Tuesday, September 25, 2007

NFL Thoughts, Week 3

There needs to be a word that describes when teams perform exactly like everyone thought they did—except it happens exactly one year later. This year's Saints should have been last year’s Saints, when no one thought Drew Brees had fully recovered from injuries, their head coach was a green, Reggie Bush was raw and struggling to find his place on the team, their receivers were unheard of, their linebackers were mediocre, and their secondary was nondescript. 0-3 made complete sense…last year. But it seems like this happens with a few teams each year (see the Jets). It also happens in reverse with the Redskins and Buccaneers, who end up performing UP to the standards that everyone had for them a year ago.

Speaking of the Redskins, I could have won my pool this week had they not collapsed in the second half worse than a Simplicity crib. The play-calling in particular was dreadful against a woeful Giants defense, whose best player (Mathius Kiwanuka) was playing out of position, and whose second-best player (R.W. McQuarters) sounds more like a brokerage firm than a cornerback.

And speaking of the Bucs, Tampa Bay and the Panthers are now set for an NFC South “showdown” next week, although it will probably feature less drama and skill than a Showcase Showdown on The Price is Right. The Panthers improved to 2-1, but when you give up 361 passing yards to Joey Harrington and tie the game only because DeAngelo Hall had 67-yards in penalties for unsportsmanlike temper tantrums, it’s hardly a fulfilling victory. It’s kind of like winning $1,000 at a slot machine only after you’ve put in $950 dollars’ worth of quarters. “I don’t think how we played on the field today would have been capable of winning the Super Bowl,” Kris Jenkins understated severely afterwards. Clearly not, Kris, because it was barely capable of beating the Atlanta Falcons in Week 3.

Two other burning questions from Week 3:
1) What’s with the Phantom Circle? This occurs when the teams are lined up before the snap, and one of the announcers circles a random player with the tele-strator, but no explanation is given as to who or why. Then the ball is snapped and of course you, the viewer, end up focusing on that circled player, figuring he was highlighted for some reason, even if 9 times out of 10 he ends up having nothing to do with the ensuing play. Perhaps it’s just an accident, although it seems to happen a LOT during Troy Aikman-announced games.

2) What’s with Journeyman? It’s one of the many new fall shows, and it features that guy from HBO’s Rome miniseries, the one with the spectacular knot at the top of his nose (although I noticed it’s been airbrushed out of all the newspaper ads). Journeyman appears to be some sort of updated Quantum Leap-type deal about time travel, except that I saw in one of the prints a background that looked like ancient Rome. So is Journeyman a new stand-alone show or some weird spin-off? I didn’t see the Rome miniseries through to the end, as I simply assumed it concluded with Augustus taking over the empire as per ancient history, but I’ll definitely go back and check it out if they ended up revealing that knot-nosed guy to be a teleporting secret agent in the finale.

Offensive Player of the Week: Brian Westbrook, Eagles. 110 yards rushing, 111 yards receiving, and 3 touchdowns, plus he didn’t complain afterward about how versatile yet undersized black running backs are criticized more harshly than white ones.

Defensive Player of the Week: Keith Bulluck, Titans. Never mind that his last name’s “Bulluck,” here’s three interceptions for the linebacker extraordinaire.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

NFL Thoughts, Week 2

Sorry I didn’t write earlier, but I was at an all-day conference on Monday. I had been holding out hopes that it wouldn’t last the entire day, but I knew I was in for a long one when the speaker opened things up with, “First I’d like for all of you in the audience to give yourselves a round of applause for being such special people yadayadayada…” That’s always a red flag when that’s the opening line, because it pretty much translates to, “I have nothing informative to say, so I’m just going to go for some cheap sucking-up.”

In other office news/tedium, I’ve been asked by the cleaners to please remove my coffeemaker from my desk, because it’s apparently a fire-hazard. This was frustrating, because I’m not sure this cheap little coffeemaker would be a fire hazard even if you actually struck a match and set it on fire. It’s a piece of garbage—literally, because I found it next to a dumpster one day and decided out of excessive cheapness to take it home and use it—so it’s no big loss, but I liked it because a) it allowed me to lazily avoid walking to the public coffee machine, a trek that’s got to be in excess of 50-feet, and b) the public coffee machine only allows for single-cup pouring, and I tend to ingest coffee in quantities of 3 or more cups at a time (I enjoy wielding a Dirty Harry-sized mug).

