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Another Slam first round, another disappointment for Querrey

Perhaps it’s the new American plague.

Forget about the birds falling from the sky and the predictions of a biblical-esque plague that will soon end our days, I’m talking tennis here; something that has a real impact on our lives.

And in America, for gifted, tall men’s tennis players, times are bleak, plague-like bleak.

Day One of the Australian Open: America’s next great hope: 23-year-old Sam Querrey.

Australian Open photo

This is the American who’s supposed to rip the “top-ranked American” label from No. 8 Andy Roddick later this year. Don’t get me wrong, Querrey still can and might. But usually a good first step is winning the first round of majors, something Querrey has done just eight of the 18 times he has played in Grand Slam.

Eight for 18 in first-round matches. That stat alone is somewhat mind-boggling, but also consider this: As Querrey has risen in the rankings, from No. 174 in 2006 to No. 18 in 2011, his Slam performances have stayed relatively the same: In five of his last nine Major appearances, Querrey has failed to get past the entry bout.

Which brings us to this year’s Down Under Major: Querrey against Lukasz Kubot, the 28-year-old from Poland ranked No. 72 in the world. Although Kubot advanced to the fourth round of last year’s Australian Open courtesy a third-round withdraw from Mikhail Youzhny, he was hardly a formidable foe for Querrey.

Yet he was. That, and so much more, beating Querrey in five sets.

It is not so much that Querrey lost in the first round – upsets happen. But rather, how Querrey lost that is so regretful.

It was much like his fourth-round match of the 2010 U.S. Open, when Querrey had a chance to finish the match, ride the blustery winds of momentum and sail into his first-ever quarterfinals.

Instead, he lost.

Day One, Australian Open: Querrey battling Kubot. He seizes the momentum, snatches a 2-1 set advantage. The wind, however, is again a factor. And Querrey has not learned enough from this last win-aided defeat.

Rather predictably, Querrey lets Kubot back in the match and Kubot obliges, 5-7, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1, 8-6.

Querrey’s U.S. Open quarterfinal loss to Stanislas Wawrinka: 6-7(9), 7-6(5), 5-7, 6-4, 4-6.

The momentum was his. The match was there. But not that day. Not with the wind gusting and the pressure on.

And until Querrey can win those matches, those five-setters, those ones he usually doesn’t, we can forget about the top 10 talk. Heck, we can even forget about him passing Roddick, which would make for one lackluster 2011 for the top two American men.

Storytelling with compassion

A fantastic interview with Jacqui Banaszynski.

WUWM. Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist Calls for Compassion in Reporting

OWH: School left with its own wounds

Omaha World-Herald: The gunfire at Millard South made a long-time coach there shake his head — his school was now the one on television, the one everyone was reading about and the school that would have to recover from its own shooting.

“It hurts a lot,” said Larry Ribble, 67, who retired after coaching boys track and basketball at the school for 30 years. “With time, some wounds will be healed, but it’s just really a setback.”

(Far, far better reads about the Millard South High School shooting on Omaha.com.)

Covering the Fred Phelps gang

Westboro

A little more than a month ago, the Westboro group came to Columbia, Mo, on a weekend I was working.

That’s where I stopped writing this blog post in November 2009. For whatever reason, I didn’t want to keep writing about the “Westboro group stops here again,” Columbia Daily Tribune.

But I’ve kept coming back to my website and kept seeing this unfinished draft, so, to avoid this post smelling worse than it does, I’ll briefly finish what I started.

We all know the Phelps crew. And we probably all dislike the Phelps crew. They stomp on our flags. They say ludicrous things at sensitive times. And they do not care what we say or think about them.

We all know that. What struck me about the Phelps gang is how well they understand the game, how well they know what they doing. To the news reporters covering them, the Phelps crew was as kind as can be.

To the people shouting at them, the ones arguing and cussing to no end, the Phelps crew shouted back, unwilling to take such insults without a comeback.

We bother them because they bother us; their actions appall the good in all of us. But when we shout and pay attention to them instead of blocking their access or getting in their way like the successful anti-protesters, we play their game, the one they’ve been playing for years and the one they know better than us: the game of insults.

