Saturday, July 30, 2011

Packer Training Camp Opens

The Collective Bargaining Agreement is in the past and football is in the air. NFL teams have been opening training camps over the last few days, and no where is that more important than in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Before at least 1,500 fans, and many children on their bikes, the Packers started their defense of their Super Bowl Championship under the lights outside the Don Hutson Training Facility. In the picture is Bryan Bulaga. Bulaga is a former Iowa Hawkeye who is starting his second year on the offensive line for the Green and Gold.

Bulaga isn't the only former Hawkeye associated with the Packers. Offensive Coordinator, Joe Philbin previously was the offensive line coach for the Hawkeyes from 1999-2002. Richie Williams who played defensive back at Iowa in the mid-2000s is also a scout for the Packers.

More on this night in Green Bay later as soon as I have the right cable to transfer pictures from my camera. Below is the first team play for the 2011 Packers in camp. (I don't have the same angles that I do for Hawkeye Football practice).

Friday, July 29, 2011

RAGBRAI Stops in Coralville

 An Iowa tradition, the Des Moines Register Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) is finishing up another event. The bike ride starts in the western part of Iowa, dipping their back tires in the Missouri River, and finishes on the eastern side of the state, dipping their front tires in the Mississippi River. It is a week long event running Sunday through Saturday with stops along the way. Each town on the route turns out in different ways offering bikers food, drink and entertainment. The overnight stop typically ends in one of the state's larger communities offering the riders showers, entertainment and an area to camp or homes to house riders.

Typically the final night is the last opportunity for riders to celebrate the long journey. This year that stop was Coralville. Coralville isn't necessarily the home to the University of Iowa Athletics, but Kinnick Stadium, home to Iowa Football can be seen from many of the different areas of town. To give a riders of sense of what it is like to be in Kinnick Stadium, the town built a mini-replica of the historic field on the 8th Street, the final leg of the day's journey.
 The trip from Grinnell to Coralville was dubbed as College Spirit Day. Riders were encouraged to wear bike jerseys featuring the colors of their favorite teams. Many schools were represented. Iowa, Iowa State, Grinnell, Wisconsin, Michigan, Duke, Coe, Simpson to name a few. And on the way into town, riders rode down a street lined with placards of all Division I teams in the country as well as every college and university in the state. Stands were set up adjacent to the central park in town where the Universities passed out or sold different articles of their school. Drake stood out among the schools with the largest inflatable mascot, Spike. They also handed out knapsacks to everyone who stopped by, and those could be seen all over the City of Coralville.
Then fans and riders came out to support their favorite mascot in different races throughout the park. Above Spike and Herky competed in the three-legged race as Cy watched on. TC the Panther as well as the Upper Iowa Peacock also competed.

Media from the area went live for their news at the park hosting RAGBRAI. All three local tv stations as well as many local radio stations set up shop with reports. The Des Moines Register also had their own stand selling many RAGBRAI articles of clothing and other momentos of the trip.
Jeff Kennedy, Tara Thomas and Ron Steele of KWWL
The night ended with a concert by 38 Special. The parking lot of the Coralville Library was turned into a giant beer garden with a stage at the end. A solid two hour show for all of the riders and local residents was a great way to cap the evening.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Tough Losses

There are many different ways to be associated with a team. Of course you can be a participant, coach, friend or relative, fan, and of course, video guy. And no matter which role you play, there will be that one time you walk away frustrated at some part of the game.

It doesn't matter the level, there are always frustrations. And coaching a group of first and second graders in t ball not only is fun and rewarding, but I have also had my time of frustration.

I won't call out anyone by name, and I will try to keep this positive, but tonight was a tough game to coach. My team has a core of players that have been together my three years with the game. We have improved over time, but most important, we have had fun throughout the years. The first two years was a sense of playing the game while hitting of the tee. This year it is coach-pitch and we are encouraged to coach them in preparation for the next level. However all but two of my 12 team members are playing their first season at this level and are still maturing their skills.

