SUPER BOWL

An open letter to all video game manufacturers in the known universe.

Dear Video Game People,

Here is my idea: You’ve got four guys to choose from. One is ethnic and short. Maybe he has those Mexican army bullets wrapped around his torso. He could play a ukulele when he is happy. One is tall, balding, German perhaps (closet homosexual), a real taskmaster. Another is a cigar-chomping, crew-cutted tyrant. The last is a woman in sweatclothes with jumbo breasts. An ample bosom. Doesn’t matter really, most video games are full of stereotypes, and we can figure out what appeals to kids and adults later. Anyway, this is the opening. You choose one. They are marching band leaders. Teachers. You start with nothing, and then, in a Sim-City-esque fashion, try to elevate your band to magnificence.

Let me explain: In the early stages, you’re in charge of nine deadbeat junior high students in ripped canvas high-tops, unironed uniforms, mismatched socks. They can’t march. They’re lazy. They’re out of tune. Maybe they play four recorders, a bugle and a snare drum. The rest play kazoos or shout. They all perform on a dusty field with no grass. It is your job to instruct them—get them to pay attention, and then enter some competitions. Instructing them isn’t a hand-eye thing, and it doesn’t mean whapping away on your controller, browbeating them into shape. It is more subtle, like paying attention to the right things. It will grow slowly. If they do well, you get some cash (there can be a little money bag icon in the upper right corner) to work on your marching band. After every competition and semester, you can also lobby the school board for funds. Your character will appear at a little podium, and you will get “reactions” (a color bar that scrolls from sympathetic to unsympathetic and attaches a corresponding dollar amount) to statements you’ve prepared. You may also show them slow-motion footage of past competitions and use a gavel if you choose.

If lobbying works, your band blossoms, and soon more kids want to join the band, and you can pick out better uniforms, etc. (Watch out, though, because even the tailor wants to screw with you.) If you’re ineffective as an instructor, and lobbying doesn’t work, you’ll see instruments rust and decay. Your band will go barefooted and get some sort of pox on their faces. You’ll catch them masturbating and getting hooked on tapas. Let’s think positive, though: if things are going really well, maybe a kid in your band starts playing a fat, shiny, white tuba. Maybe a guy dressed in a tiger suit starts break-dancing behind them. But with success comes pitfalls, too. You constantly have to keep track of your band members’ grades, and there are recruiters who will try to woo your ringers, kids will graduate, and some will turn to drugs. Keep an eye on them, Coach.

You’ll see your surroundings get better as well. The field will get greener. The bleachers will turn from wood to concrete. The concession stands in the background will have colorful awnings. (There may at some point be an homage to the game Track and Field, where your majorette fires his baton way up high, off screen, and kills a pelican with it, for an extra five grand). You could even wind up in a dome with Astroturf. You’ll have to keep track of little budget things like laundry bills, hotel and airline bills, kerosene bills (by the end, you’ll have a chance to shoot a flaming goat or donkey out of a cannon at a really big half-time show).

Each level will represent a new grade. If you can take the ninth-graders all the way through to college (by then, the marching band should have 152 musicians, 2 majorettes, 3 mascot/dancers, and 1 cannon with 2 optional midgets in tiny cars, but mind your budget), you’ll get a raise, and the chance to start all over again.

Do I have any takers?

Super Bowl Prediction: Giants 23, Ravens 10.

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CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS

Minnesota at New York Giants — Prediction: Minnesota. The only way they will lose is if I pick them to win.

Baltimore at Oakland — Prediction: Oakland. It is a long flight home.

I had been slacking off lately. This week I was going to up the ante and come up with something funny. That didn’t happen. Yesterday at work, I got a phone call from a reporter friend of mine from Columbus, Ohio, whom I know but rarely see. We had recently been in touch, and up to that minute, everything that had maybe been unanswered or a mystery had been neatly and efficiently brought up to speed. When he identified himself on the phone, I knew that something was seriously wrong. Our mutual friend, Jerry Wick, the singer of the band Gaunt, had been riding home on his bike late Tuesday night and a car hit him and kept going. He died shortly thereafter.

This has nothing to do with football, or humor, but at the risk of sounding like some bloviating blogger who plagues the Internet with the banalities of his life, I’m pretty glad I have this forum. People show up here and actually read this stuff, no matter what. And I think it is pretty important that I tell you about Jerry Wick.

I’ve had about fifty jobs in the last decade and one of them was tour managing his band in the spring of 1998. They had a lot of minor successes: kids loved them, adults loved them, they toured Europe, and they could actually make money or at least break even by touring in the United States. By all accounts, he was a prick, though. If a stranger went to Columbus, walked into a record store and said, “Do you know Jerry Wick?” The clerk would say, “That asshole?” but mean it sorta lovingly.

People warned me about him. They said touring with him wouldn’t be easy. And he was a drama queen. He would see a story in a newspaper, hear a record, read a book, or eat a sandwich and declare that it had completely changed his life. He’d sometimes start drinking at about two in the afternoon, or he’d yell at his band, or yell at the soundman, or storm out of the club, or whine, or complain, or keep arguing with someone for five or six hours after even he knew he was wrong. He never did that to me, though. We got along quite well.

He looked an awful lot like the kid who starred in My Bodyguard, the old Matt Dillon movie where a wimpy high schooler hires a huge dirtball to protect him, but eventually learns to fight for himself. It was a dark little comedy. It was filmed in Chicago at the end of the Carter Administration, and it was overcast the whole time. Maybe it was the film quality, though. It was cheap. It looked like Krakow, or Warsaw—or even worse, Milwaukee—the whole time. Martin Mull and even Ruth Gordon were in it, too. The kid wins in the end, but generally has shitty luck. So did Wick. He was an underdog in every sense of the word. People loved him, but not enough. People bought his records, but not enough. He was signed to a major label, but not for long.

Like a lot of folks, Wick’s evil was just a defense mechanism. And it was funny. He knew it was hilarious and entertaining, and he usually wasn’t happy unless someone else was miserable. He relished the attention. Since no one else could take it, we were roommates on that tour for about two and a half months. I had a blast. He loved to talk about anything. People got sick of hearing it, but I didn’t.

The band had just bought this 90,000-passenger Ford van, pulled out the middle seats, and stored all the gear there. I met them in Atlanta, and we went counter-clockwise around the entire country. Anyway, if you were driving, you and your co-pilot had no idea what was going on in the back of the van. Wick decided to buy walkie-talkies. He insisted on it. Because they’d been together forever, the band used the most insane jargon to communicate. Everything would be silent for hours on end, and then Wick would pick up the walkie-talkie to check in on the cockpit. He and Jovan Karcic, the guitar player, had come up with phrases that they loved to randomly shout. “Aa-Doooouuusssh,” could mean just about anything. So did “10-5-5-1.” Except that always had to be said in a southern accent. In Minneapolis, there was a billboard for a local meteorologist, Dave Dahl, a clean-cut-looking, responsible fellow. After seeing it, whenever anything went wrong, the members of Gaunt would simply announce “Dave Dahl, everybody.” It just meant, “Here we go again,” or “Sweet Jesus,” or “Fuck That,” or “Why Bother?” and it always worked.

Wick loved baseball, so when we got to New York, we took the train to Yankee Stadium. He bought a sweatshirt. I think I have a picture somewhere. I’m sure of it. It was pretty funny. He wasn’t Goth, but he always wore a black shirt, black jeans and maroon Chuck Taylors. Always. And he always died his hair black, too. So he looked pretty regular in a Yankees sweatshirt. Like a guy from Long Island, maybe. He was really happy that night. And after babysitting adults for a while, it was calming for me. It felt like another world.

Jovan looked exactly like the devil with Brian May’s haircut, and would always be the first guy out of bed on tour, making coffee in his room, reading the newspaper, writing, whatever. As people woke up, if they actually woke up before we got kicked out of the hotel, they’d drop in and get a cup of coffee. Jovan is quiet, introspective, smart, and extremely polite. At the mid-point of the tour, we had about a week off in their hometown of Columbus. Wick decided he was gonna bring his espresso machine on the tour, too. It was a fucking mess. He traveled with one backpack, a plastic deli bag full of espresso and hair dye, and one comb. Inevitably, the stuff would always intermingle with each other. Everyone else would be impatiently waiting in the van as Wick scrambled to fill some crappy hotel Styrofoam cup with three ounces of boiling espresso that he absolutely had to have. Then he’d unplug the machine, race out of the room, and leave coffee grounds all over everything. He also used every single towel within five minutes of checking in.

We got stuck in a Motel 6 on the outskirts of Oklahoma City during a heat wave, and while everyone else felt restless, Wick loved the downtime. He swam. He stayed up watching a Larry Sanders marathon with me. We watched thirty episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, and we ate four or five dinners at the Jack-In-The-Box one night. He wasn’t pissed about any cancelled shows.

It was like being in the army, I think. It was amazing getting to see every city in the United States. Reading maps, negotiating a different metropolitan area’s rush-hour traffic every day, calling Days Inns, hauling gear, selling merchandise, eating crappy burritos. It felt like we were at war with everything around us. Even bugs. Wick was a hell of a showman. I liked to watch Gaunt after a particularly shitty drive or bad news from the label, or whatever. If the chips were down, you could count on Gaunt to explode. You couldn’t back them into a corner. It was almost fun to have adversity with them. They took it out on stage. They never argued after a show. There wasn’t enough energy to do anything but drink. They were too fucking tired. It was peaceful.

I haven’t done any justice here, probably. My thoughts are too scattered. How many times have I typed “always”? What seems funny to me might have gotten lost in translation or my haste to get it written down. But Jerry Wick was real, and if you didn’t know him I wish you would have. I’m gonna miss him a whole lot. I loved the guy.

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DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS

Now that Monday Night Football is over (or does ABC have the title game? I haven’t bothered to research), I am suggesting that other announcers join Al Michaels and Dan Fouts in the broadcast booth for the 2001 campaign. I am also suggesting that this week’s games be dubbed “The Mini Super Bowls,” because of their grave importance to us, and our upcoming crisis with the Scottish people who have betrayed us. Really, the winner of the Tennessee/Baltimore game should be our world’s champion. Anyway, due to sucky ratings, the following people should be given an audition:

Jim Morrison — He’s dead, but they could conjure up his ghost with a few Pizza Hut candles and some cheap Zinfandel, no? Every white guy in prison in the United States would probably profess that the Doors had some role in his crime and/or lifestyle choices. Whether it was cryptically, through “voices” in the Doors’ recorded efforts, or through “visions” while the listener tried out some blotter and gazed at the turntable, Morrison’s acolytes have all howled their way through painful existences, but at least they’ve lived, Baby. What kind of poetry might Jim Morrison craft about a cruel hit that Broncos’ LB Bill Romanowski makes? Maybe something like this: “He screamed into Jay Fielder, like a fanged goat, enflamed with syphilis, he crushed that pussy, hard. My man. Because he had to, and that is all the will of the wild Colorado Stallion, and the unforgiven prayer of the inebriated Bronco.” And a long pass from Daunte Culpepper to Randy Moss? “Peace be praised, my African brethren, I apologize for agony in this our hour of negative freedom. That pass perpetuated the belief that we can all endure. I feel soulful, right now. How ’bout you, Fouts? You got any spirit left in your thick Charger mother-beard? Or are you merely stapling empty days together while the porpoise finds his victuals?”

Rush Limbaugh — They flirted with him before. Most of us can identify with him. His insignificance outweighs his self-importance.

Toni Morrison — If Jim Morrison falls through.

Bill Walton — Because he is a weird, effervescent hippie, who gets really out there, but is also brutally honest. I love him. He has never uttered this statement, but I’m dying to hear it in his voice: “Ray Lewis inflicted a monsoon of pain on Jeff George and it is about time someone did. He’s been coddled like a baby goose at the Pampers Hall of Fame for forever, Al. Jeez. Come on. And speaking of monsoons, that reminds me of Jerry Garcia reigning AND raining over a West Tallahassee pudding bar, after we had voraciously smoked a couple of thermal Indo-bones and were melted. It was stupendous. Butterscotch pudding cannot be denied. And there’s nothing like plucking a Malaysian banjo for a three-week sweat lodge, detoxifying and then barking down at least a gallon of warmed pudding, fellas. Nothing like that and a sixer of Ginseng Fruitopia to whet your proverbial whistle. Unless it is a 33-below-zero bomb from Brett Favre to Tony Freeman, who’ll haul in the icy pigskin, with no time on the clock, spike the ball, and then maybe thunder out in the locker room to some Phish bootlegs from Manitoba ’93. Amen.”

Ray Suarez — The old NPR guy. The opening Monday Night Party music would change to birch flutes and harps, with an occasional muffled duck call. He could say: “You know, Al, there seems to be no one in the NFL with the middle name Martine. Kofi Annan says it could be due to the fact that the parents of a lot of football-birthed children weren’t familiarized with French names, and to me that is a minor tragedy. I wonder what Disraeli might say?”

Dan Dierdorf — CBS is like Siberia for Dierdorf, who was used to getting his mug on the prime-time airwaves and gently reminding us that every player today is awesome, but not quite as good as he was. I say bring him and Gifford back.

New Orleans at Minnesota — Prediction: New Orleans. Can you believe the Vikings lost to the Falcons in Minneapolis just two years ago? No? Well, this oughta help you remember.

Miami at Oakland — Prediction: Oakland. Anything else is impossible.

Baltimore at Tennessee — Prediction: Tennessee. The final score will be 5-3.

Philadelphia at New York Giants — Prediction: Giants. This could be the ugliest game of the year. Full of penalties and punts.

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WILD CARD WEEKEND

Last Week: 9-6
Season Record: 151-83

There was a flattering story on me in a Minneapolis weekly newspaper. You don’t need to read it. If you have, let me make two corrections: I tour managed Gaunt, a group of Columbus misfits, while they toured with Nashville Pussy. I did not have the pleasure of tour managing Nashville Pussy, but I did smoke weed with them in the Denver/Boulder area. The rest of the time I watched them receive accolades from Gene Simmons and George Clinton, and hide from wayward porno stars, and wanna-be porno stars. I also watched their former bassist Corey Parks kick a few dudes in the face from the stage. They are a troubling band. Their manager Peter Davis is a genius. So is, in his own skewered way, their old sound guy, Minneapolis’ punk rock producer Tim Mac. He follows his own plan. Make a record with him. Secondly, I worked for the Associated Press in New York, for about two months, not Eau Claire. But I did work for the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. Working for the Associated Press was painful yet fun. It was a news factory. I had to leave. That’s when I started tour managing bands, and contemplating some of the Lord’s more difficult questions.

A few other things I need to clear up:

1) I broke up with YOU, okay? So just keep your yap shut.

