I write to you as a man who is sitting at 168-98 for the season. That’s not bad, but certainly not amazing. I’m sure Bob Costas has squirreled away more wins than me, and is pontificating somewhere at the moment about the old St. Louis Browns chess team and some missing chocolate-chip cookies. Speaking of which, I never laid into Mitch Albom this year, but was overwhelmed by the stacks of his newest tome, The Thirty-Two People You Meet in Hell, this minute’s Chicken Soup for the Self-Satisfied Newspaper Columnist’s Soul, at the Border’s in Eau Claire, Wisconsin over X-mas. If only Mike Lupica will release a haiku pamphlet or Peter Vecsey will trot out a novelization of his “Charles Barkley is fat” joke, I’ll be sure to dive right into it.

Scribbling-wise, I wasn’t much better for the 2003-04 season. I let you down. I’ve was trumped by other columnists like Matt Taibbi, who made the season’s perfect assessment: “… the set of CBS’s NFL Today, normally a happy place where Jim Nantz, Dan Marino, and Deion Sanders good-naturedly midwife the steely idiocy of Boomer Esiason for national television audiences,” in the NY Sports Express. I couldn’t have said that better myself. Esiason has always been a douche, but it really accelerated this season. He clearly believes his thoughts are fat plums for starving toddlers, when really his assessments are yawn-provoking “whatevs” that make everyone yearn for the next Gillette 97-blade, skyscraper razor commercial.

The only person more annoying, Cris Collinsworth, has been a seventeen-alarm jackass during the playoffs. I seemed to have missed out on him for most of the regular season (except of course, when I tuned into the HBO Costas machine). Collinsworth’s Seattle at Green Bay performance was summed up perfectly by Jim Cheney from the NY Sports Express, also. This is brilliant commentary:

“Fresh off his stay as Idiot-in-Residence with the Royal Shakespeare Company in London, Fox booth-filler Cris Collinsworth returned to cover the Green Bay-Seattle Wild Card game last Sunday. Well into the fourth quarter, Collinsworth noted that Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren, the former head coach of Green Bay, had worked closely with QB Matt Hasselbeck, much as he had worked closely with Packers QB Brett Favre. In making his case for Holmgren having a special knack for teaching and training young team-helmers, Mr. Fantastic said it was like The Taming of the Shrew. Well Cris, no, not really. Honing the skills of young, eager and willing players is somewhat different from molding a comely, yet disobedient daughter of Padua into a subservient wife possessing abundant charm and a significant dowry. Hey, let’s leave the literature in the parking lot. It may give your boothmate Troy Aikman another concussion, but you could always throw a little eye of newt his way to cure him up. And one more thing, Cris. Put the ‘H’ back in your name.”

Anyway, I had some other mishaps, too: letting Jerry Peshtigo take over (though he went 15-1 one week); not getting Phyllis George or Irv Cross to follow through on interviews—I wanted 1970s NYC + CBS tales; getting nowhere with Aramark, who was supposed to let me inside Giants Stadium to work with beer & hot-dawg vendors on a game day; and failing to talk to mentally troubled ex-Bear and -Cowboy Alonzo Spellman who is serving time for a mishap on a flight. Oh well. The much-ballyhooed league parity provided some fun games—I love getting worked up over millionaires hitting one another—even if I did fixate too much on hating broadcasters Madden, Michaels, Joe Buck, Collinsworth, Aikman, and Esiason. Jim Nantz of CBS is about the only decent fellow in the bunch. Marino takes too much shit for being a lunkhead. Bradshaw we won’t even get into. Yes, we will. His well-worn, batshit-as-a-pork-rind routine is running on fumes. It’s a shame that media reporters like USA Today’s Rudy Martzke continue to champion his demeanor in columns like “Offer the ‘Bradshaw Off-the-Wall Award’ to Charles Barkley.” That is some great insight. Too bad no one cares.


Week 2 — Dallas at NY Giants. Giants hand it to them in OT, 35-32. Fassel façade’s first fluster.

Week 4 — Green Bay at Chicago. Paris Hilton in an Urlacher jersey.

Week 5 — Indianapolis at Tampa Bay. Indianapolis gets 329 touchdowns in last three minutes.

Week 6 — Kansas City at Green Bay. Green Bay lets KC back in. Horrible, ulcer-inducing game.

Week 8 — N.Y. Giants at Minnesota. Beginning of the end for the Vikings. Hilarious.

Week 9 — Green Bay at Minnesota. Green Bay hangs on, 30-27. This was a nice evening for me.

Week 10 — Chicago at Detroit. The Bears had sort of gotten their shit together. But they feebed it up with a 12-10 loss at the ugly Ford Field. If memory serves me correctly, this was around the time Matt Millen starting using his trillion-dollar vocabulary when describing former players of his. What a class act.

Week 11 — Kansas City at Cincy. Cincy is impressive.

Week 12 — Seattle at Baltimore. Each team scores over 1,000 points. OT. Seattle cannot seal the deal.

Week 15 — New Orleans 45 – NY Giants 7. This game inspired a “we got raped” comment from the Giants, who despite the coaching change will not recover until 2008.

Week 16 — Green Bay at Oakland. Sweet Jesus.

Week 17 — Minnesota at Arizona. Nathan Poole.

Playoffs, Week 1: Seattle at Green Bay. Hasselbeck’s Last Stand.

I have enjoyed nothing since that day.

I know that you already know I will be rooting for the acetaminophen-vibed Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl. They are so Rudy. Undersized and underwhelming, but faced with knuckleheaded Tedy “One D” Bruschi and Tom “Mr. America” Brady, I am making the only choice I can.

But, while I will be rooting for the Panthers, I will predict that the Patriots will win the game: 24-10. I can’t risk getting that ninety-ninth loss.

Thanks for reading, and if you get worked up in the off-season please checkout my news wire:

PS to Mike Francesa—You and I are going to sit down and you are going to learn how to pronounce Holmgren once and for all.

- - -


Last Week: 1-3.
Playoff Record: 5-3.

Vermeil Files, Vol. 666

The first time I saw Dick Vermeil cry, I thought: What a jagoff. What is an adult man doing crying about football?

The second time I saw Dick Vermeil cry, I thought: Okay, Vermeil. Calm down. And also, what a jagoff.

The third time I saw Dick Vermeil cry, I thought: The problem is with you, Johnson. You’re the one who has to loosen up. Vermeil is in touch with his feelings. Vermeil has a ring, you don’t. Let Vermeil cry.

The eighth time I saw Dick Vermeil cry, I thought: Okay, Vermeil. Get on some meds, amigo. Take a deep breath. Let it go.

The fourteenth time I saw Dick Vermeil cry, I thought: This is getting weird.

The thirty-ninth time I saw Dick Vermeil cry: I had just gotten done polishing off a bottle of Drambuie with him. We were at a golf tournament outside Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He told me he wasn’t sure if he’d ever eaten a better salad than the one we’d had at dinner. “Those farmers,” he wailed, “who are they? The romaine was exquisite. What are you looking at? If you can’t—if a grown man can’t enjoy a leaf of lettuce—”

The eighty-first time I saw Dick Vermeil cry: It was back on TV. The folks at UW-River Falls, where the Chiefs spend preseason, hadn’t followed through on a team-catering request for Rice Krispies. Vermeil was melting down. “Just how tough is it? I’m sorry. I gotta go public with this,” the waterworks were on. “My men love their cereal. And now, I don’t know what kinda season we’re gonna have.”

The three hundred and fifteenth time I saw Dick Vermeil cry: It was because of a traffic light that he thought was on the verge of burning itself out. I was on a three-speed in Locust Valley, MO, and I saw him pointing and howling from the driver’s seat of his Lincoln. “Some family’s gonna get killed!” Several cars honked behind him, but he wasn’t budging.

The nine hundred forty-first time I saw Dick Vermeil cry: I was on a cruise ship. Vermeil was at a press conference. One of his kick-returners kept an adult video late and there was a fine. Vermeil, to that day, was unaware of a phenomenon known as porn. It did not make him happy.

The 33,872nd time I saw Dick Vermeil cry: I didn’t. It was just an editorial that he wrote for USA Today about the dangers of using magic markers to write kids’ names on athletic tape to identify them on football helmets. I assumed he cried the whole time he wrote it. He thought the markers were a bit toxic, that an addiction could develop.

The 198,440th time I saw Dick Vermeil cry: It was an Arby’s. A packet of Horsey sauce dared him to open it. He could not.

The 708,814th time I saw Dick Vermeil cry: He said six words and broke down, “Oh, the majesty of a sauna.”

The 1,933,336th time I saw Dick Vermeil cry: I only sensed it. God had begun wiping out whole cities with His own vomit. Vermeil’s crying caused it. I was in Murfreesboro, TN. We were covered in slime. God had registered his disgust. Vermeil was somewhere, bawling with joy about microwave technology. He stopped abruptly and ate a corn muffin before it cooled.

The 174,999,044th time I saw Dick Vermeil cry: He was dead. Vermeil was a damn ghost and he still would not quit crying. He’d met up with Tony Franklin, the old Eagles place-kicker. “How could you have possibly gone through life so darn short, Tony? It just is not fair.”

The 12,000,000,000th time I saw Vermeil cry: I got a lousy T-shirt.

The 38,555,400,093rd time I saw Dick Vermeil cry: It wasn’t so much Vermeil as the whole world. A book had been written about Vermeil’s penchant for tears. It was called The Vermeil Approach. A religion was involved. Millions of people wept. Of course, looking down and seeing this, Vermeil wept.

Indianapolis at New England—New England.
Carolina at Philadelphia—Philadelphia.

- - -


Last Week: 4-0.

Steve Serby of the New York Post wrote a blow job of a column before last week’s playoffs and dug up a bunch of old New York Giants to talk about how crafty Bill Parcells is, and how he’d take his Cowboys into Carolina. It was basically a slow spin down memory lane, harkening back to when Parcells (aka Your Majesty) was with the Giants and was the James “King of the World” Cameron of football and the universe.

Except the Cowboys lost.

So this week Serby writes a column about how the Cowboys need more good players and have to immediately dump QB Quincy Carter, etc. Parcells, in essence, is still the genius in the whole equation (and by the way, he did do a remarkable job this season, as much as it kills me to say it), it’s just everybody else’s fault.

Fair enough. I mean Serby writes for a New York paper and all. We don’t live in Dallas. We don’t care about Dallas. But the playoffs are a national event and Serby is a big time columnist, so fair, fair, fair enough.

When Parcells waffled and ultimately neglected to take the Tampa job a couple of years ago, Serby wrote a column congratulating him. Telling Parcells he’d done enough already with all his New York success and that he should hang it up. Retire.

Then Parcells went out for some Chuckles and a diet lemon-lime Shasta. Serby wrote 17,000 words about how he devoured it. Slurped it. Disposed of his trash properly. Quietly and discreetly belched.

Actually, Serby did not. Sorry.

Anyway, maybe a guy in Chicago would devote precious column inches to stories about Mike Ditka, or someone in Denver would write continually about Dan Reeves, but I AM TIRED OF HEARING OLD N.Y. BEAT WRITERS FAWN OVER BILL PARCELLS.

I think Serby is living in the past. I think he’d like to ride in a sidecar of a motorcycle driven by Bill Parcells. I think he’d like to eat the pork chop remnants from a plate Bill Parcells once used. I think he wants Bill Parcells to grab him and put him in a headlock and tell him it is bath time.

For me, TUNA TIME IS OVER. Parcells was a great coach, but he will NEVER win another Super Bowl. Jesus “Montana” Christ could play QB for the Cowboys next fall and they would not get in the Super Bowl. Serby should move out of the past and forget about Parcells. He should go cold turkey on the whole subject of Parcells. He should please stop writing about Parcells now.

But no.

It is in Serby’s best interest to keep alive the dying fervor of 1980s GIANT nostalgia, because he just cowrote the Lawrence Taylor I LOVE CRACK book. And I’m sure that if he can keep the remaining tubby, Joi-sey guidos salivating about sniffing Parcells’s old coaches shorts, maybe more people will be compelled to pick up yet another tome about the old days. (Not to mention the fact that if it is a slow news day, the Post sports department can just pen another story about how Bill Parcells would exist in a spider hole. He would make it damn comfy down there. Maybe install a tap that runs fresh fruit juice. Maybe a soft pillow and some soft-batch cookies. Maybe a sink and a regular 1930s-style shaving kit. Maybe a picture of his favorite broad. Maybe a shelf for his pills. Who knows? All I know is that Parcells is smart, sexy, clever, coy, brilliant, has nice hair, and could outswim a walleye, you name it.)

Now this:

Dear Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck,

I’m sure that by now you’ve been scolded (indirectly, via the media) not to make such bold and cocky proclamations in the house that Lombardi built or whatever. You know what I mean. When a square writer or sports anchor tries to be funny by sounding like a no-nonsense old black woman by saying, “You. Do. Not. Do. That. In. This. House.” (Actually that was Isaiah Thomas and he wasn’t trying to sound funny or old and female, he was talking tough and earnest in his new role as Knicks GM/babysitter and was disgruntled after Timberwolf Latrell Sprewell returned to the Garden and bitched at toothy owner Jim Dolan throughout a whole basketball game a couple weeks back.) (P.S.—Dolan, your teeth kill me. Why invest so much cash in new teeth when you are a homely, homely man? Why? I demand a fucking answer. Yesterday.)

And then, the above “our house”-type statement makes you feel bad and look like a dummy, just because you, Matt Hasselbeck, confidently stated, after winning the overtime coin toss at Lambeau Field, that your Seahawks squad was going to score!, thereby knocking the Green Bay Packers out of the playoffs.

I know that you, Matt Hasselbeck, as a former Packer, know the reverence and history associated with Lambeau Field. You’re probably more familiar and respectful of it than 95 percent of the schmucks who got a good belly laugh out of the interception you subsequently threw, which Packers DB Al Harris ran back for a touchdown.

I have sympathy for you. I look at the situation not with a churchlike attitude toward Lambeau Field, or sportsmanship, just more like a young cocky boyfriend coming over to his ex-girlfriend’s parents’ house around the holidays and ribbing her old man. Just letting things sort of slip away. Really laying into the old man about having to eat salt-free potato chips or wearing generic slippers. Really making the guy uncomfortable. Then the doorbell rings. It’s a little neighbor kid. The kid asks, “Does anyone here own a Ford Escort?”

You say, casually, “Yeah it’s mine, bro.” You have way too much hair-gel going. You’ve been laying out your plans for world domination.

The kid says, “Ah,”

You say, “Not now, junior.” And drink more of the old man’s wine. The old girlfriend is near tears.

The kid looks at you. Shrugs. “Thought I’d tell you it’s on fire.” The kid leaves. The old man smirks.

Get it, Hasselbeck? The kid is Al Harris. The fire is your intercepted pass. The burning Escort is your game. Got it? I got two words for ya: pump fake. Ever heard of it? Here’s a tip, it’s not a Scottish breakfast cookie.

Next time you get an urge to dance around and yuk it up like a sheltered ten-year-old pajamas-wearing geek halfway through your first sugared soda (7-Up) at the Youth Group Sleepover, you know, when the bubbles are sort of going to your head and you’re—fuck it—you’re feeling very confident about, what? The whole universe! Growing up! Enjoying this beverage! Kicking ass! The Christmas lights!

You are feeling frisky. But, Hasselbeck, do not, under any circumstances, audible. You’re a good boy. Do not accidentally cut a fart, snicker, and tell everyone, including your parents, you feel “sexy.” No matter how much that soda has gone to your little head. No matter how much your special charms feel tingly. Keep it under wraps, dude.

Anyway, enjoy your off-season Hasselbeck. Maybe Serby can get you a job interview in Dallas.

Tennessee at New England—New England. (Sorry)

Carolina at St. Louis—St. Louis.

Indianapolis at Kansas City—Kansas City.

Green Bay at Philadelphia—Green Bay.

- - -


Last Week: 11-5.
Season Record: 162-94.

