It’s Hockey Season (and you probably don’t care)!

My team - The Buffalo Sabres

As soon as my NFL teams, the Ravens & the Vikings, are eliminated from competition, my attention shifts to the next sport on my schedule: ice hockey. (My team is the Buffalo Sabres, but I’ll save that story for another day.)

Now, I know that there aren’t a ton of hockey fans out there in Maryland, and for perfectly understandable reasons. First off, it’s almost never cold enough in Maryland to safely skate outdoors, which means that if you learned to skate, it probably happened at an indoor arena. Skating at an indoor arena in this area is inconvenient (there just aren’t that many of them) and, if you get serious about skating, can be expensive. As a result, very few Marylanders are good skaters, and if you’ve never experienced the thrill of whooshing along at 20 miles per hour on a sheet of glass, you’ll probably find it hard to relate to hockey.

That having been said, there is a second, and I think larger, barrier to acceptance of ice hockey in America: television. Some sports really benefit from television; the NFL is the perfect example. Before the NFL became a packaged product of the broadcast networks, it was a niche sport in the United States (that’s why the 1958 Colts-Giants game was so huge – it created interest in the game from television networks). As color broadcasts of the NFL became the norm in the 1970s, the sport exploded in popularity, because frankly, football is much better on TV. It’s true. Slow motion replays, reverse camera angles and extreme close ups of the action make the game much more entertaining on your couch than in the stands. It’s like someone designed football in the late 1800s knowing that one day someone else would create a medium to exploit it. It’s no wonder that most of the revenue NFL teams depend on for survival comes from their TV contracts.

Hockey, on the other hand, exists at the opposite end of the spectrum. As a hockey fan who regularly sees televised games and has also been to many in person, I can testify: hockey live is 100% better than hockey on TV. The NHL has wracked their collective brains for decades to figure out a way to translate the electricity of the game to the small screen, but without any real success. When I was a child, they had apparently decided that education was the key, so I was treated to a series of cartoon interruptions by Peter Puck, who explained the rules of the game in a way that might appeal to fans of Scooby Doo.

In the 1990s, when Fox took up the NHL banner, it was decided that the problem was that people had a hard time following the puck. The answer? A strange, glowing puck that changed colors depending on its speed.

More recently, rules have been change to promote scoring, cameras have been placed closer to the ice to replicate the intimate feel of a hockey arena, and rink-level microphones have been added in an attempt to capture the intensity of the game, with varying degrees of success.

The truth is, if you want to be converted to ice hockey, go have to go to a rink and see a game. As soon as you walk in, and that rush of cold, dry air smacks you in the face, something changes. The small arenas let you get closer to the athletes than you may be used to, and the way the sounds of the game (pucks being slapped by sticks and then ricocheting off the glass, bodies driven into the boards) echo inside the building are completely unique to the live experience.

It’s been thought that Americans can’t accept games that finish at 2-1 or 1-0. Honestly, the tension of a low-scoring game, where everyone knows that the next goal will likely decide the outcome, is about as much drama as you could hope for. And when your team finally, suddenly, unexpectedly puts the puck into the net (because that’s the way goals are scored in hockey – unlike the inevitable, relentless feeling of a scoring drive in football), the explosive release of emotion by everyone in the arena is unsurpassed in sport. (At a Caps-Penguins game last year, my pre-teen daughter nearly had a heart attack every time the Capitals scored, such was the reaction of the crowd.)

Hockey is a game of speed and endurance (the physical toll taken on players is so great that that they need to be switched out every minute or so), played almost without interruption (take that baseball & football), and is mercifully short, with games rarely going over 2:30 hours.

