Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Looks like I'm about to get fatter

I always overestimate the number of trick-or-treaters that appear at my doorstep.

Now I have a whole bucket of chocolate candy sitting in my living room and, well, you know, I can't just let all that food go to waste...

Monday, October 30, 2006

UH's attendance problems, and why complaining won't solve them

Last Saturday I went to Robertson Stadium to watch the the University of Houston Cougars host Conference USA opponent Central Florida. The weather was great, the tailgating was excellent, and the game was exciting. The Cougar defense struggled mightily, giving up a whopping 530 yards to the Golden Knight offense, and the Cougars found themselves down by a score of 17-21 at halftime. But the Coogs stepped up in the second half; the UH offense took advantage of a UCF defense that was equally abysmal to score 34 points, and the UH defense, for all their troubles, managed to make a crucial third-down stop and create a turnover in the fourth quarter to seal the win. The Coogs won, 51-31, and exacted revenge against a team that beat them last year. With the win, the Coogs improved to 6-3 on the season and clinched bowl eligibility.

The worst aspect of the game, other than the horrible defense, was the poor attendance. Only 13,242 showed up to see this game, and the complaining from the Coog faithful (that is, the ones that actually show up to the games) continues to reverberate on message boards and blogs across the city two days later. Even the campus newspaper has gotten into the act, angrily suggesting that the high-school-like turnout is the reason why the University of Houston is derisively known as "Cougar High." Houston Chronicle sports reporter Michael Murphy, likewise, has also been very critical about attendance at UH football games; he called the turnout of 18,154 for the UTEP game two Saturdays ago "a joke," "dreadful," and said that "UH fans should be embarrassed;" following this past weekend's game, it appears that he (as well as many die-hard Coog fans who read and respond to his blog) are even angrier (read all the comments, if you have the time).

As somebody who has attended UH football games since I was born, who regularly drove back to Houston on weekends from places like Austin and Denton just to see the Cougars play, and who even delayed my flight back to Dubai last month by a couple of days just so I could catch another UH game, the fact that so few people bother to show up to see this team play troubles me greatly. Cougar football has always struggled to draw decent crowds, and over the years I've joined other UH fans on various message boards in writing volumes about Cougar football's attendance problem and ways to possibly fix it. I've even devoted an entire page to the problem on my website.

Why does an institution that has been around since 1927, has produced about two hundred thousand alumni during its existence (most of whom live in the Houston area), has an enrollment of 32,000 students, and is in a metropolitan area of 4.5 million people draw so poorly? Last year the Coogs just barely avoided falling below the NCAA's Division I-A attendance cutoff of 15,000 fans per game, and while this year the Coogs should fare slightly better due to the decent turnouts for Oklahoma State and Grambling, the draw of only 13 thousand fans for an important conference game on a beautiful Saturday afternoon is nevertheless as baffling as it is depressing.

As I noted on a previous post about the Coogs and their attendance problems, the causes of UH's inability to put fans in the stands are many. Some of these factors (or as many angry diehard UH fans would say, "excuses") are related to the team's on-field performance, while others are related to structural factors associated with the University of Houston and the metropolitan area as a whole which have nothing to do with the team itself. Some of them are perfectly valid. Some of them are essentially ridiculous. But they all, collectively, contribute to the reality of the University of Houston's attendance problems.