Items Ruined in Tandem as a Result of the Minnesota Vikings Final Play of Regular Season 2004.

1) One human head. Mini-van wheel that was jacked-up and tireless in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin garage.

2) Girl Scout “Thin Mint” cookie. Esophagus. Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

3) Selection of non-vintage glassware (full to quarter-full of Hi-C, Miller High Life, spicy V-8, chocolate milk). One 14′×12′ of shag carpeting Hibbing, Minnesota.

4) Vocal cords. Ear drums. Various locations.

5) Air-powered popcorn popper. Drywall. Basement, Anoka, Minnesota.

6) 1984 Dodge Omni. 8 human ribs. Mile marker 122, Hwy 53 Wisconsin.

7) 127 Randy Moss posters. Various locations.

8) Poodle’s (“Albert”) dog dish. Adolescent big toe. Potential soccer career. Woodbury, Minnesota.

9) Glass case of 11 mini-pizzas. 10 mini-pizzas (glass was “rubbed” off of one mini-pizza and consumed by Nacho Powell). Stop & Go. Tempe, Arizona.

10) Most of the Presidential Papers in the Nixon Library. 11 stick matches. Tarzana, CA.

11) “Guernica” painting by Picasso. Two museum security guards. Madrid.

12) 1,204,000 head of cattle. 5,678 barns. Eastern Russia.

13) Kleenex Factory. 11,000 jobs. Lima, Peru.

14) Concept of fair play. The minds of 19 children at Mom’s Drunk weekend day care, St. Paul, MN.

15) Field at Sun Devil Stadium. Vikings’ Player Chris Hovan’s tear ducts.

16) Pacific Ocean. Livelihood and life of over 16,452 species of plants and animals.

Tennessee at Baltimore — Tennessee.
Dallas at Carolina — Carolina.
Seattle at Green Bay — Green Bay.
Denver at Indianapolis — Indianapolis.

- - -



Last Week: 8-8. (pending Packers “W”)
Season Record: 151-89

This is Peshtigo again. We’ve received bad news in threes:

1) Brett Favre’s dad is dead.
2) The terror alert is on blaze orange.
3) Jeff Johnson is snowed in at a Holiday Inn Express outside of Cleveland.

I will be doing the duties again, and was encouraged by the McSweeney’s family—Paul, Mitch, Adam, Ryan, Penelope, Dayton, Abigail, Mike, Jr., and Donreye, to turn in this prestigious NFL column before Tuesday.

It’s because of the holidays. Egg Nog it, people. We all need some down time.

I wanted to wait, so I could be among the first internet scribblers to watch and comment on the Favre performance in Oakland tonight. I was reluctant to write until I had a full grasp on everything surrounding professional football for the dates December 20 through December 22. (Like Joe Namath and his Olympic-style ingestion of sake, or something mind-altering on Saturday night. His comments at halftime of the Patriots vs. Jets game were superbly insane.)


Not gonna happen.

I am responsible and accountable for deadlines.

I have to forge ahead.

Editor’s Note: The following paragraph was written by Mr. Peshtigo prior to Monday night’s Packers/Raiders game. No, really.

I can predict, as I so often do, with my background in science—I can predict that Mr. Brett Favre will put on a magical show tonight, as his father wouldhave wanted. I am only partially dismayed that much of his performance might be overshadowed by the hyperbole of Al Michaels and John (see Jeff’s 1999 predictions) Madden. I know their zeal to pin a story to the evening (let’s face it, apart from the emotional drama of recent events this game doesn’t mean a whole lot) will override any brilliance we see Mr. Favre deliver. But, like you, I will tune in anyway.

I am done with school until January 5th. I will be at one girl’s basketball game at the junior high school, working stats, but other than that, my only plans are to shovel snow and shovel in some ham, rolls and the love of my wife.

I know if Jeffrey were here he’d tell you something about his favorite events of 2003, but that can wait till next week. By the time you read this, the results of the Green Bay vs. Oakland contest will be old hat, and I may appear very foolish. That’s a risk I can live with.

For now, in the spirit of this column, love your family, love your friends and even find a smidge of love for those people you hate. People who dwell on petty, sad, horrid things and sit in judgment of us all at traffic lights, on the internet and at ice cream socials. Find a moment to forgive them and move on. Except for Lions’ GM Matt Millen. He is a turd.

It’s Christmas, sports nuts. I have no Peshtigo witticisms to offer other than don’t be mean to NFL kickers.

Week 17 Schedule
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers—San Francisco.

Carolina Panthers at New York Giants—Carolina.

Chicago Bears at Kansas City Chiefs—Kansas City.

Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals—Cincinnati.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tennessee Titans—Tennessee.

Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints—New Orleans.

Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots—New England.

Denver Broncos at Green Bay Packers—Green Bay.

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins—Miami.

Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans—Indianapolis.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens—Baltimore.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Atlanta Falcons—Jacksonville.

Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins—Philadelphia.

Oakland Raiders at San Diego Chargers—San Diego.

Minnesota Vikings at Arizona Cardinals—Minnesota.

St. Louis Rams at Detroit Lions—St. Louis.

- - -




Last Week: 15-1
Season Record: 143-81

Since the only things Jeff Johnson has been writing this season are in the vein of: “Who is that bitch from Survivor who always wears the Boy Scout uniform and cries? I’ll give her something to cry about,” we’ll be leaving the picks to Jerry “The Ace” Peshtigo who had a magnificent track record last week.

Oh, Jerry?

Here goes:

Let’s talk taunts. Certainly many of us, a) saw New Orleans’ Saints receiver Joe Horn and an accomplice pull a cell phone out from under the goalpost pad after Mr. Horn scored a TD against the Giants Sunday night; Horn then utilized the phone in his touchdown-scoring dance routine.

(Chad Johnson of the Bengals scored a touchdown, then held up a clever sign that read as an “Open Letter” to the NFL about his unhappiness getting fined for his creative celebratory gestures. He was promptly fined again.)

Or b), have at one time or another been on the business end of a taunt. It doesn’t feel very good, does it? In fact, just Monday evening when the wife and I were hunting for an open stall in the mall parking lot, we were taunted.

We’re just a pair of usually happy, simple Americans. We were only trying to park our vehicle, go inside and buy some presents for our relatives and a mentally ill adult man named Peter, whom I tutor and with whom I also play the odd round of golf. The spot we had our eyes on was just four vehicles from the door. It was -14 below zero. We were focusing on getting Peter a sweater and trying not to tempt ourselves with fantasies of popcorn tins. I’d been thinking of buying one of those 3/splits of cheese, caramel and regular (buttered) ever since we’d really ambushed one of them at the Donaldson’s Halloween party. I gorged myself on their popcorn. I don’t normally do such things.

Before we could park the car and do any of this, however, a carload of teenagers behind us in a Ford Escort wagon honked, and when we looked back, they swerved around us and nosed into the spot we’d hoped to take. The mall was so busy that the only remaining open spots we knew of were at least 200 yards from the door. For a minute, we thought we’d really lucked out, but it was not to be.

I turned to my wife to say something like, “Crazy kids,” and she grabbed my sleeve and tugged and pointed out the window in the vicinity of their vehicle. I momentarily thought perhaps my wife was worked up because she recognized these little bastards as a group of former students of mine (the non-Ivy Leaguers), but alas, she was pointing frantically because the driver, having stolen our spot and exited his vehicle, dropped his trousers and was mooning us with spread butt cheeks. I gagged.

Another one of them yelled, “Peshtigo-o-o-o,” in a “Geronimo-type fashion,” and yet another started singing “Amore,” at the top of his lungs. The line about the moon hitting your eye, and all. The final straw was the fourth boy, moonwalking past the hood of our car, pretending his hand was a cell phone and laughingly jabbering into it. Bad news travels fast, I suppose.

Having been completely taunted and gloated-at, we just went home. Couldn’t even spot a security guard anywhere. My wife is now afraid of the mall and I guess I don’t blame her much. I’m not sure if any of our remaining presents will be purchased or given to loved ones. I really should have written down the license plate and let the cops give the kid an indecent exposure charge. But I figured, hell, two Christmasses have already been ruined, why trash more?

I tried to turn a negative into a positive, anyway:

Other touchdown taunts (using props)

Maybe Patriots coach Bill Belichick will have one of his receivers microwave a bowl of New England clam chowder and pour it on an opposing DBs head?

Maybe Kansas City Chief Priest Holmes will lay a sockful of communion wafers on the tongues of fans in front row of the end zone?

Maybe Minnesota Viking Randy Moss will have a makeshift cardboard boat constructed and oared by loving fans a la Winkin, Blinken and Nod?

Maybe Miami Dolphin Junior Seau will run back an interception for a TD, set the ball down, sit on it, and wait patiently until that horrid mustache he once had grows back?

Maybe New York Giant Tiki Barber will score and promptly ask the Referee for a road map because he is in foreign territory?

Maybe St. Louis Ram Marc Bulger will run a sneak into the end zone only to be shot (with a cap gun) by Kurt Warner’s wife, a la JR from Dallas?

Atlanta at Tampa Bay—Tampa Bay.

Kansas City at Minnesota—Kansas City.

New England at N.Y. Jets—N.Y. Jets (strange but true.)

Baltimore at Cleveland—Cleveland.

Cincinnati at St. Louis—Cincinnati.

Detroit at Carolina—Carolina.

Miami at Buffalo—Buffalo.

New Orleans at Jacksonville—Jacksonville.

N.Y. Giants at Dallas—Dallas.

Tennessee at Houston—Tennessee.

Washington at Chicago—Chicago.

San Diego at Pittsburgh—Pittsburgh.

Arizona at Seattle—Seattle.

San Francisco at Philadelphia—Philadelphia.

Denver at Indianapolis—Indianapolis.

Green Bay at Oakland—Green Bay.

- - -


Jerry Peshtigo on the Cleveland Browns & Life

Last Week: 8-8
Season Record: 128-80

In February, Jerry’s first chapbook, Jerryisms, will be released. It will be sold via PayPal, and marketed much like the Jeff Johnson book, Ignore the Spread. Jerry hopes to sell upwards of a dozen copies. Details to follow.

Announcement before I begin: Please email Indiana Congressman Mark Souder and tell him that you don’t think replacing FDR on the dime is a good idea. He wants Reagan. Aren’t there bigger problems in the world?

This is the dummy’s address:

Text: You know last week Jeff Johnson made a point about the Cleveland Browns’ being saddled with a QB named Couch? So, on Monday evening, I set my butt down on my own couch in order to watch the first professional football contest of that particular week’s matches. I wanted to see if Johnson was just being belligerent, or if there was something to the rotating (and depressing) turn of QBs on the Mistake-by-the-Lake.

Cleveland looked luminous. It was the Cleveland I remember from my youth: Eastern Bloc newlyweds open-mouth kissing, canned beer, chilly temps, lots of people with sprains, adult women with rubber-banded braces, grown men with various relishes and half-munched sausage buns tucked in the folds of their obese bellies. The bright lights of the stadium shone on those folks and I could tell they were ready for some football.

By the end of the game, even though I am an avid supporter of Mike Martz and his Rams, I was rooting for a Cleveland comeback. I certainly liked the play of #94, sticking it to Marshall Faulk deep in Rams territory. And I enjoyed a particularly vicious hit leveled on an unsuspecting Ram on a kick-return shortly before the end of the first half, but let’s face facts people: the Browns and this Couch fellow choked. They had a shot at the end, and they let it slip away.

That’s what I’m here to discuss today.

(a) Facing facts.

(b) Choking.

For (a) facing facts, I will simply say that the Monday Night game between the Rams and the Browns was my first spectated game in a while (since Turkey Day, really) because I have a real life to attend to, and most of my life, as of late, involves correcting papers of some eighth-grade pupils who haven’t made the best use of their time this semester. I have to think of my job before I think of my leisure time. That’s the way it works. That’s how the bills get paid. And that’s the approach I take until sweet retirement. Then I will go to Shoney’s, pig out on pudding, walk across the street to Chester’s Bar, and get pickled. I have sixteen more years to go until that glorious day. I think I can manage.

Anyway, sure, it would be fun to throw my hands up in the air and flunk all the troublemakers. But, in the end, I am afraid that would reflect poorly on Mr. Jerry Peshtigo, as well as the school district I work in.

I could also “ignore” the “facts” and pass the students, thereby dropping my problems on someone else—i.e. society at large—and saying, “Here you go, I couldn’t do jack-diddly-ring-ding with these dummies.” But my gut wouldn’t let me get too much rest on that score. That is for sure. Something happens to a guy when he’s been named Northern Wisconsin Middle School Health Teacher of the Year once, and Runner-Up sixteen times. That “something” is pride. Honor. Courage. Respect.

So, here’s what I did: Looked at the newest batch of bad papers on Sunday afternoon, putting responsibility before football.

Sat down.

Had a cup of hot cocoa.

And then, had a really good, long cry.

Agh. 15 percent of my class is flunking!

They are flunking Health!!!

It is not complicated stuff! Where do you apply deodorant? The answer is not “ankle.”

Gosh, I am well aware of what a “free ride” this class is supposed to be. You think these kids would at least get 75-80 percent in their sleep.

Not so.

So as a result, I am the Cleveland Browns, fumbling away my chances at educating these kids and maybe getting another award and maybe getting a long, deep whiff of Dr. Sharon Odegaard’s perfume as I hit that educators’ stage in Menasha, at the Ramada Inn, in the crisply sexual April 2004 air, and say, “I’ll take the heavy brass once again for a job well done.”

Not gonna happen.

However, by Sunday night, I came up with a solution. It took all day. My wife, God love her, had to leave the house. Went shopping then to Quizno’s or some such. Her last words were, “Jerry, you are a pill.” We’ve since made up. And, FYI, I can’t begin to describe my solution. Wouldn’t be fair. I’ve paid a lot of tuition and workshop monies to become the educator I am. Taken a lot of real-life lumps. Lumps you are gonna have to learn on your own. Rest assured, I worked my way through the hurdles.

Facing the facts was what got me through my long weekend. Now, here’s (b).

(b) Getting drunk in New Orleans, with an armful of Mardi Gras beads I am totally willing to dole out.

Whoops. That’s not it.

(b) Choking.

You know, when my boy Brett used to play basketball in the YMCA leagues, I would attend every game. He was a quick little bugger, and as a result would get a lot of steals. I’d have my own clipboard at the game, even though I didn’t coach. I’d keep track of things, and also bring the classifieds along to look for jobs for my wife. The clipboard came in handy.

My point is, when Brett would get a steal and drive the other way, lightning quick, to attempt a layup on his own hoop, I’d often get so excited that I’d scream and shout and shatter that clipboard, and accidentally hurl my arms into my fellow parents, and generally make a real ass of myself.

My chant in those days, as soon as Brett cleanly had the ball under his control, was “Driver’s Seat, Driver’s Seat!” because I wanted to let Brett know that he, in fact, was in the proverbial Driver’s Seat and on his way to make an uncontested two points. (Or more! Ever heard of the phrase “and one”?) Well, I’d yell “Driver’s Seat” so loud that every child would become startled, the whistles would drop out of the ref’s mouths, and Brett would bounce the ball off his knee and out of bounds. My fellow spectators would look at me and shake their heads in disgust. Brett would begin crying, and I’d come out of the stands and go kneel down by his side and tell him two simple words.


Then there were a few more words.


And two more:


Gotcha again, people. This is too easy.

In truth, I’d kneel down and I’d say two words. “Dad’s fault.” And two more words, “Love ya,” and then I went on some pills and everything evened out, even when I caught Brett with a marijuana cigarette at the Krokus and Dokken concert when he was fourteen and I was hired on to do security.

I’d made a special, temporary on-site jail and he was one of the first prisoners. And at that moment, I certainly didn’t say “Dad’s fault.” That night I said, “Grampa’s dead,” because I knew that would freak the bejesus out of his dope-addled little brain and really get him thinking about stuff, and then I’d quietly chortle into a cloth hankie and get back to watching the heavy-metal show. Grampa certainly wasn’t dead. He was enjoying an Old Milwaukee and a new wife that was sent to the U.S. of A. courtesy of a little country called Russia.

