Thursday, January 30, 2014

Comparing Seattle and Denver - The Cities

While the two NFL football teams from Seattle and Denver square off this weekend in the Super Bowl, here is a comparison of what the two cities are most known for - not everything, but the major items these areas are most know for to most people.

Both are often rated as some of the most livable cities in the United States. Lets see how the two metropolitan areas compare...

  • Nearby Rocky Mountains - winter and summer sports.
  • Good pro sports teams - the Denver Broncos have been in the Super Bowl six times before, winning two of them; the Colorado Avalanche NHL hockey team has won multiple Stanley Cups; the MLB Rockies usually competitive and have appeared in the World Series and the NBA's Denver Nuggets are decent most years. 
  • Colorado University - in nearby Boulder, this school is one of the best public institutions in the country.
  • Beer - both the old school Coors variety, but more importantly Denver (and Colorado) is one of the best places in the nation to get microbrews.
  • Cold weather. But, Denver is quite sunny - clocking in with more than 300 days of sun each year on average.
  • Being one mile above sea level.

  • Music scene - many, many famous musical acts have come from the Seattle area. Ones many know of are: Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles, Heart, Kenny G, Queensryche, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, Presidents of the USA, Death Cab for Cutie, Brandi Carlisle, Macklemore.
  • A diversity of world-leading business - many global companies you have heard of started and/or are headquartered in the Seattle area: Microsoft, REI, Amazon, Expedia, Nordstrom, Eddie Bauer, Costco, Tommy Bahama, Starbucks, Cutter & Buck, Holland America Cruise Line, T-Mobile, Nintendo, Brooks Sports, just to name a few.
  • Coffee - Starbucks certainly, but the city is innudated with smaller, gourmet coffee roasters and outlets.
  • Outdoor and recreation - from Seattle, people have easy access to mountains (winter/summer sports), the Pacific ocean, desert, great wine country and Vancouver, BC and northwest Canada.
  • Rain - it does rain a lot in Seattle between November and April, but there are other cities that get more rainfall each year...New York City for example.
  • Iconic landmarks - Space Needle, Mount Rainier
  • Microbrew beer - perhaps second only to Portland (hate to say it), Seattle has a large volume an wide diversity of locally brewed beers.
Everybody loves the city their from or where they live. Understandable. And by all means Denver strikes me as a really great place to live and work.

However, I'll take Seattle...more culturally interesting, bigger and more diverse economy, more to do and see in the region and - as of Sunday - a Super Bowl champion football team (here's hoping)!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Super Bowl XLVIII: SWOT Analysis & Prediction

OK, the Super Bowl is this Sunday. It pits the Seattle Seahawks as NFC champion against the Denver Broncos as the AFC champion.

Below is my breakdown and prediction for the game. Full disclosure, I'm a lifelong Seahawks fan. I'll try to be objective because "homer-ism" bugs me.

Below is a SWOT analysis of the two teams:

Strengths and Weaknesses
Seahawks Strength - Defense. This is clear. Seattle has the best defense in the NFL by virtually all measures. In particular, their pass defense is tight with big, strong, fast DBs who can cover and hit hard. Legion Of Boom don't you know. Without having to worry about Denver QB Manning running the ball like they had to be with San Francisco, can the Seahawks top-rated DBs control Denver receivers and let the pass rush pressure Manning into bad throws or sacks?

Denver Strength - Offense. In particular the arm and brain of QB Payton Manning. The passing game is the Bronco's bread and butter. Manning's ability to deduce, fool and pick apart a defense is as good as it gets. Denver would not be in the Super Bowl without their QB and passing attack. Their run game is so-so at best.

This sets up a strength on strength matchup - Denver O vs. Seattle D. Obviously, this could be the place where the game is decided. Will the prolific Denver O produce points against the Seahawks D or will the stingy, hard-hitting Seahawks slow them down, limit them? Will they get FGs or TDs? Will Manning be pressured into throwing a pick or two?

Seahawks Weakness - Offense. While not truly "weak" (they did score enough points to win 15 games en route to the Super Bowl after all), the Seattle offense is not as strong as their defense. The run game with RB Lynch is the key for the Hawks. Get "Beast Mode" going and it could be a long day for Denver because off of that: 1) QB Wilson can be effective passing, and 2) Manning can't score if he's on the sideline as Seattle grinds it out on the ground. But the thing is, that has been difficult for the Seahawks to do over the past few weeks. Throw in a penchant for untimely penalties and mistakes, and they hamper themselves too often. The NFC championship game was better for them, but wonders how they will perform in the Super Bowl.

