posted: Aug. 3, 2005  |  Feedback

Just as a heads-up, this "More Cowbell" space is going to be used for recommendations, brief postings, quick reactions, "The Book of the Week Club" and so on ... we just finished customizing the blog so it's easy to use. Hope you enjoy it over the next few months. As I wrote before, I'm going to spend the vast majority of my time working on columns, but this page can be useful for all the fringe ideas/rants/reviews that need a home somewhere -- some of them will be longer, some of them will be shorter, and some of them will be in the middle (like today's post). And occasionally, like with yesterday's Manny post, one of those rants can be blown out into something a little more substantial.

Anyway, some quick recommendations on a Tuesday afternoon ...

• Had a chance to play both "NCAA Football 2006" (recently released) and "Madden 2006" (coming out next week).

The NCAA game features two major changes -- the one I liked was the "Race for the Heisman" mode, in which you can create a player from scratch, stick him in drills to establish his "ratings," sign with a college, and then you play that school for his entire college career and try to win the Heisman with him (with a wrinkle where you can transfer him to "Madden 2006" and have him drafted by an NFL team.) Immediately, I created a scrambling quarterback named "Billy Simmons," signed with Northwestern (they had No. 33 available) and started wreaking havoc in the Big Ten as a freshman quarterback. By the way, I have a wife, a kid and a mortgage. But I liked this feature, it's strangely entertaining.

The one I didn't like: They added an "in the zone" feature where an offensive player can make a few good plays, then he goes "in the zone" and basically turns into Forest Whitaker in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." What is this, "NBA Jam"? Since when was a running back breaking 35 tackles on one play considered to be a realistic turn of events? Sometimes I think they overthink these things. Overall, it doesn't play much different from the old game, so unless you want to win the Heisman with (fill in your name here) or you care about the updated rosters (and many people do, including me) -- save your money if you're broke.

Two other things I liked: The soundtrack (fantastic) and the practice drills (it's especially fun to practice the wishbone for some reason).

(One note to the "NCAA 2006" people: Can't you add the Patriot League to your list of available conferences? Would that kill you? It would take five minutes. Then I could play for Holy Cross and thrash Lehigh and Lafayette, just like the good old days before the administration killed every sports program but men's and women's basketball. No, I'm not bitter.)

As for the "Madden" game, what can you say? Just having the updated rosters alone makes it worth the money, although they added one feature that I hated (repeat: hated) -- this passing cone where you can only throw to receivers in your quarterback's specific line of vision. Translation: You can't run the Geoff Gallo offense anymore, where you sprint 10 yards backward, run around and heave the ball downfield right before getting sacked. Now you have to designate a specific receiver, look to his side of the field, and then, if he's not open, press a series of buttons to find another open receiver. Or, you can just heave it to someone outside your vision spectrum, which is a bad idea because those passes aren't accurate. See where I'm going here? This is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too complicated. This device was the equivalent of the Manny near-trade -- why mess with something that was already working? Fortunately, you can turn it off.

Two good things about "Madden 2006": First, they have a "superstar" mode that plays out just like the "Race for the Heisman" -- create a guy, have him sign with someone, then build him into a superstar. (Note: I didn't really explore this one because I was too busy starting a "franchise" season with the three-time champs. Also, I don't think you should have a feature like this unless there are variables like "You just got suspended for four games for using HGH" and "Remember when your posse member stabbed that guy at the nightclub? Well, you just got released because of it.") Second, this could be the most dominating Patriots roster yet -- the defense is awesome; Brady and Dillon are great; they're deep at receiver; and you can sign Tedy Bruschi off the waiver wire, plug him in at middle linebacker and pretend he's active this season. That's worth the money right there.

My favorite "Madden 2006" moment of my season so far: In Week 3 at Pittsburgh, the champs rolled off a 17-0 lead and dominated the entire game ... then the Steelers scored a late touchdown while I was in Cover 2, followed by a recovered onside kick and another cheap touchdown with 10 seconds left. You know, just enough to make the score look closer than it was ... in other words, it was just like any other Pats-Steelers game! I love when that happens. Too bad they didn't incorporate a "Deer in the headlights" feature for Ben Roethlisberger.

• Speaking of the New City of Champions, if you're a Red Sox fan, the 12-DVD set of the 2004 playoffs is simply incredible. For instance, I haven't watched Game 4 or Game 5 of the ALCS since they happened ... you can't even imagine how many ways the Yankees nearly won those games until you watch the unedited telecast again. I also enjoyed the extras, especially the footage of Johnny Pesky standing in the clubhouse and greeting each player as he ran into the locker room after Game 4 of the World Series, and Wakefield standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium well after the game (and breaking down). This goes beyond a keepsake -- it's absolutely a Deserted Island DVD for Sox fans (you know, if you were forced to live on a deserted island and had to take five DVDs and only five).

Best moment: Seeing Millar's walk and Roberts' steal in Game 4. It's incredible to watch again in real time, and I have it cued up to replace every Alex Cora at-bat for the rest of the 2005 season.

Best extra: Each of the DVD cases for the 11 games has the box score and play-by-play for each inning written on the case. Especially useful if you're fast-forwarding for things like "What inning did Tony Clark hit that ground-rule double?" or "When did Damon hit the grand slam?"

Most annoying moment: The Fox announcers slanting everything toward Red Sox history and away from the Yankees' brewing collapse in Games 5-7 ... it's outrageous to hear them after the fact and actually made me swear at one point. They just couldn't stop playing the "When will the other shoe drop? What can go wrong?" angle. I wish I could say more, but I'm being electroshocked by my editors right now.

Craziest extra: Millar doing the "You better watch out, you don't want us to win Game 4" routine during the ALCS as a giggling Dan Shaughnessy writes everything down. High comedy for some reason.

Weirdest wrinkle: For whatever reason, they included the first three games of the ALCS over all three games from the Angels series. Considering that the people purchasing this DVD will be 100 percent Red Sox fans, why include three agonizing losses that none of those customers would ever watch? Anyway, I figured out the answer, and it's a genius move on their part -- you can take out those three DVDs and mail them to one of your friends who is a Yankee fan with a note ...


Hope all is well ... I won't be needing these, thought you might enjoy them.

PS: These make terrific coasters for drinks.

In fact, I need to go ... I have to send a package to my Uncle Ricky ...

August 2005