To list the reasons that are most often given:
  • the program's poor performance over the last fifteen years has caused a lot of people to "give up" or to otherwise ignore the program;
  • Houston is a "fair-weather" or "front-runner" city whose sports fans only support teams, pro or college, when they are winning;
  • much of the local population is made up of transplants from other parts of the country or the world that have little to no interest in the local schools;
  • the Coogs' membership in non-BCS Conference USA causes people to perceive the program as an inferior, "second-tier" product and therefore ignore it;
  • the University of Houston's status as a "commuter" school with a large "non-traditional" student population and its relatively small number of students living on-campus creates an apathetic student which, in turn, becomes an apathetic and unsupportive alum;
  • local sports fans are not interested in watching teams they've never heard of, such as Central Florida or Alabama-Birmingham; they are only interested in attending UH football games when a "marquee" opponent (e.g. Texas, Miami, Oklahoma State) comes to town;
  • the school's location adjacent to "a bad neighborhoood" (Third Ward) scares people away from games;
  • the local sports media does not cover the University of Houston to the same extent that they cover pro teams, Texas or Texas A&M;
  • the University of Houston administration does a poor job of supporting the program or marketing it to students, alumni and the region alike;
  • game times conflict with work, family or personal obligations, reducing the number of people able to attend the games;
  • people would rather stay at home and watch football games (UH or otherwise) on TV than travel out to the stadium and be at the mercy of the elements; and
  • there is simply too much competition for the entertainment dollar in a place as large and as diverse as Houston.
Many of these factors (or, if you must, "excuses") are, like it or not, legitimate. I do believe that the University of Houston's status as a so-called "non-traditional" or "commuter" school, with a small on-campus population and a relatively large percentage of older, foreign and part-time students, creates a smaller pool of supportive alumni than does a university with a "traditional" student population. It is absolutely true that Houston is, by and large, a "fair-weather" sports town that only supports local teams when they are winning. (Don't believe me? Ask the Rockets.) And the problem regarding Conference USA's perception as a second-tier conference is a very real factor as well; the exclusionary nature of the Bowl Championship Series, as well as the amount of coverage the national sports media gives to the six BCS conferences (as opposed to the five non-BCS conferences) creates a perception that non-BCS programs like Houston are not "big-time" and therefore unworthy of support.

And, to be sure, some of these factors are being addressed. The University of Houston is preparing to unveil a new master plan that, among other things, increases the number of students living on campus. This, in turn, will hopefully increase the percentage of "traditional" students that are likely to support their school's athletics programs while they are at school as well as after they graduate. The Cougars, under Art Briles, are bowl-eligible for the third time in four years and the program is, on the whole, much more successful than it was under Kim Helton or Dana Dimel. Hopefully, by creating a program that wins with more consistency than it loses, the Cougars will attract some of the "fair-weather" fans to the stands (of course, following up an upset victory over Oklahoma State with an upset loss to Louisiana-Lafayette doesn't help).

Other factors are harder to address. There's nothing that can be done about Conference USA's perception as a "second-tier" conference except for the schools of said conference to collectively start beating the "big boys," finding their way into the top 25 rankings, and strengthing the conference's reputation. Given the tremendous resource and recruiting advantages possessed by the BCS schools over the non-BCS institutions, that's easier said than done. There will always be competition for the entertainment dollar in this city; this isn't Auburn or Tallahassee or Lubbock, where there is literally nothing to do on a Saturday other than watch the football game, and there are always going to be people who would simply rather spend their Saturdays at the Greek Festival, at the Renaissance Festival, at a movie or at a fishing pier than at a football game. Among those who are willing to spend their weekends watching football, it's a simple fact that the University of Houston (and, for that matter, Rice and TSU) faces fierce competition from "big-time" schools such as Texas and Texas A&M as well as the pro offerings of the Texans (and I'm not the only local blogger who understands this). And I'm afraid I just don't have an answer for the tens of thousands of apathetic UH alumni who live within 50 miles of Robertson Stadium yet don't bother to attend the games. If they weren't involved as students (and many of them weren't, for whatever reason), then chances are they're just not going to be involved as alumni.

Some of these reasons for non-attendance are less compelling. While I'm sure that the 2:30 kickoff time for the Central Florida game was a problem for some people - I'd personally have a hard time attacking somebody for not going to the UH game because the early kickoff interfered with his child's soccer game - the fact is that every school in the nation faces a similar situation. I'm sure kids play soccer on Saturdays in Ann Arbor or Knoxville, too, yet there's still 100,000 people in those stadiums on a given Saturday regardless of kickoff time. Anybody who considers themselves a UH fan but who decided not to see the game just because the Coogs were playing Central Florida (as opposed to a BCS school like Oklahoma State or a school with a famous band like Grambling) ought to be ashamed of themselves; the team should be able to count on their support regardless of whom they're playing. And I am especially annoyed by people who would rather stay home (or go to a bar) and watch the game on TV than attend the game in person. Last week some woman even logged on to coogfans.com to complain about the fact that the Buffalo Wild Wings in Rice Village wasn't showing the UH game on TV when the actual game was being played only five miles away! Unbelievable! And, while local coverage of UH sports could be better, blaming the local media such as the Houston Chronicle for Houston's attendance problems is little more than a pointless exercise in scapegoating.

