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October 17, 2011

Football and Me Part VII

This is the seventh 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.

Prior to last weekend, when the weather was forecasted to be otherworldly nice, I sent an email around to my friends in Chicago from summer camp asking if they wanted to go on a day hike on Saturday. The only member of said email chain who is not Jewish replied, “I thought there was a Jewish holiday this weekend.” Embarrassingly for myself, my proposal date had happened to be on Yom Kippur so a group of five of us decided to take the trip this past Saturday instead and spend the night camping as opposed to just doing a day trip.

While I had originally proposed the trip strategically to be during the Badgers’ bye, this week Wisconsin was playing Indiana which, for all intents and purposes, is another bye. The Badgers were favored by 40.5 points and, in winning 59-7, covered with flying colors. I don’t feel as though I missed much and continue to wish that there was some way for the Badgers to play more than 3-5 truly meaningful games per season.

After kicking around the idea of going to Devil’s Lake up by the Wisconsin Dells or to Door County, we decided that the optimal destination would be Big Foot Beach State Park in Lake Geneva, WI. Big Foot isn’t as beautiful as our other options but it is eminently more accessible from Chicago than the alternatives; saving about five hours of roundtrip travel time on an overnight trip was ideal, especially since we had a bit of a slow start on Saturday. Myself and my buddies Brad, Brent, Rob, and Dan would be making the trip.

On the way to Big Foot, our first stop was at Mars Cheese castle in Kenosha, WI. Until about a year ago, the title of this cheese and meat emporium was kind of ironic as the store was sort of a dive. Recently, however, they built the store on the inside and out to resemble an actual castle and its name is quite appropriate. It has every snack food and dessert imaginable inside, beer and wine, a bakery, a butcher shop, and of course a wide array of cheese. It is the type of place that one dreams of going to at that heretofore elusive stage in life of not being on a budget. We bought a wide, but not gluttonous (by my definition, which likely differs from yours) consortium of sausages, cheese, and ancillary snacks. The highlight, in my opinion, was the Polar Bear Munch which is caramel popcorn coated in milk and white chocolate. That and the underrated Ritz crackers, which really tied the summer sausage and cheese curds together.


After Mars Cheese Castle, we headed to the Brat Stop which, as my buddy Brad pointed out, should actually be called the Brat Stay as we had to wait quite some time for our server, our food, and our check. I ordered a jalapeño cheddarwurst, which was a bratwurst stuffed with jalapeño and cheddar and topped with melted cheddar. Even–and perhaps especially–with the long wait, this was delicious. On our way out of the Brat Stop, we also picked up some New Glarus Fat Squirrel and Spotted Cow as well as some Leinenkugel’s Creamy Dark.

Jalapeno Cheddarwurst at Brat Stop

We got to Big Foot at about 3:00 pm, in time to enjoy the last few hours of sunlight on what ended up being a very beautiful, albeit windy, day. After sitting around for an hour or so digesting our meal from the Brat Stop, we took about a two-mile hike on paths that were aptly described as “non-strenuous.” The trails were flat wide enough for cars. Luxurious, as Kramer and Elaine would say. As the sun began to set, we gorged on snacks, cooked up some brats for dinner, and used the coals from our grill to start a camp fire. I once heard about a study that I unfortunately can’t find and link to that concluded it to be spectacularly unhealthy to eat more than one brat I think every six months, a metric that we violated in the course of a day. What happens in Wisconsin…

The duration of the night’s activity consisted of sitting in collapsable lawn chairs around the fire, sipping craft beers, and exchanging jokes and anecdotes, which were wide ranging as the five of us had collectively spent about 50 summers as campers and counselors (this is not an exaggeration…I tried to count but didn’t want to end up off by a year or two). In other words, even though we had all camped in places that are much more secluded and beautiful, it was a perfect evening devoid of any shrouds of stress or displeasure. Very little compares to time spent around a fire with great food and great company. I came back to Chicago 24 hours later spiritually refreshed and 5.5 pounds heavier (four of which I erased with a heroic workout, light dinner, and good night’s sleep). Considering how accessible it is–we could literally decide to make the trip with zero planning–we really need to do it more often.

On Sunday, I went to Schoolyard with Brent, Brad, and Habib. The Packers dominated the first half en route to beating the Rams 24-3. In losing their focus on offense in the second half, the Packers left themselves susceptible to a backdoor cover that would have been supremely annoying and thankfully did not happen. In six games this year, the Packers have played five lackluster halves. The flip side of that, though, is the seven halves that clicked in those games were transcendently outstanding and so far they have endured such that they continue to be in a tier by themselves atop the NFL power rankings. I suppose that all you can really hope for is to go 1-0 each week, something that the Badgers and Packers have both accomplished without fail this season.

October 14, 2011

Week 6 NFL Picks

This past summer, a substantial proportion of life was consumed by the NFL Lockout and there weren’t even any preseason games missed. The same can not be said about this NBA Lockout. I really, really don’t care about it. At all. I am in no hurry for it to end.

I will only care that the NBA is gone when we get to the point in the NFL season where the Super Bowl is set but there are two weeks without football. That is when there will start to be a void. Until then, the NFL is on three nights a week (we are almost at the point of Thursday night games!) and college football is on Saturdays. This leaves us Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday with nothing to watch…Friday night I can do any number of things other than watch TV. Tuesday and Wednesday isn’t an insurmountable void–I can meet friends for drinks or catch up on my Tivo.

Despite what many people are saying about the NBA’s risk of losing its casual fans, I really don’t think most of us will notice or truly care while it is still football season. If we are forced to endure February-June without the NBA, though, there will be heck to pay. Heck I tell you.

Semi-relatedly, the players are not anywhere close to unified enough to prevent themselves from getting railroaded by a crappy deal. They may just want to take the owners’ offer right now because they will never recover the income from lost games and I really don’t see the owners budging.

Enough of that nonsense. On to the comparatively much more important NFL Picks which, as always, are done with Asif of Uninformed Commentary.

Previous Records:

Last Week: 7-5-1
Season: 38-35-4

Last Week: 7-5-1
Season: 42-31-4

St. Louis @ Green Bay (-15)

Ryan: It would be pretty difficult to make this line high enough for me to take the Rams. One thing that the Packers have shown over the last few seasons is that they absolutely demolish terrible teams and one thing that the Rams have shown thus far this season is that they are terrible.

In a year where the Rams were supposed to have progressed towards perhaps a divisional title, they have regressed. They have been outscored 113-46 this season and have looked dreadful on both sides of the ball. Steve Spagnuolo’s seat may be getting a little bit warm. Packers cover.

Asif: The Green Bay Packers seem like they might be pretty good at football. The Rams might be good at something, but it’s not passing, catching, defending, running, or special teams. Packers cover.

