Wizards of Oz

"Life is fraughtless ... when you're thoughtless."


20 Years Later

Twenty years ago today, I was a third-semester senior at the University of California at Berkeley. My favorite baseball team, the Oakland A's, were in the World Series facing the neighboring San Francisco Giants in the "Bay Bridge Series". Though the media moguls hated such a "local" World Series, I thought it was the best ever. That is, until Game Three....

During pre-game warmups, as I sat in my room across the Bay in Alameda, the intial jolts of the Loma Prieta earthquake began knocking books off of my shelves. ABC sportscaster Al Michaels turned to his right and said "We're having an earth...", immediately followed by static then a power outage. That fifteen seconds of violent shaking (7.1 surface wave magnitude) felt more like fifteen minutes.

Of the 57 people who lost their lives as a direct result of Loma Prieta, 42 of them were on the Cypress Section of Interstate-880 in northwest Oakland (the photo above). Perhaps the "Bay Bridge Series" had a positive effect, minimizing the amount of traffic that would normally be on this main traffic artery connecting the East Bay and Peninsula during rush hour (the quake occurred at 5:04pm local). That section of freeway would normally have hundreds of vehicles bumper-to-bumper this time of day.... It was also a route that I often took to Cal, having traversed the lower deck the morning prior.

Today, the Cypress is a ground-level, side-by-side freeway. Structural standards for elevated roads have strengthened. And the skill of the first responders in containing the fires that followed prevented a repeat of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake (which claimed more than 3,000 lives). Oh, and the A's swept the Giants, outscoring them 32-14 in four games after a ten-day pause due to the earthquake.

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PAC-10 Wins Bowl Challenge Cup

With USC's drubbing of a rather lackadaisical Penn State in the Rose Bowl yesterday, the PAC-10 completed a perfect 5-for-5 sweep of its Bowl Games -- and claimed its first-ever "Bowl Challenge Cup" (an ESPN-invented acknowledgment of the NCAA Division I conference with the highest winning percentage [minimum three bowl games]).

However, I think the best gauge of a conference's strength is the number of teams that qualify for bowl games -- rather than just the winning percentage. After all, my beloved Golden Bears of Cal played a hapless Miami team comprised almost entirely of underclassmen and sporting an SI "Power Ranking" of 47th out of 119. The SEC, by contrast, has EIGHT (yep, 8) of their 12 teams playing in the college post-season; even Vanderbilt won their first bowl game in more than 50 years. And the Big-12, in addition to sending seven to the postseason, came within a play of putting the Broken Computer System into a tailspin with two teams warranting a BCS Title Game berth.

BTW: 50 years is significant for Cal too, since yesterday (New Years Day) was the 50th anniversary of Cal's most-recent trip to the Granddaddy of Them All, the Rose Bowl. Jan. 1st, 1959, PAC-10 champion Cal lost to a bigger, faster, stronger Iowa team, beginning a drought reminiscent of baseball's Chicago Cubs. Hopefully Cal won't have to wait another 50 years before returning to the Rose Bowl....

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Armed Forces Bowl

Shortly after noon today (Eastern time), the Golden Bears of Cal will grudgingly face the Falcons of the U.S. Air Force Academy in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. Cal, once on the brink of a national #1 ranking, lost six of their last seven to barely scrape by the six-win threshold for bowl eligibility (and needed the Univ. of Arizona to lose their final game to secure the sixth seed on the PAC-10 bowl card).

Cal has a history of "going through the motions" in what it considers sub-par bowl games -- e.g., the trouncing they took in the 2004 Holiday Bowl when they thought they deserved a Rose Bowl berth. So I am expecting the 9-3 Air Force to win big.

[Update: Though Air Force took a quick 21-0 lead, two things helped Cal stage a 42-36 comeback victory: Coach Jeff Tedford benched longtime QB Nate Longshore in favor of redshirt freshman Kevin Riley, and Air Force senior QB Shaun Carney suffered a severe knee injury. Best wishes for a quick recovery for Cadet Carney!]

The Armed Forces Bowl, in its fifth year, will feature much pageantry of the U.S. military, including fly-overs of several different varieties of aircraft, "Thank You's" to veterans, and a "service spotlight" on each of the DoD armed services during each quarter. However, in what I consider a poignant statement of the future direction of military transformation, the parachutists who skydive into Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas, won't be the Golden Knights of the U.S. Army.

