How I Choose To Remember Robin Williams: A Perfect Day in 1992

aladdin

One of those unavoidable truths of growing up is that other people will die. Of course the truly devastating losses are the people you actually know and love…family, friends, coworkers. But sometimes the death of a well-known person who you never came close to meeting, yet still gave you some incredible memories, can be equally jarring.

It can happen any time, but for me it feels like the age of 25 is when some celebrities who were big influences on my childhood started passing away. To name a few: Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Adam Yauch (MCA from Beastie Boys), Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Kelly from Kris Kross and of course, the Ultimate Warrior.

But none of those unexpected deaths, not even The King of Pop himself, stopped me cold and brought my day to a halt quite like Monday’s stunning news about Robin Williams.

My plan for Monday night was to get home from work, turn on the TV and immerse myself in all the NFL preseason games I taped last week that I hadn’t gotten around to watching just yet. I wanted to do a ton of football prep and writing.

I got as far as turning on the TV. That’s when I saw the news about Williams. For the next 90 minutes, I sat at my computer, looked through Twitter, and watched every clip that every person on my feed linked to. There were so many: snippets from Williams’ movie performances like Good Will Hunting, Awakenings, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, and then a bunch of clips from his standup routines and appearances on late night TV through the years (amazing that his career spanned five decades and he was only 63).

You gotta hand it to Twitter. For all the negative that comes from social media, we get access to an immediate oral history whenever something tragic like this happens.

I’m not writing to pretend like I was the biggest Robin Williams fan. I’m not able to rank all of his performances because out of his 102 acting credits that I just reviewed on IMDB, I’ve probably only seen 15-20 of them. I grew up in the 90s so movies like Hook, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji and Good Will Hunting were in my Robin Williams wheelhouse.

Of all his incredible, pioneering performances, I think Williams’ Genie in Aladdin was my favorite. There are two reasons for this. First, because if you think about it, he was born to be a cartoon. I bet if you asked him his biggest complaint with acting, he’d say that it sucks to have physical limitations with your body. You can only disguise yourself in makeup and prosthetics so much. You can only contort your face in certain ways. Same with the rest of your body. Animation gives your acting a kind of freedom that the real world could never do. And Williams, more than anyone, lived for that physical side of performing.

The second reason Aladdin is my favorite in the lengthy Robin Williams Canon is because of the memory I have from seeing it in the theaters. I was nine years old in 1992, the right age for that movie. My two older brothers had no interest in a kid’s movie so I went to see it with just my parents. In a family of three brothers all born within five years of each other, there were almost never any “with just my parents” moments, so this was special. I sat in between them with the gummy bears on my lap (fuck popcorn). Part of me thinks I could go back to that very movie theater in Leominster, Massachusetts, and find the exact three seats we sat in. The memory is that vivid.

Aladdin was an incredible movie, probably my favorite Disney movie of all time. And while the other main characters were fine (Aladdin voiced by D.J. Tanner’s boyfriend, Princess Jasmine with a body that nine year olds wouldn’t even know what to do with), Genie stole the show. It was his movie and everyone else was just along for the ride. It was scary how much you could see Robin Williams in the Genie.

So really, that day at Loews, it was me, my Mom, my Dad and Williams. One detail I can’t remember is whether or not I drank a Diet Coke. If I did, it was truly a perfect day.

What especially bummed me out on Monday when I heard the news was that none of the good memories from Williams’ years entertaining us came immediately to mind. Instead, I couldn’t help but think of how much I had dismissed him in the past 10 years or so. For whatever reason, he had turned into that annoying guy who’s always doing that schtick where he talks in a million voices, doesn’t make very good jokes and is showing up on crummy TV shows with Sarah Michelle Gellar.

For you sports fans out there, isn’t this the way it always happens? We don’t remember the 1990s version of Brett Favre who led the Packers to a Championship. We remember the interception machine from the mid 2000s who permanently ruined the concept of gracefully retiring for everyone else. We don’t remember how Nomar Garciaparra was THE BEST shortstop in baseball for those first few years of his career. Instead we recall how he became ornery with the media, got unceremoniously shown the door in Boston and then had his body betray him until he retired as an afterthought in 2010. Even with a guy like Michael Jordan, I sometimes find myself focusing on his Washington Wizards days and his failure as an NBA owner more than the prime of his career that earned him Greatest Of All Time status.

