Axe Hair / Lions in WInter Writing Contest UPdate

>> 3.26.2010

A couple of weeks ago, I announced a The Lions in Winter writing contest, the winner of which would recieve an AXE Hair prize package.  The task was simple:

Tell me about a time when you were proud to be a Lions fan.

What I’m looking for is a well-written story about a time when you were proud to be a Lions fan.  It could be an instant, a moment, an hour, a game, a week, or a year.  I want you to really put yourself “on paper”; make any Lions fan reading it nod in agreement, smile at a similar memory, or excited about the season to come.

I’m extending the deadline out to April 1st, at 11:59 pm.  The winner not only receives the Flip digital video camera, AXE shaving kit, and AXE Hair products, their story will be published here at TLIW.  Again, to enter, email me with the subject line “AXE Hair writing contest”, and in the body of the email include the full text of the story.  Also include how you’d like me to announce your name, e.g. “Person” from “Place”, or your commenting handle.  My address is up there in the “The Flamekeeper” widget at the top of the sidebar.

I can’t wait to read your submission!


Matthew Stafford against the Browns, one more time

>> 3.25.2010

2009 September 13: Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) looks to pass during a 45-27 win by the New Orleans Saints over the Detroit Lions at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Icon SMI

Stop what you're doing.  Shut down your Twitter client.  Close out your email.  Turn your cell phone notifications off.  Close the door, put up the “Do Not Disturb” sign, do whatever you gotta do.  Take a few minutes, and watch this:

At the time, I described the Lions’ victory over the Browns like this:

This will be Matt Stafford's signature win. If he flames out in a blaze of interceptions, people will point to this win and wonder what might have been. If he goes on to be the next Elway, and the Lions win multiple Super Bowls with him at the helm, this will be the game they point to and say “It all started when . . .”
. . . watching this Hitchcockian one-shot short film, even those words don't lend that moment its proper significance.  In case all the rumblings of Pacman Jones and the owner’s meetings and the overtime rules had let you forget, here’s a reminder: we have our quarterback.  It’s been fifty years, but the Detroit Lions finally have a lead dog to pull their sled.  Even if he’s not a Hall of Famer, even if his career is not Peytonesque, Matthew Stafford will still be the savior who leads the Lions out of football Hell.


Pacman Jones to the Lions?

>> 3.23.2010

Pacman Jones a Detroit Lion? I wrote about the Lions, the NFL, second chances and wasted talent before, when I looked at the cases of Charles Rogers, Mike Vick, and Glenn Winston.  When it comes to Pac-Man Jones, nothing’s changed: the number of chances misbehaving football players receive varies in direct proportion to their on-field ability (or perception thereof).  As disgusting as that sounds, it’s really no different than the white-collar workplace—don’t top-gun account execs get away with more “martini lunches” than their non-billable assistants would?

In terms of both perceived football ability, and gravity of his crimes, Pac-Man Jones falls in between Rogers and Vick.  Chuck can’t stay away from the bottle or the bud, and it’s never affected anyone besides him and his family.  Mike Vick brutally tortured and killed animals, and spent and made five-figure sums gambling on a blood sport; he did hard time in Leavenworth for his crimes.

Chuck's competitive fire went out.  Whether it was the drugs, the injuries, or the influence of his old friends from Saginaw, Chuck Rogers simply lost the edge.  His speed left him, his desire left him, and he became, as Bill Parcells would say, "just a guy”.  Meanwhile, Mike Vick’s electrifying legs and haphazard arm had averaged out over six seasons into a worthwhile starting quarterback, and his moon-high upside hadn’t diminished.

So: Mike Vick’s crimes were much worse than Charles Rogers’, but Chuck had proven he had no value whatsoever to the NFL.  Mike Vick’s “maybe a starting quarterback, and maybe even a good one” grade-out means he’s still a potential jackpot.  If Chuck Rogers is an already-scratched-off lottery ticket, Mike Vick’s a perpetual Mega Millions pick—and the drawing, apparently, is always tomorrow.

