Sunday, September 11, 2011

I went bowling.

Let me pause from the normal focus of this blog to remember the tragedies that befell upon our nation ten years ago. I wrote this several years ago for my MySpace page, and every year, I re-read it and re-post it in some form of social media. I will also update it, but only if needed. I chose not to update it this year.

May we never forget.

-Zack Bennett, 9/11/11


I went bowling. It was a pretty good score for me, if I remember correctly. I don't really. I wasn't paying attention to the game. Maybe that's why it was such a good score. They say that you do better at sports like bowling and golf if you don't focus on the task at hand. But there I was, at the Family Fun Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. It was 2:00pm on the afternoon of September 11, 2001.

I had to go bowling. Well, I didn't HAVE to, but I did. I was enrolled in a bowling class. I was three weeks into my first semester at MTSU as a Junior transfer. We were all scared, all in shock. The drama of that day was six hours old and nobody really knew what to do. I remember earlier in the day going to Breadbreak at Raiders For Christ and discussing it with people I barely knew. At that point (about three hours earlier), I didn't know just how severe it was. But by the time I went bowling, it was real.

Those of us who came to the bowling alley were watching the televisions above the lanes, not really caring much about the game. Fresh news was coming in, along with erroneous reports of more attacks. We heard of car bombs outside CIA headquarters. We heard of bombs going off in shopping malls. None of it was true, but we didn't know that. At that point, anything was possible. My dad told me to find the nearest fallout shelter. We were worried about getting nuked.

By that night, we knew that the world was going to change in a hurry. I remember going to my night class and watching Bush's speech on TV, and then later spending the evening with some people I barely knew at Raiders for Christ. We had heard news reports of the repercussions, including how much the cost of gasoline was expected to rise the next day. There were reports that we'd be paying (gasp!) $3.00 a gallon. We look back and laugh at that now, but that was a big worry that day.

The experiences of that day will never be forgotten. One day, I'll tell my children about that day and what it felt like. But they'll never understand. I'm worried that it won't even secure a prominent place in American history. It's only been nine years, and it's almost like we only want to either sweep it under a rug or use it as fodder in political arguments. There was a History Channel special that debuted in 2008, called "102 Minutes That Changed America", that didn't even show the footage of either plane striking the buildings. It was the most filmed event in world history, and nobody wants us to see it anymore. When was the last time you saw it on TV? Think about it. I bet you can't remember. That, to me, says a lot about the state of denial in which our country still lives.

We didn't just lose 4 airplanes, two skyscrapers, and a chunk of the Pentagon. We lost roughly 3,000 friends and neighbors, and as former British PM Tony Blair said, they could have killed 70,000 and rejoiced just the same. We can't forget the evil we saw that day.

As the day goes on, we'll probably all share our stories from that day, and whenever anyone asks me what I did on 9/11, I'll tell them I went bowling.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Plane Crash Claims Two Former Predators

This has just been a horrific summer for the global ice hockey community. Already reeling from the deaths of three active or recently-retired NHL players (Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak), the hockey world today learned of a plane crash in Russia that claimed all but one member of the HC Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team of the Kontinental Hockey League, which included several former NHL all-stars.

Among those killed in the crash are former Nashville Predators players Josef Vasicek and Karlis Skrantins, which coupled with the untimely death of Belak one week ago, means that in the course of eight days, this franchise has lost three of its former players. Also killed in today's crash was defenseman Robert Dietrich, who was drafted by the Predators and played two years with the Milwaukee Admirals (and a few preseason games for the Preds). Prior to this week, only one former Predator had passed away (Sergei Zholtok to natural causes in 2004).

As we inch closer to another exciting season of Predators hockey, let's pause and reflect on these players who helped create an electric atmosphere at 501 Broadway, and whose lives were brought to a far-too-early end.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

I have 3 favorite college football teams. Sue me.

I like them all. And there's nothing wrong with that.
I have three favorite college football teams. Sue me.

My daddy raised me to hate the Vols. He hated the Vols. His daddy hated the Vols. It's a family tradition to hate the Vols. So, I hate the Vols.