But whatever the reason for poor attendance at UH football games might be, and whatever validity or weakness that reason might have, there is one absolute fact: continually whining about the attendance problem will not solve it.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've read a great deal of angry teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing about the Coogs' ongoing attendance problems on various Houston Cougar online forums. People have written about how angry, disgusted and embarrassed they are about their fellow UH fans. People have blasted the university administration for not supporting the athletics department and the athletics department for not promoting the game. I've seen posters call out the generic "apathetic alumni" and "apathetic students," blaming them for the program's attendance woes. The inevitable "if we don't draw better we're going to have to drop football"-type posts have appeared. In short, I've read a lot of bitching, moaning, whining, crying, griping, fussing and complaining. And while I agree with the sentiment, and while I'm sure that it's cathartic for the "true" UH fans to get their frustrations off their chests by blasting the "untrue" fans, the simple fact is that not one bit of bitching, whining or complaining is going to solve the University of Houston's attendance problems.

As a wise old fan on one of the UH athletics message boards said last week, bitching about attendance never put a single butt in any seat. All it does, instead, is reinforce the cloud of negativity that continues to hang over this struggling program. I'm sure assistant coaches at universities that compete with the University of Houston for high school recruits have been working overtime over the last couple of days, scouring the UH message boards on the internet and cutting and copying every angst-ridden diatribe about Cougar football attendance that they can find, in hopes of using the words of its own fans against the program ("see, attendance at UH games is so bad it's all Cougar fans can talk about!") as the fall recruiting season heats up.

What I'd like to see, rather than the constant barrage of complaints, are some reasonable suggestions as to how to get more people to come to the games. For example, the apathetic students and alumni: it's hard to convince people such as these to attend UH sporting events if they have no interest in doing so, and shaming them into attending (for example, by telling them how much they suck if they don't support their school's athletics programs) is not likely to acheive positive results. So how do we entice them to come to the games and to support their own school's football program? Maybe we tell them about the wonderful tailgating scene that's evolved since games were moved from the Astrodome to Robertson Stadium, or that Art Briles' offense is as exciting and as unique as you'll see anywhere in college football, BCS schools included. It's easier to attract flies with honey than vinegar, after all.

Over the last day and a half, I've seen an encouraging grassroots effort begin to develop on at least one UH athletics message board; posters are discussing ways to invite family, friends, neighbors and co-workers to this weekend's game. Sample e-mail texts to send to "lost sheep" are being posted for review and replication; some posters are planning to paper the campus with flyers, people are comparing notes as to how many "extra" people they'll bring to this weekend's game. Some fans are looking for solutions to the attendance problem, and, regardless of how many extra fans their efforts might result in attracting, their efforts are better than the endless complaining.

I will always be concerned about UH's attendance struggles, but I've come to accept the fact that complaining about them will not solve them. I cannot control who goes and who doesn't go to the games; I can only control my own actions. So, I go to as many games as I can. I bring extra people to the games when I can. And I take comfort in the fact that, however great UH's attendance problems might be, I am not part of them. I ask for other UH fans to do the same.

If you have any interest in University of Houston athletics, and if you can make it to this weekend's game, I humbly suggest that you do so. The Coogs will be kicking off at 2:30 aganist last year's conference champion, the University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane. Tulsa has a solid team which finds itself parked just outside the top 25 in both the AP and USA Today polls. Unless the Cougars host the Conference USA championship game, this will be the last time prolific, record-breaking senior quarterback Kevin Kolb steps out onto the Robertson Stadium grass. The weather is supposed to be good. The pre-game and post-game tailgating, I promise, will be excellent. Come check it out; the team needs your support, and you might just be surprised at how much fun you have.

I'll be there, whether you are or not.

And the travel will continue...

I just received an e-mail at work. The title says it all:

Dubai wants you back.

Like I said, there's a reason why my suitcases stay in the bedroom and not in the closet.


Friday, October 27, 2006

Reflections on a year of travel

One year ago today, I was hanging out with my brother in Japan, seeing and exploring places like Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara and Hiroshima.

Since then, I've made three separate trips to the Middle East (and during one of those trips I even got to explore the Netherlands, if only for a couple of hours), a trip to the Nevada-California border to gamble and ski, a trip to New Orleans to survey that city's recovery, a trip to Mexico and Belize aboard a cruise liner last week, a trip to the Texas Hill Country for holiday, and at least a dozen trips to the Dallas - Fort Worth - Denton Metroplex to work, visit family, and/or watch the Coogs get their asses kicked in bowl games.

