Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Day at the Cincinnati ATP Event

The 2009 quarterfinals at Cincinnati's premiere tennis event was just too good to pass up. With the Western & Southern ATP Master event occurring every August here in my own backyard as the last big tune up to the US Open, I somehow managed to not attend a single match this year... that is until I saw the men's quarterfinal schedule.

The top 4 players in the world all playing on the same court that day made it a must see event, so I took a half-day of vacation and sprung for box seat tickets to go see Andy Murray play Julien Benneteau, Roger Federer play Leyton Hewitt, Novak Djokavic play Gilles Simon, and Rafael Nadal play Tomas Berdych--all on a sun-filled day in Mason, OH.

First, this event is outstanding. The amount of access to the greatest players in the world is mind-boggling. The crowds are large, but not overwhelming...with easy access to watch players warm up on the side practice courts, interact with them, get autographs, etc. Try doing this at the US Open where you are lucky to catch a glimpse of the top players... let alone interact with them.

The Murray match started things off with a surprise, as Andy's serve really let him down in losing the first set. He scrapped back against Benneteau to win the second set (with set point being a monster 53 stroke rally that ended with a standing ovation--even though Benneteau completely choked on an easy overhead to win the point), and simply wore down Julien in the third set. Murray's serving woes would continue to exist the following day in his semi-final match against Federer (double fault on match point!), and unless he gets more consistent with his serve in the next two weeks, I can see Murray getting ousted in the 4th round of the US Open. He is moving well, and hitting his ground strokes as fluidly as ever, but hitting only 50% of his first serves and double digit double faults will be his downfall if it continues in New York.

After some quick shopping in the vendor tent area, I settled in for the 2nd quarterfinal match. Roger Federer playing former #1 Leyton Hewitt was the big draw of the day, and the Swiss flags were out in force. Watching Roger in person does not disappoint, as his effortless groundstrokes (always with pace and depth) are just amazing...and he makes it look so easy. Leyton put up a good fight, but ultimately Roger wore him down for a straight set win. I was actually surprised at how many unforced errors the Australian had on his backhand side--once his most consistent side. Leyton's patella injury also seemed to slow him down a bit, but I expect him to play into the 3rd round of the US Open. Roger, on the other hand, appears to be back in top form. Approaching the net to shake Hewitt's hand after winning match point, Roger lobbed a ball into the upper stands directly into the middle of a section that was holding a "Shhh...Genius at Work" bed sheet plastered with the Swiss cross--an obvious message of 'thank you for your support' from Roger. Federer's precision with this lob was just as impressive as his man-handling of Hewitt.

The Djokovic-Simon match was close throughout, with "The Joker" winning the pivotal points for a straight set win. I was surprised at how skinny Simon is, and wonder about whether he has the endurance to go deep in the US Open. He also has an awkward starting stance with his knees locked... can't be good over the long run. Novak wasn't overpowering, but just did not make many mistakes and was moving extremely well. I'm expecting a deep run at the US Open for Djokovic.

The final match with Nadal-Berdych was a coming out party for Rafa, as he finally showed some of his 2008 form and movement. Didn't appear that his knees were bothering him any longer, and he wore down a sprite Berdych in straight sets. Although Rafa would lose the next day to Djokovic, I think he'll make it to the semi-finals at the Open... but don't expect him to win his first Grand Slam in Flushing Meadows.

On a side note, I cannot say enough about this event and, specifically Roger Federer. I have always been a Federer admirer, as I truly believe that he is the greatest player in tennis history (15 Grand Slams...and counting!). But watching him spend nearly a half-hour after the match signing autographs for the sea of fans awaiting his exit from the player's lounge was impressive and surprising. Many players rushed through the autograph-seeking masses with nary an acknowledgment (Tsonga got a resounding 'BOO' from the crowd when he rushed through after his doubles match without signing anything, not even for a little boy wearing a Tsonga shirt holding a new oversized tennis ball for signatures), the amount of time and the level of interaction from the world's #1 was amazing (even though I'm sure he wanted to get back to his wife and baby twins at the hotel). Roger is truly a class act in every way.

I highly recommend this event to the avid tennis fan, as it would be hard to find a tournament with the amount of fan access to all of the world's best women and men tennis players in the world. Practice courts are never overwhelmed with gawkers, and where else can you chat up with Brad Gilbert (left image) as he's hitting balls with fellow ESPN commentator Darren Cahill (Brad won this tournament in 1989, defeating Stefan Edberg in the final). The Cincinnati ATP event claims to be the oldest professional tennis tournament in the United States (to have not moved to another city), and it is truly a gem of an tennis event.

The results from my day of tennis gawking brought dream semi-final matchups between the top 4 players in the world, with over 20 grand slams between them all!! With each player playing well, this sets up for an exciting 2009 US Open!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

It's Official: Gators Consensus #1 In Pre-season College Football Rankings

Today was a glorious day. One I look forward to every year!

This morning I stopped by the local grocery where I occasionally stop for coffee before work. After I grabbed a venti Pike Place, I passed by the magazine aisle -- and there they were, in all of their wonderful, colorful, glossy gridiron glory... 2009 pre-season college football magazines from Lindy's, Athlon, and The Sporting News!!

Without hesitating, I snapped up a copy of each magazine--taking them from the back of the rack where the less 'violated' copies were (don't want to buy one that, GASP, has already been opened and read by someone loitering in the aisle, too cheap to buy their own). I paid for them in the self-check out line, popped the magazines in my work bag, and went off to work looking forward reading them.

Now that I'm home and have quickly reviewed each magazine (I'll give them a proper detailed analysis over the weekend), this year's magazines validated what I had already suspected since Tim Tebow declared that he was returning for his senior year... The Florida Gators will be the consensus favorites to win the natoinal championship going into this years' college football.

Each magazine listed the Florida Gators as the pre-season #1 team, referencing the Gators' combination of talent, returning starters (the entire first team AND second team defense is back!), coaching, and favorable schedule (no 'Bama, no Ole Miss, and only tough road game is at LSU). Now, realize that these magazines rarely pick the same team as pre-season #1... so the fact that they all agree on Florida reinforces the fact that the Gators SHOULD be playing in the Rose Bowl in January. Their agreement also makes me positive that the coaches poll and AP poll will also have the Gators in the #1 spot in late August.

However, while it was nice to see each magazine all thought my beloved Gators were the #1 team in the country, I got that feeling in the pit of my stomach that it's too good to be true. The 'what-ifs' started to sneak into my head. The Gators will be favored going into every game they play this year, but I don't think it's a slam-dunk like the magazines posit. College football has too many variables and moving parts during the course of a long season--and rarely does the consensus pre-season pick make it through unscathed (see Ohio State in 2006).

