Wednesday, August 28, 2013

NFL Season Primer: Why do I care so much?

The NFL season kicks off next week with the Broncos vs. the Ravens. Fans will remember that those two teams faced off in the playoffs last year. Everyone expected the Broncos to win, except for the Ravens, apparently. With 34 seconds left in the game, the Broncos led by a touchdown and the Ravens need to travel the length of the field to tie the game. Much to my dismay, the Broncos defense found themselves out of position and allowed a 70 yard score. In double overtime, our QB, widely considered one of the best to ever play the game, threw an interception and the Broncos lost. I was watching the game with friends in the basement and trying hard not to say something naughty in front of my children. It took a long time to get over that game. Who am I kidding? I am not over that game at all. Thinking about it makes me sick.

So my question is, why do I care so much? I am not on the team. I am not a coach. None of my relatives or friends play on the team. The players make more money than rocket scientists and brain surgeons to play a game. Most of them would also switch teams in a minute for more money or playing time. (See Dumervil, Elvis.) The following are some thoughts about why people like myself care so much about a game:
  • I moved to Denver from Guam when I was three years old and left Denver for college in Minnesota when I was 18. When I went off to college I did not plan to stay in Minnesota. I figured I'd get my degree and then move back to Colorado. Somewhere along the line I decided to stay in Minnesota, with a two year foray into Wisconsin in the late 90s. I think that part of my football fandom comes from wanting to keep my Colorado roots alive. Since I do not live in the place where I grew up, following the Broncos allows me to keep that connection. My parents and brother still live in Colorado and it is nice to talk with them about the games. People in Denver love the Broncos in a way that a lot of other sports towns do not and I guess that will always be a part of me.
  • People look for connections, things they have in common. I remember an airplane ride where the guy in the seat next to me complimented my Broncos hat. We talked for much of the flight about the Broncos, music, and our shared faith in Jesus. Football fans have an immediate connection and something to talk about. Often that starting point allows people to move on to deeper subjects.
  • Watching football is a great social activity. Unlike baseball, basketball, or hockey, there is only one game a week. In the previously mentioned sports, if a team loses, they will play again in a day or so and can make up for the loss. With football, every game matters and that makes it fun to watch with friends. The cheering, high fives, and groans of agony all create shared experience with friends or even people you just met.
  • I did not play organized football but I love to play a game of pickup football. Flag football, touch football, and snow football, I love them all. I am not all that good but I am better at football than basketball or baseball, two sports that I do not enjoy playing. When it comes to sports on TV, I like to watch either sports that I enjoy playing, ie Track and Field in the Olympics, or sports that amaze me, ie ski jumping in the Olympics. I can imagine catching a pass from Peyton Manning or kicking the winning field goal but I cannot imagine dunking over Michael Jordan or hitting a 90 mph fastball. I could be wrong, but I think most people think the same way.
Perhaps none of these reasons explain why I care so much about something that does not directly impact my life but perhaps some things just cannot be explained. Go Broncos!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

NFL Season Primer: Game Watching Etiquette

Watching football, specifically the NFL, can be a great social activity. You can talk to your friends, eat snacks, and yell at the TV. However, like everything else in life, it can be ruined when people do not follow the proper etiquette. Fortunately, you have me to guide you through this process.

I am a lifelong fan of the Denver Broncos, having grown up in Denver. Like many fans, I also have a second favorite team in the other conference, the Minnesota Vikings. Even as a kid, I liked the Vikings enough to be sad when they failed to advance to the Super Bowl after the 1988 season. I will cheer for those two teams with the Broncos trumping the Vikings when they play each other every four years. This background information is important as I set several scenarios for football watching etiquette.

Scenario #1: The 2013 season kicks off with the Broncos hosting the Ravens. If I host the game at my house, then the people coming to watch should cheer for the Broncos. The exception, of course, is if someone is a lifelong Ravens fan. They should feel free to cheer for their team but not be too obnoxious about it since they are at someone's house. As the host, as long as I am not being a jerk to the Ravens fan, am free to be as excited about the game as I want.

Scenario #2: I am invited to my friend Zach's house (difficult since he lives in Florida) to watch the Chiefs play the Chargers. Zach is a MO native and a lifelong Chiefs fan. I can't stand the Chiefs since they are a division rival but I also don't like the Chargers for the same reason. If either the Broncos or Vikings were playing the Chiefs I could feel free to cheer for those teams. Since they are not, I feel that I should rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. For the sake of my friend, I should cheer for his team to win. Even if it is the Chiefs. (Did I just write that?)

