Last Tuesday was the one-year anniversary of this blog's creation. For the past year this website has been a place to work on my writing, talk about things that interest me and show off my various professional projects.
I’ve been really pleased with this site and with how my career has developed over the past year. In particular, I’ve been touched by all the positive feedback I’ve received from people. I’m always surprised with how often friends or family mention that they love my writing here. It’s nice to see my hard work appreciated like that.
To me, the most incredible thing about this blog is all the people who’ve read my posts that I don’t know personally. According to my metrics, I’ve had 16,688 unique visits and counting. When I started this site a year ago I never thought I’d have that many visitors.
Thank you for all your support.
To celebrate this blog’s anniversary I thought I’d list the top five most popular articles on this website.
But before I do, I want to mention two in particular: "Bill Simmons’ Twitter idea might be a game-changer" and "Sandwich Review: KFC’s Double Down". These two posts are the two biggest spikes in readership I’ve had over the course of the year. In both cases my readership doubled or even tripled the day they were posted.
Here are the top five most read articles of JCH.com over the past 365 days, in ascending order:
5. "Bill Simmons’ Twitter idea might be a game-changer" – May 14th, 2010
As mentioned above, this article was one of the first big spikes in traffic this blog saw. Collecting a total of 202 unique page views since it was first published, this was my first serious stab at discussing the evolving role of media in sports.
“An interesting experiment occurred on Thursday night as the Boston Celtics eliminated the Cleveland Cavaliers from the National Basketball Association’s Eastern Conference semifinal with a 94-85 victory.
As league MVP LeBron James stepped up to the free throw line in the second half the Boston crowd began to chant “New-York-Knicks! New-York-Knicks!”, referring to one of the more moribund destinations that the soon-to-be free agent might head to in the offseason.
Later, the Celtic faithful began to chant “MSG! MSG!”, the acronym for Madison Square Gardens, the home of the Knicks.
This was all part of a grand scheme concocted by ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons, Boston’s most famous sports fan, and it may just revolutionize spectatordom.”
4. "Sandwich Review: KFC’s Double Down" – Oct. 19th 2010
I’ve reviewed a lot of things on this blog: comics, books, the occasional movie and even some baseball stadiums. But my look at the controversial Double Down sandwich at KFC was the first and last crack at being a foodie you’ll ever seen in this space. That review was particularly timely, earning some buzz and a spike in readership, eventually tallying 214 reads.
“It took months to make it possible, but yesterday I finally ate a Double Down from KFC.
Normally, reviewing a sandwich is not my bag. After all, my good friend and neighbour John already does a bang-up job over at In Search of a Sandwich. Why would I want to compete?
But the Double Down - KFC’s bacon, sauce and cheese sandwich that substitutes the bread for pieces of deep-fried chicken - transcends a normal sandwich. Just as the Double Down pushes the envelope of sandwich technology, I must expand my blogging horizons for this fast food delicacy.”
3. "Three ice dancing performances I’d like to see" – Feb. 23rd 2010
I blogged throughout the Vancouver Olympics, usually in response to a significant event at the games. By far, the most popular of these pieces was my suggestion for three ice dancing routines that would set the performers apart from the cliché-laden pack.
When I posted this link on Twitter it was quickly picked up and retweeted by many of my friends, making it as close to viral as this site has ever been. That buzz resulted in a total of 313 views to date.
Oddly, and somewhat creepily, “Princess Peach” is by far the most popular search on this website, all thanks to this article.
“Like many Canadians, I was thrilled by Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s gold medal ice dance performance on Monday night.
I would never call myself a figure skating or ice dancing fan – I find that too often the judge’s decisions are political – but I was impressed with the athleticism and technique of all the dancers in the competition.
What did not impress me was their lack of creativity or originality. Most of the performances bled together. Virtue and Moir stood above the rest of the competition because they didn’t rely on clichéd music like the themes from the Phantom of the Opera or Requiem for a Dream. They weren’t covered with sequins and feathers. Their performance truly distinguished them from the rest of the pack.”
2. "Toronto has two strikes against it for most professional athletes" – Mar. 9th 2010
I wrote this piece between Roy Halladay’s departure to the Philadelphia Phillies and the National Basketball Association’s free agency period that saw Chris Bosh take his talents to South Beach.