But tonight the level of play was raised to new heights and the expectations of that team were much greater than I expect out of mine. Its a preference and either are fine. My philosophy is making sure the players are solid with their fundamentals while having fun. That was important with our opponent, but their coach reminded me tonight that, "we are preparing them for play at the next level."

An example is the first inning. Our more mature opponents were able to get three outs before my entire team had a chance at the plate. On their third out, they raced back to the dugout leaving my team to ask why they didn't get their turn to bat. Approaching the coach rules were pulled out to inform me that is how the game is to be played. Of course this is game 7 of the season and this was the first time we adhered to that rule. Other times we were cognizant of it, but gave our opponents the courtesy of batting through. "Three outs prepares them for the next level," was the reasoning I was given. My reply, "At-bats prepare my team for the next level!"

I am also beginning to notice a different performance level between the two different age groups of this t ball league. My team has mainly those exiting first grade with two leaving the second grade. The team we played this week as well as the week ago were much more mature than my first graders. Mature enough that I had to pull many of my players 4-5 steps further back than they normally should play. Tonight's team had big kids who could hit the ball, and my younger team's reaction time was slower concerning me of their safety if a ball was connected squarely.

My team did well, but it is very frustrating to watch them play to a lesser level of their counterparts. It is also disappointing to watch these 7 year olds wonder why they didn't get their opportunity to bat. The best my Rays could do for outs in one inning was 1 unless you want to count those we got out on the last batter.

Next week I hope to return to play a team more comparable with mine. Those games are fun for my kids as well as the parents to feel better for their sons or daughters that they may not be hit by a line drive. As tonight's was closer to self-defense than preparing for the next level.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Big Ten Memories - Ohio State

Ohio State has never been a favorite place of mine to play. The Hawkeyes record in Columbus hasn't been good over the past fifty years, and I've been fortunate to be with the team for one of those very few victories. My first trip to the Horseshoe was a memorable 28-0 loss in 1989. That was as close to miserable as it could get. But that was eclipsed six years later in 1995. On a warm rainy morning the score became 35-0 very quickly. I can still see Eddie George flying past our line outrunning them down the sidelines. I walked into the locker room at half time with players and coaches searching for answers.

My one victory was in 1991. It was a very different feel to this game than any other. We left Iowa City on a blustery November 1 only to arrive to our hotel and see the national news of a story from the Iowa campus. Gang Lu, a disgruntled graduate student started a shooting spree through campus taking the lives of five and paralyzing another. This was the days prior to cell phones or email and we were trying to call friends to make sure they were alright. Rumors were spreading throughout the team. "The shooter was still at large," "He's on top of the Dental Building," "All University Buildings are in lock down," were among those I remember. However being far from the incident, it didn't completely hit home with many of us.

The next day the decals were stripped from the helmets. Coach Fry was able to focus the team on the Buckeyes and although it wasn't a crisp performance, the Hawkeyes played with much determination.

Two moments from the game stand out. The first was a fifty plus yard pass from Matt Rodgers to Alan Cross for a touchdown. Cross was wide open on the catch and run, and that play was thanks to defensive assistant and former Buckeye, Bo Pellini. Pellini played under Ohio State coach John Cooper and this game was very important for him to win. Pellini, knowing the Buckeye defense inside and out, knew this one play would work.

Late in the game, Matt Rodgers became injured in what appeared to be a rugby scrum. His teammates were pulling players from the pile while Buckeyes gave much resistance. Rodgers limped to the sidelines to a murmur of boos from the scarlet and gray crowd.

But our recent trip to Columbus was one of the best games in the series. The winner would get the automatic bid to the Rose Bowl, with the loser holding slim hope to being co-champs of the Big Ten Conference. It was senior day and the Hawkeyes were starting a freshman quarterback, James Vandenberg. It was a classic which had outstanding plays on both sides of the ball for each team. But this one was decided in overtime and the Buckeyes scored the game-winning field goal after the Hawkeyes turned the ball over on downs. In the loss, the game had the atmosphere a title fight.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Two Days at Wrigley Field

Cubs vs Marlins on July 16, 2011
For many years I have traveled to Chicago's Wrigley Field and have seen all different types of baseball played by the home team Chicago Cubs. I feel I've seen the best - 1984 against storied rival St. Louis where Ryne Sandberg hit two home runs in his last two at bats to extend the game until the Cubs could win it in the 11th -  but following a game against the Marlins last Saturday, I think I've seen the worst.

