Thursday, January 31, 2008

The pick

Before we get to the Super Bowl pick, keep in mind I reserve the right to change my mind before kickoff, pending further news on Tom Brady's ankle, Plaxico Burress' knee, Randy Moss' legal status, or any unforeseen Eugene Robinson-type incidents.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I see this game playing out in a much less exciting fashion than many are anticipating. Or at least exciting in the exploding-scoreboard manner that pushed the total to 54. I just don't see a repeat of the 38-35 slugfest in Week 17. Both teams have been dominant on the ground in the postseason, and even though the weather will be nice and the conditions will be perfect on Sunday, I can't see either team abandoning what's been working the last month or so.

But beyond their recent success on the ground, both teams have another good reason to emphasize the running game on offense. The Giants want to chew up clock and keep the ball away from the Patriots' quick-strike offense, which is loaded with playmakers like none we've seen since the 1999 Rams. And the Pats should do everything it can to keep its aging defense off the field, giving it enough rest to stay fresh and handle heavy doses of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.

That said, the Patriots will have a handful of big plays, enough to counter anything the Giants throw at them, and I can't see the dream season coming to an end. Let's call it Patriots 30, Giants 20, with Tom Brady winning the MVP award and the trip to Disneyworld. Let's just hope he leaves the boot at home and brings Giselle.

Yup, she's four

It was kind of a makeshift birthday party yesterday when the Littlest Gopher turned four. Mama Gopher was away on a business trip, so that left the family shorthanded when it came time to celebrate.

Nora picked her favorite restaurant -- The Claim Jumper -- for dinner, then we were going to get cupcakes from our favorite local bakery, The Cupcakery. Unfortunately, it was closed by the time we got there, so we settled for delicious chocolate chip muffins and vanilla ice cream from Von's. Not a bad substitute. Nora was convinced that her mother was going to bake her a cake and bring it back home with her on the plane, but she's going to have to wait until this weekend for that.

I think you can tell by the photo that the Littlest Gopher didn't mind at all.

Take a deep breath

I've been listening to and reading a lot of the national Santana reaction -- even the local Vegas sports radio guys are up in arms about it, because about half of them are from the Midwest.

The recurring theme, of course, is that the Twins got screwed and they deserve to get ripped left and right for making a "panic move." Well, I'm not going to defend the Twins here, because that's not my job, but I will point out a couple of interesting reactions to the hysteria.

1. The most common attack comes in the form of, "They had better packages on the table from the Red Sox and Yankees in December and should have taken them." Yet after a few minutes of ranting, these same people almost always say, "Well, we don't know for sure that those names were all on the table. The Yankees and Red Sox were basically trying to keep Santana away from the other team and were never really interested in giving up too much for a guy headed to free agency and asking for $140 million over six years."

So which is it -- they had better offers on the table, or we don't know what they had on the table and it was likely that when push came to shove, those big names wouldn't have been included? I guess only Billy Smith, Theo Esptein and Brian Cashman know for sure, and they're not talking.

2. Everybody seems to be going crazy that the Twins didn't get this Martinez kid, who is the Mets' No. 1 prospect according to Baseball America, and that the Twins should be getting ripped because they don't know if Gomez or any of the pitchers are going to pan out. But, if they had received Martinez in the trade, wouldn't it have been just as logical to say they don't know if Martinez will pan out? I also hear that the Mets have a weak farm system, so getting four of the top seven prospects from their minor leagues isn't really saying much. Again, wouldn't that same logic apply to the magical Martinez? Either way, it's a crap shoot.

3. The other bit of prevailing wisdom from the "experts" is that the Twins should have hung onto Santana until the trade deadline if this is all they could get for him. Yet it's pretty clear that Santana and his agent said that they'd invoke his no-trade clause and ride out the season, then split via free agency, leaving the Twins with two first-round draft picks instead of a package of prospects.

So, would you rather have this Mets' package, or let a cloud of negativity hover over the season, deal with the "Will Santana leave?" questions every fifth day, and get two late first-round picks (one a sandwich pick between the first two rounds, and the other from the team that signed him, which would probably be late in the first round since it would be the Yankees, Red Sox or Mets who would sign him)?

I think it's fair to scrutinize this trade and even conclude that it wasn't a great deal for the Twins, at least on the surface. But it's entirely unfair to only look at the negatives of the deal without considering the even-more-negative outcomes that likely would have occurred as well. A little balance -- is that too much to ask?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Media Day madness

In case you've ever wondered what it's like to attend Super Bowl Media Day, and you'd rather hear about it from a trusted friend than some complete stranger like Peter King or John Clayton, I'm posting a recap of my big moment in the sun -- Media Day from Super Bowl XXXV, Giants vs. Ravens. Sure, it's seven years old, but I'm sure at least 85 percent of the notes, quotes and anecdotes included below were recycled in Phoenix today -- just change the names of the particulars involved and you've got your ready-made Super Bowl Media Day story.

Super Bowl Diary: Throng Of The South
Media Horde Keeps Things Interesting In Tampa

Patrick Donnelly, Staff Writer
January 24, 2001, 12:29 p.m. EST
Tuesday, January 22, 2001
7:15 a.m. EST

ON THE ROAD TO TAMPA

Dear Diary,
Driving down a dusty two-lane highway an hour east of Tampa, passing orange trees and one-pump gas stations and a rickety old raceway, it hardly seems possible that in just hours we'll be surrounded by approximately 72 percent of all electronic and print journalists in the free world.

I'm staying with our Florida regional sports editor Chris Reimer, who's based in Orlando but lives halfway between there and Tampa. Yeah, we'll probably put more than a couple of miles on his '93 Nissan Sentra, and maybe we'll miss out on a chance or two to rub elbows with the beautiful people after dark. But we're a heck of a lot closer to our friends at the TV station in Orlando, where we'll be doing our video work for the Super Bowl package.

Besides, if we were staying in a hotel, I would have missed out on this morning's Egg McReimer. Mmm-mmm, that's good eatin'.

So we're just a few scant hours away from the gaping maw of Super Bowl Media Day. The Giants are up first. Kerry Collins met with the media yesterday to discuss his troubled past, his alcohol problems licked and his life back in order. He was smart to do it that way too. He took the air out of the balloon by pre-empting the questions about his past. He beat the muckrakers to the punch.

Then there's Ravens coach Brian Billick. If you have any clue what he was doing yesterday, feel free to let me know. I know he was just trying to protect his player when he said that the media was "reprehensible" in its pursuit of the Ray Lewis story. But in doing so, Billick added fuel to the fire. Trust me, the media does not like to be told how to do its job. Even though we love to tell other people how to do theirs. It's a double-standard, sure, but they teach it to us in journalism school -- Intro To Mudslinging 101.

We're almost there, so I'll finish it up with a traffic report. Man, these Floridians drive like madmen. Even on a cloudless day like today, it's bumper-to-bumper with people passing on the shoulder and generally taking my life in their hands. Not Reimer of course -- he's the model of AAA consistency on the road.

More from Tampa if we get there alive . . .

*****
12:15 p.m.
RAYMOND JAMES STADIUM -- TAMPA

Yeah, we made it. (See right for proof.)

One down, one to go. The Giants proved to be true to their image -- as corporate and blue and boring as a Wall Street stockbroker. This team is as exciting as a tofu buffet. For an inspirational speaker to fire up the boys, they brought in Ben Stein.

"Sehorn? … Sehorn? … Sehorn? … Anyone? . . . Strahan?"

OK, so the team isn't totally without its charms. Linebacker Jesse Armstead and defensive end Michael Strahan did their best to fill the reporters' notebooks. Coach Jim Fassel can get the red-behind syndrome with the best of them. And Pete Mitchell did bring a new meaning to the term "tight end" when news broke that he was named the "sexiest player in the Super Bowl" in a survey of posted by a dating Web site.

The Giants' most recognizable face is cornerback Jason Sehorn, who has starred in a few commercials and is dating Angie Harmon of TV's "Law & Order." But Sehorn is a coverboy in the same way that Victoria's Secret models are covergirls -- he simply doesn't have much to say. Behind that pretty face is just a lot of pretty teeth.