It’s a topic I’d like to revisit sometime, especially since one of my commenters pointed out that my math on the differences in taxes between the United States and Canada might be wrong. Despite the possible error, this post has been read 417 times.
“This summer could be particularly heart-breaking for fans of the Toronto Raptors as they face the prospect of forward Chris Bosh, arguably the best player the team has ever seen, leaving the city as a free agent.
Toronto Blue Jays fans can sympathize with their basketball neighbours – this summer they lost ace Roy Halladay in a lopsided trade with the Philadelphia Phillies and Seattle Mariners.
It’s a familiar story for Torontonians. One of their teams will draft a player who becomes a star, but the franchise player eventually begins to grumble and complain about greener pastures, eventually demanding a trade or letting their contract expire and moving on via free agency.”
1. "Book Review: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Wells" – Sept. 15th 2010
I try to review every book that I read, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with the general themes of this blog like sports and pop culture. But the incredible success of my review of the Glass Castle shows that maybe, just maybe, I should review literally every single thing I experience. Not just books, but music, food, furniture, public transportation, whatever. Although it is the second-most recent post on this list, it’s garnered far and away the most views at 1,106 and counting.
“I never thought that I’d enjoy Jeannette Walls’ "the Glass Castle", but I was wrong.
On the surface, it looked like it was more for stay-at-home moms. It was one of Heather’s Picks at Chapters-Indigo Bookstores and reeked of Oprah’s Book Club. But once I started reading it I appreciated Walls’ writing and was moved by her story.
Like Frank McCourt’s ultra-popular Angela’s Ashes, the Glass Castle is a dark memoir about a dysfunctional family crippled by the father’s alcoholism and the mother’s loose grip on reality.”
As I mentioned yesterday, my Top 10 sports books was so popular that I’ve decided to make similar lists a regular feature on this blog. I was challenged by a few people to come up with the ten best sports movies.
Like last week’s effort, I decided to limit myself. I chose to not include any documentaries – When We Were Kings, Ken Burns’ Baseball and half of ESPN’s 30-for-30 series would force aside some very worthy films – but it should be noted that most of these are based on real people or events.
So, roughly in order of preference, here we go:
Jerry Maguire – This movie stands apart from the other entries on the list because its protagonist isn’t about an athlete or a coach. In fact, there’s hardly any football in the entire film, even if one of the main characters is a professional football player. Instead, Jerry Maguire looks at the culture surrounding sports. Whether it’s Jay Mohr’s conniving agent or Cuba Gooding Jr.’s selfish prima donna wide receiver, this movie does a better job than most of exposing the greedy and egotistical culture that’s developed around modern sports.
The Replacements – Gene Hackman makes the first of two appearances on this list as Jimmy McGinty, the coach of the fictional Washington Sentinels. As the unnamed professional football league that the Sentinels are a part of goes on strike, the owners decide to hire scab players to replace their regular players. Just like every sports movie ever, McGinty puts together a group of ragtag athletes. His replacements are led by dreamboat quarterback Shane Falco (played by real-life dreamboat Keanu Reeves). Hilarity ensues as the Sentinels come together as a team. There’s lots of memorable scenes, including Falco’s big speech in the climactic game, and when the twin offensive linemen shoot a rivals car full of holes. My favourite, however, is the dance scene:
Mighty Ducks – Quack! Quack! Quack! Many of these selections spawned their own franchises. Slap Shot, Rocky, Friday Night Lights, all have sequels or spin-offs. But Mighty Ducks is the only one on this list that was so successful that it earned its own professional sports teams. Yeah, it’s a typical kids’ movie with Emilio Estevez teaching his group of misfit hockey players important life lessons while he learns from them. But it’s still a great movie, even if the flying V is a ridiculous strategy.
A League of Their Own – Based on the real life experiences of veterans of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, Penny Marshall’s dramedy sheds some light on a chapter of baseball history that is often overlooked. Tom Hanks excels as Jim Dugan, a thinly veiled stand-in for Boston Red Sox great Jimmie Foxx, the alcoholic and acerbic manager of the Rockford Peaches. Even terrible actresses like Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell can’t slow this movie down, and, of course, it gave birth to one of the best lines ever uttered about baseball:
Rocky – Critically acclaimed when it came out in 1976 – winning the Academy Award for Best Picture that year – Sylvester Stallone’s masterpiece is surprisingly resilient. Although some of the lustre was rubbed off thanks to too many sequels, watched by itself Rocky is incredible. Although a lot of Stallone’s iconic scenes have become cliché, his screenplay still stands as a classic. Fortunately, the sixth and final entry in the series, Rocky Balboa, added some polish to the series and capped one of the most iconic stories in film history.
