Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2014 City League Preview

    The 95th campaign of Pittsburgh City League football begins this Friday night with a few twists and turns for this season.  There is a coaching change at Perry, and if you look at the schedule of four City League teams, you’d swear that you were seeing double.  
    Careful, gentle reader, before you make that appointment to see your friendly neighborhood eye doctor, let me, your faithful City League Advocate allay your fears.  No, you are not seeing double.  It seems that a number of City teams have had problems finding enough non-conference opponents to fill out their schedules, so Allderdice, Perry, Carrick and Brashear have scheduled extra a second game against a City opponent.  The ‘Dice and the Commodores will hook up in weeks 2 and 6,  Brashear and Carrick will face each other in weeks 1 and 7, and Perry will take on the Bulls in weeks 5 and 8.      
    The Advocate can see the gears grinding and the smoke coming out of his readers’ ears, as they burn up precious brain cells pondering the next question:  Well, Mr. Advocate, which of the two matchups will be considered a league game for the purposes of playoff seeding?  The Advocate pondered the same question himself because his usual source of scheduling and stats: The Post Gazette reports that both games are considered league games, while his secondary source, The Tribune-Review  reports that the first meeting on the schedule for the teams involved will be considered a non-league game.
    This making sense in the overworked brain of the Advocate, he deferred to the Scaife publication, which also showed that University Prep or USO did, in fact have non-conference games scheduled, whereas the PG still showed that U-Prep was still playing nothing but a City schedule.   This obviously means that the PG and Trib will be changing places in terms of priority in checking scores and stats.  The Advocate has always thought the Trib’s sport section was better than the PG’s, and this incident proves it.  Now if the Advocate can get past the fact that editorially, the Trib is to the right of Attila the Hun...well, can’t have everything.

    Aaaaaanyway, with that settled, it’s safe to say that Allderdice, Perry, Brashear, and Carrick will treat their early season matchups as tune-up games with vanilla offenses and defenses.  No use pulling all the tricks out of the bag early on, when you know that you’ll be facing that same opponent a few weeks down the road, especially with playoff implications involved for three of the four teams.  
    The Advocate would not be surprised if more City teams might employ this type of scheduling in future seasons, although that does not mean that he approves of it.  It saves money for a cash-strapped school district, in that they have one less road trip to make to some far away school in the middle of nowhere to face a hostile crowd and most likely, get their butts handed to them.
     But then again, the non-City games on the schedule are often the ones City players look forward to. It gives them a break from playing in front of the same sparse crowds and sterile atmosphere of Cupples Stadium and allows them to see what really makes high school football so special.  A real home team advantage, real traditions.  Marching bands and cheerleaders that perform all four quarters instead of packing it in after halftime.   A community really getting behind their school and football team.  City League kids don’t get to see that very often at Cupples.  
    Which is one of the reasons, that the Advocate supports the merger of the City League into the WPIAL, if and when that happens.  But he expounded on his view re: a potential merger in a previous blog post, so it’s not necessary to get into it here.
 
   But now, The Advocate has spent enough time gibbering about scheduling theory and practice,  what say we preview the 2014 City League season, shall we?

***Allderdice***

    In two of the last three seasons, the Allderdice Dragons have been to the City finals looking to break the longest current championship drought in the City League, which stands at a rather dour and depressing 47 years.  The last time the ‘Dice hoisted the hardware in football, the Advocate was five years old.  But if there has ever been a better chance for the Dragons to finally snap that streak, it would be the 2014 season.  The Dragons are stocked with returning players.  Among them are twin juniors James and Tim Jackson.  These two were also part of the ‘Twin Magic’  Allderdice basketball team that upset Obama Academy to win the City League basketball championship last season.  Both players stand 6-2 and 175lbs.  James threw for 1,677 yards and his brother caught 33 passes for a 30.6 yard per catch average.  Trevon Williams looks like the leading candidate to run the ball behind a solid Dragon line featuring Talon Scott, Anthony Langford and Lamone Dixon.  After a week 1 trip to Wheeling Central Catholic, the ‘Dice will face Perry for the first of two games against the Commodores this season.  The early schedule favors Allderdice after week two with Westinghouse, Brashear and Carrick all lined up and ripe for the picking.  Then come two crucial games that will have serious playoff implications.  The second game against Perry, which will count as a league contest, and a game against defending champion, University Prep on October 10 that could decide the regular season title and number 1 seed for the playoffs.   Bias aside, if Allderdice can keep the twin magic flowing and take advantage of their light early schedule, they should have plenty of momentum going into the final two games against Perry and U-Prep.  

***Brashear***

    The Bulls return starting running backs Ty Powe and Khalil Saunders. Powe rushed for almost 700 yards last season.  Therran Coleman moves from receiver to quarterback to run the Brashear offense.  Notable returners on defense include linebackers Keyshawn Shaaid and Joe Bonner.  Brashear opens their non City schedule with their first game against Carrick, and then will host Karns City out of District 9.  Then the Bulls face an uphill early City schedule with three straight games against potential playoff contenders: U-Prep, Allderdice, and a non-league tussle with Perry, one after another.  Should they survive that onslaught, the schedule eases up a bit with games against Westinghouse and Carrick before finishing the regular season with Perry again, this time with playoff seeds on the line.