Other New Yorkers had even less to offer. Collins said his piece on Monday night -- he politely reiterated it for those who missed it the first time, but by Tuesday it was old news. Running back Tiki Barber has an engaging smile, but spoke in a whisper not heard well in a crowd of 2300 reporters, each jostling for a soundbite. His backfield mate, Ron Dayne, slumped in a chair, glared at reporters, and clearly would have rather been someplace far, far away.

No, these Giants are not into filling your notebooks or giving you a catchy soundbite. If they have their way, the Ravens will have the emptiest blackboard in the league. These Giants are all about humility, respecting their opponents, staying within themselves, carrying their own water, doing their best and the Good Lord willing things will work out.
Which would be admirable, if it weren't so darn boring.

OK, OK, in this day and age of self-promoting, chest-thumping, trash-talking, get-out-of-my-way-because-I-invented-the-world athletes, the Giants' humility is admirable. But I didn't fly all this way for a week of clich├ęs. Bring on Shannon Sharpe, Chris McAlister and Tony Siragusa.

Post-script: When our hour of tedium with the Giants had ended, a voice on the PA system boomed, "Media Day is over. Giants players, please report to the field for your team picture. Media, please exit through Gate D."

Clearly, the NFL wanted us out of their hair so they could clean up and let the Giants take care of their business. And just as clearly, the NFL knows how to work the media. They called out the two words we love most: Free food.

Lunch was pretty good, by the way. Fresh salad with a delicious creamy Italian dressing, half a roast beef on caraway and half a ham on a Kaiser roll. Oh, and one of the better chocolate chip cookies I've had in awhile.

*****
2:45 p.m.
ON THE ROAD

Now that's more like it.

Sharpe used his bully pulpit to rain quotes on my parched notebook. Siragusa auditioned for his own one-man Vegas act -- seriously, the guy is funnier than two-thirds of the hacks who stand in front of brick walls and remind us that men like to control the TV clicker and women take a long time to get ready for a date. (ba-DUM-bum) Even Trent Dilfer (yes, that Trent Dilfer) was electric and engaging. At least, compared to the Giants.

The Ravens may have a vanilla offense and a straightlaced, smash-mouth defense, but their roster truly is a cast of characters. Besides the guys listed above, defensive end Michael McCrary was singing, laughing and talking more smack than Jim Rome on a good day. Tackle Jonathan Ogden's words were as big as his monstrous frame. And then there's Ray Lewis.

Yes, as soon as the gates opened, the media horde descended upon his podium. And yes, Lewis handled the questions about the double-murder at last year's Super Bowl with as much grace as possible. And yes, we're all glad it's over.

You know, I've heard a lot of media bashing over the past couple of days, from sources ranging from Billick to other members of the media who say that many broadcasters and writers go over the line in their pursuit of "the story." And I also heard many, many reporters ask the players, "What was the stupidest question you have heard so far today?"

And almost to a man, the players didn't have much of a response to that. Because the media has been taking its job more seriously than ever as of late. Oh sure, we like to have our fun, but when it's time to get down to business, most of us are answering the call. No sign this year of Downtown Julie Browne asking questions only MTV viewers could care about. And no Meredith Viera embarrassing herself and every female journalist in the world as she did at the World Series when she suggestively asked Mike Piazza who had the biggest "bat" in the Mets' locker room.

Yeah, I did see wacky FOX comic/pregame host Jay Mohr asking Sharpe who his favorite Muppet is. (Answer? "Kermit.") But more often that not, we've been good boys and girls so far.

So, we've made it through the chaos that is Media Day. Now, what do we do to fill the next four days? I guess you'll find out shortly after I do.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Moron alert

I just couldn't get over this. A guy in Illinois is suing the Blue Man Group because he claims they inflicted bodily harm on him during their throat-camera gag.

Perhaps I'm rushing to their defense because they, like the Gopher family, have found life in the desert to their liking (or at least profitable). Perhaps it's because I enjoyed their show when I attended with my family nearly two years ago.

But I think this story struck a nerve because the man in question is obviously a moron. The gag to which he's referring is a bit where the Blue Men come down from the stage, pick out an audience member and put a camera on a long cord into their mouth (kind of like the spy cameras you might see in a high-tech action movie like the good guys in "The Rock" used when they were breaking back into Alcatraz).

But as soon as the camera enters the subject's mouth, the footage on the big screen switches to a previously taped feature showing the inside of a human body. That's it -- it's a bit. If the plaintiff (whose lawyer must be Lionel Hutz, Esq.) truly has endured physical problems in the wake of attending the Blue Man Group performance, the odds are infinitesimal that his injuries were caused by the Blue Men.

I'd hate to see this guy at a Globetrotters game -- he might end up suing them for confetti-related trauma.

Monday Morning Meltdown

Today, we unveil a new feature at What Happens In Henderson -- the Monday Morning Meltdown. Aside from the always popular alliteration, I wanted a clearinghouse for some of the random items that get stuck in my craw over the course of a week. And what could be a better way to start the week than with a turbo-charged, espresso-fueled, spit-flying, head-spinning rant?

This week's topic is the fallout from the ESPN roast of Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg. I know, it's a couple of weeks old, but it took awhile for my bile to overflow on this topic. But overflow it has, so buckle up and away we go...

First point: don't you actually have to have accomplished something in order to be the subject of a celebrity roast? I mean really, hosting an ESPN Radio morning show is enough to get you on the spit? That's the level to which we've sunk in the search for "celebrity" in our society? Who's next on the list to be roasted -- Star Jones? Bindi Irwin? Randy Jackson? Mark Schlereth? (Note to self: Don't give ESPN any ideas.)

But that brings us to a greater point -- this whole roast thing smacks of ESPN's desperation to make news, not just report it. The pinheads in Bristol are so enamored with themselves that to them, the idea of organizing a roast for their morning radio hosts seems perfectly natural. After all, these are the same people who invented cross-promotion, with the following "platforms" falling under their corporate umbrella: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic, ESPNU, ESPN News, ESPN Radio, ESPN the Magazine, ESPN Deportes, ESPN Zone (i.e. ESPN the Restaurant), ESPN.com, ESPN360, ESPN Books, and EXPN (action sports like the X-Games).

Think they're a little full of themselves? It reminds me a bit of when the local McDonald's franchise in my hometown started selling pizza. Of course, it didn't last, because they couldn't do pizza as well as a pizza place and still maintain focus on the burgers and the fries and the shamrock shakes. Find something that you do well and stick with it.

But the biggest thorn in my paw comes from the reaction to ESPN2 First Take host Dana Jacobsen's drunken performance on the dais as she roasted Mike and Mike. Apparently, Jacobsen had a bit too much to drink, then channeled her inner Jeffrey Ross and profanely attacked Golic's alma mater -- Notre Dame -- as well as the Catholic church in general and Jesus Himself in particular.

Oy.

But here's the deal. THAT'S WHAT YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO DO AT A ROAST!!! If you're so afraid that one of your roasters is going to step over the line and say something offensive that might ruffle the feathers of one of your corporate overlords, then don't call it a roast! Call it "The Mike and Mike Celebrity Suck-a-thon Brought To You By Disney."

Look at it another way -- without Jacobsen crossing the line, you'd be left with two hours of jokes about how Golic is a fat, stupid cretin and Greenberg is an effete, mincing metrosexual. In other words, a live version of their show.

Predictably, Jacobsen was suspended for a week and returned to the air today with yet another apology (which might or might not have been accepted by the Catholic church, which might or might not be the topic for next Monday's meltdown). To their (slight) credit, ESPN did post a story about her suspension and her return on the front page of ESPN.com, so they're not entirely trying to sweep this under the rug. Then again, it could be another sign of the creeping megalomania that's taken hold in Bristol.

Either way, ESPN, learn from this. When you lie down with dogs, you might get fleas. And when you organize a roast for two of your quasicelebrities, your sponsors might get their toes stomped on. Deal with it, or get over yourself. Or both.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Twins talk

With TwinsFest under way back in the twin farms, it might be a good time to break out the first Twins chatter of 2008. My buddy K-Man reported that the Twins have signed Morneau and Cuddyer to long-term deals, which gets me thinking ... could this be the start of a push to keep Johan Santana in Twins pinstripes?

