Thursday, May 03, 2018

Why Do Some People Feel Threatened by Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza?

I have to admit that that I was rather amused by the reactions of some people locally to the news that Giordano's is planning to expand into the Omaha area.
Some felt that we don't "need" a national chain because we have plenty of places that serve pizza here in Omaha.  While that's true that we don't "need" another national chain, more choices and competition is a good thing. And to be honest, I'm only aware of two places that serve a Chicago-style deep dish pie in the area:  Pudgy's and Davlo.  Both are on the west side of town; there's plenty of room for a third option.

The other is that it's not actually pizza.
Which, of course, brings out the LOLOLOLOLOLs. Of course it's pizza.  It's a different style of pizza than what they serve in New York City.  Which also is different from the style they serve in Italy, apparently as well.  I get that people have preferences in style, but the only reason thin-crust pizza snobs have for denying that deep dish pizza is pizza is that they somehow feel threatened.

And I get that, because frankly, Chicago style kicks New York style pizza's ass every day of the week (and three times on weekends)  I've tried several of the "authentic" New York style pizzas in town, and nearly every one of them made me wish I would have eaten somewhere else.  Don Carmelos, Sam and Louies, Pitch, and the worst:  Zio's.  Somebody brought Zio's to the office a year ago, and I remarked that it had been years since I'd been to Zio's.  It took less than a slice to confirm that old opinion.

The only decent New York style pizza in Omaha is Noli's in midtown.  It's a pretty pricey pizza, but if I have to eat a New York style pizza, it had better be Noli's.  A 2015 World-Herald review of Noli's, in fact, confirmed why I don't like New York style pizza:  a New York style pizza simply can't hold toppings.  NY fans work around it's fatal flaw by folding it over.  But frankly, if I want to eat a Hot Pocket, I'll spend $2 at the grocery store and get the microwavable sleeve thrown in at no extra charge.

Of Omaha's deep dish joints, I'll give the edge to Pudgy's; I think the crust is better.  But I'm looking forward to Giordano's coming to town; I've enjoyed it in Chicago ... and Orlando ... and Las Vegas.  If you don't like deep dish, don't order it.

But if you are bringing pizza to the office, let me know ahead of time if it's a New York style...so I can grab something else for lunch.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Myths and Reality of UNO Hockey's "Swoontober"

There's been no lack of animosity surrounding UNO hockey over the last year or so.  Some of it focused at me for my skepticism of Mike Gabinet, but mostly at former head coach Dean Blais. Much of the criticism of Blais focuses on the notion of "Swoontober", a phenomenon where UNO's hockey season fades away in the closing weeks of the season.  Ill-prepared for the modern college hockey game, Blais' coaching philosophies were at the core of UNO's failure to make it to Minneapolis to play in the WCHA's "Final Five" or NCHC's "Frozen Faceoff" semifinals.

At least that's the narrative.

And now that UNO hockey sits ever-so-slightly-above-.500 after New Years' Day, some proclaim that "Swoontober is Over!"  Yes, finally winning a game against (slumping) North Dakota at Baxter Arena proves that Gabinet was the answer.

Well, maybe.  Or maybe not.  Let's look a little closer at the phenomenon known as "Swoontober" - specifically the schedule. You see, UNO is a member of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference which, quite frankly, is to college hockey what the SEC thinks they are to college football.  Pretty damn good.  How good?  Each of the last three years, two of the four NCAA Frozen Four teams have been NCHC teams.  UNO made it in 2015, North Dakota in 2015 and 2016, Denver in 2016 and 2017, and Minnesota-Duluth in 2017.

And it's not just that the NCHC had two excellent teams; in 2016 and 2017, four NCHC teams earned bids to the 16 team NCAA tournament.  In 2015, six of the eight teams made it.  So one fact is blatantly clear:  UNO's conference schedule is about as tough as it gets.

Here's another fact to keep in mind about "Swoontober":  UNO plays all of their nonconference games in the first half of the season.  So the schedule is, almost by definition, backloaded to be tougher at the end than at the beginning.  For comparison, look at Nebraska football in 2016:  the Huskers jumped out to a 7-0 start (and a Top Ten ranking under Mike Riley), thanks to a relatively weak schedule.  And then lost four out of the last six games as they played the best teams late in the year.

Did the Huskers have a "swoon"? Nope.  Just a dose of reality combined with injuries to the best quarterback Mike Riley had throughout his three year tenure.  Nebraska wasn't as good as they looked when they arrived in Madison with a top ten ranking, nor nearly as bad as they looked against Iowa in that bloodbath.

So let's look at UNO hockey over the last few years.  I've compared UNO's opponents Pairwise rankings in both the first half and the second half of each season, just to get a relative idea of the strength of the schedules.  It's eye opening.

Pairwise RankingsFall 2015Winter 2016Fall 2016Winter 2017Fall 2017Winter 2018
1 - 101-11-111-33-11-12-40-4
11 - 202-00-02-2-20-04-24-2
21 - 303-0-10-20-00-01-13-0-1
31 - 606-22-28-1-13-0-12-1-10-0

There's not a lot of difference between the seasons when looking at opponents ranked outside the top ten in the Pairwise...but that top line is eye-catching.  In the winter of 2016, UNO played 12 games against the top ten, winning just one.  Last winter, 14 games against the top ten, winning just three with a tie.

This winter?  Just four games so far.  Two more this weekend against number 8 Minnesota-Duluth on the road, and if UNO wins those, you probably have a case to say that Swoontober is over.  If UNO gets swept, then the Mavs probably end up having to go back to Denver, the defending national champions.  That probably makes 0-8 against the top ten a very likely scenario...and Swoontober lives on.

I used to think UNO's issue was with Baxter Arena, but this year's home record suddenly reversed that trend.  Digging into this further, I realized that UNO went 0-6 and 1-5 at home against top ten teams the last two seasons after Christmas.  This year?  The last top ten team to visit Baxter Arena was Duluth in December.

And those home losses the last two seasons take a toll on the fan base.  Nobody likes losing; it's caused fans to turn on each other and spew a lot of nonsense.  (The worst take has to be that Dean Blais went to the UNO/North Dakota game in early January to cheer against his former players.  My goodness.)

This "Swoontober" is nothing more than having to face the best teams in the nation...and UNO isn't there yet.  It's not even really a swoon, which implies that UNO suddenly started playing worse than they are capable of.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

"Thoughts and Prayers" - A Tired Response to a Growing Problem

It's happened again in America. Mass shootings happen so frequently in this country that we're losing track of them all.   18 school shootings so far this year.

The story just keeps on repeating.  Heroes rush in, sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice.  A community is traumatized.  Doctors attempt to repair the mangled bodies of the survivors.  Heartbroken families bury those taken cruelly and violently away from us.

The gun lobby offers up "thoughts and prayers."

But what are they reflecting on?  What are they asking God for?

At one time, it probably was true to say that it was "too soon" to "politicize" a tragedy before the dead were buried and doctors had a chance to heal the wounded.  But this has been going on far too long now.

Now, each shooting is a reminder we still haven't done a damned thing in this country to do something about all of the previous ones.  Other countries found the idea of mass bloodshed so reprehensible,  government acted.  Not here.  At least, not when it comes to mass shootings.  Sure, at the airport, we now have to take our shoes off, get groped and not bring anything to drink.  But massacres in schools and at concerts?  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Las Vegas shooting site, three months later.
Last month, I was in Las Vegas and found out that my room overlooked the site of the concert shootings last October.  Which also happened to be right next to the airport.  It's all cleaned up now, but frankly, nothing has been done to stop it from happening again.

Just like nothing really changed after the Von Maur shootings ten years ago.

