Cliff Pfenning's blog

On sports, films and hackers

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 12:40pm
Cliff Pfenning
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What a day for news Tuesday was. It was all about death across the world: Sydney, Pakistan, a lone gunman in Pennsylvania. Death and terrorism - the biggest threat focused on such a simple thing as a movie.

How can a movie be dangerous? Well, movies involve creativity and expression, and those things are viewed as more dangerous than bullets in parts of the world. And, they involve theaters, where people congregate to watch those movies. That got me to thinking about what dangers there are in simply going to a game: Timbers, Blazers, Winterhawks … heck a high school girls basketball game.

We all live with the threat that a terrorist(s) could target an event to create havoc and death for their social cause. Or someone might just be having a really bad day because of the person you're sitting next to that you don't even know. We live with it, and it should be a source of national pride that it doesn't affect our daily life.

As a sports fan, it's hard to take the recent hacking of Sony Films and it's potential affect on American life without a spirited response, especially these days in which athletes use their place within society to comment on social issues.

The film industry is a vital part of America, and should be recognized that way. Movies provides social commentary - in a thought-provoking way when they're done right. "Dr. Strangelove," for instance, showed the world what a nuclear attack might do to the world in 1964, and it was a comedy. The U.S. had hundreds of nuclear missiles to counter the Soviet Union's hundreds of missiles, but if they ever got used it would be the worst event the world had ever seen. Took a couple decades, but both sides realized that, and have worked to avoid that possibility by dismantling hundreds of nuclear weapons.

"To Live and Die in LA," showed off how Islamic terrorists might try and kill the President in 1985, and the key motivation for that was the U.S. support for Israel, which can easily be looked at as the most heated issue to any lasting peace with the Islamic world. It's almost 30 years after the movie premiered, and that issue still hasn't changed.

"Wag the Dog" includes a scene with Robert DeNiro talking about the future of war - that it wouldn't involve large armies, but small groups of terrorists. That was 1997. Following the 9-11 attack in 2001, the U.S. got its large armies into action in Afghanistan and Iraq, but all that did was de-stabilize those nations, and kill thousands of people. It's two decades after the movie, and the biggest threat to world peace is small groups of terrorists - and they can be created by national governments. North Korea is far more dangerous today without ever moving its army outside its borders.

"No Country for Old Men" has a marvelous soliloquy by Tommy Lee Jones at the start of the film about how sheriffs in past decades didn't wear guns to patrol their citizens. That was 2007. Society today has a significant focus on how sheriffs and police officers seem to react to so many situations with a gun drawn first or with a show of force regardless of whether a suspect is doing anything. It's the source of national protests these days.

In the sports world, "Rocky" showed off how an underdog can succeed purely on raw ambition and hard work. That was in 1976. Every high school freshman should be made to watch the movie.

When 9-11 happened one of my first thoughts on how the U.S. should react was to do basically nothing, other than perhaps create an elite force of commandos to infiltrate the area where the Taliban was located and remove the people most responsible for the attack. No one needed to know about it, either.

The government response would be to simply go about life as usual, and put a lot more money into supporting hybrid automotive technology. No armies, just a resolution that terror wouldn't affect the nation, and that further terror wouldn't affect the nation. People would still go to work in office buildings as usual, go to sporting events in stadiums as usual, go to movies in theaters as usual. That's exactly what's happened, too, other than the government getting the military involved for a rationale that can be looked at as another Vietnam. Billions spent, thousands killed, nothing truly accomplished. That's 40 years later, too.

Sony Pictures hasn't made a public comment yet, but one I'd like to read involves something of an apology to its workers, and commitment not to alter its movie-production methods. As for all the leaked e-mails and movie information? The new James Bond flick is way over budget - the first film to ever be over budget? Kevin Hart apparently wanted to get paid more for a film for promoting it on Twitter. That's news? It leaked the finale of one film, too. Most films are based on novels, which … anyone not know how "The Hobbit" ends? All they're really doing with the release of movie stuff is promoting movie stuff. As for the company e-mails, maybe that will result in executives writing better e-mails, as though they might get read by someone from North Korea. Basically, be nicer and there won't be any news.

Taking the threats with no response has limits, though. The best public response could be economic for Sony, and social for North Korea. Sony could recognize the issues involved with showing the film in theaters and simply send the movie straight to DVD - with a purpose. Since the film is far more well-known to the public since the hacking, it's going to have a wider audience and involves public recognition for freedom of expression. More people are likely to buy the movie on DVD, or pay for it via their cable provider. Heck, a social movement might come with promoting an international "North Korean Film Festival." Celebrate North Korea's independence by viewing "The Interview" on a specific weekend.