Denver Weakness - Defense. Denver does not have what you would call a great defense. Good? OK. Above average? Maybe. Great? Not really. But, can they stop Lynch? Can they force Russell Wilson to have to throw the ball to win? Will they be able to deal with Wilson's ability to scramble and find open receivers...or even run the ball?

This sets up a weakness-on-weakness matchup. I think this will decide the game.

The biggest opportunity is in the weakness vs. weakness matchup. Who comes out on top there? The Denver offense is very likely going to score a few times, even against that Seattle defense. And, Seattle's D is probably going to stymie Manning and the Bronco's O a few times...perhaps even getting a turnover or two.

BUT, what about the other way around? Is Seattle's O capable of scoring, say, 24-28 points against Denver? Therein lies the opportunity to win for Seattle. Conversely, if Denver's D has a great game, they have an excellent chance to win the game.

After that, I think special teams are a great opportunity for both teams. For Seattle, it's the kick return game that offers the best shot. Harvin, Baldwin and Tate are all guys who can take a kickoff or punt all the way back for a TD. Meanwhile, Denver has a FG kicker who is spectacular. If it comes down to a last second long FG attempt, Denver has the edge.

  • Weather - cold temperatures, wind, rain and perhaps even snow all could all materialize during the game. And, if any or some combination does develop, it could have an impact on who wins. Bad weather probably benefits Seattle with its defense and ability to run the ball.
  • Referees - Super Bowl XL, that's all I am going to say. Referees can have a profound and definitive impact on who wins if they make a bad call, or worse...a series of unexplainable calls all against one team.
  • Injuries - Who's out? Who's in? The one person I think could make an impact by being there or not is Seattle's Percy Harvin. If he can make the game and stay in it, his speed and dynamic playmaking ability might be an edge that puts Seattle over the top for a win. Without him, Seattle is a more pedestrian offense.
OK, so with that analysis now out there, who wins? I think this legitimately could go either way. Objectively, it may be a close one that goes down to the wire. I don't see either team blowing out the other.

However, I must confess that as a lifelong Seahawks fan, it is unfathomable to me that they could actually win the Super Bowl. Don't get me wrong, I desperately want them to. But Seattle teams (basketball, baseball, football, soccer) have such a long and consistent record of breaking the hearts of their fans on the verge of glory that I just can't imagine them actually winning this one. I think any real Seattle sports fan know the Hawks are unlikely to pull this off against Manning. We've seen it too many times. Whether its sub-par play, unprecedented bad luck or just being outclassed...Seattle sports teams almost always blow it. The one exception is the 1979 Supersonics who won the NBA title. That's it.

Maybe if they'd gotten lucky and were facing, say, San Diego or even New England...I'd be optomistic. But Payton Manning? In the cold of NYC?

So, while it pains me to do this, I'm going to pick the Broncos to win the Super Bowl.

I think Manning will have enough success through the air that they'll score 24-28 points, and I think the Seahawks offense - because of a turnover and penalties - will not be able to match that.

The weakness-on-weakness matchup will break in favor of Denver.

SO, I say Denver Broncos 27, Seattle Seahawks 17.

I hope I'm wrong.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Holidays In Thailand: Palace and Protests in Bangkok

This year Diane and I decided to spend our holidays in someplace completely different. No, not a ski trip to Aspen, a shooter down to Mexico or a few days in New York City. Nope. For this season we decided to go halfway around the world - back to an area we've enjoyed before and we knew would offer up warm weather and cultural appeal.

The place we chose was Thailand in southeast Asia. Why there? Well, we visited Vietnam and Cambodia in 2006 and really liked it and we toured China in 2008 and enjoyed that too. So, why not pick a new area in a region of the world we have an affinity for?  

Along with a few friends who would be going with us, we conspired during the summer and fall to put together an itinerary and some ideas on what we'd like to do and see while in Thailand.

With plans in place and excitement for getting out of town and on vacation set and ready, we took off on Dec. 20, 2013 for our adventure.

In this post and some subsequent ones that I've titled "Holidays in Thailand," I'll re-cap what we did, show some pictures offer up other info. You can all see a full set of pictures I took on our trip on my Flickr Photostream by clicking HERE.

So, with no further adieu, here is the first installment...

HOLIDAYS IN THAILAND: Palace and Protests in Bangkok
With the way Delta Airlines arranges the timing of its flights to Asia, we arrived to the Bangkok airport at about 12 a.m. on Dec. 22. We'd spent the previous 18 hours on flights - Seattle to Tokyo, Tokyo to Bangkok. Throw in a 15 hour time change and, well, we'd killed all of Dec. 20 and Dec. 21 getting to Thailand. 

