I recently had occasion to spend a night in Ardmore. Over the years, I’ve stayed several times at the Microtel there. I generally like it because it’s cheap and plenty nice enough for my meager needs. The room is tiny, which is why it’s called “Micro”tel, but all I do there is sleep and maybe read a book for 30 minutes. I don’t need a minibar. It’s far too small for my family of 6 but when it’s just me crashing for a few hours between poker stops, it’s fine.
Except the other night. That was not fine.
It started as soon as I walked in, when they couldn’t get me checked in properly. I use hotels.com so it’s not unusual for something to go wrong. Normally it wouldn’t even annoy me but on this particular night it was already after midnight when I was checking in and there were only about five cars in the parking lot. That, combined with the fact that the rate was the lowest I’ve ever paid there, led me to believe they had lots of open rooms. The lady could see that I had a reservation but for whatever reason couldn’t click on whatever she needed to in order to get from there to handing me a room key. I was dead tired after an 11-hour day of poker and driving so I just wanted to crash. The only good news was that she easily agreed to my request for a noon checkout.
Finally she gives me a key and a room number. I take the stairs to the room. Normally, this would be the part where I tell you that my key doesn’t work and I have to walk back down the stairs. This has happened to me before at this very establishment, but on this night the key worked fine and I entered the room. Notice I didn’t say “my” room, because it was somebody else’s. Thankfully there was nobody in the room or else I would probably either be dead or in therapy right now. I can report that the occupant in this room had done a very poor job of consuming popcorn in bed. There was popcorn everywhere. Like, an impossible amount of uneaten popcorn.
If it weren’t for the popcorn, I might have just gone to bed and rolled the dice on who might be joining me in a few hours. But no. The lady gave me a new key to a new room. It worked and the room was popcorn free.
Notice I didn’t say “smoke free.” Actually, at the time I entered the room was smoke free. I tossed the “do not disturb” sign on my door, tossed my bag on the floor and was asleep in a matter of minutes. But it didn’t stay smoke free for long. I was awakened by a massive fire, had to throw a chair through my second-story window and leap to the ground in my skivvies.
OK, that didn’t happen. But it’s possible I was dreaming about something like that when I actually was awakened by the smell of smoke. This, however, was not the kind of smoke you smell when your building is on fire. Unless your building was lit on fire with 150 pounds of marijuana.
My neighbor apparently liked to smoke at 4:20 a.m. as well as 4:20 p.m. I didn’t know that was a thing, but it didn’t bother me too much. I went back to sleep.
A couple of hours later, I was again awakened, this time by the Microtel manager banging on my neighbor’s door. They got into a bit of a shouting match about the smoke, which ended with the manager saying, “I’m charging you for a smoking room!!” That kind of made me chuckle but I still wasn’t thrilled about being awake at 6 a.m.
I managed to go back to sleep until 10:30, when housekeeping knocked on my door. They paid no heed to my “do not disturb” sign. I yelled that I was still in there and tried to go back to sleep.
This proved to be unsatisfactory to the housekeeping crew at the Microtel. They knocked on my door again 10 minutes later. I yelled that I had a noon checkout. Five minutes after that, the phone in my room rang. The lady asked if I would like to purchase an additional evening of elegance at the Microtel. It wasn’t even 11 a.m. yet, the standard checkout time.
Since I prefer snarkiness to pure confrontation, I calmly informed her that while I appreciated the free secondhand pot and the multiple interruptions to my sleep, I could not afford a second night of such luxurious bliss. I told her I had been granted a Noon checkout and promised I would vacate their hallowed premises by such time.
If I had had 150 pounds of pot in my car, I would have spread it around that piece of crap and set it on fire.
Personally, Christmas isn’t my favorite time of year. Too many commitments, too much mayhem, too many pine needles. And in our family it’s always a little extra hectic because Addison’s birthday is the day after Christmas. But it is truly priceless to see the innocent joy on your kids’ faces when they are completely overjoyed, and Christmas produces a lot of those moments.
Our main present to the kids this year was the announcement that we are taking them to Disney World in May. Missy put together a cool scavenger hunt that helped them piece together the clues. They were even more excited than I anticipated, although Maddux is already scared of the airplane and Hawk seemed to think we were leaving immediately.
We always try to make Addie’s birthday a completely separate event from Christmas. This year we pretty much let her dictate how we spent the whole day. She chose a “girls only” visit to the movies for Frozen 2, which made me very sad — NOT. Then we drove all the way to Lawton for her favorite restaurant, the hibachi place Kudo. It was great as always.