IF the Gators keep Tebow healthy (sure, John Brantley had a great spring, but is he ready to lead the Gators to national championship?), IF injuries don't hit the offensive line, IF our skill players don't fumble away a game (like they did against Ole Miss in 2008), IF the Gator defense doesn't get complacent with their incredible depth... it doesn't matter how good the team is on paper, there are always 'IFs' that can in the way.

I'm hoping the Gators whiff on the IFs this year to take their 3rd football national championship in four years.

Athlon Top 10:
1) Florida
2) Oklahoma
3) Texas
4) USC
5) Ohio State
6) Alabama
7) Penn State
8) Virginia Tech
9) Oklahoma State
10) Ole Miss

Lindy's Top 10:
1) Florida
2) Texas
3) Oklahoma
4) USC
5) Virginia Tech
6) LSU
7) Alabama
8) Ohio State
9) Ole Miss
10) Oklahoma State

Sporting News Top 10:
1) Florida
2) Texas
3) Oklahoma
4) USC
5) Ole Miss
6) Virginia Tech
7) Oregon
8) LSU
9) Ohio State
10) Oklahoma State

WHAT DO YOU THINK? ARE THE GATORS GOING TO RUN THE TABLE FOR YET ANOTHER NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Night of Social Media Experiments

A funny thing happened on the evening of March 11, 2009. Two separate, unrelated 'experiments' were performed using social media and emerging Web2.0 technologies. What're the odds?

First, P&G hosted a "digital hack" night with CEOs and leaders of major companies in the digital marketing space. Executives from Facebook, Google, Nielsen and a wide array of other digital media-relevant companies joined select P&G marketing leaders in a special event to better educate themselves on how social and digital media can be better used by marketers. However, this was not your standard lecture/presentation event. Instead, it was a real-time contest between all 40 participants that were split into 4 teams of 10. The objective of the contest was to sell as many Tide t-shirts as possible in four hours by only using digital marketing tools like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, etc... All revenue from the t-shirts sold was to go to charity (specifically the "Loads of Hope" charity for disaster victims). Suddenly, Twitter and Facebook were awash with status updates and Tweets promoting the charity through 4 different websites (one for each team) that enabled folks to order their Tide t-shirts. The word "Tide" was in the top 10 of words twittered that night, and the four teams together raised $50,000 worth of shirt sales through viral digital marketing. The Tide brand then matched that amount for a total of $100,000 raised for the "Loads of Hope" charity. Not bad for four hours of focused digital marketing!

Then, a few hours after the P&G 'experiment' finished, I watched my new favorite Late Night host, Jimmy Fallon, take the stage with an idea for a Twitter-specific experiment. Right after Fallon's segment with the founders of Digg.com, he kicked off an experiment to see if he could get a participant in the studio audience by the name of Bryan Brinkman to become the most followed person on Twitter (citing that he wanted him to be more followed than Barack Obama--even though I don't believe the POTUS is actually the most followed any longer). Brinkman started with 7 followers, and as of this post (less than 24 hours later), Brinkman now has 25,367 followers. Still a ways from the 391,640 followers that Barry Obama has, but not bad for a simple shout out during Jimmy's new late night show:




Personally, I love Jimmy Fallon's show, as he seems to be creating a niche as the late night host who is bringing social media to the mainstream. Makes sense since his target demographic is the 18-25 age group who are all technically hip and fully immersed in these social mediums. His ratings thus far indicate that he's doing a great job of reaching that audience, as well as growing share with the older segment as well.

Both experiments were interesting, and I participated in both (yes, I am now following Bryan Brinkman and bought 2 Tide t-shirts from Team 2: blue for me, green for my wife). And they make for good press, promotion, yada yada. One lingering question I have, though, is why do we still need to 'experiment'? Isn't it already obvious what the power of social networks can have in influencing ideas and actions in the masses?

Regardless, I must admit each experiment brought an element of entertainment to my normally boring Wednesday night. I just hope my Tide shirts fit, and I'm about to stop following Bryan Brinkman because, well, he tweets way too much about things I just don't care about!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Gators' slim NCAA hopes stay alive

Phew! Hurdle number one has been overcome. Two more wins, and I think the Gators squeak into the tourney!

By beating the Kentucky Wildcats in the O'Dome today, the Gators' faint hopes for getting into the NCAA Tournament are still alive. After losing 3 straight to LSU, Tennessee and a horrible loss at Mississippi State, the Gators finally came through today in a must-win game.

However, I hope the NCAA Selection Committee just sees the box score and didn't actually watch the game, because it was a sloppy, offensively stagnant game played by two teams that were desperate for a win--and desperate for any semblance of an offense to show up.

Neither team looked like they belonged in the Big Dance, with double-digit turnovers and poor shooting by both teams. Regardless, the Gators had timely 3-point shooting, and a win is a win. Kind of nice to send Billy Gillespie to the NIT this year--as he did to the Gators last year.

The win by the Gators assures them of a first round game in the SEC Tournament on Thursday against Arkansas--a team that the Gators beat handily by fifteen points earlier in the season. If Florida can beat Arkansas again, they will play Auburn on Friday--a team that the Gators also beat earlier in the season by three points on the road.

Win those two games, and Florida should squeak into the dance with an at-large bid. Of course, it would be nice if they could win the SEC tournament, but at this point I'll settle for just having their name called on Selection Sunday.

I wrote an article earlier in the season forecasting that the Gators would be in this nail-biting situation due to their lack of size inside, and they've made me look somewhat prophetic. I still don't think the Gators will go far in the brackets even if they sneak in (and I think next year is the BIG year for Florida!), but getting into the NCAA tourney and losing early is still better than going to the Final Four of the NIT.

Just two more wins Gators... two more!

Friday, March 6, 2009

20 Years of Gator Athletics - Top Five Last Second Heartbreaks

Warning: Reliving some of these memories may cause headaches, heart failure, and a need to look at 1996, 2006 and 2008 football highlight films, or 2006 and 2007 basketball highlights

After having written a blog on the Top Five greatest Gator plays and hits, I decided to put together a follow-up list of the biggest heartbreaks in Florida athletics over the last 20 years. The list is football heavy (only one entry from basketball), and after listing them out, I was surprised to see that each of the football heartbreaks come from teams in our neighboring state of Alabama, and that Auburn was the source of most of my heartburn.

As usual, the list is highly subjective, so please comment with your own heartbreak memories!! Without further adieu, here's my...

