Saturday, February 05, 2011

The "Stay at Home Bowl": Dubious Achievement Update

In 2003, I gave a list of all of the teams to defeat both Super Bowl participants. Teams that can sit at home and say, "We can beat either of these guys." At the time, I was rooting for a Patriots-Seahawks Super Bowl, since the (5-11) Redskins had beaten both teams and would have tied the 1981 Browns for the worst team to have this "dubious achievement" had the Seahawks not exited the playoffs before the Big Game. I was reminded of this post recently when I heard Bob Ryan on Tony Kornheiser's radio show talk about how great the 2010 Patriots were because they had beaten both Super Bowl entrants. So which teams in the past 8 years get added to the list?

  • 2010 New England Patriots (14-2)
  • 2008 Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1)
  • 2008 New York Giants (12-4)
  • 2005 Jacksonville Jaguars (12-4)
  • 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers (15-1) 
The Patriots are second only to the 2004 Steelers for the team with the best record to hold this distinction. Let's ask the following question, though.  Of the 15 previous winners of the "Stay at Home Bowl", how did each team fare the following season?
  • Won Super Bowl: 2005 Steelers
  • Lost Super Bowl: 1979 Rams
  • Lost in Conference Championship: 1980 Chargers*, 1981 Chargers, 2008 Eagles
  • Lost in Divisional Round: 1994 Dolphins
  • Lost in Wild Card Round: 1982 Browns, 1987 Seahawks
  • Missed Playoffs: 1986 Dolphins, 1997 Cowboys, 2001 Titans, 2001 Redskins, 2006 Jaguars, 2009 Giants
So these teams have a 60% success rate making the playoffs next year, well above the normal rate (which has been between 35 and 43 percent, except for the 1982 strike year). Perhaps more impressive, these teams have a 33% rate of making the conference championship game, well above the 12-15% rate when you consider all teams.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Book Review: Voices

Voices (Annals of the Western Shore, #2)Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Voices is the second book in Le Guin's Tales of the Western Shore trilogy. I read it because the third book, Powers, won the 2008 Nebula. I'm also reading it because Le Guin is a fantastic writer. If I counted correctly, Le Guin has won the most Nebulas for Best Novel with 4 -- nobody else has won more than 2. Even more impressively, her wins were in four different decades. I wouldn't put it past her to add a 5th in the coming years. She's also won a National Book Award and a Newberry Medal.

I had been avoiding reading fiction recently, except on travel, because, you know, babies. But I find it important to read a little before bed to unwind. I figure that since I can renew books twice, nine weeks is more than enough time to finish a novel. What I didn't count on is the compelling nature of Le Guin's writing. I planned on reading a chapter at a time, but sometimes I got so absorbed that I went through 2 or 3 chapters, robbing me of precious sleep. (Of course, sometimes my eyes drooped after a few pages, and I couldn't get through the chapter.)

Voices is less of a sequel to Gifts than a companion, set about twenty years later in the same general setting. The two main characters from Gifts appear in important, but not leading, roles. It tells the tale of a young woman in land under foreign occupation. She is from a prominent family, but a branch of it who have ended up as servants. Nobody in this land is doing particularly well due to the occupation (she is in fact the daughter of a soldier who raped her now-deceased mother). The book chronicles the awakening of her somewhat-vague magical powers and the struggle of her people to free themselves.

It was interesting reading this book while, in the real world, protests shook the Egyptian dictatorship. I don't want to be too glib in drawing parallels -- in particular, Egypt is not under foreign occupation. But there was a certain resonance that made Voices more exciting to read in this context.

My county library continues their practice of shelving much science fiction in the "young adult" section. It used to bother me more to have to go there to retrieve what I consider quite-sophisticated fiction. Perhaps parenthood has softened my perspective, though -- if it means that well-written books with mature themes are more accessible to kids, maybe it isn't so bad.

In the end, I gave Voices 4/5 stars rather than 5/5 because I found it compelling, but not gripping. Maybe I'm splitting hairs, but while it was very enjoyable and thought-provoking at the time of reading, I don't see this as a book I'll be mulling over in the months or years to come.

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