Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Suggestions for Ring of Honor with new TV deal

By Rick Morris

I would like to congratulate the Ring of Honor wrestling promotion on their acquisition by Sinclair Broadcast Group. It’s been reported that a friend of our FDH LOUNGE program (Tuesdays, 7-9 PM EDT on SportsTalkNetwork.com), past guest and ROH Executive Producer Jim Cornette, was instrumental in working through some of the key points of the acquisition. One wonders how Jim’s left-wing politics are going to fit with the prevailing attitudes at Sinclair, but that’s a different story for another day!

With Smackdown’s migration to cable in 2010, the new ROH program will be the only national (or quasi-national, since the station is in 35 markets and details on further syndication are still up in the air – although the online version of the program will be pushed heavily) over-the-air pro wrestling product in the marketplace. While getting dropped by Mark Cuban’s HDNet was seen as a huge setback, this resulting move has the chance to be an incredible step forward.

I’m not in the subculture of ROH hardcores, but I’ve been to two shows in 2006 when they were in Cleveland and I enjoyed them immensely. It’s got the right blend of storylines, athleticism and just a bit of humor. For those who aren’t as familiar with the product – inasmuch as it’s commonly regarded as the third-biggest promotion in America, but a distant #3 behind WWE and TNA (itself a distant #2) – it’s not a gross oversimplification to refer to it as similar to the Japanese product in that it is stripped of over-the-top “sports entertainment” gaga.

Having set all of that up, it’s clear that my recommendations are not going to impress the diehards, the ROH completists who own every DVD of every card. I’d wager that most of them don’t want any abrupt changes in the product. I too would like to see the current gist of the promotion, with its emphasis on athleticism and technical excellence, remain intact. But we all know that the wider success of this promotion is going to rise or fall on expanding the audience behind the tiny-but-passionate core that has sustained it through its first nine years. Both the fans and those in the front office are going to have to move beyond their own comfort levels for this project to really succeed with this new opportunity.

Ever since Vincent K. McMahon took the WWF national in 1984 and shattered the territorial system, lack of cooperation has been ingrained in the DNA of the business. Pro Wrestling USA, a coalition of most of the top promoters who were facing opposition from McMahon in 1984-85, collapsed due to the fact that none of them wanted to be in a position of working at the behest of anyone else. When the NWA was forced to regroup on the fly in 1994 after the notable defection of ECW, it was never able to rise above the level of a loose coalition of otherwise obscure indy promotions because they could not attract other notable indies to join them. For that matter, indies haven’t worked together to very much effect in the two decades since the final destruction of the territory system.

Quite simply, the splintering of top talent in the business must be reversed in order for ROH to take big steps forward. They have so little margin for error as it is since almost every present full-time wrestler with great notoriety is under contract with either WWE or TNA. ROH has to practice ruthless pragmatism here. And that leads to the first recommendation.

1 Bring Gabe Sapolsky back into the fold with a buyout/merger with the Evolve promotion. Cary Silkin doesn’t own ROH anymore and while he’s in an advisory capacity, Sinclair can keep a lid on whatever bad blood might exist between the former owner and his star booker if they are committed enough. I won’t make any recommendation about how his role would coincide or overlap with that of Cornette or present ROH booker Hunter Johnson. But they are undeniably all better together than they are separately. They have enough creative talent to do what is so tough to pull off believably after more than 15 years of it permeating the industry: the work-shoot. Sapolsky can come in on-camera (for a limited time, before turning the lead role over to one of his wrestlers) proclaiming the superiority of the Evolve brand and wearing T-shirts that say “Evolve or Die.” The story from his perspective would be that ROH ran him out of the house he built and the promotion’s fans didn’t care. Evolve wrestlers would come in with a chip on their shoulders about being perceived as lesser talents simply because their promotion didn’t have as deep of a history. The story basically writes itself. Once the war gets settled, all wrestlers can migrate to the face or heel roles that work best for them at the present time rather than the temporary shoehorning of being on the face ROH or heel Evolve squads. Concepts and themed shows from both promotions should be used going forward. If there are personal issues involved that make this recommendation unrealistic, then those matters exemplify like nothing else ever could the reason that Vinny Mac will always be able to define the pro wrestling business (which he disdains even referring to as such) in the public’s mind.

