Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Random rant: Extra room on the bandwagon

Some people might think that an 0-3 start would cause people to question their loyalty to their team. Those people have probably never been real fans. They’re like this guy.

It may sound funny, but in some ways, this year’s start has made me a more fierce fan of the Saints. Sure, I’m as frustrated as anybody about the underachieving team. I’m upset that Deuce McAllister is done for the season. I’m mad because our offensive line can’t block anyone this year and our defensive backs can’t cover anyone. I’m disappointed that what I thought would be a dream season now looks like a season in which the Saints won’t even make the playoffs. But at least I’m not like that guy and the thousands more out there like him who have turned on the team only three games into the season.

I’ll still be in front of my TV every Sunday afternoon if I can’t actually be in the Dome. I’ll still wear my black and gold proudly whether we end the season 13-3 or 3-13. If we don’t make the playoffs, I’ll still believe next season will be our year, and the season after that, and the season after that. That’s what being a fan means — not cheering for the team when they’re winning.

I’ve been a Saints fan since I was a child, and I’ve been through highs and (mostly) lows with this team. I’ve jumped up and down in the Dome and screamed my head off as they won the big game. I’ve also sat until the bitter end of a lopsided loss as the building emptied on more than one occasion. Sure, I like to gripe about them when they’re struggling and wonder why I continue to follow them, but the next time they kick off, you can bet I’ll be there. That’s what being a fan means.

All my life, friends and family have poked fun at me for being a Saints fan through the losing seasons. They’ve taken great joy during the years when the Saints flopped in saying, "I told you so," and they may get to do it again this season. But guess where many of those people were sitting on Sunday afternoons during the Saints’ run last year? Yep. Right in front of the TV acting like they’d always been fans. They went out and bought their hats and T-shirts when it looked like the Saints might go to the Super Bowl. Now, they’re neatly tucking those away, and they’re back to laughing at those of us who still believe.

All I can say is good riddance. I’m thankful for the extra elbow room up here on the bandwagon, and I’ll enjoy it while it lasts. I know you’ll be climbing back up here when things turn around.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Armchair QB: Thank God for the bye

Three weeks into the season, and I'm already stunned into numbness. I watched the last quarter of tonight's game with a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach, akin to the one I had after the NFC Championship game last year. Like so many others, I had high hopes and lofty predictions for what this season would be like. At least 11 or 12 wins, a Super Bowl appearance. Seems a little silly now, sitting here at 0-3. The hard facts are that, as the commentators pointed out several times, only five teams in history have started 0-3 and made the playoffs. None of them have made the Super Bowl. The even harder fact is the team we've seen these first three weeks doesn't look remotely like a playoff team. To paraphrase Dennis Green, they're not who we thought they were. That galvanizing force that brought this team together last year -- the fire, the drive, the heart -- just doesn't seem to be there. Even the home crowd couldn't jumpstart them.

The mistakes keep coming from the guys you least expect. Last week it was Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister putting the ball on the ground. This week it was Drew Brees, one of the most accurate passers in the league last year, throwing four interceptions and fumbling. In fairness to Drew, he got zero protection. The Titans were in his face almost as soon as he got the ball on almost every play. That line that looked like a brick wall looks more like a picket fence with a bunch of boards missing this year.

The hardest part to take is that you know they've still got the talent. We saw it in the third quarter on a scoring drive that looked like last year's team. Heck, even Jason David made a few plays. I thought they'd finally found that old rhythm again, but after Drew's fumble, things just seemed to fall apart. It's another scene that's eerily familiar to Saints fans.

Perhaps the worst news of the night for fans though, was the report that Deuce's knee injury could be a season-ending ACL tear. That would definitely steal the thunder from the Saints' running game -- quite literally. Not to mention likely ending the career of one of my favorite players. Here's hoping that the "sources" aren't correct and we can see 26 back out there in a couple of weeks.

Update: It appears the reports of Deuce's injury were true. Very bad news indeed.

Perhaps with a week off, the Saints can regroup and find something to rally around and come out with a little more intensity and consistency in week 5. You've got to have faith. That's about all we've got left at this point.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Random rant: No, really, our envelopes cost $8 each

If you've been reading regularly, you might remember that my son is a Thomas fanatic. So, in preparation for Christmas I've been doing a lot of eBay shopping for trains since the retail price of the wooden Thomas trains is ridiculous. (There's no way I'm buying that a 2 ½-inch wooden train with a magnet on each end is worth $12, but that's another rant.)

Luckily, I've found a great seller for my Thomas needs, but when it comes to other things, I always get a chuckle out of shopping on eBay. It happens every time I click on something that seems to have a reasonable price only to find out that shipping on the item costs twice what the item itself costs. Last week, I was shopping for some SD cards when I encountered this. The 1 GB cards were $5.99, which I knew was too cheap, so I also knew the shipping would be outrageous. In this case there were several sellers offering those cards with shipping ranging from $10 to $11.