Think about it -- with Torii Hunter landing in Anaheim, it looked all but certain that the Twins would deal Santana to the highest bidder. But early reports on Francisco Liriano are promising, and if they can get a full season out of two of the top lefties in the AL, the Twins could compete for a postseason berth, even in the stacked AL Central.

Inking the team's franchise first baseman and a solid RBI guy in Cuddyer to anchor the middle of the batting order lets Santana know they're not giving up on the future. And there's been some speculation lately that not only are the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets reluctant to part with enough prospects to make a trade for Santana attractive to the Twins, but those big-market teams also could be hesitant to offer Johan the $150 million or so that it would take to sign him.

So, if you're Santana, would you push for a trade and try to get every dollar you can in an environment that might not be a good fit for you, or would you "settle" for a five-year, $100 million deal with the only team you've ever pitched for, with a manager and pitching coach you like, with a clubhouse you know you fit into, and with a rabid fan base backing your every move?

Something to ponder, at least ...

Friday, January 25, 2008

Don't bet on it

Some people (who shall go nameless) just have to have action on a game in order to enjoy it. And even putting money down on a side or an over won't get it done. That's why there are ridiculous prop bets on the Super Bowl, the kind of propositions that make wagering on the coin flip seem sane by comparison.

You can check out the whole list here, courtesy of one of the bigger online gambling sites on the net. There are plenty of crazy bets, but here is my favorite:

Who will the MVP of the Game thank first?
Teammates
+225

God
+200
Family
+200
Coach
+400
Doesn't thank anyone
+600
(Only listed options). If Two or More MVP's wagers will be No Action. Singles Only. Max $100

You know, if you just have to bet.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Oceans of time

I finally watched the original version of "Oceans 11" tonight -- the Rat Pack movie from 1960 that spurred the recent Clooney-Pitt franchise. A friend who loves all things related to old Vegas recommended the DVD to me a couple years ago and I finally got around to watching it.

For those who want a look at a time when there were basically five casinos on the Strip, this is an excellent way to relive Vegas' salad days. The DVD contains a bonus feature with five short vignettes on the history of those casinos -- the Flamingo, Sands, Desert Inn, Riviera and Sahara. And of course there's the classic cool, the undeniable hipness factor of the Rat Pack.

But the highlight to me was getting to watch one of the greatest actors of any generation working in his prime. In every one of his scenes, he dominated the screen, holding your attention with his every word or action, and some of the biggest stars of the day paled in comparison to his greatness.

I'm talking, of course, about Norman Fell.

Yep, that's him in the picture above -- second from the right, glowering at the camera, striking the toughest pose of the group. Sinatra? Martin? Davis? Lawford? A bunch of no-talent hacks compared to Norman Fell.

I only wish that Soderbergh had had the balls to cast Don Knotts in Fell's role in the remake.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

TT2007

A few years back, some friends of mine started including me in their annual discussion of the top albums of the year. (I still never know what to call them -- albums? CDs? LPs? Long-form downloads?) Our top-ten lists have provided great e-mail fodder, as well as invaluable advice for additions to my burgeoning music collection.

I usually wait a few weeks to post my favorites, because I inevitably receive a few CDs for Christmas or my birthday (Dec. 17, mark your calendars for 2008!). So I've finally gathered my thoughts, and I hereby present my list for the Top Ten of 2007.

t-10. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible; Bruce Springsteen – Magic – They're going to have to grow on me a little bit more, because I got them both in late December, but I think they will. I love AF's sound, and Magic sounds a lot like classic Springsteen, which is always a good thing. Download it: Keep the Car Running (AF), Radio Nowhere (BS)





9. Bettye LaVette – Scene of the Crime You know I love those odd pairings that cross generational and genre lines (like Loretta Lynn and Jack White), so when you put an old-school soul singer together with the Drive-By Truckers, I'm sold. I should probably check out the Allison Krauss-Robert Plant CD too, huh? Download it: Before the Money Came



8. Jason Isbell – Sirens of the Ditch
Solo debut by former DBT guitarist showcases an outstanding young songwriter with more heart, soul and guts than anything you'll see on American Idol. Download it: Down in a Hole, Dress Blues



7. John Doe –
A Year in the Wilderness – Former X frontman rocks hard and soft and crafts memorable duets with Kathleen Edwards and Aimee Mann. Download it: Lean Out Yr Window, The Golden State



6. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – 1
00 Days, 100 Nights – Always heard about her, never checked her out. Come to find out her band was the driving force behind Amy Winehouse's star-making work of 2006. Jones can belt it out with the best, and creates a sound that's straight out of Motown in the mid-60s. Download it: Let Them Knock, title track



5. The New Pornographers – Challengers –
I'll admit, this isn't for everyone, especially fans of the upbeat, carefree songs on their first three discs. But there's a lot of substance here tucked between layers of strings, harmonies and nuanced hooks. Download it: Myriad Harbour, Go Places



4. Okkervil River – The Stage Names – I guess these guys were considered alt-country before this straight-up rocker. Whatever the genre, this is filled with catchy guitar licks, curious lyrics and one of the great angst-filled voices in lead singer Will Sheff. Download it: Unless It's Kicks, John Allyn Smith Sails



3. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Baby 81 –
Ballsy, bluesy, visceral rock that grabs you by the throat and won't let go. I loved their mostly acoustic "Howl" in 2005, but the return of drummer Nick Jago put BRMC back on the highway to hellacious rawk. Download it: Berlin, Weapon Of Choice, Took Out A Loan



2. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky –
Jeff Tweedy finally put together a lineup that allowed him to find his voice without covering it in layers of artsy posing or frivolous technocrap that just got in the way. Download it: Impossible Germany, What Light, Hate It Here



1. Rilo Kiley – Under the Blacklight –
Apparently this is a love-it-or-hate-it album, and obviously I love it. Some critics didn't dig the mix of styles here – 70s rock, girl-group pop, soul, salsa, disco – and I agree it could be disorienting in light of the consistency of previous efforts. But it works for me. Jenny Lewis spreads her wings, and the band provides more than ample support for my favorite disc of the year. Download it: 15, Breakin' Up, Silver Lining

Honorable Mention
Son Volt – The Search; Ted Leo & the Pharmacists – Living With the Living; Southern Culture on the Skids – Countrypolitan Favorites; Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha; Feist – The Reminder; The Fratellis – Costello Music; Johnathan Rice – Further North; Ryan Adams – Easy Tiger; Robbie Fulks – Revenge!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Juno, the backlash

I suppose it was inevitable -- when a relative newcomer like Diablo Cody writes a movie starring a relative newcomer like Ellen Page, and people go crazy over it, some people will get their hackles raised.

Of course, I'm referring to Juno, my favorite movie of 2007 (which isn't saying much, because I didn't get to see many movies in 2007, but still ...). The sweet coming-of-age story about a pregnant teen, her supportive-yet-flummoxed parents, and the confused yuppies who want to adopt her baby probably would have won me over if it had been set in Grand Rapids, Mich., though I'll admit that the Minnesota setting sealed the deal. Still, the sharp dialogue, complex characters and intriguing twists in both plot and characters made it a memorable night at the old cineplex for Mr. and Mrs. Gopher.

Yet when I was listening to a recent podcast from ESPN.com's Bill Simmons (a.k.a. The Sports Guy), I was saddened but not surprised to hear Simmons and one of his writer friends ripping Juno, expressing joy that it didn't haul in a truckload of Golden Globe awards. Simmons is a former TV writer who now lives in LA and likely is frustrated at the amount of time it's taken him to climb the Hollywood ladder, so it didn't shock me that he might be all too eager to look for any opportunity to burst the bubble of a first-time screenwriter like Cody. And there's been plenty of angst directed at Cody among the Twin Cities hipster community, because, after all, she's made it big and they haven't, and wasn't it Morrissey who sang how we hate it when our friends become successful?