What am I driving at? Two thoughts: (1) My kid choked. He should have enjoyed the weed. (2) If you are the Cleveland Browns, 2004 edition, Grampa is so dead, fellas. And the downer is you don’t even have any weed to get you through, unless you are William “Throw Away My Career” Green. Mr. Couch… remember that fourth down on Monday night? Try to hang onto the football, okay? I don’t walk down the hallway at school dropping my tests or lesson plan. I hang onto them, ’cause I always know that when I cross the threshold into my classroom I am gonna need them, just as if I were crossing into the end zone.


Jerry Peshtigo
Super Subb

Atlanta at Indianapolis—Indianapolis. Vick will be big, but his defense won’t.

Buffalo at Tennessee—Tennessee.

Detroit at Kansas City—Kansas City. Bet $44,000.

Houston at Tampa Bay—Tampa Bay.

Jacksonville at New England—New England.

Minnesota at Chicago—Chicago.

Pittsburgh at N.Y. Jets—N.Y. Jets.

Seattle at St. Louis—St. Louis.

San Francisco at Cincinnati—Cincinnati.

Baltimore at Oakland—Oakland.

Cleveland at Denver—Denver.

Carolina at Arizona—Carolina.

Dallas at Washington—Washington.

Green Bay at San Diego—Green Bay.

N.Y. Giants at New Orleans—New Orleans.

Philadelphia at Miami—Philadelphia.

- - -


Things That Occurred to Me over
Thanksgiving Weekend

Last Week: 9-7
Season Record: 120-72

1) Let’s put a moratorium on QBs named Johnson, can we? Doug, Brad, Rob. Can’t someone lend one of these turkeys another syllable? They sound as if they should be comptrollers for a company that makes lawnmower-blade sharpeners. Guys who once a week leave the leftovers at home and “treat” themselves to a Subway sandwich. And these fellows play with as little imagination as their first names indicate, as well. (Yeah, I know my name is Jeff. Sounds like when you clap at a feather pillow to fluff it up. Tough crap.) They couldn’t carry Brian Sipe’s lunch. F+

2) Jaguars QB Byron Leftwich rules. B+

3) Joe Pantoliano sucks. CBS sucks for giving him a show. He is one of the most annoying men in show business. Every time I pick up a magazine, there’s always an article about wacky Italian-American actor Joey Pants! Go straight to hell. F

4) Ditto for Victoria Gotti. You are a scrub, lady. F

5) The Packers. Nice going so far. Good gravy. If you don’t make the playoffs it’s your own fault. C-

6) Cleveland Browns. Glad we gave you another shot at professional football. You’re terrible. Four years with a guy named Couch. Brilliant. You got your first Monday Night game since God wore short pants, so try not to stink it up. D+

7) Arizona Cardinals. Face it. Move to LA. Start over. F-

8) More and more teams incorporating black into their uniforms’ color schemes. Lame. F

9) The best sports columnists in the world:

Jim Cheney, NY Sports Express (spot-on insight and humor) A

Phil Mushnick, NY Post (loves the old days when people had taste and manners, maybe to his own detriment) B

Paul Lukas, ex-Village Voice (Uni-Watch guy until the paper killed the one measly sports page. Terrible idea.) Paul: A; Village Voice, F

10) The Bears and the Jets. Too little too late. Kordell is starting to look good again, though. D+

11) Jim Fassel. Sorry. It seems as if you were an old retriever who is going to be taken behind the barn and shot by a crazy old man. Let’s face it. The team gave up on you. Your stars really screwed it up, and Kerry Collins (no star, by the way)? He should go, too. Really. Threw four touchdown passes in all of November. And that includes games against Buffalo, Atlanta, and Tampa Bay. And Tiki Barber? This season isn’t done yet, but in 2002 and so far this year combined, he’s lost eleven fumbles. You didn’t drop those, Jimmy. I see you landing on your feet in someone else’s program in ‘04. Try to quit wincing. It’s not very becoming. F

11a) My grammar in that paragraph was atrocious. Sort of like Jay Greenberg of the NY Post. Read him some time for a real puzzle. I will provide the Jay Greenberg Translator later this year. He gets an A+ for entertainment.

12) Minnesota Vikings. There’s a funny thing about the football season. It’s called “the last ten games.” If going 6-0 got you a ring, well, then we wouldn’t have to endure taunts from Packers fans about how you’ve been to the Super Bowl four times and never gotten the job done. C-

13) Miami Dolphins. “Hi, we’re the Dolphins. We had the dumbest idea in the world. Brian Griese.” Talk about just flushing it all down the toilet. C-

14) New England Patriots. There’s still time to screw this up. B

15) Buffalo Bills. Liked your Week 1 performance. Since then you might as well be playing in Canada. D

16) Oakland Raiders. Do you have any players under fifty years old? Your coach is going mental. Ten-to-one his acting-like-he-gives-a-shit, hard-ass routine still doesn’t save his job. Jerry Rice, time to hang it up. F

17) Pittsburgh Steelers. I was going to say Cowher is losing his touch. But his 2001 and 2002 campaigns were pretty good. Here’s the problem, though: Jerome Bettis. Trade him somewhere warm or cut him. He’s got a good year or two left in him, but not in Pittsburgh. D

18) Grape Juice. Does anyone drink this anymore? F

19) Pat Summerall. Do you know Dr. Jack Kevorkian? F

20) Kevin Harlan. Your faux-hysteria is unnerving. F

21) Keyshawn Johnson. Your best years are way behind you. D-

22) Philadelphia Eagles. Zero charm. C+

23) Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Nice dignity, dudes. F-

24) Houston Texans. No one knows anything about you guys. D+

25) Denver Broncos. One playoff win this season. Savor it. That’s all you’re getting. B-

26) Saturday Night Live. Will Forte should do the whole show himself. Tim Calhoun is a genius. A

27) The White Stripes. What a fraud. D-

28) San Francisco 49ers. None of these guys will be around in 2004. If Dennis Erickson is still the head coach, I will buy you a hot sandwich of your choice. D-

29) Cincinnati Bengals, A+. Everything else in Cincy, D-. C’mon, would you please get your act together? All of you.

30) Every other team in the NFL. No one cares.

Chicago at Green Bay—Green Bay. Either team could still win its division!

Cincinnati at Baltimore—Cincinnati. This will be their first test since beating Kansas City.

Dallas at Philadelphia—Philadelphia.

Houston at Jacksonville—Jacksonville.

Indianapolis at Tennessee—Tennessee. Stick a fork in Indianapolis.

Oakland at Pittsburgh—Pittsburgh.

San Diego at Detroit—Detroit.

Seattle at Minnesota—Seattle.

Tampa Bay at New Orleans—New Orleans.

Washington at N.Y. Giants—Washington.

Arizona at San Francisco—San Francisco.

Kansas City at Denver—Kansas City.

Miami at New England—New England.

N.Y. Jets at Buffalo—N.Y. Jets.

Carolina at Atlanta—Carolina. If they blow this and New Orleans wins, watch out.

St. Louis at Cleveland—St. Louis.

- - -

The Return of Jerry Peshtigo

Jeff Johnson is cooking turkeys for Sacramento-area senior citizens this week.

Last Week: 12-4
Season Record: 111-65

Ah, Thanksgiving.

Early picks.

The scent of hot yam in the air and on my clothing all the way down to my undergarments, which today, FYI, are teal.

They are teal because I sometimes fall into a Miami Vice-type persona in the boudoir, and this color helps me achieve total immersion into my fantasies.

On to the business at hand.

From my window at work, I can hear our school’s brass and drum units rehearsing, lucky ducks who’ve been invited to the Big Apple to showcase their talent and toodle away for the Macy’s parade.* How many people can say they’ve experienced, firsthand, the nuts and bolts behind of one of our nation’s finest events? Not many of you, I presume.

One caveat (as Newt Gingrich would say when he wanted to preface an important piece of information): I honestly haven’t tuned into the parade in years. When our children were young, my wife, whom we still call “Ma,” would summon everyone to the TV and we’d anxiously wait until a good character balloon, like Woodstock, would float by. You know Woodstock, don’t you? Snoopy’s pal? Always very inspirational. Pure genius to my mind.

This was in an era where things weren’t merchandised to death, if you can believe that, so seeing a character like Woodstock was a rarity. That little yellow fellow got very little face-time in the actual Peanuts comic strip every day. Sometimes months would pass before he’d flit around Snoopy’s doghouse, making humorous waves or solving a complex befuddlement that had, thus far, paralyzed the gang. Anyway, after a while, we’d become bored with watching the floats and the rote hand-waving and grins of whomever (the Osmonds? Nell Carter? Eunice Shriver? Erin Moran?) very quickly.

Later, one of my children ran away on the morning of Thanksgiving and didn’t return until she was twenty-three and married and divorced from a taxidermist/biker from Columbia Falls, Montana. She is now divorced and has a history of narcotics abuse and I pay the rent for the apartment she and her children share in Spooner, Wisconsin. They don’t own a car either, so I give them a lot of rides and will be picking them up tomorrow night and bringing them to the Peshtigo household for the holiday. I’m nervous because her son has been caught playing with matches recently, and I have—temporarily—lost my sense of smell in a tobogganing accident, so I would be among the last to know if he were to get up in the middle of the evening and try to burn down my house. Oh well, there are only so many prayers one can say.

What I’m driving at is that for a long time Thanksgiving didn’t resonate with us because what did we have to be thankful for? Losing a daughter? Who subsequently came home with multiple piercings and ill-educated toddlers who were raised on “Wemonade”? Yipes.

Today I am thankful for only a pair of events, and I know Jeff has not chimed in yet on this, that Bill Romanowski has been (a) knocked out of the league due to concussions and (b) tested positive for using a steroid, THG before its use was declared illegal for NFL players.

THG is intriguing (much like a common bug that morphs into ten poisonous bugs when stepped on) because it was created, I believe, in order to skirt league steroid policies. If you read the newspapers, you’ll see that several of our professional baseball players are involved in the using of this drug also.

Why am I thankful about this sad development? Because the man is a selfish cheat who believes he has Father Time in a headlock and Mother Nature bent over his bench pressing machine.

Malcolm Gladwell in this week’s New Yorker opines a very thoughtful, almost ethical piece on the practice of letting grown men crash into each other every Sunday, with nothing illegal or enhancing in their systems, vs. letting them drug-up and do the same thing. Apparently, we as spectators like our violence clean.

He raises a good question, and one that leads me to this conclusion: “Why, for the love of our lord and savior Jesus, can’t things just be simple, like the old days?” Now someone somewhere at this moment is probably selling a video of an NFL player shooting his steroids while simultaneously Instant Messaging a prostitute electronic photos of Amish children being corrupted by bestiality on their computer, which is actually a cellular phone/heater.

This makes me drop to my knees and weep in my garage and actually pray that this little firebug bastard grandson of mine, who will not eat my cranberries, starts the whole world on fire.

Today, what plagues me is imagining Katie Couric knife & forking a plate of wet, greasy, supposedly gourmet-cooked turkey and stuffing and doing her best to pretend, for one day at least, that everything is A-OK.

I have one recurring vision of her smiling face, maniacally peeking into a stove window as a Butterball, slathered in potatoes, yams and quartered squash hisses and pops inside. Fifteen feet behind her is Bryant Gumbel (from his fat-era) eating a shrimp ceviche appetizer with help from a naughty intern. Unsettling.

Please pray for my family.

Love, Jerry Peshtigo

P.S. Sorry to ruin your holiday—or as I call it, Holidazzle—because I was lying about everything, even about hearing the band, unfortunately. Our students are horrible musicians and would be hard-pressed to get a gig at the near-bankrupts town mall. It turns out a fellow teacher had their “ghetto box” turned up too high.

P.P.S. I’m already done with my Christmas shopping and I love life!!!

P.P.P.S. If you see a nut out there singing Christmas carols immediately after eating his turkey, it is me. I know I am going to come down with a serious case of jazz hands at some point within the next three days.

Green Bay at Detroit—Green Bay.

Miami at Dallas—Dallas.

Arizona at Chicago—Chicago.

Atlanta at Houston—Houston.

Buffalo at N.Y. Giants—N.Y. Giants.

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh—Cincinnati.

Minnesota at St. Louis—St. Louis.

New England at Indianapolis—New England.

Philadelphia at Carolina—Carolina. (doesn’t this game happen every week?)

San Francisco at Baltimore—Baltimore.

New Orleans at Washington—Washington.

Cleveland at Seattle—Seattle.

Denver at Oakland—Oakland.

Kansas City at San Diego—Kansas City. (maybe SD wins? Or covers at least?)

Tampa Bay at Jacksonville—Tampa Bay.

Tennessee at N.Y. Jets—N.Y. Jets.

- - -


Last Week: 12-4
Season Record: 99-61

Your Blog Sucks

Please bear with me till I get to the predictions this week, or simply scroll down.

People’s blogs might be the only technological advancement lamer than flash mobs. I say might because some ass-hen behind me on the aeroplane last month immediately started doing that Nextel walkie-talkie, ping-pong thing with her cell phone the second we landed. I don’t need to know about the casserole whoever is stuck welcoming you home is throwing together. I’d like one godforsaken moment of peace in my life. Instead, everyone is walking around like the whole world is a construction project. You might as well start wearing a hard hat around.

By the way (I’m not done yet), who is that guy in the black trench coat from the Sprint commercials? I hesitate to call him an actor. Are we in agreeance, as deep-thinker Fred Durst would say, that he is massively annoying? I haven’t hated a person in a commercial this much since David Leisure was Joe Isuzu, or those two guys from the McDonald’s commercials spent all that time together, calling each other “Mr. Two All Beef Patty Boy.”Get a room, why don’t ya? Man, were they tiresome.

This column is not a blog, by the way. FYI. It’s barely even a column. I’m just vexed about why people seem to be updating their websites every twenty-six minutes with their latest ruminations on the weather, the magazine business, the music business, what sorts of pets they enjoy, their innermost fears and thoughts, what that sycophant Tina Brown is up to, how they would have made Captain Corelli’s Mandolin a great film, Paris Hilton’s posture, how paprika is way-underrated as a spice, what someone else wrote on his or her blog, how they think they’ve mastered sarcasm, etc.

If you’re a blogger, I know this is what you are thinking, “Well, you don’t have to come to my website then, hypocrite.”

This is what I think: shut the hell up. Get a hold of yourself for one moment. Doesn’t spending all that time online start making you sick to your stomach? Take a walk around the block. Nobody needs to know everybody’s opinion about everything going on in the world every second. Especially when it’s done in such a tired, smarmy tone. Writing like a character from Friends speaks—where every other sentence is a smug punch line that everyone can see coming a mile away—is passé. And if I needed a link to a link to a link to another link about what someone else was rumored to have said to someone else, I’d do a fucking web search. I write this garbage once a week for twenty weeks and then I am done. I give it a breather.

In the old days, when people were compelled to pipe up about every single piece of marginally interesting news, it was called “Getting Something Off of Your Chest.” You know who did it? Your busybody, sexless neighbors, who positioned themselves on their front lawns doing some phony chore, spending the better part of their lives attempting to flag you down and pontificate about the neighborhood, someone’s muffler, someone’s cat, someone’s stroller, the paperboy’s acne, Vietnam, tennis sneakers, the consistency of their kid’s turds, the malfunctioning stoplights around the corner, and you know what? It bugged the hell out of everyone. You know why? They never had the balls to actually do something. To actually construct something. They just spent their waking hours making sure that everybody knew that they supposedly knew everything that was going on in the entire universe:

“Johnson’s coming home.”

“Turner lets their lights burn all night long. Must own the electric company.”

“Windy today.”

“Captain & Tennille are on Johnny Carson tonight.”

“New video game at the mall. Q-bert.”

“Jane Pauley looks like a slut.”

Ah, enough.

