Thursday, December 31, 2009

Musings on the past decade

The all-too-expected stories of the past decade have over-hyped all of the "best" lists and "stories of the decade." Yet, the closing out of the first ten years of the new millenium is indeed cause for reflection--a look back at what we experienced and what events were most impactful.

Here then are my observations and thoughts as I look back on 2000-2009.

Reality television: The phenomenon of reality TV started in the 1990's but, over the past ten years, has become not only standard fare on network and cable television but also a ratings leader. Think about it--American Idol, as an example, dominated ratings and provided the music industry with a star like Carrie Underwood who sells millions of albums and wins tons of awards. Stories like Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, Adam Lambert and Jennifer Hudson grew out of this blockbuster franchise.

Survivor continued its success and paved the way for a show like The Amazing Race. America learned again how to dance with Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance? And, on cable, we were introduced to Tim Gunn and his sense of style, alongside Heidi Klum, on Project Runway.

What started out as a solution to a strike by Hollywood actors turned into something far bigger--reality TV found millions of willing viewers across a variety of "reality" situations. And, in the process, the networks got lazy and produced less and less original programming.

Social Media: Like reality TV, social media started before this decade. But, it was only in the past few years that social media went mainstream. Parents discovered that Facebook was actually a pretty cool place to re-connect with old friends. Twitter's usage grew and tweets became a news source versus the more traditional news releases and press conferences.

The demise of the printed word: It's a bit sobering to know that I'm one of a falling number of people who actually read a newspaper--not the online version. The very American industry of printed work on newsprint, and the history of great writers who have penned these words, is dying a not so slow death. And, in the past couple of years, we've seen the magazine industry follow suit--titles are either going away entirely or are on life support. Books are also impacted given the rise of e-readers. While this trend may be eco-friendly, it's a sad one for those of us who enjoy seeing printed words, phrases, paragraphs and stories.

Access to information--now: In the beginning of the decade, most of us huddled around a television during the day on September 11, 2001, to see the events in New York and Washington unfold. By the end of the decade, we would have been able to watch that event coverage on our handheld device. Images (still and video) of the day would have been uploaded more frequently to YouTube and other media outlets online.

Consumer-generated media means that there are millions of "reporters" out and about when news happens. Thus, we get our information now--via Twitter, viral media, e-mails passed from friend to friend to friend, texts, etc., etc., etc. "The demise of the printed word" phenomenon noted above is very much linked to this consumer-generated activity.

There--those are my key reflections back on the decade that was, focusing on how we as consumers consider, act and consume. What will the new decade bring in this area? I won't even hazard a guess given how quickly the above trends took root and became a part of how we live.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My favorites

If you've followed this blog since it's start-up in February, you've hopefully noticed the ever-changing list of "my favorites." As I look back on the past 10 months, here is my list of "favorites of 2009."

Favorite hotel: The Bowery, New York, NY. I stayed in this hotel once and immediately loved it. Most New York hotels are either (a) large, with too many rooms and guests; (b) have small rooms; or (c) both. In the case of The Bowery, the room was quaint but not small, decorated with a splash of European style, and adorned with the small things which showcase an attention to detail.

Favorite book: Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen, Joe Drape; South of Broad, Pat Conroy (tie)

Favorite CD: Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood: Live from Madison Square Garden

Favorite movie: The Blind Side is predictable, not well-acted (other than Sandra Bullock), and won't be nominated for any Golden Globes or Oscars. But, it's the best movie I saw this year because it was a true story about doing good. Let's also give a nod here to Bullock who quietly is become America's most consistent actress when measured by box-office results.

Favorite gadget: After starting the year with the Palm Pre, I ended the year carrying the HTC Hero, an Android device. While not a fan of touch-screen keypads, this phone is just too good--the keypad works for me, the size and ergonomics are right for my hand, and the Android marketplace is the best app store this side of Apple's selection. It's a great phone.

Favorite restaurant: I had some tremendous meals in '09, e.g., Sparks Steakhouse, New York; El Dorado Kitchen, Sonoma, CA; Capo, Santa Monica, CA; and several others. But, the meal and place which stick out was lunch at the Salt Lick Barbecue in Driftwood, TX. This roadhouse eatery, featuring some of the best barbecue in Texas, makes my mouth water just thinking about the finely smoked meats.

Favorite TV show: Mad Men. I have to admit, I was skeptical about season three of this AMC Network show set in the advertising industry of the early 1960's. After two terrific seasons, a third season of excellent writing coupled with spare, understated acting seemed too much to ask. And, there have been many shows who have begun their decline in season three. But, Mad Men used this season to further the split between Don and Betty Draper, to introduce several new story lines and to, in one of the best television episodes ever, tie up the loose ends in a way that makes season four "can't miss" television...and all without a cliffhanger ending.

Favorite TV spots of the year

I think it's always hard to pick out the best television advertising of the year. The commentary on "best" is typically driven most by entertainment value versus an underlying understanding of the creative brief and what the spot was supposed to accomplish.

So, with a focus more on entertainment than, perhaps, results, here are my personal favorites of 2009:

Apple "Mac versus PC"--

One spot of many from a terrific advertising campaign.

Kia Soul "Hamsters"--

I love the head nod, the bobbing heads and the tapping paw--what human hasn't done that when driving/riding in a hot car? Great stuff...

Nextel "Wedding"--

I know I shouldn't vote for work on which I was involved but this deserves mention due to its Emmy nomination this year.

Sprint Now Network--

Yep, I should recuse myself on this one too...but I'm not! Great advertising, and a Cannes Gold Lion winner.

Coke "Happiness Factory"--

Once you see this commercial, you have a hard time forgetting the imagery as you await your ice-cold Coke being birthed by the vending machine.

Dos Equis "Most Interesting Man In the World"--

This may be my favorite campaign of 2009--great advertising coupled with online and viral in a category always hard-pressed for work which is not sophomoric or sexist.

E-Trade "talking baby"--

I laugh every time I see this commercial.

VISA "Aquarium"--

The combination of unbelievable visuals coupled with the Moody Blues and Morgan Freeman's voice makes this one a winner. And, it's from a brand who's been making consistently good advertising for a long, long time.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Best Feuds of the Year

The year we are about to conclude had plenty of material when it comes to public feuds--people fighting, brands combatting and celebrities who just don't get along. All juicy stuff, and we wrap it up here for your consideration. Here are our favorite feuds of 2009:

- Jon and Kate: Any list of feuds is incomplete without these two parents who very publicly split. In fact, the train wreck was so public we're all tired of it...and thus, we won't replay the details here.

- Tiger and Elin: Boy runs from house, gets in SUV and drives into fire hydrant. Girl has golf club in hand. Vehicle has smashed windows. That alone had gossip outlets considering the possibilities. Then, the list of raised hands came from all those ladies who claimed to have been one of Tiger Woods' sexual conquests. Publicly humiliated, look for Mrs. Woods to return to her native Sweden in 2010, hopefully with her children in tow.

- PC versus Mac: Microsoft struck back with its own campaign in 2009 after Mac's very successful head-on comparison to PC's and all of their issues. The work by Apple, and TBWA Chiat Day, continued to be great advertising.

- AT&T versus Verizon: Here's another public battle of the brands--category leaders taking on one another over network coverage. The two companies duked it out with millions of ad dollars spent in the fourth quarter along with public legal battles. It was reminscent of the long distance wars of the early 1990s.

- Mark Funkhouser versus Wayne Cauthen: This one didn't make the national news but city government in Kansas City, MO maintained its heritage of being great theater. The very public feud between the Mayor and City Manager ended with Cauthen's ouster, and a perturbed City Council. In the end, it was another black eye for Kansas City.

- Lane Kiffin versus Urban Meyer, Pete Carroll versus Jim Harbaugh and Rick Neuheisel: Kiffin, the rookie coach at Tennessee, called out SEC golden boy Meyer; Carroll went nose-to-nose with Harbaugh after Stanford went for two late in their victory over USC; Carroll had his QB throw a late touchdown pass against Neuheisel when the USC coach took issue with a UCLA timeout, late in a game in which USC was comfortably ahead. Boys being boys? Perhaps, but not exactly good examples set by these leaders of young men.

- Kanye versus Taylor: America's darling, Taylor Swift, was in the midst of another awards show winning yet another award when Kanye West stole her microphone, and the show, by proclaiming that Beyonce had a better and more deserving video than Swift. In the process, Swift's appeal only grew.

- Letterman versus Palin: The mean side of David Letterman was exposed when he went after Sarah Palin through jokes about her daughter. He later apologized but Palin is still in his cross-hairs as a comedic foil.