Hockey also has one element that no other team sport has – fighting as an accepted part of the game. Once, twice or (if you’re lucky) maybe a few times per game, players will drop the gloves and spend a few minutes wailing away at each other’s faces. Please understand – these are not baseball or football fights. When the referees decide that the contest has been settled and they start pulling the fighters apart, well, (to quote a recent film) there will be blood. Fighting is considered a natural part of the game, in effect the self-policing of the more violent tendencies of the sport, by the participants. What I mean is, let’s say that one of your guys has just absorbed what you think is a cheap (and maybe dangerous) hit from an opponent. You’re angry, you want to settle the score, and you want the other team to know that this kind of dirty play won’t be tolerated. You could try to injure the other player as retaliation, or, you could just skate up to him, push him into the boards and rub his face into the glass. Of course, he’ll resist, and then the two of you will drop your gloves and try to break each other’s noses. When it’s all said and done, the anger is quenched, the message has been sent and no lasting damage is done. All in all, I’d say it’s a pretty good emotional venting system for a pretty violent sport.

But alas, once again, fights are so much better when observed live.

So my advice to the uninitiated: get thee to a hockey game. Don’t know where to go (without dropping several hundred dollars in D.C.)? No problem. UMBC has the best college hockey team in Maryland, and they play a lot of home games at Piney Orchard Ice Arena In Odenton. Students are free, but otherwise, you’ll pay a few dollars for great seats and a totally fun ride.

But try to get out there soon; it won’t be hockey season forever.

Why the Pro Bowl Will Never Catch On

Like most Americans, I completely ignored the NFL’s Pro Bowl yesterday. This, despite the fact that I’m an NFL fan and a Ravens’ fan (four Ravens played in the game).

The NFL changed both the venue and the timing of this year’s Pro Bowl, hoping to somehow change the overwhelming odor of irrelevancy that hovers around the game. The truth is, no matter when or where the game is played, the game lacks any compelling drama, and the fault lies within the nature of football itself.

The reason that the baseball all-star game (more so when I was a kid than now, however) and the NBA all-star game are entertaining is that they work in harmony with their respective sports. Baseball and basketball are very much games played by individuals, where one-on-one match-ups often determine the outcomes, and always create topics for debate.

Baseball is little more than a series of individual contests, strung together so that everyone has a turn in the limelight. Batter vs. pitcher, runner vs. pitcher, runner vs. catcher, runner vs. fielder, etc. Almost half of a game’s put-outs are registered by an individual acting alone. It’s very much the type of sport that benefits from an all-star atmosphere, where the game’s titans battle each other one at a time, allowing the spectator to savor the glory of the triumphant and the agony of the vanquished. The faces of the combatants are uncovered, allowing us a look into the emotion of the sport, pitch by pitch.

Basketball benefits similarly, as the giants of the NBA sprint, leap and fly past each other, all the while laughing and taunting each other. The field of play is small, and the participants are in close proximity to each other. More important, however, are the individual competitions within the game that can be focused on by the announcers.

What these individual contests do is to give a weightless game a small bit of mass. You can almost hear the announcers: “Yes, the game doesn’t count in the standings, but it’s matter of pride between these players; no one wants to be shown up by another.” The personal nature of the individual match-ups creates tension where they should be none, and thus a meaningless game becomes watchable (once the egos get involved).

But football, unlike baseball and basketball, is a team sport. This Sunday, we’ll be looking at how Drew Brees and the Saints will perform against the Colts’ defense, not Gary Brackens. And while Drew Brees might be at the top of his game, if his left tackle, or center, or running back misses his assignment on a given play, that play’s chances of succeeding are greatly diminished.

The drama of eleven players, pushed and tested over a period of months together, with each depending on each other on every down, is almost impossible to replicate in an all-star game. As a result, the Pro Bowl, with its collection of week-old teammates, seems like a farcical, synthetic reproduction of what football really is – the ultimate team sport. And that’s why no one watches it.

The truth is that there’s nothing the NFL can do to fix the Pro Bowl because the character of the game condemns it to perpetual insignificance. Its existence is an anomaly in the NFL, an embarrassing failure in the midst of unparalleled successes – a professional sports version of Coca-Cola with Lime. We are only left to wonder for how many more years the league will persist in foisting this monstrosity on the public.