Pac-Man's crimes—for the most part, starting fights in strip clubs—are worse than Chuck’s, but aren’t as brutal as Vick’s, and haven’t been punished as harshly under the law.  His raw talents as an pass defender and punt returner are elite, and yet his young career has been interrupted too many times for us to see if he’ll reach his potential.

In his rookie season, 2005, his sophomore season, and an abbreviated 2008 campaign with the Cowboys, Jones had 25 passes defensed, 4 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles.  He took one of those picks back 83 yards for a touchdown—and returned 4 punts for scores on 84 tries.  There’s no denying that he’d be a perfect fit, football-wise, for the Lions: any young cover corner with starting experience could find a home on this roster, and despite Martin Mayhew’s insistence that the spot is handled, adding an explosive returner to the stable couldn’t hurt.  But character-wise?

Jim Schwartz had a salient quote on this during his recent Jim Rome appearance:

I think we've all done things we regret at age 21 or 22.
I identify with this—though my transgressions didn't reach "start a brawl with dozens of strippers, bouncers, managers and patrons amidst a tornado of eighty-four thousand dollar bills” magnitude.  Frankly, I trust Schwartz to be able talk with his former star pupil, and know if he's really straightened his life out. 

What bothers me is: what bothers me?  Why don't I want the Lions to sign Pac-Man Jones?  If he can help the Lions salve the wounds of the past ten years with some long-awaited wins, why not?  It’s the same reason we’re fans to begin with: when we don the Lions’ colors, and wear the Lions gear, and announce to everyone else that we’re Lions fans, what the Lions do reflects on us.

We want the Lions to win because we want to win.  We want our invested time and emotion and money to pay off.  We want to walk around town with our jerseys and hats and shirts and jackets, and have the glory of the Lions reflect on us.  What we don’t want is to be the team that was so desperate that they signed a loser like Pac-Man—and what we really don’t want is this headline broadcast across the nation: “LIONS CB ‘MAKES IT RAIN’ IN CASINO; SIX WOUNDED”.

On the other hand, what better city for a new start?  What better team for a reclamation project?  If Jones turns over a new leaf, why not have that greening be in the city that needs it most, on the team that needs it most, at the position—arguably—where they need it the most?


The Books That Have Influenced Me Most

>> 3.22.2010

I got this idea from Chris Brown over at Smart Football.  While my list won’t be nearly as awesome and heady as his, I found this exercise fascinating and fun.  This won't be a list of my favorite books, the books you'll most be impressed that I read, or even the books I know most well.  It’ll be an honest attempt to enumerate the books which have shaped my thinking, and my writing (with a slight tilt towards sports).  In no particular order . . .

The Live Albom (Vol. I-IV), Mitch Albom.  Albom, like Rick Reilly and Bill Simmons after him, has evolved into an out-of-touch caricature of the amazing sportswriter he once was.  But Mitch Albom, “perhaps best known now for the inspirational stories and themes that weave through his books, plays and films,” was named the best sports columnist in the country by the AP Sports Editors thirteen times.

As an early reader, and a huge sports fan, I used to take the Detroit Free Press sports section to bed with me every night.  My mom loved his writing too; we waited in line together get his first column collection, “The Live Albom,” autographed.  He was amazingly cool, took time out to chat us up, and signed it:

To Tyler, my biggest little sports fan--and to [my mom], who's raising him!
I learned about Eddie Robinson in that book.  I learned about Len Bias and Pelle Lindberg.  I learned about Stevie Wonder, yes, but was more intrigued by Czech defector Petr Klima’s wild first days living in the “free world”.   I was entranced by Albom’s ability to simultaneously endow sports events with great symbolic weight, and make them insignificant against the backdrop of the lives of the people involved.  Ironic, then, that his current writing projects don’t interest me in the slightest; I haven’t read any of his “inspirational” books.

The Inner Game of Tennis, by W. Timothy Gallway.  This is as much about Zen philosophy, and removing conscious roadblocks to success, as it is about tennis.  Recommended to me as a 'tween, I read it and loved it and probably didn't "really get" 3/4ths of it.

