Sunday, December 30, 2007

2007 In Review

Welcome to my 3rd annual year in review, where I take the first line or two of the first entry of each month in order to produce a random and (hopefully) interesting summary of 2007.

January: Our friends have a terrific and lovable dog named Hershey, pictured here. Hershey has been entered in the Dog Show USA contest, and she needs your vote!

February: When I went to my doctor's office last month, he suggested that I take Omega-3 Fatty Acid pills (I've talked about this before) and exercise to help my cholesterol.

March: I received a call from my college earlier this week for its annual student phonathon program. They were asking for money, which is fine since I’m glad to contribute a little.

April: Happy belated National Procrastination Week! National Procrastination Week took place the first full week of March, so I hope that you had a productive, or not so productive week!

May: Since I missed Ben & Jerry’s free scoop day a few weeks ago, I wanted to let everyone know that tomorrow (Wednesday, May 2) is 31-cent scoop night at Baskin Robbins.

June: I’ve been away for a few days, so I have not had the opportunity to write. It may also be tough to write this week between the Pirates-Nationals series and the Celebrate Fairfax festival.

July: The following were the top stories on Yahoo News today as of 12:42 p.m. EDT: Bush and Putin meet to discuss ties.

August: In celebration of an undefeated regular season, my ultimate frisbee team went to Rio Grande Café, a local Mexican chain, last night for food and drinks.

September: I watched a few hours of the US Open on Saturday and was really impressed with the young Americans John Isner and Donald Young.

October: This was a huge sports weekend, and I plan on writing about the Steelers, Pitt, Steve Breaston, fantasy football, fantasy baseball and much more later today or tomorrow.

November: I am writing live from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Yesterday, I arrived at the Albuquerque airport and traveled north on Interstate 25 towards Santa Fe.

December: I’m back from the 2007 hockey road trip, just in time to watch the Steelers-Bengals game.

Based on my summary, the first line of many of my posts have nothing to do the rest of my entry, especially for February. As usual, it seems like I wrote about a wide variety of topics.

Look for some exciting entries to start 2008. On behalf of everyone here at Sean's Ramblings (that would be me), have a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Top Songs of the 2000s

Inspired by VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs on the 90s, I decided that I would create a list of the greatest songs of the 2000s thus far:

1. In Da Club – 50 Cent
2. Lose Yourself – Eminem
3. Bye Bye Bye – ‘N Sync
4. Smooth – Santana & Rob Thomas
5. Crazy In Love – Beyonce & Jay-Z
6. How You Remind Me – Nickelback
7. Yeah! – Usher featuring Lil Jon & Ludaris
8. Complicated – Avril Lavigne
9. Hot in Herre – Nelly
10. We Belong Together – Mariah Carey
11. Fallin’ – Alicia Keys
12. Boulevard of Broken Dreams – Green Day
13. Don’t Know Why – Norah Jones
14. Since U Been Gone – Kelly Clarkson
15. Breathe – Faith Hill
16. Hollaback Girl – Gwen Stefani
17. Drop It Like It’s Hot – Snoop Dogg featuring Pharrell
18. Hanging on a Moment – Lifehouse
19. Apologize – Timbaland and OneRepublic
20. Rehab – Amy Winehouse

If you are looking for a specific equation as to how I determined these rankings, you’re not going to find one. I just tried to rank them based on my perception of how big these singles have been during this decade in terms of airplay and sales. I have no statistical data to support these numbers. So what do you think? Are there songs that I missed? I feel like a Black Eyed Peas song (either Where is the Love or My Humps) and Hey Ya by OutKast are other possibilities.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Calling Out The Washington Post

I am having some problems with The Washington Post recently. It has nothing to do with the content or any of the writers, just the manner in which the paper is delivered. I am a Sunday only subscriber and regularly read part of the daily paper on the Post’s website. On Sunday, December 16, I received the paper at 9:30 A.M. To me, that is unacceptable. You see, my brother was a paperboy and he regularly delivered the Saturday and Sunday newspapers before 7:00 A.M. When I had to fill in for him or took over a route from a friend when he was on vacation, the paper was also delivered early. I was awake around 8:00 on the 16th, and would have liked to have read the newspaper before I left my home at 10:00. Since I was out all day, I barely touched the paper.

