by J.R. Lind
This week in The 'Drome: Radio's nowhere, Titans fade away, a Predator rising, Vandy's waiting on a sunny day, and the usual in-jokes brilliantly disguised as commentary
The Game vs. The Zone: Four months or so into The Great Shuffle of Nashville Sports Talk Radio, which began when 102.5 WPRT re-branded itself from The Party to The Game, the battle lines — such as they are — are pretty well set.
Eric Taylor, whose Eric From Springfield blog did a damn fine job breaking news on The Great Shuffle, put up a lay-of-the-land poll last week. His 88 responses don't come anywhere close to meeting the Nate Silver threshold of reliability, but the results nonetheless do tell a story.
The afternoon drive is dominated by The Zone's 3HL — the trio of Brent Dougherty, Clay Travis and Blaine Bishop has grown from a weird midday poutine to a certifiable rush-hour behemoth. Their Wednesday experiment of getting their Twitter followers to encourage celebrities to call in was entertaining radio — with celebs ranging from Jim Harrick's former teaching assistant to a New York Jet to a dude from some Southern-fried knock-off of The Bachelor to Martina McBride. The affable Willy Daunic and Joe Dubin are doing their best to carve a niche on The Game and do a commendable job filling gaps often left empty by 3HL — for example, by not spending hours on the minutiae of hypothetical SEC coaching changes in 2013.
Even more dominant, though, was The Wake-Up Zone's control of the morning drive. The respondents remain comfortable with Mark Howard, Frank Wycheck and Kevin Ingram's well-worn shtick. The Wake-Up Zone manages better than most local shows to not be dominated by the callers, but does fall into the trap of lengthy Q&A segments with regular guests. This can lead to engaging radio when the guest is the curmudgeonly snarler Paul Kuharsky. Or it can lead to tediousness when it's Volquest's Brent Hubbs doing an hour on UT's canoeing team.
Nashville radio's reliance on call-and-response sports talk is the heritage of George Plaster, still off the air himself but with his influence everywhere. Everyone expects The Ol' Director back in April and certainly in some capacity on The Game.
Will anybody follow George down the dial? If Taylor's poll is to be believed, it largely depends on who he's up against — and the reasonable expectation is that he'll be back in afternoon drive, setting up a generational battle between his chicken-soup family dinner and 3HL's beer-drizzled frat party.
The Week Behind
Push C To Score!: Sometimes, while playing the Super Nintendo or the Sega Dreamcast or whatever, things just don't work out. The game is frustrating, maybe. Or maybe you just don't know how to play. Thus you resort to button mashing.
Sometimes it works — usually in a wholly unlikely way, such as hitting the impossible combo in Street Fighter by unrepeatable accident. Sometimes it doesn't — usually as your avatar haplessly dribbles off the side of the screen.
That's the 2011 Tennessee Titans.
Never bad enough to move into the basement. Never good enough to be a contender. And always lucky enough to hang around two or three weeks longer than necessary.
Despite playing the Houston JV, led by quarterback Jake Delhomme (Delhomme is French for "nearly intercepted"), the Titans still had to get a lucky break — in the form of the Texans going for two to avoid overtime, followed by a false start ... followed by the ball sailing over Delhomme's head.
But alas, the necessary breaks — required, by the way, because the Titans lost to the embarrassment that was the 2011 Indianapolis Colts (never forget this: the Titans lost to the Colts, but then so did the Texans, which tells you a lot about what a clown show the AFC South is) — did not ultimately go the Titans way and the Two Toners will not join the 2011 AFC Playoffs, which should be subtitled "Tom Brady and A Bunch Of Quarterbacks Who Could Very Easily Start For Some Fairly Decent ACC Teams."
The Titans controller finally broke under the pressure of the button mashing — and they've got eight months to figure out how to really play the game.
Sure, But People Were Actually Watching: OK, so yeah, there were bad breaks, bad luck, bad play and a surprisingly game Cincinnati team, ergo: Vanderbilt lost the Liberty Bowl.
But there were — get this — people there. Nashvillians. Vandy fans. In Memphis. MEMPHIS. Of the crowd of 57,000-plus, estimates put as many as 35,000 in black and gold. The largest collection of Nashvillians ever in Shelby County simultaneously? Maybe. Let's say yes.
And those of you who didn't go? You watched. Vanderbilt. On television. Voluntarily, more than likely. The Liberty Bowl did a 12.7 rating in the Music City. I have no idea what that means, but it's apparently pretty sizable.
Now comes the hard part: seizing the momentum, signing up new season-ticket holders and keeping Dudley Field black and gold — not orange and white with some shimmery yellow over there in the corners and, "Oh, hey, is our reservation at Kelly's for 6 or 6:30? Should we leave now?"
Smoke and A Pancake: Somehow the Predators and Flames played an exciting game! No, really. It happened on New Year's afternoon. The Flames scored first and then the Preds jumped out to a 4-1 lead and then the Flames got it back to one goal and the home team put it away with an empty netter.
And get this: Sergei Kostitsyn not only shot the puck, which he's loathe to do, the elfin Belorussian whose nickname should be "Smoke" got a hat trick. Sure, that last goal was a tap-in of an empty-netter, but he had to skate really hard to chase down Kevin Klein's clear. Maybe he bought the much-maligned Klein an frivolously oversized steak to make up for it.
Thursday, Shea Weber was cleared to return, ironically enough against the Dallas Stars, whose Mark Fistric concussed the captain just before Christmas break. In front of the seventh consecutive sell-out at Bridgestone Arena (a regular season record; the overall record is nine straight between the last game of 2010-11, the playoffs and the first two games of this season) Jordin Tootoo settled the score with a battle that was more wrestling match than typical hockey fight and punctuated by a body slam.
