A) I should have known about Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers, is it? They’ll never repeat. Not in your lifetime, anyway.

B) 2002–2003 Total Record: 161–107

C) See you next season.

D) Buy the book. You may find it at McSweeney’s in Brooklyn, McSweeney’s in San Francisco, Powell’s in Portland, Quimby’s in Chicago, Clovis Books in Brooklyn, Criminal Records in Atlanta, Ruminator Books in St. Paul and Canterbury Books in Madison, WI and by mail from me, for 6 bucks total: P.O. Box 540 NYC, NY 10012

This is the “single,” from Ignore The Spread. It’s an amped-up CC Music Factory-esque remix from the first week of the glorious 2002 campaign.

A Letter From A Veteran Punter to A Rookie Punter at the end of Training Camp (Iron-fortified remix w/ hott gravy)

Dear Rick,

I enjoy watching you sleep so soundly, passing out night after night without the aid of a single capsule of Codeine-strength Tylenol, but simply with the narcotic-free medicine provided by your Bose headphones and a Shrek DVD.

The only noise in the room comes from either my limping across this spotted industrial-grade carpeting (I no longer have the ability to actually lift my feet very well unless it is, of course, a game situation) or your cell phone burbling with sweet nothings from your old college girlfriend.

Sure, occasionally extreme curiosity propels me towards your duffel bag, or the fresh pack of Listerine Breath Strips on top of your dresser, but these are great NFL-style hard knocks that you’ll be able to chuckle over with your coworkers at the sawdust factory when you’re inevitably cut from the squad and I retain my position as one of the league’s top punters.

One of the league’s premiere punters.

One of the greats.

A future hall-of-famer who has actually been more than tolerant with this You-might-be-over-the-hill nonsense I’ve been hearing.

What’s incredible to me, is how your snores fill this dorm all through the night, and you’ve seemingly nary a worry on your mind. Granted, I am not originally from this country. I grew up as the son of a simple goose shepherd in Sweden. But your behavior fascinates me. Like maybe there’s something wrong with me, because perhaps you’re content in a way that someone who has figured everything out or come to peace with his problems and humanity like guys who study elephant-based religions and wear chin-to-feet length smocks.

Somehow the fact that Coach Dumree called you the “stupidest bastard on the face of the earth,” today as you squibbed a punt nine yards, thereby ensuring that ten of your heaviest teammates ran wind sprints till they collapsed and vomited all over the sidelines, somehow that horrid event has, in your mind, grown wings and flown up to a tiny thistle nest where it’ s gotten:

a) A shitload of plump feather-coated belly to hide under b) And some regurgitated worms to savor

And even with the humid air sneaking through the cinderblock walls of this dorm, even with the mountains of spent talc ground into the hallway tile, the communal showers flooded with Strawberry Suave and bloody Kleenexes, the Domino’s boxes piled in front of doors, and even as I attempt to engage my wife (or other female admirers) in simple vanilla phone sex and fantasies, and rock the springs of this tiny bed whilst covertly tugging the sadness out of my privates, you seem to sleep so soundly.

I know we’ve had our laughs together, Rick, and that several coaches here said I should take you under my wing, and I have tried. But not too hard. Let’s face it: I have a wife and three kids. I have two additional kids. I have a girlfriend. I have an ex-wife. I have a couple other kids. I have a mother with Alzheimer’s. I have a mother-in-law who needs rare diabetes meds. So, you’ll forgive me if I don’t just raise my hand and say “Cut me, I feel like trading in my Range Rover for a fucking Pinto and roughing it for the next 45 years of my life.”

After all, who has done the following stuff, me or you?

Fielded a poorly snapped ball in Buffalo?

Fielded a poorly snapped ball in Buffalo during lake effect snow?

Fielded a poorly snapped ball in Buffalo during lake-effect snow that was lovingly provided by lake Erie, so it meant the snow was probably toxic to boot, and you know, if given the choice, most people would say, “Oh let me die by freezing to death,” OR “Let me die by toxic poison”? But I had to suffer through both, and anyway, thinking about that kind of thing caused me to react poorly, to this poorly snapped football and the ball subsequently went over my head.

The wind chill was minus 19, FYI. So then the ball lands in the snow, but it really skittered, because when you combine snow and Astroturf it sort of causes, oh you will learn one day what it causes. It caused me to accidentally slide past it and when I just dove back to try and fall on it and be down, I had 285 pound defensive lineman Bruce Smith land on me, mangle me and paw at my teeny tiny shoulder pads, then deliver an oniony belch centimeters from my schnozz.

Then Mr. Bruce Smith silently relieved himself on me, his urine seeping through his polyester game pants into my polyester game pants and onto my skin which had been lotioned pretty well with an expensive Scandinavian crème already while a teammate of his picked up said football and trotted into the end zone with it and on the giant scoreboard a little green cartoon punter was shown crying in front of 75,000 paid attendees.

And then the paid attendees chuckled.

And then Bruce Smith chuckled.

And then the guy manning the scoreboard who was later hired by Phish kept going with it. And soon this cartoon punter’s electronic tears sprang from his helmet and formed a kind of sea on the playing field. And it looked like sort of an LCD ocean.

And then these giant Humpty Dumpty footballs came to life and had pitchforks and forced my electronic teammates into this LCD ocean and they were drowning, and by now, in Buffalo, it is still a blizzard but the fans are beside themselves with laughter.

And then the by-products of Bruce relieving himself combined with my very expensive lotion froze to the inside of my pad and my thigh, thereby causing me great discomfort. And following all of that, on the very next punt, a beautiful, redeeming 65-yarder, one Don Beebe returned it all the way for a touchdown, and being the punter, I was the last line of defense, but since I had the burn of frozen urine on my thigh, I was ill-equipped to make a regulation tackle and therefore simply tried to trip Don Beebe, only I slipped and missed, and then those two plays were shown later on ESPN consecutively and one of the commentators said I looked like I was doing some sort of hat dance out there, and where was my cape, etc.?

And the other said, no, that I looked like I was doing some sort of sing-for-my-supper dance on the frozen field? And they argued playfully until a third said finally that I resembled nothing as much as a drunken figure skater with Lupus and a high brain damage causing fever?

That was ME.

It was also me who was pink-slipped, and forced to stand at the front door of buffet restaurants in the Tampa area saying, “Remember me?” and signing B&W 8×10s. And the buffets and I got together to create an award winning for that area, anyway) meatloaf, that was dubbed as succulent as it was healthy by one media outlet. It was also me who fought his way back into the NFL. It was also me who subsequently built one of my children a $43,000 tree house complete with wet bar, sauna and retractable roof.

So, before you get too glum, think about my conditions. What can you learn from them? Probably nothing. But Good luck. I’m sure you’ll see me on TV, and not doing an icy tap-dance, but I will be on TV winning football games and jumping rope with a giant 64k chain and bobbing for diamonds in a Jacuzzi filled with the love juice of over 1,000 Las Vegas showgirls.

And you’ll fondly recall this note.


- - -


Last week: 2-0.
Playoff record: 8-2.


1) No poor people will see this game in person, unless of course they are mopping up spilled mustard and slinging watered-down Budweiser.

[Or unless they are reporting. Reporters don’t get paid shit. And all too often, it shows. Sure, there are, without question, some high-class reporters, who do quality TV work, who no longer must don the station-indicating logo-embossed blazers, but, with the help of a stylist, may choose a snazzy suit of their own. Guys like Al Michaels, whose effervescence and commitment to the game at hand is unmatched by any human being who has ever even seen a football. But newspaper beat reporters? They’re expected to feed a family of five on 18,500 dollars a year. And like it. Their children often have to live off the mold spores that grow on the backseats of their mini-vans from previous yogurt and cracker spills. Those poor shmucks. They’re cagey cynics until a wink from Elway or Romanowski melts their icy veneer. Then we get 875 words on what saints are made of: blood, guts, will, determination, donations to charity, etc.]

2) None of those bad-ass Oakland Raider fan lunkheads that look way too much like the Road Warriors will be there.

[Unless of course they are rich. There’s nothing worse than a rich lunkhead. Rich lunkheads who drive SUVs and still have a chip on their shoulder are what is going to bring this country down. Mark my words. There’s no humility left. Quite often it’s the boisterous chap who finds himself driving a Humvee H2, brawling at bars, waist-deep in peroxide-loving escorts, and who, twenty or thirty years down the road, has been sued and beaten so bad he has to have back surgery every couple weeks and you always have to endure at least a half hour speech about how they once had season tickets to something.]

3) But the Super Bowl has never been about humility.

[It has been about fur coats and fucking the babysitter. And touchdowns. It has been about pretending that comb-over WORKS!, putting on a shitload of pancake make-up and freshening up that drink. The Super Bowl is amateur night. It’s New Year’s Eve. Give me the people who have never set foot inside a dome. Give me the people who’ve watched every minute of every Bills game in October, or every Arizona Cardinals game in December.]

4) The Super Bowl is about really creative ads.

[So if your son or daughter went to school and is now climbing the ladder at Ogilvy and Mather or BBDO, or wherever, congrats. Tell us about it. Maybe it will involve an elf with yellow teeth who turns into a supermodel. Maybe it will be about a Martian who is addicted to melted cheese. One thing is for certain, the commercials will not be about any kind of hot, wet cereal. Or ointment. Or chewable diabetes medication.]

5) Prediction: The final score will be Raiders 24 Tampa Bay 17.

6) Prediction: There will be fireworks.

7) Prediction: Joey Fatone will be there.

8) Prediction: The clean-up will not be fun.

Next week, a 14,000 word recap.

- - -


Last Week: 3-1
Playoff Record: 6-2

Brief News: The book is still rolling along. And by book, I mean: Ignore the Spread. My trustee coworker laid out all of the copy in a very catchy, eye-friendly manner. I drew the cover. She then got some quotes on prices. We agreed it had to be cut in order to save money. I looked at a galley. I said, “No.” We (meaning me) put it back to nearly its original length. I would not make the book teeny and tiny, just to pinch a penny. My costs are almost prohibitive, but you know what? Time Warner cable can wait for their fucking money. ATT Wireless can wait for their money. I am trying to get in shape, so I joined a gym. Getting in shape means sitting in a lukewarm, broken Jacuzzi, so you know those gym-running, money-wanting bastards can wait and then wait some more for their money. In a very short period of time, you will receive a book called Ignore the Spread and you will know that a shitload of TLC was placed inside of this project and rattled around like the jar full of wheat pennies that paid for its publication. You will love this book. Guaranteed. Now let’s get to this monologue, shall we?

Tennessee at Oakland: Oakland
Tampa Bay at Philadelphia: Tampa Bay

Words That Might be Spoken by a CEO Looking for Programming in the Off-Season


Okay now, I’m gonna break you all down into SMODS, and then we’ll get busy from there. That’s my little play on pods. A lot of times people might break up a group of executives and thinkers . . .

and, if we have to, marketers . . .

that’s me fucking with ya . . .

into teams or pods, but we’re smarter than that, so we combine smarts and pods and call it SMODS. Laugh if you want, we’re getting into SMODS today.

How’s the volume on this lav? We’ve sunk money into these cordless, uh, lavs. I don’t even wanna tell you about it. I have to fly coach now. [laughter?] Let’s leave it at that.


I should copyright this terminology: SMODS. Incidentally, I had some computer guys and some stats guys, some of the brain trust, you know, get together for four months and create a software component for SMODS. The tech department. The SMOD you are in, has been scientifically, uh, proven to be the correct SMOD for you, based on the data and how you’ve performed here, and what sorts of goodies are in your skills set. Of course, with the interns, we just had to wing it. They’ll fit in good, too. Dick Bethune’s kid is in here. I’ve seen him in the hallways. And he’s a sharp cookie.

Anyway . . .

Okay. Okay Janette, how do I work this thing? Why isn’t it? Hmm.


Okay. I can simply drag and click to here. Bear with me people. It’s okay. Thanks. There we are. SMODS, the power point presentation. Wow. Whaddaya think? Pretty sharp, right?


Janette, may we have some waters? Janette, can we get them out of the cooler nearest the shaftway? Down by Len’s cube? That’s excellent. Thanks. Oh and lemon wedges. Lemons? Janette? Thanks so much.

Okay. Where was I? I’m sorry, people, this is day one, and we’re all here together fleshing it out. That’s why I’m not in my suit, even though I am due in Akron at eight o’clock tonight. But I have these pants on and my sleeves rolled up, ’cause if you get to know me, you know that this is how I work.

Free of pretense.

Okay? One company. One cause.


Okay. And our SMODS, if you will, are headed up by some of the finest people I’ve hired in the last decade or two. Some I know like family, and some have just come on board and I am getting acquainted with them, just like you. Let me make one thing clear, however: They’re all heavy hitters in the business. Every word that comes out of their mouth is solid gold genius. Any thought they have is worth at least a million bucks. So some of you newbies take note. And some days when you’re finding yourself on your commute home, or having a sandwich and kind of taking a breather? And you’re thinking to yourself that you are in a bitch of a predicament, that someone was a real asshole, pardon my French, to you? Someone from work yelled? Or had you get something done that you really had to dig way deep inside for? And you think, I quit? Just remember what I said: All their words are solid gold genius. So quit getting blue, follow the program. Let them direct and lead, and you be right in behind ‘em. That’s why they are SMOD captains.

No one’s here to make things horrible for you. We’re here to win. Those aren’t two different things.

So each SMOD will have a VP at the helm, of course. Some execs too, and probably an intern for copying, faxing and coffees, okay? There will be one group lawyer, for the whole package, and that is David and his associates, and I’m sure he’s in your Rolodex, but please check in with your SMOD captain or me, as if it is really, excuse me, ON if it is really necessary to call them or fax. ‘Cause not only do we incur debt, but we also, ah, look we just don’t want to bother David with every frivolous little thing. Let’s wait until we can show him a bigger picture. Agreed? Then he’ll advise and we’ll do all the swearing and have the heated conversations. Okay. You can laugh at that.

Okay. SMOD One will consist of who is on your sheet. Look at the top of SMOD one, and it says headed by who? Headed by Jerry Weaver. Jerry Weaver. Can you give him a short hand?


Jerry’s . . . Jerry’s one of the best. He’s one of the finest thinkers I’ve had the pleasure, and Irish Balls on a hoagie if anyone can help us tackle this it’s Jerry.

What it doesn’t say on the sheet, and this is important, is Jerry was the point man behind our whole Michelle-o-vision campaign in 1989, but you probably knew that. Michelle-o-vision changed the way we all look at sitcoms and real zookeepers with real problems and reality television. Michelle-o-vision was Nielsen’s favorite when those Survivor over-seers were still backstroking laps in their daddy’s schnutz.

Michelle-o-vision was what, people?

Was what?

Even if you’re interning here, you should know this? ’Cause you should have done your homework, and you, you probably chanted this to your parents and begged them to watch it when you were a young-un.

Michelle-o-vision is Tell-a-vision.

Not, tele-vision. But tell, like in, Michelle, tell your fucking story to the camera so we can make another 48 million, okay? [laughter?]

Just kidding. Michelle is a great person and because the show did so well, and even though you may not hear so much about her these days, we did and we do pay for most of her surgeries, and when she was audited we helped with legal and she still today gets residuals and stipends.

A lot of the negatives you hear about in the press, like with Whitey and his trial? Well, we aren’t babysitters and Whitey is a grown man and he is not Michelle, okay? So, of course, we were under no obligation to arrange for legal for his trial, or any spouse’s trial, from charges that stemmed from NOTHING, not one iota of anything that ever, ever had to do with Michelle-o-vision. Right? And we wish him the best. But enough. He just. It’s really sticky. And if you want to know, it is part of the reason I am getting on this goddamn flight later today.