You know who else really makes me weep? Bob Costas. Lace ’em up, you total fairy. Put your money where your mouth is. No one cares what the little shrimpy asthmatic kid down the block thinks of the old St. Louis Cardinals. Get a glove on and shag some fly balls before you die of the common cold. Same goes for you, George Will.

Okay, they have nothing to do with anything I’ve been blathering on about. Time for the picks and then maybe a nap.

Carolina at Dallas—No one should be forced to watch this game. Carolina is the equivalent of eating an Anacin sandwich. Dallas wins.

Detroit at Minnesota—Minnesota.

Indianapolis at Buffalo—Indianapolis. Buffalo is on life support.

Jacksonville at N.Y. Jets—N.Y. Jets.

New England at Houston—New England.

New Orleans at Philadelphia—Philly.

Pittsburgh at Cleveland—Cleveland.

Seattle at Baltimore—Seattle.

San Francisco at Green Bay—Green Bay.

Chicago at Denver—Denver.

St. Louis at Arizona—St. Louis.

Cincinnati at San Diego—San Diego.

Oakland at Kansas City—Kansas City.

Tennessee at Atlanta—Tennessee.

Washington at Miami—Miami.

N.Y. Giants at Tampa Bay—Tampa Bay.

- - -


Last Week: 7-7
Season Record: 87-57

The Introduction of Jerry Peshtigo, Super Subb*
NFL Picks

*The extra “b” is because I have a bee in my bonnet sometimes.

Hello, my name is Jerry Peshtigo and I’ll be on board with the NFL predictions this week, and possibly for subsequent weeks, while Mr. Johnson finishes up a jail sentence for public intoxication. I used to referee some of this “preview” section’s normal columnist’s—aka Jeffrey Johnson’s—junior high school basketball games back in Wisconsin, where I currently reside, and have for the better part of my fifty-three years, although when I was three I lived just outside Cleveland for a period of eight months because neighbors told local police they believed my parents were mishandling me. But I swear on a stack of bibles they were wrong, I fell off of a swing by accident, and the incident and subsequent court proceedings wounded my family, and I remember Christmas was especially bitter that year, with no presents for me because I did such a horrible job of testifying in court. And now, anyway, through some contemporary legal channels, Jeffrey reached out to me and here I am, for better or worse.

I believe he contacted me because I truly am a sports advocate, though as time goes by and I get on in years, I can’t really take an afternoon and loaf around, burning up a Sunday by watching televised football games. Having children will do that to you. And, okay, I admit I do this on occasion, and I don’t know where many of you readers are from, but for me there’s a significant amount of lawn and rummage work to attend to, such as the selling of old but still viable popcorn poppers, pots and pans, pet leashes, cages and bowls from now deceased animals, and ill-fitting jeanery and blouses. (I enjoy pastry, and my waistline has expanded by two inches in the last fifteen years.) I also sold my eldest son’s Nike “Supreme Court” basketball poster from, I suppose, the 1980s (Moses Malone, etc.), and now he is not speaking to me. He says it could have fetched upwards of $175 on eBay, a claim that I do not dispute. However, if he in fact knew that, he should have taken the godforsaken poster out of my personal den ages ago, when he moved to Hibbing, MN, with his wife April.

This is neither here nor there.

I apologize to you.

I do recognize this as a public forum, though, and will use it momentarily as a vehicle to “reach out” to Dennis and say I am sorry for hastily selling one of your childhood mementos.

Now, a bit about me. I teach eighth-grade Science and Health. I had the pleasure, in the summer of 1986, of driving cross-country with my family to Hollywood, California, and witnessing how, at that time at least, a Hanna-Barbara cartoon was made. And that was fascinating stuff, seeing adults and young-adult professionals animating Yogi Bear and Boo Boo Bear and the forest ranger and putting voice to them. You almost think of them as real characters sometimes. I guess they are real characters, but I mean real in the sense that they’d bleed if you stuck one of them with a weapon or recklessly broadsided their fleeing haunches with a speeding automobile.

Imagining killing Yogi Bear with my family car is something I am not proud of, and if it were a real scenario, I know I would be quite depressed, and it would, of course, be an accident. I’m certain that I wouldn’t purposely go out of my way to run down one of America’s favorite bears. You can make book on that. Even if he were behind a theft of my picnic food—if he had orchestrated the stealing of my family’s nourishment—I would probably be upset for say, thirty seconds, then I would have a good laugh, even though I was now probably short twenty dollars in foodstuffs and a wicker picnic basket (with checkered cloth), because, in a roundabout way, it would be fairly awesome to be victimized by such a renowned and beloved figure. I would say, “Eat the food, Yogi, but please return (and maybe autograph) the basket,” because what is a bear going to do with a basket, besides befouling and soiling and trampling on it out of frustration when it has been emptied, finally, of its food?

Since then, and I’m speaking of our family trip in 1986, I’ve done some lecturing in our state capital of Madison, WI, and orchestrated a 1993 science field trip to Chile for honors students, which in the end I couldn’t go on because of a cold and because my wife, Sara, was terrified I’d be kidnapped by insurgents, because: 1) I am an American, 2) I know a great deal about health and science and could reveal techniques to make that whole nation, perhaps, upwards of 10 percent more hygienic. Which is, frankly, NOT even close to enough, in this teacher’s opinion.

I will get to the predictions straight away, because I realize I’ve gone on at length about my joys and fears and, perhaps, I’ve succeeded in boring the Dickens out of you.

One final announcement before I begin the guesswork: If you live near Chippewa Falls, WI, and would enjoy a cold beer, or need a place to watch the Packers on Thanksgiving, please shoot me an email at the above Yahoo! account. Our household is always open to sports fans and the indigent.

(I will not use my school-system address for frivolous activity, which this may or may not be. If I make a friend or help someone, I suppose that is not frivolous. The fact that I am now going to ask for job offers, international airplane vouchers, sexy, nude jpegs, or erotic stories from my anonymous female readers—heck, any gender, really—has nothing to do with this decision. But, if you have not noticed, I am a sexually dormant man, trapped by my mortgage, my dead-end work with moronic, immature adolescents caught in puberty’s cruel throes, and finally the needs of my adult children, who bicker over mis-sold postery and demand that I pop for sneakers for their children when it is not even a special fucking occasion.)

That was a joke. That was some of Mr. Johnson’s “humor.” I am perfectly content in every facet of my life, although that Chile thing smarts a little bit. I did include this address, because unlike Mr. Johnson, I am certain I can beat the crud out of YOU, predictions-wise, and if you want to wager or smart-off to me, be my guest. I relish healthy debate.

Lastly, I will also add this before the predictions: next week, I will be writing about NFL coaches and the girth of their waistlines and how that relates to the Win-and-Loss column. I’ve had some of my top students working things out on graph paper, and the results are pretty interesting.

As a final aside, fourteen of my students—out of an estimated 11,345—went to Ivy League schools after encountering me as an educator. Chew on that. One of my best is at Duke this year, and while that’s not Ivy, it is an accomplishment I’m extremely proud of.

Arizona at Cleveland—Cleveland. (Cleveland has great people.)

Atlanta at New Orleans—New Orleans. (Domes are, as my students would say, gay.)

Baltimore at Miami—Miami. (Wannstedt on the hot seat.)

Houston at Buffalo—Buffalo. (Buffalo in the autumn is romantic.)

Jacksonville at Tennessee—Tennessee. (McNair says, “Super Bowl or Bust.”)

Kansas City at Cincinnati—Kansas City. (I will be rooting for Cincy.)

N.Y. Giants at Philadelphia—I’m afraid the Giants will win.

St. Louis at Chicago—St. Louis. (Mike Martz is my hero.)

Washington at Carolina—Carolina. (Yawn.)

N.Y. Jets at Indianapolis—Indianapolis. (Pennington may pull this out though, but I doubt it.)

San Diego at Denver—Denver.

Detroit at Seattle—Seattle.

Green Bay at Tampa Bay—Green Bay.

Minnesota at Oakland—Minnesota. (Could go either way.)

Dallas at New England—New England. (Jeez, they’re making Parcells go everywhere he coached. The NFL are no dummies.)

Pittsburgh at San Francisco—San Francisco.

- - -


Last Week: 8-6.
Season Record: 80-50.

Edits, Comments, & Queries I Would Make, If I Were in Charge of the Weekly Fan Essay at, Since Whoever Assigned These Things is on Autopilot

Why We Like Football
Friday, October 3, 2003

Week 1: What’s right with this picture? I gave up tickets to the Vikings opener in Green Bay to play in a charity golf outing for the University of Minnesota with three women friends. [You’re fired. You’re obviously not a true fan. Charity golf is like guzzling champagne for autism.] We picked the 7:30 a.m. tee-time so we could catch most of the game, even if we missed the kickoff. [You multitasked the shit out of that day, didn’t you?] We raced back to my friend Laurie’s house, where her friend Frank [C’mon. Fill us in on the friend part? Are they doing it?] was making us breakfast (eggs benedict with hollandaise sauce from scratch, no less). There you have it: three women glued to the TV watching football; a great guy in the kitchen cooking.

Week 2: For the Chicago game the attendees were Xxx, my sister-in-law Xxx, and Xxx’s friend Kay [too boring, please change to Jesus of Nazareth], who’d never been to either a Vikings game or the MetroDome before. [By the way, this sentence took one look at grammar and ran.] Jesus of Nazareth enjoyed some people-watching before the game and came up with a hilarious list of observations. Particularly one about who wears Chris Hovan jerseys. [So spill it. Liven this thing up a bit.]

Week 3: I was on an 11 a.m. flight to Hawaii that Sunday. My boss will confirm the first thing I did when we landed was call my Dad to find out the score, Vikings 23, Detroit 13, 3-0. [Hawaii, huh? Sounds like a real tough job.]

Week 4: Three of us regulars made the 49ers game and gave two tickets to a couple of young men who were amused by our football (and other) chatter. [This was very kind of you.] The guys soon found out we’d obviously been going to games together for a long time. How could they tell? [You score with the Ann Landers letter-writer humor. Good work.]

Women are drawn to football along our own paths. Unlike other men’s sports—baseball/softball, basketball, golf, tennis, soccer, etc. —there is no analogous sport for women. You play golf, soccer, whatever you understand and can appreciate the male counterpart. With football, however, the paths for women like me are through our fathers, our boyfriends, our husbands, or cheerleading. [This last sentence kind of kills the whole along-our-own-paths thing. I mean, if you all are taking a path through a male, right?]

So if we visit, why do we return? Why do we stay? The answer for some is still “my boyfriend” or “my husband.” For the rest of us it’s because football has an allure unique among sports.

My love of sports comes from my Dad, who played Minnesota town team baseball during the 50s. When I grew up, however, there were no organized sports for girls, so we dated the boys who played, tried out for cheerleading, [this is getting redundant, get right to the pageantry crap below, if that is your point] or in my case became a sportswriter. I wrote for my high school and college newspapers and covered all sports, including an Olympics after college [which event? Make this compelling if you’re gonna mention it].

While my favorites were, and are, baseball and college basketball, I must admit there’s nothing quite like the pageantry and hoopla of a football game. Any football game. [Oh yeah, try this on: Jacksonville vs. Houston. Three hours of that could kneecap anyone.]

Nothing quite like marching bands executing elaborate formations. Nothing quite like the mélange of aromas in the air of a crisp sunny autumn afternoon at game time. [Hello? The Vikings play in a dome, since about ‘82. That’s a pretty strong mélange. Or are we still on memory lane here?] Nothing quite like the goofy fans who show up in full body paint of their team’s colors [“of their team’s colors” is not really necessary. We know they’re not showing up in Shoney’s buffet worker colors.] Nothing quite like the community of tens of thousands of fans united around one goal: victory over a fierce rival. [Not to mention a) talking on their cell phones, and b) getting drunk.]

For me, there is nothing quite like being part of that community, wearing my Cris Carter jersey along with 25,000 other fans. (35,000 fans wear Number 84. [FACT-CHECKER?] A handful wear the names of current players. The rest are wearing Cunningham, Smith, Randle, Moon, once a Vikings player, always a Vikings player.) [Ouch. That’s some curse. By the way, you know Cris Carter was the biggest crybaby, doncha? Complained so much they took the “h” away from his first name.] Nothing quite like being purple-inspired: I discovered purple cowboy boots in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, more than 10 years ago and wear them to every game. Last year I wore a purple fur hat to one game, and a guy said he’d marry me, just for the hat. (Honestly, does stuff like that happen at a baseball game? A basketball game? I don’t think so.) [Okay, this paragraph is overkill, but it works better than the previous paragraph. Your last three sentences were the most interesting so far. Please expound. Also, the last sentence didn’t need to be in parentheses.]

Then you get to the game of football itself, something rather simple, if not easy [newsflash: simple and easy are pretty much the same thing]: get the ball (the most interesting shape in all of sports) down a 100-yard field and across the goal line. Do it through explosions of activity in fits and starts; through a complex mix of ballet and bone-crushing. [Ever since Willie Gault, people over do the whole “ballet” thing.] Sure, it helps if you know the ins and outs of counter plays and crossing patterns, but you don’t have to. The game, for all its intricacies, is straight ahead, literally. It’s accessible. Exciting. [Don’t forget about the clock stopping for penalties.] Engaging, but not so much you can’t discuss men, work, and whatever else is on your mind between plays. Incredibly satisfying when you win [this sounds too much like a pro-bowel-movement essay], especially a nail-biter or a blow-out. (Last Sunday you could have provided Italy all the electricity it needed from the energy after the Niners game, what with all the power from those beaming smiles.) [Italy? Are they having an energy crisis over there? What is up with your abuse of parentheses, anyway?]

Mostly, though, football is liberating. We can scream, twist and shout [corny], wear our Purple Pride in countless clever ways [so name some of them], sing fight songs with verve [?], and eat a brat with sauerkraut. Monday morning will come soon enough. Sundays we party. [This sounds a little like an outing for mentally disabled adults: wear our purple, sing songs, eat a brat?]

Because we like the kind of hustle we saw in Games 4 and 5. This is a different Vikings team. Once upon a time a Vikings defensive back would have intercepted a pass and dropped to the ground in shock. This year Brian Russell is a wonder: you watch him pick off a pass and wonder who he’ll pitch the ball to when he’s run out of real estate, cornerback Eric Kelly against San Francisco and cornerback Brian Williams in Atlanta. Who’ll be next? [Good paragraph.]

My seats in the Dome are above the Vikings’ entrance onto the field. When the half ended against the 49ers, after Kelly had been pulled down 10 yards from a score, the Vikings ran into the tunnel so psyched the stands were quivering. Believe me, I’ve seen them go in as deflated as that Vikings boat. Not this time. [Good paragraph.]

We also like back-ups who come off the bench and surprise us. My Cincinnati friends want to know if it’s something in the water here: where was this Gus Frerotte last year? How about our running backs, all of them, keeping Michael Bennett’s place warm until he’s back in action.

Game 5

Just as we’d do if the Vikes were home, friends and I gave up a gorgeous Indian summer day to watch a game indoors. After brunch (one of the things we really like about football) [or, uh, morning?] we settled around the TV, with a slightly nagging feeling in the air. While we were the odds-on favorite, true Vikings fans take nothing for granted. [That’s what losing all those Super Bowls will do to you.] We’d already had a taste of the fruits of complacency—or whatever had ailed them in the first quarter—with the Gophers Saturday against Northwestern. [FRUITS OF COMPLACENCY?]

So another back-up surprised us, alarmed us, truth be told. [Surprised and alarmed are the same thing.] It’s one thing to be beaten by Michael Vick, but Doug Johnson? There he was crisply shooting passes all over the field, while we looked flat, flat, flat.