Feeling a bit like zombies from The Walking Dead, we trudged through the surprisingly crowded immigration process, picked up our checked bags and found the van we'd arranged to deliver us through the darkness of the wee hours to our hotel. I sat in the front seat with the driver. Revived a bit and feeling glad to be in our destination, I chatted him up bit on some practical things like which type of taxis are best to use (pink, red, green taxis...all OK; green/yellow combo go), how many people live in Bangkok (6 million in the city popper, 12 million in the greater Bangkok area) and if the anti-government protests were still happening (they were). 

We pulled into the plush Hyatt Erawon and checked in...hitting our room and bed at about 2 a.m. Whew. We drifted off to a much needed sleep in the quiet comfort of the hotel. 

Lessons in River Travel and What's Open and What's Not
Now, a 15 hour time zone change will screw around with your internal clock. And so it was that by about 8 a.m. the next morning - despite only getting six or so hours of sleep, we were wide awake. Time for some coffee and meeting up with our friends. By 10 a.m. we were refreshed and ready to head out on this sunny day to see some of the sights - Bangkok now unveiled in the daylight. 

Conferring with the concierge on how best to get from the hotel to the ornate Grand Palace, I was informed that there was a major protest planned for this day and that it would be centered right there near the Hyatt. OK. So, this meant a taxi was not would take hours to get anywhere. The alternative? Take the city sky tram from the station near the hotel down to the river and get on a "long boat" for a quick jaunt up the river to a station right near the palace. All right then. A bit different than what we planned, but sounded like fun. And it was. 

Here are a couple shots from our boat trip up the river...

Once we arrived at the destination boat dock, we walked through a market, snagging some freshly fried plantains to snack on - and out onto the main drag. Clearly the white Palace walls were right in front of us, but here was no clear indication where the entrance was. So, we started walking along the wall to see if we could find it. A few minutes into the walk we came to a small driveway with a couple official looking guys standing there. We asked where the entrance was and he said that the Palace grounds were "closed until 3 p.m." for some sort of private event. The other guy then said he could show us something or other. Right. We said no and crossed the street - plans instantly changed to kill some time and find a place for lunch by the river.

From our Lonely Planet guide book, we believed there was a good restaurant right on the river, but as much as we tried to find it using their info we could not. We were close, we knew it. At a busy intersection near a market and some other restaurant, a woman asked us what we were looking for. I was dubious, but I gave her the name of the place we were looking for. She instantly waived her hand and said, "They closed." She then started saying she had a restaurant on the water "this way." What the heck. We followed her through a labyrinth of the market toward the water. When we arrived at the water's edge, it became apparent she wanted to sell us tickets to a boat ride trip that would take us to another market upriver. Again, no thanks. We turned on our heels and left.

We retraced our steps to where we thought that restaurant should be, and this time we saw some blue umbrellas down by the river that for all the world looked like a restaurant...but you had to walk through what looked like a private gate and across a parking lot to get there. So, we did...just walked in like we owned the place, strolled across the lot and bingo! Restaurant. Good place.

After lunch and some cold Singha beers, we decided to try for the Palace again. We followed our noses and found the entrance. And guess what? It wasn't closed like the guy earlier had said. Nope. Open. It just made us think the guy earlier, like the "restaurant" lady, wanted to shunt us off on some other thing where they would be paid. At any rate, we got right into the palace and toured the grounds.


Visiting the Grand Palace
This palace is unique in its glitter, gold, opulence and colorful style. Centered on the Emerald Buddha temple, the compound featured a number of pointed gold structures, huge colorful soldier statues, figures of all different types and just more than your eye could take in with one glance. Here are a few shots to give you the idea...

Emerald Buddha Temple Complex
Every corner, wall, staircase, walkway and ceiling provided a canvas on which someone throughout the centuries have added ornate decoration, gold, figures or other ornamentation. As I understand it, all of these structures are in support and celebration of the Emerald Buddha - a sacred icon. See my picture of it below.

While the people of Thailand practice many religions, Buddhism is predominate and has been for centuries. Back in 1999, Diane and I visited Sarnath in India - the place where Buddha is said to have begun his practice and people started paying attention. That place does have some structures still standing, but it's nothing like what we saw in Thailand. It's impressive to see how from such humble beginnings in India, Buddha and Buddhism has spread to be such a major force in people's lives and - through their kings and queens - for nations as a whole.

After walking around most of the Emerald Buddha complex, we exited into another area of the palace grounds, the residence. Because it was getting later in the afternoon, we didn't go into that building, but observed it from the outside as we walked by. Eventually we found ourselves at the exit.

As we left the palace grounds, I could not help think that we had just toured through a truly unique monument. Nowhere in our world travels had we quite seen anything like this. Sure, we've seen opulent palaces in Europe and Asia, but not something like this - the gold, the wild colors, the stylized statues and the religious and political importance. Bangkok might be a huge, modern city choked with traffic and chalked full of shopping malls, markets and high rise buildings...but it has the Grand Palace. Placed right on the river, it's a must for anyone who visits, and I'm glad we spent the time to see it.