***Carrick***

    The Raiders return seven starters on offense and six on defense, and there is optimism at Carrick in 2014.  Joe Kalsek will be counted on to tote the pig, and Hakeim McKenzie will be returning as quarterback and strong safety.   Taylor Thornton will be returning at wide receiver and cornerback. His twin brother, Tyler will be on the o-line with Terrin Hampton, and Isiah Walker.  Other notables include: WR/DB Levar Chapman and RB/LB Marsai Howard.
    Carrick will open with the first of two games against Brashear, then travel 65 miles up Route 28 to play Redbank Valley.   They will then play Perry, Westinghouse, Allderdice, U-Prep, and Brashear before closing the season on the road at Wheeling Park in West By-Gawd Virginia.

***Perry***

    Bill Gallagher will no longer be roaming the sidelines as the head coach of the Perry Commodores.  He resigned back in February to take the offensive line coaching job at Seton-La Salle, his alma mater. Citing a desire to be closer to his family, Gallagher won seven City League titles in his 13 years as the Commodores head coach.  He amassed a record of 113-41 during that time, and his crowning achievement was the 2002 Perry squad that didn’t allow a point in its first 13 games before bowing to Hopewell 20-3.  In his place, will step former Langley boss, Ken Wright.  During the five seasons with the Mustangs, Wright totaled a record of 10-37, and while many may scoff at the difference in records between the outgoing and incoming coaches, it must be stated that Gallagher's JV teams had much better talent than Wright's varsity squads ever had.  Wright will take over a Perry team that went 3-6 in 2013.  And under center, he will have a player who can lay claim to being related to lengendary Perry quarterback Rod Rutherford.  His cousin, Shawn Rutherford, a 6-1, 230lb junior will be commanding the Perry offense.  Malik James and Chandlor Huston will be counted on to anchor a much needed running game.  Perry will be getting some help from recent transfers into the program: Moses Giles, who transferred in from Avonworth, and Sto-Rox transfer receiver Amir Newring.   The Commodores will open with a home game against Slippery Rock out of District 10, and an early season non-conference test aganst the ‘Dice.  A challenging mid-season schedule features games against U-Prep, Brashear, and Allderdice and the season ender with Brashear, and this one will count.

***University Prep***

    2013 was clearly the best regular season in the young existence of the three school co-op that makes up USO or University Prep.  The Wildcats racked up 370 points in 10 games and only gave up 126 points.  And the reason for the offensive juggernaut was a 5-9, 170  lb junior named Kevin Brown.  Prior to coming to U-Prep, Brown languished at Westinghouse,  But after arriving at the Hill District school, he turned in a season performance that even had WPIAL pundits buzzing.  Brown completed 207 of 342 passes for 3,401 yards and 43 touchdowns.  Only one other quarterback in Western PA was better.  Brett Brumbaugh of South Fayette threw for 3,897 yards leading the Lions to a PIAA Class AA title.  And Kevin Brown’s favorite target was Marcus Johnson who torched opposing defenses for 52 catches and over 30 touchdowns.  
But U-Prep was hit hard by graduation, and while Brown is still under center, coach Lou Berry will have to find a replacement for Johnson.  But the cupboard isn’t entirely bare.  Help might be coming in the form of a Central Catholic transfer named Kenny Robinson.  He’s a 6-3 receiver that is expected to also contribute to the Wildcat’s defense.  The offensive line is pretty much intact, and is anchored by fourth year starter Kevin Williams at center.
    U-Prep will open the season a week late with a game against Westinghouse on Sept 4, and will face two stiff tests early on with battles against Brashear and Perry before taking a break from City League action to play independent Imani Christian, they will head back into City League play with a games against Carrick and Allderdice before traveling 41 miles out Route 22 to play the Big Red of Steubenville High School in Ohio.


***Westinghouse***

    The Bulldogs have found it tough sledding in the City League over the years.  Outnumbered, overmatched, beaten and bedraggled, but they still play football on North Murtland St just like they did when the ‘House won its first City League title back in 1921.   But the Bulldogs haven’t tasted a championship since 1996.   And a revolving door of coaches have come and gone in vain attempts to recapture past glories.   Coach Monte Robinson has been at the helm of the ‘House for seven years.  During that time, his teams have won a grand total of 13 games.  The ‘Dawgs suffer from the usual issues of inner city programs that are floundering.  The most promising players transfer to other schools, drugs, violence, gangs, low expectations, and a general feeling of hopelessness.  But every year, the kids come out to practice, hoping to reverse the trend, to swim against the tide.  This year is no exception.
    There are only a few starters coming back for the ‘House this season.  Marion Ellis is expected to be under center.   Kameron Watson is slated to start as a receiver.  The line will be anchored by Deontrae Boyce.  Kejuan Burg will be counted on to run the ball.
    Westinghouse will open the season at home against Blairsville out of District 6.  The City portion of the schedule starts with games against U-Prep, Allderdice, and Carrick.  Another non- conference home tilt against Saltsburg, then finish the City schedule with Perry and Brashear before going on the road to end the season at Wheeling Central Catholic.


  The pundits are proclaiming Allderdice as the team to beat in the City League this year, but the Advocate has seen this movie before. And he knows the ending.  As much as he would love to see his beloved Dragons take the trophy that has eluded them since 1967, he knows that in the rare times the pundits have predicted the ‘Dice to take it all, they’ve always been wrong.  One who has watched this league over the years knows that Perry and U-Prep are NEVER to be counted out.  Perry has some weapons, but can a coach who’s last stop was one of the City’s perennial doormats mold those parts into a title contender.  Can U-Prep find some receivers for their talented quarterback to throw to, and if not, can they develop a running game to balance that air attack.   Can Brashear’s running game get them past that punishing early season schedule.  And finally, can Allderdice depend on ‘Twin Magic’ to carry them to the championship?  The answers are to come.  

