30 for 30 Presents Heroes and Villains

Greg LeMond is the only American to win the Tour de France. Think about that for a second. No, this wasn’t written in 1986 after LeMond’s victory, nor is this some alternate universe. Look up; there are no passenger airships above us. The history books will tell you Lance Armstrong’s infamous “Look” never happened, and that Floyd Landis’ miraculous comeback the day after his epic bonk never took place either. As in so many comic books, history has been rewritten. But this time, the winner wasn’t holding the pen.

Like some of you, I wake up at Too Bloody Early in the morning to watch the Tour de France; all while thinking I should still be in bed. It is a yearly ritual that fuels my love of riding a bicycle while simultaneously making me question my sanity. In the early 1980s I didn’t have that luxury–all I had were highlights on CBS’s weekend coverage. Cable television, and ESPN Sportscenter, didn’t make it to my neck of the woods until 1988. The main, if not only, reason CBS covered the race was because of American rider Greg LeMond; much in the same way that OLN started covering the Tour live because of Lance Armstrong.

The 30 for 30 film “Slaying the Badger” chronicles Greg LeMond’s battles with Bernard Hinault a.k.a. “The Badger;” so named not only for his resemblance to the creature, but for his tenacity as well. An extra layer to the drama is the fact that the two were teammates on La Vie Claire. Unlike VH1′s “Behind the Music,” there is no formula that makes for a memorable entry in the 30 for 30 series, but I have to say that the teammate angle is an attention getter.

After winning the tour in 1985, with considerable help and sacrifice from LeMond, Hinault pledged to support his teammate the following year. But once you get into the heat of compitition, plans tend to change. We all know the outcome, yet I don’t want to spoil the details for those that are unfamiliar with the story–it is well worth your time, even if you don’t care about cycling. Like a lot of sports movies, true or fictional, it isn’t always about the sport, but about the people involved. See also: Rush.

I have read some reviews that stated that the real star of “Slaying the Badger” is the Badger himself: Bernard Hinault. I can sort of see the point. Despite conducting his interviews in French, Hinault comes across as engaging and gregarious. In fact, he isn’t the mustache twirling Bond villain many would lead you to believe.

Not that Greg LeMond, nor his wife Kathy, paint Hinault as such… Not in the present day anyway. In the recent interviews they seem rather matter-of-fact about the situation, but in interviews conducted at the time there is a lot of anger and frustration, a hint of paranoia, and a metric ton of disbelief.

LeMond believed that Hinault was a man of his word, and maybe that is what Hinault wanted him to believe. The problem was that Hinault wasn’t the only problem. LeMond also had to deal with team owner, Bernard Tapie, and sporting director, Paul Koechli. Koechli was the man with the plan . . . That is when Hinault wasn’t making it up on the fly.

As for Tapie, his story would make for a great film–if anyone would believe it. He is kind of like The Most Interesting Man in the World if The Most Interesting Man in the World ever held a job. Tapie was a singer, actor, politician, businessman, and even did a stint in prison for fraud. Quick! Someone get Martin Scorsese on the phone.

At the end of the day, the record shows that Hinault is a five time Tour de France winner and that LeMond won it three times; he probably would have won more if he hadn’t been shot, accidentally, by his brother-in-law. It’s always the brother-in-law… Or the crazy uncle.

See? I told you it was a good story.

Talking About Practice!

NFL training camps are in session and for the forty-sixth straight year I couldn’t care less. If you like it, that’s okay, I don’t have any problem with it, I just don’t put any stock in it.

Every May they have OTAs, or whatever they are called, and at least one player gets injured and is out for the season. IN MAY!!! That’s four months before the season starts. Yes, football has become a 24/7/365 deal, as evidenced by the existence of the NFL Network. Gone are the days when players would have off season jobs selling insurance or building houses or whatever.

Then there is the NFL Combine, which a lot of people refer to as the “Underwear Olympics.” Basically it’s a bunch of dudes running and jumping so that the NFL coaches and scouts can give them the once over… Kick the tires, so to speak.

