Friday, July 29, 2011

Favorite Teams

Last week had a "best team I ever covered" series, where the writers discussed teams like the 1998 New York Yankees, 1968 UCLA basketball team and the 1992 Dream Team. My favorite two pieces were on the 1992 Dream Team and the 1995 Nebraska football team, since those were two of the most memorable teams of my childhood. Anyway, that got me thinking about what would be my *eight favorite teams of all time. This isn't to say that these are the eight best teams I watched, but rather just my favorite teams over the course of a season.
*Why eight? Because I tried a list of ten and there was a big dividing line in between eight and nine. Eight ended up being the natural amount of truly memorable teams.

8. 2006-2007 Utah Jazz: : After a three year playoff drought, this young Jazz team not only made the playoffs, but advanced to the Western Conference Finals. The team's best players were point guard Deron Williams, power forward Carlos Boozer and center Memhet Okur. These players were complimented by veterans Matt Harpring and Andrei Kirilenko and rookies Paul Millsap and Ronnie Brewer. All of these players had a ton of talent on this team as evidenced by the fact that they had nine players with a WS/48 over the average NBA player mark 0.10.

I remember watching the team's epic 1st round series against the Rockets, where the team was able to come back from a 2-0 deficit and win game 7 on the road. After that game, the team got a lucky draw with the 8th seeded Warriors and won a close 5 game series. Their luck ran out in the Western Conference Finals as they lost to the Spurs in 5 games. This included the terrible Game 4, where the Spurs shot 41 free throws to the Jazz 20. In the forth quarter the Spurs scored 19 of their 28 points from the line. That was a sour end to an otherwise great season. One thing that was nice that the players on the team were young and this was supposed to serve as a preview of better things to come

7. 2008 Miami Dolphins: Has a team that never even won a playoff game been more loved by their fans? For Dolphins fans there hasn't been much to cheer about since Dan Marino left. It was a steady decline until things finally bottomed out with a 1-15 season that very easily could have been 0-16. The expectations for the 2008 season were about as low as you can get. The team lived up to those expectations by losing the first two weeks, and this looked to be a certain 0-3 start as the team heading into New England to play the Patriots. What happened that day goes down as one of the most unbelievable sports experiences in my life. You see I was in Washington DC for a wedding and the day after M and I went to go cross off a new ballpark by going to see the Padres-Nationals. I had no idea that I was missing the most incredible regular season game of the year. The Dolphins introduced the Wildcat and destroyed the Patriots. From then on it was a combination of a solid defense and the incredible leadership of QB Chad Pennington. I could go on and on about how much I loved watching Pennington play QB, but that will have to be saved for another post. The team went on to win a string of close games followed by a week 17 road win against the hated Jets. The fact that they lost in the 1st round of the playoffs to the Ravens didn't even bother me that much. It was an incredible team that improved from one win to 11 wins in only one season.

6. 1995 Nebraska football - I was 12 years old watching the 1995 Nebraska team and even without the benefit of experience, I knew I was watching something special. That team destroyed every team in their path. They were so much better than the rest of college football that they beat the 2nd best team 62-24. The crazy thing was that team (Florida) was so good that they kept the #2 ranking in the end of the year poll. Also, Florida came back the next year and won the National Title. Florida was a really good team, but Nebraska was one of the best teams of all time. My favorite player was Tommie Frazier and naturally my favorite play was the option. I don't think I will ever see a team as good as the 1995 Nebraska football team.

5. 2006 Minnesota Twins  - This is the team that solidified the Twins as my favorite team. I just sat down and in 5 minutes was able to name all the starters and 18 of the regular players. I loved the overall daily brilliance of Mauer, Morneau and Hunter, the piranhas of Bartlett, Punto, Castillo and Tyner and the two best pitchers in baseball in Santana and Liriano. The 2006 Twins had the AL MVP (Morneau even though it should have been Mauer), the 2006 Cy Young (Santana even though it would have been Liriano if he stayed healthy) and a 2nd place finish for the manager of the year (Ron Gardenhire).The team won 96 games and famously came from 12.5 games behind the Tigers to win the division on the last day of the season.