- Steven Tyler versus Aerosmith: Their tour was cancelled, the band split, then Tyler showed up at a performance by Joe Perry and proclaimed that all was well. The story reversed course when the band commented to Rolling Stone magazine that it was over. Tyler's now in rehab and it sounds as if the band will eventually re-unite provided the lead singer successfully deals with his dependency to prescription painkillers.

- Etta James versus Beyonce: Etta didn't take kindly to Beyonce serenading President Obama with James' classic "At Last"...and she let everyone know about it. The suggestion of bodily harm to Beyonce was over-the-top, even for noted bad girl James.

- Christian Bale versus Shane Hurlbut: The Dark Knight went off on the crew technician when Bale felt Hurlbut had deliberately walked through his line-of-sight during the filming of a scene in Terminator. In case you missed it, here's the clip from YouTube. (Caution: Contains very strong language.)

- Clay Aiken versus Adam Lambert: Former American Idol competitor Aiken wasn't upset by Adam Lambert's second place finish on this past season's Idol. Said Aiken, "I couldn't be happier about the way AI ended this year. I only turn on the show once a season and only to see what the set looks like each year. This year, I happened to turn it during the minute when Adam Lambert was singing 'Ring of Fire' and, at that moment, thought my ears would bleed. Contrived, awful and slightly frightening!" Ouch...

- Hilary Duff versus Faye Dunaway: Dunaway starred in the 1968 classic Bonnie and Clyde and was not happy about Duff's being cast in the role of Bonnie Parker in the upcoming The Story of Bonnie and Clyde. Dunaway's alleged comment was "Couldn't they at least have cast a real actress?" To which Duff responded, "I think that my fans who are going to see the movie don't even know who she is. I think it (the quote) was a little unnecessary, but I might be mad if I looked like that too." Game, set and match to Ms. Duff.

And, finally, our feud of the year goes to the Kansas football and basketball teams. Unfortunately for we Jayhawk fans, the public rumble between select members of the two teams, apparently over the attention of a young woman, revealed a split within the Athletic Department which ultimately came to a head with the disappointing Kansas football season and the ultimate resignation of head coach Mark Mangino.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

All Decade Team - Kansas basketball

The Lawrence Journal-World recently voted on the All-Decade team for Kansas Mens Basketball. While I have little debate with their selections, I do, like any Jayhawk fan, have some comments on the number of quality players which donned crimson-and-blue during the first decade of this century.

1st team:

Sherron Collins, PG
Kirk Hinrich, SG
Brandon Rush, SF
Wayne Simien, PF
Nick Collison, C/F

The only potential argument I've heard with this first team is Hinrich over Mario Chalmers. And, while I understand the logic, Hinrich was far more valuable to his teams, over more games, than Chalmers. Hinrich was instrumental in leading Kansas, with lots of help from his buddy Collison, to two consecutive Final Fours. It was Hinrich's key shot which helped Kansas beat Missouri in the undefeated conference season of 2002. And, who can forget his block of Jason Gardner, in the regional final against Arizona, in 2003? Perhaps Chalmers does deserve the nod, but I'd place him on the first team in place of Collins before I'd put him ahead of Hinrich.

Bottom line, I agree with the LJW on this fivesome as the first team--Simien will have his jersey hung in the Allen Fieldhouse rafters, joining Hinrich and Collison, and Collins will leave Kansas as the winningest player ever. Rush started from his first game as a freshman and stayed for three years and a national championship.

2nd team:

Aaron Miles, PG
Mario Chalmers, SG
Keith Langford, SF
Drew Gooden, PF
Cole Aldrich, C

Again, no argument here--this is a solid second unit. One might argue that Julian Wright or Darrell Arthur deserves to be voted ahead of Langford, but the Fort Worth product played for four years and left as KU's sixth leading all-time scorer. He also was on the two Final Four teams of 2002 and 2003. This unit will also likely boast three players with retired jerseys--Chalmers, Gooden (already there) and Aldrich (provided #45 plays to the potential of this year's pre-season predictions.)

3rd team:

Russell Robinson, PG
Jeff Boschee, SG
Kenny Gregory, SF
Julian Wright, PF
Darrell Arthur, C/F

While this is the third team, it could be the most athletic fivesome of the three--Gregory could leap out of the building, Wright was an athletic freak, and Arthur ran like a deer. Robinson was a tremendous on-ball defender and Boschee, at one time, held the Big 12 record for three point shots.

The years 2000-2009 produced three Final Fours, a national championship, and some very, very good players who donned Kansas uniforms. Here's hoping 2010 kicks off the coming decade in fitting fashion--with win number 2,000 and another national championship.

Sunday mornng coffee

- It was a scary moment in Vatican City, earlier this week, when a Christmas mass attendee jumped over the ropes and knocked down Pope Benedict XVI. Can you imagine that perpetrator's next confessional?

- The shocking announcement that Urban Meyer is stepping down as head football coach at Florida will have a huge ripple effect in college football. Who will be the next head coach? And, who then will take the job left by Meyer's successor? Or, will Athletic Director Jeremy Foley look to someone on Meyer's staff in order to better maintain continuity?

- This is the time of year for the "best of 2009" lists. And, once again I'll be reminded of all the "great" movies I did not see or books I did not read.

- A birthday shout-out goes out today to Karla Bonoff, who turns 58. Bonoff is one of the great songwriters of her generation, having penned tunes sung by artists like Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Lynn Anderson and Wynonna Judd. Bonoff is best known as the writer of many of Rondstadt's hits, including "Someone to Lay Down Beside Me," "Trouble Again," and "Goodbye My Friend."

- I'd like to know what percentage of the annual media budget is spent by automakers and dealerships over the last two weeks of the year? Auto ads are pervasive these days on TV, radio and in print.

- There are some classic Christmas movies which are "must see" each season. But, in perusing the channels over the past couple of weeks, there are an abundant amount of Christmas stinkers which are out there too.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas cookies

Well, my friends, is there anything better than the fare one consumes between Thanksgiving and Christmas? And, in our household, my wife's classic Christmas cookies are one of the highlights of the season.

So, here you go--look, but don't touch (or eat!)

A Story of Christmas

No one knows when Bill Vaughan wrote "A Story of Christmas," which first appeared in the Kansas City Star in 1959. But, Vaughan's story captured the hearts of Kansas Citians and the newspaper has published the story ever since--now for 50 years straight.

Vaughan was the longtime resident humorist for the newspaper but this story, touching in its simplicity yet deep in its importance, provided a forum for the editor's more serious side. Vaughan died in 1977 but his story lives on, continuing to touch the lives of many.

Here, on the eve of Christmas Eve, is "A Story of Christmas:"

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Catching up before the holiday

- It was good to see the Associated Press name Jimmie Johnson the male athlete of the year. This is a boost for NASCAR as Johnson's four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships, in a row, was an extraordinary sports achievement. And, if you think these drivers aren't athletes, you strap yourself behind the wheel of one of these machines (try it at the Richard Petty Driving Experince), then check back with me. Johnson's achievement of four in a row set him truly apart from other race car drivers.

- I predict the shift of Diane Sawyer to the ABC Evening News slot will maintain or improve the networks' ratings for its evening newscast. Conversely, I think the move of George Stephanopolous to Good Morning America to take Sawyer's spot, coupled with the loss of Chris Cuomo, will be a ratings boost for NBC's Today Show.

- Texas is a much better basketball this season because of their defense. The Longhorns have been consistently good under Rick Barnes but, this year, they are placing a lot of ball pressure on the perimeter, coupled with the inside athleticism of Dexter Pittman, Gary Johnson and Damion James. Dogus Balbey and Avery Bradley are two very good defensive guards, and the addition of Jai Lucas makes their backcourt even better and deeper. It's too bad that Kansas and Texas will only play once in the Big 12 conference season. I'd like to see the discussions between these two schools, to add another game between the two to the schedule, come to fruition in the years to come.

- A lot was made of new Kansas head football coach Turner Gill's hires of Carl Torbush as defensive coordinator and Chuck Long as offensive coordinator. But, equally important may be the new hire of Reggie Mitchell. Mitchell comes to KU from Illinois and will be running backs coach and recruiting coordinator. Mitchell has a reputation for being one of the best recruiters in college football.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


OK, I was planning on leaving the editorializing on Tiger Woods' unseemly conduct to the variety of media who are covering this unbelievable story. But, it's now reached a point where any self-respecting blogger can't stand outside the ropes (get the golf reference?) and avoid weighing in.

The fall from grace by Woods is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, fall by a major figure in the U.S. in the last 30 years. Think about it--who comes close?