Monday, August 11, 2014

What if the US disappeared?

    I've been thinking about a heavy scenario the last couple days.  What if the world woke up the next day,  and the United States had simply disappeared? 
     The reason makes no difference.  A giant asteroid,  the zombie apocalypse,  God suddenly calling for a rapture of 300+ million people,  whatever.  The cause is irrelevant.  The world's richest nation,  the largest economy,  the most powerful military,  the largest and most favored destination for immigrants,  poof,  gone.  No cities,  no people,  all that is left is a 3,000 mile long,  2,500 mile wide mass of barren land between Canada and Mexico. 

     What would happen?

     What country or countries would rush to fill the power vacuum?  Russia?  The EU? China?  What country or countries would lay claim to that massive expanse of land?  And how would Canada and Mexico feel about its new neighbors?
      What would be the immediate effect on the global economy if its biggest player suddenly disappeared?   How would the loss of the so-called "Policeman of the World" affect the Middle East and all the other hotspots around the world?
      How would culture be affected?  The US is one of the biggest exporters of mass culture,  for better, or for worse. 
       From the time of discovery,  how long would it take for the world to recover from the initial shock to the economy,  geopolitics,  and mass culture? 
       I do not use this post as a jingoistic flag-waving show of the greatness of the United States,  or proof of its indispensability.  It's just a thought exercise to raise conversation about the aftereffects on the world when one of its major players abruptly leaves the stage.   
     I have some of my own opinions,  but they are of a layman with but a casual interest in the United States' role in the world.  As much as I love this country warts and all,  I am not like so Americans who think the world ends at our borders.  We are a large part of a very diverse planet,  and much of what we do affects the other 6.7 billion people we share this rock with. 
    To be sure,  a lot of nations would be dancing in the streets if the US disappeared.  We have made more than a few enemies.   
     But I tend to think that while most of the nations of the world have very strong opinions about how we in the United States conduct our business and that we should keep our noses out of their's.  For better or worse,  I believe that they do see the US as an overall stabilizing force in the world,  or at least the best of a questionable lot.  And that the world would be in a lot worse shape if we were not around.  But what do I know?