My professional frustrations were at least partially offset by the fact that I did get cable in time to catch the weekend NFL games. And boy, it’s great to see all the old faces again: 1) Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who looks and sounds exactly like Al Bundy would if Married...With Children had continued on to circa 2030; 2) Troy Aikman, who—like every other sports broadcaster—has for some reason not been able to grasp the grammatical concept of possessive nouns (instead of saying, “Brett Favre’s arm,” we get “the arm of Brett Favre,” see also: “the legs of Brandon Jacobs,” and—my personal favorite—“the electricity of Brian Westbrook”); 3) Randy Cross, who—also like every other broadcaster—has forgotten that defenses “defend,” not “defense” (Randy, the Jets were NOT having difficulty defensing the Ravens running game, they were having difficulty DEFENDING it); 4) Al Michaels, who—also like every other broadcaster—continues to add indefinite articles to players’ names (example: “That’s what a Tom Brady does for your offense,” as if Tom’s some sort of brand new kitchen appliance or something). With the good, however, also comes the bad: I don’t know why the Sunday night broadcast has gone with those odd-looking down-marker graphics that look like comic book speech balloons, and I hate how the Sunday night show has been stripped almost entirely of highlights. NBC’s doing away with them the way MTV did away with videos in favor of more “branded entertainment,” which essentially means lots of shots of Tiki Barber’s teeth, brought to you by Sprint. Maybe this wouldn’t be so annoying if I hadn’t had such terrible service from Sprint through the years; half the time I’m told I’m roaming even when I’m in my own house.

Not that I wanted to watch anymore than one play of the Panthers’ game. What a disaster. Ahman Green, who was deemed expendable by the PACKERS, mind you, averaged almost five yards a carry against us. And Andre Johnson is talented, but seriously, who else did Carolina have to worry about? I’m not sure Houston even lines up another receiver; I think they employ a 3-tight end/4-right guard formation most of the time, so I don’t know why the Panthers couldn’t focus better on Johnson. And I’m still puzzled by Steve Smith’s quote afterward: “We’re too up and down, too inconsistent. Reason why? I could speculate, but there’s no need to do that.” On the contrary Steve, there’s PRECISELY a need for that. This division is completely winnable, but not if we’re going to drop games at home to Houston. Someone better speculate and figure this out.

Offensive Player of the Week: Jamal Lewis, Browns. Hard to argue with 216 yards and a touchdown. Plus he allows me to continue my streak of making at least one convicted felon a Player of the Week.

Defensive Player of the Week: Rosevelt Colvin, Patriots. Two forced fumbles, two sacks, and an interception—Colvin was like a Scooby Doo villain for New England. With all the obvious suspects, in the end he was the real bad guy. If Randy Moss was the mean old owner of the haunted amusement park and Tom Brady was the creepy night watchman, Colvin was the quiet concessions stand worker. It was downright scary the way the Pats crushed the Chargers this week in late-80s Mike Tyson fashion, and just think: they were without Seymour and Harrison.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Start Spreading the Ooze

What up, what up!! Man, I know it’s been forever since I rapped at ya. How long has it been? Well, the last time I blogged, the belief that the NBA was run by corrupt officials was just a myth. So sorry about the lapse, but lately I’ve been busier than an HGH dispenser. And I figured that as long as my boys at The Basketball Jones—who seem to have no occupation other than hanging out in their basement and talking hoops*—weren’t doing any podcasts, then I could be excused as well. But then they started up their shows again last week, obviously inspired by the compelling FIBA tournament (which was more riveting than watching my grandfather look for his pack of smokes and then realizing they're in his pocket) so I guess I better get going too.

So what have I been doing in the interim? Well, I actually got a job! That pays! Last summer, I interned with this tiny little low-budget start-up company called American Express. Based on my performance (and, therefore, much to my shock and amazement), Amex actually offered me a full-time job. The catch was that I had to move north to this quaint little hamlet called New York City. But don’t worry, my heart still lies with the orange-and-blue-ish/purple in Charlotte. The way I see it, there’s also not really a conflict of interest in rooting for both the Knicks and the Bobcats. I mean, it’s not like they’re a threat to face each other in the Eastern Conference Finals or anything.