Top Five Gator Heartbreaks

#5 - Bama's 2nd chance XP
Alabama 40, Florida 39 OT - 1999


In the Swamp, this heartbreak moment took Gator fans to the extremes on the emotional meter three straight times at the end of the game as the #3 Gators took a 30-game home field winning streak into their game against #21 Alabama. In overtime, after a Gator touchdown, Jeff Chandler missed the extra point. On Alabama's OT possession, Shaun Alexander scampers in for a TD. The amazing part came when Chris Kemp trotted out and MISSED the game-winning extra point...or so we thought. Turns out the Gators were offsides, and given a second chance, Kemp kicks the game winner to beat Florida 40-39 in OT. Ugh.





#4 - Emmitt breaks down
Auburn 10, Florida 7 - 1989

On 4th and 10, Reggie Slack completed a 25-yard pass with 20 seconds left to defeat the Gators by three points... the defensive secondary breakdown on this one play completely erased a spectacular defensive effort and provided the backdrop for the infamous images of Emmitt Smith weeping on the sideline after going his entire college career having never beaten Auburn.







#3 - Blue Jays hit buzzer-beater
Creighton 83, Florida 82 - 2002

The only basketball game to make my list. In the 2002 NCAA Basketball Tournament, I was stunned when the #5 seed Gators lost in the first round to Kyle Corver and the Creighton Blue Jays on a last second 3-pointer that proved to end the college basketball career of Udonis Haslem. This loss, coupled with the first round exit to Manhattan two years later, caused many around the country to begin to question Billy Donovan's ability to win big games. Fortunately, the 2006 and 2007 national titles helped erase those silly insinuations.





#2 - Duval last second FG
Auburn 23, Florida 20 - 2001

Florida went into Auburn ranked #1 in the country with heralded QB Rex Grossman, RB Earnest Graham and WR duo Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney. However, Auburn kicker Damon Duval kicks a last second FG for Auburn from 44 yards out to defeat the Gators 23-20. Auburn only had 239 yards of total offense, but Gator turnovers turned out to be the key to the game, as Grossman was picked off four times, and a fumbled punt snap essentially gave Auburn a free touchdown.

After this loss, Florida would still play itself back into the National Championship picture late in the season, controlling it's destiny going into its final game of the season against Tennessee (a game that was rescheduled from earlier in the year due to a hurricane in Florida). Florida would lose to Tennessee by two points, and would have to settle for a win in the Orange Bowl against Maryland--in what turned out to be Steve Spurrier's last game coaching the Gators.





#1 - Patrick Nix to Frank Sanders
Auburn 36, Florida 33 - 1994

This was one of the most gut-wrenching game I attended at the Swamp, as I sat in the lower deck of the North end zone and watched Frank Sanders catch a last second floater from Patrick Nix to allow Auburn to break a seven game Auburn losing streak in Gainesville. More importantly, this knocked Florida out of the #1 ranking and kept the Gators from being in the National Championship picture that year (the same year that saw Florida choke in the 4th quarter against FSU in the infamous 31-31 tie in Tallahassee). Why we threw the ball on 3rd down with just over a minute left in the game I'll never know--as this was the only reason Auburn had enough time to execute their last drive...ending with this heartbreaker of a play for Gator fans.





Honorable Mention:

Ole Miss blocked XP in 2008
- This play would be in the Top 5 if Florida hadn't come back that season to win the National Championship after Tim Tebow's infamous 'promise'.

Missed FG in OT against Tennessee in 1998 - Gator kicker Collins Cooper misses a 34-yard FG in the first OT that would have tied the game... instead giving Tennessee a 20-17 win. Tennessee would go on to go undefeated and win the National Championship that year, Florida would go on to destroy Donovan McNabb and Syracuse in the Orange Bowl, and Bob Stoops would leave Florida to take the Oklahoma head coaching position.

Tennessee last second 50 yard FG in 2004 - Tennessee kicker James Wilhoit makes up for an earlier missed XP with a 50 yard FG to beat the Gators 30-28 in Ron Zook's last season as the head coach of Florida.



Do you have other heartbreak memories? Post them below in the comments!!


crh

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Laveranues Coles Follows 'Partner in Crime' to Bengals

It was announced today in Cincinnati that the Bengals and former New York Jet receiver Laveranues Coles agreed to a four-year contract worth $28 million. The Bengals will have a formal press conference tomorrow to introduce Coles, who is expected to replace Pro Bowl receiver T. J. Houshmandzadeh after having just recently signed as a free agent with the Seattle Seahawks.

Being a Floridian who now lives in Cincinnati, I found this recent acquisition somewhat interesting. Just over 10 years ago, I vividly remember Coles as a receiver for the Florida State Seminoles--playing in the shadow of his buddy and superstar, Peter Warrick. In 1999, Coles and Warrick were infamously caught and charged with petty theft in Tallahassee for stealing clothes in a local mall. The major story was Warrick's role in the crime, since he was a Heisman Trophy candidate and All-American, whereas Coles was the relatively unknown accomplice. Coles, who had a previous record for battery, was kicked off the team, while Warrick was only suspended for a few games.

In the 2000 draft, the Cincinnati Bengals took Peter Warrick with their first draft pick (and 4th overall selection). This was the second of three consecutive bad selections in the first round for the Bengals, as the year before they took QB Akili Smith with the 3rd overall pick, and in 2001 took DE Justin Smith with the 4th overall pick. None of these players turned out to be worthy of first round picks (and Smith is recognized by many to be one of the worst first round picks in the history of the NFL draft), and it was these wasted picks that many attribute to the Bengals' futility in the early part of the decade. Peter Warrick eventually was released from the Bengals a mere four years after being drafted and replaced in the starting lineup by none other than T. J. Houshmandzadeh. After the Bengals, Warrick was picked up by the Seattle Seahawks (T. J.'s new team!), but he failed to make an impact in Seattle and went on to struggle in the Canadian Football League. Warrick remains out of football today, although I understand he was just recently signed by the Bloomington Extreme of the Indoor Football League... my how the mighty have fallen!

On the other hand, Laveranues Coles proved to be a better professional wide receiver than Warrick, as Coles has a Pro Bowl under his belt and has been a consistent, top-tier receiver in the NFL.

And with Coles now coming to the Bengals to replace Houshmandzadeh, this means that Coles will replace the replacement for his ex-partner in crime for a team that is better known for their players' off-the-field antics moreso than on-field performance (ie. Chris Henry, Odell Thurman, Chad Johnson, Johnathan Joseph, etc...). I just hope that the team environment in Cincinnati doesn't bring out the Tallahassee Criminole behavior that was once within Coles. No reason to believe that it will, since Coles' professional career has been without major off-field incidents--but if any team can bring out the bad in you, it's the Bengals!

There's a strange feeling of cyclical symmetry with the Coles announcement today--but not sure if it will bode well in the long run for either the Bengals or Coles.

What do you think?

