The Hippodrome: 23 November 2011



  • Oof
Today, we debut a new weekly Pith feature: The Hippodrome, a look at the week that was and will be in sports. In the future, The Hippodrome will run on Fridays. This Friday, of course, we'll be spending the day watching the new Muppets movie and trying to figure out which channel Houston and Tulsa is on, so you get it early.

Opening Face-off

The Hippodrome vs. Intellectual Property Lawsuits: Why The Hippodrome?

Because, even though there were tons of Ian Ziering jokes available, Bill Simmons took Grantland, the obvious choice for a Nashville sports review. What's worse is that name was chosen in some sort of happy corporate accident. We also liked "Hang Up and Listen," but that was counterbalanced by our need to avoid a C&D from Slate.

Perhaps most famous as a roller rink, Nashville's Hippodrome was the city's first multi-use arena and in the pre-professional era of Music City sports, it was the tops. It was also a hangout and presumably the location of a number of grumbly snark-filled conversations about whether Kiki Cuyler could lead the Nashville Vols to the Southern Association title.

And the name itself is Greek (for "horse course"), fulfilling my weekly classical-language usage quota.

The Week Behind

It Rhymes With "Blame Bold Candy": This week's Scene sports column covers the improbable but totally inevitable series of events leading to UT's overtime defeat of Vanderbilt and by this point, it's obvious the SEC won't use its autocratic authority to force Tennessee to kick a field goal to make things right. Too bad, really, because seeing Michael Palardy kick the ball into his long snapper's rear again would be a pleasant distraction from Uncle Elmer's casual racism at the Thanksgiving table.

James Franklin talks a lot about how he's going to change the culture on West End. If post-game fan reaction is any indicator, he's well on his way. Through a half century of hard-luck defeats which have had Commodore fans mainlining Pepto, the post-game blankie has been that at least the Black and Gold were in it, moral victories better than no victories at all. Now, all that's been replaced by vitriol aimed at the errata-heavy officiating. After (at least) five wins, Vandy fans may no longer be satisfied with watching a plucky team almost win.

Don't Think, You Can Only Hurt the Ball Club: Predators forward Craig Smith has been mighty impressive this season, with seven goals and eight assists, near the top in points among NHL rooks. He's so good, Barry Trotz eschewed his normal nicknaming convention (adding -er, -s or -y to a player's surname) and calls him "Badger," homage to Smith's alma mater and his tenaciousness. Teammates call him "Taz" and Preds fans have likened him to a Honey Badger.

Indeed, the beigely named Smith has made a name for himself early.

Sometimes that works both ways.

Towards the end of the Predators win against the Toronto Maple Leafs, our Canadian visitors politely pulled the goalie for the extra attacker. Sergei Kostitsyn deftly — and elf-ly — slid the puck to a streaking Smith who — faced with the prospect of scoring a normal, boring empty netter decided to make things more exciting by shooting for the top of the net. He hit net all right — but not the right one. Smith airmailed the puck high above the crossbar and into the protective netting wrapping the rink.

The video went viral, but not before Smith turned Edgar Winter-white and Trotz, stone-faced, declared the whole thing not funny at all.

Eventually, Matt Halischuk potted an empty-netter. The Preds won 4-1.

Someone Forgot to Secure the Thermal Exhaust Port: To say the Columbus Blue Jackets have had little success at Fifth and Broad is like saying it took a while for Richard Kimble to find his amputee. Before last weekend, the Jackets' last win in Nashville was in April of 2006. Former Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock liked to describe the Predators as Darth Vader.

Things haven't been going well generally for the Jackets, mired in the muck at the bottom of the league, staring up jealously even at the Ottawa Senators, who would be a very competitive ECHL team.

All good things, though, must come to an end. With timely goaltending from Curtis Sanford — whose position as Columbus' starting goaltender is more a matter of the team having few options left, like the Secretary of Commerce becoming president — the Jackets managed a 4-3 win in overtime in Nashville Saturday night, earning a standings point in consecutive games for the first time this season. For its part, Nashville was lucky to come away even with the losers' point, being outplayed (though not outshot, remarkably) for much of the game.

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle: The Titans season is a sine curve of ups and downs continuing infinitely (or at least for 16 games) to the parity-perfect 8-8 finish. While their inability to muster any sort of winning streak is frustrating, there is solace in that they are equally incapable of going on a long bender.

It's clear now that Chris Johnson isn't going to be the world-beater he should be, and with Kenny Britt lost for the season, the offense has settled into the capable if unremarkable hands of Matt Hasselbeck. That is, until Hasselbeck jammed his hand into Mike Otto's helmet, forcing rookie Jake Locker into the game as the Titans sputtered to a road loss against Atlanta.

Locker performed admirably, firing his first career NFL touchdown pass and giving the Titans a puncher's chance at the end. Coach Mike Munchak says as long as the Two Toners have a chance at the post-season, Hasselbeck will stay under center so long as he's healthy. If neither condition is met, Locker gets the call. If he can stay as steady as he was Sunday, that may not be a bad thing.

