Monday, August 16, 2010

Tidbits from the Week that Was

Yeah, I know it’s been over a week since my last entry, but I have a good excuse. Okay, maybe not a good excuse, but an excuse nonetheless. I was busy last week preparing for the Jimmy Buffett concert. Hey, a lot of preparation goes into Buffett – food has to be prepared, alcohol has to be purchased, leis have to be found, etc. I told you it wasn’t a good excuse. If you are interested, I’ll eventually have concert pics up over at Facebook (all suitable for workplace viewing – if you wanna see the good ones, you’ll have to email me). Anyway, on to the week that was…

- SummerSlam has come and gone and featured the return of Bryan Danielson (a/k/a Daniel Bryan) to the RAW roster as the surprise 7th member of Team WWE. Bryan made it all the way to the final two before being eliminated thanks to a briefcase upside the head courtesy of The Miz. John Cena (of course) was the last man standing for a victorious Team WWE. So where does the Nexus angle go from here? I don’t really know. None of the other predicted surprises (Cena or Bret Hart goes heel, Triple H is revealed as the brains behind the Nexus) happened. I doubt the angle has come to an end, so I’ll be very curious to see what happens tonight RAW

I’m extremely happy that Bryan is back in the good graces of WWE, though I’ll go on record as saying that his “firing” after the initial Nexus attack on RAW was nothing but a swerve on the internet wrestling community. If it was, then kudos to WWE and Bryan for selling it as well as they did. I’m not going to bitch about it because it did allow me to see Bryan on a CHIKARA show. I do wonder, however, if Bryan will be allowed to complete his indy bookings since all indications are that he’s going to be on the RAW roster full time going forward and will eventually challenge The Miz for the U.S. Title (though from all indications, he will be allowed). I have no doubt that Bryan is going to be getting a good push out of all of this which furthers my belief that WWE might actually be heading in the right direction with its pushes and booking style. Let’s hope I’m not proven wrong.

- The Steelers began their exhibition season Saturday night with a semi-interesting 23-7 victory over the Detroit Lions. Big Ben was a DNP but is expected to play some in the last three exhibition games. The first stringers on offense (led by the ever-immobile Bryon Leftwich) didn’t do a whole lot, and it wasn’t until the back-ups (led by QB Dennis Dixon and RB Isaac “Red Zone” Redman) came into the game that business started to pick up.

Dixon was very effective, completing 6 of 7 passes for 128 yards (including a nifty pass out of a bootleg that Arnaz Battle turned into a long gainer) and rushing six times for 31 yards (though on some of the plays, I think he would have been better served to look for a received downfield, but it is only the first exhibition game). His QB rating as a perfect 158.3 (though that really means zilch, especially in a exhibition game). Redman had an especially good game that featured a run that looked like it came out of a Madden game, complete with no less than three spin moves. He also scored a touchdown at the end of the first half during a torrential downpour that eventually caused the came to be delayed.

The respective performances of Dixon and Redman create some questions as camp continues. Leftwich has been assumed to be the starter for the first four games of the season while Ben is on suspension, but I wonder if his glaring lack of mobility and elongated wind-up combined with a suspect offensive line will cause Mike Tomlin to think twice and install Dixon as starter for the first four games. Local radio personality Stan Savran is always fond of saying that you don’t win championships on broken plays, but we’re only asking Dixon to play in four games, not the whole season. Yes, I know it was against the JVs of the Lions (who some have called the Pittsburgh Pirates of the NFL), but consider me in the camp of those who doesn’t think it’s set in stone that Leftwich is going to be the starter at the beginning of the season. At the very least, I’m betting the Steelers will have some packages ready for Dixon.

As for Redman, I really think the job of short yardage back and back-up to Rashard Mendenhall is his to lose. Frankly, he should have made the team out of camp last year, and I think the Steelers ended up regretting not having him on the team. Redman has a nose for the end zone and always seems to run hard when he has the ball. If Mewelde Moore remains the third down back and Frank “The Tank” Summers is going to be the starting fullback, then much-ballyhooed sixth round pick Jonathan Dwyer might find himself cut or on the practice squad.

The Steelers next game is Saturday night against the Giants at the new Giants Stadium in New Jersey. Big Ben is expected to play, and I’ll be curious to see the kind of reaction he gets from the New York/New Jersey crowd.