Protesters Take Center Stage
Next, we repeated our steps back down the river on a boat and to the elevated tram station, ultimately arriving back to our hotel just in time to witness one of the massive anti-government protests we'd read about before coming. Without doubt, the political situation there is complicated and there are two sides. As a novice on the issues, I read a bit about it before our vacation. Here's what I understand the conflict to be about: 1) the elected government led by a Prime Minister named Thaksin Shinawatra was overthrown in 2006 following a coup based on displeasure with corruption, 2) after "democracy" was restored in 2011, Shinawatra's political party won the majority and his sister was elected Prime Minister and is in that position now still, 3) those in the opposition party (primarily made up of middle and upper class/wealthy in Bangkok) were and still are not happy with this, 4) so much so that in 2013 they began anti-government protests with the aim of overthrowing the sister who they believe is simply a puppet for Shinawatra himself. The opposition claims corruption and is demanding that the Prime Minister step down, any and all elections are canceled and that an unelected panel of members of their movement be appointed to run the government in the short term until corruption can be rooted out and "real" elections can be arranged. 

All of that led up to a huge number of people gathering right outside our hotel for about eight hours on the same day we went to the Grand Palace. We took a few minutes to check it out. Below are a couple shots I took from the edges of things. We simply walked down to where the protesters were gathering and looked around. I simply took a few shots. We did not see any violence or hint of it - just people gathering with signs, flags, whistles and such. As it turned out, we were witnessing just the beginning of the day's protest. Over the next few hours and until about 10 p.m. or so, you could hear the speeches, noises and sound of the rally happening. Whatever you think if their cause, you had to be impressed with the commitment, the organization and the ability to mobilize thousands and thousands of people day after day to come out and participate in the demonstrations. 

And thus ended our first full day in Bangkok. A few of our group decided to venture out after dark to see the protest further and try to find a place to eat. Diane and I were not among them. We decided to take it easy in the hotel room - jet lag now taking its affect in the early evening. So, we ordered very tasty room service and hit the sack early, drifting off to the sounds of protests on the streets. 

What would then next day bring? Well, come on back in a week or so and I'll have a post up about our second full day in Bangkok.

NOTE: All pictures in this post taken by Marc Osborn. Marc Osborn owns copyright for all images in this post and no use of any of the pictures for any purpose is permitted without prior written permission from Marc Osborn. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Super Bowl XLVIII: Why Seahawks Fans Don't Trust the NFL

Want to know why so many Seahawks fans feel their team got robbed in Super Bowl XL and how that makes them paranoid for the team's appearance in Super Bowl XLVIII? Want to know why "the Manning Narrative" for the upcoming game has Seahawks fans concerned?

I'll re-cap it for you. Below is the evidence, but in short it goes like this: following intense media coverage of Steeler player Jerome Bettis "coming home to Detroit with his last chance to win a Super Bowl," the referees in that game proceeded to make a series of unbelievably wrong or unprecedented calls - all hurting the Seahawks, all benefitting Pittsburgh and all on critical plays that could have made the difference in the game. Naturally, Steeler supporters poo-poo it all as "sour grapes." But let me assure you that if the shoe was on the other foot, they'd feel differently.

And let me also assure you that based on this previous experience and the "Manning Narrative" now, Seattle fans will be just as worried about the officials as they are the Broncos on Super Bowl Sunday.

In support for the Seattle side of the controversy, several years later, the head referee for Super Bowl XL admitted he and his crew made the wrong call in several instances and apologized. Fat lot of good that did the Seahawks and their fans.

