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October 31, 2011

Football and Me Part IX

This is the ninth post in a series in which I will document this football season. It will broadly be about the Badgers and Packers but will more specifically be about myself in it. Football season does not just happen on the field. It is about great friends, foods, drinks, and merriment. My hope is that it will be interesting for readers but at the very least it will serve as a journal to look back on. I wish I had done this last year.

Once again in running diary format…times are approximate

Friday

11:45 AM – Hop into Hot Doug’s line. I profiled Hot Doug’s and its owner/manager/cashier Doug Sohn last week and am bubbling with excitement. This is one of the few things in life I will gladly do knowing full well in advance that I am going to have to wait in line for an hour first.

12:45 PM - I order a Teriyaki and Mandarin Orange Chicken Sausage with Sriracha Mayonnaise and Kimchi, a Wild Rice and Asiago Smoked Bison Sausage with Smokey Bacon Sauce and Garlic-Cheddar Spread, and duck fat french fries. Habib orders a Rosemary and Garlic Smoked Chicken Sausage with Chipotle Dijonnaise and Carrigaline Smoked Farmhouse Cheese and a Ribeye Sausage with Fried Onions. Habib, his friend Roy, and I take our seats and receive our food a few minutes later. No words will be spoken in the ensuing half hour as we gobble down our sausages and allow for a period of silence to reflect on what just happened.

Sausages at Hot Doug's

3:30 – We pick up Habib’s co-worker Jon and Jon’s friend Sam in Wicker Park; now en route to Cincinnati, where we will be staying the night before headed to Columbus for Wisconsin-Ohio State. Heeeeeeeeeeere we gooooooooo!!

9:30 – We arrive in Cincinnati and meet my friend Louis at Pleasant Ridge Chili, his recommendation for where we can get the best authentic, local chili in a city that’s known for it. Like last week at Culver’s, every adult male in the restaurant is FAT. For some reason this week this phenomenon makes me excited while last week it made me depressed. We all get chili and also order french fries doused in gravy and cheddar. Taking precaution to order the fries extra crispy, we are still astonished that throughout the duration of the meal they do not become soggy. We expected delicious flavor but a somewhat compromised texture and are pleasantly surprised that the fries never lose their form. These fries have transcended science.

Fries at PRC

12:00 AM – After briefly attending a Halloween pre-party, Louis, Habib, and I head to Louis’ friend Bill’s house in Newport, KY. The friend, who explicitly told Louis to hurry over, is not yet home so we head to Jerry’s Jug House, a neighborhood corner bar down the block. As we walk in, the bartender and six regular patrons cease their conversation to stare at us. The silence is deafening and we feel slightly unwelcome to say the least. My Wisconsin hoodie, which I had washed with Downy-laced Tide and dried with dryer sheets (well I guess this is growing up), will now smell like cigarettes for the rest of the weekend.

12:30 – Finally inside the house, I spot the Hulk Hogan Anthology on the DVD shelf. We pop it in and watch his bouts with Andre the Giant and the Macho Man as well as the formation of the NWO. The matches were unbelievably poorly choreographed compared to today’s WWE and the announcers absolutely shattered unintentional comedy records. During the formation of the NWO, Bill’s girlfriend, who has had more than a little bit to drink, interrupts to say, “Y’all know this is fake right?” I stare at her in disbelief for a second and deadpan, “No, Hulk Hogan grew to be too big of a star for the WWF, and is now leading his own faction to invade WCW…this was a seminal moment in professional wrestling history.” Louis joined my side of the debate. She continued to try to tell us that this was all scripted and we still aren’t sure whether or not she was aware that we were kidding.

Saturday

10:00 AM – #ColumbusBound! This day is too nice outside to end in miserable, debilitating heartbreak, right?

2:00 PM – Arrive in Columbus, put our stuff down in the hotel, and head towards campus. After scoping out the expansive selection of food carts, we opt for a philly cheesesteak from a guy manning the grill that looks like he was put on Earth expressly for this purpose. “Everything I make is good,” he boasts in a tone so confident that the only way he could have been more persuasive would have been to insert the word ‘dank’ for ‘good.’ The meat is sublime but the sandwich could use more cheese. Just nitpicking here, though, as it was delicious in totality.

3:00 – We get a 100 oz beer tube at The Big Bar. The atmosphere seems very business-like–when we get there, there is no music on and all of the patrons are casually sipping drinks. I put $5.00 in the jukebox and during the second song they turn the volume down from pump-up level to drowned-out-by-conversation level. None of the bars around campus seem to be aware that there is a big football game later. We pass Eddie George’s Bar and Grille. “That ‘E’ in Grille is pretentious,” Jon notes. This is a good enough reason for us not to go in.

4:00 – We end up at a pregame party hosted by the ski club, which is consistently described to us by members as a drinking club that happens to ski. Fun times and nice people. We crack open our case of delicious Keystone Light which we purchased for $9.99. Nectar. Of. The. Gods. This will be our home for the next three hours.

6:00 – I ask a guy dressed as an Oompa Loompa with devil horns (odd combination) if he is supposed to be Herman Cain. He doesn’t see the humor. This is not to say that he was offended by the joke but, like everyone else within earshot, he did not know who Herman Cain was.

8:00 – In for $30 per person (I used Bernie Mac’s negotiating methodology in Bad Santa with the scalper), Jon, Habib, and I take our seats in the Ohio State student section. We are in the comparatively smaller student section (I would describe it as the South or North end zone but have never figured out how to tell the difference). Despite Columbus’ lack of drinking acumen, the Horseshoe is LOUD. If this is what it gets like when they are unranked and hosting mid-ranked Wisconsin, we can only imagine what volume levels it reaches when the Buckeyes play Michigan with the BCS on the line. It is a majestic atmosphere and in all honesty the third best football stadium I’ve ever been to behind Lambeau Field and Texas Stadium. Definitely better than the Big House, Rose Bowl, and *gasp* Camp Randall.

8:30 – After the teams trade punts, Wisconsin goes up 7-0 on a 22-yard touchdown pass to Montee Ball with a little under seven minutes remaining in the first quarter. Quieting this raucous crowd will be imperative and Wisconsin is on its way to doing so.

10:30 – Skipping WAY ahead, Ohio State is now up 26-14 with 4:39 left to play in the game. Along the way, Wisconsin has had another punt blocked–leading to a 1-yard Ohio State touchdown–and can’t seem to stop the Buckeyes even though their only two plays are running up the middle and quarterback keeper. Mildly frustrating.

10:40 – Wisconsin scores in four plays and less than a minute. 26-21 Ohio State. FOR THE LOVE OF CHEESE GET A STOP. SPOILER ALERT: UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES IS OHIO STATE PASSING.

10:50 – Ohio State faces 4th-and-1 on its own 27 with 2:49 remaining. I scream at the top of my lungs, “DO NOT CALL TIMEOUT!!!!!” because two minutes remaining with one timeout left is MORE than enough time to score in college football where the clock stops for first downs and I fear the Badgers’ scoring too quickly as they did last week. Bret Bielema uses Wisconsin’s last timeout.

11:00 – Wisconsin scores on its fourth play, a 49-yard touch down pass to “He Went To” Jared Abbrederis. Two-point conversion good. Wisconsin up 29-26 with 1:18 remaining. As I feared would happen, the Badgers scored too quickly but at least the WORST case scenario here is overtime.

11:10 – It turns out that the worst case scenario was NOT overtime but was, once again, HELL. Ohio State receiver Devin Smith somehow gets behind both Wisconsin safeties. Braxton Miller scrambles right, staying jusssssst behind the line of scrimmage and tosses a ball that seems to hang in the air for 45 minutes as we realize Smith is open by a good 10 yards. We collectively scream NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO in slow motion. Smith catches the ball in the back of the end zone a split second second before he is closed on. I am thinking and yelling existing swears and ones I just made up that don’t have a formal definition but are the only phrases to adequately convey how I feel. afslkjaflsd;jkfalds;jk faljkafsj;afsdjafdsjkl ofewoiuafh;adjkladfsnkl

11:45 – Despondent, we decide to walk back the three miles to our hotel instead of staying around campus to try to find a cab. It helps that Ohio State also wears red so we don’t stand out conspicuously as fresh bait; we are still taunted a little bit but it could be worse. After exiting the campus area and getting downtown, we try to find food. We ask the concierge at the Hampton Inn if there is anywhere we can find something fast and cheap. “This is the arena district. Everything here is sit-down and quite expensive,” he condescends, explicitly judging us as people who are not classy enough to buy a $10 sandwich. Enemies abound.