Woods is arguably the most famous athlete on the planet and surely is that here in the U.S. He makes more money than any other sports figure in America. He is chasing the great Jack Nicklaus for the crown of most major golf tournaments ever won. And, he has amazed us all with his shot-making--the chip-in at Augusta, the putt in the PGA Tournament, the shot out of the rough at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach...and, of course, his stamina in winning the Open over Rocco Mediate while playing with a broken leg.

We now find out that Woods had a secret life...and we are stunned. The list of lady friends is into double digits. And, according to the Wall Street Journal, he paid off the National Enquirer two years ago from publishing a story about his indiscretions by granting an exclusive interview to a sister publication. The story just keeps getting more and more sordid.

Along the way we've heard from those who insist that this is all a "personal matter"--that Woods' privacy has been violated and that he and his wife, Elin, should be given their space. Perhaps so, but what of Woods' sponsors--the companies who have invested millions of dollars in an athlete to help them sell their brand and sell their products?

Woods checked his privacy at the door once he began accepting funds from these companies, for with these relationships came expectations--in contractual language, they are called "morals clauses" or "away-from-the-course performance expectations." The recent revelations confirm that Woods has failed miserably in complying with these agreements. Thus, privacy takes a back seat.

Accenture, perhaps the brand with the biggest stake in Woods, outside of Nike, has totally pulled away and terminated their relationship. Tag Heuer is proclaiming a hiatus in their partnership with Woods--likely code that they don't want to publicly pull the plug yet, but certainly plan to do so. Gatorade has stopped marketing its product linked to Woods and AT&T has said it will stop using any references to Woods in its marketing and advertising.

Nike will, of course, stay involved. It has a Tiger Woods brand of clothing and its golf business is inextricably linked to Woods--it simply has too much invested to walk away.

Woods, through his private dalliances which have become oh so public, has not only lost his marriage but also millions in endorsements. And, brands across the world who rely upon athletes and personalities to help market their products must be wondering, "if it can happen with Tiger, surely it can happen with most anyone."

It will be interesting to see how Tiger-gate impacts the long-term future of athlete endorsements.

Friday, December 18, 2009

End of the week quick hits and musings

- A Glimmer Twin turns 66 today. Happy Birthday to Keith Richards, guitarist of the Rolling Stones, who is the butt of many late-night talk show host jokes about age. But, show of hands, how many of you would still pay very good money to see the Stones rock it out? That's what I thought...

- I can't wait to see Sherlock Holmes. I'm curious to see Avatar.

- Congratulations to our good friends at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners (San Francisco), named Agency of the Decade by ADWEEK magazine.

- Do you remember what some were doing ten years ago at this time? In the midst of the Y2K scare, many were buying up bottled water, foodstuffs and other essentials for surviving the catastrophe which awaited once the clock ticked midnight on December 31, 1999. Ten years later, we're still here.

- This is a focus group of one, but it seems like more and more folks are designing and producing the do-it-yourself Christmas card with the family photo(s) on the front. Remember back in the day when these cards were only for those who (a) spent an above average amount on their cards and (b) planned way, way in advance?

- Speaking of holiday cards, have the sale of electronic varieties gone up by an appreciable amount? It seems the right thing to do in this eco-conscious time in which we live.

- I'm pretty sure Bob Knight was yanked off John Calipari's holiday card list. Knight called out Calipari, at a recent speech, citing the Kentucky coach's two prior stops (Memphis and Massachusetts) where he left programs placed on probation. Knight's point? How come Calipari is still allowed to coach...?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Steven Bochco

We send out birthday greetings today to Steven Bochco, who turns 66.

Bochco's name has not been in the entertainment press all that frequently these days as his involvement with television seems to have diminished of late. But, I'm not sure there's anyone in the business who's had a greater impact, over the past 20-25 years, on the face of television than Bochco.

Bochco started his career at Universal Pictures as a writer and was involved with series like Ironside, Columbo and McMillan and Wife. After a short stint at CBS, Bochco created a groundbreaking police drama for NBC--Hill Street Blues. The series, which Bochco also wrote and produced, aired from 1981 to 1987. It was the first gritty police drama set in New York, featured an ensemble cast, and broke new ground given the language, storylines and overall tone and manner of the show. It received critical acclaim and garnered a total of 98 Emmy Awards during its run.

His next move was to 20th Century Fox where Bochco co-created and produced L.A. Law, which aired on NBC from 1986 to 1994. Another acclaimed award winner, L.A. Law captured the 1980s pop culture priorities of money, looks and power and achieved even higher ratings than that of Hill Street Blues.

Bochco's final impactful hit was NYPD Blue. Like Hill Street, NYPD Blue was controversial in its content and approach--it was the first network, prime time drama which was designed to compete with the more adult fare being found on cable networks. And, in perhaps the series' most controversial and/or well-known moment, we were exposed to actor Dennis Frantz's bare bottom.

Bochco created quality television--well written, well acted--but his more impactful legacy may be the way television changed along the way. Network programming became more open in the use of slang and off-color language coupled with the pushed boundaries of what could be seen in prime time.

Happy Birthday today to Steven Bochco...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ideas of the Decade

It's not only the time of year when we get the annual "best" lists, but we'll also be dealing with many "end of the first decade of the new millenium" lists as well.

Advertising Age published a top ten "ideas of the decade" list, and we're sharing it here:

- Consumer Control: This trend took hold in the 1990's but exploded this decade--the whole notion that the consumer is in control of what media they consume, how they engage with brands, and how they choose to handle their decision-making/buying process.

- Brand Journalism: This is the school of thought that you own an idea for about an hour and a half--associations, meanings and feedback happen in real time. Thus, as marketers, one must be nimble and proactive, not expecting a brand idea to be lodged in the consumer's mind over time.

- Branded Utility: This holds that marketers can create value for consumers, rather than just overwhelming them with product messages. Perhaps the best example of this in the past year was the Hyundai Assurance Program, which promised consumers a chance to return their car, with no damage to credit, should they lose their job in today's recession-challenged environment.

- Crowdsourcing: Most marketers today don't rely upon just ad agencies alone--they turn to wisdom gleaned from crowds in order to source new ideas. This could take the form of an online polling effort to PR buzz events where consumers can sample, and provide feedback.

- Marketer as Media: With today's technology, marketers can control their own consumer databases, audiences and communities and thus communicate frequently, and in a very 1x1 fashion, with them.

- Earned Media: Over the past decade, it's become even more clear that earned media--everything from the reporting by professional journalists to the musings of blogs like this one--is likely more valuable than traditional paid media.

- Long Tail: Selling a large amount of different items in small quantities.

- Tipping Point: Malcolm Gladwell introduced this language and it caught on through the past ten years. Peer-to-peer pass-along has become the single most important factor in considering how ideas get distributed in a world marked by extreme clutter.

- Madison & Vine: Branded entertainment and the convergence of advertising and entertainment.

- Lovemarks: This originated with Saatchi & Saatchi and aims to create emotional connections between consumers and brands that become lasting relationships.

Anything to add to this list?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday afternoon musings

- Hmm, I just saw a Zale's commercial with a light drawing being used. I wonder where they got that idea? From a certain telecom company's past ad campaign?

- Tiger Woods' announced hiatus from golf and business was followed today by news that Accenture joins the list of companies dropping the golfer as their endorser.

- I like the news that Turner Gill will be the new football coach at the University of Kansas given the related news that Chuck Long and Carl Torbush will join Gill as his offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively. A key for Gill will be protecting the current recruiting commitments to KU. (Let's hope he can get Jacoby Walker to re-think his commitment this week to Utah. The Houston dual-threat QB was committed to Kansas but changed his mind during the coaching search process.)

- In Sprint Center news, Eric Clapton will come to the venue in early 2010. And, his opening act will be front man Roger Daltrey from The Who. Daltrey had earlier announced that he would tour on his own, without bandmate Pete Townsend, although the two will be together as the halftime entertainment at this season's Super Bowl.

- KISS drew about 9,700 to Sprint Center recently with a top ticket price of about $127. Taylor Swift sold out in 1.5 minutes with a top ticket price of $65. I'm not suggesting the two acts are comparable, in current popularity, but it does showcase the need to price tickets to the marketplace.

- Speaking of the Sprint Center, Kansas' hoops game with LaSalle there was sold out yesterday. Over 18,800 watched the #1 ranked Jayhawks and stud freshman, Xavier Henry, who scored 31 points. Henry's game goes to a new, and more complete, level offensively when he uses his strength to drive to the basket as he did yesterday.

