Monthly Archives: July 2013

Tom’s Top 25, 2013 Edition

Arizona State v USC Nov 2012This year’s college football national champion will not be a team from the Big East conference.  That would never have been a bold prediction, but I feel particularly confident that I’ll be right come next January, since the Big East no longer exists.

Some version of that league will still compete in basketball, but for football it is now calling itself the American Athletic Conference.

Here’s another reason a Big East team won’t win the championship:  A team from the Southeastern Conference will.  That has been true for the past seven seasons; last year 5 of the top 9 schools in the final rankings were from the SEC, including national champ Alabama.

Some experts thought Ohio State might have a chance to break the SEC’s streak in 2013, but that was before some of the Buckeyes’ best players got into legal troubles.  Apparently they were trying to prove that they were NFL-level criminals, but the effect is that Coach Urban Meyer and his staff will be handcuffed by the loss of a couple of potential stars.

It looks like any one of several SEC teams could win the national championship this season, but for the sake of tradition, I’m going with Alabama.  Here are my predictions, some of which may surprise you.  Some of them will surprise me, too, if they turn out to be right.

1.  Alabama          National champion 3 of the past 4 seasons, the Crimson Tide had an outstanding recruiting year, too.

2.  Stanford         The Cardinal has the country’s best offensive line, and 10 starters return on defense.

3.  Georgia          Scoring won’t be a problem for the Bulldogs; they averaged almost 40 points per game last season.

4.  Ohio State          An undefeated season didn’t earn them a bowl game because of NCAA sanctions, but they should get a nice post-season trip this year.

5.  Boise State           Broncos went 11-2 a year ago and should be better this season.

6.  Oregon          Coach Chip Kelly escaped punishment be taking an NFL job, but NCAA sanctions are so light, the Ducks won’t be slowed down.

7.  Texas A&M          QB Johnny Manziel and the Aggies play Alabama at home on September 14.  The winner could be headed to the national championship.

8.  South Carolina          The Gamecocks have an outstanding defense, featuring lineman Jadeveon Clowney.  He hits so hard, you feel the impact while you’re watching on TV.

9.  Florida State          This might be a stretch, but the Seminoles have a lot of talent.  A lot.

10.  Louisville       The Cardinals will only be the champion of the American Athletic Conference in its inaugural season.  Next year Louisville jumps to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

11.  Clemson       We’ll find out early how good the Tigers are.  Clemson’s opener is against Georgia.

12.  Nebraska          The Cornhuskers have won at least 10 games in each of the last 5 seasons.

13.  Notre Dame          Starting QB Everett Golson is academically ineligible and one of his backups had previously transferred out.   Even so, this team is capable of a 10-win season.

14.  Michigan          The toughest matchups — Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State — will all be played in Ann Arbor.

15.  Florida          Gators’ defense is solid; do they have anybody who can play pitch-and-catch?

16.  Texas          Nineteen starters return; unfortunately, that includes members of a defense that had trouble making stops.

17.  UCLA          The Bruins have added an outstanding recruiting class to the foundation laid last year.

18.  Michigan State          Last year the Spartans lost 5 games by 4 points or fewer, finishing 7-6.  If they can change their luck in a couple or 3 games…

19.  Kansas State          Key players (like QB Collin Klein) have departed, but Coach Bill Snyder’s system works.

20.  Oklahoma          The Sooners struggled to stop the run; they were 89th nationally last year and problems remain on the D-line.

21. LSU          Major personnel losses are a challenge for the Tigers, and so is a tough schedule.

22.   Northwestern           Ten wins were a surprise a year ago, and the Wildcats may not get that many in 2013.  They have a lot of talent returning, though.

23.  TCU           The defense, led by All-American CB Jason Verrett, should help erase memories of a disappointing 2012 season.

24.  Baylor          This may be expecting too much from the Bears, but this team’s passing game sure is fun to watch.

25.  Miami (FL)          Coming off their self-imposed postseason ban, the Hurricanes are looking to prove themselves worthy of a late-December game.

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The Surprise Duck

Sally thinks this might be the worst picture of her that has ever been taken, but she loves it.

Sally thinks this might be the worst picture of her that has ever been taken, but she loves it.

Every family tradition begins with a single incident.  It may have occurred so long ago that no one in your family can remember why, but there was a first time that someone thought it was a great idea for everyone to jump in the frozen lake on January 1st.  And it was so darn enjoyable that first time, your clan has kept it going.

My wife and daughter aren’t entirely sure how their tradition began, but I’ve been watching it happen for many years now.  It probably started with Jen (our daughter) getting a little rubber ducky as one of her Christmas gifts, back when her age was in single digits.

Sally (my wife; Jen’s mother) thinks perhaps she was gently reminding Jen to pick up her room one day, so she put the duck on the bed or some other conspicuous place.

