Tuesday, August 29, 2006

2006 Florida Gator Football Preview, Part 1

It’s nearly the start of college football season, which means its officially time for the preview that all of you have been waiting for (note: “all of you” should be interpreted to mean “nobody”), the 2006 Florida Gator Football Preview. We’ve got an awful lot to get to in the next two posts so we might as well skip the lengthy introduction and get right into it. Today’s post will cover the offensive side of the ball with a defensive preview forthcoming in the next couple of days. I’ll break the preview down according to position group with each group featuring my pick for the potential breakout star (read: someone who has yet to make much, if any, impact during their UF career) of the group. Without further ado:

Offensive Line: Offensive was probably the best way to describe last year’s unit. Despite having four seniors in the starting lineup, this unit struggled to adapt to a new blocking scheme and offense and ended up shitting the collective bed to the tune of 32 QB sacks during the 2005 season. There’s no doubt that Chris Leak had a hand in that ungodly number, but the majority of the blame falls on an underachieving o-line.

The good news here is that all but one starter off the aforementioned line has since moved on. However, that also means the Gators will be breaking in four new starting lineman. The performance of last year’s unit combined with the relative inexperience of this year’s o-line has many pundits predicting a disaster in the trenches for the Gators this year. Personally, I’m expecting improvement over last year’s performance (I know that’s not saying much) by a group of lineman who are collectively more physically talented than last year’s group while also having the advantage of two years within the current offensive system. Injuries (Ronnie Wilson’s broken ankle, most notably) have slowed the cohesion of this unit during fall drills but the reviews are still mostly positive about this year’s collection of big uglies. While the entire line will be one of the keys to the Gators’ success this year, special attention will be focused on Phil Trautwein and Calrton Medder, a pair of tackles who will be making their first ever collegiate starts come Saturday.

Breakout player: Drew Miller. Miller was originally slated to play at right tackle until right guard Ronnie Wilson went down with a broken ankle. Miller started some games at guard last season but is best suited for the tackle position. A position to which he’s expected to return once Wilson (or stud freshman Marcus Gilbert) return from injury. Urban Meyer called Miller’s play at tackle “phenomenal” early in camp and has continued to state that Miller is, at once, the Gators’ most talented and versatile lineman.

Quarterback: The only position which seemed to absorb more criticism than the o-line last year. While there’s no doubt that Chris Leak struggled to adapt to Meyer’s spread option scheme last year, the criticism of his overall play struck me as a bit overzealous. For all his faults and seeming incompatibility with the scheme, Leak still ended the year with the third most passing TDs in the SEC (20) while only throwing six interceptions. Furthermore, Leak finished third in the SEC in passing efficiency while still leading Florida to a respectable 10-3 record that included wins over Tennessee, Georgia, FSU & Iowa.

Fast forward to 2006, Leak now has a year under his belt in the system as well as a second year with the same offensive coordinator for the first time since he arrived on campus in Gainesville. Meyer has commented that Leak is “100% more comfortable” this year. This comfort level is no doubt due in no small measure to Meyer and Offensive Coordinator Dan Mullen’s attempts at further tailoring this offense (they made some adjustments to the scheme prior to the UGA game that resulted in a much more efficient offense during the season’s second half) to Leak's strengths by cutting down on some of the zone reads and increasing the rollouts and bootlegs in this offense. Another byproduct of Leak’s increased comfort is a far more vocal leader under center than at any time during his Gator career. I expect Leak to be a vocal leader for this Gator team while also putting together his finest season in orange & blue, ultimately landing him on the SEC’s First Team.

Breakout player: Tim Tebow. By now, every one has seen, or heard about the player ESPN dubbed “The Chosen One”. Tebow seems tailor made for the spread option scheme run by Meyer and Mullen. His performance in the annual spring game even had some irrational Gator fans calling for him to be named the starter. Regardless of the physical gifts that Tebow possesses (Meyer called him “a gorilla playing QB”. Which is a compliment, I think) the fact remains, he is but an 18 year old freshman who needs time to adjust to the rigors of college life and the college game. Tebow will play (and play early) because he must gain experience in case of an injury to Leak. However, something must go terribly wrong for him to assume the starting duties before September 2007.

Running backs: Ahh yes, the position that Meyer’s called “trash” during spring. That wasn’t just hyperbole either. In fact, things got so bad during spring drills that Meyer installed former walk-on fullback Billy Latsko as the #1 tailback and commented that maybe the Gators would just go without a tailback come fall.

