Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In Memory of Michael Kirby Alvarado

Depending on the version of the bible you open, the translation will always be worded differently. But the essence of the message is widely recognized and understood. Jesus said "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" [Matthew 19:19].

On Thursday, November 21, 2013, my next-door neighbor Michael Kirby Alvarado, 25, was taken from this world by a senseless act of violence. Michael [Mike] has left behind a countless number of family and friends who he made a great impact on.

A great athlete from childhood, Mike was a standout football player at Gaithersburg High School. His play for the team earned him a scholarship to William & Mary to play football for the Tribe. Mike never finished school, but his focus and his dreams stayed ahead on big and positive things.

If you have ever had a conversation with Mike, you know he is a tremendously caring and intelligent soul, with an incredible gift to communicate--not just talk, but listen--and he never forgot the things you told him. Mike made an impact in his time here on Earth, and has left his mark on all who had the honor to borrow a moment of his time.

I first met Mike a number of years ago as children. He lived right here in Newport, and my aunt used to watch my brother and I after school right up the hill. I was far from the closest person to Mike, but whenever I saw him, even if it was brief, we spoke. I went to every school from elementary to high with Mike, so we always saw each other.

My family moved to Newport a few years ago, and our fathers spoke often. Mike's father wouldn't let a conversation pass without talking about his children, especially Mike. He was proud of Mike no matter what was going on in his life, and bragged about his son's football. Our fathers never hesitated to ask about the other's kids. Mike and my father grew close as well. I can recall a number of times Mike was right there on my front porch chatting with my father about everything from football to cars that didn't belong in our parking lot. Mike often yelled up to say hi or ask me to come outside and just chat for a minute. His hospitality is truly admirable.

What always stood out to me about Mike was that he was never too busy to stop and acknowledge you. I have walked outside to get in my car and passed Mike while he was on the phone or talking to a friend and he would stop mid sentence to give a quick handshake or point over and ask "Aye, what's good with you?" You couldn't just let it slide when Mike asked you a question, because you knew he absolutely had to hear an answer from you. He never meant it as disrespect to the people he was talking to, just solely as respect to the person he was inquiring about, because he cared. His heart was pure and full of love for everyone. On Mother's Day, Michael knew all too well about appreciating motherhood. Mike lost his mother when he was a child, and on Mother's Day, he walked up to my front porch and gave my mom a hug and told her, "Happy Mother's Day moms!" This gesture was small to Mike, but huge at the same time, and it left an impression with my mother who is forever grateful of his incredible act of consideration, caring, and kindness.



Life does not come without trials, and we all know that. Mike had his share of bad days, but those days do not reflect on the amazing man that Mike had grown to become. While his days at college ended, his focus on music started. His commitment to motivation grew tenfold, and Mike just wanted to touch the hearts and minds of people. His giving nature was never turned off. Just this past summer, I watched Mike teaching his nephew how to improve on the basketball court. His charisma was apparent, he had his nephew's undivided attention. His teaching paid off immediately, as his nephew showed right away that he understood every word Mike said to him. Mike loved his friends, but he unquestionably loved his family.

I hope everyone who is affected by this finds comfort in the days, weeks, months, and even years to come. Mike surely would not want anyone to suffer, and would look to console everyone. I'm thankful to have known Mike, and I hope I am able to carry on the kindness, consideration, and respect he always showed me and my family, not just as neighbors, but as friends, and as people. I hope all who Mike treated with such love and compassion are able to do the same, because he made many lives better, and we can make many more better just the same. For all it is worth, I love you and hope to see you later, Michael. Thank you for being you.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Thoughts on Redskins vs. Vikings

Disappointing. Infuriating.

The Washington Redskins are a mess. A total mess. It was Denver 2.0, but it was against the Minnesota Vikings who entered the game 1-7, although arguably a better 1-7 than they really were. But they were missing 4 key offensive starters--the scene was set for the Redskins to have a good day and walk away with a win. It was time for the offense to prove they could play two good games in a row, and for the defense to prove they could hang with an offense that didn't feature major weapons at WR.

