Team Trumps All

I have been a Denver Broncos fan since I was 5 years old. I know this because I was five when I saw “The Drive“, the 98 yard touchdown drive that John Elway orchestrated against the Cleveland Browns in the 1987 AFC Championship game. What I witnessed was remarkable enough for me to do two things: cement Elway as my favorite football player and the Broncos as my favorite team.

The Super Bowl against the Giants played that same season I do not have any memory of. But I do remember the next year, beating the Browns again in the AFC Championship (how Marty Schottenheimer managed to not pull a Tonya Harding on Elway during this era is a testament to his character, or his lack of competitiveness) and then playing the Redskins in the Super Bowl (by this time I must have really committed to this football thing). I remember the excitement of my team playing in such a big game and getting out to an early 10-0 lead. They lost 42-10 in what was probably my first taste of bitter disappointment as a sports fanatic.

Two seasons later, Elway and the Broncos made it to their third Super Bowl and for the third time, at the expense of the Browns (Schottenheimer had mercifully moved on to coach the Kansas City Chiefs by this one). My uncle Joe hosted a Super Bowl party and I was so exciting, with my Denver Broncos sweatsuit on and total confidence that this time, we would win. The Broncos lost, 55-10. It was and still is, the worse loss in Super Bowl history.

Despite the disappointment, I came back every year for more. And by this time, I was also a die-hard Cubs fan so I was getting beat down as a fan from two sides of the sports world. Anyway, the years passed and Denver struggled. I hated hearing about Elway’s three Super Bowl losses and the prospect of him never winning “the big one”, thus tarnishing his legacy. I am obviously biased, but I loved and believed Elway to be the best quarterback of his time or any since because he did more with less. He never had a great defense or great running backs to hand the ball to. He carried his teams on his back playing in an offense that forced him to have to make big plays late in games because the offensive play-calling was so conservative. There was a reason why he had to make so many fourth-quarter comebacks.

Then came the 1996 season. The Broncos were back. They had a new coach in Mike Shanahan and finally, a great running-back in Terrell Davis. They went 13-3 that year and earned the top spot in the AFC. After getting a bye in the first round of the playoffs, they were stunned at home by the Jacksonville Jaguars, a freaking expansion team. I was livid. By this time I had endured enough tough losses that sadness, pain and denial had given way to flat-out anger. It is something I still struggle with today when it comes to watching my teams play. It is a problem and I am working on it.

But all of that misery was erased the following year, when Elway and the Broncos finally won the Super Bowl, defeating Brett Favre and the Packers (this play still makes me giddy). There was no party for this one. I watched this game alone in my bedroom because I just could not stand to be around anyone should the outcome not go my way. I was so happy that night, but I think I was most happy for Elway, my favorite player. He was past his prime at this point, but he was still so fun to watch and still playing at a high level.

The Broncos won the Super Bowl again the next year, which was John Elway’s last game. You could not ask for a better way to go out. It was definitely the end of an era and when Elway made his retirement official, he was not the only one that got choked up (I’ll save the obvious psychological issues with sports fanaticism for another time).

Denver has not returned to the Super Bowl since and have not done much to speak of, either. I have still rooted as hard as ever for them, but it has not been a successful century. But the Broncos are relevant again, and once again, their relevance and fate are tied to a superstar quarterback, though one very different from Elway.

The Broncos and then head coach Josh McDaniels drafted Tim Tebow in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. I was mortified. It was not just that I could not stand Tebow while he played in college (which is probably an understatement); it was that I did not think he could be an NFL quarterback and I thought it was monumentally stupid to take him in the first round. This was the popular sentiment at the time, so it was not just me.

Once the shock of his selection wore off, I was overcome with the very real and strange proposition that I would have to root for Tebow now (it was like Anakin Skywalker turning on a dime and becoming a Sith, the entity he was fighting to destroy since he had become a Jedi; or not).  I wanted Tebow to succeed because I wanted the Broncos to succeed, and I wanted taking him in the first round to not haunt the team (ironically, McDaniels was fired last season and the Tebow pick may have been one of the reasons why).

