HALFTIME ADJUSTMENTS: Have I got a story for you

HALFTIME ADJUSTMENTS
8/28/2015

Well, wouldja look at this:

That’s the brand-new cover for my upcoming book EARNHARDT NATION, the biography of the entire Earnhardt clan. It’ll be out Feb. 16, 2016, and you can order it right here. You can also sign up to get updates, behind-the-scenes info, excerpts and more right here. And oh, will you be hearing a lot more about that in the months to come.

But that’s for later. For now, let’s get to some current material. (If you’re not already subscribed, get this delivered to your inbox every week by clicking here.) We had some tremendous writing this entire week, much of it a result of tragedies a decade apart.

Photo: New Orleans. Beth Wyner, 2012.

Wright Thompson brings the heat, of course, with his 25,000-word ESPN tale of New Orleans a decade after Hurricane Katrina: “Rebirth has been the standing field order of the past 10 years in New Orleans, a powerful force shaping the city in ways big and small. Everything is governed by this spirit of renewal, and everything is viewed through its lens, from the fervent love of brass bands to the New Orleans Saints, the standard-bearers of a city struggling back to its feet. But within this hopeful word an idea hides in plain sight: For something to be reborn, it must have first died.”

Same subject, different angle, as Holly Anderson at Grantland zeroes in on Tulane University’s struggle to survive and rebuild in the hours, days and years after the storm:The full impact of the storm became clear before the team got to Texas, when the buses pulled off the road at an Interstate 20 rest area. “Coach lets all the guys off to let their legs out, grab something to eat if they want to,” said Ricard. “And when we go inside, it hits. There’s TVs all over the truck stop. And all of a sudden you see the damage. And we’d been getting the wildest stories, that there were alligators running around downtown New Orleans, anaconda snakes, that the chief of police had been murdered. We get on the bus, and you can hear a pin drop. No one’s talking. And that’s when it hit that this could be not over for football but just everything. This was gonna be different, you know?””

Frank Schwab, Eric Edholm, Eric Adelson and Mark Spears in Yahoo Sports on players touched by the legacy of Katrina: “(Green Bay running back Eddie) Lacy, 25, has done his best to tuck away his teenage memories about that Sunday night in 2005 when wind, rain, terror and fear ripped through the family’s Gretna, La., house and left it for naught. The house’s foundation cracked. Furniture was ruined. Mold made its way up the walls. Water took down everything in its wake. The few valuables that were inside and not packed in a pinch, including Lacy’s change-filled piggybank, were taken by looters. The people who could afford the least had suffered the most. ‘Having your life taken from you in a matter of hours, everything gets left behind …’ he said, his voice trailing off. ‘I hate reliving it.’”

Shane Ryan takes a break from his incisive golf writing to hurl some truth in the face of people who run and hide from images of the Roanoke live-on-television murdersThe whole incident was flat-out typical, and if reading that description offends you, good, because in order to come to terms with the reality of violent crime in our nation, you need to accept the fact that the atrocity we just watched is, somehow, standard. As a friend told me yesterday, it’s the same old story, but with better packaging.”

Will Leitch in Bloomberg on Donald Trump and his constituency, all of whom are a lot sharper than you’d believe: “At one point, a CNN crew set up a shot where they pointed their camera at a subsection of the line consisting of about 15 people. The producer said, “All right, we’ve got a question for you guys. We’re rolling. You ready?” The people in line, bored and hot, nodded vaguely. “All right, here’s the question: Are you guys here for Trump the candidate, or Trump the celebrity?” Half the people in line said, “Candidate”; the other half groaned loudly. “That was a dumbass question,” one said, and he was of course right. That’s the sort of question someone asks when he is trying to make fun of you.”

Kevin Van Valkenburgh of ESPN looks at Javier Baez, a can’t-miss Cubs prospect who’s seen his major-league dreams deferred by tragedy and injury: “Even listening to him take indoor batting practice is mesmerizing. On a recent afternoon in August, Baez sings along in Spanish to “Esta Noche” by Justin Quiles as he waits patiently for his turn to hit, deep in the bowels of the Iowa Cubs’ Principal Park. He fiddles with his fluorescent green batting gloves, cracks jokes with his teammates and bobs his head in time with the music, looking every bit like a baby-faced 22-year-old without a worry on earth. But when he steps inside the cage, his entire body, and his demeanor, hardens. A man emerges from the shadow of a boy, each swing unleashing an explosion of sound that reverberates off the facility’s cinder block walls at a deafening volume.”

An excerpt from Greg Renoff’s upcoming Van Halen biography documenting how the band’s SoCal backyard house parties tended to veer to the extreme: “After yelling and waving, Denis caught Roth’s eye. Van Halen played on as Roth pranced over to the party’s host. Roth leaned down as Denis yelled, “They’re going to shut it down! You guys need to stop playing!” Denis waited for Roth to stop the song, but the Van Halen frontman just kept singing and dancing. “He ignored me, and they kept playing. Roth had control of the whole thing; he egged the crowd on.” A frustrated Denis decided to take matters into his own hands. As he headed through the broken sliding glass door, he glanced up at the sky. A police helicopter was approaching.”