Goddamn. It just makes me angry and now I am way off talking about our new SMODS. Fuck an apple. Dammit. Can we agree that Michelle-o-vision and the superb vision of Jerry Weaver is important and that is why Jerry is here? Sorry for my tirade.

Okay. Jerry also was the brain behind World’s Youngest Executions and got us into sticky countries like The Guams, and Tanzanias of the planet and got hard footage of young people being put out of their misery for crimes they did or didn’t commit.

Hard show!

Really gritty, and we took crap for it, right or wrong, we do not know. It wasn’t our job to judge and jury the thing, but to capture the deaths and sell ad time. World’s Youngest Executions turned out to be a worldwide hit, syndicated and award-winning in the Belgiums and Luxembourgs and Ukraines and even in Spain. We got letters from Bilbao. We got written up in a Singapore, uh. Okay?

And those of you who’ve been around the block and saw how we sold the Utah high school wrestler’s trial, then his subsequent death-sit and finally his life termination by firing squad? Well, I don’t have to tell you, but that is the crowning moment in my career and most, uh, assuredly what made me president here and it is the one TV moment I am sure of how you are seeing me talk and direct you this afternoon. Uh-hmm. Hmm. Ahmm.

I need a quick water.


Thanks, Janette.


SMOD Two is Pam DeSoto of Yes, Welcome Pam.


Hooray. Directly upon her graduation from Michigan State, Pam and her boyfriend, who is now famous or infamous as Bearded Lyle, started, and Pam was head of marketing at Which as you know by now, revolutionized the way we look at teenagers and what goes on in the bathroom and it wasn’t even just for that “weird” demo of folks who are into scat. We know that that type of thing plays big in suburbia and the Hollands and the Dutch places.

Time out a second . . .

Hey Cori, can you make sure that my air quotes, my finger quotes, go into the minutes of this around when I said weird? Because to some, scat might be weird, but about 6.5 million people don’t think it is and those 6.5 million spend a lot of money at, so I will say for the record, even though I was raised pretty strict, I am open to a lot of kinkier stuff. So is most of society, I guess, if you think about it.

But anyway, also, was about gossip and putting on your make-up or inviting a boy or man to watch you do your duty or short clips of hot encounters. And then there were chat rooms and you could do all sorts of wonderful stuff like order worn panties from your favorite teen and it just exploded. Who was responsible for that?

Pamela DeSoto.

And she wasn’t cheap to get people, but she is here and is amazing. And let’s cheer HER on.


SMOD Three.


Let’s not waste anymore time . . . oh, okay! [laughter]

[inaudible for three minutes?]


SMOD Three is captained Craig Wintersand, and he created the marketing campaign that brought back the leather trench coat to middle America. Leather trenches, especially those sold under his hot campaign at Flagler’s under the FULL LEATHER JACKET campaign shot up by 61% even in SUMMER of 2001. Craig revamped and repackaged and opened up the country’s brain to the leather trench of all hues. My kid has six of them including lilac.

Li-fucking-lac, folks.

I figure if you can get a teenage boy into a $575 dollar lilac colored trench coat, the world is your oyster. We’re here to help shuck it.

Also, mustard yellow was popular and many rascal-bent country acts were wearing them and rappers, and he got them and he got stylists to believe in them and really embrace them. FULL LEATHER JACKET was one man’s battle that one man won.

Let’s take a short break, enjoy these wheat crackers from our subsidiary Thermoo Baking Group. Let’s enjoy them, and then I will discuss the other three SMODS which of course, feature Donn Quimby, the scientist who recently worked with chemical to create a fully edible and digestible melting agent that is used in Nacho Slurpees. And Barry Knupke, who executive produced that jaws-of-life reality program we all know as “Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in the Ditch,” and lastly a final SMOD, helmed by yours truly.

- - -


Last Week: 3-1
Playoff Record: 3-1

Autobiographies of Each Game

Pittsburgh at Tennessee — I’m afraid I don’t have much to say. I was conceived in a mine. I was born in a mine. Then I spent many of my early years working in an orchard. I guess come Saturday I’ll be festive. I suppose Neil O’Donnell might have some interesting notes, having played for both clubs. He’s napping right now. He was dressed as Bullwinkle earlier and doing some sort of webcast. Anyway, I had a twin, very much like me, who passed away. He had a tire allergy. I have a fondness for different medicated broths. I pretend to have the glaucoma, but don’t. I watch a lot of the “judge” programs. I am really not too fired up overall. I can’t urge you to pay too close of attention to me, especially after last weekend: Ohio State, The Giants, all of that stuff. I’ll be kind of sleepy. I am, perhaps, toooooooooo AFC. That might be my problem. I did conjure up a little playoff magic in 2000. I dunno if I have it in me this year. Pittsburgh is simply dreadful. So many blown opportunities. Agh. I could go on, but won’t. Prediction: Tennessee.

Atlanta at Philadelphia — I am a new Extreme laxative/chewable antidepressant (over-the-counter) as well as a game. I did very well in Berlin, Bilbao, and Toronto. I am being tested in Mid-Atlantic states, and I suspect many of the people in Philly will devour me throughout the evening. Seventeen year-old boys who dabble in forensics, and wrestling enjoy my soothing effects. I come in raspberry, fig, bubble gum, hot nacho, nacho ice, nacho nacho ice, mint ice, ice fogg, ham fogg, ice ham, bacon/onion, bacon/bubble gum, dream swirl, floor mat tapioca, tapioca aspirin, chicken peanut, moist peanut, cashew holiday, pine ice, pine fig, marshmallow grape, candied ice, lemon donut, coconut screamer, porridge Benedict, porridge benefit, blueberry mist, cranberry steam, froot soot, cilantro hydra sport, tex mex molasses, sugar ice, nitro ice, peppermint sliver, tomato, and dairy. Prediction: Atlanta (against my better judgment).

San Francisco at Tampa Bay — I am a coward. I’ve always befriended the world’s poor, and then ratted on them for my own crimes. What can I say? I am being honest. If you watch me, you’re casting a vote for two supreme assholes. Assholishness as a whole, I’d say, has been on the rise since about July of 2002, and I am sorta the icing on the cake. The temperature here will be nearly 1000 degrees. Many fans will say, “this is the real Super Bowl.” Those same fans will also be involved in running fraudulent day care operations and resting their hot, sweaty foreheads between the breasts of their young, troubled piano students. This will take place in a canoe. This will be filmed and given to an area newspaper. The whole community will be let down. Prediction: Tampa Bay.

N.Y. Jets at Oakland — I am the game everyone will watch. Heck, most of these other shlubs are just three-hour chunks of time to scrape ice off roofs and return curling irons at Target. When I come on, a nation will bow to me. But then I’ll go all nutso and betray them. I’m schizo like that. I’ll suck everyone in and then Chad Pennington will throw three or four interceptions and someone will have wasted a whole day inviting friends over and making a roast and sausage grits and by about 9:35 in the second quarter everyone will be bored and worried about something they are dreading at work on Monday, and then I’ll just quietly pack everything up and see you next week. Prediction: Oakland.

- - -


Last Week: 9-7
End of Regular Season: 153-104

Green Bay Gifts

Let’s talk about the end of the football season for a second.


Now, more importantly, let’s talk about the Green Bay Packers doing some charity work on the last Sunday of the regular season two years in a row at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

Numero Uno: Last year, Packers QB Brett Favre took a nose-dive so N.Y. Giant Michael Strahan could pick up the season record for QB sacks. Favre just fell down, much like you would if a hot member of the opposite sex were chasing you with a pitcher of margaritas and no trousers on. That sort of “playful collapse” in professional sports is like giving Pete Rose a convertible, fourteen thousand edible condoms, a secret black American Express card and a 4,908 night stint at the Sands in Vegas. It makes us fans feel really gay. And not gay in a way that signifies “giddiness” or is homophobic, but in that 5th grade sort of way when someone tries to get you to listen to a 60-minute cassette of Jesus-based ukulele music and try on a cape with a giant tooth on the back of it.

It’s wrong. It’s why our kids tattle on each other, and why every city looks exactly the same. I grew up with a bunch of do-gooder cowards who always made the sports teams because they abstained from booze and weed. Their version of the golden rule was “Eat More Mush.” They would have pulled something like this. Something to make their big buddy from Kenosha feel like a winner, when his team was sucking pond water and staring the off-season in the face like a report card full of F’s.

So anyway, Strahan got the sack record; the only highlight of yet another schizophrenic football season in New York. If you live here, you learn to tune out most sports reporters and pundits. One day they will write 1,000 words on why Chad Pennington has the testicles of a small, deceased troll, and the next day they will claim that Pennington parted the Red Sea on an old moped that was fueled by the run-off from his kitchen sink-concocted cure for Lupus.

During said contest, we fans got to see Fox repeatedly cut to a dusky booth high atop the field. In that booth, the previous record holder, retired Jet Mark Gastineau, looking like Blanka from Street Fighter II sutured into one of Bert Convy’s old Botany 500 suits, probably nursed an O’Doul’s. Time, controlled substances and karma have turned Gastineau into an old Ford Maverick with a backseat full of Hardee’s wrappers. So it was more scary than special to see him and Strahan hug and be big, awkward goofy men. Life choices, people. Then the Giants, at 7-9, hung it up for the year. A lot of good all those damn sacks did. Later the Packers were bounced from the playoffs.

This year Favre and the Packers marched into Jersey for their last regular season game with a shot at getting home field advantage throughout the playoffs if they could only finish off the Jets. This game, though it was a shlubby holiday match-up with an AFC squad, was the Packers most important playoff game. A win all but assured them of a Super Bowl berth. They have proven they cannot win in Tampa Bay and no one wants to go to Philadelphia.

The Jets, may I remind you, were, a few weeks ago, a club with (at the time) their whole complete season on the line going into Champaign, IL to face the Chicago Bears, one of 2002’s worst squads. The Jets got corrected, scolded, pinched and laughed at hard that afternoon. They’ve convinced everyone they’ve “turned it around.” So naturally, the Packers came to play the Jets, fell into a deep slumber, and were sent home, with a pail full of cold gruel and one ugly home game against the Falcons. Life choices, people.

The Packers need to make some decisions. The first one is: Should we keep pissing Jeff Johnson off? I suggest “No.” The second one is, Do we wanna keep playing like someone who is a really good trombone player but doesn’t try because he sees an ice cream truck outside the window of his trombone lesson facility and gets distracted? That should be a “no” as well. It’s not that hard, people. The NFL, this season, has been the most unpredictable, stinking mess. Someone should get in there and mop up, posthaste. Someone should get in there before the Giants and Jets get everyone believing they’re contenders.

Indianapolis at N.Y. Jets — N.Y. Jets
Atlanta at Green Bay — Green Bay
Cleveland at Pittsburgh — Pittsburgh
N.Y. Giants at San Francisco — San Francisco

- - -


Last Week: 13-3
Season Record: 144-96

Why I Will Be Taking Over For Santa
(No questions from the peanut gallery)

by Sir Bill Parcells

Many of you have asked why I was at a Passaic, NJ area Shoney’s with God and several reps from Mattel, Toys R Us, National Geographic, The Weather Channel, Reebok, Depeche Mode, Wal Mart, and Donald Rumsfeld. Many of you will know, shortly, that the meeting lasted 7 hours and that I ate a rasher of bacon and drank, what my doctors will certainly call a no-no, the beverage commonly referred to as hot cocoa. It is with much excitement, and I will not answer your namby-pamby questions, but it’s with glee that I tell you that the fruits of this meeting are that as of December 26, 2003, I will be in charge of worldwide holiday gift distribution for Christians and greedy heathens, replacing the Santa Claus family and elves, whom I have the utmost respect for. There’s a big pride and legacy in this. These, I don’t have to tell you, are big boots to fill. Big, shiny black ones.

We could sit here and speculate all day, people. Did Bill Parcells, a football man, lobby for a job involving tools and variables he doesn’t know much about: sleighs, reindeer, flying, chimneys, little cherubic bearded felt-wearing motherfuckers, the North Pole, etc.? Well, I am not gonna get into the nuts and bolts. I’ve been picked on by you sons of bitches since day one. Let’s look at the facts. And then let’s let the facts tell the true story.

Fact one: God identified a problem. If you are in charge of such a huge worldwide operation, I think you have to ask yourself a few questions every day. I don’t believe that the Claus family could do this. So God came to my agent and initiated contact. Of course, when I first took the call I assumed it was sainthood, which may not be too far off on the horizon, but it was really just a friendly call, saying, “Bill, what do you think of Christmas?” From there on out the whole thing went very quickly. Not that I would ever pander for another man’s job, but we had a workable contract before Santa had even hit Peru. I’ve always dreamed in some way of being associated with Christmas, and I don’t have to tell you that I’ve been intrigued by the concepts of both naughty and nice for ages.

Fact two: I had free time. Even though I have been involved in talks with a lot of pro football teams who need me, I was basically just napping a lot and complaining. I am due to get a federal medal in June of 2003, from the government for being one of the country’s foremost complainers and blame-placers. But that isn’t what this conference is about.

Fact three: To be perfectly frank, the presents have sucked.

Fact four: Santa isn’t Santa. It ain’t widely known, but Santa died in 1877. The tradition of gift distribution has been handed down to relatives in the Claus family for so long, that by Xmas of 2002, the sleigh is driven by a Jewish cousin named Gary. He barely even has any contact with the Pole itself, or Mrs. Claus, who is 403 years old. The Clauses are legends. Great people, who done more with gingerbread, ribbon and milk and cookies, than you lazy pricks could do with an ironing board and 43 million dollars. So let’s not poo-poo this and say Parcells is euthanizing Santa, which I know will be your spin on it, but let’s look at things how they are. The Clauses weren’t getting the job done.

Fact five: I like a challenge. I’ll be replacing most of the elves, but I’ve signed a huge deal with Map Quest, so I should be able to find most of these dumps in a hurry. If you’re working for me on Christmas, which is now, with the help of the FCC, gonna be called Parcellsmas, you’ll either help me get these gifts delivered or you’ll be in the soup lines. Dave Meggett will be my fleet commander and Mark Bavaro will serve as reindeer groomer.

Fact six: What will change? Nothing. Keep leaving out milk and cookies. Keep the brats asleep. Keep singing “Silent Night.” Look for me to don a red suit and wear a white beard at least through 2007; then we may transition to some bib overalls and a hat made of straw. I want to go about this slowly and do the right thing, and we’ve hired on a couple people from Docker’s to help me cultivate a more Parcellsy-type Santa, but we don’t want to spring it on everyone right away.

Fact seven: The rumors about me wanting young models like Cheryl Tiegs to sing “Santa Baby” into my crotch are just that. Terrible, hateful rumors.

As I said, earlier, I am now in charge of Christmas and Christmas Presents. I am, effectively, the new Santa. I have a great love for Santa Claus. I wish the Claus family well. I hope that people will support me in this new and awesome endeavor. I had to do the right thing for my family, and at this juncture, I think working in the field of Christmas present distribution, and making lists and subsequently checking them twice were where I was headed. I wish myself luck. I thank you for listening. I will be updating you all before we kickoff in December of 2003. Thanks.

Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants — N.Y. Giants
Kansas City at Oakland — Oakland
Cincinnati at Buffalo — Buffalo
Miami at New England — Miami
Baltimore at Pittsburgh — Pittsburgh
Atlanta at Cleveland — Atlanta
Tennessee at Houston — Tennessee
Dallas at Washington — Washington
Carolina at New Orleans — New Orleans
Minnesota at Detroit — Minnesota
Jacksonville at Indianapolis — Indianapolis
Arizona at Denver — Denver
Seattle at San Diego — San Diego
Green Bay at N.Y. Jets — Green Bay
Tampa Bay at Chicago — Chicago
San Francisco at St.Louis — San Francisco

- - -


Last Week: 10-6
Season Record: 131-93


My previous entry for this week has been deemed, by me, not too fun. You can browse it here if you’d like. Since we won’t be speaking until after Christmas, I thought I’d provide some holiday cheer. But first I’d like to announce that I’m doing a real book. A real small book. I know that there will be between 1 and 977 of them printed, but at this time the exact number is not known. The book will be handmade by me and a couple of designer fellows I know. The book will not be snazzy. It will include staples. Despite those little issues, the book will be filled with a lot of love. It will be hand-numbered and signed. The book will take the best (or worst, since I hope the final edit includes only predictions I got wrong) predictions of the four seasons of the NFL Picks, and be presented in the “Greatest Hits” tradition. There will also be a secret chapter included. The secret chapter is about something secret. The book is going to be called Wide Right: Four Years of Horrid NFL Picks by Jeff Johnson. There will be one reading for it in NYC in January. The book will not be ready until mid-January. The book marks the first time someone has blatantly taken their collection of McSweeney’s internet scribblings, souped it up, and sold it him/herself. It may very well be the last time. I do not know. All I know right now is that it is a brilliant idea for two (or more) reasons:

I’ve written nearly 100,000 words about football since 1999. None of us like to be “online” rummaging thru this crap during exciting football contests, but having such a book on the armchair of our favorite pleather recliner is a splendid idea. As an owner of the book, you can reference some of the most mind-blowing football writing in seconds flat. Plus, perhaps you have a really funny friend from Montana or Guam and they love football and they had no idea such a column existed. You can whip out the book, make a friend happy and convert them into a weekly reader of said material. Then when our ranks get swollen, we will organize, march and change history for many citizens.

The book will hopefully be for sale at the McSweeney’s store in Brooklyn. I’m going to do it in the way many old-fashioned crackpot pamphleteers, religious zealots and racist scumbags have spread their message since the dawn of time.

By using elbow grease. By mailing it to your address once I’ve received your moolah.

The book is going to be cheap. Five dollars, plus one dollar postage and handling. That’s really not a huge sum of money, especially if you’ve loved this column for four years. It’s always been free. And it will continue to be free, and since most of you read it at work, using your employers’ computers and electricity, I consider that double-free. So really, you’ve been profiting. Not monetarily, but just karma-wise.

I am going to work day and night so that you have this book in time for the Super Bowl.

Please email if you are interested. In the weeks to come, more concrete details will be given about Wide Right. Fitted Sweats, by the way, is the name of my new publishing enterprise and we aim to bring you many treats in 2003.

Your amigo,

Jeff Johnson

Here is what I am happy about this holiday season:

BLTs. Women’s butts. Naps. Cooking. Your valued friendship.

Miami at Minnesota — Minnesota
San Francisco at Arizona — San Francisco
Philadelphia at Dallas — Philadelphia
Buffalo at Green Bay — Green Bay
Chicago at Carolina — Carolina
Detroit at Atlanta — Atlanta
Houston at Washington — Washington
New Orleans at Cincinnati — New Orleans
N.Y. Giants at Indianapolis — Indianapolis
San Diego at Kansas City — Kansas City
Tennessee at Jacksonville — Tennessee
St. Louis at Seattle — Seattle
Cleveland at Baltimore — Baltimore
Denver at Oakland — Oakland
N.Y. Jets at New England — N.Y. Jets
Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay — Tampa Bay

- - -


Last week: 10-6
Season Record: 121-87

Since it’s getting close to Christmas, I thought I’d pull out all the stops and offer all seven of you a glimpse at how we put this baby together every week. And by “baby” I mean “toddler,” okay? ‘Cause this column has grown into what both professionals and amateurs check every week (usually Thursdays) without fail, as their source for NFL knowledge. Incidentally, it’s often used as bulletin board material in a lot of locker rooms. Players get fired up, angry even, and feel quite shunned if we needle them about a bobbling a punt or having too clean a uniform. So without further adieu, let’s have a look:

There’s Gary. Gary works on the NFL picks’ furnace and keeps our lab warm as we string together the magical words that you rely on every week. Gary usually hides a ham sandwich in his lower left-side third drawer. We often replace the meat with old rusty tacks. Gary’s wife left him a few months ago and ever since then, he has been on a real bender. Actually, Gary was never married. He just uses that excuse ‘cause he’s secretly a homosexual and he’s worried that we won’t accept him. And we probably wouldn’t, if we technically knew about his condition, because we’re pretty John Ashcroft about things here and we run a tight ship and we don’t fly any pink flags. We’re intolerant as the day is long, because we are true football fans and true men. This is a small town and people need these predictions, and we don’t want to rock the boat by getting all omni-sexual. The whole place thrives on gossip and innuendo and we’d rather not feed into that, because our business is what has kept the community alive. So Gary hides his gayness and soaks up all the whiskey he can, to mask his depression. Say hello to Gary. There’s Luli, the withered old poodle that shows up in this column at least three times a year. Her little plaid shawl is pretty shellacked by her eye goop, but she has a good life. Old coach Jim Mora just took her on a lecture tour of the Pacific Rim (when she’s away we write about parrots instead) and she’s happy to be back. Luli’s busy tabulating kick return yardage for the fancy playoff graphics we’re doing for Fox this season. This is the bathtub where all the interns sit and conjure up the lovely imagery that makes this column so easy to read: all the Pittsburgh taverns, the trains that run into caves and mountains, the sea captains with hair like Bobby Vinton, the hippies enjoying a gospel brunch after munching down weapons-grade hallucinogens—they think of all that stuff to sort of paste on to the actual content, because football is a bitch to write about. And when football proves to be too tough (read: boring) to write about, and all the interns’ imagery basically sucks and is very confusing, then our old standby is to kick the copy up to Darryl Wayne Condit, in the steel tree house that hangs over the garage. Darryl is always pissed off and holds grudges for centuries. He’s the fellow who gives the picks their sass, I suppose. Let’s see what he’s working on today, shall we? “Vikings TE Jimmy Kleinsasser and WR Chris Walsh are complete turds and I will fight them anywhere and any time.” Good work, Darryl. We keep him in Slurpees and army magazines and he cranks out the venom. Once the imagery and the poodle and the hostility are in place, all the picks go to the copyediting department. They’re usually glum because they don’t get paid very much and are forced to wear shabby clothing and drive station wagons and take really crummy vacations. They’re always eating Snack Wells and making threats with serrated knives their children made at camp. Then it’s my turn to have a look, because I really enjoy lousing up all work the copy editors have done. And I commonly do that while sitting in my favorite red leather chair, next to a gigantic stone fireplace. Since I haven’t seen a football game in the four years I’ve been writing this, I’m prone to mentioning old news like Warren Moon leaving the CFL to play for the Houston Oilers, or talking about the hit that Bo Jackson laid on Brian Bosworth in the dome up in Seattle. I also write extensively about cheese addiction, Eddie Payton and God. For example, I believe God manifests himself in different ways to fans every Sunday. Like in Mike Vanderjagt’s kicks, or last season in Bears’ DB Mike Brown’s back-to-back game winning interceptions for touchdowns. I get very upset if other people start acting like God, or try to channel his magnificence. Like Tim Couch did last week. You’d have thought his game winning TD pass cured a new version of polio or a debilitating pox outbreak. But actually I kinda like Cleveland. So maybe I mention about standing outside of the old municipal stadium one night after it had closed. It was giant, dark and haunting. There was no traffic. If a stadium ever seemed sad, that one did for sure. It was deathly quiet and it looked like a sleeping dinosaur that had just eaten 65,000 vampires. I love stadiums like that because there was no architectural attempt to make it quirky or homey. It was just like something that would be filled with Romanian mourners. Who were actually probably a lot happier than most Indian or Browns fans. I enjoy driving past a stadium on the interstate, especially if you’re not even stopping in that city. It always happens to me going past Comiskey Park in Chicago, or the old Mile High Stadium in Denver. Let me get back on track. The last thing I will do before actually getting the predictions from members of a bawdy Yahoo chat room called CanadianTeens332, is make sure there’s a food reference somewhere in the copy. That’s really the only reason I care games or think about sports is because it’s just a good opportunity to have a bunch of appetizers. If that doesn’t work, which is just about every other week, I often ask fans to imagine the upcoming game as something that could remind them of the feeling they could expect from that exact game. Like every time Detroit plays in Minnesota, I imagine a family of husky boys turning their television set into a jail/rec center for a possum they found down by a dried- out creek. They make the possum wear a pair of a doll’s eyeglasses and a bow tie. The possum hates this, but has to endure it for a few Fritos. Then I cut and paste the predictions and take the whole crew out to Shoney’s to celebrate. Shoney’s always gets referenced in the picks and that will never stop.

Baltimore at Houston — Houston
Carolina at Pittsburgh — Pittsburgh
Indianapolis at Cleveland — Indianapolis
Jacksonville at Cincinnati — Cincinnati
Minnesota at New Orleans — New Orleans
N.Y. Jets at Chicago — Chicago
Oakland at Miami — Oakland
San Diego at Buffalo — Buffalo
Seattle at Atlanta — Atlanta
Tampa Bay at Detroit — Tampa Bay
Washington at Philadelphia — Philadelphia
Kansas City at Denver — Denver
Dallas at N.Y. Giants — N.Y. Giants
Green Bay at San Francisco — Green Bay
Arizona at St. Louis — St. Louis
New England at Tennessee — Tennessee

- - -


Last Week: 8-8
Season Record: 111-81

If Each Game Were a Grandparent

Atlanta at Tampa Bay — Grandma. Lots of rum in her system. Drives a 280-Z. Beats her pets. Has done plenty of reefer. Prediction: Atlanta.

Buffalo at New England — Grandpa. Probably named Richard. Lots of money saved. Wears blazers. Avoids school sings. Can’t stand anyone under 38. Once talked a man from church into a man-on-man fuckfest. We don’t talk about that. Spends most of his time avoiding messy things like diapers and sit-down dinners. Will sue if provoked. Even relatives. No one is safe. Prediction: Buffalo.

Cincinnati at Carolina — Grandpa. No sugar at breakfast. He doesn’t even want to argue about it. Will suggest you make a bunch of crafts out of pine with him. It will take all afternoon. Your hands will be raw, and you’ll have sap in the corners of your eyes. Then he’ll make you pie crusts and liver for dinner. Prediction: Carolina.

Cleveland at Jacksonville — Grandpa. Hooked on sun visors. Insists on dealing when it comes time for cards or board games. Unhealthy obsession with stewardesses. Drinks light beer. Uses the phrase, “You really crossed a line, mister,” way too much. Knows all politicians are crooks. Always has a camera. Thinks Alaska is fucking majestic, but not for you. Prediction: Jacksonville.

Houston at Pittsburgh — Grandpa. Really has problems with other drivers. Neil Sedaka is the apex of American entertainment. So is the second Darren from Bewitched. Needs naps. Never shuts up. Could talk about why we were born with arm pits from now until Easter. Prediction: Pittsburgh.

Indianapolis at Tennessee — Grandma. Active. Khaki skirts. Bridge club. Perfume. Can hear things you say even if you’re in the damn basement. Hasn’t got time for your foolishness. Hates your haircut. Talks about your cousin who is pre-med at Vanderbilt. Her worst-kept secret is her bad gas. Sophisticated but doesn’t know what leprosy is. Prediction: Tennessee.

N.Y. Giants at Washington — Grandpa. Wanted to work for the CIA but wound up at the DMV. Has four issues of Hustler under his Lazy-Boy. Might be responsible for a few mysterious house fires. Tough-ass, but has long conversations with the poodle, Tanya, about canned tuna. You do not go anywhere near that poodle, capeesh? Prediction: Washington.

San Francisco at Dallas — Grandpa. Was a popular Sheriff on local 1960’s local a.m. TV show. Insists on putting his old costume on. Scares the living daylights out of anyone under 40. He’s almost senile. Thinks Tom Landry is still the Cowboys coach. Always has old bean stains on his western shirt. Really can’t take care of himself any more. Once in a while breaks down and says he wants to end it all. Your dad really can’t take that, and it makes your head all hot. You try to leave the room but there’s some chore that you get dragged into, like sweeping up invisible crumbs. Prediction: Dallas.

St. Louis at Kansas City — Grandma. Always had to cook for a family full of dipshitted men. It was worse than the Taliban. She is dumber than a box of old Greek sand, but only because all the men in her life badgered her into washing their undies in some farm house. Still has no understanding of what a music video is. Thinks Jews are from outer space, and that they are called Islamics. Has a lot of plans that are really half-baked. Like putting up a big chain-link fence around America. Thinks it would be pretty easy and only cost around 100, 000 bucks. And maybe having street lamps in all the national parks. Wonders if you’ve seen these new plastic bottles they have around nowadays? Prediction: Kansas City.

Detroit at Arizona — Grandpa. Makes his own Scotch. Drives a Cadillac that is 29 feet long. Once threw at hot cup of Sanka at your mom. Denies he has cancer. Prediction: Arizona.

New Orleans at Baltimore — Grandma. Claims she was a blues singer. Eats popcorn for every meal. Sleeps on a cot next to a TV that she never shuts off. Drinks out of jars. Works at Popeye’s. Always falls asleep on her bus ride home. Ends up out in the suburbs with a stiff neck. Uses lemons for a lot of aches and pains. Prediction: New Orleans.

Philadelphia at Seattle — Grandpa. Has bought and sold a lot of property. Un does his belt after meals, especially in public. Can’t go more than an hour without a toothpick. He’s one of those rich guys who still uses a Thermos. Loves computers. Has friends in Switzerland that he met on the internet. Really big on studying his family tree. Prediction: Philadelphia.

Denver at N.Y. Jets — Grandma. Always taking rides on planes. Purse the size of a koala. Glasses are huge, too. Prediction: N.Y. Jets.

Oakland at San Diego — Grandma. Lost a thumb. Involved with a lot of protesting. Claims to have slept with Mick Jagger. Loves boxed white wine. Art shows. Auctions. Claims to be a health nut but goes overboard on the pumpkin pie, especially when mixed with wine. Prediction: Oakland.

Minnesota at Green Bay — Grandpa. Arms all up inside a deer in the garage. False teeth in the bed of his pick-up truck. Fifteen thousand dollar toolbox. Sheds for everything. Maybe could lay off the mayo a bit. His ticker is struggling a little. Prediction: Green Bay.

Chicago at Miami — Grandpa. Named Barry. Always at the beach. In a Speedo. Very confident sexually. On fourth wife. Always on some crazy tomato and protein diet. Has a Lexus that cost more than your college education. Hasn’t ridden a bike in over 40 years. Likes to make fun of his old friends who served in the war with him. Always implies how much poorer they are or how they “got stuck with an ugly one.” Prediction: Miami.

- - -


Last week: 9-7
Week before, poor math: 0-1
Season Record: 103-73

There’s an awful lot to be thankful for this season. Certainly a month ago, when 49er Terrell Owens reached into his sock, pulled out a Sharpie and autographed a football for his poor, lowly financial advisor reeks of class, dignity and respect. Deep within that gesture, there is a lesson for all of us (and I hope to use this again around Christmas, so really focus here for a second), and that lesson is: The pudgy white guys who crunch all the numbers, wear a lot of hair gel, and talk sassy to service-industry professionals need and should demand way more attention and love from us as fans and humans. And it was great to witness it. I wish that my wife would have given birth to a child of ours, because I’d love to have had a young toddler on my lap, explaining the nuts and bolts of sportsmanship to him.

