The Dark Period

There is a song that takes me back to the prime of my life every time I hear it.  When I hear this song, I remember being 18 and riding the strip at Panama City Beach with my friends.  I have it on my iTunes playlist but I go through phases where all I want to hear is Deftones or Thrice or Starset and it gets lost in the 200+ songs that live there.  It rolled around this morning and I put it on repeat a couple of times because it’s just soothing to my soul when I hear it.  I’m sure you have certain songs that travel right through your ears and into the limbic system of your brain to put you in a different frame of mind.  Or is it just me?  Anyway, this particular song is “1979” by Smashing Pumpkins.  The Pumpkins were my favorite band in high school before the Deftones came along.  They are still in my all time top 3 and “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” is one of the greatest albums ever!Smashing Pumpkins – 1979

The odd part of the memory of this particular part of my life is that it doesn’t include sports cards.  As Eric Norton so eloquently calls it when asking collectors on the Beckett Radio Podcast for their backstory in the hobby, it was my “dark period”.  Everyone in my age range has one.  Mine was from 1994 until around 2002.  I do remember picking up some football cards in 1998 because I have a bunch of Manning, Moss and Ricky Williams rookies but that was a short time frame.  And believe it or not, the cards I bought in ’98 were because of a girl.  That’s odd because the “girl” is usually the primary reason for the dark period to begin with.  But I actually dated a girl one time that liked ripping football cards.  The hobby side of me enjoyed those times but the relationship side is happy that we moved on.My dark period began in 1994 with the baseball strike.  It was really a perfect storm that led to me walking away from the hobby for a while.  For a 17 year old baseball fan, my mind had not evolved to the point of understanding salary caps, arbitration and antitrust legislation.  For me, it was greed, plain and simple.  I wanted baseball in my life and it wasn’t there.  I remember thinking that I would have played Major League Baseball for free and these owners and players were fighting over millions.  To complicate matters, one of the players at the forefront of this was a player on my home team, Tom Glavine, the President of the Player’s Union.  Unfortunately, he was the face I remember most often when thinking about the back and forth of the strike.  At the time, I partially blamed him, which may have been unfair.  There was blame to be passed around no doubt, but I put too much of it on him.The 1994 season was shaping up to be historic.  That’s easy to say some 23 years later but there were some major things happening.  The Montreal Expos were 74-40 at the time the strike happened and were 6 games ahead of the Braves.  That would have either been a great end to the season for the Expos or the Braves would have made an awesome comeback and won the East.  Either would have been considered wins in my book because the Expos were fun to watch.  The ’94 Strike has been credited with being a part of the eventual downfall of the Expos.  They sold off players after ’94 and attendance dropped.  They would never recover and could not get funding to build a new stadium.  MLB would eventually purchase the Expos in 2002 and then move them to Washington for the 2005 season.Tony Gwynn was hitting .394 with only 8 weeks left in the season.  Matt Williams was on a mathematical pace to break Roger Maris’ home run record.  The strike also cost Don Mattingly a chance at the postseason as the Yankees were 70-43 and 6 1/2 games up on the Orioles.  Up until that point, he had been kept out of the postseason.  He finally made it in 1995 but the team was not considered as good as in 1994.  He would retire at the end of ’95 and the Yanks would beat the Braves for the ’96 World Series title.  That was painful for me as a Braves fan but imagine how Donnie Baseball felt.By far one of the strangest results of the ’94 strike was a trade involving Dave Winfield and filet mignon.  While playing for the Twins in 1994, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians just after the strike began for a player to be named later.  Because the ’94 season ended early, Winfield didn’t play any games in Cleveland that year and the player to be named was never named.  To settle the trade, the Indians and Twins executives went out for dinner and Cleveland picked up the tab.  That’s probably the cheapest any team has ever bought a 3,000 hit, Hall of Famer.  I wonder how many calls were made after this story surfaced that requested Wade Boggs for a few lobster dinners!So the strike had me backing away from the hobby but there were other reasons that kept me away.  The Summer of ’94 is also when I started dating my future wife.  When we started dating, I didn’t care about baseball cards, Clerks or Tecmo Super Bowl for a while.  A hot chick can have that effect on a man.  My day was consumed with thoughts of my new girlfriend.  We went to different schools in our town and I would call her from a pay phone in our lunchroom cafeteria and she would stand by a pay phone outside her lunchroom waiting for the call.  Let that sink in for a moment young people…..a pay phone!  If I missed her, my afternoon was shot.  After school, I would drive by to see if she had left yet and then would ride around town hoping to bump into her.  No cell phone in those days and we couldn’t talk until we both got home.This relationship continued until 1997 and my cards stayed locked away in the closet during that whole time.  When we broke up, I was 20 and was galavanting all over the place hanging with friends and just being a dumb kid.  I was playing basketball, working, going to Huddle House at 2am and taking spur of the moment road trips with my buddies.  We did look at cards from time to time but it definitely didn’t classify as a hobby.  As I mentioned above, I did dip my toes back in the water in ’98 and dropped some coin on football products but I still didn’t go back to baseball yet.  I loved the Topps and Score boxes that could be found at Wal-Mart at the time and I would buy them every time I took a trip.  I still like that Topps set and it had some really cool inserts like Hidden Gems that are still pretty nice looking today.  The rookie class was awesome; Manning, Leaf, Hines Ward, Randy Moss, Fred Taylor, Ahman Green and Charles Woodson.  Even though I started picking these back up, I still wasn’t diving back into the hobby again.Part of my hesitation was still from the strike, some of it was from life just catching up with me during my young adult years and the rest was just the sheer mass production that was happening in the mid 90’s.  As a 20 year old, I was really starting to consider value in the cards and I wasn’t really finding it anymore.  The late 90’s were filled with products that I just couldn’t keep up with.  There were things like Zenith, Collectors Choice, Fleer Metal, Fleer Traditions, Pacific, Aurora and 20 different Pinnacle offshoots.  Supply had certainly met and passed demand and I didn’t want any part of the glutton of cards.  I still loved sports but couldn’t justify spending my fun money on sports cards that were worth .50 cents.  There were certainly some valuable cards to be found but I wasn’t in a stage of life to be searching.After spinning my wheels through young adulthood, my path led me back to my original girlfriend from 1994 and we would go on to get married in 2001.  When we got married, we moved away from our hometown (about 40 minutes) and we made Sunday the day we would go back and see our parents.  On Sunday’s, we would watch NASCAR at my parents house and we all had our favorite drivers.  I’ve been a Tony Stewart guy since 1999, my dad was Dale Earnhardt (and Jr.) all the way, my mom liked the LaBonte brothers and my wife liked Dale Jarrett and Sterling Marlin.  Those Sunday experiences soon got me into NASCAR collectibles like die cast cars and racing cards when I could find them.  We had a spare bedroom in our duplex at the time that was full of NASCAR memorabilia.  That led to me pulling out my old cards from the late 80’s and early 90’s.Once I started looking through my old cards, the feelings of nostalgia came rushing over me and that was when it truly sunk in that I wasn’t a kid anymore.  I was married, had a 9 to 5 and only went back “home” once a week.  It also made me understand the “growing up conundrum”.  All kids want to grow up and be adults while most adults want to go back to when they were kids.  When you become an adult, you spend your time worrying about bills, health, kids and work so you forget what it was like to only worry about beating a video game or pulling a Ken Griffey Jr. in your pack of ’89 Donruss.  Nobody told me that when I became an adult, my days would be consumed with worry and responsibility.  If I had known that, I would’ve stayed 14.These worries and responsibilities are all relative to your age and situation.  They always seem heavy and you look for times in your life when the worry wasn’t such a big deal.  When it rains, I’m not going to tell my 10 year old daughter not to fret because she can’t play outside because I know that was devastating for me at that age.  But I do know that she will have bigger concerns one day.  I just don’t want her to have them yet.  I know that worry and stress evolves over time and I’ve learned that you have to combat them by any means necessary.  For me, that has become sports cards once again.  I guess it’s the circle of life to some degree.  When I was a kid, you could give me a few packs of ’90 Fleer and I was as happy as a clam.  Understanding that the cards were a source of happiness when I was young, I decided to fight off adulthood by buying cards again.  And it’s worked into my 40th year of life.In fact, I’m going stronger than ever now and I’m still buying 1990 Fleer!  I buy other stuff too but I’ll never stray from my roots.  I would rather have an ’88 Topps Jose Canseco than a 2017 Mike Trout.  That may not make sense to some people but that’s the way I operate.  That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t enjoy a 2017 Trout.  It doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t love to have an Aaron Judge autograph.  But the true happiness of collecting for me comes from living in the moments from when I was a kid.  Unless Doc Brown comes along with a Delorean and Huey Lewis and the News, this is as close as I’ll get to those years.  So I’ll keep ripping “Junk Wax”, as it’s labeled.  I’ll keep collecting Fleer stickers and ’89 Bowman wrappers and ’90 Upper Deck holograms.  Who knows, I might pull a Donruss Elite along the way or that Juan Gonzalez reverse negative we all remember.  But whatever I pull, it will be memorable and will remind me of the days before my “dark period.”

J-Dub

Pack Searching For Integrity

If you’ve been a collector for any reasonable amount of time, you’ve heard the term “pack searcher.”  If you’re lucky, you’ve never seen one in action but if you buy at Wal-Mart, Target, K-Mart or any of the other general retailers where packs are available, you’ve no doubt been a victim of their shenanigans.  I say shenanigans, because technically, it’s not a criminal act but neither is adultery or flipping off a cop but everyone knows it’s wrong.  Am I comparing pack searching to adultery or giving a cop the finger?  That may seem like a stretch to some but yeah, I guess I put it somewhere in the middle of that scale.  It definitely falls under the category of “you should know better” as my granddaddy used to tell me.  I’ll try to explain why here but I’m sure this will be met with resistance from those that shall not be named.

In my experience on Twitter, Facebook and in real life, I would guess that pack searchers make up a small percentage of the hobby.  Of course, there may be some that are afraid to admit that they engage in such practices.  I can tell you that they make up zero percent of “collectors” because I don’t consider them a part of the collecting family that I’m in.  They may claim to be but we all have people who claim to be a part of our family that we deny.  The entire scheme is bad but what makes it even worse is the deflection and decree of innocence when confronted.  It’s amazing that anyone could not see the harm it does to the hobby or the moral dishonesty.