2 Utilize wrestlers from other promotions to the greatest extent possible.

Now, it’s true that at various points along the way, ROH has used talent that is outside of their own “core.” But, now more than ever, there should be no reason for ROH to fear using talent that is not completely exclusive to them. What kind of a threat can PWG, CHIKARA or other leading indies be to them at this point? Now, I’m not 100% sure these other promotions would be cool with letting their talent participate, especially without the other circuits being able to exploit for their own advancement, but that’s why good negotiations are so important. It absolutely goes without saying that Sapolsky’s Dragon Gate USA promotion should be the one that gets to conduct jointly-promoted cards. I wouldn’t do anything that involved the NWA, since that amalgam is such a complete and utter mess with too many grubby, fat fingers in the pie.

3 Sign a few “name” wrestlers from the last boom to come in as uber-heels looking down their noses at everyone. This is the recommendation that will truly have the hardcores calling for my head. But there’s no better way to get over the Evolve faction as mega-heels, hook casual fans and super-establish your eventually triumphant ROH face faction than by having Sapolsky use his pull to bring in a group calling itself the “Household Names” that goes against everything hardcore wrestling fans love. How’s this for a crew? Diamond Dallas Page as the mouthpiece, the New Age Outlaws, Bob Holly and “Big Vis” Nelson Frazier coming in with the following mission statement: “We’ve been on national, over-the-air television before. We belong here, not you pathetic no-names. You claim to be the best of this generation, but you have to prove it to us.” Let them get heat for a few months, with some Evolve wrestlers who will eventually turn face visibly swallowing their disgust at working with them for the common aim of destroying the ROH wrestlers and have them put the faces over huge in the end. While the “OMG! Workrate!” choads (and I say that affectionately) probably just had a heart attack, a few months of having a few matches on the card that are no threat to steal the show could easily be balanced out by excellence in the other spots.

None of these recommendations are extremely likely to be followed, as history tells us ROH will probably prepare for their important next stage with only minor tinkering around the margins. Such evolution will probably yield a product I will enjoy, but if you’re only reaching the tiny subset that I’m in that’s predisposed to like the product, you’ve lost the battle already. In the words of that great pro wrestling philosopher Tony Robbins, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

2011 NBA Finals preview

By Rick Morris

The cities of Dallas and Miami have met on the grandest stages in sports two times previously – and this hoops clash will serve as the tiebreaker. Super Bowl VI in January 1972 saw one of the all-time great coaching battles between Tom Landry and Don Shula as the Cowboys overwhelmed the Fish, 24-3 – the last loss before the Perfect Dolphins blew through the NFL like rotten chili through the intestinal tract the next season. And, more relevant to these proceedings, the Heat got past the Mavs in six games in 2006 to bring the first NBA Championship to Miami.

That title, controversial though it was – much more on that below – marked the Finals debut of Dwyane Wade and championship series eclipse (probably) of Shaquille O’Neal. It’s strange to think that Shaq came to Cleveland in 2009 to help LeBron James try to win a championship only to see Lebron sidekicking a year later for the player who got the big fella his last title.

Notwithstanding the justifiable ridicule for Miami’s “championship celebration” after the Heat’s sketchy seasons-long efforts to recruit players already under contract bore fruit, nobody can be that surprised to see them in the Finals. They were my preseason pick to win the East and lose to the Lakers – by far the closest thing to a consensus pick among observers this year. Granted, there were some observers who picked Boston to return to the Finals for the third time in four years and a handful who thought Orlando would work their way through for the second time in three years, but the Heat haven’t beaten expectations thus far.

Their opponents cannot say the same. If anyone was going to knock off the mighty Lakers in the West, the Mavs – with their history of playoff flameouts and aging core – were well down the list of potential conquerors. And that was even before they lost Caron Butler (lost for the season to knee surgery in January, although he clings to hope of playing in the Finals)! But the X-Factor has been the astounding elevation in the game this spring of a player who had already cast himself as a future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, Dirk Nowitzki.

The improvements in so many aspects of his game have been key in helping Dallas defy the odds at every step of the way – recovering from missteps against Portland, sweeping LA in one of the most shocking upsets in recent sports history and getting past the West’s first big candidate for Team of the 2010s in Oklahoma City. Their rebuilt core includes big-time players like Dirk (and James, for that matter) who have been to the Finals and come up empty, such as Jason Kidd and Jason Terry.

Unfortunately for the Mavs and all who are rooting for them (which is everyone but the people of Miami and egregious bandwagon-jumpers and jock-sniffers everywhere), the team is not built to take advantage of Miami’s donut-hole down low. Tyson Chandler has been superb in his role for Dallas this season, but he’s not going to make anyone exert themselves to stop his offense. Miami actually outrebounded Dallas this season, 42.1 RPG to 41.4. And even with one of the most top-heavy rosters for a title contender in league history, they still outscored Dallas this year, 102.1 PPG to 100.2 – with Butler chipped in 29 games of 15.0 PPG offense.