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Night and Day

     Night and Day, Before and After, Zero and One, Off and On.
     There are many different ways to describe the nature of polar opposites.  Over the last four years, fans of the Arena Football team known as the Pittsburgh Power have experienced their unique version of polar opposites.
     After a debut season in 2011 that saw the fledgling franchise go 9-9 and just miss making the playoffs in their first year,  the Power spent the next two seasons  doing their best impression of the Children of Israel of Old Testament fame, only instead of wandering through the desert from Egypt to the Promised Land, the Power ended up wandering in circles through the AFL wilderness in search of the league's Promised Land.  In this case, respectability.  And instead of a pillar of cloud to lead them by day and a pillar of fire by night, the Power had two coaches that were in over their heads and management that acted as if they were making it up as they went along.
     2012 was an unprecedented year for the franchise, for all the wrong reasons.  The Arena Football League had labor problems and was facing a strike by its players over salary issues.  The Power picked up what they thought would be the quarterback that would lead them into the Promised Land of respectability, Kyle Rowley.  But Rowley didn't get a chance to play a down for the Black and Gold because he and the rest of the team were fired during a team meal at an Olive Garden just hours before their season opener in Orlando against the Predators. Power players were threatening to go out on strike,  but owner Matt Shaner launched a preemptive strike of his own by dropping the hammer on the team.
     Some of the players split from the union and returned to play the game with replacement players picking up the slack after being added to the team just minutes before kickoff.  Those who refused to come back including Rowley, were left in Orlando to fend for themselves in terms of finding a way back home.  All in all, an embarrassing moment for a league that was used to having their share of flubs and foul-ups.
     The Power won that ragtag game 40-26, then racked up three losses in a row until the return game in Pittsburgh against Orlando.  The Power spotted the Predators a 31 point lead, then proceeded to mount what was considered the greatest comeback in AFL history, defeating the Preds 57-54 in overtime.
    Any momentum the Power gained after that record breaking win went away when the team reeled off six straight losses, during which head coach Chris Siegfried was 'future endeavored' and replaced with Interim coach Derek Stingley.
    Then things really got weird.  The Power headed up to Cleveland to play the Gladiators...only the Glads didn't want to play.  They didn't even bother showing up.  The Cleveland players staged a one-day strike in support of the league's ongoing labor dispute, and the Power were the beneficiaries of a win without even having to break a sweat.  The 2-0 result remains the only game forfeited in the 27 year history of the Arena Football League.
     Alas, the Power limped through the rest of the season winning only 2 of their last 6 games, to finish their season 5-13.  Pittsburgh could never get any consistent quarterback play in 2012.  Four signal-callers rode the Power merry-go-round under center.  Who could forget such luminaries as: Bryan Randall; Andrico Hines;  Derek Cassidy and Bill Stull?  All of them had varying degrees of success behind the Power's Swiss cheese offensive line, but none of them lasted long enough to gain any rapport with the Power receiving core, which was more than up to the task, if only their quarterback could get them the ball consistently.
     As badly as the Power fared at quarterback, their placekicking situation was no better.  No less than five kickers tried their hand putting the ball through the narrow AFL goalposts for the Power, but none of them could latch on.   The league eventually got their labor matter settled.  But 2012 would go down as one of the more bizarre season's in the Power's rather short existence.  Power fans, a hardy bunch indeed thought that things couldn't possibly get any worse, at least on the field if not at the bargaining table.
     They were wrong.  2013 started with the Power dropping three straight games including a road loss to Chicago in which Pittsburgh could only muster a measly 14 points, the lowest offensive output in team history.  A win against New Orleans in week 4 started a run where the Power went 3 for 6, but after a 55-44 home win against the Gladiators, the Power wouldn't see another win for 43 days. In the seven game losing streak from June 1 to July 13, the Power defense gave up 59 points or more in six out of the seven losses, including a 68-54 loss to San Jose,  a 70-48 loss to Jacksonville, a 71-58 defeat at Cleveland, a 59-21 home loss to Philadelphia, and the lowlight of the season, a 78-20 beatdown at home against San Jose on national television.  The Power finished the season 4-14. A laughing stock and the butt of jokes all over the AFL.
     Pittsburgh's quarterback troubles continued in 2013.  One of the more unusual moves that caused no shortage of head-scratching and shoulder shrugging amongst the remaining Power faithful was the strange case of Jordan Jefferson.  A standout SEC champion at LSU,  the Power signed the 6'5" quarterback and proceeded to make him the starter.  Never mind the fact that Jefferson had never played Arena Football or any other form of indoor football before he got to the Power.  Somehow, the Power braintrust thought that putting this young man under center as a starter in a game he had never played before would be the ticket to success.  What were they thinking?
     Actually, he didn't do that badly completing 55% of his passes and going  108 out of 196 for 1190 yards, 19 touchdowns and 5 interceptions in 5 games for the Power,  but Jefferson had the misfortune of playing behind a porous offensive line.  He showed potential, but ultimately, he just wasn't the game-breaker the Power needed.  Other QB's who came to Pittsburgh and left with their tails between their legs were:  Steven Sheffield, Derek Cassidy, and one Shane Austin, who would end up going to Cleveland in 2014 and having much better results.
     In 2014, the Power management had had enough.  Suddenly they decided that the best course of action was to exercise what former President Bush  the Younger would call the "Nukular" option.  They would blow up the team and start all over.  Only five players from the 2013 debacle would remain.
     They took advantage of the breakup of the Utah Blaze and brought in wide receivers: Aaron Lesue, Shaun Kauleinamoku and quarterback Tommy Grady.  They traded popular receiver Mike Washington to Spokane and got in return quarterback-linebacker Arvell Nelson.  They scored D-back Virgil Gray from New Orleans.  These were just a few of the players that the Power brought in from all over the league.              Anyone that looked like they could contribute was snatched up.  But could all this new talent be molded into a team that could compete in the AFL?  The upcoming schedule looked imposing. Road games against the two-time defending champion Arizona Rattlers and the always dangerous Spokane Shock, a team with one of the best home field advantages in the league. An early season home game against a tough San Jose Sabercats squad.  Three games against the 2013 Arenabowl runnerups, the Philly Soul.  Were the Power going to be the goats of the league again?  Would this experiment be a success?
    The 2014 season started just like the 2013 season ended.  Cleveland handed the Power a 63-53 loss in the home opener.  Then the management did something that caused tongues to wag and heads to shake all over the league.  They gave Derek Stingley the heave-ho after just one game in the new season.   Surely the Power management had gone off their collective rocker. Who would fire their head coach one game into the season?  Madness!  What cheek!
    The Power then shook up the league with their hiring decision.  They brought in former Utah coach Ron James.  A veteran coach with lots of experience in the Arena league, James was familiar with Tommy Grady, having coached him while he was with the Blaze.  Clearly management was going all in on this move.
    And did that move pay off.  The Power rung up three wins in a row including a 48-47 squeaker at home against San Jose.  The Power defense held the hapless San Antonio Talons to only 17 points on the road in week 3.  And improved on that effort with a 56-14 pasting of the New Orleans Voodoo at home.  The Ron James era jumped off with a bang.  Power fans couldn't believe it.  What happened to stumbling, bumbling Power that couldn't protect their quarterback and whose defense gave up 60 and 70 points per game down the homestretch in 2013?  The first glimmers of hope began to surface at the Consol.  A team and a fan base that had little to cheer about since the Power's inception started to carefully get excited.  Then came a two game road trip against undefeated foes starting at the Snakepit in Phoenix and then a trip to division rival Cleveland.
    The Power put up 69 against the Rattlers, but even that lofty score wasn't enough to ensure victory.  But to score that many points against the defending champs was surely something the resurgent Power could feel good about.  The offense was clicking, the defense was dominant, it looked like the Power were surely on their way.  But the next week against Cleveland, the Power were held to their lowest point total of the season in a 55-28 loss to the Gladiators.  The team had lost two in a row.  In past seasons, a two game losing streak would have easily grown to six or seven, and a sure boot out of playoff contention.