I can understand the idea of getting all the prospective draftees together in one location in order to talk to them and get to know them better, but as for actually learning if they can play? Isn’t that what college football is for?

Yeah, there are any number of players, especially quarterbacks, who are amazing college players, but whose skills don’t transfer to the pro game. And a lot of people can fling the old pigskin from one end of the field to the other in a controled enviroment, such as the Combine, but that doesn’t mean that they can do it under game conditions. Everyone is John Elway when they play two hand touch with a Nerf football in the backyard, but put that same guy into a real game and they suddenly turn into Jeff George.

Don’t even get me started on the Wonderlic test and the psychological evaluation that goes on during the Combine. Some players pass it with flying colors and get cut before the season starts, while others score impossibly low numbers and go on to become Hall of Famers.

Then you have the meaningless preseason games which you have to full price in order to attend. There is almost always one team that goes unbeaten in preseason only to flatter to deceive. The fans all proclaim; “This is our year!” and book hotel rooms in the Super Bowl host city only to see their team lose the first six games of the season. The funny thing is that they can never figure out where it all went wrong. Then there are the teams that lose all their preseason games and wind up winning the Super Bowl.

Whenever a team doesn’t live up to a so called “expert’s” predictions in preseason they often say, “Well, we don’t know exactly what they were working on. Once the season starts they’ll get it all sorted out.” And yes, in a lot of cases that is true. That’s why they should just call them “practice games.”

Halt and Catch Fire “The 214s”

Some days I have a hard time writing because an episode goes nowhere. Then there are the times when an episode isn’t very good and I have a hard time trying to withhold the snark. And there are the episodes like “The 214s” where everything clicks and anything I say would be kind of pointless.

If I were a better educated person I could tell you why everything worked. I could disect a particular scene and walk you through it. I could discuss story structure and character development, and reference classic films and television series that use similar themes.

There are a lot of people who can do that sort of stuff, and I enjoy reading it, but for some of you it spoils the illusion. I undertand that line of thinking but, as for me, most of that stuff goes right over my head.

So… What actually happened?

It seems that Bosworth got Cameron to hack the bank’s computer in order to move some money around so that they could complete their PC. In their defense, they were going to put it back once the Cardiff Giant started to sell. Try telling that to Nathan Cardiff and the FBI.

Joe was plannining on attending COMDEX alone since the last time Gordon went things didn’t go so well. Needless to say, Gordon was more than a bit upset since COMDEX is basically Comic Con for compuer geeks.

Joe and Cameron head over to Gordon’s house for a pow wow that quickly turned into a massive arguement where a lot of blame got thrown around. Gordon tells Cameron about how Joe switched the discs to make it seem that her work was erased. And then Cameron punched Joe… In the face. Not a slap, but a punch. I can’t say that he didn’t deserve it. After all, Joe has what the Germans call “backpfeifgesicht”–a face that needs a fist.

Joe finds out that IBM is working on their own version because sometimes more than one person has the same idea at the same time. Just ask Nikola Tesla–it’s all about who gets the publicity first.

Joe flies to New York to confront his father about it, and eventually asks to work on the project. Just when you thought he couldn’t possibly be a bigger scumbag. And, as it turns out, Joe was telling the truth about his mother and falling off the roof. Not only that, but we find out that he spent his “missing” year going around trying to find out about his mother, whom he thought died when he was a child. Joe Sr. had her commited and it wasn’t until she really passed away that he came clean to Joe. No wonder he is so messed up.

When the FBI raided Cardiff Electric they confiscated all the computers, so Gordon had the genius idea of disassembling the Giant so it wouldn’t be taken away. Clever boy. The then broke into the office and rogued it back. Not only that, but he picked up milk on his way home.

Not knowing that Joe is in New York, Cameron and Gordon head over to his apartment to tell him that they still have the Giant. And since he was nowhere to be found, they did what anyone would do–they drank beer, ordered pizza, and talked about their first time . . . Using a computer. It was nice to see the two of them getting along. When Joe returns, Cameron and Gordon talk him down and convice him into going to COMDEX.