11:55 – A quite intoxicated Ohio State fan mockingly yells, “Good game!!!” at us. We put our heads down, ignore him, and keep walking. As we continue, we hear him screaming obscenities at us for at least another 30 seconds: “F— you guys! I was just saying good game!” His current tone is not one that makes us believe that he was originally being sincere and gracious. One would not expect such boorish behavior in the prestigious Columbus arena district.

1:00 AM – Pizza ordered and delivered. Night at the Roxbury on TV. Wisconsin’s season a tremendous disappointment. Left trying to pick up the pieces and wondering what might have been. The Packers have Aaron Rodgers. The Packers have Aaron Rodgers. The Packers have Aaron Rodgers. The Packers have Aaron Rodgers. Not as consoling as it should be. Two straight weeks we have gone into enemy territory, erased two-score deficits in the fourth quarter, and proceeded to lose in regulation in the most painful way possible. With Russell Wilson at quarterback, with Michigan and Ohio State down, THIS was the year that Wisconsin needed to strike. Yes, everything that could have gone wrong did the past two weeks. The best teams, though, don’t have field goals and punts blocked. They break up hail mary’s before they are caught for touchdowns. They manage the clock like they’ve played video games before. The Badgers didn’t do these things. It hurts. It will hurt. Dreams of Indianapolis, of New Orleans, and of playing against Andrew Luck in the Rose Bowl are shattered and we have to wonder when the next time the Badgers will have a legitimate shot at these dreams again. On one hand, being in this position is a testament to how far Wisconsin’s program has come. Unfortunately, this makes it hurt more, not less.


October 28, 2011

Week 8 NFL Picks

Here we are. Just about halfway through the NFL regular season (it always goes so fast–TOO fast) and at the dreaded bye week for the Packers. I hate the Packers’ bye every year but this year this is especially true–I have no idea how common or weird this is but I actually dream their games in advance. I absolutely cannot get enough of this team and wish that there could be some way I could see them play 162 games a year without the players’ bodies being brutally dismembered.

I am aware that this is a new golden era for Packers fans and must constantly remind myself to fully appreciate it for how special it is. This is happening. We are truly lucky to have this team. The Packers are defending Super Bowl Champions (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), 7-0 and in a tier by themselves atop the NFL power rankings, and set up for sustained success. Aaron Rodgers is having a historically brilliant season and the rest of the team is full of great players who, as an added bonus, are also likable characters. In Thompson and McCarthy I trust. Not too many fans can say that unconditionally about their GM and head coach.

How many NFL teams even have half as many jersey-able (as in you could buy the jersey and know that it will be relevant for years, whether or not the player is still with the team) players as the Packers do? Aaron Rodgers, Josh Sitton (just because no one buys o-line jerseys doesn’t mean they shouldn’t…), Jermichael Finley, Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, BJ Raji, Clay Matthews, AJ Hawk (who has been underratedly solid the past 1.5 years), Desmond Bishop, Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, Nick Collins (on IR but still very jersey-able), and the possible emergences of Randall Cobb, Sam Shields, and Morgan Burnett. That is 13 with the possibility/probability of 16! That is unheard of and I am aware of how lucky I am. It’s gonna be hard to make it all the way until next Sunday without my Packers crack.

On to the picks:

Previous Records:
Ryan
:
Week 7: 7-5-1
Season: 55-43-5

Asif:
Week 7: 5-7-1
Season: 55-43-5

Indianapolis @ Tennessee (-8.5)

Ryan: First game in and we already have a prime candidate for the Black Zone Channel which, if you don’t recall, is the new NFL venture that showcases punting, passes thrown over receivers’ heads and at their feet, and offensive (pun intended) action in team’s own territory. These two teams combined to lose 103-14 last week so something’s gotta give. Colts cover.

Asif: It’s pretty apparent that nothing is going to prevent the Colts from sucking as hard as possible for Andrew Luck. We can only pray that the Dolphins find a way to suck more, which they’re perfectly capable of doing. The Hasselbeck renaissance (Hasselbeckaissance?) appears to have come to an abrupt end, but I think that the Titans will hold off until the end of the season before starting Jake Locker. At least I hope they do because I really want to see Locker succeed. Anyway, just a hunch here, but Indy covers.

Jacksonville @ Houston (-9.5)

Ryan: For some strange reason, the Jaguars are still fighting viciously for Jack Del Rio. Last week’s win against the Ravens was not some sort of fluke where Baltimore thought it could coast; the Ravens were trying and couldn’t generate ANY offense on the Jags. Aside from their 32-3 loss Week 2 versus the Jets, the Jaguars haven’t been getting blown out.

The Texans were unbelievable on both sides of the ball against the Titans, beating them into submission–last week, some people (ahem, Asif) were talking about the Titans as the favorites to win the AFC South. Now, there are rumblings that Jake Locker could be the starter soon. This is a fickle league. This line seems three points too high. Jags cover.

Asif: Last week’s Monday night game between Baltimore and Jacksonville was stab your eyes out with a pencil awful. I blame that more on Joe Flacco’s being the most overrated QB this side of Mark Sanchez than Jacksonville’s actually being good on defense. I’ll admit that I jumped the gun a bit on burying Houston; they’re definitely the AFC South favorites now and they will definitely get blown out in a first round home playoff game. Still, I could see some letdown from a cathartic win over the Titans last week. Jags cover.

Minnesota @ Carolina (-3.5)

Ryan: If you separate out his 72-yard completion to Michael Jenkins on the Vikings’ first play from scrimmage, Christian Ponder was 12-31 for 147 yards. Not exactly awe inspiring. The Vikings kept their game against the Packers last week way closer than it had any business being.

The Panthers looked like they were starting to come together last week–they may be on the path to joining the middle of the league while the Redskins could end up in the group of 11 awful teams I alluded to in last week’s column. Panthers cover.

Asif: I know, I know, Christian Ponder wasn’t that great, but I’m not buying the Panthers’ ability to stop Adrian Peterson. Also, the Vikings weren’t THAT bad when Donovan McNabb was their QB. It’s kinda hard to understate how much McNabb was actively hurting that team. Now at least Donovan can achieve his dream of eating a McRib on the sideline during the third quarter.

I’m still not sold on the Panthers, they’ll have to do more than beat a team led by John Beck to convince me they’re actually good. Vikings cover and I roll in the money from my $10 bet with Ryan.

New Orleans (-13) @ St. Louis

Ryan: Last week, we saw what happens when the Saints play against terrible teams. 62-7. It’s hard to believe the Rams are 36 points better than the Colts (math: 45 – 13 (spread) – 6 (home field differential)). Saints have issues in the secondary but it looks like Sam Bradford might be out again this week, not that he would have been doing anything this season to take advantage of it otherwise. Saints cover.

Asif: This line should be at least seven points higher. I’m almost completely certain that the Rams are going to grab the second or third pick in the draft and extort a ransom from whatever QB-desperate team loses on Luck and is willing to give up a fortune to get Landry Jones. Drew Brees seems like he might be pretty good at football. Saints cover.

Arizona @ Baltimore (-13)

Ryan: The issues that Baltimore had on Monday versus the Jaguars are ones that will rear their head later on this season. It is extremely alarming for the Ravens that Joe Flacco is not a better quarterback; there are long stretches of games where he just cannot move the ball and he misses a lot of passes that he needs to be completing at this stage of his career. The Ravens defense can only do so much and at this point I think that Flacco gives the franchise a defined ceiling for the entirety of his tenure. That being said, the Cardinals are horrible and the thought of Kevin Kolb going on the road against said Ravens defense is horrifying. Ravens cover.

Asif: The next person who calls Joe Flacco an elite quarterback gets punched in the face. I’m looking at you ESPN analysts. Given that ol’ unibrow is perfectly capable of stinking up the joint again, I’m a bit hesitant to take the Ravens as 13 point favorites. Then again, the Cardinals appear to have given up after Week 2 and you can bet that the Ravens D will be out for blood after an embarrassing loss. Baltimore covers.

Miami @ NY Giants (-10)

Ryan: The Dolphins lose every week but they are feisty. They have only been truly blown out once in their six losses. Unfortunately, this resilience has not been enough to keep Tony Sparano from begging the referees for his job. No, seriously, that happened.

This isn’t a game that the 4-2 Giants can afford to mess around in, though. After this cupcake, here is their schedule for the next six weeks:

@New England
@San Francisco
Philadelphia
@New Orleans
Green Bay
@Dallas

In that stretch, they play perhaps the four best teams in the league (Packers, Patriots, 49ers, Saints), so they absolutely HAVE to take care of business this week. Giants cover.

