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 "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 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.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The inaugural 5-teamer

It's become a tradition since I moved to Vegas two years ago: Because I work at home, I don't have an office pool to enter, so I form my own one-man office pool with a 5-team NFL parlay. It pays 23-to-1, so if I hit it once I'm ahead for the year. And each year, I've hit it exactly once.

Here's the magic formula (I hope) for Week 1:

Steelers -4.5 at Browns
Redskins -2.5 vs. Dolphins
Seahawks -6.5 vs. Bucs
Rams -0.5 vs. Panthers
Patriots/Jets over 40.5

Let's get it started...

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Joe Henry -- Civilians

Never been much of a Joe Henry guy -- too rooted in the blues for my taste. But I have to admit, there's a lot to like from his latest effort, Civilians. He comes across like a tired soul, grateful for the end of the day, mustering the courage to face the next one but embracing life's struggles.

This album actually reminded me a lot of Dylan's "Time out of Mind," and Henry's vocal stylings are similar to the Bard of the Iron Range. If you're into downloading singles, check out "Time is a Lion" first, then "Civil War" or "Our Song." And if you dig those, get the whole thing. But make sure to read my review first.

NFL quick picks

Given that I live in a city where sports wagering is legal, I might wind up writing a bit about it on this blog. I've already had one request to post my famous five-team weekly NFL parlay, which I'll do tomorrow. In the meantime, here are my picks for the NFL season, just so I can look back in January and see how stupid I was.

NFC division winners: Eagles, Saints, Bears and Rams
NFC wild cards: Panthers, 49ers
NFC champion: Saints

AFC division winners: Patriots, Ravens, Colts and Chargers
AFC wild cards: Broncos, Bengals
AFC champion: Chargers

Super Bowl champion: Chargers

Yes, I know I'm putting a lot of faith in Norv Turner. I like to live dangerously.

One note on the Purple: I think they'll be historically bad. I have no faith in the TJ-Secret Squirrel combo, I think the defense will be worn down from having to deal with the offensive ineptitude, and their special teams have been nothing short of horrible in the preseason, reflecting a trend that emerged last year.

I hope I'm wrong, because I'm still a fan and because I still get paid to write about them by a couple of outlets, and it's always more fun to follow a winning team. But this thing smells like 4-12.

More football talk tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

This just in: Kids like candy

From the Department of the Ridiculously Obvious comes this headline from Yahoo:

"Rock stars more likely to die prematurely"

In related news, football fans like beer, Hummer drivers are compensating for a physical shortcoming, and the Republican party is filled with self-loathing, closeted queens.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Same as it ever was

What more can be said about another vomitous performance by the Golden Gopher football team? The Brewster Era kicked off with a showing that was positively Masonesque. Or Wackeresque. Or Guteyesque. In other words, completely representative of every slight that Gopher fans have endured over the past two decades.

I know what the spinmeisters (a.k.a. Sid, Mona, Maxie and the rest of the WCCO crew) are going to say -- they came out flat, fell behind 21-0, but after that they dominated the game and it's just a darn shame they dug themselves too big a hole to get out of. Heck, even the Strib story online tonight reflected that tone with a headline that read "Gophers' rally falls one point short."

Except that their rally didn't fall short. They took a 24-21 lead and couldn't hold it. Then, they took a 31-24 lead in OT and couldn't stop Bowling Green from scoring, or from completing their own rally with a 2-point conversion.

That's because when it came time to put the game away, the Gophers couldn't get it done. When the offense could have made it tougher on Bowling Green by scoring a touchdown on their last drive, they ended up with a field goal. Not that it would have mattered, probably, because every Gopher fan knows the Falcons would have scored a TD on their last drive had they needed it. They were going up against the Gophers' defense, after all, the defense that has patented the dropped interception, the fourth-down conversion, the close-but-not-quite-good-enough two-minute drill.

And we're left to read quotes like the following: "We needed to close it out. We needed to make one play on defense."

That was Brewster talking after the game, but it might as well have been Mason, or Wacker, or Gutekunst. But mostly Mason. I mean, if you didn't have fourth-quarter flashbacks to Texas Tech last year, Wisconsin the year before, Michigan in '03, Purdue in '01, Northwestern in '00 ... hell, pick a Big Ten team and I could probably find a year when the Gophers collapsed in the fourth quarter against them.

So, the Brewster Era has begun. Let's just hope we're not soon quoting another classic rock song: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

Don't get fooled again, indeed.