So since the job offer, I’ve been moving, which mainly has involved dealing with NYC apartment brokers, who’ve helped me rediscover my long-lost ability to hate. For anyone who’s never dealt with one of these guys, imagine the demon seed of corrupt politicians and used-car salesmen. They’re so horrible that I’ve begun thinking of them very much like I do the government, in that I can’t tell if they’re actively evil or simply grossly incompetent. Anyway, almost in spite of their “help,” I’m finally settled in the East Village. It’s quite a change of scenery. For instance, when I’m out jogging, instead of using various trees to mark my laps, I use things like drunks emptying bottles of urine into the sewer. My dog, Lincoln, has also suffered from transition pains. This is an animal who in NC used to go crazy at the sight of another canine, even if it was just a speck on the horizon. Now when we go out for walks, his poor little pea-brain is overloaded with stimulation.

But now that we’re all settled in, it’s time to get excited about hoops again! And what a bevy of exciting off-season moves the Cats have pulled. They’ve…let’s see…Actually, there’s only been one that I can think of, which is the re-signing of Jeff McInnis. I’m vaguely depressed by this one, as McInnis proved beyond a shadow of a doubt last year that he’s a marginal 3rd point guard at best, and now he’s muddled his way upward to become the second option. It reminds me of my senior year high school cross-country season, in which I was made captain by virtue of the fact that I was the only returning senior (for some reason, no one else seemed interested in the idea of running as hard as they could for three miles and then puking). It was great for me, because I got to put in “sports team captain” on my college applications, but I’ll be the first to admit that it was completely by default. Similarly for Jeff, he should be happy about his money, but let’s face it: the guy wheezed through his 5-minutes-a-night last season like Britney at the VMAs, so we better have someone else in mind behind Raymond Felton.

Thus, barring any other Bobcats news we need to discuss, here are my NFL Week 1 Thoughts:

Having left Carolina, I had to make a sports fan’s Sophie’s Choice: go with cable to get out-of-market NBA games, or go with DirecTV to get out-of-market NFL games. It can only be one or the other, and I’m sticking with my Bobcats and the NBA, crooked officials and all. And thanks to my cable providers, who were uninterested in hooking up my new apartment before the end of the fiscal year, I missed seeing my first week of football since my appendectomy in the 7th grade. However, I was able to tune into parts of the Jets-Patriots “contest” on this antiquated device called a “radio” as I continued to dig my apartment out of the avalanche of moving boxes, but the reception was spotty. The one repeated phrase that kept coming in over and over, clear as a bell, was, “Brady drops back, has ALL KINDS of time…” The unimaginative announcers said it so much I was starting to wonder if invading aliens had suddenly destroyed much of the planet, causing all broadcasts to loop the last few seconds of their transmissions endlessly. It even became a joke with me and my wife: “Brady has ALL KINDS of time! He’s got time in every color, every size, every shape, for EVERY occasion: weddings, birthdays, bat mitzvahs…”

And of course, now that I can no longer watch them, the Panthers go out and crush the Rams. For whatever the reason, the Panthers seem to have Steven Jackson’s number, holding him to just 58 yards and two fumbles and causing severe Fantasy Owner Sanity power outages across the country. I loved Mike Rucker’s quote afterward: “No matter what, we don’t let the ball get run on us.” If only everyone had that mentality. Maybe if General David Petraeus would testify that regardless of the challenges facing US forces in Iraq, “we don’t let IEDs get exploded on us,” or housing lenders made their agents post signs in their offices reading, “Remember: We don’t let risky sub-prime mortgages get defaulted on us,” the world would be a better place.

Offensive Player of the Week: Chris Brown, Titans. Running behind a dilapidated Kevin Mawae and four future dockworkers, Brown gained 175 yards in 18 carries against one of the best front-7 in the league.

Defensive Player of the Week: Nick Barnett, Packers. With 13 tackles and an interception to spur the Packers upset, Barnett demonstrated that winners don’t do drugs (although they do occasionally get taken into custody for battery after allegedly being involved in a physical altercation outside a nightclub).

All right, I’ve gotta get back to work, answering emails with titles like “Re: Fw: Fw:” but it’s good to be back!

*Between them, the guys in Knocked Up, and Sicko, this summer has left me with the impression that all Canadians do is hang out in basements and get free medical care.