Not many expected great things out of the Cubs entering the 2011 season, and the team has lived up to those expectations. Until today the Cubs had not won three straight game. And a week ago it was the third of a four-game series with another team destined for last place in their division. And it was one of the most boring days I've experienced at the Friendly Confines.

To begin with, a pattern that is occurring in many major league ballparks is the omission of music when the opposing batter reaches the plate. I'm sure it is to avoid "psyching up" that batter, but this has got to come to an end.. Baseball is a "pace" game. A slow pace and fans lose their interest. The quicker the pace and the fans remain attentive. But in this older ballpark where there is no replay board, no booming sound system and it is very reminiscent of how the game was played in the early 20th century, but with a bad ball team, fans of the North Side team could use a jolt in a game which finds their home town heroes down three after one inning and go onto lose 11-3.

The Cubs are a hard team to like right now. And it is for little things they do between and outside the lines. One example is shown in the above photo. Against the Fish, everyone from Florida was out of the dugout and at attention during the National Anthem. The Cubs were not fully represented. Not a reason they lost the game, but a sign that some things aren't expected out of them.

Aside from former Cub and current front office member of the Florida Marlins, Andre Dawson throwing out the first pitch and singing "Take Me Out to The Ballgame," the day would have been miserable.
Cubs v Phillies on July 18, 2011
Two nights later I may have been treated to the best Cubs home game. With your favorite team twenty games under 500, playing the best in the National League and facing the best pitcher in the game, my attention turns from cheering on the Cubs to appreciating the talent they will be facing. But on this night and in this series the feeling was more of an intra-divisional game with the Cardinals and not a team that comes to Chicago once a year. Early in the night the fans from Pennsylvania outnumbered the home team's. The size of the opponent's crowd was more like that when the Cardinals come to town, and not the fan base of a team outside of the NL Central.
Groups, families and interested fans wearing red streamed into the ballpark. The chant of "Let's Go Phillies" at times was stronger than that of "Let's Go Cubs." For every Philadelphia hit, a loud roar eminated from the stands.

And these fans have every right to follow and strongly support their team. Philadelphia Manager, Charlie Manuel has this team playing the right way. Above first baseman, Ryan Howard shows why he is among the best at his position. Every hit, Howard hustled to first, took the throw and wrapped both hands around his glove. This is a drastic difference from Cubs left fielder, Alfonso Soriano. On the same night Soriano was charged with an error after a lack of hustle caused him to charge a foul ball which found his bobbling the pop fly which he dropped.

Later in the game with the Phillies again in the field, the Cubs had runners in scoring position. Without having to meet at the mound, the infielders of Chase Utley, Michael Martinez, Jimmy Rollins and Howard each communicated through hand signals and were ready to position themselves for the next batter. The only communication with the Cubs infielders came with second baseman, Darwin Barney and Shortstop, Starlin Castro.

There are reasons a team finishes so far out of first place. These are only a few. Until the likes of Soriano and Ramirez find another place to play, Cub fans can have little to look forward to.

Lost - A Deleted Scene

Its been over a year since ABC's LOST went off the air. Reaction was mixed following the finale, but occasionally there has been videos released from the producers to keep our interest there.

At the recent Comic-Con in San Diego Executive Producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse met with fans and released a supposed deleted scene from the season 1 finale.

It is easy to say this was omitted, but share your thoughts if you feel this was intended to be shown or if it was created more recently to help answer some questions.