Was some of this meant to motivate an underachieving group of backs? Sure. Was some of this just Meyer’s honest assessment of the situation? Absolutely. While the backs have certainly improved since spring ( getting a healthy Kestahn Moore back definitely helped), it is still a position without a defined starter despite the fact that Florida opens against Southern Miss in just over 4 days. If I had to guess I’d say that Moore gets the start come Saturday. However, this position is far from decided.

Breakout player: Wow…slim pickings is the phrase that comes to mind here. I toyed with selecting Markus Manson here but his inability to stand up to a stiff breeze gives me pause. In the end I decided that DeShawn Wynn was the best choice here. While it may seem odd to choose a player who has been an off and on starter since his freshman year, it’s not a stretch to say that Wynn hasn’t been much of a contributor during his time at Florida, especially considering the hype with which he arrived. Other than his amazing (and unbelievably frustrating in retrospect) run against Miami as a freshman, there’s hasn’t been much worth talking about during Wynn’s career at Florida other than trips to the coach’s doghouse and various off-field transgressions. Meyer’s approach (read: ripping your ass) seems to have lit a fire under Wynn this past year. Wynn has responded to Meyer’s various challenges by dedicating himself to his off-season conditioning (which had formerly consisted of drinking, papal elections, and McChicken sandwiches) and playing with a new sense of purpose and toughness throughout fall camp, forcing even Meyer to praise Wynn’s newfound approach to football. Though I feel like I’m setting myself up for disappointment here, I’m going to predict that Wynn gets to (or very near) 1,000 yards this year. If he does, the Gators should ride him to Atlanta come December.

Tight Ends: Technically, Meyer’s offense doesn’t employ a tight end. However, Meyer found quickly last year that the presence of a big, agile player who could both block and catch passes over the middle wasn’t necessarily the worst thing that you could have in the SEC. After Meyer and Mullen tweaked the offense during the bye week before the Georgia game, the tight end reappeared within the Gator offense and actually became a nice weapon within Meyer’s spread option scheme. Tight ends within this scheme are more H-back than traditional tight end, lining up in the backfield, alongside tackle, or split wide.

Last year, Tate Casey saw the majority of the snaps at tight end and though he saw some success, he didn’t develop the way many had expected after a sterling finish to his freshman season. The athletic Casey has plenty of talent and seems to have added some weight to his lanky 6’6” frame but he’ll need to avoid the drops that plagued him last year if he wants to become an impact player with this offense.

Breakout player: Cornelius Ingram. This could very well be the breakout player for the entire Gator offense in 2006. The former member of the UF Basketball team is a converted QB who just made the switch to TE/WR during the spring despite never playing anything other than QB his entire life. Ingram is a fantastic athlete who starred at Hawthorne High (tiny, tiny town outside of Gainesville…some people still ride horses there, seriously) in both sports and briefly contemplated transferring before ultimately deciding to try the WR/TE position. Within days of spring practice opening, coaches and players alike were raving about the talent and potential of the 6’4” 225 lb redshirt sophomore. While his blocking needs improvement, the matchup problems presented by a man this size who also runs a 4.45 forty yard dash are too great to keep him off the field. Oh yeah, during the spring, Meyer commented (and has since repeated) thatIngram has the best hands/ball skills of anybody he’s coached since he was at Ohio State with some guy named Cris Carter. I don’t know much about Carter, but I seem to remember him having a decent NFL career. By mid-season I fully expect Ingram to be a major part of UF’s offense.

Wide Receivers:
Easily the most talent laden group on this year’s offense. Despite the loss of second round pick Chad Jackson, this year’s unit possesses more talent and depth than any group at Florida since 2001, and possibly 1996.

After year’s of tantalizing Gator fans with his talent, Dallas Baker finally began to come into his own last year as he posted career bests of 52 receptions and 700 yards receiving. Perhaps more importantly, Baker showed newfound maturity by stepping up in the absence of fellow wideout Andre Caldwell and extraordinary toughness by playing two games with a broken rib and punctured lung. Baker finished the season on high note by claiming Outback Bowl MVP honors with 10 receptions for 147 yards and 2 TDs. At 6’3”, 207 lbs. Baker’s physicality should make him murder in the redzone as well as a valuable possession receiver.

After fracturing his femur against Tennessee early last season, many people wondered if Andre Caldwell would ever play again, much less regain the speed and strength that made him Meyer’s pick as the “difference maker” for the 2005 offense. However, Caldwell attacked his rehabilitation and returned to action this fall looking bigger and faster (he actually ran a faster 40 than last year, 4.29) than ever before. Both Caldwell and Baker have been nearly impossible to cover during fall drills and seem determined to leave their mark on the record books at a school that has seen it’s share of dominant receivers over the years. Rounding out the starting wide receivers is senior Jemalle Cornelius who seemed poised to grab the role vacated by Caldwell last year before a high ankle sprain against Kentucky limited his mobility for much of the year. Cornelius provides great speed and elusiveness in the slot and demonstrated a penchant for big catches late last year with his play against Vanderbilt and FSU. Look for Cornelius to post 35-40 catches and 6-700 yards receiving. One last note: Senior Kenneth Tooks has reportedly looked better than ever this fall and should challenge for a far larger role than he occupied last year.