And we lose every time.

OWH: Calming, familiar presence

Omaha World-Herald:

“Sector 1, go ahead.”

“OPD is en route to South 28th Avenue for smoke in that area,” a female dispatcher says.

The night begins with an assignment, a rarity for Daniel Hagen, an Omaha Housing Authority security guard. Most of the time, Hagen patrols the Southside Terrace Garden Apartments, the largest remaining public housing cluster in Omaha, on his own.

He cruises the neighborhood, coasting down hills, lurching up streets, waving to some people, waiting for eye contact from others.

But he’s rarely told what to do, except for right now, about 10 p.m. on a recent Friday.

The temperature in the teens, the wind in the 30s. And smoke in the area.

OWH: Malcolm X Center opens in Omaha

Omaha World-Herald: Sharif Liwaru moved here from California as a 17-year-old who knew one thing about Omaha: It was Malcolm X’s hometown.

Liwaru became second vice president of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation while attending Omaha North High School.

And on Thursday night, he led a ceremony that fulfilled one of the foundation’s longtime goals: the grand opening of the new Malcolm X Center, 3463 Evans St.

Trying to make sense of the Texas Tech game

AP photo

Most of the time, I can’t stand reading sports columnists’ day-after column. They almost always oversimplify it, save WallJ. They say, oh, Coach Smith should have done this, it was so obvious, if only Coach Smith weren’t so dumb team x would have won the game. Well, Mr. Columnist, it’s always more obvious a few hours after the game. And, if it’s so easy to be a head coach, perhaps you should try it. You’d certainly get a raise out of the deal.

Most of the time, I just shake my head at the second-guessing. But the recent play-calling of Missouri offensive coordinator David Yost has even this loyal fan wondering, what the heck he is thinking?

As you know, Missouri lost to Texas Tech last weekend. As you know, Missouri was ranked No. 7 a couple of weeks ago after its epic win over Oklahoma, which doesn’t seem so epic after Texas A&M walloped the Sooners as well. As you know, Missouri was on its way to one of the best years in school history. And, as you shouldn’t know, this year looks to be just like a regular year, just when so many of Mizzou fans had let our minds wander to something different, to a New Year’s Day game or even to a BCS bowl.

Oh, well. Missouri is still fun to watch. Games are still enjoyable. We all still love Mizzou. Life goes on. I’m not distraught over Mizzou not having a chance to win the Big 12. There will more games played this year and next year. I’m just trying to understand how the hell it happened, how a team that looked like it was going to obliterate its opponent ends up losing to a team that had lost four straight and didn’t play all that well.

Let’s recall the first quarter: the Tigers pulled a Cornhusker on the Red Raiders, going almost untouched on runs of 71 and 69 yards. This was going to be a route. Missouri was going to cement itself a place among the top 10 best teams in college football. That’s how it seemed.

After Nebraska dashed untouched, the Cornhuskers did it again, and then continued to pound the ball, eventually running 47 times for 364 yards. It was a smart strategy; why change what’s working? And Nebraska won, 31 to 17 in a game that was never all that close. The win showed Nebraska played better that day and showed they belong to among the best in the Big 12. Good on them.

But, unlike Nebraska, Missouri decided to mix up its play-calling even though the Tigers showed a superior advantage in running the football. After the two long runs, offensive coordinator Yost showed a propensity to throw the ball deep, as if he were going for the kill, trying to put the nail in the coffin, as people like to say. And, hey, if it works, fantastic, 21-0. Mizzou is rolling with the run and the pass.

But it didn’t.

On at least a couple of those deep balls, Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert overthrew his receiver, foreshadowing what we would eventually learn: Gabbert wasn’t having his best night of tossing a ball on green grass. (Unfortunately, he finished an embarrassing 12-30 for 95 yards against the 119th-ranked pass defense. We’ll get to the unfortunately part later.)