    But the Power headed home to face a solid, but streaky Philadelphia Soul team that had opened with 4 straight road games and going 1-3.  The Soul were on a three game winning streak and looking for a fourth, when the Power handed them a 65-57 defeat, and they never looked back.
     Their loss to Cleveland was the last defeat the Power would experience for the rest of the regular season.  From May 3rd to August 3rd, the Power went on an unprecedented twelve game winning streak.  They outscored their opponents 691 to 509.  A team that barely averaged 40 points per game in 2013 was scoring a full two touchdowns better in 2014.  The defense had held opponents to under 40 points in 5 of the 12 wins.  The Power were showing dominance on both sides of the ball.  Instead of drives where Power fans held their breath, crossed their fingers and hoped for the best,  the team showed that when they got the ball, the chances of them scoring went from a probability to almost a certainty.  Grady showed a deadly accuracy that previous Power signal callers only hinted at, connecting on field length touch passes in the corners of the end zone as well as yard gaining frozen ropes over the middle.  And when the Power needed the tough yards down at the goal line, they counted on Tommy Taggart to tote the pig.  And he responded by  rumbling into the end zone 10 times in 2014.
     One thing that the Power could count on this season was the steadiness of its wide receiver corps.  When the team lost Aaron Lesue and Prechae Rodriguez early in the season, stalwarts like Shaun Kaleinomoku and James Shaw stepped in to pick up the slack.  Other replacements like Tyrone Goard, Rodney Wright, and Hank Edwards jumped in and picked up where their injured brothers left off.  The tremendous depth at wide receiver was a prime factor in the Power offense becoming one of the more consistent in the league.
    On the other side of the ball, the Power defense gained a reputation for being a swarming, aggressive group of ballhawks daring opposing quarterbacks to throw their way, posting 36 interceptions in 2014, 11 of which came from the far ranging former Arizona Rattler Virgil Gray, who fit right in as the Power Jack linebacker.  Brandon Freeman and Al Phillips also contributed to the defense's success in meaningful ways.        And this Power team could also go after quarterbacks too.  Jake Killeen, Curtis Young, and Pittsburgh's favorite cannibal, James Bryant brought 19.5 of the Power's 28 sacks to the party.  
     And we can't forget the men in the trenches either.  Centers Tony Narcisse and Keith Newell anchored a massive offensive line that kept Grady upright and injury-free in a season that saw quarterbacks all over the league go down.
     The defensive line was led by Jake Killeen and featured Maurice Fountain, Anthony Hoke and Curtis Young.  Those big boys tore into the opponents o-lines and made holes for the linebackers to haunt quarterbacks and running backs alike.   In a game where holding a team to under 40 points in a game was considered a good defensive effort, the Power held teams to under 30 points in 5 of the 18 games of the regular season.
     And for once, the Power had a kicking game.  Julian Rauch became Mr. Automatic for the Power connecting on all 5 of his field goals and 88.7% of his extra points.  Remember folks, that the goal posts in the AFL are half the width and five feet higher than in the NFL.  So unlike the outdoor game where an extra point is all but a given, in the Arena league, not so much.
     The Power made it to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history riding a 12 game winning streak and a 15-3 record.  Unfortunately the vagaries of the AFL's playoff structure had the Power going on the road for their conference semifinal against the Orlando Predators, despite the Preds having an inferior record.  The Power were 7-2 on the road this season, and were favored in the game.
     But the Power ran into a hot quarterback in the guise of former Power and current Predator signal-caller Bernard Morris, who legitimized his claim as one of the better QB's in the league by rushing and passing over, under, and around the Power's defense scoring 8 touchdowns,  4 rushing, and 4 passing.
     Tommy Grady looked off his game, spraying the ball all over the field, over and under throwing receivers all game long.  He completed 18 out of 30 passes for 240 yards and 7 touchdowns, and had at least two downs deep in Predator territory where all he had to do was literally walk into the end zone, but Grady doesn't run if he doesn't have to.
     The game never got out of control. Neither team lead by more than 14 points.  But the Power couldn't stop Orlando's running game, and didn't try to run at all.  Pittsburgh's offense outgained Orlando 240-221 passing, but the Preds rushed for 51 yards, while the Power had 0.  Orlando also had the edge in first downs and time of possession.
     By the time the game was over, the Power had lost their first game in three months and their most successful season to date was over.  But they had an 11 win turnaround, a 15-3 record, and a 12 game winning streak, and for the first time in the short history of the franchise, AFL pundits spoke of the Power, not as the punch line of a very bad joke, but with more than a little respect.  In that sense, the Power reached the Promised Land.
    But now the expectations for 2015 have been set.  And going 15-3 in 2014, while a laudable achievement, doesn't feed the bulldog.  Power fans and players got a taste of what winning feels like.  And now the hard work begins.  Trying to keep the core of this team together.  With the possible creation of an AFL franchise in Las Vegas, it's expected that some of the roster will not be wearing Black and Gold next season.    Some players will move on, bench warmers will try to find starting gigs, either here or elsewhere.   March is a long way off.  Some fans will still have questions in the back of their minds as to whether management will make the moves necessary to keep who they can and bring in capable replacements for the ones who'll leave.  Some wonder whether this season is just a one-off, and can the Power build on what they created.
     One thing is imperative.  The Power need to attract new fans.  It is no longer acceptable for a team like this, with the talent they have to be playing in front of only 5,000 to 6,000 fans.  The people who come out, myself included, have fallen in love with this team.  We've hung out with these guys in the post-game gatherings, and season ticket holder events.  We've met these guys up close and personal.  The fledgling fan club: Power Up!  hosted the team at a picnic at South Park back in June.  The players were happy to see that there were those who appreciated their efforts.  They engaged with the fan club and were entirely approachable.
   They're good guys, they love to meet the fans.  They put it all out on the field and we eat it up.  The atmosphere at a Power game is fun and family friendly.  You have nothing to fear bringing your kids to watch the Power.  Ticket prices are reasonable, the Consol is a great place to watch a game.  And now that the players have shown that they can compete with any team in the league, it's time for the management to step up and promote this team.  And also we fans who have drank the Power Kool-Aid hve to do our part also.   For you don't know what you have until it's gone.  I'm going all in with the Power, next week, I'm buying season tickets. And being that I put it out there in writing, I have to follow through.
     As I've gotten older, I've been less interested in the what the major pro sports teams in Pittsburgh are doing.  Ticket prices are through the roof, I'm not big on crowds, and frankly, the Pirates, Penguins and Steelers really don't need my support or the little bit of money I have.  I'm happy if and when they win, but I don't feel as connected or invested in them.  I won't lose sleep if the Big Three fell into the Ohio, and floated down past Cincinnati.
    But the second tier sports teams in Pittsburgh:  The Power; Passion, and Riverhounds, I've started to follow with much more interest.  Unlike the Big Three, they need the support of every fan they can attract. They don't get the media coverage that the Pirates, Steelers and Pens take for granted.  They have to fight for every inch of space in the newspapers, every second of airtime on television news.  To be more than just a box score in agate type or a quick mention just above the hunting and fishing articles and dirt track racing features.   I've always been one to root for the underdogs, the fighters, and scrappers that toil in the shadows of their more publicized cousins.  They don't take their place in the sports market for granted.  They have to fight to every butt in every seat they can get.  And I respect that, and will give them my support and my dollars.
    This Power season, I went to six of the team's nine home games, and God willing, I'll make an effort to see all the Power games in 2015.  I was privileged to see the previous Pittsburgh franchise in the AFL: The Gladiators play in the very first Arenabowl in Pittsburgh back in 1987.  And I hope that it won't be the last.

