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Sunday, June 9, 2019

Home Team

This August, I'm headed up to Pittsburgh for Fresh Fest Beer Fest, the nation's first and only Black beer festival. Since making the commitment to go, I've been planning the trip and getting a general sense of Pittsburgh. From a sports standpoint, I'll be headed to a Steelers preseason game, as well as touring the Pirates' PNC Park. I've also considered a way to pay homage to the local streets without perping.

The trouble is, I don't mess with Pittsburgh like that.

I mean, all indications are that it's a city I will thoroughly enjoy. I've long thought that geographically and topographically, it's a city with a lot to like. I've only been once before, a trip during college where I spent precious little time outside of the hotel or the recital hall. But my ties to metro Philly, metro Baltimore, and even USF (former conference rival of the Pitt Panthers) have made it a city a generally disregard a good deal of the time.

My solution? Rep for the Pittsburgh Crawfords.

The Pittsburgh Crawfords were one of a number of  Negro League teams that called the Pittsburgh area home. They played in Pittsburgh from 1931-38, and had lineups that included quite a few Hall of Famers, including some of the most well known Negro League players, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Cool Papa Bell.

They also boasted William Julius "Judy" Johnson.

Judy Johnson grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, not unlike Yours Truly. When Minor League Baseball returned to Wilmington in the form of the Wilmington Blue Rocks in 1993, the field was named for Johnson. Johnson also spent part of his career with the Homestead Grays, perhaps a bit more of a Negro League household name, but he spent the bulk of his Western PA stint with the Crawfords. So when I rep for the "home team" in Pittsburgh, I'll be doing so on my terms.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Logo à Gogo

Courtesy of The Daily Stampede
The last year has been rebrand season at each of the universities I'm associated with. Both alma maters and my employer went through some sort of brand update, to either the athletic logo, institutional logo, or both, to varying success.

First my graduate alma mater, USF. I've already given both its original ill conception and its eventual coup de grace considerable time here, so no need to rehash that.

Thank U, next.

UNCG has new looks with both the institutional logo and the athletic/spirit logo. Full disclosure: I like the change quite a bit, and if I didn't, I'd probably keep my mouth shut - can't bite the hand that feeds me.

The institutional look has been termed a "brand refresh," and still features the tried and true Minerva shield. The colors have updated - slight changes to the shades of blue and gold used, and gray added - and the text emphasized the G, as it does in the athletic logo.

The athletic logo's new look Spartan is a fierce upgrade from an already strong look with the now retired rising shield. My favorite of the secondary marks is the G Spear. While it's not a standalone logo, it again emphasizes the primary logo with a spear that is unmistakably Spartan - the classical accuracy to include the sauroter on the back end of the spear is much appreciated attention to detail.

And then there's alma mater #1. They're not changing the athletic logo - that took place nearly a decade ago.  It's the institutional logo that got an update, and I love it. I was clued in to the coming change back in September, when I got to participate in a survey that presented two options. Of these, my preferred option incorporated the Calvert (black and gold) portion of the flag, rotated 90 degrees (which left me vexillologically vexed, as that's now how it would present on a properly hung flag) on an escutcheon like the one seen here. The end result was far better than I could have expected.

The UMBC wordmark has been a mainstay for decades; it's the shield that's being added. Having used only the Calvert portion as in the survey, they would have been at once right and wrong. On the one hand, our colors are black and gold, so it makes sense. That peeloff has been used plenty, including the Retriever Nation and Lot 17 (soccer supporters club) logos. I fly a Calvert flag at my tailgates these days. It's the primary element in the Baltimore flag, which is where things get interesting - UMBC's not located in Baltimore. In using both the Calvert and Crossland colors, they asserted our importance to the state, and reinforce at least the "M" for those who may not immediately recognize the acronym, even after March 16, 2018. It's even blazonable: An escutcheon, fimbriated cendrée and sable, the arms of Calvert and Crossland dimidiated. UMBC's got a great new look.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Raise a Glass

Two of the larger names in craft beer are joining forces.

Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) and Dogfish Head announced late last week that they will be merging. The two breweries were the second and thirteenth, respectively, in terms of craft brewery sales in 2018, and their merging represents a sizable shift in craft beer.

True enough, my first thoughts on the merger came not as a craft beer drinker, but as a Delawarean. We're a bit territorial when it comes to our native son Dogfish Head, and while both sides describe the move as a merger, my big-bank-take-little-bank lens immediately saw this as Boston Beer Company acquiring Dogfish Head, and feared the disappearance of at least the name of a chiefly Delaware brand, as when Walgreen's acquired Happy Harry's or Bank of America acquired MBNA. From a sports perspective, the prospect of losing our identity to a New England-based company particularly stung. Thankfully, it doesn't look like the brand is going anywhere.

