Derek Johnson Muses

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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Train Ride

This update comes from the leftovers pile. I took these notes when I was on the long Amtrak ride from back from Michigan to Osceola, Iowa after Labor Day Weekend. These were just the people I saw along the way.

I don’t know what it is with me and the people I notice. I see them everywhere-at the coffee shop, airport, rest stops, on the street. I watch them and invent their entire life story , what they do for a living, their emotional disposition. Maybe I’m just bored with my own life, but I enjoy this kind of social observation. People are complicated, and I just pick up on it.

People on the train from Osceola to Chicago: Guy from Hastings. (2AM) Green garb, military ripoff that stores sell. Burly type, gentle giant. Said he was going to wait 3 hours for another train.

Hawkeye couple that sat next me on OSC-CHI. Said they were first timers. He wore a black polo, she a white, tight, fan girl faded hawk-faced shirt. (Iowa was playing Northern Illinois at Soldier Field that weekend.)

Waiting at New Buffalo: Travelers gathering on the platform all over the age of fifty, sans me, white-washed weekenders returning to their normal lives. Two guys, my age, backpacker types, wandering around the tracks wondering if they

Conductor was wearing a big stiff in a black hat, likely has had a lot in-transit food.

Two girls my age BFFing next to me. Pink bag above them. Blonde and black hair. This road trip must be the highlight of their year.

Guy w/black shirt union bay shorts w/ iPhone & headphones alone but clearly a confident guy.

Late 50s business man w/Jimmie John’s sack reading business reports in front of me. Stood alone on the platform. Elite black leather rolling briefcase.

Girl with gray thermal shirt and simple blue jeans goes to the bathroom. She looks approachable for a blonde. Her mirror image blonde, in a pink hoodie, goes to the bathroom right after her.

Gray-to-white haired woman in a black shirt and a group of four leans over her seat to talk to to people behind her.

Hipster guy with a black shirt (sitting behind me), long lost twin of the guy I sat next to on the Amtrak train from Osceola. Has his phone out the whole time.

Simple Crystal: Huskers-Hawkeyes, & Looking Ahead to the Badgers

In his book Desperate Networks, Bill Carter recounts the story of how The Apprentice came to be on NBC. Mark Burnett was developing the show in the early 2000’s, he pitched it to ABC. At ABC, Lloyd Braun, then president of the network, loved the show and wanted to buy it before Burnett the room; unfortunately, due to the cost of the show, he had to take it up the chain of command at Disney. Disney management, misinformed on how the new brand of reality TV worked, didn’t understand that they had to commit to an entire run of episodes and made an embarrassingly low offer to Burnett. So Burnett pitched the show to NBC, who, like ABC was wowed in the room. We know the rest of the story.

On the field Saturday, Nebraska and Iowa were two teams who played mediocre games on offense. The difference was, Nebraska could buy their way out of their mistakes.

This was the game that Nebraska fans feared was coming. On a short week, Nebraska faced its only its second 11 A.M. kickoff of the season, against a team with nothing to loose. After throwing the wide receiver screens that Husker fans dream of the previous week, Tim Beck went back to an ultra-conservative, 33% passes, 67% runs. Iowa limited Nebraska’s offense to the max; neither Kenny Bell or Jamal Turner had a catch. But after a season of his team overcoming his loss, Rex Burkhead came off the bench and bailed out his teammates, setting them up for the conference title game they’ve striven all season to get to.

There was a lot of irony in this game. Iowa holding Nebraska to 259 yards of total offense, their lowest of the year. Good stretches of red-clad fans in Kinnick Stadium, a sign some Hawkeye faithful bailed on the team. Brett Maher, after failing to nail teams deep, nailed Iowa inside the five and hit two very good punts into the wind. But in the end, both teams turned out to be the teams they were meant to be. Iowa found a way to loose down the stretch, and Nebraska put Alonzo Whaley’s interception on the close win highlight reel next to his own recovery of Montee Ball’s fumble and Jamal Turner’s two go-ahead touchdowns.

Sealed deal

So, after this close win against a genuinely terrible team, the question of just how good Nebraska is seems most valid, even more so when they were beating average teams like Northwestern and Michigan State. Are they as good as Pelini’s 2010 team? My guess is this team is slightly better. Of course, there is the issue of which team was better healthy. But I would say this team is guided by a more even keel; the 2010 team had seven game where they failed to score after halftime, and faded down the stretch. Going into the Big 10 Title, this team has better momentum and hasn’t gone downhill after a peak in late October/early November.

Which leads to the question, has this team peaked? While I thought that was the case going into the Big 12 Title Game two years ago, I don’t think that’s the case this time. This was a more conservative game plan, given the wind and what Nebraska is going to play for next week. Don’t kid yourself, Bo Pelini playing for the Big 10 Title Game. Over the last two weeks, Ameer Abdullah has had only 32 carries, and even Burkhead’s carries were limited when he came back.

But the main reason I don’t think Nebraska has peaked is that Pelini has saved his defensive juice. Each of the last two years, Pelini has built special game plans for the teams he thought he would need to beat to win his division title, Missouri in 2010 and Michigan State in 2011. Even with a veteran defense, Pelini hasn’t throw out that one special defensive game plan this year, even for Michigan. That send a powerful unspoken message to the players: our goals is a conference title, period.

