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19. Coldplay

In honor of me turning 30, I’m making mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 19 is Coldplay.


They’re not quite at the Nickelback level. But somewhere betweem 2000’s Parachutes and 2014’s Ghost Stories, Coldplay became one of the definitive bands to agree to hate among people who “know” things about music. In 2011, after Coldplay released Mylo XylotoGrantland ran a piece that began with this sentence: “Coldplay is the band that everyone allegedly hates, but nevertheless is still one of the most popular in the world.” This year, Grantland published a more in depth article titled “Overrated, Underrated, or Properly Rated: Coldplay” with the subtitle “The most insufferable band of the millennium or a misunderstood group of talented young men?”

Whatever it is that causes people to love to hate Coldplay, I never caught the bug. Although none of the tracks from Ghost Stories resonated strongly enough to get fast-tracked onto my compilation, I’ve enjoyed the full spectrum of Coldplay’s catalog and unabashedly proclaim them as my 19th favorite musical act of all-time.

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A Guide to Fandom and Team Loyalty

The other day at work someone asked me a question: “Is a person allowed to have more than one team?” The question was asked with the suggestion that I could support the Steelers in addition to the Raiders. I quickly slammed the brakes on that idea.

The simple answer is no, you can’t have more than one team. That would be like being married to two wives. But while polygamy is clearly defined, polyfandom is a bit more complicated. So, let me do the honors of breaking down the rules of sports fandom once and for all.

As far as I’m concerned, your team allegiances should pretty much be set by the time you’re learning to read. By that point, you’re either fully indoctrinated by your diehard parents or have been swayed by something—a player, a jersey color, a team name—to choose to call a team your own. Let’s hope that something wasn’t that the said was always winning. Nobody likes a bandwagon.

Once, you’ve got your teams, there’s no turning back.* The fact that the Raiders have set an NFL record as the first team to ever lose 11 or more games in five straight seasons doesn’t change the fact that I support the silver and black 100 percent. Michigan football missed a bowl for the first time in my lifetime. But I’m no less enthused for next season, and have three—count ‘em—three Michigan calendars displayed in my office right now (Page-A-Day desk calendar, mousepad calendar and a wall calendar.

Once your team is eliminated from the playoffs, it’s fine to pick a team to root for, but the rule is to go for the underdog, unlikely and unproven team. Do not jump upon the bandwagon of the hottest team. Do not cheer for a rival team. And if your underdog does win, don’t gloat or enjoy it too much. It’s not your team.

It’s also important to note the difference between professional and college sports. The guidelines are a bit more lax for college allegiances but not much. In the NFL, there are 32 teams. The NBA has 30 as does the NHL and MLB. Meanwhile, there are well over 100 Division I NCAA football and basketball programs. So, it’s permissible to flirt with a second college team permitted that they play in a different conference. Most times the rooting interests will never cross paths, but you need to have a clear number one designated if they ever should meet.

For me, it’s Michigan. I like UCLA, but if they ever play Michigan (as they did earlier this season), there’s no doubt in my mind who I’m rooting for. Maize and blue all the way! If you hesitate or need to weigh the pros and cons of one of your teams beating the other, you’re in serious trouble of being labeled a non-serious fan. Don’t hedge your bets. Pick a horse, saddle up and enjoy the ride. It may be bumpy along the way, but the finish line means more if you were riding from the start.

Being a true sports fan isn’t that hard (even if being a Raiders fan is). It requires commitment, loyalty, enthusiasm and optimism. “There’s always next year” beats “I think I’ll just switch and cheer for someone else this year” any day. So make your allegiances clear. Stand proud when they win. Stay firm when they lose. And you’ll be just fine. Trust me.

*Exceptions apply if you’re a fan of the team in your city and that team that moves away (Cleveland Browns fans should not have cheered for the Ravens) or your city suddenly gets a new team (People in Charlotte were free to switch to become Bobcats fans when the franchise began a few years ago.)

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We Can Build on This: Oakland Raiders 2008 Review

If 2008 taught us anything, the lesson is that there is always next year. The Miami Dolphins finished 2007 at 1-15. They are the 2008 AFC East Champions. And the Baltimore Ravens (from 5-11 to 11-5) and Atlanta Falcons (from 4-12 to 11-5) earned playoff berths with rookie quarterbacks and first-year coaches.