However, the Tigers rebounded much better than the Twins as they made it to the World Series, while the Twins were swept by the Athletics. This team helped make me a Twins fan and in an unexpected way helped define what the Twins would be like from the next 5+ years. In my time as a fan, the Twins have represented good, lovable teams that did well in the regular season and then imploded in the playoffs. Still, I look back fondly on the 2006 Twins in the same way I look back at the 2008 Dolphins. Sometimes with teams it as about the journey and not the end result - especially when that end result is disappointment in the playoffs.

4. 2010 Duke Blue Devils basketball - The team that brought back balance to Tobacco Road. It had been a pretty poor run for Duke compared to their rivals from Chapel Hill. In 2009, Duke watched UNC win the title, while they were getting blown out in the Sweet 16 by Villanova. Also, they lost their recruiting battle for Harrison Barnes. It wasn't looking good for Duke or the rivalry. Then the 2010 team happened. Nolan Smith transformed himself from an average player to someone who should have his jersey retired at Cameron. On the team Jon Scheyer was the heart, Kyle Singler was the soul and yet neither was as important at times as Brian Zoubek. Zoubek was the best offensive rebounder in the nation that year with an offensive rebounding rate of 21.4%. After all the years of injuries and frustration, his redemption was an even more amazing for Duke fans. This team might not have been the most talented team, but they won the title because combined they were more valuable then the sum of their parts.

3. 1997-1998 Utah Jazz - Just thinking about this team makes me equal parts happy and sad. This is the defining team for me as a fan because it best represents my relationship with my favorite pro sports teams. I've been a fan of the Jazz, Dolphins and Dodgers/Twins and have never followed a team that has won the title. The best of those teams would have to be the 1998 Utah Jazz team. Let me go through their dominance.
  • The team finished with the best record in the league (62-20)
  • They had two Hall of Famers in John Stockton and Karl Malone.
  • They had made the NBA Finals the previous year, so the experience level was there.
  • They got progressively better in the Western Conference playoffs as they beat the Rockets 3-2, Spurs 4-1 and Lakers 4-0.
  • They won 88% of their home games at the Delta Center.
  • They won 86% of their games after the All-Star game.
  • They beat the Chicago Bulls both times in the regular season.
  • They had the best offensive in the league.
They entered the NBA Finals with homecourt advantage and a better shot of beating the Michael Jordan/Scottie Pippen led Bulls team than any other team. They had the chance to end the "last dance" with an NBA Finals defeat. They lost the series in a way that I still find hard to believe. The most frustrating thing was Game 6 because of a few unquestionable missed calls (the two shot clock violations) and one big subjective missed call (Jordan's push off). If they would have won that game, then I have little doubt that they would have won Game 7 at the Delta Center. I wish I could say that it doesn't matter and that I still love thinking about this team, but writing about this team without the disappointment wouldn't be telling the whole story.

2. 2001 Duke Blue Devils basketball - This was the perfect team at the perfect time. I was 18 years old, which meant I was old enough to fully appreciate and follow the team, but young enough to not be so jaded or defensive. While the 2010 Duke team might have been a better story there are two things that separate the 2001 team from the 2010 team. The first reason was that I was able to watch the 2001 team without having to deal with all the anti-Duke people I ran across during the 2010 season. The second is that the 2001 team was better and had more talent. Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer, Jay Williams, Mike Dunleavy and Chris Duhon all became NBA players. This was a well-balanced team that was I was able to watch with my Mom as she appreciated Religion major Shane Battier. I will always look back fondly on the 2001 Duke's team.

1. 2003 Miami University football team: With the exception of the 2006 Twins, I followed all of the above teams on TV. That wasn't the case for the Twins and it also wasn't the case for the Miami Redhawks. Not only was I able to go to most of the games (all the homes games plus two others), but there was a more personal relationship since I was a Miami University student. I lived a short walk from the stadium and would eat my meals a few feat away from the players. These weren't just random players, but fellow students and in a couple cases friends. That made the difference in picking the 2003 team as my favorite team of all time.