The fundamental lesson, though, penetrated: let that part of you which grimaces and grunts with every stroke go, and let that part of you which does differential calculus on the fly to calculate the path of the ball perform at its peak.  It’s something I’ve tried, and mostly failed, to do ever since.

How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Orson Scott Card.  Card, my favorite fiction author, takes great pains to explain that this book is specific to the SF and Fantasy genres, and NOT a treatise on writing in general.

He’s wrong.  This is the most clear, well-thought-out, damn-this-guy-is-good, that-makes-so-much-sense guide to idea harvesting, milieu creation, character development and motivation,  and consistency of language that I know of.  I can’t consume fiction (regardless of media) without the ideas in this book bubbling up out of my subconscious.

Pitching to Win (How to Pitch), by Bob Feller.  Feller’s writing wasn’t as incendiary as his fastball, but he delved extensively into both the physical and mental aspects of pitching.  He explained how to warm up your body and mind, how to approach the pitcher-batter battle, and how to compensate for circumstances: field dimensions, heat, humidity, umpires, fatigue, and simply not having your best stuff that day.

The highlight of the book was a walkthrough of a simulated game (e.g., “Now it’s the sixth inning, you’re starting to get tired.  The shadows are longer and the temperature is dropping . . .”).  The overarching lesson was this: if you prepare yourself to succeed, and you visualize yourself succeeding, and you wholly believe you will succeed, then success is neither difficult nor surprising.

If Tiger Woods wrote a book like this about how he plays golf, it’d sell a hundred million copies in a month.

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card.  This, of course, is Card’s most popular novel, and the one that introduced me to his writing.  I deeply identified with Ender’s struggle against his peers, who ostracized him for his intelligence—and against his elders, who variously praised and punished him for the same trait.

The book has been criticized for the amoral, violent actions of the protagonist.  But Ender was a good kid, trying desperately to make sense of the world around him.  Every adult told him different things; many were lying through their teeth to manipulate him.  To say this resonated with me would be a gross understatement.

The most overlooked part of Ender’s Game, published in 1985, is what Ender’s siblings were up to.  Armed with nothing more than their parent’s Internet (not called that) accounts, they became noted commenters on political blogs (not called that)—and got hired as professional bloggers for major news websites.  Then, they worked together to shape public discourse—and ultimately, public policy.

When I first read this, I was in eighth grade; I burned with desire for such a platform, such a voice.  Of course, as a young teenager, convinced that I held the answers to all the world’s problems.  If only anyone would listen to me . . .

Ironically, now that I have such a voice, I talk about sports. I find political blogs toxic and insufferable; I’m offended most by their self-delusion that they shape public discourse, and public policy.

Missing Links, by Rick Reilly.  Ostensibly a comedy about golf, it’s as much about father/son conflict, economic stratification, and honest, loving relationships as golf.  To be fair, it’s a lot about golf.  To be honest, it’s really funny.

To be even more honest, it's the kind of book I am preparing myself to write, visualize myself writing, and wholly believe I will write (thanks Bob Feller!).

 The Prince, by Niccolò Machiavelli.  This is a jawdroppingly brilliant work by a man trying to ingratiate himself to the ruler who imprisoned him.  How do you get back in the good graces of a tyrant?  Write for him, and dedicate to him, Tyranny For Dummies.

Satire though it may be, The Prince still contains an uncomfortable amount of apparent truth about power, virtue (both real and perceived), and the source of a ruler's legitimacy amongst his subjects. I am so taken by Machiavelli's work that I occasionally Tweet as Niccolò Machiavelli, Social Media Marketing Guru.

The Football Hall Of Shame, by Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo.  This book is both criminally funny, and a wonderful look back through the history of the game we love so much.  From the 222-0 beatdown Georgia Tech put on Cumberland, to the bounced-game-check world of the World Football League, I learned more about the game of football through this retrospective of its worst moments than through any purported pigskin history book.  The only sad part is, if they ever revised and re-printed this classic, Nash and Zullo would have to add six chapters dedicated to Lions.


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