A couple days after that, we watched OU get embarrassed by LSU. Of course, you want to see it be more competitive than that, but we knew this Sooner squad was outmanned even before the suspensions and injuries. That’s why, a couple blogs ago, I wrote that my dream scenario was for OU to win out in the regular season but miss the playoff so they had a chance to win a major bowl game.
Honestly, they probably weren’t going to beat Georgia or whoever else they might have played in one of those things so I guess they might as well be able to say they made the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. It’s an impressive accomplishment no matter what the haters say. The program is in great shape. Let’s cool the jets on all this negative talk.
As I look back on 2019, my personal highlights were getting to see the Cubs play in three different states (Spring Training in Arizona with Chad, in Texas with James and in Chicago with Randy). Turning 40 was also kind of a big deal, and I got to celebrate that in a big way with my friends here and also in Mexico with my beautiful wife Missy.
Now we’re visiting Missy’s sister just outside of Austin, Texas. This is where we were exactly a year ago, and I’m sitting in the same room where I wrote my first blog on this new platform. My New Year’s resolution for 2019 was to get back into writing by doing one blog per week. Mission accomplished! I’ve truly enjoyed it and will keep up the blog.
However, I am planning to scale back just a bit. Sometimes I felt like I had to throw something together just to meet my goal and it wasn’t always my best work. Also, I basically abandoned my guitar for the year and I’d like to get back into that. So my goal for 2020 is to do at least two blogs every month and also play guitar at least twice a month. I also have work and personal financial goals I’ll be striving for this year.
I want to give a heartfelt thank you to everyone who gave me feedback on any of the blogs I wrote this year. I don’t think I could have stayed with my goal if not for you. The encouragement was very encouraging (yes, I’m quite the wordsmith).
When I take stock of my life, I can’t believe how much cool stuff I’ve been able to do. That pales in comparison with the quality of people I get to call my family and friends. Y’all are the best. Have a Happy New Year. See you on the other side.
In the month of December, our household gets eight pieces of mail per day. Four are Christmas presents Missy ordered on Amazon, and four are letters from nonprofits soliciting donations.
Some of these places we’ve never even donated to. But it’s the end of the year, which means not only Christmas but also end-of-year tax deduction season.
Seems like an appropriate time to share our family’s thoughts and actions on charitable giving.
I grew up in a family that always stressed giving back to God. Every Sunday, I watched my parents put a check into the offering plate. A mailman and a schoolteacher with three kids, we were the definition of a middle class family in the 1980s and 1990s. We had everything we could ever need but not much more, so I understood the sacrifice my parents made by giving up 10% of their income every week. They didn’t view it as a sacrifice, however. They just saw it as being obedient to God.
So when I got my first jobs as a 16-year-old, writing for the local newspaper and bagging groceries at the old Buchanan’s, I immediately got in the habit of tithing that 10% from every paycheck.
I’m proud to say that I’ve maintained that habit for the past 25 years, although my reasons for doing so and the places that the money goes to have changed quite a bit over that time.
For years, I just gave the 10% to my local church, be it in Oklahoma City or Lawton once I moved there. It’s a habit that the church writ large does a relentless job in helping form.
I don’t want to make this post into a theological debate, and I don’t want to dump onto an institution that on the whole has done great things and helped countless people both in a spiritual and physical sense.
To put it simply, many churches (including the one we currently attend) believe that the Bible instructs its followers to give 10% to their local church. I used to share this but no longer do. You have to jump through some Biblical hoops to come to this belief, and I’d be happy to discuss it with anyone who wants to but don’t want to get into it here.
In a recent sermon at Draper Park Christian Church, my friend Clay Atchley did a great job of showing how Jesus and his disciples embodied the spirit of giving in a more extreme but less formulaic manner. The early church essentially gave everything to everyone. Instead of setting aside 10% of your pre-tax carpenter’s paycheck, you literally opened your home up to anyone who needed a place to stay or a meal to eat, even if it left you with nothing.
I also believe in helping others from a social/political standpoint. I want less government in my life. Less taxes. But we as a society have to take care of the less fortunate people who can’t take care of themselves. That means everyone who can needs to chip in so we can keep the government out of it. And yeah, we take the tax deductions when we donate.