Scenario #3: The Raiders are playing. There is no scenario where I could cheer for the Raiders. Let's move on.

Scenario #4: I invited some friends to watch the Broncos vs. Raiders. One of them comes in and asks who everyone is cheering for. When we say the Broncos, he responds with "ok, I am going to cheer for the Raiders." That fan is the worst. Don't be that guy. He is not going to get another invitation to watch football.

The most important thing to remember in football watching etiquette is that friendship always trumps football. Except for Raider fans. Nobody is that good of a friend.

Two weeks before the start of the season! Go Broncos!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

My 5 essential Christian Metal albums

Heavy Metal music started in the 1970's when a few band started to experiment with heavier sounds and really hit it's peak in the 1980's. Metal bands were all over MTV, playing arenas, and selling millions of copies. All of that came to an abrupt halt when Nirvana released their Nevermind album in 1991. Metal became uncool almost overnight. Bands that played arenas suddenly had trouble filling a club and their albums stopped selling. They either had to change their sound, break up, or soldier on as best as they could. From that wonderful time period, I give you my five essential Christian albums.

Stryper - To Hell with the Devil. These guys were the first and biggest of the bunch. They did stuff no Christian metal band had ever done, like touring with mainstream bands and having their albums sold in large music stores. Their energetic live show, that included tossing Bibles out into the crowd, grew their fan base. To explain their cultural reach, even my stoner lab partner in 10th grade Biology class loved Stryper. To Hell with the Devil was their best selling album and probably the peak of their career. Their Against the Law album, which might have been their best album musically, came after Metal fell out of favor and did not sell well. The band broke up shortly after but reformed 10 years later and still tours today.

Mastedon - Lofcaudio. Mastedon was the brainchild of John and Dino Elephante, who are mostly known for their work with Kansas and as music producers. The band, which was mostly studio musicians and special guests, released two albums, It's a Jungle Out There and Lofcaudio. Both were brilliant. As far as I know, they only played one live show, at the Cornerstone music festival in 1991. Almost everyone that I knew who liked Christian Metal had those two albums in their collection.

Tourniquet - Psycho Surgery. This was Tourniquet's second album and probably their best. They combined heavy music with melodic vocals in a unique way while also having a lead singer that actually enunciated his words. In their lyrics they tackled social issues that a lot of other bands did not want to touch yet somehow managed to not come across as preachy or controversial. Ted, their amazing drummer, wrote intense medical terminology into many of the lyrics but did not come across as pretentious. The band has continued to make great music but none as good as can be found on Psycho Surgery.

Holy Soldier - Holy Soldier. The debut album from this Southern California band was amazing. Their live show, anchored by their incredible drummer and his solos, was so much fun. They followed their self titled album with Last Train, which was also excellent but they soon fell victim to the musical trends of the day. After touring to support Last Train, they disappeared for a couple of years. Without much warning, they burst back onto the scene with a new album, Promise Man, that was pretty much grunge. Somehow it was also awesome. Their original lead singer, Stephen, had moved on and he was replaced by Eric, who had filled in for Stephen on the band's first tour. A couple of years after Promise Man they released a live album featuring both lead singers on the same stage. That album also had new songs featuring each singer and a re-recorded version of a song from their first album with Pat Boone (yes, that Pat Boone) on lead vocals. It was a fitting end to the band's career.

Rage of Angels - Rage of Angels. This group recorded one album, promptly broke up, and saw the album sit on a shelf for two years before it was released and became a cult classic. When people like myself finally heard them for the first time, the band had been disbanded for years, and these songs were never played live after they were recorded. The story goes that only the lead singer of the band was a Christian and an outspoken uber conservative pastor decided that Rage of Angels was going to be the focal point of all his pious rage. The band broke up and two of the members joined Steelheart, leaving their fans to wonder what might have been.

Honorable Mention goes to Whitecross - In the Kingdom, Bloodgood - Out of the Darkness, and Guardian - Fire and Love. It was really hard to leave any of them off of this list.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

My five essential Christian rock albums from the 80's

I started high school in 1987, which means that the music that I listened to in those formative years will always be a part of me. The music I loved the most was rock and heavy metal. Metal will be covered in another post. I picked out five albums that I loved as my most essential rock albums from that time of my life. Everyone's list is different. Mine is biased toward the second half the decade since that it when I took the most interest in music. They are as follows:

Petra - Beat the System. This 1985 album was the last one to feature lead singer Greg X Volz. He would be replaced by John Schlitt, who still tours with Petra. The songs featured classic 80s keyboards, loud guitars, and Volz's amazing voice. This was probably the height of the bands popularity although they did continue make some great music in the late 80's and early 90's.