It's occurred to me that I have done a great deal of traveling over the past 365 days; more traveling, in fact, than I've ever done in any comparable one-year span of my life. Given that I used to spend the summers in Ecuador, it's actually somewhat remarkable.

On one hand, it's been a lot of fun. I've been able to experience different cultures in Japan and the Arab world, snow ski for only the third time in my life, relax on picturesque Caribbean beaches, sample different cuisines, practice my Spanish, and rack up frequent-flyer credits. On the other hand, it's also been a hassle. Much of the travel I've done over the past year has been business-related, which is not, by definition, pleasurable. Being eight thousand miles away from your wife and child for weeks at a time, as was the case during my trips to Dubai, creates at least some stress. Travel by plane - even for a short day trip to Dallas for a meeting - can be a hassle due to all the security procedures, especially now that most liquids are banned from carry-on items and need to be checked. There's always the possibility that the airline will lose your luggage, too. Tasks pile up while you're away from home: the yard doesn't get mowed, the leaky roof doesn't get fixed, your personal e-mail inbox fills up with 1,500 messages. And a hotel bed, comfortable though it might be, just isn't a substitute for your own bed.

But this is what I expected when I joined this company almost two years ago. I knew I was going to travel. And, to be honest, it's nice to get out of the local office every now and then, even if it only means that I'll be spending a few days at the office in Dallas or a few weeks at the office in Dubai. It's a change of pace, scenery and coworkers which I find refreshing.

My travels, for work and for pleasure, will continue. I'll need to be in Dallas again for another round of public meetings in early November. Thanksgiving plans have yet to be finalized but the possibility of another trip to New Braunfels exists. My company is working on a bid up in Chicago that I might get asked to particpate in (and, believe it or not, I've never in my life even been to Chicago!). If the Coogs manage to make it to another bowl game, I might make the trip. Lori is talking about a trip to Puerto Vallarta with my parents in January (although I don't know if I'll have enough time off saved up by then). Friends in places like Albany, Baltimore and Portland continually ask when I'll come visit. And the possibility that I'll get asked back out to Dubai is always there, as well.

Thus, my suitcases stay in the corner of the bedroom. There's no sense in storing them in the closet, because they won't stay in there for very long.

Like a Tupperware party, but a lot more fun

I'd be remiss if I didn't offer a shameless plug for Lori's new side venture as a "wine tasting consultant" for the direct-marketing arm of online wine retailer 1800WineShop. The holiday season is coming up and Lori is looking for people who want to host their own in-home wine-tasting parties.

The premise is simple: you invite a bunch of friends for a get-together, and Lori comes over with a selection of wines (both red and white) for you and your friends to sample, and if you like, purchase.

You don't even have to be a wine snob; as Lori serves various samples, she'll explain the "proper" way to taste wine, explain the differences between various wines, and suggest foods and recipies that go well with each wine.

The wines offered generally come from "boutique wineries" in California which produce in smaller quantities; these wines rarely make their way to the shelves of your neighborhood Spec's.

If you live in or around Houston and think you'd be interested in hosting a wine-tasting party of your own, check out Lori's page at www.tastewinehouston.com.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Back from a week at sea...

Okay, sorry for the lengthy delay between posts. The cruise ended last Saturday, but I've been busy since then (it's amazing how many tasks pile up when you've been away from home for over a month) and haven't had the chance to write until now. (The fact that Blogger's servers have been down for maintenance for much of the past couple of days hasn't helped, either.)

Anyway, our week aboard the Norwegian Dream was okay. Not horrible, but not spectacular, either. I think Lori and I both came to the conclusion over the course of the trip that being stuck on a big boat with 2,000 other people for a whole week just isn't the most exciting thing in the world after all.

To be fair, neither Lori nor myself (nor my parents, for that matter) really gave much thought to the possible problems that might befall a two-year-old on his first cruise and trip to Mexico. Saturday night, the seas in the Gulf of Mexico were very choppy. Kirby (like many other people on the boat, apparently; thankfully Lori and I took our Dramamine) got seasick and vomited all over Lori during dinner, which was not the nicest way to start a vacation. The seas weren't much smoother on Sunday, and Kirby was still vomiting and miserable. Lori finally had to take him down to the ship's infirmary to get some children's anti-nausea medication for him, and after that he seemed much better (it also helped that, for the rest of the week, the seas were generally much calmer). However, somewhere along the way Kirby picked up an intestinal ailment which caused him a severe (and rather messy) bout of diarrhea. Yuck! Kirby's perfectly fine now, and when we hasn't sick he did seem to be enjoying himself (there were toddler-oriented activities available on the ship that he could particpate in), but the amount of time we spent taking care of Kirby when he was not well certainly interfered with our overall enjoyment of the cruise.