Why not the Raiders in 2009?

After struggling through another ugly season and setting an NFL mark for futility by becoming the first team in league history to lose 11 or more games in five straight seasons, the Raiders ended the season on an upswing.

They finished with wins against Houston and Tampa Bay. The victory over Houston was the Texans’ only loss in their final six games of the year. And the win over Tampa Bay prevented the Buccaneers and coach Jon Gruden from making the playoffs.

Jamarcus Russell finally showed signs that he could make it as an NFL quarterback. And the Raiders’ offense finally showed some life, getting big plays from young players like running back Michael Bush and wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins.

Of course, two games doesn’t tell the whole story. The Raiders can’t overlook the fact that this was a team that also lost seven games by 19 points or more. They were thoroughly dominated in nearly half their games, and they won only five.

But the Raiders need positive news. In a season that will be remembered for the feud between coach and owner and eventual firing of Lane Kiffin, the Raiders have to build on the good things they have going for them.

They need to lock up Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to a long-term deal. They need to draft well, finding players who can contribute, starting with the number seven pick overall.

But first things first. They need to make a decision about their head coach. The good news is interim coach Tom Cable won four games after taking over at the helm this year, which is as much as they won all of last year. The problem is he still went just 4-8. Cable says he thinks the Raiders can be a playoff team next season, and Russell has gone on the record saying he wants Cable retained on a permanent basis. Will Al Davis feel the same way?

I’m split here. The idea of bringing in a veteran coach like Jim Fassel or Dennis Green seems like it might bring some stability to a position that has been in flux almost annually since the departure of Jon Gruden at the beginning of this decade. But perhaps Cable could follow in the footsteps of Tony Sparano (Dolphins), Mike Smith (Falcons) and John Harbaugh (Ravens) and enjoy success despite being a new head coach.

If Davis retains Cable, I’m OK with that. But if he fires Cable for a proven commodity, I’m OK with that, too. Either way, the key is commitment. Davis has to give this coach a chance, meaning at least three or four years to make a difference and get the Raiders back on track. No exceptions. Al, Mr. Davis, do your team, your fans, and your legacy as an NFL owner a favor. Make this decision and step back. Let the coaches coach and the players play. That shouldn’t be so hard. It wouldn’t hurt to find a general manager, either. (I heard Bill Parcells might even be available.)

Will the Raiders be a playoff team next year? Who knows. But this year proves that anything is possible. And even if the Raiders reach .500, that would still be progress. If this Raiders team plays like it did in Week 16 and 17, an 8-8 finish is definitely a realistic goal, especially in a division that was won by the 8-8 Chargers this year.

The offseason starts today in Oakland. Hopefully Jamarcus Russell, Darren McFadden and the rest of this young Raiders team makes the most of it and comes back hungry to change the culture of a franchise in 2009. It won’t be easy, but thanks to some upstarts this year, it’s clearly possible to bounce back from the NFL’s basement. The Raiders have been there long enough. Only five teams have longer playoff droughts than Oakland. If the Team of the Decades doesn’t do it in 2009, this decade will be a forgettable one for Raiders fans.

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Loyalty to Coaches and Success

Living in Pennsylvania, I’m among the minority—not a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers or Penn State Nittany Lions. In fact, I actively root against both football teams, especially when my teams (the Oakland Raiders, Michigan Wolverines) struggle as they have lately.

But there is a common thread between Penn State and the Steelers that may explain their consistent success over a long period of time: loyalty to their coach(es).

At Penn State, Joe Paterno is Nittany Lions football. The legendary coach has been roaming the sidelines (and, more recently, the press box) as head coach since 1966. To put that into perspective, the first Super Bowl was still months away.

In the decades at Penn State, JoePa has led the Lions to two national championships and five unbeaten seasons. Turning 82 this Sunday, Paterno just signed a three-year contract extension at Penn State. While other coaching positions turn over more than a restless child, Penn State has known just one coach since Lyndon Johnson was President. In fact, when President-elect Obama is sworn in to the White House in January, he’ll become the ninth President to hold office during Paterno’s tenure as head coach.

Ironically, Paterno passed up a 1969 offer to become coach of the Steelers. Who did Pittsburgh hire instead? Chuck Noll.