GO POWER!!!!
   

Friday, August 01, 2014

Got More Ink.

     As some of you might remember waaaay back in January, I made the decision to shut the blog down because I was doing much more posting to Facebook and frankly, because I just didn't have the desire to maintain the damn thing even on the infrequent posting schedule I maintained.
     It also didn't help that my beloved netbook, Marrina was stolen.  Although why anyone would want a five year old, slow and cranky netbook running Windows XP was beyond me.  Although I have to admit the data on the thing was worth a lot more than the hardware. I lost a lot of music bought off iTunes, a lot of documents of varying importance, along with the feeling of security I once had.
    The documents were backed up to various cloud services.  The same could not be said for the music.  Oh, well. Easy come, easy go.

     It took me quite a while to replace Marrina.  As she was primarily being used to surf the web and for my fanfic writing projects, I found that the web surfing could be done almost as well on my phone as well as my Nexus 7 tablet. I'm rebuilding my music collection slowly through Amazon, which not only stores my music on their cloud servers, but also unlike Apple's putrid iTunes format, Amazon's music is formatted in the mp3 format which allows any music player to work with it instead of relying on Apple's hardware.
     The writing, not so much.  The kind of long form blog entries I prefer as well as the fanfics had to be done on a physical keyboard.  Using the software keyboard on a tablet wasn't going to cut it for the kind of writing I like to do. I need to feel the keys move under my fingers to establish my rhythm.  I need the kind of feedback that only a real keyboard can provide.
     Long story short, I bought another laptop to replace Marrina.  But instead of getting a fancy expensive Windows rig, or God forbid, a Mac, I decided to check out a Chromebook.
     For the uninitiated, a Chromebook is an inexpensive laptop that runs the Google Chrome operating system, which basically is nothing more than the Chrome browser running on top of a cut down Linux distro providing just enough of an operating system to allow the hardware and the software to communicate with each other.  Everything is done through the browser.  All the data is stored in the cloud, in my Google drive account.  Almost no data is stored locally.  The hard drive on this thing is just a tiny 16GB solid state drive, which boots up in seconds, but offers very little in the way of local storage.  I supplemented the paltry capacity of the SSD with a 32GB SD memory card, which is still not a lot of room, but being that this machine is primarily going to be used for writing and surfing, there's no real call for large amounts of storage.     Mostly just documents will be stored locally, and as almost all activity on the machine is done through the browser, there are no other apps that need to be downloaded.  Don't need antivirus, or malware protection, no need for bulky bloated Office suites.  It's really a very low maintenance machine.
     Of course, with a computer that does 99.9% of its work online, this Chromebook is nothing more than a pretty paperweight without an Internet connection.  Fortunately for me, I have decent Wi-Fi  that is very reliable.  One of the few things Comcast got right, although the same cannot be said for their customer service.
    So far, my initial impressions of my new toy are pretty positive.  The hardware is very much an upgrade from Marrina, even if this rig was running Windows, I'm sure that it would acquit itself fairly well.  It's not a cutting edge machine by far, it only has 2 GB of ram, and the Intel Celeron processor won't set any speed records, but for Chrome OS, it's a pretty zippy machine.  Where it took Marrina almost five minutes for her to boot up and for Windows to settle down, my Chromebook can be ready to go in 10-15 seconds.  As long as I stay aware of the device's limitations and are willing to work around them,  the Chromebook does what it's supposed to do pretty well.
    As is my tradition of giving my computers female names, I have named this Chromebook, Midori, which is Japanese for the color Green.  No particular reason for the name, although I had been planning to name Marrina's successor Midori for a long time.  I just like the name.  And it also resonates with my interest in all things Japan.
    Midori will join the other computers that have served me faithfully over the years:  The Corporate Refugee; Angelique; Roxanne; Allegra; and Marrina.
   