What sent me into peals of laughter, though, was the one seller I clicked on who was positively indignant about people complaining about his inflated shipping charges. Did I mention that he also wouldn't combine shipping on multiple items? So two SD cards, shipped in the same envelope = $22 shipping, three cards in the same envelope = $33 shipping, etc. He explained that it was not just shipping but the price of the envelopes and labels that you were paying for, before ending angrily, "if you don't like my shipping charges, don't buy the item." OK, no problem.

I've sold on eBay and for years, and I understand you have to pay for envelopes, labels, etc., but let's break this down. First class shipping on an SD card in a padded envelope is, maybe, $1.50 max. Then, let's just assume that your envelope and your label cost $1 each (and those would be some very, very expensive labels and envelopes -- mine cost less than $1 combined), that's still $3.50. Don't try to tell me you need $11 to cover the cost of labels and envelopes.

Of course, we all know what's going on here. It's rampant on eBay. People want to offer a super-cheap price on the merchandise, so they jack up shipping rates to cover the loss they're taking on the sale price. It looks a lot better to have that SD card listed for $5.99 than for $13.99, and you hope people won't pay attention to the shipping until it's too late. I'm just wondering if anyone's really falling for that. Judging by the fact that I constantly see people bidding more on items than they can buy them for in the store, I'm assuming just for the feeling they get from winning, I guess there probably are. (That's also backed up by eBay's latest slogan, "shop victoriously.")

Here's a thought. Don't try to make up your losses on shipping and shovel crap down my throat about envelopes and labels. Give me the best possible price that you can give me on your item with a reasonable shipping cost. If it beats my local store, I'll buy it. If not, I won't. You won't have to worry about going on the defensive with people who are angry over your inflated shipping, you'll look better and your customers will feel better about you. Imagine that. Of course, it will never happen. That's just not the eBay way.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Armchair QB: In for a long season

Another week, another ass whipping, another frustrating season as a Saints fan. At least that's what it's looking like from here.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not ready to bail yet, but I am getting that familiar sinking feeling. I'm remembering those times the Saints had a good year, sent expectations through the roof and then tanked. I'm seeing the pattern come into focus again.

I expected the team to come out of the gate blazing this week after last week's embarrassment in Indianapolis. I expected not only a win, but an impressive win. I expected a statement game against a division rival. I guess maybe I got that statement. It was definitely not the one I was hoping for, though.

The sad thing is no one seems to know what the problem is. Sure there's Jason David who gets burned every week like a pasty guy on a beach, and we can't forget Olindo Missé, but the problem goes deeper than that. With the possible exception of the defensive front, these guys just don't look like they're ready to play. Deuce and Reggie both put the ball on the ground. And what about that offensive line? The one that didn't let anyone get to Drew Brees last year? This year, he's running for his life. There have been moments in these first two games that reminded me of the Archie Manning years.

I haven't been this disappointed in a Saints team since the infamous late-season collapse in 2002.

Next up, the home opener against Tennessee. In the Dome, Monday night. No, the atmosphere won't be anything like last year's home opener against the Falcons, the return after Hurricane Katrina. But the Saints need to treat it just like that game. I'm sure I speak for most of the Black and Gold Nation when I say that I need to see something next week. It's time to show the fans that have supported this team through thick and thin (mostly thin) that you're not about to disappoint us again. To paraphrase a famous New Orleans saying, show me something, mister.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Review: "Dragons of the Dwarven Depths" by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

During my junior high and early high school years, I was a devoted follower of the Dragonlance series based on the world from then-TSR's (now Wizards of the Coast's) Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. If you'd asked me in ninth grade to name my favorite books, the Legends trilogy would have been right there near the top. In fact, my first novel, written in my high school years, was a complete ripoff of the Chronicles trilogy.

Somewhere during those last couple of high school years, I lost interest as the company began pumping out a series of lousy novels that were really only connected by the Dragonlance logo on the cover. But when I saw this new installment, "Dragons of the Dwarven Depths," from the original writers Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, I just couldn't pass up the chance to revisit my childhood.

I had some reservations going in. After all, this is the beginning of a trilogy that promises to fill the gaps between the books in the Chronicles trilogy. I thought those three books covered the story pretty well. Also, there's always that nagging feeling about revisiting something I really enjoyed 18 or 20 years ago and finding it isn't as special as I remembered. I revisited the Chronicles a few years back and still found them fun, and I enjoyed Weis and Hickman's more recent War of Souls trilogy. Nostalgia won.

"Dragons of the Dwarven Depths" tells the story of the finding of the Hammer of Kharas, the tool used to forge the legendary dragonlances. The companions are trying to lead a group of former slaves from Pax Tharkas to safety after the fall of the Dragon Highlord Verminaard. But a pair of draconians have stepped up to take Verminaard's place, determined to destroy the former slaves. The only place of safety available is the dwarven kingdom of Thorbardin, which hasn't been opened in 300 years.