Another keen play happened last Sunday, when Buccaneers’ defender Warren Sapp turned into a sneaky blocker after opposing QB Brett Favre had thrown yet another interception. Sapp leveled unsuspecting Packers’ lineman Chad Clifton, causing numbness in his extremities. You’ve got to love and praise (if time allows) a good, clean blindsided hit that occurs at least 15 to 20 yards away from the real action. I guess, and please correct me if I’m wrong, that is why it costs at least 65 dollars per person to attend an NFL game. We should be paying that kind of money just to watch it on television. Right?

If one thing momentarily snapped me out of my ennui, though, it was Sunday night’s contest between Indianapolis and Denver. In Denver, the game was played as fat, pigeon gut-sized snowflakes fell on players, coaches and fans alike. I didn’t watch a down of it. I ate a pizza with a lot of garlic. I drank a bottle of Coke. I wished to God that I had some weed to smoke, or some cocaine to snort, or a porno, or a check for 38,000 dollars so that I could pay off all my bills, but I think I probably just played marbles for a while and then played a shitload of harmonica. Then I translated more Billy Joel lyrics into Mandarin Chinese. (Almost done.)

That’s not important. To be honest, I can’t really remember what I did, but somehow, with about 25 seconds left in the game, I turned it on and the Colts were putting on one of their famous Special Olympics drives. The kind that is filled with fits and muffs, tears and yodels, and is constructed of bacon grease, hope, pixie dust and little colored rubber bands for a gawky teenagers’ braces.

Somehow the Colts brought out kicker Mike Vanderjagt to attempt to tie the game with a 54-yard field goal into the snow, wind, sun, hurricane, volcanic ash, anthrax, small pox, turkey shit, seal vomit, elephant semen, salt water taffy, blood, milk of magnesia, pus, ear wax, caramel, nougat, bull pucky, teflon, corrugated steel and snot. All of these elements and also sand and turtle boullion cubes were blowing in Mike’s face. Even his parents went to bed. They shrugged.

Mike’s kick was crucial. If he made it, the field goal would prevent a lot of Broncos fans from leaving the game happy, and it would also stop many of them from having a cold beer at an area Applebee’s, flirting with their red-nosed date, getting her a hot chocolate and a wrap filled with ribs, paying the tab, and going home to fuck. All of these people were stuck in the stands. Freezing.

But they had a trump card. They knew Mike would never make the field goal. So they were elated. Publicly elated. Letting everyone know. They double checked their pockets for condoms. Then they felt around for a parking stub. Then they called their old girlfriend up, you know, Betsy, and they held their fucking cellphones up and the stadium roared and teetered and rocked and the noise was sucking right into the mouthpiece (and, you know, Becky wasn’t home, she was actually on a date with Tony, the eye surgeon) and then they yelled, “All of this could have been yours, bitch.” And maybe patted the new gal a little too hard on the back and stomped up and down waiting for that earring-wearing pussy Vanderjagt to muff the impossible field goal.

And to sum up:

More snow. Vanderjagt’s kick = good. OT. Vanderjagt kicks another field goal, 51 yards, and this one was truly into the wind, and the Colts win the game. Snow keeps falling. Broncos fans go home in tears. Broncos fans talk at work about how they could have made things better. People die laughing at their stupidity.

Now how is that for Thanksgiving? That event was really a cynicism-lowering affair for me. I had almost given up. But I am thankful that once in a while I get to see this kind of madness. You know, I know nothing about Vanderjagt except that if the good Lord is willing, he will probably be repossessing Pontiacs before 2005, but for one night he totally fucking rocked. Mike, eat a lot of turkey, I love you. Happy Thanksgiving from someone who doesn’t even like the Colts.

(And this also, incidentally, disregarding all of the above commentary, is coming from someone who secretly enjoys it when kickers come out on the field with their miniature shoulder pads and their one-bar facemasks on their helmets. This is coming from someone who hopes sometimes that the snapped football goes over their heads and as they frantically try to chase said football, they nervously turn and boot it accidentally, and mutter some swear words and opposing players’ cleates are thundering at them and they, as teeny tiny kickers trip and look back and a guy who weighs 380 pounds obliterates them and sort of humps them, while his teammate runs the loose ball into the end zone for a touchdown.)

But anyway Mike, that was an awesome display. If I were you, I would have flown home with Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” blaring from my walkman. I also would have requested one cigarette and a shot of whiskey.

Thanksgiving Day Games
New England at Detroit — Detroit
Washington at Dallas — Washington

Tennessee at N.Y. Giants — N.Y. Giants
Miami at Buffalo — Buffalo
Baltimore at Cincinnati — Cincinnati
Carolina at Cleveland — Cleveland
Chicago at Green Bay — Green Bay
Pittsburgh at Jacksonville — Pittsburgh
Arizona at Kansas City — Kansas City
Atlanta at Minnesota — Atlanta
Houston at Indianapolis — Indianapolis
Denver at San Diego — San Diego
St. Louis at Philadelphia — St. Louis
Seattle at San Francisco — San Francisco
Tampa Bay at New Orleans — Tampa Bay
N.Y. Jets at Oakland — Oakland

- - -


Last Week: 9-6
Season Record: 94-65

Atlanta at Carolina — Carolina
Buffalo at N.Y. Jets — N.Y. Jets
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh — Pittsburgh
Cleveland at New Orleans — Cleveland
Detroit at Chicago — Chicago
Jacksonville at Dallas — Dallas
Minnesota at New England — New England
San Diego at Miami — Miami
St. Louis at Washington — Washington
Tennessee at Baltimore — Tennessee
Kansas City at Seattle — Kansas City
Oakland at Arizona — Oakland
Green Bay at Tampa Bay — Green Bay
N.Y. Giants at Houston — N.Y. Giants
Indianapolis at Denver — Denver
Philadelphia at San Francisco — San Francisco

I’ve gotten many e-mails asking, “Jeff, what else have you written?” and “When is your book coming out?” To be honest, I’ve written several books (mostly sports or sports thrillers), and since we’re coming up on the holiday season, it seems like the perfect time to tell you about these stocking stuffers!

Georgie Budnik to the Rescue. Our hero gets a computer virus and when he tries to make an online transaction for his fantasy football team, he accidentally hacks his way into, “the Pentagon. Not the American Pentagon, but the Russian Pentagon. There is a riddle. And there is a mystery. And behind it lies the nude, drugged body of the President’s daughter.” Georgie and ex-Bills’ QB Jim Kelly get to the bottom of things in a hurry.

My Wife’s Pets (I served as ghostwriter). A men’s magazine writer gives us a personal and all too painful remembrance of Shannon, his wife’s despondent raccoon. “The ol’ raccoon meant business after all. Fuckin’ Shannon. She’d stacked up my unsold manuscripts in the garage, roped her furry neck with an old garden hose, and took the plunge. Bonnie came out with her brother Chip, who was visiting from Boulder. He played ‘Taps’ on his Martin acoustic. We then drank some Scotch and took an infected-snot yellow ’01 Mustang into the Delta and watched an old bluesman do it the right way.” Over 361 sold.

Notes to a Young Couch Potato and Cable Afficionado. (again, ghostwritten). This bittersweet book of essays by a famous Brit and scrambled egg-enthusiast tells it like it is. “Pussy is something you’ll never encounter. Go ahead. Take a deep breath. Let it loll around your brain. Your manhood consists of fondue and Wichita St. field hockey reruns.”

Old Mules, Old Souls: A History of Wartime American Football. During the war, a lot of pets had to eat dried cranberries, but the worst part is that since so many of our boys were off fightin’ the krauts, offensive lines in football were stocked with old donkeys and mules, not men. In fact, there wasn’t any leather around, so the footballs were these huge oblong felt-covered tennis balls. This is a history given by many of the old players who felt guilty for chop-blocking the poor mules. Many had to be put down and then their bones were used to build warming houses and ice-skating huts. The meat was used to feed orphans, and the skin was used for pants and jackets people wore to some of the first discos.

Jeremy Shockey: Firsts Down (co-written by me). Giants TE recalls his first bout with the flu, trips to the optometrist, his first kiss, the first time he was locked out of the house, the first time we was called a coward, his first youth swimming lesson, the first time he cat-sat for a neighbor, the first dandelion he ever saw, the first time a rubber snake was thrown at him, the first time he put out a small bonfire, and many of his early naps. Compelling reading for fans, or casual football watchers.

The Wrong Brothers. During the exact same time Orville and Wilbur Wright were inventing flight, two South Dakota brothers were inventing what is now known as Dodgeball. Sure, it was played with hot charcoal, not rubber balls, and on a small town’s main street, after the local feed mill acknowledged there would be no paychecks, but it was dodgeball. And while the only competitors, so to speak, were the two brothers, and their mother, it soon caught on and flourished amongst many of the townspeople and prospectors who were headed west.

The Mornings of Hank Stram. (Audio book) Hank Stram announced professional football during the ‘70s and ’80s, coined the popular phrase, "Hey Diddle-Diddle, there’s a run up the middle," and often made jewelry from dead insects. On these cassettes, I fire the hard questions and Hank breaks either into song, mumbles, or snores. I did this as a high-schooler in order to pass my AV class. The remastered edition contains over 19 hours of special “field recordings” of the Stram household and yard.

The Milwaukee Bar Backs. Thriller about tavern workers in Milwaukee who double as diamond thieves. They give all their proceeds to deadbeat dads to pay off their debts. But the deadbeat dads just buy more booze with it, so the bar backs kill them: one-by-one. As yet unfinished. I had to give the advance back. It was too painful to complete.

Marcia. 1,144 page “beach novel for men.” Probably the masterwork of my career. It combines salty politics, rum, fisticuffs, romance, ships, cruising for male hustlers in Winnipeg, dinosaurs, and divorce. I’m sure you have already read it or seen the miniseries starring Ron Liebman, but now it is time to give it to a nephew.

Chicken Soup for the Bengals’ Fans Soul (w/ free t-shirt). This is slated to come out in February. I wrote it with a child psychologist. All I can say is: Everyone loses sometimes.

Gristle. This is a popular coffee table book I did about the steak industry. I wrote many of the captions here. Steak houses, steak knives, fat, plates with red juice on them, rolls, butter, cloth napkins. All exquisitely photographed in immaculate detail.

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Last Week: 8-6
Season Record: 85-59

What Can I Expect?

Washington at N.Y. Giants — You can expect low scoring. The only team to score as few points this season as the Giants are the Bengals. Know them? Play in Cincy? 1-8 so far. That’s not so good. You could round up all the church organists in your town, get them on a weight program, get them on a field and do just as well. Anyway, the weather is going to be cold, shitty and humiliating. Most of the refs will have runny noses. One fan will get pregnant. Keep your eyes peeled when passing by the shadowy concrete exits and you just may get a dose of that romantic transaction. Prediction: Washington.

N.Y. Jets at Detroit — This is the game where the Jets could make a statement. It won’t happen. They’ll turn in one of their worst performances ever. In the third quarter, watch for the jumbotron to flash a photo of a guy who looks exactly like Bobby “the Brain” Heenan, wolfing down a chilidog. You realize you’re standing next to him. You realize your hand is massaging his spine. You realize you told your husband that you were going to the casino with Trish. You realize he’s in a luxury box with his boss Darryl. You can expect him to change the locks again tonight. And play all of those weird Kid Rock ballads so loud the windows shake. You can expect to have a quiet bowl of soup at a Cracker Barrel off of the interstate as you drive over to Battle Creek to crash at you parents house. Only they are in Tahoe. Remember? Prediction: Detroit.

Dallas at Indianapolis — You can expect lies to be told. Many people in the dome will be lying about what a great time they’re having. In their guts of course, they will be mulling over consolidation loans and worrying about Dawn’s braces. She’s been bleeding a lot. Then all of a sudden they’ll feel a sharp pain. It hurts right near their ribs. Don’t touch. Are you crazy? Just get them another light beer. Who in the hell is this punter? Jesus. He hasn’t . . . ahh. Anyway, the PA guy will try to play tracks from the new Phil Collins CD. Prediction: Indianapolis.

New Orleans at Atlanta — You can expect to see some hot chicks. Hot chicks looking for free beer and for a ton of post-game cunnilingus on the roof of the Marriott. Are you down for it? Or are you just gonna let that freak bellhop do all the dirty work this time? C’mon, bro. Their asses are popping out of their thongs and they have Falcons half-shirts on. Get a 6er of hard lemonade and get your britches off. Prediction: Falcons.

Buffalo at Kansas City — You can expect Satan to make an appearance. Satan, or Steven Seagal. One of those two will be at the game, but neither team will show up. The stands will be packed. The governor will start bawling and tugging at his vest. The teams will have gone white-water rafting the day before and no one will have heard from them. The scoreboard will ask you to exit quietly. People will fashion armbands out of old jerseys. Both teams will phone in. “The rapids kicked fuckin’ ass. They kicked serious fuckin’ ass. We’re like an hour away. Near the A&W. Can you guys hang on a sec? No? What the hell, man?” Prediction: Kansas City.

Pittsburgh at Tennessee — You can expect a bare-knuckles boxing exhibition before the game. All the people on welfare or delinquent with their property taxes will line up to fight all the gym teachers in Tennessee. You’d best tune in early. The gym teachers have an edge. Cheaters. Got old rusty spikes from the rail yard hidden in their tube socks. The gym teachers knew the Democrats would get walloped in the election. The gym teachers would like to fight, then look up in the stands, then look up into outer space, then look into a satellite in outer space that is beaming the game to your cable provider, then look down that beam, off a tower, through some power lines and into your sad ass living room and point a firm index finger on your chest and say, “You know what? You are next.” And then you will remember your old locker combination and that you were absolute dog shit at jumping rope and that you were called “Little Arnie, the Angel-food cake maker” for seven miserable years of public school and your only feeble way of trying to get even was by shooting yourself in the foot and doing eight hits of liquid acid at a Rush concert two days after graduation and having to go away for a little while and actually having to wear a bonnet till your extra personality went away. Prediction: Tennessee.

Jacksonville at Houston — You can expect . . . heck, I’m not even sure what you can expect. I haven’t watched either one of these teams play a single down this season. Prediction: Houston.

Denver at Seattle — If my information is correct, you can expect a free Seahawks rain cape compliments of Walgreen’s. Prediction: Denver.

Baltimore at Miami — You can expect more injuries for the Dolphins, and you can expect a huge sigh of relief that Shannon Sharpe is no where near the stadium. Prediction: Baltimore.

Arizona at Philadelphia — You can expect over 19,000 people in the stands to have those hair-donuts around their mouths. You know, the beard that was co-opted out of the grunge movement and has now become the status quo. What is the beard really saying? It’s saying a few things. It’s saying, “I’m gonna walk from here on out. I’ve got a side ache. I might have the flu.” It’s saying, “I prefer Velcro dress shoes.” It’s saying, “I hope to afford a Bobcat for yard chores even though my home is on a teeny, tiny parcel of dead grass.” Prediction: Philadelphia.

Cleveland at Cincinnati — You can expect to see very little scoring. A lot of empty seats. You can expect to see a cloud formation slowly drift over the stadium. Shaped like a small elephant. One of the players will notice. He’ll start thinking that maybe football isn’t his game. That Cincinnati isn’t really his town. He’ll start thinking about how his girl is really not his type. He’ll start to think about being a chef. Riding a ten-speed around. Writing little pamphlets filled with recipes involving kidney beans and stew meat. Prediction: Cincinnati.

Green Bay at Minnesota — You can expect to see the Vikings in disarray. Fighting over things like tape and extra juice. You can expect to see someone stomp his feet. You can expect to see the Packers dominate even though Brett Favre doesn’t have much luck in the Metrodome. Prediction: Green Bay.