But I was heartened to see that Juno received a number of Oscar nominations, including best picture, Page for best actress, Jason Reitman for best director, and Cody for best screenplay (should be a slam-dunk in my mind). And our girl Diablo was on Letterman tonight.

Haters beware -- you're merely exposing your own petty jealousies when you stand in the way of the Juno juggernaut.

Monday, January 21, 2008

This is a little eerie

I only wish they had included a score.



Eddie Murphy -- who knew? Look for Sexual Chocolate to join Tom Petty on stage at halftime of the Super Bowl, too.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

More things I think I know

Sports Illustrated/HBO/NBC's Peter King -- noted latte lover, youth softball coach and NFL bon vivant -- has made his Monday Morning Quarterback column a weekly must-read for those of us with pigskin fever. His trademark feature (note: not actually trademarked) is "10 Things I Think I Think." Once again, I'm going to blatantly rip off Mr. King's bit with tonight's blog post, which I call "Sunday Night Quarterback, As In I Want My Quarter Back That I Bet On The Stinkin' Packers."

10 Things I Think I Know

1. I think I know who to blame for the Patriots-Packers matchup made in Heaven failing to materialize -- the TV writers. If not for the writers strike, the script for everybody's preferred Super Bowl matchup would have made its way to frigid Lambeau Field and the Giants would have curled into the fetal position and let the Packers march to victory. Shame on you, TV writers!

2. I think I know that Jeremy Shockey is the latest example of the Ewing Theory. Shockey has been ably replaced by rookie Kevin Boss, and Eli Manning has been displaying more confidence and seems more relaxed without the vociferous Shockey manhandling him in the huddle and on the sidelines. Right now, the Giants' cap expert has to be examining Shockey's buy-out clause with an eye on 2008.

3. I think I know that Al Harris needed more help. How many times today did Plaxico Burress absolutely abuse him in single coverage? Well, a peek at the stat sheet tells us it was 11 times for 154 yards. I seriously lost count of the number of times Milli (or is it Vanilli?) flopped around in Burress' wake. The only thing burned more than Harris' behind was Tom Coughlin's face. Hey Tom, look into some moisturizer this week.

4. I think I know that Coughlin didn't deserve to have his kicker win the game after he chewed him out on national TV for missing a 43-yard field goal attempt in brutal conditions. Lawrence Tynes missed a go-ahead field goal midway through the fourth quarter, and the cameras caught Coughlin barking at Tynes as the kicker slunk off the field. Hey Tommy Boy, Larry knows he missed the kick. Show a little of your reportedly improved people skills, look him in the eye and tell him to keep his head up because he'll get another chance to win it. Which he did. And sure, a high snap blew up the timing of the play, but Tynes pulled a Vanderjagt on his 36-yard attempt at the end of regulation. I'm guessing the only reason he was able to hit the game-winner in overtime was that the wind chill froze the lobe in his brain responsible for memory.

5. I think I know that Breffarve will be back. No way he could let the last pass of his career be an interception that cost his team a chance to go to the Super Bowl. But that won't be the deciding factor. He showed this year that he's still got plenty of gas in the tank and all that talk of his retirement was extremely premature. Now, get ready for four months of speculation before he holds a press conference at a golf course in Mississippi to announce that he will return in 2008.

6. I think I know that Phillip Rivers showed me something today. I still want to punch him in the face, but that was one gutty performance by a guy who knew he had to carry his team for them to even have a chance. With Tomlinson injured and Gates hobbled and the juggernaut Patriots threatening to put up points at will, the Chargers' only prayer was to get a solid game from Rivers, and that's exactly what he gave them. Well done, jerkface.

7. I think I know that the CBS studio crew showed their irrelevance when they called for Billy Volek at halftime. Maybe they've all been out of the game for too long, or maybe they are stuck on that whole "I have to say something memorable" thing, but for all of those so-called football experts to ignore the testicular fortitude Rivers was displaying was inconceivable.

8. I think I know that the previously invincible Patriots suddenly look vincible. Just a hunch, but 21 points won't get it done against the Giants, and you know Coughlin is already studying tapes of the Chargers defensive schemes. Specifically, they're trying to figure out how Randy Moss was kept under wraps, how Tom Brady looked human, and how whether they can neutralize Laurence Maroney while keeping the pressure on Brady and keeping the receivers covered.

9. I think I know that the opening Super Bowl line (Patriots by 13) will drop, significantly, before the game kicks off in two weeks. Bettors have been paying a Patriots tax for the last three months, but they've kept on paying it and kept on getting thumped (trust me, I know). The Giants have a lot of support out here as well, so as their fans' money starts to pour in and Patriots bettors begin to wake up, that line will drop to at least 11.

10. I think I know that the Twin Cities are the schadenfraude capital of the world right now. Man, it must be tough to lose a conference championship game at home as a heavy favorite on an overtime field goal. And because Packer fans were oh so gracious in the Vikings' darkest hour nine years ago, I'm guessing a few Lawrence Tynes jerseys might show up in the twin towns this week.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Death, taxes and Andy Roddick

I wish the outcomes of NFL games were as easy to predict as things like Al Sharpton inserting himself into a controversy involving race, or Andy Roddick bowing out of another Grand Slam tournament against a lower-seeded player.

But thanks to the parity of the league (Patriots not withstanding), handicapping the NFL is a bit trickier. Last week your humble predictor went 2-2 (or 5-3 counting over/unders), with a perfect Saturday and a perfectly awful Sunday. I hit on the Packers and the over, and the Jaguars and the under. But then the Chargers and Giants bit me on the backside, leaving the Colts-Chargers over as my only Sunday win.

As Smooth Jimmy Apollo once said, "When you're right 52 percent of the time, you're wrong 48 percent of the time!" With that caveat in mind, let's get to the picks:

Chargers (+14.5, 46.5) at Patriots -- Yes, you saw that right, the dreaded half-point tacked onto the spread. That's what the book listed at Green Valley Ranch, so that's what we're going with. Either way, I think the Patriots will take care of business because of many factors, including a cold-weather team flying six hours and skipping over three time zones to play its second road game in seven days in frigid weather against an unbeaten team.

Let's also not downplay the whole Randy Moss distraction. Some people have said this incident could hurt the Patriots. But let's recall how the Patriots responded the last time they faced a so-called distraction of this significance: in the week after Spygate, the Patriots rallied around their much-criticized coach and destroyed their opponent 38-14.

That opponent? The San Diego Chargers. Factor in the injuries to their starting quarterback, all-pro tight end and all-everything running back (who will play, but will be hampered), and the Chargers just have too much stacked against them. Patriots 34, Chargers 17.

Giants (+7.5, 40) at Green Bay
-- Once again, we get saddled with the dreaded hook in this one, but once again, I just don't see the underdog being able to overcome numerous factors working against them. The Giants will be playing their third straight road game, and while they've been great away from Joisey, three straight will take its toll on even the hardiest of road warriors.

Then you've got the Favre factor. I just can't see him failing in the cold. It would be like betting on Superman to drop the girl falling from the skyscraper, or Rudy Giuliani getting through a 30-second soundbite without referencing 9-11. Until I see it happen, I can't see it happening, know what I mean? Packers 24, Giants 13.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Angels of Destruction!

I'd been hearing the critical buzz about Marah for years. Seems the indie kids couldn't get enough of the boys from Philadelphia, who made friends with a guy from New Jersey and hit it sorta big in 2005 with 'If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry.'

Now they're back with 'Angels of Destruction!' and I'm impressed. It's another rare 4-star review and well worth your time if you like straight-forward, honest rock music -- even with a few bells and whistles thrown in for effect, that's basically what this is.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

With friends like these ...

Yesterday I briefly discussed the ongoing feud between the publishers of our cozy little burg's two daily newspapers, the Review-Journal and the Sun. To recap: the Sun is owned by the Greenspun family, longtime figures in the Las Vegas business and journalism communities, and though its publisher claims to be a Republican, it's got a decidedly liberal editorial bent. The R-J is owned by Stephens Media Group, a Las Vegas-based media conglomerate that was founded -- and still does much of its business -- in Arkansas. Its publisher -- Stephens Media Group CEO Sherm Fredrick -- says he's a Democrat, but he frequently attacks Democratic politicians and progressive causes in his weekly column and oversees an editorial board that is just slightly to the right of Fox News.