The excuse that "we should wait until we know all the facts" doesn't work any more. This nation hasn't done anything in response to the dozens of prior massacres in the country.

Why are some politicians more concerned about voter fraud (when we have scant evidence that it actually exists) than mass shootings?

It's beyond time to start solving this problem, which is uniquely American. You don't have to look far to find workable answers, and with every rerun of this awful tragedy, the likelihood that those solutions will come to this country keeps increasing.

Deep down, we all know what the answer is.  If you want something different, you are running out of time to get it in place.

We don't have any more kids to spare.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Why I Hate the New England Patriots

When Super Bowl LII kicks off next Sunday evening, I'm not sure I'll be actually rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles to win.

I will be cheering hard for the New England Patriots to lose.

It isn't because of any sort of jealousy or envy of the Patriots incredible run of success in the 21st century; the dislike actually started before they won their first Super Bowl. When Tom Brady's fumble in the snow against Oakland was overturned by an obscure football rule nobody had ever heard of before, the Patriots and Brady were forever tarnished in my mind. It's hard for mind to reconcile the fact that the winningest Super Bowl quarterback ever could never even be the clear-cut quarterback of his college team.

The Patriots reputation of playing fast and loose with the rules is well established with SpyGate and DeflateGate. And yes, the reactions of Tom Brady and the rest of the New England Patriots made it clear they were guilty; every parent can recognize the tacit admissions of guilt by Brady and company, even if the NFL's 2015 investigation was a bit clumsy in execution.  Maybe the evidence isn't admissable in court, but you know and everybody knows that Tom Brady and the New England Patriots cheated to get to that Super Bowl.

And that's the stuff we know about.

Add in the whole "Masshole" phenomonon, and frankly, the New England Patriots are simply unlikable. I had a small amount of sympathy for Boston fans in the 20th century; I liked Larry Bird, and sympathized with them over the Bill Buckner error in the World Series. (Besides, I hated those Stupid Mets...)  But that dissipated quickly once Matt Perrault started shoveling his dreck on KXSP ten years ago.  One of his famed predictions was that "no Manning would ever win a Super Bowl ring" - only to have the Manning brothers win the next two Super Bowls.

I get why he did that... he loved his Boston teams, but more importantly, loved to troll everyone else.  That's why he didn't last in Omaha, though he's apparently now has a national show.  Go figure.

New England and Boston:  Thoroughly unlikable and despicable. Go ahead, Philly...and give them the full Santa treatment.

Because even awful fans who hate Santa deserve a Super Bowl trophy more than the New England Patriots.


Friday, January 05, 2018

Despite Recruitnik Worries, Scott Frost Wins On and Off the Field in Transition

Even before Mike Riley was officially fired, the recruiting gurus sounded the alarms over the direction Nebraska seemed to be heading.
I understood the concern and the argument, but I also completely disagreed at the time.
Let's be honest. Was Bill Moos supposed to tell Scott Frost that he couldn't coach UCF in the bowl game?  Apparently yes.  And what would Frost say to that?  Before you answer that, remember this:

Yes, it's very possible, if not likely, that Frost would have said no.

I get Schaefer's point; I really do.  With the early signing period, December recruiting has taken on increased urgency, and so Nebraska's next head coach needed to be very busy doing that. But Schaefer made the same mistake recruitniks always make:

You can't recruit your way to success.

Now, before anyone overreacts to that statement, let me explain it. It's true that championship teams tend to have come from highly rated recruiting classes (see Alabama and Ohio State).  It's also true that highly rated recruiting classes do not necessary result in championships. (See Texas)
Look at this season:  Ohio State's blowout victory over Nebraska could be explained as a "talent gap".  Ohio State's 31 point loss to Iowa could not.  And if that doesn't blow your mind, then explain how Minnesota had enough talent to beat Nebraska 54-21...but then couldn't score another point the rest of the season in shutout losses to Northwestern and Wisconsin.

Recruiting hasn't been Nebraska's problem in football in recent years; the Huskers have had the best recruiting rankings in the Big Ten's west division. Nebraska's problem has been in developing and coaching.  Bo Pelini was a good head coach...but wasn't good enough, especially against Wisconsin.  Mike Riley made the tragic mistake of dragging along coaches that had failed or were failing at Oregon State (Mark Banker, Mike Cavanaugh, Danny Langsdorf and Bruce Read) to Nebraska.

Enter Scott Frost, who has a short but attention getting resume.  Would it have been better to let Frost go another year or two Central Florida?  Maybe, but Nebraska couldn't allow Mike Riley and his clown show of assistant coaches to remain any longer.  It's hard to argue any more with a straight face that Frost isn't ready for the NU job.  Frankly, he's proven he's more qualified than everybody who succeeded his mentor, Tom Osborne.

My family spent part of New Year's Day opening gifts from part of the family; we had to be out of town on Christmas Day. But the biggest and best present I got was that Central Florida offense.  I haven't hidden my extreme disgust at the Mike Riley/Danny Langsdorf offensive scheme since it arrived in Lincoln.  It's obsolete, outdated and this season, it was simply constipated. These coaches didn't know the first thing about running the ball or blocking for it, except to throw more guys into block for it.  Which it turn brings more defenders into the box and makes it even more difficult to find running room.

Riley and Langsdorf played tiddleywinks.  Frost and Troy Walters are playing 3-D chess.  You saw what they did to Auburn.

Now, they won't be able to do this right away in Lincoln. The Huskers will have to break in a new quarterback - and probably a couple, because only Tristan Gebbia shows any signs of being able to operate a modern college offense like Frost will bring.  I'm not worried about Gebbia's size; did you see the size of UCF's Mackenzie Milton? 

The hype for Frost is going to be overwhelming; we should go into 2018 and 2019 with no expectations on the final results.  There's so much development that needs to be done behind the scenes that it's silly to expect a UCF-like turnaround.  It might be possible, but it might take a while longer.

My expectations are simple.  Show me progress, which shouldn't be difficult after the worst season of Husker football since before Bob Devaney.  Like Devaney, I think Frost has inherited more talent than the record indicated.  (I mean, does anybody REALLY believe that Minnesota and Iowa were four and six touchdowns better than the Huskers?  Or were the Big Red simply coached that poorly.)

Develop.  Regain the passion.  Show progress.  That's what I want from Nebraska football in 2018.

This is going to be fun to watch.  I can't wait for the spring game and the fall, and that's something I couldn't say the last three seasons.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Scott Frost and Mike Riley Head Home, Back Where They Belong

It's been a rather busy couple of weeks around here, even without the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

Two weeks ago, I was at my son's hockey practice, working on the CornNation report card from the Iowa game when suddenly the reports of meetings  in Lincoln broke.  We all knew what was going to happen; we just didn't know when.


I gave Mike Riley a chance; I really did, though I didn't think it was a good choice. But by October 2015, it was clearly obvious Shawn Eichorst had completely bungled that coaching search. There simply was no excuse for those losses to Illinois and Purdue. And when people tried to blame those on "talent", I knew that that many people were simply choosing to believe whatever they wanted to believe, facts be damned. Kind of like our politics today, but I digress.

So I knew it was only a matter of time before Riley was out of Lincoln.  The only thing that I got wrong was the timing; I thought he'd survive this season at 7-5.

That was in response to a Twitter meme asking for the most socially unpopular opinion you had.  So yes, I knew he'd fail; I just didn't think he'd fail so massively and completely.  Where did he go wrong?

It turns out that the only person who really thought Riley would be a good fit at Nebraska was Shawn Eichorst. Riley wouldn't normally leave Oregon State, but he was under pressure there; he had just been told that his assistants weren't getting contract extensions, and he knew their time was up.