     Well, all this basically means is that as the owner and sole content creator of the Moonlight Scribbler, I am hereby invoking my right to reopen the blog and resume operations, as it were.   As those who have followed this little enterprise since the first post back in April of 2006 know, I do not write to a fixed schedule or a quota.  I write whenever the mood strikes me and for as long as I can stand it, or the Muse decides that what she is seeing coming out of my mind sucks and that I need to take a break.  That means that I could write half a page or five pages.  It all depends on the subject matter, how I feel that day, and the particular attitude of the aforementioned Muse.  Like me, she can be quite moody, very flighty, and she comes and goes whenever she damn well feels like it.  Like most of the women in my life.
    I have even commemorated the resurrection of the Scribbler by changing its appearance for the first time since 2006.  Gone is the puke brown, it has been replaced by a more pleasant pastel blue and white.
    I've never expected a lot of people to read this stuff, as I've said more than a few times during the Scribbler's lifetime.  While I welcome comments on whatever I post as long as they are clean and respectful, It really isn't about the feedback with me.  It's about getting all the impacted crap that accumulates in my brain out of there and on the screen, so that more crap can make its way in.
    High School football season is coming up and I will be doing my usual updates on the Pittsburgh City League,  that tends to be some of my best writing.   I'll also be posting on whatever piques my interest.   And I might even throw in a surprise or two.
    So to all the throbbing masses who have followed the travails of the Scribbler for the eight plus years of its tortured existence, rejoice.  I have gotten a new inkwell, some fresh ink, a new quill, and I am proud to say that the Moonlight Scribbler is back in business.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Inkwell has run dry...

It is with a touch of sadness to report that this will be the final official blog post for the Moonlight Scribbler.

The blog hasn't been updated in months, and with my spending more time posting stuff to Facebook and getting more feedback about the stuff I post, and generally ust not having the time nor the inclination to update it regularly,  it seemed right to put a bowtie on this thing and wrap it up.  The Scribbler has never been about clicks and comments, it was about having a place to do the occasional brain dump of accumulated crap that lodges into my head and won't leave on its own.

Declaring the end of the Moonlight Scribbler now is kind of like a doctor pronouncing a patient dead long after the body and bones have returned to the earth from which they sprung.  It was only a matter of time I guess.  The Moonlight Scribbler was the latest in a series of brain dumps going back to my days at CCAC in the mid '90s.

 The only difference being that unlike the other projects: "Just Another Lovely Day in Paradise"; and its shorter and admittedly inferior cousin, "Just Another Lovely Day in Paradise Part 2", which were saved to floppy disks and were either lost, copied over, or the disks just failed over time, the Moonlight Scribbler was posted online where it will remain at least as long as Google is still in business, and still owns Blogger.  Although Google does have this habit of shedding businesses that either don't make money, or they just don't want to play with anymore. So this collection is ultimately at the mercy of teh Goog.

As far as I'm concerned, the blog will stay up, like a old cabin out in the middle of a field, its owner only coming around to make sure that the roof hasn't caved in and the wildlife haven't taken up residence inside.  It is my little outpost on the Internet, my little plot of digital real estate that I call my own. There's a lot of good stuff written here.  196 posts going back to 2006.  Some of it, my best writing. It could even become part of a portfolio should I ever need to look for a job writing columns, or even grist for the mill for another writing project that may come down the road.

Notice that I say that this is the last OFFICIAL post to the Scribbler.  If some extraordinary life event comes up or some earth shattering apocalypse arrives, I reserve the right to reopen the blog and start doing brain dumps again.  But until that fateful event happens, it's safe to say that the Moonlight Scribbler has had its last post.  To those who read this blog, I'm still scratching my head at what possessed you to waste your valuable time doing so.  But aaaaaaaanyway, thanks for reading and leaving comments. It was fun.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Bucs vs A's For All The Marbles. Make It Happen.

With my renewed faith in the Pirates, you know what i'd love to see as a dream World Series matchup? Although from a business perspective, Bud Selig would rather put his head in a wood chipper than have to witness this?  A Pirates vs Oakland A's World Series.  The Battle of the "Have-Nots-Who-Don't-Give-A-Damn."

I used to go to a lot of Oakland A's games when I was stationed in NAS Alameda.  A five minute bus ride and a ten minute BART ride would get me from the base on the island to the Coliseum for a nice night out at the ballyard.  And this was about the time that Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco were just getting hot.  The A's always took care of the Navy providing cheap tickets to the local bases, and that plus the fact that the A's and the Pirates are very similar in terms of being ball clubs that had to make due with little money, and classic underdogs made me a casual follower of the Oakland A's.