I wish it didn’t have to happen like that, but that’s how our memories work. Unless you go out on the very top of your game, we’re going to diminish your greatest moments in our heads.

I can’t imagine even Williams himself would say he went out on the top of his acting game, but that doesn’t mean I should penalize him for that. Instead, I’m choosing to remember him for that perfect day he gave me, capped off by the best two minutes and 30 seconds of his best movie:

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The Death of SportsCenter: How The Once Mighty Highlights Show Lost Its Way

As a proud member of Generation Y, I grew up in a privileged time where television and breakfast weren’t mutually exclusive.

We had a little 13-inch Zenith sticking out of a cabinet in our kitchen. It was white, there was no remote control, and I believe in its fifth or sixth year the power button stopped working so plugging it in to the socket and then unplugging it became our on/off switch.

As a sixth grader in 1994, I can remember waking up as late as humanly possible—6:50AM I think—frantically showering while most likely skipping over key body parts, getting dressed in my Catholic school blues (navy blue pants, light blue shirt, navy blue knit tie), and then sprinting to the kitchen table to eek out as much breakfast and TV time as possible until Bus 2 showed up to bring me to St. Joe’s. When my brothers and I got to that kitchen table every morning, my Mom would change the TV from the news to “SportsCenter” on ESPN. This is why the getting ready process needed to happen so quickly, so I could maximize my time watching the previous day’s sports highlights. And like clockwork, two minutes after I sat down at the table my Mom would put a plate of perfectly cooked Eggo Waffles in front of me, with just the right amount of syrup on top and some extra on the side (to this day my Mom regrets the one time she burned my waffles and had to endure nine years of me instructing her before bed each night to “put the waffles into the toaster carefully” the next morning).

I’d like to think I was a pretty typical 12-year-old back then. My mind was usually focused on girls (if I’m not mistaken, Allison Cotton was the girl I obsessed over during sixth grade) and making sure my homework was perfect (how things have changed). But for those 15-20 minutes each morning, SportsCenter was all that mattered.

It was perfect. A bombardment of highlights from every major sporting event around the country. Things that I could never watch live back then, either because I wasn’t allowed to stay up late enough to see it or because there was literally no way to get that particular game on our cable package.

Today’s sixth graders will never know that feeling of putting the TV on one channel and getting the quick-hitting highlights of all their favorite sports. I imagine the kids who are watching SportsCenter while they devour their Lucky Charms these days are very educated in the subjects of Tim Tebow, LeBron James, PEDs, Brett Favre’s yearly unretirement speculation and the sad circus that is the New York Jets.

Those poor kids have 15 minutes before Bus 2 comes, and instead of seeing highlights of the 10 baseball games that were played the previous night, they’re getting Stephen A. Smith screaming at them about Derrick Rose refusing to come back from his knee injury. Those poor kids.

I might be at risk of sounding way behind the times here, but I see no reason to put the TV on ESPN for one of their highlights shows ever again. SportsCenter, Highlight Express, ESPNEWS, NFL Live, Baseball Tonight….all dead to me.

Some of you may be like “Dur, Ross, SportsCenter became irrelevant years ago, dummy.” Well excuse me for being slow on the uptake. I have a feeling there are plenty of non-early adopters who are wondering why I’m saying ESPN is obsolete.

Well, let me explain from the average sports fan’s perspective. You may think I’m going to tell you to simply watch highlights online, but that’s not the case. I don’t watch many highlights online because I still like the analysis that the in-studio personalities provide. Instead, I tape the NHL Network’s “NHL Live” and the MLB Network’s “Quick Pitch” every night, and when I wake up the next morning, I plow through the two hours of programming in about one hour.

When the NFL starts up in less than two months, I’ll be taping the NFL Network’s “NFL GameDay” for my football highlights.

Now that these individual sports channels exist and have perfected their highlight shows, I can see exactly what I want—no more, no less—without having to endure all the bullshit that floods ESPN’s shows (the Jets quarterback controversy! Lebron doesn’t have enough rings! the Yankees hate A-rod!).

I think the downward spiral of SportsCenter began in 2005 when ESPN baseball reporter Pedro Gomez was essentially embedded in San Francisco for the final three years of Barry Bonds’ career. We would get daily updates not only on Bonds’ fictitious pursuit of the home run record, but also of every off-the-field moment concerning his legal battles with BALCO and the perjury case. At the time, ESPN was probably just giving us what we were asking for. But then it really spiraled out of control with nonstop coverage of Brett Favre’s daily indecisiveness…and the rest is history.