I thought that the food, which was included in the price of the cruise, was very good. Norwegian's "Freestyle Cruising" arrangement means that nobody is assigned a "sitting time" to eat dinner; this was good in that we could eat whenever we felt like it but bad in that there was often a wait to get into certain restaurants. Drinks were rather expensive, but I imagine this is true for all cruises because that's where the money is made. On port-of-call days I managed to get around this by having my fill of beer on shore, where it was much less expensive. Otherwise, I was forced to pay $6 every time I wanted a Heineken or a Fosters. I also thought it was really lame that they didn't even serve free drinks in the on-board casino!

There was a variety of on-board activities and entertainment, but much of it seemed to be geared to seniors (which made sense, given that most of the passengers were of this age group) or to gamblers (there were daily bingo games in the lounge and nightly poker tournaments in the casino) and little of it appealed to Lori or myself. The magic show we watched one night was okay if you're still impressed by ossified stage standards such as the linking ring trick, the restored rope trick or the metamorphosis trick.

As for the three ports-of-call; I found Progreso (on the northern shore of the Yucatan Penninsula) to be the nicest. It was small, sunny and not "over-touristified" like other Yucatan beaches such as Cancun. Cozumel, on the other hand, was heavily touristified but still enjoyable; the five of us spent a day at the beach there and the white sands and blue waters of the "Mayan Riviera" really are hard to beat for their beauty. The third port-of-call, Belize City, was dirty, impoverished and rather unimpressive (I did, however, like the local Belikin Beer).

Some "experienced" passengers we spoke to were critical of the Norwegian Dream in relation to other newer, larger and more opulent vessels that they had been on. Having never been on a previous cruise, I had no frame of reference to go by, but I did get the sense that the ship had seen better days. Nevertheless, it was clean and the staff were prompt and friendly. Some people we spoke with said that they thought the staterooms were larger than on other ships, but Lori and I still found ours impossibly small (especially since much of the available space was taken up by Kirby's crib).

The last two days of the cruise were spent slowly crossing the Gulf of Mexico and were really rather boring. I slept for much of the time because there really wasn't much else to do. The ship docked at the Barbour's Cut Terminal (which is run by the Port of Houston Authority but is technically within the municipal limits of Morgan's Point) early Saturday morning, but it took several hours before we were finally allowed off. Fortunately, we arrived early enough such that we still had time to go home, drop off our luggage, and head out to Robertson Stadium for the afternoon tailgate and football game (where the Coogs snapped a three-game losing streak with a much-needed 34-17 win over UTEP).

I'm sure some people think that cruising is the greatest thing in the world. There were probably people aboard that ship that never bothered to get off the boat at even one of the ports-of-call. But I guess I'm just not one of those people. I just didn't experience any great sense of enjoyment from "being at sea" for the week. Lori wasn't too impressed, either. In fact, I think that, after waiting so long for what was supposed to be her big vacation of the year, she came away rather disappointed by the experience.

This is not to say that Lori and I will never take another cruise again in our lives. Nor is this to say that the cruise was a excruciatingly miserable experience, because it was not. But I think we've decided that we'd just prefer to make the two-hour flight to Mexico, spend a week on the beach, and make the two-hour flight back when the week's over. For us, the more important aspect of vacation travel is the destination, rather than the trip itself.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

In between travels...

Another long trip back from Dubai is complete. I have no problems or hassles to report this time; the security checkpoint at DXB flowed smoothly, the Emirates flight from DXB to JFK was not full and I had a whole row to myself (which meant that I got to stretch out a little bit and at least get some rest), the customs agents at JFK were quick and courteous, and JetBlue's in-flight DirecTV worked flawlessly this time, which meant I got to spend the leg from JFK to HOU watching the Boston College - Virginia Tech game on ESPN.

Maybe my next trip to Dubai will be a little easier. Delta apparently has plans to become the first US airline to serve Dubai via their hub at Atlanta Hartsfield, from which flights to both Houston airports are short and frequent. But I'd still prefer for either Emirates and Continental to begin non-stop service between IAH and DXB so I can avoid the transfer entirely.