- Bill Self's post-game frustrations with his team's rebounding and toughness was well-deserved. Kansas is deeper than any team in the country but has yet to display the rebounding and defensive toughness which are hallmarks of Self-coached teams.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Ita Berkowitz

Today, at sunset, marks the beginning of Hanukkah, the eight day Jewish holiday which commemorates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple of Jersusalem.

So, in an odd twist--and connection--I read today of the death of Ita Berkowitz who died Wednesday on the eve of the 2009 Hanukkah celebration.

I occasionally will peruse the obituaries in the Kansas City Star, not for some morbid interest but because there are times when a story of someone's life will jump off the page at me. Today was such a day.

You see, Mrs. Berkowitz, 84, passed away at the Assisted Living Center of Leawood. No cause of death was given and she was preceded in death by her husband and a sister. We can likely make the assumption that Mrs. Berkowitz died of old age in her rest home.

What jumped out at me, though, was the fact that Mrs. Berkowitz was a Holocaust survivor. She immigrated, with her mother, to the Kansas City area in 1950 where they joined her sister. She ultimately co-owned Berkowitz Catering, a business noted by the Star as "well known for catering weddings and Israel Bond Dinners over the years."

Given her age, Mrs. Berkowitz would have been 17-20 during the time of her imprisonment. And, given that she survived and immigrated to the United States, we can only assume that her mother also survived, as did her sister. What of her father? Did she have a brother? Other relatives who were imprisoned with her?

The thought of anyone, must less a teenage girl, imprisoned in the conditions of the Holocaust are almost too much to consider. But, today, on the start of Hanukkah, we stop and say, "bravo, Mrs. Berkowitz," for surviving one of mankind's darkest events--mazel tov on a full life well traveled.

Wrapping up a busy week

- Why is it that people gravitate towards, and stay, in the kitchen at holiday parties? I mean, I'm just askin'...?

- In case you wanted to know, I would cast my vote for Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska as the winner of this year's Heisman Trophy for college football. None of the other players on the list has had the consistent excellence of Suh, game-to-game, this season. My pick as the likely winner is Colt McCoy of Texas.

- Barbara Walters had her "Most Fascinating People of 2009" show on earlier this week. Obviously, the show was produced before the current Tiger Woods fiasco as "el tigre" did not make the list.

- AOL, this week, listed out their best holiday movies of all time. A Christmas Story came in at #1. My pick would have to be Christmas Vacation.

- This is one of the most challenging times of year if you're an advertiser--breaking through in the clutter of holiday messaging is very, very difficult. But, I've always been a fan of how Lexus handles their "December to Remember" promotional period--consistent, quality, promo-focused advertising.

- And, speaking of advertising, BNet chimed in with their worst ads of 2009:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Marketing "The Blind Side"

If you've been following movie revenues, you know that the Twilight franchise, with current offering New Moon, has been a huge success. But, what's making Hollywood sit up and take notice is the fact that The Blind Side, in only its third weekend at the box office, has bypassed New Moon. The Blind Side, the movie about Baltimore Ravens linebacker Michael Oher, grossed $20.4 million this past weekend to New Moon's $15.7 million.

In a story on today, the success of The Blind Side is being credited to the faith-based strategy being employed to promote the movie. Grace Hill Media, a firm with a database of 155,000 ministry professionals and over one million consumers, reached out to the Christian community knowing that The Blind Side featured religious themes with an uplifting story about Oher's struggles as a homeless teen.

Warner Brothers and partner Alcon Entertainment are to be credited with devising this strategy--by targeting movie-goers who might not be turned on by the content of likely blockbuster New Moon, and then hiring Grace Hill to lead the effort. With Grace Hill's help, more than 20,000 churches in the U.S. have downloaded clips about the film's real-life story of Oher and his adoptive mother, Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock), and her family. Grace Hill figures that, with an average congregation size of 400, they've achieved 8 million exposures to potential movie-goers.

The movie has also succeeded in appealing to both males and females. Bullock's movies have historically been more female centric but The Blind Side has appeal to both genders given the sports theme coupled with the real-life story of adopted son and mother.

Let's give a shout-out today to The Blind Side and the effective, targeted marketing which has turned this into a surprise blockbuster.

Monday, December 7, 2009

It's that time of year...

...and, no, I'm not talking about Christmas or the holidays. Once again, the college football season is over and once again we have controversy over the current bowl system with more rumblings about the need for some sort of playoff system. As has become common the past couple of years, the latest howls are coming from those who feel that they're not being invited to the national champion consideration party--notably TCU and Cincinnati. And, don't forget Boise State--also undefeated yet on the outside looking in.

In case you missed it, Alabama, by virtue of its win over Florida on Saturday in the SEC Championship, and Texas, given its win over Nebraska on Saturday evening in the Big 12 Championship, will play for the national championship on January 7 in Pasadena, CA at the Rose Bowl. That matchup of two undefeated teams promises to be a great game between two perennial powers from two powerhouse conferences--the SEC and the Big 12.

But wait, there are other undefeated teams who aren't being given a chance to play for the national championship! Cincinnati and TCU are ranked #3 and #4 in the latest BCS power ratings but yet get the Sugar Bowl and Fiesta Bowl, respectively, as the consolation prizes in lieu of a date to play for the national crown in Pasadena. Boise State is 13-0 yet also is headed to the Fiesta Bowl where they will play TCU--we won't even get a chance to see how either of those teams fares against a squad from a power conference.

According to the Wall Street Journal today, this lack of love for TCU, Cincinnati and Boise State has caused Washington lawmakers to again suggest that they might get involved in order to right this injustice. Representative Joe Barton (R-Texas) is sponsoring legislation which would force a college football playoff. And, yes, Barton's district includes Fort Worth, where TCU is located. Even President Barack Obama said last year that "we should be creating a playoff system" for college football.

It's everyone favorite exercise at this time of year--how would you structure a football playoff? Given that everyone else is weighing in, why shouldn't we? Here goes...

One, the playoff system would have to be as minimally disruptive to the current system as possible in order to get Football Bowl Subdivision schools in alignment.

Two, the system would have to also minimally disrupt the current bowl system--a system founded, and still steeped, in old boy croneyism and the desired economic impact dollars being recruited by all major U.S. markets these days.

Three, the system cannot add on a series of weekends after the regular season--it must try to occur and be finished between the fall and spring semesters of most schools.

Finally, the playoff system must fit around the ratings and attendance competition offered by the NFL due to the league's playoff games and Super Bowl.

Here is our proposed solution to the problem.

- Who's in: The top four teams, per the Final BCS Standings, would compete in the playoff. The teams this year would be, in order of BCS finish, Alabama, Texas, Cincinnati and TCU.

- How many games: Two semi-final games would take place: #1 Alabama versus #4 TCU and #2 Texas versus #3 Cincinnati. The winners would then meet for the national championship.

- When: The semi-final games would occur this season on Sunday afternoon, January 3. This date works given that the vast majority of bowls are completed by January 1-2. This date is also the last regular season date of the NFL--while there will be competition it does not compete with the NFL playoffs. And, as an alternative, there is always the opportunity to play one semi-final on Sunday evening, January 3, and another on Monday evening, January 4. (The beauty of playing both on Sunday afternoon, back-to-back, is scheduling an afternoon of football much in the vein of the semi-final games of the NCAA Mens Final Four in college basketball.)

- National Championship game: The national championship would be played on Monday evening, January 11, in prime time. This date does not compete with the NFL playoffs, allows the national championship game to occur between semesters, and provides a fitting end--and showcase--for the two best teams in the country.

So, what's not to like? Well, I know Florida fans will likely contend that their team is better than Cincy and TCU, and maybe even Texas, and they may be right. But, they lost their shot when they lost to Alabama. And, yes, I know that this system still relies upon computers and humans for the design and management of the BCS standings. But, can you say Ratings Percentage Index (RPI)? We have the same thing in place for the NCAA Basketball Championship and each year some deserving teams are left out...but it's a far better playoff approach than that which currently exists in the sport of college football.

I know that current bowls will likely growl and whine about the playoff system but there need not be major change from what currently is planned for this bowl season. Here are the current matchups and how they might be changed to accommodate this system:

Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech (ACC champ--#9 BCS) versus Iowa (#10 BCS)

Sugar Bowl: Currently Florida versus Cincinnati but could shift to Florida (SEC runner-up--#5 BCS) versus Virginia Tech (#11 BCS)

Rose Bowl: Ohio State (Big Ten champ--#8 BCS) versus Oregon (Pac 10 champ--#7 BCS)

Fiesta Bowl: Currently TCU versus Boise State; shifts to Boise State (#6 BCS) versus LSU (#12 BCS)

There...what do you think? Take your shots but, personally, I think this is the best way to institute a playoff.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Jim Messina

Today we salute another aging rocker--Jim Messina. Messina turns 62 today.

