Thursday, March 30, 2017


Last year, I posted the text of my March Madness basketball challenge here. I decided not to this year, in part because I enjoy the medium and context of the emails. I also enjoy the update-driven format of letting people know their scores in our competition. But mostly, I enjoy the community and the chance to make goofy observations about the almost-embarrassing amount of time I put into the tournament.

A central figure in my tournament emails for the last eight (!) years has been Clark Kellogg. I used to laugh at Clark Kellogg, but over time I've come to really like him. He has a ready wit, is generous and kind with people, even on Twitter, and fearlessly (and sometimes hilariously) provides his commentary on the games. His work became an early jump-off point for me to make some jokes, perhaps in part because I was trying to make sports more important than they really are. Still, over time, my appreciation for Clark Kellogg has grown into a sincere fondness. We've never met, but I'm pretty sure even if he read the jokes I've made about him, he would roll with it and continue being himself. I'm thankful for the tournament and the connection it allows me with my friends. And I'm thankful for Clark Kellogg, who occupies a special place in my basketball-loving heart. Below are some of my longer Kellogg-centered comments over the last 8 years of facilitating a bracket challenge among my friends.
Clark Kellogg used the following phrases in just one broadcast today (Big 10 Championship):
  • "Agitating to ecstasy."
  • "That's what penetration will get you."
  • "You've got to worry then about the pseudo-penetration."
  • "He's working hard and deserves a blow."
  • "You have to protect yourself against their spurtability."
  • And, as far as I can tell, Clark Kellogg coined the word "valutility" today.

Clark Kellogg's insight today included the observation that California has a losing record when its shooting percentage is lower than its opponent's. He later referred to a player getting "a lower-body root canal."  My imagination has done horrible things with that image in the hours since I heard it.

Who else brought it? Clark Kellogg brought it:
  • During the Baylor-St. Mary's game, talking about an old school coach: "He's older than tweeting. Older than this twittering age we live in." The Twitter allusion works as a clever comment on the coach's age and a wry comment on the perfunctory communication modern man engages in. Kellogg is adding his distinct voice to the postmodern heteroglossia of Twitter.
  • On a player fouling out: "He's been Dairy Queened." His pedestrian explanation to Jim Nantz that he was creatively saying "DQ'd for disqualified," was just being modest. "He's been Dairy Queened" is a much richer and more insightful comment than it appears. It's a clear appeal to our collective subconscious and our oneiric archetype of the Dairy Queen experience. When do we go? For a treat. When do we get a treat? When our game is done. When is your game done? When you foul out. Jim Nantz might as well have been working the game with T.S. Eliot last night.

Clark Kellogg pulled his "Dairy Queened" line out again today, and I'm beginning to wonder if it's product placement. Earlier, during a sequence involving free throws, he said "You don't always have to get the best parking spot at the mall, just take the one that's available." While that's good advice, its connection to the game was lost on me.

I leave you with this, from today's Big 10 Championship game, Clark Kellogg: "One more thing to consider: the mental, and the emotional, and the physical fatigue he's feeling from being tired."

Clark Kellogg talks more about penetration that anyone on television. He bragged about coining "pseudo-penetration" as a term during the Big 10 championship. He picked it up again during UALR-UNC-Asheville: "That's incomplete penetration. Just enough to need a little help." He's sure to squeeze a little more in tomorrow.

When Doron Lamb hit back-to-back threes in the second half, Kentucky fans were excited, the Superdome was rocking, and Clark Kellogg was inspired to say "Ohhh! He just threw some dust in the air filter." Read that again: "He just threw some dust in the air filter." I've decided to make this part of my regular phraseology. A few ideas:

"I've had good frittata before, but this is truly dust in the air filter."

"Yo, you were doing your thing in the bridge tournament."
"Just throwing some dust in the air filter."

"Your perennials are a joy. We're so glad you're part of the Garden Club."
"Thanks very much. Just trying to do my part. You know, throw some dust in the air filter."

"I've been nervous to say this to you before, because I've never felt like this before, but when we're together, it's . . . it's . . . dust in the air filter."

Clark Kellogg is awesome.
  • At one point last night, he said "Keep your head out of the popcorn." I would give you the context, but there wasn't any. I choose to take it as advice I can't yet appreciate.
  • During the aforementioned offensive drought by Michigan St., he sagely noted "They're going to need shots to drop if they're going to come back." Taoist.
  • He noted a couple of times that Duke's defense was "Saran Wrap tight." Clark Kellogg is better at Saran Wrap than I am.