This is the same type of play-calling we saw against San Diego State, a game Missouri would have lost if not for a missed clipping call on a 68-yard touchdown pass with under a minute remaining. Consider this from a Sept. 25 story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,

Against San Diego State, MU was running with ease in the first half but was off-kilter in the passing game.

Certainly, MU could have run more, but Yost and Pinkel both noted the Tigers were a whisker away from numerous 30-yard plus gains in passing. Had a handful of drops, a few tough catches or a couple errant throws clicked instead, Yost said, MU would have had 24 or 31 points at halftime and changed the complexion of the game.

Again, they didn’t complete the throws, and choosing to pass instead of sticking with the run certainly changed the game, making it far more closer than it should have been against the Aztecs.

Against Texas Tech on Saturday, there was no Moe Miracle, no last-second jubilation, no victory. Missouri had lost to the worst team in the Big 12 South at a not-packed stadium against a less-talented team.

Depressing. Frustrating. Insane. Beyond belief. Defies logic. Throw them all out.

Since Saturday’s downer, one loss has darted in my mind: Navy of 2009.

Now, no offense to the Midshipmen, but Missouri was more talented than Navy last year, and should have won the game. Yet, even if the Tigers didn’t win, it shouldn’t have been a 35-13 shellacking. (Thanks, Barack.)

Navy defended Missouri with a three-man front, dropping eight to defend the lofty throwing game, keying on Danario Alexander. But Missouri scored less than 30 seconds into the game when Alexander dashed 58 yards to the end zone.

The route is on, right?

Whoops. Navy stuck with the three-man front, Missouri stuck with the pass for some reason, and Navy thumped the Tigers.

Here’s Dave Matter of the Columbia Daily Tribune:

But the running game soon faded. After piling up a season-high 243 yards on 22 carries in the first half, the Tigers ran the ball just nine times for 17 yards in the second half.

“We just came out with a different game plan in the second half and try open up some other things,” Lawrence said.

Huh?

So, maybe Missouri should have ran the ball more. But in looking back at the past two years, this lack of running doesn’t seem to be a yearly trend but more of a game-by-game trend. The data show in Missouri’s seven wins this year, the Tigers ran 44.3 percent of the time. On Saturday, they ran the ball on 50.8 percent of their plays.

Game Run % Pass %
v. Illinois 37.7% 62.3%
McNeese St. 43.5% 56.5%
San Diego St 34.6% 65.4%
Miami 62.3% 37.7%
Colorado 49.2% 50.8%
at Tx A&M 34.7% 65.3%
Oklahoma 48.1% 51.9%
at Nebraska 44.7% 55.3%
at Tx Tech 50.8% 49.2%

Missouri, however, is running the ball less of a percentage during victories than it did last year in Yost’s first year as OC. Missouri averaged running 52.4 percent of the time during wins in 2009, about eight percent higher than in 2010.

So, how do you fix it, how do you avoid these awful losses? The easy answer is stick with what’s working. Of course. Maybe run more against three-man fronts, maybe not pass the ball when your All-American QB is having an off night, but that’d be me being like a Monday Morning Quarterback columnist, so I’m not sure how to fix it.

Let’s be clear: Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel has done an outstanding job. He’s brought top-level talent to Columbia, Mo., just look at Jeremy Maclin, Ziggy Hood, second-rounder William Moore and that’s not including undrafted Heisman finalist Chase Daniel and the undrafted Alexander.

But, for whatever reason, Missouri continues to not play up to its potential in the strangest of games and the play-calling is a logical place to examine.

Call it pathetic, call it Mizzou’s luck, but it’s the coaches’ fault, no matter what you call it. That’s why they get paid a lot of cash, and that’s why we can dissect their decisions and try to understand them, no matter how baffling.

Election reminded me…

of John Clark, who got to know John McCain in Vietnam.

JohnClark

Former POW shares experiences living with McCain

By JONATHON BRADEN
News@ColumbiaMissourian.com

About two years ago, John Clark hollered at Republican presidential candidate John McCain at a convention of American prisoners of war. He walked up to the senior senator from Arizona, shook his hand and exchanged a few pleasant words.
After a brief visit with his fellow prisoners of war, McCain was on his way.