While the team kept the sell-out streak alive, they couldn't keep the win streak alive and get the ultimate revenge for their formerly felled captain. The home team's only goal came from Gabriel "Ooo La La" Bourque, scoring his first career marker and the Stars won 4-1. Twice was the second pair of Roman Josi and Klein victimized — both looked better against Calgary, when Josi was with Ryan Suter and Klein with Frankie Bouillon, who should be his permanent partner. Even steady Suter made a gross error, bouncing a reverse pass dead on to the stick of a streaking Jamie Benn.
The Preds are winners of nine of their last 13; the Stars loss ended a three-game winner.
Garbage Time: Despite the bank holiday, Jan. 2 was still Black Monday in the NFL. Tampa let go of Raheem Morris and Titans defensive co-ordinator Jerry Gray has been linked to the job. Former Titans coach Jeff Fisher interviewed for the Dolphins gig. Meanwhile, the Titans fired defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson and Robertson's assistant Curtis Fuller. ... As El Jefe posted earlier this week, Derek Dooley promises things will get better on the gridiron. As for UT's swim team? Things aren't right. ... Western Kentucky lost on a last-second lay-up against Louisiana-Lafayette Thursday. The officials didn't notice there were six Cajuns on the court. The crew faces a suspension.
Let Me Have Men About Me That Are Fat, For They Are Better At Lead Blocking: Titans great, college football analyst and landscape architect Eddie George is following his star turn in Topdog/Underdog by playing Julius Caesar in the Shakespeare classic starting next week. The Festival has a pretty sweet ad for the show. Asked if he'd be treading the boards at some later date, Titans kicker Rob Bironas tells The 'Drome not to expect him as King Lear in 2019.
The Newspapers Says, Says, Say It's True, It's True: Year's end brings the usual cavalcade of retrospectives and prognostications, because these stories require no work and it's virtually impossible to get anybody on the phone in the dead week between Christmas and New Year's. A couple of favorites: Yahoo's year-end list of gaffes had a few Tennessee items (Smokey's ACL, Craig Smith's empty-net whiff, and former resident Vince Young's declaration of the Eagles as a "Dream Team"); from local Zack Bennett, a piece of Nashville sport whatiffery.
Your Weekly Schadenfreude: It looks like Nashville's least favorite Blackberry billionaire is close to being out of a job, with reports from the Great White North suggesting Research In Motion's board is ready to oust Jim Balsillie — and one analyst suggesting, in that wry way analysts do, that perhaps Balsillie wasn't focused enough on, you know, the changing face of the handheld market because he was too busy trying to buy every NHL team south of Chicago and move it to Hamilton. Quite a fall for the man whose mere name once caused Predators' fans to squirm.
The Week Ahead
Easing In: Vanderbilt begins SEC play tomorrow at Memorial Gym riding a four-game winning streak, a back-in-the-saddle stretch highlighted by a comprehensive win at Marquette. The conference rota is kind to a Commodore team which, at times, still looks like it needs to settle in a bit. The 'Dores open at home against Auburn. Auburn finished the non-conference slate 10-4, but of those 10 wins, eight came against schools whose name includes a direction, a hyphen or the word "State." The other two were against perennial hoops powerhouses Florida A&M and Hawaii.
Tuesday, Vandy travels to 8-6 South Carolina, which lost to Elon and TSU.
Worthless Prediction: No problems for Vandy in Week One as they continue to look like SEC contenders.
Natural Disasters: The yucksters at the NHL Scheduling Office must have been having a laugh when they set up this week's slate of games for the Preds. A Saturday home date against the Hurricanes and a home-and-home with the Avalanche. What? Couldn't squeeze the Lightning in there, too?
Carolina is one of the few teams who have played themselves out of the playoffs halfway into the year and look to be sellers as the end of February deadline approaches. Gritty defensemen Tim Gleason and Jaroslav Spacek could be on the move out of Raleigh and either would help address Nashville's blueline problem.
Colorado, meanwhile, is a hard team to figure. The Avs go on long streaks of greatness followed by quick slides down the mountain (not to put too fine a point on it). For now, the Avs are playing better, winners of eight of their last 10 and hoisting themselves back into the Western Conference race.
Worthless Prediction: No reason the Preds shouldn't win all three of these, but 2-1-0 or 2-0-1 would be a worthwhile achievement.
Great. Expectations: In this week's dead-tree Scene, I ponder the future fortunes of the Titans and Vanderbilt. While both ended the season sourly, optimists on the East Bank and on West End can imagine brighter days ahead.
Anyone who predicted in August the Titans would go 9-7 and just miss the playoffs while Vandy would lose in a bowl game would have been dismissed as laughably Pollyanna-ish. Both results, if we're being honest, were far better than expected. Maintaining that momentum and managing the new expectations are going to be a tough task — but one that pays heavy dividends if it works.
There's another way to manage expectations ... and that's by not creating any. Even after returning to practice, Shea Weber — superstar, captain and the team's highest paid player, mind — was not made available to the media. He looked ready to come back, right? Asked directly about his captain after a second day of full practice for Weber, Barry Trotz admitted he wasn't handling the questions well.
Why not just put Weber out there? If he's the one who knows when he'll best be ready, then he's the one best equipped to answer the questions, right? Weber's blue-line partner, the ascendant Ryan Suter, was as baffled as The Gaggle as to why The Captain was under a gag order, telling The Tennessean's Mike Organ, “I don’t know why he’s not talking. ... He’s a big deal.”
As James Franklin is showing at Vandy, sometimes being totally forthcoming about the situation — even as difficult as the situation seems — is the best expectation management there is.
Alley-oops, tap-ins, squeeze plays, cliches? Hit The 'Drome at jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com