Asif: The Giants absolutely have to win this game. As Ryan mentioned above, their schedule over the next six weeks is brutal and any playoff hopes they have rest on building a nice cushion in the NFC East now. The good news is that the Dolphins are God awful. Seriously, Matt Moore is their starting quarterback, they just lost a game to Tim Tebow, their coach is clearly just going through the motions now, and their best player, Brandon Marshall, has mental health issues. Giants cover.

Washington @ Buffalo (Toronto) (-6)

Ryan: Depressingly, this is probably the best game on the early slate on Sunday. The Redskins’ collapse started last week against the Panthers, a few weeks earlier than I was predicting/hoping for. Prior to this season, Mike Shanahan said that he would stake his reputation on John Beck and Rex Grossman. The only possible explanations for this comment are that he was being insincere or that he does not have eyes. They are who we thought they were.

Coming off the bye, this is a game that the 4-2 Bills need in order to preserve their momentum. Bills cover.

Asif: The Redskins are in freefall mode and I’m feeling kinda silly for believing in a team that made a conscious decision to enter the season with John Beck and Rex Grossman as its QBs. The Bills are coming off a tough loss to the Giants, but I think they should be able to pull this one out on their NOT HOME field in Toronto. Bills cover.

Detroit (-2.5) @ Denver

Ryan: Love Tim Tebow, or HATE Tim Tebow–there really doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. Every NFL pundit had to have an opinion on him before the draft and has maintained an agenda in hoping this prophecy comes true. I don’t really have an opinion on whether he will be good or not–my best guess is yes–but at least he’s interesting. The Broncos are much more fun to watch now with Tebow than Kyle Orton.

This week, Tebow’s slow release could be an issue against the beastly Lions defensive line. Even if Shaun Hill starts for Detroit, I think Lions cover.

Asif: Put me down firmly in the HATE Tebow camp. The last thing we needed in this world was another bible thumping sports figure for the media to fellate. Tony Dungy and Ray Lewis are enough, but at least they’re good at football. Tebow unequivocally sucks. Try and argue otherwise. The guy got outplayed by Matt Moore for most of last Sunday’s game. He couldn’t do sh*t against one of the worst defenses in NFL history. But then the Dolphins remembered that it was in their best interest to lose to Denver and now I have to deal with another week of Tebow worship. As for Tebow’s being more exciting than Kyle Orton… CHILD PLEASE. Any time Orton steps on the field there’s at least a 15% chance that he’s drunk. God boy has never touched a drop of the Devil’s water in his life.

Have you heard of Tebowing? I hate myself because I have. If you ever see anyone doing this, just kick them in the face. They’re leaving it right out there for you.

The Lions have come back to Earth a bit, and you can almost hear the bones breaking from people jumping off their bandwagon. O ye of little faith. I’m sticking this one out to the end. Detroit covers and if there’s any benevolent force in the universe, Ndamukong Suh tears Tebow’s head off and then taunts his corpse.

New England (-3) @ Pittsburgh

Ryan: Forgive me for not quite buying into this Steelers renaissance after three straight victories when they have come against the Titans, Jaguars, and Cardinals. The Patriots aren’t exactly stellar at getting to the quarterback but I like their chances when Bill Belichick has two weeks to prepare for Pittsburgh’s abysmal offensive line; the Patriots have won eight straight years–and are 9-2 overall–coming off the bye under Belichick. It really seems like Vegas is begging us to take New England here but I’ll bite. Patriots cover.

Asif: This week’s manufactured Boston sports story of the moment was Rob Gronkowski having his picture taken with a porn star. Gronkowski actually apologized for the incident. In what universe is that actually something that any unmarried person should have to apologize to anyone for? God, I hate the Boston media.

The Steelers beat up on bad teams, but I don’t think that they’re good enough to handle a team like the Pats. After a horrendous start, New England’s defense looks like it is rounding into shape. It was really good against Dallas in Week 6–Albert Haynesworth looked motivated and Andre Carter might be a real find. This seems too easy, but Pats cover.

Cleveland @ San Fransisco (-8.5)

Ryan: Has there ever been a worse 3-3 team than the 2011 Cleveland Browns? It doesn’t seem possible. Their three wins have come against the Colts, Dolphins, and Seahawks (combined record: 2-17). I think that San Francisco is legit good and wins this game in a landslide. 49ers cover.

Asif: To answer Ryan’s question, no I don’t think there has been a worse 3-3 team than the Cleveland Browns. I can’t think of a single thing the Browns do well. Peyton Hilllis hasn’t even been that good this year. In fact, they suck so predictably that I’ve managed to pick every one of their games correctly (one push). I’ll put my streak on the line and take a very good 49ers team to cover. Like the rest of us, I’m in complete shock that we live in a universe where Alex Smith is a decent NFL QB.

Cincinnati (-3) @ Seattle

Ryan: Why no love for the 4-2 Bengals? Their two losses have come by a combined seven points. The Seahawks had 137 yards of total offense and two turnovers last week. Not exactly a banner performance. Bengals cover.

Asif: Remember when I insinuated that the Seahawks might not be that bad and that Charlie Whitehurst may be an upgrade over Tarvaris Jackson. Scratch that, they are that bad and to my surprise Whitehurst isn’t an upgrade over T-Jack. The Bengals have two rookie of the year candidates in Andy Dalton and AJ Green, the best defense of any team not from Baltimore, and a share of the AFC North lead. Cincy won the division just two years ago so I guess it shouldn’t be that surprising that they’re this good, but I don’t think anyone saw this coming. Bengals cover. BTW, that Carson Palmer trade is looking better by the minute, with two first rounders this year the Bengals could be contenders for the next several years with a young core.

Dallas @ Philadelphia (-3.5)

Ryan: Finally, a dank primetime game! I actually think that both of these teams are better than their records; they might be the 3rd and 4th best teams in the NFC behind the Packers and the 49ers. Since Andy Reid started coaching the team in 1999, the Eagles are 12-0 (!) coming off a bye. They are at home and need this game just a little bit more than the Cowboys do. Eagles cover.

Asif: DIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIE. I hate even looking at this match-up. I’ll take Dallas to cover because I want Philly to be buried before they start their annual late season run, but really I’m rooting for a meteor to hit the Linc.

Monday Night:

San Diego (-3.5) @ Kansas City

Ryan: Another dank night game! The winner of this game holds the tiebreaker for first place in the AFC West.

What in the world is wrong with Philip Rivers this season? Jason Lisk thinks that this is random error and that Rivers will rebound. I would tend to agree but usually when the Chargers have issues this time of year, Rivers is not the problem.

Kansas City, meanwhile, has been coming on hard the last few weeks. After starting out 0-3 and looking like they were going to fire Todd Haley sooner than later in the middle of this season, they have won three in a row. I don’t want to say that the Texans and Chiefs are as good as last year’s Packers, but there is some value in having injuries happen earlier than later.

Right now, the Chiefs and Chargers are headed in completely opposite directions. This is not to say that the momentum cannot or will not change but right now I’m going to roll with it. Chiefs cover.

Asif: If KC wins this game, they take a share of the AFC West lead. Commentators as a whole seem to be ignoring that Philip Rivers has suddenly morphed into Jay Cutler. He sulks, cusses at his coach, throws stupid interceptions–all symptoms of Cutlersuck. My guess is he finally got tired of playing for Norv Turner (who can blame him) and is dogging it this season to get Norv fired. Too bad he doesn’t realize that Norv has pictures of Chargers GM AJ Smith with a Thai ladyboy and thus will be coach for life. Chiefs cover.


October 26, 2011

Other Ways Roger Clemens Could Have Saved on Legal Fees

Roger Clemens, whose federal perjury case was declared a mistrial in July, is seeking to recoup legal fees. Per Reuters:

“Only Mr. Clemens directly paid out of his personal funds to prepare for trial, resources now wasted through no fault of his own,” Clemens’ lawyers argued in a brief motion.

“The court can and should make the government, the party responsible for the need for a second trial, pay for the waste and loss incurred in connection with the first one,” they said. They did not say how much they were seeking but legal fees can easily run thousands of dollars per day, if not more.

Clemens’ team said that there is precedent for such payment. A spokesman for the prosecutors declined to comment.

Clemens should be counting his blessings that this was a mistrial as it almost assuredly would not have been had he not sprung for high powered lawyers who exposed the court’s incompetence.

With the help of a time machine, I have devised a few ways that Clemens could have theoretically avoided these legal fees in the first place so that he would not have to recoup them.