The big concern was Adrian Peterson, who had the bulk of the Vikings' success in the first half, but didn't really manage to do much. The Redskins' offense was rolling with Alfred Morris getting major chunks of yards. Robert Griffin III was hitting Pierre Garcon, Jordan Reed, and Leonard Hankerson for good gains. He tried to hit Logan Paulsen once early for a dropped TD, and hit Paulsen for another TD. His TD pass to Reed was all brilliance, as he pump faked to draw the defender away and buy Reed space, and the communication between the two to hit the middle of the field at the goal line was spectacular as Rob made an unbelievable throw while getting drilled. The TD to Garcon was a thing of beauty; Garcon sold a crosser, stepped back when he recognized zone and Rob hit him for a "screen" and Garcon had a clear path to the endzone with blockers out in front. The Redskins had 3 big drives for TD's of 78, 79, and 80 yards. They also had a field goal to enter the half with a 27-14 lead. This was the offense everyone has been waiting to see.

Coming out of the half, and the team completely unraveled. You can see some honest critique from the Comcast SportsNet post-game crew here. Charley Casserly had some interesting thoughts, and Trevor Matich broke down the Vikings scheme with something I want to drive home here.

The Redskins had run Robert Griffin to the outside in the first half a number of times. The Vikings accepted those runs as they were keying in on Alfred Morris in the Read Option. Alfred Morris was getting big gains with huge blocks from Darrel Young and Trent Williams creating a crease for Alfred to cut back into as the Vikings DE's were playing aggressively up the field to keep RGIII in the pocket. In the second half, the Vikings were every bit as willing to let Alfred beat them through the middle and play the pass, hoping to take away the post route RGIII was hitting Garcon on the entire first half. The problem? The Redskins weren't dialing up runs. Especially not up the middle. The few runs I remember before the final drive were stretch zones to the outside where the aggressiveness of the ends caused the interior O-Line to collapse to the powerful Kevin Williams and Alf had to pick up 1 or 2 yards into the arms of the backside end or a linebacker. These weren't 1-on-1's that Alf was going to win with consistency as his focus was on the one-cut and getting upfield with patience. Instead of attacking with quickness and power into the crease the defense was willing to give up. But those were only a few plays. Kyle Shanahan opted to pass, pass, and pass. The problem was, he was dropping RGIII back into the pocket against two aggressive ends powering 8 or 9 yards into the backfield to keep Robert in that pocket, forcing him to step up. Only problem for the Redskins was, time and again, Robert was stepping up into the body of Kevin Williams, who was beating double teams by Will Montgomery and either guard (usually Chris Chester) right through them. There was a play where three men met Robert in the pocket at the same time for a sack. One of those men was an unblocked rusher. Another? Kevin Williams beating that Montgomery/Chester double team. Yes... a defensive tackle beat a double team and reached the QB at the same exact time as an unblocked rusher. Inexcusable.

Kyle was obviously trying to counter punch the Vikings. The only problem is, the Vikings didn't change anything about their scheme from the first to second half. They were doing the same thing trying to pin Rob inside and challenging the Redskins to beat them in that crease with Alf. Kyle didn't accept that challenge, he took the bait and bit. The Vikings got the Redskins offense off the field because Kyle Shanahan wasn't willing to stick with what he had working for him and taking what the defense gave him.

That led to the Vikings attacking through the air on playaction passes when 8 in the box were fighting Peterson. Ponder dropped some passes in over the backers and right into the hands of a WR or TE who was running in front of the secondary who was playing deep in a sort of prevent-style defense. It wasn't that it was horrible scheming by Haslett. It was working... but the pressure wasn't hitting the QB and the secondary wasn't able to bite up and pick off a poorly thrown pass as happened by Meriweather in the first half. The defense surrendered points, and the offense couldn't get anything going because Kyle Shanahan was outcoached.