You may be asking what pack searching actually is because I do have people who read my blog for non card reasons.  Perhaps it’s my eloquence or charm, I don’t know.  As you are likely aware, the retailers above have small sections for card collectors where you can buy “retail” packs.   Retail boxes typically have less “hits” (autos/relics/plates/etc) but they are also cheaper to buy.  The act of pack searching is when an individual manhandles each of the packs to search out the packs that have the hits in them.   Most of the time, the hits aren’t even for them as they will go and list the packs on eBay as “hot packs” that are guaranteed to contain a hit.  So in essence, they are buying a $2.99 retail pack and flipping it on eBay for considerably more.   Those that do open typically will list the hit on eBay for sale to also recover the funds for the pack plus their net profit.You may be saying to yourself that this doesn’t sound all that bad.  Perhaps you’re thinking that there are just some savvy individuals who have found a loophole in the system to make a few extra bucks.   The first issue is that it is a loophole to begin with.  Loophole by definition is “an ambiguity or inadequacy in the law or a set of rules” which would lend itself to being against the intention of the rules.  Therein lies the first issue.  Card companies have been trying to combat this for years with different tamper proof pack designs, fake cardboard fillers in packs and hanger boxes.  But card companies aren’t able to stop this practice on their own.Card Companies are trying to innovate and provide collectors with new products such as prime relics, coins, cut signatures and the like.  But what that ultimately means is that packs that hold these cards are going to be of a little different size.  I personally don’t have a problem with a person picking a thick pack out of the box with the hopes that it’s a hit because it could always be a dummy card.  It’s the extremes that people go to that cross the line.   People bring in tiny scales to weigh each pack and will buy the ones that are out of place.  They will bring in magnets to try and uncover coin cards or plates.  The first question you should ask yourself when determining if what you’re doing is wrong is whether or not you have to take scales and magnets into the retailer to make sure you get the right ones.For those that are less experienced, or in some cases more familiar with the product, they will grope the pack like a prom date at midnight.   They slide the cards around in the packs, look through the cellophane and even bend the cards to see how flexible the packs are when compared to each other.   The obvious problem here is that the cards can become damaged during this process, ruining the pack for future purchase.   The other problem is you look like a weirdo in public but that doesn’t seem to bother some people.  I suppose that’s a personal choice.Another big part of this involves the reason people purchase retail to begin with.  Most times, if you have the resources and a local card shop, you are buying hobby and pack searching doesn’t fly at any reputable LCS.   However, the number of card shops has reduced tremendously over the years while retail stores have continued to pop up everywhere and thrive.  If you don’t have an LCS, odds are you are within close proximity to Target or Wal-Mart so retail may be your only geographical option.  Also, as mentioned above, retail packs are generally cheaper than hobby because the packs have much wider ratios of pulling hits.  So if it’s an off pay week or times have gotten slim, it’s easier to drop $2.99 per pack as opposed to $4.99 per pack.   Sometimes buying retail is strictly an economical decision and there’s nothing wrong with that.What this means is that a large part of the collecting world is dependent on retailers to provide packs for their hobby desires.  And buying retail packs deserves to be just as random and optimistic of an experience as buying hobby, even if your chances are lower that you’ll pull a hit.  A hit should be a surprise and a unique experience, not one that can be compromised by a magnet and a micrometer.  I don’t know how else to say it other than, it’s just not right.   I know that sounds like pops telling kids to turn down their music but I know that a vast majority of the collecting community feels this way or either I’ve been lied to for years.When a pack searcher learns the retail stores schedule of putting out product, they will arrive just when boxes hit the shelves, clean out the hits and leave the base packs for the general public.  A big part of the general public I am referring to includes children.   I know searchers think that is a copout for those of us against it but I have experienced it myself.   My daughter collects cards but she doesn’t get to spend $40 at the hobby shop.   She usually has $5-$10 to spend at Wal-Mart.  Every time we walk up to the aisle and I see the packs all turned over or totally out of sorts, I have to try and temper her expectations of pulling something nice because it’s likely gone. She likes autographs and patch cards as much as I do but I can’t afford two hobby shop addictions.Now we get to a real tough position of trying to figure out how to combat this issue.  Because as the searchers say, it’s not illegal whether I think it should be or not.  I personally think it is a form of stealing but one of my favorite sayings is, “we justify the things we like.”  Some people may be against sex on TV but they love “The Bachelor”, which is pretty much people making out with each other to get a guy or girl.  Some people may not like violence in video games but love horror movies.  We can all justify the things we like as not being that bad.  And that’s what happens with a pack searcher.  Because there isn’t a written law against it, then it’s ok to do.   I believe that if the intent of the card company is to go to great lengths to randomize their product with tamper proof packaging, dummy cards and blasters, then compromising that is in fact wrong.   Counting cards in a casino is not illegal but it’s highly frowned upon and will get you banned. Why? Because counting cards gives you an unfair advantage.

So what needs to happen?

• Card companies need to continue to experiment and innovate their packaging to combat this issue.  They have taken steps but there is more that can be done.   Perhaps there is a way to make all packs the same width and same weight?  Maybe there could be larger card stock dummies put on the top and bottom of the packs?  They have figured out a way to put a piece of a football helmet in a card so I believe this could be done.

• Stores could adopt internal policies to discourage pack searching.  This may not be high on their priority list but this could also be done.  Many stores have policies that aren’t necessarily related to whether something is legal or not but whether or not it’s good for their customers.  If a place can tell you that you can’t have a drink in the store, they can prohibit pack searching as a store policy.

• Buyers should stop purchasing hot packs off of eBay.  Buying hot packs may not be as condemned in the hobby as pack searching itself but it surely contributes to the searching itself.  It’s Econ 101 – Supply and Demand.

Well, that’s my piece on card searching.   I unequivocally think it’s wrong and it’s not what’s intended in the hobby.  I don’t feel this way because I can’t search packs.  It doesn’t take a genius to bend, weigh or measure packs.  It’s just not something I think is appropriate for people who value the hobby they are involved in.  I keep going back to this word but it is truly “compromising” the integrity of collecting.   And if you are one of those people who just thinks, “It’s just baseball/football cards, what integrity is involved” then you won’t really understand my point of view.  And it’s totally fine to disagree with me just as those who have disagreed with me before because you’re right, it’s not illegal.  People have argued over morals for thousands of years and that will continue so I guess that’s where this discussion lies for now.   People who do it will always find a way to justify it and the people who care about the hobby itself will always wonder why it continues.  Consider me in the latter camp.

J-Dub

Home State Heartbreak

So I’ve finally reached a point where I think I can write about this but I’m even going to veil the subject in a more global discussion about my home teams in general. I’m a sports nut and I live in Georgia. Historically, that has been the equivalent of being a snow skiing fanatic in Florida. We have a 1980 National Title in Athens and a 1995 World Series in Atlanta. Other than that, bupkis. I’m not going back to some obscure 1923 title that may or may not be claimed somewhere to find something else. I’m also not a Georgia Tech fan so I’m not including anything they may have done, though I’m not bashing either. I will do that closer to football season. All my home teams have some red in them; Bulldogs, Braves, Hawks and Falcons. They also have a long history of, in the words of the Great Lewis Grizzard, tearing out your heart and stomping that sucker flat. So, how ‘bout that Super Bowl 51?Atlanta Falcons – Well, the Falcons have zero championships in their history. We (and yes, I’m using “We” throughout this piece) have 13 playoff appearances since 1966 and 2 conference championships. The first conference championship was in 1998 when we snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in Minnesota with the great Gary Anderson missing his first field goal of the year and the even greater Morten Anderson connecting on his. We would finish the regular season at 14-2 that year but were still the #2 seed. Those Great Lakers deserved that defeat as payback for what happened in 1991, which we’ll get to shortly. But the Falcons giveth, and the Falcons taketh away. We went on to get drummed by future Hall of Famer John Elway and the Denver Broncos 34-19.Then we had to endure the Michael Vick era with its teases and near misses. We’d fall to the Eagles in our next bid at a trip to the Super Bowl in 2004. We followed up with 8-8 and 7-9 the following years, respectively. Then Bobby Petrino came in and made his mess. We followed the next few years with an occasional playoff appearance and even clinched the #1 seed in the 2010 playoffs. But we would go on to get lambasted by Green Bay, 48-21 in the NFC Divisional. This was the worst loss by a #1 seed in divisional playoff game history and the second worst playoff loss by a #1 seed period. 2011 brought a playoff loss at the hands of the Giants. 2012 saw us clinch the #1 seed again and we picked up our only playoff win in the Mike Smith Era (2008-2014). The playoffs looked promising at halftime of the NFC Championship vs the 49er’s with a score of 24-14 in our favor. We coughed that up and lost 28-24.Then we hit the doldrums with a 4-12 season in 2013. We did a reverse Braves and went from 1st to Worst. 2014 was much of the same. After a coaching change to Dan Quinn in 2015, we would return to a .500 season but showed promise along the way. In 2016, the Falcons lit the world on fire on offense but still showed inexperience on defense until the second half of the season. We would finish with an 11-5 record and a first round bye. Then, despite trepidation from the fan base because of all the previous misery, we went on to take down the two hottest opponents in the NFC, Seattle and Green Bay. We held a 21-3 lead at halftime over the New England Patriots. We increased that lead to 28-3 in the third quarter. Even this old hardened Falcon fans heart started to soften. And then the unthinkable happened. Conservative play calling and horrendous defense lead to a complete collapse and we lost 34-28. Many people will give Tom Brady credit for that win but not me, and I’m not anti Tom Brady. We gave that one up! We gave him the opportunity to do what he did. Without some horrible decisions in the second half, he doesn’t have that window. Just an abysmal display and one I fear has the opportunity to carryover to 2017 like a bad Goldschlager hangover.Atlanta Braves – The Falcons aren’t alone in providing misery for the fan base but the Braves did give us one of those elusive championships in 1995. Granted, the Braves gave us a magical 14 consecutive Division Championship streak which is unmatched to this point. The problem with the Braves always came in the postseason. In that streak of 14 consecutive division titles, we have 4 NL pennants to show for it. And of those 4 NL pennants, we have one World Series ring. That means that we won the NL 28.5% of the time we made the playoffs and we won the World Series 7% of the time we made the playoffs and 25% of the time we won the National League. And like the Falcons, its how we lost that drives me the craziest. I will touch on it but you can read all about Lonnie Smith by clicking here.The Braves moved to Atlanta from Milwaukee in 1966. From 1966 to 1991, we had a total of 2 division titles. That’s 2 divisional titles in 25 years. This doesn’t even scratch the surface on how bad the teams actually were during most of that span. We’re not talking about barely missing the playoffs in the 80’s. We’re talking about a .494 winning percentage in 84, .407 in 85, .447 in 86, .429 in 87, .338 in 88 and .394 in 89. Yes, Donruss was not the worst thing you could be called in 1988. But things were about to turn around with another Atlanta coaching change. This time, Bobby Cox was brought in during the middle of 1990. 1990 still finished as an abysmal season and resulted in the trade of Dale Murphy, an icon in Atlanta.But in 1991, we started to see fresh faces John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Steve Avery start to do work on the mound while Ron Gant, David Justice and Terry Pendleton carried the torch at the plate. The Worst to First season was completed on the last day of the regular season when the Braves clipped the Dodgers by one game. After defeating the Pirates in 7 games, the Great Lakers would drive a dagger in our hearts in the 91 World Series, which is still considered one of the best ever. My hatred for Kent Hrbek after his cowardly display of pulling Ron Gant off of 1st base and Dan Gladden for his grittiness shifted to Lonnie Smith at the conclusion of Game 7 that saw John Smoltz and Jack Morris duel for 9 scoreless innings. The Twins were able to muster a run in extra innings to win the series. We would’ve never been in that position had Lonnie Smith just ran the bases in the 8th inning. It’s been 26 years and I still get heartburn thinking about that!1992 saw another 7 game series with Pittsburgh in the NLCS with the defining moment in Braves history occurring in the 9th inning with a 3 run rally and Sid Bream lugging his piano around the bases to slide just ahead of Spanky LaValliere’s tag. We would lose in the World Series again, this time to the Toronto Blue Jays and Kelly Freakin Gruber! In 1995, we actually won the World Series I thought we should’ve lost. We took down the Cleveland Indians, who had won 100 games (10 more than the Braves.) The Indians were loaded too with Eddie Murray, Orel Hershiser, Dennis Martinez, Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez and Albert Belle. Go figure, we beat the Indians but lost to Gene Larkin and Greg Gagne. The rest is history as we would go on to win 10 more consecutive division titles and zero World Series.The Atlanta Hawks – This one will actually be short. The Hawks have been in Atlanta since 1968 and have 5 division titles and zero conference titles. We’ve seen some great (some good) players in Dominique Wilkins, Spud Webb, Kevin Willis, Dikembe Mutombo, Pete Marivich, Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Lenny Wilkins and Moses Malone. We had some close calls like in 2015 when we had the best record in the East or in 2008 when we took down the Heat in the playoffs, only to lose to the Cavs in the next round. There really isn’t much to say about the Hawks other than we’re better than we used to be but not as good as the best in the conference. I will still sit down and take in the game every time they are on TV though because I love them!Georgia Bulldogs – I’ve talked about The Life of A Dawg at this link but to round this out, we can give a synopsis of that life here as well. The National Title in my lifetime was in 1980 when I was 3. We had a running back by the name of Herschel Walker that may still be the best college football player to ever play. Since then, we spent a lot of time up until the early 2000’s winning 8 games a season. In the early 2000’s we started finding success under Mark Richt and won two early SEC titles in his tenure (2002, 2005). We also won the East 6 times during his tenure. We came painstakingly close to the big dance though a couple of times and it has me all in the pepto still today.First there was 2007 where we finished the season ranked #3 in the coaches poll and #2 in the AP after blasting Hawaii 41-10. If there had been a playoff that year, who knows what would’ve happened. We didn’t even get to play in the SEC Championship because we lost to TN that year and finished 11-2. This was the same record as Tennessee but we lost to them head to head. We even beat the Mighty Bammers in overtime that year. We peaked at the wrong time after stumbling out of the gate.Speaking of the Bammers, our nearest miss came in 2012. This one ranks right up there with Kyle Shanahan’s mishaps and Lonnie Smith’s blunders. After an 11-1 regular season, we faced off with #1 Bama in the SEC Championship. We gave them all we had! We held the lead with 3:15 left in the game before AJ McCarron connected with Amari Cooper for a 44 yard score to take a 32-28 lead. We weren’t done though as the gutsy Aaron Murray led a last minute charge from our own 15 yard line with 1 minute left an no timeouts. A pass completion to Arthur Lynch took us to the 8 with 9 seconds to play. Instead of clocking it and getting a clean shot at the end zone, Richt (Bobo) decided to push the defense and ran a play. That play wound up being a tipped pass that was caught at the 5 in bounds by Chris Conley, allowing the clock to run out. I don’t blame Conley to this day because he was doing what football players are taught to do. This one was on the play callers shoulders much like the Falcons Super Bowl bid. Bama then got the easy task of playing Manti Teo’s girlfriend in the national title. ARRRGGGHHH!!I have spent a lot of my sports life with my face buried in my hands in the prayer position on my living room floor. It’s been exacerbating at times. It’s been mind numbing, exhausting and miserable. There have been high points no doubt. There was the Mikey Henderson catch in OT to beat Auburn. There was the Morten kick. There was Sid’s slide. There was the Hobnail Boot. But I can name many more times that it didn’t work out. And when it doesn’t work out, it’s unbelievable. The Prayer at Jordan-Hare in 2013, the Lonnie Smith bumble in 1991, the Navorro Bowman interception in 2012, Aaron Rodgers in 2010, Joe Carter in 1992, and finally, Kyle Shanahan in 2016. There are plenty of other franchises that have their share of misery but now that Cleveland has their basketball championship (plus Ohio State), I don’t know that there is a more tortured fan base than that of the state of Georgia. I could be wrong and if I am, I’m sure I’ll hear about it. But chances are, you can find a championship with one of your major professional or college teams that make the pain a little more bearable. Again, this isn’t just about championships. This is as much about opportunities not seized or games lost. There have been a lot of jokes made at my expense but I will always bleed for the State of Georgia and her sports. One day, that will all pay off. One Day.