- In a brief side note that is semi-related to the game, am I the only one that just can’t stand how KDKA-TV2 covers the Steelers exhibition games? Since I have the NFL Network, I get to see all the out of town exhibition games, and nearly all of them feature announcers who have network gigs during the regular season. The Dolphins, for example, have veteran play-by-play man Dick Stockton. The Patriots have Don Criqui. The Seahawks have FOX pre-game host Curt Menifee. Who do the Steelers have? Longtime sportscaster Bob Pompeani who might be one of the worst football announcers ever. It’s painful to listen to him do a game. Even more comical is the sideline reporter, Jeff Verszyla, who just happens to be KDKA’s chief meteorologist. That’s right – he’s the weatherman. Former Steeler Edmund Nelson is a competent (if snooze inducing) color man, but I’d much rather have someone like former Steelers Merrill Hoge or Jack Ham on the games.

The coverage itself leaves something to be desired, with the incessant promos for the new fall shows on CBS and the CW along with no pre-taped packages (which would have been especially helpful during the nearly 90 minute weather delay when Pomp and Edmund droned on incessantly). There was also a glaring mistake early in the game when Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz was shown to be in his first year as a head coach (it’s his second). KDKA is well known in the area for being exceedingly cheap, and I suspect that the people who run the game behind the scenes are probably all current KDKA employees who probably know very little about the product they’re presenting. How else can you explain how bad the camerawork is and how Pompeani is the PxP announcer and so on?

- Next, we come to the hapless, helpless and downright godawful Pittsburgh Pirates. I’ve been a baseball fan for most of my life, and this year’s incarnation of the Pirates is quite possibly the worst baseball team I’ve ever seen. I’m not kidding about that, either. Watching a Pirates game is the equivalent to having your fingernails pulled out be a pair of pliers, only more painful. The hitting is non-existent (any more than two runs a game is considered an outburst), and the pitching just can’t maintain a lead or get a key out when it needs it. Yes, I realize that there will be growing pains with such a young team, but show me something for goodness sake!

The starting pitching is horrendous. There is not one pitcher among the starting five that strikes fear in the heart of any player on any team, and even when the Pirates do manage a decent start (like Ross Ohlendorf turned in on Friday), the offense only manages a single run. I’m sorry, but you can’t expect to win games 1-0. Score some runs, stop acting like you’ve never played the game before, and look like you care.

The Pirates are on pace to have one of the worst records in franchise history, yet I don’t get any sense that John Russell and Neal Huntington are in danger of losing their jobs. What?!? This team could lose 110 games, and those two jabronies will still have their jobs. What a disgrace. I would think that Frank Coonelly and Bob Nutting would be ashamed by they product they’re putting on the field on a daily basis, but they’re too busy counting the beans and worrying about Pirates Charities and spending more on the draft than any other team. BFD. Spend some money on the big league club, huh? Get some pitchers – real pitchers that aren’t one step away from being washed up (see Morris, Matt), and please, oh please, stop trying to tell us that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. The only light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train.

As Beano Cook would say, the Pirates are an absolute disgrace!

- Oh yeah, one more thing – our great and glorious President (I like to call him Chairman O) has come out kinda, sorta in favor of the proposed mosque just blocks away from Ground Zero in NYC. He really didn’t endorse it, but he sure as hell didn’t not endorse it, either, thereby earning the wrath of a majority of Americans who really, really don’t think it’s such a good idea. But you know what? That’s just fine. Let Obama and the Democratic Party continue to shoot themselves in the foot. It just makes the path for the Republicans to regain control of the House and/or the Senate in November smoother. Yes, I am a Conservative, and I’m proud of it. You’ll never hear me calling myself a Progressive or endorsing the views of left wing whackos like Rosie O’Donnell, Sean Penn and Danny Glover. Socialism doesn’t work. Period. And neither does trying to placate radical Muslims who will always hate infidel Americans no matter what we do. Political rant over.

Anyway, I’ll be back tomorrow with my post-SummerSlam RAW recap.



Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Fame Monster

Do you want to be famous?

It’s not a rhetorical question, though I suspect that some people would think it is. I mean, doesn’t everyone want to be famous? Isn’t part of the reason that I write this blog is that someone will take note of it and say they read it and like it? Well, maybe, but if no one read this blog (and very few people do as it is), then I’d still be writing it, if only for the therapeutic reasons I’ve discussed in the past.

Yet, I know that some people out there have blogs or websites if only because they think it will make them famous or get them noticed.

But fame is very fickle, and you can go from being famous to being infamous in a matter of minutes. Take the case of one Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, for example.