2) Miami coach Dave Wannstedt’s mustache is beautiful. I never called it a cookie-duster.

3) The rules of floor hockey never mention free linoleum-burns. I’m sorry I used them.

As I am on vacation, I can’t write a lot now, but I will return to the computer to flesh out a few ideas. They may be posted or not. It is zero degrees where I am, and I sat in a plane for 19 hours yesterday.

Miami will beat Indianapolis.
New Orleans will beat St. Louis
Baltimore will smoke Denver.
Tampa Bay will beat Philadelphia.

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WEEK SEVENTEEN

Last Week: 8-7
Season Record: 142-77

Other Transactions.

Jacksonville at New York Giants — Montrell Oliver, 30, a sales associate at Bronx Couches, left for Riker’s Island Penitentiary. His collection of adult poems was allegedly “inadvertently mailed” to the actress Estelle Getty. Prediction: New York Giants.

San Francisco at Denver — Abe Yutters, 49, math teacher, took a leave of absence from Colorado Springs Lincoln Junior High after having overwhelming feelings of grief about a lawn-care lie he told his father in 1976. Prediction: Denver.

Buffalo at Seattle — Minnie Walker, 62, retired as dietician for the Seahawks. Her pleas for them to avoid Jack-In-the-Box went largely ignored. Prediction: Seattle.

Arizona at Washington — Daniel Patrick Moynihan retired from Senate. Prediction: Redskins.

Kansas City at Atlanta — Levi Sherpa, 19, got a new Graphix bong. Prediction: Kansas City. Attendance prediction: Under 15,000.

Chicago at Detroit — Wayne Fontes, ex-head coach of the Lions, got some new plumbing at his cottage. Prediction: Lions. Wish: Bears.

Tampa Bay at Green Bay — Noah Wurtzel, 20, left St. Norbert College after achieving an 0.49 G.P.A. He has joined the Best Buy Corp. as a sales associate. Prediction: Green Bay.

Miami at New England — Tammy Rae Eichelberger, 26, left Brassy’s, a strip club, to take some Spanish classes and work on dioramas of New England slaughter yards in the 1850’s. Prediction: New England.

St. Louis at New Orleans — Skeeziks Munson, 46, left his N.A. meetings, and now “operates out of” (his term) a one-room suite at the Lavender Inn. He requested cable and long-distance phone service. They denied it because he wouldn’t put down enough for a deposit. Prediction: New Orleans. They will go far in the playoffs, too. Sorry, Ditka.

Cincinnati at Philadelphia — Old Salts bought a 1987 Ford Taurus wagon. Prediction: Philadelphia.

New York Jets at Baltimore — We interrupt “Other Transactions” to say that the Jets have really disappointed everyone in New York this year, to the point of having to count on the Giants for football fun. And that is difficult. Prediction: Baltimore.

Pittsburgh at San Diego — Greg Afult, 39, of La Jolla, gave up his quest to create a “Smoking Singles” webpage when he spilled a peach Snapple on his “HTML for Dummies” text. He has taken to using his old “I was in the Merchant Marines” line at TGI Friday’s. Prediction: Pittsburgh, but don’t bet the spread against San Diego; they’re gonna try to play ugly and cruel.

Minnesota at Indianapolis — June Simmons, 48, changed her tune in her monthly confessional at St. Bede’s Church outside of Lafayette, IN. She now admits that her son Dwight will be a virgin for life not because of poor grooming, but because she euthanized his parrot Tony when he went canoeing against her wishes in the summer of 1982. Prediction: Minnesota, because they need it.

Carolina at Oakland — Mutt O’Gara, 56, left his three-month stint as a private dick to return to amateur bookmaking. His wife will still manage the Tarot Hut in Stockton, CA, as per his wishes. Prediction: Oakland.

Dallas at Tennessee — Troy Aikman, Cowboys’ Quarterback, will retire at season’s end. Prediction: Tennessee.

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WEEK SIXTEEN

Last Week: 11-4
Season Record: 142-77

We are proud to say that:
The McSweeney’s NFL Picks will be a staple of a certain Ivy League school’s English curriculum starting next semester. Details later. Additionally, I am available for speaking engagements/classroom activities and coloring, babysitting, water bongs, body painting, arts and/or crafts and minor sheetrocking and lathe work. Please email.

A message about football from our new President, George W. Bush:

I am happy to be presidenting the United States towards our further and cautious inching into the new and indeterminate millennial. My fondest hope about sports is that someone wins. And that is a cherished hope on my behalf because there can and will be a clear winner, unlike the five-week delay we endured at the hands of American Democrats during the last election, one in that, I was pronounced the sole winner by the Superior Court. I was pronounced “number uno” by many of you, and I offer a swift thank you.

Many NFL football teams are looking ahead at the playoff pictures and saying “How can I get in?” And with that, I have a wish for them all to make it, but only a few chosen can travel into the foggy future of playoffs. I think if a team loses, at this time of year, I can clear it up by saying, “Go home. You are out.” Unless, there is a round robin-effect that I am not certain of? Has a round robin-effect been passed into the playoff-tiered system of winner-determination? Most likely not. It is something we should look into though, if these boys want to keep challenging each other far into the winter of 2001. Lord knows they are getting the solid paychecks to entertain most of us. By the way, I am in ownership of a team of professionally seasoned baseball athletes. I think I still own the Texas Rangers. I can check, and probably has something back to you by the weekend. But I am not an aggressive owner, and on the sidelines or in the dugouts. I sit back and let them do their jobs, and then I send faxes if what I see doesn’t live up to my expected expectations and forecasts.

I know that you all would like to see a decrease in felonies committed by our pro athletes and I say, “I hear your pain.” How can I, as the President address this? Well, let me say that I go to football games, and many of them are great hosts, in fine stadiums and the culinary… nachos, hot dogs, with several condiments, are enjoyable. I think this is step number one, if we are to achieve something of epic and visionary impotence. I’m sure no one will disagree or unconcur with that. And now there is a ringing answer, I say look to our teams in Pensacola, Sacramento, and Tucson as BIG winners of close games. Those are fun bets. I’d make them with seniors or challenged citizens or YOU, any time. I’d wager an unopened cask of mother Bush’s Christmas porridge. I’ll also wager that in my four years, I will tackle this recession and make sure a lot more poor people have computers, if not to own, than to rent or look at. With the Micro, or, and, the Microsoft. And in terms of public transportation, and this ties into football too, there are traffic jams…on the way to work and games! I believe that if people rode mules it would lessen decongestion of our freeways, and make them safe for people who have nice cars and more important jobs. Get it? There are shortcuts to take with mules, too. Why, it wouldn’t be difficult to cut through steep mountain passes on a mule or even Newark City’s busy thorough-commons. I think if minority actors and singers rode them first, they’d get “cool,” but I am not above getting a Janet Reno, or a James Baker on a mule, or even one of those strong ostriches, if it will help people. And there is still bikes too. Jeez. That’s another thing, and we should ride them when it isn’t cold. And that solves that. Shit, I’m not even in office yet, and a lot of this stuff is clearing right up.

Finicky people will say, “Mr. Bush, you made a lot of money through oil, how can you endorse mule rides to busy football games in Milwaukee, Raleigh/Durham, and Boise?” and I will say, “It is something I should realistically examine more.” But I have not only compassionate conservatism, but happy hope, and playful pragmatism, and if need be, aggressive asshole-ism. So, if you think about it, there’s more thought we could all put into animal-based transportation, isn’t there? It shouldn’t be up solely to me, but to those who want, or have the desire to travel by mule. And if we did it incrementally, it could be a slow conversion.

So, I am looking forward to the next couple of rounds of the Super Bowl, and it is always nice that they are spread out through our country, our North American country of states that are united by wins and losses. And we all know that it is never over until it is completed, or done. We should take that to the bank.

Washington at Pittsburgh — Prediction: Pittsburgh.

Oakland at Seattle — Prediction: Oakland

New England at Buffalo — Prediction: Buffalo.

Jacksonville at Cincinnati — Prediction: Cincinnati, yes.

Tennessee at Cleveland — Prediction: Tennessee.

Denver at Kansas City — Prediction: Denver.

Green Bay at Minnesota — Prediction: Minnesota.

Atlanta at New Orleans — Prediction: New Orleans.

Detroit at New York Jets — Prediction: New York Jets.

San Diego at Carolina — Prediction: Carolina.

Chicago at San Francisco — Prediction: San Francisco.

Indianapolis at Miami — Prediction: Miami.

Baltimore at Arizona — Prediction: Baltimore, though they will have a let down.

New York Giants at Dallas — Prediction: New York Giants; they can taste the sweet boiled cake of victory.

St. Louis at Tampa Bay — Prediction: St. Louis, in a shocker.

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WEEK FIFTEEN

Last week: 12-3
Season: 131-73

Grades of previous weeks’ picks, and fan notes on tickets, etc. (We’re getting close to wrapping up the season, and there are some new readers, so this guide will tell you what to go back and relish, or what to avoid.)

New England at Chicago — Week 1. A strong and bizarre start. A-. From Wade Yudders, 39, DeKalb, IL. I got these tickets through Sunshine Insurance and Casualty. Some s.o.b. from there had been calling my daughter and trying to sell her an auto package, and then he went and gave her his home phone number. That wasn’t kosher with me. That’s a telemarketing no-no, and I should know. I sold fertilizer and lawn care premiums, via telephone, from 1991-1997. Took third in sales in ‘93, thank you very little. But I never did nothing like that, and that’s Gospel. So I got on and said, “Get me your boss.” His boss gets on and I say, “Vicki’s gonna be married in May, so she ain’t interested in your wares, capeesh?” He plays dumb and I said, “Ever heard of the Better Business Bureau? We don’t take calls from swinging singles at this number.” Then that jarred his morals, you know? He said “How about we settle this mano-a-mano?” I said, “I like the Bears.” And we got the tickets. Case closed. Prediction: Chicago.

Philadelphia at Cleveland — Week 2. I was rusty but there’s some good material if you search. Still, kinda weak. C. From Lionel Foster, 49, Cleveland Heights: I run a drum and bugle corps, and honestly Browns tickets weren’t what I had in mind, but I got outvoted. I like museums, and especially wax museums that feature old English lasses in frilly undergarments. But that’s neither here nor there, I suppose. I might usually say that I’m boss, but we have a lot of the kids dropping out, so I am kinda at the mercy of the program. We got a heck of a group discount, and I have some things I can work on in the stands if the gang doesn’t get too rowdy. We’ll try and have a good time. Prediction: Philadelphia.

Detroit at Green Bay — Week 3. The Bobby Knight story at the end is good, the rest stink. C-. From Mike Steinke, 29, DePere: Once upon a time, when I was doing a lot of pinch-hitters down in the rec room, I didn’t have enough pride to hold down a job for too long. I watched the Pack topple, um, whoever’s ass they kicked in the Super Bowl a few years ago, from a hospital bed, ‘cause I had some… I had a screw loose. That’s what the common terminology is. Then Father Tim came to see me, and I tried to get all tough with him, and he said to me, make a choice, basically. And I was gonna say get the heck outta here. And he said, coincidentally, ‘cause God is gonna say get the heck outta here. And I said, Gee Father Tim, I don’t think God would say that. And he said, Oh really Mike? You think you know what God would say? That’s pretty Goddamn funny. God is one tired bastard, and if you think he’s pleased as punch to see one of his flock making a pile of mistakes, well then you’re just as wrong as rain. And I said, God’s mad? And he said, God’s more than mad. So then we started bowling and taking walks, and I went to some crummy meetings, but I found out the crummy meetings helped me, and now I’m gonna go to my first professional football game sober, and I’m gonna try to leave my first professional football game sober. And to me the score won’t matter. Prediction: Packers.

Cincinnati at Tennessee — Week 4. Forgotten Moments in the Forgotten Football Leagues of America was top-notch. The rest of the picks were forced, and had a phoned-in feel. B. From Dwight Sliwka, 9, Athens, OH: I’ve been taping every Bengals game this season and then trying to run some of their more successful plays at recess. My yardage is down this year. It is sorta tough to throw after eating hot lunch. I have given up on the Bengals. Prediction: Tennessee.

Carolina at Kansas City — Week 5. The Randall Cunningham interview was good, and the fake e-mail was too, then the rest of the picks kind of sucked. B-. Prediction: Kansas City.

Tampa Bay at Miami — Week 6 was genius. A. Prediction: Miami.

Pittsburgh at New York Giants — Week 7. The “ham” story is sort of funny. C. One exercise I often try is pretending that Steelers’ coach Bill Cowher is really into the Dave Matthews Band. And he’s in his office with steel-blue sunglasses on, and headphones on, and an Austin 3:16 shirt on, and no one’s gonna get him down. That way, when I run out of things he does that bother me, I fall back on that. Of course, pretending Giants’ coach Jim Fassel takes Jacuzzis with his team in vintage corduroy OP shorts while eating baby Three Musketeers bars isn’t a bad device either. Prediction: New York Giants, in bad weather.

Arizona at Jacksonville — Week 8. The Team Fight Songs idea was good. A. This game thunders of Zubaz. There might be more people at this game whose parents bailed and cajoled them out of long jail sentences than at any other game in recent memory. There will be a lot of pig cooking in the parking lot. And there will be women who drink beer and women who drink wine coolers. They won’t fight about that, though; they’re all there to party. Prediction: Jacksonville.

San Diego at Baltimore — Week 9. The Pep Talks. Good, but the rest was flat. B. Prediction: Baltimore.

Seattle at Denver — Week 10. A misfire. Some laughs. Not many, though. C-. My best gal goes to Denver for the weekend. I will miss her. But she won’t be at the game. Prediction: Denver.

Washington at Dallas — Week 11. Elaborate election-based conceit. Full of detail, yet not overly hilarious. C+. Prediction: Washington.

Minnesota at St. Louis — Week 12. “If/Then” picks. Enjoyable. Especially the New Orleans one. B. Prediction: St. Louis.

New Orleans at San Francisco — Week 13. All over the place. Some genius. Some crap. C+. Prediction: San Francisco.

New York Jets at Oakland — Go to mrbellersneighborhood.com and look for a story about the Jets and halftime in the archive. It is a brilliant tale. Prediction: Oakland.

Buffalo at Indianapolis — Week 14. “If this game were a…” picks. Decent concept. Okay execution. B. Prediction: Buffalo, because Indianapolis is getting worse.

- - - -

WEEK FOURTEEN

Last week: 7-8
Season: 119-70

Detroit at Minnesota — If this game were a beer: It would be pretty warm, and pretty light. The ad campaign would be flashy. You would want to buy it, but midway through, you’d be disappointed. Then your kid would find the rest of the six-pack in the garbage and drink it all. He’d take your family wagon through the front window of a credit union and do four years at a reform school. He’d really know to play the bugle when he got out and you’d just shake your head. Prediction: Vikings.