J-Dub

Pet Peeves – Collector’s Edition

You may have skimmed through my previous pet peeves post and understand where I’m going with this one.  For those who haven’t, I’ll lay out some basics up front.  As with my previous pet peeve post, I’m not calling anyone individually out, although I do point a finger at some companies.  These are things that rub me the wrong way in my daily walk through collecting.  Some of it is part deception on seller’s parts, some is manufacturer greed and some is just nonsense in general.  I imagine that as you go through this list, you’ll be nodding your head in agreement because you’ve likely dealt with these issues yourself.  You may even have your own story about one of these.  This is meant in fun and hopefully you’ll get a good chuckle out of it.eBay 1/1 – This one is pretty widely booed amongst my acquaintances.  When somebody posts an eBay 1/1, I look in my collection, praying that I find what they’re selling so I can list it and it won’t be 1/1 anymore.  I could put my personalized Joey Shiver ’87 Topps up on eBay and call it a 1/1 but it’s not bringing any more cash.  Maybe you’ll find a sucker out there that doesn’t understand what you’re trying to do, but it’s not going to be me.  I went to my LCS this morning and I saw a ton of “LCS 1/1’s.”  Maybe they should start putting that on their stickers!  Listen, it’s either a 1/1 or it isn’t.  It’s not eBay 1/1, Twitter 1/1 or Facebook 1/1.  Just stop it!Advertisement of “Gem Mint Condition” – This is another eBay style gimmick that gets me riled.  You may be selling a card in very good condition but don’t tell me it’s Gem Mint unless it’s graded.  And please don’t say it like this, “Gem Mint???”  I don’t know, you’re the one selling it and you’re asking me?  How about we just be honest with each other and say, “Hey, as far as I can tell, this card is in very good condition.  No visible blemishes, corners and surface looks good, centering is nice.”  The Fatpacks just talked about the difficulty of grading on their last podcast.  Please don’t try to sell me a Gem Mint Condition, eBay 1/1 with your 98.2% seller rating.  I’m not buying it based on that description, I’m buying it because I want the card.  I’m probably not buying it at all with that rating.Hits stated as Autos OR Memorabilia – Here’s one that’s on the company.  New products always state their odds of hits in the box.  2 autos/1 mem per box – 1 auto/2 mems per box.  You get it.  But when they state 3 autos or mems per box, I know I’m getting 1 auto and 2 mems.  If it says 1 auto or mem, I’m getting a mem.  Maybe it’s just my luck but I’ve never pulled 3 autos out of a box that said OR.  And don’t even get me started on Allen & Ginter!  I really like the product but in that one you get 3 hits but they could be – Autographs, Relics, Originals, Book Cards, Cut Signatures, Rip Cards or Ancient Rome Relics featuring real Roman coins.  You get all that?  I bought 4 boxes last year and I shite you not, I got 1 auto and 11 relics.  Just tell me what’s in the box and let’s move on!  If I pull an auto, great.  But don’t feed me these false hopes.Pack Searchers – We’re all familiar.  You get hobby at a card shop or online and you get retail at Target or Wal Mart.  Hobby is always better because they have more hits and good shop owners don’t let their customers search.  But this pack searching is the lowest of the low and if these were in any type of order, this would be peeve numero uno.  There are YouTube videos dedicated to outing these scumbags.  What makes them even worse is when they act like they’re doing nothing wrong.  Card companies have done a lot to try and combat it with their packaging but there are real dedicated toolbags out there that find a way.  They feel all of the packs in Wal Mart, bringing in scales and tiny magnets, all in hopes of finding that one pack that is a little different than the others.  I’m fine if you can eyeball a pack and see a difference but when you bring in your searching kit, you can get bent.  Next time you go to Target, look at an open box of cards and you’ll see that the entire inventory has been rifled through.  That’s the universal mating call of the pack searcher.  They’ve ruined retail for the general public.  Thanks asshatsHot Packs – Pack searching brings me directly to the hot pack.  This is the fruits of the pack searcher.  I’ll never understand how someone can advertise a pack of cards as “guaranteed to contain a red parallel serial numbered out of 50.”  You are doing some serious pack negotiating if you’re seeing that in a pack.  If you can see all of that, don’t you think I know you can see if it’s Mike Trout or Chris Johnson?  Are you going to sell the Mike Trout in a hot pack or are you going to open that bad boy and sell the single?  Exactly.  Back to my stated odds section above, if you see someone advertise a hot pack that is guaranteed to contain an auto or mem, trust me, it’s not an auto!  I won’t even get started on the effects these searchers and hot packs have on the youth of our hobby.  Let’s just say it ain’t good!  I can’t keep talking about this or I’m going to lose it.


License Exclusivity – Let’s go back to some company issues.  This one is justbeyond my comprehension.  As most collectors are aware, Topps has the exclusive license to produce MLB trading cards.  Panini has the exclusive license to produce NFL trading cards.  I’ve said before, I’m a Donruss guy from back in the day.  I still love Donruss designs today.  But thanks to Topps and their MLB exclusivity, I only get Donruss cards with blank jerseys or bad photos that hide team names.  The 2017 design is one of my favorites ever from Donruss but it’s marred by the lack of being a licensed product.  I’m not just anti Topps on this either as you’ll see with my next peeve.  The fact that Panini has the exclusive license for football is just asinine.  What major sport should have trading cards without an option for Topps?  Nada.  Topps at least doesn’t plow through the NFL season with blank jersey’s and helmets but I do miss the company variety in football.  I loved Topps Museum, even though I rarely bought it by the box.  And Valor and Fire were cool designed products as well.  Who is this exclusivity helping besides the company itself?  Not the collector.  Not the open market.  Not the innovation of the hobby.  We’ve got to figure this out guys.  There is room for Topps, Donruss and Upper Deck in the major sports.  Give us a choice.100 Panini Products – Ok, when I say give us choice, this is not what I mean.  Again, I’m a Panini guy so this one pains me to write.  Panini released 40 basic card products in football this year.  You read that right, 40!  Origins, Prizm, Unparalled, Impeccable, Contenders, Classics, Draft Prizm, National Treasures, Spectra, Select, Rookies & Stars, Donruss, Prestige, Preferred, Playoff, Playbook…..see where this is headed?  I just named 16 – that’s not even half.  There are 52 weeks in a year and 20 weeks in a football season.  That’s almost a product a week during a calendar year and it’s 2 a week for a football season.  Good luck if you are an old school set collector.  You just have to pick a product or two and stick with it.  I can’t even keep up with the releases anymore.  This has to stop or it’s going to end very poorly for my favorite brand.  I don’t want to see that but it’s coming.  Spend more time on less products and you won’t have to charge $725 for a box of 8 cards.  With all those producers, how many stickers are floating around Panini with autographs at this point?

1990 Donruss – There’s really not much to say that hasn’t already been said about this abysmal set.  Same can be said for ’91 Fleer.  Although, for both products, I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when these designs were pitched to the execs.  Who signed off on these?  I’d really like to be privy to those conversations.Non-Drafted Autos – This is not intended for the “prospect” autos.  I am talking specifically about players who weren’t drafted, aren’t getting picked up and are on practice squads before the sets even come out.  There’s no point in advertising a box with 5 or 6 autos in it if 4 of the autos are Shane Drango, Nando De Colo, Levi Norwood and Jeremy Pargo.  You’re probably asking, “Who?”  To which I respond, “Exactly.”  Baseball is the least guilty of this travesty but they do like to throw in a ton of rookie relief pitchers in their autograph selection.  So that may as well be considered the equivalent of an offensive lineman or D League player.  Don’t beef up your autograph numbers with guys who wind up in the dime box.  Of course, some prospects hit and some never pan out but some are mediocre from the jump and the card companies know that as much as anybody.Fake Numbers on Rookies – This actually goes back to the Rookie Premier set that used to be produced.  That “fake number” is usually Double 0.  Some products still use it as Panini Origins from 2016 comes to mind.  I get that the companies bring these rookies in for photos, autos and whatnot, but that 00 is so generic.  Now, consider this – you pull a one color patch of a rookie from one of the many products from 2016.  If that patch is from these 00 jersey’s, what a ripoff that is!  I’d prefer the companies just use a picture from draft day or a photo not in the jersey altogether.  Do they not airbrush anymore?  I found out as I was wrapping this post up, my pal @sportcardcollec is not a fan either!Bad Autographs – Here’s one that’s on the player.   While I understand there are a lot of signings these days, the players have either gotten lazy or they’re not very creative with their signatures.  If it’s the result of too many signings, all this carpal tunnel syndrome is prompting players to shorten their signatures to something ridiculous.  One that comes to mind is Xavier Rhodes.  I have an autographed card that I pulled in a pack and it’s signed, “XR.”  Really?  I actually did get lucky and pull that auto but it’s “XR?”  If it’s lack of creativity, take some lessons from Taywon Taylor and jazz this thing up!  Players, your autograph is highly sought after.  Take the time to make it look good!  At least make it reasonably legible.One Color Patches – My biggest issue with these is that I have zero faith that this clothing I’m looking at is a piece of actual jersey.  I’ll take your word for it with your guarantees but a one color patch is the equivalent of the initials autograph.  See my above on fake numbers and you see the issue.Taping Toploaders – Here’s one for the shippers.  I’ve brought it up before but it bears repeating.  When you tape a toploader, you essentially take away from its future usage.  It’s always going to have that sticky film on it and it’s effectively useless unless I’ve got some dupes that aren’t for viewing any more.  Please don’t tape your toploaders shut when mailing products.  Shipping is something that often gets too little attention but it’s something to leaves an impression with your buyer.  I prefer to wrap my cards in paper or put them in the clear bags to avoid tape on the holders.Redemption Substitutions – Back to the companies.  Redemptions alone are pretty frustrating.  First, it means that I’ve got to wait from the card that I actually bought today.  One of my astute tweeps, @gatorpk321 had a good take on this a few weeks  ago.  The card companies don’t take an I.O.U. from us when we buy so why are we taking them from us when we rip the packs?  But even worse than the redemption is the redemption substitution. Sometimes these I.O.U.’s don’t materialize in the form of the actual card we’re promised.  The company then makes their own determination of “similar value”.  I’ve stated before, collecting for me is not as tied to dollar value as much as interest.  I pulled a 2013 Topps Archives William “Refrigerator” Perry auto a couple of years ago.  Being an 80’s-90’s guy, I was ecstatic!    After a looong wait, I finally got a letter in the mail from Topps with a Jarvis Landry auto and a “bonus” Joe Adams auto.  Wait, what??  First, Joe Adams is not even in the league!  Any other time, Jarvis Landry would be a welcome addition but in the place of The Fridge?  I can’t even describe the letdown.

Well, that’s my initial list but I know there are others.  I’m already planning a part 2 But I need your help.  Tell me what your pet peeve is and if we have it in common, I’ll add it to the list for Part 2.  The hobby is a wonderful pastime but there are certain aspects that make me scratch my head and wonder what’s going on.  We can have fun with it in a post like this but I know it really gets under everyone’s skin and drives us mad.  So, what’s your pet peeve??