Today, the R-J gave us a perfect example of its editorial philosophy when it endorsed Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination in the upcoming Nevada caucus (the paper will endorse Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination in its Thursday edition). You can read this "endorsement" for yourself, but if you haven't got the time or the stomach for it, suffice it to say this is the most backhanded support for a candidate you'll ever see.

Basically, the R-J is just using this as another opportunity to slam right-wing boogeywoman Hillary Clinton, their favorite punching bag of the campaign. It "lauds" Obama as being ... well ... "likeable." What the paper really means is that he is not a Clinton, so if you're one of those pathetic liberals who hates America and wants to turn this great country over to al-Qaeda and illegal immigrants, at least give your support to somebody who doesn't remind us of the Great Republican Nightmare of 1993-2001.

Here's a excerpt that illustrates the R-J's disdain for the Clintons:

The Clinton campaign cites Sen. Clinton's "experience." In fact, she's a one-term-plus-a-year senator whose lackluster legislative record rivals Sen. Obama's. Other than that, the "experience" in question must surely refer to her presence as a witness and enabler during her husband's presidential terms.

Suffice it to say there are dozens of issues that Americans happily dismissed as "water under the bridge" as the Clinton era came to a close, but which would quickly ensnare Sen. Clinton and her party in a presidential race that would soon look like a struggle to escape the La Brea tar pits.

For starters, imagine Sen. Clinton and "co-president" Bill Clinton invited onto a "This is Your Life" talk show where they're joined by Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky.

And that's before we even get around to a HillaryCare plan that could have sent you to jail for offering to pay your doctor in cash to "get to the head of the line."

Keep in mind -- these aren't the fevered rantings of an op/ed columnist whose goal is to drum up readership and loves to tweak the opposing party in the process. This is coming from the official editorial voice of the newspaper, which at most professional journalistic organizations refrains from taking childish potshots in offering up its opinions.

Can't wait to see how the R-J spins its Romney endorsement. Surely it will dig up tired references to the disasters visited upon the country in the previous eight years of Republican rule in its effort to explain away its lack of support for the rest of the Republican field, right?

Right?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The night I met Bill Clinton

So we were out on the Strip last night, swingin' with the big dogs, when ...

OK, not really. This photo is about a year old now, but I thought with the debate in town tonight, this might be a good time to dust if off and tell a story.

That's not a Bill Clinton impersonator. That's actually the former POTUS. Last January, I believe, we were invited to a book-signing event for Terry McAuliffe, the former chair of the Democratic National Committee and a close friend of one Mr. Brian Greenspun, head honcho of my wife's employer, Greenspun Media Group.

Mr. McAuliffe was signing copies of his memoir, "What A Party! My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators and Other Wild Animals." The author also serves as the national chair of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, and there was some speculation that perhaps Senator Clinton's unemployed husband might carve out some time from his busy schedule of playing golf and watching the History Channel to join the festivities.

The former President, you see, is a longtime friend of Brian Greenspun. Brian and Bill apparently were roommates (either in college or law school, I'm not clear which and didn't get a chance to clarify it with Bill), and the Clintons and Greenspuns often vacation together, apparently with the McAuliffes crashing the party at times as well.

(Possibly irrelevant aside: Greenspun continues to claim that he is a Republican, despite his relationship with Bill Clinton and his documented support for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 campaign. In his weekly column in the Las Vegas Sun, publisher Greenspun frequently laments the current dismal state of the Republican Party, which he attributes in large part to the actions of the Bush Administration, but he maintains -- last I heard, anyway -- that he is a card-carrying member of the GOP. Meanwhile, over at the arch-right-wing Las Vegas Review-Journal, publisher Sherm Fredrick claims to be a Democrat, although he never misses a chance to rip Harry Reid, Nanci Pelosi or the Clintons, or take childish potshots at "ultraliberal" Brian Greenspun. Again, only in Vegas I guess ...)

Anyway, back to the book-signing. After some introductory comments from Brian Greenspun and a short speech by McAuliffe, a buzz grew from the back of the room, the crowd parted and in walked the man who once was the Most Powerful Man In The World. Wearing blue jeans, sneakers and a navy blue polo shirt, he was the most comfortably dressed person in the room. And he graciously posed for photos with everybody in the room (about 75 of us). Nobody flung panties or room keys at him that I could tell, but the famed Clinton Magnetism was clearly on display. In the 20 seconds or so that we stood with him, the guy made us feel like we were the only people in the room. So inspirational it was almost unsettling. Clearly, he was made to be a politician.

After the photo, we noticed that a few other notable political wonks had joined the party as well -- namely, former RNC chair Ed Gillespie and those wacky kids James Carville and Mary Matalin, the Lockhorns of the Beltway. They sat together in the back of the room near the bar, yukking it up and back-slapping like the political animals they are. At one point, Gillespie ran past me waving his arms like a giddy tourist on the Strip and saying, "Hey, let's get a photo of the President with James and Mary!"

At that point, it dawned on me that this whole political game is just that to them -- a game. I've seen Gillespie on various talk shows saying terrible, horrible things about Democrats -- accusing them of treason and immorality and various acts of puppy-kicking -- and yet he and McAuliffe apparently make the rounds together, signing books and mugging for photos like a couple of retired professional wrestlers whose longtime rivalry was all an act for the cameras.

And I'll admit, it pissed me off a little, getting a peek behind the curtain like that, because I now know what I always suspected -- for most of these political operatives, it's all an act. Every partisan attack, every mudpie slung and insult fired off the cuff is calculated to reach a certain audience and sway gullible voters into voting for their candidates, not based on the issues but based on personal attacks, most of which they quickly put aside when the cameras are gone and the scotch starts flowing.

So it was a memorable night for a few reasons, but at least I got that photo with Bill. My wife's grandma showed it to all of her friends at her assisted-living residence back in southern Minnesota, and that was enough to make even my disillusionment with the political system worthwhile.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Only in Vegas, magic-style

Had another only-in-Vegas moment on Sunday night. I was out to dinner with Mrs. Gopher and the Gopherettes at a hip new pizza joint in Henderson -- south of the 215 on Eastern, to be exact. We were enjoying a delicious pesto/sausage pie and a ham-n-cheese calzone for the girls when in walked none other than Penn Gillette.

No sign of Teller. Just Penn, two other dudes, two women and two urchins about the size of Mr. Gillette's gargantuan head (he's a big dude). I'm guessing one of the women was his wife, and maybe the kids were his. Hard to tell from two tables away who was with whom and what they were all consuming. I didn't want to get all celebristalker on him and ask for a photo -- even magicians deserve to get a Sunday night dinner with their family in relative peace.

So, Wayne Newton in December, Penn Gillette in January. Can Paris Hilton in February be out of the question?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

I think I thought I saw you bet on the Colts (part 2)

Sports Illustrated/HBO/NBC's Peter King -- noted latte lover, youth softball coach and NFL bon vivant -- has made his Monday Morning Quarterback column a weekly must-read for those of us with pigskin fever. His trademark feature (note: not actually trademarked) is "10 Things I Think I Think." I'm going to blatantly rip off Mr. King's bit with tonight's blog post, which I call "Sunday Night Quarterback, As In I Want My Quarter Back That I Bet On The Friggin' Colts."

10 Things I Think I Know, Sunday Edition

10. I think I know that the Colts gave that game to San Diego. Let me count the ways: Marvin Harrison fumbles at the Chargers 23 as the Colts appear poised to take a 14-0 lead and stomp on the Chargers' necks in the first quarter. Peyton Manning throws a terrible interception in the final 30 seconds of the half, costing the Colts at least a field goal attempt. Manning throws another pick on a little flip to Kenton Keith inside the Chargers 5. There's three scoring chances the Colts let trickle down their collective legs. All the endorsement money in the world won't keep Manning warm at night when he thinks about those three plays all winter.