1. Abstain from taking steroids.

This would have have had the unfortunate effect of limiting the extent to which Clemens was able to exact revenge on the Red Sox administration, led by Dan Duquette who famously said that Clemens was “in the twilight of his career.” I know, I know–like everybody was doing it so that makes it kind of OK. Still, though, if he never took steroids he never would have lied about it in Congress, had his case declared a mistrial, and seek to recoup legal fees. Novel concept.

2. Publicly admit steroid usage and feign a sincere apology as soon as Brian McNamee’s Mitchell Report statements became public.

This would have maximized Clemens’ credibility in the court of public opinion and, once again, prevented him from ever lying in front of Congress. He could have even told half-truths in his apology like Andy Pettitte did, saying that he only used HGH to recover from injuries. Clemens and Barry Bonds could have curried public favor and saved themselves a lot of time, money, and personal anguish by faking humility and remorse. Could it be that they are delusional and not blatant LIARS?

Somewhere, there is a lesson to be learned in this; Clemens’ insincere apology could have gone something like this:

“I used steroids to gain an edge at the end of my career and regret it each and every day when I wake up and have to face myself in the mirror. While at the time I rationalized that I was doing this to level the playing field with other players who were using performance enhancing drugs and did so under the supervision of professional trainers, I have nobody to blame but myself. I apologize to all of my fans, teammates, and opponents who I have let down. From this point forward, I pledge to do everything in my power to promote safe, fair competition in the great sport of baseball.”

HOW HARD WOULD THAT HAVE BEEN? I just wrote that in less than three minutes.

3. Not lied to Congress.

Here, Clemens could have either taken the fifth, convicting himself in the court of public opinion, or he could have used this as his forum to come clean. Either way, this is where the insincere apology for Step 2 would have become absolutely mandatory, with an extra sentence added in about lying initially.

Unrelatedly, at this point the government should probably cut its losses and make some deal with Clemens’ lawyers such that this whole thing just goes away but they don’t have to reimburse Clemens’ legal expenses from the mistrial. Would anyone be upset to never have to read about Clemens again until he dies?*

*Stories about his going broke in 10 years are of course excepted. Those will be sad/funny/interesting.

 

 


October 25, 2011

Bielema’s Egregious Timeout

As many people have written about and I alluded to in yesterday’s Gameday Diary, Bret Bielema called one of the worst timeouts in the history of football in Saturday night’s loss to Michigan State.

Receiving the ball with 1:26 to play and the game tied 31-31, MSU ran the following series:

  • 1st and 10 at MSU 22 Kirk Cousins pass complete to Le’Veon Bell for 3 yards to the MchSt 25. 31 31
  • 2nd and 7 at MSU 25 Kirk Cousins pass incomplete to Keith Nichol.
  • 3rd and 7 at MSU 25 Kirk Cousins pass complete to Le’Veon Bell for 9 yards to the MchSt 34 for a 1ST down.
  • 1st and 10 at MSU 34 Kirk Cousins sacked by Brendan Kelly for a loss of 10 yards, fumbled, forced by Brendan Kelly, recovered by MchSt Dan France at the MchSt 24.
  • 2nd and 20 at MSU 24 Timeout WISCONSIN, clock 00:42.
  • 2nd and 20 at MSU 24 Kirk Cousins pass complete to B.J. Cunningham for 12 yards to the MchSt 36.
  • 3rd and 8 at MSU 36 Timeout WISCONSIN, clock 00:30.
When MSU was faced with 2nd and 20, they were going to let the clock run out and go into overtime but Bielema called timeout to stop the clock and give the Badgers a chance to perhaps get the ball back in win in regulation. This timeout is slightly defensible because if MSU had run negative plays or thrown incompletions, the Badgers would have had a reasonable shot to get the ball back with enough time to get into field goal range. I would have opted for overtime here with Wisconsin’s having all of the momentum but I can rationalize why he wanted to go for the kill in regulation.

The timeout on 3rd and 8, though, was egregious. The upside of this timeout could have only come from a stupid turnover, a blocked punt, a terrible punt or great punt return, or magic. The most likely scenario if Wisconsin was to get the ball back here would have been that that they received the ball on their own 20-yard line with about 20 seconds left. If MSU had an incomplete pass, Wisconsin would have had one timeout left. If they ran the ball or completed a pass short of the first down, Wisconsin would have had no timeouts. Either way, unless something catastrophic happened to MSU, WISCONSIN WOULD NOT HAVE HAD THE TIME TO ADVANCE THE BALL INTO FIELD GOAL RANGE.

The downside of this timeout was the highly unlikely potential for a hail mary that gets tipped and then advanced into the end zone or, more reasonably, that it would give MSU time to draw up plays to have a chance to kick a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation. THIS scenario was far more likely than disaster striking MSU and why calling the timeout on 3rd and 8 was outrageously stupid.

Bret Bielema is an incredible recruiter and great motivator–he brings A LOT to the table. But, as we saw in the Rose Bowl and on Saturday, he still needs to work on game management. Ugh.


The Quest for Fairness in the NCAA

As everybody already knows and I have written in the past, the current NCAA system is dramatically unfair to the players. For all the talk last week about David Stern’s being a plantation owner, what would this make university presidents, athletic directors, bowl administrators, and even coaches?

In circulating a petition that asks for a larger cut of the next television contract and having already drawn 300 signatures in less than two weeks, college football and basketball players have started to take action into their own hands. The AP’s Alan Scher Zaiger writes:

The players from Arizona, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Purdue and UCLA have signed a petition asking the NCAA to “realize its mission to educate and protect us with integrity.” The National College Players Association, an athletes’ advocacy group, provided The Associated Press with copies of the document for release Monday. Players started sending the petition to the NCAA last week.

The document urges the NCAA and college presidents to set aside an unspecified amount of money from what it estimates is $775 million in recently acquired TV revenues in an “educational lock box” for football and men’s basketball players. Players could tap those funds to help cover educational costs if they exhaust their athletic eligibility before they graduate. And they could receive what’s left of the money allocated to them with no strings attached upon graduating — a step that would undoubtedly be seen by some as professionalizing college sports.

Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel, who co-authored Death to the BCS, a book that exposes and excoriates the NCAA on every level, thinks that the petition is a great step in the right direction, but urges more drastic action:

Get together and boycott a minor bowl game.

 Nothing will rock college athletics like players refusing to play. And nothing will get the attention of people more powerful than university presidents than a canceled nationally televised game. It will be a bomb blast to the system – grabbing the attention of non-sports media, local and national politicians, and reformers of all kinds. A bowl boycott will get everyone talking, immediately.

The column is very compelling and I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

If a team of players actually gets together and DOES this, it will be on the short list of the most polarizing events in American sports history. They will be lauded by anti-establishment writers and fans but torn to shreds by traditionalists. Rational–and I would like to hope more–people would be on the players’ side but their dissenters would be loud and vicious. The inevitable negativity is probably enough of a deterrent to prevent this from happening–for now–but support for the NCAA is snowballing on a downward spiral. We may be less than a few years of scandals and utter refusal to reform away from the time where a boycott of this nature would be the event that turns the snowball into the avalanche that completely breaks the system.

 

 


October 24, 2011

Football and Me Part VIII

This is the eighth post in a series in which I will document this football season. It will broadly be about the Badgers and Packers but will more specifically be about myself in it. Football season does not just happen on the field. It is about great friends, foods, drinks, and merriment. My hope is that it will be interesting for readers but at the very least it will serve as a journal to look back on. I wish I had done this last year.

I am going to try doing this in a Bill Simmons running diary format. I’m interested in seeing how this ends up and whether people prefer this style to paragraph form. Times are inexact, approximated to the best combination of logic and my recollection.

Friday

1:45 - Habib, who took the day off from work, arrives at my apartment in Roscoe Village for a trip to Kuma’s Corner. I have reviewed Kuma’s in the past – it is a heavy metal bar in Chicago and makes the best hamburgers that I know of, which is not to say that it is the best burger restaurant I know of. This was something that we had been planning and looking forward to all week and officially signified that a Dank Weekend Alert was fully underway.

2:30 - We arrive at Kuma’s and are told that the wait will be 45 minutes to an hour. Seeing that two people at the corner of the bar already had their burgers, we sidled up and sat on the radiator behind them in hopes that their seats at the bar would open up before our table. About 10 minutes later, a different group leaves the bar and we snatch these seats quickly. This was extraordinarily fortuitous because we were both starving and the combination of blaring death metal and other people eating delicious burgers right in front of you makes Kuma’s far from the most fun place to spend an extended wait. After gaping at the menu and wishing I could order one of everything and just take a bite of each, I decide on the Pantera which is a 10 oz burger topped with roasted poblano pepper, tortilla strips, house made ranchero sauce, bacon, cheddar, and monterey jack.