If Burkhead doesn’t get at least 35 touches in the Big 10 Title Game, I’ll be rather surprised. The indoor environment, a negligible factor for the power-running Badgers, really helps Nebraska, who opted to throw the ball 14 times in the wind yesterday. Even though Wisconsin has improved since the two teams played on September 29th, there’s no question that Nebraska is the better team, with the better quarterback by far. But between the two teams, Wisconsin plays with the better mojo. If the Badgers turn a Husker turnover into points quickly, it could set them up for a long day.

Tthe biggest variable is what will Wisconsin choose to do on defense. Last time around, the Badgers played an aggressive zone, figuring that Martinez would eventually make mistakes and Nebraska’s offensive line would let up, which it did at times. Yesterday, Iowa did a great job of clogging the middle of the field, even Nebraska tried to spread the field. Wisconsin, if they mix up their defense, has a shot to really confuse Nebraska.

But, as we saw yesterday and throughout the season, Nebraska has the talent to buy their way out of their mistakes.

This Election that Debated Nothing

When they election was complete, I was relieved, because, of the five presidential elections I can remember, this was worst in terms of what was debated. The debates amounted to two tax accountants telling people how loopholes in the code worked for them, as if we were going to just vote for whoever gave us the biggest check.  Even four years ago, Obama talked ardently about vision and governing fairly, and, even though I disagreed with things he said, at least it was more important than the deficit roundabouts that Obama and Romney had this year. Even foreign policy got shut out.

Partisanship aside, what I felt got left behind in this election was a serious debate about leadership and where the country is headed. In many ways, this election didn’t work because we were numbed by Obama’s message of “coming together” from four years ago. Obama sold a message of compromise and being an outsider who understood all perspective, and the country naively acted as if he had no perspective himself. The result was, in this election, all we talked about sterile spending issues and Obamacare, and ignored the “hot button” issues.

In a way, it’s funny. Obama is asking the country to put aside our differences and solve problems, which sounds good and is necessary in some cases. After all, don’t both sides get tired of arguing over abortion and realize the issue won’t get solved this generation or the next? While all of that is true, ignoring huge differences doesn’t solve them, it only makes them worse in the long run. As a conservative myself, I hope what this sets up is a run by a strong conservative in 2016, even if the prospects look bleak at the moment.

As I observe the Republicans, they seem to be neglecting the key principal to winning national elections is finding the candidate who can appeal to the broadest part of their base, to both the business Republicans and the religious Republicans. Entrapped by the fear of backlash from the gay lobby and the lifestyle left, Romney downplayed his pro-life, pro-family positions, when he should have been taking advantage of Obama’s War on Religious Freedom, AKA the HHS Mandate and public support of gay marriage. Yes, the national media would have sabotaged him, but religious conservatism and moderates would have run to the polls.

I’m a Christian conservative who grew up hearing stories of the Moral Majority and the glories of the 1980 election. If you had told me six years ago that a Mormon would be the Republican nominee for president, I would have said, “At least he’ll be tougher on social issues than any Christian.” No wonder there is talk about forming a conservative-Christian party.

But I’m hopeful about the conservative movement, because it’s the one that fights for principals, even when everyone else tells them they are wrong. Recently, I’ve been reading in Suzanne Venker‘s book The Flip Side of Feminism about how the Equal Rights Amendment was defeated in the 1970’s. The conservative lobby educated people on the bill, and in spite of the fact that the state senator received so many threats and smear tactics from the left, the amendment never passed. That gives me a lot of hope when I hear the national media telling the conservative lobby that they should just go home and they’ve already lost.

But in spite of all this, I’m still hopeful because my faith is in God, not the political process.  I know that, whatever happens, God will be still be the one who saves, thanks be to him.

Maryland-Big 10: What Happened to Consensus? A Nebraska Perspective

Can this guy jump higher?

Can this guy jump higher?

When I first heard about the Big 10 adding Maryland and Rutgers, I didn’t pay much attention. (In my defense, it was a football Saturday.) I didn’t honestly think the Big 10 was that serious about expanding, not after they added Nebraska based largely on fit, a high-profile football program, and an icon at the helm of the athletic department. It took a couple of tweet from reporters Saturday night to figure out the Big 10 really was serious about expansion. A move by Notre Dame makes, and suddenly the careful Big 10 is jumping.

The Big 10 is paying its price for passing on Missouri before the Tigers opted to the SEC last fall. I knew then, and affirm now, that the Big 10 had to add Mizzou, as the number of quality schools available was going down. Other than the Irish, Missouri was the last complete culture fit for the Big 10. Notre Dame’s partial membership to the ACC, combined with the Irish emphasizing the importance of keeping series with USC, Stanford, and Navy (not Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue), finally made Jim Delany realize that he can’t add his white whale without leverage, in the form of pecking at the Irish’s new haven conference

Unlike a number of conference realignment moves, this one doesn’t involve fear of being left behind in the arms race or direct disgust over another school’s politicking or TV network. (Although Maryland has had healthy disagreements with the Carolinas.) This move is solely about a school in debt and a league gaining leverage and TV markets. Which begs the question, whatever happened to the Big 10’s quest to build consensus among its members and not moving too fast? Right now, Maryland’s leadership, its president and AD, aren’t Maryland lifers, and see this as a business move. What happens when the Terrapins big-shots who opposed the move (a poll on the Washington Post website showed 70% of fans don’t like it), get control of the program, which they will eventually will, chanting, “We’ll bring back the Maryland fans have always love!”

