Monday, November 23, 2009

A Short List of Things I Learned in Ann Arbor

Posted By on Mon, Nov 23, 2009 at 1:29 PM

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I spent the weekend in Ann Arbor for the Ohio State vs. Michigan game. There was no overarching narrative, so instead of a "real story" my thoughts are simply presented below in numbered/list form — sorta like Terry Pluto's columns these days, but with more sex toys.

1. Buckeye fans sometimes like to wear buckeye necklaces with their jerseys and other apparel. These have a slightly different name in Michigan parlance, as evidenced by the best insult hurled at Buckeye fans, me included, during tailgating: "Why are you wearing anal beads around your neck?"

2. Eschewing the predictable and vulgar "Your mom let me keep them," response, we decided the best retort was simply: "Hey, you guys enjoy the Chipotle burrito bowl this year."

3. Naturally, as day turned to night, early drunkenness became "drunk for the third or fourth time today," and the pangs of another devastating and embarrassing loss hit the Michigan faithful, their insults suffered from a certain dip in quality and coherence.

Observe: A guy standing in front of a bar, by himself, circa midnight, yelling at any and every Ohio State fan, "Hey, High Street sucks! That's your street? I've been there. It sucks. High Street is the worst street in the country. You know why? Because you guys get high and stupid. Ha. HA! High Street sucks!"

4. If you are a Buckeye fan and you see a fellow Buckeye fan being verbally accosted by some Michigan fans, you don't have to come to his defense if he's wearing an Ed Hardy hoodie.

5. Don't be surprised if random people walk up to you and say, "Go to Hell," simply because you're wearing an Ohio State shirt. It just happens. The antagonistic relationship really can not be understated here. Much, much worse as the night goes on, which is why I switched into regular clothes before hitting the bars Saturday night.

6. If 20 is the over/under on the number of Michigan fans you can shove a rose in front of and ask, "How does this smell?" before being attacked or punched, take the over.

7. Eventually, however, your rose will get snatched and thrown 10 rows in front of you. So worth it though.

8. Tailgating on a golf course is tremendous. Don't let the picture fool you — that's just the scenic view down the fairway of No. 18 at the university course — there was plenty of rowdiness to be found. Arrived around 7:45 a.m. and couldn't have had a better time, even if all the Jell-O shots were maize and blue.

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9. Best sign of the day: UM Law — Clarett Would Have Walked.

10. If you don't want beer thrown at your car at 7 in the morning, don't drive with Ohio license plates in front of all the frats. Lesson learned.

11. As a Michigan fan in front of me commented after the crowd around us threw out every vulgarity in the world in about a five minute span in front a family with small kids, "You don't bring kids to an Ohio State vs. Michigan game."

12. If you watched the game you saw how heavily scarlet dominated the crowd. It was even more pronounced in person. And as you might have seen already, the O-H-I-O chant around the stadium was very audible, was louder than the boos that tried to drown it out, and made it for several minutes before finally dying out. Video below.

13. Food recommendation: World famous Zingerman's deli. Holy hell was that a delicious reuben. The Browns game was blacked out in the area, and I must admit that the sandwich was more enjoyable than any pleasure I would have derived from watching the Browns. Zingerman's slings just about every type of meat you can imagine, piled high on freaking outrageously scrumptious bread. Fully endorsed.

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14. Bar recommendation: Ashley's. Ann Arbor is a college town, and as such caters to a bunch of douchey undergrads who want to grind against anything that moves in a dimly lit room while drinking overpriced drinks, and all that only after standing in line for an hour to have the privilege of the aforementioned entertainment. Ashley's, however, has over 50 microbrews on tap, a dingy little basement that feels like an English pub, a 2001-version Golden Tee machine, and a lack of belligerent idiots. They had two Great Lakes brews on tap, but sadly not the Christmas Ale.

15. Lastly, I learned that it will take you two hours after the game to get from your parking spot by the stadium to the highway. I didn't learn this personally, mind you. Like a reasonable person I decided to stay the entire weekend; my friend didn't, however, and when I texted him three hours after the game he told me that he had just reached Toledo. At that exact time I was at the Brown Jug watching Michigan State vs. Penn State and drinking. The lesson? Always make it a weekend, not a day.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

How to Tell LeBron He Can't Dribble or Shoot

Posted By on Thu, Nov 19, 2009 at 2:44 PM

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LeBron James' work ethic is unquestionable. He's a gym rat. That much is well documented. He takes Chris Jent on his worldwide junkets, always finds time to hit the gym to work on his game for a couple of hours, and despite his heavy off-the-court schedule, is in absolutely incredible shape. Each year he seems to take one aspect of his game and work on it. Free throws. Threes. Post game.

But what about coaching? Does LeBron listen to Mike Brown? Does he listen to Chris Jent? Is he surrounded by Yes Men? More importantly, how do you motivate someone who is the best player in the league?