The difference being that the Pirates were able to get their shiny new ballpark, while Oakland still toils in that 46 year old cookie cutter stadium that they have the misfortune of sharing with the Raiders. And while the Coliseum wasn't a bad place to watch the game back in the 80's.  The last of the multi-purpose monstrosities has had to put up with Mt. Davis, the ugly abomination of added seating demanded by former Raiders owner Al Davis as a condition of bringing the Raiders back to Oakland. The effect replaced the scenic view of the Oakland hills with a constant reminder of the continual suckage of the Raiders and the folly of their deceased and somewhat senile owner.  

The future of the A's in Oakland seems dicey.  There are plans to build a stadium Downtown in Jack London Square, as well as move the team down south to San Jose. The latter plan being held up due to the protestations of the San Francisco Giants, who claim San Jose as part of their territory and say that the A's moving there would affect their team's attendance.  I call 'Bulls**t' on that.  But for the sake of all the low-buck teams in baseball, I hope that the A's can find a way to stay in Oakland.  They are a proud franchise who has persevered in spite of the odds against them by the inequity of Major League Baseball.  And I for one, would love to see my two favorite teams battle it out for a World Series title. Just to throw up two middle fingers to Bud Selig and the big money teams.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

33 Years Ago Today...

33 years ago today, a Navy recruiter, ( I remember he was a 2nd class, can't remember the rating, think he was a snipe) came to my house at 6:30 am, to drag my young dumb ass to the AFEES station, (They weren't called MEPS back then) in the Federal Building in Downtown Pittsburgh.  I remember the tears in my mother's eyes as we drove away.  Most people don't know that I actually joined the Navy after my junior year in high school. I went in a year later on Delayed Entry, exactly three months to the day after I graduated from Allderdice High School.

For the next ten hours, I was poked, prodded, signed enough paperwork to kill of a decent sized Amazonian rain forest, told to hurry up and wait countless times, told to bend over, turn my head and cough, hurried up and waited some more, ate a truly forgettable box lunch, hurried up and waited some more, and eventually was herded into a small room with the flags of all the armed services with a bunch of other freaked out recruits going to all the services and I swore an oath to protect the Constitution of these United States.  I was bussed to the airport with the other guys I was going with, and I was assigned my first Navy duty. An officer gave me the personnel records of all the guys who were with me and told me to guard them with my life.

I was scared shitless, and kept looking down at the precious papers firmly clutched in my hands all the way from Pittsburgh to Chicago.  We landed in Chicago early that evening, and on the way up to the base, all of us were laughing and shooting the shit just like all young goofballs with more bravado than brains, but as soon as we saw that fence with the barbed wire and the 'Property of US Government' signs, you could have heard a pin drop.  We were herded off the bus by what were actually other recruits on service week, but we thought they were real petty officers, they were screaming at us like were whale shit at the bottom of the Marianas Trench.  We were marched to Receiving Division, given a wrinkled up old raincoat, a scratchy blanket, a padlock, a ditty bag, and we sat in a large room waiting until the rest of the cattle arrived.

After the room was full, we were yelled at, told to dispose of any contraband we brought with us, told to remember our seven digit billet number: 09-10-056 was mine.  And we had our first drug test, the CC's telling us not to piss in their shit stalls. We were threatened with all manner of nasty punishments if we lied about whether we took drugs.  Finally after more yelling and screaming, they finally put us to bed, only to be woken up a couple hours later with the traditional garbage can being rolled down the middle of the berthing. A bunch of bedraggled recruits were mustered on the 'grinder' and marched the length and breadth of RTC GLAKES to get our taste of Navy chow, a designer haircut, a five minute call home, and more poking, prodding, and hurrying up and waiting. Eventually we were issued uniforms and assigned to out divisions. I spent my 18th birthday crying my eyes out in my bunk with 79 other guys in Company 280, 21st Division, RTC GLAKES. I ended up being transferred to 24th Div, Co 939 Triple Threat company because as a result of an audition, the higher ups found out that I can sing, more or less. Eight weeks, countless inspections, PT's, mashings, three days in IT due to gear adrift, and 29 flags later, I and my company passed in review in a drill hall in front of enough brass to make a spittoon. I and the other members of the Bluejackets Choir had the privilege to sing before Bob Hope, who reportedly loved it.

Fast forward to Sept 9, 1986.  After: 2 ships; 2 deployments (A World Cruise and a WestPac); 4 bases; 19 ports of call in 13 countries; 1 emergency leave; 2 tattoos; 2 Shellback initiations (1 receiving, 1 giving); countless shorter at-sea periods( shakedown cruises, sea trials, indy ops off the USSR, etc); and more than a few beers drunk in some places of questionable repute and a few activities I will not discuss because this is Facebook, I walked out the East Gate of NAS Alameda, California,  DD214, and about a grand in travel pay, leave rats and a bunch of memories in hand. I was set on doing 20, but due to a lot of immaturity that still needed to be addressed, I settled on just doing 6 years.  If I knew then what I know now, I would have become more mature and did what it took to pull myself up to go for 20 years. I have no regrets, I'd do it all over again, if my body would let me do so. I had a helluva lot of fun, and worked my ass off. Other than going to college in the '90s, my Navy tour was the defining time of my life, which I guess is kind of sad in a way that the greatest and most formative time of my life was a period almost 30 years ago, and I haven't done much since then to eclipse it.  But that's my fault, and I own my issues, which are many and varied. That's my story, for better or worse, and I'm sticking to it.