I put the over/under at 4.

JamieUMBC Joins The MyUMBC Development Team!

The MyUMBC team is Collier Jones, Bradley Tinney, Billy Schneider, Kevin Somers, and now – me!

As many of you know, I’m fortunate enough to be a staffer at UMBC’s Department of Information Technology. And many of the folks at DoIT know that I like to write stuff, as evidenced by this blog. Now, in a wonderful synergy of two things that I love (technology and writing), I have been asked to assist the awesome team that works behind the scenes to make the magic that is MyUMBC.

Now, if you remember an earlier post of mine, you know that I’m not nearly smart enough to do what the MyUMBC team does on a daily basis. Fortunately, I’m not being asked to do any of the heavy lifting (read: coding). What I’ll be doing is writing about all of the nifty and useful things that are happening with MyUMBC, and helping the UMBC community to get the most out of the great tools they’ll find there. It sounds like I’ll be having a lot of fun, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Last week I had my first meeting with team leader and coder extraordinaire Collier Jones, and as he gave my a quick tour around the beta version of MyUMBC, I just couldn’t believe how great it looked. The Events area, for example, is designed with many clever tools and yet is is so easy to use, I find it hard to imagine how much work must have gone into making it happen. If you’d like to have a look yourself, here it is. Or, you can just admire this screenshot:

So now I get to both enjoy our new tech tools and write about them, too.

Sweet.

There’s Still The Who

The Who circa 1975

For me, the NFL season ended yesterday, when my other team, the Minnesota Vikings, fumbled away the NFC Championship Game.

Adrian Peterson Puts Another One On The Ground

Not that they deserved to win. If a team has five turnovers in a championship game, they should be prohibited, by rule, from winning the game. It’s sort of life having a certain number of “lives” in a video game. When Brett Favre threw that last interception in the waning moments of regulation, the words “GAME OVER” should have immediately flashed on the screen.

It is probably just as well, because I’m not sure if I could have taken the sight of Payton Manning rolling up 40 plus points on the Vikings in the Super Bowl. If there’s one thing I learned this weekend, it’s that Indianapolis is much better than the other playoff teams. I know, “on any given Sunday…”, but let’s face it: the only way the Saints win this game is if the Colts have a meltdown, and considering the experience on that roster, that’s very unlikely. I would make Indy a 7-point favorite.

That means that Jim Caldwell will probably get a Super Bowl in his rookie coaching season, though I suspect he’ll not get all of the glory. It’s reminiscent of the Super Bowl George Seifert won with the 49ers in 1989; that team was considered to be Bill Walsh’s team that Seifert was just fortunate to have inherited. For Caldwell, this team is still considered to be Tony Dungy’s team, plus there’ll be a lot of “Who couldn’t win with Payton Manning?” talk, as if Manning had ten rings.

With Manning and Drew Brees on the field, I expect it’ll be an exciting game, but what I’ll be really looking forward to is the halftime show, featuring rock’s second-greatest band ever, The Who. (For the record, my top three goes like this: Beatles, Who, Rolling Stones.) The Who also authored what I believe to the best album of the rock era, Who’s Next (and remember, I’m a Beatles fan, first and foremost).

While I realize that it’s really only half of the Who now, with Keith Moon and John Entwistle being dead, but honestly, it was always Pete and Roger’s band, wasn’t it? The Who has always been a great concert band, and it crosses my mind that this may the last time I ever see them play a live show (albeit on television), so I’m really jazzed.

My son Ryan, who will be 21 in a month, is a Who fan too, and we’ve been discussing with what song they should open the show. I can’t imagine anything other than Baba O’Riley, but he wants it to be Pinball Wizard. So, I’ll put it to you, faithful readers. What song should open the Who’s set?