Maybe you’re the type of person who won’t believe me when I tell you that ESPN doesn’t hold a candle to the other sports channels’ highlight shows. Maybe you need analytical evidence. That’s fine because I have that for you too.

Earlier this year, I crunched some numbers on SportsCenter’s morning show and the NHL Live morning show. The night before I sat down to study these shows there were only two major sports going on, three playoff hockey games and 10 baseball games.

I found that NHL Live ran highlights complete with player sound bytes and in-studio analysis on all three games within 13 minutes of going on the air. That’s not too bad, right? Sit down with your bowl of Cheerios, and 13 minutes later you’re completely caught up on last night’s action. If you had a full hour, you could have sat around to watch more player interviews, analysis of the playoffs and updates on non-playoff hockey news. But if you were in a rush, you’d still be completely caught up in less than 15 minutes.

With SportsCenter that same morning, they led off with highlights of the most intriguing playoff hockey game—Penguins/Islanders—but then we had to wait until minute 44 of the program to see highlights of the third and final hockey game from the night before. Forty-four minutes!

In between minute one and minute 44, SportsCenter covered some baseball, but the focus seemed to be more on two controversies from earlier in the week—the Angels’ protest of the way the Astros substituted pitchers, and the lingering frustration of the A’s over the umpires’ blown home run call in their game against the Indians a couple days before.

Out of the 10 baseball games played the previous night, SportsCenter didn’t provide a single second of highlights for three of those games (four of the six teams ignored by ESPN were above .500 at the time, and three of those teams were in 1st place…so it’s not like they ignored an Astros/Mariners game, which no one would complain about).

Over the course of a one-hour show, baseball was given nine minutes of highlights and updates. Hockey was provided seven minutes.

Why would you watch one hour of programming just to get 16 minutes of actual highlights? Maybe you like seeing the 3,000th package of Tiger Woods’ career and his chase for more majors, or you enjoy a sound byte montage of every NBA player and coach saying how hard it is to win in the playoffs.

If you like that sort of stuff, fine, keep watching SportsCenter. But if you enjoy sports for the actual games that are played on the field/court/ice, it’s time to ditch SportsCenter and its offspring entirely and get on board with relevant highlights from each sports league’s flagship TV channel. It’s the only way to get all of the information you want and none of the information you hate.

A few days after I studied SportsCenter’s lack of relevant material, I saw this tweet and started shaking my head:

sportscenter tweet_5-31-13

If I had seen that tweet as a sixth grader in 1994, I would have agreed and probably retweeted it. But in 2013 it’s just a reminder of how ESPN lost its way.

Week 3 NFL Picks: The Road to 0-3 Goes Thru New Orleans! (And Molly’s Pick is Nearly Controversial!)

Through two weeks, I’m 16-14-2 against the spread. Just enough above average to be winning you a small amount of money if you’ve been smart enough to go with all of my picks. If you were betting $100 on each of my picks, you’d have a $60 profit so far. If I keep up this pace over the course of the 17-week season, you’d profit $510. Not too shabby. But of course you’re not betting $100 on each of my picks because for some reason you still don’t trust me. I get it. It’s gonna take a 13-3 week or better for you to finally give in and follow my advice in each game. I’m not sure it’ll be this week because the schedule’s pretty unforgiving from a betting standpoint (by the way, good luck feeling super comfortable with your suicide pick this week if you happen to be part of the 3% that avoided New England last week).

Let’s get on with it and see if I can finally convince you to follow my lead (home team underlined):

Carolina(-3) over NY Giants: I’m fully prepared for the Giants to fuck me over here, but I gotta take Carolina for a couple reasons. First, how many injuries can the Giants sustain on offense and still put up points? No Hakeem Nicks, Domenik Hixon, Ahmad Bradshaw or David Diehl. Second, the emotional toll last week’s comeback win over Tampa must have had on the Giants isn’t something to ignore. Coming off a game like that, the loss of several key players and a short week…I also think Carolina, which only won three home games last year, turns into one of those teams that’s very difficult to beat at home this season.