Minutes later, Eichorst calls and offers him a golden parachute. Riley takes his whole embattled staff and uproots them to Lincoln; Riley really wasn't expecting a new job and wasn't thinking about how he'd do things differently.  Instead, all his buddies got their salaries doubled and more time before the inevitable.  Stability, for the gang.

Yes, I said more stability.  They all would have been fired by Oregon State within a year or two.  So Mike Cavanaugh getting three more years of pay (at a huge, unjustified raise) plus severance from Nebraska.  So that was a better situation for Riley's guys.

But that was, in the ends, the genesis of Mike Riley's failures.  Other than Trent Bray and Keith Williams, none of his assistants should have been hired by a program like Nebraska's. Riley slowly came to that recognition and fired three of them. Another left on his own accord.  And maybe if Riley could have found a way to scramble to get to seven or eight wins in 2017, he might have had an opportunity to replace unqualified assistants like Cavanaugh or Danny Langsdorf.

But he couldn't.  And in the end, that may have worked out in Nebraska's favor.  As it became clear that a coaching change was coming after Thanksgiving, I started to put together my list of candidates.  And frankly, Scott Frost wasn't on top of my list initially.  I had TCU's Gary Patterson and Stanford's David Shaw higher up on the list.

Those would have been stretch hires, to be sure. NU would have had to pay dearly to get proven coaches like that to Lincoln, but that's money Nebraska now has, thanks to the Big Ten's new television deal.  Nebraska had mucked around long enough that it was time for NU to just go ahead and prove that this athletic program was serious about competing for championships.

But as we got to November, Frost moved up to the top of the list. Not because I thought he was better than Patterson or Shaw, but simply because there was no way Nebraska could NOT offer Frost the job.  The native son is the only undefeated coach in division 1-A and was being pursued by other blue blood programs such as Florida and Tennessee.

How could Nebraska and Bill Moos offer anybody other than Frost?

In that light, it was a no-brainer to chase Frost. Could he have used another year or two of seasoning at Central Florida?  I'd say yes.  But the circumstances at UCF, Florida, Nebraska and Tennessee forced the timing to 2017.

Some people had heartburn initially that Frost and his staff were going to split their time between coaching UCF in the Peach Bowl and recruiting players to Lincoln.  I wasn't, because the most important thing Frost could do was to respect and not abandon his UCF players. It's more work for him, and while it might hurt recruiting a bit initially to try doing two jobs 2000 miles apart, it'll pay off long term.

That Peach Bowl broadcast will be a recruiting event for Frost; maybe not so much for the 2018 class, but definitely for 2019.  He'll showcase an exciting modern offense that should interest athletes across the nation.

And man, after watching a bit of last week's Central Florida/Memphis game, I can't wait to watch Frost's offense in Lincoln. After three seasons of Mike Riley's cold bologna sandwich offense, I'm starving for a modern college football offense. Now, a lot of people are concerned about the defense that UCF showed in their final two games; let's be patient on that.  (And truthfully, the Blackshirts were so befuddled the second half of the season, that even a porous defense would still be an upgrade.) There are a lot of reasons why the Knights' defense allowed a lot of points, and some of them aren't their fault.

Speaking of Riley, I'm not completely surprised he's back at Oregon State in an advisory role. Corvallis has been his home almost his entire life; the only thing I felt sure about was that Riley wasn't going to be a head coach.  What would surprise me is seeing any of Riley's long standing assistants getting jobs like they had at Nebraska ever again.  Danny Langsdorf will probably do the best; the New York Giants liked him as pure quarterbacks coach. I suspect he'll head that direction again; like Bill Callahan, I think most smart football people recognize that playcalling isn't in his skill set.  The Williams' will do best in their post Nebraska careers. Donte is a top notch recruiter; perhaps some day, he'll hook up with a defensive coordinator who'll help him with his coaching ability.  Keith is a solid receivers coach who'll get a look somewhere else; he's the one Riley assistant I would have liked to stay in Lincoln.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Enough is Enough. Shawn Eichorst is the First to Go.

Nebraska's 21-17 loss to Northern Illinois last weekend turned out to be the final straw for the administration at the University of Nebraska. The firing of athletic director Shawn Eichorst is a simple statement that "enough is enough" and that things need to change.  My reaction?

Here, Here!

Firing Eichorst doesn't do much of anything for 2017. It's not going to suddenly inspire Mike Cavanaugh to be able to teach his offensive linemen to be able to block.  It's not going to help Tanner Lee to throw the ball towards people wearing the same colored jersey he's wearing this weekend.

It might help those players have coaches who can make them successful in 2018.

A lot of flimsy excuses have been offered for Mike Riley ever since he took over in Lincoln, some of which simply don't compute.  Purdue, Illinois, Iowa and now Northern Illinois don't have better talent than Nebraska.  Nebraska's losses in those games were the result of being outplayed and outcoached.  Period.  Mike Riley got a mulligan for 2015.

He doesn't get one for 2017.

Riley defenders are going to be quick to claim that Riley hasn't had a chance to develop championship level talent.  That's missing the point.  He's had more than enough time to develop talent good enough to get Nebraska to seven or eight wins this season.  Right now, that goal seems unrealistic.  A second losing season marked the end for Bill Callahan; a second losing season will also mark the end of Mike Riley's coaching career.

A few thoughts:
If your first thought was "this is going to hurt recruiting," just shut up and go away. Signing day is still a ways away, and everything that opposing coaches say about Mike Riley being on the hot seat would still apply even if Shawn Eichorst was still the athletic director.

Mike Riley hasn't been fired yet, and he won't be fired until a new athletic director is named - and likely not until after the season is over.  And if Mike Riley manages to get his team under control and the Huskers somehow get to seven wins, he probably keeps his job.  If he gets this team to Indy, he'll get all sorts of credit and even a contract extension.

Why was this done now? First, a message needs to be sent that this is not acceptable. Shawn Eichorst surprised the college football world by hiring Mike Riley, a coach who was struggling at Oregon State. The results of that hire so far are a strong indication that you couldn't let Eichorst have a second shot at hiring a football coach.  Nebraska's leadership has two months to get a new athletic director in place, with job one being to figure out the football coaching situation.   I suspect it won't take nearly that long.

Trev Alberts shouldn't be a serious candidate for several reasons. He's done a nice job at UNO, for the most part, but with mixed returns.  At UNO, that's pretty good actually.  Good decisions were the move to division 1 and hiring Dean Blais, who upgraded the hockey program.  Bad decisions include the decision to build the money-sucking Baxter Arena.

(A quick note to UNO fan bois... The budget for Baxter Arena is completely separate from athletics at UNO, so it's silly to dismiss claims that Baxter is losing money by claiming that the athletic budget is balanced.  The University system is having to pump extra money into Baxter's operations to keep the doors open, and that's money that's outside of the athletic department's perview.)

In any event, Nebraska needs an athletic director who's run a major athletic department.  It very well likely will be an existing athletic director at another major college program.  I'd argue that Creighton's Bruce Rasmussen is more likely to be selected than Alberts.

While an interim director will probably have Nebraska ties, the eventual hire probably won't have Nebraska ties.  That shouldn't be viewed as an issue.  More importantly, the new hire should have experience running successful football and basketball programs.  Nebraska hasn't had those things, and it's time to bring in someone who knows how that works.

It's not for certain, but Nebraska will probably be needing a new head football coach in two months. And that next coach will need to have championship quality experience.  This coaching search will be different.  Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel argued today that Nebraska's past history in hiring coaches means Nebraska is not an elite program.
If the Nebraska job were such a great job then why are the last three coaches hired named Bill Callahan, Bo Pelini and Mike Riley? This sounds like a pool of candidates for NC State, not Nebraska.
Every coaching search is different.  Bill Callahan was hired because Steve Pederson couldn't find anybody else.  Bo Pelini was hired because Tom Osborne couldn't afford anybody else. (North Stadium expansion and the buyouts limited his options.)  Mike Riley was hired because Shawn Eichorst never looked at anybody else.