10 Strangest State Mottos

For today’s Friday History List, I look at state mottos, which as it turns out, can be fairly inscrutable at times. I started out intending to do a “Best State Mottos” list, but it soon became clear that weird mottos were far more common than good ones. Here are ten for you to wrap your mind around, plus a bonus territorial motto:

10. South Carolina – Dum spiro spero, While I breathe, I hope. Adopted way back in 1777, this motto seems like the plea of a desperate individual, someone who knows that things are always gong to be terrible, but still clings to vain hope. “Honey, pack the wagon, we’re moving to the land of futile optimism!” Plus, it’s just fun to say in Latin.

9. Maryland – Fatti maschii, parole femine, Manly Deeds, Womanly Words. The nation’s only Italian motto was added in the obviously sexist year of 1874. Having lived here all my life, I’ve never been sure if this was a criticism of diplomacy or an endorsement of balance. A few years back, feminist groups petitioned to have the phrase retranslated to be less offensive. Perhaps something more reflective of domestic reality should be considered, such as “Manly Deeds directly follow repeated Womanly Words.”

8. Montana – Oro y plata, Gold and Silver. The only state motto in Spanish, this motto apparently reflects what the founding fathers of Montana hoped would be eventually associated with their state. Now that enough time has passed to measure it against reality, they should change it to “Big and Empty.”

7. New Hampshire – Live Free or Die. You would think that this motto was adopted during the American Revolution, but it actually wasn’t officially added until 1945, just as the Cold War was starting. I guess the fear of Commies taking over New Hampshire must have been pretty intense back then.

6. Idaho – Esto perpetua, Let It Be Perpetual. This meditative thought became the state’s motto in 1890. Let what be perpetual? Potatoes? We’re never told. From this point on in my list, the state mottos start to get pretty incomprehensible.

5. Washington – Al-ki, By and By. Washington’s state motto is a old Chinook saying; I’m guessing this must have been the least offensive option out of some really terrible choices like, “My God, will this rain ever stop?”

4. Kansas – Ad astra per aspera, To the stars through difficulties. Born with Kansas’ addition to the Union in 1861, this motto perhaps reflects on the state persevering through its recent bloody past to achieve statehood. On the other hand, it could look forward to the U.S. space program a century later.

3. New Mexico – Crescit eundo, It Grows As It Goes. Picked in 1887, long before New Mexico was a state, this may be our most ironic state motto since next to nothing grows in the deserts of New Mexico, one of the “dustbowl” states of the Great Depression. They probably should change it to “It Doesn’t Grow And Then We Go.”

2. Oregon – Alis volat propriis, She flies with her own wings. Way back in 1854, Oregon was so busy setting up their new state government that they allowed a eight-year old girl to write their state motto…at least, that’s what I’m guessing.

1. Connecticut – Qui transtulit sustinet, He who transplanted sustains. Our oldest state motto, created in 1662, has survived over three centuries despite being perfectly ambiguous, just like Connecticut itself, which, as one drives along I-95, could be mistaken for a large county in New York, or maybe Massachusetts.

Bonus Territory: Puerto Rico – Joannes Est Nomem Ejus, John Is His Name. Adopted way back in 1511, it barely edged out the runner-up, “Bingo Is His Name-O.”

The Vote Heard ‘Round The Beltway

Last night, in what was paradoxically an upset that felt increasingly inevitable, Republican state senator Scott Brown defeated Democratic Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley in the special election to fill the seat vacated by the late Edward Kennedy. This vote is being described as a “game-changer” because it deprives the Democrats of their filibuster-proof 60 seat majority in the Senate, which leaves the future of much of President Obama’s legislative agenda, including healthcare, in doubt.

In the wake of this stunning turn of events, I have granted myself the following exclusive interview, which represents nothing more than an interested outsider’s point of view:

Q: Wow! How did the Democrats manage to lose Ted Kennedy’s seat?