Jacksonville @ Pittsburgh (-12)

Ryan: After beating the Titans Week 1, the Jaguars have dropped four straight, losing to the Jets, Panthers, Saints, and Bengals. An interesting tidbit on Peter King’s podcast came when Bob McGinn, who is in the NFL Hall of Fame and is an outstanding Packers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, polled NFL scouts and found that they thought Blaine Gabbert would be a better pro quarterback than Cam Newton. Gabbert hasn’t been AWFUL but he hasn’t been very good either, completing 49.5% of his passes for three touchdowns and two interceptions thus far. He could end up as the starter for the foreseeable future in Jacksonville but likely won’t win many games this season.

At 3-2, the Steelers have been hot and cold. Their offensive line is porous and a liability that will prevent them from beating good teams with a viable pass rush. They are not bad enough, though, for me to consider taking Blaine Gabbert on the road. Steelers cover.

Asif: I stubbornly stuck by the Steelers as they failed to cover and then as soon as I jumped ship they beat the crap out of the Titans. In any case, even though the Jaguars suck something awful, I’m not going to let the Steelers fool me into changing my mind about them again. Jacksonville covers. I immediately regret this decision.

Philadelphia (-1.5) @ Washington

Ryan: This week, I met a bet with my buddy Dean–a die hard Eagle’s fan–that the Eagles will make the playoffs; I win $36 if they make it and pay $24 if they do not. While I’m aware that the team has a strange aversion to tackling and making sound game management decisions, I’m not ready to give up on them just yet; their schedule is manageable–the only truly elite team they play the rest of the way is the Patriots–and they always seem to pull it together late in the season. 9-7 also might be enough to steal a wild card spot in the NFC. It needs to start this week, though. Even though, based on the merits of the teams’ performances thus far this season, the Eagles should not be favored in this game, I am riding with Philly to cover.

Asif: I’m enjoying the Eagles’ free fall more than any other NFL storyline this season. What can I say, I’m a bitter little man. I’m riding with Washington to cover here, only because the howling that would come from Philadelphia after another Eagles’ loss could keep me smiling for about a month.

San Fransisco @ Detroit (-4)

Ryan: In the beginning of his podcast, Peter King wonders when the last time is that this would have been an elite match-up. If you disregard their having to have actually played each other, the answer would be 1997 when the Lions went 9-7 and made the playoffs and the 49ers won the NFC West at 11-5. So there.

While nobody was looking, the Lions have actually crafted quite the home field advantage. The Bears’ offensive line is historically awful but nine false starts don’t happen completely unforced. The 49ers destroyed the Buccaneers–who are at least decent–last week and are the far and away favorites to win the NFC West but I see them struggling a little bit this week. Lions cover.

Asif: This is the best match-up of the week. Had I told you that before the season you might have had an aneurysm laughing. It’s a bit scary to think that the 5-0 Lions still haven’t played a great game from start to finish. Although last Monday’s win over the Bears was marred by roughing penalties, a couple of which were completely uncalled for, the Lions simply beat the life out of the Chicago offense. Even if Jahvid Best turns back into a pumpkin, I don’t see the Niners shutting down the Stafford-Johnson tandem or blocking the Lions’ defensive front. Detroit covers.

Carolina @ Atlanta (-4)

Ryan: After the Falcons scored methodically on their first two drives against the Packers last Sunday night, they struggled to gain yards and first downs the rest of the game and failed to score any more points. I will give two dollars to whoever can adequately explain what defensive adjustments Dom Capers and the Packers defense made in order for this to be the case because I would love to know.

This week, Bill Barnwell wrote that picking the Panthers to cover on the basis that they are 4-1 against the spread so far this season is an example of gambler’s fallacy. That being said, I’ve learned my lesson the past few weeks and am picking the Panthers to cover until they don’t.

Asif: The single thing I miss most about living in Atlanta is a local restaurant called Tacqueria del Sol. If you’re heading to the A for whatever reason you should definitely check it out. The gist of the whole thing is that they do an American south twist on tacos. My personal favorite is the Memphis Taco, which features BBQ pulled pork and Jalapeno cole slaw. Tacos cost $2.99 and enchiladas cost $3.99. It’s awesome. Oh and the Falcons cover.

Indianapolis @ Cincinnati (-4)

Ryan: All I have to say about this game is that if someone wearing a Peter Warrick jersey–or any Bengals or Colts jersey for that matter–demands prime TV placement for this game at the expense of like Eagles-Redskins at the sports bar I’m at Sunday, I am going to silently wish for bodily harm. This line seems a little bit too low; the feisty Bengals cover.

Asif: This week’s Derp Bowl, although Cincinnati is a mildly interesting team. Was the least surprising revelation after Al Davis’ death the fact that Mike Brown admired him greatly? If you had to pick which two NFL owners were best friends, wouldn’t it be those two? Just sayin’…

The Colts are just so damn awful it’s hard to look at, not unlike the city of Indianapolis, so I guess it’s kinda appropriate. Bengals cover.

Buffalo @ NY Giants (-3.5)

Ryan: This line is just BEGGING for us to take Buffalo, right? Whatever home field advantage and goodwill the Giants had previously engendered amongst their fans had to evaporate last week when they lost to the Seahawks in debilitatingly crippling fashion. More on that in Asif’s segment.

Football Outsiders has the Bills ranked #1 in DVOA. A full explanation of what that actually means here, but in layman’s terms, the 4-1 Bills have been legitimately good as opposed to lucky. This week, they remain undervalued. Buffalo covers.

Asif: Last week’s Seahawks – Giants game was arguably the worst Giants game to watch in the past five years. At least in last year’s collapse against Philadelphia I was happy during the first half, and, had the Giants been getting blown out, I could have just done something else. Instead I had to watch as Eli threw wounded duck after wounded duck into double coverage with the game tied. Safe to say all my good feelings about the G-men from Weeks 3 and 4 are gone. Buffalo covers.

Houston @ Baltimore (-7.5)

Ryan: If you separate out the Ravens’ letdown debacle against the Titans in Week 2–which is extremely convenient for my subsequent point–they are outscoring their opponents (Steelers, @Rams, Jets) 106-31.

Each team in the NFL has four or five players that they absolutely cannot afford to lose and right now the Texans are playing without two of them in Andre Johnson and Mario Williams. I still think that they win the putrid AFC South after Johnson gets back and Wade Philips has time to adjust the Texans’ schemes to account for the loss of Williams but the only way they cover this week is through the back door. Ravens cover.

Asif: Awww Houston, it was supposed to be your year. I realize that Tennessee got blown out last week, but with Mario Williams out for the year and Andre Johnson down at least a couple more weeks the Titans have to be the NFC South favorites now, right? Especially after the Ravens beat the crap out of the Texans this week. Ravens cover.

Cleveland @ Oakland (-6.5)

Ryan: Without looking it up, I never would have realized that the Browns have two wins this year. Upon further research, though, those wins came against the Colts and Dolphins who are a robust 0-9. Somehow last week the Browns outgained the Titans in yardage 416-332, had 25 first downs versus 13, and tied the turnover battle but lost 31-13. There was a pick-six in there but still, that is the mark of a dreadful team.

The Browns’ defense has allowed more than 100 rushing yards in all four of its match-ups this season. With Darren McFadden staking his claim as the 2nd best running back in the NFL behind Adrian Peterson, this spells trouble for the Browns. McFadden runs wild as the Raiders cover.