But now, with business travel over, it's time for some leisure travel. In a few minutes, Lori, Kirby and I are going to accompany my mom and my dad on a drive out to the Norwegian Cruise Line terminal at Barbour's Cut (where the Houston Ship Channel empties into Galveston Bay). From there, it's a week-long cruise with scheduled stops in Progreso and Cozumel in the Mexican Yucatan and Belize City (which means I get to add another nation to my list of countries I've visited). I've never been on a cruise before, so to say I am looking forward to this trip is an understatement. The same is true for Lori; this is her big vacation of the year and she's been literally counting down the days for the past two months.

I'm not sure what kind of internet access will be available from the ship, so I might not be providing any updates until after I get back on the 21st.

Bon Voyage...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Goodbye, Dubai

Well, my work here is done. I'll be flying back to the United States in a few hours.

I'm looking foward to going home and seeing Lori and Kirby again. I'm looking forward to sleeping in my own bed again. And, I'm looking forward to the week-long cruise to Cozumel and Belize that Lori, Kirby, my parents and I are planning to go on this Saturday.

Originally, the plan was for me to return here after the cruise and stay until mid-November. However, the staffing plans for this project have changed and my presence here in Dubai will no longer be needed.

And I'm not complaning. Between this trip, the August trip and the January trip, I have spent a total of nine weeks (give or take a few days) in Dubai this year. That's a lot of time to be away from home, and it gets old after awhile. I can only begin to understand what it must be like for our members of the armed forces that are required to be in places like Iraq, way from their homes and their families, for a year or even more at a time.

Not that I have anything against Dubai. This is a fascinating place to be, with its mix of cultures and its mind-boggling growth and development. I have a feeling that this trip won't be my last visit here by any means. But being away from home and family for weeks at a time takes its toll, and I miss being in Houston during the fall (which is my favorite time of year).

This evening I attended my company's annual Iftar buffet at a nearby hotel. Iftar is, of course, the sunset dinner that breaks the Ramadan fast. It was an enjoyable experience, and I was able to say goodbye to a lot of people I've worked with over the past several weeks. It was a fitting way for me to end my trip.

I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the folks here at the Rihab Rotana Suites who have taken such good care of me over the last couple of months. If you ever plan on traveling to Dubai, I recommend staying here.

Anyway, it's time for me to pack, shower and get ready to go to the airport. I'll try to post another entry once I get home, but if you don't hear from me for the next week or so it will because I'm somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico.

Ramadan Kareem.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


That's all I can say about the Cougars' 31-28 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette last Saturday.

But, honestly, I'm not surprised. Angry? Certainly. Disappointed. Of course. But surprised, as in shocked, as in I never in my wildest dreams thought the Coogs could ever lose to ULL? Nope.

To tell the truth, I was worried about this game from the start of the season. I knew that Rickey Bustle was beginning to turn things around over there in Acadiana and that the Cajuns were no longer the bottomfeeders they've been in the past. I knew that Jerry Babb was a pretty competent quarterback and the Cajuns had a pretty solid running game. I understood that ULL had marked a circle around this game at the beginning of the season because they (correctly, as it turns out) thought that this was a winnable game against an opponent from an conference that's a bit higher up the ladder than the Sun Belt. And I realized that this game had "trap" written all over it for the Coogs, given its location between Miami and Southern Miss. And, while I honestly wasn't expecting a loss, I did feel that this game was very "loseable." So, when I woke up Sunday morning and saw the score, I moaned with disgust but then nodded my head and said "yep, not surprising."

I (obviously) didn't get to see the game, in fact I only followed the first quarter before I had to get at least a few hours of sleep; so I'm really not prepared to analyze this game. I don't know how the Coogs blew a three-touchdown lead. I don't know why the Coogs only ran the ball for 38 yards. I don't know why the defense couldn't stop ULL's ground attack. I don't know how focused or unfocused this team actually was. What I do know is that the Coogs manage to blow a game to an inferior opponent (see SMU last year) at least once a year. And this happened to be it.

I don't want to take away anything from Louisiana - Lafayette. They wanted the game more than the Coogs did and they deserved to win. I think they are the best team in the Sun Belt right now and I think they will likely end up the conference champion and go to the New Orleans Bowl. Congratulations are in order for the players as well as Rickey Bustle and his coaching staff.

But you're just not going to convince me that ULL has better athletic talent than UH.