Instead, the parachutists who land on the turf at TCU's stadium will be contractors from Blackwater USA's Parachute Team -- proving that just about anything can be outsourced....

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Cal Collapse & Other Lessons

For the first time since 2001 (and the first time ever in Jeff Tedford's reign as Cal's football coach), The Stanfurd Axe is returning to Palo Alto. And Cal's utter implosion since being on the brink of #1 in the nation two months ago came to a bitter end with today's 20-13 loss in The Big Game. All that's needed to put Cal out of its misery (and dissipate any hope of a Bowl bid) is for Arizona to overcome a 10-point deficit against #13 Arizona State in the final two minutes of that game. [Update at 23:44 EST: Arizona narrowed the gap to 3-points with 0:40 left, but ASU recovered the onside kick to secure the win. Looks like Cal will get an Armed Forces Bowl berth....]

In the spirit of Stewart Mandel at SI.com, I offer "Five Things We Learned This Weekend":

1. Cal lacks the discipline to be a great college football team. Way too many penalties (nine for 103 yards against Stanfurd), folding in "substandard" postseason games (e.g., the lackluster performance in the 2004 Holiday Bowl when they felt they deserved a Rose Bowl berth), and Jeff Tedford's "loyalty to a fault" (keeping underperforming Nate Longshore in the game too many times). Coach Tedford has brought a sense of pride to Cal football unseen since the storied Rose Bowl teams of the 1950s, but he has not yet figured how to motivate his team when their own unrealistic expectations are dashed.

2. Being ranked #2 stinks. The #2 ranked team has been upset seven (yes, 7!) times this season, including Pitt winning the 100th Backyard Brawl at West Virginia earlier today. Good teams should pray for a #3 ranking....

3. Official-initiated "instant replay reviews" are worthless wastes of time. It seldom changes the call on the field, even with apparent evidence to the contrary, due to the standard of "unambiguous" proof. To wit, Cal's final drive in today's Big Game showed an apparent incompletion (ruled an interception, and not overturned) -- followed by a Stanfurd sideline pass with the tip of the receiver's foot clearly on the sideline. Ditch the rule as written now, give it some credibility, then give the coaches more than their one challenge per game.

4. BCS is a mess. Why can't Hawai'i (the lone undefeated team in Division I football) play in the National Championship Game? Oh, yeah: "strength of schedule". Which, if applied to the NFL, means that nobody from the anemic AFC West would be allowed to play in the Super Bowl.

5. Parity is here to stay. Bottom line: there is a LOT of talent in college football today -- even without the megasalaries guys like Nick Saben can command. Add in better training methods and more complex play-calling, and you have a lot of depth in the college ranks.

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"The Play" + 25

One of the greatest comebacks in the history of college football took place 25 years ago, on November 20th 1982, at California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley. While Trinity's recent 15-lateral, 62-second play in the final seconds to defeat Millsaps was impressive, as was Boise State's improbable comeback against powerhouse Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, neither can compare with the magnitude of The Play.

Rivalries like the one between the Golden Bears of the University of California and the "cardinal" (like the, uh, color) of leland stanfurd junior university are rare. Add in the irony of a future NFL Hall of Famer (John Elway) being denied his last shot at a college bowl game (and perhaps the Heisman Trophy), the always-entertaining antics of the stanfurd band, and the drama of stanfurd's "devastated program", and you have a recipe for a legend.

For an in-depth review of The Play -- as well as John Elway's impressive drive in the final minute to temporarily take the lead, and Joe Starkey's emotional play-calling from KGO 810AM's live broadcast, check out this seven-minute clip at YouTube:

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Cal Collapse

15 days ago, the Golden Bears of the Univ. of California at Berkeley were just one play away from a national #1 ranking. Now they are sixth place (yes, SIXTH) in the PAC-10. Despite leading undefeated Arizona State by 13 points in the first half, Cal ran out of gas -- while ASU hit their stride. End result: Cal's third straight loss, and ASU's eighth win this season.

The PAC-10 is starting to look just like the SEC, with strong teams up and down the ranks that spend the college football season pummeling each other. Even usual bottom-dweller leland stanfurd junior univ. has knocked off a top-ten team (then-#2 USC), just like SEC's bottom-dwelling Vanderbilt beat that "other" USC (then-#6 ranked Univ. of South Carolina) last week.