I told people on Twitter after Kyle "accepted the blame" for the Denver loss, that I didn't buy it and he would go right back to the same old BS. He gave us a game against the Chargers where he did... okay. But he came right back here against the Vikings with a 13-point lead at halftime and he crumbled. He went right back to who he is. One man last night stopped Alfred Morris, and it was Kyle Shanahan. If the only way to get Kyle out of here is to get rid of Mike Shanahan, I am all for it--but I am more keen on keeping Mike Shanahan here on an extension with HIS team and no cap penalty for a couple seasons. The kid will not get a head coaching job going forward off of this year unless he miraculously turns us around in these last seven games like he did in 2012, so there's no reason to believe he deserves to call plays for us. His mystique is gone.

Yes, the players lost battles last night. The players made dumb mistakes on penalties. Niles Paul cost us one huge delay of game because he spent 8 seconds waiting for the snap and not focusing on the QB and going into the hand-signal motion that his teammates were even trying to cue him to (a mistake I don't think Fred Davis would have made). Perry Riley's personal foul was one of the most disappointing moments of the night. I won't even go into how bad the officiating was, but it was.

There is no reason to believe this team can rattle off 7 wins. Robert Griffin III, over the last 2 games, is playing his best football of the season. He looks like he is on form. It helps that receivers seem willing to put it all on the line for him right now. The offense is/was rolling when they're playing to their strengths.

As Kyle Shanahan put it after the Denver game: "You don't want to be over-obsessed with tendencies and not put best players in the best position to succeed." I said it then, and I will say it now - coming from him? BULLSHIT!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Sean Taylor Trial Offers Closure

We're very nearing 6 years since the passing of Sean Taylor. The trial has been delayed over and over again. Five men were arrested and charged in relation to the murder, all five pointing fingers. Yesterday, Monday, November 4, 2013, the allegedly admitted trigger-puller was found guilty of 2nd-degree murder. He faces up to life in prison. I will not post his name because he does not deserve the kindness.

The details of the trial painted a grim picture of what took place inside the house that night. It painted an even darker picture of how the entire event was planned. An early questioning of Taylor's then-girlfriend painted the narrative that because Taylor kept a lot of cash in the house, that somehow his client was less guilty of murder; almost justifying death if the robbery is planned out perfectly and the cash is actually there to be stolen. But you have to make obscene arguments in murder cases. We know this. We can't be shocked by it. Yet it's still disheartening.

While there are surely sighs from Taylor's family, friends, and fans, this is not closure. There still stand three who will go to trial for their role in the events of that night. They all took bargains to fingerpoint at the murderer. There are surely going to be details uncovered by the roles of the other three that will add more to the narrative of that night and the crime scene will look different even then.

I was nothing more than a fan of Sean Taylor, from his days as a Miami Hurricane all the way through his final day as a Washington Redskin. Like many, he was my favorite player on the team. Like many, I didn't know much about him off of the football field. What I did know is what Sean talked about... making the fans scream and roar was what he wanted every single week, by making plays to help his football team. Football was Sean's life, according to his father. Little tidbits like that show you just how close Sean Taylor was to the fanbase. It's as if the only Sean that he could be was a football player. The fans were and are forever connected to Sean Taylor. We didn't know him off of the field, but Sean wanted to be known for what he did on the field.

On the field, we lost one of the greatest potential players in franchise history, and perhaps in league history. There had never been a safety with the size, speed, and range of Sean Taylor. One of the most intimidating hitters to ever step on the field, perhaps pound for pound one of the most violent hitters. A young man growing into his own both on and off the field, Sean was starting to put the pieces together and do everything right. Then, just like that, it was all gone. Taken from him. Taken from his family. From his friends. From his coaches and teammates. From his fans.

The shooter is found guilty. One other from that night already serving a lengthy sentence for his role in another crime. The other three, like the rest of us, still waiting. Sean Taylor still is not resting peacefully, but he is remembered favorably among many. His daughter will never grow to be held by her father, or hear advice directly from his own mouth. The lone detail about this entire case that brings comfort to anyone? Sean Taylor died a hero, protecting his loved ones, and sacrificing his own life to ensure his daughter did not lose hers. That is the closure.

A hero.