For those of you out there who are unaware of who Ms. Polizzi is, she is one of the cast members (and I use that term loosely) of a reality show on MTV called "Jersey Shore". It follows the lives of a bunch of twenty-somethings (mostly of Italian descent) spending their summer in a house on the Jersey shore. Now, I’ve never seen the show, and if I have my way, I’ll never see it. My belief is that your IQ will drop if you watch the show and that you immediately have to turn on PBS or Discovery Channel before the loss of intelligence becomes permanent. But that’s beside the point and another blog for another time.

The show has become a big hit for MTV and is now in its second season. Consequently, some of the people who are on the show have gained a degree of notoriety, notably Snooki and Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino (really? The Situation? What kind of douche bag has that for a nickname? I guess a guy whose mantra is "Gym. Tan. Laundry," but I digress.). Well, as I pointed out earlier, the line between famous and infamous is a thin one. Just ask Snooki.

Last Friday, a drunken and disorderly Snooki was arrested in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, for basically making an ass out of herself. Snooki was allegedly harassing beach-goers in the middle of the afternoon (reports say she was stumbling around, being loud and obnoxious and was really, really hammered). Upon being arrested by the cops and thrown in the slammer, she (allegedly) proceeded to try to get out of her incarceration by loudly saying, “Do you know who I am? I’m f@#$%^g Snooki!” When I read this in the New York Post over the weekend, I laughed my ass off for a couple of reasons.

First of all, was anyone out there surprised by this (outside of the people who actually thought Brett Favre was going to actually retire this time)? This little twit is in the midst of her 15 minutes of fame and thinks that just because she’s on some godawful reality show on MTV that she’s suddenly all that and then some. The only thing that surprises me is that it took this long to happen.

Secondly, my readers out there who are regular listeners of “The Tony Kornheiser Show” on ESPN 980 out of Washington, D.C., know that a running gag on the show is an audio clip of Robert DeNiro shouting “Do you know who I am?” This is in reference to a passage in a book written by noted author and windbag John “Junior” Feinstein that depicted Mr. Tony loudly saying that very quote to a hotel clerk, and though Kornheiser has continually denied ever saying anything like that, it’s become a running joke on the show because Mr. Tony can come off like that.

But what does being famous get you in the long run? Okay, yeah, more often than not it gets you a lot of money and a lot of perks. I certainly don’t have anything against money and perks (I could use some more of both myself), but it’s painfully obvious that some people cannot handle the burden of being famous, whether it’s on a national or local level.

Look at Lindsay Lohan. She was a promising young actress with a potentially nice career ahead of her. But once she grew up and started to become famous, she couldn’t handle it – booze, DUI, jail time, rehab, etc. I know that she was under a microscope being a somewhat famous movie star and that the tabloids and paparazzi were seemingly following her everywhere. I get that; I do. But plenty of celebrities past and present have also had to deal with the so-called pressure of being a celebrity and have reacted just fine. Some people just can’t handle it, though and end up making the same mistakes over and over again (see: Sheen, Charlie).

Being famous also feeds your ego. Take LeBron James, for example. He’s arguably the most famous basketball player in the world, and he still needed to have his ego fed by having a one hour special on ESPN announcing what NBA team he’d be playing for this coming season. He needed to have the attention. He needed to have a legion of sycophants around him telling him how awesome he is. Fame can go to people’s heads in a hurry.

Anyway, back to Snooki. I can all but guarantee that she or one of her castmembers will end up on "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" both because of a desperate need to remain in the spotlight and because they’re so totally effed up that they need to be in rehab.

And to make matters worse, people can fawn all over celebs that it just makes matters worse. People get so caught up in their worship of celebrities (including our own President) that they cannot or will not see the faults of their so-called idols. When you’re surrounded by people who continually tell you just how awesome and infallible you are, it can go to your head and make you think that you’re awesome and can do no wrong (see: Obama, Barack).

I’m not saying it’s easy to be a celebrity, but I’m also not buying that it’s as difficult as some people make it out to be. There’s an old saying, “Act like you’ve been there before.” It applies to a variety of people in a variety of situations, notably entertainers and athletes. If you go ballistic every time a photog sticks his camera in your face, you’re going to gain a reputation, meaning that where there were once one or two photogs hounding you, now there are ten. But if you act like it doesn’t bother you (even if it pisses you off to no end), they’ll eventually get bored with you and move on. In this situation, being boring and uninteresting is a good thing. But if you yell at them and flip them off and act like it’s such a burden to have your picture taken in public, well, then you know what’s going to happen.

Part of being a celebrity is having to deal with the fame that comes along with it. You can’t be famous and still expect to have the privacy you did when you were just some jabronie no one cared about. And part of it is also not acting like a total jackass in public (see Roethlisburger, Ben).