Charlie Pierce in Grantland on the ongoing Baylor rape scandal, and the culture that permits such atrocities: “Now it’s the Baylor football team’s turn, and while the current scandal is nowhere near as baroque as the ones that surrounded the murder of Patrick Dennehy, it nonetheless raises the question of what in the hell is going on at this 170-year-old Baptist university, which didn’t even allow on-campus dancing until 1996. Say what you will about Baylor, but it caught up on the seven deadly sins in a hurry.”

Joshua Zeitz in The Atlantic places Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run,” released 40 years ago this week, in the context of its very specific moment in American history: “In the opening lines of “Born to Run,” Springsteen invoked one of his favorite metaphors—the automobile as an engine of escape from the many dead ends and disappointments that seemed to constrain young, working-class Americans. “In the day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway American dream / At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines / Sprung from cages out on highway 9 / Chrome wheeled, fuel injected, and steppin’ out over the line / Baby this town rips the bones from your back / It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap / We gotta get out while we’re young.” It was a fitting emblem for its time.”

Spencer Hall of SB Nation stars in a sharp (ho ho!), funny video about how to lumberjack in Wisconsin. 

Quentin Tarantino is starting to chill out in advance of his latest movie, The Hateful Eight: “I probably am mellowing. I’m happy about that. I was a pretty angry young man, but if I were angry now, it’d be like, What the fuck is my problem? I’ve got a really terrific life. It’s so rare to be an artist in my position. How can I get mad at anything? I get irritated, but I have mellowed. Life’s too short.”

Joe Posnanski in NBC Sportsworld profiles the don’t-call-him-newly-mature Kyle Busch: “When he was 20, he had his trucks painted to look just like Rowdy Burns’ car from “Days of Thunder.” But that was a long time ago. Things are different now. Sure, he still loves racing. And he still loves the idea of being dangerous. But, you know, he’s still got a plate in his foot and he’s got a little boy who can’t walk or talk just yet, but already he’s watching closely.”

Thanks for checking this out. If you’re not a regular subscriber, get this delivered to you each week by subscribing here. You can also follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook. Send me anything you think belongs on this list, even your own stuff, right here. See y’all next week.

-Jay
A warm Thursday night in Atlanta

HALFTIME ADJUSTMENTS: Football is coming

There’s always another halftime coming around. Take a few minutes and check out some good writing from this week and earlier. What, you’re going to sit and watch commercials?

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Top image: Covington, Georgia, 8/8/15

See that cloud over there, darkening and moving fast? It’s the NFL season, friends, and it’s coming this way. The birds are chirping in alarm, the small woodland beasts are headed for higher ground. Bid farewell to your other beloved sports now, everybody, because if you thought the NFL offseason was a turbulent mess of overhyped drama and reheated bloviations, wait’ll we actually start playing the damn games.

I’ll be writing about the NFL all season over at Yahoo, including Friday night’s debut of Marcus Mariota in Atlanta. Keep up via  Facebook and Twitter, and hear my dulcet tones on the Grandstanding podcast. (Subscribe via iTunes or via RSS feed.)

Plugs over. Onward with some fine work I read this week…

• “Zero to Mandalay: Myanmar and the Game Nobody Wins,” Spencer Hall, SB Nation

Anything Spencer writes, I’m in. The historical sense, the attention to precise detail, the literal-laugh-out-loud humor, the ornate construction … doesn’t matter the subject, Spencer writes in a way that makes you want to throw away your laptop. Read it.

“I was going to Myanmar to watch the game of chinlone, the sort of unofficial/official national game. Mr. Maung might be there to meet me, or he might not. He might be selling jade to Chinese billionaires, funneling arms to Karin insurgents or fixing cellphone tower contracts deep in the jungles of Chin State over a table of rice wine, Johnny Walker Blue and a thousand cigarettes. He might be meeting with monks in a political strategy meeting or setting up a bed and breakfast in Katha so Orwell-philes could stare at the sagging remnants of the British colonial clubhouse there.

“If he wasn’t doing all this, someone was. They were most likely doing it by the light of a flashlight or generator. Flying in from Seoul, I can trace the blasting lights of industrial eastern China, then clearly spot Ho Chi Minh City before a stretch of deep black nothing that is Laos, and then spot the blinking lights of Thailand. It’s easy to see when you cross into Burma. Everything goes piteously, completely dark.”

• “Fox and Friends,” Rachael Maddux, Longreads

What a hell of a fun story this was, a tale of fox hunting where neither the fox nor the hunt is really the point. Filled with lush description and sly humor, this is a story that’s everything I love in sportswriting. Plus, we could all use a whiskey horse: “That’s a horse,” one hunter said, “that’ll get you home no matter how much you’ve had to drink.”