2:50 - Burger arrives. It is glorious.

Pantera Burger at Kuma's Corner

3:00 - Burger is finished. I normally eat pretty fast but at Kuma’s I do my best Kobayashi impression because a) the flavor of the burger is so outstanding that I physiologically crave the next bite before I finish the last, and b) of the opinion, which may or may not be logically flawed, that I need to finish before I get full because leftovers are for the weak.

3:05 – Food coma. Hurts. So. Good.

7:00 – We meet Mario at O’Hare. He weaves through traffic, bursting through holes like Adrian Peterson.

9:00 – Obligatory fast food stop in Michigan City, IN. Culver’s narrowly edges out Steak and Shake. Mario’s greatest achievement in life is that he has been to every Culver’s in Wisconsin. I’m not sure how many this is but it’s a lot–it must be tough to peak at age 23; he may have a hard time accomplishing anything from here on out that will surpass the fulfillment of this feat. Every adult male at Culver’s (sample size n = 20), with the exception of a uniformed police officer eating dinner with his family, is FAT. Not necessarily surprising but glaring and moderately depressing nonetheless. Still full from Kuma’s, I decide to eat ice cream for dinner. As I point out the physical flaws of others it must be noted that I am a paragon of balanced, nutritional living.

11:00 – Rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey:

Saturday

12:00 AM – We arrive in East Lansing, walking around their main State Street-esque ara for about 20 minutes–enough time to stop at the liquor store–and don’t see any other Badgers fans. In retrospect, we should have seen this as a precarious sign; in Iowa City on Friday night last year there were some people wearing red and then a bunch more undercover Badgers fans who approached us but were otherwise incognito (note: undercover Badgers are weak). There wasn’t even any of that on this Friday night.

12:30 – We get to our destination. We are staying with a family friend of Dr. Nacho, in med school in St. Maarten in body but with us all season in spirit. She and her friends had spent a long time making green and white ESPN letters with poster board (if I had a thousand tries, my letters wouldn’t come out as precise) in anticipation for College Gameday but their enthusiasm wanes when Habib tells them the morning sacrifice that briefly getting on TV entails. The letters will go unused.

1:00 – I ask nicely if we can watch Aristocats (the Disney movie, not the long dirty joke), which the girls have on VHS. They oblige. Channeling the mom in this movie, the next day we tell girls that they are being “un-ladylike” when they taunt us for rooting for Wisconsin. Also, O’Malley is a P.I.M.P.

9:30 - Mario and I wake up. Habib has been up for two hours, showered, gotten coffee, and put on some Bollywood movie with an indistinguishable plot and worse graphics. I will never understand morning people.

11:30 – We head to Beggar’s Banquet for a breakfast sandwich and Irish coffee. The highlight of this meal, shockingly, is the crinkly fries which I have in the past derided as irresponsible. These, though, are seasoned with kosher salt, celery salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and seasoned peppers. Quite dank and a great base for the rest of the day. There are not very many Badgers fans in the streets and those that are there are twice our age. Once again, this is precarious in retrospect.

2011-10-22_12-07-31_876

12:30 PM - I pop open the first delicious Keystone Light of the day. Something about being on a college campus makes this OK.

3:00 – Rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey, whiskey makes my baby feel a little friskey. Habib has video evidence of this sing-a-long that he can use to blackmail Mario and myself should we ever run for public office. If it ever ends up on Facebook, I will untag it in less than 10 seconds.

5:30 – We head towards Spartan Stadium. Very little red to be found. More delicious Keystone. Free Wendy’s. Picture with the Heisman trophy. Chicken leg and a cupcake from a tailgate (I used Wrigley the Dog’s patented 45-degree head tilt and widened eyes method of begging).

7:30 – Habib, Mario, and I head into the MSU student section. This is hostile territory. Wisconsin fans are outnumbered at least 19:1 in the stadium and it is extremely disappointing that more Sconnies didn’t make the trip. “Suck a bag of dicks” rings out early and often in our direction. Pretty please with sugar on top let the Badgers win this game.

8:00-8:30 – Wisconsin starts with the ball–11 play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Michigan State goes three-and-out. Wisconsin scores again in three plays and less than a minute. 14-0 Badgers. BLOWOUT WOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! The idea that things can and will go horribly wrong is unfathomable.

8:45 - I notice that the girl behind me, a cute Michigan State sophomore who is a pre-vet major, has the exact same color eyes as I do–a rare shade halfway between brown and hazel. I tell her that she has beautiful eyes. It is possible to think about things like this when it seems like victory will be stress free.

9:00-9:30 – Second quarter summary:

  • MSU punt downed at Wisconsin 5.
  • Safety. 14-2 Wisconsin
  • MSU four play, 72-yard TD drive. 14-9 Wisconsin
  • Wisconsin has 30-yard field goal blocked
  • MSU eight play, 80-yard TD drive. 16-14 MSU.
  • Wisconsin has punt blocked. MSU returns it for a touchdown. 23-14 MSU.
  • Halftime. I am thinking only in expletives.

10:30-11:15 – It is now 31-17 MSU. Russell Wilson, who has looked shaky since the first two dominant drives and thrown an interception, leads a touchdown drive, throws a pretty bad interception, has a beautiful deep ball that is a potential touchdown DROPPED by Jared Abbrederis, and leads another touchdown drive. 31-31! In the second half, Wisconsin’s defense has been playing extraordinarily. It needs one more stop to force Overtime.

11:15 – Michigan State wants overtime but Bret Bielema doesn’t let that happen, calling one dumb but moderately defensible timeout followed by one of the dumbest timeouts in the history of ever. MSU catches a tipped hail mary which is initially ruled short of the end zone but later ruled a touchdown upon review. MSU wins, Wisconsin’s national title hopes have instantly vanished, and we are easy and available targets. Hell is this game on repeat.

Sunday

12:00 AM – Unrelentingly numb. It doesn’t hurt as bad as Packers playoff losses (the 4th-and-26 game, Favre’s interception in 2007 NFC Championship game versus the Giants, and Packers-Cardinals come to mind), but OUCH. There is no way to make it go away but we do our best to make it feel even a little better, ordering pizza and cheesy bread sticks with which to drown our sorrows.

1:00 - Fast and the Furious is on TV. Channeling Bill Simmons’s podcasts with Adam Carolla which analyze later films in this series, Habib and I are laughing uncontrollably AT it. Everything is uproarious–the horrible acting and dialogue, the angles at which the scenes are shot, the priceless facial expressions, and the dramatic background music. The saddest scenes double as the most funny. We are told that we are ruining the movie but I would argue that there aren’t exactly subtle nuances going unnoticed because of our distraction. In other words, there really isn’t much to ruin.

8:30 – We hustle to get OUT of East Lansing. Not feeling too hot after the combination of the Badgers’ loss and general unhealthiness of the weekend, it is a struggle to get moving but it must be done.

10:00 – Obligatory stop at Firekeepers, a casino in the middle of NOWHERE in Michigan that still somehow always manages to have a completely full parking lot. The people for which Firekeepers is a consistent destination better not also blame Obama for the poor state of their finances. I have some suspicion, though. My loss limit is $10. Playing as partners in Blackjack, Habib and I turn $20 into $30. Playing progressively, we have a $15 bet on the table, double down on 11 opposite 4, and lose 19-17. Game over.

11:00 – Rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey.

12:15 - Habib and I get to Joe’s just after the first slate of NFL games starts. Pretty boring round of games, even with Tim Tebow’s dramatic comeback. Come onnnnnnnnn 3:15 hurry up and get here.

3:15 – Packers-Vikings starts with a 72-yard pass from Christian Ponder to Michael Jenkins and a touchdown two plays later. I’m not too worried, yet, but am now less excited about this game having started.

3:25 – Aaron Rodgers responds, completing all six of his passes to six different targets. Touchdown John Kuhn. 7-7. All might be right in the universe.

5:45-6:30 – It is the fourth quarter now and the Packers are up 33-20. Aaron Rodgers has three incompletions–two drops and a spike. Is that good? At some point, though, there would be one or two legitimate incompletions. BRING BACK FAVRE. Anyways, the Packers go into conservative offense mode–which is statistically proven to annoy me and make me nervous–but ultimately hold on for the 33-27 victory. A little bit too close for comfort–if the Vikings had won it would have done disastrous things to my mental psyche–but the Packers are 7-0 headed into their bye week and still in a tier by themselves atop the NFL. They are fallible though and certainly have room to improve.