Obviously, in light of these numbers, we can state clearly that Dallas would be very, very steep underdogs were it not for the vast improvements in Dirk’s game this postseason. He’s been the most unstoppable player on the planet and if he can keep that up, he can lift the Mavs to victory. The fact that James and Chris Bosh are going to have to log minutes attempting to slow him down when they and Wade have been averaging inhumane minutes in this postseason adds credence to the thought that Dirk can help Dallas win on both sides of the ball.

An additional point in Dallas’ favor concerns the regular-season schedule. The Mavs are way more battle-tested. Our semi-monthly in-season power rankings listed the Southwest Division as the best in the league by a wide margin in our final edition (granted, with the Southeast at #2, but a distant, distant #2).

I would regard this series as almost too close to call were it not for the fact that David Stern takes his lessons on arranged outcomes from Vincent K. McMahon (the coaching matchup between Rick Carlisle and “Coach Spo” doesn’t appear to tilt the scales either way, since it’s the first Finals tilt in 12 years where neither individual has won a title as a head coach). Bill Simmons, in his outstanding tome THE BOOK OF BASKETBALL: THE NBA ACCORDING TO THE SPORTS GUY, correctly labeled the ’06 Finals a festering disgrace since Wade made it to the line every time that he got breathed upon – 97 times in six games and, boys and girls, that averages out to just over 16 times per game. And a whopping 25 of those came in the absolutely pivotal Game Five (as many as all Mavericks combined in that contest). Simmons’ words need to be quoted in even more explicit terms:

“[Miami] scored the game-winning points after Wade got sent to the line on an out-of-control drive where Bennett Salvatore called Nowitzki on a barely perceptible nudge from 40 feet away … For as long as I have my ‘Sports Guy’ column, I plan on referring to that 2006 Heat team as the ‘Miami Salvatores.’”

Couldn’t have said it better myself, Bill. So, let’s take a look at whether the league would be inclined to have the games called any differently five years later.

1 David Stern hates Mark Cuban.

2 See Point #1.

3 Heat owner Micky Arison is one of David Stern’s golden boys, as evidenced by the league turning a blind eye to his son’s tampering with LeBron at the 2008 Olympics (ALLEGEDLY!).

4 David Stern sees money in Miami being the next “team to beat,” taking the mantle from the Lakers.

5 David Stern doesn’t see any money in Dallas winning with their aging core that doesn’t have as clear a path back to the Finals anytime soon (with the possible exception of Dirk being the first foreign megastar to win a title – Stern’s lust for globalization is a tiny counterbalance here).

Nope, I don’t see these games getting called right down the middle, so that takes me from the land of 50-50 to the eventual outcome. FDH’s Nate Noy sees Dallas splitting the first two games in Miami – as do I, but then holding serve completely at home to win in five games. From his lips to God’s ears, from my personal perspective! But I just don’t see it. Miami in six.

2011 Stanley Cup Finals preview

By Rick Morris

For all the alleged unpredictability of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there haven’t really been any many surprise teams in the Finals since 2007. OK, Philly made it as a #7 seed in the East last year, but year in and year out, they generally have a pretty good shot (having made it to the conference finals two years before) – and they were only six points out of the #5 slot anyway.

[SIDE NOTE: These Finals also follow another recent trend: it’s the fourth consecutive year with an Original Six team representing. That may not seem like much, but it’s indicative of a weird historical pendulum. O6 teams made it 10 times in 13 years between 1986 and 1998, but only once (2002) since the current streak started. Additionally, there were no Original Six teams in the Finals between 1980 and 1985 after an absence of only one year (1975) since the league expanded beyond those six in 1967.]

The 2011 Finals follow in that recent tradition. I picked Boston to come out of the East before the season, as did many pundits. And while I reconsidered on my Vancouver prediction at the last minute, picking them to fall to Detroit in the West finals (not an example of me being a homer, merely a nod to the powerful motivation to win for legendary captain Nick Lidstrom in what might be his last season), I had them going deep, as did many pundits. And I did pick Vancouver and Boston to make the Finals just prior to the start of this year’s playoffs. There are few who really follow the game of pro hockey who are shocked that either team made it this far, aside from the reputation for postseason hiccups that each squad has accrued.