As for a social response, the only thing North Korea's government really has to take away is it's control of the populace. That's control of everything, including the media. There's only one channel, and surely it can be hacked - perhaps with some unique programming. Say, adult in nature. Every night at 7 p.m., North Koreans get a minute or two or even just a few seconds of some Western visuals, prompting national discourse on … whether the public should be watching television at 7 p.m. "But, honey the news is on at 7."

Of course, that would be responding to terrorism. But, it would be through capitalism and social means. A social mission in the U.S. might be to ensure "The Interview" makes a profit. Producers then respond with a series of movies involving social unrest in North Korea: say, an elite group of nerds located in Tuscaloosa, Ala., hacks into North Korea's way of life and sparks a rebellion that causes the military to revolt and brings down the government. (Along the way, they find romance with their female counterparts in North Korea who use their guile and good looks to empower the nation's generals.) Sounds like an independent film to me, one funded through Kickstarter. And, premiered during the North Korean Film Festival.

North Korea - middle finger from American society. No government or military involvement, just creative ambition.

If this reads kind of mean, it's how the sports world works, isn't it. Just ideas on how one side is going to empose its will on the competition.

Terrorism is like a cancer on society, and this hacking of Sony could be an instigator for America to step forward in combatting it. Remember Livestrong? It could be restarted, and re-tasked to promote international awareness and unity against terrorism.

Terrorism exists, and it's not going away without society finding a unified voice to say it doesn't work. We all play a role in that by attending sporting events, even with some reservations a threat of terrorism exists. As Sony showed, the companies involved in promoting public events all have an intensified responsibility to provide as safe a venue as possible, and better e-mails, better work environments play a role there.

Most people are sparked to attend a game or a film simply by it's interest. A team that wins more will get more fans. A movie that looks interesting and is well-made will make more money. A happier workforce is likely to produce more. These are things that make America the best country to live in across the world (other than Germany in August). Let's hope society only gets stronger, regardless of threats from terrorists.


Andersen seems a good fit

Wed, 12/10/2014 - 5:20pm
Cliff Pfenning
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When news of Gary Andersen being hired as the new football coach at Oregon State got out today, the response from my office was quick - "what?"

From Wisconsin to Oregon State? The Oregon State? Usually, it would be the other way around as Wisconsin has so much more ... available.

Wow - for the Beavers.

Why would a coach leave Wisconsin for Corvallis? With the cursory glance at his background, he actually seems like a great fit for Corvallis, maybe better than the Big 10.

He spent most of his coaching career off the beaten path in Utah, turning Utah State into a football name. That success earned him the job in Madison, but after two seasons - the Badgers played in the Big 10 title game, and he's got a running back among the three finalists for the Heisman - maybe the Big 10 was just, too much. All that hype, all those expectations.

Corvallis just might have seemed a lot more appealling to him - and, it looked pretty appealling as we all learned more about Mike Riley's contract. If Andersen gets anywhere close to the same deal, he's set for a long time. And, expectations are very different, too. At Wisconsin, a spot in the Rose Bowl is on the agenda every year. In Corvallis, six wins is a good season.

Of course, Andersen had much more available in terms of resources at Wisconsin, or at least that's how we envision the Big 10 world from out here in the West. But, reports from Big 10 insiders reveal he was often unhappy with resources to pay assistant coaches, and other school issues involving junior college transfers.

It's actually not all that hard to understand why someone would want to leave Wisconsin for Oregon State, especially if he had the idea it might be a program he'll build and then manage for years to come.

If Riley had left two years ago and OSU had hired Andersen then, he certainly would not be the coach he is today. Coming to Corvallis from Utah State via Wisconsin makes Oregon State look like a scene stealer on the national scene. And, OSU doesn't get that opportunity very often.



No cooking like home cooking

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 8:19am
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The College Football Playoffs seem to be the University of Oregon's to win, or Oregon's to lose depending on how you look at them.

The Ducks are in the semifinals, ranked only behind Alabama and playing defending champion Florida State in the Rose Bowl, Jan. 1.

So, with a win over Florida State, then a win over either Alabama or Ohio State in the title game 11 days later, the Ducks will be national champion in one of the major televised sports for the first time since 1939.

And, America expects they'll win, too.

In voting conducted on, Oregon beat Alabama, FSU and OSU to the answer - "Which team will win the College Football Playoff?" With more than 780,000 votes tallied Tuesday morning, the Ducks were at 39 percent, to 35 percent for Alabama. Ohio State was third with 14 percent and Florida State fourth with 12 percent.