J-Dub

I’m A Dork!

I have no problem with the self depracating column that is before you.  Odds are, we are a lot alike but you may not embrace the terminology I use.  But I am a dork, nerd, dweeb, geek, whatever you want to call it.  And I’m not talking about in a hipster kind of way.  I mean it in the pretty basic immature kind of way.  I have my likes and they are generally juvenile.  I have things that get my attention and they usually are the same things that got my attention when I was a young lad.  I am 40 years old and I haven’t grown up.  And I don’t plan on it.I’m married, have two kids, own a home and have a stable job of 19 years.  That’s as far as I’m taking this adulthood thing.  Those things do come first and I will be a responsible functioning adult in those arenas.  But that’s it.  I usually don’t do dinner where I have to tuck my shirt in or wear a button down.  As a matter of fact, I’m going to say that 100% of the time my shirt is tucked in is at work and church.  Other functions make up less than 1% of those times so I’m rounding it on up to 100.  Now, if you’re ordering a pizza and we are going to eat off of paper plates, watch a game and just talk with no preset expectations, just tell me when and where.  I’ll probably show up wearing my RBI Baseball t shirt.One thing you learn about me the first time you meet me is that I am not ashamed.  You can take me or leave me and the Earth will continue to rotate around the sun.  I haven’t always been that way and I don’t mean that in a flippant.  I have been around this rock for a long enough time to understand that people come and go but real friends are the ones who accept you for who you are and vice versa.  It took a while to figure that out.  I used to want everyone to like me.  I wanted to be someone that people automatically wanted to call if they were about to go out on the town.  I met a lot of fake people that way too.  There are a lot of people that will use that type of desire to be liked or “vulnerability” for their gain and throw you aside when it’s convenient.  So there is part of my message today.  Be you no matter what.  Some people will like you and some people will be turned off but you’ve weeded out some of the riff raff without even trying when you stay real.  And as Curly in “City Slickers” would say, that’s my one thing.  Be you and let me be me.  We may get along or we may not but we don’t have to get in each other’s way either.Well, this took a more serious tone than I anticipated so I’m getting back to the dork stuff.  The above is a good preface to explain why I have no shame in who I am at this stage in my life.  So I’m walking around the mall on this Sunday afternoon while the Mrs’ looks at every shoe available for purchase and I find myself taking in all the sights.  I’m not looking at Patagonia or North Face stuff because I don’t suppose I’m a “brand guy.”  I’m looking at the retro t-shirts, not because they are hip but because I actually love Ric Flair and Top Gun!  I’m checking out the new Funko Pop items at BAM.  I’m looking through old “coming of age” comedies at FYE.  I found Deftones “White Pony” on vinyl and it excites me because we I still listen to records when they are available.  I’m not going to Men’s Wearhouse even though I have a professional type job.  I’m going to Spencer Gifts because I think the shirts are funny and I need to update my black light for the 91 Topps project I’m working on.If I could freeze time from 1988-1993, I would do it in a second.  That would probably be my first wish if I ever found one of those genies in a bottle.  Second wish would probably be the abolishment of all the new tech items that led to the closure of video and record stores.  The third wish would no doubt be “3 more wishes”.  But back to 88-93, it wasn’t just a simpler time because I didn’t have many responsibilities.  I was just simpler all the way around.  If I wanted baseball cards, I hit Wal Mart or Piggly Wiggly.  There was no hobby and retail to get bogged down in.  The packs were $1 or less too so a reasonable summer job kept cards on the table if you know what I mean.  If I wanted to watch a movie, I had to go to the video store and walk the aisles, which would undoubtedly lead to additional rental possibilities.  As convenient as Netflix is, the convenience makes the decision too hard!  If I have to drop $2.50 on a movie, I’m going with what I know I want to watch, not just some film that looks like it might be interesting and I can turn it off if I want.  Yes, I suffered through many a horrible movie in the video days but I still joke about them with my brother and friends. I could play summer ball at the rec field and go get ice cream in a mini batting helmet at Dairy Queen after.  When I beat Zelda, I could go trade it at school for Mario 3 with Joe or BJ.  When I was hungry, I could pop pizza rolls in the oven and not worry about caloric intake.  I could stay up watching tv until 2 am on a weeknight and not feel like I’d been hit by a Mack truck when I had to get up for school.  I had to be vibrant in the morning because I had homework to do on the bus after all.  My work day would consist of a lawn to be mowed or watching my little brother.  Just absolute simpler times!  I am Exhibit A of why “Stranger Things” was such a huge breakout in 2016.  It’s a time period piece for me as much as it’s a sci-fi thriller.  See my Ghostbusters shirt??  That was my heyday! I have a hard time letting go of the old days.  If I had a positive interaction with someone in school and I haven’t seen them in 25 years, I’ll go right back to that memory when I see them again.  Nothing that’s happened in between those years matters.  In my mind, we’re back at the Legion pool on the super slide or trading 90 Donruss in Mr. Spivey’s class or camping out at Lake Okitiayakani and planning a big scare for the tent next to us.  That’s what I hang on to.  I sometimes just feel like a stranger in a different time.  All the partying on the river and gathering for poker and marathoners of the world have passed me by.  (And tubing on the creek is different than partying on the river in this case.)  Especially when you’re doing it with some of your closest friends.  But, each person is different.  Motivations are all unique but give me a pizza or cheeseburger, a copy of Night of the Living Dead, a couple of packs of ’90 Fleer and a Nintendo controller and I’ll stay out of your way and be as content as a koala in a eucalyptus forest.So maybe you’re not a dork like me.  Maybe you like those Junior League functions where you get to dress up and impress other people with your big society living.  Maybe you like sitting back with a cup of coffee and chatting about MSNBC with your colleagues.  Maybe you’re not happy unless you’re forcing your veins out of your forehead while you try to flip that 5 gallon bucket of concrete over your head.  Hey, it takes all kinds to make this world go round.  And I accept that about you just like I’m asking you to accept everything about me.  I’m just not impressed, much like you’re probably not impressed with my extensive knowledge of National Lampoon’s Vacation or my uncanny impersonation of Magnum PI!This isn’t an attack on anyone or their interests.  It’s quite the opposite.  This is a proclamation of who I am.  This is me finally understanding and drawing my line in the sand.  I’ve lived with the desire to be liked by all for far too long.  As a friend of mine said one time, “I just may not be your cup of tea.”  But now more than ever, I’m totally fine with that.  I have friends across all walks of life and that’s because we all have some common interests.  I’m just different with what makes me happy.  I am me!  I am a total, unashamed, take me or leave me dork!J-Dub

Ready or Not, 40 is Here!

Well, the day has finally come and gone and I can no longer say that I am “almost” 40. I am that guy now. It has really been a glass half full vs glass half empty past week for me. I don’t physically feel any different today than I did a week ago but I definitely feel different than I did 5 years ago and will likely 5 years from now. But the reality is sinking in that I will never be able to say I am in my 30’s again. I was only a little bummed when I couldn’t say I was in my 20’s anymore because I was excited about being in the 30’s. This one hasn’t quite been the same feeling. I’m trying to remain positive, don’t worry, but it’s not the same. This isn’t a “woe is me” post and I don’t think that life is almost over but there has been some distinct soul searching and mind sorting in my quiet time the last few days.The girls were all in the bed last night by 9 and I retreated to the kitchen table to start sorting 1991 Topps Baseball cards as part of the massive undertaking I have assumed in putting the master set together. You know, the one I wrote about here. Any who, I started up Starset on the Bob Marley speaker I got Alicia for Christmas and I blocked out everything that had gone on previously in the day. I put away the stress from work. I stopped obsessing over money. No more “what’s for supper” or constant why’s from the kids. NO distractions. It was just me, Dustin Bates and Bo Jackson hanging out in the kitchen together, reminiscing about old times.Going back through that 26 year old box of baseball cards has brought back a lot of memories. I remember the age from 14-17 when I would sit on my bed and go through each card in the Beckett magazine to see if I had any big money cards. I’d compare with Josh and Shook or with Corey and Jared to see who got the better haul. Once I got done sorting the cards, I’d pop on Super Tecmo Bowl and knock out a few season matchups. If the weather was nice, I’d check with Brewer to see if we could get a pickup game going in basketball, baseball or football. If it was already dark, I’d turn to my horror movie collection and watch one of the Night of the Living Dead flicks or Silver Bullet. I have long been a horror movie buff even though they scared me to death when I was young. I still remember watching “Lost Boys” at Josh’s house when I wasn’t really supposed to. And if we weren’t already grounded, maybe I could get Coop to come over and try to beat Contra again. Yes, I remember the code to get 30 lives!Then at 17, I matured a little (very little) and started focusing more on female companionship. That’s when I was working at the ole Video Superstore and doing a lot of girl watching. The card collection and the video games tapered off a bit but they never really left completely. I also liked girls before 17 but that wasn’t really my focus then either. So the roles sort of reversed around this time. During this stretch, I started talking to my future bride and soulmate, Alicia. We spent quite a lot of time together playing tennis, watching movies and riding 4-wheelers. And when I wasn’t with her, I spent my time with Munt, Rusty and Jim hanging out at the Parramore Pavilion. We made a lot of awesome memories too and we can still laugh today at some of the shenanigans. As a matter of fact, when Jim wished my Happy Birthday Monday on Facebook, the comments spiraled into old one-liners and we had a good laugh. From 17-20, that was pretty much my life!You won’t believe me when I say this but I did not drink alcohol before I was 21. But you can believe me when I say that I did after 21. By that time, I had started working at the job I am still at today and had a little change in my pocket. Munt was over at Valdosta State then so I would leave my job at 4:15 in Albany and haul over to VSU to spend the evening over there hanging out and chasing more chicks. Alicia and I went on a bit of a break from when I was 20-23. And this wasn’t like a Ross and Rachel break, this was real. Even though I initiated it, I was the first one that wanted to rekindle it a few years later. We still look back and consider it a good thing for our overall relationship to spend some time apart and do our own thing for a while but there were some tough times then. So Munt, Russ, basketball, the Collins Sandbar and Fort Gaines kept me busy. There were other girls then too but they weren’t Alicia.

I can honestly say that one of those “life moments” happened during that time period. Like I said, I had started my job but at that point, that’s all it was. I worked 8-4, got my paycheck and went about my business. I wasn’t thinking it would turn into a career yet because I had tried my hand at several trades but none of them could ever match the excitement that I missed from the video store. I hadn’t found my “Clerks” job yet. But I was doing pretty well at the job I started in 1998 and I slowly started to think that it might be something I could stick with. I was still going over and partying in Valdosta though and focusing on fun! I remember showing up to work a few times and not really being wide eyed and ready for the day. One morning, the big boss called me in her office to talk. She told me that I had a lot of potential and the she had been impressed with what I had done so far. But she then told me that I would never make it at the rate I was going. I couldn’t have a full time job and party my life away at the same time. It just wasn’t possible.