My formerly-ironic love for Clark Kellogg may be turning into un-ironic wonder at his almost-performance-art commentary. I wish Steve Kerr wasn't on the broadcast, because he seems to inhibit Kellogg's more space-cadet-worthy contributions. All too often, Kerr corrects Kellogg on replay, as if we are defined by external limits of objective truth and reality. And Jim Nantz? Meh. My favorite Kellogg moments from last night:
  • When Wichita State's pace seemed to frustrate Louisville's hapless offense, Kellogg offered "Unless Louisville can speed this game up, Wichita St. will keep doing what they're doing." You might think this is redundant, but read it to yourself again--it's as clear and profound as introductory physics. If Stephen Hawking were calling the game, he would say things like this.
  • Malcolm Armstead had a tough game against Louisville. At one point, though, he spun his way up the court, almost losing the ball. Extra spins meant extra prefixes for Kellogg, who succinctly described Armstead's effort: "He did a nice job to re-retrieve it."
  • Michigan was up 8 points with three minutes to go. Kellogg opined "If you're Michigan, your instinct is to ride with the parking brake on." At first I rejected this idea. That would never be anyone's instinct. But I've thought about it a lot. Here's my theory: a) Michigan is famous in part for its contribution to the auto industry. b) Improvements in car quality may have seriously reduced the need for auto mechanics. c) Riding with the parking brake on could stimulate the service economy necessary to maintain Detroit's most famous export. To conclude, I think Clark Kellogg was tying together our tendency to be careful with precarious leads and note the Wolverines' empathetic stance on our national shift from a manufacturing economy to a service economy.

Clark Kellogg was a little muted, but he said one thing that resonated with me:
  • During a frenetic stretch during the first half, he exploded "You'd better keep your head up and stay out the kitchen. This one is full throttle." I don't have anything to add at this time, but I hope you'll keep it in mind

I told you how disappointed I was that Clark Kellogg had been demoted to the studio. That's why I was giddy last night. FINALLY: Clark Kellogg, from the studio, breaking down the first half of the Dayton Stanford game: "Dayton has the ability with its reversible-clothing type players, inside and out to give Stanford all they can take."
  • Read it again. "Dayton has the ability with its reversible-clothing type players, inside and out to give Stanford all they can take." On the surface, it only says "Dayton has the ability to compete equally with Stanford." The richness of Kelloogg's work lies in the imagery and levels of language: I've had two concepts blended in my mind for the first time: reversible clothing (neutral for temperature) and modifiable clothing (for adapting to temperature changes). I've become enamored of the concept. Kellogg could make a Kickstarter campaign for reversible zip-off pants. I would buy some. Just like I buy the basketball players that they necessarily call to mind.
  • Product potential aside, don't miss the balanced, evocative language of reversible: inside/out & give/take. This is composition, friends. Underestimate Clark Kellogg at your peril.

Clark Kellogg, during the selection show, cautioned America that Wichita St. is not to be overlooked. His words, exactly, were "They've been flying below the radar screen." This novel take on the cliche "flying under the radar" tweaked my brain. It shifted the action of the metaphor from the world of aviation to Hank Pym territory. To Wayne Szalinski territory. Because really, flying under radar is high-level military-grade subterfuge, but flying under the radar screen challenges your perception of physics and relativity. No joke, I was up at 2:48 this morning thinking about "flying under the radar screen" (and I have the Fitbit data to prove it).
  • [Mission Control]
  • "Can you see them on radar, Corporal?"
  • "No sir."
  • "Might they be flying under our radar?"
  • "I can't imagine how. We've --OHMYGOD THEY'RE UNDER THE SCREEN THEY'RE IN THE BUILDING THEY'R--" [scene]

I'm increasingly convinced Clark Kellogg is communicating in code in a way normal mortals can't understand. His use of quotation marks alone makes me suspicious that there's more going on than we're aware of.
  • Kellogg, on Villanova's blowout of Iowa, said "In our house, we call that a woodshed, whether it's Word Streak or Words With Friends." Um ,OK. There's not even a vague mention of basketball there. At all. But let's dig deeper
    • 'Woodshed' would have a base score of 15 in Words With Friends (16 in Scrabble).
    • Depending on your luck with double/triple letter and word tiles, adjacent letters, and on whether you played all your tiles for 'woodshed' (bingo!), you could possible score 54, 33, or 87, which were Villanova's 1st half, 2nd half, and final scores, respectively. This is Kellogg at his best. Subtle, but with depth that rewards effort.