I don’t this is going to turn into a political mess, the way Texas broke off Oklahoma from the rest of the former Big 8 programs. I’m not looking for a fight here, but Maryland is bringing internal issues into the Big 10. Maryland is east coast urban, unlike the Big 10, which is mostly rural. More likely, the result will be something like Arkansas in the SEC: the Razorbacks have warmed to SEC, even though the rivalries aren’t as great as they were in the SWAC (although that could change with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri). Razorback fans would have loved to see Arkansas move to the Big 12, but it’s never going to happen. Of course, they forget they were outliers in the SWAC, the lone non-Texas school in that conference. Maryland seems to be on the same path: stranger in its old conference, outlier-to-be in its new one.

As a Nebraska fan, it doesn’t make that much difference to me personally who the conference adds. I’ve been two the campus of Maryland twice when I was in middle school. It has an early American, classic feel, but it’s much more urban than Penn State, Michigan, or Ohio State. Byrd Stadium has a gothic, dug-into-the-ground feeling that’s a little like Jack Trice Stadium. It could be rocking joint if they could fill it. Whoever came into the Big 10, it would probably be an eastern school (not Kansas or any other Big 12 school), and at least Maryland’s campus is easy to get to for traveling Nebraska fans. (Lots of airport options, lots of mass transit.) Given the state of Maryland’s cash-strapped athletic department, it isn’t outside of the realm of possibility that the Terps could be selling a few home games to the Huskers. Or the Buckeyes. Or the Wolverines.

Different red headed for these stands.

Let me say this to you, Maryland. I don’t expect you to be excited when you see cornfields in the cut-ins ABC shows of Nebraska games. Culturally, you’re not like Husker fans, Hawkeye fans, or even Nittany Lion fans. We’re farmers and mechanics, and you live faster, more urban life, and that is what it is. But your basketball program, which is your pride and gem, is going to be the rock tour in the Big 10. When Maryland basketball comes to Champagne, West Lafayette, or Lincoln, it will sell out the arenas and be the show.

I’m not going to blame you for wanting to play the best in the ACC, but it’s unlikely you would every be the face and center of that conference or pass Duke and UNC. For the record, you’re not as big national brand in basketball as you think you are: you’re more like Auburn football than Florida football. A good program, a recent national title, but your success isn’t as grand stacked up against great contemporary programs.

There are talented people who leave the best companies to be the face of a growing, solid organization (Doug Gottlieb comes to mind.) You’re not going to SEC where basketball is an afterthought. There’s only two traditional powers in the Big 10: Indiana is very rural, and Michigan State has such problems recruiting Tom Izzo thought seriously about taking the Cavaliers job when Lebron was there. You can be the best here, if your commitment to basketball stays the same, and I’m guessing you like the sound of that.

Irregardless of that, this is going to be a real test of Jim Delany’s leadership. His new school has a different background than his other schools, and it’s going to take a lot of work to get them on the same page.

(Why Terp fans failed to get on Friedgen)

Good Show: Huskers Ahead of the Curb, & a New Trophy Game?

Kickoff after Huskers had taken a 31-0 lead in the third quarter.

When I was out on the street looking for a ticket to the Nebraska-Minnesota game yesterday, I disciplined myself. I told myself to wait up until the last possible minute, going against every instinct in my being that screamed “Secure your seat now!” My restraint paid off, and I paid only twenty to a cool guy who sold me one of his season ticket, ones that had been in his family since the early 1980’s.

In spite of the excitement of seeing Osborne lead the team out on the field one final time, the game was a wash. BTN might as well have shown the replay of last years’ Nebraska-Minnesota game, although they would have had to take some of the shimmer of the field from the Minnesota sun. Even though Minnesota managed to win the games they were supposed to this year, they still aren’t in the same class as the top of the Big 10 as athlete-wise. But this one of Nebraska’s two regional series, and that’s a good thing, even if it’s one-sided. Like Iowa State, I feel a more personal connection to the Nebraska-Minnesota game because I spend a lot of time traveling in that state. If these two schools end up playing for a trophy, I would suggest the trophy be named the Siouxland Prairie Dog and be a mounted prairie dog common to the region of southwest Minnesota, southeast South Dakota, and northeast Nebraska.

You’d get fired up to play for this, right?

At least, Jerry Kill  has given his fan base hope by going with freshmen quarterback Phillip Nelson, a lesson the some of the most experienced coaches in the Big 10 can’t figure out. Remember back in spring and summer when we kept hearing about how groomed Andrew Maxwell was to take over at Michigan State for Kirk Cousins? Now the fourth year junior who can’t beat a BCS team at home will have to fight it out with Goldie next week to get bowl eligibility. How about James Vandenberg at Iowa? The senior wasn’t even pulled when the Hawkeyes were out of the reach of the Wolverines. Mark Dantonio and Kirk Ferentz, at some point over the next two years, will again have to replace the stiff, two-year, punch the clock starters. Meanwhile, Kill rolled the dice in starting Nelson, and with the extra bowl practices this year and another year as the starter, he has hope to develop Nelson into a good starter by his third year.

Not unlike the decision Bo Pelini made in 2010 to go with Taylor Martinez over the incumbent Zac Lee.