Dallas(-8) over Tampa Bay: Is the real Tampa Bay the team that only allowed 10 points to Carolina in week 1 or the team that allowed 41 points (and more than 500 passing yards!) to the Giants in week 2? That’s the key to whether Dallas can cover this spread. I’m saying they’re closer to what we saw in week 2. I also don’t believe Tampa can play catch-up very well if it falls behind by 14 or 17 points, which I see happening. Dallas starts out fast in this one and covers the 8 points.

Jacksonville (+3) over Indianapolis: If the NFL combined the best players from these teams into one team, would it even be competitive? You’d have Luck at QB, MoJo at RB, Reggie Wayne and Laurent Robinson at WR…ugh. If the RedZone Channel gave you the ability to choose certain games for them to never check in on, wouldn’t this be at the top of your list for week 3? Anyway, I think MoJo continues to round into form and runs all over Indy so I’m going with the Jags…it’s literally their only chance to avoid an 0-8 start.

Buffalo (-3) over Cleveland: One of two things is happening in this game: A barn-burner with the Bills getting to 40 points first and holding on for a win, or this pathetic Cleveland team is gonna finally make the Buffalo defense look legit, and the Bills win 34-10. Either way we inch closer to my prediction coming true on the first coach fired this season as Cleveland’s Pat Shurmur is officially placed on the hot seat.

Miami(+3) over NY Jets: Miami’s run defense is legit. So the only chance the Jets have of cracking that elusive 10-point ceiling on offense is if Mark Sanchez puts on a show. Do you really think we’re gonna have many weeks this year where “Mark Sanchez” and “puts on a passing clinic” are used in the same sentence? Me neither. I know the Dolphins are still planning on being a bad team, and they have a rookie QB and all, but I think they can take a very conservative approach offensively and see if their defense can win the game for them. Looking forward to hearing the “Tebow should start” chatter go from a whisper to a dull roar after this one.

New Orleans(-9) over Kansas City: “The road to 0-3 goes through New Orleans” is what I picture someone like Greg Gumbel saying during CBS’s pregame show Sunday morning. New Orleans has plenty of built-in excuses to be this bad, and it’s not like their interim interim coach has to be worried about being fired. But it’s much more of a must-win game for KC because they have no excuses…they have their real coach (who did have the interim tag last year, but not the little-used interim interim), and they have their health for the most part. This game pits the two teams tied for last in the NFL in points allowed (37.5). The big difference is on offense, where the Saints are 6th in scoring (29.5 points per game) while the Chiefs are 26th (20.5ppg). Is the pick really as simple as which offense is better? Yes, yes it is. Saints get their first win AND cover the big nine points.

Cincinnati (+3) over Washington: On Tuesday this line was -4 for the Redskins and I meant to bet big on Cincy with the points. Because if the Redskins are gonna be winning anymore games this year, it’ll be by a field goal or less. Obviously I forgot to bet it because I got distracted trying to find out how much I could sell all my DVDs for on zumu.co.   Washington’s already-terrible defense just got worse with the loss of a couple key guys, and we need to remember that their QB is a rookie. The Bengals feel like a very balanced team. Without looking at stats, I’d guess they are above average in all phases of the game. Both these teams will play a lot of close games, so I gotta take Cincinnati with the points, but I’d feel a lot better if it was still -4.

Molly is now 1-1 in her picks for the year. Of course I’m disappointed as I expect perfection from my offspring. This will be her last football pick as an unspayed dog. Next week’s video may feature her with one of those funny cone necklaces on. I’m giving Molly the St. Louis at Chicago (-7.5) pick this week, and as you’ll see, my girlfriend actually had to help me decipher who Molly was choosing because it was such a close call:

San Francisco (-7.5) over Minnesota: Easy logic for picking the 49ers. Minnesota barely beat Jacksonville (a horrible team) at home in week 1, and they lost to Indianapolis (a very bad team) on the road in week 2. San Francisco easily handled Green Bay (a very good team) on the road in week 1, and they beat Detroit (an above average team) at home in week 2. This logic was so easy and convincing that I picked the 9ers in my suicide pool this week.

Detroit (-4) over Tennessee: The Titans have been a model of mediocrity for so long that I think we all just pencil them in for 8-8 every year without even really evaluating them. It’s like how for the last five years we could safely assume that the NFC West would be the worst division in football and we’d be right. But then all of the sudden, the NFC West creeps up on you and becomes a sneaky decent division. Well the same goes for the Titans but reversed. They’ve sneaky become an awful team, averaging 11.5 points per game so far and putting up a solid 2.2 yards per rushing attempt. The Lions may take a step back from last year, but they’re still more than capable of beating this Titans team by a touchdown.