Donna’s boss, Hunt, resigned without telling her. At one point she was about to leave Gordon but she got distracted by the awesomeness that is the Giant. Then she found the decoder ring that Gordon bought her (long story, but very sweet), and in the end she decides to tag along with our trio to COMDEX.

Road trip!

Halt and Catch Fire “Giant”

Halt and Catch Fire definately lived up to its promise with last week’s episode “Landfall,” and while it didn’t go from strength to strength with “Giant,” it still shows promise.

Most of that promise comes in the form of John Bosworth as portrayed by Toby Huss. I don’t know if Huss will be an Emmy contender next year, but he should be in the conversation.

Bosworth started out as a character that seemed to be an obstacle in the path of the lead triumvirate; one that couldn’t see the future, or maybe just refused to. The thing about “period pieces” is that the viewers know the outcome and get to point and laugh at those who have no idea of what is to come. Joe is the visionary who sort of acts like he can see the writing on the wall; almost as if he is a time traveler or psychic.

Bosworth has become the most interesting character on HFC, to me at least. He is the least cliche ridden character, yet he could have easily been the most. It is so easy to depict the boss as a bad guy, especially one who is from Texas. Not because Texans are bad guys, not in real life anyway, but because television tends to paint in broad strokes in order for people to say, “Oh yeah, I know the type.” It’s a cheap trick too often used as a storytelling shortcut.

Bosworth has gone all in with his team, so much so that he is willing to risk his house so that Cardiff Electric has the funds to finish the project. He also punched out a guy who called Joe a “queer.” I don’t know when Bosworth will find out Joe’s secret, or what his reaction will be; hopefully he won’t revert to type. Then again, if he does, it will make things interesting. Fingers crossed.

Cameron knows Joe’s secret, and she even met his former lover, Simon. Simon was brought in to design the casing, or whatever it’s called, for the computer because Joe doesn’t want another “beige box.” Who does?

I don’t know where the Joe/Cameron relationship is going, but it probably won’t end well. I don’t really see the point of it other than that it makes Joe seem like a sleaze who manipulates those around him so that he can achieve his goals. He knows what motivates people be it praise, respect, sex, etc. and he is more than willing to hand it out and equally willing to withhold it–whatever it takes to get the job done.

And then there is Gordon. Poor guy finally cracked. Donna goes out of town and he attempts to cook dinner, tell his kids a story about the Cardiff Giant, and fix a leaky faucet. What he ends up doing is cutting his hand, making a mess, and digging a hole halfway to China.

As for Donna, or should I say “Susan Fairchild,” she goes on a business trip with her boss, Hunt, and kisses him. There seemed to be some sexual tension building up between the pair for a while now, but most of it seemed to be coming from Hunt. In the end, Hunt turned out to be a good guy who rebuffed Donna’s advances. It seems that there are nice guys on television after all.

It’s Kind of Like Riding a Bike

About ten years ago I started riding my bike in order to lose the weight that I had gained from stress eating. The cause of the stress is another story for another day; I’ll just say that it was work related and leave it at that.

The bike had been sitting around the house not doing much because I couldn’t find the time or energy to ride–also work related. When I got back on it I soon found out that I could barely make it a mile before I was exhausted… And there weren’t even any hills!

Instead of getting frustrated, I worked at it like it was a problem that needed solving. I started reading articles in cycling magazines that helped me immensely. I learned techniques that soon had me climbing hills that previously I didn’t want to walk up. And over time I started going for longer and longer rides, which pleased me to no end. I never thought that I could go up and down hills for three or four hours at a clip.

But it’s not that easy; nothing ever is.

Yes, I was losing weight, but I was also gaining weight. It seemed like for every ounce of fat I lost, I gained a pound of muscle. It’s not a bad thing in the sense that the muscle I gained was in my legs which helped me go for longer rides, yet it was more mass that I had to drag up the hills.

I have always had big thighs, and I needed them to carry around my big gut. Now they were getting even bigger while my waist was getting smaller, which means that I could no longer wear straight leg jeans which, to be honest, I had no business wearing in the first place. And skinny jeans? Forget about it. There was never a time in my life when I could wear those.