If the name is familiar, it's because Messina was part of the mid-1970s commercial success, Loggins and Messina. But, it's in a couple of groups prior to that where Messina was a key contributor and, artistically, proved his musical chops.

Messina joined super-group Buffalo Springfield in 1968--an outfit which included Neil Young, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay. Messina played bass and was in the band only long enough to participate on their last album, Last Time Around.

After the breakup of Buffalo Springfield, Messina and Furay formed Poco--an innovative group credited with being a key architect of the southern California country rock sound. Poco was a favorite of album-oriented rock radio stations in the 1970s but had uneven commercial success as only a handful of hits entered the top 20 charts during that time.

Messina left Poco in October 1970. He became a studio producer for Columbia Records which is where he met Kenny Loggins. Messina was producing Loggin's solo record but ended up sitting in on several cuts, singing back-up vocals and playing guitar. The album ultimately was titled Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina Sittin' In. The rest, as they say, is history as the duo ended up making several popular, successful albums before splitting in 1976.

Happy Birthday--Jim Messina!

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Blind Side

Yes, I know the casting of the high school coach in the movie was pedestrian. Yes, I know casting Tim McGraw as the father seemed a stretch. And, yes, I know the little boy in the movie over-acts.

But, go see The Blind Side--this season's feel good movie-of-the-year. The true story of Michael Oher, currently playing in the NFL for the Baltimore Ravens, is one that makes you smile, makes you cry, and, for me, made me wish there were more Leigh Ann Tuohy's in the world.

I won't say more--go see for yourself.

Southside Johnny

Let's give a special birthday shout-out today to Southside Johnny Lyon, who turns 60.

Southside Johnny was one of the lesser known members of the "New Jersey Sound" movement, with the most famous, of course, being Bruce Springsteen. Lyon grew up in Ocean Grove, N.J. and was acknowledged by no less than Jon Bon Jovi, another notable New Jersey performer, as his "reason for singing."

Lyon fronted the band, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, a favorite of mine from the 1970's. His first album, I Don't Want to Go Home, debuted in 1976 and achieved some commercial success. The band's 1978 album, Hearts of Stone, was voted one of the top 100 rock albums of all time by Rolling Stone magazine. That album was arranged and produced by Steven Van Zandt, better known as Little Steven in the E Street Band and later as Silvio Dante on The Sopranos.

Lyon continues to perform and members of his band have played roles in the Max Weinberg Seven, the house band for the Conan O'Brien Show and now The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien.

Southside Johnny Lyon--Happy Birthday!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Who will it be?

Alright, this may not be the most ethical thing to do given that Mark Mangino has not yet been fired at the University of Kansas. But, show of hands, is there anyone out there that thinks he will survive this internal investigation coupled with a disappointing 2009 season? No, I didn’t think so…

So, here are who we consider to be the leading candidates, in order, for what will soon be an open job at KU.

- Kevin Sumlin, Houston: Sumlin has Big 12 experience, directed Oklahoma’s 44 point per game offense in 2007, beat Oklahoma State (there) and Texas Tech this year, and has led the Cougars to a 10-2 record along with a Conference USA West Division title. He knows how to recruit Texas and he’s a minority hire for a school needing some positive publicity.

- Larry Fedora, Southern Mississippi: In 1988, Glen Mason was hired at Kansas after then Athletic Director Bob Frederick liked what he saw of Mason’s Kent State team when they played in Lawrence. The same scenario may repeat itself given that Fedora’s Southern Miss team played KU to within a touchdown this season. Fedora has been at Southern Miss for two seasons. Like Sumlin, he has ties to the Big 12 given his Texas high school experience (Garland H.S.) and past experience on the staff at Oklahoma State.

- Skip Holtz, East Carolina: Yep, it’s that Holtz—Lou’s son. Holtz has been at East Carolina since leaving the staff at South Carolina in 2005. Prior to that Holtz was at Connecticut where he was hired by, you guessed it, Lew Perkins—Kansas’ current Athletic Director. He has a 62-45 overall coaching record and has guided teams to three bowl game appearances.

- Nolan Cromwell, Texas A&M: The Ransom Rambler would make older KU alumni happy—for many of us, Cromwell remains perhaps the greatest multi-sport athlete ever at Mt. Oread. And, his name is on the Ring of Honor at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence. Yet, is this an “easy” hire versus a hire which will take the program to the next level? Cromwell’s offense at A&M was very successful this year but he’s only coached in the college ranks for two years—the jury is likely out as to how well he can recruit, build a staff, etc.

- Randy Edsall, Connecticut: We know Edsall has connections to Perkins, just like Holtz. That’s why his name is here. Other than that, I’m not sure there’s much about Edsall that would excite the Kansas faithful. He’s been head coach at UConn since 1998 and successfully led the Huskies from Division 1-AA to 1-A. His connections are in the Northeast which is far away from Texas and Oklahoma—states where any successful Big 12 coach needs to recruit. Edsall’s name has surfaced as a possibility for the open job at Notre Dame.

- Gus Malzahn, Auburn: Malzahn is the offensive coordinator at Auburn and is the guy most credit with inventing the “wildcat” formation, when he was OC at Arkansas. He graduated from high school in Arkansas and has coached there and in Tulsa, so he knows Big 12 country. Malzahn was on the staff of Houston Nutt in Fayetteville and is rumored to have been involved in Nutt’s ugly departure from Arkansas.

- Turner Gill, Buffalo: Gill, another minority candidate, had one very good year but that’s been about it at Buffalo. He’s well thought of by many and loved by those who wear Cornhusker red. I’ve heard that his daughter attends the University of Kansas but do not know this for sure. Question - Would Gill come back to coach a team, other than Nebraska, in the Big 12 North?

Is this it? Of course not—there are certainly names we don’t know or haven’t mentioned here. Would I like to go after Gary Patterson at TCU? You bet—but the administration there is moving swiftly to re-do his contract. Would a guy like Phillip Fulmer want to get back into the game? Maybe—we know he’d be paid well at Kansas and would have access to brand-spanking new, shiny facilities.

Whoever the pick, the criteria have to be as follows:

- Recapture and sustain momentum which seemed to be building in 2007-2008.

- Recruit, recruit, recruit—and do a better job of attracting more four-star talent to Lawrence. Protect in-state talent from out-of-state poachers.

- Rebuild Jayhawk Nation support in the football program, including restoring faith in the vision of the Gridiron Club. (In other words, get alums to open/re-open their pocket books for contributions.)

- Not allow Kansas State, under Bill Snyder, or Iowa State to overtake you in the Big 12 North.

- Equal Mangino’s record against Missouri (.500.)

In addition, and this is very important, the new coach must hire a proven, good defensive coordinator. The majority of the names on the list above have made their bones on the offensive side of the ball. In order to sustain excellence, a stout defense is needed to thwart the spread offenses which have become de rigueur in the college game.

Who’ll be the new coach at Kansas? My guess is we’ll know by the middle of next week. And, I'll be surprised if it's not one of the names on the above list.

Updating your Facebook status

When I saw the subject line for this on YouTube I thought, "surely not..." But, please watch and see that this is an obvious joke on today's need to "update one's status" on a regular basis:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Gimme Shelter

Earlier in the year we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, the seminal event for what became known as the “Woodstock Nation.” A half-million young people gathered at that music and arts festival in upstate New York and peacefully co-existed through three days which included torrential rains, mud, inadequate toilet and bathing facilities, a lack of food and over-crowded roads to and from the festival site.

This weekend, 40 years ago, another event occurred which some feel was the beginning of the end of the “Woodstock Nation.” That event was Altamont, a free music festival in northern California where a young man was stabbed to death, in front of the stage, by Hell’s Angels who had been hired as concert security. The murder took place as the Rolling Stones, the festival’s final act, was performing and was the culmination of Hell’s Angels brutality throughout the course of this poorly run, and ill-conceived, event.

The concert, and murder, were documented in Gimme Shelter, a 1970 film directed by Albert and David Maysles. The film chronicled the band’s 1969 U.S. tour and the Altamont free concert--the Stones' last appearance of that year. Much of the movie focuses on the negotiations and such needed to make the event a reality but the Stones' performance, and the murder, are focal points of the end of the documentary.

An interesting side note is that a camera operator for the concert was a young George Lucas. Lucas, who of course went on to become a successful film director, had his camera jam after shooting about 30 minutes of film—none of his footage was incorporated into the final cut of the movie.

Bobby Bowden

In honor of Bobby Bowden’s retirement from college football, we give you the following from the head coach at Florida State.

