaigns. There is no one left that doesn't realize not just the dangers of driving drunk but also the likelihood of getting arrested. There may not be anyone who doesn't know at least one victim.

Yet it continues over and over, probably because it's a split-second decision, often made when a person's judgment has, by definition, been chemically altered.

This wasn't even Brent's first trouble with the issue. He plead guilty in 2009 to DUI while in college. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail, community service and ordered to sit in on a victim's impact group.

Brent was arrested in February 2009 near the Illinois campus for driving under the influence, driving on a suspended license and speeding, according to Champaign County, Ill., court records. In June 2009, Brent pleaded guilty to DUI and was sentenced to 60 days in jail, two years of probation, 200 hours of community service and a fine of about $2,000. As part of his plea deal, prosecutors dropped one count of aggravated DUI/no valid driver's license.

It didn't take.

Again, this is a societal problem. The NFL doesn't want this. The NFL already stresses it to players at every turn. It used to run what was called the “safe ride” program to get players home, but it was taken over by the NFL Players Association in 2009 over concerns about confidentiality. The NFLPA still operates it [albeit at the cost of $85 per ride, more than most cabs] with the phone number on the back of every union card. Both groups can only attempt to do more.

Here's hoping the issue gets the same high-profile discussion, because even if we've all heard it before, everyone can use another reminder.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Life Of Pi (2012)

"Ang Lee's Life Of Pi starring Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, and Tabu has made it to the prestigious list of Golden Globe Nominations for Best Motion Picture (Drama), Best Director (Ang Lee), and Best Original Score (Mychael Danna)."

Life of Pi is a fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel published in 2001. The protagonist, Piscine Molitor "Pi" Patel, an Indian boy from Pondicherry, explores issues of spirituality and practicality from an early age. He survives 227 days after a shipwreck while stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

The novel was rejected by at least five London publishing houses before being accepted by Knopf Canada, which published it in September 2001. The UK edition won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction the following year. The French translation, L'histoire de Pi, was chosen in the French version of the contest, Le combat des livres, where it was championed by Louise Forestier. The novel won the 2003 Boeke Prize, a South African novel award. In 2004, it won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in Best Adult Fiction for years 2001–2003. In 2012 it was adapted into a theatrical feature film directed by Ang Lee with a screenplay by David Magee.

Principal photography for the film began on 18 January 2011 in Pondicherry, India at the Holy Rosary Church in Muthialpet. Filming continued in Pondicherry until 31 January and moved to other parts of India as well as director Ang Lee's home country, Taiwan. The crew filmed in Taiwan for five and a half months in Taichung and Kenting National Park, located in Pingtung County where Lee was born. In Taiwan, the ocean scenes of the film were shot at a giant wave tank built by the crew in the abandoned Taichung Shui-nan Airport. The tank is known as the world’s largest self-generating wave tank, with a capacity of 1.7 million gallons. After photography was completed in Taiwan, production moved back to India and concluded in Montreal, Canada.

The film's musical score was composed by Mychael Danna, who previously wrote the music to Lee's films The Ice Storm and Ride with the Devil.

After 3,000 men auditioned for the film's lead, Lee chose to cast Suraj Sharma, a 17-year-old student and an acting newcomer, in October 2010.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Hokies Basketball Team Upsets #15 Oklahoma State

"With the win, the Hokies moved to 7-0 overall on the season, which marks their best start since the 1982-83 team won its first seven games to start the season."
Erick Green scored 28 points and hit eight critical free throws in the final 76 seconds as Virginia Tech continued its surprising start under new coach James Johnson, beating the No. 15 Cowboys (5-1) for the fourth time in the past three seasons.

The last three meetings were in preseason tournaments in 2010 and 2011, and a scheduled game Dec. 31, 2011 in Stillwater.

"He's one of the best guards in the country, one of the best point guards in the county, bar none," Oklahoma State's coach Travis Ford said of Green, who did all his scoring and grabbed seven rebounds in just 26 minutes after drawing two fouls in the first three minutes.

The Hokies, picked to finish 10th in the ACC, are off to their first 7-0 start since the 1982-83 season, and their victory was their first nonconference triumph against a ranked team since they beat Virginia in December 1995 at Roanoke Coliseum.

"I think people were sleeping on us because of the coaching change and because of the players that left," Green, the Hokies' lone senior, said. "But I hope that we've shown people we can play with anybody and that we're a great team."

"We've got to keep it going. Consistency is the key," Green said.

Robert Brown added 18 points and Jarell Eddie had 15 with 12 rebounds for the Hokies, who outrebounded the taller, more athletic Cowboys 41-31 and scored 22 points off their 13 offensive rebounds. The victory finished a week that started with a 95-79 blowout of Iowa in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, a game that many viewed as their first real test of the year.

"Coach Johnson told us that we could do anything we wanted if we put our mind to it as a team, and everyone is putting their minds to one game at a time and winning that game," Brown, a sophomore guard, said. "We've done it so far."

Le'Bryan Nash and Marcus Smart scored 18 each to lead the Cowboys (5-1).

He finished the game having made 51 of his last 53 from the line.

Green played only nine minutes in the first half after drawing two quick fouls, but still scored 10 points in his time. He also scored the Hokies' first 10 points of the second half on a pair of 3-pointers, two free throws and a long fadeaway.

"Even the guys told me they were going to feed off me and that I was going to have a big second half," Green said. "I had a challenge in front of me and wanted to show people that I could play with the best. Hopefully, I showed people that."

Erick Green

NOV 12: "Green tied his career high with 25 points to lift the Hokies past Rhode Island 69-50 in a nonconference game played Monday night at Cassell Coliseum."

NOV 15: "Green scored 23 points, including the 1,000th of his career, as the Hokies rolled past VMI 95-80 in a nonconference game Thursday night at Cassell Coliseum."

NOV 26: "Green has been named the ACC Co-Player of the Week, for the week ending Nov. 25. The honor was selected by a panel of media members in the ACC region.

Green, a senior from Winchester, Va., led the 5-0 Hokies to a pair of victories this past week, recording career-highs in scoring in both games. In a 96-87 win at UNCG Monday, Green scored a career-high 26 points and had six assists. Against Appalachian State on Friday, Green posted a new career-high with 27 points and handed out four assists in an 87-76 victory. He has scored at least 20 points in all five games this season and leads the ACC in scoring, at 24.4 points per game.

This is the first time Green has won the honor and the first time a Hokie has won the award since Dorenzo Hudson was named the Player of the Week the week of Nov. 21, 2011."

DEC 1: "Green scored more than 20 points for the seventh straight game to start the season – something no Tech player has done since Bimbo Coles opened the 1989-90 season by scoring 20 or more in the first nine games."