A: Well, it wasn’t easy. Martha Coakley, as it turned out, was a rather poor candidate, and thoroughly unprepared for a fight. As the only woman in the Democratic primary, she was treated with kid gloves by her male opponents. According to the Boston Globe, “Throughout the primary, Coakley’s three male opponents were wary of appearing too aggressive. Early in the campaign, when US Representative Michael E. Capuano called her “cautious,’’ his remarks were called sexist by (state Senate President Therese) Murray…From that point on, none of Coakley’s challengers attacked her with any vigor.” Democrats just assumed (not without reason) that whoever won the primary would win the seat in a cakewalk, and so Coakley was anointed. Scott Brown didn’t hesitate to attack her, and her response was to go on vacation. Soon, Brown had cast himself as the everyman candidate, and Coakley as the tool of the system. Before the Democrats recognized what was happening, the race had gotten away from them.

Q: OK, but the Democrats still have 59 out of 100 U.S. Senators, why is this a big deal?

A: The Senate has a wonderful, time-worn tradition called the filibuster. A filibuster is basically just a rule that says the Senate needs 60 votes to forcibly stop debate and move on to a vote. If a bill is coming up for a vote, and the losing side has at least 40 votes, they can essentially hold Senate business hostage by refusing to end the debate. At that point, the bill must be either put aside or tabled (killed). It’s a great procedural maneuver that gives the minority some leverage, and it’s been used effectively by both sides over the years. James Stewart’s classic 1939 movie, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, is most vividly remembered for its filibuster scene. The Republicans now have enough votes to filibuster again, jeopardizing the Obama agenda.

Q: So what happens to the healthcare bill?

A: That’s anybody’s guess right now. The Senate passed a version that is very different from the version passed by the House. The only way that the Democrats can avoid having to deal with a potential filibuster in the Senate is to get the House to accept the Senate version without changes, and that seems very unlikely. There’s been talk of trying to rush something through before Scott Brown is sworn in, but I doubt that any Democrat up for reelection this year would have the stomach for that. What may end up happening is that the bill gets separated into small, bite-sized chunks, and the pieces that can be agreed upon would then survive. This would allow the President and the Democrats to claim that they kept their promise of healthcare reform, even if it is only limited reform.

Q: So, is this the beginning of a Republican comeback?

A: Not necessarily. There were a lot of factors in play in Massachusetts, not the least of which was the electorate’s desire to “send Washington a message.” If the Democrats are smart, and return to a populist, centrist position on national issues, and if they can change their focus from healthcare to job creation, there’s still time to recapture the agenda. What they can’t afford to do anymore is to appear arrogant, like they did in Massachusetts. One thing that Americans hate is when one party lords over them.

Q: What does this mean for President Obama?

A: It means he must proceed with extreme caution. If he overreacts and begins to cave in on every issue, he’ll be seen as a lame duck by his own party, and he’ll alienate his base. If he goes the other way and becomes more aggressive in pushing his agenda, he risks appearing arrogant in the face of voter anger. In both cases, the Democrats would pay heavily in the Congressional midterms this November. In 1994, Bill Clinton faced a similar crisis and successfully reinvented himself as a centrist; Obama doesn’t have to reinvent himself just yet, but he must heed the danger signs ahead.

Whatever happens, those of us who follow politics as sport are in for a fun ride.

The Speed Camara Conundrum

Speed cameras are once again in the news as State Senator Jim Brochin wants to curtail their use in inactive construction zones, probably after having read a story in the Baltimore Sun that credited 8,800 tickets to the cameras over a six-week period on three stretches of highway marked as work zones.

As a driver who often struggles to stay within the posted limits, I have no love for devices that promise to surreptitiously expose and punish my bad driving habits. However, as someone who believes in the principle of a society based on the rule of law, I have a difficult time defending my right to evade detection.

Yes, I realize that they’re probably just cash cows for local governments, disguised as traffic safety devices, but if they’re generating a lot of money, that means that there are a lot of scofflaws out there, myself included. If I accept the argument that the ability to evade the law is not a right, if I accept the premise that law enforcement agencies have a responsibility to enforce the law, then I must also find my distaste for the cameras problematic, especially in light of the 12mph “grace zone” granted by the devices.