The next athletic director has the resources ($25 million a year in new B1G television revenue) to pursue just about anybody not named Urban, Saban, or Dabo. He needs the vision to not just burn money, but to find the best coach out there, and almost no matter what the cost.  It might cost double what Mike Riley makes...maybe even more.

But if it's a coach that can get Nebraska back into championship consideration, then it'll be a bargain.  That's why Shawn Eichorst was fired.  Eichorst was never going to be able to hire that coach.  The next athletic director will have that as his primary job objective.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Mike Riley's Offense Is Broken. Can It Be Salvaged in 2017?

After every Husker football game, I grade the Huskers' performance on a report card over at CornNation.  I'll do the same tomorrow on the Huskers 21-17 loss to Northern Illinois. And frankly, it won't be pretty. After last week's Oregon loss, I wrote that Mike Riley's offense wasn't working at Oregon State, and it might not work at Nebraska.

After falling to 1-2 in a loss to a MAC school, I think it's time to say that Mike Riley's offense is broken.  I didn't think you could say that last week; this week, I don't know how you can NOT say that.

It's easy to point the blame at quarterback Tanner Lee, who's thrown seven interceptions in the last two games.  Two of those interceptions led to Oregon touchdowns last week; today, two more went straight into the end zone. He's completing under 53% of his passes with a passing efficiency rating that makes Taylor Martinez look like Peyton Manning. But the problem is much more deeper than that; it's starting on the offensive line.  Lee struggles under pressure, and Northern Illinois brought the heat:  three sacks and seven quarterback hurries.

That's the offensive line, and that's been a key issue with Mike Riley's offense dating back to Oregon State.  The folks in Corvallis wanted offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh gone, and they got their wish.  Now he's Nebraska's problem.

Shortly after Mike Riley addressed reporters, Shawn Eichorst, the normally silent athletic director, stepped up to face the music.  He told reporters that losses like this are "not acceptable." That's strong language, but meaningless if not accompanied by strong actions.  And today's loss calls for strong actions.  I'm offering two suggestions to make right now - this weekend, before Monday's press conference:
  1. Fire offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh
  2. Relieve offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf of his playcalling duties
Not after the season.  NOW.

Promote graduate assistant Tavita Thompson to offensive line coach; he played on the line for Riley at Oregon State, so he's familiar with the position. He might even give the guys a spark.  As for playcalling, find someone else to do it.  Mike Riley took the playbook away from Langsdorf before at Oregon State before sending him off to the New York Giants. Langsdorf reportedly did a great job with the Giants as quarterbacks coach. Nebraska has a quarterback who's REALLY struggling.

Let Langsdorf do what he does best.  Coach the quarterbacks.  Let someone else call the plays.  Maybe it's Riley again.  Or maybe running backs coach Reggie Davis; Riley's complemented Davis for his offensive mind in the past. (And there has to be a reason why Riley likes Davis, even though recruitniks hate his poor recruiting work.)  Maybe Keith Williams.

If it sounds like panicking, it's because it is.  Nebraska is one play away from being 0-3 on the season, going into Big Ten play.  After Rutgers, Nebraska has to play Ohio State and Penn State from the east division and the rest of the west division.  It's a division with a rapidly improving Purdue and a Minnesota team that's rowing the boat.  After today's turd in the punch bowl, Nebraska has to win five conference games to simply become bowl eligible.

Do you see five wins on this schedule, knowing now what we have with Nebraska?

Bob Diaco's defense did everything they could do to keep Nebraska in the game; Diaco star was tarnished by first half turds against Arkansas State and Oregon, but outstanding in the second half in those games. We knew (or should have known) that the 3-4 transition was going to be bumpy, so we should have expected a little bit of that.  And let's be honest:  Riley's replaced all but one defensive coach in his Nebraska tenure, and seems to have upgraded with each and every hire.

Riley's offense wasn't supposed to be like this. Remember the preseason hype?  Lee's NFL expectations was going to become this elite offense that was going to take the Big Ten west by storm.

Well, we were had.  It ain't that.  The question is... what should we do?  Be patient and hope that Riley's offense will become something that it's never ever been?  Or try some triage and try to salvage this season.  Frankly, it's a no-brainer to me.  Expecting this offense to suddenly win five Big Ten games isn't realistic; if things don't change, Riley will be gone. 

And in that light, Riley really has nothing to lose here.  Yes, he might make things worse.  But the bottom line is that unless he suddenly makes things significantly better, fixing Nebraska football will become someone else's job after Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Hunt for Husker Football Parking

I have to admit that this post is out of the ordinary.  Normally, I'm telling you what I'm thinking...but this time, I'm asking for your thoughts, because I'm not quite sure where to begin:

Where the heck do I park for a Husker football game?

Let me give you some background on this situation.  I've had season tickets since 1992, and haven't missed a game since that 1998 Eddie Robinson Classic against Louisiana Tech.  (Thanks to a friend of my wife's who scheduled her wedding for the last Saturday in August, only to have Nebraska surprise everyone by adding a game the same day once it was too late to change the date.)  I've had parking lined up for most of the last 20 years.

For most of that time, I was parking in lot 19 behind right field at Haymarket Park.  But three years ago, I found myself bumped out of lot 19 over to lot 20 in front of the baseball stadium. I didn't think it would be a big deal until the first game.  First, it took forever to find a spot, thanks to tailgate parties using two spaces even though they only paid for one spot.  Then afterwards, it was nearly impossible to get out after the game because everybody tries to exit out onto Sun Valley Boulevard even though it's much faster to head east to 10th Street.

So a couple of years ago, I took the recommendation to rent a spot at a hall on 10th Street, which worked OK that first year.  It was about the same price as Haymarket, but it was much easier to exit after the game, so I thought it was a big win.  Then last year, I got a renewal notice with a 40% price increase.  $200 for seven games, payable in the spring.

I looked around at the time, but didn't find anything.  So I grudgingly paid the fee and renewed.  Each week, the new management of the hall tried to hassle us by requiring wristbands to use the bathroom, then locking the restrooms after night games.  And each week as we treked south across the North Bottoms to the stadium, we'd pass signs for people selling parking for about half the price we paid.

Well, enough of that.  We didn't renew this year, figuring we could find parking for less cost and less hassle.  Now game week is approaching, and we're just wondering where we should start looking on game day? We sit in the North Stadium, and for morning and afternoon kickoffs, take the kids to the Junior Blackshirts program at the Campus Rec Center on 14th Street.  Needless to say, that means we're not really looking towards downtown for parking; north and east of the stadium would be preferable.

I know there's plenty of options for parking out there, but after being in reserved lots for most of the last 15-20 years, I'm not sure what else we might find, especially east of the stadium.  Anybody have any suggestions?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

My 2017 Nebraska Football Prediction: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Last week, I was asked my thoughts about how the Huskers would do this football season, and frankly, I don't really know.  I actually have a wide range of thoughts, starting at 10-2 (Woohoo! Big Ten West champions, baby) and working my way down.

Way down.

All the way to "Mike Riley's heading back to Corvallis at Christmas time and not coming back" down.

Why am I so uncertain?  Only nine returning starters, once you cross cornerback Chris Jones off the list  with his knee injury. A new defensive scheme.  And perhaps most importantly, new unproven offensive skill players on offense.