Seattle at Atlanta — If this game were a beach: The sand would be fake. No one would be there, and yet you’d feel claustrophobic. Your parents would call you on the cell phone that was sitting on your towel. The family dog would be missing. The sun would hide behind some clouds. You’d weep. Prediction: Atlanta.

Miami at Buffalo — If this game were a car: It would be a rusty Pontiac Fiero. The cloth seats would be doused with Polo by Ralph Lauren. One window wouldn’t roll up. There’d always be the faint smell of exhaust coming in. Hence, you figure, the cologne. It would always make you mad. Prediction: Miami.

Arizona at Cincinnati — If this game were a trampoline: It would be missing the trampoline part. And the lawn underneath it wouldn’t have been mowed. Prediction: Cincinnati.

Denver at New Orleans — If this game were an airport: There’d be a bar called Mickey’s. Everyone would be drinking Black Russians. There’d be a shop where you could buy a flag from every state in the union. A hippie from a cancelled flight would be playing a Tracy Chapman song on a steel drum. Prediction: New Orleans.

Tennessee at Philadelphia — If this game were a belt: It would be black. The notches would be all worn in. There’d be a scuff from the time your ex-wife tried to hit you with it. The jailer would take this belt away when you went to the slammer for trying some weird fraudulent thing at Nobody Beats the Wiz. Prediction: Tennessee.

Oakland at Pittsburgh — If this game were a can of tuna: It would be the kind nobody buys except lonely blue-collar workers and single moms who play the Lotto. There’d be a story a tough guy would catch in Reader’s Digest about all the vitamins in tuna. He’d call his ma about an infection and she’d grill him on his diet. He’d go to the store and say, “Tuna’s tuna,” and buy it. Prediction: Pittsburgh.

Dallas at Tampa Bay — If this game were a suntan lotion: It would smell strangely of apricot and broken promises. Prediction: Tampa Bay.

New York Giants at Washington — If this game were a meeting: Someone would be getting chewed out for forgetting to cc Donald about the third-quarter slump due to an outbreak of the flu in some Midwestern states. The person getting chewed out would insist it wasn’t his fault. Someone else would say, “That’s no excuse.” When the meeting ended, the not-my-fault guy would drive home and hear a song by the band Bread, and think of all the people in the world who don’t love him. Then he’d get the sports page and read it at a Blimpie. Prediction: Washington.

St. Louis at Carolina — If this game were a mugging: It would be fast, ugly, and not much would be taken, because you’d have a twenty and your house keys in your sock, because you know better. Prediction: Carolina.

San Francisco at San Diego — If this game were your old high school crush: She’d be on the phone trying to sell bulk cleaning products to hotels and nursing homes. You’d remember a postcard she once sent that said, “Sink or Swim.” You’d start looking for an old snorkel. Prediction: San Francisco.

Indianapolis at New York Jets — If this game were lightning: It would go through the head of an old sheep on a wet hill who was going to die anyway. Prediction: New York Jets.

Cleveland at Jacksonville — If this game were a family on vacation: Two children wouldn’t be talking because one forgot to ask for syrup on his waffles at the last stop, and resents the one who said “Maple” when it was her turn. The father would be drinking decaf coffee by accident, and the mother would be trying to think of when she quit smoking. Prediction: Jacksonville.

Green Bay at Chicago — If this game were actually a game: It would say, "Remember when we used to be a Monday Night Football Game? And then it would say, “Yeah,” and sigh longingly. Prediction: Green Bay.

Kansas City at New England — If this game were a truant officer: It would be out of bed early, but never fair. Prediction: New England.

- - - -

WEEK THIRTEEN

Last week: 8-7
Season: 112-62

New Orleans at St. Louis — If you visit my predictions from last Thanksgiving, you’ll know that a lot of “special” things have happened to me on and about this holiday. This year has been no exception. Last night, I went to see a band that I had to write about for my real job: The Wu-Tang Clan. Their new record, The W, came out yesterday. I tracked them around town for a while this fall, and got to know them in that shallow, yet lovable, way that only a journalist can. The guy I really love, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, hadn’t been able to do much for the record because he was in a rehab facility in California, under court orders, and couldn’t get out much. Do a web search on him if you want a run-down of all the trouble he’s in. He’s been shot, has 13 kids, got into a gunfight with the NYPD and sued them, and been busted for drugs a couple of times. He’s also saved a couple of people’s lives. He’s fucked up, but he’s a superhero. About a month and a half ago, he snuck away, got hold of a cell phone, made a bunch of calls, and then quietly returned to the facility. He knew he’d be in more trouble, but everything seemed A-OK. The band talked a lot about missing him and praying for him and all that stuff, and then a week or two after the cell phone incident, he ran away from the facility for good. The cops weren’t happy. The judges weren’t happy. No one knew where he was, or at least that’s what they said. It kind of tarnished the whole project, because he is such a big part of what the Wu-Tang Clan is all about. Anyway, for their record release party, Wu-Tang played the Hammerstein Ballroom, which holds around 2,000-3,000 people. It took 45 minutes to get in. The people sneaking ahead of me in line weren’t the sort of characters one would reprimand for such behavior. Wu-Tang decided, in a show of goodwill, to give their fans an open bar. So I got a few in me. They’d only give you one at a time, but I told the bartender that my friends were in the bathroom, so she gave me enough drinks for all of “them.” Apparently that’s what everyone else did too. Several times. It was pure chaos from the word go. So the show starts and the group does a few songs, and then the piano sample from Ol’ Dirty’s hit “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” comes on and the group leader RZA announces they have a special guest. Dirty, on the lam from every authority under the sun, comes out and does his stuff. The place went ballistic. It was genius, and inspirational in a Rocky Balboa sort of way. Then me and my gal bailed in the middle of the last song to beat the crowd. Out in front, in a giant orange parka, with a couple of thug handlers, Ol’ Dirty Bastard walked by. He made it past all the cops. They had no idea who he was. I went to shake his hand but the handlers told us to get the hell away from him and stop drawing attention. Then he stopped and shook our hands and asked, “Hey who loves you?” I said, “ODB,” and he said, “You goddamn right.” It was only on the cab ride home that I got the idea of inviting him over for Thanksgiving. Prediction: St. Louis.

Chicago at New York Jets — Please email me about spare tickets for this contest. That is your first priority. Prediction: New York Jets.

New England at Detroit — Why I Think I’d Be a Good Ref, by Bill Pertlund, Jr., of Livonia, Michigan: Well, let me see. One thing is I like the game of football, and am fair and impartial to “most” causes. I put “most” in quotes, because there’s a lot of cocksuckers out there who don’t deserve an even break. Like the ones who toilet-papered my house on last 31 October. When my wife and children were taking it down (it must’ve taken six hours), I sat on the sofa thinking about why someone would do something like that to a decent family man like me. I presume it was jealousy. No one who vandalizes would get a fair shake from me in the NFL. That’s just how it works. And I’m sure the Commissioner would agree. I might turn a blind eye to the occasional late hit or face mask, but if I heard an S.O.B. on either squad had once egged a house or some such, I’d be on his case like a broken jar of molasses all afternoon. But I like my sales job right now, and to be honest, I don’t believe they’d want someone like Bill “Eagle Eye” Pertlund determining what’s fair in the NFL or not. They’re all just a bunch of spoiled millionaires anyway. That reminds me about the time I got kicked off of jury duty, simply because I thought arson wasn’t all that abominable. Unless you are the victim of it. And I agree that might not be pleasant, but a felony? Come on, people! But, none of this would come into play if I was on the sideline in my zebra stripes. Yes, I think I have the “goods.” And the “goods” are the skills and fairness to put me in the upper echelon of referees today. Prediction: Detroit.

Minnesota at Dallas — Pre-Thanksgiving Tension, Volume One: In line for my morning waffles in the corporate cafeteria, a woman was blathering on and on about how there’s no way she was getting on a plane for the holidays. “Everyone flying today usually never flies, and they start spazzing out over the dumbest things. I refuse to fly with them.” I instantly had about 90 comments I needed to keep to myself. Here are two: 1) No, ma’am, they are “spazzing” because the airlines overbook everything, and don’t care how they treat you. Try getting stalled on the runway for 93 minutes after you land because the airport you’re flying to doesn’t have enough gates to accommodate all those Delta flights from LaGuardia that they try to space 15 minutes apart, and then tell me if you’re feeling anxious or uncomfortable. 2) Oh, you are so right, what we really need is tons more seasoned business travelers like you, waddling and frowning their way through the terminals, towing their lunchbox-on-wheels-shaped luggage (who invented that thing, anyway?), clacking away on their laptops, stripping all the little newsstands of any Tums or Preparation H they might have, reading Dilbert and Motley Fool books, and sipping decaf lattes while studying the Airport CNN stock ticker. Please, let us losers learn from you. You are such jovial travelers, and are often filled with profound and insightful comments on airlines, the Lord, your taxes, your mother-in-law’s back, Dave Stieb’s ERA in 1984, a homely broad you had your way with in a Topeka frathouse, and stellar discounts in the new Delia’s catalog. Go to hell, business people of America. Do not breed. Do not quote anything to me from me Chicken Soup for the Totally Lame Soul, just get the hell out of my way. Forever. Prediction: Minnesota.

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati — How I Invented the Team Name “Bengals,” by Ward Walker of Dayton, Ohio. It’s really simple. I got fired from my promotions job at Proctor and Gamble right about the time the NFL decided they needed a franchise in Cincinnati. I was at home, feverishly cutting out pictures of Richard Dawson from the TV Guide and gluing them to my cabinets. My shades were always drawn, and I worked in a haze of menthol smoke. Back then “Hogan’s Heroes” was pretty much my whole life, and that’s maybe why I got fired, but I shan’t go into that now. Anyway, like I said, I would go out for coffee a lot in the afternoons ‘cause I didn’t have a job anymore, and I would think to myself, “If Richard Dawson were nude, and needed to travel, what would he do?” I thought about that a lot. I used to picture his nude buttocks sweating on the maroon leather seats of a 1940s wood-paneled station wagon, with a smiling Collie in the back, on its way to Maine, where I’d already be slaving over some squash, and iced tea in a cottage kitchen. (Did I say I drank a lot of coffee, and fought, and played a mean game of billiards?) Then Richard would get stuck in traffic, and I’d commit suicide. I really would. So then I pictured him riding to my rescue on a horse, and getting me my job back. Lousy heathens. Telling those old cronies at P&G, “Ward’s done with his medicine! You’ll never get him to swallow another drop!” But the horse really didn’t do it. I had a cousin who was kicked in the temple by a mule, and the best he can do is work the pretzel-turner at the Sims Mall. So I pictured us in the jungle. Like a “Gilligan’s Island” situation. And there was a Bengal who’d take us to the market so we could get papaya. And that was that. I sent it in to headquarters on a box of Premium saltines, and I won. They never believed me. But I named them for Richard. Come back to me. Prediction: Cincinnati.

Buffalo at Tampa Bay — Prediction: Buffalo as Tampa’s slide continues.

Philadelphia at Washington — Andy Reid is not pretty. Prediction: Philadelphia.

Cleveland at Baltimore — Prediction: Art Modell will get turned southward at the Pearly Gates, but Baltimore will win.

Atlanta at Oakland — Prediction: Oakland.

Miami at Indianapolis — This was a genius contest last year. Remember Dan Marino? Neither do I. Both teams are like people who get good grades by memorizing stuff, but when they have to write an essay, they get blown out of the water and even the state schools reject them. Prediction: Indianapolis.

Kansas City at San Diego — Prediction: Kansas City.

Denver at Seattle — Prediction: Seattle.

Tennessee at Jacksonville — Prediction: Tennessee.

New York Giants at Arizona — Anemia. Prediction: New York Giants.

Green Bay at Carolina — No one will watch. Prediction: Green Bay.

WEEK TWELVE

Last week: 12-3
Season: 104-55

San Diego at Denver — If a guy at a Colorado Springs hardware store, in talking to the clerk about his checking account, utters the phrase “lick my wounds,” then San Diego will win by forty points. Prediction: Denver.

Indianapolis at Green Bay — If someone in a sportcoat equipped with a hood in Section GG says, “But I kinda liked Lynn Dickey,” then the Packers will win on a score that originated from a fake punt in 1924 but is still vaguely being played out on a side street in Shawano. Prediction: Packers.

Cleveland at Tennessee — If anyone on the Cleveland Browns eats, within 17 hours of kickoff, custard from a recipe by an old Russian uncle, then Tennessee will win by 36 points. Prediction: Tennessee.

Buffalo at Kansas City — If a father in a suburban Kansas City home covertly flushes an omelet down the toilet due to the fact that he thinks his wife is trying to poison him again, because he drank a case of Icehouse beer one night last summer and told her to “Knock that Avon shit off, or else,” then Kansas City will win by ten points. Prediction: Kansas City.

Carolina at Minnesota — If Minnesota defender John Randle has a daydream about saving a talking otter from a shoddily constructed swingset in New Zealand, and they subsequently hold a big parade for him, let him eat his special chocolate crown, make him a tie out of whipped cream so he has to tuck his chin to his chest to eat it, and offer him a semi full of dumplings, then the Vikings will lose by one point. Prediction: Minnesota.

Cincinnati at New England — If a trolley car full of Bengals fans travels to Foxboro, and they hold that town’s diminutive mayor (who likes it when peanut butter is stuck to the roof of his mouth) captive with machetes, frozen waffles, and a rope of 20,000 tube socks filled with tarragon, demanding that the Patriots score on themselves, “Just once, at the start of the game,” then the Bengals will win. Prediction: New England.

Oakland at New Orleans — If a guy in New Orleans looks in his mirror before a date on Saturday night and pretends he’s a gangster named Pickles, and lip syncs “Who Let the Dogs Out?” all the way over to his second cousin’s house (he’s taking her out for a shrimp hoagie), then the game will end in a tie. Prediction: New Orleans.

Detroit at New York Giants — If half a row of spectators are annoyed by a guy in sweatpants talking (and obviously lying) to his friend for nearly three quarters of the game about daiquiris and the most passionate night of lovemaking of his life, then I will drag him out of the stands and beat him like an old rag. Prediction: New York Giants.

Arizona at Philadelphia — Not worthy of If/Then commentary. Prediction: Philadelphia.

New York Jets at Miami — If an ad for an Internet company that offers free Bacos with their standard video delivery service comes on during the first half, then the Jets will turn the ball over nine times in the second half. Prediction: Miami.