Here in Pittsburgh, people leave celebs alone for the most part. In my travails in and around the city over the years, I’ve seen my fair share of pro athletes out in public. I pay them the courtesy of a) not pointing them out to everyone else and b) not bothering them. I think this holds true for most people here. A lot of movies are being made in Pittsburgh these days, and pretty much every celeb who has come through here has said how surprised they were about how much they weren’t bothered by people. You can’t get that in New York or L.A. I think that also might be a reason why so many athletes not from Pittsburgh have settled here, even after only playing in town for a year or two.

So what’s the point of this blog (outside of ripping on "Jersey Shore" and idiot celebrities)? It’s to point out that being rich and famous ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. So, for all of you out there who would give up your first born to be famous, be careful what you wish for because you could be the next Snooki or The Situation, and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.



Tuesday, August 3, 2010

And then there were five

With less than two weeks to go until SummerSlam, WWE has continued to build on the Nexus vs. RAW angle that’s been going on for the past few months. As opposed to some of their past angles that either fizzled or just went no where, this angle has continued to keep my interest and has not been as predictable as most WWE booking is.

Last night’s RAW started with Edge cutting a promo telling everyone that he was going to be the one to take out Nexus by challenging Wade Barrett to a match. Edge says he’s tired of listening to everyone else and is going to start to listen to himself. He says he’ll beat Barrett all by himself and tells the rest of his team to stay away. Of course, someone has to answer that and out comes R-Truth.

Truth calls Edge out and says Edge should listen to Cena and be a team player (good stuff from Truth – actually cutting a promo and not rapping during it). Edge, of course, won’t listen and threatens to spear Truth if he doesn’t leave. The anonymous GM sends an email to Michael Cole saying that Edge will face Barrett and that it will be on his own. Truth leaves and out comes Barrett.

The Edge/Barrett match wasn’t a four-star affair (despite his big push, Barrett is still kind of green in the ring), but it did show the fans getting behind Edge. With Edge gaining the upper hand, Barrett called out the rest of Nexus, and Edge ran like a scalded dog (TM Jim Ross) into the crowd.

When we come back from break, Edge is looking for John Cena. When Edge finds Cena, he asks the supposed leader of Team WWE where he was while Edge was going it alone. This was a great heelish thing for Edge to do – calling out Cena for not interfering in the match after Edge said he could do it by himself. Cena, of course, said he was respecting Edge’s wishes by staying in the back. They go back and forth before Edge decides to quit Team WWE, much to Cena’s consternation.

As Edge leaves, the camera pans over to reveal a smirking Chris Jericho (few wrestlers can convey as much with facial expressions as Y2J). Jericho does his usual “blame Cena” spiel before eventually challenging Cena to a match – loser is no longer on Team WWE. Cena accepts, but you can tell that he’s not happy about it.

Another development happens when John Morrison tries to get through to the Great Khali (on the “not annoying” list for two straight weeks, a new record) saying that Team WWE needs to be like the Magnificent Seven – united as one. Khali responds by saying something about the Seven Dwarves, causing Morrison to walk away. Enter Michael Tarver and David Otunga who plant more seeds with Khali. They claim that Cena will kick him off Team WWE if Khali loses to Ted DiBiase later on. They also offer him a place in Nexus where he’ll always be respected. Khali says nothing, but the wheels are turning.

Up next is a 6 Diva tag match that actually didn’t suck. It was short and relatively action packed. Natalya Neidhart has some skills, and I think she’s being wasted as the Hart Dynasty’s manager. As for Tamina… well, um, y’see… let’s hope she can get over with her in-ring skills because she’s not exactly what I’d call a looker. But maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, after Alicia Fox wins the match for her team, she cuts a promo saying how she’s beaten every Diva on RAW in every kind of match and that she’s the greatest champion of all time (or something to that affect). Cue Melina’s music. Melina’s been on the shelf pretty much all year, so it was good to see her back. Melina hit the ring and took out Alicia with the Sunset Split, yelling “I’m back!” as she did. My only hope is that Melina can actually stay healthy for an extended period of time because she’s clearly the most talented Diva (in and out of the ring) on RAW.

Next up is an old-fashioned squash match between Sheamus and Goldust. It’s a shame that Goldust has become a jobber to the stars, but hey, it pays the bills. After finishing off Goldust with the High Cross (a crucifix powerbomb for those of you keeping score at home), Sheamus cuts a killer promo saying how far he’s come in the past year and how he did it all himself – he didn’t need a briefcase and isn’t a third-generation star. Good stuff here – I’m not the biggest Sheamus fan and was puzzled when he got the push he did, but he’s worked really hard to become a solid wrestler and is improving on the mic. His program with Randy Orton and The Miz has been a welcome co-main event to the ongoing Nexus angle.