Definitely a crazy year, with defending champion Florida sporting three losses (one more than riches-to-rags South Florida), USC has two losses, and Notre Dame has just one lone win come All Saints Day.

And Cal, who had visions of Roses, now needs to recalibrate its expectations come Bowl Season. My guess is, at this pace (and with USC still looming on their schedule), they'll be lucky to get a berth in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

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PAC-10 Football

What a difference a couple of weeks can make.... I suspect my SEC brethren are quietly snickering as many of the pundits who proclaimed "PAC-10 dominance" a month ago are now recanting. (All due apologies to Dan of tdaxp for Stew Mandel's disrespect of Nebraska in that article -- especially since there are only 119 "Div. I-A" teams, so it's mathematically impossible to be ranked "120th".)

After back-to-back losses against non-ranked teams, Cal finds itself once again right behind USC -- but with both teams squarely in the middle of the PAC-10 standings. The Bruins of UCLA (the only team to lose to Notre Dame so far this season) and the Sun Devils of Arizona State (who have yet to face a ranked opponent) are atop the PAC-10 standings with 4-0 conference records.

Six PAC-10 teams are in the BCS "Top 40", and three PAC-10 teams are still ranked in the AP Poll "Top Ten". Other than the inclusion of Boston College, the top rankings are starting to look like a regular season of college ball (with traditional powerhouses Ohio State, Oklahoma, LSU in the hunt). Maybe it won't be such a startling National Championship Game after all... (Though BC vs. USF would have been a hoot!)

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Race Day

I was not a runner until I was sitting for a job interview with Col. Max Barth, USMC, the Asst. Chief of Staff for Intelligence at the First Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) in Camp Pendleton, California about 12 years ago. I was 28 years old, interviewing for an I.T. system administrator position. He asked, "You look like a runner -- are you?" My response ("Oh, yes sir!") did not include my mental note: 'Better buy some running shoes...'

Three years later, while we lived in Hawaii, a friend suggested I sign up for a 5k race. Then a 10k race. Then a "mini-triathlon" (the Mountain Man Tri), where I learned that I'm an O.K. runner and cyclist -- but a really lousy swimmer. As I rounded the last buoy (in the calm windward waters near Chinaman's Hat by Kailua town), I took some solace that there was someone behind me -- until he started picking up the buoys and clearing the race markers!

Our move to Virginia in 1999 saw my interest grow in longer races. Encouraged by colleagues at U.S. Joint Forces Command (like then-CPT Rich Greene, one of the finest soldiers I have ever known), I joined the USJFCOM J9 team for the 2000 Army Ten Miler. Then, as the photo above shows, I ran my first marathon -- the 25th Marine Corps Marathon -- that same month.

Mind you, I am not nearly as accomplished in athletics as √úberbloggers Matt at MountainRunner (who casually runs marathon distances at night in the mountains of Southern California) and Mark at ZenPundit (a powerlifter who can bench press twice my steadily-increasing body weight). I'm pleased with my 4-hour-plus marathon pace, hope to someday ride a "Century" (100 miles), and am even more pleased to encourage friends like Mike Vegh who are setting new distance records for themselves.

As soon as I post this, I will be on my way to the Atomic Duathlon -- a 5k run, 30k ride, 5k run race from the Melton Lake Reservoir, across Bethel Valley (of Oak Ridge National Lab fame) and Bear Creek Valley (home to the Y-12 National Nuclear Security Complex), then back to the lake. The fun part will be cresting Haw Ridge and Chestnut Ridge (a topographic map is here).

I hope to finish in 2:15:00 -- I'll post later on my results (as well as a postmortem of Cal's homecoming loss to Oregon State and the parity of college football programs nationwide).

Addendum (posted at 5:00pm EDT): I finished about ten minutes later than my target, with an official final time of 2:25:06. My first 5k run was right on target (25:40), my bike ride close to target (1:17:00), and my transitions faster than expected (both under 80 seconds, which included a shoe change). Where the wheels came off was on the second run -- my legs were reluctant to shift from "bike mode" to "run mode", so my pace slipped to about 11:00/mi. Then, at the turn-around, I met another "Clydesdale" (the 200+ lb. class I signed up for) -- a retired Marine with bad knees. So we walked (and occasionally ran) and talked about the Corps for the last mile and a half. Since I was well out of "medal contention" (the 3rd place Clydesdale clocked in just under two hours, as did the top 40-45 males), no worry. I stuck to my hydration and nutrition strategies (with two Gu vanilla bean energy gels before the start, two more during the ride, and about 60 oz. of Gatorade Fierce Grape cut with 1/2 part water) and feel great. Now if only I could swim better and get serious about triathlons....