9. I think I know that Harrison should have told his coaches he wasn't ready to go. It couldn't have been more obvious on the fumble after his first catch in 2 1/2 months -- he didn't want to get hit. Not just that he wanted to avoid contact like any receiver would -- he truly didn't want the Chargers to touch him, so he flopped all over trying to avoid Antonio Cromarte and dropped the ball as if he'd been shot when Cromarte made contact with his legs. I know, he'd have been ripped for being soft if he'd sat out this game, but if he was that scared of contact, he owed it to his team to stay on the sidelines.

8. I think I know that Philip Rivers looks like a guy I'd want to punch in the face. It's not just that smug smirk that he wears when he's happy -- he just doesn't know to shut up when he's ahead. When the ESPN cameras caught him berating Denver's Jay Cutler at the end of the Christmas night win over the Broncos, I thought maybe we missed part of the story, like Cutler questioning Rivers' lineage or making fun of how he played against the Vikings this year. But after seeing Rivers taunting the Indianapolis fans at the end of the game on Sunday, it's pretty clear -- he's just a jerk. Can't wait to see what Murph and Sully have in store for him next Sunday in Foxboro after a couple 13-14 beers in the parking lot.

7. I think I know that Marty Schottenheimer is as confused as the rest of us. Maybe Norv Turner has a horseshoe hidden in his ass that we don't know about, but seriously, how can this guy be 2-0 in the playoffs with essentially the same team that Marty couldn't coach to a postseason win?

6. I think I know that the Colts will never figure out how they lost to a Chargers team with Turner on the Motorola headset, Michael Turner and Darren Sproles in the backfield, and Billy Volek under center. Seriously.

5. I think I know that Wade Phillips' offseason just got a lot more interesting. The top-seeded Cowboys couldn't beat the Giants for a third time this season, extending their playoff drought to 11 years and counting (their last win came against the Vikings in 1996, the year that Brad Johnson got the Purple to the playoffs when he took over for Warren Moon, for crying out loud!). Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett is one of the hottest coaching candidates in the NFL, and it's been assumed that Phillips is just keeping the seat warm until Garrett is ready to assume the reins. But Jerry Jones might have to pull the plug on the Phillips Era right now if he wants to keep his boy Garrett in Dallas, with the Redskins, Falcons and Dolphins all looking for a new head coach.

4. I think I know that the Tony Romo-Jessica Simpson story will get talked to death all week. I'm already sick of hearing about it and I haven't even turned on the radio yet. Nobody can convince me that watching another 20 hours of tape would have prepared Romo to better deal with the Giants' pressure and secondary. The Cowboys didn't get anything from their wide receivers -- T.O. was gimpy, Patrick Crayton was doing his Marcus Pollard impersonation, and Terry Glenn was at least better than Harrison, but not by much. A few Coronas in Cancun with a brainless starlet didn't cost the Cowboys this win.

3. I think I know that I'm also already sick of the "Eli Manning is all grown up" story line. However, it is pretty ironic that he advanced to the conference title game on the same day that his celebrated older brother fell flat on his face with one of his worst postseason performances ever. Do you think Peyton will be in the suite at Lambeau with Archie, Olivia and Cooper? Wearing the Peyton Manning Face? For all that Eli has had to endure, I think he deserves a framed photograph of that shot on his mantel.

2. I think I know that Manning's play on the road must have some people befuddled, but it's no surprise to anybody who knows a thing or two about New York sports fans. So, you say that Eli relaxes and cuts loose on the road, while he plays tense and tight at home when the boos rain down on his first incompletion? Go figure. They say the Philly crowds are tough on their hometown heroes, but do you know the difference between an Eagles fan and a Giants fan? The Eagles fan takes the dishes out of the sink before he pees in it. Giants fans don't deserve this success, and I hope Eli realizes the mistake he made on draft day and walks away from the Meadowlands the first chance he gets.

1. I think I know that Glen Mason is breathing a huge sigh of relief right now, because if the Cowboys and Patriots had reached the Super Bowl, at some point during the week the national media would have realized that both Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney had played at the University of Minnesota -- at the same time, no less! -- and the best Mason could get out of them was a victory in the Music City Bowl. Talk about blowing your window of opportunity ... nice going, Mase.

I think I thought I saw you bet on the Colts

Sports Illustrated/HBO/NBC's Peter King -- noted latte lover, youth softball coach and NFL bon vivant -- has made his Monday Morning Quarterback column a weekly must-read for those of us with pigskin fever. His trademark feature (note: not actually trademarked) is "10 Things I Think I Think." I'm going to blatantly rip off Mr. King's bit with tonight's blog post, which I call "Sunday Night Quarterback, As In I Want My Quarter Back That I Bet On The Friggin' Colts."

10 Things I Think I Know, Saturday Edition

10. I think I know that football is more fun in the snow. Every postseason should have one snow game like the Packers and Seahawks staged on Saturday. I only wish I had seen it in HD, although I was spared the obligatory shots of frozen snotsicles dangling from Mike Holmgren's mustache.

9. I think I know that Breffarve loves to play football. Wait a minute -- I know I know that, because I've heard it multiple times in every Packers game I've seen since 1992. "Breffarve loves to play the game of football," or some such derivative of that sentence, has replaced "Joey Browner has the strongest hands in the NFL" as the must-gush line of choice among football broadcasters.

8. I think I know that Marcus Pollard is regretting his decision to sign with a non-dome team. True, it was a road game so it wouldn't have mattered if he'd been a Viking or a Ram or a Colt on Saturday, but have you ever seen a football player more ill-equipped to play in wintry conditions? He dropped more balls than Dick Clark on Saturday. I think one of his fingers actually shattered on the last miscue.

7. I think I know that the Packers are on a roll. How many teams have you seen fall behind 14-0 in the first five minutes of the game and still cruise to an easy victory? I mean, they were down two scores before the antifreeze had started to settle into their fans' bloodstreams, but they had the lead before the first Cheesehead had peed in his snowmobile suit. That, my friends, was impressive.

6. I think I know that Ryan Grant rebounded better than Moses Malone in his prime. Let's assess young Mr. Grant's first NFL playoff game: Two fumbles on his first three touches. Then 201 yards and three touchdowns the rest of the way. And the Packers got him from the Giants for a sixth-round draft pick? Well, before Mike McCarthy, Ted Thompson and the ghost of Curly Lambeau start sucking each other's popsicles, let's recall that Grant languished behind Deshawn Wynn, Brandon Jackson and Vernand Morency on the depth chart before they decided to take a flyer on him in Week 8. So it's not like the Packers braintrust exactly knew what they had in Grant from Day One.

5. I think I know that if anybody can put the fear of God into this year's Patriots, the Jaguars did just that on Saturday night. With young quarterback David Garrard playing the game of his life, the Jags matched the Juggernaut punch-for-punch deep into the third quarter. Garrard appears to be the real deal, Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew are the top running back tandem in the NFL (sorry AD and Chester), and the defense has enough power and speed to keep up with most mortal offenses. They're going to be the sexy pick to dethrone the Colts in the AFC South next year.

4. I think I know that the Jaguars prove the NFL's Pro Bowl is a fraud. How can a team that went 11-5, beat the Steelers twice on the road and gave the Pats all they wanted in Foxboro have exactly zero Pro Bowlers? I know, Taylor was added as an injury replacement, but come on, can't we all just agree that Pro Bowl voting is a completely fraudulent exercise and the game should be scrapped for good?

3. I think I know that when the Jaguars had to settle for a field goal that cut the Patriots' lead to 21-17 with 4:08 to play in the third quarter, the game was over. You could just feel it -- they'd been matching the Pats score-for-score, and when New England opened the second half with a long touchdown drive, everybody expected the Jags to follow suit. But after marching down to the New England 21, the Jags blinked. Dennis Northcutt dropped a catchable ball at the goal line and the drive stalled, resulting in a Josh Scobee field goal. And sure enough, on their next possession the Patriots went 76 yards in six plays, capped by Tom Brady's ridiculous fake Statue of Liberty TD pass to Ben Watson, giving the Undefeateds a 28-17 lead. And Jacksonville never again had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead.