Now, neither franchise ranks up there with Ottawa, San Jose and Washington among the top chokers of the past decade, but they’ve certainly been slotted on that next level. Vancouver had to slay a demon in Chicago this year and gagged away a 3-0 series lead before finally accomplishing that task. Boston had to confront last year’s 3-0 collapse against Philadelphia in this year’s playoffs before getting past a Tampa team with great firepower. So for one of these two teams, sweet vindication awaits along with the Stanley Cup.

Playing in the deeper Western Conference (albeit the weakest division in hockey according to our final FDH power rankings), the Canucks put together a dream season en route to their first-ever Presidents’ Trophy – and although there have only been seven teams to hoist both the Prez Trophy and the Stanley Cup since the former was instituted in 1986, there have only been two to win the former and lose the latter in the Finals. Vancouver is better and deeper than they were a year ago, when they were already among the elite. In the Sedin twins and possible Conn Smythe favorite Ryan Kesler (you think Ohio State could use the boost right about now of having a Buckeye raising this trophy?), Vancouver has the three most explosive forwards in this series since Boston’s Marc Savard remains out with his head injury. The superiority in firepower is demonstrated by Vancouver’s edge in two key categories: points (708-657) and shot percentage (9.8 to 9.1).

Interestingly, both teams are reprising the dynamics of the conference finals. Vancouver was more top-heavy than San Jose, but the Sharks were deeper in terms of forward scoring. Likewise, Tampa Bay was more top-heavy than Boston, but the Bruins were deeper in terms of forward scoring. Obviously, each squad hopes for a repeat of the outcome in their particular conference finals.

Vancouver is a significant favorite in this series because, frankly, it’s clear that they are one of the two best teams in the league by dint of having made it through the superior West. Boston has to either win or force the series seven games to prove that they are a better team than Detroit or San Jose.

And firepower plays a part in the perception of the Canucks as the better team coming into the Finals. Vancouver has the league’s best power play, while Boston’s is absolutely execrable. Having said that, the Bruins have reason to hope that they can hang with the Canucks at even strength – since the Sedins have been up-and-down in the playoffs and Boston will put one of the top defensemen of the last generation, Zdeno Chara, on him. Chara is certainly very hungry, having tasted the Finals just once with the ill-fated Ottawa team in ’07.

On the blue line, Vancouver is deeper than Boston overall, although if the gifted Tomas Kaberle would stop playing in a manner that has made his name a Bay State curse word, that would go a long way towards evening the two units.

The goalies are both among the best of their generation, but each given to spurts that separate them from the all-time greats – although a Stanley Cup, combined with the 2010 Olympic gold medal, would go a long way towards taking Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo to that vaunted next level of respect. He is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy this year, as is his counterpart, Tim Thomas – the 2009 winner who somehow lost his job altogether in the donut-hole season sandwiching his two best ones. But Thomas has been slightly better this year and the scenario by which he absolutely stands on his head provides Boston the best chance of winning. Their conservative style of play feeds into that possibility, by the way.

In the final analysis, one team is guaranteed to end a historic drought – well, two of them if the Canucks prevail. Boston won the most recent of their five Stanley Cups way back in 1972, with subsequent Finals appearances in 1988 and 1990 running squarely into the last years of the Edmonton juggernaut. Vancouver has never hoisted the Cup since coming into the league in 1970, although they tallied two Finals appearances in 1982 and 1994. The last appearance speaks to the larger dry spell, the one that now consumes all of Canada. You see, Montreal won the Stanley Cup the year before the Canucks’ most recent Finals appearance in 1993. 1994’s Game Seven 3-2 epic is most famed for ending the New York Rangers’ run without championships dating back to 1940. But that same game started the longest stretch without a Stanley Cup for the entire country of Canada. Since then, only Calgary in 2004, Edmonton in 2006 and Ottawa in 2007 have gone as far as the Finals and each came up empty. All six Canadian teams have raised the hopes of the nation during this time by making it at least as far as the conference finals. This year, Canada, Oh Canada, you’ll end your national misery, one day shy of the 17-year anniversary when it began. Unlike the 2010 Olympic gold medal game, it won’t come on Canadian ice, but methinks the good folks to the north won’t let it bother them too much. Vancouver in six.

The Hangover Part II review

By Rick Morris

Every so often a movie comes out and discredits most of the takes-itself-too-seriously film critic industry by eliciting the most asinine reactions from said pinheads. THE HANGOVER PART II is one such movie.

Having made it clock in at a miserable 35% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the look-at-me crowd seeking attention for their “urbane” and “educated” opinions have made themselves the real story of this summer blockbuster.

The indictments aimed at this movie are instead a boomerang, telling us everything we need to know about those who dare to utter such tripe.