I like the hire of Bob Diaco as defensive coordinator, so I feel OK that could work out in the long term. But truth be told, if Riley felt the need to replace a coordinator this offseason, I wouldn't have given Mark Banker a pink slip last January.  I would have gone to the other side of the ball.

Yes, I admit it:  I'm still traumatized by 2015 and the bone-headed coaching that resulted in losses to Illinois and Purdue.  Especially Purdue, where the coaches abandoned the run and put the game on the shoulders of a walk-on quarterback to throw 48 passes.  First they threw Tommy Armstrong under the bus, then when he was out, threw the I-backs under the bus instead.  Credit to Mark Banker; he recognized his initial approach wasn't working in 2015 and changed things up as the season went on.  Danny Langsdorf didn't until the bowl game.

The convenient excuse the last two seasons was that the quarterback Langsdorf had wasn't a fit with the offense he wanted to run. So now he does. Or at least supposedly does.  We're hearing lots of hype about Tanner Lee this summer; many predicting him with an NFL future. But then I look at his statistics at Tulane, where his passing numbers were worse than Tommy Armstrong.  Some will excuse them because of injuries, but unless those injuries happened in preseason, that doesn't explain everything. Some will excuse them because of the surrounding talent, which is fine until you realize that Nebraska's receiver depth is really inexperienced.  Plus, now Lee will be facing Big Ten defenses, not those in the AAC.

Maybe he truly is an NFL prospect.  If so, then what is there to make of the fact that throughout spring, the coaches kept insisting that "Tanner O'Brien" and "Patrick Lee" were interchangeable and almost indistinguishable from one another.  (FWIW, Patrick O'Brien started the spring game over Lee.)  So we have an NFL prospect (a high NFL draft pick, according to Phil Steele) who apparently was neck and neck with a redshirt freshman.  So if we're to believe that, it's only logical to assume that Nebraska has two NFL caliber quarterbacks on their roster.

That may be true.  Or maybe we're being fed some good 'ol sunshine and lollipops to be washed down with something that would have been called Pedeyshine ten years ago. (Remember the last time we were told that NU had an NFL quarterback prospect planning to start?  It did not ... go well.)

That uncertainty makes this season tough to forecast.  If I'm to believe the hype, I see 9-3 or 10-2 as possible.  The Huskers get Wisconsin and Iowa at home, so I like how the schedule sets up.  If the quarterback play is as improved as we're being sold this summer, things could go really well.

But if that doesn't happen (and by many reports this spring, the offense struggled), Katy bar the door around here.  Purdue and Minnesota upgraded coaching staffs this offseason, Northwestern looks pretty formidable, and Penn State jumps on the schedule.  What's the floor?  I almost hesitate to say, but most of those early Vegas and ESPN predictions came in at 5-7/6-6.  That means the floor is lower - much lower.

So yep, I won't even put 4-8 or even 3-9 completely out of the question.  And if that happens, it becomes quite elementary what the result is going to be.

My best guess?  Riley survives with a 7-5 season.  He gets an upset or two (say Wisconsin in Lincoln), but then drops a turd in the punchbowl again at Illinois or Purdue.  But it's just that: a guess.

Because this season, nothing between 2-10 and 10-2 would completely surprise me.  In other words:  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

There's No Crying in Baseball

Clearly Jimmy Dugan, Tom Hanks' character in "A League of Their Own," never coached in a YMCA league. If he had, he never would have never claimed that "there's no crying in baseball."

My son is playing his first season of player-pitch baseball this summer, and we're encountering some growing pains. He's actually done better than I thought with the idea of being selective at the plate (especially with a wild pitcher), but that doesn't mean it's always good.

Take Friday night's game.  We're facing a pitcher who's struggling to get the ball to the plate, and when he does, it's usually with an "eephus pitch" that happens to drop down right over the plate.  It's not any evil strategy on the other team's part; it's the only way this boy can get the ball to go 45 feet in the air.  But it's frustrating for the boys on my son's team.

Adding to the frustration is an umpire who decides to have a huge strike zone that's much larger than what the boys have dealt with in previous weeks.  I recognized this problem when I watched a pitch land six inches next to the plate being called a strike. Eventually, my son got his at bat.  He took a couple of pitches that went wide, then took a strike. He was still fine, though he was a little unsure of himself so he swung at a pitch he probably shouldn't have.  Then came an inside pitch that he didn't swing at.

Strike three.

It should have been ball four, but not with this umpire. The umpire explained to my son that the ball crossed the edge of the plate, and my son tried to explain the he thought the ball almost hit him.  Finally he slowly walked away, and I could see the look of heartbreak in his eyes.  I slowly walked up to the backstop, and the tears were flowing.  I tried to tell him it was OK, but I realized it was going to take much more than that.

So I walked around the backstop and into the dugout to give him a hug. As the inning ended, the rest of his team went out to the field, but he had already drawn the short straw as the player who had to sit out while the other team batted.  (Eleven players on his team that night; only nine position players needed on the field at a time.)

So we hugged.  He kept repeating how the pitch almost hit him and how unfair that the pitcher was throwing these "curve balls".  I mostly listened, but then started explaining that sometimes things don't go your way. If the umpire is calling that a strike, then that's the rule of the game...whether you like it or not.

And really, isn't that the way life is? Things aren't always fair.  Sometimes the rules change based on who is interpreting them.  It happens in school.  It happens at work.  It happens in your personal life.

Saturday afternoon, I showed my son the replay of the called third-strike that replay showed was about a foot off the plate.  I pointed out that umpires and referees are human too and make mistakes.

I make no presumptions about my son being any sort of athlete; he certainly doesn't get any talent from my genes. We're doing this for fun, and while that strikeout wasn't fun, I think he may have learned a little on Friday night.

The good thing is that he didn't dwell on it for long.  After I realized that discussing the situation wasn't stemming the tears, I decided to change the subject.  We started to play catch in the dugout; usually that's not such a good idea, but he needed a distraction.  The smile came back, and when he got another turn at bat, he beat out an infield single.

That, and a clean fielding play in the outfield were the highlights of his weekend on the diamond. It may have started with tears, but ended up with smiles.

And that's why we're doing this.  He had fun, and maybe he's learning something as well.  That makes it good for both of us.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Tanner Lee Pre-Season Hype May Have Gone Too Far

I happened to glance at Twitter Saturday afternoon, and a Tweet from the Omaha World-Herald caught my eye.
I clicked on the link, and my jaw hit the floor.  The results?

33% said Tanner Lee would be a first team All-Big Ten honoree
35% said he would be second team
19% said he would be third team
13% said he wouldn't be an all-Big Ten honoree

Internet polls are infamous for their unreliability, but frankly, the very premise of the question seems unrealistic to me. Why is that? I simply go back to Lee's statistics from Tulane:  53% completion percentage, 23 touchdowns, 21 interceptions. Yet, 87% of respondents think he's going from being an AAC washout to one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten.

For comparison sake, Tommy Armstrong completed 52% of his passes his first two seasons with 31 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.  Armstrong's passer efficiency was in the 120's; Lee's never topped 110.

Let's take it a step further: all spring long, the coaches kept saying how close the battle was between Lee and Patrick O'Brien, a redshirt freshman who's never played one down of college football.  So if we are to believe that Lee is an all-conference candidate going into this season, then Patrick O'Brien would also be a candidate for all-Big Ten honors, if he were to play.

As a redshirt freshman.

And then there are the other quarterbacks in the league:  Penn State's Trace McSorley, Michigan's Wilton Speight and Ohio State's J.T. Barrett are all more accomplished quarterbacks than Lee.  Heck, I'd even argue that Indiana's Richard Lagow, Northwestern's David Thorson and even Purdue's David Blough (with upgraded coaching) have all proven more than Lee thus far.