San Francisco at San Diego — You can expect to see a man carrying a Thermos of his special turtle soup. He’s snuck it in. Ah, it is the right time of the year for turtle soup. Except a woman, three rows down will get a whiff of it, perhaps ten minutes into the game and remember how her father’s favorite dish was turtle soup. It makes her very sick. A medic walks her out of the stands. When she gets home, she is very melancholy. She starts an outline for a book, Turtle Soup With Jerry. The chapters take forever to write. All she can think of is: “He was a good father. He liked turtle soup. He’s dead. I’m sad.” The stuff she doesn’t know would make for an amazing book. He killed a man and a parrot in a knife fight in Mexico. He had a threesome with a college professor and his sister in Juneau, Alaska. He often needed bourbon to settle his nerves. But she’ll never know that shit. The book notes get stuffed in a drawer. Prediction: San Diego.

Carolina at Tampa Bay — You can expect to see someone dressed in pirate gear drinking non-alcoholic wine. When the Buccaneers score, and “Come Dancing,” by The Kinks blasts over the PA, the pirate will shake the crumbs of his garb, stand up, and proceed to do a little soft-shoe number. Then sit down and sigh. Prediction: Tampa Bay.

New England at Oakland — Expect to see Oakland WR Jerry Rice and company exact their revenge on the Patriots who knocked them out of last season’s conference final. And you can expect a guy in the stands to take off his leg and beat another guy with it. You’re probably thinking: “Sure. Raiders fan. Six gallons of grog. Hot sun. Fake leg with Harley boot. Pats fan’s head.” Not true. Raiders fan. Fake leg. Reebok aerobic shoe. Beating another Raiders fan. 155 stitches. Three pints of blood. 4th quarter. They’re buddies until the fake leg guy figures out the other guy is wearing the fake leg guy’s girlfriend’s jeans. Yeah. Heavy stuff. She just slept over with fake leg guy, too. So that means she went to stitches guy’s house before the game, fucked him and then he came out here. Result: Lawsuit. End of friendship. Weird terrible scar on guys’ head. Bad guy’s leg impounded for evidence. He can’t afford new one right away. Sleeps on Ma’s couch till the trial ends. Drives her bananas. She starts smoking again. He watches Court TV for tips. Prediction: Raiders.

Chicago at St. Louis — You can expect Marshall Faulk to gain over 300 all-purpose yards. You can expect me to weep. Prediction: St. Louis.

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Last Week: 9-5
Season Record: 77-53

Questions about the NFL that must be answered before you read the predictions.

Enough horseplay. We’ve got a real snazzy season unfolding, so let’s try to catch a few of the drippings before the Gooch does, okay? Super duper.

1) Are the St. Louis Rams for real? What I mean is, three wins in a row, can they keep it up? More importantly, doesn’t Rams head coach Mike Martz look a lot like a fellow who always goes outside in the summer, in nice dewy grass, and works on the doghouse in short pants and no shirt? And it’s humid out and he’s on his back, inside the doghouse, hammering away, feet hanging out in the grass, whistling, and he pauses for a big sigh.

Martzie sets the hammer down, and the dog, a golden retriever named Monte, is clumsily pacing around Martzie’s legs, wagging his tail, dying to have a look at the new digs. And Ol’ Martzie, who can’t see the dog, is chuckling, because Monte’s now licking at Martzie’s legs and rubbing him with his cold nose and everything in the whole universe is perfect.

Except. For. One. Thing.

Martzie (picture the look on his face), has just realized he’s built himself into the doghouse. Son of a gun. He’s hammered and nailed so much that he’s actually stuck in said doghouse and then his cellphone starts ringing, but of course it’s outside the doghouse, in his shorts pocket, and his wife is leaning out the back door yelling “Sandwiches!” And Monte starts growling and Martzie basically boils over and starts howling. And then fire trucks come and saw him out, fucking up all of his work, and he has to be on TV in the St. Louis area, and the camera keeps showing his house, and cops in front of it, and firemen hauling away bits and pieces of the doghouse, and Martzie is shaking his head and saying, “Yes, it is true, I got stuck in a doghouse. Yes, I had a panic attack. Yes. Yes. Yes.”

Do you ever imagine that when you look on the Rams sidelines? I do. Pretty much 24-7. It stays with me all week long, too. Well, actually, maybe not as much as the fantasy I have about me and Eagles head coach Andy Reid opening our own noodle restaurant as a ruse, because we’re really in special ops, in the greater Detroit area and we’re gonna nail some grimy bastards. Really make ’em pay. Right Andy Boy? Okay, never mind.

2) Is Monday Night Football over? Is ABC’s Al Michaels harboring a huge amount of anger somewhere deep in his soul? What’s the matter with him? I watched the game Monday night and I could feel the steam coming out of his ears. Just a hot potato. Jesus. Al, take next year off. And Tony Kornheiser at halftime? Tony, go back to selling waterbeds on the radio, amigo.

3) Could Michaels’ anger be due in any part to John Madden’s presence? Because Madden has officially lost it. Someone once patted him on the back about that six-legged turkey thing, and in the process created a monster. Like we’re dying to hear a guy in his sixties pine over a lineman’s belly for 24 minutes. Then out comes the electric crayon. Do you think we’ll hear these words come out of Madden’s mouth by the end of the season?

That was a nice play. Ever make love to a cactus? Yeah, a cactus. You know, you’re in the desert. It’s lonesome. It’s dark. You haven’t had a decent piece of ass in weeks. You happen upon one, and heck, it’s standing straight up, kinda like a person. Even has those things hangin’ off, I’ll call ‘em arms. . . and you’ve been out there for so long, and you’ve got a firm erection, so you shower the cactus with compliments, then you set about the business of making love to it. I guess if there was a record player, there might be a little Paul Anka playing, and you dab on a little cologne. You just size up the cactus, and heck there may already be a hole somewhere on the thing, and you just gotta brush the prickles aside and get your hips up next to it and start rocking into it. I mean really kissing it, and pretty soon your schwantz is hangin’ out and maybe former Steelers great Rocky Bleier drives by in an old rag-top Caddy, and he kinda slows down ‘cause of the flare you fired off three hours ago when you got a flat, and at this point you don’t even wanna be saved because you’re really pluggin’ away on the cactus. My only question is where do you deliver your load? You know? The climax? ‘Cause you can’t get the thing pregnant, there’s no danger of that, although I’d really like to see a family of half people, half cacti running around, celebrating the holidays, but anyway, do you just let it run down the side of the thing and hope it either dries or provides some protein for a couple of buzzards or do you shoot it right into the cactus? My vote is for inside the damn thing. Heck, no fuss no muss. You just. . . hey, wait a second, is that an armed sheriff [inaudible] No, I won’t take my stinkin’ lav off and come with you, I was [inaudible] it was just [loud thud] an anecdote about [inaudible] put those handcuffs down. . . Oh, I see, all of these rappers [loud thud and crying] can talk about [spraying noise] is that pepper gas? [more whimpering] killing people, but an announcer can’t talk about screwing a cactus.

4) Is Colts QB Peyton Manning going to cry? I think he is. He seems like a nice guy, but I think he’s going mental this year. He’s great in an Everybody Loves Raymond sorta way. Which is to say he’s popular, but not very entertaining. There’s no danger of the Colts coming anywhere near round two of the playoffs. Same thing for the Raiders too, they are in shutdown mode.

5) The Jets 44, The Chargers 13? In San Diego?

Okay that’s enough questions. Wait, maybe one more.

6) Do you ever think that old Dolphins QB Bob Griese resembled a dentist? Have you noticed how much his son Brian worries about his hairline? Watch him on the sidelines.

Atlanta at Pittsburgh — Pittsburgh
Cincinnati at Baltimore — Baltimore
Detroit at Green Bay — Green Bay
Houston at Tennessee — Tennessee
Indianapolis at Philadelphia — Philadelphia
New Orleans at Carolina — New Orleans
N.Y. Giants at Minnesota — New York Giants
San Diego at St. Louis — San Diego
Seattle at Arizona — Arizona
Washington at Jacksonville — Jacksonville
Kansas City at San Francisco — San Francisco
New England at Chicago — Chicago
Miami at N.Y. Jets — New York Jets
Oakland at Denver — Denver

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Last Week: 6-8
Season Record: 68-48

Baltimore at Atlanta — Atlanta
Cincinnati at Houston — Cincinnati
Dallas at Detroit — Detroit
Minnesota at Tampa Bay — Tampa Bay
New England at Buffalo — Buffalo
Philadelphia at Chicago — Philadelphia
Pittsburgh at Cleveland — Pittsburgh
Tennessee at Indianapolis — Tennessee
N.Y. Jets at San Diego — San Diego
San Francisco at Oakland — Oakland
St. Louis at Arizona — Arizona
Washington at Seattle — Seattle
Jacksonville at N.Y. Giants — N.Y. Giants
Miami at Green Bay — Green Bay

Because I stunk so bad last week, I’m punishing myself and not writing about football. The following is a rock music interview that never happened. It could probably be real. But it isn’t.

Q: So tell us, on the eve of it’s release, how the idea for “Cum on Feel the Noize ’02” came to fruition?

A: Well, somehow, I had spent all the money from the tour when we did “Cum on Feel the Noize ’99.” I don’t really know how I spent it. Drugs? A little. Child support? Nah, because all my kids are in their twenties and have careers and shit of their own now. Rent? Sure. And also, I have a bunch of cars and cycles that needed tune-ups, and I took this hot chick to Hawaii for a month, so there’s like fourteen grand right there.

Q: How old was she?

A: 22.

Q: Sweet Jesus!

A: Yeah, I know! I’m 51. (makes devils’ horns with hands) Yesssss! But anyway, I needed the cash. But more importantly, I sincerely felt that since it’s release in ‘82, and with the seven times we either re-mixed, or re-recorded it since then, we hadn’t really gotten to it’s essence, or the core of what it means to, you know, come on and feel the noise. There’s still a lot of unchartered water there, whether lyrically or just playing a guitar solo different, or even just pausing, or changing the tempo even slightly. You know, someone once said, what you don’t hear is just as important as what you do hear.

Q: Yeah. True. And that’s ironic because . . .

A: (laughs) Because the song is called “Cum on Feel the Noize!” Ding, ding, ding, ding . . . You win a boat! Yeah, the noise. The noise.

Q: Perhaps we need to mention that you didn’t even write the song originally.

A: Yeah. So there’s that, too. You can see what a mystery it still might be to me. I mean the phrase “I don’t know why,” is the main refrain in the song. That outta count for something. You know, why does “Candle in the Wind” keep getting redone? ’Cause some king dies? Well, in the case of “Cum on Feel the Noize” it is because people keep partying, and needing to party. And the message of the song, in my opinion, is two-fold: a) it says to lighten up and b) while you are lightening up, why not grab a dude, or whoever, and party, or if not party, then get wild. Get wild however you get wild. That is important to note, too. For some people getting wild might mean cuddling, or free climbing a huge wall, or knocking down a 5 lb. plate of nachos.

Q: So what did you do differently with the song this time out?

A: Uh, our line-up has basically changed with every new recording of the song. I am the only constant. Well, not really ‘cause some of the guys have quit, then re-joined, then quit and re-joined at different times. I suppose if there were a lie detector test that asked who was in the band in February 1994, or June of 1987, I’d get sizzled. So that has been a challenge. Ushering new soldiers of rock and roll into the fray. Showing them what it means to be a part of this family. The legacy and the history of this group. It isn’t just a passing fancy. It isn’t just some nu-metal kid mad at mommy and daddy for not loaning him the mini-van. It is rock music. Point blank. Without apology. No remorse. Take no prisoners. Party till you puke. You can never go home again.

Q: So with the new guys did you feel some sense of, “Hey, let’s really take this in a new direction?”

A: Since the line-up had changed so radically, I felt that teaching the guys how to play the song, and play it right was what should be addressed first and foremost. Even the guys in the band who had been in the band the first time we recorded it needed to relearn it as they learned it then. Make sense? If I had an apple, let’s say, and you ate the apple and there was an apple tree behind me, I couldn’t just go and grab another one. I’m the kind of guy who has to chop down the tree. Eat an apple all the way down to the seeds, plant the seeds and then grow a new tree. So if you are a fan of the band, you need to have this new version, ’cause these guys went through hell and high water to learn it, or re-learn it, no matter how many times they might have played it on the road in the last twenty years. Not even learn it, but nail it. And I think we almost achieved that this time out.

Q: So how does it sound? I think people are eagerly awaiting, you know, to see what you guys have done with it.

A: Actually, the nuances and differences might not be detectable to the fan’s ear. They might say this sounds like the ’89 version or ’94 or something. What I wanted to achieve though was an exact replication of the ’82 version since this is the twenty-year anniversary. But then you throw into account how much technology has changed and you have a battle on your hands. A moral quandary. Do you sit and try to replicate what you did twenty years ago, or is that impossible now? You kind of look at the song and say, “Hey little friend. Hey friend. Are we still buddies? Wanna meet your new guardians? Yeah?” And then you just let the band rip through it!

Q: So, and pardon me for using the word “so” so much, this version of “Cum on Feel The Noize” is basically the same as the original?

A: Almost. We almost nailed it. The band was almost there, and actually I think they are there now, where ever there is, but since we had to make sure this was in stores in time for holiday shopping we really just recorded it and got it done. And when we tour, and as soon as I get the lien against me from the bus charter company erased, we will tour, I am confident it will be a kick ass event, otherwise there is just no point.

Q: So the song remains the same?

A: Nah, it’s what we’ve been talking about, “Cum on Feel the Noize.” We’ve never done any Zeppelin.

Q: Hmm. What I mean is, you didn’t really go to the core or any unchartered territory with this new twenty-year anniversary version?

A: Nope. Honestly, no. But, I love these guys like family and they’re my blood brothers and they’re not going anywhere, so I’m positive that on the next time out of the gates, when the forces of nature demand that we record this song again, we will go for it. And try some really spooky, mystical shit. We will have bonded, and re-bonded and walked through fire together. We’re working without a net every night!

Q: Do you feel uh, bad, for putting out a fairly static version of the song? What’s to keep fans or new listeners from not going back to the original?

A: Man, you are playing hardball. I love it! I was hoping you’d ask that question. The people who are along with us for the long haul, for the ride, and wherever it takes us, ah, I feel comfortable and secure with them seeing all sides of me. All the different facets of my personality and talent. So I often look at this as, okay, this is where I’m at now. I may be flawed. God knows I am human. But love me. Embrace me. I know what you are suggesting. That this version now is somehow a cheap knockoff of the classic? But I’m not that cynical. This version is the, “Here, I am this year version. Love me.”

Q: Would you ever consider putting out a whole album of ten different interpretations of the song?

A: Well, I do have an a capella version I sing to my grandchildren around the holidays and stuff. And I did a techno mix for the Czech market in ‘88. The rest of the group doesn’t know that though. I got a pretty healthy fee for that. Beats stuffing envelopes.

Q: And in summary, I guess I would ask you about the masks, the mental patient in a steel mask iconography that has shown up on virtually all of your album covers for the last twenty years?

A: You know the conversation we just had about the song? Well take the song out of all of what I said and replace it with the mask. That’s how I feel about that, too.

Q: Are you fucking with me?

A: Busted! (laughs) Actually, it is very, very similar. Because we all laugh at the mask and how rock and roll is crazy. And you’ve got to be a crazy man to do this all the time. But behind the mask, really, is man and his humility. By emphasizing the mask, I am really saying some profound things.

Q: Such as?

A: Like what I said. About having to hide. And stuff like that. And society. And not playing by anyone’s rules. And being unchained.