College Football: Cal-OSU Post-Mortem

OSU (in this case, the Beavers of Oregon State) came to Berkeley's Memorial Stadium yesterday, bringing with them one of the top rushing defenses in the nation (allowing just 43 yards rushing per game). Their lightning-fast defensive line and linebackers threatened to thwart a big part of Cal's offense -- and, when coupled with the ankle injury suffered by starting QB Nate Longshore two weeks ago in Oregon, made this a very good match-up.

Both QBs stepped up to their respective challenges: Sophomore Sean Canfield (Beavers) looked more poised and capable than he has at any time in his collegiate career, and red-shirt freshman Kevin Riley (Golden Bears) demonstrated superb mobility and tactical decision-making in rallying Cal from a 10-point deficit in the closing minutes. Great decision-making, that is, until the final play of the game. Down by three, in easy field goal range on the OSU 15 yard line, with just 0:14 on the clock and no time-outs, Riley decided to scramble instead of throw the ball away (and stop the clock). The quick OSU defense tackled him inbounds short of a first down, and the final seconds ticked away before the ball could be set for a snap. So much for a shot at overtime and a #1 ranking....

With LSU falling to #17 Kentucky, we have a curious state of affairs in the season's first Bowl Championship Series (BCS) rankings -- with the Bulls of the Univ. of South Florida laying claim to the #2 spot. The good news is that it's a toss-up in the PAC-10 (which has demonstrated an SEC-like "bludgeon each other" mentality this season) for the coveted Rose Bowl berth. One of the commentators on Versus last night (which has had the good fortune of televising some of the best upsets this season) said "Cal is the Chicago Cubs of the PAC-10." I couldn't agree more -- Cal has the longest "Rose Bowl Drought" of all teams, with their last appearance in 1959. (And though the Univ. of Arizona Wildcats have never gone, they only joined the conference 30 years ago.) Just another reason to malign the "Broken Computer System" BCS, which has the option of putting non-PAC-10 teams in the Rose Bowl.

Cal has a tough month coming up, with away games at UCLA (always a fierce rivalry) and #12 Arizona State, then a homestand against the Washing State Cougars and the Trojans of 'SC. Roll on you Bears!!

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Cal #1!?

OK, maybe... not.

leland stanfurd junior university (archnemesis of the University of California Golden Bears) has just stunned the trojans of 'sc with a 24-23 victory in the L.A. Coliseum. Not bad for a team whose mascot is a color. With the Gators of Florida leading #1 LSU in the 3rd quarter at the Bayou, a loss by the Tigers would mean #3 Cal (with a bye this weekend) would become the #1 team in college football.

What a crazy season...

Addendum: LSU shut down Florida's final four drives (including two turnovers) and took a 28-24 lead with barely a minute to play. Good, tough football in Death Valley.

Looks like the SEC gets to hang on to the top spot in the AP Polls.

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Cub Scout Campout

The Cub Scouts of Oak Ridge (Pack 226) braved the wilds of Tennessee's rustic "Frozen Head State Park" this weekend. Since our Tiger Den (1st graders) were the largest den present, they got to be the "Honor Guard" for the presentation of the colors.

With nighttime temps in the high 30s F. (single digits C.), it's a good thing we loaded these boys up with Calories during evening s'mores around the campfire!

Fearless Pack Leader Keith Jeter taught the boys knife safety, while other parents provided stories and knot-tying lessons. After a breakfast of pancakes, bacon and sausage (plus a few shots of espresso for the adults from my hand-pumped portable espresso machine), we hiked to the nearly-dry DeBald Falls.

After breaking camp and getting back into T-Mobile coverage, I was happily surprised to see fully half of the NCAA "Top Ten" football teams lose -- allowing unbeaten Cal (who narrowly defeated #11 Oregon in what SI's Stewart Mandel calls "... easily the season's most compelling game to date ...") to nip at USC's heels in the #3 spot in the nation. Hmmm.... Two PAC-10 teams in the Top 3, while five teams in the top 18 hail from west of the Continental Divide.... Wonder what that says about the SEC? :-) BTW, casual observers who check the AP Poll "Top 25" should note that #6 is not the defending champ Florida Gators, but rather the Bulls of South Florida. The Gators have dropped to #9.