I'm also a bit disappointed about the attendance, but not surprised by any means. It just says something we already know about the reaction of the UH fan base (what there is of it) to a loss the previous week as well as a "non-marquee" opponent. I thought we'd get somewhere close to 20,000; we got 17,543, which is still better than any crowd we had at Robertson last year and, unfortunately, is probably going to be larger than any crowd we'll see for the remainder of this season unless UTEP travels a lot of fans. But the small crowd can't be used as an excuse as to why the Coogs lost this game.

Is this the worst loss in the history of UH football, as some extremely angry fans on certain UH message boards have declared? Probably not. Upsets happen. It's part of the game; just ask Auburn (whose #2 ranking and championship aspirations evaporated after their 27-10 lost to Arkansas last Saturday). On any given Saturday, anything can happen and that's one of the things that makes college football the exciting sport that it is.

I've come to accept that this is but one instance in a long line of the Cougars blowing it to an inferior opponent. It's happened too many times before, and it will happen many times again. This loss does, however, say that the Coogs just aren't as good as a lot of the UH faithful would like to believe. Even in 2006, the season that was supposed to be "the year" for Art Briles and his experienced team, the Cougars are still a medicore, inconsistent program that has yet to "turn the corner." They still have not cultivated a killer instinct.

So what's going to happen next week? Who knows? I actually think that the Coogs will get up for the upcoming game against Southern Miss in Hattiesburg (where they've never won) and put up a fight against the Golden Eagles. Hey, they might even win. But rest assured that more losses are waiting on the horizon, and the Cougars are probably good for one more letdown game this season, perhaps against UCF or Memphis. The Coogs will probably end the regular season with 7 or 8 wins and get trounced in another second-tier bowl game.

Would you be surprised? I wouldn't.

The University of North Texas, meanwhile, notched their second win of the season with a 25-22 victory over Florida International. It took a record-tying seven overtimes to resolve the game; both teams missed four field goals a piece in the extra frames. But it goes in the win column, and right now the Mean Green will take any victories they can get.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Would you like some potatoes with your potatoes?

Tonight I went to the bustling Deira City Centre mall near my hotel to get something to eat.

The sign in front of the La Gaufrette Cafe on the first level was advertising this evening's set menu as chicken, potato croquettes and a vegetable. It sounded good, so I took a seat and ordered the set menu.

And what did the "vegetable" turn out to be?

French fries.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Local sports musings

Last weekend was a busy weekend for the Houston sports scene. It started Saturday afternoon, when the Coogs traveled to the Orange Bowl to face a reeling but still potent Miami squad. The Coogs tried valiantly to score the upset win (they were two-touchdown underdogs) but came away with a disheartening 13-14 loss.

Due to the time difference, I was unable to follow the game. When I woke up and saw the score, my reaction was, "wow, the Coogs only lost to Miami by one point - at the Orange Bowl, no less." However, after reading the game stories as well as the multitude of posts on various UH fan message boards, I learned just how close the Coogs came to pulling off the victory. If Jackie Battle hadn't fumbled inside the Miami ten, if Donnie Avery hadn't dropped a sure touchdown pass, if the defense hadn't given up a 3rd and 24 to Miami, if the referees hadn't screwed up what was an obvious Miami fumble, if the Coogs had fewer penalties... Maybe it's a good thing I wasn't able to follow the game or I'd be much more upset about what could have been.

But that's just it: a program like Houston simply cannot afford to make mistakes against a team of Miami's caliber and expect to win. The Hurricanes' 1-2 record going into the game was a bit misleading, with losses to Florida State and Louisville; they're still a premier program with a great deal of physical talent. That the Coogs only lost by a point, rather than by a three-touchdown blowout (and I still remember the heartbreaking 40-10 debacle of 1991 that signaled the end of the Run and Shoot era) speaks volumes about how far the UH football program has progressed under Art Briles.

Now the Coogs need to put their disappointment behind them and get well with a victory over Louisiana-Lafayette this weekend.

Meanwhile, the Rice Owls notched their first win of the season, a 48-14 rout of Army at West Point. The win was an emotional one for the Owls, who were reeling from the sudden death of freshman defensive back Dale Lloyd earlier in the week. Having completed their murderous non-conference slate of UCLA, Texas and Florida State, the Owls look towards conference play with the hope that the future is brighter for them than the past.