Now, as far as what the team accomplished I can run down the list. They went 13-1 with the longest winning streak in the nation, won the MAC and beat a pretty good Louisville team in the GMAC bowl. One of the most remarkable numbers (that I am 85% sure is accurate) is that the team beat the Vegas spread in the final 13 games of the year. That means if you bet $1 on the first game of the year and let it ride every single week then you would have $4096 by the end of season.

During this season I remember the incredible day before the nationally televised ESPN game against Bowling Green. It was one of those perfect days that you wish you could save. Also, there was the next week's  blowout victory over hated Marshall. Besides a few plays I remember, I also have the memory of a security guard having to tell me that I need to put out my victory cigar as I celebrated in the stands.

The team finished as the 10th ranked team in the nation, but by the end of the year I would have enjoyed seeing them play anyone in the country. That team was so good, that I really believe they could have competed with the best teams around. They were Boise State before Boise State.

The 2003 Miami Redhawks might be my favorite, but all of the teams above have a rightful place in my pantheon of favorite teams.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

30 before 30

Since I was getting a new computer I decided to go through some of the files I had on my old computer. Everything was supposed to be transferred, but just in case that didn't work I wanted to see what was out there. One thing I found was a list I created in 2007 about the 30 things I wanted to do before I turned 30. Now, it kind of works out that my before 30 goals can be broken into 3 equal sections. There are things that I've since accomplished. There are things that I probably won't end up doing in the next two years. And then there are the 10 things that I might be able to do if I really focus on crossing them off the list.

Below are the 10 things that I've been able to cross off.
  1. See a game at Cameron Indoor Stadium: One of the best experiences of my life and certainly my favorite birthday gift of all time.
  2. See a University of Minnesota hockey game: For a hockey game/arena this was pretty fun to see. Why are the Gophers hockey team not a perennial national title contender anymore?
  3. See a Minnesota Wild game: Yawn. I know everyone else loves hockey here, but the best part of going to a Wild game is eating at Cossetta's before the game. I enjoyed the Gophers game more.
  4. Eat all 4 hot dog options at Miller Park: Ok, I've only ate 3 out of the 4, but I am going to count it. Anyway, I love watching a game at Miller Park and the hot dog options are part of the appeal.
  5. Get married: That was kind of a big deal. I'm happy to have been able to cross this off my list.
  6. Have a certain amount of money in my bank account. This is another really important thing to me. I've been able to save a decent amount of money and am proud of both that and my budgeting system. I'm happy to say that even after the financial crisis, I still was able to reach this financial goal.
  7. Become Six-Sigma Green Belt certified: This was work related and something that is better now that is is over.
  8. Go to the top of the Space Needle: I loved the Space Needle and Seattle. It was so much fun visiting my friends Candace, Nancy and Nicholas, which is good since none of the three remain in Seattle. I'm glad to have crossed this off.
  9. Go to Austria for Nancy/Nicholas's wedding: What an amazing trip and wedding.
  10. Catch a fish at Pike Place's Market in Seattle: I didn't catch a fish, but I have been there, so I am counting this one as well.
I feel a since of accomplishment when thinking about those 10 things, which isn't the same with the ones below. Below are the 10 "probably won't do before I turn 30" goals.
  1. Coach a basketball team: This would be a fun thing to do, but I've never gotten around to it.
  2. Get my picture next to every state sign: I've gotten my picture next to 26 states, so I am more than halfway there.
  3. See the Northern Lights: If I actually liked camping this would be a lot more likely for me to do.
  4. See the pyramids in Egypt: Do the pyramids in Mexico count? I would like to go to Egypt, but probably not before I turn 30.
  5. Go on a gondola ride in Venice: This will almost definitely have to wait till I am 30+.
  6. Learn to play one decent song on the guitar: This was a stretch goal then and it is still a stretch goal.
  7. Paint a halfway decent painting: Let's just say I've spent as much time painting as I have playing a guitar.
  8. Get my MBA: This is a tough one, but I am still on the fence on getting an MBA. The longer I wait the less likely it is I have the motivation to go back.
  9. Watch a Diamondbacks game from the jacuzzi in the outfield. This would be really fun, but probably won't happen.
  10. Drink a mint julep at the Kentucky Derby. If I lived within driving distance then I probably would cross this off.
That leaves 10 more goals that if I really try I might be able to accomplish before my 30th birthday. I would be happy with just crossing 5 of the below off my list, but we will see. Below are the 10 "I might cross them off in time" goals.
  1. Tailgate at Ole Miss before a home football game: If I lived within driving distance this would be easy to cross off.
  2. See a Nebraska home football game: Every year I say I am going to do this, but 2011 will be different.
  3. See a Dolphins home game: Miami has the Dolphins...the greatest football team.
  4. Visit Cooperstown, NY and the Baseball Hall of Fame: This might have been the year to go with Bert getting elected, but maybe I can plan a trip next year.
  5. Get promoted within a company: It is still hard to believe I've never really been promoted within a company. I've had good reviews and pay raises, but still no official promotion.
  6. Go to the top of the Eiffel Tower: Hopefully I can cross this off in November.
  7. See a Broadway show in New York City: I would like to go back to NYC and visit the city as an adult.
  8. Go on a hot air balloon: This shouldn't be too hard...right?
  9. Buy a house: Big one. Really big decision. I am kind of against buying houses now, but that might change before I turn 30. I mean eventually I will buy one, so there is at least a chance it is over the next two years. Right now, I guess I just like renting.
  10. Visit Glacier National Park in Montana: This is one of those trips that M and I've been saving, but just haven't been able to do.

