Saturday, December 22, 2007

OK, here we go ...

Two weeks left of the NFL season and two more chances for me to play with the house's money. I've got my five-teamer in, but this week I'm not going to release it to the three of you reading this blog, because I don't want to jinx it. I feel good about it, or maybe I'm just whistling past the graveyard.

The weekend got off to an inauspicious start when my BYU-under parlay went up in smoke, thanks to the bone-headed move by the Cougars late in the first half. All they had to do was kneel on the ball twice inside their own 10-yard line and take a 17-6 lead into the half. Instead, they try to run the ball, and predictably they fumble. UCLA recovers, scores a TD two plays later, and carry all the momentum into the half.

The Cougars held on to win 17-16, but take away that freebie touchdown and they cover as well. Thanks a lot, Bronco Mendenhall. You're a disgrace to Broncos everywhere.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Better safe than sorry

I'm sure some Twins fans are lamenting the fact that they didn't even pursue Japanese outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, who signed a four-year, $48 million contract with the Cubs this week.

I, for one, am glad they didn't throw their hat into that ring. I've got nothing against Japanese players, and I sure wish Carl Pohlad would spend some of his billions on quality players instead of carrying out his plan to line his coffin with $1,000 bills.

But can you even imagine the hysteria at WCCO when Sid would try to pronounce "Fukudome" for the first time? Or even the 50th time? Face it, the Twins did their old broadcast partner a favor by saving them from multiple FCC obscenity fines.

And if Bob Casey were still the public address announcer at the dome, all bets would be off. That would have been a press box moment I would have flown back to witness.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

That's ----in' teamwork!

The sports world provided us two interesting examples of what some people think it means to be a good teammate in 2007. The first came on Monday night at the New Orleans Saints-Atlanta Falcons game, which happened to coincide with the sentencing of Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick on his dogfighting conviction.

After scoring a touchdown, the Falcons' Roddy White yanked up his jersey to reveal the slogan "Free Mike Vick" scrawled on his t-shirt. And in pregame introductions, defensive back DeAngelo Hall waved a Michael Vick poster at the fans and cameras.

White explained his actions thusly: "It ain't too much to say, you know. The team misses him and we really need him this season. There ain't too much more to say about it."

Hall said, "We did that for the simple fact we wanted to let him know we're still thinking about him."

OK, nice sentiments and all, and I guess I can stomach Hall's actions without major nausea. But White's t-shirt says all you need to know about the mentality of many of our fellow travelers. "Free" Vick? He's not Nelson Mandela. He hasn't been wrongly convicted -- in fact, he has admitted his crime and, at least on the surface, has said that he accepts his punishment. There's no need to "free" him from the bonds that he himself has accepted.

And if White really wanted to let Vick know that they needed him this season, that maybe they wouldn't be 3-10 and searching for a new head coach for the second time in 11 months if Vick hadn't been such a moron -- perhaps a better message on the t-shirt would have been, "F-U Mike Vick!"

On the other end of the teammate spectrum, it's hard to find a better example of leadership and even friendship than the actions of Lebron James last night. James was returning to the lineup after missing five games with a hand injury, while forward Anderson Varejao was playing his first game of the season after a lengthy holdout during which he said he didn't want to play in Cleveland.

But King James checked his ego at the locker room door and forsook what would have been a thunderous ovation during introductions, choosing instead to enter the game six minutes into the first quarter -- at the same time as Varejao -- in order to spare Varejao from a wave of boos that surely would have greeted him.

"I thought by coming in with Andy it might stop some of the boos Andy might get. Andy is one of my favorite players, I was just protecting my teammate," James said after the game.

So King James, who said he'd never started a game on the bench going back to his elementary school days, decided that his teammate's comfort level was more important than his own personal glorification. That's why he's a team leader, and schmucks like Roddy White will never be anything more than followers.

Monday, December 10, 2007

My first rodeo ... literally

OK, so we're taking a break from the football talk because you certainly don't want to read my ramblings on a topic about which I apparently know so little (1-3-1 on the parlay this week).

Last night, I had another one of those "only in Vegas" moments. My beloved wife scored us front-row seats at the National Finals Rodeo, an annual 10-day event that brings in more money to Las Vegas than even the adult video awards -- seriously! I wrote all about it in this month's Las Vegas Life magazine (and yes, check out that belt buckle -- that is my name at the bottom of the oval -- kudos to the LVL art department). And since I've been writing about it, I figured I'd better go see what it's all about.

The front-row seats made the experience even better than I could have imagined. We were close enough to be peppered with clods of dirt as the horses raced past us, if you can imagine that. In fact, the rodeo was televised on ESPN2 last night and I'm guessing we were probably on TV at some point.

But the highlight came 10 minutes after we settled into our seats, when another party of four came down to join us. And for the next three hours, just two seats down from my wife was none other than Mr. Wayne Newton. We're not exactly the star-struck types, but my mother-in-law did get a photo of Mr. Las Vegas. And I thought he might get hounded by autograph seekers but the rodeo crowd played it pretty cool.

That was the highlight. The lowlight? Well, people who know me know I despised the Twins' in-game production crew for foisting Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." on us at the 7th-inning stretch for no apparent reason than to pander to the faux-patriotism crowd in post-9/11 America. And I should have been suspicious last night when representatives from our local Air Force base were handing out little American flags as we entered the building.

Sure enough, we were treated to "God Bless the U.S.A." before the national anthem, live and in person by Lee Greenwood himself. The crowd went nuts. Flags were waving. Whatever. I truly enjoyed the anthem itself, sung by another airman from Nellis AFB, and we had numerous opportunities to applaud for our boys and girls in the military as it seemed they were introduced during every break in the action. That was all very cool. I guess I'm just jaded by Lee Greenwood, because all I could do during that song was shake my head and remember the nights in the Metrodome press box when that song would send me, Brad Zellar and a few other regulars into fits of eye-rolling.

(Seriously, not to digress too much, but would it have been too hard to mix in Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World" or even some Mellencamp, something less brazenly right-wing? I don't ask for much ...)

As for the rodeo itself, it was very entertaining. I enjoyed the speed of the barrel racing, the power of the bulls, the agility of the ropers, and the tenacity of the bronco riders who hung onto those bucking steeds for eight seconds like their life depended on it.

So, the rodeo joins a list with Celine Dion and NASCAR as events I never would have seen had I not moved to Vegas, as well as events I probably wouldn't pay to attend again but I enjoyed seeing anyway. Actually, I could see myself paying to go back to the rodeo, except the tickets are sold out a year in advance.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

BCS Chaos

Not to toot my own horn too much, but recently I've been hearing a number of arguments for a playoff system in Division I college football. I know this is nothing new -- I mean, really, I know that because I was doing the same thing seven or eight years ago on the pages of Channel 4000.

The plan that most closely resembles the 16-team bracket that my friend Smooth Jimmy helped me assemble is the one I saw from Yahoo.com's Dan Wetzel, cleverly titled "The Wetzel Plan." If I remember correctly, we had a much snazzier moniker for our tournament, something like "Holiday Hysteria." And we incorporated the bowl games into the system -- the top 15 bowls would host the 15 playoff games, with the championship game rotating between the bowls that are now designated as BCS games.

Regardless of the plan, it's time for it to happen. The system right now just doesn't work. Consider this: If Missouri loses to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship game, Ohio State will play in the national championship. Missouri would have two losses, both to Oklahoma. Ohio State lost to Illinois, but doesn't have to face the Illini or anybody else in the Big Ten Championship game because there is no such thing.

And with so much parity in the NCAA these days -- due mostly to scholarship limits and TV exposure for more than just a handful of big-ticket programs -- it's ridiculous to let computers, coaches and sportswriters determine which two teams deserve to play one game to determine the national champion. The so-called "mythical national champion" that we once referred to has become more mythical than ever under the BCS.

Then again, I should be hoping Ohio State gets to face West Virginia in the title game. Wild horses couldn't keep me from laying the kids' college fund against the slow-footed, rusty Buckeyes in that one. That's one betting tip I'm giving you for free -- during the bowl season, whether you're here in Vegas or just in an office pool, you're best to bet against the Big Ten. We'll go over the matchups when they're announced, but Illinois is really the only Big Ten school that's playing a style (and has the talent) requisite to challenge a team from one of the other power conferences.

Parlay update: Last week, I went 3-for-5, with the stunning Patriots near-miss serving as an anchor to my ticket. But in a sense, I'm glad they didn't cover, because that would have been one tough 4-for-5 to swallow.