Clark’s relationship with McCain is distant these days. The two haven’t talked much since McCain was elected a U.S. senator in 1982.

But there was a time when the two men were closer than either would have liked. Clark and McCain were prisoners of war together at the Hoa Lo prison, or the “Hanoi Hilton,” in Vietnam.

They endured solitary confinement, the cement slabs the North Vietnamese called beds and the torture inflicted upon them. They also experienced the camaraderie that is borne out of captivity.

They played bridge. They shared story after story. And they made it home to talk about it.

Clark calls the 30 or so men who were held at the Hanoi Hilton toward the end of the Vietnam War some of the “meanest and ornery” Americans captured during the war. He speaks of McCain with the highest regard.

Yet, as McCain and Barack Obama vie for every last vote as Election Day draws near, Clark isn’t saying whether he’ll be voting for McCain or Obama.

“I know there can’t be anybody that cares about the country more than John McCain,” Clark said. “I have great regard for him as an individual and as a patriot.”

In May 1972, the North Vietnamese moved a large group of American prisoners to near the border of China and Vietnam from the Hanoi Hilton. But almost 30 of them remained at the Hanoi Hilton, Clark said, including himself and McCain.

Clark said the North Vietnamese held back the chosen American prisoners of war to guard against U.S. bombing of Hanoi, which, if it was Vietnam’s strategy, didn’t work. But he excludes himself from the group’s tough distinction. Clark said he was held back because of his illnesses.

“I just wasn’t as tough and mean as those guys,” Clark said.

For most of the almost six years Clark was a prisoner of war, he battled the occasional severe cases of asthma and malaria.

The native and resident of Columbia said he acquired malaria in the summer of 1967, a few months after his RF-4C fighter plane was shot down near the border of Vietnam and Laos. The asthma started during the winter of ’67.

“I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t talk and I was very weak. I was pretty close to dying,” Clark said. “I didn’t have any medical care. I just had to survive on my own.”

Fellow prisoner of war Dan Glenn lived with Clark for a time in Vietnam.

“The first few years you sort of lived in terror of somebody coming in and taking you out,” Glenn said. “You never knew what was going on.”

He wasn’t held back with the last Hanoi Hilton group. But he remembers well the 20 x 60 foot room they stayed in.

A 14 x 45 concrete slab rested in the center of the room. Initially, all of the prisoners were to sleep there. But some offered to sleep on the concrete floor, so each prisoner on the slab had about 28 inches from side to side.

Busted up concrete exposed the aging prison. Grease spots soaked the slab, places where other bodies had laid for years.

“You knew you weren’t the first person that lived there,” Glenn said.

Plain, whitewashed walls symbolized the dullness of the prison. Straw mats blocked the view of the outside world through the arched windows with metal bars.

“But it was good to have roommates,” said Glenn, who lives in Cuchara, Colo., and sees Clark at least once a year.

The men taught each other foreign languages, such as Spanish, French or German. At night, someone would tell the story of a movie, Glenn said.

They also fixed things, or at least Clark did. He earned himself the nickname of “Gyro,” after Disney’s “Gyro Gearloose,” because of his mechanical skills.

The prisoners stayed in Hanoi until American B-52s began heavily bombing the city around Christmas 1972. Clark and others remained inside the Hanoi Hilton during the air raid, peeking out the windows and often cheering the American forces.

In February 1973, after five years and 11 months as a prisoner of war, John Clark regained his life.

He returned to a wife who had moved on, but Clark had new freedom. He earned his M.B.A. from MU, eventually retiring as the water engineer for the city of Columbia.

He has been awarded two Purple Hearts, two Legions of Merit and an array of other military honors. His home office is chalk-full of military books. As he talks, he thinks about penning one himself about all of his experiences, something he’s been approached about in the past. He says he’s OK for now, though.

Since McCain returned to the states, he’s written articles and books about leadership and his experiences. He eventually pursued the career that has him days away from possibly winning the presidential election.