Over time, I have been moved to give less and less money to the actual church and more and more to a variety of people and organizations. I should point out that thankfully Missy and I are in lockstep on this so it hasn’t been a source of friction.
Despite my changing views, the amount we give is essentially the same. But where I used to view 10% as a Biblical amount needed to be obedient to God, I now just view it as a good number that allows us to make a difference.
Because of poker, our monthly income fluctuates quite a bit. At the end of the month, we sit down and decide what to do with that 10%. Usually one or both of us has something on our heart so that’s what we’ll do.
About once per year, that 10% does go back to our church. I believe our church does a lot of great things for people.
Many times, our 10% doesn’t involve an official organization. If some of our family or friends is in a time of need, we will help. It’s this kind of thing that I believe embodies what Jesus and his disciples were trying to communicate.
I don’t write any of this to make us seem like great people. Missy is great. I hate myself a pretty high percentage of the time — doing our monthly donations is one of the times I don’t.
I’d also love to learn about new places or causes to donate to. What moves your heart to action? Put them in the comments so we can learn more.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Tax Deduction Season to you all.
The group of guys I play basketball with are all around my age. Today, however, I got stuck trying to guard a homeschooled high school kid who was quite a bit quicker than I was. He was also in better shape, which he exploited by running me all over the court. At the end, while I was huffing and puffing, I told him, “Don’t turn 40, kid.” He said, “I got 24 years before that happens!”
If you’re reading this, Enrique, you’re a punk. (Just kidding). Enrique said he went to Westmoore earlier this year before he switched to home schooling. That got me thinking about what I was doing when I was his age, being a smart aleck like Enrique while attending WHS.
I was a pretty quiet kid at Westmoore. Tried not to be noticed. Mainly just hung out in the newspaper room or with Kevin and Chad. But this one particular incident put me in the spotlight for 15 minutes. I wrote about it on my old blog a few years back but figured it was worth a re-run.
I’ve pretty much been doing journalism my whole life. My first job, when I was 16, was doing sports stories for the old Moore American newspaper. It was a free weekly paper that was choc full of errors and probably not worth lining your bird cage with, but they paid me $10/hour and it was a pretty good experience for an aspiring sportswriter. When I was 17, based on my clear mastery of the English language and complete grasp of the Westmoore High School sports universe, I got hired to do public address announcing for junior high and junior varsity football games in Moore. It was a fun job, and I was basically just flying by the seat of my pants. It’s not like they gave me any training or instruction whatsoever. They just handed me a mic and told me to announce the down, distance, and whatever happened on the previous play. Sometimes my friend Kevin would go to the games with me and help me spot who made the tackle and what yard-line the ball was on, etc. The first few weeks I tried to be professional and whatnot, but a junior high game we did one night changed everything. As always, we went down on the field before the game to get the rosters for both teams. Well, this night, one coach said, “I didn’t bring one. Just make up the names. I don’t care.” Of course, Kev and I went to town. We made up names for everyone on the team and used them over the PA throughout the game. We used a wide array of names, from celebrities (this was the 1990s, so I think Vanilla Ice was playing QB), to NFL players (Barry Sanders at RB), to the classic adolescent laugh-getters (starting at receiver, Ceymour Butts). Nobody complained, and it was a heckuva a lot more fun than doing the job right. My favorite games to work were the Westmoore JV games, because I was a junior at Westmoore and the team consisted of all my friends. Also, we had a really good JV football team which I think went undefeated. One night, I was doing a JV game and we were beating the tar out of another hapless foe. I started taking a few liberties with the mic.
“That’s yet another touchdown for the mighty Jaguars.”
“Matt Fallwell slices through the defense like they’re not even there.”
“Incomplete pass for Del City. What a shame.” And so forth.
Late in the game, we scored to make it 49-0. This touchdown was punctuated by another obnoxious call from the PA announcer. On the ensuing kickoff, Del City returned it for a touchdown but there was a penalty which negated the score. This was the call from the booth. “Ohhhhh! The 15 Del City fans still in attendance are in a state of shock as their only chance to score has been wiped out by an illegal block in the back.” Then the ref threw another flag. I said, “It looks like there’s another penalty on the play,” and the ref starts pointing up at the press box, right at me actually. He signaled unsportsmanlike conduct on us and marked off 15 yards. I got a penalty from the press box! On cue, one of our principals stormed into the booth and literally ripped the microphone plug from the wall, leaving me holding the useless stub. I was a little relieved to see our coaches in the next booth cracking up. Fortunately, all my friends on the football team thought it was hilarious too. I was worried they might not be too pleased that a guy who never played a down of football in his life cost them 15 yards, but I guess the 49-0 score mitigated that. To this day, I like to think that I’m the only person who’s ever gotten a penalty from the press box in a sport I never played. Somehow, my shenanigans didn’t even end up costing me my job. I got lectured in the principal’s office at school the next day and forced to sit in the booth at a varsity game so I could learn from the old fart who did the PA at those. (Bo-ring!) I cleaned up my act after that, but it wasn’t nearly as much fun.