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Digital Media Hologramming - WOW!

Chalk this up to one of those things that our kids 20 years from now will be saying "of course you can do that... everyone does it". But right now, this is the first I've seen anything like this, and it's just VERY COOL!

Here's a quick video of yours truly doing this--did this video and demo by myself this morning after tennis, so sorry about the bad production and lighting ;) -- and I recommend you guys trying it yourselves... if nothing else but to show the kids! Check it out at this link: http://ge.ecomagination.com/smartgrid/



Spread around...

Sunday, February 1, 2009

2009 Australian Open: Nadal Outlasts Federer in Five Sets

Rafael Nadal defeated Roger Federer Sunday in the men's final of the 2009 Australian. The match was a tense, back-and-forth marathon five-setter that was definitely worthy of what's becoming a legendary series and rivalry between the world's top two tennis players. Nadal pulled out a 7-5, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2 victory for his sixth grand slam title, keeping Federer from winning a record-tying 14th grand slam. At only 22 years-old, Nadal is ahead of the benchmarks set by Pete Sampras and Roger Federer in terms of majors won by the age of 22.

The quality of tennis throughout the first four sets was incredibly high, with Nadal showing no symptoms of fatigue that many feared he would have as a result of his marathon five set match twenty-four hours earlier against Fernando Verdasco in the Australian Open's longest match in history. The first four sets had many momentum changes, as Federer broke Nadal first in the opening set, only to have Nadal break his serve right back and then again late in the set. Both players made unbelievable shots throughout, with Federer playing loose and carefree in the opening sets to provide an aggressive counter to Nadal's fierce, relentless game. Nadal is the hardest working player in the game, and his effort on the court makes me tired just thinking about it. He ran down what I thought were clean Federer winners so many times that I found myself becoming surprised whenver the ball bounced twice on Nadal's side of the court.

Despite the high quality of tennis on display, it was Federer's game that showed tinges of weaknesses throughout the match. Federer's first serve was not the consistent weapon that it had shown to be against Andy Roddick, and Nadal was able to attack Federer's second serve and control those points on numerous occasions. Federer also had to fight through consistency issues with his usually trusty forehand, a problem that reared its ugly head in the opening set and continued to cause sporadic errors during the near five hour match. These two weaknesses came together in the final set, as Federer seemed to lack his normal closing confidence and let the final set slip between his fingers with unforced errors and two games where he had his serve broken.

Overall, the match was a classic, but ranks below their 2008 Wimbledon final (I still contest that was the greatest tennis match of all time). However, I found myself screaming 'Wow!' and 'No way' throughout this morning's match with all of the unbelievable shot making in tense moments. This was definitely the match of the tournament, and made the women's final look like a high-school match (Nadal and Federer's first set was just a hair under the total duration of the entire women's final between Serena Williams and an uninspired Dinara Safina).

I'm hoping the Australian Open is a sign of more to come from the men's game. Anchored by Nadal and Federer rivalry, and followed by stand-ins Djokovic, Roddick, Murray, Verdasco, Monfils, and Tsonga, the 2009 men's season should be a thrilling one.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Gator Basketball Looks Like NIT May Be Waiting...Again

Thanks to the ESPN Full Court package and GatorVision, I've been able to pretty much catch all of the Florida Gator men's basketball games this season. And, after watching Tennessee soundly beat the Gators last night 79-63, it's clear to me that the Gators will be a perennial 'bubble team' from now all the way up to Selection Sunday.

Although Alex Tyus is slowly evolving into a smaller version of Udonis Haslem, and Chandler Parsons looks to finally have his head on straight after a horrendous start to the year, the problem with the Gators this year is that they are consistently inconsistent. One night, they'll go 1-15 from behind the arc, the next night they light it up. For some reason they can't hit free throws lately (only 57 percent against the Vols...ugh). Dan Werner should be dominating the blocks and nailing threes like Matt Bonner in his senior year; instead he continues to get outplayed underneath and can't find his jump shot (1-5 from behind the arc last night). Walter Hodge seems to play out of control too frequently and, like Werner, couldn't make a shot last night if his life depended on it.

The only beacon of consistency for the Gators has been Nick Calathes, Florida's do-it-all Super Sophomore. A couple of days after his second triple-double, Calathes put up a solid game against the Vols with 21 points and 4 assists. However, he got hit with two quick fouls to open the game and ended up sitting on the bench for the majority of the first half. Clearly the Gator offense just does not go without Calathes, as they scored a paltry 22 points total in the first half.

The Gators had little defense for the plethora of Tennessee's slashing swingmen, as the Vols seemed to drive into the lane at will for easy shots. While not as apparent in the Gators' out-of-conference schedule, it is clearly showing that their lack of size inside will more than likely be what keeps the Gators out of the big dance again this year. Highly-touted freshman Kenny Kadji in spurts looks to be the real deal, but he will need to develop at a supersonic pace in order to develop into the Horford-esque player that the Gators need now. Eloy Vargas, the other highly-touted big man that Billy brought in this year, is just not ready, as he appeared to be lost in his brief appearances early in the season, and rumors still persist that a lack of conditioning is still hurting him.

Next season may be the one where Florida finally gets back onto the national stage, with Vargas and Kadji (each having a year of conditioning and the training table under their belts) joining Georgetown transfer Vernon Macklin on the interior to provide a more imposing presence akin to the Noah-Horford-Richard frontcourt of 2006. Add incoming freshman superstar Kenny Boynton to provide scoring and great perimeter defense, assume Calathes doesn't jump for the NBA, and the Gators should be a Top 10 team next season. But that's next year.

The only saving grace for this season may be the fact that the entire SEC appears to be down this year (not a single team ranked in the Top 25), and Florida may still be able to emerge out of the mediocre parity in the SEC due to Calathes and Donovan's coaching skills. However, it's hard to look anyone in the eye and tell them with a straight face that Florida can be an Elite Eight team this year. The Gators just do not have the consistency from its current personnel to be a shoo-in for the Big Dance, let a lone make a deep run into the tournament. I hope I'm wrong, but after watching the Gators against Tennessee last night-I'm pretty sure Gator Nation will be biting their nails on Sunday, March 15th when the brackets are released.

2009 Australian Open: Hoping The Men's Final Isn't Like The Women's

So, I stayed up last night to watch the 2009 Australian Open Women's Final, hoping for inspiring, dramatic tennis from Serena Williams and Dinara Safina. After watching a reply of the Nadal-Verdasco match for the second time, I guess I was thinking--make that 'hoping'--that the same high-quality tennis would repeat itself on the women's side.

Boy was I wrong.