Chris Ballard's new book The Art of the Beautiful Game was recently released, and although I haven't picked up a copy yet, there are a few excerpts on SI.com. One of them centers on the "Basketball Whisperer" — a former lawyer with no formal hoops coaching or training experience. Idan Ravin nevertheless is a sought after commodity for NBA players. Upon a recommendation from Chris Paul, LeBron visited Ravin in the summer of 2008.

James's weakness, Ravin believed, was his dribbling, so he immediately ran the Cavaliers' star forward through a series of intricate ball-handling exercises. Whenever James looked down to locate the ball, Ravin gently tapped him under the chin, a reminder to keep his head up. Granted, this exercise could go horribly awry — you want to tell LeBron James he can't dribble? But as long as Ravin's critique is correct (and in this case it was), his method establishes him as an authority figure.

"The only way to tame a 10,000-pound tiger is to immediately show a level of control," says Ravin, drawing an analogy from the novel Life of Pi. "When LeBron's head goes down and I tap his chin up — nobody does that to him. He's not used to it."

Next, Ravin ran James through grueling conditioning drills, all related to game situations, because he'd noticed that James was a bit out of shape (at least by Ravin's high standards). By the end of the hourlong workout, the Cavaliers' star was lying on the floor, gassed. Only then did Ravin address him. "You are far and away the most talented player in the league, way more talented than Kobe," the trainer said. "But you don't even have a go-to move in isolation, you can't handle the ball that well, and you can't shoot, really. Think about that."

James sat silent, biting his fingernails and looking "sort of pissed," as Ravin remembers it. "Look, I'm not here to hurt your feelings," Ravin continued. "But I'm not on your payroll, either. I'm not trying to be mean, I'm trying to help you get better. You're a 30, eight and eight guy, and there's so much yet to do. That's exciting."

James came away impressed. "It was tough but it was good," he said later. "I see why a lot of NBA guys work out with him."

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Swag Alert: LeBron Skullcandy Headphones

Posted By on Thu, Nov 19, 2009 at 2:12 PM

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Holiday season is rolling around and Skullcandy has that perfect gift for the music lover and Cavs fan in your life: LeBron James headphones. As you know, when Lebron is bumping his iPod, he frequently wears his Yankees headphones. Maybe someone should pick up a pair of these for the King.

$49.95.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Because Shaq Doesn't Already Do Enough, Now He's Curating an Art Exhibit

Posted By on Wed, Nov 18, 2009 at 12:09 PM

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Shaq is a basketball player, rapper, actor, reality show star, sometimes police officer, and a social media maven. Now, he's taking an interest in art.

A few months ago Shaq tweeted that he was working with Peter Max (he of the colorful Statue of Liberty paintings, among others) on something. Now we know why. FLAG in New York will host an exhibit called "Size DOES Matter" from February 19, 2010 to May 27, 2010, and the emphasis of the collections is... you guessed it, big stuff. So, naturally, they grabbed one of the biggest athletes in the world to lend his discerning eye to the curatorial process.

From the press release:

The exhibition will include works in a variety of media that employ scale as a key component of their composition. Every work in the show was selected by Shaq himself or is being newly made at his request.
Artists in the exhibition will include: Maurizio Cattelan, Paul Pfeiffer, Chuck Close, Charles Ray, Cathy de Monchaux, Ugo Rondinone, Richard DuPont, Yinka Shonibare, Joe Fig..."

And the list goes on and on.

From a Bloomberg report, we have some Shaq quotes:


“New York is the art capital, so I’m pleased to be starting at the top,’’ O’Neal, 37, said in an e-mail interview. “It was a little harder than I thought it would be. When you think about what each of the artists put into their work, what they are expressing and want to share with the world, you feel bad about having to narrow it down.’’ He said he chose pieces he “can relate to.’’

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A Little History of Brownie the Elf

Posted By on Wed, Nov 18, 2009 at 11:44 AM

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[I wrote this back in December 2006 for Uni Watch. It was actually my first piece as Uni Watch Intern, so naturally I chose a topic near and dear to my heart: Brownie the Elf. It's been almost three years since it ran and I'm sure there are plenty of people who never read the original post or simply don't know, or never wondered about, the history of our little elf. Reprinted with some minor edits for your edification.]

The story of Brownie the Elf the logo begins long before the Cleveland Browns adopted the little creature — long before the team even existed, in fact. "Brownies" date back to folklore, where they were elf-like creatures who helped out with household chores as long as you left them little goodies to eat (further background is available here, here, and here, and the cover illustration from a children's tale entitled "Brownie and the Cook" can be seen here). Palmer Cox was one of the first artists to illustrate Brownie on a consistent basis in his cartoons. He began drawing and using the elves in advertising work that he produced for different companies, including Kodak.

All of which brings us, finally, to the Cleveland Browns.