Nothing would be more fun than to have Tanner Lee live up to these lofty expectations; if Lee plays at that level, then Nebraska is a serious contender, if not the favorite, to win the Big Ten west. So for goodness sake, I'd love it if the hype pans out.

But I'm having too much difficulty to reconcile what Lee has actually accomplished and what people are expecting. Are the fans and media setting Tanner Lee up to fail with unreasonable expectations?  What if Tanner Lee is simply a quarterback with good fundamentals who simply throws like Tommy Armstrong without the mobility.

How fast will fans turn on him if he doesn't deliver a west championship and all-conference honors?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

World-Herald Finds UNO's Reasons for Division 1 and Baxter Arena Unfulfilled

The Omaha World-Herald unleashed a fury of "Freedom of Information Act" requests towards UNO recently and found that the decisions to move to division 1 for all sports and build Baxter Arena haven't solved UNO's athletic financial problems.

In fact, you could aruge that problems may have gotten worse, not better.  (Especially the ill-thought through decision to build yet another arena in the Omaha area.)  But that's playing the blame-game; it doesn't solve UNO's issues.  You can't undo those decisions, especially the arena. Barring some sort of massive Papio Creek flood, UNO is stuck with paying for this arena.  So what is UNO doing?  Well, budgets are being scrutinized even further than ever. And in that light, it's pretty clear what the driving factor in the decision to choose Mike Gabinet over more qualified candidates was. Especially when you consider that eight weeks later, Gabinet still has only been able to hire one assistant coach.

The University system is being forced to pump more resources into UNO athletics; some of that is going to come from student fees, but in an increasingly tight budget situation in this state, the resources just aren't there to sustain it. I suspect that a dictum has been made to the Huskers athletic department to help out as much as possible.  NU volleyball will be playing in a tournament at Baxter Arena this September, and I frankly would be shocked if NU doesn't play UNO in men's basketball this upcoming winter.  Those should be easy moves for the folks in Lincoln; it's hard to justify spending money to fly UMBC halfway across the country when UNO will eagerly jump on a bus at any time.  The only question to me is whether the game shows up during winter break or on the weekend after the Big Ten tournament.

And yes, playing a non-conference game after the Big Ten tournament makes a lot of sense.  With the Big Ten moving their tournament up a week to play in Madison Square Garden, Big Ten teams could conceivably be idle for two weeks before playing in the NCAA or NIT tournaments.  You need a game to stay focused that week, and the Summit League tournament ends two days after the Big Ten's.

A lot of people are going to point to the move to Division 1 as a failure for UNO; I still believe that this move was the right one for UNO to make. Make no bones about it, it was a painful decision, but it was the right one.  Football had become a perennial money loser, with almost no hope of a turnaround in a market that's focused completely on Lincoln.  20 years ago, UNO found a niche playing in the evenings after NU played in the afternoons, but that's past history.  1-AA would only increase the budget damage now that Power Five schools aren't able to throw money at 1-AA opponents.

That means basketball is now UNO's best opportunity to fill the budget void, and getting regular paydays from schools like Nebraska will be a key for UNO athletic viability moving forward.  Can hockey remain the flagship sport for UNO?  The gamble to hire Gabinet is certainly risky in that light.  Underrated is the potential of soccer; I suspect soccer is capable of drawing decent sized crowds to Caniglia Field in the future. It's certainly a more viable sport for UNO than football was.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Takeaways: My Tips for Disney World

So what were my lessons learned about Disney World?  I'll try to summarize it here:
  • Because of the 180 day reservation rule, you really need to start planning a Disney World vacation seven to 12 months before you go.  Can you do it with less time? Absolutely, but there are some things you won't be able to do.
  • Figure out how you are going to allocate your time roughly between each of the four parks early on; it can help guide you with deciding where to stay.
  • Don't worry about trying to see it all.  It might take a month to see and do everything. Prioritize what you want to see, and don't be afraid to skip anything in favor of repeating things that you know you'll enjoy.
  • If you live around the Omaha area, consider skipping Animal Kingdom entirely. Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo has much better animal attractions than Disney World, so why spend your time there versus spending times at other attractions that you cannot experience at home?
  • Trying to figure it all out?  Pick up a copy of the Unofficial Guide to Disney World. It has in depth reviews of all of the rides, resorts and restaurants.  It's a huge read, but better than anything else I found.  Their "TouringPlans.com" companion web site and "Lines" app for your iPhone are great resources for planning your trip. How regimented you allow yourself to be on your trip is up to you, but these sites will give you the best information on what are most popular attractions and how to get to squeeze as much into your trip and minimize the boring waits.
  • When it come time to pick a place to say, pay attention to the transportation options between a resort you are considering and the various places you want to go.  (Hint: you may need to allow an hour or more just to get from point A to point B with Disney transportation.)  It will vary, so choose carefully.
  • You can save money staying at a non-Disney resort, but you'll likely spend even more time dealing with transportation, and you may not be able to get reservations or FastPass reservations for the most popular meals and rides (Cinderella's Royal Table, Frozen, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, etc.) since on-site guests get first crack at those.
  • Like most hotels, Disney resorts list capacity by assuming two people per bed. That may not work for your family, so it's handy to have this list of resorts that have more than two sleeping surfaces in some rooms: Animal Kingdom Lodge & Villas, Art of Animation, Bay Lake Tower, Beach Club, Contemporary, and Grand Floridian.  Some of these are suites that can hold 6 to 9 people.  Disney World does not offer rollaways, so don't expect that as a solution.
  • A really good site with in depth reviews of Disney accomodations is yourfirstvisit.net . I'd take all of their conclusions with a huge grain of salt; the author has specific recommendations based on their own itineraries that may - or may not - match your needs.
  • Decide what's important to you: each resort has a different "theme" with different amenities. Do you want a bigger pool?  A more kid-attractive design?  Do you want to be closer to the parks you are going to visit more often? (Pay close attention to that one!)  Do you want to spend as little as possible?  Again, it's your money and your vacation.  You make the decision.
  • Give a Vacation Club rental some consideration.  You can get a better accommodation for less money.  We did, and don't regret it one bit.
  • Apply for the Disney Visa card, even if you have a really good cash-back credit card. Some restaurants and most souveneir stands offer a 10% discount if you use your Disney Visa.  Plus, there are exclusive meet-and-greets (WITH NO LINES) with Disney characters available.
  • Don't get the Disney Dining Plan.
  • That last one may surprise people.  Years ago, the Disney Dining Plan apparently was a good deal for most people.  Now that it's so popular, Disney doesn't feel the need to price it as such, and now it's rarely a good deal for most people.  There are exceptions, especially for folks who would happen to eat exactly as the plan calls for if the plan didn't exist. In researching it, I've found that the majority of people end up spending more with the plan than they would have if they just paid ala carte.  That's especially true if your kids are 10 years old and still prefer kids meals; 10 year olds pay adult prices, even if they are fine with chicken nuggets at each meal.
  • If you see an ad for "Free Dining", look to see what other discounts are available so you know how much you are paying for that "free" dining plan.  (Hint:  it's never free, and still probably not a good deal.  The Mouse usually wins.)
  • Price your trip seperately from park tickets; I bought our tickets from ParkSavers and saved about 10%.
  • Don't be afraid to "Park Hop" especially if you are a first time visitor. Disney offers a new "express transportation" option which takes you directly from one park to another without stopping for security.  We "park hopped" three times on our trip (not using the express option), going to a different park after supper than we started the day at.  It's reassuring for a first time visitor to be able to switch parks if you find that your plans aren't working out for you that day.  
  • If you can be at the park when it opens (commonly referred to as "rope drop"), you'll probably be able to cram in an afternoon's worth of fun into the first hour the park is opened.
  • Making it to "rope drop" can be a challenge when you stayed up late the night before watching fireworks.  So try to pace yourself and remember, you aren't able to see everything.  Set your priorities.
  • To get moving early in the morning, consider eating breakfast in your room as you get ready.  Pop-tarts and breakfast bars can be quick breakfasts.
  • Grocery delivery to your Disney resort is a great way to save time and money versus buying breakfast at the Disney counter service locations.  Garden Grocer is the longtime standard, but Publix now offers delivery via Instacart.  The Instacart/Publix solution has MUCH better prices and selection than Garden Grocer.  Some people like Amazon Prime, but that won't help you with perishables like milk, juice and fruit.
  • I hate buying bottled water, as I consider it wasteful. But Orlando's city water tastes and smells awful due to it's high sulfur content.  It's safe to drink, but you might consider buying water with your grocery delivery.  Some people also prefer to use the flavoring concentrates or packets to hide the taste.
  • If you are taking a week or more for your trip, some people suggest taking "rest days" where you don't go to a park.  But with Fastpasses and the relatively low cost of adding days to your park ticket, I think "rest days" are wastes of time.  Instead, plan for lighter days.  Sleep in, grab some Fastpasses for late morning/early afternoon, then head back to your room for pool time and an early bedtime.  This is also a great way to get FastPasses for both Soarin' and Frozen by turning Epcot into two half-days on your schedule.
  • If you don't have the dining plan and are heading back to your resort in the late afternoon, order in supper via restaurant delivery from outside the World.  Yelp is a great source of finding restaurants that deliver.  Here's a list that I had:  Giordano's and UNO for delicious Chicago-style pizza, Chevy's for Tex-Mex, Chili's and Bahama Breeze for burgers and traditional casual dining.  It'll cost you less and the food will certainly be better than what Disney has to offer.
  • If your kids want to see the Disney characters, your best bet can be a character meal. It'll cost you dearly in terms of time (90 minutes) and money, but you (a) have to eat at some point and (b) you'd spend all that time (and then some) waiting in line for a meet-and-greet anyway.  I didn't notice a big different in terms of character interactions at any of our character meals, but I did notice a difference in food quality.  (Tusker House dinner is awful.)  Check the menus before booking.  A lot of people like character breakfasts, but the morning is also the best time to check out the rides before the lines get ridiculously long.
  • It's expensive, but you might want to pay for Disney's PhotoPass before you head to Orlando.  (You save $20 if you buy it three days before you arrive.) Disney photographers are available everywhere to take your picture, and you'll get amazing pictures you won't get any other way (like the above picture from Seven Dwarfs Mine Train).  Yes, you can take selfies, but these are better...and who wants to spend their vacation staring at a phone screen?
  • While you are waiting in line for an attraction, use the Lines app to gauge what attractions you might do next; it'll show you both Disney's announced wait times as well as what their metrics actually predict.  It'll even suggest whether you are better off waiting or not.
  • Your phone battery probably won't survive the day at Disney.  Bring along portable batteries and charging cables so you can give your phone a boost during the day. That might also mean you need extra chargers at night to recharge everything. Disney hotel rooms do not have alarm clocks, so plan to charge your phone on the nightstand next to the bed.
But did we have a good time?  The kids had a blast; in fact, my son asked me when we could go back as the bus pulled away from Disney World.  So we'll probably go back in a couple of years, though this time, probably split with a four day Disney Cruise, leaving from Port Canaveral, which is about an hour east of Orlando.