Here are the plays in question from Super Bowl XL that has me worried even now, going into this new Super Bowl:
  • Phantom Holding Calls. There were a number of them against Seattle in the game, all on critical plays. The most egregious one was in the fourth quarter - and it was bad for two reasons. You can see the play at the 7:19 mark on the video here. With Seattle on offense and making a drive down to score and take the lead, a Steelers player jumps offsides (but is not called for it) and the Seattle tackle scrambles to block him. While not a straight up block, it was not an unusual block that happens on every play of every game. Naturally, on the play, the Seahawks completed a pass to the one yard line...and it came back because of the "holding" call. Announcer John Madden even says right there upon seeing the replay, "I didn't see holding."
  • Phantom Offensive Pass Interference. Video here. Early in the game, Seattle QB Matt Hasselback slings a long range ball into the end zone to one of his receivers. He catches it and it's called a TD. But wait! There's a flag. Just before the catch the receiver and the defender are right next to each other...each touching the  other with hands. Both of them doing the same thing, and really with no impediment to each other. But for some reason, the ref has his hand on his flag before the ball arrives and once it does, he throws it and calls OFFENSIVE pass interference. No TD. Seattle has to settle for a field goal. Wow. I remember thinking, "Oh this is how its going to be today?"
  • Phantom Pittsburgh Touchdown. Video here. In the second quarter, on a third and goal from the Seattle two yard line, Pittsburgh QB Ben Rothlesberger runs toward the end zone, is tackled before it and comes down with the ball before the end line. After hitting the ground, he reaches the ball out over the line. The referees call it a TD. It's not. I will say on this one, however, that the Steelers had another play to get it in the end zone even if the call had been made correctly. So, it's very possible - even likely - they would have come away with seven points anyway. But something else could have happened too. We'll never know. 
  • "Low Block" Against Seattle QB Following His Throwing an Interception. Video at the 8:26 mark on the video here. At one point in the game, the Seattle QB throws an interception to a Pittsburgh player. All of a sudden, all players just seconds ago on offense are now on defense and are attempting to tackle the guy who picked off the pass. During that action, the Seattle QB hits a Steelers player below the waist...more by sheer accident than anything. But remember, he's now on DEFENSE. The referee sees this and calls a penalty. And what does he call? BLOCKING below the waist. What? Blocking? How can he be blocking if he's on defense? And how can it be a penalty for a defensive player to hit an opposing player high or low? Pittsburgh gets 15 yards tacked onto their interception return, moving them up to mid-field.
  • Non-Call on Horse Collar Tackle by Pittsburgh. Video at the 8:05 mark of the video hereIn the fourth quarter with Pittsburgh only ahead by four points, Seattle RB Alexander is streaking down the field on a run and getting close to the Pittsburgh "Red Zone." A Steelers player drags him down from behind by his collar...right in front of a referee. Clearly a penalty and if called it would have put Seattle in a great position to score. But, no call. 
It wasn't any one of these calls that was the problem. It was all of them together that made the impact. And for any of you out there saying, "yeah, well I'm sure that the refs screwed Pittsburgh a few times too.", no they didn't. Flags were safely stuck in their pockets through most of the game, and for sure on any big play benefiting the Steelers. 

And all of THAT is why this Seahawks fan is very, very nervous about Super Bowl XLVIII. The NFL will benefit greatly if the Broncos and Payton Manning win the game...just like they did with a Pittsburgh in 2006. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Who Is the Thug?

In the aftermath of the whole "Richard Sherman issue" following is post-game comments about SF WR Michael Crabtree, he's been called "a thug" and taken to task for what he said. But, there are two things that have gone virtually un-noticed and un-commented upon that are far more "thug-like" than anything Sherman did or said:

SF player in street clothes nails Seattle player on the sideline. Midway through the game, Seattle had to punt the ball. They did. As one of the Seahawks players ran down the sideline to cover the kick, he strayed into the SF sideline area - which does happen sometimes. But what does not happen is someone on the opposing team not playing in the game taking a shot at the "live" player. But in the NFC championship game last week, it did. The SF player in street clothes doing the illegal hitting is a guy named Ronald Curry. You can see the video of the incident in full and slowed down speed HERE.

So I ask...who is the thug?

Crabtree shoves Sherman in the face. Want to know why Sherman was so pissed off when he made is now famous post-game comment? Well, right after he broke up the game-ending pass with a deflection against Crabtree, he went up to Crabtree and said "Hellava game, Hellova game." And that's official and recorded from NFL microphones. That's all Sherman said...and that's all it took for Crabtree to reach out and aggressively shove Sherman in the face.

So again, who is the "thug?"

Of course, you don't get any media commentary on those two incidents. Why would you when the a) 49ers lost and b) you have the video and audio of Sherman to go with. None the less, I submit that the 49ers exhibited far more "thuggery" than Seattle did.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Super Bowl Media Narratives

So the Seattle Seahawks are in the Super Bowl. And they are playing the Denver Broncos. And in the intervening two weeks, all we the fans will have is what we see or hear about in the media.

Here are three media narratives I think we will see a LOT of over the next two weeks - and already  have:

First, "The Manning Narrative." Payton Manning, Payton Manning, Payton Manning. Outside of Seattle, football fans watching media coverage of the upcoming game will not know anyone other than Payton Manning is playing in this game. OK, now some will know Richard Sherman of Seattle...but that's it. No, the media narrative will be all about Manning and his "destiny" to win another title. This has nothing to do with the Xs and Os of football, mind you. I'm talking about the sentimental story and the overall narrative of the pre-game coverage. And you see it right away in who is favored.