Tebow had some memorable moments his rookie season and started the last three games to close out the campaign. This past off-season was a critical one for the team: John Fox was hired as the new head coach and John Elway was named the team’s President. The man who was once THE MAN in Denver was now in charge and one of the key issues was what to do with Tebow. Elway and Fox did not draft him and with Fox naming Kyle Orton the starter to begin the year, it seemed the Tebow experiment would be on hold indefinitely.

Fast forward to the season and Denver is struggling at 1-4 and John Fox pulls the trigger and names Tebow the starter. The fans in Denver had been calling for the move since the year started, though I was not on that bandwagon. But the move made sense; it was time to see if Tebow could in fact be the quarterback of the Broncos or if the team would once again look to the draft to find Elway’s replacement (note: playing the QB position in Denver since Elway’s retirement has not been an easy gig).

Since the move, well, you probably already know what has happened. Denver has gone 7-1 with Tebow under center and the team is now alone in first place in the AFC West at 8-5. Tebow’s growing legend is not simply being fueled by the winning, but by how the team has won. Denver has won three games in overtime and five games when trailing in the fourth quarter. Tebow has become the talk of the sports world and has crossed over to the mainstream media, with an op-ed in the New York Times and a piece in Time.

I disliked Tebow in college for numerous reasons. I did not like the team he played on (Florida Gators), I did not like all the attention and credit he got, I thought he was overrated as a player, and his religious shtick was nauseating. The funny thing is that not much has changed since his college days, except the team he plays on. And apparently, that makes all the difference for me. I still think he gets too much of the credit and I do find his religiosity sincere, but tiresome. When the first words out of his mouth every time for an interview are “First of all, I just want to thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ”, I feel like it is a bit orchestrated (I will save this aspect of the Tebow phenomenon for another post). But the bottom line is that every Sunday I hope he does well and helps lead the Broncos to victory. And I am starting to feel with each passing week that leading the team to victory is exactly what he will do.

I have watched every second of Broncos football this year thanks to Sunday Ticket, which was free from DirecTV this year (thank you!). Every game Tebow has started has been a rollercoaster ride. I often find myself unimpressed with his abilities to throw the ball, yet overcome with joy and optimism when he delivers an accurate and timely pass. The first 2 or 3 quarters of games are immensely frustrating, as the Broncos struggle to score points or sometimes move the ball at all, but the fourth quarter on is exhilirating as Tebow and the team find a way to win.

Tebow is undoubtedly a winner and he has the confidence and faith of his teammates. I am so glad to see the Broncos winning and relevant again, but it is surreal to be a Broncos fan right now. I have no idea how long this will last, which should make me happy to simply be along for the ride, but I cannot help but want them to go all the way. It seems completely far-fetched, but then again, I never could have thought what has happened the last eight weeks could happen. I still do not know if Tebow is the answer in Denver, but I know right now he is.

I do not believe Tebow is super-human or being guided by God; I just think he is a gifted athlete who fights until the bitter end, and his competitiveness, grit and belief have rubbed off on the rest of the team. He is a leader, and a damn good one. He does things very differently from John Elway. It must be strange for John to watch a man who lacks many of the skills that he had in his day continue to win and continue to receive the adoration of Broncos fans at a level that perhaps he never saw. John is an old-school quarterback and Tebow is more of an old-old-school quarterback, like the ones who played in leather helmets. But even the Johns (Fox and Elway) have had to acknowledge that Tebow is special, and as the team continues to win, they are put in the position of having to build the team around Tebow and his skills in the future (Elway has already said he would work with Tebow this off-season on his mechanics and footwork).

To Tim’s credit, he does his best to deflect praise and give credit to his teammates. But for the most part, the media is not having it. This, like the fourth quarter, is “Tebow-time”. What it all means for the future of the Broncos is unclear. All I know is that I will continue to cheer on my team and their star quarterback because the Broncos winning games is what matters to me as a fan. I hope Tebow proves his critics wrong and goes on to be a great quarterback for this team for many years to come. But I do not expect he will ever be the object of my affections the way the team will be, nor will he supplant Elway as my all-time favorite Broncos player. Then again, should Tebow and the Broncos win a few Super Bowls, I could be asked to reconsider my position.