“If I was ever going to understand fox hunting, I would have to understand it as making peace with the outer edges, with always hovering just beyond or beside the center of things. The unspeakable, the uneatable, the unfathomable. I would have to know that I would never be able to get close enough to be satisfied—I have to be a hound, or the fox itself. But it has to be enough sometimes to know that somewhere out there, something is happening, happening as it always has, without having to know what or why.”

• “Bucs rookie QB Jameis Winston has the look of a football nerd,” Eric Adelson, Yahoo Sports

Look, Jameis Winston might just have the widest gap between on-field potential and off-field idiocy that we’ve seen in sports in a decade. In assessing Winston’s possibilities, my man Eric doesn’t shy away from the fact that Winston has made dumb choice atop dumb choice in his personal life, but notes the irony of the fact that Winston appears to make all the right choices when the ball’s in his hands. This guy’s going to be fascinating to watch. From a distance.

“Smart” is not the word for Winston’s overall behavior since his high school days. Yet his work ethic has never suffered noticeably, even to close friends. “I asked him, ‘How’s the playbook?’” said new Jacksonville Jaguar and former Florida State receiver Rashad Greene last week, recalling a conversation from earlier this summer. “He said, ‘That’s my baby.’ He understands it; he knows it.”

• “Star Tribune’s Amelia Rayno adds her own story to Teague scandal,” Amelia Rayno, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Here’s the most important story of the roundup: how powerful men can, and do, take advantage of women in the source-journalist relationship. Rayno’s story of how now-disgraced former Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague sleazed up their professional relationship should open some naive eyes.

“This December night was different. Teague asked me about my longtime boyfriend, as he often did. My mistake was acknowledging that we had just broken up. The switch flipped. Suddenly, in a public and crowded bar, Teague tried to throw his arm around me. He poked my side. He pinched my hip. He grabbed at me. Stunned and mortified, I swatted his advances and firmly told him to stop. He didn’t.”

• “Officer back on the streets, with a story to tell,” Gregg Doyel, Indianapolis Star

NFL training camp is generally a high-volume melange of non-stories and puffery. So Gregg Doyel, who bucked the journalistic tide by going from the Internet back to a newspaper, takes a different angle here, and it’s a damn fine one: talking to a police officer at Colts camp who’s on a prosthetic leg. This is a powerful story of heroism — the real kind, not the sports kind — and shared sacrifice. Check it out.

“Marty Dulworth probably should have died the night he lost some of his left leg and most of his blood in the 300 block of Water Street in Pendleton — or later in the back of a blood-red Chevy Silverado doing 115 mph on Martin Luther King Boulevard, somewhere between Pendleton and Anderson, somewhere between life and death. He’s back on the streets now, this 39-year-old public servant, and he has a story to tell.”

• “‘I Don’t Remember Him Ever Being Happy’: The Joyless Dominance of Alabama’s Nick Saban,” Michael Weinreb, VICE

What do you do when you’re the best in the world at what you do, and that’s still not enough? Alabama head coach Nick Saban once complained that winning national championships detracted from his recruiting time, which is the Platonic ideal of missing-the-forest-for-the-trees. In this brief article, Weinreb reviews both the new biography Saban and the dour existence of Saban himself, and concludes, quite rightly, that this is a curious way for a man to live.

“I want this sport to be of high quality, but I also want it to be unpredictable and exciting and fun, which is why I will continue to admire Saban’s joyless competence from afar while hoping that, as happened against Auburn a couple of years ago, the whole thing falls apart in the end.”

• “Getting beyond 63 at a major seems ‘inevitable,’” Jason Sobel, ESPN.com

Thursday marks the start of the PGA Championship, the final major of the golf season. Golf is unique among sports in that you’re playing on the exact same courses that have hosted tournaments for decades, even centuries. While the specifics may change, the scenery never does, and in this fine piece of reporting and statistics, Jason breaks down the way that no golfer has managed to break the near-mythical number of 63 in a major.

“Since the first Open Championship in 1860, there have been a total of 434 editions of the four annual majors as we know them today. In the modern era, starting in 1934 with the advent of the Masters Tournament, that number is 313. Add them up and (excluding the 23 years of match play at the PGA Championship through 1957) there have been 1,160 rounds. That’s 107,105 individual player rounds during this 82-year period. Twenty-six times, someone has posted a round of 63. Never has anyone fared better.”

• “How to Bayern in 11 Steps,” Bill Connelly, SB Nation

Look, I don’t know a whole lot about the intricacies of soccer; trying to navigate the byzantine arrangements of clubs and leagues in Europe for me is like asking a European futbol fan to sort through the thicket that is the SEC. But this story makes me want to learn more, much more, about the German team Bayern, if nothing else because they seem to kick copious ass and everyone loves jumping on a front-runner’s bandwagon. This is a fine breakdown of the way to build a dynasty, interwoven with the kind of regional sense of place that I really appreciate.

“Creating light from darkness is a German specialty. In this country, you are never far from something beautiful, and you are never far from a reminder of how things can go terribly wrong. This is the obvious case with Munich itself — from atop war rubble, only a few miles from the concentration camp in Dachau, you watch over gorgeous views from every angle.”

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