That’s when I had my moment. I went home that day wondering if this was it for me, and if so, I had to pull myself together. Or, I could quit the job, find something that could just help me pay the bills and keep up the raging lifestyle I had created. I chose to pull myself together and try to make this a career. I have her to thank for that moment and much of my career to this day. Of course, I have my parents to thank for most everything I have but this lady will always hold a special place in my heart because she walked me through the early stages of what has turned into a pretty respectable career. Almost 19 years later, I have been promoted through many areas of the company, was chosen as the Employee of the Year in 2005 and was selected as a member of the Top 40 Under 40 in the Southwest Region of Georgia. Well, I guess I’m not technically a member of that club anymore. I wonder if they do a Top 50 Under 50?!?Alicia and I got married in 2001 and I started a new journey with her. We got our own place to live and we both had our own jobs so we could try to pay our own bills. We started out just like the newlywed clichés. We rented a duplex, ate hamburger helper and waited on bonus’ or tax returns to splurge. We spent 6 years together with just us and our animals. The more established we got in our careers, the more we liked to travel and spend time doing the things we loved. We went to the mountains, the beach, nascar races, Georgia games, you name it, and we could just do it at a moments notice. When work was done, we did not have a set schedule and it was fun! I remember getting home from work one Friday and Alicia had our bags packed and said, “We’re going on a trip.” I just got in the car and we started driving. That was our first trip to Helen as a couple. We bought a house a couple years after moving into the duplex and became proud homeowners. That’s when we started thinking about the next step in our lives.In 2007, that next step happened. On April 11, Bailey was born and the world changed once again for me. I think every time I got comfortable with life, something changed and brought a new challenge. Having our first child was definitely a challenge. I went from worrying about just me and Alicia to having to worry about someone that couldn’t even take care of herself. I still remember that first night we came home from the hospital. The couple of nights we spent in the hospital were fine because nurses were right outside the door. But when we got home that first night, it all hit me that it was just us. No nurses or doctors at our disposal to help when I got to panicked or paranoid. The first few nights were sleepless but not because of her getting up off and on. That definitely happened but I didn’t sleep mostly because I was a nervous wreck. She’s 9 now and I still walk in her room at 2:30 am to listen to her breathe and make sure she is ok. I don’t know that I’ve slept a full night since April 11, 2011.My life was changed forever when Bailey was born and she will always be “Daddy’s Girl”. There are days when we want to slam doors in each others face and go to our corners but they are outweighed by the good time. Sometimes I just have to stop and appreciate the bond that we have. We spent 7 years in our house as a family of 3. We doted on Bailey, let her get away with too much and bought her everything she wanted. We took her to Georgia games and made sure she always knew how much we loved her. I am thankful for that one on one time I had with her. But all of that would change yet again in 2014.This change happened in January of that year when Alicia surprised us with her announcement of being pregnant again. Although this one didn’t go as smooth, as previously discussed here, the end result was another beautiful girl, Georgia. Georgia has so far been nothing like Bailey was growing up. Bailey was a handful when we went to eat in public or when she didn’t get her way in a store. She still can be. Not that Georgia is totally devoid of those issues, but we have just recently started to have signs of that problem. Now, she’s 2 and thinks she can do everything on her own and wants to be independent. She’s just as headstrong as Bailey but up until now, she hasn’t been as vocal about it. And while she started out as mommy’s baby, she has taken a turn to daddy’s girl status too. She wants me to do things for her all the time and I definitely see her and Bailey competing for my time on occasion. And then, I find myself competing for Alicia’s time so I guess it’s just part of negotiating family life.So once again, I had gotten pretty used to life the way it was going and then I had to go and turn 40. Now it has me pondering life and where I’m at and how I got here. I’ve taken a wild and twisted journey to be where I sit today. It’s been filled with ups and downs and in between’ s. It makes me wonder if the next 40 (if I’m lucky) will be as eventful and bring as much change or if I’m sort of settling into the rut that is middle aged life. There won’t be any additional kids, at least there shouldn’t be. There better not be! But there may be another house in the future. There will be school for the kids, college, marriage and then maybe grandkids for me. My job hasn’t changed in 18 years so hopefully that can continue to go as planned for another 18. So while some things will remain the same, there are some eventual changes that life is going to provide that I am going to have to be ready for. I don’t yet know what they are, I can just hope and pray that they are good changes and that I can always handle them.

In my teens, I was a pretty good kid but was as unfocused and ill-defined as a person could be. I had no direction and wasn’t really looking for it. Then, in my 20’s, I found some of that direction but still lived an indistinct existence. The 30’s started with the abrupt life change of starting a family with kids but I think I found myself and my voice in my late 30’s. A lot of things I think about from the earlier days make so much more sense to me now. Then some of them make me realize how dumb I was too. Most importantly, I am now able to look back on certain moments in my life and realize what they may have been for. We don’t always understand why things happen or why we make some of the decisions we make. Eventually, it starts to make a little bit of sense. There are probably some things we’ll never understand but the light will come on for many of them and make us cognizant of those little moments that happened along the way.I’m bummed that my 30’s are over but I am going to embrace where I am in life and try to make my 40’s just as meaningful. To do that, I have to hang on to the memories that got me here. I can’t ever forget that first Ken Griffey Jr. I pulled. I can’t ever forget the nights playing Tecmo Bowl with the guys. I can’t ever forget watching “The Crow” at Alicia’s house on our first date. I can’t ever forget what it was like when Alicia and I were apart. I can’t ever forget the desire I had to do well at work after the fateful conversation I had. I can’t ever forget what it was like to only eat hamburger helper for supper. I can’t ever forget the first time I held Bailey and Georgia. And the only way to keep those alive is to talk about them and relive them when I can (except for that being apart from Alicia part.)So that’s what I do now. I play old video games and collect old baseball cards and make old jokes with my high school friends on Facebook and Snapchat. I’m active with my fellow Twitter card collectors. I ride down old streets I haven’t been down in a while. I watch old movies when I have free time. I try to give my girls the same experiences that I had growing up partly because I want to relive them. Life comes at you in strange ways sometimes. I have friends from high school that disappeared and have become friends again. I have acquaintances from high school that have become dear friends. And I have dear friends from high school who I never see anymore. But life has provided me with the people I have needed when I needed them the most and has surrounded me with some of the most special people in the world at the present. And maybe that’s what being 40 should be about to me. I have great memories and great family and great friends. What more could I ask for? Except to be younger?

So this is what Dustin, Bo and I talked about last night in the kitchen. And Dustin said something that hit me hard when I started thinking about memories. This sums up memories perfectly to me. “You come in waves, till you’re all I know. Then you fade away, into nothing. Weighed down by dark matter inside, you leave me frozen. You leave me froze in time…..in your Everglow.” Our memories come and go but when we they come up, they take us back to a particular moment and they shine on them. We have to hold on to them and never that that Everglow die. If you are in your teens, make those memories. If you are in your 20’s, correct some of the mistakes and make more. If you are in your 30’s, accept the mistakes you made and live your life. If you’re in your 40’s like me, lean on all of the above as you face new challenges. And when life gets too tough, just take yourself back to a particular moment that made you very happy and relaxed. For me, that is at a kitchen table with 1990’s baseball cards.

J-Dub

Rare Politico

Do you ever look around and think, “What the hell is going on around here?”  I can’t be the only one that shakes their head when looking at my Twitter feed or my FaceBook timeline.  It’s not just the politics.  It’s not just the racial divide we find ourselves buried in.  It’s not just the religious posts or cross fit crys for help.   I see battles within friendships and families.  I find myself thinking quite often that there has to be something more to all of this.  There has to be something better for all of us.  We have all developed our opinion on hot topics but our opinion has not been challenged and a lot of times, it is limited to “how my wife feels” or vice versa.  When you form that opinion without the appropriate level of personal conviction, you are just playing it safe and avoiding the potential questioning and debate.  It’s an easy way to have an opinion.  You can proudly proclaim the ways you would do things without providing any reasoning other than “that’s the way I roll.”  Personal conviction leads us to do things we are eager and able to justify.  And we are pushed to do these things because we feel they are the right things to do in given circumstances.  The justifications may not always be understandable to others but that’s where it’s on you.    

But there is a different way to look at what’s going on.  Let’s be honest, the tear gas and blocking citizens from getting to areas where they are supposed to be is just disruptive and accomplishes nothing.  It should be first noted that there is a stark difference between a peaceful protest and vandalism.  A peaceful protest, with signs and chants and non-threatening discussions with your fellow American across the aisle seems so elementary but it has a much higher success rate than running up into someone’s face and droning on about ISIS while daring you to hit them so they can take it to another level.  I’m as reasonable a person as they come but I watch some of these exchanges and I wonder how somebody didn’t get decked before it was all over.  There is nothing more enraging as a free thinking individual than when someone gets in your face and starts pushing your buttons.  “Keep your hands off me,” they say as they push every mental trigger you have.  Your job in this is to allow someone to verbally undress you while you remain collected enough to realize when it’s over.  Any retaliation action on your behalf in that situation will certainly be zoomed in on and labeled intolerant.  No win situation.

When posting on social media, the same thought process and care should go into hitting post, depending on your need for drama.  Social media, like other modern day tech, is strictly risk vs reward when considering when to post on something hot or trending.  The risk is that you are going to have an opinion that puts you in the minority.  If you are attacked, it’s easy to lose focus and start to ramble with your responses and lose the meaning in your original post.  Some people can handle it very well and should continue to handle it that way.  Then you consider the reward for your post.  Does your post have the potential to bring a few people together?  Does it have the ability to turn the screw on someone who has been spewing nonsense for far too long?  I tend to think the only reward worth the risk is when you have the opportunity to repair a relationship or clear your name from a previous issue.  If the post has an above average chance to put your followers in a frenzy and have other followers shaking their head at the gall you had to post, there isn’t much room for a win there.  Of course, some people enjoy being “that guy” so more power to you.

Here’s a concept I’ve been working on.  It has it’s flaws but it’s still in a beta stage so to speak.  I’m tweaking it from time to time and it’s provided me with a better comfort level when assessing friends, their posts and whether or not they are pushing me away.  I’d like to say that it isn’t personal but a lot of social media friends are friends in real life and there have been moments that made me consider whether or not a mindset being displayed in public was a mindset I could be comfortable with in a friendship.  And my goal is not to change someone else.  People are people and a lot of years and events have worked together to make them a certain type of person.  And they aren’t always bad either.  They just don’t sometimes fit what I am trying to get out of life.  But let’s be clear about something, none of us are well enough adjusted to just brush off the things we see and keep 100% focus on ourselves.  No, we care about what our friends and (maybe not) friends are babbling about.  We come to their rescue with our built in stats and info.  We jump in with them when they are trying to take down a left wing zealot.  Never leave a man behind, as they say. 

Listen, we are all made of stardust.  We all have hearts, minds, souls.  We really aren’t as different as society would have you believe.  I am no different than Heath Gilbert at work or my brother from another mother, Anthony Jenkins.  We want what’s best for our families.  We want to enjoy life.  We want to make money at our jobs to be able to enjoy the hobbies we have.  What that means for us is doing the right thing, relying on each other when the time comes, and depending on the others to have your back when the opportunity presents itself.  Our lives are not based on who of us voted for Trump or who voted for Clinton.  If one of those guys didn’t want to celebrate the inauguration, I also have zero issue with that.  I voted for Trump and I didn’t celebrate the inauguration like many did.  I voted for him but I’m not sold.  I am more sold than I was with Hillary and there was no real contest.  But I’m not sleeping better than I have in 8 years because Trump is our president.  I have my reservations. 

I firmly believe that we have more influence in the success of our country than we are given credit for.  We can’t sit around and wait for the government to fix all of the problems that have been created over the last 50 years.  There are too many interest groups and old Washington is still alive and well.  They are going to continue to look out for them.  What we have to do is make changes where we can.  Sometimes we have to stick our noses into things to make sure the movement is happening.  Chris Cohilas is a prime example of a local leader making noise in Washington to protect his constituents.  The storm that came through Albany a few weeks ago has left many homes and neighborhoods still in disrepair, with more potential severe weather on the way this weekend.  The bureaucratic red tape involved in getting FEMA, GEMA, local power cooperatives and multiple local businesses on the same page to move forward with a resolution doesn’t just happen.  It takes a leader to step up and do what he thinks is right.  That’s what Cohilas has done.  He made a previous comment on FaceBook that this was not about party lines or ideaology.  This was about people getting the help they need.  Novel concept that could use some run in Washington.  Chris is a political figure.  But today, if you took a poll of Dougherty County citizens, they could care less if his affiliation is Democratic or Republican.  That’s the key definition of independent for me.  I’ll go with who I think gives us the best chance to better our economy, our schools, our taxes.  Libertarian, Republican, Democratic, none of that matters to me. 

So as for affiliation, I am an American.  I am for any leader that can make us the powerful nation we have been over the last few 100 years.  I am proud to be an American and believe we do a lot of good in this world.  I also believe we get involved in things we have no business being involved in.  And you can believe me or not but when I see a President, I don’t see a gender or a race.  I see the leader of the free world and I expect them to have the best interest of the entire nation close to their heart.

So, you can keep on sharing your memes, fake news and photoshopped images but know that you are part of the problem.  Keep blasting another race because of their beliefs or fears of the changes that are taking place but know that you are part of the reason race relations are as tense as they are now.  And don’t read this wrong.  I love a good political joke or meme.  But when the intent is clear that the attack is on group of people or group of voters, it’s not a good look.  Let the intolerant do such things.  We should just sit back and not take the bait.  Let the legacy of the incoming president write itself, for better or worse.  Let’s just give it that opportunity.

J-Dub

Who We Are Is Elementary

A lot of factors shape who we are and who we become.  As a parent, it’s easier to recognize those factors sometimes because we focus on how to give our kids the experiences and support and guidance to become the people we want or think they should be.  But kids, we just spent our formative years living in and soaking up those moments.  They were our experiences, for better or worse, and they’ve no doubt had an impact on who we’ve become.  Maybe it all went well and we used those experiences to solidify what we had been taught.  Or maybe things didn’t go as planned and we used the experiences to guide us away from the path we didn’t want to go down.  They generally fill us with love or hate, good or bad morals or sometimes, unfortunately, just emptiness.  Either way, that’s just how it works most of the time.  We are given the path and we make it better or worse with the decisions we make.