Escape From Texas

The Republican-controlled legislature in Texas is ready to embark on a series of budget cuts that have not been seen in this state since World War II, according to this NY Times piece. Reading through the article and what the Republicans are wanting to do, I’m at a loss. Here’s a taste:

In a party-line vote, the House slaughtered dozens of sacred cows. The budget bill makes huge cuts to public education, nursing homes and health care for the poor. It slashes financing for highways, prisons and state parks. It eliminates full-day preschool, cuts teacher incentive pay and reduces scholarships for college students by two-thirds.

The House plan would give schools almost $8 billion less than current state law requires over the next two years. Medicaid would be about $4 billion short of what officials say is needed to meet the growth in caseloads. One group of budget analysts predicted that 97,000 teachers and school employees would be laid off. Other analysts said that the cuts to Medicaid would force hundreds of nursing homes out of business and would have a devastating effect on rural hospitals and doctors.

Stunning. And there are some within the party, Tea Party types of course, who woud go further still. Texas already ranks near the bottom in educating its students, we are last in high school graduation rates, and we are terrible at providing health care to our citizens. How do Republicans respond to these numbers? By making cuts to health and education their top priority, despite our growing population that is increasing school enrollment and the number of citizens in need of health care.

Apparently, Republicans are not only okay with this, but they seem to take pride in the possibility that we will rank last in these categories in the future, after their cuts have gone into effect. Maybe I am just pissed off right now, but if I could, I would move the family out of the state pronto. It is sad, really. I was born and raised here and I find myself wanting nothing more than to leave. Why should I want to stay in a place where its political leaders have nothing but contempt for the majority of its citizenry and the institutions that seek to make them healthier and more educated. It is so illogical and so blatantly anti-poor and anti-middle class. It goes against everything I stand for, and I know my credibility may be weakened by the fact that I am a teacher, but I assure you I would be equally repulsed if I were not.

With these Republicans in control of the Legislature and the Governor’s office, the future of Texas seems incredibly bleak at the moment. I hope I am out of here by the time the state implodes.

Obama and Libya

When I first read the news that Obama had ordered the U.S. to intervene in the Libyan rebellion, I was quite concerned. While I agreed with the humanitarian basis behind it, it did not make a lot of sense that we would choose to intervene at that time (why not sooner?) considering the other crises that the U.S. did not get involved in (see Darfur or Ivory Coast). In addition, the financial costs were a concern given our financial crisis and how close we are to a government shutdown due to conflicts about the budget. But I was most worried about this conflict being a long, drawn out affair in which the coalition wilted and the U.S. was compelled to take the lead in a situation that could quickly devolve into something like what we have experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan. We simply cannot afford (in every sense of the word) that right now.

I feel better about the situation now that I have read Obama’s speech on the subject, which he gave last night. He made a strong case for intervention and outlined his own view of foreign intervention that, true to form, seems very pragmatic and reasonable. That said, I am still concerned about the scope of the conflict and how our end game will be achieved. I understand the “long-term” end game to be having Qaddafi removed as President so that the Libyan people can go about reforming their government in a more democratic mode. The potential thorn in the plan, and it is a large thorn, is that Qaddafi has shown no interest in stepping aside and military intervention on the ground may be needed to oust him, which Obama had pledged the U.S. will not do.

How will Obama proceed if the coalition cannot remove Qaddafi simply through political means? Will he be able to stand firm with his plan and commitment in the face of pressure from hawks at home who will label him “weak” for not going all the way to Tripoli, with ground troops, to get rid of Qaddafi? Will he stand firm when his critics deride him for being powerless to achieve his goals in the event Qaddafi does not step down?