Q: So if you wear a mask, or anyone wears a mask, they can be free from rules? Even if it’s made of steel? Wouldn’t people be able to find you and say, “Hey, there’s that son-of-a-bitch in a mask?” I mean, not right away, but nine years later.

A: The mask is metaphorical, dude. It is something we’re all wearing.

Q: My bad.

- - -


Last week: 11-3.
Season Record: 62-40.

You have four whole days to come up with some great punchlines to these jokes, reworked from toilet stalls at some of the finest sports bars in the country. When you do, you and your pals will be doubled over howling for at least 13 seconds.

Tennessee at Cincinnati — Four Bengals fans, former fullback Pete Johnson, three sticks of TNT, eleven Polish hookers, and one blind clown go into Kuwait City on a flatbed truck blasting “Blame it on the Rain” by Milli Vanilli. They meet a leper who doubles as a Jay Leno lookalike. Pete Johnson says, “Have you got any ice water?” The leper says, “No, but _______.” Prediction: Cincinnati.

Seattle at Dallas — Former Cowboys QB Roger Staubach and beer guy Pete Coors are driving a lime-colored pontoon boat up the Mississippi River, when they happen upon the ghosts of Michael Jackson’s old faces floating on the branch of an old birch tree. A bucket of old sardines shrugs and says, “Must be _______.” Prediction: Dallas.

Pittsburgh at Baltimore — Two Ravens fans are massaging the intestines of a constipated old parakeet in a Wal-Mart soda aisle. Jerry Garcia’s widow walks up with a Philly cheese steak and an apron and says, “Hey are you two gonna rub that bird all day or are you gonna _______?” The Ravens fans look at each other and say, “I dunno, we’ll have to think about it.” [The world implodes from laughter.] Prediction: Pittsburgh.

Chicago at Minnesota — Dave and Connie from the “AM Minnesota” morning television broadcast are leg-wrestling for the last vanilla Krispy Kreme in a vat of nursing home run-off when an out-of-work orthodontist with a five o’clock shadow and a purple cape comes in with a jackhammer and says, “Be careful _______.” Prediction: Chicago.

Indianapolis at Washington — No jokes, just sincere prayers. Prediction: Washington.

Houston at Jacksonville — Art Garfunkel and the Turkish Navy are watching some old super 8mm chorizo-based pornography underneath a Jacksonville overpass. Slowly, through the fuzzy flickering concrete, the Hi-C guy staggers up, turns royal blue, vomits some old Gaines Burgers in the shape of Latvia and says, “If I don’t get some _______ soon, I’m gonna.” Prediction: Jacksonville.

Cleveland at New York Jets — Two Brach’s root beer barrel candies are getting musty in an old black watch plaid wool sportcoat owned by Regis Philbin. One crinkles its wrapper a little bit and says, “I’d prefer if you don’t get all _______ on me.” Prediction: N.Y. Jets.

Detroit at Buffalo — A ribald Scottish priest and Bills QB Drew Bledsoe are golfing on a desert island on Lake Erie. The economy has crashed and everyone has been forced to eat BBQed mufflers. There is tremendous wind, and a 38-year-old polar bear named Gary Boy is caddying and drinking gin. A magical 3-D vagina appears on the 11th green. There priest says, “If I were you, I’d have to _______ my _______, just to _______ it _______.” Prediction: Buffalo.

Oakland at Kansas City — An ex-con named Darrell and his mistress are giving free advice at an Indian restaurant in a tiny strip mall. A haggard shop teacher walks up with a Battlestar Galactica sleeping bag and hands them 31 dollars in counterfeit pennies. “Whoa,” Darrell says, “The last time I _______ one of those, I _______ up, _______ my mother-in-law.” Prediction: Kansas City.

Tampa Bay at Carolina — Buc WR Keyshawn Johnson and his ego are trying to squeeze into China. There’s not enough room. Nancy Walker from the old Bounty commercials shows up and delivers him a massive cock-punch. No punchline necessary. Prediction: Tampa Bay.

Atlanta at New Orleans — No joke here, either. Just two observations: don’t Old Saints QB Archie Manning and actor Ryan O’Neal pretty much look the same? You know who else does? Gore Vidal and Hugh Downs. Totally. Prediction: New Orleans, who are this year’s Chicago Bears.

Arizona at San Francisco — 14,983 granules of processed sugar are being poured into 49ers WR Terrell Owens’ gas tank by a self-proclaimed “vandalist” from Tahoe. 339 granules squeal and then ask, “Isn’t this _______?” 192 of them say, “Well, if it is, then maybe your _______ is _______.” Prediction: San Francisco.

Denver at New England — Broncos QB Brian Griese is rubbing his hairline, looking at an old football card of his father’s. His shrink walks in and says, “Well, looks like you better _______, you _______.” Prediction: New England.

N.Y. Giants at Philadelphia — You and your girlfriend are on an adventure vacation in John Madden’s sinuses. Carrot Top walks up, soaking wet and yells, “I nearly drown.” Your girlfriend says, “In his nose?” and Carrot Top says, “Nope. Whatever you do don’t make a left at his _______, no matter how warm it is.” Prediction: Philadelphia.

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Last Week: 9-5
Season Record: 51-37

How Teams Play

If you aren’t a football fan, or don’t know the rules, here are some analogies as to how each team is performing this season. Your interest level in the following descriptions should tell you if you’ll want to sit through the contest or go out for waffles and look for a good scarf.

Minnesota at N.Y. Jets — The Vikings are a misplaced walker with worn grips and cottage cheese vomit dripping off of it. It is currently getting run over by a Taurus wagon with no plates. The Jets are strictly O-town. Prediction: Jets.

Jacksonville at Baltimore — Both teams are a mid-tier rental car. Maroon. You got ripped off. You didn’t figure on the tax being 41 dollars. Someone recently passed gas in this vehicle and the smell will not go away. You’re driving. Without a map. Hitting all the red lights. In downtown Pensacola. Drinking a Vanilla Coke. “Sussudio” is playing. Your nose starts to bleed. Prediction: Baltimore.

Seattle at St. Louis — Seattle is an airport novel that gives you a secret erection on a flight to somewhere in Texas. St. Louis is a poorly lit video arcade filled with games like Measles ’91 and Army Sores. Prediction: Seattle.

San Francisco at New Orleans — San Francisco is a plate of radish rinds, or a dentist’s bare, hairy fingers in your mouth after he’s just eaten KFC. New Orleans is a hot tub filled with Hennessy and hookers. Prediction: New Orleans.

Buffalo at Miami — Buffalo is a three-year-old toddler with a mouthful of cinnamon red hots who has been handed a real sword and a tambourine without any clanging cymbals. Miami is a flashy stripper who does aerobics and has a nice one-bedroom apartment in Chicago, circa 1986. Prediction: Miami.

Carolina at Atlanta — Both teams are seven uncharismatic accountants at a meatloaf dinner for a popcorn company. All of them do nothing except fight over who gets to go to bed first. Prediction: Atlanta.

Chicago at Detroit — The Bears are a frustrated, cowering chorus teacher surrounded by angry hormone-addled dirtballs with learning disabilities. Maybe the squad “lashes out” and makes an 80-yard play every three weeks, or performs “The Wells Fargo Wagon,” in perfect harmony, but usually they’re inefficient and complacent. Detroit is a gawky eighth grader, usually plagued with acne, shunned by the opposite sex. They’ve recently gotten a hold of some good ointment though. Gotten an A on a French test. They’ve quit picking at their scabs. The phone is ringing. Prediction: Detroit.

Denver at Kansas City — Both teams are the Turkish Navy on an Ouzo bender. Or nineteen-year-olds on too much asthma medicine behind the wheel of a muffler-free Camaro. Worth watching, but stay the hell out of the way. Prediction: Denver.

Houston at Cleveland — Houston is a newly built elementary school for prison kids. Even the jungle gym is made from heavy gauge plastic. Cleveland is a delayed Greyhound trip, with a huge mayo stain on your crotch that you tried to cover up with a newspaper, causing the ink to run. And you have gum in your hair. Prediction: Cleveland.

San Diego at Oakland — San Diego is an e-mail sent from your boss about a swab stuck in her son’s ear. Oakland is a drunken cop in nothing but waders who wants revenge on his neighbor’s iguana. Prediction: Oakland.

Dallas at Arizona — Dallas is a puckish attorney who keeps calling you for a date. You’ve tried to make excuses. He keeps saying, “How ’bout a salad then? Just salad. Salad cool?” Arizona is an 1,178 page paper on the effects of chlorine in tap water in Cheyenne, WY. Prediction: Arizona.

Tampa Bay at Philadelphia — Tampa Bay is a new show on Fox called “The Baylors.” It’s about a family of cute EMTs who drink orange soda and have earnest discussions about sign language and then have lots and lots of sex. Philadelphia is a showerhead used as a weapon at a truck stop. Prediction: Philadelphia.

Washington at Green Bay — Washington is an old guy who just wants to talk about steam engines and keeps saying stuff like, “You’ll thank me for this later.” Green Bay is the egg you’ve just thrown, successfully running down the face of the town bully. Even his mother is laughing at him. Good job. Prediction: Green Bay.

Indianapolis at Pittsburgh — Indianapolis is a cat with a serious bacon addiction. Its owner is at work and the cat is licking its paws and humming a Gerry Rafferty tune. It is pretending that an old pink sponge is named Arnold Whiskeyboots and that a shoe horn is a magic wand. Pittsburgh is a past due notice from your cable provider. Prediction: Pittsburgh.

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Last Week: 7-7
Season Record: 42-32

Things you can do to help win!

If you read this and really want your team to win on Sunday, you have no choice other than to perform the following tasks. If not, your squad will lose and you will be the responsible party. I know you could not live with that sort of guilt, so get to it. Before you shrug this off, remember what a superstitious bastard you are. Right?

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati — For fans of both teams: Grow a moustache and turn it orange with Chee-to dust, then go to church with a banjo and weep. When the pastor says, “Anything I can do to help?” You say, “How about some of them magic rum cakes, asshole.” Then chew up a tissue. Prediction: Pittsburgh.

Oakland at St. Louis — For Raiders fans: Write a letter to the Raiders about how you’d like to be an adult batboy. Send it certified mail, then wait by your telephone until they call. For St. Louis fans: Invite 25 people over for the game. Serve nothing but room temperature tap water for the whole game. Make everyone play quarters. Start howling, “Chug it!” If someone asks, “What’s the big idea?” use force to get them out of your house. Then ask, “Rest of you cowards wanna get cocky? Guess what? Everyone get the fuck out now. I mean it.” Then about 2 hours later call up a friend and say, “I heard that, jackass. Keep your trap shut.” Prediction: Oakland.

Atlanta at N.Y. Giants — For fans of both teams: Wear a bib with Foghorn Leghorn on it and tell your wife that you want sugar cookies for dinner. If you are not married, drive the 491 miles to your parents’ house and insist that you want to eat a turkey made of sugar cookies. Then start bawling and pounding their linoleum floor with your balled up fists. Complain that you know you were adopted. Prediction: N.Y. Giants.

Carolina at Dallas — For fans of both teams: Put a homemade sign in your front yard that says DOG PERMS $41. Now get a lawnchair and a pair of tight Hanes briefs and nothing else. Put the lawnchair near the sign and sit your ass down. Prediction: Dallas.

Baltimore at Indianapolis — For Baltimore fans: Restore an old jalopy from soup to nuts before kick off. For Indianapolis fans: Pay off your student loan. Prediction: Indianapolis.

Detroit at Minnesota — For Minnesota fans: Send Star-Tribune columnist Sid Hartman a recipe for minestrone that includes a teaspoon of Dr. Pepper. For Detroit fans: Have sexual relations with a man named Kevin in the parking lot of a steakhouse between 11 P.M. and midnight on Saturday before the game. Tell him, “Shoot, I don’t care. I wanna marry you, man.” Then stand on the hood of your car nude and say, “I love Kevin. I do. I love him, love him, love him.” When your wife shows up, just shrug and shake your head and say, “Musta been the pudding talking.” Prediction: Minnesota.

New Orleans at Washington — For fans of both teams: Ask your boss for $16,000 dollars. When she says “What in the hell are you talking about?” Rub your hands together really fast and say, “Boat.” Then start blinking uncontrollably. Prediction: Washington.

Buffalo at Houston — For fans of both teams: Walk into a barber shop and say, “Make me look like Joey Buttafuoco.” Stop at a mirror and start laughing. Then hold up your right hand and say, “Hold it. I already do, thanks very much.” Prediction: Buffalo.

Cleveland at Tampa Bay — For Tampa Bay fans: Get a Buccaneers jersey without any numbers on it. Have a sports shop print GRUDEN across the back. Go to a pharmacy and say you need a lot of drugs for the team. Then hold out a paper sack and say, “Fill it.” Then stomp your feet. For Cleveland fans: Do not sleep from now until the game is over. Start fixing some special chili, ASAP. Prediction: Tampa Bay.

Green Bay at New England — For Green Bay fans: Ride a unicycle to work on Friday, and wear a giant stopwatch to the copier at work. For New England fans: Count 1,436 pencils, line them up to spell a passage from Corinthians on your front stoop. Prediction: Green Bay (watch Terry Glenn).

Jacksonville at Tennessee — For fans of both teams: Walk into a gas station and ask for directions to “Meh-hee-ko.” Before they can answer, ask for some spurs that fit on aerobic shoes. Prediction: Tennessee.

Kansas City at San Diego — For Kansas City fans: Call up your ex-wife and say, “The terrorists win if we don’t make sweet love by that old creek where I lost the ability to walk.” When she says, “You know, we broke up in 1984,” say, “So, it’s gonna be that way, huh?” When she replies that she’s been remarried to someone else for thirteen years, you ask, “He mind?” When she says, “Uh, yeah,” just sigh really long for about three minutes. Then when she remembers that you aren’t paralyzed say, “You stole my friggin’ mittens, didn’t you?” For San Diego fans: Play cribbage. Prediction: San Diego.

Miami at Denver — For fans of both teams: Carry a map with a big red “X” magic-markered onto it and a construction helmet into a Target store and ask for the manager. Insist that there’s a really big treasure buried underneath and you’re gonna need all the help she can muster. When she says, “Leave,” grab a small employee by the collar and then say, “Well, in that case, I’m taking Mothballs with me.” Go into the parking lot and get down on one knee and propose marriage to Mothballs. Take Mothballs out for an iced coffee. Prediction: Denver.

San Francisco at Seattle — If you’re a San Francisco fan: Get a nerf football. Soak it in paprika and tequila overnight. One hour before kickoff take a huge bite out of it. Every time your team has to punt, mimic that punt in your living room with the very same nerf football. Disregard any glass coffee tables, vases, picture frames, etc. that you may own. If you’re a Seattle fan: Get an eye exam. Prediction: Seattle.

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Last Week: 10-4
Season Record: 35-25

If My Caustic Junior High School Math Teacher Made Predictions

Oakland at Buffalo — [Papers angrily shuffling. Glass Budweiser bottle falls in steel wastebasket.] Prediction: Oakland.

New York Giants at Dallas — This is two teams I couldn’t care less about. [Unintelligible.] Don’t correct me. I’m teaching, bud. Anyway, oooh, New York. Boy, they really think they’re something in that town, don’t they? And Dallas? Thanks for shooting Kennedy for us. You know, were Kennedy’s brains not blown out of his head, I probably wouldn’t be teaching you derelicts today. I had real dreams for a while. Real ones. When J.F.K. died, I figured there was no hope. No point. No Santy Claus. Get it? It was taken away from me. I wanted to have a string of dry cleaning shops in Milwaukee. Maybe have a mistress. Tool around in a Lincoln. Guess that didn’t work out, did it? [45-second pause.] Okay, put everything under your desks, time for a quiz. And this is for 50% of your grade. Prediction: Dallas.