That path starts for the most part at birth.  But as for memories and events we use years later, that starts for most of us somewhere around 5 years old, I would guess.  I have some memories of before 5 but they are random and not very vivid. I remember when I cracked my head open when I was about 3-4 and a couple of the moments surrounding that but it’s been kept alive in stories since.  We remember the really good and the really bad but a lot of the in-between is lost from our lives before 5 unless they remain in some story form that has been manipulated over the years by our own interpretations.  But, I am talking about legitimate “I remember when” moments in time. 

At 5 for me, I began my long and winding, and often disastrous, educational journey.  The year was 1982.  I would not finish that journey until 2011, some 29 years later.  Yeah, I took the long road.  I don’t know if I’m even finished but I am counting on that being the case at this point.  But in 1982, I didn’t have a choice in the matter.  It was time to get started with that big part of life and I did just that at Mitchell County Elementary School.  I have much more vivid memories of middle school and high school but when I really sit and think about those early years, some really nostalgic and character forming memories are there.  With some of the things that stick out, it makes a little sense why I am paranoid of getting in trouble or doing the wrong things sometimes.  And for me, a big part of this writing process is figuring out how I got where I am today.  These old thoughts of elementary school have given me some insight, although my interpretations are in control.

Elementary school for me was good overall.  I had a pretty good time making friends and was received well by my peers.  That is so often out of our control and left to the ability of other 5 years old to be accepting.  I was lucky that I had a fairly reasonable set of peers, for the most part.  It could be because of the town I grew up in or the school itself.  A lot of people in Camilla had similar backgrounds; similar income levels and we faced the normal social issues burdened on society.  But as a 5 year old, that stuff didn’t really matter.  The car Michael’s mom drove didn’t faze me.  The house that Bryan lived in didn’t matter to me whatsoever.  Joe and I even had different skin color and that meant absolutely nothing.  We were all friends.  It’s a novel concept isn’t it?  We had the same goals, we had the same needs, and we had the same affinity for Transformers and G.I. Joe.  And none of us liked girls at that point in our lives, except maybe Jason.  I think he was a lady’s man from birth.

Friends come and go at that age too as people grow up, move to other schools, take different paths or just seemingly disappear into thin air.  But sometimes, those kids stick with you from Kindergarten through Graduation and you have a bond for the rest of your life, whether realized or not.  I can still go back to my hometown and run into people I grew up with and we remember each other as the person we last saw before growing up.  Most of us have put on some weight and aren’t as athletic as we used to be but you can often see that young person in them and yourself when you have those interactions.  I now live in Lee County and when my alma mater played here a couple of years ago, I ambled over to the visitors sideline to see old friends.  One of my Lee County friends went with me and remarked after the excursion that I should go back to Camilla and run for mayor.  I’m not a political fellow but that said a lot to me about the old bridges I had been able to keep intact and it made me feel proud.That all started at a little school in the back of a part of town that some people never visited.  But as division has taken more of a stronghold on society, that is probably truer now than it was then.  I ride by there on occasion though just to see the old building.  It usually makes me smile.  Life was simpler.  The school was your standard, run of the mill, elementary school.  Classes were K-3, we had a couple of playgrounds, a gym, library and a lunchroom/theater combo.  Nothing spectacular but certain locations of the school still stand out in my memory.  I remember the track.  It was an all dirt/grass track and surrounded a make shift football field.  Behind that was our kickball/softball field.  My grandmother, Pearl, worked in the lunchroom.  She cooked a lot better at home than she did at school.  The gym was where I learned that gymnastics was not going to be my specialty, although I tried.  There were some outdoor basketball courts where I started to develop my very slow, but deadly, jump shot.  Near those were the music rooms, where my Aunt Carolyn was a teacher.  I had an in with her of course but she was one of the most genuine and enthusiastic teachers I ever had.  And, of course, her son Corey was my best friend in elementary school.  There was also a walk up store at the entrance of the school that was open before and after to stock up on snacks.  The only snack area I remember on campus was on the third grade hall.  That’s where I was introduced to the Bomb Pop.  I remember the teachers too.  Mrs. Fears was my Kindergarten teacher.  I don’t have any specific memories of her class because I think my memory maker was still forming.  Then, I had Mrs. Williams in 1st Grade, Mrs. Wingate in 2nd and Mrs. Parker in 3rd.  I’ve had an indirect relationship with Mrs. Williams for many years since 1st grade.  Two of her sons, Travis and Tori were right around my age and I knew them throughout school.  Then I played basketball with her husband, Mr. Charlie James, for a few years in high school on Tuesday and Thursday nights.  And not to be outdone, I worked for about 10 years with another of her sons, Trent, in adulthood.  They could never really get away from me, I guess.  Mrs. Wingate was my first, “Wow, she’s pretty!” teacher.  And Mrs. Parker got most of my deviant side as I pushed the limits before moving on to middle school.  Of course, Mr. Inman was a memorable principal.  He was tall and intimidating and had a habit of carrying around a paddle with holes in it to cut down on resistance.  Do schools even have paddles anymore?  The staff I probably got to know best was Mrs. Ward, the school nurse.  I began honing my Ferris Bueller moments early. 

We were introduced to fire and tornado drills in Elementary school.  The fire drill never scared me but the tornado drill was horrifying.  There wasn’t a safe place in my mind to escape such an event.  Thankfully, we practiced it and never had to put it into real use.  I do remember bad weather in school though and I always had that drill bell sound in my head, thinking it would go off at any time.  It’s the first time I remember thinking something dangerous could happen and my parents wouldn’t be around.  It probably seems insignificant but looking back on it, it prepared me for something I was very afraid of while giving me the idea that my parents wouldn’t always be standing right beside me when something went wrong.  That was the first realization I had of that.  In the long run, it was for the best but it’s one of those small moments that I have carried with me.

Another bad memory was that smell of the “oil dry” they put down when students vomited in the hallway.  There is no real profound meaning or moment here but I remember it had the potential to set off a mass vomit fest much like that in the “Stand by Me” film.  If I wasn’t sick, I could see that in the hall floor and would immediately get queasy.  I was also a little scared of it.  It was almost like the stuff they put down made it a biohazard.  So maybe there is a meaning behind it.  I am a bit of a hypochondriac so maybe that can be traced back to my fear of a vomit induced outbreak at elementary school thanks to the horrible smelling biohazard they put down in the halls.  Maybe, maybe not.

Ok, I am about to say something that may surprise some of you.  It hurts to say but it’s true.  I have not always been the innocent, good boy that I am now as an adult.  I know, take a minute to collect yourself.  There are three specific instances from elementary school that stick out to me where I pushed the boundaries of truth.  I got busted all three times.  I have no doubt there were more than three, but three stick out still today.  My dad has always told me that he would find out anything I ever did because that’s what parents do.  I could think I was getting away with something but they would know.  Well, he was either right or I was really bad at it.  There is another story for another time that fits this narrative from when I was a teenager.  I carried that one around for several years trying to figure out how my dad found out, but I digress.The first one was in 2nd grade.  I remember getting sent out into the hallway for being disruptive.  I called it being humorous but the teacher called it disruptive.  Tomato/Tomahto if you ask me.  If you will recall, Mr. Inman has already been mentioned as having a habit of carrying around the “widow maker” paddle.  He would walk up and down the main hall sometimes and if you were in the hall for being in trouble, you were getting a lick or two.  It was the first time I had been sent into the hallway so I was in a panic.  I looked down the long 2nd grade hall and waited for Mr. Inman to appear.  In a moment of clarity, I devised a plan.  I’ll walk a short distance down the hall, approximately the length of the classroom, then switch to the other side of the hall and walk back.  I would do this until I was called back into class so if Mr. Inman walked past that hall, he would think I was going to the restroom or coming back.  Fool proof isn’t it?  Well, my stay in the hall was longer than expected and while it did work the first time he walked by, it did not the second time a couple minutes later when I was walking in the same general area he had seen me before.  Busted.  He came down the hall, the plan was foiled and I got my licks.  I made it worse by not taking my punishment the right way.  I got it at home too.Then came the 2nd incident in 3rd grade.  I was older and wiser by this point and I had caught up with Mr. Inman’s tactics.  This one was worse though and I don’t even know how I came up with this one.  Parents could pick up students around 2:30 and then the pick-up area closed for the buses around 2:45.  I rode the bus over to the middle school where I would get off there and walk to the Methodist Church where my mom worked.  In an extreme lapse in judgment, I told Mrs. Parker that my mom was picking me up.  The kids getting picked up went out to the playground until their parents picked them up.  My plan was to get in some swing time and then hop on the bus unnoticed to head to the middle school.  Would you believe that it worked the first time?  But I got greedy.  Mr. Inman went out to the 3rd grade hall and saw me swinging.  “Don’t panic!” I said to myself.  “He thinks you are getting picked up, don’t worry.”  He disappeared onto the 3rd grade hall.  He would not reappear until the buses were pulling up and I was headed to my assigned bus.  Again, solid plan but poor execution.  You know what happened next.

The last incident was not related to Mr. Inman as I believe I had by then conceded to his principal super abilities.  This time, I decided to try my hand at deception with my parents and Mrs. Parker.  This one stung the most.  I was never the best student when it came to homework.  However, I was pretty good at scraping it together at the last minute.  I would carry that skill over to High School where homeroom the day of was homework time.  But in elementary school, I would usually piece it together over the course of the day and somehow pull it off right before it was due to be turned in.  I was not prepared for the scenario that unfolded that day.  My dad arrived at the school shortly after lunch, while we were on the playground.  He had come to check me out of school to go fishing with him and my grandfather.  Mrs. Parker said I was good to go, I just needed to turn in the homework we would be going over in the afternoon.  I left the playground confused about how to get out of this one.  Of course, I’d rather be fishing with dad and granddaddy than sitting in school.  As I approached the classroom, another stroke of genius hit.  Dad was with me and he had no clue what my homework was so I went and took out the homework from the day before and put it on Mrs. Parker’s desk.  As we were about to walk out, Mrs. Parker walked in to look at the homework and said, “This was yesterday.  I need the one for today.”  Are you kidding me?  No homework, no fishing.  And, I got it when I got home.

So, yeah, I tried some stunts in elementary school and got busted.  And that getting busted probably saved me from worse trouble later on because I have carried around that fear of getting caught to this day.  Nothing goes unnoticed or unpunished forever.  That is the lesson in my deviance in 3rd grade.  It will come back to you.  It may not be the first time or the second time but it will come back.  I guess I’m glad I caught back then but I would’ve loved that fishing trip.  There is one more moment from elementary school that probably had some effect on me.  It’s rather embarrassing and probably affected my approach to girls during school for a couple of years but that all worked out in the long run.  I don’t even know if I’ve ever told this story but it is quite funny to look back on, even though it was a rough prank on me.  There was a girl in my class that I liked, Shelley.  Every boy liked her and even at 8, I pretty much knew she was out of my league.  It didn’t stop me from sending her the “check yes or no” letter.  I prepared the letter and gave it to my confidant Robbie, MY OWN COUSIN.  I knew he could take care of the delivery.  Not long after, he brought it back to me and it was checked “yes”.  Cha-Ching!  Or so I thought.  My own blood deceived me.  He took the note, checked yes and brought it back to me.  I thought for an afternoon she was my girlfriend.  Only she never knew about it.  His laughter with Corey and a couple of others gave him away and I knew I had been had.  That was a good one no doubt.  It’s probably where I got my pranking ability from because I spent many years trying to avenge that one.

So while these stories may be funny or cringe-worthy, I have no doubt they have had some sort of lasting impact on my personality.  Its weird some of the things we remember while other things just vanish from our minds.  Some of that is by design and choice I’m sure.  But I have vague memories of death trap monkey bars, a curb store in front of the school and the occasional back flip I couldn’t land.  The real distinct memories I have are events that have stayed tucked away in my mind almost as vivid as the day they happened.  I can see Mr. Inman and his paddle.  I remember the specific swing on the swing set I would use when “waiting for my mom to pick me up.”  I remember the look on my dad’s face when the homework scam failed.  I remember the look on Robbie’s face when the “Yes or No” scam succeeded. 