All Noll did was lead the Steelers to four Super Bowl titles in his 22 years with Pittsburgh. Upon Noll’s retirement, Bill Cowher took over for the Steelers, leading them to a victory in Super Bowl XL before stepping down in January 2007. With the subsequent hiring of Mike Tomlin, the Steelers were on just their third coach since the NFL-AFL merger. To put that into perspectivem the Raiders have had five coaches in the past six years.

Surely, there are other problems to point at, but the success of Penn State and the Steelers deserves some recognition. Maybe they’re onto something. In this era of what-have-you-done for me NOW, a little patience and loyalty goes a long way.

So, instead of always throwing the coach under the bus right away, give him a chance. This means you, Michigan, with you Rich Rodriguez. And you, Al Davis, with whomever you hire next after Tom Cable’s interim run is up.

Success doesn’t come overnight. But ask fans of the Steelers and Penn State if they’re happy with their coach and leadership, and you’re bound to get a resounding yes. Chalk one up for loyalty.

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Streaks at Stake for the Wolverines

Michigan hasn’t lost to Penn State in 12 years. But Michigan lost to Toledo just last week, and Penn State hasn’t lost a game all season. Clearly, the streak is in jeopardy.

I can’t remember back to 1996, the last time the Nittany Lions won against the Wolverines. I also can’t remember a Michigan team this bad.

Expectations were low for the inaugural season of the Rich Rodriguez era but the come-from-behind win over Wisconsin coupled with a loss against previously 1-4 MAC squad Toledo has the maize and blue faithful upset.

After watching the Badgers stumble the past two weeks against Ohio State and Penn State, that Big Ten opener may not have been quite as big as we thought. Wisconsin still should’ve won the game, but the result told us more about Wisconsin—they aren’t very good—than it did about Michigan. (They aren’t very good either.)

The Wolverines are likely to see their nine-game winning streak against Penn State snapped on Saturday. Many are even predicting a 30+ point blowout. If that’s the case, they’re likely to see another even more impressive streak end. Michigan has played in 33 straight bowl games. At 2-4, they’re in grave danger of becoming bowl ineligible long before the season finale against rival Ohio State.

The Wolverines have no sure victories left on the schedule. Following Penn State, they will play vs. Michigan State, at Purdue, at Minnesota, vs. Northwestern and at Ohio State. It seems highly unlikely that the Wolverines will pull out a 4-2 mark down the stretch, which would require at least one victory against a team currently unbeaten in Big Ten action.

The easy thing to do is point to new coach Rich Rodriguez and his struggling offense. I say hold on. Check out what I wrote when he was hired. College football is an instant gratification sport, but the Wolverines fans need to bite their tongues this year—tough as that may be.

The difference between Michigan and my other football team, the Oakland Raiders, is that Michigan has a proven coach, and that coach has a plan. Rodriguez simply needs his players to run this system. I expect them to win the Big Ten by 2010 after he’s signed a few recruiting classes. Until then, it’s probably time to say goodbye to those streaks. They were fun while they lasted.

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Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

Rich Rodriguez’s squad played 15 minutes of football on Saturday against Illinois. Unfortunately for Rodriguez and Michigan, games last 60 minutes. Illinois spanked the Wolverines in the Big House 45-20. The loss dropped Michigan to 2-3 on the year, 1-1 in the Big Ten.

The loss wasn’t a shocker. In fact, I had predicted Michigan would start the year 1-4, so they’re ahead of pace. But following the Wolverines’ historic second-half comeback against Wisconsin the previous week, Michigan fans—myself included—were optimistic that this team had turned a corner. Their first quarter performance fueled those feelings even more as quarterback Steven Threet looked sharp, helping lead them to a 14-3 lead.

Illinois scored the final 14 points of the half to lead 17-14 and they never looked back. Michigan’s offense reverted to the team that was shutout for a half versus Wisconsin. That was not entirely surprising. The defense surrendering 45 points and 501 yards? That was not expected, even against a potent Illini offense.

So where do the Wolverines go from here? Well, it starts with a break in the Big Ten schedule as Michigan plays host to Toledo on Saturday. The Wolverines will be favored to win. They’ll have to do so if they want a bowl berth this season.

This is a chance for Michigan to grow as an offense and re-charge on defense. After last year’s Appalachian State experience, the maize and blue no better than to overlook an opponent, but Toledo should signal Hail to the Victors in Ann Arbor.