I expected Serena to be her normal self. All tournament long, she looked mentally focused and definitely played with the confidence that comes with having "been there, done that"--a state of mind you obtain after having already played in twelve Grand Slam finals. With a 9-3 record in the finals, she definitely had every reason to be confident coming into the match with Safina.

The only way for the women's championship to compare with the Nadal-Verdasco semi-final in quality of play and drama would be dependent on Safina. She would need to step up on the big stage and play attacking tennis (much like her brother did in his heyday) with strong mental toughness (unlike her brother his heyday, who was famous for his hot temper).

Alas, Safina did neither.

Safina looked unsure of herself from the get go, struggling with her serve and not hitting as aggressively with her long, flowing groundstrokes. Before she realized it, she was down 4-0 in the first. Unlike the Nadal-Verdasco match (when I was glued to my seat for each point), my attention started to wander to other things, like my phone (hmm... I wonder if anyone updated their Facebook/Twitter status), like wondering what I would eat for dinner tonight (marinate some salmon), like...well, you get the jist. Safina didn't win her first game until the second set, and Serena just kept the pressure on with solid (but not great) tennis. Serena continued on to collect a 6-0, 6-3 straight-set victory for her 10th Grand Slam singles title, and fourth Australian Open title.


On the men's side, one of the best rivalries in tennis history will continue, as Rafael Nadal goes up against Roger Federer...their first matchup in an Australian Open final. General opinion suggests that Federer has the edge against Nadal, thinking that Nadal's marathon match with Verdasco (did I mention how great that match was?) will leave him just a tad less energetic for the finals. I'm not buying it, and fully expect Nadal to put forth yet another tremendous defensive effort against the always smooth and deadly-accurate Federer.

Nadal has recently played in arguably two of the greatest tennis matches ever (the already-mentioned Verdasco match and the 2008 Wimbledon final against Federer--easily the greatest tennis match in history). Federer and Nadal seem to bring out the best in each other--just like great rivalries should.

I'm hoping that their match tonight will be just as endowed with gripping, tense, high-quality tennis as last year's Wimbledon final, if for no other reason than to make up for the dud that the women's final ended up being.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Top 5 - Worst Product Ads

I just saw the front page of Ad Age yesterday claiming the Snuggie marketing campaign to be a huge success. This forced me to have a minor rant in Twitter and Facebook about how our society has sunken to such lows as to fall for such a product--I mean c'mon!! It is promoted as 'the blanket with sleeves'.

Americans, wake up!! You probably have one already...it's called a bathrobe!

I will admit that I felt better after my friends and I mocked the Snuggie in our social networks yesterday (especially the idea of colleges everywhere having Snuggie Parties instead of Toga Parties...nice!), and it got me to thinking of other horrid examples of television advertising that are so bad that they become pop culture phenomenons. So, I present to you:

The Top 5 - Worst Infomercial Product Ads:

#5 - The Snuggie - 2008

"The Blanket with Sleeves": At first I thought only folks who wanted to pretend to be clergy or were just too fat and lazy to dress themselves would actually buy The Snuggie. But it has quickly become a pop culture sensation, doing the rounds on the Ellen Degeneres show, Tonight Show, and even a cameo appearance in the crowd at Barrack Obama's inauguration. Apparently young kids think they're cool... yet another reason to not give children any financial responsibilities.

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#4 - ShamWOW! - 2008

The stars of this low-budget commercial aren't "Vince" (the Jersey-esque pitchman), or his headset, but rather the two irritating ladies who emphasize 'WOW' in the product name. Makes me cringe every time. And, you know... he can't do 'this' all day, so act now! Puhhlease.


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#3 - Chia Pet - 1982

Ch-ch-ch-Chia, The Pottery that Grows! Nothing screams decorative chic more than having a cheap ceramic mold of a sheep with small sprouts growing out of it to resemble its wool coat. Amazingly, this product line continues today, as the Chia Obama is now available--but I get the feeling that it's purchased more as a gag gift than anything else... right? Right? Please tell me people don't still buy them because they want them. Right?

Here's the original Chia Pet commercial:
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#2 - LifeCall - 1989

Granted, I was not the target audience for this commercial back in the day... and I'm sure it actually has saved many a life for the elderly or those in assisted living situations. But nothing was so irritating while simultaneously being hilarious (keep in mind I was in high school) than the dramatization of poor Mrs. Fletcher using her LifeCall necklace and saying "I've fallen! And I can't get up!". Good times. Re-enactments of this commercial graced nearly every college party I attended--starring those who were well-marinated (perhaps myself a time or two?)

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#1 - Ginzu Knives - 1978

The grandfather of them all, this was the first use of the "but wait, there's more" sell-line in a television ad. It wasn't until that ad that I realized that I no longer had to slice a tomato with my karate chop! And couldn't the demonstrator bang a little harder with the hammer? Of course he's not going to damage the knife with those little baby taps...

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So, this is obviously a very subjective Top Five. What do you think I missed? Comment below.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

20 Years of Gator Football - Top 5 Plays and Hits!


As I continue to bask in the glow that is the success of University of Florida athletics over the last three years (read: two football championships and two basketball championships), I recently wondered to myself what were the BIG MOMENTS over the last twenty years in Gator athletics. So, I've put together a couple of lists below. Feel free to comment!

Top 5 Gator Football PLAYS:

#5
Wuerffel to Doering against Kentucky - Sept 1993
This was the play that started the Danny Wuerffel legacy at Florida, as the redshirt freshman QB threw a touchdown to sophomore receiver Chris Doering with three seconds left in the game to overcome Kentucky on the road in 1993. This enabled the Gators to get to the SEC Championship game that year, where they beat Alabama and won the first of four consecutive SEC championships. I was a UF student at the time and was watching this game at a party where everyone went from anxiety-stricken to pure joy and relief--all in one play.

Story




#4
Doug Johnson / Jacquez Green / Fred Taylor - Nov 1997
A year removed from their first national championship, Florida's game against FSU in 1997 was one of the most memorable games ever played in The Swamp. FSU came into Gainesville as the consensus number one ranked team in the country. Florida, already out of the national title hunt with losses to Georgia and LSU earlier in the season, was looking to spoil their arch-rivals' National Title hopes by rotating both QB's Doug Johnson and Noah Brindise throughout the game. After 58 minutes of an electric, back-and-forth battle between the two teams, it looked like FSU would escape with a win after Sebastian Janikowski kicked a field goal to put the Seminoles up by four points with two minutes left. However, the first play after Janikowski's kickoff will go down as one of the most memorable for me... a 63-yard pass completion from Doug Johnson to Jacquez Green. To this day I still cannot understand how Florida State could let Jacquez (who was the only receiving threat on that team) get so open, but I'm not complaining! Follow that with two outstanding Fred Taylor runs (the last for the game-winning TD), a Thad Busby interception, and you have one of the most exciting games ever played on Florida Field. Too bad I passed up an opportunity to go to the game and watched a mere five hours away in TimeOut sports bar in Albany, GA instead. Still banging my head over that poor decision.