Ah, another reason we like football: momentum can turn on a single play or perhaps in this case, a half time “pep” talk. The new and improved Vikings showed up to start the second half, and the mo—and Moe—had definitely turned in our favor. Take that, Doug Johnson. Not one but two safeties. [This is good & feisty.] We like that it’s a game of inches. [Easy on the sexual innuendo.] Fifty yard passes and dashes are exciting, but Randy Moss’ spectacular second TD was pinpoint acrobatics as his toes brushed inches inside the line. [DON’T GET ALL HENRY JAMES ON US.] Exquisite.

My friends and I are looking forward to a week off to recover, heal, and get ready for a really big game against Denver. We’re looking forward to having Daunte back at the helm and to Michael being a step closer to the field, secure in the knowledge that the rest of the team can do the heavy lifting without them. Gosh, how good will we be when everyone’s healthy? [See final score vs. Packers.]

Why We Like Football

A colleague of mine says this about football: “One thing about being a football fan: you know you’re alive. In one game you’ll experience exciting anticipation, jubilation, worry, and heartache. That’s what makes football great.” Now he was talking about a college football game, but I think his words capture the range of emotions we have at a Vikings game. [You expressed this earlier, with your “any football game” sentiment.]

Game 6

Dangerous Denver! The Vikes were on a five-game winning streak, Daunte was back and the biggest game of the season was at hand. Should we be over-confident because first string Bronco QB Jake the Snake Plummer was out, maybe for the season? NoooooŠ here in Minnesota we know how good back-ups can be, have you met my friend Mr. Frerotte? [Funny.] Besides, the Denver Broncos always command respect [too cheesy]. So it was with “excited anticipation” [why is that in quotes? Did some dreadful human being actually say that?] that friends and I went to the Dome for the Big Game.

We like football because of triumphant returns to action. Coming off any injury and a three week lay-off, who knows what can happen? A player can be eager and on-target, or hasty and rusty. [Eager and hasty are too similar. If the player is champing at the bit in both situations, just let us know.] We all breathed easier when Daunte—who shows more emotion on one good play from scrimmage than some men show in a year—was looking sure and sharp. [Leave it to just “sure” or “sharp,” not both, as their win, which we know about, already convinced us.]

We like football because of plays of the week. By now you’ve seen the highlights a hundred times, but the play bears repeating: last play of the first half, game tied, time running out. Bomb to Moss, who caught it and on the way to the turf showing shades of defensive teammate Brian Russell—flipped the ball over his right shoulder to a trailing purple jersey worn by Moe Williams, who ran it in for a TD. [This was the most amazing play of the season so far. Good job.] What made the play so important was not just a score to end the half, but it was a momentum change in favor of the Purple. Minnesota would get the ball to start the second half and tack on a touchdown on their way to winning the most important game to date.

Game 7

We like football because the teams are the best example of teamwork in all sports. [God, break out of this “We like” box you’ve trapped yourself in. You’re taking this assignment to literally. Liven it up!] Football teams show us the importance of having all moving parts working together. When a football team is hitting on all cylinders, it moves effortlessly and smoothly up and down the field. An occasional misfire causes a well-oiled machine to sputter and cough; more than a couple will cause a machine to stall. [Too obvious.]

Parity is reality in pro football today. Therefore, the New York Giants’ 2-4 record should have given Vikings fans no comfort; this was going to be a battle. If the memory of the shellacking the Vikings suffered in New York three years ago wasn’t still lingering, then the tough loss we took at the Dome last year at the hands of the Giants was. [Good work.]

Ever hopeful, I joined friends at the Dome. The first Vikings score—a 51-yard field goal—was a good start for Minnesota, but New York raced back in front with a well balanced drive for a touchdown. The game see-sawed uneasily until the fourth quarter, when the Giants scored twice to put the game away.

Nothing came easy for the Vikings last Sunday. Safety Corey Chavous tallied his 6th interception of the season in the end zone to end a Giants’ drive. The team couldn’t capitalize on turnovers. Randy Moss scored two impressive TD’s, but he had to work for every one of his 125 yards. The piece de resistance was the blocked Giants punt that a New York linebacker [if they were punting, how would there be a linebacker on the field?] scooped up and ran for a first down. Insult to injury. The Vikings machine had ground to a halt. First loss.

Loss or no loss, my money is on Mike Tice. He’s the kind of head mechanic this Purple machine needs. This is a young group that needs some tinkering, not an overhaul; some adjustments, not replacements.

This coming Sunday night ‹ Green Bay. [Still in too much pain to write? Did you find time to talk about guys at this game?]

I’d give you a C+ overall. I can tell you like the games, I just think you’re sorta phoning it in on your commentary. You overwrite the stuff you think you should be saying, and you trail off and don’t finish the thoughts (the weird ones) that are interesting and unique. I know you can do better!

Arizona at Pittsburgh—Pittsburgh.

Atlanta at N.Y. Giants—N.Y. Giants.

Chicago at Detroit—Chicago.

Cleveland at Kansas City—Kansas City. (If I were braver I’d take Cleveland, ‘cause I think the Chiefs’ first loss is hanging out there somewhere.)

Houston at Cincinnati—Cincinnati.

Indianapolis at Jacksonville—Indianapolis.

Miami at Tennessee—Tennessee.

Seattle at Washington—Seattle.

Tampa Bay at Carolina—Tampa Bay.

Minnesota at San Diego—Minnesota.

Buffalo at Dallas—Dallas.

N.Y. Jets at Oakland—N.Y. Jets. (Pennington gets comfy.)

Baltimore at St. Louis—St. Louis.

Philadelphia at Green Bay—Green Bay.

- - -


Last Week: 11-3.
Season Record: 72-44.

Hurray. The End of Baseball.

Seen on subway train to Game 6: A Yankee-hatted Mom and her teenage son. Mother was busying herself by thumbing through Prevention magazine. Son, face bezitted and brain on snooze, stood hanging onto a pole and swaying for forty-eighr minutes. Okay, so this train was slow, slow, slow, but come on. Live a little. You’re on your way to the World Series, lady, leave the magazine on the end table next to your cold medicine and jazz it up a bit. Your kid is bored off his ass.

Sorry for this tiny aside, but honestly, what kind of confidence is naming a magazine Prevention supposed to inspire? Let’s tap into a new market: Common sense for defeated middle-class adults who are overworked, tired as fuck, stressed about their minivans, and are not-so-secretly having second thoughts about the breeding they’ve done. Oh, the joy of being alive on this planet! Here’s my cover line suggestion: Eight new ways to pin notes to your delinquent son. And here’s their real Internet tip for 10/28/03:

The Best Way to Wash Up

To keep nasty germs in check, wash your hands like a surgeon. Instead of running a little water over them, you’ll need to scrub your wrists, palms, the back of your hands, between the fingers, and under your nails. Do this for at least 20 seconds, and remove rings and bracelets before you wash because they hide germs.

I used to think I hated Red Sox fans (belligerent, self-loathers who’ve taken the underdog and hex thing a bit too far) & Patriot fans (in NYC, they’re bored paper-pushing attorneys, who’re hooked on soft cotton garments and think it’s cute to wear their stocking caps in taverns on Sundays) more than anyone except Cowboy fans. Don’t you hate it when you see a Cowboy fan from Edina, Minnesota? And they jabber on about being a part of America’s Team? And yet, they somehow disappeared when the Cowboys were tallying three wins a season a few years back? But anyway, long story short, after milling around Yankee Stadium on Saturday night, I may have to go back to the drawing board and recalibrate my disgust.

In truth, my anti-Yankee sentiments were born when I was very young. I read Yankee classics like The Bronx Zoo by Sparky Lyle and Number 1 by Billy Martin, and while I wasn’t sure what specific passages meant, like pitchers abstaining from sex by jacking off and throwing a dollar in their trunk, both of those books scarily conveyed what an insane and egomaniacal tyrant team-owner George Steinbrenner was (and still is). Yet somehow, I secretly got pulled into championing the dysfunction.

Now I’m starting to think maybe I just romanticized late seventies New York City, and that the bickering Yankees were just a by-product of that. Everything about them (and, to be honest, most professional sports) today feels forced and hollow. Example: Monday night on ESPN’s pre-game show, Stuart Scott talked to John Madden about Chargers’ RB LaDainian Tomlinson, and the first “clip” ESPN provided was of Tomlinson’s video caricature from Madden’s video game. That doesn’t tell me shit, guys.

Anyway, I recommend reading both of the aforementioned books. You’ll laugh your ass off. I also advise picking up a copy of Five Seasons by Roger Angell and A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley.

Anyway to prattle on, before the Yankees made it to the Series, I had the displeasure of encountering a churlish Yankee mope who was drinking and howling “Less Go Yong-keys,” outside of Nice Guy Eddie’s on New York’s Lower East Side. It was Game 7 against the Sox, and I was on my way to the Mercury Lounge to see the band Metric

perform (They’re great, FYI). The guy’s girlfriend, by the way, in matching jersey, couldn’t have been prouder. This fellow was recognized by all of the bar’s patrons as the cheerleader. They all enjoyed his chants and followed his lead. And yet, as I walked by for the second time that night, the dude informed me that Aaron Boone just hit a home run to beat the Sox in extra innings. “Wow. Good thing they sent him in to pinch run,” I said. “Naw, he wuz in they-a da whole gay-m. He started.” No he didn’t. Pay attention, moron.

I would love to see what would happen if beer were subtracted from this whole equation.

To the Yankees: Better luck next year. I’d love most of you guys if it weren’t for Steinbrenner.

Clemens: Glad you retired. Admit you threw the bat at Piazza. You’re a poor sport.

David Wells: Try having a little self-respect. When donning your road grays, you resemble nothing more than an escaped inmate from Pigville State Prison, circa 1938.

Jeff Nelson: See above. Except replace Pigville State Prison with drunken Marine, circa Laos, 1974.

Don Zimmer: I’ve always loved you, but you are truly going nuts. You’re crazy, man. Get it together. Your wife sure has to put up with a lot of nonsense. Good luck with retirement, and quit crying in public so much. P.S. What is inside of your head? If I were going to be you for Halloween I’d have to attach two giant hams to my noggin.

Joe Torre: You act like a depressed character from Taxi.

Derek Jeter: Work on a new haircut.

Jorge Posada: You are one of the few cool guys on the team.

Jason Giambi: Sorry the media got on your case so much. Your two homers in Game 7 against the Sox were huge and well worth your contract moolah.

Fox announcers and directors: I hate all of you. Especially you, Thom Brennaman. And Kevin Kennedy, opt out of the turtleneck program. Jesus Balls.

Carolina at Houston — Carolina.

Indianapolis at Miami — Indianapolis. Griese will have a meltdown. He is not a professional QB.

Jacksonville at Baltimore — Baltimore.

New Orleans at Tampa Bay — Tampa Bay.

N.Y. Giants at N.Y. Jets — Giants.

Oakland at Detroit — Detroit. Gannon should retire, and I love his replacement, but the Raiders won’t get the job done today.

San Diego at Chicago — Chicago. Too much travel and fire for the Chargers.

Cincinnati at Arizona — Cincinnati gets a rare road W, even though home is the only place Arizona can win.

Pittsburgh at Seattle — Seattle.

Philadelphia at Atlanta — This is a tough one. I will regret choosing Atlanta, but I think they’ll eke out a W.

St. Louis at San Francisco — St. Louis. Hard to argue with Bulger even though the Rams annoy the hell out of me.

Washington at Dallas — Dallas.

Green Bay at Minnesota — Minnesota. I hope to be wrong about this.

New England at Denver — New England.

- - -


Last Week: 6-8.
Season Record: 61-41.

Elliott Smith R.I.P.

Okay, so I had a terrible week, but when you stack me up against the venerable Thomas George of the NY Times, you’ll see we both landed at 6-8. There’s been massive confusion across the board for this whole season. Schottenheimer winning in Cleveland? New Orleans putting up 45 points on the road in their second consecutive win?

The best way to mentally get into a game in this godforsaken season (How does anything compete against the Cubs’ playoff games?) is to invest way too much of yourself into a particular contest. You have to make believe!

This is an example of what my friend Hunter and I have been doing:

There’s no reason to care at all about the NY Jets at Philadelphia unless you pretend you’re a smarmy IT guy named Alan from Suffolk, Long Island, who commutes to Queens everyday in a mayo-stained Jets Starter-jacket that his daughter Becca (deceased from carrot allergy, ’96) purchased for him for Christmas 1993.

Your coworkers are mainly Giants fans, and the few who used to root for the Jets will not publicly own up to it anymore (“I sorta like the Vikings,” they mumble and indicate Fran Tarkenton has a condo near a distant relative), since you have an overwhelming compulsion to stop by their cubes for, say, 45 minutes to crunch numbers on vintage Al Toon receptions.

Actually, that’s not even so bad. The terrible part is that you’re an unflinching apologist for Rich Kotite and even write him cheer-up letters from time to time. (Your stationery sucks.) There’s also a random hunk of sod from Shea in your garage freezer. You paid a groundskeeper to rip it up for you one August night in 1990, but you insist it’s from 1971.

You also have a tendency to finish coworkers’ sentences about the Jets 2003 woes with the following: “…actually, that is an okay point, but the real problem is this: ________. Am I right or am I right?”

Additional bio: You often pretend your minivan is a semi full of explosives and you’re zeroing in on Tora Bora on a suicide mission that will rid the world of Osama Bin Laden. At a stoplight one day, a driver looks over at you, wondering if you’d let him squeeze in. You’re so deep in character and so stressed that you actually mouth “Fuck you,” and nose ahead, thinking only of your mission, which was, in truth, bringing a Little Caesar’s home to your in-laws.

And: You’re not-so-discreetly working on a treatise/autobiography called “Sexual Forgiveness,” and accidentally leave random Word documents open on your desktop for coworkers to get a peek at. You also spend much of your time IM-ing Lindy13, believing you’re having a torrid exchange of words with a horny teenage whippersnapper from Scotland, but it’s really an eighteen-year-old freshman boy from Oklahoma State who is saving your exchanges for a computer class.

And this keeps you up at night:

Finally, why this game counts to you, is that the Giants’ supporters have bitterly started to give all your rah-rah crapola back to you tenfold and in the nuts. They say Testaverde is a fossil. You tell them big deal, Pennington is coming in at some point on Sunday. They tell you they’re praying for a compound fracture. You tell them nice job last Sunday against the Eagles. This is your stinking week. Face it: both teams dropped the ball against Parcells. You can’t possibly follow the Giants again by going down in flames to the Eagles.

You will watch this game with the television on, your radio headphones on (in Steve Bartman fashion), your feet up on the ottoman, the sports page in your lap, a two-liter of lukewarm Diet Coke at your side, your special diet pretzels, your cousin Anthony on speed-dial, and your wife out shopping for new undies. You’re gonna will the Jets on to a “W,” or else you will eat nothing but an old peach for dinner. If you have to call in sick on Monday morning, it will sting.

Carolina at New Orleans — Carolina.

Cleveland at New England — New England.

Dallas at Tampa Bay — Note to Bill Parcells: remember when you wanted to coach Tampa? That is all. Side notes: Tampa has not won at home this year. Dallas is undefeated on the road. I suspect that Gruden has given his players an adequate pep talk. Dallas loses on Sunday.

Denver at Baltimore — Danny Kanell at QB for the Broncos, huh? Baltimore wins by a field goal in the rain.

Detroit at Chicago — Chicago.

N.Y. Giants at Minnesota — Minnesota.

Seattle at Cincinnati — Cincinnati.

St. Louis at Pittsburgh — What does Kurt Warner’s wife do now that he’s not starting? I haven’t been tuned in. Can anyone brief me on her situation? Pittsburgh wins.

Tennessee at Jacksonville — Tennessee.

San Francisco at Arizona — San Francisco.

Houston at Indianapolis — Indianapolis.

N.Y. Jets at Philadelphia — Philadelphia.

Buffalo at Kansas City — Kansas City.

Miami at San Diego — Miami.

- - -


Last Week: 8-6.
Season Record: 55-33.

The Beating of a Dead Horse

Sorry I haven’t addressed the Rush Limbaugh debacle thus far. I was operating under the assumption that everyone in the world was delighted that this fat, deaf, lout was shivering off the Oxycontin sweats in some putty-colored hospital in Florida. His whole life has been about kicking people when they’re down, so you’ll have to excuse my cartwheels.