(Congrats to Dan at tdaxp's 'Huskers, who have moved into the Top 25 rankings and hold the top spot in the Big-12 North.)

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PAC-10 Tough!

Long maligned as a pushover conference in college football, the PAC-10 is storming into the 2007 season with a vengeance. Cal improved its record to 2-0 today with a win against scrappy Colorado State (who kept it interesting, scoring two TDs a minute apart with 3:00 minutes to play to close within 6), Washington broke Fiesta Bowl champ Boise State's 14-game winning streak, and Oregon has continued the dogpile in Ann Arbor started by Appalachian State last week.

Bottom line: PAC-10 teams are 10-3 in non-conference games so far -- including several victories against supposedly "storied" programs -- and has three teams in the top 13. Given the PAC-10's "round robin" schedule (meaning each team will face the other nine in regular season play), USC has a much tougher schedule than LSU, West Virginia, or even Florida.

Take that, SEC! :-)

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Roll on you Bears!

One year ago my son and I were sitting in Neyland Stadium at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, watching my alma mater Cal take on the Volunteers of the Orange Nation. Just two weeks earlier I had accepted a job offer from Enterra Solutions -- along with a relocation from southeast Virginia to east Tennessee. While Household-6 and eldest daughter looked at houses that afternoon, man-cub and I watched Cal get blown away by UT.

While I was among some 2,000 Blue-and-Gold Cal fans in Neyland Stadium last year (about 1.9% of the stadium's 106,000 capacity), today there were more than 20,000 Orange-clad Volunteer fans in Berkeley's Memorial Stadium (capacity 72,000 + a few hundred more on Tightwad Hill). I watched the game on our big-screen DLP at home in the Orange Nation, wearing the same Cal t-shirt and Cal ballcap as last year.

ESPN gave the game a lot of buzz, since this was the only matchup between ranked teams (UT #15 at Cal #12) this opening weekend. And though Appalachian State (from nearby Boone,NC) knocked off Big Blue Michigan at Ann Arbor, the Blue and Gold of California looked strong all night.

It wasn't the game the pundits expected, though. With UT starting quarterback Erik Ainge sporting a broken finger on his throwing hand and three green receivers on the flanks, it was expected they'd run the ball; instead Ainge completed 32 (including his first ten passes) and threw for nearly 300 yards with zero interceptions. Cal, expected to exploit the long-ball and Tennessee's inexperienced secondary, instead saw Head Coach Jeff Tedford do the play-calling -- with a ground attack amassing 240 yards.

Cal's defense and special teams stepped up (including DeSean Jackson's freaky prowess as a punt returner: this guy, in his senior year, has run more than 22% of his career punt returns for touchdowns!!), and both teams showed a lot of perseverance.

Hat tip to Tennessee's phenomenal offensive line -- the one mar to Cal's performance is that they failed to get more pressure on Ainge (other than in the first series and last series of the game). And say a prayer for UT defensive end Xavier Mitchell (#93), who had to be carted off the field on a back board late in the game after a collision with another Vol near the Cal goal line.

Final score: Cal 45, Tennessee 31.

Cal has two more non-PAC-10 games (at Colorado State next week, then hosting Louisiana Tech) before they begin a nine-week PAC-10 "round robin". One of the ABC commentators told Brent Musberger he predicted Cal's contest against USC (at Cal on the Marine Corps Birthday: November 10th) would feature two undefeated teams. Since Cal has more Marines than USC (defensive end Rulon Davis, #94, is a USMC reservist who did a tour in Iraq), I like our odds....

ADDENDUM: The last time Tennessee lost its opener was 13 years ago. Away. At UCLA. (Bet it will be a while before this SEC team decides to start another season in the PAC-10!)

SECOND ADDENDUM: Xavier Mitchell (Tennessee #93) was released from the hospital in time to make the team plane back to Knoxville. His neck and head scans came back negative, and he was diagnosed with having suffered a concussion. He'll likely miss Saturday's game against Southern Miss., but at least there is no permanent damage.

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