Breakout player: Percy Harvin. The nation’s #1 wide receiver recruit last year has been receiving praise since the first day of fall camp from both players and coaches for his speed, elusiveness and attitude. He was the first freshman to have his “stripe removed” (signifying a freshman has officially become a Gator) and has continually dazzled observers with not only his ability but also his work ethic. Even Urban Meyer, who is known to be less than effusive in his praise of players, and especially freshman, has been constant in his praise for Harvin. While not yet slated to start, Harvin is not far away as he currently sits at #4 on the depth chart at wide receiver. I’d expect Harvin to play early and often with Meyer and Co. making a concerted effort to get him involed in the game plan through the use of screens, reverses, and options. Special mention of freshman Riley Cooper (6’4, 225, 4.4-40) who has flown up the depth chart and basically forced the staff to play him due to his unique combination of size, speed, and toughness.

Overall, I expect this year’s offense to be dramatically improved and put to rest the (absurd) notion that the spread offense cannot succeed within the SEC. If the o-line jells early and Leak can develop the confidence he lacked early last year, this Florida offense should be the best the Swamp has seen since the final days of SOS.

I’ll return on Thursday with my take on Florida’s defense and special teams.

(Note: Pictures will be included in the post soon. Blogger is not currently cooperating)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Coming Soon...

Surprisingly, I'm not referring to Hurricane Ernesto, which seems to possess the potential to wreak havoc with not only the beginning of the college football season down here in Florida, but also my newly leaky roof which reared its ugly head last week. As much as I'd love to get a random day off during the middle of this week, I'd be more than willing to sacrifice a little sleep and bear with some minor work-related annoyances if that's what it takes to get this weekend's slate of college football games off without a hitch.

While the hurricane (or potential hurricane) may very well be coming soon, that possible arrival is not what you should be eagerly anticipating over the next 24 hours (or so). Rather, the pending arrival that should leave you all waiting with baited breath is my 2006 Florida Gator Football Preview. While I'm not making any promises, I'd bet that the first installment of said preview will grace the interwebs at some point tomorrow afternoon. I realize that it may be hard for you to sleep tonight now that you're armed with this knowledge but you're just going to have soldier through this thing like the rest of us. And by rest of us, I mean Kellen Winslow, Jr., of course.

Oh yeah, I do have one more thing for you today. Enjoy:

Friday, August 18, 2006

World's Longest Dunk - Funny Japanese TV

I'm a little busier than anticipated this afternoon but that doesn't mean I've forgotten about you guys. On the contrary, here's a little something to make you think of me (I was the originator of this stunt back in 5th grade. Though my version involved a Dyno, a retention pond and the local police...seriously)while your wasting away the last couple hours of your work week.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Inbox Insanity

Many of the handful of people who read this blog know who John Van Vleet is, while a few of you may not. I realize that I'm probably overestimating my readership by describing it by using terms such as "handful" and "few" but they were the best I could come up with, so bear with me here.

John was an intern when I worked in minor league baseball. John lived on the outfield berm in a tent for the entirety of the minor league baseball season. When you consider that this means John lived in a tent in Florida during the summer, this is no small feat. This probably gives you some sense of how nuts John actually is. Though, to be truthful, this nugget does no justice to the overwhelming depths of John's insanity. I don't mean this as an insult towards John in any way. John isn't "unabomber crazy", though we all had our doubts when he moved out to Montana. John's more like the "Hunter S. Thompson genius/completely insane" kind of crazy. How else do you describe somebody who brought things into our lives such as "The Corey Dillon Song" (You can't stop Corey Dillon. Corey Dillon knows that you're comin'!...to be sung while running the ball with Dillon during Madden), "The Coke Penguin" and of course the classic Van Halen cover "Right Meow" (with accompanying illustration)? A smarter more learned man may have a better way to describe someone like John (sexual predator?). However, I, am not that man, so I'll just stick with genius level insane.