I was away this past weekend, so I requested a vacation stop. Nevertheless, the Post delivered the coupon section on Saturday (we left on Saturday morning and the coupons were on our door step) and the Sunday paper on Sunday. What’s the point of submitting a vacation stop if the paper is just going to be delivered anyway?

I have already contacted the Post about the vacation stop and the fact that the coupons get delivered even when a stop is requested for the Sunday. I have not yet received a response, but that is to be expected since yesterday was a holiday. However, if the situation is not resolved, I may cancel my Sunday subscription. I would hate to do it, but I might come to that.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Steelers Sign Haynes; Not Important Enough to Verron

The Steelers re-signed Verron Haynes to replace the injured Fast Willie Parker. According to the Verron Haynes website, well, there's nothing new on his website. I'm sure that Haynes is excited to be back as a Steeler. Maybe someone will now update his site.

(The picture below is Haynes on the cover of Pittsburgh Magazine's 25 Most Beautiful People. This was also not mentioned on Haynes' website.)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Pittsburgh Wins, Five Year Olds Lose

Thursday was a huge day for Pittsburgh sports as the Steelers, Penguins and University of Pittsburgh Panthers all won. I felt like my remote control skills were pretty good switching between the Pitt and Steeler game (the Penguin game was not available); however, I was late in clicking back to the Pitt game and missed seeing Levance Fields hit a 3-pointer with 4 seconds remaining in overtime to defeat Duke. During Fields’ shot, I was watching Ben Roethlisberger grab his knee after being awkwardly sacked. Roethlisberger finished the game, but he can’t continue to take these types of hits if the Steelers want to advance through the playoffs, especially with Aaron Smith and now Willie Parker out for the year.

Here are a two fun links to get you through the day:

Did you ever wonder how many five year olds could you take in a fight? Probably not, but this is fun nonetheless. I can take 17. (from Arjewtino).

If you played for Brazil, what would your name be (found on Deadspin)? Mr. Sean Ramblings would be Sea. That's not a very exciting or intimidating name. Here are some other "Brazilian" names:

Denzel Washington – Roberto Washingtidas
George Bush – Georgildo
Jamie Lynn Spears – Speundo
Kris Kross - Krson Pau
Myron Cope – Copito
Troy Polamalu – Polamalaldo
Ben Roethlisberger - Roethlisbergaldo
Hines Ward – Hinaldo

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Finally Something to Watch on TV

As the writers’ strike continues and the reality television programs and game shows get worse and worse (is anyone really watching Duel and Clash of the Choirs?), I am struggling to find good things to watch. Fortunately, two of my favorite things have come together: 90s music and VH1. Every night this week at 10:00 pm Eastern, VH1 is airing the 100 Greatest Songs of the 90s. While I love 80s music, the 90s are truly the musical era of my formative years. Each song seems to have a different memory and takes me back to high school and college. Some of the songs I have heard thus far include Groove Is In the Heart; The Humpty Dance; Kris Kross; Tennessee; and I’m Too Sexy. Almost all of the songs are great in its own special way. (I’m not sure where Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart” fits in, although I remember Myron Cope doing a funny parody of the song.) Like most of the VH1 countdown shows, they air parts of the video and incorporate comments about the song from music critics, comedians, musicians, and occasionally, the artists themselves. So if you want to know where I will be tonight at 10, I’ll be watching VH1.