Besides, the good folks at NY SPORTS EXPRESS are way more articulate than I am:

What boiled my carrots was this: Earlier in the month, Rich Lowry of the National Review wrote a column that purported to back Rush’s claim about widespread ass-kissery on behalf the media towards McNabb and other black quarterbacks. Rich’s evidence came from a whopping two stories. Dude? Salon? Bah-whaaa-hahahahahah!!!!! Get the fuck out of my face! No one relies on Salon for their sports news & opinions. That’s like going to Slate for all the juicy T&A (or coming to this site for reliable football news).

Lowry then pulled the typical muckraking, right-wing spin by dragging in the NFL’s moronic racial-quotasville hiring policy in regard to head coaches:

“…teams must be punished for hiring coaches of the wrong race. The NFL has a quasi-quota policy for the hiring of coaches. Unless a team interviews a black prospect for a job opening, it will be fined. The Detroit Lions got hit with a $200,000 fine in July because the team didn’t interview a black candidate before hiring white head coach Steve Mariucci. “Civil rights” lawyer Cyrus Mehri, flimflam artist Jesse Jackson and the Detroit City Council all denounced the team for hiring the wrong-colored coach."

As if the media’s supposed hyping of McNabb at QB and a league-sanctioned head coach hiring policy are conjoined twins. They are not. (Especially since one of them DOES NOT EXIST.) And we will not be suckered into your logic, Rich. P.S. As an avid reader and watcher of sports and sports-related publications, I’ve yet to witness or be swayed by the media frenzy surrounding any black quarterbacks, no matter what Allen Barra at says.

Barra piled on by comparing McNabb’s passing stats to Brad Johnson’s, effectively yelling “See! See! McNabb is mediocre!” But, you know, with football, there’s only about 465,000 other variables involved; the first being that besides Duce Staley, McNabb hasn’t exactly had chicken salad to work with offensively (if no one is getting open to catch your passes, or is dropping them, well…), and McNabb’s team still made it to the Division Finals two years in a row. Whether or not that was because of the Eagles defense, people are always going to distill things and want to put a face on success (see: MNF’s horse trailer), so if you think McNabb’s overrated, maybe it is just because he’s the least homely Eagle.

Still don’t believe me? Try this on:

Anyway, I’m not saying Rush is racist. I’m saying that as a football fan, I couldn’t care less if Rush is racist or not. He simply should have been nowhere near my Sunday mornings. What is even more disturbing is that I’ve seen a lot of blogs and hand-wringing opinion pieces crying out about how racist Rush is, then coming up with some wack-ass trigonometry that pitches McNabb’s stats vs. Steve McNair, vs. Kordell Stewart, etc. This is even stupider than Rush! The point is to not endlessly compare black quarterbacks. Who cares what color these guys are? If they suck, they suck.

P.S. If the Detmer brothers were Korean, that would be really cool.

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

- - -


Last Week: 11-3.
Season Record: 47-27.

I could provide you with a long diatribe about how you should never go to bed before the game is over, but that would mean that I thought you’d enjoy reading something even tangentially related to Peyton Manning, and I know that is not true. I’m giving myself a bye week in all matters football.

!!Flu Shots Tomorrow!!

In an effort to keep employee absenteeism at a minimum this winter, we will be offering free flu shots tomorrow in the paper products closet adjacent to the cafeteria. Please bring a cashier’s check or money order for $49.12 and present that to the nurse administering the shots. She’ll provide you with the necessary insurance paperwork and once submitted you’ll receive your all of your money back, in $3.07 installments, over your next sixteen paychecks.

You’ll actually need to complete the shots paperwork (provided below) and insurance paperwork back at your desk, since the paper products closet is a small room, and we cannot risk the fire hazard.

Coincidentally, we’ll also be providing space for the annual Girl Scout cookie retrieval in the same closet from 3:30-6 p.m. tomorrow, so if you ordered Girl Scout cookies this year from the kin of a fellow employee, you’ll need to report to the paper products closet (henceforth referred to as the PPC) to claim them during this time frame. While the sale of these “cookies,” or, to put a healthier spin on it, “snacks” aren’t a company sanctioned program, we do feel that enriching our youth is worth it!

If you are coming to the PPC for a flu shot, please write “Flu Shot” on a 3×5 index card and pin it to the left lapel of your blazer, so you will not be charged the $1.05 facilities tax we’ll be charging each cookie customer for use of our company closet. Due to time constraints we will be unable to provide change for this tax, so we ask that you bring the following:

4 (four) quarters and 1 (one) nickel —or—
1 (one) crisp dollar bill and 1 (one) nickel —or—
10 (ten) dimes and 1 (one) nickel.

DO NOT BRING 21 (twenty-one) nickels. And DO NOT BRING any combination of coins that involve the use and/or transfer of pennies. The nurse, who is collecting the cookie tax will NOT accept any copper-colored coins. Please DO NOT BRING Canadian coins either.

When you come to say “I’d like the flu shot,” and you are handed paperwork, please guesstimate how long it will take you to complete the forms and return them and let the nurse know. (Don’t forget to figure in elevator time.) We also ask that you leave the nurse your direct phone extension (this is, of course, the four digit suffix that rings at your desk, and if you are sharing a line as many of us do, please make eye contact with the folks in your pod and discuss the flu shots and who will go when, so you all know in advance who the phone call about the upcoming shot might be for) and you will be called and reminded by a fellow employee who has had their shot approximately one hour prior to your shot time. This is an effort to keep costs at a minimum.

Following your shot, you will have to call an employee as well. When you give the nurse your extension, the nurse will provide you with an extension of an employee who is considering receiving the shot (and should be currently immersed in the subsequent paperwork at their desk) approximately one hour after yours. It is your duty, in addition to offering shot-reminders at fifteen minute intervals, to “prep” this person, counsel this person and learn a little bit about what makes them tick.

Stuff you need to be thinking about:

Are they as frightened as you were?

If the answer is “Yes,” the proper response is NOT, “Well, why are you being such a pussy?” The proper response should be delivered in one long drawn-out consonant such as “Kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk.” The purpose of this is to make your shot-fearing fellow employee (henceforth referred to as S.A., for “Shot Anticipator”) believe you are a fucking half-wit, thus providing them with a chuckle taking their mind off of what a painful shot this will be.

This procedure can backfire. Your long, drawn-out consonant may convince the S.A. that since you’ve had your shot, you totally went off the deep end. If during the delivery of your long, drawn-out consonant, the S.A. howls back at you in bat-shit fashion, please hang-up and notify Jimm Douglas in Thirst Quenching at x4920. Jimm is trained in hypnotic-therapies and is, well, a mensch. You will then watch the door for the authorities. That S.A., freak or not, is GOING to receive that goddamned shot. I hope we are clear on that.

About the nurse: When we say nurse, we actually mean a team of nurses, or rather mail-order brides who’ve moved to the U.S. and become disgruntled with their beer-guzzling, uncaring, sex-hungry spouses. For a small government stipend, we’re providing a safe haven for them, and the nurse costumes are part of the deal. This might seem tough to digest, so all you need to know is that they know how to deliver the shot. It is not that difficult.

I hope we are coming near a giant, beautiful, well-traveled landmark known as a consensus on this topic, because there isn’t much more to say.

Additionally, a chemical has been added to the bacon today. If you’ve eaten breakfast on-site, and consumed bacon, please take the time to email us any random combination of words about your current feelings (your subject header should and will read: “Feelings Essay”) and whether a lot of stuff in your immediate field of view has taken on a light-green hue. If so, please understand that this is only temporary and by November 14th, your vision will be back to normal, or at least as normal as it was. You’ll be happy to note that if you DID eat bacon (and we have tests to prove this true or false) you will see an extra $38.72 over the course of your next fourteen paychecks.

The flu shot survey is not yet completed. We will send out a memo later this afternoon. In the meantime, please mull the following: What is your take on vomit? What if, as a result of what you believed to be a simple flu shot, you grew a shell over the course of the next 3-7 months?

Becky Wheeler
Human Resources

Carolina at Indianapolis — Indianapolis (but I wouldn’t be surprised if they let down.)

Chicago at New Orleans — Chicago.

Houston at Tennessee — Tennessee.

Kansas City at Green Bay — Green Bay.

Miami at Jacksonville — Miami.

N.Y. Giants at New England — New England.

Oakland at Cleveland — Oakland (Their first road win in 2003.)

Philadelphia at Dallas — Dallas.

Tampa Bay at Washington — Tampa Bay.

Baltimore at Arizona — Arizona.

Buffalo at N.Y. Jets — Buffalo.

Pittsburgh at Denver — Denver.

San Francisco at Seattle — Seattle.

Atlanta at St. Louis — St.Louis.

- - -


[A faithful reader named Dan has reminded us the Jets nickname is Gang Green. How could I have dropped the ball like that?]

Last Week: 10-4.
Season Record: 36-24.

Dear New York Jets Football Club,

I’m fairly certain that you know nothing about this column and if you did, you’d already be clicking the back button on your web browser, dismissing this as a not-so-humorous screed at the expense of your dangerously horrendous squad. Please don’t worry. Win or lose, I tend not to get very upset with Big Green. (I know that everyone refers to the Giants as Big Blue, but I’m not sure what a suitable Jets nickname is.) My allegiances lie with other teams, but by and large, I wish you no ill will.

In fact, I’m just dropping this note to tell you that I went out to see you play (live and in the flesh) at your sublet the other afternoon in the Meadowlands, with the intent of rooting you on as you went to battle against your former head coach and retirement promise-breaker Bill Parcells and his Dallas Cowboys. New Yorkers have sure changed their tune on Parcells. After the Giants Monday Night Football debacle (which I missed because it was fashion week and I was at the Marc Jacobs show), one ornery crank on Craigslist compared his current look — yammish and bleach blond — to that of an aging Russian lesbian. I have to admit I did get a chuckle out of that. I have my weaknesses, and it isn’t hard to imagine Parcells as a frumpy woman withholding beets from a misbehaving customer at one of those oceanfront cafes at Brighton Beach.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. So I was out at the Meadowlands and while the action on the field was plodding along, I started thinking that I missed out on some sort of “Ants in Pants,” promotion you were offering your fans. They would not sit still. Was there a charitable donation made on their behalf for every concrete step they climbed throughout the course of the game? For all of their Ken O’Brien, Mark Gastineau, Joe Klecko, Dennis Byrd, Joe Namath, Chad Pennington, Curtis Martin-jersey wearing, smack-talking hysteria, not too many fans bothered to stay in their seats long enough to watch the game.

I was sitting in section 129, Row 41 (the last row in the first level, right in front of the old cinderblock wall) and I could barely see two consecutive plays without standing up or bobbing and weaving to look past the parade of pedestrians. If it wasn’t a beer, it was a piss. If it wasn’t a piss, it was an important cell phone call. If it wasn’t a cell phone call, it was an attempt to walk-off all the steamed meat and melted cheese they’d consumed. At $56 a ticket (if you didn’t get them from a scalper) you’d think people would want to at least attempt to be entertained by the playing of live football. If they wanted to climb stairs and wait in lines for hot dogs, they could have just gone into the bowels of the Times Square subway station and gotten a free workout that would have, thankfully, not impeded my view of the game.

Two more minor points before the big finale: What is with wearing a Steelers jersey to a Jets–Cowboys game? A man and his buddy got out of a cab at Port Authority to catch the bus over to the stadium. He was wearing his Steelers jersey and attempting to belch as close to my face as the tips of sneakers would allow. Asshole. Plain and simple. And why do your fans wear sweatpants to the game? Do they believe (or secretly hope) Herman Edwards is going to summon them from the stands for a spontaneous game of two-hand touch? Their services are not required.

As if I hadn’t had a horrible enough day, on my return bus to NYC, CoachUSA #8185, the majority of Jets fans — adult men who should know better — were near tears because the A/C wasn’t on. I think they were really let down by the performance of your team, but they took all their frustrations out on this poor immigrant bus driver who is probably on his way back home as I write this — thoroughly bummed out at the state of manners in this Godforsaken country. One man in a wicker hat (had to be at least 60) behaved like a sunburned toddler. His outbursts should have embarrassed his adult son (riding next to him) but I am sure they didn’t. Another gentleman in a white mock turtleneck stormed the cockpit while we were on the freeway, demanding air conditioning. If this were an airplane, he would be in jail right now.

Thankfully, many of the passengers had the good sense to briefly stop their pouting and demand that this moron return to his seat. As he did so, he was reminded by a fellow in my party that the drive really was only ten minutes, and that he could surely survive without air conditioning. To that he angrily responded, “Ten minutes? Oh, you think so?” As he waited cockily for a response, I paused to look through the windshield of the bus. And I could see all of the skyscrapers that make up Manhattan. In fact, I could even pick out what I presume were people in the windows of the skyscrapers. And if I squinted hard enough, and saw that some of these people were eating club sandwiches that had been lovingly speared with toothpicks (with attached olives) with that little frilly cellophane on top — I could have told you that that some of that frilly cellophane was navy fucking blue. That is how close we were.

I thought for a second of saying, “Yes. Unless Al-Queda has shafted us again, and during the course of the Jets game, totally obliterated Manhattan and created a new, fake, dummy one that is designed specifically to ensnare this bus in a torturous deathtrap, Manhattan is only ten minutes away. Actually, it is only four minutes away. Sit the hell down.” But I did not. I was already concerned with the safety of myself and this moving 14-ton bus, so I didn’t care to engage in any fisticuffs.

I will summarize by saying that if your team endures more hardship and goes 0-16, it will be too good for your fans. If there is to be an organization-wide housecleaning, start with them.

Yours truly,
Jeff Johnson

P.S. The mock turtleneck guy actually had his shirt tucked in. How can you go from beginning your day by carefully tucking in your shirt, to recklessly badgering the driver of a moving bus, with little regard to anyone’s well being?

- - -

Miami at Giants — Miami.

Oakland at Chicago — Chicago.

Arizona at Dallas — Dallas.

Minnesota at Atlanta — Minnesota.

Seattle at Green Bay — Green Bay.

Denver at Kansas City — Kansas City.

Cincinnati at Buffalo — Buffalo.

New Orleans at Carolina — Carolina.

Tennessee at New England — New England.

San Diego at Jacksonville — Jacksonville.

Detroit at San Francisco — Detroit.

Washington at Philadelphia — Philadelphia.

Cleveland at Pittsburgh — Pittsburgh.

Indianapolis at Tampa Bay — Tampa Bay (game of the season so far).

- - -


Last Week: 7-7.
Season Record: 26-20.

Your Questions Answered

Q: Are you aware that I am the laughing stock of my office because of your predictions this season?

A: Okay, but your breath has something to do with it, too. Your coworkers project a lot of their feelings about your breath (and, c’mon, your stocking feet in the workplace?) onto your anemic standing in the office’s weekly football pool. The best thing to do would be to not do jumping jacks in your Ty Law jersey on Friday mornings in the parking lot. Also, no more Lord of The Rings dolls in your cube, either. Same goes for fast-food promotional dolls and toys. You’re what, thirty-eight?

Q: Yep.

A: Okay, then. And I know the underside of your desk has a more than a few dried boogers attached to it as well. Don’t sweat it. Mine has way more. Just be more discrete.

Q: I have no idea what you’re talking about. Anyway, how could you not see the Cleveland Browns pulling out a victory in San Francisco?

A: Because their starting QB is named Kelly (yep, I know he’s hurt now) and the guy he beat out is named after a large piece of living room furniture. The Browns resemble one of those old-man dandelions, you know the kind that are all withered cloudy spores and have been dead for about three weeks and are waiting for the next strong wind to put them out of their misery? That’s the kind of juggernaut they’ve put together this season.