None the less enjoy this clip as you remember how great this show was.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Big Ten Memories - Penn State

Fortunately many of my trips to Happy Valley have been successful. Those that weren't definitely were ones to forget. 1994 I experienced one of the worst losses against one of the best teams in Penn State history. Kerry Collins and Ki-Jana Carter showed why they earned their all-Big Ten honors on the day they played the Hawkeyes. In 2007 the Nittany Lions played well on an unseasonably hot October day that kept Iowa from doing much of anything.

However every other time the Hawkeyes have come away very successful in one of college football's best-known stadiums, Beaver Stadium. And the first four of those wins had a common bond.

Rain wasn't the common denominator in those wins, but in 1996 it never stopped raining from the minute we stepped off the plane until taking the return trip. As you've read from earlier posts there are some stadiums that don't provide shelter from the elements for the end zone camera. Beaver Stadium was one of those at that time. Another make-shift booth was created atop a scoreboard that also housed the speaker system--the speaker system that always played the annoying Nittany Lion Roar. So not only did I have to put up with rain, but also a constant, "ROAR."

At the half in a close competitive game I was looking for any way to warm up. It was cold and damp and a hot chocolate seller wandered by. That was my best solution to feel better again, but the young man selling them couldn't keep the rain out and mine was cold and watered down. The highlight of the game was a Tim Dwight punt return for a touchdown and the Hawkeyes won 21-20. I placed the hot chocolate mug on a shelf in my office to remind me of the conditions.

In 2000 was our next trip. The odds were stacked against us as it was a rebuilding project for the Hawkeyes and head coach Kirk Ferentz, who signed his contract days before the game. He only had two career wins as the head coach of the black and gold.

It was another cool, autumn day for football. Nittany Lion fans weren't sure what they were watching, but they had expected to take care of the underrated Iowa team. My end zone location was different than the time before as renovations to the historic stadium were underway. I wasn't near the speakers, I was covered, but now I could touch the fans. At halftime I decided I would try the hot chocolate again and see if it had the same magic as 1996. And it did. The Hawkeyes won in double overtime and was the beginning of a very successful career for those from Iowa City. That mug made my office as well.

2002 was a different experience. It was one of the best football teams in Iowa history playing its first Big Ten game of the season. I knew what was on the line. A day where temps reached the 70s, would they be selling hot chocolate on this warm day? Or did they know of my streak with hot chocolate mugs? Iowa got out to an early lead and in the third led by as much as 35-13. Did I need to worry about hot chocolate on this day? As many Iowa fans know, I did. In the fourth quarter with the Nittany Lions storming back I had a student of mine run to the concession stand and buy me that hot chocolate. Despite another two overtime game, the hot chocolate mug won out and another Blue and White mug made its way back to Iowa City.

2004 was no different, but it was a cooler day-more appropriate of the drink. Another hot chocolate, another win. But the streak came to an end in 2007. I couldn't find one that day as temps rose into the 70s. It didn't matter as the Hawkeye didn't show much promise to overcome an early 20 point deficit and the Hawkeyes walked away from Beaver Stadium losers for the first time in over a decade.

The streak of the mug was fun while it lasted, but we since retired the tradition. The rains still are prevalent. A hard rain preceeded the 2009 matuch-up. That night it didn't matter. Penn State had one highlight from the night - the first play of the game. But after that it was all down hill and the Hawkeyes proved to a nationally televised audience it didn't need any superstitions. The better teams always wins, which were the Hawkeye on numerous

Friday, July 15, 2011

Big Ten Memories - Michigan

The first trip to "The Big House" is special. For many years I watched games on TV hearing that annoying fight song, seeing the throngs of people fill the stands and every other year watching that famed rivalry when Ohio State comes to town. Being there in person, the impression doesn't live up to the expectations.

While the structure of Michigan Stadium is impressive, there is nothing that stands out. It is a bowl with bleacher seating that is the largest of any stadium in the country. Over 110,000 occupy the home of Wolverines every home Saturday, and when at capacity, it is an impressive sight. The Wolverines running through the banner, hearing the fight song...over and over... with the unison of each fan thrusting their fist into the air and the uniforms with the crazy design on the helmet.