To wit: My other miss was the over on the Titans/Bengals game. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Titans were inside the Bengals 5, trailing 35-6. One more TD and we'd be over the 47.5 spot for that game. Titans running back Chris Brown found the end zone and I thought I had that one salted away ... but the Bengals challenged the spot, saying he was down inside the 1. Replays supported their challenge, leaving the Titans with a 3rd-and-goal inside the 1. Of course, they got stuffed on 3rd down, and Vince Young threw the ball away on 4th down, and the Bengals basically ran out the rest of the clock.

And that's why they call it gambling.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Week 12: Turkey parlay with rice

All shopped out? Sick of leftovers yet? Want to throttle your house guests with a spare drumstick? Fear not, the football picks are here, salve for your weary soul:

Bears -2.5 vs. Denver -- the Broncos played on Monday night, so going on the road after a short week should help even the middling Monstrosity of the Midway to win by a field goal.

Browns -3.5 vs. Houston -- I'm liking the Brownies, I really am. Anderson, Edwards, Winslow, even decrepit ex-con Jamal Lewis, plus a revamped offensive line. I don't care if they win this one 44-40, just win it by four, baby.

Titans/Bengals over 47.5 -- Tennessee also played on Monday night and has a road game after a short week. That should open the door for the Bengals to score some points. And we all know how generous the Cincinnati defense has been in recent years.

Ravens/Chargers over 38.5 -- Kyle Boller has been a human enema for the Ravens, facilitating smoother ball movement since replacing Steve "The Statue" McNair under center. Plus the Chargers, for all their faults, can put points on the board, especially at home.

Patriots -22.5 vs. Eagles -- Seriously, can you even picture the Pats scoring fewer than 38 points in a home game against a mediocre NFC team? And if they hit 38, the Eagles will have to score 16. No matter how high Vegas pushes the number, the Pats just seem to rise above it. You can't even bet on the total in this game -- even the oddsmakers are afraid of the Patriots.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Spend like a patriot

Before President George W. Bush leaves office, he has a chance to leave a true legacy this nation will remember far longer than Plamegate, Attorneygate, Torturegate, JeffGannongate or Bulgeinthebackofhisjacketgate.

He can officially make the day after Thanksgiving "National Shopping Day."

Maybe that name isn't strong or catchy enough. "Spend Like a Patriot Day" has a bit of a nationalistic ring to it. "Fight Terror at the Mall Day" might be taken too literally. "Shop 'Til We Drop the Terror Alert Level to Blue Day" probably won't fit on calendars but it's going down the right path, at least. With the Hollywood writers on strike, I'm sure the guys from "24" would be happy to put their pointy heads together and come up with something more pertinent.

Anyway, why should this Friday be Dubya's big day? Well, of course you recall that in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9-11-01, instead of asking the country to pull together, make sacrifices and support the war effort (as this great country's citizens have done in wartime before), the President exhorted us to get out and spend until we're blue in the face. A strong economy, you see, is good for the country, or at least the country-club fundraisers that keep the Republican political machine well-oiled.

And what day could be more emblematic of our country's blind fealty to the Almighty Dollar than the day after Thanksgiving? I can't wait to tune into my local TV newscasts on Friday to see footage of crowds of crazed shoppers shoving through the doors at 6 a.m. to be the first to get their grubby paws on a bunch of cheap, plastic crap tainted with Chinese lead that's marked down seven percent from its usual ridiculous price.

Wait, did I say 6 a.m.? That's for pussies. I just saw an ad on the teevee telling me that Kohl's will be open at 4 a.m. Friday morning. That's right, four o-friggin-clock in the blessed a.m. How would you like to be one of the Kohl's employees who drew the short straw for that shift? "Sorry honey, we're going to have to settle for turkey bacon and savory stuffing omelets because I need to be in bed by halftime of the Lions game so I can get to work on time."

But that's just the kind of can-do spirit all of us U.S. Americans can be proud of. Don't we deserve an official holiday to commemorate our willingness to fight the terrorists at dawn in the K-Mart parking lot?

So let me be the first to wish you a happy National Shopping Day, Bush willing. Now get to bed. You've got to carpool with the Dunkin Donuts guy on Friday to get the bargains.

Monday, November 19, 2007

I'm pretty sure I've heard that one before

A friend and former colleague of mine often uses his blog to investigate and opine on the inanity of the corporate buzzword culture. His most recent "lang-alert" shines a cruel spotlight on the phrase "move-forward-basis" -- it's a must-read for those of you who cringe at overused business lingo or play buzzword bingo at staff meetings.

Of course, being a sports guy and language buff, I've noticed the same phenomenon going on for years in sports announcing. It seems to be especially rampant in football, which is the sport treated most like a business -- frequent meetings, special insider language, and overwhelming arrogance being the hallmarks of each.

So, here's the first of periodic entries discussing the cliches and buzzwords that drive me nuts during sports telecasts. Today, we're going to be treated to a rare three-for-one, in which the announcer hit a rare jargonized trifecta in one breath.

On Saturday, I was watching the last gasps of the Gophers' 1-11 season, a seven-point loss to the University of Wisconsin, televised on the Big Ten Network (my home being one of about 34 in the country to receive the startup channel). One of the announcers -- some clown named Chris Martin -- was analyzing a leaping grab by tight end Travis Beckum (amazingly avoiding the obvious "bend it like ..." pun, thank you very much), when he uttered the following gem:

"Beckum can (1) play with his hand on the ground, he can (2) make plays in space, and watch him (3) high-point this pass from Donovan."

OK, here's the translation: Beckum is sort of a hybrid between wide receiver and tight end, so Martin was trying to point out that he (1) can line up on the line of scrimmage as well as (2) gain yardage when he catches the ball with nobody around him, and that on this particular play he (3) caught the ball at the apex of his leap.

Wow. That's quite a mouthful. I think "in space" will merit an entry of its own somewhere down the road, but "hand on the ground" is one of those obnoxious terms the football-obsessed use when talking with each other. You hear it constantly in the month leading up to the NFL Draft. Basically, it's a more colorful way of saying a guy can play on the line -- either on offense or defense.

But using "high-point" as a verb? Bravo, Mr. Martin. I'm in awe of your talkability.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Week 11

Here's the winning ticket for Week 11:

Browns -2.5 at Baltimore
Patriots -15.5 at Buffalo
Packers -9.5 vs. Carolina
Lions +2.5 vs. New York Football Giants
Houston/New Orleans over 47.5

The rationale: the Browns can score and the Ravens can't; the Patriots are unstoppable and with Marshawn Lynch on the pines, the Bills won't be able to hang onto the ball; the Packers are charmed and the Panthers are playing Otto Graham at QB this week; the Lions are God's Team and the Giants built that 6-game winning streak against a bunch of chumps; and Andre Johnson is back for the Texans so there should be points aplenty in that one.

Long week

Well, I'd better at least recap last week before we look at this week's NFL games. I went 4-for-5 on my parlay, with only the Eagles' fourth-quarter comeback against the Skins costing me the money. I was just a touch frustrated as I watched the green helmets matriculate down the field with impunity because I felt so confident (and rightly so) about the rest of my picks.

Not much else is going on in my world. Sorry so boring. I'll have more tomorrow, however.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The 5-teamer, Week 10

In my never-ending quest to beat the wise guys at their own game, here's what to look for in the NFL tomorrow:

Buffalo -2.5 at Miami
Cincinnati +4.5 at Baltimore
Washington -2.5 vs. Philadelphia
Dallas -1.5 at the Giants
IND/SD under 48.5

One of the problems with betting on the NFL this year is that there are so many terrible teams, and even more mediocre teams, that you have to bet on one of them when you're picking a parlay. It's even worse when New England has a bye week.

My rationale here is that Miami is just pathetic and the Bills are at least a field goal better than them on the road, the Bengals should score enough to stay close to the offensively challenged Ravens, the Skins are tough at home and the Eagles are terrible everywhere, the Cowboys are one of the few teams you can feel good about no matter where they are playing, and the Colts will keep the ball on the ground enough (if they watched the game films from Adrian Peterson's evisceration of the Chargers last week) to keep that game under its inflated total.

By the way, if you're interested, my friend Smooth Jimmy St. Paul turned me onto a fascinating article about betting lines on nationally televised games. The gist of the article is that sports books will crank up both the spread and the total because people like to bet on games they're going to watch, and they like to bet on favorites and on the over (because who wants to root against points being scored?). So the smart money on most Sunday and Monday night games is on the dog and the under, or so the theory goes. Food for thought, at least, and perhaps it figured into my Colts-Chargers under pick.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Welcome to music hell

People who know me well know that I'm into the live music scene. Or at least I was in Minneapolis. I'd get to a couple shows a month, at First Ave or the 400 or the Turf Club, wherever great bands played in the Twin Cities.