Slap Shot – When I was travelling regularly with the University of Toronto Varsity Blues lacrosse team Slap Shot was a staple of every bus ride. Literally every other movie we’d watch was Slap Shot. Other films were just used to raise our appreciation of this Paul Newman vehicle, the best hockey movie ever made. Slap Shot is filled with hilarious vignettes of life as a professional hockey player, but to me it’s the interactions between the players on the Charlestown Chiefs that make this movie. Director George Roy Hill perfectly captures what the downtime is like on any high-level sports team.
Hoosiers – The story of the 1951-52 Hickory High basketball team and their journey to the Indiana state championship is loosely based on the 1954 Milan High School basketball team that managed the exact same feat, despite the school’s small enrolment of 191. Gene Hackman is excellent as Coach Dale, the controversial coach of the team. His lessons about consistency and focusing on fundamentals is inspiring and the movie eminently watchable. One of the best things about this movie, however, is how subtle some of the character work is. In particular, star player Jimmy Chitwood’s narrative is handled with great restraint.
Friday Night Lights – Last week I wrote about the incredible book by H.G. Bissinger that inspired this movie. The film is also excellent and stays remarkably close to the source material. Billy Bob Thornton’s performance, in particular his speech about perfection, is magnificent. Director Peter Berg’s decision to use the soundtrack by Explosions in the Sky and moody, washed-out video creates an almost unbearable tension throughout the movie as the young football players of Permian High School struggle under the pressure of their small town’s expectations.
Any Given Sunday – Another artsy football movie, Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday follows a season with the fictional Miami Sharks. Although it relies heavily on pretentious cinematography – including silhouetted cheerleaders dancing in front of a lightning storm – the writing and acting are as tight as a drum. Al Pacino’s penultimate speech about life being a game of inches is, hands down, the best motivational speech in movie history. Stone handles the themes of mortality and morality with incredible aplomb, despite the heavy-handed camera work.
Bull Durham – Another classic baseball movie, Bull Durham is the first, and best, piece of the Kevin Costner baseball trilogy - sorry folks, For the Love of the Game isn’t as strong and Fields of Dreams is overly sentimental. Bull Durham, however, is just about perfect. From the characters on the team and their superstitions to Crash Davis’ words of wisdom, this film expresses the aura of baseball better than anything short of the game itself. There are few movies that can be watched again and again without losing any magic, and Bull Durham is in that select number.
As always, I'd love to know what your top 10 is, and why. Please, go ahead and comment below. Also, if there's a top 10 list you'd like me to write, shoot me an email or post a comment.
It has been three weeks to the day since I last posted on here, and for that, I am sorry.
It just couldn't be helped though - I’ve been very busy with my continuing work at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. The good news is that most of my work is now done, and the final stage should be completed in about mid-July.
My work hasn’t been limited to freelancing for the Hall of Fame though. I’ve been spending the summer doing pagination for the Canadian Press, as well as a few side projects.
The first of these projects was for my friend Victor Bachmann, a professional mixed martial artist based in Edmonton. I had interviewed him years ago for a Canadian fighting magazine. Unfortunately, they never had the space for the article and its references quickly became dated.
In addition to his prizefights, Victor is a teacher at the Hayabusa Fighting Training Centre, and he needed a profile for the gym’s website. Remembering the story I’d written about him, Victor asked me to re-write it for him.
I’ve never had to re-write an article so dramatically before, but I think I really sharpened this piece up.
My other project was for HockeyPrimeTime.com, a website that covers the National Hockey League.
It was a lot of fun looking at the different needs and draft picks of the hockey teams I am most familiar with: the Boston Bruins, the Buffalo Sabres, the Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The next few weeks are all laid out for me - I’ll be doing a preview of the free agent prospects of the Northeast Division teams for HPT.com and completing my work with Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. Fortunately, I’ll also have more time to do blog posts.