Of course, I will not be watching on Thursday as its Pittsburgh night on televisions across the country. First, Pitt faces Duke at 7:00 live from Madison Square Garden on ESPN. Then, the Steelers meet the St. Louis Rams on the NFL Network or, in most cases, at bars and friends’ houses. However, I won’t really miss Thursday’s episode, as I’m sure that VH1 will replay the show again and again and again.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Trivia Night

I attended my first trivia contest in many, many years last night, and remarkably, my team won! Actually, that should not have been a complete surprise since Messiah, Nick and Lee carried our team to victory. I contributed very little except that I knew the name from the lyrics of the following song:

“Stronger” – Let’s get lost tonight. You could be my black _____ _____ tonight.

I figured I would share some of the questions from the game here. Question #1 is above.

#2 – Of the 48 contiguous states, which state located entirely west of the Mississippi River is the smallest in area?

#3 – There is five nicknames in the NBA, NHL, NFL and MLB that are shared. For example, the sports teams at the University of Kentucky and the University of Arizona are both the Wildcats. Of course, my example is for college teams, not professional ones. Can you name the five professional names?

#4 – What famous female singer guest starred on a 1995 “Friends” episode in which Phoebe taught her the “Smelly Cat” song?

As always, share your answers in the comments section. I’ll be back later today to provide the correct answers and to hand out gold stars!

P.S. A belated congratulations to the Miami Dolphins in defeating the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. I am very happy for the Dolphin fans, players and organization, and even happier that the win was over the Ravens.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Weekend Links

Looking for the perfect holiday gift? Get your loved one some rhino poop!

An $85,000 cell phone bill! That’s a lot of text messages (IDK my BFF Jill).

Tamir Goodman is back (courtesy of the D.C. Sports Bog).

While there really is not a TV season anymore with the current writers’ strike, I am presently in first place in the 2007-2008 Alison LaPlaca Open. There have been four shows cancelled, and I have accurately picked all four.

These cloned cats are really freaky.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

See SpongeBob, Dora and Um, Joey Porter and Cleo Lemon

It is tough being a Miami Dolphins fan these days. The team is 0-13 and has an excellent chance of being the first team in NFL history to compile a 0-16 season. It’s probably not much fun working for the Miami Dolphins at this time either. If you work for the Dolphins, how can you encourage fans to attend your games? Apparently, someone has an idea; two ideas in fact.

The first is Kids Day at Dolphin Stadium. According to the Miami Dolphins website, “December 30th is Kids Day at Dolphin Stadium. The Grand Plaza will be jam-packed with kids interactive activities including a special visit by Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer as well as Nickelodeon interactive games, face painters, NFL Experience-type activities, Dolphins alumni, cheerleaders and much more. After the pre-game fun, kids will experience the emotion and glory of the NFL when the Dolphins take on the Cincinnati Bengals in the final game of the 2007 season.”

It’s nice of the team to mention that there’s actually a football game to be played.

The team is also running a $99 Dolphins Pepsi Holiday Pack promotion where you can get:
• Your choice of 2 tickets to either the Ravens Dec. 16th or the Bengals Dec. 30th game
• 2 Hot Dogs
• 2 Pepsi Sodas (This should really be pop.)
• 1 Game Day Program

As a Steelers fan, I can’t imagine a football team needing promotions and gimmicks to get people into the stadium. It makes perfect sense for baseball, hockey or basketball since you have 40 or 80, in the case of baseball, home games to sell each season. There’s only 8 home football games. Giant Jason Taylor may not be pleased.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Steely McBean Is a Steeler

There are a lot of great Pittsburgh sports blogs out there that I respect and read frequently. However, I want to give myself a little bit of credit for the extremely creative nickname for Steelers rookie Ryan “Steely” McBean. You see, I dubbed Ryan McBean Steely way back in August (here and again here) and also in September when he was cut and signed to the practice squad.