^ Highly derivative of the original? WELL, DUH! The formula worked! Why deviate? Most scenes could have fit in the first movie with only minor deviations as to circumstance or location. So what?

^ Upping the ante on crudity – you were expecting one of your precious subtitled foreign films? Get that weak sh%& outta here!

Never forget that most positive reviews of the first movie were accompanied by self-righteous tripe like “I don’t normally recommend a movie of this nature, but …” There’s a reason that we only seek out for our web TV show and befriend critics like Ben Lyons who don’t feel the need to put on airs and who unapologetically like what they like. These hypocritical geeks based their praise on the first one being a surprise megahit and thus they could maintain their “serious” cred by praising a movie like this if it wasn’t expected to be a hit. The sequel isn’t an underdog, so it’s time to bury it, apparently.

Long story short, as you’ve probably heard, the story this time is that Stu (Ed Helms) is getting married in Thailand and the weekend of the wedding is again disrupted by the antics of the childlike Alan (Zach Galifianakis). His drugging-gone-awry of Stu’s future brother-in-law Teddy (Mason Lee) causes everyone to fail to remember the fateful chain of events and leaves Teddy missing and the gang (Stu, Alan and the smarmy/hilarious Phil, played by Bradley Cooper) frantically retracing their steps and landing in fresh mayhem at every step.

I’d never give too much away, because I don’t want to discourage anyone from going to see it, but there are a few key points that allow this movie to reach the vaunted level of the original.

^ A singing cameo near the very end that somehow even tops Chow’s elevator singing from the movie trailers.

^ Paul Giamatti bringing the noise as he generally does.

^ A boat “landing” that you should never attempt in real life.

^ The culmination at the end of Stu’s string of bitter monologues throughout the movie.

^ The obligatory Ed Helms musical interlude – posted below for anyone interested in a spoiler of sorts.

I don’t like to speak for all of my FDH Lounge colleagues, but I’d be shocked if any of them disagreed with my assessment that this is our kind of movie. Two freaking thumbs up and get to work on Part III, people!

Hangover 2 trailer

Ed Helms does “Alantown”

The shocking Jim Tressel resignation

By Rick Morris

It’s a development that I’ve slowly come to see coming – but after the 2011 season, I thought. With surprising corners of the normally pliant Ohio media starting to call for the head of Jim Tressel, I read the tea leaves and deduced that the next round of shoes to drop in the various ongoing investigations would be deemed too much. But I never thought that day would come so quickly.

Cards on the table, from different perspectives:

^ My dad is a season-ticket holder at Ohio State and I’ve been going to games all my life (on board with the home team except for the games against my alma mater, Ohio!).

^ When OSU decided – more than ten years belatedly – to replace John Cooper, Glen Mason was my first choice. Unlike most, I didn’t think Tressel would be overmatched at this level due to his previous career experience having topped out at Youngstown State. I simply felt, as did a great many, that Mason was the next great big-time coach waiting to happen. Well, you can’t get them all right!

^ I have been critical for a long time of the paranoid, self-righteous nature of so many in the Ohio State fanbase. There’s a whininess, a “the nash-null media hates us” pathetic quality that is far too prevalent and unbecoming. Such know-nothingism reflects poorly on the entire Buckeye community. Everything is a conspiracy against them, to hear them tell it.

^ Although nobody in my family knows Jim Tressel personally, my parents got to know his family and worked with his brother in the Berea School District. I should backtrack for a moment and point out that the Tressel name is legendary and beloved in Cleveland’s southwest suburbs as Jim’s father Lee was a coaching legend at Baldwin-Wallace. In the corner of the universe where I’ve lived most of my life, the Tressel family is regarded as the salt of the earth and it was decades before Jim relocated to CBus in 2001. I have heard a great many stories about the kindnesses Jim has shown that he has kept quiet because they were not for show.

It’s that last point that I wish to extrapolate first. The idiotic portrayal in the national media that this was a man who schemed to put forward a holy fa├žade while gleefully looking for ways to cheat, lie and steal is the laziest kind of tripe.

Clearly, clearly, he made mistakes. Not marching down the hallway to the university compliance officer over a year ago looms as the biggest of any of them. Because of the lie of omission on the form he turned in to the NCAA before last football season (“nope, nothing to see here”), I knew that more punishment was inevitable. I thought, I hoped, that it would be limited to a suspension for the 2011 season and vacating wins from the 2010 season. Under normal circumstances, that would be a draconian punishment – but as Monday proved, there could always be a worse outcome.

