Archive for June, 2011

Brewing and Soccer Balls

Posted in beer, soccer on June 13, 2011 by cueball

Two of my great loves are sports and beer.  My sport of choice.  The one that I think most about is soccer.  As a big fan of beer, I occasionally home-brew.  So, of course, I’ve thought about how coaching soccer is similar to brewing beer.

Let’s start with soccer.  The rules are set up to make soccer a players sport.  First, there are no timeouts allowing the genius on the sideline the opportunity to break up the momentum of the game and inject himself into the discussion.  Second, there are only three substitutions.  Again, this keeps the guy in the sweating through his expensive suit on the sideline from doing anything irrational to disturb the sanctity of the proceedings.  Non-soccer fans are often amazed at how little a soccer coach actually does during a game.

How it this like brewing beer?  All the work of the coach or the brewer must be done ahead of time.  The players must be clear on what they are expected to do through practices and team meetings.  Once the game begins the players are on their own until half-time and the occasional message screamed from the sideline to players.  Otherwise the coach (or manager) just sits and watches his players make plays.

Most of the work the brewer must do occurs before beer is actually made.  Grinding the grains, mashing the grains, weighing out the hops, preparing the yeast.  Then boiling all of that stuff together  happens before you add the yeast to make the beer. Once the wort (unfermented beer) is added to the fermenter, there is nothing else for the brewer to do but keep the temperature steady and make sure the yeast keep busy.

It takes a certain kind of patience and confidence to do either well.  A good coach needs patience because he cannot affect much of the game until half-time, and then he is limited by his lack of substitutions.  The coach also has to have a great deal of confidence in his coaching abilities because he if has not taught his players well and explained what he expects of them during the game, he will lose.

Brewers are similar.  The patience to let the yeast do its work and not rush the process is vitally important for a brewer.  Also, they must be confident in their process (the when and what of every step of brewing beer).  Through repetition and more importantly successful repetition, the brewer develops the confidence that he can brew any kind of beer he sets his mind to.

Any time the beer isn’t exactly what the brewer expected he chalks that up as a learning experience and tries again.  Much like a coach looking at a loss as not a rebuke of his coaching abilities, but an opportunity to “coach up” his players a little more.

There you have a somewhat coherent take on soccer and beer.  Don’t worry, it makes sense to me.

Why we keep going

Posted in sports, sports and society on June 11, 2011 by cueball

People go to sporting events for two reasons:  1) to see something they can tell their grandchildren about, and 2) to see it with 60,000 of their closest friends.

Bill Simmons made a great point in this piece about the coming labor strife in the NBA (think the NFL only worse because of actual structural problems and not just owner greed) for his new project Grantland.com about the new stadiums being built with fewer, but better seats and something that engages the fans in the seats not close enough to the action (he cites the Cowboys Stadium video screen).

As fans all we really want is parking that is not too expensive and with easy access.  We want to see two good teams playing like the game matters to them (or at the very least one transcendent team playing for immortality).  We want OK food to snack on that does not cost you your first-born child.  Finally, we want to watch the game with other fans who care as much as we do.

A another piece in Grantland, this one by Chris Ryan highlights this last point.  Ryan went to the Barcelona/Manchester United Champions League Final at Wembley Stadium a few weeks ago.  The game was a foregone conclusion (My beloved Manu was no match for the brilliance of what could be one of the greatest sides in the history of soccer.), but Ryan’s description of the fan atmosphere is exactly what any of us want when we go to games.

Ryan sums up what true fans really want in a sporting experience:

Most of all I wanted to see the passion. I’m not talking about voyeuristic, spot-a-hooligan thrill seeking. I’m talking about being around fans who seem to breathe in the sport, who follow their teams all over England and all over Europe, who are so passionate about their clubs, they are moved to song.

So, that is why we will keep going.  The inexorable search for that collective passion and collective feeling.

Every time some owner tries to convince the public and the politicians to pay for a new stadium, they always talk about the jobs created that will help the economy. In actuality, most stadiums do not create that many jobs.  That is not their true importance.  Their true importance is in how these stadiums and these teams help define a community.  That is what we all yearn for:  To be a part of a community.

Even if it is only for a few fleeting hours a week that connection with others is vitally important in this era of laptops, smart phones, and mp3 players that isolate us in public places or 50 inch HD flat screens that let us watch the most technologically advanced movies in the comfort of our own home.  The few moments of true connection that we have help bring together a community made up of every religion, every race, and every sexual orientation.

That and being able to watch great athletes do really cool things live and in person are we will continue to go to games.

Beer, sports, and music: The Beloved Triumverate

Posted in Introductions, Uncategorized on June 10, 2011 by cueball

There are three things in life that I really love and care about: Beer, sports, and music. Any day in which I get to watch a good sporting event (sometimes even a bad one will do), drink a good beer (only a craft beer will do), and listen to good music (almost anything good will do) is a day sent from heaven.

I have been recalcitrant in in writing for the blog, so I will do something about that. My goal is a post a day for at least a month. Will see how that goes. Most posts will have something to do with sports and what is happening in the world of sports, but I will also drop some beer and music thoughts.