Asif: There’s certainly letdown potential for the Raiders here after an emotional win last Sunday. But they’re playing the Browns, so they really only have to play at 50% to win. Oakland covers.

Dallas @ New England (-7)

Ryan: Due to the spectacular fourth quarter collapses from Tony Romo against the Jets and Lions and the national attention they have garnered, the Cowboys are a little bit undervalued; they could quite easily be 4-0. Coming off a bye, they are also getting healthier right now–Miles Austin will return and Dez Bryant and Tony Romo have had time to heal injuries that limited their effectiveness but did not cause them to miss games.

The Patriots’ pass defense, meanwhile, is awful–in five games it has given up 1,633 yards in the air. The Patriots can win shoot-outs but this is one I think they will struggle to cover in. Dallas covers.

Asif: The most annoying announcer phrase this season, which Ryan has fallen prey to above, has been, “If a few things had gone differently the Cowboys could be 4-0 or 0-4.” Yeah, if a few things had gone differently I could have a high paying job and be sleeping with Alison Brie or I could be a homeless crack addict sleeping on a bench. Is it that hard to believe that the Cowboys are just mediocre? That they’re not good enough to be undefeated and not bad enough to be winless?

The Patriots may have a bad defense, but they put up points at a rate that no other team can match. New England covers.

New Orleans (-4.5) @ Tampa Bay

Ryan: As if losing 48-3 last week in San Francisco was not insulting enough, the Buccaneers were dealt an injury blow, losing LeGarette “Chronic” Blount for a few weeks.

This line seems a little bit too low, especially since Tampa Bay has one of the worst home field advantages in the league–this game is subject to local blackout. That being said, I think my Granny is going to be watching over her beloved Bucs this weekend. Tampa Bay covers.

Asif: Tampa Bay is a riddle wrapped inside an enigma inside a turd. But mostly they’re just a turd. The Saints still struggle on defense, but I’m starting to wonder if defense even matters in the NFL anymore. In my mind, this line should be higher. Saints cover.

Minnesota @ Chicago (-3)

Ryan: There are few things that I have enjoyed more in my life than listening to Bears postgame on the radio on the way back from Milwaukee on Monday night. Every call perpetuated on the last as Bears fans were absolutely distraught over the team’s dreadful performance against the Lions. The sharp criticism was interesting for an organization that won the NFC North and made the NFC Championship game last season, but at 2-3 the team finds itself in dire circumstances with the Lions and Packers in the same division at 5-0. The Bears are built to win now and are not doing so.

Color me unimpressed that the Vikings blew out the Cardinals last week. Bears cover.

Asif: This, and the Monday Night game are just more evidence that the flex schedule needs to start in Week 2. Through the first five weeks of the season, we had to watch the Colts twice and now this is our football option for Sunday Night. Excuse me while I watch Boardwalk Empire instead.

Oh and Donovan McNabb sucks so the Bears cover.

Monday Night:

Miami @ NY Jets (-7)

Ryan: Spoiler alert, Asif IS crazy to think that the Dolphins might win. The Jets aren’t necessarily going to right the ship but they aren’t sinking so fast that they are going to lose this game. Not Cover, maybe. Lose, no. To the extent that they have not already done so, the Dolphins would be wise to go into full-fledged Suck for Luck mode. J-e-t-s cover.

Asif: I realize this is crazy, but I think the Matt Moore led Dolphins might actually win this game. The Dolphins do have to win a game at some point and why not against a reeling Jets team with a weak running game, suddenly soft defense, and erratic QB? Is Matt Moore really that much worse than Mark Sanchez? Dolphins cover.

October 12, 2011

Succeeding with Succession

With Peyton Manning out for what could very well be the rest of this season and the Colts’ struggling at 0-5 in his absence, questions have arisen as to what the organization would do if it found itself in the position to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Yahoo’s Jason Cole addressed this scenario with Colt’s owner Jim Irsay and Irsay was extraordinarily candid in his response:

“Guys like that come along so rarely,” Irsay said, referring to Manning and what many are projecting of Luck. The Stanford quarterback is already widely considered a near-lock to be the No. 1 overall pick. “Even if that means that guy sits for three or four years, you’d certainly think about taking him … you see what Green Bay did with [Brett] Favre and [Aaron] Rodgers and you’d like to be able to do the same thing.”

In all walks of life, succession plans for legendary leaders–whether they are government officials, CEOs, or head coaches–are a tricky proposition. When they take place ostensibly against the leaders’ will as in the Favre-Rodgers situation that Irsay alluded to as well as the Eagles’ drafting Kevin Kolb in the second round in 2007 as a potential successor to Donovan McNabb, they are even trickier. There is a fine line between disrespecting someone’s substantial accomplishments and making forward thinking decisions.

If the Colts draft Andrew Luck, it impacts Manning’s career in Indianapolis in two major ways: first, it would come at the opportunity cost of another player that would be able to step in and help Manning win right away. Secondly, it would put a finite window of 1-2 years on Manning’s time left with the Colts. This is to say that if the Colts draft Luck, Manning will almost assuredly play for another team.

If the Colts were in the position to draft Luck and they felt, as seems to be the consensus, that he is a can’t-miss prospect to be a franchise quarterback, they would HAVE to draft him–even if it ends up costing them a year or two that Manning is still playing at an elite level. As the Packers executed flawlessly and the Vikings learned the hard way, it is much better in the NFL to cut bait a year or two too early with a viable succession plan than a year too late with no plan for the future.

As weird as it would be to see Peyton Manning in a different uniform, this would work out for the best for him as well. If Manning were able to return anywhere close to his previous form, which, given his relentless preparation is reasonable to expect for at least another 2-3 seasons, there are several franchises for which his presence would dramatically increase Super Bowl odds. The Texans, Raiders, Broncos, and Cowboys would probably be the optimal mutually beneficial situations while the Jets, Ravens, and 49ers would also make a lot of sense. All seven of these rosters, as presently constituted, would give Manning a better chance at another title than he would have with the Colts.

If these circumstances end up playing out and the Colts draft Luck, it will be interesting to see to what extent they allow Manning to pick where he goes; much of the acrimony between Brett Favre and the Packers’ front office came from their trading his rights to the Jets as opposed to giving him his release and allowing him to sign with the Vikings immediately. Like the Packers, the Colts will be holding the cards if they want to move on at quarterback as Manning signed a five-year, $90 million extension through the 2015 season this past July. In signing this extension, Manning ensured financial security at the expense of the ability to control his own destiny should he no longer play for the Colts. While the league would certainly be more interesting if Manning went to an immediate contender should the Colts make Luck the starter, he would only have himself to blame if, in 2013, he finds himself in an unpalatable situation.

October 10, 2011

Football and Me Part VI

This is the sixth 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.