Besides the fact that Nebraska has better players, Nebraska beat Minnesota because they had more ways to. Not wanting to rush back Rex Burkhead or burden Taylor Martinez or Ameer Abdullah, Tim Beck lined up a fullback out wide and threw wide receiver screens to Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner. Yes, Nebraska puts their offense on a running back, but today it was time to set up the rotation. Bucking Big 10 conservatism, Bo Pelini went for a score on the goal line with two seconds to go in the half. It didn’t work, but the point was made: I take situational chances. It’s not as great as Osborne’s glory days. If you watched Braylon Heard struggle behind the second-string offensive line and Ron Kellogg has passes clank. Like a lot of teams, Nebraska’s a couple of huge injuries away from disaster. Thankfully, a running back who gains four yards a carry consistently is easier to replace than a quarterback.

Right now, Nebraska’s at a different level organization-wise than other programs in the Big 10. They average 30 points per game versus BCS level competition pretty consistently, and most programs can’t get that unless their running back carries the ball thirty times a game. For the record, I do think that Nebraska will struggle against Iowa more than people expect. Not greatly, perhaps just a second quarter stretch where Nebraska can’t get the field position it needs in 14-6 game. But all Martinez, Pelini, and company have to do is set up the rotation, and they have enough weapons to do that.

Insides of the Stadium

Where Was I? A Personal Update

All in front of me

Fittingly, this personal update is coming on the first anniversary of my first post on this blog. Since then, I’ve posted over 250 times, proving I have no life. (Pretty remarkable, considering I started another blog for Noyes this summer.) The other day, it occurred to me how long it’s been since I sat down and wrote a post that was about…well, me. It seems overdue, since my last post in mid-September, and since then, I’ve rented a new apartment and moved my bed there.

Life this fall has felt different. I haven’t watched as much football as I have in years past. I had a late trip, end of September, to Illinois to see soybeans. A few samples have come in for me to test, and I have taken care of that. There’s the trip to Chicago and meetings at church about the building campaign. It’s been a great fall for photographs to. I went down to Wilbur for kolaches and meats one day, and got some great stuff along the way. The trip to Chicago was great for that too. There’s been Husker football, on a roll, which is awesome. I cut back my blogging and have started to save the good stuff.

I’ve watched a lot less TV this fall then I have in years past. Hulu was the main reason, or so I thought. Now that I live in a place without Internet or TV, I try to spend more time reading. This was my intention. Break the cycle, tell yourself that you’re doing something important.

The experience of moving and cleaning stuff out has been unique. I wouldn’t call myself a hoarder, but I’m apathetic toward throwing stuff away. I keep the most irrelevant stuff, things like church bulletins, business cards, letters from charities have piled up in my closets. Even as I write this, there’s a bunch of assorted paper sitting on the couch next to me. I beginning to wonder how much time I’m wasting moving irrelevant books and paper that I’ll never read again.

But the biggest change has been something internal. I have noticed a lot of the old books I had in college while I was moving and I cracked a few of them over the last couple of days. When I opened them, I remembered what it was like to be a student and give myself over to a major project. And then I started to wonder…what exactly am I doing with my life?

Watching football every Saturday in the fall is great. Working for my Dad is great, with the travel, and writing about Husker football is great. But after observing the election, and the constant erosion of a family-oriented society, I’ve wondered what it is exactly I should do for the rest of my life. The whole world is before me, and, with all the freedom I have, I want to write about things that matter.

I’ve been pursuing career opportunities and beefing up my resume. I’m looking for artist to host in the focus gallery at Noyes this upcoming February. Via a trip to Syracuse this week, I’ve locked up all the artist I need for the event. I keep writing notes on various novel/writing projects, but unfortunately, nothing has griped me yet. My focus is to become a better person every day and have a positive impact on everyone I come in contact with, and to deliver the best content to my readers. Here’s to a great year: hope to hear more from you in the future.

(200th Post, with some milestones for me and my blog.)

Why Iowa Fans Should Sell Their Tickets to Nebraska Fans & a Note on Huskers-Southern Miss in KC

Will Herbie find room at Kinnick on Black Friday?

In writing what I will now, I know there will be many Hawkeye fans from the Quad Cities to Council Bluffs (and a couple that I passed in the western Illinois marsh fields last September) who won’t take it seriously because of my fan loyalties. But I’m going to make a proposal to all of you, Hawkeye fans because right now, things aren’t exactly going well for you. You have a coach who isn’t doing, and when he makes a bad decision and losses in passive fashion, you say, “That’s Ferentz.”

For the record, I don’t think that Iowa should fire Kirk Ferentz, and they can’t anyway because of his contract. Ferentz had a slew of injuries to contend with this year and, for the first time in his tenure at Iowa, had to replace a number of assistant coaches, including both coordinators who had been with him since his first year. But Iowa fans have grown weary of paying a lot for a little, and I’d like to suggest a way you can send a message.

Sell your tickets to Nebraska fans. If you don’t, don’t show up at the game. When we’re chanting “Go Big Red!!!” in the fourth quarter, they’ll have to fire Ferentz before he walks off the field. I know what you’re saying: I’m trying to help my own team out, but what’s really best for Nebraska is if Kirk Ferentz remains at Iowa for the next six years and wins six or seven games every year. It’s no good if Ferentz gets fired and Iowa hires a motivated young coach who red letters the Nebraska game.

Right now, the only way Iowa eats $25 million they’d owe a fired Ferentz is if there’s outright hostility from Iowa fans. Eleven years earlier, Husker fans sold out Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, leading to the firing of Terry Allen and paving the way for Mark Mangino to take over the Jayhawks. It happened to former Miami coach Randy Shannon when half the fans who showed up to his final game where cheering for South Florida. The quickest way to get your coach fired in any sport is to have opposing fans fill your stadium. Hence, the reason Mark Dantonio called out Michigan State fans before Nebraska came to East Lansing earlier this year.