Sam Adams has long been among the most macro of the micros and the big dog in the craft brewing room. Still, they've maintained their commitment to independence, and where some others are instead selling to major breweries like Budweiser's AB InBev, Boston Beer Company and Samuel Adams instead opted for this strategic alliance. They aren't the first to do this - notably, Artisanal Brewing Ventures was born of Victory and Southern Tier, and has since acquired Sixpoint - but certainly this merger is a big deal. I've even seen some call one or both parties sellouts, which doesn't make a bit of sense to me. Craft beer has long embodied a "we all we got" ethos, and any attempt at Voltron between companies is simply to continue to stake that claim. As the companies note in the press release, they still make up less than 2% of the national beer market, and craft beer in its totality only makes up about 11%. This move isn't knocking down the Buds and Millers of the world anytime soon, but it's keeping both brands in the game.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Only U

Ding Dong, the Lynch is dead.

Which old Lynch? The Merrill Lynch.

The much maligned USF institutional logo, featuring a reasonable facsimile of the Merrill Lynch logo will die at cock's crow on Monday. (or, yanno, probably sometime during the workday). Its replacement will be the athletic logo, the Iconic U, which will now pull double duty and represent the university in its entirety.

Daily Stampeder emeritus Collin can tell you about it better than I can.

In the end, we, the alumni, fans, and supporters, were bullish on the Merrill Lynch Lookin' Ass logo's departure, and for all of the digging in of heels the university did, eventually, we were heard.

I'd like to think I did my part.

Friday, May 3, 2019

I'ma Let You Finish

Taylor Swift is an inspiration.

I've been without a charger for my laptop since leaving it in Columbus in later January. I hadn't yet replaced it, and pieced together my non-work computer time with my phone and occasional library trips. I had made the loose commitment to go by the Apple store for a new charger "some time in the next week."

After seeing Taylor Swift's Billboard Music Awards performance and the dragging that ensued, I made time to get it today.

I've got to tell you this story before I tell you the main one: Of late, I catch most zeitgeists late. Blame the kids, blame the schedule, blame the priorities, but if it's hot and you're talking about it, I probably haven't seen it yet. But like getting a charger to write this here, I made time for Beyonce's Homecoming. I'm not Hive, but her steadfast commitment to the HBCU band vibe made it must-watch TV for me. Indeed, I started watching the day it dropped, and finished over the weekend. It was for that reason I had full context when Taylor bust on the scene.

There's no two ways about it: Taylor's performance was reminiscent - nay, derivative - of Beyonce's. Her intro, from the whistle blasts, drumline, and opening pose to the use of pink (a muted baby pink to Beyonce's Bret Hart hot pink), anyone who had seen Homecoming not two weeks prior would have made the same inference. Some speculated that was the point - after all, Taylor's performance has been the talk of the day in a way it may not otherwise have been - but the reviews have been less than kind. She's been dragged all up and down social media, with folks referencing her unseasoned, Great Value brand of Coachella, or as it trended on Twitter, Mayochella. True enough, Beyonce's not the first artist to incorporate a marching band, but when it's done so high profile and so recently, it's hard not to notice. And perhaps most egregious of the rip was the undercard of the drumline present at Taylor's performance: They weren't that good.

Other than the swaggerjack, there were other elements at play. First, Beyonce curated an HBCU marching band for her performance that was able to co-create the experience with her. In contrast, Taylor opted for what was functionally percussive set design - window dressing for her performance in the form of System Blue, the drums-for-hire arm of 18 time DCI World Champion Blue Devils.

Eighteen championships. I only bring their Bama-like pedigree into the discussion because it seems to defy my earlier point: They weren't that good. The lack of precision from a unit associated with a four-time Fred Sanford High Percussion award-winning corps brings to light a cultural disconnect. To observe the players in action, it was likely they were given a stage direction like "have fun!" or "get funky!" For whatever reason, the moment they got loose, all precision went out the window, a fatal flaw. Fun is not the opposite of discipline. Let's jump back to Beyonce, and in the larger vein HBCU bands. Her squad clearly had an amazing time, and performed at a high level. But to equate having fun with lack of discipline hardwires other false dichotomies that manifest as prejudice and discrimination in the marching band world.

If you accept the parsimonious narrative, System Blue wasn't just told to get funky. They were told to emulate an HBCU band. That doing such would cause them to throw their chops out the window is troubling, but unsurprising. The belief that HBCU bands are primitive is an old trope that persists despite evidence to the contrary. Corps style bands have long looked down their nose at show style bands, even as they've tried their best to bite elements since, say, late 2002 or so. But the only judge that matters is the audience, and consensus is T Swizzle got cranked on.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Virginia Should Not Call In Vain

I don't know what Ryan Odom's vice of choice is, but I hope Tony Bennett bought him an extra large.