As a Seahawks fan this is annoying, sure. But what concerns me is that the last time the Hawks were in the Super Bowl there was an overwhelming media narrative about Jerome Bettis "returning home to Detroit" for his "last opportunity" to get a Super Bowl win. And what happened? An unreal game in which the Seahawks were victims of a number bizarre, unprecedented and unexplainable plays and calls by the referees...costing them the game. And ta-da! Bettis gets his big win and goes out a champ - much to the delight of entire football viewing world outside Seattle. A nice storybook ending to please 95% of the NFL viewing public.

I fear the same will happen with the "Manning Narrative" driving this Super Bowl. The NFL benefits greatly in terms of the masses feeling good about the league if Manning wins the game, so I'm nervous that we may see a repeat of the "thought the looking glass" experience we got in Super Bowl XL. You say I'm crazy and that there could be no "conspiracy" to deliver a game based on what would be best for the league? I say, go re-watch at Super Bowl XL. Unreal. I can't claim to have evidence, just that it happened. Just like gas prices "surprisingly" go down every four years right around the time of presidential elections and then go back up right just happens and its a correlation you cannot ignore. Same with Super Bowl XL. With the new Super Bowl also occurring on Ground Hog's Day, lets hope we don't get a repeat.

Second, Broncos "good guys" vs the Seattle "bad guys." This is how the media will portray it. This is primarily due only to the after-game rant by Richard Sherman when the Seahawks beat San Francisco in the NFC title. Most people think his comments were over the top and calling out the opposing receiver he defeated in the last and pivotal play was just poor. Whatever you think, that's the consensus. Meanwhile, you've got Manning as the "do-gooder." So, is it better to be the good guy or the bad guy? I think it doesn't matter too much and the media have a compulsive need to narrow things down to easily digestible ideas - and good vs bad is about as basic as it gets. Anyway, the perceived "thugs" have won the Super Bowl before.

But, what's odd is that it is ONLY because of the few seconds by Sherman that the Seahawks will be perceived as the bad guys. Actually, the team is chuck full of good guys - starting with QB Russell Wilson and, ahem, also including one Richard Sherman.

Third, the Denver Offense (code for Manning of course) will be the difference in this game. The Broncos offense did have a record breaking year. They are extremely good - mostly their passing game with Manning. But, predicting that Denver wins because of this reverses decades and decades of conventional wisdom - which is virtually always backed up by reality - that it is defense that wins championships. Indeed, regardless of what offenses are fielded, most teams who win the Super Bowl have superior defense compared to their opponent. Their ability to limit even great offenses makes the difference.

And who clearly has the better defense? a lot. However, I think you'll see little attention paid to that and more to the Denver offense as the dominant force in this game. This ties directly into my point #1 above - "the Manning Narrative."

All of this is a bit frustrating from a Seattle fans' perspective, but I think Seattle will field the overall better team - particularly their defense. I think THAT will be the difference. I also think that Seattle QB Russell Wilson is uncanny in his ability to deliver in the clutch, and RB Marshawn Lynch is a hard-as-nails runner who could be a difference maker too.

I'll post a prediction before the game. In the meantime, see if the three media narratives develop as I think they will.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

2013 Pac-12 Football Wrap Up Report

Did you see the BCS Championship football game on Monday night? If you're a sports fan, football fan or just fan of live human, what a spectacle. Ups, downs, adversity, triumph and a last second finish that resulted in Florida State winning the game and securing the BCS national championship for the 2013 football season.

And what of the Pac-12? How did its teams fair during bowl season and, consequently, the final rankings. Lets check it out...

Overall. The Pac-12 had nine of its teams in bowl games this season. The only squads missing out were Cal, Utah and Colorado. And the league performed well, going a combined 7-2.

Oregon. The Ducks just missed out on a BCS bowl game and instead appeared in the Alamo Bowl against Texas. The Ducks emerged victorious by winning 30-7 on the strength of QB Marcus Mariota and their Defensive performance.
  • Final record: 11-2
  • Final national ranking: #9
  • NOTES: This is the fifth season in a row the Duck have been the top rated Pac-12 team and fourth in a row they've finished in the Top 10. And, UO is the only Pac-12 team finishing in the Top 10 this season.
Stanford. The Cardinal won the league title and appeared in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 against Big 10 champ Michigan State. They lost that game.
  • Final record: 11-3
  • Final national ranking: #11
  • NOTES: A disappointing end to a season that could have been so much more.
UCLA. The Bruins appeared in the Sun Bowl against Virginia Tech and ran over the Hokies big time, concluding what by all measures was a very good season for the resurgent UCLA squad.
  • Final record: 10-3
  • Final national ranking: #16
  • NOTES: Can UCLA continue their upswing next season?
USC. The Trojans rolled the higher-ranked Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl to cap off a very nice rebound following a dismal start to their season.
  • Final record: 10-4
  • Final national ranking: #19
  • NOTES: Will this sleeping giant wake up in 2014 with new coach Steve Sarkesian? Or, will replacing the coaches who orchestrated the comeback in 2013 work against them?
Arizona State. The Sun Devils lost the Holiday Bowl to Texas Tech, but still landed in the final rankings.
  • Final record: 10-4
  • Final national ranking: #21
  • NOTES: They hype started to match the on-field product in 2013, but the bowl loss is not great.
Washington. The Huskies beat BYU in the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. The victory notched the first nine win season in a long time.
  • Final record: 9-4
  • Final national ranking: #25
  • NOTES: A bitter-sweet finish for UW because the good record and national ranking earned is tempered by the upcoming loss of many key players to the NFL or graduation and change-over in the coaching staff.
Out of the Rankings. Pac-12 bowl teams who - regardless of their performance in their game - missed out on the final polls were: Arizona, WSU, Oregon State.