Now that Ryan McBean was signed to the 53-man roster in place of the injured Aaron Smith, everyone seems to be using the Steely McBean nickname. Here are just a few examples:

- Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls
- Behind the Steel Curtain
- Doubt About It
- Mondesi’s House

Just wanted to point this out.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Spice Girls Tickets

I am a Spice Girls fan. Feel free to mock and ridicule me. When the Spice Girls debuted in the United States in early 1997, they were unlike anything else on the music scene. Here were five attractive women, each with a memorable nickname, singing about girl power while dressed somewhat scantily. “Wannabe” was and still is an extremely catchy song, even though to this day, I have no idea what a “zigazig ha” means. Plus, all guys have to love the line, “If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends.” Sounds good to me. A friend of mine even bought me the Spice Girls tape as a gift (it was 1997 and I still didn’t have a CD player; I’m always a bit behind on technology). Despite the fact that some of the Spice Girls really don’t sing very well, they managed to have hit after hit anyway.

As you probably know at this point, the Spice Girls have reunited. There was great celebration throughout the land, specifically in the UK as they are performing 17 shows in December and January in London’s O2 Arena. I recently learned that the Spice Girls are coming to the Verizon Center in DC on February 21, 2008. If tickets were reasonable, I figured that it might be fun to attend. Of course, finding someone to go with me would be a challenge. Unfortunately, this is all a moo point. (“It's like a cow's opinion. It just doesn't matter.”)

I went to the Ticketmaster website yesterday and found that two tickets in Section 418, Row J are $92.50 each. Ticketmaster also charges a “convenience charge” of $17.45 per ticket and an order processing charge of $4.90. Fortunately, there is no charge if the tickets are sent through Standard Mail. What a bargain! How nice of Ticketmaster to cover the 41 cents to mail the tickets. Anyway, the total charge for two tickets (and not even good tickets) = $224.80!! I think I was willing to spend $25 per ticket. That is just about the cost of the Ticketmaster fees alone. Are there really people out there willing to spend that much to see the Spice Girls? Maybe I'll try to catch them when they reunite again in another ten years.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I Hate Fantasy Football

Remember the time that I mentioned that I may need to quit fantasy sports? Apparently, I am a glutton for punishment. Of my four fantasy football leagues, I'm now out of the two leagues that I don't care much about (i.e. no $), and I'm not going to make the playoffs in the league where I'm the Commissioner. At least in the latter league, I got destroyed this week, meaning that I won’t have to second guess my decisions of starting Shaun Alexander over Fred Taylor and having Trent Edwards in my line-up only to elect to pick up and start Vince Young instead.

In my monster 16-team league, in which I won the scoring title and earned the #1 seed, I have the high score so far this week with 135 points. However, my opponent, the #8 seed with a 6-7 record losing 5 straight weeks to end the regular season has 131 points courtesy of Kurt Warner, Antonio Gates, Fred Taylor and Brandon Marshall having the game of the life. Therefore, I am 40 Jerious Norwood rushing yards from being eliminated. I will now proceed to watch the entire Monday night football game tonight between the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints even though both teams have little chance to make the playoffs, and I don’t particularly care about either team.

If I do lose this week, it’s my own fault. The football gods saw that I was actually cheering for and supporting the Ravens last Monday night against the Patriots and punished me by having Willis McGahee and Derrick Mason have their worst performances of the year. Plus, maybe this is payback for me being a terrible person.

Update 11:05pm - On the third play of the fourth quarter, Norwood caught a 46-yard pass. With that reception, Norwood now has 57 receiving yards and 21 rushing yards. Unless Norwood fumbles twice or catches a pass and somehow manages to lose 48 yards on that play, my season is over. On that note, I'm going to sleep.

Friday, December 07, 2007

2007 Hockey Road Trip Recap Part II

If you missed the first part of my hockey road trip summary, click here. If you don’t want to click, here’s a quick recap: the Wild-Coyotes game was rather boring; the Minnesota fans were disappointing; the Mall of America has many stores; I ate poorly; AirTran was better than expected; the XCel arena and St. Paul were cool; and Uff Da!