Amy Grant - Lead Me On. What? Amy Grant? I thought this was a list of rock albums, not pop music! Sadly, most people only know Amy Grant as a pop star but she made some genuinely great rock music in the 80's. I saw her perform the songs from Lead Me On live at Fiddler's Green in June of 1989 and it was one of the best concerts I have ever seen. It was loud and the crowd was totally into it. She followed up Lead Me On with Heart in Motion, which became a huge hit. Heart in Motion was a vastly inferior album to Lead Me On but it was pop music and sold a ton of albums. From that point on, all of her music followed the weak pop formula and everyone forgot that Amy Grant used to play actual rock music.

Michael W. Smith - The Big Picture. Now I know you think I am crazy. Bear with me. MWS first two albums were solid keyboard based 80s light rock. The Big Picture put more edge into the music than any MWS album before or after. The tour for this record was a rock show, much different from a current MWS concert. He followed up this album with Eye 2 Eye, which was also very good. Sadly, he followed the exact blueprint as Amy Grant at the same exact time. His next album, Go West Young Man, was nowhere near as good as the albums that preceded it but it still sold way more copies. He has followed the pop music formula with every album he has made since.

Steve Taylor - I Predict 1990. Steve Taylor entered the music scene in the early 80's and was known for his energetic live shows. His lyrics were deep and often he used satire and sarcasm to make his points, very different from the other Christian artists of the time. He made an EP and two full length albums before I Predict 1990, and while they were great, that album was easily his best work to that point. After touring, he formed a band called Chagall Gueverra, which broke up after one great album. He recorded one more album, Squint, in 1994, before he stopped performing and focused his energy on producing other bands and directing two feature length films.

WhiteHeart - Freedom. WhiteHeart was not poised for greatness before Freedom hit the shelves. The band had released five albums, but had already lost half of their founding members, and were on their 3rd lead singer. (Rick Florian was their roadie/bus driver when they let him audition for the gig.) The two albums before Freedom were not bad but they were not great either. Freedom is, in my humble opinion, a nearly perfect album. Deep lyrics, a great mix of hard and slow songs, and really great musicians made it an instant classic. WhiteHeart's live show was also amazing. They sounded so good live. After Freedom they would continue to make some great music but it was never as good as that album.

Feel free to comment and let me know what yours would be.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Tough Mudder

On Saturday, July 20th, I completed my first Tough Mudder. For those who do not know, the Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge. It is a 10-12 mile obstacle course that is best completed with a team. There are a few obstacles that cannot be completed alone. There were six of us that completed the course, including three guys I did not meet until that morning. We stuck together the entire way and I really enjoyed the experience.

Some of the obstacles were fairly easy, from climbing over a huge pile of hay bales to crawling through mud under barbed wire. A few required help from your team, including walls too high to get over alone and some very slippery mud hills that required a helping hand. I had a hard time with the monkey bars (I made it across but only barely) and the jump off of a platform into water. I was surprised by how hard it was for me to jump into the water. It was not very high but it took several minutes to get the courage to jump. The trails were incredibly uneven and hilly but that did not bother me much. Overall, I expected it to be harder. I guess my training paid off.

Here are a few tips for successfully training and completing for the Tough Mudder:
  • Train for endurance, not strength. It takes some strength to complete the TM but endurance will win the day. I followed the training plan for a half marathon, getting up to 12 or 13 miles on my long runs. that worked well for me.
  • Hills. Hills. Hills. Runs lots of hills to find success in the TM. I found a nice long hill about a mile and  half from my house and would run it pushing the double jog stroller. Usually it was Jackson and one twin along for the ride and they liked going fast. I tried to run it at least once a week in the three months leading up to the TM.
  • Run trails as often as possible. The TM course is uneven and it is good to be mentally prepared.
  • I wore sunglasses during the TM and came to regret that decision. A mile or so into the course you have to submerge yourself in ice water. My sunglasses got soaked and fogged up and I could not wear them for a while. Later the got covered in mud and I was afraid of losing them jumping into the deep water. A few people wore hats but I would not recommend it.
I don't have any pictures from the event right now. If I get any, I'll post them.

It was a great event and I cannot wait for next year. Tough Mudder!