And that's it folks. I'll be back in the spring with a few thoughts on the Pac-12 squads as they finish up spring practices.

Before the schools hit the field for fall practices later this year, I urge you to enjoy some great upcoming sporting events in 2014, such as:
  • Pac-12 basketball and March Madness
  • The 2014 Winter Olympics - lots of great competition to see.
  • The 2014 World Cup - Team US is in it!
  • The 2014 Tour de France - always, always a compelling competition...with beautiful views all along.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

2013: The Year in Gigs Attended

Below is a review I intended to post right at the end of December, but failed to given our vacation overseas...

2013 started hot and ended pretty nicely when it comes to live music I saw and heard. In between there was a long walk in the Gobi where there was NOTHING happening, but I think the wait was worth it. Here are a few thoughts on the shows I attended this year...

2013 Blasts to a Rocking Start. 
Things were looking good in Q1 2013 let me tell you! A load of great shows opened up the year and got me thinking..."Wow, this could be the best year in a while for gigs."

Mudhoney on stage in Seattle
Mudhoney + The Sonics at the Showbox at the Market in Seattle. What a way to kick off the year with a hot, hot, hot show on a cold, cold night. Packed to the gills, the show started with Seattle grunge legends Mudhoney and topped off with perhaps even more mythic 60s garage rock Gods from Tacoma The Sonics.

I bet most of you have heard of Mudhoney. And well you should. They are among the originators of "the Seattle sound" that dominated the late 80s and most of the 90s. Mark Arm and crew deliver raw, aggressive Stooges-inspired blasts that any fan of rock love. And they were the opening band on this night. Yep. And they delivered. "Touch Me I'm Sick" and on down the line, they played their "best of" set to the adulation and excitement of the crowd. Mudhoney are the real deal all these years later and I feel lucky to have seen them for the second only time in my life. Throw in that I was able to say hello to Mudhoney main man Mark Arm in person and, well, the night was a success just on that.

The Sonics rock Seattle 
But then came the second act, The Sonics. OK people, if you don't know The Sonics you should. Get everything they have on iTunes today. You like rock and roll? You like The Sonics. They were the Stooges, MC5, Ramones, Clash, Pistols, Nirvana, Mudoney, etc. before any of them were out of primary school. Hailing from Tacoma, this band set the template for raw, aggressive rock and roll.

And yes, they are in 2013 guys in their 60s. But make no make mistake, they ROCK. And they did on this night. What a special memory.

Soundgarden live at the Paramount
Soundgarden at the Paramount. This was the one major Seattle band I had never seen live, and I relished the opportunity to do so with their touring of their new album King Animal. Luckily...and I do mean "with luck"...I was able to get tickets for the floor in front of the stage. And it was from here that I and my buddy saw this epic rock and roll gig. All four members were in prime form, thudding out classic Soundgarden hits and best-of songs, along with equally good new tunes. Ears ringing, we left this gig truly fulfilled with that old time Seattle rock and roll spirit!

Volbeat at a venue in NYC. On a business trip to NYC, a colleague of mine who is a heavy metal fan said he wanted to check out a band called Volbeat at a mid-town venue one night. Who was I to disagree? Nobody. So I didn't. Combining an oddly attractive combination of Social D-style rockabilly and Metallica-style heavy metal, this band from Denmark rocked. And I loved it. Check them out.

Volbeat on stage in NYC

Ritzy Bryan of The Joy Formidable on stage in Seattle
The Joy Formidable at the Neptune Theater in Seattle. One of my favorite new bands. Hailing from Wales, this band has a heavy sound leavened with great hooks, challenging lyrics and the genius and charisma of front-woman Ritzy Bryan. What a great explosion of rock and roll. The packed theater ate it up, and I counted myself lucky to have seen this band up close and personal. You can also read my review of their most recent album HERE.