The outcome of the Cena/Jericho match that followed was never in question, but I was curious to see how it would be carried out. The match itself was top notch – a very good TV match, but I expect that from Cena and Jericho. The pair has wrestled one another so many times now that I think they could have a good match in their sleep. The best part of the match was how Cole and Lawler put over how Cena’s heart wasn’t in the match. It was refreshing to hear announcers actually putting over an angle by analyzing a match. JR used to do this all the time, but Cole rarely (if ever) does. The actual ending was a bit unexpected as Jericho tapped out before Cena could actually lock in the STF, meaning that Jericho had to leave Team WWE.

Jericho left to a chorus of boos. Cena got on the mic and tried to talk Jericho into rejoining the team. Once again, Jericho’s “conflicted” facial expressions sold the bit, but of course, he walked away in the end. Team WWE is down to five members.

In the back, Edge and Jericho have a heart-to-heart and finally make up (awww…). It’s a mutual admiration society as each says he respects the other for leaving Cena in the dust. Then the mystery GM pipes up and announces a match for next week – Cena and Bret Hart (still mysteriously absent) vs. Edge and Jericho in a lumberjack match. The lumberjacks will be the Nexus. That should be interesting - though I expect that the remaining members of Team WWE will also end up as lumberjacks.

Cut to the always-smiling Josh Matthews with Randy Orton. Since Orton went face his promos have still been top notch. He’s much calmer and more matter-of-fact. He knows how good he is. He also knows how over he is. Orton as a heel had been growing very stale, and his face turn has been probably the best executed face turn WWE has pulled off in a long time. I expect him to hold the WWE Title before the year is out.

I pity Ted DiBiase having to job to the Great Khali, but it did further the whole is Khali going to side with Nexus storyline when Khali used the Vise Grip to defeat DiBiase after Barrett and Skip Sheffield distracted the Fortunate Son. The match was short and to the point, but I really hope that DiBiase eventually gets a decent push, even though I’ve soured on him since Legacy split up.

It’s main event time – Randy Orton vs. The Miz. As usual, Miz cuts a killer promo before the match, saying that his time has come and that he will be WWE champion, because he’s the Miz, and well, you know the rest. Have I mentioned how I’ve done a complete 180 on the Miz? I used to loathe him, and now I see him as the future of WWE. His promos are among the best on the roster, and he’s gotten so much better in the ring that I can’t even believe he’s the same guy who was buried on ECW in tag team matches.

The match itself was a good back and forth affair that saw Orton get the win with the RKO after ducking a Miz lariat. Sheamus tried a run-in at the end, but he retreated when Orton dropped into the Viper pose.

All in all, while it wasn’t as good of a show as the past few weeks had been, last night’s RAW still managed to build momentum going into SummerSlam. John Cena’s dream team appears to be down two members, making the main event match a 7-on-5 affair. Of course, I don’t believe for a minute that Team WWE vs. The Nexus will be anything less than 7-on-7. But who those 7 members of Team WWE will be is up for debate.

Part of me thinks this whole “dissention in the ranks” act is all part of one massive swerve by Cena, Edge, Jericho, et al (maybe orchestrated behind the scenes by Vince McMahon?) to lull the Nexus into a false sense of security. Nexus comes into the match overconfident, expecting Cena’s team to be in disarray and down (at least) two members only to end up facing a team that’s not only unified but is also at full strength. That would be an awesome pay off to everything that’s been going on the past few weeks, but I really don’t think it will play out that way. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Vince does return to RAW next week to force Edge and Jericho to be on the team.

Another way I see this possibly playing out is that there could be a surprise or two in store for the Nexus at SummerSlam. Maybe Triple H’s current injury is a work, and he’ll be a surprise member of Team WWE. Or maybe a mid-card heel will step up to the plate and into a main event slot (ala Lex Luger’s surprise face turn and subsequent mega-push many years ago). I could see someone like Zack Ryder put into this spot, as he’s been off TV lately but is in line for a push.

Honestly, I really have no idea what’s going to happen, and that’s a good thing. For years, I’ve been bemoaning how predictable WWE booking is, and I’m pleasantly surprised by how well executed the Nexus angle has been up until now. Let’s just hope the payoff is as good as the build up has been.