At the time, in the Hanoi Hilton, Clark said he didn’t see McCain as a future senator or president. He saw a comrade struggling to survive like the rest of them.

“You were respected for that time, that place and who you were,” Clark said. “(McCain) was just another one of the guys who had overcome enormous difficulties.”

‘Go poop, Mylo. Go poop.’

Every apartment building has some characters. The good ones do, anyways.

And after living in Omaha for a few months, I’ve met some of the residents in my building. Most are kind and cool; others mean well. About a week ago, I met, or I should say, I heard of some characters here.

It was about 10:15 a.m. I was still sleeping; I worked until 3 a.m., probably fell asleep by 4:30 or so. The sun had fought through my closed blinds. And the noise had waltzed through my open window.

Most days, letting the typical noise – birds chirping – and the typical sun – gorgeous – was a good thing. Time to wake up. This day, I heard something different: “Go poop, Mylo. Go poop,” the older woman said.

I didn’t need to hear anymore; I knew who was in the courtyard that sits in the middle of my building, the courtyard that my bedroom window opens up to. It was the woman and her four weiner dogs, scampering around a grass square surrounded by brick walls. Some freedom.

Apparently, one of the dogs is named Mylo. And, apparently, Mylo was supposed to be pooping. He was, however, not pooping.

What also became apparent to me was that this woman had a little boy with her, in addition to the four weiner dogs. “Go poop, Mylo. Just go poop,” the boy said in his prepubescent high-pitched voice, a little whiny but mostly a little boyish.

The little boy must have thought Mylo didn’t hear his grandmother or mother.

I stared my ceiling, thinking this must be ending soon. I was still awfully tired from the previous night; I must not have gotten good sleep.

Then the chorus cranked up their request, the mom first alone, and then two together, telling poor Mylo to go poop already, as if poor Mylo could hear them, as if poor Mylo didn’t want the shouting to stop.

The chanting stopped a few minutes later, or I fell asleep to those chants (I wonder what I dreamed…)

But I went to back to sleep hoping Mylo would solve his apparent constipation and hoping Mylo’s owners would realize you don’t make demands to Mylo.

I also went back to bed realizing this building has more characters than I thought, Mylo, not included.

The Tale of a Spoiled Fan

As a sports fan, I have been spoiled, and it has come to my attention that I have acted in such a manner as well.

I have only myself to blame.

(Isn’t that how all sappy confessions begin?)

But in mostly seriousness, I think it started in the early 2000s, or whatever that funny word is that people call the decade we just passed. The Iowa State Cyclones were starting to win more often, and the Minnesota Twins were drafting and developing the players that would start this recent division-title run.

Finally, the Twins had stopped competing with the Kansas City Royals for the worst team in baseball title. And the Cyclones had quit being the unofficial bye on everyone’s schedule.

The Cyclones made it to the 2000 Insight.com Bowl, and won, beating the Panthers of Pittsburgh, who had a couple giraffes of their own in Antonio Bryant and Larry Fitzgerald, only two of the NFL’s best receivers these days.

I was pumped.

The Cyclones kept winning, too. It was a weird time in the Big 12 North. The Cornhuskers of Nebraska were losing more, and no one else wanted to win more games than they had been winning, except Iowa State.

This is when Iowa State specifically spoiled me and I didn’t even know it. Two years in a row, the Cyclones had chances to win the Big 12 North outright. They failed both times, losing in two of the most awful losses ever. (Seriously. Ask anyone who has seen both of those games, and they’ll tell you the same thing.)

It was typical Iowa State, the haters said, including Cyclone fans. I might have even said it, letting my hostile emotions control my frustrated mind. If I were to have said such a thing, it was me not appreciating Iowa State playing for the Big 12 North titles and sharing the title with another team. Those were strong accomplishments, and I should have been more thankful to the ‘Clones.

I didn’t say I should have been complacent. No, there’s a different definition for complacency than there is for appreciation. I could have appreciated the games while not desiring the false feeling of satisfaction. But I was just a kid, a high school-aged kid who wanted my team to win like Ohio State. Every year.