When I was a small child, my family had Vanderbilt football season tickets. My first football experiences were at Vanderbilt Stadium, sitting behind the goalpost in Section J. So, Vanderbilt has always been first in my heart. And, of course, being a Nashvillian by birth doesn't hurt either. Vanderbilt is our team. The university and its athletics team has always done a superb job of representing our city, and as a Nashville fan, I'm forever a Vandy fan. First and foremost. Even through all the crappy times.

I also grew up an Alabama fan. Part of that was natural in the Vol-hating, but part of it was, again, because of my dad. There's a photo of me at 9 months old, sitting on my dad's lap. He's wearing an Alabama Crimson Tide t-shirt. My dad was always an admirer of Bear Bryant, and whenever Alabama was on TV, we were watching Alabama (if we weren't at the Vandy game, of course). In my mid-twenties, I actually moved to Alabama and lived there for four and a half years (from 2005-2010) and worked in sports radio. The station I programmed (WUMP - Huntsville) is the Crimson Tide affiliate for North Alabama. So, I covered the team on a weekly basis. It also didn't hurt that the Alabama woman I met and fell in love with (and eventually married) is a huge Alabama fan, as is most of her entire family. So, while my love for Alabama began out of a hatred for the Vols, it's eventually grown into a true love for Alabama. As a matter of fact, I really don't hate the Vols anymore. I still don't like them. I still don't want them to win. But now, like a true Alabama fan, I despise Auburn. Tennessee is just a fly in the ointment.

Then, there's my beloved Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. MTSU is my alma mater. They probably should be my favorite college football team, but let's be honest... they're in the Sun Belt Conference. It's just not the same. I hope they do well, but I don't keep up with them the way I keep up with SEC football. I'll go to a couple of MTSU games this fall, but it's really more of an excuse to go back to campus. I love MTSU with all my heart. I spent two amazing years there, after transferring in from a community college at my junior year. But it's definitely more of a love for the university than it's football team.

The problem with having 3 favorite teams who are this close in proximity (and two of which are in the same conference) is that every now and then, they play each other...and that is painful. Vanderbilt faces Alabama on October 8. I don't yet know who I will root for. Either way, I'll be happy and I'll be sad. I love them both. When Vandy and MTSU played three times between 2001 and 2005, I pulled for Vandy every time...even as I was a student at MTSU. MTSU won all three games. That sucked. But it was great.

So, don't call me a fake fan. Don't think I'm less of a fan than you because I chose to divide my allegiances three ways. That's the way I choose to enjoy college football season. It's been that way for years, and it will continue to be that way. I love all three of those schools and I want them all to do well.  And I really don't care what you think about it.

The Last Word on Wade Belak

Okay, this is almost certainly going to be the last thing I post about the unfortunate sudden death of Wade Belak. There are plenty of other avenues to get any more news that may trickle out of this terrible situation.

In a Friday interview with Team 990 in Montreal, CBC Sports' PJ Stock (as reported by Yahoo) says that Belak died of "strangulation", and that it is an "accidental death", not a suicide...which, of course, leads us toward totally different conclusions.

There is obviously much more to this story than any of us know right now, and it just goes to show how quickly things spread in the Blogosphere and Twitterverse, whether they may or may not be true. For all we know, this latest revision to the story could be bunk as well.

We may never know what happened in that Toronto hotel room. All we can do right now is memorialize the man that so many of us loved to watch play hockey, support his family, and begin to pick up the pieces of our broken hearts.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

AP Report: Belak Hanged Himself; How should the Preds memorialize him?

The story of Wade Belak's death caught Smashville by obvious surprise yesterday afternoon, but the latest news may even be more surprising.

As first reported last night by the Toronto Sun, and now being reported by the Associated Press, Wade Belak hanged himself in his hotel room.

This sad story simply became more shocking, as if that was even possible. No one, at least not anyone who has gone on record, saw this coming. Wade had just started hosting a new weekly radio show in Nashville, he had just in the past week agreed to work on the Predators' television broadcasts, and he was in Toronto to work on a Canadian reality show. In other words, it's highly possible that his profile, at least here in Nashville, would have been higher than even during his playing days.

At a press conference last evening, Predators GM David Poile said that Belak was at the Predators' offices on Monday, and was as happy-go-lucky as ever. Twitter user @thepuckdude tweeted this photo earlier today, which he says was taken Tuesday night and theorizes could be the last photo ever taken of Belak. He appears to be having a good time at a bar.