This week I’m bouncing from topic to topic like they’re side dishes at Thanksgiving. My transition game is going to be on fleek. (Gotta be honest, never understood that phrase).
Since my title is “Side Dishes,” I may as well start with Thanksgiving. I ate a lot of food, but the hardest thing to digest was the new Martin Scorcese movie, The Irishman. Missy and I watched an hour per night for three straight nights. I enjoyed the movie, especially Joe Pesci and Al Pacino, but three and a half hours is way too long. I would never sit in a theater for a movie that long.
My opinion on the movie echoes most of what I’ve seen online and heard on podcasts. The CGI stuff trying to make Robert DeNiro look like he’s 30 was a stretch, and they needed to trim at least 45 minutes off of it.
The main reason I mention The Irishman is that it once again proves how different my movie taste is from Missy’s. She likes about 90% of movies that she sees while I like about 10%. Yet somehow my 10% is the 10% she doesn’t like.
The most glaring example of this is another Scorcese film, The Departed. Missy and I saw it in the theater when it came out, and when it was over the first thing I said was, “That’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.” She said, “That’s one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.”
The main reason our tastes differ is that Missy prefers her movies have a happy ending, like 90% of movies do. Personally I find those movies boring and predictable, which is part of why I loved The Departed. I think Missy was actually enjoying the movie up until the elevator scene at the end, which was my favorite part.
Speaking of elevators, I feel compelled to point out some incredibly stupid yet all-too-common human behavior involving elevators. I stayed one night in a hotel this week and watched this same event take place on two separate occasions.
I was on the seventh floor. The first time I went down from my room to the lobby, the elevator stopped on the third floor. A guy walks in, holds his finger out like E.T. and spends a few seconds hovering over the “lobby” button before realizing it’s already been hit.
By me. Obviously.
I mean, where the hell do you think I’m going? Just gonna go cruise the second floor and see what’s going on…
In some fancy places, I suppose there could be a gym or a restaurant on a different floor. This wasn’t one of those places so there’s no excuse. Even still, the default response to stepping on an occupied elevator going down is to assume that the lobby button has been pressed. Just stay cool, glance to confirm, and look at your phone to avoid human interaction like a normal person. I’m not saying you can’t look at the buttons, but 999 times out of a thousand when other non-employee humans are on the elevator it’s going to the lobby.
I thought E.T. guy was baffling until I encountered the lady from my second elevator voyage. I was checking out and had my bag with me, She was already on the elevator when I got in and she asked me where I was headed. I said, “Oklahoma City.” She said, “Oh. But what floor are you getting off on?” I said, “The lobby.” She said, “Oh, ok! Me too!” I wanted to ask her in which direction the sun came up this morning but figured she had a 75% chance of failing that test. I hate to be mean to a nice person like her but I don’t mind being mean to someone that stupid.
Speaking of elevators, the Oklahoma Sooners are on one that’s headed for the College Football playoff. (A bit of a stretch there but I’m committed to this transition bit.) A few weeks back I wrote about how flawed this year’s team is. I thought they’d lose another game before the postseason, be it against Oklahoma State or in the Big 12 title game against Baylor. Those flaws were on display again today as back-to-back turnovers let Baylor back into it, and back-to-back defensive breakdowns in the fourth quarter darn near lost the game.
But you have to give credit to these Sooners. Other than those two lapses, the defense was amazing today. Has been since that bad first half against Baylor a few weeks ago. And OU overcame those turnovers on offense as well as injuries to a few key players like starting running back Kennedy Brooks.
Before I keep talking about OU, I have to give props to Baylor. What an amazing job Matt Ruhle has done in just three years there. From 1-11 to 11-1. The Bears were clearly the best team OU played this season despite talent that doesn’t seem to be anything above average by Big 12 standards.