With the Badgers on a bye this week and the Packers not playing until Sunday night, it took forever for Football–in the true sense of its being deeply meaningful to me–to get here. There is always a personal trade-off when the Packers play in primetime: it is great to have national attention affixed on the team–especially when they are good–but the waiting can be excruciating. This was especially true as I got to Will’s Northwoods Inn around noon yesterday to make sure I got a table and had to endure a slate of decent but largely uncompelling NFL games and Game 1 of Brewers-Cardinals.

For lunch at Will’s, I broke away from my typical cheese curds and bacon cheeseburger order to try their bread bowl chili and was not disappointed–it was outstanding. It was gigantic and I probably shouldn’t have finished it but oh well. Sorry I’m not sorry.

Bread Bowl Chili
After the first round of NFL games, all the TVs at the bar were set on Brewers-Cardinals while I streamed Patriots-Jets. My dad and his brothers (and therefore my uncles) Harry and Johnny joined us at Will’s for the Brewers game. Without going into too much personal detail on this forum, we have all had an immensely challenging week that has strained our nerves, patience, and emotions but ultimately brought us collectively closer together. About two years ago, after the Yankees won the World Series, I wrote a column about not taking joy in their victory. To summarize, since 2000, the fact they had been signing soulless, unlikeable mercenaries, coupled with their new stadium–with its conspicuously empty seats behind home plate and moat separating the upper class from the commoners–made the team unenjoyable to root for. I decided to shift my allegiance to the Brewers which, at the time, had the opposite effect of being a frontrunner.

For the noon slate of games, I got the manager to put on the Red Zone Channel and Bills-Eagles as I streamed Raiders-Texans and Steelers-Titans split screen on my Macbook. I was dealt a crushing blow when, just as the fourth quarters were starting and the Red Zone Channel is must-see TV, the bar switched over to Vikings-Cardinals which a) was already on a another TV in the room and b) featured two crappy teams in which one (the Vikings) was leading by 21 points. I took this dagger in stride and started streaming the Red Zone Channel at full screen on my laptop.

That being said, I haven’t really been following the Brewers closely over the past two seasons. Watching them now is kind of like playing with house money–I am happier when they win but it really doesn’t affect me on a personal level when they lose. As such, I am careful not to become TOO happy when they win because nobody likes a shameless bandwagoner. It’s been nice that the Brewers have combined with the Badgers and Packers to form WINsconsin but as a true sports fan I cannot allow myself to bask in exultation that I know I do not deserve should their run continue.

At some point during the Brewers game, which felt interminable in my anticipation for Packers-Falcons, I made friends with Will’s regulars Kim and Lucky. Kim always sits at the bar and always brings cheese curds and her delicious, homemade dip. Upon further investigation, the dip is comprised of sour cream, mayonnaise, onions, garlic, and BACON. “The sour cream and mayonnaise that you use matter,” Kim explained, deriding the use of lesser quality ingredients. “I use Breakstone’s sour cream and canola oil mayo.” The dip is even better than you might imagine.


FINALLY, the Packers game started although much of the first half made me regret my anticipation. From the outset, it just felt like one of those games that Bill Simmons describes as a No Effing Way game. To clarify, this was like one of those video game contests where the computer was going to impede your path to victory at any and all costs. In video games as well as real life, very little is as frustrating as the No Effing Way game.

After the Falcons won the coin toss, Matt Ryan led a methodical 85-yard touchdown drive. 7-0 Falcons. On the ensuing Packers possession, Green Bay moved the ball slightly into Atlanta territory before the Falcons recovered a Ryan Grant fumble. 10 plays and 60 yards later, it was 14-0 Falcons. On the next Packers drive, left tackle Chad Clifton injured his hamstring and went out for the game. Green Bay would march it to Atlanta’s two-yard line before giving up two consecutive sacks (Atlanta had not had a sack since Week 1) and settling for a field goal. As the Packers were driving at the end of the first half, the normally sure-handed Jermichael Finley dropped an easy catch that would have either been a touchdown or given the Packers first and goal on the one; Green Bay settled for another field goal and went into halftime down 14-6. After giving up a sack on the first play in the third quarter, the Packers went three-and-out to start the second half.

At this point, I was not necessarily concerned about the Packers’ long-term ability to compete this season but I didn’t conceive that there was any way they were winning this game. It just seemed as if circumstances would converge for a frustrating loss that, as they tend to do, would snowball into a No Effing Way week. Then, all of a sudden, a light flickered. The defense stepped up, intercepting two Matt Ryan passes en route to giving up zero points in the second half. The offense, meanwhile, hit two big plays–a 70-yard touchdown pass to James Jones and 29-yard catch-and-run-and-DIVE into the endzone score by Greg Jennings–to help secure a 25-14 Packers victory.

The scene at Will’s could be described as jubilant as the Packers showed themselves to be resilient in the face of adversity. Between 2000 and Week 16 of last season, the Packers would have lost that game nine times out of 10 (if not more) after their miserable first half. The mistakes would have perpetuated and the end result would have been a maddening loss capitulated by an endless array of what-ifs. This Packers squad, though, is playing with confidence and swagger that has rendered them, thus far, unflappable. We saw this in their comeback win Week 2 against the Panthers where they got behind but did not panic, adjusted, and willed themselves to victory with a meticulous second half on both sides of the ball.

At 5-0, one has to nitpick to find flaws in this Packers team but it is precarious that in four of their five games they have had long stretches where they look flat. Packers fans are a little spoiled at this point but it is frustrating to see a team so capable of utter domination go through full quarters and halves where it gets squarely outplayed; right now it feels like only the Packers can beat the Packers. Objectively, though, this was a great win by a great team. At 5-0, the Packers are sitting pretty and their issues–real and/or perceived–are the envy of the other 31 teams in the league.

October 7, 2011

Week 5 NFL Picks

By now, we’ve all heard about and were unsurprised by Brett Favre’s comments about Aaron Rodgers. Sports Radio Interviews transcribed the segment, in which Favre was asked if he was surprised by the Packers’ Super Bowl Championship:

I’m going to be honest, I was not surprised. The biggest surprise to me would be that he didn’t do it sooner. It’s funny how people can get over time, my last year in Green Bay prior to the first game, I made the remark that this was probably the most talented team that I’ve ever played on. And of course everyone looked up and was like ‘this guy’s off his rocker.’ We were very, very young; take me out of the mix and we were by far the youngest team in the league. But I could see the talent pool across the board was outstanding. Now our season kind of ended up being a reflection of that. We came close, and I think we took a lot of people by surprise, but guys emerged rather quickly. Aaron had a chance…even though the last couple years it’s seemed like he’s almost a rookie, he’s been around awhile. And I’d like to think that he watched, he learned, and then when he got a chance to play, he brought in his ability which is obviously very good or they wouldn’t have drafted him in the first round. He’s got tremendous talent, he’s very bright and he got a chance to watch and see successful teams do it right. And so he just kind of fell into a good situation. On top of that, he’s a good player. I don’t think anyone would question now the talent around him is even better than when I was there. So I’m really kind of surprised it took him so long. Really, the early part of last year season, it hadn’t quite clicked yet and I didn’t know if it would. I just kind of figured when they hit their stride, they’re going to be hard to beat. And that’s what happened.