October 21, 2011

Week 7 NFL Picks

Going through the slate of games and making picks this week, there were a striking amount of truly AWFUL games. Chargers-Jets and Falcons-Lions are pretty good match-ups while Bears-Buccaneers and Texans-Titans are tolerable. The rest of the games involve at least one team that is horrific and sometimes two.

It was mind boggling to me how many of these games were brutal so I decided to count how many TERRIBLE NFL teams there are and the final tally was even higher than I would have guessed. In no particular order, the following teams are abysmal: Vikings, Panthers (Cam Newton is exciting to watch but the team is 1-5), Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams, Dolphins, Browns, Jaguars, Colts, Chiefs, and Broncos.

11! Over one-third of the league could be double-digit underdogs. When not enough of these teams play each other or have byes, we are stuck with a craptastic slate of games like this week’s. By the way, mid-February through early September me is horrified that I would ever complain about a weekend where the NFL is kind enough to exist.

Weirdly, this bottom-heaviness has not led to a tier of 6-8 great teams like it does in the NBA. The Packers are in a tier by themselves atop the league while the Patriots and Ravens are a little behind in their own section and are very good. From there you could construct one more tier with the Lions and 49ers if you’d like but below that is an expansive middle with the remaining 16 teams in the league. Overall, it is just sort of a strange season. There are a lot of teams that could get hot late and make a deep run.

On to the picks which, as always, are done with my friend Asif from Uninformed Commentary.

Previous Records:

Ryan:
Last week: 10-3
Season: 48-38-4

Asif:
Last Week: 8-5
Season: 50-36-4

Chicago (-1) vs. Tampa Bay (In London)

Ryan: This game is incredibly difficult to pick as both teams looked great last week. It could very well have NFC Wild Card implications depending on how the rest of the season plays out. I am guessing that Wembley Stadium’s field ends up being sloshy which would give the Bears and their strong rushing attack a slight advantage. Bears cover.

Asif: Last week’s victory over the Saints has done nothing to convince me that Tampa doesn’t suck. The same goes for Chicago’s win over Minnesota. Speaking of that Bears’ victory, while the game was atrocious to watch, it did provide us with one of the greatest moments of the season so far when NBC’s field mics accidentally picked up Jay Cutler telling Mike Martz to go f*ck himself. I’ve watched this video about 20 times since Monday, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Bears cover.

Washington @ Carolina (-2.5)

Ryan: Sometime around Rex Grossman’s second or third interception last week, I bet my buddy Brad a dollar that we would see some hot John Beck action. I re-invested this dollar in a Powerball ticket last night (of course picking all Packers numbers) and unfortunately didn’t win the $124 million jackpot. Oh well, there’s always Saturday and since nobody else won either I now stand to win $148 million. It is extraordinarily convenient for Kim Jong Shanahan to insert John Beck, who has four career starts and zero wins, into an eminently winnable game this week for the Redskins. I still maintain that, to the extent it’s possible with Rex Grossman and John Beck as the team’s quarterbacks, Redskins fans are going to endure a season where they are built up to be KNOCKED down. Redskins cover.

Asif: Mike Shanahan’s evil plan to make John Beck his starting quarterback has come to fruition. Still, John Beck has to be an improvement over Rex Grossman, doesn’t he? Huh?

Even with home field and the Redskins sucking, I don’t see why Carolina should be favored in this game especially after getting stomped in the Georgia Dome last Sunday. In news that you don’t hear the ESPN talking heads babbling about, Cam Newton now has more interceptions than passing TDs (he does have a bunch of rushing TDs) and is completing passes at a Sanchezian 58%. In my mind, Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton has passed Newton as the ROY front-runner. Washington covers.

San Diego (-2) @ NY Jets

Ryan: This is a very interesting game in the overall AFC landscape. The Chargers are 4-1 but have somewhat struggled in beating the Vikings, Chiefs, Dolphins, and Broncos who are a combined 4-17.

In giving a backhanded criticism to Norv Turner this week, Rex Ryan did what his players like him for best – he took the pressure and attention off of his players and put it on himself. For all of his bravado and bluster, Rex knows what he’s doing. The Jets desperately need to win this game at home so they can head into their bye at 4-3. It is not nearly as must-win for the Chargers. Jets cover in an ugly game.

Asif: Speaking of mediocre teams with sh*tty quarterbacks, the Jets earned themselves a week’s respite from getting savaged by the jackals in the New York press by winning at home against a team that started Matt Moore at quarterback. Color me unimpressed. Now they get to face a very good Chargers team which will be well rested coming off a bye. Even though this is exactly the type of game that Norv Turner-led teams lose, I’ll go with the Chargers to cover.

Seattle @ Cleveland (-3)

Ryan: At the end of the third quarter of Raiders-Browns last week, the Raiders were up 17-7,  faced 4th-and-20 on the Browns 35, and lined up to kick a 52-yard field goal. It ended up being a fake, which the Browns were woefully unprepared for, as punter/holder Shane Lechler threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Boss. Adjacent to our table at Schoolyard Tavern was a man wearing a Cleveland Indians hat. He was sitting by himself, watching–focusing on–ONLY Raiders-Browns and up until this point we had not noticed his presence. After not making a sound the whole game, though, he smacked the table and shouted, “YOU’VE GOT TO BE F*CKING KIDDING ME!” The moral of this story is that it is not awful to be a Packers fan as opposed to a Browns fan in this lifetime or any other. Seahawks cover.

Asif: When Cleveland is favored, take the points. Maybe Seattle isn’t as bad as we thought they were? Charlie Whitehurst is probably an improvement over Tarvaris Jackson. Life as a Browns fan must be really depressing. Seahawks cover.

Houston @ Tennessee (-3)

Ryan: Houston looked feisty last week against the Ravens until the Ravens defense just sort of decided that there was no way that the Texans were going to be allowed to move the ball anymore. If the transitive property were true in the NFL, which it assuredly is not, Tennessee would be lining up to deliver a #BeatEmDown on the Texans. Despite what we have seen from Houston over the last few weeks–not very good football–I’m going to ride with my sleeper pick. Texans cover.

Asif: Speaking of teams it would be depressing to root for, I don’t think the Texans are going to make the playoffs. And this was supposed to be their year too…what with Pey Pey getting neck AIDS and all. Now that Mario Williams is out for the season and Andre Johnson is out for as many as six weeks, I predict that the Titans will be running away with the gigantic pile of crap that is the AFC South crown. Don’t worry Texans, the people of Houston are too busy stuffing their faces with barbeque and having heart attacks to notice your disappointing them yet again. Titans cover.

Denver @ Miami (-1.5)

Ryan: I would love to see whether this game would beat the World Series in the ratings if they went head-to-head on Sunday or Monday night. At the very least, the ratings would be MUCH closer than die hard baseball fans would be comfortable with. Also, I’d probably watch this game over the World Series for a number of reasons, not least of which being that Tony La Russa is loathsome. Luckily, I will only have to give this game my VERY divided attention because six other football games will be on at the same time.

Has an 0-5 team EVER been favored? Broncos cover.

Asif: Someone has to win this week’s Derp Bowl (Extra Special Suck For Luck Edition) and unfortunately I think that it’s going to be the Broncos. Be prepared for Tim Tebow to complete only 40% of his passes and have everyone ignore that fact to focus on his fist pumping technique instead. Tebow fist pumps are the most uplifting. Broncos cover.

Atlanta @ Detroit (-3.5)

Ryan: Because the Bears’ offensive line is so dreadful and it is so funny to see Jay Cutler get sacked, the dismal Falcons offensive line, which has given up 14 sacks so far this season, has gotten sort of a free pass. We saw two weeks ago what happens when an awful offensive line plays in Detroit–a debilitating combination of false starts and sacks given up. Lions cover.

Asif: I think that on some level, the Lions had to lose last week to maintain the likability of their run to the postseason. ESPN was already starting to co-opt the Detroit bandwagon, and when a long-downtrodden franchise finally starts to win you don’t want them to be too cocky about it (see: Red Sox fans). Now, all that pressure is off. I still think that the Lions are good, and while I like Atlanta as well, this just doesn’t look like their year. Detroit covers.