I know this sounds crazy, and that, for some of you, doing this amounts to treason. I don’t blame you if you don’t. You don’t want to turn into Minnesota, who built a smaller stadium to keep you and Badger fans out. But Colin Cowherd talks about this a lot: true fans don’t go to games when their team is bad. True fans bail on their teams the first time they start to falter, forcing the team to make moves. If the last image of the 2012 Iowa football team is 30,000 Nebraska fans cheering their team in a half-empty stadium with time winding down in a Nebraska blowout, the winds will shift on Ferentz with the old Iowa power-brokers who’ve enabled him for so long.

(Thoughts on the game itself)

Another Big Red Migration here?

-It occurred to me the other when I heard the news that Southern Miss was now considering playing their home game against Nebraska at Arrowhead in Kansas City: it’s too good to be true. Southern Miss has been a good program for over twenty years. Playing the game in New Orleans would be one thing; it would still be a home game, even with 20,000-30,000 Nebraska fans. But to turn a road-home-road three game series into three road trips to Husker country, that’s just not consist with the behavior of mid-majors.

As early as 2009, I remembered the commissioner of the Sun Belt conference chiding his members for taking too many body-bag games (this was a year where Nebraska played three opponents from that conference). Whether it’s Oklahoma State playing at Louisiana Layfayette, Wisconsin at UNLV, or Nebraska at Wyoming, there are too many big conference schools playing road games at mid-majors who don’t deserve such games. It is a stamp of pride for these schools; stand firm and don’t take more than one non-conference road trip a season. There’s only one reason USM would be willing to make a home game into a road game: money, the universal reason the college football universe keeps spinning.

If USM were negotiating with Dallas, Phoenix, or someplace else that had seen Husker crowds, USM would have an easier time getting the price they wanted. But New Orleans hasn’t seen Husker crowds. Kansas City has every reason to try and get the game; when Nebraska played Oklahoma State in 1998, hotels were booked up past the city limits. Every gas station and truck stop along I-29 from Omaha to KC will be kicking in 10% to get this game, and no doubt the Big 10 would like the pub in Kansas City. Overall, I don’t the game will be moved because New Orleans and the Superdome don’t get a lot of high profile college games, and Southern Miss still has an image to live up to. I just can’t believe they are that desperate.

But if this game gets moved, it’s a huge win for the big boys in college football.

(When Nebraska invaded Minnesota…)

Why Last Resort Doesn’t Work and Revolution Does: Not Rocket Science

(Warning: The folowing posts contains spoilers from the shows Revolution and Last Resort. Proceed at your own risk.)

Last fall, The Walking Dead took a lot of flack for its slow, farm-centric episodes which screamed “We’re a show on a tight budget!” While I wasn’t in love with them myself, I felt that the episodes built up the tension and created greater moments late in the season. As Robert Kirkman noted, the viewer becomes numb to the zombies if they are front and center in every episode.

I wish Shawn Ryan would understand that.

Back in September, I compared the pilots of Last Resort and Revolution, the two new serial dramas this fall. At the time, I found Last Resort to be a more compelling hour of TV than Revolution. While it wasn’t a horrible thing that Revolution started slow (laying the groundwork, if you will), Last Resort seemed so full of potential stories and interesting characters (seriously, Robert Patrick was the fifth or sixth story option), I thought it would have a better chance. Unfortunately, Ryan and ABC didn’t realize how much potential they had and felt they had to manufacture more.

While some of the episodes have been pretty good (the second and the third had good plot devices), Last Resort just doesn’t know when to take a breath. Instead of focusing on Grace, the third episode spent a lot of time exploring Dichen Lachman’s character, who, while interesting, didn’t need to be looked at with any kind of urgency. When a show mis-vaules its cast like that, it makes characters like Christine and Kylie even more annoying then they already were. (Both seem a little perfect and too one-note for this show.) Every episode seems intent on inventing crisis and not exploring simple things like how are the soldiers finding food and water. The pilot was good enough they could devote time to those things and set up bigger events down the line.  The most recent episode, the one with the chemical attacked, opened with a scene that looked like it was adapted from bad Lost script.

Not that Revolution is perfect by comparison, but it has an objective and knows what it is. When I speculated about Elizabeth Mitchell’s place on the show, I worried that they would reveal she was alive in episode 9 and play it as if it were this huge surprise. Instead, they did so at the end of the second episode and didn’t pretend it was a shock, and have given her a little more to do each week. It takes its time, but each week, finds a new and interesting part of the work to explore. I’m still not high on Charlie, but she isn’t screwing up the show. I wasn’t in love with (Spoiler Alert) the decision to kill of Maggie, but it worked within the context of that world. It’s corny at times, but the big reveals are good.

And the one thing that Revolution has going for it is the thing that is sinking Last Resort: it has simple, overarching plots of the search to get Danny back and of Monroe trying to turn the power back on. Last Resort had that when it got the suspicious fire order, but since the pilot, there has been almost no pursuit of who set the Colorado up. Nobody is calling friends in Washington questioning the order, nothing. Even failed serial dramas, like Vanished and Flash Forward ended their pilot with a sense of where their shows were going. Last Resort‘s pilot ended with a vague proclamation of “Maybe this is home now.” And it only will be home for a couple more weeks, a shame given what was invested creatively and talent-wise in the show.

Know where you’re going?