As I mentioned, I was also a big Twins fan. And the Twins were big fans of division titles. In 2002, they won the AL Central, shocking almost everybody.

I was ecstatic.

And then the Twins beat the Oakland A’s and slipped into the ALCS. That’s four games away from the World Series. That’s where two teams from each league advance every year. That’s very hard to do.

But, because I was just a kid, a punk kid who thought he knew everything about sports, I didn’t realize how big of a deal this was or how hard it was for teams to go to the ALCS. This time, the Twins spoiled me, and, again, I didn’t get it.

The Twins won the division again in 2004, 2006 and 2008. That’s very good. Not many teams have done that, especially teams from not monstrous markets that allow them to have monstrous payrolls, such as Boston or New York or L.A.

In 2009, the Twins won one of the most exciting games in Twins history and made it to the playoffs for the fifth time in the last eight years. This year, I was just happy the Twins made the playoffs. Next year, I thought, next year the Twins will go back to the ALCS.

Next year was this year, and again, (I know, it’s getting old) the Twins lost in the first round of the playoffs. They lost to the Yankees, too. The frickin’ Yankees swept the Twins. In baseball, everyone hates the Yankees. But Twins fans especially hate the Yankees. HATE.

And after this last sweep, I was very frustrated. I remember thinking I was tired of division titles, thinking I’d rather win it all every 10 years and not go to the playoffs any other year than go to the playoffs every year and lose. Ugh.

Weeks later, I had time to reflect on my thoughts, and I again realized that was something a spoiled fan would think and say, and that’s what I thought and said.

I had forgotten how much fun I had had at a couple Twins games last summer, how much I loved watching Twins baseball and how much I cherished talking about the Twins with my best buddies. I love the Twin. But I was also spoiled, which made me forget how much I would always love the Twins, even if they lose in the first round every year. (Let’s not let that happen, though. OK, Ron?)

By this time, the Cyclones had become my second-favorite college team. I graduated from the University of Missouri.

During my second year at Mizzou, the Tigers spoiled me. They won their first few games against easy teams, like they always do. And they even beat the hard teams, except Oklahoma. But the Tigers were ranked No. 1.

In the following years, Mizzou would beat the easy teams again but lose a couple more games to the hard teams, the better teams during that year. These Mizzou teams still were good, though: they had good records, good players and went to good bowl games. I should have been happy about Mizzou football. They were getting better, I was having fun at games. Life was good. But I was sometimes frustrated, even a little perturbed that Mizzou didn’t do better.

I think I wanted the 2007 year every year, which, of course, is hard to do for any college football team, especially when you lose your best players from that team to the NFL.

After all this, all of these times in which I should have realized I was spoiled, it took Mizzou beating Texas A&M a couple weekends ago for it to hit me.

I was answering a question about Mizzou from a buddy. I was telling him Mizzou always schedules the easy opponents early in the year, which gives Mizzou early wins but also doesn’t tell fans a lot about the team. We’ll see how Mizzou does against A&M. I didn’t sound optimistic but I didn’t sound pessimistic, either; I sounded unsure. I sounded like a spoiled fan.

Even if Mizzou would have lost to A&M – they didn’t, of course – but even if they did, I should have appreciated 5-0 starts. I should have appreciated a shutout of Colorado. Georgia fans would have loved a shutout of Colorado. The Buffaloes beat the Bulldogs by two points. I should have remembered that and been thankful my Tigers had not done the same.

I should have been happy, but I was cautionary. I was spoiled.

That’s enough spoiled for me, though. I’ve decided. That’s why I wrote this little essay, The Tale of a Spoiled Fan. I wrote “a” spoiled fan instead of “the” spoiled fan because a lot of fans are spoiled. A lot of fans could learn to be more appreciative than spoiled, could learn to love their teams for who they are that year and for what they’ve done. For all the good times.

It’s time we acted less like spoiled fans and more like privileged people, including you Royals fans. Well, on second thought, Royals fans, complain away.