Billy Bragg at the Neptune Theater. One week after The Joy Formidable, I found myself back at The Neptune for a much different show. This time it was British troubadour Billy Bragg. Sporting an acoustic guitar, a backing band and a lot of commentary about the state of the world, Bragg delivered an enjoyable set of music spanning his long career.

Problem Child in Chehalis, WA. My wife and I a have a dear and very talented friend who is the lead guitarist an excellent AC/DC cover band called Problem Child. Yes, he plays the Angus Young part, and does so perfectly - in sound and look.

People LOVE AC/DC, but are not likely to see them live any time soon, so Problem Child fills the bill. In this case, they were finishing up a weekend of NW touring with a gig in...of all places...Chehalis. Now, this just happens to be the town of my wife's birth and upbringing. So, what were we to do, but journey the 90 miles south and check it out! And are we glad we did. Packing in with locals at a small bar on the now mostly deserted main street of Chehalis, we witnessed a blistering set of the full Highway to Hell and Back In Black albums by the band situated at the front of the establishment and NOT up on a stage. That's right. They were in the front part of the place at floor level...a mere two feet from the crowd. And what a sweaty rock and roll delight that was!

And then came a loooooooonnnnggg wait.
Yes, things dried up quick after March. Sure, some great new music came out during the middle of the year, but none of those bands were touring in the USA. And, none of the summertime showcase festivals appealed or were anywhere near downtown Seattle. So, I endured the March to August drought as best I could.

And then things got real good, real quick!

Everest at The Tractor Tavern in Seattle. OK, so I had not heard of this band before, but a friend knew of them and insisted we go. I'm glad we did.

Stereophonics live in Seattle
The Stereophonics at the Showbox at the Market in Seattle. Kicking off the late year surge of good shows, a buddy of mine and I went to see Welsh band Stereophonics downtown. Standing near the stage, it was great to see this band that could certainly fill much larger venues in the UK so up close.

The Joy Formidable (again!) at the Neptune (again!). Another week and another Welsh band. This time, The Joy Formidable for the second time in 2013. They came back to Seattle for a special gig in which ticket proceeds fund after school music programs for kids in the Seattle area. Not sure why they did this, but I'm glad they did as it gave me another chance to see this dynamic band. Once again, the Neptune was packed and a good time followed.

Mona at the Chop Suey in Seattle. Mona is a great band out of Nashville that I've been keeping an eye and ear on over the past year or two. You can read
Mona live in Seattle at Chop Suey
my review if their most recent album HERE.

Mona has been quite successful over in the UK developing an audience and becoming popular. However, back here in their's been a slower go. I actually talked to front man Nick Brown about this at the bar before the show on this night. My supposition was that Americans really don't like rock and roll any more - or not nearly as much. They prefer rap, country, pop and dance. Nick replied that rock and roll used to be the embodiment of rebellion and a sonic middle finger to the establishment...and that it is not that here now. Rap is. He wants to bring rebellion back to rock, and in the process rock back to America. I for one am 100 percent behind him and his band mates.

The Long Winters at The Neptune. Now, this was a Seattle band I had not heard of, but should have. A friend of mine recommended we go because this was a reunion of the band in celebration of the 10 year anniversary of their best known album When I Pretend to Fall and 15 year anniversary of the record label they are on, Barsuk. The short version of the story is that TLW debuted at about the same time and in the same scene as Death Cab for Cutie, a more well known Seattle-area band on Barsuk.

Anyway, TLW lineup included Sean Nelson on keyboards, backup singing and clever in-between-song commentary. Sean was the lead man for mid-90s Seattle band Harvey Danger. So, you might remember him. In any case, what ensued was the band running through When I Pretend to Fall in sequence. At first, I thought it sounded a bit to much like happy pop rock with a bit of an edge, but after about the third song I was hooked. Good tunes, well played, interesting lyrics, great on stage persona by the band members. Lets put it this way: the next day I bought the album and really enjoy it. Check this band out!

Missed Opportunities

Some acts I did not get a chance to see when they came to to the Seattle area that I wish I could have seen:

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - they played a festival way out in eastern Washington, and I could not be bothered to drive four hours and endure massive crowds to see their truncated set among so many other bands I could not care less about. BRMC are a very good band that I would drop everything and see if they came to actual Seattle, but not in the situation that happened this year.

Death. This is a band from the 60s reunited now for a tour. Think Detroit garage rock heaviness. I did not realize they played Seattle until after the fact. Oh well.

NOTE: All pictures in this post taken by Marc Osborn. Copyright owned by Marc Osborn. No use of any of these pictures for any purpose is permitted without the prior written permission of Marc Osborn.