Thursday, November 29

The ultimate driving day from St. Paul, Minnesota to Chicago. Did you know that there are no large cities anywhere near Minneapolis/St. Paul? Fargo, North Dakota, Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Madison, Wisconsin are all approximately 250 miles away and I don’t think most people would consider any of these as, well, large. As soon as we crossed into Wisconsin and left the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area, there was very little for miles…with one exception. If it is not already, western Wisconsin should be known as “Dead Deer on the Side of the Road” country. There was a dead deer seemingly every few miles until we reached civilization near where Interstates 90 and 94 meet. Are there no taxidermists who live near Interstate 94? If someone likes venison, there is plenty of free meat in Wisconsin. Actually, forgot the whole Cheese-head thing; this should be Wisconsin’s new claim to fame.

Near Madison, we started to pick up local radio coverage from the Green Bay Packers network. The pre-game show featured a version of Poison’s “Talk Dirty To Me” called “Talk Packers With Me.” It was quite silly. I can’t think of any other fans that would create songs for their team.

Friday, November 30

Welcome to Chicago! The Windy City! We drove around and pretended like we were tourists. Actually, I guess we were tourists. We ate deep dish pizza, spent a few hours at the Museum of Science and Industry, and went by Wrigley Field. The scoreboard outside the stadium stated the Cubs are the World’s Greatest Fans. According to the scoreboard and announcer at the XCel Center, the Minnesota Wild has the greatest fans. I’m confused. Anyway, I really need to return to Chicago during the baseball season to see a Cubs game.

Game #2: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Phoenix Coyotes

My pre-game prediction was that there would be more goals scored in this game than the first one on the trip. Little did I know what was about to transpire. The Blackhawks scored on their first three shots and didn’t stop. In fact, Chicago scored 5 goals on their first 7 shots before Wayne Gretzky thought it would be a good idea to pull goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Three of those goals were scored by defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. I’m sure that I can tell my grandchildren that I was in attendance for Byfuglien’s first professional hat trick! In all seriousness, Chicago looked really good in its 6-1 victory. Before leaving on the trip, Seth from Empty Netters wrote me that the Blackhawks remind him a lot of the Penguins from last season. There really aren’t any expectations, and whatever happens, happens. Rookies Jonathan Toews (a goal and two assists) and Patrick Kane (two assists) are fun to watch, they have a proven goaltender in Nikolai Khabibulin (one of the coolest names in hockey) and a good supporting cast including Martin Havlet, former Penguin Robert Lang and Tuomo Ruutu, who scored two goals and may or may not be related to Jarkko Ruutu (after searching the web for an hour to try and find a picture of the Wild fan on the ticket stub, I’m not looking this up). There was also a Patrick Lalime sighting on the Blackhawks bench as the team’s back-up goaltender. I can’t believe that it’s been 10 years since Lalime was a Pittsburgh Penguin. As for Toews and Kane, while I don’t think that they are in the same category as Crosby and Malkin, they and the Blackhawks are going to be very good for a long time.

The player that I couldn’t stop watching throughout the game and the trip was Coyote left wing, Daniel Carcillo. I found this article about Carcillo by Dave Molinari in the Post-Gazette when I returned from the trip. The article is spot on. The Penguins traded Carcillo for Georges Laraque late last year. After seeing him play live, I feel like Phoenix definitely got the better part of the deal. Carcillo seems to hit someone or get hit by an opponent on nearly every shift. He also has a scoring touch as evidenced in a nice backhand shot against Detroit in Game #3, and he plays on the power play. His temper is a problem though. He had 23 penalty minutes in the Chicago game including two double minors, the second of which was for Interference for moving the goalie's stick when it was on the ice and then an unsportsmanlike conduct minor and 10-minute major for going crazy arguing the call. I think Gretzky benched him in the third since the only time he was on the ice was going from the penalty box to the bench after the penalty ended.