The Disney World Trip Report

  1. Planning a Disney World trip
  2. Where to stay at Disney World
  3. Waiting in Line at Disney World
  4. The Magic Kingdom
  5. My Takeaways & Tips for Disney World

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Magic Kingdom: Disney World's Crown Jewel (Part Four of Five)

Our last three days at Disney World, our trip was mostly focused on the Magic Kingdom. That wasn't necessarily by design initially; I used crowd predictors to pick parks for each day, and our Magic Kingdom days ended up getting pushed to the end of the trip.

Thursday morning, we were able to get the kids up and fed in time to be able to get through security at the Magic Kingdom in time for a 9 am "rope drop".  My daughter loved the welcome show, but my son and I found that it was a great opportunity to make a dash for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at opening. The wait turned out to be only about 15 minutes.  We then got another ride in at Buzz Lightyear then redid Splash Mountain.  I checked the time and realized that at park opening, my son was able to redo his entire first afternoon in less than an hour with much less standing in lines.

But as the morning went on, the lines started to get longer. We took our obligatory ride on "it's a small world" which is just as annoying as you might have expected. (The best solution I've heard for this ride is to bring your own headphones and pipe your own music in over that damn song.)  Then came lunch time and my daughter's favorite part of the trip: Lunch at Cinderella's Castle. This is probably the most popular character meal at Disney World, and certainly the nicest setting. It's so nice, in fact, that I had to prepay for everything when I made our reservations 180 days earlier.  I only paid for my daughter and I to go; I figured my son had zero interest in seeing princesses.  (And I had even less interest in spending $60 to listen to him complain.)  He and his mom went and ate waffles for lunch at Sleepy Hollow; from what I could see, her lunch looked better than mine.  I had a roast pork served with some fancy beans... yep, an attempt at a high-class pork and beans, all for my $60+.  For what it's worth, my daughter loved her "royal" chicken nuggets.

This is where I repeat:  You don't go to Disney World for the food. And this lunch wasn't about the food (although the chocolate pie I had for dessert was really good), but about my daughter meeting the princesses. And she adored it. What surprised me were the number of adults eating lunch there without children, but another thing I learned at Disney World is that everyone kind of becomes a kid again.  While we were eating,
Look closely. That says
170 minutes!
I noticed through the windows that it was getting awfully dark outside, and so I switched my phone from camera to a radar app. Sure enough, a thundershower was rolling through Orlando at that same time, shuttind down all of the outdoor rides while we were at lunch. The aftermath? Ridiculously long lines the rest of the afternoon. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was posted at just shy of three hours, and everything else was backed up. So after one last FastPass on the Winnie the Pooh ride (not worth it for anybody school age, even if they still like Pooh), we headed back to Bay Lake Tower and the pool.  It was a quick swim, because we had dinner reservations at Animal Kingdom's Tusker House, with a package deal to get good seats for the new Rivers of Light show.

I've heard a lot of raves about the food at Tusker House, but I've since learned that much of that comes from people starting their day with breakfast. For us, Tusker House was the WORST food we had on our trip. I'm sure much of that was a personal preference as the menu is heavily African themed, though I did see a lot of adults around the kids buffet.  My son didn't even like those "kid friendly" options, so it was rather frustrating to spend $200 on a meal and have him go away hungry.  We did get some cute pictures of Goofy
Goofy says "Eat Your
Supper!"
and Donald Duck trying to encourage him to eat something, though.  While we were waiting for my son to finally eat something, I found a "day-of" FastPass online for the Expedition Everest roller coaster, and I used that as an incentive to get him to eat a little bit.  He loved that ride enough that I got him another one immediately afterwards, while my wife hit the concession stand for kids snacks during the show. (You shouldn't need to buy snacks after an "all you can eat" buffet, but that's the situation we were in.)

I enjoyed the Rivers of Light show, but looking back, I imagine kids being bored with it.  It reminded me a lot of an Olympics opening ceremony: lots of music and lighting effects, but nothing kid-enticing. My kids didn't seem to mind it, though.  If this show were at any other park, the producers would add fireworks to it, but that would cause too much of a panic in the animal attractions. I am glad that we did the dining package, even if the food wasn't good.  I saw the ridiculously long standby lines for the show, and decided that it was still a better investment than waiting two hours in line.  (Though then I could have had more Flame Tree Barbeque for supper...)