Favre didn’t say anything TOO terrible in this statement but it was a very clear and calculated backhanded compliment to Rodgers. The thing about Favre that I have trying to figure out for the last few years is to what extent he is delusional versus cynical. These comments lead me to believe he is more delusional, that he believes himself to be a character in some sort of biblical narrative and really doesn’t have a firm bearing on reality. It would be SO EASY for him to feign an apology and go back to being deified in Green Bay–believe me, these people are very forgiving–but instead of being gracious he is distancing himself from the fan base even further.

Packers fans, meanwhile, need to realize that they, along with fawning announcers and analysts, had a strong hand in turning Favre into the delusional narcissist that he is. When I went to Panthers-Packers at Lambeau in 2008, there were more fans wearing a Favre Jets jersey than any current player on the Packers and what is normally a majestically friendly and happy place was a sea of deep-seated resentment and loathing towards the current regime. A stunning amount of Packers fans took Favre’s side in his feud with Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy and spoke about them like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh speak about Obama. In supporting the direction of the franchise, my dad, brother, and I were in a clear minority. Even after fans turned on Favre when he joined the Vikings, Thompson and McCarthy were whipping boys. This extended deep into last season. For some reason or another*, it’s stopped.

*SUPER BOWL!!!!!!!!!!!

One interesting implication of the Favre quote that my dad pointed out was that it inadvertently compliments Thompson and McCarthy, who were responsible in building and developing the great talent base that surrounds Aaron Rodgers, proving that not all those who are calculating are intelligent. Even though Favre clearly still harbors deep, bitter resentment towards all involved in the Packers organization, he is acting self disinterest by being passive aggressive. He must not know any better.

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

Previous Records:
Ryan: Last Week: 10 – 6
Season: 31 – 30 – 3
Asif: Last Week: 10 – 6
Season: 35 – 26 – 3

Kansas City @ Indianapolis (-2.5)

Ryan: The Colts have been surprisingly resilient the past two weeks as their defense has been playing its absolute heart out. In Kansas City, meanwhile, a victory over the Vikings last week was not enough to stop Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli from planting negative stories about head coach/noted jerk Todd Haley. Allegedly. Colts cover.

Asif: If this week’s match-ups prove anything, it’s that we need to invent a bigger fart noise. Anyways, in Luck Bowl I, I’ll go with Indy to cover. There’s no way the Chiefs are winning twice in a row.

Arizona @ Minnesota (-2.5)

Ryan: I might go the rest of the year without picking an NFC West team, with the exception of the maybe good 49ers, to cover on the road. Donovan McNabb’s career as a starter is on life support and this seems like one of those weeks where he will pull out a victory at the end despite not playing very well for most of the game like he did against the Packers last year. As a Packers fan, I hope that the Vikings put a lot of tread on Purple Jesus’s tires this season while they are bad so he is past his useful life at the end of his contract when they are still paying him as an elite running back. Vikings cover.

Asif: The Cardinals probably would have beaten the Giants last week if the Victor Cruz call had gone their way. Alas, it didn’t and now San Fransisco looks like the favorite in the NFC West. Still, even though home teams have been winning a lot this year, the Vikings lost to the Chiefs so there’s no way I’m picking them as a favorite, so the Cards cover. As an aside, the whole KSK – Bernard Berrian kerfuffle should provide fans with extra reasons to hate on Minnesota all year long. Cheers!

Philadelphia (-2.5) @ Buffalo

Ryan: This game will tell us a lot about both teams. The Eagles have given up 88 points to the Falcons, Giants, and 49ers this season and I don’t think any of those teams have as good of an offense as the Bills do. With a few more bad weeks, the 2011 Eagles could end up being a case study in precisely why it is a bad idea to follow the Daniel Snyder formula for team building. I’m not ready to count the Eagles out just yet–even if they lose this week–because they always seem to go on a tear in November and December. This week, though, Bills cover.

Asif: Philadelphia is a deeply flawed team, as I covered in my intro to last week’s picks. I would like to report that I’m enjoying the fall of the “Dream Team” tremendously. Nothing tickles the pit where my soul should be more than the suffering of Philadelphia sports fans. If the Eagles lose this game, they’ll sit at 1-4 and may be in danger of getting buried considering the weak schedules that their NFC East rivals face in the coming weeks.

Ryan and I both acknowledged the let down potential that the Bills were facing going into last week’s game against the Bengals, then ignored it completely in our picks. Still, the Bills’ offense is legit and the Eagles’ defense is hugely overrated so that and home field leads me to believe that the Bills cover.

Oakland @ Houston (-6)

Ryan: This line seems about two points too high. The Texans still haven’t shown me that they can beat a good team; the Colts and Dolphins are 0-8 combined and the 2-2 Steelers are deeply flawed with an unsustainably poor offensive line. The Raiders are better than all three of those teams, control the clock with their strong running game, and have a tough defense. I would be very impressed if the Texans are able to win this game without Andre Johnson but think that even if they do pull it out, Raiders cover.

Asif: Houston is good, but Andre Johnson is out. Oakland is pretty good and Darren McFadden is a beast at running back. I don’t have anything else to say about this game. I’ll take Oakland and the points.

New Orleans (-6.5) @ Carolina

Ryan: The 51 over/under in this game seems about 25 points* too low, although my dad’s friend who lives in Las Vegas ONLY bets whenever an NFL o/u line is at 50+ and always picks the under. Apparently this has proven to be quite lucrative. Either way, this game is going to feature a lot of passing yards.

You might be forgiven if, amongst all the Cam Newton hype, you did not realize that he has thrown as many interceptions as touchdowns. As I wrote two weeks ago, he will likely one day be a great quarterback but is not ready to win games in this league just yet. The Saints are kind of under the radar as an elite team this season. They lost Week 1 to the Packers 42-34 after falling behind early and have won their last three games against the Texans, Bears, and Jaguars, covering in each victory. Saints cover.

*slight exaggeration

Asif: Coming into the season, I thought that Carolina would have a good running game but Cam Newton would struggle to adjust to the NFL. It’s actually turned out the other way as Newton has been excellent and DeAngelo Williams has decided to stop trying. I just don’t see Carolina keeping up with the Saints in this one. New Orleans covers.

Cincinnati @ Jacksonville (-2.5)

Ryan: I actively hate the process of writing and mailing checks. It requires finding my checkbook, a pen, a stamp, and an envelope as well as having to leave my house and walk to a mailbox. Screw that. Before having to do so for my September rent, I texted my landlord asking if there was ANY way that I could pay electronically to which I was greeted with no response. I even offered to pay the $3.00 fee myself in the event that she used a different bank than Bank of America. She cashed the check on September 28th, two days before my October rent was due. How is it a better system for her to have to go to the bank and cash the check–clearly an annoyance for her since it took her four weeks to do so–as opposed to having the money magically appear in her account THE DAY IT’S DUE without her having to do anything? It isn’t like my landlord is 70 or older; she should know how to use computers for banking and should embrace the convenience. All payees who were born after 1940 should be mandated BY LAW to accept payment electronically, especially if their customers are willing to pay the fee.