So on the surface, you'd think the move to Las Vegas -- The Entertainment Capital Of The World! -- would have worked out well for me. Except that it hasn't.

That's because the bands I like, the bands who would play First Ave or the 400 or the Turf Club, generally don't play Vegas. I've seen a couple decent shows as part of the Vegoose Festival -- Beck two years ago, Jenny Lewis last year -- and I've seen the Decemberists, the Drams, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and the Hold Steady in the last year. I also missed a chance to see Rilo Kiley last month when I happened to be back in Minnesota.

But that's it. That would have been a good month for me in the past. Now, it's a good year. That was hammered home to me last week when I got the following e-mail from Ticketmaster, promoting upcoming Las Vegas shows:

On Sale This Week
Check out these event(s) that matched your interests.
Tool Tool
Pearl Concert Theater at Palms Casino Resort
Las Vegas, NV
Thu, 12/13/07 more dates
On Sale Sat, 11/03/07
Other events going on sale in your area.
Nathan Burton Comedy Magic
V Theater at Planet Hollywood Las Vegas
Las Vegas, NV
Thu, 11/22/07 more dates
On Sale Wed, 10/31/07
Bryan Adams
The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas
Las Vegas, NV
Fri, 02/08/08 more dates
On Sale Sat, 11/03/07
MANILOW : Music and Passion
Las Vegas Hilton
Las Vegas, NV
Tue, 03/04/08 more dates
On Sale Sat, 11/03/07
PURE New Year's Eve Celebration
The Colosseum At Caesars Palace
Las Vegas, NV
Mon, 12/31/07
On Sale Wed, 10/31/07
Jonathan Davis of Korn
House of Blues Las Vegas
Las Vegas, NV
Tue, 12/11/07
On Sale Fri, 11/02/07
That's right -- Tool, Bryan (not Ryan) Adams, Barry Manilow, and the guy from Korn (not even all of Korn, just the guy from Korn). That's what I've got to look forward to here in the next two months or so.

So I've got a new slogan for the LVCVA. "Vegas: It's kind of like if they moved the Medina Ballroom to Branson!" Or, alternatively, "Vegas: The Mystic Lake of the West!"

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Week 9: What we learned

Well, we learned that I was darn close to playing with the house's money for the rest of the year. Here was my five-team parlay: Lions -2.5 vs. Denver, Bills +0.5 vs. Cinci, Cowboys -3.5 at Philadelphia, Chargers -7.5 at Minnesota, and Patriots -5.5 at Indianapolis. So, if not for the historical greatness of Adrian Peterson (link to my pal Dave Campbell's game story) and the curious non-return of a fumble by Roosevelt Colvin (who could have turned right and headed into field goal range), I might have been rolling in the Station Casinos' money tonight.

We also learned that the NFC might not be as bad as the AFC after all. Check out how NFC teams fared in interconference games this week:

  • Detroit beat Denver 44-7 as 3-point favorites
  • Green Bay won 33-22 at Kansas City as 2.5-point underdogs
  • The Vikings spanked San Diego 35-17 as 7.5-point dogs
  • New Orleans hammered Jacksonville 41-24 as 3.5-point favorites
  • Washington beat the Jets 23-20 in OT as 3-point road favorites
  • Tennessee beat Carolina 20-7 as 7.5-point favorites
  • Cleveland beat Seattle 33-30 in OT as 3-point home favorites
So ... the NFC went 5-2 straight up, 4-1-2 ATS, 2-0-1 ATS as favorites, 2-0 ATS as dogs ... all in all, a good week for the weaker conference.

Oh, and the Vikings just signed Koy Detmer. The rich get richer.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloweeen in Vegas v3.0

This is our third Halloween in Vegas. Here's what the girls looked like tonight as they went about shaking down the neighbors for candy.

Fiona as the Half-Devil/Half-Angel:



Nora as Velma (from Scooby-Doo):


The girls together:

I got to trick-or-treat with Nora while Fiona was at a Halloween party, and the reaction to her costume was universally positive. We thought about trying to darken her hair a bit, but out on the streets nobody knew the difference. And yes, that is her normal haircut -- who knew that Velma would be such a trendsetter? The highlight of my evening was when Nora dropped her specs, and in true Velma fashion said, "My glasses!" If only she could have stumbled upon a monster's foot while groping for them, life truly would have imitated art.

As for Fiona, we'd been discussing ways to make this costume from scratch since about a month ago when she came up with the idea. Fortunately for all of us, we found this version at one of the ubiquitous Halloween superstores that spring up in the strip malls here around September 15. I told her it's a perfect match for her personality and she couldn't argue with that. It's also the first non-Vegas costume she's worn since we came out here -- two years ago she was a die, and last year she was the queen of hearts. Then again, you could argue that this costume is extremely reflective of life in Las Vegas.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Well, that was quick

So much for a memorable World Series. Even being at Coors Field the last two days, I have few memories of the Boston sweep, because nothing memorable really happened. Matt Holliday's 3-run homer in the 7th inning on Saturday was a big moment, but quickly became a moot point when the Sox matched it with a 3-spot of their own in the 8th. And the Atkins home run gave the Rockies a little life in last night's game, but they just had no shot against Papelbon.

I think I actually missed the biggest story of the night by being at the park instead of watching it on TV. A-Rod's announcement that he will opt for free agency instead of returning to the Yankees is causing a big fuss among the national talkers today, because he and agent Scott Boras felt they had to thrust themselves into the conversation with the Red Sox two innings away from another World Series win. That's par for the course with Boras, and the overreaction to this ploy says more about the country's collective dislike for A-Rod and the deep-seated inferiority complex among Red Sox fans, who seem to be happiest when they have something to complain about.

A couple of media notes to wrap this up with a bow: If you've grown weary of the long World Series games, send an angry note to the fine people at FOX. At the stadium, the between-inning breaks seem interminable, I'm guessing because FOX gets to squeeze in an extra 30-second commercial every break, including pitching changes, which are numerous in the postseason when every manager knows the world is watching to see what a brilliant tactician he is.

Also, I listened to some post-game shows on the radio last night and they were pretty bad -- I think Minnesota sports fans are spoiled with KFAN. Maybe they don't talk 100 percent sports, but for the most part they know what they're talking about when they talk about sports. One guy on a Denver radio show last night -- the host, mind you -- thought that Troy Tulowitzki's rough World Series would hurt his chances to win the Rookie of the Year (the voting is conducted before the postseason starts), and when a caller said Matt Holliday should be the MVP, the host didn't know that Jimmy Rollins was his main competition, and he thought Prince Fielder was probably going to win it because he hit 29 home runs this year. I don't know, maybe he was stoned, but it was terrible.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

5-teamer, distraction-style

I won't be paying much attention to the NFL this weekend, what with my trip to Denver for the World Series and all, so here's what I'm hoping occurs in my absence from the front of my TV:

Colts -6.5 at Panthers
Colts/Panthers over 44.5
Giants -9.5 vs. Dolphins in London (which could be an entry of its own)
Bucs -3.5 vs. Jaguars
Bills +2.5 at Jets

Carry on.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The ex-Twin factor

Baseball fans have always looked for an edge in determining the World Series winner. One popular notion is that the team with fewer ex-Cubs will win. So, let's look at it from an ex-Twin perspective. I'm still not sure if more or fewer ex-Twins will get you over the hump, but regardless, here are the former Minnesota ballplayers still toiling under the October skies:

Boston -- Bobby Kielty, David Ortiz (and Jason Varitek was a former first-round draft pick of the Twins but never signed)

Colorado -- LaTroy Hawkins

Considering how the Rockies have done so far in the playoffs (Phillies -- J.D. Durbin, Kyle Lohse, J.C. Romero; Arizona -- Jeff Cirillo, Augie Ojeda), you've got to like Colorado again.

All of this is a round-about way of mentioning that I'm going to be in Denver for the middle three games of the Series. I'm writing a couple of feature articles for magazines based in Colorado and Boston, and I've got a credential, so it didn't take much arm-twisting to get me there. WHIH will post from Coors Field when possible. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Peter King and the preemptive strike

Peter King is one of the top football commentators in the country. He writes for Sports Illustrated, appears on HBO and NBC to discuss the NFL, and his "Monday Morning Quarterback" column on SI.com has become a must-read to the country's NFL fans.