But honestly, as the weeks pile up and things begin to take shape, I realize that Dennis Erickson, the 49ers head coach, is good at one thing and one thing only: eating hangover-cancelling fried eggs and peppers right out of a skillet as his mailman rests his forehead on the Erickson kitchen table and cries about the steep hills in his neighborhood. Actually, that’s not Erickson, that’s me. Erickson is good at one thing: losing games. Oh, and dismantling winning football teams. Where is Bill Walsh these days anyway? (Answer: Somewhere, complaining. He’s probably rolling up his sleeves, and taking forty-five painful minutes to show a sixteen-year-old grocery bagger the best way to pack Fritos and two-liter Frescas into the same bag.)

Q: Did anyone tell you you’re not funny?

A: Only when they’ve actually relied on me to sponge up a couple of dollars in an office pool. If you laugh at the witticisms of Terry Bradshaw, this column is not for you.

Q: Can’t we get over the bitterness dude, it is only Week Four?

A: You’re right. Let’s see if we can work together.

Q: Why are all these British bands like The Coral, The Music, The Vines, and The Libertines touted as the next big thing? I’m out like fifty-five bucks because they’re all terrible.

A: You should try The Darkness, Clearlake, and British Sea Power instead. P.S. The Vines are Australian and sucky. The new (and last) Joe Strummer record is great, too.

Q: That’s the spirit. Did you read much Judy Blume growing up?

A: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing represents, to me, her high-water mark. The ones about troubled chicks didn’t speak to me. SuperFudge, the sequel to Fourth Grade Nothing, is a bit self-indulgent. It was too easy. It’s like a Joe Satriani guitar solo or something.

Q: What about baklava?

A: What about it? It’s got to be the lamest dessert ever. Do not use it to win over a date. Even if you made it yourself.

Q: I thought you would say that.

A: That’s who I am, bro.

Q: So… about the Packers.

A: I picked them against Arizona, sure, but refer to Week Two and you’ll read a much larger prediction about their defense getting Favre to press and throw game-losing interceptions, and well…

Q: That’s exactly how the game ended. You are a genius. Did you see where that fat, ugly, greasy, retarded hack columnist Cal Thomas has already started in on General Wesley Clark?

A: Yes. That’s too bad. Luckily, you and I are the only ones who read his column. Clark is America’s only hope, and I don’t even dig him that much.

Q: Okay. Jesus, what are you Tim Russert all of a sudden?

A: You asked.

Q: The picks. Let’s get to the picks.

A: Here goes:

Dallas at NY Jets — NY Jets, based solely on Herman Edwards’ post game press conference last week.

Arizona at St. Louis — St. Louis. Arizona has gotten their one pre-Halloween victory.

Tennessee at Pittsburgh — Tennessee. You may wish to take Pittsburgh, simply because it is very hard for Tennessee to score against any team that will come within a heartbeat of the playoffs.

Jacksonville at Houston — Houston. Again, I am going against the oddsmakers.

Philadelphia at Buffalo — Buffalo.

New England at Washington — New England. I hate saying that, but I don’t have much faith in Washington.

Cincinnati at Cleveland — Cincinnati. Another pick that will surely make you mad.

San Francisco at Minnesota — San Francisco. Minnesota is banged up. The dream has to end.

Kansas City at Baltimore — Kansas City. I’m picking a lot of road teams.

San Diego at Oakland — Oakland.

Atlanta at Carolina — Carolina.

Detroit at Denver — Denver.

Indianapolis at New Orleans — Indianapolis.

Green Bay at Chicago — Green Bay, but don’t be surprised if the Bears win by 14.

- - -


Last Week: 8-8. (Putrid.)
Season Record: 19-13.

A special treat: Predictions first, then an amazing interview with 1970s kick-returner extraordinaire Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, who now works for the Atlanta Falcons.

Jacksonville at Indianapolis — Indianapolis (but I secretly bet they blow it this week).

Kansas City at Houston — Kansas City.

Minnesota at Detroit — Detroit.

New Orleans at Tennessee — Tennessee.

N.Y. Jets at New England — New England. (The Jets season is over. They should play Brooks Bollinger.)

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati — Cincinnati (against my better judgment.)

Tampa Bay at Atlanta — Atlanta.

Green Bay at Arizona — Green Bay.

N.Y. Giants at Washington — Washington.

St. Louis at Seattle — Seattle.

Baltimore at San Diego — San Diego.

Cleveland at San Francisco — San Francisco.

Buffalo at Miami — Miami.

Oakland at Denver — Denver.

- - -

Billy “White Shoes” Johnson. Sometimes this column is all fun and games; in fact, this interview is only the second we’ve ever done for the Weekly Picks (see Kumar Pallana of Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums fame in the 2001 batch), but sometimes we get lucky and get a real NFL-affiliated genius to recognize our work and come on board. So, onto the story, and thanks to Billy Johnson.

Bio: The guy is 5’9", weighed about as much as a medium-sized sack of cotton candy being hauled by three ants, was drafted in the 15th round of the 1974 NFL draft from a Division III school in Pennsylvania, and yet by the time everything was said and done he’d made the NFL’s 75th anniversary team, was elected to the pro-bowl three times and is considered the father of the touchdown dance.

If you ever saw “White Shoes” play, you immediately went outside with a Nerf football, dared anyone within a three-mile radius to kick off to you (usually just a toss thrown really high up in the air) then you juked and jived, high-stepped, ran into an air conditioner, soiled your undergarments, ran in front of a bus, ducked underneath a clothes line, stiff-armed a standard poodle, choked on your Big League Chew, then ran across a sidewalk that you pretended was the goal line and did a 43-minute, knee-knocking spaz fest. While all that is impressive, I’m here to tell you that that is nothing compared to the maneuvers of Billy Johnson.

Billy’s career started in at the Astrodome in Houston with the Oilers (best color scheme in football). Then he went to the CFL (Siberia Nobodies) for one season before wrapping up his career in Atlanta. I wish Billy would have gotten more in-depth about Houston in the 1970s. I wanted to hear about old QB Dan Pastorini possibly driving around in a Trans Am with a firearm, three nude women, and a bottle of Wild Turkey (which, of course, he probably never did), but Billy is busy keeping the young Falcons in line. He’s a very responsible fellow (he was NFL Man of the Year 2x), and we’re glad that he is an awesome role model for everyone in the free world.

Do you ever remember a play where you should have taken a fair catch but didn’t?

Probably in San Diego.

What year?

I couldn’t tell you. I did fair catch it, but the guy didn’t honor it, and he hit me.

What does it feel like, for our readers, to get hit?

I wish I could — no matter what I tell you — they couldn’t understand it. It’s one of those things that you have to have it happen to you.

Even with full pads on, you feel obliterated?

It’s not a good feeling. If I was talking to a select group, I could probably explain it to them. But it’s a gut-wrenching feeling when you get hit.

Running back a kick or a punt for a TD can change the tenor of the whole game just like that.

Oh for sure. There are too many teams that don’t have a great return guy. It’s another offensive weapon. And people like seeing it. If you wanna get some people on your side quick, even if you are playing in an opposing stadium, get a good return guy.

People liked you even if you were their opponent, didn’t they?

Yeah. I think so. It [Billy’s role as kick-returner] was a challenge to them. They wouldn’t do anything to end somebody’s career, but they wanna stop you. That gets you pumped up, that gets them pumped up.

Who were your main return peers? Rick Upchurch from the Broncos?

Oh, there were several guys around the time I played. Greg Pruitt, when he returned. Terry Metcalfe, man there were a bunch of them. That’s the good thing about it. These guys were fearless.

Do you think you’re correctly tagged with being the originator of the touchdown dance?

Depends on who I’m talking to [laughs]. If it’s something bad, I’m not. If it’s something good, I am. I couldn’t care less. It was all done in fun. And if they knew me, they knew that I would never intimidate or try to incite any type of riot. I always did my dance away from people. So I never mocked anyone.

And then you fake tossed the football in the stands? Trying to fool fans into thinking they were going to get a free football out of the deal?

Umm-hmmm. There was a fine (if you threw the ball into the stands.) I never threw a ball into the stands. I didn’t make enough money. I’d have to work another year just to pay the fine.

Earl Campbell wore inflatable thigh pads. True or false?

Nah. A lot of guys are now wearing those pads. It’s just they way that they are built. I was there at that time.

And that rumor was not true?

His legs were big enough! Those pads made them look humongous. The pads that players wear today, Earl’s were the predecessors. Though they might design them a bit differently now. Earl had to protect his legs, and that was one way of protecting them.

What is your role today with the Falcons?

I wear a lot of different hats. Basically, we’re trying to work with the players in off-the-field activities and trying to get them prepared for the transition into the league and the transition out of the league. For instance, we try to advocate them going back to school and getting their degree, which is part of our continuing education program.

We started the Falcon University, which deals with having people come in and speak to our young ballplayers about the perils of playing in the NFL, to be very careful of who they associate with, what they do, financial seminars, that whole gambit. And then sometimes we assist with getting players to speak in public to groups — alumni, present players, so it’s a multitude of things. Anything you can imagine, that’s what we do in player programs.

Was there anybody like that for you when you played in the 1970s?

Unfortunately there wasn’t. At the same time, while I say there was no organized effort, if you were smart enough you would go and speak with the veterans who were on your team, and you got some insightful information, and some good advice from those ballplayers. There were a lot of guys that I was fortunate to have playing the same time that I was there: Elvin Bethea, Mack Austin, Bubba Smith, you name it.

You went to small school in Pennsylvania. When you made it to Houston and the NFL was that a real eye-opener? Going to the big city?

No. Not really. The city had nothing to do with it. It was just the pro football itself. But playing with the same guys that you always read about and heard about — making that transition — this was another level. Playing Division III ball, compared to even I-AA, or I-A ball, it’s a little bit different. Then you get to realize, once you get on the field that it really doesn’t matter; football’s football.

Did it move much faster in the NFL?

It’s a faster game than in college, yeah. But some of the things are over exaggerated, but the game moves at a faster pace.

What did you think when you first saw yourself on a football card?

You know, at that time I didn’t think much about it. [laughs] I really didn’t. It’s nice to have one. Just like anybody else, “Oh man, that’s neat.” I didn’t go, “Oh, wow, this is the bomb!” Nothing like that. But it’s always nice. Coming from a small school, you’re appreciative of all the little things that some guys might overlook.

What was Houston like for you as a young football player?

They had just gone through two previous 1–13 seasons. We were playing fourteen games at that time, and my first year we went 7–7, so that was the mark, and the city got kind of excited. Then Bum Phillips took over as head coach and we went off and had a nice little run, and Love Ya Blue came about.

That was the mantra?

Oh yeah.

There was the Houston Oilers song, [sings] Houston Oilers number one!

Correct. They started that my second or third year in the league.

Were all those games at the Astrodome?

Of course.

What did you think of that as a facility? That was kind of state-of-the-art at the time?

It was nice, yeah. That was one the selling points of playing in Houston, but the turf was terrible. I mean, you don’t look at it like that at the time. It was a situation where you play in front of — we were only getting twenty-five, maybe thirty, thousand fans at a game, if that. But coming from a small school, that was by far enough for me. I was just lucky to make the team, so most of the time I was oblivious to the crowd.

Could you look back now and say the turf ate up a lot of people’s careers?

Oh, there’s no doubt about it. I saw Greg Landry [old Detroit QB] and his back up at the time both get injured in almost the same spot.

When you look at Atlanta’s facility now, do you see a world of improvements in the turf?

No doubt about it. We’ve got one of the most outstanding surfaces — unbelievable. Most of the turf is better than the turf back then, anyway. Right now we are on the best surface you can possibly get in today’s game.

In those days was it just concrete underneath the turf?

Of course. Oh yeah, with a little pad, probably an inch, and an eighth of an inch. [laughs]

Would you rather be tackled on grass?

Any football player prefers grass. Anyone. That’s a good question, but anybody would love to be able to have something soft to soften your fall.

Bum Phillips, he was a player’s coach pretty much, right? Were you psyched when he took over?

I was on the road at the time, but I was glad. Yeah, Bum was an excellent coach to play for. Bum was good with rookies and good with veterans. Things just gelled when he got there, and he didn’t change everything.

When you were done playing, did you have a plan or was it tough to find your way initially?

I worked every off-season so, that’s what we’re talking about. One of the other things I failed to mention is that, in my job, we try to help these guys [Falcons players] locate internships whereby they get a chance to find out, yes I wanna do this, no I don’t wanna do that.

But to answer your question: the thing that you missed most about the game were your friends. And playing in the games on Sunday. Retirement wasn’t much of a tragic situation. Having worked every off-season—

What jobs did you have in the off-season?

Oh golly. Teacher. I did a management trainee program with I’m not gonna say, [laughs] they’re tough people, with a trucking company. And I substitute taught — for most of the time. English, history. To high school kids.

If I were a high school kid and had Billy “White Shoes” Johnson teaching me I would probably go nuts.

They wouldn’t know, unless I was to tell them.

So, you’d just come in and say, “Hello, I’m Mr. Johnson”?

That was it. I didn’t look like a ballplayer, that’s why. Wearing horn-rimmed glasses, you don’t look like a ballplayer.

Would you put on a pair of horn-rimmed glasses?

No. No. I’m just saying. I mean I wore glasses at the time, but they weren’t horn-rimmed. And I wore contacts, too. [ed note: probably not at the same time] But they didn’t know who I was unless they really followed the game closely.

Did you get an extravagant amount of money when you signed?

Obviously you didn’t do your research ‘cause you know I wasn’t a big time signee. [laughs] Even at that time, I wasn’t a big time signee. I was a fifteenth round draft choice.

Would you have to be roommates with your teammates to cut down on costs?

No. Nah. It’s wasn’t nothing like that, you just had to make it, and I was married and as soon as I made the team, just took care of my family and that was it. Got some good advice.

How did your workout then compare to today’s players? Has diet and stuff changed?

You know what? That answer would probably be different with every ballplayer of that era. We had ballplayers who were into the game as far as their training habits and diet. My training habits were good for any era.

Some of us watched what we ate, uh, some of us didn’t anticipate much. They just thought well, this was their livelihood. It’s the same way today. Of course, the sciences are much sharper; they get much more in-depth because there’re more materials available to players. There are many more companies that are competitive to bring about a good product.

So, it basically hasn’t changed much. You’re still gonna find athletes that take care of themselves for the present time and the future, and you’re gonna have players that are just gonna be there and do what they have to do. Just enough so that they can play, and when it’s over, it’s over and move on.

Is your role trying to get at those players that might not be thinking of things so long-term?

Well, that’s another component of the program, too. You should prepare to leave this game once you’ve entered this game. So, of course we try to advise these guys about the future. About what could happen in three or four years, or in twenty years, or ten years from now, if you’re fortunate enough to play that long. To have something to show for it when you leave the game.

Ever worked with anyone really promising that got knocked out of the game ’cause of an injury?

It’s happened several times. Not only young ballplayers, but pretty good older ballplayers, too. Some great guys, you don’t worry about them, because they are the types of players that are sharp enough to realize that this game is a great game to play, but there are other things out there and some of us prepare to move on.

You went up to play in the CFL in Canada for a year. Did they understand football up there?

Yeah, [laughs] they understood football. Okay? Yeah, they understood. They were around for a long time! It was a lot of fun. There was a lot of nationalistic pride up there about their game.

They have a different field.

It’s a little bit longer and a little bit wider.

Did the extra width allow for better kick returns?

I’m telling you something, to play up there and run, you had to be in shape. [laughs] But you also got twelve men on the field, too.

Can you give me a couple of the elements required for a good kick-off return?

The biggest thing that a kick-off guy has to do, is he has to really feel comfortable back there to catch the ball. The second thing is that he has to have good vision, and believe in his blockers. If you believe in your blockers, it will enable you to really get a great feel and a great panoramic view of the field right away. Above all, you don’t have to have great speed. Just good quickness and average speed and that will make for a good return.

If you are worried about having some wimps blocking for you, you’re through?

Umm-hmm. [laughs]

Thanks for your time, Billy.