What's the point of all this? There isn't one really, other than to introduce the author of the short story that apeared in my inbox this morning. A short story that actually made me glad that I came into work today. Though to be truthful, that feeling wore off pretty quickly. Anyway, without further ado I present to you the second entry to John's new blog, Dikembe Mutombo, M.D.:

Episode 2- Operation: Operation

Dikembe sits at his desk, gigantic angular head in his gigantic sprawling hands, listening to a mixed CD of Cyndi Lauper's greatest hits and staring at the small brown picture frame to his left. The room is dark except for the small lamp behind the frame, and through his fingers, Dikembe stares at the image captured beneath the pane of dusty glass, mingling with the shadows and darkness of the room.

In the photo, two young boys, their rib cages covered by only a thin layer of fly-bitten skin, sit with their legs crossed, hovering over a red and yellow board game. One is smiling, the other holding a pair of tweezers.

"Hey, you set the time for the Alderman surgery?" Dr. Harris says, walking briskly into the room, breaking the silence that blanketed the office. "And why the hell is it so dark in here?"

Surprised by the intrusion and the question, Dikembe glances up
quickly and mutters, "You say Yusef?" Harris balks, raises his eyebrows and says, "Lay off the blow, Deke. I asked if you set the date for the Alderman surgery."

"Alderman, early morning," Mutombo says. "Early."

A takeout box of tempura chicken sits uneaten on the floor, the smell of Chinese food mixes with the sterile, bleach smell of the hospital. "It smells like someone boiled a bunch of your dirty underwear," Harris says. "Skidmarks and all."

Walking around the desk, Harris nearly steps on the white styrofaom box and
asks, "You gonna eat this chicken?"

"No hungry."

"Deke, you seriously look like hell," Harris says. "What's going on?"

Mutombo slams down the picture frame, looking up quickly at his colleague.
"Get out," he says. "And take damn tempura chicken with you."

Harris reaches down, spills some rice on the floor as he grabs the
chicken, and walks out silently, shutting the door behind him. Dikembe
puts his head on his arms, turns off the light, and lets out a deep breath.

Just outside the office, Harris runs into Sandy, who is leaving for the night.

"Sandy, do you know anything about someone named Yusef?" he asks. "I think Deke is going crazy."

"He mentioned Yusef?" she asks hurriedly. "What did he say?"

"Nothing in particular. I asked if he had set the time for a surgery, and he asked me about Yusef."

Sandy rubs her hands together nervously, her dark brown eyes darting around the hallway. "Yusef was..."

Mutombo's door opens and his massive body lumbers out, his head ducking under the frame as he steps into the hallway.

"...My brother."

"I didn't know you had a brother, Deke," Harris says apologetically.

"He die as kid," Mutombo says softly. "We play game
of Operation all the time in village. Listen to Cyndi. Beside kill wildabeasts, our only fun."

Harris and Sandy look at Mutombo's weathered face as he speaks, a three-day growth of facial hair interrupting his leathery skin.

"One day, all Yusef have left Charley Horse to win," he says. "We play with guy who live in shanty next to ours. Yusef just take out Water on Knee and guy get mad, he want win. Yusef take out Charley Horse and yells 'Victory!' Guy push him over, take Charley Horse and shove it in his mouth. Yusef start choke. I try to help him, try to save him, but fail. Yusef die in my
arms, make me want to become doctor. Me have to go."

Sandy and Harris watch as Dikembe walks down the hallway and out the door. They trade glances and Sandy begins to walk away.

"Wait! You knew about Yusef? Harris says. "Why didn't you tell me?"

She turns, looks to the floor and says "It wasn't my place. It wasn't my place."

Two blocks away from the hospital, Mutombo's jet blackVolkswagen Passat pulls into the parking lot of his favorite bar. He chugs the last bit of the pint of rum he stashes in his glove compartment and walks to the door. Swinging open the large, wooden door, Dikembewalks in to his home away from home and yells his customary greeting.

"Who wants to sex Mutombo tonight?"

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Puking, grabbing boobs, ruptured tendons...has it really been ten years?

Apparently the people who read my blog don’t enjoy “diss tracks” nearly as much as I do. That’s really not that surprising when you consider that I have an unnatural love for that sub-genre of music. It’s of little importance anyway since soon I’ll be back to spewing sports-related nonsense on a regular basis. By soon, of course, I mean in a couple of weeks when college football comes back home and the pennant races begin to really heat up. With the current dry spell in the sporting landscape (there is NOTHING to watch on the weekends) it ended up being perfect timing that my high schools class’ ten year reunion was this past weekend. To be honest with you, I wasn’t really looking forward to my reunion. In fact, if I wasn’t currently dating a girl whom also happened to graduate in the same class there’d be no virtually no chance that I would’ve even considered attending. It’s not that I’m too good for my former classmates (well, actually it is). Rather, this reticence to attend stems from the fact that I live in the town where I went to high school and see a large percentage of my graduating (or non-graduating depending on the person) class on a fairly regular basis. Ultimately though, the idea of my girlfriend holding my refusal to attend this event over my head for the next 6-12 months was not appealing to me and eventually led to my agreement to attend said festivities.