The late night at Animal Kingdom meant that we were slow to get going Friday morning, and since it was an "Extra Magic Hours" morning at Magic Kingdom, we arrived to find many of the lines at Disney World already pretty long when we arrived at 8:30 am.  (Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was over an hour at that point.)  We did get to do an early run on the Buzz Lightyear spin, and my son and I did Big Thunder Mountain. (Big Thunder is probably hitting my upper limit on roller coasters.)  My wife did let my son ride solo on Space Mountain in the first hour; neither parent had the will to try that.  The difference between our two kids were never so apparent than with our morning FastPasses:  my daughter screamed and hated "Pirates of the Carribbean" while my son probably would have rather had a spelling test than sit through "its a small world".  (Truth be told, Mom & Dad probably would have preferred to help my son with his spelling than sit through that.  If we have to do "small world" again, I might have to take the suggestion of bringing headphones and providing your own soundtrack instead of listening to that . . . song . . . over and over and over again.)

We then headed to Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor, which had a bit of an unexpected wait..though it turned out to be well worth it when they picked my daughter to be part of the show!  The premise of the show is that the characters from Monsters Inc. have converted from trying to scare kids into making them laugh, turning this into a G-rated comedy show.  The animated characters perform on the main screen, and they randomly surprise audience members by pointing a camera on them.  And about midway through, there's my shirt and my daughter up on the screen. She wasn't the target of any jokes, but she played the set up person for all of the jokes, and had a blast.

Lunch was with Winnie the Pooh at the Crystal Palace; I had thought my kids were too old for Pooh and friends, but I guess you're never too old for anything at Disney World. It certainly was a relaxed vibe, and the food was OK.  I think Hollywood & Vine was a little better in terms of food, but let me say again... you don't go to Disney World for the food.  And you aren't paying over $150 for lunch for the food either.  After lunch, we had our final preset FastPass for the Mad Tea Party, which amazingly turned out to be another ride everyone seemed to like.  After that, I started checking online for wait times and realized that pretty much everything we'd want to ride had a minimum of a 45 minute wait.  So we made a couple of gift store purchases and headed back to Bay Lake Tower for a final afternoon swim.

I had bought a few boxes of Macaroni & Cheese with our groceries to have on hand for a contingency, and since everyone was pretty full from the lunch buffet, we decided to just have that for supper along with a couple of slices of leftover pizza. (Yep! A cheap meal at Disney World!) Since it was our last night, we headed back to the Magic Kingdom for one final fireworks show.  Weird thing for us is that the show seemed different (no Tinkerbell flying out of the castle) than the one we saw two nights before.  While we were waiting, I scanned my Disney app and found a FastPass for Buzz Lightyear shortly after the fireworks, so I figured, what the heck.  And once we finished that, another FastPass for the Mad Tea Party.  My wife was concerned we were staying up too late, but I reminded her this was our last night. The kids could sleep on the plane or sleep in on Sunday morning in their own bed.  And as we headed out, my daughter wanted one more ride on the Regal Carousel, which even my son obliged.  Everyone was pretty tired when we got back to the room, so it wasn't a problem getting the kids to bed quickly.  Mom & Dad, however, had to start packing up.

Since we had a washer and dryer in the room, we didn't have that many clothes to pack, so the only issue was finding room for the souveneirs we were bringing back. Fortunately, we had brought a couple of small extra bags on our trip empty so that we could check more bags on the way home. (That's the one good thing about Southwest Airlines.)  Fortunately, everything seemed to fit, making it easy to finish packing the next morning.

One of the things Disney does well is making the arrival and departure process easy, and departure is extra easy. The next morning, we found our boarding passes hanging on our room door, so we were set. We dropped our carry on bags with bell services at the front door, and then headed over to the Contemporary with our checked bags.  Boom! Everything was checked in with the airline and we were ready to go.  Except that our bus wasn't leaving until 1:20 pm and it was 8:30 am.  So it was off to the Magic Kingdom for one last morning of fun!

No "extra magic hours" this morning, so at "rope drop", we had our choice of attractions.  My son wanted to do Big Thunder Mountain one last time, and then we headed for Buzz Lightyear yet again, even though we had a FastPass for later in the morning. We also hit a couple of classics with "Mickey's PhilharMagic" and Dumbo.  PhilharMagic always seemed to have really short wait times in the afternoon, but it turned out to be a pretty good 3-D show.  I kind of wish we would have snuck that in on a busy, hot afternoon. And since we were nearby, my son wanted to do Goofy's Barnstormer kiddie roller coaster. For some reason, he liked that more than the other coasters; it might have simply been the Goofy association.  After one last carousel ride, we headed for our final ride:  Buzz Lightyear with a FastPass+.  And just like our first ride, we found the longest line.  In fact, the line was so long, I wasn't sure we could afford to wait.  But the line started moving, and we gave it a chance, and we were able to get it in.  They were having some issues with the ride, as it stopped three or four times as we rode through.  That wasn't a problem, though...as it simply gave us more time to score points.  (New high score for me of over 200,000!)

But then it was time to head out, as we were supposed to be ready for the bus to the airport in 20 minutes. Our original agenda was to have lunch at Chef Mickey's, but we cancelled it two days earlier because (a) we already had done two character meals and (b) we realized that we didn't think we could spare the 90 minutes for lunch.  And considering the ride issues on Buzz Lightyear, we certainly wouldn't have made our lunch reservation.  In fact, we didn't even have time to eat lunch, so we grabbed a couple of snacks out of my wife's backpack to hold us over until we got to the airport.  The Magical Express got us to the airport in more than enough time; we had over two hours once we arrived, so it actually ended up a good use of our time.  (Airport food or Disney food, you decide which is less worse.  Surprisingly, airport food was much cheaper than Disney food.)

I have to admit, I'm not a big fan of Southwest Airlines because of their "cattle car" setup.  It's OK if I'm travelling by myself for business, but for family trips, I wasn't going to risk it. Except Southwest does have some non-stops between Omaha and Orlando, which are awfully hard to resist. And my concern about the "cattle car" was reduced now that Southwest sells "Early Bird Checkin", which pretty much assures you "A" group boarding.  So when we booked, I figured Southwest's $15 fee for Early Bird Checkin offset the other airline's luggage fees, so we just picked the most convenient flights for us.

Southwest's non-stop flight from Omaha to Orlando left before 6 am in the morning, which wasn't family friendly in my eyes.  Getting the kids up at 3:30 am to fly to Disney seemed like starting the trip on a really bad note.  So we compromised:  flew American to Chicago the night before, enjoyed the pool at the hotel that's connected to O'Hare (great indoor pool!), then caught a 7 am flight the next morning.  It still got us to Orlando in the morning, so we could still have some Disney fun that first day, but saved us two hours of sleep.

The flight back was easy to pick on Southwest:  a three hour flight straight to Omaha. There was no wifi and thus no entertainment on board, but it didn't really matter at all to our kids. My son curled up in his seat and was out cold before the plane even took off.  (I only let him nap for about 45 minutes, though.)  I did leave Sunday completely unscheduled (other than picking up our dog from the vet), because I wasn't sure how much sleep the kids needed to make up.  They did sleep until well after 8 am that morning, which I'm sure their teachers appreciated the next day.

So what are my takeaways from Disney World?  Some of my opinions were confirmed, and some of the advice I found online turned out to be worth what I paid for it (zero).  I'll summarize that in the conclusion in part five.

The Disney World Trip Report

  1. Planning a Disney World trip
  2. Where to stay at Disney World
  3. Waiting in Line at Disney World
  4. The Magic Kingdom
  5. My Takeaways & Tips for Disney World