There is a lot of material to draw from, given Bowden’s quick wit, but this comment, about linebacker Reggie Herring (1978-1980), was always a favorite of mine: “He doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘fear.’ In fact, I just saw his grades and he doesn’t know the meaning of a lot of words.”

Bowden’s charm will be missed.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Musings from the left coast

I'm out in Los Angeles for a couple of days and am wondering...

- Why Hollywood doesn't seem to get that there is still a market for movies which appeal to small market America? In proof that critical mass can be sustained by appealing to moviegoers in smaller towns, the movie Blind Side had ticket sales increase week-over-week, the first time this year that a movie in broad release has grown sales on the second weekend. Normally, films have to make it big in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago to succeed. Blind Side's highest-grossing theaters were in markets like Sacramento, Birmingham and Nashville.

- If the bloom is falling off the rose named Pete Carroll? Not only has the USC coach's team under-performed the past two seasons, versus expectations, but now there is the taint of unsportsmanlike conduct which is attaching itself to the head coach. In the latest incident, Carroll had his QB throw a touchdown pass, while leading 21-7 with less than a minute to play, after UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel called a timeout, thus angering USC and its coaching staff. Remember two weeks ago when Carroll confronted Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh after the game? In that contest, Harbaugh went for two late in the game even though his squad was winning 48-21. It seems Carroll is taking out his frustrations about USC's 8-3 record and inability to make the Rose Bowl on other coaches.

- Are the Black Eyed Peas delusional? After opening for U2 on the Irish band's successful arena tour of 2009, the Peas have announced a 100 city world tour complete with elaborate lighting, stage effects, multiple wardrobe changes, and other whistles-and-bells. It's an interesting, and perhaps ill-fated, move given the state of the economy, a music industry which is undergoing massive change and slow concert ticket sales for most tours of this past year.

- Does Tiger Woods have a crisis communications manager? What is IMG, his management company, thinking...or are they just unsuccessful at getting the notoriously private superstar to not speak out about his recent accident? The longer Woods remains silent, the more media tongues are wagging. Woods should look at fellow Nike athlete Kobe Bryant as an example of an athlete who quickly confronted his bad press, when charged with sexual assault, and thus was able to ultimately restore his Madison Avenue marketability.

Quote of the week

Bob LaMonte, agent for Notre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis, had this to say after Weis was rewarded with a ten-year contract six games into his first season, "Charlie Weis doesn't own the Golden Dome, but he has the keys to it for the next 11 years."

Weis was fired yesterday by Notre Dame. I guess he'll now have to give those keys back...

The streak is over

Lost on the sports pages amidst the hubbub about Tiger Woods, the final big weekend of college football and another Kansas City Chiefs loss was the news that the Smith Center Redmen's winning streak was snapped this past Saturday in the class 2A championship in Kansas.

Why is this big news? Well, the Smith Center Redmen had the longest active winning streak in high school football in the U.S.--they had won 79 straight and, in the process, eight straight state titles. But, this is a story which transcends football and wins and losses on the field of play--it's a story of small town U.S.A. and the pride of Smith Center in their boys, and of the coach who has led the program for 32 seasons.

Joe Drape, a writer for the New York Times, eloquently wrote about this high school program in his book, Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen. Drape originally wrote a piece on the Redmen for the Times, then decided to move his family to Smith Center to get a true glimpse into small town life. Drape's book chronicles the impact this football program has had on the lives of the citizens of the town and, most importantly, on the students who have played under Coach Roger Barta.

As Drape wrote in today's New York Times, with the news that Smith Center lost this past Saturday to Centralia by fumbling the ball away in overtime in the state final, "Barta has won 301 game by creating a culture that values the whole man over a football player, that emphasizes getting 'a little bit better each day,' and that insists the Redmen cannot be champions until they learn to love one another."

On Saturday, in a post-game locker room filled with players, parents, grandparents and former players, Barta had everyone hold hands and had this to say. "Nobody hang their heads in here. We have lined up 80 times against teams, and finally one of them got to us in a game that is going to go down there in the history books. They were a play better than us today. We've never judged ourselves by our wins and losses. We've measured ourselves on whether we have been there for each other."

Barta's words convey a culture which he has instilled in the program and which has spilled out into the community. Wouldn't it be cool to have that same sort of spirit imbued in our key, big city institutions--corporations, churches, philanthropic organizations and, yes, schools.

Our hats are off today, tipped to the west and to Smith Center, Kansas--population 1,931. I have a feeling that community has "it" figured out. Way to go, Redmen!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Border War: post-mortem

- This was rivalry week in college football as the regular season ended for most schools and with many playing their biggest rival--Alabama and Auburn, Mississippi and Mississippi State, Florida and Florida State, Clemson and South Carolina, BYU and Utah, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, Houston and Rice, Virginia Tech and Virginia and Georgia and Georgia Tech.

Our local rivalry is different--Kansas and Missouri...Missouri and Kansas. No, no in-state rivalries here--here are two states, and rivals, who don't care much for each other.

The Border War. Historical roots dating back to the Civil War. And, a rivalry where the two sides can't even agree on the win-loss total over the 118 games which have been played. Yesterday's Missouri win means that the series record is Kansas 55, Missouri 54 with nine ties. Or, if you're Missouri, it means Missouri 55, Kansas 54 with nine ties. At least the schools can agree on the tie games.

Is there currently a better college football rivalry in America, if the criteria is exciting close games coupled with a history of two schools with evenly matched records? The last three years at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, have provided three games with a total margin of 13 points. And, yesterday's clash offered up the following equality:

- A two point Missouri win decided on a last-second field goal.
- 25 first downs apiece.
- 553 total yards of offense for Mizzou; 547 total yards of offense for KU.
- Time of possession--30:07 for MU and 29:53 for KU...14 total seconds of difference!

Yesterday's game was a microcosm of the series between these two schools--a series separated by one game and by a grand total of 73 points over the 118 times these schools have played. (If you're trying to calculate that, it's .618 points difference per game--MU over KU--over the history of this rivalry.)

Ohio State and Michigan (57-43-6 Michigan), the other non in-state rivalry game, gets the majority of the national attention for marquee college football rivalries. But, over time, there's not been a better rivalry than that of KU and MU. And, over the past three years, it's consistently been one of the very best college games of the year.

- One would be hard-pressed to find a more impressive outing by three college receivers than what we saw yesterday from Danario Alexander of Missouri and Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier of Kansas. Alexander had his fourth 200+ yard day--15 catches for 233 yards and one TD. Briscoe led the nation in receiving yards yesterday with 252 on 14 catches with two TDs. And, Meier finished his career as the all-time receptions leader for KU--he had 10 catches for 54 yards against MU with two touchdowns. Briscoe's day, of course, was bittersweet in that his two fumbles led to two touchdowns by Missouri.

- Much has been written, and rightly so, about this senior class of Kansas--a group who brought the program into prominence with two bowl game victories, including a BCS Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech in 2008. The four key leaders--Meier, Todd Reesing, Darrell Stuckey and Jake Sharp--all finished their careers with good days yesterday. Reesing passed for a career high 498 yards on 37-55 accuracy, three touchdowns plus a rushing TD. Stuckey was all over the field on defense and also returned several kicks. And, Sharp, hampered by injuries throughout the season, had 107 yards of total offense yesterday. It's how these guys have conducted themselves and what they have done away from the field, though, which has endeared them to Kansas and college football fans--Stuckey is up for the NCAA's Senior Class award, given to a senior who excels on the field and off--in the classroom and the community; Meier was the highly recruited high school QB who, with nary a complaint, moved to wide receiver after losing his starting role to Reesing and has also been Academic All Big 12; Sharp was the fast, yet undersized back from Salina whose work ethic was consistently lauded by his coaches; and Reesing became the emotional leader of this team--a tough, short, cerebral talent (another Academic All Big 12) who's leaving Kansas as the best statistical QB in the school's history. This foursome will be missed.

- The KU-MU game is staying at Arrowhead Stadium through, at least, 2012. Given the drama, crowd size and electricity of this event in Kansas City, it's hard to see this moving back to the respective campuses anytime soon.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Saturday morning coffee

- In 2007, the Kansas-Missouri "Border Showdown" at Arrowhead Stadium was played at night in sub-freezing temperatures. In 2008, the rivalry game was played in the fading sunlight with a snow-rain mix swirling around the field and stadium. Today's match-up weather feels more like what we'd expect for a KU-MU spring baseball game. Personally, the weather the prior two years feels more appropriate for this game--the longest collegiate football rivalry west of the Mississippi.