Kansas City @ Oakland (-4.5)

Ryan: Last week, up 24-10 with less than five minutes to play, the Raiders faced 4th-and-1 from the Cleveland five-yard line. Instead of kicking the field goal to go up three scores in a game where the Browns had only scored twice in the first 55 minutes, Hue Jackson opted to go for it. This decision was monumentally stupid but because the Raiders ended up hanging on to win (the Browns scored one touchdown, recovered the onside kick, and got into Raiders territory before turning it over on downs), I didn’t see anything made of it nationally. Still, though, it may not be the best thing for the long-term sustainability of the Raiders franchise that Hue Jackson has a monopoly on organizational control. I really don’t like the idea of Carson Palmer coming in off the street and starting in this game, even if his primary role is going to be handing the ball off to Darren McFadden. Chiefs cover.

Asif: The Carson Palmer column Ryan and I wrote earlier this week was one of the most enjoyable blog posts I’ve ever written. Apparently, Palmer is going to start this week. This wouldn’t be happening if Kyle Boller was good at anything other than throwing footballs really long distances from his knees (sadly, not a skill that translates into being an effective NFL QB). Even though trading for Palmer was a terrible idea, I’m going with the Raiders to cover because the Chiefs suck something awful.

Pittsburgh (-3.5) @ Arizona

Ryan: Something is off with this Steelers team but they keep playing crappy teams and prevent themselves from being fully exposed. This won’t be the week of their reckoning, though–next week versus the Patriots will be. We are at the point in the column where I’ve run out of funny ways to say about teams that are bad but if this game was listed earlier there would have been a witty joke here about the Cardinals. Steelers cover.

Asif: The Steelers have been the most frustrating team for me to pick this year. Every time I decide they’re good, they put up a stinker. When I decide they suck, they score a ton of points.

This is do or die for the Cardinals if they have any aspirations of catching the 49ers in the NFC West. Unfortunately for the three people out there who care, I’m pretty sure that the Cardinals gave up trying about three weeks ago. Steelers cover.

St. Louis @ Dallas (-12)

Ryan: Sam Bradford suffered a high ankle sprain in last week’s loss to the Packers, which, according to Bill Barnwell, means he is virtually certain to miss this week’s game. *Looks up Rams back-up quarterback.* AJ Feeley. Could be much worse, although I could be giving too much credence to his 4-1 run in 2002 as Eagles starter that for some reason feels much more recent than nine years ago. Anyways, I think that Dallas is a little bit underrated–my Jerry Jones criticism notwithstanding–but I don’t think that they have shown themselves capable of covering a spread this high. Cowboys win but Rams cover.

Asif: St. Louis is likely to end up with one of the top five picks in the draft. If I were them I’d consider using it to trade down with a QB-desperate team looking for Landry Jones or Matt Barkley. Having a high pick is nice, but the Rams have a ton of needs including linebacker, defensive back, and all along the offensive line–all positions where teams can find excellent players later in the first round.

The Cowboys are just mediocre, but I’d be really surprised if they can’t put up points against the Rams. This game is pretty much Romo-proof. Dallas covers.

Green Bay (-9) @ Minnesota

Ryan: Asif took the low-lying fruit that was going to be my Donovan McNabb joke below, which is more than fair because he a) did a better job on it than I would have, and b) consistently finishes his picks before me. To the victor go the spoils.

I would have a hard time taking the Vikings at +20 in this game. I just hope that my least favorite player in NFL history, Jared Allen (two DUIs + stupid haircut + hunting video + Viking = HATRED)*, doesn’t take advantage of his match-up with left tackle Marshall Newhouse–who has performed very well so far replacing the injured Chad Clifton–and get to Aaron Rodgers. Packers cover.

Asif: Donovan McNabb says he was surprised at being benched. Really, Donovan? You spent 5.5 weeks plodding around trying to set a new record for passes thrown at receivers’ feet and you were surprised that the team decided to make a change and start their first round pick? Christian Ponder looked pretty awful in the preseason, but the future is now in Minnesota and just about anyone would be better than McNabb. As for Green Bay, they’re pretty good. This line is also about six points too low. Packers cover.

*Asif: Jared Allen hunting videos are one of my favorite things on the internet. Check this one out.

Indianapolis @ New Orleans (-14)

Ryan: For the second time in two years, Charmin Ultra downgraded its quality without telling anybody but, being the high quality toilet aficionado that I am, I noticed. I wish they would have raised prices and kept their great toilet paper intact instead of striving to maintain margins with an inferior product with the same label. In protest, I bought a pack of Quilted Northern, which used to be worse than Charmin Ultra soft but is now better. Unfortunately, it is a Koch Brothers brand. CHARMIN ULTRA’S PENNY PINCHING IS FORCING ME TO SUPPORT ULTRA RIGHT-WING EXTREMISTS. I probably gave a cent or two to the systematic destroyification of the EPA. Next time, I will try out Cottonelle extra soft with aloe vera, hoping and praying that it is at least close to as good as Quiltern Northern.

Was Sean Payton’s injury the long-awaited karmic payback for the vicodin story which, again, for some reason just completely went away? MAYBE. Saints cover.

Asif: New Orleans looked flat last week against Tampa and Sean Payton is now a cripple. Luckily, playing the Colts is the easiest way for any team to get their mojo back. The Colts suck. Saints cover.

Monday Night:

Baltimore (-7.5) @ Jacksonville

Ryan: I am completely out of ways to denigrate bad teams; this line is at least three points too low. Ravens cover.

Asif: Remember when Monday Night Football had good games?… Yeah that was nice… Anyway, Ravens cover.


October 20, 2011

Is Stern a Plantation Owner?

In last week’s NFL picks column, I wrote that the NBA Lockout doesn’t really bother me and won’t really bother me until football season is over. In all honesty, reading the coverage of the Lockout may actually be more interesting to me than the games would be the first month or two of the season; the NBA season is probably 20 games too long and it is rare for teams to be both talented and motivated in November and December. Usually, this is only the case for up-and-coming teams with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove as opposed to teams that have been there and done that. In any given season there may be 3-5 of these and the rest of the league is comprised of non-contenders or teams coasting into the season.

The backlash from, say, Bryant Gumbel’s recent comments about David Stern has been more compelling to me than the opening of the NBA season. Gumbel took careful consideration to make sure his comments would be noticed, saying:

“[Stern's] efforts were typical of a commissioner, who has always seemed eager to be viewed as some kind of modern plantation overseer treating NBA men as if they were boys.

“It’s part of Stern’s MO. Like his past self-serving edicts on dress code or the questioning of officials, his moves are intended to do little more than show how he’s the one keeping the hired hands in their place.

“Some will cringe at that characterization,” Gumble continued,” but Stern’s disdain for the players is as palpable and pathetic as his motives are transparent. Yes, the NBA’s business model is broken, but to fix it, maybe the league’s commissioner should concern himself most with a solution, and stop being part of the problem.”

I have criticized Stern’s heavy-handedness in the past but I think that invoking plantation ownership, whether or not this was an allusion to slavery, is taking things a little bit too far. Under David Stern’s leadership, the players have enjoyed immense growth in amenities, salary, and exposure. 19 NBA players were on this year’s SI Fortunate 50 list of the highest earning athletes; there were seven NFL players and 17 MLB players on this list. Because NBA players are marketed more as individual stars, they rake in endorsement dollars in relation to players in other sports. Stern’s vision has led NBA players to have recognizable faces and marketing deals in China where there is virtually no exposure for any other American sports.

Dan Grunfeld, a former Stanford star and alum of Nicolet High School in Milwaukee where my father and uncles went, wrote a highly detailed piece for SB Nation about how much better NBA players have it with regards to travel amenities than their counterparts playing in Europe.

Private planes, unlimited food and luxury hotels may be the norm in the NBA, but Europe is not the NBA. Oftentimes, playing in Europe or other countries overseas can mean all-day bus rides, knee-to-armpit coach seats, roommates, dinner in the airport and stuff like that. If you’re used to it, it’s really no big deal at all, but there’s no denying that, compared to travel in the NBA, it’s a little different. Maybe not better, and maybe not worse, depending on how much one values things like private planes and awesome hotels, but either way, it’s definitely, definitely different.

The NBA players have become so empowered that they delusionally believe they belong front and center at the negotiating table with Stern and his team of power lawyers. FoxSports’s Jason Whitlock analogized just how outmatched these players are in these labor talks:

Let me re-break the news to the players: Derek Fisher, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and all the other ego-bloated, basketball millionaires are not on Stern’s level in the boardroom. Stern has been balling in the basketball boardroom for three decades. The players look as out of place barging into meetings and negotiating with Stern and his lawyers as Stern and his lawyers would challenging Fisher, Wade, Garnett and Pierce on the court.