A lot of experts will tell you that in order to lose weight you need to eat a lot of protein so you can build muscle which will burn fat, and yes, this does work. I have a friend who, back in the Nineties, went on one of those diets where you eat small meals every few hours. Basically, this makes you a bit OCD in the sense that you become obsessive about portion size and having to eat on schedule. And, in his case, it made him hyperagressive. I didn’t want to go that route because I have a bit of a temper, and I didn’t want to exacerbate matters.

The thing is the muscles in my legs are pretty much the only ones I have. I’m the kind of guy who could do curls all day and it wouldn’t make any noticeable difference. If you look at my arms under a microscope you may be able to see some definition, but that came about because of the weight loss. It’s like the skinny guy with six pack abs who has never done a crunch. If you have ever seen that guy at the gym or the beach who has the arms of Mr. Olympia and the legs of an Olympic marathon runner, well… I’m the complete opposite of that.

You always hear distance athletes talk about “carbo loading” the day before an event, because they need the fuel. The problem is that carbs are an anathema to losing weight, yet I need them to keep from bonking while on the road.

One of the biggest problems I have faced is in trying to learn how many carbs I need without eating too many which causes me to gain weight. Another problem is that this is a moving target that even riders in the Tour de France who have the benefit of sports scientists, nutritionists, and team chefs have a hard time hitting. Chris Horner of the BMC cycling team talked after Stage 8 of this year’s event about eating during the ride to replenish his energy stores, but since the weather was cool he barely broke a sweat and he actually gained weight!

I had a similar thing happen to me last Wednesday, except that I wasn’t eating during the ride–I never do. Sometimes, I will take along a packet of energy gel in case of emergency. After hearing Horner’s comments it makes me wonder: If the pros have a problem with weight, what chance do I have?

But I can’t afford to think that way.

Halt and Catch Fire “Landfall”

“Landfall” is the best episode of Halt and Catch Fire since “I/O.” Yeah, I can hear the cries of, “That ain’t saying a whole lot, buddy!”

I almost didn’t watch tonight’s episode; not because I was starting to dislike the series, but because I was feeling kind of meh. I thought that I could watch it later in the week when I was feeling a bit better, and then I remembered that I never feel well. Thankfully, I watched it live and I had a fun time over on Twitter (@inkacid) reading and commenting. The crowd isn’t as large as the one for Mad Men, so my wonderful bon mots don’t get lost in the shuffle.

Anyway…

Joe and Cameron are still hooking up, but poor Gordon isn’t making the beast with two backs with Donna. Looks like she could toss a pity bonk Gordon’s way while fantasizing about her boss, Hunt.

Ooh… I just went there. Hunt invited Donna on a “business” trip, where, I’m just speculating here, he hopes that the two of them can get busy. Hunt is already pumping Donna . . . for information on Cardiff’s new computer, but in a subtle way.

Cameron has the idea to make the personal computer more… personal. She wants to make it user friendly and interactive. When she tells Gordon about her idea he makes a joke about programming it to jerk him off. Someone needs to take one for the team and give Gordon a handy in the supply room because he really needs a release from the stress.

Any volunteers?

Gordon undermines Cameron’s authority with her code monkeys by telling Lev to stop working on Cameron’s project and go back to doing whatever it was they were doing before. Oh, and then Gordon drops the Cameron and Joe hooking up bomb on him. Poor Lev.

And poor Yo-Yo. Dude’s obviously got a thing for Cameron; he even gave her a copy of a game he created; that’s the computer geek equivilent of a mix tape. But of course, Cameron hooked up with their other rommate who happens to be, wait for it . . . A musician. It’s always the musician. I know how you feel Yo-Yo; been there, done that, got the floppy to prove it.

And no, I am not talking about a disc. I know nothing about writing code.

Cameron has a nice heart to heart with Bosworth late one evening. I like the dynamic of those two together. Cameron seems to be at ease around him–less guarded. Bosworth seems to be the one person that doesn’t judge her for her appearance, and doesn’t treat her like a second class citizen because she is a woman.