The response from Jen may have been to hide the duck in her mother’s purse; historians aren’t sure.  However it started, a tradition was born and those two have been surprising each other with toy ducks ever since.

In the early years of the tradition, the duck hiding places were fairly simple.  One would be found in a closet, for instance, having been tucked away in a winter boot since the previous summer.  Over time, the schemes became more elaborate.  When Jen went off to college, a rubber duck was lurking in her belongings when she got to her dorm and unpacked.

Sally and I once checked into a hotel and found a duck on the pillow in our room.  Jen had somehow persuaded the hotel staff to place it there before we arrived.

In a fancy restaurant one night, the servers brought our meals from the kitchen and presented them.  As the cloches were removed with a flourish, voila! — all that was on Jen’s plate was a rubber ducky.  One suspects that Sally may have conspired with the maître d’.

At the wedding of our son Brian, Sally and I came down the aisle with him.  At the appropriate moment, we each gave him a hug and then turned to be seated.  Somehow a duck had found its way onto Sally’s chair.

The ultimate surprise duck happened a year ago today — July 20, 2012.  Jen was in a hospital for major surgery — specifically, she was donating a kidney to her husband.

The day had begun very early; Jen had to be in pre-op at 5:30 a.m.  We got her to the hospital and began the long wait.  We knew she had an outstanding surgical team and were confident all would go well, but still — you can’t help being a little tense.

Hours went by and finally the surgeon, Dr. Peter Kennealey, came out and gave us the good news we had been waiting to hear.  And — you’re way ahead of me, aren’t you? — he also gave Sally a rubber ducky from Jen (see photo).

Personally, I think Jen and Sally should retire the tradition, because I don’t see how a surgeon handing over a duck he supposedly found inside a patient can ever be topped.  But my guess is that those two will somehow manage to keep this silly tradition going.

By the way, that particular duck now has a place of honor in our home (I’m not allowed to divulge its whereabouts).  And I’m happy to say that the donor and recipient — of not only the duck, but more importantly, the kidney — are thriving.

Between an Ocean and a Sea

Trunk Bay, St. John -- U.S. Virgin Islands

Trunk Bay, St. John — U.S. Virgin Islands

Shirley was a cheerfully vulgar woman in her mid-50s who, several decades ago, had an office near mine.  She always spoke at high volume, so I wasn’t eavesdropping when I heard her tell someone on the phone, “I’m going to the Virgin Islands… to get recycled.”

That was the first time I ever heard of the Virgin Islands, and it was many years later that I went there — with no expectation of a transformative effect, by the way.  The attraction for us was the clear, warm water and beautiful beaches that are characteristic of the Caribbean Sea.  In fact, the Virgin Islands form part of the border between the Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean.

Christopher Columbus had discovered this particular chain of islands on his second voyage in 1493, naming them “The Islands of St. Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins”.  That was based on a legend of early Christian martyrs, but the name proved to be cumbersome for mapmakers, and also exaggerated the number of islands.

There are only a handful that are inhabited, three of which — St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John — are the principal U.S. Virgin Islands.  Incidentally, it might be the only American territory where cars are intentionally driven on the left-hand side of the road.  (This is in contrast to major American cities, where cars are driven on all parts of the road, especially at rush hour.)

Just to the northeast of the U.S.V.I. are the British Virgin Islands, consisting primarily of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke.

St. Thomas gets a lot of cruise ship traffic in its main town, Charlotte Amalie, but there are many tranquil spots elsewhere on the island, like Magens Bay.  It is often cited as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and not just by the local tourism board.  A long curved stretch of white sand facing the Atlantic, it is fringed with palm trees and looks very much like those postcards of tropical beaches that you’ve seen.

The snorkeling isn’t sensational at Magen’s Bay, but it’s excellent at Buck Island (off St. Croix) and Trunk Bay (St. John).  Both have a nice feature for beginners:  underwater trail markers that identify fish and coral found there.  There is also good snorkeling on Virgin Gorda at a spot called the Baths, where giant boulders on the beach form caves in which shy fish try to hide.

Ferries run regularly between the U.S.V.I. and the B.V.I.  It’s a fairly short trip, but on the day we crossed from St. Thomas to Virgin Gorda on the “Bomba Charger”, the waters were a little choppy.  A few passengers started to feel queasy.

One of the crew members produced a bottle of green liquid and asked if anyone wanted “seasick medicine”.  For those who took him up on the offer, he poured a little of the potion on a paper towel and told them to sniff it.  Before long, the afflicted passengers claimed to be feeling better.

After we landed and the others had disembarked, I sidled up to the crew member and said that I’d been on a lot of boats, but had never encountered this miracle seasickness medication before.  He just grinned.  “What is it?” I persisted.  He looked around to make sure no one could overhear us, and then confided, “Aftershave.”

Hey, whatever works, huh?  And for all I know, maybe someone in the Virgin Islands had something that “cured” my co-worker Shirley, too.