Huskers vs. Nittany Lions: The Goal Line Fumble Dissected, Frame by Frame. Almost There…

Free

While it occurred with more than seven minutes to go, Matt Lehman’s goal line fumble was critical to the outcome. The immediate outcry was obvious: many Nebraska fans brought up Penn State’s McCloskey reception in 1982 that appear to be out of bounds and were complaining that ABC kept showing the play. (That controversy generates big advertising dollars, Husker fans.) Then this morning, the Penn State sites were full of articles claiming conspiracy and saying that the Big 10 doesn’t want Penn State to be successful because of the Sandusky scandal. Given that many Penn Staters read the Sandusky report and said we needed to “wait for the facts”, it is hardly a surprise that even Penn State journalists rushed to play the conspiracy card.

When I watched the play live, I couldn’t see what happened, although I thought that it was more likely than not that Lehman had scored judging by where the ball came loose. When I watched the replay the first time, I wasn’t as quick to think it was a touchdown, which admittedly was what I wanted to hear. After watching the replay a few times, I judged a couple of things. Lehman moved the ball within his hands from where he caught as he extended toward the goal line. If you watch his hands from where he caught it to the goal line, he carries it loosely. While his hands and the ball seemed to be moving forward, the ball seemed to jiggle and rotate in a way that was not consistent with the way his hands were moving, as if he was fumbling the ball forward. It seemed that Lehman’s grip on the ball was on the back third of it, and you could see a lot of the rotating ball outside of his grasp. The image of the ball was before his hands, not in his hands. I wouldn’t have argued had the call been overturned, but as I sat there and watched the play, I feared the overturn, but I feared that the evidence to overturn the call was not complete.

To me, this is an instance where 98% of the evidence to overturn a call was there, but it just wasn’t enough to change the call because of the slight bobble. The right call was made, if a fumble begins at the first bobble of a football and if the bobble continues through to the ball’s dislodging via contact with another player. I will concede something else: if the play had been called a touchdown on the field, it likely would have stayed a TD as well. Let’s not forget something else: when a fumble occurs, officials more often than not will swallow the whistle, because it’s harder to make a non-fumble a fumble than it is to make a fumble a non-fumble. Nebraska got a huge break, as the official were erring on the side they were trained to air on.

The Big 10 is not out to get Penn State. The NCAA leveled severe penalties against PSU, not the Big 10. Given the conference’s lack of quality (and depth of quality teams behind Ohio State), they need Penn State to be viable so that all the TV screens in Pitt and Philly keep watching Penn State and the Big 10 and not ACC or Big East football, aside from the fact sports conspiracies just don’t exist (NBA included).

To Penn State fans who are arguing, I’d point out that you lost more on that play than Nebraska gained. If Penn State had scored, Nebraska fans don’t panic. There’s seven minutes to go, and the Huskers have the wind at their back, only needed a field goal to tie, and a team that’s built to come from behind. The game wouldn’t have been over for them. In addition, Penn State got two more possessions when they were behind by only a score. This wasn’t the final decision maker in a game you lost by 9. This was game between two teams that were pretty evenly matched and swung on many key moments. That play wasn’t even close to the only deciding factor, and it just happened late in the game.

Matt McGloin’s behavior in the post-game press conference was horrible, as well as his actions on the field. He should have been flagged for taking his helmet off on the field after he was called for the safety (he also took his helmet off after the Lehman fumble). Couple with his tweet of the play, I’m guessing there are a lot of NFL teams taking him off there draft boards.

Unfortunately, this may not be the final officiating controversy Nebraska finds itself in this season. While I don’t think the Big 10 will put in the fix for the Huskers in the Big 10 Title Game, consider the following: Wisconsin looses their last two games and is 7-5, a reasonable assumption, given that Brett Bielema may save Montee Ball’s carries for the Title Game. Everyone assumes the Big 10 wants Nebraska to win as the conference has had enough bad publicity and doesn’t want to see a 8-5 team in the Rose Bowl. Not saying it will happen, but fans will put the dots together.

Compared to what we’ve seen, this Nebraska comeback wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the ones on the road at Northwestern or Michigan State. When Nebraska’s offense took the field after Penn State turned the ball over in the end zone in the fourth quarter, I had to remind myself that this was the first time Nebraska had lead in regulation since the Michigan game two weeks ago, other than the six most important seconds against Michigan State. As the teams went in at halftime, there were some signs that hadn’t been there in the previous weeks. There was the argument on the sidelines between Pelini and Stafford; another exchange showed a despondent Will Compton talking to his head coach on the bench. It’s no wonder that Pelini said at halftime that he thought it might take until the fourth quarter for his team to make up the deficit.

This win wasn’t a comeback for Nebraska so much as it was a series of little moments between two pretty evenly matched teams. Nebraska won because, quite simply, Nebraska had more ways to win, was at home, and forced Penn State into poorly timed mistakes. In a way, this may have been the most important of Nebraska’s come from behind wins because you know that the crowing from Columbus will start the second Ohio State beats Michigan. At least Penn State can’t claim they beat Nebraska, in spite of the fumble that may not have been.

As we saw last year with Penn State, this series is bound to be a chippy affair year in and year out. After their comeback came up short in Happy Valley, Penn State has to be steaming about letting the Huskers off the hook. Three out of the next four years, Nebraska and Penn State will met in their penultimate games of their seasons, except in 2014 when Nebraska will open their home conference schedule against the Nittany Lions.