At the end of the day, to argue against speed cameras is to argue for speeding. Speeding causes accidents by reducing the amount of time a driver has to react to changing situations; speeding makes accidents worse by increasing the velocity of the collision. Therefore, it would be lunacy to be consciously supportive of a behavior that can only be viewed as potentially destructive.

There are positive aspects to speed cameras as well. Speed cameras allow police officers to be somewhere else, doing something more important that hiding in the bushes alongside a highway. It would also stand to reason that they’re also probably conditioning drivers to obey the posted speed limits.

Some call the cameras an unreasonable invasion of privacy, but I don’t buy that. If I’m operating as a government-licensed driver, in my government-licensed vehicle on a government-maintained road, where can be my expectation of privacy? Did I not surrender that when I agreed to be subject to government oversight in exchange for the privilege to operate a motor vehicle publicly?

And what about police cameras aimed at street corners where drug-trafficking is known to exist? If those are a good idea, why not speed cameras?

Conservatives contend that the devices are just a sneaky way for tax-and-spend liberals to take and spend more of our money. Perhaps, but bear in mind that those contributing their money have at their disposal an easy way to opt-out: stop speeding.

Does all this logic make me feel better about speed cameras? No. Do I now welcome a proliferation of cameras everywhere, as a low-cost, convenient way to promote law abidance? Unequivocally not. Am I left feeling more comfortable with an increasingly intrusive government? Quite the contrary.

What I’m left with is that uneasy “Big Brother Is Watching You” feeling, but without any way to protest rationally. I know there’s something in all this that’s not right, but I don’t know what.

And it’s that intellectual impotence that bothers me the most.

There’s Still The Vikings

Bud Grant

As a kid growing up in Baltimore, I fell in love with the Minnesota Vikings. How did such a strange thing happen? Accidentally, of course.

I first became an NFL fan in 1973 (that was also the year I started playing pee wee football). At that time, my hometown team, the Baltimore Colts, were between two eras: Johnny Unitas & Bert Jones. They were a terrible team, finishing 4-10 in 1973, and then 2-12 in 1974. So, while they were still my number one team, they were difficult to watch.

One NFL Sunday around this time, the living room console television in my parents’ house was tuned to the NFC game, and what I saw were players dressed in awesome purple uniforms, with horns on their helmets. The dirt field was a mess, it was snowing and they didn’t seem to even notice. Their coach stared impassively out at the field while these purple machines consumed their opponents and spit out the remains on the snow-covered ground. On the sidelines, standing next to players who refused to cover up against the cold, was a guy dressed as a Viking, with a shield and a sword and he was screaming in a sort of blind rage. This, I thought, is how professional football ought to look. And at that moment, I fell in love.

The Vikings defense at that time was called “The Purple People Eaters,” and that they did. As I followed their exploits through the playoffs, I watched as they mugged and beat down one team after another on their march to the Super Bowl.

The Purple People Eaters

Their offense was really good, too. Quarterback Fran Tarkenton was famous for scrambling in the pocket, buying time until a receiver came open. It seemed like one always did.

They also had a great running back, Chuck Foreman, who rushed for a thousand yards in three straight seasons (this was in a fourteen game schedule when rushing for a thousand yards meant something).

In the 1970s, the Vikings finished 1st in their division almost every year, and went to three Super Bowls, losing to each of the era’s AFC powerhouses (Dolphins, Steelers, Raiders) once. No matter, I was hooked on the purple, and as any adult will tell you, childhood addictions tend to stay with you forever.

When the Colts abandoned Baltimore in 1984, I was lucky to have the Vikings as an easy fallback team. They continued to have success, reaching the playoffs seven times between 1987-1996, but they never made it back to the Super Bowl. Still, I was a fan, and was even crazy enough to wear Vikings gear to the Vet in November of 1989 for a game against the Eagles (Herschel Walker returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, but they still managed to lose 10-9).