The vaunted Sports Illustrated story that was due to drop today clearly drove the timing on the story and the “resignation” – side note, nobody has walked away from Ohio State fully voluntarily since the 1940s. The column got most amusing when Robert Rose played the “a brotha’s gotta eat” card – when talking about why he exchanged memorabilia for tats! You can’t make this stuff up! It’s interesting that almost the entire gist of the story is “this bad stuff was going on and he should have known about it and managed not to” (well, aside from the hearsay from a possibly bitter former associate of Tressel’s – who did NOT go on to the career heights of Tressel – who claimed that he screwed over some non-prized high school athletes at the expense of blue-chippers in some football camp raffles). I say “interesting,” because what did Tressel do, after all, if not prove wildly unsuccessful at working through the world of plausible deniability that most big-time coaches have to navigate?

Think about it: the folks with the “Buckstaches” are right that a lot of these matters happen everywhere with the culture of entitlement that follows a lot of the top-ranked players in the country. BUT – coaches at other institutions keep these things under control. For example, Bob Stoops cracks heads, big-time. If you get caught doing something wrong at that school, be prepared to get dragged by your nuts down Main Street. Does that mean there’s no wrongdoing at Oklahoma? Of course not. But everything is under control there – which, in the sewer pit of big-time college athletics, is the only realistic aim. Be clean – or keep the bacteria on your nose invisible. Tressel was far worse on the second point than the first.

Frankly, for all of the Machiavellian conspiracy theories about how Tressel schemed to put up a false image all these years, most of his problems appear to stem from a softness that did him in. He never cracked skulls, Stoops-style. In the fateful email chain that ultimately did him in, he complained about the difficulties of keeping these kids out of trouble – while ultimately not having the stomach to put the fear of God into them. Does that sound like somebody gleefully and deliberately living a second life contrary to his public image? We don’t even need to get into the fact that he left a ton of money on the table with his resignation (even if the university does agree to a settlement of some sort) rather than put blood on OSU’s hands by having them fire him.

I would say that the time for piling on is over, but I actually think that time is long overdue. To date, I see nothing that changes my original prescription for the situation (season-long suspension and vacating 2010 wins). I think that the NCAA should have allowed for the possibility of taking his good acts into account when the possibility of his “personal death penalty” arose. In Ohio, he will be regarded as one of the all-time great college coaches and somebody who paid a price for his actions – with many finding it excessive. The rest of the country will find that judgment narrow and parochial. For once – for once, they will be judging the fanbase wrong.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day

By Rick Morris

NOTE: This is our annual Memorial Day tribute from The FDH Lounge.

Veterans have always been heroes to me, people who put a cause greater than themselves ahead of their own well-being. This very visceral account of D-Day from Charles Durning tells the story in all of its honor and horror.

I can't even imagine what it would be like to experience a wartime experience such as this. Nor can I fathom the decades afterwards, as men like Durning came home from war, settled down, had families and built careers -- and were no doubt haunted by the memories of their friends who were cut down when they were very young and never experienced any postwar life.

On this unofficial "first day of summer," let's all try to take some time to remember those who helped make it possible through their blood and sweat. It's a horrible dishonor to let a day like this pass without feeling some gratitude towards the best and bravest among us.

FDH Fantasy Newsletter: Volume IV, Issue XXI

By Rick Morris

For the most part, we keep our fantasy content on our fantasy website and fantasy blog and keep this site for content on all subjects. It allows our readers to find specific content more easily that way. However, it has come to our attention that because our new fantasy sports newsletter is published on the older Blogger platform that our readers may be limited in their ability to subscribe to it. There does not appear to be a way to have content on the FantasyDrafthelp.com blog forwarded to an aggregate news reader -- however, we know that we have that ability here. So we will link to that newsletter each week right here when it is published. Here is this week’s newsletter.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fare Thee Well, Wig Man


By Rick Morris


If you find the headline for this column to be too flippant on the subject of a man’s death, then you didn’t know Daniel Vovak. Somebody as completely over the top as him would have been bored to tears with a simple “Daniel Vovak, RIP.”

He gained a degree of fame in 2004, when he launched his “Wig Man” gimmick in a long-shot bid for the presidency. I knew him starting in 1995 – when I had the unforgettable experience of going to work for him at a startup business magazine in the Cleveland area.

We were in less-than-sporadic touch over the years, but I had the idea to invite him on our FDH LOUNGE web TV show – because I knew that he would be an unforgettable guest. Over the last year or so, I Googled him a few times, but I didn’t sense that he had a huge front-burner project that he wanted to push and I figured I’d time it for a chance when he could benefit from plugging whatever his latest and greatest idea was. But I never got the chance.