- Lets' review, shall we? Tiger Woods gets injured backing out of the driveway of his mansion at 2:30 a.m. by running over a fire hydrant and then hitting a tree. He suffered facial lacerations and his wife, Elin, had to extricate him from the SUV by breaking out the window with a golf club. Hmm...let's try a different story. Perhaps Tiger received his injuries from said golf club, wielded by his wife, breaking out windows on his SUV before he even put it in gear. As they say, "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." Some of the rumor-following websites are already suggesting a domestic squabble caused Woods' injuries.

- More Woods: I can't remember a recent story which went from one extreme to the other, so quickly, as to the extent of Woods' injuries. When I heard the initial report, Woods' was reported to be in "critical" condition. We later learned, not that many hours later, that he was "treated and released" at the hospital.

- Maybe Black Friday wore out holiday shoppers. A WalMart parking lot in suburban Kansas City was noticeably lacking in cars this morning at 10:00 a.m. Or, maybe shoppers enjoy getting up in the middle-of-the-night for those sales at 4:00 a.m.

- Check out Them Crooked Vultures, the initial CD offering from the band comprised of Dave Grohl, Nirvana's drummer before joining the Foo Fighters; Josh Homme, singer and guitarist with Queens of the Stone Age; and John Paul Jones--yes, the John Paul Jones who played bass and keyboards for Led Zeppelin.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Border War

The oldest football rivalry west of the Mississippi is renewed on Saturday afternoon when Kansas and Missouri square off in Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO. And, the bitterness of the rivalry is reflected in the official records kept by both schools--Kansas believes the all-time series stands at 55-53-9 while Missouri reports it as 54-54-9. The game in dispute is the one in 1960 when KU beat MU but used Bert Coan, an ineligible player, in the contest.

I estimate that I've listened to, watched or attended 50 of the 117 football games which these two teams have played. Here, then, are my most memorable memories from this rivalry.

1961: Missouri - 10, Kansas - 7, in Lawrence. Kansas was driving for the score which would cement this victory away when Ken Coleman fumbled the ball at the goal line and it was returned by a Missouri defender for a touchdown.

1962: Kansas - 3, Missouri - 3, in Columbia. I attended this game with my parents and can only remember the bitter cold, as we sat at the top of the stadium, in this tie.

1968: Kansas - 21, Missouri - 19, in Columbia. In the Dave Morgan game, Kansas eked out a win over MU to get the chance to attend its first Orange Bowl since 1947. Morgan, a KU defensive back, intercepted two passes (one for a touchdown) and recovered a fumble.

1969: Missouri - 69, Kansas - 21, in Lawrence. A year after the thrilling victory in Columbia, I sat threw a complete humiliation as Kansas fnished off a 1-9 season with no wins in the Big Eight conference.

1973: Kansas - 14, Missouri - 13, in Lawrence. David Jaynes hit Emmett Edwards, on fourth and two, for a touchdown to guide Kansas to victory. This team, who would lose in the Liberty Bowl to North Carolina State, had close games all season--a one touchdown win versus Kansas State, a two point win at Iowa State, a one point loss at Tennessee, a two point win over Colorado and a tie against Oklahoma State.

1975: Kansas - 42, Missouri - 24, in Lawrence. Kansas ran the wishbone, with Nolan Cromwell at quarterback, but instituted a new wrinkle in this game by sending running back Billy Campfield in motion on most every play. The game was tight but broken open in the second half as running back Laverne Smith had a big day.

1989: Kansas - 46, Missouri - 44, in Columbia. Neither team was all that good in '89 but I remember listening to this game on the radio and thinking "it will all come down to who has the ball last." Little did I know that this sentiment would play itself out in future contests between the two team when both instituted their spread offenses.

1991: Kansas - 53, Missouri - 29, in Lawrence. Tony Sands set an NCAA rushing record on this day with 396 yards...and the Missouri radio announcers had the audacity of suggesting that Kansas coach Glen Mason was running up the score.

2007: Missouri - 36, Kansas - 28, in Kansas City. "Armageddon at Arrowhead." Kansas was #2, Missouri was #3; ESPN Game Day was broadcasting from the parking lot; national television; bitter cold. In an incredibly entertaining game, Kansas' comeback falls short and Missouri's win catapults them--briefly--to #1 in the polls. Both teams would end up with big bowl wins--Kansas over Virginia Tech in the BCS Orange Bowl and Missouri over Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.

2008: Kansas - 40, Missouri - 37, in Kansas City. A year later, the stakes weren't quite as high but the game was even better. KU's Darrell Stuckey had his best game ever but the game will always be remembered for perhaps the greatest play in Kansas football history--Todd Reesing finds Kerry Meier behind the MU secondary for a touchdown on fourth and seven with 30 seconds remaining. The snowy setting and packed stadium made this a classic football moment.

So, what should we expect this year? Unfortunately, Mangino-gate has taken too much of the focus away from what's at stake on Saturday. Missouri is playing for a decent bowl game after its two straight victories; Kansas is playing for bowl eligibility and undisputed leadership in the all-time series record between these two schools.

In the 118th "Border War," I'm predicting that Blaine Gabbert and Danario Alexander will be too much for Kansas' defense, that Todd Reesing and Kerry Meier will have big days, and that MU will ultimately prevail by a score of 37-31.

Happy Thanksgiving!

One of my favorite columnists, Joe Posnanski, always writes a Thanksgiving Day piece about the many things for which he is thankful.

As a blatant rip-off of Joe, but in no way suggesting that I’ll be as eloquent, I give you the following as we gather and give thanks on this special day.


I’m thankful for our screened-in porch and the view out to the 12th fairway, for fall colors and the leaves which now cover our lawn, and for a Kansas sunset. I’m thankful for my short commute and the serenity of driving through our neighborhood and into my driveway as I come home from work each night. I’m thankful for the therapy of a glass of California red coupled with a fine cigar and the sound of my honey’s voice as we de-brief on the events of the day.

I’m thankful for the smells of Allen Fieldhouse, for afternoon games in that grand old barn when the light streams onto the floor, and for the jumping jack students who make the tip-off of any game there a special experience. I’m thankful for thousands of bodies swaying in time to the singing of the Alma Mater, for the shouting of “Rock Chalk!” on the east side of Memorial Stadium and the answered “Jayhawk!” from the west side. I’m thankful for crimson and blue, for the Hill on a fall day, for red tile roofs and for one of the prettiest campuses anywhere.

I’m thankful for coaches who mold the lives of high school students—coaches like Bob Hurley (St. Anthony’s, New Jersey) and Roger Barta (Smith Center, Kansas), and thus touch these kids’ lives forever. I’m thankful for college coaches who lead their programs with dignity and character—people like Bill Self, Roy Williams, Mack Brown, Mike Anderson and Pat Summitt. I’m thankful for voices like Brad Nessler, Ron Franklin, Clark Kellogg and, yes, even Brent Musberger—voices I hear and which immediately transport me to a memory given the number of college games they have broadcast. And, of course, I’m thankful for Bob Davis, the voice of the Jayhawks whose calls of big plays in Kansas history would make a classic “greatest hits” CD.

I’m thankful for the 11th hole at Leawood South Country Club, a terrific golf hole and one I rarely par. I’m thankful for this game which continues to vex me yet provides no better opportunity for “getting away” from the anxieties of life.

I’m thankful for the game of tennis and for the feeling of a crisp passing shot—I only wish I could hit a backhand worth a (insert curse word here.)

I’m thankful for those I never tire of watching play games I love—Sherron, Cole, Todd, Kerry, and Derrell; Tommy and his British Open near-miss, Federer’s majors, Brett’s un-retirement, Tiger, Peyton and our Cy Young winner, Zack Greinke.

I’m thankful for words which turn into sentences which turn into stories. I’m thankful for the written artistry of Joe Posnanski, Rick Reilly and Thomas Boswell and for the literary genius of Dennis Lehane, Pat Conroy, James Ellroy and Larry McMurtry.

I’m thankful for producers, writers and directors who strive to develop quality television programming like Mad Men and Friday Night Lights. I’m even more thankful to those who watch and help keep these programs on the air.

I’m thankful for the emotional experience of a U2 concert, for the haunting artistry of Miles Davis’ “Generique,” and for the pairing of the angelic voice of Allison Krauss with the mature rasp of Robert Plant.

I’m thankful for my church family—for the staff which makes the place run to the many there that have my utmost respect and to whom I use as role models for my life and the lives of my family.

I’m thankful for those who save animals and place them in loving homes where they become a member of a family. I’m thankful for Abby, Beatrice, Bubba, Abby II, Little Forrest, and Baylor…and I miss Lieutenant Dan.

I’m thankful for those who give back, and for those who give to the less fortunate. I’m thankful for the Christmas Red Bag program and for this time of year when stories of grace are a part of what makes this season special.