I’ve got to admit that I’m glad my girlfriend made me participate. Friday night was an informal gathering of our class at a local bar that serves as a reunion place of sorts over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Most towns have places like these where locals congregate when home from college and such. I figured this event would end up being somewhat sparsely attended and didn’t arrive until sometime shortly after 11. By this time the bar was absolutely jammed, primarily with members of my class. For the next three hours I chatted with a ton of people that I hadn’t seen in some time while still managing to be fairly anti-social (read: short, quick conversations with long lost “friends” followed by bad excuses for cutting a conversation short. These excuses usually had to do with alcohol and ended up getting me extremely drunk by night’s end.) I won’t bore you with too many details other than to say that my girlfriend ended the night by falling on her ass in the parking lot as we (and 20-30 other people) made our way to our respective forms of transportation.

Saturday night would be the official reunion. Earlier in the day, a friend of ours had a little barbeque for a small group of people. It was a nice gathering of people with many of our former classmates bringing their kids to show them off. I didn’t bring either of my kids to the bbq because they live in Memphis and don’t really know who their “daddy” is, but that’s a story for another time. Once Saturday night rolled around, it seemed like a night that was destined for a good time. One of my old roommates from grad school was coming into town and we had convinced him to attend the reunion with us. The way we (we meaning “me”) rationalized the whole scenario was that my old roommate (Federico) had actually never graduated high school. Thus, this would be his de facto high school reunion. You see, Federico actually grew up in between Colombia and America and ended up back in Colombia when he was 16. Though he was a junior in America, the Colombian school he attended wanted to make him a freshman. Instead of doing this, Federico’s mom arranged for him to purchase his high school diploma from another school in Colombia. I’ve never seen the actual diploma but it must be pretty good because it’s fooled both the American government as well as the admissions staff at the University of Florida. Fed has used this bogus diploma (along with its attached teacher comments) to join the Marines, become an Embassy guard in both Lima and Rome and (eventually) graduate from Florida. So, with that background in his mind, Fed showed up at my house on Saturday afternoon ready to hit up the reunion. Fed and I then set out to pick up my friends Kurt and Dave for the reunion and eventually headed back to my house to pick up the last member of our crew for the evening, my girlfriend before stopping by my local bar for a beer and a shot to loosen us all up.

We made it to the reunion by a little before 8 and quickly settled in. Fed decided to wear my name tag (with appropriately awful senior picture) and see if he could convince anybody that he was me (no.). The reunion went like most reunions go, I assume. Random conversations amongst people who aren’t likely to interact again for another 10-15 years followed by dinner, more random conversations and, of course, quite a bit of drinking. I’m not sure if it’s the lack of discernable activities at a reunion or the forced nature of it all, but what I do know is that there were an awful lot of drunk people (and fittingly drunk actions) by around 10:30 or so. In order to make this post wrap up a little more efficiently than most of my narrative driven posts, I’ll go over the rest of the evenings/weekends highlights in bullet form:

- Fed and Kurt had water balloons dropped on them by some kids staying at the hotel while they were smoking out on the deck of the hotel bar. Of course, both Kurt and Fed felt the need to enact retribution of their assassins. Going on a tip from somebody else in attendance, Kurt and Fed went to room 708 and proceeded to bang on the door and shout various verbal threats at the occupants of said room. Naturally, the occupants weren’t the offending parties, but a single mother and her child. As you might imagine, Kurt and Fed scared these two half to death and nearly end up getting arrested by the cops.

- A former high school teammate of mine, Phil, groped, not one but, two of our female friends in public. First, while discussing their children and her spouse, Phil reached around and grabbed my friend Becky’s ass. When Becky asked him what the hell he was doing, Phil responded (in full Ron Burgundy mode), “I just want to be around you and your nakedness.” Yes, he really said that. I wish I was joking. Secondly, during a conversation with Kurt’s ex-girlfriend Cindy, Phil reached into Cindy’s shirt and underneath her bra and grabbed her boob. As Cindy recoiled in horror, Phil leaned in to kiss her. When Cindy again recoiled and uttered something in protest, Phil (no more than 6 inches from her face) blurted out, “You’re a bitch! You’re a fucking bitch!!” I guess we should’ve known something was up when Phil was drinking wine straight from the bottle earlier in the evening.