Nebraska burned through a lot to be 5-1 after a daunting stretch of conference games: Ameer Abdullah’s 35 touches today were a lot to ask, and Rex Burkhead may have to come back. But Pelini deserves a lot of credit for going to Imani Cross in short yardage situations, and bringing Braylon Heard off the bench. Burkhead was ridden into the ground last year, and let’s hope there’s still something left with both him and Burkhead. But Abdullah does do a better job of getting out of bounds; part of Burkhead’s physical breakdown now was that he sought out contact, a death knell to a running back’s career in the Big 10.

So Nebraska’s through with the toughest part of their schedule. All they have left are Minnesota, who already has their bowl eligibility in hand, and Iowa, still reeling. We’ve seen Pelini stub his toe against teams like this before, so yes, there’s some reason to be cautious, especially playing at Iowa on a short week in an early game (I do know it’s Iowa). This team has relied on magic for the past couple week, even when they’ve been good. Perhaps for the next couple of weeks, they can just be good.

Productive Lutheran Worship Discussion?

After reading Pastor Todd Wilken’s Worship Wars article in the Fall Issues Etc. Journal, I would like to examine  the choices that lead a congregation to worship the way it does. While I agree that doctrine is inevitably at the center of worship controversy, looking across our synod and making a sweeping judgment that a return to doctrine is going to automatically going to cure worship-related-anxieties is not the only answer that everyone will accept. It starts with doctrine, but it doesn’t just end there.

As I’ve traveled around our Synod, I’ve been many different congregations, some who use the liturgy in its fullness, and some that use some or all contemporary. One thing I’ve found that’s a bit surprising is that the churches who use the liturgy (and keep closed communion) are more friendly and outgoing than the churches who use contemporary worship. I suspect this in large part because the liturgical churches know that they are asking more of people, and they are okay with that. Some people may find their worship dense and confusing, but the liturgical church uses this as an opportunity to present the gospel. Meanwhile, the non-liturgical churches often have greeters with authenticity and zeal of a car salesman.

As I’ve heard the stories of the advocates of alternative worship, they all follow the same narrative. Dying church, no young people are coming, older adults panic, so contemporary worship gets instituted. Visitors come in and don’t understand the liturgy. Instead of explaining it, the pastor says “Lord have mercy on me” and runs for his guitar. Notice how all these methods are reactionary, presumptuous, and don’t even involve discussion with the people they are trying to reach.

So, in some sense, the difference in our synod between those who use the liturgy and those who use the praise band can come down to “Inner Scoreboard”, as Warren Buffett would say. If your congregation is a middling 150 people, how do you feel about it? Are you okay with consistent attendance by a select few who give and who do a lot of the work, or do you want more? To put it within the context of Wilken’s post, are you okay with worshiping in the way that best reflects the doctrine you believe, or do you have to go chasing people? I will say this: while it’s admirable to try to reach more people, if a congregation holds steadfast to its doctrinally principals, even the most worldly people will admire that.

But of course, none of this deals with the primal issue in our synod, namely we are divided on the nature of what worship should be, going down multiple generations, and don’t have a platform to discuss these issues. In my CUW class, there was a per-seminary student whose father was the pastor of a LCMS parish who embraced contemporary worship and church growth practices. His senior seminar tried to justify contemporary worship’s place in our synod, but it lacked any opening for anyone from the opposing side to come in and engage him on the topic. Even the moderate students didn’t respect it.

So how do we create a platform to have meaningful conversations about worship in our synod? Doctrine is a huge part of the worship wars and at the center, but to find a real solution to the worship wars, we have to talk about practice within the context of doctrine. First, we talk about what we believe and why we are part of this synod (given how we are slaves to tradition at times, such self-examination). Then, let’s move beyond that and talk about what’s essential to teach our churches through worship and preaching. Then, move on to circumstance. If people are leaving our church, what’s the solution? Is changing the worship style the real solution? What about the churches that are taking in more people with alternate worship? Do we want to do everything that they do and believe what they want to believe?

So, there are two parts to this discussion, first doctrine (in the pastor’s study and in the sanctuary) and then practice. The way to have a productive discussion about worship is starting with doctrine, working through this issues, clear through to practice. But it’s important that as we move the discussion from doctrine to practice, we don’t suddenly stop talking about doctrine and jump to practice, because these things are inevitably connected. And even if they aren’t we should weigh them to be sure.

The LCMS is divided on this issue, and working through it is probably going to take another generation. Be honest about what you’re doing and consistent in doing it. Don’t sit on the differences you have with your brother; instead, bring them to the front, and share them openly. Even if we don’t come to a consensus, maybe we can at least move forward.

Train-ing for Inefficiency

Waiting….

Ironically, the anniversary of this train ride was two years ago yesterday. Today is the two year anniversary of the final Iowa State-Nebraska conference game.

Two years ago, I was planning on going to Ames to the Iowa State-Nebraska game and faced the dilemma of having to bring my truck back to home. Not wanting to leave my car at my parents’ for an extended period of time, I checked on Amtrak, and there was a train ticket from Lincoln to Osceola for $32, a third of the rate to Chicago. My dad agreed to come pick me up, and I booked the ticket. Having used Amtrak before, I looked forward to a quick trip, but at its end, I wondered how it was worth all the trouble.