Atlanta at San Francisco — If the NFL would quit pretending Atlanta is a West Coast team, then I might not have to keep making my special phone calls. Prediction: San Francisco.

Dallas at Baltimore — If this game were taking place in 1977 (and involved the Colts, not the Ravens), then I would be there. By the way, I saw brass molds of Roger Staubach’s hands in a Dallas hospital over the weekend. And Andre the Giant’s, too. Let me just say this: It wouldn’t matter if Andre were impotent. Prediction: Baltimore.

Jacksonville at Pittsburgh — If a kitchen worker at a Pittsburgh hotel restaurant decides he’s not gonna “warsh” his mitts anymore, then Jacksonville deserves to win, but won’t. Prediction: Pittsburgh.

Washington at St. Louis — If a priest in St. Louis says, “I went to the Irving School, down the road. I got bad ears, ’cause I grew up near the can factory. For a long time they thought I was nuts,” at a Friday fish fry, then St. Louis will win by running back a kick that should have been a touchback but wasn’t. Prediction: St. Louis.

Tampa Bay at Chicago — If a man in the parking lot says, “My ma hates the rain,” and no one answers, then the Bears will lose by 21 or more. Prediction: Tampa Bay.

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WEEK ELEVEN

Last week: 9-6
Season: 92-52

This year’s Presidential election and all its problems have forced me to suggest new rules and regulations (I will call them “regs”) for professional football games this week. These regs should help with scoring, and further the understanding of the game for casual spectators.

New England at Cleveland — At this game, anyone sitting in the upper deck who is named Darrold or has received a haircut (within the last 45 [forty-five] months) from a man named Darrold (or Darrell) gets to pretend he is either A) a Medieval prince who was unfairly castrated, and is thus entitled to free turkey drumsticks (and hashish where applicable) for the first 4 (four) minutes of each quarter, or B) a loud choo-choo train named “Tim,” who can feel free and happy to make train noises when something “good” happens for the team he is rooting for, without fear of taking a cup of warm domestic beer in the back of his head. The something “good” shall be negotiated with a league official 35 (thirty-five) minutes prior to kick-off. Prediction: Cleveland.

Green Bay at Tampa Bay — Break. No NFL game revived my fading passion as much as the Green Bay vs. Minnesota contest on Monday night. Thanks. Prediction: Green Bay, stupidly.

Cincinnati at Dallas — Any time a field goal is unsuccessfully attempted, the opposing team shall either get 10,000 points, or 5 (five) of its heaviest players will get an unmolested 30 (thirty) yard running start at the helmetless kicker and his children. They may choose to either tackle them, beat them, or “hackle” them. “Hackle” means a really heavy emotional hug. That ought to make the kicker, who will be astonished (presumably), feel better about his big fucking mistake. Prediction: Dallas. Bonus Prediction: Aikman, give it up already. (I know that is not a prediction.)

Baltimore at Tennessee — Each man on each team will get to cast his ballot at halftime for who he thinks is the saddest (or ugliest, and “ugly” shall be determined by excessive nostril hairs, pimples, teeth that have not properly been cleaned of plaque, warts, bruises, etc.) player on the other team. If the player votes correctly (to be determined by that team’s coach’s wife and her female siblings or half or step siblings), he will be known forever as intuitive, and the guys on his team can come to him for marital advice, or just troubles with their babies’ mamas, for a period of 3 (three) months. Prediction: Tennessee.

Arizona at Minnesota — Each team gets 3 (three) illegal touches and one hammer. The illegal touches are defined as improper bowel grabbing and gestures, but may also include the use of steel wool in the second half. The hammer is only to be used by the defense on pass plays of 30 (thirty) yards or more to receivers over 200 (two hundred) pounds. Pounds shall be referred to by everyone in attendance as “libs.” The term “Sexual Rice” may also be used by the losing team in the press conference after the game, without fear of league retribution or financial penalty. Prediction: Minnesota.

Philadelphia at Pittsburgh — No new regs for this game. Prediction: Philadelphia.

New Orleans at Carolina — All the former governors of either Carolina state who haven’t died yet may attend this game for free, provided they wear black watch suspenders and tell 4 (four) jokes about farm machinery that has overturned on a small family of possums, or a mentally-challenged Leprechaun named Oliver who put a hex on a mischievous goat at the State (any state) Fair in 1927. If any team scores exactly 33 (thirty-three) points in 1 (one) half, they get 19 (nineteen) percent of their opponent’s (by position) salary, and free boil and cyst removal for 1 (one) year by Dr. Paul Fontaine of Charlotte. Prediction: New Orleans, your Super Bowl Champion.

Seattle at Jacksonville — Both of these teams disgust me. Prediction: Seattle, reluctantly.

Miami at San Diego — On the Saturday before this game, the hotheaded San Diego quarterbacks (Jim Harbaugh and Ryan Leaf) will be given a lie detector test for no apparent reason other than the fact that it will anger them. Then they will have to drink a mixture of molasses (86%), water (10%) and salt (4%) for liquid refreshment during the game. Every incomplete pass they throw will count as 1 (one) free first down for their opponents. Prediction: Miami by 20.

Kansas City at San Francisco — Who cares? Prediction: San Francisco. They will never let Grbac come back for a win.

Chicago at Buffalo — In this contest, defensive players from either team who have facial hair shall be awarded half a fumble recovery whenever they converge within 5 (five) yards of a sweep running play in the first and third quarters, regardless of physical contact. Should an offensive player actually fumble on one of these plays, the defensive player with facial hair who recovers it shall be awarded 1.75 fumble recoveries. Any player totaling 5 (five) or more of these new-fangled fumble recoveries in 1 (one) game may redeem them (in certificate form) for sorbet or gelato (that should not be warmer than 31 [thirty-one] degrees Fahrenheit) at Target stores that have a deli that features chilled desserts. Should said player be allergic to a chilled dessert, he may turn it over to the charity of his choice within 72 (seventy-two) hours after his post-game shower, after notifying the league office, his equipment manager and the parents of any and all sick toddlers (age 11 [eleven] months to 5 [five] years) in a surrounding 32 (thirty-two)-mile radius. Prediction: Buffalo.

St. Louis at New York Giants — St. Louis will lose. Hopefully Ice-Breakers gum will be given to the first 10,000 fans entering the stadium. That would really be awesome. Prediction: New York Giants. (See initial sentence)

New York Jets at Indianapolis — Both teams must not curse, but only use the phrase “bull puckey.” All players will be miked and monitored throughout the stands by junior high students who won a contest through a local YMCA. They must also call opponents “show-offs” and one offensive lineman must remain on one of those tricycles with the 41 (forty-one) foot front tire for the second half. If he falls off, it counts as a turnover and 2 (two) points are removed from the trike-faller-offer’s team. Prediction: Indianapolis.

Oakland at Denver — Any fan spilling any sort of peanut shell or crumb or fluid ounce of ANY beverage shall receive liposuction in an area of the liposucker’s choice, in the parking lot following the game. The liposuction will not be optional. Prediction: Denver.

Atlanta at Detroit — This contest will be played under the Bobby Ross Exemption Rule. If Detroit loses, Bobby Ross must come back and coach them until he dies. And, yes, he will be under suicide watch. If Atlanta loses, their punter must go to prison for life. His story will be featured on CBS, in prime-time, for the first 8 (eight) months of his sentence. Prediction: Detroit.

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WEEK TEN

Last week: 7-7
Season: 83-46

Buffalo at New England — Awkward Phone Conversations During Football Games This Season, Volume One:
Dougie Mack: You gonna cough up that dough for the Pittsburgh game?
Duane: Oh yeah. No sweat. I get paid on Tuesday.
Dougie Mack: Bullshit. I got a little niece who works at Home Depot, and they paid her ass Friday.
Duane: Oh yeah. Shit, they must have changed it.
Dougie Mack: Listen, I already got your kid’s bike in my friggin’ trunk.
Duane: Oh… that’s okay. He can’t really ride it that well. Enjoy!
Dougie Mack: I don’t want the bike. I want my goddamn money.
Duane: Yeah. Tuesday. Well, enjoy the bike!
Prediction: New England.

Tampa Bay at Atlanta — This game crackles with high-octane intensity. I won’t miss it. When I am under the covers on Sunday morning making my to-do list with an old crayon on a cotton handkerchief stolen from the neighbor’s laundry, I can only think of one activity that I will be compelled to witness in the afternoon. Save me some Diet Dr. Pepper and Funyuns. I am more fond of that guy who throws the football for Tampa Bay than any other professional sportsman in recent years. What a son-of-a-gun! This game will be played in Hotlanta! So watch out! Prediction: Tampa Bay.

Indianapolis at Chicago — Nothing says autumn in Chi-town better than a crisp Sunday afternoon, some sort of brazier cuisine and a solid 1-7 football team. Prediction: Chicago.

Baltimore at Cincinnati — Third time’s the charm. Prediction: Cincinnati.

New York Giants at Cleveland — Awkward Phone Conversations During Football Games This Season, Volume Two:
Uncle Harold: I’ve got these salads that Vicki brings over around 3 p.m. It restores my iron.
Tim: Oh.
Uncle Harold: I’m losing a lot of iron, and Vicki thinks the lettuce might thwart that a bit. Depletion, they call it. It’s gonna happen to you, too. Your genes.
Tim: Ah.
Uncle Harold: Oscar is coming in for Thanksgiving, but I haven’t operated my oven since Easter. Are you coming? Your Aunt could use help draining my cyst.
Tim: Maybe.
Uncle Harold: What kinda cockamamie shit is that?
Prediction: New York Giants.

Miami at Detroit — Prediction: Detroit.

Pittsburgh at Tennessee — Prediction: Tennessee.

San Francisco at New Orleans — Awkward Conversations During Football Games This Season, Volume Three:
Dad: Jerome?
Jerome: Yello.
Dad: Quit screening your calls. Ma got your pirate costume out the other night.
Jerome: No she didn’t.
Dad: Yeah. She went off her meds and she and Mrs. Lawrence went trick-or-treating.
Jerome: That shouldn’t be happening, Dad.
Dad: Well, I was working.
Jerome: You’re retired.
Dad: No I’m not.
Jerome: Dad, you’re 83.
Dad: I signed up for the greeter at Red Lobster.
Jerome: So you were working the door at Red Lobster on Halloween?
Dad: Yeah, I had to take this one poor bastard out through the kitchen. He got into the sake.
Jerome: So Red Lobster has sake now?
Dad: Nah, he brung it himself.
Jerome: Anyway…
Dad: Your ma got some good candy though. Whatever happened to Bit O’ Honeys?
Jerome: Ah…
Dad: Think for a minute about honey today, Jerome. Your former Governor Lee Dreyfus’ wife once called it nothing more than bee poop. If that’s—
Jerome: My other line is clicking…
Dad: If that’s poop, then I have to rethink this whole poop thing, ya know? Here. Lemme get your ma on the horn.
Prediction: New Orleans.

Dallas at Philadelphia — Prediction: Philly.

Washington at Arizona — Prediction: Washington.

Kansas City at Oakland — Prediction: Oakland.

Denver at New York Jets — Let’s talk a little bit about New York. Yesterday (and I am under no promotional obligation to write about this) I went to a thing at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square called WhiskeyFest 2000. Now. Jesus. Insanity. Imagine all the white fat guys that you know of who have red faces and heart problems, and like buffets. Now picture them all together, and throw whiskey into the equation. Of course, I brought a female. Nothing says true love like “Wanna go to a whiskey convention?” But we did. I loaded up on lukewarm meatballs and the kind of cheese that tastes like a sick Cocker Spaniel’s ears. Then we went to a bunch of little booths. Maker’s Mark gave me a free glass but I lost it somewhere. We met a lonesome Scottish guy, wearing the family plaid, doling out the family juice. King’s Crest, at 100 proof, was the smoothest. Tasted like water. There was another weird brand that tasted like wet ragg wool socks that was 120 proof. Come to think of it, they all tasted like that. Proof isn’t the best gauge for whiskey sampling, but for me, if it is high-proof, that requires less effort on my part. Less lifting and swallowing. Prediction: New York Jets.

San Diego at Seattle — Prediction: Seattle

Carolina at St. Louis — Prediction: St. Louis

Minnesota at Green Bay — Football Books I Have Penned Since 1924:
Foottron 2100
Foottron 2101: Science Toes and the Special Ball
Nate Thurmond: Skipping Debate Class for a Sneak Peak at the Philistine Hussies who Root for the Big Dumb Guys
Lance Stukko: Gridiron Glory
Lance Stukko: Gridiron Glory 2
Lance Stukko: Goalpost Glory
Lance Stukko: Goalpost Glory 2
Lance Stukko: Goalpost Glory (En Espanol)
Lance Stukko: Gridiron Great Turned Private Dick
Mort Ullap: Tough Guy Coach
Mort Ullap: Bastard with a Heart of Gold
Mort Ullap: Vinegar Veins
Mort Ullap: Hiding in the Locker room to Defuse a Commie Bomb
Mort Ullap: Hiding in the Stands Looking For Grandma’s Kidney Thief
Daddy’s Little Fullback
Daddy’s Little Fullback at the State Tournament
Daddy’s Little Fullback: Drinking Binge at Taft High
Daddy’s Little Fullback: The Twin Brother I Never Knew I Had Sets the Rushing Record at Pomona High
Ace Drago: Sex and the Chubby Nose Guard
Ace Drago: Prison Yard Touchdown
Ace Drago: Convict With a Rifle Arm
Ace Drago: I Made Good on My Promise to Kill You
Ace Drago: Back in the Slammer
4th and Ten
4th and Ten II: The Stories We Couldn’t Tell You
4th and Ten III: More Stories We Couldn’t Tell You
Mike Nixon: Sophomore Place Kicker
Mike Nixon: Junior Place Kicker
Mike Nixon: Place Kicker & Cross-Dresser
Mike Nixon: Kicked Off The Team
Mike Nixon: Lawsuit!
Mike Nixon: Taking Football Abroad: Iranian Skirmish
Prediction: Green Bay.

- - - -

WEEK NINE

Last Week: 10-4. (I forgot to add my Tampa Bay vs. Lions pick, which, to be honest, I would have lost on, ’cause I thought Tampa Bay was due for a win, but now I know that the fix is in. They are trying to play bad. But, who told you the Rams were gonna lose their first game of the season last week? Me.)

Season: 74-39.

Carolina at Atlanta — The Worst Pep Talks Ever Given, Volume One. Art Gudratz, Pensacola Fighting Shrimp, Pop Warner League, October 19th, 1984. Halftime.