Plus, he's a good guy, because he'll occasionally take a call from a nameless Viking Update writer and offer his take on the Purple.

Every Tuesday, he pens a follow-up to his MMQB column that responds to reader e-mail reactions to MMQB. He also usually tosses in a few new points, like his first item today, a preemptive strike for the ages that I hope gets posted on the bulletin board in the Colts' locker room:

I don't want to hear one thing from a Colt in the next two weeks along the lines of: "Nobody is giving us any credit. Everybody's jumping on the Patriot bandwagon, and people seem to forget we won the Super Bowl last year. We're getting dissed.''
Excellent point. All too often, players fall back on this straw-man argument and end up sounding like scared, petulant little children. This isn't a comment on the Colts, per se, but on all athletes in general. It will be interesting to see if the Colts, led by one of the classiest people in all of sports (Tony Dungy), will be able to resist this tired, fake motivational ploy.

While we're on the subject of the NFL, I went 3-for-5 last week, losing with the Raiders at home and Steelers on the road. I'd make those same picks every week, as I think both losses were flukes. We'll see what this week holds ...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

WWJRD?

Remember when the big wave of the neoChristian movement a few years ago centered around those silly bracelets sporting the question, "WWJD?" Sure, they turned into more of a fashion statement and status symbol among the bible-camping tween girl crowd, but those initials stuck with us and are now part of our collective vocabulary.

That being said, I think it's time to introduce a new set of bracelets, t-shirts and bumper stickers with this slogan: "WWJRD?

As in, "What Would Jesus Really Do?"

I'm not going to get sidetracked here with a screed about the hypocrisy glaringly evident among so-called Christian politicians and fundamentalist megachurch leaders whose public statements often don't match their private actions, much to the rightful chagrin of those who've voted for them or pumped billions into their collection baskets.

No, this post is inspired by the actions of regular, every-day Christians, salt-of-the-earth types who want to shove their religion down the throats of their fellow citizens at every turn. Recently, I saw a car sporting a decal of "Calvin" from comic strip fame kneeling reverently before a cross.

Of course, this is merely an offshoot of the numerous "Calvin pissing" decals, in which the cheeky young lad relieves himself on various symbols that somehow have offended the car's owner -- rival automobile manufacturers, sports teams, even Osama bin Laden. I recently read an article about the creator of Calvin & Hobbes, Bill Watterson, in which I was not surprised to learn that not only was he not involved in creating these decals, nor does he receive any royalties from them, he would like the practice to cease and desist, but the legal fees associated with such a Quixotic battle would be overwhelming.

So, getting back to my main point, what does this have to do with "WWJRD?" Well, I know one thing Jesus wouldn't do ...

HE WOULDN'T STEAL ANOTHER PERSON'S INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY TO PROMOTE HIS OWN AGENDA!!!!!

Ya morons.

The 5-teamer, Week 7-style

Here's who fans of WHIH must root for on Sunday, because I'm ready to spend the rest of the season playing with the house's money:

Bills +3.5 vs. Ravens
Raiders -2.5 vs. Chiefs
Steelers -3.5 at Denver
Patriots -16.5 at Miami
Bengals/Jets over 46.5

I'm not really confident in any of these, and hope the handicapping gods will look kindly upon me this week. O great handicapping gods, I will leave you this gift of cookies for you in a show of my true gratitude. If you want me to eat them for you, give me no signal.

Thy will be done. Mmmm ... cookies ....

Sweet Jaysus, Lawd A'mighty

What else can you say about the breathtaking incompetence displayed by my alma mater on the gridiron? Well, other than wondering if www.firetimbrewster.com is available, that is.

I was prepared to see the Gophers lose to North Dakota State today. I mean, the Bison are the No. 1 team in the nation at their tier of schools -- formerly Division I-AA, now the Football Championship Cul-de-Sac. And the Gophers are truly bad.

But I was not prepared to be so frustrated with the way the Gophers lost. Maybe I haven't watched enough of their games lately. Maybe they've been playing this way all year. But I don't think so. They were flat-out embarrassing today. There's no other way to describe it.

With 30 seconds left in the first half, they were tied 14-14 and I thought that was about as it should be -- a bad D1 team is about equal to a great D1-AA. But then the Gophers allowed a slow, slower and even slower glorified fullback to scamper up the gut for 70 yards, setting up a free field goal.

Then the second half started, and the mistakes mounted. They could have downed a punt at the NDSU 2-yard line, but Steve Davis couldn't catch a ball that was falling softly into his hands on the bounce with nobody around him (in part, because he inexplicably leaped into the air like he was going for a rebound). They dropped passes. They couldn't tackle. They committed penalties. They threw interceptions. And finally, they roughed the punter when they had one last chance to save their own butts.

People are already saying the teams were equal, or that the Bison had better talent. I'm not buying it. That lets Tim Brewster off the hook too easily. This team has been ill-prepared all season, no more glaringly so than today. They let the Bison gain almost 40 yards on the ground. And despite what the morons in the booth were saying all game, that Roehl kid is NOT fast! You don't have to be fast to gain 15 yards when you aren't touched until you're 12 yards past the line of scrimmage. The defense was out of position all game. The line couldn't get off their blocks, the linebackers were clueless, and the secondary was nowhere to be seen.

The offense wasn't much better. The D couldn't catch its breath in the second half because the offense kept going 3-and-out. But the blame for this one falls squarely on the shoulders of the coaching staff. If you get beat because both teams played well and the other team just scored more points, I can accept that. But NDSU missed two field goals, coughed up a fumble that led to a Minnesota TD, and roughed the passer to extend another Gopher TD drive. They didn't play particularly well.

And when a Division I-AA team leaves the door open for their opponent to beat them, and Division I team should take care of business with ease. Even a terrible Division I team.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

NFL Week 6: What we learned

Ugh. I've been putting this off, because I'm getting weary of revisiting my mediocrity. But I have to do it, so here goes: 1-for-5 on the parlay, with the Vikings' offensive explosion blowing two of the picks, and the Patriots continuing to be the bedrock. Jeez, that was the ugliest yet.

We also learned that Adrian Peterson is the real deal; the Chargers might be back after all; the AFC might be dominant, but the AFC East is the worst division in football; Vinny Testaverde -- who was a week old when JFK was shot -- can still get it done; the Saints at least have a pulse; and the Falcons do not.

One other comment: readers of Bill Simmons, a.k.a. ESPN's Sports Guy, know by now that he's become obsessed with the Patriots' supposed mistreatment by the national media in the wake of their signal-taping scandal. His latest column about it was filled with angst and petulance and paranoia, and it's getting a little bit old. He's turning this into such a "we're the victim" story that I am growing weary of reading him these days. I still love his writing, but he's dead wrong about this one.

For one thing, the Pats got off easy, even if every team does this and they were the only ones who were caught. And this whole idea that everybody hates the Patriots now, that they're the Cobra Kai Yankees, as he put it? Ridiculous. Maybe I'm jaded by living in Vegas, but around here, everybody's favorite team is the team who brings home their bets, and the Patriots are now 6-0 against the spread. Vegas can't keep up with them -- they put out a line, it moves up by a point or two as the money flows in on New England, and the Pats still cover with ease. So I love the Patriots, and I think even non-gamblers love watching what they're doing this year.

So Billy boy, your team is not universally loathed. You're not the villains, the NFL version of the Yankees, and you're certainly not the victims in this whole taping scandal. So please, give it a rest and get back to obsessing about the fading careers of former child stars, the genius of Isiah Thomas, and the reality show du jour. Victimization does not become you.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

NFL Week 6: The Parlay

Here's the parlay for Week 6 -- I was in a rush because I'm heading back to Minnesota on Friday and trying to get a ton of stuff done today, so I didn't even put that much thought into it. Maybe that'll be the magic formula.

Bengals -2.5 at KC
Bears -5.5 vs. Minnesota
Bears/Vikings under 37.5
Rams +9.5 at Baltimore
Patriots -5.5 at Dallas

Biggest concern: Rams, of course, but I thought Gus was frisky enough on Sunday to move the ball on the Ravens, and Baltimore's offense shouldn't be able to beat anybody by 10 points.

The shoe-in is the Patriots. They just don't not cover. Or, as any of a number of self-important windbag football announcers today might say, "I'm not so sure I don't think there's not a chance of the Patriots not covering this week."

Only in Vegas: Moment #354

I was just trying to set up an interview with a woman known as "the running reverend" -- she's going to be marrying or renewing the vows of more than 50 couples at the Las Vegas Marathon on Dec. 2. So typical of Vegas.