The Virginia Cavaliers men's basketball team entered the sports pantheon as the 2019 national champions. It was 388 days prior they made a different kind of history: Being the first 1 seed to fall to a 16 seed in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It's no stretch so say the two are related.

Bennett and his team spent the entire season fielding questions about the UMBC loss. The four letters rang out as chants in rival arenas. And though UVA ultimately won the title. event trailing in the first round against Gardner-Webb elicited a touch of fear in the Wahoo faithful.

A redemption story needs something from which to redeem, and last year's loss provided that spark. Few doubted Bennett's coaching acumen, but the fact that he had yet to make a Final Four was a glaring omission on his resume. After the loss, there were louder-than-whispers that for all of his talent, he was prone to underachieving. It's well documented that Tony Bennett is a Rocky fan, and it wouldn't suprise me if he saw shades of the pugilist's path in his own squad.

Some may think I'm hitching UMBC to UVA's coattails. Quite the opposite - I'm simply taking credit for the assist. When the inevitable 30 for 30 or documentary comes out, just be sure it starts on March 16, 2018.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

H-Town Takeover

During Week 1 of the college football season, the pro stadiums in Denver, New Orleans, Charlotte, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, and Arlington will be hosting games.

In Houston, they'll be hosting bands.

The Cracker Barrel Old Country Story National Battle of the Bands will take place on Saturday, September 1. Born the Queen City Battle of the Bands, the battle relocated to Houston, and following a year of reorganization, wil take the field tot start this fall. Today, the field was announced. The event will feature:
-FAMU Marching 100
-Miles College Purple Marching Machine
-North Carolina Central Marching Sound Machine
-Prairie View A&M Marching Storm
-Southern University Human Jukebox
-Talladega College Great Tornado
-Tennessee State Aristocrat of Bands
-Texas Southern Ocean of Soul

The announcement got the bandosphere humming for what should be a great show. For those keeping conference score, the bill includes three from the SWAC, two from the MEAC, one from the SIAC, and two that Honda would deem "independent" - Talladega from the NAIA, and Tennessee State, from the Ohio Valley, a non-HBCU conference.

Personally, I'm still a bit salty that the show relocated from my relative backyard to halfway across the country, butI suppose those in SWAC country can have a little fun too. The organizers reportedly left Charlotte for greener pastures in what Houston had to offer. Indeed, they turned the band announcement into a media event featuring no less than the mayor. And while word is that they would have had access to Bank of America Stadium - the pro field that had previously eluded them - moving into NRG Stadium in Houston was the target from the get-go. Objectively, I can also acknowledge that having this take place farther west gives it some distance from the 240 mile stretch of I-85 that will also host Honda once again in early 2020.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Faceoff

When the Alliance for American Football stepped on the scene, they avoided competing with the NFL by design, opting instead to complement, even make deals with, the sports primary league.

When the Premier Lacrosse League steps on the scene in June, they're ready for war.

Much like the sport's martial roots, the Premier Lacrosse League is preparing for a direct faceoff against the sport's primary outdoor league, Major League Lacrosse. The league's founder, Paul Rabil, is an MLL alumnus and perennial All-Star. In addition to high quality lacrosse, his vision includes a league in which players are owners with equity, full-time wages, and benefits. PLL has a media partnership with NBC, who will air games on the flagship network and NBC Sports. Will the new challenger unseat - even end - the MLL?

Unique about the PLL among North American teams sports is that the league will feature a touring model where the teams are not identified with a city or home region. The leagues six teams, the Archers, Atlas, Chaos, Chrome, Redwoods, and Whipsnake Lacrosse Clubs are exactly that - no location designation to speak of. Their 14 week season will take place in 12 cities, with a touring model not unlike DCI, NASCAR, or PGA. It's a potentially bold move, but the risk seems sound: Instead coalescing around home town pride, rooting interests, if they develop, may center on players, style of play, and team identity. Instead of attending seven home games, live fans will wait for these lacrosse mega-events to blitz their region for a weekend and get their fill there. The league uses the slogan "We the players. For the fans." to highlight their dual purpose for both the players and the fans.

So far, like the MLL and the sport of lacrosse itself, the announced cities skew heavily eastern, with New York, Boston, Baltimore, DC, Atlanta, and Chicago being confirmed as hosts. I'm selfishly hoping for a stop in the Carolinas - the Triangle (likely WakeMed Soccer Park) or Charlotte seem the most likely options - and expect at least some teams further west will make an appearance. The league, interestingly enough, is headquartered in Los Angeles.