I can see those things as clear as day.  They aren’t painful and they aren’t traumatic but they are meaningful to me and have shaped part of my path.  Sometimes we say, “If I had it to do all over again, I would do it differently.”  And while that can certainly be true in worst case scenarios, I believe we have to experience these smaller bumps in the road so we will know there are bumps.  The participation trophy and the “everybody wins” mantra have its place but I think it also robs our kids of needed disappointment at times.  Bailey was recently not chosen for a play for her school.  As a parent, I was bothered because I want my daughter to pursue every opportunity she has and I want her to succeed.  But there is also a part of me that knew it was a teaching moment.  It was an opportunity to tell her that she needed to work a little harder or practice a little more to get the part next time.  We will all succeed and fail over the course of our lives.  Sometimes the failures make us change the way we do things.  Sometimes they make us try harder.  Either way, they make us do something.  Standing pat is not the way to flourish.  It’s not the way to improve.  Take the events that happen and make them work for you in some way.  A bunch of silly stories results in me still trying to do the right thing one month away from my 40th birthday.  You can’t understate the personal importance of seemingly insignificant events in your life.

J-Dub

Between The Hedges – A Progress Report

I believe that the beginning of week 4 is a perfect opportunity to assess what has transpired so far and what we might expect in the near future from our beloved Bulldogs in Athens. The start of the season has been widely discussed in UGA circles and those discussions have covered a pretty wide range from elation to depression to confusion and everywhere in between. The facts are not disputable. We have played 3 very different teams with one being a non-conference ranked opponent on a “neutral” field, another being an FCS school at home and the most recent being a conference opponent at their house. Those teams are a combined 4-1 outside of their matchups with Georgia. So with caveats and asterisks everywhere, which we will discuss below, we should all agree that we are in the best possible position after 3 weeks. We could reasonably be 0-3 right now, at least 1-2, based on the first three games but we aren’t. We are undefeated and have given our freshmen a load of game action as we prepare for the meat of our schedule. Before we get to that future schedule, let’s take a look at where we are now. These are my observations and you are more than welcome to disagree and provide counter points as that is what college football discussion is all about.

Coaching

The last three weeks have allowed the Richt faithful an opportunity to mock the hiring of Kirby and proclaim that we are no better. First, I disagree, but secondly and most importantly, it’s much too early to put any reasonable measurement on the transaction. I will tell you why I disagree through. I see us at no better than 1-2 with Richt at the helm of this years squad. I don’t believe he gives the reigns to Eason this soon. He was very loyal to his players, and I admire that to a degree. What that means is that he would have allowed Lambert to be our steady hand and keep us in ballgames. We do not win the UNC game or the Mizzou game in my opinion with Lambert at QB. Think about the past and how the quarterback situations have been handled. We would have seen glimpses of Eason but I don’t believe there is any way we go into week 4 with him being the undisputed named starter as we are now.

What Kirby and his staff have done so far is come in and opened up the competition for the entire team. Each player is being evaluated on a weekly basis and the players that want to be on the field are on the field. Tenure and experience aren’t the driving factor on roster decisions this season and that is the first time in many years. Kirby has also not been shy about that fact. He recognizes and acknowledges poor effort and poor performances and has been assuring of Bulldog Nation that it will not be accepted. No more status quo as they say. As for game day, I believe clock management and halftime adjustments have also been immediate improvements. We are 3-0 because we have overcome a deficit in 3 consecutive games in the second half. How many times did that happen in the last 4 years?

While this section is truly not meant as an indictment on Richt, this is very much a defense of what I believe to be an improvement in our coaching staff. We have wanted nothing more out of our head coach over the last few years than emotion and a sense of urgency and we have had that in the last three weeks. And let’s be honest, we all have eyes and can see what has happened on the field over that span. None of us are satisfied. The difference this year is we know our head coach isn’t either. When asked how it felt to be back home in Sanford stadium after the week 2 game, Coach Smart said, among other things, “we did not play to the level of our expectations or Bulldog fans expectations, we know that. We have to get better.” This was after a win. Refreshing. And one of the biggest worries was over whether we could maintain our recruiting edge and that has been answered with a resounding YES!

Offense

Offense has truly been a mixed bag so far in 2016. Week 1 started with Nick Chubb coming back from his brutal knee injury of 2015 to gash UNC for 222 yards and 2 scores. The game also included a couple of flashy plays from the young freshman, Jacob Eason. Enough flashy plays in fact to raise what was a dull roar to name him the starter, to a fever pitch. And we got our wish in week 2. It was clear in the Georgia Dome that we were a more potent offense with Eason at the helm. The field was stretched with his big arm and, for that game, helped open up running lanes for Chubb to seal the victory with a 55 yard scamper, putting a stamp on the Heisman hopeful’s return.  

Week 2 is a game we all would just assume to forget. The only benefit to arise from the game was Eason getting more reps and escaping with a W in his first official start. The performance was shaky and led to another week of questioning who the starter would be. We would not find out until just before the Missouri game that it would again be Eason. Only this time, Lambert never saw the field. Now, as of Monday morning, Eason has been named the starter for the upcoming Ole Miss game. I’ll call it progress.  Of course, there really shouldn’t have been any doubt after his performance this past weekend. In his 3rd game, and 2nd official start, he threw 55 passes, the most by a UGA quarterback since 2000. So much for easing into conference play. One of those 55 passes was the game winning touchdown with less than two minutes remaining in his first conference game on the road. Oh, and it was 4th and 10 so let’s give the kid some moxie points too. Also of the 59 passes, only one landed in the hands of the opposing team and only 4 drop backs resulted in sacks. Lambert was sacked 3 times in the first quarter of the UNC game, which supported one of his perceived weaknesses of holding the ball too long. Lambert does deserve a lot of credit for helping the kid get ready and become more comfortable in the huddle. It is nice to have a 5th year senior willing and able to do that for a young freshman. So let’s not just write Lambert off. I think even he knew that Eason’s talent was beyond comparison in our quarterback room so this is not meant to disparage his efforts.  

While Eason threw the ball what felt like 1,000 times this past Saturday, our run game had its second consecutive underwhelming performance. And not at the fault of the running backs themselves. There have been no holes to navigate at the point of attack and in fact, they have been met in the backfield on more occasions than I am comfortable with. Some of that is due in part to having a freshman quarterback and defenses daring him to beat them. Another is due in part to having the level of talent in the backfield. If I were a defensive coordinator sitting down to review film up until this week, I would be putting 8 in the box on every down as well. But perhaps the most alarming reason for the run game drop off seems to be the perceived underperforming offensive line. I use the term perceived because I really don’t think they are as bad as they may look due to the defensive alignments they are facing. Again, 4 sacks in 59 opportunities are not terrible. But 8 men in the box can’t be the only excuse and the coaches have acknowledged that improvement is necessary.  I have to believe that we are somewhere between the 289 rushing yards vs UNC and the 55 pass attempts vs Mizzou. If you told me at the beginning of the season that Nick Chubb would be healthy and below 100 yards in 2 of the first 3 games, I would not have predicted 3-0. It helped to get Sony Michel back this week and he provided some edge stress for the defense but Chubb is our workhorse and I feel much more comfortable when he tops the 100 yard mark. That means things are going well in the run game. If the run game improves, the game will slow down some for Eason. In addition to the offensive line issues, the wide receivers have also been called out for their unwillingness to get involved in the run game by being active blockers. That led to Jayson Stanley getting his first start against Mizzou, even though he is not 100% comfortable with the route tree yet. Add an above average number of dropped passes to the blocking issues and the wide receivers have underperformed to date. The tight ends have been non-existent, presumably because they are being kept in to help fight those 8 man fronts.  While the wide receiving group has underperformed as a whole, our clear cut MVP through 3 games has to be Isaiah McKenzie. I-Mac has been electric in every ball game and has developed great rapport with Eason and the offensive coordinator. Jim Cheney has found a number of ways to get him involved and I-Mac himself has improved his route running and hands tremendously this season, save a dropped TD against Mizzou. He made up for that with a beautiful catch on the game winning TD. He had 10 receptions for 122 yards and 2 scores. He was targeted a whopping 16 times. If Eason and McKenzie continue to blossom as a duo, that will soften up the running lanes for Chubb and also open up the passing game for Chigbu, Godwin, Ridley and our talented Tight End group.  

Going forward, we clearly need to improve our blocking up front. In addition, Cheney could improve on mixing up some of the play calling when running the ball. It was noted by Bill King on the Junkyard Blawg that when UGA lined up to run, it was mostly out of classic run formations. On the rare occasion we ran out of a spread formation, we were successful. You simply cannot load the box when you spread the field with 4 outside receivers. Eason also needs to keep improving and stretching the field to allow the run game to be freed up. The wide receivers need to cut down on the number of dropped passes and the tight ends have to get more separation when they are used in routes. We have the potential to be a truly explosive offense if we can improve in those areas. The more game reps Eason gets, the more comfortable he will become with the speed of the SEC and the playbook. I have to believe that it hasn’t been fully unleased on him quite yet.  

Defense

The defense this season has been a tale of two halves so far. We have looked unsure and confused at times in the first half of games, specifically the UNC and Mizzou matchups. They are two high powered offenses and have been able to move the ball seemingly at will on us during both 1st halves. Ole Miss may be (likely is) the best offense of the three and we can’t wait until halftime to get comfortable and start to be aggressive. UNC was a balanced attack with Elijah Hood and TJ Logan at running back and a group of 3 very talented WR’s. Missouri provided much more of a strain on our secondary and was held under 100 yards on the ground. Ole Miss will be as one dimensional as any of them as they have produced no run game to speak of. But they also have the superior quarterback when compared to the others and are going to provide the toughest test of the season on our pass defense.  In order to be ready for the pass offenses we face over the next several weeks, our defensive front is going to have to start getting to the quarterback. Aaron Davis, a safety, is currently tied for the team league with 1 sack. That group includes Trenton Thompson, Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy and Natrez Patrick among its eligible members. Trent has been a formidable force in the run game and Roquan Smith has been excellent in coverage and moving from sideline to sideline in the run game. Carter and Patrick have been all but non-existent in the pass rush so far. That can’t continue against Chad Kelly and Josh Dobbs. If Kelly is given the time that Drew Lock was given, he will carve us up; much like Lock did the entire first half. Pressure on the quarterback was the key to our success in the secondary in 2015 when we were ranked #2 in the league.  Speaking of the secondary, Juwan Briscoe, Malkom Parrish and Maurice Smith have proven they can provide good coverage but they are as ineffective as anybody else would be when there is no pass rush. The secondary is being asked to cover for far too long on many plays. The ball hawking skills of Dominick Sanders, Aaron Davis and Quincy Mauger will only improve when the pass rush turns up the heat as well. Although, Mauger is tied for the league lead with his 2 interceptions through 3 games and one of those interceptions was truly a beautiful play. The secondary has tackled better this year and produced 5 turnovers in the second half of the Mizzou game. Those turnovers were the overlooked story in that game and gave Eason the opportunity to provide the heroics with less than 2 minutes remaining. The defense did not call it a night after that td though as they forced a huge fumble to seal the win.  Looking ahead, the defense will continue to be tested with Kelly, Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, Josh Malone, and Auburns spread offense. Our only hope at a solid overall season is with the defense providing some lights out performances in those matchups. We can’t ask Eason to throw 55 times or expect Chubb to rush for 222 each week. If the defense does not show immediate first half improvement this Saturday, I worry that Ole Miss will be too much for us. The need for pressure on the quarterback cannot be overstated. It’s what makes our defense work. Pressure spawns rash decisions by the quarterback, third and longs and turnovers. So far, we have not had that pressure on a consistent basis.

Special Teams

This is going to be short and sweet because this is our biggest deficiency. We have to get consistent touchbacks on kickoffs. Game 2 had several and cut out the potential for big plays in the return game. Touchbacks were nowhere to be found in the first or third game and Mizzou made us pay more than once. Our punt return defense continues to commit dumb penalties involving kick/catch interference. The play this past week was only a hair early but was also the most egregious thus far, resulting in Kirby Choates being kicked out during the second half and being suspended for the first half of the upcoming matchup with Ole Miss.  

Finally, it should be no surprise to anyone that we need a field goal kicker. What we have seen so far is abysmal and downright depressing. Perhaps we have been spoiled with the likes of Blair Walsh and Billy Bennett and Marshall Morgan over the last several years but extra points are even an adventure these days. Knuckle balls and shanks are becoming the norm and I currently have no faith in the kicking game. Special teams continue to be a disaster in Athens in some facet and I had really hoped we would see an improvement this year.