Cincinnati at Indianapolis — This Bengals’ team really could use a hug. Remember that one Keanu Reeves’ movie where someone said, “Life is about showing up,” and made it seem like a big deal? Like being a neurosurgeon is just a taxi ride away from the emergency room, or being father-of-the-year means knowing which cul-de-sac to make a left turn into? Here’s a little FYI for you: The Bengals will show up on Sunday. Their owner will make sure of it. The Bengals will run onto the field, and for a few moments, under the high wattage lights of the dome, the score will be 0-0, and then, as a direct result of showing up, the Colts will hand them their soup, repeatedly. The only question is, how do they like it served? My instincts tell me it will be served cold, creamed and in the nuts. Hard. Prediction: Indianapolis.

Tampa Bay at Atlanta — I was in the Navy in Atlanta once. Yeah. Nine years of service. Petty officer sergeant they called me. I knew Latin Braille. Rare Trig functions. I killed four Indians, two pandas and Jim Morrison. Covertly. Atlanta holds a special place for me. Prediction: Tampa Bay.

Baltimore at Cleveland — Aw Christ. I get tired of hearing about these crybabies. [Sing-songy tone.] “First we were in Cleveland, then Baltimore, then Cleveland got their old team back.” It’s as bad as a soap opera. [Starts making out with eraser.] “Ooh, Derrick.” Like women. Prediction: Cleveland.

New England at Miami — Please pass your papers to the kid one seat in front of you. Prediction: Miami.

Kansas City at N.Y. Jets — Kansas City has put up the most points in the NFL so far this season. They’ve also allowed a lot. 133, in fact. Know who else has allowed 133 points? The Jets. Know how many they’ve scored? 50. Know how many they’ve scored in the last three weeks? 13. Now let’s factor in the fact that the Jets’ QB Vietnam Vinny Testaverde was injured last week. Wait, that’s probably a good thing. What you need to know is that the Jets are basically the Mets of football. Predicted to do well, but sucking mammoth ostrich feathers in real life. Underachieving. Just like 30 fourteen year-olds sitting right here. The only math you all are really ever gonna need to know is gonna be done for you. By a time clock. The world needs ditch diggers, too. Prediction: N.Y. Jets (ha-ha . . . Pennington will light a fire under their asses for one week. Watch Vermeil on the sidelines. He makes Donald Rumsfeld look tic-free.)

Pittsburgh at New Orleans — They used to call the Saints the Aints, but you’re probably too young to remember that. The only the that ain’t gonna be funny on Sunday is the look on Steelers’ coach Bill Cowher’s ugly mug after his squad gets thumped by a much improved Saints unit. Of course, the Saints blew their first game of the year last week, so they could be starting to fade. What do you think? Huh? Do you even know what I am talking about? My wife and I like ragtime music a lot. I get out a straw hat and really shake it. Of course, I have another meaning for ragtime, too, but you are too young to appreciate it. Prediction: New Orleans.

San Diego at Denver — Memo to Chargers: You just lost your first game of the year, smart asses.

Washington at Tennessee — I have only one request: stay out of the garbage cans. What is it with you people? Stay out of the garbage cans, and if you hand in any assignments with spiral notebook pubes dangling from the side, you will get them right back. Yeah. And at the top of the page in red sharpie will be an F-, and my home phone number in case any of your parents want to test me. And if they ever call after 8:30, may God help them. I have a little date with a sombrero-wearing guy named Jose Cuervo. Now then, Tennessee has something to prove [starts gyrating hips] and that makes me groove. Prediction: Tennessee.

Arizona at Carolina — I think I have better things to do with my time than this. I’d rather watch queers eat birdseed with chopsticks than suffer through this mess. Prediction: Carolina.

St. Louis at San Francisco — If you take a Crock Pot, and say that you are making Irish stew, and you have two grammas that want to get fed and the town barber, and Betty Big Knockers, who is screwing the mayor and they are all coming over for this amazing pizza, err, stew, and I get there fifteen minutes before them and I eat the stew and replace it with a mixture of kitty litter and suntan lotion, that would be exactly what happened to the Rams this season. Make that used kitty litter. Just so we’re on the same page. Prediction: San Francisco.

Green Bay at Chicago — My pop used to say, “Get up in your treehouse.” And that was how I knew he was going to go out and set fire to a lot of area goat barns. [Pause for 32 awkward minutes.] It is now time for a quiz. Put everything under your desk. Prediction: Chicago.

Philadelphia at Jacksonville — A lot of these teams like Jacksonville just plain didn’t exist when I was a kid, and you know what? It didn’t matter. The milk still got delivered. The cops still begged my parents to give me to a foster home. I still played “Taps” on a metal lunchbox when Francie’s old man’s knee replacement gave out and he fell into the street and was run over by an ice cream truck. My sister still slept with our pastor. Now, we have Jacksonville and that hasn’t changed anything. I still had to go bail my kid out of the sub shop when he locked himself in the bathroom on his first night, on account of his till was off $13.82. Made me feel like a schmuck, being an Algebra teacher and all. Prediction: Philadelphia.

- - -


Last Week: 11-3.
Season Record: 25-21.

Nice recovery, eh? I am still on auto-pilot. Sort of. I made it back to NYC to do a reading for J&L Illustrated. Look it up. It’s a great book. Also, look up Hunter Kennedy and the Minus Times while you are at it. Now I am off to Prague, so stay tuned for the BEST of JOHNSON. Meanwhile. . .

Early in the season, this page gets a lot of confused visitors (AKA scrubs) who have no idea that:

a) I actually do not care about the outcome of the games. b) Actually care even less about the outcome of their favorite team’s game. c) I don’t make picks using the spread. d) Have never made claims to be an “analyst.” e) I will not sleep with their mothers, regardless of how much they beg and plead.

I’ve been lured into this sort of antagonistic behavior, too. I can’t fault them. I can imagine to a new visitor, the dream of punching me in my face must be something that they relish daily. How it would feel. How I would start bawling. How I would retract my gul-darn negative statements about their team. How I would launder the stench from the crotches of their Zubaz trousers. How I would run errands for their imaginary girlfriends.

Such is life on the Internet. So, for the last time, let me just state, for the record: I hope your team does well. If I predict they’ll lose, and you don’t like it, that is something you are going to have to deal with. Are my predictions so offensive—like me bashing your infant son on his unformed skull with an antique ruler, until he chokes on his own blood and dies—that you must type up a thoroughly retarded rebuttal and e-mail me?

I sure hope so.

Anyway, below is a five year-old re-print from the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. (I was a tad more rusty then. Of course, I’ve has a few Shiraz’s right now, so actually I don’t know what the hell I am talking about.)

It’s an “analysis” of my days with the Saints in LaCrosse, WI. Next week, there will be a brand new column.

Carolina at Green Bay — Green Bay.

Chicago at Buffalo — Chicago.

Cleveland at Pittsburgh — Pittsburgh.

Dallas at St. Louis — St. Louis.

Houston at Philadelphia — Philadelphia.

Miami at Kansas City — Kansas City.

New Orleans at Detroit — New Orleans.

N.Y. Jets at Jacksonville — Jacksonville.

N.Y. Giants at Arizona — Arizona.

Tampa Bay at Cincinnati — Tampa Bay.

New England at San Diego — San Diego.

Tennessee at Oakland — Oakland.

Minnesota at Seattle — Seattle.

Denver at Baltimore — Denver.

From August 1997:

I am not sure if it’s an indication of how bad the New Orleans Saints are, or how dumb the football fans in La Crosse might be (a wise bet says both) but as practice ended at their training camp on Monday afternoon, I was approached for my autograph about four times. That is puzzling because: a) I was in street clothes and b) I look about as much like a professional football player as I do Dominique Moceanu. But with the rapidly changing Saints there is always a chance that by showing up to watch them scrimmage, you could, at the very least, be in contention for a spot on special teams.

This is the last week the club will spend running wind sprints and littering up dorm rooms in the Cheese League before they go back home to New Orleans and try to stave off their fourth losing season in a row. However, this fall it might take the Saints a while to find out that they are woefully mediocre. Iron Mike Ditka, who has new hips, a deep Coulee region tan, and an apparent grasp on his anger management problem, has been making entries in the Captain’s Log of football’s Titanic. He has the Saints believing that they will, as the new motto goes, “find a way, or make a way,” to win more than a handful of games. Oddly enough, he may be right.

Ditka has quickly dispensed of all whiners and sloths. Nobody is complaining about his tinkering with the formula of the Saints. Ditka is attempting to change the original recipe of eleven uniquely horrible herbs and spices on both offense and defense. “I am not going to get in any shouting contests on the sidelines this year. I am just going to pull the guy,” Ditka calmly said from the safe haven of his golf cart after practice on Monday.

Both Heath Shuler and rookie Danny Wuerffel have looked sharp taking snaps. Pro Bowl linebacker Rickey Jackson has come out of retirement. Ditka managed to free offensive lineman Jerry Fontenot from his role as Sisyphus with the Bears. And the rest of the camp is packed with mostly unknown but hard working free agents. Ditka hopes to be more genius than Quixotic in this instance. If he can shake things up on the cheap, a la baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates, then we could be witnessing the beginning of an era where the only thing grabby player agents line up are jobs for themselves at the nearest discount taco stand.

But enough daydreaming. Ditka masterminded the Bears to a Super Bowl victory and more than a few NFC Central titles before the bubble burst in 1992. That season the luster and the cranky charm wore off and he looked as surprisingly inept as Forrest Gregg with a foul temper. He has to start from scratch if both he and the Saints are to gain anyone’s respect in 1997.

Still, when you offer even the slightest promise of going the short distance from bad to as-yet-unproven, it is impossible to get any peace. The media descend on Ditka twice a day like flies on a rib roast. One reporter even had the audacity to squirm her way in and rest her tape recorder on his shoulder as another slob peppered him with questions about being a great motivator.

Ditka, who is at his best when he is confident enough to be self-effacing, shrugged him off. “There was a coach once who said that he wasn’t a great motivator, but that he was smart enough to get rid of the people who don’t want to be motivated,” he said.

Another reporter then asked if Ditka had plans to bring in a Karate expert before every game. Ditka, like everybody else, was puzzled. “Well, George Allen used to bring in a karate expert to smash boards before each game to get his team fired up,” the reporter flummoxed. Ditka replied that his Saints would “roast marshmallows.”

The stampede continued. The moron who kept begging Ditka to answer questions about motivation was shoved aside by a sports anchor from a New Orleans television station. A few minutes earlier, the anchor, an Andy Garcia wannabe, had almost given himself whiplash rushing to get his hair right for the press conference. I promptly handed him an application for a job at Eau Claire’s TV-13, where the sportscasters are 18 different kinds of vain and insecure.

Everyone who has even heard of the New Orleans Saints are foaming at the mouth because of Ditka. Win or lose they can’t wait to ride his coattails all the way to the Promised Land, or at least to a nearby exit marked ‘playoff victory’. That’s something that the Saints haven’t attained in all their years of shabbiness. The worst thing would be for the Saints to finish .500 because then the local media couldn’t call for his head if they stink up the NFL even more, or tell everybody else, “I told you so,” if the Saints landed near the top of the heap.

Most of the fans that show up every day are good-natured folk with way too much free time. These people have previously had so little to cheer about that they make Cub fans look like braggarts. Only the Great Santini would encourage his kid to witness the Saints’ eighty-man roster run drills.

There is a certain contingent of fans though, who are no less rabid than the reporters. Fifty to a hundred Sharpie-wielding kids of all ages arrive early each morning. They hang on the chain link fences with runny noses, off-brand cleats, and plastic binders full of football cards, howling at the players and making outrageous demands. The fans here are like gold prospectors going after as many signatures as possible, “panning” for the one that might someday be good for a down payment on a used Ford Escort. They indiscriminately ask any shmoe for his John Hancock without any idea who the player actually is. There is little to no difference in their zeal to collect the autographs of third-string rookie punters from Southwest Appalachia Banjo Repair School and veteran Pro-Bowlers alike. Even Moe, the assistant to the equipment manager is treated with the same awe usually reserved for middle brother in the band Hanson. On the other hand, there are those fans who know exactly who the third string punter is, and, well, they are equally disturbed.

I would be foolish, however to say that I wasn’t a little bit entertained by the Saints. While I can’t forecast if Ditka’s promise to make the NFC West the new “Black and Blue” division will hold true, there are certainly enough characters to make a pretty good soap opera out of his attempt:

Mike Ditka — Head Coach. Like he needs any introduction. Let me describe him in Packer terminology. While Mike Holmgren is a shrewd coach, he resembles a jovial sort of guy who might share a brat with you at a cookout. Ditka, with his purely Chicago sense of fashion, might be inclined to do the same, but more than likely he’d drop kick a smoking grill through your bay window if you irked him. He gets bonus tyrant points for throwing gum at a fan in Minnesota and giving William Perry a touchdown opportunity at Mecca, err, Lambeau Field in the ’80’s. Ditka says that while he’ll miss quibbling with Joe Gibbs and Greg Gumbel every week, he’s got a “more important job to do.” Hopefully he’ll feel the same way around Halloween.

Danny Abramowicz — Offensive Coordinator. You might remember Abramowicz from Bears games on television. He was a favorite of the Fox announcers and cameramen. He was in charge of special teams for Chicago and usually had to be restrained by a leash. No player on the Bears special teams wanted to make a good play for fear of being congratulated by him. He’ll have to keep former Redskin complainer Heath Shuler happy without rattling Ditka. Good luck.

Sammy Knight — Rookie free agent safety from USC. Undrafted because of his speed, but he is a ruthless tackler and has a keen sense for the ball. Praised by Ditka as “smart,” he has been a favorite of the fans, the coaches and the media throughout camp.

“I’d be damn surprised if Sammy Knight doesn’t make our fifty-three man roster,” Ditka said. “The experts,” he continued sarcastically, “say that he wasn’t quick enough. Ran a 4.9 (forty yard dash) instead of a 4.5. Do you know the difference between a 4.9 and a 4.5? In the time it took to say, ‘4.9, 4.5’ that’s the difference.”

Lee DeRamus — wide receiver. DeRamus is in his third season with the Saints. He won the Rose Bowl with the Badgers, but with eleven receivers in training camp, he’s on the bubble here. “It’s different (from the Badgers) because I was in Alvarez’s first recruiting class. With the Saints, I was part of the Mora era, and Ditka has brought in a bunch of his people. I’m just trying to make the squad right now. You’ve got a whole bunch of people fighting for positions,” DeRamus said.

Rickey Jackson — linebacker. Jackson must have been impressed by what Ditka is doing with the Saints, because at age thirty-nine he was retired from pro football and leisurely collecting a paycheck in an “advisory” position with the club. He unretired himself Monday, and answered most of the questions directed at him with the mantra-like, “I’m the type of guy who hustles, and just does his job.”


As a receiver in the NFL, Danny Abramowicz was no slouch. He quickly rose from being a 17th round draft choice with the Saints in 1967, to becoming an All-Pro and the NFL leader in catches for them in 1969. Abramowicz, who is intensely Catholic, suffers fools about as well as Ditka does. If things don’t go swimmingly for him as the Saints new offensive coordinator, expect to see more game highlights from his antics on sidelines rather than the action on playing field.

Jeff: Was it a difficult decision to leave the Bears and join Ditka?

Danny Abramowicz: No. I didn’t think it was that difficult. I thought it was time for me to move on and take another position. I could have stayed with the Bears, but I moved with Coach Ditka. I didn’t know he was gonna have the job, I just knew it was time to leave and it worked out perfectly.

Jeff: It was a promotion (from special teams to offensive coordinator).