#3
Ike Hilliard's catch in the Sugar Bowl - Jan 1997
The 1997 Sugar Bowl drew up a rematch between #3 Florida and #1 Florida State. With Arizona State losing earlier in the day to Ohio State, the Sugar Bowl turned into the National Championship game for the 1996 season. Florida, having lost a close, tough game a month earlier to FSU, took control from the outset and dominated this game behind Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel's accurate arm. While there were many exciting moments throughout the game, the one play that left me in awe from my seat in the Superdome was the Ike Hilliard catch where he stopped on a dime (causing two FSU defenders to crash into each other) and then proceeded to waltz into the endzone. This play sealed Florida's first football National Championship.

Mick Hubert's audio call





#2
Ahmad Black's INT against Oklahoma - Jan 2009
This play proved to be the pivotal play for the 2008 national championship. The 2009 FedEx BCS Championship game was close throughout, and with both Florida's and Oklahoma's offenses beginning to move the ball consistently, it appeared that who ever had the ball last would win the game. After Florida went up by three with a field goal in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma was driving. But Ahmad Black's amazing play where he ripped the ball out of Juaquin Iglesias' grasp for an interception of Heisman-winner Sam Bradford gave the ball back to the Gator offense--and that was all she wrote. Florida proceeded to orchestrate an eleven play, seven minute drive that culminated in a game-ending, trademarked Tim Tebow jump pass for a touchdown... all due to the Ahmad Black interception. I especially love Sam Bradford's wide-eyed look of disbelief that he was picked off!!




#1
Jarvis Moss' blocked field goal - Nov 2006
By far and away, this is one of the most important plays in Florida sports history, as it single-handedly enabled the Gators to get the opportunity to play in the 2006 BCS Championship Game against Ohio State and win their second football national championship. Clinging to a one point lead against South Carolina in Steve Spurrier's first game coaching in The Swamp as a visitor, Jarvis Moss lept into the air and swatted down a Ryan Succop field goal attempt with seven seconds left in the game. This one play is continually referenced as THE play of the 2006 season, and caused Spurrier after the game to declare that "this could be the year of the Gators".



Honorable Mention:
* Jarvis Moss against Ohio State, causing fumble recovered by Derrick Harvey - January 2007
* All Tim Tebow jump passes in 2006, 2007, 2008.


Top 5 Gator Football HITS:

#5
Monty Grow against West Virginia in Sugar Bowl - January 1994

I was at this game, and I remember two things from that night: Monty Grow's hit on Darren Studstill, and a poor Mountaineer fan puking on himself at Pat O'Brien's after the game. Monty's hit was WAY better! The images of Studstill trying to play with his chin strap vertical through his facemask are classic! Monty's consecutive plays also introduced us to a spectacular play by Lawrence Wright (see #3 below) as a freshman!




#4
Brandon Spikes against Georgia - October 2008

Not the most devastating hit in history, but definitely a major statement that set the tone for Georgia's offense the entire game. After a year of stewing on the 2007 loss to Georgia and being reminded daily by the Gator coaching staff how Moreno ran all over the Gator defense in that loss, Brandon Spikes took out 365 days of aggression on Moreno in the Bulldogs' second play from scrimmage. The energy that hit gave the Florida defense enabled them to dominate the entire game. I wish I could hear their 'conversation' after the hit!




#3
Lawrence Wright against Tennessee - September 1995

One of the most vicious hits I've seen in person, this famous hit on Joey Kent separates him from a Peyton Manning pass--and set the aggressive defensive tone in Florida's 62-37 destruction of Tennessee. Lawrence Wright eventually won the Jim Thorpe award in 1996 as the best defensive back in the nation, but it was this hit that put him in the national spotlight as one of the premier safeties in the country.




#2
Jarvis Williams on Miami's Melvin Bratton - September 1986

Okay, so this game is outside the 20-year window I imposed above, but this hit is one of the best hits ever in Florida football history. The Gators went on to lose this game, but the brutality of the hit still makes me cringe even today when I see it. I was in 9th grade, watching the game with my dad in our living room when this bone crusher occurred.




#1
Major Wright against Oklahoma - January 2009

What's with Gator safeties named 'Wright' and massive hits? I'm rating this one as #1 mainly because of the stage upon which it was made (BCS Championship Game) and because I believe it gave the defense confidence that it could continue to aggressively cover the potent Oklahoma passing attack. The execution of this aggressive, defensive gameplan was a major (pun intended) reason why Florida was able to hold Oklahoma to a meager 14 points of offense. Manuel Johnson was pretty much a non-factor for most of the game after getting blown up by Wright in Oklahoma's first series.



Honorable mention:
* Earl Everett helmetless against Troy Smith and Ohio State - January 2007
* Jermaine Cunningham against John Parker Wilson and Alabama in 4th quarter - December 2008
* Reggie Nelson all throughout the 2006 season!




Comment below if you agree, disagree, or have other special Gator moments I may have missed!

- Gatorchuckie, Jan09


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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Conference Records in 2008-09 Bowls: SEC, Pac-10 shine

Ho hum. Another college football season came to an end Thursday, and it was yet another SEC team that was declared the National Champion. The last 3 champions have been from the SEC (Florida, LSU, Florida), and the SEC has 4 champions in the last 6 years. Even though there may continue to be debates on who the best team in the country was this year (Utah, USC, Texas--each have valid beefs), ultimately the hardware and history books will have my beloved Florida Gators etched in as the 2008 National Champions.

What I like to do this time of year is take a look at how the conferences all did in the bowls. And since I live in Cincinnati in Big 10 country, I especially love to compare the results of the SEC to the Big 10. However, over the last 5 years, this comparison has been, well... rather boring. The Big 10 is in the middle of a run of underperforming years that is seriously starting to hurt their national perception as a quality conference.