“So… don’t hang your heads, gang. Let me tell you, briefly, if an abbreviated version can do any justice to this story, about a small panda with a heart as big as a big whale. A whale that exists in the ocean, and probably the cold and shitty part of the ocean, but this is about a panda. And I know we’re down by 47 points. And a lot of you got the measles, and irregular body temperatures, and some of your elderly kin were trapped by the hurricane over in the Key Biscayne HoJo’s last week, and ended up starving to death, and I know it is hard to cope. But this was the Pequeño Panda of Chapultepec. And he coulda said, ‘Oh Jesus Christ, I am just a small little panda stuck in a Mexican zoo, and most of my teeth will probably fall out due to the fact that the zookeeper doesn’t watch while little kids are throwing Mexican chocolates into my, err, ahhh… pen, and then I can’t resist eating them.’ But by the time he got older, that S.O.B. made it onto a postage stamp, and this Mexican John Denver guy had written a song, and he wound up in a nation’s hearts, and a lot of foreign language classes in the good ol’ U.S. of A., which last time I checked was the best friggin’ country on the map, or globe, or whatever. So, it was a clever panda that did it. He solved a bunch of crimes, and had to hide in an attic for a while with his family too, I think, ‘cause there were a lot of panda serial killers then, not pandas who were serial killers but serial killers who targeted pandas. And if the Pequeño Panda of Chapultepec were here, in our humble locker room, he would say, ’Listen, you stew-eating bastards, get off your duffs and get out there and make those 47 points back, or Coach Good-Story is gonna have you running windsprints until you puke on the graves of your damn grandparents. Capeesh?’” Prediction: Atlanta.

Oakland at San Diego — Prediction: Oakland, your future Super Bowl Champion.

Tennessee at Washington — Prediction: Tennessee.

New York Jets at Buffalo — The Worst Pep Talks Ever Given, Volume Two. Earl Duffy, St. Alban’s Senior High, Carbondale, Illinois, November 12, 1994. Speech given to players at the end of a 0-11 season.

“Things could have been worse. A lot worse. There’s a certain coach I know, who let’s just say, he didn’t always ride a boy’s bike, if you know what I mean. That wasn’t easy. I’m not gonna point any fingers and say who it was, but it was really tough. Because he was born a boy, but his ma didn’t want a strapping little toddler swaddled in light blue. She had her mind set on pink. His ma didn’t always take her meds back then, and a lot of things that were wrong with his ma’s brain hadn’t been figured out by modern science. So, it wasn’t some kinda mean trick, and he harbors no ill will towards his ma, but she raised him as a broad until he was nine years old. Yeah, nine years, three months, and eight days. Then he got fed up and pushed her down the basement stairs, and the Department of Health and Human Services came and saw him in a dress, and he said, ‘Get me outta this dress, I ain’t a girl.’ Then they got him outta the dress and he lived with a new foster family in a new town, ‘cause imagine living in the same small town after you had been made to look girlish for nearly a decade? And things got better after he talked to this one head-shrinker who used a lot of felt hand puppets and had some pretty cool race-car wallpaper in his office. But once he ran into a kid from his old school named Jimmy at a gas station and Jimmy wouldn’t shut his yap about how the coach used to be a girl. And the coach sort of snapped, and then the coach had to serve a little time at the old hotel with no windows, if you catch my import. Like two years. And sometimes the coach was made to feel like a girl again there, too. So, then the coach needed to get in touch with some more of his emotions. And now the coach feels pretty damn good. But for a while, it wasn’t too pretty. So I wouldn’t worry that we lost every game this year.” Prediction: New York Jets.

Cincinnati at Cleveland — Well, Cincinnati got their one win this year. Prediction: Cleveland.

Detroit at Indianapolis — Prediction: Indianapolis.

Green Bay at Miami — Green Bay is terrible but they have a hex on Miami coach Dave Wannstedt that can never be lifted. Prediction: Green Bay.

Minnesota at Tampa Bay — Now Minnesota will lose their first game of the season.

Pittsburgh at Baltimore — The Worst Pep Talks Ever Given, Volume Three. Ward Pullick, Houston Hired Hands, Continental Semi-Pro League, September 6th, 1979. Speech given before game with Austin Sheriffs.

“I know some of you have had your difficulties with sheriffs before, but this team, they are not real sheriffs, okay? Can you boys get a handle on that? It is just a mascot. Like we are called the Hired Hands. And I know many of you are, in fact, hired hands off the field, too. Like a lot of you will do chores up at the Old Haunted Mansion this year when it gets close to Halloween and the Jaycees wanna do their show. I’m sure you’ll all job on for a couple bucks an hour and then probably blow it all on snuff and booze and poker and whatnot, but… So, when we get on the field there shouldn’t be any reason to let these punks incarcerate you. And if they give you that routine where they whisper to you about having a badge when you’re at the line of scrimmage, you can’t fall for it. Last time we played them, well, if I didn’t love you all so much, I would have to say, only a fucking half-wit would fall for that. And some of you just gave them the football, like, 11 or 12 times because of that, and we were subsequently beaten 106-9. You just turned the ball over to them, and then got down on all fours and stayed put while they scored touchdowns. They took their time, too. You didn’t see how they waited near the goal line, smoking cigarettes, eating toffee, making out with the football… but I did. And we got that nine points only because we got a TD, and then Carl had the presence of mind to pull out that shiv he made from an old can of Foamy and threaten the ref, and tell him all our extra points were gonna be worth three. That only carries a team so far, fellas. So heads up this week, okay?” Prediction: Baltimore.

Philadelphia at New York Giants — Prediction: New York Giants.

New Orleans at Arizona — Prediction: Arizona.

St. Louis at San Francisco — St. Louis is gonna have some pain, but not in SF. No way.

Jacksonville at Dallas — Jacksonville is due, but not this week. Prediction: Dallas.

Kansas City at Seattle — KC has an emotional letdown after their huge win last week. Prediction: Seattle.

- - - -

WEEK EIGHT

Last week: 9-5
Season: 64-35

Forgotten Team Fight Songs and Anthems. Like the “Star Spangled Banner,” many team fight songs and anthems contain unanswered questions and weird, depressing pleas. They also contain references to old players and ways of life that are foreign to many of us. These anthems are often sung in odd keys by people with teary eyes and lumps in their throats. The best ones live for decades, maybe even centuries. Here’s a look at some of the shorter-lived entries.

San Francisco at Carolina — “The Carolina Team Geography Anthem,” by Irv Cutledt, 64, a resident of Charlotte, NC. It was written and sung one Sunday morning to the host of an AM radio show who said, “I see your point, Irv,” then quickly took another call. Irv was filled with a strange glee. He sat on the couch and wept tears of joy, and picked at his feet which were full of sores on account of the fact he got some new boots and pain was just part of breaking them in. But he was gonna win. Not the boots. Understand? He wasn’t gonna take any guff from any new boots. Oh, anyway, at halftime, he called his estranged son Peter, who is a schoolteacher in Springfield, MA.

“Guess what, kiddo?” Irv wondered into the phone.

“Dad?”

“Yeah, anyway, your old man isn’t a zero anymore. He sung on the AM sports radio today.”

“Wha?”

“Yeah, it was a song I writ about football and the little border they got dividing the Carolinas into two pieces…”

“Yeah?”

“Well, my friend, while you’re all cozy with that fireplace and Norman Rockwell crap, that border is vanishing, dammit!”

“Dad, I thought that you were just gonna move? Like, to lower your blood pressure?”

“Yeah, well, as you know, I ain’t big on South Carolina, and I ain’t gonna let them ride our tails no more.”

“Dad, this is…”

“Just like the time I made the dog walk home from the ice cream parlor? ‘Cause he got after my waffle cone? Listen, Peter, someone’s gotta take a stand.”

“I think it is just a marketing tool.”

“Shut up and listen!”

…and here it is…

“The Carolina Team Geography Anthem” If you come looking for our game Who am I to Blame [cap. intended] If you end up below here? The Panthers are from NORTH friggin’ Carolina, pal N-O-R-T-H Got that? Yea, they figured they’d just lump it all together Well, Old Irv thinks that’s a load of crap. Rubbish My taxes don’t go for that. I’ll sue my next door neighbor ’cause the ringer on his phone is too loud! And make my son dress up like a girl scout If he doesn’t win the Presidential Physical Fitness award! I love the Panthers And N-O-R-T-H frootin’ Carolina [by this point, the police usually arrive]

Prediction: San Francisco.

Buffalo at Minnesota — “The Vikings Won’t Budge,” by Doris and Stanley Gustavsson, Anoka, MN. 1976.

O, there once was a Viking Who wore Purple Remember Sivk, and Einar, and the Wool War of ’39? The tub is made of steel and there’s a mug of Cranapple for every barber in Olde Minnesota!!!! So let’s root for the Vikings To win or perish in a hot fire!!!!

Prediction: Minnesota.

Seattle at Oakland — Prediction: Oakland.

Cleveland at Pittsburgh — Prediction: Pittsburgh.

Arizona at Dallas — “Arizona Cardinals, Rah!” submitted by Oscar Filendo, 57, of Scottsdale, AZ.

I love the Cardinals Even though the place-kicker made love to my wife in a used car lot We love the Cardinals Even though there is a city ordinance that we Doooooooooooo Not Suuuuuuhhhhhh-porrrrrt About football fans relieving themselves on the concrete walls of the stadium on their way home I love the Cardinals Even though I am wearing a sandwich board announcing discounts on hamburger at a supermarket In the weedy median of a busted parkway.

Prediction: Dallas.

New Orleans at Atlanta — All I have to say is Outkast, “Stankonia,” buy it for your children. Also, come to think of it, “Felt Mountain” by Goldfrapp is amazing, too. It is like David Lynch stuff. Nightmarish.

Prediction: New Orleans.

Denver at Cincinnati — “Our Bengals” by Harold K. Light and family. Unfinished, but sent by certified mail to the team and never signed for. Harmonica should accompany.

Once we had a running back named Pete Johnson And we made ye trips to the Super Bowle and Did the Ickey Shuffle The Bengals Now Remind Me Of Bad Lobster and soiled bibs. B-E-N-G-A-L-S

Prediction: Denver.

New England at Indianapolis — “We Have Season Tickets” by Dr. Neil Futten

We have season tickets! Our wives spend the day at Contempo Casuals! I will be pulled over! What is in my trunk is my own business! Did you see the Colts today? That’s where I was. I am not trying to change the subject. It was a good game. (refrain) We have season tickets! I can’t just leave my car on the road like this! What do you mean taken care of? Give me my cell phone back! I am not resisting! I am a dentist, okay? I probably fix your kids’ teeth, but by the looks of you… Ouch! That wasn’t necessary. Prediction: Indianapolis.

St. Louis at Kansas City — This will be the Rams’ first loss. And it will be ugly. Prediction: Kansas City.

Washington at Jacksonville — Prediction: Jacksonville.

Chicago at Philadelphia — “The Eagles Soar” by Willhelm Travers. Travers was a German exchange student who was ridiculed by his fellow students at Taft High School during the 1991-1992 school year. All the students scorned him, except for Becky, who worked in the library. She would have preferred him a French lad, but Willhelm was German, and 29. Yet he was a high school sophomore. She took him out for malts. He read Freud to her over coagulated fondue. Her father took him to an Eagles game once, but made him pay for part of his ticket and parking. Becky watched the game in the hopes of seeing Willhelm, who reluctantly had his face painted green and silver. But she didn’t see him. He was in the bathroom most of the game, composing this song.

We sit in Section CC And cry like fallen balloons Our team If they do not score Or do We still might inflict our passion under them. Becky’s father pokes his fingers into his blistered nostrils and tells me dirty jokes !!!! Oh Eagles, the sky is grey. Why am I in this nest of borken [sic] eggs?

Prediction: Philadelphia.

Tennessee at Baltimore — “Raven Love” by the Baltimore Junior Fisherman’s and Motorcyclist’s Club. 1998. Author(s) unknown. It is also unknown whether the “saws” they speak of are fish, or simply lost hardware. The glue part is disturbing as well.

Raven Love So we might sniff glue And make obscene phone calls But our Raven love won’t die And when we get sent out to sea To look for more saws we’ll try to tune in the game’s [sic] on our transistor radios But it will fade out We have had scurvy And our knuckles are green and pus-filled But we love the Ravens Eat me! The Ravens are pure, fighting Stocky gents!

Prediction: Tennessee.

Miami at Jets — Prediction: Miami.

- - - -

WEEK SEVEN

Last week: 9-5
Season record: 55-30

San Diego at Buffalo — You can’t count on much anymore, but there are two things about this game you know for sure: San Diego has no chance of winning, and I will not watch one single down of this contest.

Oakland at Kansas City — Oakland’s emotional win, and their almost certain letdown this week at Kansas City, are best expressed in some dialogue from one of my “Save-the-Teens” plays I used to put on for shoplifting adolescents in Nebraska in the ’70s. I won some awards for this one, so lookee here.

Jared: How about that test, Mr. Saunders? I finally get it, I think.

Mr. Saunders: Good job, Tim.

Jared: I’m Jared.

Mr. Saunders: Don’t sass me. You think you’ll raise your grade up from an F-minus by talking to me like you would a common wood grub? You’re a born flunker.

Jared: Now I am upset with you, Mr. Saunders. I’m gonna go steal a rod and reel from your twin brother’s bait shop.

Mr. Saunders: Oh fiddlesticks.

Prediction: Kansas City.

New York Jets at New England — This game meant a lot to everyone early on, but now? No, it doesn’t. Prediction: New England.

Carolina at New Orleans — Prediction: New Orleans.

Jacksonville at Tennessees — Prediction: Tennessee.

Dallas at New York Giants — This dialogue will reveal the winner.

Mike, Jr.: How many times is the word “ham” gonna be used on this menu? Monte: We tried to phrase it in several different fashions, Mike, but when the focus group comes back and says “We’re okay with ‘ham’ a lot on your menu,” I can’t just go to Duane and say “Mike don’t like ‘ham’ as it exists across the menu several times.” Mike, Jr.: It isn’t about my feelings on ham. And you always try to drag me into it. Monte: I don’t get it. Mike, Jr.: Don’t play dumb with me, Monte. If it were about a sole food item, then I’d be letting you know. I just think when you’re coming out for a Christmas dinner or something, and you see a place and they keep telling you they got ham, and they don’t try to fancy up the vernacular, well then, do you feel fancy? Monte: Huh? Mike, Jr.: Like do you feel, “Oh, I’m spending all this money on my family’s Christmas meal, and I wind up at a slop house that only wants to ‘ham’ the shit out of me?” Monte: No, I guess not. Mike, Jr.: See, Monte, I’ve been in the restaurant game for a decade or two. I washed dishes at the Mr. Steak on State St. when I was 14, and I’m being sarcastic about that decade thing, ’cause it is really 25 years, and anyway, people in July, when it is hot, looking over a menu, they just are looking for the salads. The potato salads, the shit with the marshmallows, the icebergs, the houses, and so forth. It is hot. They are distracted. Monte: Yup. Mike, Jr.: And they see the ham, but not really. They don’t think about our melts, or our griddle plates, or what the bread bowl soups are. They are thinking salads or chilled soups. Or buffet stuff, cold radishes, you know. So when a professional looks at it… Monte: Like you? Mike, Jr.: Like me, yes, don’t interrupt, I see the ham, and it rings in my neck like a goddam three-alarm fire. So, it ain’t ham. Hell, more ham has passed through my bowels, be it in stews, fried, in fricassees, on sandwich bread, on rolls with mayo at weddings, than you’ve even dreamed of.