Although the United Center opened in 1994, it seems like an old arena, but not in a good way. Dank may be the word to describe the place and the concourses should be much wider for a newer arena. I feel for the Blackhawk fans as they really want a winner. The team hasn’t made the playoffs since the 2001-2002 season when they got knocked out in the first round. Plus, most of the Blackhawk games aren’t even shown on local television. As the Blackhawks improve and continue to win, the fans will return. Fortunately, the Blackhawks didn’t claim to have the world’s greatest fans like the Cubs and the Wild.

Two quick stories from the game:

1. I went to the main stadium shop at the arena looking through Bulls and Blackhawks merchandise. After a few minutes, I asked one of the store employees if they had any Aaron Gray gear. Gray played college basketball at the University of Pittsburgh and is now a rookie for the Bulls. The employee had no idea who Gray was. That’s not a good sign.

2. The highlight of the evening was a father behind me explaining the finer points of hockey to his young son, who was probably attending his first hockey game. Part-way through the third period, a rather large gentleman sitting in the row in front of me, attempted to climb over his row to exit instead of asking a few people in his row to stand up to let him get by. Oh, I forgot to mention that said guy was pretty drunk, and struggled to climb over the seats, spilling beer along the way. After he left, the kid asked his father about what he just witnessed. Although I do not remember the father’s exact quote, it started with, When you have too many adult beverages….

Saturday, December 1

Game #3: Detroit Red Wings vs. Phoenix Coyotes

I’ve written way too much already, so I’ll make this one brief. Phoenix and Bryzgalov bounced back from the Chicago game, and led 2-1 after 2 periods. However, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and the Red Wings were too much for the Coyotes and pulled out a 3-2 victory. The Red Wings are an extremely talented team, but I had the feeling that they weren’t playing their best.

I was really excited about seeing a game in Joe Louis Arena. You often hear Detroit referred to as Hockeytown, so I wanted to see the fans and the arena in person. While I liked the arena primarily because of its history and old-fashioned feel (a good old-fashioned feel as opposed to the United Center), and the dozens of Red Wings banners hanging from the rafters, I was disappointed that there were not more people in attendance. There seemed to be a lot of empty seats. What I really liked most about the arena may have been the announcer, who sounded like he was from another era. Most of the announcers I hear at stadiums over the past few years yell to get the crowd excited. This announcer was Joe Friday; simply providing the facts. It was refreshing to hear (I’m especially talking to you, Washington Capitals announcer).

During the game, we learned that Henrik Zetterberg has a website. Among the website’s highlights as mentioned at the game are a weekly podcast and the Z-Mailbox, where Hank (Hank?) answers questions sent in by fans. I visited the website and found that Hank’s weekly podcasts took place on October 2, October 22 and most recently on November 8 (Note: Right before I posted this, I saw that there is a new Z-Cast Podcast dated December 6. Damn you Z!). That’s not exactly weekly now is it Hank?

Final notes from the trip:

- I knew it was going to be a good sign for the road trip, when the license plate started with UWE, which must have been for former NHL defenseman Uwe Krupp, who played for the Buffalo Sabres, Colorado Avalanche, New York Islanders, Quebec Nordiques, Detroit Red Wings and Atlanta Thrashers in his career.

- Phoenix has a player named Zbynek Michalek and Chicago has player named Andrei Zyuzin. If Michalek marries Andrei’s sister (if he has a sister) and decides to change his last name, Zbynek Zyuzin would be a heck of a name!

- This year’s random songs heard several times during the trip: “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats and Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas song. Can someone please explain Trans-Siberian Orchestra to me? They only have one song, but they tour every year around the holidays, and seem to do well.

- Here are the attendance numbers from the games:
Minnesota - 18,568 (102.8% full)
Chicago - 16,234 (79.2% full)
Detroit - 18,557 (92.5% full)

- The total mileage for this trip was 918 miles and we visited five states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan). Indiana really got screwed when the state boundaries were developed. All of these other states have many miles of lakefront property; Indiana only borders Lake Michigan for 25 or so miles.