A new era is set to begin, and it just may be a battle.

-Premiering in June
-Founded by Paul Rabil, who has played in both of the current pro leagues
-Touring method - like DCI, NASCAR, or PGA
-Intentionally setting up as a competitor to MLL. but with a different model. Will it complement? Supplant?
-Is the model healthy? Allegiance to players, teams, styles, but not geographic ties.
-Compare/contract with AAF

Monday, March 25, 2019

Mad

I might need an intervention.

A Tournamentervention.

Here in Tournament Town, I always make sure to get in on at least some of the March Madness (and to be clear, March Madness begins with conference tournaments, not just the Big Dance) action here or nearby. Usually, it's a Fat Day - the double-doubleheader of an early- or quarterfinal round in a conference tournament - at the ACC men's or women's tournament. Occasionally, I make it up the hill to the SoCon tournament in Asheville, or catch early NCAA tournament action with a local host.

This season began with the second round of the ACC women's basketball tournament, a full Thursday posted up in the Greensboro Coliseum (and in the break, the brewery across the street). Twelve hours yielded four games, eight teams, eight bands.

While Greensboro was only slated to host two basketball tournaments this year, we were gifted with bonus basketball as UNCG's men's team hosted two NIT games after missing the NCAA Tournament. I caught the second of these, which saw the home team fall to Lipscomb, ending their season. Of note: Lipscomb didn't bring their band, which I personally consider a cardinal offense for any team that earns postseason play.

Today I bought my ticket for this weekend's action: The Greensboro Regional of the NCAA women's tournament. As I type this, South Carolina and Iowa have already punched their tickets, while NC State, Kentucky, Baylor, and Cal will vie for the remaining two spots. I'll catch Saturday's doubleheader before laying live college basketball to rest until at least the fall.

When I March, I March HARD.

Next year, Greensboro hosts three tournament weekends in a row once more: ACC women's, ACC men's, and NCAA men's first and second rounds. With any luck I'll be a portion of each. What's more, it came to my attention that this year and the next two, the SEC women's tournament is in Greenville, SC, a cool city that's a reasonable drive away. Hmm....

Somebody stop me.

Better yet, don't.

Friday, March 8, 2019

This Is March

Barely a day and a half into the iconic month, I watched a team rally from down 18 at home to a game-winning three with 2.4 remaining on the clock.

And that was the undercard of the day.

I made the trip home to UMBC this past weekend for Spirit Groups Alumni Day. For the first time in four years, I was back with the Down and Dirty Dawg Band, and for two tunes, back behind the drumset. And yet this year, I came home to a different house. UMBC basketball has moved from its longtime home in the RAC to the new Event Center, which opened last season. The upgrade is significant.

I arrived and made my way to the rhythm section. One of the biggest changes was that the drumset, previously on the floor level, is now at the top of the section. It made it a bit challenging for me, as a not-tall drummer, to see the director without positioning myself just so; I imagine this is the challenge commentators often talk about with short quarterbacks and seeing over their offensive lines. The current band was great - I know they would be - and I met several more recent alumni as well.

At some point too late to make a bigger deal about, I realized that this with the band having begun in 1998-99, this was the 20th anniversary season. I joined in its second year. I mentioned this to the current drummer who noted, "The pep band's 20? I'm 20."

I got to experience some of the band's new traditions, chants and charts, and bring back a few from my way. Ray Lewis popularized the "What time is it?!" chant during his career in a stadium not far from our own, and we adopted it as the very dawgs in the house he references. Thankfully, it's well known enough that everyone caught on as I reprised it for Alumni Day.

The game, as I mentioned, was an exciting one. Despite recent success, I spent enough losing seasons behind the drumset that I've never considered a win a given, nor a prerequisite to enjoying a game. At the point that we were down 18 in the 2nd, I was fully expecting to add another L to my UMBC hoops watching experience. That was not to be; the team rallied, ultimately winning by three on a near-buzzer beating 3. Our former post-win tune was a mashup of 3 Dog Night's Celebrate and Kool and the Gang's Celebration. These days, unsurprisingly, it's T-Pain's All I Do Is Win.

There was only one returning alumnus who I truly overlapped with in my time in the band, and several others I had met in previous trips home. Still, the bond of shared experience remained between me and those who I was meeting for the first time, or had never met. I had the slightest hesitation in headed to the after-afterparty at PubDog with alumni as much as a decade and a half my junior, but as I knew, the beat goes on, and I had a great time with some fellow alumni. The rest of the trip was a nice roll through southeastern Baltimore County as well - both Heavy Seas brewery and Guinness' US branch are in Halethorpe, mere minutes from campus and where I was staying.
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