Garbage Time: The Preds wrapped up the homestand by with their now-common mid-week November phone-in in against the Oilers. Ryan Suter and Jordin Tootoo had more colorful descriptions. … Middle Tennessee and Belmont played an epic two-OT thriller in Murfreesboro. Belmont beat an MTSU team coming off a win — and 10-for-11 three-point shooting — at UCLA. Both teams may play deep into March…Staying in hoops, Vandy has played better since getting embarrassed by Cleveland State, rattling off some decent wins against major conference foes, like N.C. State and Oregon State, winning the Legends Classic. (Presumably, Cleveland State would object). Vandy, playing a bit better even without Festus Ezeli, gets the meat of its non-conference slate next week, taking on Xavier and Louisville. … Area schools Mt. Juliet, Riverdale, Hendersonville, Maplewood, CPA and Friendship Christian will play Friday for berths in the various state football championships in Cookeville next week. Ensworth has already qualified in the private-school division. … UFC is returning to Nashville in January. ... Kudos to the Vandy women's cross-country team, which finished sixth in the NCAA championships after winning their first SEC title. ... TSU's men's hoops team scored a win against likely SEC cellar dwellers South Carolina

Halftime Entertainment

  • Hubris'd

Picture Me Trolling: Kudos to the Predators game ops staff who gave musical nods to the Predators' dominance of the Jackets — rolling John Williams' iconic "Imperial March" over the PA, with rubber-faced organist Krazy Kyle opting for Go West's less iconic "King of Wishful Thinking" in the pre-game.

Of course, hubris always works out, doesn't it?

Someone up in the steel needs to read their Herodotus.

Maybe next time they can show this clip of Derek Dooley, wherein he lowers the standards of what "beating the shit out of" means. James Franklin will address this video next year.

Commodores Make Early Strides to Become SEC East Contenders in 2012: Franklin's started recruiting in helicopters, a defensive back gets charged with a couple of felonies, an offensive lineman makes a dirty block against Tennessee. Is Vandy a bona fide football school now?

Cheesy Potatoes: Scope this fight of the year contender between Brian McGrattan and the Leafs Jay Rosehill. And check McGrattan's discussion of the donnybrook.

The Week Ahead

Leinart at his bro-iest
  • Leinart at his bro-iest

Jolly Rogering: At 5-5, the Titans sit two games back of the Texans for the AFC South lead. Houston is counting on broseph-in-chief Matt Leinart to white-knuckle them into the playoffs. The Titans are counting on him continuing to be an awful NFL quarterback. Of course, Tennessee has to take care of its own business before worrying about the playoffs. They have a good chance to continue their win-lose two-step Sunday against the sputtering Bucs, who have settled into their annual mediocrity. First one to 13 might win here.
Worthless Prediction: Josh Freeman and Chris Johnson unite, Captain Planet style, in their ongoing desire to crush any dim hopes for my fantasy football team. Titans 13, Tampa 6.

Battle of the Gentlemanly Mascots: Vandy heads to Wake Forest Saturday at 5-6 needing a win to secure their post-season invitation. The oxymoronic Demon Deacons are 6-5 and have a prestige win against Florida State and a Commodore-style moral victory at Clemson in which they lost by 3. Vandy fans — and certainly the boosterific James Franklin — want a bowl appearance as proof of a positive season. Considering prognosticators penciled the 'Dores for another two or three-win season, 5-7 is completely respectable. But a wintertime trip to Memphis or Birmingham would be as nice as a wintertime trip to Memphis or Birmingham could be. (No one should get their hopes up for Vandy to play in the Music City Bowl again; in numerous radio interviews, Nashville Sports Council big cheese Scott Ramsey has come off as less-than-enthused about taking Vandy to play at LP Field.)
Worthless Prediction: Vandy 24, Wake 17.

The Northwest Angle: The Predators start a five-game road trip tonight at suddenly surgent Minnesota, head to Detroit for the first fracas with the Old Enemy Friday and wrap up the roadie with the western Canada trio (in a scheduling fluke, the Preds make their second and final circuit through Alberta and British Columbia less than three months into the season). It's a tough, unenviable stretch. The Wild lead their division, the Red Wings are slumping but are still the standard of the Central and no one likes making the long trek to Western Canada. The baby-faced Oilers are playing well, the Flames frequently give the Predators fits which usually end in a 1-0 finish, and Vancouver is struggling, but, you know, did go to the Stanley Cup Finals last year. Coming home with five points in five games would be a stellar result.
Worthless Prediction: Pencil in wins at Calgary and Detroit, hope for the best in the other three, count on me oversleeping at least once during the western swing.


Your tax dollars at work
  • Your tax dollars at work

Bread & Circuses: Nate Rau's Sunday story covered the pending negotiation between the Preds and city on the latter's incentive payments to the former.

All told, it's a $7.8 million subsidy (that's one Shea Weber and half a McGrattan) and no matter how much you like hockey, government subsidizing private enterprise is uncomfortable, especially since a property tax increase looks inevitable and the economy's in the can. Finance office godfather Rich Riebeling made a good point:

Based on audited financial statements, the arena’s annual operating loss is $5 million to $6 million — an amount the city must fund regardless of the agreement with the Predators,” Riebeling said. “Therefore, it is important to remember that a large portion of the payments to the Predators would have to be made even if the team was not here.

In other words, the arena's not going anywhere, whether there's a hockey team or not, so we can pay them or pay somebody else. And it's intellectually dishonest to separate the hockey team from its arena-management arm. The arena itself has been the fourth busiest building in the country this year, remarkable since it's located in the 29th largest media market. Could Metro - or some other entity - fill the building the way Powers Management has? Removing 40 or 50 hockey games from the schedule, could they even come close?

Apparently, too, the Predators weren't getting money owed them from the state — to the tune of $3.8 million, which would certainly cut back on Metro's burden. And not for nothing, but city's tourism tax dollars which once funded the subsidy are now paying for the convention center, thus the arena subsidy comes out of the general fund. There are other ideas out there — notably whether the downtown businesses who benefit from the arena and team should kick in some dosh to pay the subsidy.

With an eccentric Canadian billionaire reality-TV star venture capitalist now on the ownership group and with another owner set to become even more one percent-y — plus attendance and sponsorship on the up — the future of the Predators finally looks stable.

Stable enough to stand on their own feet, though? Is it time for the team that's grown up to survive on its own - or at least to survive more on its own?

Rants, raves, tips or tricks for The 'Drome? Shoot 'em to jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com.

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