How would Wade talk to Stern if the commissioner walked on the court wanting to play one on one? You think Wade might point a finger in Stern’s face and talk to him like a child?

The players need to take some responsibility for the broken NBA system while continuing to fight for a fair deal. In doing so, they need to maintain a level of perspective that they have thus far not demonstrated. It is hard to blame them when Stern is so smug and arrogant and does not necessarily prioritize telling the truth or negotiating in good faith. If the players didn’t feel like union head Billy Hunter was up to the task, they should have replaced him before these labor talks. At this point, though, their best shot at a fair deal lies in delegating the negotiating to the lawyers they have hired and trusting them to get the best deal possible.


October 19, 2011

On Jerry Jones

This past Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys had more of a chance than most people gave them to win in New England. Up 16-13 with 3:36 left to play, the Cowboys took the field and ran the following series:

  1. 1-10-DAL 28(3:36) (Shotgun) 29-D.Murray up the middle to DAL 26 for -2 yards.
  2. 2-12-DAL 26(2:52) 29-D.Murray right tackle to DAL 25 for -1 yards.
  3. Timeout #1 by NE at 02:47.
  4. 3-13-DAL 25(2:47) (Shotgun) PENALTY on DAL-77-T.Smith, False Start, 5 yards, enforced at DAL 25 – No Play.
  5. 3-18-DAL 20(2:47) (Shotgun) 23-T.Choice right tackle to DAL 28 for 8 yards.
  6. Timeout #2 by NE at 02:42.
  7. 4-10-DAL 28(2:42) 1-M.McBriar punts 64 yards to NE 8, Center-91-L.Ladouceur. 83-W.Welker pushed ob at NE 20 for 12 yards.

After getting the ball back, Tom Brady led the Patriots on a methodical nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to give his team a 20-16 victory. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was irate, during and after the game, that head coach Jason Garrett called running plays on first and second down instead of playing aggressively and trying to end the game on offense. Yahoo’s Mike Silver writes:

“When you get in a situation like that, you’ve got to go for the kill,” Jones told Y! Sports shortly before leaving the Cowboys’ locker room. “I felt like we could’ve been more aggressive. Our defense had been good all day, but you knew Brady had a length-of-the-field drive in him – so it didn’t surprise me at all when he took them down at the end.”

Despite the fact that Tony Romo tried his absolute best, ultimately succeeding in relinquishing fourth quarter leads Week 1 against the Jets and Week 4 versus the Lions, Jones felt that putting the ball in the quarterback’s hands gave the Cowboys their best chance to seal the victory in New England. I happen to agree with him but there is absolutely no way that I should know that to be his opinion (though I probably could have guessed). Jones had every right to excoriate Garrett, who is in his first full year as head coach, privately, but should have never taken his comments public to a national reporter. There is absolutely no good that can come out of an owner in any sport’s publicly displaying a lack of confidence in his coach’s decision–with a couple more instances like this, Garrett could be perceived as a lame duck in the Cowboys locker room and have his authority undermined.

To his credit, Jones did (sort of) apologize yesterday for the public criticism, albeit not recanting his opinion. Via ESPNDallas’s Tim McMahon:

“I would say that probably if I had that to do over again, I wouldn’t comment, period,” Jones said Tuesday on KRLD-FM, admitting that emotion got the best of him. “I wouldn’t even answer a question about it. I was asked the questions and you can always say, ‘No comment.’

“But I did [comment], and I was real clear that this was a flip of the coin. That’s what Jason frankly is paid to do, is make those decisions, and there’s no one that I’d rather have make the decisions regarding our football team right now on an offensive play call.”

Jones, who serves as the Cowboys’ general manager, has made his franchise a highly undesirable place for elite head coaches to work. In addition to his public criticism and private demands, he has failed in assembling viable rosters for his coaches. The Cowboys’ regular season records 2+ years after Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells’s acrimonious departures (to account for the roster turnover after Jones pushed the professional talent evaluators away) are as follows:

  • 1996: 10-6
  • 1997: 6-10
  • 1998: 10-6
  • 1999: 8-8
  • 2000: 5-11
  • 2001: 5-11
  • 2002: 5-11
  • 2009: 11-5
  • 2010: 6-10
  • 2011: 2-3
  • Total: 68-81

Even accounting for the Parcells years (in which they admittedly had no postseason success), the Cowboys only have one playoff win since the 1996-97 season. These numbers aren’t Bengals-level bad, but the Cowboys have been far from an elite franchise since winning three our of four Super Bowls in the 90s with core rosters built by Jimmy Johnson. Jones is the common thread in this consistent disappointment. His perceptions of his football acumen are not aligned with the Cowboys’ performance over the past 15 years, a wholly reasonable sample size on which to evaluate. It is safe to say that if another general manager was achieving these results, he would have been fired four or five times by now.


October 18, 2011

Fake Trades Less Egregious than Carson Palmer to the Raiders

Those of you who don’t spend all day reading ESPN.com in your boxers may not be aware that the Oakland Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals are on the verge of completing a trade-bortion that could send two first round picks (the second first rounder is conditional) to Cincinnati in exchange for Carson Palmer’s bloated corpse.Given that this is quite possibly the most stunning example of trade rape in NFL history, we’ve decided to run a special edition of our NFL picks column to analyze the trade as well as throw out some ridiculous trade scenarios that are less egregious than Palmer to the Raiders.

Asif: I knew Al Davis wasn’t dead! Can we agree that if Raider’s fans were literate, the internet would be broken right now?

Ryan: I feel like he engineered this trade before his death and the current administration had to go through with it to honor his dying wish.

Asif: Possibly, I’m going to stick to my theory that he’s a vampire. What’s the most absurd part of this trade for you? For me it has to be in this order:

1. A FIRST ROUND PICK FOR CARSON PALMER
2. The Bengals winning a trade.
3. The fact that Jason Campbell could conceivably be back at some point
4. A FIRST ROUND PICK FOR CARSON PALMER (it just bears repeating)

Ryan: As Gregg Rosenthal noted, the Raiders have now used their 2012 1st on Palmer, 3rd on Pryor, and 4th on Campbell. Albert Breer tweeted that the Raiders will have to pay $7.44 million for Palmer for the rest of this season.

The only thing that I can conclude based on this is that they don’t have eyes. I’ve seen Terrelle Pryor and Carson Palmer play QB. Pryor is a grossly inaccurate passer and Palmer lost all of his arm strength. It was a MIRACLE last season if he got through a game without throwing a pick-six. Not sure how this was better than signing Favre or like Jeff Garcia or Daunte Culpepper.

Asif: What gets me is that I don’t see how Kyle Boller is any worse than Carson Palmer, especially since Palmer hasn’t practiced in almost a year and hasn’t had any time to look at the Raiders’ playbook. I realize that the Raiders only run three plays: handoff to Darren McFadden, toss to Darren McFadden, and Jacoby Ford and Darius Heyward-Bey run go routes but, um, still…

Anyways, as promised, here are some grossly lopsided trades that are still less egregious than Palmer to the Raiders…

  1. K-12 student trading a Hostess Cupcake for baby carrots.
  2. A Walkman exchanged for a 2012 iPod Touch
  3. The entire Dallas Cowboys cheerleading squad for the occupants of the jail cells below Lincoln Financial Field.
  4. A share of Google for a share of Sirius/XM
  5. A Honus Wagner baseball card (nerd!) for a Julio Lugo card (baseball?!)
  6. French fries for mixed greens with your burger (mixed greens suck and you know it)
  7. Cheers era Kirstie Allie for Dancing With the Stars era Kirstie Allie
  8. A piece of pizza for Reggie Bush (As my friend Brad pointed out, that Pizza Hut commercial is ironic…maybe the Raiders engineered the trade?)
  9. $164 Billion for AOL
  10.  David Lee Roth for Sammy Hagar
  11. The original Star Wars trilogy for the new one
  12. Jon Gruden for Bill Callahan (ouch)
  13. Sylvester Stallone for Frank Stallone
  14. A sandwich from a deli with Boars Head meat for one from Subway
  15. Wisconsin cheese curds for Valveeta
  16. A dry-aged New York Strip steak for a Hamburger Helper
  17. Starring in movies to joining the cast of Celebrity Rehab
  18. 1997-2008 Tiger Woods for 2009-2011 Tiger Woods
  19. Bruce Willis for Ashton Kutcher
  20. A toothache for AIDS (note: toothaches can be quite painful, this one might be more even than the Palmer trade)
  21. A bag of footballs for Carson Palmer

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