I have a weird and varied knowledge of all kinds of things. Just ask Terry. He is still trying to figure out how I made a brilliant Tim Richmond/Stroker Ace reference a couple of months ago.

Anyway. More to come.

A beer break from sports

Posted in beer on June 9, 2011 by cueball

“Good people drink good beer.”

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” — Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

The above quote is from the late great much lamented Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.  The first quote is the motto of Flying Dog Brewery, the brewer of the Gonzo Imperial Porter (which is what I will be reviewing).

Before the review, a little history.  I discovered Hunter Thompson either my senior year in high school or early in my freshman year at UNC.  Unlike others, I did not find him through Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It was the time of the 1992 Presidential election and I was in my political phase.  I stumbled into the Doctor’s work through Gonzo Papers Vol. 1:  Tales of Shame and Degradation in the 80’s and Fear and Loathing :  On The Campaign Trail ’72.  His funny, rebellious, profane works appealed to my youth.  I would devour the rest of his work over the next year finding a brilliant, fearless writer driving insane by his complete devotion to his art form and to the persona he created.    As I’ve gotten older his uncompromising Gonzo attitude is something I continue to admire.

It was with much happiness that I was finally able to get a bottle of Flying Dog’s Gonzo Imperial Porter (Flying Dog’s labels are designed by Thompson sidekick and friend Ralph Steadman and Flying Dog was started by a neighbor and friend of Thompson’s George Stranahan).  Luckily it is a great beer.  On my scale of porters it is not up there with the Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti Porter (my favorite beer of all time), but it is a great beer.

Porters and stouts lend themselves well to the extra hops of imperial style beers.  If done well, they have a wonderful balance of malt, hops, and alcohol.  This is a well done beer.

It pours with a nice brown head.  It has a deep brown color a few garnet highlights.  It looks great in a glass.

It has a nice hoppy aroma.  Luckily the hops do not overwhelm the coffee malt taste with a hint of vanilla.

Most importantly it drinks really easily thanks to the hops not overwhelming the taste and the lightness of the carbonation.  You will immediately want another once you finish the first.

Like most dark beers, this should go well with Mexican food (and Cajun).  It’s roastiness should also make a good choice for a barbecue beer (I’m a vegetarian so take that with a grain of salt).  It also works with chocolate desserts.  Trust me.  I’ve tried it.

If you find this beer, buy some and drink it.  You’ll thank me in the morning.

A rambling look at concussions and the NFL labor problems

Posted in football, sports, sports and society on June 9, 2011 by cueball

I love watching football. There is nothing better then spending a weekend in October sitting and watching hours of football both professional and college.

However, over the last couple of years there has been this re-occurring thought running through my brain. My healthy brain. That thought is primarily concussions but also the severe beating these men put themselves through on weekly basis for our entertainment.

As the NFL owners and players argue with each other over how to split their $9 billion, I keep thinking at some point this will all end, and I believe it will end horribly. (There is a great dissection of one of the owners new tactics in a post on Football Outsiders.)

As players get bigger, stronger, and faster through the aids of better diet and fitness plans that make players more physically ready at a younger age and keep older players game fit longer, some thing has got to give. Yes, they are physically stronger, but I question whether the physics of the human body have evolved to the point where the body can carry the additional weight and additional punishment for any extended period of time.

That says nothing about the now known systemic brain issues football players have that shorten their lives.

I honestly believe on some Sunday afternoon in some NFL stadium someone is going to suffer a catastrophic brain injury that will kill them. At that point, I don’t know what will happen next. I do not know what the reaction will be of the public, the press, or the players. We will learn a lot about ourselves in that moment.

Will we shrug our shoulders and continue to watch and more importantly encourage our children to play this sport? Will we wildly overact and seek to ban football? As an aside, the NCAA was created at the behest of Teddy Roosevelt to regulate football in order to keep it from being band because of all the injuries suffered in its infancy.

I don’t know. All I know is, even as I have this thought, this feeling of dread, I still watch. I still own fantasy teams. I still wait with anticipation for the first meaningful kickoff and subsequent collisions. Am I a hypocrite because of it? Probably.

That probably makes us all hypocrites at some level. We all have that thought in the back of our minds. That is part of the reason people watch. The anticipation of the big hit and seeing someone ragdolled in the middle of the field only to get up and come back in a few plays. The problem is, at some point someone is not getting up.

If only by luck, almost inhuman athleticism, or a combination of both, there have only been a few cases of someone suffering a severe enough spinal injury that they were paralyzed and never able to play football again. At some point that luck has to run out and no amount of athleticism can keep the body from absorbing that much punishment.

The new hitting rules that many players (current and former) decried last year are not only to keep players safe. They are to make fans think players are safe.

That is why I think there are some in the NFL (players, owners, and league staff) who understand this golden goose they have could die at any time, and it may be fueling some of the vigor at which this labor impasse is being fought. They can see that while they are all making a lot of money now, that could dry up very soon. So everyone is digging in, hoping to get their one last big score.

I hope if someone is injured that severely on the field I will turn away. I also hope I’m not alone. If this does happen, I hope we as a football public react with more then just a resigned shrug as we wait for another player to get injured.