When I Googled him today, his Wikipedia page listed last Saturday as the date of his passing and online obituaries confirmed it. He was 39, claimed by Stage IV cancer in his intestines.

Daniel was the epitome of a “just spell my name right” kind of guy, so I’m sure he’d appreciate my brutal honesty even in a tribute column. I had conflicted-at-best feelings about him for quite awhile after working for him. When he hired me as his editor in 1995, there was no Google and thus pretty much no way of seeing past the Potemkin village he had erected and labeled a “publishing company.” As a kid not long out of college, struggling to get a foothold in journalism and with one unsuccessful stint as a technical writer behind me (in a job I talked my way into despite being wildly underqualified), I found myself being owed a small fortune in back pay in a company that redefined “undercapitalized.” It would have taken a saint to be 100% OK with him at that time, and I am certainly no saint.

But what I came to appreciate about him is that even though he was definitely a carny, he was a carny who meant well. He was a man of a great many dreams and schemes, but when they went south, he paid the price as well and he didn’t leave others in worse shape than he was left himself. My significantly greater exposure to the carny world since then has taught me how atypical that is. Most carnies look to screw you over and that was not Daniel’s intent.

Additionally, how could you not appreciate someone showing as much comfort in their own skin? We’re talking about a guy who had me get a tux with a Mickey Mouse pattern all over the vest when he had me be a groomsman in his wedding! And somebody who ghost-wrote columns for his magazine under the name “Rick Morrison” to try to fool unobservant people into thinking I still wrote for him after I quit! And somebody who wrote a thinly fictionalized book about people begging a candidate based exactly on himself to run for president! That’s gold!

Running for president in a goofy white wig while being constitutionally ineligible because of his age at the time (31) – for most people that would be the most outrageous feat of a lifetime. I’m not even sure that one cracked Daniel’s Top Ten. I’d have to say that it ranks below him recruiting Paula Jones for a screenplay (tragically unfinished) about Bill Clinton labeled THE BLUE DRESS.

He was a very talented guy and very smart and driven. He graduated with three degrees in only 2 ½ years from Baldwin-Wallace College, a prestigious small college in the Greater Cleveland area. Although given to indulging in colorful if goofy efforts – check out his WigAwards YouTube channel – he was capable of applying his intellect in serious ways as well, as the videos listed here attribute.

The last time we talked was back in 2005, and while he knew I was still somewhat wary about his dealings based on my sub-par experience, I’m at least glad that he could see that I had moved to the point of laughing with him rather than at him. While I’d rather that we had stayed in touch and had the great experience of having him steal the show on THE FDH LOUNGE, at least we left everything good the last time we talked, and that does count for an awful lot.

He truly was an American original and he lusted like few people I’ve ever known to live in a truly epic way and make a mark that would have the whole world talking. Whether he was running for office, writing books, promoting his film project or indulging any of his other interests, he wanted to leave a grand mark.

Well, he passes on less famous than he would have wanted, but he gets an asterisk – he only made it to 39 (it’s almost as though he had a sense this might happen for all of the stories that he packed into his life) and given that social media tools were built with the carny in mind, would you have bet against him in the long term? I wouldn’t. But he gets another distinction he truly would have cherished – being one of the most unforgettable people to everyone he ever met.

Rest in peace, Daniel, and I know you are in a better place.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

FDH Lounge #149: May 24, 2011

By Rick Morris

THE FDH LOUNGE (Tuesdays, 7-9 PM EST on SportsTalkNetwork.com) brings a super-stuffed episode on the eve of our 150th episode.

We’ve got so much content this week that we need to skip The Opening Statements of The FDH Lounge Dignitaries and This Week in The FDH Lounge because right off the bat, Dignitary Kyle Ross comes in to deliver his thoughts on the passing of “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Right after that, Fox Sports columnist Alex Marvez, a longtime columnist in the fields of pro wrestling, MMA and the NFL, comes in for his observations on Savage and also the NFL lockout.

Midway through Hour One, legendary comedian Pat Cooper will be in to talk about his new memoir HOW DARE YOU SAY HOW DARE ME!

Hour Two opens with longtime NHL ref and TSN hockey columnist Kerry Fraser to talk about his book THE FINAL CALL and the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That segment is followed by two of our favorite Dignitaries, Lloyd Carroll of Good Times Magazine and Simon Applebaum of Tomorrow Will Be Televised, coming on to talk about the TV upfronts that they just attended and the fall schedules that lie ahead.