When the Ravens came to town, I immediately elevated them to my number one team, but my passion for the Vikings remained. (I was thrilled when the team ditched the “Browns” with their hideous color scheme and adopted purple.) I have since seen the Vikings and Ravens play twice in Baltimore, which is always a treat. I still wear Vikings gear, but now it’s on a platoon basis with my Ravens stuff. Every Christmas, one of my football traditions is intertwined purple & gold garland, which remains on display until both the Ravens and Vikings are eliminated. Which brings me to today.

Sadly, midnight came for the Ravens Saturday night, but on the bright side, the Vikings looked great in smashing the super-hyped Cowboys yesterday. So, for now, the purple garland remains, and I get to look forward to the 8th appearance for the Vikings in an NFC Championship game.

In all of this is a lesson: it’s always good to have a fallback option.

MyUMBC Goes Ravens Purple

With the Ravens in the playoffs again, it’s neat to see everything in town going purple, like City Hall:

UMBC is getting in on the fun, too. For example, when the Ravens are in the playoffs, the top of the AOK Library goes purple:

I know in this photo it looks blue, but trust me, it's purple.

And now, the MyUMBC web portal has joined the mania:

I hope there’s a reason to keep that color up for a few more weeks, a least!

10 Best State Flags

For today’s Friday History List, I look at what I consider to be the best-looking state flags. While this list is not altogether historic, but there are historic elements here.

10. Oregon – This flag makes the list for two reasons: It is the only state flag with different images on each side, and one of those images is a beaver.

Oregon (front)

Oregon (reverse)

9. California – This flag has a bear on it, commemorating the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846, which “liberated” California from the oppressive, distant, remote hand of Mexico.

California

8. New Mexico – There are two states with cool Indian designs. I prefer New Mexico because it just looks cleaner and classier than Oklahoma. Also, the state’s name isn’t on the flag, which is always a plus.

New Mexico

7. South Carolina – South Carolina has always had the palmetto tree association, so I appreciate the history. For some reason also, the palmetto tree is now very popular as a window sticker (are that many Marylanders originally from South Carolina?). Finally, blue and white are classy colors.

South Carolina

6. Alaska – What’s better than blue and white? Blue and gold! (Think Buffalo Sabres.) Add to that the very cool element of the Big Dipper, and I’m on board. (“Hey, Sarah! I can see your flag from my Mac!”)

Alaska

5. Hawaii – This flag reminds me of the Grand Union flag from the American Revolution, which makes me biased, but it’s my list, so who cares? There are two American state flags that include the flag of an enemy nation. This is one; Mississippi is the other.

Hawaii

4. Arizona – Arizona’s flag reminds me of a psychedelic painting that might have hung in a college dorm room in 1967, or perhaps a scene from the director’s cut of Yellow Submarine. For such a conservative state, this flag is pretty far-out.

Arizona

3. Wyoming – A classic color scheme (red, white and blue), the state seal, and yes, a massive bison. What more need I say?

Wyoming

2. Ohio – Ohio has the only state flag with an irregular shape. In fact, it’s shaped like a cavalry guidon from the 19th century, which is probably why I like it so much. There’s a big “O” in the center, the colors are good and the stars reflect the number of states in the Union when Ohio was admitted in 1803. Lots going on here.

1. Maryland – The only state flag with English heraldry, the Maryland flag is comprised of the heralds of the families of the founder of Maryland, George Calvert, and thus this flag’s design can be traced back to the 16th century. The black and gold coat of arms is from the Calvert family, and the red and white is from the Crossland family (Calvert’s mother’s family). Interesting, the red and white of the Crossland herald became associated with Maryland secessionists during the Civil War and was banned for the duration. Put it all together and you have what is clearly the coolest flag of all the state flags.

Maryland

One final note: It is very disappointing to note the number of states who apparently all said the same thing: “Design? Just throw the state seal on a blue field and maybe put the name on the bottom. Who cares what the state flag looks like anyway?”