Finally, I have a few thank-yous I want to share (these are specifically for people who may read this):

Thanks to Andy for the excellent pizza and Chicago advice.

Thanks to Scott, Manager of Hockey Development of the Phoenix Coyotes, for providing a detailed description of the Phoenix players and even suggesting places to stay in Minnesota and Chicago. I e-mailed Scott that I understood if he and the entire organization no longer wanted me to attend future Coyote games since the team lost all three games I saw live. He replied, “Yes, please never attend a Coyotes game again,” and said wrote that he was kidding. (Or was he?)

Thanks to Seth at Empty Netters for putting together an excellent Pittsburgh Penguins and hockey site and for proving me with a list of players to watch since I really am not familiar with many Western Conference teams.

Thanks to “Uncle Chi-Chi” for organizing the entire trip. I would never do this by myself, and this really was his idea in the first place.

And thank you to everyone who actually made it to the end of this!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Happy Chanukah

2007 Hockey Road Trip Recap Part I

The second annual hockey road trip was a great success. Well, unless you were a Phoenix Coyote fan or player. More on this in a moment. This will be a long entry which includes my thoughts and observations about the three hockey games I attended as well as notes and thoughts on the road. If you’re a sports fan, there will be plenty here about hockey and the arenas where the games were played. If you’re not a sports fan, there will be plenty here about Minneapolis/St. Paul, Chicago, Detroit and points in between. I should probably start at the beginning.

This year’s road trip actually started in the air. I was all prepared to start this post by complaining about AirTran. Although the airline provided the cheapest tickets by far, I was not all that keen on taking a 6:40 AM flight from Dulles to Atlanta with a 3-hour layover before flying to Minneapolis/St. Paul. My return flight featured only 30 minutes between stops, so I figured that I had an excellent chance of missing the second flight and staying in Atlanta for hours, possibly missing Sunday night’s Steelers-Bengals game. Plus, if you want to chose a specific seat, whether it is window, aisle or even middle, AirTran charges $7.50 per leg. So what happened? I had window and aisle seats on all four segments, the flights departed and arrived on time, and AirTran has XM satellite radio, so I was able to listen to ESPN radio on Sunday’s flight in order to get updates on my fantasy football teams. Overall, I’ll give AirTran a thumbs up, particularly for XM, but did I really need to fly through Atlanta to get from Dulles to Minnesota and then again from Detroit to Dulles? Plus, charging to choose a particular seat seems a bit absurd.

Wednesday, November 28

After arriving at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, the first stop was naturally the Mall of America (MOA). Actually, my first stop should have been an attempt to find the famous “Larry Craig bathroom” at the airport, but after a long day of traveling, I just wanted to get my bag, get the rental car and start the trip. According to its website, the “Mall of America is the nation’s largest retail and entertainment complex.” My thought: “This is a big mall.” MOA features an indoor amusement park, aquarium, movie theater and hundreds of shops and restaurants. Of course, what I noticed most was the multiple Caribou Coffee and Orange Julius restaurants. There also seems to be a good number of Minnesota related stores selling Minnesota items. Despite the hundreds of stores, including a giant Lego store and a Green Bay Packers store (in Vikings territory!), there was no Leftorium. There was, however, a Long John Silvers, which made me very happy. In case you were wondering, my food for the entire day consisted of a Dunkin’ Donuts donut; Egg McMuffin meal; Long John Silvers meal; arena popcorn; and a beer. Breakfast of champions!

Following the trip to the mall, it was time for the first hockey game: your Minnesota Wild versus your Phoenix Coyotes. A few notes about the XCel Center, the Minnesota Wild and the game:

- The XCel Center is located in downtown St. Paul, both of which are very cool. The arena opened in 2000 and still feels like a new arena with a huge merchandise shop and numerous food and beer options. I was also really impressed with the area directly surrounding the arena. Besides the numerous bars and restaurants, the arena is attached to a convention center and theatre with a beautiful small park just behind it.