I shouldn't speculate about why Wade Belak would have taken his own life. I didn't know the man, and I obviously didn't know his struggles. But it seems that literally no one saw this coming.

If you feel so inclined, you can donate $3 (Wade wore #3) to the National Tourette Syndrome Association. Wade's daughter has been diagnosed with the disease, and that was the charity for which Wade was scheduled to compete during Battle of the Blades. You can get more information over at PuckScene.

This story is just awful, and how the Predators choose to memorialize him will be tricky. The situation won't be as tricky as the situation facing the Titans following Steve McNair's death two years ago, but it would behoove the Predators to do something, especially considering Belak's popularity among the local fan base.

My idea.
My idea: a small circular helmet sticker (if the NHL even allows that) featuring the #3 in the old Predators font. Or... since the new guitar pick is only on one shoulder, a small patch featuring this design could be affixed to the other shoulder.

What do you think?

Can we finally focus on football now? Thank you.

CJ's deal is done. Finally.
I have refrained from commenting, for the most part, about the Chris Johnson holdout because, frankly, I don't find contract negotiations very interesting. In this case, especially, there really hasn't been a whole lot to talk about.

The Titans and Chris Johnson have agreed on a four-year, $53.5 million extension to his current contract, in which roughly $30 million is guaranteed.

Both sides made a gigantic blunder each: The Titans insisted he come to Training Camp to get a deal done, which likely only delayed the process; and Chris Johnson didn't consider the consequences of erratic tweeting, which did nothing to help his image among the fans.

Johnson probably ought to be happy the deal got done within hours of his controversial tweets, because he completely turned the PR battle away from his favor with slightly fewer than 140 characters.

So, TGIO: Thank God It's Over. After five months of hearing about nothing but the lockout, followed by 35 days of hearing about nothing but Chris Johnson's holdout, we can finally...FINALLY...get Back to Football. ...or is it Back to Footboll?

Get Over It, Denver

Nashville has only been in the major pro sports business for 13 years, but if there's one thing we're experts on, it's the transfer of corporate naming rights for our stadium and arena. The home of the Titans has had three names over the years (Adelphia Coliseum, The Coliseum, LP Field), and the Preds' abode has gone by four (Nashville Arena, Gaylord Entertainment Center, Sommet Center, Bridgestone Arena).

The fine folks in Denver recently experienced the renaming of their stadium for the first time, following a change in corporate structure at Invesco. A new agreement arose between the Broncos and The Sports Authority, a Denver-based big-box sporting goods retailer that once had a couple of stores here in Nashville which closed several years ago (side note: my first Preds jersey was purchased at The Sports Authority in Rivergate).

Well, nobody in Denver ever was a huge fan of the name "Invesco Field"; they preferred "Mile High", the name of the now-demolished stadium next door that the new field replaced. In fact, " Mile High" was added to the Invesco Field name when the stadium opened. However, over time, they got used to it, just like we got used to Adelphia, Gaylord, Sommet...okay, bad example. But they got used to it. Nobody shed a tear, though, when it was announced two weeks ago that Invesco's name would be taken off the stadium and replaced with Sports Authority. By this point, they don't really care whose name is on the stadium, as long as the Broncos play there and they can still just call it "Mile High".

But then, The Sports Authority committed an unforgivable sin. They dared to let the new stadium logo--a logo which they are paying $6 million per year to display--reflect the company's corporate colors: red and white. Red and white: the colors of the Broncos' hated division rival, the Kansas City Chiefs.


No, seriously. The fans are upset. Really upset. So upset that The Sports Authority has agreed to take down its temporary red signs and replace them with permanent orange signage.

Get over it, Denver. It's just a sign. Be glad that you have a local company willing to invest in your local team and reduce the amount of taxpayer support needed to provide for the upkeep of the stadium. You don't see us complaining here in Nashville that the logo for Bridgestone Arena reflects the black and red of Bridgestone...and the hated division rival Chicago Blackhawks. In addition, we really don't mind that LP Field's logo is blue and orange, just like LP... and, oh yeah, the Denver Broncos.

Plus, we actually honor the corporate sponsors here. Sure, we used to call the arena "The Geck", but now that we have a respectable sponsor, it's almost like we're proud to say Bridgestone.

To be fair, though, we never really knew what a "Sommet" was, or even how to pronounce it most of the time.