The saying is supposed to be for people who stay up late, but nothing good happens after 2:30 A.M. even if you’re getting up for the day. Having a train that leaves the station at 4 A.M. doesn’t allow you to go to bed early enough or just stay up late, like it would if it showed up at 1:30, a sign of how outdated trains are in this area of the country. My friend was on-time to take me to the station, and the train was only fifteen or so minutes late. We pulled out by 4:30, and I made a valiant attempt at sleep, but I couldn’t. I can’t sleep longer than ten minutes on planes or trains. I woke up around Waverly, nodding off as the train plodded up to Omaha, then south again toward Plattesmouth. Nebraska may still be the home of Union Pacific, but why the train has to go Omaha when Des Moines, the Quad Cities, and Iowa City don’t get stops is beyond me.

Crossing the Missouri, I noted how beautiful it was and made a mental not that I should come by one morning to photograph the river in early morning light (that commitment took roughly fourteen months to fulfill). We ran slow-the train was suppose to get to Osceola a little before 8, but was chucking at the polar opposite of warp speed.

At Creston, the last stop before Osceola, the train stopped for a medical emergency, delaying us another half hour. I checked with my father, and he sat tight and I played games. When we got to Osceola, one of the conductors came around anxious to make sure there would be enough seats for some large group to sit together. It turned out to be a school band of about forty or fifty, who I had to watch board while I waited to cross the tracks in Osceola. Osceola’s train station is weird: the train comes in on the north tracks, they make the passengers who are getting off wait until the passengers have boarded and the train pulls out. Liability, I’m sure. I kept wandering the pavement platform on the north side while an Amtrak official watched me with caution, so much so I wouldn’t be surprised if he tackled me if I tried to cross the tracks.

My dad picked me up, and we made the tedious drive back up to Ames. We had to stop on the way to pick up the tickets whose purchase I had arranged online, and, mistaking the time it would take us to get to Des Moines, I had to call the guy twice. Thankfully, he did work close to where we wanted to met, at a gas station just of the interstate. Than my dad wanted to stop by Starbucks of the Ankeny exit, which somehow took us half-an-hour. I don’t know why we couldn’t have gone to the one off of I-80 exit 129.

So after eight-plus hours of travel, we rolled into my parents’ apartment complex just after 11. Definitely worth all the money I saved.

(That Iowa State-Nebraska game)

The Rise: Does the Big 10 Need Nebraska to Whip Everyone?

Looking in…

Steve Spurrier’s success at Florida in the 1990’s had an impact that went beyond the Gators. Yes, the fun-and-gun was one of the first passing offenses that began to take football by storm in the late 1990’s, but Spurrier’s penchant for running up the score began to raise the standards of many of the schools in the SEC, getting good coaches fired and raising the level of play in the conference to where it is today.

Yesterday in East Lansing, Husker fans saw a piece of how they may just shape the Big 10 going forward. While it wasn’t a huge win, going on the road and beating a consistent Michigan State team they hadn’t lead all day was again a sign of how Nebraska’s basketball-on-grass offense is pushing them to the front of the pack.

There haven’t been that many times  in the past ten years when Nebraska fans have been overtly optimistic. At points in 2003, fans saw the potential if they could only get better players, but that staff was soon scrapped to satisfy Steve Pedersen’s ego. Then there was the 2006 off-season, post-Alamo Bowl win over Michigan, where Husker fans hoped Zac Taylor could get them a conference title, and of course, the glow of the 33-0 Holiday bowl shutout of Arizona. The Pelini years have been good, don’t get me wrong, but now that Pelini’s gone 4-1 in a huge stretch in the Big 10, fans have reason to believe the team can be viable for years to come.

To his credit, Pelini hasn’t rested on his defensive laurels, and instead, has innovated offensively. When the Huskers moved to the Big 1o, Pelini could have justified keeping a grind-it-out, milk-the-clock offense. Instead, he brought in the spread, and now, a fan base that used to go cold at the first sign of trouble begins to believe their team can comeback when they are down two score with ten minutes left in the fourth quarter. That wrinkle is how a coach buys multiple years in a place.

But the Huskers remain a paradox in and off themselves. While they deliver in the clutch, they wouldn’t even be in that position if not for penalties and turnovers getting the better of them. Yesterday, starting field position was again an issue, with only Nebraska drives starting past their own 31, and their own 42 and 45 respectively. But the bottom line is, the team doesn’t give up. They are built to come back in games, and if they are this good, imagine how good they could be if they actually got some turnovers in their favor.

Saturday was a good-to-great moment for Nebraska football. They came in off a big win, primed for an upset against a so-so team that was better than their record. There’s no question that Nebraska could have squashed Sparty in Lincoln. But the game was in East Lansing, and the Spartans got the game they needed from Le’veon Bell and their defense to stay in it. Nebraska just had a little more.

It maybe a bit premature to say that Bo Pelini is going to get coaches fired in the Big 10. Really, Urban Meyer is more likely to get coaches fired in the Big 10, with his aggressive recruitership alongside his offense. But both Meyer and Pelini bringing this exciting offense to the Big 10 is a good thing, and if they keep coming back or blowing out good teams, it’s going to be a rough go for the rest of the league.

Bo Pelini and crew are one step closer to their goal of a Big 10 crow, and the schedule is softening slightly. Penn State is a better team now than was expected, but Nebraska gets them at home. Fans should still be concerned about Pelini throwing in a charity loss to Minnesota or Iowa, but as we saw on Saturday, this crew can match anyone, and pretty soon, they’re going to get their best player back. Yes, Burkhead the Beast may return soon, but it says a lot to the leadership of this team that they’ve won all these games without him. That’s something to believe in.

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