Unfortunately, the three teams that will be joining OU in the playoff have quite a bit more talent than Baylor. And a fair amount more than the Sooners themselves.
If you’re halfway realistic, you have to know this. OU will be a double-digit underdog in the semifinal. If it happens to win that game, it will be a double-digit underdog in the championship game. Doesn’t matter how these teams are seeded. So it’s stupid to even start down the “OU always chokes in the playoffs” road. It’s like saying Kansas always chokes against OU. No, Kansas loses to OU because its team isn’t nearly as good, and OU loses playoff games because it plays against better teams.
Having said that, OU should have beaten Georgia in the semifinal two years back. Georgia was the higher-seeded team but OU had them on the ropes and failed to deliver the knockout blow. Still, if those teams played 10 times Georgia probably wins 6 of them. It certainly wasn’t a terrible loss, it was just frustrating because OU had a legitimate chance to win a national title with that squad and didn’t do it. Last year’s game isn’t even worth discussing. OU’s defense was terrible and Alabama blew them off the field. At least the Sooners played hard till the end and made the final score look respectable.
OU’s path to improbable playoff success hinges on two things, one of which seems achievable. The Sooners need to control the clock and shorten the game. That’s what you do when you have less talent than your opponent. Under Lincoln Riley, the Sooners have been good at sealing victories in the second half by running the ball and draining the clock. This time they’ll need to do it the whole game to take away a couple of possessions. This will be even more important in what’s called the “middle eight.” That’s the last four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half. Riley needs to manipulate the clock to have the last possession of the first half, ideally culminating in a score. Then you either get the second half kickoff, drain more clock and score again or get a defensive stop and repeat the process. Clearly, it’s easier said than done. But it’s an important part of pulling off an upset. Throws off the favorite’s timing by making their offense sit on the bench for the better part of an hour and gets them a little anxious. Baylor actually did half of it today, scoring at the end of the half to take a 13-10 lead and getting the second half kickoff. But this was before Ruhle subbed out the crappy backup QB for the amazing third-string QB so Baylor had to punt.
The other thing OU will have to do is win the turnover margin. This seems like more of a longshot. The Sooners have gotten away with turnovers by having way more talent than anyone on the schedule, but those days are over. Jalen Hurts will have to value the football. And a defense that has been very solid will have to do even better by forcing a turnover or two. It’s no fluke that OU’s turnover margin sucks. Just look at how many times Hurts doesn’t know he’s about to be hit or throws it right to a defender. Then look at how many times those things happen when OU’s defense is on the field.
No matter how much Alex Grinch preaches turnovers, they haven’t exactly flowed freely. And I’m not really knocking Hurts, he’s been excellent overall. It’s just that anyone who won’t win a Heisman seems like a disappointment after the past several years. Nevertheless, the turnover thing has to change if OU wants to snap its playoff losing streak.
Will the media be singing Sooner praises when this season is over? Only time will tell, but today my daughter sang baby Jesus praises as part of the Canterbury Youth Voices choir.
Hold on, I have to clear room on my mantle for the Pulitzer after that transition.
Addie had her Christmas choir performance today and she was amazing. This led to a full day, and a full belly for yours truly. You see, Addie had two performances today. I took my car and brought Addie early when she had to be there to warm up. Then Missy, my mom and the kids met me up there for the first concert. We were all very hungry so afterwards we went to Tucker’s. I ate a lot. Then Missy, mom and the kids went home while I waited for Addie’s second performance to end.
Naturally, Addie was then hungry. And I wanted to reward her for doing great. She wanted her favorite restaurant, Olive Garden. I was not hungry at all but what are you going to do when those breadsticks show up? The waiter also gave me a bowl of soup even though I didn’t order an entree. So I ate that too. Then he brought a free dessert because we were there celebrating. Also, I’m sure he wanted a bigger tip, which he received. So naturally I had to sample the dessert to make sure it wasn’t poisonous. I feel like I’m going to burst.
Kind of like I’m bursting with pride at these Hall of Fame transitions…
Thanksgiving was amazing. July 4 is my favorite holiday but Thanksgiving is a close second. The last couple of years I’ve spent more time in the kitchen and have enjoyed spending that quality time with Missy and whichever kids happen to be in the mood to help cook at a given moment.
We made so much good food (sweet potatoes are always my favorite) and I carry no guilt for overeating for a few days. On Wednesday we ate at my mom’s with Andrew’s family, then on Thursday we hosted Missy’s family at our house. We still have leftovers and they’re still delicious.