Some interesting points from the voting - FSU didn't own Florida, and only Ohio voted decisively for Ohio State. Oregon owned the West and Northeast, and no state voted as emphatically for one school than Oregon did: 78 percent for the Ducks. Alabama, in contrast, voted 63 percent for the Crimson Tide, while Ohio voted 61 percent for OSU. Florida gave the nod to 'Bama with 36 percent to 30 percent for the Seminoles. Oregon had 25 percent in that state amongst more than 30,000 votes.

Alabama still owns bettors, though. The Crimson Tide sit at almost even money to win - 11/10, while the Ducks are second at 17/10 at


College football committee did its job right

Sun, 12/07/2014 - 11:07am
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No matter what Texas Christian fans might be thinking today, college football fans definitely got their money's worth out of the committee that selected the four teams that will play for the national title - they got drama and excitement.

There could not have been a better finale to the regular season than Saturday's games - none of them upsets, which led to all the hype over what the committee would do with Big 10 champion Ohio State and the two co-champions of the Big 12, TCU and Baylor.

Would TCU drop from its spot at third last week to lower than fourth and miss the playoffs?

Would Baylor move up to fourth because of its win over TCU during the regular season?

Would Ohio State's stunning victory over Wisconsin in the Big 10 title game boost it to fourth, despite it having the worst loss of all the teams involved?

Would the Big 12 teams get the shaft for not having a title game? And, why doesn't the conference have a title game - it doesn't like money?

So many questions, so much hype. It's exactly what the playoffs are supposed to create, and it did - the SEC West even played its way out of any discussion it should have two teams involved thanks to Mississippi State losing not only to Alabama, but then to Mississippi.

Ultimately, Ohio State got the nod as the fourth playoff team, and it was clear-cut in the voting, too, in remarks made following the release of the pairings. And, that's what should have happened - the four conference champions earned their spot in the semifinals, while the Big 12 co-champions were left to ponder what would have happened if they had played a conference title game ... or just went unbeaten.

TCU lost 61-58 to Baylor (defense, eh?), while Baylor lost at West Virginia the week after its win over the Horned Frogs.

What a season, and it's not over. Remember Mississippi State's rise from being unranked to No. 1? That seems like such a long time ago. And, Oregon dropping from No. 3 to 12 in one week after it's humbling loss at home to Arizona. But, that was the week before seemingly the entire nation got upset on a single day.

The semifinals are not just great in terms of teams involved, but storylines, too. Oregon and Florida State are likely to have two Heisman Trophy winners involved, while Alabama and Ohio State has coaches with numerous games between them.

Look out ratings records.




OSU's big game opportunity

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 6:30am
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Corvallis is plenty off the beaten path in the college football world, so it's hard for the Oregon State football team to get a lot of publicity. But, that won't be true Saturday, so it's as big an opportunity to make an impact in front of the nation's fans and incoming recruits as the program is going to get.

The Beavers get to play in-state rival Oregon at home and on national television with the Ducks needing only win by any margin to continue their path toward the College Football Playoffs.

Oregon State, meanwhile, is playing for its football life - especially its seniors. The Beavers have five wins and need a sixth to become bowl. So a win Saturday extends the season by a month. And, a sixth win qualifies coach Mike Riley for a $1 million bonus.

Riley has never seemed like someone motivated by money, but the game is being played at Reser Stadium, and being on national TV with the win moving his team to a bowl game, it might just be what the program needs to score what would be one of its biggest upsets.

There's plenty of elements to a big win in place for Saturday.

First, it's at home. The Beavers just seem to be a different animal at home. Almost all of their big wins are at Reser these days, starting with USC. OSU hasn't beaten USC in Los Angeles since 1964, but it's owned the team in the past decade at Reser, regardless of the Trojans' rankings.

Two weeks ago, the Beavers beat No. 7 Arizona State at Reser, 35-27.

Saturday is the final home game for seniors, led by quarterback Sean Mannion.

Second, the Ducks are ranked No. 2, and have beaten the Beavers six straight times - so they should win. The betting line is by nearly three touchdowns, too. This is one of the best elements an underdog has available - surprise, even if the Ducks publicly say they're fully ready. In Oregon's lone loss - to Arizona on its home field, it was rated a 23-point favorite.

And, Oregon has shown it's available for a big loss, too. At Utah, the Ducks were on their way to being down 14-0 when fate intervened in the form of a historic "Not Top 10" play. Even then, the game was 30-27 in the second half.

Third, it's on ABC. If there's a way to pump up a group of seemingly overmatched football players, just put some cameras in their faces and tell them every play they make has the potential to be a national headline.