A win would even their record at 3-3 at the midseason mark. They would then have to go at least 3-3—and maybe 4-2—the rest of the way in the Big Ten to keep their 33-season bowl streak alive.

It’s hardly a given that they’ll make it. Four of the final six will be on the road where the young Wolverines have played just once, losing badly at Notre Dame. Three games are against current unbeatens: Penn State, Michigan State and Northwestern. And the season finale is at Ohio State. Don’t think the Buckeyes wouldn’t love to be the ones ultimately responsible for keeping Michigan at home during bowl season.

Michigan has shown only mild improvement on offense through six games. Steven Threet’s passing accuracy and decision-making is inconsistent. And too often they are losing yardage on first and second down. The defense has bailed them out in their win, but they proved that they’re still vulnerable against mobile quarterbacks.

Rich Rodriguez has his work cut out for him. If he can get this group of players into a bowl game, it’ll be considered a success in my eyes, even if not by Michigan’s usual standards. But if they falter down the stretch and fail to crack .500, watch out. More than anything, this team—especially on offense—needs to show progress through the final six weeks of the season.

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Next Raiders Coach Beware, Al Davis is the Grim Reaper of Death

We live in an instant gratification society, “What have you done for me lately” doesn’t matter. It’s “What are you doing RIGHT NOW?” that counts. I get it. But I don’t think it’s the right way to rebuild a fledgling NFL franchise.

Unfortunately for me, I am not the owner of the Oakland Raiders. That distinction belongs to the artist formerly known as Al Davis.

Earlier today he finally pulled the trigger on a firing gun he’s been aiming at coach Lane Kiffin for months. Did I mention Kiffin has coached just a little over one season with the Raiders? That’s right. Twenty games was plenty enough for Al Davis.

Since the similarly unceremonious departure of Jon Gruden in the aftermath of The Tuck Game in 2001, the Raiders have had four coaches—with a fifth on the way—and just one winning season, in 2002, which ended miserably with a Super Bowl loss against Gruden’s Buccaneers.

Bill Callahan lasted two years. Ditto for Norv Turner. Therebirth of the Art Shell era? That laughable experiment lasted just one season. But Kiffin’s firing establishes a new low by getting axed during the season.

The worst part is Kiffin finally had the Raiders playing respectable football again for the first time in five years. His 1-3 record this season and 5-15 mark overall doesn’t do him justice. Yes, the Raiders blew fourth quarter leads in consecutive games. But the losses came against undefeated Buffalo and the reigning AFC West champion San Diego Chargers.

Raiders fans weren’t happy with the results, but we were encouraged by what we saw on the field. This was a Raiders team with signs of life and a glimmer of hope for the future—something Raiders fans haven’t felt since Chucky and the Bucs stomped on our Super Bowl dreams earlier this decade.

The young quarterback with the cannon arm. The young running back with the best combination of speed and power in silver and black since Bo. And the young coach leading the way. It seemed like the Raiders had something in place that could work, but Al Davis didn’t see it. Kiffin dared to make a power play with Davis, and that was the end of it. The firing happened today, but it became inevitable weeks, if not months ago.

Still, Kiffin had the general support of the Raider Nation and it seemed to be growing despite his record. He was the most popular coach in silver and black since Gruden and, I think, his brash attitude and boyish looks reminded us of our former coach and past success.

In year one, Kiffin had to eradicate all the garbage left over from previous regimes in Oakland. In year two, he was making them competitive. I think it’s very possible they could’ve learned how to win by the end of the year, making 9-7 a realistic goal for 2009 with a full year of experience for quarterback Jamarcus Russell.

Now? Who knows what happens to the franchise. What I do know is they lost a talentd, up ‘n coming coach—again.

Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden, Lane Kiffin. Brash young coaches, hired and scorned by Al Davis. Shanahan and Gruden have gone on to torture the Raiders and enjoy Super Bowl success elsewhere. Don’t be surprised if Kiffin shows up on an opposing sideline to do the same sometime soon.

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Just Quit, Baby

In lieu of the news that Al Davis will likely fire Raiders coach Lane Kiffin as soon as Monday, I was compelled to post a column I wrote during my senior year of college in November 2006 for a feature writing class. The words still ring very true today, especially if Davis does indeed fire Kiffin.

Whatever happened to “A Commitment to Excellence”?