2. I think I know that the Patriots just passed their toughest test on the road to 19-0. Or at least the toughest test left on the slate. They went toe-to-toe with a healthy, young, explosive Jacksonville squad and came away with a double-digit win. If you think they're going to get a better game from the banged-up Chargers next week, you're sitting in Dwight Smith's car too much. As for the Super Bowl, there's a reason the AFC has been a two-touchdown favorite over the NFC -- no matter which teams make it -- since midseason.

1. I think I know that the Patriots handled Laurence Maroney just right this year. All season the pundits fretted about the Pats' seeming inability to run the ball, and wondered aloud about Maroney's durability and toughness. But Bill Belichick knew that he didn't need Maroney in September, October or even November -- why rush him back into heavy duty when Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Wes Welker and the rest of the crew could play pitch-and-catch in good weather? Once the tough sledding arrived in December, Maroney was ready to shoulder the burden, and once again Belichick looks like a genius.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Divisional four-pack

Should be a great weekend of football. I don't recall four games with bigger spreads actuall enticing me. Each game has a great story line and plenty of talking points, and I think every one of the underdogs could not only cover but win outright -- yes, even Jacksonville. Here's what I'm looking at this weekend:

Seattle (+9, 43) at Green Bay -- Holmgren and Hasselback return to Lambeau to take on the aging but still brilliant Breffarve. Too bad this one isn't on NBC -- I'd love to count the number of times Madden puts on the old knee pads to discuss "Number 4." I just didn't like the way Hasselback looked last weekend, and if he's at all shaky, the Hawks are done. Packers 31, Seahawks 13

Jacksonville (+13.5, 49.5) at New England
-- Can the Patriots' streak continue? Will David Garrard wilt under the pressure? Will Mike Tice and Randy Moss meet before the game and send a fake-moonshot toward Lambeau? I like the Jags' running game and a big play or two from Maurice Jones-Drew to keep it close against the Pats, who don't have any individual records to play for and will be happy to just win comfortably, not blow out their opponent. Patriots 34, Jaguars 24

San Diego (+9.5, 45) at Indianapolis
-- Hmmm ... Norv Turner vs. Tony Dungy. Philip Rivers without Antonio Gates. The revenge factor for the Colts. This seems like the easiest pick on the board, which is why it scares me a little. But not that much. Colts 31, Chargers 16

New York Giants (+9, 46.5) at Dallas -- Over/under on the number of times we'll hear the old saw about beating a team three times in one season: 11.5. Over/under on Tony Romo/Jessica Simpson references: 14.5, or 22.5 if Joe Buck is involved in the broadcast (he has to show his pop culture cred if he's going to land that talk show gig). Either way, I like the Cowboys' defense to rattle Eli Manning, who played better last week but will not relish facing Dallas' blitz without his stud center and tight end to block and provide a checkdown option. Cowboys 38, Giants 27

Yep, I'm picking three favorites and four overs -- sounds like I'm the ultimate square, the guy all the sharks want to see walking up to the window with a fistful of Benjamins. Well, let's revisit this Sunday night and see who's laughing.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A rare four-star review

Nobody was more surprised than I to find out that I really liked the new CD by Lee Rocker. Remember the Stray Cats? Rocker was the pompadoured purveyor of the stand-up bass, who along with Slim Jim Phantom provided the bouncy rhythms behind Brian Setzer's glossy guitar and vocals.

He came to Vegas last week -- Henderson, actually -- and while I didn't go see him, I kinda wish I had. His latest CD, "Black Cat Bone," is pretty darn solid. Let's let a professional music writer tell you more:

The former Stray Cats bassist has carved out a nice little niche in the roots-rock world, and his latest solo effort pushes the boundaries beyond rockabilly. Hints of Springsteen, Elvis (Presley and Costello) and Hank Sr. reveal a polished songwriter who’s not afraid of taking chances to find his voice.

Wow. That guy can really turn a phrase. Anyway, Lee Rocker -- who knew?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

5 songs to live by

The Weekly wanted all of its minions to submit their top five songs of 2007. Here's a sampling of the music that left the biggest impression on me last year. Consider it a teaser for the long-awaited Top Ten of 2007 list, which is nearing completion.
  1. Rilo Kiley, “15” (Under the Blacklight) Heed this warning or risk a visit from Dateline NBC’s Chris Hansen.
  2. Jason Isbell, “Dress Blues” (Sirens of the Ditch) This is how you support our troops: by writing a stomach-punch-powerful song about the death of a Marine.
  3. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, “Let Them Knock” (100 Days, 100 Nights) Motown never sounded sexier than this ode to ... uhh ... concentration.
  4. Okkervil River, “Unless It’s Kicks” (The Stage Names) Catchiest guitar riff this side of The Fratellis.
  5. Andrew Bird, “Fiery Crash” (Armchair Apocrypha) Fear of terrorism, immigrants and vinyl settees are tackled head-on, with cool harmonies!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Hall of What?

Debate over who deserves to belong to the various halls of fame in the sports world is great fodder for mediocre talk radio, but it's one of my least favorite topics. Since the very notion of "fame" is subjective -- i.e. there's no statistical litmus test for any hall except that of the LPGA -- you're never going to reach a satisfactory consensus. That makes it a great crutch for talk show hosts looking to kill a segment, but its predictability makes it mind-numbingly boring.

However, there's one aspect of Hall of Fame announcements that I relish every year -- the names at the bottom of the ballot. Lost amid the news that Goose Gossage has been deemed worthy of a plaque at Cooperstown are the following players who each received one Hall of Fame vote:

Shawon Dunston, Chuck Finley, David Justice, Chuck Knoblauch, Todd Stottlemyre

Finley and Justice might qualify for the Hottest Crazy ex-Wife Hall of Fame. Dunston is a shoo-in for the Make Your First Baseman's Hand Sting Hall of Fame (just ask Mark Grace). And Knoblauch can join Dave Engle, Steve Sax, Mackey Sasser and Steve Blass in the Schroeder Hall of Fame (named for the piano-playing catcher in "Peanuts" who walked the ball back to Charlie Brown after every pitch).

But Todd Stottlemyre? Really? I want to talk to that one voter to find out what possibly motivated the checkmark next to Stottlemyre's name on his ballot.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Rodney Dangerfields of the NFL

If the Jacksonville Jaguars try to drag out the tired old "no respect" card for their upcoming game against the Patriots ... well, they might have a point. To wit, the upcoming NFL playoff schedule, as per Yahoo.com this afternoon:


It reminds me of the good old days in the late '80s when NBC aired the AFC games, and the 49ers were the dominant team in the league. The Peacock might get one or a max of two Niners games a year, and they'd hype them to death.

(drums of war beating, Voice of God drops in ominously)

Montana ..... Rice ..... Craig ..... Niners!

NINERS!!!

NINERS!!!!!


Watch the NINERS this Sunday on NBC!!!!

(cue the hurried voice of Disclaimer Guy)

Niners battle the Browns. Check your local listings.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The early lines

NFC semifinals:
Seattle +9 at Green Bay, total 40.5
New York Giants +7.5 at Dallas, total 47

AFC semifinals:
Jacksonville +11.5 at New England, total 48.5
San Diego +9 at Indianapolis, total 46.5

I don't remember a semifinal round with more potential for great matchups, especially in the AFC (although the Holmgren-Favre angle remains relevant in Cheeseland). These lines all look huge, and my gut tells me to take all of the dogs except maybe the Giants, though the Cowboys have looked pretty mortal of late.

I love all of these games. Just try to pry me off the couch next weekend. Go ahead -- I dare you.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

NFL rules that have to change

Every so often (like, any time I watch an NFL game) I spot a rule or five that just make no sense, or are well-intended but poorly executed. Here's a playoff edition of "NFL Rules That Have to Change."