Oregon is already in the Pac-12 Conference Championship Game, so it realistically only needs to win by one point, which it did last year, 36-35 at Autzen Stadium. That's going to be in player's heads throughout the game.

Oregon Stat's best chance is a dominating start, especially on defense. And, it's performed well on defense. Against ASU, the defense gave up only 20 points as one of the Sun Devils' scores was on a fumble return.

Saturday's game looks like a blowout on paper - for Oregon fans, and maybe the world. But, it's one of the biggest wins the Beavers can ever have, one the program will celebrate for decades, and that opportunity doesn't come along very often.






The West is there for the taking

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 10:03am
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So here’s a crazy thought: can the Blazers finish the regular season at the top team in the Western Conference?

This idea wasn’t even on the outskirts of imaginable just three weeks ago, but since Oklahoma City has disappeared to the extent it probably isn’t even going to reach the playoffs, and the rest of the Northwest Division is still in rebuilding mode, it actually seems like a reasonable idea.

What makes it more reasonable is the comebacks the team has started to become adept at - 23 points, 16 points - and the roster depth, a key issue the past several seasons.

With the Southwest and Pacific Divisions stacked with playoff teams, Portland is likely the only divisional team that will reach the playoffs - and by a large margin since it’s clearly possible it will be the only team in the division with a winning record.

And the Blazers get 16 games against teams headed for losing records - currently they’re 3-0 against the division and have a five-game winning streak heading into a home game against Chicago Friday night.

Being the top seed in the West certainly doesn’t guarantee even one playoff series win, especially when the team is 0-3 against the Pacific Division. But, that’s homecourt advantage in every series, and they Blazers are 7-1 on their home floor.

Top team in the West? Who would have thought that three weeks ago?

Blazers get some good challenges

Mon, 11/03/2014 - 11:05am
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If you watched the Blazers lose at home to Golden State Sunday night, it was a pretty crummy loss for how it played out - especially with the officials overturning a call with 14.5 seconds left that gave the Warriors the ball.

Official reviews have long been a sore spot for me, primarily with how they are managed, and how long they take. If a call cannot be quickly overturned because was a bad call and has video evidence to prove it, then it should just be left as it was called. Sunday's call, even after three minutes, never had a clear view to be overturned, but that's what reviews have turned into - make the perfect call, even if it's down to an inch.

Having a time limit on reviews would be one way to make NBA games shorter.

The bigger element from Sunday's game was simply how the Blazers struggled to find some rhythm other than Wesley Matthews and then LaMarcus Aldridge because Damian Lillard hasn't gotten in synch yet with the season. And, yet, they still almost won.

But, almost is still a win that didn't happen.

With Cleveland in town Tuesday, then Dallas on Thursday, it's not out of the possibility there's a 1-4 start ahead for Portland. Even with that start, though, the team showed a lot of grit in Sunday's game that should turn into victories long into the season. And, the bench is no longer an issue.


Time for a statement victory

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 8:13am
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In the wake of the disastrous loss to Arizona, the University of Oregon football team righted itself and moved directly back into the national title hunt thanks to what you might call ... routine victories.

UCLA, Washington, California. The offense scored nearly 49 points per game, and the defense showed itself to be good enough to hold opponents long enough to allow the offense to get separation on the scoreboard.

The games weren't all that special, other than some big stats being put up by quarterback Marcus Mariota and freshman tailback Royce Freeman. And, the return of Jake Fisher on the offensive line, which got the nation buzzing.

Those were routine wins - solid wins that were in doubt only for short moments. The Ducks only have to repeat that over and over through the Pac-12 Title Game. But, they could use what you might call a "Statement Win." A win that shows off they're where they were for the 46-27 win over Michigan State in Week 2, when the offense took over the second half at the same time the defense absolutely shut down the Spartans.

There's no better team to make this kind of statement against than Stanford, which played its way through the Ducks and into the Pac-12 Title Game the past two seasons, each time dropping Oregon out of the National Championship picture.

Offense on track. Defense on track - especially throughout the second half. Statement.

It certainly doesn't need to be 59-0, or 82-27, but a solid win that shows off to the nation the Ducks still own the Pac-12. Forget about the last two years with the Cardinal, and now Arizona, Oregon's in charge.

There's no Oregon fans who will complain for one second about a one-point win - the result only has to go into the win column. But, a Michigan State-level win is what the rabid UO faithful want, followed by another series of routine wins over Utah, Colorado and Oregon State. Then, another statement win over Arizona in the league title game. That should put some major flavor into the playoff semifinals, keep season tickets in high demand - and keep the recruits for coming seasons looking at Eugene as much as Tuscaloosa.