I now feel like his decision was quite reasonable and I like the means in which he has chosen to intervene. But I am deeply concerned the U.S. will be forced to carry this burden in the end, and will do so for years to come. And of course I worry about the political issues Obama may face if this conflict gets uglier and as feared, we do in fact need to get more involved. Adding another war to our plate wil

State of the Union

President Obama will give his second State of the Union address this Tuesday, and it seems like a good time to break my hiatus from this blog to comment ahead of his speech. The early indications are that he will focus on jobs and the economy, while calling for a more “united” citizenry and more responsible approach to government spending. Though he is not expected to endorse the deficit reduction plan proposed by the panel he created.

According to the NYT article linked to above, Obama will focus on innovation, education, infrastructure, deficit reduction and reforming government as the keys to ensuring America’s future prosperity. I am guessing he will make a push yet again for increased light rail construction and building more energy-efficient homes, cars and buildings, which cover some aspects of the innovation and infrastructure points. But I am more interested in what he will have to say regarding education, deficit reduction and reforming government.

While I am okay with Obama not giving a full endorsement of the Bipartisan Deficit Reduction Plan, I do hope he spends some time talking about the difficult choices represented in that proposal and the need to take them seriously.  He needs to get out in front of the Republicans as being more serious about the deficit before the usual “tax-and-spend liberal” narrative ratchets up and he’s playing catch-up, as has been much of the case throughout his presidency (in regards to the media narrative). To do this, he must lend credence (to some degree) to that bipartisan plan, even if some of the cuts and provisions outlined in it are not popular amongst liberals.

If Obama couples deficit reduction with reforming government to make it more efficient and effective, he will have a winner. The argument about “big” vs. “limited” government is irrelevant: government is already big and Republicans have done more than their fair share to make it so. The real issue is how well the government works for us and what its priorities are.

For decades economic policy has centered around lowering taxes to spur economic growth, which both parties have been complicit in but has undoubtedly been the preferred policy of the Republicans. But all that policy has done is create a huge disparity in wealth and income and helped increase our budget deficit to an astonishing $14 trillion. The notion that lowering taxes on the wealthy benefits the rest of us cannot be true if we’ve continued to lower taxes and yet more people find themselves living in poverty, more wealth is concentrated at the top, and wages have remained stagnant (Slate has a great series on this issue which you can find here).  Obama should call for a simplified tax code that eliminates needless loopholes and an end to the Bush-era tax cuts once they expire in 2012  (I am disappointed he helped extend the cuts to the wealthy; goes back to an inability to dominate the narrative).

And while I would like to see Obama “call-out” the Republicans for their intransigence the past two years, I suspect he will portray himself as the “moderate” in the room, which the blogosphere is claiming to be a return to Clinton’s triangulation strategy in 1994. Politically it makes sense, but if the serious issues we face are going to be addressed in an equally serious way, he may need to eschew the political game and fight to take the role of government in a new direction. He needs to defend the need for health care and education reform, he needs to question the role our military plays in foreign affairs, he needs to address why income inequality can ultimately doom us, he needs to question why Republicans are more interested in taking laws off the book then drafting new and better ones (see health care repeal and coming soon to a political theater near you, repeal of the Clean Air Act), and he needs to question almost any major government spending that does not produce results (ahem, drug war).

He will not do these things, at least not in this speech. Probably not the time to do so. But I hope he starts to discuss these things if for no other reason than to mobilize the left ahead of 2012. Time will tell if he is actually serious about reshaping this country’s future and how much he is willing to risk to get it done. Mr. President, you are on the clock.


Technology Strikes Again

Technology is dominating more and more aspects of our daily lives, but now, technology is taking it to the next level. It seeks to prevent humans from procreating in what could be the next step in a technological overthrow of our species. See the full story later at Fox News.

Anyway, read it and weep, boys.

Vote Today!

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Laugh It Off

Check out this link for a couple of skits from this past weekend’s SNL. They are audition spoofs for Back to the Future, in commemoration of that film’s 25th anniversary. Bill Hader’s Alan Alda impersonation is ridiculously good.