But even more Vegas was her response when I asked if we could chat about the event. "Can I call you back in 10 minutes? I'm just about to do a wedding."

Just about to do a wedding, but she'll be free in 10 minutes. That, my friends, happens only in Vegas.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

NFL Week 5: What we learned

We learned that I seem to have a better feel on the over/under lines than the point spreads -- I nailed the under on the Jags-Chiefs game and the Niners-Ravens game, but I missed the three spreads I picked, with two of the teams (Saints and Packers) losing outright.

We also learned that Breffarve is human, although John Madden can't quite bring himself to admit it. Breffarve made an amazingly stupid play -- throwing across his body back to the middle of the field, deep in his own territory, with the Packers dominating the Bears and leading by 10 in the third quarter -- but in the wake of the play, all Madden could do was talk about what a great defensive play Brian Urlacher made for coming up with the interception.

I tell ya, if I'd gone 4-for-4 on my parlay during the day and only needed that Packers cover to cash my ticket, I'd have driven through the night, arrived in Green Bay sometime on Monday and personally throttled Breffarve. Well, OK, no I wouldn't have, but that was just a brain-dead play. Now, can we finally put to bed this nonsense that somehow Breffarve is a different quarterback this year, that he's turned himself into a conservative game-manager type of player, rather than the free-wheeling gunslinger he's been in the past 15 years? To borrow a phrase from the Calcutta Clipper himself, Breffarve is who we thought he was!

We also learned that the Patriots cannot not cover the spread, no matter what forces conspire against them; the Bills cannot handle prosperity, but Monday Night home dogs are still tough to beat; Trent Green apparently got a D in physics at Indiana; the Stillers are a pretty salty home squad; the Lions are a pretty horrible road squad; the Browns might be pesky this year; the Colts have a nice jayvee team too; the Chargers have a pulse; the Broncos are an 0-5 team that has two wins thanks to some quirky field-goal shenanigans; and the Vikings finally figured out a way to get through a week without a turnover.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Steve Earle, folk hero

Steve Earle has always been a folk hero of sorts -- to the liberal/libertarian-leaning followers of U.S. politics. But now he's literally a folk hero, with the release of "Washington Square Serenade," a love letter to his adopted hometown of New York City, which channels all the greats of the Greenwich Village folk movement of the mid-to-late 1960s.

Give it a listen, and you'll hear echoes of Dylan, Seeger, and even some Simon and Garfunkel thrown in for good measure. He also has a couple of lovely duets with the even lovelier Allison Moorer (see above -- still can't figure out that coupling -- Steve must be a gentle, caring lover, or else Allison tired of good-looking bad boys and decided to settle down with somebody safe, like a paunchy, balding, alcoholic ex-con with a raging heroin addiction in his recent past and a reserved cell in Guantanamo Bay possibly in his future).

Here's my review, for those interested in learning more about Steve Earle, folk hero.

Five for Week 5

Here's the parlay, for those still wondering if I can pick a game (I include myself among that crowd).

Saints -3 vs. Carolina
Cards -3.5 at St. Louis
Packers -3.5 vs. Chicago
Jags/Chiefs under 36
Ravens/Niners under 35

I'm most confident in the Saints, who stink out loud this year but should be able to overcome David Carr at home. I'm least confident in the Cardinals, who are dicey favorites anywhere, let alone on the road, but the Rams are just so bad. Still, I wouldn't be surprised to see Gus Frerotte shove it down my throat.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

NFL Week 4: What we learned

OK, back in the blogging saddle again and it's time to look back on Week 4 of the NFL and see what we've learned:

1. Brad Childress needs to get out more. The Vikings coach comes across in his quotes like one of those pencil-necked business weenies (usually marketing types) who spend all their time around fellow business weenies, and thus cannot divorce themselves from their own internal lingo that only people in their industry understand.

To wit: After Sunday's loss to Green Bay, Childress was asked to comment on the Vikings' final offensive play, where receiver Bobby Wade was jostled by Packers cornerback Charles Woodson while the ball was on the way. The Packers intercepted, the game was over, and this thought was going through Chilly's X-and-O addled brain:

"My understanding of the interference rule is that you can't be collisioning a guy when the ball's in the air; yeah, I have a question about that," Childress said. "Yeah, I do think it was interference."

Now, that quote did come from Sid Hartman's column, so you might be tempted to question its accuracy, but Mike Max usually does a good job of writing Sid's column. Plus, it's something you can just hear coming out of Chilly's mouth. He loves "coachspeak," talking about the "plus-20-yardline" when he means the opponent's 20-yardline, or how the quarterback "delivers the recitation" in the huddle -- i.e., how he tells his teammates what play they're going to run.

Chilly, even though you're 1-3 and headed for a disaster not seen in these parts since the days of Les Steckel, it might be a good idea to get out of the office for more than three hours a day. Come out from behind the Perkins menu. Go for a walk. Maybe spend some time talking with somebody who doesn't pepper his speech with terms like "zone-dog" and "mike-backer." Just get some distance from the game for a couple hours a week -- it'll do you good.

2. Speaking of people who need to step back and take a deep breath ... I wasn't around to hear this live on Sunday, but according to numerous reports, ESPN's Chris Berman actually said, "Rooting for Brett Favre is like rooting for America. It just is."

Now, I've always said that you can tell an idiot Viking fan from a good Viking fan by his opinion on Brefarve (John Madden's pet name for the Packers QB). Good fans appreciate him even though they hope the Vikings beat him every time; idiot fans say that Brefarve sucks and think Vicodin jokes are still funny.

But I'm long past the time when I've lost my stomach for the media's fawning over Brefarve. If you believe the media, Brefarve could broker peace in the Middle East, balance the U.S. budget and whip up a mean lobster bisque. Before breakfast. He might even be as amazing as Chuck Norris.

It's not Brefarve's fault that most of the sports media turns into a horde of drooling jock-sniffers at the mere mention of his name. So I don't resent Brefarve for the weekly dose of hyperbole over his admittedly great accomplishments. I just wish people like Chris Berman would get over their man crush long enough to provide some journalistic objectivity.

Wait, I just typed "Chris Berman" and "journalistic" in the same sentence. My computer will now self-destruct in five seconds if I don't move on.

3. I'm getting worse, not better, on my parlays. A 2-for-5 effort was positively Childressesque. I said I was worried about the Ravens, and rightly so. I guess I was close on the Steelers-Cards over (one more TD and I'd have had it), but I completely whiffed on the Seahawks-Niners over. Of course, had I known Trent Dilfer would be prominently involved in the outcome of said game, I would have stayed far, far away.

Still, I can do better. And without the Vikings to kick around this week (1-3 ATS, under 3 of 4 games), I will have to find another sure thing upon which to base my picks. Send me your suggestions.

That is all for now. We return you to your regular programming.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Quick picks, Week 4

Heading out of town in a half-hour for a weekend in Newport Beach, Calif., with Kris and a few other couples we know. So, quick picks look like this:

Ravens -4.5, COWBOYS -13.5, PIT/AZ o41.5, GB -1.5, SEA/SF o40.5

Baltimore worries me the most. Not sold on the rest of them either, really -- nothing jumped off the board at me, except, of course, the Packers only laying 1.5 against Kelly Holcombe, Chilly and the Kick-Ass Offense (dubbed the Half-Ass Offense by Barreiro this week).

Anyway, stay tuned to WHIH next week as I've got a few good posts all teed up, including a rant about the so-called Christian Right, a couple music reviews, MLB playoff predictions and plenty of football.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Three sad words

The three saddest words to any NFL bettor would have to be as follows:

Back. Door. Cover.

My 5-pack went 3-for-5, and my two losses were both by a half-point. And in both of those games, my teams (Colts and Jets) had substantial leads in the fourth quarter, then allowed late, oh-by-the-way touchdowns to blow the cover but hang on for the win. The Jets even led 31-13 in the fourth, before allowing a TD, 2-pointer and another TD.

Oh well, at least my instincts were right on all of those games. I still had a good weekend (thank you, Cowboys!) and am ready for more action, unlike the Vikings, who are done. I'll be betting against them the rest of the way. Opponent + under = good times for bettors, sad times for Purple fans.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

This explains a lot, actually

Glen Mason is announcing the Indiana-Illinois game on the Big Ten Network today, and he just said something that provided some insight into the frequency of historic collapses that his Gophers produced on such a regular basis. With Illinois leading 27-14 and about 7 minutes left on the clock, Illini tailback Rashard Mendenhall ripped off a long run that put him over 200 yards on the day.