We close with THE FANTASYDRAFTHELP.COM INSIDER and our look at baseball’s hot pickups and drops of the moment.

As always, we urge you to watch the show live (or listen if you’re on dial-up), but if you can’t catch this as it’s happening, you can always catch the FDH archives 24-7 right here or catch us on iTunes.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The FDH Lounge Vault two-hour debut is today

By Rick Morris

NOTE: This piece ran initially late last month, before the debut was moved to today.

As managing partner of FDH, I’m supposed to shill everything we’re doing, but sometimes the pride is particularly intense when I’m making an announcement of great magnitude. This is one such time.

Last year, we debuted THE FDH LOUNGE VAULT as a one-hour best-of edition with material culled from our catalog of less than four years. Shortly thereafter, the SportsTalkNetwork.com programming schedule moved into a state of flux as several new programs hit the airwaves and a decision was made to unveil the VAULT once again in grander form. That time has arrived.

Now, with a catalog of more than four years to draw from, THE FDH LOUNGE VAULT debuts today as a two-hour program, airing from 2-4 PM EDT. These segments, which are truly representative of our status as the show where “nothing is off-topic,” are comprised of our very best interviews and roundtables that also are a part of our FDH Lounge Ultimate Anthology project – available on the STN website here and on iTunes here.

A two-hour daily best-of, repackaged as shows along certain themes, with material comprising no more than 20% of our catalog and providing almost a three-month loop between repeat episodes – yeah, that feels like a pretty nice accomplishment. Thanks to The FDH Lounge Dignitaries for providing the work and creativity to make it happen. Stay tuned to our program Tuesday nights from 7-9 PM EDT to view our first-run shows and sample future VAULT material in real time.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

FDH Fantasy Newsletter: Volume IV, Issue XX

By Rick Morris

For the most part, we keep our fantasy content on our fantasy website and fantasy blog and keep this site for content on all subjects. It allows our readers to find specific content more easily that way. However, it has come to our attention that because our new fantasy sports newsletter is published on the older Blogger platform that our readers may be limited in their ability to subscribe to it. There does not appear to be a way to have content on the FantasyDrafthelp.com blog forwarded to an aggregate news reader -- however, we know that we have that ability here. So we will link to that newsletter each week right here when it is published. Here is this week’s newsletter.

Friday, May 20, 2011

RIP Randy “Macho Man” Savage

By Rick Morris

The shocking and horrible news came out this morning with Randy “Macho Man” Savage (aka Randy Poffo) having suffered an apparent heart attack behind the wheel and perishing in a car accident. He was 58.

When you think about the most famous pro wrestlers, there were few if any who embodied more of the signature traits of the industry than he did. His interviews and catchphrases were notorious, but like a Ric Flair, he brought the excitement and workrate in a way that plodders like Hulk Hogan could not.

When we ranked the top 50 pro wrestlers of all time last month – based purely on money drawn, which, after all, is the industry’s most important factor – he came in 13th. As today’s tributes from many, many quarters are demonstrating, he influenced pop culture in a way that few from his business ever did.

Sadly, he had just celebrated his first wedding anniversary with his bride, Lynn, who was at least fortunate enough to make it through today’s crash.

He was known in the business for meticulously mapping out his matches, leaving very little to chance in the ring. His methods paid off, as he was one of very few wrestlers to have an epic encounter with the Ultimate Warrior and he had tremendous big-time matches with so many of the greats, including Flair, Jerry “The King” Lawler, Ted Dibiase, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and Jake “The Snake” Roberts.

We at FDH send our thoughts and prayers to the Poffo family in their time of grief and wish to celebrate his life by some of the great moments he gave us. RIP.

RIP Harmon Killebrew

By Rick Morris

The baseball world is poorer for the passing of one of its greatest sluggers and true gentlemen, Harmon Killebrew, felled by cancer this week at age 74.

A 13-time All-Star and 1969 AL MVP, Killebrew was one of the signature players of the 1960s and he helped to put baseball on the map in Minnesota, leading the team to the 1965 AL pennant – the high-water mark for the franchise for 22 years. He was a brawny power hitter in a more innocent time, when we didn’t have to question what bottle generated a player’s muscles. All throughout his public life, he set an excellent example for the public and was accessible and friendly constantly. It’s only due to the idiocy of many sportswriters that he had to wait four years after the start of his initial eligibility to officially be granted the Hall of Fame honors he so obviously earned.

The FDH Lounge takes its hat off to this legend and we send our thoughts and prayers to his family. We honor him by embedding this pretty sweet mini-documentary.