Monday, July 18, 2011


Oh, Mexico
It sounds so simple I just got to go
The sun's so hot I forgot to go home
Guess I'll have to go now -James Taylor
I love the 4th of July, but for me it isn't because of the fireworks, cookouts or celebrating our nation's independence. All of those things are nice, but because my employer gives me 3 days off for the 4th of July that means that it is a time I associate with a big trip. Four years ago it was to Lakeside, Ohio. Three years ago I visited some good friends in Seattle. Two years ago it was a trip to see M's brother and sister-in-law get married in Wilmington, North Carolina. Last year was our honeymoon to Spain.

This year M and I picked Mexico as our destination of choice for our 4th of July trip. M's father works and lives in Mexico, so we thought this would be a great opportunity to visit him. Here is the timeline from our trip:

Friday, July 1st
One of the nice things about going to Mexico was the temperature change. On the day we left Minneapolis the temperature was in the high 90s. On the walk from where we parked our car to the light rail to get to the airport it looked as if we had run a 5K. We had sweat so much that we ended up changing shirts before our flight. By the time we had arrived in Mexico City at 11pm we were comfortably in 60s-70s weather. It is strange going 2000 miles south and getting cooler temperature.

Saturday, July 2nd
We left Pachuca to go to a small (and by small I mean at one point we were the only patrons there) campsite on the Gulf of Mexico. On the way to this campsite, I was able to get a long introduction into a new sport called driving in Mexico. This was a constant theme of the trip as driving in Mexico was one of those things that you just had to take on faith. You had to have faith that you were going to be in a horrific accident because 4 lanes suddenly turned into 2 lanes and then back in to 5. You had to have faith that the car next to you that was closest enough to touch with your elbow was going to not move any closer. Driving in Mexico is one of those things that is best viewed as a movie, where you already know the ending is going to be happy. If you look at is as one of those "I know everything is going to work out" moments, then it makes the experience that much more tolerable.The good news is that everything did work out and our drivers for the trip were more than capable with the unique nature of driving in Mexico.

Sunday, July 3rd
We had another day at the beach, which meant I had time to play with our adopted dog (we named him Mac) and read The Big Short by Michael Lewis. What a great book. I would place it closer to Moneyball (maybe my favorite book of all time) than Liar's Poker (a disappointment for me). I loved reading about a financial crisis that I lived through and was close enough in time to remember vividly. Lewis did a great job of explaining why the subprime mortgages that led to the crash, but did an ever better job of describing some key people who predicted the disaster. If you have any interest in why your house might be worth 30% less, why you had to go on furlough or why unemployment is current over 9% then it is a great book to read.