- Later in the night a few of the non-graduates from our class decided to crash. Since I brought a Colombian with no affiliation to the school at all, I decided not to say anything. One of these people was a friend of ours named Damon. Damon is, more accurately, the brother of our friend Hunter. Damon has a drinking problem. Damon has a drug problem. Damon has had both of these “problems” for quite some time. At some point shortly after he showed up, Damon and Kurt were outside on the deck having a smoke. As they were talking Damon began to wobble a bit. At this point, Kurt leaned in to make sure Damon didn’t fall over. It was at this point that Damon lost control of himself and proceeded to wretch all over Kurt. To sum up, Kurt made numerous trips outside to smoke. On two of these trips, Kurt was hit with a water balloon and thrown up upon. Smoking is bad.

- As the night was winding down, Fed came to me with his eyes glassed over, clearly intoxicated. Because I’ve known Fed for many years I knew exactly what the wanted: my keys. When Fed gets drunk to a certain point, he cannot control his desire to sleep. This leads to an awful lot of Fed passing out in cars. He’s passed out in my car more times than I care to count. He does it everywhere, outside bars, parties, baptisms, wherever. The one problem on this evening is that we had already rented a hotel room. I, being the asshole that I am, decided against reminding Fed of this fact and let him go sleep in my car. When he eventually awoke at 4 am in my car, Fed had no idea where anybody was (in our room) and eventually hitchhiked his way home to my house where Erika and I would find him around noon on Sunday.

I eventually got to bed around 4 am. My girlfriend ended up going swimming in the ocean with some friends of her at about 5 am. Amazingly enough, she was not attacked by sharks, and found her way back to our room by 5:30 or so.

All in all it was a pretty enjoyable weekend. That is, until I woke up on Sunday morning.

With all the drinking I was doing I had planned to wake up thinking “Jesus, who hit my head with a ballpeen hammer last night.” Instead, my head felt fine and I awoke thinking, “Fuck. Who shot me in the leg last night?” Somehow, through the night I’d managed to rupture the plantaris tendon in my leg, though I wouldn’t discover this until I’d spent most of my Sunday in the ER. Apparently this tendon is fairly useless and doesn’t even exist in about 10% of humans but also happens to be quite painful when it does actually exist and rupture. I won’t bore you with too many details, other than to provide these links and tell you that I’m on crutches for at least a week and won’t be able to do much (if any) lower body activities (save for physical therapy) for the next month or so. As you might’ve guesses, I’m more than a little bitter about all of this. I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since I was 19 or 20 and play basketball at a local park 5-6 days week. Now, I have to try and not fall apart physically until I can at least begin to start some light running or stationary bike work in a couple of weeks. To say nothing of the city league that I have starting up in a few weeks that it looks like I’ll miss a nice portion of. Just think, none of this shit would’ve happened if I’d have just refused to go to my damn high school reunion. Something to consider when the 20 year mark rolls around.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Here to brighten your day...

There’s a noticeable hop in my step today because today is undoubtedly one of my favorite days of the year. No, its not the beginning of fall practice for my beloved Gators. That was Saturday. Rather, the source of my joy on this Wednesday is the resumption of class for all public schools here in Brevard County. For me there’s really nothing quite like the feeling I get when I see all those little rats, that have mocked me all summer with their aimless wanderings (to and fro…those punks), standing at their bus stops early in the morning. Some might say that deriving this level of satisfaction from a group of people’s collective pain makes me a petty person or, even a jerk. To that I say, “Yeah, you’re probably right.” Since I’m writing today about things that put a hop in my step, I figure I’ll keep the ball rolling.

Most people who know me are aware that I love hip-hop like few other art forms. Within this genre there are any number of sub-categories to choose from. However, no category of song in hip-hop elicits the kind of reaction from me like the well honored hip-hop tradition of the “diss track”. Even if your last concert featured the Kenny Chesney-Manning Brother love triangle belting out twang filled lyrics on stage, I’m pretty sure that the term “diss track” is descriptive enough not to merit further explanation from me. With that in mind, I present to you a breakdown of what I consider to be the world’s greatest diss track: Tupac Shakur’s Hit ‘Em Up

While many diss tracks feature the same composition as most other hip-hop songs (3-4 verses and 2-3 choruses) Hit ‘Em Up is so filled with anger and vitriol that the song seems to bounce from subject to subject with little regard for story telling, or even overall direction. Under normal circumstances this would present a problem. However, it is this scatter brained fury that makes this song so very powerful and engrossing. What follows is my best attempt to break down all the shots and insults encompassed in this 4 minute opus of abhorrence, venom and good old fashioned ill will.