And “just win, baby” was much more meaningful when the wins were coming in double digits year after year.

Nowadays you would have to add up the wins from the past three seasons to reach double digits. It is easy to point to the 48-21 shellacking they received in Super Bowl XXXVII or the infamous “Tuck Rule Game” the year before as the turning point for a once proud Oakland Raiders franchise, but is my opinion that owner Al Davis is to blame for their downward spiral from feared franchise to laughingstock of the league.

Don’t get me wrong. I know who Al Davis is. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was commissioner of the American Football League, and his presence had a lot to do with the eventual merger between the AFL and the NFL. He hired the NFL’s first Hispanic American head coach and later the NFL’s first African-American head coach. And he was the first owner to name a woman as CEO of an NFL team. Through it all, Al Davis has been the face of the Oakland Raiders organization.

As coach, general manager, president and majority owner of the Raiders, Al Davis has done everything he possibly could for the silver and black. He has always tried to do what is best for the organization and he needs to continue that tradition now by stepping down and letting someone new breathe fresh air into the lungs of the Raiders.

The facts are simple. Al Davis is 77 years old, and he is simply too stubborn to admit his best decision-making days are gone. Coaches? Since the controversial departure of Jon Gruden, who went 38-26 in four years as head coach of the Raiders, Davis has tried three different coaches in five years. The latest hire, a recycled Art Shell, a man Davis fired in 1994 has produced more punchlines than points and has overseen the Raiders’ abysmal 1-5 start this season.

Players? The Raiders have monopolized the industry on bad acquisitions, doing so in a variety of ways. They have overpaid former stars in the twilight of their careers (see: Warren Sapp, Ted Washington), been fooled into overpaying faux stars (see: Super Bowl MVPs Larry Brown, Desmond Howard), and most recently, overpaid for “potential” stars (see: LaMont Jordan, Aaron Brooks). And when the Raiders have landed a star capable of making an impact, they have failed to use him appropriately (see: Randy Moss). Oh, and don’t forget their slew of draft day decisions that leave their fan base screaming at the screen, including this year’s decision to take a safety over a Heisman trophy-winning quarterback.

Al Davis has a history of moving. He took the team from Oakland to Los Angeles and back to Oakland again. He rotates coaches like tires and has shuffled the roster more than a deck of cards in Las Vegas. He’s made every move possible, except for one. He needs to remove himself from office. It would be his last great move, and the only one left to restore the Raiders legacy in his lifetime.

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Can Baseball Fill the Gap During the Dead Season of Sports?

As a diehard basketball and football fan, I generally consider the time between the last pick of the NBA Draft and the first Saturday afternoon kickoff as the dead season of sports. But I’m trying a glass half-full approach this year. The Summer Olympics will take up a good chunk of sports time in August, so that helps.

In the mean time, I’m going to do my best to pretend I’m more than a casual baseball fan. The Midsummer Classic is just around the corner. The best part of baseball’s all-star break is the Home Run Derby. That’s an event worth watching.

And I have to be honest. As much as I love to give baseball a hard time, there are some storylines worth following in the Major Leagues this year. Here’s what I’m watching the rest of the way.

  • The Pittsburgh Pirates look to avoid making history. On the verge of tying a record with their 16th straight losing season, the Pirates currently sit at 39-44. Maybe they should bring back a player from their last division-winning team to help them fight for .500. Barry Bonds, anyone? Tell me that move wouldn’t fill some seats in Pittsburgh.

  • The best records in the American League belong to the Tampa Bay (Team Formerly Known as “Devil”) Rays and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. What a heavenly ALCS pairing that would be (and not just because they’re not the Yankees and/or Red Sox).

  • In the National League, no one’s playing better than the Chicago Cubs. I’d love a World Series pairing where scores of lifelong suffering Cubs fans squared off against the one and only (insufferable?) Rays fan known to man, Dick Vitale.

  • Atlanta Braves third basemen Chipper Jones is batting a whopping .393 this season. Everyone will be following his chase for .400, but I’m more interested in how he’s kept the Fountain of Youth a secret. It seems like he’s been playing forever.

  • My team, the Oakland A’s are in contention again this year. Their crop of young pitchers have a 3.41 team ERA, second only to that of the Chicago White Sox.

  • The Yankees are in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since the strike in 1994. They trail both Tampa Bay and Boston in the division.

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