Let's take a look at each conference's records:

Conference-by-conference 2008-2009 bowl record

ConferenceSchoolsRecordPercentage
Pac-10 (5)Ariz,Cal,Ore,OSU,USC5-01.000
SEC (8)Ala,Fla,Ga,Ky,LSU,Miss,SCar,Vandy6-2.750
Big East (6)Cin,Pitt,Rut,UConn,USF,WV4-2.667
C-USA (6)EC,Hou,Mem,Rice,SMiss,Tulsa4-2.667
MWC (5)AF,BYU,CSU,TCU,Utah3-2.600
Big 12 (7)KU,Mizzou,Neb,OU,OSU,Tex,TT4-3.571
Independents (2)Navy,Notre Dame1-1.500
Sun Belt (2)Fla. Atlantic,Troy1-1.500
ACC (10)BC,Clem,FSU,GT,Mary,Miami, NC,NCS,VT,WF4-6.400
WAC (5)BSU,FresSt,Haw,LaTech,Nev1-4.200
Big Ten (7)Iowa,MichSt,Minn,NWestrn,OSU,PSU,Wis1-6.143
MAC (5)BallSt,Buff,CMich,NIU,WMich0-5.000


The PAC-10 had a great post-season, as they went undefeated (5-0). This indicates that the conference may have been somewhat undeserving of the 'down year' tag that was given to them all year long (even though they only had 5 bowl eligible teams--so the depth of the league is suspect). USC may be the most talented team in the country. Kudos to the Left Coasters for a great bowl season.

The SEC is the next best performing conference, with a stellar 6-2 record. Losses by S. Carolina (they shouldn't have been in a bowl with that anemic offense) and Alabama (Nick Saban seemed to fail at getting his team up for this game, as the Tide was emotionless and played with no heart in the first quarter of the Sugar Bowl) were the lone blemishes in their bowl season. Obviously, the BCS Championship game victory by Florida over Oklahoma was the biggest high-quality win for the conference, but Georgia beating Michigan State and Ole Miss dominating Texas Tech also showed that the SEC still deserves the the 'best conference' label over the Big 12 and Big 10. Heck, even Vandy and Kentucky won bowl games.

The Big 12 conference was proclaimed to be the best conference in the country by the media for the majority of the year, with 4 teams consistently in the Top 10 and putting up gaudy offensive numbers in the process. The conference gave us some of the best games (Texas-Oklahoma, Texas-Texas Tech, and Oklahoma-Oklahoma St. were all classics) of the season. However, after looking at their results in the bowls, you have to wonder if the pundits got it wrong all year...and we were just watching some decent teams playing in a conference that played WAC-style defense (ie. non-existent). The Big 12's top 4 teams went a 1-3 collectively in the post-season, with only Texas squeaking out a last second win against a mediocre Ohio State. Texas Tech and Oklahoma played great in the first half of their games, but were dominated in the second half of their games against SEC opponents. And Oklahoma State came up short against an underrated Oregon team.

The Big East continues to show that they are deserving of their BCS status, as they had a relatively good bowl season at 4-2. I think this conference will take advantage of the Big 10's perceived downslide, as more recruits will consider the up-and-coming Big East programs over Big 10 ones. Still not at the level of the SEC, Pac-10 and Big 12, the Big East is definitely on the rise in football.

The ACC had the most teams in bowls, but that's more a sign of that conference's mediocre parity this year than anything else. No huge results to distinguish the ACC this season... but the youth on Miami, Va Tech and FSU's teams next year will perhaps put the ACC onto the national stage next year.

And then, there is the Big 10. At 1-6 in the bowl season, only the MAC did worse than the Big 10 this year. I can't pile on here, because it's just no fun anymore. My Big 10 neighbors and co-workers all just tuck their tails and want to start talking about basketball season or, worse, college hockey. The days of my neighbors "borrowing" my Gators flag and replacing it with a Buckeye flag are gone. Their spirit has been broken. The smack talk, which always begins boiling hot in the early part of the season, once again has simmered to tepid tap water by season's end.

The Big 10, with their storied programs and great recruiting base, will always be one of the best conferences in the nation on paper. However, on the field, they are living up to the 'big and slow' tag that folks have been giving them since Florida's trouncing of OSU two years ago. You cannot ignore the fact that their high-profile teams have not had good bowl showings in the last 3 years. Going 1-6 this year (and 0-6 in their last BCS bowl games) is very indicative that this conference just isn't as strong as it was a decade ago. Dare I say that the Big East may be a better conference top to bottom? Yikes?

Comments?

Leave 'em below...

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Plea For the Gators to STOP WINNING CHAMPIONSHIPS!!

Dear Florida Gators,

I write to you pleading for your help in some personal issues I am having at home. Can you please, for the love of God, please STOP WINNING CHAMPIONSHIPS!! It is hurting me psychologically, emotionally, and financially. Enough already.

You see, my husband is a Gator alumni, and therefore a huge Gator fan. (Let's call him 'Catorghuckie' to protect his identity). And he does his best to live up to the origin of the word 'fan'... because he is truly a fanatic about the Gators.

It's bad enough that I have to put up with Catorghuckie's annual trek to Las Vegas for the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament (flight, hotel, food, drink, gambling...you can imagine the cost associated with this trip!!),

There's that one weekend every July when Catorghuckie will come home from a routine trip to the grocery store with about 10 pre-season football magazines published by Lindy's, Sporting News, Athlon, and a throng of others. At $5-6 each, that's about $60 he spends annually just on these magazines. And then I lose him as a husband and father for the full weekend as he 'analyzes' each magazine down in his man-cave.

And I'm already sacrificing every Saturday in the fall (well, except for those two lovely BYE dates...woo hoo!) when I don't see Catorghuckie because he goes down into the man-cave to watch college football all day, of which I know I am an enabler because I also allow our annual purchase of the entire Full Season ESPN Gameplan for those one or two games that the Gators play which are not on national tv.

These things I have learned to put up with.

However, whenever the Gators are 'in the running' for a National Championship (which recently seems like it's been every year in every sport), Catorghuckie exudes additional symptoms:

* Catorghuckie will lobby me to allow him to make a trip to the championship games, regardless of cost (of the 2 basketball and 3 football championships, I've successfully fended off 3 of these attempts).

* Catorghuckie does nothing around the house for the days leading up to the championship game (he says he's too nervous to wash dishes, do laundry, or read to the kids before bed).

* Catorghuckie either throws a big party at our house to watch the game (which I have to clean up), or goes to the bar and drinks way too much during the game and is non-functional the next day. Bar tab is usually over $100, and there is nothing worse than sleeping next to a guy who smells like a he's been in a bar all night.

* And then, over the following weeks when he should be spending time with his family, Catorghuckie instead spends hours on-line making non-budgeted purchases of championship clothing and memorabilia to either wear or stash somewhere in his basement man-cave. Let's see, a basketball signed by the entire 2007 Gator basketball team, a winter snow hat in the shape of a Gator football helmet, a piece of the Final Four basketball court from Indianapolis, and a coconut with the Florida Gators logo painted on it is just a small sample of the silly (and expensive) things that he buys.

It's for these additional symptoms that I desperately implore you to help me out by stopping it. Stop winning National Championships, darn it. There was a time when you won a national championship once every 10 years, and were happy just to make it to a Final Four. I can deal with that timing...once a decade was the perfect frequency for me to have deal with his madness. But 4 championships in 3 years??? Come on!!! I can't take any more!