Oh yeah, and the feisty Bengals cover.

Asif: I’m going to start calling the worst game of every week the Derp Bowl, which is really the most appropriate way to describe this football abortion. It will definitely be blacked out in Jacksonville which should be considered a blessing, because honestly, don’t the people of Jacksonville suffer enough just living there?

One of my ongoing frustrations in writing this column is my inability to properly spell Cincinnati. I have literally typed out every possible spelling of the word over the last four weeks and have never gotten it right on the first try. But anyway, I digress, and I’ll take the Bengals and the points.

Tennessee @ Pittsburgh (-2.5)

Ryan: One of my prevailing ideas coming into the season was that teams with new quarterbacks and coaches would struggle out of the gate after the Lockout-shortened offseason (Remember how terrifying the NFL Lockout was? Thank Gd adults are in charge of the NFL). With the Titans (both) and 49ers (coach and crappy holdover quarterback) both at 3-1, this has been shown to be a comparatively false assumption. The Titans have been shockingly good and the Steelers have a mountain of obstacles to overcome. Because the inevitable Matt Hasselbeck injury has yet to happen, I’m riding with the Titans to cover.

Asif: I’m done trusting the Steelers; they’re unbelievably mediocre. Their offensive line is terrible and they are dealing with injuries to  their best players on both sides of the ball in James Harrison (out), Ben Roethlisberger (will probably play), and Bin Laden sympathizer Rashard Mendenhall (questionable, karma sure is a b*tch huh?*). All this points to a pretty decent Titans team covering.

*Ryan’s note: well, either karma or the curse of 370

Seattle @ NY Giants (-10.5)

Ryan: After looking horrible in a 28-14 loss to the Redskins in Week 1, the Giants have quietly won three in a row, albeit against the Rams, Eagles, and Cardinals of which only the Eagles might be good. The Giants are the opposite of the Eagles and Chargers; they always seem to play great at the beginning of the year and fade down the stretch. Since 2007, the Giants are 25-8 in September and October but 8-10 in December.

We are still in the part of the year where the Giants are good and, once again, I refuse to take NFC West teams besides the 49ers on the road. Giants cover and so help me Gd if T-Jack leads the Seahawks to a touchdown to cut the Giants’ lead from 17 to 10 with less than two minutes to play.

Asif: The Giants’ next three opponents? Seattle, Buffalo, and Miami–all at home. Those are all games that New York will likely win, getting me excited just before they get blown out by the Patriots in Foxboro in Week 9, beginning their inevitable slide and leading me to break a bunch of stuff and swear off the NFL forever, only to come back just in time for the draft.

Seattle is extra awful outside Qwest Field. I’ll take NY to cover.

Tampa Bay @ San Fransisco (-3)

Ryan: You wouldn’t have realized it during preseason prognostication but this game is actually important in the overall NFC landscape; there is actually a decent chance that this game is a first round playoff preview. Both of these teams stand at 3-1. I am more impressed with the 49ers’ wins (Seahawks, @Bengals, @Eagles) than the Bucs’ (@Vikings, Falcons, Colts). San Francisco covers.

Asif: After watching the Bucs struggle with the Colts on Monday night, I’m convinced that they’re not good. Of course, the entire Tampa sports scene is trying to ruin my life right now so I’m probably wrong about this.

On the other hand, I am officially sold on the Niners. Last week’s win over Philadelphia showed a team that’s well coached, has a strong defense, and isn’t afraid of anyone. I’m more than comfortable taking the Niners to cover at home, especially since Tampa is overrated. I realize that I will probably regret this decision.

NY Jets @ New England (-9)

Ryan: After starting 2-0, the Jets did not look very good against the Raiders and Ravens. Something about them just looks off; I think that Rex Ryan will ultimately get the ship righted but that may or may not happen right away. The Patriots spread the ball around so well–especially with the likely return of Aaron Hernandez–that it really doesn’t matter who gets stranded on Revis Island. New England covers.

Asif: The Jets’ running attack has cratered, leaving the offense squarely on Mark Sanchez’s shoulders; too bad he’s incapable of completing 60% of his passes. Teams with good passing attacks can exploit the Pats’ weak seconday;, too bad the Jets’ passing attack sucks. Sorry I’m not sorry.

The Patriots usually win big in these “revenge” games, so I’ll take New England to cover.

San Diego (-4) @ Denver

Ryan: The shower in my apartment has reasonable pressure but wildly inconsistent temperature control. There is no sweet spot you can hit to have a shower at the optimal level of heat because it does not exist; there is not necessarily rhyme or reason as to how the water comes out based on where the knobs are (and it’s always annoying when you have to manage two knobs on a shower, juggling hot and cold to find the right combination of pressure and temperature) and it often changes in the middle of my shower. I am not sure whether it is better to have the temperature go from comfortable to scalding hot or cringe-inducing cold without warning but both happen and neither is ideal. This is sort of a metaphor for the Chargers of the last however many years, who now find themselves at 3-1 but have had close calls with the dreadful Vikings and Chiefs (combined 1-7 with the Chiefs’ only win coming against the Vikings).

The Broncos were one of two teams I actually got to watch last Sunday and they are verifiably dismal. Chargers cover.

Asif: Have to love John Fox putting in Tebow for one play and then yanking him–well played my man, excellent trolling. Now just start Brady Quinn and you will have my undying respect. Chargers good + Broncos bad + this line is probably not high enough = San Diego covers.

Green Bay (-5.5) @ Atlanta

Ryan: I would have probably taken the Falcons to cover in this game but that was before Brett Favre had to go and give a calculated backhanded compliment to Aaron Rodgers earlier in the week. NOBODY is better at taking any sort of perceived criticism and using it for personal motivation than ARodg. I am setting the over/under for his performance 30-32 for 750 yards and 12 touchdowns this week and taking the over. Also, the two incompletions will obviously be throwaways. If there was any doubt that the Packers would come into this contest content and lackadaisical, Favre erased it. Also, I distinctly remember the Packers’ not punting in Atlanta the last time these two played. Packers cover.

Asif: This is a tough one to pick. On one hand the Falcons have destroyed the lives of a record number of gamblers this season. On the other hand, they’re impossible to beat at home.

Green Bay is still the best team in the NFL in my mind. I’ll take the Packers to cover.

Monday Night:

Chicago @ Detroit (-5.5)

Ryan: My initial thought on this game was that I would pick the Bears to win outright because, at 2-2, they desperately need it to keep pace in the NFC North (of which they already have their work cut out in passing the 4-0 Lions and Packers) and Wild Card races. The Bears’ porous offensive line and great Lions pass rush notwithstanding, this line is a little bit too high.

In this game, the Bears would be wise to figure out how to heavily work screen passes to Matt Forte and quick receiver routes into the game plan if they want to keep Cutler alive. When Cutler has time to throw and sets his feet, he is truly an elite quarterback. When he has to get rid of the ball before routes develop, though, he is hasty and erratic. I think the Lions win this game but Bears cover.