1. Limited replay challenges, even when successful. I realize you don't want to give coaches unlimited challenges, because you know some of them would throw the red flag on every play. But the current rule -- coaches get two challenges per game, and a third one if the first two are both successful -- is ridiculous, and here's why:

Officials have been trained now to let plays continue if there's any doubt whether there was a fumble, for example. The fallback position now seems to be, "Let it play out and we'll sort it out after the action stops." That's admirable, except that if the official blows the call -- say, he lets play continue after a fumble when the runner clearly was down by contact -- the offensive team's coach has to waste one of his two precious challenges to correct the error.

Today's Seahawks-Redskins game provided a perfect example. In the first quarter, Seattle's Shawn Alexander ripped off about a 7-yard run, and the ball popped out at the end of the play. It was pretty clear to the naked eye -- even though I was about 50 feet away from a 29-inch TV screen while I was pounding away on the treadmill -- that Alexander's knee was down before the ball came out.

The official nearest the play decided to let the action continue. The Redskins recovered the "fumble" and ran around with it for awhile, then Mike Holmgren threw the red flag, and the officials quickly discovered that not only was Alexander down by contact, but both of his knees were on the ground before the ball came loose.

And yet, Holmgren was left with just one challenge, or a max of two more if his second challenge was also proved right. Why not give the coaches unlimited challenges, but as soon as they have two unsuccessful challenges, they're done for the game? Otherwise, the NFL is basically saying that they want to get it right, but only twice per team per game.

2. The whole "plane of the goal line" thing. Have you ever seen old NFL Films footage from the 50s or 60s? Do you think Dick Butkus or Jim Brown knew or even cared what a "plane" was, other than a way to get from one city to another?

In those days, a ballcarrier wasn't down until he was down, as in on the ground with a defender on top of him. And if you weren't standing in the end zone with the ball in your hands, you didn't score a touchdown.

But in recent years, the NFL has turned to geometry to determine whether a player has scored a touchdown. These days, in nearly every game you'll see a player stick the ball out as he nears the front corner of the end zone, because he knows that the end zone is now considered to be an imaginary three-dimensional rectangle, and if he waves the ball into that rectangle, it's a touchdown.

However, that leads to ridiculous plays like we saw in the Vikings-Broncos game last Sunday. Chester Taylor was nearing the goal line, and when it became clear that he wouldn't actually reach the end zone, he stuck the ball out in an effort to break the plane of the goal line. Naturally, Taylor fumbled -- although the only replay that I saw seemed to show the ball being knocked out by the pylon, which would result in a touchdown under the current, geometry-based system. Even worse, the ball went out of bounds in the end zone and the Broncos were awarded possession at their own 20, another ridiculous rule in itself (see below).

Let's get rid of this namby-pamby plane of the goalline thing. Unless you reach the endzone, or unless the ball is lying on the goal line itself (not waved over the goal line as you're going out of bounds), it's not a touchdown. This also removes the subjectivity of the call and keeps control of the game in the hands of the officials on the field, not in the booth.

3. Defense gets ball on fumbles out of the end zone. So, in the example above, Taylor fumbled into the end zone. The Broncos didn't recover the ball, so why should they get possession at their own 20? That's too punitive to the offensive team, especially when the current rules encourage the runner to stick the ball out in an attempt to break the plane, thus putting him at risk of a fumble.

Scrap this rule and give the offense the ball at the spot of the fumble if nobody recovers it before it rolls out of bounds in the end zone.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Those poor college athletes

Every so often I hear some ex-jock or an ass-kissing media member decrying "the system" that takes advantage of those poor college athletes, especially those in D-I revenue-producing programs. The argument always includes some tale of woe about how a 340-pound defensive tackle can't afford to take his girlfriend out for a burger and fries, while the greedy university president is lighting his Padilla Miamis with $100 bills gleaned from the sale of said defensive tackle's replica jersey.

These "kids," so the argument goes, are being used by the system, and they deserve to be paid like the professional athletes that they are. Of course, the ex-jock or ass-kissing media member conveniently skips over the part about the athlete getting free room and board for up to five years, a bill that could top $200,000 at many of our finer institutions of higher learning.

Anybody who's ever attended a D-I university can tell stories of these "poor athletes" driving around campus in tricked-out Hummers and wearing the latest bling and fashions, so let's put to rest the argument that these guys don't have cash on hand. Either they're working summer jobs for some serious dough or they've got a booster handing them cash under the table. Either way, I'm not buying the "too poor for Burger King" stories.

And now, we get the latest tale of conspicuous consumption by our poor, mistreated, abused college athletes -- a list of booty that players receive for participating at the various bowl games that dot the December and January landscape like so many patches of black ice. Among the gift packages:
  • Rose Bowl, a Sony Bravia surround-sound system, Sony headphones, a Fossil watch, an Under Armour backpack and a New Era cap
  • BCS championship game, a Nintendo Wii, three games including “Madden NFL 08,” a fleece pullover and a New Era cap.
  • Holiday and Alamo Bowls: also handing out the Wii
  • Insight Bowl, a Microsoft Xbox 360 and the “NCAA 08 Football” game and a Bulova watch and a hat
  • Las Vegas Bowl, an Apple iPod Touch, an Under Armour Aero sackpack, a cap and a one-year subscription to ESPN the Magazine.
And the list goes on and on. It seems that the NCAA is OK with all of this, as long as the retail value of the gift package is less than $500.

Read the whole article -- it'll make you see red if you think, as I do, that these pampered princes are already getting more than their share of booty while the rest of the student body -- you know, the people who are there to get an education -- are getting $9.50 an hour for scrubbing pots and pans in the dorm cafeteria.

And as the author of this article points out, these kids are already getting a free education, but hey, let's give them something they can actually use.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Iowa: I still don't get it

OK, so the results are in from Iowa -- Obama and Huckabee with resounding victories. And the race to New Hampshire is on.

But I still don't understand why the citizens from one state like Iowa -- one small, Midwestern, lily-white state -- should have so much power to determine the course of the presidential campaign. It just makes no sense. If you want to let the people have some kind of voice heading into the conventions, then schedule a nationwide primary in the spring and take the voters' pulse. But to let Iowans tell the rest of us that Obama and Huckabee are the candidates to beat is just madness. Madness, I tell you!

By the by, Obama has to be thrilled to see Huckabee win here. If Obama pulls off the Democratic nomination, the biggest criticism to be levied against him is his inexperience. Well, it's not like Two-Buck Huck has any foreign policy chops to fall back on. And for the rest of us Americans, this could be a sign that we'll finally have a campaign based on ideas, not just dirty political tricks. I for one would welcome that.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Johnathan Rice: Further North

I've been writing a lot of mini-reviews for the Weekly in the last month or so. A band or a singer comes to town, I listen to their latest disc and write a 50-word teaser. Some good, some bad.

But I also took part in one of my favorite review gimmicks recently, a quick peek back at CDs we missed the first time around. Here's what I posted on a great CD by a guy most of you probably have never heard of.

Johnathan Rice
Further North
****
Indie kids, don’t hate Johnathan Rice because he’s Jenny Lewis’ boy-toy. Hate him because he shares a bed with the darling Rilo Kiley lead singer and because he’s not just a pretty face. Rice, a 24-year-old singer-songwriter who grew up in Glasgow and Washington, D.C., saw his star rise in 2007 with the release of his second album, Further North, a collection of jangling guitars and spooky stories, road songs that echo The Byrds, the Pixies and a touch of Fleetwood Mac’s jaded SoCal worldview. A couple more albums like this and maybe Lewis will be known as Johnathan Rice’s girlfriend.

– Patrick Donnelly
Las Vegas Weekly, Dec. 27, 2007

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

1 down, 365 to go

Happy New Year, everybody! Today's post is the first of 366 this year, if all goes according to plan and I can stick with this. I want to push myself to write more regularly this year, so a post a day seems to be the way to start.

And it's a better way to start than Hawaii, Florida or Arkansas picked. Which reminds me ... with a 4-1 record, the humble Mountain West Conference has posted the best record of the bowl season! That's 4-1, with the one loss coming when underdog Air Force couldn't hang onto a huge lead vs. Cal. Maybe UNLV has a crappy football program, but at least the Rebels can say their conference is better than the SEC, thanks to Utah, BYU, TCU and New Mexico.