You guys know I love Clark Kellogg, and this tweet is a good example of his clever facility with English: In case you can't click the link: "Purloins late . . . means . . . Joy for Irish" is the base sentence. At first glance, Kellogg seems to be pluralizing "purloin" (a verb) as a replacement for "steal" (usually a noun in this instance). "OK, so he's got a Thesaurus app on his phone," you say. But nobody uses purloin as a verb. Instead (stay with me a minute here), since "means" is also a singular verb in the tweet, both of these verbs share an implied, singular subject: an "Irishman." By suggesting an Irishman who gets joy from thievery, Kellogg is obviously tossing a subtle allusion to Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal," in which Irish people are ironically characterized as base, immoral people through the lens of an oppressive English gentleman. The analogy created here suggests English Protestants are to Irish Catholics as the NCAA is to College athletes. In less than 140 characters, Kellogg deftly implies the bulk of the NCAA-as-paternalistic-sharecroppers argument. That he does it from the belly of the Tournament Beast only confirms it may be the singular moment of speaking truth to power we've seen in this year's tourney.

Without explanation or preview, this happened on CBS Saturday. It was absurd, even more so because there was no warning or clear inspiration for it. I can only imagine the production meeting before the show:
  • Producer #1: "We've got 4 minutes to fill."
  • Producer #2: "Let's go back to the touchscreen."
  • Producer #1: "Please don't ever suggest that again. Maybe a remote interview?"
  • Producer #2: "Too cliche'. We need something innovative."
  • Producer #3: [snorts as he wakes from Wisconsin-induced nap] "No! Um, tangled, the. .. the strings are tangled THE PUPPETS are, uh . . . what?"
  • Producer #1: "Genius! Call the puppet guys!"
Clark Kellogg explained the puppet show by saying "Innovation happens when ideas collide; somebody had a crazy idea of collision with these puppets being us. And here we are." I don't think he was talking about basketball; he's exploring metaphysics. He's talking about all of us, and the statistical improbability that we get the chance to share this world together at this exact moment. Somebody [beyond our control and fundamentally unknown to us] had a crazy idea [creation] with these puppets [a shared form that can be perceived with 5 senses] being us. And here we are. Exactly: And here we are.

Most of you know my love for Clark Kellogg. He is, whether intentionally or not, the TS Eliot of college basketball. I wish he could call every game.
  • He has repeatedly referred to college basketball players being "brain neutral." This two-word combo has become my own personal Banach-Tarsky paradox. I don't know if brain neutral is good or bad. Sometimes I think it's an asset to be brain neutral. Other times, I'm convinced it's what keeps us from excelling. Am I "brain neutral" as I type this? I don't even know. As soon as you contemplate "brain neutral," you no longer are.
  • A related linguistic subversion happened during the University of New Orleans-Mt. St. Mary's "First Four" game Tuesday night. Travin Thibodeaux (the most Louisiana name in the tourney) almost choked out a teammate after a costly turnover. Kellogg's comment was "They're getting closing to dropping hands there." At first, I thought he was misstating the slang "throwing hands" for fighting. But "dropping hands" is an even richer phrase. And the team that was in danger of dropping hands is known as UNO. UNO. As in, "draw four" -- the "First Four drawn" -- drop your hand in UNO and you lose all possibility of the sneak-attack Reverse-Skip-Draw-Two combo you have waiting for Grandma. UNO, you lose. You lose, UNO. How could that be accidental?

At halftime of the Wisconsin game, Clark Kellogg annotated a layup highlight by saying "Khalil Iverson: bouncing toward ecstasy." At first, I thought it was odd to give an implicit allusion to a record famous for overwrought emotional appeal. Then this guy had a key chase-down block on Iverson. Kellogg's comment was prescient. We can all be sure Mclachlan wrote this song with moments like Iverson's in mind.

At halftime, CBS brought the puppets back. In an already surreal segment on picking a new favorite for the tourney, Puppet Clark Kellogg said "Hashtag [PENTAB]," then explained he was picking Gonzaga. He finished by clarifying the acronym: "Pick Another Team Day in America." By normal acronym standards, this should have been "hashtag PATDA." That's not what he said. Guys, I'm pretty sure Clark is trying to tell me something, but I just can't find it.

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