Asif: Statement game for the Lions. Matt Forte has been playing out of his mind lately, but the Detroit defense is really good. Also, Mike Martz has gotten the “too many passing plays” monkey off his back for a week so now he can revert to calling five-step drop after five-step drop in a blatant attempt to get Jay Cutler murdered. It’s not going to be pretty when Ndamukong Suh rips off Cutler’s right leg on the 50-yard line halfway through the second quarter. Lions Cover.

October 5, 2011

Value of Ozzie and Forte

In the past couple weeks in Chicago, high profile contract disputes involving former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and current Bears running back Matt Forte have dominated headlines. Ozzie, who has never been one to mince words, was quite honest in his motivation for a new contract:

Money is everything besides health. Money is next to that. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, love.’ They don’t know what love means. I guarantee you, if you raise a girl where I grew up and you’ve got no money and she loves you, but you put the same girl with a guy who’s got a lot of money, I’ll bet she’ll love the guy with money. That’s the way it is. I love you, but I’m hungry.

I work in this job for money. I don’t work for nothing. Money. That’s it. The ring? [Bleep] the ring. I don’t even wear my [bleeping] rings. I don’t.

You know what I saw a couple days ago? I saw a 62-foot boat. That’s what I want, and that’s what I’m going to get. People have to pay me for that. White Sox? I don’t know. Marlins? I don’t know. But somebody will pay. I want to buy my [bleeping] boat. That’s my inspiration. My inspiration is money. That’s everybody’s inspiration.

Matt Forte was a little bit more diplomatic about his desire for a contract situation, telling ESPN 1000′s Waddle and Silvy that it is a “distraction.” He continued:

I don’t want to be the guy that holds grudges but it always sticks in the back of your mind, things like that. It’s the ugly side of the business. The NFL is a business, and that’s the ugly side of it. I just want to be somewhere I’m valued as a player.

Although Forte was much more measured in his statements, there is a good chance that Ozzie felt much the same way in addition to having an insatiable craving for a 62-foot yacht. What does it say about your current situation when another employer is willing to pay you significantly more money than you now make to ostensibly do the same job? It is natural to feel slighted, especially when the great work you’ve done at your current job is the basis of why that other employer wants to pay you more. In most of these contract disputes, which involve base line numbers above and beyond what most of us could ever dream of, it is about pride and respect every bit as much as however many yachts the marginal dollars could buy.

That being said, the White Sox and Bears are likely making sound economic decisions in not breaking the bank for Ozzie and Forte. Ozzie was already getting paid $2 million a year; the Marlins will be paying him $4 million. With this money they will get a great motivator and ticket draw as well as a volatile personality who doesn’t respond well to criticism and will invariably resist collaborating with higher-ups. Glossing over the fact that baseball manager has to be the most overrated job in professional sports, the dark side of Ozzie made it not worth it for the White Sox to give him a raise commensurate with what the Marlins were offering.

Matt Forte is an excellent football player and should undoubtedly be considered an elite NFL running back. He rushed for 4.5 yards per carry last season and has caught at least 50 balls in each of his first three years. So far this season, he is rushing for 5.4 yards per carry and already has 26 receptions for 310 yards. He is the Bears’ primary offensive weapon and there really isn’t a close second. However, NFL running backs are generally fungible and they take so much physical punishment that they have comparatively short windows of greatness. The Titans and Chiefs gave Chris Johnson (ineffective this season) and Jamaal Charles (out for the season) large extensions that they are doubtlessly regretting. In holding out thus far with Forte, the Bears recognize that the league is shifting drastically towards passing and that teams such as the Packers and Patriots have been able to thrive without elite running backs.

Therefore, while Forte’s outstanding abilities as a receiver out of the backfield make him substantially more valuable than a typical running back in today’s NFL, the Bears are reasonable to be hesitant to give any running back an extension in line with the top paid players at the position. Whether by the Bears or by another franchise, if Forte continues his outstanding level of production and stays healthy this season, he will get paid as an elite running back. The team that pays him, though, is unlikely to realize value, especially on the back end of that contract.

October 3, 2011

Football and Me Part V

This is the fifth 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.

As the dust settles on what was by far the most eventful weekend in this series, I am doing my best to figure out where in the world to start this post and what is relevant to include. I suppose it makes sense to start with a lofty goal I set for myself before the weekend. I wanted to gain five pounds. At least. This would be my benchmark for whether my Wisconsin weekend with meat, cheese, and beer had been successful or not.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself that this is something that I would never be able to achieve in a little over two days and that I was setting myself up for failure. That being said, I have always believed that if you work both tirelessly and intelligently toward your broader ambitions, anything can be accomplished. I weighed myself right before I left the door on Friday and right after I entered last night. The results are as follows:

Friday weight: 167.2 pounds
Saturday weight: 175.2 pounds

MY DREAM CAME TRUE!!!! Here’s how it happened:

Late Friday morning, I headed out to meet my friend Habib in Northbrook. We ate a sandwich at Jimmy Johns because it is always good to start what will be a disastrously unhealthy weekend with a solid base foundation in your stomach. About an hour into the drive, less than five minutes after crossing into Wisconsin, we HAD to hit up Brat Stop in Kenosha and walked out with cheese curds and beef summer sausage for an on-the-road snack. They were an outstanding welcome to God’s country.

When we got to Madison, we dropped our stuff off at Crest’s condo, picked up a 12-pack of Spotted Cow, and headed straight to the Memorial Union Terrace. Mario was already at the Terrace and was sitting with two of my old friends, Bryan and Ben. In what may only be interesting to me, Mario, Bryan, Ben, and I all know one another independently of each other and from very different realms of UW-Madison and life. We joined them at their table for a little while before they headed off in separate directions as Mario, Habib, Crest, and I remained at the Terrace. About 20 minutes later, we saw two Nebraska fans, who ended up being brothers, walking by and I called out something along the lines of, “I hope your favorite football team loses tomorrow.” They understood that I was just giving them a hard time and seemed like nice guys so we gave them two beers and they joined us at our table. A third brother joined a few minutes later but we had given his siblings our last two Spotted Cows. This unfortunate situation ended up working out quite well in our favor as the trio provided the table with six pitchers of beer over the next 90 minutes or so. It was a beautiful Fall day on the Terrace, there was a surprisingly good blues band playing right in front of us, and we were surrounded by great company. Life was not terrible.

After the Union, we split off from the friendly Nebraska fans and headed to the nearby Kollege Klub (KK) to meet my friend Dingo. I generally don’t like the KK (whenever I’m there, the implication is that I’m less cool than almost everybody else and this is by calculated design on the part of the bar in appealing to athletes and fratstars) but they have really good Friday After Class specials and it was on the way to anywhere else we would be going. We got two pitchers of Spotted Cow for $10.00 and settled at a table. Later, we realized that grilled cheese was a dollar. I bet Mario the next round of pitchers that I could eat mine in four bites or less and won the bet with a bite to spare. Pizza, which ended up being shockingly good, was also ordered.