Keep in mind, the Illini only led by 13 -- still a two-score game -- with 7 minutes to play. And here's what the former sage of the Minnesota program had to say:

"I know it's never over 'til it's over," Mason said, "but if I'm (Illinois coach) Ron Zook, I'd have Mendenhall standing next to me and start getting him ready for the Nittany Lions next week."

So, you've got a 13-point lead, midway through the fourth quarter, on the road against an undefeated (though decidedly mediocre) team, and you're already thinking about pulling your stars and getting ready for next week?

That explains a lot -- like just about every fourth-quarter meltdown in the Mason Era. Apparently, the guy just can't help counting his chickens before they crack through the shell.

By the way, if you're wondering how it turned out, Illinois fumbled on the very next play, giving Indiana the ball at midfield. IU ended up getting two more possessions and drove inside the Illinois 10 with a minute to go, but threw a pick in the end zone. Had they completed that drive with a TD, they'd have been lining up for an onside kick, down six with somewhere around a minute to play.

And Mason would have been left making the Mase Face (see above).

NFL parlay time

After a dismal Week 2, here's the formula for getting back in the game this week:

Colts -6.5 at Houston
Jets -3.5 vs. Miami
Pats/Bills over 42.5
Cards/Ravens over 35.5
Browns/Raiders over 40.5

The rationale? Well, I do like Houston and I think they're legit, but without Andre Johnson they're going to struggle to keep up with the Colts. I don't think it'll be a blowout, but I can see Indy winning a 31-20 type of game. The Jets are just that much better than the Dolphins, especially with Zach Thomas sitting out.

The Patriots will probably score 42 on their own against Buffalo, so all I need is a Bills field goal (hope those words don't come back to haunt me). McNair is back for the Ravens, which could mean more scoring for both sides given his propensity for strange turnovers. And the Browns can't stop anybody, so look for the Raiders to put up some points and get their first win.

Fingers crossed, going forward ...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Straw man sighting

I'm not going to defend Barry Manilow here. His cowardly exit from a scheduled appearance on "The View" was weak, lame and contrary to everything the First Amendment stands for (i.e., I don't agree with your beliefs but I defend your right to them).

But listening to hometown talker KFAN online yesterday, I got my knickers in a twist over something said by the normally sane Dan Barreiro on his afternoon show. Now, I hate to be the kind of guy who "blogs" to refute members of the media, the sort of one-way argument that resembles a pea-shooter taking on a battleship.

But I have to bring this up, because it follows a pattern I've seen in the past (and I'll give examples later). Barreiro made the specious claim that Manilow is getting support from "liberals" for his ridiculous stance regarding Elisabeth Hasselback. Of course, Danny Boy didn't bother to point out any actual examples of liberals supporting Manilow. We're just supposed to take his word on it.

I surfed a bunch of liberal blogs today to see who's on Barry's side, and not one of them supported him. Check it out for yourself. Talking Points Memo: nothing. Daily Kos: nothing. Atrios: nothing.

There's a chance that this story has nothing to do with "liberal views." Maybe this is all about Manilow backing his pal Rosie and nothing more. But even if this is Manilow's misguided attempt to defend "liberal" views, he's just not getting any mainstream support from those identified with the left.

My wife and I are as liberal as it gets, at least from a political support standpoint, and when we heard the Manilow story on the news the other night, we looked at each other, rolled our eyes and commented on how ridiculous it was for him to do that. And I don't know anybody who would support his idiocy.

But I'm guessing that's a gray area that Barreiro doesn't want to get into on his show. It's much easier to just go black-and-white on the bit, and claim that Manilow speaks for all liberals, or at least invent some straw-man support for his actions and then use this imaginary support to blast all liberals.

I'm disappointed, because I thought Barreiro was better than that. Then I remembered another time he did the same thing, because I called in to complain about it. Just after the 2004 election, Danny Boy went on the air and related an anecdote that he said proved that liberals "just don't get it" and will remain in the minority unless they change their ways. His proof? One caller he heard on an NPR show whining about one thing or another, probably voting irregularities or moving to Canada.

But at least Barreiro had an example that time -- however anecdotal it might have been. This time around, he just fell back on the tired rhetoric patented by the right, whether it's Rudy Giuliani blasting Hillary Clinton for not distancing herself from the MoveOn.org "Betray Us" ad, or one of my conservative pals (hi, Bill!) disparaging all Democrats because they weren't condemning the deluded ramblings of an obscure University of Colorado professor.

It's all a great, big straw man argument. It would be just as easy for me to say that all fundamentalist Christians are murderous terrorists because Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City, or that all NFL coaches are smug cheaters who dress like hobos because of that one guy in New England.

I expect this kind of nonsense from the Coulters and Limbaughs of the world, but not Barriero. But if this is the kind of trenchant political analysis we can count on from him in the future, maybe he should just stick to sports, sports, sports.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

NFL Week 2: What we learned

Time to examine the butt-kicking nightmare that was Week 2 in the NFL. Underdogs went 12-3-1 against the spread, and my vaunted 5-teamer barely scraped up to the Mendoza Line, going 1-for-5 with the Lions/Vikings under as my only win. In my defense, I did get the Seahawks-Cardinals over at 42.5 on a later two-teamer that was my only win of the week. The game ended up 23-20. Funny how the wise guys do that.

The other three losses, in brief: Who saw the Browns doing that? I like the Bengals overs the rest of the year. The Bears are probably not going to cover many games unless they get two defensive TDs -- the offense is that bad. And the Eagles just kicked it away with shaky quarterbacking, mostly. Five trips into the red zone, four field goals and a game-ending stymie at the goal line. Not good.

Other observations: I'm not yet worried about my Super Bowl teams, though they're both off to a rough start. The Saints are somewhat mystifying, but they haven't played a home game yet, so let's wait until they drop a deuce on the Superdome carpet before we get too worried. And the Chargers have played two of the top three defenses in the league, so again, let's see what they do against the next tier of opponents.

The Vikings aren't going anywhere with T-Jax at QB this year. I still don't know why Chilly didn't call a time out to get Bollinger a little time to warm up before he was forced into the game in OT. He said in his Monday presser that he guards his time outs "like hen's teeth" and didn't want to waste one, but if the offense had driven about 20 more yards, they would have been in field goal territory. Maybe he gets a bonus at the end of the year for each unused time out.

I'm officially bored with the Patriots and the taping scandal, and I can't wait to see how Randy Moss reacts when (or perhaps if) the Pats face some on-field adversity this year. He's the all-time great front-runner, always putting his best foot forward when everything else is going right, but once the ship hits choppy seas, he's always been the first to bail out.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

It's all in the numbers

Try this on for size. These are all scores from this season:

Florida 59, Troy 31
Troy 41, Oklahoma State 23
Oklahoma State 42, Florida Atlantic 6
Florida Atlantic 42, Minnesota 39

So, Florida is 28 points better than Troy, which is 18 points better than Oklahoma State, which is 36 points better than Florida Atlantic, which beat the Gophers by 3. I know these scores aren't always a perfect comparison, but this at least helps illustrate the gap between the Gophers and the elite teams around the country.

By the way, Miami of Ohio lost 47-10 at home vs. Cincinnati today. I guess losing to the Gophers last week really demoralized them.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The five-pack, Week 2 style

Here's what we're looking at this week in the NFL:

Bengals -6.5 at Browns
Lions/Vikings under 42.5
Seahawks/Cardinals over 43.5
Bears -12.5 vs. Chiefs
Eagles -6.5 vs. Redskins

Cinci should be the no-brainer lock of the week with the Browns starting Anderson at QB. That team is circling the bowl until they get Quinn under center. The Vikes' unders are going to be solid plays all year, especially on the road where their offense will have a harder time being successful in most places.

Seattle and Arizona usually put points on the board against each other in Arizona -- the last two years they've scored 48 and 52, and both offenses are improved again this year. Bears will be angry, focused, and just plain better than the woeful Chiefs. And the Eagles need this one on Monday night against a Redskins team that struggled to beat terrible Miami at home last week.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Moving on from MoveOn

Three years ago, I wanted to help make a difference in the presidential campaign, so I marched on down to the Minneapolis office of MoveOn and volunteered my services. Despite the fact that their very name had become a code word for "foaming at the mouth lefty" and a rallying cry for the right, I thought it might be the right vehicle for my desire to effect change in our country.

The work I did was pretty tame -- no firebombing Republican headquarters, no smear-filled leaflet drops, no picketing the Governor's mansion. I was given a neighborhood to canvas and a list of undecided voters, and I went door-to-door reminding them of the date of the election and offering pro-Kerry literature if they were interested.