But the 110,000 is one of the quieter stadiums in the country. As it is built, the noise can escape easily. And the fans almost expect their home town team to win each of their games which seems to make it even more quiet. But it is an experience everyone should take in. There is no outside advertising within the bowl, and the replay board which has recently been installed isn't obnoxious, rather blends into the background of the game. And as one who has had the opportunity, the walk from the locker rooms down the historic tunnel is a moment every player, coach and staff member will remember.

But my first trip to "The Big House" was very memorable. The week before the Maize and Blue lost to in-state rival, Michigan State and the Wolverine faithful sees consecutive home losses as often as last place conference finishes. But this wasn't Bo's team. It had been turned over to "Mo," Gary Moeller and those traveling from Iowa City expected to win their first there in over ten years.

The athletic director for Iowa was Bump Elliott. He previously coached Michigan, and very few knew this would be his last trip to Ann Arbor before his retirement later that school year. This game was important to him, and he watched it transpire from the photo deck just outside the Michigan Press Box.

The photo deck wasn't spacious. One tripod after another lined the railing, and our position was near the 40 yard line, underneath the open window of WHO's Jim Zabel and Ed Podolak. Typically the athletic director will watch from his own booth, but Bump wanted to be outside on a beautiful fall Saturday afternoon.

Those who remember that game will recall the Hawkeyes were the better team that day, but could not shake the home team. An opportunity was lost at half as time ran out with the Hawkeyes near the goal line. Communication between the huddle and sideline was poor and Iowa headed to the locker room without points. But Iowa QB Matt Rodgers led the Hawkeyes on a drive late in the 4th quarter without one third down which resulted in a touchdown that tied the game, with the game-winning extra point. Michigan took the ball and was intercepted by John Derby to seal the game.

After that interception Mr. Elliott face had to hurt from the smile that went from one ear to the other. And the hand shake I received almost tore my arm off at the shoulder. This 60+ year old man was more excited than anyone else from Iowa on the field, in the locker room or in the stands.

As I said, everyone remembers their first time in Michigan Stadium, but Bump Elliott will definitely remember his last trip as Iowa's Athletic Director at the Big House.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hawkeye Badger Video Golf

(L-R: Rahfeldt, Blaker, Engelbert, Porteus)
Quickly becoming a tradition, the Iowa and Wisconsin Video Staffs met for at least the fourth straight year in a battle on the links. The destination has been Lacoma Golf Course in East Dubuque, Illinois and this year's event was the first time even numbered groups represented each school. Bob Rahfeldt and I sported the Black and Gold while Rob Porteus and David "Big D" Blaker took the drive south on 151.

Scoring took on two different looks. A competition of best scores among the four took precedence as well as low ball / low score. The latter provided little drama as the Hawkeyes had that wrapped up by hole 14.

However the low individual score wasn't know until the final holes. But Porteus was unable to overcome a four shot deficit with three holes to play. He did close the gap finishing two strokes behind Engelbert of Iowa.

This will be the last time the four will be united for the 2011 season. As the Big Ten shifts to divisional play, the Hawkeyes and the Badgers are separated with the only possible meeting coming in Indianapolis, December 3rd for the Big Ten Football Championship. On this day, the Heartland Trophy was not at stake, although the group from Iowa rushed across the 18th green looking to hoist the travelling trophy and return it to Iowa City.

Rays v Mets

The Coralville Rays continued their season short-handed Thursday night taking on the cross-town rival Mets. Short three of their every day players who were on vacation, the Rays were able to take advantage of many scoring opportunities while doing their best to cover as much territory as possible while in the field.

The game with the Mets was the longest of the season lasting four innings, with the final one played entirely off the tee.

Being down three players it gave the Rays the opportunity to cover more territory, and the additional inning gave the Rays ample experience at many different positions.