From the KK, we headed briefly to Logan’s where we met up with my friends Leah, Sophia, Heather, and Alex before deciding to get late night food. Crest got Pita Pit while I pulled kind of shady move and bought Habib a Jin’s chicken sandwich, which he had never tried, before he could make his own decision of what food he wanted. For those that don’t know, Jin’s chicken was a food cart in Madison during my undergrad years. Like Mr. Burns once had every disease known to man and even some ones that were newly discovered, Jin’s racked up city violations and was eventually shut down for being a nuisance to society. They made a delicious fried chicken sandwich, though, and the recipe was sold to a food truck called JD’s after Jin’s was no longer allowed to operate. Accounting for my somewhat more refined tastes, I would say the sandwich is about 85% as good as it used to be. While 85% of absolutely amazing is still outstanding, the sandwich (and Habib and I are sure that it was this sandwich and not any of our other previously and later mentioned caloric intakes) would have lingering effects on our stomachs over the next couple days. Read into that as you see fit.

Having been drinking and eating heavily since 3pm, we decided to call it a night and head home around 11pm. On one hand, we were giving up three hours out in Madison, which is a scarce commodity in this day and age, but on the other we had had an early start and were strategically positioning ourselves to optimize the next day. Read: we are getting old and didn’t want to battle a hangover. Joined by Craig, my roommate from sophomore and senior year and a very interesting character who had just arrived in Madison unfashionably late, we headed back to Crest’s to recharge our batteries. Crest had a novelty plastic Madison Mallard bat in his apartment and we quickly realized how fun it would be to bash Craig in the knees with the bat. He would yell out in agonizing pain with each strike but never fight back. I don’t care how bad of a person this makes me seem like but I assure you it was funny and didn’t cease to be so throughout the weekend.

We got up around 9:30 on Saturday and headed to meet my dad and family friend at the Farmer’s market. Here, we gorged on cheese curds as an appetizer for what would be an outstanding breakfast at Gotham Bagels where I randomly ran into my good friend Nicole. Like Jimmy Johns, Gotham would provide a good base layer for the bodily degradation that would later ensue. Around noon, we headed over to Crest’s friend Brandon’s apartment on Spring Street to start pregaming and to watch the Brewers game. About 1.5 blocks from Camp Randall, this location was optimal because it meant that there would not have to come a time later in the day where we would have to embark on that buzzkilling half hour walk towards the stadium. Preventing this walk was a major step in avoiding the dreaded third quarter hangover of which the only remedy is a greasy Camp Randall brat and a Diet Coke.

The pre-game was outstandingly fun. Even though it is standard, I continue to be amazed by how quick and easy it is to make friends and become integrated with Wisconsin fans of all varieties. Our friend Katy commandeered the kitchen and made allowed me my first opportunity to sample her famous hashbrowns, entitled “Katy’s taties.” She was offended that there was no garlic in the kitchen and lamented that this was “not my best work,” but I still thought they were delicious. There was also an abundance of cheese and sausage as well as potato chips with french dip.

About three or four hours after we got to Brandon’s, an adult made his way up the stairs from the parking lot below and informed us that there was a very serious problem. “We have WAY too much food and not enough people to eat it. Can you help us solve this?” the man, who would later introduce himself as Red, asked with a huge grin. Habib and I took less than a second to oblige and saw a glorious spread of pulled pork, turkey, beans, and chili. Going by Craig’s standard rule that everything that tastes good tastes good together and not wanting to miss out on any of the individual components, I crafted a holy sandwich creation with all four. For dessert, they had chocolate chip cookies and butterscotch bars. The butterscotch bars were a secret recipe of one of the fans’ mothers and were a sublime concoction that, along with half-cooked brownies topped by raw chocolate chip cookie dough that Crest discovered at an adjacent tailgate, revolutionized what I thought dessert was capable of. I sent my dad a text describing the tailgate spread and saying that it was “better than it sounds,” and he came by and had a sandwich.

I headed into the game with my dad’s friend Rob and his friends Harry and Kevin. Thanks to Kevin’s extreme graciousness, we had great seats on the 35-yard line, midway up the stadium and about two sections away from the student section. This was only my first or second time watching the Badgers outside the student section and, while I definitely waxed nostalgically at not being a part of Build Me Up Buttercup and other student section hijinks, it was nice to have a firmer grasp on the game. Somehow, Russell Wilson is even better than everyone thought he’d be. He is more than living up to his #BlackJesus moniker. I swear I saw him walk on water on Saturday. Every time he drops back to pass, I think it’s going to be a first down and statistics show that I’m usually right. This man is a viable NFL starter and a huge reason why Wisconsin has the chance to contend for a national title this season. The Badgers made the #8 team in the nation look like one of the cupcakes from their first four contests and the extent of their domination just can’t be overstated. This is happening.

After the game, I met back up with Habib, Mario, Crest, and Craig and we headed towards State Street to skip around and revel. Along the way, we sang NBA on NBC, the Monday Night Football theme, Bang on the Drums, Go Pack Go, and NFL Primetime background music, doling out high fives and generally being merry. Despite Craig’s going into four-year-old tantrum about the line, we went to Ian’s on State for a nightcap.

The next day, I was supposed to go to Packers-Broncos with Rob and my dad but we received news that my Granny, who had been taken to the hospital the day before, had taken a turn for the worse. It was very hard to see her at the hospital but based on the extent of her feistiness in trying to remove her IV and oxygen mask and trying to get out of the bed, I have faith that she can win this round. If anybody can, she will; she has beaten cancer something like five times and certainly isn’t going down without a fight. I hope that this toughness gene doesn’t prove to be recessive when the health battles caused by this weekend and others like it present themselves to me.

Granny ended up being at Masonic Hospital, which is just a few blocks from Will’s Northwoods Inn, so my dad and I headed there for some Leinie’s, burgers, brats, and Packers for a three hour respite from the hospital. There really isn’t much to say about the Packers’ destroyification of the Broncos except that the Packers are now 4-0 and, for the first time this season, fired on all cylinders for the whole game. The lasting impression for me from yesterday’s game will be what I saw from Donald Driver. On an Aaron Rodgers rushing touchdown, Driver got caught up in a collision, injured his knee (ankle maybe?), and had to be carted off.

The look on his face as he was being driven off the field was plaintive and reflective, expressly implying that he thought his outstanding career could be over. Throughout his tenure with the Packers, Driver has not only been an excellent receiver–the all-time leader in Packers receiving in catches and receiving yards–he has carried himself with grace and class both on and off the field and has been a visibly vocal leader for the young Packers roster the last several seasons. We know that all good things must come to an end–he keeps himself in impeccable shape but nobody’s body can hold up forever–but knowing that and the hurt that comes from actually seeing it unfold are quite different. It was therefore incredible later on when Driver returned to the game, caught a touchdown, and leaped into the adoring Lambeau crowd, providing a moment that I can only hope will be a perfect metaphor for Granny’s impending miraculous recovery.

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