On Election Day, we set up a table and banner outside (200 yards from the door) of the local polling place, just to maintain a presence and supposedly check off the names from our list as they came to vote (like I'm supposed to remember somebody I might have met for 45 seconds on their front porch). That lasted about two hours. Apparently, right-wing radio started spreading rumors that MoveOn reps were hassling voters at the polls, and we were ousted from the premises. I tried to point out that we were 200 feet from the door, but the election official I talked to said their interpretation of the law was that we had to be 200 feet from the property line, and since the polling place was in the middle of a big park, we'd have to set up shop three blocks away from the venue.

No matter. I never saw the logic in hovering around the polls anyway. But I was pissed at how easy it was for the right-wing propagandists to get the crowd turned against us. It was clear to me that MoveOn had an image problem, because although we weren't doing anything intrusive or illegal, the general public was so quick to believe anything negative they heard about us, the attacks didn't have to be factual or even logical to stick.

In the post-election navel-gazing phase of the campaign, MoveOn asked for feedback from its members as to how we could do a better job the next time around. I talked with MoveOn employees at the Minneapolis office and sent a lengthy e-mail to the national office with my concerns about MoveOn's image, and even proposed a "We are MoveOn" ad campaign featuring people from all walks of life -- students and senior citizens, business owners and school teachers, doctors and housewives -- because that's who I saw when I stopped by the local office. The public image of MoveOn was that of a group of hippie stoners reeking of patchouli, wearing Birkenstocks and hugging trees. And that's just not what I saw when I visited their offices.

I never did hear back from anybody at MoveOn, and I've watched with a mixture of chagrin and self-congratulatory satisfaction over the past three years as MoveOn's negative image has become cemented in the national consciousness. And now, after their "Petraeus or Betray Us" ad, I've finally cut all ties with MoveOn.

It's not that I disagree with their opinions (most of them, at least). I just can't support an organization that is so politically tone-deaf they don't understand that they're feeding raw meat to the Republicans at every turn. To produce an ad that could easily be spun as an attack on the military was just the last straw for me -- this was actually a long time coming. I haven't given them any money in at least two years, usually delete their e-mails without reading them, and sadly shake my head whenever I hear even centrist political pundits refer to MoveOn the same way they'd refer to the Klan or the John Birch Society.

So today, I unsubscribed from their e-mail list, sent them one last angry missive when they asked why, and have moved on from MoveOn. I'm throwing all my financial support behind organizations like Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the USO. MoveOn can kiss my red, white and blue ass.

Linkage: Here's a great column by the Las Vegas Sun's own Jon Ralston that summarizes my thoughts much more succinctly and artfully. He's a great writer -- we're lucky to have him here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Six years later

On this, the sixth anniversary of 9/11, I wanted to revisit my initial reaction to the tragedy.

At the time, I was working as a national sports editor and columnist for Internet Broadcasting Systems. Moments after the second plane hit the World Trade Center, all hands were called on deck and we spent the next week basically fully staffed around the clock to post updates on the carnage. I was pulled off my normal beat -- there wasn't any sports to cover anyway -- and moved to the night shift to monitor the wires and video feeds rolling into the newsroom.

Six days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I finally found the time and the voice to register my reactions to the events. The piece was titled "This Changes Everything" and it remains the one piece of writing I refer back to on days when I wonder if I can write. Yes, I'm proud of this essay in three parts, and since it's pretty much lost to the Internet void with all the changes at my old employer, I'm taking this opportunity to post it here.

Re-reading it with the perspective of six years of history behind us, it amazes me how dead-on some of my observations were, especially for a guy who didn't really follow politics that closely at the time. But it also saddens me that my guarded optimism pretty much bogged down in the quagmire of Iraq. At least said optimism was guarded.

Each piece came with the following intro/disclaimer/psychic infodump:
Editor's note: As much as we want to return to the lives we led before Sept. 11, 2001, we have to come to grips with this cold, hard fact:

Our lives will never be the same.

Ever since that bloody, brutal day, my mind has been spinning. I've been too choked with rage to even put this barrage of thoughts, hopes and fears into one coherent, cohesive message. So here they are, loosely organized into three themes. Make of them what you will.
So, once again, here are the thoughts that were spinning through my mind six days after 9/11. And once again, make of them what you will.

Part I: Innocence Lost & Found
Part II: The Ugly American
Part III: Moving On -- Baby Steps

Part I: Innocence Lost & Found

My daughter is 3½. She goes to preschool at a local Catholic college, an oasis of enlightenment in a serene corner of our capital city.

The school is designated as a "peace site." Fighting is not allowed at her preschool. Angry words and children's spats are quickly, and calmly, resolved by the wonderful teaching staff. Parents are encouraged to refrain from dressing kids in superhero costumes at Halloween, or sending them to school with G.I. Joe lunch boxes -- because even superheroes and soldiers have to use fists and guns to solve their problems.

I always found it somewhat quaint, even a bit unrealistic -- a "peace site" in a world where peace has become an abstract concept, a buzzword. Now I realize that we need peace sites more than ever.

Since Tuesday, my wife and I have discussed peace with our daughter. We've tried to explain, in the most general of terms, why we were praying for people in New York and Washington, why we were praying for peace, and why bad guys sometimes hurt good people.

Thursday night, while I was back at work for another long night of reporting on the horror that was gripping the world, my wife tucked in our daughter, said those prayers again, and kissed her good-night.

But a few minutes later, she padded across her bedroom, quietly stole into our home office, and saw something surprising on the computer over her mother's shoulder.

"Mommy, what happened to that building?"

Horrified, my wife realized that she had to put the situation into more concrete terms for her curious little mind, so she explained a bit more about what those bad guys had done, that we were safe, but many people had been hurt.

Later that night, exhausted but too tired to sleep, we lay in bed talking about the tragedy and wondering how a little girl would deal with this disaster that we couldn't even get our own worldly minds around. I fully expected to be on Nightmare Patrol at some point before morning.

Instead, I was greeted at sunrise with evidence of the resiliency of children. My beautiful daughter padded back across her bedroom floor and hopped into our bed. She gently tugged on my nose, which is our little wakeup game each morning. And she said the most important words I've heard in a week.

"Daddy, I saw the building that got hit by the plane last night. And you know what? The bad guy who did that forgot to be peaceful."

*****


I still can't decide whether I'm more horrified by what has happened, or afraid of what's yet to come.

*****


I went to the grocery store Saturday. A disabled vet was stationed outside the front door, handing out flowers as a reminder of those who served to keep our nation free.

As I was digging out my buck for his tin can, I heard the vet talking with another 50-something guy. One of them said, "I wonder if these kids have it in them to fight."

And I thought to myself, "You're damn right they do."

I'm 33 years old. My generation hasn't had to live in wartime. We were babies during Vietnam, and as far as we knew the Gulf War was a four-day CNN miniseries.

We were the first generation raised in a society that not only permitted, but actually encouraged us to question our government. Our parents are as likely to be draft dodgers or protesters as combat veterans. How do you think that affected our collective psyche?
We like our movies, our sports, our computers, our conveniences. Call us soft if you will -- it's the byproduct of world peace. Now that peace has been threatened, and it's our turn to answer the call.

I can understand their skepticism -- I really can. But The Greatest Generation had WWII as their proving ground. Here's ours.

*****

All day Tuesday, as the TV kept showing replays of those planes bearing down on the Twin Towers, the carnage at the Pentagon, the smoldering pit in the Pennsylvania countryside, I couldn't get one thought out of my mind.

This is like a bad Tom Clancy novel. But there's no Jack Ryan to step in and save the day.

*****

I have family in Northern Ireland. They have to live with this every day of their lives. Not the deaths of 5,000 countrymen and a direct attack on their government, but the unsettling notion that at any moment, their lives could be forever changed just by walking out the door, starting the car, or walking down the wrong street at the wrong time.

I've visited my relatives twice, and each time I've marveled at how they speak of violence and terrorism as a matter of fact, like the weather. It's part of their everyday lives, and yet they carry on.

I don't want to live like that. But I'm afraid I might not have a choice.

Part II: The Ugly American

Some of you out there still wonder why they would commit such a heinous act, why they hate us so much.

Not to ignore the complex political and religious issues, but in its condensed form, they hate us because we are the haves, they are the have-nots, and we have no problem waving it in their faces.

Of course, our success is the fruit of our labor, or our ancestors' labor. We've earned the right to be proud of our country's accomplishments. But we haven't earned the right to be so arrogant about it.