Monday, July 4th
After a breakfast of huevos y jamon it was back to Pachuca. On the drive back (and on all the drives in Mexico) it was noteworthy to see how many people work on or near the roads. There were many Mexicans who sold random things near the toll roads and even more people who had set up taco, baracoa or pollo stands. The pollo stands in particular were particularly enticing, but for fear of food poisoning we didn't stop at any of those stands.

Tuesday, July 5th
After returning to Pachuca, it was back on the road on Tuesday as we decided to go to Mexico City. Mexico City is most notable in how large it is. From most reports it is the biggest city in the Western Hemisphere and according to Wikipedia the 5th largest agglomerations in the world behind Tokyo, Dehli, Sao Paulo and Mumbai. It is a large city, but one without the skyscrapers you would see in a place like Chicago or New York. That highlighted another big thing I noticed about Mexico in general. The lack of infrastructure and buildings as compared to what you see in the United States was striking. Here is a place that is paradise in terms of weather and just aesthetic appeal of the mountains and beaches, but because of the lack of money just isn't as nice. Is this an example of the Resource Curse?  I have no idea. I do know that if every country's roads and buildings were wiped out and there was a draft of countries that Mexico would be one of the top picks.

Wednesday, July 6th
This was probably my favorite day in Mexico because we went to go see the pyramids of Teotihuacan. I will let my Dad take it from here with his description:
I thought you would would probably see Teotiquacan and the pyramids. The first time I visited, I was a student and our tour guide had a Ph.D. in archaeology from Stanford. As we listened to the interesting stories the other tour guides told, we frequently asked Dr. Paddock if that was true. His response was generally that it could be. The pyramid of the sun has that name because at the equinox one side is illuminated at sunrise and the opposite side at sunset. The smaller pyramid is called the pyramid of the moon because it is smaller and the other one is the pyramid of the sun. As I remember, in 800 AD, Teotiquacan had a minimum population of 100,000 people which made it one of the largest cities in the world at that time. There is a mystery as to why it ceased to exist as city.
Thursday, July 7th
On Thursday we headed out of Pachuca to go to the Real Del Monte to do a little shopping. I found the town to be a really nice place to visit. The shops and the layout of the city reminded me of a European city combined with a beach town in Florida. I didn't buy too much, and instead took the time to hang out with our Mexican driver and have a beer. It was nice to see that we shared some of the same common interests; drinking, gambling and PlayStation 3. All of the interests were of course in moderation and only at the appropriate times.

Friday, July 8th
With nothing to do on Friday, I was given a chance to relax and enjoy Pachuca. The day started off with breakfast across the street at a modest, but still relatively nice restaurant. I was the only white person in the place, and apparently stuck out to one of the waiters. He came over to join my normal waiter and starting asking me questions. Where was I from? (Minnesota) Why was I there? (On vacation to visit my in-laws) Do I want to go clubbing? (No, thank you). Anyway, as we were talking I complemented him on his English and asked how he learned it. He told me that he didn't have any English classes in school, and just learned English by watching the TV show Two and a Half Men. I thought this was really funny and made me think of him as the Mexican Charlie Sheen.This highlighted how prevalent American entertainment is in Mexico. Besides talking to this guy about Two and a Half Men, I heard Can You Feel The Love Tonight (I know Elton John is British, but I still consider this to be American, because of the Lion King) at the restaurant. Also, the previous day in Real Del Monte, I saw Hannah Montana on the tv at one of the pastry shops in the city. It was clear that American entertainment was a part of life in Mexico.

Saturday, July 9th
We left Mexico after a wonderful week with M's family. The weather and the cost of living definitely makes it a desirable place to retire. I don't know if I could live without some of the creature comforts that I was used to in America (namely speaking the language), but still there are a lot of advantages to living in Mexico.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Mexico pictures

Greetings from Pachuca, Mexico. There will be more to come on the content of the trip, but for now I thought I would share a few pictures.
The previous weekend at our cabin at the beach with our adopted dog

Mr. Eck's hacienda

The view of the pyramid of the moon from the pyramid of the sun

Christus Rex

An overview of Hildago

Dinner last night

Margaritas outside the pyramids