The association of the elf and the gridiron Browns begins in the late 1940s with Arthur McBride, who was the team's owner at the time. During a string of four incredibly successful seasons from 1946-49 (each of which resulted in an All American Football Conference championship), McBride sought to make his team more recognizable and marketable with music, parades, marching bands, and so on. He also asked for submissions for mascot logos, and after careful consideration chose Brownie as the new face of the team.

Brownie got an update around 1950 and looked like this until 1969. Alternate logos included an orange elf from 1950-69, and a halfback elf from 1960-69. After the Browns won the NFL title in 1964 (yes, it was that long ago, Cleveland fans), Brownie was often depicted with a crown signifying the team's achievement.

Even representatives from the Cleveland Browns are befuddled as to the exact origin, date, and key figures in the creation of the logo (which made its first appearance in an ad for tickets to the 1946 opening game against the Miami Seahawks). However, many of the earliest versions of the elf are credited to Dick Dugan, who became the sports cartoonist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and often depicted Brownie in battle against the team's opponents, like the Broncos.

Cleveland fans loved the athletically inclined little creature with pointed shoes, whose image could be seen adorning various publications and advertisements (from both the team and the public), such as in this 1949 Media Guide.

So, what do you do with a logo that the fans love?

Well, if you're Art Modell, you get rid of it. Apparently, Modell, who became the team's owner in 1961, was completely embarrassed by the elf and hated it so much that in the mid-1960s he began to phase it out. Yes, in addition to taking the team from Cleveland, Modell also was responsible for putting the lovable Brownie on the unemployment line.

Thankfully, when the Browns were resurrected in 1999, Brownie got a new lease on life. New owner Randy Lerner has made a big push to use the elf logo more and more for the organization. "I think it's a great anchor for our tradition and for the look and feel of the Browns," he has said. "But I also understand that there is something to freshening up the act, so I think that's a balancing act we're having right now."

As you can see from the team's sideline ponchos, the organization is using Brownie in more ways than just for merchandise sales (although it's clearly evident from the hats and shirts and fleeces that there is a definite push in that direction too). In fact, the Browns have used the elf logo on the 2006 Training Camp Patch celebrating the franchise's 60th anniversary, and a throwback elf logo appears on the front of their 2006 Media Guide (here's a close-up view). Fans have embraced Brownie, too — one guy has gotten permanent reminder of his allegiances.

While Brownie's revival is welcome news, there's one place that the elf should never appear, on the helmet (and thankfully, Lerner agrees). Paul Brown actually proposed this idea in 1953, but dismissed the idea after seeing mock-ups created by then trainer Leo Murphy. Good thing too, because the only thing that should ever be added to the team's helmets are uniform numbers, like the ones the team wore with for a throwback game against the Bengals.

We're generally pleased with Brownie's reappearance. It adds a great traditional aspect to the team's imagery, which meshes nicely with the more recent addition of the "Dawg" logo (but please, let's not have them mesh like this, ideas that belong in the same graveyard as this one).

Three other Brownie items of note:

• Brownie was also pressed into mascot duty by the St. Louis Browns baseball team just prior to their move to Baltimore (where they became the Orioles). During this brief run, Brownie appeared on the team's jersey sleeve , on the cover of the team's 1952 schedule, and even on the door to owner Bill Veeck's office.

• "Elf Brownie" is also the name of a typeface.

• Need a last-minute Christmas gift? Live near northeastern Ohio? You can get plenty of Brownie-related merchandise at the GPS Gift Gallery in Rocky River, Ohio, the self-proclaimed "Home of the Brownie Elf."

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Derf's Week Ten Browns Reaction

Posted By on Wed, Nov 18, 2009 at 10:01 AM

And he goes nice and uncontroversial with this one.

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Browns and Lions Get Their Own "Terrible" Towels

Posted By on Wed, Nov 18, 2009 at 9:49 AM

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As the 1-8 Browns take on the 1-8 Detroit Lions on Sunday in a game that will assure plenty of leaves get raked around the Midwest, two Michigan men have unleashed new, more appropriate versions of the "Terrible Towels" for the two beleaguered franchises.

The towels are $10 and can be bought on their site. And while I applaud the entrepreneurial streak, I imagine that these white towels would be indistinguishable from regular white towels, like the ones given away to fans in Cleveland for the Monday night affair. Still, it's time truly terrible teams take back the word 'terrible.'

From the original report:

Birmingham residents Gordon Miller and John Crick are selling white towels (naturally), with "The Official We ARE Terrible Towel: A Detroit Original Since 1957" emblazoned in Honolulu blue. They're $10 each — or less for bigger orders — and can be purchased online at weareterribletowel.com or by calling 877-442-7935.

"It's hard to eat a hot dog or drink a soda with a bag over your head," Miller said in a news release. "With the official We ARE Terrible Towel, you can eat, drink, boo and still wave your towel."

There's also a Browns version for sale. And the entrepreneurs plan to expand to include other wretched franchises soon.

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