The term "Ugly American" was not coined by Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein or the Ayatollah Khomeni. Even our allies, our international best buddies, call us Ugly Americans when we complain in an English pub that we can't get a Miller Lite, when we expect the rest of the world to speak our language, when we overrun a country to protect our oil interests, when another McDonald's pops up in Moscow, a KFC in Belfast, a Pizza Hut in Paris.

Our vanity, our materialism, our expectation that the world will adapt to our culture -- they all make us jokes in some international circles, bullies in others, and targets in still others.

Now, before you get all riled up and start sending me that Gordon Sinclair essay on Americans (written nearly 30 years ago, by the way), I'm fully aware of how we've helped other countries and asked for nothing in return, how we bailed out the world in two big wars, how we are the best and the brightest the planet has to offer.

I believe all that. I am damn proud to be an American. I love it, and I'm not gonna leave it.
But somebody is trying awful hard to send us a message. It's too simple to just write this tragedy off as the isolated act of one psychopath with a fanatical following.

Of course, this particular psychopath picked the wrong country to tangle with. Deep down, I'm confident that he'll live to regret taking on the United States of America. And then he'll die regretting it.

But when this whole nightmare is over, when the forces of evil have been soundly defeated and a new day has dawned, that international perception of the Ugly American will still be there. And we'll be left to ask ourselves if we want to do anything about it.

*****

On Wednesday I read a great column on ESPN.com by baseball writer Jayson Stark about players' reactions to the tragedy. Stark said he got an e-mail from Dodgers pitcher Terry Mulholland asking him to use his influence to "urge the many healthy, able-bodied athletes in our country to immediately and unselfishly donate blood to their local blood banks."

That's great. Athletes should chip in at the blood bank, just like the rest of us. But pro athletes also have an inordinate amount of one resource that the rest of us don't -- money. I'm sure Joe Fan would love to dig into his wallet and give 'til it hurts, but after you take out the price of tickets, parking, concessions and souvenirs that accumulate throughout a given season, that's a pretty big dent in Joe Fan's wallet.

Of course, that money goes to pay $252 million to a shortstop, $80 million to a wide receiver, or $2.3 million to a left-handed relief pitcher.

You often (always) hear the latest superstar signing a big-bucks contract say, "It's not about the money." Well, I want to see pro athletes finally put their money where their mouths are.

A-Rod -- write a check for $2 million to the Red Cross. Randy Moss, surely you've got a spare million around to help out the relief effort. Mulholland, how 'bout you drop off a check for a hundred grand with that pint of blood?

And don't stage any of these so-called "benefit games" and think that clears your conscience, because you know where that money comes from -- that's right, from Joe Fan's dented wallet.

Part III: Moving On -- Baby Steps

I've heard plenty of talk about how this tragedy will serve as a unifying factor in our country, how it will bring us together to serve a common purpose and defeat a common enemy.

But a little voice in the back of my head is telling me not to buy it just yet.

I mean, it's easy for people to pull together in a time of crisis, to pitch in and help your neighbor, to embrace a stranger, to fly an American flag and call yourself a patriot.
But what happens a week from now? Two weeks? Two months? Will we fall back into our old patterns as the around-the-clock coverage of the Attack On America becomes an update on the nightly news and a three-hour wait at the airport?

Will you still love me tomorrow?

I don't think I want to find out. Because as a country, we're just not used to loving each other. Since the fall of the Soviet Union more than a decade ago, we haven't had a common enemy, somebody to hate, somebody to fear, somebody to be the butt of our jokes.

So we've looked inward and found plenty of enemies within our own borders. The battlegrounds have been race and gender and politics and sexual orientation. The rhetoric surrounding the O.J. Simpson murder trial displayed a frightening rift between black and white Americans. Rush Limbaugh's daily three hours of liberal-bashing has polarized the right wing, while out-of-touch lefties like the PETA and NORML crowds give conservatives plenty of ammunition.

Think about the conflicts our country has produced in the last 10 years -- Rodney King, the NRA, don't-ask-don't-tell, Monica Lewinsky, gang violence, Tailhook, gay rights, Elian Gonzalez, and dangling chads, just to name a few.

You think we're just going to chuck them all aside, link arms and sing "God Bless America" as we send our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters off to rid the world of terrorism?

I hope that little voice in the back of my head is wrong. I hope we do pull together, just like that. But I'm also afraid that after a decade of battling with each other, we might have a hard time putting our internal struggles behind us as we try to finally stare down a common foe.

*****

I'm a sports guy. I'm supposed to be worried about sports right now. Instead, I'm worried about some of my fellow Americans' reactions to a week without sports.

I've had my fill of talk about "not giving into the terrorists" and the importance of playing our games, even as some 5,000 bodies lie beneath the rubble of the World Trade Center.
Do you really think Osama bin Laden is sitting in his bunker in Afghanistan, cackling to his posse that he prevented the Steelers and Browns from kicking off Sunday night? Would those people be any less dead if Tennessee and Florida had played Saturday?

Postponing the games was such a no-brainer. The country needed time to grieve, reflect and recover -- all of us, including athletes. Lest we forget, they're human beings too.
I know that we all grieve differently, and that sports can be a welcome distraction from our troubles. But if you can't see why it would be nothing short of crass to play games a mere four days after CNN was showing footage of people forced to choose between burning alive or tumbling 100 stories to their deaths, I can't help you. We speak a different language.

*****

People, this is a wake-up call like no other.

I don't claim to know where we go from here. Clearly we've got to lick our wounds, circle the wagons, and find a way to cut out the hearts of these bloodless terrorists. And we will.

But in the meantime, the best way I can think of to honor our fallen brothers and sisters is to do what they would love to have one more chance to do -- spend time with loved ones.

Put down your cell phone -- is that call more important than the people in the room with you? Slow down. Reflect on your life. Leave the world better than you found it. Take baby steps toward normalcy.

And don't forget to be peaceful.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Week 1: What we learned

Well, the first week of the NFL season is basically in the books, and here's what we learned:

1. The Rams are confounding. They've got the best RB in the NFC, one of the best QBs in the NFC and enough defensive talent to be respectable, yet they laid a giant egg in the opener, costing me my 5-team parlay. I'd rather go 4-for-5 than 1-for-5, but really, I'd rather go 5-for-5.

2. The NFC stinks. Conference champs can't move the ball or even hang onto the ball against the Chargers (and needed a bogus non-call at the goal line to keep the Bolts out of the end zone in the third quarter, or it would have been a blowout); conference runners-up get destroyed at Indy showing off an offensive approach with all the excitement of the 2006 Vikings; in the NFC East, the Eagles lose at Green Bay, the Skins need OT to beat a wretched Dolphins club at home, and the Cowboys and Giants prove they can't stop anybody. Meanwhile, the Pats and Colts obviously look like the class of the league and the Chargers showed their defense can get the job done too.

3. I don't think we learned anything about the Vikings. T-Jax was pretty inaccurate on some key throws, but he didn't make any major bone-headed plays and he was very mobile in the pocket. The defense looked great, but it was against Joey Harrington, and they can't count on two defensive TDs every week. Loved what I saw from Adrian Peterson, but if Chester Taylor can't stay healthy, that puts Peterson on the field more, which opens him to injury possibilities as well. The special teams were much better than in the past -- that's a very positive trend. But let's see what they do against the Lions before we start sucking each other's popsicles out at Winter Park.

4. FOX Sports has made a significant upgrade in its lower tier of announcers. Last year, the Vikes drew the D-team in Week 2 against Carolina, and the performance of one of the Baldingers (can't remember which one) gave me hives with his cliches and wanna-be-Madden commentary. But yesterday, the geniuses in LA paired Ron Pitts (reliably unremarkable, but remarkably reliable) with rookie analyst Tony Boselli. I didn't listen to the game as closely as I often do, but I did hear enough competence from Boselli to foster some hope for the future of the FOX D-team. For instance, as the Williams twins started dominating the line of scrimmage for the Vikings, Boselli pointed out that he didn't understand why Harrington would ever audible out of a pass to call a run up the middle. Later, they ran a graphic showing the Vikings' success running right, despite the Pro Bowl talent on the left side of their line. And even better, Boselli didn't shout, didn't say "Boom!" or "That's football!" or any other faux-folksy comments that ex-players often fall back on because Madden was so successful creating that character in the press box 20 years ago (and hasn't freshened it up a bit since then).

That's enough for now. But it's nice to learn something. Let's see if it translates to my parlay success next week.