I’m thankful for my friends and for the amazement which comes when their call or note comes at a time when I need it most. I’m thankful for sincerity, for a kind word, for random acts of kindness and for friends who allow you to do something for them.

I’m thankful for a mother’s love, a father’s concern, a son’s inquisitiveness and a daughter’s sincerity. I’m thankful for a wife’s partnership, support and gift of giving of herself.

I’m thankful for Bobbi, Erin, Jared and Brett. I’m thankful for my and my family’s health.

I’m thankful for this day when I can say, “I’m thankful.”

I’m thankful…

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

College football preview - week twelve

We'll have a separate preview of this weekend's Border War between Kansas and Missouri but, for now, here is your Thanksgiving edition preview of upcoming key games.

Texas at Texas A&M. Line: UT by 21. This traditional Thanksgiving Day rivalry would appear to be just one more step in the Longhorn's journey to a national championship match-up against Florida or Alabama. Not so fast--for A&M, this is their bowl game and chance to call this season a huge success. A&M's offense has been prolific under Offensive Coordinator Nolan Cromwell. And, UT's defense gave up a lot of yards last Saturday to Kansas. This game will be tighter than the three touchdown line--Texas will win by 10.

Nebraska at Colorado. Line: NU by 10. Remember when Colorado decided that they wanted to make this game a rivalry? It hasn't been much of one lately. This Friday match-up will be another Nebraska victory and the swan song for Colorado coach Dan Hawkins. NU by 8.

Alabama at Auburn. Line: Bama by 10.5. This big rivalry game is the only remaining roadblock for the Crimson Tide prior to a match-up against Florida in the SEC title game...or the game which some are calling the national championship game. Prediction: Alabama by 9.

Oklahoma State at Oklahoma. Line: OU by 9.5. Oklahoma State still has hopes of a BCS bid. To do that, they must beat the Sooners in Norman. It won't happen--Oklahoma by 7.

Texas Tech at Baylor. Line: Tech by 20.5. Prediction: Tech by 21.

Florida State at Florida. Line: Gators by 24.5. This line started at 21 and is now up to 24.5. Hmm--sounds like the bettors feel pretty confident about Florida in this one. So do I--and how sad that this great rivalry has deteriorated under the "Bobby Bowden should retire" watch. Florida by 27.

Arizona at Arizona State. Line: Arizona by 3. Prediction: Zona by 7.

Pre-Thanksgiving musings

Musings on a vacation day prior to tomorrow's Turkey Day--and tryptophan overdose...

- Good Morning America decided that Adam Lambert's performance on the American Music Awards was too over-the-top for them and decided against having the American Idol runner-up appear on morning television. Hmm--isn't this the same network who, the day before, said tha the number of complaints they received about Lambert on the AMAs wasn't "out of the ordinary?"

- The crowd at the Sprint Center last night for the final night of the CBE Classic (mens basketball) was paltry, at best. If 5,000 were in the building, that was counting concession employees. (The announced attendance was 7,226.) The upper level was draped off as ticket sales for a field of Texas, Pittsburgh, Wichita State and Iowa was disappointing. Organizers understand that a local team has to be in the field and thus Kansas State will make its first appearance in the CBE next November. That field will include Duke, Marquette and Gonzaga, in addition to KSU.

- Are holiday movie-goers really going to spend discretionary dollars, at this time of year, to see a movie as depressing as The Road? Cormac McCarthy's apocalyptic tale seems a strange entry into the holiday movie lineup.

- Show of hands--how many are deep-frying turkeys this year? This cooking technique seems to be gaining momentum as the way to prepare a bird this Thanksgiving. It's nice to see American adopting something which originated out here in the sticks.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sign of the apocalypse

ABC received approximately 1,500 complaints about Adam Lambert's performance on the American Music Awards, which aired this past Sunday night. However, the network said it "doesn't consider that an unusual number," citing that they get even more complaints than that for Dancing With the Stars.


Herb Kelleher

On Sunday I was flying back to Kansas City from Austin, by way of Dallas, on Southwest Airlines. As I was queued up with other passengers, given the Southwest boarding system, I looked over and spotted former Southwest Chairman and CEO Herb Kelleher chatting up two of his airline associates.

Kelleher ended up getting on our flight and, as he came down the aisle, was not recognized except by a couple of us. As he came by my seat I reached out my hand, introduced myself and told him it was an honor to meet him. He looked me in the eye, said "it's great to see you," and "thanks for buying my groceries!" He then proceeded towards the back of the plane and sat amongst the rest of us on his fully packed Southwest aircraft to the airline's headquarters location of Dallas Love Field.

I was taken aback at Kelleher's approachability but not surprised given the many profiles which have been written about his style and the successful corporate culture he instilled at Southwest.

Story has it that Kelleher and one of his then law clients created the idea of Southwest Airlines on a cocktail napkin at a dinner. The airline started in 1971 and has succeeded by offering low fares combined with outstanding customer service. The company eliminated unnecessary services (e.g., assigned seats, in-flight meals) and built its "hub and spoke" system by building traffic at secondary airports like John Wayne Orange County (Los Angeles) and Midway (Chicago.)

Those of you who fly Southwest know of its culture--employees who don't take themselves too seriously, an in-flight experience intended to be fun and light-hearted and flight attendants who, more often than not, will engage in conversation and banter with their passengers. As a result, the company during its history has often made the "most admired" lists or been cited as a great place to work.

Kelleher stepped down as Chairman and resigned from the Board of Directors in 2008. But, my observations of him and interaction with him on Sunday reinforced that he is still loved by Southwest's employees.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Adam Lambert

Just in case you didn't watch last night's American Music Awards on ABC, you missed a (choose your descriptor) disturbing-interesting-provocative-over the top-obscene-outrageous-not appropriate for prime time network TV performance by Adam Lambert as the closing act. Lambert was, of course, the runner-up in last season's American Idol competition and has just released his first single.

Here's's take on the appearance, including a video:|main|dl1|link3|

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Salt Lick BBQ

On our recent trip to Austin, my son and I took a side visit to Driftwood, Texas and the much-acclaimed Salt Lick BBQ.

Driftwood is about 25 miles outside of Austin and the barbecue joint is smack in the middle of the Texas Hill Country. On the day we visited, it had rained all night and morning so the parking lot was a quagmire of mud and muck. Yet, the parking lot was packed and the line was long to enter the restaurant.

The Salt Lick traces its origins to 1967 when Thurman and Hisako Roberts made a list of the 54 things the family could do to stay in Driftwood. (Thurman’s father had traveled constantly for his job and Thurman did not want to follow in his father’s footsteps.) Long the suppliers of quality barbecue at family reunions and outings, the Roberts had the Salt Lick listed at #14 on their list.

The Roberts first began selling meat to paying customers, digging out a barbecue pit and tending the meat on a round-the-clock basis. They then built a small screen porch around the pit and this structure became the original restaurant.

The facility has grown since then and now is made up of two buildings—a waiting area coupled with a banquet facility and the restaurant building which also houses the smoke pit. There is also a large open-air dining area, with picnic tables, which was not in use on our visit due to the rain.

The barbecue pit, as you can see in the photo, is out in the open for visitors to see upon entering the dining area. The smoke is vented out but the aroma permeates the restaurant and the surrounding area.

An Austin native had highly recommended Salt Lick but had failed to tell us that it was a “BYOB” joint. The savvier diners among us had small coolers filled with their favorite adult beverage and one woman stood in line with two bottles of wine.

The menu was basic—a lunch or dinner plate option which offered up your choice of three meats (beef brisket, sausage, ribs or turkey) combined with potato salad, cole slaw, ranch style western beans, pickles and onions. There was also a sandwich option and, of course, the opportunity to order meats by the pound.

I had the beef, ribs and turkey plate (only $11.95.) This was traditional Texas barbecue—it’s all about the meat. Each of the meats was smoked to perfection and the turkey was likely the best I’ve had anywhere. The brisket was thick and tender and the pork rib (yes, I said rib--one per plate) rivaled some of Kansas City’s best. In fact, People magazine wrote that “these are the best pork ribs I’ve had anywhere.”

The sauce at Salt Lick was gravy—not the barbecue sauce we Kansas Citians debate when discussing the best barbecue in our city.

I’ve eaten at Sonny Bryan’s in Dallas and County Line Barbecue in San Antonio. Both were good but neither rivaled the quality of the Texas barbecue we ate at Salt Lick, the restaurant GQ called the “finest dining in Texas.” Just remember, in this case, “fine dining” does not indicate white table cloths and an expansive wine list.

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