This year my overeating started early, as Missy and I went to an all-inclusive resort in Playa Mujeres last weekend to celebrate my 40th birthday.
It was the perfect trip for us at this time in our lives. Both grandmas stepped up to help with babysitting and we were able to go for four days. It was so refreshing to just be able to relax and enjoy both the beach and each other’s company. I feel like much of our marriage at this point has been reduced to being co-managers of the family, making sure kids get to practices, get homework done, and act halfway decent. This trip allowed us to go back to “dating” mode, talk about ourselves, laugh and relax. The food and atmosphere were great. For anyone who is interested, here’s a link to the place we stayed.
Part of our package included an hour of something called “hydrotherapy” at the spa. I’d never heard of it before, and after 10 minutes I was convinced that the whole thing was a prank. As the name suggests, the concept involves using water of differing temperatures and pressures.
The first thing they had us do was go into a steam room for five minutes. The steam was so thick you could barely see, and the temperature was so hot that I was having a hard time breathing. I almost gave up and just busted out of the thing, but we survived for the requisite five minutes before moving on to the next room.
There, we stood in a small shower-like cubicle and our guide told us to pull on a rope that dangled down. It was attached to a huge bucket hanging from the ceiling. We pulled on it and freezing water poured out of the bucket and onto our heads. It was at this point that I started looking for the hidden cameras. I was convinced that there were a room full of employees somewhere on the property watching us and laughing. I could hear one of them saying, “I can’t believe these stupid Americans will actually pay us to dump cold water on their own heads!”
From there we moved to a different shower which had sprayers pointing in every which direction firing water at different temperatures all over our bodies. That was a trip too. After that, thankfully, the experience was much more normal and actually very relaxing. I have to say I’d do it again if we ever go back.
Life can easily be viewed through the lenses of investment and expectation.
Usually, those are correlating figures. The more we invest, the more we expect. If I pay $200 for a 1982 Honda off Craigslist, I won’t be surprised or terribly disappointed when it doesn’t start in two weeks.
If I had gone to an inferior restaurant that didn’t take reservations, I wouldn’t have been surprised to have to wait an hour for a table on a Saturday night. I probably would have gladly bought a beer and waited at the bar. Instead, the house gave me free beer and I was still unhappy because my expectations were not met.
In poker, when you miss a draw and end up with bubkes, you might be a little disappointed. But losing a pot of the exact same size when you have a full house and your opponent makes four of a kind stings worse because you expected to win the pot.
The same applies to our sports fandom, and after this weekend’s games it seemed like a good time to look further into this truism.
On Friday, the Thunder beat Philadelphia in overtime to improve to 5-7 on the season (this is being written before the Monday/Tuesday games vs the Clippers and Lakers). Had this exact game been played last season, OKC fans would have been something between relieved and annoyed. In fact, last season the team started 0-4 and you’d have thought the Devon Tower was collapsing, the way people talked around here.
This year, different story. Russell Westbrook and Paul George are gone, and with them went the expectations that this team could make a playoff run. Now we can just enjoy Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and look for the pieces that might surround him when OKC returns to national relevance.
The win against Philly was cool and unexpected because the Sixers are legit title contenders and OKC simply outplayed them.
This current version of the Thunder is a little weird. Three of their top players — SGA, Chris Paul and Dennis Schroeder, all have similar builds and similar games. The team’s top shooter, Danilo Gallinari, will surely be traded to a contender sometime before February.
This team isn’t going to win a ton of games, especially in a loaded Western Conference. But it’s proven it can beat a top-level team when it plays its A game. That and the youthful energy that’s been lacking in OKC over the last several years make it a team worth watching, even if you have to turn off the TV in the third quarter of a blowout loss once every few games.
The last two Thunder seasons have been frustrating as all getout. Games that should have been won were lost. Playoff runs that should have been long ended in the first round, and those series weren’t all that competitive. If this year’s team gets knocked out in five or six games in the first round, we’ll be thrilled. It’s all about expectations.
One more Thunder/expectation note: Chris Paul has been a little disappointing. Not that he isn’t a solid player, but I expected more out of him than he’s produced so far. I enjoy watching the savvy veteran moves he produces and he rarely makes mistakes, but he can also go fairly significant stretches without making any impact on the game whatsoever. If he were, say, D.J. Augustin making the veteran minimum salary, I’d be thrilled. But for $40 million a year I expect a little more. Just sayin’.