DA: Yeah. Well, some people call it a promotion. Special teams is pretty darn. . .well, they are equally important.

Jeff: You were a favorite of the cameramen. They always showed you going ballistic on the sidelines with the Bears. Do you think you’ll be as animated in your new job?

DA: I’m going to be as animated, but with special teams you’ve got a call and then you have some time before you make your next call. Here, it is call after call after call, so you’ve got to keep your composure.

Jeff: Does landing an offensive coordinator job satisfy you for a while, or is the end goal a head coaching job someday?

DA: My main thing is to do what I gotta do right now and then later on worry about what happens. That’s (head coach) a goal of mine, but it’s not like I need to go do whatever I’ve gotta do and cut people’s throats to become the head coach. That’s God’s will. If it’s God’s will for me to have it, I will have it. If not, no problem. I’m satisfied doing what I’m doing.

Jeff: How do you like your offense so far?

DA: Good. We came in the first night (1st preseason game) and did some good things, and then, you know, some crappy things. But that’s to be expected; the first game, plus a new system, new team, all that kind of business. But I liked our aggressiveness, I liked the things we did. They (Tennessee Oilers) ran some blitzes and things of that nature, and we picked up on it. And, we had no turnovers in the game which is always good.

Jeff: There has been a ton of media here, and the fans in New Orleans are going nuts. Do you think the expectations on the team are too high? Is there too much pressure to succeed right away?

DA: It beats the hell out of what was there at first. When we first got there the apathy was setting in. I think now, you’d rather have the expectations high and take it from there.

Jeff: Is Shuler set at quarterback? Or do you think Wuerffel will challenge him for the job?

DA: Right now he is. I think they’re all challenging. That’s why there is great competition. You always have to be on your toes. I’m pleased with all the quarterbacks and he’s still number one. They all get along, they’re not jealous of one another. They’re competing, but there are no jealousies or animosity.

Jeff: Well it’s still early.

DA: Yeah. We’re not going to allow that to happen, plus I don’t think their nature lends them to be that way.

- - -


Last Week: 4-12
Season Record: 14-18.

Okay. Sweet Jesus. That was, without question, the absolute worst job I’ve ever done of picking games. Come on, though. Baltimore? San Francisco? St. Louis? Green Bay? Oakland. Unreal performances. That’s five games I should have won. Nobody should be telling me New Orleans is the real thing.

However, I will gladly accept all of your evil diatribes. I have no excuse. I am a little frazzled at the moment. I am typing this on a public computer at a library in Eau Claire, WI. My laptop sucks. I am getting married this Friday. Therefore the predictions will be short and sweet. I’ve got an appointment with a baker in 20 minutes.

Send complaints about last week, well-wishes and money to me.

Carolina at Minnesota — Minnesota. Gary “Magic Teeth” Anderson is back.

Cleveland at Tennessee — Tennessee.

Dallas at Philadelphia — Philadelphia.

Indianapolis at Houston — Indianapolis.

Kansas City at New England — New England.

New Orleans at Chicago — Chicago. They get better with injuries.

N.Y. Jets at Miami — Miami.

Buffalo at Denver — Denver.

San Diego at Arizona — San Diego.

Green Bay at Detroit — Green Bay. Nice defense last week, GB. You make me ashamed of my home.

Seattle at N.Y. Giants — N.Y. Giants.

Washington at San Francisco — San Francisco.

Cincinnati at Atlanta — Atlanta.

St. Louis at Tampa Bay — Tampa

- - -


Last Week: 10-6
Season Record: 10-6.

Sports Bars That Hurt

Tampa Bay at Baltimore — Baltimore

Detroit at Carolina — Detroit

Buffalo at Minnesota — Minnesota
Drifters of West Seneca, N.Y.: No stools. Just a bar surrounded by bunk beds. Pay ten dollars. Get a small bottle of Hot Cinnamon Arm Pit. 116 proof. Get in your bunk. Wool sheets. Rubber/latex pillow. TV screen built into bunk above you. Watch your game. Drink your Hot Cinnamon Armpit. Fall into a trance. Have a dream. The one where the deer is driving an 18-wheeler and you are trying to cross the interstate. Only there’s black ice. Rattle around the bunk. Request hot washcloths. You get ten for three bucks. Towel down.

Miami at Indianapolis — Indianapolis

Jacksonville at Kansas City — Kansas City
Exes: Located in the part of downtown that isn’t really downtown, but likes to pretend it is. Or you know how when you get to just about any downtown, only it hasn’t had a pulse for twenty-odd years and there’s a comic shop, and a law office and a guy waiting for the bus who has pink eye at least five or six months of the year? Then there’s a woman speaking Pig Latin to a sour little poodle, and she’s had to leave (evacuate) more than one apartment, due to her own toaster ineptitude, like she gets so damn gluttonous that she figures out a way to re-toast her bread crusts like fifteen times over until they’re scorched and 1,000 degrees and then she slathers Peter Pan peanut butter all over them, and then one day her luck runs out and she torches the whole 16-plex? Well anyway, if you peak around the corner, there’s a little red velvety bar that has posters of 1970’s one-bar facemask NFL helmets and the ex-wives of all the car dealers in town, and they’re drunk and nursing Styrofoam plates of scrambled eggs.

Green Bay at New Orleans — Green Bay
Limpy’s: Free wings from the opening kick-off until there is 11:55 remaining in the first quarter. Only they don’t actually start cooking them until the ball is kicked. There are never less than thirty-five grown men waiting in line for their free wings. You will miss the best play of the game while waiting for your free wings. Due to some absurd and complete lie, told you by Sarah, the manager, about a truck jackknifing on the freeway outside of Monterrey, Mexico, there is a wing shortage. There will actually be no free wings from Week 3 through Week 15. She will tell you this and cock her head. But they are stuck running their ad in the newspaper all season. They do have 15-dollar bottomless 32 ounce Heinekens. Only they only have one waitress on duty. Tammy. And she just had surgery. Her foot. She will visit your table once a half. And scowl. Ted, the bartender went to UW-LaCrosse and his best gal Amy is now studying nursing in Miami, so even though no one likes the Dolphins they will always be on the big screen. Ted parks his car out back. It’s a green Honda. Take a piss in the window.

New England at N.Y. Jets — New England

Cincinnati at Cleveland — Cleveland

N.Y. Giants at St. Louis — St. Louis
Muddy’s: Every bar stool has no bar in front of it. Just a pottery wheel. Lots of Righteous Brothers music is playing. Every Rams fan must work on his project. Throw his clay. There’s lotto by the kiln. The walls are all wood grain, with fist-sized holes from previous outbursts. No windows. The bartender hasn’t eaten fruit since the Ford administration. He sneaks hunks of raw hamburger and does to it what someone might do with chewing tobacco. He wears a t-shirt that says art teacher. he drinks room temperature tap water. he is behind on child support. his child is now thirty-six and lives 181 miles away. She has a daughter. The daughter’s spine is unformed. It’s gel. Plus she needs glasses. Thick ones. She knows eleven words and they’re all some variation on “pain.” The kids at recess watch her. Form a half circle around her wheelchair. Many weep. The bartender has never seen this girl. His granddaughter. Yet he will talk to you for 7 or 8 hours about her hardships. About how one day he tried to send flowers, but the florist in the town that is 181 miles away was killed by a gang member who’s Camaro ran out of gas on the interstate.

Chicago at Atlanta — Chicago

Arizona at Seattle — Seattle
The Weeping Barnacle: Home of the Friggin’ Giant Smore. A large pit has been dug into the middle of the normal floor. By normal, I mean the tiles (asbestos-based? maybe) are those you’d find in most old elementary schools. A fire is lit. A rather ominous, 245-cubic foot marshmallow is put into a rusty cage and lowered into the pit with every Seahawk touchdown or field goal. Every fan has a glass-mugged beer in one hand and their team-logo embossed treat stick in the other. And they wait for that torched marshmallow to rise and then they stab the living shit out of it. And lick and gnaw away at the stringy, steamy results. Most of the fellows pretend to be pirates, but actually work at the airport or fix VCRs. A lot of the marshmallow goo spreads across their beards, and they howl and wink and do some sort of Chaucer-based dance and use the term “lass” a lot and also, unfortunately, “titties.” It’s a real shithole, but beer is always forty-five cents.

Houston at San Diego — San Diego
Uncle Soapy’s: The only Chargers tavern along the Eastern border of Arizona has 18 perm chairs w/ requisite helmets. Beer-based perms. Hot, foamy perms. Heck, even if you’re bald, it is a treat to sit an a perm chair with no clothes on, just a huge terry cloth towel, thoroughly engrossed in the Carolina vs. San Diego game. The fans there are rabid. But they get their chores done, too. At halftime, the bar empties out and the fellas go finish some cattle work before returning, covered in manure and dust, scoffing at your lazy ass.

Denver at San Francisco — San Francisco

Oakland at Pittsburgh — Pittsburgh
Transistor Tommy’s: Some smart-ass wrote in the 1974 AAA guide to Pittsburgh steakhouses that this tavern was a magnet for failed hobbyists. "Little ham-radio operators with scars on their knuckles and pulverized hearts are often found wearing overly dramatic frowns, pointing out the door to the small hills that have forever messed up their reception. Now it serves as a sort of fascist, stalled-technology watering hole. A recent phone call yielded this: “Everyone has their own personal transistor radio. No TVs. If you can’t get your fucking game tuned in, don’t come crying to me. You want jerky? We have one kind. Squirrel. Allergic? Tough crap. Are you looking at my wife? You think you’re better than her? Oh, sorry. Not you. No headphones on the radios, either. We believe in socialization. Mingle.”

Philadelphia at Washington — Washington

Tennessee at Dallas — Tennessee
The Pour House: No one over 25 admitted. Except you, of course. It’s the only place in the area that might tune in the Bengals. All the youngsters are faux-college kids. Only they’ve sort of quit school. They’ve taken to just going to the bar for eleven hours a day. Reading ten different sports pages. Comparing the girth of their chins. It’s fourteen states away from the Steelers, but somehow there’s always weird pockets of fans. Telling you Franco Harris stories, even though they were probably in the womb at the time. Spitting in your face about it, really. Looking down on you, kind of. Getting angry. Throwing darts. Offering you a job. Seeing if you’ll take it. Asking you questions and answering “Oh, that’s cool.” Like you could say, “I’m the President.” And they’d say “Oh that’s cool.” Ordering a third hot beef. Throwing more darts. Talking about when they saw Barry Word partying down at South Padre. Throwing still more darts. Licking a white girl’s ass on the dance floor. Only maybe it wasn’t Barry Word. They know everything about Mitch Berger. A guy in their frat’s older brother is his accountant. You should see his ride.

- - -


Last Season’s Record: 130-82

A Letter From a Veteran Punter to a Rookie Punter at the end of Training Camp.


Ah, I’ve seen you sleeping so soundly. I enjoy that. You pass out with your headphones on and your Shrek DVD playing and your cellphone burbles with sweet nothings from your old college girlfriend. Sure, occasionally I get up and dig through your stuff. Chew your gum. Take your change. Etc. (Your ma sure makes good seven-layer bars.) But these are great NFL-style hard knocks and you’ll be able to share them with your coworkers at the sawdust factory when you’re inevitably cut from the squad and I retain my position as one of the league’s top punters.

Sorry for the tough love; you’ll probably get to keep your practice jersey and sweats.

It’s just incredible to me that your snores fill this dorm all through the night, and you’ve nary a worry on your mind. Granted, I am not originally from this country. I grew up on as the son of a simple goose shepherd in Sweden. But your behavior fascinates me. Like maybe there’s something wrong with ME, and you’re content in a way that someone who has figured everything out or come to peace with things like guys who study elephant-based religions and wear chin-to-feet length smocks. Somehow you’ve forgotten that Coach Dumree called you the “stupidest bastard on the face of the earth,” today as you squibbed a punt nine yards, thereby ensuring that ten of your heaviest teammates ran wind sprints till they collapsed and vomited all over the sidelines.

And even with the humid air sneaking through the cinderblock walls of this dorm, even with the mountains of spent talc ground into the hallway carpet, the communal showers flooded with Strawberry Suave and bloody Kleenexes, the Domino’s boxes piled in front of doors, and even as the lineman play that godawful Swizz Beats, Ja Rule and Metallica collaboration as loud as humanly possible, and even as I engage my wife in phone sex and rock this tiny dorm room bed and I covertly tug the sadness out of my privates, you seem to sleep so soundly.

I know we’ve had our laughs together, Rick, and that several coaches here said I should take you under my wing, and I have tried, fellow punter, I have tried. But not too hard. Let’s face it: I have a wife and three kids. I have two additional kids. I have a girlfriend. I have an ex-wife. I have a couple other kids. I have a mother with Alzheimer’s. I have a mother-in-law who needs rare diabetes meds. So, you’ll forgive me if I don’t just raise my hand and say “Cut me, I feel like trading in my BMW for a fucking Pinto and roughing it for the next 45 years of my life.”

After all, who has done the following stuff, me or you? Fielded a poorly snapped punt in Buffalo?

Fielded a poorly snapped punt in Buffalo during lake effect snow?

Fielded a poorly snapped punt in Buffalo during lake effect snow that went over my head?

Fielded a poorly snapped punt in Buffalo during lake effect snow, with a wind chill of minus 19, that I accidentally slid past and when I just went back to try and fall on it, had Bruce Smith land on me and mangle me and my teeny tiny shoulder pads, then belch and relieve himself on me, while a teammate of his picked up said football and trotted into the end zone with it and on the giant scoreboard a little green cartoon punter is shown crying in front of 75,000 paid attendees?

And then they chuckled? And then Bruce Smith chuckled?

And then the by-products of his relieving himself froze to the inside of my pad and my thigh, thereby causing me great pain.

And following all of that on the very next punt, a beautiful 65-yarder, one Don Beebe returned it all the way for a touchdown, and being the punter, I was the last line of defense, but since I had the burn of frozen urine on my thigh, I was ill-equipped to make a regulation tackle and therefore simply tried to trip Beebe, only I slipped and missed, and then those two plays were shown later on ESPN consecutively and one of the commentators said I looked like I was doing some sort of hat dance out there, and where was my cape, etc.? And the other said, no, that I looked like I was doing some sort of sing-for-my-supper dance on the frozen field? And they argued playfully until a third said finally that I resembled nothing as much as a drunken figure skater with Lupus and a high brain-damage causing fever?

That was ME.

It was also me who was pink-slipped, and forced to stand at the front door of buffet restaurants in the Tampa area saying, “Remember me?” and signing B&W 8×10s.

It was also me who fought his way back.

It was me who also built one of my children a $43,000 treehouse complete with wet bar and sauna.

So, before you get too glum, think about my conditions. What can you learn from them? Probably nothing. Stay out of the airport bars. Wear a mustache to “massage parlors.” Don’t eat soup on airplanes. There may be a spot for you somewhere on a Candaian team. Good luck. I’m sure you’ll see me on TV, and you’ll fondly recall this note.


San Francisco at N.Y. Giants — San Francisco.

Arizona at Washington — Washington.

Atlanta at Green Bay — Green Bay.

Baltimore at Carolina — Baltimore.

Detroit at Miami — Miami.

Indianapolis at Jacksonville — Indianapolis.

Kansas City at Cleveland — Cleveland.

Minnesota at Chicago — Chicago.

N.Y. Jets at Buffalo — N.Y. Jets.

Philadelphia at Tennessee — Tennessee.

San Diego at Cincinnati — Cincinnati.

New Orleans at Tampa Bay — New Orleans.

Seattle at Oakland — Oakland.

St. Louis at Denver — St.Louis.

Dallas at Houston — Dallas.

Pittsburgh at New England — Pittsburgh.