- The arena was filled with signs for the “State of Hockey,” which apparently is Minnesota. They even have a neat little song and video. As much as I wanted to make fun of the song, it is significantly better than “The Hockey Song” (otherwise known as The Gold Old Hockey Game).

- I searched for nearly an hour online to find a picture of the ticket stub without success. The ticket features a picture of Brain Cutter, a Wild fan in Section 218 wearing a Wild hat and jersey. What I don’t understand about the picture is that Cutter is holding three plastic cups, one of which has the Buffalo Sabres logo and another one for the Nashville Predators. I don’t get it.

- Former Penguin Mike Ramsey is an assistant coach for the Wild.

- As for the game itself, Marion Gaborik scored a game-winning goal on a breakaway, after getting behind the defense on two other occasions and getting stopped by Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. The final score was 3-1 and was perfectly summarized by Coyotes defenseman Nick Boynton who said, “"I didn't think they were very good either. It was two bad teams out there and it's unfortunate that we didn't come out on top. They were ready to be had and we didn't play well enough."

- It really was a terribly boring game. Even though there were 18,000+ in attendance, there was no excitement and the crowd was fairly quiet. Maybe this has to do with the game itself, but if you claim to have the world’s greatest fans (or something like that), call yourselves the “Team of 18000” and retire the number 1 as a tribute to the fans, I expect some enthusiasm and passion.

Finally, I learned of the following Minnesota saying: “Uff Da.” It is featured on T-shirts and bumper stickers in several of the Minnesota stores. I asked someone I know from Minnesota what this means, and he replied that it is a Minnesota way to say Oy Vey. I really would like someone to use Uff Da in a sentence.

Oh, the temperature on Wednesday night was a whopping 7 degrees with a very cold wind chill.

I’ve only written about one day of the trip, but I’m done for now. Stay tuned for part two.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Steelers-Bengals Notes

I’m back from the 2007 hockey road trip, just in time to watch the Steelers-Bengals game. Here are my thoughts about the game:

- Are people going to think that it always rains in Pittsburgh? Last week’s monsoon and Sunday’s rain and muddy field were both shown on national television.

- I love watching Hines Ward. Eleven catches for 90 yards and two touchdowns and he passed John Stallworth for the most touchdown receptions in team history. He has such passion and enthusiasm and consistently makes tough catches.

- The primary focus on sports talk shows and the internets over the next few days is going to be Willie Parker’s fumbles. He had four overall with two either overturned or upheld by challenges. With Davenport out for who knows how long (hopefully not long), the team really does not have any viable alternatives if Parker continues to struggle (which I do not think he will). Will there be calls to bring in Kevan Barlow or Verron Haynes?

- Except for one poor Sepulveda punt, the special teams played well forcing a fumble and not giving up any big punt or kick-off returns. Of course, when I write that the special teams played well, I have low expectations. Allen Rossum seems to have mastered the art of returning punts by running completely across the field and then stepping out of bounds for a whopping three-yard gain.

- After the first drive when Cincinnati marched down the field for a touchdown, the defense also played great. Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh were held in check (especially after the first drive); although the team only had one sack, it seemed like the defense pressured Carson Palmer quite often; and Palmer was held to under 200 yards passing with a completion percentage less than 40%.

- The offensive line played much better than the previous two games against the Jets and Dolphins as the Bengals had no official sacks (the safety was erased due to a questionable penalty for holding by a Cincinnati defensive back). Parker had 87 yards rushing, but that was on 28 carries. The O-line has to perform even better next week against New England.

- NBC did a nice job of having Jerome Bettis visit a Steeler bar in New York City. Seeing Cris Collinsworth visit a “Bengal bar” was quite amusing. For those of you who missed it, Bettis went to a packed Steelers bar with hordes of fans wearing jerseys. NBC showed Collinsworth at an empty bar.

- Here is the game recap from the Post-Gazette and ESPN.

Expect complete details of the 2007 hockey road trip soon!