This season of OU football has been all about managing expectations. I bought into the Alex Grinch hype, at least a little bit. Things had to get somewhat better on defense, right? And sure, the offense is going to take a small step back without a Heisman winner running it, but with Jalen Hurts you figured you’d get a steady hand who wouldn’t lose the game for you. I thought the Sooners had a pretty good chance to be a playoff team.
For a couple of months, they stayed on that path. The competition was weak, but that wasn’t their fault and they blew the doors off of everyone. Hurts looked great.
Then came Texas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Baylor. Yes, OU ended up winning three of those games. But the Sooners have pretty convincingly shown that they aren’t a playoff-caliber team.
And that’s fine. We just need to lower our expectations.
The Big 12 is a solid league this year, but there aren’t any great teams in it. West Virginia and Kansas are clearly at the bottom of the heap, but everyone else is capable of beating everyone else. A playoff-level team like OU’s last two iterations wouldn’t be playing four coin-flip games in a row against decent but not great competition.
I’m not making any long-term judgments on Grinch at this point, but it’s clear that he can’t do anything significantly better than Mike Stoops with the exact same guys on the field. Hopefully he can when he gets better talent on the roster, but the talent isn’t changing this season.
It’s also clear that Hurts doesn’t protect the ball the same way that Mayfield and Murray did. OU also clearly misses having Hollywood Brown and a loaded offensive line. It’s still an excellent unit that can score any time, but it’s not on the unstoppable level of the last few years.
If you put this OU squad in roughly the same basket as the top six teams in the conference, it’s been a great season. Nothing wrong with 9-1 and almost assuredly being the favorite in yet another Big 12 title game come December.
The Baylor game this weekend was a good example of both ends of the expectation meter. You went in hoping the Sooners could revert to their September form and show the world they were in fact national championship contenders. Those crappy halves against K-State and Iowa State were just flukes.
Any ideas like that vanished somewhere between when Hurts just laid the ball on the ground and when Baylor’s mediocre offense waltzed into the end zone for the fourth time in a quarter and a half.
When it looks like your team is going to lose 52-21, you just hope they fight back and make it respectable. When everything breaks right and you pull off the greatest comeback in school history, that’s pretty cool.
Entering the game, most OU fans would not have been thrilled if you told them the final score would be 34-31. The way it played out, everyone was happy.
Yes, I understand that technically OU is still alive for the playoff. I wouldn’t be shocked if everything breaks right and the Sooners get in. We’ve seen it several times in the recent past. But this team probably has at least one more loss left in it, and if it gets to the playoff it’s not going to be a pretty sight. Personally, I hope the Sooners run the table, continue their dominance of the Big 12 and then face Alabama in a non-playoff New Year’s Day bowl. That’s a game they can win, and it would be cool to see the Hurts v. Bama thing.
A college football expectation segment wouldn’t be complete without a shoutout to the Texas Longhorns. Enter every season with a top-five recruiting class and a top 10 national ranking, which gets your fans talking all kind of silly mess. Then go 7-5 and roll the dice in the Independence Bowl. But those recruiting classes…
My other two teams are on opposite ends of the expectation spectrum. The Cubs had a meteoric rise that took them from terrible (2014) to the NLCS (2015) to World Series champions (2016) in a three year span. With loads of young talent, everyone assumed it was a dynasty in the making. Under those circumstances, the next three years were very disappointing. Take the expectations out of it, and reaching the NLCS (2017), having the best regular-season record in the National League before losing in the first round of the playoffs (2018), and narrowly missing the playoffs while still finishing with a winning record (2019) would be a pretty solid three-year run.
On the flip side, my Philadelphia Eagles went into 2017 expected to be an average team. Picked to be in the 8-8 neighborhood by just about everyone. Somehow, everything clicked and the Eagles jumped out to a great start. Then Carson Wentz, who was a lock to win the MVP award, tore his ACL and Philly had to turn to journeyman Nick Foles. Again, expectations were set back to zero. I didn’t think they would win any of their playoff games, but everything broke right. They took down the New England dynasty and won their first Super Bowl. It was pretty freaking cool.
Last year’s Eagles lucked into the playoffs and somehow won a playoff game when a Bears field goal bounced off the upright and the crossbar before landing in the end zone. That wasn’t a Super Bowl, but it was pretty freaking cool.
This year’s team is 5-5. I expect them to lose every game the rest of the season. Wink wink.