Tupac swings for the fences in the songs first line, firing his first shot across Biggie’s bow by exclaiming “Thats why I fucked your bitch you fat motherfucker.” Well then, I think we all know where this is going. After this, Tupac says that he and his crew are quote “Bad Boy Killers”. The first, but certainly not the last time he will claim to be such. All of this plus some other claims all come before the rapping even begins. Almost a foreword to the novella of hate that is to follow.

Eventually, Tupac begins to rap by shouting, “First off, fuck your bitch and the click you claim”. I like how Pac is itemizing here in the beginning. Kind of his way of letting the listeners know that he’s got a long list of stuff to get to. My mom does this when she calls me with numerous newsworthy items to deliver (sans the gratuitous profanity). Later in the verse, Pac refutes Biggie’s claims of playadom by once again stating that he f’ed Big’s wife and again states that he’d like to shoot all of the Bad Boy crew (I’m keeping a running total of some things here that I’ll get to at the end). As the verse continues, Pac proceeds to call Puffy “weak” and label both Biggie and all of Junior Mafia as “mark ass bitches”. Extra credit to Pac for using the term mark ass bitches…always a crowd pleaser. After this, Pac decides to throw a little venom toward some of Big’s associates, lest they feel left out. It’s at this point that Pac threatens to cut Lil Cease’s “young ass up” and then tells Lil Kim that she shouldn’t “fuck around with real G’s” while intimating that she’s a woman of the night by saying he will “snatch her ugly ass off the streets” and finally, in the interest of rhyming, exclaims “Fuck peace”. Good thing Pac added that nugget, I was beginning to get the wrong impression. Pac ends his first verse by saying that Bad Boy will get “murdered on wax AND killed” (just in case we thought he was saying all this euphemistically I presume) and then promises to peel the respective caps of the Bad Boy crew.

After all of this, Tupac finally makes his way to a chorus. A chorus that’s near perfect as far as I’m concerned. I’ll simply let the words speak for themselves in this instance:

“Grab your glocks when you see Tupac/ Call the cops when you see Tupac (uhh)/ Who shot me, but you punks didn’t finish/ now you about to feel the wrath of a menace/ N*gg# I hit em up.”

It’s at this point that Tupac actually insults the very people with whom he rhymes on this track (The Outlawz) by exclaiming, “Check this out. You motherfuckers know what time it is. I don’t even know why I’m on this track. Ya’ll n*gg#s ain’t even on my level. I’m going to let my little homies ride on you bitch made ass Bad Boy bitches.” I love this little interlude because I always imagine the other rappers sitting in the studio hearing this and feeling a little dissed by Pac (rightfully so). Yet wisely deciding not to say anything that might further enrage the rapper, lest they receive a vicious pistol whipping reminiscent of Kane’s bludgeoning of Chauncey in Menace II Society.

The next verse isn’t much to write home about other than the rappers numerous threats on Biggie, Junior Mafia, and Puffy. If nothing else, it’s impressive in it’s efficiency. Somehow this guy manages to cram 7 death threats into a measly 12 lines of lyrics. Nice work. This verse is followed by the aforementioned “greatest chorus ever”.

Tupac comes back for verse #3, starting the verse off by saying that he and his crew “keep it real as penitentiary steel”. I have no idea what this means but I’ve never been to jail and Tupac had (numerous times) so I’m going to cede to the expert on this one and assume that penitentiary steel is as real as it gets. Next, Pac informs the listener that “this ain’t no freestyle battle” in case we weren’t sure of his intentions and then follows this up by telling Biggie and Co. that “all you n*gg#s getting killed with you mouths open(?)”. I’m guessing that this is a much worse way to get killed than with your mouth closed. As the verse rolls on Pac begins to expand his “diss game” by insulting the financial security of both Biggie and Junior Mafia by rapping “Talking ‘bout you getting money but its funny to me. All you n*gg#as livin bummy while you fuckin with me.” To further shame his targets Pac shouts “I’m a self made millionaire (umm, I think Suge Knight might have had a hand in that Pac…just saying) Thug livin, out of prison, pistols in the air.” In order to further prove Biggie’s lack of wealth Pac brings up the past by announcing “Biggie remember when I used to let you sleep on the couch and beg the bitch to let you sleep at the house?” Pac goes on to finish the verse by referencing the five bullets he took and how they couldn’t even stop him. Finishing with true panache by saying, “Now I’m back to set the record straight. With my A-k I’m still the thug that you love to hate. Motherfucker, I hit em up!”

The next verse features another one of Pac’s aforementioned “little homies”. As was the case with the earlier verse, this one lacks a lot of truly memorable lines, save for a few choice cuts. Especially funny to me is the line where he calls the Junior Mafia the “Junior Whopper Click”. I’m not sure why the comparison of a low grade rap group to a discount burger tickles my funny bone but it does, time and time again.