On Sunday, the Texans gained a bit of local revenge on the city of Miami by defeating the Dolphins 17-15 for their first win of the season. The game was on TV here in Dubai, so I was able to watch it; I'm not sure why the NFL allowed a matchup of two teams as bad as the Texans and the Dolphins to be broadcast across the planet for the entire world to see, but I wasn't complaining. Much-maligned #1 draft pick Mario Williams finally showed something, picking up one and a half sacks and disrupting a Miami two-point conversion to preserve the win.

Then there's the Astros, whose bid for a third-straight postseason berth ended on Sunday, the last day of the season, with a 3-1 loss to Atlanta. I have to give props to the Astros for not quitting when they easily could have played out the string on a disappointing season. They won 10 of their last 12 games of the season and that, along with an epic meltdown by the St. Louis Cardinals, almost put the 'Stros atop the NL Central and into the playoffs. Almost, but not quite.

It just wasn't the Astros' year. Among other things, their lack of offensive production (the team's .255 batting average is dead last in the National League) and shaky relief pitching made for a mediocre season and it was just too much to expect them to pull off a miracle and make it into the playoffs for the third consecutive year. They end the season with an 82-80 record and second place in their division.

The Houston Dynamo, meanwhile, punched their ticket to the MLS playoffs with a 1-0 victory over DC United at Robertson Stadium.

Returning to college football for a moment and focusing on the Metroplex, the Mean Green's offensive woes continue. North Texas was shut out by Middle Tennessee State, 35-0, at Fouts Field last Saturday. And remember last week ago when I said that I wouldn't bet against TCU going undefeated and crashing the BCS party in January? Well, I'm glad I didn't bet on them doing so, either. The Horned Frogs' dreams of doing so came to an end after a 31-17 home loss to Brigham Young. The loss knocked TCU out of the top 25 in both polls.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Construction fatigue?

According to the Dubai Informer blog, the concrete skeleton of pyramid-shaped, 257-room Raffles Hotel near the Wafi City Mall has been completed and is on its way to its spring 2007 completion date. Since the Raffles hotel is near my office, I'm somewhat familiar with this project. This is what the Raffles hotel looks like right now; the concrete structure might be completed, but there's a long way to go before it opens.

The story about another luxury hotel in Dubai, however, isn't what caught my attention; instead, the negative comments on the blog post from "screwed_mind" were rather interesting:

Perhaps fantesizing about skyscrapers is way better than wasting hours of your life in Shaikh Zayed Road's traffic on a daily basis. Ironically, most of the traffic is caused by all construction madness that is named "My Vision" by some! [...] Perhaps the best thing I can do is to wave at all these concrete monsters with the happiest smile ever on my face while taking off from Dubai International Airport.

Although it's easy to dismiss the rants of one angry commenter, these comments are illustrative of what I sense is "construction fatigue" among some residents of this rapidly-growing city. The city's existing infrastructure is increasingly overloaded as more people move to Dubai and more projects get underway. Housing is still scarce and expensive. Traffic is getting worse on a daily basis. Even projects such as the Dubai Metro, new creek crossings and road widenings which will improve the city's mobility in the long term add to traffic headaches in the short term as lanes are blocked and routes are detoured. Frustration is a natural reaction as peoples' day-to-day lives become aguably more difficult amidst all the bulldozers, construction cranes and cement trucks, and I've heard some people openly wonder if the city will actually be able to accomodate all the residents, businesses and tourists all this new development is expected to attract.

Any city, especially a city growing as quickly as Dubai, is going to experience growing pains. But it's fair to ask: does there come a point when this "construction madness" begins to become an overall detractor rather an an attractor? Will there come a time when people and businesses begin avoiding Dubai, citing the headaches and hassles caused by the frenzy of development and growth? Like so many other things about this fascinating city under construction, only time will tell.

More Dubai pictures

Yesterday I took the Big Bus Tour of Dubai, which is a really good way to see the city:

Dhows being unloaded at the Dhow Wharfage along the Deira side of Dubai Creek. These vessels carry goods to and from other parts of the Middle East as well as India and Pakistan. Larger vessels dock at Dubai's two main ports, Port Rashid and Port Jebel Ali. The smaller dhows continue to use the traditional wharfs alongside the creek.

The Burj al Arab pokes up from behind the Madinat Jumeirah. I'd love to stay at either of these places one of these days, but right now they're both just a little out of my budget range.

Condominium towers under construction along the Dubai Marina. The lagoon is man-made.

Another cluster of high-rises under construction along Sheikh Zayed Road. These towers are part of the ambitious Business Bay development.