Atlanta (+3) over San Diego: If you want to discount what the Falcons have done so far by saying they faced one putrid AFC West team (the Chiefs in week 1) and one mediocre AFC West team (the Broncos in week 2), that’s fine. But what caliber of AFC West team are they facing in week 3 at San Diego? The Chargers look fine so far, but let’s get serious and realize the best of the NFC is much better than the best of the AFC. Even if the Chargers end up with a 12-win season, they’re not in the same class as where I think the Falcons will end up. It feels wrong to be getting Atlanta as an underdog at this point. Enjoy it.

Philadelphia (-3.5) over Arizona: You know how every couple years there’s that one team that keeps winning early in the season, and you and your buddies keep laughing at that team because you know they’re not really good? Think about the 49ers last season or the Vikings in 2009 when they had Brett Favre. We kept betting against them every week because their luck had to run out at some point, didn’t it? Except that for both those teams, their “luck” took them all the way to the NFC Championship game (and if memory serves, both teams were one play away from going to the Super Bowl). Is it possible the Eagles are this year’s version of that team? Could they cover the spread in Arizona this weekend on some combination of Kevin Kolb’s poorly-timed turnovers and a fluky special teams bounce? Of course they could, and then we’d still be laughing at them because they’ll be 3-0, but an ugly 3-0. And then suddenly it’s 12 weeks later and this team is 12-3 somehow. Gross. I’m going with the Eagles to finally get their first non-one-point win of the year.

Oakland(+4.5) over Pittsburgh: Hmm…Pitt just dismantled a Jets team that looked unstoppable in week1 while Oakland got shellacked by what everyone considers to be a pretty terrible Dolphins team. The Raiders haven’t scored more than 14 points in a game yet this season. But no, I’m not biting on this line for Pittsburgh. The Steelers still have a ton of injuries to key guys (James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, Rashard Mendenhall), and it feels like they’re in the mode of “let’s just hold this thing together and remain competitive however we can right now. Once we get all of our reinforcements back from injury we’ll be a team no one wants to face.” This game feels like one of those ugly matchups traditionally saved for “St. Louis at Cleveland” where there may not be a single offensive touchdown and the final score is something like 15-12. I’m taking the home team and the points.

Houston (-3) over Denver: This line is a slap in the face to Houston. They have the top-ranked defense in the NFL, and they have a top-10 offense. They’re facing a Denver team whose only win was against a still-in-preseason-mode Pittsburgh squad in week 1. When I guessed the line for this game on Tuesday, I had Houston -8. Needless to say this is my lock of the week. Why isn’t my lock of the week also my suicide pick? Because a very small part of me fears that Peyton Manning, in his first non-nationally-televised game of the season, will quietly stun us this weekend. Can’t you picture yourself watching the RedZone Channel, enjoying the back-and-forth action in Arizona, when all of the sudden Andrew Siciliano appears on your TV and says, “While you were watching Michael Vick’s seventh turnover of the Eagles/Cardinals game, Peyton Manning just led the Broncos on three unanswered scoring drives against Houston to put his team up by 10 in the 4th quarter”? OK, it’s unlikely. But I’m giving Manning a couple more weeks before I write his football eulogy.

New England (+3) over Baltimore: These two teams have been engaging in quite the role reversal shenanigans so far this season, haven’t they? Over the past five years, we’d expect the Patriots to be the offensive juggernaut with the sketchy defense and the Ravens to be the defensive stalwart whose offensive continually let them down. It’s only two games into 2012, but we’re seeing a Patriots defense that ranks in the top 10 in all major defensive categories, and a Ravens offense that ranks 2nd in scoring.  These may be the two most-evenly matched teams in the NFL, but I’m putting my faith in the Patriots quickly remembering that Wes Welker is a 120-reception wide receiver, and starting to use him accordingly.

Green Bay (-3.5) over Seattle: Sure, this game has all the makings of a close one. A Green Bay offense that hasn’t fully hit its stride (don’t forget I was the first one to point out that their offense seemed off through two weeks) against a very good Seattle defense…in Seattle, where the ‘Hawks are coming off a huge win over Dallas. But I think in week 3 we see things go back to a more “normal” world in football. The Packers should win this one by at least a touchdown as we all remember the Packers are the Packers and the Seahawks are still the Seahawks.