There was a subplot about Gordon and his attempts to buy his kids a Cabbage Patch Kid; oh boy, I remember those things. In fact, I live not far from where they were invented. If they hed been around in the Sixties, I could imagine Pete Campbell in a similar situation.

First of all, you don’t buy something off a dude in a parking lot without checking the merch. Didn’t Gordon ever buy weed in college? He must have gotten his roomie to do it for him.

And who knew that Joe was so good with kids? I didn’t see that one coming. One day Lee Pace will put that on his audition reel when he wants to be the new Doctor.

At the end of the episode Joe came clean to Cameron about how he got his scars. Either that, or he finally came up with a lie that Cameron believed.

“Can we go go back to hating soccer now?” says most of ‘Murica

Yep, team USA is out of the World Cup, and so goes most of America’s interest in the world’s game. A lot of Americans really didn’t care at all about the World Cup because the real national pastime is not baseball, but hating soccer.

The truth is that all this soccer hatred doesn’t bother me. At all. In fact, I take it as a point of pride that I like something that is hated by so many. I am not a “soccer evangelical” who goes around spreading the gospel of the beautiful game, nor do I hide my light under a bushel. I am one of those who likes what I like and doesn’t give a damn what others think. Never have, never will. I make no apologies for who I am.

But, in all seriousness, where do we as Americans go from here? As for me, I will be watching the English Premiership when it returns next month. Notice that I didn’t say that I will be enjoying it. That’s because I support Arsenal, but that’s another story.

After every World Cup the commentators ask, “What does this mean for Major League Soccer in America?” The answer is usually a resigned shrug. A lot of the US men’s national team play in MLS, and quite a few, such as goalkeeper Tim Howard ply their trade in England. You can see him play on TV,computer or mobile device every week; the Premier League is on NBC Sports a.k.a. “The Tour de France Channel.” For many, this is the top football league in the world. Others say Spain or Italy; it’s not really up to me to say since it’s a matter of preference.

As for MLS? It’s… It’s getting there. Well, not to that level, but it has certainly improved over the past almost two decades. There was a time not so long ago when I would spend a Saturday morning and afternoon watching matches from the various European leagues and then that evening I would watch MLS. Or at least I would try. It’s not that the matches were poorly played, it’s just that they were so . . . very . . . slow. It was like someone slipped quaaludes into the players Gatorade. Or into my beer. Those of you who ever had to deal with dial up modems know what I’m talking about. You could spend a day driving fast cars around a race track and then make your way home in your Prius and then you might understand what the difference is.

That’s enough analogies for today.

The MLS came about as a condition of the United States hosting the World Cup in 1994. There was the North American Soccer League back in the day, but it folded around about the time someone declared soccer to be the “Next Big Thing.” in America. The MLS wanted to avoid the mistakes of the NASL, so the mandate was to cultivate homegrown players rather than signing big name players from around the world who were mostly past their sell by date and were looking for one last fat paycheck before retirement.

So, for the most part, the league was made up of recent college graduates who had no realistic shot at playing for a European club, and members of the national side that weren’t playing in Europe. So, in other words: no one you ever heard of.

That was the stigma/catch 22 that the MLS had to overcome in the early days. They were expecting fans to support clubs made up of the best players America had to offer, but if they were any good they’d be playing in Europe.

The MLS produced a few players that were eventually signed by European clubs; mostly goalkeepers at first. Eventually some outfield players made it to Europe and this was seen by many as proof that the MLS was on the right track, while others were upset because they thought the whole point was to keep the American players at home in order to build the league.

Then along came David Beckham.

Many saw Beckham’s signing with the LA Galaxy as a cynical cash grab. Others claimed that he came to America in order to promote “Brand Beckham.” Then there was those who thought he moved to LA because that is where his wife wanted to live.

Cynicism has no bounds.

Beckham claimed that he wanted to become an “Ambassador for the game” in America; and you know what? He was. Since his arrival many other players from around the world have joined the league, and the number of clubs has increased. Also, there has been an increase in the number of soccer specific stadiums.

Where do we go from here? I don’t know, but the future is wide open.

‘Murica!