This verse is followed by one more little homey verse that includes lots of average rapping lines about killing, shooting, killing, and just a dash of murder. Oh yeah, he also calls Biggie “softer than Alize with a chaser”. Which (I assume having never drank Alize) is extremely effin' weak.

Finally, Tupac re-enters the track. However, Pac’s approach on his third time around is just a little different than the previous two efforts. To label this as “rapping” would be tremendously narrow minded of the listener. What Tupac does on the rest of this song is more akin to spoken word poetry than rapping. Spoken word poetry that is laced with profanity and not-so-vague threats on people’s lives, mind you.

There’s some truly fantastic material in here. Pac gets started right away by calmly stating, “Now you tell me who won?/I see them, they run/They don’t want to see us/Whole Junior Mafia click dressing up trying to be us/how the fuck they gonna be the mob/when we always on our job/we millionaires/killing ain’t fair/but somebody got to do it."

As a matter of record, those last two lines (beginning with “killing aint fair”) are my senior yearbook quote. Alright, that’s a lie, but only because we didn’t have yearbook quotes at my high school.

Pac isn’t done yet, far from it. His vitriol spills over and begins to spread towards many other rappers as Pac calls out such rappers such as Mobb Deep, “Oh yeah, Mobb Deep/You wanna fuck with us/You little young ass motherfuckers/Don’t one of you n*gg#s got sickle cell or something/You fucking with me/You fuck around and have a seizure or a heart attack or something/You better back the fuck up before you get smacked the fuck up.”

From here things quickly deteriorate as Pac utters that famous Shakespearean phrase, “We bringing drama/Fuck you and your motherfucking mama.” Shortly after this Pac starts to become homicidal in his tone as he calls out everyone from Biggie to Mobb Deep to Chino XL (I’ve still never figured out how he ended up in Pac’s cross hairs) to even members of the Bad Boy Staff and record label by repeatedly exclaiming “Fuck you too” after each person’s (or groups) name is uttered.

Finally, Pac gets back to his hateful tribute to spoken word by ending the song with this classic piece of prose:

“All of ya’ll motherfuckers/Fuck you die slow mother fucker/My fo-fo makes sure all yo kinds don’t grow/You mother fuckers can’t be us or see us/We mother fuckin Thug Life riders, West side ‘til we die/Out here in California we warned ya/We’ll bomb on you mother fuckers. (Can somebody tell me how the California TDC hasn’t commissioned this slogan yet?)

But wait, Pac’s not done yet: “We do our job/You think you the mob, n*gg#, we the motherfuckin mob/Ain’t nothing but killers and the real n*gg#s/all you mother fuckers feel us/Our shit goes triple and four quatro (Uhh, ok?)/You n*gg#s laugh cause our staff got guns in they mother fucking belts/You know how it is when we drop records they felt/You niggas can’t feel it/We the realest/fuck ‘em/We Bad Boy Killers!!!

Its really just beautiful isn’t it? Even as a fan who always preferred Biggie to Tupac, its easy for me to see the artistry involved in such a hate filled song. I may be wrong but I don’t think any of us will ever hear a diss track so complete in its scope for as long as we live. Unless of course the Sheena Easton-Gloria Estefan diss track from back in ’86 is ever leaked on the internet.
You DO NOT want it with Sheena. Seriously, just back up.

As promised, here are the totals for some of the more common themes expressed on Hit ‘Em Up:

- Claims on relations with Faith Evans: 3

- Labeling himself and his crew as “Bad Boy Killers”: 4

- Shout outs to the “West Side”: 6

- Plain ole F-Us: 11

- Use of the word Motherfucker: 19

- Various threats of killing/stabbing/shooting, etc.: 32

Finally, for sticking with this post until it’s completion. Here’s one last thing that makes life a little easier to deal with, a Ruben Patterson story.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Fuck, fuckin yeah!!

I'm busy dealing with politicians all day today so I won't be posting anything this afternoon. However, even the stench of dirty money and empty promises can't ruin my day. That's because today marks exactly one month until the college football season begins in earnest. A month from today I'll be sitting on my couch drinking beer and controlling 6-10 football games at a time with nothing more than two remotes and one hand. The guys at EDSBS called today the beginning of Football Advent and that sounds just about right to me. Sure, Christmas was great when I was young but it pales badly in comparison to football now that I'm all grown up and responsible. Well, grown up at least. With that in mind, here's a little video of Gator commit Chris Rainey torching a few kids at a passing camp earlier this summer. Can we get him on campus now?

Oh yeah, sorry about the gratuitous profanity. It's a college football reference (even if it's a little inside) though, I swear.