PSU kicks off Big Sky schedule

Sun, 10/05/2014 - 12:12am
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PORTLAND - Portland State scored a huge win Saturday night by beating UC Davis 23-14 in its Big Sky Conference opener at Providence Park.

The Vikings ground game was effective with 254 rushing yards; the defense stymied the Aggies, shutting them out in the first half; and an unlikely source - field goal kicking was pivotal in the win.

With the victory, PSU opens Big Sky play at 1-0 and is now 2-3 overall. The win was also a big emotional boost for a Viking team that had started Big Sky play 0-2 each of the last two seasons.

Jonathan Gonzales booted a 53-yard field goal on the Vikings first possession of the game. The boot tied for second-longest in Portland State history and gave the Vikings a 3-0 lead.

Portland State extended that lead to 10-0 with a 12-play, 88-yard drive on its next series. Kieran McDonagh scored on a six-yard quarterback keeper.

Another lengthy drive, dominated by the Viking running game, ended in another McDonagh rushing touchdown. His three-yard score with 4:11 to go in the second quarter put PSU ahead 17-0 by halftime.

McDonagh notwithstanding, the star of the first half had to be the Viking defense. PSU held the Aggies to only 70 yards on 24 offensive plays. UC Davis had three three-and-outs and no drives longer than five plays in the half.

The Aggies showed some life early in the third quarter, taking advantage of a Patrick Wells interception of a McDonagh pass. On UCD’s first play from scrimmage London Lacy hit Keelan Doss on a 36-yard touchdown, making it 17-7 PSU.

When the Aggies produced a six-play, 62-yard scoring drive late in the third quarter, UC Davis had cut the Viking advantage to 17-14.

But the Vikings’ Gonzales made the difference in the fourth quarter. He added his second field goal of the night, a 30-yarder, three minutes into the period and it was 20-14.

PSU’s defense produced two more three-and-outs. When the Viking offense took over with 6:52 left, it had a chance to put the game on ice. And it did.

The Vikings ran 14 plays, including eight runs by sophomore tailback Nate Tago, in the series. The big play came on 4th-and-2 from the Aggies 45-yard line. Tago got the two yards to extend the drive and burn the clock. With 26 seconds to go, Gonzales made his third field goal of the night, a 19-yard kick, and the Vikings were winners.

Tago finished with a career-high 106 yards on 26 carries. Shaquille Richard, who started at running back, ran 16 times for 93 yards. McDonagh completed 19-37 passes for 194 yards and two interceptions. He also rushed for 33 yards and the two first-half scores.

The Viking offense controlled the ball all night, running 94 plays, converting 13-23 third downs and maintaining more than 35 minutes of possession.

PSU’s defense had its best night of the season, holding the Aggies to 240 total yards. The Vikings shut down UCD’s running game, giving up only 44 yards on 21 carries. Viking Coach Nigel Burton expressed his pleasure with the defense when commenting on the risky fourth-down play the Vikings attempted and converted late in the game. “When coaches go for it on fourth down, what it really says is you are confident in your defense (if you don’t make it).”

Linebackers Anthony McNichols and Zach Berg and defensive tackle Junior Alexis had six tackles each to lead the Vikings.

“(The win) was ugly but effective, and sometimes those are the best ones,” said Burton. We know there is a lot we can fix, but we still got the win, and that is better than the alternative.”

Who's the sexy dude on the sideline?

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 3:00pm
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Oregon State released its schedule for the 2014-15 men's basketball season on Monday, and gave its loyal fans a brief on ticket prices for the 17-game homes.

And, it promoted the Las Vegas tournament the team will play in - opening with Oklahoma State. Actually a pretty good schedule to be able to make some noise in the college hoop world with an upset or two. The Beavers didn't upset much during five years under coach Craig Robinson.

OSU promoted the schedule as the first under new head coach Wayne Tinkle, who made Montana a regular in the NCAA Tournament from the Big Sky.

Nowhere, though, did the Beavers announce their new head coach was so sexy.

Not, of course to me, but to the women - or woman - of the world, primarily Nicole Shea, who works for College Basketball Insider. During the 2013-14 season, the site,, had Shea go through coaches: both head and assistants; and pick out 100 to make a list.

She put Tinkle on top.

That was before Tinkle got the nod to replace Robinson after eight years at Montana.

Here's the list:

So, the Beavers moved from having the President's brother-in-law as coach to the "Sexiest Coach in College Basketball." Tinkle, who beat out PSU coach Tyler Geving for the award, even had a short acceptance speech on the site.

If you go through the list, there's a few other coaches with Oregon connections, including a former OSU head coach.


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