Prediction: New York.

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh — Prediction: Pittsburgh.

Baltimore at Washington — Prediction: Baltimore. By the way? I-95 from Baltimore to D.C. is a monumental pain is the ass.

Cleveland at Denver — Prediction: Denver.

Indianapolis at Seattle — Prediction: Indianapolis, though they have been slipping.

San Francisco at Green Bay — Prediction: Green Bay.

Philadelphia at Arizona — OK, Eagles fans, I am never picking your team to win again. Seriously. Prediction: Arizona.

Minnesota at Chicago — Everyone should buy a copy of the new Sea and Cake record “Oui.” It is on Thrill Jockey. And since that label is from Chicago, I am being bold and saying that yes, the Bears will win in Minnesota on Sunday night. Prediction: Bears.

Atlanta at St. Louis — This is more dialogue.

Denny: Why is the crockpot on my counter? Mrs. Denny: Where else should I put it? Denny: You know tonight is the night the guys come over to work on models. Mrs. Denny: You are 46, Denny. How long is this hobby going to go on for? Our children have eaten gruel for so long their teeth are soft like rotten butter. They couldn’t go to college. Denny: You are the one who encouraged me to get into modeling. Mrs. Denny: I know, I know. Denny: Remember when you got into making all that homemade slaw? Mrs. Denny: No. That was your first wife. Denny: Well, homemade slaw… Mrs. Denny: You divorced her ‘cause she wouldn’t quit. Denny: But model aircrafts aren’t my homemade slaw. My homemade slaw was all them Sears catalogs I wouldn’t get out of the garage when we lived on Drummond. My other homemade slaw was that toenail painting fetish I got when I went out west on that business trip and all them weird things happened with my hormones. So, modeling isn’t a homemade slaw for me. Mrs. Denny: Oh Christ, everything becomes a homemade slaw for you.

Prediction: St. Louis.

Last week: 10-4
Season: 46-25. (way better than Steve Serby)

I am disgusted with football. Here are some brief excerpts from area business meetings this week.

New Orleans at Chicago — Red’s Typesetting, Palatine, IL. Red addressing his employees: Donnie says that a guy from Motorola came in about a memo, and someone says… correction… someone QUOTED, for the kind of memo he wanted, it was only gonna be fourteen cents a page. The first thing I thought was “Wow! Fourteen cents a page! Only a really together company with high volume could begin to make a promise to a guy from Motorola like that.” And then I thought of what an unorganized crew of sadsacks I have onboard here, and I realized, “Shoot, we couldn’t possibly do that!” And then I was wondering why anyone here would say fourteen cents a page, especially when not more than two weeks ago, Vicki abruptly lost her job an account of the fact that she told someone from Shoney’s that we could do a laminated menu for thirty-nine cents a piece? When I say abruptly lost her job, I mean, I like Vicki, but she was fired for that, ‘cause she offered the impossible. She basically told Shoney’s, “We’ll part the Red friggin’ Sea for you, and line the pathway with gold doubloons.” Now, does anyone see a big trunk full of gold doubloons around here with a “Free – Take a Shitload” sign on it? I don’t. And it is not just the money part. To do a job for fourteen cents a page for Motorola would mean more hours than you could dream of. Do you like the “Drew Carey Show”? You wouldn’t see it, ‘cause you’d be here. Do you watch “Nightline”? You wouldn’t see it – you’d be here. So before any of you wisenheimers say “I’m gonna speak on behalf of Red, and jeopardize his whole business and standing in the community,” you should ask me first. Prediction: Bears.

Pittsburgh at NY Jets — Toome’s Italian Hogie Bakery, East Rutherford, N.J. Ned Saunders addressing his bakers: So, in closing, the point is this, people: I am going to put the hammer down on you until Christmas. More bread equals more bread. Capeesh? I wouldn’t be asking you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. And that’s because my father-in-law Gus Toome basically handed me this business after his kidney went out, and said “Ned, go to bat,” and if going to bat means chewing your asses out for spilling too much yeast, or parking where you and I both know you shouldn’t, then I am sorry. You’re going to think you’re seeing the mean Ned, but what you’re really witnessing is the Ned that says, “Hey people, are we going to bake hoagies or is our competition going to bake us, and then potentially eat us for lunch, or dinner, or a midnight snack?” So, let’s get on the stick, and wear our aprons with glee, and try laundering them a bit more, and look each other in the faces and say, “My oven’s full of freshly baking hoagies. Is yours? And if yours isn’t, what might I do to assist you?” And it should be in polite language, ‘cause I have heard the f-word a lot, and I’m not going to remind you of what that does to eat away at the guts of a business. Especially a business where it is hot, because of the ovens, already, and people’s tempers are often high because of high temperatures. Prediction: NY Jets.

Indianapolis at New England — Prediction: Indianapolis.

Cleveland at Arizona — Prediction: Arizona.

Giants at Atlanta — Mike’s Faucet Supply, Atlanta, Georgia. Mike addressing his subordinates: How many of y’all ain’t turned in a punch? Y’all forget about your punch, y’all forget about your paycheck. We got a punch on the wall by where you come in. That punch is what y’all should be focussing on when y’all step in here. Instead a lot of y’all is thinkin’ where’s the hot coffee and rolls and sugary confections? And a lot of y’all is thinkin’ has Jimmy been circulatin’ his NFL pool around the breakroom? Fuck that. There’s a punch, and Becky can’t get a read on your hours if y’all don’t use the punch. And she ain’t no fuckin’ magician who says, oh yeah, we owe Tim for 43.5 hours from last week if it ain’t appearin’ that way on Tim’s punch. Why do y’all think businesses have punches? Do y’all know the history of punches? Businesses depend on their workers to use the punch system, ‘cause a lot of times society only offers them dumber people to hire. So when y’all hire a dummy, and y’all ain’t all dumb, but dumb people ain’t got the God-given skills to be honest about givin’ their bosses their correct hours, ‘cause A) a lot of them besides being dumbshits are cheaters and B) a lot of them ain’t good with figurin’ numbers and math. So for the last time, take y’all’s punch, and use it every time y’all come and go. Prediction: Atlanta.

Buffalo at Miami — Prediction: Miami.

Green Bay at Detroit — Prediction: Detroit.

Tennessee at Cincinnati — Last Sunday, I drove past Aldephia Stadium. The Giants, they were getting pounded by the Titans. I got on a plane instead. But not before I visited Lynchburg, TN, and the 150th B-day celebration of Jack Daniel’s on Saturday. I had a rental car. It was tiny. I had a bad cold. My travelling companions and I drove to the top of a hill and joined in a free barbecue. There really aren’t two better words in the English language than “free” and “barbecue” other than perhaps “free” and “sex” or “free” and “money,” but I digress. The distillery was full of townsfolk, Southern V.I.P’s., and forty or fifty different types of law enforcement figures who kept haggling with each other about parking laws. On the way back to Nashville everyone was tired. No one said too much, except when we passed by a country hair salon that was called Brass Scissors. From the back seat I heard, “Brass Scissors? I don’t want that. No.” Prediction: Tennessee.

Washington at Philadelphia — I know I will regret this, but I think Philly is gonna win.

Denver at San Diego — Janet’s Smoothie’s, La Jolla. Janet addressing Thomas, a part-time employee: So you been here, like, a week, and Marcia says you’ve got an issue with our signage? She says you see an error. Like Smoothie’s should not be possessor or something? An apostrophe S. Cause what do the smoothies own? Nothing? Well, Shakespeare, it don’t really matter, okay? The smoothies own me, ‘cause I only work about 55 or 60 hours a week here. And you come in like 15 hours? So, I don’t know about you, Professor, but I don’t have the loot just to go changing my sign every time an English major comes along and says the spelling is screwy. Your glasses make you look gay, too. Ever notice that? Prediction: Denver.

Oakland at San Francisco — I would love to be at this game. Hiding in a men’s room stall. With a taser, and 50 or 60 bibles. I think things would start to change for the better. Prediction: Oakland.

Seattle at Carolina — Snoozefest. Prediction: Carolina.

Baltimore at Jacksonville — Can Jacksonville lose two games in a row at home? The answer is yes. Baltimore will win. Although, I have been doing a Wu Tang Clan story for my other job, and last night I saw Raekwon wearing a Jags’ Mark Brunell jersey. He is possibly the only person in the Western Hemisphere who could look cool in that. It has been very difficult to get hold of them all, so e-mail me your best Wu anecdote.

Tampa Bay at Minnesota — Tampa Bay is gonna shock the Vikes in Minneapolis. By winning.

- - - -

WEEK FIVE

Last week: 9-5

Season: 36-21

New York Giants at Tennessee — There’s a 99% chance that I am traveling to Nashville this weekend. So if there’s a God, I will be getting my hot dogs and beer on in a major league fashion at this game. I’m pretty sure I have tickets, but if you got a couple to spare, e-mail me. The day before the game, my journalistic endeavors will lead me to Lynchburg to the 150th birthday celebration of Jack Daniels. I will be bringing a camera. Prediction: Tennessee.

Dallas at Carolina — If I was Cowboys’ back-up QB Randall Cunningham and I was interviewed by NFL.com, this is how it would have gone.

NFL: How disconcerting was it to hear the booing at Texas Stadium on Sunday?

Randall: I still got my paycheck. So, you know, this is my first year here. Probably won’t be in the league much longer. What is this, like my ninth team? Actually, they should boo the hell out of Aikman. Did we win at Washington?

NFL: Uh, yes.

Randall: Who was quarterbacking that night?

NFL: You.

Randall: I’m sorry, could you speak up?

NFL: You.

Randall: I was what?

NFL: Quarterbacking. Sweet Jesus. You were quarterbacking.

Randall: Can you remember if we won or not that night?

NFL: Yes, you won.

Randall: And I was playing quarterback?

NFL: And you were playing quarterback. But, you went, if I am correct, ah, 10 for 23.

Randall: So I had 10 completions?

NFL: Yeah.

Randall: And you had, what, zero?

NFL: Yeah, I am not on the team. I do not throw a football.

Randall: So, I had ten whole completions. And my team won the game. And you had zero.

NFL: Yes. But…

Randall: So how many games have we won with Aikman, who is prone to concussions and brittle of bone?

NFL: Zero. Ah, in his defense Randall, the season is young.

Randall: I see your point. But let me just ask you this: how many games have we won with Aikman?

NFL: You just asked me that question. Aren’t I doing the interview here?

Randall: I don’t know, are you?

NFL: Yes.

Randall: Then quit answering my questions, okay?

NFL: Okay.

Randall: You did it again.

Prediction: Carolina.

Atlanta at Philadelphia —

From: Walt.Winters@AndersonCarpetKingdom.com To: Gurglefuzz11@aol.com Subject: re: Drinks Lance, Are you out of your f-in’ (they are screening inter-office e-mails cause of some jokes that were forwarded due to nude fotos and swears) mind? My wife all ready got three Tiramisu cakes from Grogan’s there’s not a chance in hell I am bringing a 6er of Tequiza to Dougs. Doug and his fiance Janet are, without one question, the 2 cheapest fuggs in Philly or Eastern NJ. Who refinanced Dougs patio improvements in Oct of ‘98er? me, when I was at Kreskin’s. Me the junior sales rep, put his ass on the line. there were a lot of things I wanted for my kids that x-mas, since Denise and I were splittin’ up, and I wanted to show her I could kick ass on the floor and in the Santa department. but i didn’t take my commission cuz Doug needed the break. so these tiramius’ are like 18 a pop. times 3-bird. u do the math, dog. Why? cause the eagles are doin’ good. sunday night should be special, and you aren’t even supposed to be consuming alcohol or even writing about it probably. do you not have an akle bracelit on? yes! is it not because you were driving the wrong way down a one-way blvd.? blind drunk and not getting any commishes cuz all your draws were going to lap dances? yes! then shut your mouth about it. Don is bringin Diet Dr. Pepper for you to drink enjoy and shut up. . You already owe me 50 bucks from Monday night. No-memory-guy. So drive one-way down this memoray lane and remember who the hell comes thru in the clutch, and that is me. :( ww To: Walt.Winters@AndersonCarpetKingdom.com From: Gurglefuzz11@aol.com Subject: Drinks Walt, Can you bring another 6 of Tequiza or some Mickey’s Big Mouths to Doug’s place for the game Sunday? —me

Prediction: Philadelphia

Seattle at Kansas City — Dogs that don’t exist but should (listed mostly by the geographical area of my desires): Upper Milwaukee Thunder Poodle. Shaolin Water Beagle. Grease Akita. Peruvian Thresh Basset Hound. Tacoma Purse-Snatching Schnauzer. Montreal Lap Dane. Hush Puppy. Alaskan Burrowing Manure Daschund. Waffle-backed Bichon Frise. Pennsylvanian Shar-pei. Ft. Greene Border Corgi. El Paso web-toed Mastiff. Prediction: Kansas City.

Indianapolis at Buffalo — People Who Don’t Play in the NFL, but Have the Same Names as NFL Stars, Volume One: Andre Reed, 29, is plagued at the Anchorage UPS office he works at. Every time a new guy is hired, after a couple weeks, when the new guy is getting used to the job, and maybe a bit too comfortable (like when you’ve been at a job a little while and it is difficult, but after a spell you think you know everything, and you relax and somehow you break open a thing of toner all over your bosses’ gabardine trousers because you are being too cocky, and then you feel like a loser for a 6 to 18 month period after that?) anyway, about Andre Reed? Never mind. Prediction: Indianapolis.

Baltimore at Cleveland — The Schizophrenia Bowl. Prediction: Baltimore.

Minnesota at Detroit — Prediction: Minnesota.