During the game in a collision at home plate, Tony, the final batter and clean up hitter for the Rays, needed to be taken to the concession stand for precautionary checks along-side his mother. Tony didn't return to actions, but was able to join the Rays in congratulating their opponent.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Big Ten Memories - Minnesota

It would be easy to write about so many obvious moments that happened against the Gophers. Only playing one year in the new TCF Bank Stadium, all of my good memories of our rivalry with Minnesota occurred in the Metrodome--or as we like to refer to it as, "Kinnick North."

All Iowa fans remember being called for Unsportsmanlike Conduct for creating too much noise while Minnesota was on offense in 1990. That may have been a first, and only time in NCAA football history.

Of course who could forget Iowa fans tearing down the goal posts in 2002 after the Hawkeyes ran the table in the Big Ten and won a share of the conference title with Ohio State. The sounds emanating from the Metrodome sound system sounded like whales, but that didn't deter the Iowa crowd from taking the posts into the stands and attempting to take them through revolving doors. Iowa Equipment Truck owner and driver, Mike Riggan said afterwards he regretted he didn't open up the back of his semi for the fans to load the goal posts into the back.

2004 was one of the tighter contests that had Chad Greenway making a big stop on defense, and quite possible giving the Gophers a tougher attempt for the game-winning field goal--which was no good. And in 2008, the final game for the Gophers in the Metrodome, the Hawkeyes went double nickel on their rivals to the north. An enjoyable way to close out this era of the Battle for Floyd of Rosedale.

But other memories I have come from the moments leading up to game time. 1990 was the first time I accompanied the team North. A Hawkeye win or Wolverine loss meant the Hawkeyes would be Big Ten Champions as well as the conference representative in the Rose Bowl. These were the days before the television contracts we know of today. The game wasn't televised, and it was a 1pm start. Arriving hours before kick-off with the equipment staff, a few of us decided to play catch on the field. I was still learning the faces of the travelling party. Some I knew, some looked familiar, and there was some that I didn't know.

As we played catch I noticed a gentleman walking out from one of the tunnels that led to the field.  I ran a route which had me catch a pass in the end zone. After catching a pass, this gentleman raised his hands signifying, "Touchdown." He looked familiar, but I couldn't place him on the travel party. A few minutes later he vanished back into a tunnel that led to the third base dugout and then a manager came over asking me how cool it was to see Tom Kelly, the manager of the Minnesota Twins. I knew he had looked familiar, but did not think baseball on this day we would win the Big Ten Football Championship.

Occasionally, playing there on the last Saturday of the season, some fans would stay around to watch the Vikings the next day. I believe it was 1998, and the next day the Vikings hosted the Packers. It was a key battle in the NFC Central. The battle was so big that the NFL on Fox crew moved their studio to the sidelines of the Metrodome. They needed to get a practice in, and the best time was prior to the Hawkeye - Gopher game, Saturday morning. There was Howie, Bradshaw and Collinsworth going over the camera locations, the lighting and sound. Following their prep Howie wanted to play a little catch with his sons. The Gopher equipment staff wasn't around and they looked to ours for a ball. We hadn't got ours to the sideline yet, but the managers sprinted up the corridors to the locker room where all they could find was a roughed up, old kickers ball. What else could we do? Had to get something to the Fox crew, and boy did Howie give them a hard time for the lack of quality equipment. Most likely it was Howie's son Chris which went on to a playing career at Virginia and the third overall pick of the St. Louis Rams.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July

Fireworks lit up the downtown Iowa City sky following the final act of the annual Iowa City Jazz Fest the evening of the third. The University of Iowa Pentacrest was full of Jazz fans as well as firework lovers for the thirty minute spectacle.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Big Ten Country Expanded

It is official. Nebraska is now a member of the Big Ten Conference. If you haven't read how we got to this day, as reported by Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune, it is worth taking the time. Of course it is partially caused by a University of Iowa alum, and a one-time classmate of mine at Iowa. Not many remember he was the head of the Sigma Chi Chapter at Iowa when it was suspended...but he rebounded nicely from that.
Now Big Ten Country