Can you please do something to help me out? Is there any way to bring back Ron Zook or Gary Darnell to coach football? How about bringing back Don DeVoe for basketball? Just anything to keep all of these championships from happening. My psyche (and finances) are in dire need of an intervention here.

Thank you ahead of time for anything you can do to address this issue.

Signed,

Mrs. Gatorchuckie

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Republican Party: Learn Social Media or 'get ripped'

"And if we don't get it together, Barack Obama is going to be ripping us a new one for eight years." - Gary Emineth, South Dakota head of the GOP when talking about the need for the Republican party to exploit social media.

First, let me start by saying that I'm not loyally aligned with any particular political party (I'm registered Republican, but I often vote across party lines), and that this post is not truly about politics, governmental policy or partisan issues... it's about Marketing. Social Marketing to be more specific, and how some politicians just don't get it. And I'll also preface the rest of this article with the fact that I do not know Ken Blackwell, have not researched him (beyond what I've read in the papers), and have nothing personal against him. (I actually still have a letter signed by him when I created my first LLC in Ohio and he was the Ohio Secretary of State.) He's simply the unfortunate principle figure in the article I just read...

What triggered my need to write this blog is this article about the Republican Party debates on January 5th in Washington D.C. to determine who would head up the Republican National Party as the elected chairman. One of the front-runners is Ohio's own Kenneth Blackwell, who was formerly Ohio's Secretary of State and two years ago was soundly defeated by Ted Strickland in the race to be Ohio's governor.

During the debate for the RNC chariman post, which apparently turned into a middle school-esque argument over who had the most contacts in social network tools, Mr. Blackwell repeatedly mentioned that he has "over 4,000 friends on Facebook" in his debate answers--apparently in an effort to demonstrate that he is tech savvy and can appeal to a new wave of younger Republicans. With his statements in the debate, Mr. Blackwell is truly saying two things by bragging about how many friends and followers he has in Facebook and Twitter:

1) He at least is aware that there is a powerful media outlet out there called 'social media'

2) Unfortunately, if he thinks the number of friends you have is important, then he does not understand how to use it.

A political campaign is, at its core, a marketing campaign all about trying to win over the hearts of voters (consumers). Convince enough voters (consumers) that you and your platform (brand) are the best for them, and they will vote for you (purchase your product) on election day.

Political candidates are realizing, much like brand managers for consumer products, that the wave of social networking and digital media bring tremendous opportunities to reach more voters. However, the real value of social networking tools (and internet marketing) in general is not only in the additional reach, but the fact that internet marketing and social media enable the creation of dialogue with the voter/consumer... the opportunity to have a conversation with the voter/consumer about their needs, expectations, and how the candidate/brand can deliver on these needs and expectations.

Whereas the traditional media (TV, radio, print) reach a ton of folks, this type of advertising is purely 1-directional communication--like someone with a bullhorn talking in one-direction to the masses. No opportunities to get engagement back from the masses, and there's a good chance that a passerby'er may "hear" your monologue, but is actually not "listening".

Social media outlets (like blogs, micro-blogging sites like Twitter, and social networking sites like FaceBook and MySpace) enable a "virtual dialogue" to occur between the candidate/brand and the voter/consumer. A conversation can develop, a relationship can be built into loyalty--and all on the voter/consumer's own time. This "own time" aspect is vitally important, as it actually ensures that the communication is wanted and when the voter/consumer is most receptive to having that discussion, and therefore, the quality of the engagement is much, much stronger. If these tools are used effectively, the candidate/brand is able to quickly develop the consumer's awareness, understanding, and--eventually--trust in what the brand promises to deliver, and you have a consumer for life!

So, this takes me back to Mr. Blackwell. He knows that social networking media is up-and-coming, and potentially very powerful. But by focusing on the virtual reach he has (indicated by his # of friends), he's not demonstrating that he understands the power of these these tools. I think it's great that he's got 4,000+ friends in Facebook--but all that means is that there are 4,000 people who he either asked to be his Friend or that he accepted as a Friend. My co-worker has over 5,000 friends in Facebook--but he doesn't use Facebook to build more relationships or dialogue...he's what I call a "Facebook friend-collector".

When I checked out Mr. Blackwell's profile (we're both members of the Cincinnati network, so I can view his profile), I see a bunch of posts from others writing on his wall--wanting to engage in dialogue with the candidate but not getting responses. The only posts put up by Mr. Blackwell are photo albums of photo-op events he's recently participated in, or his 'plan' for the Republican party--a .pdf download. This screams of old-school, monologue marketing (dare I also mention that he is robo-calling voters--in other words using that annoying automated phone call with his voice recording to get folks to vote for him...say it ain't so Ken!). Not much public engagement with folks who post on his wall, no effort to understand what his 4,000 'friends' want to see in the Republican party's leadership. For all I know, Mr. Blackwell is a "Facebook friend collector" as well.

To show that Mr. Blackwell truly understood the power of social networking technology, he should have responded more to the tune of "I use Facebook and Twitter daily to further nurture relationships with voters and engage folks with my vision of the future of the Republican party. I love that these social media tools have given me yet another effective outlet to create conversations with our citizens.", instead of his 'I have over 4,000 friends in Facebook' answer.

As politicians go, one only has to look at Barack Obama to see how to effectively use social media to market oneself in a campaign. He truly deserves the AdAge's 2008 marketer of the year award he just received, as he leveraged new media to extents not seen in political campaigns in the past. He Twittered, Facebooked, and Blackberry'd his personal message consistently for 12 months, using each medium to create conversations with voters like never seen before. He even had the savvy to get a free iPhone application placed out in the iTunes app store. The iPhone was little more than a way to present his platform while also asking for help in getting him elected by enabling iPhone users to make calls on his behalf to their own contacts living in key swing states. Talk about engaging the voter... I nearly made some phone calls to buddies in Florida on Obama's behalf just because of that iPhone application. Definitely beats robo-calling.

So, while Obama used social media to get to the White House, Blackwell makes robocalls and brags about the his number of Facebook friends... sigh. Now, I will say that I know that Mr. Blackwell Twitters frequently (or someone on his staff does it for him), so I truly believe that Mr. Blackwell understands the power of of these tools and is creating those dialogues with citizens. But he does an injustice to the external perception that Republicans' are slow to understand and use technology when he does nothing more than brag about how many friends and Twitter followers he has in a public forum like this recent debate.

For social networking tools, similar to other "things", the old adage rings true: "it's not the size (of your friend list) that matters, but rather how you use it."


Addendum on 1/8/09: related article from The Daily Beast