Odds and Ends

  • We have seen a large amount of freshmen get game action so far this year. Our starting freshman quarterback is the big story. But we had as many as 11 freshmen on the field between offense and defense this past Saturday. This is good in the long run but makes for some tense moments in the present.
  • Two names we haven’t seen much of yet are Mecole Hardman and Elijah Holyfield. Hardman picked up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown on the obvious kick catch interference call against Mizzou but it was good to see him in action. 
  • The “Get Back” coaches are having to work a lot harder this year than they have in the past. I see them quite often trying to get a coach back on the sideline. It’s good to see.
  • Recruiting continues to go well for our 2017 class with the addition of Mark Webb. We had to go into Pennsylvania to pull this kid so the coaches are working hard on the recruiting trail.  
  • I was in town for the home opener 2 weeks ago and discounting the game, Athens is as beautiful as always. I enjoyed the trip except for the nightmare that is parking. We walked past the indoor practice facility and it is coming along nicely.

Looking Ahead

Our next 7 games are conference opponents and include Ole Miss, Tennessee, Florida and Auburn. The next two weeks will go a long way in sorting out the SEC East. We go to Oxford MS this weekend to play the high powered offense of Ole Miss. They are 1-2 but have lost to both FSU and Alabama in that stretch. They put up 43 points on the vaunted Alabama defense in their most recent loss. Florida travels to Tennessee this weekend to provide what has begun as a shaky Tennessee campaign its first real test. Tennessee lost two of its best defensive players this past Saturday and Florida lost its starting quarterback so both teams are sort of hobbling into this one. Maybe they will continue to beat each other up. Then, when all the dust settles from this Saturday, the Volunteers come to Athens on October 1st in what shapes up to be quite possibly the biggest game of the year for Georgia. Someone in the East could very well be eliminated in the next 2 weeks, logically rather than mathematically. It’s also possible that all three teams come out of the next 2 weeks with 1 loss apiece making the UGA/UF game our biggest game of the year and the Tennessee/Alabama game the same for Vols fans. Are you excited yet, football fans?  

Here’s the bottom line. We are a good but not great team in the present. We are far from perfect. We have the potential to be great if we allow the coaches to continue to do what they are doing. It is unreasonable and unfair to believe that we would turn our coaching staff over, play 85% of the recruiting class in the first 3 games and start a freshman at QB and still go undefeated or be a lock for a conference championship. I read an article last night that said, “Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are football teams.” Anyone who is paying attention can see the changes that are being made and the standards that are being adjusted. It will not happen immediately. We are 3-0 but could possibly be 3-2 at the end of the next two weeks. Do I want that? Absolutely not. Will I be standing on a ledge if we are? Of course not. I’m in this for the long haul and I truly feel something special happening with our football team. We just have to sit back and allow it to happen. If we stumble over a division title in the process, I will be thrilled but that truly wasn’t my expectation coming into this year and certainly isn’t after the first 3 weeks. We need to allow time for this to unfold. Be patient Dawg Nation!

J-Dub

The Art of Distraction

“Distraction – a thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else. Synonyms: Diversion, Interruption, Disturbance, Interference, Hindrance.”

I’m pretty sure we all learned what distractions were as kids. Sometimes there were good distractions. I think back to hanging out at the Legion Pool in Camilla. I was a 16 year old boy surrounded by girls in bathing suits. If my friends and I were talking, I probably missed half of the conversation because I was “distracted.” They could have been telling me that a spaceship was coming over the horizon and I would have probably just nodded and said, “yep.” I remember sports also took my mind off of school work or bad grades when I needed to recharge. I could turn on Sportscenter and forget all about that F that I may have gotten in Mrs. Williams History class. I don’t know if this one should be in the good category but it was good for me.

Of course, there can be bad distractions too. Texting and driving is a biggie these days. It’s even illegal in most places. That same distraction listed in the good section above is now a no-no as well. If I’m at the beach with Alicia and we are chatting and my eyes drift to the scantily clad beach goer next to us, my nodding and “yep” is likely going to be the dead giveaway to my transgression. I’ve been distracted by the TV and tripped over a toy in the floor. I was distracted once as a teen driver and backed right into my mom’s parked car in our driveway. I spent an entire 9 weeks distracted by Lewis Grizzard books in Senor Bryant’s Spanish class. No Bueno.  

All of those distractions are just normal life course events. They are everywhere. We have to train ourselves to block out distractions.  Sports teams are told not to listen to the media or read the newspaper because it could be a distraction. Some people put on headphones on the bus or the subway to block out the distractions. Part of the problem with distractions is that they feed our innate need to be involved in everything that’s going on. Without those headphones, you may want to hear what your neighbors are talking about on the bus. You never know, it might be juicy content. When a ball player hears the criticism that the coaches asked them to avoid, they feel the need to inject their opinion or defense into the matter in an effort to defend themselves or their team. It doesn’t matter that it is some lame sportscaster who gets paid to offer outrageous opinions. What matters is that this opinion has gotten under the skin of the athlete. And when an athlete loses 100% focus on their training or game, they are at a disadvantage. In the end, all it’s done is brought attention to the sportscaster, which is welcomed by them, and taken the athlete out of their game.  

Now is the time I should make clear that I am not a conspiracy theorist. I believe JFK was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald from the Book Depository. I believe that terrorists flew planes into the Trade Center and caused it to topple. I believe that there may be life forms in space but I don’t think we’ve been hiding them here for 100 years from the rest of the public. However, I also believe that everything is not always as it appears to us. Even with the few examples above, I believe there are things that we don’t, and never will, know. There are also things I think we probably shouldn’t know if it is a matter of national security. Conspiracy theorists don’t have an open mind. They would probably get a lot more traction if there were any give and take in their arguments. But no, they are usually so dead set on the conspiracy, that logic can’t be considered. So consider, in a tiny nutshell, my position on these things is that I don’t think I am lied to every time the news reports something major but I do believe we shouldn’t be totally dismissive of inconsistencies either. I think there is room for a little of both and I’d bet that most of the population is in my category on that. Maybe I’ll write more about that one day but that’s not the topic today.

Let me also take a moment to say that I am neither Pro-Clinton nor Pro-Trump. They both have a tremendous amount of deficiencies and I think we are in trouble with either. Further, anyone who knows me will confirm that I have an open mind and heart. I am not close minded when it comes to race, sexual orientation, gender or anything else that comes to mind. I do not like Country Music and I think the people that do should be forced to live in a state all their own, preferably Texas, but that’s where I draw the line on bigotry.  

So with those comments in place, let’s continue our discussion on distraction. I do believe, without a doubt but without concrete proof, that we are distracted on a daily basis by the news, social media and television from the bigger things going on that should have our attention. A prime example is to look at trending topics on Twitter at any point in time. While it’s true, that we all have the right and need for distractions, I am really talking about the things that get us all ginned up. Today, you have such gems as #TrentDilfer, #AGTFinale and #BlackRiflesMatter trending. They all have their own merits as topics and they all affect different groups of people in different societal circles.  But they are all overshadowing the bigger picture.Let’s take the #TrentDilfer hashtag. For those of you who don’t follow football, Dilfer is a former quarterback who is now a talking head on Monday Night Football for ESPN. There has long been a debate over whether or not he was a good quarterback. He has a Super Bowl Ring.  Dan Marino doesn’t but that doesn’t make him better than Marino. He is somewhere in the “game manager” category to be honest. Does he know about football? Sure. Is he one of the best ever? Not close. That aside, he now gets paid to express an opinion, HIS opinion. You may also be aware that a pro football player is currently expressing HIS opinion of the American Flag/National Anthem. And Dilfer shared his thoughts last night about said player. It wasn’t popular to the masses. It wasn’t all that popular with me either but because I disagree with his sentiments, not that I have a problem with him actually saying it. To be specific, Dilfer said the following:

“This is a backup quarterback whose job it is to be quiet and sit in the shadows. Yet, he chose a time when all of a sudden he became the center of attention. And it has disrupted that organization.”Colin Kaepernick has chosen to sit or kneel during the National Anthem in protest of what he sees as oppression against his race. That’s not for me to judge and I personally am not offended whether he stands or not. He is doing what he feels is the right thing for him. Further, as an old friend recently said, “I don’t pay you for your opinion.  I pay you to be a gladiator in an arena” ~ Jason Lee.  In reality, it should really have zero effect on people’s lives what this individual does during the national anthem.  And in a free enterprise society, which is what we are, you have the right to protest him for what he is doing by not going to any SF 49er’s games and not buying his jersey. It’s really kind of an open shut case. Do I agree with it? No. I’m not running out to add any CK memorabilia to my sports collection anytime soon. Does that make me racist or close minded? I guess that’s for you to judge. I feel like I have just as much right to disagree with him as he does to do what he’s doing. I think it’s disrespectful to our country and the men and women who protect it. To each their own.

The issue I have with Dilfer’s statement is that CK is not doing what he is doing on behalf of backup quarterbacks everywhere. His role on the team has nothing to do with what he is doing, if he is to be taken at face value. Again, I disagree with what he is doing but the capacity in which he is doing it matters not to me. By Dilfer’s logic, CK should be quiet if there is mass sexual harassment happening in the organization because, well, that’s his job as a back-up quarterback, to be quiet. See, my point is that it’s ok to disagree with Kaepernick for what he is doing. It’s also ok to agree with him if you want. Doesn’t mean that I have to and it doesn’t mean that I am racist if I don’t.  I don’t think it’s ok to forbid him to do it either. Let the free market speak for whether or not it should affect his livelihood. By that same token, I think it’s ok to agree or disagree with Dilfer’s comments in substance. I think he has the right to say anything he’s willing to say so long as it doesn’t cross the line of what his employer has deemed appropriate or innapropriate. I just personally disagree with both of them.  

Here’s where it gets muddy. If you go to social media (and I’m going to tie all this up in the end, I promise), here is what you get on each side.  For the pro- Kaepernick, it’s his right to do what he is doing because this is America and he is entitled to his beliefs.  Dilfer is an idiot and should be fired for being so insensitive.  For the anti-Kaepernick, he’s anti-American and should be outright released by the 49er’s.  Dilfer hit the nail on the head.  Here’s the rub.  Either they are both out of line or neither are.  Either their employers should hold them to a certain standard or they should allow them to be individuals.  Either it’s their right or it isn’t.  It’s that simple.  Again, I don’t have to agree or like either one of them.  I just don’t have to be so damn offended by either of them either.  I have the right to be indifferent.

So there is a big fat distraction right in front of us.  One football player (sure, others have joined) has divided our entire nation with one act of Heroism or Marxism, depending on the kind of glasses you are wearing.  It’s all anybody can talk about and it’s just what the men in black suits want us to focus on.  While this has taken over social media and the water cooler, if they exist anymore, 1984 becomes more and more like 2016.

Here’s a small sample:

  • Our way of life is being threatened every day.
  • Our religious liberties are being taken away.
  • We are being disarmed.
  • Many of our people are unemployed.
  • Many people have no healthcare.
  • North Korea just tested another nuclear weapon.
  • The US just gave Isreal $38B while we have homeless veterans and starving children.
  • One of our presidential candidates is a reality tv show star that is a good real estate developer.  He continues to say “disaster” over and over and over without offering reasonable it rational ways to fix it.
  • Another of our presidential candidates wouldn’t know the truth if it was a pants suit.  She is also having what appears to be major health issues and may even be using a body double – if you are one of those conspiracy theorists.  Have you seen what 4 years of presidency has done to health in the past?
  • We are still pushing for a cease fire in the Syrian craziness that seems to be never ending.
  • People are plotting to kill us (Americans) at this very moment.
  • There is a push to impeach the IRS chief.  The whole thing may be abolished one day.
  • Innocent Americans are being killed in our streets.
  • Innocent police officers are being targeted by the very citizens they are trying to protect.
  • Rules and restrictions are being shoved down our throats daily that continue to limit our ability to live freely.

Not one of those items are trending on Twitter.  You may not have even known some of those things.  I had to look some of it up myself.  The point is that there are much bigger issues than whether or not a football player stands for the national anthem and what a former quarterback thinks of it.  I totally get that it’s a big issue for certain groups.  But the whole reason he’s doing it isn’t even being discussed.  And personally, I don’t think what he’s doing has any tangible affect on why he’s doing it.  I just don’t make the connection.  But again, I’m indifferent.  

In conclusion, we just have to understand that we are all different and we see the world through our own unique set of eyes.  But in the end, I think we all want pretty much the same thing. We want to live our lives, raise our children, financially support our family and feel safe when we go outside.  But we are more divided now than we were 15 years ago.  We are moving backwards instead of forward.  And we aren’t doing ourselves any favors making our way through this world focused on the tearing each other down.  Eventually, we are going to lose our focus and we are going to back into that car in the driveway.

J-Dub