San Diego at St. Louis — Since the Rams won the Super Bowl, Troy Ulitts, 20, has flunked out of college and moved home to his parents suburban Sappington split-level ranch home. In that time, he has: 1) Resumed his childhood passion of building cushion and sleeping bag forts behind the rec room couch in the basement. 2) Taken to calling his dad, a 55 year-old efficiency expert at a mausoleum manufacturing plant, “Shorty.” 3) Eaten pan pizza from various fast food outlets an average of 5 to 6 nights a week. 4) Gambled with an elderly neighbor. 4a) Called the neighbor a “beeyach” upon losing a bet over a ghost on “General Hospital.” It was Maggie. Not Nathan. 5) Gone to blues harp lessons. Once. 6) Scored a confusing metal opera about retired offensive tackle Tony Mandarich and “20/20” reporter John Stossel. 7) Sold some old Pantera CDs to score a quarter ounce. 8) Looked in the classifieds for a used Gran Torino. 9) Purchased “HTML for Dummies.” 10) Partied wicked over the 4th with some guys from Outback Steakhouse. Prediction: St. Louis.

Pittsburgh at Jacksonville — Like this is hard. Prediction: Jacksonville.

Miami at Cincinnati — Prediction: Miami.

New England at Denver — Prediction: Denver.

Chicago at Green Bay — Next on Fox: When offenses get castrated. This will be the Bears worst season in a long time. Prediction: Green Bay.

Arizona at San Francisco — 49ers’ WR Terrell Owens wins the Jackass of the Season Award for his display of poor sportsmanship in Dallas last week. I know, I know, teams should always act bratty when it comes to facing the Cowboys, but Owens, who ran to midfield, spiked the ball and did the kind of dance a toddler does after getting extra frosting — twice — proved that he is as bratty a competitor as any Cowboy has ever been. *And he just got a one game suspension. Prediction: San Francisco.

Tampa Bay at Washington — Prediction: Tampa will blow their second game in a row.

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WEEK FOUR

Last Week: 9-5

Season: 27-16

Kansas City at Denver — Odd. Denver won on the road last week, and Kansas City scored 42 points in a win at home. I didn’t think they’d score 42 points all year. Prediction: Denver.

St. Louis at Atlanta — Forgotten Moments in the Forgotten Football Leagues of America in the 20th Century, Volume One: Linus Vikkers, 38, was a box maker in Brooklyn in 1944. But on weekends he played football for the Ft. Greene Sailors. He played running back, center, guard, quarterback, defensive end, and safety, often simultaneously. Sometimes, since his wife had left him one week into their marriage, and he could afford no baby-sitter, his six children had to ride on his belly during games, “papoose” style, in a modified canvas potato sack. “Don’t take pity on my toddlers,” he’d yell to an opposing defender, as he tore up the field. Indeed, at season’s end his children were covered with welts, bumps, bruises and many of them spent their adult lives either in the courts of our judicial system, or setting small fires on the property of their enemies. But Linus was the real hero. One crisp afternoon, Linus and the Sailors got on the river trolley headed west to play the Weehawken Pigeons. Dwight O’Sullivan was the Pigeons’ punter, and he had a wooden leg that was corked like a baseball bat and filled with a light substance (we’ll guess it was packing twine) so he could swing it quicker on kicks. Linus didn’t think that was fair. His father had given him a jackknife for Easter one year, and Linus used it to sever the cord of his mother’s rotary phone. He carried it to the game, and sure enough on fourth down he used it to brain the helmetless O’Sullivan, who spent the rest of his life in a wire cage in a Pennsylvania mental institution reading catalogs from various broom companies. Linus was elected mayor of Brooklyn, which he still is today, even though he is in his 90s. He is currently on sabbatical because he is in the Olympics for fishing reasons. Prediction: St. Louis.

Tennessee at Pittsburgh — Bill Cowher’s Fish and Chips is starting to have a nice ring to it. Prediction: Tennessee.

Detroit at Chicago — Forgotten Moments in the Forgotten Football Leagues of America in the 20th Century, Volume 2: Putch Szymanski was a portly high-school dropout who tended to chickens, poodles, homing pigeons, roosters, squirrels, ants, and horses at the Greater Toledo Petting Zoo and Ant Farmery in 1908. But on weekends he played football (and an early version of racquetball that included muskets) for Doc Kelsey’s Atoms. He was a quarterback with the mind and determination of a much stronger player than a Q.B., because, as you and I know, Q.B.s are dreadfully fey individuals who’d think nothing of skipping a contest to attend an ice cream social or hand out pamphlets regarding free love at a shopping mall, or to darn the torn stockings of their spouses. The Atoms were playing the Zenia Thinkers. Szymanski was in his own end zone. It was 4th and 32. There was a 62-mile-an-hour wind. A rabid goat had eaten the buttocks out of Putch’s wool trousers. The goat was put down and buried at midfield during halftime. All the town had eaten bad penicillin to stave off the effects of a bad batch of ice milk that Ma Zurcher whipped up to stop all the feuding (chewing gum had just been introduced, and was in short supply). Szymanski took the snap from center Ivar Muutdle and threw a fierce bullet into the unprotected face of Zenia nose guard Walter Walters, effectively ending Walters’ reign as the town mathematician and coal shoveler. The ball then bounced back into Szymanski’s cement-like fists and he ran 100+ yards for the win. Prediction: Chicago.

Philadelphia at New Orleans — Prediction: New Orleans.

Seattle at San Diego — Note to actor Stephen Baldwin: Get out of show business. You are a disgrace. Prediction: Seattle.

San Francisco at Dallas — Forgotten Moments in the Forgotten Football Leagues of America in the 20th Century, Volume 3: Ned Ottke was only 3, but he was a spry and determined boy with a shock of violet hair and when he wanted to win, the Oakland Bee Charmers of 1957 usually won. He thought nothing of chopping down a town’s water tower or flying a modified aeroplane into the line of scrimmage just to win a contest. His mother was quite the same. She’d Ben Franklined two previous husbands with a kite, a key, and fresh ink on their wills. For Ned, she often served as a surly decoy, begging from the sideline to change his diaper while he scampered under the legs of an unsuspecting defender for a first down. Sadly, Ned’s life took a turn for the worse when he became hooked on Keno in 1988, and spent the remainder of his pension on a failed Echinacea farm in Covina. Prediction: Dallas.

New England at Miami — Forgotten Moments in the Forgotten Football Leagues of America in the 20th Century, Volume 4: Mittens Foster was 86 when he married his long-suffering mule, Oliver. He wasn’t big on talking to people (or marrying them, or having sexual relations with them—though it is undocumented whether or not Mittens and Oliver consummated their marriage, which was legal only in his eyes, and those of a few neighbors who had seen the light), but for 53 years he served as the popular place-kicker for the Bozeman Trojans in the Montana-El Paso Jr. Adult League. One stipulation of the league was that all the players travel between Montana and El Paso via bicycle, so it wasn’t very popular. They also only served V-8 on the sidelines. It is odd, then, that Mittens Foster gained such a fervent following. He appeared on commercials for used car lots, often in a plaid sport coat (with special toothpick pocket) and eventually directed and starred in the Mittens Foster Revue, which was a weekly public access variety show that was filled with anti-rickets propaganda. It was Foster’s long standing belief that the government was trying to sell Montana to Canada, and thought they’d get a better price if most of the citizens had rickets, goiters, scurvy and other ailments usually related to musty shipyards. Prediction: Miami.

Cincinnati at Baltimore — Cincinnati should be shut down for renovations. Prediction: Baltimore.

Green Bay at Arizona — Has anyone heard the new Go-Betweens record, “The Friends of Rachel Worth”? It is awesome. If you’ve found this web page, you’re smart enough to find out more info about them on your own. It is really good stuff. Prediction: Green Bay.

Cleveland at Oakland — Cleveland is scorching now. But they will get stomped by Oakland.

New York Jets at Tampa Bay — This is perfect. I hate Wayne Chrebet. I hate Keyshawn Johnson. I hate Bill Parcells. I hate their new coach, whatever his name is. I hate the Buccaneers. They are like the Creed of the NFL. Or worse, the Backstreet Boys. If they were tough, they would never have abandoned their old uniforms. They are horrifically overrated. But they will send the Jets home in tears. Prediction: Tampa Bay.

Washington at New York Giants — Egads. I fear the Giants will blow this one. Prediction: Washington.

Jacksonville at Indianapolis — Prediction: Indianapolis.

- - - -

WEEK THREE

Last Week: 10-4. I cut and didn’t paste the New Orleans @ San Diego game.

Season: 18-11.

Cincinnati at Jacksonville — Three weeks ago. Madison Square Garden. AC/DC. One kid and his girlfriend were shepherding a younger brother into the early stages of acute alcohol poisoning, in between bouts of air jamming. The boy was mad happy. Like when you think you might drown, but make it to shore, and you kind of look at the lake or the river or whatever and give it an aghast, smiling “Fuck You! Let’s try it again, you watery bastard!” But you don’t really mean it, until maybe you’ve been onshore for a while, eating sour cream and onion potato chips and the sun is burning your shoulders, and you go in again. That’s what this kid was doing. Air jamming. Drinking. Violently. Then turning away from the stage and grabbing on to the railing behind him. His eyes were saucers. Then he’d get his wind back and do it again. Prediction: Jacksonville.

Pittsburgh at Cleveland — Once upon a time someone might have cared about this game. Oh sure, they’ll still pretend. In Shaker Heights, lawn raking will cease at kick-off. Some kid will spill salsa on a new Tim Couch jersey. Nursing home cooks in Steubenville will let their cabbage soup bubble over. A guy named Meadows will get socked in the mouth because he’ll make a disparaging remark about Jerome Bettis and inappropriate use of tapioca pudding. But will the people care? Will the rest of us, outside of the rust belt, even be concerned? No. Prediction: Cleveland.

Tampa Bay at Detroit — Tampa Bay still hasn’t proven anything to me. Prediction: Detroit.

Philadelphia at Green Bay — On the top of a hill there was a family that made nothing but waffles. They ran a huge waffle industry. People would come and go from their humble but prosperous waffling establishment with glee and delight. At the bottom of the hill there was a crooked family that only sold the kind of ham that has olives in it. But they weren’t really olives. One day… To be continued. Prediction: Green Bay.

San Francisco at St. Louis — Prediction: St. Louis by 75 points.

Buffalo at New York Jets — I wore a thong today. That is more important than this game. No, it wasn’t the white patent leather thong that I dream of possibly wearing some day to a cousin’s wedding or my own future stalking trial, it was silver and sparkly. My boss made me do it. My day job. I was in a race. The race promoted the awareness of the male thong. It was early a.m. on the busy streets of New York. It embarrassed me, but made me think about a lot of things. It was unexpected. It made me feel courageous, this thong. The way the thong fit was not pleasurable. It was a bit revealing. I felt a little like Rick James or Jimi Hendrix, or Dick Cheney after a hard night of Sharp’s and sharp cheddar. It didn’t make people unhappy though. It made them laugh. My thinking is this: Why not bring joy to people via thongs, instead of disappointing them like I so often do? Now that that is out of the way, however, I will have to find something else to amuse people with, like this prediction. New York Jets by 1 point.

Atlanta at Carolina — There is a girl at my office building who often dances around by the elevators and has a comically whimsical look in her eyes. In some fables there is always an ogre who hates people who dance or have fun, who mercilessly beats in the brains of the people who enjoy dancing and other light-hearted-express-myself-follies. Then everybody learns a good lesson from the dead dancing martyr. Well, I am here to say that sometimes that person who dances should get the hell kicked out of them for dancing (and at work, no less). Not all the time, but sometimes it is just plain wrong. That sort of malice goes against the grain of my thong episode, but I don’t care. Prediction: Carolina.

San Diego at Kansas City — Prediction: Kansas City.

Denver at Oakland — Oakland came up so huge on the road against Indianapolis that they will surely lose this home game.

New York Giants at Chicago — Finally, I will get to see my beloved Bears. I have avoided the sports bars and satellite dishes thus far. I don’t watch football in public anymore. I have watched about 6 quarters of football all year long, but this Sunday I am going to wear a felt-helmet, eat a whole pizza in seclusion and tackle my dog on our living room floor. It will be on regular TV. The Bears are only on year 8 or 9 of a 36-year rebuilding process, so I have no faith in them yet. However, this is the perfect game for the Jints to choke. Prediction: Bears.

Minnesota at New England — Prediction: New England.

New Orleans at Seattle — Who can even pick a game like this? Prediction: Seattle.

Baltimore at Miami — My favorite memories of recently pink-slipped IU Hoops coach Bobby Knight are ones that have never happened. I only imagined them on Christmas morning 1991 in a Robitussin-induced haze. 1) Bobby Knight driving a boat while ex-Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson water-skis. 2) Bobby Knight rolling his eyes in a church pew during a long hymn. 3) Bobby Knight elbowing a guy in the ribs for yawning during a long hymn and asking, “You got something against God, buddy?” 3) Bobby Knight taking the rubber band off his evening paper and making the paper boy do it right. Until dawn. And then asking if the boy thought he might have the hang of it yet. But Bobby Knight never did any of those things. Bobby Knight loved me from a distance. Bobby Knight loved me for sending letters to him and Steve Alford about raining threes on Gene Keady’s combover. We’d all laugh by a roaring fireplace and sing carols. Eventually when I tried to start sending all of my 8th grade math homework to the Hoosiers for corrections, Bobby Knight wasn’t happy. Oh yeah, that never happened either. Prediction: Miami.

Dallas at Washington — Neon Deion meets Troy Boy on Monday night. Neither one of them will be getting a ring this year. Prediction: Washington.

- - - -

WEEK TWO

Last Week: 8-7

I realize how unacceptable the above numbers might seem. Still, if you listened to my advice last week, you would have made enough money to upgrade from an egg sandwich to a ham sandwich if that is your thing. You probably could’ve changed breads, too. I picked with way too much emotion, however, and that won’t be a mistake I will make twice. Cleveland: never again.

New England @ New York Jets — It was a bitter off-season of angry, jowly coaches betraying one another. Hopping from team to team like the nymphomaniacal wives of Lear jet salesmen. They lied to one another, quit, lied to the press, quit, hired stooges to dance the puppet dance for them, and now? Well, this game oughta suck. Prediction: New York Jets.

Dallas @ Arizona — Sources say there is no timetable set for Dallas Q.B. Troy Aikman’s return from a concussion. I say there is no timetable set for the Cowboys’ first win. Prediction: Arizona.

Giants @ Philadelphia — The Old Salts Chronicles 2000

Old Salts: I think Duce Staley is changing things for us.

The Wife of Old Salts: It was one win, Salts.

Old Salts: I am taking all my speech money and putting it on the line this weekend. Sink or swim. Potamkin Junior High paid me to talk about heating safety. I got fat on my profession.