The book is tough going through the first 100 pages or so. There are huge information dumps throughout as Weis and Hickman try to recount the events of "Dragons of Autumn Twilight" and offer up backstory on the characters that long-time readers already know by heart. They're so big and come so often that I was going "OK, let's get on with the story already," and I almost didn't make it through the first part of the book I understand the need to get new readers up to speed, but I think perhaps there are better ways to go about it.

Once that's out of the way, the pace picks up a bit, but there are still a few problems. One of those is that we already know how the book turns out. So, for example, when Tika is attacked by a draconian or when the companions are prisoners of the Hylar dwarves and under attack by the Theiwar, there isn't as much suspense as their could be. After all, we already know that all of the companions survived and made it through to "Dragons of Winter Night." It's a challenge of any prequel and one that's hard to overcome.

There's also, at least in the hardcover edition that I read, a serious editing problem. There are tons of missing words, misspellings and incorrect grammar. I'm an editor myself and know what the job is like, so I'm pretty forgiving of a few mistakes, but these were so frequent that they took me right out of the story on several occasions. That's never good.

Finally, there's the question of the characters. Most of them seem somehow different from the characters that I remember. Two decades ago when I was reading these books, I cared for these characters deeply. Here, most of them seem very shallow to me and there were only a few moments when I was genuinely pulling for them. That could be the product of faulty memory or the passage of time and experience as a reader. I'd have to revisit the originals to say for sure.

So there are a lot of factors stacked against "Dragons of the Dwarven Depths." Are there any good points. Sure. The latter part of the book moves swiftly and is a lot of fun. Then, there's the nostalgia factor. It's always nice to visit with some old fictional friends, and there are a few moments in this book that offer a little bit of extra insight into favorite characters.

If you're a newcomer to the Dragonlance world, I'd still recommend reading Chronicles and Legends first. For fans of the original two trilogies, though, it's a nice, enjoyable little walk down memory lane. It wouldn't be at the top of my reading list, but it's probably worth a look.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Armchair QB: Stupor Bowl

Well, my Super Bowl preview prediction tonight turned out to not be so super. Apparently, the Saints' explosive offense got confiscated at the Indianapolis airport and our defensive backs spent the whole night there filling out the forms to try to get it back.

I was prepared for a loss going into the game. Of course, I wanted the win, but I don't mind losing to the defending champs in their house on opening night of the season right after the Super Bowl banner has been unfurled in the rafters. That's a lot to overcome. But to get a royal ass-whoopin' was not something I was ready for.

That snippet of "The Saints are Coming" that played right after the lone New Orleans touchdown might have been the highlight of the night at my house. Granted Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison are not the easiest guys in the league to cover, but at times, it didn't even look like our guys were trying. Our offense was more conservative than Bill O'Reilly, even down by 24. Where were the shots down the field? Just one or two is all I ask.

Sure, it's only the first game of the season, and we were in the defending champs' house on the night they celebrated their championship. But, if you're a Saints fan, it gives you some cause for concern. We've seen it all before. The team has a fantastic season, gets everyone fired up and lays a big egg the next year. After a performance like tonight, you've got to wonder if it's "here we go again." I don't think so. I think this team is a lot better than that, and I think this coach is a lot better than that.

So we're 0-1. That leaves 15 more games, and we'll get another shot at the Colts in February.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Stuck in my Head: "The Saints Are Coming," U2 and Green Day

For every music fan there are those bands that seem to surround you. They're critical darlings, everyone seems to love them and it seems that if you're not a fan, you're somehow disconnected from the rest of your generation. For me, one of those bands is U2.

I've never disliked U2. In fact, I really like a few of their songs, but overall, I'm indifferent. If they come on the radio, I won't switch the station, but neither am I likely to turn up the volume.
But my perception of U2 changed on Sept. 25, 2006, when before the Saints' triumphant return to the Superdome, they took the stage with Green Day (a band that I truly do not like) and pounded out a modified version of The Skids tune "The Saints are Coming."

I wasn't one of the ones in the stands that night, but even through my television the energy and spirit in that building came through. It made me want to stand up off my couch and jump up and down and scream like I was in New Orleans. It was the perfect choice - the kind of high energy song that could pump a crowd up to an even higher level, with lyrics that just about everyone filling the Dome that night could relate to. Sure, the night would have been special and probably just as electric without U2's performance, but it provided the icing.

It provided a triumphant beginning to what was a year of many triumphs in New Orleans, a year where Louisianans love of football really did matter in the wider world and a year where a sports franchise really did make a difference, on and off the field. Every time I hear the song, I'm taken back to that night and a little of that feeling returns.

With the Saints set to kickoff the regular season Thursday night against the Indianapolis Colts, I guess it's only fitting that "The Saints are Coming" should be running around in my head. I've got more excitement about this season of Saints football than I've ever had in my entire life. Prediction? Tune in Thursday to see a preview of this year's Super Bowl.

Stuck in my Head is an occasional feature about whatever song happens to be running around incessantly in my head at the moment.