- - -


Last Week: 11-5.
Season Record: 11-5.

Now Playing: Kelis’s “Milkshake,” John Barry & His Orchestra’s “The Knack,” Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil (Neptunes Remix),” Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah (live),” Silver Jews’ “Self Ignition.”

Gearing up for: Nothing special.

One Prediction: Packers defense is so horrible Favre has no choice but to press and throw a ton of interceptions.

2nd Prediction: The Bears are worse than I thought.

News Item: Check Wednesday’s NY Post for a great column on why Parcells doesn’t matter anymore.

A Mental Commercial. Predictions at bottom.

[opening shot] An 11-year-old boy in his bedroom late at night. Think middle America. Ohio. Two-story home. Nice pajamas. Footed. Teeth brushed. NFL comforter. The boy, Jimmy, is kneeling in front of his bed.


Dear God, I know that tomorrow is the big game, and that both teams will be saying “You know, it ain’t shit about me. It’s God’s will if we win, and I am just a conduit,” and all of that mumbo jumbo. And because it’s the big game, our family will be stationary, zombified and glued to the sofa and the television and we’ll do something special for dinner like ordering two mediocre pizzas and some soda. Jimmy pauses to smile. This is where you come in, God. Please. Jimmy pauses sternly. No mushrooms. They freak me out.

[cut to] Melissa, a 17-year-old blond high school student with too much make-up on. She’s looking at a mirror in a musty old bathroom with old-school worn pink wallpaper. She’s popping her knuckles and nodding her head from side to side, popping her neck vertebrae. She’s also chewing gum and wearing a royal blue polyester drum majorette’s uniform.


…And I know you think I am standing here trying to say thank you, God, for giving the Greenmont High School Cadets a shot at performing during the halftime show tomorrow night, and you think I am here saying thanks for putting it on my shoulders, Lord, but to be honest, I couldn’t care less. All I know is that when we get off of the field and are marching down the runway back to our locker room, while all of our kin are tuning in on TV, and Mr. Blanner is singing our praises or bitching at Tucker Wadford for flubbing his snare part, I am gonna be thinking of those twenty-four large pizzas that were promised to us by the area Jaycees.

[cut to] A stale efficiency apartment. A young woman, Tamika, is sitting on her sofa next to a punch-stained toddler, behind them a bare light bulb hangs above a kitchen area bar. The light from the TV is bouncing off of her face.


That fucking sitter had better show up tomorrow night, God. And if that bitch thinks I am giving her a dime to order pizzas, so that she can give my kid one soggy green olive slice and take the rest home for her no good husband without leaving me so much as a crust…

[cut to] A fat, 52-year-old man in a short sleeve shirt and a clip on tie, Mr. Blanner, riding the city bus late at night with a hot fresh pizza in his lap. He takes a slice, folds it, taco-style and shovels it in. Wet, hot oil, glides down his chin. He chews and his eyes roll back in his head. The bus jumps a little and Mr. Blanner’s shoulders bounce up and down. He proceeds to gurgle and rub his hands together. He says nothing. The universe = him and that pizza. Get it?

[cut to] A 40-ish man, Gary, wearing the polo shirt of a pizza delivery chain. He’s standing near his dresser in his bedroom, throwing a wad of bills onto it. There’s just very slight, buttery light in the background. He looks exhausted. His eyes are baggy. He’s been locked in service jobs since Bush Sr. was in office.


Then you’ve got another thing coming, God! You really do. Please! Tonight’s tips barely cover an eighteenth of my alimony. Tomorrow night, let’s say we scare up some action? Couple of twenty dollar tips…

Gary suppresses a huge belch. Hears a noise in the background. Turns his head towards the door.

Shut up, Cory. Shut up!

Then he goes back to his prayer.

Because, let’s break it down, do I ever deliver a less than stellar pizza?

He pauses as if waiting for a reaction.

No. That’s are right. Correctumundo. I do not. I put my fricken’ peddle to the metal, and I get that baby there, cheese intact. Slaps dresser. No slippage. Slaps dresser. Box uncrushed. Slaps dresser. Toppings unphased by the velocity at which Gary travels. Slaps dresser. Correct change…

[cut to] Leopold, a performing donkey, standing in a darkened stable on the outskirts of town. His lips peel back to reveal gaudy, Mr. Ed-style teeth.


God, I know that at halftime I will be wearing a special horse helmet and after the marching band does their thing, I will be shot out of a cannon and into a special 18′ × 18′ net, and the crowd will go completely apeshit. Good for them. All I am saying is that when I get back to this dump at midnight, there had better be a special pizza with pepperoni and anchovies waiting for me. It’s not much to ask, is it? Let’s face it. I am being fucking abused here. This is the best you can do? I mean, with the humans and all? I’m one of your creatures, dude. I was dreamt up by you once. Now I am being launched out of a cannon. Jesus Fuck.

[cut to] An anonymous lawn in suburbia, being mowed at dawn. The sun coming up. It’s an impossibly beautiful day.

[cut to] Jimmy, unable to concentrate at his desk. He closes his eyes and dreams of a pizza in the family room.

[cut to] Melissa, also in class. Drum majorette hat placed neatly by the side of her desk. She’s doodling on the cover of her notebook. The camera zooms in. It’s a giant sausage pizza.

[cut to] Tamika asleep on the couch. The toddler microwaving something while standing on a stool.

[cut to] Gary kneeling down at a gas station, checking the tire pressure on his delivery mobile. Then he gets up and practices getting in and out of the car as fast as he can (a nod to Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, when he invents his own arm-slide for his pistol.) Better yet, instead of the car door, let’s have Gary have an arm-slide for a roll of quarters for change. Or a huge chain wallet that he repeatedly yanks out of a back pocket and opens.

[cut to] A mean farmer slapping Leopold’s ass with a wire brush and loading him onto a truck.

[cut to] Jimmy sweating at recess. Almost hyperventilating.

[cut to] Gary applying lotion to his doorbell finger. Getting it primed.

[cut to] Tamika getting ready for her dancing shift, arms folded across a silver bikini top, disgustedly waiting for the sitter.

[cut to] Thousands of fans filing into a giant stadium. Cars on a nearby highway crawling down the off-ramp. If you look closely, you can see Leopold’s horse trailer.

[cut to] Jimmy’s mom looking at a pizza menu in the kitchen. Circling desired toppings. She grins and nods her head.

[cut to] Mr. Blanner’s wife looking down at his pizza oil soiled laundry. She shakes her head.

[cut to] Melissa getting on a school bus with all her gear including her special baton. Everyone has their marching boots on. She cuffs a boy that we can only assume is Tucker Wadford.

[cut to] Gary scowling at a map in the front seat of his car. He can’t fucking believe it.

[cut to] Thousands of fans at the stadium, confetti. The school bus pulling up. The lights are going on in the stadium. It’s dusk.

[cut to] An old crusty bastard taping up Leopold’s legs. The donkey is shaking his head. There’s a barrel of TNT in the background. And a guy in a circus costume is wheeling around an old cannon.

[cut to] Cricket noises. Pitch dark. Gary is submerged in a bayou-esque swamp, with a pizza box raised above his head. He pokes his head out of the muck, cleans the mud off of his goggles and checks his map again.

[cut to] Jimmy’s mom looking at the menu. Looking at her watch. Peering around the corner into the family room. Jimmy and dad and sis are all sitting there with bibs on. She shakes her head, looks at her watch again and starts preparing chow mein.

[cut to] Mr. Blanner’s wife is in a kitchen almost identical to Jimmy’s. She sticks her head in the oven. Then she pulls it out. Looks at her watch and goes out to her car.

[cut to] The opening kick of the game. A foot striking a ball.

[cut to] Mrs. Blanner arriving at Tamika’s for her babysitting gig. Tamika kicking the screen door in a huff. The toddler balancing her checkbook with a small abacus.

[cut to] The marching band, doing all of their crazy, choreographed antics on the football field.

[cut to] Gary climbing out of the swamp, wiping the muck off of himself, hurling the pizza like a Frisbee — it bounces off of a pine tree — coming out of the woods and stumbling onto an old horse stable. He enters and lies down in a stall.

[cut to] A nervous little halfwit, maybe 62, standing in a musty 1950s-style locker room, peering into the cannon at the Leopold, fitting the donkey with a pair of goggles and wheeling the whole damn contraption out onto the field. He’s weaving the teetering cannon in and out of the high school marchers. They have no idea what to do. The dive out of the way. Melissa is marching 80 yards downfield, in the other direction, totally oblivious. The halfwit looks at his watch, scratches his head, lights the cannon and runs.

[cut to] Jimmy’s mom, pulling the chow mein casserole out of the oven, pouring some glasses of milk and summoning the troops into the kitchen for dinner.

[cut to] The donkey flying across the sky, all the people in the stands gasping, the donkey screaming, and finally colliding with Melissa, killing her instantly. All of the music stops except for one little trumpeter plays the three opening notes of Taps.

[cut to] Twenty-four pizzas cooling in an empty locker room at the stadium. Sirens going off in the distance.

[cut to] Jimmy racing into the kitchen ready for the pizza, and seeing the chow mein. Jimmy’s dad even makes a “yipes” kinda face.

[cut to] Mr. Blanner walking out of the hospital, cluelessly carrying a baton.

[cut to] Gary snoring in Leopold’s stable. An old goat is leaning in and eating his tip money.

[cut to] Mrs. Blanner snoring on Tamika’s couch with the toddler. Pan over to a large pizza on the kitchen table, uneaten.

[cut to] Jimmy in his bedroom, shaking his fist toward the sky.

[cut to] Mr. Blanner on the bus, with the pizza again.

[cut to] Tamika walking in and discovering the whole pizza, warm and uneaten.

- - -

Buffalo at Jacksonville — Buffalo. Don’t bet against them having an emotional letdown, though. Maybe they’ll screw it up.

Cleveland at Baltimore — Baltimore.

Detroit at Green Bay — Green Bay. But closer than the oddsmakers think.

Houston at New Orleans — New Orleans.

Miami at N.Y. Jets — N.Y. Jets. The Dolphins suck serious pond.

Pittsburgh at Kansas City — Kansas City.

San Francisco at St. Louis — San Francisco.

Tennessee at Indianapolis — Tennessee. Maybe the loss of Nedney hurts the Titans though.

Washington at Atlanta — Atlanta.

Carolina at Tampa Bay — Um, Tampa Bay.

Seattle at Arizona — Seattle.

Cincinnati at Oakland — Oakland.

Denver at San Diego — Denver.

New England at Philadelphia — Philadelphia.

Chicago at Minnesota — Chicago. Minnesota will be too giddy.

Dallas at N.Y. Giants — N.Y. Giants.

- - -


Last Season’s Record: 161-107

Let’s do a little catching up, shall we? In January, I was in Florida interviewing seniors who swing and/or strip. No fooling. After a particularly grueling 97-minute interview with a 75-year-old woman who loves orgies, my associates and I went to a restaurant outside of St. Petersburg where we bumped into N.Y. Giant Tiki Barber who was in town visiting his twin brother Ronde, who, of course, was in the middle of the playoffs with the Buccaneers. Good sport, that Tiki.

Nothing else happened to me.

Oh, okay. In March, I went to Nassau Coliseum to see Whitesnake and The Scorpions. In May, I met old N.Y. Met Rusty Staub at a dinner.

I have remaining copies of my bestseller, Ignore the Spread. Buy it through Just enter:, 6 measly dollars, and your mailing address.

Let’s talk about the 2003 season.

1) I love Mary J. Blige.

2) Buy Castaways & Cutouts by The Decemberists. It is an awesome record. Like old Belle & Sebastian if they were from Portland, OR.

2a) If you got married or had a baby within the last two years, chances are I still owe you a present. Don’t give up hope.

3) Oh yeah, the season. Jimmy Kleinsasser from the Vikings: he’s a crackpot. Watch him. Donald Driver from the Packers will have a big year. The Ravens are in deep crap on offense this year. Mariucci will do good stuff with the Lions, but not enough good stuff. Get it? Philly will be 9-7. Atlanta will play well even without Vick. Bill Romanowski is a moron. Read Rick Reilly’s Sports Illustrated column about Romo’s pill/shark cartilage intake.

4) In upcoming weeks, look for the NFL Picks to radically shift into its most vigorous format in five years. You’ll actually get some real interviews and stories. And some commentary on hotel theatre. In the meantime:


Which team’s beleaguered radio announcer, long beaten down by his children’s refusal to see him after a messy 1978 divorce, splits his free time weeping into TV dinners or stumbling into area restaurants and ordering “anything with butter”?

Which club’s general manager has taken to giving small, plastic dolls shaves and haircuts, and has requested that his secretary please take the trouble to keep the appointments straight? (He doesn’t know that the “hair” is Play-Doh.)

Which team’s home field has already been so obliterated due to monsoons that they will play on a scientifically engineered turf that is 83% scrambled eggs, 11% twine, and 6% lava rocks (mostly from neighborhood lawns)?

Which nose tackle likes his teammates to hold him down on the chilly tile floor of the locker room and whisper “mama’s boy” into his ears until they’re moist from everyone’s breath?

Which team has been so decimated by injuries that they will start a radish at QB on Sunday?

Why is TV announcer Kevin Harlan so annoying?

Which AM talk-radio shock jock who has never done one jumping jack in his life is blathering on about shortening the preseason, while his wife has been not-so-quietly blathering on about the shortness of something else?

Which remaining twenty-nine teams will start “Marc,” a great QB you’ve heard little about who threw eleven touchdowns for a tiny I-AAAAAAAAAAAA school that plays all of its games on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, and who previously was bussing tables at a Salisbury, MD Stuckey’s restaurant known for its generous portions of lukewarm “Bay Stew”?

Which coach is worried about a rebate on an automobile battery he purchased in May and (never mind waiting 6-8 weeks) to this day hasn’t heard anything?

When did Dennis Miller become such an idiot?

Which team doesn’t even know what time its game starts on Sunday, or if it is a home or away match?

Which place kicker won’t stop playing the horn?

Which defensive back needs his lotion?

Why does Al Michaels try to subliminally inject his right-wing views into every telecast? How much do you want to bet that he a) talks about Arnold for governor? or b) mentions something complimentary about Katharine Harris?

Which tight end likes licorice?

Which coach gets all of his assistants in a lather about running the old 82, his famous reverse-reverse-reverse-reverse-reverse that he picked up on the sandlots during his military days in Guam?

Which assistants don’t have the guts to tell their head coach his 5x-reverse-Guam play is nothing more than the medication not working? These same assistants generally wait for the coach to nod off before removing the magic stapler from his left hand and sending his lucky bib out to be laundered?

Which former coach, now serving as a big time television analyst, has a face as big as Ohio? Seriously, there is a rest stop near his nose where you can shower and get a hot bowl of soup if need be.

Which team’s grounds crew will not take down the scarecrows they put up shortly after the 2002 season?

Which punter lives in an orange and yellow birdhouse in a tree in his center’s front yard?

Answers and much more next week.

- - -

Jets at Redskins — Jets, but watch Trung Canidate for the ’Skins.

Arizona at Detroit — Detroit, even though they have no running game.

Baltimore at Pittsburgh — Pittsburgh, by ten or more.

Denver at Cincinnati — Cincinnati. The Bengals will end up being one of the most fun teams to watch in 2003.

Houston at Miami — Miami. Wannstedt might get the ax this season.

Indianapolis at Cleveland — Indianapolis

Jacksonville at Carolina — Carolina

Minnesota at Green Bay — Green Bay. This will be close.

New England at Buffalo — Buffalo. New England’s defense will be amazing, too bad their offense is horrid.

San Diego at Kansas City — Yuk. Kansas City.

St. Louis at N.Y. Giants — N.Y. Giants

Atlanta at Dallas — Dallas. Could go either way, really. Quincy Carter has been getting some confidence.

Chicago at San Francisco — San Francisco

New Orleans at Seattle — Seattle

Oakland at Tennessee — Tennessee

Tampa Bay at Philadelphia — Tampa Bay