The Wife of Old Salts: But you got drunk, too. You tackled a guidance counselor. Your profession has given you gout and dirty nails.

Old Salts: He sneezed too close. He sneezes too close to people. It was wet and filled with germs. I still got paid for a powerful speech.

The Wife of Old Salts: You’re no public, ah, motivational person. You were struck by a stray turnip. The optometrist said you were lucky.

Old Salts: Lucky or smart. Same difference.

The Wife of Old Salts: Not in this neighborhood.

Old Salts: Hand me the clicker.

The Wife of Old Salts: Why must you groan in church?

Old Salts: My groans are fables in a forbidden language. They are sonnets to my people. (Gestures in front of picture window.)

The Wife of Old Salts: Duce Staley is a short-term cure for a bigger problem.

Old Salts: The bigger problem is my tolerance of your pessimistic attitude. Where’s my foam finger?

The Wife of Old Salts: In the oven.

Prediction: Philadelphia.

Oakland @ Indianapolis — Oakland is a bully. Indianapolis is the smart kid winding his way out of a noogie and tattling. Prediction: Indianapolis.

Atlanta @ Denver — Dan Reeves Haiku Winner: Shane Wilson

Reeves laughs, bawdily;
His yachtmates giggle. Punchline:
“She’s my wife.” Ha ha.

Good job, Shane. Not good enough to ensure the Falcons a second win, though. T-shirt is being Pony Expressed. Prediction: Denver.

Green Bay @ Buffalo — Other Fun Fall Games. “Hirp.” Seven Pole Crackies from each squad must wind the Bourbon Mouse around Pole X. Pole X is not to be touched or thought about until nine minutes after the cannon sounds. When the cannon sounds, eight Shoemen from Team A and eight Shoemen from Team B fill out appropriate paperwork. Then call mother. Introduce Bourbon Mouse. Light four wicks. Check on Pole X. Is Pole X solid? Does Pole X know which sack contains Bourbon Mouse? Did Pole X steal Adidas Top Ten’s from my friggin’ locker in 1987? Has Pigeon been taken to Bank? The rest of Team A and Team B quarrel at Bank. Four members from either team must drive from Bank in a 1967 Mustang, and parade on Main Street. Pick up Warren’s boy from wrestling. Ask him to spell wrist and make vodka tonic for driver. Return to Pole X. Prediction: Buffalo.

Cleveland @ Cincinnati — No one has ever adopted my “Cincy is for Sinners” slogan that I think would be perfect for mugs, T-shirts, bumper stickers and the backs of church pews. But the good thing is, in their hearts, the whole town knows it is rotten to the core, and would rather, collectively, do nothing but receive lap dances to .38 Special songs for eternity. Prediction: Cincinnati.

Kansas City @ Tennessee — Fan Secrets 2000. Monte Lupke of Nashville sold his grandmother’s ruby earrings for seats to this game. He then sold the tickets for a Denny’s uniform. He then donned the uniform, went to Denny’s, stole an apple pie from the kitchen, drove home and threw it at his neighbor’s poodle Scottie. The poodle was stunned but quickly gobbled the crust. It also enjoyed what a mess the filling made and had a pleasurable time licking it off of his whiskers and torso. Monte has expressed no remorse. His grandmother is still in Anchorage visiting her twin. Prediction: Tennessee.

Carolina @ San Francisco — Reggie White, you are the laughingstock of my cubicle. Prediction: San Francisco.

Chicago @ Tampa Bay — Other Fun Fall Games. “The Running of the Cars.” Every Labor Day in Oconomowoc, WI, 32 toddlers are put behind the wheel of 32 fully operational Ford Taurus station wagons. Then they are given the green light to exit Seiler’s parking garage and pursue many of the town’s older seniors, who’ve been told there is a street buffet featuring soft potatoes. Sans medication and loving caretakers, the seniors are usually caught off-guard by the reckless and speeding wagons careening at them without regard for life and/or limb. The seniors trot, gallop, or get run over. There aren’t many beds for the elderly in Oconomowoc, so it works out okay. Some of the young drivers are hospitalized with fractures and wounds, but others just keep on driving. Prediction: Tampa Bay.

St. Louis @ Seattle — No one must forsake the Super Bowl Champions. Prediction: St. Louis.

Miami @ Minnesota — When I lived in Minneapolis, swarms of Vikings fans would wander into the cozy little liquor store that, by the grace of our savior Jesus Christ, found me suitable for employment. One older couple came in on a Pre-Season Saturday. They had tickets. Wanted beer. Easy enough. They also wanted to talk shop about their squad. I hate the Vikings, but I indulged them. They loved the team but hated Dennis Green. I said “Gee, what could it be? He’s taken them to the playoffs like 6 of the last 8 years.” That wasn’t it. “Um, he’s got a great winning percentage.” (I didn’t have any facts or figures, but I suspected that the squad had only gone below .500 once with Green at the helm, so I had to offer that generic tidbit.) That wasn’t it. “He’s trying to diet this year, does that bug ya?” They shook their heads. “He’s a good drummer, are you jealous?” Nope. What could it be, I wondered? What could an aging, middle class white couple from the suburbs of the Twin Cities have against a successful black head coach of the NFL? I will never know. Prediction: Minnesota.

Jacksonville @ Baltimore — Baltimore has surpassed Jacksonville this season in the role of really good AFC team who no one cares about, and who won’t make the Super Bowl. This is their ultimate test. Prediction: Baltimore.

Washington @ Detroit — From the Diaries of Troubled Lions’ Fans, Volume One: The way to look at it was there were good Linux programmers and bad Linux programmers. Fuck, it was the same way with milkmen, tree surgeons, priests, you name it. Still, Jed thought this was wrong. The Drambuie was trickling onto the linoleum. All over Trot’s whiskers. His X-Acto knife had cheddar cheese on it. Five pictures of his family were missing or smashed. The Caller ID said the Dallas/Ft. Worth area code and 9:15 a.m. They were still there. “I’m from the Department of Semen Resources,” how did they ever talk him into saying that? Jesus God. One hour to the airport. Two and a half hour flight. Thirty minutes for baggage. Forty-five minutes home. That gave him a little time to play with. To scour and disinfect. Chip’s Ritalin had been cut into lines on a Slash’s Snakepit CD case. He had never liked Slash. Especially his belts. The hair in the eyes didn’t bug him, but the belts? No thank you. He would believe in God from now on. Sing his praises.

Prediction: Washington (unless this is the season Detroit looks okay, sorta lame even, but pulls that “Another One Bites the Dust” crap like in the early ’80s. It could be).

- - - -

WEEK ONE

Record: 0-0

Chicago @ Minnesota — A better alternative to this game: An Iranian slide presentation set to lute, “The Trolley Concern,” tells the tale of a failed trolley and streetcar strike in Teheran in 1952, and also discourses on various grades of mud in the Puria Delta from 1950-1956 that made trolleying and laying trolley tracks an immense bitch. A bitch, it seems, that was often quelled with sweet liquor, which of course is off limits in Iran. So off limits in fact, that you drink = you lose your hands (or make love to an owl in the town square, free admission). Sadly, only one of the slides shows this though. Questions to follow. Boiled Thorth and Blindtad, two traditional dishes will be served afterwards. Slide show >from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Dinner & Questions from 6 p.m. to 6:07 p.m. Mood lighting provided, but no note-taking or snuggling allowed. The Juteback Foyer, Minneapolis Carpet Museum 1401 N. Washington, Minneapolis, MN Prediction: Bears.

Carolina @ Washington — Panther Kevin Greene retired. I have never been happier to write a sentence. Prediction: Washington.

San Francisco @ Atlanta — Forecast: Something smells in Atlanta and it isn’t the summer-long tire fire that I started behind the Greyhound station when I couldn’t free a Three Musketeers from its vending machine prison. The Falcons have been looking for a respectable way to just give up since training camp started. Losing by 63 points on opening day won’t do it, so they will beat the hapless 49ers (who have a trifecta of pure, 24 karat losers at QB) who can’t appropriately express themselves on road trips and have issues about setting and accomplishing goals. For your enjoyment: The only Dan Reeves we know is a Dan Reeves steaming on the sidelines with a peptic ulcer and a bionic wince. Send me a haiku about Dan Reeves experiencing irony-free enjoyment, or telling a risqué joke on a yacht, and I will send you an old T-shirt that I cried myself to sleep in one evening last year.

Jacksonville @ Cleveland — Cleveland desperately tried to rid themselves of any man on the roster named Aaron this summer. They did it, but not through legal channels. This will come back to haunt them in November. Prediction: Four geriatric “artistes” will arrive in the parking lot to do those giant-headed caricatures that we all love so much, but they will be scolded and have their chalk confiscated. The Browns will win.

Tennessee @ Buffalo — Labor Day in Buffalo won’t be pretty. Prediction: Tennessee.

Indianapolis @ Kansas City — Wasn’t Chiefs coach Gunther Cunningham part of the Werner Herzog/Klaus Kinski “My Best Fiend” equation somehow? He resembles a practitioner of erotic magic shows in late ‘70s Norway. At any rate, I am sure he keeps the showers cold and quite possibly made every one of his players baby-sit a pigeon throughout training camp. That’s how he determined who got cut. Any questions? I didn’t think so. Key Chiefs acquisition: Tough-ass punter Todd Sauerbrun. But why am I talking about the Chiefs so much? They will lose by 14 points on Sunday.

Detroit @ New Orleans — I went to scout the Saints this year at their training camp in La Crosse, Wisconsin. After an hour, I became disillusioned with the sour play. I scored some opium (which is always easy to come by in Wisconsin) and wandered into the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi. I came across an overgrown cul-de-sac and a garden party hosted by area Jaycees. I sat down and listened to tales of the great white zinfandel wars and key parties of Coulee Region in 1983, where with a swift swing of the foot, the Dr. Scholl’s sandals of all the housewives clacked against motel room and den walls as area orthodontists and real estate agents nuzzled their necks, whispered sweet nothings and wrestled them to flowered comforters. The game will not be this sexually charged. Prediction: Saints.

San Diego @ Oakland — Barf. Prediction: Oakland.

Tampa Bay @ New England — No one ever mentions the croup anymore. It wasn’t a popular ailment, but then again most ailments aren’t. Anyway, let me set the scene: Foxboro, Mass. 1988. Three teenagers. Pep pills. The old Nintendo gaming system. A slumber party. Menthol cigarettes. By Sunday morning, one of those kids wouldn’t be going to see the Patriots. A step-father offered, but the boy had contracted the croup. I won’t get into the specifics, but let’s just say that parental supervision is something that has gone by the wayside in our country. The boy, too careless to prevent his own lungs >from the eerie spread of toxic mucus produced by nicotine, now works (unhappily) at Long John Silvers in Scranton, PA. His real talent, puppetry, is just a dark secret collecting dust in his humid basement. His two companions who went to the game didn’t fare much better though. One is a bar back at a place called Sudd’s (apostrophe intended) at the Bangor airport, and has a lab with bad hips. And the “smart one” is a comptroller for Toro. His wife is cheating on him. Prediction: Tampa Bay.

Arizona @ New York Giants — The Arizona Cardinals are like a bad family trying to hide all their flaws. They’ve been firmly entrenched in mediocrity for seasons now. Sure, they fool us once in a while. A playoff appearance is nothing more than dad bringing home a winning lottery ticket, or mom getting a nice haircut. It is swell for a while, but then dad blows all the winnings on a vacuum cleaner-based haircutting attachment and tries to save money by cutting mom’s hair that way, and then she eventually goes 10 or 11 years without talking to him and the pastor at church looks at them oddly, but sympathetically. Then one of their kids starts stuffing Hostess Fruit Pies down his soccer shorts at the supermarket and has to be reprimanded, not because he’s shoplifting, he’s…well, he just likes the feeling it gives him. Prediction: New York Giants.

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh — Muck Ardvuch, 62. From the Big Steelers’ Fan Book: I have been going to Steelers games since 1974. Rocky Bleier’s kid once threw up on my daughter when she was waitressing at Bennigan’s. She was in senior high, but she looked about 23. Well, the Bleier’s were sympathetic and got me and my boy into a game or two. My boy didn’t know Franco Harris then, and Franco got very mad. Had turf toe, but that wasn’t a diagnosable condition then. We was on the sideline for the warm-ups and whatever, but they won big. Usually on Sundays my wife will wake us up for church, and we’ll go pray for Bill Cowher, the sorry son-of-a-bitch. Then we’ll go for brunch. Brunch, what a fancy word. Why can’t ya just say breakfast? I can’t have eggs anymore, but you probably don’t need to know all of that. Got something wrong with my arms. Usually if I am eating eggs, all the blood doesn’t wanna return to my chest and heart area. That coulda been bad cholesterol. LDL or HDL or whatever. But I suspect it happened on the job, on accounta I was always near solvents. Solvents, sure they clean stuff up real nice, but they aren’t good for human parts or processes. I always been able to see good, and hear good and get erections, but the blood in my arms gets blue quick, and as a result, like I said, I shouldn’t eat eggs if I am planning on driving the family car, or operating a remote control, or fishing or something where you gotta use your arms a lot. I eat pears, and peaches and stuff. Walnuts sometimes. Know what’s funny about walnuts? There was a time I had a shelf full of nuts and bolts. Tool objects. Anyway I put a bag of walnuts up there, and would snack on them while I worked. Usually on a lawnmower I had. Anyways, like I was saying, I bit into a washer. This is a steel washer. Like the Steelers, you know. I cracked a molar. Prediction: Steelers.

New York Jets @ Green Bay — Prediction: Green Bay.

Seattle @ Miami — If any game should be playing on 463 Montgomery Ward’s television sets while a sulking husband tries on bad cardigans, this is the one. Prediction: Miami.

Philadelphia @ Dallas — Old Salts returns next week. Prediction: Dallas.

Denver @ St.Louis — Denver might feel like they’ve lost their footing, or grasp on what really matters. They’ve had crucial players retire and/or get in trouble. They should go to St.Louis with clear heads and proceed to guilt, beg and cajole a win away from the Super Bowl Champion Rams. On the field, they should whine, complain and resort to bizarre tactics like saying “This is what I sound like when I eat soup,” right before each snap, or wear special high-thread count patches with Leslie Uggams’ face on them, on their sleeves. They shouldn’t even think of it as football. At halftime, they should work together in the locker room to settle an old dispute. Then dance. Maybe one of them should drink a Sprite. One should really call that stewardess and apologize for all of those carrot top remarks. Maybe one should call the Rams’ locker room and say, “Is there another way to settle this?” or “Can we talk briefly about bordellos in your fair burg?” Then they should go back on the field and get the living shit kicked out of them for the rest of the game. Prediction: St. Louis.